Three Thoughts and the Redemption of Time

timeBy Matt Sapp

Yesterday was my fourth wedding anniversary.  The second day of June, 2012, I married Julie Knight and have been privileged to live in her orbit ever since. Each year we each travel 93 million miles around the sun.  So, today, Julie and I have made it 372 million miles together—an incredible journey already.

And, as cliché as it sounds, I can’t believe it’s been four years already.

Time is a tricky thing. The same moments in our lives—like wedding days—can at one moment seem like only yesterday and at other moments seem like a lifetime ago.

I spent a good portion of my three-year master’s program thinking about time and its relationship to eternity and our sinfulness.  I won’t bore you with those thoughts here, except to say that as Christians we live in a world governed by the realities and rules of time, but we look forward to an eternal future in fellowship with an eternal God.  That makes our relationship with time strained at best.

Time, like us, is part of a fallen world that needs to be redeemed.  That means time is not an unqualified good; it is not an essential part of God’s design.  When time is used wisely, it can feel like a gift. But when time is squandered it feels like a curse.

Time is a tricky thing.  So here are three thoughts about time as I celebrate another trip around the sun with Julie.

  1. Learn to live with your past.

Every previous second—even the most painful ones, the ones marked by my greatest disappointments and mistakes—contributes to who I am today.  Although I know I’m far from perfect, I’m happy with the person God is leading me to become.

I haven’t always been able to say that.  Who has?  But I’m working, as I hope you are, too, to live beyond past regrets.  Don’t let any regret about who you’ve been or what you’ve done rob you of the joy of being who God calls you to be today.

  1. Don’t fear the future.

The control freak in all of us wants to know just exactly how tomorrow or next year or the next decade will turn out.  Uncertainty—and uncertainty is always about the future—naturally breeds fear.  Worry about the future robs us of the joy of now.  Jesus devotes a significant portion of the Sermon on the Mount to this idea. We should take note.

Learn to accept the future—whatever it may be—without the anxiety, worry, tension and nervousness that often accompanies uncertainty.

  1. Prioritize the present.

Prioritize the present.  And even more, prioritize the people in the present.  The most important parts of who we are—apart from God—are the people who make up the moments of our lives.

As I think about Julie today and the four years that have slipped by us, I’m reminded that we ought to prioritize people and our shared experiences together over everything else.

There is no other time but now.  There is no better time.  There is no perfect time.  There is no future time. There is only now.  Enjoy the present.  Value where you are and who you are and what you have now. It’s the only way to be happy.

One day, we say, when I have more economic security, I’ll be more true to myself.  One day, when I don’t have to worry what other people think, I’ll be bolder in my thinking.  One day I’ll be more truthful and daring in how I express myself.  We have all kinds of excuses that keep us from living fully into the people God has called us to be.

Now is the time to ditch the excuses. Now is the time to be who God has called you to be.

So, when you’re tempted to move beyond the present moment, either to the guilt of the past or the anxiety of the future, remember the great miracle that you are right now.

Don’t believe me? Right now, you are hurtling through space at more than 33,000 miles per hour on one more trip around the sun. Feel the wind on your face, and enjoy the ride.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Celebrating the Risen Savior

cropped-caravaggio.jpgBy Joe LaGuardia

Religion has been in the news lately.  ISIS is marching across the Middle East decimating thousands of lives while recruiting thousands a day. A religious liberty law in Indiana recently clogged the news cycle.  An HBO documentary scrutinized the church of Scientology, if that can be considered a religion at all.

A few weekends ago, churches were packed with people who wanted to be present for Easter.  It is, for many, a religious observance.  For others, it is a family obligation.

Truth is, we have just enough religion to be comfortable.  We have just enough religion to make us care about our causes, attend church a few times a year, and check the “I Believe in God” box on surveys.

In some cases, we can live up to the old saying by Jonathon Swift: “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough religion to make us love one another.”

Our Christian faith is more than a religion, however.  We don’t attend church or have a nice, family Easter meal because we celebrate a religion.  We do so because we celebrate a Risen Savior.

We believers serve a living Lord, a King of all kings, and a God who is not a name among other religious names, but the Name above all names.

Perhaps we only live our lives with a marginal sense of religiosity because we’ve fooled ourselves into thinking we are Christians.  We adhere to the religion of our upbringing and consider ourselves a “religious voter,” but having a relationship with Jesus Christ, who lives with us today, is not on the agenda.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my religion.  I love rituals, too.  Just as brushing my teeth daily keeps me healthy, so too does going through the religious motions keep my faith fresh even when it threatens to go stale.

My relationship with Jesus is the only life-giving source of my religion because that relationship is actually what saves and sustains me.  Ours is a faith not of some stuffy creeds or sacred texts hidden in the vaults of time; ours is a faith of sacrifice to the Living Lamb of God.

Jesus once said, “I came that my disciples may have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).  This life of abundance and redemption is predicated on believing in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (10:9).

But believing in a religion is not enough.  In fact, you can believe in anything you want.  Atheists believe that there is no god.  The Bible says that, “Even the demons believe and tremble” (James 2:19).

When you believe in a real, living person, however, belief must translate into trust.

Several children in my community of faith (some families who attend Crosspoint Church, and some at Trinity Baptist), including my son, were baptized in the last few weeks.  Despite, their age, they know in their hearts that they love and believe in Jesus.

But their baptism is only a beginning for them. It is like a wedding day that launches a life-long journey of faith, hope, and love.

More significantly, it is a journey in which belief must become trust, and aspiration into concrete hope in a living, loving God.

When I got married to my wife, we were young–20 and 21 years of age.  We believed in our marriage, vows, and commitment to one another.  We went through the religious routine that accompany weddings.  But trust?  That came with time–in learning one another’s habits and preferences, in caring deeply for each other even in the midst of hard times, and in giving our life for the sake of the other.

In a day when religion is prevalent and people who believe in something are a dime a dozen, we who serve a Risen Savior must live as resurrected people who can prove that we not only believe in God, but trust God too.

“Let go and let God”

LetGoAndLetGod580It was a regularly scheduled evening earlier this week.  My wife, Jessica, and I finished dinner, and our entire focus was on getting a toddler to wind down from the day.  I ran his bath, wrestled his clothing from his body, and I took Ian into our bedroom to remove his diaper.

As he lied on his back, I took off the diaper.  In a flash, he flipped to his hands and knees and was racing across the bed.  It happened so fast.  Before I knew it, time slowed down as Ian tumbled off the other side of the bed.

A thump, a crash, some tears and screams ensued.  I picked him up, as Jessica raced into the room, and we comforted him as we discussed what to do next.  Ultimately he was fine, albeit a little bruised.

Later, as I reflected upon the evening, what scared me the most was the feeling of helplessness that settled in the pit of my stomach.  Everything that happened after I set him down on the bed was completely beyond my control.  And I crave being in control.

I also have an enormous dislike for anything cliché.  This aversion is especially strong when religious sayings are concerned.  I frequently quip: “If it fits on a bumper sticker, it doesn’t mean much.”  I believe in thinking deeply about matters of faith and have a difficult time believing anyone can do that in a 15 word statement.

I can, however, recognize and admire the thought behind the pith of any statement.  It is possible to redefine and deconstruct a cliche to appreciate the ingredients within and the heart from which it comes.  The particular religious cliché which applies to the story here is:  Let Go and Let God.

As I continued to ponder my strong feelings in regards to loss of control, this phrase continued to pop in my head. I spit it out with vigor each time. It continued to return.

I remembered a story from Acts 16 in which Paul and Silas were imprisoned.   They freed a slave-girl from what the scripture says was a “spirit of divination” (NRSV).  Interestingly, this act of freedom was done out of annoyance, rather than compassion.  It seems as if Paul, as they traveled over several days, got fed up with the woman.  He ordered the spirit to come out, in the name of Christ.

Events beyond their control mushroomed from the time of that act.  The owners of the slave-girl, angry that their sideshow act would no longer be financially fruitful, dragged Paul and Silas to the authorities.  Subsequently, they were thrown in jail.  They had no control over their future and that future was, quite certainly, unknown.

What is noteworthy to me is how Paul and Silas dealt with their imprisonment.  Acts 16:25 states: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.”

I can say for certain I would have been making a different sort of noise in that situation, and it would not have been joyful. What began as an act of annoyance–and subsequently was a positive outcome for this slave-girl–turned into an incredible act of faith for these two itinerant apostles.

The conclusion one can draw from the rest of this story is that God freed these prisoners.  They used this unfortunate circumstance as an opportunity to spread the Gospel. They trusted God, despite their surroundings, loss of freedom or control.

Essentially, they “Let Go and Let God.”

I can get on board with this cliché, especially when it leads me to understand that I can trust God to work within all situations of my life.  I still work hard.  I still try to protect my family from harm.  I still try to make positive things happen.

“Let Go and Let God” can now be redefined as a statement that says:  “When one cannot control all of life’s circumstances, trust that God is consistently working for the betterment of God’s Kingdom.”

I’ll also remember that my son is slippery and very fast.

By Lee Prophitt