being defriended by God

Category : God, bible, failure, faith, living a life of faith

Have you ever been betrayed by a friend?  Someone you liked, someone you trusted, maybe even someone you loved.  When we experience that kind of betrayal, it’s one of the worst experiences we can have in life.  Not as bad as your team not winning the Superbowl.  But still pretty painful.

That’s why God’s love of us is so revolutionary.  We’ve all betrayed God before.  Most of us on a daily basis.  We’ve put him through exactly that kind of pain.  Yet God is always there when we need him.  Despite everything, God still stands by us.

This isn’t just one small part of who God is.  It’s one of the major themes that runs through the entire Bible.  We see this in the lives of Moses and David.  Jesus illustrates it with stories like the prodigal son.  It’s even the story of Peter’s life.

There are very few people in the Bible who are more outspoken in support of Jesus than Peter.  Peter was always the guy jumping to show just how much he was willing to sacrifice for God.  He put his life on the line more than once.  Peter wasn’t just talk, he was action too.  (You don’t get to walk on water by sitting on the shore.)

But in the hour of Jesus’ greatest need, Peter failed him.  First because he couldn’t stay awake and keep Jesus company.  Second, by denying Jesus three separate times.

Imagine if one of your closest friends couldn’t visit you in the hospital as you were dying.  Or never called to see how you were after losing your job.  You’d be understandably angry and maybe even a little resentful.  We’d start treating our friend differently.  We might not even call them our friend.

Yet God is the God of redemption.  And Peter’s story doesn’t end with being defriended.  It ends with Jesus restoring Peter as a friend.  In fact, one of the first things God does is send a message to Peter that Jesus is alive, and he shouldn’t worry anymore.

Think about that.  Peter had done nothing.  Yet God sought him out.

This is why God is such a radical God.  This is why the Bible is such a revolutionary book.  Despite our failures and betrayals, God does the unexpected, and keeps on loving us.

photo provided by flickr user saragoldsmith

what to do when you make a mistake

Category : Paul, bible, failure, faith, sin, taking action

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What do you do when you make a mistake?

That’s a question I think very few people actually think about.  Oh sure we all do something when we’ve made a mistake.  But very few of us actually think through our actions, we usually just react.

The way I see it, there are only a few options.

  1. Do nothing – we essentially say, “I did something wrong and I am so scared of doing it again, and so scared of the consequences, I will never do anything again.”  When we do nothing, we shut down.  We can’t be used by God because we aren’t interested in being used by God.  We become like the ostrich who shoves his head in the sand, thinking he is hiding.
  2. Do the same thing – we make a mistake, but choose to do the same thing over and over.  This is the whole, “I am sorry I hurt you/ was a jerk, etc…” line.  And then the next day you’re back to your old habits.  We say it, and maybe in the moment we are sorry.  But not sorry enough to actually change.  This is where we are when we continue to commit one of our “favorite” sins  (for instance, you repeatedly get angry at a coworker).
  3. Repent - True repentance.  This is where we truly turn to God and say, “I am sorry, help me never to do this again.”  Where we fully turn away from our actions and embrace God.

Why do I bring all this up?  Because Carrie Prejean, a former Miss USA winner is involved in another controversy.  It turns out she was involved in making a “sex tape.”

For some celebrities this wouldn’t be a big deal.  Society often seems to reward people who do this.  We’ve all read the stories about a celebrity “losing” provocative pictures in a PR attempt to revitalize a career.  But for Prejean, who has started teaching and talking about “family values” this is a big issue.

Rarely do we talk about current events on R3.  I believe that the Bible offers us timeless principles that apply no matter the event.  And I almost never talk about a specific individual.  There’s enough gossip and junk out there, we don’t need to add to that.  But sometimes I make exceptions.  And that’s where I am with this.

I have no idea what’s on the tape.  I don’t know why it was made.  And frankly I don’t want to know.  To me that’s irrelevant.  What matters is how Prejean decides to act.  And to a lesser extent how we, as a society, respond.

We all have made mistakes.  How many of us would really feel comfortable having our mistakes be national news?  What Carrie Prejean did was wrong, and it was a mistake, and that’s not an excuse.  But does this prevent her from ever talking about family values?  There are many people who very much want that to be the case.  (As I was flipping the channels late one night I saw one panel of “experts” gleefully declaring this meant she could no longer talk about family values.)

Personally I don’t know if this tape excludes her from talking about family values.  I know there are a lot of people who are gleefully hoping that will be the case.  For her to fall, would be a major victory for them.  This situation brings legitimate questions that she must answer.  But when I look at the Bible I see people who aren’t perfect.  I see people lose their temper, act in fear, commit adultery and murder.

Yet God still uses them in powerful ways.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. But he does ask us to repent.

Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament was actively seeking to kill Christians prior to his conversion.  Does that mean he can’t talk about sin?  Or does it mean he has unique insight into the redemption that Christ offers?  Moses murdered someone before God chose him to become the leader of Israel.  Did that exclude him from talking about freedom to Pharaoh?  Peter acted in both anger and fear in the last hours of Jesus’ life – but God used him as the rock upon which the church was built.  Was God wrong in all of this?

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect.  But he does ask us to repent.  And in each of these cases, they repented and turned away from their sins.  So I ask you, what do you do when you make a mistake?

Carrie has the same three options that we do.  She can do nothing.  She can do the same thing.  Or she can repent.

I don’t know what she plans to do.  Right now it sounds like she wants to repent.  But saying you want to repent and actually repenting can be two different things.  It’s much easier to offer false promises than to take the hard work of repentance.  Is it any different for us?  So again, I ask you, what do you do when you make a mistake?

Adam and Eve and original sin

Category : Genesis, God, different, failure, faith, sin

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And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2: 16-17)

Adam and Eve had one rule: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

That’s it.

And although that was the only rule, they just couldn’t help themselves.  They went ahead and did it anyway.  Sometimes I wonder how quickly it took before they made it to the fruit.  Part of me thinks it happened right away.  I know that when I’m told I can’t do something, that’s the one thing I want to do.  Is that an attitude I inherited from Adam?  Or has it just always been part of who we are as a species?  I don’t know.  But I know that urge is strong.  So maybe they got dropped off in the garden and then started eating forbidden fruit right away.

On the other hand, Adam had a lot of work to do.  There were a lot of animals to be named.  Adam of course did a good job with that.  Well, maybe with the exception of “platypus.”  So perhaps he was just too busy to go off eating forbidden fruit.

Eventually though, Adam and Eve turned toward that tree.  The one thing they weren’t allowed to touch they went after.  Satan knew exactly how to attack them.  He convinced them that God was holding out on them.  So they ate that fruit, and we’ve been paying for it ever since.

It can be easy to believe God wants us to be perfect.  But I’m not sure that’s his goal.  Perfection would mean we were God ourselves (because God is perfect).  And I don’t think that’s what God is going for.  God’s commands to Adam and Eve weren’t about perfection, they were about freedom.  They were about doing whatever they wanted – with one exception.

In fact, God’s first words to Adam were “you are free”.

Yet Adam and Eve still committed sin.  The original sin.  And we’ve never stopped sinning.  If Adam and Eve only had one thing they couldn’t do, what chance do you and I have to not sin?  The answer is “none.”  We will sin no matter how hard we try not to.

There’s part of me that is bothered by that realization.  I want to be perfect and not sin.  But that’s missing the point.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, perfection isn’t an issue.  We are perfect through him.  God isn’t expecting us to be more perfect.  He’s created a way to experience perfection while still making mistakes.

That’s just one of the many amazing and clever things God has done in his relationship with humanity.

Ultimately God is more interested in us growing closer to him than striving for perfection.  He knows that over time we will naturally sin less simply because we are connected with him.  This fact lives in tension with our culture.  We, as a society, believe in  the importance of “manning up.”  But that’s not what God wants.  He doesn’t want us to try harder.

The only thing that will do is cause us to fall down.

Sin may always be part of your life, but it doesn’t have to rule it.

in over my head

1

Category : God, choice, failure, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

……..

I am a bit frustrated this morning as I write this.  I think I am in a bit over my head.  Oh I’m not in trouble.  Well, at least the legal kind.  I have just allowed myself to get so busy (with virtually all good to awesome things) that I have let my daily reading, writing, and study go by the way side.  I don’t think that it’s a coincidence it’s harder to muster up the enthusiasm for prayer and reading the Bible this week.

When you live in a self-driven whirlwind of activity, you start to believe that things will only get done if you do them.

As I’ve said before, a relationship with God takes work.  And when we slack off, is it any wonder the relationship takes a  hit?  If you ignored your wife or girlfriend (or husband / boyfriend) how do you think things would feel?  It’s not much different with God.

I find though, that more than my prayer life suffers.  The rest of me suffers as well.

The enthusiasm and excitement just aren’t there to tackle hard projects (of which I have agreed to do several!)  It’s also more challenging to trust that God will deliver on his end.  When you live in a self-driven whirlwind of activity, you start to believe that things will only get done if you do them.

How far from the truth that is!

On the positive side I have been lucky enough to be involved in some very cool life-changing, city-changing activities.  When I finish up these projects (for a church and a non-profit), God’s Kingdom will have solidly advanced.  And what’s not to like about that?!

In the meantime, I must consciously choose to slow my life down, because I am running at a pace that does not honor God.  Living out a life of faith doesn’t mean you always do the right thing, or choose the best path.  It’s about getting back up (repentance) and trying again.   It reminds me of something Erwin McManus has said in the past (and I paraphrase), “the toughest decisions aren’t between good and bad choices, but between equally good choices.”

Amen to that!

real people, real pain

1

Category : bible, failure, faith, hope, trust

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Life is filled with problems.  Often unexpected ones.  And while I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, there is no doubt that we all will be blindsided by at least one major catastrophe in our lives.  And many little problems too.

I think this economic recession is an example.  I never dreamed that stores like Circuit City would fold.  And when I drive around town I am shocked by the number of empty office buildings.  Each one of those office buildings is a dream that’s been shattered.

These shattered dreams, though, allow me to find comfort in the Bible.

I know that sounds shocking.  But stay with me for a minute – the Bible is filled with stories of people being murdered, sold into slavery, invaded, and generally run out of town.  There are entire books of the Bible devoted to stories of suffering and pain.  You can’t read for very long without noticing it.

Have you ever wondered why the stories don’t hold back?  Have you ever wondered why there are stories of people railing against God in their anger and despair?  Stories of people questioning why God isn’t showing up as their dreams are being torn apart.

It’s because the Bible is filled with real people and real pain.

And so as my dreams are crushed, I can find comfort in the pages of the Bible because I know I’m not alone.  I know that what I’m experiencing other people have as well.  I know that they were able to trust God no matter how hard it got and I can too.  After all these years the Bible remains as relevant to us, as it did to the original audience.

This is why the Psalm 73 really hits home.  Asaph (the writer) has been where I am.  He sees that while he struggles people who go along ignoring God seem to be rewarded.  He’s noticed that even when you do the right thing, you sometimes end up worse for it.  But he also realized that if he trusted God, in the end, he would be all right.  As close as Asaph was to the brink, he held on:

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”

(Psalm 73: 2-3)

If God was faithful to him, then I am reminded that God will be faithful to me.  And so I hold on no matter how close to the brink I get.

will the evildoers never learn

1

Category : God, R3, failure, sin

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I rarely start out with such inflammatory headings.  R3 is a place for people to explore what it means to live out a life of faith.  I am fully aware that a lot of people who read R3 aren’t self-identified Christians.  That’s fine.  You don’t have to be.  So while I don’t pull any punches, I also don’t intentionally mean to offend people.  Insulting someone is never a way to show God’s love for each of us.

But there is something about the nature of sin that’s been bothering me the last few weeks.  And there is no easy way to say it.  The fact is, the damage sin causes shouldn’t be “sugar coated.”  So allow me to be as blunt as David was when he wrote Psalm 53: “Will the evildoers never learn?

I’m not the first to ask.  And I won’t be the last.  Ever since that fateful decision by Adam & Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, things have been a mess.  It seems that we simply can’t stop following in their footsteps.

Why?  Why is it “evildoers never learn.”  And by the way, those evildoers – that’s us, all of us.

Are we so blinded by our pride that we can’t even see where our actions lead?  Are we so sure that we can fix any problem we make that we simply don’t care?  Or is the devil just too good at tricking us into believing that God is holding out.  Or maybe we are just so blind we fall for his same tricks every time.  Even Tom couldn’t fool Jerry every time!

What I find disturbing in all of this is that I am no different.  And neither are you.  We are all held captive to sin.  We all fall short of where we were designed to be.  And none of us can seem to break the cycle.  That’s how powerful sin is.  That’s how much control it has.

That’s why Jesus is so important.  He’s broken the chains of sin.  When we are in relationship with him, in God’s eyes we are sin free.  But sin still lingers on us.  It still hurts our relationships with others (and God).  It still causes pain and suffering.  It still destroys like a thief in the night.

Pavlov, in his famous experiment, taught dogs to salivate by hearing a bell.  If dogs can do something like that, why can’t we break free from sin?

‘Anti-Christ’ gets ‘anti-prize’ at Cannes

Category : God, failure, faith, hope, living a life of faith

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The Cannes Film Fest has come and gone.  Usually Cannes produces some movie that is declared a “must see” or generates some buzz for a few films.  But this year there didn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm.  Maybe it was the economy.  Maybe it was the movies.  I don’t know.

There was, however, the usual controversy.  Cannes tends to pride itself on pushing the envelope (you aren’t going to see X-men 14 or Star Trek 12).  Because it tries to push artistic or non-main stream movies, you often see the “boundaries” being pushed.  This year it was the movie Anti-Christ.

I admit, I don’t know anything about this movie other than what I read in a few news stories.  I have no idea if this movie is interesting.  (I doubt it.)  Or if it’s well conceived.  (Probably not.)   Roger Ebert describes Anti-Christ as, ” Its images are a fork in the eye.  Its cruelty is unrelenting.  Its despair is profound.”  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably not the best movie ever made.  But, for argument’s sake, lets treat Anti-Christ as if it’s the greatest piece of art man has created.  In reality it doesn’t matter if this movie is good or bad, it still raises one question: why?

Why do we feel compelled to make ‘art’ that is so violent and base?

Why do we feel compelled to make ‘art’ that destroys instead of build up?

Why do we feel compelled to make ‘art’ that shocks us?

There must be something about human nature that drives us to offend.  We must get some satisfaction out of shocking people.  How else do you explain ’shock jocks’ on the radio?  It has to be that we delight in hurting others.  Take the American Idolist William Hung (you know, the guy who sang She Bangs).  The only reason Hung was shown on American Idol was so that we, as an audience, could rip him apart and laugh at his expense.  No one could possibly believe he was talented enough to be on the show.  He was there as a spectacle.  As a friend used to say, “I’m not laughing with you, I’m laughing at you.”

But what does it say about the message if it needs such violence and offense to drive home the "point"? What does it say about the messenger?

I often hear the argument that God doesn’t exist.  That evil isn’t real.  That given enough time, man will “improve.”  That’s the core philosophy of Star Trek after all.  It’s also the hope held out in most Hollywood movies.  But if that’s the case, if man improves over time, how do you explain a movie like Anti-Christ?   Surely this film doesn’t show that man has evolved into an enlightened species?  That somehow we are becoming better with time.

Why, then, do we do it?

In the book Faith & Doubt, John Ortberg addressed this issue by writing, “One day I realized there was no God, no one behind reality, no life after death.  I realized existence is a meaningless accident, begun by chance and destined for oblivion, and it changed my life.  I used to be addicted to alcohol but now the ‘law of natural selection’ has set me free.  I used to be greedy, but now the story of the Big Bang has made me generous.  I used to be afraid, but now random chance has made me brave.”

Ortberg said this with tongue in cheek.  But he raises a point.  We try to rip apart the existence of God, but in the very act of setting ourselves “free” from God, it seems we bring out the worst in ourselves.   Why?  How can it be that we always seem to find a way to fall back into the pit if we are becoming more enlightened?

Movies like Anti-Christ are supposed to represent social criticism.  It’s supposed to make us think about society and life.  But what does it say about the message if it needs such violence and offense to drive home the “point”?  What does it say about the messenger?

When I try to answer the “why” question, the only answer I have is that we are a fundamentally broken people.  That if we are left to their own devices we end up with a world of shock jocks, gratuitous violence, and empty philosophies.  That we are not getting better over time.

What we end up with is a world that wants to offend one another, for no reason other than that we can.  I think the evidence of that is overwhelming.  You don’t need me to tell you this, of course.  Just pick up a newspaper and read the headlines.  Or think about what you do when you get angry.  It’s to “get back” at someone isn’t it?  It’s part of human nature to fall backwards, not move forwards.  None of us are immune to that.

Only God changes the equation.  Only God breaks us out of the cycle.  Only God, can stop us.  Because we sure can’t stop ourselves.

failing God

Category : David, God, failure, faith, fear, sin

 

If you ask an athlete about a game, they will almost always tell you about the shot they missed, the tackle they could have had, the putt they should have sunk.  Of course you don’t need to be an athlete to think this way.  When you go into work what do you think of?  The things you should have finished?  The account you should have landed?  I bet very few of us focus on the positives.  Even fewer live wide awake.

We live in a culture that emphasizes failure.  I don’t know if this has always been the case or if this is some recent development.  But whatever the case, we live in a world obsessed with failure.  

It’s true in our professional lives.  It’s true in our personal lives.  And this attitude is true in our relationship with God.  We focus on our short comings:  How we could have been more generous.  How we shouldn’t have yelled at our kids.  How we knew what we were doing was wrong, yet we didn’t stop.  We focus on all of the mistakes we make.   

But is this how we are supposed to live?   

Most of us have fallen for the performance plan view of God.  We think God is carefully taking note of our failures.  That he’s just waiting around the corner to whack us with them.  “If Santa makes a list, what does God do?” we wonder.  Instead of experiencing God’s grace, we find ourselves overwhelmed with guilt.

Yet that’s not the God of the Bible.  While God is never thrilled we’re sinning, it’s not our sin that destroys our relationship with him.  It’s something else… 

There once was a father and son who believed in God.  The father was a murderer, adulterer, he was even negligent of his family.  The son on the other hand never killed anyone, never had an affair, and always seemed to have his family in mind.

Yet God turned away from the son and not the father.  Why?

Because no matter how many horrible things David did, he always maintained his relationship with God.  He never rejected that relationship.  Solomon on the other hand, despite all his wisdom, began to worship other Gods. 

“As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.  He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech [a] the detestable god of the Ammonites.  So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.”               (1 Kings 11: 4-6)

David’s failure didn’t drive God away.  No matter how many mistakes he made, God always remained with David.  Solomon, on the other hand, despite all his wisdom found God as an enemy.  It wasn’t his failures that caused it – it was his choice to believe in other gods that ended things. 

So why do we still believe our behavior is what matters to God?   Why do we focus all our energy on our failures, and spend so little time focusing on re-building our relationship with God?

David did many horrible things.  Yet he was described as, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13: 22).  Despite his actions, despite his failure, he built a lasting relationship with God.  Isn’t that the model that we should work towards?  Shouldn’t we stop focusing on failures and spend all that energy of doubt, fear, anger, worry towards re-energizing our relationship with God?

We need to live out a life of faith, not live a life in fear of failure. 

good, evil, and meaning

Category : CS Lewis, God, different, failure, faith, hope

  

“Evil can be undone, but it can not ‘develop’ into good.  Time does not heal it.”       – CS Lewis, The Great Divorce

The truth is, not even God changes evil into good.  Once something happens it can’t be taken back.  Instead, he changes the meaning of evil. 

2,000 years ago we did the worst evil possible – we killed a man who had never done anything wrong.  A man who had never sinned.  If anyone deserved to live, certainly it was him.  Yet we crucified him.  That was evil, and will always be evil. 

Instead, God changed the meaning of his death.  Instead of being the end of his life, Jesus crucifixion was the beginning of our life.  Out of man’s greatest evil came God’s great good. 

The same is often true of our suffering.

Think about the most important lessons you have ever learned.  Did you learn them when everything was perfect and happy?  Or did you learn them when your marriage ended?  When your child died?  Or as you struggled with illness?

It’s almost always in the moments of our greatest pain and suffering that we learn the most.  God doesn’t slowly move evil into something good – we still suffer, we still struggle.  But he does change the meaning, and in turn, our understanding.

That’s the radical, revolutionary, and different God.  That’s the God of the Bible.

i’m a loser

Category : Jesus, Mark, choice, failure, faith, taking action

 

Success.  Failure.  We all experience these things.  Even if you’re Bill Gates or Tom Brady you will have both highs and lows in your life.  That’s just the way it is.  In fact, we’re all losers – we all have more failures than successes. 

In the AFC championship game a Steelers rookie dropped a pass that was a guaranteed touchdown.  He was so wide open it was embarrassing.  And yet at the moment that would have crowned his rookie year, he blew it.  A moment that would have sealed him in Steelers history, he choked and took his eyes off the ball.

We’ve all been there.  Well, ok, maybe we haven’t screwed up before a live TV audience.  But we’ve all screwed up in public ways.  And we have all wanted to lie on the ground and pretend we’re injured, just like Sweed did.  We think, “well if we’re injured, at least we have an excuse.”  Which feels so much better than admitting you’re a loser.

We live in a world that pretends you can be successful 100% of the time.  We’re told that life can be easy.  That it can be safe.  That the worst thing that can happen to us is to be placed in danger.  But the truth is, that’s a lie. 

The world is filled with failure.  And we are all losers. 

The question isn’t, “will I fail?”  The questions is, “will I get back up again?”  Limas Sweed almost didn’t get back up.  He almost stayed on the ground.  But something changed his mind.  Something made him get back up.  And you know what?  He became a winner.  He had two key plays that changed the course of the game.  He unleashed a devastating block and had a key catch.

In one game Sweed was both a loser and a winner.  That sounds a lot like our lives, doesn’t it?   

Peter had days like that too.  On the day Jesus was arrested, Peter put his best foot forward and declared,  ”even if all fall away, I will not!“  I think most of us would be thrilled to make such a bold statement.  We’d love to take a stand for Jesus that many people refused to do.  Yet, within a few hours Peter was hiding in fear, denying his relationship to Jesus. 

Peter was a loser.

But that’s not where his story ends.  And it doesn’t have to be where our story ends.  Peter went on to change the world with his life.  He got back up.  And because of that was able to do something amazing. 

That’s what God wants for all of us: to get back up.  We may be laying on the ground, just like Peter, but we don’t have to stay there.  We can get up and keep moving forward.  That’s the whole point of grace. 

There may be no better definition of faith then getting up one more time – especially when we don’t feel like it.  That’s what it means to live out a life of faith.