Monday, February 29, 2016

"You're Not David"

The pressure is on me.  This is a lie that I tell myself constantly.  The pressure is on me to get people into God's Word.  The pressure is on me to transform people and help them repent of their sin.  The pressure is on me to convict.

It's a debilitating lie, because it assumes that I am God.  It sounds silly.  It sounds exhausting.  And yet, I often find my default setting on pressure and responsibility rather than faithful, joyful service to my dear King and Savior.  One more bible study, one more discipleship, one more talk or sermon.  All to impact people.  It's all on me.  Can you relate?  

I'd bet that you and I aren't so different.  And I'd bet there's one thing we do that makes it harder to serve in glad submission, and instead grasp hold to the idea that we are heroes under pressure: We see ourselves as the wrong character.


You heard me.  We see ourselves as the wrong character.  When we read the bible, particularly when we read narratives, we run into a lot of interpretive issues.  One that I have fallen prey to is plugging myself in as the wrong character in the story.  Take David and Goliath.  We read the story, see David's courage for standing up to the giant when no one else could, and then ask how we can have courage like David.

"I can be courageous by sharing my faith with that really scary person!"

"I can be courageous by standing up to my boss!"

Whatever the application is, we hear those, and then we try really really hard to be whatever attribute we see in the biblical character.  Sometimes we fail immediately.  Other times, however, we do well.  We beef up our bravado when we are told to be courageous.  We speak truth because we want to prove we are men and women after God's own heart!  We sacrifice because, well, what would Jesus do (WWJD)?  And then, at just the right moment, we fail hard, and we're broken.

I've often felt this way with lust.  I'm just not going to think about it.  I'm going to be pure!  I'm going to win!  And then, as I succeed, I brim with pride and fail harder than I expected to.  And here's the deep lie: "How could I have failed like this?"

I failed like that because I'm not David, and more importantly, I'm not Jesus.

Matt Chandler spoke about this passage, and shared something very helpful.  "David and Goliath is not about you overcoming the major giants in your life because that would make you David, and you're not David... you are the cowardly Israelites over in the corner going 'what are we going to do!  He's (Goliath) talking so mean to us!'  Jesus is David, slaughtering the giant of sin and death. You're not the point."    

Do you see what he's implying?  We often run to the hero of the story, because we too often think the bible is about us and our victory.  But we're not the central figure.  It's not about us.  It's about Jesus.  Jesus is the hero.  Jesus is the focal point.  Jesus is David.

"But, if Jesus is David, and I'm a cowering Israelite, what exactly am I supposed to do?  Aren't I supposed to live a good Christian life and be courageous and do awesome stuff?"

Yes.  But we failed.  We're dead.  Ever since the fall in Genesis 3.  It's a good thing that Jesus did live the perfect "Christian" life and gave His life courageously as the greatest act in human history.

The point of the bible, the central message always points to Christ and Him crucified.  Don't put the pressure of being David on you.  Instead, escape to the cross.

Escape to the cross by asking how Jesus is "the greater David."

Escape to the cross by asking where you fall short of the great heroes of old.

Escape to the cross by seeing how Jesus covers all your sin.

Escape to the cross so Jesus can transform you.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Illusion of Control

I had it all planned out.  We were about to leave for our annual spring break service trip, so I made sure to take a couple of days off before to be fully rested for the trip, make sure that all the logistics were covered, and all the teaching was prepared to go.  It was a good plan.  I controlled my environment to make the most of my time off.  Until my son came down with croup.

If you don't know what croup is, it's essentially a bad cold that keeps you from breathing really well.  It can sound almost like your child is barking like a dog, rather than coughing.  Shane was so young at the time that with each attempted breath he would get more scared which would negatively impact his breathing and result in coughing even more.  It was a massive snowball effect.

When we got to the ER, they were able to treat him with vapors, but he refused to sleep when they brought in a crib.  The only way he would sleep is if they could let him sleep on his Mommy.  So Heather and I stayed in the hospital, neither of us sleeping well with our sick child laying on her.  And while I was able to get more sleep than Heather (the true champ of the night, which is usual), I was running on about two hours due to less than ideal accommodations.  And of course, the next day I left for our spring break trip, asking God, "why wouldn't you let me get more sleep?"

It's funny now, but one of the things I remember thinking back then was, "I don't get it.  I planned this perfectly.  How could my plan have gotten so messed up so that I'm so tired?"  There are a number of right answers here, but one in particular should be obvious: it was my plan.

Proverbs 16 addresses the plans of men three times:

"The plans of the heart belong to man,
    but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord."
(v. 1)

"Commit your work to the Lord,
    and your plans will be established."
(v. 3)

"The heart of man plans his way,
    but the Lord establishes his steps."
(v. 9)

The author is clear, we can plan whatever we want, whenever we want, and however we want.  However, we don't have the final say.  Notice how the author notes in verses 1 and 9 that the Lord answers and establishes.  So while we can plan and dream, God is the one who ultimately makes things happen.  That's why verse 3 is so helpful: "Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established."  If our ultimate plan is to bring glory to God, then however God takes us there, it will be established.  He calls us to trust Him with our plans, not to trust that our plans will work out.  

This is helpful when we pray for God to work.  A friend of mine, one of our student leaders, was sharing how he felt like God wasn't working.  This was in the midst of our fellowship nearly doubling in size within the past year, our core members continually growing in biblical maturity, and the student leaders owning way more than they ever had in the past.  I racked my brain wondering how this student, my friend, could think God wasn't at work.  Then it hit me: it wasn't that he didn't see God at work.  It was that He didn't see God working the way he wanted Him too. 

Aren't we all the same way?  We want to control our circumstances, we think our plans are the best, and yet when we step outside of ourselves, we see God's broader plan?  

When Shane had contracted croup, I had been praying to be more desperate for the Lord.  How better to be desperate than to be sleep-deprived going into a week-long service trip!  I wanted to feel desperate in my way, but God chose instead to find a much more effective way to do it instead!  And boy, did it help!  

We long for control.  We think it's what will get us what we want.  However, when we hold our faith-filled plans with an open hand, God always does what is best.  Even if some of our plans don't come to fruition, He is always establishing better plans in lieu of them.  In His mind, our relationship with Him, and the expansion of His Kingdom, are what He wants our plans to be.  And those plans, you can be assured, He will establish. 


Monday, February 15, 2016

"Sticks and stones..."

 F. A. T. Three harmless letters that, when strung together, became a powerized weapon that pierced my soul. As a child, I would ask if there was something wrong with me. Now, as I look back, I wonder why the word 'fat' has any power? It's only three letters. It's only an auditory thing. It doesn't form into a physical force that knocks me off my feet. And yet, kids and teenagers called me it and it would cause extreme sadness and anger.

We've all heard the phrase "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  But let's be honest, all of us have experienced the painful effects of a word used against us, and it hurt longer and harder than any stone ever could.

For me it was fat. For others it's dumb, slow, and worse. Some have been called curse words. Some have been called racial slurs. Some have been told they'll never amount to anything. Words. They have overwhelming power. Why?

In Genesis, we see a compelling scene. God is in eternity and He speaks. And when God speaks, things appear. He speaks, and creation comes. He speaks, and order is established in the universe. And yet, there's another character that speaks just two short chapters later. A crafty serpent speaks, questioning God's words. Whether we realize it or not, they were the most destructive words ever spoken. Believing those deceitful words led Adam and Eve to disobey God, and it fractured God's creation. Words were spoken once before to give life, and now words were spoken to disrupt, to distract, and to destroy. And the words that allowed for this were words that questioned God's goodness, His holiness, and His god-ness. And because of that we see destruction.

Sin fractured the world, fractured our hearts, and the words that once gave us life became invisible weapons to which we could deeply harm one another. And what was worse, is that these words could wound without us feeling the guilt, because we rarely see the internal bloodshed. People carry deep scars from the wounds they've heard, which was evidenced by the many people who were at a retreat I just attended.

James 3 has this to say about the tongue: “...the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell... but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” (vs. 5-6, 8-10a)

Did you catch that? Nearly 2000 years ago, James, the half-brother of Jesus, recognized the destructive force that resides in our mouths. It's a fire, it can't be tamed, it's a restless evil, full of deadly poison. He even goes after the most religious of people, saying that even if they bless God, they still use their tongues as a weapon of destruction against other people. None of us are safe from it. So it begs the question, what do we do?

As Christians, we must first look to another Word. In John 1, Jesus is called the “Word made flesh.” He is the living embodiment of God's Word. And, as before, God's Word breathes life. He transforms us so that we see the power of words, and thus use them appropriately. His blood assures us that God doesn't look at believers as orphans, but as His beloved, adopted children. And now his words of love compel us to share words of love.

It means we are driven to share this good news with other people.

It means we speak the truth, but we do it in love and empathy, not out of self-righteousness or fear.

It means we walk among the hurting, even when it's hard. Even when we disagree. Even when words are used against us.

We do it because that's what Jesus did for us. He walked among those who cursed him, who disobeyed him, who hated him, and strived to the point of death so those who would come to believe in Him could be transformed into His beloved. And now the word love, God's perfect love, is His word spoken over us.

Monday, February 8, 2016


Cam Newton has been a polarizing figure within the national sports media. He's fun-loving. He's a talker. Some would say he borders on arrogant. Some would say he has the right to be. And up until last night, everything went right for him and his team. He's the reigning NFL MVP. His team was 15-1. His team had dominant victories in both the divisional and conference championship games. He played nearly flawlessly. His interviews leading up to Super Bowl 50 were engaging; his charisma filled the room.

Now, he's an enemy. His team was overwhelmed by the best defense I've seen in a long time, and they played with a swagger much like the Seattle “Legion of Boom” did a couple of years back when they pulverized the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. In a game that many thought would be Cam's coronation, it instead became a massive speed bump. And now, because of his contract, because this is professional football, he had to do his responsibility as the starting QB of the losing team of the Super Bowl to answer questions. And, after a couple minutes of short, one or few word answers, he walked off the podium saying “I'm done,” leaving reporters and the twittersphere to rail against him as immature, disrespectful, and a coward, amongst other unflattering remarks.

Yes, Cam wasn't the most professional. He walked out before his interview was over. He was curt in his answers. He didn't do a great job of publicly accepting his share of blame for the loss, refusing to say “I” and instead saying “we” in terms of where the team fell short. And now the media firestorm begins. It's a cautionary tale in how to be wise in how you answer and present yourself, as well as how to be gracious in defeat.

It's also a reminder that self-righteousness reigns for those of us who judge him so quickly. “Punk.” “Sore Loser.” “Classless.” I guess we all have a lot of experience in losing a championship in front of the biggest TV audience of the year, in that we can comment on how to handle the pressure. When we respond this way, we refuse to look in the mirror at our own sinfulness.

Now, don't get me wrong. I think we should call people in the public eye to a high standard of how they represent themselves. They are role models, whether they like it or not. And when you are ascending to be the face of the NFL, the most popular professional sports league in the country, you have a responsibility to not only do all the duties of your job, but to do them professionally. It's part of the multi-million dollar contract he signed. He's not being victimized by being ushered in front of the media after losing the game, even if he doesn't want to.

BUT, this doesn't give us the right to pile on. Look, I've never been a Cam Newton guy. I didn't like him when he was at Auburn. I've always suspected there was something fishy with the transfer, with rumors that the school gave his family money to attend there (that have never been proven.) But many are using this as the “gotcha” moment. This is the proof that Cam is a bad guy. This is “proof” that he is a jerk, that he's a brat, and much worse. Maybe he is. I don't know his heart. I'm not going to justify his behavior. I'm not even going to counter-argue by saying all the great things he has done (although I could fairly easily, just research all he's done for the children of Charlotte, NC). What I do know is that my heart is always ready to pounce when the “prideful” fall.

“See, he's not that great.”

“See, he just showed his true colors.”

“See, that's how he always is.”

We relish in piling on someone who climbed the mountain only to be brought low, particularly someone who we perceive as rubbing our faces in it. But consider these verses a reminder:

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

“The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate.” (Proverbs 8:13)

It would be easy to apply this to Cam, but isn't it always the case that we like to apply it to everyone but ourselves? How often do I think with a prideful and arrogant heart? How often do I seek to go a way different from Christ? How often do I hate the evil that I often see inside me?

The apostle Paul was a great example of how the first evil he hated was within himself. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (I Timothy 1:15)

Paul, while a great man, knew of his great sin. He didn't look back and say, “I used to be bad, but now I'm good.” He said “I am the foremost!” He is transformed by the grace of Christ, which allows him to see with far better clarity. And because of that same grace, we can look at our own hearts before we point the finger at Cam. We can empathize and hold him to a professional standard at the same time. We can teach our children both the need to be professional and respectful as well as the fact that even our greatest heroes need grace. All except one. Our greatest hero was the one who both gives us grace, as well as the one who transforms us to extend it.

So don't play the “gotcha” game with Cam. Don't play it with anyone. Instead, remember that if you are in Christ, Jesus could have said “gotcha” to you, and instead chose to forgive and transform. May we all do likewise.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Just a Little More Rest...

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  (Matthew 11:28-30)

I'm learning very quickly that, with two young children, I can't adjust my "alarm clock" even if I choose to stay up later than I should.  Of course, that's been true most my life, but having no kids or even one is a bit more forgiving.  I could push the envelope of sleeping in, especially with a job where I'm on campus more in the evening and afternoon.  But as soon as my son JJ was born, Heather and I switched to "man defense" with our little ones.  

However, there is still this appealing prospect of staying up late to do whatever I want, believing that I'm not tired, that I don't need to go to bed, and I can have a little more "rest."  I want to be "rested."  One more episode of Arrow.  One more game of Madden.  One more price check on the cruise I really want to go on.  One more check of the budget.  One more... and suddenly its midnight, and I know that regardless of what I want to do with the snooze button, I have a human alarm named Shane that will only give me so much time.  

I have tried to will myself to go to bed on time.  I've asked my wife to help me go to bed on time.  And I've tried to remind myself of how rested I've felt when I actually got into bed on time, reading a little beforehand until I'm out like a rock, dreaming good things and waking up refreshed and excited to take on the day.  I know the benefits of doing the right thing.  Why do I think a Netflix binge or fantasizing about a vacation is going to be better?

It's because I want rest, and I don't believe Jesus' Word.  He says "Come to me... and I will give you rest."  He says "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."  But I don't believe Him.  

It's why, when He commands me to steward my body, I refuse and stay up late.

It's why, when He calls me to spend time with Him, I run away and run to entertainment instead.  

It's why, when He asks me to do the things He has asked me to do in my roles of husband, father, and campus staff, I'm hesitant to do them and that I desire to do other things instead.  

I don't believe that He gives rest.  And I don't believe He gives the BEST rest.  I don't believe sticking to my schedule and doing my priorities will be the most satisfying.  I don't believe that my family will be a delight.  And I'm fearful I won't get to do the things I want to do like play games, watch TV, etc.  I constantly swap out the God of rest for "gods" that promise rest but actually never deliver.  
When priorities are re-ordered, however, and when I repent and trust God as my source of rest, everything else delivers rest.  When there is time in the schedule to relax and enjoy a show, I don't feel the stress of everything around me, and I can truly rest.  When I get to be with my family and stop thinking about "all I'm missing out on," chasing after my two-year old becomes a far greater delight.  And I'll grieve the day when he stops asking me to "Run, Daddy!"  And when I get to spend time early in the morning with my Heavenly Father, it reminds me of all that He has done to win me back.  He reminds me of His deep love for me.  He reminds me of how Jesus crushed my sin and is gently restoring my soul.  

His burden is light because He is what delivers the most rest, even in the midst of the chaos of life.  God's plea isn't to force us to rest in Him, God's plea is that we GET to rest in Him if we have trusted Christ.  And praise be to Christ, that when we sin and choose to believe lies, He still welcomes us back, crawling back to Him in faith.