There are times when people (Christians specifically) need to seriously take a look at what they're asking and whether or not it's appropriate. There are, believe it or not, some times when you need to think about Jesus outside of church. I'm seeing a tendency for Christians today to go into "incognito mode" when they're discussing anything not directly church-related. We compartmentalize Jesus and God, so that even mentioning them outside of a church building is seen as "inappropriate" or a "Jesus juke."
But I've heard this so many times, I'm going to step on some toes. This just shows that we have superficial faith. In reality, God is involved in every area of our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. It would be foolish of us to pretend otherwise. I see this predominantly in Christian circles where people are asking recommendations on some sort of new expensive toy or luxury. We don't ask if it's wise to get something like that. We effectively suppress the teachings of Jesus in order to not offend anyone.
This is comparable to secular consumerism today. Is it okay to demand that our food be ethically treated before we kill and eat it, but not okay to ask if someone's food choices are wise? Is it okay to demand our electricity be cleanly produced (because environment!), and yet pay no heed to ecology when we purchase disposable (and toxic) electronic devices, all designed with planned obsolescence? So it shouldn't surprise me when I see people claim "Jesus is Lord!" and then proceed to pamper themselves with luxury.
Recently, I stumbled across a sermon series by Bill Hybels, called "Simplify." I listened to it, thinking all the while it was going to be full of useful advice on how to simplify our lives... pretty obvious, right? He talks about simplifying finances, simplifying your schedule, simplifying your job, and so forth. For the most part, I was right.
Except that in one of the messages, he says something to the effect of "Don't ask what you should do; ask who do I want to become? And when you schedule your life around that idea, the rest will fall into place."
I can't really explain why, but that little question made me stop and think. What is it that I want to become? Why am I wasting time on doing things that have nothing to do with what I need to be? Why do I do those things?
If you've been paying attention over the last few years, you may have noticed a disturbing trend in the Church. It's sort of what happens when the culture you live in is overrun by people who value relativism and hate the truth. It's where you believe that positive thinking literally makes things happen, and that everybody has "a little bit of God in them."
This really scares me. People like T.D. Jakes, Joyce Meyers, Kenneth Copeland, and Joel Osteen are telling people "God will bless you financially/physically if you're truly faithful" but let me tell you, people... this is not what Jesus said.
Kenneth Copeland says:
The fact is, you really haven’t prayed in faith if you pray about something, but don’t take it. If you get up from prayer saying, “I don’t have it. I’m still sick, I still feel bad,” then you didn’t take it…and you certainly don’t have it.
Joel Osteen says:
God has already done everything He's going to do. The ball is now in your court. If you want success, if you want wisdom, if you want to be prosperous and healthy, you're going to have to do more than meditate and believe; you must boldly declare words of faith and victory over yourself and your family.
And we could go on and on. How much emotional crippling damage has this done to people's faith? It totally takes God's will out of the equation. Can you imagine telling the Apostle Paul "I'm sorry, but God's not going to heal the thorn in your flesh because you haven't prayed in faith." Or maybe telling Peter "Sorry, if you had declared words of faith and victory, you'd be rich and comfortable right now instead of being martyred upside-down on a cross."
What if God doesn't want you to be rich in this life?
What if God doesn't want you to be comfortable in this life?
What if God doesn't want you to be healed in this life?
The truth is, God doesn't need us to be healthy or rich for us to serve Him, for us to worship Him, for us to glorify Him.
And we aren't called to do anything else.
I was recently shocked to discover that someone had been reading my blog, and actually used it as motivation to accomplish something great. I immediately panicked. Why? Because I don't view myself as a particularly wise person. Intelligent? Yes, under certain circumstances I'd call myself "smart" but that doesn't have anything to do with Wisdom. I know lots of devastatingly intelligent people who don't have the wisdom to keep from wrecking their lives. One of my favorite writers, in fact, continually flaunts his MENSA qualifications and IQ score, and yet he's lambasted as a bigot (and several other nasty monikers) because he's hot-headed, stubborn, and generally unwise. His skill in writing is second to none (in my opinion) but as a person, I wouldn't really like him.
So what's the difference, really? You might think Wisdom is just the application of being Smart, but that's not the case. But if Wisdom isn't the same as intelligence, what is it?
Wisdom - the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment; the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application of experience
I especially like the phrase "application of experience." So, by definition, can you be wise without experience? No, you can't. But so often we try to bypass the whole time requirement of wisdom, and substitute Brains instead. Because, if we're smart, gosh darn it, we should be able to make the right decision every time, right? If I think about it enough, the answer will come to me.
Oh, how I wish that were the case.
Anybody who knows about NaNoWriMo is now in the throes of writing feverishly, hoping to crank out the elusive 50,000 word novel in 30 days.
I've done it. It's not all it's cracked up to be. Cranking out 1,665 words a day takes me about 2 hours, give or take... and that doesn't include breaks. The real question is, do I have two hours a day to devote to writing a book that I might have to go back and re-write anyway?
Well, no, I don't have time to waste. And in the grand scheme of things, I have to stop and ask myself, "Self, do I really even need to write another book?" This is a question every writer should ask themselves, really. And sometimes, the answer might surprise you.
What it boils down to is, "Did God call me to write a book?" and if the answer is yes, then by all means, do what you have to do to write a book. Don't stop until it's finished! But if the answer is "I don't know" then you've got some thinking to do.
Why do we write? Is it because we enjoy it? Is it because we'd like to make money at it? Do we write just because somebody once told us "Hey, you're good at writing, you should write a book"? Or maybe, just maybe, it's your calling. Maybe it's what God has gifted you to do. You believe your story is going to change somebody's life, and maybe (probably) change yours in the writing process. But after years of doing things, I've realized (i.e. God has shown me) that just because you're good at something, doesn't mean God has called you to do that thing.
This will come as a shock to many. It was a shock to me when I realized it. "Why would God give me a talent if He didn't want me to use it?" That's also a valid question, one I've asked myself countless times. He does want you to use it! But the answer to how we use it lies in where your life is going, and what God has called you to do with your life overall. You see, "writing" as a verb isn't a calling. You can use writing to do something, to accomplish something for God. But the act of writing in itself isn't a calling. It's what you do with your writing that matters. And honestly, if God calls you to do something that requires writing, you don't have to be the best at it for God to use you. But you need to use your talents to do the will of God.
Just let that sink in for a minute, okay?
So where do we look for motivation? Why are we writing? The only way to know for sure is to seek out what God wants for your life, and make sure you're doing what God has put you here to do. How you accomplish that is up to you, but you need to find your motivation first. Only then, once you realize why you write, can you find writing freedom.
Are you ministering to people? Are you touching people's lives? Are you bringing truth to them? Are you filling a need with your writing that you feel God has told you to conquer? Then by all means, get writing! I believe God has given me a reason to write, and so I will do what I can.
(by the way, this post is 580 words!)
Sometimes, you just have to stop trying to be happy.
Where in life do we balance "being content" with "reaching for more"? Paul says in Phillipians 4:13 that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." He was referring to those who live in plenty, or live in poverty... this applies spiritually and physically. Sometimes we just need to be content with where we are, and understand that God will give us what we need, and get us through.
There are times, however, when being content with misery isn't going to work. You can say all you want about being humble, but God doesn't want us to be miserable, either. If there is more misery in your life than joy, there's a good reason for it... just not the reason you'd expect. The church today (little "c") has found success in promising people happiness and comfort. And yes, if happiness comes from physical comfort, then they're very good at making church members "happy." But Jesus never promised fame, fortune, or worldly success. Or happiness.
So if that's the case, where does our contentment, our peace, our joy come from? And what's the difference anyway? Well, our joy comes from God... not doing things for God, not learning about God, not talking about God. Joy comes from God Himself.
There is no formula. There isn't a "if X then Y" flowchart. The only way to have Joy is to be in the presence of God. And that looks different for everybody. You may feel closest to God when you pour through scripture. You might feel close to God when you're singing praises, or helping the poor, or painting a picture. But, it comes with common sense, too. You can't say "I feel closest to God when I'm downing a fifth of Vodka." Sorry, but what you're feeling isn't God... that's momentary happiness, maybe. Certainly not Joy, because the funny thing about Joy is that is doesn't wear off easily. If we spend time with God steadily, it doesn't wear off at all. And most importantly, Joy from God doesn't leave you feeling drained, worn out, or hung over.
When you get to the point where you're trying so hard to be close to God that you're worn out, you can pretty much bet you've left God behind. He's not in the maelstrom, he's not in the typhoon, he's not in the earthquake... God is that still, small voice, calling to you in your exhaustion and misery.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 - MSG
If you've never heard of it, there's this new thing in churches called Environmental Projection. There's a new company dedicated to expanding worship spaces using- you guessed it- projectors. This is just the latest in a long line of technology-driven "improvements" in worship services.
My initial reaction to this was disbelief, then understanding, then skepticism. I totally understand why it works, and I think it's extremely cool. But deep down, I'm very cautious of things that we add to the worship service just to make it "more appealing." Now, before you think I'm a fool, I don't mean we should try to make the service unappealing. We're not Franciscan monks. This does bring up a very valid point of discussion, however, and I'd like to indulge in it. There are generally two lines of thought on this. One, we should use whatever means possible to reach the lost and bring people closer to God. This is hard to argue, and with newer technology, it's getting more and more prevalent. There are even Seminary degrees for Church Media Arts.
The flip side to this is that it is very easy for things like beautiful sanctuaries, large orchestras, feel-good preaching, and so forth to take the focus away from God and His message. If you can only worship in a sanctuary with 360° projectors, a full orchestra, and nice padded seats, then are you worshipping God, or something else? Are we including new technology to reach the lost, or are we simply catering to a specific crowd? Honestly, I don't really think churches are using technology to "Reach people" as much as they are using it to satiate their existing membership (or woo other churches' members).
*Disclaimer* I am, as my website proclaims, a born-again techno-geek Renaissance Man. I love technology and the possibilities it brings. I'm also a Bible-believing man, who recognizes God, and more specifically, God personified in the form of Jesus Christ. I like technology, but I also understand that it is simply a tool, a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. I do not believe in technology for its own sake! Everything should have a purpose, and apart from that, it is by definition unnecessary.
So where do I stand on this? Where should the Church stand on this? Well, I wish it were simple, but there's a few things to consider.
2 Corinthians 10.
I have a problem... and chances are, you have the same problem, too.
I hate missing out. In modern culture, this tendency is called "FOMO," or "Fear of Missing Out."
And after I sit and think about it for a while, I realize just how pervasive and deep-rooted this is in my life. The more I look, the more I realize it's driven almost every aspect of where I've been and where I'm going. Social Media has only made it worse.
And why shouldn't we hate missing out? We should experience life to the fullest, right? We should reach for the stars, climb the highest heights, go big or go home! Right? Right??
But that's not how it works. It's taken me a long time, but I'm realizing that everything costs something. Every time I want to go run off and experience some cool new thing, there's something else in my life that has to give. When I want to go catch a concert (because hey, I may never see it again!) there's consequences. Someone else pays for my spontaneity.
I've noticed that in the last few years, I've accumulated a lot of scars. Everything from ant bites to major surgery seems to leave a scar on me. It's gotten to the point where I don't even care if I have scar spots all over my hands, arms, and legs... it's pretty much unavoidable.
But why do we spend so much time trying to hide our scars? Are we trying not to be judged? Will people think I'm not as attractive if I have staple marks on my head, or discolored lumps on my thigh? What about wrinkles and age spots?
I hate to say it, but I'm not young anymore. Not physically, anyway. I'm pushing 40, which is a long way from 18. Further away from 18 than when I was born. When I look in the mirror, I'm presented with a mix-n-match splatter of skin tones, based upon how long ago the scar was formed. Some of them you almost can't see. You wouldn't know they were there if I didn't show you, but each and every one has a memory tied to it. They remind me of times when I was more reckless... more spontaneous... and less inclined to care.
I have a lot of spiritual and mental scars, as well. They don't show up often, as I've learned to hide them well. We all do. However, you can't hide scars from everybody, and you can't hide anything from God. If you've been hurt, He knows.
Some people will say "It's God's fault I have scars!"
Well, yes. It's also a doctor's fault I have an 18" scar running down my left leg. If it weren't for that scar, I would probably have never walked without crutches or a cane. It's a scar I'm willing to deal with, because it's a sign of healing. The damage underneath would have been much worse without the scar.
Some of my scars are from my own stupidity. Like the time I cut my fingertip with a razor knife. Or the other time I cut a different fingertip with a pair of scissors. Or the time I... well, you get the idea. Sometimes it's just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I have a lot of scars like that. Bug bites, scratches, cuts, you name it. After a while, I tend to forget they're there. They blend into my self-image so that even I don't see them. And I look good in the mirror.
But every now and then my scars will itch, and remind me of my past. I have one particular scar that is over two years old, and it's still healing. Still discolored. Still itches and aches when the weather changes. It's still ugly, but it's in a spot where nobody can see it unless I show them. It is fading- slowly- but at this rate it will be decades before it turns the same color as my skin, and it will probably never smooth down to where it's not noticeable.
I'm okay with scars now. It's taken some time, but over the years, God has healed my wounds inside and out. Every time it happens, I think "Man, what an ugly scar!" but it's proof that God is there, pulling me through, healing me. Now I tend to get scars from almost everything. And you know what? It doesn't bother me.
I'm not done healing. It may take some time. In your life, it may take some time, too. You might have some pretty big wounds, but God can heal them all. They do leave scars, but underneath, there is real healing going on.