Whack-a-Mole Christianity

whack-a-mole

Chuck E. Cheese is a child’s paradise. It is the perfect blend of nasty pizza, sugary beverages and classic carnival games. If you have never been before, I’m sorry, your childhood was not complete.

I used to love playing the games. My parents would only let me have about 15-20 tokens on each trip, which meant I had to use them wisely. For an excited 8 year old, which game to spend my tokens on can be quite the dilemma. There was one game in particular that I found especially frustrating yet routinely I would be drawn back to it. It’s called, “Whack-a-Mole”. It is that game where you are given a huge hammer and it is your job to hit the head of the moles that pop up. You knock down one, then two more pop up, when you have those under control there is a fourth that comes out. Just when you think you got them all, that one you started with has poked its head back up at you.

As hard as you try, winning is not an option. They always come back.

Frustrating. Maybe that’s why swinging the hammer is strangely satisfying.

Sometimes life is like a game of “Whack-a-Mole”. Specifically, the Christian life.

John Owen, an old Puritan preacher said, “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”

I do not doubt the statement, my question is, “how do I kill sin?”

I have lived most of my life thinking killing sin meant focusing in on one issue like pride, working real hard, and slowly eliminating it. Then, when I felt I had done a good job of killing it, I was convicted about something else, lust. So I focused all my attention on that. Got an accountability partner, prayed a bunch, set up really good guidelines. I would kill it. Then I moved on to an idol in my life like money. I worked hard to kill it. It was like I was whacking one mole after another. But suddenly, after killing everything, I realize the thing I had under control 6 months ago, it was back!

It’s a frustrating game. I never win and as a result, I constantly feel inadequate.

I’m like you. I want to be more like Jesus. I want to sin less. I want to transform and become the person God created me to be.

Whack-a-sin is not working for me. Maybe that’s because God never intended for me to play the game.

Jesus said in John 15:5,

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, apart from me you can do nothing.”

Notice how we bear fruit. It’s not by clenching our fists and saying, “I will be more patient!” or “I will not look at girls that way!” or “I will be more loving!”

Jesus simply says, “If you want to bear fruit – demonstrate transformation – then remain in me.”

I do not want the story of my life to be about the sin I stopped doing but about how I became more like Jesus.

I am not minimizing the terrible nature of glory stealing sin. I want to attack all aspects of my life that steal God’s glory and give it to someone or something else.

When I begin to press into Jesus (remain in him) and really let him change my heart, the mole goes away without me having to whack it. It is not so much that I destroyed pride, but I pressed into Jesus and began to live out his example of humility.

Whack-a-mole is frustrating, tiring, and demoralizing. Whack-a-sin is worse. Maybe you are exhausted because you are fighting sin with a giant hammer. Put down the hammer, Jesus already conquered sin. He is inviting you into a new reality, one where he is interested in changing your heart not just your actions.

Would life be better if you could stop playing the game?

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Three Ways Not to Cure Loneliness

lonely

My facebook status can be liked by my grandma, an old high school friend, and the missionary I worked with once overseas all in the same minute. We are more connected today than we ever have been before but seem lonelier. Even though we are connected on Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat we still feel a deep longing for more meaningful relationships.

Did you know it is possible to be in a room full of people, even people you call friends, but still feel alone? There are few things worse in life than that feeling.

Loneliness is the painful awareness of isolation, emptiness and an intense longing for deeper relationships. Loneliness brings with it feelings of rejection, being left out, unwanted and misunderstood.

How do we cure loneliness?

A Japanese company invented the “hugging chair”. For $419 you do not ever have to feel alone again!

The chair is about as helpful as these three things you might have tried.

Get Busier

I’m sitting in my room alone right now, if only I was busier I would not feel so alone.

Swamp yourself with school work, keep long office hours or fill your schedule with things to do – and you will still feel lonely. Busyness does not lead to deep relationships. Maybe this is why in America we work insanely long work hours and psychologists tell us we are lonelier than ever before.

Busyness is a distraction that numbs the pain of isolation but never fixes the problem.

Sometimes business is equated with significance. Significance can be a pretty strong anesthetic. But it is only as good as those pain meds you get after your wisdom teeth get pulled, eventually they wear off and you are left with nothing but an empty hole and a nagging pain.

Get a Significant Other

Look at that couple, they seem so happy – If only I had someone to be happy with I would not feel so alone.

Our desire for intimacy drives us into what ends up being hurtful, destructive relationships.

Truth: Lonely single people just become lonely people in a relationship. Then you just break up because someone else might be able to cure your loneliness.

Even worse – bypass the “significant” part and just go for a quick hook up. Friends with benefits may seem to be better than no friends at all.

In the end, asking someone else to solve a problem they cannot solve, never works out. Also, just because someone is keeping the pillow next to you warm does not make you feel any less lonely.

Get Wasted

Forgetting is not fixing but at least I forgot for a while.

There are numerous reasons for the party culture on college campuses. I have heard one reason over and over again: For a night, escape from our pain is possible.

But it is just a night.

Like all problems in life, when we try to solve it in the wrong way, it usually results in a whole new set of issues. Distractions are not a cure – just a short fix. What if you could have a fix that lasts a lifetime?

Redefining the Loneliness

Popular thought is that loneliness is a social problem.

We say, “if only I was more outgoing…” or “If only I had one close friend…”

But what if loneliness is a spiritual problem. What if we came to God with our loneliness and let him redefine it.

He might say, “You are lonely, and that is an issue that cannot be solved by a close friend, a group, or a social experience – you need me!”

I love the story of a girl named Hagar (I know, crazy name). Her story is told in the book of Genesis.

Hagar was an Egyptian woman, meaning she was likely enslaved as a result of a lost battle. Abraham’s people said, “You become our servants and we won’t kill you.” She has made a deal, “I give you my life so you don’t kill me.”

Hagar ends up pregnant with Abraham’s son. She had done so with the full consent of his wife too!

Hagar thinks, “This is my chance. I’m going to give birth to Abraham’s heir. I have finally arrived. Life is going to get better.”

Hagar finds out though, that Abraham’s wife, Sara, is planning on just taking the Baby after birth and raising it as her own. Hagar begins to despise Sarah, she actually hates her.

Sarah comes to Abraham and complains about Hagar. Abraham says, “Do with her as you please.”

Sarah beats Hagar.

You can almost see Hagar huddled in a corner, all alone, afraid of losing her baby. She wonders why no one is coming to help her.

Eventually, she runs and hides, and seeks escape from her circumstances. She runs away, she comes to a well where she sits down. Maybe she can spend the rest of her life here.

She is all alone.

Then behind her the Angel of the Lord leans down and asks her, “Hagar, where have you come from, where are you going?”

God came near. What Hagar needed was not another friend. Hagar did not need to be busier, find a husband or drink the night away. She needed God.

Our loneliness is not a social problem it is a spiritual problem. We need God.

What would happen in your life if you pursued more of him? I wonder what would happen to our loneliness.

Things That Do Not Make Sense

wonder, don't make sense

ab·surd

adjective
(of an idea or suggestion) wildly unreasonable, illogical, or inappropriate.

There are some absurd moments in the Bible.

There is a peculiar verse tucked away in an often time overlooked book of the Bible. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time reading Hebrews because, I’ll admit it too, its full of hard to understand statements. Buried in the middle of the book is an absurd passage.

Read Hebrews 12:2-3 with me. “…who for the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful man, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

 Is Jesus crazy? Did you catch the absurdity of this verse?

It says that before Jesus ever went to the cross, he looked towards the crucifixion with joy.

That statement screams, “You have to be kidding me!”

The Romans cross was the most excruciating and humiliating way a person could die. It was reserved for the worst of criminals. It was so treacherous that women were for the most part exempt from ever being crucified. The man would be stripped naked, beaten, and forced to carry his cross through the streets as people mocked him. By the time he reached his hill of death, he would be nailed to the cross and lifted up for all to see, where he slowly suffocated and died.

Yep, that’s my definition of a “joy-filled” afternoon. A once in a lifetime experience.

Seriously, is there anyone out there who is saying, “sign me up, sounds like a great way to spend my weekend!”

Why would Jesus think such a thing? Where is the joy in the cross?

You. Me. Us. The Church.

We are the joy. As Jesus was looking towards the cross he saw the washing away of our sins and the freedom that he would bring to us – and it brought him joy. He saw the reconciling of his people to himself and the pain, suffering, humiliation and shame was only a means to an end.

Wildly unreasonable and illogical. Sounds like the definition of grace.

What else is “absurd” about Jesus?

What Flappy Birds says about my need for Jesus

flappy birdYes, I downloaded the game Flappy Bird.

Yes, I have yelled at that poor little bird.

Yes, I almost threw my device across the room in frustration.

I bet you have too.

Registering an incredible 50 million downloads, Flappy Bird, is a cultural phenomenon. This past week the developer of the game stopped selling Flappy Bird in the app store. He was interviewed by Forbes Magazine and asked why he took it down.

“Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed, but it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird. It’s gone forever.”

You can read the whole story here.

Why are we addicted to such a simple game?

The game tricks us into thinking with one more try, we will do better. Sometimes we do better – but it is never enough. Which is why that game is frustrating, maddening and even heartbreaking. Its why you curse under your breath and throw things.

We are obsessed with winning, but you cannot win. There is no end. The only way to be a winner is in comparison to your previous score or compared to your friend across the room. But the game always ends with a loss.

You can do better but you cannot win.

This is life without Jesus. There is a lie that has been around long before Flappy Bird, it goes like this: “Doing better is enough.” But it is not, that’s why the game keeps you coming back for more. That is also why in life you will never be satisfied with better.

You can sin less but you cannot be sinless on your own.

It is not enough to be better than you were yesterday. It is not enough to be better than someone else. This is the fundamental problem of humanity. This kind of life tends to be frustrating, maddening, and heartbreaking. Doing better is not what satisfies.

Only Jesus wins. He wins on our behalf.

Flappy Birds is like life. It is frustrating, until I realize that Jesus has already won for me, I don’t have to play the game anymore. I don’t need to be better. I need Jesus. The cross is the only thing that is enough. Jesus took care of it.

When I realize that Jesus has won for me, I am free to lose. When I stop trying to save myself by doing better and let Jesus save, it’s incredibly peaceful.

What if everyone knew this truth? What if you actually believed it? What if you devoted your life to proclaiming the saving power of Jesus death and resurrection?

The game always ends by losing. Jesus has already won. I cannot lose.

See. Feel. Touch.

There are two kinds of churches

A church that is.

A church that does.

Personally, I want to be a part of a group that does. I’m not really interested in being in a community of believers who just meet on Sundays, raise their hands in worship, pray, study the Bible and then go on with their lives. It’s not that this kind of church is all together wrong. In fact, it could still be a good church that proclaims truth. But, I want to be a church that is salt and light in this world.

I was reading through Acts chapter 3 the other day. In the first 10 verses, Luke tells an interesting story. Peter and John are on their way to the temple to worship when they see a man who has been paralyzed since his birth. It says they stopped, looked at him, and then in the name of Jesus, they healed him. Immediately the man ran into the temple, jumping around, praising God.

I realize this is a crazy, miracle story but I want to be like Peter and John. I want us to be like Peter and John. Here is what they did.

They saw the hurt. Felt the hurt. Touched the hurt.

It may seem simplistic, but you can go read it for yourself. They noticed a man in need and they felt his pain. How terrible it must have been to never have been able to walk. Day after day he would just sit on the street corner begging for money – he was a social outcast. I wonder how many people walked by him that day, they noticed him but they ignored him. It’s easy to ignore the hurt of others when we are consumed with our own needs.

Most of us today don’t have trouble seeing hurt in our world. Walk through our town, turn on the news or surf the internet and you will see hurt. Its hard not to see and then feel the hurt of the world around us. But I am certain I do not do a good job of touching their hurt.

Touching their hurt involves action.

It might be as simple as a letter sent to someone hurting. It could be watching the kids of a single mom so she can have a night out. Maybe its sending money to an organization. For some of us it means we give up our spring break or summer break to go somewhere and serve. It could be a coffee you buy for a friend who just needs to talk. It’s a cheese burger for the homeless man on the corner, groceries for the family whose dad lost his job, giving a ride to a friend who has no car, or bringing soup to one who is sick.

See. Feel. Touch.

I do not want us to miss the result of this kind of love.

The man ran into the temple praising God. People respond to our touching with worship. The book of Acts tells of masses of people coming to Jesus. 3000 in a single day (Acts 2) and 2000 more in another day (Acts 4). But slammed between those two accounts of great revival is a story of a single man coming to Jesus.

Why tell us a story of one man crippled from birth coming to Jesus?

Those who are most effective in reaching the masses are most passionate about reaching the one.

See, feel and touch – one person at a time.

New Year’s Reset

new yearIt was a weekly ritual for us growing up. On Sunday mornings my family would head to church, Sunday school class followed by service. But the tradition didn’t stop there, after service we would load up our red mini-van and head for my grand-parents’ house for Sunday Lunch. I looked forward to Sundays, but not because for the reason you may be thinking. It really had nothing to do with Sunday school, church, or family.
My Grandma loves video games and she owned the old grey original Nintendo system. My parents never bought us a video game system growing up, so we this was the one chance for me and my brother to play games!

After scarfing down lunch, my brother and I would retreat to the basement and sit around a small black and white TV to play our Nintendo games. We wasted hours in front of that screen. But I probably wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
For the most part, those afternoons were filled with laughter and fun (maybe more for me than my brother who I routinely beat at all games, like any good older brother does). But there was always one frustrating moment. It was likely to happen once each Sunday. While playing a game, the screen would freeze. A loud beep would come out from the speakers – which meant there was no saving it, the only thing you could do was press the “reset” button.

I’ve noticed that in my spiritual life, sometimes it’s like that Nintendo system, it just freezes. Sometimes I just need to press “reset” and go back to the basics. It’s not that I need to restart, its that I need to be reminded of the basics again.

I’m not really into New Year Resolutions – so as we enter 2014, can I share with you my 10 resets?

Here they are, in no particular order.

1. Speak life when your words could cut down others.
2. Trust relentlessly when I could be trapped by fear.
3. Serve selflessly when I could demand attention.
4. Be courageous in sharing when I could disappear in the crowd.
5. Pray for those I have never met when I could waste time on Facebook.
6. Purse holiness when those around me don’t.
7. Spend money on others when I could buy for myself.
8. Take risks when I could choose fear.
9. Practice humility when I feel important.
10. Read the Word with my best when I could wait for convenience.

The New Year gives us an opportunity to press “reset”. What is something you want to focus on?

 

Shadows and Reality

Her name was Federlina. Her wrinkled face, callused hands and raspy voice tell you she has lived a full life. How old is she? Your guess is as good as mine, I’m not sure she even knows. She’s lived in the same mud brick house her entire life. Her husband is long gone. Her children have moved to the big city and rarely ever visit. Her cattle that she still takes care of graze in a field a couple miles away – she makes the walk everyday to check on them, it’s as routine as my drive to work. She lives in the Andes’ mountains, in a town of 200 people, has never searched on Google or sent an email and she doesn’t know Jesus. I met her the first time I went with Grant Avenue to Peru two years ago.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s religious. She lives in a village where the majority of people claim some form of Catholicism. A couple times a year there will be religious festivals to honor a saint or maybe even Jesus.  For most of the people in the town, the festivals have little to do with God and are more of ritualistic celebration, an excuse to drink. Federlina doesn’t get drunk during the festivities though, in her words own words she said, “I’m a good person.”

I’m reminded of a few verses in Colossians 2:16-17.

Therefore do not let any one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

A shadow can tell you something of reality, but it isn’t the object itself. That’s what the festivals, new moon celebrations and even the Sabbath are. They are shadows – Jesus is reality.

Federlina knew the shadows well. She knows the festivals. She knows the Christian stories but she doesn’t know Jesus. Every time we would share the gospel with her and think she understood she would say, “but I have always been a good person.”

Sometimes our religion gets in the way of us actually seeing Jesus. Sometimes we get captivated by the shadows of Jesus and not Jesus himself. This time of year might be the easiest to get captivated by the shadow. There will be Christmas parties and presents will be exchanged but I wonder sometimes if we lose sight of Jesus. We are good at celebrating Christmas but are we celebrating the shadow or reality?

My heart breaks for Federlina because she only knows the shadow, she doesn’t know reality. But you and I know reality – Jesus Christ. The question is, will you celebrate the shadow or the reality this Christmas?