Not Big Enough For The Moment

There’s an old encouragement in sports to not let the moment be bigger than you.  In other words, if you’re really “good”, you should never find yourself to be overwhelmed, outwitted, or overmatched by the pressure of a given situation.  Monday night, before one of the largest Monday Night Football audiences of all time, the NFL replacement officials found themselves not big enough for the moment.  Monday, Sept. 24, 2012, they made what some journalists are referring to as the Worst Call Ever.

The whole thing reminded me a bit of the cult classic tv series from 20 years ago called Quantum Leap.  In the show, Scott Bakula played a physicist named Dr. Sam Beckett, who found himself trapped in a time traveling experiment.  He would leap from moment to moment in recent US history, taking over the body of a character who needed a problem solved in their life.  At the end of each episode, Sam would find himself in a situation where he was clearly in over his head.  And that segment would close with him trying to comprehend how, despite his ineptitude to perform the task before him, he was going to get out of the given problem without ruining lives.  Sam would then sigh and say, “Oh boy.” 

Monday night, I was convinced that I was watching the lost Quantum Leap episode.

But I knew better.  The reality is that I wasn’t watching an 80s Science Fiction/Drama.  Instead, I was watching real life individuals who simply weren’t capable of the task before them – officiating an NFL game.  This whole “not capable of the task before you” thing is an interesting biblical theme, by the way, which we’ll get to in a moment.

But before you say I’m being too hard on the referees, let me point out a couple of things.  On the now historic last play of the game – a clear interception that was called a touchdown, giving the win to the Seahawks instead of the Packers – there were numerous things that went wrong.  1) There was an obvious missed pass interference call (which the NFL has now admitted).  2) There was an interception by definition of the NFL’s rules.  3) There were two referees who made conflicting calls without conferencing first.  4) There was a lengthy review that could have been used to correct the mistake.  This led to nearly every commentator on the planet unanimously agreeing that it almost couldn’t have been worse.

The cynics and non-football people are saying, “Well, these replacement refs are just doing their best.”  But that mentality just further illustrates the biblical point I mentioned earlier about individuals not being capable of certain tasks.  It highlights a fundamental flaw in our very relativistic society, a culture in which we have been conditioned to think that as long as someone “does their best” or “tries their hardest”, that should be good enough.  Many people regularly apply this mentality to their spiritual thoughts as well and assume “As long as one does his/her best to be a good person, there’s no way that God could ever be too upset.”  But upon further Scriptural searching, you would find that God’s standard for humanity is not sincere effort, but actual perfection.  “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48, see also Lev. 19:2)

Additionally, the point here is also not that this is “just a game”, as some have suggested.  Everyone has something in their lives which they are passionate about that someone else could easily refer to as “just a __________”.  While maintaining perspective is important, it isn’t consistent with a compassionate human spirit to be dismissive or cavalier about the interests of others.  For instance, if I tell a little girl whose pet hamster just got squashed, “Stop crying.  It’s just a hamster,” I may have an objective point, but I clearly have no subjective sense.  Furthermore, according to Vegas reports alone, over 300 million dollars changed hands due to the outcome of that football game being botched by the refs.  So the person using the “just a game” argument here probably fails to grasp the multi-billion dollar industry that America’s preferred sport really is.

No.  The real issue here is that you have individuals who are inadequate to perform the specific task which they’ve been appointed to do.  And if you still think that’s not fair, let me ask you this: If a surgeon was in an accident that rendered his/her hands irreparable, would you still give them the green light to perform brain surgery on you?  Think carefully…..what if they promised to try hard?  The fact that their accident was unfortunate, again, is not the point.  The point is that the surgeon is now physically inadequate to carry out the given task.  Ignoring that, lying about that, or trivializing that really only compounds the problem in the long run.

As Americans, we fume with anger when we’re told we’re not good enough.  In fact, one could argue that the “I can do anything I put my mind to” spirit of Americans is one of our country’s greatest strengths.  There’s probably some truth to that.  I could also argue that such a mentality is one of our most dangerous and painful follies, and perhaps one of the reasons we have more anxiety per capita than most countries.

But the Bible teaches us something pretty remarkable about how we’re not fit for a certain task.  To a degree, the Bible offends our pride with a little word called “grace”, a word which, by definition, says that we’re not good enough, that we need help from outside ourselves to become right with God.

The Bible teaches the story of humans who were created by God, to worship God, who wanted to become like God by knowing what God knew.  However, as humans attempted to sit in the throne built for God alone, they weren’t big enough for the moment and the occasion corrupted them.  Since then, mankind has come up with a myriad of methods to reclaim holiness for himself – from mystical knowledge to self-justifying good behavior to attempts to eliminate God and his perfect standards through various sciences and philosophies to moral relativizing.  There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” (Prov. 14:12, 16:21)  Nothing, however, that man has come up with seems to work.  We still fail.  We still die.  We’re not good enough.  We’re not big enough to run our own lives.  Embracing that truth is the first dose of medicine that puts our lives back on track.

But one of the reasons that we love great art or great music or great writing or great athletic plays is, in fact, because they suggest to us that there is someone out there greater than us.  In fact, all of the “greatness” of the world, in its own way, points to the one who is TRULY great, the one in whom the story of the Bible climaxes.  Jesus is the only one who was ever truly big enough for the toughest moments of the world.  While his disciples fled (Matt. 26:56), hid (John 20:19), and denied (John 18:27), Jesus went like a courageous lamb unto slaughter.  Jesus was the only one big enough to simultaneously look Satan in the eye and endure his heart being ripped out by God the Father (2 Cor. 5:21).  If anyone deserves to have his highlights re-run (like we do each Sunday in public worship), it’s Jesus.

Whether you are actually a player on a specific team or it’s simply a team that you cheer for and closely identify with, you generally still refer to that team as “my” team.  And when your favorite player makes a great play, you don’t usually feel envious, you feel joyous, because this leads to “our” victory.

On Monday evening, while we watched guys not equipped for their job, we caught a simple reminder that on Calvary, the moment wasn’t too big for our MVP to do his job.  Jesus said so:“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)

Taming the Digital Tongue

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness.  Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10)

Social media in the 21st century has provided an interesting outlet.  All of those Wendy Whiners who few people would have been able to stand listening to unload for 10 minutes have found a more captive audience on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube.  What once would have been considered socially inappropriate or disrespectful in public conversation – slander, complaining, or boasting – is now the public norm in social media.  I’d like to say that Christians are significantly different in this regard, but you and I both know that that wouldn’t tell the whole story.  As with their life outside of the internet arena, some Christians definitely do let their light shine in their social media presence.  Others don’t.

For those who do, well done good and faithful servant.  While I can’t quantitatively prove this, if Jesus was on the earth in 2012, I have a hard time not picturing a guy who was all about public proclamation & close relationships not having a Twitter & Facebook account.  So, for Christians to “correct, rebuke, and encourage” (2 Tim. 4:2) or in social media terms, “tweet, pin, and like” to the glory of Jesus, is a very positive thing happening on the internet.

This article isn’t so much for them.  In fact, this article isn’t so much for those Christians who don’t live a particularly godly life in their social media either.  This article is more for the sake of Christians and non-Christians both who have witnessed Christians not living out their faith in their social media accounts.  Now, as a guy who has said lots of stupid things in his life, more often than not, things foolishly self-validated in pursuing the goal of getting a laugh or making a point, I want to apologize on behalf of Christians who say stupid things.

While there are many sins of the tongue, I’ll specifically mention the 3 I listed earlier that frequently show up amongst Christians in social media: slander, complaining, and boasting.

Slander

It would be hypocritical of me to complain, in this blog, about much of the negative “Christian” blogging I’ve run across on the internet.  And I should mention that I honestly don’t have one specific blog or website in mind, but am referring to a general trend I’ve run across in a wide host of “Christian” websites.  So I’ll try to be fair and gentle here.  I’m not sure why, but there is an INSANE amount of “Christian” bloggers who fancy it their life mission to be doctrinal watchdogs.  While I’d like to applaud said persons’ desire to preserve or promote something they’re passionate about, I’m less thrilled about them attaching their methodology, which often includes vilification mixed with shoddy Adobe Photoshop work, to the name of Jesus.  Such a person is generally critical of one or another particular group, and have just enough guts to tell that to everyone and everything that will listen, except of course, the face of the person that they’re actually critical of, behind closed doors (Matt. 18).  Consequently, when well-intentioned Christians are actually trying to find out more about a certain church or church body, say, for instance, Lutheranism, they instead have to run across the bitter writings of someone with a wounded ego and a keyboard who assumes that the web traffic resulting from their contrarian viewpoint is the result of great insight, rather than its actual draw – it’s just contrarian for the sake of contrarianism.  In a post-Christian culture, denominational cheap shots do nothing for anyone’s faith except turn people off to the name of Jesus.  There is no way to do it to the glory of Jesus.  And I’m sorry so many have had to see it.

Complaining

There’s been a number of interesting stories in the news recently regarding employees getting burned by badmouthing their employer via their Facebook account.  Again, we’d like to think that Christians were immune.  But many Christian youth find social media a great tool for letting their disapproval of their teachers, their managers, their classmates, or their parents be heard…….probably their pastors too, but they hide it from me well :).

Whether online or not, the line between legitimate grievance and unwarranted complaint is pretty thin.  Nonetheless, as mentioned under the topic of slander, there is a proper audience, venue, and method.  Facebook probably doesn’t need to hear what an idiot your boss is.  What could that actually accomplish anyway?  Is there a legitimate chance that your 538 social media acquaintances are going to storm your business and demand better treatment?  If 10 people “liking” your status makes you feel vindicated in your discontent, is that actually going to make getting up and going to work that much more fulfilling the next day?  Conversely, if you praise your way through the hardship, what would that say about the way the gospel has changed your view of life, work, and people?

Boasting

This might be the most nauseating of all.  When Facebook first came out nearly a decade ago, I remember reading articles about how incredibly self-involved the constant proclaiming of “your status” and “what’s on your mind?” really is.  I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought at the time, seeing it simply as a good networking tool.  With the majority of Americans, including Christians, now posting updates on Facebook, I think I get it.

Obviously there’s nothing wrong with posting what you’re up to.  Where it gets a little uncomfortable is when a Christian posts a “Look what I did!  Praise Jesus!” status OR an “I have a real dilemma that’s not really an actual dilemma.  Please pray for me!” type of situation.  Look, I understand how cynical that may sound.  I DO NOT mean to question the sincerity of those who are genuinely praising Jesus or seeking prayer requests.  But many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.  In the same way that every time someone says the name “Jesus Christ” they’re not necessarily praying, many on social media are not sincerely worshiping Jesus when seeking to glorify themselves or their good fortune – which, without question, is a big part of the appeal of Facebook for many people.  I would suggest this is a little like the girl in the Chevy who cut me off in traffic the other day going north on Hwy 52.  The last thing I saw before I slammed on my brakes was her Jesus fish swimming into my lane devoid of a turn signal.  The attachment to Christ, in such a case, does more damage than good.

Conclusion

Look, I’m a sinner saved by Jesus and using social media too.  I KNOW I’ve posted things that should have been said better or not at all as well.  And again, this is something I have repented of and will learn from.  It’s an interesting world we now live in where communication is instant, constant, public, and permanent.  I’m not suggesting Christians get off social media.  I’m simply suggesting that we, now MORE THAN EVER, need to think about how what we post, just like what we speak with our mouths, might be interpreted by the watching world.

And finally, consider the tongue of Jesus.  This is a tongue that prays for his enemies (Matt. 5:44), asks God to forgive his critics (Luke 23:34), seeks to show mercy to sinners (Matt. 9:13), and who loves foolish and stupid people (Mark 10:21), us included.  And then Jesus tongue fell silent in his trial before the Sanhedrin, except to tell the truth that would get him killed, so that we wouldn’t have to die as a result of our wagging tongues (Mark 14:53-65).  If seeing the patient and gentle tongue of our Savior doesn’t put out the flames of our digital tongues, I guess I don’t know what will.

Grace in Marriage

I’ve been away.  Since I started this blog nearly 4 years ago, this is, without question, the biggest break I’ve taken.  And there’s been lots of interesting things going on recently.  But, as I was feeling a little “off” today, I was reminded how clarifying it is for me to get my thoughts down in writing and I realized it was time to get back at it.

One of the reasons I’ve been away from blogging in recent weeks is that my wife and I were out-of-town celebrating our 5th anniversary.  Years later, I’m still a bit shocked that a woman would be willing to continuously put up with my controlling, obsessive, can’t-fix-or-build-anything-to-save-his-life ways.  And yet, here I am.  Here we are.  The only thing I can attribute it to is grace.

This leads me to a bigger point about marriage this week.  And granted, I don’t claim to have everything figured out at 5 years of experience.  But it’s really not an issue of experience.  Not entirely at least.  It’s more an issue of biblical wisdom.

What would it take for two sinners living under one roof for 5 years to not rip each other’s heads off?  The single greatest thing I believe it requires is GRACE – undeserved loved – particularly in the form of forgiveness and repentance.

In fact, let me go so far as to say this: there are two extremes that get a lot of press when it comes to relationships – Romanticism and Pragmatism.  One side is the star-crossed lover, there’s only “one right person” in this galaxy for me sappiness.  This would seem to ignore what the Apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:9, where, talking about the prevalence of the Corinthian people falling into sexual sin, he says, “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”  Paul stops short of saying “anyone will do” but his advice is still not particularly starry-eyed.  It is, however, highly spiritually practical.

The other end of the spectrum is when people consider themselves so painstakingly pragmatic that a significant other that they commit to must be perfectly “compatible”.  Under such circumstances, it’s believed that one partner being a Viking fan and one being a Packer fan could potentially disrupt the future harmony of the family.  Or if he likes Sci-Fi and she likes Rom-Com’s, maybe it’s just not “meant to be”.  Okay, so these are extremes, but this thought process is insanity.  If one of you is a man and one of you is a woman, you WILL/SHOULD have some significantly different interests in life by definition of what you are.  This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with having some things in common.  But that’s an added bonus, not a requirement.  Biblical wisdom suggests that the one thing that a husband/wife must have in common in order for a marriage (or really any other non-business relationship) to work, is GRACE.  Put another way, if you have grace in your marriage, you’ll be able to get through any supposed incompatibilities.  If you don’t have grace in your marriage, it will fail regardless of how simpatico you may be.

Think of the biblical anecdotes:

Consider for a moment the example of Isaac & Rebekah (Gen. 24).  When it came time for Abraham to find a wife for his son, Isaac, he refused to take one of the exceptionally worldly women from amongst the Canaanites to be Isaac’s bride.  Rather, he sent his servant back home to his relatives to find a woman from the same kin, the bloodline to which God had made a promise of a Savior.  Yes, Isaac & Rebekah’s marriage was arranged by Abraham (oh how regressive and chauvinist!).  Nonetheless, when they were put together and married, we’re told about Isaac, “he loved her.”  (Gen. 24:67)  Without an overly romantic story (here, “Once upon a time…..a slave finds a woman watering her camels”) and without calculating all their similar interests, Isaac & Rebekah loved one another.

Now consider the story of Samson & Delilah, the original prom king and queen (Judg. 16).  After a quick one night stand with an….ahem, woman of questionable moral character, from Gaza, Samson proceeded to destroy the city.  To establish his personal identity and self-perception, Samson clearly sought to feel good about himself by “conquering” both women and men.  And the biblical text then tells us, “Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah” (Judges 16:4).  Look!  He “fell in love”!  How sweet!  Notice that the Bible doesn’t question his passion.  But it certainly questions his character.  To be brief….the relationship doesn’t end well.

Now the point in these examples is to show that marriage has much less to do with the feelings you have towards the person you bond yourself to and much more to do with the character of that person.  Isaac & Rebekah both graciously chose to selflessly love one another – to see what they could add to the other person’s life.  Samson & Delilah both chose to selfishly love one another – to see what they could take from another person to add to their own life.

A proud person’s life is about him/her.  A truly humble person’s life is ultimately about Jesus, and then about others.  A proud person cannot repent, because they refuse to admit they’ve done wrong.  And a proud person will not forgive, because they always feel that they deserve better.  A marriage cannot withstand two proud people.  A marriage can possibly withstand one proud person.  A marriage will function as God intended, flourish even, with two gracious, humble, repentant and forgiving people.

The cynic might argue that I’m trying to suggest it’s not important to be physically attracted to your spouse, or have certain communication skills, or other natural considerations.  I’m not.  The Bible does not demonize physical beauty and Christians certainly don’t have to crumble under the religion of the pietistic and pharisaical grandmas of the world who say that it’s only “what’s on the inside that counts”.  Yes, what’s on the inside counts more, but that doesn’t mean that nothing else matters, only that everything else should only matter proportionately.  And, if you believe what the Bible teaches – that both you and your spouse are tragically flawed – the thing that logically should matter most is whether or not the other person understands the concept of grace.  That would reasonably be the vital key to happiness in marriage.

So, if it’s true that when looking for a marriage partner, the key ingredient would seem to be grace, then where are you most likely to find a person full of grace?  It would naturally be amongst people whose lives revolve around the embodiment of grace – our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  And not surprisingly then, Christians who are regularly and actively living out their faith, including through their participation in their local church, see significantly higher percentages of successful and satisfied marriages.  I think some people, even Christians, have falsely attributed that success rate simply to “God has blessed their obedience”.  I’d propose that that’s a slightly backward way of looking at it though.  While I’d admit that God does promise some blessing as we live according to his life guidelines, when are our blessings in life as Christians principally about our obedience?  They’re not.  The gospel says that those blessings are principally by grace.  Therefore, I’d attribute much of the actual “success” to Christians in marriage to have less to do with blessed obedience, and much more to do with two people who recognize the grace in forgiveness that they’ve received from their Savior Jesus, and subsequently reflect that grace into their own marriages.

Jesus lived and died for his wife.  Eph. 5:25 says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”  Every day was more about his spouse than about himself.  Every day required grace.

I’m not going to pretend to be more romantic than I am, but quite honestly, I can’t imagine anything more romantic than the man who has everything, but realizes something essential is still missing, and then finds that missing piece to be…his wife.  This is the basic premise to countless movies from Pretty Woman to Sleeping Beauty, but where do you think those movies got that theme from?  It starts in the Garden of Eden, where a man named Adam is dropped in the center of paradise that has repeatedly been called “good” by God himself and yet, the one thing that God calls “not good” is the fact that this man is alone (Gen. 1-2).  And then when Adam is made complete by the creation of his wife and bonding in marriage, he’s so happy he bursts into song.  I don’t have time to explain how fascinating it is that God, who designed human beings, felt that even a vertical relationship with God himself wasn’t enough for humans, but that a horizontal relationship with other humans was similarly essential.  It’s incredibly profound.  But I know that this narrative culminates in the final Adam, i.e. Jesus (1 Cor. 15:45).  Once again, there existed a man in the middle of paradise, this time heaven.  And he looked around and felt that there was one essential thing missing………us.  And so he left paradise, laid down his life, and took his bride home to him for eternity.

If you’re currently searching for a marriage partner, keep this in mind.  If you’ve been married successfully for many years, don’t take credit that grace simply doesn’t allow you to take.  If you’re married to someone who doesn’t understand grace, read 1 Cor. 7, show them what grace looks like, and see what happens in time.  My wife could personally testify to this.  She’ll be the first to tell you that I’m a significantly better husband than I was a boyfriend.  Yes, I’ve certainly grown in my love for her throughout the years, but I’ve also been led to a much deeper understanding of God’s grace to me, which has turned me into a better marriage partner.  The same is true for her.  Never underestimate the power of the gospel which saves you to also melt your heart and change your life, including the most important of your relationships.

If you start thinking about it right now, for the rest of your married lives, you will never run out of implications for the truth of Jesus-reflected grace in your marriage.