Category Archives: Discipleship

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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A Day in the Life of Jesus

On January 30, 2011 I had the privilege of preaching Mark 1:14–45 at Kenwood Baptist Church, “A Day in the Life of Jesus.”

In Mark 1:15 Jesus claims that the time is fulfilled (perhaps interpreting Daniel 9:24–27?) and that the kingdom of God is at hand. It’s a bold man who claims that his coming marks the fulfillment of the time and the arrival of God’s kingdom.

These are deadly serious claims. Mark presents Jesus claiming that the culmination of all that has preceded has finally arrived. The whole history of the world has been building, Jesus claims, to this moment.

Do you see this audacity? Do you see this boldness? This is no gentle Jesus, meek and mild. This is a Jesus who comes declaring that the moment has arrived. This is a Jesus who has gone into action with decision and firmness and resolve. This is a Jesus who has come as a peasant but who nevertheless talks like he is the world’s true King.

Do you know this Jesus? No, I mean do you know him? He will not be domesticated. You cannot tame him. His sails will not be trimmed and his rough edges cannot be sanded away. He confronts us as he is. Do you know him?

To know him is to bow. To know him is to be awed by his magnificence. To know him is to be owned by him. To know him is to feel in the depths of your being that he made you, that he sustains you, and that he can therefore command you to storm the very gates of hell and expect to be obeyed.

If you think you can have him as you want him, you don’t know him.
If you think you can line him up next to the other authorities in your life, you don’t know him.
If you think you can decide which aspects of his character you like and which you’ll disregard, you don’t know him.
If you think that he’s weak, let me assure you, you do not know him.
If you think he is optional. You certainly don’t know him.

Let’s get this straight, shall we?

Jesus of Nazareth is Lord of the Universe.

You are either a loyal subject of the world’s true King, or you are a rebel who will be crushed.

If you’d like to hear more about Mark’s presentation of “A Day in the Life of Jesus” from Mark 1:14–45, this link’s for you.

 

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Life Is Short, So . . .

A helpful reflection from Gunner on how we tend to respond to the vanity of our vaporous existence. Here’s a wisp of the breeze he’s fanning:

“My problem is that when Scripture talks explicitly about the brevity of life, it often emphasizes the opposite of our calls to ambitious action.

Take this morbid salvo from James: “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:15).

How would you expect James to follow up that statement?

I believe the contemporary church has already answered that question (see above).

We are a people who can’t help but do. We hear something like, “Life is short,” and our immediate application is “Do better,” “Work harder,” “Sacrifice more.” Whether pleasure or service or mission, we remember that life is short and we instantly think: Act.

Now, this is all fine and good and (sometimes) scriptural. But it’s worth reminding that in James 4:13-16 James is rebuking presumptuous businessmen who are declaring precisely what we usually begin to declare in our hearts when we’re hit with the “Life is short” reminder.

“Life is short… I better start doing ____.” “Life is short… I better not waste my opportunity to ____.” “Life is short… I’m going to step it up and ____.”

But what does James actually say? “Your life is a vapor. Therefore, you should stop making ambitious declarations about what you’re going to do and instead acknowledge that God is the one in control. Wake up from your arrogance and remember — only with his explicit blessing are you going to do anything, much less do what you’re so confidently planning to do. You don’t even control tomorrow.”

Read the whole thing.

 

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Amen

From the bottom of Challies A La Carte on Tuesday, January 18, 2011:

I know of nothing which I would choose to have as the subject of my ambition for life than to be kept faithful to my God till death. —C.H. Spurgeon

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The Most Important App Available

Fighter Verses for your mobile device.

Hide it in your heart. Talk of them when you rise up and lie down, when you sit in your house and walk by the way.

Don’t waste your life. And don’t waste the childhood of your little ones.

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The Lord’s Supper in Paul

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford have done us a great service in editing The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ until He Comes, which has just appeared from Broadman and Holman.

I’m honored to have contributed to this project, and I’m grateful that Broadman and Holman has kindly granted me permission to post my essay here:

The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity Forming Proclamation of the Gospel,” pages 68–102 in The Lord’s Supper: Remembering and Proclaiming Christ Until He Comes, ed. Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, NACSBT (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010).

Patrick Schreiner has an interview with the editors.

Here’s the outline of my essay:

The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity Forming Proclamation of the Gospel

1. Introduction

2. Problems in the Corinthian Church

2.1 First Corinthians 1–4, The Gospel Against Factionalism
2.2 First Corinthians 5–7, The Gospel Against Sexual Immorality
2.3 First Corinthians 8–10, The Gospel Against Idolatry

3. The Lord’s Supper: An Identity Shaping Proclamation of the Gospel

3.1 Anti-gospel Divisions
3.2 Proclaiming the Lord’s Death
3.3 Partaking in a Worthy Manner
3.4 Receiving One Another

4. Implications for the Contemporary Church

Here’s the Table of Contents for the volume:

David S. Dockery, “Foreword”

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, “Introduction”

1. Andreas J. Koestenberger, “Was the Last Supper a Passover Meal?”

2. Jonathan T. Pennington, “The Lord’s Supper in the Fourfold Witness of the Gospels”

3. James M. Hamilton Jr., “The Lord’s Supper in Paul: An Identity-Forming Proclamation of the Gospel”

4. Michael A. G. Haykin, “‘A Glorious Inebriation’: Eucharistic Thought and Piety in the Patristic Era”

5. David S. Hogg, “Carolingian Conflict: Two Monks on the Mass”

6. Gregg R. Allison, “The Theology of the Eucharist according to the Catholic Church”

7. Matthew R. Crawford, “On Faith, Signs, and Fruits: Martin Luther’s Theology of the Lord’s Supper”

8. Bruce A. Ware, “The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper in the Theology of Ulrich Zwingli (1484–1531)”

9. Shawn D. Wright, “The Reformed View of the Lord’s Supper”

10. Gregory A. Wills, “Sounds from Baptist History”

11. Brian J. Vickers, “Celebrating the Past and Future in the Present”

12. Gregory Alan Thornbury, “The Lord’s Supper and Works of Love”

13. Ray Van Neste, “The Lord’s Supper in the Context of the Local Church

Thomas R. Schreiner and Matthew R. Crawford, “Epilogue”

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