I Don’t Want to Return to “Normal”

Last Sunday, I preached on the leadership qualities found in 1 Peter 5. During the course of the sermon, I mentioned how people are desiring to return back to “normal.” Here is what I said:

“What I hear people say they are ready for things to get back to “normal”, what they are saying is they are ready to go back to the way of life they had before this shelter-in-place / social/physical distancing we have had to do over the past few months. This has been really difficult for many people, many businesses, and many relationships. What I have not heard a lot is, how is God asking us to use this time to grow closer to him? We keep saying we are ready to get back to normal that I get nervous we haven’t been asking God is if he wants us to go back to the way things were. See, getting back to “normal” is a coping mechanism because we are seeking some sort of control back in our lives. We find comfort in our routines. But seeking to get back to “normal” is also selfish in many ways because we are wanting our lives to go back to the way they were, free to do as we wish and go where we want. This is one of the challenges I have as a leader of this church. There are many pressures to bring back the social dimensions of the church sooner rather than later. Why? Because relationships matter. We were not made to be alone or to distance ourselves from others for prolonged periods of time.”

The truth is I do not want us to return back to “normal” because “normal” may not be who we were actually meant to be. This is why I think it is important to constantly find how God is working in the midst of this pandemic and whether or not God wants us to go back to “normal.”

See, “normal” for many means we go back to living just the way they want without changing to fit the needs of those who may need an adjustment to their way of life. My wife and I have an 11 year old daughter who is very asthmatic, and a 9 month old who was a premie. I get concerned about both of them being exposed to anything that could potentially put their health in danger.

I do have to say, I have noticed more and more people seeking to be more considerate of other people who may be health compromised. I do hope this is a new way of life.

Maybe God is using this time to help us be more understanding of the needs and circumstances of those around us. Maybe God is using this time to help us see how we should value relationships and showing us what we can actually live without.

When I say I do not want to return to life as “normal”, I mean I do not want to be selfish or only think about my rights or my “to-do” list. We are ll in this together and everything we do impacts another person in on way or another. My prayer is we all find ways to live in this world in more peaceful ways I pray we all can find ways to demonstrate the love of God for the world, in more ways than we ever dreamed. Maybe God is using this time to reveal a level of compassion we never dreamed possible.

I recently saw this video and think much of what it says is spot on:

What are your thoughts?

As you and I continue to move forward and returning to life, how do you sense God leading and moving during these past few months? How is your relationship stronger with him? How is your faith life?

I pray you continually see the work of God in and through your life and we all learn to live in a “new normal” way of life that is more eye-opening about the work and presence of God in your own life and in the world.


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Self-Defense

In my “past life”, I was a martial arts instructor. This was a huge part of my identity and how I lived in the world. I would love to watch MMA fights, advance in rank, and there were times I really enjoyed being in charge. This was something I really enjoy practicing, teaching, and helping people achieve their goals.

When I stopped martial arts, and pursued a calling into vocational ministry, I had already earned the rank of 5th Degree Black Belt. I don’t say this to brag. My wife even says it’s pretty cool to be married to a pastor who knows “karate.” I like that :).

There are a number of books and classes on how to defend yourself, and most are good. I would encourage you to find books, videos, classes to help learn more techniques.

Since living into this calling in ministry, I have learn there are several things I still carry with me from my martial art days. I do believe these are key to helping people stay safe. In a way, these “tips” are something you can do to keep you safe, maybe even help if you have to defend yourself.

Number 1: Confidence

You have to have confidence in who you are. This means you have to know how much you can handle emotionally and mentally in any given situation. You have to be able to control your temper and find ways to stay calm in any situation you are in. Can you walk into any room and have the confidence not to conform and just be yourself? Do you draw attention to yourself in any negative way? If you purposefully bring negativity in your direction, then you’ll have to be good at using your hand/feet to be able to physically defend yourself. 98% of all self-defense is making sure we know what we can handle and to work to not bring negativity to ourselves.

Number 2: Mind Your Tongue

Now, you have to be able to control what you say. One of the things I tell my kids all the time is, “you don’t have to say everything that comes out of your mouth.” This is something that takes discipline and forces us to change what we think about. If we can control our thoughts, we will better be able to control our words. This is especially true to help make sure we are not causing other people to o get angry, on purpose, causing us to have to physically defend ourselves.

Number 3: Know Your Surroundings

You have to be able to pay attention to everything going on around you and know what could be an obstacle. You see this in spy movies when they’re training their agents. One of the tricks is to look at your surroundings, slowly, from left to right. This may seem odd, but it really works. It’s a mind trick for Western thinkers. Since we are taught to read from left to right, our minds can and do remember information, remember what we see, more when we look at our surroundings from left to right. Try it and just see what you can tell the people your with about what you saw.

Number 4: Stand On The Strength of God

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” That is a question in the book of Romans chapter 8 and is a great truth to pay attention to. Now, does this mean no harm will come to you? Nope. But it means that we can always rely on the reality God is with us and we do not need to be afraid of other people, or what they can do to us physically. Unfortunately people do get hurt. They get hurt in unimaginable ways. I so wish this were not so. Many people get hurt by the hands of others who over powered them. This is not their fault. There is evil in the world we cannot escape. But, I can promise that if we continue to lean on God, then we can always remember who we are and that Jesus keeps his promise to never leave us or forsake us. Even in the darkest times, God is with you, working to protect your soul and seeking to give you the strength you need to survive and find new life in him. If you have been hurt by a person (physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually) I am so sorry and I pray you are able to stand strong in the truth of God and justice (things being set right) happen in your life.

Number 5: Don’t Worry About Getting Hurt

We cannot escape this life without any pain. But we do not need to be afraid of the pain. Pain can work to bring us closer to understand grace. Pain is a way of showing us what is wrong. The reality is, we live in a fallen world and no one is immune to pain or can escape it. Pain is not just physical. Pain is also mental, emotional, spiritual, even in our relationships. You do need to know how much pain you can handle so you can know what you need to do if/when you have to defend yourself. But know that there is still good that does come out of pain. The good that comes out is making you into the person God created you to be.

Now, did any of these surprise you? To be able to defend yourself, you have to know yourself: what you can handle, what you are willing to do, can you control your anger, where do you like to go, what type of people are your around, are you prepared to handle any law enforcement/legal issues that may arise? Take time to evaluate these questions, take time to know the law on self-defense. Trust in the gifts and person God is creating you to be. The absolute best defense is to trust completely in God and to stay out of trouble or any areas that are tempting, but not good for you.

Invitation to Sabbath Rest (Exodus 20:8-11)

““Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
‭‭Exodus‬ ‭20:8-11‬ ‭NASB‬‬

YHWH gives this Sabbath command for the people. This is more of an invitation to stop being restless and live in a restored relationship with YHWH, as at the beginning of creation. Not only is this invitation (command) for the people, but also for all of creation (animals, vegetation, land) to allow the created order to flourish, through times of rest, as designed by YHWH.

The Sabbath command is placed within the middle of the Decalogue, giving it significance to what YHWH finds important as well as show a balance in how to fully live out the relationship with YHWH (commandments 1-3) and with people (5-10). It is as if YHWH is saying, we are not able to accomplish this unless we take the time to rest (cease from normal work) and take the time to praise, celebrate, and glorify God on this holy day. “…the Sabbath would communicate that Israel’s whole life was to be lived in imitation of the Lord.” (Blackburn, 71) The covenant YHWH is making with Israel is working to set Israel apart, making them holy. This is something the people are to teach to their children, grandchildren, and through the generations.

זָכ֛וֹר֩ (remember) is used to begin this section of this commandment. The active state of remembering o keep the Sabbath day holy (set apart) is an act of keeping YHWH as the only God Israel would pay attention to and live for (commandment number one). “The force of the Sabbath, then, is not simply in remembering the fact that God created the heavens and the earth, but also remembering how he created the heavens and the earth, through establishing an order that brings blessing and ensures Israel’s well-being.” (Blackburn, 111) Again, this commandment is set here as a reminder (an invitation) to step into the creative work YHWH has done, is doing, and will do in the world. It is a command to live in such a way that Israel has a completely whole relationship with YHWH, not like the other nations who worship other gods. “Remember” is a key theme throughout the Pentateuch and the rest of the Old Testament. There were many times when Israel “forgot” YHWH and his law and chose to go their own way. But “remember” is also important with YHWH because he never forgets his people or his promises, something Israel was supposed to embody. “Remembering” the seventh day, as a day of rest, is a tangible reminder of what Israel was to be about—the work of God in the world as his priests and a holy nation to the rest of the world. ““Remembering” is more than a mental act, it is an active observance (see God’s remembering in 2:24).” (Freitheim, 229)

The seventh day (symbolic of the day YHWH rested) is a שַׁבָּת, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ (Sabbath to the LORD your God). This was to be a day different from the other six days of work. The Sabbath day is a day to stop doing “normal”, “everyday” work. “Derived from a verb meaning “to cease, stop,” especially from work, the sabbath day was patterned on the divine rest from labor at the termination of creation. It was a day of rejoicing and feasting, related particularly to creation (Ex 20:8-11).” (Alexander, 304) When Israel ceased from work, they were being set free from the burden of having to work for everything as the other days of the week. Stopping normal work allows Israel the opportunity to remember they need to rely on YHWH to provide for them, and to celebrate all that YHWH has done and has provided. “Not having to work freed the people from their material burdens so that they could celebrate their relationship with God and their families. On a holy day, numerous sacrifices were offered at the sanctuary to honor God and to provide an abundance of meat for feasting. Israel was commanded to make each *sabbath holy by observing it as a day of rest (Ex 20:8; Deut 5:12; cf. Ex 31:15; 35:2).” (Alexander, 425)

    לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה  (you shall not) is expressed as an action that should not be taken in the future. YHWH giving this command, for future Sabbath days, is setting it apart and making it holy, making this day something different from the rest of the week. Brevard Childs writes, “Throughout the Old Testament the Sabbath is described as holy (Ex. 16:23, Lev. 23:3, Neh. 9:14, Is. 48:13).”  (Childs, loc. 929) YHWH is working on making his people holy. At the same time, YHWH is using this command as a teaching moment to demonstrate the rhythm of creation. “God’s resting is a divine act that builds into the very created order of things a working/resting rhythm. Only when that rhythm is honored by all is the creation what God intended it to be.” (Fretheim, 230) As we have seen earlier, this command (invitation) is not just for the people; it is also for the created order (animals, vegetation, land). If Israel does not live into this command, then there will be consequences, and the consequences will bring chaos because there is not a time of rest. Not keeping the sabbath is a violation of the created order; it returns one aspect of that order to chaos. What the creatures do with the sabbath has cosmic effects.” (Fretheim, 230)

The Decalogue, Ten Commandments, teaches how Israel was supposed to live in the world. If Israel obeyed and kept this covenant, they would be blessed and be regarded as YHWH’s “treasured possession”. (Ex. 19:5) The people of Israel would experience the blessing(s) YHWH has in store for them. For Israel to experience the blessings this covenant would bring require them to be obedient to the voice of YHWH and keep their end of his covenant. If they do not keep this covenant, or obey his voice, the people will be like restless wanderers not able to find the rest, completeness, and identity they have in YHWH. “Restless wandering is a result of sin and its punishment. Thus *Cain was sentenced to be a “restless wanderer” (Gen 4:14 NIV), no longer able to settle and facing the insecurity of threats from enemies…Rest is therefore about more than safety and settlement; it also concerns restored relationships with Yahweh. It is an objective reality and an inner state.” (Alexander, 688)

Following the commands, and living into the invitation of YHWH’s rest allows Israel to live in a complete, restored relationship with YHWH. Israel as priests to the world would be the examples of how the rest of the world could enter into this kind of relationship with YHWH. “It is to this that Exodus 20 appeals, inviting Israel to participate in a weekly sabbath modeled on the original, very good creation (so also Ex 31:12-17).” (Alexander, 697)

Bibliography

Arnold, B. T., & Choi, J. H. (2003). A guide to biblical Hebrew syntax. Cambridge University Press.

Alexander, T. D., & Baker, D. W. (2003). Dictionary of the Old Testament : Pentateuch. InterVarsity Press.

Blackburn, W. R. (2012). The God who makes himself known : the missionary heart of the book of Exodus. Apollos.

Childs, B. S. (1986). Old Testament theology in a canonical context (1st Fortress Press ed.). Fortress Press.

Fretheim, T. E. (1991). Exodus. John Knox Press.

Ain’t No Stoppin’ Love

Click here to read Matthew 28:1-10

What would it have been like that first Easter Sunday? We have gotten into the tradition of going into Easter with pomp and circumstance. We should, after all be celebratory and joyful everyday because Christ has risen from the dead.

But, what if, we miss the point of Easter going straight to the celebration. Do we come with wonder anymore? Has the story become too familiar that we don’t give it the attention it deserves?

Put yourself in the women’s shoes as they travelled to the tomb. They still could not believe Jesus was dead. They were still in shock he was treated the way he was on, what we call, Good Friday. How could he, a non-criminal, really be put to death like that?

Not only that, but there must have been some anxiety because they could not anoint Jesus’ body when he was placed in the tomb, or even during the next day because it was the Passover meal festival and the next day was the Sabbath, and nothing like anointing could have been done since it was considered as work. Can you imagine the stress that would have placed on them?

Fast forward to today. We love to celebrate, we love it when things go right. We love to be able to find ways to party and have fun. But what if, we are not supposed to think of Easter as a “normal” celebration we hold each year. What if Easter is supposed to be something more? What if God uses this time of quarantine, social/physical distancing, staying home to teach us what really matters in this life?

I know many people are disappointed we are not able to gather together for Easter worship this year. But, maybe we have the opportunity to live out the resurrection story in a brand new way, a way that is not traditional nor the status quo.

So, how have you traditionally celebrated Easter Sunday? If you’re like most people, we celebrate Easter just on the Sunday and we go back to “normal” life the next day.

If anything, this year should teach us we cannot go back to living “normally.” Why would we really want to go back to normal anyway?
After the guards left the tomb, they were different. After the women left the tomb, they were different. After the disciples left the tomb, they were different. Not only were they different, but they never went back to the way they lived before they encountered the empty tomb. Once they interacted with the Resurrected Christ, everything was changed.
Notice some of the things that changed. First of all, this happened on the first day of the week, symbolizing the start of something NEW.

Maybe we can use this time right now to reset our priorities and have God reset our hearts and lives toward him.

Matthew’s account of the resurrection says a “violent earthquake” occurred because and angel of the Lord came down from heaven. Remember, we can experience God in the quietness, like being in nature, but what if God is speaking to us when everything is shaken up? One of the C.S. Lewis quotes I love is “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

The world had just put Jesus, the Son of God, to death. The world was not listening to God. Sometimes there has to be something dramatic to shake things up and open ears to hear God speaking and calling out to us.

What if, we use this time, this unique time, to call out to God. Maybe God is speaking to us here and now. What is he saying?
The angel of the Lord told the women (the first apostles and evangelists) Jesus is not here (in the tomb) because he is risen! The angel also said do not be afraid.

Yes, the angel allows the women to look inside to verify Jesus was not there. But this is a reminder to us, even today, nothing is ever going back to normal. At the same time, we have nothing to fear.

When they went to the tomb, they were expecting Jesus to be right there, to be where they left him. Then they expected to go back to their normal lives and go on living, with grief yes, but living just as before.
One of my fears today is that we go back to living as “normal” when clearly we, as the church, should be seen more in the world and demonstrate the presence of God with us because CHRIST IS RISEN!

There is a great urgency to be the people who follow Christ. Why? Because there is a lot to do? Nope. Because Christ is alive and has called us to be in mission with him. Our lives are no longer lived for us, but for him. It really doesn’t matter what we think we like because Christ is alive and we are being transformed into his image and likeness. God is giving us the “mind of Christ”, if we let him.

The part about Easter that I love, and it means so much more to me now, is how NOTHING will ever be the same. Christ did not die so we could observe the empty tomb and throw a party at the empty tomb once a year. Christ is alive and that means we can celebrate wherever we are in the world because Christ is there.

Yes, this year has been different. We have been told we need to stay “sheltered” inside our homes. We need to practice “social distancing.” This is all well and good because we do not want the virus to spread. But, at the same time, maybe we get a little taste of what the early disciples experienced. Maybe we get a little nervous (the disciples were afraid because they could be put to death) about going outside and in the stores.

Maybe we get to take the intimate settings we practiced, observed, and worshipped this past Holy Week and allow the Easter story to be born anew into us.

The reality is, the world tried to shut Jesus up by killing him.

The world tries to shut the doors of churches so we can’t gather together. But here’s the deal. Church buildings may be empty this year but so is the tomb.

The world thought it could stop the presence of God through Jesus Christ from going further into the world with the message of Heaven and God’s love for the world. The world closed the tomb to try and keep Christ buried and hidden. But always remember this, Church: there ain’t no stoppin’ love!

Let your cries in the world be CHRIST IS RISEN! ALLELULIA! Christ is risen, the tomb is empty but our lives are full.

Christ lives. Nothing is the same now nor anything will ever be the same again.

Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Amen.

RESPOND TO CHRIST
Christ is alive and is speaking to you today. Maybe you haven’t taken the time to notice. Maybe you couldn’t hear because you’ve had so much thrown at you by the rest of the world. Maybe you sense something stirring in your heart and want to acknowledge Christ is speaking to you, yes you to give your life and complete devotion only to him.

Maybe today is the day you finally say YES to Christ. Maybe today is the day you say YES again to Christ.

However you respond today, I implore you to listen to the Spirit’s words and see the beauty and power of the Risen Christ who came for you.

Fear & God

What drives your actions and your attitude? Most people will say their determination, the family, their purpose. But below that there may be something else.

Look around when there’s a crisis and what do you see? People panicking and doing what they can so they survive. This is caused by fear.

Now, there is a healthy kind of fear and a fear that cripples our senses. We, as human beings, are driven more by the crippling fear than anything else. We work longer than we should because we are afraid the work won’t get done, we won’t get promoted, we’re scared we won’t have the money, we won’t have respect.

We scramble and buy things (like toilet paper, rice, etc) because we’re afraid we’ll run out. This puts us in crisis mode to get these “needed” items “in case” of a shortage, not realizing the “stocking up” is creating a shortage.

Now here’s something to pay attention to: it’s a lot of Christians with this mindset and demeanor out there doing these things and not being peaceful about it. (I know that stings for many people.)

But here’s the thing. We, as Christians, are not supposed to fear anything, except God. Think about this: whatever you fear is your god. This means whatever we give in to so it’s appeased (money in bank, extra food, people pleasing) is actually what we now down to and worship in our everyday life. But God says to fear ONLY him (no other gods before him). If we only fear God, that we do what he says and follow Christ. This actually brings us more peace because we live with the understanding this life is not our own and we should live to glorify God in all areas of our life with complete tru at in his provision.

In times of crisis, there is always the question, “where is this God you trust?” I’ll put this question on you. “How are you modeling Christ-like behavior while in public and in private? Where are you not acting like God desires?” As I write this, I know I’m convicted.

But this is what we should look for – ways to show the living God in us, through us, and among us. How can you be the light of Christ when people are clouded by the darkness of fear? What can you do to help protect the vulnerable in our community and world?

Remember, God is always working in our world and calling people to do his work with him. So, when someone asks you, “where is God?” can you ask them to follow you so you can show them the peace and joy you exude in the midst of chaos?

I hope and pray our lives are defined by faith in the living God and not fear from anything else the world round us says or shows.

What are your thoughts on this?