are you unreachable by God

Category : faith

This story’s almost too over-the-top, completely ridiculous, “what are the odds it could happen?”, to believe.   God time and again shows that no one is out of his reach.  No matter who you are or what you’ve done, God still pursues you.  Of course if you don’t believe me, you can listen to Tom talk about his experiences with drugs, the occult, and God.

chasing after lonely hearts

Category : faith

Sometimes when I look at the world, I don’t see it as busy or angry or bored or exciting.  I see it as lonely.

That’s what I think when I see a video like this.  People are so desperate to be loved, that they’ll do and believe anything.   (And yes, I realize that some people believe Christians are the same way.  But that’s a discussion for a different topic.)

worshiping an idol

Category : faith

I struggle with football because I love it so much.  There are few things (maybe nothing) that I get more excited about than football.  I’m so passionate that I physically feel the anguish with the Steelers lose.  Which they did this weekend.  I’ve wondered if loving football is a sin.

And I think for me, at least, football is a sin.  Not because football itself is evil.  But because I worship football.  It’s my own personal idol.

That’s not something you hear a lot of people say.  But I realize that my emotions are too tied up in a game.  I live and die (thankfully just metaphorically!) by the Steelers.  And whether I mean to or not, I’ve come to believe that a great Steelers victory can make me happy.

It can’t.

Nothing can make you happy, truly happy, in this world apart from God.  That’s why I take solace in what Martin Luther once said about overcoming guilt.

“It all depends on this great and grand miracle, that I believe that God gave His Son for us. If I do not doubt this, then I am able to say in the midst of my trials: ‘I concede, devil, that I am a sinner burdened with the old Adam and subject to the wrath of God. But what do you, devil, say about this: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life? These words I believe!’”

–Martin Luther

God is the one who saves us.  Who gives us happiness.  Who makes us complete.  Football may be the greatest sport ever invented, but it pales in comparison to what God offers.

What to do when the world fights back

Category : faith

If there’s a section in the Bible that I really struggle with, it’s the timeline that surrounds Jesus’ trial.  In those hours Jesus meets with pretty much the movers and shakers of the Jewish and Roman worlds.  We know that Jesus was a powerful speaker, we know that he performed miracles, we know that he had wisdom to surprise (and sometimes shame) his opponents.

Yet in the most important hours in world history, Jesus says nothing.  He doesn’t put up a rousing defense of why he shouldn’t die while confronting obviously false charges.  He doesn’t even forcefully argue to be God (although, he does most certainly claim to be God, you don’t tear your robes for nothing!)

I can’t help but wonder why Jesus didn’t put up more of a fight.

The only reason I can come up with is that he didn’t put up a fight because I would have put up a fight.  And you would have put up a fight.  In fact, everyone but God would have put up a fight.  And God knows his Kingdom doesn’t advance through fights, arguments, and yelling.  It advances through love, forgiveness, and grace.

Last week I wrote an article called the unfair treatment of Ben Roethlisberger.  It’s been just about the most popular article I’ve ever written on R3blog.net.   But I never meant for it to go on R3blog.net.  I meant for it to go on a Steelers blog.  And it did.  For about 20 hours until they unceremoniously deleted it.

In that moment I was faced with a choice, do I say it’s unfair, or do I agree to allow it to be deleted.  (I agreed.)  Some have told me I should have fought it out.  But I think that misses the point that Jesus was trying to teach before his death.  Sometimes the way to change the world is to say little and let your actions speak for you.

How would arguing have convinced people that I wasn’t trying to “force my views” on people?  How would arguing have benefited the kingdom?  I think it would have already pigeonholed me more as a Jesus freak.  It would have made an already (apparently) hostile audience dig into their mental bunkers.

It would have accomplished nothing that the article was supposed to accomplish (that is, talking about grace and forgiveness.)

While I think the site made a mistake, and possibly even singled me out unfairly, I’m okay with that.  It’s their site, and they pay the bills.  My job was to write the article and post it, if they disagreed, so be it.

In the end I take away three things from this experience.

  1. Being known gives you credibility to talk to God.  To them I was some random person just popping up and throwing around the word “grace” and “forgiveness” and “God.”  They didn’t know me because even though I’ve read that website nearly every day for 3 years, I never was part of their vocal community.  The same is true in all our lives.  If we want to talk about God, we need to be known to people or they won’t take us seriously.  It’s the difference between “Bible thumping” and “Sharing the Gospel.”
  2. Sometimes it’s better not to fight.  As I said above, fighting doesn’t always solve the Kingdom problems.  Fighting is what the world does.  Throwing a fit is what everyone does.  I want to look different and let people see God through that difference.
  3. Even smart people make dumb comments about God.  It was kind of shocking to see otherwise smart people, hold very inconsistent, if not irrational, views about God and Christianity.  People spend very little time thinking about why they believe what they believe.  Make sure, if you’re a believer, you don’t make that same mistake.

I don’t feel like this was exactly a “positive” experience.  But I am glad I experienced it.  Why?  Because following where God is leading is always worth it.  Even if it feels like you slap into a brick wall.

The Unfair Treatment of Ben Roethlisberger

1

Category : faith

The following is a post I made on a Steelers football blog.  It seemed more appropriate there, than here.  However, it was deemed “too religious” to stay there, so they deleted it.  No hard feelings on my part.  But more on the experience next week. In the meantime, I thought it was too good to end up in the delete bin of some random server.  So here you go….

This is one of those posts that I’ve been putting off.  I keep thinking I should write it.  But then I don’t want to.  Partly because it violates my “don’t talk about people” rule for blogging.  And partly because it’s just opening a can of worms.  But with my beloved Steelers making it into the Super Bowl, I think it’s time.  And as you can guess from the title, we’re going to talk about Ben Roethlisberger.

Now before we get into the conversation I want to say two things to set the stage.

1.        I have no idea what he did or what happened in Georgia or in Nevada.  Obviously whatever happened wasn’t good.

2.       If Ben (or anyone) assaulted someone, then the correct punishment is jail.

However I want to set those points aside and talk about something else.  I want to talk about us.  The fans.  The nation.  The media.  In other words, I want to talk about everyone who isn’t Ben Roethlisberger.  Specifically what are we supposed to think?  Should we hate the man because of alleged crimes?  Should we hold him accountable even when a court doesn’t?  Does winning make a difference?  Does winning mean Ben needs to work harder to redeem himself off the field?

Reading around the web we see points of view all over.  We see Gregg Doyel saying he believes Ben’s changed.  We see Joe Starkey saying, who knows?  We see others saying that we’re all a bunch of racists because we’re treating Vick and Ben differently.

So how are we supposed to act?

Well in my mind, Ben has answered this question himself.   He claims he’s changed.  He claims he’s different.  He claims he’s learned his lesson.  But most importantly he claims he’s re-found God.

It’s that last one that really matters to me.  Because as a Christian, I need to take seriously anyone’s claim to believe.  Now obviously I don’t know Ben.  I have no idea if he’s changed or if he’s really found God.  Politicians, mobsters, athletes and actors have all “found” God just as the press was getting a bit uncomfortable.  For all I know it could be a scam.  Perhaps Starkey has a point.

I pray with all my heart he does believe in God.  In fact I pray for Ben a lot.  I pray that his life is so changed that people can’t help but notice God’s power.  Is that unfair?  Absolutely.  It’s not fair that Ben can redeem himself through playing winning football.  It’s not fair that he can be a millionaire and live in luxury, while so many of us make smaller mistakes and have our lives destroyed.

But who claimed life was fair?  Certainly not God.

When I look at the Bible’s list of prominent people, three of the most important were Moses, David, and Paul.  All three have something in common.  They all either directly or indirectly murdered people.  Heroes of faith, murderers all.

Yet God used their failures as platforms for their redemptions.  They all died with a greater appreciation for God.  They worked harder, trusted more, and ultimately made more of a difference to history because of their terrible sins.

Is Ben going to be the next Moses?  I have no idea.  I don’t even know who’s going to win the game next week.  But if he’s truly changed, if he truly believes in God, then why not?  God has done crazier things in history.

This brings us back to our response.  Some people are going to fully embrace Ben because he’s “behaved” for 10 months.  Others will embrace him because he’s winning.  Still others will hate him all the more because he’s winning or because he hasn’t “suffered” to their level of satisfaction.

When you have reporters, alleged un-biased, bringers of truth say things like, “By the time Super Bowl XLV hype is done, and the Big Ben redemption stories have been told, we’ll all be confusing him with Tim Tebow” on Twitter, there is anger out there.   Anger at God.  Anger at Ben.  Anger at the unfairness of it all.

Some of you may be angry that this is bringing faith into the conversation.  But I don’t see any other way to answer the question of Ben’s redemption.  How else do you know when “enough is enough?” 

So if you don’t share my faith, I don’t know what to tell you.  I don’t have advice to offer you as to how you should look at Ben.  I don’t know what defines “enough” for you.  But as for anyone who calls themselves “Christian” I think there is only one path.  And that’s to welcome him back.  It’s to love our enemies and forgive those who hurt us.  If it was good enough for Moses, David, and Paul, then it’s good enough for Ben.

For me the journey ends here.  I will forgive Ben.  I will pray for Ben.  And I will let God decide if Ben is sincere or not.

Is football a sin?

Category : faith

I love football.  I get fired up on game day.  I’m never more emotional, excited, scared, and pumped up than during a Steelers game.  During each game, like millions of fans around the world, I feel the pain and thrill of loving an NFL team.

I’m lucky because I’m a Steelers fan.  Depending on the outcome of the game this weekend the Steelers may well be on their way to their 8th Super Bowl appearance (and hopefully 7th win!).  Not something many fans can enjoy.

But when I watch football there is a nagging question in the back of my mind.  It’s a question I don’t like.  It’s a question I’d rather not ask.  But deep down it’s a question I must ask: is football a sin?

I’m not talking about the violence or the cheating or the cheerleaders.  I’m not talking about the money or the fame or the trash talk.  What I’m talking about is my emotional involvement with football.

Why is it when the Steelers lose I’m in a bad mood for a week?  Why is it when I think back to previous seasons that ended in a playoff loss do I feel a pit in my stomach and hatred in my heart?  (I’m looking at you Neil O’Donnell.)

I think about this every time I watch football.

Why is it that I’m more fired up about football than my relationship with God?  Why do I block out 4 hours every Sunday for Steelers football, but not for church?  Why is it that I’m more excited by a last minute touchdown than the thought of feeding the hungry or curing the sick?

I’m not always like that.  In fact I’m involved in a lot of different things at my church.  Things I really care about.  Things I sacrifice for.  But none of those really come close to the thrill of a Steelers victory.

And I don’t think I like that anymore.

I don’t want fame and fortune

Category : faith

There was a time in my life that I wanted fame and fortune.  I saw those as things to aspire to.  They were the American Dream.  I wanted to travel the world in luxury, not worry about paying bills (because I was loaded) and have the freedom to do anything I wanted.

But now that I’m a Christian, I think those are things I don’t really want.  Fame and fortune do not bring happiness.  And at least from reading the news, it seems they bring more misery than anything else.

Take a look at Brett Favre.  He was idolized as having it “all.”  He was famous, successful.  He was a record setter.  He was a millionaire.  He lived the high life.  He was idolized in video games and history books.

My how things change.

I don’t know Favre personally (duh!).  For all I know he could be a great guy.  For all I know he could be a Christian and just simply lost his way.  So I offer no judgment.  All too easily the same things (or something similar) could befall any of us.

What I do offer is a growing realization that money, stuff, fame, or even friends and family, will offer us freedom and happiness.

The only thing that truly offers freedom and happiness is God.  And while that’s still a radical, shocking, revolutionary claim, it’s 100% true.

But don’t take my word for it.  Just look around at all the so-called “successful” people and you can’t help but notice the deep pain and suffering they experience – just like the rest of us.

Fame and fortune aren’t what they are cracked up to be.

What about John?

Category : choice, faith

One of my favorite stories in the Bible happens at the end of John.  Jesus has been resurrected.  The disciples know he’s truly God.  And they are all ecstatic.  When Jesus meets Peter and John (and a few other disciples) while they are fishing, Peter is so excited he jumps out of the boat and runs / swims to get to Jesus.

This is typical Peter – who does pretty much everything with action followed by thought.

Fortunately that’s not something God discourages.  In fact, it’s part of what makes Peter so much like you and me.  We often act and then only later say, “oh yeah, that third slice of cake probably wasn’t a good idea.”

When Peter finally gets to shore, Jesus asks him three times, “do you love me more than all the others.”  Peter says “yes” three times.  This is Jesus’ way of saying to Peter that he has been restored for denying Jesus three times.

Peter’s reward?

Jesus tells him that he’ll be executed as a martyr.  Now that’s probably not exactly what Peter wanted to hear.  Because as soon as Jesus says this, the Bible tells us that Peter looks around, and says, “what about John?”

Jesus’ response is simple, “who are you to question this?”

That’s a response that resonates with all of us.  Although probably painfully.  Frankly I don’t want to suffer.  And I don’t want to suffer alone.  And if I have to suffer alone I sure as heck want to know why!  But with God, we don’t really get all the answers to questions like that.  Our role, the role of the faithful, isn’t to question before we act, it’s to listen and then act.

God doesn’t mind our questions.  He often answers them (only a short time earlier Jesus let Thomas feel his wounds so that he would believe.)  But there are many times when God never fills us in on the details.  He never told Job why he had to suffer.  He never fully explains to Adam and Eve why eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was a bad idea.

Sometimes God wants us to be impulsive.  He wants us to jump out of the boat and walk on water (or swim through water).  But mostly he wants us to trust him enough to not ask, “what about John?”

a coming change

Category : faith, hope

It’s hard to believe 2010 is almost over.  Didn’t it only start a few weeks ago?  It’s been an amazing year with a lot of changes both personal and professional.  It’s been a year that God’s shown me his grace, mercy and outrageous generosity on more than one occasion.

Which is why I’m really looking forward to Christmas this year.  It’s going to be a time of new beginnings, and a reminder of just how amazing God is.  And I can’t wait to spend that time with my family, friends, and God.

As you’ve probably noticed, things have been quite a bit slower around here the last few months.  It’s in part because in the last year I’ve started a new job, I got married, and wrote a book.  As a result of all of this I’ve had to re-learn what it means to live out a life of faith.  It was one thing to live a life of faith by myself, it’s quite another when you have a wife (and daughter) involved!

Because of all of this, I’ve been working on a new super-secret project that I hope to reveal in the coming months.  Sooner if I can find the time.

Until then, I hope that you all have a Merry Christmas, and I’ll see you all  right after the new year!

the price of faith?

Category : barbarian, faith, fear

Some days I wake up and think, “man I’m really making a difference for the kingdom!”  I look around at my life and think about the financial sacrifices I’ve made.  I think about the hard choices I’ve had to make in my life to align it more with God’s path than my own path.  I think about the career choices I’ve made and volunteer opportunities I’ve done.

Frankly I feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot.

But then I turn around and read an article about the 32-year old Christian pastor being executed in Iran because he denounced Islam.  And I realize, yeah, my sacrifices aren’t very much.  And I wonder, if the price of my faith was death and torture, would I still believe?