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.

finding God’s will for your life

Category : living a life of faith

Have you ever asked yourself what God’s will is for your life?  I don’t know if this is an American thing or it’s something all believers struggle with.  (I’d be curious to hear what our non-American R3blog readers think.)  At any rate, at least in this country we spend much of our time searching for God’s will for our lives.

Culturally we see the world through something like Manifest Destiny.  Where we feel that there’s a purpose to our lives.  Where there’s something specific to take from live.  This is such a strong current of our culture that understanding “our purpose” is something I focus on professionally.  Almost every worker is searching for the meaning of their work.  And our search for our Meaning to Work has become a billion dollar industry.  (Of which I get nowhere close to a billion dollars…)

But is this wrong?  Shouldn’t we just be satisfied with whatever God wants us to do?

I’ve heard many believers over the years say that if you even question what God’s will for you, it’s a lack of faith.  But I disagree.  Certainly there can be danger in this.  We can easily fixate on what God’s will is for our future so much that we miss God’s will for us in the present.  We can also get wrapped up pursuing our own desires on God.

But the history of God is one of accommodation.  He continually meets us where we are, not where we should be.  (And thank God – literally! – for that!)  This is why I believe any step we take towards God is the right step.  If it takes me praying about which tooth paste to buy to bring me closer to God so be it!  I don’t think that’s any better, worse or indifferent from someone who moves closer to God by living in Africa or working with people who have terminal diseases.

There is no such thing as a wasted step when it’s in God’s direction.

You may not know the specifics of God’s will for you.  But you know the basics.  Jesus told us when he said that we were to love God with all our hearts and to love one another as ourselves.  If we do that, then we’ll find that our dreams align to God’s dreams for our lives.  After a lifetime of taking one step after another, we can turn around and see just how much ground we’ve covered.

image provided by flickr user Victor Bezrukov

the death of a son

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Category : Jesus

Could you kill your own son if God asked you to?  That’s the question Abraham wrestled with as he climbed a mountain with his son.

In most of the Old Testament God speaks with two meaning.  On one level he talks to the people of the time.   He’s literally giving a specific message to Abraham or Adam and Eve.  He is literally saying that Abraham will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3) or that Adam and Eve’s son will kill the snakes they find near their homes (Genesis 3: 14-16).

However, on another level God is speaking to future generations.  He’s preparing us to recognize Jesus when he comes.  To understand who he is, and why he is important.  For instance, the family blessing in Genesis doesn’t just mean Abraham’s family.  It also means the blessings that will come from Jesus (who was a descendent of Abraham).  And it’s not Adam and Eve’s immediate family that will be at war with the snake.  Jesus will also crush the serpent under his heel by dying on the cross.

Wherever you look in the Old Testament God is planting the seeds of Jesus’ arrival.

That’s what’s so remarkable about the story of Abraham and Isaac.  To us this is so scandalous, so offensive, that we don’t even want to believe that it’s a true story.  But back in Abraham’s time, child sacrifice was common.  Children weren’t seen as something to be treasured.  And if a god required a sacrifice?  So be it.

But as we read into the story we see that duality of meaning.

We first see it as Abraham is heading up the mountain; he places “the wood for the burnt offering” on his son.  What other son carried wood on his back?  Jesus, in the form of the cross.

Next we see it as Isaac, while carrying the wood, asks one question, “Father?…The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22: 7)

Where is the lamb?

That’s a good question.  In fact it’s the only thing Isaac says on that journey.  To the reader, it seems as if Isaac has foreshadowed his own death.  But Isaac is not the lamb.  God spares Isaac from being sacrificed (God provides a ram.)

Although Isaac’s life is spared, his question is never answered.  In fact, his question lingers for the next few thousand years until Jesus comes onto the scene.  Jesus is that lamb that God would provide.  Jesus takes the hit that you and I (and Isaac and Abraham) deserve.  God saved us, just as he saved a boy from being sacrificed.  But it came at a great cost…

photo provided by flickr user Scootie

truly living out a life of faith

Category : Uncategorized, living a life of faith

Some days we’re reminded that spiritual giants still walk among us.  This is one such story…

The Story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Media on Vimeo.

timing is everything

Category : taking action

Timing is everything.  That’s a phrase that we hear constantly.  But how often do we apply it to our faith?  We know that timing matters when buying a house or building a business.  It also matters in sports (which is why you practice your “timing”).  Even comedians work hard to get the timing of their jokes right.

But again, do we apply that same thought to our faith?

We’re willing to take risks all the time.  We do it when we invest in the stock market.  We do it when we jump out of a plane or go on a roller coaster.  We even do it when we get married or ask someone out on a date.  Do we know if those things will work out?  Of course not.  But when it comes to our faith we slow down and start to say, “wait, I’m not so sure.  How do I know?”

Is it any wonder we freeze in our tracks?

But look at what Jesus says about timing: “And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend” yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”  (Luke 12: 11-12)

Did you catch that?  “Will teach you at that time what needs to be said.”

Not a week before.  Not a month before.  Not even an hour before.

But “at that time.”

Timing is everything.  Even in our faith.

Photo provided by flickr user beggs

bargaining with God

Category : God, faith, hope, taking action

My day started with being honked at.  Apparently I had committed the horrific act of coming to a stop at the end of my driveway.

I can only assume that they were honking as a “warning” to let me know that they were coming down the road.  However, it’s possible they were just cranky.  But this was not a good way to start out my day.  Few things get under my skin as quickly as bad drivers.  Since I wrote, “love your enemy and fellow drivers” I have tried to take a different approach to bad drivers.  But it’s never easy.

As I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that I need to stay calm, I followed this driver down the street.  Before long we came to a stop sign.  Of course we all know that a stop sign requires that we come to a “complete and full stop.”  Well this driver rolled right through it.  She barely slowed down.

That’s when I realized what had happened.  She had assumed that since she didn’t stop at intersections, I wouldn’t either.  Psychologists call this “projection.”  It’s the very simple idea that we project what we’re feeling and doing onto other people.  (This is why someone who is a compulsive liar always assumes everyone else is lying.)  She was honking because if our roles were reversed, she would have cut me off.

The sad thing is we do this with God all the time.  We project our own views, beliefs, and motives on him.  If you’ve ever tried to bargain with God, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  When we find ourselves in need of help, instead of just asking, we pray things like, “God if you just help me out now, I promise to give up drinking.”  Or “God, if you heal my kid, I will go to church every week.”

This is a very natural reaction.  It’s what we do with our families.  We tell our kids, “if you eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert.”  Or we tell our employees, “if you put in extra hours, then you can have a raise.”  We even bargain with ourselves, “if I go the gym tonight, I can have a piece of cake tomorrow.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with bargaining.  Even God says some things are based on our behavior: “to those who are faithful in the small things, more things will be given.”  But when it comes to God’s love and mercy, we can’t bargain for that.  God doesn’t hold out on us until we earn enough credit.  We can’t be good enough to earn our way into his favor.  There’s nothing we have that we can offer to God in some kind of exchange.  It’s not like God has much need of your collection of baseball cards or your money.  Bargaining with God is not only theologically wrong, it doesn’t even make sense!

Instead we need to learn to receive God.  To accept his love, without any strings attached.   God’s love is absolute.   It is unconditional.  He’s not like you and I.  He’s truly radical and revolutionary.  And so is his behavior.

How do you add more to that?

photo provided by flickr user Nate Larimer

being defriended by God

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

Have you ever been betrayed by a friend?  Someone you liked, someone you trusted, maybe even someone you loved.  When we experience that kind of betrayal, it’s one of the worst experiences we can have in life.  Not as bad as your team not winning the Superbowl.  But still pretty painful.

That’s why God’s love of us is so revolutionary.  We’ve all betrayed God before.  Most of us on a daily basis.  We’ve put him through exactly that kind of pain.  Yet God is always there when we need him.  Despite everything, God still stands by us.

This isn’t just one small part of who God is.  It’s one of the major themes that runs through the entire Bible.  We see this in the lives of Moses and David.  Jesus illustrates it with stories like the prodigal son.  It’s even the story of Peter’s life.

There are very few people in the Bible who are more outspoken in support of Jesus than Peter.  Peter was always the guy jumping to show just how much he was willing to sacrifice for God.  He put his life on the line more than once.  Peter wasn’t just talk, he was action too.  (You don’t get to walk on water by sitting on the shore.)

But in the hour of Jesus’ greatest need, Peter failed him.  First because he couldn’t stay awake and keep Jesus company.  Second, by denying Jesus three separate times.

Imagine if one of your closest friends couldn’t visit you in the hospital as you were dying.  Or never called to see how you were after losing your job.  You’d be understandably angry and maybe even a little resentful.  We’d start treating our friend differently.  We might not even call them our friend.

Yet God is the God of redemption.  And Peter’s story doesn’t end with being defriended.  It ends with Jesus restoring Peter as a friend.  In fact, one of the first things God does is send a message to Peter that Jesus is alive, and he shouldn’t worry anymore.

Think about that.  Peter had done nothing.  Yet God sought him out.

This is why God is such a radical God.  This is why the Bible is such a revolutionary book.  Despite our failures and betrayals, God does the unexpected, and keeps on loving us.

photo provided by flickr user saragoldsmith

living a life of ups and downs

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Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, living a life of faith

Peter (one of Jesus’ closest friends) often seems like two different people.  In one moment he’s lopping off an ear.  In the next he’s running away.  At one instance he’s walking on water.  In another he’s terrified of drowning.

It seems as if Peter just isn’t very consistent.

Which means he’s just like you and me.

All of this comes into play just before Jesus is arrested.  Jesus and a few disciples head out to pray.  Jesus knows what’s about to happen.  He knows he’s going to die in a way very few of us can imagine.  All he wants to do is pray, and have his friends stay with him.  But despite Peter’s best efforts, Peter keeps falling asleep.

Jesus is understandably upset with Peter, and says something profound: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  That line sums up our existence pretty nicely.  We have all experienced moments where we want to do the right thing.  But when that moment comes, something happens.  We end up not following through.  We become afraid.  Pride takes over.  Greed overwhelms us.  Whatever it is, we end up caving.

Peter, despite his best intent, ended up running away.

But as I said, you and I aren’t that different from Peter.  What sets Peter apart is the fact Peter said the things you and I think.  If Jesus told us, “you will deny me.”  We might think “yeah right!  No way Jesus!”  But Peter didn’t seem to have much of a filter between thought and talking – so he actually said it.

It’s a shame that Peter is sometimes portrayed as a coward.  In many ways he never stood a chance.  He always wanted to do the right thing, but his flesh was weak.

I don’t know what the takeaway from this is, other than maybe we need to give ourselves some more slack when we screw up.  And I think be a little more like Peter.  Because no matter how publicly he messed up, he always came back to give it another try.

photo provided by flickr user pittsinger

what does god think about healthcare reform?

Category : living a life of faith

Today was an historic day in this country.  Major healthcare legislation was passed.  This legislation has been highly polarizing, meaning that you are thrilled or dejected, excited or fearful, energized or overwhelmed.  I rarely talk about politics here, because faith isn’t about joining a political party.

This is the lesson the disciples had a hard time understanding.  The disciples fully believed Jesus was going to reign as a new David-like King.  That he was going to kick the Romans out, free the Jews from oppression, and make them world players.

They were so wrong.

Sounds a lot like today, huh?

A lot of people are terrified of this legislation because it threatens their way of life.  They see healthcare “reform” as bankrupting the country.  Almost certainly changing America’s standing as a world power.  And, according to some, may not actually improve healthcare at all.  Ironically it may make it worse.

So they are upset. They are fearful.  And they are angry.

That’s why I wanted to talk about this today.  This is an important conversation.  The stakes are high.  If we don’t act today, we may be doomed.  But the stakes aren’t for what most of us think.  We aren’t playing for healthcare; we are playing for something much more important.  We are playing for the Kingdom and eternity.  Unfortunately most of us don’t keep that in mind as we respond to the passing political whims of the day.  We get caught up in the excitement and the emotion, and we forget where our true loyalties must lie.

When we belong to the Kingdom, we play by different rules.  And no matter what happens, we need to live by those rules.  Not by what makes our lives easier or more comfortable.  That’s the radical and revolutionary nature of God.

Even if healthcare reform is worse than all those predictions – it is nothing compared to what believers have experienced through the centuries.  It is nothing compared to Daniel being thrown to the lions, or Paul being thrown in jail, or the early Christians in Rome being burned alive.

We are called to live by Kingdom standards no matter what’s happening to us in the world at large.

This holds true for people who love the healthcare bill too.

Don’t think this is a post just for Republicans.  This is a post for Democrats as well.  If you are thrilled by the legislation, where is your faith?  Is it in government reform?  Or God?

Is healthcare reform good or bad?  That’s not for me to say.  That’s for political pundits to discuss.  What I’m concerned about is living out a life of faith.  And it seems to me that no matter which political party we belong to, we are all too quick to throw God under the bus.  We’re all too ready to live our lives without him.  We are quick to put our hopes into political parties, wealth, or our intelligence.

Thousands of years later, we make the same mistakes the disciples did – we root for the wrong Kingdom.

photo provided by flickr user boliston

questioning Jesus

Category : taking action

If you had a chance to question Jesus, would you?

Our natural reaction is “you bet I would!”  But that’s a very different picture than the one the Bible paints.  In fact the people closest to Jesus often didn’t question Jesus.

“But they didn’t understand what he meant, and were afraid to ask him about it.” (Mark 9: 32)

The Disciples were an interesting group.  On the one hand they witnessed things that most of us never will.  They saw miracles like people coming back from the dead (in non-zombie form) and the blind seeing.  On top of all that they also had a chance to spend time 1-on-1 with God.

Now we can all talk to God in prayer.  We can all get our questions answered that way.  Prayer is an amazing thing.  But it’s not the same as talking to God while having a cup of Starbucks.  The disciples though did this (although I’m not sure how many Starbucks there were in Galilee).  They were able to talk, laugh, and just spend time with Jesus.  They had a unique opportunity that none of us will get in this life.

And yet time and again they passed up on the opportunity to question Jesus.

Right before Jesus was crucified he began to talk about dying.  The disciples, however, wanted no part of that conversation.  They believed Jesus was going to be a great military leader.  That he was going to reestablish a literal and physical kingdom, much like David.  In short he was going to make Israel a world power again.

They didn’t want to listen to him talk about death.  In their minds it just didn’t make sense.  And it terrified them.  So they did what most of us would do: stick our fingers in our ears and go “la la la la.”

It would be as if George Washington had told his troops on the eve of the Revolutionary War that he was “about to die”?  Or if Lincoln, during the height of the Civil War said he was about to die.  People would have been terrified.  Their leader, the person they put all their faith in, was going to die?  How did that make sense?  What was he talking about?

I think the disciples were afraid not just because Jesus said he would die, but because they couldn’t understand how Jesus’ death would bring about their image of a messiah.  Dead leaders don’t win wars after all.

Out of all of us the disciples were in the best position to question Jesus.  Yet they didn’t.  They let fear hold them back.  They more afraid of the truth than willing to trust Jesus.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if the disciples hadn’t let fear rule those moments.  Would the days following the crucifixion look different if they had really understood what Jesus’ death had meant?  What if the disciples had pursued an answer from Jesus?  Would he have given it to them?

Of course that makes me think about you and I.  What would our lives look like if we questioned Jesus for the truth, instead of letting fear stop us short?

We are often too afraid to ask God for help.  We’re afraid to ask because he might say “no.”  We’re afraid to ask, because what does it mean if nothing happens?  We’re afraid to ask, because we can’t see beyond our current problems.  If we’ve only ever known suffering and fear, what else could there be?

We may be angry and yell at God and “question” his authority or justice.  But we rarely question God seeking real answers.  We don’t want to understand what God has in mind for our lives if it means learning that it’s not what we expected.  And isn’t that when we’re the angriest at God?  When our expectations don’t match reality?  How much less suffering we would endure if we just questioned God and actually listened for an answer!