Tag Archives: religion

Connection Problem. Learning to see and hear Jesus when the world is so loud.

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We’ve all had the experience of trying to get a hold of a friend, and after calling, the number is wrong, the number has changed, or when you finally connect, the signal is so weak that you can barely hear what the person is trying to say. This is a great picture of how our relationship with God is. Sometimes there are attempts, but they just end up unsuccessful.

I’ve been meditating on what it means to have fellowship with Christ. Fellowship is such a christian word, and has many uses. If I’m hanging out with my friend, I’m fellowshipping. For some fellowship means singing songs, playing games, or eating together. But you can eat together and not necessarily eat together. Sometimes you can be in the same house, eating at the same time, but not really in the same room, or even looking at each other. I like to use one of my wife’s favorite words in regards to relationship, and that word is connecting. Connecting is an intentional effort to spend time and communicate despite what is going on around you.

As believers it is easy to have problems connecting with Jesus. We gather together to fellowship with Jesus but a lot of times we go to church and we forget that Jesus is there. I mean we see the pastor, we see and hear the worship team, we see the random church guy that we don’t know. Its impossible to know everyone when you have multiple services and the church is large. You just never know who you are going to sit next to. With all of the programming, announcements, and activity it is easy to get lost. Sometimes church can be so distracting. I go to a really big and an awesome church with a lot of activity however distraction is not something that  only occurs at large churches; this problem can happen anywhere.

So how do we see Jesus with all of the activity? How do we see Jesus  sometimes we go through the motions at church. We go through the motions with Jesus.

Is Jesus really always with me? That really depends on us right. Jesus promised he would never leave us or forsake us, but that doesn’t mean that we would not leave or forsake him. I want to stick on this point because the biggest problem that I have and I believe we as christians have is that we are so earthly, that we fail to see Jesus.

Often we fail to recognize Jesus when he is right in front of us because he comes in a form that we don’t expect. In one of the judgements in the book of Matthew,Jesus condemns and rewards his servants based on whether they treated him well. When they ask Jesus, ‘when did we see you?’, he answers, ‘as often as you did it to the least of these you did it unto me’. Jesus underscores that he is always there always watching and expects us to serve those who we see as burdensome or who cause us inconvenience.

Sometimes we have connection problems with Jesus because we are disconnected at church and or home.  We need to be plugged into a local church. God commands us to. There are no lone ranger christians. I know church  can sometimes be trying, and there are people who can be off putting.  This is why church is so important because even in the brokenness, pettiness and sin we find in our church, we still find Jesus is there using it to conform us unto his image. When our wives are nagging or arguing with us, we are supposed to see Jesus. When our husbands as being dry, inconsiderate, indifferent or harsh we are to see Jesus in them. When your children are being rebellious and mouthy we need to see Jesus. It is not that it’s Jesus who is harming you but rather Jesus is calling you to exercise patience, forgiveness, kindness and love to someone who doesn’t appear to deserve it. We need to see people in the divine image even when they don’t see it in themselves.

We are ambassadors of Christ who call forth the divine proclamation of reconciliation and of a new creation. Our message to the world is that “you don’t have to stay broken down and defeated but you can be born again.” If we make it our goal to focus on seeing Jesus in the mundane and unlikely people and places we will find that like those 3D brain teasers Jesus is behind the scenes in more places than we think. When we are conscious of his presence, we are able to enter a deeper worship and fellowship with him and can say,  “I see you Lord. Thank you for your presence.”

Often our connection problems with Jesus come because we are looking at the wrong things. There are sins we need to repent of in order to be connected to God.

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all[b] sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

We cannot walk in the dark and then pretend to come in the light. We can fool people but we can’t fool God. If we confess our sins, God is able to purify us and connect with us again.

Sometimes in spiritual things we fail to see Jesus. Sometimes we focus on form but not substance, on appearance not on spirit, on noise and not the gentle whisper of the Spirit. Even when reading the Bible, we can miss Jesus. This is what Jesus accused the Jewish leaders of in John 5, reading without seeing Jesus. The same thing can more easily happen with prayer. There are times when I am praying and find my mind scattered and frantic, my body tired and drained. In those times I find it hard to see Jesus. Sometimes we just pray without even trying to hear what the Spirit has to say back to us. This futile process will cause us to miss Christ as well. We must realize that our flesh is in opposition against things of God, and that we must overcome it to see him. Connecting with Jesus is a challenge in subduing our flesh and focusing on the spirit. For where the spirit is there is liberty. There is liberty because the chains of the flesh have been broken and we are able to experience new movement with little restrictions. Here’s a passage in Luke 19 that illustrates this in an interesting way.

2And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”

Zacchaeus knew his own physical limitations would limit his ability to see Jesus. He anticipated the obstacles and worked around his limitations so he could get a sight of Jesus. The devil will throw as many obstacles as he can to limit our encounters with Jesus, but when we seek to overcome them and wrestle with the flesh and seek a higher plane it is then that we will hear the master’s voice, Come down for I will dine at your house today. 

Each day I must strive to connect with Jesus. I need to be able to see Jesus as he is passing by.  I must connect with him and check in with him. I should submit my plans and have him give his approval or disapproval. This is the call of the disciple following the master where ever he directs. Where Christ is not present I must seek to bring his presence, not just as a vehicle but as a command post. Remember Gods command to Joshua every where the foot shall go I shall give you possession. We are to lay hold and build the kingdom and announce to all that this belongs to the Lord. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness there of.

Jesus promised us that he would be with us always, which is why he gave us his Spirit. When he commands us to walk in the Spirit he is telling us to be aware, to be focused, to be vigilant in our search for him. There is a great old testament image of this found in Numbers 9. After the Israelites escaped from Pharoah they were led by a  cloud, which represented the presence of God. This is how Moses describes how the children of God moved.

15On the day that the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony. And at evening it was over the tabernacle like the appearance of fire until morning. 16So it was always: the cloud covered it by daya and the appearance of fire by night. 17And whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, after that the people of Israel set out, and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the people of Israel camped. 18At the command of the LORD the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the LORD they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp.

Where is the Spirit leading you? Where is Jesus taking you? He who has ears, let him hear. Keep your eyes on Christ.

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What I learned from Coco: Family and life after death.

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I recently watched the movie Coco last weekend with my son and like every good movie, it touched my soul. I wasn’t expecting that to happen. I heard Coco was a movie about the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, but I didn’t really know what to expect. There was something beautiful about the depiction of Dia de Los Muertos, that the movie brought to life, and it got me thinking about something in a very new way.

The bulk of this will not focus on why Coco was a great movie, because that can be summarized in a few phrases; great writing, great acting, great story. However for me the reason Coco is such a great movie is how it makes you think about family, life and immortality in a whole new way.

For those who have not seen the movie, the bare bones plot of Coco is the following. Miguel , the main character, is a young Mexican boy who is trying to escape the trappings and weights of following in his families tradition. He has a passion to be a musician, but his family expects him to follow in the traditions of his family and become the most exciting of professions; a shoemaker. His parents were shoe makers, his uncles and aunts were shoemakers, his great grand mother was a shoemaker, so it followed that Miguel must be a shoemaker, and kill his dream of becoming a musician.  His Grandmother, reminds him that is what his great great grandmother would have wanted. His great great grandmother Imelda had banned music as if it was some type of “witch craft”, so Miguel had to secretly play, but never in in the presence of his family.  Miguel could never kill his passion, but his passion for music almost killed him and would take him into the land of the dead.

The day of the dead is the one day where the spirits of the dead ancestors can come and visit those who are still alive, however in Coco the only way the dead can visit is if the family has an ofrenda; an alter with food offerings and pictures of the dead. Miguel screws things up for his ancestors as he loses the photo of the matriarch in search of his recently discovered musician grandfather. With the photo of the matriarch gone from the altar,  Miguel’s great great grandmother is left behind in the land of the dead unable to pass through. She ends up discovering Miguel is at fault, and encounters Miguel, who by magic has entered the land of the dead in search of his great grandfather, the “secret” musician.

The land of the dead is a wonderful and beautiful city, with its own outcasts, and heroes. There are spirit animals, and parties and celebrations all leading up unto the greatest party that culminates at the end of the day of the dead. Life is not eternal in the land of the dead. One only lives as long as you are memorialized by someone who is alive. This is where the importance of family comes in, and in the movie it becomes the driving theme as Hector needs to ensure that his grandmother Coco does not forget her father, who Hector finally gets to meet in the day of the dead.

Hector finally returns home, and the history of his family, and returns the photo to its proper place on the family altar, with a new addition. The movie ends in joyous celebration.

One of the big themes in Coco that relates to the gospel, is the central character Miguel’s quest to know about himself through his great grandfather. This quest in a very limited way mirrors the quest we all have to know who we are and why we are here. It is our quest to know God, the father. Miguel knew that if he could find his father, it would validate who he was inside. He knew that his families answers about who he was and where he came from was missing something. There was a truth about him that he had to find out. We all are in a quest to know who we really are, what makes us tick, what is our destiny, what are we here to do. The only real way we can find that is if we find it in Jesus, who shows us the Father.

The world says all kinds of things about why we are here. It essentially says life is accidental, and our ancestors were monkeys, and we will live our meaningless, but extremely fortunate lives and then die in insignificance. Because life is so short the world tells you to live it up and seize the day. Little do they realize that we have a father here who has been hidden, but offers us keys to find him, and in finding him we will discover not just about our life here, but the life in the forever after.  Look at what Paul writes to the church in Ephesians 2

Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world.[a] He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

The Bible tells us that we are living in the land of the dead now, and that earth is just a mere shadow of the world to come. The only way we enter that world is if we remember and have an encounter with Jesus, if he is on the altar of our hearts, not only does he visit us, but he stated he will take us with him in the new earth. If we deny Christ, if we place other things, success, wealth, relationships, other gods, or even saints above him, we will not enter the new world.

In Coco the dead live only as long as their memory lives, and though that works as a metaphor, in real life it is not true. We all exist and our known by God. We were made to live forever. The question is whether we live with him or we are banished away from the light and joy of the world.

Heaven is real, Hell is also real. Our lives have consequences, we must live with purpose, and the only way we can find true life, abundant life that passes beyond the grave is to find that life by looking to our father. The father God answers us in Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us we are to die to the things, the dreams and lies of the world, and when we do that in Christ, Christ promises to give us new life.

So what happens after we die. Scripture points to the fact that those who have put their trust in Christ will wake up and be with him, while those who have not believed will wake up to judgment. So there are some family we will not see again, at least not see them in the best of circumstances.

There are things that I want to incorporate from Coco, not the altar but the passing down of stories. I believe our families on earth are one of the greatest blessings we have. However I have another family, a heavenly one. Our spiritual families are of huge importance to us, and in fact are the tools God uses to help preserve our memories of Jesus. We experience God in a greater way when we worship God. When we worship together we share how God has been faithful, not just in saving our souls, but in the daily benefits, of how he gave us peace, he brought healing in our lives, he helped us overcome unforgiveness, unbelief, or blessed us with a new job or even a new child.

Underscoring all of this is our need to appreciate history, and those who went before us. This pertains to our own families, and our spiritual ones as well. Celebrate your history, share your stories and and hear the words of Jesus, and also from Hector, and our loved ones who encourage us to “Remember Me”.

 

 

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How I know God is Real

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The Christian Response to Hate: Where is the Love

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The end of gender: Is it possible that there will be no Male or Female in Heaven

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I am going to suggest something that for some could be mind blowing. I want to start off by saying this is speculation, but not empty speculation. I would say I have a small argument based off of some deductions from scripture. I wouldn’t be surprised if I was wrong, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if I was right.

So here’s my thought: There will no longer be man and woman in heaven; at least in the traditional sense.

So the first question anyone will ask is how did you get to this point? That’s a very good question. In one of my more popular posts:

Marriage after Death: Can we be married forever?

I discuss the issue of marriage in heaven, which is closely related to this issue, and in another post

Will there be Candy Apples in Heaven? which is one of my favorites, I discuss  the issue of food in heaven. What they both have in common is they look at what our new bodies will be like.

So this is how I got to the point of assuming that there will be no males and females in heaven.

Lets start out with our primary verse from 1 Corinthians 15:

39 All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh[c] of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.

40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45 And so it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being.”[d] The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. 47 The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord[e] from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear[f] the image of the heavenly Man.

Last I want to go to one of my foundational passages from my last post “Will there be marriage in heaven, found in Matthew 22.

29Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.30At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

So what these passages both suggest is that the nature of our bodies will change, and that we have to look at our bodies differently. Our new bodies will be not like the first Adam, that was created initially male, and then later created female. It will be like that of the heavenly Man.

Now in the passage in Matthew 22 states something very strong. It states that one of the reasons that there will be no marriage is because we will be like the angels in heaven.

So here’s a question, Do angels have a gender?

When you look at scripture I can’t point to any scripture reference where the angel is a female.There is a passage in the fifth chapter of Zechariah that mentions two woman with wings, but those are probably not angels, but representative of other agencies.  Despite the lack of scripture references there is no definitive statement that angels cannot come in a female form. Angels are shape shifters. They have no set look. When they do appear they are often described as men, and at times with a glow, but how they appear on earth may not always be their true form. Often in scripture angels appear from no where and then vanish. The laws of physics don’t seem to apply to them.  Scripture points to the fact that they can appear in the form of humans, but don’t have human bodies. Hebrews states that they often appear as strangers.  So the big point behind this is that angels when they appear in Scripture just take on the form of a human, they do not have permanent physical  human bodies or reproductive organs. They do not have a set form or set gender.

Our first point then is that if angels have the ability to alternate human forms then that means they could come in theory come in either male or female forms depending on what suited them. Again their bodies are adaptable for the purposes of delivering a message.

So if Christ states we will be like the angels, I think he is referring to the fact that we will either have no gender, or that we will not have the same human elements that would cause us to want to get married.

I will not touch the Nephillim argument, but even if one chooses to use that, it seems to indicate the point that angels were not familiar with sex prior to coming down, and that the angels who did come down and had intercourse, had intercourse with women.

So again that leads us to conclude that either angels are prohibited to have sex, or that they have no sexual organs.

However lets move on. We have much bigger fish to swallow.

So the big issue that we have to examine is this question?

What is the primary reason for God making man male and female?

The answer is reproduction.

When God made the earth scripture stated that he started with a seed, Adam, and from Adam he would create Eve, for the purpose of reproduction. What is the primary organ that determines if one is male or female? Our reproductive organs.

So if there is no longer a need for reproduction, why would our new bodies have sexual organs?

So here’s a question. What was the goal of the mandate to reproduce? In Genesis 1:28 scripture says the following:

28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it

God’s mandate for man was to fill the earth. It wasn’t simply to populate the earth, but for the population of heaven.  Now once the earth is full, or heaven is full, there no longer remains a need to reproduce. So here’s a question. What is the difference between the population at the beginning of earth and the new earth. The first earth had one man. The new earth will be full of humans. There is no need to reproduce. One of the reasons is that there is no death, and if there is no death and we live eternally, the new earth would have to expand exponentially because of all the population growth.

In the parable of the wedding banquet in Luke 14 we find the master telling his servants to invite as many people into the celebration until every seat is full. There will be no empty seats in heaven. God knows the capacity. There will be no new births in heaven. That stage will be over. All the creation of new humans and death of humans will end at the last trumpet.

So again I ask you, If we are getting new bodies, why would God give us reproductive organs if we will not reproduce? So if God does not give us reproductive organs, and we no longer have penis or vagina, then will we be male and female?

Now aside from the sexual organs, will we still have some appearance as a male or female? Who knows. Maybe, maybe not. It is possible to have the appearance of a woman, and not have a women’s sexual organs. Of particular interest is that the angels except for rare occasions seem to wear  clothing. This is of note because there is no evidence that would help us decide if an angel’s figure was that of a female or male. Even when I use the term male, I use it in the sense that when angels appear they come in the male form, but we are not sure of their true form.   There is much that we don’t know because we don’t know what are the hidden elements of our bodies that change, will be replaced or even be done away with. We don’t know what elements of masculinity or femininity will remain or be done away with, or be changed. For instance I’d like to think that there are no bathrooms in heaven.  I don’t think there will be a male, a female and an other bathroom. In fact I hope we don’t even need bathrooms. There are passages that suggest there will be feasting, however I’d like to think that our bodies will not need to create waste, but that every thing we eat would be recycled, or that our eating would be for enjoyment, and not necessarily for fuel. On the other hand if God chooses that we still create waste, then that’s what God wants. I’d have to admit that as a man some of my more peaceful times have been on that porcelain stool, but in Heaven I’m sure that the peace of being with God would eliminate any need for that.

Now here’s an idea I have been floating around, because I know it could kind of bum some of us out that we will potentially be different. Here’s the biggest take away. Our truest identity, or that which makes us, ourselves, is our soul, our memories, and our thoughts. Our bodies obviously make us who we are, but are bodies are going to change, and thank God. My knees are already getting creaky, and my body is not as spry as it used to be, and I’m still under 40 years old. I don’t mind getting an upgrade.

However back to my idea that I’ve been floating around. I think in heaven our bodies will be made for God. There will be a warming pleasure, like being under a warm blanket,or being next to a cool breeze that will create such great joy while we are in the presence of God. Our current bodies cannot withstand his presence. He has to tone it down when he speaks with us. Think of this concept, the earth’s sun has infinitely less glory that that of God. There is a light that is stronger, that is greater, that is more powerful, more warming, more loving, more calming, more brilliant  than anything we have understood or could imagine. We will be made to handle and embrace and contain the glory of God. We will be one with him. It is no longer about male and female. It is about human beings and their God. Our sexual organs are a part of our humanity that we most likely will lose, but that we will in no way miss. Trust me. There will be such great joy, such singing, such music such celebration as never before. The rush that you get when you see a beautiful woman, or man and that desire to be with them, will be replaced with a desire to be with our God. That’s why its called the great marriage feast.

Now again, I could be wrong, but the idea is that God is really efficient and intentional in what he does makes me think that my sexual organs would be a waste of space. We will be eunuchs indeed.  God would not design something that was without use.  I am fascinated when I start to think about the wisdom of God, and the potential that lies ahead of us. We need to understand that though there will be many things that are similar, there are other things that will be different.

So to sum up this conversation, our bodies are a big part of our identity, but one that will change significantly. I’d like to say that we need to shift our conversation and be ready to relinquish our current view of things. I want to close with a scripture that kind of helps put these things into perspective, whether my argument is right or wrong.

29 I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 3and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33 but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl[f] is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If any one thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed,[g] if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed,[h] he will do well. 38 So that he who marries his betrothed[i] does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

Our world, our conceptions our ideals, our way of life and  our bodies are passing away. Our focus and our devotion in heaven will be on the Lord. The male and female dynamic will fade away. Thats why it says that he who refrains from marriage will do better, because they have the proper focus, it is on God. I think Paul may have understood this concept which adds an extra meaning to this passage here:

26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slaveg nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Its something to chew on an meditate on. Feel free to comment. I think it makes for a good discussion.

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Don’t freak out when the familiar becomes unfamiliar.

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When your faith is weak

Here’s a podcast about how to respond when our faith is under attack.

 

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Superbowl: Putting the game in perspective

Its no secret that the Superbowl is an unofficial holiday in America. I’m surprised we don’t get the Monday off from work to recover from the food comatose that ensues each game. Besides Thanksgiving more food is bought for Superbowl Sunday than any day of the year.   Football has replaced baseball as the national past time, so it makes sense that the biggest game of the year is a big deal. Its no coincidence that many of America’s idols converge on Superbowl. The big four are entertainment, consumerism, sex and gluttony.

Many men in the church know more football players than bible characters, more NFL teams than books of the Bible. They spend more money attending games than giving to a church, more time celebrating touchdowns, and crying over defeats than celebrating their salvation and weeping over their sin.

Houston we have a problem.  Now I’m not some purist who doesn’t watch the NFL, though I think the college game is more entertaining. My personal sports addiction has been the NBA. I have been working on monitoring the time I watch and read about it.  I’m not here to say that watching games or even going to parties is wrong. There is a time for everything. A time for the Seahawks to repeat, A time for balls to deflate. A time for Brady to be shady and on and on we go.

I do think we as believers need to do more than have viewing parties at churches. I think we need to really address some of these issues and internalize how we are doing in dealing with our countries idols.  Isn’t it amazing the amount of garbage we will be fed during the Superbowl. There will be a couple of funny commercials, but along with those there will be plenty of sex driven ads for beer, food, or some automobile. I have never been a fan of half time shows, because without fail they will have some wierdly costumed singers, prancing on the stage doing some gyration usually with someone breakdancing in the background while patches of rabid fans are jumping up and down in adulation. There is likely to be some cooky imagery  and stage decorations which will convince you the stage designers are in league with the devil or “illuminati” : ) and for the most part the music will not be my cup of tea.  I mean if we throw a Shad, Andy Mineo and Dream Junkies (Don’t worry if you don’t know who they are) to perform maybe that would be something different.

Its sad to think that for many people without God, this is a highlight of their year, and yet when it ends then what. As believers we believe in something that transcends a game, a show, something that transcends the food, the friends, the ads. We are awaiting a King to return, and that’s when the real celebration will begin. The task then is how to communicate this truth with our friends, neighbors, and family. In truth we have to be as excited about our God then anything else. You know the Oscars are coming up, and I could write the same article and just move around a couple of things, because maybe you are not in to sports, but into film, or fashion, pageantry, and awards. The point is that the best that the world has to offer can not hold a candle to what we will experience when our God comes in his glory. But where does your greatest excitement lie?  I thank God for these events, and I praise God when he allows athletes on big stages to glorify him. I’m looking at you Russell Wilson. The application however lies in how can I communicate with my sphere of influence the goodness and greatness of God in my life, whether I’m “winning, or losing” , because with God we are always winners. That’s why Paul says, “We are more than conquerers through him that loved us.” So when the commercials stop, the madness ends, the last chip is dipped, let us be thankful, but prayerful that the world may see and worship the God to whom all glory is due.

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Am I the only one here?: Being a minority in Church

Changing churches can be a very stressful exercise. About a year ago, my family and I decided to move from our beloved city back to an area I grew up in. On top of our priority list was finding another church. Off the bat I knew I didn’t want to go to a thousand different churches, having to awkwardly stand up a thousand times during the meet the visitor segment of church services. That is just too much pressure. So I decided to do a little research, and try to trim the list of a thousand  down to a couple. Fortunately it didn’t take too long to find the church as God guided me to a really great church. But before I joined the church I had to address one big issue, can I go to a White Church?

It is hard to go from a multicultural to monocultural environment. One of the great qualities of my previous churches was the fact that they were very multicultural.  There’s nothing better than worshiping with other brothers and sisters from all nationalities. If I were to rank my level of comfortability in terms of church diversity I would prefer multicultural worship over a predominately black church. I  would even considered going to a spanish evangelical church where I would be a minority, but that would be okay because like some black churches they know how to get down( meaning they have passionate worship and preaching but at times extremely long services). Ironically, despite my preferences the two churches that I visited were both predominantly white.

One of the first things I do and I’m sure many others do as well when visiting a church is look for people that they can connect and relate to. This happens no matter what type of church you go to. If you are a teenager you will look for other teenagers, if you are single you will look for other singles, if you have a young family you look for others with young families. One of the most disappointing things to happen is to go to a church and feel like there’s no one or only a handful of people like you there. So when I visited the first church which is a good thriving church, I was immediately taken back by the lack of black people or diversity there. I felt a little uncomfortable, not because of anything that anyone said or didn’t say in particular, because the greeters and ushers were kind. The discomfort came because I felt that I would only be able to connect superficially, and because I felt like I was in a place where no one would really understand me.  I didn’t know it until processing it later but I actually experienced culture shock.   Its funny to think that culture shock can come in the same city that a person grows up in because we usually use the term when people go overseas to mission trips but here I was in the middle of church thinking this is probably not the place for me. In fact I must confess I actually had a little condescension for the one black guy I did notice, thinking he must be the token black guy.

To put things in context, I felt more out of place at that church then at the Korean church I where I served as the English Ministry Pastor. Ironically the Pastor of the Korean Church is a great example of displaying diversity. He first hired an Indian and then myself an African American to work with the korean  youth and young adults at his church. Part of my search for a home church was simply because the only other church services at that church was in Korean.

Often times we create self fulfilling prophecies when we put up guards before even getting the chance to know someone who seems different. This doesn’t just happen with race, but with language, class, gender etc.  Though we should embrace the opportunity of change , we have be honest with our experiences and our own makeup; sometimes juggling those conflicting feelings can be difficult.

God gave me another chance to do just that. While browsing online I found a great church.  It had great teaching, a great missions program, and did local outreach. The only downside I found was when I looked at pictures of the staff. At first glance I looked and saw that there were no people of color, but after checking again I saw that one of the pastors was Asian, not a total strikeout I thought.  So I decided to check out the church on Sunday with my family. This church though predominantly white, had a small mixture of other races, and a small amount of blacks. Like the other church the greeters were friendly, but for some reason I felt more comfortable. Though the church was not as diverse as I wanted it to be, all the other factors more than made up for it. After a couple of weeks I came to the determination that this was the most balanced church I had ever been to or seen.  So my family and I joined.

It was after joining and meeting the pastor that I understood why I felt more comfortable. My pastor in the new members class said something that I will never forget. When he assumed the pastorate there weren’t too many black families, and one of the most faithful  black families was considering leaving precisely because they felt unwelcome. After talking to that couple my  pastor told the church something amazing. “I will not pastor an all white church”. He told the church that he wanted more diversity,and that the church would have to change the way it looks at those who are of different ethnicities.  He explained to the new members in class that day, how that moment transformed the ethos of the church, and how though not perfect they became more conscious of how to treat others. This is one of many reasons that I love and respect my pastor. He cast a vision for the church and made a stand that diversity sometimes means challenging the status quo.

I’ve been at my church for over a year and have had to from time to time wrestle with the idea of what it means to me to be a minority in my church. I have to say that in the year I’ve been attending the church has grown a little more diverse, and that there are so many wonderful men and women of God who are genuinely loving and don’t see skin color. This doesn’t mean however that there have not been awkward or uncomfortable moments as well. But there will always be awkward moments, even without race, its just a part of fellowship.

One of the reasons that I write this is to partially share part of my journey in being a minority but also to give a little perspective on how some minority’s may think. In honor of black history I would like to close with a few recommendations for churches who want to become more diverse.

  •  The call for diversity is heard loudest when the Pastor is willing to not only communicate it, but stand for diversity.
  •  Sometimes minorities may feel a little uncomfortable even when you may be friendly, they may just be dealing with their own experiences and doubts of whether they will be accepted.
  • Minorities feel a little more comfortable when they see other minorities in leadership positions.
  • One of the ways to make others feel welcome is to just love on them.
  • Talk to them and get to know them without stereotyping.
  • Experience their culture; films, music, books, food
  • Recognize that even within ethnic groups theres great diversity of personalities that they are not one monolithic group.

The church is the one institution that God has left to testify to the world of his great love. This is why I get so excited when I see Koreans and Japanese, White and Black, Palestianian and Israeli brothers and sisters worshipping together. It proves that the love of God has no boundaries. I’m so glad to be at my church and want to encourage all my fellow minorities who may feel a little out of place, that God may have you there for a reason; to spice things up. My prayer is for all future pastors and church planters to build churches that are reflective not only of their local communities, but of the beautiful and colorful bride of Christ.

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Are you a sponge or a brick?

I have been teaching the past couple of weeks on John 15. It is definitely a rich passage.  Take a second and read this:

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 

This passage is one of Jesus’s last teachings to his disciples pre resurrection. He emphasizes the importance of remaining in him despite the difficult seasons that are in their near future. He knows the cross is coming, he has warned them about the cross, but like most of us we seem to let God’s words go in one ear and out the other. Why? Because we do not follow verse 7. We do not let God’s words remain in us. Other versions say abide. Does God’s word take residence in you? Does it flow from your heart? Does it flow from your mouth? Does it float around in your mind? Or do you hear and then immediately forget. God’s word is not meant to be simply listened to. It is meant to be examined, and in fact you are to be examined by it.

Its as if a doctor is giving you your physical. The Word is the doctor who is reading your pulse, checking your vital signs, and prescribing you its dosage. You need a Psalms 1 for that, and Ephesians 6 for that condition, a Psalms 34 and 27 for that worry. I want to give you two ways to let his word stay in you.

The first way is to read it. Some of you might be like duh? But let me clarify what I mean by read. I’m not just talking about reading devotionals, though they are beneficial. I’m talking about picking a book like John and reading through it. There’s something about letting the Bible speak to you on its own. Read it first without any other voices telling you what it says. I know sometimes it seems intimidating, but there are a variety of different versions and helps to help you understand it. But the first step is to crack open your bible or bible app and begin reading a couple verses lets say around 7. When you read them, read them slowly and begin to think about what is the word saying. If possible get out a commentary or search one online and get some background on the passage. Biblegateway.com is a good place to read or another site I like if I want to look at some quick commentaries is  http://bible.cc.

You should ask questions while reading or after reading like Who was writing it, to whom was it written. What was the person going through? What message are they trying to communicate? What does this message say about God? What does it say about the people of God? Then you begin to apply the principle to your life, or your situation. The second quick step to keep the word in you is by talking about it.

I want to show you a quick passage that I am still learning to incorporate in my family.

Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9 Msg)

How often do you talk about the word? I’m not just talking about at church or in Bible study, but incorporating the Word in your home. Read the word to your kids, talk about it, talk about it to your wife. Share your devotions and your prayer requests. Share with your other brothers or sisters in the faith how you were blessed by a certain passage. The more we are exposed and process the word through speech, critical thinking and critical listening,the longer it stays with us. This also goes with sermons as well. If you do not talk about the sermon your pastor gives, or read your notes or pray for wisdom concerning the message you most likely will forget it. The key word is meditation. Meditation involves repetition, it revives soaking it in, and releasing.

I know many of us are going through different difficulties, but when life squeezes us what comes out of our mouth? Is it complaint, is it fear, is it worry or is it his word. Get God’s word in you because it is what will sustain you during the times of stress. Surround yourself with God’s people so that when you are becoming dry you can soak up some of their word.

So are you a sponge who absorbs the word and lets is seap through its pores, or are you a rock that hears the word and it slides right off your back? I want to conclude with Jesus’ word. Let his words remain in you. Keep them in your mind, your heart, your tongue and your home for the more you do you will find Jesus sitting with you in your midst. Amen

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