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Monday, November 25, 2013

Why Trusting God Is Important

On Sunday, November 17, an EF-4 tornado tore through our town of Washington (I understand that I live in Eureka, but as my school and kids are in Washington, I have always considered Washington my community).  While “only” one person lost their life and dozens injured (though no major injuries that I’ve heard), hundreds lost their home and thousands were terrorized by the events.  Pictures and the news cannot accurately capture the carnage this storm left behind.  Millions of dollars will be spent on cleanup and rebuilding.

The common question that arises from this level of wreckage is Why?  Why did this happen?

Jeremiah 29:11 is one of the most misinterpreted verses of the Bible.  It says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.  ‘They are for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’”  Many incorrectly read this as God telling Christians that nothing bad will ever happen to them.

Wow, is that wrong.

As long as sin remains in this world, bad things are going to happen.  What we need to understand, however, is that God is not the cause of those bad things.  Satan is the root of all evil.  What the Lord is telling us in Jeremiah is that bad things were never part of the plan.  His plan was all good.  Since evil found its way into the plans, however, God uses it for good…and that good is Him.  Get this: God uses all things to drive people to Him.

Joshua Walker: Sometimes, your circumstances are the only way others are going to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  Sometimes, that trial is meant to get through to your heart.  Sometimes, that trial has nothing to do with you—it has to do with that person that God wants to save.

Basically, when bad things happen, God will use it to bring people closer to Him.  The trial may be meant to bring you closer to Him, or it may be meant to bring those around you closer to Him.  Ultimately, it’s all about Jesus, and we just have to learn to trust Him.

I know that’s always easier said than done, but here’s why it’s so important: Our vision is limited.  Think of a really foggy day.  The kind of fog where you can barely see the house a block down the road.  That is how we see life.  We don’t know what the next minute will bring, let alone the next day, week, month, or year.  Last Sunday proved that.  Meanwhile, God has infinite vision.  He sees the entire future for the rest of time, so He knows exactly how it all plays out.  Now…take our vision and God’s…who do we want driving the car down that road?  No offense, but I don’t want to be in a car if you and your limited vision is driving—and you shouldn’t want to be in the car if I’m driving.  We need to hand the keys to God and allow Him to take us to the destination we can’t see.

Believe it or not, the next post in the Jesus Is… series was going to be Jesus Is the Healer regardless of the current events.  Here’s a quick preview in relation to this post: We are so quick to trust a doctor when he gives us some magic pill that we’ve never heard of.  The doctor says it’ll help, so we take the pill.  No questions asked.  While I believe in doctors and medicine, let’s be honest—doctors screw up frequently, yet we blindly trust them.  God never makes a mistake, yet we constantly question Him.  Doubt Him.  We have our trust all kinds of backwards here.

Todd Nighswonger: (We’re) not saying that there’s joy in the trial.  It’s in knowing that God always wins, so the outcome of your trial will be phenomenal.

Here’s why it’s so important to show your trust in what God is doing when tragedy strikes: How you respond in times of crisis shows your true faith.  It’s easy to be a Christian when times are good.  When life is going well, no one thinks twice about you praising God or your church or your youth group.  When life hits you with massive storms, however, how you react is how non-believers will see Jesus.  What do you want them to see?  How do you want them to view Christ?  Furthermore, when other Christians—silent Christians—see you react to tragedy with a strong trust in Jesus, they will be inspired to do the same, which just presents a more unified front against Satan and his attacks.

Don’t believe me?  Look at the community.  “Washington Strong”, right?  For the last week, the news has continually shown that slogan.  They’ve kept showing the community banding together.  Working together.  Healing together.  “Washington Strong” has become the battle cry of the area, the state, the nation.  The community’s amazing response to this tragedy has inspired people—Christians and non-believers alike—from Maine to California to overseas.  People in other countries are asking how they can help.  The inspiration we have stirred in people has led to such an abundance of donations that we’ve run out of room for them!!  When have you ever heard of a natural disaster hitting an area of the world, and within a week, that community is asking people to stop donating because they don’t have anywhere to put it all?

How you respond in times of tragedy will inspire the world around you.  So inspire.  Trust God.  Display your faith.  Show Jesus.

Be strong.

Washington Strong and Strong in Christ.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jesus Is Fun

Dan Kimball: (Quoting a non-believer) “Isn’t there more to living this life than to constantly be talking about death and suffering?  (Christians) seem to hate this world.”   Fair or not, to many non-believers, Christianity doesn’t look like a lot of fun.  Part of that is because many believe that only sin can equal fun, but another part of that is because—sadly—Christians can often appear as dull sticks-in-the-mud.  When non-believers think of Christians, they tend to picture Ned Flanders, not Stephen Colbert (a strong, practicing Catholic).  If we are serious about helping the world find Christ, then this is an image we need to correct—and we have a beautiful role model.

Jesus Laughed

There are zero verses in the Bible that mention Jesus laughing or even smiling.  Consequently, many people truly believe that He never did so.  Seriously!! (pun intended)  Just because the Bible doesn’t provide a verse on Jesus laughing doesn’t mean that He didn’t do it (John 21:25).  The Bible doesn’t say that Christ went to the bathroom, either, but I think it’s safe to say that He did.

When someone smiles at you, don’t you feel good?  Don’t they seem friendlier?  Isn’t it possible to change a person’s attitude with nothing more than a friendly smile?  Therefore, is it so outrageous to think that Christ frequently softened hardened hearts simply by smiling at them?  Elton Trueblood writes, “Christ laughed, and…he expected others to laugh.”

Father James Martin, S.J. adds, “Humor is very culture-bound.  If you know someone from a different culture then your own, you may find that their jokes are different.  If you look back at movies from the 1930s, you might see that the humor has changed over time.  So imagine how difficult it is for us in 21st Century America to understand the humor of 1st Century Palestine.  Scripture scholars tell us that some of Jesus’s stories and parables would have been seen as not only clever, but laugh-out-loud funny.”

For example, irony and hyperbole have been comedy staples forever, so Christ’s ironic “plank in the eye” story in Matthew 7 and the hyperbolic “camel through the eye of a needle” story in Matthew 19 would have likely been received by howls of stomach-holding laughter.  Let’s face it: It is human nature to avoid boring speakers, yet people piled up by the thousands to listen to Jesus.  This man knew how to entertain a crowd.

More than that, kids are some of the best judges of character, and they loved Jesus.  Loved Him.  When they saw Him coming, they ran to Him (Luke 18:15-17).   Have you ever seen a child sprint to someone who was boring?    If Jesus wasn’t fun to be around, kids would have hated His company.

Jesus Was Fun

Everyone liked Jesus and wanted to hang out with Him.  Children, tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor…the only people who didn’t like Him were the stuck up, full-of-pride religious leaders.  How’s that for irony?  You think all of these people would enjoy hanging around the mopey, solemn-faced Jesus that adorns every picture and stained-glass window at church?

Scholars agree that part of Jesus’s ministry came in the form of dinner parties.  Strangers frequently invited Jesus to dinner.  Sinners.  The kind of people society deemed evil men.  Would this happen if Jesus was a big, dull dud?  No.  Jesus knew how to party.  In fact, He spent so much time with these people that some accused Him of being a drunkard and a glutton (Matthew 11:19).  Obviously, He wasn’t, but He did party.

Where was Christ’s first recorded miracle?  At a party!!  We see in John 2 that Jesus is at a wedding…and not the twenty-minute version we have today.  In those days, a wedding was a massive celebration.  Think Mardi Gras without all the lewdness.  We see Jesus here.  He isn’t there to preach.  He isn’t there to scold about drinking or dancing or loud music.  He is there as a guest.  He is there to party!!

Let’s not take this miracle lightly either.  The Bible says that He made 6 firkins, which is roughly 150-180 gallons of wine.  That’s over 5,000 glasses of wine.  I played around on various wedding-planning sites.  If you are trying to plan how much alcohol will be consumed at your wedding, the average number that kept popping up was around 400 drinks.  That’s about 24 bottles of wine.  Jesus produced around 1,000 bottles!!  Jesus wasn’t promoting sin…He wasn’t promoting drunkenness…but there was definitely some drinking going on.  Jesus drank, and that’s okay.  Jesus did not get drunk.  Jesus was fun, but He did not sin.  Let us never forget that.

We Can Have Fun

Ecclesiastes 3:4 tells us that there’s “a time to laugh.”  Christ is love.  When love is present, so is joy.  When joy is present, so is laughter.  “As part of God’s command to rest and his freedom in the gospel to enjoy the good gifts he gives us, there is nothing wrong with having fun via hobbies, vacations, games, sports, arts, entertainment, good meals, and just plain being silly” – Jared Wilson.

I think it’s safe to say that those who know me know that I like to laugh.  I like to have a good time.  I like to clown around and have fun.  I make jokes—constantly.  I like to think that I’m enjoyable to be around.  Yet those that know me also know my faith.  I’ll put it this way: I have never been accused of being boring.  I have also never had anyone question or doubt my faith.

Mark Driscoll: The mark of a real Christian should be someone that is fun to hang out with.

Ray Turner: Laughter and joy always brings a crowd.  When unchurched people notice shouts of joy and laughter, they are drawn to it.  Being a Christian is the most joy-filled and lively experience we can have.  Others need to see that in us, at work and in society.

Throughout high school and college, I was the “fun guy” to work with.  At this age, every job you have sucks.  No one wants to be there.  However, when others saw that they were working with me—they perked up.  They knew it was going to be an entertaining time.  A fun time.  I didn’t need alcohol for that.  That doesn’t mean that I never drank.  I drank in college, and that’s okay.  The handful of times I got drunk weren’t (Ephesians 5:18), but there was nothing wrong with having a few drinks with friends.  In fact, one friend actually paid me a big complement one night when he said, “Josh, you’re unlike any Christian I’ve known.  You actually hang out with lowlifes like me, drinking, playing cards, and listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd.  If I ever have any God-questions, you’re the guy I’m coming to.”  And he did.  Frequently.  We discussed my faith a lot.  In the time that I knew him well, he never converted, but a lot of his perceptions about Jesus (specifically) and Christians (in general) changed simply because I spent Friday nights with him playing Spades and drinking a few beers.

Most non-Christians believe that they can have more fun in life than Christians.  I need that explained to me.  How do they think that they have more fun?  Truthfully, I think we may need to take a look at what “fun” is.  Is it playing in a basketball game or reading a book?  Different people will give different answers.  Just because the basketball game has a crowd and more action doesn’t mean that it is more fun.  Millions of people (non-believers as well, shockingly enough) receive pure joy out of sitting on a couch and looking at words on paper for hours-on-end.

Personally, I enjoy sports.  Is that “fun”?  (Well…I’m a Cubs fan…so no.)  I collect bottles of cologne.  Is that fun?  I love white-water rafting.  Is that fun?  I enjoy researching for topics such as this, and will spend days doing so.  Is that fun?  I like having the occasional glass of wine with dinner or bottle of beer on the weekend, but have never enjoyed going to a bar.  Does that mean I’m not fun?  So what is “fun” and how have Christians earned the reputation for being so dull?  Is it because we don’t find the idea of getting drunk fun?  Is it because we don’t find the idea of one-night stands fun (Romans 13:13)?

Remove faith from the equation here: If you need to get drunk to have fun…if you need drugs for fun…if you are on the constant prowl for random sex with strangers…if you are obsessed with dramatically violent movies and/or games…forget Christianity—most psychologists would tell you that you have some issues that need dealt with.

Criminals claim to have more fun than law-abiding citizens too.  Does that make them right?

Let’s be perfectly clear: What is fun for one person is boring to someone else and vice versa; therefore, the label of “fun” is dependent upon each individual person.  When non-believers say that they have more fun than Christians, what they’re saying is that they are fine with sinning.

Sin is not funny to God; it is detestable.  Christianity may seem boring to the non-believer, but we must not accept sin in our lives to prove them wrong.  Jesus was fun, but He did not sin.  We can be fun without sinning.  We can laugh without sinning.

Jesus says in John 15:11 “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”  The definition of joy is exultant happiness.  If you are full of joy, if you are experiencing exultant happiness, you’re going to laugh…a lot.  Christ was happy.  He was full of joy.  He laughed and had fun…a lot.

There is suffering in this world, we cannot deny that.  I know the world hardens us, but faith is supposed to free us.  Being a Christian should be fun…and it is fun.  Love is fun and we have the most powerful, most awesome love imaginable.  It’s just given to us.  That alone should make us giddy.

According to Jesus, we should have a childlike faith (Mark 10:15).  Children laugh around 400 times a day, while adults a mere 17 times each day.  Let’s return to this innocence.  Let’s return to this joy.  We are children of the Lord, after all.  Maybe if we smile, laugh, and enjoy life—maybe if the world sees us having fun…not sinning, but having fun…maybe we can convince them to flock to us.  Run to the Lord.