friends of the world

Category : God, barbarian, bible, different, fear

Have you ever experienced a life changing moment?  One of those instances in time where you know that you’ll never be the same again.  You realize that you’re at the threshold of something that is going to make you look at the world a whole new way.

I had one of those recently.

And it came from a commercial.

Or more specifically, a commercial for a drug that “increases the length and thickness of your eyelashes.”  According to the commercial there is an epidemic of women who have eye lashes that are too short and thin.  Now as a guy I am shocked that this issue hasn’t been addressed earlier.  Because as a guy, I can guarantee that, as men, we just sit around and talk about the length of women’s eye lashes.  Usually the conversation goes, “boy I’d really like to ask Sally out.  She’s pretty hot.  It’s too bad that her eyelashes are so stumpy.”

No!  In all my years I have never heard a single guy ever mention anything about eyelashes.

Yet we are being told that we need thicker eyelashes.  We are being told that if we don’t take this drug we will miss out on the fullness of life.  Really?!

This isn’t even something Seinfeld at its height could have imagined.  Even that cast wasn’t this superficial.

I’ve never really understood what it means to be a “friend of the world” in the Biblical sense.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the world.  Could the world really be that bad if it brings me such wonderful things as donuts and video games?

But now I am starting to see just why we are warned against being “friends of the world.”  It’s because the world doesn’t have our best interests in mind.  It wants to make us unsure of ourselves.  It wants to steal our identities.  It wants to make us hurt – so that it can sell us the fix.

Women will flock to this drug that increases eye lash length.  (That’s a sentence I never dreamed I would type.)  Of course this isn’t without cost.  The world doesn’t give you something for free.  The side effects for this drug include things like permanent discoloration of your eyes.  It can also give you a “red eye” look, which means you’ll go around looking like you haven’t slept in weeks.

When we chase after the world we are told we are not good enough.  That we need to improve before the world will be our friend.  How different is God?!  He chased after us!  He left his Kingdom to come rescue us.  Why?  Because we are good enough.  We are loved enough.  We are wanted enough.

It’s no wonder the Bible warns us against being friends of the world.  The world is kind of creepy and mean.

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.

singing silent monks

Category : different, faith, humor, just for fun

By now you all realize I love good Christian humor.  Not the Ned Flanders type, but things that are actually funny.  So is it any wonder why I love this video?

What better way to kick off 2010 then with some silent monks who sing?

suffering: a hard lesson

Category : barbarian, faith, fear, hope

 

Israel spent a long time (500 years or so) suffering in Babylon.  Perhaps the one thing that they learned, perhaps even the main reason for the suffering in the first place, was to learn that there was only one God. 

In other words, they became monotheistic.

Now this may not seem like a big deal, but Israel really struggled with this idea that Yahweh (God) was the “one true God”.  They kept getting distracted by all the other religions around them.  They couldn’t learn that lesson while Moses was leading them.  They didn’t learn it during the period of Judges.  They couldn’t really even grasp it under David and Solomon.

It took 500 years of captivity, punishment, and slavery before they finally learned that there was only one God.  We live in a safety first world.  We can’t even imagine the need for suffering.  We can’t even conceive that suffering might be useful.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think God causes suffering.  I don’t think he wanted Israel to go through 500 years of exile.  I don’t think he wants us to have to suffer.  But because we have free will, I believe God has to let these things happen.

G.K. Chesterton once said that it wasn’t suffering that caused meaninglessness, it was too much pleasure.

We live in a world where all of your pleasures, no matter what they are, can be met.  And yet, we also seem to live in a world that is overrun in hopelessness.  Could part of the reason be that we focus completely on pleasure, and never take time to seize the opportunities suffering presents?

The Bible is filled with people who suffered, yet found meaning.  And I think if we look at our own lives, we’d find that same pattern.  Sometimes, just like it was for Israel, suffering is not only informative, it’s necessary.

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?

the power of words

Category : God, different, faith

                

We all have more power over the people around us than we imagine. Every so often something reminds me of my this. I know I should be more aware of this, but life is hectic and it’s easier to just forget about it. After all, who wants to consider other people all the time?

The trouble is, that’s what we should be about as Christians – other people.

Now this power I talk of sounds kind of ominous, doesn’t it? I promise I’m not any kind of supervillain. And I don’t wear a black hat. But I still have a lot of influence over people.

Sometimes I am reminded of this power when I watch the reactions of someone I’m talking to. I can see them deflate or get excited. Other times I see it in an e-mail. You can read the tension in the e-mail all because I was too hasty in writing down my thoughts. And still other times I see it in how relationships have changed over time.

When you look at the Bible you’ll find a lot of references to the words “mouth” or “speak”. The writers of these books knew just what words could do. They knew that revolutions and romances have started from a few select words. They knew that knowledge can be passed from one generation to the next just through talking. Even the universe was created with a word from God.

Words have power.

The irony is we often use this power in a way that actually hurts the message we’re trying to send. According to research done by the Barna Group when people are asked to associate terms with Christianity the picture isn’t flattering. They use words like “hypocritical”, “homophobic”, “closed minded”, and “judgmental”.

Ouch.

That does not make me feel good. In fact it breaks my heart because I know that I don’t always reach out to people in love. I don’t always characterize who Jesus was. I’m sometimes too consumed with my own life to care. In short, I am very unChristian. Oh sure I probably have excuses. Some of them are probably even pretty good.

But none of that matters. When we act carelessly with our words we run the risk of turning someone away from the very message they need to hear. If they don’t believe God is love because they see Christians as bigoted, how can they ever experience the freedom that love brings? If they hear us judging them instead of giving them support, why would they think God would be there for them when they are alone and hurting?

Words mean something. And all too often I’m guilty of using them carelessly.

intentionality: choosing God

Category : God, Jesus, choice, different, taking action

   

Why doesn’t God force us to believe in him?  We are created to need God, so why not just go one step further and be created to always believe in God?  But that’s not what God did.  Instead he’s given us this thing called free will, which lets us make our own decisions.  Don’t you find that kind of amazing?

If I were creating the universe I’d make sure everyone would know it. I’d want them to always believe in me.  I would have stamped the moon with a giant copyright logo.  But if there is one thing that’s consistent with God, it’s that he’s different!  He wanted us to have the ability to believe in him, or to not.  To love other people, or to hate them.  There must be a reason for that, right? 

And there is.  It means we have responsibility for our decisions.

Everyone who is a Christian became one because they made a conscious decision.  Becoming a Christian isn’t hereditary.  It’s not something you can catch in the airport.  It’s one made by choice.

Even before we can really get to know God, we have to make a choice to accept him.  And you can’t make a decision without, well, deciding.  This is true for every choice we make in our lives.  Do we get up with the alarm, or to sleep an extra 10 minutes?  Do we eat breakfast or skip it?  Are you nice to your co-workers or selfish?  No matter what decision we are presented we have a moment where we must choose a course of action.

At the very core of the Christian identity is intentionality: the decision to follow God (or not) in all aspects of our lives.    

With intentionality comes purpose.  Not only have we agreed to move closer to God, but now we are moving with a goal in mind.  Our lives take on added value because we aren’t being blown about by new ideas and unexpected circumstances.

Luke tells us that at one point “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)  He made an intentional decision to focus the remainder of his life in concluding his ministry on Earth.  What would have happened if Jesus had allowed himself to become distracted?  What if instead of focusing on his mission, he let himself get distracted by things around him?  Would he ever have made it to the cross?

God moves with purpose, and he wants us to move with the same purpose.  We are called to go forth and make disciples of the world (Matthew 28: 19), not to simply sit around and wait for things to happen.  God has always intended for us to act intentionally.

Now if you’re like me, you find that a bit intimidating!  I’m not sure I’m exactly prepared to always live my life with God’s purposes in mind.  I’m not sure I can handle that kind of burden.  But to pretend that’s not what God wants is to hide the facts.  And in the long run the only one I’m hurting by hiding from the truth is myself. 

Realizing that I need to be intentional in following God has radically changed my interaction with him.  I look at things in my life and ask, “is this helping or hurting my relationship with God?”  If it helps my relationship I try to do more of it.  If it hurts I try to do less.  I obviously don’t succeed with either of these things all the time, but I try.  And in many ways making that choice is really what counts.  I’m not sure how much God really cares if we succeed or fail.  What I think he wants most is that we’re willing to try. 

As you read this post ask yourself those questions.  And when you get an answer act with intentionality.

worship

Category : David, God, bible, different, worship

   

David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the LORD with all his might, while he and the entire house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

 As the ark of the LORD was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD, she despised him in her heart.  (2 Samuel 6: 14-16)

 

When I try and figure out how God wants me to act, I often look at people whose lives are clearly touched by him.  What is it that sets them apart?  What is it that they do differently than the rest of us?  A lot of times I turn to the Bible to find examples of behavior I should try to emulate.  As you can tell by reading the last few posts, David is a great example of this.

So when I think about worshiping God, what does that look like?  I think David’s behavior in 2 Samuel gives us some clues.  Worship involves giving everything we have to God, and not holding back.  For David that meant wearing a linen ephod (think mostly naked!) and dancing “with all his might.”  David was so devoted to God that he didn’t care what he looked like.  He didn’t care what people thought of him.  All he cared about was showing God just how much he loved him.

Now sometimes when we worship this way, when we give everything we have, we find people resentful of this.  David’s own wife, Michal, despised David’s behavior.  She was upset he was acting in an undignified way, and stripping down in front of other people.

“How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, disrobing in the sight of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the LORD’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the LORD. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honor.”  (2 Samuel 6: 20-21)

I think David makes an important distinction here.  Michal is upset because all she sees are the people around David.  To her worship is about impressing the people around us.  But David rejects this and says his worship is “before the LORD.” 

It is easy to become caught up in how others perceive us.  It’s easy to want to conform to how other people worship (or don’t worship).  But we always need to remember worship isn’t for others, it is a way for us to move closer to God.  And any obstacle in the way we worship will only create distance between ourselves and God. 

questioning God

Category : God, bible, different

   

When I first started going to church (after a long hiatus) I went in with a very hostile attitude.  I didn’t want to waste my time with something that was designed to make me “feel good”.  I didn’t really need church to live my life.  I knew I could do it on my own, without that kind of crutch.  But in the back of my mind I couldn’t escape the question “what if this is true?”

Every service I would go to I would sit in the back, silently arguing with the pastor as he spoke.  I would question his theology, his choice of words, his logic, and sometimes his use of grammar.  But this strange thing happened – the more I questioned, the more frequently I began to attend church. It was as if the more I questioned, the more I needed answers to those questions.  But is it okay to ask tough questions about God?

Sometimes we are left with this impression that God forbids us to question.  That he wants us to turn off our brains and blindly follow.  I suppose sometimes Christianity is presented as a religion of lemmings instead of a religion of people actively seeking Truth.

And that’s a real shame because God never wants us to stop asking him honest questions.

A great example of this occurs in Judges, a book in the Old Testament dealing with Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s continual rescue of them.  My favorite part is the exchange between Gideon and God.  

Basically God asks Gideon to become the savior of Israel.  To which Gideon asks the very important question of “who? me?”  The next 9 verses are an account of Gideon alternating between “are you sure you have the right guy?” and “are you REALLY sure you have the right guy?”

What’s important here is not Gideon’s questions.  Instead, it’s how God responds to those questions.  Remember, this is the Old Testament, the “smote first and ask questions later” god.  Or at least that’s the general impression we often have of the Old Testament.  But there is not smoting here.  No divine lighting bolt of justice ™.  Just a patient God, with a scared man.

At one point Gilead is so bold, he demands that God prove his identity by performing a miracle.  This is exactly the kind of moment where we would expect God to say “enough with the questions!  follow me or else!”  Instead, God simply says, “I will wait until you return.”  What kind of God, when his authority is challenged, sits back and says “I will wait for you”?

If you read the surrounding verses you won’t find an additional verse that reads, “once the miracle was performed, God smote Gilead for his unbelief.”  No mention of divine wrath on Gilead for his questioning nature.  No punishment for his doubt.

God is simply patient with Gilead and gently answers each of his questions.  If God was patient with Gilead, why would he not be patient with us?  So go ahead, ask God your tough questions.  Challenge him to answer them – but just be ready when God says “I will wait for you.”

what is my ministry?

Category : God, different, mission, sharing faith, taking action

   

If you’ve ever spent time in, or around, a church it won’t be too long before you hear about this thing called “ministry”.  A lot of times people understand that to be a formal ministry, such as working in a soup kitchen or going door-to-door talking about their faith. 

As a kid I thought the only two ways you could show your faith was by visiting nursing homes and hospitals.  To be honest those ideas really turned me off to Christianity.  Not because they aren’t worthwhile, but because they are so far outside of my skill sets that they are intimidating.  I’m just not an empathetic person.

This caused a great deal of guilt.  On the one hand Christians are called to go out and explain their beliefs to other people.  On the other, my skills and abilities weren’t very well suited for nursing homes and hospitals. 

It wasn’t until recently that I’ve realized that’s not what ministry is.  Ministry is living every aspect of your life through your faith.  Gregory Koukl has said “ministry [isn't] something you do. Ministry [is] something that you are.”  For some the natural extension of that is visiting nursing homes and hospitals.  But for others it’s simply hanging out with friends who don’t know Jesus.  For still others it is being available to listen to someone who needs an ear.  For me it is my writing.

What is it for you?