Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Religion and the Gospel

Table of Contents

This morning I was reading Chaos and Grace by Mark Galli and I stumbled upon a quote that at first delighted me with its truth, but then convicted me with its blatant honesty.  The quote, which I have included below, seems very “friendly” at first, calling out those who are caught up in religion and hiding from the piercing power of the gospel.  It is only once I realized how much like “them” I am that his real message was conveyed to me.

As we read the New Testament, we are reminded time and time again that the gospel isn’t about making life safe and orderly, but entails the risk of following Jesus.  It is not about improving people, but about killing them and then creating them anew.  It’s not about helping people make space for spirituality in their busy lives, but about a God who would obliterate our private space and fill it with himself.  The gospel is not about getting people to cooperate with God in making the world a better place -- to give it a fresh coat of paint, to remodel it.  Instead it announces God’s plan to raze the present world order build something new.
     How often do I search for a life that is safe and orderly while running from Christ?  How easy is it for me to compare my spiritual maturity to others, rather than allowing the Spirit to kill my pride and grow a new heart in me?  How regularly do I fret about not having the time to focus on improving my walk with God while never surrendering a single moment of the time that I choose to devote to more "important" things?  How often do I buy into the lies of the world and the foolishness of its philosophy, without ever considering (much less proclaiming) the transformative reality of the gospel?  How much of my life is devoted to making sure my "religion" is separated from how I really want to live my life?
     While considering these questions is a great exercise in humility, it can quickly lead to guilt and shame.  Exposing one's sin is certainly beneficial, but done separate from the gospel can be fatal.  Instead of relinquishing ourselves from the power of a "works based" mentality, we end up isolating ourselves from God's love, gaining only a stronger desire to gain His affection.  This downward spiral only leads us away from grace and rejects the gospel.  I do not intend to say that a life following religious discipline is bad, but rather reiterate the point Galli makes: The gospel isn't about making Christians (or the world they live in) "better", rather it is about exposing the gap between ourselves and God while exposing the truth about how big Christ's work on the cross was in bridging that gap.
     Today I also read part of an interview of Tullian Tchividjian.  In it he describes the ways Christians add things to gospel in order to gain control of our lives.  He finishes with the following questions: 

“What is the one thing, or things, that if God were to take away from me, I’d feel like I don’t want to live anymore? What am I functionally depending on to make me feel like I matter?
That’s the something that I’m enslaved to–the something that might be ok to enjoy, but not to worship.”
     We all find it difficult to accept God's unconditional love and to surrender control of our lives to Him.  Whether we use relationships, success, authority, or a host of other enjoyable gifts from God to maintain some semblance of order in our lives, the Holy Spirit will eventually break us of these "additions to the gospel."  In the Gospel alone can we find the grace to stand on.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Football Part 1

Table of Contents
My first season of football

This post continues from my first post which can be found here.

     There are few things in life that get me as excited as football.  Whether watching or playing I am completely entranced.  I don’t find football attractive merely for the physicality, strategy, or vast range of skill-sets involved, but rather for the way in which these are combined to make it the greatest team sport ever.  It is a collection of men, ranging from 160-360 pounds, who are willing to work together to achieve a common goal.  While all sports require commitment and sacrifice, football is the most physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding sport there is.  Vince Lombardi, arguably the greatest football coach ever (I mean they named the super bowl trophy after him) summed up the reason so many men love football when he said, “I firmly believe that any man's finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle - victorious.”  At the core of all men is the desire to expend all of themselves to achieve something great.  Football allows guys with all sort of skills to achieve victory while in close community with one another.  Football really is awesome!
     While I refuse to renounce my love of football, I also cannot deny that I have at times been defined by it.  Throughout high school I relished my persona as “one of the guys” while at school and as the “tough football player” with my friends at church.  Being that I have struggled heavily with finding my identity in others, I used football to elevate my status.  While the way others viewed me provoked me to succeed, that motivation fails in comparison to the gifts God has given me.
     Even though I am not physically dominating (at least to most people) I was motivated to continue in football due to my desire to help others.  I absolutely HATE being in the spotlight, and even more so, I hate being recognized for work that I did; which is why playing a scout team lineman is one of my proudest and most enjoyable memories.  A team’s offensive line comes in a group of five.  While a player may at times be recognized for his achievement or failure, the success of the line depends on all five players, working together.  A team also has a starting lineup, and a scout team.  Each week the scout team must not only run the plays of the upcoming opponent, but also learn to play like them in order to give the starters a taste of what to expect.  As various coaches would mention every year, “the starters are only as good as the players they practice against.”  I absolutely delight in sacrificing myself so that others will succeed and football provided the perfect outlet.  While I believe my desire to help others is a gift from God, I cannot ignore I have at times felt uneasy and wanting of more glory for myself.
     The opportunity for my absolute awesomeness finally came my senior year.  After not starting for anything since 8th grade, the door appeared to finally be opening.  Now, I had worked hard to get to this point.  I had stuck with football when many of my teammates quit.  I put in time in the gym and time on the practice field and I was bigger, stronger, faster,  more motivated, and had more knowledge of the game than even before.  I was at the pinnacle of my high school career and I was ready to embrace the reward I had worked so hard for.  But God had other plans and had finally decided to humble me.  To be continued... (hopefully soon)

Monday, November 14, 2011

No Longer Asleep

Above my door there is a sign (well two signs actually but I’ll talk about the other one some other time).  This sign represents a defining moment in my life.  It is a time I look back on with pain and remorse, but also with joy and relief.  This moment was when I decided, after some violent and intense pressuring by God, to open my eyes to his mercies.  I realized I had spent my entire “christian” life on my own, and I had reached a point of total depravity.  I finally began to recognize my utter inability to “do my life right” and I had rammed so violently into the ground that I had given up.  I gave up trying to do my own thing and I gave up trying to do the “right thing.”  I gave up trying to please the people around me by begin someone else, and I gave up trying to please my self by doing what I wanted.  I had had given up on myself and I was sitting in my counselor’s office trying to rationalize why I needed to start trying again.
It had been three months since I had been devastated by the consequences in my life.  Since that time I had been pulling together the remaining scraps of my life while at the same time trying to convince myself I was going to be OK.  My parents had forced counseling on me and while there had been momentary “break-throughs” like me realizing how stupid some of my actions were, there was never that “AH-HA moment”.  The counseling sessions consisted of me holding back as many of my thoughts and emotions as I could while my counsellor graciously peeled back the layers of my shell.  This day however, was different.
It was January 15th, 2010 and I was talking through that various details of my life with my counsellor.  I would often play this game with him where I would tell him what I thought he wanted to hear but then act as though I still knew more than him.  (To think that today this man has had one of the biggest impacts on my life is a testament to both his skill as a counselor and his deep understanding of God’s grace.)  However, today he was not going to settle for little tidbits; he knew what was in my heart and he knew he needed to expose it.  As I was muttering on about the various mistakes I made he said to me, “You know what Ben, you have been trying your whole life to please people.  You’ve tried to please your parents, friends, teachers, and girlfriend, but you always came up short.  You need to stop wandering around trying to figure out who other people want you to be and become the man God made you to be.”  I almost instantly broke out in a nervous laugh because this man hadn’t just called me out, he had looked into my heart (as deeply buried as it was) and exposed the difference of reality between who I thought I was and who God says I am.  Since that day I have been learning to live out of this new reality and I have been awakened to the Gospel as it penetrates ever deeper into my life.  
In the posts that follow in the coming days, or more likely weeks, I will be explaining how my life led up to this point and how I had previously been defined by football, academics, and relationships.  While none of these areas are “evil,” investing your self-worth in them will be.  My true worth is found in the truth of the Gospel and apart form that truth,  I will always find myself inadequate.