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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Experience vs. Process

experience vs process

A big event means a great experience. I bet you can remember a “life-changing” experience in your life. Maybe you can think of two or three. These are the crucial moments in our lives that change our trajectory. It might be a retreat, a mission trip, a worship night, or a conference.

These are necessary.

In your desire for the experience, you are likely to forget about the need for the process.

The purpose of the experience is to strengthen the process.

Tim Elmore said, “If all we do is offer big events, we may inspire students, but we’ll never get beyond the excitement and emotion of the event.”

The process is essential because that is where real growth happens.

Here are five differences between an experience and the processes. We need both, but we often neglect the process.

1.  An experience inspires a group, the process transforms a group.

This is why you should be in a small group or discipleship relationship. Growth takes more than one night or weekend. The experience is like a catalyst to the process. Too many people are motivated to transform but are not willing to go through the process.

2.  An experience is attractive, the process is necessary.

It is more fun to show up to an event that involves free food, loud music, lots of people and a heart-grabbing message than have it be your week to bring the donuts to Bible Study. The processes is necessary because it is over time that our hearts are broken and restored. It is in the processes that we struggle with what it means to be a disciple.

3.  An experience usually needs money, a process always needs time.

Big events are expensive for someone, probably not you, but someone paid for the space, entertainment, food and free stuff. The best thing about the process is that it requires little money, but it always requires a lot of time. Do not grow impatient of the process.

4.  An experience requires a small commitment, a process requires perseverance.

This is why more people will be in church on a Sunday than small groups during the week. We like our Christianity without genuine commitment. But growth requires perseverance.

5. An experience allows us to stay hidden, a process requires that we be real.

It is easy to hide in the back at a large event. Events often do not require that we talk, share or interact with people on a deep level. The process takes away the ability to hide. That is probably why some of you are scared of joining a small group.

If all this true, why are we so afraid of the process? 

Five things college students should remember on Valentine’s Day

love, valentines day, 5 things

A quick survey of the conversations I have had over the past few weeks reveals that there are more people not looking forward to Valentine’s Day than those who are excited. It does not matter where you fall on the spectrum – “I can’t get enough of the flowers, color red and chocolate” to “If I see one more status update about that special gift from their special someone I might actually explode” – Here are some things worth remembering this Friday.

1.  Who you are is defined by Jesus, not who you are with.

Have you ever met the person who finds their identity in the person they are with? Maybe you are that person and that’s why you have found yourself in a string of broken relationships. Jesus has already declared you to be free, loved and secure in Him. I’ve witnessed countless shipwrecked relationships in which one person asked the other to do only what Jesus can do. But people cannot do what Jesus does. When we find our worth in Jesus not people we are free to actually love and enjoy the relationship God has given us.

2.  You are not married yet – so don’t play pretend.

Marriage is great, when you are married. Pretending usually leads to a lot of heartache. I know this is true because anytime we live outside of God’s plan, it does not go well. This Friday night do yourself a favor, stay away from backseats, cozy couches and snuggly beds. Your marriage will thank you someday.

3.  Being single is not the enemy.

Singleness and in a relationship does not equate to defeat and victory. It is tempting sometimes to feel sorry for ourselves when we are not in a relationship as if we are losing at life. That is not how God sees it. He has a plan and purpose even in singleness. Enjoy this time because you are right where God wants you.

4.  Single? Don’t worry, you probably don’t have the gift of singleness, so pray for your future husband/wife.

It is true, God has given some of us the curse gift of singleness. But in general, God has called you to marriage. The command was given back in the beginning, “get married and make babies” (that’s my version of Genesis 1:28). Take some time to pray for your future valentine, maybe they need more prayer this week than you!

5.  Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to proclaim to an unbelieving world the truth about love.

God is love. I will love my wife better because I know and experience the love of God in my life. Would it not be great if you were able to proclaim the love of Jesus on your campus this week?

The Super Bowl, Seahawks and Jesus

fansVictory.

Sweet victory.

Admittedly, I am more of a bandwagon fan than a loyal Seahawk supporter. Either way, I watched and enjoyed every snap of the Seahawks win yesterday. There is something great about your team winning. The game will not go down in history as the greatest, but it doesn’t matter much to the players or the fans. Victory is all that mattered.

Victory always results in celebration. Within moments of the final whistle, the neon green and blue confetti began to fall upon MetLife stadium. The city of Seattle erupted in party – one huge party. The last time the city experienced this kind of victory was 1979 when the Sonics won the NBA championship. It is reported that fireworks were launched as students celebrated on the campus of the University of Washington. Victory demands celebration.

There is a parade coming to Seattle on Wednesday. People will line the streets, I’m certain there will be a few tears shed as the masses pay tribute to victory. But there will be defeat again. We will crave victory again. It may be fun to celebrate the moment, but it is only a moment. The Seahawks will not win the Super Bowl every year.

There was a different victory, it was won on a Jerusalem hillside and as a result, defeat has been forever abolished.

Listen to these words written by Paul in 1 Corinthians.


“Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Death has been defeated. Jesus is victorious. Sin has lost its power. Victory demands celebration.We do not celebrate enough. Maybe Heaven will be one big, everlasting celebration. 

What would our church look like if every Sunday we gathered together to celebrate victory? How would your morning change if you woke up breathing the air of victory? Would your perspective be different if you knew death has been defeated and will never see victory?

Victory, sweet victory!

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?

Knowing Jesus (Through Suffering)

By: Elena Abe

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”             Philippians 3:7-11

If I could summarize my junior year at OSU in one word, it would be suffering. By suffering I don’t mean putting in countless hours of studying and not seeing the grades I want, or struggling to stretch my money to put food on the table and pay for textbooks (although those are legitimate forms of suffering). For me, suffering has taken the form of God, gently but firmly, ripping apart my heart, uncovering the areas of my life that I had not (and have not) relinquished control to Him.

In the fall, God said no to a relationship I was in. Over and over again, I had to deny myself and my desires; sometimes feeling like I had to fall flat on my face in order to submit to the Lord. “When the will of God crosses the will of man, somebody has to die,” I read in Elisabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity. Losing this relationship felt like a deep loss in my heart, but Paul reminded me in Philippians 3 that all things, even the good things, are loss for the sake of gaining Jesus (vs. 7-9).

Because in the end, what other choice did I have but to surrender to God? If He a) knows and b) wants what’s best for me, why wouldn’t I accept the things a) He gives me and b) guides me through? During those weeks it was a process of realizing what it meant to have Jesus as the first love of my life. He had to take someone away to show me how much I cared more for other people than for Him. I resolved to develop Jesus’ character in my heart, so that as a woman secure and satisfied in the Lord’s hand, I could freely and genuinely serve others, therefore serving my Lord.  With time, and desperately seeking God, I had a renewed love for Jesus, and am learning how to hold Him much more dear to my heart than even other people.

As 2012 began and winter term rolled along, God revealed another heart issue that I had to work out with Him—how God calls leaders and is the only one responsible for spiritually maturing people (read about my revelation here!). Looking back on those months, it was a heart-wrenching time of pleading with God to purify my heart of thoughts that were proud and asking for His love to fill my heart so I could genuinely give it to others. After those ten weeks, I had emerged ready to lead side-by-side with others, remembering that everything that resulted from my ministry was the Lord’s doing, not mine, and to make Jesus’ name known, not my own.

And so, even on this beautiful spring sunny day, there is still another struggle to be dealt with. Yes the Lord has brought me to a fairly “good” season, refreshed from all the difficult lessons I’ve learned in these past few months. But still, I hear His voice whispering, “Are you clinging to me more than anything else?” A hesitant, soft, “No, Jesus,” is my reply. As I look to the next four weeks, I don’t see all the fun I’ll be having as school winds down with my friends. Instead, I anticipate the sadness that will accumulate and weigh down my heart as the time to say goodbye comes, and it becomes the “last Epic meeting”, or the “last night at Dixon”, or the “last time I may ever see you!” So even though I will miss my friends that are leaving this year and want to hold tightly to this blissful time, I must cling to Jesus more. [Sidenote: In fact, Jesus said that our love for our mother and father (and fill-in-the-blank) needs to look like hate compared to our love for God (Luke 14:26).]

Jesus experienced the ultimate suffering. And if we claim to be followers of Him, it also means that we have a calling, and even a privilege, to suffer like Jesus did. Through all the times that I’ve struggled, whether it be physically, mentally, or spiritually, I have emerged looking a little bit more like Jesus. And that’s what struggles do. They “sandpaper” all the rough spots in our heart that we keep from experiencing His touch. They purify our hearts so we can look like His Son.

Paul wanted to know Christ so badly, even wanting to have fellowship with Him by “participating in His sufferings” (Philppians 3:11). And recently, my love for Jesus has become such a priority, that I too want to take part in His suffering, if it means I’ll look a little more like Jesus. So in the midst of my suffering, or even watching and guiding others during their times of struggle, it is an exciting time. The pain, the tears, the hardship areworth it, because we get to know Jesus intimately. “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” (Philippians 3:8,9). I want to know Christ, and to be found in Him.

 

“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”            -1 Peter 5:10

 

“Therefore we 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, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”           –2 Corinthians 4:16-18