Look All Around: A Response

Ironically enough, there is a new YouTube viral video decrying technology (particularly mobile devices), by Gary Turk. It’s called “Look Up.” He speaks with conviction and depth; he really believes what he’s saying, and he makes some great points. His purpose is simple: don’t be so caught up with your technology that you miss the meaningful moments in life.

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Click the photo to watch the video.

Of course, there had to be response videos and blog posts. I was disappointed, but not surprised in the least, that most of them were crude or mean. One blog response basically boiled down to, “Just do whatever you want. It’s your life and it’s your choice.” Not very helpful and pretty self-centered.

Probably the best and most thoughtful one was the aptly but unoriginally named “Look Down.”  This video blogger’s counterpoint was that our technology actually allows us to make meaningful connections and enjoy life in ways we never could have before. In other words, it’s not bad; it has great benefits, and we should embrace them.

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And now the response.

So, who are we supposed to listen to? Are we supposed to take heed to Gary Turk, who tells us to go on walks and leave our phones at home when we do? Or do we listen to the other guy, who wishes us “happy internetting”?

For followers of Jesus Christ, the Bible has a very clear message, and surprisingly enough it seems to answer the question: Do we look up or look down?

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See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…

– Ephesians 5:15-20 (New King James Version)

 

That word “circumspectly” jumps out at us, because it tells us exactly where we are to look. That word literally means to “look all around.” Have a 360 degree view. See all the angles. Look at all the possible options. If we are following Jesus Christ, he allows us to see things the way he does, the way he teaches us to, with the wisdom of God. And we are able to make the best decision for our lives and the lives of those around us, according to God’s will. We are able to make the most of every opportunity. We can even redeem these evil days.

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It’s so simple. What God wants for us is the very best, and the best is a life lived circumspectly. He wants this because He loves us, in this one life we’ve been given.

Technology is not bad, it is not the enemy. It’s also not everything. So, if it’s time to put away the phone or tablet or laptop, and have a face-to-face conversation, then please do it. If the most circumspect thing to do is respond to that text from your friend who is depressed and contemplating suicide, then by all means do it. Be wise.

If you’re always looking up or down, you’ll never know what you missed. If you look circumspectly, you’ll never regret it.

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Opportunities and Open Doors

With my precious wife and children away for a few weeks, I wondered what I was going to do with all the free time I expected to have. No diapers to change, no mouths to feed, no little ones to play with, no one to put to sleep, no one to wake me up in the early hours. I can eat dinner whenever I want or find time to. I can leave the house for work in record time. I can watch whatever I want to or watch nothing at all. What to do with all that time? I wondered, but I do not wonder anymore.

ImageIt’s not time I have more of, but opportunity. I have had the ability to say “yes” to opportunity after opportunity that I would not normally be able to. Like what? Well, let’s see…

  • Helping out at another church’s youth group, so I could observe and gather ideas for our own
  • Host a guys basketball night
  • Take in a struggling former youth group student
  • Spend a day in training with youth and youth leaders
  • Enjoy meaningful time with treasured friends
  • Help a homeless man in tragic circumstances

I am not commending myself, nor do I wish anyone else to do so. I’m just marveling at the open doors that I have not only encountered and entered. They have been open doors to bless others and be blessed, to serve others and be served, to feed and be fed.

On the very first day of my time alone, I committed this time to God, to be put to use as He saw fit. Thus far, God has exceeded what I could have imagined, and it’s been less than a week!

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Stronger When They Return

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I find myself in a strange situation as of this morning, now that my wife and two kids have left for Korea, for at least three weeks. My heart aches at how much I miss them already, and yet I have all this free time I do not usually have. Granted, I will keep plenty busy with a full-time job as youth and outreach pastor, and in a lot of ways I can spend more time focusing on work in a way that I normally cannot. And with family and friends all around me, geographically speaking, I can invest more time than usual in building up the relationships in my life.

I have heard two main types of responses when I have told people that I will essentially be living alone for almost a month, after almost five years of marriage and over three years of parenthood. One has been sympathetic. “How are you going to survive by yourself?” “Aw, I bet you’re going to miss your family.” “Can you even cook for yourself?” (By the way, yes I can.) The other has been celebratory, maybe sometimes with a side of envious. “Wow.” “Lucky!” “Time to live it up!”

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But, my favorite and most meaningful response was from a friend, who recognized that I have been focusing all my time and energy on giving the best to my family, and often at the expense of my own personal and spiritual well-being. And she’s right. But wait. Doesn’t success in marriage and parenthood call for self-sacrifice? Yes, absolutely. However, I cannot give my very best if my resources are depleted. So, this friend strongly urged me to spend this next few weeks really focusing on connecting with God, that sacred and divine relationship at the deepest part of me.

So, after I parted ways with my precious wife and kids, I headed straight for my quiet house first, and said a focused prayer that went something like this: “Lord, I want to make the most of this time. I want to be a stronger when they return: a stronger man, husband, father. I can’t do it without You.”

Now, maybe you are religious and maybe you are not, and not everyone would make use of free time by focusing on getting closer to God. But I would have to wonder if anyone–regardless of what one believes or doesn’t believe–feels good about wasted free time. Time spent getting stronger in the most important ways is time well spent.

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For me, these are the three types of activities that will occupy the bulk of my free time:

  • Spiritual- Silence, prayer, fasting, meditation, Scripture study, being in nature, writing and hearing music
  • Relational- Extra time with family and friends, some where I am giving and some where I am just enjoying company
  • Physical- Eating right and exercising

The current sermon series at Trinity Church, by Pastor Albert Hung, is called “Stronger: Training for the Win.” Click here to check out the first sermon from this past Sunday. I know it sounds absurd, but I do feel like this series is just for me. I mean, it happens to fall just during the time I would be by myself, the time I am able to focus on becoming stronger. I plan to chronicle the next three weeks, and hopefully how my choices every day help me accomplish my goal.

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So, assuming you would want to make the most of some unusual free time, if you could get it, what would you do to become stronger by the end?

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Have some imagination: Thoughts on Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah”

noe-posterConfusion. Wickedness. Violence. Death. New Life. All the things you would expect from any film realistically based on anything that happens in this world. But there are few stories that describe the human condition and its consequences quite like those in the Bible. Lies. Rape. Murder. The very vilest acts conceivable. And redemption more beautiful than you would think possible.

It is to that world, primitive though not totally unlike our world today, that we are introduced in “Noah,” the big-budget film starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Sir Anthony Hopkins. And without going into too much analysis, or dropping spoilers (in case you don’t already know the ending), I just want to express what I took away from the movie. For someone who has read and heard stories from the Bible since my earliest memories, it gave me a fresh look at a story I have encountered countless times in my life. In short, I appreciated the imagination the movie brought to an already intriguing and fascinating story.

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This latest Noah film is not your typical Sunday School retelling.

I do not believe anyone could read the story of Noah, or most of the stories in the Bible for that matter, and not have questions. What questions arise when one reads the story of Noah?

What does it mean that Noah was righteous?
How did God speak to Noah?
How did Noah possibly build a boat that big with just him and his sons?
Wasn’t there anyone who opposed Noah during the building process?
How did all the animals get on the ark?
How did they care for all the animals on the ark?
What must it have been like to hear people dying outside the ark?

To me, the movie was the result of Hollywood filmmakers taking a story that already has so many unanswered questions, and using their imaginations to posit answers to those questions. To be sure, not all or even many of those involved with the story have an Evangelical Christian worldview, which is why there were so many elements of the movie that did not look like the traditional ideas taught by countless Sunday School teachers, and thereby angered many Christians.

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Sadly, I think many times we Christians lose our sense of wonder, our sense of how truly mysterious are the stories of the BIble. I have often been guilty of this. Maybe it is because we have become too familiar with these stories. Maybe we have not allowed ourselves to really sit with some of the hard questions about these stories. Maybe we do not like to feel like we don’t have answers. Maybe we find it hard to reconcile the God of mercy and jealous anger, the God of compassion and judgement. It seems we often settle for lame responses to profound queries, or we just resort to saying things like, “Well, God is God and He could figure it out.”

Many times, it is this lack of inquisitiveness that causes skeptics to doubt even more. And if you don’t believe non-Christians have reason to mock Christians’ lack of imagination, just check out this video.

What I want to say, to my fellow Christians and to myself, is this: “Don’t be afraid to have some imagination.” These stories in our holy book–what we call the Word of God–are truly amazing, and we cannot allow ourselves to lose the awe, not just in the events recounted, but in the God who orchestrated them. We may never know the answers to the countless questions we have, but that should not stop us from asking them, from wondering.

We should not be mad about this movie. We should embrace what it has to say to us, the way it brings fresh perspective to the story. We should be moved by a film in which “The Creator” is a central figure to the story. We ought to glory in the God who gave us these stories, in order to teach us and show us a glimpse of who He is.

So, did you see it? What did you think?

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Why I Like Easter Eggs

Yesterday was Easter, and Trinity Church members came together early in the morning to try something that we hadn’t done before: We took over a corner of George E. Elder Park and held a Community Egg Hunt. For staff members and volunteers alike, it was a busy morning, but oh so fulfilling to watch kids and parents thoroughly enjoy themselves. I mean, almost any kid would love playing with bubbles and hunting for eggs filled with candy, but even the grownups got excited to see both the fire and police department there to join in the fun.  Then, gathering back together at Trinity Church for our worship celebration was the perfect way to direct our attention to the reason for the special day: Jesus is alive.

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Let the egg hunt BEGIN!

After the dust settled and I was able to collect my thoughts, a few different things came to mind. First, I was thankful. I was thankful for the friends at Trinity who spent their morning helping to make this event happen. None of it would have happened without them. Second, I was humbled. Though putting together the Community Egg Hunt was no small task for the staff members, I can genuinely say for myself that all the effort I gave was the least I could do, for Jesus who gave all of himself.

Thirdly, though, I was mindful. I was mindful that not everyone yesterday was celebrating Easter the way we at Trinity celebrated. In fact, not even all Christians believe that what we did was good. To adopt what is to many a pagan ritual, such as an egg hunt, is offensive to some Christians. Now, as a Christian, I don’t worship any pagan god or any other god. However, I can see why it would seem strange and even wrong to some Christians and non-Christians alike to participate in something adopted from another religion. I’m not going to get into the history of Easter and Christianity here. For more on that, check out this helpful history lesson.

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There is a story that holds a lot of meaning to me, which illustrates why I support Easter eggs. A number of years back, there was a young girl who was on the playground with her friends. A nice lady approached them and invited them to a place the girl had never heard of, a place called church. This place called church also came with the promise of hard boiled eggs, which the little girl loved, so she followed this nice lady to church. At this point in the story, things could either get creepy or touching. For the little girl, her life was changed forever and for the best, on that day which also happened to be Easter Sunday.

That little girl went on to pray fervently for her own family, to become a masterful pianist, to travel the world sharing her music and expanding her worldview, to impact the lives of people she encountered everywhere she went, to blossom into a woman of integrity and strength. That woman became my wife and the mother of our two kids, and my life would never be the same were it not for that woman.

This may seem like a drastically subjective reason to support things like Easter eggs, but to me it also symbolizes something bigger than just my wife and her story. It symbolizes God’s power working through one simple act of kindness, one invitation, one meaningful conversation, one free gift. We never know what it will be that gets that friend to church, or even better yet to open up to God and abundant life. If something as simple–though controversial–as an egg can open doors we can’t even imagine, why hold it back? Why fight it?

Happy Easter Monday to all.

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A Declaration: Don’t Be Fooled

The following thoughts are controversial, but I feel this needs to be said.

ImageAfter the mess created by World Vision’s changed employee policy, I am more supportive than ever of Evangelical Christianity and its leaders. Franklin Graham, Denny Burk, Albert Mohler Jr., and John Piper: Thank you so much for presenting a reasonable and compassionate perspective, and helping Christians everywhere to live as Jesus did, to love as he calls us to. Now more than ever, I have no desire to distance myself from the institution that has become of Evangelical Christianity, for it has remained true to the real person and presence of Jesus Christ himself.

I mean, a social justice organization with a Christian foundation has no business changing policies about how gay Christians involved in a legal marriage are employed. And when they do, supporters are completely justified in cutting their contributions to the organization. Because that’s all they are supporting anyway right? The organization? That’s why I support World Vision. It provides me the opportunity to send my money to a building, where someone will use my money to help “those poor people” in other parts of the world. You know, those faceless people. I don’t have to get my emotions involved by supporting an individual child, a child with a name, a family (sometimes), goals and aspirations. If I am not satisfied with this organization’s policies, I can always just cut off my contributions and send my money elsewhere, because it’s not impacting anyone in particular. And if they offend me, and then they recant and I am satisfied, I can always just call and pick up another sponsor kid. Could be the same kid, maybe not. Whatever.ImageThis is what America–no, the world–needs to see, especially the LGBT community and their supporters. We are Evangelical Christians, and we won’t stand for these types of curve balls being thrown our way. We believe in grace, because without it we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on, but even grace has its limits. And we are willing to let more than 5,000 children go without support, regardless of how desperately they might need it, because the issue of gay marriage means that much to us. The most important thing Christians today can communicate to the LGBT community and supporters and the world is that we are so serious about our disapproval of them, that we will stop at nothing to make that disapproval known. Yes, that will show them the infinite love and justice of the God we believe in.

You want to serve the poor, clean up your act. You want to come to church, make sure you’re ready. You want a safe place to investigate faith and find out what God’s grace can do in your life, church is certainly not the place to look. And make no mistake, this is the message Evangelical Christianity proclaimed loud and clear over the past week. You thought is was just about World Vision and their employee policy? Think again. Evangelical Christian leaders and those who follow them have, once again, drawn that deep and angry line in the sand. And once again, the world that God loves so much that he gave his only son–including the LGBT community–has seen what is most important to them.

If we have learned anything from the life and teachings of Jesus, it’s that he was no friend of sinners. He had nothing to do with the lowly and outcast, the ones the religious leaders had shunned and condemned. We see this in stories like those of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), or the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), or Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), or his very own disciple, Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). It’s clear from these encounters that, were he here in the flesh today, he would have cut off his World Vision sponsorship too. He would tweet “Farewell, World Vision” for all the Twittersphere to behold. He would abandon the one, while simultaneously condemning and pushing away an entire community.

ImageSo, let it be known that I have voiced not just a position, but my heart here. There is far more I could say, but I could no longer hold it in. I can only take comfort in the fact that, in spite of years of prayer over this decision, Richard Stearns and the World Vision board managed to reverse the policy in a mere 48 hours. That is not heartbreaking at all, nor is it a tragic indicator of the political machine that has become of Evangelical Christianity.

In conclusion, Happy April Fool’s Day. May you, like I, run hard after Jesus’ heart in this world, so that the world can know that he lives, he loves, and he cannot be limited by Evangelical Christianity or anything else.

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Smells Like Pizza

It never fails: pizza draws attention like few things I’ve ever seen.

Every week, when I go onto our local public high schools to meet with the on-campus Christian clubs, I bring pizza with me.  It comes out of our church’s Local Impact budget, used as a way to bless the students and teachers, and to help students get to club quickly without having to stand in line for lunch. It’s a way to show our local schools that Trinity Church cares about them, and even those not part of the club–like administration, security guards, and other teachers, for example–have taken notice. And the sponsor teachers love it because they can use the leftovers as rewards for their good students.

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Check out the guy on the left. Totally in love with that slice of pizza.

Because let’s face it. There aren’t many teens who don’t like pizza. I can’t even count how many wide-eyed, open-mouthed stares I’ve received while carrying those Little Caesar’s boxes through the campuses. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to “hook it up.” And the reaction always starts the same: “Awww, pizza!” Hardened, tough, too-cool-for-school guys: “Awww, pizza!” Popular girls busy reapplying their makeup: “Awww, pizza!” The couple making out in the hall before class: “Awww, pizza.” Even parents, as they’re taking their sick kid home: “Awww, pizza!”

None of them is interested in me, the one carrying those Hot n’ Readies, but they sure are interested in what I have. They can’t even hide it.

I can’t help but think about my life as a Christian, and whether people’s reaction to me is the same as if I had pizza. Is my faith not only evident enough to others, but is it also attractive? By the way that I live out my commitment to Jesus Christ, do people run away from me or see something good? For people who are hungry–starving even–for Jesus’ hope and joy and peace and love and grace and forgiveness and acceptance, am I someone to be sought out or avoided?

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I know, not everyone is interested in Jesus, or at least what they perceive Jesus is. The likes of Christopher Hitchens and Hemant Mehta resist and even resent that I would even suggest they need Jesus. I don’t think it’s Jesus most people avoid, though; I think it’s his followers. We try too hard sometimes. All too often we’re judgmental. And boy do we suck at practicing what we preach. But God loves us, and He has called us to rise above the caricatures that have been assigned us, many times for good reason. I have to believe that if I follow Jesus’ lead then people will be attracted, because people were attracted to Jesus, and so they will be attracted to Jesus in me. Not everyone was attracted to Jesus, but those who were hungry were ravenous for him.

Here’s what the Apostle Paul has to say about this: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.” II Corinthians 2:14-17

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You probably shouldn’t smell like pizza all the time, but a follower of Jesus Christ must always give off the fragrance of Jesus. We’re not selling anything, but we’re living with the confidence and sincerity of knowing that God dwells within us.

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Coffee Houses and Churches

1230013_824326624251306_1025499660_nThis past Sunday, television and social media were all abuzz with news of award winners, best and worst dressed, and John Travolta’s inability to pronounce people’s names. And I was in a small coffee shop with my friends, putting on a show. In the middle of our busy lives, we came together, rehearsed, got all sweaty setting up, to bring music to a street corner in Montebello. And what did we have to show for it? Besides the packed out venue, full of people listening to the very end? We raised over $350 for clean water projects in Africa. That’s 7 people who have clean water for life. And that’s truly awesome.

But that’s not even what I’m most excited about. No, even more than the numbers of people or of money, I was completely thrilled to see the Church–Christ’s body in action–happening in that place. We did it for the people of Africa, we did it in God’s love, and we did it as a community and outside the walls of the church campus. As my friend, Pastor Albert Hung, put it so eloquently, (and I’m paraphrasing here), “There are two places that are great for people coming together: coffee houses and churches.” Both of those came together last Sunday night, and I couldn’t imagine 555345_10152452492775473_1432510448_na more fitting combination: a coffee house and a church. A coffee house as a church. What is a church? Altogether now: “The church is not the building. It’s the people.”

I love it when church goes to the streets. I get excited when I hear stories of bars turning into worship gatherings, even if just for one morning a week. I am inspired by the creativity of people who make church not look like the same old church. If it helps bring people closer to Jesus, then I say the sky is the limit.

Church is a spiritual conversation between friends over drinks. Church is caring for a struggling family. Church is Matthew McConaughey thanking God after winning his Best Actor award. (Stay with me. I’m not claiming him for Evangelical Christianity, but you could hear a pin drop when the Entity was introduced.) And church is hundreds of people running a marathon because we care about folks in Africa we may very well never meet. Church is Christ’s body in action.

Where do you see church happening?

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On Underwear, Justin Beiber, and Being Yourself

“The most powerful person is the one who is being himself.” – T. M. (An old acquaintance I saw the other day for the first time in several years, completely out of the blue.)

I was recently commended for being someone who doesn’t pretend to be someone I am not.  I’d like to think that’s true, especially even if it paints me in a less than perfect light, but I can think of dozens of times I have at least tried out being someone I am not.  I must concede, it just doesn’t feel right.  Like the one time in high school I tried to walk up to a girl at the mall and simply ask for her number.  Couldn’t do it.  It just wasn’t me.

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I have been through phases in my life where I tried to dress a certain way to please friends or fit a style, but I always eventually come back to being most comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt.  I once tried to dress like an older friend of  mine, who liked to wear a baseball cap hooked onto her belt buckle.  I know, ridiculous right?  And I got a hat that looked like the one she had, but mine had a big “X” on it, but I didn’t know it stood for Malcolm X.  People looked at me weird for being a goofy kid walking around wearing that hat, but I just thought it looked cool.  But clothes are superficial; they are only a shadow of the real person someone is.

Pop Stars and Comedians

Learning to be oneself is probably one of the great battles or journeys of any person’s life.  I wonder how many people actually learn to spread the wings they were born to spread and really fly, before their time on this planet is up.  I long to do this.  I am still learning what exactly it means, but I think I have a better understanding now in my 30s than I did in my 20s, and definitely more than I did in my teens.

I am learning that, in reality, everyone is him/herself.  We can’t help but be ourselves.  It’s just a matter of whether or not we are acting like ourselves.  It’s kind of like saying that someone is walking around in their underwear.  Of course you’re walking around in your underwear, (unless you’re not), but what makes the difference is all the other things you may or may not have on over and around it.  Are you acting like you or are you acting like you with a bunch of other stuff piled on?

Take Justin Beiber for example.  He is called many things, particularly by the people who can’t stand him: spoiled, disrespectful, entitled, arrogant, reckless, etc.  But wait: most people who can’t stand him don’t even know him.  What they can’t stand is what they know of him.  It’s what they see.  That’s all the stuff piled on.  For more on this, check out this post about Justin Beiber, and something a comedian said about people like him.

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The Beibs’ mugshot from last week

So…what?

Here’s the bottom line for me.  When the biblical book of Genesis records that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him,” I believe He was essentially talking about us being ourselves.  Being created in the image of God does not mean we look like God in appearance, but it means that we were made to act like God.  That we walk in compassion and strength and holiness.  That we live in complete harmony with God and one another.  In other words, we are most being ourselves–the selves we were created to be–when we are acting in God’s image.  And the perfect picture of acting in God’s image was lived out in the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I dare anyone to say Jesus was not fully being himself.

I know many will say that Christians have a pessimistic, judgmental, dark, and harsh view of people; we say everyone is born in sin and therefore naturally a sinner.  But, I don’t believe that’s what the creation story tells us at all.  I think just the opposite.  The sin is the stuff piled onto who we really are, who we were created to be.  Yes, I believe that sin is piled on from birth, but it is still not natural to us.  It feels natural, and so much easier to choose than righteousness, but that’s only because it’s piled on so thick.  It’s not who we are.

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Click on the pic to see a better view.

Yes, I believe that sin is more than a cosmetic issue, and I fully resonate with Jeremiah 17:9 when it laments, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”  I can relate to the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, when he cries out, “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  And I breathe a sigh of relief when he answers, “I thank God–through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

However, I cannot shake the reality that I am made in His likeness and image.  That is who I am.  That is what defines me.  That is who I desire to be.  I am myself when I am acting like God, following Jesus.  When Jesus saves me, he saves me from the layers of sin that has imposed itself on my identity, and saves me to be the man he always meant for me to be in the first place.  That’s the me I was born to be.

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It’s ok to be sad at Christmastime

The tension hung thick in the air at my wife’s winter piano recital.  The young girl had arrived late, and now she was the last performer of the afternoon.  With head bowed and tears in her eyes, she approached the piano, turned to the audience, and curtsied.  And as she began to play, it seemed as though her emotions would not get the best of her after all, and that she would complete her two recital pieces.  Then, halfway through the first number, she stalled.  She tried again and stopped.  She timidly touched the keys one last time.  And then she burst into tears, burying her face in her hands.

This brave 11-year old had gone as far as she could go, but her resolve was no match for the sorrow in her heart.  See, she was late to the recital because she had come straight from the funeral of her best friend’s mother.  She had spent the last few months by her best friend’s side, and watched her mother’s steady decline.  And now she had been expected to make the mental and emotional switch to performing not one, but two piano pieces before an audience who had no clue as to her personal state.

Ironically enough, she never got to play her second number, and the final performance of the winter recital, which was to be none other than the holiday classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

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Sad at Christmastime?

It is not uncommon for me to hear that this time of year is often hardest, from people who have experienced loss and tragedy.  I know quite a number of people who are hurting at this time of year, and I try to remember to ask how they are doing and offer to pray for them.  The very religious, the agnostic, and even the atheist alike all at least appreciate the gesture, if they don’t wholeheartedly accept the offer for prayer.  I can imagine I would feel the same way.  While everyone else is hustling and bustling around (in merriment or shopping stress), it must be comforting to know that someone recognizes that not everyone is excited about this season.  One day it will be me having a blue Christmas, or many blue Christmases, and I’m sure I’d like someone to recognize I’m not in the celebrating mood.

But I have a strong word for those in pain this year.  Something I need you to hear.  With all the love in my heart, and hoping you know that you have my support, I tell you this: there is absolutely no need to apologize for how you feel during Christmas, or any holiday for that matter.  You are nochristmas-sad-tree-400x400t a Debbie Downer for being honest about the heartache in your life.  Those who truly care about you are willing to hear about your pain and will mourn with you.  And most of all, I believe there is a God who deeply understands your pain and stays by your side during even the darkest times.

My heart broke for this little girl, my wife’s piano student, who repeatedly choked out through her tears, “I’m so sorry.  I’m so sorry.”  No, little sister.  You don’t need to be sorry.  Jesus, and those who love you, are right by your side hurting with you.

Best Place to Be at Christmastime

In John 1, we read that Jesus was/is the light of the world.  And it says that “light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  It was into this dark and dangerous, tragic and terrifying world that Jesus willfully, knowingly came.  He came for us, to rescue us.  To be our light in the darkness.charliebrown

I would like to posit that being sad at Christmastime might possibly be the best place for someone to experience the essence of Christmas.  For who can celebrate more than someone who is steeped in sadness and despair, who is finally told that there is hope?  Who can celebrate love more than the one who has only felt loneliness?  For whom is good news greater: for the one who is already happy or for the one who has almost forgotten what good news sounds like?

I’m not downplaying the pain that many are going through this season, and I don’t wish heartbreak on anyone.  But it’s this heartbroken and broken world to which Jesus, my Savior, came to overcome.  That is what Advent, the coming of Jesus Christ, means.  Immanuel.  God is with us.  Yes, even in the midst of your sorrow.

So, go ahead.  Cry.  Don’t feel bad about your depression at Christmastime.  Let others be with you in your pain.  And cry out to a God who is well acquainted with your suffering and whose presence is like a balm for your aching soul.

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