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?

fearing life

Category : fear

We are consumed and paralyzed with fear.

We buy fire insurance, life insurance, health insurance, flood insurance, pest insurance.  We have people inspect our homes for radon, formaldehyde, and lead.  We child proof our electrical outlets, put rails at the steps, install security systems, and use floodlights to illuminate the dark.  Some people even go so far as to literally put their kid on a leash.

Wow.  Is life really that bad?  Kid’s on a leash?

But that’s where we find ourselves.  And there’s few things more tragic than living life filled with fear.

Of course there’s no question that terrible things may happen to you.  It happens every day.  Your house may burn down, you may get cancer, your kid might be kidnapped.  These things strike terror into our hearts, because we recognize the loss.  But have you ever stopped to consider what you lose by living a life of fear?

This last week a 16 year old girl tried to sail around the world.  For about 24 hours the world thought she had died.  Fortunately she had just lost her mast and a French rescue ship was able to save her.  You know what the headlines read the next day?  Not “courageous girl is saved” or “adventurer vows to try again.”  But “Questions asked of parents” and “Parents accused of risking her life.”

The world’s first reaction was to question why this girl’s parents didn’t keep her “safe.”

So let me ask you this: what’s more damaging, being told to never follow your dreams because they aren’t “safe”?  Or putting it all on the line for something you believe in?

That’s one of the remarkable aspects of Christianity.  We so often think of Christians as the “safe, non adventurous” types.  But God calls us to be ridiculously courageous.  He asks us to push the boundaries of his kingdom.  To be adventurers.  Or as Erwin McManus said, we should be the barbarians at the gate of civilization.

Fear is often unreasonable.  We weigh things differently when we fear.  How many of us are afraid to swim in the oceans because of Jaws?  But you are 250 times more likely to be killed by Bambi then Jaws?

Fear can be healthy.  It can prevent us from doing stupid things, like licking an iron.  But it can also paralyze us and take the joy out of living.  If you’re a Christian, there is no place in your life for fear.  Fear drives a wedge between us and God.  And it stops us from doing what needs to be done.  It prevents us from running to the needy.  It freezes us from helping the hurting.  And it blocks us from living in the grace God has for us.

I don’t know about you, but that’s too high of a price for me to pay.

photo provided by flickr user rocketjim54

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.

don’t manage your risk, embrace it

Category : barbarian, bible, different, faith, fear, living a life of faith, taking action

While most of us were busy celebrating the holidays, the world was in full motion.  In a matter of about 24 hours we learned that a terrorist tried to kill 270 civilians by blowing up a plane.  And while all of this was going on, the Pope was attacked during a Christmas service.

Fortunately both the passengers on the plane and the Pope escaped any significant injury (although a Vatican diplomat broke their hip and a passenger suffered 3rd degree burns wrestling the terrorist).

Reading headlines like this makes it easy to want to stick your fingers in your ears and hum Christmas carols really loudly. (I personally recommend Here Come Santa Claus.)  But is that what we should be doing?

One of the things that struck me in the story about the Pope was a simple sentence that read: “Security analysts have frequently warned the pope is too exposed in his public appearances.”

Now Security Analysts are paid to keep people safe.  Their job is to limit risk.  To create “risk management scenarios.”  But is that the job of a Christian?  To stay safe?  To manage risk?  When I look at the Bible I see people who constantly put themselves in danger because that was where God was headed.  They lived a life of faith so intensely that all that mattered was following God.

The Pope is a high profile figure.  He’s part celebrity.  Part politician.  Part religious figure.  Which means he represents a very “appealing” target to people who may have psychological issues (as was the case with this woman).

I’ve never been the Pope.  And not being Catholic, it’s very unlikely I’ll ever be the Pope.  I’ve also never had anyone care enough about what I do to want to hurt me.  I’m not famous, rich, or a religious figurehead.  So I can’t really understand what all comes with that.  I also don’t really understand what it’s like to have my life constantly in danger.  The most dangerous thing I do every day is scrape the ice off of my car.

But being the Pope is different.

He experiences all of those things.  He has to make daily decisions that may cost him his life.  And there are many people just like him, making those same kinds of decisions.  But far too many people make choices based on risk management scenarios.

There is something seriously wrong with our churches when we put risk management above living out a life of faith.  I applaud the Pope for being so accessible and putting his life on the line.  I applaud the Christian who walks into danger, because that is where she sees God calling.

As we head into 2010 I want you to think about one question: Are you living a “safe” life?  Or are you living the radical, revolutionary life that God calls us to?

i don’t want to go through the motions

Category : Jesus, Matthew, fear, living a life of faith, taking action, trust

……….

I admit it.  The last few weeks have been a bit up and down on R3.  I haven’t been able to post the usual three times a week.  It seems events have been conspiring against me.  At first I was sick.  Then I realized it was NaNoWriMo.  (That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you scoring at home.)  And after writing about 20,000 words of a book, I had to put virtually everything on hold because, my friends, I have some good news to share.  I was offered a job on Monday and accepted.

That means after all this time I will finally be employed.

If you’ve been following R3 for any length of time you know that this last year has been hard.  I’ve been unemployed since the first of the year.  And that takes a toll on you.  More than just financially though. You can easily begin to doubt yourself.  And at times I really questioned where I was going.  Unemployment can also shake your faith.  There were times when I really wondered if I was really following God or just going off on my own tangents.  It also can impact your relationships.  It’s hard to be loving and engaged when you wonder where you will get enough money to pay the bills.  It’s also hard to stay active with your friends when they want to go do something that costs money and you don’t have the funds for that.

Looking back on the year I realize just how much I have learned and just how much I’ve grown.  I don’t even feel like the same person anymore.  And none of that would have been possible without trusting God and quitting my job.  The ironic thing is, that despite all the pain this year has caused, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.  In fact, it’s probably one of the best years I’ve ever had.

You see I don’t want to go through the motions.  I don’t want to look back on my life and wonder, “did I really give everything?”  I don’t want to just be that guy who punches the clock and that’s it.  I want my life to make a difference.  I want to advance the Kingdom in powerful ways, or at least in whatever ways I can.

Jesus once told the parable of the talents.  In it he described three men who were each given talents (which was a sum of money equivalent to about 3 months of wages).  Two of the men doubled what they had been given.  But the last man didn’t do anything with his talent.  He was afraid and therefore didn’t act.

When the master of the three men returned he demanded an account of how they had used the money.  The first two were rewarded greatly, and the last man was punished.  Not because he lost the money.  But because he didn’t do anything with his talent!

That terrifies me.

I would rather lead a life of adventure, and chaos, and unpredictability than live a safe, comfortable life that wasn’t about pursuing God.  I knew that I had a choice to make about my job.  Stay there and be comfortable, but do nothing with my “talent.”  Or be willing to trust God so much that I would walk into a completely unpredictable world.

I chose to act.

I don’t always choose to act.  And I’m not saying everyone should quit their job.  But I don’t want to look back some day and think, “why did I waste my talent?”

This is why the Matthew West song “The Motions” has become a theme song of sorts.

I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
Instead of going through the motions?”

That’s how I want to live.  How about you?  Are you going through the motions?

does god answer prayers

Category : Matthew, different, faith, fear, living a life of faith, trust

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks,  the door will be open.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7: 7-11)

Sometimes I think that just because I ask God for something I should get it.  And when I don’t, I’m shocked.  “How can God not answer my prayers?!” I cry out.  But as I read the story of Israel, I have to wonder, is that what’s really happening?

I’ve talked about how the trip to the Promised Land was only an 11 day trek.  Yet it took the Israelites 40 years to make it.  Why?  Not because God hadn’t answered their prayers of salvation (he had, even though they constantly doubted).  But because God knew that if the Israelites went directly to the Promised Land they would have been destroyed by what they found.

As it turns out it was the struggle of the journey that allowed them to become strong enough to enter the Promised Land.  It was their suffering which strengthened them.  It was their growing relationship with God that allowed them to have the faith necessary.  And once they were ready, or perhaps I should say, only when they were ready, did God open that door.

If Israel had avoided the disaster of 40 years in the wilderness, they would have experienced complete destruction at the hands of their enemies.  We are so quick to assume that God has abandoned us, when we don’t know all the facts.

The band, Since October has a song called disaster that really drives this home:

thank God for disaster
disaster and tears
thank God for my reasons
my reasons to fear
every time that I’ve lost it all and death is calling me
i understand this is what saved my life again

It is hard for me to remember that God often says “yes”, but it takes time for that “yes” to become a reality.  Living in a world of “lose 6 pounds in 6 days” and Instant Ramen Noodles it is hard for me to be patient.  I don’t like to wait for things.  But as the Israelites learned, sometimes waiting is the only way to get where you want to go.

Perhaps I should spend less time whining to God, and more time trusting and believing in God.  Perhaps I should spend less time avoiding problems, and more time thanking God for disaster.

who is God?

Category : 1 Kings, God, choice, faith, fear, taking action

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19: 11-13)

Sometimes we think of God as so magnificent, so powerful, so amazing that he must exist only in the great big powerful things of the world.  That if we were going to see God, he’d be sitting on a high throne looking down at us.  That his voice would be booming and intimidating.

But that’s not who God is.

Elijah was afraid.  His life had been threatened and he lost his nerve.  He was on the run, scared, hiding, timid.  When God finds him we’re told that mountains were torn apart, earthquakes shook the ground and fire burned.  But God wasn’t in any of that.  God came in the form of a gentle whisper asking a simple question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

God recognized that Elijah was afraid.  And like a gentle parent he came and whispered, “child, why are you hiding?”

I have a confession to make.  When I read this story I am overwhelmed by emotion.  Because I have been that child.  And God has reached out to me whispering, “don’t be afraid, I am here.”  I am moved because God doesn’t have to bend down to my level.  Yet that’s exactly what he does.  God always stoops to my level, because he loves me.  How can I not love him back?

The world often tells us that things must be big, loud, and aggressive to get attention.  But as Elijah found out, sometimes the most powerful thing in the world can be a gentle whisper.

suffering because of faith

1

Category : Exodus, God, faith, fear, trust


“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”  (John 1: 1-4)

Sometimes I find myself thinking that as long as you believe in God, you won’t have to suffer.  Yet that’s not the story the Bible presents.  The people closest to God are often the people who suffer the most for their faith.  Despite knowing this, it never really occurred to me that God might intentionally bring challenges into my life.  That he might be an “active” gardener.

I suppose it was just wishful thinking.

We view gardeners as someone who helps plants become stronger, more beautiful, and healthier.  But do you really think the plant feels that way when it’s getting cut apart?  Do you think the plant believes in the good intentions of the gardener?  Makes you have second thoughts about cutting your grass, doesn’t it?

I believe we’re like that plant.  The minute we start feeling “pruned” we start wondering why things are so miserable.  “Does God really want me to be suffering?” we ask.  “Does my life need to be like this?  Do I need to go through all this pain?”

Sometimes the answer is “yes” we must suffer.  Not because God wants us to be in pain.  But because there is no other way to get to our destination.  There is no other way to become stronger and healthier.  There is no other way to move out of our pride, our complacency, or our self-centeredness.

In order to prune a plant, a gardener must “hurt” the plant by pulling off dead leaves or rotting branches.  Even in medicine we do this.  A doctor will amputate a severely injured limb.  This isn’t because they want you to suffer, it’s because the only way you will survive is to lose a limb.

I believe God is sometimes that doctor.  Not all the time.  Just sometimes.  I think a lot of our suffering is our own fault.  If you don’t believe me, ask yourself when the last time you did something you knew was wrong.  How did that turn out for you?  I’m betting you regret it.  But I suppose that’s all for another conversation.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not easy when God starts pruning.  When Israel left Egypt they had an 11 day hike to the Promise Land.  It took them 40 years.  Now it’s possible that Moses just didn’t stop to ask for directions.  But it’s more likely that God chose to take Israel on a route because they needed to be pruned.  In fact, that’s exactly what God says – “If they (Israel) face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

God was allowing Israel to suffer  so they would be prepared to handle the challenges ahead of them.  He was making sure their faith was strong enough to overcome the challenges they would face.  Was it fun?  Not at all.  Was it necessary?  Absolutely.

My natural reaction is to run from pain.  I don’t like being uncomfortable.  So I certainly don’t like it when God is bringing obstacles into my life.  But I’m struck by the fact that I need to embrace these challenges.  How different would Israel’s journey have been if they had recognized what God was doing?  They never would have been tempted to build a golden calf, or complain for 40 years.  (And you think it’s bad with a kid sitting in the back seat saying “are we there yet?”  Imagine a 40 year car trip!)

Instead of running around looking for an exit strategy, I need to calm myself down and ask, “God what should I be learning?”  If I must suffer, then I want my suffering to be caused by my faith.  I want it to be brought about by a loving God who’s desire is to help me, not hurt me.

I am willing to sacrifice if it means knowing God better.

As spring approaches and the world starts turning green again, consider the hardship the plants go through each winter.  I challenge you to think about your own suffering as well – each time you see a budding bush or a blooming flower, ask God what needs to be pruned from your life to help you to bear more fruit.

trusting God when it seems impossible

2

Category : 1 Kings, faith, fear, live for the eternal, taking action

  

Life can be hard.

There are millions of people without jobs.  They wonder how they’ll feed their families, pay their mortgages, and make things work.  There are millions more who are without food, hundreds of thousands sold into sex slavery, and countless more without any kind of health care. 

How do you deal with those things?

This isn’t an academic conversation to me.  This is real.  This hits home. 

I’m out of a job because I acted in faith when God told me it was time to move on.  I acted, and now I wonder if that was the right thing.  Did I hear him correctly?  Or did I eat some bad pizza?  Of course at the time I had no idea what was going to happen to the economy.  I had no idea how hard it would be to find another job (I’d never had a problem in the past).  I acted because I believe that’s what God wanted me to do. 

I don’t pretend to understand everything.  I’d also be lying if I said I’m not tempted to find a solution “on my own.”  Isn’t that the reasonable thing to do?

The world tells us we need to fend for ourselves.  And in those quiet moments when we’re alone, isn’t that what we hear whispered from the bottom of our soul?  Don’t we hear a voice that says, “this problem can only be solved if you do something!”

That must have been the voice Asa heard. 

Asa was a king who was once described as someone who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 15:11)  That was high praise considering the kings before him were pretty awful people.  But by the end of his life, Asa had succumbed to that voice.  He was being attacked from the south and feared his kingdom would be overrun.  So he did what any rational, normal person would do – he made an alliance with someone stronger. 

He listened to that voice and “did something.”

You see that voice is right.  Our problems won’t be solved if we don’t take action.  If we sit around paralyzed by fear, doing nothing, nothing is exactly what will happen.  Unfortunately Asa thought action meant bribing a foreign king (1 Kings 15: 18-19) when he should have realized that action meant trusting God.   

That’s the danger we all face.  We want to take action.  But we don’t always want to wait for God to get involved.  So we act.  But what happens when we’re wrong?  What happens when action without God is the worst thing we could have done?  

No one wants to hear God say, “Because you relied on man, and not God, your problems will be worse than before.”  Asa wasn’t any different.  When he was told that, he didn’t say “gee thanks, I didn’t realize that.”  Nope.  Asa took the man delivering the news and threw him in jail.  (2 Chronicles 16: 10)

In the end, things did get worse.  Asa died from an infectious disease.  In his feet.  Not exactly the best way to go out.  But even worse, in the end Asa didn’t even bother turning to God to ask for help.  He decided it was more important to “do something” then to rely on God.  So he sought out the best doctors of the time - and died two years later. 

That’s not where I want to be. 

No matter how scary it gets not having a job, I don’t want to “do something” if that something means leaving God out of the solution.  I don’t believe for a minute that God wants us to sit around waiting only for a miracle to occur.  I think he wants us to give problems every ounce of our strength.  If you are sick he wants you to see doctors.  If you’re facing an invading army, he wants you to seek allies.  If you are homeless he wants you find a home.  If you’re jobless he wants you looking for a job.  But he doesn’t want you to do it alone. 

There are times we need to trust God when it seems impossible.  Asa failed that test.  But we don’t have to. 

No matter what our problems are, trusting God is the right solution.  Because as Asa discovered, no matter how brilliant a doctor is, they are still limited by time, knowledge, and skill.  I’m not saying following God is easy.  In fact, following God is tough.  It’s even painful at times: the man who told Asa he was wrong, wound up in prison.  Yet, there are more important things in this life than having a job, defeating an invading army, and even your freedom.

There is a point to life.  And sometimes to get there we have to trust God even when it seems impossible.