I walked into a massage parlor with my dad today (my dad loves massages) and probably got one of the most painful massages of my life. I could feel the guy’s thumbs poking into my nerves and it even made my fingers twitch when he was massaging my arm. More pertinently, my dad observed that most of the people in there have bad eyesight, and his observation caused me to notice something.

Every single person in there had their eyes squinted, or otherwise had an eye set off. There was something wrong with the vision of every person in that room. It made sense, then, that they would be in that shop; they could do nothing else that would require their eyesight to be better. Surely they didn’t have much ability to read for schooling.

The impression of seeing their eyes is still with me, and I wonder what should determine that their vision should be as such? That they should be blind in an eye, or hopelessly nearsighted with little hope for correction? What should determine that?

Then I think, “at least they’re not jobless. At least they’re not homeless. At least they’re making something of the situation they have.” My dad and I were talking about choices, and how our generation seems married to the idea that we must have a choice, yet choices don’t necessarily make us happy. He illustrated it this way: if a woman has to wear a uniform to work, she will be perfectly happy to take that uniform and clean it each day and make herself presentable to go to work. Give her five outfits for five days, however, and she will be unhappily trying to figure out what to wear for each day.

I’ve little insight to this, only the thought that perhaps the key to what we think is happiness is far simpler than we realize; it may not be at all that which we expect. Paul said he learned the secret of being content whether living in plenty or in want, and I wonder, have I learned that yet?

I’ve a lot to think about out here in Taiwan… I wonder what this contemplation will lead me to.

2010. Day Six.

New Year’s resolutions. Did you make any?

I didn’t. You know why?

Because when December 31st became January 1st, when 2009 became 2010, when the count hit zero and the ball dropped, guess what happened to the sun?

Nothing. It still rose January 1st, the same way it did December 31st.

You see, the newness of 2010 is actually an illusion. The fact that it is a new decade really holds no significant portents for changes in life. We are not especially empowered to become different because we write “10”s in our dates instead of “09”s, we’re not magically revived to become stronger.

The significance of the change of the numbers has been ingrained in us by a culture that wants to believe that the way that we have parceled off our time (heh, our time, as if somehow we owned the age) is actually cosmically significant in changing us, when in reality we are the exact same rotten people we were a week ago, and a week from now we will continue to make the same mistakes, save for a few here and there.

“How is it that you are turning back to the same weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved to them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!” Thus the apostle Paul indicted the Galatian church because they continued to buy the notion that their “special days” would make that much of a difference in their walk with God.

Your strength to see change in your life, to move forward, to do what is right is not contained in the year 2010. It is not contained in a certain day of the week, month, or year. Your strength to do what is right is precisely this freedom: 2010 has no hold on you. It has no claim on you. It cannot wave anything in your face and blackmail you into relying upon it.

Soon, 2010 will be the old year. Its lustre will fade, its appeal will vanish, 2010 will be so last year, or, even worse, 2000 and late. I don’t plan on letting its newness entice me. Rather, I’ll be holding on to the good, the permanent, the things that will continue to provide strength long after the emotions of “it’s a new year” fade away. I’ll be clinging to that which will be the same in 2011, 2012, 2021, 2100.

Friends, if you’re going to rely on anything to live rightly, choose rightly what you rely on to live.

PS. My LoveBeta-ites… hahaha I know we were supposed to make new year’s resolutions and I put in the packet to make them. I guess if you made them, be faithful to them… just do so by God’s strength.

Excerpts from my Reflections on leading a Life Group

I found, though, that it is easy to compromise the time spent on the Bible Study in order to work on other things or to meet with people, but I need to remember that my primary goal as their leader is to feed them and to teach them, not just to be friends with them and hang out with them (important as those things are). We could be friends anywhere, but we are engaged together in Christian community because we are community around the Word and around the truth, and if this goes, then everything goes and we might as well start a country club. It is so easy to compromise that time spent on preparing the Bible Study because there are so many other things to take care of, but that must not be an excuse. There must be more discipline exercised on my part to set time aside as sacred to spend in preparing the Bible Study and thinking about how that Word applies to the group, thinking about how the body needs to be fed and led by it. This must not be compromised. This must be the main goal of our fellowship. I believe in the deeply reforming power of his Word, and the attractive power of people who have been reformed by it. While lights and shows and games might attract for a time, love always attracts, and the only love that can survive in this evil world is that based on the indestructible life of Christ and the immutable truth of his Word. Lord, help me to remember and to believe this truth in the midst of a world that continues to tell me differently.

I will not compromise on time spent in personal study of the Bible for the purpose of building up the saints. I will not do it. Everything else can fall, but the time in the Word must be priority.

Part of me wonders how much I am trying to be a pastor when I am not one, but then I remember that elders are called to teach and to lead, not because of title or position or salary, but because that is the very core of the disciple-making task. Indeed, if we as a whole church, especially as the men, learned the priority of God’s Word over and above everything else, we would see the reforms popping up naturally. Not effortlessly, but surely they would come as a result of our dedication to God’s truth in the midst of the world’s falsehood.

And so I remain focused and devoted: God’s Word and the teaching of it will be a priority.

2010. Day one.

“My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42

There is no ecstasy or euphoria as that of a sinner who, at long last, finds sight of the cross in the midst of the nightmare.

Compare a lost and thirsty sailor who is surely on his final day of rations. For months on end, he has seen nothing but the ocean blue, and the weight of the companions that he has lost on this disastrous journey has worn his soul. Imagine the moment that he looks out upon the horizon to see a speck, no, it surely flotsam, no it is! Land, finally, land, after weeks of searching, land which bears fruit and brings promise of fresh water and life!

Even in this case, his celebration must pale compared to that of the sinner who sights the cross. The sailor finds relief only for a time, the sinner has the weight of his sin lifted forever. The sailor would be filled with an excitement only to realize that the land offers no truer security than the sea, only his familiarity with it; the sinner’s security is sure and immediate. There will be no snatching of the sinner from the cross into the depths of the dark again, though there may be brief periods where he cannot find his way to it.

Think to the moment that the lost sailor finds solid ground, and wonder in amazement that the joy there is to be found in Christ eclipses that in every way. Have you come across the cross after your wanderings? Has it stricken you that you are finally awake, alive, free? Have you fallen to your knees in repentance to immediately be lifted up by the holy breath of grace?

Perhaps you are weary, tired, and you had once sighted the cross and have now lost sight of it. Brother, sister, do not despair, only open your eyes! You have not left that cross. He has held you this whole time. When you discovered him truly, it was forever, and will be forever. Open your eyes and let his joy renew your heart.

Seek that joy that can only come when the dead discover life. Seek it with all your heart.

Rain runs

I love running in the rain and being in thunderstorms. There’s something beautiful about being in the midst of a power that is absolutely unbridled and out of your control. Hearing to the thunder and seeing the lightning gives this somewhat frightening but absolutely thrilling tingle, “what kind of strength could make a noise like that?” It is humbling and scintillating to so starkly realize that there is something that is far greater than us, and we can experience it without being destroyed.

Elihu says it best as he conveys the majesty of the Almighty:

At this my heart pounds
and leaps from its place.

Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.

He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
and sends it to the ends of the earth.

After that comes the sound of his roar;
he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
he holds nothing back.

God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
he does great things beyond our understanding.

He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’
and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’

So that all men he has made may know his work,
he stops every man from his labor.

The storm is unstoppable, uncontrollable; it cannot be mitigated, it absolutely engulfs. Such is the all consuming, all encompassing power of God, so much so that storms are like drizzle to him. His whisper makes the thunder clap, and the tip of his finger obliterates as the lightning.

To stand in the midst of the storm is to be at the center of the Almighty’s power.

And so I cried to God, “Will you reject us forever? Will you not send your power and your signs so that this people and this place will not deny you? Can you not bring the sheer power of ‘I am’ to show us who life is?”

He answered: “Be patient, then, David, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

And then he spoke “Your trial is the storm you stand in, and you will soon hear my thunder. There will be no denial when I speak that I have spoken, no question when I touch you that I have been present.”

The rush of the rainstorm is but a glimmer of the force of El Shaddai. When the Lord comes, I want to make sure I’m outside right in the midst of him.

And I will know that I am alive because he is alive.

Chrono Trigger

I’m not sure how many of you even know what this is, but for you gentlemen out there, this is a classic:

Technically, Chrono Trigger was a pioneer in eliminating random battles from Squaresoft’s RPG line, using on-field graphics for battles, a double and triple-tech combination system that was unparalleled in its creativity, and vibrant, colorful graphics that blew all its SNES competition out of the water.

Yet beyond those accomplishments, there were 2 things Chrono Trigger was really known for: a soundtrack composed by Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu that is still considered by some to be the greatest video game soundtrack in history, and a storyline that was one of the most intricate ever, spanning eons and having a (then) unheard of 10+ multiple endings.

The story revolves around a silent protagonist by the name of Crono (creative, I know, but the Japanese came up with the name, so it’s creative for them), whose communication with people throughout the game consists entirely of “yes” nods and “no” head shakes. Note, protagonist silence is a mechanic meant to draw the player into a deeper connection with the protagonist, as if the player’s own personality could be projected onto the character. This is impossible with movie storytelling. But this post is not about game mechanics, so I’ll stop the geek speak and get back to the story.

Early on, Crono encounters a “Gate,” which causes him to travel back in time into the Middle Ages. After a number of plot twists, fighting alongside a man-frog, and hopping time portals a few more times, Crono and his friends land in a barren wasteland. They soon realize upon watching a video recording that the wasteland is actually their own world just over a thousand years into the future, and find out that the world saw an Apocalypse in the year 1999. The rest of the story follows Crono and friends as they journey to find out just what happened, and if there is any way they can use their ability to travel time to stop the Apocalypse from happening.

One of the main reasons the plot of Chrono Trigger was so compelling was the group’s resolve to do something about the fate of the world in the future. The events of the future were almost a millennium away from the present, and Crono and his friends from the present would have long since died when the Apocalypse came. In other words, the Apocalypse was effectively removed from the lives of Crono and his friends; they could very well have went right back home without ever thinking about the future again, and they would have suffered nothing. Yet instead of choosing to live a comfortable life, the team decides that they will do whatever it takes to save the future, because they make that future their own.

The sheer heroism and altruism at this moment in the story is actually quite powerful; this is one of the first, if not only, storylines in a game where the protagonist will risk his life to save people who are of no benefit or connection to him whatsoever. Yasunori Mitsuda’s score written precisely to characterize this determination and altruism is also moving for anyone who knows its significance.

Young men often dream of doing great things, of taking a risk to save a love, of fighting for the fate of the future, and so on. Most dismiss this dreaming as the naivete of youth; after “experiencing life,” the wizened are pushed to a cynicism that resigns them to settle for mediocrity. Yet at the hearts of even the old is a stirring, a trembling, a desire to expend their energies and heart for the sake of the greater good. To bring peace to war, to overcome evil, to rescue the future. To put aside the petty worries of life to bring change to the world.

Enter Christ. For all the grandiosity that young men aspire to, Christ actually achieved it. From a comfortable throne in the heavens, he saw the impending doom that would come upon billions if something were not done, and he left his seat. Though these billions could just as easily mean nothing to him, he decided to make them worth something to him, worth laying down his own life.

He decided to take humanity and make them his own. In so doing, he died, and he rescued the futures of all those who would believe on him.

If you are a young man, or if you are old, and you know this longing to give yourself for the greater good, there are two simple calls to you. The first is to recognize that the great story of history is not just about you. It is about Christ and how he has fought and died to make you his own and save you from your sin, though you would rather not have him. You do not deserve the chance to live your life for others. Your apathy for the future and your lack of sacrificial love for your current companions betray your true interests, and you must first be rescued from these before you can help anyone else. You must recognize this, or else the second call will never materialize for you.

That second call is to look around you and call those people who you see yours. Their lives may not affect you. You might have a better, more comfortable life without them. You may not even like them. But you must make them yours, and you must refuse to let them go. You must commit to them. You must bind up your future with theirs. You must pray for them. And you must throw your whole might into them. This is what church is meant to be, and this is what mission is meant to be.

Only when you put your whole being into this call of Christ will you know what he means when he says that “he who loses his life will find it.”

Young man, do not throw your life into saving the world from death only to realize you are postponing the inevitable. Only Christ can rescue from the coming apocalypse.

Yet you now have one life to pour into bringing others to him! Do his calls to true life not make your heart beat faster? Do not those impulses that you were made for something more coarse through you and stir you to put your whole life into that cause?

Those around you have a future. What you will do today may very well determine what happens to them tomorrow.

Do not delay. “Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” Choose to take up the fates of those around you and put your life into their rescue and their restoration through Christ.

The future of the lost may yet be rescued. Go to them. Today.

Web 2.slow?

I read an interesting article recently from the Atlantic called, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” It’s located here and the basic premise is that the convenience of Google as a means for retrieving information has radically altered out ability to think. Instead of being forced to do more arduous forms of research involving reading long articles and looking for coherent trains of thought, everyone now does Google searches and then skims everything they find. The modern person has essentially lost the ability to keep up with a long, sustained, coherent train of thought.

I think I’d agree that we as a generation have a much shorter attention span than the one before us; this works to our advantage on the internet, where speed is everything when it comes to information (or so we’re told), but works to our detriment basically everywhere else. Logic doesn’t work with us anymore when trying to persuade, mostly because we let our stray thoughts and emotions interrupt essentially interrupt ourselves. Thoughts like, “hey, I wonder who won the game last night,” or “what was that one actor’s name again,” or “who the heck is John James Audobon anyway,” lead to an immediate and convenient attention breaker.

Even on those who consider themselves logical and who think they can carry a logical argument for several steps, it is difficult to break through to any level of real persuasion, mostly because most people have no grid for whether anything is true anymore. if you can find it on a google search or on wikipedia, it must apparently be true. Or not. Which is precisely the problem; most people I have met who pride themselves on their logic and reasoning tend to come out to the conclusion that you can never know what is true, even though they try to devour as much information as they possibly can. Instead of having balanced, coherent people who are able to reason on an honest, emotional level, there are now large numbers of detached trivia gurus who seem to know what they’re talking about but are themselves never sure 1) if what they’re saying is really true, or 2) what they really think anyway.

Another trend I have heard about that has arisen from the internet is the sudden drop in face-to-face interaction since the advent of AIM/GChat/Facebook and the entire online social network. While their appearance on the modern social scene was a good addition at first, their long term effects on our society could possibly be one of the most relationally robbing developments ever. This is most prominent in college students; much of my thinking on this was influenced by an interview with a college chaplain located here. A snippet I love from him is that we are easily the most socially connected generation ever, and yet there is still a real hunger for relationships (both platonic and romantic) on the college campus.

We spend more time with one another in text boxes than we do face-to-face, and this leads to problems. I have seen this largely affect my own life.

I have a problem, for example, with mumbling from time to time when I’m trying to say something that I’m not sure the person I’m facing will like to hear. For some reason, I’m hard wired to think that, as long as I say the words the other person will understand, even if they are drowned out by background noise. Obviously that is not the case; the words need to be audible. I never had enough face-to-face interaction growing up to actually mitigate this problem; I spent most of my time with my friends not with them at all, but on AIM with them.

This is a mild case. Things like mumbling, eye contact, general friendliness, all of these things are small concessions that might even be culturally acceptable, if irritating. Far more sinister, however, are inabilities to interact in conflict resolution, honest confession, sound conversation.

What I mean is this: Our generation is the Web 2.0 generation, and we know it. If we don’t like something about someone, we don’t need to voice it to them. We can just blog about it. Instead of working through issues and dealing with differences and annoyances, we can remain entirely socially accessible and yet remove people entirely from our lives. In some cases, this might be a necessary and good thing, but in the majority case, we are building a culture that doesn’t know what a relationship looks like.

Friendships are hindered. Marriages will be hindered. The church of God will be hindered in loving one another. All the while we sit idly by, chatting and isolating ourselves until all of a sudden, our personality is but a shadow of that which we used to be.

Well I, for one, intend on fighting this in myself. I don’t want to be someone who hides behind the internet. I want to be real. I’m not sure if I have been, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take, but I will not succumb to my selfish, narcissistic tendency in this area. I’ve done a terrible job so far. I don’t care. I will fight it.

Ironic that this declaration should come in the form of a blog. Know this, all who are reading, that I intend on being your friend.

I have needs

I have noticed a disturbing trend among my Christian brothers and sisters, especially the ones in my local church body. I can see it in slowed speech, in lack of mental clarity, in lapses of character. I see it in poor decision-making and lack of reflection. Most noticeably, however, I see it in bags under eyes and heads that nod off. The trend I’m talking about is that my brethren are tired.

That, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, but maybe I will put it this way: we don’t have a clue how to rest.

I can hardly remember the last time I asked a member of my church how he or she was doing, and didn’t get a response along the lines of, “I’m super busy,” or, “I’m really tired” or, “school is busy/tiring.” This is usually accompanied with a sigh and a half-defeated smile. The ensuing conversation will usually consist of my trying to comfort them and encourage them to “press on,” because, of course, that mantra must hold true, “you can do it!”

I have had to ask myself, though, is that really right? What does it mean when I tell people that they can “do it?” Do what? Everything? One thing perfectly? What message do I send them when I tell them these things? More importantly, what message do I send when I add to my encouragements to them that I want them to fulfill some number of time commitments for church without any sort of guidance for how to go about it?

I can’t be sure about all the signals, but one signal that I surely send is this: I don’t value sleep, and neither should you.

Now this wouldn’t be a problem if we could innately live without sleep; however, I’m fairly sure that we were designed by God to need sleep. Whenever I forget this, I am painfully reminded by how many times I have nodded off during class, work, or sermons that this is actually true. I am reminded more strongly of this fact by the number of coffee cups and energy drink cans I see downed by my churchmates and co-workers, and these serve only to delay the inevitable crash.

More importantly, I am becoming more and more convinced that God is not especially pleased when we don’t sleep. Jesus’ commands were given to rest in him, to go to him for rest. The Old Testament is filled with references to sleep; it assumes that there will be periods of rest in our lives. The entire trek of the Israelites, according to Hebrews, was a failure in the sense that their hardened hearts precluded them from entering God’s rest. God even instituted an entire day of rest when the world was created, and he gave a stark fourth commandment to honor the Sabbath, punishable by death.

Rest or die. This was literally mandated to the Israelites on Moses’ tablet. So why do we, as Christians, fail so miserably to obey this command?

The first reason I see is that we simply don’t think that we need it. College students, especially, are prone to this misconception, and are thoroughly convinced that rest is an unnecessary part of their lives. Even working adults live with the notion that it is not more sleep that they need, but more coffee or more motivation. No one likes being told that they need to do anything, especially when that “anything” is something anyone can do, and anyone can sleep. Even babies (and they seem to do it especially well).

So while God gives sleep to those he loves, we reject that gift assuming that it is unnecessary. We think God’s command to us couldn’t possibly be that important to our well being, and in so thinking attempt to throw off the bodily limitations he gave to us by making us finite creatures with real needs. Even Adam slept after his work of naming all the animals, and that was before the Fall; the need for sleep was designed right into us! We can’t go on living and speaking like “sleep is for the weak,” because it is the exact opposite that is true: if I do not sleep, I will be weak! Sleep is necessary to human function.

The second reason why we don’t take our rest is that we think we are too busy, or have too many things to do; that our own agendas are more important than obedience to God. Now, it goes without saying that our studies, goals, ministries, and dreams are indeed important, but when we refuse to pursue them in a way that lives in reliance upon God, our own activity and role in accomplishing these things become an idol. It is unbelievably tempting to think that my staying up to finish a project or a video is going to accomplish God’s will, but I often fail to realize in the heat of the moment that I think I am going to personally accomplish God’s will! The amount of pride and self-importance contained in this thought is paramount, and yet we unwittingly, by our nonchalant attitude towards resting when we so clearly need it, adopt that pride and self-importance into our lives.

Adam’s sleep at the end of his work must have been bittersweet; he was looking for a suitable helper but found none. Imagine the foolish decision he would have made if he stubbornly refused to rest and refused to trust God with this search! Instead of receiving the woman as a (wonderful and incredibly gracious) gift, he would have taken some animal for his helper, and would have defied the design of God for his life! We can’t be so stubborn in our effort to “get things done,” as the popular book title goes, but at the end of each day, we really need to confess our limits and trust God with the results of our labor, even if they seem unfinished.

A third major reason is a failure to plan for it, but this is tied into the first reason (if you don’t think you need sleep, you won’t plan to sleep), and the discipline of planning is outside the scope of my thought.

I need to be much more realistic about my limits and my need for God. In an age that emphasizes results and always tells me I can “do it,” it is a humble thing to say, “no, I can’t do it all.” This is precisely the kind of confession God desires of us; he wants us to be honest in our limitations and to go to him, weaknesses and all. God gave us sleep and the Sabbath because he knew that we were so prone to prideful work that, left to our own devices, we would we would lose our humanity altogether and work ourselves into a robotic state, never to see God because of our addiction to accomplishment.

If we have, in pride, rebelled against God’s design by refusing to sleep, staying up long, unnecessary nights, and not trusting in his provision, it is not going to be a one-day turnaround, nor will it come without difficulty. We need God to help us confess our need for him and for his provision. We need his aid to show us what it meant when Jesus said on the cross, “it is finished,” and there the work we were unable to do was accomplished for us. We need his strength to relinquish control over our schedules and our agenda, and to humbly put them at the foot of the cross.

I pray we will all learn to go to Jesus and find rest for our souls.

From our Young Men’s Gathering 3-28-09

I have recently had to think long and hard about the nature of Christian fellowship and Christian meetings. “Why do we do what we do?” we ask. “Why do we spend so much time together?” “What is the point of A,B, and C activities that we are doing?” It comes most often as a complaint that we as church leaders have instinctively learned to squelch, but the more time I spend thinking about it, the more I begin to think that it is a very legitimate concern.

I’ve probably spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours at Christian gatherings, and that amount has only skyrocketed since college. Everything I would do, almost, would somehow be related with meeting with other Christians, and most of my free time belonged to them.

Yet if the mission of the modern church, or any church, for that matter, is the witness of God’s glory and goodness to the rulers and authorities in the spiritual realm, and to the nations at the ends of the Earth, I am afraid my church attendance sheet is of little to no use in this. This is because of 2 critical functions that we have largely failed to perform.

The first function is loving one another. This new command of Jesus’ that he culminates his teaching with is one that goes largely neglected in the church today. Jesus’ direct command to his disciples is that they learn to serve one another from the heart and humble themselves before one another. That they learn to sacrifice for their fellow Christ followers. He tells the disciples that they will gain the attention of “all men” as they love each other, not as they love these other people.

Church gatherings have become a time of obligation, not a time of heart-sourced love. We have probably, in many ways, become like Christ’s 12 disciples in this regard. While Christ was teaching them about love, humility, care for the poor and neglected, the disciples were busy arguing about which of them was going to be greatest in his kingdom and trying to prove that they deserved a great reward for their service. In the same way, while God would have us learn how to humbly love and serve each other, we are often vying for notoriety in the church community and trying to do enough good things (i.e, showing up to meetings, serving in ministry teams, etc.). While our hearts are not necessarily horrific in doing this, it is laughable at best and demonic at worst.

We have failed to approach our Christian gatherings with an intent to show this kind of love. Instead of arriving with an intent to pour ourselves our sacrificially for our brethren, we show up to Life Group as an obligation and a chore. Instead of praying through how our ministry team service can affect and serve people, we relegate “ministry” to some weekly meeting or chore and consider the rest of the hours in our lives “me time.” Instead of thinking about how our strengths and our weaknesses can help our brothers and sisters, we spend our waking thoughts comparing ourselves to them and considering ourselves better than them.

It comes as no surprise, then, that so many in the church are struggling as we are. If we all carry this kind of, “I am only here because I must be here,” mentality, then it will obviously become an obligation to everyone; no one is receiving because no one comes with the intention to give. This is precisely the trap the disciples fell into in their self-centered view, and it is the very trap that the majority of our churchgoers find themselves ensnared in.

The second function we have not so much failed to perform as we have utterly neglected is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Jesus calls this the second greatest commandment and explicitly tells his disciples that they will find no way of life more virtuous. The disciples, however, zealous as they are for Jesus’ glory, fail to understand the gravity of Jesus’ words. When little children come to Christ to be held by him, the disciples attack them with a rebuke! Further interactions between the twelve and the outside world are rarely documented; any anecdotes usually don’t mention them caring much about those unlike them, and Peter even fails to reach out to the Gentile Christians because of his people-pleasing and religious tendencies.

Here is an apt description of our church’s weakness if I have ever seen one! Those who are spiritually ignorant or young are set aside, ignored, and generally considered “not worth” close or extended contact; they are kept at an arm’s length because there are so many important things to do. Outsiders to our faith, and even, at times, fellow believers of different backgrounds, are neglected or excluded on the basis of nothing more than the very circumstance God birthed them into. Most of the time, we don’t even think about them, and our life’s history is silent on our interaction with them, much like the Gospels are silent on the disciples’. No wonder the main complaint I hear about Christians is not religious ignorance but exclusivity!

Is there a root to this problem? Is there something that we’re missing, or is there and issue behind our lack of love? How could we possibly spend so much time together and feel we are under obligation, yet be so comfortable that we show little to no interest in reaching out to the outside? Doesn’t it seem ridiculous that we could so begrudgingly spend so much time together, and yet be considered exclusive and unattractive to the outside world precisely because we spend so much time together? What could possibly cause this?

The first thing on this list, for the disciples, was selfish ambition. They wanted to be great, to make names for themselves. In their insecurity, they had something to prove and could focus on nothing but who would be the greatest. They would bicker and fight, indignant with one another’s ambition, but secretly wanting greatness and personal fulfillment for themselves.

The second was self-righteousness. Upon hearing Jesus say that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, Peter, in his best intentions, pipes up, saying “Master, we’ve left everything to follow you!” It is innocent enough, and Jesus responds graciously to Peter, but there is a hint of his self-righteousness that comes out here (as there is in almost everything he says throughout the Gospels). See, Peter only mentions this at seeing the rich young ruler be unable to give his riches away. A shred of his personality looks at this ruler and says, “I could do something this ruler failed to do! There must be something in store for someone like me!” This game of comparison is all too common among Christians, and the religious in general.

The third is overestimation of oneself and of one’s own importance. The disciples saw these children as unimportant in God’s eyes; imagine their surprise when Jesus tells them, “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these!” What a declaration! These people were considered the least important in the society’s eyes, children, and were regarded as such by the disciples. The disciples bought into the subtle lie that you can determine a man’s worth by his social status, and thus considered themselves and their own concerns more important than these others’.

The fourth and fifth, religious tradition and people pleasing, go hand in hand. By staying away from these Gentile Christians, Peter was saying that his religious tradition and his reputation among the Jewish Christians were more important than showing love.

Selfish ambition, self-righteousness, self-importance, religious reputation, notice who is at the center of all of these sources of failure in the church.

The self is terribly deceptive. We blame church, we blame structure, we blame culture, we blame friends. We say all these things are the reason our Life Group is not what we want it to be, our church is not carrying out the mission of displaying God’s glory, and our meetings are a waste of time. But we are deceived; the true root of our ineffectiveness is buried elsewhere, within our hearts. It is shrouded in layers and layers of deception, placed there by years of hurt, anger, frustration, bitterness, and apathy.

Left to ourselves, we would never find this root. How could we ever? Through our own devices we set up these deceptions, and we made them specifically to deceive ourselves. It is as if we have constructed a safe in our hearts and placed all of our sinful selfishness in it, closed the door, locked it away, and forgotten the combination. We cannot remove our sin, even if we wanted to. Even if we were looking for it, we could not find it; even if it was found, who could remove it?

So was the state of the 12 disciples as they followed Jesus: tragically oblivious to the depth of their sinful state. Yet for them, there was hope. Because the one they followed held the great key that would release them from their selfish self-deception. Jesus came specifically to save them from this very thing that they, in their sin, had trapped themselves in, and not only would he do that, but he would reach right into their hearts, open that safe, take their sins by his hand, yank them out of their hearts forever, drag them with him to Calvary, and there, while hanging from the cross, he would destroy them by attaching them to his own person and sacrificing himself in the fire of God’s wrath.

We could not overcome our selfish state even if we could see the full extent of it. But Christ has overcome it on the cross for us. Peter’s own life is evidence of this, as he commands his own followers to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins,” and he commands them to do this “above all!” What a miraculous power must have gripped him that he should undergo such change!

The church today is failing in her mission to display God’s glory, but the failure can be stopped. Our church can be changed, but it will only change as we the individuals who make her up change, and the only way we will change is if we call on Jesus to reveal the depth of our selfishness and take it away from us. This is the first thing we must do; there can be no love outside of repentance and faith, for what love can we give if we do not first receive God’s love for us?

We must pray this prayer: “God, open my eyes to see my selfish ambition, my self-righteousness, my self-importance, my self-centeredness. Show me how these things cause me to fail to love my Christian family. Show me how they block me from caring for the non-believers around me. Help me to confess my sin and to be released from them, so that I may be a part of seeing our church become more God-honoring. I pray these things by the name and mercy of Jesus Christ alone.”

4. Being Handy

For some reason unknown to modern scholars, men have always liked to fix things. For example, a man will show very little interest in a coat rack until it is reported to him that said coat rack is broken. The man will then immediately proceed to spending as much as an hour of his time trying fix it. This time can be doubled or even tripled when said coat rack is owned by a woman.

If a man finds himself unable to fix something at first, he will become frustrated. This frustration varies across the spectrum of men, but it is usually pungent enough to keep him from allowing other men to take a crack at fixing it, or even to help. This is due to the fact that if another man could fix it while the first man couldn’t, then he’s obviously better fixing things. As men tend to refuse to let others be better than them until about age 72, this is unacceptable, and a man will try to avoid this outcome at all costs.

Strangely enough, a man can find himself more insecure about his coat rack fixing ability than about his actual job. If he can’t fix it, then in his mind he may feel as if he is not needed or important. When you encounter a man who is suffering from this, you may want to distract him with a broken object that is easy to fix, like a click-pen, or a high light bulb that needs changing. Or you could just remind him, “Hey. Get over yourself. It’s just a coat rack.”