Drafted!

OK, I have to admit that I am a huge NFL fan. I watched the whole first round of the annual player selection meeting (or draft) on Thursday night to see who my Pittsburgh Steelers would select. I am not the only one fascinated by this annual ritual. It gets 2 nights of prime time TV on two stations (ESPN and NFL Network). We are fascinated by this choosing of the most gifted football players on earth. I started to think, though, about how the draft illustrates some important truths about our lives as Christians from I Corinthians 12.

We Are Gifted

Players who are drafted are all gifted athletes. My son kept asking me, “is that guy good?” I said (several times), “yes, if they get drafted they are  very good players.” Some will not become great NFL players for a variety of reasons, but they are all gifted.

As Christians we are all gifted, too:  “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” I Corinthians 12:7 (NLT). We cannot complain that we are not able to serve God and His body, the church. The Holy Spirit gifts all believers just for this purpose. There are no believers without a spiritual gift. These gifts are not for our glory, but for the express purpose of helping each other. However, we still must choose to use the Spirit’s gifts and not stay on the sidelines.

We Are Valued

In the draft there is so much talk about the value of a player. Player A is a “elite, first rounder.” Player B has “first round talent,” but character issues will knock him down a round or two. The last player selected is lovingly called Mr. Irrelevant. Then all the fans and pundits come out and grade the drafts based on their opinions of player value.

We would never do that in the church, right? We would never place different values on folks because of our view of their giftedness? The Corinthians did. They wanted the showier gifts, like tongues. In fact, the best translation (though not followed by most translators) of I Corinthians 12:31 is “But you are desiring the showier gifts. However, I show you a more excellent way.” (Then Paul launches into chapter 13 about love being that better way.) 12:31 isn’t a command to seek the greater gifts, but an indicative of what they are doing. They want the prestige of the more noticeable gifts.

Paul’s metaphor of the body dispels the notion of greater or lesser value. All gifts (thus, all believers) are needed or the body cannot function properly. It is our duty to use our gift, not complain that we don’t have some other gift. The Spirit includes all believers into the body (v 13), because He loves all of us equally. We have the highest value, given by God. Don’t let anyone put you down; you are His wonderful creation!

We Are Chosen

There is so much excitement and joy when players are chosen by an NFL team. Their families, coaches, and friends are hugging, congratulating everyone, and bouncing with visible joy. Think about how it must feel: one of the most elite teams in the world decided they want you to play for them. And they are going to pay you to do it.  It would be exciting! Why are we less enthusiastic about being chosen by the King of the Universe to serve on His team, for His kingdom? I Corinthians 12:18: “But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.” He gives us our unique talents and then chooses us for special tasks that only we can do (by His power). We are specially desired and selected. We are chosen — like #1 draft picks.

We Are Required to Serve

Once selected, a player cannot just choose another team. Each is required to show up and play for the team that chooses him (or sit out the season) as soon as the contract is worked out and signed. Christians are also required to serve. We have chosen a new master (or been chosen by one — both senses are true). We aren’t playing to win a Super Bowl, but something much greater. Paul explains in Ephesians 4 after listing some of the gifts that our purpose is:

“to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” Eph 4:12b-13 (HCSB)

 So, we can quit once everyone is as fully mature in faith as Christ. Until then, we have a job to do. Let’s rejoice that the King has gifted us, loved us, chosen us, and put us into the game! How are you using His gifts today?

(If you are interested in any of my sports writing, especially about the Pittsburgh Steelers, read here)

 

Psalms Project: Psalm 1 – Planted or Seated?

Today, I am beginning a project I have wanted to do for many years – a journey through the Psalms. I have started before, alone, but I am hoping that the accountability of a blog (and your comments, etc.) will encourage me to keep going. I plan to write about every Psalm (150 of them) in order.

The stirring Psalm 1 (go read it first!) is my favorite Psalm (at least for now) and is an appropriate beginning to this collection of Israel’s praise and worship. In just six verses, the writer (who is unknown) paints a vivid contrast between the wise and the wicked. And he (or she) provides the wisdom and motivation we need for finding daily nourishment.

It becomes a simple question of whether we choose to be seated or planted. The unwise person is seated. There is a progression here. The unwise person begins walking with the wicked, then stands around with the sinners, and finally settles into a seat with the scoffers. Now the unwise has become wicked like those around him. As a result, there is no blessing from God. He or she becomes dry, useless, and blown away like chaff. There will be no place to stand in the judgment. The wicked will perish. Why would anyone choose this curse? Sadly, too many do.

The writer promises, though, that we will be blessed if we do not choose that dried-up doom. Instead, the righteous one is like the tree planted by the river, always nourished and never wilting. That is the life of blessing I want! How does it happen? I let God plant me in His Word (here called “the law”). I must meditate on it day and night. Meditation in the Bible is not the mind-emptying silliness practiced by eastern religions. Instead, Christian meditation is the active reflection upon and digesting of God’s truth. Like the tree in the picture, I should be leaning toward the water and sending out a multitude of roots into its quenching flow. I can study the Word; I can ponder its impact in my life; I can practice its rules and wisdom; I can mull its truths; I can recite it, sing it, memorize, and pray it. God’s Word imparts life, if I soak it in. It becomes an inseparable part of who I am. Thus, I am blessed and can expect to grow.

How about you? Will you choose to be planted into God’s life-giving Word today? Or will you sit down and dry up with those who perish?

Celtic Christian artist Eden’s Bridge has a lovely rendition of this Psalm called “Blessed is the Man.” Listen as you soak in the beauty of this first Psalm.

OK, I am trying something new by referencing someone’s blog. But this is a great reminder of our inherent worth as God’s dwelling place (for those who are Christians). Read and reflect.

How Low Can You Go?

In what areas of your life do you have the most problems believing that God loves and values you? For me, I think it is when I teach or write. I crave the positive feedback that I did well, that what I did makes a difference. If I am not careful, I become too interested in the applause of people and not being in tune with God’s opinion.

 

How Low Can You Go?

Becoming a Dad More Like God

Me and Lincoln

I wanted to come back to Hebrews 13 to talk about dads. If God is a perfect heavenly Father, then His traits should guide my traits as a dad. Not all of His fatherly traits are here, but I think there are some good ones tucked in here. (In fact, Hebrews 12 is more direct about God’s fatherly discipline.)

A Dad Provides (for Needs)

“Your life should be free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said, I will never leave you or forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (HCSB)

Dads sometimes get a bad rap for only being providers for their families. Certainly they should be more than “just” providers, but don’t discount this God-given task. As Christians, we should be free from the love of money. Why? Because our heavenly Father will provide for our needs. He won’t leave or leave us lacking. In the same way, dad should be good provider for the needs of his family.  (And I am not saying that moms can’t also be providers; they just aren’t the topic today.) There is a warning here, though. Dads should not be so focused on providing for wants (eg., the love of money) that he cannot do anything else. To do that, I need to follow this Scripture by practicing contentment and trusting God to provide my needs. The truth is that He is a good Father and gives me so many good things beyond my needs.

A Dad Perseveres (No Matter What)

This is really my point from the other day, so I won’t belabor it. But a dad’s continuing presence leads to the next Godly trait.

A Dad Helps

Therefore, we may boldly say:  The Lord is my helper   Hebrews 13:6a (HCSB)

 This is where dads usually get beat up. They don’t help. Not with the kids, the house, or all the other stuff. Maybe we do deserve some criticism here when we put our selfish desires ahead of family (though I think there is often an unhealthy dose of unexpressed expectations from both sides). If God is a helper, then I can be one, too. Spiritual leadership doesn’t mean I just give out orders. I can choose to be a helper. Let me be a helper upon whom my family can boldly rely.

A Dad Protects

I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?   Hebrews 13:6b (HCSB)

When I provide, persevere, and help, then my family will not be afraid. They will trust me that I am protecting them as much as I can. God’s promise is even better – the ultimate protection of the Creator. However, this is not a protection FROM bad things, it is protection THROUGH them. Until sin is removed, there will be pain and hurt. But God walks through it with us. As a dad, I cannot protect my children from all pain. But I can help them walk through it without fear, first because I am with them, but most importantly because I have shown them that God is with them. I want to be a dad who protects!

When you think of God as Father, which of his traits  means the most to you? If you are a dad, which traits do you want God to build up in you today?

A Dad Who Will Never, Ever Leave

I am a pretty easy-going guy. But there are a few things that get my blood boiling. Probably the most personal is “dads” who leave. My daughter, Gwendolyn (8), has a mitochondrial disease. There are no cures, and it will probably end her life early. We know many other families who are facing the difficulties of these diseases. In too many cases, though, “dad” has left. Now it is just mom handling a child (or children) with special needs. Like Gwendolyn, most of these children need 24 x 7 care. That’s a tough job with two involved parents. Some “dads,” I guess, bail out because they can’t fix the problem so they just move on.  It is abandonment.  I won’t mince words – that is evil.

It is probably more personal to me because I didn’t have a dad that stayed either. My parents divorced when I was 7. I saw my dad each summer for a few weeks, but that was it. (We have built a better relationship as adults.) My mom remarried, and my stepdad did stay for awhile. He was an angry man, though, and the relationship was never strong. After I was gone, my mom divorced him. Anger was not his only problem, though I don’t know all the details. The strongest male figure in my life was my grandpa. I am so thankful for the investment he made in my life as a young boy and teen. However, I do sense that “something is missing” because dad was not around.

The Scriptures reveal to us a greater dad – our Father in heaven.  Listen to the promise quoted in Hebrews 13:5:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (NIV – emphasis mine)

 Those “nevers” are even more emphatic in the original Greek language, with multiple negatives stacked together. It could be paraphrased as “I will never, no, not ever, no never abandon you.” There is no doubting the intent of this promise. God is a Father who says He will never leave, no matter what.

Can we trust Him that it is true? My experience says, “yes!” When I walked away from God, he did not leave. When I have disobeyed him directly, He did not abandon me. When I shouted “WHY!?” He patiently listened. When I need Him most, I find Him. He has been true to His promise even though I have never deserved it. You can trust Him too!

How have you found God faithful to this promise to never leave? In my next post, I will talk about the results of this ever-present fatherhood.

Thomas Kinkade and the Gospel

I love Thomas Kinkade’s art. It is beautiful and usually proclaims a message of Christian hope and light. Apparently the art critic snobs did not agree with me. Kinkade died last Friday, and the art world is still bashing him. Kinkade didn’t care what the experts said, though. He just kept painting and selling. And he made millions because the public loved his light-filled work and message.

Why did the critics sneer? They called it kitschy, unoriginal, and pandering to the unwashed public. They didn’t like his idyllic subject matter, the deliberate Biblical message, or his technique. It just wasn’t sophisticated enough or avant-garde enough for their taste. Give them a blasphemous or inexplicable piece any day.

I am not here to debate Kinkade’s art. But the fuss reminds me of the gospel. The gospel is simple. Paul distills it to this: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” I Corinthians 15:1-4 (NASB) Jesus, the long-awaited Messiah (or Christ), died for our sins and rose again.

That’s it. Simple enough for a child to understand, yet despised by the sophisticated. It is too crude, too simple, too easy for them. It panders to the masses of non-elites. The Pharisees couldn’t stand it then. They got Jesus killed and then stoned Stephen for preaching a resurrected Jesus. And the snobbery continues today. Just look at the elite academics’ attacks on the Bible for one example.

Go ahead, call me simplistic, foolish, and unoriginal. I will still declare that God loves you and Jesus died for you. It is the absolute truth. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. ” I Corinthians 1:18 (NASB)

The Power of the Cross

Atheists make me laugh sometimes. Did you know that they are organizing efforts to remove roadside memorials? You know, the on-site memorials that people create when a loved one has died in a car accident. Apparently, they are a menace to society. Who knew how dangerous they were? While the atheists claim it is about safety and convenience, they are most perturbed by the religious nature of the displays. If a cross appears on a public right of way, someone might think the government is sponsoring religion. Yeah, the reasoning makes me laugh.

However, I think they are actually pointing out something that we Christians often forget. There is power behind the symbols of our faith. Why did early Christians choose the cross as its most frequent symbol? Why not the empty tomb, the manger, loaves of bread, a servant’s basin, or a shepherd’s staff? Why choose the crude instrument of execution? It would be like us choosing to wear little electric chairs or a guillotine or a noose. Why the cross? It is because the cross is the ultimate demonstration of both God’s holiness and His love.

First – God’s holiness. It is the only characteristic of God that is compounded three times with the recognition “holy, holy, holy” (see Isaiah 6). It is His essential nature, and we know nothing of God until we glimpse His holiness. But when we glimpse it, we instantly feel our own wretchedness. We cannot stand in the presence of one so holy. Isaiah said, “woe is me, for I am ruined.” God does not allow sin into His presence, yet we choose to embrace it every day. Yikes!

God’s settled opposition to sin is His wrath. It isn’t explosive and irrational like man’s anger. He will not abide evil because He is good and holy. Most people agree that we are sinful, but they won’t agree that it is as serious as God says it is. We blow it off as “mistakes,” or not as bad as someone else. But God will not just overlook sin. We are really no different than those who crucified Jesus:

Like Judas, we choose personal gain over faithfulness and loyalty

Like Pilate, we reject truth and try to shift the blame

Like the Pharisees, we resent Jesus’ claim of authority over our lives

Like the Roman soldiers, we are just carrying out orders

Like the disciples, we abandon Him when it seems dangerous or unpopular to follow

Like the crowds, we will shout, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” but pardon the guilty

But as He is crucified, Jesus shouts, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” It is a cry of love from the One we would kill. The cross is God’s ultimate demonstration of love. Romans 5:8-9 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”  But instead of marveling at this love, we are still mad about His holiness.

Because of His love for us, Jesus became one of us, took on all God’s wrath, and died for us. His death was not the death of a martyr or a good man unjustly accused. It was the death of God for His creation. It was the death of the Lamb of God for the sins of the world. It was the ultimate demonstration of God’s sacrificial love.

Can we really be that loved and not respond? If God never did anything else, He has shown His great love in the cross. He wants us to be with Him forever, and He paid the ultimate price for it to be possible. Stand at the foot of that cross; consider his consuming holiness and his stunning love. It cannot leave us unchanged. I never want to forget or walk away unchanged when I look at the cross. How about you?

Why is Good Friday Good?

On the surface, it seems strange to celebrate the death of Jesus. But that is not the end of the story. This poem is about the seeming paradox of Good Friday:

We Call it Good?

Questioning, it is the Friday my Lord dies
and we call it “good?”

Conspiring, the religious leaders pay for His betrayal
and we call it “good?”

Betraying with a kiss, one of His own accepts their offer
and we call it “good?”

Scattering fearfully, the rest of his followers desert Him
and we call it “good?”

Dragging Him from trial to trial, the religious leaders break their own laws
and we call it “good?”

Accusing, false witnesses speak against Him
and we call it “good?”

Accepting, He stands silent
and we call it “good?”

Asking, the crowd chooses a murderer to be freed in His place
and we call it “good?”

Washing his hands of it, the governor sentences the Healer to death
and we call it “good?”

Mocking, spitting, and scourging, the soldiers delight to abuse
and we call it “good?”

Struggling, He carries the plank of His execution until exhausted
and we call it “good?”

Numbering Him among the worst of criminals, He is taken outside the city
and we call it “good?”

Nailing Him to a cross, the soldiers hoist Him high
and we call it “good?”

Scoffing, “Come down, and we will believe!” shouts the crowd
and we call it “good?”

Agonizing on the cross, He is thirsty, torn, and bleeding
and we call it “good?”

Crying out, He is forsaken by God
and we call it “good?”

Breathing His last is the One who breathed life
and we call it “good?”

Darkening, the sky turns black at noon
and we call it “good?”

Loving, He was mocked, forsaken and executed – just for me
and for you
and for all

Forgiving those who executed Him
Taking the wrath which I am rightly due
Declaring, “it is finished!”
Dying willingly as a man, yet He is God
Rising so that I might have life

Living for Him is my choice now.
And yours.
Answering, it is Good Friday!

Jesus loved Judas?!

I love the account of the Last Supper in John’s gospel (John 13-17). I listened to it on CD on my way to work this morning. On his last night with the disciples, Jesus had so much to impart to them. But He started with actions that teach me something about love. He took on the servant’s role and washed his disciple’s feet, but it was more than that. Look at how John recorded it:

Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart from this world to the Father. Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. Now by the time of supper, the Devil had already put it into the heart of Judas, Simon Iscariot’s son, to betray Him.  Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God.  So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him. John 13:1-5 HCSB

 Jesus knew what Judas was about to do, that he would betray Him to be killed. And yet, he still washed Judas’ feet! (Judas doesn’t depart until v29.) Jesus vividly demonstrated His command to love your enemies (Luke 6:35) by loving the disciple who would betray Him with a kiss(!) just a few hours later. That is some kind of serving love!

I don’t show love like that, even with people I just dislike a little. But I think the key to learning to love like that is right there in the text: “Jesus knew…” He was fully aware of His purpose and destiny and destination (“back to God”). If I was as convinced of my purpose and destination as He was, maybe I would love more like Jesus. Trusting God with the outcome frees me to love despite any obstacles.

There is another interesting point about love here, too. Jesus’ love for Judas did not condone or even pass over Judas’ evil intent. Jesus said not all of the disciples were clean (v9, 10). Mark recorded that Jesus said it would have been better if the betrayer had not been born (Mark 14:21). Clearly, Judas chose evil and suffered the consequences. So, love does not excuse or ignore evil. In the same way, I cannot overlook evil in the name of “love.” I would really be choosing comfort, not love. There is a danger here, though, of forgetting love when calling out evil. What an interesting life that faith inspires…

As your consider the last night of Jesus’ life before the crucifixion, what stands out for you?

I Hate Easter

I hate Easter. When I walk into the Easter section of a store like Target or Walmart, I see plastic eggs, candy and sugared marshmallows, stuffed bunnies, and pastel “spring” items. There are no crosses, no empty tombs, and nothing about the resurrection. Then there are the egg hunts, except when parents are so aggressive fighting for fake eggs and cheap candy that the whole thing has to be canceled. What are we doing? We have lost the whole meaning of Easter.

Easter also brings out the annual attacks on Jesus, Christians, and the church. This year it is Andrew Sullivan’s cover story in Newsweek, “Christianity in Crisis“. He would argue that he defends the “historical” Jesus, but he can’t attack His bride (the church) without attacking Him. However, the original Easter was an attack on Jesus, too, so maybe this is “appropriate.”

Easter, or as I prefer, Resurrection Day, is about Jesus (God in the flesh) rising from the dead. It is a remembrance of the central truth of Christianity. If there is no resurrection, Christianity is worse than a farce. Paul summed it up in I Corinthians 15:16-19:

” For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” NASB

The resurrection is literally true. The whole New Testament testifies to this central fact. If it could be proven false, there would be no Christianity. Skeptics like Frank Morison and Lee Strobel set out to disprove it, but ended up as believers. The evidence really is overwhelming.

So, yes, I hate the plastic substitutes we call “Easter,” but I love the Jesus who died for me and rose from the dead.

In our family, we try to keep to the true meaning of the Easter season. In our nightly devotions we read through Mark’s account of Jesus’ last week before the crucifixion. We put a cross in our yard for the week leading up to Easter. On Good Friday, we drape it with black cloth and read about the crucifixion with our children. Then, early on Easter morning, we take off the black and drape it with glorious white as we read about the resurrection.  What does your family do to emphasize the true meaning of Resurrection Sunday?