What to do when the world fights back

Category : faith

If there’s a section in the Bible that I really struggle with, it’s the timeline that surrounds Jesus’ trial.  In those hours Jesus meets with pretty much the movers and shakers of the Jewish and Roman worlds.  We know that Jesus was a powerful speaker, we know that he performed miracles, we know that he had wisdom to surprise (and sometimes shame) his opponents.

Yet in the most important hours in world history, Jesus says nothing.  He doesn’t put up a rousing defense of why he shouldn’t die while confronting obviously false charges.  He doesn’t even forcefully argue to be God (although, he does most certainly claim to be God, you don’t tear your robes for nothing!)

I can’t help but wonder why Jesus didn’t put up more of a fight.

The only reason I can come up with is that he didn’t put up a fight because I would have put up a fight.  And you would have put up a fight.  In fact, everyone but God would have put up a fight.  And God knows his Kingdom doesn’t advance through fights, arguments, and yelling.  It advances through love, forgiveness, and grace.

Last week I wrote an article called the unfair treatment of Ben Roethlisberger.  It’s been just about the most popular article I’ve ever written on R3blog.net.   But I never meant for it to go on R3blog.net.  I meant for it to go on a Steelers blog.  And it did.  For about 20 hours until they unceremoniously deleted it.

In that moment I was faced with a choice, do I say it’s unfair, or do I agree to allow it to be deleted.  (I agreed.)  Some have told me I should have fought it out.  But I think that misses the point that Jesus was trying to teach before his death.  Sometimes the way to change the world is to say little and let your actions speak for you.

How would arguing have convinced people that I wasn’t trying to “force my views” on people?  How would arguing have benefited the kingdom?  I think it would have already pigeonholed me more as a Jesus freak.  It would have made an already (apparently) hostile audience dig into their mental bunkers.

It would have accomplished nothing that the article was supposed to accomplish (that is, talking about grace and forgiveness.)

While I think the site made a mistake, and possibly even singled me out unfairly, I’m okay with that.  It’s their site, and they pay the bills.  My job was to write the article and post it, if they disagreed, so be it.

In the end I take away three things from this experience.

  1. Being known gives you credibility to talk to God.  To them I was some random person just popping up and throwing around the word “grace” and “forgiveness” and “God.”  They didn’t know me because even though I’ve read that website nearly every day for 3 years, I never was part of their vocal community.  The same is true in all our lives.  If we want to talk about God, we need to be known to people or they won’t take us seriously.  It’s the difference between “Bible thumping” and “Sharing the Gospel.”
  2. Sometimes it’s better not to fight.  As I said above, fighting doesn’t always solve the Kingdom problems.  Fighting is what the world does.  Throwing a fit is what everyone does.  I want to look different and let people see God through that difference.
  3. Even smart people make dumb comments about God.  It was kind of shocking to see otherwise smart people, hold very inconsistent, if not irrational, views about God and Christianity.  People spend very little time thinking about why they believe what they believe.  Make sure, if you’re a believer, you don’t make that same mistake.

I don’t feel like this was exactly a “positive” experience.  But I am glad I experienced it.  Why?  Because following where God is leading is always worth it.  Even if it feels like you slap into a brick wall.

I don’t want fame and fortune

Category : faith

There was a time in my life that I wanted fame and fortune.  I saw those as things to aspire to.  They were the American Dream.  I wanted to travel the world in luxury, not worry about paying bills (because I was loaded) and have the freedom to do anything I wanted.

But now that I’m a Christian, I think those are things I don’t really want.  Fame and fortune do not bring happiness.  And at least from reading the news, it seems they bring more misery than anything else.

Take a look at Brett Favre.  He was idolized as having it “all.”  He was famous, successful.  He was a record setter.  He was a millionaire.  He lived the high life.  He was idolized in video games and history books.

My how things change.

I don’t know Favre personally (duh!).  For all I know he could be a great guy.  For all I know he could be a Christian and just simply lost his way.  So I offer no judgment.  All too easily the same things (or something similar) could befall any of us.

What I do offer is a growing realization that money, stuff, fame, or even friends and family, will offer us freedom and happiness.

The only thing that truly offers freedom and happiness is God.  And while that’s still a radical, shocking, revolutionary claim, it’s 100% true.

But don’t take my word for it.  Just look around at all the so-called “successful” people and you can’t help but notice the deep pain and suffering they experience – just like the rest of us.

Fame and fortune aren’t what they are cracked up to be.

God is my joy

Category : God, faith

Sometimes I wonder if I really “get” it.  I was listening to David Crowder’s “you are my joy” and started wondering, do I really live as if God is my joy?  Do I even believe that?  Even just a little bit?

There are days I think I come close.  But if I’m really honest, there are far more days where my joy is in football, video games, books, TV, relaxation, my wife, my family, or my house.

How different would my life be if I really lived as if God was my joy.  I mean really lived that way.

How different would your life be?

is it okay to question God?

Category : God, choice, faith

If you follow football at all, you’ve already heard about the “drop heard around the world.”  During last week’s Steelers – Bills game, Stevie Johnson, dropped a sure touchdown for the Bills.  In fact, it would have dramatically won the game in over time.  In all my years of watching football, rarely have I seen a wide receiver drop such a sure catch.

Immediately after the game, I heard both journalists and Steelers players give the usual it was a “miracle” talk.  And say things like, “God helped us”.  Maybe that’s true.  I have no idea.  I’m not really sure how often God gets involved in football.  (Although I certainly don’t mind if he’s a Steelers fan.)

After the game the Bills receiver (Johnson) had a different reaction.  He tweeted, “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!!  AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO…”

That tweet immediately went around the internets, and turned up in stories headlined things like “Bills receiver blames God for drop.

But that’s not how I see it.  (And I’m not sure that’s how Stevie Johnson would see it.)  I don’t even see him blaming God at all.  I see a young guy (24) who is really questioning his faith.  When I was 24 I was a hard-core atheist.  So it seems to me that Johnson has a bit over me when I was his age.

People who don’t believe in God love these stories because it “proves” God doesn’t exist.  At the same time Christians who fear undermining God hate these stories because it seems to question God’s goodness.

Which means that it’s a perfect storm to get news headlines.

But for me it reminds me of my own experiences with God.  As I said, when I was 24 I didn’t believe in God.  Not long after I began to question everything about God and my life.  It was out of that immense pain and suffering that I turned to him, realizing he was the only thing complete enough to heal me.  That’s what I hear in that tweet.  Someone who is just looking for how God can be loving, but at the same time let such painful things happen to us.

In the end, I don’t mind Stevie Johnson’s comments, whether he blames God or not.  I think honest searching for answers always brings us closer to God.  Which is what he wants in the first place!  So my prayer is that Johnson does learn from his drop and let’s God redeem this experience.  I don’t know how.  But God’s a master at redeeming things.  And that’s enough for me.  I hope it’s enough for Johnson.

God is not passive

Category : God, bible, faith

So far we’ve looked at several examples of people who thought it would be best to be passive.  In contrast, the Bible clearly paints God as an active God.  Even in rest, he’s making a conscious decision to “take a break.”  You never see God sitting back and saying, “I’m just going to see what happens.”  Instead he does everything imaginable to try and engage with us and change our actions.  Here’s just a quick list of what he did: he gave us a perfect garden to live, gave Adam a perfect wife, provided Moses with miracles to free the Israelites, provided them bread and meat in the desert, brought floods, protected them from enemies, sent Israel into captivity, In the end God decided to take the most proactive step of all: dying on the cross.

The one person in history who didn’t need to go the extra mile was Jesus.  And yet, he picked up his cross and died for us.  God never sat back to let us figure out a way to save ourselves.  He was always working to save us.

God is not passive.  And if we should model our behavior on Jesus, then why should we ever be passive?

As we conclude this 5 part series no passivity, take some time to think about your own life.  Where are you letting passivity creep in?  Is it your prayer life?  Are you just not praying like you used to?  Or is it something else?  Maybe you’ve stopped reading the bible or going to church?  Maybe you’re just feeling so overwhelmed that you have started to say, “I’ll get to it next week.”

My friends, there may not be a next week.  Not because something terrible is going to happen.  But because it’s more likely something good will happen – your life will continue on, always having commitments, friends, and TV shows to watch.

Sometimes the biggest threat to being active, is just being content with the life we have.  I urge you to not make that mistake.

This is part five in a five part series on the dangers of passivity in the kingdom. It was also featured as part of “The Daily” a short devotional geared toward helping people develop regular habits of reading the Bible.  If you would like to subscribe to The Daily, you can do so here.

does the universe need God?

Category : God

The news last week was that Stephen Hawking now believes that you don’t need “a” god to create the universe.  Instead, it can be explained by physical forces such as gravity.  In his view, Big Bangs don’t need a “Big Banger” because gravity will cause universes to collapse and then explode.

The overall argument, as I understand it is that natural forces cause the universe to expand, collapse, and be created.  Because it’s all natural, you don’t need anyone starting the whole process.

I’m not a physicist or astronomer.  For all I know everything Hawking says is true.

But what I don’t get is this: where does the stuff come from so that gravity can work?  Where was the first particle of matter that decided, “Hey I’m going to create multiple universes today!”

Maybe they have an answer.  But I sure don’t see how saying “gravity makes universes” gets you away from asking “where the heck did gravity come from in the first place!”

photo provided by flickr user Jan Tik

following Jesus means dying for those who hate us

1

Category : different, faith

All the news for the last week has been about a church that says it’s going to burn the Koran in retaliation for the proposed Mosque near Ground Zero.  And as the weekend draws closer, a handful of other churches are saying that they will do the same.

I hate writing about things like this.  I really do.  The whole purpose of R3 is to help people understand what it means to live out a life of faith.  The purpose of R3 is not to tell you who to vote for or what social policies you need to implement.

Jesus was very clear about church / state issues.  Render unto Caesar what is his, and render unto God what is His.

But there are times when I feel the need to talk about current events.  Like this church down in Florida.  We can disagree about whether a mosque should be built in NYC.  We can even disagree if it’s okay to burn books (the Koran or otherwise.)  But what we can’t disagree about is how Jesus called us to live – and that’s sacrificially.

He’s called us to live a life of sacrifice in service and in love of our neighbors.  And I can’t see any way that burning the Koran lives out those principles.

Jesus was always patient, loving, kind, generous, and merciful to people who were the furthest away from God.  In fact, the further away from God you were, the more Jesus had patience for you.  It was the religious elites – the self proclaimed keepers of religious law – that Jesus came down on.

If we take that model and apply it to the mosque / Koran burning group, who are those furthest from God?  And who are those that are proclaiming to be the keepers of religious law?

If this church was serious about making a difference, it would set up mission trips to the Ground Zero mosque.  It would bring people in by the truckloads to build relationships with the Muslim men and women going into that mosque.  They wouldn’t inflame the religious beliefs of another group.

Paul, who was one of the most gifted missionaries of the Early (or otherwise) Christian church, never attacked the Greeks for their beliefs.  Instead he used their own culture, their own logic, their own religion as a way to highlight the differences between his God, and their gods.  He told stories not about distant, angry gods, but about a merciful, loving, fatherly God.

Stephen, one of the first Christian martyrs, prayed for the forgiveness of the very people who were throwing large rocks at him.  As those stones slowly beat him to death.

Do any of those examples look like burning a Koran?

Because they don’t to me.

When I see Jesus, I see a God who sacrificed everything to reach out to those who despised him most.  If you aren’t doing that, then you don’t know God nearly as well as you think you do.  And if you think burning a book is a good way to show God’s love, then maybe you don’t know God’s love nearly as well as you think you do.

As Americans we may have the right to act like idiots and offend people in unnecessary ways.  But as Citizens of the Kingdom of God, we don’t have that luxury.  We’re called to love people, at a cost to ourselves.  That’s what shows God’s character to the world.  That’s what separates us from other religions.  That’s what shows His glory.

This guy in Florida, and others like him, couldn’t be further from God’s truth, and for that reason, I pray for them.

photo provided by flickr user MelB

an heir to the kingdom

Category : God

Recently I mentioned that each of us is a child of God.  But that means more than just getting gifts and behaving like kids.  In fact, it comes with a whole lot of responsibility.  When we become a child of God, we actually become heirs to God’s Kingdom.

Think about what that means.

It’s a big deal to be an heir.  It means we need to have responsibility.  It also means we need to understand how things work.  A CEO can’t run an organization if he or she doesn’t understand the basics of the business.  Presidents can’t “run” a government if they don’t know the laws and troubles facing their land.

Paul in a letter to the Galatians says we “are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.”

Slaves didn’t know how to run the kingdom.  Criminals didn’t know how to run the corporation.  Strangers don’t get the keys to the house.  God doesn’t see us as distant toys to be played with, like the Greek gods.  He isn’t indifferent to us as many postmodern religions claim.  God says we are heirs to the kingdom.  We are in line to receive the Kingdom!

If that doesn’t make you smile, then nothing will.

photo provided by everystockphoto

how to make decisions

Category : living a life of faith

My life has never been more stressful.  I’m working three jobs, getting married, buying a house, moving and it’s all of that has happened in the last 2 months.  And a cancer scare for my fiancée.  And did I mention I have paid for the wedding, honey moon, engagement rings and down payment on the house.  Oh yeah, I was also unemployed for 11 months last year.

To say that things are busy and stressful would be an understatement.  Most days I’ve handled things really well.  For the sheer level of stress and fatigue I’m dealing with, I’d say things are going great.  But there are some days when it feels completely overwhelming (like today).  It’s on these overwhelming days where I’m emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted.

But I’ve realized something in the midst of all of this.  There are too many big decisions to spend a ton of time thinking about (why didn’t someone warn me how many decisions you need to make in planning a wedding!).  We’ve stressed about buying a house, and dealing with a house-flipper who turned out to be a liar (no water in the basement my ass!)  But I digress.

During this time I’ve realized that I have made all of these stressful decisions with one rule in mind: actively and aggressively pursue where you think God is.

That’s it.  No fancy decision tree.  No “10 steps to a better decision model.”  Just a simple question: is God there or not?  If he’s there then I run to it.  If not, I turn away, sometimes slowly, but still turn away.

There are so many questions…. Is the house the right house?  Will it always flood?  Is pink or blue a better color for the tables at the reception?  Am I spending enough time with my family?  I don’t know if all these decisions will be the right ones.

But there is freedom in trusting God.

We spend so much of our time coming up with rules to micromanage our lives, when one rule is all we need: love God with all our hearts, minds, and soul.  Everything else falls into place after that.  Even the color of the table cloths.

what does it mean to be a child of God?

Category : God

“…we are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we are his heirs.  In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.   But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”

Have you ever stopped to think about what it means to be a child of God?  For me this is a difficult thing to wrap my mind around.  Not because I can’t understand God adopting us into his family, but because when I hear that phrase I immediately think of people doing cheesy Christian things (like bumper stickers that say “honk if you love Jesus.”)  In my mind, the phrase “child of God” has almost been hijacked by well-intentioned, but people who are a little creepy and who behave strangely while dressing in 1970’s clothing.

I doubt I’m alone.

But when we stop and think about being a child of God, there’s a lot packed into that little phrase.  Some of the things that come to mind are…

  • We are in the family
  • We can’t lose that identity (you can’t un-family your family!)
  • We are heirs
  • As heirs we are responsible for “the family business”
  • We receive gifts from our Father (protection, love, mercy)
  • We can recognize our Father’s voice

The God of the universe wants us to be in his family.  The Creator of existence loves us so much that he wants to us to be sons and daughters.  If that doesn’t blow your mind, then I don’t know what will.  What other religions make such outrageous claims?

No matter how much I learn about God, I find I am always amazed by him.