Sunday, April 20, 2014

What Matters Most

Happy Easter everyone! I hope you have been able to enjoy the celebration of Christ's resurrection with your eyes fixed on the true meaning and its significance.

I woke up this morning at 8:55am. Considering I had to be at church at 8:45am, this was a problem. I had set my alarm last night, I just forgot to turn it on. So I was 50 minutes late to kids church. Pastor Phil was running kids church in the format of an archeological expedition to find the mystery of where Jesus is. It was very well done and the kids did a good job of participating. Unfortunately, I got there with only time to man my station for the last of the four groups of kids. Considering this week I was actually prepared, I was quite disappointed with myself.

How can I forget to turn my alarm on? And how can I forget to close our garage door like I did when I got home and it sat open for five hours? It all comes down to the things I take seriously. I suffer from chronic tunnel vision, and its something no pair of glasses can fix.

How can I remedy this situation? Well, it starts by caring about the details of what matters. This is a conscious decision that needs to be made, and a mindset that requires discipline. It doesn't mean I shouldn't care about the things that matter to me; it means I need to make these more important things matter to me too, and to make them matter more.

This is a lot like Easter (and most other holidays). We get so caught up in the holiday feeling and the family and church events that it's easy to forget the reason behind it. Easter isn't about sitting in a pew at church and singing a few songs. It's about celebrating the fact that Jesus rose from the grave. It was the most important thing to ever happen to the universe since its inception, and the most important thing to happen to my life. Yet, it's something that just becomes something we think about during the songs and sermon at church. It should be something that we fix our eyes on regularly, so much so that it becomes the thing that defines what we are.

So let's work together to put what matters most first. Whether it's consciously recognizing the importance of the fact that Christ is risen, or remembering to turn your alarm on before going to bed, let's be defined as people who put the most important things in life first. Everything else will simply fall into place.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


Approximately 1,984 years ago, the people sat around wondering why the world they had known was crashing in all around them.

We observe Good Friday, the day that Jesus was crucified to pay the punishment we should have paid. We also observe Easter Sunday, the day that Jesus rose from the grave. Both days are obviously crucial to the history of the universe. But do we ever stop to think about Saturday?

If you think about it, that Saturday was one of the darkest days in the history of the earth. God had literally come to earth, and was now dead. The problem was, the people were expecting Jesus to take power as a king of some sort, overthrowing the Roman government and freeing the people from their oppression. So when He died, they were really confused and likely quite disappointed. Saturday was probably a day where many of Jesus' followers were questioning what they had believed. How could they just go on with their lives after what they had seen and experienced?

But see, what made this confusion silly was that Jesus had on numerous occasions directly told them what was going to happen to Him. In Luke 18:32-33, speaking about Himself, Jesus said: "'He will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him; they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.'" How hard was this to understand? According to the next verse, "The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about." I don't think this means that God directly blinded their hearts to the truth, or that He was trying to trick them. I think they were just so caught up in their own way of thinking that they just didn't take seriously what Jesus was saying. They probably thought it was some sort of metaphor, or maybe Jesus was just taking the Debbie Downer perspective on their pending arrival in Jerusalem. One thing's for sure: they were told many times (this had been the third instance recorded in Luke), and they still didn't get it.

That the women went back to tell the apostles that Jesus had risen and they didn't believe them tells me that Saturday had not been a hopeful day for the group. They obviously weren't expecting Him to rise again on the third day like He said, since if they were expecting that, someone probably would have been sitting in line of sight of the tomb waiting for it to happen. (If the guards hadn't been there, they would all be sitting right by the stone.) But no, they were hiding scared. They were fearing for their lives, wondering what they should do with their futures now that Jesus was gone.

There are still many people living in this ignorance. A Jehovah's Witness came to our door recently and invited us to "a memorial celebrating the death of Jesus." How can you be a witness of Jehovah if He's dead? And there are many people who have been deceived to think that God is still dead, or that He never lived. What a dismal outlook if you're living in a Saturday perspective.

But there's good news: GOD'S NOT DEAD! He's surely alive! And you can know Him. He's there for you and He wants to be in relationship with you. All you need to do is confess your sins and choose to follow Him. He is risen, and the fact that He rose set the precedent so that you can rise too. Death could not hold Him down, and it won't hold us down either.

Thank the Lord that this particular Saturday was just another 24-hour day. The sun went down, the sun came up, and the Son came up too.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Unfortunate Casualties

Don't let Satan take the good things in life and trash them.

There are certain things that we do that are not good. These things lead to pain, sadness, and guilt. This is what we call 'sin,' which means something that displeases God and goes against his authoritative perspective of right and wrong. Sin is something we as Christians are called to avoid. When temptation comes, we need to stand our ground and make the choice to do what's right. It's not easy, but it can be done through the strength of Christ.

But Satan is clever. I won't give him credit for much of anything, but one thing that is sure is that he is clever. He uses his skillful deception to take things that are not sin and weave them into the picture in our heads of what constitutes sin. So in our attempts to avoid sinning, we can shun the very things God has created for good.

An example is cake. Cake is really good. It is very tasty and brings a sense of pleasure from the sweet experience of taking in each flavorful bite. But if you eat too much cake, you can get really fat. Too much cake can also lead to a number of health problems. Eating too much cake because it tastes good (and you can't help but eat it, and then some more) also has a name: gluttony. The gluttonous person is never satisfied with their slice of cake and eats more, more, and more until they find themselves in a seriously uncomfortable situation.

Gluttony is bad. So what is the most obvious solution? Don't eat the cake! If you don't eat the cake, then you don't take in the calories and sugar, and you stay alive. That is a logical conclusion.

But is cake bad? Of course not. There is nothing inherently wrong with cake. It was created with love by a kind chef who wasn't trying to make us fat, but instead was giving us the opportunity to experience the momentary pleasure of taking in the delicious heap of sweetness known as cake. Therefore, the sin is not in the cake, it's in the excessive eating of the cake and the lack of satisfaction with the amount that was eaten.

I will be writing more about some of the things God has taught me about how to best fight sin in future posts. But here I want you to be encouraged to discern what is right and what is wrong. There are things that give us pleasure that aren't inherently bad. It's how we use them that makes them bad. Another well-known example is alcohol. Many Christians teach that drinking alcohol is a sin. The Bible never says that drinking alcohol is a sin (as Jesus Himself drank alcohol and he never sinned); what the Bible does say is a sin is drunkenness. There's nothing wrong with enjoying a glass of wine, or a can of beer while watching the game. But consuming alcohol to the level where you lose your inhibitions and are no longer sober, that is the sin.

I don't however want to dismiss the reasoning many people have about why alcohol is considered bad. There are many people who can't handle one drink without wanting more and more. Alcohol has the potential to cause harm and it is easy to abuse. This is the reason I have chosen not to have any alcohol yet: I don't know how my body will respond. Will I have a drink some time in my life? Likely, yes. All the members of my family occasionally have a drink, but they all know how to do so without abusing it. But if you believe (or know) that drinking alcohol will lead you to sin, then don't drink it.

But at the same time, alcohol was made by God (both at the beginning of time and at Cana when Jesus turned water into it). It has a purpose, like cake. Don't judge a person just because he drinks; likewise, don't judge a person because he does not. Just know where you stand when it comes to these things that Satan tries to make 'sinful' when they really don't have to be. With many of these things, there is a time and a place, and they can become sin if you know that it's not the time nor the place (for example, drinking alcohol before leaving for a long road trip: obviously a sin).

Still, as Christians, we are called to rise above the base things of this world. We must avoid sin at all costs, but we also need to let God refine our minds so that what used to lead us into sin doesn't anymore. This can only be done by continually connecting with God and heeding His guidance. We are not bound by sin anymore; we are free. This means we can be free from the burden of the gluttony by which we may have been formerly ensnared. But, this also means we are free to have our cake and eat it too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Jury Duty

Often we get stuck in our own little bubble. We go about life doing all the things that we think matter, the things we need to do, the things that give us pleasure. But do we think about how the things we do affects the others around us?

I got called to jury duty. Yes, it was my first jury summons, and I ended up sitting as one of the six jurors. It was a fascinating experience. The judge was both stern and understanding (and really cool). The district attorney tried the case like she was on a TV drama. And I had the privilege of working with five other first-time jurors of various ages and backgrounds who were all very nice and concerned about making the right decision.

But while I understood the scope of what I was doing, it was right when I was about to check the 'guilty' box on the verdict sheet that it really hit me what an impact I was making. My simple 'X' was going to have lasting consequences on the life of this person. Because of the decision I made along with my colleagues, this man would have to serve punishment for a crime.

Now, as in any serious matter, my natural reaction is to pretend the concern doesn't exist. It isn't a happy thought, and it's comfortable to live in blissful ignorance. But the reality is, I made a decision that affects a man's life in an unfortunate way. Although (according to our deliberation) he deserved it, the fact remains that his future won't be the same because of my actions.

Jury duty provides a very clear and undeniable example of how my actions impact others. But actually every single decision we make affects other people's lives. If I walk down the street and smile at a passing stranger, I have altered the course of that person's life. It may seem inconsequential, but what if that person was having a rough day? What if I was the first person to even acknowledge her existence that day? Even if she thought I was a creeper and turned just slightly, this has made an impact. As an example, imagine we were walking through an open field where there were no buildings or obstructions of any kind. Say my awkward smile caused the person to turn three degrees (out of 360; remember geometry class?). It may not seem like a lot, but if that person walked for another one mile in a straight line, she would end up 277 feet away from where she would have been had I not smiled at her. That's more than one standard city block.

So this is why we need to consider how our actions affect others. We have little control over most of our actions' consequences, but there are plenty of opportunities to really consider the impact our decisions make. Should I go hang out with that friend tonight? Should I do what my mom asks me to do immediately or put it off? Should I be rude to my boss today, even if he's been rude to me? Fill in the blank. Just don't wait for jury duty to consider how your actions affect others. It may literally mean life or death.