shattered illusions

Category : God, different, faith, fear, trust

Work is crushingly busy right now.  So is life.  Things get that way sometimes.  I think it’s part of the human condition.

I know I’m not alone in this.  There’s a lot of us who have visions of what we want to do – but get overwhelmed by the day to day stuff.  To have wave after wave of emergencies, problems, (and opportunities) hit one after another.  It seems that as hard as I work, the next wave of stuff waiting to crash on top of me.  Sound familiar?

Our faith is no different.

It can be very hard to see the big picture.  Life has a way of becoming so overwhelming because we see a moment-by-moment view.  Imagine yourself swimming in the ocean.  As you strength starts to wane your vision is filled with wave after wave.  Each time a wave crashes over you, you lose a little bit of energy.  A little bit of momentum.  And pretty soon we stop looking for the shore at all.  Because no matter where the shore is, all we care about is making it through the next wave.

I wrote this a few months ago.

Here is my challenge to you – take a week away from the news.  Don’t worry about swine flu, politics, the economy or anything else.  Focus on God and see what he wants for your life.  Focus on breaking out of the lies the world tells you.  And then a week from now tell me what you experienced.  My guess is you actually felt a little hopeful and a little optimistic.  You’ll see that there’s more to this world than just a scientific approach (this comes from someone who spends much of his time studying science).

My guess is you’ll start to see through the cracks and you’ll realize that you don’t have to go along with what the world says.  You don’t have to let it dictate your behavior or your choices.  You have the option to choose freedom.  To choose life.  Don’t let the thief give you lies in place of truth.

I never got around to publishing it.

I find it interesting that all of those things seem not as significant as they once did.  It’s hard to remember the panic people felt with Swine Flu.  (Or the constant media stories about how we were all going to die.)  People were saying Obama would change the direction of the country forever, now they are saying he might not get any major legislation passed.  I personally struggled through nearly a year of unemployment (now I’m employed, which of course makes it harder to write posts on R3!).  And the list goes on and on.

Wave after wave of information comes pounding through our lives.  It’s no wonder we feel tired and worn out.  Yet through all of this God has that big picture view that we lack.  He can see over the waves.  He knows where the shore is.

Sometimes I wonder how God can help me overcome the problems in my life.  Yet he has overcome far greater challenges than swine flu or the economy.  He rose from the dead for cryin’ out loud!

This is why our faith is so important.  Our faith gives us something to hold onto when things seem overwhelming.  Faith isn’t a weakness, it’s a strength.  No one says, “I don’t want a life preserver – it’s just a crutch.  I much prefer struggling in the waves on my own.”  We recognize what it is – something that helps us overcome obstacles we couldn’t by ourselves.

When life seems overwhelming remember that to God our waves are nothing more than a wading pool.  And that all we need to do is reach out and take his hand, and we too can see the shore.

Faith puts things into perspective.

problems don’t last forever

Category : Daneil, God, choice, hope, sin, trust

“His successor will send out a tax collector to maintain the royal splendor.  In a few years, however, he will be destroyed, yet not in anger or in battle.” (Daniel 11:20)

Why is it that the weekend flies by, but the work week takes forever?  Why do we find sitting through a lecture painful, but watching a movie easy?  Why does vacation come and go when our daily commute takes so long?

Unless someone has mastered time travel (if so, please let me know) then all of these things can be explained by one simple word: perception.

Perception is that finicky thing that changes our reality.  It makes us believe something has happened when it hasn’t.  It makes us hot when we should be cold, and cold when we should be hot (this is why you say “boy it’s hot” when it’s 50 degrees outside in February, but not when it’s 50 in August).

Perception can be a major obstacle to our faith.

Perception may tell us that we can never change, that nothing good will ever happen, and we will be stuck “here” forever.

We are most vulnerable to these tricks when we are suffering.  We somehow know that “all good things must come to an end” and “it’s too good to last”.  We even have clichés devoted to them.  But when it comes to pain and suffering we often forget that those things don’t last either.

This was true in Israel’s case.

After centuries of not listening to God, Israel finally found themselves overwhelmed by a powerful enemy (Babylon).  As part of their punishment for losing the war, many of their most highly educated men were taken captive to become slaves (this is what happened to Daniel).  While most of the women and children were just outright murdered.

Many Jews simply couldn’t believe this was happening.  They were God’s chosen people.  They had been set free from captivity already.  How could they be going back?!  They never really thought God would let something like this happen to them.  Although if they had paid attention to prophets like Jeremiah, they would have figured it out.

But nothing lasts forever.  At least not in this world.

And I think God was reminding them of this.  In the story of Daniel, God simply slipped two sentences into the conversation.  Gently saying, “you will see tax collectors gathering money for a powerful kingdom, but even in the midst of that, their country will fall apart.”

Not even captivity lasts forever.

That was a lesson that the Jews needed to remember.  Because they were going to spend a long, long time in captivity.  They had to know that there was hope.  They had to remember who to hope in.  Those were things they had forgotten.

Bad things don’t last forever.  Maybe we need to remember that from time to time.

healing a broken heart

1

Category : God, Romans, different, faith, hope, shame, trust

……….

My girlfriend has the most annoying cat known to man.  This is the type of cat who the minute you sit down jumps into your lap.  He’s the type of cat who can’t go five minutes without craving attention.  He’s the type of cat you almost always step on, because he’d rather be under foot (literally) than in another room.  I have never seen a cat who wants more human interaction.

We often joke that he’s “broken.”

But the sad reality is, he is broken.  He is what is sometimes called a “rescue cat.”  That’s a cat who was mistreated and been removed from a home.  In Ben’s case, he was abused as a kitten.  Mistreated in cruel ways.  And because of that he’s developed an unhealthy need for attention.

So what does Ben have to do with living out a life of faith?  Simple.  That cat is a reflection of many of us.

Many of us walk around broken.  We carry the wounds of abuse, sexual assault, cruelty and vindictiveness.  We are weighed down by those horrible acts.  And in response we turn to unhealthy fixations.  We may crave attention.  Crave validation.  Crave sex, drugs, or alcohol.  Anything to make the pain stop.  Even for a moment.

Yet we have something that Ben, the cat, can never experience.  We have a redeeming God who is actively trying to rework our lives to bring in new meaning.  We no longer have to be confined by our pain.  We can be set free.

Sometimes people will say, “all things work for good for those who believe.“  And they take that to mean that everything, no matter how horrible is God’s will.

It isn’t.

God doesn’t want you to suffer any more than he wants that Ben (the cat) to suffer.

What that phrase really means is that God can take your suffering and change the meaning.  Your pain can be used for something other than bondage.  It can be used as a platform for healing and growth.  I once heard Wess Stafford, President and CEO of Compassion International, speak.  He shared his experience of torture and abuse at the hands of people his parents trusted to take care of him.  How do you overcome that horror?

The truth is, on your own you can’t.  On your own you end up like Ben.  Broken.  But with God’s help, Wess’ story is one of redemption.  One of hope.  It’s about God being bigger than the most terrifying things in the world.  It’s about God redeeming a moment, and using it to touch millions of kids around the world.

That’s what that verse means.  That’s what it means when all things work for good.

We don’t have to remain broken.  We can ask God to redeem us, to change the meaning of our pain.  And you know what?  He will.

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.

does god answer prayers

Category : Matthew, different, faith, fear, living a life of faith, trust

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks,  the door will be open.  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7: 7-11)

Sometimes I think that just because I ask God for something I should get it.  And when I don’t, I’m shocked.  “How can God not answer my prayers?!” I cry out.  But as I read the story of Israel, I have to wonder, is that what’s really happening?

I’ve talked about how the trip to the Promised Land was only an 11 day trek.  Yet it took the Israelites 40 years to make it.  Why?  Not because God hadn’t answered their prayers of salvation (he had, even though they constantly doubted).  But because God knew that if the Israelites went directly to the Promised Land they would have been destroyed by what they found.

As it turns out it was the struggle of the journey that allowed them to become strong enough to enter the Promised Land.  It was their suffering which strengthened them.  It was their growing relationship with God that allowed them to have the faith necessary.  And once they were ready, or perhaps I should say, only when they were ready, did God open that door.

If Israel had avoided the disaster of 40 years in the wilderness, they would have experienced complete destruction at the hands of their enemies.  We are so quick to assume that God has abandoned us, when we don’t know all the facts.

The band, Since October has a song called disaster that really drives this home:

thank God for disaster
disaster and tears
thank God for my reasons
my reasons to fear
every time that I’ve lost it all and death is calling me
i understand this is what saved my life again

It is hard for me to remember that God often says “yes”, but it takes time for that “yes” to become a reality.  Living in a world of “lose 6 pounds in 6 days” and Instant Ramen Noodles it is hard for me to be patient.  I don’t like to wait for things.  But as the Israelites learned, sometimes waiting is the only way to get where you want to go.

Perhaps I should spend less time whining to God, and more time trusting and believing in God.  Perhaps I should spend less time avoiding problems, and more time thanking God for disaster.

living your faith in problems

1

Category : God, faith, hope, living a life of faith, trust

……….

“Every unexpected problem presents us with a choice – do we trust God and continue to live a life of faith?  Or do we trust ourselves, and move away from God?” That’s how I finished my last post about overcoming unexpected problems.  Little did I know that an hour after that article posted I’d be calling 911 because my girlfriend was going into anaphylactic shock.  Little did I know I’d be riding shotgun in an ambulance to the hospital.  And little did I know that I’d find out the following day I didn’t get a job I felt particularly qualified for.

Now I find myself not just suggesting a theoretical thing – living a life of faith in the midst of unexpected problems – but actually faced with those choices myself.

Every unexpected problem presents us with a choice - do we trust God and continue to live a life of faith? Or do we trust ourselves, and move away from God?

As strange as it is, the best thing I could have done on Wednesday was to write that article.  It prepared me to face  what was coming around the corner.  I reject the idea that you need to have blind faith to live out a life of faith.  I think that idea is ridiculous.  God never asks us to follow him unknowingly.

We, as believers, should take every opportunity to learn about God and the world around us.  We should be at the leading edge of scientists, philosophers, artists and thinkers.  Not because we need to show what we can contribute, but because the more we search for God, the more prepared we are to deal with the unexpected.

I don’t know if everything that’s happened in the last 36 hours is some part of “God’s plan for my life.”  Some people would say yes.   What I do know is that God is always faithful.  He never abandons us.  And I know he hasn’t abandoned me now.  Jesus said that it was easy to love the people who love you, but difficult to love your enemies.  The same is true when our lives are going well.  It’s easy to say we believe in God when we don’t have a care in the world.  How much harder is it to say that we believe when our lives are hard?

So again I ask you – when life presents you with a problem, what are you going to choose?  I’ve made my choice.  How about you?

does God want you to clean your room?

4

Category : God, faith, taking action, trust

 

Cleaning and God.  You’re probably wondering what those two things have in common, aren’t you? 

Well to be honest so was I.  At least at first.  But it all clicked a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  Or maybe that was Star Wars?   I think in my case it all started with a problem and a simple conversation with God.  That’s much, much closer and not that long ago.  Last week really.  But I digress.   

When I have a problem I like to talk it over with God.  I’ll talk to God about pretty much everything in my life.  I don’t care if it’s a big thing, like what to do about my job search, or something really important, like where to go for dinner.  I like to hear what God might have to say.    

This case was no different.  I was struggling with a creative / technical issue involving a new project I’ve started.  And I wasn’t having any luck coming to a solution  Especially working at my desk.  So I did what any good ADD-prone person does; I started to clean. 

I figured while I was cleaning I could ask God what he thought about my problem.  I bounced a few ideas off of him.  And then waited.  Nothing.  

“Just great” I thought.  “Not only is my apartment a disaster, but now I’m not getting any feedback from the Big Guy.”

I stood there looking at my apartment, quickly losing the desire to even try to clean the mess.  When I heard God say something.  Now it wasn’t audible or anything.  I didn’t see a burning bush (or a burning can of Pledge).  But the part of me that’s “wakes up” when God is speaking could hear something. 

“Don’t stop cleaning” God whispered.

“What?”  I thought.  “Why does God care if I’m cleaning?!”

To which I heard, “just be obedient.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s not really my favorite phrase.  But I started cleaning again.  The whole time I kept mulling over my problem with God.  I kept asking him questions, and kept getting silence.  In all honesty there was part of me getting frustrated. 

What I didn’t realize was that I had lost track of time.  So when I took a step back and looked up I was shocked to see that what once seemed like an insurmountable problem (seriously, you should have seen the mess) and uncertainty (where am I going to put it all) was replaced with a voice that said, “sometimes all you need to do is be obedient and the problems work themselves out.”

I never would have guessed that God would have used cleaning to teach me more about him.  And while my original problem didn’t get solved, I am encouraged.  Because I know that as long as I keep working, as long as I focus on obedience instead of the “what if’s?” I’ll be okay. 

It’s easy to get entangled in the “what if’s?”  We all do it.  It’s the spiritual equivalent of quicksand: the more we struggle against them, the faster we sink.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is relax, be obedient, and wait for someone to throw us a branch. 

Who would have thought all of that would have come from just being obedient?

reader comment: trusting God when it seems impossible

Category : bible, faith, reader comments, trust

 

R3 has a lot of amazing readers who often share great insight.  Sometimes I like to post these comments if I think they add something extra to the conversation.  And so once again we have Christopher over at Got-fruit.net with something good to say on the post “trusting God when it seems impossible“:

I’ve probably said it before or in a similar manner but… it’s like each “day” of growing up with God is a progression of trust, boldness, confidence and certainty; qualities that He builds up in our hearts so that we can make the right choices (Christ, Paul & Timothy) vs opting for sinful choices such as those made by Asa, Saul (OT), or Judas. 

Keeping you in prayer that, though the road might be full of challenges and temptations to turn to your own ways, you would continue to trust in the LORD (Proverbs 3:5-6).

It is better to take refuge in the LORD
       than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
       than to trust in princes.  (Psalm 118:8-9)