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.

does the universe need God?

Category : God

The news last week was that Stephen Hawking now believes that you don’t need “a” god to create the universe.  Instead, it can be explained by physical forces such as gravity.  In his view, Big Bangs don’t need a “Big Banger” because gravity will cause universes to collapse and then explode.

The overall argument, as I understand it is that natural forces cause the universe to expand, collapse, and be created.  Because it’s all natural, you don’t need anyone starting the whole process.

I’m not a physicist or astronomer.  For all I know everything Hawking says is true.

But what I don’t get is this: where does the stuff come from so that gravity can work?  Where was the first particle of matter that decided, “Hey I’m going to create multiple universes today!”

Maybe they have an answer.  But I sure don’t see how saying “gravity makes universes” gets you away from asking “where the heck did gravity come from in the first place!”

photo provided by flickr user Jan Tik

an heir to the kingdom

Category : God

Recently I mentioned that each of us is a child of God.  But that means more than just getting gifts and behaving like kids.  In fact, it comes with a whole lot of responsibility.  When we become a child of God, we actually become heirs to God’s Kingdom.

Think about what that means.

It’s a big deal to be an heir.  It means we need to have responsibility.  It also means we need to understand how things work.  A CEO can’t run an organization if he or she doesn’t understand the basics of the business.  Presidents can’t “run” a government if they don’t know the laws and troubles facing their land.

Paul in a letter to the Galatians says we “are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.”

Slaves didn’t know how to run the kingdom.  Criminals didn’t know how to run the corporation.  Strangers don’t get the keys to the house.  God doesn’t see us as distant toys to be played with, like the Greek gods.  He isn’t indifferent to us as many postmodern religions claim.  God says we are heirs to the kingdom.  We are in line to receive the Kingdom!

If that doesn’t make you smile, then nothing will.

photo provided by everystockphoto

what does it mean to be a child of God?

Category : God

“…we are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we are his heirs.  In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.   But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”

Have you ever stopped to think about what it means to be a child of God?  For me this is a difficult thing to wrap my mind around.  Not because I can’t understand God adopting us into his family, but because when I hear that phrase I immediately think of people doing cheesy Christian things (like bumper stickers that say “honk if you love Jesus.”)  In my mind, the phrase “child of God” has almost been hijacked by well-intentioned, but people who are a little creepy and who behave strangely while dressing in 1970’s clothing.

I doubt I’m alone.

But when we stop and think about being a child of God, there’s a lot packed into that little phrase.  Some of the things that come to mind are…

  • We are in the family
  • We can’t lose that identity (you can’t un-family your family!)
  • We are heirs
  • As heirs we are responsible for “the family business”
  • We receive gifts from our Father (protection, love, mercy)
  • We can recognize our Father’s voice

The God of the universe wants us to be in his family.  The Creator of existence loves us so much that he wants to us to be sons and daughters.  If that doesn’t blow your mind, then I don’t know what will.  What other religions make such outrageous claims?

No matter how much I learn about God, I find I am always amazed by him.

created in God’s image

Category : God

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis: 1:26)

It’s easy to forget we are special.  Life has a way of squeezing the joy from us.  Our co-workers are often more intent on bringing us back down to their level than building us up.  Our family can be more concerned with their feelings than our feelings.  Even our friends can stop us from growing because they like things how they are.  It seems everywhere we look the world is holding us back.

God alone stands out.

In fact, he has gone so far as to share his divinity with us.  It’s right there in Genesis 1: 26, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.”  God could have created us in any way he saw fit.  He didn’t create animals in his image.  He didn’t give them special authority.  He reserved that for us.  God shared his divinity with us, what other god can claim that?

So the next time you’re feeling underappreciated or undervalued, just remember, the creator of the universe sees you as important enough to share his identity with you.  And that’s something to hold on to.

Image provided by flickr user Plinkk

when you can’t control anything, what do you do?

Category : God

I don’t like to admit this, but I’m a bit of a control freak.  Sure I can go with the flow, and most people would say I’m pretty laid back.  But that’s just because I think I can influence the flow.  I know where that flow is going, so I’m content to just ride along.

I’m not alone.  Most of us are control freaks.  We love thinking we’re in charge.  We structure our lives, our schedules, and even our relationships in ways that we can control.  But is this how we should live as Christians?

I don’t think it is.

Not because there’s anything wrong with influencing things around you.  But because we don’t want influence, we want absolute control.  And when that illusion of control finally breaks, what happens?  We become angry, stressed out, and frustrated.  Hardly Christian responses!

I have been thinking about this a lot this week.  You see I’m unexpectedly in the middle of buying a house.  I didn’t expect to buy a house a week ago.  And now I’ve made an offer.  The biggest worry I have is what might happen in some imaginary future.  What’s the resale value going to be?  How are my neighbors?  Is this the right location for where I want to live?

All of those are good questions to ask.  But the more I tried to wrestle with them, the more I realized I can’t control those outcomes.  What if I buy a house that looks good now, but a mall developer comes in and buys a bunch of houses around me?  I can’t control that.  What if I buy a house and traffic patterns change so that it’s harder to get to and less safe for my family?  I can’t control that.

There are a thousand things I can’t control.

Take a look at Europe right now.  There’s an unexpected volcanic eruption happening that’s disrupting the flight patterns of hundreds of thousands of people.  I suspect many of them are on vacations or business trips.  Some probably are losing thousands of dollars by missing non-refundable trips.  Did any of them plan for that?

I bet a lot of people thought they could control everything: their schedule, their money, their time.  In the end, a giant volcano had different ideas.

We live in a world that says we can control everything.  That if we make all the right decisions only good things will happen (some even believe that if you’re “good enough” God will make sure only good things will happen to you).  But that’s a lie.  Volcanoes erupt.  People get cancer.  Accidents happen.  Life is a mess.

Instead we need to give up that control.  I know, I know, that doesn’t seem to make sense.  But it’s the way the Kingdom runs.  We need to trust that God’s in charge.  This doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen.  We live in a fallen world.  Random crap is part of that falleness.  What trusting God means is that we don’t worry about all the random crap because in the end, we will be taken care of.  That “end” might come when we die.  Or it might come while we’re alive.  But in the end, God will always take care of us.

We may not be able to count on volcanoes, or weather men, or the economy, or even family members.  But we can always count on God.  And frankly that sounds like a better bet to me anyways.

photo provided by flickr user Casey Serin

bargaining with God

Category : God, faith, hope, taking action

My day started with being honked at.  Apparently I had committed the horrific act of coming to a stop at the end of my driveway.

I can only assume that they were honking as a “warning” to let me know that they were coming down the road.  However, it’s possible they were just cranky.  But this was not a good way to start out my day.  Few things get under my skin as quickly as bad drivers.  Since I wrote, “love your enemy and fellow drivers” I have tried to take a different approach to bad drivers.  But it’s never easy.

As I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that I need to stay calm, I followed this driver down the street.  Before long we came to a stop sign.  Of course we all know that a stop sign requires that we come to a “complete and full stop.”  Well this driver rolled right through it.  She barely slowed down.

That’s when I realized what had happened.  She had assumed that since she didn’t stop at intersections, I wouldn’t either.  Psychologists call this “projection.”  It’s the very simple idea that we project what we’re feeling and doing onto other people.  (This is why someone who is a compulsive liar always assumes everyone else is lying.)  She was honking because if our roles were reversed, she would have cut me off.

The sad thing is we do this with God all the time.  We project our own views, beliefs, and motives on him.  If you’ve ever tried to bargain with God, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  When we find ourselves in need of help, instead of just asking, we pray things like, “God if you just help me out now, I promise to give up drinking.”  Or “God, if you heal my kid, I will go to church every week.”

This is a very natural reaction.  It’s what we do with our families.  We tell our kids, “if you eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert.”  Or we tell our employees, “if you put in extra hours, then you can have a raise.”  We even bargain with ourselves, “if I go the gym tonight, I can have a piece of cake tomorrow.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bargaining.  Even God says some things are based on our behavior: “to those who are faithful in the small things, more things will be given.”  But when it comes to God’s love and mercy, we can’t bargain for that.  God doesn’t hold out on us until we earn enough credit.  We can’t be good enough to earn our way into his favor.  There’s nothing we have that we can offer to God in some kind of exchange.  It’s not like God has much need of your collection of baseball cards or your money.  Bargaining with God is not only theologically wrong, it doesn’t even make sense!

Instead we need to learn to receive God.  To accept his love, without any strings attached.   God’s love is absolute.   It is unconditional.  He’s not like you and I.  He’s truly radical and revolutionary.  And so is his behavior.

How do you add more to that?

photo provided by flickr user Nate Larimer

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