Would God Die To Get More Slaves?

The biggest fundamental principle of Christianity is that we believe Jesus, the Son of God, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, and rose from the dead to conquer death. That’s the best news any of us could ever get. Now for the second best news:

Jesus didn’t die to get more slaves.

We often act as though we become God’s slaves when we accept Christ. It is an absolutely ridiculous thought when you examine it from His perspective. From ours, yes, we were “bought with a price” as 1 Cor. 7:23 says, and God has every right to command us to do anything He wants every second of our lives while not giving us anything else…and we still couldn’t make up for what He’s saved us from.

But He already had that right just by being God. He created the Universe and all that’s in it. He makes donkeys talk, seas part, and fire to rain down from the sky. Do we really think we can deny Him what He wants if He’s dead-set on getting it?

Perhaps more importantly, why would Jesus die to get more slaves? He can speak but a word and create galaxies; what does He need us for? Can we really do anything that He can’t do by Himself?

Jesus died for us because He loved us. There’s no reason that He should, not that we can provide Him, but He chose to. He died for His sons and daughters, for His heirs, for those whom He loved with an intensity that was matched only by His sense of justice that required a payment for our sins.

We were not saved that we should be enslaved to Him, but that we should be free to worship Him. Free to love Him. Free to serve Him more wholeheartedly than any slave could serve a master. God died to set you free from slavery, not to change your master.

Forever Yours

Not many people intentionally lie during their wedding vows. When they say “til death do us part” or some variation, many are honestly hoping that’s how long the marriage lasts…and that their spouse’s death is more than just three weeks away. Ah, but there’s the operative word: hoping. A few may go in with a commitment that, come what may, the marriage will last, yet so many are going in with a quid pro quo hope, a commitment that lasts only as long as their needs are being met.

Leah and I have had something of a trying time in Houston. Jobs that I thought I nailed the interview for seem to have fallen through. She’s missing her family, friends, and the two little boys she used to nanny. Fears that this was a bad decision or that God won’t come through have clouded our minds and brought with them, for me anyway, a lot of regret over past decisions.

Our relationship with each other has remained strong throughout all this. We haven’t fought, haven’t regretted marrying each other, haven’t tried to push the other one away. If anything, our marriage has grown stronger. We know that, even should we end up on the streets (which we don’t believe we will), we will stay together because of our commitment to and love for each other. Our marriage isn’t dependent on circumstances.

Why then is it so easy to let our relationship with God, which is far more eternal than any marriage and with a love far greater, at least on His end, than any we have for each other, be dependent on what’s going on in our lives? Are we not forever His? During this struggle, both of us have questioned why God brought us here. We still don’t know. We feel like for what we’ve given up and for following His will that He somehow owes us something, which makes our love and our obedience conditional.

I have absolutely no fear that Leah will leave me, cheat on me, or recklessly spend all our money. It would go against everything I know about her. Why should I have any fear that God will let me down when He’s perfect and she’s not? He cannot let me down because He’s promised to work out all things for the good of those who love Him and He cannot deny Himself.

Usually, I don’t post until I have some sort of answer to the question I’m posing, but this time, I am. I think part of it is that my top love language is physical touch, which I can’t do with God but can with Leah, so it’s easier for me to have a deep love for Leah. Yet I think there must be more to it. I’m open to any suggestions or thoughts here.

What Matters Most

I noticed something while going through 1 and 2 Kings recently: there’s a pattern that they rarely deviate from in how they talk about the kings of Israel and Judah. The first verse talking about the new king will announce in what year of the reign of a certain king of the other territory this new king begins to reign and whose son he is. There may be a second verse that tells how old he was when he began to reign and how long his reign lasted. But the next verse tells what really matters: whether he did good or evil in the sight of the Lord.

This verse summarizes whether these kings were good or bad, whether God blessed or cursed Judah and Israel during their reigns. There’s some mention of their acts most of the time, some of the battles they fought perhaps, but there aren’t many mentions of their wealth, intelligence, or looks. I don’t recall any mention of the attractiveness of their wives and concubines; most don’t even have that number recorded. Nowhere in these books are they called brilliant economists, cunning generals, or jovial cut-ups. 

Why?

Because none of these things matter.

When I die, my family and perhaps a few friends will actually miss me. Leah and perhaps our children will be broken-hearted, but for most people who knew me, there will be a few moments of sadness and then life will go back to normal. They’ll remember me for a variety of things, but will any remember me for my heart for God? If I were to die today, that answer is probably only Leah, because my heart has largely been on the things of this world. I’ve wanted a house, money, good job, kids, golden retriever, etc. I’ve even sought fame from writing books.

Yet what will God think of my time on earth? Will He say that I had a heart for Him, that I did good in His sight? This, far more than money, possessions, or relationships, is something truly worth aspiring to.

For God, Gold, and Glory

My wife has been lovingly telling me ever since we started dating that money doesn’t mean that much to her. After getting enough to support a couple kids, she doesn’t need much else. She’d even be content if she had to work at McDonald’s or Wal-mart to help us make ends meet if I was working at a job I loved. 

Yet somehow, I struggle to get it through my thick skull that she’s serious, that my value to her isn’t based on our bank account or the home we live in. I believe God has called me to write, yet my efforts to further my writing, either via writing / editing my books or promoting them, have stalled for the better part of a year. Even when I was working on them, there was an element of me that wanted money and honor; sometimes, I wanted these less than I wanted God’s glory, but usually, it was more. The fact that I was concerned about money and honor at all, though, shows how unprepared I was for God to bless my efforts.

God will not bless your efforts for you, only your efforts for Him.

Instead of God, gold, and glory, I need to separate it out to God or gold and glory. “No man can serve two masters,” as Matthew 6:24 tells us. We can’t truly be concerned with God’s work if we’re doing it to provide for ourselves or increase our own value in any way. 

There’s a story that hunters used to trap monkeys by putting an apple in a glass jar and then tying a rope to the jar. A monkey could just get its hand in, but when it tried to pull out the apple, it would get stuck. It could have easily let go of the apple, but refused to, even when it was being led away. It was essentially choosing a short-term prize over freedom. And that’s very similar to what we do when we chase after money or the next relationship or anything else in which we put our value. We give up our freedom for something that doesn’t last because…

We voluntarily enslave ourselves to anyone from whom we derive a sense of self-worth.

I have the same choice you do: whether to choose myself or God. The mind says God, but the heart is infinitely stubborn. I have to silence it, with God’s help, and press on to serve Him, forsaking my obsession with money, with glory, with anything else that is not furthering His will and glorifying to Him. If He gives me money, fine, but I cannot be seeking it and Him at the same time. I need to let go of the apple. 

Do you?

Analysis Paralysis

I have a friend in Virginia who has a very difficult time making decisions if she’s presented with more than three or four options. She calls it “analysis paralysis.” She starts thinking about all the things that will happen with each decision and what she’d lose by not going with the others and just keeps cycling through without being able to make up her mind. 

I have something similar, only mine works backwards. I keep thinking about all the decisions in my life and how it seems the vast majority of them have been wrong. For example, I could have invested in Amazon back when it was losing money every quarter. A lot of people thought that Internet sales were the next big thing, myself included, but I thought Wal-mart would take over or there’d be another company that did the same thing as Amazon, only better. I thought their business model must not be very good to have lost money every quarter but one in their history. With their meteoric rise, I’ve been kicking myself since, telling myself I could have gotten it for less than $50 in 2008 and as of now, it’s worth $339.04. I could have invested in Google or Apple, too, but I didn’t see how Google would make enough money and thought Apple products were only for graphic artists. I keep telling myself I could have been rich, and I would be if only I were smarter. There are a few problems with this:

1. I don’t know for certain what would have happened had I made a different decision. Let’s say I had invested in Amazon. If I had been able to make nearly seven times as much as I put in within just six years, I probably would have been able to buy a small home, perhaps in Virginia, which would have made it difficult to leave there when God called me to Colorado. If I hadn’t bought a home in Virginia, I would have almost certainly gotten one when I got married, which would have made moving to Houston when He called us here much harder. In all of these missed opportunities, God has a purpose. Even if I hadn’t bought a home and we just moved here with a good chunk of money, I don’t know where our other decisions would have led us, but those decisions affect who we meet, whether we’re in a car accident, where I look for jobs, and a host of other things.

2. I analyze only what I missed out on. It’s human nature to look only at what you could have gotten and totally forget about what you missed unless it’s blindingly obvious. We hear a few stories about people who couldn’t get to the airport on time and the flight they were supposed to be on crashed. Most of the time, though, we look at the stock we should have bought, the woman we should have asked out, the life decision that would have worked out beautifully. Are there times we miss out on opportunities through fear, laziness, bad attitudes, etc.? Yes, but we don’t know how they would have worked out and there are some awful decisions we’ve avoided as well. Were you ever tempted to invest in a stock that later tanked? Did you miss out on a job with a company that went under? Did you not date someone and then find out later they had a screw loose? Be fair in your analysis. You’ll likely find that most of the results of your decisions lie somewhere between awesome and horrible, meaning that you’ve missed out on as much bad as good.

3. I’m analyzing decisions by their results, rather than by my decision-making process. If I skip work one day and buy a Powerball ticket and win, was skipping work a good decision? Most of us would answer “yes” pretty emphatically. I would disagree. It’s a decision that worked out exceptionally well, but that doesn’t make it a good decision. Likewise, if I went to work as normal and got t-boned by someone who ran a red light, that doesn’t make going to work a bad decision. A decision should be analyzed by the information I had available at the time, my thought process to arrive at my decision, and how much of my decision was based on logical reasoning rather than on impulsive emotions. When I decided to marry Leah, I took care to separate reasoning from emotion as far as I could. I thought about our fit together with personality, attraction, opinions on major subjects, interests, etc. I knew I loved her, but I wouldn’t have married her if I could not reasonably see long-term love rather than a love that lasts just a couple years. 

4. Endless analysis keeps me from forgiving myself. This is perhaps the most important one. We’re commanded to forgive; if we don’t, we won’t be forgiven. (Matthew 6:15) This includes forgiving ourselves. Forgiving yourself is probably one of the most difficult things you’ll ever have to do, yet it is also one of the most necessary. Everyone makes mistakes, plenty of them. Even those people whom you look at and wonder how their lives got so perfect have made their share and continue to make more. You’ll make more mistakes in the future. Just don’t dwell on them. Dwelling on them puts fear in your heart of making any more changes or decisions and prevents you from being able to analyze new opportunities. Let your past decisions go and just move on. Staring at the past won’t change it any more than hoping for a better future without working for it will make it happen. 

This post is mostly for myself. I’ve been struggling with all of these lately, fretting about frittering away so many opportunities to provide for my wife and the family we want to have. I don’t know what’s going to come in the future. All I know is that worrying about the past won’t help me to the future I want or, more importantly, the future God wants me to have.

Time to Serve

Yogi Berra was once asked by a teammate, “Yogi, what time is it?” Yogi responded, “You mean now?”

I’ve been in a hurry for much of my life. At work, I seem to always take on more than can be handled in a 40-hour work week. During my last semester in college, I was taking 16 hours, working a part-time job, working as an Academic Peer Advisor (something like a floor tutor), tutoring students in math, accounting, and finance, and studying for the CPA exam, which I had to take just four days after graduating. 

Yet after I quit my last job and found myself with a lot of time on my hands in which to serve God, I didn’t serve Him more than a few hours a month most of the time. I spent that time on myself. To be fair, a little time at the beginning was fair enough, but after a week of R&R, I should have been ready to go. I wrote because I believe He called me to write, but what I wrote wasn’t Christian. I was wasting a lot of time.

Part of it was that I didn’t know what to write for Him. He hadn’t told me yet, though that’s likely because I made myself too busy with friends and computer games to pay attention. In hindsight, I should have just served anyway. 

A lot of Christians seem to be waiting for their calling, as though there’s going to be a burning bush telling them where to go and what to do. It could happen that way or another blatant way, but God’s voice seems to be more often a whisper and His calling understated. When Jesus called certain of His disciples, it was without any miracles, just an invitation to follow Him, such as He gave to Matthew. 

Your calling, your purpose in life, is to love and serve God above all and to love others as you love yourself.

When Jesus called Matthew, He didn’t tell the tax collector what he’d be doing. He didn’t say, “Come with me and be a martyr,” or, “Join me and preach my new covenant to all the nations.” He only told Matthew to follow Him. The specific way in which Matthew was to serve was revealed after Matthew trusted in God and was willing to serve in whatever way Jesus wanted. 

When we wait, we often do what we want while waiting for our specific calling. Instead, we should be following Jesus, just being in His presence, learning about Him and from Him, and preparing our hearts so that when He is ready to use us, we are ready to be used. There may be a time, such as Esther had, for which we were created, but our time to serve and fulfill our main calling is always right now. There is no waiting to serve or hear direction. Love God. Love others. Just that simple.

The Only Story Worth Telling

We love stars. Be they actors, singers, athletes, or someone else, we often live vicariously through celebrities, dreaming of what it would be like to be that attractive, rich, famous, and good at what you do. We want that for ourselves, but don’t see ourselves as having the necessary qualities to pull it off.

The problem is that we want to be the stars. We want to be seen as important, attractive, and valuable. We want others to not just know us, but to admire and respect us. Many people are willing to accept a side role, but these aren’t the roles sought after. We may not all want to be movie stars, but we want to be the star in the story of our lives.

For myself, I’d love to walk onto a stage in front of thousands of people and share the message of Christian confidence, but the irony there is that part of it (some days a larger part than others, but always more than there should be) is for my glory, so I can be the hero. 

The only story worth telling is the one in which you’re not the hero.

The truth of my story and really of all of us is that we’re entirely incapable of saving ourselves. We can stop drinking heavily, get a steady job, stop breaking the law, and otherwise mold ourselves into productive members of society, but we can’t change our hearts. We can’t wash away our sins. We can’t redeem our past. And so many times in life, there are battles that we don’t have the courage, character, or ability to win. In all of these, when we are at the end of ourselves, we arrive at the beginning of Him.

My message can never be to my glory, but to the glory of Him who gave it to me, who saved me and gave me a reason to live. I need to surrender the starring role in my own life to play willingly, no, eagerly, whatever bit part He has for me. 

One of our favorite actors is Tim Curry. Whether it’s as Dr. Poole in Oscar (a movie that has inexplicably been almost entirely unknown), Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island, or Count Richelieu in The Three Musketeers, I’m convinced there’s no one who’s ever enjoyed his job more than he does. That’s the kind of joy I want to have playing God’s role for me in His sweeping epic of the history of humanity, not to steal the scene, but to show how happy I am to be there, how glad I am to serve the Star of the show rather than try to be that star.

He’s the real hero, the only hero, of the only story worth being a part of.