the price of faith?

Category : barbarian, faith, fear

Some days I wake up and think, “man I’m really making a difference for the kingdom!”  I look around at my life and think about the financial sacrifices I’ve made.  I think about the hard choices I’ve had to make in my life to align it more with God’s path than my own path.  I think about the career choices I’ve made and volunteer opportunities I’ve done.

Frankly I feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot.

But then I turn around and read an article about the 32-year old Christian pastor being executed in Iran because he denounced Islam.  And I realize, yeah, my sacrifices aren’t very much.  And I wonder, if the price of my faith was death and torture, would I still believe?

fearing life

Category : fear

We are consumed and paralyzed with fear.

We buy fire insurance, life insurance, health insurance, flood insurance, pest insurance.  We have people inspect our homes for radon, formaldehyde, and lead.  We child proof our electrical outlets, put rails at the steps, install security systems, and use floodlights to illuminate the dark.  Some people even go so far as to literally put their kid on a leash.

Wow.  Is life really that bad?  Kid’s on a leash?

But that’s where we find ourselves.  And there’s few things more tragic than living life filled with fear.

Of course there’s no question that terrible things may happen to you.  It happens every day.  Your house may burn down, you may get cancer, your kid might be kidnapped.  These things strike terror into our hearts, because we recognize the loss.  But have you ever stopped to consider what you lose by living a life of fear?

This last week a 16 year old girl tried to sail around the world.  For about 24 hours the world thought she had died.  Fortunately she had just lost her mast and a French rescue ship was able to save her.  You know what the headlines read the next day?  Not “courageous girl is saved” or “adventurer vows to try again.”  But “Questions asked of parents” and “Parents accused of risking her life.”

The world’s first reaction was to question why this girl’s parents didn’t keep her “safe.”

So let me ask you this: what’s more damaging, being told to never follow your dreams because they aren’t “safe”?  Or putting it all on the line for something you believe in?

That’s one of the remarkable aspects of Christianity.  We so often think of Christians as the “safe, non adventurous” types.  But God calls us to be ridiculously courageous.  He asks us to push the boundaries of his kingdom.  To be adventurers.  Or as Erwin McManus said, we should be the barbarians at the gate of civilization.

Fear is often unreasonable.  We weigh things differently when we fear.  How many of us are afraid to swim in the oceans because of Jaws?  But you are 250 times more likely to be killed by Bambi then Jaws?

Fear can be healthy.  It can prevent us from doing stupid things, like licking an iron.  But it can also paralyze us and take the joy out of living.  If you’re a Christian, there is no place in your life for fear.  Fear drives a wedge between us and God.  And it stops us from doing what needs to be done.  It prevents us from running to the needy.  It freezes us from helping the hurting.  And it blocks us from living in the grace God has for us.

I don’t know about you, but that’s too high of a price for me to pay.

photo provided by flickr user rocketjim54

don’t manage your risk, embrace it

Category : barbarian, bible, different, faith, fear, living a life of faith, taking action

While most of us were busy celebrating the holidays, the world was in full motion.  In a matter of about 24 hours we learned that a terrorist tried to kill 270 civilians by blowing up a plane.  And while all of this was going on, the Pope was attacked during a Christmas service.

Fortunately both the passengers on the plane and the Pope escaped any significant injury (although a Vatican diplomat broke their hip and a passenger suffered 3rd degree burns wrestling the terrorist).

Reading headlines like this makes it easy to want to stick your fingers in your ears and hum Christmas carols really loudly. (I personally recommend Here Come Santa Claus.)  But is that what we should be doing?

One of the things that struck me in the story about the Pope was a simple sentence that read: “Security analysts have frequently warned the pope is too exposed in his public appearances.”

Now Security Analysts are paid to keep people safe.  Their job is to limit risk.  To create “risk management scenarios.”  But is that the job of a Christian?  To stay safe?  To manage risk?  When I look at the Bible I see people who constantly put themselves in danger because that was where God was headed.  They lived a life of faith so intensely that all that mattered was following God.

The Pope is a high profile figure.  He’s part celebrity.  Part politician.  Part religious figure.  Which means he represents a very “appealing” target to people who may have psychological issues (as was the case with this woman).

I’ve never been the Pope.  And not being Catholic, it’s very unlikely I’ll ever be the Pope.  I’ve also never had anyone care enough about what I do to want to hurt me.  I’m not famous, rich, or a religious figurehead.  So I can’t really understand what all comes with that.  I also don’t really understand what it’s like to have my life constantly in danger.  The most dangerous thing I do every day is scrape the ice off of my car.

But being the Pope is different.

He experiences all of those things.  He has to make daily decisions that may cost him his life.  And there are many people just like him, making those same kinds of decisions.  But far too many people make choices based on risk management scenarios.

There is something seriously wrong with our churches when we put risk management above living out a life of faith.  I applaud the Pope for being so accessible and putting his life on the line.  I applaud the Christian who walks into danger, because that is where she sees God calling.

As we head into 2010 I want you to think about one question: Are you living a “safe” life?  Or are you living the radical, revolutionary life that God calls us to?

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?

real people, real pain

1

Category : bible, failure, faith, hope, trust

……….

Life is filled with problems.  Often unexpected ones.  And while I don’t mean to sound like a pessimist, there is no doubt that we all will be blindsided by at least one major catastrophe in our lives.  And many little problems too.

I think this economic recession is an example.  I never dreamed that stores like Circuit City would fold.  And when I drive around town I am shocked by the number of empty office buildings.  Each one of those office buildings is a dream that’s been shattered.

These shattered dreams, though, allow me to find comfort in the Bible.

I know that sounds shocking.  But stay with me for a minute – the Bible is filled with stories of people being murdered, sold into slavery, invaded, and generally run out of town.  There are entire books of the Bible devoted to stories of suffering and pain.  You can’t read for very long without noticing it.

Have you ever wondered why the stories don’t hold back?  Have you ever wondered why there are stories of people railing against God in their anger and despair?  Stories of people questioning why God isn’t showing up as their dreams are being torn apart.

It’s because the Bible is filled with real people and real pain.

And so as my dreams are crushed, I can find comfort in the pages of the Bible because I know I’m not alone.  I know that what I’m experiencing other people have as well.  I know that they were able to trust God no matter how hard it got and I can too.  After all these years the Bible remains as relevant to us, as it did to the original audience.

This is why the Psalm 73 really hits home.  Asaph (the writer) has been where I am.  He sees that while he struggles people who go along ignoring God seem to be rewarded.  He’s noticed that even when you do the right thing, you sometimes end up worse for it.  But he also realized that if he trusted God, in the end, he would be all right.  As close as Asaph was to the brink, he held on:

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”

(Psalm 73: 2-3)

If God was faithful to him, then I am reminded that God will be faithful to me.  And so I hold on no matter how close to the brink I get.

trusting God when it seems impossible

2

Category : 1 Kings, faith, fear, live for the eternal, taking action

  

Life can be hard.

There are millions of people without jobs.  They wonder how they’ll feed their families, pay their mortgages, and make things work.  There are millions more who are without food, hundreds of thousands sold into sex slavery, and countless more without any kind of health care. 

How do you deal with those things?

This isn’t an academic conversation to me.  This is real.  This hits home. 

I’m out of a job because I acted in faith when God told me it was time to move on.  I acted, and now I wonder if that was the right thing.  Did I hear him correctly?  Or did I eat some bad pizza?  Of course at the time I had no idea what was going to happen to the economy.  I had no idea how hard it would be to find another job (I’d never had a problem in the past).  I acted because I believe that’s what God wanted me to do. 

I don’t pretend to understand everything.  I’d also be lying if I said I’m not tempted to find a solution “on my own.”  Isn’t that the reasonable thing to do?

The world tells us we need to fend for ourselves.  And in those quiet moments when we’re alone, isn’t that what we hear whispered from the bottom of our soul?  Don’t we hear a voice that says, “this problem can only be solved if you do something!”

That must have been the voice Asa heard. 

Asa was a king who was once described as someone who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 15:11)  That was high praise considering the kings before him were pretty awful people.  But by the end of his life, Asa had succumbed to that voice.  He was being attacked from the south and feared his kingdom would be overrun.  So he did what any rational, normal person would do – he made an alliance with someone stronger. 

He listened to that voice and “did something.”

You see that voice is right.  Our problems won’t be solved if we don’t take action.  If we sit around paralyzed by fear, doing nothing, nothing is exactly what will happen.  Unfortunately Asa thought action meant bribing a foreign king (1 Kings 15: 18-19) when he should have realized that action meant trusting God.   

That’s the danger we all face.  We want to take action.  But we don’t always want to wait for God to get involved.  So we act.  But what happens when we’re wrong?  What happens when action without God is the worst thing we could have done?  

No one wants to hear God say, “Because you relied on man, and not God, your problems will be worse than before.”  Asa wasn’t any different.  When he was told that, he didn’t say “gee thanks, I didn’t realize that.”  Nope.  Asa took the man delivering the news and threw him in jail.  (2 Chronicles 16: 10)

In the end, things did get worse.  Asa died from an infectious disease.  In his feet.  Not exactly the best way to go out.  But even worse, in the end Asa didn’t even bother turning to God to ask for help.  He decided it was more important to “do something” then to rely on God.  So he sought out the best doctors of the time - and died two years later. 

That’s not where I want to be. 

No matter how scary it gets not having a job, I don’t want to “do something” if that something means leaving God out of the solution.  I don’t believe for a minute that God wants us to sit around waiting only for a miracle to occur.  I think he wants us to give problems every ounce of our strength.  If you are sick he wants you to see doctors.  If you’re facing an invading army, he wants you to seek allies.  If you are homeless he wants you find a home.  If you’re jobless he wants you looking for a job.  But he doesn’t want you to do it alone. 

There are times we need to trust God when it seems impossible.  Asa failed that test.  But we don’t have to. 

No matter what our problems are, trusting God is the right solution.  Because as Asa discovered, no matter how brilliant a doctor is, they are still limited by time, knowledge, and skill.  I’m not saying following God is easy.  In fact, following God is tough.  It’s even painful at times: the man who told Asa he was wrong, wound up in prison.  Yet, there are more important things in this life than having a job, defeating an invading army, and even your freedom.

There is a point to life.  And sometimes to get there we have to trust God even when it seems impossible. 

failing God

Category : David, God, failure, faith, fear, sin

 

If you ask an athlete about a game, they will almost always tell you about the shot they missed, the tackle they could have had, the putt they should have sunk.  Of course you don’t need to be an athlete to think this way.  When you go into work what do you think of?  The things you should have finished?  The account you should have landed?  I bet very few of us focus on the positives.  Even fewer live wide awake.

We live in a culture that emphasizes failure.  I don’t know if this has always been the case or if this is some recent development.  But whatever the case, we live in a world obsessed with failure.  

It’s true in our professional lives.  It’s true in our personal lives.  And this attitude is true in our relationship with God.  We focus on our short comings:  How we could have been more generous.  How we shouldn’t have yelled at our kids.  How we knew what we were doing was wrong, yet we didn’t stop.  We focus on all of the mistakes we make.   

But is this how we are supposed to live?   

Most of us have fallen for the performance plan view of God.  We think God is carefully taking note of our failures.  That he’s just waiting around the corner to whack us with them.  “If Santa makes a list, what does God do?” we wonder.  Instead of experiencing God’s grace, we find ourselves overwhelmed with guilt.

Yet that’s not the God of the Bible.  While God is never thrilled we’re sinning, it’s not our sin that destroys our relationship with him.  It’s something else… 

There once was a father and son who believed in God.  The father was a murderer, adulterer, he was even negligent of his family.  The son on the other hand never killed anyone, never had an affair, and always seemed to have his family in mind.

Yet God turned away from the son and not the father.  Why?

Because no matter how many horrible things David did, he always maintained his relationship with God.  He never rejected that relationship.  Solomon on the other hand, despite all his wisdom, began to worship other Gods. 

“As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been.  He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech [a] the detestable god of the Ammonites.  So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done.”               (1 Kings 11: 4-6)

David’s failure didn’t drive God away.  No matter how many mistakes he made, God always remained with David.  Solomon, on the other hand, despite all his wisdom found God as an enemy.  It wasn’t his failures that caused it – it was his choice to believe in other gods that ended things. 

So why do we still believe our behavior is what matters to God?   Why do we focus all our energy on our failures, and spend so little time focusing on re-building our relationship with God?

David did many horrible things.  Yet he was described as, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13: 22).  Despite his actions, despite his failure, he built a lasting relationship with God.  Isn’t that the model that we should work towards?  Shouldn’t we stop focusing on failures and spend all that energy of doubt, fear, anger, worry towards re-energizing our relationship with God?

We need to live out a life of faith, not live a life in fear of failure. 

life and football

Category : faith, fear, live for the eternal, trust

 

I love watching football for one reason: I don’t know the outcome.  It’s the anticipation of what’s about to happen that’s so exciting.  That’s what makes it thrilling.  Tivo it and I couldn’t care less.  The outcome has already occurred.  But when it’s live – nothing is more exciting.

Yet when it comes to my life, I feel the opposite.  I am afraid of the unknown.  I dread the anticipation of what’s about to happen. 

Why?  Why should there be this difference?

I think there shouldn’t be.  We should live to embrace the moment.  We can’t enjoy life if we’re always regretting the past, or even reminiscing in the “good times” of days gone by.  Nor can we live life to the fullest if we’re always terrified of what’s about to happen.  The only way to live out a life of faith is to do so now.  In the moment.  At this point. 

Anything else just won’t cut it.  And where’s the fun in that?

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.

a Christmas lesson

1

Category : God, different, faith, fear, hope, sharing faith

  

As I’ve mentioned a couple times on R3, I will not have a job come January.  Knowing that has been an interesting experience.  But maybe not in the way you would expect. 

I find I’m focusing more on the things I have than the things I don’t.  I’m also realizing all of the things that used to bother me, such as not having a house, are now blessings.  (No house = No mortgage payments)  

The biggest challenge has been learning to not buy things for myself.  Games, books, CD’s, movie tickets, that sort of stuff.  Things that I never really gave much thought to, are now out of reach.  So what does this have to do with Christmas?  Well, for the first time, in a very long time, I’m really excited about Christmas.  I am now being given presents that I could never afford on my own.  Even simple gifts such as a CD or a book is a big deal, and I am grateful for each and everything I have received.

Sometimes we think the solution to all of our problems is money or comfort.  That if we could only get more stuff, then we’d be happy.  Yet I’m learning that’s not true at all.  Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is to struggle.  Because it’s in those moments we are forced to rely on God.  And anytime we trust God, miracles happen.

So I may soon be without a job, but even in the midst of that, God is working miracles.  I am learning things I never expected.  Funny how God works like that.