Never enough.

This is part eleven of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

I think this will be the last entry under the “Lessons I Learned in the Desert” series. One of the best aspects of my deployment was that I learned so much! It was an amazing experience. I learned a lot about God, the Bible, how to love people, and I learned a lot about myself. My deployment was a constant learning experience and taught me lessons I will carry with me through life.

But it doesn’t just stop there, I’ve realized that I will never stop learning. I am, among other things, a student and I always will be. We can never learn enough from God and we can never know God too closely. Late in his life, Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians. Paul is a super-star of the faith; he wrote 13 books of the New Testament and brought Christianity to the non-Jewish world! If anyone knew God you would think it was Paul, but in Phil 3:10, he says very simply that he wants to know Christ.

Even after everything Paul had done, he still desired to know Christ more and more. Our attitude must be the same as that of Paul. We must always pursue the relationship that we are free to have with God. In fact, Galatians 4:6 tells us that the Holy Spirit inside of us cries out to God like we would our dad. We must also have the humility to admit that we don’t know everything; we must remember that there is plenty of room for God to teach us and surprise us. I pray that I will always desire to have a deeper, stronger relationship with God… by the Holy Spirit, through the Son, to the Father. Amen.

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The American Dream

This is part ten of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

I don’t normally start my entries with a disclaimer, but I’d like to start this entry by simply stating that I think America is great. I wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else and I’m grateful I was born here because of the freedoms that I’ve enjoyed all my life. I do think we’ve seen better days and I fear for the future of my country, but overall, I still think we are the greatest society in human history. I would also like to say that I do not think money is evil. I, do however, think money makes a horrible master. Finally, I must state that I do not think poverty is a virtue. That being said, today I wanted to talk about the American Dream…

Per Wikipedia, the American Dream is a phrase used to describe “a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of prosperity and success.” There are two important things to note about this definition. First is that prosperity and success are somehow promised to us; just because we are born and raised in America we are entitled to prosperity and success. The second thing is that our culture has a very, very materialistic definition of prosperity and success. Maybe this doesn’t apply to all generations and age-groups, but I know for certain that while growing up I was brainwashed by my culture to believe that success meant a six-figure salary, never, ever, under any circumstances allowing yourself to be uncomfortable, and having more stuff than I could ever possibly need.

How does the American Dream stack up against Scripture? As Christians, can we reconcile the American Dream against what Jesus teaches? In Rich from the Nooma series, Rob Bell says:

“There’s a popular bumper sticker that reads “God Bless America,” but hasn’t America already been blessed? It’s easy for us to fall into a mindset of viewing “our” world as “the” world, because it’s all we generally see. We’re constantly bombarded with images of the latest styles and models of everything, and it can easily leave us feeling like what we have isn’t enough because we see people that have even more than us. But how does what we have compare to what most people in the world have? Maybe what we have is enough; maybe it’s more than enough. Maybe God has blessed us with everything we have so we can bless and give to others.”

(This video is just an excerpt.)

Would I be crazy if I suggest that we Americans have enough? Go to the Global Rich List and see where you rank. The American Dream tells us we need more, more, more. Always, constantly more! As Donald Miller writes, “The average American encounters 3,000 commercial messages each day.” And, “these images and messages are designed to cause you to think of your life as incomplete, and desire the product they are selling to make your life complete again.” We’re bombarded with messages that tell us our stuff isn’t good enough. Your $200 watch can’t tell time accurately enough? The brand-new car you bought 6 months ago is too old already? Your life will be full of adventure and excitement if you buy a certain cologne? It may sound crazy in print, but pay attention to the messages that commercials and ads send your way. Beware of brainwashing!

Jesus talks about wealth and money; in fact He has some very timely advice. In Luke 12:15 he says that our life is more than our stuff. His exact words are, “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Jesus then tells the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12:16-21. When I first read that parable I realized that it sounded a lot like my plans and goals for life. I wanted to work most of my young life away, store up as much money as possible, then retire and wait to die. The problem was that I never wanted to serve anyone or give anything back and that I knew I wouldn’t be happy if all I got out of life was a fat nest egg. Instead, I’d rather make a difference with my life. I want to serve God and help people. I want to be remembered. I want to leave a legacy.

In Matt 6:21 Jesus cautions us that our treasure and our heart are tied together. “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Then in Matt 6:24, Jesus draws the line and calls us to either be devoted to God or money, but not both. We can either serve God or serve money. Last September Connie and I went to Hawaii and I saw little Tiki gods for sell. I decided to buy the Hawaiian tiki named “Hapa.” That’s the Tiki god of money. I bought it so that, when I look at it, I would be reminded that money is just an idol. Nothing more. I can choose to serve that tiny, powerless tiki god, or I can worship the True and Living God.

So what is a good balance for a Christian to strike? I don’t think we should all give everything away and live in tents outside. In Prov 30:7-9, the author asks God to simply give him enough. “Give me neither poverty nor wealth,” he says. As Christians, I think we should desire enough; we should be satisfied with enough; we should thank God for enough; and anything else extra we should use wisely to bless others.

As Jesus says in Matt 6:33, we should seek to serve God first. He will take care of the rest. This may result in you not retiring with a $2 million retirement fund, a 10,000 square foot house with an indoor pool, and a brand new Mercedes in your garage, but I promise that you will make a difference in the world around you and you will be content. In Phil 4:12-13 Paul tells them the secret to being content: Jesus. Paul was not a rich man, he did not have a nice chariot, he did not retire at an early age. In fact, he was poor, he often went without, and he died in prison. Paul was a man who certainly lived a hard life, but the effects of his faithfulness resulted in him authoring most of the New Testament, starting churches all around the world, and leaving a legacy that has lasted for over 2,000 years.

Do not worry about the American Dream. God has not called us to be successful, He has called us to be faithful.

Wise guys

This is part nine of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

James 1:5 almost sums it up entirely: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” We live in a world where information is more available than it has ever been. They call our age the “Information Age.” Just look at what smart phones have done to us. Now, if I want to know the Hawaiian word for “money” I can grab my iPhone, open the Google app, speak the words into my phone, and it will give me the answer. (As an experiment I actually tried this and it worked. The Hawaiian word for money is “kala.”)

This availability of information and facts have lead us to believe that we are wise. Proverbs 3:7 warns us against this mentality. Instead, we are to ask God to bless us with wisdom. Wisdom is not the same thing as information. Being informed is simply knowing something; wisdom is knowing how to live. Proverbs 1:3 says that wisdom is “doing what is right and just and fair.” I love the way Richard J. Foster puts it in Celebration of Discipline:

 “All of us know persons who have taken some course of study or attained some academic degree who parade their information in an offensive manner. We should feel profound sorrow for such people… They have mistaken the accumulation of information for knowledge. They equate the spouting of words with wisdom. How tragic!”

James 1:5 teaches us that God is the giver and source of wisdom. We must ask Him for it and only from Him can we receive it. Proverbs 4:6-7 say that we should get wisdom above all else. Wisdom is supreme. I think it’s safe to say that attaining wisdom should be on every Christian’s to-do list! Without wisdom, we will all live very hard lives individually. And without wisdom, as a society, we will collapse.

We live in a culture that is growing less and less wise. We must learn to think critically about the messages that culture throws at us and the methods through which we receive theses messages. For example, I recently heard Four Minutes by Madonna. It had a catchy beat so it kept me listening and I heard the line, “If you feel it, it must be real.” Those simple 8 words, while they sound harmless, are toxic. Thing about the repercussions of that mentality. It means that our feelings are the way we should define reality. Do what you want, as long as it feels good. Is this a way to live life? This is just one example, but listen to the radio, go to the movies, watch TV and you will be inundated with all sorts of bizarre and unwise messages about sex, money, drugs, violence, etc. Our culture is saturated with unwise thinking.

Christians, I urge you to be wise about what you let dictate the way you think about the world. If you’re not sure where to go, here’s a hint: read your Bible! I also urge you to “get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” (Proverbs 4:7) First, ask God for wisdom. James 1:5 promises that God will give us wisdom if we sincerely ask. Another great way to deepen your wisdom is to read Proverbs. The book has 31 chapters, so read one chapter a day. You’ll be amazed at the practical wisdom contained within Proverbs!

"He’ll never become a Christian…"

This is part eight of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

I love hearing people’s testimonies. A lot of people really surprise me. For example, the below testimony of Brian “Head” Welch:

During his musical career, it would’ve been easy for Christians to dismiss Brian. It would’ve been easy to say something like, “Look at that sinner, he’s too far gone to ever become a Christian.” It would’ve been easy, but it would’ve been sinful. It would’ve been judgemental. Those Christians need to learn something about love and have obviously never taken Eph 2:1-5 to heart. In that passage, Paul is talking to Christians about who they used to be before they were saved. More than anything, those Christians would’ve been dead wrong. Like I said yesterday, God will surprise you! Now, Brian is a Jesus-loving Christian with a powerful testimony!

There’s a multi-century debate among Christians about free will vs. predestination (also called election).
Does God choose who gets saved or does man? This is one of the great dividing lines in Christianity: Calvinism and Arminianism. First and foremost, I’ll say that you can fall on either side of this debate and still love Jesus. Romans 14:1, while talking specifically about food, makes it clear that there are disputable matters; that is, there are certain things that Christians can disagree about. Free-will vs. predestination is a disputable matter.

That being said, I used to be a big advocate of free-will. I believed in choice. I did not want to believe in predestination so I ignored certain Bible verses (like, oh, I don’t know… Rom 8:29-30, Eph 1:3-12, 1 Thess 1:4, 2 Thess 2:13, Matt 22:14, John 13:18, John 15:16, John 15:19, etc.) and logically explained how I would do it if I were God. After reading the predestination chapter in Religion Saves and praying for God to reveal the truth to me, I have completely changed my stance.

(One big thing for me is this:  I’m not concerned with winning theological debates; I want to know and share truth. That only happens if you’re willing to swallow your pride, put aside your personal opinions, and look at what Scripture teaches. Once you know for sure what the truth is though, you should certainly defend it!)

After realizing that God chooses who gets saved and who doesn’t, and knowing that God is a loving God, I’ve realized that you never know who will get saved. Brian was a very, very unlikely candidate. I’ve met plenty of people who changed dramatically after getting saved. Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen? I’ve seen it first-hand during my deployment.

I now know that God can save anyone, regadless of who they are and regardless of what type of past they have. You just never know who God will choose to save, therefore we must love our neighbors and share the Gospel with all!

(For anyone interested in learning more about free-will vs. predestination, check out the Religion Saves book by Mark Driscoll or watch the sermon below.)

Life is full of surprises!

This is part seven of a multi-entry blog series titled “Lessons I Learned in the Desert.”

When I first found out that I wasn’t going to Iraq or Afghanistan I was pretty disappointed. This may sound odd to my non-military friends, but it’s the truth. I was disappointed because I wanted to go somewhere were “the action” was; somewhere exciting! I got tasked to go to one of those non-disclosed locations in Southwest Asia. One of the things that I assumed was that no one would be searching for God at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base. I had foolishly put God in a box and decided that, because people were not in immediate danger outside the wire, no one would be considering the bigger things in life.

Surprise!

Give Him the chance by opening yourself up and God will surprise you. Always! Part of my prayer on New Years day was, “I surrender 2010 to You, for Your glory.” I actually wrote that down. I think God prompted me to write it down so I would remember my surrender. At the beginning of the year, and at the beginning of my deployment, I decided to let God do His thing. Isaiah 55:8-9 is one of my all-time favorite passages. It reminds me that God is God and I am not. He knows what He’s doing. Sometimes I don’t know, but He always knows. Faith isn’t having all the answers, it’s trusting in a God who has all the answers.

I originally deployed with a very skeptical attitude. Like I said earlier, who would be taking God seriously at a deployed location with a swimming pool and trips off base? God surprised me because the fellowship I enjoyed there was some of the best I’ve ever had. I also met a lot of people who wanted to grow closer to God during their deployment and I met a few who came to know Christ during their deployment.

In fact, my deployment turned out to be an amazing experience. Surprise! The Chapel had Bible studies every night of the week. The worship band had about nine members including a former Tops in Blue performer and they sounded amazing every week. The Holy Spirit used me to lead a friend to Christ. I made friends who I will keep in touch with for life. I saw people grow and mature in their walks with Christ and learn more in those six months than they’d known their whole entire Christian life prior. God taught me more than I could ever share (although I am trying).

I say all of this because God surprises me. All the time, He surprises me. It’s foolish for us to put God in a box and assume anything about Him. He is God. He is bigger than any box we could put Him in. As I stated in a previous post, God puts people in the right place at the right time so that His will can be done. Hindsight is 20/20 and I know, looking back, that God put me in the absolute right spot at the right time.

If you’re reading this and you’re not sure why your life is the way it is right now, all I can tell you is to trust God. Trust that He knows what He’s doing. Surrender your life to His purposes, sit back, and be amazed. You might just be surprised!