Finding an Inner Peace that Can’t Be Shaken

meditate-1851165_1920Peace seems to be one of the best ideals people can think of in this world. If you Google the word peace you will get over one billion results. The top 10 results include the Wikipedia article defining peace, the website for the Peace Corps, and the website for the Nobel Peace Prize. Personal peace is so highly sought after that pharmaceutical companies have flooded the market with dozens of anti-anxiety medications like hydroxyzine, lorazepam, clonidine, clonazepam, atenolol, and diazepam.

It is conservatively estimated that some 39 million Americans suffer from some kind of anxiety disorder. But where does all this anxiety and lack of peace come from? I believe that the root cause of the lack of peace in our lives is the perceived lack of control. Please do not misunderstand – there are some legitimate needs for being on anxiety-related medications, and I thank God for health care professionals. Still, we ought to realize that much of the anxiety and stress we face is not due to genuine psychological and physiological trauma but our own feeling of being out of control.

Think about it – when are you most at peace? When you have everything under control. Anxiety hits us when we feel out of control. Everyone wants peace; peace in marriages, peace in the workplace, peace in family relationships and friendships, peace in our personal lives.

The Bible talks about peace. In the Old Testament, the word for peace is Shalom. In the New Testament, the word is eirene (where we get the name Irene). Peace as Shalom is multi-faceted, but basically comes down to relating to war, human relationships, and tranquility in the midst of hardship. And while a preacher could spend weeks preaching a series about Shalom, today we’re just focusing on tranquility in the midst of hardship and difficulty. When it comes to hardship and difficulty, there is very little that we actually can control. Things happen to us all the time, but at any moment something unforeseen can happen. If we focus on how little we actually control our lives, we can feel overwhelmed! But confidence in God’s power and ability results in an inner peace that cannot be shaken.

The Bible tells us a story about three guys named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were three men who loved God. They were Jews, God’s people, who had been part of a group captured from Israel and transported to Babylon. But they were such good guys (trustworthy, dependable, etc.) that the king made them governors to manage a region in Babylon. In the meantime, the king gets this great idea that he is going to unify the kingdom and insist that everyone take a loyalty oath, a test to make sure that all of the people would recognize the king as the big dog. This was not uncommon in the ancient world. So he builds this monument 90 feet high and nine feet wide. It probably looked something like this.monument-1493054_1920

And everyone was told, “When you hear the sounds of the horns, the flutes, the bagpipes, the guitars, the drums, the tambourines, the tubas, the kazoos…(well, you get the idea) – when you hear all of these instruments playing, then take a knee and make your loyalty oath to the king and the gods he serves. So when the horns, the flute, the bagpipes, the guitar, the drums, the tambourines, the tubas, the kazoos…(again, you get the idea) sounded, everyone in the province pledged loyalty to the king and the gods he served. Everyone except for these three guys, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Even today we go through all sorts of loyalty tests. People and things vie for our loyalty almost daily. Will we show allegiance and loyalty to this or that? Will we show loyalty to this person or that person? But everything else and everyone else is merely temporary – the only permanent One who deserves our loyalty is God and God alone. Our loyalty is founded on what we know about God’s character and on the hope we have in Him! His character proves true time and time again. God does not fail. When He decides to do something, you can guarantee that it will happen. His timing might not fit our timing, but God does not fail – ever! People will pull at you, demanding your loyalty. Things in life will pull at you, demanding your loyalty. To whom and to what will you be loyal? Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego know that they can only be loyal to God – nothing else.

But the king, Nebuchadnezzar, is not pleased with this, so he calls in the three and says, “Fellas! What’s goin’ on?!? Didn’t you get the message about the monument and the instruments and the loyalty thing? Is it true that you won’t take a knee before the monument and publicly proclaim your loyalty to me and my gods? If you don’t do it, you’re gonna be tossed into a furnace of blazing fire – and who is the god who can rescue you from my power?

These three God-fearing men were not anxious at all. They tell the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. 17 If the God we serve exists, then He can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He can rescue us from the power of you, the king. 18 But even if He does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the monument you set up.” You see, confidence in God’s power and ability results in an inner peace that cannot be shaken. They knew the character of their God. They knew the power and ability of their God. Their confidence resulted in unshakable peace.

Even if God’s power did not save them from the fire, they still had confidence that God could, and because they knew that God has everything under control, they did not have to be anxious about it. I think this is where we sometimes drop the ball. We believe that God has everything under control but then expect Him to swoop in at the last minute and deliver us. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego realized that God is in control even if He doesn’t swoop in and save the day – the big picture is still God’s to direct. Oh, that we could have that kind of confidence. That is the confidence that leads to unshakable peace.

But their answer really ticked off the king, and he put those three into a blazing furnace. He commanded his soldiers to heat the furnace as hot as it could go, and ancient kilns could be heated over 1700 degrees Fahrenheit! It was so hot that the soldiers putting the men into the furnace died. But the king looked again and couldn’t believe his eyes. He asked his advisers, “Didn’t we throw in three men?” His advisers said, “Yes, of course, your majesty.” And the king says, “Look, I see four men walking around unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” So King Nebuchadnezzar gets as close as he can to the furnace and yells, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – come out of the fire!” And they come out untouched by the flames. The king then turned the tables and said, “Anyone who says anything offensive about their God will be torn apart and their houses turned into garbage dumps, for no other god can do what their God can do.” Who has the power, and who can save you? God has the power, and He can save.

In his letter to the church in Philippi, the Apostle Paul, who wrote about 31% of the New Testament, says: “Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul does not say, “Tell God about your problems and He will take care of everything.” He says, “Tell God and let God’s peace, a peace that the human mind cannot understand, wash over you.”

There’s an old hymn from 1752 called “Be Still My Soul”

Be still my soul the Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain
Leave to thy God to order and provide
In every change He faithful will remain
Be still my soul thy best – thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways leads to a joyful end

Thorny ways are going to come. Tough times are going to happen. We are not promised rescue – we are promised peace in the midst of troubled times. Some of you are in desperate need of peace. Anxiety has you tied up in knots, and your worries lay heavy on your mind. Surrender your worries to the God of the Universe.

Confidence in God’s power and ability results in an inner peace that cannot be shaken.

Fruity Christians

Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of -Marcus- at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you want to discover what a person wants, what a person loves, look at what they do. It’s a simply fact of life that people do what they love. That is to say, what people do is an outward expression of their passions, desires, wants, and loves. If you love your kids it shows in an outward expression of taking time to go to their softball games or school plays. If you love your significant other it shows in an outward expression of taking her out to dinner or massaging her tired feet. If you love television it shows in an outward expression of working your DVR overtime. If you love social interaction it shows in an outward expression of wanting to be at every party or event you hear about. If you love private time it shows in an outward expression of avoiding every party or event you hear about. You do what you love. Jesus talks about this principle. In Matthew 7 he says:

16 By their fruit you will know them. Grapes aren’t gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So by their fruit you will know them.

In this passage, Jesus is specifically referring to false prophets. The biblical prophet was not just someone who talked about upcoming events. Even though prophets sometimes told people about the future, the main role of biblical prophet is to be the voice of the Lord, to speak on God’s behalf. Jesus’ emphasis in this passage is saying that, even if people come speaking good words, words that sound like they are from God, words alone don’t mean much. In fact, he calls them wolves in sheep’s clothing. They may seem right, but the underneath doesn’t match up. Well-spoken prophets (and people in general) can still be counterfeits.

To know the true measure of a person, look at the fruit – look to their actions as the outward manifestation of their hearts. In other words, Jesus is saying, “You do what you love.” Ancient Rabbis often debated what was more important: hearing the law or doing the law. You can’t do without hearing. Hearing without doing is meaningless. Forget what people say – you can tell their hearts by what they do.

What you are on the inside – what you love – results in the fruit of your life – what you do. This is an interesting way of evaluating our lives. You can look at your own life and determine what your loves are by what you do. I’ve shared with people about my love of food and my struggle with my weight. In the middle of that struggle, when I was not practicing healthy habits, my wife said to me, “I thought you wanted to lose weight.” “I do, I really want to be slimmer,” I said. She replied, “If you really wanted it you would do it.” She was right – you do what you love, and I loved food more than the idea of being healthy.

You make sacrifices to do what you love. Given the choice of health/weight loss or eating whatever, whenever, I showed my real love by my actions. You can tell what you love by how you prioritize your life and the choices you make between one thing and another. You put aside other things to do what you love.

There are some great biblical examples of people who did what they loved. In Acts 6-7 we find the story of Stephen. When we talk about we do what we love, Stephen is a cut above the rest. He begins preaching to the Jews and religious leaders, telling them how all of Israel’s history points to the coming of Christ. The religious leaders get so upset that they start calling him names and they grind their teeth at him. But he continues to tell them anyway, so they take him out and stone him to death, and as the rocks are flying at him he prays a simple prayer, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, don’t hold this against them.” What did he love? He loved Jesus and telling others about Jesus. What was he willing to sacrifice to do what he loved? His own life.

It’s important that we know who we are – that we evaluate who we are. What do you love? What do you do? Look at that passage from Matthew again:

16 By their fruit you will know them. Grapes aren’t gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Every tree not producing good fruit will be cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So by their fruit you will know them.

You can’t fake it. You do what you love. In this passage, what you do is called fruit. Since some fruit is good and some is bad, Jesus would seem to be saying that what we love and what we do aren’t always the right things. The question, then, is this: since we do what we love, are the things we love the same things God loves? Are our values God’s values? Are our values influencing our behavior appropriately? What are our values?

Our values determine our distinctives. What sets us apart from others? The values of a Christian set him apart from a Buddhist who has different values. Values also communicate what is important – they signal my bottom line. “This is what I stand for.” Values influence my overall behavior and determine our direction. God has values, and His values determine His behavior. For example, look at His behavior in John 3:16 – He gave his unique son as a sacrifice for sin. This behavior reflects His values. What does God value? God values lost people. Look at His behavior in Genesis 11 – Humans try to build a tower to heaven and God confuses their language and scatters them abroad.

What does God value? God values humility – knowing your place before the Almighty God. These are just a couple of the things God values. When our values begin to mirror God’s values, what we end up doing is what God wants done. We do what we love. When we do what God loves then we are fulfilling His will for us. This is true in our personal lives and the life of our church. So what do we, as a church, value? Remember, you do what you love. What is the evidence that we value these things? Is there anything that we want to value but don’t yet evidence? Is there anything we should value that isn’t seen in how we act?

When I first realized that you do what you love it changed the way I looked at my behavior. I realized that I couldn’t be a victim of circumstance any more. Picture six birds sitting in a row on an unshielded power line with the power turned off. The first three birds decide that they’re just gonna sit there the whole day and not fly around. The last three decide think that they’re gonna take off and go fly. When the power gets turned on, what’s the difference between the 1st three birds and the 2nd three birds? No difference at all – they’re all toast, because deciding to fly isn’t the same thing as actually flying.

 

Image courtesy of pisitphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of pisitphoto at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Our actions need to be influenced by our values and our loves. Everything I was doing was the result of my own choice. I struggle with my weight, not because food is just too good, but because I love eating more than I love my health. I argue with my wife, not because she deserves it, but because I love defending myself and being right more than I love her feelings.

When I realized that you do what you love, I started to look at all of my behavior. I was motivated to let my actions reflect what I say I loved – to let my actions reflect what I should love – to let my actions reflect what God loves. I was motivated to change my own behavior, and if you know me you know that I don’t like new things. They’re scary. But God is saying, value what I value. Love what I love. Do what I do. When our lives begin to look like this, we start living in God’s will every day.

We may have to change some things in our lives. Are we willing to change/sacrifice to embrace God’s values and His loves? Can we sacrifice our comfort zones? Our time commitments? I don’t know what God will call us to change – maybe a lot, maybe not so much. But it’s time to love what He loves and do what He does. Are you ready to get on board?

 

How about you? What do you love? What will you sacrifice to do what you love?

Breaking G.I. Joes

Yo, Joe!
Yo, Joe!

From the beginning of history, we have lived in a broken world. What does it mean when something is broken? It doesn’t work the way it is supposed to work.

When I was a kid I was playing G.I. Joes with my younger brother. He started teasing me and laughing at me. I can’t even remember what he was laughing about, I just remember that he was making me mad! The more he laughed, the angrier I became. I was holding a G.I. Joe in my hand. I became so angry that I threw it at him as hard as I could!

The Bible tells us that all of us do things that break our connection to God. Even if we try really hard to be good, we still do things that damage our relationship with Him. Anything that breaks our connection to God we call “sin.”

So as my G.I. Joe goes flying through the air, my brother ducks and the Joe sails over his head…and crashes into the window. CRACK! I broke the window! My dad came into the room and asked, “What’s going on in here?” So I confessed. I said that Kevin made me so made that he made me throw the G.I. Joe and it hit the window and the window broke. But my brother didn’t MAKE me do it, did he? I did it myself. And when someone breaks something, who should have to pay to fix it? The one who broke it. So my dad drove me down to the hardware store to buy a new window.

But remember – God says that we ALL do things to break our connection to him. Buying a window is hard enough – who is going to pay to fix our broken connection to God? You don’t have enough money. You can’t do enough good things to fix it. So God said, “I will pay the price to fix it myself.”

When you do something bad, what is the price you have to pay as punishment? If we are left to ourselves, we do bad things and we break that connection with God – the punishment is death. That’s a pretty steep price! And God said he would pay it himself. So God became a man, and his name was Jesus.

John 3:16 says: “This is how God loves us – that he gave us one of a kind son, so that anyone who believes in Jesus would not die but would live with God forever.”

Jesus came to pay the price we couldn’t pay – death.

So they put Jesus on a cross and he was punished so that we wouldn’t have to be. It hurt a lot to be on that cross. It even felt that God had forgotten him. And when it hurt the worst Jesus yelled out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani” which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

And then Jesus died. He died so that he would fully experience life and pay the biggest price anyone could pay. And, just to make sure he wasn’t pretending, a soldier took a spear and stabbed Jesus through the side, and blood and fluid came out. As the final act in his death they put him in a tomb carved out of rock and they closed it off with a huge stone.

So What?!? The cross makes a difference.

How do we respond to the story of Easter? This is a REALLY important question! God took the first step. He says, “Here, I want to give you a present!” If someone wants to give you a present you can choose to ignore it. Or you can choose to respond and to accept the gift. God’s gift is Jesus, who paid the price for what we broke.

How will you respond to Jesus? C.S. Lewis said that there are only 3 options for how we respond to Jesus. #1 – we can call him a lunatic, a crazy person for saying what he said and doing what he did. And then we ignore him. #2 – we can call him a liar, a person who wanted to trick everyone. And the new ignore him. Or #3 – we call him Lord (which means the boss) and we admit that he is who he says he is. And is Jesus wasn’t a lunatic, if he wasn’t a liar, then he must be Lord – and if he is Lord then we can’t ignore him but need to follow him.

Romans 6:4 says, “Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in a new way of life.”

The cross makes a difference.

Everyone who hears the Easter story needs to make a decision: how will you respond to Jesus? Is he a lunatic? Is he a liar? Or is he Lord? If he’s Lord, it’s time to tell him and time to start living the new life God wants us to live.

What’s your decision? Are you willing to say, “I believe Jesus paid the price for me”? Are you willing to say, “I want the cross to make a difference in my life”? Are you ready to say, “I will follow Jesus”? The cross makes a difference. Are you ready to say, “I believe, and I want him to make a difference in me”?

A prayer for you:

I believe that Jesus paid the price for my brokenness.

I believe that the cross makes a difference.

God, I want you to make a difference in me.

Change me.

Make me more like you.

Amen.

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~ They Imprisoned the Wrong Man

A Christian Response to Death

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Death – it’s the opposite of life. It destroys what God has created and is thus contrary to God’s ultimate desire and design. But in this broken world it’s a reality we all face.

I once took an informal poll on Facebook – I asked people what came to mind when they thought about dying. I received quite a variety of answers:

–          Does our spirit immediately go to heaven?
–          No more sickness and no pain!
–          Is it going to hurt…?
–          Jesus…and playing like a crazy person on a grand piano on the other side of the Golden gates. lol. I mean Pearly gates.
–          My Mother whom suffered for months, my Twin Sister who passed away with cancer – if you’re prayed up, packed up and ready to go then it is the final healing, no more suffering, pain, or sickness.
–          When I think of death and dying I envision two different ends of the spectrum. On one end is the person/s left behind which can be a very emotional experience. On the other end is the person who has died. In that I see calmness, blessing and a peaceful beginning with our Jesus…King of Kings.
–          I can’t wait! – Not for the trauma of the death of this old body, but for who is waiting for me in heaven. I can’t wait to see Jesus!!!!!
–          I know it sounds overplayed and we lose sight of the real impact and meaning of it but we get to see and be with The Lord Jesus Christ forever!!! If creation is intricate but still flawed as it is any indication of what is to come our minds our going to be blown!!! Wow! God forever!!!
–          Meeting my daughter in her Glorified body…..and knowing I MADE IT! LOL!!!!
–          I think how much I love my family and how I never want any of them to die, but neither do I want them to suffer. At the very least, should any of them go, I know where it is they go, with whom they’ll be, and that the family left behind will be civil toward each other.
–          Sweet release! The next phase of life.

Our responses to death cover a wide range of philosophy, religion, stuff we’ve read in Dante’s works, and myriad other places. Let’s take a little time and look at what the Bible says about death, dying, and some other related aspects of death.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39 And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. (Mark 14:32-39)

It is a normal human response to have an aversion to death. Even Jesus, when faced with death, prayed repeatedly that God would alter the path before him so that he could avoid the cross. In our own humanity it’s okay to dislike death. The Bible doesn’t tell us to “have a stiff upper lip” when it comes to our mortality. Like Jesus, we might find ourselves praying, “God, please change this course. I don’t want to walk this road.”

I once read that we fear death more intensely than other things because it is the only area of life that is uncontrollable and unknown. It’s something that comes to us all. Sometimes we know it’s coming. Sometimes it takes us by surprise. That not knowing can mess with us, can instill us with fear, can paralyze us. But fear is not a result of trusting in God. Fear is a result of our own attempts to control life. Jesus showed aversion to death – he didn’t show fear. In the end he surrendered his will to the Father because he knew that there was something more – something greater – in store.

Living here and now in light of tomorrow is the hallmark of Christian death. We might have an aversion and avoid it as we can, but embracing the idea that death finds us all compels the Christian to action in the here and now. The Apostle Paul talks about the death of Christ being a catalyst for a new way of living life:

For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. (Romans 6:7-12)

Life here needs to be lived in light of Jesus’ death and in light of the life that awaits us on the other side. To echo Maximus from Gladiator: What we do now echoes in eternity!

Because there is more to come. There is a world that awaits us when we cross from this life to the next. Grave sites originally called coemeteria (cemeteries), literally “resting places” – because people knew that dust was not the end – the spirit lives on. Thus, while Christians mourn our own loss at the passing of a loved one, we can celebrate death because we know of what awaits. Before A.D. 700 the funeral dress was white, not black. They were joyous occasions. Look at the words of Jesus:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”( John 14:1-4 ~ 14)

And the words of the Apostle Paul:

We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”( 1 Corinthians 15:51-55)

This world is not the end. Christians used to say, “This world is not my home, I’m simply passin’ through.” There is more to life than this flesh and blood. And one day the pain, the suffering, and the sorrows that we face will cease.

As long as I have breath I know that God has a plan and purpose for me, but I won’t fear the day when I leave this world behind. All I know is I’m not home yet. This is not where I belong.

Give me Jesus.

Garbage In – Garbage Out. So What Do You Fill Up With?

Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We were created to worship. It’s part of our natural design – we can’t escape it. So the question is not “Will we worship?” but rather “WHAT will we worship?” Some worship their career. Some their kids. Some their hobbies. But we all worship something. From a biblical point of view the ideal is that we worship God.

I admit that worship may take several forms. Some people view worship as the congregational singing churches do during a service. Yes, that is one form of worship. Tithing can also be a form of worship. Serving others could be a form of worship. Worship is anything that we do that declares the worth and value of God and how we esteem him.

We as worshippers can develop the habit of worshipping well! Worship should not be a once-a-week event when we go to church. Declaring the value and worth of God should be a daily occurrence in our lives. Richard Foster writes in “The Spirit of the Disciplines”

In worship we engage ourselves with, dwell upon, and express the greatness, beauty, and goodness of God through thought and the use of words, rituals, and symbols…. Practically speaking, the Christian’s worship is most profitable when it is centered upon Jesus Christ. When we worship, we fill our minds and hearts with wonder at him – life, death, resurrection, and work as ascended intercessor. (177-178)

But how do we develop that habit? The same way we develop any habit – with repetition. I encourage you to start repeating worship acts on a regular basis. The three easiest areas to pinpoint worship actions are giving, serving, and words (prayer, song, etc.)

As to giving, start giving regularly to God through your local church or Christian ministry. I won’t be legalistic, but I believe that there is a biblical foundation (foundation, mind you, not a mandate) to giving 10% of one’s income.

As to serving, start actively looking for ways to serve others in Jesus’ name. You can do this in your neighborhood, the kids’ school, your church, or any other place where you can step up.

As to your words, start a daily practice of speaking how much you value God. This is most easily done in prayer or song. Find a good devotional that can lead you in some prayers. I try to make a habit of listening to worship music. There’s a lot of good stuff from the past. There’s a lot of good stuff out there right now. I can’t wait to hear the great song that still have yet to be written. It’s an easy way for me to glorify God and proclaim his worth. Psalm 17:7 says:

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

As one final aid, here are 10 worship songs (in no particular order) that are currently on my playlist that inspire me to worship God.

  1. Relentless –
  2. One Thing Remains –
  3. Glory to God Forever –
  4. Desert Song –
  5. Whom Shall I Fear –
  6. White Flag –
  7. When the Stars Burn Down –
  8. Come to Me –
  9. Ready for You –
  10. The Stand –

How about you? What’s your preferred method of worship? How do you think you could grow in your worship habits? What songs move you? I’d love to hear what you worship to/with.

Good Vs. Evil

Who's Gonna Win?
Who’s Gonna Win?

Good vs. Evil. It’s one of the most common themes in storytelling. Some of the greatest movies of all time are about the struggle between good and evil. In our modern world we have created these generic categories of good and evil – they are nebulous concepts, vague ideas of right and wrong. But the Bible does not see it that way. In the Bible, Good and Evil refer to concrete actions and behaviors. You behave in good ways or your behave in evil ways.

The Apostle Paul begins Romans 12 by talking about the need to be transformed, to let God start making us into something new. Then, Paul tells us that our newly transformed selves are part of the bigger picture – the group of Christians we call “the body of believers.” In the rest of the chapter, the part I want to look at today, we see that the Apostle Paul is going to step it up a notch and talk about how we ought to behave towards each other.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:9-21

This passage is not simply a list of random behaviors that popped into Paul’s mind as he was writing this letter to the church in Rome. He is actually very intentional in his writing. This entire section is about how Christians are supposed to behave towards other Christians. He begins with a comment that sets the stage for all of Christian behavior: Love must be without hypocrisy. Remember, “Good” is not merely an ideal, some cosmic thought. In the Bible, “Good” refers to our actions and activities – our behavior. Love must be without hypocrisy means that the actions you take for the well-being of others cannot be fake. You must act genuinely for the benefit of others. This overarching concept governs all of the behavior mentioned in the rest of the passage. Let your behavior be characterized by love that is genuine and not false.
Now Paul moves to the heart of his material, and he uses a technique that is not uncommon in the Bible. He bookends his content.

The start and finish of his material uses similar lines. Verse 9: Detest evil; cling to what is good. Verse 21: Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good. Paul is not simply being repetitive. He didn’t forget that he already talked about good vs. evil. Think about bookends for a second. What is the real function of bookends? They prop up books and keep everything together. That is how Paul’s bookends function. The material in between the bookends is held together by this concept of good vs. evil. So we have the overarching guideline: Love must be without hypocrisy. Then we have the bookends: hold the good, run from the evil. When we see Paul’s structure we understand that he is saying, “How you treat each other is the good and the evil.” Treating each other well is the good. Not taking care of each other is the evil.

I love Paul’s language in verse 9: Detest what is evil; cling to what is good. That word detest does not mean hate or really, really, really dislike. It means to shrink away from; to pull back in disgust. One of my favorite old shows is the Twilight Zone. Nothing could put a scare into you like that show. One of my favorite episodes is called, “The Eye of the Beholder.” The episode revolves around a lady who is horribly disfigured. She is considered hideous, a monster to look at. So she undergoes a procedure to fix her face and make her normal. For the first half of the episode you never see her face – she is in bandages. And then the bandages come off (start at 3:30 in the clip)…

They take off the bandages, the doctor exclaims, “No Change!”, she feels her face, and in disgust and horror she screams and pulls back. This is the emotion Paul has in mind. Shrink back from evil, but cling to what is good. Paul says, superglue yourselves to what is good! What is good? Good is behaving in positive ways for the well-being of others. What is evil? Evil is behaving poorly towards others. And then Paul gets into some specifics. He uses 20 different examples of ways Christians should behave as Christians. While we have read over them all, let’s look at three that I think Christians would do well to pick up on.

1.  OUTDO ONE ANOTHER IN SHOWING HONOR. Honor is something we all like to have. The opposite of honor is shame. Shame is something none of us likes to have. Showing honor to others means putting them up on a pedestal. We will often do that for other people…up to a point. Sometimes we will honor a person up to the point where their honor does not take away from our honor. As soon as they start to overshadow us, we pull back on showing honor. We want to honor people, but not too much. We don’t want them to think too highly of themselves or forget their place. If I keep honoring him, I could be overlooked! Or think about the reverse side -shame. If I am shamed, I will try to put shame on someone else to overshadow my shame. The whole thing is about “one-upping” other people. We like to keep ourselves on an even field – they can have honor as long as I can too. I will make sure that their level of shame is at least equal to or greater than my own. It seems that we fear promoting other people and singing their praises if it detracts from our own image. It’s something of a competition.

But that’s not the way we ought to behave. Paul says, “Okay, you want to compete? Compete in trying to outdo each other in giving honor! Who can honor other people the most?” Think about the people in your life. In your family. In your church. When was the last time you really went all out to show honor or promote someone else? In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” Yikes! That’s a tough pill to swallow. Prop up others ahead of yourself.

2.  BLESS THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU – BLESS AND DO NOT CURSE. Paul continues to keep telling us to do the difficult things! We like to try to weasel out of this one. We set up villains in our minds – villains from the secular world. When a group attacks or insults Christianity, we cling to this verse. It is more and more common for non-Christians to attack the church as a hate group or anti-this and that. I have three responses. First, we do not hate anyone. We firmly believe that God cares for all people and that we are supposed to care for all people. Second, it is not hate or prejudice to hold people accountable to biblical behavior – it is personal, spiritual conviction. Third, and this is the kicker, Paul is not talking about situations where non-Christians insult or attack us. He is talking about situations where we come into conflict with other Christians – when we feel attacked and persecuted by other God-fearing people.

This passage is filled with words like “brotherly-love,” “one another,” and “the saints.” He’s talking about our relationships with each other. When we feel wronged and mistreated by other Christians our response needs to be blessing and not cursing. What do those words even mean? They mean that, when we are mistreated and wronged by people in the church, we should be wishing and praying for good things for them and not hoping that bad things happen to them. Think about the last time you felt mistreated by a Christian. Was your initial thought to pray that good things would happen for him? Or did you secretly hope he would fail and come to ruin? Pray and hope for success and good things for the people that wrong you.

3. BE AGREEABLE WITH ONE ANOTHER. Paul is not telling us that we have to have the same perspective on everything. We don’t have to like the same music, the same movies, the same foods, the same books…. He is not telling us that we have to become part of the collective, having hive-mentality and groupthink. The fundamental call here is to moving in the same direction, a common purpose, goal, and unity. As Christians, there is more that unites us than there is that divides us. Too often we focus on the division and fail to be in agreement, to be united in a common purpose and goal. Too many of us embrace being cantankerous Christians. Young people, cantankerous is an older word that means difficult or argumentative. Forget all of the peripherals – let’s focus on the big picture. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul writes that we are to be united in mind and to be at peace. How can we come together as a united group of people called by God for His purpose?

We now come to the other bookend – Paul’s repetition of Good and Evil. Understanding that Good refers to activities for the well-being of others and Evil refers to behaving poorly. We read Paul’s words: Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good,” and understand that he tells us that how we treat people will determine if good triumphs over evil. Will you let evil win? Or will you behave in Christian love even when it isn’t deserved? Out of all of these examples, notice this: our behavior is not based on the actions of others. We are not called to act right when others act right. We are called to act right regardless of how others act. Show honor. Pray for good things to happen to people who mistreat you. Be united in common vision and goals. Don’t seek payback.
Where do you find yourself lacking? Where does God need to work on you?

It’s time to allow God to start changing us, our thinking, and our behavior. Don’t allow yourself to stay the same.

Are You Obsessed?

 

Single-Minded Obsession
Single-Minded Obsession

 

Do you remember what it was like to obsess over the girl you used to like? That guy you had a thing for? “She didn’t smile at me when we passed today. Why didn’t she smile at me? Or how about, “We had so much fun, but why hasn’t he called back? It’s been 10 hours – why hasn’t he called me? Should I call him? Easy – don’t want to seem too anxious. Should I have my friend ‘bump into him’? Why hasn’t he called?”

Or maybe you never obsessed over a guy or a girl. But I bet that at some time in your life you’ve obsessed over something! There was a time in my life when I was obsessed with collecting comic books. Every month had a visit to the comic shop to get the latest editions to see what Superman, Batman or the X-Men were going to do next. Looking back it seems like a lot of money poured into something I no longer do….

What price were you willing to pay to satisfy your obsession? You can always tell how valuable a thing is to us by the price we are willing to pay for it (or the price at which you’re willing to let it go). The real value of an object isn’t given it by the seller. The real value of the object is given it by the buyer – how much is it worth to you? You can see this when you look at some of the items sold on E-Bay and the prices paid for those things. I found a pet rock for sale on EBay. It came with a nice cardboard box, a nest, and an instruction book on how to care for and train your rock. What would you be willing to pay for this? The high bid – $28. Um…really?

People can become obsessed with silly things. Christian writer Ted Dekker writes in his book Obsessed:

Life is hardly worth living without an obsession. God himself is obsessed. With His creation. With humans. With the love of humans. You think he created with nonchalance? Let’s throw some mud against the sky and see if any of it sticks? Not a chance. We are created for love, for obsession. So we do indeed obsess, though usually not over the right idea.

God himself is an obsessive God, obsessed with his love for his creation, for us! Remember that the value of something isn’t determined by the seller’s price, but is determined by the price the buyer is willing to pay. In His obsession for us, he couldn’t have paid a higher price than he did – the cross. This is the kind of obsession we need to have towards God – a single-minded fixation that puts no limits on the cost. When we understand this kind of obsession some of the crazy stories in the Bible don’t seem so crazy. When you’re obsessed with Him you’d be willing to build a big boat in the middle of the dessert. When you’re obsessed with Him you’d dance in worship without caring what your wife thought of you. Jesus himself even talked about obsession for God in Matthew 13. He told his disciples a parable about a man who discovers a treasure buried in a field. Wanting that treasure more than anything, he re-hides the treasure, sells off everything he owns, and goes to buy the field. Unethical – maybe a bit – but the point is that we need to be fixated on finding God.

That’s all well and good, but how do we get to that point of obsession? It’s not like we can simply turn it on at will. True, we can’t turn it on at will. A friend recently said to me, “I’ve been a Christian for a while. I’ve read the Bible. I know what I’m supposed to think and what I’m supposed to do. But what’s next?” I think that this sums up where many of us are. We know what we’re supposed to know. We’ve heard sermons and been to Bible studies. If someone asks us what it takes to build your Christian life we can faithfully recite the answers without even thinking about it: read the Bible, pray, fellowship, obey. We know all that. So what is next? How do we get to the deep end? How do we discover that obsession within our souls?

It comes from an encounter with Jesus. For the cripple at the pool of Siloam it was encountering Jesus that made his legs whole. For blind Bartimaeus it was encountering Jesus that gave him sight. It is encountering Jesus that breaks our addictions. It is encountering Jesus that restores our relationships. We need to have a face to face encounter with the Living God! This is the kind of story we find in Mark 5:

1They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. 2When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. 4For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

There are few images in the Bible that are as unsettling as this. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a troubled soul. Jewish teaching held that there were 4 tests for insanity: 1) a mad person sleeps in graveyards, 2) a mad person tears his clothing, 3) a mad person walks around at night, and 4) a mad person destroys anything given him. In this one person we find all 4 tests fulfilled – what we have here is a madman, and every word of his description emphasizes his pathetic condition. Here is a man who is made in God’s image and the unclean spirit causes him to horribly distort that image.  It makes one ask, “Is there anything happening in my life that distorts God’s image in me?” Though we here may not be struggling with actual demons, we do struggle with things that distort God’s image in us – anger, hate, jealousy, or lust, to name just a few.

6When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God that you won’t torture me!” 8For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”

We see several interesting things happening at the same time. Look at what the demon is saying to Jesus – he addresses Jesus by name and says, “I adjure you by God.” In Jesus’ time, if one wanted to perform an exorcism, one needed to know the name of the spirit. When you knew its name you had power over it. Then you could command it under oath (adjure) to leave the body it inhabited. What the spirit is doing here is trying to exorcise Jesus! “I know your name – you are Jesus. I command you by God, leave me alone!” The irony is rich. He thinks he can take on Jesus in a power encounter. But it’s all talk – no one can outdo God.  No one can contain Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter who you are or what’s going on in your life, Jesus is ready to encounter you! This man came from the tombs. He was considered unclean and untouchable, but Jesus doesn’t stop this encounter – he welcomes it. That’s encouraging news for us. No matter what our problems, our flaws, our addictions, or our demons, Jesus stands ready to encounter us. But will you run to Him and fall at His feet?

9Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” “My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 11A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13He gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

The name “Legion” has ties to the Roman army. A Roman legion was made up of anywhere from 3000-6000 troops. And you thought you had problems! Of course, this could be one final attempt on the unclean spirit’s part to put a scare into Jesus! But it’s evident who is in control. The person in control doesn’t beg, and the demon has been begging Jesus since Jesus arrived. They beg permission to go into the pigs and Jesus permits it. And the first thing they do upon overpowering the pigs? They destroy the herd.

14Those tending the pigs ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. 15When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 16Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man—and told about the pigs as well.  

When God starts to do stuff, people can’t help but talk about it. This is part of the power of personal testimony. I saw God do something and you’re not gonna believe it! If God starts doing something and we tell people about it, you’d better believe they will come out to see for themselves what’s happening. So the pig herders go to tell the town and countryside what they saw – when everyone returned they see the whacked-out crazy guy sitting by Jesus, clothed and sane.

When they encounter Jesus, people do change. Before, this man had been in an unbreakable grip of destructive evil; now Jesus has shattered the grip of evil and restored him to full human life. It is encountering Jesus that heals the sick. It is encountering Jesus that breaks addictions. It is encountering Jesus that restores relationships. We need to have a face to face encounter with the Living God!

But not everyone is happy with what has happened. The response of the people is fear – not of the once crazy guy – they fear Jesus! He has demonstrated supernatural power and an authority over the spiritual and natural world. If he cast the demons out of all of the sick people, there wouldn’t be enough pigs and livestock to hold them all. Every farmer and rancher would go out of business! The locals are apparently more concerned with their way of life than for the life of this man or the Lord of Life standing before them. Are we more interested in “business as usual” or the power of God to deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us? Sometimes we can start to see God as a concept, an idea by which we should live our lives. It’s when we start to think like this that we begin to care about business as usual. But God is not an abstract thing – God is the creator and giver of life and His power can deliver our disordered lives and the lives of those around us. Oh, how we need an encounter with Jesus.

18As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. 19Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

What a life turn-around. He goes from being demon-possessed to being Jesus-obsessed. He has had an encounter with Jesus Christ and is forever changed – he becomes obsessed. And Jesus sends him out to spread his obsession to others, and all the people were amazed. Now we’re back full-circle: What is your obsession? Do you have a single-minded fixation on God? I believe that we know what we needs to know – at this point going deeper is going to mean developing the personal experience of God and his love and power.

We need a fresh encounter with the Lord of Life, so that we can be healed, restored, set free, and set loose to obsess about God and spread our obsession everywhere we go. The demoniac would not have had his encounter with Jesus if he hadn’t run to Jesus and fallen at his feet. That’s where we need to be. Seeking God and asking him to encounter us, to intervene in our lives. The Christian band Skillet writes in their song My Obsession, You’re my only infatuation…My purpose, my possession, live and die in my obsession, my obsession.

Are you obsessed?

Fighting Discrimination

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this country has lost its ever-lovin’ mind. It is clearer than ever before that we face sharp distinctions between categories of people. Distinctions in and of themselves are not bad things. Our lives fall into categories based on a variety of things: age group, ethnicity, gender, education level, income, homeowner or renter…and the list goes on and on. It’s impossible to live a “category-free” life.

The problem is when we discriminate based on categories. In simpler terms, discrimination is about playing favorites. Every grade-school child knows about playing favorites. The popular or athletic kids are always picked first for games. The kids in the negative categories (unpopular, overweight, uncoordinated, whatever) are discriminated against and picked last – if picked at all. Playing favorites. Discrimination. It’s the same thing. It’s about treating some people more or less favorably based upon some quality or characteristic.

This isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s been going on since the dawn of time. In his letter to the Diaspora James writes:

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (James 2:1-8)

James’ audience had a particular problem of treating wealthy people better than they treated the poor. The rich got the best seats and the most attention. The poor got the floor and the cold shoulder. The principle at work in his churches is the same principle that drives discrimination today: paying attention and responding to outward appearances is the primary way of showing partiality.

Not only is discrimination incompatible with authentic Christian behavior but it is actually sinful. It is contrary to the will and character of God to discriminate against and treat people as less-than because of a category to which they belong. If you show partiality you are committing sin. That’s not me saying that – it’s the Bible. The Bible repeatedly tries to move us away from a mindset of discriminating against people, showing favoritism, because of their categories.

One of the most popular stories from the Gospels is about Jesus calling out his disciples for discriminating:

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:13-14)

Even Jesus’ closest companions fell into discrimination. It happens whenever we start to think less of someone because of his status. He doesn’t count as much, he’s only a child. She doesn’t count as much, she’s just a woman. They don’t count as much, they’re not _________ (fill in the blank). There is no room for discrimination in God’s Kingdom. God doesn’t play favorites – why do we? It’s because we let our identity come from our categories rather than from God. We’re ethnic before we’re Christian. We’re political before we’re Christian. We’re employees before we’re Christian. We’ve got our priorities backwards. We need to shed the classifications of this world. Our sense of identity ought to come from God.

So what’s the answer? First, we have to change our allegiances, our priorities, our categories. We need to stop seeing others with the classifications of this world and start seeing people through God’s eyes. It comes down to loving people the same way you love yourself (a biblical concept). No one wants to be treated as less-than or other-than. So don’t treat others that way.

Second, we need to see OURSELVES without the categories of this world and see ourselves through God’s eyes. One of the early leaders in church history was a young guy named Timothy. It seems that some preferred to classify Tim by his age rather than by his calling as Pastor. Paul instructs Tim to shed the human classifications and to remember the calling that God has given you.

It’s time to make a change. It’s time for Christians to lead the charge. We should not put up with discrimination. We should recognize that identity is not determined by human categories but on our Creator. Imagine a world where physical distinctions disappear and we treat each other decently simply because we’re all made by the same creator. It’s tough – I know. But try. Drop all the other labels and put on this one: CHILD OF GOD.

How about you? How have you been discriminated against? In all honesty, how have you discriminated against others?

Bad Things Happen to Good People

Feeling Stronger Every Day
Feeling Stronger Every Day

Karma’s a joke. It’s a joke we love to believe in, isn’t it? The whole premise of the best-selling book “The Secret” is that good things will come to you if you put out good things into the world (vibes, energy, whatever you want to call it).

I call it hogwash.

It doesn’t take any adult very long in this world to see that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Conversely, sometimes good things happen to bad people. There’s no promise that putting put positivity will return positivity to you. In fact, one of the questions the Old Testament wrestles with is how bad people can lead horrible lives and still have everything they want and go to the grave having had a fantastic life. It just isn’t fair.

I was having a conversation with a woman today who told me that she still believes that being a good person will ultimately result in good things happening because people are more likely to want to help you, like when you’re stopped on the side of the road with a flat tire. “HOLD ON,” I told her.

I agree with you that our behavior has the ability to influence how others respond to us. If people know that I am a decent and caring human being then there is a good chance that people will be decent and caring towards me. If I’m a real jerk then people will probably not be as inclined to help me. But that’s not karma. That’s interpersonal relationships. The side of the road analogy IS karma, and that’s garbage.

My goodness (or badness) is not going to influence a driver who passes me in my distress. I personally have no impact over a stranger driving by. Karma doesn’t work. But here’s the thing – a lot of people base their own behavior on this idea that do good and good happens. Do bad and bad things happen. I find this to be a very flawed view of ethics. In essence it says, “I will only behave appropriately because I believe that I will personally benefit from it at some point in time.”

This is no standard for ethical behavior. It is inconsistent, and the definition of “good behavior” subjectively changes from one person to another. There must be something more – some greater force that drives human behavior. This is where Christian faith steps up and says, “There IS a standard – God’s standard.” And every human behavior does have a consequence. We might not see consequences in this lifetime. We might have the good people suffer and the bad people succeed, but no one escapes the final reckoning. The Bible is clear that there will be a time when we all stand before God and give account of our lives.

I know many people who are going through difficult times right now. Some have relationship problems. Some have financial problems. Some have other problems. Just because you are a good person doesn’t mean you will have a good and easy life. So then what drives us to be good people?

It should be our relationship with God. In the Bible he tells us that he wants us to imitate him: his character and behavior. If I live out what I say I believe then I will be trying to make God’s character my character. This is the only foundation of ethical behavior that will hold fast no matter what circumstances might come our way. In the good times I strive to act like him. In the bad times I strive to act like him. Those ethics are constant in an ever changing world.

No matter how good you are you are not promised good things. Jesus, the best human, still had bad things happen to him. It’s not about karma. It’s about living up to the character and calling God gives us. So kick karma goodbye. Say adios, sayonara, or use whatever language you like. But the secret to The Secret is that there is no secret. We are good because God asks us to be, not because we want good things to happen to us.

How about you? Do you struggle with letting go of the idea of karma?

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Why This Soldier Will Never Shoot

At the Rifle Range
At the Rifle Range

I’m a Soldier in the United States Army Reserve. More specifically, I’m a Chaplain (Captain). What a lot of people don’t know about Chaplains is that we are classified as “non-combatants”. That means I’m not a war-fighter. I would be more like a combat-multiplier. I take care of Soldiers so that Soldiers can take care of the Nation.

But my non-combatant status goes beyond warfare. There is a policy from the Chief of Chaplains (the top dog of Chaplains) instructing Chaplains that, as Chaplains, we are not to be firing weapons even in training situations. that was a real bummer for today.

I was at the weapons range with the Battalion Staff. They were qualifying on the rifle and on the sidearm. At one point, the Detachment Commander came over and told me, “Chaplain, if you want to shoot we have the extra ammo and weapon for you” (he did not know about the Chief of Chaplain’s policy). Man, what an offer! I mean, really, who would have known if I had done it? I’m just a junior Chaplain in one Battalion in the whole Army (which has thousands of Chaplains).

But I didn’t shoot. I kindly thanked him and explained the policy and said that I would love to shoot but won’t do it on duty (there is no prohibition from owning or firing weapons for Chaplains when not on duty).

Let me explain why I didn’t shoot:

1) You never know who is watching. These days it seems like everyone has a smartphone with a camera. I can just see someone pulling out a camera to take a picture of the Chaplain “shooting with the troops.” Then the picture would wind up on Facebook and, before you know it, I’m getting a call from a senior Chaplain asking what on earth I was thinking. Aye, carumba.

Once I was walking through Wal-Mart doing some regular grocery shopping when I saw a church member. She was at the end of her aisle picking up a case of beer to put into her cart. I approached her and said hello in a very friendly way. She became flustered and quickly started to explain to me that she was merely buying the beer for her husband and not for herself. She was so embarrassed to be seen by her pastor. You never know when people will see your public behavior!

**SIDE NOTE**

The Bible does not say that buying or drinking alcohol is a sin – just that drunkenness is a sin. I told this dear lady that it didn’t matter to me if she was buying the beer for her husband or herself. It didn’t change what I thought of her or how I would treat her. Back to the topic….

2) Our behavior has consequences that might not be apparent immediately to us. Imagine if I had decided to shoot and some Soldiers who DID know about the policy prohibiting Chaplains from shooting saw me willfully act against the policy. In an instant I would lose credibility as a Chaplain and leader. The one who is supposed to be a spiritual leader breaks rules whenever it pleases him? And when ministers lose credibility it adversely affects our ability to reach people. You might not see how your behavior influences others, but people see what you do. Live in such a way to build credibility – not destroy it.

3) Even if nobody had EVER seen me break policy (which I haven’t, remember), God would have known. I know, I know – it’s almost trite and cliché to say, “God sees you.” But it’s true.

I don’t say that in an attempt to put guilt or fear into people. It is a positive thing. In the Old Testament when Hagar is going through a real rough spot in life she cries out to God asking for deliverance and says, You are the God who sees me.” He sees and he cares. It is a wonderful thing that God sees us and cares for us. But it is a fearful thing because nothing is hidden from him.

There’s a children’s song I learned a long time ago that says, “Be careful little feet where you go. Oh be careful little feet where you go. For the Father up above is looking down with love so be careful little feet where you go.” At some point God will judge the living and the dead and all of our actions will be accounted for. He knows what we do, it doesn’t matter if we take our secrets to the grave.

So I will never shoot a weapon as a Soldier. I’m okay with that. It’s part of being a member of the organization and following orders. I will never willfully disobey lawful orders. It would damage my credibility and my potential to minister to Soldiers.

As Christians let us remember that our behavior matters. People see us. And, even if they don’t, God does. One day we will be held accountable.

How about you? Ever been “caught” doing something when you thought no one was looking?