12/31/10

Guilt By Christianity

I've probably written some posts that have offended you. It's easy to come across as condemning or judgmental when you write about Christianity. It's never been my intention to tell people how bad they are, only to encourage them to be better. Most of my posts are written pep-talks to myself.

So I wanted to write, to myself and others, to remind us that we should never share our faith or give food or donate money because it's a rule of Christianity. Pastors or family members or bloggers may try to influence you to do more. But everyone could do more. The missionary in Africa could do more. Don't be guilted by Christianity. That's never the way Jesus intended it to be used.

"Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." -2 Cor. 9:7.

12/30/10

My Conversation With William Zinsser

Of all the authors whose work I enjoy reading, William Zinsser is my favorite, especially now.
We read books, but we rarely get a chance to thank the author for his or her work. I decided to write Mr. Zinsser a letter. I wanted to thank him for his passion for writing and for teaching aspiring writers.

I found an address for Mr. Zinsser on switchboard.com. A telelphone number was listed as well. I wanted to make sure that I had the right address, so I called the number. I expected to hear a cheerful receptionist say, "William Zinsser's office." Instead, I heard a familiar voice. I recognized his voice from an audio book, Writing Places, a memoir he wrote about the places he has written.

"Hello?" he said.

"Uh." I was speechless.

"Hello?" he said again.

I regained my composure.

"Mr. Zinsser?"

"Yes, this is he."

I was not prepared to speak to him. I managed to remember my name and where I was from. I told him I was writing him a letter, and that I needed to make sure I had the right address. "Oh, I enjoy getting letters," he said. We spoke for just a few minutes, but I will never forget that call. He was just as kind as he sounded in his book. He asked me about myself. He wanted to know what I did, and if I was a writer.

If you've never read William Zinsser's work, you're missing out. I started with On Writing Well. You can also find his weekly blog post here.

12/29/10

The Drift

What time did you fall asleep last night? An impossible question to answer. It's likely that you turned over a few times, and before you knew it, you were awakened by your alarm. I've always been interested in the fact that we can never really remember the moment we fall asleep.

Our drift from God is a very similar process. It happens without us knowing. It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment of separation. And then, one day we are awakened. Like a jolting free fall dream, something happens that wakes us up. No matter how bad (or good) that thing is, embrace it. It may be that God wants you to realize how far you've drifted.

12/24/10

Big, Narrow Prayers

I used to pray like an obnoxious student. You know, the ones that don't study. And then when they get their tests back, they say, "Alright, a B! I wonder what I would have gotten if I had studied!" Those people are weak. They're so afraid of failing that they come up with an excuse before the results.

That was me. I prayed vague prayers with little confidence in God. I was scared to pray big, narrow prayers because if things didn't work out the way I was secretly hoping, it was much easier for me to just say, "Welp, I guess this just wasn't God's will."

"God's will" prayers are great. It demonstrates our trust and obedience. But every once in a while, I bet God would like to show us how big he is.

12/21/10

Quitting Is Not An Option

C.S. Lewis said, "When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him."

This awareness of evil keeps us from living for Christ. The more we see the evil inside of us, the harder it is to understand why God would use us. When you feel like this, remember the first part of that quote. You have been able to see evil more clearly because you are getting better.

We'll never be up to God's standards. We can only keep trying, keep fighting. This shouldn't discourage us, though. God uses men and women before we're perfect, those who are willing.

12/17/10

Why You Don't Owe Jesus

If I lend you $5, you owe me. It's a small gift, but everyone understands, including the person receiving the gift, that the $5 is just a loan. Technically, it's not even a gift. This is how our world works. I give you something; you owe me.

But the larger the gift we are willing to give, the more we care about that person. And more often than not, we don't expect any compensation for giving a larger gift.

What Jesus has done is brilliant. By giving his life for us, he has given a gift so big that we could not begin to repay him. And that's exactly how he intended it.

We have two choices: Accept his gift, or reject it. We were not meant to pay it back.

12/15/10

It's A Matter Of Trust

Belief is essential to Christianity. But it's certainly not the most difficult part. The hardest part, of course, is trust. You can believe from the bench. It's not until you're tempted, tested and given opportunities to trust that you discover the depth of your belief.

When a family member dies, or a spouse leaves, we don't question whether Jesus died on the cross for our sins; we ask why this is happening and whether we can get through it. It's a question of trust.

12/13/10

Sharing "God's Plan"

In Seeking Uncertainty, I asked a simple question: What if we stopped pursuing certainty?

Now, I'd like to expand on that question: What if we stopped pursuing certainty and started focusing on God's work?  Don't go radical on me. But what if, during those uncertain times and unanswered prayers, God is actually waiting for us to do something for him instead?

That job you hate. That class you dread. Is it possible that you're right in the middle of God's plan for someone else? Someone he knows has questions.

12/10/10

Write Your Own Eulogy

You can always tell what kind of life a person has lived by the stories that are told at his or her funeral. Some funerals go on forever because there are so many great stories to tell. Others are just down right awkward.

Your life supplies the material for your eulogy. Live the stories you want others to tell.

12/8/10

The New Radical

“I’m a Christian, but not like that guy.”

It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to form a defense to the “all you sinners are going to hell!” Christians, but we all do it. Unless, of course, you’re that guy. I’m all for freedom of speech, but feeding an unbeliever’s stereotype of the judgmental, intolerant Christian seems to warrant such a defense.

The problem, however, is that we overcompensate for the radicals. We are tolerant and polite and scared. This keeps us as at a safe distance from the dreaded word – radical. The result is that radical Christians continue to frighten and annoy while we sit still, afraid to be associated with them.

In order to be useful to God, I believe we’ve got to redefine radical, or at least expand it. Yes, it’s radical to stand on a milk crate, yelling at the top of your lungs that the wages of sin is death. But radical can be something less offensive.

Humility is radical. Disciplined study of the scriptures is radical. Praying that God will surround you with people that have questions about Christianity is radical.

12/6/10

Seeking Uncertainty

We are on a constant search for certainty. Lord, please show me every detail of the plan you have for my life. Please show me when I'll be getting that job I've been wanting. Show me the grades I'll be getting.  And it'd be nice if you'd let me know when I'll be having children, and how many. Tell me everything you know about my life so I can finally have some peace.

Our prayers may not sound that ridiculous, but that is essentially what we are saying to God in our thoughts.

If there is one thing I've learned about God, it's that he will do anything to pull us back to him. If he showed us his plan, we would hijack it and try to speed it up, slow it down, and change its direction. But more importantly, we would not need him anymore.

What if we let go of that pursuit of certainty and sought out uncertainty, where we know God will be waiting for us? Where we can only rely on God. The paradox is that there is probably more peace than we've ever known in those situations; we've just never sought them out.

As hard as it may be, be thankful for the uncertainty in your life. Lean into it. There's no better opportunity to be closer to God.

12/4/10

What Usher Got Right

The "I wanna thank..." speech has become my favorite part of music award shows. And a few weeks back, the American Music Awards delivered some epic speeches. Did you know that but for Michael Jackson, none of us would be here? Does Justin Bieber know something we don’t?

Anyway, the most interesting thing about those award speeches is that God suddenly becomes very popular. It’s certainly not for me to judge who's sincere, but it seems that no matter the lyrics or lifestyle, most award-winning artists start their speech by thanking God. This is great publicity for God, but it’s a bit unnerving when He is thanked for songs with lyrics ranging from beer drinkin’ to promiscuity.

There is, however, one performer that seems to get it. Say what you want about his “confessions." Usher knows how to thank God.

Before thanking all of the people that helped him get to where he is, Usher thanked God “for his gifts.” I’ve never heard anyone do that. At first, it sounded like a very egotistical way to begin an award speech. But the more I thought about it, the more I believe Usher got it right, whether he knew it or not.

We forget that God gives us our talents. It’s okay to actually use the gifts that God gave you. Just remember where they came from.