Tuesday, December 29, 2015

5 ways to invest your time in 2016

Picture by Ryan McGuire
Time is the stuff of life!

In about 36 hours 2015 will be over. It is sobering to think that by the end of December 31 you and would have lived through 8,760 hours. 8,760 hours. That's how many hours are in a year.

If someone handed you a check for $8,760.00 and gave you complete freedom to spend it, how would you spend it?
The older I get, the more I believe that time is more precious than money. Each of us is given a limited supply. And while we don't know exactly how much time we will be given on this earth, few are foolish enough to believe our time here is endless.
But sometimes we act like it is.
If we truly believe our time here is limited, would we waste one day or one hour of it?
Would we waste a day in anger?
Would we waste time in mindless activities?
Would we waste our time living in the past mistakes and failures?
The way we spend our time is the way we spend our lives. Time is the most precious commodity we have. It is the priceless currency that God has given for doing the work of his kingdom. Time also happens to be one of the most difficult things we have to manage. We all have the same amount of time on a daily basis; the question is how we will spend it … or whether we will waste it.
So for 2016, how about taking a slice of your 8,760 hours in 2016 and devote some of it to five simple but formative activities:
-Be devoted to worship. The early Christians devoted themselves to worship. Not just Christmas and Easter, or once per week. Worship calls us to daily engagement with God. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise (Psalm 100:4). Invest in daily, personal worship, and also in weekly, corporate worship with your church.
-Serve. Follow Jesus closely and you immediately notice that he did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many
-Read Scripture (not a devotional book) for spiritual growth. Get a partner and begin reading the bible for insight and personal transformation through obedience to Christ. For the last 6 years I have been using Youversion as an incredible resource for ways to read through all or some of the bible.
-Pray daily as a way to grow in intimacy with Christ. Ultimately, our greatest need is for connection with God. As St. Augustine put it, "You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." Prayer is about love not spiritual bragging rights. We pray in order to establish friendship and boldness with Christ.
-Join a small group. For accountability, support, a place to live out the challenges of discipleship, join a group. Reading Genesis 4: 1-16, it became clear to me that Cain could mercilessly kill Able because with utter detachment he said to God, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cut off from fellowship and accountability to God and others, he could not feel his brother's pain. He could only feel and see his own concerns. Join a small group to know and be known.
Added together you would be spending less than 10% of your time check, but the return on investment will be huge. Remember, tomorrow is made by our choices today!

Happy New year!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christianity a source for violence? Think again.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem next to the Wailing Wall
Much has been said and written in recent years about the connection between religion and violence. Some of this antipathy is fueled by ancient and modern atrocities. From the bloody Crusades of 1095 to the more recent graphic beheadings Isis, suicide bombings and mass shootings in France and San Bernardino, religion is the scapegoat.

You have no doubt heard this canard: “Religion is the major source of violence. Therefore, if we seek a more peaceful world we should abolish religion.” This of course is music to the ears of those who inherently loathe religion and Christianity in particular.

This of course is not true. In fact, it is rather uninformed. Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, authors of Encyclopedia of Wars, surveyed 1800 conflicts and found that less than 10 percent involved religion at all.

Also, a “God and War” survey commissioned by the BBC found that religion played some part in 40 per cent of conflicts but usually a minor one.

Those who follow Jesus are called to be peacemakers. Granted, not everyone claims to be Christian lives in complete submission to the teachings of Jesus.

For example, on the night that Jesus was arrested, Simon Peter pulled out his sword and cut off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. Jesus’ response shows that he never asked his followers to kill in his name: Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword (Matthew 26:52).

What Jesus taught

How does Jesus command his followers to live? In essence, Jesus came to bring peace and abundant life. Even a cursory examination of his teachings reveal this fact:
-Love one another
-Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
-Do not return evil for evil, but overcome evil with good.
-Forgive, even as God has forgiven you.
-If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him to drink.

So for those who think all religions do is promote death and destruction, look again at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and what he taught his followers. This is in stark contrast to the nightmarish ambitions of Isis.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How to find peace

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

2015 will be remembered as the year of conflict. Conflicts in the Middle East, conflicts in Ferguson, MO; riots in Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, and political wrangling in Washington, D.C. 

The crisis in Syria has spawned the biggest migration of human beings since World War II. 

Even on a personal level, many homes in our nation are ripped apart with conflict. 

In Hebrew Scripture, the word for peace is shalom. It is an expansive word that speaks to not just the absence of conflict but envisions everything that fosters human flourishing. Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, and harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.

On this Christmas Eve, our world is crying out for peace. Peace in our world, in our homes, in our churches, and peace in our hearts. 

One day the Prince of Peace will return, and "of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end"(Isaiah 9:7). Peace has come in Jesus Christ. We are called to be peacemakers.  And then one day peace in all its fullness will touch every person and every part of the universe. 

Where in your life do you need to be a peace-maker?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Subversive Joy!

In early July of 2015, we visited Israel and parts of the West Bank for the first time. This was like a dream come true for us. After years of reading the bible and trying to imagine what the Holy Land was like, we were now on the ground, seeing the places and making all the geographical and biblical connections. It was as if the bible became more than a book, it came alive and in living colors. As much as our visit was a life changing experience, we came back home with a profound weariness of spirit. This Holy Land that we so revered from a distance was heavy with conflict, poverty and power imbalances.

But our time in Israel and Palestine was not just tainted with pain and sadness. We met people—Palestinians and Jews who exhibited transcendent joy and hope despite their circumstances. One would expect that people living in desperate conditions would be shaped by their despair, emptied of any hope and joy.  To the contrary, we met scores of Christians finding reasons to rejoice; gathering for worship, meals, and daring to dream big dreams for the peace and prosperity of The Land.

Our text for the fourth week of Advent takes place more than two thousand years ago in the very land that we visited. Remarkably, even at that time, the Holy Land was a place of war, injustice and military occupation by the Romans. Jerusalem, the regions of Galilee and the regions of Judah were policed by a foreign power.

One could ask the question, who’s in charge? Who sets the parameters on what human beings can and cannot do? Is it governments or God?

In the small, inconspicuous village of Nazareth the angel of the Lord visited a poor, possibly illiterate young woman and told her the most amazing news: the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. Unable to contain her joy, with haste, Mary traveled the hill country of Judah to visit her relative Elizabeth.

One cannot read this passage without feeling the pulse of the text being one of joy—unbounded, overflowing joy. Mary was joyful that her formerly barren, relative was six months pregnant with child. Mary was also joyful that she could share the same news that she too was expecting a child.
So these two women, the teenager and her elderly relative met in Elizabeth’s home to celebrate the Lord’s blessings.

Advent is a time of joy. There is a difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is temporal and is often conditioned by favorable circumstances.  Happiness often lingers as long as things are positive. But when trouble comes, happiness quickly departs like a flock of birds at the sight of a predator.

On the other hand, joy is fueled by faith in the goodness of God. Joyful people believe that God is a promise keeper. Over 600 hundred years before these women met in the hills of Judah, the prophet Micah spoke the promise of God:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the cities of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days (Micah 5:2 ESV).

Elizabeth and Mary were joyful that the promises of God were being fulfilled in them. There was nothing that the powers of the world could do the derail God’s wonderful plan.

As we wait for the Second Advent of our Messiah, we are also called to live in the same joy that these women had. Our world is racked with pain. Signs of injustice, human trafficking, poverty and the abuse of women and children are everywhere. The sure promise of His coming means that we must believe that Hope entered the world in the form of a baby and with haste, just like Mary, leave our homes and share the subversive joy in the face of sin and evil.

Joy is relational and demands the presence of others to share its warm embrace. When you are possessed with good news it is natural to want to send an email, post a message on your news feed and let the world know about your good fortune. Could it be that the missing element in the evangelical witness of the 21st century church is that we are not possessed with the good news of the Savior who loves this broken world?

Picture if you can this young woman; she abruptly leaves her home and presumably travels alone through the hills of Judah to see and rejoice with her relative. Be careful, joy will cause you to do things that others might deem irrational. But to the one filled with joy it is not only rational it is imperative and it becomes contagious when others are in your sphere.
May each of us in this season of Advent be filled with the true joy that sends us out into the world sharing the good news of Christ.

Merry Christmas!