Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Blessing or Curse?

Yesterday I talked about stress and worry. It's a topic worth talking about more (and you'll notice there's a theme to this week).

Stop and think about what stresses you out. The little things and big things. What are you stressed out about right now? What were you stressed out about a week ago? (admit it, you were stressed out about something a week ago I'm sure)

Of all the things we stress about, either major or minor, we stress because we can't control it. We don't know the outcomes. At its root, we simply do not trust God.

But what do we stress most about? Our family, our jobs, our car breaking down, our bank account, our leaky roof... What do all of these things have in common? They are blessings! Think about it. The things that stress you out the most are blessings from God. You don't deserve them, you aren't owed them, but God has given you a family, a roof over your head, a job (or even at times, no job at all), money in the bank account (even if just pennies until the next check). And yet we want to control what God gives. We want to know how things turn out when only God knows.

This week's Blog Carnival topic is Sacrifice. It may be cliche to reference Abraham and Isaac when talking about sacrifice. I'm sure you've heard a dozen of sermons asking, "what's your Isaac?" But it's worth looking at again.

Going back a bit, Abraham and Sarah were stressed about not having children. Then God came along and made Abraham a promise. The promise wasn't fulfilled right away, so they stressed some more and made a bad decision along the way to allow Abraham to lay with Hagar in order for her to have his child since Sarah was barren. But God eventually came through and Sarah gave birth to Isaac.

Then we get to Genesis 22, where God asks Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham doesn't protest, he doesn't even say a word. He just goes. When Isaac asks where the sacrifice will come from, Abraham simply replied, "the Lord will provide." (v 8) Still no stress, but simple trust in God's promise.

Abraham was willing to sacrifice a blessing because he believed in God's promise. He didn't know how God was going to work it out, but he knew God would. So he had no stress, no worry.

Of all the blessings that stress you out, what are you willing to sacrifice believing in God's promise? No, God probably hasn't personally spoken to you to promise anything. But there is this, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28) Another cliche, but consider what that "good" is that God promises. Verse 29 continues, "...to be conformed to the likeness of his Son..." That is the good we are promised.

Are we being conformed to the image of Jesus when we stress out? Not likely. But we are when we are willing to give some things up, even if they are blessings, because we believe God's promises.

What are you willing to give up?

This post is one of many on the topic of sacrifice. Be sure to visit Peter Pollock's blog to see other posts to be inspired, encouraged, and challenged as others share their thoughts, feelings, and convictions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Worry Wart

"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Matthew 6:27)

The second chapter of Crazy Love focuses on our brief time on this earth relative to the infinite nature of God. A favorite verse comes from the fourth chapter of James, "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.'  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (Js 4:13-14) The illustration is given in the book that if all of history was a movie, God would be the star, and our brief cameo appearance would last a fraction of a second.

Yet we live our lives as if we are the star. We believe our lives, our choices, our importance is history-making. Yes, there are people who have made significant, lasting marks on history. But of the 8 billion people on Earth right now, what makes us think that will be us?

The truth is, we are only a mist. We don't even know the given length of our lives. So that important deal, that important decision, may never even come to pass. It is sobering, humbling, to consider. And looking at life given this revelation should change how we approach worry and stress.

There was an interesting email exchange last week. One brother was sharing from his personal Bible study and quoted 1 John 3:1, "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" and talked about how, in all of our trials, we should remember that God calls us his children. I followed up with the above verse from Matthew and the conclusion to that chapter, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself." (Mt 6:34a). I also referenced the command Paul gives in Philippians 4:4 to rejoice always. I paraphrased a definition of stress from Crazy Love, that when we stress out we are saying that our worries are more important than obeying that command. In other words, it is ok to sin because we are that important.

The brother shared again the next day, quoting Romans 8:35-37, and followed that up talking about how God promises that all the hardships, trials, and challenges he has been facing over the past year cannot separate him from the love of God. What a comforting and encouraging thought! Another brother followed up discussing joy quoting Romans 15:13: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."

It was clear from the above email chains, that worry and stress is something we can all relate to. In fact, in yesterday's sermon our preacher noted that the verse, "do not be anxious about anything..." (Phil 4:6) is probably the most disobeyed command in all the Bible.

Worried. Stressed out. If I took a survey, I bet many would describe themselves this way. But it need not be. We need to be reminded of God's love and the short time we are given to draw breath. The following video, though only covering a year, and the accompanying songs is a good reminder of what is really important. (Disclaimer: I don't know this family. Often when looking for videos for songs, you find a lot of picture slideshows. But this video was perfect. I think you'll agree)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Your Love

I didn’t post a recap of our Crazy Love group last week and since we’re not meeting tonight because of Valentine’s Day, I figured I’d post today to fill the gap. Valentine’s Day is actually a good time to reflect on Crazy Love. The ultimate expression of love is God’s Son, Jesus Christ. But God expresses his love in other diverse ways. Every sunrise and sunset. The stars in the sky and the depths of the ocean. A smile from a friend and a warm embrace. Even the air we breathe. What more do we need to see how much God loves us?

So how do we respond to this love? We participate in a man-made institution that holds weekly meetings. That’s all church is. God gave us our life and many of us give back with an hour and half of our time a week. Just like Valentine’s Day; we can take the year off romantically, but if we go all out today then we prove just how much we love our partner. Sorry, but love doesn’t work that way.

Some just don’t get it. So enter Crazy Love. Our response to God’s profound love should be radical. It should not be half-hearted or distracted. It should not be limited by time or personality. It should be as all-encompassing and bold as God’s own love for us.

I was at the store yesterday picking up Valentine’s cards for my kids and I saw in the book section a display set up just for this holiday. The Love Dare, The 5 Love Languages… and Crazy Love. Well love is in the title and the book is red, it must be romantic! Uh, no.

The fear with this study group, and really any book study, is a wave of inspiration immediately after that fades with time. Just like this holiday may spark a period of unprecedented romance that is not expected to last. But I believe if you get through this book, you at least have the reminder that God’s love never fades on us and have no excuse.

If you don’t feel in love with God today, just stop. Look around. See the wonders of God’s creation all around you. Think of the sacrifice of His Son. Think of His grace and His love. Most of all stop thinking about yourself.

Hmmm. That’s good advice for Valentine’s Day too.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Wind Beneath My Wings

Did you ever know that you're my hero...

Now there you go. You'll be singing that in your head the rest of the day. You're welcome!

I'm an enginerd so I think this song is funny. Actually I'm sure a lot of people think this song is funny, but for other reasons. No, I think it is funny because the physics are wrong. Did you know that wind "beneath" your wings drags you down? Don't believe me? Grab a small piece of paper, hold it out right in front of your mouth, and blow over it. It will rise up, not be pushed down. You see, it's the wind over wings that gives lift. The wind beneath your wings actually pulls you down.

There, now you learned something new today.

Seriously, when thinking of the topic of this week's Blog Carnival, Renewal, this passage of Scripture came immediately to mind:

"He gives strength to the weary
 and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
 and young men stumble and fall;
 but those who hope in the LORD
 will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
 they will run and not grow weary,
 they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:29-31)

I know that's a favorite of many (my wife included). But when was the last time you've actually felt renewed like this? When was the last time you actually ran and not grown weary?

I admit, I'm worn out. I'm tired. I couldn't get out of bed this morning. This is par for the course. These verses are a nice reminder, but I'm just not feeling it. So I read the rest of Isaiah 40. You see the verses above are the conclusion of Isaiah extolling the virtues of who God is. "Do you not know, have you not heard?" This is who God is! That is why you will walk and not be faint.

And we forget this. We beg for the promise neglecting to remind ourselves from whom the promise is given. We rely on our own strength and wonder why we so easily tire. We turn to God in prayer, not to worship and praise him as Isaiah does here but to ask for what we want, what we think we need. It's all about us. Let's make it all about Him. He is the wind beneath, whoops, over our wings.

Today's post is part of the Blog Carnival hosted by Peter Pollock. Today's topic is Renewal. Be sure to check out everyone else's posts on this subject to read a diversity of thoughts, convictions, and opinions.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Awesome!

One of the books that has been transformational for me on my walk with Christ is The Joy of Fearing God by Jerry Bridges. Transformational because it redefined what "fearing God" meant for me. Reverent awe doesn't quite describe it because some cases in the Bible the "fear of God' was literally trembling in fear while other times it was reverent worship. I think we take for granted that we have a relationship with the Creator of the universe so we don't know how to approach Him.

The word 'awesome' took on a whole new meaning after reading that book. It's such a throwaway word; "that was awesome!", when God alone is truly awesome. I stopped using the word unless I was describing God or something I saw God doing. That lasted only a couple of years. I need to get back to worshiping our awesome God.

But how do we fear God? The first chapter of Crazy Love by Francis Chan challenges us to remember how holy God is, how big, how awesome. Then we're left with the question: if we met God, how would we describe him?



Friday, February 04, 2011

Super Perspective

Reading up on the news in Egypt (and please keep everyone there in your prayers!), one figure stood out to me: 40% of Egyptians make less than $2 a day. Puts my salary in perspective. But it puts this weekend’s gluttony, aka the Super Bowl in perspective as well.

Consider:
  • A 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl will cost $3,000,000.
  • A ticket on the 50-yard line, lower level, costs almost $16,000
  • 106.5 million people watched the Super Bowl last year on CBS.
  • 8 million pounds of popcorn will be consumed, 28 million pounds of chips, 53.5 million pounds of avocados for guacamole requiring a total of 222,792 football fields worth of farmland to grow.
  • 325.5 million gallons of beer will be drank which would fill 493 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Meanwhile:
  • $3,000,000 would provide hospice care for those dying of HIV/AIDS over four years in Uganda, or vaccinate 3 million children for measles across Africa, or provide mosquito nets, better access to medications, and free HIV/AIDS testing in Rwanda. (That's only three ads right there)
  • 75% of the world makes less than the cost of that football ticket... in ten years. (according to the Global Rich List)
  • Up to 10,000 adult and underage girls are expected to be sex-trafficked to Dallas-Fort Worth this week
  • 223,000 acres of corn would feed 25,000 people for a year (according to rough calculations from this site).
  • 325.5 million gallons would give enough potable water to 616 million people for a day, or enough for 1.7 million people for a year. (This is only a dent, though, as 1 billion people are without drinkable water)
"Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[d] is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever." (1 John 2:15-17)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Too High to Fall

Sorry I'm a little late with the recap of Monday's Crazy Love group. How did it go? Well, like most things, not at all like I expected. We ran long. Dinner took longer than I thought to serve and eat. All the children were well behaved! Despite not everyone knowing everyone else at the start, most everyone was pleasantly open in sharing. The online video took too long to buffer so we only got half-way through, but it worked out perfectly since we were already running late. And it froze at a perfect stopping point anyway.

I also learned a couple of things too. If I'm inviting people every which way I can, it's hard to keep track of who's coming and who's not. I just checked my Facebook messages and saw a friend said he was coming and needed my address. Monday. Whoops. So we had about a dozen people over and I'm expecting 3-5 more next week.

What did we learn as a group? Well, I think everyone is hungry. Almost everyone shared the same lack of passion and zeal that filled them back when they were baby Christians. Everyone is looking for something to call them higher. Perfect. As my wife and I have been praying, we hope this starts a fire, and it's ok to burn down some churches in the process.

Not a bad start and I praise God for how well it went. Just goes to show how God blesses when we take a step of faith.

Speaking of stepping out on faith, this is Super Bowl weekend. I was once told the story of Jimmy Johnson coaching the Cowboys in his first Super Bowl. The team won only one game a couple of seasons prior. Most players have never been on such a large stage. But Jimmy won a National Championship at the University of Miami and knew a little about big stages. He also knew about butterflies and fear.

I don't know if he did this on a bench in the locker room, or if he laid down a line of string, but he talked about how high-wire acts don't start practicing at the highest of heights. They start low, where when they fall it will be safe. When they master their routine, they raise the wire. The whole time recognizing that it's the same wire they've been on, the only thing different was the height. He stood on the bench (or on top of the string) and told his players that none of them would be afraid of walking across. That was the regular season- low, safe. But know they're higher than they've ever been. But it's the same bench. The game was on its highest stage, but it was the same game.

We approach life and our walk with Christ the same way. Fearless if the consequence is low. But raise the stakes and we forget just how big our God is as we cower in fear. Francis Chan illustrated the same principle as Jimmy Johnson, but probably got a few more laughs.