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





Being Human

14 09 2014

Welcome to the human race!  How do you know you are a human?  Do you say, “I don’t care what other people think” but secretly do?  Do you feel like everyone else in the group “clicks” except you?  Do you have something you are ashamed or embarrassed about?  Do you feel you have to live up to an image instead of just being yourself?

I most likely hit the mark with one of those questions proving you are human.  What a relief!  We can all say “I am screwed up just like everyone else!”

I think the Apostle Paul nailed it (of course with God’s help).

He wrote in 1 Timothy 1:15-16:

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.”

Paul thought he was the worst sinner out there.  That is a very honest assessment.  Each one of us could say the same thing and believe it.  I often say the only reason Paul wrote he was the worst sinner is I wasn’t born yet.  We truly know just how bad we can be.  We are there for every single sin we commit.  We also know our thoughts and intentions.  We know what we are thinking and to be honest we can think about some pretty bad stuff.

Bottom line: Paul was human

His realistic perspective gives us hope.  If he can be redeemed.  If he can have a right relationship with God.  Then, we can be redeemed and have a right relationship with God.  This is critical because one of the most common misperceptions I hear is “I have blown it so bad there is no hope for me.” Paul reminds us there is always hope.

There is another amazing reality in this passage.  Paul does not list a whole bunch of things he has to do.  Instead he points to God’s mercy and Jesus’… patience.

You have to let that sink in.  God’s response to us being human is to give mercy and be patient.

No wonder the very next thing Paul writes is:

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Verse 17)

He had a moment of worship.  I am also humbled by the reality of these verses.  In our culture (the United States) we tend to focus on things we have to do or labels we can give.

Philip Yancey wrote a book called “What’s so Amazing about Grace.”  He shared a story in which a person is challenged to describe the gospel in a sentence.  I have modified the language but basically he said: “We are all screw-ups but God loves us anyway.”

Where are you today?  Have you bought into a lie that you are so screwed up you can not be redeemed?  Paul would disagree.  Do you believe you are redeemed but now are working so hard to maintain your relationship with God you have no joy or peace?  Paul would invite you to accept God’s mercy and be thankful for Jesus’ patience.

I love the picture of Jesus smiling and telling his Dad just how much he loves us as he shakes his head, takes a deep breath and is…patient.





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?





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).





Agents of Grace

28 02 2014

Have you ever read something and did a double take. You reread it just to make sure it said what you think it said. That happened to me as I was reading Exodus. In Exodus 24:9-11 we are told about Moses, Aaron and his sons along with the seventy elders going up to see God. Verse 11 is what made me pause, “But God did not raise his hand against these leaders…”

The reason I did a double take is God was the one who invited them up. Why would he raise his hand against them? Here are my thoughts.

At the end of the day God is holy. He also has the true “big picture.” As he saw these men walking up, he would have known that Aaron would soon fail as a leader and make an idol for the Israelites to worship (Exodus 32). Aaron’s sons would choose to disregard the requirements laid out by God for proper worship and would put God in the position of maintaining the holiness of the Tabernacle (Leviticus 10). You could add to this the number of times the Israelites would complain and talk about how good life was when they were slaves. The seventy elders never seemed to help lead the people in a better direction. Instead they just went along with the crowd.

Have you ever had a meeting with someone you know is bad? Have you ever gone to a function where a person who makes really poor choices is placed at the same table as you? Thanks to the power of Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other internet tools we can “raise our hand against them.” We can fire off that perfect poke in the eye. We can bash them and get “likes.” We can even text while we talk with them making sure people know what an idiot they are.

I am thankful God takes a different approach. God extends grace. At the core we see God’s desire to have a relationship with us. His desire will result in inviting guys like Aaron to eat with him. It also meant Jesus would get the reputation of being a glutton and drunkard (Matthew 11:19).

Technology is allowing us to set our own borders. We can isolate ourselves with “friends” who are just like us. When we argue, we seem to be crueler and sharper in our attacks with those not in our circle. In an ocean of words we feel the only way we can be heard is if we get creatively ugly.

The world is in desperate need of the unique grace offered by God. I say unique because in our own circles we tend to be really good about sending encouraging and uplifting messages. There is never a shortage of inspirational stories or pictures on my Facebook news feed. What if we extended grace outside our circles? What if we did something kind for a person we despise? What if we took Jesus seriously and loved our enemies?

God never condones sin. There are plenty of examples where God steps in and demonstrates justice and holiness. God also extends grace. God does it perfectly. The rest of us do it a little less than perfectly. There will be times when we need to take a stand because something is immoral or harmful. I would offer there are plenty of times we can follow God’s example and extend grace.

Grace changes the world. Grace tears down walls, restores relationships and offers hope. Ultimately it was God’s grace that opened the door for our salvation.

Will it be hard? Yes. Will we be misunderstood? Likely. We will always get it right? If you are like me, no. However, if we focus on grace and extend it to others then I think we can have the opportunity to truly impact our world.

There is also a blessing that comes back to us. I wanted to write about grace. God is awesome in bringing things together. Where I ended up is different from my initial thoughts. I wanted to remind us that we live by grace. God tweaked my message to focus on offering grace outside our circle of friends. However, I believe as we offer grace the byproduct will be a reminder of the grace given to us. God loves you and me not because of what we do. As we meet with God, he knows how we will blow it next week. However, he loves us and desires to have a relationship with us. He doesn’t raise his hand against us. Instead, he extends grace and offers us a seat.

Our challenge for this upcoming week is to be an agent of grace. Some of you need to accept God’s grace. All of us need to be intentional about looking beyond our circle of friends and finding a way to show grace. I am going to trust God on this one. Say a prayer and ask God who you need to give grace to.
Warning: God is most likely going to bring up the one person you absolutely do not want to give any grace to. He does that to grow you. Trust me it will be worth it.

What will it look like? It may be going out to lunch with someone you normally would not eat with. It may be saying an encouraging word to someone you normally ignore. It may be asking forgiveness for your part in why a relationship has soured. It will be critical that there be no strings attached. You are simply following Jesus.

My prayer is we will be agents of grace in the weeks to come. It will give God an opportunity to work through us bring hope, peace and reconciliation. If you are like me you are very thankful and humbled by God’s grace. Those we give grace to will hopefully be grateful but no matter what you will have given them a snapshot of God’s heart.

PS. Yes God has prompted me on who I need to extend grace to. I am praying about how to do it well.





Running for President in 2016…

12 01 2013

Not!  When you saw the title did you groan?  Are you sick of politics? We just finished being bombarded with election ads when we began enduring the drama of the “Fiscal Cliff.” In the midst of the drama tragedy struck in Connecticut. Our political leaders are now engaged in the discussion on gun control and access to mental health care. As I have been watching everything unfold, it struck me just how limited government’s power is from a human perspective. Because this is not a political blog, I will ignore the debate about the role of government. That is for others. I want to focus on the church and would offer that we have the ability to address the human dynamic.

What am I talking about? I am glad you asked. Can you legislate compassion? Can you pass a law to make someone love another person? Is there a form you can fill out that will distribute joy? While laws may be able to outlaw certain behaviors, they can never impact the underlying traits that govern those behaviors. To prove this all you have to do is talk to a person who experiences hate and bigotry even though they don’t experience any illegal discrimination.

There is a temptation to find the magical law that will solve those underlying traits. When the church goes down that road, we call it legalism. Legalism is simply the misguided belief that laws solve heart problems.

I was reading a philosophy book and the author did a classic move. He quoted a commentary about how the world was going downhill and how hopeless things were becoming. The author then asked the reader to guess when the commentary was written. It read like it was written today but in fact it was written during the time of Plato. Human problems are timeless and as old as … humans.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 4:18, “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…”

The church operates in terms such as faith, hope and love. We are God’s instrument to bring his message to the world. We have the freedom to create healthy communities not constrained by boarders, political ideology or ethnic background.  If there ever was a time for the church to engage now is that time.

Take some time to ask yourself the following questions:

1) Am I a part of a church?  We must understand the danger of individualism that says we can do this on our own. We can’t. We need each other.

2) Is my church safe and inviting? In other words, is it a place anyone can come to seek God, get help or simply receive prayer?

3) Is my church healthy? I understand this question is subjective. It will require both a gut check and time in prayer asking God. That is okay. Remember there is no rule that you will be able to pass that will make it healthy. It is a question focused on the human dynamic and our relationship with God and each other.

If you identified growth areas for your church, what are you going to do about it? Often times when we see shortcomings it is easy to pass along blame or make sure a rule is passed to make everyone become like me. We need more than that. We need ownership, responsibility and a deepening relationship with God.

Politicians will continue to debate. Discussions are already underway about who will run in 2016. Laws will be passed that may help within their limited capacity.

My prayer is the church will stand up and be counted. We will operate in our currency of faith, hope and love. We will stay true to Jesus and avoid the dangers of legalism. We have answers to the human condition. Just like Abraham we are able to hope even if there appears to be no reason to hope.





You look like someone I know

8 03 2012

There seems to be a breakdown in how people treat each other.  In politics it gets downright ugly.  Once a person is seen as being on the other side of the issue, there are no limits to how much we can bash them.  The attacks are often personal and frankly mean.  Meanwhile, the images portrayed as normal make people worry about how they look.  The idea of beauty has become an airbrushed fantasy.  It is heartbreaking.  Does Christian theology have a response to this?  I believe it has a very powerful response.

First, you may be surprised that I used the word theology.  However, theology is why we do the things we do.  Theology is simply how we understand God.  So if your theological view is there is no God you will live your life accordingly.  If you view God as judgmental waiting to punish you then that will shape how you live.  Some believe God is present in everything…the bottom line is how we understand God and the things of God ripple into all the other areas of our life either consciously or unconsciously.

What is the Christian theology on self-image and how we treat others?  You may have heard the term Imago Dei.  It means the image of God.  Christians believe we are made in God’s image.  This has huge repercussions.

First, we have value and worth regardless of any external factor.  Society may or may not find you attractive.  However, you have inherent attractiveness because of whose image you are made in.  Many would agree that we need to have an internal sense of value and worth.  However, I would argue that value needs to be anchored in something larger than ourselves.  If we don’t anchor it the result is a tendency to earn our worth or look for worth in other people.  If I try and earn my worth I will never feel I have arrived.  I will burn myself out.  If our worth comes from another person we set ourselves up.  All of us are human.  We make mistakes and don’t always appreciate the people around us.  The Christian view is to anchor our value and worth in God.  God does not need our actions (one of the benefits of being God) and is able to be a steady rock in the midst of our human relationships.

Second, we are an image of God and not God.  This puts boundaries on me.  I need to be respectful and acknowledge there is one who is greater than me.  When I disrespect another person, I am not showing respect for the one whose image that person carries.  This means I see everyone has having value and worth not because of what they do even if they have hurt me or because of who they are.  I show them value and worth because they are made in the image of God.

Imagine if we treated everyone with respect and dignity.  Yes, even the person who we do not like or the person who has hurt us.  At the extreme we see this in how we treat prisoners.  Even though they may have done horrible things, we insure they are treated with dignity.  To do anything else opens the door for interpretation for how others are treated.  (I hope you can see the idea of people deciding to treat people differently because of the color of their skin or their political views.)  This takes Jesus commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves and to love our enemies to a whole new level.

If I see I have value and worth because I am made in the image of God then I will have self-esteem.  If I see you have value and worth because you are made in the image of God then I will treat you with dignity and respect.  That should happen regardless if I agree with you, if you look a certain way or if you do something I think is wrong.

Confession as a Christian leader:  The Church has not always gotten this right.  The Church is made up of humans who sin.  This only reinforces my point about being anchored in God and not other people.  However, the Church’s theology is clear.  We need to allow this theology to ripple into the other areas of our lives.  You are in the image of God and so is every other person you encounter.  I pledge to act like it.  Will you?