how the internet influences faith

Category : God, faith, taking action

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There was once a time when the Catholic Church had a monopoly on information.  At least religious information.  But thanks to Martin Luther and the printing press that monopoly is long gone.  In that moment an explosion of thought, innovation, and not surprisingly, faith occurred.  For the first time, people were able to have open access to the Bible.

For centuries, though, our thinking was still influenced by the people immediately around us: our teachers, our family, our friends.

But that’s not the case anymore.

Thanks to the internet, people are once again being flooded with a staggering amount of information.  I recently saw a study that said each of consumes, on average, 34 gigabytes of information.  That’s not in a year, or a month, or even in a week.  That’s per day.  That’s 7 DVD’s worth of stuff for those of you scoring at home.

Just by the fact that you are reading this is enough to prove all of that.

Now none of this is new.  The internet has been around for a long time.  At least by technology standards.  The real focus of this post is that despite all of this information most of us don’t take advantage of it.  We are content to learn passively.  And I think that’s a shame.

The three biggest sources of influence on my theological life come from my home church, Greg Boyd, and Erwin McManus.  Without the internet I never would have been exposed to these thoughts, let alone been transformed by them.  But their influence is unmistakable on my writing.  My faith is deeper.  My convictions stronger.  And my passion for God fuller.

Of course with knowledge comes responsibility.  We can’t simply absorb more information and become “smarter” Christians.  We have to do something with our knowledge.  And that means serving.  It means loving our enemies.  And it means being vulnerable.

It also means we can no longer blindly follow faith.  We have to know what we believe and why we believe.  Knowledge is a double edge sword.  Especially on the internet.  A little bit can be harmful.  It can confuse us, misdirect us, and even convince us of things that aren’t true.  (There’s a reason conspiracy theories thrive on the internet!)  The web is filled with people waiting to knock your faith out from under you.  Knowledge is the best way to stand strong.

There was a time we were limited by region, money, and who we knew personally.  But that’s not the case anymore.  The internet really is the great equalizer when it comes to building a deeper relationship with God.  I hope you take advantage of it.

in over my head

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Category : God, choice, failure, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

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I am a bit frustrated this morning as I write this.  I think I am in a bit over my head.  Oh I’m not in trouble.  Well, at least the legal kind.  I have just allowed myself to get so busy (with virtually all good to awesome things) that I have let my daily reading, writing, and study go by the way side.  I don’t think that it’s a coincidence it’s harder to muster up the enthusiasm for prayer and reading the Bible this week.

When you live in a self-driven whirlwind of activity, you start to believe that things will only get done if you do them.

As I’ve said before, a relationship with God takes work.  And when we slack off, is it any wonder the relationship takes a  hit?  If you ignored your wife or girlfriend (or husband / boyfriend) how do you think things would feel?  It’s not much different with God.

I find though, that more than my prayer life suffers.  The rest of me suffers as well.

The enthusiasm and excitement just aren’t there to tackle hard projects (of which I have agreed to do several!)  It’s also more challenging to trust that God will deliver on his end.  When you live in a self-driven whirlwind of activity, you start to believe that things will only get done if you do them.

How far from the truth that is!

On the positive side I have been lucky enough to be involved in some very cool life-changing, city-changing activities.  When I finish up these projects (for a church and a non-profit), God’s Kingdom will have solidly advanced.  And what’s not to like about that?!

In the meantime, I must consciously choose to slow my life down, because I am running at a pace that does not honor God.  Living out a life of faith doesn’t mean you always do the right thing, or choose the best path.  It’s about getting back up (repentance) and trying again.   It reminds me of something Erwin McManus has said in the past (and I paraphrase), “the toughest decisions aren’t between good and bad choices, but between equally good choices.”

Amen to that!

God never gives us more than we can handle

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Category : God, bible, hope, sin, trust

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God will never give us more than we can carry.

Or at least that’s what we’re told.  But is this true?  Unfortunately it’s actually a more complicated answer than you might guess.  The Bible never uses this exact phrase (the closest is 1 Corinthians 10:13).  Which means God never explicitly promises this protection.  Yet I believe it is true.  I believe that it’s in line with God’s character to never give us more than we can carry.

Sometimes, though, we pick up extra baggage along the way.

It wasn’t God’s intention for us to have this new problem (whatever it may be).  We did it all on our own.  Yet we start blaming God for what we’re experiencing.  As if he’s somehow responsible for us ignoring his advice!

Sin leads to things God never intended for us to handle.  The more we move away from how we were designed, they more things break down.  That’s a fundamental principle of how the world works.  If you build a house and forget to lay the foundation first, you’re going to have problems.  If I’m trying to write out this post and I just randomly type letters, you won’t be able to read it (some of you may suspect I do this already).

God may never give us more than we can handle, but we have a knack of making things difficult on ourselves.

Why do we do it then?  Why do we fall into the traps of addictions or greed when we know it will only harm us?  I have  to wonder if this is partly a pride issue.  We’ve become so full of ourselves, that we think we must be the solution to everything.  So we just keep piling on problem after problem, bad choice after bad choice with the foolish belief that we can “handle it.”

In his book, Wide Awake, Erwin McManus says, “I love this about Daniel and Esther – they did what they could and let God fill in the blanks where they didn’t know how it could possibly work out.” (Wide Awake, p. 73)

We worry so much about having everything perfectly mapped out before we move and act.  But maybe that’s not always the right way to do it.  Maybe what we need to do most is to act, and trust God will be in the gaps.  Maybe the reason we have so little faith in miracles, is that we leave so little room for them.

I believe that God never gives me more than I can handle.  But I also believe that 9 times out of 10 I’m an idiot.  I allow my pride to control my behaviors, and I end up making my burden too heavy.

Here is my challenge to you (and myself).  Something will come up this week.  I don’t know what it will be.  But it will be more than you know how to handle.  Pray about it.  And then whatever God tells you to do – act on it.  Don’t worry if you don’t know how it will shake out.  Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what the “plan” looks like.  Trust that God’s foolishness is better than your wisdom, and God’s weakness is better than your strength.  I think we’ll all be amazed at what happens when we let God be God.

upside down kingdom

Category : barbarian, different, faith, taking action

 

Sometimes the Bible scares me. 

I try and pretend I don’t understand, but deep down I do.  I know all too well that the Bible is clearly teaching a message I don’t want to hear.  In the book Titus, Paul says, “Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

That does not make me feel comfortable!  That’s such a dangerous statement.  If slaves must be obedient, pleasing, and trustworthy toward their owners, how much more must I be?

God calls Christians to an unbelievably high standard.  We are called to be set apart, to live differently, or as Erwin McManus says, to The Barbarian Way

We’re called to live this way in every area of our life.  Not just an hour or two on the weekend.  Which is why I found it interesting that I came across two sports stories in the same week. 

1. Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School

2. Covenant vs. Dallas Academy

Each story had one team from a Christian school.  But the endings were miles apart.  Grapevine demonstrated Christ-like love to Gainesville by cheering for them.  Why?  Because Gainesville is a prison.  They had no one to cheer for them.  They had no family or friends on the sideline.  They don’t even have freedom.  Yet Grapevine Faith created a moment of love for kids who may have never experienced that type of love before.

Covenant on the other hand destroyed Dallas Academy by 100-0.  Is there anything wrong with that?  Maybe not.  But can you imagine Jesus running up the score on a bunch of kids?  Neither can I. 

Compare that with what one kid from Gainesville State School said, “everything about it was upside down.”  Do you think anyone is saying that from Dallas Academy?  We don’t like to say things like this – but was God glorified in any way by running up the score?  Did it teach anyone anything about who he was?

Sometimes we get caught up in the moment and make poor choices.  It happens.  And we must learn to live with our failure and move forward.  God’s Kingdom is an upside down Kingdom.  Our lives should be upside down too.

 

the “best of” R3

Category : God, R3, different, faith, reader comments, sharing faith

  

It’s hard to believe we’re into our first day of 2009.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago everyone was sure the world was going to end because of Y2K.  And now we approach the close of the next decade.  So before we close the 2008 R3 season, let’s take a look at some of the more popular posts:

Top 5 Reader Posts

  1. My “about” page – this is by far and away the most popular page on R3
  2. what I’m reading: unChristian – a book that shapes how I approach R3
  3. prayer thursday: courage – the most popular R3 page in Google
  4. what I’m reading: Chasing Daylight – Erwin McManus has a profound impact over my life and this blog
  5. prayer thursday: God’s strength, our weakness – this seems very appropriate considering 2008

My Favorite 5 posts

  1. i’m a Christian because of the money – No.  Seriously.  I am. 
  2. redemption: finding the way home – any time you can tie Darth Vader and the Bible together, you have a winning combination!
  3. what I’m watching: RockTV – if Christians used humor like RockTV more than Bible Thumping, more people would be willing to talk to us when we showed up at their door
  4. love your enemy (and fellow drivers) – I haven’t stopped thinking about this post since the day I wrote it, talk about living out a life of faith…
  5. what’s the point? – always a good question to ask yourself

the power of words

Category : God, book review

   

R3 has a regular feature called “what i’m reading”.  It’s a way to share the things that are influencing me and my journey with God.  Not everything I read makes it into this spot – just the things that make me think about how I should live out a life of faith. 

Wide Awake falls into this category. 

As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about dreams.  Not the kind where you fall asleep, but the kinds that make you live “wide awake”. 

Erwin McManus is a brilliant speaker, and a gifted thinker.  But where he truly excels is giving you a framework to understand yourself, the world, and God.  And somehow he does this in two word phrases. 

The Barbarian Way (which is technically three words) showed me that God wasn’t a wimp, and even better, he doesn’t want us to be wimps!  A Barbarian wouldn’t shy away from helping someone just because it was difficult – he (or she) would charge right in and do it.  Because that’s what Barbarians do.  Now, whenever I am afraid of taking action, I think about being a Barbarian.  And it encourages me to act.

Chasing Daylight was just as influential.  If being a Barbarian was about going to places others wouldn’t, Chasing Daylight was about seizing a moment in time when no one else could.  It made me realize that some opportunities only come once, and if we don’t act, no one will.

Soul Cravings showed me just how much we need relationships and our dreams.  It isn’t that we just want these things in our lives; it’s that we crave them.

Wide Awake is no exception to this rule.  But instead of receiving the benefits for myself, it’s shaping the way I see other people.  It’s given me a framework to help other people live out their dreams. 

Each of those phrases has a deep meaning for me.  They allow me to sum up hundreds of pages of thoughts and examples, and boil it down into something that prods action.  I might not be able to think of a 10 point argument as to why I should act, but I can remember a phrase.

They also serve as a reminder of how God works.

For instance, my dream is to help people develop a relationship with God.  I want people to connect the dots of their faith, with the lines of their lives.  By writing R3 I am able to live out that dream.  But without The Barbarian Way to help me become a Christian, and without Chasing Daylight to prompt me to start this site, I never would have been in position to be asked to review Wide Awake.

Funny how acting in faith works out like that.

nonnegotiables

Category : God, taking action, trust

 

Focus.

That is not a word I often use to describe myself. By my nature I’m easily distracted. Not because I can’t pay attention when I want to – but because so many things fascinate me it’s hard to concentrate on just one thing.

As a kid I never had a hard time thinking of something I wanted to be when I grew up. There were so many exciting possibilities. Would I be an astronaut? How about a comic book artist? A writer? The next Indiana Jones?

As an adult it’s still hard for me to focus on just one goal. There are still so many things I want to do with my life that sometimes I feel paralyzed – not by fear, but by excitement. I am excited about all the amazing possibilities that lay before me.

In Wide Awake, Erwin McManus suggests that the most difficult decisions in life aren’t between good and evil – but between two equally good choices.

I think this is true.

After all, how do we make a decision between becoming an astronaut and a doctor? Or a football star instead of a baseball player? Or the most important question of all: hot dogs or hamburgers?

Life is filled with endlessly good choices competing for our attention. That’s why it’s fundamentally important to know what we won’t negotiate. We need to know what things we won’t surrender no matter what the situation. And dare I say, no matter the cost?

This applies just as much to our faith as it does to our lives.

It’s hard to know how to interpret rock bands (good), or long hair (meh), or the prosperity gospel (bad) if you don’t know what your nonnegotiables are. If we don’t know what defines God, then we get upset over something as simple as the music you play in church.

When everything has equal importance you can’t separate preferences from necessities. And so we attack people who have a different set of preferences – even when they agree with us on the necessities.

Of course there’s something deeper here too. We can’t live “wide awake” if we don’t know our core convictions. We can’t live out our dreams if we don’t know when to say “no” and when to say “yes.”

Ravi Zacharias tells a story about Henry Martyn

Martyn was not an attractive man.  (Or at least that’s what history records.)  Because of his embarrassment by the way he looked, he preferred to stay away from people.  He lived his life on the edges of relationships.  That is, until a young woman was able to see beyond his appearance,  and fell in love with him. 

Naturally he fell in love with her.

His other love was God.  So sitting in church one day, Martyn heard about India and the desperate need to bring God to the people of that country.  Suddenly Martyn knew what his dream was.  He knew that to live wide awake, he had to move to India. 

And so he went to the woman he loved and asked her to join him. 

She refused. 

Devestated Martyn began to question his calling to Africa.  Was this really the dream God had for him?  Was he even hearing it correctly?  How could he choose between India and the woman he loved?

As he wrestled with his choice he realized it wasn’t a choice between a woman and India – but between this special woman and God.

Henry Martyn knew what was nonnegotiable in his life.  He knew that nothing was more important than God.  As hard as it must have been, he left England and moved to India.  And died there at the age of 31. 

Martyn risked everything, and sacrificed so much, because he knew the things he couldn’t compromise.  His decision cost him the woman he loved, produced tremendous physical suffering, and in the end took his life.  But because he knew his priorities, he lived his life with both focus and purpose.  He lived wide awake.

So what are your nonnegotiables?  What will you never compromise?

hiding from God

Category : God, faith, hope, shame

  

Sometimes things seem too coincidental to be, well, coincidences.  Of course it could always be dumb luck.  Or perhaps God just really wants to drive a point home.  There are certainly things I need to hear more than once a few times!

Friday as I was looking through some notes I saw something that caught my eye.  A quote I had written down from The Screwtape Letters.  In that book CS Lewis discusses what happens when we’re kept half-aware of our guilt.  Basically it works to Screwtape’s “advantage.”  And for those who haven’t read the book he was a demon.  Screwtape that is, not Lewis.  

By making us only half aware of our guilt, Screwtape says, “All humans at nearly all times have some such reluctance [to think of God]; but when thinking of Him involves facing and intensifying a whole vague cloud of half-conscious guilt, this reluctance is increased tenfold.” (The Screwtape Letters, p. 58)

What we want to do most is get rid of that guilt.  But the one thing that can remove that guilt is the one thing we turn from.  Or as Erwin McManus says, “we run from God because we are certain that the closer we come to him, the more guilt and shame we will feel.”  (Soul Cravings, Entry 9)

I wasn’t thinking of these things when I wrote about turning away from God when my faith feels weak.  But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.  I’ve been running from God because I feel “half guilty” about being faithful.

Screwtape must be pleased by that.

I think it’s time to change direction and run the other way.

reader comment: hope

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Category : hope, reader comments

 

Christopher, of Got Fruit? fame, sends in this comment:

I most always view reference or mention of the word “hope” as synonymous with Jesus Christ; how He is the key to God’s plan for redeeming us through Him.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1st Corinthians 13:13

It took me a long, long time to realize that.  I searched for all kinds of answers, never even guessing that God was part of the equation.  And so all of my searches proved, if you’ll pardon the pun, fruitless. 

Erwin McManus says that our souls crave God, and when we try to fill that craving with something other than God, we’re always disappointed.  The more we put into our lives that isn’t God, the emptier we feel. 

what i’m reading: Chasing Daylight

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Category : book review, feeding my brain, revolutionary

   

Erwin McManus’s first book, The Barbarian Way, is the most important book I’ve ever read.  I know it’s considered “bad” to say this, but it has been more important to me than reading the Bible.  Without The Barbarian Way I never would have read the Bible, let alone seen the beauty of it.  McManus has a way of presenting an idea that fundamentally alters the way you view the world and God.  As I’ve often said on this site, I grew up believing God was this safe, quiet, wimpy thing.  I thought that to be a Christian you had to be a push-over.  The Barbarian Way shattered that view and showed me that being a Christian is this radical, dangerous thing.

In a similar way Chasing Daylight (formerly known as Seizing Your Divine Moment), has completely reshaped the way I “listen” for God to answer my prayers.  In the past I always thought I had to get a specific “yes” from God before I could act on anything.  Instead McManus argues that God has already given us a “yes” on a lot of things.  We have been told to spread the message of Jesus.  We’ve been told to love our enemies and care for the hurting.  We’re already supposed to help one another and support those in need.  We don’t need to wait for a “yes” when we want to do these things – we already have it.

To illustrate this point, McManus uses the story of Jonathan in 1 Samuel 14.  Jonathan was bold and aggressive when it came to pursuing God’s will.  You kind of have to be when you decide to charge an army with just two people.  But he also recognized that God’s will often takes us to dangerous places that may cost us everything we have.  Jonathan knew full well God may not save him saying, “Perhaps the LORD will act in our behalf.”  Perhaps?!  Perhaps?!  If I was about to engage in a life threatening endeavor, I’d want a bit of a stronger word than “perhaps!”

But Jonathan represents a model of action.  He worked under the assumption that God had already said “yes” and promised victory to Israel.  He wasn’t waiting for a reconfirmation of God’s word, Israel already had it.  Jonathan knew that victory was just waiting to be grasped.  When we choose to take action McManus calls this “seizing your divine moment.” 

This is such a foreign idea to me that it was hard to accept at first.  But I quickly realized just how revolutionary it was.  We need to flip our usual way of listening for God.  Instead of waiting for “go” we need to assume we have permission to act.  What we really need to listen for is God to say “no.” 

I’m not sure exactly how this idea will shape my life or R3.  But I do know it is going to fundamentally alter how I respond to people as a Christian.  In fact, even before I finished reading Chasing Daylight I knew God was asking me to seize my first divine moment by giving the book away

Chasing Daylight is an amazing book that really challenges us to change our lives.  I don’t usually recommend books to people – I think they should choose to read them (or not) on their own.  But this is a book that I believe everyone should read.