THE GOSPEL, The Ultimate Death, and Hero Worship

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Several different people have told me that one of the strangest things they know about me is how I used to be a huge professional wrestling fan. It’s not the first piece of information that I tend to volunteer about myself, understanding that there’s much about sports entertainment that is undesirable (even a bit offensive) to many. Nonetheless, it’s an important part of my early years (mid 80s to early 90s). In fact, the enjoyment I get from public speaking, as much as anything, comes from my affinity for professional wrestling promos. To me, professional wrestling is a bit to modern middle class westerners like Shakespearean theatre has been to higher society for the past 400 years – scripted, live action, participatory drama.  It’s live storytelling designed to help viewers escape from the realties of their own life drama.

In my youth, there was one main character – Hulk Hogan. Hogan was this larger-than-life, charismatic individual that had his own cartoon, vitamins, action figures, video games, and a host of other merchandise. “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan, as announcers often referred to him, was a purebred good guy. He encouraged children to “train, say their prayers, and eat their vitamins” (the last of which, as mentioned, he conveniently peddled. I didn’t understand the marketing strategy at the time, but I was certainly buying the dogma that he was selling.)

blog - ultimate warrior 2The only competitor that ever really rivaled Hogan’s popularity was a bizarre character billed from “Parts Unknown” named The Ultimate Warrior. Nobody had ever seen anything like him before. He was a chiseled, 275-pound man who sprinted to the ring in fluorescent wrestling gear and face paint and shook the ropes like a madman. It was all set to this intense, pounding entrance music. The crowd would totally erupt. In fact, The Ultimate Warrior became so insanely popular, that the WWE (WWF at the time), in something of a “passing the torch” moment, actually had The Warrior defeat Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VI, their major annual event (think “Super Bowl of wrestling”). Hogan losing at Wrestlemania was absolutely unthinkable at the time. But The Ultimate Warrior did it. That’s how big he had become. People had latched onto his energy, his intensity, and his omnivorous appetite for life.

And now he’s dead.

Tuesday evening, the man born James Brian Hellwig, who portrayed The Ultimate Warrior character, passed away at the age of 54. Hellwig had so bought into the ideals and values of the character he’d portrayed that he legally changed his name to Warrior. And this past weekend, at Wrestlemania XXX, he was the headliner inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. In his 50+ minute speech, Warrior addressed the criticisms that he’s received throughout his career – that behind the scenes he was something of a self-interested, egocentric loner. He mentioned how much those comments hurt and argued, “I was a good guy. I am a good guy.” People politely applauded. But the reality is that a great deal of the criticisms about the Warrior being concerned solely about himself in the business, according to those who worked most closely with him, were true. It even came out in Warrior’s infamous promos before his matches – he would talk about self-fulfilled prophecies and becoming what you want to be through determination and tapping into the warrior inside you, etc. He literally did this even through his last promo on Monday night.

But now The Ultimate Warrior, or at least the man who played that character, is dead.

I’m no longer seven years old, watching wrestling on Saturday mornings. But it’s still weird and a bit disconcerting to watch a “hero” die. It’s almost as if we believe that heroes should last forever. Hmmm. Where does that notion, which seems to exist in our collective societal unconscious, come from? Perhaps because there is a hero who IS immortal. Perhaps because there is a warrior whose victory IS ultimate. You see, life is full of appetizers that point us to a main course. But we can’t forget that they’re merely appetizers.

In our lives, we won’t stop worshipping heroes, because we were wired to do exactly that. We won’t stop studying the doctrines of such heroes, because we were wired to do that too. However, we can pick our heroes. And, as N.T. Wright once said,

“You become like what you worship. When you gaze in awe, admiration, and wonder at something or someone, you begin to take on something of the character of the object of your worship.” (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense”)

If that’s true, then we’ll want to be very careful that we choose wisely WHO (or WHAT) it is in life that we truly worship. In the end, this decision will determine what we become in life…and after death.

Great wrestling characters always had a way of touching a perceived social truism and embodying it. The doctrine of Hulk Hogan was that if you try hard, acknowledge God, and do “the right thing,” you will succeed in life. The Ultimate Warrior’s doctrine was that if you tap into the potential that exists inside you, ignoring the dissenting voice of the forces that surround you, you will become the warrior you were destined to be. Years later, the next major wrestling character was named Stone Cold Steve Austin. He LITERALLY trademarked the phrase “Austin 3:16″ to indicate his doctrine. Sacrilegious? Yes, of course. At least he was honest that he was peddling a false doctrine though. Steve Austin embodied the spirit of disgruntled, blue-collar workers who felt oppressed, held back by “the man.” Austin’s doctrine was that you deserve better than the guff you take from your controlling, condescending authority figures. The next major star after Austin was a guy called The Rock – yes, that’s the same muscled dude who stars in all those empty plot children’s movies. The Rock’s doctrine was that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks; you are destined for luxury, prosperity, and greatness if you concentrate on yourself above all else.

Are you beginning to see why I’ve always found professional wrestling fascinating? These characters personify false doctrines, humanistic ideals, and hollow philosophies…the very ones that Americans tend to swallow whole.

The truth is that everyone around you is proclaiming a doctrine in life. These doctrines, to varying degrees, are merely false gospels. One of my favorite quotes from Christian author Paul David Tripp is this:

 “Corporate worship is designed to counteract the false gospels you hear every day with the true gospel of Jesus Christ.” 

In other words, you’re constantly being indoctrinated by the world. You have to consciously choose whether or not you’re going to believe the things others confidently proclaim to you. You have to carefully think through the implications of the such doctrines. You have to decide which heroes are really worth worshipping.

blog - ultimate warrior 3False doctrine and false heroes are often appealing, in part, because there’s typically some amount of truth in what they’re saying. For instance, Warrior’s idea that there are evil forces that surround you working against you, according to the Bible, is absolutely TRUE. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8) However, his belief that you can overcome such evil by tapping into the innate good power inside of you, at least according to the Bible, is decidedly FALSE. “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood.” (Gen. 6:5; 8:21) Therefore,you have to choose what from his doctrine you’re going to believe. I know LOTS of people, Christians included, who (often unwittingly) believe and practice the false gospels of experts, heroes, and family members whom they admire. You MUST think through the ramifications of those doctrines though. And when you do so, I’m convinced that ONLY the gospel of Jesus Christ will come out shining.

Here’s why: every other gospel leads to death. Without wanting to be callous here, as much as I enjoyed The Ultimate Warrior character as a child……he’s not coming back. Conversely, on the third day, Jesus rose from the grave. HE is full of truth. Similarly, everything he says must then be full of truth, even life-giving. Those concepts – truth and life – are fascinatingly connected. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

Wouldn’t it simply make sense that someone who can actually come back to life would know more about life than you or me or any other heroes or experts out there. All Christian doctrine really hinges on the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:14). And if you’re still in doubt about his resurrection, I’d encourage you to attend worship on Easter Sunday. I’m fairly certain, wherever you are, you’ll get to hear more about it.

But I’ll leave you with the final public words of a now dead man. Choose. What from it will you believe? And keep using that a filter for whatever it is that you choose to believe. Is this person going to die? Maybe they’re flawed. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Then I’d better listen to what he’s saying.

“Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life what makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them bleed deeper and something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized…..I am The Ultimate Warrior. You are the Ultimate Warrior fans and the spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”

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THE GOSPEL and Processing The Epic Fail

blog - failureWARNING: I’m writing this mostly for myself. But I hope those who have been here will know I’m not trying to whine, just longing out loud for the life we were meant for.

Truth be told, I’m going through something of an early, existential, midlife crisis at the moment. It’s awful. And at its core, I think, is this realization I’ve come to – that I JUST CAN’T WIN.

Now, I’ve always intellectually recognized, at least to some extent, that Christianity wasn’t going to overcome this world by winning a popularity contest. But I think I’ve finally come to know that experientially.

My feelings right now are telling me this: I’m getting a little tired of living in a world where, when Christians act together in united beliefs, it’s dehumanized as “The Evangelical Machine”, but when the LGBT moves to make a change, it’s more sympathetic “advocates” or “activists” or “a community” being true to themselves. I’m getting tired of a world that finds a groundswell of support for hopping on moral high horses while simultaneously denying any basis for universal morality, i.e. God. I’m getting tired of a world where the only conceivable way for a biblically-based movie to get a positive consensus review is if the director distorts the actual biblical account into a dysmorphic monstrosity of itself. I’m getting tired of living in a world that is okay with inconsistently preaching to us that our biological arising was accidental and meaningless but that our main psychological problem is that we lack self-esteem.

Yes, I find all that exhausting. Nonetheless, any pastor will tell you that opposition from outside the church is infinitely less frustrating than opposition from within the church. After all, Jesus did warn his disciples, “You will be hated by everyone because of me,but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” (Matt. 10:22) 

Consequently, I find even more maddening the idea of Christian leaders who refuse to acknowledge biblical Creationism and are too near-sighted to see the longterm difficulties such incongruity causes the church. I’m also getting tired of the hypocritical self-righteousness of so many that label themselves Christians, the single thing that seems to annoy non-believers the most. I’m also getting a little impatient with reading countless books on ministry methodology that, while well-intentioned, and often helpful, seem to lack a tone that suggests “We’re at war!”, failing to acknowledge that our goal, our bottom line in this world, is less to triumph and more to merely stay standing (Eph. 6:10-13). And having recently dealt (albeit indirectly) with some of the scandal that sometimes devours churches, I’m also getting somewhat disheartened with continually addressing the biblically naive question, “How does something like this (i.e. something sinful) happen in the church?” I remember a seminary professor, who had once served as Dean of Students at one of our parochial schools, saying that he routinely had to answer this question from parents and appalled onlookers when some student was caught in sin. It’s a failure to recognize the nature of the ugly beast called “sin” which leeches on inside every living human being. This also makes me think of a passage from the memoirs of Frances Perkins, the first woman ever appointed to the U.S. Cabinet. Working under Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Perkins records F.D.R as saying,

“Frances, have you ever read Kierkegaard?….you ought to read him,…It will teach you about the Nazis….Kierkegaard explains the Nazis to me as nothing else ever has. I have never been able to make out why people who were obviously human beings [obviously educated, obviously refined] could behave like that. They are human, but they behave like demons. Kierkegaard gives you an understanding of what it is in man that makes it possible for these Germans to be so evil.” (Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew)

We now know that F.D.R. and other Americans in charge were being told for years by Jewish leaders what the Nazi Germans were doing. But F.D.R. refused to come to grips with the full brokenness of humanity – to fully believe it – until he read Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard, who, writing on the nature of mankind’s sinfulness, explained to him how The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Rom. 8:7) Christians that are most in tune with their Bibles are always less surprised by sin than those who are not. They recognize that the Bible contains one good man and a thousand case studies of those who are not, by nature, good. 

And lest anyone get the impression that I’m suggesting there’s something wrong with everyone else in the world except me, make no mistake, I frustrate myself more than anyone else frustrates me. I’ve known for a long time that I’m my own worst enemy. The Apostle Paul’s words so clearly resonate with me: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me….waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Rom. 7:21-23) I certainly don’t measure up to God’s perfect standard (Matt. 5:48; Lev. 19:2). For that matter, I don’t even measure up to the standard by which I’m inclined to judge others.

My point in all this is that both those outside the church AND those inside the church seem to be strangely united in one basic and important way – they’re disappointed in the church, disappointed in humanity, and even frustrated with God.

I get angry too. One of the Bible stories that has been something of a theme for me the past several months is the account of Elijah after the Mount Carmel victory. We’re told in 1 Kings 19 that shortly after he emphatically, courageously defeated all the false prophets of Baal commissioned by the wicked king and queen of Israel at the time, Elijah went into the wilderness around Beersheba, laid down under a bush, and prayed to God that he would die: “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. (1 Kings 19:4) I’m no Elijah, but I think I know exactly what he’s feeling. I think every Christian does at some point. Even after victory, sometimes more so after victory, we crumble at the prospect of still having to fight, and the truth that we’re simply not going to win this one (i.e. this life).

That’s okay. That probably deserves some mourning. Still, knowing the future can/should be a major source of relief for Christians.  I often tell people that you can face anything in this life with confidence if you know how the last chapter of your story ends – the splendor of meeting Jesus face-to-face for all eternity (Rev. 22:1-5). This is the very truth from which comes the notion of “happily ever after.”

However, if we’re to accept what the Bible says about our fairy tale ending, then we must also accept its teaching on the climax of the narrative’s conflict. The life of the Church on earth, to some extent, will pattern the life of Christ. That is, the culmination of Jesus’ life on earth was crucifixion, occasioned by opposition from within and without. Similarly, Jesus tells us, in detail, that we, as the Church, can expect something similar in the Last Days (Matt. 24-25). It’s not pretty.

Nonetheless, what Christians have to keep in mind is that while Christ’s death on the cross seemed like defeat, it was an unequivocal victory that needed to come in the manner it did. In the same way, we, the Church, need to be humbled before we become exalted. We need to die before we can rise. We need to fall defeated in death before we can lay claim to Jesus’ victory.

Does this mean that, in some respects, we Christians must necessarily serve as punching bags for the rest of humanity? How much would it scare you if I said, “Yes, maybe.”? But am I really saying anything different from what Paul himself said? “This (humbly, but confidently absorbing opposition in this world) is a sign…that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” (Phil. 1:28-29)

It’s troubling. But you’ll be okay. Believing the gospel makes you tough. And you can only show how tough you are by what you’re able to take. True Christianity is sort of like those flashlights that are powered by how much you shake them. Christian light in a dark world shines that much brighter the more you try to rattle it.

Take heart. You’re not going to win this world – interpret that however you’d like. I’m not suggesting there won’t be periods of happiness that somewhat balance times of sadness. Nor am I compromising the truth that as God’s redeemed child, you have his holy, sovereign, omnipotent hand blessing you. The Bible speaks of various seasons of life which bring corresponding levels of satisfaction. But if the prince of this world is Satan himself (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11), how far up in the hierarchy here would you really like to climb anyways?

Victory is coming. But not in this world, at least not in the way you’re probably hoping. Jesus’ promise means that the coming victory (and its accompanying peace) is actually much better than whatever you or I have dreamed up for ourselves: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

THE GOSPEL and Acceptance

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It’s a big time of year for movie lovers. The 86th Academy Awards came and went on Sunday night and all we really got was this crazy selfie. Meryl Streep, you’re better than this, by the way. Channing Tatum,….. nope, this is probably about right.

Oh yeah, and I almost forgot, we also got this CLASSIC John Travolta moment. Despite no one caring, my Travoltified name is Joss Hisckses.could be worse. 

But that’s about it.

Formerly in the industry myself (i.e. 7 summers, Family Video), I used to rather enjoy the ceremony. Now, understanding better the biases of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the Oscars have lost much of their luster. Like all the other entertainment achievement ceremonies, the Oscars now just seem like an enormous, self-aggrandizing, collective pat on the back from the most beautiful and wealthy, generally each peddling their own agenda. Yeah, a selfie seems perfectly in place, I guess.

Without question, my favorite Oscar moment in history is the social awkwardness that was Sally Field’s acceptance speech for Best Actress in “Places in the Heart” (1985). With tears in her eyes, Field stated,

“I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it—and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”

The speech has been parodied numerous times over the years. Some find it earnest; others find it mostly embarrassing. I find it both. But I also think there’s a ubiquitous sort of painfulness to it. In other words, I think Sally Field was being tremendously sincere, saying what we’re all really feeling – an intense yearning for acceptance – and yet that, in itself, is a little uncomfortable.blog - oscars 3

Deep down inside, we all seem to have this tremendous craving for acceptance. A lot of the controversial legislation we see going on right now (Arizona recently) seems to be as much about the issue underneath the issue as anything – it’s really about acceptance. We all want it. The great satirical novelist George Orwell once said, “Happiness can exist only in acceptance.” And he’s right. This is why people with close relationships in their lives almost invariably are happier than those without. Furthermore, the opposite of acceptance is rejection. Many of us have a nearly paralyzing fear of this. Many of us can still remember, like it was yesterday, the way it felt when the first boy or girl we cared about failed to reciprocate those feelings. Many of us, even today, can barely stand feeling like someone doesn’t like us. We all have this innate desire to find acceptance. And the thing that kills us, all of us, the reason we pursue acceptance so feverishly, is that it doesn’t matter who you are – religious or irreligious, conservative or liberal, young or old – we all sense there is something inside of us that is utterly unacceptable.

This, by the way, is why we all like to be applauded. The standing ovation is perhaps the most obvious demonstration of group acceptance demonstrated in our culture. It’s the way a group of people communicate that they’ve accepted you/your performance. However, do you know what the problem with getting wrapped up in the applause of people is? You may win the Oscar on Sunday night, but by Tuesday morning, you’re dried up and empty once again. Human acceptance doesn’t fully satisfy us. It’s temporary. It’s inadequate. We all crave a cosmic sort of acceptance.

Acceptance from God himself more than anyone else is the thing we’re looking for in life. But we also understand that our actions often show rejection of God, which logically would mean that, we too, deserve rejection from God. 

How do we overcome this?

If what we’re ultimately looking for in life is acceptance from the Divine, but we realize that we cannot produce such acceptance on our own, the only other option is that someone else would have to somehow establish our acceptance before God. And that’s the story of the gospel.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21)

The great exchange of the gospel is that 1) Jesus suffered the consequences of our sins, so that 2) we now receive in return his righteousness before God. Sounds unfair, right? Yes. That’s grace. But don’t ever forget that second part! If you only understand the gospel as the first part, you’ll see it merely as a second chance to “do the right thing.” But we’d blow that second chance too. And God knows that, which is why Christ gifts to us his righteousness. Righteousness means you are “right with” God. It means you are accepted by God. It means that now, every time God looks at you (which is constantly), he is absolutely delighted in you. It’s as though he says, “Whenever you feel down about yourself because some flawed human said you weren’t smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough, funny enough, or good enough…Whenever someone rejects you….or even Whenever you can barely accept yourself……don’t listen to that nonsense. They don’t know what they’re talking about!” Who cares what other humans think about you. For that matter, who really cares what you think about you. Think this through carefully – if the Bible is right, then no human opinion should really ever bring you tears of pain or joy. The only opinion that would truly matter is that of God himself. And the Bible teaches that when God looks at you through the blood of Jesus, he thinks you are simply spectacular! If that doesn’t make you feel good about yourself, nothing will.

Wouldn’t you like to be liberated from the control of other people’s opinions? Wouldn’t you like to be freed from living for human acceptance? All you need to do is see that on the cross, Jesus took the rejection, so that you could take the only applause that matters – from the hands of an eternal God.

This post was adapted from my Sunday sermon this past week.

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Come on. This thing seriously looks like a literal idol, does it not? I personally want to rack up as few of these as I can.

THE GOSPEL and Anxiety

blog - George St Pierre 4George St-Pierre might be the baddest man on the planet…..at least physically.

But St-Pierre, who has been the #1 ranked MMA welterweight fighter in the world for several straight years, a former UFC champion, has now stepped away from the octagon due to the psychological beating he’s taken. In a  recent interview, he said that the same indomitable drive and attention to detail that made him a great fighter was “going to drive me crazy.” Publicly announcing his struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), St-Pierre has, in all likelihood, brought his career to an end.

blog - George St Pierre 3TAKE NOTE: A man who has repeatedly absorbed blows from the hardest-hitting mixed martial artists on the planet has tapped out to the stress and anxiety that is all part of the package deal of perfectionism.

I have a special interest in all of this, having documented previously my similar personal struggles. As a fellow sufferer of OCD, George St-Pierre’s announcement causes me to feel two things. First, my bad boy street cred has never been higher – as this has now confirmed in my mind the obvious correlation between OCD and unquestionably tough, but toxically control-hungry dudes. Second, and more importantly, it’s interesting to me that while we fight so hard to protect ourselves (and our children) from physical danger, we almost universally applaud fanatical, obsessive work. Yet, at least in our country, the latter is the thing that frequently causes more harm. As a society, we put people who demonstrate physically destructive behavior behind bars, but we give promotions to people who demonstrate (arguably) destructive psychological behavior.blog - George St Pierre

As a fairly high-volume stress guy, I’ve spent many hours contemplating the cause of my anxiety. While I’m sure that the traditional nature/nurture analysis offered by modern psychology probably factors in, I’m also certain that 99% of it is simply sinful worry.

Consequently, using the resources the gospel gives us to find PEACE (the opposite of anxiety), has been invaluable to me.

The Biblical Analysis

The word for anxiety in the Bible comes from a little Greek word merimna. It’s related to the word meris, which means “a part.” So, merimna literally means to be broken down into little pieces. That’s what anxiety is. When you look at your life and you see it NOT going the way you think/feel it’s supposed to go, you psychologically start to break down into little pieces. Ever wonder why it’s called a mental “breakdown?” There you have it.

But there’s this interesting spot in the New Testament where Jesus uses a little wordplay with merimna. It’s in Luke 10, where we’re told the story of Martha and Mary (whose names obviously sound similar to this word). These two sisters are having Jesus over for a dinner party. Martha is frantically running around the house finishing her preparations for the company. Mary is just quietly sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Jesus. Martha is livid that her sister could be so careless and ineffective. Mary is at peace, recognizing that even if the house is a mess, it’s no big deal, because she knows the one thing needful is getting done.

Everyday I have to repent of my Martha and become more Mary. I’ve found that when I’m Martha – counting the millions of things that should be getting done, beholding the rainbow of obligation that is my Microsoft Outlook calendar, feeling like I’m continuously falling behind, I get miserable. When I’m Mary – getting a solid amount of devotional and prayer time with Jesus, the life circumstances don’t change dramatically, but my ability to face them does. I find peace instead of finding myself in pieces.

The Biblical Solution

You see, the opposite of anxiety (i.e. “being in pieces”) is single-mindedness. Christians remain calm by way of gospel focus. You have to think. Remember. Jesus encourages this all the time. He often says things along the lines of, “Don’t be anxious, but consider. If you are worried, if you are stressed, you’re not thinking.” (e.g. Matt. 6:25-34/Luke 12:22-34) Worry is actually the absence of gospel thoughts.

Put differently, you can either listen to your sinful heart, which causes worry, or you can talk to your heart with gospel promises, which bring peace. In Psalm 42, King David does exactly this. He’s stressed, anxious, and depressed, so he says, Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:5) See what he’s doing? He’s talking to himself in a way that goes far beyond positive secular self-talk. Instead of listening to his heart, he’s speaking to it and telling it what to believe based on God’s love, power, and promises. “Think about this…..Don’t worry so much about this, because God said this, and Jesus did that…” Peace comes when you tell your heart who you are in Jesus.

Your heart will tell you to stress out about this presentation, crumble under the weight of that important test, get depressed about this relational “failure,” freak out about that financial pressure – but none of it really matters too much IF you recognize who’s running this show. The one who was by nature champion, allowed himself to enter a cosmic chokehold, so that you, who by nature should have tapped out, might have your arm raised (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:23-24; 2 Cor. 8:9; 1 Cor. 15:57; 1 John 5:4-5).

There’s only one thing needful. Sit at his feet to listen, learn, and love. It’s the single greatest non-negotiable of life. Only then will you find the peace to deal with all the rest.

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THE GOSPEL and The Power of Words

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In such a fast-moving world, one of the few things that seems to maintain some stability is late-night television. Since I’ve always been a “night guy”, I too find a bit of comfort in the consistency of late-night talk show hosts. David Letterman has been doing it for 30 years. Jay Leno did it for 20 years. Before him, Johnny Carson had done it for 30 years. Hey, even Jimmy Kimmel has been hosting a late-night show on ABC for over a decade. And remember the 2010 Leno Tonight Show time slot debacle? The late-night routine was messed with and we weren’t having it. Americans want the end of their day 1) light-hearted, and 2) consistent, and not necessarily in that order.

So, once again we’ve hit one of those milestone dates in television history as The Tonight Show this week received another new host in Jimmy Fallon.

Peggy Drexler posted an interesting article in CNN’s Opinion section called “Can Jimmy Fallon last in TV’s piranha pool?” asking whether or not Fallon is ruthless enough, cold enough, mean-spirited enough to maintain interest from the late-night talk crowd. She cites recent research from Iowa State University that suggests we are conditioned to act rudely toward others when we perceive this behavior as commonplace (e.g. on TV) and then claims this has trickled down into our society. She cites additional research from Michigan University, 72 studies of empathy among college students over 30 years, which seems to indicate that “empathy — the ability to identify with others and relate to their feelings — has dropped an incredible 40% since 2000.” Now I’m not exactly certain how you measure that, nor am I convinced that it can, in fact, be measured. Nonetheless, I’d imagine that most people wouldn’t find that data too far-fetched. In other words, the egocentrism of modern society seems so palpable today, that even if we couldn’t quantify decreasing empathy, it seems objectively true.

That’s what makes Fallon so interesting. I’ve been watching David Letterman, to varying degrees, since I was twelve. He’s gotten older and more cynical, and so probably have I. I’ve watched him move away from classic bits like “Stupid Human Tricks” to the point where he simply cannot move through a monologue without hammering sex jokes, fat jokes, or ethnic jokes about celebrities and political officials. But that’s not really Fallon’s game, which was the point of Peggy Drexler’s article. Is it possible that our society has finally become disenchanted with the “Look how great I am!” nature of social media, the entitlement of a generation of children who were told, “The world is your oyster. You can be anything you want to be.”, and the non-scripted, heavily edited, pointless viciousness of reality TV? Is it possible that we are collectively seeking to become less nasty to one another, as indicated by whom we’re now choosing as our new late-night king? I hope so. Or……maybe Fallon is just funny.

In either case, Jimmy Fallon teaches us something about the nature of words, something I hope he doesn’t lose as age sets in, criticisms come, and ratings pressure inevitably increases. Fallon’s wordplay as a comedian is unique in this – he’s recognized as one who doesn’t tear others down.

The Tonight Show with Jay LenoI’m not suggesting that Fallon is perfect. I’m not suggesting he is a late-night beacon of morality. Nor do I know whether or not his Roman Catholic background plays into his, generally speaking, “high road” stance regarding comedy or not. Still, it’s interesting (and important) to see someone known for his humility, positivity, and graciousness get such an enormous platform.

One of the things that’s so fascinating to me about all of this is how it fits into the biblical instruction about words. The Bible places such a high emphasis on verbal communication that Scripture is often referred to simply as “The Word,” even Jesus himself as the embodiment of “The Word” (John 1:1, 14). And the New Testament ethic regarding words from writers like James, Paul, and Peter is clearly that we use our words to build up, not tear  down others. Words are of the utmost power and importance.

For example:

“Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:10) 

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Eph. 4:29)

“(The younger widows) get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.” (1 Tim. 5:13)

“Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Pet. 2:1)

These aren’t random rules of God trying to oppress our First Amendment rights. These are explanations of how we who were redeemed and restored by Jesus into the image of God can, in fact, let our words become more godly.

You see, God’s words build up. Consider the creation account in Genesis. God, who is from all eternity, in the beginning, brought the universe into existence. But what instrument did he use? Simply his Almighty Word. All he had to do was say, “Let there be…” (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24). He used his words to create, to build up, not tear down. It’s the same way he turned lifeless souls into believing children (Rom. 10:17). And if you are in God’s image, your words too, in a general but undeniable way, will primarily build up, not tear down.

I’ve probably become particularly sensitive to this as one who has now been blogging for years. It’s amazing the amount of “Christian writing” I run across that is mostly dedicated to knocking down the work, practices, beliefs, character, or mistakes of others. Not only does this not seem to be in step with the biblical ethic about words and God’s basic approach to words, but it’s also cheap. As a recovering judgmentaholic, I know firsthand that it’s incredibly difficult to create positive original content and incredibly easy to rip someone else’s work apart. We see this elsewhere in life too – for illustration, it can take hours to build a sandcastle on the beach, but it only takes 10 seconds for a child to run through the castle and destroy the creation. Furthermore, the child seems to have some strange, innate desire to knock that castle down, doesn’t he? Hmmmm.

A Christian will seek to resist jokes that would generate laughs but would come at the cost of someone else’s feelings. A Christian will seek to avoid discussing juicy gossip that would undoubtedly prove entertaining but might come at the cost of someone’s reputation. A Christian will seek to set aside his First Amendment rights to criticize anyone and anything that doesn’t suit his liking. It’s not easy, and does not come naturally, but a Christian will.

A Christian won’t, however, be perfect at this from here till heaven. Therefore, we repent of our malicious, destructive, sinful words. And the only boasting we do should be in our perfect Savior – “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (2 Cor. 11:30), e.g. Self-depracating humor? And, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (2 Cor. 10:17) 

Jesus is the only one who did no wrong. But he was still mocked, so that we, who deserved ridicule, could instead receive a word of approval from our Heavenly Father – “with him I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5)

It’ll be interesting to see how the Fallon experiment ends. Might be years before we know for sure. Will his gentler words (relatively speaking) amuse? Or do we, as an American public, need to see others criticized in order to live with ourselves and get some sleep at night.

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THE GOSPEL and Defending Your Faith

blog - Creation Debate

My thoughts after last night’s debate….

I wasn’t alive to watch the first steps on the Moon. But my guess is that all who did, to some degree, knew that such a moment had crossed over from merely entertainment to something of historical significance. I’m not sure that the 100+ people I watched the debate with last night (or the million plus who viewed it at home or nearly a million who have already watched the YouTube replay) got the same feeling, but I certainly thought last night’s event had that sort of “big game feel” to it. Granted, it was obvious to me that a few of the partakers in our dimly lit sanctuary last evening were sleeping during the debate, which has cleverly been dubbed “Ham on Nye.” I’m guessing no one fell asleep as Neil Armstrong was hopping down on the lunar surface back in July of ’69. Nonetheless, if you understand the impact that this debate – Creation v. Darwinian Evolution – has had on civilization in the past century, last night was an unquestionably historic moment.

Here’s a little historical context….

The most controversial, influential legal battle in U.S. history had nothing to do with O.J. Simpson. It was back in 1925, a high-profile debate between Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. Darrow, a brilliant criminal defender, was the most famous American lawyer in the early 1900s. Bryan had run (unsuccessfully) for president three times and was a very seasoned, popular lecturer.

Darrow (pro-Evolution) and Bryan (pro-Creation) were taking opposite sides in the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial.” John Thomas Scopes was a high school teacher who was charged with breaking the law by discussing evolutionary theory in his Tennessee classroom. The ACLU jumped in to defend Scopes, challenging the law against teaching evolutionary theory as a constitutional violation of church/state separation. Now, whether or not you think evolutionary theory should be taught in schools isn’t the question. That’s irrelevant to the court case. The court system doesn’t establish laws, but rules on the basis of existing laws. Consequently, the bottom line in this case was that Scopes had broken the law. That could have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t.

The pivotal point was when Darrow, very cunningly, called William Jennings Bryan to the stand to defend biblical creation. Bryan, probably foolishly, perhaps arrogantly, agreed. I love the wisdom of medieval Jewish philosopher, Maimonedes, who said that conflicts between science and the Bible result from either a lack of scientific knowledge or a defective understanding of the Bible. But I’ll readily admit that such reasoning has no place in a civil court room.

You see, the issue is that a courtroom is a place to defend facts, not faith. And though Christian faith is based on facts, the very nature of faith is that it is belief without immediate sensory experience. It would be equally foolish for an evolutionist to take the stand to defend evolution, since there are non-provable, non-sensory elements to it, just like creation. Darrow was simply smarter than Bryan on that day to realize this. Furthermore, I’m not suggesting that to be a sincere Christian one has to be able to eloquently defend against every accusation or criticism of Christian faith, but, in my estimation, Bryan largely overestimated himself as a Christian apologist. Consequently, when Darrow began to ask him relatively manageable questions like “If God made the sun on Day 4, as the Bible teaches, then how was there light on Day 1, as the Bible also teaches?” Bryan froze and retorted that these things simply have to be accepted by faith. That wasn’t good enough for the court room…or America. It was such a debacle that, the next day, the judge ordered that Bryan’s testimony be expunged from the record, stopping short of referring to it as “an embarrassment.”

What furthered the negative impact of the “Scopes Monkey Trial” against biblical creation  was an exaggerated retelling of the trial in the form of the play “Inherit the Wind.” This was the longest running drama on Broadway for quite some time and then was turned into a successful movie in the 1960s starring Spencer Tracy and Gene Kelly. Even Carl Sagan pointed to its impact by saying, in his opinion, that “Inherit the Wind” had brought to light contradictions and inconsistencies in the Book of Genesis for the general populace. In the public’s eye, biblical creation never recovered. And several hundred million children in our country alone have since been taught that it is a joke to consider biblical creation as a viable option of origins. There is simply no way to overstate that impact on the world we live in today.

My Reaction

Last night, nearly a century after the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” we had the single most visible, publicized, important discussion about Creation/Evolution since that landmark trial. And it was magnificent. I scribbled down 10 pages of handwritten notes during the 2 1/2 hour debate and I’ll try to include just a few brief thoughts here.

Over 70 major media outlets were present. And many, many writers ranging from journalists at Yahoo!, CNN, and Huffington Post, to various influential university professors were critical of Bill Nye for even accepting the invitation to debate, thus lending any scientific legitimizing to biblical creation, or, acknowledging that the theory of Darwinian evolution is, in fact, THEORY.blog - Creation Debate 2

Watching the debate, it was a little surprising to me that Nye did not make one single point that I hadn’t heard before. Not one. If science is by definition information that we can know, then how come there isn’t more airtight evidence for Darwinian evolution? The only explanation is that Darwinian evolutionary theory must not be fully science, or at least to the same degree as other things we call “science.” Ham repeatedly pointed to this difference between observational science and historical science, what we can test and prove and study at this point vs. assumptions that we make about the past, and fought for an acknowledgment of a difference between the two. And after Ham’s initial presentation, Nye politely replied, “Thank you. I learned something.” 

I say “politely” because I truly believe that overall, Nye and Ham were both amazingly polite and respectful. I know some Christians will disagree with Nye’s tone and comments (which I’ll address). But I’ve watched A LOT of debates involving Christianity and Nye was significantly more respectful than many debaters I’ve heard. Certainly, there were times when Nye verged on the ad hominem tactics. Calling Ham’s beliefs “magical” and the transmission of the Bible “like a children’s game of telephone” really has no basis. It was just dismissive language. Furthermore, anyone who watched the debate was sure to notice Nye’s dozen or so references to himself as “a reasonable man.” Well, the obvious implication in such a statement is that Ham is NOT a reasonable man. And then there were Nye’s repeated, odd, fear tactic comments suggesting that the American economy would tank if children were raised to believe biblical creation. Uhhh….that simply makes no historic OR scientific sense. Nye is a bright guy, but that is a weird, almost desperate-sounding, claim based on zero evidence.

This was all quite fascinating to me when taking into consideration how many non-scientific claims Nye made. For instance, in the final segment of the debate, the audience Q&A portion, Nye’s comment to Ham, which had very little to do with the thirteenth question which was asked, was, “What became of all the people in world history who were not able to access the Bible, Young Earth Creationism, and the Gospel?” Well, this is, of course, an interesting philosophical question. However, it has NOTHING to do with science. Why would Nye, a brilliant scientist, go that route? It perpetuates to me the idea that most non-believers assume their rejection of God and the Bible is based on evidence when, in actuality, it’s based on personal reasons.

Finally, I was really happy that some individuals from the audience asked questions that are clearly unanswerable to Darwinian evolutionists and render it as an ultimately internally inconsistent belief system. For instance, the second audience Q&A question asked, “How did the atoms that created the Big Bang get there?” Nye, who had the first opportunity to respond, paused and eventually said, “Nobody knows. This is a mystery.” (By the way, if you’d like to see at least this highlight, you can catch it at CNN, who I thought, through moderator Tom Foreman, did a remarkably good job with the debate.) But Nye’s comments are playing directly into Ham’s “you must acknowledge a difference between Observational Science and Historical Science” hand. Two questions later, it happened again. The audience question this time was, “How did consciousness come from matter?” And Nye replied, “Don’t know. But we want to find out.”  Grab any definition of “science” over at dictionary.com and tell me that what Nye is talking about here falls under that category.

So here’s my point. William Jennings Bryan got in an indefensible chair that he never should have sat in 89 years ago. As a result, a great amount of damage was done to the name of biblical creation. It wasn’t necessarily overnight, but 30-40 years later, the effects were obvious. Bill Nye “The Science Guy” sat in that exact same chair last night. I don’t think the world has necessarily changed today. But I’m very curious to see where public education in our country will be 30-40 years from now. If you think Intelligent Design as a potentially viable option to be considered in textbooks sounds far-fetched, just retrace the historical steps. I’m not saying this will happen, but after last night, we’re certainly a step closer to the average American seeing design as “reasonable.”

So, do I think that anyone will be convinced into loving Jesus, the authority of the Bible, or Designer-Driven Creation as a result of Ham’s points last night? No. Of course not. That’s not the way faith works according to the Bible. But a door was opened on the biggest platform biblical creation has had in a century. And Ham handled it beautifully.

I’ve been a big Ken Ham fan since I first saw a video of his as a 12-year-old boy. I’ve followed his career closely ever since. I’ve visited his Creation Museum in Kentucky. My wife even got to hold a conversation with him at the museum’s amazing petting zoo. I’ve used lots of his materials in my church. He’s a very faithful, very humble man. And I’ve always been sympathetic to Ham. The guy gets disrespected in almost every mainstream media interview he does (perhaps most famously in Bill Maher’s “Religulous”). And Ham just keeps coming back for more, looking for opportunities to proclaim what he believes is biblical truth. And it dawned on me last night that perhaps 40-plus years of constant mainstream ridicule has conditioned this man to be perfectly equipped to “give a reason for the hope that he has” (1 Pet. 3:15) concerning biblical creation on the grandest stage it’s had for a hundred years. It’s funny how things work. As I was laying in bed thinking about all of this at 2:00am, I was wondering if Ham was thinking the same thing – “Maybe all the criticism has led to this. They intended to harm me, but God was preparing me. God intended this for good, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20)

I wouldn’t at all be surprised if a door was opened for some last night. Sure, the majority will go on in their beliefs as if nothing ever happened. But others……

It reminds of when the Apostle Paul, the greatest Christian missionary in history, spoke to the intellectual elite in Athens at the Areopagus. He provided a flawless Christian apologetic. And at the end, we’re told, “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’…..Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.” (Acts 17:32,34) In other words, some persisted in non-belief. But others came to faith in Jesus.

blog - Creation Debate 3I will indeed remember where I was and what I was wearing the night Ken Ham, in front of millions, looked down the barrel of the academic shotgun and said, “Yes, I believe Creation is a viable model of origins in today’s modern scientific era.”

For Further Reading…

Since I’ve already received a number of emails on this, I wanted to take a moment to address the noticeable arguments Ken Ham didn’t make, things I was hoping he would say, convincing arguments which I’ve heard Ham himself use before. I can only guess as to the reason why he didn’t use some of them, but since he’s such an experienced debater, I can’t imagine it was because he “just didn’t think of them.” I think it was more calculated than that. I think Ham made a conscious effort to use the tools which only scientists themselves would want to use, i.e. non-philosophical arguments.

Nonetheless, I wanted to jot down here a couple of things I was perhaps surprised he didn’t say. I’m sure he had good reasons. He’s a more skilled debater than me and he’s likely the best Young Earth Creation defender on the planet. But here’s the things I was wishing he would’ve said, or at least made a bigger point of …

  •  When making his initial presentation, I wish he would have more adamantly made the case that yes, biblical creation does require faith (belief in things unseen), but that Darwinian evolution requires just as much faith. “Faith” is one of those words used with some disdain to describe Christians, and many evolutionists are painfully unaware that they are accepting truths by faith (assumptions) too.
  • I wish Ham would have pointed out the convenient reasons why so many in the scientific community would want to deny biblical creation – i.e. the lack of moral accountability. Again, this is a philosophical argument, not a scientific one, but still one that I don’t know many scientists have carefully thought through.
  • I wish Ham would have done more with the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics question (Q. 8 in the Q&A round). While Ham mentioned that energy doesn’t simply provide life, he didn’t really expound on observations of nature moving from order to disorder without intervention.
  • Nye at one point mentioned “I’m not a theologian.” Still, he said so many things that indicated to me he hasn’t ever really even studied the Bible as an adult, in any sort of extensive way. For instance, in Q&A question 11, he commented on Ham picking and choosing which portions of the Bible he wanted to believe. This is a common criticism of non-believers who have heard bits and pieces of the Bible and really haven’t carefully thought through the laws of the Old Testament or why some of those laws would apply exclusively to the Israelites and why some would have lasting principles attached to them. Ham only had a minute or so, but I wish he would have given more time to explaining how he’s not cherry-picking passages. He used the phrase “let Scripture interpret Scripture,” which is a big biblical interpretation point, but perhaps simply didn’t have enough time to expound on it.
  • I wish Ham would have pointed out the implications of an overarching evolutionary “survival of the fittest” mentality on human morals. For instance, if a large oppressive nation devours a smaller, weaker, poorer nation, evolutionists should logically never feel sensitive toward the weaker nation since this is simply the propagation of the species.
  • I wish Ham would have clearly stated that the Bible is unique in that everyone thinks they know what it basically teaches even though so many have never studied it in any depth before. There appears to be some sort of inherent aversion to it that is fundamental to understanding the different conclusions that are being drawn from the same observed data.
  • As many pointed out to me, I wish Ham would have used the “Appearance of Age” argument. This is the  biblical teaching that everything in the biblical creation account was created to look older than what it actually was. Plants were mature, i.e. “seed-bearing.” Humans were adult. Again, it’s not necessarily a scientific argument, but it is an argument that causes plenty who haven’t thought of it to pause and say, “Hmm. That’s interesting. The earth may LOOK 13.7 billion years old without necessarily being 13.7 billion years old.”

All of that said. Let me just reiterate that Ken Ham is THE MAN. I’m so incredibly proud of his performance from last night. Much more than my opinion though, I have to believe that from above he received a “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matt. 25:21, 23)

THE GOSPEL and Vulnerability

blog - Target

Reports this week are indicating that the mastermind who snagged the digits off of about 100 million credit cards from Target at the end of December turned out to be a 17-year-old kid from Russia. That’s right…..17-YEARS-OLD!!! I was running VHS’s at Family Video when I was seventeen. He’s taking down global retail juggernauts like Target and Neiman Marcus.

Does that bother you? Your financial security is that fragile – any kid with a Wi-Fi connection on the other side of the planet could potentially wipe you out.

If this all really bothers us, it was hard to tell when I was shopping at Target before Christmas. Several days after the news came out, it didn’t seem to be affecting their business too adversely, either because people seemingly didn’t think it was that serious OR people literally hate the crowded Wal-Mart parking lots THAT much. But I think it’s the former. I think we middle-class Americans just have a bulletproof sense about us – that we really don’t think anything too bad is coming our way. And when it inevitably does, we’ve got no idea what to do with it.

I remember reading an article once from a  psychologist who was making the case that Americans process grief less successfully than most others around the world. He suggested that we simply don’t think we deserve grief. Furthermore, we believe that if pain and suffering comes, we believe we just need to tweak a couple of things – go on the right diet, read the right book, take the right pill, talk to the right expert – and it will all go away. In other words, Americans tend to think that vulnerability is purely optional.

With the 17-year-old cybercriminal, people are clamoring about why the right security system was not in place. Perhaps there should’ve been a better system. But there’s a flaw in that way of thinking. Any system that is designed can be compromised. In other words, with digital security, it’s simply a matter of coding. And if a human developed the code, there is absolutely nothing stopping another person from cracking that code. Your security is dependent on the ethics of another. This really is no different from several generations ago, when the security of your wealth was dependent on the ethics and skill of the one storing it in a locked room. You’re vulnerable. You’ve always been vulnerable. You’ll always be vulnerable.

And we’re not just talking about financial fragility here either. All you need is one microscopic germ to attack a cell on your body for you to get sick. If just one single cell in your body divides and starts growing uncontrollably, you can die of cancer. If just one person in their car is preoccupied with their cell phone, changing the radio station, hits a patch of ice, is daydreaming, falls asleep, has had too much to drink, or simply isn’t a great driver, you can die on your drive home from work. And if just one 17-year-old Russian kid knows something about malware coding, your life savings can be gone in an instant.  And you can say, “Well I have insurance for that sort of thing.” Great. Do you honestly think that, if 100 million people had all of their money stolen, the insurance companies could cover it? No more than Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac could absorb 3 million home foreclosures. There’s nothing impossible about it.

Health, wealth, beauty, and all created things, life itself, can go at any moment. Anyone in touch with reality should possess a sense of vulnerability.

Playwright Tennessee Williams once famously stated,

“I have found it easier to identify with the characters who verge upon hysteria, who were frightened of life, who were desperate to reach out to another person. But these seemingly fragile people are the strong people really.”

They’re strong precisely because they’re in touch with reality.

So there’s two extremes and one healthy way to deal with human vulnerability.

One option is paranoia. You can distrust everyone and everything to the degree that you become holed-up in your home  and end up on some TLC reality show called “Extreme __________.” You’ll arguably be safer, but you’ll be miserable.

Another option is to thumb your nose at the dangers of the world. This is the carefree, “No, I don’t need a helmet” approach to life. It’s probably more fun, but inevitably leads to more traumatic head-cracking.

The gospel’s approach to human vulnerability, however, is much healthier. The gospel says that we are all flawed, broken sinners who are saved only by the grace of God through Jesus. Those who believe the gospel have no problem acknowledging that we could go at any minute, be victimized at any minute, and that every moment of our lives we’re simply dangling here by grace. So, we’re inherently fragile. Yet, the gospel also says that we have a providential, divine Being who governs all things for our good (Rom. 8:28; Gen. 50:20).  He loves us enough that he’s willing to die for us, so what lengths wouldn’t he go to for us?! He’s powerful enough to rise from the grave, so what wouldn’t he be able to do for us?! So, if you believe the gospel, you know that we can humbly move forward, but with confidence, simultaneously holding together both the truths of our vulnerability and God’s invincibility

The secret, of course, lies in Jesus. Imagine how the one through whom all things were created (John 1:3; Heb. 1:2) made himself vulnerable for us. And not just a little vulnerable – he entered the world as a poor, feeble baby. He worked as a fairly uneducated carpenter, before he gathered around him a fairly uneducated, motley crew of nobodies with zero social influence. He was mocked, betrayed, beaten, flogged, stripped naked, and crucified before his own mother. But worst of all was that his own Father had to turn his back on Jesus in order to pick us up as children (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34). This is what you and I needed to be saved. You see? Jesus, the eternal God, experienced the ultimate vulnerability so that we, who are by nature vulnerable, might become invincible.

Furthermore, this becomes even more beautiful in the believer’s life as he/she recognizes they don’t have to fear their own vulnerability. Someone who is not afraid to die will live without fear. Someone who is not afraid of losing wealth will live with generosity. Someone who is not afraid of social criticism will show extra kindness towards the socially outcast. Someone who really recognizes that Jesus put all his energy into their salvation will move their life into a pattern of living to save others.

It only stands to reason that if one single 17-year-old can negatively impact 100 million people, then can’t a 17-year-old positively impact just as many? Can’t we all have a positive impact beyond our wildest dreams? If we focus more on our Jesus-gifted invincibility, less on our natural vulnerability, won’t that lead us to take chances that can actually change people’s lives for the better?

You’re going to die. You’re fragile. You’re vulnerable. Get comfortable with that based on where you know you’re going. And then you’ll be free to start living.

“For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” (Matt. 16:25) 

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