God is my joy

Category : God, faith

Sometimes I wonder if I really “get” it.  I was listening to David Crowder’s “you are my joy” and started wondering, do I really live as if God is my joy?  Do I even believe that?  Even just a little bit?

There are days I think I come close.  But if I’m really honest, there are far more days where my joy is in football, video games, books, TV, relaxation, my wife, my family, or my house.

How different would my life be if I really lived as if God was my joy.  I mean really lived that way.

How different would your life be?

is it okay to question God?

Category : God, choice, faith

If you follow football at all, you’ve already heard about the “drop heard around the world.”  During last week’s Steelers – Bills game, Stevie Johnson, dropped a sure touchdown for the Bills.  In fact, it would have dramatically won the game in over time.  In all my years of watching football, rarely have I seen a wide receiver drop such a sure catch.

Immediately after the game, I heard both journalists and Steelers players give the usual it was a “miracle” talk.  And say things like, “God helped us”.  Maybe that’s true.  I have no idea.  I’m not really sure how often God gets involved in football.  (Although I certainly don’t mind if he’s a Steelers fan.)

After the game the Bills receiver (Johnson) had a different reaction.  He tweeted, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!  AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”

That tweet immediately went around the internets, and turned up in stories headlined things like “Bills receiver blames God for drop.

But that’s not how I see it.  (And I’m not sure that’s how Stevie Johnson would see it.)  I don’t even see him blaming God at all.  I see a young guy (24) who is really questioning his faith.  When I was 24 I was a hard-core atheist.  So it seems to me that Johnson has a bit over me when I was his age.

People who don’t believe in God love these stories because it “proves” God doesn’t exist.  At the same time Christians who fear undermining God hate these stories because it seems to question God’s goodness.

Which means that it’s a perfect storm to get news headlines.

But for me it reminds me of my own experiences with God.  As I said, when I was 24 I didn’t believe in God.  Not long after I began to question everything about God and my life.  It was out of that immense pain and suffering that I turned to him, realizing he was the only thing complete enough to heal me.  That’s what I hear in that tweet.  Someone who is just looking for how God can be loving, but at the same time let such painful things happen to us.

In the end, I don’t mind Stevie Johnson’s comments, whether he blames God or not.  I think honest searching for answers always brings us closer to God.  Which is what he wants in the first place!  So my prayer is that Johnson does learn from his drop and let’s God redeem this experience.  I don’t know how.  But God’s a master at redeeming things.  And that’s enough for me.  I hope it’s enough for Johnson.

God is not passive

Category : God, bible, faith

So far we’ve looked at several examples of people who thought it would be best to be passive.  In contrast, the Bible clearly paints God as an active God.  Even in rest, he’s making a conscious decision to “take a break.”  You never see God sitting back and saying, “I’m just going to see what happens.”  Instead he does everything imaginable to try and engage with us and change our actions.  Here’s just a quick list of what he did: he gave us a perfect garden to live, gave Adam a perfect wife, provided Moses with miracles to free the Israelites, provided them bread and meat in the desert, brought floods, protected them from enemies, sent Israel into captivity, In the end God decided to take the most proactive step of all: dying on the cross.

The one person in history who didn’t need to go the extra mile was Jesus.  And yet, he picked up his cross and died for us.  God never sat back to let us figure out a way to save ourselves.  He was always working to save us.

God is not passive.  And if we should model our behavior on Jesus, then why should we ever be passive?

As we conclude this 5 part series no passivity, take some time to think about your own life.  Where are you letting passivity creep in?  Is it your prayer life?  Are you just not praying like you used to?  Or is it something else?  Maybe you’ve stopped reading the bible or going to church?  Maybe you’re just feeling so overwhelmed that you have started to say, “I’ll get to it next week.”

My friends, there may not be a next week.  Not because something terrible is going to happen.  But because it’s more likely something good will happen – your life will continue on, always having commitments, friends, and TV shows to watch.

Sometimes the biggest threat to being active, is just being content with the life we have.  I urge you to not make that mistake.

This is part five in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here.

Repentance and Passivity (the Prodigal Son)

Category : bible, faith

Most of us have heard the story of the Prodigal Son.  We know that there are two brothers.  One brother is a major screw-up.  He’s lazy.  A partier.  A womanizer.  And he even wants his father dead.  (At that time if you asked for your inheritance while his father’s still alive, you were sending the not so subtle message of, “I want you dead!”)  He makes most politicians look good.  The other brother is upright.  He does what he’s supposed to.  Always finishes his chores.  And is loyal to his father.  He’s the ______ of brothers.

The younger brother (the screw-up) goes off and does a lot of bad things.  He gets himself in trouble and realizes he has a choice: starve to death or go back to the father he said he wanted dead.  In the end he decides it’s better to go back to his father and ask forgiveness.

When he returns home, his Dad, instead of being upset, comes running towards him.  Not only does the father forgive the son, he actually throws him a massive party.  The older brother, who has never disobeyed his father, becomes furious.  “You never gave me anything!” he yells at his father.

To me one of the strongest points of the story comes as the older brother and father are standing outside the feast to honor his brother’s return.   His father tries to reason with him, but the brother wants none of it.  We’re left wondering what the brother chooses to do.

Each brother has a choice: to return with the father or not.  The screw-up chooses to return.  He shows repentance and seeks forgiveness.  And a party is thrown in celebration.  The older brother chooses to pout.  He sits back and does nothing.  He watches from the outside as the family and friends celebrate the return of his lost brother.

We are often given a choice.  Do we choose the hard thing and ask for forgiveness?  Or do we sit back and do nothing other than pout?

This is part three in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here.

Adam throws Eve under the bus

Category : Genesis, faith

Sadly, throughout much of history, Eve has been blamed for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and causing Adam & Eve to be kicked out of the garden.  This has been used to justify a lot of things against women.  Certainly Eve bears responsibility for eating the fruit.  She knew just as well as Adam that God had forbidden it.

But who’s fault was the “fall” really?

Look closer at Genesis 3: 6-12. Adam was standing right next to Eve.  At any point he could have stepped in and said, “you know Serpent, that’s not really what God said.”  He could have even said, “Eve, I have a bad feeling about this.  Let’s ask God next time we see him.”

Almost anything Adam would have done would have been better than what he did.  Which was nothing.

Adam stood by and watched.  He gave up all the authority God had given him and simply sat by.

Adam knew all along what was at stake.  But it was easier for him to sit by.  Oh, and for the record, at Adam’s first chance to tell the truth to God, he threw Eve under the bus.  Would things have turned out differently if Adam had said, “God, this is my fault, I didn’t do anything.  I knew better.  I’m sorry.  Forgive me.”  Who know’s.  But Adam chose to be passive the whole time – and for that, he was kicked out of the Garden.

This is part two in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here. Photo provided by flickr user Barbra L. Hanson.

the dangers of passivity – Adam & Eve

Category : Genesis, faith

We live in a world where there’s a lot of choices.  Who should I marry?  Is this job right for me? Can I really eat a dozen donuts? In the midst of all of that, we can easily wonder what we should do.  We can become frozen by our fears, our doubts, and even the excitement of what’s to come.  Frankly we can wish for a “simpler time” or “clear choices.”

But would that really help?

Adam & Eve had it all.  They had an awesome place to live.  Probably some sweet beach front property.  They loved their jobs (naming animals and taking care of Eden).  And Eve was literally created for Adam.  (There was no need to rely on e-harmony to figure out that one).  Life was pretty good.

But they still found themselves struggling with a choice: to eat the fruit or not.  Instead of actively choosing to follow God, they passively stood by and listened to the serpent.  “Of course God didn’t really mean that you’d die” he said.  They knew better.  But it was easier (and more exciting) to go along with the serpent than take an active stand.  And by giving up their choice for passivity – they made the worst possible decision.  And thus, were kicked out of the garden.

Nothing good ever happens when we passively sit in God’s Kingdom.

This is part one in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here.  Photo provided by flickr user Barbra L. Hanson.

following Jesus means dying for those who hate us

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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

are we actually good people?

Category : faith

If you wanted to change software on your work computer, how many people would you need to help you?  Go ahead and think about it for a moment.  If you’re lucky you can do it yourself.  For most of us in the corporate world we don’t have that luxury.  (For me it would be three to five people depending on what I was doing.)

Why does it take that many people?

Because we live in a fallen world.  In other words, a world filled with people who don’t always do the right thing.  Ironically most of us gloss over this fact.  We think we’re “good people” and the only “terrible people” are the ones who commit murders and crimes.  And even then, some of us might argue, it’s only because they had bad childhoods or were picked on as kids.  (Of course if that’s the case doesn’t that mean those were terrible parents, terrible children, and terrible teachers?)

You see my world view, the one of Christianity, says that we as a species are broken.  That we aren’t “good people” who sometimes make mistakes.  In fact we’re terrible sin-ridden people, who are so separated from what is good (God) that we’re better described as terrible people who sometimes do good.  (If you find that shocking, you should.  It’s completely different than what most other world views will tell you.)

It’s this brokenness that causes us to need 5 people to install software.  We need to build that much security into our systems to protect ourselves.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Sure others are bad.  But I’m the exception.  I’m different.”

If that’s the case, why are you different?  What really makes you different than everyone else?  I’m not trying to pick a fight with you.  I just want you to think about your own life, and your own situation.  I want you to think about what you believe.

photo provided by flickr user ChrisL_AK

is God vengeful?

Category : faith

The story of Abraham and Isaac is difficult for us to understand.  It’s shocking.  It’s offensive.  And for many of us, it confirms our view that the Old Testament God was mean and wrathful.  But is that really the case?  Is that really the message God is sending with this story?

I don’t believe God ever intended to take Isaac’s life.  He didn’t change his mind half way, or wimp out.  He intended to teach Abraham the He is loving and merciful, but it also requires submitting everything to following Him.  Those lessons hold true to us.  But we need to look at the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus.  And that means we get one more message to take away.  God never intended to take the life of a child.  Instead God wants us to understand that he will go where he won’t even call us to go.  God wants us to see that he’s a God who sacrifices for his people.  That he’s willing to pay a cost that very few of us would dream of paying.

God would never sacrifice a child.  But he’ll sacrifice himself.

Does that sound like an angry, vengeful, merciless God to you?  Or does it sound like a God who loves us more than we can even understand?

photo provided by flickr user CP Storm

finding the perfect job

Category : faith

I’m the type of person who likes to have things with nice neat answers.  I don’t like a lot of contradiction or even things that seem to defy logic.  That’s why I tend to avoid Genesis.  While I believe that God created the earth, I don’t see any reason to get into the 7 literal days verse 7 “eras” conversation.  Nor do I really get why the Bible tells us people lived to be 800 years old.   Is that a metaphor?  A real life span?  Couldn’t they count?

For a while I struggled looking for answers to those questions.  Then I realized all of that is less relevant to my life than answering another question: was Jesus a real person?  If he was real (yes) and he was God (yes) then I can simply take his word for everything else.   So if Jesus vouches for Genesis, then that’s good enough for me.   I can’t “prove” Genesis, but I can “prove” Jesus.

Why do I share all of this?  Because over the last few weeks I’ve been doing something called “The Story Formed Life.”  It’s an 11 week course that focuses on the story of the Bible.  This has forced me to wrestle with those topics I haven’t spent much time dealing with.  Particularly in Genesis.

As I re-read Genesis, what stands out is the amount of authority and freedom God gives us.

God gives Adam the authority to name the animals and the freedom to pretty much do whatever he wanted.  It was an ideal place.  If you take your average person today what’s their biggest concern: finding the “right” job.  We spend hours worrying about what we were meant to do.  Billions of dollars searching for new jobs and getting professional development.  Yet we still feel like our work has no meaning.

Adam on the other hand was literally created for his job.

It’s often easy to think of God, especially the so-called “Old Testament God” as someone who’s distant and vengeful.  But the real God of Genesis shows us a God who cares so much for his creation that he gives us perfect freedom and perfect autonomy.  Of course that doesn’t mean absolute freedom and autonomy.  God placed certain rules and restrictions on Adam.

But that wasn’t enough for Adam.

He and Eve chose to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And with it, they gave up their freedom and authority.  They walked away from the perfect job because they thought they could get something better.

How often do we do this?  How often do we give up the authority and freedom God gives us for something less filling?  Something more restrictive?

God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.  And the priests took that and turned it into hundreds of highly detailed laws.  As Christians we take the freedom Jesus brings and wrap it in formal prayers, religious obligations, and moral thuggery.

Obviously we aren’t that different from Adam after all.