Cade, Goliath, and a Giant Penguin

I have two boys who love the bible stories. I have one who really loves one bible story more than any others. My almost three year old Cade can’t get enough of David vs Goliath. Most of the time, it’s the only one he wants to hear. He rehashes the story over and over. Of course, he pretends to be David (I guess that’s better on a number of levels than pretending to be Goliath). And I can see why. He’s a little guy for his age, and he, like all of us, wants to be the winner of the story. 

Last night Cade set up a giant stuffed animal penguin (though not quite as big as the penguin in Billy Madison), and pretended it was Goliath. He of course struck him down down dead. Thankfully he didn’t decapitate it, because that could have been costly as well as messy.

Cade’s impersonation is cute. Once again, he’s a little guy.

But when he gets older, would it be good to let him continue to think of himself as David? 

I don’t think so, and its not just because I’m an anal pastor type concerned primarily with theological precision. The reality is that most people exegete the passage the same way my three year old does. Most people find themselves to be David in this cosmic good/underdog vs evil/overdog saga of life. And its natural that we see ourselves as such. 

But let’s consider what’s really going on.

In Cade’s Toddler Bible he has begun to notice certain people. Who are those guys Daddy?

Those are the God’s people, scared to death.

No one can face this giant.

That picture tells much of the story. God’s army is on one side, the Phillistines are on the other side. One representative is needed. The Jesus Storybook Bible (the dialog of which Cade has basically memorized and recites when playing with his toys-its really pretty cute if I can say that) depicts Goliath looking to fight a representative of the people. If that representative will fight and beat him, the Phillistines will become subject to slavery. If that representative loses, the opposite will become true. 

The point of the story is not that you or I can rise up and be that brave person and beat our own personal demons, Goliath’s, or El Guapo’s in our lives for that matter. The point is that God HAD to send a representative, who would become King, who would do battle for us. If we are on this brave King’s side, then we are on the right side. That was the message to those who first read the story. Get on David’s side (Davidic line of kings). But of course, the story doesn’t end there. 

Jesus, the brave King, also born in Bethlehem, said “I will fight” for God’s people in order to deliver them. I will be their representative. I will not let this cup pass from me.

Our representative had his shot and blew it in the Garden (Romans 5). Yet Jesus does exactly what David did, but this time on a cosmic scale.


If we would begin to find ourselves as the army which was too scared and faithless to fight, we would begin to see Jesus more clearly in our lives. He is the one who fought for us while we were not only scared and faithless, but while we were yet enemies (Romans 5:8). Instead of trying to muster up the courage we may never have, it’s much more freeing to see how Jesus points us to David. And if that is so, we don’t stand up and lead a bunch of other people who simply can’t get their stuff together. We humbly get in line behind a conquering Savior and point people to Him. There’s plenty of adventure in following Jesus (a la Steven Curtis Chapman) because we can’t see the end of the story except through faith.
If Cade wants to dress up like David for Halloween, I’m OK with that. After all, my five year old already has some sense that David did “big sins” and Jesus is the real hero of the story. So it may not be too long….

But in the end, let’s not forget those scared Israelites waiting for someone to “step up” and deliver them. That’s us. Not a very glamorous start but the end sure is. 

Here’s a video of Cade Vs the Goliath Penguin

Advertisements

Shark Week 2013 Gospel Reflections

Every year towards the end of summer, I have one thing on my mind: Shark Week. Well, that’s not totally true, particularly now that we’re starting this church plant (somewhat thought consuming!), but you probably get the point. For many Shark Week marks not simply the close of summer, but also perhaps its zenith.

And for those who do actually anticipate the new week, they can almost always be confronted with the disappointment of re-runs and less than spectacular material. While this year kicked off with a mock-u-mentary (that wasn’t even subtlely revealed to be fake until the end of it) on the pre-historic Megalodon, it seems to have let me down far less than other recent Shark Week’s.

I love to hear the stories of shark attack survivors. Those are always my favorites. I’m not there to see the un-cut material, but I really do think Discovery does a good job with letting people mention God or Jesus. There is almost always a snippet of a survivor giving praise to God the Father or the Son (still waiting for a Holy Spirit “shout out” but that may come…). In a previous season, one story actually ended with Romans 8:28 being quoted after the wife had been killed by a Tiger Shark. This year was no different.

One South African lad of only 15 years experienced the wrath of two Great White Sharks attacking him and his surfboard. Here is Animal Planet’s version. Unfortunately everyone abandoned the scene, so he was left to fend for himself. In his words, “Jesus, I need some help here…..” Suddenly a big wave came and carried the lad in.

Jesus’ “saving wave” was actually quite formative, for several years later, someone else surfing near him was attacked. Knowing what it was like to be left alone (and knowing what it was like to have been saved by a “third party”), he paddled over to rescue the other lad instead of swimming the other way.

What a great picture of how the gospel frees us from bitterness. That’s a natural reaction when folks let us down, or for this lad, when people leave you in the water to die at the teeth of two not so friendly White Sharks. We become especially bitter when people scatter at pivotal times in life. Instead of only giving us a new life freed from bitterness, the gospel grants us a new mission, and a new motivation to move forward in that mission. No longer bound by what people did/didn’t do for us (if they abandoned us) nor what people may do for us (praise or curse), we have a much fresher and lasting motivation. Freed from bitterness, and set free to serve.

Our bitter experiences can be redeemed and open the door for mission if we remember the truth of the gospel message:

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. II Tim 4:16-18

The freeing affect of a father’s non-frown

I have two boys right now. One five, and one almost three. Even though my five year old has been around a few years longer, my two year old has broken far more things in his shorter life. Lamps, glasses, dishes, radio attenanae on mini-van, and missing Roku controller-I can’t prove he discarded it somewhere but I’m pretty sure he did.

The other day while working in my first office (Atlanta Bread Co is office number 2), I heard a loud crash. Cade knocked over the lamp, again, but this time it landed on tile instead of carpet. That ended its 5 year period of providing light. 

But I didn’t get all that frustrated to come down and see the cracked lamp. Better it land on the tile than his little frame. And I don’t get too attached to lamps. 

I don’t know how much money Cade has cost me in broken items over the years, but I would guess it doesn’t add up to all that much. Whenever I become frustrated when one of my kids break things, I remember back to all of my father’s stuff I’ve broken over the years.

For some reason, in middle school, I worked on my baseball swing in the garage and dented the Porsche. In high school, I crashed a boat into our dock one afternoon because I had neglected to take the weeds out of the jet in the jet boat on the previous trip. After college, I left the boat lift on, went inside, and came back outside after I realized my mistake. Too late. The beautiful ski boat’s windshield was completely shattered against the roof.

I’ll never forget my father’s face. Instead of anger at what was one of the most expensive, avoidable, and stupid mistakes I’ve made, he said, “Hmmmm…….well……” Or something like that. I screwed up big time and my father’s face, instead of being filled with anger, was instead filled with compassion. He moved toward me, not away. He knew that I knew I had screwed up, and how bad and embarrassed I felt.

I’ve broken way more than my son will ever be able to break. So how angry should I get when he breaks things? Even more so, when I remember my father’s reaction, not angry at me for destroying his otherwise flawless boat, how can I become angry at my son? Believing in grace makes you a better parent. I need to believe more. Much more. 

If my dad had become vehemently angry with me, I would then be scared to mess up in the future. I would follow the best I could out of fear. That wouldn’t be the last thing I would break. I flew a remote controlled helicopter into a ceiling fan a few years ago. While I didn’t want to break it, fear wasn’t my motivator. I thought I would break it, and I even told him I would probably break it, and yet I wasn’t afraid to break it. And I did. But I desired not to break it out of love, not fear. You see, that’s one mark of a son.

Fear of failure may work for a job, but it doesn’t motivate sanctification. Jean Larroux, one of my favorite preachers, posed a question in a sermon, “Describe God’s face toward you now? A smile? OK, well what does His face look like after you sin? A frown?” 

Does God look down upon you with a a Jon Gruden-like scowl when you sin, but then smiles over you when you do something good? 

I don’t believe we lose that smile when we screw up. And I don’t believe we can put that smile back on His face when we don’t screw up. We’re just not that good, and our faith isn’t all that much better. 

If our Heavenly Father’s face doesn’t turn to a dark scowl when we screw up, doesn’t that motivate you to follow after Him with all of your heart? I didn’t cost Him a boat, but a Son. That’s steep. 

My dad could afford to pay for another boat. My Father already paid for all the “boats” I could break. Doesn’t this make me care about sin more than those who don’t know about grace? Doesn’t this make me want to honor a God like this in all that I do? If not, then we’re probably not really “getting” it.

I’m reminded of the old Hymn: “What Wondrous Love is This?”

When I sinking down, beneath God’s righteous frown, 
Christ laid aside his crown, for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul

The righteous frown for the Christian is over. We follow Him now in freedom, not in fear.

Method to his Maddonness

My previous post considered the danger of having a “sales-report” type mentality when it comes to your relationship with God. Now I want to consider another fairly unique management style.

If know anything about the Tampa Bay Rays, you’ll know that they have to be one of the loosest teams in baseball. When they travel, they have themes: they all dress in some sort of themed attire. All of this flows from laid back manager Joe Maddon. After one of their losses against a struggling Toronto Blue Jays team, when the Rays almost came from behind to win, Maddon irritated a local sports talk by posing the question, “Aren’t you just so proud of our guys today?” They lost. “Aren’t you proud?” Really?

Yes, that is Joe Maddon, often known for his calm demeanor as “Merlow Joe.”

Joe’s relaxed ways haven’t been without results. In fact, after mired in myriad losing seasons, Joe’s Rays teams have been to the world series once and playoffs two other times, just missing out last year by a game or two. 

But of course, it is the players who ultimately have to perform. And when they get to Tampa Bay (or rather St. Pete to be precise), perform they do. In fact, player after player comes to Tampa after previously under-preforming with other teams-which is actually why the Rays can afford them. And then something clicks.

Previous let-downs become All Stars. Fernando Rodney, who bounced around with several teams, had the best season ever for a closer last year. This has happened with relief pitchers on a yearly basis, but the same rings true for position players like James Loney. This 1st baseman should have been an all star and is now batting .318 after only posting a .230 mark last year. This happens over and over. It is not coincidence.

There is something to Maddon’s madness.

He told Loney, “Don’t worry about hitting home runs.” In other words, relax and just hit it where you hit it. Just be yourself out there. So Loney hits it wherever the pitch dictates.

This year Fernando Rodney started off very poorly. He gave up runs. He blew saves. He blew opportunities when he was up by several several runs, several different times. I was done with him. Maddon wasn’t, and much to many fan’s frustration.

Luke Scott, who under-performed last year as well, was again under-performing this year. I was done with him. Maddon wasn’t, much to the dismay of many media. 

Now the two are playing fantastic and making a huge difference. They actually are performing. 

But they had the freedom to fail. They had the freedom to not be obsessed with how they were performing. They weren’t afraid to get benched, sent down to the minors, or released. And it has made a huge difference. It does every year. 

Maddon shows patience with struggling players, and it shows. They blow it sometimes. But they don’t fear losing their position on the team.

It drives me nuts sometimes as a fan, but Maddon gets more out of these players than anyone else does. In fact, when they go elsewhere to make more money, they usually once again, under-perform.

Now I’m not going to argue that God is laid back and loose with sin. He is Holy, Holy, Holy. But because He has paid the punishment of sin HIMSELF,  we can now approach him and no longer fear about “under-performing” for Him. When that fear is taken away, what happens? We do end up “performing.” We do end up changing, loving, pursuing holiness. What happens when God is patient with us? We love him more and don’t use our freedom for selfish gain but instead to serve others (Gal 5:13). His kindness moves us to repentance (Romans 2:4). If it doesn’t, then you probably don’t understand His kindness.

Don’t think these Rays players don’t want to perform. But Joe knows in order for that to happen, they have to know that even if they don’t, they’re not going anywhere. 

I think such is the case with our sanctification. As Steve Brown put it once, “The only ones who really get any ‘better’ are the ones who know if they never do, God will love them just as much.”

And that is why we are here……

After having been slightly let down by the first few episodes of Arrested Development, Amy and I were in the “market” for a new show. Since we’ve always been interested in midwifery, particularly during the 1950’s in England, we thought Call the Midwife would be a perfect fit. Obviously I joke, but I was in fact the one who questioned why there were no male duolas (I called them dude-las) in the field while going through our first birthing classes. Strangely enough the question wasn’t taken too seriously. 

We’re only one episode into the series, but I was impressed from the start. It depicted a privileged and unsuspecting midwife graduate taking her first job in a rough section of England. And to her surprise, and dismay, she gets saddled with a bunch of nuns. Nothing against nuns, of course. The main character is blown away by the rough conditions in the apartments, particularly after one of her patients has a huge syphyllus sore that she just “hadn’t gotten around” to checking out. 

She opens up to one of the “veteran” nuns, “I can’t believe people live like this.”

The nun immediately responds, “But they do live like this. And that is why we are here.”

What a beautiful scene! What is a local church to do with the sin, shame, and at times syphyllus in its surroundings? Should we be surprised? Should we bring more shame upon shame by distant judgments and telling people to simply change? Should we vacate the area and head for “higher” ground? 

Since we are all sinners, we certainly have common ground with non-Christians. Lots of it. I sure do. And my theology reminds me that I shouldn’t be surprised at any condition people live in; should I expect people who have not tasted the gospel to live as though they have tasted grace (regularly repenting from sin/self righteousness and resting in Christ’s performance for and approval of me)?

Now “living like this” may look like gross personal sin: syphyllus and shancre sores. Or it may look like poverty, crime, disease, and other affects compounded by personal and communal sin. Or it may look like good old-fashioned self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and idolatry. Regardless, people everywhere, all over, “do live like that” and are in great need of the gospel (as are Christians too by the way-so we have that in common as well!).
 
Instead of running from them, a church and its people have an opportunity to run toward them. Shouldn’t we say, “That is why we are here?” That is why our church plant is here. “Living like this” is a result of disbelieving the gospel, and doesn’t that give us and others hope? Our answer to the surrounding world isn’t “live like us” or “live like Jesus” but turn and rest in Jesus. I suspect that many people who have rejected Christianity as a whole, reject moralism or self-helpism without really understanding the actual gospel message.

Why is this church here? To bring the gospel to both the needs of believers and unbelievers, for it is robust enough to provide rest for both types of sinners. On Sundays and in between.


Joe Delaney vs. Aaron Hernandez: Giving life as opposed to wasting life

One of the more intriguing summer “happenings” has been former Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez’s quick fall after his alleged involvement in the murder of his fiancee’s sisters’s boyfriend Odin Lloyd. It is yet another example of a complete waste of talent and opportunity from a professional athlete. One of the up and coming multi-talented stars, who had the slim possibility of playing with his former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, will now watch football from a jail cell. Not sure if he’ll be able to Direct-TV or not. Who knows, if Tebow ever gets out of his mind that Tight End might present a better opportunity, Hernandez might have actually given up his position to Tebow.

Regardless, you can’t get a better example of throwing away your life, talent, and finances  then Aaron Hernandez.

I don’t make this point by way of comparison of me to him, and that I could never have done what he did. Pastors do similar stuff, and throw it all away too for murder or adultery (David wasn’t beyond that). And this particular pastor is not beyond that either. We could all go the way of Hernandez, in some way or another. There but the grace of God go I. And you. But that’s not what this post is about.

Instead I want to compare throwing one’s life away versus giving one’s life away.

I came across this amazing story of Joe Delaney, a perfect illustration of the latter.

Thirty years ago today, Chiefs running back Joe Delaney noticed that a trio of young boys had waded into a man-made water hole.  It contained an unknown deep end, and they quickly were in trouble.
As Frank Deford, then of Sports Illustrated, later explained it, “There were all sorts of people around, but only Joe dashed to the pond.  There was a little boy there.  ‘Can you swim?’ he asked Joe.
“‘I can’t swim good,’ Joe said, ‘but I’ve got to save those kids.  If I don’t come up, get somebody.’  And he rushed into the water.”
Delaney saved one of the boys.  Two drowned.  So did Delaney.
Joe Delaney, who had played only two NFL seasons, was 24.  He left behind a wife and three young girls.
As a rookie in 1981, Delaney rushed for 1,121 yards.  But he willingly sacrificed a bright future to help save three young strangers.

Joe Delaney didn’t waste his life, he gave it. I don’t know what motivated him as opposed to what didn’t motivate the other standers-by, who may have been able to swim much better. Perhaps it was Jesus? I don’t know. But he certainly followed in the footsteps of Jesus’ love, who reminded his disciples that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Except, these weren’t friends; these were strangers. Pretty amazing, eh? How many people would do this 30 years later? This story is powerful and moving in and of itself. 

But don’t stop with this story, because there is a reason why we find such a story so moving. According to Jesus this is the quintessence of love. Now think about the fact that Jesus modeled his own teaching, going above and beyond, laying down his life for enemies (Romans 5:8). Inspired by Jesus’ sacrificial love for His friends-who at the time were rather enemies-we have all the motivation in the world to give our lives instead of waste our lives. 

If we’re not giving our lives away, sacrificing for others, Jesus actually makes the bold statement that we are wasting them (Luke 17:33)

Instead of trying to be like Joe or trying not to be like Hernandez, we can live as the drowning victim who was saved by Joe, at the cost of His own life. And if we regularly remember that we were ransomed not by gold but His precious blood (I Peter 1:18-19), the choice of giving instead of wasting will make sense.

Jim Eliot, martyred by Indians, thought it just made sense to give his life for others: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Oh for grace to believe this more.

How home inspections point us to the gospel

Today Satan, aka, the Home Inspector came into our home to discern everything that could possibly be/could go wrong with our house. Home inspectors walk through, (and this time the guy walked through with our potential buyer) and keep meticulous notes that can and will be used against the current homeowner. 

What is so hard for me, as I write this, is to think about all of the little things (or big ones) that the inspector can use against me. Because of his findings, I could lose a buyer or lose a lot of money. His judgments, even though they can often be flat out incorrect (as our last inspector proved), can cause great damage. And because they have real potential to harm, such inspections can prove quite frightening. Although I’m thankful that the Lord has brought much peace to me in this crazy time (today I also had to buy a new AC unit for our FL house), the inspector’s judgment is real. It has real consequences, and therefore can elicit real fear.

But I was encouraged by the gospel last night in our CD group. We looked at Romans 8:1-17, and particularly in the context of confrontation. Either in giving or receiving confrontation, the gospel offers so much in the way of this. There are simply no “home inspections” for the Christian. There is no outside judgment that will hold sway over the Just Judge of all the Earth. 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Because the righteous requirements of the law have been met, I don’t have to consider criticism as if it were coming from home inspector. Whether the home inspector has a point or not, the fact that he writes something in his report, now puts me on the defensive. I have to contend or defend. There are no perfect houses, and so as soon as I let him in my house, I have a target on my back.

However, while there are no perfect people, there are Christians who have been declared perfect and therefore no longer subject to shame or deductions. And because they are no longer subject to punishment, they no longer should have any fear of others’ home-inspector-like opinions. And judgments.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.

We don’t have to fear critique, which is meant to help. We don’t have to fear judgments or punishment or check-lists, which are meant to harm and hurt. We don’t have to fear confrontation, which is meant to help. 

Most of the times we treat those who lovingly confront us or offer helpful critique like home inspectors. But in reality, there are no more home inspections for us. We are set. Jesus took the home inspection for us, on our behalf, so the requirements of the law would be met in us. 

Loving confrontation is a beautiful thing. It says, “Stop choosing death when Jesus offers life.” Loving confrontation does not come to another as a home inspector with a check-list, but a humble fellow sinner that by God’s grace has noticed sin in our lives. He or she cares that we’re stuffing our face with mud-pies, when we can have apple pies in the shade.

If we/I can begin to look at critique and confrontation, and even at times simple disagreement from God’s Romans 8 perspective over us, we’ll save ourselves the “need” to defend, contend, and pretend. Believing this takes a lot of work, but whoever said believing the gospel was for the faint of heart. Not Jesus.