something to be thankful for

Category : 2 Corinthians, Paul, bible

This is going to be my first thanksgiving with my own family meaning my wife and step-daughter.  Because of that we’ve been talking a lot about family traditions, what holiday’s should look like, etc…  In the midst of all of those conversations I find myself thinking a lot about “what do I have to be thankful for.”

And let me tell you, God has been over-the-top generous with us this year.  After being unemployed for a year, I was able to buy a house, pay for a wedding, buy an engagement ring, and pay for a honeymoon.  And replenish all of my savings.

How you ask?

I have no idea.  The only thing I can say is that it’s a true “fish and loaves” miracle.  For me it’s easy to be thankful this year.  But for a lot of us, 2010 has been a brutal year.  Unemployment.  Foreclosure.  Medical issues.  Family problems.  The list can go on.

So how in the middle of a year like that can you be thankful?

Paul’s answer was, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day.  For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!  So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” (2 Corinthians 4: 16-18)

Paul recognized that we need to focus on something other than our immediate, Earth-bound troubles.  And that “something” was God.

Now before you think, “well that’s easy for Paul to say.”  Listen to what he had said only moments before, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.  Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.  Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies.  So we live in the face of death” (2 Corinthians 4: 8-12)

Paul was someone who knew a thing or two about being beaten, hated, punished, shipwrecked, jailed, and flogged.  But he was also someone who knew a thing or two about God’s redeeming power, and the good news of the cross.

So this thanksgiving, as you’re looking at what you have to be thankful for, don’t forget that we have a loving God, who wants to be involved in your life.  And that’s the best thing we could possibly ask for.

what to do when you make a mistake

Category : Paul, bible, failure, faith, sin, taking action

……….

What do you do when you make a mistake?

That’s a question I think very few people actually think about.  Oh sure we all do something when we’ve made a mistake.  But very few of us actually think through our actions, we usually just react.

The way I see it, there are only a few options.

  1. Do nothing – we essentially say, “I did something wrong and I am so scared of doing it again, and so scared of the consequences, I will never do anything again.”  When we do nothing, we shut down.  We can’t be used by God because we aren’t interested in being used by God.  We become like the ostrich who shoves his head in the sand, thinking he is hiding.
  2. Do the same thing – we make a mistake, but choose to do the same thing over and over.  This is the whole, “I am sorry I hurt you/ was a jerk, etc…” line.  And then the next day you’re back to your old habits.  We say it, and maybe in the moment we are sorry.  But not sorry enough to actually change.  This is where we are when we continue to commit one of our “favorite” sins  (for instance, you repeatedly get angry at a coworker).
  3. Repent - True repentance.  This is where we truly turn to God and say, “I am sorry, help me never to do this again.”  Where we fully turn away from our actions and embrace God.

Why do I bring all this up?  Because Carrie Prejean, a former Miss USA winner is involved in another controversy.  It turns out she was involved in making a “sex tape.”

For some celebrities this wouldn’t be a big deal.  Society often seems to reward people who do this.  We’ve all read the stories about a celebrity “losing” provocative pictures in a PR attempt to revitalize a career.  But for Prejean, who has started teaching and talking about “family values” this is a big issue.

Rarely do we talk about current events on R3.  I believe that the Bible offers us timeless principles that apply no matter the event.  And I almost never talk about a specific individual.  There’s enough gossip and junk out there, we don’t need to add to that.  But sometimes I make exceptions.  And that’s where I am with this.

I have no idea what’s on the tape.  I don’t know why it was made.  And frankly I don’t want to know.  To me that’s irrelevant.  What matters is how Prejean decides to act.  And to a lesser extent how we, as a society, respond.

We all have made mistakes.  How many of us would really feel comfortable having our mistakes be national news?  What Carrie Prejean did was wrong, and it was a mistake, and that’s not an excuse.  But does this prevent her from ever talking about family values?  There are many people who very much want that to be the case.  (As I was flipping the channels late one night I saw one panel of “experts” gleefully declaring this meant she could no longer talk about family values.)

Personally I don’t know if this tape excludes her from talking about family values.  I know there are a lot of people who are gleefully hoping that will be the case.  For her to fall, would be a major victory for them.  This situation brings legitimate questions that she must answer.  But when I look at the Bible I see people who aren’t perfect.  I see people lose their temper, act in fear, commit adultery and murder.

Yet God still uses them in powerful ways.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. But he does ask us to repent.

Paul, who wrote much of the New Testament was actively seeking to kill Christians prior to his conversion.  Does that mean he can’t talk about sin?  Or does it mean he has unique insight into the redemption that Christ offers?  Moses murdered someone before God chose him to become the leader of Israel.  Did that exclude him from talking about freedom to Pharaoh?  Peter acted in both anger and fear in the last hours of Jesus’ life – but God used him as the rock upon which the church was built.  Was God wrong in all of this?

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect.  But he does ask us to repent.  And in each of these cases, they repented and turned away from their sins.  So I ask you, what do you do when you make a mistake?

Carrie has the same three options that we do.  She can do nothing.  She can do the same thing.  Or she can repent.

I don’t know what she plans to do.  Right now it sounds like she wants to repent.  But saying you want to repent and actually repenting can be two different things.  It’s much easier to offer false promises than to take the hard work of repentance.  Is it any different for us?  So again, I ask you, what do you do when you make a mistake?

living a life of freedom

Category : Acts, Luke, Paul

……….

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.

is your life urgent?

1

Category : God, Jesus, different, faith, sharing faith, taking action

 

If I could only change one thing in my life it would be the sense of urgency I feel.  Or in my case, don’t feel. 

My nature is one of procrastination.  I like to spread things out so I don’t have too much happening at one time.  Because of this, I sometimes lack a sense of urgency.  At least when there isn’t a deadline floating around.  (This is why it’s taking me so long to finish writing my book!)

Yet when I read the Bible, I am struck by something: the repeated call for Christians to live with a sense of urgency.  Jesus changed the world in about 3 years.  That’s pretty urgent.  Paul dropped everything after encountering God and became one of the most important people in history.  David didn’t wait until next week to fight Goliath, he found a rock and went to town.

Looking at my own life, I’m not sure I can say it resembles those examples.  Instead, it much closer to the lyrics of “We are the body” by Casting Crowns

But if we are the body
Why aren’t His arms reaching?
Why aren’t His hands healing?
Why aren’t His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren’t His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?

Why don’t I reach out more?  Why am I more reactive than proactive?   Why do I walk past the people I know need help?  Why do I ignore that prodding by God to help?  To act?  I think the answer is provided by another song.   

i am so easily satisfied
by the call of lovers less wild
that i would take a little cash
over your very flesh and blood

(”Wedding Dress“, Derek Webb)

It bothers me to think that I would trade in Jesus’ sacrifice for comfort and convenience.  But I do.  I willingly turn my back on what it cost God to secure my freedom.  And I am increasingly convinced that this lack of urgency is something that is holding me back from a deeper relationship with God.

It’s ironic that it took this realization for me to finally start developing that sense of urgency.  Funny how God works sometimes.

have you prayed about it?

3

Category : God, faith, prayer, taking action

   

At any given moment we have an almost limitless amount of choices.  What do I wear today?  What should I have to eat?  Do I really want to go to the gym?  Who will I go out with tonight?  Do I even want to go out?

And those are just the superficial questions.  There are times when we’re faced with choices that will change our lives forever.  Do I cheat on my wife?  Do I steal from work?  Should I have an abortion?

Every moment of life presents us with choices.  It’s a great burden, but it’s also exciting.  Good decisions often lead to a life of wonderful experiences.  Bad choices can seemingly ruin our lives.  We read books about decision making.  We study things like “leadership” in schools and laboratories.  We measure a person’s genetics to see if they will make good decisions or bad.  We even have dartboards that make our choices for us.  Yet how often do we stop and ask God what he thinks about our choices?

Moses, David, and Jesus all had regular conversations with God.  They all asked him questions as they were making major decisions.  Moses asked for strength as he led the Israelites away from Egypt.  David asked for forgiveness because of his adultery.  And Jesus made sure God really wanted him to sacrifice his life for ours.

Each of those men faced major life decisions and turned to God for help.  To me that seems like a good model to follow.  I don’t want to get to Heaven only to find out I didn’t live my life to the fullest – just because I was afraid to ask God what I should do. 

Prayer is part of how we are to live as Christians.  It’s part of what separates us from this world, while also making us able to serve the needs in this world.  Paul tells us that prayer should be part of how we fight off the dangers of this world.  Why would he say that if he didn’t think it would make a difference in our lives? 

So in this third part of our phrases series, I have just one question: have you prayed about it?   

you want me to do what?!

Category : Acts, God, Jesus, Numbers, faith

  

The LORD said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your father’s family are to bear the responsibility for offenses against the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses against the priesthood. (Numbers 18: 1)

Talk about some serious responsibility!  How would you like to know that you are literally responsible for every time someone else screws up?  I can barely keep my own life together, how would I manage to bear the responsibility for someone else?  And yet, the Levites were “to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that wrath will not fall on the Israelites again.” (Numbers 18: 5)

God seems to work that way.  He seems to give us bigger burdens when we succeed. 

Paul was arrested and drug off to the court in Jerusalem.  While being both physically and verbally attacked in front of the court, he gave his testimony about Jesus. For his reward, Jesus told him, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” (Acts 23: 11)

Jesus specifically told Paul to “take courage” because he was going to make Paul go through this all again.  But this time in front of a bigger crowd.  Paul’s reward for being faithful and obedient was to be given an even more difficult task.

Don’t think that God simply demands things though.  In fact he rewards us generously.  For the Levites he promised that in exchange for their great responsibility they would receive ”all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain they give the LORD as the firstfruits of their harvest.  All the land’s firstfruits that they bring to the LORD will be yours.” (Numbers 18: 12-13)

God may ask a lot from us.  But he also generously rewards us. 

God likes disappointment?

Category : 1 Timothy, God, faith, hope

   

Some days I can’t imagine why God would want me to be struggling so much. Why can’t I land that job, or have the perfect relationship, or get a winning season out of the Pittsburgh Pirates?

The truth is, God sometimes allows disappointment. And a lot of those disappointments happen when we go from dreaming about things to actually taking action. It’s in that moment we’re confronted with a choice – do we give up or press on? Do we trust what God has promised us? Or do we give up and walk away?

If God always made everything work out perfectly, we would never have a reason to choose him. We’d simply be choosing the path of least resistance. And while that may be fine for running water, it makes for lousy humans.

This is one of the crazy things about God – he doesn’t always play by our rules. Just like God’s primary goal isn’t our happiness, his primary goal isn’t how easy our lives are. There’s a reason Paul describes spiritual growth in terms of training saying, “train yourselves in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

Being disappointed isn’t a punishment. Or at least it doesn’t have to be. Instead it can be the opportunity to change our perspective. It can allow us to flip our understanding of success. Fighting our way through a challenge, relying on God’s strength when we’re exhausted, trusting that God will deliver on his promises – all those things help move us closer to God. Which is always a good thing.

even disciples need encouragement

1

Category : Acts, Paul, bible, faith, hope

  

Have you ever met someone who was totally confident of their faith?  Someone through whom God really worked?  These are the people who always look “put together” and “with it” when it comes to their trust in God.  They trust God with everything in their lives. 

What do you think when you see them?

Whenever I look at someone who has these traits I often think they must have it pretty easy.  I mean they don’t have to struggle with their faith, or wonder why things aren’t happening the way they expected.  After all, they get to see God act in visible ways all the time.  (Usually because they are on the front lines doing radical things for God)  

I start comparing how they appear, to how I am.  I see their steadfast belief and their determination to follow God.  Then I look at my own life and a lot of the time all I can see is my roller coaster of ups and downs. 

But is that really how things are?

Paul made it a regular habit to go back to communities he’d set up to encourage them.  He knew that no matter what they saw, no matter what they experienced, they still needed to be reminded of just who God is.  

He went back to cities like Antioch and Lystra (where he was nearly killed by a mob) just so he could “strength[en] the souls of the disciples and encourag[e] them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:21-22).

Apparently even the disciples needed encouragement.

Paul wasn’t always on the giving end of encouragement though.  Sometimes he was the one who needed encouragement.  Towards the end of his life, while in jail, everyone abandoned Paul.  I can’t imagine what that would feel like to have lived so much for other people, and then when you needed a friend – they all ran away. But that’s where Paul found himself.  (Which, by the way, is also where Jesus found himself)

It’s hard to remind myself that even people like Paul need encouragement.  But it’s true.  In fact, every single Christian, who has ever lived, has needed encouragement at one time or another.  Which means I’m not alone in needing it.

I’d like to think that the next time I am feeling guilty about my waning faith, instead of turning from God out of shame, I turn to him.

Because even disciples need encouragement.

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.

what i’m reading: Longing for a Holiday at Sea

Category : Paul, bible, feeding my brain, sharing faith

     

What does it look like to live out a life of faith? 

That’s a question I’m always asking myself.  In fact, that’s really the whole purpose of R3

The more I look at God, and who he is, the more I realize we shouldn’t hide.  That we shouldn’t be afraid of acting boldly.  And that includes hiding from our failures and weaknesses.  In other words, a major part of being Christian is being open and vulnerable.  It also means admitting that we aren’t perfect and that we don’t have all the answers.

For some this seems to come naturally.  They can admit the challenges in their life.  I find this difficult to do.

It’s a problem I share with the people who lived in Corinth during the first century.  They were becoming increasingly prideful and “righteous” in how they viewed themselves.  Sadly, I can all too often relate to that.  So Paul rather bluntly addressed the issue saying, “We [the apostles] are fools for Christ, but you [the Corinthians] are so wise in Christ!  We are weak, but you are strong!  You are honored, we are dishonored!”  (1 Corinthians 4: 10)

Paul is pointing out that the pride and arrogance are the exact opposite of how Christians should behave.  He offers a different way of living, saying, the apostles “have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.” (1 Corinthians 4: 9

We’re not to put up fake barriers and to pretend we’re better than we are.  Because a true Christian is open with his or her life.  We’re vulnerable in front of the whole universe.  And here I am afraid of what people think of me!

This is why I find the blog Longing for a Holiday at Sea so encouraging.  It manages to be both bold and vulnerable.  It has that balance Paul implies.  Vulnerable, because it discusses difficult topics and personal trials.  Bold, because it focuses squarely on God’s grace and mercy.

The entire blog serves as an encouragement to people who are suffering and struggling.  It shows, in a very real way, that even in our struggles God has compassion for us.  In a book called The Grand Weaver, Ravi Zacharias demonstrates that God cares about our disappointments.  Our disappointments matter to him.  And this is surely reflected in Longing for a Holiday at Sea.  

Perhaps the thing I enjoy most is the encouragement I receive from reading this blog.  It teaches me that I can actively seek God, and have questions.  It shows that I can be imperfect, but still loved by God.  And those are lessons worth remembering.