Until Death.

A month or so ago, I began reading through the book of Acts. My goal was/is to read it literally–to understand the people in the book, to think about it critically and understand what’s really happening in the book. I want, when reading the Bible, to put myself in it, and think about what it’d be like if I were there, and if I saw some of these things happen or heard some of these people say what they did. 

Therefore, I was given a great deal of pause in Acts 21, when Paul is urged not to go to Jerusalem. A prophet had taken Paul’s belt and bound his own (the prophet’s) hands with it, saying that the Holy Spirit told him that whoever’s belt that was was going to be similarly bound by the Gentiles. Luke and the others who’d been travelling with Paul BEGGED him not to go, and Paul’s response was this: “why are you so upset? I don’t care if they bind me, I don’t care if they kill me for Jesus’ sake.”

If you don’t take a little pause from this, your reaction will be to make yourself try to be zealous so that you, like Paul, have the willingness to die for Jesus. You begin to think about every scenario, every form of torture, every affliction that Paul endured and ask yourself, “could I do that?” 

I submit this to you: Paul wasn’t trying to get himself killed. Paul had the willingness to die for Jesus, but he never says he has the desire. Don’t get me wrong, Paul knew it’d be better to be with the Lord than here on earth, but he didn’t despise his earthly home, knowing that he was to make the most of his time here (see 2 Corinthians 5.) Paul didn’t have a death wish. If we misinterpret his words and his attitude to believe he does, we create a problem for ourselves (at least in American society) : we don’t often have the opportunity to die for our faith. If we go around believing that dying for and suffering for our faith is the litmus test for our sincerity, we’ll be miserable, because we’ll never get a chance to “prove” ourselves. 

Instead, I would propose that Paul was so enraptured with the gospel, that not even death seemed relevant anymore. Furthermore, Paul, being a preacher and an apostle, had the chance to tell countless others the story of the gospel. His impact on the church was that thousands, if not millions, were able to learn the truth about our flawed spiritual state and how God became a man (Jesus) to live perfectly and be killed as though He were the worst of sinners, bearing and burying our sin in the process, and then rising up to return back to His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father (two-thirds of the Trinity) and sending the Holy Spirit to us (the other third) to live in us and testify of Jesus. That was so important to Paul that death no longer was. Paul was not trying to repay Jesus–in fact, he said he considered his life to be nothing. Paul knew that there was no repaying what Jesus had done, but instead, as a believer, he was entrusted with the ministry of revealing Jesus to others by the power of the Holy Spirit. The reality of Jesus–who He was and what He’d done–was far more important than any other thing imaginable in a physical body–even death.

As a preacher, I’m convicted (which simply means convinced, not guilt-tripped) by this truth. And my response to it is not to try to stir up zeal in myself, but to reflect and think about the responsibility with which I’ve been entrusted: to tell people the gospel. I’m challenged not to make myself more passionate, but to remember how glorious the gospel is and be compelled by the love of Jesus to continue to spread His message, to exalt Him, and to rejoice in new life, and let that be my top priority. 

Don’t kill yourself (or try to get yourself killed) for your love of Jesus. Instead, let that passion be the biggest thing and override anything else, even fear of death.

My problem with video games…

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With the last semester ending, I have a lot more “free time.” Time to do what I want to do, things I find relaxing, entertaining, etc. My instinct is to play on my xbox, but lately I’ve discovered why I don’t like video gaming…

I play three games: FIFA (12, if you’re wondering,) NCAA Football (11, if you’re wondering,) and my little brothers and I play Super Smash Bros Brawl.

The problem I see emerge though is that I notice a false sense of accomplishment arise in each one, along with an addiction to that success that keeps us coming back for more. Let me explain, game-by-game.

Super Smash Bros Brawl

The main thing you want to do here is to unlock all of the characters. This can be accomplished either through a game mode called the subspace emissary, by playing a certain number of matches, completing a certain challenge, or beating the classic mode on a particular difficulty/with a certain character. So once it’s done, there’s really not much else to do. Granted, it’s a party game, designed for multiple players to just brawl (hence the name) and hopefully, there’ll be a different winner every time and everyone keeps having fun. So to an extent, I think SSB:B serves its purpose, but as a stand-alone, solo game, there’s not much to accomplish.

FIFA

I started a career as a player-manager of Derby County, and as the manager you not only manage formation and tactics, but try to balance morale, form, and energy and also make signings in the transfer window to improve your side. I managed Derby out of the N-power championship and into the English Premier League, and while I haven’t finished the season yet, I remain atop the table and win almost every game. It gets boring.

NCAA Football

This one’s probably the worst. I’ll start a dynasty with a team, recruit, play big games, and try to improve the reputation of myself as a coach as well as my program (sometimes it’s fun to take a big-name school and continue success, but it’s a better challenge to take a team that isn’t usually very good and make them good.) You play a season, recruit, set depth chart, redshirt, and make the schedule for the next year, and then start it. What keeps it addicting though is that needs change, and players are only in for four years, so there are constantly needs to be filled in recruiting, so one keeps on playing. It’s quite addicting, even though playing the games gets tedious. It’s easy to waste hours at a time, just because it’s cool to imagine that a team would be that good. 

The problem (and this is at least for me, I don’t put others down for playing video games) is that there is, like I said, a false sense of accomplishment and an addiction that I form. The reality is, what does it matter if, in a hypothetical world, I make a mid-major program into a national powerhouse? It means nothing, ultimately. I have wasted valuable hours doing something that could be taken away by erasing a hard drive.

All this is a very long-winded way of saying: maybe there are better ways I can be spending time. Actually, skip the maybe. There definitely are. 

On signs and wonders.

I’ve heard it said that when hearing a sermon or having a discussion, it’s good that one leaves with more questions than answers. This is one of those things–I’m by no means writing about something I think that I have figured out, but rather something that continually baffles and confounds me.

I’ve been reading through the book of Acts over the past two weeks–a chapter or two every night before bed–and tweeting out the CliffNotes of what happened in that particular chapter. I keep reading about the apostles performing miracles, signs and wonders, and what follows. Sometimes they preached repentance, sometimes they were esteemed as gods (and they had to correct that thinking, reminding the people of who God really was.)

The thing that always gives me the heebie-jeebies (that’s in the Greek) about healing, both in the Bible as well as in modern days is the spectacle of it. I get chills up my spine when I see videos these days of people who are trying to extend a shortened leg (I’ve read something about that too, by the way, people naturally sit in a way that causes one leg to look shorter when they’re sitting down and extend their legs, and then usually are leaning to look) or healing a back or something and they try to sound either extra-spiritual or extra-casual (the beach bum healer thing really gets at me.) 

When I read that Peter saw it (the people being amazed at the healing that had just taken place, in Acts 3:1-12) I have two responses. One is that Peter was looking for that amazement, or two is that it was just such a strong reaction that he couldn’t help but notice. I like to think it’s the latter, but at the same time, when I see videos of people doing healing and they are like “isn’t that cool? That’s God, bro. That’s God.” the approach reeks to me of insincerity. 

There’s a lot of debate today about whether healing is for today or not. Here’s my stance:

God can do anything He wants. We read about healing in Acts. It happened after Jesus went back up to heaven. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that God has given some gifts of healing and the working of miracles. So, I have no reason to believe it’s NOT for today. I honestly believe that if we ask God to heal someone, He’ll do it. I don’t believe all the “you-don’t-believe-enough” stuff. God is a Father, and if His kids need help, He’ll help them. 


However, (and here’s the balance I need to figure out, and the internal battle I face) I don’t love this whole “healing ministry” thing. I’ve too often been made to feel like I’m not doing enough if I’m not regrowing someone’s limbs or sewing together their ACL with my faith. I don’t think everyone is called out to go out on the street and do this kind of ministry. I’m much more of the mind that we should get people together to talk systematic theology.

AH!

That’s the rub.

What I’m called to, not everyone else is called to. I’m called to be a teacher, and I believe God’s given me a gift of faith. Others are called to be healers, because God’s given them a gift of healing!

Fortunately, this blog has given me a chance to flesh some things out, and given me a different perspective on some things. I had to write in a shortened amount of time, so I probably left some stuff out. 

I probably left some things unclear, so I openly invite your thoughts and opinions on this sort of thing, I’d love to discuss it more!

Lessons in dependence: seven things I learned from my new job.

quick disclaimer: I do not believe my employers are God, nor do I think they’re perfect, nor do I think they’re all powerful. This is just a convenient place to take away some lessons, and these are comparisons, not absolute statements. thank you.

I’ve learned a lot about what it means to depend from my job. For anyone who doesn’t know, I work for/with some friends of mine who own their own coffee shop, and the fact that I am an employee at a small business has taught me some things.

1. God chooses us.

I returned from Boston, Massachusetts late on the night of August 2nd, and went to Purdy’s first thing on Tuesday (the 3rd) to read and hang out. I was extremely homesick and this place was home for me. This was the time they sat me down and talked to me about working with them. The amazing thing about it was that I was chosen, and I didn’t have to ask. God similarly chooses us. Now, the humanity in this lesson is that God doesn’t choose selectively–but in saying that God chooses us I mean that God wants all of humanity without bias or discrimination based on personal characteristics. I also feel I should make it a point–they could ask me and choose me all they wanted, but at some point I had to accept the job. In the same manner, we have to believe.

2. Make your requests known to God.

One of my favorite things about working at a coffee shop is that you make minimum wage (at least) but you also get tips. These are helpful for things like gas, eating out, or that CD I wanted that I couldn’t budget for. Sometimes though, it becomes an emergency, and I need tips desperately. I HATE asking for things, but I also know that if I ask for my boss to distribute tips (since there’s not really a set time to do it,) she will. I don’t know if she hates it when I ask, but the point here is that I know I can ask, and (usually) not be rejected by her. God is a more perfect provider in that we can ask Him for the things we need (again, this illustration isn’t perfect, don’t get the idea that I think God gives us tips because we earned them!) and He is going to hear us and provide for us without rejecting us. Also, His supply is limitless–it doesn’t depend on whether or not there are resources available, because they always are.

3. God empowers believers.

At first, it was difficult for me to take up initiative because so many of the customers were accustomed to my bosses, who were the only ones who usually worked. But eventually, they got used to me, and I’ve gotten used to them (mostly) and I am empowered by my bosses to take care of the front while they do other things. In a similar fashion, God gave us a commission to rule over and subdue the earth. God doesn’t have to hold our hand through all of it (although He does watch over us, and He will help us) but empowers His kids (not employees) to live on the earth.

4. God’s not looking over our shoulders.

This might be the hardest one for me. I’m used to having far more structured employers–more supervision, more lists, more tasks, etc. However, things are pretty loose at Purdy’s. By and large, as long as I am not leaving things in a state that is going to make things inconvenient later (either for myself or for others) I can relax in down time, even read a book and work on homework when it’s slow. This is a huge blessing. God isn’t looking over our shoulders. Guess what? We can do whatever we want! Not all things are lawful, so just like it’s not a good idea for me to leave the portafilters without cleaning them in the machine, it’s not a good idea for me to go have sex before I get married, but I think you get the idea. Some things are good ideas, some things are not, and all things are accessible. Crazy. 

5. God trusts us.

This one piggybacks the last one. I truly believe that God trusts His kids–mostly because He has given them a new nature and He knows what we’re like now–just like my employers trust me not to screw up the shop. They know me well enough to know that I’m going to do everything I can think of (and remember) to make sure the store’s running smoothly. God has given us a new heart, and He knows Himself, and if we’re like Him, then God can trust us to (most of the time, given our new nature) want what He wants.

6. We can ask for help. 

Please hear me clearly: God doesn’t leave us on our own and EXPECT us to do good, at least I don’t believe so. God knows we’ll screw up. there’s a sin nature that we have to fight day in and day out until Jesus comes back, but the beautiful thing is that we can ask for help! I have to ask my bosses for help all of the time: to make sure I’m not forgetting things, or to make sure I’m going about things the right way. They don’t beat me or hate me for it (at least I don’t think so.) We can ask God for help.

7. God is a friend, not an employer.

At the end of the day, I go home saying, “see you tomorrow, friend.” I chat with my bosses and have a great time with them. Honestly, I’m still learning this about them, but I know God is a friend, and not a boss, for all the reasons listed above. My employers have entrusted and trained me to help with their business, and God has entrusted me and trained me to help make disciples and rule over/subdue the earth. It’s a fantastic reality that God is a friend, not a boss.