being broken is a good thing

Category : different

I’m in the midst of moving.  Which means it’s time to pack up my old stuff.  There’s nothing like the thought of carrying heavy boxes to make you really evaluate something’s worth!  I’ve been pretty ruthless so far in getting rid of things.  And one of the underlying questions I ask is simply, “is it broken.”  The last thing I want to do is take the effort to pack something that’s broken.

Let’s face it, we all value things that work.  This is why we throw away VCR’s and 8 track players instead of keeping them forever.  Something eventually comes along that works better, so we jump onto the bandwagon.  The very idea that we should keep something that is broken seems strange to us.

But to consider brokenness as a good thing?  Well that’s just crazy talk.

Yet when we look at life through God’s eyes, brokenness becomes something to seek out.  In fact, I think brokenness is one of the best gifts God has for us.  CS Lewis said that pride was at root of all evil.  That the more prideful we are, the further away from God we are.  Think about your life for a moment.  When do you hurt the people you love the most?  I would bet that the vast majority of the time it’s when you felt you were being prideful.

Pride has a way of making us feel perfect.  Above reproach.  It says, “if I’m not broken, then I don’t need fixing.”

This is why so many people have no need for God.  They see themselves as “good people” who might not be perfect, but they certainly aren’t broken.  They work just fine most days.  “Other people of course,” they reason, “are broken, but certainly not me.”  But that’s not the reality of our lives.  The reality is that we’re all broken.  The whole world isn’t working the way God had planned.  Ever since Adam and Eve, we’ve lost our way.

The people who recognized Jesus for who he was (God) were the ones who recognized they were broken.  It was the prostitute pouring out the perfume that knew what Jesus offered, not the religious leader who was throwing Jesus a dinner party.  (Luke 7: 36-50)

That’s the theme we see throughout history.  The people who were best at keeping up religious pretenses were the ones who didn’t see the need for Jesus.  So they worked to kill him.  They couldn’t understand how he could be the Messiah if he was rejecting the “beautiful people” in favor of your average, run of the mill broken sinner.

Ironically they saw Jesus as broken.  Not themselves.  So my question to you is this: are you broken?  How you answer that question will determine how you respond to Jesus.

photo provided by flickr user wwworks

mission: just act already!

Category : mission

If there’s one thing that most Christians struggle with, it’s finding their mission in life.  When we become followers of Jesus our whole worldview changes.  For many of us it means that we just aren’t satisfied pursuing wealth, fame, or recognition.  And if that’s where our jobs were heading, we find ourselves feeling very empty about our work.

But this presents a problem.  God doesn’t always give us a clear mission.  At least not in the sense that we’re looking for.  God doesn’t always say, “yes marry this person.”  “No, don’t take that job offer.”  Sometimes he does, but a lot of times he gives us the freedom to choose.

In this series on mission I’ve talked a bit about how we go about finding our mission. While many of us may never have a specific mission some of us will. I didn’t realize it at first but R3blog.net was my specific mission.  However that came with its own challenges.  The first, and biggest, was what do I call this blog!?

I spent hours.  Days.  Maybe even months agonizing over the name.  I knew I was supposed to start a website and talk about what it means to live out a life of faith.  I just didn’t know what that looked like.  And I certainly didn’t know how to name something.  I figured if God was calling me to something I should make it perfect.  After many hours I eventually decided on R3blog.net.  I thought it was amusing. (I used to say R3: Radical, Revolutionary, Different – and the “D” was the third “R” and it was different because it wasn’t an “R”.  Don’t worry, no one else thinks it’s funny either...)  But I realize now that all it does is confuse people!  Apparently I am not a branding genius.

Yet I believe God was more pleased with me acting than coming up with a clever name.  (Of course I’m endlessly jealous of well named blogs like “got-fruit.net”.)  But for me, my mission has never been about naming things.  I don’t think this blog would be any better (or worse) if I had chosen another name.  The act of faith was in the act of starting a blog, not in the act of naming the blog.

And you know what?  After all this time, I still don’t know what to name it.  I would have wasted nearly 3 years of work because I couldn’t come up with a name.  I’d still be working on that.  Sometimes our mission starts with action.  It would be nice if it came in a nice little package.  But it doesn’t.  Sometimes mission is messy.  Sometimes your mission is to just act in the now.

photo provided by e. barrett

are you living the urgent life?

Category : living a life of faith

“Is there anything more important than your soul?” (Mark 8: 37 NLT)

That question, asked by Jesus, haunts me.  Because I’m not living that way.  When I get frustrated by traffic, am I living as if there is nothing more important than my soul?  How about when I’m frustrated because something I want is out of stock at the store?  Or when a business deal goes bad?

The bottom line is I’m not living my life with any urgency.

I’m realizing just how much stuff creeps in and distracts me from what is really urgent.  In one of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons, Homer is kicked out of Moe’s Tavern.  By sheer coincidence someone who looks exactly like Homer (but with a British accent) goes into Moe’s.  His name, of course, is Guy Incognito.  Everyone thinks it’s Homer, and so he’s thrown out of the bar where we see Homer walking across the street.

Homer’s reaction is natural.  “Hey that guy looks like me!”  But before he can figure out why he has an identical (apparently British) twin, he sees a dog with a fluffy tail.  And that’s the end of Homer’s urgency.  Yelling, “That dog has a fluffy tail!”  He goes off to chase the dog.

That, my friends, is how most of us live.  We experience the amazing, and sometimes miraculous.  But we’re too busy following dogs with fluffy tails that we completely miss out on what’s truly urgent.   We seem to get distracted by everything.  People we work with, family members, bad drivers, movies, TV.  Everything.

That’s not how I want to live my life.  That’s not what it means to live out a life of faith.  In a letter to the city of Corinth, Paul captured that fact, saying, “I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9: 26-27)

I want to run that race like everything is on the line.  Because you know what?  Everything is on the line.  There is nothing more important than our soul.

How are you running?

photo provided by flickr user yoppy

praying for people you hate

Category : revolutionary

Nothing is easier in this world than wanting bad things to happen to other people.  We seem to have a natural gift for this.  Even children quickly adopt this attitude, demanding that toys are taken away from “friends” or how quickly teenagers will say, “I wish you were dead.”

Of course it doesn’t get any easier when you’re an adult.  We hate our bosses.  We hate our politicians.  We hate, hate, hate.

In some cases it’s for good reasons.  Our bosses are evil.  Our politicians are corrupt.  And our neighbor likes country music.

The Jews had been waiting for the Messiah to come along – the person who would restore Israel to its former political and military might.  What they got was Jesus.  Jesus had no interest in military or political power.  He knew of something more.  Something that CS Lewis called “the deep magic”.

That deep magic is the transformative power of love.  And yes, I know, that sounds like a terrible cliché.  But stop and think for a moment.  Which would be better: an ex spouse falling off the face of the Earth?  Or having them change so much that they become a positive influence in their child’s life?  Is it better for a horrible boss to be fired?  Or change their ways so that they lead the company forward?  Would you rather your neighbor’s stereo break?  Or that they discover the joys of rock?

Our natural view is to want the “hated enemy” to be punished.  Or at the very least disappear.  But that’s not how the Kingdom operates.  It’s not how the world truly changes.  Jesus was onto something.  Jesus knew that if we all experienced the transformation that comes only through love, the world would experience a revolution.  We wouldn’t need to hate, because we would all benefit from a changed heart.

In one of the most famous lines from Star Wars, we hear that “hate leads to the dark side.”  If hate leads us to build giant, faceless, merciless armies, where does love lead us?

So as hard as it is to pray for our enemies.  Maybe it’s time we really tried to.

photo provided by flickr user livininoblivion

when you can’t control anything, what do you do?

Category : God

I don’t like to admit this, but I’m a bit of a control freak.  Sure I can go with the flow, and most people would say I’m pretty laid back.  But that’s just because I think I can influence the flow.  I know where that flow is going, so I’m content to just ride along.

I’m not alone.  Most of us are control freaks.  We love thinking we’re in charge.  We structure our lives, our schedules, and even our relationships in ways that we can control.  But is this how we should live as Christians?

I don’t think it is.

Not because there’s anything wrong with influencing things around you.  But because we don’t want influence, we want absolute control.  And when that illusion of control finally breaks, what happens?  We become angry, stressed out, and frustrated.  Hardly Christian responses!

I have been thinking about this a lot this week.  You see I’m unexpectedly in the middle of buying a house.  I didn’t expect to buy a house a week ago.  And now I’ve made an offer.  The biggest worry I have is what might happen in some imaginary future.  What’s the resale value going to be?  How are my neighbors?  Is this the right location for where I want to live?

All of those are good questions to ask.  But the more I tried to wrestle with them, the more I realized I can’t control those outcomes.  What if I buy a house that looks good now, but a mall developer comes in and buys a bunch of houses around me?  I can’t control that.  What if I buy a house and traffic patterns change so that it’s harder to get to and less safe for my family?  I can’t control that.

There are a thousand things I can’t control.

Take a look at Europe right now.  There’s an unexpected volcanic eruption happening that’s disrupting the flight patterns of hundreds of thousands of people.  I suspect many of them are on vacations or business trips.  Some probably are losing thousands of dollars by missing non-refundable trips.  Did any of them plan for that?

I bet a lot of people thought they could control everything: their schedule, their money, their time.  In the end, a giant volcano had different ideas.

We live in a world that says we can control everything.  That if we make all the right decisions only good things will happen (some even believe that if you’re “good enough” God will make sure only good things will happen to you).  But that’s a lie.  Volcanoes erupt.  People get cancer.  Accidents happen.  Life is a mess.

Instead we need to give up that control.  I know, I know, that doesn’t seem to make sense.  But it’s the way the Kingdom runs.  We need to trust that God’s in charge.  This doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen.  We live in a fallen world.  Random crap is part of that falleness.  What trusting God means is that we don’t worry about all the random crap because in the end, we will be taken care of.  That “end” might come when we die.  Or it might come while we’re alive.  But in the end, God will always take care of us.

We may not be able to count on volcanoes, or weather men, or the economy, or even family members.  But we can always count on God.  And frankly that sounds like a better bet to me anyways.

photo provided by flickr user Casey Serin

a trip to the book store

Category : living a life of faith

I walked into a book store today.  That’s not a totally unusual experience.  I spend a lot of time reading, and so I spend a lot of time in book stores.  And as usual, I ended up in the “religion” section.  That’s when it struck me.  If I ever wanted to teach someone about Christianity the very last place I’d send them would be the religion section of a book store.

There was absolutely no way to distinguish good books from junk.  Scholarly work was displayed next to things like the DiVinci Code.  In fact, just looking at the display seemed to suggest that the more controversial you were in regard to your “comments” on Christianity, the higher billing you got.

Obviously this isn’t an original observation.

We’ve known for a long time that there’s money to be made in tearing down Christianity.  It happens in bookstores, in newspapers, and on TV.  (When I was flipping the channels on Good Friday out of the four “religious” programs, three were directly attacking Christianity and one was so cheesy, I wish it was attacking Christianity!)

I think in the end this just shows that spreading the message of Christ happens the same way as it always has – through relationships with people.  Community is what drove the early church to spread, and it’s what drives churches to grow now.  Despite all the great technology (like this blog) and all the books you can read.  Nothing beats community to building relationships with God.

If we want to encourage people to live out a life of faith, we can’t rely on others to lead them, we have to take that step first.

photo provided by flickr

the scandalous birth of Jesus

Category : Jesus

Some things you never get over.  Like Bambi’s mother dying.  Or that creepy scene in E.T. where all the men in hazmat suits come rushing in to grab the family.  (OK, I was 5 when I saw that.)  But these things are shocking.  They cry out, “that’s not how it’s supposed to be!”  And that’s my reaction to Jesus’ birth.  No matter how many times I read Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth I am shocked by three things:

For those of us living today (which would be everyone reading this) these things don’t seem very shocking.  Teen pregnancy, while not fully accepted is pretty common.  They even have a TV show celebrating teen mothers.  We’ve also grown up with this idea that Shepherds are noble people. After all, isn’t that the point of Jesus’ own story about the Good Shepherd?

The only point that gives most of us any pause is the fact that Jesus wasn’t staying at a Holiday Inn Express.

But 2,000 years ago these things were scandalous.  It was no way for the Messiah of Israel to enter into the world.  Kings don’t come in the quiet of night; they come charging in with horns blazing!

Jesus’ birth was different.  It was shocking.  And frankly, it was offensive to your average Jew.  Mary was pregnant, but not married.  That was a punishment worthy of death in Jewish culture.  The future “King of the Jews” was born in an animal’s feeding trough.  Jews would have thought, “And this person is supposed to save Israel?”  Even shepherds were considered sketchy people.  They weren’t seen as trustworthy or honorable.  Jewish mothers didn’t exactly want their little boys to grow up to be shepherds.  For shepherds to be the first people to see Jesus (and then spread news of his birth), it would have been outlandish.

Yet this is how the radical, revolutionary God we believe in chose to come into our lives.  He didn’t show up with an entourage or trappings of wealth and power.  His birth couldn’t have been more humble.  His birth couldn’t have been any more shameful!

In every action Jesus took, he was reminding us that the Kingdom is different from this world.  His birth shows us that the way of the Kingdom is service.  After all, the one person who didn’t deserve a birth like that is the one who chose to be born that way.

Because the story of Jesus is so common, it’s easy to miss the revolutionary nature of God.  It’s easy to go to church and forget how revolutionary God is.  It’s easy to see Christianity as a religion and forget the radical call it makes on our lives.  It’s easy to live life but not live a life of faith.

Which brings us back to where we started.  No matter how often we cry out “that’s not how it’s supposed to be,” God remains revolutionary.  Even today.  And for that I am grateful.

photo provided by flickr user yngrich

God gives us freedom

Category : God, different, hope

The last few weeks my church has been going on a Free Journey.  We’ve been exploring the fact that God’s desire for our lives is to set us free.  Contrast that to pretty much everything else in the world.  Political groups try to control what you eat, where you live, how you spend your time.  We’re told by our employers that we must show up at this time, and must take breaks at that time.  The TV tells us how we should look and what clothes we should wear.

Everything is about control.

Except God.

He’s about our freedom.

Could there be any more striking contrast?  Yet we stand around complaining about all of God’s rules.  I know because I’ve done it before.  For most of my life I’ve equated freedom as no rules.  It wasn’t until I was responsible for guiding a small child through life that I realized what rules are really for.  Rules give us freedom.  They set boundaries.  They allow us to know where to push so we can be free.

When your mom says “don’t touch the stove it’s hot.”  This isn’t some secret code for “the stove tastes like chocolate.”  She means the stove is flippin’ hot!

God is the same.  He knows that if you have sex with people you aren’t married to it’s going to cause problems.  He knows that when we don’t love our enemies we get caught up in a cycle of hate.  He knows that when we ignore him, we will find our lives being controlled, not set free.

Yet we rebel.  We seem to be happier having everything in the world control us, then trusting God, and following some pretty straight forward rules.  Humans are strange creatures.

shattered illusions

Category : God, different, faith, fear, trust

Work is crushingly busy right now.  So is life.  Things get that way sometimes.  I think it’s part of the human condition.

I know I’m not alone in this.  There’s a lot of us who have visions of what we want to do – but get overwhelmed by the day to day stuff.  To have wave after wave of emergencies, problems, (and opportunities) hit one after another.  It seems that as hard as I work, the next wave of stuff waiting to crash on top of me.  Sound familiar?

Our faith is no different.

It can be very hard to see the big picture.  Life has a way of becoming so overwhelming because we see a moment-by-moment view.  Imagine yourself swimming in the ocean.  As you strength starts to wane your vision is filled with wave after wave.  Each time a wave crashes over you, you lose a little bit of energy.  A little bit of momentum.  And pretty soon we stop looking for the shore at all.  Because no matter where the shore is, all we care about is making it through the next wave.

I wrote this a few months ago.

Here is my challenge to you – take a week away from the news.  Don’t worry about swine flu, politics, the economy or anything else.  Focus on God and see what he wants for your life.  Focus on breaking out of the lies the world tells you.  And then a week from now tell me what you experienced.  My guess is you actually felt a little hopeful and a little optimistic.  You’ll see that there’s more to this world than just a scientific approach (this comes from someone who spends much of his time studying science).

My guess is you’ll start to see through the cracks and you’ll realize that you don’t have to go along with what the world says.  You don’t have to let it dictate your behavior or your choices.  You have the option to choose freedom.  To choose life.  Don’t let the thief give you lies in place of truth.

I never got around to publishing it.

I find it interesting that all of those things seem not as significant as they once did.  It’s hard to remember the panic people felt with Swine Flu.  (Or the constant media stories about how we were all going to die.)  People were saying Obama would change the direction of the country forever, now they are saying he might not get any major legislation passed.  I personally struggled through nearly a year of unemployment (now I’m employed, which of course makes it harder to write posts on R3!).  And the list goes on and on.

Wave after wave of information comes pounding through our lives.  It’s no wonder we feel tired and worn out.  Yet through all of this God has that big picture view that we lack.  He can see over the waves.  He knows where the shore is.

Sometimes I wonder how God can help me overcome the problems in my life.  Yet he has overcome far greater challenges than swine flu or the economy.  He rose from the dead for cryin’ out loud!

This is why our faith is so important.  Our faith gives us something to hold onto when things seem overwhelming.  Faith isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.  No one says, “I don’t want a life preserver – it’s just a crutch.  I much prefer struggling in the waves on my own.”  We recognize what it is – something that helps us overcome obstacles we couldn’t by ourselves.

When life seems overwhelming remember that to God our waves are nothing more than a wading pool.  And that all we need to do is reach out and take his hand, and we too can see the shore.

Faith puts things into perspective.

following a dead god

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

……….

Baal worship was a major problem in Israel.  It actually followed them for hundreds of years.  It was so indoctrinated into the culture that many Jews thought worshiping Baal was the same as worshiping God.  They didn’t even notice the difference!

How could that be?  It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on idolatry.  It’s not as if God didn’t send prophet after prophet delivering the same message, and I quote, “Hey!  Knock it off!”

But Israel was an agrarian society.  Farming was a major part of their life.  Is it any wonder that they kept getting caught up in worshiping a god that supposedly brought the rain?

We live in a country that is a financial society.  Is it any wonder that we get caught up in things like the prosperity gospel?  Is it any wonder that our priests fall into temptation of the “all mighty dollar?”

The situation may change, but apparently the human heart does not.