Monday, December 24, 2012

Art of distraction...

The art of distraction.  We're all experts at it.  We start out as tiny babies who know exactly what they want and can't really be distracted from it.  I poop my diaper, I scream; I'm hungry, I scream; I'm scared, I scream... the list goes on.  They're simple missions, but they're clear to us as babies.  At some point, though, it's like we go through this secret training society that teaches us how to avoid the real issues.  We go from the baby, knowing exactly what's needed, to the adult, who does everything they can to distract ourselves and everyone else from it.

What do I mean by this?  I'm speeding down the highway and get stuck behind someone going slower, so I tailgate and wave my arms and curse the other person's existence for slowing me down... even though they're not the ones breaking the law.  Somehow, it's still their fault.  I'm depressed or bored, but instead of dealing with the issue, I eat to make myself feel better.  Pretty soon, I'm overweight and depressed and eat to feel better...instead of dealing with the real issue, I distracted myself with something else.  I do something wrong and hurt someone else, but when they confront me with it I try to pass the blame onto someone or something else, even if it's the very person I hurt.  I disagree with someone about an issue, but if I can't defeat them, I try to discredit them personally or twist some small thing they said to distract other people and myself from the fact they're actually correct.

Why do you think we uniformly learn this art of distraction, even though none of us are schooled in it unless you take speech and debate?

Because it's Satan's biggest tool.

Satan uses the art of distraction all the time to tear our focus away from the center point of our lives: Jesus.  In Revelation 12:9(NIV), Satan is described as the one "who leads the whole world astray."  And isn't distraction the most beautiful, crafty way to do it?  With distraction, you don't even have to convince someone to do something that anyone would perceive as wrong.  You just make sure they miss the point.

I bring this up because of the season it is.  It's so easy to get distracted.  After all, Christmas is about
Lights on the house,
Christmas Tree up,
Decorations Up,
Christmas Cookies,
Christmas Turkey/Ham/Goose,
Christmas Cards,
Christmas Vacation,
Christmas Presents,
Christmas Parties,
Time with family...

At least... isn't it?


But wait a minute!!  Time with family is on there!  Isn't that important?!?  Of course it is.  And really, none of these things on the list are bad in-and-of-themselves.  They can be wonderful, lovely things that bring people together, express love for others, and bring people joy... But if that's all there is, they are distractions.

"The one who is the true light [Jesus], who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.  So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son." - John 1:9-14(NLT)

So this Christmas, as you eat those Christmas cookies and tear into those Christmas presents under the lights of the Christmas tree... remember the "true light," the undeserved gift that is Jesus Christ.  Satan will try to distract you, but all this Christmas wonder is ours because of what God has done for us.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." - Luke 2:8-11(NIV)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Do not lose heart...

In light of all that happened last week in America, namely, the shootings in Connecticut that resulted in the deaths of young children and their teachers, a lot of questions have been asked.  Are American gun laws not strict enough?  Are they too strict?  Is the issue even about gun control?  Is the issue how the mentally handicapped are cared for in this country?  Is the issue the creation of an overly-aggressive culture from video games and movies?  How can we make schools safer?.... The list goes on and on.  Ultimately, can we ever have the "right" answers?  People have been killing each other for centuries, for millennium!  It started in Exodus 4 when Cain murdered his brother, Abel, in the fields, or you could say it technically started even before that, when Eve and Adam first allowed themselves to be tempted by Satan all the way back in Genesis 3, right at the dawn of humanity.  That day they began to die as they passed out of the Garden of Eden, their genes and flesh and all the world condemned to the slow decay of time.  Long before those children in Connecticut were even born, children all over the world were dying in unsafe workhouses, being prostituted on the streets before they were even ten, forced into military service, and murdered at birth because of physical imperfections or disabilities.  Ancient (and not-so-ancient) societies used to believe that every thing about a country, even its people, became spoils of war in victory.  Women became toys, children became target practice, men became slaves.  Entire cultures of people have been wiped out of the histories of the world.  Families have been destroyed.

We have progressed since then... or so we claim.  Yet the same things still happen.  Children are still murdered, are still trafficked into the sex trade, are still worked to death, are still forced into military service, are still murdered before they have a chance to live.  Women and men are still treated as less-than-human, both in the ways they always have been... and in the more "refined" ways of civilized society.  How many of us have been annoyed to arrive at a store and find it closed?  How many of us have snapped waiting in line and seeing a cashier just up and leave?  How many of us have looked down on people in "labor" positions because they "don't have a 'real' job?"  Have we really changed at all?  Or we just make more of an effort to hide what humanity has always been: morally bankrupt.

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." -Matthew 5:5(NIV)

What does being "meek" have to do with all that I have just said?  Being meek here isn't talking about being a pushover, about letting people say and do whatever they want to us because we're "nice Christians."  No.  Being meek here means moving on from what we talked about last week in my entry "That is our comfort...", where we talked about how easy it is to recognize that we living in a sick world and mourn it.  This passage is about the next step... and perhaps the most difficult: recognizing we are completely unable to change the way the world is.  Meekness - humbleness - is recognizing that we are just as corrupt as the world and are in no position to be able to change this overwhelming wickedness.  We couldn't even save twenty children in our own backyard.  Yes, we may reduce the deaths... but we will never be able to stop the evil in this world from rearing its ugly head in some other way.  It will always come back, each time more tricky than before... each time spreading through us like a cancer.

You may disagree, but think of every Utopian society man has tried to create: the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, the Republic of China, the Democratic Republic of Korea, the Roman Empire, the British Empire, the United States of America... Each one of these nations had a view, in their own way, that they were bringing on a better order than had ever been known before.  Yet... has anything really changed since the sun rose on any one of these nations?  No.

So where do we turn?  How can we go on knowing that ultimately, all our efforts to create a perfect world are meaningless in ending the overall existence of evil?

 "I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, 'Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.'  And the one sitting on the throne said, 'Look, I am making everything new!'" 
 - Revelation 21:3-5a(NLT)

When Christ returns... the existence of evil will end.  All these things that cause us to mourn, that remind us of how powerless we are alone... will be overthrown.  God, Himself, will live with us... and will heal the world from what it has become.  That is the earth we have to inherit, not this broken husk on which we now place our feet. SO:

"Do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." - 2 Corinthians 4:16b-18(NIV)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

That is our comfort....

My bachelor's degree is in international studies, a degree that incorporates geography, anthropology, economics, politics and history to understand regions of the world and why they are the way they are.  When I studied this field, I particularly found myself drawn to the study of human rights, including how they are abused around the world and what the international community does (or doesn't do) to avert human rights abuses.  Let me tell you, this is not the most encouraging field of study.  There were mornings were I wondered if it was worth getting out of bed because there was so much wrong with the world and no body seemed willing or able to fix it.  I felt depressed for a week after writing a paper about how rape is used as a weapon of genocide and ethnic cleansing across the world.  What baffled me was how people get to where they can perpetrate these kind of horrors on another human being... and how could it be that they could continue to do it with the full knowledge of a world that had developed documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  For example, the government of Burma/Myanmar has been systematically murdering ethnic minorities in its country for sixty years, hundreds of thousands have died... and yet nothing changes.

This brings me to the second beatitude in Matthew 5:4(NIV):
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

If you have ever looked around the world and realized that it is utterly broken - and mankind is entirely to blame for it - you have mourned.  How can it not be?  There was a ten-year old girl that was abducted, sexually assaulted, and dismembered this year in my area.  Every day, women in this country are trafficked illegally into the sex trade in this country and in countries all over the world.  Thousands of teens and children commit suicide every year.  Every year, people in this country trample each other to death or assault one another for nothing more than the chance to get ahead of another person for a Black Friday sale at a store the day after they celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday focused on giving thanks for all the blessings in their lives.  In America, fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.  The average age someone is first exposed to pornography is eleven.

This world is sick.

It is easy to believe everything is hopeless; that this is just the way the world is and there is no escape from it.  Yet Matthew 5:4 says we are blessed when we mourn, for we "will be comforted."  What comfort can possibly outweigh all this?

"For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people.  And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.  He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing good deeds." - Titus 2:11-14(NLT)

This world... this life... is not all there is.  There is a God who was not content to linger in heaven without a care for His fallen creation.  He acted.  He invaded this "evil world" as a man and "gave his life to free us."  And now... we who have been set free can look forward to the day when all evil will be ended when Jesus Christ will return... and until then, we know that God continues to fight for this world - through us.  Through we who believe, He works to bring the light of Christ into the lives of others, changing the world one soul at a time.  So yes, this world is sick, but there is also this:

This world has hope: Jesus.

That is our comfort.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The poor have it all....

In teaching circles, it seems like common knowledge that if you teach something, you learn it much more thoroughly than you ever have before.  I had heard this saying even before I was a church worker, but now that I have spent a few years writing Bible studies and teaching children, youth, and adults... I understand how true this is.  It is especially true of teaching something like the Word of God, which is called "living and active" in Hebrews 4:12(NIV).  You can learn a particular story and passage a dozen times, and still turn around to read it one day and have a whole new understanding of what you read that revolutionizes the way you think or act.  This is not to say the meaning changes, but knowing the words of the Bible is like knowing a person: even if you've known them for your whole life, they can still surprise you.

Recently, I taught a study on the Beatitudes, which are the first part of Jesus' "Sermon on the Mount," and are recorded in Matthew 5:1-12.  I had read through the Beatitudes probably a million times, had sat through several bible studies on them, and had even written the study that I taught.  Yet, as I discussed the Beatitudes with the youth mentors who would teach the study to their small group of youth, and as I taught it to my youth small group... the significance of this passage overwhelmed me again.

This passage is a description of Christian living, or at least... of what Christian living should look like as we are transformed more and more by the love of Christ and motivated by the Holy Spirit to live out that transformation in the lives of others.  I would love to explore all of them today, but I think over the next few weeks I will explore them in chunks and how I have understood them in my life.

The first Beatitude is:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:3(NIV) 

What a contradiction this first verse seems!  The "poor in spirit" receives "the kingdom of heaven"?!  But I think it is no contradiction at all, but fits beautifully with the message of Christ.  Romans 3:23(NIV) states, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."  We are all "poor in spirit" because we have all done things for which we are ashamed, and we have all looked at the world and thought "This is wrong."  We know that we are not as we should be, and it is clear every day that the world is not as it should be.  

Yet, in this moment, God does not leave us in the shame of recognizing our own failings or the despair that the world is corrupt and broken.  In the same verse where we are called "poor in spirit," God offers this undeserved gift, "theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  In Luke 17:20-21, we learn the "Kingdom of God" is Jesus himself, for when Jesus is asked "When will the Kingdom of God come?", He replies, "the Kingdom of God is already among you," indicating Himself there speaking with them!  So when we, in our brokenness, are offered the "kingdom of God," we are offered Christ, Himself!  In that moment when we recognize how many mistakes we make and how horrible this world is, how completely contrary everything in life is to an absolutely perfect God... this same perfect God steps in and offers life! 

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." - Jesus (John 10:10b)