Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What I Learned From My Son's First Basketball Game

My 8-year-old son played in his first organized basketball game this past weekend.  Now, if he inherits my basketball skills, he has about as much chance of playing in the NBA as winning the current 1.9 billion dollar Powerball lottery.  He sure had fun playing, though, and I certainly had fun watching him.  But, something happened that I didn’t quite expect that Saturday morning.  While watching him, I actually began to tear up.  I felt such a sense of fatherly pride in my son not because he played so well but more because I saw him taking steps toward authentic manhood.

This really was my son’s first organized game of basketball.  He really didn’t understand the rules.  Most of the time he wasn’t sure what he was to do or where he was to go.  He spent a lot of time looking around and he seemed unsure of himself.  Yet, he didn’t quit.  I watched my son keep working and keep trying to figure things out.  I watched him work hard.  I watched him encourage other players on the team.  I watched him mess up and then try again ... mess up once more and then try once more.  I watched him listen to his coach.  I watched him be competitive.  I watched him take initiative.  I watched him learn how to be a team player.  I watched him take responsibility.  I was, in essence, watching him take some of his very first steps toward true manhood and it was a very emotional experience for me.

Those same steps could be taken in a chess tournament, a math competition, a dance recital, or a photography class.  Manhood isn’t just developed from sports, although some men feel they need to be able to play sports in order to be manly.  But, the reality is that you can be the worst athlete in the world and still be an authentic man.  You can be incompetent with a hammer and still be an authentic man.  You can drive a Beetle instead of a Harley and still be an authentic man.  Manhood isn’t so much found in what you do, but rather in who you are.  And, as men it's so important to remember this because who we are will always show up in what we do.

If my son continues in athletics, he’ll quickly realize that one of the most important facets of our body is having good “core” strength.  Core muscles are those muscles right around the center of your body your abs, your hips, your obliques, your lower back, your middle back.  It’s the “trunk” of your body the center the core.  A strong core allows one to generate power when needed or speed when needed.  A strong center makes it easier to change direction quickly.  A strong core helps prevent injuries. Even if you has good “mirror” muscles legs, biceps, triceps, and chest even if those are strong and big even if you have good upper and lower body strength, you won’t be as powerful as you could be if your core muscles are weak because the core is where the power comes from.  It doesn’t matter what physical activity you’re doing, strong core muscles will just help you perform better. 

In a “life” sense, I think it’s the same for those of us who are men.  If our “center” is right life will just work better.  But, if all we’re doing is focusing our efforts on those mirror muscles of life the things that may make us look good or even feel good:  accomplishments, bank account, status, power, athletics, etc. not that these things are wrong in and of themselves, but if our focus is on what we want to do rather than who we want to be, we will never experience life the way God has ultimately designed.  You’ll wake up one day and see that you’ve accomplished plenty, but you’re still lonely you can run for miles and miles, but you still feel unfulfilled you have the Harley, you have the women, you have the bank account, but you still feel isolated.  “We each spend our lives searching, and we are all searching for the same thing, though we do it in many different ways.  We will go to extreme lengths to try to find what we’re looking for, and many times men can hurt others in their search.”  (Ytreeide)

As a man, I sometimes find myself believing I need people to love me I need people to notice what I do I need people to admire me.  I sometimes find myself believing that the more I’m noticed and admired for what I do, the more value I think I have.  God, forgive me.  The more I fall into this dangerous trap the more I find that if I “do something I think is great, but nobody compliments me, I feel badly.  Or if someone else seems to be the center of attention, I get angry.  Or if my friends pay attention to someone else, I get jealous.”  (Ytreeide) It’s such a frustrating way to live and I want nothing to do with it!  As men, we live in a society that judges winners by winning and losers by losing.  If I succeed, if I win, if I get the sale, if make a profit, if my idea works, if I have a great day as a parent and do everything right, if I preach an amazing sermon that keeps everyone’s attention then I’m a success.  But, if I fail, if I lose, if I don’t get the sale, if I end up losing money, if my idea flops, if I have an awful day as a parent and can’t seem to do anything right, if people are falling asleep or walking out while I preach then I’m a failure.  Too many times we allow self-worth to be intertwined with winning or losing, succeeding or failing.  We often base our worth on the outcome.  But, God is not waiting for us to fail or succeed before He decides how He feels about us.  How He feels has already been decided!  He doesn’t think more of me when I win or less of me when I lose.  And, the reality of that frees me up to be the type of man He has created me to be to take steps of faith, to take responsibility, to show initiative, to put others first, to work hard and try new things to win and also to lose and not allow myself to be defined by either because I’m already defined by Jesus and His finished work on the cross.  When we fully allow God to define who we are, it frees us up to concern ourselves with simply being faithful to Him. This is why I am so thankful that Jesus’ primary concern is for our heart and it’s there that He will always begin His work. 

So, as I continue to watch my son take steps toward manhood, I’m finding that he’s not the only one doing that. I find myself in the journey every day as well.  O, God, allow those steps to be directed by You and may Your grace shape me and my son in to the men you’ve created us to be. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

What Is Capturing Your Heart?

A difficult reality for me to accept is that no matter how much “good stuff” I do, I still want to sin because sin is what comes most easily for me.  I don’t have to work at it at all.  That is why no matter who you are, we can all be seconds away from an affair.  We can all be seconds away from theft.  We can all be seconds away from cheating or dishonesty.  We can all be seconds away from hurting someone else.  We are all seconds away from doing lots of damage to ourselves or to someone else.  No matter how long or short you’ve been a Christian, no matter how much good stuff you try to do we can’t get away from the fact that our natural bent is toward sin. 

The Bible calls us to live a Christ-like life, but how can that even be possible with all of the daily challenges around us?  Temptation is right there with me from the moment my alarm goes off in the morning am I going to get up or am I going to be lazy?  At breakfast am I going to lose my temper when things get a little crazy with the kids or am I going to respond in a Christ-like way?  When I get on the high way how am I going to respond to the guy that just cut me off?  And, I’ve barely been awake 3 hours at this point! 

There is always, always, always something just waiting to ensnare me and entangle me and capture my heart.  Worries, emotions, relationships, struggles, financial problems, marriage problems, perhaps an addiction with everything going on in and around us it’s so easy to be too tired, too frantic, or too lazy to even consider a closer relationship with Jesus, let alone to live like Him. (Lane)

But, if the Bible is true (and I believe it is), the very hard-to-accept reality is that the change most needed in our lives isn’t change in our situations, circumstances, or relationships, but in us—in our own hearts. (Tripp) Most of the time what we focus on is change from the outside in we focus on our actions doing what is right and not doing what is wrong.  It’s easy to feel like if we can just spiritually discipline ourselves enough, then we can straighten ourselves out and manipulate God into being happy with us.  Most of us are taught that “More Right Behavior + Less Wrong Behavior = Godliness.”  The problem with that, though, is the focus of our relationship with God becomes either do, do, do or don’t, don’t, don’t.  If we are doing, doing, doing God is happy.  If we are don’ting, don’ting don’ting God not so happy.

In my own life what I found happening was that, instead of equaling “Godliness”   “More Right Behavior + Less Wrong Behavior = Emptiness.”  And, it’s a strange thing because there’s nothing wrong with more right behavior.  That’s a good thing.  There’s nothing wrong with less wrong behavior.  That’s a good thing too.  But something or better yet Someone was missing from that equation:  Jesus. 

You see, the major difference between Jesus and “religion” is that religion is all about what I do.  What must I do to be good enough or feel good enough?  The problem is you can never sacrifice enough things or do enough good to have your sins taken away.  Only Christ’s surprising sacrifice for us can bring the holy God so close that He never leaves. (Welch)

If we want the life that God wants for us, it will never happen from the outside in.  And the reason for that is because all ungodly behavior grows out of a heart that has been captured by something other than Jesus. (Lane/Tripp)

So, the key to overcoming temptation is asking the question, “What am I allowing to capture my heart?”  Is accountability good?  Sure.  We need people to confess too.  Are boundaries good?  Absolutely.  I set up boundaries on my computer.  I will not drive alone with a woman who is not my wife.  If I’m meeting with a woman, I let at least two other people know. That’s not legalism.  That’s wisdom.  Set up boundaries to protect yourself, definitely.  But, unless my heart is completely captured by Jesus, I will always find away around my boundary or I’ll just find another sin to habitually give myself too.  Sin will always cause my heart to replace God with something else and only love for Jesus can defend my heart from what is seeking to capture it.

So, I need to preach to myself every day.  I need to remind myself of who Jesus is and what He has done and that there is nothing I could ever do to make Him love me more and nothing I could ever do to make Him love me less. I need to remind myself that grace doesn’t mean I can just go and do what I want.  But, grace does mean that God always offers forgiveness when I don’t do what He desires.  Always.  I need to remind myself of who He says I am in the Bible that even on my worst day I am still a holy and blameless child of the Living God because the life I should have lived Jesus has lived it.  The punishment I should have Jesus has taken it.  The rightness with God I think I need to earn that is freely given to me.  When I rely on Jesus’ finished work on the cross, I no longer have to wonder if God is happy with me or satisfied with me because my identity is no longer anchored in what I do.  It’s anchored in Jesus’ accomplishment, not my own; Jesus’ strength, not my own; Jesus’ track record, not my own; Jesus’ victory, not my own. (Keller)

And, I need to pray.  I need to pray for God to work in my heart and give me a greater love for Him and a greater desire TO love Him.  He knows where I am and what I am struggling with.  He knows my weaknesses and is always willing and able to offer His strength when, in humility, I express my need for it.  And, as I reflect on all of this, I see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with me. And, that His kindness is intended to turn me from my sin and lead me to repentance.  (Romans 2:4) The more I remember what Jesus has done and the more I remember that He is for me, the more I find that He replaces my selfish, sinful nature with His divine nature.  And so the more I allow my heart to be captured by Jesus, the less opportunity it has to be captured by something else.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Easy Only Drives Us Back to Ourselves. Hard Drives Us Back to God.

It’s that time of year again. Goals are being crafted.  Promises are being made. Resolutions are being formed.  If you’re like me, these goals, promises, and resolutions typically revolve around areas in my life or around my life that need some work something is not as it could be or should be and I become burdened to do something different or to be something different.  

I believe these burdens are from God.  The good news is that God doesn’t burden us and then leave us on our own.  If all I have at the beginning of this New Year is God telling me who to be but not helping me be it that will lead to an incredibly defeated and guilt-ridden 2016.  I need more than for God to tell me what I should do and who I should be. I need His help to do and to be.  Thankfully, help is exactly what Jesus offers.  This is why Jesus says what he says in Mark 10:45: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Every time Jesus calls us to something, every time He stirs a burden in our heart for something that should be and could be, it is His way of telling us how He wants to help us.   It is His way of showing us how we can come to Him and receive “mercy and find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Any burden He places upon our heart any passion or fire He stirs up inside of us any area of our life that doesn’t match up with our identity as a follower of Jesus all of that is His way of saying, “Hey, I am willing and able to offer you My power to get going.”  And, Ephesians 1 tells me that God’s power is an incomparably great power a power so great that for me to even begin to understand God’s power, I literally need God’s power!  His power is more than enough to accomplish whatever it is He wants to accomplish in you or through you.

God is always moving toward us.  He is always working, always moving, always acting on our behalf “in order to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)  If you’re reading this and you’re a follower of Jesus, you have the hope of knowing that God’s purposes in your life will always be fulfilled with God’s power in your life. The fancy, theological term for this is “progressive sanctification” and it means that Jesus is changing you by the power of his Holy Spirit.  He is working through you by the power of the Holy Spirit. You are never left on your own.  But, these changes don’t always happen as fast as we’d like.  And, they’re not always as easy as we would like.  But, that’s OK.  Easy only drives us back to ourselves.  Hard drives us back to God. If something is easy, we typically don’t run to God.  But when it’s hard, we are driven back to Him for help. And, He will always meet us there.  Always.  Whatever change God wants to work in you or through you in 2016 probably isn’t going to be easy.  But, hard is OK.  Don’t run from hard.  Run to God in the midst of the hard.

Whatever 2016 has in store ... whatever goals, promises, or resolutions are on your heart ... God is inviting you in to His plan for your life.  It may not be easy, but we don’t do things because they are easy.  We do things because our God is with us and will accomplish His purposes through His power, not ours. 

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