One of the central beliefs of Christianity is that Jesus is the one, true God revealed to us. Colossians 1:15 says “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation.” In other words, he is all-powerful and greater than literally everything. That is a remarkable and revolutionary belief. However, as Pastor Jeff said on Sunday, for many of us it can be easy to lose sight of this belief and why it matters.
In Roman times, most religions, including those in the Middle East and Mediterranean (except Judaism), were polytheistic- meaning that people thought there were many different, more or less equally valid, gods. They also believed these gods were not all-powerful. In fact, they also thought that their many gods were flawed, emotional, and almost human (but immortal and with powers) and that they didn't especially care a lot about saving mortals.
Jesus promises that there will be good and bad times in everyone’s lives. He said so in Matthew 5:45 - “He [God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” But, He also promises in John 16:33 that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
So, there will be ups and downs for all of us, but we can know that we have God’s grace no matter our condition. However, many times when we do find ourselves in a bad spot, we may be afraid to ask for help or may blame ourselves—turning a bad situation into a long-term prison.
“Improve your financial freedom!“
“Pay all your bills with this awesome side hustle!“
“Boost your credit score with these five easy steps!”
Ever see any emails with these subject lines? I think I received at least 20 of these in my inbox today. And, if you’re like me, you’ve tried out some of these get-your-financial-life-in-order guides as well. Now, don’t get me wrong, some of them are useful, and those side hustles could easily earn you a little money. But what’s the point? Will you make the purchases you make meaningful with the extra cash you earn? Or are you caught in a circle of spending without reason?
“4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. 7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” - Philippians 3:4-9 [NIV], Paul speaking on his conversion from relying on himself and religious law to instead relying on faith in God
While browsing social media on Easter, I noticed that a friend of mine had written about their annoyance at the number of so-called Christians who post “He has risen” and yet are hypocrites who don’t act at all like the Jesus whom they claim to follow. I liked that post and thought about commenting on it, though I didn’t. I think that friend has since deleted it and I don’t know what, if any, discussions became of it.
But that post got me thinking.
“Are you someone who looks at a cup half empty, or half full?”
I remember when this question was first asked to me. I have to be honest I had no idea how to answer it. I never looked at the cup half empty or half full, it was always just half to me. I was clearly overthinking the question. But I’ve come to realize what they were asking me was how do I look at a situation? Do I focus on the negative or the positive of any given circumstance?
If you watch the news regularly, you’ll notice that the majority of our news networks focus on the negatives that plague our nation… our world. Ratings seem to indicate more people like to hear about a negative story than a positive one. Culturally, we rarely find something positive and emphasize it, instead we live in an often critical, pessimistic, jaded, and cynical society. But here’s the problem. When we focus on the negative, when we worry… we’re stepping away from and even shielding ourselves from the presence of God. A negative focus creates a prison in your mind that taints every gift, every experience, every blessing, and every relationship that God gives.
There have been times in my life when all I truly wanted was peace. When everything seemed so troubled and confusing that I couldn’t figure out what the next logical step should be and this caused a great deal of turmoil. We’ve all been there. When conflict arises, clarity seems to vanish and confusion, hurt, and resentment seem to take over. Because people, man… people are messed up!
I remember this one study group meeting, when my peers and I were so righteously discussing the political issues of my country – Brazil. We were saying “they should…”, “they are…”, “they don’t…” until my professor asked us to reframe our speech to “we” instead of “they”. Well, that put a dampener on the discussion. All of a sudden, we found ourselves having difficulty to judge and act as if we knew better because now we were implicated in the root of the issues. We were forced to see our share in the responsibility, even if that meant admitting our own corruption in smaller scales or our inability to rise to the occasion and fight back. After switching from ‘them’ to ‘us’, we could no longer solely blame the “other side” for the problems and issues we faced. It’s never easy to come to the realization that conflict, regardless of whether it’s inevitable, is never one-sided – unless you’re Christ, in which case, you’re perfect and this does not apply to you.
The thing about conflict is that it is never easy to go through it and have the courage and willingness to mend it. On the other hand, it’s impossible to live a righteous life if all you do is avoid conflict completely–there’s no truth to that kind of relationship.
We are held prisoners by our past when we hold onto the bad experiences we’ve had and project those experiences onto our expectations of the future. This leads us to shy away from new things and to lose hope in what we previously dreamed about. This happens to all of us, and after the great message at Skyline this week I wanted to share encouragement and a few things that have helped me or others I know.
First, to identify what is keeping you prisoner, have honest conversations with God and with your good friends. Prayer and insight from a friend are the most helpful ways of identifying what has a hold on you. Often I’ve prayed about why I am not my usual self or I am reluctant to do something that I know would be a good idea, and it becomes clear that something is weighing on my mind and I need to take care of that first. It’s always helpful to ask a trusted friend for advice too—they often keep their opinions to themselves to be polite but if you ask them for advice they will gladly give it. You need to be honest too—if you are trying to hide or overlook something about yourself then it is almost definitely keeping you prisoner!
Sitting on the white break room table across from me is my coworker’s lunch. It’s a masterpiece of arugula, sunflower seeds, bacon, chives, and some kind of homemade dressing. To my left, is my friend’s delicious looking lunch of salmon and sweet potato fries. I poke my daily pasta and Bolognese sauce halfheartedly and set to eating it. “I have to do a better job of packing my lunch in the morning,” I think to myself, “I can barely stand to eat at the same table that my coworkers do with their fancy lunches…”
Does anyone else beside me wish they could swap lunches with their coworkers? I know there must be some of y’all out there. Totally innocent right?
“Oh, what people!” - That’s what my Mom would say after encountering someone difficult.
Many of us have similarly exasperated phrases, the shortest of which is simply shake your head and say “People.”
And no wonder we say such things. Just think of all the people problems everyone has. The hilarious, and sometimes all-too-real, tragic drama of sitcoms and telenovelas wouldn't exist without humans being human and having issues with each other.
To be human is to lead a flawed, imperfect, often burdensome existence. But being human means we also deeply desire to overcome our flaws as we seek meaning and joy.
One of the toughest things to do as an actor is what we call “becoming your character”, or figuring out how to properly portray the essence and emotions of a certain person. How would this character you’re representing say a certain word? What kind of quirks or weird ticks do they do? How would they display their emotions? Everyone expresses themselves differently, when you’re angry or sad, to express this emotion, you may cry; however, if you’re portraying someone more stoic, they may withdraw themselves and become quiet and straight-faced. You have to perform these actions and see yourself through the lens of a different perspective. For example, when Will Smith took on the role of
Muhammad Ali, he knew one of the main things to bring out the essence of this character is the flattering way he talks about himself, "I am the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I'm in a world of my own." Or "I'm so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark." Smith had to become prideful and believe that he was the greatest in the world in order to be Muhammad Ali because, that’s what Ali’s perspective was, he was the greatest. When you become your character, and see things the way they would see them, you’re not acting anymore... you’re just living.