How to Not Waste Your Vacations

Last week, my wife and I got the privilege to go on vacation. We packed up our little Mazda and headed north of the border to a cabin in Washington. While we were up there, I made an effort to not fall into my typical vacation traps because normally I waste my vacations. Instead of taking advantage of the time I have been given, I would use it for things I shouldn’t, have attitudes that are not beneficial, and then end up coming back home drained.

Wasting any sort of gift is a shame, especially one as valuable as a vacation, so before we left town Rebecca and I spent some time in prayer about how we could use this free week we were given. God gave guidance, we followed it and it was amazing (isn’t it always awesome when we obey Him?).

Here are a few reflections from our week of vacation:

REST

We need rest; this is the whole point of a vacation. It may seem funny that I would even need to point this out but I know of a lot of people (my self included) who do not make their vacations restful.

Life cannot always be go, go, go. You are human, which means you are finite (in strength, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, relationally). We eventually need to recharge our batteries or else we will burn out and be forced to take time off, whether in the hospital or the morgue. Resting reminds us that we are just flesh and bones—mere mortals. This is a good thing; it keeps us humble.

This is why God instituted the Sabbath for the Jews in the Old Testament. They worked six days out of the week and were required to rest on the seventh (Saturday). It must have driven all the workaholics and type A’s crazy.

“How are all these things going to get done? I have so much to do!”

The Jews were an agricultural society and for them to take a day off was real risky business. What if something happened to the crop? What if one of the animals got sick? You know what it took for the Jews to obey God and take a day off? It took faith in God—trusting that God would still provide for them, trusting that while they were resting God was working, trusting that He is sovereign and remembering that they were not.

Now, although we no longer are required to take a Sabbath anymore now that Christ has come (cf. Colossians 2:16-17), the overarching principles behind the Sabbath still apply today. We are weak and we need to be reminded of that. We are not in control and God is. The world will not stop turning the minute we turn our iPhones off.

While we are resting God is still working. Rest in Him.

SEEK GOD

Sabbaths were not just a time for the Jews to sleep in on Saturdays, they were a time for the people of God to seek His face. They would all join in the temple or synagogue and hear the Scriptures read. They would sing as a congregation the Psalms of David, worshipping the Lord. It was a time to remember that God is our greatest pursuit, not work, not family, not life.

To my shame, many times on vacation I have also taken a vacation from God. This does not mean I was an atheist for the week. Instead, I kind of put my relationship with Christ on the back burner, reaching for him only when it was convenient. Maybe I would crack open my Bible, maybe not. Maybe I would pray to Him, maybe not. Maybe I would find a good church where I was staying, only once. Then I would come back from vacation and pretend it never happened.

This time it was different, and I felt it. Rebecca and I decided that vacation was not an excuse to take a break from God but an opportunity to spend even more time with Him than we normally could with work, church, friends, and family to balance. We dedicated the week to seeking His face. He refreshed our souls. He strengthened our marriage. He gave guidance. He gave depth. Isn’t that what we are truly longing for?

WORK

This may seem like a contradiction but you make your vacations count by working hard before you go off to Cabo and by working hard when you get back—and loving it the whole time.

Yes, we need rest. Absolutely. But the reason we need rest is because we were created to work.

I hear men complain about work all the time—the hours are long, the work is menial, their boss is a tyrant—but then with a little bravado in their voice they announce, “Well, it’s just my cross to bear. Work is just a part of the Fall,” and then everyone around them applauds them for their perseverance. What a joke.

Work is not a part of the Fall; Adam began working the very day he was created. Genesis 2:15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Work has always been a part of human life; this means that work is a good thing. We were created to work. We were created to cultivate. We were created to create.

What happens with the Fall is not that we have to work but that our work is cursed. Now what we created resists. What we cultivate rebels, just like we did to God. Work is a lot more difficult now, but we are still called to work.

It is not work for work’s sake. Our work is worship to God. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” We are to work and work hard and remember the whole time that our true boss is Jesus Christ. He is our Lord and Savior and He is the only One who can give us true rest.

Book Review: You Are a Writer by Jeff Goins

It should be no secret that I love to write. If I hated to write then this blog wouldn’t make very much sense since I’m not really given to masochism. Not only do I love to write, but I love to learn and read about writing. Learning how others use words is fascinating to me. Maybe it’s because God created with just words, but there is something about writing and writers that resonates with my soul. Because of that, I’m always on the look out for a good book or blog that will help me grow further in my craft.

I found another one and it is pretty good.

Jeff Goins is a man dedicated to write about writing. The goal of his blog is to inspire other writers to take their art seriously, love it, and to write like crazy. Jeff even wrote a manifesto (for writers, not Communists) about his great epiphany that writers should write for the love of writing, not for fame. It seems like that should be a self-evident truth, but ask any writer and they will tell you that it is not as easy as it sounds. You can download The Writer’s Manifesto for free by subscribing to Jeff’s blog (which I recommend anyways if you like to write; his blog is golden).

Jeff has another ebook that is coming out fairly soon and I got the privilege to read an advanced copy of it. It is called You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One). This seems to be the follow up to The Writer’s Manifesto, where it’s main focus was on inspiring writers to write. You Are a Writer aims to show you what happens next.

BORN THIS WAY

This short ebook begins with a reiteration of the manifesto’s main points. Jeff believes that you are a writer because it is in your DNA; to borrow the words of Lady Gaga, you were “born this way” (not every day a pastor quotes Lady Gaga). Jeff tells us through a story that it was a friend who brought this truth to light for him. Jeff’s friend says, “You don’t have to want to be a writer. You are a writer. You just need to write” (15; page numbers are according to an advanced copy).

I like this because it reflects that God has created each person differently and has given them gifts to use. Our gifts are part of who God made us to be and when we aren’t using them, we are acting like the unfaithful servant who buried his money while his colleagues stewarded what they were given.

The key, Jeff writes, to being a writer is to start acting like one. When most of us think of acting like a writer we imagine some sort of scene out of the movie, Midnight in Paris—drinking, dancing, and smoking with Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. While many writers do those things, a true writer loves the craft and writes with their passion as their guide. This led Jeff to wake up at 5:00am every morning to find time to write. You just do it, but it starts with believing you are a writer first. When you say, “I am a writer,” then that’s when you are one (23).

Although I understand the idea behind becoming a writer when you say you are one, but I still found it a fairly humorous point. I can say, “I am a lawyer” but unless I pass the bar exam and get hired at a firm, I am no more a lawyer than Lebron James is a NBA Finals champion. All that said, I understand that what Jeff means is that if you say you are a writer then you will believe it, and when you believe you are a writer, then you will write.

Jeff then divulges, what he believes, to be the secret to successful writing, “The only person you need to worry about writing for is you. This is the secret to satisfaction in anything: doing what gives you life and not trying to live up to others’ expectations” (27). While this may sound like effectively eliminating your readership, making the only person interested in your work to be you, Jeff explains it this way “If you’re ‘one in a million,’ and the world is full of seven billion people, that means there are seven thousand people just like you” (27). Most people would be pretty happy with seven thousand readers.

JUST WRITE

The rest of You Are a Writer then takes a more practical approach to show you how to be a writer. It takes great courage and hard work to be a writer. You must be willing to face rejection constantly, but it is in failing that you can find success.

Hard work is not the only thing a writer needs though. Jeff writes that you also need “1. A platform to share your writing; 2. A brand to build trust with readers; 3. Channels of connection to distribute your art” (39). Jeff then graces his readers with what I believe to be the most beneficial part of this book, practical advice on how to “ship” your writings. Many of us writers are a helpless lot, clutching our ideas and manuscripts but having no idea what to do with them. He shows how one of the best ways to build a platform is through a blog (that’s how he struck gold) and shows the less tech-savvy of us how to set one up. Jeff also shows another important way to build a platform and a brand, getting published through magazines and websites, even offering awesome templates for pitches.

INSPIRATIONAL & PRACTICAL

It’s not in his inspirational writings but in his practical advice, that I really Jeff Goins hits a home run. Don’t get me wrong. I think Jeff’s inspirational sections are helpful. His story about walking up at 5:00am to write has in fact motivated me to do the very same thing (it has been amazing!). But Jeff’s practical advice is what I personally benefited the most from. I am already motivated to write (hence, the blog), and so I don’t necessarily need to proclaim to myself that I was born to write. Nonetheless, I am sure that those struggling writers struggling with an identity crisis would benefit from most of the inspirational sections of this book.

Although I liked You Are a Writer and really like Jeff’s blog, I think his secret to successful writing was the one thing I really took issue with because as a pastor, I do not believe that the goal of any gift is to be used just for yourself. And furthermore, I do not believe that the secret to satisfaction is “doing what gives you life.” The Bible simply does not teach either of those things. If this were written by an unbeliever this probably wouldn’t have even caught my eye, but I know Jeff is a Christian (although writing for a broader audience) and so I feel compelled to be a little bit more picky.

I don’t think Jeff would disagree with me on this: the goal of any gift we have is to glorify God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31; 14:25) and to build up/encourage others (cf. 1 Cor. 14:4-5; Eph. 4:12). I agree with Jeff that we should not allow the fear of man to dictate how and what we write but we should not replace others with ourselves; we should replace others with God and when we do that, others will be blessed. Here’s the best part though, we will be blessed too because we will be fulfilling what God created us to do. We will have a far greater satisfaction than “doing what gives you life” because we will be worshipping the one who gives life, through our writing. It reminds me of something Eric Liddell, the Scottish Olympic sprinter, who said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” When we live for God, we are in the best place we can be.

Does this mean that we have to write only theology books or Christian Amish Romance novels? No. Please, no. Just like the tiger glorifies God with its stripes, the writer glorifies God with his words. As Francis Schaeffer once wrote, “Christians should use these arts to the glory of God — not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. An art work can be a doxology in itself.”

Write the stories God has put on your heart. Write as a reaction for what Christ has done for you on the cross. Write as worship. In that, God is pleased and you will be too. And if you are looking to grow in writing and steward the gift God has given you, especially through the medium of a blog, download this book. It’s available on Kindle and also through the You Are a Writer website. You will be blessed.

I Don’t Want To Be Alone: God’s Solution

Having only been married for a year and a half, I do not claim to be an expert on marriage.

Far from it. Ask my wife.

Much has been said about marriage—its makeup, its role, and significance. Many books in the Christian realm have recently been written on this subject.  And marriage is even one of the hot button topics of society in America. Traditional roles in marriage are seen as archaic. Young adults are waiting longer to get married than ever before in our nation’s history showing that marriage is not necessarily a valued step into adulthood as it once was for our society.

But what does the Bible have to say about marriage?  As Christians our worldview cannot be conformed by society’s mold (Romans 12:1-2), instead we ought to live by a different standard.

Genesis 2:18-25 shows God’s standard for marriage—His creation of the first marriage. If one is to learn about biblical marriage, it is necessary to understand the marriage that God forged with His own hands.

This passage comes on the heels of God’s first five and a half days of Creation.  Light and dark, the ocean and the sky, the birds and the fish, the plants and the animals—the entire cosmos was created by the words of the Lord.  Then the Lord decides to create “man in His own image” (1:27).  Different than the rest of Creation, man was not called into existence but he was formed from the dust (2:7).  This man was given dominion over Creation and freedom to part take of the fruits of his labor in the Garden of Eden.

Everything was good except for one thing.  Man was alone (and every single man said, Amen!).

THE PERFECT FIT

Originally, the Lord had stated that His Creation was good—very good, in fact (1:31), but there was one thing that the Lord proclaimed as not good, “that the man should be alone” (2:18).  The Lord’s solution to this dilemma was to create “a helper fit for him” (2:18).  The NIV translates this as a “suitable helper.”  God is not just looking for a quick fix of the man’s companionship problems—a dog could have just fixed that—but He is looking for the perfect fit for the man.

This fit was not found in any of the animals (2:19-20).  The man went through every animal that God had created, naming each one of them.  Although names were found for these animals, a suitable helper was not found for the man.  To understand what the Lord was looking for, one must examine the term “suitable helper.”  This term implies a complementary aspect, such as a “partner” or “counterpart.”

The obvious reality is that an animal would never have made a complementary partner for the man. Pets are fun for a while but the conversation is a little one-sided. Luckily for Adam, God had a better solution in mind.

After being placed into a deep sleep, the man awoke to his perfect partner, a woman.  The Lord had taken “one of his [the man’s] ribs…and the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman and brought her to the man” (2:21-22).  She was the perfect fit because she was handcrafted by the Lord from the man for the man.

ONE FLESH

The narrator of Genesis begins the conclusion of this passage with the saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (2:24).  The narrator is not necessarily making a sociological mandate, that men always need to leave their families to join their wives, but the point is that they are to become their own unit—“one flesh.”  This verse shows that what had happened between the man and woman of Genesis 2 was mankind’s first marriage.

The man who was formerly alone—the only part of creation that had been declared “not good”—had found a wife, and they completed each other, forming one perfect, cohesive unit.

The narrator describes the first marriage by ending this passage with the conclusion, “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (2:25).  This verse is contrasted, where innocence is lost, shame is found, and nakedness covered.

To be naked and unashamed was to exemplify a relationship with nothing to hide themselves from.  I do not believe that this means they were unaware of their sexuality because their sexuality is tied into fulfilling the divine mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” (1:28) and also their sexuality is the physical manifestation of the two becoming one flesh (2:24).

What this does mean is that their sexuality was not something to be ashamed of because there was no sin within their sexuality because it was within a sinless marriage; it was sexuality being expressed as God intended it to be.

BRIDGING TO TODAY

Why was it not good for the man to be alone?  John Walton states, “When something was ‘good,’ it was functioning as God intended it to function. Thus the statement that ‘it was not good for the man to be alone’ is one of non-functionality.”

Basically men, we need a wife because we cannot function on our own (and all the wives said, Amen!).

Our “non-functionality” goes far beyond cooking only Top Ramen and never doing laundry. Because man was created in the image of God, man was created to be in a relationship, a relationship that could not be fulfilled with a non-image-bearing creature; he needed a partner who was like him and who could complement him and complete him (a suitable helper).

Instead of the man being able to find his partner on his own, the Lord steps in and fashions the God-intended companion for the man, a woman.  This becomes the prototype marriage.  A man, a woman, brought together by God and united together without any sin or shame to hinder them.

What this means for those of us who are married: Continue to tear down the barriers that would keep you from being unashamed with your spouse. This means continually repenting of sin to each other. Continually asking for forgiveness. 

What this means for those of you who are single: Seek Christ. Get plugged into a church. Seek to become the right spouse instead of seeking for one. And men—grow up. 

Do that and you never know, you may not be alone for long!

Theologian, Spy and Martyr – Bonhoeffer Died Today

Sixty-seven years ago, April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed in a Nazi concentration camp for his defense of the Jews during World War II and for his faith. Bonhoeffer was an incredible man of conviction and passion for Christ, shown in his biography Bonhoeffer, written by Eric Metaxas. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Grace changes you from the inside out. Neither law nor cheap grace can do that.”

“If one couldn’t communicate the most profound ideas about God and the Bible to children, something was amiss. There was more to life than academia.”

“It’s much easier for me to imagine a praying murderer, a praying prostitute, than a vain person praying. Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.”

“He [Bonhoeffer] differentiated between Christianity as a religion like all the others—which attempt but fail to make an ethical way for man to climb to heaven of his own accord—and following Christ, who demands everything, including our very lives.”

“Christianity preaches the infinite worth of that which is seemingly worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”

“A good leader serves others and leads others to maturity. He puts them above himself, as a good parent does a child, wishing to lead that child to someday be a good parent. Another word for this is discipleship.”

“Christ must be brought into every square inch of the world and the culture, but one’s faith must be shining and bright and pure and robust.”

“Theological work and real pastoral fellowship can only grow in a life which is governed by gathering round the Word morning and evening and by fixed times of prayer.”

“Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic . . . Do not defend God’s Word, but testify to it . . . Trust to the Word.”

“Death is hell and night and cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous, that we can transform death.”

“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Was the Resurrection Cheating?

In light of Easter, an old college memory came to my mind the other day.

During my freshman year of college at the University of Oregon, the college group I was part of put on an event where we could ask the pastors and leaders any question about Jesus and the Bible. Of course, this brought in scores of visitors wanting to see the learned scholars stumped, including a few unbelievers. One non-christian girl asked our pastor a question about Christ that I had never even considered before:

Was the resurrection cheating?

Her rationale was, if Jesus’ great love for us is demonstrated for us in His horrible, agonizing death, doesn’t the resurrection negate all that? After all, He’s no longer dead! It would have been a much greater sacrifice if He had stayed dead. What’s the point?

Set aside the metaphysical hypotheticals of “the fabric of the universe would unravel if the second person of the Trinity was dead for all eternity, duh.” This is actually a really good question for Christians to ask themselves!

Was the resurrection more than an elaborate punking of Satan, who thought he had won when the Son of God died? A celestial gotcha?

Paul tells the Corinthians that the resurrection is so much more than that. In fact, Paul says, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). That sounds fairly important.

But why? Why is, at risk of sounding blasphemous, the cross not enough? Because the cross was never the whole plan.

The cross paid our sins in full—Amen and amen! But eternal life was made possible through the resurrection. Unfortunately, Christians forget to emphasize this important part of the Gospel, acting like the resurrection is just a footnote to the cross.

But the resurrection is extremely important and necessary because it ensures two main aspects of eternal life: qualitative and quantitative.

Qualitative—Christ’s resurrection ensures our regeneration, our “new birth.”

Before Christ, we were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). Heart beating, lungs pumping, but spiritually dead. The Walking Dead. Our desires, our values, and our minds were focused on anything but God.

But because of the resurrection, if we have faith in Him, God has given us life like He gave Jesus life (Ephesians 2:5-6). It is a quality of life like we have never imagined because we are no longer slaves to sin—wallowing in the mud of guild and shame. We are born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3-4). We are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have new desires, new values, and new minds.

Quantitative—Christ’s resurrection ensures our resurrection.

Humans die; it’s probably the one thing we are best at besides sinning. We are batting .1000 at the deathbed.

Christ came to change all of that.

Paul informs us of the ultimate gift of the resurrection when he tells the Corinthians, “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

Just as Christ was raised, so we will be raised. Just as Christ received a glorified body that will never decay, so we will too.

No more disease. No more allergies. No more warts. No more broken or disabled limbs. No more blindness. No more sin. No more suffering. No more tears.

This is all because of the resurrection. It definitely matters that the tomb is empty.

Dead is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:54-56

For further reading, check out the Gospel Coalition’s explanation on why the resurrection shouldn’t be neglected.

Post adapted from the School of Bible Christology class. Image credit: “Jesus’s Tomb” by upyernoz on Flickr under CC by 3.0

The First Real Day of Spring

A wonderful look at Good Friday by N.D. Wilson. Excerpt from his book, Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl (Which by the way is one of the most artful books about theology I have ever read. Easily rivals C.S. Lewis, and I don’t say that lightly):

There is water in the world that once flew out of the mouths of guards and flecked the face of the Word Himself. There is iron that once tore at His back and iron that once coursed in His blood before it fell to the stones, left for the small animals to feed on in the night. Animals were born and spent a lifetime before being slaughtered, having their hides tanned and cut into strips, interwoven with stone and glass and lashing the skin off the One Poet’s back, baring ribs full of calcium. There are proteins still, somewhere in this world, that were used in His beard before soldiers clutched, not knowing how close their fingers came to the Infinite, and tore hard.

But there is nothing now made from His flesh decomposed. That seed sprouted long ago, the firstborn, sprung from the womb of death on the first real day of Spring.

Photo Credit: “Spring” by morning_rumtea on Flickr under CC by 3.0

To Whet Your Appetite: 04/03/12

  • Because April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, Justin and Lindsay Holcumb are giving away a free ebook version of their book, Rid of My Disgrace; today is the final day to get it. Free is always the best price, so take advantage this.
  • I never realized how much I actually loathe the lottery and what it does to people until this whole Mega Millions thing happened. It is so much more than about gambling, it is government-run tax on the poor. Yes, it is voluntary, but unlike real taxes there is an incentive to pay this tax—640 million incentives—drawing people in like a fish to a lure. This is why according to The Atlantic, households earning less than $15,000 a year spend 9% of their income on lottery tickets. That is just sad and for some reason people think it is harmless. This is why John Piper calls the Mega Millions Lottery a “suicidal craze.”
  • Vanderbilt University has told religious organizations on campus that they cannot exclude people from joining their groups or running for group leadership based upon religion or sexual orientation. This means an atheist should have every right to lead a Christian group. Or a homosexual. Al Mohler, examines the situation and shows why this is an assault on religious organizations.
  • Justin Taylor is posting excerpts describing each day of Holy Week (Jesus’ last week on earth) from a book he and uber-scholar, Andreas Köstenberger, are working on together. Here is what happened on Monday and Tuesday.
  • Funny-man Jon Acuff normally takes a satiric look at Christian culture. In a change of pace, Acuff takes a serious look at gossip and how it affects everything, even the culture and productivity of an office.