the real way to recycle

Category : different

I’ve suddenly become concerned with energy conservation and CO2 emissions.  Why?  Because I’m buying a house and every bit of energy that escapes my house is money out of my pocket.  This sudden new found interest in energy efficiency, cost-cutting, and home improvement means I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to improve the energy use of my house.

As I’ve been doing research about this issue I have noticed one very common thread of advice: use less.

In other words if I want to save money on electricity I should turn off my AC or not watch TV.  Some sites suggest that I limit my showers to 4 minutes (yeah right).

Of course if I did all of these things, my utilities would certainly be lower.  There’s no arguing that.  But at what cost?

Compare that to the promises God makes.  He tells us that when we follow him we will be free, that we will gain life to the full, and that we will store up treasures in Heaven.  When we move towards God we always get something more.  Of course this doesn’t mean I end up with more money or a bigger house.  Following God comes at a cost.  But I can honestly say there has never been a moment in my relationship with God where I’ve felt short changed.  Every time I’ve given something up (even big things) I always feel like I come out ahead.  Whether this is through the changes God brings in my life, the freedom he provides, or the peace of mind he offers.  Those things far outweigh the money I give or the volunteering I sacrifice make sacrifices to do.

How many “deals” can you really say that about?

I don’t want to live my life “colder but with $12 extra this month.”  I want to live my life $3000 poorer, because I tithed, but my life has been changed.  To me, that’s the real way to recycle.

photo provided by flickr user myklroventine

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

an uneventful christmas

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

Christmas at the R3 household was surprisingly uneventful.  And that’s just the way I wanted it.

I admit, I am not exactly a “sit still” kind of guy.  In fact, I believe I am genetically incapable of sitting still.  Fidgeting is my spiritual gift.  But over the years I’ve really tried to learn to appreciate the “moment” instead of dreaming about some future event.  This does not come easily to me.  I have always been fascinated by ideas.  I’m drawn into dreams.  The pull of a better future is strong.  Sometimes I just find the present to be a bit too dull for my liking.  (Unless, of course I am talking to you, and then it’s really, really, exciting.)

As I’ve progressed in my relationship with God I’ve realized that much of what grows our faith is living in the moment.  The fact that we can’t control the future and we can’t change the past means we can only act in the present.  That’s where we live out a life of faith.

But that knowledge doesn’t always mean I follow through!

That’s why this year was so special.  I was able to focus on the present.  To enjoy it.  And for that I am grateful.

I hope that as you go through this crazy time of year, you can take time to focus on the present.

i don’t want to go through the motions

Category : Jesus, Matthew, fear, living a life of faith, taking action, trust

……….

I admit it.  The last few weeks have been a bit up and down on R3.  I haven’t been able to post the usual three times a week.  It seems events have been conspiring against me.  At first I was sick.  Then I realized it was NaNoWriMo.  (That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you scoring at home.)  And after writing about 20,000 words of a book, I had to put virtually everything on hold because, my friends, I have some good news to share.  I was offered a job on Monday and accepted.

That means after all this time I will finally be employed.

If you’ve been following R3 for any length of time you know that this last year has been hard.  I’ve been unemployed since the first of the year.  And that takes a toll on you.  More than just financially though. You can easily begin to doubt yourself.  And at times I really questioned where I was going.  Unemployment can also shake your faith.  There were times when I really wondered if I was really following God or just going off on my own tangents.  It also can impact your relationships.  It’s hard to be loving and engaged when you wonder where you will get enough money to pay the bills.  It’s also hard to stay active with your friends when they want to go do something that costs money and you don’t have the funds for that.

Looking back on the year I realize just how much I have learned and just how much I’ve grown.  I don’t even feel like the same person anymore.  And none of that would have been possible without trusting God and quitting my job.  The ironic thing is, that despite all the pain this year has caused, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.  In fact, it’s probably one of the best years I’ve ever had.

You see I don’t want to go through the motions.  I don’t want to look back on my life and wonder, “did I really give everything?”  I don’t want to just be that guy who punches the clock and that’s it.  I want my life to make a difference.  I want to advance the Kingdom in powerful ways, or at least in whatever ways I can.

Jesus once told the parable of the talents.  In it he described three men who were each given talents (which was a sum of money equivalent to about 3 months of wages).  Two of the men doubled what they had been given.  But the last man didn’t do anything with his talent.  He was afraid and therefore didn’t act.

When the master of the three men returned he demanded an account of how they had used the money.  The first two were rewarded greatly, and the last man was punished.  Not because he lost the money.  But because he didn’t do anything with his talent!

That terrifies me.

I would rather lead a life of adventure, and chaos, and unpredictability than live a safe, comfortable life that wasn’t about pursuing God.  I knew that I had a choice to make about my job.  Stay there and be comfortable, but do nothing with my “talent.”  Or be willing to trust God so much that I would walk into a completely unpredictable world.

I chose to act.

I don’t always choose to act.  And I’m not saying everyone should quit their job.  But I don’t want to look back some day and think, “why did I waste my talent?”

This is why the Matthew West song “The Motions” has become a theme song of sorts.

I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
Instead of going through the motions?”

That’s how I want to live.  How about you?  Are you going through the motions?

Jesus keeps his promise his way

Category : Jesus, different, faith, hope, prayer, trust

……….

One of the hardest things to do as a Christian is to trust in the promises of God.  We want to throw our own promises into the mix.  When we read that God gives us freedom, we think, “well that must mean I can retire with a six figure salary.”  When we hear Jesus say that we will be blessed, we think, “that’s great, that must mean I will have an easy life.”

Yet it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these things don’t always happen.  Is it any surprise that we become quickly disillusioned when our prayers “aren’t answered”?

I grew up believing in the religious “check box god.”  This was a god who would reward you if you just managed to get enough points or answer the questions correctly.  As long as you could do that it didn’t matter what was in your heart or how you lived your life.  Avoiding making a “big” mistake was all that mattered.  And of course “big” was defined as any mistake you hadn’t made before.

But that’s not what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus keeps his promises his way.  We can’t allow ourselves to insert our promises and call them God’s.  It doesn’t work that way.

I was reminded of this in my daily blog reading.  Jim Hamilton a pastor and professor discussed his experience with starting a church.

Sunday after Sunday, month after month, the same four families and a few singles gathered for worship at Baptist Church of the Redeemer.  As this happened, the Lord slowly disabused me of the notion that the church was going to grow because of me.  It hurts to have your pride molded into humility, but it feels good, too, and how liberating!  Not to mention the way others prefer humility to pride.

Through this experience, I learned that Jesus keeps His promise to build His church.  I learned the power of the Word of God.  And I learned – or made progress in learning – to love people.

As I’ve been out of work for 9 months now, I can’t even tell you how many times I have let my assumptions become what I thought was a promise from God.  And it was in those moments that I’ve been most tempted to turn away from him.  But Jesus keeps his promises.  He’s never let me down.  I just need to trust that his promises will be kept in his way, not mine.

God of the unexpected miracle

Category : God, bible, different, miracles, prayer

 

Sometimes we look at God as a giant slot machine.

All we need to do is pull on the handle marked “prayer” and out comes the jackpot.  But that’s not what happens.  While God answers many prayers, he doesn’t always answer them in the way we expect.

For instance, a common prayer might look like this:  “Lord – help me find the home of my dreams.”

When we make that prayer what we expect is to find the perfect house.  What may very well happen is that we suddenly discover we love living in our apartment or current house.  We don’t get the “thing.”  What we get is a new way of looking at what we already have.

This “unexpected miracle” plays out time and again in the Bible.  At one point Israel was under siege which was causing a horrible famine.  Things were so bad the Israelites turned to cannibalism.  This (rightly) infuriated the King.  But instead of trusting God, he blamed God and tried to kill Elisha (who was a prophet).

Yet when the King tried to retaliate against God he was confronted with something unexpected.  Elisha was promising that the famine would end and prices for food would drop to pre-famine levels.  Not only that, they would do it over night.  (Think about gas prices dropping from $4.50/gallon to $0.97 /gallon).

An officer with the King pointed out the obvious – even if the siege ended, they wouldn’t have enough food to immediately feed everyone.  This is logistics 101.

Yet God is the God of the unexpected.  And this miracle was no exception.  Israel prayed for a miracle, and what they got was an unexpected answer.  That night 4 men approached the Syrian camp.  When they arrived they found it to be empty.  There wasn’t a single soldier left.  But there was a ton of food.  In their haste to run away the Syrian’s had left all of their supplies.  God had managed to end the siege and provide food for the city.  Exactly what Elisha had predicted.

No one expected that miracle, but God acted any way.

I say all of this because it’s easy to believe God doesn’t answer prayers or provide miracles today.  Sometimes I even find myself wondering “where are all of God’s miracles?”  I have to actively remind myself that God answers prayers, just not always in the way I expect them.

Last week I experienced one of these unexpected miracles: my girlfriend’s phone broke.  Okay, so that wasn’t the miracle.  The miracle was how we got it fixed!

The phone broke late Wednesday night, and she needed it for work.  We didn’t exactly have the money to buy a new phone or to wait 2 weeks for a replacement phone to be mailed.  So we did something a bit strange – we prayed over the phone and asked that God would “fix” it so that it would work.

And yes, it feels very weird to pray out loud about a cell phone.  But I did it anyway.  I figured God can do anything, why couldn’t he fix a cell phone?

After we finished the prayer we turned it on and nothing happened.  We left the battery out over night hoping that would help.  Still nothing.  Feeling a little discouraged we ultimately decided to go to the cell phone store.  We had resigned ourselves to getting a new phone.  But as I said, God is a God of unexpected miracles.  When we got to the store they simply gave us a brand new phone as a replacement.  No hassle.  No arguing.  Not even a pressured sale to renew a service plan.  They just handed us the new phone, transferred the data, and we were out the door.

That miracle was not expected.  I fully believed God could fix the cell phone and make it work if he chose to do so.  But I expected the original phone to work, not to get a brand new replacement.

God didn’t meet my expectations.  Instead he showed me he is capable of answering prayers in ways I could never imagine.

I wonder about the ways God shows up in my life unexpectedly and I miss him because I have set expectations of what God should look like.  I am reminded that this is what happened to the Pharisees.  They expected God to be legalistic, demanding, and tough.  What they got was a man who hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes and spoke of revolutionary love.  They missed the amazing because they refused to believe in the unexpected.

I don’t want to miss out on God just because he didn’t meet my preconceived notions of who he should be and what he should look like.  I want to learn to expect the unexpected.

God of the mundane

1

Category : faith, hope, miracles, trust

 

Sometimes the best thing we can do is the mundane.  Sometimes that’s where God meets us. 

The story of Zechariah is like that.  He and his wife had tried for years to have children.  But couldn’t.  In a society that valued a male heir so highly, the pain must have been horrible.  How many times, I wonder, did they cry out “God where are you?  Why are you silent?!”

But God wasn’t silent.

In the midst of Zechariah doing his job (as a priest no less) God met him.  And told him he and his wife would have a son.  That son would grow up and be called John the Baptist – the man who would prepare the world for Jesus’ arrival.  (Luke 1: 5-15)

This story strikes me for the simple reason that despite their fears, their concerns, and their doubt they remained obedient.  If Zechariah had said, “God hasn’t shown up in all these years, I’m going to quit my job!” I wonder if he would have ever encountered God. 

I think he wouldn’t have.

Only through obedience – doing the mundane – that Zechariah and Sarah experienced God.  This forces me to look at my life.  Am I not doing the mundane, am I not being obedient, simply because I want to see something flashy?  Do I wait to act until I see cheap theatrics?  Or do I act simply because who God is excites me?  What would my life look like if I never heard from God again?

 

trusting God when it seems impossible

2

Category : 1 Kings, faith, fear, live for the eternal, taking action

  

Life can be hard.

There are millions of people without jobs.  They wonder how they’ll feed their families, pay their mortgages, and make things work.  There are millions more who are without food, hundreds of thousands sold into sex slavery, and countless more without any kind of health care. 

How do you deal with those things?

This isn’t an academic conversation to me.  This is real.  This hits home. 

I’m out of a job because I acted in faith when God told me it was time to move on.  I acted, and now I wonder if that was the right thing.  Did I hear him correctly?  Or did I eat some bad pizza?  Of course at the time I had no idea what was going to happen to the economy.  I had no idea how hard it would be to find another job (I’d never had a problem in the past).  I acted because I believe that’s what God wanted me to do. 

I don’t pretend to understand everything.  I’d also be lying if I said I’m not tempted to find a solution “on my own.”  Isn’t that the reasonable thing to do?

The world tells us we need to fend for ourselves.  And in those quiet moments when we’re alone, isn’t that what we hear whispered from the bottom of our soul?  Don’t we hear a voice that says, “this problem can only be solved if you do something!”

That must have been the voice Asa heard. 

Asa was a king who was once described as someone who “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (1 Kings 15:11)  That was high praise considering the kings before him were pretty awful people.  But by the end of his life, Asa had succumbed to that voice.  He was being attacked from the south and feared his kingdom would be overrun.  So he did what any rational, normal person would do – he made an alliance with someone stronger. 

He listened to that voice and “did something.”

You see that voice is right.  Our problems won’t be solved if we don’t take action.  If we sit around paralyzed by fear, doing nothing, nothing is exactly what will happen.  Unfortunately Asa thought action meant bribing a foreign king (1 Kings 15: 18-19) when he should have realized that action meant trusting God.   

That’s the danger we all face.  We want to take action.  But we don’t always want to wait for God to get involved.  So we act.  But what happens when we’re wrong?  What happens when action without God is the worst thing we could have done?  

No one wants to hear God say, “Because you relied on man, and not God, your problems will be worse than before.”  Asa wasn’t any different.  When he was told that, he didn’t say “gee thanks, I didn’t realize that.”  Nope.  Asa took the man delivering the news and threw him in jail.  (2 Chronicles 16: 10)

In the end, things did get worse.  Asa died from an infectious disease.  In his feet.  Not exactly the best way to go out.  But even worse, in the end Asa didn’t even bother turning to God to ask for help.  He decided it was more important to “do something” then to rely on God.  So he sought out the best doctors of the time - and died two years later. 

That’s not where I want to be. 

No matter how scary it gets not having a job, I don’t want to “do something” if that something means leaving God out of the solution.  I don’t believe for a minute that God wants us to sit around waiting only for a miracle to occur.  I think he wants us to give problems every ounce of our strength.  If you are sick he wants you to see doctors.  If you’re facing an invading army, he wants you to seek allies.  If you are homeless he wants you find a home.  If you’re jobless he wants you looking for a job.  But he doesn’t want you to do it alone. 

There are times we need to trust God when it seems impossible.  Asa failed that test.  But we don’t have to. 

No matter what our problems are, trusting God is the right solution.  Because as Asa discovered, no matter how brilliant a doctor is, they are still limited by time, knowledge, and skill.  I’m not saying following God is easy.  In fact, following God is tough.  It’s even painful at times: the man who told Asa he was wrong, wound up in prison.  Yet, there are more important things in this life than having a job, defeating an invading army, and even your freedom.

There is a point to life.  And sometimes to get there we have to trust God even when it seems impossible. 

i’m a loser

Category : Jesus, Mark, choice, failure, faith, taking action

 

Success.  Failure.  We all experience these things.  Even if you’re Bill Gates or Tom Brady you will have both highs and lows in your life.  That’s just the way it is.  In fact, we’re all losers – we all have more failures than successes. 

In the AFC championship game a Steelers rookie dropped a pass that was a guaranteed touchdown.  He was so wide open it was embarrassing.  And yet at the moment that would have crowned his rookie year, he blew it.  A moment that would have sealed him in Steelers history, he choked and took his eyes off the ball.

We’ve all been there.  Well, ok, maybe we haven’t screwed up before a live TV audience.  But we’ve all screwed up in public ways.  And we have all wanted to lie on the ground and pretend we’re injured, just like Sweed did.  We think, “well if we’re injured, at least we have an excuse.”  Which feels so much better than admitting you’re a loser.

We live in a world that pretends you can be successful 100% of the time.  We’re told that life can be easy.  That it can be safe.  That the worst thing that can happen to us is to be placed in danger.  But the truth is, that’s a lie. 

The world is filled with failure.  And we are all losers. 

The question isn’t, “will I fail?”  The questions is, “will I get back up again?”  Limas Sweed almost didn’t get back up.  He almost stayed on the ground.  But something changed his mind.  Something made him get back up.  And you know what?  He became a winner.  He had two key plays that changed the course of the game.  He unleashed a devastating block and had a key catch.

In one game Sweed was both a loser and a winner.  That sounds a lot like our lives, doesn’t it?   

Peter had days like that too.  On the day Jesus was arrested, Peter put his best foot forward and declared,  ”even if all fall away, I will not!“  I think most of us would be thrilled to make such a bold statement.  We’d love to take a stand for Jesus that many people refused to do.  Yet, within a few hours Peter was hiding in fear, denying his relationship to Jesus. 

Peter was a loser.

But that’s not where his story ends.  And it doesn’t have to be where our story ends.  Peter went on to change the world with his life.  He got back up.  And because of that was able to do something amazing. 

That’s what God wants for all of us: to get back up.  We may be laying on the ground, just like Peter, but we don’t have to stay there.  We can get up and keep moving forward.  That’s the whole point of grace. 

There may be no better definition of faith then getting up one more time – especially when we don’t feel like it.  That’s what it means to live out a life of faith. 

prayer thursday: compared to others…

Category : different, failure, faith, prayer thursday, trust

 

Is there anything easier than comparing what you have with what other people have?  More importantly is there any faster way of making yourself depressed?  Psychologists have even built entire theories around these social comparisons. 

We often think that just because you believe in Jesus, it means your life gets easier.  Often that’s not the case.  And just because you believe, it doesn’t mean you are less likely to compare yourself to others.

jealous comparisons

Lord – Help me to stay focused on you.  Remind me that my job isn’t to judge, but to be faithful.  It’s not to be jealous, but be trusting.  Yet…it’s hard, and I often fail.  It’s so much easier for me to look around and see the lives people live, and the things people have than to trust you.  Help me to break that habit.  Help me to stay focused on you, even when my eyes want to wander away.  Help me to be excited about what I have, not jealous of what I don’t need.