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What I learned about church through #PokémonGO

(Photo: http://www.13wmaz.com)

It was like something out of a horror movie. Hundreds of them coming on foot and by car, flooding a vacant lot, heads turned downward, eyes glazed, slowly moving through the night. If I wouldn’t have known better, I would’ve thought it was a zombie apocalypse. But it wasn’t that at all. It was hundreds of teenagers gathering together to play the new Pokémon GO game. It was like nothing I had ever witnessed before.

I was flabbergasted and shocked that so many people would come together for one common goal. I couldn’t help but laugh at their essentially useless goal. In a world of ISIS and police shootings, hundreds of people are preoccupied with fake monsters in some alternate universe with minimal human interaction. I accusingly thought, “How can they all get together like this for no real purpose? There’s something seriously wrong with this picture.”

And of course only God, in his infinite mercy, gently corrected me. He reminded me of another occasion when people gather together for one reason and for one purpose. Yet now, this Pokémon game had me wondering if outsiders were asking the same thing of the church: “What are they doing in there? Do they even have a real purpose?”

Hundreds of us gather each week. We sing a few songs. We contort our faces in adoration. We stare down in our Bible apps. We sing a closing song. We get up, and we go home. But how big was our impact? What did we do, really? I can’t help but imagine what would happen if hundreds of Christians gathered outside the church in unity, love, and service. What would it look like if we walked out of the church building on Sunday, entered into the local neighborhood, and began meeting the needs of the people there? It would be shocking and strange. And it would be exactly what the world needed.

I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I sense that if ever there was a time when the world needed Jesus and Christians committed to serving them, it is now. The harvest is ready. May we be willing to do the work.

(…Or at the very least, maybe you can place a few Pokémon monsters in the location of your church this Sunday so hundreds of young people will show up in search of something truly out of this world.)

rejoice

Rejoice!

“This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.”–Psalm 118:24 (NKJV)

You may have heard this verse before. Maybe you even sang the song in Sunday school. Some mornings, like today, I even wake up with that verse in my head. It’s a nice little chorus, and I always thought it was a fitting way to jump into a new day. But as I went to check the verse this morning, it appeared to be so much more than a simple child’s refrain.

Like many verses in the Bible, this one is full of meaning, and I really suggest that you read the whole chapter to really get a feel for why the Psalmist was rejoicing. Taunted and hated by his enemy, he had every reason to fear, and yet, line after line he is praising, rejoicing, and giving thanks to the Lord Almighty, in spite of his bleak circumstances.

And yet, here is what we can glean:

  • God is still in control.
    The fact that the earth is still spinning and the sun is making its way over the horizon gives me hope to believe that the God of heaven and earth is still on the throne. We can find in peace in knowing that no matter the political landscape or the thoughtless violence, God is still victorious, and He is still working everything for His ultimate good.
  • God is still loving.
    With a new day freshly dawned, it’s a good time to forgo yesterday’s mistakes and shortcomings. Lamentations 3:22-23 reads, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Today we have been given a second (or a third or a fourth) chance to discover his magnificent, unending love that offers help, hope, forgiveness, and healing.

  • God is still faithful.
    Not only do we get another opportunity to witness the power and authority of God, but we also get another chance to sit at the feet of our faithful friend. God, will never leave nor forsake us. He is trustworthy and true. We can go to Him at any time with any need. We can seek solace under His wings and find the comfort we desperately need.

It’s good to know that while we may change, God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We can place our trust in our eternal God. We can delight in what is called, “today” because we have a God working outside of time on our behalf. What do we have to fear? He’s got this. So, be of good courage and Rejoice! Again, I say, Rejoice!

wash20feet

Love 2.0

What does it mean to love? Is it baking a cake for a new neighbor? Is it treating an ornery waitress with exuberant cheer? Possibly. But has anyone else stopped to wonder if our vain attempts at love are drawing people to Christ?

It seems like there have been many discussions on the topic of love lately. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love the sinner. Even nonbelievers are quick to shout, “God is love!” when Christians disagree with them on an issue. Now, I am in no way saying that love is not important; after all, it is a command given to us by Jesus. But honestly, there are times when I don’t even know what “love” is supposed to look like. The American culture has adulterated loved and has often turned it into something akin to a dancing cupid or a “Kumbayah” sing-along. Romance movies have condensed love into some kind of awe-inspiring, one-liner: “You had me at ‘Hello’,” for example. Commercials have turned it into an object of desire only fulfilled by the mass accumulation of material things.

It would be surprising if we did not confuse it.

Recently, I attended a Bible study centered around Kelly Minter’s book, Ruth: Loss, Love, and Legacy. In the book, she brings to light the fact that Ruth’s position was less than that of a servant girl. As I went through the study, questions began filtering through my mind until this thought occurred to me: Maybe it’s humility (not love, necessarily) that has the potential to change the world.

I don’t know about you, but I have often prayed, “Lord, help me to be more like Jesus,” only to find that I steer clear of the things that are considered “less than” or things that would require me to go out of my way for someone else. And yet, here are some things I noticed when I read Philippians 2:6-8:

• Jesus humbled himself.
• Jesus made himself to be nothing (“of no reputation,” NKJV).
• Jesus took on the nature of a servant.

Honestly, this was not what I thought of when I prayed to be “more like Christ.” These requirements were much more difficult than anything I had ever imagined. All this moved me to ask my next question, “How is this love?”

Almost immediately, I thought of the verse, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13, NKJV). In verse 12, Jesus commanded his disciples to “love one another,” but in verse 13, He tells them how.

For some reason, I always associated the phrase, “to lay down one’s life” with death, maybe because I knew the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for us when He laid down His life on the cross. However, it occurred to me that this is more likely a death of self. What I personally gleaned from this was: “Sacrificing your needs for the needs of some one else, is the greatest act of love.” This is in essence what Philippians 2:3-4 tells us. And in verse 5, it admonishes us to have the same mindset as Christ, which would require that we:

• Humble ourselves
• Become nothing (as in, do not worry about obtaining a name for yourself)
• Take on the nature of a servant

This, then, is love.

I can’t even imagine what the world would look like if we stopped loving people and started serving them. It seems like lately, we have been “loving” people right out of the church. Dare I say that some of our ideas regarding love have become muddled and in some cases, worldly. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see the church try a new approach. Maybe love through humility and sacrifice is the key.

I think I’m going to pray for opportunities to serve others this week without expecting anything (not even a “thank you”) in return. It’s not going to be easy to do something my flesh doesn’t want to do. But if my flesh objects, I’m probably doing something right.  Of course, this will require me to cling onto the greatest Servant of all, Jesus.

The Proposal of a Lifetime

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I was listening to the radio in the car the other day when my ears perked up at the word, “proposal.” I don’t know why, but I immediately thought of Jesus. Then, like a bolt of lightning,  I had this wonderful revelation:

The Courtship
When Jesus entered space and time, the courtship began. During his 33 years on earth, He “wooed” the people around Him. He healed them and ministered to them. He fed them and led them closer to God through His words and teachings. In His greatest act of love, He laid down His life and died for all mankind. However, before he left, Jesus “popped the question.” He asked anyone who was interested to: “Come and follow Him.”

The Proposal
Jesus left us with a decision to make, and for 2,000 years, men and women have been answering the simple question: Do we follow Jesus with our whole heart, or do we follow the evil one of this world instead? Jesus is waiting, but instead of a ring, He holds eternity in His hand, essentially asking, “Do you take me to have and to hold until death and forevermore?” His hand is outstretched to yours. The question is, “Will you say ‘I do’ to His proposal?”

The Marriage Feast
Revelations 19:7-9 reads:
Let us rejoice and be glad

    and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
    and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
    was given her to wear.”
(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)
Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

When the King of Glory comes (on a white horse no less), He will clothe His bride in white. His bride will be rescued and redeemed once and for all. At that time, there will be a great celebration for all who had accepted His proposal. We will sit at His table at the “wedding supper of the Lamb” and dine with Him for all eternity.

–         –          –          –         –          –          –         –          –          –         –          –

Will you, loved one, accept His hand and give yourself to Him to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, through sickness and health, to love and to cherish until the Great Banquet Feast?

Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (NIV).

If you prayed that prayer, I say to you with great joy: “Welcome to the family!” Your name is on the guest list and your place at the table has now been set.

Actively Waiting

clock_in_hand_by_egoderelinquo

No matter what stage of life we are in, it would seem as if we are always waiting for something. A better job. Greater opportunities. A miracle. Surely, you have heard the verse that encourages us to “wait on the Lord,” but what should waiting on the Lord look like?
Is it sitting in a dark room waiting to hear a voice from Heaven?
Is it just going through the motions of everyday without joy, without contentment?

When I think of God, I think of a Being who is always active, One who is always moving, creating, molding, and shaping the world around us. So, when we are asked to wait, I cannot imagine that it would be boring, mundane.

Actually, when you look at the  word “wait” in Psalm 37: 34, you see that it means to “look for”, “to expect”, “to hope.” Waiting is anything but inactive. I believe that waiting is actually the most exciting, most rewarding, most demanding time of a person’s life. If we look closely, we can come to understand that this is when God is doing the most personal and most extensive work in our lives.

The reason that we so often miss the importance of waiting is because these are the pieces of the Bible that are left out. We usually get caught up in the “things” men and women in the Bible did. Noah and his ark. Moses and the parting of the sea.  We look at that and say, “I want to do that! I want to have a purpose like Noah or lead like Moses!” Our eyes automatically focus on the accomplishments simply because the Bible doesn’t spend too much time focusing on the day to day lives of these great men and women. No doubt, they had to get up in the morning, brush their hair, pick out their outfit for the day, get the kids ready, and so on. Yet, the time between their birth and their calling was filled with much anticipatory “waiting.” The times not shared with us are the times God spent building their character and readying them for the “big stuff,” the life-changing stuff. In the meantime, He had to teach them about obedience, faithfulness, and trust; and as we all know, these are the qualities that take the most time to cultivate.

God could move our mountains tomorrow and give us everything that we desired, but would we be ready for it? Would our foundations stand strong under the pressure of the promise? Only He would know, which is why… we wait. Instead, I urge you to cherish this time, relish in the opportunity to delight yourself in the Lord and get close to Him because your promise will come, and the last thing He would want is for you to fall under the pressure.

I leave you with this verse from Isaiah 40:31, “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Wait.
Be strengthened and encouraged in the Lord.
So, when the time comes, you will mount up.
You will run.
You will soar.

Lambs, just a few days old, on a field in northern England.  Sheep farming is a major economic activity in the UK, with large fields reserved for it. In later winter, and beginning of Spring, it's common to see many newborn lambs in the fields.

The One

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off”
(Matthew 18:12-13).

It’s difficult to leave a writer’s conference without packing a suitcase full of discouragement. Edit after edit, the haunting question looms, “Am I good enough?”  As you prepare to leave, you discover pieces of yourself in the form of ink-stained papers, pieces of your heart tossed inside a dumpster next to yesterday’s biscuits and gravy. These same thoughts seemed to plague much of the attendees, but even more so, the newbies who had come to the conference looking to fulfill a lifelong ambition. However, it was these very conversations that led me to have a bizarre dream on my final night.

In this dream, a precious heirloom had been abandoned in an alleyway. Its owner had set the piece against the wall next to the trash compactor. All of a sudden people began to make their way towards the heirloom. I watched as they stood around and argued its worth (or lack thereof). Finally, one gentleman, deciding it was to his liking, picked it up and walked away while the others continued on in their debate. I woke up with the realization that this is exactly how it may seem in the writer’s world. To some, our words may not be considered “good enough”. We may find ourselves ridiculed and criticized by countless individuals, until that is, we find the one. Just like in my dream, there will be one person out there that needs our words to be penned. That one person is our audience. That’s to whom we are writing. That’s for whom we pour out our soul day in and day out. For it is that one person who will pick up our piece among the remnants and see its true worth.

This image reminds me of Christ, and how He too was deeply concerned about the one. The verse above reminds me how quickly God would leave everything to pursue that one lost lamb. Shouldn’t this be our heart’s desire as well? It’s easy to feel discouraged when only a smalll number of people read our blog posts or visit our websites, but wouldn’t it be more productive to forget about the numbers and focus solely on that one individual who needs a life-alterning word from the Lord.

One is all we are asked to reach, and before we know it, that one could possibly turn into hundreds and even thousands. But it all starts with one.

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Contradictions of the Flesh

Did you ever notice the contradictions of your flesh? From one minute to the next we can be hot or cold. It’s a feeling a love, acting in hate. We dress it up and tear it down as soon as we look in the mirror. It’s alive and yet, dying at the same time. Our flesh holds us together, yet tears us apart when we allow it to rule.

The flesh is very significant in the Bible too. Woman was formed with the rib of a man, and he called her “flesh of my flesh”. When two people get married they become one flesh. In communion, the bread represents Christ’s flesh. However, there are plenty of occasions in the Bible when men are given over to “the desires of their flesh” and then disaster happens.

I remember succumbing to such desires in my own life, and the results were catastrophic. When my flesh took over, I was like a zombie, walking around without direction, lost, afraid, hopeless, and so angry I wanted to rip people apart at the seams. The flesh left to its own devices is entirely unreliable. In fact, Romans 7:5 states, “For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.”

So, how can we receive new life into these dry bones? 

While the Bible tells us that the wages of sin are death, it also says that the “gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We must accept God’s free gift.

First, we have to accept Christ as our Savior (Roman 10:9-10).
Second, we need to turn from our former way of living and leave those things which once brought destruction to our lives (2 Timothy 2:19).
Third, we need to fill our lives with the Word of God, the Bible. This way, when doubts and temptations arise we can stand firm (Hebrews 4:12).

Living to please the desires of the flesh always leads to spiritual death.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather miss out on the small things in this life than miss out in the blessings of all eternity.