Apples and the Trees They Fall From

Callen is making good eye contact now. He is becoming more alert and expressive. His little smiles and coos melt my heart. We even passed the big milestone of sleeping through the night (he’s done it two nights in a row!). The other day, I was holding him and looking into his eyes and I could see myself. I could see my face reflecting in his blue-grey eyes as he stared back at me. He would crack a smile and I would smile back. Our little game went on for a bit, all the while Callen continued to flail his arms and wiggle around in my lap. As we continued looking one another over, I realized that I saw my reflection in his eyes in more ways than one.

One of the ways I organize my prayer life is by using note cards. This simple tool has helped me develop a more consistent and focused prayer life (most days). Shortly after we found out Amanda was pregnant, Callen got his own prayer card (although it only said “Baby Camblin” at the time). The prayers were initially very generic. I prayed for salvation and health. Once we found that Baby Camblin was a boy, his name replaced the generic title and my prayers became more specific, more focused. I added “man after God’s own heart,” “courageous,” and “bold.” I want Callen to be a strong man of God. His name means “warrior” and I picked it precisely because I wanted Callen to fight for King Jesus. I want him to fight the kingdom of darkness and to fight his own sin. I also added “merciful” and “kind” to the list.

The more I prayed over Callen’s card and the more of myself I saw in him as he grew, the more I felt an unsettling feeling arise in my heart. The thought came to me that the attributes I crave for my son would not appear in a vacuum. Rather, I, as his father, have a responsibility to show him the way. My prayers for my son suddenly thrust the spotlight on me.

Will my son be merciful if I am unmerciful? Will my son be courageous if I am a coward? Will my son be a man after God’s own heart if I am a man after my own? The answer to these questions is most likely not. Apples tend to fall under the trees from which they grew. That’s just a general rule of the universe. So even as I pray for Callen, I find my prayers also covering me. As I ask my Heavenly Father to make my son merciful, I am praying that he make me merciful. As I pray for Callen to live courageously and boldly, I am praying that I would not live like a coward. I do this because I realize that the context my son grows up in is important. My holiness will affect my son. And it does not stop there. It will also affect my wife. It affects my small group. It affects my church. The weight of this realization would crush a typical man. And it crushes me. Because I cannot do it. I cannot make myself merciful. I cannot make myself courageous. I cannot make myself a man after God’s own heart. These are things that only God can do. These are things that only heart regenerated by the power of the Spirit can do. I am once again brought to the end of myself and forced (gladly forced) to drink of the eternally deep wells of the Gospel. There, I’m empowered to give to my son what I could not before. I must give him Jesus first, or all my others prayers for him will prove useless.

After thinking through all this, I find myself delighting a little bit more in the Gospel, a little bit more in the sufficiency of Jesus. There I find grace and help in my time of need. And I am encouraged to know that as I seek to train my son, my failures will turn into opportunities to point him to Jesus, who covers all our sin.

~sdg

 

Light for my Lost Boy

Cover art for “Light for the Lost Boy” by Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson’s new album came out last Tuesday and the ninth track wrecked me. I had to stop working. Usually, music serves as background noise. But “You’ll Find Your Way” stopped me dead in my tracks. I had heard that fatherhood will turn you into an emotional wreck, but I had yet to experience it. This song brought on my first case of “dad tears.” Thankfully, no one came into my office to witness my mini-meltdown. I think I listened to the song five or six times in a row, all the while staring at my screen with wet eyes, transfixed by the words.

The song is from a father to a son. He is seeking to impart wisdom, to exhort his son that when he gets lost, the way home is found on the ancient paths and old roads. And the song is not just giving some recommendations for when this highly unlikely event happens. The son needs to know, because he will get lost one day. There is no doubt about. The boy will get lost. And this stirred in me something I had never considered. Callen will get lost one day. And this breaks my heart.

The moment we found out that a baby was coming, I began praying for his salvation. Like Job, I have interceded for my son (and I continue to do so). I have asked God to show mercy to Callen and to show himself to Callen. I pray because I know that if God does not intervene, my son has no hope. While I am quite aware of the result I seek, I am ignorant to the means by which it may get answered. And this song has me thinking about the means and I just know I have more times of wet eyes in my future as I watch the answer to my prayer unfold.

I am sure that most people would have a hard time finding Habakkuk in their Bible. It is not one of those books that everyone is familiar with, but it ought to be. The Christian who has not studied Habakkuk is a poor one indeed. For this book is rich. We find the prophet praying in the beginning of the book. He has questions for God. He has a desire to see something happen in the midst of his people. And God answers him. But the answer Habakkuk gets blows him away. Yes, God is going to act. God is going to answer his prayer, but, and it’s a big “but,” the answer is going to come through means Habakkuk did not expect, nor want. To Habakkuk, the answer sounds more like a curse. This is not what he wanted at all. But what we find the prophet doing is continuing to trust. He questions God, in faith. And all the while, the pain only serves to drive him deeper into God. When the short book concludes, we find Habakkuk singing songs of praise to God. Not because the suffering had ended or even been averted, but rather because he knows that God is faithful. The end is not destruction, so he can endure and sing. Oh how rich is this little book!

I can imagine that if God had told my parents all I would experience on my faith journey, it would have overwhelmed them. The pain and suffering would have seemed like unnecessary detours on the path to faith. But looking back, I know we can all see the necessity of those “detours.” Those dark years before the Light broke through seemed irrational. They seemed counter-productive. But God was at work in the darkness. He prepared me as a goldsmith prepares gold; in the furnace. And what emerged surprised everyone, but God. He knew what he was doing. And he alone gets the glory for the results.

The reason that song made me cry “dad tears” is that for the first time in my son’s short life, I knew that suffering lay in his future, and there was not one thing I could do about it. If I had it my way, I would draw a straight line for my son. From here to salvation. But I do not get to draw the line. I do not get to write the story. What hurts my heart is knowing that, more than likely, a crooked path lies before Callen. Deep sorrow will eventually cause tears to stain his pillow. And the fight that lays before me and before every father is this: will we trust God? Will we trust him when the path our children walk gets crooked? Will we remember our prayers? Will we remember God’s track record? Or will we forget? Will we curse God and die? In the heat of the moment, our tendencies will push us towards doubt and unbelief. And we will find ourselves thinking God ignored our prayers. So we must fight to believe! We must fight to pray. And as I pray for the soul of my son, I am praying I will trust God when the path turns in ways I did not expect, nor even want. I am praying that I will remember that this is all too necessary; that this suffering does not end in destruction, but glory. And I am praying that I am faithful to teach my son the ancient paths. For only there will he find light for lost boys. A light that can bring him home. A light that will answer my prayer and make the crooked path worth it all.

~sdg

August and Everything After: Random Thoughts on Longing

For months now, we circled August on the calendar in great anticipation. For that month signified when we would meet our new son. At times, it seemed like we wished the year away. At times, August seemed so far away. And yet, here we are. My wife is feeding him now. I can see him. Hear him. His whimpers and cries now ring in my ear, and not in my imagination. I have held him close to my chest and stared at him. Is this really happening? Am I really a dad? Or am I dreaming? Until I see Mr. DiCaprio or a top that never stops spinning, I’m assuming this is all real.

Callen has a question for ya

While we awaited his arrival, Amanda and I would often talk to each other about what he would look like. We wondered whose eyes or nose he would have. Would he have blonde or dark hair? How much would he weigh? How long? When he was born, all those questions faded in the reality of his presence. We no longer wonder. We know. The fact that he is here makes our previous questions less important. And while those questions faded, new ones surfaced quickly. Legos were one of my favorite childhood toys (and they remain a favorite of mine to this day). Half the fun is building the set. The bigger and more complex, the better. One thing I never remember doing was deviating from the instructions. I wanted to build exactly what was on the box. I am structured. I need structure. But I wonder about Callen. Will he need structure like me? Or will he be more creative? How can I nurture that creativity while at the same time helping him understand that structures and boundaries are necessary for creativity to flow? New questions, it seems, surface with new realities. And I am sure this cycle will continue until I die…and even after.

There were fears too. Through shot through with excitement, fear lingered in the background. I have a poor track record when it comes to seeing blood. I certainly do not have the stomach for the medical field. Hence my sterile, blood-free accounting job (although, I did audit a blood bank once…frozen blood isn’t so gross). Needless to say, fear filled my heart when I thought about the delivery. I just knew I’d be that dad slumped over in the corner, passed out with drool running down my chin. Every man worth his salt ought to fear being that guy (thankfully, I passed with flying colors). While I feared witnessing the delivery, Amanda feared doing the delivery. As a daughter of Eve, she bears an ancient curse. And fear always goes hand in hand with a curse. While it may sound silly, I even feared handling him. Sometimes I feel awkward hold babies. Would I feel that way holding my son? The question lingered in my mind. A myriad of other fears also ran through our minds, ranging from the silly to the serious.

Frankly, the preparations were overwhelming. At one baby store near our house, there was one wall at least 5-6 feet wide and 20 feet tall filled with nothing but pacifiers. I think we just stared at the wall for a few moments, unsure if the plethora of choices benefited or harmed our decision-making ability (don’t even get my started on the Safety section). The amount of stuff a baby “needs” borders on the ridiculous. And while that is true, we still needed to prepare. To not prepare would signify stupidity or negligence, or both. New realities, it seems, require new and different resources. Before Callen, I had no need of diapers or a special trash can to dispose of them. I generally know the dangers of sticking a fork into the electrical outlet. This made plug covers fairly useless for me. But all that changed early on a Tuesday morning. A new reality dawned, demanding new resources.

Sometimes, when I think about heaven, I find it utterly impossible. Is it really true that the God of the cosmos redeemed me and made a way for this former rebel to dwell in ever-increasing joy in His presence? The answer, of course, is yes. By Jesus, and only by Jesus, am I able to approach the throne. By Jesus alone will I find final salvation and enter into that infinite happy kingdom. And when I think back over the months before Callen’s arrival, and then compare that to how I anticipate this coming kingdom, I know that I fail to daily long for my true home as I daily longed for my son to arrive.

Why do I sometimes lack that zealous anticipation of heaven? Could it be that I forgot on those days that the Kingdom is near? Do I really believe it? I really believed my wife was pregnant. I saw the stick. I heard the heartbeat in utero. I saw him kicking and moving in the ultrasound. The evidence overwhelmingly pointed to pregnancy. And when it comes to heaven, again the evidence overwhelms me, but I still find myself struggling to believe. The battle of faith rages. The enemy seeks to supplant and suppress. But I have entrusted myself to One who is faithful. I shall not have my faith sifted from me. I will endure. He has promised me this much. And He never breaks His promises.

I have questions for God. From my perspective, some thing I see just don’t make any sense. Like the prophet Habakkuk, I cry out, “How long, O Lord?” I’m sure you have questions as well. Yet, I wonder how many of our questions will gloriously vanish in the revealing light of His presence. It’s popular to think that when we get to heaven, all our questions will get answered; that we will pull out our long lists and Jesus will answer them all. But I can’t help but wonder that’s not quite how the answers will come. Yes, I think they will come, but not as we expect them. We will know, because we will be with him. Our questions will quickly fade as we bask in the light of His glorious and all-encompassing presence. But while the old earthly questions fade, I have a feeling that new ones will take their place. For to ask questions is to declare dependency. It is an admission of limited knowledge and understanding. If we knew all, we would not question. And we would not be dependent. And I do not think our dependent nature will end in heaven. In fact, I know it will not end. So while I have questions that seem unanswerable, I can rest in the promise that answers to my questions exist and I can even wonder what new questions will come when the old have faded. If you’re struggling to long for heaven, just ponder that thought. Your longing for heaven will not delay. I can already feel mine growing.

There are many things about heaven I can’t quite wrap my mind around (obviously). But that God will banish fear astounds me. I can’t imagine stepping into the presence of God, who is holy, holy, holy, and not feeling one tinge of fear. And yet, that is the truth. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (1 John 4:8). Because of Jesus, our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16), I need not fear in the presence of the One whose eyes cannot look upon evil. For a righteousness not my own purged me and made me clean. In Jesus, I have no fear of judgement or wrath. And that lack of fear will extend into every part of my existence. If my biggest fear disappeared because of Jesus, I am assured the smaller ones will as well. I cannot comprehend living fully in this reality. And I cannot wait for it.

Does heaven make me live different? That’s probably a question we all ought to ask ourselves. When we least expect it, heaven will come. Do we live like it? Do we make preparations for heaven? Do we walk in wisdom or folly? Do we store up treasures here on earth or in heaven? Too many days, I fear we live as if heaven isn’t coming. We cease preparing. We focus on the temporal stuff that will burn like chaff when heaven comes. Why do we so often live as if this earth is home when heaven is on the cusp of revelation? We lack faith. We do not remember. Our anticipation wains and withers. What pitiful creatures are we! But there is hope. There is grace to live different, to make preparations, to long for the coming of our King and his infinite happy kingdom. It is only by his power that we believed in the first place. He will not forsake us. He will sustain us as we fight for faith to live differently (Philippians 2:12-13).

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

~sdg

Georgia On My Mind: Fatherhood, Rootedness & Baseball

Image by Morry Gash / AP

I have never lived in Georgia. But I find myself with Georgia on my mind these days. I have no family in Georgia. I’ve seen a lot of Georgia, but mostly from the interstate. Georgia remains mostly foreign to me, and yet, as Ray Charles sings, “just an old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind.” You see, my roots extend deep into the heart of Georgia, by way of baseball. Georgia is on my mind, or more specifically, a team in Georgia. The Atlanta Braves.

The year was 1991. It was the summer before I would start fifth grade. My dad was a youth minister and something he would always do on youth trips is work in a major league baseball game. The only team anywhere close was the Atlanta Braves.  So the van would always stop in Atlanta, either on the way to our destination or on the way home. That summer was no different. The Braves got worked into the trips. Except something was different. In 1990, the Atlanta Braves finished dead last in the National League standings (an abysmal 65-97). They were terrible. But in 1991, things were different. Behind 20-game winner Tom Glavine and two other young guns (John Smoltz and Steve Avery), the Braves won the National League West Division and a spot in the playoffs. “From Worst to First” the newspaper headlines read. There was an undeniable buzz surrounding the team.

Towards the end of the season, my dad received a packet in the mail. It was an application to buy Braves playoff tickets. Since he had purchased so many tickets over the past few years taking his youth group to games, the Braves gave him an opportunity to buy playoff tickets. And he jumped on the opportunity. He sold the championship series tickets to another family in our church and kept the World Series tickets. One for me and one for him. We watched the National League Championship series with great anticipation and hope. And in seven games, the Braves defeated the Pittsburg Pirates for a spot opposite the Minnesota Twins in the World Series. I was going to the World Series and I was going with my dad.

I remember reveling in the jealously I was sure my classmates were experiencing as Mrs. Bonicorsi explained to them my absence from school. How many of their dads had pulled them out of school for a week to go to the World Series? None. I was the only one. And I loved it. I loved the uniqueness of what we were about to do. This was our thing and no one could take that.

For Games 3-5, we sat in left field (behind Lonnie Smith) in old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium and tomahawk chopped the Braves to victory. After the Braves lost Games 1 and 2 in Minnesota, they won three straight, with an absolute route in Game 5. We were certain of a Braves victory. But it would not be. Games 6 and 7 belonged to the Twins, with Game 7 being probably one of the greatest pitching duels in Major League history. Although my team lost, my fandom was cemented. And so was the fandom of my family. We were Braves fans with our roots firmly planted in the Georgia clay.

The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. This refrain is constant in Scriptures. And it serves as a call to remember. When Moses stood before the burning bush, YHWH invoked the phrase. “I AM is sending you. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” As Joshua neared death, he reminded the people that it was the God of their fathers that gave them this land flowing with milk and honey. When David was passing the throne to Solomon, it was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to whom he prayed as preparation for the temple began. When the people wandered and began serving Baal, it was Elijah who reminded them that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was God is Israel. During the time of Nehemiah, when the people returned to God, they confessed their sins and recounted God’s dealings with Israel. It was the God of their fathers they sought. Jesus himself invokes the phrase when he silenced the Sadducees. And Luke records Peter using the phrase in his second public witness of Jesus’ resurrection. It was the God of Abraham that glorified and raised Jesus from the dead. These calls to remember were (and are) calls to return. The phrase served as a root that grounded the people of Israel. It reminded them where they came from and that they were apart of something bigger than themselves. And that’s what roots are meant to do. They are meant to ground and give a sense of belonging. They remind us that the things we enjoy come not necessarily because of our own labors. We have a history. We stand upon the shoulders of others. Because of roots, we see that life is not all about us; that we are small in the grand scheme of the cosmos. Roots matter. Even in the small things.

“Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

In my experience, a marker of folly, a signpost for the way of the fool, is the loss or abandonment of roots. Roots need care and cultivation. And the moment a man believes he is an island, the moment of folly is not far off. The moment that roots fade into the background, foolishness is not far off. And while this has been my experience, the Scriptures also confirm this truth. God stuffed the Book of Proverbs full of commands to both parents and children about the importance of roots (the concept, not necessarily the word). Over and over, the way of wisdom is contrasted with the way of folly. And the contrast usually falls on embracing or rejecting roots.

“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching” (Proverbs 1:8 ESV).

“My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” (Proverbs 6:20 ESV).

“Listen to your father who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old.” (Proverbs 23:22 ESV)

“The eye that mocks a father and scorns to obey a mother will be picked out by the ravens of the valley and eaten by the vultures.” (Proverbs 30:17 ESV)

While few in number, these examples represent a consistent theme in Scripture. Why is this? Why does Scripture consistently call on us to remember our roots and warn us if we do not? Because we have a history, a story,  and a promise. We belong to something much grander and more glorious than we could ever imagine or muster with our small lives. And danger lurks around every corner and flip of the channel. We cannot become inoculated and move on. No. Roots need care and cultivation. Neglected roots become shriveled roots. And shriveled roots lead only one place and it’s where ever the wind is ablowin’.  “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away (Psalm 1:4 ESV).”

In general, one’s college years formulate and shape the direction of the rest of your life. Career, spouse, habits and friends all seem to crystallize during this formative time. This was no different for me (although I did not meet my wife until after college). However, I would add one more descriptor to my college years: revealing. For too long, the real me lived behind a façade. An artfully crafted mask hid my true nature from sight. Outwardly, I had it all together. Inwardly, chaos ruled my heart. I spent most of my time managing the carefully crafted image I had built over the years. Fortunately, God refused the mocking rebellion of one on whom He had set His affections. While I possessed a form of godliness, I denied its power. Enslaved to a wicked, unregenerate heart, I struggled beneath the weight of guilt and fear. But praise be to God, for freedom came. And it came with power! But, I am getting ahead of myself. Before freedom, came submission. Humility always precedes glory. What college revealed in me was a proud heart; a heart so proud at my ability to fool others into thinking I lived an upright life. But I could not fool God. He observed every moment of reckless living. He watched as I sat among scoffers, and walked among the wicked and stood with sinners.  Yet, despite knowing me as a scoffer, grace flowed from His heart to mine. Humility broke down the doors of my proud heart and invaded my soul. He revealed my sin. He made known my secrets. He broke me. And like Isaiah, I was undone. With time to reflect, I can pinpoint my rebellion. I lost my roots. Church became an afterthought. The Bible lacked excitement. Baseball and the Braves lost significance (I even quit baseball my senior year. Oh, how I regret that). Relationships with family and friends chilled to a bitter cold. I achieved my darkest moments of aimlessness and loneliness all by scorning my roots.

By God’s grace, my roots still remained somewhat intact. Though weak, they held on. Again, by God’s grace, I began to return to my roots once I returned home from college. I went looking for better friends. I started attending a Bible study and church. But there was still no life, no power. That would come later. I also picked up my interest in baseball again, but not the Braves. One thing that had carried over was my hatred for the New York Yankees (and it remains to this day). They beat the Braves in the 1996 World Series (denying the Braves back-to-back championships) and 1999 World Series. For the life of me, I will never understand why Wohlers threw Jim Leyritz that slider in 1996! But I digress. In 2003, I began to take an interest in the Red Sox, the arch-rivals of the Yankees, which made it feel quite natural. In 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series. They did it again in 2007. By now, I was calling myself a Red Sox fan. And unashamedly so. During this time, my relationship with my family continued to remain chilled to the point of bitter cold. And while I was returning to my roots in one way, I continued to scorn them in another. As I look back, I think my choice of baseball team was the fruit of that scorn. We were a Braves family and had been for over a decade. Yet, here I am rooting for another team (and an American League team at that!). While I am sure my dad never took that personally, I am sure that some sense of loss lingered. Our thing had ceased to be our thing.

This past Christmas tops my list of surreal moments. Three days before the 25th, my wife told me that fatherhood had begun. She was pregnant. Oh what joy we experienced that cold December morning. We could not have received a better gift. During the season in which we celebrate the advent of our Lord Jesus, we receive good news about a new life that will enter our world. We shared the news with family and a few friends and celebrated with great joy. God is good and we cannot wait for our little man to arrive in August.

As time nears for Callen (his name means “warrior”) to arrive, the impending reality of all that I am responsible for looms large. He will depend on me for life, for sustenance, clothing, shelter, love and for me to teach him all manner of things. I will also be responsible for giving him roots and a sense of identity. As his mother and I train him in the Lord, we will be grounding him in a story, one bigger than himself. A story that extends back to creation, through the cross and forward to the consummation of the Kingdom of God. But that is not the only story we will ground him in. In fact, it must not be the only story. My pastor relayed a story to me about a time he and some other pastors spent with Sinclair Ferguson. One person asked Dr. Ferguson what advice he would give on parenting. You might expect this great theologian to give a deep response about training children in the fear of the Lord. However, he simply responded, with that thick Scottish accent, “Tie more than one string to your children.” What he meant by that is, give your children roots in multiple stories. Obviously, the story of the Kingdom of God is priority one. But you have other stories, other interests. Ingrain those in your children as well, so that there is always one avenue of communication, one common context that you share with your children. In the event that your child severs the root to God, you still have ways to speak into their life through the smaller stories that you share. These smaller stories help provide context for the larger story. Thus, I’ve got Georgia on my mind.

As I think about Callen and how I will seek to create Gospel-context in his life, the thought of raising him as anything but a Braves fan seems wrong. My Red Sox fandom was rootless. It grew up during a time when I was rejecting my family and my God. I think back to the 1991 World Series. I think about me and my dad driving north on I-75. I think about the cost that my dad endured to give that root for me. It seems to me, a dishonoring of my father if I were to raise Callen as a Red Sox fan. I am not an island. I am a son. I have a history. While you may struggle to understand, in my mind and heart, obedience to the Scriptures is at stake. So I am compelled to raise Callen as a Braves fan (but also excited to do so). I am compelled because the Braves represent a history I can tell him about; show him pictures and souvenirs of and ingrain a love for. And more importantly, it is a Gospel-context. As I relay to him stories of my Braves fandom, there will be opportunity to tell other stories, grander stories, stories about the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of his fathers and his father.

So I’ve got Georgia on my mind. Georgia, the whole day through. That old sweet song, keeps Georgia on my mind. Other arms may reach out to me. But the road leads back to Georgia. Back to home. Back to my roots. And I pray the same is true for my son.

 

~sdg

 

UPDATED: As Long As…

For those of you who didn’t know, my wife and I are expecting our first child. It’s an exciting time in our lives. We have prayed for a child for a long time now and God answered our prayer a few days before Christmas. Finding out that we were expecting during the season when we celebrate the birth of our Savior was simply sublime. Words cannot truly express our gratitude for the gift of a child.

As we have begun sharing our news with friends and co-workers, a common question keeps coming up. Are you hoping for a boy or a girl? Well, I’m hoping for a boy. Unashamedly. But I always throw in the caveat that I’ll be just as excited for a girl. Generally, the conversation continues and at some point the phrase “as long as it’s happy and healthy” is spoken (sometimes by me…sometimes by the other person). Nods of agreement ensue and we then go about our business.

Since the beginning of the year, my church is going through the Gospel of Mark. The title of the series is Jesus Changes Everything (check out the sermons here). As we have gone through the Gospel of Mark, we are seeing how Jesus really does changes everything. He wields an authority that is unprecedented because He is king of an unprecedented kingdom. Since He comes to crush all competing kingdoms, His presence is threatening and terrifying. Christ has come, with all authority, and no other kingdom will survive the arrival of His. The elite of this world quiver in fear. The powerful see what they cherish slipping through their grasp. And we can all count ourselves a part of this fearful group. Little caveats like “as long as…” betray our membership among the elite and powerful. They betray our desire to build our own kingdom.

When I say or agree with that little caveat, I am conveying that I am still a kingdom-builder. Think about that phrase for a moment. The gift of new life somehow becomes less than a gift just because things differ from our own wishes. Deep down, the scary truth is that in my kingdom, what I need is a child that is healthy. No down syndrome. No weird genetic disorder. No missing fingers or toes (or extras for that matter). That’s what my kingdom requires. Perhaps you think I’m being too hard on myself. Everyone wants their child to be healthy. Yes. It’s completely natural. It is a good desire. It is right for me to pray for a healthy baby and a healthy pregnancy for my wife. Yet, the problem is when we hold it against God when the healthy baby and the healthy pregnancy do not come. When we try to make deals with God, that is when our prayers betray our hearts. And the scary reality is that uncounted throngs of people who desired what is natural and right will end up in hell, because they only sought Jesus’ kingdom as an add-on. “As long as…” ruled their hearts, not Jesus.

What if having a healthy and happy baby would send me to hell? What if what my soul and my family need is a baby who is unhealthy and sanguine? Would I trust in Christ more with a healthy baby or an unhealthy baby? Would prayer be every breath reality and not a spotty occurrence? No one asks these questions. No one allows them self to think that far down the road. And the reason is that we are all little kingdom builders. Busy little bees, building our little hives, our little lives. And when we sense the presence of Christ, fear overcomes us.

Some days I  struggle with the fear that my baby will not be “normal.” There are days that “as long as…” seeks to rule my heart over Jesus. And I am ashamed. I am exposed. For I am a little kingdom builder. I want a “normal” son so we can play catch. I want a “normal” daughter so my wife can teach her to cook. And on those days I am threatened because I know that the Kingdom of my God and his Christ has come. Woe is me, for I am undone.

Yet, there is hope for me. Even when I am threatened. Even when I am fearful. I am drawn towards the one who threatens me. For though my kingdom is shaken, what he offers me in return is far greater than anything I could have built on my own. He offers me membership in an unshakable kingdom. And though difficulty may come, it is for my good. And ultimately, the difficulty will be but a blink of an eye when the perfect comes.

Whether I am ready or not, the little bundle of joy is coming. This child is a gift. This child is a blessing. No matter what the sex or health or psychological disposition. And I am sure that this child is meant for my sanctification. My life will be turned upside down in ways that I cannot even comprehend. And because my Father did not spare His own Son, I know that this new chapter is for my good. And as I grow older and new chapters are written, my kingdom will continue to be threatened. And I say, let it be so.

“Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down…” (Revelation 12:10)

~sdg

UPDATE:

Well, it’s gonna be a boy! I’m pretty pumped. His name will be Callen Ryan Camblin.

se7en

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.
(ESV)

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.

~sdg

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

Skipping Christmas

Today, this thought struck me. Thousands, if not millions, will wake up tomorrow morning, exchange gifts, visit with family and engage in other holiday traditions, all the while thinking they are celebrating Christmas. However, the stark reality is that they celebrate something completely other than Christmas. Why is this? Because they will intentionally and willfully skip services with their local expression of the Body of Christ to take part in other holiday traditions. I decided to share this thought with friends on Twitter and Facebook. I phrased it like this:

Know this: if you skip church tomorrow morning to celebrate Christmas….Christmas is not what you celebrate.

One of my friends from church asked a thoughtful and honest question on Facebook in response to my post. In short, he was questioning whether my statement was correct. Does skipping church on Christmas really relegate your celebration as something less than honoring to Christ? His reaction was that it did not. He reasoned that if it did, the church would need to schedule a worship service on the 25th of December, no matter what day it fell on. I decided that my friend deserved a thoughtful answer to his question. So here it goes.

For over 2,000 years, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ has gathered on the first day of the week to worship our risen and reigning Savior. This is what we do. Worship and fellowship with the church has been the priority since the beginning. It is part of the warp and woof of the Christian life. Yet, in the recent years when Christmas has fallen on a Sunday, this strange phenomena occurs. Christians, in droves, skip meeting together (even more ludicrous are the churches that close down altogether…but that’s another issue for another day). Why is this? Why skip church on Christmas? Frankly, it’s just easier. There is family, presents, traditions, breakfasts and lunches to prepare. Church is just an interruption in the day. Church requires getting ready and leaving the house. Church makes it more difficult to coordinate schedules, etc. But what does the choice of ease and comfort over worship in word and song say about us? Can we truly say we celebrate the advent of our Lord and Savior while we cloister ourselves away from the very ones Jesus has saved? Can we call what we do tomorrow morning “Christmas” when we ignore the  weekly gathering of Christ’s body? I submit that we cannot. For in that act, we repudiate the very thing Christmas teaches us. For it was not for ease and comfort that Jesus came into this world. From the get go, his life was difficult. He was the adopted son of a poor carpenter from a backwater town. He had no place to lay his head. He was the suffering servant who bore our sins and suffered a terrible death on a cross that belonged to us. Thank God Jesus did not choose ease and comfort. Otherwise, there would be no Christmas to celebrate.

This is why I firmly believe that you cannot call your celebration “Christmas” and remove yourself from the weekly scheduled gathering which heralds all that Christmas set out to do. It smacks of hypocrisy and poor theology (this is not to say my friend is a hypocrite or poor theologian. I am speaking of those who practice such things). The logical end of thinking one can skip Sunday services and still honor Christ is the abandonment of the church all together. For if skipping the weekly scheduled gathering on Christmas is no harm, neither should any other weekly scheduled gathering. Suddenly, the foundation for worship and fellowship with the church crumbles. And the author of Hebrews warns us against this very thing. The end of those who neglect meeting together is not rest, but wrath. Eternity is at stake in these matters!

Another question I have is why would any Christian want to skip church on Sunday? Is not gathering together in corporate worship a delight? Is it not a joyful reminder of the future that awaits us in the presence of our serpent-thrashing Savior King? How is a bigoted fat man with rosy cheeks and red suit a better option? If skipping church is the desired choice, what does that say about where our joy and treasure really lie?

At the same time, I do not believe churches should schedule a worship service every December 25th (but I am a fan of Christmas Eve services). I am simply critiquing the prioritization of other culturally adapted holiday traditions over Christian worship. Priorities have the tendency to reveal idolatries. And if Christmas falls on Sunday and corporate worship is not the priority, then don’t fool yourself into thinking what you celebrate is Christmas. In fact, you really just skipped it. That’s all I was trying to convey in my tweet (irony: 800 words to explain 140 characters).

As far as it depends on you (because sometimes, it doesn’t), when Christmas falls on the Lord’s day, make corporate worship the priority. The fellowship, the opportunity to sing songs of salvation and the conviction of the Word preached will outstrip any inconveniences that hour and half may cause you. I will guarantee you that one.

I hope and pray that you and yours have a very Merry Christmas.

~sdg

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!

~sdg

Footnotes
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

Idols, Scapegoats & the False Hope of Fandom

A while back, I renounced my fandom. I had grown tired of all that being a fan in today’s context entailed. No longer could one casually follow a hometown team. A true fan, a real fan, is one who hates all those who pose a threat to their team. But this hate is not reserved for the opposing teams. No, you must hate the fans of those teams as well. It is not simply enough to enjoy watching the Red Sox. You must hate the Yankees (and their fans). The True Blue fans of Kentucky Wildcat basketball must despise the University of Louisville and disparage their fans as half-wits or white trash (or both). It seems that in the world of fandom, love and hate go hand in hand.

Idolatry is not a word too many in our culture use on a daily basis. The word denotes little golden statues the likes that Indiana Jones crisscrossed the world in search of. In this civilized and enlightened world we live in, we have evolved beyond this belief that golden statues hold any power. A surface look at our culture would agree. Ornate Buddhist or Hindu temples do not dot our landscape as they do in Thailand or other Far Eastern countries. It would seem that our context is quite free from idols. Yet, to so narrowly define idols as little golden statues is to miss entirely what idols are and what idolatry looks like.

Understood correctly, an idol is anything or anyone who has attained god-like status in the heart of a person. When we displace the true God by things He made, this is idolatry and the object of our affections is an idol. Idols are our attempt to fill a longing to worship and longing for security, but at the same time retain control. We place present and future hopes and trust on an object or person rather than God. This is idolatry. And fandom wreaks of it.

It may seem a little far-fetched to call modern-day fandom idolatry. I mean, this is sports we are talking about here. Not religion. And yet, the language of fandom is dripping with religious symbols and concepts. Fans “worship” their team. They “idolize” coaches and players. Long-time coaches or super-star players attain “god-like” status. The list could go on. But even beyond the language of fandom is the behavior of fandom. Here, I think we see an even greater connection to “religious” activity. On game day, the fans gather in temple-like facilities, wearing the colors of their team. They sing the songs and chant the chants. When the team enters the arena, praise falls upon them with raucous cheers. Fans gather together with other fans to enjoy the camaraderie and talk endlessly about their team. You give tithes and offerings in exchange for a hot dog and a soda. Or perhaps you even get one of those foam fingers that declares the position of your team in your eyes. Attending a sporting event can be quite the religious experience. Especially when the team isn’t doing so well. Suddenly, a whole new religious dynamic enters the scene. Scapegoating.

Scapegoats find their origin in the book of Leviticus. In chapter 16, YHWH commands the people concerning a certain feast known as the Day of Atonement. In verses 20-22 we find the instructions regarding the scapegoat. The priest confesses all the sins of the people, all their vileness and impurity, over the goat. The goat is then led outside of the camp and set free in the wilderness. This animal bore the cost of Israel’s sin. It was cast outside the camp. And to be outside the camp was to be outside of God’s favor. To bear iniquity was to bear the wrath of God.

Several weeks ago, I watched the ESPN documentary called “Catching Hell” that took a look at scapegoating in sports. The film focused on probably the most recognizable sports scapegoat in all of history; Steve Bartman. The documentary was like a train wreck. The devastation was horrible, but I couldn’t change the channel. The short version of the story is this: The Chicago Cubs have not been the World Series in about 100 years. During the sixth game of the League Championship Series, the Cubs were only a few innings away from going to the World Series. In the top of the 8th inning, a ball was hit down the left field foul line and as usual, the fans in the vicinity stood for an attempt at a souvenir. One particular fan, Steve Bartman, got his hands on the ball, which prevented the Cubs’ left fielder from catching the ball for the second out of the inning. After that play, the Marlins went on to score eight runs to take the lead and win the game. As the game began to unravel, so did the sanity of the Cubs fans. Bartman received all the blame. It was his fault the Cubs were losing. The situation became so dire that Bartman required a security escort from his seat. As security took him away, other fans hurled insults and beer at the bewildered Bartman. The next day, the Cubs lost Game 7, ending their season and extending Cubs fans’ frustrations. In the days that followed the end of the series, Bartman began receiving death threats, so he went into hiding. Besides a short statement read by his brother, no media outlet has heard from Steve Bartman (despite numerous attempts to contact him). For all practical purposes, Steve Bartman is dead. The ability to lead a normal life died that chilly night in October when the Friendly Confines became anything but. He was led outside the camp, bearing the weight of a city’s sins and impurity; a weight he was never meant to carry. A weight that would only crush him.

It’s funny how we never blame our idols when they fall short of fulfilling our hopes and desires. It is always something or someone else who is as fault. Our hearts are so twisted and wicked that when the light exposes the inadequacy of our god, we blame the light for our god’s short-comings. We want what we want. And so we murder and destroy when we do not get it. Idolatry always ends in failure. It is a false hope. It is a vain search for vindication…for significance.

Have you ever noticed that fans use the word “we”[1] a lot? I catch myself doing it sometimes. “We need to upgrade our outfield.” “We have the best starting five in the country.” “We better figure out how to stop that passing attack soon!” We…we…we…we. The fact that you plop your butt in a stadium seat or in front of a HDTV at BW3s does not make you a part of the team. John Calipari has absolutely no idea who you are. Neither does anyone on the UK basketball team. Your opinions are meaningless. Wearing the team colors and replica jerseys do not make you a part of the team. So why do we say “we” when talking about UK basketball? If we were sane people, we’d stop using “we” when it comes to sports. But idolatry has never been the bastion of sane-thinking people.  And yet, there is something deeper going on with this corporate identity. We say “we” because we were made for “we.” God created us to desire membership in something bigger and more glorious than ourselves. Thus, fans speak in the corporate vernacular. Yet, sports cannot bear the crushing weight of our God-given desire for an ever-increasing glory. Our favorite team will always fall short. They will always disappoint. Even if they win it all, the exhilaration won’t last past your head hitting the pillow. Sports teams make for terrible gods.

Where sports fails, Jesus is more than sufficient. In sports, we must search in vain for a scapegoat that will restore our team to purity and victory. Jesus was the scapegoat who was led outside of the camp and bore our sins, making possible the satisfaction of the craving for a “we” to which we can belong. The Church is the “we” and if we only have eyes to see, glimpses of an ever-increasing glory will pierce the clouds and sustain us until the day we meet Jesus face to face. Then we will experience true freedom. Then we will find vindication. Then we will feel the full force of glory revealed and consummated. Then we will be the “we,” basking the glorious presence of our God and Father and the Lord Jesus Christ for ever and ever. No sports championship or title can compare.

~sdg

 

Footnotes

Back to Post[1] – See “What Do You Mean ‘We?’ ” by Chris Jones at Grantland

 

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 ESPN.com 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.

~sdg