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.

the nines leadership network: final thoughts

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

……….

It’s been a couple days since The Nines leadership event / conference / webcast.   In that time I’ve heard a few people say sitting through the conference was a bit like drinking from the business end of a fire hose.  And I think that’s a fair description.  70 speakers in 9 minute chunks is a lot of information.  What’s more is that many of these speakers were world-class teachers.  Meaning they know who to give you relevant, useful, important information.  I personally felt I needed to write down everything that was said.  (I didn’t.  I just felt like I should.)

So now I find myself thinking about how I want The Nines to impact me.

There is simply too much information for me to use all of it.  There’s too much information for me to even process.  But what unique concepts can I bring out of it?

For me I think there are two major points.

  1. Everyone needs rest.  This theme has been a cornerstone of conversation for R3 for the last few weeks.   It’s no wonder that it resonated with me at the conference.  God built a Sabbath into our lives for a reason.  Maybe we should use it.
  2. Don’t be afraid to be different.  Sometimes I hesitate to take a chance because I think “maybe I’m too young to take that leadership role” or “I don’t have a degree in theology.”  But those are just excuses.  We saw a cast of speakers from all ages, all backgrounds, and all “looks.”  We don’t need to belong to a special club to teach or to follow where God leads.

The Nines reminded me once again that it’s important to be exposed to a vibrant community of faith.  It’s easy to forget, in our highly secularized world, that God is moving powerfully all around us.  We can easily believe that we are a lone island.  Yet God was moving in so many stories.  How can we realistically believe that he’s forgotten or abandoned us?

The Nines was an amazing experience.  I wish that I could have seen all 70 speakers.  But I am thrilled to have been exposed to the ones I was.  I think The Nines is going to have a profound impact on my life, on R3, and my community.  To me that’s the definition of success.

The only thing that remains is to go and do something about it.  Learning to live out a life of faith is one part knowledge (that’s the learning component), but there’s also the action piece.  We need to live out what we know.  That’s as true for me as it is for you.

I plan on living out the lessons I’ve learned from The Nines.  How about you?

the power of prayer

2

Category : God, living a life of faith, prayer, sharing faith, taking action

I’m a big believer in prayer.

I know this isn’t always a popular position to take in our culture.  Most people, including many people who attend church, think of prayer as a formal obligation at best and a bit strange at worst.  But I’m a true believer as Stan Lee might say.

I fully believe that God is active in answering our prayers.  But that hasn’t always been true.  There was a time I didn’t believe in God, let alone prayer.  Because of that background I got into the habit of “tracking” my prayers.  I don’t mean I plug them into a spreadsheet or anything.  I just make a note of the prayer.  Sometimes by writing them down, other times just making a mental note of what I’ve prayed for.  I did this initially because I wanted to see if God was real.  I wanted to know if he answered prayers.

But now I do it because I find it useful to periodically check my prayers to see if they’ve happened.

They don’t always.  Sometimes, though, I am surprised.  There has been more than one prayer that I’ve forgotten, only to be reminded by a random slip of paper.  Those are the prayers where I think God is gloating a bit.

The benefit of all of this is that I occasionally notice trends.  For instance, it seems that when I pray for myself, many of my prayers are being answered in powerful, obvious ways.  You’re thinking, “isn’t that supposed to happen?”  Yes it is.  But that’s not the only thing I’ve noticed.  I’ve also seen a disturbing counter-trend: my prayers for other people don’t seem to be as effective.

Now there’s a lot of stuff that goes into prayer.  Your relationship with God, your behaviors, your desire to let God work in your life, and what God has planned for you.  Not to mention all the spiritual warfare stuff.  (Which I guess I just mentioned…)  So maybe my prayers are effective for other people and I just don’t realize it.  Or maybe God is trying to work in their lives and they aren’t cooperating.  Or maybe there’s some other reason that I don’t know.

But it makes me wonder: could my prayers for other people be less effective because I’m not praying with the same intensity and urgency I pray for myself?

It’s easy to pray for my own life.  I know the specifics.  I care about each and every thing in my life.  Do I carry that same passion when I pray for other people?

The truth is, I don’t.

And that bothers me.

It bothers me to think that maybe my intensity and desire isn’t enough.  It bothers me to think that I am not praying with urgency for people.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying that I am the reason for problems in other people’s lives.  I don’t have enough of an ego to believe that I have that kind of control.  But what it does suggest is that I am not loving others enough.  That I am breaking the greatest commandment: love your neighbors as yourself.

And that bothers me.

Of course just thinking about something isn’t a way to live out a life of faith.

Living out a life of faith means that you need to take action.  You need to move.  You need to get dirty (metaphorically in this case).  So I’ve taken steps to fix this problem.  Since I noticed this behavior I have come up with two ways to enhance my prayer life.

  1. I pray right away.  When someone says, “will you pray for me?”  I don’t wait until some later point to pray.  I do it in the moment.  If I wait, I might forget.  Or I might try to cram it into a busy and hectic day.
  2. “Formal” prayer involves prayers for others.  When I spend specific and deliberate time with God, I make sure to pray for other people.  Maybe not everyone who asked, but enough.  This ensures that people get prayed for repeatedly, and ensures that I am not totally self-centered in my prayers.

Prayer isn’t a magic formula.  It’s not about how many times you say it.  It’s not about saying it some specific way.  It’s about a posture and an approach towards God.  And I want my posture and approach to God to be one of humility, awareness, and love.

swimming laps

1

Category : God, bible, different, faith, sharing faith, taking action

……….

At the end of last week I wrote that I felt like I was in over my head.

Well no longer.

In fact, I actually feel like swimming some laps.  Metaphorically of course.  I actually hate to swim.  My swim style is more akin to a brick than a fish.  But back to the point at hand – since Friday I have spent two days reading the Bible.  And frankly I feel ready to tackle the world.  I knew that I had let my “spiritual disciplines” lapse because of my schedule.  I also knew that in the past, the more I read my Bible and prayed, the closer I felt to God, the more energy I had to handle new challenges.  But sometimes I don’t take my own advice.

So once again I had let those disciplines slip.  As I sat in my apartment, feeling a thousand-fold better, I started talking to God.  As I prayed I simply asked God, “could it really be that simple.”

And I believe he said, “yes.”

Sometimes our temptation is to make things complex.  We don’t want simple solutions, because simple means we lose our built in excuse of “it’s too hard.”  But when all it takes is a slight change to your schedule, it’s hard to find excuses.  Hard, not impossible of course.

There are some things about God that are complex.  Some things defy a simple answer.  I’m not trying to deny that.  But not everything is like that.  When we try to push mystery into things where there is none, all we end up doing is losing sight of the obvious.  We start turning God into something that he is not.

I don’t understand everything about God.  But I do understand this – if you love someone you make it easier for them to talk to you, not harder.  You go out of your way to call them, talk to them, e-mail them.  That is what God does.  He has given us an easy, simple, straight forward way to stay connected to him.

So why is it so hard?  Well I think if we’re honest with ourselves we need to ask another question first: Is he the problem?  Or are we?

I don’t always have the motivation, energy, or discipline to stay focused on reading the Bible.  But there is no question, if you want to stay connected to God, reading your Bible is key.

It really is that simple.

prayer thursday: why do you lead

Category : God, different, faith, prayer thursday, sharing faith

……….

The more involved I become with my church, the more I ask myself, “why do I lead?”  Do I lead because I want to serve people in my community?  Or do I lead because I want to be seen as insightful and intelligent?  Or maybe even to be useful?

Right now I can say with confidence that it’s because I want to serve.  I want to make the world better.  I want more people to know Jesus.  I want more people to experience the freedom I have because of my relationship with God.

But there’s always a temptation there.  Satan is clever, and he’s good at using our own strengths against us.  I am no exception.

Serving

God – Please keep me centered on you.  Don’t let the excitement of new opportunities, new challenges, and new contributions pull me from you.  Don’t let me think that what the church needs is more of me, remind me that what it really needs is more of you.  Help me fight back the temptations to be seen as smart, to be seen as clever, to feel that I am needed.  Let me serve because I love you, and nothing more.

do i need God?

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

……….

I don’t need God.

That’s a belief I held for a long time.  I figured I could manage just fine without a “crutch” like God.  But slowly I realized that was a lie.  It’s like saying a car doesn’t need an engine.  Or that “weak” planes use wings to fly.  Cars are designed to have engines.  Planes are designed to have wings.  And I am designed to have a relationship with God.

It took me a long time to wrap my mind around that.

I’ve always been very self-sufficient.  The truth is, I still am.  It’s this self-sufficiency that has become one of the biggest stresses in being unemployed.  I feel like I don’t contribute enough to the Kingdom.  It bothers me that I can’t financially give like I used to.  I think, “I am educated, socially mobile, I should be creating resources, not being unemployed receiving help from friends.  Not letting other people by me a drink or pick up the tab at dinner.”

There’s a part of me that still says, “I don’t need God.”

That realization shocks me.

We are all in desperate need of God’s resources.  None of us are above needing his help.  So why do I feel so superior and want to fight that?   Why do I want to say, “no thanks, I’m good.”  Why do I want to say, “God needs to redirect resources to people who ‘really’ need them, not me.”

Pride, of course, is the answer.  It’s what CS Lewis called, “the complete anti-God state of mind.” That’s why I feel these things.  I want to believe that I am better than I am.

Pride has a way of warping your view.  The reality is I’m probably more actively engaged in the kingdom than I have been for years.  Every day I need to rely on God to get through the challenges unemployment offers.  I have to rely on God that somehow I will earn / find / receive enough money to pay the bills.  And because of that I finally am beginning to understand what the Bible means by describing God as “faithful.”

That couldn’t have been said for a year ago.  That’s a significant difference in my life.

I doubt God cares very much for the financial impact of my giving or the financial impact of me not working when it’s compared against the changes I am receiving from advancing the kingdom.  What is my money compared to a life transformed?

But pride is a tricky beast.  As I said, it warps your view.  If you allow it, your pride will even warp your view of yourself.  As CS Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, “it was through pride that the devil became the devil.”  If pride can do that to the devil, it can happen to us.

If I learn nothing else from being unemployed, I will be satisfied with this lesson.  It will have been worth it to realize that in all situations, at all time, I need God.  And so do you.

what’s the point of a memorial day?

Category : hope, sharing faith, sin, worship

……….

Today I was out eating picnic food watching the rain fall.  As I was sitting there in the breeze I began to wonder about memorial day.  Why is it that we celebrate?  What are we hoping to remember?  Should it be enthusiastic and fun?  Or quiet and solemn?

As I thought about it, I decided it doesn’t really matter.  The point isn’t how we celebrate, it’s the fact that today should be different than every other day.  The whole point of Memorial Day is to remind us that what we experience isn’t free.  It was bought at a price.

Our lives are so hectic, so busy, it’s easy to get sidetracked with the countless responsibilities we have.  We can easily lose track of the sacrifice our freedom cost.  The same is true of our faith.

One of the biggest reasons I go to church isn’t for enlightenment, relationships, or worship (although I get all of those things from church).  I go because it breaks up my week.  It forces me to do something I wouldn’t normally do.  It forces me to remember that our freedom from sin cost God his son.

In the broadest sense it doesn’t matter if I go to a Catholic church, Presbyterian church, nondenominational or what have you.  It doesn’t matter if worship is lead by a rock band or a choir.  What matter is I break my normal routine and focus on what my freedom costs.

I would like to remember that more often, I think.

taking the weekend off

Category : R3, choice, sharing faith

 

About every 8 months I get together with a group of friends from college and we hang out for the weekend.  We spend significant portions of our time, well, wasting time.  And that’s the whole point! 

After much anticipation, the weekend of the event has officially arrived.  (I head out of town tomorrow). 

Usually when I go out of town I pre-write a few posts and then have them update onto R3.  But this time I decided to not do that.  Part of why I like to pre-write posts is so that content is going up for R3 readers.  But if I’m honest, I also post regularly because I am afraid of giving up control.  I’m afraid that while I’m not posting people will get bored and wander away.  That somehow God is dependent on my ability to update the website on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 

As silly as this may sound, walking away for the next 4 days (starting Friday) is an act of faith.  I am trusting God with this site, and putting my faith into him instead of my own abilities.  This all comes about because I’ve been thinking about “the Sabbath” and “taking a day of rest.”  This is something I rarely do.  Oh sure I have lots of reasons why, but when you disagree with God, God should probably win!

So until I get back everyone have an awesome time and consider checking out these sites (and yes, none of them have anything to do with God, although I’m pretty sure he loves video games):

Dubious Quality – my favorite gaming website

Predator X – the most vicious sea monster ever

Seattle Time Lapse – I know I shouldn’t find this so amusing, but I do

is your life urgent?

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Category : God, Jesus, different, faith, sharing faith, taking action

 

If I could only change one thing in my life it would be the sense of urgency I feel.  Or in my case, don’t feel. 

My nature is one of procrastination.  I like to spread things out so I don’t have too much happening at one time.  Because of this, I sometimes lack a sense of urgency.  At least when there isn’t a deadline floating around.  (This is why it’s taking me so long to finish writing my book!)

Yet when I read the Bible, I am struck by something: the repeated call for Christians to live with a sense of urgency.  Jesus changed the world in about 3 years.  That’s pretty urgent.  Paul dropped everything after encountering God and became one of the most important people in history.  David didn’t wait until next week to fight Goliath, he found a rock and went to town.

Looking at my own life, I’m not sure I can say it resembles those examples.  Instead, it much closer to the lyrics of “We are the body” by Casting Crowns

But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?

Why don’t I reach out more?  Why am I more reactive than proactive?   Why do I walk past the people I know need help?  Why do I ignore that prodding by God to help?  To act?  I think the answer is provided by another song.   

i am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers less wild
that i would take a little cash
over your very flesh and blood

(”Wedding Dress“, Derek Webb)

It bothers me to think that I would trade in Jesus’ sacrifice for comfort and convenience.  But I do.  I willingly turn my back on what it cost God to secure my freedom.  And I am increasingly convinced that this lack of urgency is something that is holding me back from a deeper relationship with God.

It’s ironic that it took this realization for me to finally start developing that sense of urgency.  Funny how God works sometimes.

guest post: benefits of a clean room

Category : God, different, sharing faith

 

For the last week R3 has been focusing on the theme of obedience, and the sometimes surprising results that can sometimes bring. 

1.  Does God want you to clean your room?

2.  God of the mundane

3.  Prayer Thursday: obedience

4.  Holding on too tight

I tend to think of obedience having the same meaning as “no fun” or “getting in trouble.”  But sometimes obedience is simply setting the rules so that we can have fun.  How much fun would football be if there were no rules?  Not much.

Well these topics spawned a conversation between myself and Chris (got-fruit.net).  He sent me an email about obedience and cleaning your room.  Apparently God asks more people to clean their room than I ever imagined!  In any event, I thought this would be a perfect wrap-up to last week.  So I asked if I could repost the whole thing: 

About 3 years ago I had a similar experience; maybe it has something to do with being an apartment dwelling bachelor huh?

Seriously, the situation you described sounds very similar. I’m no neat freak, but I usually keep things around the apartment in decent order. Over a period of a few months though, I got lazy. I let bills pile up in a stack on the kitchen counter, and in my office/bedroom there were piles of notes here, miscellaneous PC parts, pens, notepads, more bills, CD-roms, etc; all out of their proper place. I’d use something then not promptly put it back from where I got it, so stuff piled up.

Finally one day it became obvious that I had a small recreation of the junkyard from Sanford & Son in my bedroom. I guess what became bothersome for me at that point is that I usually read or study in my bedroom as well, and having the chaos around was distracting.

As you described, one day God just spoke to me. “Dude, clean your room.” (OK, He didn’t really say “dude”.) So, I obeyed. Afterward, I felt better about things as well, some order had been regained. What I found out shortly after the cleaning episode however was that God seemed to still be talking to me about cleaning up, but it wasn’t in the sense of cleaning up physically. His point seemed to be that I needed to “clean” out the clutter in my life as well, to address a spiritual issue.

The clutter was the activities and distractions that prevented me from digging deeper & more consistently into His Word, as well as the excuses I’d use to not fellowship or serve. I believe that God merely used the distraction of physically cleaning as a metaphor to prepare my heart,eyes and mind for His true concern, my spiritual condition at that time.

I’m always struck how God redeems things in our lives.  Nothing goes to waste.  Yet we sit around refusing to act, refusing to believe, refusing to do much of anything.  As Chris’s story shows, you never know when God’s going to use something ordinary to teach you something extrordinary.