shattered illusions

Category : God, different, faith, fear, trust

Work is crushingly busy right now.  So is life.  Things get that way sometimes.  I think it’s part of the human condition.

I know I’m not alone in this.  There’s a lot of us who have visions of what we want to do – but get overwhelmed by the day to day stuff.  To have wave after wave of emergencies, problems, (and opportunities) hit one after another.  It seems that as hard as I work, the next wave of stuff waiting to crash on top of me.  Sound familiar?

Our faith is no different.

It can be very hard to see the big picture.  Life has a way of becoming so overwhelming because we see a moment-by-moment view.  Imagine yourself swimming in the ocean.  As you strength starts to wane your vision is filled with wave after wave.  Each time a wave crashes over you, you lose a little bit of energy.  A little bit of momentum.  And pretty soon we stop looking for the shore at all.  Because no matter where the shore is, all we care about is making it through the next wave.

I wrote this a few months ago.

Here is my challenge to you – take a week away from the news.  Don’t worry about swine flu, politics, the economy or anything else.  Focus on God and see what he wants for your life.  Focus on breaking out of the lies the world tells you.  And then a week from now tell me what you experienced.  My guess is you actually felt a little hopeful and a little optimistic.  You’ll see that there’s more to this world than just a scientific approach (this comes from someone who spends much of his time studying science).

My guess is you’ll start to see through the cracks and you’ll realize that you don’t have to go along with what the world says.  You don’t have to let it dictate your behavior or your choices.  You have the option to choose freedom.  To choose life.  Don’t let the thief give you lies in place of truth.

I never got around to publishing it.

I find it interesting that all of those things seem not as significant as they once did.  It’s hard to remember the panic people felt with Swine Flu.  (Or the constant media stories about how we were all going to die.)  People were saying Obama would change the direction of the country forever, now they are saying he might not get any major legislation passed.  I personally struggled through nearly a year of unemployment (now I’m employed, which of course makes it harder to write posts on R3!).  And the list goes on and on.

Wave after wave of information comes pounding through our lives.  It’s no wonder we feel tired and worn out.  Yet through all of this God has that big picture view that we lack.  He can see over the waves.  He knows where the shore is.

Sometimes I wonder how God can help me overcome the problems in my life.  Yet he has overcome far greater challenges than swine flu or the economy.  He rose from the dead for cryin’ out loud!

This is why our faith is so important.  Our faith gives us something to hold onto when things seem overwhelming.  Faith isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.  No one says, “I don’t want a life preserver – it’s just a crutch.  I much prefer struggling in the waves on my own.”  We recognize what it is – something that helps us overcome obstacles we couldn’t by ourselves.

When life seems overwhelming remember that to God our waves are nothing more than a wading pool.  And that all we need to do is reach out and take his hand, and we too can see the shore.

Faith puts things into perspective.

does god still perform miracles?

Category : God, faith, miracles, trust

A woman in Texas says that God chased away a robber.  Normally this is something I would make fun of.  I would roll my eyes and think, “no wonder people find Christians crazy.”  Even the headline of the article is snarky – “Jesus defeats armed robber.”

But then I have to stop and pause.  Why couldn’t this have happened?  Why couldn’t God have done something miraculous?

Go ahead I’ll wait for you to come up with an answer.

The only answer I can think of is that “God doesn’t do miracles.”  But that hardly seems like a Christian response.

Sometimes I think I am just too focused on “science” and not enough on God.  I can talk about God.  I can believe he performs miracles.  I’ve even seen some miracles.  Yet when I listen to other people I don’t know say that “It was just like this whole store filled with the power of God,” and that’s why a criminal with a gun ran away, it’s all I can do not to roll my eyes.

But I don’t think this is a lack of faith.  What I think this story shows is a lack of relationship.

I don’t know this woman.  I have no idea if she’s crazy or perfectly normal.  I don’t know if she goes to some weird, non-Biblical church, or attends a completely mainstream non-miracle experiencing church (not that I think that’s “normal” either).  I know nothing about her other than this short hundred word article tells me.

Sadly Christianity’s history is littered with fools, charlatans, and criminals.  Even some of the so-called leaders of Christian churches go on national television with the seeming purpose of making a fool of the faith.  It’s no wonder that I have a healthy skepticism when I read stories like this.

In the end, I think the trick is to guard against ignoring all of these stories.  Some of them are true miracles.  While others are just a sham or a delusion or a misunderstanding.  If we expect to see God perform miracles then maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to throw out all the unusual things as just a backwards person giving an unsophisticated view.

Because in the end, maybe we are the unsophisticated ones.

the waste of faith

Category : God, barbarian, bible, miracles, trust

……….

Every year my church does a crazy Christmas show.  This is a full out, laser-snow-machine-giant-screen-booming-bass show.  It even has 50 foot tall battle-hardened angels.  In fact, it’s one of the best produced (and written) show’s I’ve ever seen.

But almost every year I hear someone complain that it’s “over the top” or “too expensive”.  Some even wonder “why go to all that trouble?”

I understand their points.  Part of me even agrees with those thoughts.   I don’t know how much money is spent on free coffee, free hot chocolate, free cookies but my guess is over the course of two weeks it probably runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Shouldn’t we be better stewards of God’s things?  Doesn’t God want us to cut out the waste?

Frankly, no.

Because what we are doing isn’t wasteful.  It draws somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 people every year.  That’s a lot of people to connect with God.  Many of them are making that connection for the first time.

All of this has been running through my mind as I’ve been reading the “minor prophets” in the Old Testament.  As I’ve been reading I’ve noticed (for the first time) just how many crazy, outlandish, unnecessary things God calls prophets to do.

He calls Hosea to marry a prostitute.  He had Jonah swallowed by a big fish (although that was more because Jonah wasn’t cooperating than anything else).  He asked Ezekiel to lay on his side for more than a year.

I am sure that some people, even today, would say that those things were a bit ridiculous.  “Come on!  A whale?  Can we really afford something as big as a whale?  What about something more the size of a large tuna?  Or maybe a mackerel?”

That was a problem even with Jesus.  Some people saw his ministry as too extravagant.  Too relaxed.  And so he was labeled a glutton and a drunkard.

You know why these aren’t unnecessary?  Because God is willing to do anything, short of sin, to bring us into a relationship with him.  He asked these prophets to do these crazy things so that their actions would cut through the cultural noise of their days.  Sometimes the way to get someone’s attention is to go bigger, louder, and badder.  And sometimes

Do you really think God has suddenly stopped trying to connect with us in any way possible?

Now I’m obviously not advocating waste.  But I am advocating crazy generosity.  I just hope God doesn’t ask me to shave my head.

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

……….

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.

the challenge of christianity

Category : God, Jesus, bible, different, faith, live for the eternal, trust

……….

One of the worst lies about Christianity is that if you start following God your life will be better / richer / easier / smoother … well, you can fill in the blank.  So many people’s faith has been derailed by this thinking.  Perhaps no other lie does as much damage.

To me this conversation takes on a bit of a personal tone.  Because I grew up believing that as long as you did the “big” things God would always have your back.  Which meant your life would be pretty easy.  But that’s so far from the truth it’s shocking.

If you look at the Bible you see story after story of people having to overcome terrible challenges.  Not because they are sinners, but because they are believers.  That’s the whole point of Job: you can be a good man, but still suffer horribly.  In fact it’s Job’s goodness that gets Satan’s attention.  (Let that one settle in for a bit!)

We don’t need to stop with Job though.  Out of the 12 guys closest to Jesus, all but one of them died unnatural causes.  And the last one, John, was died while in exile.  Did you catch that?  The people closest to Jesus all suffered greatly for that connection.

That sure doesn’t sound like the good “happy christianity” we are fed sometimes in church.

Odds are this conversation is making you uncomfortable.  It should.  Living a life of faith is something that’s different.  It’s something that’s radical.  And often times it is something completely counter cultural.  That’s at least what Jeremiah and Ezekiel learned.  In both cases, God essentially says, “because you believe in me, I’m going to give you an important task.”  Of course that task was to tell the rest of their country about their impending doom. Talk about a horrible job description!  No one likes to be told they are wrong, let alone going to be punished.  Just tell a 4 year old she can’t watch TV anymore and you’ll see what I mean!  But this is what God had them do.  Living a life of faith for Jeremiah and Ezekiel meant they were going to have to do some pretty hard things.  Things that made them hated, persecuted, and punished.

If living a life of faith means having a harder life, why do we do it?

For two reasons I think.

1.  Following God is always better than the alternative.

2.  Because there is a reward: it’s just not now.

Just like a good parent, God always has our best interest in mind.  When we follow him we end up being better people.  Maybe not financially, but character-wise and spiritually we are vastly improved.  We send our children to school even though they don’t want to be there.  Why?  Because it makes them better adults.  I think that’s what God is doing.  He sends us to “life school” to make us better.  But we don’t get to experience the full benefits of that until after we die.

For a lot of people that’s hard to take.  And I understand that.  I’m just as much a product of fast food, microwaves, and instant ramen noodles as anyone else.  But I don’t write the rules, I just try to understand them.  And then I try to do something with them.

So the next time you are faced with a challenge from God.  Accept it.  Confidently.  Knowing that while it might be hard, it is worth pursuing with all your strength.  God never asks us to do something without a reason!  We will get that reward.  God has promised us that much.  And who knows, in the end, you may find you like it better than money or a stress-free life.

i don’t want to go through the motions

Category : Jesus, Matthew, fear, living a life of faith, taking action, trust

……….

I admit it.  The last few weeks have been a bit up and down on R3.  I haven’t been able to post the usual three times a week.  It seems events have been conspiring against me.  At first I was sick.  Then I realized it was NaNoWriMo.  (That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you scoring at home.)  And after writing about 20,000 words of a book, I had to put virtually everything on hold because, my friends, I have some good news to share.  I was offered a job on Monday and accepted.

That means after all this time I will finally be employed.

If you’ve been following R3 for any length of time you know that this last year has been hard.  I’ve been unemployed since the first of the year.  And that takes a toll on you.  More than just financially though. You can easily begin to doubt yourself.  And at times I really questioned where I was going.  Unemployment can also shake your faith.  There were times when I really wondered if I was really following God or just going off on my own tangents.  It also can impact your relationships.  It’s hard to be loving and engaged when you wonder where you will get enough money to pay the bills.  It’s also hard to stay active with your friends when they want to go do something that costs money and you don’t have the funds for that.

Looking back on the year I realize just how much I have learned and just how much I’ve grown.  I don’t even feel like the same person anymore.  And none of that would have been possible without trusting God and quitting my job.  The ironic thing is, that despite all the pain this year has caused, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.  In fact, it’s probably one of the best years I’ve ever had.

You see I don’t want to go through the motions.  I don’t want to look back on my life and wonder, “did I really give everything?”  I don’t want to just be that guy who punches the clock and that’s it.  I want my life to make a difference.  I want to advance the Kingdom in powerful ways, or at least in whatever ways I can.

Jesus once told the parable of the talents.  In it he described three men who were each given talents (which was a sum of money equivalent to about 3 months of wages).  Two of the men doubled what they had been given.  But the last man didn’t do anything with his talent.  He was afraid and therefore didn’t act.

When the master of the three men returned he demanded an account of how they had used the money.  The first two were rewarded greatly, and the last man was punished.  Not because he lost the money.  But because he didn’t do anything with his talent!

That terrifies me.

I would rather lead a life of adventure, and chaos, and unpredictability than live a safe, comfortable life that wasn’t about pursuing God.  I knew that I had a choice to make about my job.  Stay there and be comfortable, but do nothing with my “talent.”  Or be willing to trust God so much that I would walk into a completely unpredictable world.

I chose to act.

I don’t always choose to act.  And I’m not saying everyone should quit their job.  But I don’t want to look back some day and think, “why did I waste my talent?”

This is why the Matthew West song “The Motions” has become a theme song of sorts.

I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
Instead of going through the motions?”

That’s how I want to live.  How about you?  Are you going through the motions?

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.

politics and faith

Category : God, Jeremiah, barbarian, different, faith, hope, living a life of faith, trust

……….

Election day.  There may not be any other day that so many Americans get worked up and angry over.  Besides the obvious Sunday of football.  While some people say that elections are becoming more “vicious” and “partisan”, I think they’ve always been that way.  Last time I checked there haven’t been any pistol duels in Washington recently.

Politics can be exciting.  A lot can ride on an election.  We’ve seen this in the last few elections.  About a third of the country despised the direction of the USA under George Bush.  Now about a third of the country despises the direction of the USA under Obama.  We seem to be evenly balanced in our dislike of political trends.

So if there is so much tension, anger and animosity, why do we get so worked up about politics?

For some elections and politics represent the hope of change.  That’s what Obama campaigned on.  Although he wasn’t the first, he might have been the best at it.  For others it represents the continuation of the status quo. Their party gets to stay in power.  They get to call the shots.

Ultimately it boils down to one fact: elections can have profound consequences.

So what does this mean for someone who believes in God?  How do politics and faith mesh?  Especially when you are living out a life of faith?  I wish I had an answer for you.  I don’t know how you balance the two.  I don’t know if people of faith should be involved in politics.  I don’t know if they should stay out of politics.  There are certainly disadvantages to both choices.  And there are compelling reasons to do either.

But what I do know is God warns us to be careful of believing too much in human-only solutions.

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”

(Jeremiah 17: 5)

For many believers I think politics has taken on a primary importance because at their core, they don’t fully trust that God is in charge.  They aren’t quite on board with believing that God really is acting.  I recognize that paints with a broad brush.  I know many Christians who are fully on board with God’s plans.  But I also know many people who don’t know what it means to submit to God and trust him.  And there are some days I can’t fault them for that.  When we hear news of disaster, rape, murder, or other horrific things, it’s easy to wonder exactly how all this fits into some kind of “plan.”

God, though, is very clear on this.  We need to trust him in all circumstances.  Not just when things are running smoothly.  That’s the point of the book of Job.  Job needed to trust God, not because Job’s life was good, but because God is, well, God.

God hammers this point home to Jeremiah too.

“But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
(Jeremiah 17: 7-8)

Jeremiah’s mission was to deliver a message of destruction and punishment to his country.  That’s not easy sailing.  But God reminds him – don’t place your trust in the human solution.  Place your trust in my solution.

Whatever your politics, if you are a believer than it is your responsibility to put your trust in God, not in elections.  Elections can be important.  God may even want you to be involved.  But never at the expense of your first allegiance: to the Kingdom.

healing a broken heart

1

Category : God, Romans, different, faith, hope, shame, trust

……….

My girlfriend has the most annoying cat known to man.  This is the type of cat who the minute you sit down jumps into your lap.  He’s the type of cat who can’t go five minutes without craving attention.  He’s the type of cat you almost always step on, because he’d rather be under foot (literally) than in another room.  I have never seen a cat who wants more human interaction.

We often joke that he’s “broken.”

But the sad reality is, he is broken.  He is what is sometimes called a “rescue cat.”  That’s a cat who was mistreated and been removed from a home.  In Ben’s case, he was abused as a kitten.  Mistreated in cruel ways.  And because of that he’s developed an unhealthy need for attention.

So what does Ben have to do with living out a life of faith?  Simple.  That cat is a reflection of many of us.

Many of us walk around broken.  We carry the wounds of abuse, sexual assault, cruelty and vindictiveness.  We are weighed down by those horrible acts.  And in response we turn to unhealthy fixations.  We may crave attention.  Crave validation.  Crave sex, drugs, or alcohol.  Anything to make the pain stop.  Even for a moment.

Yet we have something that Ben, the cat, can never experience.  We have a redeeming God who is actively trying to rework our lives to bring in new meaning.  We no longer have to be confined by our pain.  We can be set free.

Sometimes people will say, “all things work for good for those who believe.“  And they take that to mean that everything, no matter how horrible is God’s will.

It isn’t.

God doesn’t want you to suffer any more than he wants that Ben (the cat) to suffer.

What that phrase really means is that God can take your suffering and change the meaning.  Your pain can be used for something other than bondage.  It can be used as a platform for healing and growth.  I once heard Wess Stafford, President and CEO of Compassion International, speak.  He shared his experience of torture and abuse at the hands of people his parents trusted to take care of him.  How do you overcome that horror?

The truth is, on your own you can’t.  On your own you end up like Ben.  Broken.  But with God’s help, Wess’ story is one of redemption.  One of hope.  It’s about God being bigger than the most terrifying things in the world.  It’s about God redeeming a moment, and using it to touch millions of kids around the world.

That’s what that verse means.  That’s what it means when all things work for good.

We don’t have to remain broken.  We can ask God to redeem us, to change the meaning of our pain.  And you know what?  He will.