These are socks…Faith

22 10 2014

Coach Wooden was a legendary basketball coach for UCLA in the 1960s and 70s.  He won ten NCAA Championships in twelve years including a streak of seven.  He knew how to win.  Coach Wooden always began his first practice by teaching his team how to wear their socks stressing the importance of protecting their feet.  Getting a blister on your foot makes you ineffective on the court.  Bottom line remembering the basics helps you win the game.

This got me wondering.  What are the Christian’s socks?  What are the basics we have to remember to be effective?  I think there are three; faith, hope and love.  Today I want to focus on faith.

As Christians we believe God does the work and we respond by faith.  This is foundational to the Gospel.  We believe Jesus died for us and we are saved by God’s grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8).

Living by faith goes back to Abraham.  His faith was credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).  In other words, Abraham’s righteousness was based on trusting and following God.  Abraham was human.  He did some good things and some bad things.  His relationship with God was not based on his work but on his faith.

Most Christians understand this intellectually.  However, it is hard to do.  Why?  Because living by faith is scary.  Faith leads to action.  The actions are directed by God.  Living by faith means God can lead us anywhere.  If God wants me to go to Africa, I go to Africa.  If God wants me to forgive someone, I forgive that person.  If God asks me to give up something, I give it up.

What does the Bible say about this?  Noah built an Ark.  Abraham left his home.  Jonah went to Nineveh.  Daniel prayed even with the threat of being feed to lions.  Jesus told a rich young man to sell everything.  I could go on but you get the point.

Not living by faith is much easier.  Some become legalistic.  In other words, they come up with the list of rules to keep God in a nice safe box.  Others just reject or ignore the things of God.  They never let themselves slow down long enough to actually hear God’s voice in their life.

However, if we put our socks on correctly and live by faith two incredible things happen.  First, we become less busy.  We serve as God leads and we say no to things that are not a part of God’s plan.  We focus on the right things.  Second, our thankfulness increases.  We become grateful for the work God is doing in our lives and we have peace because we are in step with God.  It is a great place to be.

Are you living by faith?  Can God truly ask anything of you?  The first step is to slow down and really listen.  This means spending time in prayer, reading your bible or talking with a respected mentor.  God will show you areas where you are not in step.  It will be an opportunity to change and truly follow where God is leading.  Take the opportunity to thank him.  The more you see God working in your life the more thankful you will be.  Before you know it you will be living out your faith…by faith





Thanks Facebook

6 07 2014

There has been a lot of discussion about the study Facebook conducted. They were able to manipulate our moods by managing what we saw in our news feeds. They could cause us to post in either a negative or positive way simply by changing an algorithm.

When we step back, we realize this happens in various ways all the time. Advertisers look for ways to shape our view of a particular product. Magazines airbrush their models to distort our understanding of beauty. Politician try to get us to care about an issue by highlighting a person impacted by a problem rather than just giving us facts and figures.

The reality is we can be manipulated easier than we would like to admit.

Another reality is that content matters. We will tend to feel more aggressive after watching violent content. We will be more sexual after watching sexual content. Are we surprised that we were negative after viewing negative content and positive after viewing positive content?

As Paul was giving his final advice to Timothy, he warned of a struggle that Timothy would face. In 2 Timothy 4:3 he says:
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

I think Paul was on to something. He may not have known about Facebook but he did understand we can be manipulated by our environment. If we are not grounded in truth with a healthy understanding of reality, we could find ourselves being led down a road where we only hear what we want to hear and ignore sound doctrine and ultimately truth.

The Bible paints a very realistic picture of the human condition. We are fallen and separated from God. God provided a way to restore our relationship through Jesus. God is truth and grounds us in reality. God helps us stay balanced. The truth helps us turn Facebook’s experiment into a lesson we learn from.

So thank you Facebook. You have reminded us that we need to be aware of the content we are consuming and just like we should have a balanced food diet we should also have a balanced viewing diet. You also reminded us to be aware of how others want to manipulate us. We need to be grounded in the truth. The Bible helps us have a healthy view of ourselves and a proper view of God.

I think I will go read my Bible and check Facebook later. Will you join me?





#GodsNotDead

29 03 2014

Yes I have joined the world of Twitter. You can follow me at @DevosByChaps.

This last weekend I had the opportunity to watch the new movie “God’s not dead.” It was a great movie. It captured the reality that belief in God is not an intellectual debate but a personal one. I wanted to offer my thoughts on why people reject God and how to respond.

Pain and suffering. Many have begged God to cure a family member or friend from cancer or have asked for God to intervene in a horrific situation only to experience silence. They may have experienced abuse and begged God for protection only to face more abuse. Tragically some have been hurt by those claiming to be Jesus’ followers.

I don’t think there is an easy answer because they did not face an easy situation. Grace, love and prayer are the best things we can offer. We also need strong healthy churches. A healthy church creates a safe place for people who are hurting and in the middle of pain. When done well, the church offers real hope and true peace to those who suffer from the harsh realities of this world.

Avoidance of accountability. Let’s be honest, there are some things we do that we know deep down are wrong. We either justify it or remove the standard that says it is wrong. If there is no higher law ordained and established by God we can live how we want. We end up living by collective relativism. In other words, we agree as a group what is right and wrong which can and will shift depending on what we think or more often feel in the moment. God forces us to be accountable ultimately to him but also to each other.

To respond I would offer the church has to be a standard bearer of what it means to live a life of submission and obedience. That does not mean we are perfect. It does mean we role model a life of honor and integrity that is transparent. We seek forgiveness when we mess up. We also influence those around us to a higher good. We can’t live by legalism and the world has seen plenty of hypocrisy. This is a hard challenge that can really only be done if we seek to follow Jesus and submit to his leading in our life…wait! That is what we are suppose to do. I love it when a plan comes together.

Experience. We also have to be honest that you don’t need God to live a good life or even make a great impact on the world. Many people experience life apart from God and are happy and content. Then, they hear talking points explaining why God is an antiquated idea and it matches with their experiences. Therefore, those talking points become theirs.

Jesus does not promise an easy life or even a good life. He does offer a meaningful life filled with purpose. He helps us focus beyond the here and now and enables us to have broader perspective. Once again I find myself calling for churches to be healthy places that send out healthy Christians into the world. Our lives and our experiences can present an alternative to their talking points. It can create a space where faith is a possibility. Combined with prayer and an understanding that ultimately it is between God and that person, I believe we can offer a compelling case.

Here is the great part. Our faith has incredible depth. I am thankful for people like Ravi Zacharias and Tim Keller who do a phenomenal job of explaining why we can have confidence in our faith. I am also thankful for a movie like “God’s not Dead” that demonstrates we do not need to shrink back from a debate about our faith. We just have to recognize that at the end of the day it is a personal relationship. If all it took to win someone to Jesus Christ was a really good argument it would have been done a long time ago.

So what can you do? Step back and pray about the people in your life who have rejected Christianity. Let God lead and guide you. Trust me God cares about having a relationship with that person way more than you do. If there is an opportunity to have a thoughtful conversation don’t seek to win the argument instead seek to understand the person. If there are questions, know that there are great resources out there. Look at those resources together. Second, be authentic. If you struggle with something admit that you struggle with it. Role model being genuine. Next, pray, pray and pray some more. It will remind you only God changes hearts. Finally, make sure your church is a healthy place for people to come. We need healthy faith communities where we can encourage one another and be a beacon to the world.

It is amazing that God invites us to be his ambassadors to the world. He desires to work through you and me to touch lives and make an impact. It is a great privilege. Oh and in case you were wondering…God is definitely not dead, he is ALIVE!





A quick check up

25 10 2013

The Navy loves metrics. We love to be able to quantify data and it is even better if we can put it on a fancy PowerPoint slide. Of course, there is value in getting a clear picture of how we are doing.

When it comes to spiritual maturity, it gets a little more difficult. I don’t think any of us want to go to church and have a PowerPoint slide quantifying our spiritual growth. Our picture would be in one corner and a couple of graphs would fill the rest of the slide. “Well it looks like Paul wasn’t as effective this week. He only took 7 of 15 opportunities to show the love of Jesus.”

Our dilemma is there is value in looking at our spiritual maturity from time to time. It can also be very helpful for new Christians to have some tangible goals and ways to measure if they are on the right track.

I had the opportunity to attend a Bible Study that looked at 2 Peter 1. In the passage is an incredible list that I think really captures spiritual maturity in a very fundamental way. I offer it as a way for you to do a quick check up and see how you are doing.

Here is the passage (2 Peter 1:5-7)
5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (NIV)

If you took the seven items on this list and used them as a measuring stick with the first item, goodness, being the lowest level of spiritual maturity and the last item, love, being the highest level of spiritual maturity I think you will get a good snap shot of how you are doing. This isn’t the whole story and please don’t use this on others. Simply ask yourself where you are at.

Here is our scale:
1. Goodness. One of the best things we can tell a new believer to do is to do good things and stop doing bad. In Luke chapter three when people who repented asked John the Baptist what should they do, he gave them simple tasks. He told people to share and tax collectors to stop taking extra money and soldiers to stop extorting people. These were simple basic acts. We also see this in the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19). The first thing he did when he understood what Jesus had given him was to pay back those he had wronged and give to help others. It is a great starting point and the first step on this chart.

2. Knowledge. The next thing we do as we mature is start reading our Bible and learning about our relationship with God. We also learn why we are doing the good things from step one.

3. Self-control. As we learn we become aware of areas we need to change and things we need to stop doing. This requires discipline and self-control. When we start having self-control, we start to see growth and maturity at a deeper level.

4. Perseverance. You know if you have self-control when you see you are having to persevere. Asking someone on a diet how they are doing day two verses asking them how they are doing after week two tells you if they were serious about the diet. At this point in our spiritual maturity the rubber is hitting the road. Our faith is deepening and we are finding ourselves focused on the long haul.

5. Godliness. The next step is to have a sense of devotion and loyalty to God. Our character is is being changed to be more in the likeness of Jesus. The things that are important to God are important to us.

6. Kindness. When it comes to things that are important to God, humanity is very high on the list. How we view other people and our desire to help those around us deepens to the point of being our very nature. We no longer ask “should I help this person?” Instead, we ask “how can help this person?”

7. Love. This is unconditional love. We love to throw around the word love. The best way to understand this love is to compare the love of someone who has been married for a year to someone who has been married for fifty years. Both truly love their spouse but trust me the one who has been married for fifty years has a much deeper understanding of what means to love unconditionally.

So how are you doing? Are you doing good things but have not progressed beyond that and really learned about your faith? Are the things of God important to you but when it comes to others you are not very kind?

This is not all encompassing or the only way to look at it. However, I do hope it helps you pause do a quick check up and challenges you to continue to grow and mature in your faith.





Did you hear? I am going to be Court Marshaled.

8 05 2013

Well, that is what some news sources said.  As is often the case, reality is far less exciting.  For those who missed it, the report stated the military would court martial Christians who shared their faith.  That is not going to happen.  The truth is the military supports religious freedom.  The only thing that is prohibited is for someone to use their position to force others to follow their beliefs or use methods considered coercive or disrespectful and disruptive.

When we deploy we live in confined spaces and spend 24 hours a day for months with each other.  We will spend long hours on watch or patrol.  A wide range of conversations happen including many on faith.  99% of the time they are good conversations and help pass the time.  When lines are crossed, appropriate actions are taken.  Bottom line, as a Navy Chaplain, I have felt free to express my faith and hold firm to my beliefs.  I also have a responsibility to ensure everyone has religious freedom.  The moment I say another group cannot practice their faith is the moment others can tell me I cannot practice my faith.

In the United States we are struggling with how to talk about faith.  There are those who would like to see us become a completely secular society in which faith is strictly personal and not allowed in the public square.

This is understandable.  The world is more complex today.  We have access to information like never before.  We can experience a wide range of cultures and world travel is easier than ever.  We often find ourselves with people who have very different beliefs.  The easy answer is to ignore those different beliefs and play it safe by only talking about “secular” items to avoid offending anyone.  That thinking over simplifies the world and actually robs the quality of the relationships we could have and the culture we could experience if we acknowledged our differences.

Additionally, to say faith is simply a personal matter is to ignore the role faith plays in a religious person’s life.  My faith impacts my morality and my understanding of how to treat people.  It is impossible to make it personal.  It is who I am and I am not unique.  The average person of faith understands that our faith shapes us and naturally spills out into our public lives.

Another danger I see is to make everything a result of biology.  Whether it is love or ethics, we try to explain everything down to how we evolved instead of looking at the complexity of life.  Does biology play a role?  Of course but it plays one role of many.  I will take some of the things I have heard and take them to their extreme.  This Sunday for Mother’s Day, children tell your moms that you have genetically evolved to care about the person who was your primary care giver in infancy and moms feel free to tell your children the reason you love them is due to your biological composition and with evolution you may or may not maintain your love for them in the future.  I think it is safe to say that would not be the way to make Sunday a special day.

What makes the Untied States great is freedom.  Whether that is freedom of speech or freedom of religion, we flourish when we are free to believe and bring those beliefs to the market place of ideas.  Ideas that are poorly thought out or are not founded on solid ground naturally a marginalized and minimized.  Ideas that are well thought out or are built on a solid foundation have to be engaged.  Will we agree?  I hope not.  I become stronger and sharper when my beliefs are challenged.  I am forced to truly look at what I believe and why I believe it.

I have great confidence that Christianity has deep roots.  We have a rich tradition built on the foundation which is Jesus Christ.  We add richness and beauty to the mosaic of our country.

For those who want only a secular world, I encourage you to be careful that you do not simplify this complex and wonderful world.  There is more than meets the eye.  Maybe instead of trying to court marital me, we could get some coffee.





Unfairness

1 05 2013

I love that the Bible is willing to say what we are thinking. The book of Ecclesiastes does a great job of capturing a common frustration.
Chapter 9 verse11:
“I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.”

This verse is a stinging reality. A great person loses their job while an incompetent person is promoted. A phenomenal singer never gets their big break while a mediocre singer becomes a star. As I was thinking of a third example, it was humbling because many of the struggles I could mention would be painful to others.

Life is not fair. I struggle in those moments and try to figure out what I did wrong. Maybe I didn’t pray hard enough or there something I should have done differently. Of course, I know I am reading too much into it but sometimes there was something I could have done differently making the waters muddy. It can be very frustrating and can drive me crazy if I let it.

Here is the interesting part. The Bible does not try to answer why these things happen. Instead it just lays out the picture and lets us see reality. Acts 12 captures this. The beginning of the chapter starts with the Apostle James being killed and Peter being arrested with it being clear he would face the same fate. The church prays and Peter is miraculously released from prison. Did the church not pray for James? Were they suppose to do more? Could James have been saved? The Bible is silent. It just tells us that James was killed and Peter was saved.

This is when our faith is stretched to its limits. Those of us who have been around the block can quote Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The question is, when we are alone and truly honest with ourselves, do we believe it?

I keep coming back to yes.

It is not because things always work out for me. It is because when I look at the world without God, there is harshness and a lack of depth that I reject. When I look to God, I find a depth of love and peace that grounds me and a hope that sustains me. The result of an unfair world is my focus is sharpened, my relationships become deeper and I become stronger. In other words, God and I get the last laugh.

We all know someone who is facing a frustrating and unfair situation. Would you take some time to pray for them? Yes, we should always pray for a miraculous intervention like Peter received. We should also pray for God’s love and peace to shine through and for the person to grow and mature remembering “time and chance” will be overcome by love and eternity.





Life transformation and immediate gratification

10 04 2013

I love the speed at which we can get things today. If I want a book I simply check to see if there is an e-book version and with a click I can be reading it. If I want to know something I go to Google and within seconds I have the answer. I also know that when I have a slow internet connection and something takes longer than 5 seconds I become impatient. If the book is not available on Kindle I am frustrated. Bottom line: I want what I want NOW.

I think I have seen this slipping into my walk with God. If I pray for something, I want my prayer answered…now. If I struggle with something I should be able to overcome it by…this afternoon at the latest.

However, when I step back and see people truly transformed by God very rarely is it immediately. There are dramatic moments but more often than not it is this slow and steady change seen only when we look back and reflect.

Matthew 13:1-13 gives us the inside story on one of Jesus’ parables. He talks about four types of soil and then goes on to explain the meaning of each type to his disciples.

One type is shallow soil that does not have the depth to allow the seed to take a firm root. It shoots up quickly but life happens quicker and soon the plant is scorched and withered. Another type is soil with weeds and refers to the worries and troubles of this life choking out the seed.

As I become more impatient and distracted I fear I am becoming like those two soils and I missing out on what God is trying to do in my life. (Feel free to admit you struggle with the same thing. I just didn’t want to be the one to point it out.)

Those who have been faithfully plugging along continue to grow in depth and maturity. When hard situations happen in their lives, they are able to rise above the circumstances and graces shines through. Meanwhile, those who have not given God time to work get frustrated and give up. Those who don’t slow down to really consider God’s wisdom see their situation get worse as they feel pressure from all the worries of this world.

It makes perfect sense. God typically goes against our expectations and standards. In our time of immediate gratification and multiple distractions it would only make sense that God would move slowly and would encourage us to focus in order to see his transformative work in our lives.

In Isaiah 55:8-9 God tells us “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

If we take that to heart then I need to be a lot more patient and intentional at looking for God. In other words there is probably not an App for this.

I encourage you to take some time and reflect. Look back and see if you can catch God working. Look for distractions you need to remove so you can better focus on the things of God. Then, spend some time thanking God and committing to following God for the long haul. Will there still be amazing moments and dramatic stories of God’s intervention? Absolutely. However, I am truly amazed as I look in the opposite direction the world is going, as I slow down and I take the time to not be distracted. I find a loving, patient God who is quietly transforming lives.