the real way to recycle

Category : different

I’ve suddenly become concerned with energy conservation and CO2 emissions.  Why?  Because I’m buying a house and every bit of energy that escapes my house is money out of my pocket.  This sudden new found interest in energy efficiency, cost-cutting, and home improvement means I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to improve the energy use of my house.

As I’ve been doing research about this issue I have noticed one very common thread of advice: use less.

In other words if I want to save money on electricity I should turn off my AC or not watch TV.  Some sites suggest that I limit my showers to 4 minutes (yeah right).

Of course if I did all of these things, my utilities would certainly be lower.  There’s no arguing that.  But at what cost?

Compare that to the promises God makes.  He tells us that when we follow him we will be free, that we will gain life to the full, and that we will store up treasures in Heaven.  When we move towards God we always get something more.  Of course this doesn’t mean I end up with more money or a bigger house.  Following God comes at a cost.  But I can honestly say there has never been a moment in my relationship with God where I’ve felt short changed.  Every time I’ve given something up (even big things) I always feel like I come out ahead.  Whether this is through the changes God brings in my life, the freedom he provides, or the peace of mind he offers.  Those things far outweigh the money I give or the volunteering I sacrifice make sacrifices to do.

How many “deals” can you really say that about?

I don’t want to live my life “colder but with $12 extra this month.”  I want to live my life $3000 poorer, because I tithed, but my life has been changed.  To me, that’s the real way to recycle.

photo provided by flickr user myklroventine

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

God gives us freedom

Category : God, different, hope

The last few weeks my church has been going on a Free Journey.  We’ve been exploring the fact that God’s desire for our lives is to set us free.  Contrast that to pretty much everything else in the world.  Political groups try to control what you eat, where you live, how you spend your time.  We’re told by our employers that we must show up at this time, and must take breaks at that time.  The TV tells us how we should look and what clothes we should wear.

Everything is about control.

Except God.

He’s about our freedom.

Could there be any more striking contrast?  Yet we stand around complaining about all of God’s rules.  I know because I’ve done it before.  For most of my life I’ve equated freedom as no rules.  It wasn’t until I was responsible for guiding a small child through life that I realized what rules are really for.  Rules give us freedom.  They set boundaries.  They allow us to know where to push so we can be free.

When your mom says “don’t touch the stove it’s hot.”  This isn’t some secret code for “the stove tastes like chocolate.”  She means the stove is flippin’ hot!

God is the same.  He knows that if you have sex with people you aren’t married to it’s going to cause problems.  He knows that when we don’t love our enemies we get caught up in a cycle of hate.  He knows that when we ignore him, we will find our lives being controlled, not set free.

Yet we rebel.  We seem to be happier having everything in the world control us, then trusting God, and following some pretty straight forward rules.  Humans are strange creatures.

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.

would you recognize Jesus if you grew up with him?

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, different

I don’t get home very often these days.  When I was in college and graduate school I would go home for the holidays, but thanks to something called “work” I just don’t have that luxury anymore.  Now I grew up in a small town.  (It was a great place to grow up, despite having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school.  But that’s another story.)  Even as a kid I always knew I’d be leaving.  There weren’t many jobs for an aspiring psychologist.  There still aren’t.  Such is the life of a small town.

Each time I went back home, I couldn’t help but notice something: the more I change, the less my home town recognizes it.  When I walk into my old church, or run into my old friends, they see me as the person I was.

I have changed in countless ways since I lived in that small town.  Yet when I go back, I am viewed as that shy, awkward teenager that left.  For them it’s hard to see what I’ve done with my life.

My guess is you have a similar story.  The people you grew up with see you as someone you really aren’t.  You might see this play out in your high school or college reunions.  You might even see this with your family.  They want to see you as someone different, but they just can’t quite wrap their mind around the fact that you are no longer “little Sally.”  (Especially since your name isn’t Sally.)

Jesus faced something similar.  When he went back to the small town he grew up in, people couldn’t quite get their minds around who he was.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!  Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  (Mark 6: 2-3)

They saw him as the carpenter’s kid.  Not as God.  “And they took offense at him.”

Here the people who should have known Jesus the best, were the ones who ended up knowing him the least.  They were upset that Jesus was claiming to be God.  (A natural reaction by Jews who believed in only one God – going around claiming you were God was a crime in that culture).  But instead of taking time to re-evaluate their opinions, they just went with their old assumptions.  And they missed out on seeing the change.

The same will be true for you.  As you move closer to Jesus, your life will transform.  But people you don’t talk to regularly will miss that change.  They will want to see you as they’ve always seen you.  That represents a challenge for us.  For one it makes it easier for us to fall into our old habits.  But it also means people aren’t getting to see the best testimony to God’s existence – the changes in your life.

Sadly, it’s often easier to ignore change if it means you need to reevaluate your views.

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.

the shocking comparison of Jesus

Category : God, Jesus, bible, living a life of faith, revolutionary

Loving your enemy and not judging are forever linked.  If it’s your job to judge, you can never love.  You have to worry about fairness, outcomes, and justice.  Fortunately it’s God’s job to worry about that.  It’s his responsibility to judge and ensure justice.  We don’t need to worry about outcomes, so we can focus on our job: loving our enemies.

Loving your enemy is “advanced” – it requires faith, a trust in God’s character, hope in the eternal future, and obedience in the presence of an enemy.  It requires all of that to show the world just how different Christ’s compassion is.

It’s no wonder we struggle so much with it.

I am reminded of this as I read Elton John saying Jesus was gay.  Why did he say this?  Who knows.  I guess he just wanted to declare it.  Or maybe he just wanted to get some publicity by inciting Christians to attack him.  But frankly that’s not the most shocking part of that story – instead I was struck by the condescending nature of the article itself and commenter’s.

The condescension dripped from their “virtual pens.”

There is such a chasm between Christian beliefs and the rest of the world that it can be hard to come to terms with.  Especially for us Christians who tend to think everyone sees the world the same way we do.  Of course I think this is an opportunity.  I am convinced that Christians are living in one of the greatest evangelistic times in history.  What better way to compare just what Christ taught when we live in a world awash of other views.  Talk about a contrast!

Of course the challenge is to live out a life of faith.  Something we, as a church, tend to do very, very poorly.

While I think apologetics are important, I think what truly converts someone’s heart is when they see someone living out a life of faith.  That contrast is so shocking compared to others.  Take for instance someone who continues to give to the church despite struggling to pay bills.  That’s a shocking comparison to how the world says we should operate.

Consider Mother Teresa who lived in poverty to love on people who were deemed as unlovable.  That’s a shocking comparison.  Or consider people who sell everything they have to become missionaries because they feel called to provide medical services to people in third world nations.  Or what about people who take time out of their busy schedules to tutor at-risk children and to forge relationships across race and age.

These things are a shocking comparison.  And I think it’s the only thing that speaks to modern society’s heart.

Yes apologetics are needed to deepen your faith, but in a world of “if it feels good it must be right,” apologetics alone aren’t going to impress anyone.

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.

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.