the illusions of the world

Category : bible, choice, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

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We live in a society heavily influenced by the Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution.  Because of that we think that every decision we make needs to have a root in scientific evidence.  But what if the decisions we are making aren’t really based on science?  What if the world is lying to us?  What if the world wants us to believe something is true even when it’s not?  How then, can we be sure our decisions are still science-based?  Are we just being manipulated?

The world is desperate to present us with a picture of safety and security.  It wants us to believe everything is “fine” and we don’t need to examine our lives – unless it’s to buy more stuff.  The goal is to not rock the boat.  To fit in.  To accept the status quo.

The truth is, despite all the science and knowledge we’ve accumulated, we are still pretty gullible.  We still fall for some pretty silly examples of photoshop distorting pictures.  What’s interesting though, is that while we stare at obviously fake images we reassure ourselves that we’re making decisions based purely on reason.  That our logic, and trust in science makes us smarter.

And so we discard religion.  As a society we’ve somehow decided that if it can’t be seen it must not be real.

I find this to be tragic.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize we can’t always rely on our eyes.  Photoshop has proven that.  Instead we need to learn to also trust God, and the things he’s promised.  That’s really the definition of faith.  Expecting pure scientific evidence for God’s existence will always leave us wanting.  At some point we just need to trust in his promises and move forward.  At some point we have to realize that “just the facts ma’am” isn’t giving us an accurate picture of what’s going on.

Sometimes the temptation for a Christian is to turn their back on the world.  We can over react to the scientific revolution.  We can say “we can’t trust science because it’s from the world.”  However that’s not what God wants either.  God has never said don’t use science or trust your reasoning skills.  But he has warned us that there is a “Thief” who is intentionally trying to manipulate us.

It’s our job to go out into this place and try to bring a new message.  And we can’t do that if we pretend the world doesn’t exist.  We do, however, need to be aware of how much we take in.  We need to know how much we surround ourselves with other world views.  Because it’s easy to be overwhelmed.  It’s easy to fall prey to the lies.  To fall victim to the status quo.

To paraphrase the movie Mr. Deeds, the world is very, very sneaky.

Faith and science aren’t enemies.  They both give us access to important knowledge.  Science helps us to understand the physical world.  It helps us to build hospitals, cure disease, build computers and the internet.  But it can’t answer the question of “why.”  It can’t explain our purpose or our reason for existence.  It can’t define our morality or bring forgiveness to an enemy.

If you want to truly be part of the revolution, you need both faith and science in your life.

what has God done for you lately?

Category : God, Mother Teresa, Psalms, sin, trust

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Sometimes I am amazed, and a bit ashamed, how readily I turn away from God.  It seems that no matter how much God does for me, the minute a problem arises I start wondering why God has abandoned me.  I can’t help but ask, “what have you done for me lately?”

Sadly I am not alone in this.  Maybe I should be encouraged by that.  But I am not.  We all suffer from this same problem.  We all wonder of God, “what have you done for me lately?”  Even Mother Teresa had her moments of doubt and discouragement.  Although in many ways it seems her life proves her exceptionalism in her faith: she experienced an intense interaction with God early in her life – and then virtually nothing for decades.  My faith would have crumbled.  Her faith remained.

We’ve been this way for centuries.  Isn’t that the point of Adam & Eve?  Satan told them, “God is holding out on you.”  And they said, “yeah the garden is nice, and not worrying about zipping our pants is sweet, but what has God done for us lately.”  And so they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

I wonder, what our lives would look like if we remembered his past actions?  What if we took those things seriously instead of tossing them aside?  How many miracles would we need before we believed?  One?  Zero?  Because if I really trusted God, and if I really put all my faith in him, I bet it wouldn’t take a miracle in my life to help me to believe.  How many miraculous healings do you need to see before you think, “wow, maybe there is something to this God character?”

But I don’t take him seriously.  Oh I say I do, and on the good days maybe I get close.  I guess that’s part of the struggle of our faith.  It’s this conflict that reminds me not to become too prideful.  Because when it comes to crunch time I find myself demanding, “what have you done for me lately?!”  I am no better than anyone else in that regard.

Which why I am grateful God is merciful.  As the Psalmist said:

Yet he was merciful;
he forgave their iniquities
and did not destroy them.
Time after time he restrained his anger
and did not stir up his full wrath.

He remembered that they were but flesh,
a passing breeze that does not return.

living a life of freedom

Category : 2 Corinthians, God, Jesus, choice, different, revolutionary

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Have you ever stopped and thought about your freedom?  Not your freedom in the political sense.  But your freedom in the spiritual sense.  The more I think about these issues, the more I realize just how quickly we give up our freedom.  We give up our freedom for the promise of security, for power, for control, and even for what we think is love.

But it seems that the last thing we should do is to want to give up our freedom.  As Paul told the church in Corinth:

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3: 12-18)

Think about that for a minute.  Wherever Jesus is, there is freedom.  Do we live our lives like that?  Do we act as if we have freedom?  Or do we continually give up that freedom to fit in?  To be safe?  Or to not make waves?

Paul is saying that we should be bold because we have Jesus in our lives.  But are we?

I don’t want to live my life in bondage.  I don’t want to give up the freedoms God gives me.  I am not interested in ritual if it doesn’t draw me closer to God.  I am not interested in answers that sound nice, but have no substance.  I want the radical, revolutionary, different nature that is God – not the watered down things that make me feel better.

I want the God that brings freedom – not bondage.

living a life of freedom

Category : Acts, Luke, Paul

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I posted this on the website Longing for a Holiday at Sea.  But frankly I liked it so much I thought it should be said again:

This week’s message at church was on freedom.  So I’ve been thinking about the story of Acts 16.  In this story, Paul and Silas are thrown into jail.  After being beaten and while they are in chains, they start signing songs.  While in jail.

I can’t even wrap my mind around that.

That night there is such a violent earthquake that the doors fly open and their chains fall off.  The guard, who’s life is on the line if the prisoners escape, fears the worst and is about to kill himself.  But Paul says, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

What kind of freedom did Paul and Silas live with that allows them be so calm after being beaten and thrown in jail?

We often forget that in Jesus’ first deceleration of his mission and identity, he said, “[God] has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).  God’s goal isn’t moralizing or giving us more stuff.  God’s goal isn’t a bigger house, a nicer car or prayers said in Latin.  It’s to set us free!

I’m not free yet.  Not like Paul and Silas anyway.  But I want to be.  And that’s what I am working towards, with Jesus’ help.

abortion, murder and sin

Category : God, hope, sin

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Abortion.  Murder.  Greed.  Gossip.

As you read those think for a moment, which of them is worse?  Abortion?  Murder?  How do you decide?

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days after seeing stories about the recent murder of an abortion doctor.  The killer has said that more violence will happen at abortion clinics.  His justification is that he’s defending a life, and so it’s okay to murder someone in defense of the unborn.  That he’s essentially doing God’s work.

The problem is, sin harms us as much as it harms others.

Which makes me wonder if God sees sins differently.  In his eyes, is murder worse than lying?  Is it the same?  Better?  In all honesty I don’t have an answer.  I’ve heard arguments on both sides, and I’m not sure I find any one of them overwhelmingly convincing.  The truth is God sees all sin as an abomination.

How could he not?

He’s perfect and every time we fall short of that perfection it’s an attack and an insult on him.  In the Old Testament what I see is a God who is most irate not at the violence and warfare of the time.  Not at the slavery.  Not at the mistreatment of women.  But at idolatry and not believing in him.

That fact is enough to drive people away from Christianity and God.

It strikes us that God is egotistical.  That he can’t handle people not worshiping him.  But I don’t think that’s the case.  I don’t see how someone who created the universe exactly needs us to feed his ego.  What could I possibly say or do for God that would impress him.  Somehow I think saying, “Hey God I shot a golf round of 95 this weekend, isn’t that awesome?” would not impress him very much.  What’s a 95 to someone who created the vastness of space?

God is so upset about idolatry because he knows if there is no relationship with him, there is no hope.  We become more corrupt, more violent, less loving the further away from God we become.  So when we worship money, people, things, other gods, it strikes at the very core of what makes us, well, us.  It moves us away from how we were designed to live.

That’s where this killer of abortion doctor’s is.  He’s violated the way he was designed to live.  And now he has harmed himself, others, and even hurt the “reputation” of God.

God is abhorred by sin.  But we don’t like that answer.  We don’t want to believe that “all wrongdoing is sin.”  We’re much more comfortable with a sliding scale where murder is a sin but greed isn’t.  Where abortion is a sin but gossiping isn’t.  We want a sliding scale because we want to feel better about ourselves.  We want a sliding scale so we can be free to judge others, and not be judged ourselves.

does god answer prayers

Category : Matthew, different, faith, fear, living a life of faith, trust

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks,  the door will be open.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7: 7-11)

Sometimes I think that just because I ask God for something I should get it.  And when I don’t, I’m shocked.  “How can God not answer my prayers?!” I cry out.  But as I read the story of Israel, I have to wonder, is that what’s really happening?

I’ve talked about how the trip to the Promised Land was only an 11 day trek.  Yet it took the Israelites 40 years to make it.  Why?  Not because God hadn’t answered their prayers of salvation (he had, even though they constantly doubted).  But because God knew that if the Israelites went directly to the Promised Land they would have been destroyed by what they found.

As it turns out it was the struggle of the journey that allowed them to become strong enough to enter the Promised Land.  It was their suffering which strengthened them.  It was their growing relationship with God that allowed them to have the faith necessary.  And once they were ready, or perhaps I should say, only when they were ready, did God open that door.

If Israel had avoided the disaster of 40 years in the wilderness, they would have experienced complete destruction at the hands of their enemies.  We are so quick to assume that God has abandoned us, when we don’t know all the facts.

The band, Since October has a song called disaster that really drives this home:

thank God for disaster
disaster and tears
thank God for my reasons
my reasons to fear
every time that I’ve lost it all and death is calling me
i understand this is what saved my life again

It is hard for me to remember that God often says “yes”, but it takes time for that “yes” to become a reality.  Living in a world of “lose 6 pounds in 6 days” and Instant Ramen Noodles it is hard for me to be patient.  I don’t like to wait for things.  But as the Israelites learned, sometimes waiting is the only way to get where you want to go.

Perhaps I should spend less time whining to God, and more time trusting and believing in God.  Perhaps I should spend less time avoiding problems, and more time thanking God for disaster.

living your faith in problems

1

Category : God, faith, hope, living a life of faith, trust

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“Every unexpected problem presents us with a choice – do we trust God and continue to live a life of faith?  Or do we trust ourselves, and move away from God?” That’s how I finished my last post about overcoming unexpected problems.  Little did I know that an hour after that article posted I’d be calling 911 because my girlfriend was going into anaphylactic shock.  Little did I know I’d be riding shotgun in an ambulance to the hospital.  And little did I know that I’d find out the following day I didn’t get a job I felt particularly qualified for.

Now I find myself not just suggesting a theoretical thing – living a life of faith in the midst of unexpected problems – but actually faced with those choices myself.

Every unexpected problem presents us with a choice - do we trust God and continue to live a life of faith? Or do we trust ourselves, and move away from God?

As strange as it is, the best thing I could have done on Wednesday was to write that article.  It prepared me to face  what was coming around the corner.  I reject the idea that you need to have blind faith to live out a life of faith.  I think that idea is ridiculous.  God never asks us to follow him unknowingly.

We, as believers, should take every opportunity to learn about God and the world around us.  We should be at the leading edge of scientists, philosophers, artists and thinkers.  Not because we need to show what we can contribute, but because the more we search for God, the more prepared we are to deal with the unexpected.

I don’t know if everything that’s happened in the last 36 hours is some part of “God’s plan for my life.”  Some people would say yes.   What I do know is that God is always faithful.  He never abandons us.  And I know he hasn’t abandoned me now.  Jesus said that it was easy to love the people who love you, but difficult to love your enemies.  The same is true when our lives are going well.  It’s easy to say we believe in God when we don’t have a care in the world.  How much harder is it to say that we believe when our lives are hard?

So again I ask you – when life presents you with a problem, what are you going to choose?  I’ve made my choice.  How about you?

‘Anti-Christ’ gets ‘anti-prize’ at Cannes

Category : God, failure, faith, hope, living a life of faith

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The Cannes Film Fest has come and gone.  Usually Cannes produces some movie that is declared a “must see” or generates some buzz for a few films.  But this year there didn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm.  Maybe it was the economy.  Maybe it was the movies.  I don’t know.

There was, however, the usual controversy.  Cannes tends to pride itself on pushing the envelope (you aren’t going to see X-men 14 or Star Trek 12).  Because it tries to push artistic or non-main stream movies, you often see the “boundaries” being pushed.  This year it was the movie Anti-Christ.

I admit, I don’t know anything about this movie other than what I read in a few news stories.  I have no idea if this movie is interesting.  (I doubt it.)  Or if it’s well conceived.  (Probably not.)   Roger Ebert describes Anti-Christ as, ” Its images are a fork in the eye.  Its cruelty is unrelenting.  Its despair is profound.”  I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s probably not the best movie ever made.  But, for argument’s sake, lets treat Anti-Christ as if it’s the greatest piece of art man has created.  In reality it doesn’t matter if this movie is good or bad, it still raises one question: why?

Why do we feel compelled to make ‘art’ that is so violent and base?

Why do we feel compelled to make ‘art’ that destroys instead of build up?

Why do we feel compelled to make ‘art’ that shocks us?

There must be something about human nature that drives us to offend.  We must get some satisfaction out of shocking people.  How else do you explain ’shock jocks’ on the radio?  It has to be that we delight in hurting others.  Take the American Idolist William Hung (you know, the guy who sang She Bangs).  The only reason Hung was shown on American Idol was so that we, as an audience, could rip him apart and laugh at his expense.  No one could possibly believe he was talented enough to be on the show.  He was there as a spectacle.  As a friend used to say, “I’m not laughing with you, I’m laughing at you.”

But what does it say about the message if it needs such violence and offense to drive home the "point"? What does it say about the messenger?

I often hear the argument that God doesn’t exist.  That evil isn’t real.  That given enough time, man will “improve.”  That’s the core philosophy of Star Trek after all.  It’s also the hope held out in most Hollywood movies.  But if that’s the case, if man improves over time, how do you explain a movie like Anti-Christ?   Surely this film doesn’t show that man has evolved into an enlightened species?  That somehow we are becoming better with time.

Why, then, do we do it?

In the book Faith & Doubt, John Ortberg addressed this issue by writing, “One day I realized there was no God, no one behind reality, no life after death.  I realized existence is a meaningless accident, begun by chance and destined for oblivion, and it changed my life.  I used to be addicted to alcohol but now the ‘law of natural selection’ has set me free.  I used to be greedy, but now the story of the Big Bang has made me generous.  I used to be afraid, but now random chance has made me brave.”

Ortberg said this with tongue in cheek.  But he raises a point.  We try to rip apart the existence of God, but in the very act of setting ourselves “free” from God, it seems we bring out the worst in ourselves.   Why?  How can it be that we always seem to find a way to fall back into the pit if we are becoming more enlightened?

Movies like Anti-Christ are supposed to represent social criticism.  It’s supposed to make us think about society and life.  But what does it say about the message if it needs such violence and offense to drive home the “point”?  What does it say about the messenger?

When I try to answer the “why” question, the only answer I have is that we are a fundamentally broken people.  That if we are left to their own devices we end up with a world of shock jocks, gratuitous violence, and empty philosophies.  That we are not getting better over time.

What we end up with is a world that wants to offend one another, for no reason other than that we can.  I think the evidence of that is overwhelming.  You don’t need me to tell you this, of course.  Just pick up a newspaper and read the headlines.  Or think about what you do when you get angry.  It’s to “get back” at someone isn’t it?  It’s part of human nature to fall backwards, not move forwards.  None of us are immune to that.

Only God changes the equation.  Only God breaks us out of the cycle.  Only God, can stop us.  Because we sure can’t stop ourselves.

the pope, nazis, and Israel

Category : Jesus, barbarian, bible, different, living a life of faith, sin

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This week the Pope is in Israel.  Surrounded by history, tension, politics and controversy.  But no lions and tigers and bears.

I rarely talk about current events for one reason – when you live a life of faith current events don’t matter.  This isn’t because current events aren’t important.  They are.  Or that current events can’t affect you.  They can.  It’s because living a life of faith is about following principles not trends.  If you stay true to what the Bible teaches you will be able to live a life of faith in any time, in any situation, under any circumstances.  The more you leave that path, the harder it becomes.  The more you will fall.

So while current events may be important, they aren’t always relevant to living out a life of faith.  But sometimes current events help to highlight themes.  They can show just how challenging Jesus’ teachings are because we have invested emotion in current events.  These topics become “very real” to us.

I think the Pope’s visit to Israel is one of those situations.  The primary controversy surrounding the Pope is the fact that he may (or may not have been) part of the Hitler Youth.  Because of this, some people are questioning his speech to the Jews in Israel.  And his support of a Palestinian state.

I have no idea if the current Pope was a member of the Hitler Youth.  I have no idea if he believed in the Nazi teachings when he was a kid or if he was forced into service.  In a dictatorship you hardly get to say “no”.  And before anyone starts saying, “he should have said ‘no’ anyway” think about your own life.  Do you have the courage to face the consequences like that?  Most of us, myself included, probably lack the courage.

God redeems each of us, no matter what horrible things we've done in the past.

But this isn’t the 1940’s.  It’s an entirely new situation, with presumably an entirely new person.  When you enter into a relationship with God, he transforms who you were into something new.  Even if that starting point was from the Hitler Youth.  That’s the whole point of baptisms and being “born again”.  This is why Paul said, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  God redeems each of us, no matter what horrible things we’ve done in the past.

I believe the Pope should own up to his involvement (or non involvement) in the Hitler Youth.  Doing so wouldn’t weaken his position – it would make it stronger.  It would show how a powerful God takes someone from the hate of Nazism to the love of Christ.  It would put him in the company of David (murderer and adulterer) and Paul (chief of all sinners).  Plus, as I mentioned, there is this whole “no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” thing.

Of course this isn’t the approach the Pope’s handlers are taking.

The Vatican has said he “had ‘never, never, never’ been in the Hitler Youth.”  Of course that “never, never, never” statement didn’t last long.  Because in a day of internet it’s easy to find out that the Pope had written about his time in the Hitler Youth.

Oops.

Now as I said, it’s entirely possible that the Pope was forced into the Hitler Youth.  Hitler wasn’t exactly a nice guy.  But every time the Vatican spokesman has to back off a quote it reeks of political maneuvering.  It makes it feel like the church is playing politics.  Something that should never happen.

I say, so what if the pope was associated with the Hitler Youth.  I say if the Pope has repented, then it doesn’t matter.  There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  We all have dark sins.  We all have hatred toward someone.  If we didn’t we wouldn’t need Jesus.  But we are all fallen.  It’s time to forgive our enemies and move on.  Harder to do than say, I know.  But that’s the model Jesus left us, and the model we need to live out.

The world is looking to destroy the church.  It desperately wants to live in a secularized society, devoid of consequences and responsibility.  The world wants to push people of faith out of the way.  Why must we be so unChristian and give them easy opportunities to ignore our message of grace, love, and hope?  Why must we look more like politicians than Jesus?  Why can’t we just say we’re horribly fallen people in need of a merciful God?  Why can’t we say, “yes I was forced to be a Nazi, and I’m sorry.  Let me support you now.”?  Why can’t we let the fact there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus be enough?

Repentance frees us from the guilt of sin in God’s eyes.  Maybe it should free us from the guilt in man’s eyes too.

Jesus died for freedom, not religion

Category : Galatians, God, Jesus, faith, hope, revolutionary, sin

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It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)

Jesus died to bring us freedom.  Not death.  Not rules.  Not religious checklists.  Not mind-your-p’s-and-q’s religion.  Freedom.

This is what I wish someone would have explained to me when I was a kid.  Sadly I didn’t hear this message until I left the church, abandoned God, and became an atheist / agnostic.  I had to suffer a great deal in order to learn the truth.

Which is why I find it so heart breaking to hear someone ask why God is punishing them.   It’s one thing to carry the burden of guilt if you’ve been sinning.  It’s wrong, but I understand.  It’s completely wrong to be sick and told that the reason you are sick is divine punishment.

I wish I could say that it’s because people are using “god language” as a way to control and manipulate people.  That it’s some nefarious plan.  And I suppose in some cases it is.  But I think there is something worse going on – I think a lot of well-meaning Christians say and believe these things.  They want to help, but they honestly believe God is the type who is waiting around to smack us with plagues and disaster if we don’t sit still in church.

And the result is a lot of pain and suffering.

My biggest wish, I think more than any other, is to find a way to let people know that you don’t need to be perfect to talk to God.  He’s not the Giant Rule Counter in the Sky.  He’s not the angry father who hates us.  He’s a loving God, who cares so much that he gave his one and only son.  That if everyone else was perfect but you, God would still send his son to die for you.  That’s who God is.  That’s the God who radically changed my life, and can revolutionize yours.

It breaks my heart to know that so many people who believe in Jesus, believe he punishes us to make us behave.  It is no wonder so much of religion is seen as unChristian.  It’s no wonder people work so hard to stay away from him.