the angry cat

Category : different, faith, live for the eternal, sin

My fiancé has a cat.  His name is Ben.  Ben the cat is about as neurotic as animals come.  I’ve written about him before.  Well last night he found a stuffed mouse with some cat nip inside.  Instead of playing with the toy he spent the whole time “growling” because he was afraid someone was going to steal the toy.  Now I’m not exactly sure why he thought someone would be interested in a slightly chewed, mostly soggy, fake rat.

But he was convinced someone wanted it.  And that was good enough for him.

The sad part is, he never enjoyed the toy because he was too worried that someone would take it from him.  The entire time he “played” with the mouse was essentially spent making sure no one else could have it.

Does that sound like anyone you know.

We spend so much time protecting our toys, and our things, that we never get to enjoy them.

I think of this every time I drive past a nice car that’s parked hundreds of feet away from other cars.  Usually it’s parked diagonally across two spots.  The owner is so worried about his (or her) car being damaged that they can’t enjoy the experience of owning it.  They live in fear that someone is going to take it from them.

This is what happens when we lose our focus.  When we aren’t living with a focus on the end game – on the eternal – we get caught up in the moment.  God knows this.  That’s why God reminds us again and again to stay focused on Him.  Not because he’s a narcissist, but because he knows that when we look away we lose our focus.  When we don’t live for the eternal we are bound to struggle.

So the next time you find yourself protecting your things from some unknown-toy-stealing-force, I hope you pause long enough to wonder if that unknown force is even real.

the death of a friend

Category : God, Jesus, faith, live for the eternal, living a life of faith

A friend died.  Although I never knew him.

One of the things I keep coming back to is God’s way of weaving lives together.  I have for the last few years taught a course called “Welcome to the Revolution” at my local church.  My friend was in this class.  He was the type of person who, if you saw on a dark street corner, you’d change sides.  He was gruff.  With a gravelly voice.  And a violent past.  His tattoos revealed the fact that he was both angry and violent.

I remember the first time I saw him in church.  I didn’t consciously think much about it, but I recall thinking he was someone that didn’t “fit” in with the church.  He just stood out, and I thought, “man, I’d hate to upset him.”

I saw him a few weeks later getting baptized.

And then a few weeks later he was in my class.

He was still gruff.  Had a gravelly voice.  His tattoos still screamed at me.  He was also hard to look at.  Not because of the way he looked, but because of the intensity of God’s light that shone through him.  When I looked at him, I could see Jesus staring back at me.  And I realized that everything I had thought about him was wrong.  He wasn’t the guy who you’d cross the street to avoid.  He was the guy who would throw down to protect you.  He was an artist, who was thoughtful enough to hand draw me a Christmas card.

Of course he wasn’t always that way.  As we got to know each other I learned about his dark past.  The violence.  The substance abuse.  The pain.

But I also learned how Jesus had changed him.  I learned just how much God could redeem us.  What I saw was a new man, who was so intensely bathed in his relationship with God that it was hard to look at him, because it reminded me of just how far I have to go.

As the teacher you think you’re supposed to have all the answers.  That you’re supposed to have everything “under control.”  But God has a way of shattering those illusions.

I will be forever grateful to Bertie for shattering my illusions.  In every way that counted he was the teacher and I was the student.

You will be missed Bertie.  You, in the few short weeks I knew you, were as much of a friend to me as anyone I’ve known.  But you are with Jesus now.  I know because I’ve seen Jesus through you.  And one day, we will be together again.  And maybe that time, we’ll have the chance to become better friends.

the challenge of christianity

Category : God, Jesus, bible, different, faith, live for the eternal, trust

……….

One of the worst lies about Christianity is that if you start following God your life will be better / richer / easier / smoother … well, you can fill in the blank.  So many people’s faith has been derailed by this thinking.  Perhaps no other lie does as much damage.

To me this conversation takes on a bit of a personal tone.  Because I grew up believing that as long as you did the “big” things God would always have your back.  Which meant your life would be pretty easy.  But that’s so far from the truth it’s shocking.

If you look at the Bible you see story after story of people having to overcome terrible challenges.  Not because they are sinners, but because they are believers.  That’s the whole point of Job: you can be a good man, but still suffer horribly.  In fact it’s Job’s goodness that gets Satan’s attention.  (Let that one settle in for a bit!)

We don’t need to stop with Job though.  Out of the 12 guys closest to Jesus, all but one of them died unnatural causes.  And the last one, John, was died while in exile.  Did you catch that?  The people closest to Jesus all suffered greatly for that connection.

That sure doesn’t sound like the good “happy christianity” we are fed sometimes in church.

Odds are this conversation is making you uncomfortable.  It should.  Living a life of faith is something that’s different.  It’s something that’s radical.  And often times it is something completely counter cultural.  That’s at least what Jeremiah and Ezekiel learned.  In both cases, God essentially says, “because you believe in me, I’m going to give you an important task.”  Of course that task was to tell the rest of their country about their impending doom. Talk about a horrible job description!  No one likes to be told they are wrong, let alone going to be punished.  Just tell a 4 year old she can’t watch TV anymore and you’ll see what I mean!  But this is what God had them do.  Living a life of faith for Jeremiah and Ezekiel meant they were going to have to do some pretty hard things.  Things that made them hated, persecuted, and punished.

If living a life of faith means having a harder life, why do we do it?

For two reasons I think.

1.  Following God is always better than the alternative.

2.  Because there is a reward: it’s just not now.

Just like a good parent, God always has our best interest in mind.  When we follow him we end up being better people.  Maybe not financially, but character-wise and spiritually we are vastly improved.  We send our children to school even though they don’t want to be there.  Why?  Because it makes them better adults.  I think that’s what God is doing.  He sends us to “life school” to make us better.  But we don’t get to experience the full benefits of that until after we die.

For a lot of people that’s hard to take.  And I understand that.  I’m just as much a product of fast food, microwaves, and instant ramen noodles as anyone else.  But I don’t write the rules, I just try to understand them.  And then I try to do something with them.

So the next time you are faced with a challenge from God.  Accept it.  Confidently.  Knowing that while it might be hard, it is worth pursuing with all your strength.  God never asks us to do something without a reason!  We will get that reward.  God has promised us that much.  And who knows, in the end, you may find you like it better than money or a stress-free life.

quote of the day: Dietrich Bonhoeffer – forgiveness

Category : God, faith, live for the eternal, living a life of faith, love, taking action

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship wrote:

“Through the medium of prayer we go to our enemy, stand by his side, and plead for him to God.  Jesus does not promise that when we bless our enemies and do good to them they will not despitefully use and persecute us.  They certainly will.  But not even that can hurt or overcome us, so long as we pray for them….We are doing vicariously for them what they cannot do for themselves.”

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. 

life and football

Category : faith, fear, live for the eternal, trust

 

I love watching football for one reason: I don’t know the outcome.  It’s the anticipation of what’s about to happen that’s so exciting.  That’s what makes it thrilling.  Tivo it and I couldn’t care less.  The outcome has already occurred.  But when it’s live – nothing is more exciting.

Yet when it comes to my life, I feel the opposite.  I am afraid of the unknown.  I dread the anticipation of what’s about to happen. 

Why?  Why should there be this difference?

I think there shouldn’t be.  We should live to embrace the moment.  We can’t enjoy life if we’re always regretting the past, or even reminiscing in the “good times” of days gone by.  Nor can we live life to the fullest if we’re always terrified of what’s about to happen.  The only way to live out a life of faith is to do so now.  In the moment.  At this point. 

Anything else just won’t cut it.  And where’s the fun in that?

living out a life of faith: 2008

Category : God, hope, live for the eternal, sharing faith, trust

  

Humility.  That’s what 2008 means to me. 

Professionally I find myself entering 2009 without a job.  The first time that’s happened since I was about 12.  This presents challenges and opportunities.  It’s challenging because more of my pride and self-identity are wrapped-up in working than I realized.  It’s hard to let go of that.  It’s also hard to let go of the money and sense of security a job brings.  But it’s also an opportunity.  I now have the time to visit friends.  I have a chance to learn new things.  And I also am in position to explore new writing and speaking opportunities. 

By allowing myself to be humbled, instead of rebelling in pride, I’ve been able to see the good as well as the bad.  Humility has a way of allowing us to realistically deal with the bad, while not losing sight of the promises God makes to us.  I’m not going to say this process was easy, but I will say it was worth it. 

On the personal side, writing R3 has been humbling in it’s own way.  Receiving feedback, (mostly positive!), knowing people are interested in what I write, and the slow realization that people get upset when I miss a scheduled post (you know who you are!), has all come as a bit of a shock.  Sometimes it even feels surreal.

But the most humbling aspect of R3 has to be the fact that writing for all of you is a huge honor.  One that I don’t take lightly, nor do I take it for granted.  I feel a sense of responsibility for R3 and of teaching what I think God is doing in my life.  Or, as Spider-Man once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” 

All of this leads me to one last thought for 2008 – one of the themes I’ve touched on time and again is the idea that God can take anything and turn it into an important lesson.  Pain, suffering, joy, excitement – they all can teach us about God.  Every lesson we learn brings us one step closer to our creator.  It doesn’t matter if we’re losing our jobs or getting $100,000 raise.  In every instance there is something we can learn about God.   

We may not know what lessons we will learn in 2009.  And I am sure they will often be unexpected, taught to us by sadness and happiness, calmness and activity.  But we can always count on God turning even the greatest disaster into an opportunity to learn more about him. 

Which is why in everything that we do, we must strive to learn how to live out a life of faith.  A life that is ready to do great things for the Kingdom.  Because that’s really the point of everything, isn’t it. 

phrases: wrap-up

Category : faith, hope, live for the eternal, taking action

   

If you’re anything like me, you’re easily distracted by bright shiny objects – or as Homer Simpson said, “That dog has a puffy tail!”  That’s why I find I need to use a few phrases to keep me focused.  Which is why, or the last few weeks, we’ve looked at some of those phrases: 

Phrase 1:  The joy of the Lord is our strength
Phrase 2:  Are you dead?
Phrase 3:  Have you prayed about it?
Phrase 4:  What’s the point?

There are other phrases I use, but these are the ones I come back to time and again.  As I’ve been reflecting on this public declaration of phrases, I realized I like to ask myself questions.  I don’t have some fancy, scientific reason why.  I just know that when I ask questions I look at things from all angles.  I put on my “scientist hat” and tend to be a bit more objective about my own behavior.

It’s easy to become distracted.  But it might be even easier to pass over my behaviors and chalk it up to “a bad day” or “just one time” when in fact it’s a common habit.  My hope is that these phrases trigger something in you.  That maybe next time you start to take a step down the wrong path, you pause and ask yourself, “what’s the point?” or “have I prayed about this decision?” 

God has never promised us that our lives would be easier if we chose to follow him.  He’s just promised us that he is the best way to live our lives. 

what’s the point

3

Category : God, faith, fear, hope, live for the eternal

 

Unstable. 

That’s usually a term we use for dangerous chemical compounds or people suffering from mental illness.  But it also describes the world we live in.  Every day we are pushed and pulled by forces outside of our control.  And perhaps nothing terrifies me more than not having control.  My guess is I’m not alone.

The problem is, it’s this instability where God calls us.  He wants us to make the world look more like him and less like us.  To do that he asks us to bring light to a dark world.  Of course the very meaning of ”dark” suggests we’re entering into things unknown.  Which doesn’t sound exactly calm and peaceful to me.

As I watch the news, or read the Drudge Report, I can’t help but find myself overwhelmed by unstable times.  Today the news is that greed and corruption have doomed America.  Friday it was joy at how wonderful it was that stocks shot up hundreds of points.  Today Russia assures the world that war could never break out between the US and itself.  But last week Russia was threatening to take control of the arctic. 

How can God ask us to bring truth and grace into a world that changes by the hour?

Why does God ask us to go into dark places if we’re to be killed?  Why does he ask us to trust him, when it may lead to being jobless?  What’s the point?  I can’t help but think like the writer of Ecclesiastes when he said, “meaningless, utterly meaningless.”

Ironically it’s in that question where we find the answer.  What is the point?  If we’re living for financial wealth the fluctuation of the stock market is a major issue.  If we’re living for security, Russia’s aggression posses a threat.  If we’re living for comfort, losing your electricity for a week is a major crisis.  But none of that is where God asks us to focus.

He’s asking us to live for something eternal.  Something that’s not of this world.  And for once we’re not talking about ALF.  He’s asking us to live for a Kingdom we can’t even imagine right now. 

The Bible is very clear that while we may be rewarded for our faith here on Earth, the real reward is waiting for us in Heaven.   Jesus himself says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5: 11-12)

In the end we are told by the media and our politicians that we can be killed in any countless ways.  Maybe it’s by not wearing seat belts.  Maybe we’ll be kidnapped because we’re foreigners in a foreign land.  Maybe we’ll die from tainted milk, or starve to death because we have no money.  Well, you get the point. 

In a world that tells us to not take action – God calls us to take action.  In a world that says, “there is no point” God says, “I AM the point.”  And it’s only by remembering that can we ever hope to reshape the world, and bring light into darkness.  It’s the only way we will ever have the strength to endure the hardships, the fear, and the instability, but still pick up our cross and march forward.

As people of faith, we live for a different Kingdom.  A different reality.  And that’s the point.

prayer thursday: helplessness

Category : choice, faith, live for the eternal, prayer thursday

  

I have now reached 5 days without power, and I have to admit, I’m a little cranky.  Living without power has really forced me to consider a few things as I mentioned earlier.  But the most pressing is being caught between feelings of helplessness and “in the overall scheme of things this isn’t a big deal.”  Depending when you ask me, I’m either irritated or I’ll simply shrug my shoulders and say, “who cares?”  As a wise friend said the other day, “this storm reminds me that there is a God, and I am not him.”

helplessness

God - I’m confused.  Part of me feels helpless.  I can’t get into a rhythm with my life.  My routines are destroyed, and I find that I draw a lot of comfort from those routines.  Maybe that’s wrong.  Maybe I need to draw more comfort from you, and less from what I do with my time.  But I admit, not all of me feels helpless.  Part of me feels perfectly calm, because I know that none of these problems really matter.  Who cares if I can’t watch TV for a week?  Who cares if I had to throw away all my food?  What does it matter if I need to burn candles instead of flip a switch?  You tell us to not worry, because it won’t add a day to our lives.  And that if the flowers of the field don’t worry about clothing, we shouldn’t worry about our situations – because you already know what we need.

I know that there are people in worse shape than me.  But I still find myself being selfish.  I seem to be caught jumping from one extreme to the other.  And I feel guilty about that.  Help me to center myself on you.  Help this storm, this irritation, become something that draws me closer to you. 

Pull me closer Lord, pull me closer.

 <comments are open, feel free to add your own prayer for people who are currently living without power, both here and abroad>