Rehearsing the Promises

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting on my back deck. The sun is shining. A gentle breeze is blowing. The temperatures are warm and pleasant. It’s a perfect day for a ball game. On the radio, Jim Powell reads the Louisiana Hot Sauce ad during a pause in the action (“the hottest prospect of ’em all”). Today is Opening Day—at least it was supposed to be. I am dressed in my Braves’ best. I’m grilling brats and dogs for dinner tonight. And I’m listening to the Atlanta Braves play the Cincinnati Reds. The game was actually played on April 24, 2019. Why am I listening to a game from last year? Because there is no live baseball on today. And until the virus ravaging our country is contained baseball will remain dormant. So I’m rehearsing. I’m practicing. I’m reveling in the sacraments of the game as I wait for the real thing to begin. I want to make it to a ballpark—that “enclosed green field in the sun”. One day I’ll get there.

“Baseball is game about going home,” writes Bart Giamatti, “and how hard it is to get there and how driven our need. It tells us how good home is.” The batter begins his journey at home plate. He leaves in a fury with the sole intent of returning. You win by getting home. You win by helping others get home. Baseball is game about going home. This is why this extraordinary pause in the beginning of the season hurts. It is the indefinite delay of the long anticipated journey home. I’ve felt this before. I feel it every Sunday now.

“Remembering is a spiritual discipline.” I’ll never forgot those words from my pastor. Remember. If we would live a life that honors God and his gospel, then we must be a people who remember. Remember what? Remember the promises and remember our future. It’s too easy to forget. The Kingdom we have been promised isn’t here yet. There are outposts for sure, but the daily grind in a fallen world makes those promises seem elusive and we forget that this world is not our home. We have received a promise of a far greater one. And if we want to make it home, we must remember and we must rehearse.

Repetition is the key. First you learn the drill at a slow speed. Practice is done slowly as you learn the form and the process. Then the drills speed up. But the repetition never goes away. Ground ball after ground ball. Swing after swing. Repeat. Do it again. One more time. End on a good one. Why? Because baseball is a game you cannot think and play. It’s pure reaction. It’s muscle memory and instinct. The same is true of life.

Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.

Jesus of Nazareth, Luke 6:45 (ESV)

There is something wrong with us. We have known it all along and usually we are pretty good at hiding it. But in the heat of the moment, our true nature spills out for all to see. Our hearts are out of sync with the rhythms of the Kingdom. Our instincts are broken and twisted. How did we get here? Why were we exposed and embarrassed? We haven’t been remembering or rehearsing. We have forgotten. We’ve grown accustomed to living here.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting with family in the church pew. The warmth of family and friends surrounds us. It’s the perfect morning to gather for worship of our savior. The waters of baptism are stirred and the proclamation that Jesus is Lord is made to the principalities of the power of the air. The Word is preached—the suffering servant has come to redeem his people. Songs and prayers are offered. We are remembering. We are rehearsing. We are reveling in the sacraments of the coming Kingdom.

Do not neglect to meet together. Why? So that we make it home. The Day is drawing near. And what Day is that? The coming of the Kingdom. The realization of the promises. We gather so that we can remember who we are and where we belong. We gather so that we can rehearse the promises. We gather to revel in the sacraments of the Kingdom—to be fed true food and true drink. We rehearse the promises in faith that they will be realized in the future.

But right now, our duty to love neighbor prevents us from gathering physically. We are scattered. The one in seven rhythm has been broken. Our corporate rehearsals for the journey home have ceased with no sure date of return. What is the scattered church to do? Keep remembering. Keep rehearsing. Keep building spiritual muscle memory and instinct.

The Christian life is about going home. We are aliens and strangers in this land. Our citizenship is in heaven. We win at life by going home and bringing as many people as we can with us. And the only way we can get home is if we lose this world—lose our life. When we give up this life for the one Jesus has for us, we die. And we are resurrected to a life indestructible. That’s how we get home—where weakness gives way to power and suffering turns to glory.

I am only rehearsing and I know it. I am sitting at my kitchen table. The sun is still below the horizon. The temperatures are cool outside, but warm inside. The coffee is hot. It’s the perfect morning to meet with my savior. On the pages of my Bible, Moses is leading an obstinate people through a vast wilderness. Those former slaves, often yearning to return to Egypt, frustrate his leadership at almost every turn. I can feel the same tug. Wandering the this broken world makes me feel the same thing. It’d be easier to go back. But that’s why I rehearse. That’s why I’m practicing and remembering. It’s why I am reveling in the sacraments of Word and prayer. I want to make it to the Promised Land—to that sacred green garden in the light of the Son. I’ll make it there one day. He has promised me that much (Phil. 1:6).

Yesterday, Today, Forever—A Constant in the Chaos

It broke my heart. I know it always will. It’s part of the game. Even if your team wins it all, the next day, it stops. Suddenly, the pattern of sun and seventh innings, of balls and strikes, of peanuts and cracker jacks breaks—along with your heart—and baseball stops. But on March 12th, baseball stopped before it had even begun. And my heart broke.

Baseball is a constant in the life of my family. Our vacations are planned around the home schedule of the Atlanta Braves. I watch almost every Braves game. From Opening Day to the final out of the season, baseball is a constant in our home. So when Major League Baseball cancelled the rest of Spring Training and pushed back Opening Day by at least two weeks, I felt a profound sadness. Like Bart Giamatti, I was counting on baseball. “I was counting on the game’s deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, and its deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to return home, to set the order of the day and to organize the daylight.” But due to the measures our nation is taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, one of my constants is gone with no sure date of return. The unease I feel in this moment is deep and I know I am not alone.

In the providence of God, the theme my church chose for the year 2020 is “Yesterday, Today, Forever.” It’s based on Hebrews 13:8.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 

Hebrews 13:8 (ESV)

This is a core tenant of the Christian faith. God does not change. He is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. It’s the reality that Christians have clung to for millennia as they faced famine, persecution, and plague. It is an anchor that holds no matter the strength of the storm. It’s why the church grows when difficulties intensify. This God who bids us to come and find rest for our weary souls is the same God who called Abram, changed his name and promised to make him a blessing to the nations. This is the same God whose presence caused Mt. Sinai to smoke and quake and caused Moses’ face to shine. This is the same God who walked with David through the valley of the shadow of death. This same God spoke through the prophets and the Law and then came as a man to fulfill them both. Jesus—he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Why does this comfort me? Because the God who never changes has promised us something.

And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 28:20, ESV)

We have never been promised an easy life. The idea that our lives should be fat, lazy and light never came from the Bible (despite what you have heard from the religious hucksters and evangelical frauds populating television airwaves). Christians follow a crucified Messiah—one who said that following him involves picking up our cross. If you are looking for an easy life, Christianity doesn’t promise it. But what it does promise is so much greater. It promises the presence of God.

The story of the Bible is one of pursuit. Not man’s pursuit of God, but of God’s pursuit of man. God wants to be with his people. And in the coming of Jesus, we have the penultimate act in his pursuit. He has come and dealt with the sin that separated us. He ascended and sent his Spirit to dwell within us. No matter what we face, we do not do it alone. And those who endure to end are promised a new heaven and new earth away from the presence of sin and its effects and fully in the presence of Jesus “where everything sad is coming untrue.”

Life without constants is chaos. And right now, almost every constant in life is being taken away from us due to the extraordinary measures needed to contain the spread of COVID-19. It feels unsettling. It fees chaotic. But there is one constant that remains—one no virus can touch.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38-39 (ESV)

So if your life feels chaotic, if your constants no longer seem sure, come to Jesus. He doesn’t promise to remove the chaos right now. He promises you his presence in the midst of it. And he promises you a future in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken—with a few peanuts and cracker jacks thrown in for good measure.

The Brotherhood of Jesus

Jesus is not ashamed to call you brother. Let that sink in a little. Don’t rush past that sentence. You. With everything you thought about yesterday (yeah, he heard those thoughts) and the temptations to which you yielded (yeah, he saw that too). Yes, you, struggling Christian. Jesus is not ashamed to call you brother (or sister).

As I recently read Hebrews, I was struck in a fresh way with the power of this reality. Jesus is not ashamed to be associated with me. And not simply in a friend sort of way or even a servant sort of way. The Bible says that Jesus calls me “friend” and “servant” but it also says more. His pride of association with me is on the familial level. He is not ashamed that I am a part of his family. But not only is he not ashamed of me, he delights in me. The writer of Hebrews goes on later to say that it was “for the joy set before him” that he endured the cross. What was that joy set before him? It was me. And it was you. Brothers and sisters added to the family of God that they might reign with Him in the new heavens and the new earth. When Jesus looks at us, he is proud.

But I fear that while we would all check the box and say we believe this truth, in practice we fail to live out its implications.

Personal Implications

Too many Christians walk through life as if the Gospel is not true. When we sin, we rightly feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And rather than boldly coming before the throne of grace in our time of need, we cower and shrink back. We allow the guilt that invades our conscience to dominate our lives rather than drive us to Jesus. We worm back under the yoke of slavery from which Jesus freed us. We begin to think that our performance is what gains us acceptance. And rather than seeing the throne upon which Jesus sits as one founded on grace, we see it as one founded on judgment. And before we know it, we have practically denied the Gospel.

This spiral is always downward. If we do not correct this (or better said, if we do not have others help us correct this), the yoke of slavery will drive us deeper into despair as we attempt to perform and only continue to fail. The end of failing to believe that Jesus is not ashamed to call you brother is rejecting Jesus all together. Eventually, you will tire of the performance treadmill and your despair will only deepen until the darkness consumes you. Knowing that Jesus is not ashamed to call you brother is key to holding fast your confession to the end.

Social Implications

If Jesus is not ashamed to call a man “brother” then neither should I. If every man who puts his faith in Jesus is my brother (not like a brother, but a real brother), then that reality has social implications. I cannot claim to love Jesus while refusing to love those whom Jesus calls brothers. Now, I think that most Christians would say they are not ashamed to call anyone brother. Anyone is welcome in their church. Rich. Poor. Black. White. Smelly. Clean. All are welcome. And while this may be true, I believe it falls short of what it means to be unashamed of all our brothers and sisters.

Jesus is active on behalf of his brothers. He is never passive. Jesus pursued us. He did not wait for us to come him. No. He came to us. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) And not only did he come to us, he became like us. In order that he might be a sympathetic high priest, he took on human flesh and experienced the life we all experience. Jesus understands us fully because he is walking around in our skin. This is what the love of God towards us looks like. This is what our privileged older brother did for His under-privileged little brothers. When we weren’t even looking for him, he came. He acted. Not on his behalf, but on ours. If we would be like him, we must do likewise.

Our failure at this point is precisely why we find ourselves unable to have productive conversations amidst the racial tension we face in America today. For too long, separate but equal has been the foundational paradigm for the church in America. For the most part, white brothers and sisters and black brothers and sisters do not worship together. We do not know one another on a familial level. So when the protests erupted over the grand jury decisions in the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases, many whites could not fathom why. And frankly, many refused to even attempt empathy. Why? Why did many white brothers and sisters seek to reflexively dismiss the concerns that were voiced by black brothers and sisters? Why did many white brothers and sisters write insensitive and tone-deaf social media posts? Because although Jesus is unashamed to call us all brothers and sisters, we whites, too often only view the world through the lens of white dominant culture. We have relationships with many ethnicities but we almost exclusively have familial relationships with our own ethnicity. We are culturally reaping exactly what we have sown in our segregated churches—an “us” vs. “them” divide.

Present Application

Rapper Lecrae rhymes, “It’s not a guilt trip, it’s a field trip that’s gon last more than one day.” This is where we are. The field trip was ugly. So where do we go from here? Two suggestions. First, we reclaim the pride that Jesus has in us. He is not ashamed to call us brother. Live in the freedom of that reality. Second, we look for ways to engage our black brothers and sisters. I don’t know what that looks like for you. I’m still trying to figure that out for myself. But I know one thing for sure. Something needs to change. Bryan Loritts said at a recent event, “without proximity there is no empathy.” Let’s make 2015 a year where we get a little more proximity to our black brothers and sisters. Let’s see their lives by inviting them into our own. Perhaps, for the first time, we will begin to see what the brotherhood of Jesus truly looks like.





The Gulag Gosnell

“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Kermit Gosnell
Kermit Gosnell

Kermit Gosnell. The man is infamous now. Killing babies born alive by using scissors to snip their spinal cords will do that. In case you are unfamiliar with Mr. Gosnell, he is currently facing multiple counts of murder for killing babies born alive after botched abortions at his Philadelphia clinic. The details are horrific. I can’t even bring myself to repeat most of them. The images available in the grand jury report are stomach turning. The testimony by former staffers is gut-wrenching, heart-rending and nauseating. House of horrors does not even begin to describe it. There is something more sinister here. The darkness is deeper. The evil more palpable.

Continue reading “The Gulag Gosnell”

Long Live the King

For months now, political ads and discourse (the strident kind) assaulted the airwaves and intertubes. It is very difficult not to notice. You can not even drive through your neighborhood without out seeing lawn ornaments declaring that home’s inhabitant’s political preference. Even Monday Night Football is not a safe haven from electioneering. Tis the nature of living in a democratic society. Some of the aspects of political silly season, we can laugh at. Others should make our skin crawl. One such issue that has particularly bugged me this election season is the way Jesus gets used as a political football to help one side or the other. And both sides stand guilty in this charge.

Jesus is a unique figure in human history. He is unique in that He is an authoritative figure. Millions in this country swear their ultimate allegiance to Him. So it is no big surprise to see the political class attempt to co-opt Jesus for their own political ends. The math is quite simple; convince a significant majority that allegiance to Jesus means allegiance to a certain political party or ideology and guarantee that political party or ideology unending power. Thus we get “Jesus was a democrat” or “Jesus was a republican” or even “Jesus was a socialist.”

Have you noticed the tense these people use when they talk about Jesus. Frankly, as an orthodox Christian, I find it very odd. They always speak of Jesus in the past tense, as if Jesus is no longer living. When I mention the political affiliations of dead politicians, I never use the present tense. To do so would immediately convey my belief that this person remains alive. So when I talk about Ronald Reagan, I say that he was a republican. When I mention JFK, I say he was a democrat. They are no longer republicans or democrats, respectively, for they are among the dearly departed. Yet, what do orthodox Christians believe about Jesus? They believe He rose from the grave and then ascended into Heaven. This means that He is still alive. Speaking of Jesus in the past tense is wholly inappropriate for an orthodox follower. I find it curious that the political manipulators have not caught on to this. But then again, they are not concerned with Jesus as He is, but only Jesus as they can conceive of him and use him. Anyone who says Jesus “was” something, is clueless and does not deserve your time or attention.

Yet, what I find far more disturbing are the Christians who allow themselves to believe that somehow the political class is more right about Jesus than their Bible. They have forgotten (or perhaps were never taught) that Christianity is a political ideology unto itself. It is also way more than that, but not less. The statement “Jesus is Lord” is not merely a statement about Jesus’ reign in the church or individual hearts of believers. Rather it is a political statement. When a new believer confesses that “Jesus is Lord” that new believer is saying that Jesus is Lord of the cosmos. He is King and He rules over everything and everyone. And this political statement is at the heart of the Christian faith. To follow Jesus is to live as a citizen of His Kingdom. And no political party or ideology can sufficiently reduce the Kingdom to fit their agenda. While we live in a democratic republic, every Christian is a monarchist. And not just a monarchist, but a theocratic monarchist. Jesus, who is God, is King and we long for the day He consummates His reign on the earth. While we wait, make no mistake, Jesus reigns as king from Heaven. Nothing is outside his purview and He is at work in the events of human history to bring about His purposes for His glory. Maranatha!

This all begs the question, should Christians vote? Would it not be treasonous for Christians to take part in the political process? No. As my pastor, David Prince, said on Sunday, to refuse to participate is to fail to love your neighbor. The man who sits in the Oval Office will have a profound effect on the lives of millions of people (just ask the millions of unemployed and under-employed). The policies of the man we put in the White House matter. So if we are to obey our King and love our neighbor as ourself, we better make our way to the voting booth and punch the ticket for the man we believe will best serve our country. While at the same time, we must not think that what happens in the voting booth is the most significant thing going on in the world. That line of thinking crosses over into treason against our King. For there, we have stopped honoring God.

Is our country broken? Yes. Will today’s results fix all our problems? Nope. Not even close. Government will continue to atrophy until the day the One with shoulders broad enough to bear it returns. Until then, the next time the government wastes your money studying the effects of bovine flatulence on the environment, let that drive you to yearn for your King, rather than deeper into prideful cynicism. Let us fixate on His perfections, even as we live in the midst of so much imperfection. The only hope for our country and our world is not on the ballot today. But one day He will return and make everything right.

So sleep well tonight. Jesus is King and that will never change.



Passion 2012 kicked off yesterday. If you are unfamiliar with the Passion movement, it is a movement of university-aged students united for the fame and name of Jesus. Isaiah 26:8 is the foundational verse of this movement. It states:

    In the path of your judgments,
O LORD, we wait for you;
your name and remembrance
are the desire of our soul.

This year, Passion 2012 marks an anniversary for me. For it was seven years ago, at Passion 2005 that I met Jesus. I had known about Jesus for a long time. But there, I met Him. He showed up. And my life has taken a drastic turn since then. From darkness to light. From slavery to freedom. From death to life. From enemy of God to son of God.

The number seven has great significance in the Scriptures. It signifies the rest of God, the rest that he would one day grant his people. Well, this is my seventh year of walking with Jesus. I do not know all that God will do in my life this year, but I know this: He is good, the Gospel is true and Jesus is at work in me and all around me.

Thanks to Louie, Pastor John and the rest of the Passion team for introducing me to Jesus. Here’s to year seven with Him and praying that thousands meet Him at Passion just like I did.


ps – Passion 2012 is being live-streamed. Check it out here

Only What Kills You Will Make You Stronger

Christopher Hitchens is dead. And while this reality comes to us as no surprise (he was battling esophageal cancer), this does not assuage the sadness of the moment. One who raged against God, who denied His very existence, has now stood before Him. After drawing his last breaths and passing into eternity, the sheer radiance of the One whom he had denied for so long burned away all doubt. With his questions answered in a flash, Mr. Hitchens is gone from this world, leaving behind only his words.

In what appears to be his last piece in Vanity Fair, Mr. Hitchens shares one way in which his impending death had narrowed his focus. In a way, Mr. Hitchens was growing in wisdom. And yet, he continued to fall woefully short. He takes on the idea, attributable to Friedrich Nietzsche, that “what does not kill me only makes me stronger.” Weakened and in much pain from radiation treatment, Mr. Hitchens begs to differ. He was a man who was considerably weaker (in every sense) and yet still was not dead (as of the writing of this piece). Nietzsche was wrong. This “facile maxim” that is too often bandied about requires disposal. For it is useless and dangerous. It is the denial of our continually weakening condition. This is how Mr. Hitchens leaves us. With a long-accepted cultural ideal stripped of its facade of meaning and usefulness. But that is all we are left with. Answers that replace the now shredded false ideal do not flow from Mr. Hitchens pen. The piece ends before it should have, just like it’s author.1

Wisdom begins with the fear of God. And the fear of God always brings about a realization that certain ideals we have upheld are foolishly wrong. Death also has that effect. Trivial matters and concerns are burned away. And yet, just because we see more clearly does not make us wise. Clear vision can embolden rebellion just as easily as smother it. It is grace to see clearly and further grace to embrace the One from whom all this grace flowed. And here is where I fear Mr. Hitchens fell short of attaining wisdom.2 Mr. Hitchens saw clearly that Nietzsche was wrong, but he never moves beyond to answer our questions. Mr. Hitchens, who has had his questions answered, leaves us without answering the ones he created.  Surely wisdom exists that gives a better answer than no answer at all. Indeed there is. For the truth of the matter is this: only what kills you will make you stronger.

Jesus had an odd way of going about things. He tended to do the opposite of what we think he’d do. We often miss the sting of his words or the peculiarity of his actions due to a fatigue we developed when reading the stories over the years. Familiarity breeds fatigue which manifests itself in a complacent, if not cynical attitude towards the object of our familiarity. The fact that the birth of Jesus was a cause for worry by Herod does not affect us. Jesus’ statement that “whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” is rendered harmless. He didn’t really mean it. And “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” become meaningless. And yet, to miss the presence and words of Jesus is to miss the answer that Mr. Hitchens never gave us. Although Jesus joins Mr. Hitchens in mocking that “facile maxim” of Nietzsche and western society, their agreement ends there. For Jesus does not leave us to twist in the wind of uncertainty.

The path to strength looks an awful lot like the path of weakness. This is the wisdom of God and the way of His Kingdom. To our small minds and finite comprehension, Jesus is a conundrum that we cannot unravel. And so long as we seek to understand Him via the wisdom of the world, we will never solve Him. We receive life through death. We gain strength by weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Riches are found through poverty (Matthew 19:21). The Kingdom of Jesus is an upside down kingdom. His march towards coronation led through the cross and the grave (Philippians 2:5-11). What were symbols of weakness and final defeat were the very means by which Jesus was given a scepter to rule the nations (Revelation 11:5). The rod of iron with which He rules is a symbol of absolute strength. And he bears it precisely because willing laid down His life. He chose weakness. And if this is true of our Master, would not this be true for us? Why would the path to strength be any different for us? It is not (Matthew 10:25).

And there it is: only what kills you will make you stronger. The sooner we die to self and put off the slavish weakness of our flesh, the sooner we find strength, the sooner we find life in Christ. If we will ever be strong, must become weak. We must die. We must cast aside the dreams and agendas we had laid out for ourselves and abandon all hope and trust in what we could do. Our kingdom must perish if His is ever to come.

The Bible also teaches something else, something that may seem to contradict my claims. We are also called to endure. Endure persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). Endure trials (James 1:12).  Paul reminds us that all things work together for the good of those who are called by God (Romans 8:28) so that we might endure what seems so terrible in the moment. James commands us towards joy in the midst of trials for the very reason that endurance grows (James 1:2-4). Endurance is key. For only those who endure to the end find salvation (Hebrews 3:12-14). Or said differently, only those who endure will find strength. Only those who endure will find life. And we endure because we have died. And in our death, we are stronger than ever. So endurance is not at all contradictory to the call to die. For we can only endure once we have died. And although we endure as waste away outwardly; inwardly, renewal is strengthening our souls; preparing us for an eternity void of every form of weakness we now know. Maranatha!


1 – And I only mean that death is terrible and was not humanity’s original end. It is in that sense that Mr. Hitchens passed too soon. BACK TO POST
2 – The thief on the cross gives me pause and hope about Mr. Hitchens final eternal state. As his friend and opponent Doug Wilson said of him, “We therefore commend Christopher to the Judge of the whole earth, who will certainly do right.” BACK TO POST

The Nittany Lions and the Lion of Judah

The idea that Joe Paterno would be forced out of Penn State on moral grounds defies belief.

More than six decades of achievement, an entire adult life committed to the advancement of the core mission of his university, could not withstand the sin of omission committed by Paterno in the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case.

It is not the something that Paterno did that brought him to this fate — a firing by phone by Penn State’s board of trustees Wednesday evening. It is the something that he did not do to stop Sandusky.

Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, with Jerry Sandusky in 1999. Photograph: Paul Vathis/AP

So begins the piece by Ivan Maisel on about the dramatic and tragic end to Nittany Lions’ coach Joe Paterno’s career. If you are unfamiliar with the specifics of the drama in State College, PA, a former long-time coach (Jerry Sandusky) at Penn State University was arrested over the weekend on charges of child sexual abuse. This arrest set off a chain events that led us to this point. Where a college football giant was felled by a sin of omission, felled by something he did not do.

While the details surrounding the allegations that have come to light in the recent days are gut-wrenchingly disgusting, it would be a mistake to assume we have nothing in common with the characters in this story. There is something we can learn here. This is a cautionary tale. It is a warning to us all.

 In moments like these, it is easy to become the very person Jesus warned us will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)

The words of Paul seem relevant here:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3 ESV, emphasis mine)

Former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is escorted by Pennsylvania State Police and Attorney General's Office officials Nov. 5 in State College, Pa., after being charged with sexually abusing eight boys. (AP Photo/Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General/Commonwealth Media Services)

It is all grace. Your gifts. Your circumstances. Your skills. Your opportunities. Your righteousness. Whether little or much, it was assigned by God. It would be easy for us to read about the vile acts committed against children and think we are somehow better Jerry Sandusky. I mean, no one I know has ever raped a 10-year-old boy. I know I haven’t. Or what about JoePa? I mean, I’ve never covered up a friend’s criminal act. How about you? Does not our purity in these matters elevate us to higher moral plane?

It is at this point Isaiah bursts on the scene and screams, “Not so fast, my friends!” All our righteous acts are like polluted garments. They are used menstrual rags (Isaiah 64:6). Isaiah confirms what we fear. Even the most moral among us is in the same boat as the most vile. Before a pure and holy God, there is no difference between the man who rapes a child and the man who lusts after a woman on a computer screen. Both are indulging the lusts of their flesh. Both stand condemned of treason against their Creator and King.

Mr. Maisel asks, with almost a sense of incredulity (as if there is no answer), “if we cannot believe that JoePa knew to do what is good and right, than in whom, pray tell, can we believe?” If all we have are men to put our trust, we have none. For all men will fail us. But, may I give you some good news, Mr. Maisel? There is one in whom we can believe. He always knows what is good and right (in fact He defines it). He always does all that is morally required of him and he always abstains from evil. He is perfect.  There is no deceit in his mouth (1 Peter 2:22). But he is not simply an example for us. No, he is far more than that. He bore all our impurity. He took the record of debt that stood against us and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). He became sin that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the good news of the Gospel, Mr. Maisel. Jesus is that one in whom you can believe. And there is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12). We can either believe on Jesus and never be disappointed or find ourselves constantly scandalized as our heroes are mercilessly exposed for what they are…deeply flawed shadows of the only hero who can save us.

The Nittany Lions may be cowed and exposed, but the Lion of Judah stands triumphant.


Steve Jobs: Greatest or Least in the Kingdom?

There was something I initially wrote in my post about Steve Jobs that I ended up removing. It went something like this:

I hope that one day in the new heavens and new earth, I can take a long walk with Steve and talk.

I don’t know what made me take it out, but I was thinking about that possibility this morning as I drove to work. But I had to stop myself. Or really, the Holy Spirit had to stop me. Because I immediately thought of something Jesus said.

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 18:1-4

The greatest in the kingdom will be like a child. Now, I’m not hear to comment on Steve Jobs actual place in the Kingdom (assuming and hoping he is among the redeemed), but rather these comments are a check on my heart and my tendency to elevate what the world elevates. Jesus does not do that. In His Kingdom, what is elevated is not greatness, but weakness (at least by worldly standards). As I was driving to work and pondering the possibility of spending time with Steve in the new heavens and new earth and being excited by that thought, I was not expressing an innocent desire. Rather, it was an expression of my heart’s fascination with power and prestige and worldly greatness. It revealed in me a unbiblical desire to trumpet merit in this life as the means for greatness in the next (an anti-gospel if I’ve ever heard one). A wicked heart, have I. And yet, I do not fear that I am alone in this particular bend of my heart.

Much ink has been spilled over the phenomenon of pop-star preachers and celebrity personalities that stand on the stages of America’s mega-churches. The aura of Hollywood, according to many, has seeped into the church. Or perhaps, what we see in American Evangelicalism, is merely a reflection of our hearts. Indeed, it is that more than it is some foreign invader from the hills of 90210. What we see before our eyes directly correlates to a primal desire to elevate the producers (although, with all the protests on Wall Street, I’m beginning to wonder if we are swinging to the opposite extreme). Hence, a celebrity culture easily and naturally develops. And yet, heroes are not bad things. All heroes are meant to point us to the ultimate Hero, Jesus Christ. But what I see in my heart and what I see in the fruit of many churches is an inordinate admiration of heroes.

What is further troubling is that this inordinate admiration of heroes can occur no matter the genuineness of the persons we dub as heroes. It would be easy to tackle inordinate admiration of those who lack a genuineness of heroism. And what I mean by genuineness is whether or not God would find them great, whether he would call them heroes. But, it is still possible to slip into idolatry over genuine heroes. Those fragile creatures who simply receive from Jesus and have nothing to offer. They are like children, with limited utility. Those are the greatest. These are the heroes of the Kingdom. All these great preachers and theologians that line the conference programs may all be genuine Kingdom heroes. But their genuine hero status will not stop the bent of my heart. And it will not stop yours either.

In broad light of the words of Jesus, I have to laugh at myself, because if I don’t laugh, I might despair. Too often I think much of people for the wrong reasons. And even when I think much of them for the right reasons, I slip into idolatry. Tis a precarious dance I must dance. In the end, I’m drawn back to the Gospel. For, I cannot save myself. I would destroy myself. Only Jesus can straighten out this bent heart of mine. Only Jesus can save me from myself and replace an inordinate desire with a proper one. Only Jesus can help me desire long walks with Him, rather than Steve or whatever other hero has slipped on to the throne of my heart. For in the end, Jesus is the only hero I need, the only hero I desire.


Steve Jobs: A Grief Deserved

Last night I was coloring (in the lines) with the kids I was watching at church. My wife walked in with her iPhone in hand and said, “Why didn’t you tell me Steve Jobs died?” I had not told her because I did not know. I was unaware that the man who has had a significant impact on how I connect with friends and family and the wider world had passed into eternity. And suddenly, inexplicably, I was sad. I only knew of him through his many “stevenotes” and anecdotes from the Apple blogs I follow. So my sadness surprised me. This was not the momentary sadness you feel when you hear about a tragic accident on the news. This was more personal. More real.

Earlier this summer, I had an imagined brush with death. Since then I have found myself pondering my mortality. I am truly a fragile creature. Humanity in general is quite fragile. We are dependent on forces greater than and outside of ourselves (both physical and spiritual forces). Despite what Western culture tells us, we are far from self-sufficient. This dependency can either be a great source of fear or comfort. We can fight against the dependency and live in fear, or accept it and live free. This is something I think Steve would have agreed with. His fragility, the certainty of his death, was a great motivator for him. He did not cower in fear at his dependent nature. It pushed him forward. In his well-documented commencement address to Stanford University in 2005, he said this:

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

These are the words of a man who accepted his fate and is going to make the most of the time he had left. And there is some wisdom here. These words are Christ-haunted (to borrow a phrase of Flannery O’Connor). Yes, in the face of the death, all the frivolities of life fade away. Yet, what Steve says we are left with, the “truly important”, may be the death of us.

The “Follow Your Heart” mantra is nothing new. When there is no other standard by which to guide life, following our own heart is the logical end. And yet, this conclusion sours the wisdom we find here. For the human heart is deceptively wicked. As my pastor is fond of saying, if you got everything your heart desired, you would destroy your life and end up in hell. Remember, we are dependent creatures. Dependent to the point that we can not even trust the natural inclinations of our heart. For it seeks to destroy us.

So if Steve got the end wrong, what is left when death overshadows all our other fears and concerns? The answer to that question depends on how you answer another question. Who is Jesus? For those who say he is a good teacher or prophet or revolutionary on par with Gandhi or Buddha or Muhammad, there is nothing left. Death drowns it all and hope is lost. But if Jesus is Messiah King, Son of God, Son of Man, though death may weed out the frivolous, what’s left is the hope that death is not the end. Because Jesus conquered the grave, those who put their hope and trust in Him, will do likewise. Since new life is our promise, we are free to spend this life. And we follow not our heart in this life, but the heart of God. It’s a heart that is for the nations, that is on a rescue mission. A life spent following that heart will be far more adventurous and meaningful than anything we could do or achieve by following our own heart.

The good news that Steve gave those graduates that would seemingly free them from the power of death was a false hope. In the end, your accomplishments or lack thereof do not give or take away meaning. These realities we chase when we follow our own heart are but mists. They are as fleeting as the morning shadows. Eventually a high noon sun will burn them away.

Many, many people have rightly said that Steve Jobs changed the world. He did. But at what cost? Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs’ biographer, relays this story which took place only a few weeks before Steve’s death.

A few weeks ago, I visited Jobs for the last time in his Palo Alto, Calif., home. He had moved to a downstairs bedroom because he was too weak to go up and down stairs. He was curled up in some pain, but his mind was still sharp and his humor vibrant. We talked about his childhood, and he gave me some pictures of his father and family to use in my biography. As a writer, I was used to being detached, but I was hit by a wave of sadness as I tried to say goodbye. In order to mask my emotion, I asked the one question that was still puzzling me: Why had he been so eager, during close to 50 interviews and conversations over the course of two years, to open up so much for a book when he was usually so private? “I wanted my kids to know me,” he said. “I wasn’t always there for them, and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did.”

It appears that Steve was very much aware of at least one cost. My hope and prayer is that in the remaining days of his life, he realized that there was a greater cost still at stake.

I think this is where my sadness welled up from. A man who I admired for his tenacity and creativity and attention to detail, who imaged his Creator in ways I desire to do, slipped into eternity with questions surrounding his eternal state. I ought to feel sad. This moment deserves grief. For death has done what death does. It took.

But thanks be to God has the power to hold death at bay for those who trust in Him. For this is our only hope.