a Christmas lesson

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Category : God, different, faith, fear, hope, sharing faith

  

As I’ve mentioned a couple times on R3, I will not have a job come January.  Knowing that has been an interesting experience.  But maybe not in the way you would expect. 

I find I’m focusing more on the things I have than the things I don’t.  I’m also realizing all of the things that used to bother me, such as not having a house, are now blessings.  (No house = No mortgage payments)  

The biggest challenge has been learning to not buy things for myself.  Games, books, CD’s, movie tickets, that sort of stuff.  Things that I never really gave much thought to, are now out of reach.  So what does this have to do with Christmas?  Well, for the first time, in a very long time, I’m really excited about Christmas.  I am now being given presents that I could never afford on my own.  Even simple gifts such as a CD or a book is a big deal, and I am grateful for each and everything I have received.

Sometimes we think the solution to all of our problems is money or comfort.  That if we could only get more stuff, then we’d be happy.  Yet I’m learning that’s not true at all.  Sometimes the best thing that can happen to us is to struggle.  Because it’s in those moments we are forced to rely on God.  And anytime we trust God, miracles happen.

So I may soon be without a job, but even in the midst of that, God is working miracles.  I am learning things I never expected.  Funny how God works like that.

 

away in the manger

Category : God, faith, hope, taking action, trust, worship

  

We’ve all heard the story of Jesus’ birth.  We know that he was born into a family of humble origins.  That he was born in a manger because his parents couldn’t find a room.  We know that Mary was a virgin, and that it was through a great leap of faith she had Jesus.

But whenever I hear this story, I find myself thinking about Joseph

Often we hear this story told from the perspective of Mary or the Wise Men, or even Jesus.  And those are all good ways of looking at this story.  But I think sometimes we lose sight of Joseph’s profound faith.  Remember, he was well within his rights, by Jewish law, to have Mary put to death for adultery.  They had been pledged to be married, and instead she was pregnant. 

Yet he didn’t. 

Instead Joseph trusted a dream he had was from God.  Joseph trusted that God was doing something special, and that even though he didn’t understand, he would act in faith.  All of this means Joseph must have been quite a man to have put his faith in God like that, especially in an honor and shame culture.  After all, Mary knew she hadn’t “known” anyone.  Joseph, on the other hand, had to take her word for it (and of course, the message he received from God).

It would have been easy for him to begin believing the rumors that must have been swirling in such a small community.  You can’t keep secrets like that in a small town.  Yet Joseph remained faithful to both God and Mary.   

There are many times I hear about a tragedy or some extreme act of heroism and I would like to think I would have acted the same.  I’d like to think that when push really comes to shove, I’d be willing to trust God over everything.  But would I?  Would I be able to marry someone who said they were pregnant, but the child was God’s?  Would I believe God spoke to me in a dream?  Or would I believe the snide comments being made by my neighbors?

I will never know.  But I think there’s a really good chance I would have chalked that dream up to a bad slice of pizza.

what? me worry?

Category : Matthew, choice, faith, fear, hope, trust

 

What does a sick 3 year old, being kicked off a flight, and losing a power strip have in common?  They are all things that in my two weeks of travel I never expected, and yet they were my biggest challenges. 

Before I left I expected computer problems, stress, or even getting lost in some strange city to be my biggest issues.  But all of those went smoothly.  In fact even driving around Chicago was easy.  Every single thing I worried about worked out perfectly.  What I found was a sudden supply of unexpected problems!  Things that had never even crossed my mind.

Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”  I’m not sure that point has ever been driven home more than these last few weeks. 

I look back at all the stress and feel a little embarrassed by it.  All of the anxiety I felt was pointless.  I didn’t accomplish anything through worry.  I didn’t solve any problems by being nervous.  It was just a big waste of my time and energy. 

I’d like to say I am cured of my need to worry.  But I know that’s not really true.  I think I can honestly say, however, that things are just a bit more in perspective.  And isn’t that what the Christian faith is all about?  Each day making a little more progress towards God. 

life’s biggest lesson?

Category : David, Saul, faith, fear, taking action

  

“The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Samuel 17: 37)

This was David’s response when Saul asked him why he thought he could beat Goliath, a man that every other Israelite feared.  Sometimes all we need is to apply the things that God has already taught us.  David didn’t need more proof that God would help him – he already had two examples.  And for David, that was enough.

reader comment: right where I need to be

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Category : God, R3, bible, failure, hope, reader comments

   

Not to sound melodramatic but I think there’s a moment (possibly several) in a person’s life where they question if what they are doing is worthwhile.  Is the project you’re working on meaningful?  Is the business you’ve started going to be relevant.  Are you making a difference in people’s lives? 

It’s easy to fall into the idea that we’re somehow not doing “enough.”  And that’s where I’ve been the last few days.  I was wondering if I was doing enough professionally.  Was I reaching everyone I could with R3?  Should I do more? 

I expressed these concerns to a friend, and she said something that froze me in my tracks:

I think you’ve got something backwards here :o ].  It’s not you that needs to make something out of your life, it’s God.  That I know of, nowhere in the bible does God tell us that we have to make something out of ourselves.  That’s His job…our job is to listen to what He says and act on what we hear, whether that’s physically doing something, or waiting on God to do something.

Ouch.

She’s right though.  I can’t think of a single example where God said, “why don’t you make something out of yourself?  What are you waiting for?”  God always says, be obedient, and let me do the rest.

All I need to worry about is listening to God, then obeying. 

What a relief!

practice makes perfect

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Category : 1 Timothy, Jesus, Luke, Paul, taking action, trust

   

Life can feel so hard.

Some days the weight of it seems to be crushing. It’s in those moments where all the advice you’ve ever received just doesn’t seem like enough. Things like “trust God” or “God loves you” feel so empty, so meaningless.

Of course it’s not.

Those things are entirely true. But simply saying that doesn’t really solve anything. We need to have some way to put it all into practice. It’s almost as if we need to experience it before we can live it.

Have you ever met someone who just seemed to “shine” with an intense glow, as if there was something special radiating from them? While it’s unlikely they just ate a lamp, what is happening is their faith makes them look different. These are the people who are living out their trust in God. They know that God loves them, no matter what the situation.

Sometimes I think we expect things to come too easily. That believing in God is a magic pill that makes our life easy. When we see these “glowing” people we think their lives must be fine. That they aren’t experiencing problems, because if they had our problems, they wouldn’t be so intensely different.

But nothing is that easy. They have problems just like you and I. But they know something important: faith takes work.

Paul tells us that we should “Train [ourselves] 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)

Living out a life of faith doesn’t happen by accident. And it doesn’t happen over night. It takes (literally) practice. We have to make choices that bring us closer to God. And the more we do this, the more “radiant” we become.

If this seems like an impossible task just remember…even Jesus “grew in wisdom.” (Luke 2: 52)

why does God take so long?

Category : Exodus, God, faith, hope, trust

  

Why can’t God just answer my prayers?

I wonder that all the time. 

I mean he is all powerful.  How hard can it be to snap his fingers and just make something happen?  I don’t see what the issue is.

And that, I think, is the answer.  No matter how much we know, there are simply some things that we can never know.  For instance, we can never know what would happen if we went to a different college, married a different person, or slept through our alarm.  Well that last one might get you fired.  But in general we will never know the road not taken.  

The interesting thing is, God does know.  He’s fully aware of what would happen if things went differently.  When God promised Israel their own land, I’m sure some of them thought, “well why can’t we have it all at once.”  To me that doesn’t seem like an unreasonable question.  God did, after all, promise it to them.  

Yet there were things that Israel couldn’t know.  There were things they probably never even thought of.  Fortunately God had, “But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.” (Exodus 23: 29-30)

God knew their lives would be harder, not easier if he simply gave them everything they wanted.  I wonder what I am impatient for, and God is saying “Be patient, trust me, you aren’t ready for this yet.  But you will be.”

 

proof of God

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Category : Exodus, God, faith, miracles

  

“You will know that it was the LORD when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him.” (Exodus 16: 8)

I’ve often heard people say, “if only God would do something to prove he was real, I’d believe him.”  If I’m honest I have to admit that I’ve said that exact thing.  Sometimes I still do.  But is that really what makes you believe in God?

The Israelites had all the proof they could ever want.  They had just been delivered from years of slavery.  They had seen their families and livestock spared while Egypt’s were destroyed. They had seen miracle after miracle, and yet, they still couldn’t simply believe in God.

Doesn’t this hold true to our experiences as well?  When God gives us exactly what we want, don’t we find a way to discredit the miracle?  We find ourselves saying it was coincidence or “a lucky break.”  Sometimes we even take credit for it ourselves.  After all, it was only your determination that got you that job interview, right?

God is always giving us evidence for his existence.  He was no different with the Israelites.  That’s the amazing thing about God – when Israel doubted him, he simply gave them more reason to believe.   “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.’” (Exodus 16: 12)

I would have told Israel they could eat when they found the next Quick-E-Mart.

For some of us no amount of evidence seems to be enough.  But maybe, just maybe, the issue isn’t really about God.  Maybe it’s more about how we respond to what God does show us. 

time to be free

Category : Exodus, God, bible, faith, taking action, trust

   

What would you do for your freedom?  This is exactly the question that Israel was facing.  Of course the answer was simple: follow God’s commandments.  It doesn’t seem like that much really.  God even gave Israel a straightforward ‘to do’ list. Their sole responsibility would be to follow a couple of rules about how they were to prepare the meal (Passover). (Exodus 12: 1-11)  If they did that they would live and escape Egypt.

As we know, they escaped.

You’d think that after seeing everything they saw, they would be forever grateful to the one who set them free.  But you’d be wrong.  By the second month they were already unhappy (Exodus 16:1-3).  As they say, the honeymoon didn’t last long.

We spend so much of our time wondering where God is.  But maybe that’s not really the issue.  Maybe we should wonder why we aren’t willing to do the things necessary to set ourselves free.  Maybe we should ask, “why am I not allowing God to set me free?”

nonnegotiables

Category : God, taking action, trust

 

Focus.

That is not a word I often use to describe myself. By my nature I’m easily distracted. Not because I can’t pay attention when I want to – but because so many things fascinate me it’s hard to concentrate on just one thing.

As a kid I never had a hard time thinking of something I wanted to be when I grew up. There were so many exciting possibilities. Would I be an astronaut? How about a comic book artist? A writer? The next Indiana Jones?

As an adult it’s still hard for me to focus on just one goal. There are still so many things I want to do with my life that sometimes I feel paralyzed – not by fear, but by excitement. I am excited about all the amazing possibilities that lay before me.

In Wide Awake, Erwin McManus suggests that the most difficult decisions in life aren’t between good and evil – but between two equally good choices.

I think this is true.

After all, how do we make a decision between becoming an astronaut and a doctor? Or a football star instead of a baseball player? Or the most important question of all: hot dogs or hamburgers?

Life is filled with endlessly good choices competing for our attention. That’s why it’s fundamentally important to know what we won’t negotiate. We need to know what things we won’t surrender no matter what the situation. And dare I say, no matter the cost?

This applies just as much to our faith as it does to our lives.

It’s hard to know how to interpret rock bands (good), or long hair (meh), or the prosperity gospel (bad) if you don’t know what your nonnegotiables are. If we don’t know what defines God, then we get upset over something as simple as the music you play in church.

When everything has equal importance you can’t separate preferences from necessities. And so we attack people who have a different set of preferences – even when they agree with us on the necessities.

Of course there’s something deeper here too. We can’t live “wide awake” if we don’t know our core convictions. We can’t live out our dreams if we don’t know when to say “no” and when to say “yes.”

Ravi Zacharias tells a story about Henry Martyn

Martyn was not an attractive man.  (Or at least that’s what history records.)  Because of his embarrassment by the way he looked, he preferred to stay away from people.  He lived his life on the edges of relationships.  That is, until a young woman was able to see beyond his appearance,  and fell in love with him. 

Naturally he fell in love with her.

His other love was God.  So sitting in church one day, Martyn heard about India and the desperate need to bring God to the people of that country.  Suddenly Martyn knew what his dream was.  He knew that to live wide awake, he had to move to India. 

And so he went to the woman he loved and asked her to join him. 

She refused. 

Devestated Martyn began to question his calling to Africa.  Was this really the dream God had for him?  Was he even hearing it correctly?  How could he choose between India and the woman he loved?

As he wrestled with his choice he realized it wasn’t a choice between a woman and India – but between this special woman and God.

Henry Martyn knew what was nonnegotiable in his life.  He knew that nothing was more important than God.  As hard as it must have been, he left England and moved to India.  And died there at the age of 31. 

Martyn risked everything, and sacrificed so much, because he knew the things he couldn’t compromise.  His decision cost him the woman he loved, produced tremendous physical suffering, and in the end took his life.  But because he knew his priorities, he lived his life with both focus and purpose.  He lived wide awake.

So what are your nonnegotiables?  What will you never compromise?