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I’ve often sensed that God might be somewhat annoyed with our smartphones. I don’t think this is because of any inherent evil in technology (though I sometimes question that statement when attempting to format a document in Microsoft Word) or that he wants all humanity to commit to Neo-Luddism, but rather because too often, our devices keep us in a constant state of distraction, fidgeting, and self-centeredness. The bustling world and all its madness is right there in our pockets.

I’m occasionally astonished to read articles asking if certain calming activities are appropriate for Christians. Perhaps a great deal of this comes down to clickbait or isolated instances, but unless we’re talking about a spiritually-charged issue, the fact that conversation even takes place reveals a deep-set problem within our society. All too often, we gain our self-worth by our productivity, by how much we’re “doing”. Indeed, the great trap of religion is trying to prove how much we can do or not do to impress God. Far too often, the church extols workaholics, ignoring the incredible damage this paradigm does to families, faith, and our souls. While service and self-sacrifice are certainly required of those who follow Jesus, there’s something else the Scriptures point to that we’re missing entirely.

Rest. Be still. Take a day off.

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Sometimes, we just need to unplug. We need to chip away at the plaque of social networking, untangle the cobwebs of wires, and darken the glow of our laptops and smartphones. Sometimes we need to just take a quiet walk with God or sip a warm cup of tea with Jesus. We’re invited to reattach to loving mercy and abandon self-sufficiency.  The popular band, The Fray, isn’t too far off from the truth in their song “Be Still”.

The first key is to pick a day of rest– a Sabbath. This article isn’t about the intricacies of what day that should be (in fact, I fear that argument totally misses the point). If it’s Saturday or Sunday and that’s the day you attend worship, great. If you work in ministry in any capacity, I highly recommend you pick another day. The point is to just pick one.

On that day, take some time to unplug and just be. Enjoy creation. Partake in a quiet hobby. Embrace stillness.

Here are five possibilities to slow down that you may not have considered:

1. Adult Coloring
22143183093_858534cb88_zThe more artistic-minded readers are probably quivering for joy over this one. Yes, there is a such thing as adult coloring books, and they are awesome. For the more pragmatic sorts, hear me out. Adult coloring books are available online and in bookstores across the country. You can color everything from tropical landscapes to scenes from BBC’s Sherlock. You are welcome to use whatever medium you want, but colored pencils and brush markers are particularly popular. Studies show that adult coloring helps reduce stress, build focus, and boost creativity. So often, we write off artistic activities as unimportant indulgences, but the whole point of rest is to let go of our need for productivity. Creating art and beauty is a great way to direct some of that energy while just being you.

2. Hiking
IMG_20130820_160737_873Eugene Peterson shared in several of his memoirs how he and his wife would always take a short hike on their Sabbath day. They’d read a Scripture, contemplate it during the walk, and then discuss what they learned afterwards. If you live in an area that has options for hiking or even a stroll through the park, take the opportunity to stop working and enjoy the world around you on a long walk. Resist the urge to blast music into your ears or fill the space with activity. Just go walk and enjoy the sounds and silence. On your way, have a conversation with God.

3. Road Trip
IMG_20140805_192119_516In a similar vein as hiking, just getting away from the city can be remarkably restorative. If you enjoy peaceful drives and have the means to do so, spend some time exploring your home region. Do some research and go find something that you’ve never discovered before. Don’t try to bog the day down in recreation. Just take a nice drive by yourself or with your spouse and spend a few hours escaping the noise.

 

 

4. Use Your Hands

20150929_161250I do emphasize that this isn’t an excuse to fill your rest day with home improvement projects. The point is to stop working. However, just like with the early example of coloring, many of us never take time to stop processing and just use our hands. The sky is the limit. Make a scrapbook or work on a journal. Relax in the garage and make a cutting board. A favorite fallback for Dave and I is weaving chainmaille. Combine it with getting outdoors and go rockhounding. As long as it’s an activity that forces you to stop worrying and slow down, go for it.

5. Sit Still
5252185196_0ca8d2b203_zThis one seems a bit on the nose, but it’s absolutely true. While I advise caution treating practices adapted from eastern religion overly-lightly (that’s another article for another time), there is one thing that techniques like mindfulness and meditation definitely get right.The ability to be still and present.

I’m not talking about emptying your mind or attempting to reach a higher spiritual plane. I’m talking about sitting still and being aware of the here and now. God calls himself “I Am”. He’s not just the God who was or who will be– He is here with you in the present right now. He gave you the breath in your lungs. He sculpted every atom in your being. He’s in control, and despite all the madness and ugliness in the world, everything will be all right if you cling to Him. Nothing, not death or disaster or despair, can touch our hope in Jesus. The worst thing you could possibly imagine can happen, and it still cannot separate you from the love of Christ and the promise He’s given that all things will be made new.

You can meditate on a scripture. You can recall everything He’s done for you. You can be grateful. You can enjoy the wind, and the silence, and the sunshine. It’s all there because of him. Don’t get caught up in what position you’re sitting in or trying to force relaxation. Just sit still and trust Him.

He is, He was, and He will always be with you…

The “Rest Here” photo is from Flickr Creative Commons user, Oliver Kendal (license). The photo of the bench by the water is from Miroslav Petrasko (license). The chairs drawing is from Folsom Natural (license). The hiking photo and hands photos were taken and by David Vega and are copyrighted for exclusive use on this blog. The rainbow picture is taken by Jett and is also copyrighted for exclusive use on this blog. The photo of the shoes is from Flickr user Javi Sánchez de la viña (license). The photographers (besides David and Jett) are not affiliated  with this blog and its views. Please support the artists by checking out more of their work on Flickr Creative Commons.

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I’m a Christian, but I love Muslims.

I believe in only one God, but I love Hindus.

I believe God is real and closely involved in the world, but I love atheists.

I follow Jesus, but I love Buddhists.

I have faith what I believe is true, but I love agnostics.

I believe Yeshua is the Messiah, but I love Jews.

I believe every person needs the gift Jesus offered, but I love pagans.

I love people because I’ve been taught to love, and I would say that most of the Christians who I know believe the same.

Love God. Love People. Love One Another.

2273696904_fe7a683cbf_zThanksgiving is a delightful holiday.

Not only is it the finest day of the year to imbibe in turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie, but think about how Thanksgiving avoids the rampant controversy that seems to mire other holidays. You just don’t see too many posts demanding we “Put the Thanks Back in Thanksgiving!” or”Join the #TurkeyDayMovement. #downwithgratitude.”

Why? Because pretty much no matter what background you come from, its hard to argue that gratitude is a good thing. Remember the #FirstWorldProblems trend? Totally Americans poking fun at our frequent lack of it.

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I’d assume most people would agree that spending a minimum of one day a year being reflective and thankful is something to root for. Science backs this up: a wide range of studies show the benefits of gratefulness include better relationships, better health, calmer minds, more restful sleep… the list goes on.

There’s a measure of guilt, however, when we realize we’re not very grateful people. We hate our jobs, our kids are nuts, our marriages are failing, we can’t pay the bills… It’s really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re face down in a pile of mud. Gratitude moves to the back of the line.

I’d like to share a challenge to address this– think of it as a Thanksgiving resolution. It involves one simple task to help you live more grateful, and it’ll only take up about a minute of your time every day.

At the beginning of 2015, I challenged myself to start some new habits, reinforcing this with habit building apps on my phone. One that was particularly helpful was Fabulous, a life-coaching app that gives you tangible steps every day to achieve a wellness goal such as having more energy during the day. While following the program to build better sleep habits, I came across one step that surprised me.

Start a gratitude journal.

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While I am an avid note taker, I’ve never been able to keep a consistent journal. This always came as something of a disappointment as my dear marvelously-exuberant grandmother, Bobby, was the most dedicated journal-keeper I ever met. I’m certain there’s a shelf or box somewhere containing book after book telling the story of her life. I tried to emulate this practice many times but always fizzled out.

Enter the gratitude journal challenge. It’s simple:

 

1) Find a suitable journal that you really, really like.

2) Keep it next to your bed where it can be seen.

3) Every day, before you go to bed, write down three things that you’re thankful for.

 

With the app prodding me nightly, I began this practice. Some days were easier than others. A super good day might look like:

1) Hiked to 12,000 feet!

2) Had the best meal ever!

3) Wrote 2000 words!

On bad days though, I realized just how hard it can be to stay grateful. An occasional entry would read something like:

1) Air to Breathe

2) Roof over head

3) A bone-head, stubborn-as-ox husband who may be a superb big poo-head but still loves me and vice versa

It was during these times– the ones where gratitude didn’t come easy– that the journal had its most powerful effect. I was forced to find something, anything, to be thankful for. You start resorting to things that seem like cop outs at the time, but are actually remarkably profound:

I get to pick what clothes to wear every day…

I have clean drinking water…

We can go to the grocery store…

The bird didn’t bite me today…

David made dinner after I had a horrible day…

Jesus still loves me…

I went back through and read the entries later. It was like a catalog of clear perspective, a story of life outside of the pain of the now.

A tangible reminder that I have so much to be thankful for.

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Here’s my Thanksgiving challenge to you: start a gratitude journal. Do exactly what the challenge above says. Don’t cheap out on the journal. Find something with good paper weight and line size that you’ll look forward to using (throw in a nice pen if it helps). I also recommend downloading a good habit tracking app like Fabulous, Coach.Me, or HabitRPG to remind you to write in it every evening.

Finally, every day, before you go to bed, write down those three things. If you miss a day, go back and try to remember what you were thankful for that day. Make up something general up if you can’t. Just be thankful.

After a month, go back and read what you wrote… and do so every time you need a reminder that today is not the end.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The top journal picture comes from Flickr Creative Commons user Ryan under the Creative Commons license. The “Grateful” picture is from user Sharon Sinclair (license) The photographers have no affiliation with this blog or its content.

dirty hands - smallerBlood in the streets.

Men and women weeping over loved ones killed before their eyes.

The violent prevail, and the innocent are exploited.

Child soldiers. Trafficked women. Genocide. A baby dying in the hospital of a rare disease.

The streets of Paris rattled with gunfire and sirens.

I once told a good friend that we live in a fallen world. He told me that was a ridiculous statement. I mean all you have to do is look around in a beautiful place like Colorado right?

For those in Paris, Beirut, Israel, Syria, and other areas recently experiencing terrorist attacks or national disasters, I think it’s hard to ignore that something has gone very, very wrong in this world.

Christians around the world flock to social media to show their support for the victims– changing Facebook pictures, organizing calls to prayer, donating support to aid organizations. For some it sadly turns into an opportunity to politicize tragedy. Some just make fools of themselves and come across as naïve or heartless.

Last week, I found myself sitting in a Starbucks, drinking tea from one of the infamous red cups (side note: no actual Christians that I know are upset about the Starbucks cups), trying to get back into blogging. I actually typed something up about the controversy with a few points about Christmas and showing love rather than working ourselves into a lather over such trivial matters.

In the light of recent world events, I don’t even want to shine the spotlight on such nonsense. I read the story of the woman who played dead for an hour and as a Christian, I find myself with only one steady response.

God, may your kingdom come and your will be done here as it is in heaven.

I know… every kid who went to Sunday School had to memorize these words, and they seem rather counter-productive. God’s kingdom coming– at least according to what the Bible seems to say– means inviting the demise of our world right? Everything gets destroyed in a dramatic apocalypse, and all the Christians are raptured away singing, “I fly away, fly away, oh glory” while the sinners are left to be judged and consigned to God’s torture chamber. Doesn’t sound too far off from what ISIS wants.

Who the blazes wants to pray that?

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We want world peace. We want to reach the apex of human evolution when violence and destructive tendencies finally adapt out of our system. We make excuses for the way things are, saying it’s just the way it is, or as the popular movie Serenity put it (great movie, by the way), that a world without sin would devolve into purposelessness or the most savage of violence and horror. We would no longer be human without our flaws and imperfections.

How the flip does religion help any of this? More moral codes to chain people up? More systems of belief so the self-righteous can claim power? A political mechanism? A naïve solution for the problem of death? An impetus for more war? Didn’t these horrible attacks happen because of religion?

As one friend put it, if Christians want to leave these world so bad, just hurry the @%&* up and do it. We’re one more religion proliferating discrimination, violence, and abuse. Quit spoiling it for everyone else.

Knowing all this, why the blazes am I still a Christian?


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This is a difficult question to answer, not because it can’t be answered, but because it will take a few posts to do so. The first point to address is what the heck do Christians actually believe? Popular opinion is, from my observance, way off. There’s also a disparity between what the Bible teaches and what many churches share– not a massive “everything you’ve ever learned is wrong” disparity like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, but a missing of the mark, an over-exemplification of certain points in Western culture to the point they’ve distorted the message.

Most people unfamiliar with Christianity assume it’s a religion centered around worshiping Jesus Christ, a man who may or may not have existed (though, in truth, most scholars no longer dispute that he was a real person) who had some nice moral teachings. If you accept Jesus as your lord and live a good life, you go to heaven. If you don’t, you go to hell where God gleefully barbecues you for all eternity. Along the way are many difficult rules you have to follow, and that might mean making some other people’s lives difficult as you have strive to “save” them.

Those who grew up in the church might know an alternative version– that all people have sinned in some way and the punishment for this is death and ultimately hell. However, God loved us so much that he sent his Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. Because He’s a nice God and Jesus’ death was so unfair and unjust, He rose Jesus from the dead to prove this. If you just say you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, all your sins are forgiven and you get to go to the good place instead of the bad place. If you’re alive when he returns (because he’s coming back), you’ll be raptured to heaven and get to leave the destroyed earth behind.

Both of these miss the mark of what Jesus’ disciples gave up their lives to announce.

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A quick note for those new to this territory: the Bible is not a book. Actually, it’s something of a library of sixty-six historical and cultural documents from over forty authors from different epochs in Jewish history. These authors spoke Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic, depending on what region and period they came from. Most of them didn’t know each other, and the breadth of their writing spans 1,500 years. As a body of work, it can be dumbed down to many things:

Jewish and early Christian history.

A corrupted text meant to control.

A mass of religious writings by superstitious primitives who believed in talking donkeys and men surviving whale attacks.

Some nice moral teachings.

A violent and disturbing chronicle revealing the dangers of religion.

A rule book.

In truth, the Bible is simply this: it’s the story of how God relates to people. It makes the assumption that we are not dealing with a distant God (aka Dawkins’ blind watchmaker). This God intimately involves himself in the world, and the Scriptures make claims that even basic technological revelation like farming and survival skills were ultimately revealed by him (Genesis 3; Isaiah 28). In a world so violent that rape, forced marriage, and child sacrifice were commonplace parts of culture, this God made a divine promise to one man– Avraham– to build a people of God out of his household. From this man’s family come the Jewish people, and out of the remarkable history of the Jewish people comes a descendant of King David called Yeshua Ben Natzeret (Jesus of Nazareth) whose life fulfills overthree hundred prophecies recorded in Scripture thousands of years before– a statistical near-impossibility.

Christians often use the words “Good News” when trying to share their system of belief. I highly recommend N.T. Wright’s Simply Good News for a deeper read on this, but I’ll do my best to summarize some problems with the way we’ve handled this term.

A system of belief is not news. Telling people your way of belief is better than theirs is not news, it’s religious arm wrestling. Jesus told his followers to share the good news of something God had done. Often when we degrade into comparing why our system of belief is better because people need to accept Jesus or they’ll end up in hell, it sounds an awful lot like bad news.

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The truth is, news means something happened that changed everything else.

This is a huge subject, one I’ve touched on before, but I want to summarize what the Bible actually claims as far as Christian beliefs and why those who follow Jesus claim to have a hope beyond the terrible things happening in this world– not because we’ll fly away (oh, glory) but because we really believe there is good news to share.

Here’s a summary of what the Bible actually says in modern terms:

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God made the world, creating all material and putting function to it. (I’ll save another post for why this doesn’t have to be a stopping point for those with scientific concerns). He created humans, doing something very special when he did so, and everything he made was good– great even.

He made us to walk with Him, to steward creation, and to bear his image (similar to how a parent passes their DNA to their child).

You cannot have love without choice, so there was one thing humans weren’t supposed to do. We were warned that if we did this one thing, we would die. We did it anyways because we wanted to be our own gods.

This choice on our part brought death into the world and everything that comes with it: shame, sickness, decay, “survival of the fittest”, entropy, distortions in nature, difficulties working the land, pain in childbirth, problems between men and women, suffering, and actual death. Every human from this point in history forward is now affected by a natural tendency to rebel (as every parent with a two year old has experienced).

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We still have some components of God’s image, but we also have the image (DNA, if you will) of our common ancestors who brought sin into the world. This means even our smallest infractions of divine law– which every single person partakes in– contribute to death in the world, whether we notice it or not. Often, our lives are too short to see the ripple effects our most minute choices have.

Because of this violation, bad things happen. This isn’t a result of God punishing people, but rather is a result of our choices and death at work on earth throughout history.

Despite the fact we put ourselves at enmity with God, He loved us so much that every one of his actions– even his judgments– after that point have been for a purpose of redemption. That meant there were times he even was willing to work with the realities of a twisted and violent world (in some ways, evil beyond almost anything we see in modern day) to call people out to take part in this great plan. The majority of these people came out of the nation of Israel.

Through Israel, God made a number of promises to send a savior, a promised king (the word Messiah means king) who would establish God’s kingdom on the earth through Israel.  There were lots of bumps along this road, but the promise remained the same.

Whether we like it or not, we live in a world currently ruled by death, and therefore, self-preservation. No matter how much we strive for better governments, better laws, kinder thoughts, and even higher morals, nothing can change the fact these are the ruling factors of our world. We are subject to a king called death whether we captain our souls or not.

As he promised, God sent his son, Jesus, who lived a sinless life despite experiencing all the same temptations we do. He really was a man, not some spirit in human clothes. He spent three incredible years declaring that the kingdom of God was here and calling people to take part in it, which meant rejecting the old way of living (or “repenting”).

He was executed in a bloody, unusually violent death and was proven dead by professional killers (the Romans were very, very good at this and didn’t take chances– that’s why the spear being stuck into the lining of his heart was significant).

He was buried and stayed dead over the course of three Jewish days.

Three days later and over the following weeks, many witnesses reported seeing him alive and were willing to defend this account even to their deaths. The details of their stories corroborate well and don’t suggest conspiracy or collusion. These accounts are recorded in the New Testament letters, as well as in some other historical documents.

Jesus’ resurrection changes everything. If true, it proves that He is who He said He was, that God’s plan to redeem the world is in motion, that death really is defeated, and that He really is the promised king– meaning a new kingdom has arrived. He ascended to his Father’s side– still alive– and  has promised He will return. Shame no longer rules. Self-preservation no longer rules. The price for our crimes– all of them– has been paid if we’ll accept the substitution. He is now ruling his kingdom, and all authority on heaven and earth has been given to Him. We don’t have a say in this. It’s already happened. How we react to this news is our choice.

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In the meanwhile, as Jesus warned, the world is at war. Humanity wants both a perfect world and the benefits of deciding our own fates and building our own kingdoms. We want no God, no accountability, no judgment– we want a perfect world where we set the compass of morality, we can enjoy our power and pleasure, and we can choose our own spiritual system. We shake our fists at the Biblical God for not giving us this. We’ve cut Him out of the equation entirely. We deride him for not fixing the problems of suffering now, on our terms, our way.

The horrible things that continue to happen in this world are not a result of God’s heartlessness. As mentioned before, they are a result of our own choices. Despite our best efforts, humanity cannot have both– a self-serving world and paradise. God is farsighted enough to see this, but we are not.

When injustice happens in this world– children dying, terrorist shootings, the exploitation of the vulnerable– He is absolutely incensed, and vengeance will be His. However, His love and hope for humanity overrules this. We don’t get it– if all sin and injustice is dealt with, that means all of us have to pay for every violation of universal law no matter how small or ignorantly made. All humanity would be condemned without hope.

We’re in an in-between time. Every kingdom needs a king (Jesus), land (it goes wherever His people go), law (Love God. Love People. Love Each Other), and people. People throughout as many generations as possible are being given the opportunity to accept this new hope. Through Jesus, God has offered a gift of freedom from the old way– accept the sacrifice my Son gave and do what He says. Believe in Him, and death is no longer your king. As He was resurrected, you will be too. I want you to be part of my family and to be made new, fully human and fully alive as you were meant to be. For the Jews, He is the promised Messiah, the embodiment of Israel and the final sacrifice. For the nations, He is our introduction to the family of God.

He’s inviting people into this new kingdom, offering new citizenship– even an opportunity to be adopted as his children. The gift is free, though it does involve counting a cost as people will not like us taking part in this. It means we’re rejecting the idea that we can somehow save the world.

Most Christians miss this part. We think the ultimate solution is immortality of the soul– our essence will go to a light, fluffy, place and be happy for all eternity. God made every part of us, and that includes bodies. He wants us fully restored, not just our souls. He’s a God who deals in tangible realities, even if those seem strange and lofty to us. The plan is for your body to be redeemed too. All of you.

Every Christian on the earth is a representative of this new kingdom, declaring that Jesus is Lord, God’s plan is in effect, and the invitation to be part of this new hope is extended to everyone.

For those who won’t accept it, God isn’t going to force you– indeed, heaven would be hell if He did. However, if humanity’s wish is separation from God, that is exactly what hell is. It’s not a torture chamber, but it is a place of great regret and anger… because ultimately, Jesus will remain Lord whether you follow him or not, every one of us will bow to Him, and everything we invested our lives in on this earth will decay and be destroyed. That’s hell– watching our kingdoms burn. It’s the culmination of our great experiment to become our own gods. It’s the final result of our efforts– failure, regret, rage, and ultimately, despair.

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God doesn’t want anyone to meet that fate, but we’re hard-hearted people. We want our way or no way. God’s way isn’t logical. It doesn’t make sense to us, but He is God, and this is the way He’s chosen. He’s offering a way out, but because it’s not the way we would’ve done it, we reject it. It’s stupid and smacks of superstition. It’s brutal and senseless…

Kind of like a lot of things that happen in this world, but still happen. This is a situation far more cosmically complex than we care to think.

The ultimate goal of all this?

Heaven and earth will be made new and united. This infers earth will be renewed, not discarded. The intent isn’t to “fly away” oh glory (I’m not going to get into the dodgy ground of Western rapture theology here). Many of the descriptions we usually attribute to heaven are actually descriptions of the new earth.

All those who called on Jesus and follow him to the end with sincere hearts will be resurrected. We’ll get new, fully alive bodies like he did and be able to live fully human. He’ll wipe away every tear and there will, truly, be no more pain.

All mankind will be judged, and the horrible injustices we’ve seen in life will be avenged. Without Jesus taking the price for our crimes, there would be no hope for any of us, but those who accept his sacrifice and believe in Him will receive mercy because he paid the price for us in an inconceivable act of love. That’s how important you are to Him.

Where does eternity come in? The implication the Bible makes is that in the new heaven and new earth, we won’t be in some sort of endless worship concert. There will be work to do. We’ll have a whole new earth to take care of and will partner with God in building and filling with his goodness.

Death loses. Love wins. All is made new.

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That’s the good news.

That’s why, as a Christian, I look at Paris and know that there is no international effort that can fully save these people. We can do our best to send aid, show compassion to the broken, stand up to the persecutors– all very important things– but none of it will result in an ultimate solution.

Only Jesus provides that.

To those from other religious backgrounds, this claim is utterly offensive. To Christians for whom Christianity is just one more religion, it’s zealotry. To the secular intellectual, it’s foolishness.

I can only say I believe because I’ve experienced it. Every time I run into a doubt, a problem that I think will be the killing blow for my faith– one that will certainly prove God’s non-existence– He does something unexpected, and I can’t escape the awareness that He’s there, in control, and Jesus really is who He said He is.

I’ve experienced supernatural healing from chronic disease. I’ve experienced his steadiness in the midst of inexplicable suffering. I’ve laid hands on sick people, and they were healed. I’ve seen barren wombs opened. I’ve seen broken feet mended. I’ve seen those justifiably bitter and without hope find joy and be transformed by him. I’ve felt his presence so strong, I thought it would surely kill me. I’ve felt his peace in the midst of turbulence, even in the midst of indescribable pain and the possibility of my own death.

I’ve seen him defy logic. I’ve seen his involvement in the intricacies of creation and scientific discovery. I’ve heard Him speak through people, circumstances, the Scriptures, and even through divine impression. I’ve been in experiences that should have resulted in disaster that instead resulted in miracles. I’ve let him guide my path, and he’s taken me on “An Unexpected Journey” I never thought possible, filling my heart with a hope and a joy that no circumstance can touch. He completely messes with my life, sometimes in uncomfortable ways, but it ultimately results in healing, hope, and renewal. When the world rocks and churns and spits and kicks, He’s steady and He’s ultimately always there when I look for Him.

Doubt though I try, He just keeps showing up. He’s that alive and real to me. That’s why I believe… and that’s why, when looking at world events, I repeat the prayer that I know will one day be fulfilled, because it really is good news:

God, may your kingdom come and Your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

 

The Eiffel Tower photo is a creation of Jeroen Bennink via the Flickr Creative Commons License.   The scrolls picture is from user Fabcom also under the Creative Commons license. The arm wrestling sculpture is from Laura Ferreira via Creative Commons. The adorable screaming toddler photo is from Mindaugas Danys (License). The “News” photo is from Dennis Skley (License). The picture of wreckage is from Flickr user Shannon (License). The Sunrise photo is from Uditha Wickramanayaka (License). The photographers are not affiliated with this blog or its content.

Quick Note: If you follow the blog and want to receive regular updates, Jett now has a Facebook page where you can keep up with new articles and projects. 

If you’re active on social media, you’ve undoubtedly made acquaintance with this unassuming picture of a dress. It’s not a particularly good picture, but the internet has gone mad over one simple question regarding it.

What color is it?

When I first saw the picture, I couldn’t see what the controversy was. Very clearly, it was white and gold. When I realized that the problem was that many people saw it as blue and black, I was confused. I love a good optical illusion puzzle, but this one I didn’t get. I did some research and found that the dress is, in fact, royal blue and black, but I couldn’t connect the two pictures with my eyes. As far as I was concerned, one was a picture of a royal blue and black dress, and the other was a completely different dress dyed different colors. It had to be a trick. The only time I saw a hint of blue and brown was if I scrolled to the picture very quickly, but this only worked once or twice. My brain immediately made the adjustment to white and gold, and there was no going back from there.

The controversy has been fascinating, and I’m sure the psychologists and social scientists have been giggling in their seats at all the data to be reaped. People lost their minds over it. My favorite comment was something along the lines of, “If you see white and gold in this dress, you’re not from my plane of existence.” By now, we’re all sick of the trend, but there’s something powerful to be learned from this little experiment.

Perception is not always reality, and we human beings hate when our perceptions are challenged.

I’ve long suspected that people see colors slightly differently. My husband and I once had an all-out argument over whether his wallet was grey or green. At the time, I was a Photoshop retouch artist, so I put my foot down and said my perception had to be correct– after all, I was paid to recognize colors properly. We were both irate at the challenge to our viewpoint. Was one of us disabled or colorblind? Which one of us was wrong? In hindsight, it was a ridiculous argument (like #whiteandgold versus #blueandblack), but at the time, it genuinely fired our emotions.

Sight is our most valuable compass in this mad world. If we can see it, an argument can be made for something to be reality. Even people of faith rarely believe blindly– we may not see God, but we proceed in our belief based on evidence of His existence that we have seen, felt, or experienced. These experiences lead to greater trust in His character and involvement regarding matters that we cannot see.

I’ve seen many a Christian give up on friendships or throw up their hands in despair when their efforts to share their faith are met with scorn, frustration, or coldness. Particularly among young Christians and those who’ve been sheltered by the church most of their lives, it’s a tremendously frustrating experience. Why don’t people just believe? Why can’t they see God when he’s right there? Why aren’t words enough?

We’re arguing that the dress is blue and black. We know it’s blue and black because we’ve seen it properly exposed or in person. Why on earth do people insist it’s white and gold? The reality has been proven– they’re wrong.

Apply the same argument to the existence of a theistic God whose master plan for human redemption involved sending His own Son to earth to live thirty-three years as a human, to die a capital punishment death, then to rise again, defeating the very core of death and decay integrated into our universe. Then continue with the point that we want people to believe that He is the King of Kings and evil is being allowed to endure for a time so that as many people as possible can be made part of His kingdom and redemption plan before He returns to conquer evil and make all things new. Even for some Christians, to then add that people aren’t just going to be disembodied souls that’ll float to heaven and rest there for eternity, but that we’re all going to literally rise from the dead like Jesus did is enough to cause fists to shake in the air. It all sounds like lunacy.

If half the population (myself being one of them) see a blue and black dress as white and gold, and that difference in perception turns us belligerent, how much more daunting is the idea that we’re all accountable to a creator God whose plan doesn’t make sense to our ears?

Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from this silly dress– can we take the risk to trust and explore beyond our perception? Can we release confidence and pride in our eyes long enough to consider other viewpoints? I’ll admit it– the dress is blue and black, even if I can only see it in momentary flashes before my brain takes over and alters my it back to white and gold. If no one had told me it was blue and black, I never would’ve known the difference, and it did seem stupid to me when I first heard it was blue and black. Should we not learn to practice flexibility in the same area when it comes to explorations of the universe, culture, and faith?

 

 

5 Things I Wish Christians Would Admit About the Bible

It is good to be writing again. The end of 2014 was a busy, busy time. I’m hoping to be back to posting regularly in Kneeling-in-the-Dark land starting in February. With that in mind, I wanted to draw attention to an excellent article (that I found because it caused a wee bit of controversy and confusion) by another Christian blogger.

I came across this excellent post from RelevantMagazine.com this morning. It stirred a pretty strong response in me because I wish someone would’ve told me this stuff when I was a teenager. I wish someone would’ve told me this when I was in Christian school. I wish someone would’ve told me this before I learned about Bart Ehrman, Richard Dawkins, and New Atheists. I’ve seen so many friends give up on their faith because they just couldn’t get past the fact they were told “This book is the Word of God, and that’s that. If you don’t believe it, you don’t have enough faith.” When confronted with difficult truths about where The Bible came from, they just can’t reconcile the two points of view. Magic books are for fairy tales, after all (and this is coming from someone who writes speculative fiction on the side).

The truth is, I believe our God is the same God who created cellular biology, the complex systems that hold our universe together, and the wonders that science is just beginning to explore. The Bible is an equally complex collection of writings that, frankly, the modern Christian world has treated with kid gloves. God didn’t just dictate a special rulebook so Jews and Christians could have holy writings to counter polytheistic religions. The more I’ve studied this challenging subject, the more I’ve realized that He used an amazing process that has spanned almost the entirety of human history to ensure that this information is preserved and transmitted through society.

And yet, we treat this information like heresy. In the evangelical Christian world, we panic over stuff like this. I can respect the point of view of one commentator I saw who feared whether such a post was meant to strengthen faith or weaken it. After all, Jesus seemed quite weary when he asked why his generation demanded a sign. Isn’t it better to just believe like a child and that’s that?

I might hit on this very subject again in an upcoming post. When I’ve struggled with doubt (including a long season of wrestling with God over the Scriptures and why everyone felt the need to keep it such a secret where they came from), I’ve been blessed to remember Peter, Thomas, and the man with the epileptic son. When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t kick him out of the disciples. He said it’s better to believe without seeing, but here– do what you must to believe and touch my scars. When the man whose son would throw himself into firepits lacked faith, he asked Jesus to help him with his unbelief, and Jesus did heal his son. When Peter blew it and denied the master he’d loved, Jesus made sure the women found him to witness the resurrection. He specified Peter by name.

In short, this isn’t information to be feared. As youth pastors, my husband and I have actually made it a point to talk about this subject with our students. I don’t want them getting to college and feeling like they’ve been lied to. The Bible is much more interesting and rich with this knowledge than it is without it– or at least it has been in my experience. It’s a bit like talking about sex. A five year old might not be ready to learn about all the complexity of where babies come from, but if a twenty-year old still believes that babies are delivered by a stork, someone has been irresponsible in teaching him the truth and giving him a chance to mature.

The only thing I would add to the list in the article would be some information on oral culture. In short, while the Jewish people, in particular, kept excellent written records, such as we see in the Dead Sea Scrolls, the average person did not get their information by reading. Literacy was not a necessary part of life in ancient culture. Rather, they were more community-oriented and learned through hearing, thus all the odd references to hearing in Scripture. It’s hard to believe, but society was able to function for thousands of years without being textually-centered. This doesn’t change anything about the authority of the writings in The Bible, which are unusually well-preserved as far as historical texts go.

For anyone curious about this subject but who wants something meatier, I highly recommend the books Fabricating Jesus by Dr. Craig Evans and The Lost World of Scripture by John Walton. Both are books written in scholarly fashion with little evangelical rhetoric to bog things down for the average reader who just wants to explore this point of view and the evidence behind it without feeling like their emotions are being toyed with.

For the full article, visit RelevantMagazine.com .

10268626_10203989506042622_4515160972262354421_nFor any woman who has felt an unquenchable passion to teach or take a more active role in ministry (or just women curious about Christianity in general), the end of 1 Corinthians 14 might be one of the most deflating verses in the New Testament. Let’s take a look at the NIV version:

34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Yee gad, this verse caused me so much difficulty as a young person (along with its scary brother in 1 Timothy– another blog for another time). I’ve known since I was a teen that God placed a passion in me to help others understand difficult points in the Bible. I devour theology books and explorations of challenging Christian topics. I’ve started living this out during my time as a youth pastor and writing this blog.

But being a teacher of the Bible, I definitely want to honor it, even when it says things I don’t want to agree with. How could I do that if I was breaking this command? I know I’m not the only woman who has struggled with this conviction. Is this just the cross a woman has to bear when following Jesus, or are we missing some information about Paul’s intention?

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3251428624_80eec993d7_oAccording to the account of the fall in Genesis 3, what was the first symptom of death that entered the world? When the woman and the man took of the forbidden fruit (whether literal or metaphorical), they didn’t just drop dead that instant. Death occurs in stages. Was it the curse that came first? Pain in childbirth? Manipulation and domination? The transition from enjoyable purpose to toil?

The answer is shame.

They realized they were naked, and they were ashamed. Their immediate reaction is to try to cover their (newly) private parts with fig leaves– not lovely Tarzan and Jane woven loincloths like those contrived by kitschy Sunday school illustrations, but a desperate mess of foliage using the only materials available, like something a toddler would patch together to conceal that they’ve soiled themselves.

Indeed, Adonai’s first question for Adam is, “Who told you you were naked?”

The first symptom of death is shame.

You may have recently heard the name Brene Brown or seen her enormously popular TED Talks dance across your Facebook feed. She is a respected psychologist and an expert on the subjects of vulnerability and shame– indeed, I’ve referenced her work on the blog previously. Here’s a basic summation of her discoveries about shame: guilt is being sorrowful that you’ve done something wrong. Shame is being sorrowful because you believe you are the thing that is wrong. The Bible uses the word condemnation somewhat interchangeably with this– a hopelessness due to our sinful nature and past actions that reflects on the inner heart.

It also says in Romans 8 that there is no shame (condemnation) for those who are in Jesus the Messiah.

So here’s my question: if death has been defeated, and because of that, shame has been defeated, why the blazes are we still using shame as a tactic in Christian life?

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Christians: The world’s most persecuted people

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It’s really hard to tell people about Jesus when everyone already seems to know the story about Him…

It’s one thing to sit down and share the gospel with a refugee family fresh off an airplane. This is one of the great blessings of the ministry Dave and I work in— yes, there are presuppositions about Christianity, but in general, most of the people who we meet are at least curious to hear the full story.

Our church does a number of meetings at the apartments of Bhutanese-Nepali refugees. One particular night this winter, Elsa The Snow Queen was apparently singing her heart out from atop the Rockies to bury us all in an ill-timed blizzard (the snow burned white on Colfax that night). We didn’t find out that evening’s meeting was cancelled until we arrived at the home of our associate pastors, Tej and Monmaya, two of the first converts in this whole crazy revival. We stopped inside to say hi, knowing that a large portion of their family had just arrived from Nepal.

We sat in the living room, toddlers running helter skelter and hot cups of spicy chai in our hands. The plan was to greet the family, pray over them, and go on our merry.  Monmaya gathers the family together in the living room, looks at me and says: “Here they are. Tell them about Jesus.”

I didn’t know what to say. Tej sat down to translate. Normally, our senior pastor is the first one to meet new families. In truth, outside of a Bible study setting, we had never been asked so point blank to share the gospel before. Americans generally don’t want to hear it— they already know the story and either shut down or want their beef with theology or historicity addressed.

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