Friday, March 28, 2014

Big Love

Today I was reading on a Christian blog about a young couple that had showed tremendous amounts of faithfulness and love in their relationship. The article was accompanied by a link to a video of the young couple overcoming great adversity in order to finally become engaged. When I linked to YouTube to watch the video, the sidebar contained numerous videos with titles like, "Coolest Proposal Ever," and "Ultimate Wedding Proposal Video." Honestly, I was intrigued and spent several minutes watching a few of the videos. Some of the proposals were cute, some were classy, and some were outrageous. One involved a celebrity appearance and another involved dogs dressed in wedding garb. The young men who had planned these proposals had obviously gone to a lot of trouble to prepare, execute, and document their efforts at wooing their girlfriends. The amount of thought was impressive, but something about these social media-friendly proposals struck me the wrong way. Romantic love is a wonderful feeling and one that needs to be celebrated, but romantic love is also a deeply personal emotion. Regardless of their intent, these young men had chosen to share that intimate emotion with the world and a part of me wonders, "Where does it end?" Many of us remember elementary school on Valentine's Day when parents (and sometimes students) attempted to one-up each other with the size and cost of their gifts. In a world where we share more of ourselves than ever before, I think we have mistaken exposure for intimacy. In your online life, I would encourage you to think before you share. Does what I am about to share send out positive energy into the world? Would my spouse/parents/children mind me sharing this with millions of other people? Will sharing this event/photo/experience cheapen its value in the eyes of the people it directly affects?
I can't pretend the romantic in me didn't enjoy some of those videos, but I also know that those events should have been just as special to those couples even if I had never known about them. Be careful with your heart, and be sure that when you are sharing it you know the true reason why.

Have a great weekend! 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Snow Days and Jesus

This past week, school was out all week due to the ice, snow, and severe weather.  Kids (and probably teachers too) love getting that call or seeing that announcement roll across the TV screen.  Snow days are like an unexpected vacation and a welcome break from the classroom.  After two or three days, however, parents begin to hear the cries of, “I’m bored!” and “There is nothing to do!”  The excitement of the break has worn off and now kids are ready to see their friends and be back in routine.  Life is like that.  We spend a lot of time hoping something will happen and when it finally does we are happy for a moment.  Then, of course, we wish something else would happen and we are dissatisfied until we get our way again.  
This phenomena is nothing new.  Many people are always looking for the "next thing."  In contrast to that mentality, Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, 
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
The secret to contentment is not our circumstances, but instead it is found by fully placing our trust in Christ.  As long as we are focused solely on our own passing desires, we will never find true happiness.  We must look to Jesus to be the source of contentment for our daily lives.  When we trust Christ with our past, our present, and our future, we have the opportunity to find satisfaction in living for Him. 
I hope as you live your life in the days to come you will seek to find your satisfaction in a relationship with Jesus Christ.  If you do not know Christ as Lord in your life, reach out and ask questions that will help you make a decision about letting Him reign in you.  Family, friends, and church support can only do so much.  You must be willing to seek Jesus for yourself and be willing to trust Him for all that He is.  Jesus is more than the "next thing" in your life - when He has His proper place, He influences everything in your life.  People who have been affected by Jesus know that they are different now than they were before the encounter.  When Jesus is truly present in your life, your thankfulness is richer, your peace is more complete, and your passions are more focused than ever before.  People change when Jesus and His teachings come into their lives.  May we always seek to be changed by our encounters with Christ and may we seek to share those experiences with others.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Real persecution, real hope

I have a poster taped to the wall in my office that says in large, bold letters, "Pray." 
In smaller writing on the poster, it explains that the poster itself is to serve as a reminder to pray for the persecuted church throughout the world. In tiny print, the poster lists nations where it is illegal to be a Christian. A second list on the poster recounts nations that are hostile areas for the spread of Christianity. Although I wish the need for it didn't exist, I like this poster and I have had it so long that it has begun to yellow at the edges. Every time I go in my office to work on a lesson or to look up something in a commentary or to sit in my big chair and pray, I am reminded that other people throughout the world do not have those privileges and opportunities. At this very moment, Christians are meeting in secret throughout the world and their prayer is that someday they might share their faith openly.
I am disturbed by the number of Christians in our country who seem to feel that respecting other people is the equivalent of persecution. While we should always be watchful, we should also remember that our civil rights are finite and guaranteed not by God but by the state. If it became illegal to be a Christian tomorrow in the United States, how many people would simply fade away from our churches?  If the government suddenly declared that all Christians must worship in certain places and use certain names and must abandon God-given practices in our worship, how many would go along, how many would fall away, how many would continue to worship in secret? My Christian friends who currently feel persecuted in America are misguided. Christians in the United States do not have it too hard; we have it too easy. Anyone can become bitter and angry and rail against society and gripe about the government. It takes a true Christian spirit to live with patience and with hope - someone who looks ahead realizing that this is not the end. We are the richest nation on earth, and yet spiritually many live in poverty. We have unlimited access to Scripture and spiritual resources and we leave our Bibles in the pews at the church building to mark our empty seats throughout the week. We have dust on our Bibles, and as consequence, we have souls that are soiled with greed and anger, pride and lust. 
I believe our only hope is to go back to our roots. Not the judgmental self-righteousness of the Puritans or the American belief in self-reliance, but further back to the start of the church itself. To the Spirit-filled, Christ-centered, people-focused love of the early church. Congregations that had great problems, but also had great faith. Congregations that were contemporary to their times, but also living for eternity. Congregations that did not judge those in the world, but righteously judged those within their midst. If the church wants to be great, it will cease trying to be American, and start trying to be authentic. Christians in America don't need to win the culture wars in order to be pleasing to God; instead, we need to be a people that love peace and treat all people with respect and dignity. We must not compromise the truth, but we must acknowledge that not everyone sees life in the same way we do. Even in the midst of our current cultural chaos, I still feel the future of the church has never been brighter. If we stay true to Christ and live for His glory and not our own, no passing storm can endanger us. We are a forever kingdom, and when the nations of this world change and are forgotten, the church will stand. If we are going to be known for something, let's be known not for all the things we wouldn't do, but as a loving, celebrating people. It's only when people see our joy that their hearts can be changed. I want people to change, but not so they are more like me. I want to change, and I want others to change and for us all to be transformed into the image of Christ.