Friday, November 28, 2008

How the Bears Became Bad News and the Ducks Became Mighty.

Baseball may have taught me a lot, but nobody taught me a lot about baseball. I remember getting yelled at in Little League for messing up a play or batting poorly. Lots of people were willing to tell me what I did wrong, but very few people would show me how to do it right. There’s a reason I gave up playing the game for playing punk music. Mistakes were acceptable if not celebrated, and it was easy enough to teach myself anything I needed to know. Even so, I still wish I had that cinematic baseball team where a coach comes to turn a bunch of misfits into all-stars.

I’ve been in Michigan for the last three weeks and seen lots of old friends. Some of them have asked me how I like living in Nashville. Even though I lived in Michigan most of my life and moved only a year ago, I tell them that Nashville is my home. When they ask me why I like it so much, I used to tell them that I’m pleased to live where God wants me. While that’s true, I realize that I have another answer. I have people in Nashville who train me in discipleship. It’s like I found the Little League coach I always wanted. Until I moved to Nashville, I never understood the value of discipline and discipleship.

I used to identify the word “discipline” with punishment. Anything else was training. The Bible used the word discipline in terms of punishment sometimes and many a Baptist child heard these verses. Proverbs 22:15, for example, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; the rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” Or the famous Proverbs 13:24, “He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” Dang, right? Imagine how blessed you’d feel hearing someone quote those verses after hitting you with a belt.

But more often than not, scripture talks about discipline as if it’s the greatest thing in the whole world. Hebrews 12 talks of how God disciplines to train us in holiness. Verse 11 says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” And in Revelation 3, in a letter to Sardis, God says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” Paul rejoiced at the discipline of the church in Colossians 2:5.

We can easily get the wrong idea about discipline. It’s not punishment for its own sake. It’s not hateful correction. Like children, we think we know the best way to live, but we would mature poorly if we didn’t have people to train us. The disciples weren’t masochists, as far as I know. They wanted Jesus to show them how He lived His life. Instead of studying in the back of some synagogue for an allotted amount of time, they followed Him everywhere, listened to every word, asked Him all sorts of questions. “How should we pray?” “How many times should I forgive my brother?” “Should I pay my taxes?”

Alright, so discipline isn’t as bad as it sounds. It develops a mature way of life. But what does that have to do with living in Nashville? I have people in Nashville who meet with me regularly, whether intentionally or otherwise, to encourage me towards discipline. Then I turn it around and help other people with the same encouragement. It’s created a community of people seeking to develop a mature relationship with God, help each other reach those goals, stay accountable, and celebrate the growth. This gives me even more incentive to build and maintain an intimate relationship with God knowing that it helps my church. Paul mentions this kind of other-centered discipline in Romans 15:1-2. “Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.”

I’m glad I grew up in Michigan. But taken away from the culture of discipline that I’ve found in Tennessee, I fall back into old patterns and live less than extraordinarily. How often does this happen to you? How easy is it? That’s a pretty good sign that I’m still learning. I’m not ready for the travel team yet. I found myself saying the very words a friend told me about his lack of discipline. The decline in discipline almost made me think that I had begun to desire God less. I’m a forgetful person who needs others to remind me of my hunger for God. If I could do it on my own, why would Paul spend all of 1 Corinthians 12 saying that members of the Church were given different gifts so they could work together as a body with different parts?

The different parts of the body depend on each other. They are responsible to each other. They train and build together. They become strong and focused. They are able to accomplish their goals with skill. If the body is supposed to be a picture of the church, how out of shape is yours? In 1 Timothy 4, Paul instructs Timothy how to deal with false teachings and says, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

I’ve said it before, but all I want from life is to glorify God and point others to Jesus. When I die, put it on the stone. I can’t accomplish these things effectively on my own. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. I burn out too quickly and lose heart. I need people to cheer me on, train me, keep me going towards that goal. How else am I going to make a big play in the championship game?

I once wrote about the church as a team. Here are some questions that might apply well to the analogy. How well do you know the people in your church? When you gather, do you encourage each other in righteousness? Are you willing to submit to spiritual authority? You don’t have to answer all of those questions right now. Let’s start with this one. When you think about discipline, do you think of it as a means to victory?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Reason Why We Shouldn’t Fear Anything.

Now that baseball season is over, I don’t have any good reason to watch television. I can see Heroes online, you know? And that’s a better deal because I don’t have to endure so many commercials when I watch television shows online. Advertisements, more than many things, bother the hell out of me. During the World Series, though, I saw a Wendy’s commercial that annoyingly fits well with what I want to tell all of you today. The ad has two well-cast “everymen” sitting at work. One guy has a Wendy’s bag and asks the other guy how he liked his chicken sandwich. The second dude says, “I don’t remember.” Then the girl on the Wendy’s bag starts giving him a hard time about eating boring food.

This commercial is relevant to my point because memory sometimes fails more than serves us. I remember learning about “Mass Amnesia” from… somebody, I can’t remember. It’s a phenomenon that causes us to forget things like the outrage over gas prices crossing the dollar fifty mark, why we thought that Macarena song was so good, or how my teacher in elementary school convinced an entire fourth grade class that overpopulation would strangle the earth by the time we were twenty-five years old. Which is now. I hate this about my brain because sometimes I forget the most important of truths. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Jesus is Lord. I can put my trust in Him. My ears will hear, my own mouth will say words that evaporate into the air, and then I’ll forget to live in the confidence of these truths.

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve said that the Bible is absolutely true, infallibly true, the standard of truth. But then I go through my days with a low level of anxiety hanging out in my chest and giving me headaches. Why am I stressed? Why am I worried about anything? Why am I ever afraid?

Just before Jesus ascended into Heaven, his disciples came around him. Matthew 28:17 says, “When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful.” My paraphrase would read, They hung out with the Messiah, whom had so recently died a brutal death; but some suffered from mass amnesia and wondered if He really was the Son of God. It makes me wonder how easy it could have been for some of them to forget what Jesus said in the very next verse, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

I love the wording of Revelation 4:2, “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.” One. Only One sits on the throne. God alone rules everything, and everything is subject to His rule. He loves us and He has it under control. This is the reason why we shouldn’t fear anything.

This post almost had the title, or at least the subtitle, “The Only Reason We Should Ever Fear Anything.” I decided to accentuate the positive. But really, that old question still demands an answer. Why am I ever afraid? It’s because in my heart, I’ve put other things on the throne. I sometimes worry about having the money to pay bills, so I put success and financial responsibility on the throne. My thirties will be here before I know it, and I sometimes think if I’m not married and having babies before then, I’m going to be miserable. I’ve put relationships and family on the throne. Certain family members have at times expressed concern over me wasting my talent. I sometimes listen to them. When I do, I’ve put my abilities on the throne. So many things have sat on the throne in my heart that didn’t deserve the seat. That’s God’s chair. When we put our trust in something or someone else to save us, preserve us, make us happy, or give us hope, then it has become an idol. Only then should we fear because deep inside of us, intricately woven into our souls, is the understanding that our idols can and will fail us.

If I genuinely put my trust in Jesus, then I also trust in His authority, His victory. Jesus has been and always will be mankind’s only hope. He alone can guarantee security through His salvation. Everything else, including good things like achievements or relationships or success, falls short of our security in Jesus. Sometimes these things assert themselves as having power over us, but any power they have first came from God. Remember the conversation between Jesus and Pilate in John 19:10-11? Pilate was offended that Jesus wouldn’t answer a question, so he said, “‘You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?’ Jesus answered, ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above.’”

Now that’s fearlessness. Jesus just had the shit beat out of Him, and there He is, toe to toe with the governing ruler, telling him that he has no say in whether He lives or dies. It’s a beautiful, albeit gruesome, picture of how we should deal with fears. God is in control. He’s on the throne. Whatever happens, I know this is true. I’ll just have to try not to forget it.