an heir to the kingdom

Category : God

Recently I mentioned that each of us is a child of God.  But that means more than just getting gifts and behaving like kids.  In fact, it comes with a whole lot of responsibility.  When we become a child of God, we actually become heirs to God’s Kingdom.

Think about what that means.

It’s a big deal to be an heir.  It means we need to have responsibility.  It also means we need to understand how things work.  A CEO can’t run an organization if he or she doesn’t understand the basics of the business.  Presidents can’t “run” a government if they don’t know the laws and troubles facing their land.

Paul in a letter to the Galatians says we “are no longer a slave but God’s own child.  And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.”

Slaves didn’t know how to run the kingdom.  Criminals didn’t know how to run the corporation.  Strangers don’t get the keys to the house.  God doesn’t see us as distant toys to be played with, like the Greek gods.  He isn’t indifferent to us as many postmodern religions claim.  God says we are heirs to the kingdom.  We are in line to receive the Kingdom!

If that doesn’t make you smile, then nothing will.

photo provided by everystockphoto

what does it mean to be a child of God?

Category : God

“…we are God’s children.  And since we are his children, we are his heirs.  In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.   But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.”

Have you ever stopped to think about what it means to be a child of God?  For me this is a difficult thing to wrap my mind around.  Not because I can’t understand God adopting us into his family, but because when I hear that phrase I immediately think of people doing cheesy Christian things (like bumper stickers that say “honk if you love Jesus.”)  In my mind, the phrase “child of God” has almost been hijacked by well-intentioned, but people who are a little creepy and who behave strangely while dressing in 1970’s clothing.

I doubt I’m alone.

But when we stop and think about being a child of God, there’s a lot packed into that little phrase.  Some of the things that come to mind are…

  • We are in the family
  • We can’t lose that identity (you can’t un-family your family!)
  • We are heirs
  • As heirs we are responsible for “the family business”
  • We receive gifts from our Father (protection, love, mercy)
  • We can recognize our Father’s voice

The God of the universe wants us to be in his family.  The Creator of existence loves us so much that he wants to us to be sons and daughters.  If that doesn’t blow your mind, then I don’t know what will.  What other religions make such outrageous claims?

No matter how much I learn about God, I find I am always amazed by him.

finding the perfect job

Category : faith

I’m the type of person who likes to have things with nice neat answers.  I don’t like a lot of contradiction or even things that seem to defy logic.  That’s why I tend to avoid Genesis.  While I believe that God created the earth, I don’t see any reason to get into the 7 literal days verse 7 “eras” conversation.  Nor do I really get why the Bible tells us people lived to be 800 years old.   Is that a metaphor?  A real life span?  Couldn’t they count?

For a while I struggled looking for answers to those questions.  Then I realized all of that is less relevant to my life than answering another question: was Jesus a real person?  If he was real (yes) and he was God (yes) then I can simply take his word for everything else.   So if Jesus vouches for Genesis, then that’s good enough for me.   I can’t “prove” Genesis, but I can “prove” Jesus.

Why do I share all of this?  Because over the last few weeks I’ve been doing something called “The Story Formed Life.”  It’s an 11 week course that focuses on the story of the Bible.  This has forced me to wrestle with those topics I haven’t spent much time dealing with.  Particularly in Genesis.

As I re-read Genesis, what stands out is the amount of authority and freedom God gives us.

God gives Adam the authority to name the animals and the freedom to pretty much do whatever he wanted.  It was an ideal place.  If you take your average person today what’s their biggest concern: finding the “right” job.  We spend hours worrying about what we were meant to do.  Billions of dollars searching for new jobs and getting professional development.  Yet we still feel like our work has no meaning.

Adam on the other hand was literally created for his job.

It’s often easy to think of God, especially the so-called “Old Testament God” as someone who’s distant and vengeful.  But the real God of Genesis shows us a God who cares so much for his creation that he gives us perfect freedom and perfect autonomy.  Of course that doesn’t mean absolute freedom and autonomy.  God placed certain rules and restrictions on Adam.

But that wasn’t enough for Adam.

He and Eve chose to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  And with it, they gave up their freedom and authority.  They walked away from the perfect job because they thought they could get something better.

How often do we do this?  How often do we give up the authority and freedom God gives us for something less filling?  Something more restrictive?

God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.  And the priests took that and turned it into hundreds of highly detailed laws.  As Christians we take the freedom Jesus brings and wrap it in formal prayers, religious obligations, and moral thuggery.

Obviously we aren’t that different from Adam after all.

are christians wimps?

Category : living a life of faith

When you think of a Christian, what do you think of?  Someone who is brave and bold?  Or someone who is a bit too uptight and self righteous?  Are Christians fearless or fearful?  Are they loved?  Or loathed?

Sadly in many cases it’s the later.  That’s why we get such stereotypes as Christians not being “manly men.”  That somehow living out a life of faith is the easy option.  (Because, as the argument goes, if you “need” God then you just aren’t tough enough to handle reality.)  All of this makes Christians out to be people who are wimps.  That we complain about stuff.  Launch protests over the things that “normal” people like.  Complain about TV and music, and generally do some pretty weird things.

That’s why, when it comes to Hollywood, Christians are more likely to look like Ned Flanders than Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And it breaks my heart.  That’s not who Jesus laid out the vision for believers.  It’s not how he said we should be living.

“Then [Jesus] said to the crowd, ‘If any of you want to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.  If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it.  But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Luke 9: 23-24).

Does that sound like Ned Flanders Christianity to you?

I don’t blame much of the world for viewing Christians as wimpy and whiney.  The truth is many of us are.  We don’t want to take a stand.  We aren’t willing to make sacrifices.  Despite talking a big game, we end up looking a lot like everyone else.

So how do we fix this problem?  The solution isn’t to create a marketing campaign to prove we aren’t wimps.  Or to prove that we do care.  The way to prove the intensity of Christianity is to live it out.  If we actually take to heart what Jesus said about being his followers, perhaps things would look a lot different to the world.  Perhaps we’d be seen as indispensible to our communities, not a nightmare of complaints.  Perhaps when Hollywood wanted to make fun of Christians, they’d find they couldn’t, because everyone could think of a believer who broke the Ned Flanders stereotype.

Image copyright of Matt Groening

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

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

i need more than God

Category : God, Jesus, worship

A few months ago I heard the phrase “Jesus is my boyfriend” on Scotterology.  It was used to describe a certain brand of Christian music that seems more like an angst-filled love song, than a song about God.  At first I didn’t like that term.  I scoffed at the whole idea.  “There isn’t really music like this.  He’s just exaggerating!”

But then I started to listen to some of the lyrics.  (You can see a bunch more at Pomomusings).

“Friend of sinners, Lord of truth
I am falling in love with you
Friend of sinners, Lord of truth
I have fallen in love with you
Matt Redman“Friend of Sinners”

“You are my desire, no one else will do
‘Cause nothing else could take your place
To feel the warmth of your embrace
Kelly Carpenter - “Draw Me Close”

“In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness, you are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for you
‘Cause I want to know you more
I want to touch you, I want to see your face
I want to know you more
Andy Park“In the Secret”

I’m still not convinced.  To be honest I even like a lot of these songs.  But it’s had me thinking for the last few months.  Exactly where is the line?  And how do we know when we’ve crossed it?  Some songs get uncomfortably close.

That’s when Erwin McManus said something that surprised me.  He said that we need more than just God.

“Wha–?!” I thought.  “That’s a pretty bold statement.  He’d better have a good argument.”  And you know what?  He did.

After God created the universe, and then man, it was God who said things weren’t quite right.  It was God who said man needed more.  So he created Eve.  God created us to need more than just him.  He created us to need community and relationships.

Could it be that we’ve become so focused on God that we’re losing the other important aspects of our faith, like community?

While our salvation rests only on God.  There’s more to life than our death.  There’s certainly more to life than overly sappy Christian music.  Everything exists in community.  People.  Angels.  Demons.  Even God himself exists in three parts.  I want God to be at the center of my life.  But I don’t want God to be the only thing in my life.  And I don’t think that’s what he ever wanted either.

photo provided by flicker user scootie

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.