living a life of ups and downs

1

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, living a life of faith

Peter (one of Jesus’ closest friends) often seems like two different people.  In one moment he’s lopping off an ear.  In the next he’s running away.  At one instance he’s walking on water.  In another he’s terrified of drowning.

It seems as if Peter just isn’t very consistent.

Which means he’s just like you and me.

All of this comes into play just before Jesus is arrested.  Jesus and a few disciples head out to pray.  Jesus knows what’s about to happen.  He knows he’s going to die in a way very few of us can imagine.  All he wants to do is pray, and have his friends stay with him.  But despite Peter’s best efforts, Peter keeps falling asleep.

Jesus is understandably upset with Peter, and says something profound: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  That line sums up our existence pretty nicely.  We have all experienced moments where we want to do the right thing.  But when that moment comes, something happens.  We end up not following through.  We become afraid.  Pride takes over.  Greed overwhelms us.  Whatever it is, we end up caving.

Peter, despite his best intent, ended up running away.

But as I said, you and I aren’t that different from Peter.  What sets Peter apart is the fact Peter said the things you and I think.  If Jesus told us, “you will deny me.”  We might think “yeah right!  No way Jesus!”  But Peter didn’t seem to have much of a filter between thought and talking – so he actually said it.

It’s a shame that Peter is sometimes portrayed as a coward.  In many ways he never stood a chance.  He always wanted to do the right thing, but his flesh was weak.

I don’t know what the takeaway from this is, other than maybe we need to give ourselves some more slack when we screw up.  And I think be a little more like Peter.  Because no matter how publicly he messed up, he always came back to give it another try.

photo provided by flickr user pittsinger

what does god think about healthcare reform?

Category : living a life of faith

Today was an historic day in this country.  Major healthcare legislation was passed.  This legislation has been highly polarizing, meaning that you are thrilled or dejected, excited or fearful, energized or overwhelmed.  I rarely talk about politics here, because faith isn’t about joining a political party.

This is the lesson the disciples had a hard time understanding.  The disciples fully believed Jesus was going to reign as a new David-like King.  That he was going to kick the Romans out, free the Jews from oppression, and make them world players.

They were so wrong.

Sounds a lot like today, huh?

A lot of people are terrified of this legislation because it threatens their way of life.  They see healthcare “reform” as bankrupting the country.  Almost certainly changing America’s standing as a world power.  And, according to some, may not actually improve healthcare at all.  Ironically it may make it worse.

So they are upset. They are fearful.  And they are angry.

That’s why I wanted to talk about this today.  This is an important conversation.  The stakes are high.  If we don’t act today, we may be doomed.  But the stakes aren’t for what most of us think.  We aren’t playing for healthcare; we are playing for something much more important.  We are playing for the Kingdom and eternity.  Unfortunately most of us don’t keep that in mind as we respond to the passing political whims of the day.  We get caught up in the excitement and the emotion, and we forget where our true loyalties must lie.

When we belong to the Kingdom, we play by different rules.  And no matter what happens, we need to live by those rules.  Not by what makes our lives easier or more comfortable.  That’s the radical and revolutionary nature of God.

Even if healthcare reform is worse than all those predictions – it is nothing compared to what believers have experienced through the centuries.  It is nothing compared to Daniel being thrown to the lions, or Paul being thrown in jail, or the early Christians in Rome being burned alive.

We are called to live by Kingdom standards no matter what’s happening to us in the world at large.

This holds true for people who love the healthcare bill too.

Don’t think this is a post just for Republicans.  This is a post for Democrats as well.  If you are thrilled by the legislation, where is your faith?  Is it in government reform?  Or God?

Is healthcare reform good or bad?  That’s not for me to say.  That’s for political pundits to discuss.  What I’m concerned about is living out a life of faith.  And it seems to me that no matter which political party we belong to, we are all too quick to throw God under the bus.  We’re all too ready to live our lives without him.  We are quick to put our hopes into political parties, wealth, or our intelligence.

Thousands of years later, we make the same mistakes the disciples did – we root for the wrong Kingdom.

photo provided by flickr user boliston

knowing faith or living faith?

Category : bible, faith, feeding my brain, living a life of faith, taking action

I’m one of those people that loves to find that perfect balance between price and performance.  There is something about getting the “most” out of something that I just find fun.  I am always thinking about the best way to drive to save the most gas.  Whenever I build / buy a new computer I look for that sweet spot of price and performance.  I even do this when I buy sports tickets.  I know, it’s a bit weird.  But I also love it.

Sometimes this becomes a bit of an obsession.  For instance, in the last couple of weeks I’ve spent countless hours trying to figure out which surge protector to buy for my TV.  Most people just go to the store and buy the cheapest (or most expensive one).  Not me.  I need to figure out exactly how many outlets I need.  Then I have to find which stores have the best deals.  And in the case of these power strips, I wanted to find out what the level of “ideal” protection was needed.  To further complicate this choice there are a new line of power strips that cut down on “phantom power” use.  (Phantom Power is the power a device draws when turned “off.”)

No matter how hard I looked, I kept running into a problem: no one would explain what the energy ratings really meant.  Exactly what is a joule?  How many do I need as protection?

I’ve realized that I know nothing about electricity.  I don’t know how it works.  I can’t explain basic concepts like Watts and Amps.  I have no idea how it’s made or how it powers my devices.  Yet I also know I believe in electricity.  Even though I can’t see it, I know it’s there.

Frankly that sounds a lot like faith.

Most Christians couldn’t hope to explain their beliefs.  They don’t know how it works.  They can’t explain basic concepts like the Original Sin or Atonement.  And while this is a bad thing (you really should know why you believe what you believe), people still believe.

So why is this lack of knowledge the lynchpin of so many arguments against Christians?

A lack of knowledge doesn’t mean something isn’t true.  As I’ve said, I haven’t got a clue of how electricity powers my laptop.  But I know that it works.  I know that somehow it comes from the outside into my computer.  Just because I can’t explain how doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

Should I know more about electricity?  Absolutely.  But there is also only so much time in life to do things.  Sometimes it’s more important to live out a belief than to know about a belief.

When God says things like, “well done my good and faithful servant” he isn’t congratulating people for passing Theology 405.  He’s congratulating them for living out a life of faith.

Knowledge is important.  But not as important as living.

a new frontier of God

Category : faith, living a life of faith, taking action

How would you feel if a cell phone camera could take a picture of you through your clothes?  According to one CIA analyst this technology is on its way here.  You can read more about that on Gizmodo.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about.

What I find interesting is the response.  At least as I sit here and type this, the comments are overwhelmingly “so what, who cares if someone sees me naked.”  My guess is that most of you feel differently.  I know I do.

But how do you bridge this?  I have a friend who is hard core libertarian.  He thinks that the moment you step outside of your house you have no right to any concept of privacy.  That simply existing means you can be photographed naked, have your phone tapped or Google track your whereabouts.

We have gone back and forth on this for years.  Until I realized one day, that the problem isn’t me arguing more effectively.  It’s the fact that his world view is so different from mine.

I get my views on everything through my relationship with God.  But he doesn’t have that relationship, and so he thinks what I say is “just another opinion.”

This is the world we live in.  It’s a world that isn’t influenced any longer by Christian values.  And in that situation it doesn’t do us any good to shout louder about our faith.  We need to change the conversation to something else.  We need to engage with people and show them our faith.

I know this isn’t anything new.  I just think it’s important to remember this from time to time.

the shocking comparison of Jesus

Category : God, Jesus, bible, living a life of faith, revolutionary

Loving your enemy and not judging are forever linked.  If it’s your job to judge, you can never love.  You have to worry about fairness, outcomes, and justice.  Fortunately it’s God’s job to worry about that.  It’s his responsibility to judge and ensure justice.  We don’t need to worry about outcomes, so we can focus on our job: loving our enemies.

Loving your enemy is “advanced” – it requires faith, a trust in God’s character, hope in the eternal future, and obedience in the presence of an enemy.  It requires all of that to show the world just how different Christ’s compassion is.

It’s no wonder we struggle so much with it.

I am reminded of this as I read Elton John saying Jesus was gay.  Why did he say this?  Who knows.  I guess he just wanted to declare it.  Or maybe he just wanted to get some publicity by inciting Christians to attack him.  But frankly that’s not the most shocking part of that story – instead I was struck by the condescending nature of the article itself and commenter’s.

The condescension dripped from their “virtual pens.”

There is such a chasm between Christian beliefs and the rest of the world that it can be hard to come to terms with.  Especially for us Christians who tend to think everyone sees the world the same way we do.  Of course I think this is an opportunity.  I am convinced that Christians are living in one of the greatest evangelistic times in history.  What better way to compare just what Christ taught when we live in a world awash of other views.  Talk about a contrast!

Of course the challenge is to live out a life of faith.  Something we, as a church, tend to do very, very poorly.

While I think apologetics are important, I think what truly converts someone’s heart is when they see someone living out a life of faith.  That contrast is so shocking compared to others.  Take for instance someone who continues to give to the church despite struggling to pay bills.  That’s a shocking comparison to how the world says we should operate.

Consider Mother Teresa who lived in poverty to love on people who were deemed as unlovable.  That’s a shocking comparison.  Or consider people who sell everything they have to become missionaries because they feel called to provide medical services to people in third world nations.  Or what about people who take time out of their busy schedules to tutor at-risk children and to forge relationships across race and age.

These things are a shocking comparison.  And I think it’s the only thing that speaks to modern society’s heart.

Yes apologetics are needed to deepen your faith, but in a world of “if it feels good it must be right,” apologetics alone aren’t going to impress anyone.

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 miracle of obedience

1

Category : John, bible, faith, living a life of faith, miracles, taking action

What happens when someone asks you to do something unexpected?  Do you do it, no questions asked?  Or, are you more likely to roll your eyes?  If you’re really dramatic you might act like a certain 4 year old I know who likes to jump up and down and throw a temper tantrum.

Most of us don’t like to do things without knowing all the details.  We want answers to who, what, when, where and most importantly, why.  But maybe we need to reevaluate that.  Because Jesus pretty much never explained any of his miracles up front.  In almost every case before a miracle happened someone needed to act on faith first.

That’s how it was with Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine.

As the John describes the miracle, Jesus doesn’t really explain what he’s about to do.  There isn’t a 5 minute meeting to get everyone on the same page.  Jesus doesn’t send out a Facebook update saying, “I’m about to turn this water into wine.”  Instead this is how the Bible describes these events…

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’”

No explanations up front.  Just an expectation of obedience.  Can you imagine what the servants were thinking?  “This guy is cracked.  And worse we’re going to get in trouble with the master.  Aren’t we going to look like idiots when we get up there and hand this guy some water!”

Despite their doubts, they were obedient.  And because of that, they witnessed Jesus’ first miracle.

But so many of Jesus’ miracles worked like this.  People were healed only after they believed.  Some friends believed in Jesus’ power so much they cut a hole in someone’s roof to lower their friend down to Jesus.  A woman believed in Jesus so much that she was willing to risk death to just brush against Jesus’ clothes.

They had no promises, no status updates, and no guarantees.  They just knew that when Jesus said to believe, they should believe.

One of the biggest challenges facing the modern Christian is the view that miracles don’t happen.  I’m not surprised at this.  We live in a cynical age where nothing is taken on face value.  While that may protect us from internet scams and cause us to celebrate public failures of stars and athletes, it makes a poor way to develop a relationship with a loving God.

When I look at the ministry of Jesus I see a bunch of people who missed out on the greatest moment in human history.  Not because they couldn’t understand what was happening.  Not because they weren’t smart enough to figure it out.  And not because they weren’t’ “good people.”  But because they couldn’t stop asking questions.  Instead of acting, they simply stood by wondering what Jesus was up to.

The people who missed out on Jesus were the ones standing on the sideline constantly wondering what this Jesus guy was up to.  The irony is the people who didn’t worry about all that were the ones who experienced the fullness of who Jesus is.

Maybe we should ask fewer questions and spend more time being obedient.  Maybe then we’d see a few more miracles.

how far we’ve come

Category : bible, choice, faith, living a life of faith, reader comments, taking action

It’s hard to believe that R3 is entering its 4th year!  (well technically “calendar year,” R3’s anniversary is in a few months).  I never dreamed that I had enough to say to generate three posts a week.  I find it amazing that I can do that.  But that’s not the only thing that makes this 4th year so remarkable.  It wasn’t that long ago that blogging didn’t exist.

Think about that one for a while!

The internet has been a great technology for growing people’s relationships with God.  There is no other technology that allows someone to write in their spare time in Kansas but influence Christians in Australia, Indonesia, or even China.  Or someone from Africa to influence people in Europe or America.  The internet has had a profound impact on living a life of faith.

While religion blogging is dominated by several “big name” bloggers there has been more than enough room for smaller writers to develop a community.  There are so many talented writers that I could spend an entire day simply surfing the internet reading.  Now if only someone would pay me to do that…

But blogging isn’t the only change.

How we study the Bible has also changed.  I can easily pull up Bible verses and do keyword searches online.  If you own an iPhone you can download Bible apps and get the same thing.  Never before has the Bible been so easy to access.  While I still read a paper version of the Bible every day, I rarely use it for quick searches or to look things up.  It just takes too long.  Digital is the way to go.

And still there is more change.

Even the way we do Bible studies is different.  There are online studies on hundreds of topics.  Churches are giving away much of their own materials away for free.  And now there are “social sites” popping up like EXAMEN.me.  All dedicated to providing high quality Bible studies and devotionals.

There has never been a better time to learn about living out a life of faith.  There has never been a time where so much has been available to so many.  And I, for one, can’t wait to see what the future holds.

As we go into the New Year, here is my challenge to you: find a new way to study the Bible and follow it for the next 30 days.  As you go through it, come back here and let us know how it’s going (I’m opening up the comments).  Did it work?  Was it a disaster?  Did it revolutionize your life?

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?

an uneventful christmas

Category : God, faith, living a life of faith, sharing faith

Christmas at the R3 household was surprisingly uneventful.  And that’s just the way I wanted it.

I admit, I am not exactly a “sit still” kind of guy.  In fact, I believe I am genetically incapable of sitting still.  Fidgeting is my spiritual gift.  But over the years I’ve really tried to learn to appreciate the “moment” instead of dreaming about some future event.  This does not come easily to me.  I have always been fascinated by ideas.  I’m drawn into dreams.  The pull of a better future is strong.  Sometimes I just find the present to be a bit too dull for my liking.  (Unless, of course I am talking to you, and then it’s really, really, exciting.)

As I’ve progressed in my relationship with God I’ve realized that much of what grows our faith is living in the moment.  The fact that we can’t control the future and we can’t change the past means we can only act in the present.  That’s where we live out a life of faith.

But that knowledge doesn’t always mean I follow through!

That’s why this year was so special.  I was able to focus on the present.  To enjoy it.  And for that I am grateful.

I hope that as you go through this crazy time of year, you can take time to focus on the present.