Monday, December 29, 2008

Fantasy Frustration vs. Real World Happiness

(Disclaimer: this post is about sports).

Anybody else struggle with the balance of emotions between fantasy football and real football? Let me explain.

You would think that since 3 of the 4 fantasy football teams I manage made the fantasy playoffs that one of them would have won the fantasy football superbowl, right? Wrong. In one league, my team lost in the first round. In another league, my team made the fantasy superbowl (which is week 16 of the regular season) and lost. I had one hope left this week. Its a league that takes the point totals of your players from week 16 and 17 of the regular season and combines them to determine the superbowl winner. I went into week 17 with an 11 point advantage...and still lost. I think its easier on me to not have a team make the fantasy playoffs than it is for a team to go to the fantasy superbowl and lose.

That last sentence does not apply to real football. While all four of my fantasy football teams have let me down, the Panthers are the source of real world happiness. No matter what happens in the post season, I'm proud of the Panthers. 12-4in the NFL is a huge accomplishment. Second place in the NFC behind the superbowl winners is a perfect place for the Panthers to be. First place comes with a lot of pressure, second place is a position where you can play with a lot of pride, confidence and a chip on your shoulder. Right where the Panthers like to be! I have a good feeling about the Cats in the post season this year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent (Part 5)

This week at our church and at other churches around the world the Joy candle was lit.

Most of you know these lyrics to the popular carol:

Joy to the world
The Lord is come
Let earth receive her king

Something about joy makes me twinge with cynicism. Even when I'm careful to remember that joy isn't just a sentimental emotion, there's a part of me that thinks joy is overrated. Then I remember, maybe happiness is what I'm thinking of.

Happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes. As the circumstances of our lives change, so does our happiness. I once argued about this with a girl in college. She believed we could always have joy and that we couldn't always be happy. In my naivete, I argued that we could always be happy, because happiness is a part of joy. I was wrong. I don't say this very often, but she was right.

Joy is something that can coexist with any other emotion because its more than just an emotion. Its more than a sentiment. Its more than a feeling that comes and goes as it pleases. Jesus says in John 15:11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." What did he tell his disciples? That they can remain in his love by obeying his commands. He also told them that he is sending the Holy Spirit to remind them of everything he taught and commanded them. So it is by obeying Christ that his joy becomes our joy.

What's interesting, is that there are plenty of examples in the Bible where joy and another emotion (whether positive or negative) exist. When the two Mary's discovered that Jesus was not at his tomb in Matthew 28, they "hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy..." I love that phrase "afraid yet filled with joy." We can be full of fear and joy at the same time.

Its like I tell grieving people whose loved one was a Christian, joy and pain can coexist. Its often confusing, frustrating, tiring and strange...but its true, its natural, its necessary and its normal.

That's why the carol "Joy to the World" can be true even in a world where poverty, hunger, Aids and homelessness abound...because pain and joy can and often does coexist.

May your joy be real this advent season, even if its seasoned with pain.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Advent (Part 4)

We lit the Peace candle this week. When I think of peace, these lyrics from U2's song "Peace on Earth" immediately pop into my head.

Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I'm sick of all of this
Hanging around
Sick of sorrow
Sick of pain
Sick of hearing again and again
That there's gonna be
Peace on Earth

I think this song sticks in my head because it resonates so close to home for me. I'm sick of sorrow, sick of pain, sick of hearing that there's going to be peace on earth. I'm sick of cancer. I'm sick of poverty. I'm sick of abortion. I'm sick of suicide. I'm sick of depression. I'm sick of peace on earth being a future hope, why can't it be a current reality?

If Jesus is Lord and Jesus is the prince of peace, then where is it, where is peace? Honestly. This is just one among a long list of questions I wrestle with. Now, I know what I would tell people if I were asked this question: that a relationship with Jesus gives us the peace we need now and that the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God is what will ultimately lead to peace on earth in the future.

The answer may be theologically correct (and I'm aware its just scratching the surface)but it just seems like there should be greater peace on earth than there currently is. I mean when is the human race ever going to get "being human" right?

Peace, there seems to be such a huge gap between the "now" and the "yet to come." I don't like the gap and there's only so much I can do about it. I guess that's the good news, that there is something I can do about. What if all the churches in the nation, no, in the world, were to rise up and do something about the lack of peace on earth? What would it look like for millions of Christians to say "I don't like the gap between what is happening now and the way things should be, so I'm going to do my part to fill in the gap?"

May you be sick of the way things are and do something to bring peace on earth during this advent season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Advent (Part 3: The Hope Candle)

This Sunday we lit the Hope candle. At one time in my life I thought hope was not important. I thought it was overrated. I thought that there was no substance to it. Looking back, I see how foolish I was.

So many people see hope as only a future possibility. I see hope as so much more. I see hope as having substance now because Jesus is not just waiting passively for us on the other side, he's passionately engaging us now. The substance of Hope is not just a future possibility, its also a present reality. Our hope has substance now, because God is at work in our lives and in the world around us. Jesus made it clear that once his physical life was done on earth, we would not be left as orphans, but that the Holy Spirit would come to guide us into all truth.

The Holy Spirit living inside us now is our hope for our present reality. The fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in Christ is our future reality. The substance of hope is not just something to be longed for, its something to be grasped now.

May your eyes be opened to the hope that is now and to the hope that is to come during this Advent season.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Advent (Part 2)

The first candle lit is the love candle. Its appropriate that we as a church are coming out of our four week series called LOVED. As we leave the series behind, we move forward in the truth that we are loved. We look forward to what Christ's love means for us personally and for our church corporately.

God didn't just tell us he loves us, he demonstrated it, he proved it. His demonstration was a torturously gory and bloody death of His son Jesus Christ. It was a beautiful mess. Isn't love often that way?

Jesus became a beautiful mess to prove his love for us. He lived a sinless life, had the power to save himself from the cross, yet chose to willingly lay down his life for a bunch of ungrateful, ungodful, undeserving, mean spirited and blatantly incredulous people. Us. Jesus became a beautiful mess for us. Beautiful because he chose to love us, a mess because His love for us meant he had to endure deception, scandal, mockery, excruciating pain and ultimately a torturous death.

The love candle reminds us that God's love for us wasn't easy. It reminds us that God's love for us involved a huge sacrifice. It reminds us that God's love for us was a choice. It reminds us that God's love for us doesn't make sense.

It doesn't make sense because its supernatural. Its beyond what any of us can comprehend.

I'm glad it doesn't make sense, because if it did make sense, it wouldn't be supernatural, it wouldn't be mysterious, it wouldn't be awe inspiring. You are your own beautiful mess and you are loved. God knows all about being a beautiful mess and is calling you to join him in loving other beautiful messes. Will you accept his invitation this advent season?

May you know that you are loved by God and may you carry that love to other people this advent season.

Check back next week for my thoughts on the Hope candle.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Advent (Part 1)

If you attended Good Shepherd this Sunday, you saw Talbot light the first Advent Candle. Advent is a season of waiting, longing and hoping for the return of Christ. The Church has a history of celebrating advent four weeks prior to Christmas day using five candles that represent love, hope, joy and peace. The center candle is the Christ candle and will be lit at our Christmas eve service. Each candle reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.

One of the issues I have with so many people who celebrate advent is that they see this waiting, longing and yearning for Christ to return as a passive endurance. Like they can sit back, do nothing, be nothing, become nothing and God will take care of everything. Its the reason so many Christians are ineffective (the phrase "ineffective Christian" should be an oxymoron).

If you have become this type of passive and ineffective Christian in advent seasons of the past, I challenge you to be different this year. One way to get involved in God's work is to ask yourself this question: If I could make one change in the world around me, what would that change be? The follow up action is to become that change. May this advent season be your time to let the life and power of Christ live through you by waiting and yearning for His return with active effectiveness, instead of passive endurance.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Advent blogs where I talk about the first candle being lit, the love candle.