Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Deception of Self-Glory

It was about a week ago that I heard an idea that stirred my heart.  It was Michael Jordan's 50th birthday, and rumors were (and still are) circulating that he might return to play basketball at the highest level, the NBA.  As a guy who grew up with him winning championships every year he played, I began searching youtube videos to see old clips of him play.  There's no doubt in my mind, he's the best to ever have played the game, and I don't think anyone will ever touch him.

However, as I began to dig deeper at this man who almost everyone claims as the best ever, I didn't see a man who I wanted to emulate.  I saw a man who struggled with insecurity, and a man who struggled with the need to be accepted and proved over and over again.

He has often talked about how he could shut down Lebron James, the current face of the NBA.  He said he could score 100 points in a game if he played in today's version of the game.  There are numerous stories of him challenging younger, promising players from the team he owns to games of 1 on 1, completely owning them as he goes up against them. And now, he's talking about returning to the game nearly 20 years past his prime.

I don't claim to know his heart.  But the warning signs are there.  In an article on, it said that he became intensely driven to prove himself due to numerous snubs.  One was that he felt like his father was prouder of his brother (when he was younger).  Another was when he was cut from his high school team early in his high school career.  The hits kept coming... and he was driven to prove them wrong.  He was driven to prove that he was the best... that he could amount to something.  Dare I say that he was driven to be the best so that he could earn the love and respect he so desperately wanted?

Again, I'm not Michael Jordan, and I don't know his heart.  But the facts that I see lead me to believe something that's true not only of him, but of people in general.  We're desperate to have glory, because we think it will bring us some sort of security, love, and acceptance.

Think about it.  Why do you strive so hard for whatever it is that you do? 

I remember my senior year in high school when we did our musical production of Honk, which is just a glorified version of the Ugly Duckling.  For years I wanted to be the star of the show, the main lead.  But I wasn't drawn to the part of Ugly because it was a "great" part.  I mean, if I'm really being honest, as much as I loved being in the musicals and as much as I loved to sing, being the Ugly Duckling was not exactly on my career aspirations list as an actor.  I wanted it because I wanted to be the top billed guy, because I was desperate to have people see that I was worth something.

When the cast list came out, I was devastated because I didn't get the part of an ugly duckling, rather I got the part of the Bullfrog.  Forget the fact that I was much better suited for that role (and I got to wear a pretty fantastic green tuxedo), I was devastated by not getting the role that would lead to my glory.  My motivation for the next two years after that was to prove that I could make it as a lead man.  I was so driven that I chose to major in theater at Muhlenberg, hoping one day I could go back and prove everyone wrong... that I was worth something.

What's crazy, is that same motivation continues to pop up in almost every area of life.  Work?  Yep.  Athletic competition?  Yep.  Ministry?  Uhh... definitely.  This blog?  My marriage?  Hobbies?  In every single area of my life I see a frequent pull to prove myself as worthy.  And yet, the great deception is that even if I achieve what I want and get the "glory," it will never be enough. 

If I make the game winning catch in a pick-up frisbee game, I'll be tempted to think how I need to repeat my efforts.  If six guys come to a bible study, the next week I'll be tempted to think its only a success if it grows further.  If I give a great sermon or talk, it only serves as a launching point to how I can speak to growing audiences, give better illustrations, and gain more acclaim from the Christian Culture.  If I'm working on a project, I want everyone to recognize it's awesomeness, and if they do, all I can think about is how I need to do that much better on the next one.

It's like being a hamster on the exercise wheel.  You expect to arrive and be satisfied, and yet the need to be approved and glorified never ceases.  All we do is tire ourselves out.

Why do we do this?  Well, if you know what this blog is all about, you probably know what you're about to read:  "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. "  (Romans 1:18)  The passage goes on to say that though we know of God, we don't honor Him or give thanks to Him, and that God actually allows us to walk away from Him.  It's God's 'passive' wrath, because we say "we don't want to know you," and He says, "Ok."  He lets us go if we want nothing to do with Him.

"But how are we suppressing the truth?"  You might ask.  "I just want people to like me, there's nothing wrong with that!"  And on its own, you're right.  It would be a hard life to have no one on your side.  But is that really what's going on?  Or are you worshiping the approval of other people more than the approval of God?

This is the deception of self-glory: we get glory from our friends and our peers, only to realize it does nothing to quench the ongoing thirst of our souls.

If we're deceived, then what's really true?

1. We're more insignificant and broken than we realize - Here's our problem.  We argue that we matter to feel loved, but the truth is that we DON'T matter on our own.  Look, I'm 26.  I've got maybe 50-60 years to live if God wills it.  Maybe I'll preach some great sermons, maybe this blog will become a hit and I'll be able to write a book, maybe I'll have a thriving ministry.  Guess what, who's going to remember the name Zack Gugenheim in 100 years?  200 years?  300 years?  Probably no one.  Death comes, which is the ultimate reminder that I'm broken, sinful, rebellious, and all together not that important.  And that fact bugs me, and it bugs every single one of us.  It's why Michael Jordan feels the need to get back on the court at 50.  Because, while people remember his greatness 20 years ago, people growing up now are saying that Lebron or Kobe is the best player ever.  He's itching to remind people that he is the best player to ever play the game.  But in the end, regardless of his six rings, multiple MVP's, All-Star Games, etc, he will never matter enough to people, because he's ultimately broken, just like the rest of us.

2. We're loved more deeply than we can possibly imagine -  Jesus is the great exposer.  You see, we shy away from Him because He exposes our petty attempts for glory as what they are... desperation to mean something.  But he doesn't just expose our thirst... he comes to satisfy it.  Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has placed eternity into a man's heart... and yet we see on our own accord that we can't reach eternity.  But Jesus changed that.  Not only does He give us a hope of eternal life, He gives us a hope of a deep, eternal, lasting love that is big enough to satisfy the deep void of love in our hearts.  When our hearts cry out for the need for approval, what we need is not the approval of man, but rather the overwhelming approval of God.  And Jesus proved God's love for us by reversing the curse of sin and death by dying for our sin on the cross, setting us free from the bondage of having to prove ourselves to the rest of creation.

So how do we escape the temptation of self-glorification?  A couple of practical steps:

  • Fill up on Jesus - Regardless of how many "good" things you do in life, you're going to do them for the wrong reasons if you're not connecting with Jesus.  He is the only one who can make our motives and hopes pure.
  • Question your motivations - It's easy to assume that you're doing things for the right reasons.  Ask yourself why you do the things you do, and be honest with yourself (Ex: why am I trying to give all the answers in bible study?  Why am I staying up all hours of the night to finish this thing for work?)
  • Repent and Believe the Gospel - When you see how you seek glory, repent and ask Jesus to help you to trust in Him instead.  He's the only one who can actually satisfy our hearts.  
  • Do the things you love for the sake of Glorifying Jesus -  The point of this is not to make sure we stop the things we love doing because we're glorifying ourselves.  Rather, the point is to take the things we love to do, and use them to share with others the amazing power of the Gospel through our words and our very lives.  Think how you can use your work, ministry, or other talents to bring glory to Jesus, rather than yourself.  
To sum up my thoughts, I quote Matt Chandler.  "Don't loathe you, or celebrate you.  Instead, celebrate Jesus."  Only Jesus is worthy of our praise, only Jesus is worthy of glory.  And if you're in Christ, you'll get to take part in it for all eternity, and you'll be truly satisfied. 

In Him,

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Escaping Self-Centered Worship

One of the joys of my job with DiscipleMakers is I have the privilege to be a worship leader, and I get to train other worship leaders as well.  It's awesome and humbling, because typically I work with much better minds and musicians than I could fathom. 

But there's a frustration in my heart when it comes to leading worship.  Just when I think I have it "right," someone gives me feedback about something that "isn't" worshipful.  "You played too many old songs."  The next person giving feedback will say this, "I didn't know any of the songs... they were too new!"  Go figure.

Now... there are a lot of things brewing in my heart when this happens, most of them are things I need to repent of.  But here's what's crazy.  When I think of how I often evaluate the "worship" at a church, conference, or other venue, it's often more about my preferences than about Jesus.  Which is missing the point entirely of why we worship in the first place, and exposes often my true heart about what I'm looking for.  I look for an awesome experience to get lost in... songs that are powerful and catchy, words that are theologically deep, and skill that is just a shade below heavenly... but is that worship?

What is worship, exactly? 

Psalm 96 says to sing to the Lord, and to declare His Glory and marvelous works to the people.  The psalmist goes on to describe the character of God, His power, beauty, and majesty.

Matthew 2 shares a different type of worship, one where wise men travel far and wide to find Jesus as a baby to bring gifts to Him.  They worshiped him by giving up time, money, and gifts to find the child, for they knew at least some of the reason why He came.  They also had great joy and responded in obedience.

Jesus quotes Isaiah 29 in Mark 7, saying that the pharisees, though they worshiped with their lips, that their hearts were far from Him.  Their traditions, sacrifices, and made up regulations and standards were not the things that could change their hearts to genuinely worship the King of Kings.

Romans 12:1 says  "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."

Revelation 4 and 5 share about a scene of worship in Heaven in which we all will bow down to worship Jesus.

So, just from this smattering of scripture, let's unpack what worship is.  It's belief in God, it's proclaiming and declaring the greatness of God and His Character, believing in the life-transforming work of Jesus on the Cross and how it impacts our lives, and our need to submit and worship Him.

Notice what it doesn't say.  It doesn't say it's ONLY an experience.  It doesn't say it's ONLY an emotion.  It doesn't say it's ONLY musical.  Rather, worship is ALWAYS centered on GOD, and how we respond to HIM.

For me, this is convicting, because I often want to say worshiping God is about achieving the ultimate "worship" experience.  Now, I'm all about the experience, and it's good to have our musical worship have little to no distraction for that sake, but we can worship in spite of our experience as well.  We know this because the ultimate experience of worship will happen in heaven, not here (Revelation 4, 5).

It's also convicting because it's easy to think that it's about having positive emotions and feelings, rather than worshiping Jesus.  Now, I'm not advocating that having positive, maybe even an overwhelming emotional, response to the musical worship is a bad thing.  That's very much a good thing.  But it's a byproduct of worshiping Jesus, not at the core of it.  If it's all about the "emotional high," then you're actually worshiping yourself and the feeling you get, rather than Jesus.  I'm guilty of this constantly, but I mask it as "feedback."  This is similar to the Mark 7 passage, where I'm "honoring" God with my lips, but in reality my heart is far from Him as I sing, because all I care about is the emotional kickback.  In reality, if the worship is about Jesus, it means you can worship even if the musicians have a rough outing, pick a set from the 90's (or 1600's), or have bad AV equipment, if it's centered on the Lord! 

Also, I question whether I'm actually declaring God's works and character (Psalm 96, Matthew 2) both in a corporate setting as well as I "give my life as a living sacrifice." (Romans 12:1)  If I'm not worshiping in my life outside of the "worship experience," I'm probably not actually worshiping corporately, no matter how powerful the music is, nor how rich the lyrics are theologically.  My heart is most likely selfish, wanting just to feel good without the need for God.  This is the opposite of worship, in fact, it's sin. 

So how do we actually "escape" self-centered worship? 

Repent and Believe the Gospel:  Acknowledge and turn away from your sin, and believe that God has drawn near to you!  Did you know that when we turn from our sin and actually worship God, He has a much stronger voice singing back, because He can't believe that He has us (Zephaniah 3:14-17)!  He loves us dearly, in spite of our sin (Romans 5:8), because Jesus paid the penalty of sin.
Ask God to help you worship:  This might sound weird, but God actually delights when we ask Him to help us worship Him.  In fact, it's only through His Spirit that we can actually come to worship Him.
Give feedback that concerns biblical conviction and aiding in growing leadership:  It's easy for me to judge a worship team or leader by the songs they choose.  Sometimes that can actually be helpful, most of the time its not.  Our conviction should always be helping the worship leader consider how to lead the congregation towards worshiping God.  The way a set (musical, prayer, testimony, etc.) is brought together can actually help or hinder our focus on the Lord.  Now, we need to be willing to look past mistakes, but we can actually have valuable feedback, particularly if a worship leader picks a lot of songs that either don't fit together, don't fit with the theme, or lend itself to self-worship (songs that focus ONLY on how much we are loved, and how we should be filled, etc.).  As a note, songs like that (How He Loves, Set A Fire, You Hold Me Now) can be VERY effective when mixed with other songs or framed so that we are pointed back to Christ. 
Let preferences stay preferences, and not "authoritative truth":   While I personally often feel that Keith and Kristen Getty songs aren't awe inspiring by their sound, their lyrics help me to reflect on God in a very rich and deep way!  However, if my church played only their stuff over and over, I'd probably speak up about it.  However, there is nothing sinful or wrong with doing only Getty Music.  But it's easy to speak in an authoritative way when it comes to what's helpful about what music to use.  Instead of saying, "Getty songs aren't worshipful, time to change the music," it would be more helpful to first seek why I don't like them, and then ask if there are reasons why we don't branch out to other music.  If they don't change the music, feel free to keep asking why, and be honest about your preferences, but also be willing to submit to the worship leader, knowing that you can worship God through any music that is God-Focused (As a side note, for you worship leaders out there, this is NOT an excuse to ignore preferences from your congregation, worship team, or others who might offer suggestions.  If you're attached to one artist or style, it might be a good opportunity for you to ask God how you can branch out and serve the people you're ministering to!)

Let us all press on, and escape self-worship together, by worshiping the King of Kings!

In Him,

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Enjoying God's Gifts

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." I Corinthians 10:31

"Rejoice always,  pray without ceasing,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."  I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Often I write and think of all the ways that I have strayed against God, and, if you're like me, it can often feel discouraging and a hopeless task to actually find refuge in Jesus.  Or, maybe you're like me, and you think God is like the N.F.L... The No Fun League.  God doesn't really want me to have fun.  He's here to keep me in line, and I'll have joy later... maybe, so maybe finding refuge in Him isn't such a big deal.  

In actuality, I think God encourages AND increases our joy when we honor him in the pleasures we enjoy here.  Let me share an example.  

I LOVE Boneless Buffalo Wings.  And Pizza.  And anything my wife Heather chooses to make for dinner.  I think often that God just wants to restrict my joy by helping me realize that I shouldn't over eat, or that I shouldn't have a diet consisting solely of wings. 

However, what scripture says is contrary to this.  God actually wants us to praise Him when we eat, drink, have fun, etc.  That actually, God is for our Joy, and that our greatest delight can't be in something as trivial as food, but instead it can be in Him who created it.  Actually, biting into a fresh slice of Papa John's Pizza is not meant to cultivate worship for the food that lasts five minutes, but rather it cultivates a heart of worship for the Creator God who created the flavors, ingredients, and abilities for that pizza to arrive in my home and be devoured by yours truly.  

But what happens when we worship the creation rather than the creator?  When we forget to be thankful and captivated by God?  We over eat.  We make an idol.  "Just one more slice," we say.  And this happens across the board, right? 

Sex, in God's confines, is this amazing thing that actually results in worship of the creator.  In fact, God delights in human sexuality and the celebration of it in marriage!  But, when we forget that it's about God and His glory, we go in different ways to satisfy the lust of our hearts.  Pornography, fantasy, selfishness, romance novels... the list goes on and on in how we try to worship sex, rather than the creator of it and enjoy it in His confines. 

Entertainment is the same way.  When you watch Harry Potter, are you captivated by a carefully crafted and made up hero who saves the day?  Or do you find even DEEPER joy in the shadow of Harry Potter, when we see the true and more perfect savior who actually died to see His beloved have true joy in an eternal lover?  

Here's what I'm getting at:  Are you thankful and giving glory to God for the things that you get to enjoy on a day in, day out basis?  Are you seeing that when you watch Thor, play Halo 5000 (or whatever version they're up to), or eat that delicious wing, that it's actually an opportunity to worship the creator of all things?   What happens when you do that?  Worship happens!  Joy happens!  God is a good God who gives us good things! 

How does this apply to our lives?  Well, here are some practicals:

  • Enjoy God's Gifts: Whether it's a job you're given, food that you get to eat, time off to rest, whatever it is, enjoy it and praise God that He has given it to you!
  • Use God's Gifts for Good:  One of the things that's striking in the I Corinthians 10 passage is Paul's encouragement to use their freedoms well.  In other words, that they are called to give glory to God, but they are also called to use their freedom to care for others.  So, food is awesome, but if you're with someone who is struggling with gluttony, it may not be a good idea to enjoy a pizza with them.  Think about what will point people to Jesus.
  • Remember that it's about worshiping Jesus:  Whenever food, or any other gift, becomes about the gift and not God, it becomes a problem.  Praise Him for football, food, people, etc.  But also seek to understand when those things become idols, and repent from them. and turn to Jesus.  (Examples:  Getting angry during a basketball game, eating way past the point of fullness, engaging in sexual activity outside God's confines, watching movies/playing games when you should be working)
In Him,

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Call of Always

"In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication." Ephesians 6:16-18 

All circumstances.  All times.  All prayer and supplication.  See a trend?  

Though the context is that we are fighting against Satan and the spiritual warfare that he instigates, Paul doesn't say in this passage that we are only supposed to put up our shield of faith when we feel Satan coming.  Rather, he says at all times we must be ready to battle. 

This is one of the reasons he uses the soldier imagery in Ephesians 6... because, as he says in Ephesians 5:16, the days are evil.  Not only are we waring against Satan, but against our own flesh and against the world.  There is no moment where there isn't a war being waged... but do you live like that?  I don't.  

Heather and I had just come back from an awesome dinner for Valentine's Day, and then we decided to watch the movie Happy Feet.  As we watched, I decided to take a look at who voiced all the of the "cute" penguins.  I was surprised to see such a star-studded cast.  As I scrolled through the list of Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Elijah Wood, and Robin Williams, another name stood out very clearly to me.  One of the main leads was Brittany Murphy, who died in her early 30's about 3 years ago. 

Suddenly, the movie became an afterthought, my date with Heather in the background, and all I could think about was this:  "I'm almost 27... I'm going to be in my 30's soon.  What if I die early?   What if I don't get to have children?  What if we have children and I don't get to see them grow up?"  The questions began to spiral out of control, to the point of which I began to struggle with my faith.  I stayed up later that night, trying to escape the pain of knowing I would die through day dreaming and restlessly looking up sports stats, trying to forget the idea that I could die "early."  

But what started this whole mess?  The fear of death?  I mean... it's not like I just made the connection that I'm going to die one day.  

What started it?  I wasn't taking up my shield of faith.  I made peace with the world... and that's when my flesh and Satan attacked.  I started asking myself, "Man, what if I'm not alive for the Avengers 2?" 


Ok... so it seems pretty silly to have a major spiritual battle in terms of fighting the idea of whether or not I'll see a movie in two years.  But what's the root issue of this?  Honestly, I think it's ultimately rooted in unbelief.  I'm not believing that God's got His best for my life.   I don't trust that when it's my time to die, that He is bringing me home.  I don't put my faith in Him, I don't see Him as true, I don't trust in His salvation, and I don't want to fight with His Word.  

When do you see this happen in your life?

Maybe it's when finances are tight, and a big expense comes from where you least expect it?  Or maybe, someone unexpectedly dies or has a major health scare? Maybe it's when you sit down for some time alone, and suddenly someone interrupts it (kids, spouse, parents, an unexpected phone call from a friend)?  Maybe it's when you are building a relationship with someone either to share the Gospel with them, or investing deeply in a discipleship relationship, and they get angry with you, or worse, choose to abandon you?  Maybe it's when things are going great, and you forget that it was Jesus who was the one who has blessed you with everything you have?  Do you lose faith?  Do you forget your confidence in Jesus?  Do you forget that there is a much greater hope awaiting you?  Or do you stand in the face of adversity (and in the face of blessing), remembering the hope you have, armed at the ready knowing that Jesus is everything?

How do we apply this?  

Always Be Ready: There is never a time in our lives where we should not be armed without the Gospel.  This means we need to dig deep in the scriptures, pray consistently, talk about Jesus with others, and remember always that our hope lies with Him.  Is your time with Christ only in the mornings or church?  Or are you constantly thinking how your life fits within God's calling for you?  

Don't Be Fooled: This life (and Satan) constantly wants us to think we are at peace time.  While we have peace with God through Jesus, we are always engaged in warfare, even if we choose not to fight.  Date nights, vacations, routine work, special projects, family events, ALL are still in the midst of heavy fire from our flesh, the world, and Satan.  Are you fighting to have Jesus at the forefront?  Or are you deceived into thinking that it's ok to rest from Him? 

Equip through Humility:  Be willing to do whatever it takes to fight the war that's been won through the cross of Christ.  That means being willing to admit where you need help.  Get invested in your Church, and if you're in college, get plugged into a college ministry.  Ask to be discipled, so that people can help you grow so that you can learn to run to Christ throughout all areas of life, as well as share those truths with other people. If blogs are helpful, here are a few more that can assist you. (The Relentless Fight, Loving Him is Red, Knowable Word)  

Thanks for reading, and keep escaping to the one who gives true refuge as we fight the war of life.

In Him,

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A disappointing day in perspective

Life is disappointing.  It's broken.  It's sin-ridden.  And yet, often my hope is that I'll go through the day with out any disappointment.  Today is one of those days. 

Let me count the ways:

- I couldn't quite catch the melody of all the songs we sang at church... and I was the lead vocalist
- Ohio State lost to Indiana (I should know by now that I shouldn't hope in the Buckeyes... and yet somehow I keep caring)
- I couldn't run as far as would have liked at the gym
- I got on the scale and saw that I gained close to five pounds
- I'm struggling with anger for all of the things mentioned above
- I feel overwhelmed with all of the things on my plate
- I feel like I've failed my family by not staying better in touch, realizing I haven't spoken to specific family members in months

It could be easy to make excuses and be done with it.  For instance, I've been super busy, so of course I haven't had time to be consistent at the gym, nor have I had time to call my family.  I got last minute notice about being on worship team, AND almost all the songs were new to me.  And being angry at my Buckeyes... well, they deserve my anger because they always play awful and make stupid mistakes. 

Some, but not all, of those excuses are valid.  But what's really going on in my heart?  Why is it that I'm bordering on circling into despair?  Why is it when the list of disappointments or failures mounts, it looks insurmountable to overcome emotionally? 

Perhaps I'm not resting in my savior.

Perhaps, I'm resting in my achievement.  Or in my circumstances.  Or in a sports team.  Whatever it is, I'm choosing to put my hope in something other than Jesus.  Suddenly, little inconveniences become a cyclone of emotional devastation.

In gaining a few pounds, I see myself as my old self, the one who struggled to control his eating.  In not getting to the gym, knowing the songs, or calling my family, I see the sluggard.  In my anger at Ohio State losing, I see my foolishness at work.  I see who I really am... and that's not worthy of Christ. 

"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  (Romans 8:1)

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

"And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ."  (Philippians 1:6)

"May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." (Colossians 1:11-12)

I'm qualified, a new creation, with no condemnation, and will be brought to completion.  All I need to do is repent.  I can carve out five minutes to make a phone call.  I can learn from my mistakes in the music.  I can remember the times that Ohio State lost and that I WASN'T tempted to chuck a remote through the TV, which, before I knew Christ, I never would have fathomed I could do, and pray through how I can handle their losses more effectively.  I can give my work to the Lord, knowing He is sovereign over it all and that I'll get done what He will allow me as I work to the best of my ability.  And I can rest not in my body image or however long I can last on the treadmill, but in the finished work of Christ, as I seek to honor God with how I eat and exercise.  

Lastly, I can be reminded that one day, I will never experience the disappointment of my circumstances or idolatry again.  I long for the day where I meet my savior face to face, knowing He won't let me down. 

In His Grace,

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Who I dream to be, Who I really am

I did it.  I won a 4th national championship, along with breaking the NCAA record for rushing and receiving yards and TD's.  I led a no name school to be the greatest dynasty of the modern era of college football.  The first player to win 4 heismans.  I was on top of the world.  Then I shut the Playstation 2 off, and reality floods my consciousness. 

I never was athletic, in fact most of the time I was picked in the bottom half of the class during gym class.  I never played football, except for the occasional pick-up game, but for some reason I was drawn to the video game version.  The game was fun enough as I played as my favorite team, but the real appeal came when I saw there was a create-a-player option.  Zack Gugenheim, star running back, 6'2" and 227 pounds.  I was the fastest player with the best hands, I even had the skills to play multiple positions with unending endurance.

Forget the fact that I was only 5'9" and 215 lbs in High School (and none of that was muscle, mind you).  Or that while I can catch relatively well, I'm never going to be mistaken for Jerry Rice or Calvin Johnson.  And fast?  Well... let's not go there.  Yet there was an overwhelming pull for me to see myself as a new and improved person.  It didn't just happen with football games.  In fact, any game with a "Create-a-player" was subject to my fantasy.  I remember when I owned a wrestling video game, I suddenly became 7 feet tall doing flips off a turnbuckle, raising the World Heavyweight title over my head.  Even outside the video gaming world, my fantasies ran wild about my "greatness."

(Disclaimer: I'm not saying video games are inherently evil... although I might argue that we probably spend more time playing them than we should)

In my mind, I was skilled in martial arts, could use a gun, kill zombies, unnamed or named henchmen, vampires (even ones that sparkle), survive the hunger games or whatever else anybody could throw at me.  I was Batman with Superman's powers.  But here was the key... everybody knew how gifted I was in the dreams and fantasies.  I was the hero.  I was on top. 

And yet... when I come back to reality... it comes to a screeching halt.  Suddenly, I see the man I'm ashamed to be.  In high school, I was the fat annoying kid that tried to make his mark, but often was just ignored or made fun of (I overdramatized it in my mind).  In college, I felt like I could reinvent myself, prove that I was all that.  When I became a Christian, it crossed over into spiritual things as well.  Now, it's about how I can lead so many people to Christ through worship leading, preaching, discipleships, etc.  "If I can say the right thing, or sing a song in just in the right way, or preach more skillfully and share a hidden gem that nobody saw before, I would have tremendous impact, and everyone would love me!"

Have you ever been there?  Maybe you're not like me.  Maybe you think I'm weird.  Or maybe, you're like me in one simple way... you have a desire to be loved, and you'll do anything to feel it.  A desire to feel special, or to be seen as great.  I often ask the question, "What is driving these dreams? Why do I often find myself fantasizing of being special?"

Honestly, I think the answer lies in unbelief.  I don't want to believe that I'm worse than I can imagine, so I look to these dreams to suppress the truth about myself.  (Romans 1:18).  Not only that, but I suppress the truth about this current world, which is nothing to write home about either.  In one sense, God created this place to be amazing, but the curse of sin is ravaging it.  There's pain, sickness, depression, and death.  The reality of this life is awful.  100% of humans die.  That's morbid, and honestly, it has often kept me up at night.

And yet, the problem with not believing the truth about this life is the fact that the next life is SO MUCH BETTER!  Check this out: "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'"  (Revelation 21:1-4)

God is going to dwell with me, and I will be His.  For every tear I've shed, He will wipe it away.  And the pain, the suffering, the sin and shame that have plagued me, and that I will continue to struggle with will be GONE!  This is so much better than pretending to be great... because I can worship someone who is great and someone who WILL redeem and WILL rescue and WILL have justice and HAS PROVED HIS LOVE by dying on the cross so that I can live forever with Him. 

I no longer need people's approval in my mind.  I don't need to have anything to offer.  I don't need to escape the realities of this life... because God has all ready prepared a perfect escape for me.  The best part is... He's there with me.  Heaven is where we will dwell, with the one who is our refuge.

"For me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works."  (Psalm 73:28)

One day, if we're in Christ, we'll be in our perfect escape.  We are His Beloved!  Look towards heaven, and escape the false escapes that easily entangle us.  When we fail, we can repent and long to be with Jesus for eternity. 

In His Grace,

PS:  This song fits so well.  "You Hold Me Now" by Hillsong