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

what is my mission?

Category : living a life of faith, mission, taking action

……….

One of the areas we, as believers, can get hung up is on our mission.  For some reason we think that we can’t act until God comes down in a beam of light or burning bush and directly tells us what to do.  To put it bluntly: that’s a load of crap.

I told you it would be blunt.

The Bible gives us more than enough stuff to work on.  At the very least your “mission” is to fulfill Jesus’ words “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19).

This is even called “The Great Commission.”

Of course that can look like a lot of different things.  God is a creative guy, you can be creative too.  What matters is that you’re being obedient to God.  And while I don’t know what your specific mission may be.  I do know that if God wants you to do something specific he will let you know.  That’s part of what happens when we are obedient – God has an easier time giving us specific instructions.

Perhaps, though, you will never have  a specific mission.  That’s okay.  This isn’t some kind of competition.  You aren’t less of a believer just because you haven’t seen a burning bush.  Living out a life of faith is about being active.  Not sitting back waiting for your “moment” to come.  Even if you are never given anything specifically, you can still live out a life of faith.

So go.  Act.  Do something.

away in the manger

Category : God, faith, hope, taking action, trust, worship

  

We’ve all heard the story of Jesus’ birth.  We know that he was born into a family of humble origins.  That he was born in a manger because his parents couldn’t find a room.  We know that Mary was a virgin, and that it was through a great leap of faith she had Jesus.

But whenever I hear this story, I find myself thinking about Joseph

Often we hear this story told from the perspective of Mary or the Wise Men, or even Jesus.  And those are all good ways of looking at this story.  But I think sometimes we lose sight of Joseph’s profound faith.  Remember, he was well within his rights, by Jewish law, to have Mary put to death for adultery.  They had been pledged to be married, and instead she was pregnant. 

Yet he didn’t. 

Instead Joseph trusted a dream he had was from God.  Joseph trusted that God was doing something special, and that even though he didn’t understand, he would act in faith.  All of this means Joseph must have been quite a man to have put his faith in God like that, especially in an honor and shame culture.  After all, Mary knew she hadn’t “known” anyone.  Joseph, on the other hand, had to take her word for it (and of course, the message he received from God).

It would have been easy for him to begin believing the rumors that must have been swirling in such a small community.  You can’t keep secrets like that in a small town.  Yet Joseph remained faithful to both God and Mary.   

There are many times I hear about a tragedy or some extreme act of heroism and I would like to think I would have acted the same.  I’d like to think that when push really comes to shove, I’d be willing to trust God over everything.  But would I?  Would I be able to marry someone who said they were pregnant, but the child was God’s?  Would I believe God spoke to me in a dream?  Or would I believe the snide comments being made by my neighbors?

I will never know.  But I think there’s a really good chance I would have chalked that dream up to a bad slice of pizza.

quote of the day: Albert Schwietzer

Category : choice, hope, quote of the day, taking action

  

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”  - Albert Schweitzer

Who’s flame do you have a chance to rekindle?  Who’s life can you radically alter, simply by being there for them?

life’s biggest lesson?

Category : David, Saul, faith, fear, taking action

  

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Samuel 17: 37)

This was David’s response when Saul asked him why he thought he could beat Goliath, a man that every other Israelite feared.  Sometimes all we need is to apply the things that God has already taught us.  David didn’t need more proof that God would help him – he already had two examples.  And for David, that was enough.

living differently

Category : different, faith, fear, hope, taking action

   

Today the Dow dropped almost 1,000 points.  And then it gained 800 points back in a matter of minutes.  Things are uncertain, unexpected, and probably some other word that begins with “un”.  There’s no question that this is a tough time.  Maybe not the toughest, but certainly not the easiest.  But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean there’s not opportunity to show people what the Kingdom looks like. 

Christians should always look different from non-Christians.  And I’m not talking clothing here.  I’m talking about our behavior.  As people become more enraged, and more depressed about their financial losses, their behaviors are going to become more extreme

How we respond to our own financial losses reflects on how we view the Kingdom and how God operates.  If we act in love despite losing everything, that’s a more powerful example of God’s existence than all the intellectual arguments in the world.

When we live differently the world notices. 

getting out of bed

Category : God, faith, fear, taking action

 

Has there ever been a day where you just wanted to stay in bed?  Of course there has.  That’s a silly question!  For me it’s those cold mornings.  My bed is warm.  Comfortable.  And the thought of stepping into the cold air fills me with dread.  Not to mention the bad mood it puts me in!

Sadly staying in bed isn’t always an option.  Sometimes we have to get out of the comfortable, and step into the cold. This is where Samuel found himself.  God had told him to place Saul over all of Israel.  But now, after a few years had passed, Saul had gone too far.  He had once again defied God, which meant Samuel had to deliver some bad news to Saul.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly fond of delivering bad news.  I will put it off for as long as I can.  Especially news that may get me killed.  I’m also pretty sure that Samuel wasn’t looking forward to this conversation with Saul.  The Bible tells us that “Samuel was troubled” (probably the understatement of the year) “and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” (1 Samuel 15: 11)

I don’t blame the guy.  I wouldn’t want to go tell the King that he would no longer have God’s support and was about to be dethroned.  Of course if I were in that position, I would have done a lot more than just “cry out.”  (I would be firmly in the ‘hiding under my bed’ camp.)  But Samuel was a man of action.  He was someone who trusted God totally and was willing to follow through no matter the cost.

We see in the next verse that “Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul” (1 Samuel 15: 12).

It is one thing to work up the courage to deliver news that may cost you your life.  It’s another thing to do it first thing in the morning.  I don’t even like talking to people early in the morning and here Samuel was off risking his life.

But as I said, Samuel was a man of action and trust.  So the very first thing he did was go look for Saul.  For all we know he didn’t even stop at Starbucks for some coffee.  He just acted.  There was no arguing; no waiting for the “right” time (as if telling a king God wasn’t happy with him would ever have a good time).

Samuel just got out of bed.  No procrastination, just action.

Some people don’t think the Bible is funny or that God can have a sense of humor.  But I disagree.  We see that after a full night of worrying and crying out, Samuel can’t find Saul.  He’s moved on.  All that worrying for nothing.  That’s funny!

It is also exactly like God.  He likes to push us to our limits.  Because when we reach our limits we realize we can go further.  God gave Samuel a task.  Something that was hard.  Something that may cost him is life.  And Samuel was determined to follow through with it no matter what.  Samuel could have easily said, “well I tried, but he wasn’t here.  Back to bed for me!”  But he didn’t.  Instead he went and found Saul and delivered the news.

Can I say the same about my life?  Can I look God in the eye and say, I did what you asked?  I want a life that’s filled with the same kind of trust and action that Samuel displayed.  But that doesn’t come about by wishful thinking or knowing what we should do – it only comes through action.  It only happens when we get out of bed.

prayer thursday: courage

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Category : God, Matthew, fear, prayer thursday, taking action

  

Being a Christian means stepping into dangerous situations.  We’re called to care for the sick and needy, and to comfort the hurting.  Unfortunately this doesn’t always come with a hall pass.  Which means, sometimes Christians end up facing hardship, persecution, and death.  But that doesn’t mean we can give up.  In fact, the more we stick to it in the face of danger, the more we show people the power of Christ.

Courage

God – I’m a coward.  I know it.  You know it.  Help me to step into the places you call me to, despite the danger.  Don’t let my fear be the reason the Kingdom doesn’t advance.  Help me to remember that the harder the task, the more I need to rely on you.  And maybe, just maybe, that’s the point.

<comments are open, feel free to add your own prayer for courage>

do something! note taking

Category : sharing faith, taking action

  

It’s hard work to maintain a relationship with anyone.  And it’s not any easier to maintain a relationship with God.  Fortunately there are a few things you can do to keep that relationship healthy.  A few weeks ago I talked about the ups and downs of faith.  In that post I mentioned some of the questions I ask myself when I’m feeling distant from God.  (Am I working on being connected to God?  Am I still praying?  Do I read my Bible regularly?  Am I writing down my thoughts as I pray or read?  Am I following through on what I sense God is telling me?)

All of those are important questions, but today I want to take a closer look at some specific actions I take to develop that relationship.  Namely, whether I’m writing down my thoughts as I pray or read.  I’ve found keeping a book filled with random thoughts and notes has been really helpful.  Sometimes those initial thoughts turn into a more fully developed post on R3.  Other times what I wrote influenced my own behaviors or thoughts. But my favorite moments are when I asked God to do something – and he did!

There’s something powerful about writing down a prayer, and seeing (in black and white) that it came true. This is especially true when you’re feeling distant from God.  It’s all too easy to convince ourselves that God has somehow not lived up to his end of the bargain.  Or to forget all those times God miraculously came to our rescue.  We tend to ignore the good things he’s done, and focus on the bad things in our lives.

Not everything I write down is useful, or even relevant.  Some of the stuff doesn’t make any sense.  And I have to wonder what I was thinking.  But that’s not really the point.  My goal is to have a way that God and I can communicate.  Not to have a perfectly written paper!  I figure, if God is telling me something important, it’s probably a good idea to write it down.  Even if that means sometimes I just write down my own cluttered thoughts.

Faith is about maintaining a relationship with God, that keeps you focused and centered on Kingdom goals.  You can’t do that if you’re not willing to carry on a conversation with God.  Plus, in my experience, it’s never God who leaves the conversation.  

Keeping track of my thoughts just makes sure I remember all the awesome things God does for me on a daily basis.

reader comment: ups and downs

Category : God, faith, reader comments, taking action

 
I’ve been sitting around all day wondering how I was going to write an introduction to this post. What could I say that would add more impact?  Then it occurred to me, maybe I should just let the comment speak for itself.  So here it is – I received this in response to some of the ideas discussed in the ups and downs of faith.  Naturally these reader comments are more insightful than my own.  Don’t you just hate that?! 

As far as R3 goes.. I can see why you wouldn’t want to write, and I can totally relate to feeling like if you did it’d be a fraud, but I think that writing in times like this is just what R3 is about :o ].  I mean, R3 is a blog where people learn how to live out a life of faith.  How else can we learn to live out a life of faith if our faith isn’t tested at times, if we don’t want to just throw in the towel some times, if we don’t want to give up and call our losses?  I think that this time in your life is the perfect time to be writing on R3.  I think that you should talk to your readers about what you’re going through and by telling your readers what you’re going through they may see what it is that they need most – a demonstration of what it looks like to live a life of faith.  And that, in my opinion, is more impactful than hearing someone write when things aren’t hard (not to say that those writings aren’t important – but I’m sure you know what I mean :o ]).