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.
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.
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.
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.
Every party has a pooper, that’s why we invited you. Party pooper. Party pooper. – Franck Eggelhoffer
It is common in our world to think of God as a Cosmic Party Pooper. Man just wants to have fun and here comes God ruining it. The unbelieving world has looked at God and come to the conclusion He exists to kill joy. Or rather, he is a construct of those who wish to kill their joy. It’s understandable. God has said “Do not” to many of the things they wish to do. Now, this view of God is wildlyinaccurate (Ps. 16:11). However, there is one type of party we Christians like to throw that God is in the business of pooping.
I just sold my townhouse (Praise God!). Literally. I signed the contract yesterday. And it only took over a year of being on the market with multiple price drops and much anxiety. When my family and I set out on this adventure, I expected it to take maybe six months. Townhouses sell slower than your typical home. But as month six came and went, I started planning a little party. A Pity Party. As we waited, we saw many friends put their houses on the market and sell them (sometimes within days). Suddenly, the date for the party got pushed up and it became a multi-night event. Invitations, however, were limited. I generally only invited my wife and God (It’s funny how we reserve our best for the ones we really love. *end sarcasm*). God never RSVP’d. But He sure did show up. Continue reading “The Cosmic Pity Party Pooper”→
We all do it. Most of us do it daily. We come before the throne of God Almighty and offer up prayers we really don’t want Him to answer. We know we are supposed to pray for these things. We’ve been around enough to know that these are the things Christians pray for. And yet, in the depths of our hearts, we hope they won’t get answered.
This disbelief is not something we would admit. We think we want all our prayers to be answered. But the truth always comes out. When God starts answering those prayers, our reactions to His methods betray what we really want. We want the ends, but we do not want His means. And this is the rub.
My wife knows her way around the kitchen. The girl can flat-out cook. And I can flat-out eat. We are a good match. Something I have learned while watching my wife in the kitchen is that if you want cookies, then follow the cookie recipe. Do not stray from it. Do not forget an ingredient or step. Otherwise the result will be sadness and a growling stomach. This is the nature of cooking and baking. The means matter when the goal is a particular end.
A land flowing with milk and honey. That was the promise. When God appeared to Moses and chose him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, God tells Moses that He is giving them a land flowing with milk and honey. I’m sure that sounded like paradise to the people. They had only know oppression and poverty. And here was God promising wealth and freedom. Finally, after years of crying out to God to rescue them, to remember them, God answered their prayers. As God rescued them from the hand of Pharaoh, the people rejoiced and responded with praise. Whatever God commanded of them, they did. But something happened. Something changed. The path to the Promised Land led through the wilderness. There was difficulty and suffering in their path. And the people grumbled. Manna? In the wilderness? Where’s the water? Did God bring us out here to kill us? Is God a liar? They questioned the means by which God was bringing about the promised end. And their faithless grumbling was their undoing. Rather than receive the blessing promised, they were cursed and fell in the wilderness. For their grumbling revealed that the rescue they prayed for they never really wanted.
Right now, I sit in a townhouse that I want to sell. I have two bedrooms that are both occupied and a new son due to be born in February. We feel cramped. We knew this time would come, so we put our house on the market 10 months ago. And we prayed that God would sell it. But this is not all we have prayed for. I asked God to make us more like Jesus through this process. And of all the prayers Christians are supposed to pray, this is the one I think too many of us pray without thinking about it. I know I did.
Why is this? We like the ends. To be like Jesus, full of love, mercy, kindness, and joy, sounds wonderful. But we often do not consider the means by which God will make us like Jesus. Jesus walked the path of suffering and humility. Today, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The Eternal Son of God enfleshed to live, die and rise again so that we might be saved from our sins. Where was he born? Most likely, a drafty cave. Who visited him? Mangy shepherds. He had no convenience. He had no comforts. Even in his birth, Jesus lived a life marked by humility, suffering and difficulty.
Yet, somehow we think we should not have to suffer. But much to our consternation, there are no shortcuts to imaging Jesus. If we would be like him, we must walk His path. Humility comes before honor. Suffering comes before glory. It is the way of the Father.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17, ESV)
We want the Promised Land without the wilderness. We want the milk and honey without first tasting the manna. We want Jesus without the cross because we would rather not bear our own. It is why we pray prayers we do not mean. Thankfully, even though God sees through our half-hearted prayers, He still answers them as if we meant it. Affliction shows up at our door and does his work (1). Sin bubbles to the surface. Sin we had no idea was there. What will we do with it? Will we bring our sin to Jesus so He can kill it? Or will we respond like the wilderness generation and be killed by our sin? Will we grumble as Affliction begins his rehab project or with our eyes firmly fixed on the end, rejoice in the means? The early church rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus. Why? Because they knew that suffering leads to glory. Too often, I forget that. It is why I end up praying prayers I do not mean. But there is hope for me. He still came. Today is still Christmas. Praise God for His grace.
1 – I owe this concept of affliction to Doug Wilson’s tweet.
In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. (Proverbs 14:26-27, ESV)
It took me a year. But I finally found the verses I will pray over my son. I have thought a lot about his life and all that may lay before him. Today is his birthday. And my mind has been flooded with all the memories of this past year. But, I also realize that now is the time to start teaching him and shaping him for the roads ahead. But where to start? Solomon gives me a good place to start. Fear.
If I do not shape the contours of his fear, the world will do it for me. The question when it comes to fear is not should our kids have fears, but what kinds of fear. The world will tell us to have no fear (remember all those “No Fear” t-shirts?). The world calls fear unnecessary. So they create conferences and write books and produce podcasts all about conquering your fears. But this is all posturing and lies. Man was made for fear. But the problem for most is not that they fear too much, but that they fear too little. Their lives are marked by constant fear of a thousand petty things. And they are immobilized and fretful. They are weak, cowardly and foolish. And the solution is not less fear but greater fear.
I think some people get this. They look around and understand they should be more scared than they are on a daily basis. So they create stories meant to scare. Vampires, werewolves, aliens, serial killers and the boogeyman, oh my! The horror genre exists to scare us, to help us feel fear. They seem to intuitively know that their daily fears are too small, too insignificant.
God is the greatest reality in the universe. He is the greatest power. He spoke and stuff appeared, ex nihilo. Our hearts beat and our lungs fill with air because He is speaking. And since He is the greatest power, He deserves our greatest fear. And as counter-intuitive as it may sound, if we would only fear a bigger fear, we would find freedom from the petty fears that plague our lives. We would be transformed from cowardly to bold. We would leave the path of folly and walk in wisdom.
How does this work? Why does the fear of the LORD lead to wisdom? Because the fear of the LORD puts us on the path to embracing the Gospel. When we see God in all His glory, we see our sin. We realize that we cannot stand before pure holiness. We need a mediator or we risk drinking the wrath of God to the dregs. We find that mediator in Jesus of Nazareth. When we trust in Jesus and are united by faith to Him, we have then been united to the Father. The greatest power in the universe now holds us in His hands. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31, ESV) Paul asks rhetorically. Do you see the freedom in this? Nothing can touch you when God is in your corner. This does not mean that you will not experience pain or difficulty in life. But it does mean that the end of the story is good for you. It means life and not death. But first we must lay aside our petty fears.
So fear boldly. Fear the One who speaks dragons into existence and fear not the dragons. For the dragons can only kill you. This is what I will teach my son. It’s the only wise thing I can do.
Is today a good day to die? Earlier this week, I thought it was. As I drove home from Vacation Bible School, I felt really good. I am helping lead a group of 4th grade future men. I had shared the gospel with them. I plead with them to walk the path of wisdom and to begin the journey that very night. Some of them asked good questions. They seemed to grasp what I was telling them. And that made me excited. It felt good.
As I neared home with David Crowder* Band blaring, I thought, this would be a good way to go out. It would be a good day to die and enter into glory with my last moments spent serving children and bidding them to come to Christ. Yes, that’d be a great way to go. But there was a problem. The thought sprang from my heart in a moment of self-referential me-ness. Because I felt good about my service, I judged myself fit to come before the Throne and in the process, effectively denied the very Gospel I had pleaded with some 4th grade boys to believe.
The Gospel of Jesus is news that utterly subverts our natural point of reference: self. Any and all hope and trust in self must shrivel up and die like a tree deprived of water if we seek to follow Jesus. He demands that all of our trust and hope rest on his broad shoulders. For we all stand condemned as law breakers. None is clean. All fall short. All miss the mark. What we deserve is the wrath promised for law-breakers. But Jesus lived perfectly. He never sinned. Not once. And instead of receiving reward, he died the cursed death of a law-breaker. Why? So that guilty sinners like you and me could escape. He paid the penalty and we enjoy the reward. My salvation has absolutely nothing to do with my obedience, and everything to do with Jesus’ (speaking strictly in terms of our justification). My standing before the Father is not referenced in my daily obedience to an abstract list of rules, but in my faith in Jesus. And Jesus has promised me that all who come to him will not ever be cast out. My standing is sure and secure.
But my morbid little thought exercise effectively rejected that Gospel. Quite subtlety, I made preaching the Gospel the foundation of my standing before the Father and not receiving the Gospel. The difference may seem insignificant, but dangerous ground lay before me. The choice between the path of folly (trust in self) and wisdom (trust in Jesus) is one of eternal significance. Gratefully, it was but a brief relapse of memory. Gratefully, God opened my eyes to the folly of that thought almost instantly. Grace upon grace indeed.
In reality, any day that one dies in Jesus, is a good day to die. And that is true no matter what the details of that day. I could die after sharing the Gospel with 10,000 people, or die after sharing with none and struggling terribly with sin. Both days would remain good days to die because the circumstances of neither of those days change my standing before the Father. What God sealed before the foundation of the world cannot be broken (Praise God!). That’s the simple and yet exceedingly profound truth of the Gospel.
Is today a good day to die? That depends entirely on how you answer the question, who is Jesus?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.