While 36 million people spent this past weekend ogling at Hollywood royalty sauntering down the red carpet outside the entrance to the Dolby Theater for the 87th Annual Academy Awards, just over 500,000 were instead glued to NFL Network’s coverage of the 2015 NFL Combine. Referred to by its critics as the ‘Underwear Olympics’ (participants are put through a series of drills and tests sporting spandex shorts and form fitting sleeveless shirts), 335 college-age young men converged on Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis hoping to maintain or advance their draft stock.
Byron Jones, a University of Connecticut defensive back, blew scouts sway by not only shattering the combine record but decimating a forty-seven-year-old world record in the broad jump. His impressive 12’3” bound that broke the previous mark by a whopping eight inches found this ‘Underwear Olympian’ suddenly thrust into consideration for the actual Olympic team. Not long after, he proceeded to follow up his astonishing jump with a vertical leap of 44 ½”, just shy of yet another combine record.
As social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook caught fire and ESPN marveled at Jones’s accomplishment, most of the stories continually referenced how before the combine Jones had been relatively unknown to folks outside of the UConn faithful. Jones, who has been rehabbing a shoulder injury for some time now, hadn’t once been projected beyond a sixth or seventh round pick on most experts’ draft boards. Byron Jones was simply a raw athlete from a school whose track record for producing NFL caliber talent would be considered as less than historic.
Then, the reality sets in and the awe begins to fade away. On one websites who’d originally broken the story, they provided a list of the “Top 10 Broad Jumps in Combine History”. Of those ten athletes, only one has ever been named to a Pro Bowl or harnessed All-Pro recognition. 3 out of 10 had careers that spanned five years or more. How could this be? Well, the fact is that dominance in one specific area doesn’t necessarily equate to successful production on the field. An athlete might jump far or jump high but do they possess the necessary skill set and knowledge to become a top all-around player?
As Christians, we could be evaluated the same way. Just because someone is the most knowledgeable when it comes to Bible Trivia, sings with the most animated expressions during praise and worship sets, tithes 15% rather than the recommended 10%, or has a flawless attendance record for Sunday morning services doesn’t mean they’re thriving in their faith walk. Christ may not have called us to be perfect Christians, but he has called us to be complete Christians. Often times the things that we can most easily measure with a quantitative value become the aspects that matter the least in gauging our value.
1 Timothy 4:8 [NLT]
8 “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
Men, being focused on becoming the master of that one aspect of your life while the rest of it unravels won’t increase your stock. Crowds might “ooh” and “ahh” at how impressive that aspect looks on the surface but once they discover what’s deep inside they’ll quickly see how little we have it all together. How well you execute a religious ritual or task doesn’t amount to you being any better Christian with another. Your worth will instead be evaluated by what’s in your heart, the fellowship you keep, and the relationship you have with God the Father.
Set a Fire Down in Your Soul,
“The essence of theology is grace; the essence of Christian ethics is gratitude.”
It is often said that nothing in life is free, and for the most part that is true, with exception of the Gospel. Through Christ, we have been granted unmerited favor. That is in spite of our sin, in spite of all the error in our being, through our faith in Christ and his redemptive work on the cross to cover our sins; God freely chooses to grant us favor by looking through the interceding lens of Christ. I started out by saying that for the most part nothing in life is free. I want to follow up on that statement in two parts. First, nothing in this life that matters is free, but also that if it were up to us most of us, in our own human nature we would admit to seek some sort of advantageous gain for anything that we give requiring an effort from the party that was indebted to us. The Apostle Paul expounds on this idea of Gods unmerited favor in a section of scripture in Romans 4.
4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: 7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” Romans 4:4-8
What Paul is saying is that if it were up to our works, we would earn our grace as some sort of payout from God for the things that we have done. God being the one to dole out His grace would then do so out of pure obligation, and, therefore, it would no longer be considered grace. However, because God shows us this type of “unmerited” favor it goes without saying that He is under no obligation to do so at all, but he does so solely out of his love to redeem us. What this should do is inspire us to look upon our own sins and shortcomings that much more and should move us to Love God ever increasingly. That, men, is the measure of movement in discipleship. The idea of growing in need of surrender of “the sinners heart” to be made clean. In the end of this process of our sin and Gods grace it then becomes a mutual submission of love in our surrender to his showering of grace.
One of my favorite stories is the story behind the song “Why Me Lord” by singer Kris Kristofferson
He tells the story of how he was taken to church one Sunday, admitting that he does not go very often, and it is there that he received God’s unmerited favor which he categorized as ” a profound religious experience”. He stated that during a time of prayer an offer was made to raise their hand and come forward to seek out the lost. As Kris says “That would never happen” and was “out of the question” but as almost uncontrollably the irresistible grace of God found Kris, and before long he was up front accepting Christ. In the moment, Kris says that he can’t really remember what he was saying but said that whatever it was “such a release for me, I found myself weeping in public, and I felt this forgiveness that I didn’t know I really needed.”
It is the focus on this grace that touches me everyday I think about it. It does make me love God all the more because I find myself asking the question of the inspired song by Kris Kristofferson, “why me Lord?” and I am thankful that he chooses to overlook my failures just one more time. Take some time this week to consider that question “why me Lord?” and then listen to the message of grace that resounds in your heart. I can never boast about this wonderful gift, all I can do is kneel before the throne and from a poor man’s perfection thank my God for how good he really is.
Strength & Courage
I ran into a retired friend the other day in the bread aisle of the grocery store, and he made the comment that there were ‘way too many choices’ for bread. He suggested there should just be white and wheat, and that would make it much simpler. While buying bread may not be a major stress factor in your life, we all have things we struggle with. Even just keeping up with the basics of working, driving, family time, eating, and sleeping can seem to take up more than a day. Where is the balance between consumer choice and sensory overload? Our desire for more is something that we often don’t really notice in our lives; it is just part of our culture, and it becomes part of us. Having a variety of choices when it comes to food, clothing, vehicles, homes, etc, is not necessarily bad in itself, but it can develop some negative things in us and our culture as well. Where is God asking you to do more, and where is he asking you to do less?
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. I Timothy 6:6-9
This past week, I had a brief conversation with someone who lives in small town, Southern Iowa and said they were bored with living here. I asked where they would rather live, and they mentioned a big city in the west. While I did not encourage them to leave, I did counter and say that there are things to do in a town of thousands if you make an effort. I also stated that I have not been bored since I was in Middle School, as there are always more things I would like to do (read, run, visit, explore, watch, share, sleep) than there is time to do it. Even though we are surrounded with countless forms of on-demand entertainment, communication, activities and other distractions, could it be that these things still don’t fill a deeper need that many are lacking? Even though we can be connected to people and the internet 24/7, can we still feel lonely or disconnected?
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13
Even in the secular world, there has been a pushback against consumerism toward minimalism or simplicity. Should we sell all our things and stop buying altogether? That would be a radical step for some. Our natural tendency is to seek more than we need at the buffet or when we can afford a few extra rooms in our house. There is even a Tiny House movement which is a radical pushback against the ‘more is better’ mentality of our living space.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33
I would be a hypocrite if I said I was getting it right all the time. I just know when things are out of balance and when God prompts me to move in a different direction. I sense that fairly regularly and usually take baby steps to downsize, declutter, and get rid of things in my life that distract me from what I should be doing. It is an ongoing conversation I have with God, my wife, and others in my life. I am not sure I will ever find a perfect balance, but I always hope to be moving in the right direction. At what point do we say ‘enough’, or is there always going to be something bigger, better, or faster that we are chasing after? Is our appetite for more ever satisfied?
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.” Hebrews 13:5
So, as you evaluate the limitless choices you make each day, just take a second to consider what prompts you to decide. Some simple questions that may be helpful could be ‘what do I need?’ and ‘why do I want this?’ If we can discern whether the choices we make are purely selfish or if they will benefit others as much or more than ourselves, then we may be in tune to what we are doing. Before you take all your extra stuff to the second hand store, ask for God’s guidance in how to keep from filling up space and time in your life with what is meaningless to replace it with what is meaningful.
Strength and Courage in Christ,
In Church world, often times purity is written down as a teenage issue. I believe it is way bigger than that. It is more than sex. It is more than relationships. It has to do with sin. What is a sin? Sin is not doing what God said to do; in other words, sin is disobedience. Purity is life without mixture, life without mixture of sin. Am I saying that we won’t sin? No. I am saying purity is something we cannot live on our own strength.
3 Reasons purity doesn’t work
1. Seeing a point rather than a process
Psalms 66:10 You have tested us, O God you have purified us like silver.
Silver is purified through a process of intense heat to expose impurity. Then you cool it and repeat until a desired level of purity is accomplished. It is the same way in us! Purity is an invitation to a process in a journey to look more like Jesus and less like the world. You never arrive, you just are led to new levels of freedom as you follow Jesus. So are you on the journey?
2. Living in Extremes, rather than balance
Extreme Mercy sounds like this… “God forgives, and he will forgive me again” “God made me this way” “Jesus loves me just the way I am” The problem with that is Jesus!
Jesus loves you the way that you are, so He can make you into the person He wants you to become. In this process of purity, you find we participate with grace, knowing we have received mercy.
Extreme Works sounds like this… “I can do this on my own” “I can fix this” “I can stop whenever I want”
Philippians 2:12 “Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.”
Purity is not trying hard enough, Just Jesus. My prayer is that you don’t work on your purity, Just Jesus. Stop trying to make yourself holy. Stop trying to overcome sin, you are no match. You will only walk in freedom as you surrender to the Holy Spirit and not your flesh.
3. Seeing defeat rather than disobedience
When you compromise as a believer, you did not get defeated. No weapon formed against you can prosper. You cannot be defeated, however you can be disobedient. Not accepting personal responsibility for sin leads to more sin. Simple acts of obedience require relying on the power of the Holy Spirit, which raised Jesus from the dead and lives in you. You can be free when you join the journey, live in balance, and take personal responsibility for you choices.
Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
If you want purity to work in your life, remember, Jesus loves you the way that you are, so He can make you into the person He wants you to become. Lean into Jesus, follow his leading, live in balance, and accept responsibility.
Recklessly, obsessively following Jesus
Three years ago I was caught in the complexity of my own web of lies. For years I had sported the “perfect Christian” image for the viewing of the world while failing miserably beneath the cover. I thought I was expected to be perfect. So, I hid every mistake and buried every sin until I couldn’t remember where I had put them all.
The fallout from the discovery scarred my heart permanently; I can still feel the ghostly pain from that period of my life. It was because of the unauthentic lifestyle that I venomously lived in for so long that I vowed to live transparently inside-out. My deepest secrets, my former irreligious habits, my every shortcoming as a man was to be put into conversations with every-day people, weaved into my writing, and unraveled on stage in my speaking.
It’s been a scary journey.
The first handful of times I shared my dark truths I splattered words in a thick mess and my heart raced violently. I feared what others would think of me. I wailed into my father’s shoulder after I told my parents, I hung my head in shame when I explained it to friends, and I shuddered with guilt among ministry peers. As time went on, I improved how I unrolled my messiness, the anxiousness subsided, even beauty started to fall on the ugliness of the past.
I thought life was about looking good to the public eye and finding value in accomplishments, but the more I acknowledged and told my flawed-story, I found deep heartstrings that promoted a better way to live. It was there, among the mess of life, that people connected best–because we’re all broken and worn, and in those moments we have been battle tested and emotions depressed. It’s there, our common landing spot at the bottom of some pit, that we are the realest, we are stripped to the core truths of our being, and we find hope in others who have been there, too.
Transparency is scary for others who hear it and attempt it. I can now tell my flaws to anyone and have peace reside in my depths. But some who hear my openness stare in dazed confusion. They don’t know why I would be willing to tell them my “secrets”–all they can return is a baffled thank you.
It’s interesting as well to ask others for their story and observe how unready they are to open the depths of their soul. Vulnerability is a craft, it takes time and tenderness to even muster and takes peace with the past to master.
Being real with the secrets of our life is scary because we don’t want to be judged or ruin someone’s expectations of us or we haven’t taken the time to process what we’ve been through. It’s scary because the world places value in cover-ups and facades and worthlessness in the dirty, messy edges of our heart. It’s scary because we can’t fathom the bad possessing any hint of good.
There’s more value in living if you are who you are and not who you think the world wants you to be. There’s more life in being vulnerable than living a made-up story void of conflict.
What would it look like if we all lived with transparency, if people weren’t a riddle to figure out but an enlightening book to read? What if we offered the messy origins of ourselves rather than the pristine version? I think we’d find more life and more peace–more ability to work through the ugly, more strength to press on, more understanding of the people that surround us. I think we’d find life is better because our journey would be messy together.