Saturday, August 29, 2009

Quarterback battle and the Sovereignty of God

Due to the fact that the Buc's offensive line did not protect my preferred QB Luke McCown at all on Thursday night, we'll be seeing Byron "the Statue" Leftwich as the starter on week 1. If we're going to lose all but 4 games-which is generous-I'd rather see this guy behind the line of scrimmage. Check out this snippet from his interview on dealing with the disappointment of losing out on the starting job:

"It is not easy, but again you guys know me. My faith and my opportunity lie in a sovereign God. That he has a plan for me specifically, and I'll lean on that. That makes it easy for me to go out and have fun, and have a great practice, a good practice, and be at peace with the decision. Because I feel like it is God's decision for my life. It is not really, not necessarily, me not winning the starting job it is just what God has for me right now. That makes it is easy for me to go out with peace."

My prediction (not something I'd prefer happen) is that "the Statue" will be hurt by game 4, and McCown will get a chance. No Buccaneer QB has started all 16 games in the last 7 years, so I believe he'll get his shot to start soon. I'm not a fan of his poise on "the pocket," but I sure am a fan of his faith.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Shipwreck Sovereignty and Responsibility

I was reading in Acts this morning and came across yet another passage in scripture which included the paradox of God's Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Even though this dynamic doesn't fit neatly into our little logical grid-neither do the Trinity and love for that matter-we see these two truths affirmed throughout the bible.

When Paul sailed to Rome they hit some rough patches on the sea, and many thought they would die. So Paul affirmed them of God's Sovereign plan to save them:

"... For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.' So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.....(Acts 27:24-26)

So while they were affirmed of God's Sovereign plan to save them, Paul still gave them instructions which needed to be followed.

"Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, 'Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.' Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship's boat and let it go. As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food. It will give you strength, for not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you (vs. 31-34).

While God affirmed them of their ultimate safety, they still had to play by His rules. Since they hadn't eaten in 14 days, and would be soon swimming to shore after a shipwreck, they would likely not have had the strength to get to shore. I can't imagine doing any exercise after not eating for 14 hours, much less 14 days.

Yet another mix of Sovereignty and Responsibility that moves us to gratitude and rest as opposed to arrogance and fear, to action and inclusion as opposed to laziness and fatalism.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sin is more like Stallworth than Burress

I've already blogged on the seeming unfairness of Plaxico Burress's punishment of 2 years in prison for carrying a loaded unlicensed weapon. Most people who feel this punishment doesn't fit the crime tend to view this crime as only hurting himself, especially since Donte Stallworth got 24 days for actually killing a pedestrian while under the influence. However, Burress' crime was not shooting himself but carrying the weapon without permit, and one could argue that he truly did put others in danger-especially because the gun just "went off" (why the safety wasn't on, I don't know). Others could just as easily been shot.

Regardless where you end up on this issue-if you even care about the issue-it does remind me of the way many view sin. If sin does hurt someone, it just hurts yourself. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But sin always has communal effects, even those which never "leave" your mouth or body. When I harbor anger, I demonize my enemy and ignore a litany of his/her strengths. I also can't love my wife well and listen to her because of my anger.

When we lie to each other, we deceive and push our family and friends away. When we lust or engage in pornography, we are one step further in the direction of alienation to our spouse and brothers/sisters in Christ.
We value our spouse's and community's bodies and intimacy less because of our sin.

Isolation from community and the church, (the sin of "my religion is private" and I don't need to be a part of a church) sins against others by depriving them of your spiritual gifts, encouragement, and challenge. And you are depriving others of their opportunity to serve you with their gifts.

Ultimately, sin is far more than shooting ourselves in the foot, it's shooting others as well. It's more like Stallworth than Burress.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Would Jesus discriminate? Bumper sticker thoughts

I'm fascinated with bumper stickers. I wonder how much they really do say about someone. I don't know if I'd go with a bumper sticker again (I did have a cool Christian one in college) and a big redfish sticker-though the Christian bumper sticker included fish as well-that supported F.C.A. (formerly Florida Conservation Association). Fellowship of Christian Athletes people didn't really like that one.

However I digress, as usual. I saw a "Would Jesus discriminate" bumper sticker the other day and it did what I think bumper stickers are supposed to do: it made me think. Does Jesus never discriminate? If he does discriminate, on what basis?

Well certainly Jesus wouldn't discriminate today and show favoritism between rich/poor, Jews/Gentiles, men/woman, sick/healthy, self-righteous/"sinners." He didn't do it then. What a great reminder to all of us.

In fact, folks (I put myself in this category) who are often drawn to the fact that Jesus condemned self-righteous thinking and behavior often forget that Jesus still mingled and ate with such folks. He did not in some ways discriminate or separate or consider them not worth his time; instead he went to their houses for dinner (Luke 7). Yet we who disdain self-righteous thinking/behavior can quickly become self-righteous about not acting self-righteously, which results in discriminating against and withdrawing from those we consider as such. That's self-righteousness.

However on an ultimate level, Jesus does discriminate in some ways. He said that anyone who has the Son has life and anyone who doesn't have the Son receives God's wrath (John 3). And near the end of his ministry we see him pointing to the end of the age, where He will separate the sheep on his right and goats on his left. The sheep will inherit life, for they by faith have concerned themselves with those in need, and the goats on the left will receive judgment for they by lack of faith have ignored those in need. That's definitely discriminating.

Judging by other colorful bumper stickers on this person's car, I would dare say the latter discrimination may not have been considered. However, it is mandatory to see how
Jesus goes farther in not discriminating than we think, and farther in ultimately discriminating then we often think as well.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shooting yourself is worse than killing someone else

If you're like me at all, you want to see justice and punishment that fits appropriately with the crime. And you want to see lengthier prison time for worse crimes. Lately there have been several instances with NFL players, where punishments seem to me a bit flip-flopped at best.

Plaxico Burress shoots himself in the leg with an unlicensed handgun at a night club, and goes to jail for 2 years. Donte Stallworth kills a pedestrian while drunk driving and goes to jail for 24 days. Now different states, different lawyers, different judges lead to different conclusions. It just makes you long for a justice system with A fair judge, and A good lawyer, in a A good world with A good conclusion.

Twitching Leg, Ken Burns, and Spirituality

My left leg has been twitching every night for the last 4 or 5 days so I've been up a good bit later than I like to be. Since there was no cheesy SCI-FI movie on the SCI-FI channel (they're so bad they draw me in), I flipped through the channels and locked onto Letterman.

He had director Ken Burns, who has a documentary about the National Parks system coming out on PBS Sept 27th. It didn't sound as interesting as The War, but his comments were definitely thoughtful.

This joker seemed like someone I would definitely want as a friend. Nice guy, at least during the interview. Anyhow, he poetically spoke of the spirituality of the Grand Canyon as you "See the hand of God, as the river has been carving the canyon for a billion years." It reminded me of Psalm 19, where the heavens declare the glory of the Lord, and the skies the work of His hand.

Nature truly does point us to the God who created it (not the God who is in and a part of it, called pan-en-theism). Burns really challenged me to think more poetically about creation, and he's following good biblical precedent.

In addition, Burns mentioned that its not just about individual spiritual connection, but about sharing that park experience with others. Life experiences are meant to be shared, how much more should our spirituality be shared in corporate worship and in community groups? Nice common grace insights from Burns.

Monday, August 17, 2009

McNabb and leadership

One of the fall outs of this whole Micheal Vick deal, at least for me, is that I'm seeing positives in quarterbacks I never really liked. For instance, starting Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb allegedly invited Vick to come to play in Philadelphia. Of course McNabb might actually be grooming his replacement. But that's really of the essence of leadership. QB's often do this, and sometimes it costs them their job. Ideally for McNabb, he would mentor Vick, and then see him take over when McNabb is ready to retire. But Vick could easily replace McNabb even before he is ready to step aside.

What we see in McNabb, and other unselfish quarterbacks, is critical to the health of the church: raising up new leadership. Instead of passively just letting someone fall into leadership, we ought to be regularly looking to find our replacements. Often times this means training up someone to either take our place, or giving them opportunities that they could replicate or serve/lead alongside of us.

This doesn't happen by accident or default but by intentionality, and it often means giving others opportunities that put us on the sidelines. For instance, I like leading discussions, but what good is it if just lead them and never train up anyone else to lead them? It would be quite selfish of me. It may look good from the outside, but leadership that fails to seek to raise up new leadership is ultimately self-serving.

The two options are to groom new leadership now, or simply let leadership happen by people being sucked up into the vacuum created when old leadership leaves, dies, or steps down. The result of the vacuum is either a black hole where no leadership is developed (church, ministry, or comm group folds) or new leadership steps up which has no character qualities, gifting, and training for leadership (leads to unhealthy church, group, or ministry). Rarely is the case where there is a healthy ministry, comm group, or church which is not looking to groom the next generation of leaders.

Community groups need apprentices to take over/serve alongside and/or form new groups, elders need to train and groom elders, musicians need to seek to train new musicians, etc..., because you never know when you'll "retire" or "get traded." We're not promised another day on Earth or at our church and so need to think forwardly.

What would it take, God's One and Only Pet?

Well the moment many people were waiting for finally came last week: Micheal Vick was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. PETA people, who I just don't understand, are very disappointed at the signing. Serving two years in prison, forfeiting millions of dollars, and being subject to shame and ridicule could not atone for his sins. I don't know what else this lad needs to do to demonstrate repentance.

Nevertheless, in some ways they are right: nothing can atone for sins except the sacrifice of a sinless Savior. Working to pay a debt doesn't "work" when it comes to the debt of sin. Perhaps PETA sees his work with The Humane Society as his effort to try and atone for his behavior, and not as a truly repentant desire to fight animal abuse.

But I wonder in their eyes, how can someone be forgiven, particularly from animal abuse? Would God need to send his one and only "pet" to be scorned, shamed, tortured and put to death by pet owners, only to rise again? Would this then atone for all sins against pets, those sins committed before and after the sacrifice of His one and only "pet?" Could Micheal Vick then be forgiven?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Right Questions?

Here is an interesting report by my "facebook friend" Ed Stetzer (I really wonder if he'd even remember meeting me at the National Outreach Convention; facebook actually told him he had too many friends, so maybe I'll be 'de-friended!). The report deals with whether or not evangelistic approaches are asking/answering questions that unbelievers are actually asking or concerned about. From the results of the study, it does appear that the 80's-90's "What would happen if you died tonight" kind of questions are immediately relevant to fewer and fewer people today.

As a result, evangelism ought to be contextualized to answer the questions people ARE asking. Read the report to find out the most common question.

Now each person is different, and in Bradenton this may be a very relevant question to some. However, it is not relevant to all and needn't be the first question you try to answer for every unbeliever.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My take on Hamilton

Both noon sports talk shows I listen to spent a large amount of time discussing Texas Ranger's Josh Hamilton relapse photo's. Considered to be THE poster boy for overcoming drug and alcohol addiction, Hamilton did a no-no for any addict: he had a beer. That beer turned into beers, and those beers turned into racy photo's recently posted on 7 months after the event. One host expressed the need to never go out, while the other recognized a continued need for accountability. Here are my "takes."

1.) Repentance: Most people will confess and craft an apology after they've been caught. Usually this just reveals a sorrow for being caught, not a sorrow for the action. This is not always the case-as King David only repented when he was caught by Nathan the prophet-but often seems to be the case. Yet Hamilton confessed to his family and team immediately after these events went down. So to me that evidences the work of Christ in his life; the same Christ whom he credits for his 4 previous years of sobriety and successful comeback to baseball. And of course, Christ has already offered pardon for all sins through his atonement on the cross.

2.) Perpetual Struggle with Sin: For a time Josh Hamilton used to give his money to someone responsible for holding him accountable in the area of drugs and alcohol. He couldn't spend a dime unless his own money had been divvied out to him. I'm assuming that this is still the case. This is an example to us all how powerful temptations can be, and the need to have others in our lives. He will always be an alcoholic, but he does not have to be a slave to alcohol. The same is true with our sin struggles. I am going to be a sinner till I die, but I do not have to enslaved to envy or anger. Nevertheless, the minute we forget about about our battle with sin, is the minute we take the next step toward that "open bar." Fortunately for most of us, we're not famous enough to land on I think that's really the only difference.

Here's the story as covered by ESPN. Photo's are a bit racy, but remind us of the damage caused when we give into temptation and the need to run to Christ.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I had lunch with someone a few weeks ago and left greatly challenged by his application of the gospel. He told me, "Geoff, this is the year of feedback. I'm trying to get feedback on everything from preaching to parenting."

One result from this desire is that he will be a better parent and preacher by the end of the year. From what I've heard, it is already beginning to show. I've learned some good stuff about parenting from the feedback given to him. So I guess I am, or will be, a better parent from his feedback.

Seeking feedback and evaluation is a great thing. God gives us each other that we would, well, build each other up. That doesn't happen without feedback.

The reason most of us, including myself, hate getting feedback is because we really don't believe the gospel. If we really believed the gospel, that we are 100% righteous before God AND others, that no one has a higher or lower standing, that God rejoices and dances over us, we'd seek feedback. Even negative feedback ought not to weaken our confidence or make us defensive.

It's what some people call a "gospel dynamic." How well we receive or seek feedback is directly tied to how much we really believe the gospel. Painfully hard for me to write this because I'm pointing the finger at myself, but it is 100% true. I think mine and our partial disbelief in the gospel is one of the main reasons feedback is so hard.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

JW's and methodology

A few weeks ago, a Jehovah's Witness and her little apprentice (I felt sorry for this chap because he definitely did not want to be there) stopped by the house to chat. One thing struck me as unique in my experiences with JW's: dialog. Instead of trying to disprove my supposedly fallacious belief that Jesus is equal with the God the Father (not a created being as JW's believe), she began to ask questions.

That methodology showed respect, albeit slight respect, for what I held dear, and is very commendable. Instead of immediately telling people they are wrong, asking questions not only reveals to us what they really believe, but also shows we care. It made me want to enter into a dialog as opposed to running from or charging angrily into oncoming enemy fire.

However the methodological problem which struck me most forcefully was her selection of passages. She picked perhaps three of the most confusing passages or books in the bible. Passages which have a myriad of different interpretations and require extensive knowledge of not only the entire bible, but also genre analysis and history. The book of Daniel, the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24, and Revelation.

It is not wise to build your theology upon passages which Christians throughout the ages have come to a wide variety of conclusions. Best to start your theology upon that which is most clear, and allow the passages that are clear to help interpret those which are unclear. Just a helpful interpretive principle handed down to us by the Reformers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Check out what Jesus has done in my family!

Amy dropped off Connar at the kids club (I call it a nursery) at Lifestyles Family Fitness sometime toward the end of last week. She was greeted by a young lass of about 10-12 years of age. This young lass shamelessly began talking about how much Jesus had changed her family's life.

First of all, what boldness! However I doubt she had to psych herself up by praying, hitting her head against the wall or touching a rock on the way out of the proverbial locker room. Jesus had simply changed her family's life, and now people were going to hear about it. She was bold because Jesus had actually made a difference.

We hold nothing back that is precious or anything which has had a great impact in our lives, except maybe a secret fishing hole. Other than that, we simply tell of good things that happen to us-unless we feel no one would really care. Kids don't worry about whether or not people will care about their stories; they just tell. I think this is a good example of child-like faith that ought to challenge us all. Just tell stories, the Grand Story, and the story of how it intersects with our lives.

The 2nd thing of note was that Jesus had changed her "family's" life. Not just hers. Sin from the parents affects kids. I don't know how many times I've seen sin patterns in parents get passed down to kids. And Connar will definitely inherit and have to deal with my sin patterns. Today he walked from his room to the laundry room and threw away his own diaper; I bet he's only actually witnessed me throw them away maybe a few times. I'm learning how quickly he's picking up on my cues. But just as he will struggle with "Hender-sins," Jesus gives us hope that he can redeem the whole family from the enslaving power of Hender-sins and those sins common to us all.

I'm a fan of Lifestyles Family Fitness because they are really living up to their name in more ways than one.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Biblical Rays of Grace

Yesterday Amy and I went to a Ray's game. I hate to watch them lose, and hate even more to actually pay money and go to a game and watch them lose. Last time Amy and I went to a game, Scott Kazmir started and threw 10 straight balls, paving the way for a Rays 13-5 loss to the Red Sox. This time I strategically picked a game in which the Rays played 2nd worst team in baseball.

Kazmir was once again on the mound, and this time against against the Royal's ace Zach Greinke, but things definitely started out much differently. Instead of 10 straight balls, Kazmir struck out the first two batters. Yet it was even before the game began when things started looking up.

Amy and I got dropped off by my mother-in-law (fortunately because I had only 3 dollars in my wallet) and began walking toward the ticket counter. Someone asked me if I had tickets, and I told him, "No," not really thinking about it. Then immediately a woman in workout clothes approached us with the same question.

Only this time her accosting appeared more pleasant. Take these tickets. They're really good seats, but I can't use them because I have to go....

So I grabbed them, thanked her, and preceded to walk towards our new seats, only 8 rows back from the Royal's dugout. Crazy.

Was this grace? Had we done anything to deserve these tickets? Yes, it was definitely grace and we hadn't deserved them. But I was thinking, even this picture of grace (all illustrations fall short at some point, it's just how far they can go) didn't hold up to a biblical picture of God's grace toward us.

Check this out: "...At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.... But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6,8)."

I was powerless in that I couldn't pay her back-seeing as I had no real cash to my name then-but I definitely hadn't sinned against her by dishonoring her sarcastically with my lips in front of my wife and son in anger on the way to a picnic the day before. So not really the same sense of grace God shows His children: giving good when they deserve bad.

However God the Father, the giver of all good things, did reinforce to me yesterday that he continues to love me graciously (giving me good things when I deserve bad things). So grace was definitely shown, and this woman was simply the vessel by which He both reinforced and demonstrated biblical grace to me.