Wednesday, April 22, 2015

You are the eikon of God

In my last post, we discussed the image (eikon) of God in relation to Jesus' discussion on taxes. However, today I want to expand on the idea of eikon, which is not well understood in Christian circles today despite being a powerful concept.

Eikon is the root of our English word, 'icon' and it literally means to "be like." The idea is the concept of a mirror reflection--the face I see in the mirror is not me, but is the eikon of me. The same can be said of a photograph--it in itself is not me and lacks some aspect of who I am; and yet, it is a very similar representation of me. In literary terms, this is used to describe allegories--an allegory is an eikon of the original story. Likewise, in the ancient Greek world if someone were to tell a ghost story, the phantom of the dead person would be called his eikon.

As we saw last week, the eikon of Caesar which was imprinted on his coin implied that the coin both belonged to, and represented, Caesar. Likewise, if you were to record a video of me giving a speech, that speech replayed would be a powerful eikon of me--both representing me as a reflection and in some way manifesting me.

The idea of an eikon is powerfully used in the Bible; indeed, you could very easily preach the entire Gospel simply from the idea of eikon. Let's see how.

Mankind was designed to be the eikon of God

In Genesis 1:26-28 we see the God created us to be His eikon:

"Then God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image [eikon], according to Our Likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.'
So God created man in His image, He created him in the image of God, He created them male and female.
God blessed them, and said to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth." 

Whenever someone wonders, "What is the meaning of life?", the answer is--to be God's eikon. God created the heavens and the earth and then, having created us, named us as His eikon.

In other words, we are to be His mirror-reflection on Earth, the imprint of His currency, the photograph of the Creator.

Specifically, we are told a few things that, as His eikon, we are to be:

  • We are to care for His creation, as He cares for His creation. God made everything here and declared it "very good"--we were designed to be His image-bearer among creation. We are to care for it, tend it, and rule it...ensuring its continued goodness and fruitfulness.

  • We are to be relational, as He is relational. God said "Let US" make man, "in OUR image", according to "OUT likeness." The Triune God is inherently relational--Father-Son-Spirit were in loving relationship before the creation of the world.  God did not create one human, but two: and He created them male and female, complementary parts of a whole, so that relationship between the two is critically necessary in order to fulfill our role as His eikon.  Indeed, I would argue that this tells us we cannot succeed as God's image alone. It is clear that God is not merely 'male' but includes both masculine and feminine qualities--He is both Father and Mother, and thus creates both "male and female" in order to make His image.

  • We are to be fruitful and creative, as He was fruitful and creative. One cannot miss that God was in the sixth day of a very fruitful week! He creates and creates, everything we see around us--from supernovas a billion light-years away to the small crickets in the field--and He asked us to be similarly fruitful. When we are fruitful, we fulfill our image of God. There is a real, fundamental reason that our souls receive satisfaction from a job well done, or from creating a beautiful painting or composing a piece of music, or even creating a silly football team on a video game:  we are hard-wired to be God's eikon, and creativity and accomplishment are fundamental aspects of His Personality.

So in this text, we see that the 'meaning of life' is for us to be God's mirror-image, which means: caring for what He created, being relational, and being creative (both in terms of creating life and in breathing meaning into the world around us).

Man refused to remain the eikon, but tried to usurp God's throne

In Genesis 3, we see the well-known story of the Fall of Man. Satan, possessing a serpent in the Garden of Eden, leads Adam and Eve to disobey God's one and only command: do not eat of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. As a result, God banishes mankind from the Garden where they were supposed to grow old. They are exiled to the wilderness of Earth, a world of death and pain and suffering. They are cursed and that curse passes down to us today.

The Fall of Man sometimes is confusing to people. Yes, Eve disobeyed. Yes, Adam disobeyed. Our forebears disobeyed a direct command. But, let's be honest...doesn't the curse seem too harsh a punishment? Does the punishment really fit the crime here? And if God is so merciful, why couldn't He just forgive Adam and Eve?

If you do not grasp the concept of man as God's eikon, then I think these are fair and difficult questions with which to grapple. However, understanding the theology of an eikon puts things in better perspective.

You see, the Fall of Man is not so much, "Adam and Eve sinned" as it is, "Adam and Eve desired more than their role." They were not satisfied with the role as God's image-bearer. Look more closely at how Satan tempted them:

" 'You will not die,' the serpent said to the woman. 'In fact, God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God' " (Gen 3:4-5, emphasis mine)

This phrase "you will be like God" is more direct in Hebrew--it is only one word: elohiym, which is the plural word for God.

I think the translation which adds "LIKE" to this phrase is unfortunate. It isn't in the text, but is a theological addition.

The text is: elohiym yada yowm akal ayin paqach elohiym. It doesn't use the word for 'image' (tselem) at all--it says of eating from the tree: "God knows at that time you eat, your eyes will open and you are gods."

You see--God made us as His image. His reflection. Adam and Eve decided this wasn't good enough: they didn't want to be God's image-bearer, they wanted to be God.

This is misunderstood because of the bad translation of Genesis 3:5--Adam and Eve weren't tempted by being "like" God...they already WERE like God! They were God's eikon...they wanted to be God Himself.

It was an attempt to usurp the throne--the same sin, by the way, that got Satan cast out of heaven. Unable to usurp the throne himself, he tempts Adam and Eve to try as well. And, like Satan, they fail.

The sentence for attempting to usurp the throne is the same for both would-be gods.  Satan is first exiled (from heaven to earth) and later sentenced to death (in Revelation, with the lake of fire.)  Likewise mankind is exiled (from the Garden to earth) and later sentenced to death (on earth, through suffering, pain, and natural causes).

This is why the punishment is not too great for the crime:  the first men were not content to remain as image-bearers of God--they wanted to be gods.

And indeed, this remains fundamentally with us each individually. Just like our ancestors, we have a fierce streak of individuality. We wish to bow the knee to no one--even God. We want to be our own, perfectly free, individual. Every man has within him a heart of anarchy and an ambition to godhood (Rom 1:23). We want the universe to revolve around us.

(This, by the way, is why God is so frequent and clear about not creating idols/icons of any kind, even of His own image--because WE are to be His image! We shouldn't be creating stone/wood images of God, because WE should be His living images in the world. There is not a century from 1st-8th where you don't find early Christians specifically demanding that no icons or images be made or worshipped.)

God therefore sent a new eikon

But God wants us to be His image-bearers. It is why He created us. And so, the Bible tells us, He sent His own Son to be the perfect eikon.

2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us that Satan has "blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image [eikon] of God."

Colossians 1:15 that Jesus "is the image [eikon] of the invisible God, the firstborn over all Creation."

The Colossians verse is particularly clear: because God is invisible to us, and because we are not fulfilling our roles ruling over creation as His image-bearer, therefore Jesus came to be the eikon that we failed to be, serving as firstborn/ruler over Creation.

The world SHOULD have seen God reflected in us...instead, they had to see it through Jesus.

If you believe in Jesus, He makes you back into the eikon you were supposed to be

Consider what Paul wrote in Romans 8:29: "For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image [eikon] of His Son."

We see the same statements in 1 Corinthians 15:49, Colossians 3:10, and many other places.

Perhaps Paul says it most clearly in 2 Corinthians 3:18:  "We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory".

Have you ever wondered why our faith in God is sufficient to get us into heaven? Doesn't that seem strange?

Well, the reason is because, if we believe in Jesus then we believe that a perfect eikon of God existed, and that by defeating death He proved that He can make us like Him. Faith saves us because faith in Jesus is, essentially, handing over our reins to Him: it is saying, "I subvert my will to Yours, so that You can remake me into Your image."

At its fundamental level, being a disciple of Christ is not about doing a series of works to live perfectly: it is about giving control to Jesus, refusing to reach for the throne and instead being satisfied to be His eikon. It is recognizing that we are shattered mirrors, and asking Jesus to put the pieces back together until we are eikons again.

I absolutely love this quote from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity, illustrating the same point:

"That is why He warned people to 'count the cost' before becoming Christians. 'Make no mistake,' He says, 'if you let Me, I will make you perfect. The moment you put yourself in My hands, that is what you are in for. Nothing less, or other, than that. You have free will, and if you choose, you can push Me away. But if you do not push Me away, understand that I am going to see this job through. Whatever suffering it may cost you in your earthly life, whatever inconceivable purification it may cost you after death, whatever it costs Me, I will never rest, nor let you rest, until you are literally perfect--until My Father can say without reservation that He is well pleased with you, as He said He was well pleased with me. This I can do and will do. But I will not do anything less.' "
This is why John tells us that we will be made perfect and not continue in our sins (1 Jo 2:1, 2:5-6, 3:2-3, 5:18) even though currently we are still sinners (1 Jo 1:8-10, 2:2). Because God promises that we who believe that Jesus is God's perfect eikon in the flesh, the Christ Himself, will be conformed into that same image. It is a process, but it is a promised process.

Further, the Scripture tells us that unbelievers continue to bear the image of Adam--the would-be-usurper--instead of God (1 Cor 15:49). And in the book of Revelation, we see that an eikon of the beast will be made, and unbelievers and rebels will worship it (Rev 13-20, numerous instances).


So you see that the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is intimately tied up with this idea of the eikon--you either reject your role as eikon and seek the throne for yourself, or you worship some false god's eikon, or agree to allow God's perfect eikon (Jesus) to transform you into an eikon which again bears His likeness.

There is no fourth choice.

So the practical question today is:  what eikon do you worship? To what are you aspiring? Are you your own god? Are you worshipping an icon/idol instead of God?

Or are you willing to accept that Jesus was the perfect eikon, and that if you allow Him--and only then! He will not force you!--that He will conform you into a perfect eikon.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Tax Man Cometh

Wednesday was Tax Day, April 15, which for my CPA wife is the end of an insanely busy season. (If you know any CPAs, buy them some flowers or something; it's not unusual for my wife to be working until 1am during the last month of tax season.)

So taxes were fresh on my mind when, driving home yesterday, I heard someone on a Christian radio station talking about how the government was using "my tax dollars" to fund abortions.

Now I have taken a hard-line stance on abortions many times before--I think it is a no-brainer and a major issue for any believer--so you would assume I would be as offended as he was.

But that's not quite the case.

To explain why, let me start with the key text, Matthew 22:15-17:

Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?

Now at the time in Rome, the imperial tax rate for an individual was usually around 2-5%. Obviously this was not a major burden. You might wonder, why were the Pharisees complaining? Why did they think that Jesus might tell them not to pay taxes?

You must understand the situation. As anti-Christian as you may think our modern society is, it pales in comparison to ancient Rome. The Roman Empire was very tolerant of long as you were tolerant back. They took over a country and said, 'Your gods are good by us--let's mix our two systems together.' And oh, by the way--you also have to worship the Emperor as a lesser god. You wouldn't pray to the emperor as you would to the pantheon of gods...however, every day in some way you would be expected to sort of pledge allegiance to the Emperor as a lesser deity. For those who accepted hundreds of gods anyway, this was no big deal--and in their eyes, the peace and wealth of Rome was indeed like a gift from heaven.

The only group who fought against this were the Jews. They refused to worship other gods or abandon their religion. They refused to pay homage to the Emperor, and riots against Rome were commonplace. Indeed, even after Rome allowed them to pay part of their taxes to their own Jewish Temple, they still often refused to pay the other taxes.

The logic they used for not paying taxes is like this:

  1. I earn a certain amount of money
  2. Taxes take some of my money away
  3. My money is being spent on unholy things
  4. I am not supposed to associate with unholy things
  5. Therefore, I will not pay taxes

So what the Pharisees are saying is very similar to our Christian radio host earlier:  it is an outrage that the government uses MY money to fund unholy enterprises!  Our host's logic for steps 1-4 is the same, he just comes to a different conclusion:

  1. I earn a certain amount of money
  2. Taxes take some of my money away
  3. My money is being spent on unholy things
  4. I am not supposed to associate with unholy things
  5. Therefore, I will try and convince the government not to do so

So while they use different actions, the reasoning is the same.

The Jews thought this would trap Jesus. If He said, "Don't pay taxes," then they would turn Him in as an anti-Rome revolutionary; however, if He said, "It's okay," then they would say He supported unholy things.

Jesus flipped it around (as He often does). He replied:

"Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought Him a denarius, and He said, "Whose image is this? And whose subscription?"

"Caesar's," they replied.

Then he said to them, "So give back to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's."

The people left amazed. Why? Why did they not say "Gotcha--you support unholy things!"?

Because look what Jesus said--the taxes were Caesar's to begin with. You should pay Caesar your taxes, because Caesar is the one who provided that money.

This ruined their argument, because now it looks like this:

  1. I earn a certain amount of money, and Caesar's government provides me a certain amount
  2. Taxes take some of Caesar's money back
  3. Caesar is spending his money on unholy things
  4. I am not supposed to associate with unholy things
  5. YOU AREN'T--Caesar is, with his own money.

That is why they left, defeated. Jesus was saying--the money they take for taxes never belonged to you in the first place, so stop worrying about it.

And that is applicable to us as well. As horrible as abortion is (and I'm basically a one-issue voter who will never cast a vote for a pro-choice candidate), it pales in comparison to worshipping false gods. In our eyes, idolatry should be worse than murder.

So just as Jesus did not oppose paying the taxes--even if used for unholy things!--in Rome, so to would He not oppose it here.

More importantly, though, I think often we are missing the main purpose of this passage:

Jesus asks, "whose is this image"...the word image is eikon. This is the word that we usually discuss as icon.

In the New Testament, WE are the eikon of God (cf: Rom 8:29; 1Co 11:7; 1 Co 15:49; 2Co 3:18; Col 3:10). This is a reference to the Old Testament, Genesis 1:26, where man was made as the image-bearer of God for all creation.

So let's look at what Jesus said with a slightly different word choice and you will see a difference:

Whose icon is on this coin?

Caesar's.  [or for us:  Abraham Lincoln; George Washington; Andrew Jackson; etc.]

So give back to Caesar his icons, and give God's icons back to God.

What Jesus is basically saying is:  the government made that money, gave it to you, and took it back. Fine. If you think they are misusing it, then pray for them.

But money is the currency of this world, and it belongs to this world.

OUR currency is to trade in God's image--that is, people. We are to be God's icons.

Jesus' point here, I think, is to say this: you should be a LOT more worried about how you are "spending" the image of God in your daily walk, rather than worried about how Caesar is spending the money he printed.

So to Americans angry about how taxes are spent today, I say this:

  1. Stop saying "the government shouldn't spend MY tax dollars like such-and-such." They aren't your dollars. The government printed them, and before you ever got your first paycheck the law was in place that you had to give it back to them. It's not YOUR money.
  2. Our money may say, "In God we trust," but it's not God whose image is on it. Our money bears the icons of America, not of God.
  3. You, on the other hand, bear God's image and are God's icons.
  4. So:  let America worry about America's dollars--you should be spending your time worrying about how you're using the gifts God gave to YOU.

PS--No, I don't mean that it's okay that the government sponsors abortion. And yes, of course I think we should vote for those who will use the government's money in godlier ways. But it (a) isn't your tax dollars; and (b) shouldn't be all that big a concern for you. You have your own sins to deal with and people to witness to, which are actually of far more importance.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Raising children in the faith

One of the most difficult aspects of being a Christian parent is choosing how to raise your children. When can they begin to learn things of the faith? What is the best way to teach them? When are their professions actually their professions, rather than just reflections of the faith of their parents?

Throughout history, various groups have developed catechisms for helping bring new believers along--including catechisms for children. I'm not going to say any are right or wrong--each have their benefits and if one way was perfect then I'm sure God would have put it in the Scripture.

In doing some research for another topic, I ran across an ancient Jewish source (m.'Abot 5:21) which provides an interesting approach to aging and growing in the faith.

I modified it slightly to make it Christian, and present it here just as a thought-provoker:

Five Years Old:  Begin teaching the Scripture, with Bibles appropriate to their age and understanding level. At this age they will surprise you with what they can understand: by six, my youngest was asking Sunday School teachers to explain the Trinity. So don't hold back on going into some basic details and how they connect to the grand story of Scripture.

Ten Years Old:  At this age, Jews began to teach their children the Mishnah. The Mishnah is essentially a study of the teachings of the Jewish tradition (dietary laws, prayer, etc.). It is divided into six basic categories, of which I think all but the one on Jewish ritual purity are useful for Christians as well:
  • Seeds - teaching prayer and generosity
  • Festivals - teaching the concept of Sabbath and celebrations of the faith (Easter, Christmas)
  • Women - teaching about marriage and divorce
  • Damages - teaching about civil and criminal law and courts, and how to interact with them
  • Holy things - teaching about proper behavior, rites (baptism, communion)
So the idea would be that by the time they finish their tenth year, your child would have five years of understanding basics of Scripture, as well as knowing how to pray, how to be generous, the importance of marriage and family, the rites and celebrations of the faith, and how to interact with the secular world.

Thirteen Years Old:  At this age, the child is seen as becoming accountable for following the commandments. By now he or she should be mature enough to exhibit self-control and follow the teachings of Jesus in their lives. From now on they are considered a "youth."

Fifteen Years Old:  At this age, the youth begins to study commentaries and begin to understand basic theological techniques--that is, how to interpret and study the Scripture and how others have done so.

Eighteen Years Old:  At this age, the youth is old enough to marry and begin to raise a family.

Twenty Years Old:  At this age, the youth should begin to pursue their calling. In the next ten years they should have established their career and completed all apprenticeships.

Thirty Years Old: At thirty, the youth becomes an "elder" or full-grown man/woman. Now they are allowed to be in leadership roles, teaching positions, and exercising authority.

Fifty Years Old:  At fifty, the elder has experienced enough to become a counselor to those younger than him.

Sixty Years Old:  From sixty on, the elder enters "old age" and is to be freed from responsibilities to enjoy retirement. He or she should be shown the upmost respect and can still be very valuable as an advisor.

Again, this is nothing magical. But it is interesting to me, particularly at the younger ranks. I think that we today are far too slow with educating our children in the faith. Many Christians don't even think about starting to teach Scripture until a child is into their teens; whereas by 13, a typical Jew or early Christian would have been in their 8th year of Scripture memorization and already had three years of learning how to follow the basic disciplines of the faith (prayer, quiet time, the meaning of rituals/rites, etc.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sermon Archive

I haven't done a very good job of linking to my sermons here, even though that is a lot of the "writing" which I do these days. So here goes. As I continue to preach, I will keep coming in and updating the below.

Title:  Why We Fail John's Tests
Date:  15 March 2014
Passage:  1 John 2:12-17
Summary:  John has given us four tests which, if we pass them, will give us confidence in our salvation. But what about when we fail those tests? This passage tells the reason WHY we fail John's tests.

Title:  The Problem of Suffering
Date:  25 January 2015
Passage:  Topical:  Habakkuk
Summary:  Habakkuk was an unusual prophet who recorded his frustration with God's plan. This message is the opening overview of the new series on Habakkuk, and explores the Problem of Suffering--why does a good God allow suffering?

Title:  The Promise of the Coming King
Date:  14 December 2014
Passage:  Topical: Christmas
Summary:  This is the first of a two-week Christmas series which explores the topic of Jesus' Kingship--what does it mean when we say Jesus is the Newborn King? This message explores the Old Testament expectations of the coming King of the Jews.

Title:  Humble planning
Date:  23 November 2014
Passage:  James 4:13-17
Summary:  In this passage, James explains how proper planning should be done--and how often all of our plans are just boasting in arrogance.

Title:  Who is going to teach you how to walk?
Date:  02 November 2014
Passage:  James 3:13-18
Summary:  In this passage, James is going to go into more detail on his claim in 3:1 that not many should be teachers. He will teach us what to look for when choosing the teachers of our faith.

Title:  God Transforms (Doctrines Series Lesson 7)
Date:  17 August 2014
Passage:  Topical:  Communion & Baptism
Summary:  In this lesson, we cover one of the key aspects of Grace's theology--Ordinances. We will discuss both communion and baptism, and how God transforms us. We will examine these through the lens of ancient suzerain covenants.

Title:  God Speaks (Doctrines Series Lesson 2)
Date:  13 July 2014
Passage:  Topical: Revelation
Summary:  In this lesson, we cover one of the key aspects of Grace's theology--Revelation. We explore how God reveals Himself to us, both through the books of Scripture (Special Revelation) and the book of nature (General Revelation).

Title:  Debating Jesus
Date:  18 May 2014
Passage:  Luke 20:19-21:4
Summary:  In this lesson we cover two attempts--one by the Pharisees and one by the Sadducees--to trap Jesus in a debate. Jesus deftly avoids both topics and we find that neither purity (Pharisees) nor knowledge (Sadducees) are sufficient for salvation.
Link:  (No audio, text only):

Title:  Two Pictures of Jesus
Date:  11 May 2014
Passage:  Luke 20:9-19
Summary:  Here we look at the Parable of the Vineyard, from which we get two distinct pictures of Jesus. These two pictures lead us into CS Lewis' Trilemma:  Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord: He cannot simply be a great moral teacher.

Title:  Jesus' Most Bizarre Parable
Date:  15 February 2014
Passage:  Luke 16:1-13
Summary:  Here we study what many consider Jesus' most bizarre parable--the Parable of the Dishonest Servant, in which Jesus seemingly praises an embezzling servant for his crafty dishonesty.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sports and heartbreak

After nearly a month of being away from home, I traveled back this weekend. After a brutally long day of traveling from Shanghai to Tokyo to Atlanta, I faced a 5 ½ hour layover before my last flight; so I decided to spend it in Delta’s Sky Lounge in Terminal F (by far the best lounge I’ve been in, in the States). After a 2-3 hour nap, I awoke in time to watch the end of the Razorback-Aggie game. As an Arkansas alum, it was a tough loss: to lead, on the road, against the #6 team in the nation all game and never fall behind until the final score in OT.

But as I read the Facebook and Twitter comments, I saw a passion and disappointment and heartache there that I know only too well. I used to live and die by sporting events. NFL and NCAA football were my favorites, followed closely by Razorback basketball. When the team won, I was cheering and jumping for the ceiling; when the team lost, I was angry or depressed. Just as bad was fantasy football, which spread my obsession all the way from Thursday to Monday Night Football.

My emotional investments got so bad, that I at one point had to go cold-turkey for a while. I would DVR the games I wanted to see, look at the final score before watching, and then watch. And yet still, my emotions were too high.

Eventually I had to ask: don’t I suffer from enough stress, anxiety, and high blood pressure without voluntarily adding another layer? And for what benefit? When we win, the “high” is gone all too soon: there is always another game to become invested in and disappointed in. Was I really going to spend my Saturdays, Sundays, and Monday nights wasting hours on a game that I only enjoyed for a short period of time each evening?

Well, it is probably a lie to say that “I had to ask” those questions: it is more fair to say that my wife asked me those questions. And at the risk of Jesus-juking sports: she’s right.

I read the heartbreak and pain and anxiety in the Razorback fans; the anger at the coach and—before him—the AD who let go the prior coach over those pesky ethical dilemmas. And I remember all too well that feeling.

So for those of you who (like me, not so long ago) are so obsessed with sports, let me encourage you to take a broader look. No, I’m not going to be talking about the temporary nature and the false glory and the “why can we scream for the Hogs but not the Lord” thing (though there is truth in all such statements). Instead, let me ask you: why do you watch?

“I’m a fan,” you say. But what is a fan? Someone who enjoys something for entertainment. So ask yourself: do you enjoy it? If not, you’re doing it wrong.

Consider the movies. I’m a fan of the Marvel universe of movies. And yet, I didn’t really care for any of the Thor films. But I didn’t get angry at the director. I didn’t write angry message board posts calling for the head of the studio executives. I didn’t call into radio shows and lament that they didn’t hire better actors. I shrugged and said, “Eh, not for me,” and didn’t give it a second’s thought.

The same is true of a book, or a TV show, or anything else that we call entertainment: if it isn’t for us, we set it down, turn the channel, move on with our lives. We don’t get angry and furious. That is exclusively a sports phenomenon.

For some reason, we tie up our identity in sports. “I’m a Razorback,” we say; or “We won!” or “We’re so terrible!” As a result, the performance of the team inherently reflects (in your mind) upon your self worth. And this is where I Jesus juke you: because if you are a believer, then your self-worth is not tied up in whether a group of guys you’ll never meet manage to run a piece of leather across a white painted stripe on one particular day.

If you are a disciple of the Christ, then you are an icon of God: the image-bearer of the Almighty Creator. You were made in His image and, despite failures of our own, have been ransomed from sin by the blood of the Holy Son of God, the Prince of Peace. You are engaged in a spiritual battle not over turf on a field but over the very souls of the people you love. You have been called the co-heir of all creation and the adoptive son of the One True God, who was and is and will be. You are the Temple of His Spirit, and you are being reformed and made daily in His image.

So let me ask you: is your worth less because your team lost Saturday? Of course not.

So please stop acting like it! Football is a wonderful game to watch. It’s a blast. I love the strategy of it. I play it on video games for fun (both Madden and NCAA, and probably far too much). I fully appreciate the fun and can talk about the pros and cons of various alignments and all of that. But it’s just a game. Your blood pressure shouldn’t raise one tiny bit.

It should mean no more to you than any other form of entertainment: a TV show, a movie, an album. And if it does, you’re doing it wrong.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A picture of the Gospel

I think sometimes of the Gospel as a four-legged stool. If you have only three legs, you fall; and even if you have all four, lean to hard in one direction and you fall.

In this analogy, the four legs of the Gospel are: the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Ascension.

In the Incarnation, we see the Creator who so loves us that He comes down from heaven, humbles Himself to become one of us.

In the Cross, we see God dying on our behalf, making Himself the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

In the Resurrection, we see the Christ conquering the grave, creating a pathway whereby via faith we can follow Him into the inheritance of eternal life.

In the Ascension, we see Jesus returning to and preparing His Kingdom, which will one day come down to earth.

You must have all four legs of the stool in order for it to stand; but neither can you lean too hard in one direction or the other.

Ignore the Incarnation and you lose a good portion of God's love and His role as our mediator who is one just like us; lean too hard on the Incarnation leg and you fall into the heresy of a loving baby-Jesus who is completely safe and full of warm-fuzzies.

Ignore the Cross and you lose that Jesus was the willing Lamb of God, dying on our behalf and wiping out our sins; lean too hard on the Cross and you get a cold, punishing God who punishes the innocent in the most painful way possible.

Ignore the Resurrection and you lose eternal life and the defeat of death; lean too hard on the Resurrection and you fall into Gnosticism, the spirit-God who didn't really get tempted as we were tempted and didn't really suffer a painful death on the Cross.

Ignore the Ascension and you lose Christ the King, who may save by grace through faith but still expects obedience and maturity from His subjects; lean too hard on the Ascension and you get a distant and sovereign King rather than a loving Father-God.

You need all four legs, equally balanced. Because all four are part of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus cannot be told without these four. The story of Jesus is all of the above: the babe in the manger, the sacrificial lamb, the conqueror of death, and the returning King. Anything short of these four, or too strongly leaning into one at the exclusion of the others, is bound to lead you astray.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Dateline: Disney

So my family and I are finished with day 4 of our Disney World visit. We've had a fantastic time so far, staying again at Wilderness Lodge (which we love), going to a Halloween Party, Hollywood Studios, and Magic Kingdom.

What amazes me is how many people are just miserable at Disney World. We see people who are rude to other guests, mean to their kids or the servers, or generally get angry about silly things--as though Disney made that lightning come and shut down the roller coaster just before you got on...JUST TO ANNOY YOU.

In case you were curious, I have a few thoughts of how to avoid being THAT GUY at a vacation (to Disney or elsewhere). I think if you can just remember three things, your vacation can be great as well.

All three of these, as you will see, grow out of my worldview as a Christian. So they're probably harder to explain to non-believers. Of course, non-believers probably aren't reading my blog for advice on a Disney vacation so...who cares.

1. Give grace - to everyone

If there is one single piece of advice I could give, it is that you should wake up each morning and remind yourself to give grace to everyone you meet. Because any time you cram several thousand sinful, imperfect people into a theme park you WILL have negative interactions. You're going to bump into someone. Or a ride will break down just before you get on it. Someone will accidentally cut in line. Someone will hit your Mickey ice cream bar onto your kid's princess dress that you spent hours on and keep walking. Your kids will throw a fit about something stupid. These things happen, guys.

My wife and I probably say the word "Grace" to each other ten times a day at the parks. Any time one of us is a bit frustrated over something unimportant, or someone does something which could ruin our day, we'll look at the other and simply say, "Grace." It is a good reminder that, as a Jesus-follower, we are going to forgive and forgive and forgive and forgive. Let the person stay in line ahead of you, without saying anything. Who cares? Is being one person ahead in line really worth an argument and ruining everyone's day? Isn't it better to laugh off a slight or messy clothes or a bump in the crowd than to hold a grudge--which ultimately only hurts you and those you love and came on your trip with?

And you know what? It works on many levels. Giving grace to others has several impacts. Sometimes, the others notice, and feel the warmth of undeserved forgiveness. Sometimes it changes other people's behavior. Sometimes it brightens up someone's day who wasn't even there. And sometimes, all it does is keep you from getting your day ruined.

Grace is healthy for the soul. As you received it from God, so too pass it along to those around you.

2. Remember why you're here

If you went to a theme park, you paid a bunch of money. And you battled crowds. And you waited in lines. Why? We all do it for the same reason--to have joy. Now of course, I'm not talking about the Christian virtue of joy, merely a shadow of it: but wow, what a shadow. Going on roller coasters with your son, sharing an ice cream, giggling at the Laugh Factory's corny jokes, racing lego cars in Downtown Disney, or just hanging out at the pool...these are priceless times. (And no, I get nothing from Disney for saying this!)  (But yes, Disney, if you happen to read this and WANT to give me something, I accept!)

The point is, you came here to get joy, to have some fun. And if you forget that, you can end up ruining the whole trip.

Everyone says their focus is fun...but it's not. Most of the unhappy people I see at Disney are not actually committed to having fun. Some are committed to riding as many rides as possible--and they are willing to make themselves or their kids miserable if needed, coming to the park at rope drop and staying until closure, carefully plotting every moment. Some are committed to experiencing certain rides, and if that ride is down for maintenance, then the trip is ruined. Some want to save money, so they have a plan for that (a terrible plan, because they chose to go to Disney, so you'll have better luck boiling the ocean than saving money here).

But if the focus is fun, then things change. Today our kids were exhausted, because we had a full day yesterday followed by an early breakfast. By 4 pm, they were starting to get tired. We could have pushed it...done a second Halloween party, eaten and tried to rally, etc. We could have decided that "more = better" and pushed for more rides.

Know what we did instead?

We took the boat back to the hotel. And rested. The boys watched "Dog with a Blog" or whatever was on Disney XD. The wife did some laundry. I read on my iPad and wrote this post. Why? Because our focus is FUN. And fun comes when everyone is enjoying themselves. Cramming in two extra rides and causing a tantrum does not help lead to fun.

If you are focused on joy, then sometimes you will rest. Sometimes you will show up early. Sometimes you will stay late. Sometimes you will stop and just enjoy a long, leisurely lunch. Sometimes you will skip your planned FastPass or reservation because your son really wants to ride Rockin' Roller Coaster just one more time.

3. Remember, it's not about you

I run the risk of Jesus-juking here, so I'll tread carefully. But good Christians who live disciple lives come to Disney and act totally out of character. They act like things are different here "because it's my vacation," or "because I paid a lot of money to be here." Those facts do not mean that all of a sudden, your Christian faith takes a vacation. It never does, for a disciple.

Disciples can enjoy themselves. Disciples can go to Disney. But they don't leave their discipleship at the gates.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you should be here handing out tracts or having a worship service. What I am saying is that you should remember: The people around you are more important than anything you do. More important than your ride with your kids. More important than how much money you paid. More important than your place in line. More important than your vacation time.

The people all around you are the image-bearers of Almighty God, created in the image of the Eternal One, made for a purpose and designed to be your eternal brother or sister in Christ. They will live forever--either in eternal splendor or horror--and the massive conglomerate that is the Disney corporation will crumble into dust long before they do. They will live forever, as will you.

So don't forget:  life is not about you. When you turned your life over to Christ, you gave that up. You gave up the right to be your own king, and became a subject of the Holy King. You are surrounded by people who are either His subjects, or who He wants to be His subjects. Treat them with the respect they deserve. Don't leave your Christianity at the gates.