Category Archives: Life

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Play the game right.  We all agree on that.

 

But what does it mean to play the “right” way anyways?

 

We face a dilemma when a player is expected to win — and then that same player departs to a better team to win.  Most recently, people across the country felt outrage when Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State, a move that inspired feelings of anger, distrust, and envy.  But why?

 

And then we cheer for losers and underdogs. Whether an elderly Kobe, a cheap Dirk, a non-jumping Duncan, or a booed Porziņģis — we want athletes not to take shortcuts, but to win the right way.  We prefer the “good” storyline rather than the bad one, and we turn on players who sign for money or who team up with other superstars.

 

As crazy as it sounds, we recognize that faithfulness counts in sports — maybe even as much as winning does.  If we’re honest, we know that our team might not win in the end, so at the very least, we want players to stick together and to stay with us.  We want players to be as faithful to us as we are to them.  For after all, the average fan would rather lose with loveables than win with thugs.

 

Whatever side we take, Durant’s choices demonstrate that ethical obligations do not exclude sports.  Old-fashioned ideals such as faithfulness, trustworthiness, and kindness apply to professional athletes, just as to everyone else.  At the end of the day, fans want athletes to represent them not only in terms of geography, but in terms of character.

 

In the eyes of loyal fans, Kevin Durant broke a promise. And that is what fans despise the most.  Win or lose, no one wants to be betrayed, and no one wants to be left behind.  That’s not to say that Durant did in fact break a promise; after all, he fulfilled his contract, and he has the legal right to move on.  But to many basketball fans, what matters is that it felt like a broken promise.

 

End results only matter for so much. Veteran fans know that championships are few and far between.  As decades pass, we learn that “doing things right” involves more than winning.  When we look to the courts and fields, we hope our athletes represent our ideals, not merely add numbers to a scoreboard.  As fans, we can still cheer after losses, as long as we believe in the character of our athletes.

 

More than anything else, sports of an insight into passion, drive, and character.  No matter how bad a team may be, we are drawn to cheer for athletes who battle despite the odds — for those who fight on behalf of the people who love them.  And that is how you do things right.

 

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For an audio version of the following post, click here:  https://soundcloud.com/joelpeterjupp/sabbath 
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I was recently asked to share my views on the Sabbath.  As I mentioned previously, this is a very complex issue, and there are many intelligent people with convincing arguments on both sides of this issue. Personally, I’ve changed my mind several times, so I can sympathize with both sides.  If the topic interests you, I’d highly recommend Five Views of Law and Gospel, by Zondervan, which treats this topic broadly (setting the Sabbath within the overall framework of Old Testament law).

To begin, the purpose of raising this issue here in this course is to demonstrate how the Old Testament and New Testament relate to each another.  The Sabbath serves as a prime example of how our interpretation of one influences (or is influenced by) the other. For that reason, you’re not expected to solve this issue within a few days, but you are expected to see how the OT and NT interrelate.

That being said, my thoughts would include the following:
  • The Sabbath is one of the The Commandments.  In my view, this sets the Sabbath apart from ceremonial and civil law, since it is placed within the context of moral law.  Because we would affirm all of the other 10, we should be extremely careful about tossing it out.
  • Within the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is set aside not merely as a day, but as a statement of our individual and communal trust in Yahweh.  Sabbath is more than a 24-hour time period.  It is a statement or proclamation that we can rest in God as He provides for our needs.  In the original context — where survival depended upon the thin thread of animals and crops — not working one day was a shocking state tent of trust.
  • While we might doubt whether we need to observe the Sabbath today, the origin of the Sabbath resides within the nature and work of God.  If God needed to rest after creation, and if we ar made in His image, and if the commandments reflect not merely a decree but His nature, then we would be compelled to observe Sabbath rest.
  • When Jesus spoke of the Sabbath, we must carefully determine whether He was abolishing the Sabbath (rendering it null) or whether He was redefining the Sabbath (or more accurately clarifying the original meaning of the Sabbath).  In my view, Jesus is not abolishing, but fulfilling the Sabbath in Himself.
  • Some might say that Jesus’ fulfillment of the Sabbath makes it void or unnecessary for us; I take the position that our worship practices, of which the Sabbath would be included, were never intended as an end in themselves, but to point us to Christ.
  • Ultimately, Jesus teaches that the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.  In my interpretation, this means that the Sabbath is intended to be life-giving, not burdensome.  Jesus blasts wide open our concept of the Sabbath, so that it’s not merely about sitting in church all day, but far broader than that.
  • In constrast to legalistic views, such as the Orthodox Jewish prohibition of cooking or driving on the Sabbath, Christians are liberated to experience all of God’s life giving peace and restoration, in whatever form that may be.  As it says in Colossians 1, all things were made by, through, and for Jesus Christ, so all of creation is opened up to us, even if that means walking around town, teaching, picking grain, helping those in need, and so forth.

That being said, forming a belief about the sabbath is relatively.  Living into the Sabbath, ironically so, is more difficult, even though it was intended to be easy.  More important than asking ourselves, “What can or can’t I do on the Sabbath?” we need to ask, “Am I trusting in God and resting in Him?” Ultimately, the Sabbath is not a calendar or a scheduling issue, but a heart issue.  In other words, are we trying to outwork God, or are we relying on Him to provide?

If you’re interested in some further reading… Abraham Heschel is a Jew who has written on the Sabbath, and it is also worth reading his thoughts on the meaning of the Sabbath.  While we would fundamentally disagree about the purpose of the Sabbath (I.e., for us, the Sabbath points to our ultimate rest in Christ), Heschel’s work demonstrates how the concept of Sabbath can be renewing and life-giving.  Obviously, the Jews have contemplated this principle for longer than some of us, so some of those insights can be applied in our Christian worldview.  Thankfully, we recognize that our salvation is not found in the Sabbath or any other regulation, but as it says in Hebrews 4, our hope is in Christ who ensures our ultimate rest.

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In the aftermath of the Flight 370 crash, news outlets and culture at large have been captivated by the story.  Given the rapid developments of world news and the short attention span of 24-7 news channels, it is all the more surprising that channels like CNN have focused (roughly 90-95%) on this story for roughly three weeks.  Meanwhile, discussions regarding Russia and Crimea were mentioned for “just a second” (in the words of one CNN anchor) prior to returning back to Flight 370.

In light of this immense amount of attention, we can draw some observations that teach us about humanity.  What follows are several reasons why this story has been so captivating:

 

  • We wonder about the future. Many of us fly, and we worry about our safety.  We are partly captivated for selfish reasons — evident by the fact that most of our attention has been on the plane rather than the victims.  This is most evident when news anchors use the word “exciting” when describing finding debris and/or wreckage.

 

  • We recognize (yet doubt) the limitations of technology.  Part of our fascination results from the disbelief that cell phones, satellites, and radar cannot give us an immediate answer.  We find it hard to believe that part of the world is beyond our knowledge.

 

  • We feel loss with fellow human beings.  Despite the fact that we probably do not know anyone on board, we sympathize with those who are hurting.  Seeing family members wail over their loved ones resonates deep within us.

 

  • We believe that humanity will rise.  People want a resolution (e.g., finding debris being called “hope”) to be assured that humanity will overcome our pain and our ignorance.  We may have lost 239 lives, but our investigation may save hundreds of lives in the future.

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First and foremost, resurrection is not a subjective feeling, but an objective reality. Any benefit that we receive on a personal level is grounded in the fact that Jesus Christ actually rose from the dead.  

In other words, our hope does not arise from positive thinking, fuzzy feelings, or religious sentimentality, but from the historical reality of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. His physical body rose from a physical tomb, and because of this objective reality, our hope is not based in ourselves or our passing emotions, but in Christ.  (1 Cor. 15)

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No one ever told me that my heart would feel this way.

Even the strongest Christians have their weak moments, but the sins of a friend can be depressing.  Indeed, many times, a friend’s sin weighs even more than our own sin.  We see evil from an outside perspective, and in small measure, we experience how God must feel.

It feels like heavy snow upon the heart.  You watch as a friend delights in the world and buries their life in sin.  You hope they will stop,  come around, and realize what they are doing.  You wonder what will happen next.  You wonder if they know God at all.  You pray that God will have mercy on another soul.

But rather than casting the sin out of our minds, acting as if it never happened, it is good to have heavy hearts.  Scripture tells us to restore sinners in a “spirit of gentleness,” as if we were surgeons operating on our own child.  When it comes to sin, we are dealing with something far more serious than we realize.

Furthermore, we can be susceptible to the same sins, so Scripture warns us to “keep watch on yourself” (Galatians 6:1).  When we are apathetic or brash towards other people’s sin, we disregard Scripture and endanger ourselves, so God reminds us to feel the weight and tread lightly.

As you think of a friend or a relative who has made some poor decisions, take a moment to intercede for them and pray for your own strength

 

photo credit: i k o via photopin cc

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Depending on your stage of life, Valentine’s Day can be exciting, romantic, confusing, lonely, or depressing.

heart (emmy)Whether or not you are in a relationship, holidays like these raise  expectations so high that sometimes those expectations are impossible to meet.  Today, some people will be let down because they are not in a relationship.  Others will be let down for by their significant other, their fiance, or their spouse.  The plain fact is that human beings eventually let us down.

On days like these, we must remember the Kingdom of Heaven.  Valentine’s Day is not part of the liturgical calendar, of course, but as an artifact of our society, what does Valentine’s Day remind us about God and our relationship with him?

1) God cares about your loneliness.  (Gen. 2:18)

2) God establishes friendships, families, marriages, and churches, so you do not need to be alone.  (Gal. 3:28)

3) God provides companionship when no one else does.  (Ps. 62:2)

4) God restores relationships and will eventually heal every heart.  (Rev. 21:4)

No matter how this day goes for you, be comforted that God cares.  After all, He is the One who created relationships in the first place.  Although we often miss out on healthy relationships, and although we sometimes mess them up, God is always there to heal our broken hearts.  When we place our expectations in him, we will never be disappointed.

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It is important to apply Colossians 3:23 to all aspects of life. In that verse, Paul reminds us that “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not men.” In other words, our work should be defined by maximum effort and the right motives.

Many of us miss the mark in one way or the other. Some people become accustomed to their situation, becoming overly comfortable, and slow down in their efforts. They may have good earthly reasons, such as a lack of pay or a mean boss, but they forget the ultimate purpose of their work. Other people work hard, but for the wrong reasons. They work to please men instead of the Lord, and in so doing, get distracted from the goal.

A.W. Tozer pointed out that we often live out of fear. We choose the easy route (fearing hard labor) or the common route (fearing opposition from others). In reality, the best choices in life are usually difficult and unpopular.

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I am deeply concerned about a trend in some Christian circles to glorify suffering, as if suffering is somehow a good thing. Over the past few months, I have heard that suffering should not only be anticipated, but gladly accepted because of its benefits. Of course, this is not exactly a “recent” trend, but one that can be traced back to Catholics in the Middle Ages. To this, I would like to offer an important clarification.

First of all, there is nothing good in suffering itself. God does not delight in the suffering of a person being killed, nor did Jesus find any satisfaction in His crucifixion. Suffering involves suffering, and we know from Scripture that God abhors violence. Simply put, God does not delight in pain.

Errantly, it has been said that “there is nothing inherently evil about suffering,” but this needs to be qualified. Although this is true for an athlete in training or a religious person who fasts from a meal, this is not normally what we mean when talking about “suffering.” Usually, suffering involves physical, emotional, and relational pain. We cannot categorize all suffering as the same. Some sufferings are voluntary or amoral, while other sufferings are involuntary or immoral.

Experiencing this latter kind of suffering, a sufferer undergoes pain, and the reality of that pain should never be diminished. There is nothing good about a child dying. Nothing good about an instance of abuse, murder, rape, or any other horrific evil in the world. Evil is evil, and it would be a tragic error to ever suggest otherwise. As it says in James 1, our good God has nothing to do with causing temptation or evil.

When the Bible speaks of finding joy in the midst of suffering — such as in 1 Peter — joy is not found in the suffering itself. Rather, the joy is found despite the suffering. Joy is found in God — in His steadfastness, in His comfort, in His healing, in His power, etc. — and not in the circumstances that surround us. Trying to find joy in painful circumstances is like trying to cool off in the midst of a heatwave; it is an empty mind trick.

We should never be surprised or be caught off guard by suffering, but at the same time, we should not anticipate or glorify it. Like Jesus, we can pray for the cup of suffering to pass from us. Since Jesus was not a masochist, neither are we as Christians. I would argue that we should pray that suffering passes from us, lest we try to be more holy than Jesus. Following Jesus’ example, we can ask God for another way and for healing from our pain.

The joy that we experience in our suffering is God Himself, not the circumstances of our suffering. For that reason, we should not fear suffering, nor should we exalt personal comfort as the ultimate goal. It is through difficulty that our vision becomes clear. We can see who God is — perfect, faithful, and safe — better than we can during other times in our lives.

God allows for suffering because sometimes suffering is a lesser danger than a false sense of perfection, comfort, and ease. God never delights in pain itself, but like an athlete in training, He can see the benefits beyond the pain.

If suffering were necessary for joy or for God’s glory, we would expect to suffer in heaven. But to the contrary, we know that the ultimate joy lies beyond the suffering of this present world. May our eyes see beyond this pain and look towards the everlasting comfort that is coming…