Monday, August 26, 2013

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and a Final Destination

My family loves vacations. We love them so much, in fact, that we make them almost as strenuous at work. I know that people often say that they need a vacation after their vacation, but after one of our classic family adventures, you'd probably mistake our post-vacation sleep sessions for comas. I have never experienced the lazy summer of sitting at a resort's pool, drinking lemonade, and reading a book. Nay sir, my family's vacations consisted of months of research before the trip, (mostly done by my dear mother) frantic train/plane/automobile ventures, and half-visited tourist sites.

And when I say half-visited, I mean that we would get to our destination, go to the popular, tourist-y area, let our eyes absorb its wonder and majesty for a total of 3.72 seconds, then pop out of there like it was our job. We probably did this to go find the less-populated, local-approved restaurants and shops, but it was definitely a harrowing experience.

That being said, we were in Santorini, Greece one afternoon, and I noticed that we were actually taking a pretty relaxed stroll through the town and talking. I must have been about 13-15 years old, and for whatever reason, my thoughts turned to the afterlife. I asked my family something along the lines of, "Will we be a family in heaven?"

I believe it was my mother who responded with a reference to Matthew 22, which says:
"For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven."
To understand what happened next, you must understand my family. I thoroughly believe that my family is one of the most closely connected ones on the planet, with a lot of love to spread. With them being so important to me, it rocked me to my core to think that our family wasn't going to look exactly the same way in heaven. Now, you must also understand another thing: there weren't many ideas that could emotionally affect me as a child. I was almost always very happy, content, and stable. As twilight fell, that night was painted not only in the orange flares of sunset, but also tinted with a hue of sadness at the idea that heaven might not be as great as I was told.

It took me a long time to realize that heaven was something to look forward to and treasure, mainly because my life here on earth was so blessed (something which I thank God for every day). What I began to understand, however, is how much heaven was actually a fulfillment of what I was created for. Today, I heard in a video that a woman's body is made for pregnancy and birth. In much the same way, our souls were built for heaven, the place where we could be in perfect union and communion with our Maker, without the hindrance of sin and brokenness.

I could much belabor this point, but what I'm getting at is that everything about who we are, our aspirations, our desires, and our needs were all made to find their resting place in the throne room of God. My closeness with my family was God's way of showing me that this connection that created so much joy in my life was simply a fractionated piece of what total, perfect completion in Christ would be.

Now that's an idea that I'd like to entertain by the side of a pool with lemonade and book in hand.

Who am I kidding? I'll probably just think about it on the train/plane/automobile.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Noose and a Nosedive

The gravity of both acts were equal. They each betrayed the Christ. They each broke the heart of God for selfish gain. They each contributed to the most fateful moment in history by stabbing the Creator of the universe in the spinal chord. 

The one that gets recognized for his betrayal, however, remains only Judas. Rarely does anyone give thought to the fact that Peter's treason was just as lethal to God's heart as Judas' kiss. The knife went just as deep, and Jesus died just as alone.

Peter? He denied Jesus out of embarrassment.

Judas? He denied Jesus out of greed.

If one were to ask me, I'd be just as tormented over both of these acts if I were on the receiving end. So what's the difference?

Well, after Jesus' death, one met a noose, and the other met a nosedive. Judas found no way to escape the reality of his betrayal rather than to end his life. Peter came to understand that the cross meant even his outright rejection of God's love could be forgiven, and he understood it enough to dive into the deep waters of the Galilee because the boat couldn't take him back fast enough to see His Risen Lord.
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. (John 21)
If you're a little like me, I reckon you tend to do a lot of backstabbing as well. If you're a lot like me, you're the kind of guy that breaks God's heart every day. There are two inevitable responses to this rejection of God's outpoured love on your life. You may either choose to run further from it, or embrace the fact that it is this love which sanctifies you.

You may choose to avoid God until after you've done "better" in your own efforts, effectively throwing a noose around the neck of your relationship. Or, after you've screwed up, you can choose to dive straight back into pursuing Him the first chance you get.

So which will you meet today? A noose, or a nosedive?

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Perfection Past Imperfection

I've been having this idea. I'm not too sure about what the Bible says on it, and I await to be corrected if Scripture proves otherwise, but I feel like what I've been thinking about is important for a few believers who struggle with serving God in their ministry.

Having gone through periods of dealing heavily with sin, Satan begins to have his way with me. I begin to doubt and struggle with the question of whether or not I should really be serving people when I'm such a messed up guy myself.

"But you're such a nice guy!"

Listen, I may be outwardly be as innocent as Alfalfa, but only God knows my heart, and the wickedness which it spawns every day. He knows my struggles. He knows my failures. And in these failures, I begin to hear whispers telling me that I should stop being involved in opportunities to serve until I've "got it all together." That I should wait until I have victory to give of myself in the high school outreach and small group activities that I lead.

Others, I feel, might rush to getting involved with serving and leading at their churches because they believe that is the way they're going to "fix" their struggle with sin. That, somehow, their act of being a leader will balance the scales of their bad deeds, or that it would point them in a direction that will help them become more holy. However, the thought that popped into my head recently was this:

Serving in ministry is not the place to go when you're messed up. Neither is it the place to go when you've got it all figured out. Rather, I think I'm beginning to understand that ministry is a place where one sinner can say to another, "Hey, I'm just as sick as you are, but I know the Great Healer, and He's doing things you wouldn't believe." 2 Corinthians 5 says,
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."
Now, listen to that. How crazy is it that Jesus Christ chooses to reveal Himself through a people that are as broken and twisted as we are? In other words, the Christ is saying, "I'm going to work through you, to get to _______." And the wildest part is that He knows everything about us. He knows all our failures and shortcomings and He still allows His perfection to be seen through an imperfect people.

And that, to me, is supernatural.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dartboards and Danger

When I was a wee lad, one of my all-time favorite memories is my parents coming home with a dart board. Now, before you get your pantalones in a bundle, keep in mind that this was a harmless, plastic dartboard with non-pointed darts. However, it did make me super stoked to know that I was doing something that reflected a fairly dangerous game.

For real though, have we ever stopped and thought about how dangerous the game of darts is? You take solid metal needles and throw them at a tiny cork board from about 6 feet away. One small slip and someone's going to be adding an eyepatch to their shopping list for the week.

I grew up going to AWANAs. If you don't know what that is, please beg your church to start one. This children's ministry taught me a lot about Christianity in these wee years, and I am forever grateful. However, as much good as it served in my life, I must be honest about its shortcomings.

I learned, at this young age, that "sin" was defined as "missing the mark." To this, I would agree. But along with this description, I was also shown a picture as a child. To my memory, it was a picture of an arrow missing the bullseye on a target. Considering my rich history in darts, however, this isn't altogether a bad thing. Sure, you always want to hit the bullseye, but you still get points and could potentially win if your darts land elsewhere on the board.
"We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." (Isaiah 64)
Let me tell you something about polluted garments. You ain't winning with them. You ain't even getting close to playing the game in them. And if even our best actions on our best days are regarded as dirty before this Holy God, our sin must be the very essence of evil. So to put it right, we are not only missing the mark or the bullseye; we're missing the entire board. Our dart doesn't even hit the same wall where the board is hung. We don't get any consolation prizes for getting close to the bullseye because we've missed it by a mile.

See where I'm getting at?

We're totally, unforgettably, undeniably, limitlessly, and infinitesimally sinful. Before the righteousness of a Holy God, the only totality we maintain is that of a perfect storm: totallywretched, through and through. Once we understand the gravity of how broken we are, we will understand why it took such a big sacrifice to put us back together. My point in all this is not to make you feel condemned - we are absolutely covered by the blood of Christ (if you are saved) and can approach the throne of grace with boldness. (Heb. 4) My point is to remind us not look upon sin lightly, as a boy who was taught all his life that he was simply "missing the mark."

We're not just missing it, we don't even have the strength to throw the dart.