I grew up during the era of the video game. I had the good fortune to be a kid at the time Nintendo hit the market. This was long before the Xbox and PlayStation. This was when controllers were rectangles and buttons were few. My experience was unique to what my parents had growing up. Most games were shockingly simple, especially by today’s standards. But one game in particular stands out to me all these years later.There was a Nintendo game designed after a popular movie in the ’80s: “Top Gun.” For the ladies reading, that may bring you back to that dreamy volleyball scene from the movie. But stay with me for a second. In the game the player flies planes around as you’d expect. However, there was one level in particular I could never beat. In this part of the game, you had to refuel with another plane midair. It took just the right precision and matching speed and was ridiculously hard to figure out. I have memories of my little-kid rage in which I felt my nerves implode each time the words “game over” flashed across the screen. There had to be a way to figure this out.Yet here’s the craziest part: they do this in real life! Two planes sync up together in perfect harmony matching speed and location. It’s an unbelievable image. And it’s a great analogy for us to make sense out of Jesus’ insight to us from John Chapter 15. That’s the chapter where Jesus refers to Himself as a vine and to us as the branches. He instructs us that “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit” (15:5). That’s a great image. And it’s a daunting challenge to live by.How do we remain in Him when we go a million miles an hour every day? Who has the time to stop and remain? We don’t want to slow down but we don’t want to be out on our own either. It is in this tension we often feel paralyzed. Yet this doesn’t need to be the case.It’s time to rethink what it means to remain in Christ. I’ve heard it described as “active stillness.” I love that phrase. It brings me back to my elementary school days playing “Top Gun” on my Nintendo. Remaining doesn’t mean we wait around for God to show up. It means we actively pursue Him and then allow ourselves to be still in His presence. It’s two planes syncing up midair. He has the fuel and He sets the speed. Then He invites us to live connected to Him. Yet in this version of the analogy we need never break away from the plane providing us the fuel. In fact, when we really understand the life He’s offering us, why would we ever want to?If your life feels a little low on spiritual fruit, it’s likely because you are trying to make it happen on your own. You are flying without fuel. Instead, choose to be actively still in the presence of Jesus. He alone is the source of life. And He’s waiting to give it to you. Fly on.
Alex Nsengimana wasn’t familiar with many of the contents in the shoebox delivered to his Rwandan orphanage, so he pulled out the candy cane and bit into it — wrapper and all. He received his first Christmas present from Operation Christmas Child — an organization that packs shoeboxes with presents and delivers them to impoverished children across the world.“As a 7-year-old, it was so surprising that we could call the gift our own,” he said in an email.The gift reached the 7-year-old Nsengimana in 1995, a year after violence claimed up to a million lives in the infamous Rwandan genocide. He was already an orphan living with his grandmother when people of the Hutu ethnic group began slaughtering the Tutsi people. Nsengimana, who is Tutsi, fled with his siblings after watching militants murder his grandmother.“Many of us had lost most of our families during the genocide,” he said. “Receiving the shoebox gift was a glimpse that we were not forgotten.”He returned to Rwanda in 2013, delivered shoeboxes to his old orphanage and met with the man who killed his uncle.“My journey has been to share that love with the people I meet, but also with the people who have caused me most pain in my life,” he said. “The gift was one of the tools that God used to share his love for me.”
I am sometimes suspicious of how we employ our faith. Don’t get me wrong, faith is important to me, and I have given my life to it. But sometimes I treat my faith like it is a medicine cabinet or a pharmaceutical, going to it only when something is wrong, or if I am looking for a quick remedy.“My head hurts,” so I go to the medicine cabinet looking for a pain reliever. “I have a stomach ache,” so I reach in for a spiritual antacid. “I feel so uncertain,” so I explore my therapeutic options. “I’m feeling a bit anxious,” so I look for something that will serve as divine Prozac.Certainly I am not the only one who does this — it is a common practice — and I’m not the only one to make this observation. Strangely enough (strange because rarely goes a Christian writer reference this man), it was Karl Marx who popularized this view, and this analogy would be incomplete without referring to his legendary quote.Marx said, “Religion is the opiate of the people,” and it appears he understood the medicinal, tranquilizing effects of religious faith fairly well. Now, before you write that letter to the editor or attempt to get your pound of flesh from this simple columnist, understand that I am no Marxist — not even close — I detest anything that smacks of coercion. But that doesn’t mean that some of Marx’s observations about religion were incorrect, even if his means of modification were suspect. Marx felt that religious faith did very little to actually help people. Rather than drilling down to the source of a person’s trouble, he claimed that religion only treated that person’s symptoms. It was a barbiturate that had a numbing influence, instead of resulting in empowerment.Faith in God, according to Marx, keeps the believer trapped in his or her current state, incapacitated, and prevents him or her from experiencing real, personal, substantial change. In short, Marx criticized the false relief that faith can bring — false because nothing ever really changes — and I find it difficult to argue with his conclusion.The faith that is peddled by many pulpits today is little more than a sedative. It helps people to forget their pain and suffering, helps them sleep at night, and keeps them hanging on for next week’s dose of tranquility; but it does very little to move people to a place of growing, spiritual health.