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?

What’s Your Pet Peeve?

Pet Peeve

Everybody has one. Even if you don’t like to admit it or talk about it, there is probably one in your life. Of course, you all know what I am talking about. I am talking about phrases and expressions that you hate, words that irritate and annoy you. Does anyone in your life use an expression or phrase that really tweaks you? My wife hates “A.S.A.P.” She doesn’t mind if I say, “As soon as possible,” but heaven forbid I say “A.S.A.P.” or “A-SAP.” It also bothers her if I say “guac” instead of guacamole. I don’t know why – it’s just one of those things that rubs her the wrong way.

Is there any particular phrase or expression that always bothered you? What is it? For me it was hearing people say, “Same difference.” Aaagghhhh! Either it’s the same or it’s different! The only way you have a same difference is if you compare 9 minus 5 and with 10 minus 6. What do 9 – 5 and 10 – 6 have in common? They have the same difference. Other than math, things are the same or they are different – there is no same difference.

There is, however, something to be said for being the same. If everyone shares similar tastes or has similar interests then companies can sell millions of product X. If your product doesn’t fit the mold of “this is what everyone wants,” you don’t sell very many. Some years back my wife and I enjoyed watching American Inventor on tv. Did anybody else ever watch that show? The premise was this – thousands of people bring their inventive creations before a panel of judges and explain why their product is the next great American invention. It’s like American Idol for inventors. One couple had invented a device called the “Tea Brain.” It was a device that allows you to brew loose-leaf tea in your coffee maker. One judge in particular thought that this was an idea that would appeal to millions of people – there is a large and shared interest in tea. Then came another pair of inventors – engineer buddies from who invented a new claw for hanging bikes.

The judge that loved the “Tea Brain” hated this claw. He thought it would not be universal enough to be popular. This is how our capitalistic society trains us to be. Something is good only if it has mass appeal. If something is too unique and doesn’t blend in enough, it should probably be discarded. Unfortunately, the same is often true of how people are treated.

Our modern world likes to pretend that we embrace differences but there is a limitation on how different people will allow you to be. Being different in our culture is embraced until that difference interferes with other people’s actions. Being different in our culture is embraced until that difference makes people feel uncomfortable. Look at issues of faith – you can believe whatever you want to believe and I can believe whatever I want to believe and everything is peaches and cream until one person tells another, “You can’t do that” or “You shouldn’t behave like this.” That’s just crossing the line. You and your weird religious beliefs can’t dictate the way I live my life. The funny thing is, when we really examine the issue, differences aren’t really embraced anyway. Those who are “different” are ostracized, mocked, and mistreated.

I’m sure many of you have a story about the awkward and eccentric kid in high school. Maybe you were that kid. You know who I’m talking about, the kid everyone made fun of and teased. The Napoleon Dynamites of the world.

In my high school his name was John. He was different. He stood out. He didn’t fit the mold created by the masses. I always thought, “Thank God I’m not that awkward and geeky. I don’t want to stand out like that – I want to be an accepted part of the group. I think this is a normal reaction for people of all ages. I don’t want to stand out and have others look down on me – I want to be like everyone else. This is the line of thought that Peter is attacking in his letter.

Peter’s message is as clear today as it was for his church centuries ago –

You have a special calling to be God’s people. Therefore you ought to be different from the rest of the world and be like Christ.

4:1-6 – Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin. As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do – living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing, and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge in with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are no dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

Peter’s church was a suffering church, but he presents here an idea that we don’t like to accept; present suffering is good for the Christian life. “Say what?!?!? Suffering is good for the Christian life? I don’t believe that. That doesn’t make any sense. If God wanted to make sense, he would say that pleasure is good for the Christian life.” Anyone out there hear me? But I’ll say it again – present suffering is good for the Christian life. I am not saying that God hands out suffering. Peter is not saying that God causes suffering. But suffering has the ability to move us towards God, and Peter patterns human behavior after Jesus’ behavior. If Christ suffered, so can we. So accept suffering, draw close to God, and live for and seek His will.

Peter tells us that we’ve already done enough sin in the past. Now it’s time to live out the calling as His chosen people. We are to be different than we used to be. Notice Peter’s two contrasting time frames: past behavior vs. present and coming behavior. Who we were in the past is no longer who we are in the present and the future because of our encounter with Jesus Christ. Have you seen the movie, Back to the Future?

It’s a classic and one of my favorites. At the beginning of the movie, Marty McFly’s parents are a real mess. They are a mess because they used to be a mess in the past and never changed. Through the course of the movie, Marty travels back in time, has a run-in with his past parents, and then returns to his own time to find that his parents, especially his father, had changed completely. Marty’s dad changed, and who he was in the past was no longer who he was in the future because of his encounter with Marty. Believe it or not, this is what Peter is telling us needs to happen with our own lives. Who we were in the past is no longer who we are supposed to be now because of our encounter with Jesus Christ. We are supposed to be radically different.

Being morally and spiritually different brought abuse to Peter’s church – their old friends didn’t like their new behavior, didn’t understand, and so abused, mocked, and ridiculed the new Christians because of their differences. Like Peter’s church, we have the same responsibility to be different, to stand out from the world and not fit in. It’s okay to be different. No, not just okay – it is what God asks of us – that we be different.

No matter how the world lives, God’s people have a calling to be different, to stand out no matter what the consequences. We don’t need to concern ourselves with their judgment. Peter makes it clear that they will have to give account of their actions and behavior to God. The real question is, are you ready to give account? Are you different? Have gone through a “Back to the Future” transformation, where your current and future actions are different from your past actions?

It’s time to take inventory of your life. Where do stand out from the world? Where do you blend in too much? Your language? Your mental habits? Your sexual behavior? Your social interactions? Your hidden sins that you never want revealed? It’s time for us to stand up and stand out. Our behavior should not reflect the world. Our old friends should be upset that we’re not joining them in their lifestyles anymore. That is not who we are. We are His, and we need to act like it.

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?

You spent HOW MUCH?!?

butterfly-effectWhen our oldest child was five she was playing a Disney game on Facebook where you have to develop your own animal preserve (like Farmville, but with rain forests, savannahs, etc. – a pretty cool game, actually). I helped her log in at the living room computer during my lunch break and then left for work. My wife went about the business of the house. I came back from work to discover that our sweet daughter had spent $200 on game stuff! She thought it was “game money” and didn’t realize she had been charging our account!

Humanity never really changes, do we? Even as adults we have a tendency to forget that there are real world consequences to everything we say and do. There is no bubble, no consequence-free zone. Life is made up of multiple ripple effects from human behavior.

Everything we say and do creates a new ripple that extends to the community around us and, ultimately, the world. I don’t think we take that idea seriously. I know I don’t, and I think I’m normal, so I’m guessing you don’t either! It’s easy to say or do something and then completely forget about forever. But there is no bubble around us. Our behavior produces results.

The Bible talks about it in farming terms: sowing and reaping, planting and harvesting. The Apostle Paul writes:

Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.

Paul just took the Butterfly Effect to a whole new level. It’s not just about the earthly consequences of our actions. He tells us that there are spiritual and eternal consequences! This isn’t a unique concept in Christianity. Several places in the Bible God tells us that our relationship to him is helped or hindered by our relationships and behavior with others:

–          If you want forgiveness, forgive others.

–          If you’re at worship and remember that someone has something against you make it right with him before you get right with God

–          True religion is taking care of people who cannot take provide for themselves

–          A person who hates his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen

Starting to get the idea? It’s a divine Butterfly Effect. The little things we say and do in the here and now have consequences that carry far beyond the minutes that surround our behavior. So before you act pause to think about the consequences of your action. How will this action affect me? How will it affect others? Before you speak think about the possible ripple effect of your words. Will these words build people up or cut people down? If others heard that I was saying these things would it be beneficial or detrimental?

Fortunately for us, Facebook reversed the charges our darling daughter racked up. Real life isn’t always so gracious, and our behavior can hurt or heal, build or destroy. So be careful the next time you speak and act.

You never know how far the ripples go.