Category Archives: Bible and Theology

Better to Honor God Than to Win

Here’s the guest post I was invited to contribute to the Family Ministry Today blog:

I love basketball and baseball. I love leaving it all on the court. I love the exhilaration of teamwork, the ball off the sweet spot, the basketball whispering through the net, the discipline to play defense, after-practice ground balls (or free throws), staying in the hitting cage until the hands bleed or the coach can’t throw anymore or the daylight is gone. And I love to win.

These things aren’t on the surface for me. They’re in me bone deep because they’re all wound up with my relationship with my dad. Growing up, my dad was my hero. He was also the high school basketball coach, and I think he worked (and works) harder than anyone else I know. My dad loved me and made sacrifices for me, and I wanted to please him. The best way to do that, I thought, was to lead the team my dad coached to the state championship. At some point, I think 8th grade, I promised I would do it: I told my dad that we would face Corliss Williamson’s Russellville Cyclones in the State Championship, and that we would win.

I failed. We weren’t even close. We didn’t even get to play in the state tournament my senior year. My mom was a great comfort in those days, and she had long been planting seeds, saying things like “basketball isn’t everything.” One day those seeds would bear fruit.

I’m sad to say that along the way I adopted an “anything-to-win” mindset. Thankfully, there were lines that I couldn’t cross, lines that have been obliterated at every level in recent years. Lines that only need the name Barry Bonds mentioned for you to know what I’m talking about.

I failed my dad, but even in failing to win that state championship, he knew I loved him. I said it with words. He heard it more clearly spoken by all those summer days in the gym doing dribble drills, shooting more shots than I could count (counting a bunch of them trying to track shooting percentage—I had this big chart on the wall in my room), running the stairs, working out in strength shoes, doing everything I possibly could to improve. I’d seen my dad work, and I did my best to follow in his footsteps.

One afternoon the summer before last my sons and I were playing wiffle-ball in the backyard with the kid who lives next door. Something happened that triggered a realization in my mind. Seeds planted by my mother, watered by the word of God, suddenly sprouted, pushing up through the soil of my thinking. I don’t remember if the game had ended and my son was on the losing side or if it was just a tight play that went against him, but he threw a fit like the world had ended and all was lost. I recognized the sentiments and the behavior, and I could tell you worse stories about my own actions when I was 15 not 5, things that took place in settings more significant than the backyard. Suddenly I knew, I think for the first time, what my behavior had implied, and what my son’s showed in that moment.

All at once I realized that the antics were announcing that the most important thing in the world was performance and the outcome of this silly game. As I took my son in my arms that afternoon, a phrase came to my lips that expressed something I should have known long before: it’s more important to honor God than to win.

If athletics are going to be anything other than a training ground for thuggery, athletes have to know that it’s more important to honor God than to win. For kids to accept the bodies they’ve been given and refuse performance-enhancing drugs, they have to know that it’s more important to honor God than to win. For us to be able to honor our opponents whether we win or lose, we have to know that it’s more important to honor God than to win. For sports and competition to bring out the best—rather than the worst—in us, we have to go at it like it’s more important to honor God than to win.

It’s more important to honor God than to win. If I love my dad by giving it all I’ve got, but I dishonor God along the way, all I’m left with is an emotional connection to idolatry—and the idol of sports and the relationships associated with it will let us down every time. But if I seek to honor my father and mother because I’m seeking to honor God, the emotional connection is not empty and hollow but solid and everlasting in its shared experience of the two great commandments. We love God by loving people, by playing hard, by soaking ourselves with sweat and disregarding screaming lungs and skinned knees and reaching, striving, straining, winning or losing, for the praise of the one who is worthy.

The great goal of competition is not, therefore, victory. No, victory must be redefined as winning or losing (with all our might) in a way that honors God, because it’s better to honor God than to win.

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Filed under Bible and Theology, Discipleship

Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit

On February 20, 2011, I had the privilege of preaching Mark 3:7–35 at Kenwood Baptist Church, “Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit.”

You must either submit yourself to the authorized teaching of the Apostles of Jesus (Mark 3:13–19) or reject him as either a maniac (cf. Mark 2:21) or one whose power comes from an unclean spirit (cf. Mark 2:22, 30).

Jesus is the bond-breaker, the sick-healer,
The bane of unclean spirits and the binder of the strong man.
He is the truth-speaker, the world’s-ruler,
The King of Israel and her humble servant.
He is the sin-bearer, the hope-giver,
The bridegroom and the lover of our souls.

And they defiled his name
By mentioning it in the same breath with Beelzebul’s.
They attributed the life-giving, rest-bringing, leper-cleansing, bondage-breaking power Jesus exercised
To the prince of demons.

What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? I’ll give you the best answer I’ve got.

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They’re Giving It Away

Exhausted your book budget? Promised not to buy anymore books for a while?

Christianaudio.com has a deal for you: this month they’re giving away R. C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God for free.

Why not redeem that time in the car on the commute? Or on the lawnmower, or whatever. The price is right. Enjoy.

 

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Would Rob Bell Rob God of Glory?

If there’s no hell, God can’t be trusted because he doesn’t keep his word and therefore doesn’t do justice, and if there’s no justice, mercy has no meaning.

If you don’t understand what I just typed: “if there’s no justice, mercy has no meaning,” keep thinking about it. Look the words “justice” and “mercy” up in a dictionary (click them and read the definitions on dictionary.com).

In addition, if there’s no hell, the Bible’s big story doesn’t make sense.

How does hell glorify God? Glad you asked: let’s take a narrative look at hell.

Here’s the conclusion to the short piece linked above:

“In sum, hell glorifies God because

  • it shows that he keeps his word;
  • it shows his infinite worth, lasting forever;
  • it demonstrates his power to subdue all who rebel against him;
  • it shows how unspeakably merciful he is to those who trust him;
  • it upholds the reality of love by visiting justice against those who reject God, who is love;
  • it vindicates all who suffered to hear or proclaim the truth of God’s word;
  • and it shows the enormity of what Jesus accomplished when he died to save all who would trust him from the hell they deserved. If there were no hell, there would be no need for the cross.”

Here’s the whole thing.

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All That Agony for $7.99

When I read Paul House’s Old Testament Theology, it was clear to me that he had thought deeply about the literary structure of every book of the OT. I’m not talking about rehashing the notes of some prof whose class he took; I’m talking about reading the book, agonizing over how it’s put together, assessing the various proposals for structure, and then making a decision about how you think it’s structured that you’re willing to put in print. I was stunned and daunted by the time and effort I knew went into that project. That experience gave me, I think, the ability to tell when an author is really engaging the biblical material and when he’s trotting out a shallow schtick that he’s used in a talk or a lecture that he’s given a thousand times. I want to read authors who are writing from the overflow of long slow meditative reading of the whole Bible.

Imagine doing what House did for the OT for every book in the Bible, or at least making the attempt.

That’s the kind of book I tried to write. I’m not claiming that I nailed the structure of every book of the Bible, but I agonized, read, re-read, tried to see the whole, to remember all the pieces, and to put it all together.

The point of relating all this is to observe that you can get the Kindle version of the fruits of all my agony and struggle with the most important book in the world for $7.99.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not complaining! I’d love for everyone to have it in print or on Kindle (which you don’t have to have a Kindle to be able to use–you can get a free Kindle app for your computer or some other device). If I could afford it, I’d give copies away. It wasn’t written to make money. It was written in an effort to help people understand the structure of the particular books of the Bible and the Bible as a whole.

So thinking about all that effort for the low price of $7.99 has given me a whole new appreciation for the way that songwriters must feel about their albums, novelists about their books, moviemakers about their films. You get the picture. How do you put a price on a human being’s attempt at art–the attempt to help other people see what’s there–which arises from the soul, accompanied by many cries for God’s help, forged in disciplined labor, aided by talented careful editors, and brought out by an exemplary publishing company?

I don’t know how to answer that question, but I’m again thankful for God’s mercy, for life, and for the opportunity to have written this book.

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Filed under Art, Bible and Theology, Biblical Theology, Current Events

The Controversial Jesus

It was my privilege to preach Mark 2:1–3:6 on February 6, 2011 at Kenwood Baptist Church, “The Controversial Jesus.”

He came in humility and obscurity. Born of a peasant girl. Having always existed in heaven with the Father, where he was worshiped and served by the heavenly hosts with all power at his disposal, he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant.

The hosts of heaven sang at his birth. Shepherds gathered to see the good news. Magi came from the east bearing gifts, and Herod sought to have him killed. The one born of heaven lived in obedience and perfection, submitting to his parents and obeying them.

The one known by the hosts in heaven was an unknown carpenter.
The one who made the world entered the world he made.
The one who sought the good of others had others seeking his death.
The image of the invisible God had his image bearers rising up to end his life.
The one with power to heal was rejected.
The one with authority to command demons was rebelled against.
The one who was the perfect embodiment of love was received with perfect hatred.

The one who supremely deserved to be accepted was rejected.

For my attempt to exposit this passage so rife with controversy, push your little button over these here words.

 

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