a skeptical view of god

Category : God, choice, sin

Some people don’t believe in God.  I know, I know, you’re shocked by that, right?  People give lots of reasons for not believing.  But for today I want to focus on just one: religion is not science.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently.  You hear arguments left and right about how science is objective, religion isn’t.  The reasoning goes that because you can “prove” science, then it’s free from bias.

As I watch the whole Global Warming is man made story begin to unravel in the news, I’m reminded that science may be free from bias, but humans are not.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that much of the research supporting global warming was made up at worst, or “manipulated” at best.

But this isn’t the first time someone has made up research.  And it won’t be the last time.

Now this isn’t a post about Global Warming and how we should respond.  God very clearly calls us to be good stewards for the planet, and I don’t think any Christian, regardless of their political leanings, can claim that we’re getting an A+ on that one.

What this post is about is human folly.  The fact that our pride can so blind us that we can’t even see our own hypocrisy.  Of course we don’t need a scientific scandal to prove that.  We’re pretty good at being hypocrites on a daily basis.

Sin impacts everything we do.  Whether it’s loving our families or conducting scientific research.  None of us are immune to sin.

God’s sovereign reign

Category : God, bible, faith, sin

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “God’s sovereign reign.”  I can’t stand it when people start using that phrase.  Now I believe that God is in control.  And I believe that he’s the boss (not Tony Danza).  So in theory I have nothing against this phrase.  The problem is, when someone says, “God’s sovereign reign” what they really mean is “God just caused that bad thing to happen.”

This is their way of saying, “well God’s in control, so he must have a plan for wiping out all those people in a flood.”  Some people even go so far as to say that God has predetermined who is going to heaven and hell.  Predetermined as in “before you were even born.”

But I don’t buy any of that.

Why?  Because if it was “God’s sovereign plan” for disaster to strike and suffering to occur, why is God so upset?  You don’t see architects bemoaning the fact that their building is being built according to the blueprints.  You don’t see parents upset when their children are listening to their commands.

You see people upset when things aren’t working out.  When things don’t go according to plan.

Now it’s possible that I’m just not seeing the big picture.  That there’s something more going on behind the scenes that I just don’t have access too.  That was kind of the point of Job.

But for the vast majority of disasters I don’t think God is lurking in the shadows waiting to strike you down with cancer or unleashing tsunamis to destroy unrepentant villages.

Frankly I think all the disasters and suffering is a result of sin.  And sin is entirely outside of God’s plan.  God never wanted Adam & Eve to sin.  And he doesn’t want us to sin.  If sin was part of his plan, why did Jesus need to die sinless?  Which, of course, he did.

God is so brilliant at adjusting to our stupidity that it makes it look like it’s all part of his plan.  But God never wanted you to suffer.  God never wanted you to feel brokenness.  That was never part of his plan.   So don’t let someone tell you otherwise.

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.

following a dead god

Category : God, bible, faith, living a life of faith, sin

……….

Baal worship was a major problem in Israel.  It actually followed them for hundreds of years.  It was so indoctrinated into the culture that many Jews thought worshiping Baal was the same as worshiping God.  They didn’t even notice the difference!

How could that be?  It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on idolatry.  It’s not as if God didn’t send prophet after prophet delivering the same message, and I quote, “Hey!  Knock it off!”

But Israel was an agrarian society.  Farming was a major part of their life.  Is it any wonder that they kept getting caught up in worshiping a god that supposedly brought the rain?

We live in a country that is a financial society.  Is it any wonder that we get caught up in things like the prosperity gospel?  Is it any wonder that our priests fall into temptation of the “all mighty dollar?”

The situation may change, but apparently the human heart does not.

problems don’t last forever

Category : Daneil, God, choice, hope, sin, trust

“His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendor.  In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle.” (Daniel 11:20)

Why is it that the weekend flies by, but the work week takes forever?  Why do we find sitting through a lecture painful, but watching a movie easy?  Why does vacation come and go when our daily commute takes so long?

Unless someone has mastered time travel (if so, please let me know) then all of these things can be explained by one simple word: perception.

Perception is that finicky thing that changes our reality.  It makes us believe something has happened when it hasn’t.  It makes us hot when we should be cold, and cold when we should be hot (this is why you say “boy it’s hot” when it’s 50 degrees outside in February, but not when it’s 50 in August).

Perception can be a major obstacle to our faith.

Perception may tell us that we can never change, that nothing good will ever happen, and we will be stuck “here” forever.

We are most vulnerable to these tricks when we are suffering.  We somehow know that “all good things must come to an end” and “it’s too good to last”.  We even have clichés devoted to them.  But when it comes to pain and suffering we often forget that those things don’t last either.

This was true in Israel’s case.

After centuries of not listening to God, Israel finally found themselves overwhelmed by a powerful enemy (Babylon).  As part of their punishment for losing the war, many of their most highly educated men were taken captive to become slaves (this is what happened to Daniel).  While most of the women and children were just outright murdered.

Many Jews simply couldn’t believe this was happening.  They were God’s chosen people.  They had been set free from captivity already.  How could they be going back?!  They never really thought God would let something like this happen to them.  Although if they had paid attention to prophets like Jeremiah, they would have figured it out.

But nothing lasts forever.  At least not in this world.

And I think God was reminding them of this.  In the story of Daniel, God simply slipped two sentences into the conversation.  Gently saying, “you will see tax collectors gathering money for a powerful kingdom, but even in the midst of that, their country will fall apart.”

Not even captivity lasts forever.

That was a lesson that the Jews needed to remember.  Because they were going to spend a long, long time in captivity.  They had to know that there was hope.  They had to remember who to hope in.  Those were things they had forgotten.

Bad things don’t last forever.  Maybe we need to remember that from time to time.

judging other people (especially other drivers)

Category : different, faith, living a life of faith, sin, trust

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It snowed last night.  Approximately 1/1000th of an inch.  Well maybe a bit more than that.  But not much more.  Now I don’t know about you.  But in my city that means everything gets shut down.  It also means that there are certain drivers who become more aggressive than normal.  Or perhaps they are just the same level of aggression, and it’s just that the rest of us just use common sense.  But either way, the bad drivers really stand out in this kind of weather.

Even though I was on the highway for only a few minutes I manged to get one of these lovely drivers behind me.  Which means that while everyone else on the highway was driving at about 15 mph Mr. I-don’t-need-to-follow-traffic-patterns decided to try and pass me on the shoulder of an off ramp.

Apparently he was in a hurry to stop at the red light.

Now I’ve written before about being a Christian driver.  I’ve also written that we seem to lose that Christian feeling once we get behind the wheel.  I’ll forgive my enemies but not my fellow drivers.  At least that seems to be what happens in church parking lots.  But in this particular case I noticed I had an overwhelming urge to turn to the guy and say something just as he finally passed.  Of course in turning my desires weren’t exactly  socially acceptable or very Christian.  Actually those urges weren’t Christian at all.

Frankly that reaction surprised me.  I was taken back (although I probably shouldn’t be) by how strong my desire for judgment was.  I wanted to make that guy know that he was an idiot and that I didn’t appreciate him putting my life in jeopardy.

It’s funny though.  We work so hard to prove that we are right.  To show other people that they are in the wrong.  And it’s by that very action we put ourselves and others in danger.

That’s one of the unexpected outcomes of judgment.  It puts us, and others, in jeopardy.  Think about it for a moment.  When you are judging other people, what usually happens?  You lose your temper.  You act in anger with a smug sense of being right.  “I was wronged!” we think.  And that attitude lets us feel justified in doing whatever we feel like.

In my case I went from criticizing a bad driver to becoming one myself.  I went from being the normal, smart driver to being just as aggressive and insane as he was.  I was willing to put myself and others at risk, just to make a point.

What kind of response is that?!

Fortunately I didn’t.  I choose to keep my eyes on the road.  It wasn’t easy.  I really wanted to pass judgment on that guy.  I really wanted to say some pretty unpleasant things.  At least under my breath.  But one of the advantages of writing R3 has been the accountability that comes with being public about your faith.  And in this moment, accountability won out.  Chalk one up for living out a life of faith!

The irony is that judgment rarely matters in the end.  We work ourselves up over what someone said or what they did.  We get furious that someone cut in line or smoked a cigarette.  We call people horrible names who vote differently than us.  We mock people who like different sports teams.

But what does that serve?  What good comes out of it?

Nothing.

Instead it just feeds our anger and judgmental nature.  The more judgments you make about people, the more judgmental you become.  No one has ever become a more loving person by being more judgmental.

Maybe God knew what he was talking about when he said judgment was his to pass, and not ours.  Funny how often that turns out to be true.

what to do when you make a mistake

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

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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?

loving our enemies by trusting God

Category : God, Jeremiah, bible, different, sin, trust

……….

Is there anything harder than loving our enemies?

If there is, I don’t know what it would be.  And frankly I’m not sure I want to know!

Until recently I have never had anyone I considered to be an enemy.  Sure there were people I didn’t like.  There were even people I found annoying.  And of course there were people who I didn’t trust.  But never anyone who has actively worked against me.

The one thing about living out a life of faith is that there is always more to learn.  God always has a way of giving us new homework.  Despite all of my study, all of my understanding of who God is, and what Jesus taught, I find I am really struggling with loving my enemies.  I would much rather destroy my enemies.  Or at the very least, make them look foolish.

But that’s not where Jesus is.  That’s not what God wants.

The book that drives this home to me is Jeremiah.  Now Jeremiah was just a normal guy.  He could easily be you or me.  Yet God called him to a unique mission.  And for much of his life he went around telling Israel they were about to be destroyed.  Talk about a crummy job description!

His life was in constant danger.  He was beaten.  Arrested.  Harassed.  And suffered an isolation that very few of us can understand.  To say the man made some enemies would be an understatement.  Yet he kept working at it.  He never gave up.  Despite his enemies, he never stopped moving towards God.

I have a hard time relating to that.

But when I look at it in light of who Jesus was, it makes more sense.  Jesus calls us to lead a counter-cultural life.  He wants us to be radical, revolutionary, and most importantly different.  (That’s why you see that phrase associated with R3.)

To prove this point, in his first public declaration of his mission, Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

Man that’s not what I want to hear.  I want to hear “Blessed are those with bigger baseball bats, because they will win.”  Or “Blessed are those who are quick witted, because they will make their opponents look dumb.”  That’s not where Jesus goes though.  He takes a different path.  A radical path.

If I’m honest, part of why loving your enemies is so hard is a lack of trust.  I simply don’t trust that God will take care of things.  I don’t trust him to be the arbiter of justice.  I think he needs my help.

Now I don’t think this consciously.  (Well until now).  But that’s how I behave.  I act as if I’m saying, “God, look I know you created the universe and can perform miracles.  But clearly you’re a bit out matched here…why don’t you let me handle this one.”

If I am to live a life of faith, I need to get with the game.  To focus on these revolutionary teachings.   To learn to really trust God when it’s all on the line.  At times that feels impossible.  As it did to Jeremiah.  But Jeremiah found a way to trust God.  And so can I.

I don’t like having enemies.  But sometimes that can’t be helped.  So instead of focusing on complaining, I am going to focus on trusting God.

I want to become more like Jeremiah.

Adam and Eve and original sin

Category : Genesis, God, different, failure, faith, sin

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And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2: 16-17)

Adam and Eve had one rule: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

That’s it.

And although that was the only rule, they just couldn’t help themselves.  They went ahead and did it anyway.  Sometimes I wonder how quickly it took before they made it to the fruit.  Part of me thinks it happened right away.  I know that when I’m told I can’t do something, that’s the one thing I want to do.  Is that an attitude I inherited from Adam?  Or has it just always been part of who we are as a species?  I don’t know.  But I know that urge is strong.  So maybe they got dropped off in the garden and then started eating forbidden fruit right away.

On the other hand, Adam had a lot of work to do.  There were a lot of animals to be named.  Adam of course did a good job with that.  Well, maybe with the exception of “platypus.”  So perhaps he was just too busy to go off eating forbidden fruit.

Eventually though, Adam and Eve turned toward that tree.  The one thing they weren’t allowed to touch they went after.  Satan knew exactly how to attack them.  He convinced them that God was holding out on them.  So they ate that fruit, and we’ve been paying for it ever since.

It can be easy to believe God wants us to be perfect.  But I’m not sure that’s his goal.  Perfection would mean we were God ourselves (because God is perfect).  And I don’t think that’s what God is going for.  God’s commands to Adam and Eve weren’t about perfection, they were about freedom.  They were about doing whatever they wanted – with one exception.

In fact, God’s first words to Adam were “you are free”.

Yet Adam and Eve still committed sin.  The original sin.  And we’ve never stopped sinning.  If Adam and Eve only had one thing they couldn’t do, what chance do you and I have to not sin?  The answer is “none.”  We will sin no matter how hard we try not to.

There’s part of me that is bothered by that realization.  I want to be perfect and not sin.  But that’s missing the point.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, perfection isn’t an issue.  We are perfect through him.  God isn’t expecting us to be more perfect.  He’s created a way to experience perfection while still making mistakes.

That’s just one of the many amazing and clever things God has done in his relationship with humanity.

Ultimately God is more interested in us growing closer to him than striving for perfection.  He knows that over time we will naturally sin less simply because we are connected with him.  This fact lives in tension with our culture.  We, as a society, believe in  the importance of “manning up.”  But that’s not what God wants.  He doesn’t want us to try harder.

The only thing that will do is cause us to fall down.

Sin may always be part of your life, but it doesn’t have to rule it.

greed, money, and my way

Category : choice, sin

……….

It appears that the NBA is headed to a lockout.  The referees and the NBA can’t come to an agreement.  It may not be the only sport that suffers a lockout.  The NFL, the world’s most successful league, is on the verge of a labor dispute which may result in a lockout.  All of this follows on the heels of the NFL’s labor dispute from a few years ago.  And just recently was the 15 year anniversary of the MLB labor dispute.

Four major sports, 4 lockouts all within recent memory.

Why?

Part of it is greed.  Greed of owners, greed of players, greed of fans, greed of our hearts.  But part of it is just the nature of the world we live in.  We have bought into the idea that money is the answer to all our problems.  Yet the more money we get, the more we fight over it.

In the case of the NFL, neither the players nor the owners have ever had it better.  Yet both want bigger pieces of the pie.  It’s hard for most of us to relate to these arguments because many of us would gladly do their jobs for free, let alone millions of dollars!

Yet for most of us, we can understand being consumed by money and things.  We get angry that we don’t get a raise.  We become jealous when our friends get cooler things than we have.  The hardest thing for me, about being unemployed, is seeing things I want, and not being able to get them.

If we aren’t careful, greed and money pave the way for us to think that we should always get it “my way.”  That somehow just because it’s “my way” makes it right.  The irony is, “my way” is often a path towards failure and defeat.

If the NBA and the NFL have labor issues, maybe they will recover.  But maybe not .  In either case, they will display, for all of us, just what happens when you allow greed to become synonymous with “my way.”