the death of a friend

Category : God, Jesus, faith, live for the eternal, living a life of faith

A friend died.  Although I never knew him.

One of the things I keep coming back to is God’s way of weaving lives together.  I have for the last few years taught a course called “Welcome to the Revolution” at my local church.  My friend was in this class.  He was the type of person who, if you saw on a dark street corner, you’d change sides.  He was gruff.  With a gravelly voice.  And a violent past.  His tattoos revealed the fact that he was both angry and violent.

I remember the first time I saw him in church.  I didn’t consciously think much about it, but I recall thinking he was someone that didn’t “fit” in with the church.  He just stood out, and I thought, “man, I’d hate to upset him.”

I saw him a few weeks later getting baptized.

And then a few weeks later he was in my class.

He was still gruff.  Had a gravelly voice.  His tattoos still screamed at me.  He was also hard to look at.  Not because of the way he looked, but because of the intensity of God’s light that shone through him.  When I looked at him, I could see Jesus staring back at me.  And I realized that everything I had thought about him was wrong.  He wasn’t the guy who you’d cross the street to avoid.  He was the guy who would throw down to protect you.  He was an artist, who was thoughtful enough to hand draw me a Christmas card.

Of course he wasn’t always that way.  As we got to know each other I learned about his dark past.  The violence.  The substance abuse.  The pain.

But I also learned how Jesus had changed him.  I learned just how much God could redeem us.  What I saw was a new man, who was so intensely bathed in his relationship with God that it was hard to look at him, because it reminded me of just how far I have to go.

As the teacher you think you’re supposed to have all the answers.  That you’re supposed to have everything “under control.”  But God has a way of shattering those illusions.

I will be forever grateful to Bertie for shattering my illusions.  In every way that counted he was the teacher and I was the student.

You will be missed Bertie.  You, in the few short weeks I knew you, were as much of a friend to me as anyone I’ve known.  But you are with Jesus now.  I know because I’ve seen Jesus through you.  And one day, we will be together again.  And maybe that time, we’ll have the chance to become better friends.

impatience

Category : faith, hope, live for the eternal

 

The economy is tough right now.  It seems like every day I hear about another friend losing their job.  Or gas prices rising.  And let’s not even talk about the housing market.  Frankly it feels as if nothing will ever change; that we’ll be stuck in this economy forever, with no hope of improvement. 

And yet, it wasn’t that long ago I remember wondering if the economy would ever slow down.  It seemed as if the stock market always went up, and new homes were bought just as fast as they were made. 

Funny how that is.

Why do we get so caught up in The Moment™ that we convince ourselves that nothing is going to change?  Peter felt that way the night they came to take Jesus to his death.  He felt so strongly that things weren’t going to change that he declared nothing would shake his faith in Jesus (Mark 14: 27-31). 

I think we get caught up in the moment because we lose sight of our true goal - a relationship with God that lasts forever.  When we shift our focus to other places, no matter how well intentioned, we get distracted.  True joy, true hope, and true happiness will never come from an economy – good or bad.   

Of course I’m no better at this than anyone else.  The reality is, it takes work to stay focused.  Some days it’s easy.  But more often than not it takes sheer will power.  In the end though, reminding myself to “focus on the eternal” keeps me moving towards God.  And that perspective helps me be a little more patient when life doesn’t work out the way I want.   

suffering for faith

2

Category : Acts, Paul, bible, hope, live for the eternal, sharing faith, taking action

 

Sometimes I think it would be fun to be Paul.  (not this Paul)

This was a guy who traveled the world talking about God.  He was bold, action-oriented, and totally committed to God.  He was someone who lived his life to the fullest.  

But then I read stories about Paul’s experience in a city called Lystra. 

When Paul first arrived there, everything went well.  He was able to talk about God, people were listening, and some even started to believe.  But as time went on, people began to change their minds.  They began to no longer accept Paul’s teaching.  So they did what comes naturally to any crowd after a lecture they don’t like – they picked up rocks and threw them at Paul.  In fact, the crowd was so confident in their aim, they drug his body outside of town thinking he was dead. 

Days like this make me want to reconsider my plan to be more like Paul.

But as Monty Python might say, “he’s not quite dead yet.”  And so Paul got up and went back into town. 

I don’t know about you, but heading back into the town where people threw blunt objects at me would not be high on my ‘To Do’ list.  But for Paul, that’s just who he was.  So after returning to town, he and his friend Barnabas moved on to a different city.  Presumably to do the whole thing over again.

But Paul wasn’t done with Lystra. 

After visiting a few more cities Paul came back to encourage the Christians who lived there.  But he didn’t say, “don’t worry everything’s okay” or “believe in God and everything will go smoothly.”  Paul actually said, ”It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”  (Acts 14: 22

Ouch.  This being-like-Paul-thing sounds less fun all the time!

In a world that values comfort over all, this is hard to swallow.  How can suffering be a part of God’s Kingdom?  But the truth is the closer we get to God’s will the more dangerous it can become.  Just look at Paul’s life.  Even Jesus, someone who probably knew what God wanted, died a horrible death.

Now if suffering was all there was, this would be bad news.  Fortunately we don’t suffer because God enjoys it, or because it’s an initiation.  We suffer because sharing God’s message often means being in direct conflict with the world’s message.  And we suffer because this world is broken.

The people in Lystra went from thinking Paul was a god to trying to kill him.  Why?  Because Paul didn’t stop talking about who God was when they thought he was a god.  He kept teaching and explaining.  And eventually they decided they didn’t like his message anymore.  But if Paul had stopped teaching, no one would have learned about God.  And no one would have been saved.

That’s why Paul could be so bold and passionate when he knew some people might try to kill him for his beliefs.  Paul knew that sometimes to accomplish a bigger goal sacrifices personal have to be made.

the end game

Category : God, different, fear, hope, live for the eternal

       

Sometimes life throws you unexpected twists.  And it’s been my experience that these not only show up unexpectedly, but right after you have everything planned.  For me one of those twists was a sudden and overwhelming fear of blogging.  Perhaps I’m the first case of blogophobia.

I hope they’ll name it after me.

Ok, so maybe it wasn’t really a fear of blogging.  But I had a sudden realization that “holy cow there are people reading my blog!”  And yes, I occasionally use words like “holy cow.”  As R3 has gained popularity, I’ve had to deal with what that means. 

It’s not easy, and it probably never will be easy, for me to sit here and talk about how God has changed me.  It makes me feel vulnerable.  It makes me miss the anonymity of the internet.  Plus, who wants to look like an idiot? 

Funny how these things never come up when you are planning!

But as I’ve pondered this issue, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s something more important than looking like an idiot in front of strangers: it’s what we do with our lives.

We’re given one shot.  And during that time God calls us to make a difference.  He calls on us to literally change the world.  So despite my hesitations I press onward.  It’s not bravery, or overcoming fear, or something like that.  I simply want God to be part of my life more than I care to have my privacy. 

But this isn’t really about blogging.  It’s about so much more! 

It’s about how we live our lives. 

It’s about the purpose of our lives.

I want to live my life looking forward, advancing the Kingdom in bold ways.  And that means always reminding myself that while I may look like an idiot today, what counts is down the road.  And if me looking like an idiot is what makes God “click” for them, than I’m all in favor of looking like one.

When I die, which hopefully will be many years away, I want to look back on my life and see the impact I made.  But not just in their worldly lives.  I want to say I made a difference in someone’s eternal future.

And when I meet them again, after death, I look forward to that knowing nod between two friends.

fear & purpose

3

Category : Jesus, faith, fear, taking action

      

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Apparently he didn’t live with a 24 hour news cycle.

Because then he’d know that the economy is crashing.  All our politicians are adulterers.  Or, maybe we’re all adulterersKid’s toys curse.  Our lifestyles are bad for the environment.  And we’re all going to die from a giant “death star” 1,000 light years away.  Or as one scientist put it, “I used to appreciate this spiral just for its beautiful form, but now I can’t help a twinge of feeling that it is uncannily like looking down a rifle barrel.”

To be honest, it’s overwhelming.  How do you get enough courage to get out of bed, let alone make a difference?  I think Homer Simpson sums it up well: “Quiet honey, you don’t know how big this government is. It goes all the way to the President.”

There is a sense that we live in a world totally out of control.  That we’re just pinballs in a galactic game of chance.  That there’s nothing to hold on to.  Nothing to stabilize us.  And everything is a threat.

But is that true?

The answer, I think, is “it depends.”

It depends on how you choose to live your life.  One of the most striking aspects of Jesus is that he lived with a purpose.  He knew what he was supposed to accomplish, and because of that, he didn’t let fear stop him.  How many of us would keep doing our jobs if we knew it would lead to death?  But Jesus did.  He knew that his death was the only way to save us.  He knew that he was living for something more than just the things we can get in this world.

If we don’t have a purpose, we really are out of control.  Because without something to ground us, we get tossed around.  But once we have a purpose everything changes. 

What’s a gas shortage compared to spending eternity with God?  What’s an election compared to helping someone understand who God is?  What’s a killer sun going to take from us, when we stock our treasures in heaven?

We get one shot at this life.  And in that time we have a choice to make.  Do we make a difference or just look for a safe spot to watch life?  This, in no way, is easy.  It’s hard to step out into areas that are uncomfortable.  It’s hard to do the things we’re afraid of.  It doesn’t feel natural.  But compared to eternity, being laughed at doesn’t seem so bad. 

what i’m reading: Purpose Driven Life

Category : book review, feeding my brain

       

By my unofficial, and highly unscientific estimation the Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren is a hugely popular book.  I believe the exact number of people who have read it is, a lot.

But not me.  I avoided it.

I saw how many people have read it, and I’ve heard people talk about it so often I thought it would be best to steer clear.  Don’t ask why, it doesn’t really make any sense to me either.  But all that came to an end when I found a copy for $4 at a used book sale.

What I read makes me understand why it’s such a popular book.  Purpose Driven Life sets you on a 40 day journey to better understand yourself, and you’re relationship with God.  While I disagree with some of the first few chapters, I was blown away by two major themes I saw in this book: 

1.  We are all called to change the world, even if that’s only one person or one city.  God expects great things from us.  Not because he’s a task master or over bearing, but because he knows just how amazing we can be.  No one knows our potential like God.  He also knows exactly what we can handle.  And because of that he has big plans for us.

2.  We should focus on the eternal.  No one denies that life gets busy and hectic.  It’s easy to misplace our priorities and start chasing after things that don’t matter.  Sometimes we even intentionally choose to go after a career or family instead of God.  While a lot of the things we emphasize in our life are good, they all fall short of the importance of how we spend eternity.

Purpose Driven Life really highlighted the fact that living with the future in mind changes how you see the present.  If the only thing we’re living for is a new job, a new car, or the perfect family we will be devastated when we don’t get promoted, can’t afford an upgrade, or our family has problems. 

When you live your life thinking about the impact you can make for all time, a lot of our fears seem pretty insignificant.  After all, what’s a little criticism or rejection when you can impact someone forever?

God created us for a reason, and while we can certainly go through life without living out our purpose, it seems like we’d be missing out on something. 

Just because life is short, doesn’t mean we can’t change eternity.  And I find that exciting.