the challenge of christianity

Category : God, Jesus, bible, different, faith, live for the eternal, trust

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One of the worst lies about Christianity is that if you start following God your life will be better / richer / easier / smoother … well, you can fill in the blank.  So many people’s faith has been derailed by this thinking.  Perhaps no other lie does as much damage.

To me this conversation takes on a bit of a personal tone.  Because I grew up believing that as long as you did the “big” things God would always have your back.  Which meant your life would be pretty easy.  But that’s so far from the truth it’s shocking.

If you look at the Bible you see story after story of people having to overcome terrible challenges.  Not because they are sinners, but because they are believers.  That’s the whole point of Job: you can be a good man, but still suffer horribly.  In fact it’s Job’s goodness that gets Satan’s attention.  (Let that one settle in for a bit!)

We don’t need to stop with Job though.  Out of the 12 guys closest to Jesus, all but one of them died unnatural causes.  And the last one, John, was died while in exile.  Did you catch that?  The people closest to Jesus all suffered greatly for that connection.

That sure doesn’t sound like the good “happy christianity” we are fed sometimes in church.

Odds are this conversation is making you uncomfortable.  It should.  Living a life of faith is something that’s different.  It’s something that’s radical.  And often times it is something completely counter cultural.  That’s at least what Jeremiah and Ezekiel learned.  In both cases, God essentially says, “because you believe in me, I’m going to give you an important task.”  Of course that task was to tell the rest of their country about their impending doom. Talk about a horrible job description!  No one likes to be told they are wrong, let alone going to be punished.  Just tell a 4 year old she can’t watch TV anymore and you’ll see what I mean!  But this is what God had them do.  Living a life of faith for Jeremiah and Ezekiel meant they were going to have to do some pretty hard things.  Things that made them hated, persecuted, and punished.

If living a life of faith means having a harder life, why do we do it?

For two reasons I think.

1.  Following God is always better than the alternative.

2.  Because there is a reward: it’s just not now.

Just like a good parent, God always has our best interest in mind.  When we follow him we end up being better people.  Maybe not financially, but character-wise and spiritually we are vastly improved.  We send our children to school even though they don’t want to be there.  Why?  Because it makes them better adults.  I think that’s what God is doing.  He sends us to “life school” to make us better.  But we don’t get to experience the full benefits of that until after we die.

For a lot of people that’s hard to take.  And I understand that.  I’m just as much a product of fast food, microwaves, and instant ramen noodles as anyone else.  But I don’t write the rules, I just try to understand them.  And then I try to do something with them.

So the next time you are faced with a challenge from God.  Accept it.  Confidently.  Knowing that while it might be hard, it is worth pursuing with all your strength.  God never asks us to do something without a reason!  We will get that reward.  God has promised us that much.  And who knows, in the end, you may find you like it better than money or a stress-free life.

biblical leadership: owning stuff

Category : God, Jeremiah, living a life of faith, taking action

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“Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?” (Jeremiah 22:15)

Most of us don’t want cedar.  What would we do with it anyway?  I’m not even sure you can sell it on Amazon.  But during the time of Jeremiah, cedar was hugely important.  It was the sign of wealth, power, and affluence.  It was the Rolls Royce of building materials.

And God is calling out Shallum son of Josiah.

Shallum wanted to prove his “greatness” by building a palace to himself filled with cedar.  It would be like you or I building a house out of marble.  Sure it’s nice, but does it really matter?  That’s the question God is asking.  You see, God doesn’t measure greatness by how nice your house is, or what kind of car you drive.  God measures greatness by different standards.  He measures your greatness by your heart and by your actions.

In short, it’s who you are that matters, not what you have.

It is all too easy to confuse the trappings of office with true leadership.  We think that just because someone has a corner office, a big desk, and an impressive title that they are a leader.  But that’s not how God measures leadership.  Biblical leadership isn’t defined by how much stuff you have.  It’s defined by your heart.  It’s defined by who you are and what you do.

In short, it's who you are that matters, not what you have.

Biblical leadership is about self-sacrifice.  It’s about doing something with what you have.  It has nothing to do with looking like a leader.

The next time you are tempted to buy something because it makes you look important, remember that biblical leadership isn’t about nice stuff, it’s about the core of who you are.  You don’t want to find yourself in the same position as Shallum son of Josiah.

This is part of an ongoing series on Biblical Leadership.

that was embarrassing

Category : God, bible, choice, trust

       

Sometimes it’s difficult to follow God.

And yes, I realize that’s not a secret.  Anyone who has tried to live their lives with faith will admit that.  But that difficulty doesn’t always come with giving up possessions, loving your enemies, or helping those in trouble.  Sometimes the most difficult thing God can ask us to do is to be “real.”  

God doesn’t want us to have any pretense in our life.  Not with him, and not with each other.  And the only way to do that is to be vulnerable.  But that’s scary.  And it’s a bit radical.  OK, maybe it’s a lot radical!  It’s probably safe to say most of us go out of our way to hide our weakness, so this “vulnerable” thing sounds pretty intense.

But look at it this way, God is probably just asking you to share a little more of who you are with the people around you.  He’s probably just asking you to tear down some of those walls you’ve built up.  Y’know those walls that are preventing real and meaningful friendships.  Sure it’s scary, but it could be worse.  He could ask you to walk around with a yoke on your neck like he did with Jeremiah. 

Now that, would be embarrassing!

God had a plan for Jeremiah’s life.  And it was so radical, so different that the people around him thought he was a madman.  (Jeremiah 29:26)  That’s probably not God’s plan for your life.  So the next time you feel God calling you to show your weaknesses to other people and you feel embarrassed, just remember, he could ask you to wear a yoke!

being real

Category : God, different, faith

   

One of the things that tells me the Bible is true is that people in these stories are so honest with their feelings.  No one attempts to cover up their mistakes, sins, or weaknesses.  We get to read all of their mistakes.  In a way it’s very humbling.  How would you like to know that people will be reading about your fears and doubts 2000 years from now?

I find that honesty encouraging.  If people as amazing as Peter, or David, or Moses made mistakes and had doubts, then God is probably okay with my problems.  God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. 

As I look back on my journey with God it’s very obvious that I’ve had lots of ups and downs.  And some of those downs are on the same day I had the ups.

One passage in the Bible I find interesting was written by a guy named Jeremiah.  Now Jeremiah had an average, run of the mill, job.  Y’know, the kind where you tell everyone around you that they are going to be destroyed by God because they had been so awful for so long.  (And you thought giving a presentation at work was rough!)  Naturally this job caused a lot of emotional and physical pain for Jeremiah.  Israel didn’t really like being told about their sins.  And they certainly didn’t want to hear they were going to be destroyed by an invading army. 

So instead of telling God they were sorry, and changing their behavior (which would have saved them) they insulted and punished Jeremiah.  I picture them collectively sticking their fingers in their ears and yelling, “we’re not listening…we’re not listening…”

After one particularly rough period in Jeremiah’s life he calls God out, saying “you deceived me.”  Think about that for a moment, someone who God hand picked for the job is yelling “God!  What are you doing to me?! This job description you gave me is crap!” 

It’s clear that Jeremiah is angry.  From his perspective he’s only been doing what God asked.  He’s being honest toward Israel, and doing the “right” thing.  And instead of being rewarded he’s put in jail.  Seems to me he has a case for being angry.

His anger fades, however, and a few sentences later he says, “Give praise to the Lord! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.”  Now Jeremiah seems pretty happy, and grateful for God.

But one sentence later Jeremiah says this, “cursed be the day I was born!”

The man is all over the place.

Just like we are.

A few days ago I wrote that maintaining a relationship is a hard task.  Considering it’s such hard work, how do you manage that if you can’t be honest with God?  How can you expect a real relationship of trust and faith and love to develop if you can’t tell God what you really feel?

The answer is obviously that you can’t.  Fortunately God wants us to be honest and real.  He didn’t ask Jeremiah to pretend he was okay, and to “man up.”  Instead he lets Jeremiah vent, and express his feelings.  In fact just about everyone in the Bible has a moment where they are angry at God.  And not a single person is struck down by a Divine Lightning Bolt of Justice ™.

So the next time you’re upset, don’t hide it from God.  Tell him what you really feel.  If you have questions about him that you don’t understand: ask.  If you have fears: tell him.  If you’re lonely: share that with him.  God didn’t ask Jeremiah (or David, or Paul, or Jesus) to hide their feelings.  And he’s not asking that of you.