How to Cope with a Covid Christmas

How to Cope with a Covid Christmas

A los que leen este post en español: Perdón por no tener una versión en español. Este post surge de una situación particular en Canadá (en algunas partes), donde nos han puesto restricciones debido a un aumento de casos de Covid y no podemos tener reuniones de familias para celebrar la navidad. A lo mejor puedo traducirlo dentro de la semana, pero quise publicar este post por mis amigos en Canadá que están tratando de manejar esta nueva situación y la tristeza que muchos están experimentando por no poder ver a su familia durante las vacaciones.

So, Christmas just got cancelled. How are you doing? Many are struggling with a variety of emotions as the government of Alberta (and various others) have brought in regulations that essentially ban all social gatherings during Christmas, leaving families to celebrate with only their own nuclear family or (in the case of singles) one or two others. This is a hard blow, and seems to rip all of the joy out of Christmas for many, which is totally understandable. So I (Chris) would like to share a little bit from our story, and the stuff that we have learned about celebrating Christmas when everything you look forward to is gone. You see, what many people don’t realize is that this is actually a common experience for those of us who are missionaries. So if we can, we’d like to help.

For us (okay, let’s be honest, for me), the Christmas of 2014 (pictured above) was really tough. We had just left Canada in August, and were preparing for our first Christmas overseas. I love Christmas, and pretty much everything about it – the lights, the Christmas baking, the dark and cold (the only time of the year I’m okay with it!), the Christmas specials (some more than others), and especially the time with family and friends. I’m not “crazy Christmas guy”, but I definitely like it. Now here we are in Costa Rica. The days are all the same length all year long. There were Christmas lights up, but without the snow and cold, it felt…fake, almost. It’s not, of course (they love Christmas), but it felt wrong. My wife did some baking, but it was hard to find some of the ingredients. We wanted turkey, but they were hard to find and prohibitively expensive. We ended up with two roast chickens, just to make sure we had leftovers. We listened to music, but like the lights, it felt out of place. We had no TV, and really bad internet, so Christmas movies and TV specials were almost not a reality. The entire environment for Christmas was wrong.

But most spectacularly (and most relevant to our present reality), we had no family or friends to share it with. We had some friends at our language school, but most of them had family or friends visiting, so we ended up celebrating Christmas all by ourselves. And for me, it was incredibly difficult. There are still good memories – the boys loved the toys that we got them, and when we took them to the park in the morning, it was like a ghost town, which was really bizarre and amusing. In Costa Rica, they celebrate in a huge way on Christmas Eve, and we had a two story house that looked towards a major centre, so we got a spectacular, hour long fireworks display (I think the kids slept through that one because we didn’t realize it was coming. They caught the New Year’s show, which was even more spectacular – including people lighting lanterns and releasing them into the sky. Which looks cool until the lantern crashes on the cables outside your house and you get to watch the neighbours scramble to get it unstuck and the fire put out before it burns your house down. But I digress…) So there were good and fun memories. But everything was tinged with sadness and disappointment.

I wish I could say that I handled that Christmas well, but I didn’t. I was sad. For the sake of my kids (and my wife), I tried not to mope around all day, but it was tough. All I could think about was what it should be, what I was missing, who wasn’t there, and how…lonely… it all felt. Since that time, we’ve had much better Christmases. At times, we have had family and friends around, but part of it is just learning how to cope with Christmas being different. 

As we approach this Christmas, with some of those same elements in play (particularly the inability to gather with family), I want to offer some ideas that will perhaps help you (and continue to help me) cope with Christmas in an appropriate way, rather than getting swallowed by sadness or anger.

  1. Acknowledge the sadness. It’s not good or healthy to pretend. If you’re sad (or angry!), be honest about it. I’m not advocating that we hide it or pretend. It’s likely that, like me, this emotion will colour many of your experiences this Christmas. So let’s at least acknowledge the elephant in the room. The goal is not to deny or completely get rid of these feelings, but to be honest enough about them that we can look past them rather than getting stuck in them.
  2. It’s all about perspective. A key to coping with that sadness or anger is to do the deliberate work of gaining a proper perspective. For some reason we like to wallow in self-pity or indignation. It somehow seems to be human nature, but it’s not healthy. I offer the following ideas to help us get a good (or better) perspective:
    1. Thankfulness – In the midst of our difficulties, we still have so much to be thankful for, which we often lose sight of. Compared to previous generations, we live in the comfort and even luxury of Kings and Queens, or even gods and goddesses! And yet, we are so used to it that we don’t even notice how good we have it. Even when we are separated from family, the vast majority of us still have technology that allows us to connect, even better than in 2014 when we were at least able to do a (patchy) video call from Costa Rica with our families. Take some time to lift your eyes up and look not just at everything that is missing, but everything that you have. Living overseas, I have learned to be thankful for what I do have when we are so far from familiar traditions and family, rather than focusing only on what I don’t have.
    2. New traditions – Living overseas, we have had to adapt and develop new Christmas traditions. Some have involved new foods – which we absolutely love. Some have involved new habits – we often take a small family trip of some sort over Christmas. Sometimes it involves accepting that all the Christmas stuff (lights and music) are still nice, even if the setting (warm and sunny!) is not right. Sometimes it just requires that we accept that Christmas is going to look a lot smaller and simpler than it does when we do it in Canada. And so we have been able to make it fun and special despite the restrictions.
      So how can we do that this year? The day I heard about Alberta’s restrictions, I sent my brothers a message that simply said, “Christmas in March?” Perhaps we can plan a get together at a different time (totally out of season) that will replace Christmas. I’ve already been thinking about games like jackboxtv, which allows you to play games with people over the internet. Maybe I can still get game time with my brothers and family after all! Maybe we can arrange a special activity with the kids (kind of like an Easter egg hunt, but tailored to Christmas). I don’t know. The challenge is to say, how can we make this special and meaningful, not just sad and angry.
    3. Serve – I’m not even sure what to say about this one, except that perhaps there are some people out there who need help even more than you do. Maybe, rather than focusing on our loss, we can turn our focus to others who have greater needs. People who have been laid off. People overseas who have no capacity for Christmas (groups like Compassion Canada or World Vision often allow you to purchase gifts for people overseas). Maybe part of our sadness comes from thinking only about ourselves, and that can be turned to thinking about others.
  3. Bring God into it. This almost seems like I shouldn’t need to say it, since the entire origin of Christmas is the birth of Jesus (let’s not get into technical arguments about the date and where different traditions came from, etc. Not the point.) The point is that Christmas has changed to primarily be a focus about family (love it), love (totally agree), and giving gifts (love the concept, despite concerns about the extreme commercialism and materialism that sometimes dominates). None of those things by themselves are bad. But Christmas was and should be primarily about celebrating the birth of Jesus, and let’s be honest, he gets pushed completely to the background. So maybe we can recapture some of that. How? Just some ideas:
    1. Most of us have a nativity scene somewhere. Maybe we make it more central. Or actually talk about it. Take seven days and talk or think about about the different people and what they would have been experiencing and what it meant – Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the shepherds, the wise men, the innkeeper and even the angels.
    2. Set up a music playlist that only has songs about Jesus and his birth, and reflect on what it means. Use that playlist regularly and in some dedicated moments to turn your attention to Jesus, rather than to just the other factors.
    3. Reflect on why Jesus came. In Luke 2:11, the angels refer to him as the Saviour. In Matt. 1:21, Gabriel makes it quite clear to Joseph that Jesus has come to save people from their sins. It’s about sins and salvation, not merely family, love and gifts. Those are all related, but not central.
      Perhaps this will help: What will make heaven and the afterlife different than earth? There could be many answers, but I think the biggest one is the lack of sin. Think about it – if we die, and continue to be as self-focused and sinful as we are now, heaven will be exactly the same as earth: Miserable!! (I don’t know – maybe you’re better than me, but I would certainly make it less than heavenly in my present condition.) If you’ve ever seen the Pixar movie Coco (about the Day of the Dead in Mexico), I think that its view of the afterlife is one of the most interesting aspects of the movie. And what do we find? In spite of the movie’s attempt to focus on family and love, the view of the afterlife is depressing. People are exactly the same as they are before death – there is loneliness, despair, jealousy, pride, betrayal and so on. This is not what God offers us, and the only way that is possible is if our sin is dealt with. So Jesus came, both to forgive our sin (because we all know doing wrong should be punished in some way), and also to give us his Holy Spirit to allow us to live without sin, a process that begins slowly now, but will be fulfilled at our death. So Christmas is about our forgiveness, life and restoration, not about so much of what we’ve made it (as good as those things may be).
    4. Read the Christmas stories (Matthew 1-2, and Luke 1-2). Multiple times. Or watch some movies about it, although it’s good to have a solid basis in the story as written so that we can identify both creative license and potentially outright errors. (But not with an eye to complain about the movie, just to keep us centred on what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say.)
    5. Share Jesus with others. Invite others, both in and outside of your family, to read the Christmas stories with you, or watch the movies with you, or think about the songs with you. And have some real conversations about what it actually means.

So, there you have it. From one who has felt the blistering sting of a lonely Christmas that wasn’t at all what it should be, a few ideas to help us refocus and make Christmas good. I’ll be honest – I’m sad that I won’t see my family the way I was hoping to. I’m sad that the Christmas feast won’t be shared. But I’m also kind of excited, because I know, both from experience and from anticipation, that it can still be good. And that’s what I really want. A good, special Christmas that not only will I remember, but that will be meaningful for the coming year and perhaps far into the future.

God bless, and Merry Christmas.

Life, Death, Heaven and Hell

Life, Death, Heaven and Hell

Versión Español

This is the seventh part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts by following these links: Simple FaithGodThe Bible,  Sin and Death, and Jesus, and Livin’ la vida… Christian.

Note: The picture above is me with our third son when he was born (more than a decade ago).

The final section in our simple faith series relates to what happens to us after we die. This is an incredibly complex topic, in no small part because we have no way to actually study the afterlife or to have any sort of objective certainty about what is coming next. Our ideas are based entirely on what is revealed in the Bible and the interpretations people put on that information. It is also the most difficult topic because of our emotional reaction against hell. In fact, these things have made this post incredibly difficult to write – this is probably my fifth or sixth version.

The simple concept that I want to explain is the following: We have hope of eternal life instead of death. This might seem like an odd way to address this topic. After all, I don’t mention heaven or hell or the concepts of sin and punishment or rewards. I do that for a simple reason – as much as we might speculate about heaven and hell, I think the Bible primarily offers a stark contrast between life and death, with heaven and hell sort of being the symbols of each (I say symbols without necessarily meaning that they don’t really exist). So what can we say about what happens after we die?

At one level, it’s very simple. In its simplest form, we could just say that the wicked will be punished and the good will be rewarded. The wicked will face eternal death and/or destruction while the righteous will receive life. It’s really just that simple. And yet, it’s hard to just leave it there – I feel the need to walk through how we got to that point. So here we go.

  1. God is the Giver of life. He created us and gave us life, and He is the one who sustains it in every moment. This theme runs through all of Scripture.
  2. Sin is basically the destruction of good and life that God created. So as we sin, we bring destruction and death into the world and our own life. Left to our own devices, even if we struggle to overcome sin, it will still eventually destroy us.
  3. Jesus came into the world to do multiple things: First, he accepted the punishment that sin deserves; second, he destroyed death through his perfect life and his resurrection; third, he made it possible for us to be connected to God through the Holy Spirit. This allows us to be connected to the giver of life, and will eventually be what allows us to be changed after our death. By accepting Jesus, we are basically saying that we hate the sin and evil in this world and in ourselves, and we want to be saved and changed. After our death, this change will be completed – whatever that looks like!
  4. Even in the New Testament and even in Paul’s works (Paul, who stridently declares salvation through faith), we are constantly told that God looks at our heart and that we will be judged for our works. This does not, I believe, negate Jesus at all. If anything, it is just a simple way of expressing the situation that takes into account the fact that many people will never hear about Jesus, or may be taught incorrect things about him, etc. We will be judged based on what we know (God’s power seen through nature, our understanding of morality, etc.) and whether we have responded to that in faith (believing and living according to what we have understood) or denying that and living our own way. But it’s still only Jesus who paid for our sins and Jesus who restores our relationship with God and saves us. And we still only are saved by faith – even if that faith is very incomplete.
    Note: I need to emphasize that although it seems likely to me that some will be saved even without knowing Jesus, it also seems incredibly dangerous to know about Jesus and not accept him. If he is God’s chosen path for salvation and we reject him, we are essentially saying that we do not need his help to obtain eternal life, or that we are good enough to save our selves. It is a way of rejecting God and saying that we would rather follow our own way. It is a highly inadvisable path to follow.
  5. In the end, God is the one who judges us. This is not a cruel tyrant making random decisions. It is a Father and King who is revealing what is really in our hearts responding in grace and love to those who desire and seek what is right, and anger and wrath to those who reject Him and His ways, choosing to seek only their own power, control, benefit, and desires. I hope it’s pretty obvious why people like that wouldn’t be welcome in heave. They would quickly turn heaven back into a world just as bad as the one we presently have. It is also important to note that many who seek only their own way can appear to be pretty good people, but what lies underneath is not so nice. In the same way, some can appear pretty ugly, perhaps for their upbringing, poor teaching, or bad life circumstances, but they honestly desire what is good. This is why we leave those judgments up to God.
  6. Heaven is spoken of as the place of life: all good, no sin, the presence of God, and the tree of life, among many other images. It is what we were created for. For those willing to acknowledge God as both their King and Father, it will be glorious. But many will never be willing to make that confession. Again, heaven would be hell for them, and they would make it awful for everyone else.
  7. Hell is consistently described in terms of darkness, gnashing of teeth, weeping, and destruction. It is hard to know how much of that is to be taken literally (as has been most common throughout church history) and how much is to be taken figuratively. Some Bible verses emphasize the concept of eternal punishment (Matthew 25:41, Revelation 19:20, 20:10-15), while others emphasize the concept of permanent destruction (Matthew 10:28, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9). Perhaps it’s even a combination of both – punishment that eventually leads to destruction as sin slowly destroy our soul. There’s a lot of debate about the exact nature of hell. The main point, though, is that those who are “in hell” are not the poor innocent people begging for mercy, but those who have already set their hearts against God. They will not be begging to get into heaven – or if they are, it would only be so that they could do whatever they want and turn it into their own kingdom, not so that they could actually work with God in making something beautiful.

I think that about sums it up. At then end of all of that, we still come back to the simple concept – that the good will be rewarded and the evil will be punished. Those who seek God and life will find it. Those who seek their own way and follow the ways of death will also find that. And while God seems willing to judge people on what they know, He earnestly desires that all would know about Jesus – the one who conquered death so that we may have life, the one who took the punishment for our sins, the one who offers us a relationship with God. He is our Saviour, and the one who makes eternal life possible. Through him we have hope for eternal life instead of death.

La vida, la muerte, el cielo y el infierno

La vida, la muerte, el cielo y el infierno

English Version

Este post es la septima parte de una serie que se llama “fe sencilla” que tiene el propósito de destacar los conceptos sencillos de la fe cristiana. Se puede ver los primeros posts por los siguientes enlaces:  Fe sencilla,  DiosLa BibliaEl pecado y la muerte,  Jesús, y Viviendo la vida cristiana.

La foto arriba es de mí con mi tercer hijo cuando nació (hace más de una década).

La última parte en esta serie sobre fe sencilla toca el asunto de qué nos pasa después de la muerte. Este es un tema increíblemente complejo, en gran medida porque no tenemos una manera objetiva para estudiar la vida ultratumba para tener certeza científica sobre lo que viene. Nuestras ideas se basen solamente en lo que revela la Biblia y las interpretaciones de esa información. También es un tema bien difícil por nuestra reacción negativa al concepto del infierno. De hecho, son estas cosas que han hecho este post muy difícil a escribir. Este es probablamente la quinta o sexta versión.

El concepto sencillo que quiero explicar es lo siguiente: Tenemos esperanza de vida eterna en vez de la muerte. Esto tal vez parece como una manera extraño para abordar este tema. No menciono el concepto del cielo y el infierno, ni los conceptos de castigo o recompensa. Lo hago con intencionalidad. Tanto como podríamos especular sobre esos conceptos, creo que la Biblia principalmente ofrece un contraste entre la vida y la muerte, con el cielo y el infierno siendo símbolos de estos conceptos (y por decir “símbolos”, no quiero implicar que no existen). Entonces ¿qué podemos decir sobre la vida ultratumba?

En un nivel, es muy sencillo. En su forma más sencilla, pedemos decir que los malvados serán castigados y los buenos recompensados. A los malvados, se les impondrán el castigo y/o la destrucción eterna, mientras que los justos recibirán vida. Es tan sencilla. Sin embargo, es difícil dejarlo ahí – siento la necesidad de examinar cómo llegamos a esa conclusión.

  1. Dios es el Dador de Vida. Él nos creó y nos dio la vida, y Él también la sostiene en cada moment. Este tema de la vida corre por toda la Biblia.
  2. El pecado es esencialmente la destrucción de lo bueno y de la vida que Dios creó. Cuando pecamos, permitimos que la destrucción y la muerte entren en el mundo y en nuestra vida. Dejados a nuestros propios méritos, aun si luchamos contra el pecado, eventualmente nos destruirá.
  3. Jesús vino a este mundo para cumplir varios propósitos: Primero, tomó el castigo que el pecado merece; segundo, destruyó la muerte a través de su vida perfecta y su resurrección; y tercero, permitió que fuera posible tener una relación con Dios a través del Espíritu Santo. Esto nos conecta directamente al Dador de la Vida, y eventualmente nos permitirá ser cambiados después de la muerte. Por aceptar a Jesús, estamos proclamando que odiamos el pecado y la maldad de este mundo y dentro de nosotros mismos, y que queremos ser salvados y cambiados. Después de la muerte, Dios completará este cambio – comoquiera que parezca eso.
  4. Aun en el Nuevo Testamento, y aun en las obras del Apóstol Pablo (el que proclama salvación solamente por la fe), las Escrituras nos dicen continuamente que Dios mira a nuestro corazón y que nos juzgará por nuestras obras. Esto no contradice, yo creo, la obra de Cristo. Creo que es una simplificación que toma en cuenta la realidad que muchos nunca escucharán de Jesús, o que son malinformados sobre él. Dios nos juzgará basado en lo que sabemos (el poder de Dios visto en la naturaleza, nuestro entendimiento de la moralidad, etc.) y si hemos respondido a eso en fe (creyendo y viviendo de acuerdo con lo que hemos entendido) o si hemos negado esa revelación para poder vivir como rey de nuestra propia vida. Pero todavía es solamente Jesús que pagó el precio por nuestros pecados, y Jesús que restaura nuestra relación con Dios y quien nos salva. Y todavía somos salvos solamente por la fe –  aun si esa fe es muy incompleta. Y necesito enfatizar que aunque me parece probable que podemos ser salvos aun sin conocer a Jesús, me parece muy, muy peligroso conocer de Jesús y no aceptarlo. Si él es el camino revelado por Dios y lo rechazamos, estamos diciendo, más o menos, que no necesitamos su ayuda para obtener vida eterna, o que somos lo suficientemente bueno para ser salvos. Es una manera de rechazar a Dios y decir que queremos seguir nuestros propios caminos – un asunto poco aconsejable.
  5. Al final de cuentas, es Dios quien nos juzga. Él no es un tirano cruel tomando decisiones al azar. Él es un Padre y Rey quien revela lo que realmente existe en nuestro corazón y responde con gracia y amor a los que buscan y desean lo bueno, y con enojo e ira a los que lo rechazan a Él y sus caminos, prefiriendo buscar solamente su propio poder, control, beneficio y deseos. Espero que sea muy obvio por qué personas así no son bienvenidos en el cielo. Muy rápidamente convertirían el cielo a un mundo tan malo como el presente mundo. También es importante notar que muchos que buscan solamente su propio camino parecen ser buena gente, pero lo que vive bajo la superficie no es tan bonito. De la misma manera, algunos parecen muy feos, tal vez por su crianza, su falta de educación, o malas circunstancias en su vida, pero honestamente desean lo bueno. Por eso dejamos que Dios juzgue!
  6. El cielo se presenta como el lugar de la vida. Todo es bueno, no hay pecado, Dios está presente, y existe de nuevo el árbol de la vida, además de muchos otros imágenes de vida. Es el lugar por el cual Dios nos creó. Por los que reconocen a Dios como su Rey y su Padre, será glorioso. Pero muchos nunca van a estar dispuestos a hacer esa confesión de fe. Por ellos, el cielo sería el infierno, y ellos lo harían terrible por todos los demás.
  7. El infierno se presenta con términos como la oscuridad, crujir de dientes, llantos y destrucción. Es difícil entender si deberíamos entender esas ideas literalmente (como ha sido común en la historia de la iglesia) o si es mejor entenderlas figurativamente. Algunos versículos enfatizan el concepto de castigo eterno (p.e. Mateo 25:41, Apocalipsis 19:20, 20:10-15), mientras que otros enfatizan el concepto de destrucción permanente (p.e. Mateo 10:28, 2 Tesalonicenses 1:6-9). Tal vez es una combinación de los dos – un castigo que eventualmente lleva a la destrucción a través del poder destructivo del pecado. Hay mucho debate sobre la naturaleza del infierno, con pocas conclusiones firmes. Pero el punto principal es que los que están en el infierno no son pobres inocentes que están rogando que Dios les muestre misericordia, sino los que han puesto su corazón en contra de Dios. No estarán rogando por entrar en el cielo, porque no quieren estar con Dios. Y si están rogando entrar, sería solamente para poder vivir por su propio placer y para convertirlo en su propio reino, no para trabajar con Dios para crear algo bonito.

Creo que eso cubre todo. Después de todo eso, regresamos al concepto sencillo – que los buenos serán recompensados y los malvados serán castigados. Los que buscan a Dios y la vida, los encontrarán. Los que buscan sus propios caminos y siguen los caminos de la muerte también encontrarán lo que buscan. Y aunque Dios parece dispuesto a juzgar a las personas por lo que saben, desea sinceramente que todos conozcan a Jesús – el que conquistó la muerte para regalarnos la vida, el que tomó el castigo por nuestros pecados, el que nos ofrece una relación con Dios. Él es nuestro salvador, y el único que hace la vida eterna posible. Por él tenemos esperanza de la vida eterna en vez de la muerte.

Livin’ La Vida…Christian

Livin’ La Vida…Christian

Versión Español

This is the sixth part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts by following these links: SimpleFaithGodThe Bible,  Sin and Death, and Jesus.

“I’m a Christian”. The statement sounds so simple, yet it can have many layers of meaning behind it which cause confusion. The speaker might simply mean that they have been raised in a Christian culture, and are not buddhist or muslim. Or they might (likely will) have a specific “brand” of Christianity behind the statement – Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Reformed, etc. There are a million of them. There are also those who would use it for its explanatory power – to say why they do or do not participate in a certain activity or event. All in all, it can be a confusing term.

So how do we cut through all of the complexity to get to the heart of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian? If we look at the historical concept, it originally meant, quite simply, to be a follower of Jesus. This captures much of the idea intended by the term, but I have chosen the following phrase to try to capture it: We live in relationship with Jesus. What does it mean, though?

I would say that there are two underlying concepts that help us to understand this, and  then a few practices that can help us live it out. But at the end, I want to add a personal testimony of what this really looks like.

The first underlying concept is this: Since Jesus rose from the dead and went to heaven to be with God, he is alive to guide us and interact with us. We will get to the practical details of this shortly, but when we try to make Christianity all about just rules and regulations instead of relationship, we begin to lose the interactive aspect that is at the heart of Christianity. Christianity, we believe, is about a relationship.

The second concept is that we have been united to God (and Jesus) through the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that each person who enters into a covenant with God receives the Holy Spirit. This Spirit, alternately called the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ, is who allows us  to connect with Jesus and interact with him. 

So what does this look like on a practical level? I would argue that there are a few simple practices that have been foundational to Christians throughout the entirety of history. The forms of these might look different in many different traditions, but someone wanting to live in relationship with Christ will return to these simple practices over and over. They are so simple that they can almost seem boring or too easy, but the ability they have to impact one’s life are so significant that they should never be looked down on. They are:

  1. Read the Bible – Christians have always held that God can speak to us, and that the primary method of Him doing so is through the Bible. We believe that the Holy Spirit guided the authors of Scripture to record what we need to know God and to live out our faith. We also believe that the same Holy Spirit can speak to us through the words. While the Holy Spirit may speak to us in many different ways (“nudges”, the words of others, life’s circumstances, dreams, visions, and even an audible voice at times), the Bible was given to us as the steady guidebook that allows us to evaluate all of these other methods of hearing the Holy Spirit. And I have found the more that someone accepts the Bible as God’s Word and takes it seriously (when it says to forgive your neighbour, you forgive them!), the more their lives reflect Jesus.
  2. Pray – Prayer is a method given to us to both listen to and speak to God. If we believe in a relationship, then interaction is important. Obviously God knows everything about our lives, but as we pray we both pursue that relationship with God and take deliberate time and energy to listen to Him. Again, there are many different forms to do this, but the heart of it is interacting with God.
  3. Gathering – Christians have always met together to praise God and grow in their faith. There are two principal ways that Christians meet. The first is in a large group, almost always on Sundays, to praise God together, learn and visit. The style of these larger gatherings can vary wildly, but the purpose is more or less the same. The second way that Christians gather is in smaller groups, often during the week. This format works very well to “personalize” the teachings of Jesus, applying them to to the particular situation of the individual. It’s an excellent way to hear the voice of Gd through the counsel of others, as well as to encourage one another, challenge one another to growth, and seek the will of God together.
  4. Obedience – Of course, the ultimate purpose of all of these practices is to live the way that God wants us to live – both in a general sense and also in specific instances where he wants us to do particular things to bless and help others. We read the Bible, pray, and gather together so that we can learn to live as the people of God and to be His representatives here on earth. This ought to touch every aspect of our life – work, leisure, family, friends, hobbies, etc. We seek to honour God by obeying Him.

But let’s be honest – this all sounds very boring in some ways. You go to church, pray, and read the Bible. Where’s the adventure? The adventure comes when we really begin to implement the “obedience” part. For us, that has meant leaving our comfortable life in Canada and heading off to Costa Rica, and then Mexico, to serve in churches there. The picture at the top is our family on vacation in a small mining town in Mexico. The entire process of obeying God has been an adventure, to say the least! 

Of course, most people won’t leave their home to serve God in another country. But we are still called to be obedient to God. This means we don’t just pray, read the Bible and go to church – it means we act. It means we step out of our comfort zone and love people as Jesus called us to. It means we go to work, but also that we pray for the people at work, and show them love. It means we fill our spare time not just with our own hobbies and interests, but with some activities that will be a blessing to others. It means volunteering at the Food Bank, visiting sick neighbours, praying with people going through difficult circumstances, making immigrants feel welcome, contributing financially not just to the church, but to other organizations that need help. It also means choosing discipline and service over freedom and rights in our own life. It means sacrificing to follow God – whether that’s building a strong marriage rather than running around in multiple relationships, investing more time and energy into your kids’ lives, working less hours so you can invest in other activities, or undergoing significant counselling and changes to become the person God wants you to become. That’s why I focused on living in relationship with Jesus. It’s more than just going to church and praying and reading the Bible. It’s living a life in response to what Jesus says. And therein lies the adventure.

So there you have it. While it is very challenging to live as a Christian, at its heart, it’s very simple. We live in relationship with Christ, listening to his voice and trying to obey what he is saying and follow where he is leading. We are Christians – followers of Christ living in relationship with him.

Viviendo la vida cristiana

Viviendo la vida cristiana

English Version

Este post es la sexta parte de una serie que se llama “fe sencilla” que tiene el propósito de destacar los conceptos sencillos de la fe cristiana. Se puede ver los primeros posts por los siguientes enlaces:  Fe sencilla,  Dios, La Biblia, El pecado y la muerte, y Jesús.

“Soy un cristiano”. Esta declaración suena tan sencilla, pero puede tener diferentes significados por diferentes personas, algo que causa confusión. Uno quiere decir nada más que se ha crecido en una cultura cristiana y no es un budista o musulmán. Otro está tratando de diferenciarse de los católicos. Otro la está utilizando para hablar de su estilo de vida – sus razones para participar o no en ciertas actividades. Otros casi lo usan como un arma – un método para criticar, juzgar o atacar a otros. Con los usos diversos, puede ser una expresión confusa.

Entonces, ¿cómo cortamos toda la complejidad para llegar al corazón del cristianismo y qué significa ser un cristiano? Si miramos históricamente al concepto de la palabra, ser un cristiano significaba, sencillamente, ser un seguidor de Cristo. Eso captura mucha de la idea detrás del término, pero yo he decidido usar la siguiente frase para capturar el significado: Vivimos en relación con Jesús. Pero, ¿qué significa esta frase?

Creo que hay dos conceptos subyacentes que nos ayudan a entender la frase, y algunas prácticas importantes que nos pueden ayudar a vivirla. Pero al final, quiero agregar un testimonio personal de cómo se ve esto.

El primer concepto subyacente es esto: Ya que Jesús se resucitó de entre los muertos y fue al cielo para estar con Dios, él está vivo y puede guiar y interactuar con nosotros. Hablamos de los detalles prácticos de este concepto en un momento, pero cuando reducimos el cristianismo a solamente normas y reglas en vez de una relación, perdemos el aspecto interactivo que está en el centro del cristianismo. El cristianismo se trata de una relación, no de reglas.

El segundo concepto es que somos unidos con Dios (y Jesús) a través del Espíritu Santo. La Biblia nos enseña que cada persona que entra en un pacto (una relación) con Dios recibe el Espíritu Santo. Este Espíritu, alternativamente llamado el Espíritu de Dios o el Espíritu de Cristo, es quien nos permite a conectar con Jesús e interactuar con él.

Pero ¿cómo se ve esto a nivel práctico? Hay ciertos hábitos sencillos que han sido fundamentales para los cristianos a través de la historia. Las formas de estas prácticas son diferentes en diferentes culturas y tiempos, pero alguien que quiere vivir en relación con Cristo regresará a estas prácticas vez tras vez. Son tan sencillas que casi parecen aburridas o demasiado fáciles, pero la habilidad que tienen para impactar la vida son tan significante que nunca deben ser despreciadas.

  1. Leer la Biblia – Los cristianos siempre han creído que Dios puede hablar a nosotros, y que el método principal en que lo hace es a través de la Biblia. Creemos que el Espíritu Santo guió los autores de las Escrituras a escribir lo que necesitamos para conocer a Dios y vivir nuestra fe. También creemos que el mismo Espíritu Santo nos habla a través de esas palabras. Aunque el Espíritu nos puede hablar de muchas diferentes maneras (“susurros bajos” o sentimientos suaves, circunstancias, sueños, visiones, y aun una voz audible a veces), se nos dio la Biblia para ser la guía estable que nos ayuda a evaluar todos los otros métodos de escuchar el Espíritu Santo. Y he descubierto que entre más alguien acepta la Biblia como la Palabra de Dios y la toma en serio (cuando dice perdonar o amar a tu prójimo, lo hagas!), más refleja su vida el carácter y la persona de Jesús.
  2. Orar – La oración es un método dado a nosotros para escuchar a Dios y hablar con Él. Si creemos en tener una relación con Jesús, entonces la interacción es importante. Por supuesto, Dos sabe todo de nuestra vida, pero cuando oramos, intencionalmente perseguimos una relación con Él. Hay muchas diferentes formas de orar, pero el corazón de este hábito es el valor de interactuar con Dios.
  3. Reunir – Los cristianos siempre han reunido para alabar a Dios y crecer en su fe. Hay dos maneras principales para reunirse. La primera es en un grupo large, casi siempre los domingos, para alabar a Dios juntos, aprender y convivir. El formato puede variar mucho, pero el propósito es más o menos igual. La segunda manera de reunirse es en un grupo más pequeño, a menudo entre semana. Este formato sirve muy bien para personalizar las enseñanzas y aplicarlas a la situación particular de los individuos. Es una manera excelente de escuchar la voz de Dios a través del consejo de otros, y también de animarse los unos a los otros, desafiarse en crecimiento, y buscar juntos la voluntad de Dios. 
  4. La Obediencia – Por supuesto, el propósito final de estas prácticas es vivir de la manera que Dios quiere que vivamos – tanto en general como en situaciones particulares donde él nos pide a hacer algo para bendecir y ayudar a otros. Leemos la Biblia, oramos, y nos reunimos para que podamos aprender a vivir como la gente de Dios y ser su representantes aquí en el mundo. Nuestra relación con Cristo debe tocar cada aspecto de nuestra vida – el trabajo, el ocio, la familia, las amistades, los pasatiempos, etc. Deseamos honrar a Dios por obedecerlo.

Pero seamos honestos – todo eso suena muy aburrido. Vamos a la iglesia, oramos, y leemos la Biblia. ¿Por dónde está la aventura? La aventura viene cuando realmente empezamos a implementar la parte de la obediencia. Por nosotros como familia, esto ha significado dejar nuestra vida cómoda en Canadá para ir a Costa Rica, y luego México, para servir en iglesias allá. La foto vinculado con este post es nuestra familia de paseo en un pueblo minera en México. El proceso de obedecer a Dios ha sido una aventura, ¡por no decir otra cosa!

Por supuesto, la mayoría no va a dejar su tierra natal para servir a Dios en otro país. Pero todos tenemos el llamado de ser obediente a Dios. Esto significa que no solamente oramos, leemos la Biblia y asistimos a la iglesia – significa que actuamos. Significa que salimos de nuestra zona de confort y amamos a otros como Jesús nos mostró. Significa que vamos a nuestro trabajo, pero también que oramos por nuestros compañeros de trabajo y les mostramos el amor de Jesús. Significa que llenamos nuestro tiempo libre no solamente con los pasatiempos divertidos, sino también con actividades que serán una bendición a otros. Significa que nos ofrecemos como voluntarios en el banco de comida, que visitamos a vecinos enfermos, que oramos con personas pasando por dificultades, que damos la bienvenida a los migrantes, que donamos dinero no solamente a la iglesia, sino también a otras organizaciones que necesitan ayuda. También significa escoger la disciplina y el servicio sobre las libertades y derechos en nuestra vida. Significa hacer sacrificios para seguir a Dios – sea construir un matrimonio fuerte en vez de involucrarnos en la pornografía or relaciones de corto plazo, o invertir más tiempo y energía en las vidas de tus niños, o trabajar menos para poder invertir en otras actividades (de Dios o de la iglesia), o enfrentar los pecados o traumas de tu vida para convertirte en la persona que Dios quiere que seas. Por eso yo enfoqué más en  vivir en relación con Jesús. Es más que solamente ir a la iglesia y orar y leer la Biblia. Es vivir en a vida respondiendo a lo que Jesús nos dice. Y por ahí está la aventura.

Entonces, ahí está. Aunque es un desafío vivir como un cristiano, a la misma vez es muy sencillo. Vivimos en una relación con Cristo, escuchando su voz y tratando de obedecer lo que él nos dice y seguir dónde nos guía. Somos cristianos – seguidores de Cristo que viven en relación con él.



Versión Español

This is the fifth part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts by following these links: Simple FaithGodThe Bible, and Sin and Death.

Note: I chose the picture above because it both shows the traditional view of Jesus and a model of what Jesus may actually have looked like based on the standard features of Jewish people of that time. I struggle sometimes with the “perfect” (and very caucasian) images of Jesus that we sometimes have. This is not at all the focus of my post, but I find it interesting. For a brief description of what Jesus may have looked like, wore, etc., check out this short BBC article.

In this part of our simple faith series, we enter into the heart of Christianity – the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The views on Jesus are many and varied. Christians claim that he is the divine Son of God. Others believe he was just a historical person, but who exactly he was is all over the map – a spiritual mystic? A wisdom teacher? A miracle worker? A simple prophet or teacher who was misunderstood by his followers, who later “upgraded” him to the Son of God? The ideas are legion. There are even a few (very few) who would argue that he never existed.

With all of these different views, understanding Jesus can feel incredibly complex. There have been countless volumes about him and an indescribable amount of ink spilled to try to explain him. But it can also be quite simple to understand Jesus. I have stated it as such: God became human in the person of Jesus to pay the price for our sin and to restore our relationship with God. Let’s break that down briefly.

Have you ever looked at an animal, like a dog, and wished you could understand and communicate with it? That would be awesome. By far the easiest way to do it would be to become that animal. By doing so, you would be able to communicate and understand it, and it, you. While this isn’t a perfect analogy, this is basically what Christianity says happened. God became human. Jesus was fully human – he was born, grew, ate, slept, walked around, and eventually died like every other human. 

But at the same time, he was God, demonstrated by the what he did and said. This is seen in a variety of ways – one thinks automatically of the healings he performed, driving out demons, and control over nature. But aside from those, we also see Jesus doing other very God-like things – forgiving sins, accepting worship, claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, speaking as though his words were more definitive and authoritative than the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament), calling God his Father (instead of “our father” as the Jews apparently did), and so on. Plus his statements in the gospel of John that are even more definitive – I am the way, the truth and the life…, I am the resurrection and the life…, I am the bread of life…, I and the Father are one…, before Abraham was, I am [the Jewish name for God]….

Then there’s the whole rising from the dead thing. This is the linchpin of Christianity – the moment when Jesus showed that he was more than just a simple prophet or wisdom teacher. Of course, there’s no getting around the fact that it takes faith to believe that he actually rose from the dead, but it is definitely the simplest explanation for the rise of Christianity. All other explanations require ignoring or rewriting the gospels (to make Jesus not divine), and the complicated creation of other theories to explain the rise of Christianity. And while someone rising from the dead is definitely hard to believe, it is no harder to believe than God existing in the first place or becoming human. It’s at least consistent.

But it’s not just his existence and nature that are important. We looked last time at the fact that our sins have consequences. While we mostly discussed the external and internal destructive consequences of sin, it is also worth noting that our sins will often (always, if life was actually fair) bring some form of punishment. A child who lies and is caught will be punished by their parent. An employee caught stealing will be punished in some form (probably fired!), and someone who breaks the law will go to prison. While initially that punishment is designed to be corrective in nature, eventually, if the problem is not fixed, the punishment becomes permanent – whether that is permanent loss of relationship or employment, lifelong imprisonment or even (in some places) execution. I am not arguing for or against any particular form of punishment, I am simply acknowledging what we all know: wrong behaviour has consequences – punishment. One cannot simply allow a person to continue without correction. And if they refuse to change, eventually either removal from your presence or from society as a whole becomes necessary. Christianity argues that our sins deserve punishment, which is entirely consistent with our sense of justice. We would expect no different from our earthly parents or leaders, so why would we expect different of God? But it also says that Jesus, deserving no punishment himself, took that punishment for all of us.

In some ways this sounds hard to grasp, but we are very familiar with the concept if we think of movies. Who hasn’t seen a movie where one person sacrifices themselves for the benefit of others? At the same time, we are familiar with the concept of one person taking the punishment for another. While the general rule is that each person should pay for their own sins, we recognize that, especially when the punishment is too great, both the punisher and the sense of justice can be satisfied by another offering themselves to take the punishment or pay the fine.

This is what we find in the story of Jesus. Out of love, he offered to take our punishment. And God poured out His wrath and our punishment on him. In doing so, justice was served. But in taking that punishment on Himself in Jesus, God was both the punisher and the punished. We have seen and understand the love of God, and also the wrath of God toward sin. 

(As a side note, but an important one, wrath is appropriate. Just think of how we react as parents when one of our children disobeys, especially if they hurt another one of our kids. Sin destroys us, others, and relationships, and we are correct as parents to be angry about it and to punish appropriately. So, too, God expressed His displeasure toward sin and poured out His wrath on Jesus, as well as promised wrath at the final judgment in the future. We hate the idea of wrath when we look at God, but we are very quick to experience (and justify!) wrath when others offend us, and to demand justice. I think we are pretty hypocritical to expect otherwise from God.)

So because justice has been served, we are able to enter into a new relationship with God. God has always wanted to live in relationship with us, but our own sin has got in the way – it has stood as a barrier of guilt from our perspective, and as a barrier of justice from God’s perspective. Jesus took away both of those barriers. Justice has been served, and we can enter freely into God’s presence knowing that someone has paid for our sin.

That may have got complicated again, so let’s move it back to simple. God. Became human in Jesus. Jesus restored our relationship with God by getting rid of the barriers of justice and guilt, rising from the dead to show that he has power even over death. So now we can live in the proper relationship with God without fear of punishment, but rather with hope for eternal life. In my last post I ended by pointing out that I need help with this sin problem. In this post, we see that God provided that help.

And that is the simple story of hope that we hold onto in the midst of a complex and sinful world.



English Version

Este post es la quinta parte de una serie que se llama “fe sencilla” que tiene el propósito de destacar los conceptos sencillos de la fe cristiana. Se puede ver los primeros posts por los siguientes enlaces:  Fe sencilla,  Dios, y La Biblia, y El pecado y la muerte.

Nota: Escogí la foto arriba porque muestra una imagen “tradicional” de Jesús y un modelo de cómo se probablamente veía a Jesús basado en las características estándares de la gente semítica de esa época. A veces tengo problemas con la imagen “perfecta” (y muy caucásico) de Jesús que usamos. Este no es el enfoque de este post, pero me parece interesante. Por una descripción breve de cómo se probablamente veía Jesús, y cómo se vestía, etc., se puede leer este artículo breve de la BBC.

En esta parte de la serie de “fe sencilla”, llegamos al corazón del cristianismo – la persona y la obra de Jesús. 

Las opiniones en cuanto a Jesús son muchas y variadas. Cristianos dicen que él es divino – el hijo de Dios. Otros creen que era una persona histórica, pero sus opiniones varían mucho desde ahí – un místico espiritual? un maestro de sabiduría (un sabio)? un obrador de milagros? un profeta o maestro que fue malentendido por sus seguidores, quienes “mejoraron” sus enseñanzas y historias para hacerle el hijo de Dios? Hay muchas opiniones. Aun hay un grupo (aunque pequeño) que declara que él nunca existió.

Con todas estas perspectivas diferentes, puede ser muy complejo entender quién es Jesús. Hay un sinnúmero de tomos y cantidades inmensas de tinta usada para tratar de explicarlo. Pero también puede ser muy sencillo entender quién era Jesús. Lo he dicho así: Dios se hizo humano en la persona de Jesús para pagar el precio por nuestros pecados y restaurar nuestra relación con Dios. Examinamos esta idea brevemente.

¿Una vez has mirado a un animal, tal vez un perro, y deseado comunicarte con ello? Eso sería increíble. Definitivamente la manera más fácil para hacerlo sería convertirse en ese animal. Por hacer eso, podrías comunicarte con ello, y ello contigo. Aunque esta no es una analogía perfecta, básicamente, esto es lo que dice el cristianismo que pasó. Dios se hizo humano. Jesús era completamente humano – nació, creció, comía, dormía, caminaba por aquí y por allá, y eventualmente murió como cualquier otro humano.

Pero a la misma vez, era Dios, mostrado por lo que él hacía y decía. Lo vemos en varias maneras – uno piensa automáticamente en las curaciones que hacía, los demonios que echaba, y su control sobre la naturaleza. Pero aparte de esas cosas, también lo vemos haciendo otras cosas que pertenecen a Dios – perdonar los pecados, aceptar alabanza, declararse el Señor del sabbat, hablar como si sus palabras fueran más definitivas y autoritarias que las Escrituras judías (el Antiguo Testamento), referir a Dios como su Padre (en vez de “nuestro padres” como evidentemente hacían los judíos), etc. Y sus declaraciones en el libro de Juan son aun más definitivas – yo soy el camino, la verdad y la vida…, yo soy la resurrección y la vida…, yo soy el pan de vida.., el Padre y yo somos uno…, antes de que Abraham naciera, Yo Soy [el nombre judío por Dios]….

Y obviamente, hay la resurrección. Esta es el factor clave del cristianismo – el momento cuando Jesús mostró que era más que un profeta sencillo o un sabio. Claro, uno no puede evitar que la fe sea necesaria para creer que él resucitó, pero definitivamente es la explicación más sencilla por el surgimiento del cristianismo. Cualquier otra explicación nos requiere a ignorar o revisar los evangelios que tenemos (para eliminar la divinidad de Jesús) o crear otras teorías complicadas para explicar el nacimiento del cristianismo. Y aunque es obviamente difícil creer que alguien resucitó de entre los muertos, no es más difícil que creer que Dios existe o que él se hizo humano.

Pero no es solamente su existencia y naturaleza que son importantes. La ultima vez hablamos de que nuestros pecados tienen consecuencias. Aunque nos enfocamos principalmente en las consecuencias destructivas (internas y externas), también hay que mencionar que los pecados casi siempre traen alguna forma de castigo. Si un niño dice una mentira y sus padres se dan cuenta, lo van a castigar. Si un empleo roba de su compañía y sus jefes se enteran, va a ser castigado (probablamente despedido!). Y alguien que comete un crimen va a ir a la cárcel. Aunque el castigo inicialmente se dirige a corregir, eventualmente, si el problema no se rectifica o cambia, el castigo se convierte en algo permanente – sea la pérdida de una relación o el empleo, encarcelamiento de por vida o aun (en algunos lugares), la ejecución. No estoy argumentando a favor o en contra de cualquier forma de castigo, solamente estoy reconociendo lo que todos sabemos: el comportamiento malo tiene consecuencias – el castigo. Uno no puede permitir a alguien a seguir con su comportamiento malo sin corrección. Y si ellos niegan a cambiar, tarde o temprano, es necesario quitarles de tu presencia o de la sociedad. De igual manera, el cristianismo sostiene que nuestros pecados merecen ser castigados, que es completamente constante con nuestro sentido de justicia. Esperamos esto de nuestros padres o liderazgo, entonces ¿por qué no de Dios? Pero la buena noticia de Jesús es que él mismo, que no mereció el castigo, lo tomó por cada uno de nosotros.

De cierta manera, esto parece difícil de comprender, pero en la realidad, conocemos bien este concepto. ¿Quién no ha visto una película o leído una historia donde una persona se sacrifica o por el beneficio de otros? De la misma manera, conocemos el concepto de una persona aceptando el castigo por otro (algo muy similar). Aunque la regla general es que cada persona debería pagar por sus propios pecados, reconocemos que a veces, sobre todo cuando el pecado es demasiado fuerte, tanto el castigador como el sentido de juicio se puede satisfacer a través de alguien ofreciéndose a sí mismo de parte de otro, pagando la multa o aceptando el castigo.

Esto es lo que encontramos en la historia de Jesús. Por amor, él se ofreció para tomar nuestro castigo. Y Dios derramó su ira y su castigo sobre él. Al hacerlo, se sirvió justicia. Pero por tomar este castigo por sí mismo en la persona de Jesús, Dios fue tanto el castigador como el castigado. Hemos visto y entendido el amor de Dios, y también su ira hacia el pecado.

(Como nota aparte, pero una importante, la ira es la emoción apropiada hacia el pecado. Piensa en cómo nos reaccionamos como padres cuando uno de nuestros hijos nos desobedece, sobre todo si lastima a otro de nuestros hijos. Nos enojamos. El pecado destruye a nosotros, a otros, y a las relaciones que tenemos, y tenemos razón como padres enojarnos y castigarlos de manera apropiada. Igualmente, Dios expresó su disgusto hacia el pecado y derramó su ira sobre Jesús, también prometiendo ira en el juicio final en el futuro por los que no se arrepientan. Odiamos la idea de la ira cuando hablamos de Dios, pero estamos muy rápidos a vivenciar (y justificar!) la ira cuando otros nos ofendan a nosotros. ¡Exigimos la justicia! Croe que somos muy hipócritas exigir algo diferente de Dios.)

Entonces, ya que se ha servido la justicia, podemos entrar en una nueva relación con Dios. Dios siempre ha querido vivir en relación con nosotros, pero nuestro pecado ha interferido – ha servido como una barrera de culpa de nuestra perspectiva, y una barrera de justicia desde la perspectiva de Dios. Jesús quitó esas barreras. Se ha servido la justicia, y ahora podemos libremente entrar en la presencia de Dios con confianza porque alguien ha pagado el precio por nuestro pecado.

Tal vez esto se complicó de nuevo, entonces regresamos a lo sencillo. Dios. Se hizo humana en Jesús. Jesús restauró nuestra relación con Dios por quitar las barreras de justicia y culpa, levantándose de entre los muertos para mostrar que él tiene poder aun sobre la muerte. Entonces podemos vivir en una relación con Dios sin temor de castigo y la muerte, y con confianza en la promesa de vida eterna. En mi último post, concluí por decir que yo necesitaba ayuda con el problema del pecado. En este post, vemos que Dios proveyó la ayuda necesaria.

Y esa es la historia sencilla a que podemos agarrar en medio de un mundo complejo y pecaminoso.

Sin and Death

Sin and Death

Versión Español

This is the fourth part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts herehere, and here.

As we continue our journey of the simple truths of Christianity, we come to the second concept: We disobeyed God (sinned) and all sorts of problems arose – in particular death.

To say that there is debate about every aspect of this concept would be accurate. There is the debate about whether God exists and whether there is actually someone to whom we are accountable. Then there is endless debate about the nature of humanity – are we a mix of both good and bad (like the famous yin and yang symbol)? Or re we good at heart, or evil? There is an outright denial by some that sin even exists, and even when people acknowledge that humans often do what is wrong, it is often quickly downplayed or blamed on other causes, such as society, our childhood, hurts inflicted by others, etc. And of course, there is debate about whether death is something natural – a simple biological reality to be embraced – or an enemy to be fought against with everything in us.

Christianity addresses each of these topics in depth, with complex discussions about God, the nature of humanity, morals and ethics, and the nature of death in our world. But the concept as I laid it out above is quite simple: We sinned, the world is broken, and death is the result. A few words about each of these will suffice for the purpose of this project.

If we accept as our starting point that God exists, then it is the most natural thing in the world that He would have guidelines and expectations for us. Every parent in the world has expectations of how their children will behave. Every boss of a company has expectations of his employees. Every person in charge of something has guidelines for those under them. If God created us, then of course there are guidelines for what is right and wrong.

And despite all the debate about what is right and wrong, I dare say most people are actually pretty closely aligned in identifying the things that will cause hurt and damage. While we can argue about things on a theoretical level, we can usually identify them pretty quickly if we experience them. Someone steals from us? That’s wrong. Someone mistreats us? Wrong. Cheats on us? Wrong. Is arrogant and looks down on us? Wrong. Is greedy? Wrong. In fact, if we were to look at classic Christian descriptions of right and wrong, such as the 10 commandments, the 7 deadly sins, lists in Paul’s letters (such as Galatians 5:19-21), or other comments in the Bible, we will discover that most people will look at them and recognize how those sins are hurtful, especially if we put ourselves in the position of the offended party. (This is the best viewpoint, I believe, because we are more likely to justify our own actions if we consider doing these things, but we recognize their destructive and hurtful nature if we consider someone committing them against us).

As well, we all know that breaking the rules leads to negative consequences, especially in relation to other people. The child who lies will, sooner or later, discover the destruction of trust and relationships that that causes. And if they refuse to change their ways, that destruction will grow. In fact, if they continue to disobey, they will discover (or reveal) not just external consequences such as broken relationships, but internal consequences such as a character that is misshapen and unworthy of trust. So it is with all sin – it causes not just external damage, but internal damage. This is why the world is broken – we are all sinful people who constantly hurt ourselves and others. Sometimes unintentionally, but at other times quite deliberately.

Which leads us to our final point, death. Sin is destructive, and its end point is death (both physically and especially spiritually, which is what physical death seems to warn us about). This is what we find in the book of James 1:14-15: “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.” In the Christian view, death is not part of God’s creation – it is something foreign, the result of the destructive power of sin. Life is what God created us for, and death is the enemy.

I think most people agree that we were created for life, even if they express it differently. Nearly every person has some idea of what they think will come after death, whether reincarnation, going to a better place, becoming one with everything, etc. We all agree that we want to live or continue in some way, shape or form. Even those who truly deny life after death, such as certain atheists, will often express discomfort with the idea of ceasing to exist. Death is “normal”, but not natural or welcome.

And so we see that each concept is both simple and logical. If God exists, He has guidelines. We are generally aware of those guidelines, and if we break them, there are both external and internal consequences of a destructive nature. Because we all disobey these guidelines, the world is broken. We are broken – and not just broken, deliberately rebellious at times. And since sin is destructive, it inevitably leads to death – both physical death and spiritual death.

It is certainly true that this particular concept is not exactly comforting, but it is simple and makes perfect sense. And it fits in with our own experience – sin exists and it is destructive.

But I think it’s also important to make it personal: 
I generally know what is right and wrong
I choose to do what is wrong far too often (I’m broken and/or rebellious)
I know that it has a negative, destructive effect on my life, and
I know that death approaches, and that this sin is a problem – both because of how it destroys me, and also because of the potential of standing before God, the One who set the guidelines that I so often ignore.

And I think it leads to one other conclusion:

I need some help to get rid of this sin in my life.

Once again, keeping it simple can bring a lot of clarity – even if what it reveals is less than exciting.

El Pecado y La Muerte

El Pecado y La Muerte

English Version

Este post es la cuarta parte de una serie que se llama “fe sencilla” que tiene el propósito de destacar los conceptos sencillos de la fe cristiana. Se puede ver los primeros tres posts aquí,  aquí, y aquí.

Siguiendo nuestra discusión de las verdades sencillas del cristianismo, llegamos al segundo concept: Nosotros hemos desobedecido a Dios (pecamos). El resultado es que existen muchos problemas en el mundo- sobre todo la muerte.

Decir que hay un debate sobre cada aspecto de este concepto sería muy cierto. Hay un debate sobre la existencia de Dios y si de veras existe alguien a quién tenemos que rendir cuentas. Luego hay debate sin límites sobre la naturaleza de la humanidad – ¿somos una mezcla de lo bueno y lo malo (como vemos en el símbolo del yin y el yang? O ¿Somos buenos de naturaleza, o malos? Hay algunos que niegan por completo que exista el pecado, y aun cuando alguien reconoce que los humanos hacen muchas cosas malas, a menudo trata de decir que no es por el pecado , sino por otras causas, como la sociedad, lo que nos pasó cuando éramos niños, heridas que hemos sufrido, etc. Y claro, hay debate sobre la naturaleza de la muerte – ¿es una realidad biológica que tenemos que aceptar, o un enemigo contra quien debemos luchar con todo?

El cristianismo toca en cada uno de estos temas en profundidad, con argumentos complejos sobre Dios, la naturaleza humana, la moralidad y la ética, y la naturaleza de la muerte. Pero el concepto que mencioné es muy sencillo: Nosotros pecamos, el mundo está quebrantado, y el resultado es la muerte. Unas palabras sobre cada una de estas ideas será suficiente por este proyecto.

Si aceptamos como nuestro punto de partido que Dios existe, entonces tiene mucho sentido que Él tiene pautas y expectativas para nosotros. Cada padre en el mundo tiene expectativas para sus niños y su comportamiento. Cada jefe de una empresa tiene expectativas para sus empleos. Cada persona encargado de un proyecto tiene pautas para los bajo su cargo. Si Dios nos creó, entonces claro que tiene expectativas y pautas para nosotros.

Y a pesar de todo el debate sobe qué, exactamente, es correcto y qué no, creo que la mayoría de personas es muy bien alineado sobre las cosas que causan daño y que nos duelen. Podemos discutir a nivel teórico, pero normalmente podemos identificarlos muy rápido si los experimentamos. ¿Alguien nos roba? Eso es malo. ¿Alguien nos maltrata? También es malo. ¿Nos estafa? Malo. ¿Es arrogante y nos menosprecia? Malo. ¿Es codicioso? Malo. De hecho, si miramos a las descripciones clásicas de lo bueno y lo malo, como los diez mandamientos, los 7 pecados capitales, las listas que nos da Pablo (p.e. Gálatas 5:19-21), u otros pasajes en la Biblia, descubrimos que la mayoría de personas las ve y reconoce rápidamente que esas cosas son dañinos, sobre todo si nos ponemos en la posición de ser la persona ofendida. (Este es el punto de vista mejor, creo, porque tendemos a justificar nuestras propias acciones cuando ofendemos a otros, pero reconocemos su naturaleza destructiva y dolorosa si pensamos en otro haciéndolas a nosotros.)

También, todos sabemos que desobedecer las reglas lleva a consecuencias negativas, sobre todo en cuanto a nuestra relación con otras personas. El niño que miente va a descubrir, tarde o temprano, que esto destruye la confianza. Y si rehusa a cambiar, esta destrucción va a crecer. De hecho, si desobedece constantemente, va a descubrir (o revelar) no solamente consecuencias externas como relaciones destruidas, sino también consecuencias internas como un carácter malformado que no es digno de la confianza. Así es con todo tipo de pecado – causa no solamente daño externo, sino también daño interno. Por eso, el mundo está quebrantado – todos somos pecadores que nos lastimamos a nosotros mismos y a otros. A veces lo hacemos sin querer, pero en otras ocasiones, es muy intencional.

Y eso nos lleva al punto final, la muerte. El pecado es destructivo, y su fin es la muerte (tanto físico como espiritual, que es la muerte más profundo a que la muerte física nos apunta). Eso es lo que encontramos en el libro de Santiago 1:14-15, “Todo lo contrario, cada uno es tentado cuando sus propios malos deseos lo arrastran y seducen. Luego, cuando el deseo ha concebido, engendra el pecado; y el pecado, una vez que ha sido consumido, da a luz la muerte.” Desde la perspectiva cristiana, la muerte no es parte de la creación de Dios – es algo ajeno, el resultado del poder destructivo del pecado. Dios nos creó para la vida, y la muerte es el enemigo.

Creo que casi todos están de acuerdo que somos creados para la vida, aun si lo expresamos de diferentes maneras. Casi todos tienen ideas sobre lo que va a pasar después de la muerte, sea la reencarnación, ir a un lugar mejor, llegar a ser uno con el universo, etc. Todos estamos de acuerdo que queremos vivir o continuar de alguna manera. Aun los que completamente niegan la existencia de vida después de la muerte expresan incomodidad con la idea. La muerte es “normal”, pero no es natural o bienvenido.

Entonces vemos que cada concepto es sencillo y lógico. Si Dios existe, tiene pautas para nuestro comportamiento. Por lo general, estamos conscientes de esas pautas, y si las violamos, hay consecuencias destructivas que son tantos externas como internas. Ya que todos desobedecemos estas pautas, el mundo está quebrantado. Somos quebrantados (por lo menos) o aun intencionalmente rebeldes. Y dado que el pecado es destructivo, forzosamente nos lleva a la muerte – muerte física y muerte espiritual.

Es cierto que este concepto no es exactamente reconfortante, pero es sencillo y tiene sentido. Y cabe muy bien con nuestra experiencia cotidiana – el pecado existe y es destructivo.

Pero también es importante personalizar esta idea:
Yo, por lo general, entiendo lo bueno y lo malo
Yo escojo demasiado comúnmente hacer lo malo (estoy quebrantado y/o rebelde)
Yo sé que el pecado tiene un efecto negativo y dañoso en mi vida, y
Yo sé que la muerte se acerca, y que mi pecado es un problema, tanto porque me destruye como porque tengo que contemplar la posibilidad de ponerme frente a Dios, quien estableció las pautas que ignoro tanto.

Y creo que lleva a una conclusión más:

Yo necesito ayuda para quitar este pecado de mi vida.

Una vez más, mantener la sencillez nos ayuda a ver con más claridad – aun si lo que se revela no es muy emocionante.

The Bible

The Bible

Versión Español

This is the third part in a series called “Simple Faith”, examining the simple concepts of the Christian faith. You can read the previous posts here and here.

Before we get any further into this series, it’s worth taking a moment to discuss the Bible, considering that the Bible is the foundation of the Christian story. Since it’s so important, this will probably be the longest post of this series.

The Bible has been the “victim” of endless attacks over the past two centuries. It has been labelled as myth, derided as historically inaccurate, viewed as just another spiritual book, or seen as nothing more than a product of its times. To say that the issue is complex would be both accurate and severely understating the issue. So, without going into detail, what can I say about the Bible?

  1. It’s historically pretty solid. I say “pretty solid” because there are a lot of questions, and those questions get a lot of attention – the creation story, the flood, the exodus from Egypt, the birth of Jesus. Those things are understandable. But despite that, a few details are worth noting:
    a) There is a ton of evidence to support the history of the Bible. Archaeology has benefited tremendously from what the Bible says. There is tons of support for the historical figures and places named, events, etc. The questions exist, but they pale compared to what is supported.
    b) Many of the questions deal with ancient history. Understandably, the further back you go, the more questions arise. And there is lots that is disputed – but there is very little or nothing (despite claims otherwise) that shows that it is wrong. But boy, are there a lot of questions, both historically and literarily (were some stories history, or just allegory to make a point, or some other literary form?)
    c) It’s constantly proving skeptics wrong. Time and time again, when doing historical research, you will find the comment, “historians didn’t believe that such and such a person, [or place, or title, or people group] actually existed as the Bible claims, but recent discoveries show that they did.” It actually makes it harder to believe skeptics when they say something doesn’t exist or didn’t happen. I prefer to wait for more evidence and analysis. Archaeology is actually still a fairly young science, and the art of interpretation can be, at times, somewhat subjective.
  2. Most skeptics (and most people) begin with an anti-supernatural bias. This is totally understandable, but the Bible is a pretty supernatural book. The result is that much is “written off” for the sole reason that it is supernatural – especially in the life of Jesus. I don’t find that to be a good place to start an honest and open investigation, even if I can understand why people have that bias.
  3. The Bible requires faith. There is no way to prove all (or even any) of the God parts. The historical parts being reliable can give us some confidence, but ultimately, it requires faith. Those of us who are Christians would argue that it is reasonable faith, not just because of the historical reliability, but because of other factors like the overwhelming evidence of spirituality and morality in human beings, the cohesiveness of the story it tells, and the explanations it gives to life. But at the end of the day, it’s still a matter of faith.
  4. The Character of God, as revealed, is good. God gets a lot of flack for some of his “judgmental” actions, but there are three factors that stand out as part of his character:
    1. His love – From the creation of a good world for humanity, to His patience with our sinfulness, to His faithfulness despite humanity’s unfaithfulness, to the full forgiveness and offer of life that He gives us through Jesus, God’s love shines through.
    2. His justice – God hates sin. When He gets angry, it is due to the sinfulness of people and the destruction that sin brings. And He doesn’t just ignore it – He actually does something about it. We see this in many stories of God bringing about justice, and many words saying that He will one day bring about perfect justice. I must also note that we have no problems clamouring for justice when people offend and hurt us or others, so it’s a bit unfair to get angry at God when He actually punishes people for their misdeeds, or threatens them if they don’t obey. 
    3. His fairness – At times, God’s justice makes Him appear “evil” according to some, but when we combine His justice with His constant warnings, extreme patience (decades or centuries of waiting and warning), pleadings to repent, and relenting from judgment very quickly when someone actually does so, we see a different picture. There is justice, but only when there seems to be no other option and no repentance from those He is trying to get to obey. As well, the Bible constantly talks about how God sees and judges our heart, as well as our actions (which usually flow from our heart), so there is every evidence that He will judge fairly and appropriately.
  5. Jesus. The central story of Christianity is Jesus. There is a lot to back up both his life and also his death. There are a lot of reasons to believe in his resurrection as well, but that would be a whole complicated post. There are arguments against the resurrection, but I find they include a lot of speculation and the assumption that the Bible is wrong (instead of showing that it’s wrong). The simplest explanation for the rise of Christianity, the radical change in Jewish theology to Christian theology, and the willingness of the first disciples to give up everything for this new faith is that Jesus actually rose from the dead, which radically changed them and their approach to life. 
  6. It is different from other religious books. Again, this would take a long time to get into, but for me, there are two key points. The first is the strength of its history and cohesion through two millennia or more of stories. The second is the person of Jesus and his claims. Again, this does not prove anything, but I do believe that the message and the worldview it presents are distinct from all other holy books (while acknowledging that there are similarities at times, especially when it comes to ethical teaching).
  7. Its ethical teaching is pretty solid. Of course there are ideas that people disagree with, and some that are hard to understand, but for the most part, when I read the list of things that we are to do and not do, it’s pretty clear to see why, and following its teachings sure leads to the avoidance of a lot of heartache and trouble.

There is much more that could be said, but I want to keep this as simple as possible, so I’ll wrap it up there.

So, are there questions surrounding the Bible? Of course. There are tons of questions from all angles. But at the end of the day, it gives me a story for humanity that makes sense, and allows me to find my place in it. It shows me a God that I can both love and yet also respect and even fear (appropriate fear of One much greater than myself) – Someone who is worthy of worship, especially as He is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.

It’s simple, really. Despite the questions that remain, I believe the Bible is a trustworthy guide to know God and to live a godly (and good) life.