In the Darkness

In the darkness, with the final battle begun
Sweating drops of blood, He prayed and didn’t run

“Take this cup from me,” was His cry
As He fervently prayed, with throat raw and mouth dry

Three times He prayed for the cup to pass
Three times He was met with silence with His face still in the grass

Behold, the hour had come and the betrayer was at hand
“Arrest the one I kiss” was his forked-tongue command

In the darkness, with the final battle begun
Bound by rope and chain, He submitted and didn’t run

Before the Council, silent He remained
From defending Himself, He abstained

But deny Himself He would not do
“I am the Son of Man, King of every Jew”

“Blasphemy! Blasphemy!” the High Priest retorted
And to Pilate and death He was escorted

In the darkness, with the final battle begun
Beaten and spat upon, He endured and didn’t run

Before Pilate, the chief priests’ charges mounted
The lies and half-truths numbering more than could be counted

Amazed and amused, Pilate asked “Are you the King of every Jew?”
“I am” He replied, for deny Himself He would not do

Then Pilate asked the crowd, “whom shall I release to you?”
And the crowd responded, “give us Barabbas! Crucify that king of every Jew!”

In the darkness, with the final battle begun
Scourged and mocked, He trusted and didn’t run

Outside the camp, to a place called “skull”, he was led
And there they crucified him, left him for dead

“My God, my God,” he screamed, “why have you forsaken me?!”
As he hung there dying, his life slipping away on that tree

With the crowds still gathered, he cried out and breathed his last
His body limp and lifeless. Dead. His Word had come to pass

In the darkness, with the final battle begun
Shamed and scorned, He died and didn’t run

His body was wrapped and placed in the grave
While his enemies justified themselves by snarling,”Himself He could not save”

It seemed as if all hope was lost, for King Jesus was dead
But there was more to the story, a chapter yet unwritten and unread

For early that Sunday morn, life flickered again
And with it, hope was renewed for the children of men

In the light, with the final battle won
Glorified and justified, He was resurrected and all His work was done

-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.

Book Review: Die Young

 

Introduction

Die Young is by Michael and Hayley DiMarco and published by Crossway*. Haley is the best-selling author of over 30 books, including God GirlMean Girls, and Die Young. She and her husband, run Hungry Planet, a company focused on producing books that combine hard-hitting biblical truth with cutting-edge design in Nashville, Tennessee.

Crossway describes the book this way:

In a world that entices people to chase happiness and be self-centered, Hayley and Michael DiMarco take a stand for the truth. Living for yourself, they say, will destroy you. The only path to real life is through death—a death to self that frees people to live with the fearless love and rock-solid hope that Jesus intended.

Review

Overall, I liked the book. I would give it 3 stars out of 5. The book has a familiar ring to it. It’s organized around the idea that everything you think is wrong. “You have heard it said…but I say unto you.” Death is the New Life. Down is the New Up. Less is the New More. Weak is the New Strong. Slavery is the New Freedom. Confession is the New Innocence. Red is the New White. Basically, the Gospel turns the world and life upside down. I felt like the DiMarco’s did a good job of exploring each of those areas to look at how the call to follow Jesus changes everything in our life. No area of life is left unchanged or unchallenged. All must be surrendered. All is required. The old must die.

While I enjoyed the book and think the core of the material is solid, I did have a few critiques of the book. First, the Gospel is only used to talk about personal salvation from sin. While I’m still learning much about this, the Gospel is more than that. The good news is not just about me avoiding hell and living this rich life that is promised. It’s the all-encompassing fulfillment of Kingdom of Christ. It’s the good news that those who have competing kingdoms can lay down their arms, abdicate their thrones and join the Kingdom of God. I think that the book could have been made even stronger if the theme of the Kingdom had been woven into the book’s core. Second, I found the book very repetitive at times. I found myself saying at times “Okay, I get it…let’s move on.” Finally, I found the layout of the book a little distracting. Throughout the book, both Michael and Hayley interspersed their personal story of coming to grips with the truths they are talking about. However, rather than weaving those stories into the prose of the book, there are these pages that say “Here lies Michael” or “Here lies Hayley” and there the authors share their personal stories. I found this distracting. So distracting that I began skipping them after the first chapter.

I did feel as if the authors wrote the book with a younger audience in mind. Even though they say in the book that you can “die young” at any age, the way the book is written, the authors are clearly targeting the younger generation (teenagers and young adults).

Overall, I think it’s a solid book that would be suitable for new believers, especially teenagers, even with the few critiques I mentioned above.

~sdg

*Crossway provided me with a free copy of the book in exchange for a review. I was not required to provide a positive review.

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

Steve Jobs: Greatest or Least in the Kingdom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~sdg

Steve Jobs: A Grief Deserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~sdg