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





Changing the question

23 06 2014

With all the discussion about faith in culture, we need to pause and make sure we are answering the right question.

It is not “How should Christians respond to [insert social issue]?” That answer is well documented on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Thanks to Google I can get over a hundred thousand “answers” (one topic gave me 1.2 million).

As I look across the last 2,000 years I notice cultures and social issues change. The one question that stays the same is: “Who do you say I am?”

Matthew (16:13-28), Mark (8:27-38) and Luke (9:18-27) all share the same story. First, Jesus asks his disciples who do people say he is and they give a variety of answers. Then, he asks who they think he is and Peter is given credit for getting it right calling him the Messiah (the Saviour promised by God). After Peter’s declaration Jesus talks about his death and resurrection. This alarms Peter. He got it right earlier but now tries to reason with Jesus and clearly gets it wrong. Jesus ends by telling them what it means to be his disciple and it will not be easy.

This captures a dynamic I see today. First, there are many opinions about who Jesus is. Christians believe he is our Saviour. We understand Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to our salvation and enables us to have a personal relationship with God. However, Christians can get off track and unintentionally minimize the significance of the cross and empty tomb. Hopefully we are in a place to hear Jesus, refocus on following him and accept it will not be easy.

My challenge for those who are Christians is to get Jesus back into the discussion. Not about what Jesus would say about [insert social issue] but about the importance of his death and resurrection. Social issues will come and go. We know the Church will be around until Jesus returns. Let’s sharpen our focus and have a serious conversation about who Jesus is. Everything flows out of our relationship with him.

For those who are not Christians, I invite you to seriously look at this person in history. Who do you say Jesus is? I invite you to consider he is who he claimed to be. I understand the Church can get off track because we are imperfect people. Thankfully we have a gracious God. How do I know God is gracious? His willingness to die for us (the cross). Why should we care? His power and authority (the empty tomb).





Life on Purpose

26 01 2014

Have you ever come to the end of a week and you ask yourself “what did I accomplish?” I usually say this after a week that may have been busy but not productive.

One bad week is not the end of the world but what if after a month, a year or even a decade you felt you were busy but not effective.

If this happened in our professional life, we may be in danger of losing our job. If it is in the pursuit of our education, we would have lots of classes but no degrees. We see the need to have a plan and be focused so we can feel productive and accomplished.

What about our faith? It is easy to take this area of our life for granted. Often when someone mentions reading their bible they use the “whatever passage I open my Bible to” approach. While there is nothing wrong with that, it can result in our faith becoming stagnate. When it comes to church we either say yes to everything because we feel we have to or we don’t do anything because we have no passion or focus.

When I talk about having a plan and being focused, I am not talking about something you generate. There is a classic joke “if you ever want to make God laugh tell him your plans.” So what am I talking about? I am saying we should be like Jesus.

Please read Matthew 16:21-28. In this passage Jesus talked openly about the plan he was on earth to accomplish. Peter pulled him aside to correct him and Jesus told him “you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (verse 23 NIV). Jesus went on to say it would be pointless if you gained the whole world but lost your soul. He said this with a warning if you choose to follow him you need to be willing to face hardships.

Jesus lived a life of purpose and focus. He had confidence and trust in his Father. He invites us to do the same. The only way we can do this is if we are intentional. Life can be busy and it can also be distracting. The result is our faith being set aside while we continue to be busy. In the end we feel frustrated because we have a feeling we are missing out on something better.

You and I have the incredible opportunity to make a difference in this world. We can only truly be effective if we are being faithful to what God has called us to do. This means that from time to time we need to pause and look at what we are doing. It is easy to get distracted and get lost in the business of life.

I encourage you to take some time this week to look at your personal time with God. Are you letting God lead and guide you? Does your prayer time include time to listen for God’s direction? Do you have a solid knowledge of the Bible? If you go to church are you serving? If you are serving why are you serving? Is it just because you feel guilty or is it because you are serving God with the gifts he has given you.

The result will be that you may need to adjust some of your day to day activity. You may need to be more intentional about how you read your Bible and what you do in the community. It will be worth it as you begin to see God at work and get the huge privilege of being a part of it. So let’s commit to living life on purpose.





God’s restraint –He wanted us more

13 07 2013

My wife is on a diet.  (This is when good husbands insert the comment, “She already looks great and does not need to diet but I will be supportive.”)  One of the keys to success in dieting is self control.  I watch Andreya have self control as she eats her lunch while three…okay four hungry boys eat a much different lunch.

Self control is critical to being successful in life.  I also believe it is vital to grow as a healthy Christian.

There seems to be two primary ways to get self control.  One is by establishing habits.  The other (and the one I want to focus on) is when we want something more than whatever we need self control for.  For example, if you really want an “A” in a class you will not watch TV but instead study.  Andreya wants to be at a healthier weight more than she wants that piece of chocolate cake.  (Sorry honey for reminding you of chocolate.)

Many people will try to have self control but fail.  I believe they fail because they either don’t have good habits or they are more focused on what they are giving up rather than on what they want.  When I keep thinking about how I am not suppose to watch TV, all I want to do is watch TV.  However, when I focus on the fact I want that “A,” I am not thinking of TV but I am focused on my class.

What do I want more?  That simple question seems to be a powerful tool to help me develop self control.

Here is the amazing part.  God never asks us to do something that he has not done.  God wants us to have self control.  What about God?  Has God ever demonstrated self control?

Walk with me through the gospels.  Luke 4:9-12 gives us some insight into the power available to Jesus.  Satan tempts Jesus to jump and see if the angels will do their job and catch him before he hits the ground.  Jesus turns him down by quoting scripture.  Just a little while later in Luke 4:28-30 we see Jesus walk through a crowd of people who wanted to throw him off a cliff.  He walked right through because he had the power to do so.  John 18 is about the arrest of Jesus.  Verse 6 shows the soldiers falling back as he spoke. Later in the chapter, verse 22, we see Jesus getting slapped by one of the officials.

Pause with me right here.  It is safe to say every angel in heaven wanted to pounce on that official.    Imagine all of God’s army at the ready begging to step in and save Jesus.  (There is a similar picture in 2 Kings 6:17.)

Instead of releasing the angels to protect Jesus, God restrained them.

Jesus wanted us more.  He demonstrated self control in the face of humiliation, beatings and ultimately the cross.  It is very humbling.  It is also inspiring and amazing.

If you are like me you will struggle with self control in some area.  Sometimes we will get self control by building good habits.  Other times we may need to pause and ask ourselves what we want more.  In that moment remember what God wanted more.  If you are like me it will put things into perspective.  You will be grateful and it will be easy to pick what you want.





What is bigger?

18 05 2013

I heard about a great website, iamsecond.com.  It has videos of a variety of people who declare “I am second” with God being first.  The videos are powerful and for those of us who are Christians they make perfect sense.  For those who are not Christians, I think the site does a great job of building a bridge and encouraging people to consider the possibility of being second.

When we look at the world, we see the ugliness of sin.  The escape of three women who had been held captive for a decade is one extreme example.  Each one of us have personal stories that make us cry or make us so mad we want to scream at the world.

That is where I found myself Friday afternoon.  I sat with a group of leaders wrestling with an ugly situation involving some of our people.  There was sorrow, anger, frustration…and the big question “why did this happen?”  Good leaders take it personal and look in the mirror to see if it was something they did or didn’t do.  They blame themselves and desperately want to fix it.

The easy answer is to tell everyone to become a Christian.  Of course the recent story of a Christian musician being accused of trying to hire a hit man to kill his wife might make some skeptical.  I prayed Saturday morning needing answers and thankfully God nudged me.

When we are focused on something larger than ourselves, we seem to get it.  If some catastrophe hits a city there are two choices.  Those who chose to focus on their community come together and great things happen and amazing stories are told.  Those who chose to worry about themselves loot.

I have a bias.  Jesus perfectly demonstrated what it meant to live a life focused on something bigger. It is amazing to mediate on the idea of God making our well being bigger.  Jesus didn’t have to die for us.  He chose to die for us.  He lived a life saying “not my will but your will be done.”  Even non-Christians are humbled by his life and point to his example.  Everyone can agree he lived for something bigger than himself.

When do Christians get it wrong? When we start worrying more about ourselves and stop caring about those around us.  When our needs and sadly often our wants become bigger.  We need to remember the one we follow.  He set the standard and promises to help us meet it.

This seems to be a universal principle.  I played through a variety of situations.  When we are focused on something bigger than ourselves, we act appropriately.  When we are focused on ourselves, we hurt others.  You can apply this to marriage, work, friendship…any area of your life.

Monday morning I will have the opportunity to sit back down with this group of leaders and offer my contribution.  It will need to be something that can be understood by everyone regardless of their faith.  It will need to be tangible.  I think I have the seeds of something good.

For those of us who are Christians, the world desperately needs to see that we are “second” and we are focused on something bigger.  For those who are not Christians I would ask you to consider what is bigger in your life.





Repentance

22 02 2012

What comes to mind when you hear the word “repent?”  I think of a guy yelling on the street corner or a fire and brimstone preacher.  It is safe to say we tend to have a negative stereotype of people who tell us to repent which makes us have a negative view of repentance.  This is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  These are major events within a large number of Christian communities.  The idea of repentance is part of this season.  Because it is not an idea we talk about often and there is a tendency to have a negative view of it, I thought it would be appropriate to pause and focus on it.

My definition.  I see repenting or repentance as a two-step process.  Step one is to stop doing something that is wrong.  Step two is to start doing something that is right.  What if the guy on the street corner was Martin Luther King?  He called us to repent.  He wanted us to stop segregation and start being a just society.  We see this with those who promote environmental awareness.  They call us to stop polluting and wasting resources and start recycling and conserving resources.  I could list any number of causes and most likely you have a couple close to your heart such as human trafficking or AIDS.  No matter what the issue is we see value in calling people to stop doing something harmful and start doing the right thing.  Now the guy on the corner can add value.  We need to be called to repentance.  Sometimes we get it wrong and we need people who will call us out and make us change.

Of course if this was easy, we wouldn’t need to spend time talking about it.  If you are like me, we have no problem pointing out other people’s shortcomings.  We just “telling it like it is” or “shooting straight” with them.  However, just let them try and do the same thing to us.  This is a benefit of Ash Wednesday.  It forces us to pause and reflect.

I see two paths people tend to take that miss the point of repentance.  The first path is to blame something or someone else.  “It is because of my past” or “If she hadn’t of done that” is our defense.  Yes our past affects us and yes other people can influence us but at the end of the day we have to take personal responsibility for our actions especially if they hurt someone else.  The second path is to tear ourselves down with no hope we can change.   We create a negative image of ourselves and get stuck in a vicious downward spiral.

As a follower of Jesus, I look to him to get repentance right.  One of his first messages was “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17).  Here is the amazing thing.  He doesn’t begin to list a whole bunch of things we have to do.  Jesus has what I like to call a “byproduct mentality.”  In other words, when my focus is right I naturally do the right things.  In other words, my actions will be the byproduct of my heart.  When a parent truly loves a child, the parent doesn’t have to be told to take care of their child.  They naturally provide and do what is in the best interest of their child.  They may need help or education.  However, they want to learn and they accept the help because their focus is on the wellbeing of their child.  You see the same thing in a healthy marriage.  A husband wants to show love to his wife.  If he hurts her he is sorry and repents.  Repentance is easy because of the love he has for her.

This is why Jesus is so harsh with the religious leaders.  They stopped focusing on their relationship with God and focused on all the things they had to do.  They were actually hurting the people around them.  Jesus’ call to repentance wasn’t for them to add more things on their “to do” list.  He was inviting them to refocus on their relationship with God and care for the people around them.  Jesus says everything hangs on the commandment to love God and love others.  Both Matthew 22:34-40 and Mark 12:28-33 are great snapshots of Jesus sharing this principle.  This makes sense.  When I focus on loving God and you, I naturally do what is good for the relationship.

Jesus’ call for repentance is an invitation to focus on our relationship with God and each other.  The cross stands as a huge reminder Jesus was focused on our relationship.  Let’s use this season to slow down.  We need to look for where we have gotten out of step with loving God and each other.  As we see those areas and as we reflect on the cross, may our response be to repent.