Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Quiet Invasion (Christmas Post)

Christmas:  A celebration of the moment that Jesus entered our reality.  That moment was the first step toward the redemption of our fallen world.  That baby was the greatest gift ever given.  Why?

That moment defied human expectations of the Messiah.  The Jews had been waiting for this King for quite some time.  They knew that a deliverer was coming.  They did not know what that would mean.  They expected a show of force.  They expected a military leader who would overthrow their oppressors and establish a physical kingdom.

Instead, we got a baby.  This baby did not even have a very noble birth.  His parents could not even find a room to sleep in for the night, so they made his first bed in a feeding trough.  The only people who celebrated this birth were a few wise men from far away and a group of lowly shepherds.

However, there was something about that baby.  There were already rumors about this baby; rumors which made a king feel threatened.  He wanted the baby dead.  His parents were forced to take their child and flee. So, this Messiah spent the first part of his life in hiding until the frightened king was dead.  Not exactly the overpowering Messiah humanity expected.

As he grew into a boy, he was drawn to the temple, to his Father's house.  He talked with the teachers.  The teachers were not simply humoring a child, they were having a real discussion with the boy.  The men were astonished at the boy's understanding.  He was not a military leader, but there was something different about him.

When he became an adult, he started to travel and teach.  His teachings were new and powerful.  People all around knew about Jesus.  He performed incredible miracles.  He healed the sick.  He released demoniacs from their possession.  He even raised the dead.  Now, no one could deny that someone special had grown from the baby born in such humble circumstances.  He was certainly a great teacher.  Some thought he might be a prophet.  Still others began to utter the words they had been anticipating for so long:  Messiah.

Jesus did not inspire excitement in everyone.  This was not the militaristic Messiah they had expected.  This was not the warrior-king they had anticipated.  Sure, he challenged the oppressive government.  However, he also challenged the religious leaders.  He condemned them while reaching out to those who failed to live up to the religious standards.  He drew the outcasts and the undesirables in droves.  There was something different about this man.

He gained a huge following.  Some saw him as a threat to the stability of the empire.  Some saw him as a threat to their control over God's people.  This man had never raised a sword against anyone in his life, yet he threatened the religious order and the physical kingdom.  He was not the Messiah they had expected.  He was something far different.

The enemies he had made over the years had tried for so long to kill him.  Finally, they found their moment.  They did not make it quick.  He was beaten and tortured.  They forced him to drag the implement of his demise to the site of his death, and then nailed him to it.  He died a slow agonizing death.  His disciples were terrified, confused, devastated.  This was not the Messiah they had expected.

Three days later, he proved to the world exactly who he was.  This man had been struck with the most powerful weapon available to humanity and to the evil one himself:  Death.  He had been killed.  Three days later, he proved to the world that he was more powerful than our ultimate weapon.  He rose from his grave.  He overcame death.  He was the Messiah.  He was God's son.

His disciples finally understood.  This Messiah had little concern for the trivial, tiny kingdoms of our little world.  His concern spanned across the ages.  There were more important things at stake.  He came not to free a single nation from the oppression of another government.  He came to free every person from the oppression of sin.  He came to taste death, to defeat death, and to offer life.  He was not what we expected.  He was something far greater.

He went on to the Father, left the disciples with a Helper, and a movement started, a movement based in love.  This movement won converts not by the sword, but by the Spirit.  This movement was not tied to any single kingdom on Earth, it sought to include the entire globe.  It was not a militaristic movement.  It was not the kingdom humanity had expected the Messiah to establish.  It was a Kingdom far greater.  Without lifting a sword, it threatened the religious order and the physical kingdoms.  People tried to squelch it over and over.  When they started slaughtering the citizens of this otherworldly Kingdom, the Kingdom only spread and grew.

So, here we are, 2,000 years later.  On this day, we celebrate the birth of that little baby.  That long awaited baby who would grow into our Messiah.  Not the Messiah we expected.  Not the Messiah we wanted.  The Messiah we needed.

But, why?  Why this quiet invasion?  Why did God not simply step in and squash evil?  I think C. S. Lewis describes it best in Mere Christianity:

"Another possible objection is this.  Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil?  Why is He not landing in force, invading it?  Is it that He is not strong enough?   
Well, Christians think He is going to land in force;  we do not know when.  But we can guess why He is delaying.  He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely.  I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited until the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side.  God will invade.  But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does.   
When that happens, it is the end of the world.  When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.  God is going to invade, all right:  but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else-something it never entered your head to conceive-comes crashing in;  something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?  For this time it will be God without disguise;  something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.  It will be too late then to choose your side.  There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up.  That will not be the time for choosing:  it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.  Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side.  God is holding back to give us that chance.  It will not last for ever.  We must take it, or leave it."
When God invades this world in force, it will be too late to decide to join his side.  We would not stand a chance, corrupted by sin as we were.  Something had to be done.  So, he sent that baby.  He gave us the Messiah we needed.  He defied our expectations.  He surpassed our expectations.  The quiet invasion began on that night.  The invasion that is still happening.  The invasion that sought to rescue all of us from destruction.

Thank God for the peaceful baby who overthrew the world.  Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Reflections on My Education and Newfound Freedom

I am finished with school.  Quite possibly forever.  This past week, I completed the last of my final exams and I did well enough to convince Johnson University to hand me a piece of paper saying that I am an educated man.  If I ever sit in a classroom again, I will be studying something of great interest to me.  I will (hopefully) never have to fulfill any general education requirements again.

This new state of being left me feeling a bit strange.  For the past decade and a half, school has consumed a very large portion of my time.  Most days, I spent several hours a day in class.  For the past four years, I spent several hours nearly every day doing homework.  Granted, I will now move into full time work, but when the work day is over, my work is over.  Also, my job will not be nearly as intellectually straining as my education.  I will gain a bit of free time and a huge capacity for learning whatever I would like to learn.

I don't mean to cast my education in a negative light.  It is no secret that I hate attending class more than most people, but that does not mean that I place no value on learning.  For the most part, my general education classes were fascinating and gave me information that I do find useful.  My Bible classes at Johnson have been fantastic.  Admittedly, I did not approach my college education with the appropriate attitude.  After graduating high school, I viewed college as more of an obstacle to overcome before I could go into ministry than a tool to grow in knowledge and in my relationship with God.  Before I left home, a friend of mine said, "I know you think you're ready[to go into ministry], but you're not.  You still have a lot to learn."  At the time, I just smiled and nodded, but she was absolutely right.  My time at Johnson helped me to grow substantially and I know that the things I have learned and experienced here will impact my relationship withe God and whatever ministry I am involved in for the rest of my life.

My time at Johnson also gave me the discipline that I was lacking.  And by "gave," I mean that Johnson beat me into being disciplined.  I was blessed with the strange ability to memorize information pretty easily.  If I read over a study guide one time, I usually had enough information to pass the exam.  If I learned something once, it was locked in for good.

Such a blessing is easily abused, and I wound up gliding through my K-12 education with minimal effort.  When I did homework, I only did what had to be done in order to pass and I certainly did not spend my precious time at home doing it.  I literally slept through most of my high school classes courtesy of long hair and plenty of practice at sitting up while sleeping.  One teacher suspected I was sleeping and would try to embarrass me by waking me up with a question.  I would answer correctly and fall back asleep.  So, I became arrogant about my intelligence (Though I did not lord it over people like some kids did.  That junk made me mad.) and I became lazy in  my approach to learning.  All I cared about was doing what I had to do to pass.

Then, I came to Johnson.  I had to do real homework and research and write reports.  That sort of thing could not be done in ten minutes between class and free time.  I tried to glide through with minimal effort more than I would like to admit, and I paid for it.  Literally.  I wound up on academic probation and lost my scholarships.  All the intelligence in the world is worthless without the willingness to work hard.  It was a hard lesson, but one I am glad I learned before I got out in the real world.  If you're reading this and you are still in school, please learn that lesson here and now before someone teaches it to you with a kick to the face.  Before college, I loved the teachers who required very little of me.  At Johnson, my favorite professors wound up being the ones who challenged me and forced me to think and work hard.  If you look at my transcript, my lowest grades are often in my favorite classes.

Now, the education chapter of my life is over.  I am armed with what I could glean from the incredible level of knowledge I was exposed to on this campus.  My library is stuffed full of amazing books that I will finally have the time to read.  And I have finally learned some life lessons that I desperately needed.  Now, I venture out into the "real world."  It's pretty exciting.

What will I do now that my formal education has reached its end?  Initially, laziness was tempting.  However, I know from experience that playing video games all day is not very fulfilling and eventually makes me feel awful.  The achievement system gives you the rush of actually accomplishing something while you utterly fail to contribute anything to the real world.  Fact 1:  I am better than you at Halo.  Fact 2:  My Halo skills almost never come in handy in real life.  So, I will continue to play games for fun, but I will remain vigilant against the temptation to fill my days with gaming and sitting around doing nothing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I can use some of my free time to get into decent shape.  I was never the epitome of physical health, but I was a decent runner in high school.  My Indy XC friends gave me the determination to push myself further than I thought possible and a belief that I could accomplish whatever I wanted if I fought hard enough.  That belief extended to more than just running.  I had lost a little bit of that, but in the last couple of weeks, I've been exercising every day.  Since high school, I had only exercised maybe five times a month on an exceptionally good month.  A decision to strive for living past thirty coupled with a scathing burn from my sister-in-law led to my renewed devotion to staying in decent shape.  I have felt really good pushing myself beyond my limits.  If I keep it up, I should be physically prepared when the Zombie Apocalypse begins.

I do not intend to let learning end with my formal education.  As I mentioned earlier, college left my bookshelves stacked with incredible books.  I plan to start there.  My professors supplied me with some amazing material, but having to learn all of it at once was not totally possible.  Now, I actually have time to read.  I loved to read and to learn things on my own before I came here.  That is one thing I have really missed for the last four years.  I am ecstatic to finally have time for it again.  After the college books, there is always more to learn.  I will go back to devouring books.

I plan to write.  I loved writing before school.  As I mentioned in my "Hello, World" post, I blogged pretty regularly before college.  During college, I simply did not have the time.  I know my first few posts have been sloppy and scattered, but now I really have time for writing and I am excited to use this blog pretty regularly.  I have also started several stories without finishing them.  Now that I am out of school, I hope to finish one of those and try my hand at getting something published.  That would be amazing.

The biggest thing on the horizon now that I am finished with school is following God wherever he leads.  I love to look back and see how He has shaped me and led me thus far and I am excited to see where He will take me in the future.  As of right now, we plan on starting a church when Jessica is finished with school.  In the meantime, I now have plenty of time to spend growing closer to God and leading others to Him right where I am.

So, this is the end of this chapter of my life.  I will be hanging around Knoxville for a while, but college is over.  I am relieved that school work is over.  I am happy with what I have learned and who I have become.  I am excited to see how the next chapter starts.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sharks VS Vending Machines

Yesterday, I was reading Wired Magazine and I saw a list of statistics at the bottom of one page.  The statistics showed your odds of dying in a given year from a variety of causes.  Two really stood out to me.
Shark Attack:  1 in 251,800,000
Vending Machine Accident:  1 in 112,000,000

I found it morbidly funny that I'm more likely to die under a vending machine than in the jaws of a shark.  So, next time the vending machine takes your money, don't shake it!  It might attack you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Overcoming Evil

Romans 12:21.  "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."  This is a somewhat uncommon favorite verse, but it has always stood out to me.  I love this verse so much because I think it perfectly sums up what is expected of a Christian.  Sometimes, it can be tempting for Christians to live purely on the defensive.  We think that just because we do not lie, or steal, or kill, or [insert sin here], we are living good lives.  It is obvious that there are actions which the Scriptures tell us are sinful and destructive.  However, we walk a dangerous line when our faith consists only of abstaining from those behaviors.  In fact, such a narrow focus can create a path to a different kind of sin.

Much of the Church is content to lock itself away in their church buildings.  They want to barricade the doors against the evil culture lurking just outside their walls.  Once you fall into this mindset, it becomes easy to look down on anyone who does not adhere to your code of ethics.  Pride becomes a real threat as we are tempted to see ourselves as better than the outsiders.  I suppose if you can avoid looking down on the outsiders this is one way we can avoid being overcome by evil.  We can overcome the evil within ourselves by hiding from the world in the safety of our pews.  But, are we really doing any good?

I do not believe that Christ created a Church that would hide out waiting for His inevitable return.  When I look at the Scriptures, I do not see the early Church behaving in this way.  I see a group of people saved by God's grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who constantly impact the culture around them.  They gather together regularly to encourage and strengthen one another, but they also reach out in love to the people around them.  When they find out there are people in need, they use their resources to help those people.  They were not overcome by evil.  They overcame evil with good.

When I look at the life of Jesus, I do not see a man who merely tried to be a good person.  Did He live a sinless life?  Yes!  Did He call others to do the same?  Absolutely!  Yet, when he encountered someone who was living in sin, He did not try to avoid contact with that person.  He loved those people.  If they had a need, he filled it.  He healed the sick.  He restored sight to the blind.  He cast out demons.  He served others.  Jesus certainly was not overcome by evil.  And He definitely overcame quite a bit of the evil in the world around Him with good; all before He even made the ultimate sacrifice to defeat evil once and for all.

In the instances when I do see Jesus angry, He is not angry with the sinners He is trying to reach.  His anger is always in the context of trying to straighten out religious people who have become so focused on being good people that they fail to love the world around them.  They strive not to be overcome by evil, but in their striving they fail to overcome evil with good.  In so doing, they actually push people further away from God.

Over and over, the Bible shows us that we are expected to be a force of good in the world.  In Matthew 22, when asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus answered that loving God was the first and greatest.  Most Christians do a fine job of attempting this.  Jesus followed that up by saying, "The second is like it:  'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"  How much do we strive to live up to that?    James says that true religion is caring for the widows and the orphans.  Much of our religion has been reduced to making sure we are good enough and show up to church regularly.  James also points out the futility of responding to a person who is poorly clothed and lacking food by telling them to "Go in peace, keep warm and eat well," without actually giving them the things that they need.  Faith without works is dead.

Good is the only thing that can overcome evil.  We can react to evil in any number of evil ways and possibly keep it in check for a bit, but it is only a temporary fix.  A child can stop a bully's tormenting by giving the bully a beating.  However, this only keeps the bully from making the child the target of his aggression; there is no real change for the better.  If anything, the bully has one more reason to be angry.  If someone wrongs us, we can respond by bringing them pain, and they may leave us alone.  But, that person is not really changed; they are only too afraid or hurt to deal any further with us.  In the long run, forgiveness and love are far more powerful than anger and wrath, which only bring selfish quick fixes.

I am not naive enough to think that evil will be totally obliterated by our kind actions.  Ultimately, God will remove the remaining evil from the world.  What I do think, though, is that we are to be a force of good in the world.  The Church should be something that heals and helps, not something that ignores the people outside and leaves them struggling with their pain.  When all is said and done, only forgiveness can stop the cycle of bitterness and hatred.  Only generosity and charity can reverse poverty.  Justice is far stronger than vengeance.  Pride is inferior to humility.  And love always overcomes hatred.

The world is in desperate need of God, and we aren't going to lead them to Him by hiding out in our buildings and creating our own safe culture.  We need to be out in the world taking care of those in need.  We need to show God's love to others in tangible ways.  God has saved us and broken sin's grip on our lives.  He has cleansed us and He is making us holy.  Now, he expects us to use our new lives not to hide from the world, but to change the world.

So, go make a difference.  Read Romans twelve.  Do not be overcome by evil, but don't forget the second part of the verse.  Go out and overcome evil with good.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hello, World

overt  adj. [oh-vurt]  open to view or knowledge; not concealed or secret
thinking  n.  [thing-king]  thought; judgment, reflection; opinion

I used to love blogging.  Then, I came to college, learned what real homework and classes were like, and struggled to balance said schoolwork with a job and some semblance of a social life while maintaining a relationship with a girl who eventually became my lovely wife.  The last 4.5 years have been amazing, but they did not leave much time for me to maintain my old blog.

As I near the end of my college career, I find that I finally have a good bit of free time again.  I miss the days of posting my thoughts and then engaging in a discussion on the topic with a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds.  So, I decided it's time to start a new blog.

I thought "Overt Thinking" would be a perfect title, since a blog basically consists of a person or group's thoughts and opinions which are open to viewing.  As of right now, I do not have a very particular focus for this blog.  I will be posting on a wide variety of topics ranging from important matters like faith and the impending zombie apocalypse to frivolous subjects such as a comparison of hot fry brands.

If you happen to stumble across this blog and see a post that catches your eye, I encourage you to contribute to the discussion.