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#FocusFriday: Card Game

#FocusFriday is where I take a thought that has taken my interest for the week and expound upon it, to better get me to write more on my blog.

So, the whole point of #FocusFriday is not to come up with another fancy Facebook/Twitter trend, but to further challenge me into writing more about my faith on my blog, since I tend to neglect this blog anyway.  So, let’s see how well this goes…

For my first topic, I figure we’d talk about something simple: Card Games!  Do you love playing card games?  My favorite are Cribbage and Spades…although I do admit, I’m not very good at either game.

Have you ever heard of the term “Life is like a card game”?  I’ve never been a huge fan of the old adage, mostly because it gets mixed around in some logical fallacies when applying the illustration to life.  Many people believe that their life is drawn out in one big hand, and that if they don’t have the right cards in their hand, they can’t have success in life. They end up just folding and giving up on life and everything else.

I have a problem with that kind of thinking, and I have only one question for that kind of person: How come you are focused only on one hand, when the entire game is set before you? You see, my friends, life is not a matter of drawing one hand and trying to make out whatever you can with that hand. Our experiences are made up of many drawn hands, and we must determine what we are to do with the opportunity of the hand we are drawn for that given time.

The enemy wants us to believe that our one hand is the only hand that matters in our life, that we need to make the best out of that hand or we will be doomed. But God tells us a different story: He tells us that our life is much more than just a single hand, but to make every effort of the opportunities we are given through whatever hands we are drawn, and when there are times we can’t make anything happen with that one hand, we fold and move on to draw a different hand; in other words, be given a different perspective or experience on life and how we go through it.

God gives us this great opportunity through His Son, Jesus, who laid all His cards on the table; by giving His life for us all, and paying for our sins and wrongdoings, so that we can be reconnected in a loving relationship with God the Father. So even if we draw a bad hand, Jesus still can help us take that bad hand and make it work to our good, all thanks to His saving grace. As Ravi Zacharias puts it, “Jesus Christ can take a disadvantage, turn it into an advantage, and use it for the glory of God.”

My challenge for you is that you look not only at your one hand, but look beyond it, at the entire game of life itself, and know that there is more opportunities to it than just your one hand. If you’ve drawn a bad hand (say, from an issue in your life, a bad relationship, a struggle that you’re trying to overcome), lay your cards down to Him and our Heavenly Father will give you another hand to work with, so that you are given another chance to work through it. And surely He will work with and through you to overcome it. Robert Louis Stevenson said this, “Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well.”

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:26)

 

His Purpose

This past week of my life has been one of the most enduring weeks I have ever encountered in my life; physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. For many of you thinking if this has to do with my brother’s wedding, this is beyond that context, but I won’t go into specifics. But indeed it has been a roller coaster of a ride through many dramatic events and situations I have ever encountered in my entire life. Some of these moments have been exciting, some have been joyful, some have been upsetting, some frustrating, some in anger, some in hopefulness. If there is one thing I have gained from this past week, it is that I have learned much about myself and of my gifts and talents that God the Father has given to me, and how I may better use them to serve those around me. I have also learned about those I truly care for, and how I many better serve them to their needs.

But I think most of all, through all of the events and moments of this past week, I think I have gained somewhat of a better understanding of God’s will and purpose for me, or at least a better appreciation of whatever His divine plan is for me, and I hope and pray I continue to draw to Him so that I may better follow Him.

If I could sum up one thing about this week, it would be the words of Psalm 138:8,

“The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me; Your love, O LORD, endures forever.”

When you dive deeper into the phrase “His purpose”, the Hebrew better states this by saying, “who makes an end [of troubles] for me.”, and the phrase “of troubles” can also mean “vindicated” (which you see in the NIV 2011 print).

So what the heck do I mean by all of this? God wants to rid of all trouble in our lives, but our sinful life keeps plaguing us with suffering, pain, torment, trouble, and hardships. We continue to fight with each other, we end up financial lost, we lose our jobs, our relationships fail, and ultimately we lose faith in everything. We cannot rely on things here, for they are only temporary. Rather, we must rely on something that’s solid, that will never change, that is constant, dare I say, eternal. It is the one thing that I myself have the only source that I have, and continue, to draw to through these good and bad times. It is the same source that a well known song by Third Day sings about:

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
And love for the broken-heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus
When you’re lonely
And it feels like the whole world is falling on you
You just reach out
You just cry out the Jesus
Cry to Jesus.

Only Jesus, God’s only Son, can provide the cure for my malady. He provided a way to everlasting life, by shedding His blood and sacrificing His body onto Calvary’s tree: The cross. It is in this sacrifice that I am thankful that Jesus brings me back in relationship to God, and that He continues to work in and through me and my life to better proclaim His Word; a Word that is living, it never-changes, but has the power to change hearts and minds.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

My prayer for everyone this week is that you find the opportunity to go to God the Father, and pray that He’ll help you to better understand the purpose He has for you, and to be in close relationship with Him to better follow His will and His ways. May this be so for now, for this week, and for always. Amen!

My Intentions

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46 NIV)

Back in high school, I used to work at a diner as a host (and at times as a dish washer when needed).  My job was to seat incoming customers, take drink orders, and assist the wait staff with whatever help they needed.  It was a great environment to learn customer service skills and improve social interaction.  Many of the people I met were very kind and friendly, but of course, from time to time, we had some “bad apples”, or people that were not very kind or displayed negative attitudes to us diner workers.  None of it was intentional to us, since most of the time it was usually some stressful situation, like a car broken down or financial trouble, or some other outside drama that would cause them to be a burden to us, nothing that we caused.

Yet there was one customer that does come to mind that was very negative to us workers, and seemed very intent to make us miserable.  It was the first time the guy had ever come to the diner, he came alone, and he sat in the very front row of tables, close to the front counter.  He wanted to be seated immediately, had constantly asked for a refill of water (even if his glass was not even half empty), was very particular about what he ordered, always wanted to get our attention (i.e. “I need napkins”, or “I need a cleaner fork”), was very picky about the food that he ordered, and left a very marginal tip.  One of the waitresses had told me that she thought this guy was a food critic, because most critics acted like that to test and see how well the staff would deal with a very rude customer.

It was one of those times where you though, “Did he really want to get under our skin just so he’d get a rise out of us and put it in his review, or did he have a personal grudge against us or one individual, or was he just frustrated about something that happened to him?”  What were his real intentions?  Truth be told, it’s hard to tell when you’re not sure what a person’s true intentions are, but don’t you wish that you had an app or something that could did that?

Intentions, according to the Webster’s dictionary, are “the fixed direction of the mind to a particular object, or a determination to act in a particular manner.”  Intentions are the reasoning behind our actions, what makes others ask, “Why are they doing that?”  As an I.T. technician, I do my very best to help people with their tech issues and to hopefully teach them some new things.  My intent for this is so that those people I’m helping can find the same joy in the technology they use as I do.  So not only do our intentions bring reasoning to our actions, but can also be the driving force for our actions.

I found this quote from dictionary.com very interesting:

“Intention is when the mind, with great earnestness and of choice, fixes its view on any idea, considers it on every side, and will not be called off by the ordinary solicitation of other ideas.”

Look at an expert marksman, such as an archer or sniper.  They take great care to focus on their target.  They leave very little room for error when it comes to their aim, otherwise they would not be able to hit their target precisely.  In the same manner, our true intentions for whatever we do are focused on one particular thing, and never swaying to one side or another.  In fact, many times you’ll see written in the Bible to not sway to one side or another, such as this proverb:

“Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.” (Proverbs 4:27)

Intentions keep us focused on the goal at hand, and prevent us from being solicited to one side or another.

So, let me ask you this: What are you intentions for the things you do in your life?  What is the focus and reasoning for the actions that you do for people?  I hope that for whatever the reason is, they are true to you, and not something that you follow as a wild trend to fit in with the rest of the “crowd”.  That is how I view my intentions for being a servant of God the Father, and of sharing the Gospel to others.  I don’t do this just to “fit in”.  Rather, being a Christian kind of sets you apart from the rest of the people, and defines you as one of God’s own children:

“I have called you by name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

A lot of times when I read many of my other friends’ Facebook posts, especially when it comes to a post that conflicts with my faith and worldview, the first thing I ask myself is “What intentions do they have to advertise something like this?”  And there are many of these things.

One of the things I see from many of my non-Christian friends is when they passively attack my faith.  By this I mean they find an article or a quote or and idea that attacks the Christian faith, yet the attack is not directed at me personally, but to just Christians as a whole and how they’re cause more problems in the world.  I see this and think, “Why are they saying something like this?  Has someone who is a Christian caused them to hurt like this? Do they have some personal vendetta against Christianity?  Or do they just want to stir up trouble to make us miserable?”  Probably a good example of this is someone who thinks that a group, like the Westboro Baptist Church, pretty much defines what it means to be a Christian.  This was true for one of my friends, as she made a comment about WBC’s announcement to picket the Super Bowl, and how she stated, “This is why I hate Christianity, because of people like this.”

Well, now, this is a fascinating statement, isn’t it?  If I may bring up an alternate illustration to understand this argument: A person goes to a well-known restaurant 100 times, and 99 of those times they had all-around good service and a great dining experience, yet they had one time where the experience wasn’t so good, and the service wasn’t up to par, and the food was miserable, and so on.  When a friend asks them about their opinion about the restaurant, they will hang on that one bad experience and give it a horrible review rather than focus on the 99 other good experiences.

The point that I am hopefully trying to make is that one individual, group, or experience shouldn’t summarize the overall critique of that particular thing.  When it comes to Christianity, would you assume that everyone acts much like the people from WBC?  I would hope that, at least from my actions (though I have many faults myself), that it would not.  I would hope that the message that I convey to friends and even strangers gives off a different message than what WBC advertises, and at least gets the skeptic to think, “Hmm, maybe I need to see what this Jesus is about.”  The one question I would at least ask for you is this: Take away the church, and take away Christians, what do you have against Jesus Christ?  An interesting thought, even for those who are faithful to God, isn’t it.

Probably the biggest pain that I feel whenever I talk with someone that doesn’t share my worldview is that notion that they won’t believe or take to heart the Christian faith, yet they see my acts and encourage me to keep doing what I am doing.  This hurts me very much!  Sounds odd, but here’s why:

I want to help grow and expand God’s kingdom to share the Good News of the saving grace of Jesus to everyone, even my own friends.  But when I try to convey that message to some of my friends, they give me a “Thanks but no thanks” response.  Yet they still encourage me to keep my faith and continue in my ministry.  So, in other words, it’s like they’re saying, “I don’t care for being a Christian, but what you are doing is great.  Keep doing what you are doing.”  This hurts me very much!  This great work that I’ve been doing for many years also means it is for you too, not just for other people.  My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will work through you, and continue to work through you, to help you find better understanding for the joy that we live in.

There’s another interesting group that, I don’t see as much, but I know are out there that apparently like to have fun in doing this sort of thing: People who ask deep, profound questions, yet use our answers to trap us to win over an argument.  These are always the toughest to decipher, because you never know if their intentions are true to find answers for deeper meaning in their lives, or if they’re wanting to trap us.  So how do we handle these kinds of situations?

There’s a story of a defense attorney who was cross-examining a police officer during a felony trial.  The attorney asked the officer, “Did you see my client fleeing the crime scene?”  The officer responded, “No sir, but I did observe a person matching the description of the suspect running several blocks away from the scene.”

“Ok, and who provided the description?”, the attorney queried.

“The officer who responded to the scene.”, the officer responded.

“I see.  So do you trust your fellow officers?”

“Yes sir, with my life.”

“With your life?”

“That is correct, sir.”

“Let me ask you this: Do you have a locker room in the police station?  You know, somewhere where you change clothes and keep your personal belonging during your duties?

“Yes sir, we do.”

“And do you, yourself, have a locker in that room?”

“Yes sir.”

“Ok.  Do you have a lock on your locker?”

“Yes sir, I do.”

“Now this is fascinating!  You just stated that you trust your fellow officers with your life.  Yet if that is the case, why do you find it necessary to lock your locker in a room you share with the same officers you trust?

(I love this answer)

“Well, our police station is connected to a court complex, and we’ve had lawyers walk through our locker room at times.”

A humorous illustration, but what it shows is that the attorney was trying to discredit the officer’s accusations to his client, by attempting to discredit his trust to his team.  Many people bring us questions where we think are valid and honest questions, but they want to trap us and discredit our faith and make us into fools.

A great Scriptural example can be found in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew 22:15-22.  The Pharisees were planning to trap Jesus by asking Him a tricky question.  First preface their question by saying this:

“Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.” (Matthew 22:16)

Right away, they’re buttering up Jesus, saying that Him and His intentions are align with the truth that God gave to His people, and He isn’t biased by man’s opinions.  Now here comes the tricky question:

“What is your opinion: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17)

Now, look at the question.  This is a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, yet as you understand the question, giving the right answer to the wrong question would put Him either way in the wrong.  So what does He do?  Jesus asks for a coin and asks this question: “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?” (Matthew 22:20).  The Pharisees answer of course is Caesar.  Jesus’ response to their answer is very profound, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)

Now there are many things to take out of this passage, but here’s the main point I want to get across: Asking questions forces people to open up to their own assumptions and motives, as Jesus was trying to do with the Pharisees.  Jesus forced their hand and disarmed their trap, and made them rethink what they were trying to do.  Throughout the Gospel, Jesus asked many questions, which is fascinating, but asking questions is such a powerful tool for the Christian evangelist: It opens up assumptions and motives, it engages conversations, and brings both parties a better understanding to each other.

But, even with these two main factions that we face, there is one more group of people that I, at least from my own heart, have the truest intentions.  These are people that have real hurts, real pains, real questions, real searching of deeper meaning in their own lives.  No political agendas, no biases, no qualms, just pain and struggle in their lives.  Struggles such as financial instability, unemployment, broken and messed up relationships, death of a friend or family member, divorce, abuse, addictions, the list goes on and on.

I call these true intentions because the pain and suffering these people go through in their lives are not fake, they don’t have time to manipulate people, but trying to find the solutions to their broken world.  These are also people that see religion as more of a burden to their problems than a solution, and you know what…they’re right!

Religion will not solve their problems.  Through the Law, religion shows us our own faults and failures, our sinful nature if you will.  That is why the meaning of religion means “To be bound or have boundaries”.  We are shown what our boundaries are in the nature of this world, and many times we cross those boundaries, and face the pain of those boundaries.  But the effects of those boundaries will show you what your true intentions are, whether you come to find answers for your own life’s problems, or try to manipulate the answers to fit within your own worldview.

So, I’ve attempted to try to help understand what may be your intentions, but maybe you’re asking what my intentions are for sharing this Christian faith that I follow?  Well, one way I can sum it up is from the prophet Jeremiah:

“I have heard the trumpet sound, I have heard the battle cry.” (Jeremiah 4:19)

That battle cry is one of a lost and lonely world, those who live in pain, and try to find meaning in the stuff of the world.  Stuff like drugs, alcohol, addictions, sexual desires, and the such.  I want to do my best to answer the trumpet call of those who cry out with truest intentions for help.  I know I obviously cannot fix everyone’s problems, but the best I can do is present to those the one gift that will hopefully get people thinking and to look to a light that may shine on their dismal pain and suffering: The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus.

The Gospel of Jesus is one of salvation through brokenness and pain, through which the Son of God, Jesus Christ, came to our world as one of us, yet still remaining true God, and was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for us.  He was placed on the cross to take away the consequence of sin, which is death.  Through His death and resurrection, we no longer live in death and decay, but life in His Name.

The story of the cross is a story that burns within my heart every day.  The prophet Jeremiah even knew this, many years before Christ, that God’s Word is living, breathing, and life-changing, and he could not keep this gift to himself:

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

I cannot stay silent of this Good News, for this is a living, breathing message that has changed people’s hearts and mind for the better.  Believe me when I say this.  I have seen many of my friends who have been changed by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and though they still face trials and pains, the joy they live in the Gospel gets them through these trials.  Martin Luther King Jr. stated these words:

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

If we keep silent about the Gospel, how do we have a chance to speak of peace and joy of the heart through the Word that God has given us?  My prayer for each of us is two-fold:

* For the unfaithful, that we hope to you come to us with pure intentions of your heart, not with attacks or passive arguments, or biases or traps, but with hurts and pains, concerns and questions.  Though we cannot answer all of your questions, we can surely walk with you to help you understand our joy, and pray that you share in that same joy we have.  Much like how Elihu told his friend Job:

“The godless in heart harbor resentment; even when he fetters them, they do not cry for help…But those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction.” (Job 36:13, 15)

* For the faithful, I pray that the Holy Spirit presents you with every great opportunities to engage our friends that bring questions, struggles, and pains, and that our Lord will work through us to better understand our friends.  I pray we learn about their story and their intentions, and to not just give an academic answer to the questions they pour out, but that we answer the questioner, the person itself.  And ultimately I hope and pray your experiences lead you and your friends to the cross of Jesus, the true light which shines on even the deepest darkness, and guides us to an eternal relationship with God the Father.

Let me close with these great words from the Newsboys song “Take Me to Your Leader“:

They don’t know why we care
They don’t know what’s out there
They don’t know how it’s done
Let’s take ’em to our leader son

They see we’ve got the joy
They see us live it, oi
It’s real, it’s free, it’s fun
Let’s take ’em to our leader son

Amen!

New Year, New Hope

Well, 2013 is coming to a close. How was your year? Did you overcome any challenges you were given? Was it filled with great joy and wonderful opportunities?

For me, one of the biggest accomplishments was to read the Bible through 2013. For each day that I did my reading, I kept a journal any thoughts I had on the reading for that day, any prayer requests I had for that day, and what joys or struggles I was going through. Now I have a 364-page Word file with all of the entries I have made throughout the year.

Though it is a great feat to not only read the entire Bible in year, but to write in a journal my thoughts on the reading for that day, a part of me is still disappointed with how I kept track of my reading. Looking back through my journal, even though there were some days that I couldn’t stop typing my thoughts, there were some days that all I put down was “I did this reading, but I’m too tired to write anything.” For those days, I felt very upset with myself that I didn’t give enough to put down my thoughts in writing.

Maybe that’s how you felt about your 2013: Disappointment, shame, anger, depression. As we experienced joy and exciement through our own lives this past year, many of us also experienced equal, if not greater, sorrow, pain, or struggles. Financial burdens that we have a difficult time keeping up with. The loss of a loved one. Broken and marred relationships. Addictions of lust and greed that we cannot walk away from. Mistakes that we’ve made throughout the year that we wish we could go back in time and fix.

Throughout Israel’s history, they made many mistakes based on their sinful ways and desires. From idolotry to sexual immorality, greed, corruption, the list goes on and on. Israel faced God’s wrath and judgement for being rebellious and a stubborn people, by being enslaved to their enemies, facing drought and famine, death and destruction. Yet God still had a plan to restore Israel, to be reunited as God’s chosen people. It is in this promise we see through the prophet Isaiah:

“From now on I will tell you of new things, of hidden things unknown to you.” (Isaiah 48:6)

What ‘new things’ is Isaiah proclaiming? It is the same message that Paul proclaimed, “according to the relevation of the mystery hidden for long ages past.” (Romans 16:25) Indeed, it is the mystery of Jesus Christ (see what I did there? He he!) The mystery of His birth, life, death and resurrection is what gives us hope for eternal salvation. And is this mystery that draws us to learn more about the one who came down to us to save us.

When God spoke to Israel through the prophet Isaiah, He told them that He knew about what evil they had committed, through the worship of their idols and of their sinful desires. But God wasn’t going to focus on that, instead He was going to focus on “new things”, a plan to save His people from death and destruction. God proclaimed to us that He will make “everything new.” (Revelation 21:5), and it all started with the gift of saving grace from Jesus Christ, who certainly makes all things new.

So, what is your resolution for 2014? What new thing will you embark on for the coming new year? For me, I have set forth a challenge for myself: To write at least once a month in this blog thoughts, words, and prayers of the Mystery of the Gospel, that is Jesus Christ. Once a month, to bring encouraging words, to give a defense for the Gospel, and to expand the kingdom of God through my faith walk in the Lord.

My prayer for you this new year in 2014 is that you may seek Him, to know God more, and to live in a loving relationship with Him, our Heavenly Father, and that same love that He showed for us would be shown in your own life with many others that you are around. May He grant that to you this new year.

Amen!

Our church’s women’s ministry has asked me to be a guest author for their blog, Beautiful Savior, Beautiful Women.  You can check it out at the link below:

http://womenofbslc.wordpress.com/2013/11/07/dressed-to-be-blessed/

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

You ever had one of these experiences when you were little: Your parents or relatives are talking with another adult, and sharing something which is funny to just them, but it’s something you just don’t quite understand.  When you try to ask them what they mean by the statement, they respond with “I’ll tell you when you’re older.”  What an answer, attempting to render you disqualified from receiving the explanation to the conversation.  But why?

Maybe it’s because it’s too long of an explanation to give or that mom or dad is just too lazy to help us understand.  But really, the adults understand why: It’s because, as children, our minds may not be ready to comprehend the context and meanings to the adult conversations.  For myself, I can definitely understand why my parents gave me that statement many times: Some of their conversations, statements, and even jokes (mostly from my dad, but he always has the best jokes) were sometimes suggestive, maybe crude, but it was stuff that, at that age, my brain wouldn’t be able to comprehend and understand, and even if my mom or dad would try to explain, I would be overwhelmed with what I just learned.

Take the question of “where do babies come from” for example: I remember when my sister and I were in our adolescent teens, during the time when our youngest brother was still in my mother’s womb.  My sister and I were one day discussing with each other what we thought of how a baby got inside of our mother, and grew that big.  We already figured out how babies came out (which we were equally disgusted at), but we couldn’t figure out how they got in.  Can you see where this is going?

Well, our curious minds had to go to the source: Our mother.  We kindly asked her, “Mom, we know how babies come out (after we had pried her in an earlier conversation that is, he he), but we would like to know, how do they get in?”  At this point, my mother wished she would’ve been taken up to the moon to avoid answering this question.  She did gracefully attempt to answer the question to us without scaring us, since again, our young minds could not comprehend the “wonders of the human body” (and that’s all I will push it in this blog, he he).  At one point my sister chimed in, “Mom, I know how puppies, and kitties, and all those other animals do it…please don’t tell me that’s how humans do it too…?”  My mother, reluctant to give any answer, gave a slight nod and said, “Well, actually…”  At which point, my sister, with a look of horror on her face, and a feeling of someone stabbing her in the side, let out this shrieked, “Eeeeeewwww….!  That’s disgusting!”  Needless to say, both of us were not expecting the answer, but I think we survived it.

Nevertheless, much like any other children of that age, we had a difficult time comprehending the ways of grown-up life.  No one expects children to know how to deal with financial obligations like mortgages or 401ks, or how to work such heavy machinery, or even wrestle with the philosophies of this world (though it is amazing what they think!).  Eventually they may come to understand these things, but because their minds have not fully developed, they are still exploring the wonders and mysteries of their little world, and can no way comprehend the realities that we as adults face.

But sadly, the world tries to make them grow up so quickly.  Our youth are exposed to so much harm at an early age, to things such as violence (either domestic or media-related), pornography and sexual encounters, feuds and arguments between parents, drug and alcohol abuse just to name a few.  Some of these statistics that I searched for on Google were just shocking and staggering:

  • The average age that is exposed to pornography is age 11.1
  • 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18.2
  • 41% of urban elementary and middle school children have witnessed either a stabbing or shooting.3
  • More than 60% of children are exposed to violence, directly or indirectly.4
  • In 2012 alone, there were 8 major school shootings reported.5

I could go on and on with statistics, but you can get a picture that this what our children are experiencing in this world now.  But even more so, what does this say about our own spiritual needs?  When it comes our spiritual walk, we’re not that far off from our own children’s journey.  Even as adults, we’re still curious, we still want to explore, and we find joy in things that are new to us, and that learning new things gives us great excitement.

Yet, even as adults, we face an even greater challenge; not only do we face these same kind of pains and turmoil, we take more ownership and responsibility of things because we have grown up in age…or at least, physically grown up.  There are those that like to…well…to put it lightly, still like to live out their childhood days even in their adult years.  Sooner or later, we all have to grow up, but in order to take on the challenges of this world, we need to have a firm foundation in our own lives.  But what should be the core foundation that we should apply our lives to?

The author of Hebrews stated this very well.  You almost get the sense that the author wanted to continue on and on in their discussion, yet they recognize that the audience the author is writing to is lacking understanding of the basic teachings of their faith.  Even making such a bold statement to them:

“You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:12)

Now, obviously, an infant is not going to be able to handle solid foods, right?  I mean, you wouldn’t give a small baby Cheerios to eat, would you?  No, you feed them milk or baby formula, because they don’t have the capability to chew or swallow that solid food.  At the same time, many of us would find it very difficult to “chew” or “swallow” complex understandings without having the basic foundation of the knowledge of that concept.

For example: You wouldn’t be able to learn about the Pythagorean Theorem without knowing the basics mathematics of arithmetic, right?

Or you wouldn’t think that you have a credit card that has an unlimited amount without knowing the basic financial knowledge of “paying it back”?

Or how about trying out for a professional football team while not knowing the basics of playing football; think someone could do that?

The point really is you wouldn’t be able to achieve that highest goal that you are trying to accomplish without a solid core foundation, and that is especially true for our Christian faith.  We tend to forget the core of our faith, and in turn, blossoms our lives out of control.  Issues such as stress, torn relationships, grief, abuse, financial burdens, just to name a few can bring our world spinning.

That’s the wonder of the Cross of Jesus Christ.  On one hand, the message is so simple, even a young kindergartener can understand it.  Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, came to this earth to save us from our sins, the wrongdoings that we do.  Every thought, every word, every action that we’ve done to draw us away from being in relationship with God, Jesus took on all of those sins and bear them on His body, by being hung on the cross to die for us.  That’s how far our God was willing to go for us: by dying for us a human death.

But, thankfully, the story doesn’t end there.  Jesus didn’t stay dead, instead He rose from the dead and conquered death and the grave, so that we no longer would die to sin, but so that we might have eternal life through faith in Him.  We are no longer dead in our sins, but restored to newness of life in Jesus.

And that’s what makes that message so great; that even though we may grow in maturity, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection still gives us great wonder and joy at any level of maturity.  The message is still the same (“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8), but the dynamics of the message has such an effect on everyone, from the youngest child to the wisest person.

God won’t tell you if you’re old enough to know about the plans He has for you, He’s always been walking along-side of you, from when you were a child, up to now, and He’ll continue to walk with you.  You’re never too old to share in God’s promises.

We pray: Merciful Father, we give You thanks for the love that You poured out to us through Your Son, Jesus.  You paved the way to our salvation.  We ask that You help us to keep that understanding not only in our minds, but in our hearts.  Mold us to be better people, to serve You, and to serve others, so that they know about the love that You gave to us.  We ask this in the name of Your precious Son, Jesus Christ, our living Lord and Savior.  Amen!

A Name

“…Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine…” (Isaiah 43:1)

What’s so special about a name? That’s a great question, isn’t it? What makes a name so special? What makes it so wonderful to have?

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to attend what was called a “Naming ceremony”, a memorial service to dedicate the names of two infant children that recently died after childbirth: One a few minutes after he was born, the other a few days later. The purpose of the ceremony was to refer to the children by name. Every time they would talk about them, their names would be acknowledged and remembered. Giving them a name also placed them within the context of the family, whether it be a child, brother, grandchild, or cousin.

Picture yourself in a classroom full of students, sitting with the students. The teacher announces that she’s going to assign students to a special project. As the teacher calls out names, your name gets called out. How do you feel? Surprised? Anxious? Excited? When someone calls on your name, that person is trying to get your attention for some specific reason; maybe to talk to you, or to warn you of something that might happen to you, or maybe just to acknowledge to you that they notice you.

Names give us an identity and set us as unique with the rest of the group. Much like in a order-driven company like a restaurant or product sales, when a customer orders something, something unique has to be tied to that order. In almost every situation, a person’s name is the most unique thing that can be tied to that order.  Because that name is so unique, it is a great way to identify who you are among the rest of the crowd of customers.

So what make a name so special? Simple, because in a name is the definition of the very foundation of our essential worth in this life. When we know what identifies us, we can then start to know who we are, and what our purpose really is. Our name is the starting point of what gives us essential worth in life.

But what happens when you don’t like your name, or don’t like yourself? You want to change yourself in some way or form or fashion to where you think that you can achieve a greater worth than what you have now. The world sees you as you are now, and thinks that by changing your identity, whether its in what your name is, or how you dress, or how you speak, that you can be a much better person, and achieve greater wealth in life.

Yet, more often what happens is that, when the world changes us, we lose our original sense of identity, and we lose our sense of purpose and meaning that defined us and gave us that essential worth. We become a creature that we defined ourselves, than what was originally defined in us at the start.

It happens almost all the time in the entertainment industry: Movie stars, TV actors, musicians, even many pornography stars have changed their names, usually to “protect their true identity”, but what is their true identity when they are submerged in their own alter ego identity?

What about taking it to a different perspective: Having no name to associate with at all. Think about those who have gone to fight for our country and have lost their lives, yet remain unknown because of circumstances from war or battle. How about the victim of a murder that authorities are unable to identify. If they are not able to identify them, how can they know about who they are, or what their past is, or what kind of person they were.

Or maybe we go to a more controversial level: Does a woman ever think about naming a child if they go through an abortion? It’s easy to make that decision, especially if you’re not giving it some sort of essential worth by giving it a name, right? It’s not a person, it’s a thing. Why would I want to give something that kind of worth that is created inside of me.

What’s so special about a name? Behind each name holds a meaning to that name. The name “Brandon”, for example, means “hill covered with broom” (goofy, isn’t it?), but when I read more into the meaning of the name and the origins of the name, I start to get a better sense of definition, and even a better sense of purpose. What does the meaning of your name tell you about yourself? Sure, you can look at it as the meaning of a plant, or a bird, or a philosophical state of being, but know that these meanings still give us purpose, a definition of who we are and what are we doing here.

So we see three things that make up a name: Identity, Worth, and Purpose. What worldview can give us all three of these things? The natural world can’t; though it may give us some identity (harshly), we’re not given much worth and purpose when we come out of time + matter + chance. The Pantheistic systems of Hinduism and Buddahism doesn’t even give us a logical identity, let alone any worth or purpose. Islam may be close, but it’s hard to find any worth to our name when you’re constantly paying to reach God and paradise.

Only in the Christian worldview do we find all three of these things. It is in God the Father that identifies us, gives us worth, and gives us purpose. Not only that, but this God, who is almighty and powerful in all that He has created and done for us, still personally comes to us and calls us by our name. When someone calls your name, what do you do? You turn to whoever is calling your name. That’s what God does:

“Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.” (Isaiah 49:1)

Even before we were conceived, God knew who we were and knew what great things He had in store for us, and that was to be in a loving and gracious relationship with Him:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

Because of sin, we were cut off from that loving relationship, losing our identity, worth and purpose. Yet, God had a plan to rescue us and redefine us: Through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus, who was given the name from a virgin mother, the name derived from Yeshu’a (meaning “to deliver”), preached the Kingdom of God coming to the people. He healed and saved many people from disease and demons. He was well-known around the country, and was well-loved.

Then, He did the greatest thing of all mankind: He took our name, and made it new, through His death on the cross.  When the world of sin and shame gave us a darker, more bleak definition, Jesus took on that darkness, and gave our name new light in His salvation. Through His crucifixion on the cross, we humbly died to sin, and rise to a newness of life in Jesus. Through the suffering and and death on that cross, we can be reconnected to the One who created us, and has now sustained us.

So what’s so special about a name? Through faith in the risen Savior, Jesus, God has written Your name on His hand and in His heart. Through faith in Jesus, He calls out our name, the same as when Jesus met with Mary Magdalene on the day of His resurrection. Take a look at the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verses 15-16, Jesus asks Mary, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for” Mary doesn’t think anything of it, she’s so upset that her Lord has not only died, but she thought that someone had stolen him away from the tomb that He was buried in. She just wants answers.

But when Jesus calls out her name, “Mary” she is overjoyed, for she knows that this is Jesus. This is no ordinary stranger that knows her name, this is “Rabboni” (meaning “Teacher”). You may be thinking, “Well, I don’t hear God or Jesus calling me.” But that’s the beauty of it. God doesn’t use man’s ways to communicate with us, He uses His ways: Through His Word, through the sacraments of communion, and through prayer and worship. Take any of the Gospels, rather than think of these books as wonderful stories, ask yourself, “What does God want with me? What is He calling me for?” and read through them. Say to Him, “If you are who you are, reveal yourself to me in these words.” It may not make sense at first, but I pray that it is a start of a journey that helps you to understand who you are, why am I here, and where am I going?

We pray: O gracious God, Name above all names, You call our names to draw us to You. We praise and thank You for You for Your Holy Name! We thank You for Your Son, Jesus Christ, who came to save us from the pit of death and decay, so that we would be brought in the same light as You are, Heavenly Father. Help us to hold onto our name, to hold fast to the worthiness and purposes you gave to us, and to show us who we are, and not what others tell us who we are. It is in the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, we pray this. Amen!