1/11/2017

Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?



"Indeed, the very heads of your hair are all numbered..." (Luke 12:7; NASB)

Does God care who wins the Super Bowl?

Our gut reaction probably causes most of us to say "no." 

After all, why would God care about something that is ultimately so trivial?  It's just a game, after all. 

Or, maybe we say it's not about whether or not the game is ultimately trivial in nature.  In reality, we don't believe God cares about such things, because if He cared about such things, such might imply He is somehow involved in the outcome of the Super Bowl, or even the outcome of other things in this world.

That's where things get really dicey.

Such offends our modern sensibilities.  To this day, even after all the preaching done in the past couple thousand years on God being a God of love who cares for us, we still prefer to think of God as some distant cosmic landlord who doesn't really involve Himself in the outcome of all that much in this world. 

We are willing to believe that God had something to do with raising Jesus from the dead, or that He helped us get a recent job promotion at work... but the idea He might get involved at some level in something like the Super Bowl... such an idea is preposterous sounding.  I mean... if God is involved there, what if He were involved in outcome of things like the weather, national elections, the economy, and various cultural phenomenon?

But as preposterous sounding as it might be to some, I must say that in my heart of hearts that I believe that God does care about the outcome of the Super Bowl.  If God is so concerned about the most intimate details of our lives, and even bothers to number the very hair on our heads, then I can't help but believe He cares about the Super Bowl. 

If God has His eye on the sparrow, then you better believe He has His eye on the likes of the legendary (and infamous) quarterback Tom Brady.  And if God takes care to even clothe the grass of the field, you better bet He has His sovereign hand all over the NFL. 

Now, how you view the extent to which God is involved in the outcome of any given Super Bowl, or any other issue for that matter, will ultimately depend on where you stand in the entire spectrum of views in the free-will vs. sovereignty debate.  And I for one don't pretend to have an answer to that issue.  Go ask John Calvin and John Wesley about such questions if you want. 

But, what I do know for sure is that God cares!

He cares about everything that is happening in the world.  And just as there is not a single patch of grass in this world that is God forsaken, there is not a single Super Bowl that has escaped the attention of God.  And because God is God, He has the best seat in the house.  He knows for sure whether or not Tom Brady under inflated his footballs. 

And, just as God is involved in all of these things, so God is also involved in our lives.  Nothing that happens in your life happens apart from His notice.  If things are going well in your life, He's there with you, and likewise, if things aren't going so well in your life, He's there with you even in the midst of great loss and suffering. 

And no matter what your circumstance, God knows what you are going through, and He always stands by your side, willing to draw near to you and to intervene in your life, if you would just but call on His name.

1/04/2017

Come to Jesus Moments???


Over the past couple of centuries, much of our Christian vocabulary has been filled with language that speaks of dramatic and sudden conversion experiences. 

We recall making our way down the aisle at a Billy Graham style crusade.  We recall heading to an altar with tears in our eyes to "pray that prayer" with a preacher, wherein we confessed we were sinners in need of a Savior.  We remember a Sunday school teacher or friend who asked us to suddenly pray to accept Jesus into our heart.  We recall stories of powerful decisions made for Christ.

But what if all of this, as touching and as precious as moments as these stories might be, reflect what is in truth something that isn't really "normative" in how most people come to truly know Christ?  That's not to say there aren't crisis moments of sudden and dramatic conversions, but rather, that such moments of dramatic decision might in fact be more rare than the way God normally works.  And I think it's time we begin to recognize this.

What if the average conversion to Christ comes through less dramatic means, and is in fact, much more slow and gradual in nature? 

While I do not negate the powerful stories of people suddenly and dramatically coming to Christ, as such stories are also found in the Bible, I can't help but think the heavy emphasis we have made on dramatic "altar-call" type experiences is wanting, and is theologically suspicious in light of the full testimony of the Scriptures. 

Jesus asked His audiences to "consider the cost"  of following Him.  He didn't ask such a thing of some random person He just bumped into on the street and gave a Romans Road gospel presentation to.    Rather, He asked such of men and women who had time to carefully consider His radical message, and the implications His teachings had for their lives, after having repeatedly heard His preaching over a duration of time. 

What if the average Christian conversion is normally a slow and gradual thing, and less like something we picture happening at some massive revival styled meeting?  What if the average conversion experience can be likened more unto how a plant grows from a seed than a spaceship blasting off into space? 

I know in my life and conversion to Christ, while I recall some very powerful moments and encounters with the Lord, I feel like my coming to know the Lord was ultimately through a very long, slow, and gradual process.  While I can pinpoint some moments in time that were pivotal in my journey, and where I definitely felt like I had a special encounter with God, the more I reflect on these events that have transpired in my life, the more I think my conversion was less of a dramatic "come-to-Jesus moment," and more of a "back-and-forth conversation" I had with Christ over a period of years, as I struggled with the full weight of the Gospel message and the teachings of Jesus as I gradually came to understand them.

And as I come closer to the 20 year anniversary of the time I first called on the name of the Lord, sometimes I wonder "exactly" when it was that I came to know the Lord.  Looking back at the sputtered messy beginnings of my faith, sometimes I just don't know exactly when I got saved.  Maybe it was when I prayed that prayer.  Or maybe it was sometime after that.  Honestly... I just don't know anymore.  All I know is that for me, my conversion felt more like a prolonged wrestling match than a Hail Mary touchdown pass at the end of a football game. 

I know along the way I received several strong "nudges" that made God larger and bigger and nearer to me than I had ever experienced before in my life.  And I know that in my heart of hearts that as of today I believe that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead and that I am saved.  But the exact moment I passed from death to life, oddly, I'm not so certain anymore.  All I know is that God eventually prevailed over me. 

And talking to many Christians over the years, I'm starting to believe more and more that most came to know the Lord slowly, gradually, and over time. We came to know the Lord as a result of a seed being planted, nurtured, and in time, ultimately bringing forth life. 

And if that is indeed the case, that most Christians have come to know the Lord slowly over time, to the point where they eventually experienced the new birth, instead of in some dramatic moment, should that not radically challenge the way we do outreach and evangelism?  Should that not change the way we do church? 

Instead of trying to have a giant extravaganza and crusade to save souls, should we as the church not instead foster a culture that invites those who are outside to come alongside of us, to dialogue, to struggle with us, to wrestle with the claims of Christ, and to taste something of the Christian community that we enjoy with others who follow the Lord?  And maybe, just maybe, they will over time get caught up in the faith that we have come know, to experience the life we have, and to become true followers of Jesus Christ?

What do you think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts below. Feel free to comment!

12/18/2016

You don't need a "Breakthrough" in 2017


As the year draws to an end and a new year begins, people begin to take an inventory of their life over the past year.  Many will simultaneously celebrate their successes, while quietly mulling over their failures.  They will continue to dream, plan, and will make new goals.  And more often than not, they will resolve their commitment to accomplish the things they failed at this past year, and the year before that, and the year before that, and the year before that.

"...This year I will finally save $10,000; I will finally get a promotion at work; I will finally lose that extra 20 or 30 lbs I have hanging around my midsection; I will go back to school and finish my degree; I will finally overcome my addictions..."

And so the list goes on and on. 

And for some people who make such resolutions again and again, there is a sense of desperation forming.  They are growing sick and tired of being sick and tired about that "thing" in their life that is holding them back, and keeping them from being all that they believe God has created them to be. They are tired of dealing with the same challenge year after year, and never seeing any progress made. 

They feel stuck in a rut, and the more they linger in this rut, the more magical sounding ideas like experiencing a "breakthrough" begin to sound.   And as they make their New Year Resolutions, a foreboding sense of doom begins to cast a long shadow over their goals, causing a person to anticipate failure before they've even began their journey.

And knowing this is where a lot of people are at, an army of wannabe prophets, gurus, and multi-level marketing experts are more than willing to come along and help you fulfill those dreams and overcome your problems.  For a fee of course.  But they are willing to help just the same. 

These hucksters promise a whole new world is getting ready to open to you.  This year is going to be different!  If you just listen to them and do what they say, go to their seminar, attend their revival meeting, read their book, listen to their audio tape, hire them as your coach, and if necessary, walk on hot coals... then by God, you will be an overcomer and this will be your year of Jubilee! Your dog will love you again. Money will grow on trees in your back yard.  Women will flock to you.  Your waistline will shrink.  Other men will want to become like you.  And you'll finally arrive at that mythical "Next Level" that everyone is always talking about.

Stuff like this makes me want to pull my hair out. 

You are just as likely to experience a breakthrough following these guys as you are to solve your financial problems by playing the lottery.  You might win at this game, after all "somebody has to win," as every lotto junky knows well.  But more often than not, you are going to lose, and you will have nothing more to show for it than possibly a few extra books and tapes that collect dust on a shelf somewhere, while making their author fantastically rich, all while you continue to be stuck in the same old problem you always were stuck in.

What many fail to realize is that this "breakthrough" they are in search of is nothing more than a short-cut to success.  It's a form of a get-rich-quick scheme.  No hot handed healing revivalist is suddenly going to crack the skies of heaven for you by you attending their meeting.  There is no grandiose mystical moment that exists that will suddenly propel you to the place you are looking to go one day.  These guys are doing nothing more than peddling sugar, and once they leave town and the buzz wears off, you are going to come crashing down.         

Instead of searching for a breakthrough moment, what you really need to do is develop your character.  Proverbs 10:4 says that one of the reasons that some people are poor and some people are rich is because some men are lazy, and others diligently work with their hands.  And in my opinion, if you are looking for a breakthrough moment like the type they vaguely preach about on TV, then there is a good chance you have taken on a spiritually lazy attitude, and are as destined for poverty as someone who refuses to work. 

You want the quick fix and quick riches. You want to win the spiritual lottery.  You aren't at all interested in forming character.

Yes, good old fashioned character!  That is the true "key" to overcoming most of the things that are holding you back year after year.  It's the type of character that is forged by faithfully committing to something in the daily grind, and seeing it through to the end.  You need the character that is forged in the ups and downs of life, by facing hardships head on, and welcoming all life's difficulties and challenges as an opportunity to grow. 

I remember when I was in college that while I loved learning, I generally avoided subjects I knew I would struggle with.  You didn't catch me taking organic chemistry as a science elective.  However, in seminary I was forced to deal with the fact that I had to learn ancient Biblical Greek as part of my studies.  I dreaded the mere thought of it.  But, having no choice in the matter, I plunged myself into my Greek studies.  I constantly walked around with index cards in my back pocket, full of this week's vocabulary.  Whenever I had a down moment, I was studying those cards.  I brought them everywhere I went, be it at work, school, church, and even on dates.  I was constantly looking at them.  I didn't become an expert in Greek, but by the time I finished my language courses in school, I finished my year of studies with a solid "B+" letter grade. 

Studying Greek really stretched me as a person.  After learning to translate ancient Biblical Greek and passing my classes, I felt there wasn't anything in the world I couldn't learn.  For I had challenged myself intellectually more than I ever had up until that moment in my life.  I learned something completely foreign to me and just about everyone else, and I grew some new brain muscles in the process.  I experienced a genuine transformation of my character as a result.  New character had been forged in me.  And since that point in time, there isn't a subject matter that I've come across that I didn't feel I couldn't tackle.

Which was great.  Because it would not be long before I found myself no longer in seminary, but found myself studying business law and mortgage finance in school and at work.  And to this day, I don't think I could have learned and excelled in these areas, both academically and professionally, had I not first gone through the crucible of learning Greek in seminary.  But because I pressed through those challenges, I know in my heart of hearts that God brought me through those challenges and helped me grow as a person, and by faith, I am confident that should such future challenges arise, I will conquer them as well.  

For I know who God has made me to be as a person.  I know the stuff I am made of.

This is where the real "breakthrough" is at.  It comes, not by listening to some preacher, attending some conference, or performing some sort of circus act.  This "next level" type of stuff whereby you "smash the glass ceiling" only comes as a result of pressing on through challenges and enduring whatever it is you have to endure before you come out the other side.

No, pressing on through to the other side is never easy.  It's definitely easier said than done  And like any person, you may experience setbacks and failures along the way.  I received some low grades on some of my original Greek exams before I finally started hitting the high marks.  You may get knocked down in this process, but you get back up again, make some adjustments, and you keep pressing on anyway. 

The faithful person makes no excuses and doesn't quit.  They just keep going and going and going and going.  They may die a thousand times over in this process, but they always keep their hope on the power of Christ's resurrection to raise them back up. 

Faithful people have a different mindset.  It may sound cliché', but it's true.  Faithful people see stumbling blocks put in front of them simply as stepping stones that are going to help them get to where they need to be.  They know that whatever their task or goal is, by the grace of God they will complete it, and nothing is going to stop them from doing such, because they are going to do the hard thing, and they are going to press on every single day even if it kills them in the end.

Of course, none of this is ever any fun. 

Which is why people want to take the short-cut.  They would rather pay an exorbitant amount of money to some guru, and obtain the illusion of something a bit more magical.  They want to at least be entertained and made to feel "inspired" and to feel good about themselves.  They want to attend that "life changing" event, and tell all their friends about it.  But in this, they will continually fail, and never obtain that which they seek.

Real "life change" and "breakthrough" is a lot less exciting.  It doesn't sell books, and it doesn't pack auditoriums.  It's found by rolling up your sleeves, being diligent, doing the hard thing, and going to work day after day after day after day.

So this year if you are dreaming about finally overcoming some lingering issues in your life, stay away from the hucksters who want to offer you a short-cut to success.  Beware of them, as they are out in full force right now. 

Instead, set a goal, make some hard choices, and daily do whatever it is you need to do to be faithful to that goal, and to be faithful through the end.  And in doing such, you'll truly see the breakthrough that God has in store for your life. 

11/23/2016

How To (Effectively) Save Money and Pay for Christmas



Christmas is just around the corner, and most people probably find themselves in somewhat of a panic. One group doesn't know how it will pay for Christmas, and the other group will quickly realize that they have overspent on Christmas. 

Both groups will be tempted to whip out a credit card in order to split the difference.

Don't be among them.

Instead, I would like to propose a simple method of paying for Christmas.  But you cannot embrace this method unless you realize the fundamental problem at the heart of it all:

You are your own worst enemy!!!

You are not as good with money as you think you are. If you've ever closely tracked your spending and made a budget, then you know what I am talking about.  The moment you start ignoring the constraints of your budget because you think you are "fine," is the very moment you will start to overspend, and will ultimately start coming up short financially.

The first thing you need to do is to make a budget.

Decide ahead of time how much money you are going to spend on Christmas every year.  As Dave Ramsey says, "Tell every dollar where to go instead of wondering where every dollar went!"  Your money needs to have a name. Assign it one on a spreadsheet, and use it to track your monthly spending.

The second thing you need to do is automatically save.

You will need to start saving a small amount of your monthly budget and setting aside funds for Christmas.  If you are going to drop a grand or two on Christmas this year for you and your entire family, it's a lot easier to figure out where to come up with the money for Christmas if you've been setting aside $100 or $200 a month throughout the year, than wondering where the money is going to come from five or six weeks out.

Christmas comes every year.  It's not an emergency, so don't treat it as one.  Plan for it through monthly budgeting. 

The third thing you need to do is to setup a separate checking account with a bank that is not your primary bank. 

Sure, such seems like a hassle, but ever since discovering that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to money, I've found another truth: 

You need to hide money from yourself!

In realizing I am my own worst enemy, I've also discovered if I mix my Christmas money with the same bank account I use to pay the bills with, or my "rainy day" emergency funds account, I've discovered that I either don't have as much money going into Christmas as I thought I did, or after Christmas, I've discovered that I've spent more than I intended on spending,  and now have less savings for other things that I was also saving for. 

So the best solution I've discovered is to automatically hide my monthly Christmas savings in another checking account at another bank.  That way I won't accidentally spend Christmas funds on other things, and likewise, I won't be able to easily spend more than what is in that account.  When the funds in that account hit zero, Christmas shopping is officially over. 

And since this Christmas account is at another bank, you don't have to worry about auto-drafting your account and taking money from other accounts you've already earmarked for other things.  The only way to spend more money at this point would be to fall into the temptation of using another card, or you would have to add more funds into your already depleted Christmas account. 

Of course, it is still possible to still fall into this temptation.  However, I've discovered that by having a separate Christmas account, you provide a "check" to yourself that hopefully keeps your spending under control.  If you over spend, your overspending will at least be slowed down by the slight trouble of having to get money from another account.  You won't be able to spend money on other things without thinking about it first.  You will be forced to recognize that you've reached your maximum spending budget. 

And even if you do decide you can afford to spend more money on Christmas than you originally budgeted for in your Christmas account, at least you will be forced to account instead of just wondering where all the money went.  Either way, this will help you keep your spending under control, and Christmas won't become an annual financial disaster.

Finally, this idea can be applied to multiple spending areas.

Don't just limit this idea to Christmas.  Apply it to birthdays, vacations, or saving money for a car or a new house.  Whatever your major financial goals are, I highly recommend opening an account for each one.  And in doing such, I believe over time you will discover that you are better off financially than you were when you had all your eggs in one basket.

And while it might be a little too late to start saving for Christmas this year, if you start today, you can start to plan for Christmas next year.   By removing the financial stress Christmas creates by simply budgeting every month and moving a little money into an account earmarked specifically for Christmas, just wait and see how much more enjoyment you will get out of the Christmas season when you know how it's all going to be paid for!

Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas!

11/20/2016

The Apocalypse (a.k.a.. Election 2016!)


Jesus need not come back.  The apocalypse has already happened without Him.  And it happened via the presidential election cycle of 2016 in America. 

Well... not exactly.  But it sorta feels that way. 

Depending on who you voted for, there is a pretty good chance that you viewed Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton as the Devil incarnate.

"They" were the ultimately embodiment of evil, and in order to save our nation, they had to be stopped at all costs.  Because if the other candidate won, America would descend into unprecedented levels of darkness from which it cannot ever return. 

Facebook became the battlefield of America's second Civil War. The closest of family and friends became emotionally unglued, resulting not only in heated exchanges, but in a massive number of casualties.  Friends lists were purged, and people were uninvited from weddings and holiday get-togethers, all because a loved one supported the wrong presidential candidate.

The church has reflected this cultural division as well.  Voting for the wrong candidate resulted in many Christians smugly questioning the salvation of many other Christians who did not.  After all, it was abundantly clear which candidate God was backing.  And if it wasn't very clear to you, there were many prophetic voices in certain circles who were more than willing to tell you which candidate God favored, and to give that candidate a significance similar to that of some major well liked Old Testament figure.  For some, failure to vote for God's man (or woman) was a test of your commitment to Christian orthodoxy, and exposed how deeply compromised you were in your heart of hearts.

And now that the election is over, there are many who rejoice over Donald Trump winning the election, and likewise, there are many who are deeply fearful of the same.  And depending on which candidate you supported, there are as many news outlets that are willing to feed your feelings of triumph as there are those who are willing to feed your feelings of anger and insecurity.

I know I wrestled with my emotions over this election.  And there has been a time or two (or three) where I got caught up in wrestling other people who were also wrestling their emotions too.

Things ought not be this way.  While I think it is a great thing for people to be involved in politics, and to passionately champion important causes, and to hash out difficult topics, I can't help but feel that we are in danger of being too emotionally invested in this process. 

As Christians we have to remember that as much as we love our country, America isn't our religion, and we should stop treating it as such.  Our identity shouldn't be grounded in her, or a particular political philosophy or candidate.  We must avoid any language that would tempt others to see certain political leaders as some sort of mini-messiah.  God already gave the world a Messiah, and His name is Jesus!  And for heavens sake, we need to stop confusing America with Israel and/or the church.  America is neither.  And the degree we treat America as if it were either of these shows just how much we've made America into a religion.

So, instead of becoming unglued over politics, as Christians I believe we need to become increasingly unattached. 

And in saying unattached I don't mean being uninvolved.  On the contrary, I believe the church should be involved in politics, but in doing so, we need to realize in our heart of hearts that whatever our level of involvement is, we are ultimately serving this country as ambassadors of Jesus Christ, and as citizens of another kingdom. 

Such is like the ambassadors of our own country who serve overseas in other nations, representing the interests of the United States while abroad.  Where appropriate, they give their two cents on various issues that arise.  But does the American ambassador to France get bent out of shape when France elects somebody that ambassador perceives to be an idiot as the president of France?  Probably not.  Why?  Because even though they may have a great love for France, their loyalty is back home, in America. 

And I believe that's how we as Christians need to be when it comes with our attitude towards politics.  We are to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ, who while getting involved of the political life of the nation we are serving in, ultimately has a heart that longs for the things that are back home. 

Armed with the mindset, that we are ultimately ambassadors of Christ, will do much to safeguard our hearts from looking at this election (or the next one!) as if it were the apocalypse.  And maybe... just maybe, God will be able to use us as people of influence as a result, so we are able to further His will in this world.