worshiping an idol

Category : faith

I struggle with football because I love it so much.  There are few things (maybe nothing) that I get more excited about than football.  I’m so passionate that I physically feel the anguish with the Steelers lose.  Which they did this weekend.  I’ve wondered if loving football is a sin.

And I think for me, at least, football is a sin.  Not because football itself is evil.  But because I worship football.  It’s my own personal idol.

That’s not something you hear a lot of people say.  But I realize that my emotions are too tied up in a game.  I live and die (thankfully just metaphorically!) by the Steelers.  And whether I mean to or not, I’ve come to believe that a great Steelers victory can make me happy.

It can’t.

Nothing can make you happy, truly happy, in this world apart from God.  That’s why I take solace in what Martin Luther once said about overcoming guilt.

“It all depends on this great and grand miracle, that I believe that God gave His Son for us. If I do not doubt this, then I am able to say in the midst of my trials: ‘I concede, devil, that I am a sinner burdened with the old Adam and subject to the wrath of God. But what do you, devil, say about this: God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that all who believe in Him might not perish but have eternal life? These words I believe!’”

–Martin Luther

God is the one who saves us.  Who gives us happiness.  Who makes us complete.  Football may be the greatest sport ever invented, but it pales in comparison to what God offers.

Is football a sin?

Category : faith

I love football.  I get fired up on game day.  I’m never more emotional, excited, scared, and pumped up than during a Steelers game.  During each game, like millions of fans around the world, I feel the pain and thrill of loving an NFL team.

I’m lucky because I’m a Steelers fan.  Depending on the outcome of the game this weekend the Steelers may well be on their way to their 8th Super Bowl appearance (and hopefully 7th win!).  Not something many fans can enjoy.

But when I watch football there is a nagging question in the back of my mind.  It’s a question I don’t like.  It’s a question I’d rather not ask.  But deep down it’s a question I must ask: is football a sin?

I’m not talking about the violence or the cheating or the cheerleaders.  I’m not talking about the money or the fame or the trash talk.  What I’m talking about is my emotional involvement with football.

Why is it when the Steelers lose I’m in a bad mood for a week?  Why is it when I think back to previous seasons that ended in a playoff loss do I feel a pit in my stomach and hatred in my heart?  (I’m looking at you Neil O’Donnell.)

I think about this every time I watch football.

Why is it that I’m more fired up about football than my relationship with God?  Why do I block out 4 hours every Sunday for Steelers football, but not for church?  Why is it that I’m more excited by a last minute touchdown than the thought of feeding the hungry or curing the sick?

I’m not always like that.  In fact I’m involved in a lot of different things at my church.  Things I really care about.  Things I sacrifice for.  But none of those really come close to the thrill of a Steelers victory.

And I don’t think I like that anymore.

are we actually good people?

Category : faith

If you wanted to change software on your work computer, how many people would you need to help you?  Go ahead and think about it for a moment.  If you’re lucky you can do it yourself.  For most of us in the corporate world we don’t have that luxury.  (For me it would be three to five people depending on what I was doing.)

Why does it take that many people?

Because we live in a fallen world.  In other words, a world filled with people who don’t always do the right thing.  Ironically most of us gloss over this fact.  We think we’re “good people” and the only “terrible people” are the ones who commit murders and crimes.  And even then, some of us might argue, it’s only because they had bad childhoods or were picked on as kids.  (Of course if that’s the case doesn’t that mean those were terrible parents, terrible children, and terrible teachers?)

You see my world view, the one of Christianity, says that we as a species are broken.  That we aren’t “good people” who sometimes make mistakes.  In fact we’re terrible sin-ridden people, who are so separated from what is good (God) that we’re better described as terrible people who sometimes do good.  (If you find that shocking, you should.  It’s completely different than what most other world views will tell you.)

It’s this brokenness that causes us to need 5 people to install software.  We need to build that much security into our systems to protect ourselves.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Sure others are bad.  But I’m the exception.  I’m different.”

If that’s the case, why are you different?  What really makes you different than everyone else?  I’m not trying to pick a fight with you.  I just want you to think about your own life, and your own situation.  I want you to think about what you believe.

photo provided by flickr user ChrisL_AK

where was Jesus

Category : Jesus

I have heard people over the years challenge God by saying, “If God was so merciful, why did it take thousands of years for Jesus to show up? “  I think that’s a good question.  Why wasn’t Jesus standing outside of the Eden as Adam and Eve were being kicked out?  There’s no reason (that I know of) that would have prevented Jesus being there.  It’s not like it was impossible for God to do that.  Yet the question lingers: why did Jesus wait so long to enter the scene?

I think the answer lies in the journey itself.  God is more concerned about a relationship with us, then forcing us to be obedient.  It’s the same if you have kids.  You really want your kids to love you by their own choosing, not because you control their allowance, TV, or car privileges.  We know that deep down, a bribed love is no love at all.  Isn’t this the moral of many of those after-school-specials?  In those specials we learn that Betsy Sue’s “real friends” are the ones who want to spend time with her, not the ones who just want to ride in her new car.  (And if it’s on TV, it has to be true.)

It’s impossible to know for sure why God didn’t act faster.  But I think the evidence points to the fact that God was preparing us.  All of history, from Adam to Jesus is filled with examples of who God is, and what he wants for us.  He used the history of Israel to lay down the story that would guide our understanding of Jesus.  He time and again gave us a glimpse of who Jesus was.  Abraham, Moses, and David all demonstrate parts of God’s personality (just like you do, by the way.)  He showed us his power and redemption with stories like Daniel in the lion’s den and Esther’s position as a queen to save the Jews.

God wants us to be in relationship with him.  He wants us to be sons and daughters not servants and slaves.  If Jesus had come sooner, we wouldn’t have had the frame of reference to understand who he was, let alone why we needed him.  We would have been right back where Adam and Eve were.  And I think we would have been making the same choices as they did.  Because let’s face it, we all make daily choices against God.  It’s just that Jesus assumes our guilt.

I for one am glad it took Jesus so long to show up.

Photo provided by flickr user s-a-m

a skeptical view of god

Category : God, choice, sin

Some people don’t believe in God.  I know, I know, you’re shocked by that, right?  People give lots of reasons for not believing.  But for today I want to focus on just one: religion is not science.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently.  You hear arguments left and right about how science is objective, religion isn’t.  The reasoning goes that because you can “prove” science, then it’s free from bias.

As I watch the whole Global Warming is man made story begin to unravel in the news, I’m reminded that science may be free from bias, but humans are not.  It is becoming increasingly apparent that much of the research supporting global warming was made up at worst, or “manipulated” at best.

But this isn’t the first time someone has made up research.  And it won’t be the last time.

Now this isn’t a post about Global Warming and how we should respond.  God very clearly calls us to be good stewards for the planet, and I don’t think any Christian, regardless of their political leanings, can claim that we’re getting an A+ on that one.

What this post is about is human folly.  The fact that our pride can so blind us that we can’t even see our own hypocrisy.  Of course we don’t need a scientific scandal to prove that.  We’re pretty good at being hypocrites on a daily basis.

Sin impacts everything we do.  Whether it’s loving our families or conducting scientific research.  None of us are immune to sin.

God’s sovereign reign

Category : God, bible, faith, sin

One of my pet peeves is the phrase, “God’s sovereign reign.”  I can’t stand it when people start using that phrase.  Now I believe that God is in control.  And I believe that he’s the boss (not Tony Danza).  So in theory I have nothing against this phrase.  The problem is, when someone says, “God’s sovereign reign” what they really mean is “God just caused that bad thing to happen.”

This is their way of saying, “well God’s in control, so he must have a plan for wiping out all those people in a flood.”  Some people even go so far as to say that God has predetermined who is going to heaven and hell.  Predetermined as in “before you were even born.”

But I don’t buy any of that.

Why?  Because if it was “God’s sovereign plan” for disaster to strike and suffering to occur, why is God so upset?  You don’t see architects bemoaning the fact that their building is being built according to the blueprints.  You don’t see parents upset when their children are listening to their commands.

You see people upset when things aren’t working out.  When things don’t go according to plan.

Now it’s possible that I’m just not seeing the big picture.  That there’s something more going on behind the scenes that I just don’t have access too.  That was kind of the point of Job.

But for the vast majority of disasters I don’t think God is lurking in the shadows waiting to strike you down with cancer or unleashing tsunamis to destroy unrepentant villages.

Frankly I think all the disasters and suffering is a result of sin.  And sin is entirely outside of God’s plan.  God never wanted Adam & Eve to sin.  And he doesn’t want us to sin.  If sin was part of his plan, why did Jesus need to die sinless?  Which, of course, he did.

God is so brilliant at adjusting to our stupidity that it makes it look like it’s all part of his plan.  But God never wanted you to suffer.  God never wanted you to feel brokenness.  That was never part of his plan.   So don’t let someone tell you otherwise.

the pride of faith

Category : God, faith, living a life of faith

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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.

what to do when you make a mistake

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

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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?

Adam and Eve and original sin

Category : Genesis, God, different, failure, faith, sin

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And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2: 16-17)

Adam and Eve had one rule: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

That’s it.

And although that was the only rule, they just couldn’t help themselves.  They went ahead and did it anyway.  Sometimes I wonder how quickly it took before they made it to the fruit.  Part of me thinks it happened right away.  I know that when I’m told I can’t do something, that’s the one thing I want to do.  Is that an attitude I inherited from Adam?  Or has it just always been part of who we are as a species?  I don’t know.  But I know that urge is strong.  So maybe they got dropped off in the garden and then started eating forbidden fruit right away.

On the other hand, Adam had a lot of work to do.  There were a lot of animals to be named.  Adam of course did a good job with that.  Well, maybe with the exception of “platypus.”  So perhaps he was just too busy to go off eating forbidden fruit.

Eventually though, Adam and Eve turned toward that tree.  The one thing they weren’t allowed to touch they went after.  Satan knew exactly how to attack them.  He convinced them that God was holding out on them.  So they ate that fruit, and we’ve been paying for it ever since.

It can be easy to believe God wants us to be perfect.  But I’m not sure that’s his goal.  Perfection would mean we were God ourselves (because God is perfect).  And I don’t think that’s what God is going for.  God’s commands to Adam and Eve weren’t about perfection, they were about freedom.  They were about doing whatever they wanted – with one exception.

In fact, God’s first words to Adam were “you are free”.

Yet Adam and Eve still committed sin.  The original sin.  And we’ve never stopped sinning.  If Adam and Eve only had one thing they couldn’t do, what chance do you and I have to not sin?  The answer is “none.”  We will sin no matter how hard we try not to.

There’s part of me that is bothered by that realization.  I want to be perfect and not sin.  But that’s missing the point.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, perfection isn’t an issue.  We are perfect through him.  God isn’t expecting us to be more perfect.  He’s created a way to experience perfection while still making mistakes.

That’s just one of the many amazing and clever things God has done in his relationship with humanity.

Ultimately God is more interested in us growing closer to him than striving for perfection.  He knows that over time we will naturally sin less simply because we are connected with him.  This fact lives in tension with our culture.  We, as a society, believe in  the importance of “manning up.”  But that’s not what God wants.  He doesn’t want us to try harder.

The only thing that will do is cause us to fall down.

Sin may always be part of your life, but it doesn’t have to rule it.

guard your heart

2

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

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“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4: 23)

I wonder how many of us make a serious effort to guard our hearts.  Do we make our decisions based on protecting our heart?  Or do we make our decisions based on excitement, envy, desire, passion?

I don’t often like to talk about current events, but sometimes they serve as a good illustration.  Take the case of Ben Roethlisberger being accused of sexual assault.  I don’t know if he did it (if he does, he deserves to go to jail) if he didn’t, in many ways his life is ruined.  The same is true of the accuser.  If she’s a victim, something precious has been taken from her.  If she made up the story, then something is deeply broken inside her.

This whole incident occurred because they slept together.

I’m not here to moralize or judge, especially about people who may not have a relationship with God.  Yet I am here to point out: there’s a reason God gave us the 10 commandments.  It’s not to take away our fun.  It’s not so he can reserve good things for himself.  It’s because our hearts need protecting.  Every single time we violate the 10 commandments our heart is wounded.  Yet most of us don’t’ feel that way.  Why?  I think it’s because for most of us, our heart are so badly damaged we can barely feel them anymore.  We can’t imagine what it would be like to have a protected, guarded, safe heart.

Is it any wonder we live in an age of increasing skepticism and cynicism?

Our hearts are precious.  Maybe we should treat them that way.