timing is everything

Category : taking action

Timing is everything.  That’s a phrase that we hear constantly.  But how often do we apply it to our faith?  We know that timing matters when buying a house or building a business.  It also matters in sports (which is why you practice your “timing”).  Even comedians work hard to get the timing of their jokes right.

But again, do we apply that same thought to our faith?

We’re willing to take risks all the time.  We do it when we invest in the stock market.  We do it when we jump out of a plane or go on a roller coaster.  We even do it when we get married or ask someone out on a date.  Do we know if those things will work out?  Of course not.  But when it comes to our faith we slow down and start to say, “wait, I’m not so sure.  How do I know?”

Is it any wonder we freeze in our tracks?

But look at what Jesus says about timing: “And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend” yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”  (Luke 12: 11-12)

Did you catch that?  “Will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”

Not a week before.  Not a month before.  Not even an hour before.

But “at that time.”

Timing is everything.  Even in our faith.

Photo provided by flickr user beggs

bargaining with God

Category : God, faith, hope, taking action

My day started with being honked at.  Apparently I had committed the horrific act of coming to a stop at the end of my driveway.

I can only assume that they were honking as a “warning” to let me know that they were coming down the road.  However, it’s possible they were just cranky.  But this was not a good way to start out my day.  Few things get under my skin as quickly as bad drivers.  Since I wrote, “love your enemy and fellow drivers” I have tried to take a different approach to bad drivers.  But it’s never easy.

As I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that I need to stay calm, I followed this driver down the street.  Before long we came to a stop sign.  Of course we all know that a stop sign requires that we come to a “complete and full stop.”  Well this driver rolled right through it.  She barely slowed down.

That’s when I realized what had happened.  She had assumed that since she didn’t stop at intersections, I wouldn’t either.  Psychologists call this “projection.”  It’s the very simple idea that we project what we’re feeling and doing onto other people.  (This is why someone who is a compulsive liar always assumes everyone else is lying.)  She was honking because if our roles were reversed, she would have cut me off.

The sad thing is we do this with God all the time.  We project our own views, beliefs, and motives on him.  If you’ve ever tried to bargain with God, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  When we find ourselves in need of help, instead of just asking, we pray things like, “God if you just help me out now, I promise to give up drinking.”  Or “God, if you heal my kid, I will go to church every week.”

This is a very natural reaction.  It’s what we do with our families.  We tell our kids, “if you eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert.”  Or we tell our employees, “if you put in extra hours, then you can have a raise.”  We even bargain with ourselves, “if I go the gym tonight, I can have a piece of cake tomorrow.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bargaining.  Even God says some things are based on our behavior: “to those who are faithful in the small things, more things will be given.”  But when it comes to God’s love and mercy, we can’t bargain for that.  God doesn’t hold out on us until we earn enough credit.  We can’t be good enough to earn our way into his favor.  There’s nothing we have that we can offer to God in some kind of exchange.  It’s not like God has much need of your collection of baseball cards or your money.  Bargaining with God is not only theologically wrong, it doesn’t even make sense!

Instead we need to learn to receive God.  To accept his love, without any strings attached.   God’s love is absolute.   It is unconditional.  He’s not like you and I.  He’s truly radical and revolutionary.  And so is his behavior.

How do you add more to that?

photo provided by flickr user Nate Larimer

small steps to changing history

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

One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.  That was what Neil Armstrong said as he made history being the first person to step foot onto the moon.  As famous as that line was, did Armstrong really understand what he was doing?  Did he really know how his one step onto the moon would change the course of science, history, and culture?

I often find myself thinking about questions like.  It makes me think about my own life, and my own choices.  What small steps can I take today that may change the course of history?  Okay.  Maybe not world history.  But the history of my life.  Maybe even the history of those around me.

Sometimes the simplest action can transform everything.

That’s what I was thinking of as I read the introduction to Luke’s gospel.  In it he addresses the whole work to a man named Theophilus.  Now historians aren’t exactly sure who Theophilus was.  Some of the leading ideas are that he was a non-believer, but open to the idea of Jesus being God.  Another idea is that Theophilus was a wealthy believer who just wanted to better understand what living out a life of faith looked like.  Something I can relate to.  (The understanding, not the money!)  There are other theories, but those are the most likely.

I have to think that Theophilus had no idea what he was putting into motion.  He had no idea that millions of people would still read the book he had (most likely) funded.  It’s easy to forget that sometimes the littlest actions can have the most impact.  We never know when taking a few minutes to read a story to a kid can change their life.  Or instead of cutting someone off in traffic, we let them merge.  Yet time and again we see major life change happening with a simple moment.

God has a strange way of taking the small and turning it into the extraordinary.

photo provided by NASA

questioning Jesus

Category : taking action

If you had a chance to question Jesus, would you?

Our natural reaction is “you bet I would!”  But that’s a very different picture than the one the Bible paints.  In fact the people closest to Jesus often didn’t question Jesus.

“But they didn’t understand what he meant, and were afraid to ask him about it.” (Mark 9: 32)

The Disciples were an interesting group.  On the one hand they witnessed things that most of us never will.  They saw miracles like people coming back from the dead (in non-zombie form) and the blind seeing.  On top of all that they also had a chance to spend time 1-on-1 with God.

Now we can all talk to God in prayer.  We can all get our questions answered that way.  Prayer is an amazing thing.  But it’s not the same as talking to God while having a cup of Starbucks.  The disciples though did this (although I’m not sure how many Starbucks there were in Galilee).  They were able to talk, laugh, and just spend time with Jesus.  They had a unique opportunity that none of us will get in this life.

And yet time and again they passed up on the opportunity to question Jesus.

Right before Jesus was crucified he began to talk about dying.  The disciples, however, wanted no part of that conversation.  They believed Jesus was going to be a great military leader.  That he was going to reestablish a literal and physical kingdom, much like David.  In short he was going to make Israel a world power again.

They didn’t want to listen to him talk about death.  In their minds it just didn’t make sense.  And it terrified them.  So they did what most of us would do: stick our fingers in our ears and go “la la la la.”

It would be as if George Washington had told his troops on the eve of the Revolutionary War that he was “about to die”?  Or if Lincoln, during the height of the Civil War said he was about to die.  People would have been terrified.  Their leader, the person they put all their faith in, was going to die?  How did that make sense?  What was he talking about?

I think the disciples were afraid not just because Jesus said he would die, but because they couldn’t understand how Jesus’ death would bring about their image of a messiah.  Dead leaders don’t win wars after all.

Out of all of us the disciples were in the best position to question Jesus.  Yet they didn’t.  They let fear hold them back.  They more afraid of the truth than willing to trust Jesus.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if the disciples hadn’t let fear rule those moments.  Would the days following the crucifixion look different if they had really understood what Jesus’ death had meant?  What if the disciples had pursued an answer from Jesus?  Would he have given it to them?

Of course that makes me think about you and I.  What would our lives look like if we questioned Jesus for the truth, instead of letting fear stop us short?

We are often too afraid to ask God for help.  We’re afraid to ask because he might say “no.”  We’re afraid to ask, because what does it mean if nothing happens?  We’re afraid to ask, because we can’t see beyond our current problems.  If we’ve only ever known suffering and fear, what else could there be?

We may be angry and yell at God and “question” his authority or justice.  But we rarely question God seeking real answers.  We don’t want to understand what God has in mind for our lives if it means learning that it’s not what we expected.  And isn’t that when we’re the angriest at God?  When our expectations don’t match reality?  How much less suffering we would endure if we just questioned God and actually listened for an answer!

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.

focusing on obedience to God

Category : God, Jesus, bible, faith, taking action

Things are rushing these days.  I’m trying to juggle a new job, volunteering opportunities at my local church, writing opportunities (both for R3 and a book I’m working on), and most importantly a wedding.  Yes, that’s right; I got engaged over the holidays.

Which brings me to obedience.

Because so much is going on I need to streamline my life.  I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions.  But I wanted to try something new.  (Although I’m still not doing a New Year’s Resolution!)  I think God has a lot of things he’d like me accomplish, and to do that, I need to be organized.

So I’ve decided to identify four words that will define my 2010.  The first three revolve around productivity / work / scheduling / time.  But the fourth one, the most important one, is all about faith.

And, in case you haven’t guessed already, that word is obedience.

I want 2010 to be fully focused on God.  I want to be obedient in an intentional way I haven’t been before.  Sure I’ve been thinking about this word for a while now.  As you can see from the R3 post called the miracle of obedience.  I’ve even given talks focusing on what it means to be obedient.  But I’ve never tried to fully live it out, consistently, in all things.

That’s scary just saying that out loud!  Truth be told, I like my rebellion.  But all things must come to an end.

Which brings us to Mary…

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

This is the only time in the entire Bible Mary gives a command.  (thanks to Erwin McManus for pointing that out).  Locally she’s speaking to the servants at the party.  But it applies directly to us too.   As I wrote a few days ago, the servants didn’t question what Jesus was doing (something that surely was crazy), they just did it.  They filled up giant containers of water that must have weighed hundreds of pounds (which was a lot of work without forklifts or running water.)

Through their obedience Jesus performed his first miracle.

Which makes me wonder, what miracles will he perform through my obedience?  What about yours?

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?