the pride of faith

Category : God, faith, living a life of faith

……….

Humans are broken.

We are completely messed up.  Beyond repair.  Fundamentally flawed.

That’s not something I like to think about.  I want to believe that if I work hard enough I can be a good person.  That if I say and do the right things, that makes me okay in God’s eyes.  I know that’s not true.  But my actions don’t always bear that out.

And I think that’s because of my pride.

I don’t like the idea that my efforts can be corrupted.  It bothers me to think that what starts out with the best intentions can quickly become arrogant and unloving.  But that’s how pride works.  It slowly corrupts even our best intentions.  No wonder CS Lewis called pride the root of all evil.

I teach a class called “Welcome to the Revolution”.  The focus is on newly baptized believers.  The goal is to help them understand the basics of Christianity (Bible, prayer, community) and how to apply those to your life.

Teaching this class has really reminded me of the dangers of pride.  As the teacher it’s very easy for me to think that I have it all figured out.  That I’ve been there.  That I’ve made the hard choices.  That my faith is somehow “better” because I’ve been doing it longer.  But when I talk to people and hear their stories I find I am humbled.  Everyone, no matter who it is, has paid a price for their faith.  They have all had to make sacrifices and tough decisions to live out a life of faith.

My story isn’t better.  It’s not more dramatic.  It’s not more worthy.

Guess what: neither is yours.  Instead our stories are unique to each of us.  We all get to travel a different path with God.  That’s why faith is more like a journey than a set of blueprints.

So how do we prevent ourselves from having pride of faith?  Well I think the answer lies in surrounding ourselves with other believers.  By having real relationships with them where we listen to their stories and see how God moves in their lives.  When we are serious about listening to other people’s stories, we can’t help but be humbled.  It’s hard to be prideful when you can see that God doesn’t do unique stuff in just your life, but that he does amazing stuff in everyone’s life.

As I’ve listen to people tell me about their lives I constantly think, “there is no way I could have made that choice.”  That puts a check on my pride.  I realize that for all the challenges I’ve overcome there are an infinite variations of problems.  And it is through God’s grace (literally) that we don’t have to experience them all.

Pride can’t withstand the humility that comes with being honest about your experiences.  Or by seeing just how big God really is.

do i need God?

Category : CS Lewis, God, faith, living a life of faith, sharing faith

……….

I don’t need God.

That’s a belief I held for a long time.  I figured I could manage just fine without a “crutch” like God.  But slowly I realized that was a lie.  It’s like saying a car doesn’t need an engine.  Or that “weak” planes use wings to fly.  Cars are designed to have engines.  Planes are designed to have wings.  And I am designed to have a relationship with God.

It took me a long time to wrap my mind around that.

I’ve always been very self-sufficient.  The truth is, I still am.  It’s this self-sufficiency that has become one of the biggest stresses in being unemployed.  I feel like I don’t contribute enough to the Kingdom.  It bothers me that I can’t financially give like I used to.  I think, “I am educated, socially mobile, I should be creating resources, not being unemployed receiving help from friends.  Not letting other people by me a drink or pick up the tab at dinner.”

There’s a part of me that still says, “I don’t need God.”

That realization shocks me.

We are all in desperate need of God’s resources.  None of us are above needing his help.  So why do I feel so superior and want to fight that?   Why do I want to say, “no thanks, I’m good.”  Why do I want to say, “God needs to redirect resources to people who ‘really’ need them, not me.”

Pride, of course, is the answer.  It’s what CS Lewis called, “the complete anti-God state of mind.” That’s why I feel these things.  I want to believe that I am better than I am.

Pride has a way of warping your view.  The reality is I’m probably more actively engaged in the kingdom than I have been for years.  Every day I need to rely on God to get through the challenges unemployment offers.  I have to rely on God that somehow I will earn / find / receive enough money to pay the bills.  And because of that I finally am beginning to understand what the Bible means by describing God as “faithful.”

That couldn’t have been said for a year ago.  That’s a significant difference in my life.

I doubt God cares very much for the financial impact of my giving or the financial impact of me not working when it’s compared against the changes I am receiving from advancing the kingdom.  What is my money compared to a life transformed?

But pride is a tricky beast.  As I said, it warps your view.  If you allow it, your pride will even warp your view of yourself.  As CS Lewis points out in Mere Christianity, “it was through pride that the devil became the devil.”  If pride can do that to the devil, it can happen to us.

If I learn nothing else from being unemployed, I will be satisfied with this lesson.  It will have been worth it to realize that in all situations, at all time, I need God.  And so do you.

living out a life of faith: 2008

Category : God, hope, live for the eternal, sharing faith, trust

  

Humility.  That’s what 2008 means to me. 

Professionally I find myself entering 2009 without a job.  The first time that’s happened since I was about 12.  This presents challenges and opportunities.  It’s challenging because more of my pride and self-identity are wrapped-up in working than I realized.  It’s hard to let go of that.  It’s also hard to let go of the money and sense of security a job brings.  But it’s also an opportunity.  I now have the time to visit friends.  I have a chance to learn new things.  And I also am in position to explore new writing and speaking opportunities. 

By allowing myself to be humbled, instead of rebelling in pride, I’ve been able to see the good as well as the bad.  Humility has a way of allowing us to realistically deal with the bad, while not losing sight of the promises God makes to us.  I’m not going to say this process was easy, but I will say it was worth it. 

On the personal side, writing R3 has been humbling in it’s own way.  Receiving feedback, (mostly positive!), knowing people are interested in what I write, and the slow realization that people get upset when I miss a scheduled post (you know who you are!), has all come as a bit of a shock.  Sometimes it even feels surreal.

But the most humbling aspect of R3 has to be the fact that writing for all of you is a huge honor.  One that I don’t take lightly, nor do I take it for granted.  I feel a sense of responsibility for R3 and of teaching what I think God is doing in my life.  Or, as Spider-Man once said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” 

All of this leads me to one last thought for 2008 – one of the themes I’ve touched on time and again is the idea that God can take anything and turn it into an important lesson.  Pain, suffering, joy, excitement – they all can teach us about God.  Every lesson we learn brings us one step closer to our creator.  It doesn’t matter if we’re losing our jobs or getting $100,000 raise.  In every instance there is something we can learn about God.   

We may not know what lessons we will learn in 2009.  And I am sure they will often be unexpected, taught to us by sadness and happiness, calmness and activity.  But we can always count on God turning even the greatest disaster into an opportunity to learn more about him. 

Which is why in everything that we do, we must strive to learn how to live out a life of faith.  A life that is ready to do great things for the Kingdom.  Because that’s really the point of everything, isn’t it. 

a homeless soul

1

Category : God, choice, faith, taking action

  

I never know what to do when I meet someone who is homeless.  I find myself torn between two desires.  On the one hand I want to “make a difference.”  I want to help this person, because I recognize their suffering, and no one should have to suffer alone.  But at the same time I don’t think it does any good to give someone money if they are just going to use it on drugs or alcohol.  That’s not help.  Yet the Bible is filled with examples of generous love being given to people who don’t deserve it.  So how do you respond?  How do you walk the razor’s edge?

This weekend I was reminded of my dilemma.  While eating out with some friends we were approached by a homeless man.  He was clearly on drugs, and he admitted as much when he asked for money.  After an awkward pause we refused to help him.

I honestly don’t know if this was the right answer.  Maybe there was something more we could have done.  But this wasn’t our first conversation with this man.  Only a few weeks earlier he had asked us for the same thing (bus money).  Back then it was clear that he was on drugs.  At that time we decided to reach out to him, spend some time with him, and see if we could help.  As we talked to him (and bought him lunch) we offered to get him help that would make a difference.

He admitted he needed to clean up his life, but refused our help.  Insisting that all he “really” needed was some bus money and sleep.  It struck me then, as it did this week, that this is someone who knows he has a problem.  He’s not an idiot.  He doesn’t want to live on the streets.  And yet he keeps making the same decisions.  He keeps turning to the drugs and lifestyle that prevents him from getting the help he knows he needs.

In other words, he sounds just like me.

The only difference is my homelessness isn’t physical, it’s spiritual.  I may look great on the outside, but I know if I don’t guard myself, my soul all too easily becomes corrupted.  If I don’t constantly seek out help I can become angry, resentful, and filled with pride.  When I don’t take the help that’s offered to me my heart becomes hard, and some of the light goes out of my life.

While believing in Jesus is all that is required to be “saved”, that’s not all that God wants for us.  He doesn’t want the bare minimum.  He wants us to grow and to be changed.  Unfortunately we sometimes reject that path.  We sometimes tell God, “yes I understand my life is filled with sin.  But I just don’t want to change.”  And that’s a dangerous place to be.

It’s easy to look at someone less fortunate and feel pity for them.  It’s easy to start feeling superior.  But I think in some ways this homeless man has an easier path – at least he knows he’s homeless.  How often do I think everything is great in my life, when in fact my soul is homeless?

i don’t need to listen to God

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Category : God, Jesus, Mark, bible, shame

  

“Peter declared, ‘Even if all fall away, I will not.’” (Mark 14: 29)

That’s a bold statement.  You’d have to be pretty confident in yourself to say that no matter what happened, the only person to stay faithful is you. 

Peter was determined though. 

When Jesus responded saying that all of the disciples, including Peter, would turn away from him, Peter reaffirms his statement.  Telling Jesus emphatically “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14: 31)

Cue ominous music.

We all know what happened: Jesus was right and Peter denied him.  But I have to wonder – what would have happened if Peter had listened to Jesus?  If Peter had been more interested in listening to what Jesus was saying than proving his loyalty, would Peter have remained loyal?  Would being aware of his weakness allow him to overcome it? 

There’s no way to know, obviously.  But reading about this incident forces me think about the role pride plays in my own life.  When I feel pride I don’t want to admit I’m wrong.  I become invested in protecting my definition of reality.  And often that means I’m not prepared to handle dramatic change. 

I bet Peter wasn’t much different. 

And lets face it, Jesus’ arrest was something Peter didn’t expect.  He never dreamed that Jesus would be lead away without a fight.  He never dreamed Jesus wouldn’t use his powers to protect himself.  It must have been crushing to Peter to see Jesus give up “so easily.”

If he was filled with pride before, his emotions must have been raging.  He must have felt the fear that comes when we believe our world is being destroyed.  But more than that, he must have felt shame.  Shame at believing in someone who wouldn’t (or perhaps it crossed his mind – couldn’t – save himself.) 

It’s no wonder Peter denied Jesus.

Peter was so intent on following his pride that he couldn’t hear Jesus’ warning.  Even though Jesus told all the disciples that he was about to die for them, they simply refused to believe it.  Their pride kept them from the truth.   

Sometimes we think God takes pleasure in hiding the truth from us.  But I have to wonder, how often does he tell us what’s going to happen, and we respond saying, “that’s nice God, but let me tell you what’s really going on.”

How many things would be different in my life if I simply listened when God spoke, instead of trying to explain to God why he was wrong?

talent show

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Category : God, bible, faith, mission, sin

  

God wants us to change the world.

Sometimes that’s hard to believe.  We’re so used to hearing “it can’t be done” or “you’re not good enough” that it’s hard to imagine God would give us such a crazy task.  Of course God would never send us out to do something he hasn’t prepared us for.  That’s why he gives us each a unique set of gifts.  That set of skills and experiences is something only we can use.

No matter how talented you think someone is, or how brilliant you think they are, there are things that they can’t do, and only you can.  That’s why God calls each of us to a mission.  Because there are tasks that only we can perform.

One of my favorite movie scenes is the moment when Darth Vader reveals his true identity.  “Luke, I am your father” is probably one of the most quoted lines in movie history.  It was such a huge moment that Lucas eventually went back and made three prequels to explore how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader.

Anakin, as we learn, was a kid of near unimaginable potential.  He was naturally gifted.  Naturally talented.  And naturally better than almost anyone.  He excelled quickly despite his surroundings.  In fact he had more gifts than most of us combined.  But what started out as his greatest gift turned into something that nearly destroyed an entire galaxy.

When he lost focus of what was important – using his gifts to improve the world – and because of that he became Darth Vader and lead a life consumed with revenge and hatred.

Rick Warren, in the Purpose Driven Life, says “even abilities used to sin are God-given; they are just being misused or abused.”

We see this played out in the writings of a man named Ezekiel.  His mission was to tell Israel why it was being punished.  But he also spoke to the surrounding nations, and even addresses his comments to specific people, such as the King of Tyre.

Now the King of Tyre was an interesting guy.  God had given him some pretty amazing gifts.  He was good looking, had a knack for making money, and was wise.  As they say, it’s good to be the King!  The problem was he lost track of what was really important and allowed his greatest gifts to become twisted.  The King of Tyre became proud because of his looks (Ezekiel 28:17), he had become violent because of his wealth (28: 16), and lost his wisdom because he was focused on luxury (28:17).

The King threw everything away.  In fact it got so bad that he actually began to believe his own marketing hype, and declared himself a god!  (28:2)

Just like Darth Vader (but without the cool helmet) the King of Tyre lost track of his mission.  By losing his focus on the eternal, and focusing exclusively on the present he went completely astray.  In fact he went so far off course that it led to the destruction of both his kingdom and himself.

It is so easy to lose focus on what’s really important (God).  We get busy, and tired, and scared.  And just as dangerous we get wealthy, comfortable, and lazy.  That’s why it’s so important to remind ourselves that the race really is long, and we need to plan accordingly.