something to be thankful for

Category : 2 Corinthians, Paul, bible

This is going to be my first thanksgiving with my own family meaning my wife and step-daughter.  Because of that we’ve been talking a lot about family traditions, what holiday’s should look like, etc…  In the midst of all of those conversations I find myself thinking a lot about “what do I have to be thankful for.”

And let me tell you, God has been over-the-top generous with us this year.  After being unemployed for a year, I was able to buy a house, pay for a wedding, buy an engagement ring, and pay for a honeymoon.  And replenish all of my savings.

How you ask?

I have no idea.  The only thing I can say is that it’s a true “fish and loaves” miracle.  For me it’s easy to be thankful this year.  But for a lot of us, 2010 has been a brutal year.  Unemployment.  Foreclosure.  Medical issues.  Family problems.  The list can go on.

So how in the middle of a year like that can you be thankful?

Paul’s answer was, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18)

Paul recognized that we need to focus on something other than our immediate, Earth-bound troubles.  And that “something” was God.

Now before you think, “well that’s easy for Paul to say.”  Listen to what he had said only moments before, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.  Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.  So we live in the face of death” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-12)

Paul was someone who knew a thing or two about being beaten, hated, punished, shipwrecked, jailed, and flogged.  But he was also someone who knew a thing or two about God’s redeeming power, and the good news of the cross.

So this thanksgiving, as you’re looking at what you have to be thankful for, don’t forget that we have a loving God, who wants to be involved in your life.  And that’s the best thing we could possibly ask for.

what to do when you make a mistake

Category : Paul, bible, failure, faith, sin, taking action

……….

What do you do when you make a mistake?

That’s a question I think very few people actually think about.  Oh sure we all do something when we’ve made a mistake.  But very few of us actually think through our actions, we usually just react.

The way I see it, there are only a few options.

  1. Do nothing – we essentially say, “I did something wrong and I am so scared of doing it again, and so scared of the consequences, I will never do anything again.”  When we do nothing, we shut down.  We can’t be used by God because we aren’t interested in being used by God.  We become like the ostrich who shoves his head in the sand, thinking he is hiding.
  2. Do the same thing – we make a mistake, but choose to do the same thing over and over.  This is the whole, “I am sorry I hurt you/ was a jerk, etc…” line.  And then the next day you’re back to your old habits.  We say it, and maybe in the moment we are sorry.  But not sorry enough to actually change.  This is where we are when we continue to commit one of our “favorite” sins  (for instance, you repeatedly get angry at a coworker).
  3. Repent - True repentance.  This is where we truly turn to God and say, “I am sorry, help me never to do this again.”  Where we fully turn away from our actions and embrace God.

Why do I bring all this up?  Because Carrie Prejean, a former Miss USA winner is involved in another controversy.  It turns out she was involved in making a “sex tape.”

For some celebrities this wouldn’t be a big deal.  Society often seems to reward people who do this.  We’ve all read the stories about a celebrity “losing” provocative pictures in a PR attempt to revitalize a career.  But for Prejean, who has started teaching and talking about “family values” this is a big issue.

Rarely do we talk about current events on R3.  I believe that the Bible offers us timeless principles that apply no matter the event.  And I almost never talk about a specific individual.  There’s enough gossip and junk out there, we don’t need to add to that.  But sometimes I make exceptions.  And that’s where I am with this.

I have no idea what’s on the tape.  I don’t know why it was made.  And frankly I don’t want to know.  To me that’s irrelevant.  What matters is how Prejean decides to act.  And to a lesser extent how we, as a society, respond.

We all have made mistakes.  How many of us would really feel comfortable having our mistakes be national news?  What Carrie Prejean did was wrong, and it was a mistake, and that’s not an excuse.  But does this prevent her from ever talking about family values?  There are many people who very much want that to be the case.  (As I was flipping the channels late one night I saw one panel of “experts” gleefully declaring this meant she could no longer talk about family values.)

Personally I don’t know if this tape excludes her from talking about family values.  I know there are a lot of people who are gleefully hoping that will be the case.  For her to fall, would be a major victory for them.  This situation brings legitimate questions that she must answer.  But when I look at the Bible I see people who aren’t perfect.  I see people lose their temper, act in fear, commit adultery and murder.

Yet God still uses them in powerful ways.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. But he does ask us to repent.

Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament was actively seeking to kill Christians prior to his conversion.  Does that mean he can’t talk about sin?  Or does it mean he has unique insight into the redemption that Christ offers?  Moses murdered someone before God chose him to become the leader of Israel.  Did that exclude him from talking about freedom to Pharaoh?  Peter acted in both anger and fear in the last hours of Jesus’ life – but God used him as the rock upon which the church was built.  Was God wrong in all of this?

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect.  But he does ask us to repent.  And in each of these cases, they repented and turned away from their sins.  So I ask you, what do you do when you make a mistake?

Carrie has the same three options that we do.  She can do nothing.  She can do the same thing.  Or she can repent.

I don’t know what she plans to do.  Right now it sounds like she wants to repent.  But saying you want to repent and actually repenting can be two different things.  It’s much easier to offer false promises than to take the hard work of repentance.  Is it any different for us?  So again, I ask you, what do you do when you make a mistake?

living a life of freedom

Category : Acts, Luke, Paul

……….

I posted this on the website Longing for a Holiday at Sea.  But frankly I liked it so much I thought it should be said again:

This week’s message at church was on freedom.  So I’ve been thinking about the story of Acts 16.  In this story, Paul and Silas are thrown into jail.  After being beaten and while they are in chains, they start signing songs.  While in jail.

I can’t even wrap my mind around that.

That night there is such a violent earthquake that the doors fly open and their chains fall off.  The guard, who’s life is on the line if the prisoners escape, fears the worst and is about to kill himself.  But Paul says, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

What kind of freedom did Paul and Silas live with that allows them be so calm after being beaten and thrown in jail?

We often forget that in Jesus’ first deceleration of his mission and identity, he said, “[God] has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).  God’s goal isn’t moralizing or giving us more stuff.  God’s goal isn’t a bigger house, a nicer car or prayers said in Latin.  It’s to set us free!

I’m not free yet.  Not like Paul and Silas anyway.  But I want to be.  And that’s what I am working towards, with Jesus’ help.

thanks giving: suffering

1

Category : CS Lewis, God, Jesus, Paul, barbarian, faith, fear, hope

 

As I alluded to in the post yesterday, I am thankful for suffering.  I know it sounds strange to say that.  Frankly it seems weird to type it.  But almost everything I treasure has come through suffering, including R3. 

We all want our lives to be easy and convenient.  I think this is especially true in America, where we are used to having everything within minutes, if not seconds.  But no one escapes suffering.  Not even God.  Which leads me to believe that maybe suffering isn’t something to be avoided, it’s something to learn from.

God has a way of taking what the world means for evil and flipping it on it’s head.  In the Chronicles of Narnia, the White Witch thinks she wins by killing Aslan, the Lion.  But she couldn’t be further from the truth.  The suffering, and death of Aslan (a stand in for Jesus) was the exact thing that ends up destroying the evil of the White Witch.  In the book, CS Lewis describes Aslan’s return like this,

“…though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there ad different incantation.  She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.” (Chronicles of Narnia, p.160)

Without suffering the White Witch never would have been defeated.  Without suffering you and I never would have been saved.  Without suffering countless miracles never could have occurred.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t look forward to it.  I am not happy about it.  I wouldn’t want to give up a Friday at the movies for malaria.  But I’m learning that sometimes the best teacher is suffering.  And I am willing to do anything that draws me closer to God. 

Because of all of that, I am thankful for suffering

practice makes perfect

2

Category : 1 Timothy, Jesus, Luke, Paul, taking action, trust

   

Life can feel so hard.

Some days the weight of it seems to be crushing. It’s in those moments where all the advice you’ve ever received just doesn’t seem like enough. Things like “trust God” or “God loves you” feel so empty, so meaningless.

Of course it’s not.

Those things are entirely true. But simply saying that doesn’t really solve anything. We need to have some way to put it all into practice. It’s almost as if we need to experience it before we can live it.

Have you ever met someone who just seemed to “shine” with an intense glow, as if there was something special radiating from them? While it’s unlikely they just ate a lamp, what is happening is their faith makes them look different. These are the people who are living out their trust in God. They know that God loves them, no matter what the situation.

Sometimes I think we expect things to come too easily. That believing in God is a magic pill that makes our life easy. When we see these “glowing” people we think their lives must be fine. That they aren’t experiencing problems, because if they had our problems, they wouldn’t be so intensely different.

But nothing is that easy. They have problems just like you and I. But they know something important: faith takes work.

Paul tells us that we should “Train [ourselves] in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

Living out a life of faith doesn’t happen by accident. And it doesn’t happen over night. It takes (literally) practice. We have to make choices that bring us closer to God. And the more we do this, the more “radiant” we become.

If this seems like an impossible task just remember…even Jesus “grew in wisdom.” (Luke 2: 52)

even disciples need encouragement

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Category : Acts, Paul, bible, faith, hope

  

Have you ever met someone who was totally confident of their faith?  Someone through whom God really worked?  These are the people who always look “put together” and “with it” when it comes to their trust in God.  They trust God with everything in their lives. 

What do you think when you see them?

Whenever I look at someone who has these traits I often think they must have it pretty easy.  I mean they don’t have to struggle with their faith, or wonder why things aren’t happening the way they expected.  After all, they get to see God act in visible ways all the time.  (Usually because they are on the front lines doing radical things for God)  

I start comparing how they appear, to how I am.  I see their steadfast belief and their determination to follow God.  Then I look at my own life and a lot of the time all I can see is my roller coaster of ups and downs. 

But is that really how things are?

Paul made it a regular habit to go back to communities he’d set up to encourage them.  He knew that no matter what they saw, no matter what they experienced, they still needed to be reminded of just who God is.  

He went back to cities like Antioch and Lystra (where he was nearly killed by a mob) just so he could “strength[en] the souls of the disciples and encourag[e] them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:21-22).

Apparently even the disciples needed encouragement.

Paul wasn’t always on the giving end of encouragement though.  Sometimes he was the one who needed encouragement.  Towards the end of his life, while in jail, everyone abandoned Paul.  I can’t imagine what that would feel like to have lived so much for other people, and then when you needed a friend – they all ran away. But that’s where Paul found himself.  (Which, by the way, is also where Jesus found himself)

It’s hard to remind myself that even people like Paul need encouragement.  But it’s true.  In fact, every single Christian, who has ever lived, has needed encouragement at one time or another.  Which means I’m not alone in needing it.

I’d like to think that the next time I am feeling guilty about my waning faith, instead of turning from God out of shame, I turn to him.

Because even disciples need encouragement.

suffering for faith

2

Category : Acts, Paul, bible, hope, live for the eternal, sharing faith, taking action

 

Sometimes I think it would be fun to be Paul.  (not this Paul)

This was a guy who traveled the world talking about God.  He was bold, action-oriented, and totally committed to God.  He was someone who lived his life to the fullest.  

But then I read stories about Paul’s experience in a city called Lystra. 

When Paul first arrived there, everything went well.  He was able to talk about God, people were listening, and some even started to believe.  But as time went on, people began to change their minds.  They began to no longer accept Paul’s teaching.  So they did what comes naturally to any crowd after a lecture they don’t like – they picked up rocks and threw them at Paul.  In fact, the crowd was so confident in their aim, they drug his body outside of town thinking he was dead. 

Days like this make me want to reconsider my plan to be more like Paul.

But as Monty Python might say, “he’s not quite dead yet.”  And so Paul got up and went back into town. 

I don’t know about you, but heading back into the town where people threw blunt objects at me would not be high on my ‘To Do’ list.  But for Paul, that’s just who he was.  So after returning to town, he and his friend Barnabas moved on to a different city.  Presumably to do the whole thing over again.

But Paul wasn’t done with Lystra. 

After visiting a few more cities Paul came back to encourage the Christians who lived there.  But he didn’t say, “don’t worry everything’s okay” or “believe in God and everything will go smoothly.”  Paul actually said, ”It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”  (Acts 14: 22

Ouch.  This being-like-Paul-thing sounds less fun all the time!

In a world that values comfort over all, this is hard to swallow.  How can suffering be a part of God’s Kingdom?  But the truth is the closer we get to God’s will the more dangerous it can become.  Just look at Paul’s life.  Even Jesus, someone who probably knew what God wanted, died a horrible death.

Now if suffering was all there was, this would be bad news.  Fortunately we don’t suffer because God enjoys it, or because it’s an initiation.  We suffer because sharing God’s message often means being in direct conflict with the world’s message.  And we suffer because this world is broken.

The people in Lystra went from thinking Paul was a god to trying to kill him.  Why?  Because Paul didn’t stop talking about who God was when they thought he was a god.  He kept teaching and explaining.  And eventually they decided they didn’t like his message anymore.  But if Paul had stopped teaching, no one would have learned about God.  And no one would have been saved.

That’s why Paul could be so bold and passionate when he knew some people might try to kill him for his beliefs.  Paul knew that sometimes to accomplish a bigger goal sacrifices personal have to be made.

what i’m reading: Longing for a Holiday at Sea

Category : Paul, bible, feeding my brain, sharing faith

     

What does it look like to live out a life of faith? 

That’s a question I’m always asking myself.  In fact, that’s really the whole purpose of R3

The more I look at God, and who he is, the more I realize we shouldn’t hide.  That we shouldn’t be afraid of acting boldly.  And that includes hiding from our failures and weaknesses.  In other words, a major part of being Christian is being open and vulnerable.  It also means admitting that we aren’t perfect and that we don’t have all the answers.

For some this seems to come naturally.  They can admit the challenges in their life.  I find this difficult to do.

It’s a problem I share with the people who lived in Corinth during the first century.  They were becoming increasingly prideful and “righteous” in how they viewed themselves.  Sadly, I can all too often relate to that.  So Paul rather bluntly addressed the issue saying, “We [the apostles] are fools for Christ, but you [the Corinthians] are so wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored!”  (1 Corinthians 4: 10)

Paul is pointing out that the pride and arrogance are the exact opposite of how Christians should behave.  He offers a different way of living, saying, the apostles “have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.” (1 Corinthians 4: 9

We’re not to put up fake barriers and to pretend we’re better than we are.  Because a true Christian is open with his or her life.  We’re vulnerable in front of the whole universe.  And here I am afraid of what people think of me!

This is why I find the blog Longing for a Holiday at Sea so encouraging.  It manages to be both bold and vulnerable.  It has that balance Paul implies.  Vulnerable, because it discusses difficult topics and personal trials.  Bold, because it focuses squarely on God’s grace and mercy.

The entire blog serves as an encouragement to people who are suffering and struggling.  It shows, in a very real way, that even in our struggles God has compassion for us.  In a book called The Grand Weaver, Ravi Zacharias demonstrates that God cares about our disappointments.  Our disappointments matter to him.  And this is surely reflected in Longing for a Holiday at Sea.  

Perhaps the thing I enjoy most is the encouragement I receive from reading this blog.  It teaches me that I can actively seek God, and have questions.  It shows that I can be imperfect, but still loved by God.  And those are lessons worth remembering.

take courage!

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Category : Acts, Jesus, Paul, live for the eternal, mission

      

Take courage!  As you have testified about me in Jerusalem,
so you must also testify in Rome.
(Acts 23: 11)

Let me get this straight; Paul has been arrested, beaten, put in chains, nearly flogged, held in prison (twice), and was just nearly torn apart by a mob (for the second time in as many days).  And Jesus’ message to him is, “Take courage!”  Not because he’s going to be set free.  Not because he’s going to be given an easier job.  But because he’s being sent to Rome to do the whole thing over again!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find that to be very encouraging.

But that’s because I’m looking at this from an earth-bound perspective.  If my goal is to live to old age, have nice things, and take an easy path, then what Jesus is telling Paul sounds horrible.  It sounds as if Paul did something wrong and is being punished.

But if I look at it from an eternal perspective, everything changes.  Suddenly Paul is being rewarded for his faith by being given a harder task.  Now he’s to take God’s message to the center of the world.  Only because Paul was faithful in the little things (Jerusalem) is he able to go and do the big things (Rome).

It’s funny how a little perspective changes things.

using the broken

Category : David, God, Jesus, Paul, bible, hope

   

Have you ever noticed that the history of Christianity is a history of people who have no business doing great things but end up changing the world?  Even a casual read of the Bible makes this a striking theme.  Jesus himself came from a humble background.  I don’t know about you, but if I were God I’d want to pick an important city and a powerful family.  I mean, doesn’t that make more sense?  Not, of course, if God’s message was one of service, compassion, and love.

God has this way of using people we don’t expect.  Virtually every important story in the Bible has a woman who plays a key role.  Moses never would have survived without a woman’s protection.  Mary gave birth to Jesus.  Women were the first ones to discover Jesus rose from the dead.  The role those women played would have been shocking for that culture.

That’s what God does though.  He takes what we consider weak or worthless, and turns it into something amazing and wonderful. A great example of this occurs with Joseph, who is sold into slavery by his brothers.  Talk about family rivalry!  And yet God turns that situation around by putting Joseph into a position to not only save his family from a famine, but to save all of Israel!

That’s all well and good.  Because those were all worthy people…aren’t they?  Moses was a great leader.  Mary was good enough to be chosen to give birth to God.  Joseph didn’t do anything that deserved getting sold into slavery.  But sometimes we think, “look at what I’ve done!  I don’t deserve any of that!” 

But it doesn’t matter.  No matter what we’ve done, God can still use us if we let him.  Take Paul for instance, here was a guy who went out and actively hunted down Christians.  And yet when he met God, God radically transformed his life.  Paul suddenly became one of the greatest evangelists Christianity has ever known.

He did the same for David, forgiving him for his adultery and murder.  However God didn’t simply forgive David, he went on to establish one of the greatest kingdoms in Israel’s history.  And it was David’s family line that ultimately lead to the birth of Jesus.  God used both Paul and David in amazing ways, despite their flaws.

So what does all of this mean? 

What it means to me is that God is really amazing!  It shows that he has compassion and mercy.  It proves that we have hope, because no matter what we’ve done, God not only loves us but wants to use us to change the world.  There is not a person alive who can’t shape the world if they let God work through them. 

When you think about that, how can you feel anything but hope and excitement?