following Jesus means dying for those who hate us

1

Category : different, faith

All the news for the last week has been about a church that says it’s going to burn the Koran in retaliation for the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero.  And as the weekend draws closer, a handful of other churches are saying that they will do the same.

I hate writing about things like this.  I really do.  The whole purpose of R3 is to help people understand what it means to live out a life of faith.  The purpose of R3 is not to tell you who to vote for or what social policies you need to implement.

Jesus was very clear about church / state issues.  Render unto Caesar what is his, and render unto God what is His.

But there are times when I feel the need to talk about current events.  Like this church down in Florida.  We can disagree about whether a mosque should be built in NYC.  We can even disagree if it’s okay to burn books (the Koran or otherwise.)  But what we can’t disagree about is how Jesus called us to live – and that’s sacrificially.

He’s called us to live a life of sacrifice in service and in love of our neighbors.  And I can’t see any way that burning the Koran lives out those principles.

Jesus was always patient, loving, kind, generous, and merciful to people who were the furthest away from God.  In fact, the further away from God you were, the more Jesus had patience for you.  It was the religious elites – the self proclaimed keepers of religious law – that Jesus came down on.

If we take that model and apply it to the mosque / Koran burning group, who are those furthest from God?  And who are those that are proclaiming to be the keepers of religious law?

If this church was serious about making a difference, it would set up mission trips to the Ground Zero mosque.  It would bring people in by the truckloads to build relationships with the Muslim men and women going into that mosque.  They wouldn’t inflame the religious beliefs of another group.

Paul, who was one of the most gifted missionaries of the Early (or otherwise) Christian church, never attacked the Greeks for their beliefs.  Instead he used their own culture, their own logic, their own religion as a way to highlight the differences between his God, and their gods.  He told stories not about distant, angry gods, but about a merciful, loving, fatherly God.

Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs, prayed for the forgiveness of the very people who were throwing large rocks at him.  As those stones slowly beat him to death.

Do any of those examples look like burning a Koran?

Because they don’t to me.

When I see Jesus, I see a God who sacrificed everything to reach out to those who despised him most.  If you aren’t doing that, then you don’t know God nearly as well as you think you do.  And if you think burning a book is a good way to show God’s love, then maybe you don’t know God’s love nearly as well as you think you do.

As Americans we may have the right to act like idiots and offend people in unnecessary ways.  But as Citizens of the Kingdom of God, we don’t have that luxury.  We’re called to love people, at a cost to ourselves.  That’s what shows God’s character to the world.  That’s what separates us from other religions.  That’s what shows His glory.

This guy in Florida, and others like him, couldn’t be further from God’s truth, and for that reason, I pray for them.

photo provided by flickr user MelB

being broken is a good thing

Category : different

I’m in the midst of moving.  Which means it’s time to pack up my old stuff.  There’s nothing like the thought of carrying heavy boxes to make you really evaluate something’s worth!  I’ve been pretty ruthless so far in getting rid of things.  And one of the underlying questions I ask is simply, “is it broken.”  The last thing I want to do is take the effort to pack something that’s broken.

Let’s face it, we all value things that work.  This is why we throw away VCR’s and 8 track players instead of keeping them forever.  Something eventually comes along that works better, so we jump onto the bandwagon.  The very idea that we should keep something that is broken seems strange to us.

But to consider brokenness as a good thing?  Well that’s just crazy talk.

Yet when we look at life through God’s eyes, brokenness becomes something to seek out.  In fact, I think brokenness is one of the best gifts God has for us.  CS Lewis said that pride was at root of all evil.  That the more prideful we are, the further away from God we are.  Think about your life for a moment.  When do you hurt the people you love the most?  I would bet that the vast majority of the time it’s when you felt you were being prideful.

Pride has a way of making us feel perfect.  Above reproach.  It says, “if I’m not broken, then I don’t need fixing.”

This is why so many people have no need for God.  They see themselves as “good people” who might not be perfect, but they certainly aren’t broken.  They work just fine most days.  “Other people of course,” they reason, “are broken, but certainly not me.”  But that’s not the reality of our lives.  The reality is that we’re all broken.  The whole world isn’t working the way God had planned.  Ever since Adam and Eve, we’ve lost our way.

The people who recognized Jesus for who he was (God) were the ones who recognized they were broken.  It was the prostitute pouring out the perfume that knew what Jesus offered, not the religious leader who was throwing Jesus a dinner party.  (Luke 7: 36-50)

That’s the theme we see throughout history.  The people who were best at keeping up religious pretenses were the ones who didn’t see the need for Jesus.  So they worked to kill him.  They couldn’t understand how he could be the Messiah if he was rejecting the “beautiful people” in favor of your average, run of the mill broken sinner.

Ironically they saw Jesus as broken.  Not themselves.  So my question to you is this: are you broken?  How you answer that question will determine how you respond to Jesus.

photo provided by flickr user wwworks

the real way to recycle

Category : different

I’ve suddenly become concerned with energy conservation and CO2 emissions.  Why?  Because I’m buying a house and every bit of energy that escapes my house is money out of my pocket.  This sudden new found interest in energy efficiency, cost-cutting, and home improvement means I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to improve the energy use of my house.

As I’ve been doing research about this issue I have noticed one very common thread of advice: use less.

In other words if I want to save money on electricity I should turn off my AC or not watch TV.  Some sites suggest that I limit my showers to 4 minutes (yeah right).

Of course if I did all of these things, my utilities would certainly be lower.  There’s no arguing that.  But at what cost?

Compare that to the promises God makes.  He tells us that when we follow him we will be free, that we will gain life to the full, and that we will store up treasures in Heaven.  When we move towards God we always get something more.  Of course this doesn’t mean I end up with more money or a bigger house.  Following God comes at a cost.  But I can honestly say there has never been a moment in my relationship with God where I’ve felt short changed.  Every time I’ve given something up (even big things) I always feel like I come out ahead.  Whether this is through the changes God brings in my life, the freedom he provides, or the peace of mind he offers.  Those things far outweigh the money I give or the volunteering I sacrifice make sacrifices to do.

How many “deals” can you really say that about?

I don’t want to live my life “colder but with $12 extra this month.”  I want to live my life $3000 poorer, because I tithed, but my life has been changed.  To me, that’s the real way to recycle.

photo provided by flickr user myklroventine

God gives us freedom

Category : God, different, hope

The last few weeks my church has been going on a Free Journey.  We’ve been exploring the fact that God’s desire for our lives is to set us free.  Contrast that to pretty much everything else in the world.  Political groups try to control what you eat, where you live, how you spend your time.  We’re told by our employers that we must show up at this time, and must take breaks at that time.  The TV tells us how we should look and what clothes we should wear.

Everything is about control.

Except God.

He’s about our freedom.

Could there be any more striking contrast?  Yet we stand around complaining about all of God’s rules.  I know because I’ve done it before.  For most of my life I’ve equated freedom as no rules.  It wasn’t until I was responsible for guiding a small child through life that I realized what rules are really for.  Rules give us freedom.  They set boundaries.  They allow us to know where to push so we can be free.

When your mom says “don’t touch the stove it’s hot.”  This isn’t some secret code for “the stove tastes like chocolate.”  She means the stove is flippin’ hot!

God is the same.  He knows that if you have sex with people you aren’t married to it’s going to cause problems.  He knows that when we don’t love our enemies we get caught up in a cycle of hate.  He knows that when we ignore him, we will find our lives being controlled, not set free.

Yet we rebel.  We seem to be happier having everything in the world control us, then trusting God, and following some pretty straight forward rules.  Humans are strange creatures.

the most shocking thing in the bible

Category : God, Mark, bible, different, miracles

The Bible says many shocking things.  Some of it is so shocking that people say it must be made up (i.e., Moses parting the sea.)   Others are so shocking because they go against how we see the world (Jesus didn’t really mean that we should love our enemies, right?)

But I have a different view.

I think the most shocking thing in the Bible is a story about Jesus returning to his hometown.  This is where Jesus grew up.  Yet people didn’t recognize him.  Jesus’ response was simple, yet profound: “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

Jesus is saying that it’s only around those that know us the best, are we least recognized.  The Bible then goes on to say, “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.  And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6: 4-6)

Read that last sentence again.  “He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d consider healing sick people pretty much a miracle!  Imagine going into a doctors’ office after a horrible car accident.  You found yourself suddenly paralyzed and your entire life was about to change.  Then the doctor walks in, looks at you, touches your leg and suddenly you can walk again.

When the media shows up to talk about how he made you walk, the doctor simply shrugs and says, “Well I didn’t do anything really.  At least nothing important.”

What?!  Are you kidding me?!

But that’s what Jesus just said.  He couldn’t do any miracles, except miraculously healing people!

We have such a world-bound, outcome-based view of things that this sentence is difficult to understand.  It’s shocking.  It rocks our world.

God is more concerned about changing people’s hearts than doing something that defies explanation.  He defines miracles not by amazing feats, but by the simple change in our hearts.

If you ask me, that’s pretty shocking.

would you recognize Jesus if you grew up with him?

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, different

I don’t get home very often these days.  When I was in college and graduate school I would go home for the holidays, but thanks to something called “work” I just don’t have that luxury anymore.  Now I grew up in a small town.  (It was a great place to grow up, despite having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school.  But that’s another story.)  Even as a kid I always knew I’d be leaving.  There weren’t many jobs for an aspiring psychologist.  There still aren’t.  Such is the life of a small town.

Each time I went back home, I couldn’t help but notice something: the more I change, the less my home town recognizes it.  When I walk into my old church, or run into my old friends, they see me as the person I was.

I have changed in countless ways since I lived in that small town.  Yet when I go back, I am viewed as that shy, awkward teenager that left.  For them it’s hard to see what I’ve done with my life.

My guess is you have a similar story.  The people you grew up with see you as someone you really aren’t.  You might see this play out in your high school or college reunions.  You might even see this with your family.  They want to see you as someone different, but they just can’t quite wrap their mind around the fact that you are no longer “little Sally.”  (Especially since your name isn’t Sally.)

Jesus faced something similar.  When he went back to the small town he grew up in, people couldn’t quite get their minds around who he was.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!  Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  (Mark 6: 2-3)

They saw him as the carpenter’s kid.  Not as God.  “And they took offense at him.”

Here the people who should have known Jesus the best, were the ones who ended up knowing him the least.  They were upset that Jesus was claiming to be God.  (A natural reaction by Jews who believed in only one God – going around claiming you were God was a crime in that culture).  But instead of taking time to re-evaluate their opinions, they just went with their old assumptions.  And they missed out on seeing the change.

The same will be true for you.  As you move closer to Jesus, your life will transform.  But people you don’t talk to regularly will miss that change.  They will want to see you as they’ve always seen you.  That represents a challenge for us.  For one it makes it easier for us to fall into our old habits.  But it also means people aren’t getting to see the best testimony to God’s existence – the changes in your life.

Sadly, it’s often easier to ignore change if it means you need to reevaluate your views.

shattered illusions

Category : God, different, faith, fear, trust

Work is crushingly busy right now.  So is life.  Things get that way sometimes.  I think it’s part of the human condition.

I know I’m not alone in this.  There’s a lot of us who have visions of what we want to do – but get overwhelmed by the day to day stuff.  To have wave after wave of emergencies, problems, (and opportunities) hit one after another.  It seems that as hard as I work, the next wave of stuff waiting to crash on top of me.  Sound familiar?

Our faith is no different.

It can be very hard to see the big picture.  Life has a way of becoming so overwhelming because we see a moment-by-moment view.  Imagine yourself swimming in the ocean.  As you strength starts to wane your vision is filled with wave after wave.  Each time a wave crashes over you, you lose a little bit of energy.  A little bit of momentum.  And pretty soon we stop looking for the shore at all.  Because no matter where the shore is, all we care about is making it through the next wave.

I wrote this a few months ago.

Here is my challenge to you – take a week away from the news.  Don’t worry about swine flu, politics, the economy or anything else.  Focus on God and see what he wants for your life.  Focus on breaking out of the lies the world tells you.  And then a week from now tell me what you experienced.  My guess is you actually felt a little hopeful and a little optimistic.  You’ll see that there’s more to this world than just a scientific approach (this comes from someone who spends much of his time studying science).

My guess is you’ll start to see through the cracks and you’ll realize that you don’t have to go along with what the world says.  You don’t have to let it dictate your behavior or your choices.  You have the option to choose freedom.  To choose life.  Don’t let the thief give you lies in place of truth.

I never got around to publishing it.

I find it interesting that all of those things seem not as significant as they once did.  It’s hard to remember the panic people felt with Swine Flu.  (Or the constant media stories about how we were all going to die.)  People were saying Obama would change the direction of the country forever, now they are saying he might not get any major legislation passed.  I personally struggled through nearly a year of unemployment (now I’m employed, which of course makes it harder to write posts on R3!).  And the list goes on and on.

Wave after wave of information comes pounding through our lives.  It’s no wonder we feel tired and worn out.  Yet through all of this God has that big picture view that we lack.  He can see over the waves.  He knows where the shore is.

Sometimes I wonder how God can help me overcome the problems in my life.  Yet he has overcome far greater challenges than swine flu or the economy.  He rose from the dead for cryin’ out loud!

This is why our faith is so important.  Our faith gives us something to hold onto when things seem overwhelming.  Faith isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.  No one says, “I don’t want a life preserver – it’s just a crutch.  I much prefer struggling in the waves on my own.”  We recognize what it is – something that helps us overcome obstacles we couldn’t by ourselves.

When life seems overwhelming remember that to God our waves are nothing more than a wading pool.  And that all we need to do is reach out and take his hand, and we too can see the shore.

Faith puts things into perspective.

friends of the world

Category : God, barbarian, bible, different, fear

Have you ever experienced a life changing moment?  One of those instances in time where you know that you’ll never be the same again.  You realize that you’re at the threshold of something that is going to make you look at the world a whole new way.

I had one of those recently.

And it came from a commercial.

Or more specifically, a commercial for a drug that “increases the length and thickness of your eyelashes.”  According to the commercial there is an epidemic of women who have eye lashes that are too short and thin.  Now as a guy I am shocked that this issue hasn’t been addressed earlier.  Because as a guy, I can guarantee that, as men, we just sit around and talk about the length of women’s eye lashes.  Usually the conversation goes, “boy I’d really like to ask Sally out.  She’s pretty hot.  It’s too bad that her eyelashes are so stumpy.”

No!  In all my years I have never heard a single guy ever mention anything about eyelashes.

Yet we are being told that we need thicker eyelashes.  We are being told that if we don’t take this drug we will miss out on the fullness of life.  Really?!

This isn’t even something Seinfeld at its height could have imagined.  Even that cast wasn’t this superficial.

I’ve never really understood what it means to be a “friend of the world” in the Biblical sense.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the world.  Could the world really be that bad if it brings me such wonderful things as donuts and video games?

But now I am starting to see just why we are warned against being “friends of the world.”  It’s because the world doesn’t have our best interests in mind.  It wants to make us unsure of ourselves.  It wants to steal our identities.  It wants to make us hurt – so that it can sell us the fix.

Women will flock to this drug that increases eye lash length.  (That’s a sentence I never dreamed I would type.)  Of course this isn’t without cost.  The world doesn’t give you something for free.  The side effects for this drug include things like permanent discoloration of your eyes.  It can also give you a “red eye” look, which means you’ll go around looking like you haven’t slept in weeks.

When we chase after the world we are told we are not good enough.  That we need to improve before the world will be our friend.  How different is God?!  He chased after us!  He left his Kingdom to come rescue us.  Why?  Because we are good enough.  We are loved enough.  We are wanted enough.

It’s no wonder the Bible warns us against being friends of the world.  The world is kind of creepy and mean.

i am what i am, or am i?

Category : God, bible, different, faith

One of the most powerful moments in the Bible is when God reveals his name to Moses.  He simply says, “I AM”.

A lot of powerful things are happening in this I AM statement.  For one, just using that name just how confident (in a good way) God is.  These two words reveal a lot about God’s personality.  It’s like James Bond saying, “Bond.  James Bond.”  It’s a name you know you shouldn’t forget.  And just like Bond, it’s a powerful name.  It also shows that God is relaxed and comfortable with himself.  It’s a Mr. Miyagi style, soft-spoken, yet powerful voice.  You can almost hear the shrug of comfortableness saying, “I AM…there is no other way to name me.”

It’s a Popeye-like moment.  I am what I am.

It’s as if God is saying, “I always have been and I always will be.  I don’t need a name, because I just am.”

Compare this to how many of us live our lives under the philosophy of, “am I?”  We question everything about who we are, what our purpose is, what kind of life we should live.  We even wonder if we need to eat our vegetables.  We just aren’t sure of ourselves.  And we most certainly aren’t confident in our identities.  Isn’t that the whole point of childhood?  We grow up, slowly learning who we are.  Isn’t that the pain of the mid life crisis?  When we confront the reality that who we thought we were isn’t actually true.

How fundamentally different we are from God.

This point (I AM vs am I?, not the one about vegetables) was made to me in a small group I am in.  It’s something I have never considered before.  But it’s such a profound and striking difference it’s hard not to be stopped by it.

“I AM” is both powerful and subtle, which sounds a lot like God.  It’s no wonder he chose that name for himself.

the angry cat

Category : different, faith, live for the eternal, sin

My fiancé has a cat.  His name is Ben.  Ben the cat is about as neurotic as animals come.  I’ve written about him before.  Well last night he found a stuffed mouse with some cat nip inside.  Instead of playing with the toy he spent the whole time “growling” because he was afraid someone was going to steal the toy.  Now I’m not exactly sure why he thought someone would be interested in a slightly chewed, mostly soggy, fake rat.

But he was convinced someone wanted it.  And that was good enough for him.

The sad part is, he never enjoyed the toy because he was too worried that someone would take it from him.  The entire time he “played” with the mouse was essentially spent making sure no one else could have it.

Does that sound like anyone you know.

We spend so much time protecting our toys, and our things, that we never get to enjoy them.

I think of this every time I drive past a nice car that’s parked hundreds of feet away from other cars.  Usually it’s parked diagonally across two spots.  The owner is so worried about his (or her) car being damaged that they can’t enjoy the experience of owning it.  They live in fear that someone is going to take it from them.

This is what happens when we lose our focus.  When we aren’t living with a focus on the end game – on the eternal – we get caught up in the moment.  God knows this.  That’s why God reminds us again and again to stay focused on Him.  Not because he’s a narcissist, but because he knows that when we look away we lose our focus.  When we don’t live for the eternal we are bound to struggle.

So the next time you find yourself protecting your things from some unknown-toy-stealing-force, I hope you pause long enough to wonder if that unknown force is even real.