But I assumed…

2 09 2015

What if you went to Chick-Fil-A and saw a hamburger on the menu?  They would have some explaining to do and they may want to rethink their ad campaign.

We have expectations and those expectations lead to assumptions.  I have been convicted about the importance of key assumptions we need to effectively live out our Christian Faith.  I will spend the next few blog posts talking about them.

Assumption one:  We are equal

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” -Galatians 3:28

In the United States we love to believe we get it when it comes to equality.  We point to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal…”

Of course, we gloss over “all men” did not include slaves or women.  Isn’t that how it often goes?  We say everyone is equal but our actions often reveal some different assumptions.

The biggest assumption I see when it comes to Christianity is “my sin is bigger than other people’s therefore I can’t be forgiven or be a part of God’s plan.”  Too many people sideline their relationship with God and others because of this.  If we can grasp that we are equal then we recognize that sin is sin and we all struggle with it.  We have to hear Paul’s words, “no temptation has overtaken you but what is common…” (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Once I realize you and I are the same, then I see there is hope.  Sin is put in proper perspective and managed by God’s grace and transforming work in my life.

For those who have overcome sins in their life, there is another dangerous assumption: “I am not like them.”  This assumption often plagues those inside the church.  We acknowledge that we were once sinners like “them” but we add a subtle twist to the story of God’s grace.  We take credit for our victory.  We will use spiritual terms but our actions show what we really believe.  Those with this assumption often make decisions for God about who is in and out.  This was exactly the mindset of the Religious Leaders Jesus fought against.

This idea of being equal before God has very big implications.  It sets the stage for all of us have the chance at redemption and helps us stay balanced as we grow and mature in our faith.  It builds bridges and helps us connect to others…all others without discrimination.

Today there are lot’s of discussions about racism and discrimination.  Political solutions look bleak as politicians label and attack anyone who has a different point of view.

It is an amazing opportunity for the Church.  We can step in and truly engage our world in a uniquely powerful way.  We see everyone as someone just like us.

Do you really believe we are all equal or do you find yourself making assumptions that limits you or excludes others?

If you do not see us as equal, I invite you to pray and consider the implication of being made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  When we grasp our equality, it is an incredible truth that ripples through our life.  It will deepen our relationship with God and each other.





These are socks…Hope

29 10 2014

In my last post I shared about how Coach Wooden, the legendary basketball coach for UCLA, would begin his first practice. He started off each season 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.

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

Hope is a well-grounded confidence that allows us to face reality. Let that sink in.

The two most common verses I use as a Chaplain are Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4. Both of these passages talk about what can happen during hard times. In Romans “we rejoice in our suffering” because we will gain perseverance, our character will be revealed and we will see where we have placed our hope. James wants us to “consider it pure joy when we face trials” because the end result will be full and complete maturity.

Two people can go through the exact same circumstance. One person comes out stronger and one person comes out weaker. What was the difference? I believe it is often perspective and choice. We have to choose to become stronger and we need the right perspective to overcome our circumstances.

For Christians I believe life is a win-win situation. When we don’t have bad things happen, it is a win. When we do have bad things happen, it is also a win because we can grow and become stronger as a result of those difficult times. There is a practical truth to this. When we look back on what helped us become a better person, many times it was a difficult circumstance. There is also a profound spiritual truth to this.

As Paul mentions in Romans, our hope comes alive in suffering. If we truly believe that Jesus overcame both sin and death and one day will return, everything we are experiencing here is temporary. This does not mean I want to go through hard times. It does mean when I go through them I can have confidence this is not the end of the story. I have hope.

This hope actually allows me to face the situation for what it is. I am so thankful Jesus cried at Lazarus’ tomb in John 11. Why? Jesus knew he was going to raise him from the dead. He knew this was not the end of the story. He also knew people were hurting. They loved Lazarus and watching him die was hard and painful. He was able to connect with them and share in their sorrow. He faced reality but was not overwhelmed by the situation. He had confidence in the rest of the story.

When my socks of hope are on, I face reality with confidence. If there is injustice I can stand against it and call it injustice. Why? Because I know Jesus will one day return and make the final judgment. If I have sin in my life I can deal with it effectively. Why? Because I know Jesus died for my sins and conquered sin therefore I can overcome this area of sin in my life. When I see suffering or death I can cry and mourn with those who are mourning. Why? Because this life can be hard however I will not be overwhelmed by grief and sorrow because I know the rest of the story.

Christian hope is not simply being optimistic. It is grounded in the reality of who God is and what Jesus has done. When we let this reality settle all the way down into our socks, we have a profound hope that anchors us. We face reality boldly and we impact our world radically.

Is there something you need to face? Is there a situation you are avoiding or minimizing because your socks of hope have holes in them or haven’t been put on properly? This is when a mentor is really helpful. Talk with someone you respect who has hope in spite of difficult circumstances. They will give you wisdom and insight that will inspire you. You will need to be in prayer and take the time to really learn what the Bible has to say. God will lead and guide. The result will be a confidence to look at reality and see…hope.





Thank you

27 05 2013

Memorial Day is a day we set aside to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country.  This year Memorial Day falls on the three year anniversary of when this day became personal. On May 27, 2010 my battalion experienced our first loss.

I will always remember that night.  I went out and God and I had to talk.  I had been praying for what I thought was a pretty valid request.  I did not want to lose anyone.  God was gracious with me.  He let me vent.  He let me tell him this was unfair.  I knew I didn’t understand but I also knew I trusted God (as much as any of us can).

The cross stood out boldly.  God had personally faced the unfairness of this world.  God had faced death. During my season in Afghanistan I went from simply loving God to respecting God.

As a battalion we had to move forward.  We still had a mission to accomplish.  We would lose others.  I was honored to serve as their Chaplain.  I was thankful for a God with the depth to deal with the realities of war and a hope bigger than our circumstances.

So for this Memorial Day I want to say thank you.

First, thank you God.  Thank you for the peace you give.  Thank you for the comfort you provide those who grieve.  Thank you for your understanding and your grace.  Thank you that you are God who “gets it.”  We can come to you with the realities of this life and you walk with us.  Thank you for your church and your people who are faithful in prayer and are your ambassadors to those who are hurting.

This leads to my second thank you.  It is to you.  Thank you.  I have always felt supported.  I can tell you while I was in Afghanistan I could tangibly feel the prayer support.  I have been thanked countless times for my service.  It is humbling.  It will continue to be an honor and a joy to come along side young men and women serving our country.  I will continue to be grateful for your support and encouragement.

I will end with what Jesus said when he instituted the communion meal.  Jesus said, “I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29)  While we honor those who died in the service of our country, let us never forget there is a day we look forward to.  One day Jesus will return and on that day there will be an end to war and suffering.  There will be no more deployments.  He will lift his cup and I will be able to say “thank you” face to face.





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.





Just an ordinary day

18 04 2013

For the United States Monday was a terrible day. It was a reminder of people’s capacity to do evil. It was also a reminder of people’s capacity to do good. Many ran towards the scene to help demonstrating compassion and courage.

As Christians we see these acts of good and evil and it reminds us what the Bible teaches. In Genesis 2 God offered Adam and Eve a beautiful creation with an understanding they would trust and obey. True trust and true obedience requires the ability to choose to not trust and to not obey. God placed a tree in their midst that would allow them to make that choice. They were told to not eat from a tree known as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Notice it was not called the evil tree. It was a tree with a fruit on it that if eaten would cause us to trust in ourselves more than God and would lead us to set up our own rules rather than obey God’s. Chapter 3 tells us Adam and Eve choose to eat from the tree. Fast forward and we have Monday.

Thankfully God did not give up on us. In fact, God loved us so much he went the full distance and died for us. Thankfully that was not the end of the story. Just weeks ago we celebrated Easter and God’s victory over sin and death. There is this hope Christians have that the evil of this world is limited. We are hopeful because God offers to transform us. As we choose to trust and obey God, we see our lives changed. Hope becomes our calling card. God established the church to be a gathering place for those who have been transformed with the understanding we would go out and make this world a better place.

By now you should be trying to figure out what my title (Just an ordinary day) has to do with what I have shared so far. I am glad you asked.

What if those who were responsible for the evil on Monday had encountered Jesus? What if there was a healthy church with people who reached out in their neighborhood? What if they made a commitment to trust and obey God?

They would have been transformed and Monday would have been just an ordinary day.

If you will offer me a little grace I would like to push us. Sadly in this world there are places where Monday would have been just an ordinary day. Places like Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that don’t make the news in the U.S. face events like Monday far too frequently. When Americans hear those stories, we are saddened but quickly move on and worry about dinner. What if there were healthy churches there? What if lives were transformed? What if they had hope?

As Christians we have a powerful message. Let us commit to making our churches healthy. Let us reach out and make our communities better places. Let us also commit the next time we hear a story of a bombing in another part of the world that we will pause and pray just as hard as we prayed Monday remembering that God loves the world and the church is global.





Pure Joy

29 01 2013

Have you ever had a bad day?  I know.  It was a silly question.  We all have bad days.  Some have bad weeks and others face years of struggle.  The longer we live the more we understand that life is not fair and suffering is a reality we must deal with.  Most people intellectually understand we need to respond well during difficult times.  To help us feel guilty we see stories of someone who has it way worse than we do but handles it with much more grace and dignity than us.

To increase our guilt the Bible seems to support this high standard of handling difficult situations with a positive outlook.  Take a look at what James said in his letter:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,a whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1:2 NIV)

I did a study of the verse and while the translators who wrote the NIV used the word “pure,” if you look at the original Greek the letter was written in you could also use the word “all.”  Imagine having a perspective of all joy while facing a trial.

So if you are a “good” Christian you walk around with a fake smile and praise God for the trial you are going through.  But what if the Bible is right?  What if there is this joy that is all-encompassing you can have as you go through a trial?  I believe that level of joy is available and waiting for us.

To get there we need to take two steps.  First, we have to believe this was not the way God wants things to be.  For proof just look at his reaction in Genesis Chapter 3.  We live in a fallen world.  This is why one of the pictures we use is the picture of God redeeming us or saving us.  This is why we look forward to Jesus returning.  We don’t expect Jesus to just stop by Wal-Mart on his way to Jerusalem.  We expect Jesus to bring an end to this fallen world and restore creation to God’s original plan.

Second, we need to see God’s response was to become personally involved and face suffering directly.  Jesus faced a wide range of pain and suffering before ultimately facing the cross.  Bottom line God gets it.

That’s when it hit me.  Those moments of all-encompassing joy happen in those intimate times of prayer when I am crying out to God and he hugs me and I know he understands.  The hug feels like a deep inner peace wrapped in compassion.  It is powerful.  In that moment my perspective changes and I am able to have a joy that puts things into perspective.  I am also reminded that Jesus’ death was not the end of the story.  He conquered sin and death and put suffering on notice that it’s time is limited.

I know there are a wide range of responses to what I just said.  For some they fully agree and have experienced those hugs.  For others they have lost that sense of connection with God or are angry with God and the last thing they want is to have God hug them.

Books have been written on this topic and a short devotional will not answer everything.  I would tell you that trials are the point where theology (our understanding of God) and practical life meet face to face.  We are forced to come to terms with what we believe about God and ourselves.

For those of you who have experienced those hugs I encourage you to spend some time thanking God.

For those who need a hug I encourage you to take a systematic theology class….not really.  I encourage you to not give up and to seek God in the midst of your trial.  It may mean talking with someone about what you believe and adjusting your understanding of God.  You may have to wait a little longer with confidence that at just the right time God will give you that hug.  The peace is amazing, the compassion is phenomenal and the love in incredible.

God is good.  I believe it.  I have experienced it and I hope you will too.





Blessed by God

1 03 2012

What do you think when you hear “God bless you”…besides sneezing.  What does it mean to be blessed by God?  Does it mean you have an easy life or all your dreams come true?  Are you wealthy or happy?  I think it is safe to say we like the idea of God’s blessing but what does it really look like.

I was reflecting on the blessing God gave Aaron to use for the Nation of Israel.  It is found in Numbers 6:22-26.  It says:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (NIV)

It is an amazing blessing at a lot of levels.  Typically we think of a blessing as a gift.  We give gifts (hopefully) that are valuable and meaningful.  If God gives valuable and meaningful gifts, what does God find valuable and meaningful?  I believe God values relationships above everything else.  If that is true (and I think I can make a pretty good case for it) then those things that draw me closer to God and you would be a blessing.  We tend to see this naturally.  We look for meaningful relationships.  A good friend is better than all the money in the world.

When life is going good, if I were honest, I don’t focus on my relationship with God or you.  I tend to be selfish.  I tend to be more concerned with my comfort rather than how I treat people.  It is actually when life is difficult or I am facing a tough situation that I focus on my relationship with God and others.  It is when I am forced to decide what I truly value that I appreciate my relationships.  The result is my relationships become richer and more meaningful.

If that is the case, do I want to attribute bad situations to God?  If God is good then that doesn’t make sense.  As a Christian, I believe bad situations are a result of being in a fallen world.  This is not the way God intended things to be.  God has no desire to see us suffer.  God is not happy when we struggle.  Ultimately that is why Jesus comes and faces suffering and the cross.  God’s desire for a relationship with us drove him to face suffering so that we might have a full and meaningful relationship with him.  This unique perspective gives God the ability to work through times we are suffering and struggling and bless us by adding depth to the quality of our relationships.

This is why we can always be blessed by God regardless of our situation and in fact be even more blessed when things are hard.  In order to see this we have to have a perspective there is more to life than what we have here.  The Apostle Paul said it best when he said, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all people.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)  Paul said this in the context of talking about a risen Jesus Christ.  If Jesus did conquer sin and death then we have a lot of reason to hope.  We also have a very different perspective on our current circumstances.  They are temporary but our relationship with God and the people around us are eternal.

How do we apply this to our life?  When life is going good, we need to be cautious.  We need to intentionally guard against being selfish or focusing on things that really don’t matter.  We need invest fully and completely in our relationship with God and each other.  When life is hard, we need to take a deep breath and grab a hold of our relationship with God and others.  We find who our true friends are during these moments.  We tend to experience God’s presence in powerful ways and appreciate the depth of God’s love and mercy.

I am not sure what your day will bring.  I am not sure what circumstance you will face.  I am confident I can ask God to bless you.  If at the end of the day you are closer to God and the people around you, you are blessed.