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His Kingdom is Forever

February 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863

I was reminded in a devotional from John Piper this morning that Abraham Lincoln was born on this day 206 years ago. He was areligious well into his 50′s until suffering drove him into an encounter with Jesus that ultimately resulted in his conversion.

After witnessing the horror of war and the death of a child, he said of suffering “I’ve been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.” Peter, speaking for the disciples, said almost the same thing to Jesus in John 6:68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

I was burdened yesterday by some people in my circles who are hurting deeply, mainly with illnesses where the prognosis is not encouraging or even hopeful. The world is broken. May the hurt here remind us that our hope is not in anything here on earth. It is in Him alone. As the old hymn says, “The body they may kill; His Truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.” God, may that deep, rich, hopeful truth marinate deep into my heart.

The longer I’m a parent, the more it becomes clear to me that I’m a rookie at this child raising stuff. Everything is new. Still, I’m committed to get things right the first time as much as I can.

When it comes to Santa, Julia and I decided long ago that we would have that discussion once the time came that our boys were old enough. Our culture’s message about Santa is that we must “believe.” Believe, believe, believe.

But believe in what?

The message of Santa says there’s a big dude far away that kids must believe in–even though they can’t see him–and that he does nice things for them if they are good all year. But if they choose to be naughty, they will be punished and receive things they don’t like.

Sound familiar? Is it any wonder why I grew up mistaking Santa as an archetype for God? I think the concept of Santa also helped fuel my legalistic approach to life with Jesus, too. For many years, I thought that if I was good, Jesus would like me. Even now, I am a recovering legalist.

But regardless of your background or to what degree you celebrate Santa, the inevitable outcome of kids believing in him is always the same: they discover the truth. There is no Santa.

Are You Perpetuating A Lie?

Some of you may freak out that I even typed those words, but to me, the discovery that Santa is not real pales in comparison to a child discovering that his parents are liars. And make no mistake about it. If you tell your kids that Santa is real, you are lying to them.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

In time, all kids–including yours–will learn that Santa is not real. But they never have to learn that your words are not real. We’re committed to always speak truth to our boys. So at Christmas, we’ve made a choice to refrain from perpetuating the Santa lie.

So, let’s have the truth about Santa Claus:

  • Santa Claus does not exist.
  • He does not live at the North Pole. Hardly anything does.
  • Elves don’t make toys. Or cookies. Or shoes.
  • Reindeer don’t fly. Neither do sleighs.
  • It’s impossible for anyone to make a world tour in one night.
  • There’s no such thing as magic.
  • The Santas at the mall are not Santa, nor do they work for Santa. They are businessmen who sport a unseasonably thick white beard for 11 months out of the year in order to make major bank taking pictures with your terrified kids at Christmas time. And more power to ‘em, too.

So when we speak the truth about Santa, it may feel like we are not left with any of the good parts of Christmas, but I respectfully disagree.

All the Best Parts of Christmas Are 100% True

People ask me sometimes, “if you don’t do Santa, what do you do?”

We do the truth.

Honestly, I’m jealous for my kids’ affection, and I don’t want a nonexistent, overweight elf-lie getting credit for the awesome gifts we give our kids. Santa doesn’t love them; their Mom and I do. And Santa sure doesn’t pay for Christmas presents; we do. And that brings me to sharing the best parts of Christmas that are 100% true.

Parents’ (and Grandparents) Love for Their Children

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

We love our boys. They are an absolute gift, and it is our pleasure to provide for them. Once a year, it is our extraordinary pleasure to surprise them with all sorts of Christmas goodies. It’s the dedicated time of year where our love manifests in gifts, just as God’s love for us manifested in the gift of the presence of Jesus Christ. What a true joy that is!

God’s Love for His Children

Christmas is all about Jesus, and we celebrate the reality that He not only exists distantly as the deist would believe. Rather, He exists intimately and personally in the here and now.

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

He is Emmanuel: God with us. He didn’t have to come, but He did. That incredible, impractical love became tangible when a teenage girl and her fiancé became parents to a baby boy that was conceived right in the burning heart of God’s love for us.

He is true. And His presence changes everything.

The Example of St. Nicolas’ Selfless Love for Others

The real inspiration for Santa Claus is a man from the early 4th-century named St. Nicholas. Not much is known about his life, and much of it has long since morphed with legend. What is known about him is that he was an orphan from a wealthy Christian family who became known for his generosity and care for children. St. Nicholas’ inspiration for his selfless generosity was Jesus, which is an example worthy of emulation.

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Standing in stark contrast to the lie of the modern, secular Santa Claus myth is the reality of St. Nicholas and his devoted life of service to Jesus Christ. It’s a story worth retelling. And it’s absolutely true.

How We Teach Santa

We don’t want our kids to be the ones with the Santa allergy, so we don’t make Santa out to be a bad guy. He’s not unwelcome at our house. In fact, we enjoy him. We have books about Santa, and we like to have fun with the story, but we make it clear to our boys that their presents come from real people that love them enough to give them one.

Santa Claus is just a character. That means we treat him the same as Wolverine, Cinderella, and Darth Vader. These characters are totally fine when kept in their appropriate context. We have lots of fun with them, but they have their place. We’d no more try to convince our boys that Santa is real than we’d tell them Superman is real.

When you take Santa out of Christmas, you’re not degrading the Christmas experience. You’re enhancing it. You make the message of Christmas shine for what it really is: a true story of love-made-manifest for the people you love most. After all, that’s what Christ did for us.

What a beautiful Christmas truth. Ho. Ho. Ho.

I’d just sat down to begin my workday this morning when my phone rang. It was one of my spiritual mentors. I’m blessed enough to have a few spiritual mentors, but this man is the one God has used repeatedly throughout the last decade, plus. He’s a dear brother with a deep love for Jesus. When he serves up his godly wisdom, I listen because when he speaks, it’s often the voice of Jesus I hear.

I picked up the phone, greeting him by name.

“Hey man, I was just thinking about you and wanted to call you and tell you that I love you and that God is using you in big ways,” he began. He went on to encourage me in my career and ask how I was doing and to remind me that he was praying for me.

Photo Credit: » Zitona « via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: » Zitona « via Compfight cc

I was so encouraged by that. What an amazing way to begin a week.

I’m so blessed to have incredibly godly men like this man in my life. They challenge me, they push me spiritually, and they never settle for seeing less than Christ in me, yet they are quick to give grace and a loving hand of correction when I need it. It’s an honor to call them brothers.

That type of care is a debt I can never repay, and they would thump my ears for even calling it a debt. They know they’ve been forgiven greatly, and it is their pleasure to labor in my life and spur me on to settle for nothing less than more of Jesus, more of Jesus, more of Jesus. And it is my pleasure to pay that forward in the lives of other men as the Great Commission calls me to.

It’s the benefit of choosing to live in community with other believers.

That simple phone call was a great reminder for me this morning, and so I wanted to challenge you, too. Men, do you allow yourself to be known spiritually by other men? Women, do allow other women the opportunity to know you and labor in your life? Conversely, are there people in your sphere of influence that may look up to you? How can you encourage them to believe the truth and want more of Jesus?

I love this quote from the movie, Gladiator:

What we do in life echoes in eternity.

This life is your opportunity to speak into others’ lives in ways that create eternal echoes. But before this can happen, you have to be in community with others. Where is your community? Are you a part of a group of other believers that can encourage you and spur you on to love and good deeds? Are you placing yourself in spheres that allow you to love and encourage others to do the same?

Once you’ve immersed yourself in community with others, God will use you to impact lives in amazing ways.

And sometimes, all it takes is a simple phone call.

The Ocean of Eternity

November 22, 2013 — 2 Comments

About the time this post goes live, I will be at a funeral. A friend’s dad died this week from cancer that he’d only learned about a few months ago, and the family asked Julia and I to help lead worship for it. We are honored to do that for them.

Funerals aren’t anyone’s favorite event because no one enjoys saying goodbye to loved ones. But funerals provide the perfect opportunity to realize the brevity of life and the end that we all must meet. It’s the perfect opportunity to ask ourselves if what we did yesterday and what we plan to do today is really going to matter, and if the answer is no, to readjust and do stuff that does matter.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post for Blueprint for Life called called The Ocean of Eternity. In light of my friend’s father’s funeral today, I thought it would be a good opportunity to share some of it here, then send you over to Blueprint for Life to read the rest if you like.

If you have any comments, please leave them here, as I’m unable to respond to comments left there.

The Ocean of Eternity

Photo Credit: David Kracht via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: David Kracht via Compfight cc

The summer before my junior year of college, my brother and I took part in a summer beach project in Daytona Beach, Florida with a campus student ministry from our university. We were extremely excited about it for many reasons, but one of them was because–if you can believe it–neither of us had ever seen the ocean before.

We visited my aunt and uncle on the Mississippi coast once when I was in middle school. They only lived a few blocks from the Gulf of Mexico, but their town was so close to the mouth of the Mississippi River, I remember thinking then that the Gulf water there looked a lot like the muddy brown river that ran behind our house back home. We had only seen a real ocean in pictures and on television. So we were both very excited about the idea of spending the summer on the beach.

As we drove to Daytona Beach from Georgia, the further south we drove, the more our anticipation grew. Gradually, we watched the roadside soil change from the red clay of north Georgia to the sandy soil of south Georgia. As we got closer to Savannah, spanish moss became a more common sight. Eventually, we noticed a few seagulls. Once we crossed into Florida, spotting a palm tree became commonplace. With each sign that we were nearing the coast, our excitement grew.

Continue reading at Blueprint for Life…

I’m an optimistic, upbeat, and positive guy, but if I can just be honest, life has just been challenging lately. Late Sunday night, a circumstance arose and life pretty much ninja-punched me in the throat. The result has been occasional moments of panic (which I mostly keep to myself), feelings of discouragement, and a general, foggy haze of anxiety.

Julia can tell you, I never have trouble sleeping, but I didn’t sleep at all Sunday night. The last numbers I remember seeing on the bedroom alarm clock were 4:43am. My mind was an endless din of questions and possibilities and “what if’s.” I just couldn’t calm my mind enough to let sleep take over.

Have you ever had seasons of life like that where concerns seem to make a nest in your hair?

I am extremely grateful for a solid network of friends who will pray for me and encourage me when life knocks the wind out of my lungs. It’s one of the best benefits of living in community with others, and I am so glad all I have to do is call out when I need them. Yesterday, I emailed a few of them to let them know what was going on, and they were quick to respond with great truth and encouragement that helped give my heart some reprieve.

One of these friends sent me a series of screenshots–tweets from John Piper. Each tweet was entitled “Jesus’ arguments against anxiety.” Jesus’ words were just the truth I needed to calm my storm-weary soul. Each of these points are Dr. Piper’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. They are a powerful reminder about why anxiety is a pointless activity.

Rather than worry, we should focus our energy on trusting Jesus to provide. Jesus gives these reasons why:

1. Life is more than food and the body is more than clothing.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” -Matthew 6:25

2. God feeds the birds, and you are more valuable than they are.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” -Matthew 6:26

3. It’s pointless. It adds not one hour to your life.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” -Matthew 6:27

4. If God clothes ephemeral grass, he will clothe eternal you.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” -Matthew 28-30

5. Unbelievers are anxious about stuff. And you are not an unbeliever.

“For the pagans run after all these things [...]” -Matthew 6:32a

6. Your Father knows that you need all these things you’re anxious about.

“[...] and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” -Matthew 6:32b

7. When you seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, what you need is added to you.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” -Matthew 6:33

Another good friend sent me the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 yesterday. It had been his morning reading. In it, the author lists example after example of people in the Bible who trusted God by faith alone. The passage concludes by saying that all of them died not having received what they were promised.

That stunned me.

I had read it before, but this time, it really caught me. When crisis arises, it’s an opportunity for faith–not because we have what we need, but precisely because we don’t yet have what we need. I think the greatest reminder here, as yet a third friend and I discussed late into the evening last night, is that what we truly long for cannot to be found in this life. That’s a hard truth, but it is a reminder that we were never meant to be fulfilled by anything from this present world.

So when trials inevitably arise here, I long to be quick to suppress my natural urge to worry and put my faith in the One who will not only provide for my needs, but will ultimately make me whole again when He restores all things. Because when He comes back to fix all the broken stuff, I will have no reason to worry about anything ever again.

Man, I can’t wait for that Day.

There are a couple of things right now that Julia and I are begging God for. Sometimes I imagine how great it would be if God were more like a vending machine. I approach with my good deeds and cash a few of them in for an answer to a prayer. Sadly, that’s exactly how I used to think God worked.

But that’s not how He works at all.

This morning, I came downstairs and found Julia in tears. She was worried that God might not answer these things we’re begging Him for now. Or worse, that He might answer them by giving us something that wasn’t what we wanted.

When our young boys ask for juice to drink and we give them milk, the reaction is often filled with drama and many tears. I’m sure they think it’s either the result of incompetence or malice that we wouldn’t give them juice. Or maybe they feel it’s just not in our nature as parents to comply with their requests.

Photo Credit: coba via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: coba via Compfight cc

But those boys don’t yet understand how deep our love is for them. They have no idea what we’ve gladly given up for them or what a pleasure it is to provide for them and watch them grow. They don’t understand why they need milk or that Julia is keeping track of their calcium vs sugar intake. All they know is they wanted sweet juice and they got milk instead.

Ironically, I too often assume the worst about how my Father provides for me–that maybe He is incompetent or unwilling to listen. Or that maybe it’s just in His nature to give me something He likes instead of something I’d enjoy. I struggle to believe He’s not that aunt that always gives socks and hand-knit beanies for Christmas.

I’m guessing that Julia and I are not alone here. I need to hear some truth this morning, so I’m going to write this post. I hope it encourages you as you beg God for that impossible thing in your own life.

Regardless of what I believe in my childish ignorance, here are the real too-good-to-be-true things about God that give me deep, deep hope that He will answer me–and answer well.

He’s Compelled by His Nature to Answer

Julia and I had a good discussion about this a few minutes ago. We were discussing whether God can simply choose to ignore us or choose to give us something bad when we asked for something good. The prevailing fear being that He may have His own callous agenda instead of our best interest at heart. Julia posed that question to me, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“No, He can’t ignore us,” I said.

She pressed, “But why? God can do anything He wants because He’s God.”

“True,” I said. “He is God. But there are some things even God can’t do.”

She looked at me puzzled, thinking I might be on the verge of heresy.

“He can choose to do anything He wants, but He can’t go against His own nature,” I explained.

I drew the distinction between voluntary choices we make and involuntary designs and wiring that we must obey. As much as a mother would vow that they would never hurt their own children or a pastor would vow he’d never cheat on his wife, there are circumstances that could arise that would cause those otherwise well-intentioned people to make a terrible choice. Maybe it’s the zombie apocalypse or maybe it’s one glass of wine too many, but circumstances can shape the voluntary choices we make.

On the other hand, no one can voluntarily choose to lower their own cholesterol or make their heart skip a beat. Those are not choices–they are the product of design. So, I asked Julia to recall when the boys were helpless newborns.

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Photo Credit: storyvillegirl via Compfight cc

“When a newborn is in a crib and the mother hears them crying out for her to feed them, what happens?”

“Her milk comes down,” she answered.

“Exactly. Does the mother have any choice about that, or is it a natural response because of their nature as a mother?”

“She can’t help it. It just happens,” she answered.

Not only is it in His nature to answer, but He also knows how to give good things to us. Luke 11:11-13 says:

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

When we cry out to God, His nature compels Him to answer, and because he loves us, He will answer with love to provide what we need.

His Answer is Always Either “Yes” or “Better”

My spiritual mentor and great friend, Randy, has enjoyed saying this to me over the years:

When you ask God for something, He can only answer one of two ways: “Yes” or “I have something even better in mind.”

This is an incredible way of summarizing what Scripture promises everywhere, and it presents a situation where we as His children can’t lose. The challenge is to believe this incredible promise is actually true. When we beg God for something, and we don’t get what we expected, what is our response? We believe that we heard God say “no.” But the challenge is believing His promise that He must have something even better in mind.

When I find this promise too good to believe (as I often do), I beg Him for the faith to believe His promises and that His love for me could actually be this great.

By the way, Randy just wrote a great Christmas season devotional book called All is Calm that you can find here or on your Kindle. Julia and I are reading it now, and he shares his thoughts on “yes or better” there.

Nothing is Outside His Power

Sometimes I think what I ask God for is unlikely or even next to impossible. But the Bible is full of examples of the impossible. He made animals speak. He parked the sun and moon in the sky for a full day. And when God decided to make a teenaged virgin a mother, she became pregnant. As she questioned the biological impossibility of this announcement to the angel who had given her the news, the angel told her:

The God who is not bound by logic, reason, or laws of the universe has demonstrated that He would even stop the planet He made from spinning. He’s listening, and nothing is outside His power.

The Waiting is More About Your Need for Him Than Your Need

So even with all this said, when I lay my head on my pillow tonight, I still may not have what I’ve begged Him for today. Even if all His promises are true, where’s an answer? Why hasn’t He shown up? Why does it seem He isn’t answering? Why the apparent silence?

Imagine a fly that lands on a painting on the wall. That fly can only see what’s immediately in front of it. There is limited perspective. Meanwhile, as you sit across the room, observing the painting and the fly, you can literally see the big picture.

Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc

This gets a bit technical, but in this life, we are bound by time and space. God, who is not bound by these things, sees the big picture and has already answered in the same way that the painting is already painted. The time for the answers has simply not come yet, from our limited perspective. (This raises the question of free will, but I will not get into that here other than to say God’s sovereignty and man’s free will coexist both wonderfully and mysteriously.)

So the question becomes about what to do in the waiting, and that’s where I’ve seen over and over that the waiting is so much more about my relationship with Him than it is about my need. When I see my need, I’m compelled to run to Him to fill it. The trials of waiting produce character, perseverance, and hope.

So my battle is learning to enjoy the silence, and in it, rest in Him. Like a child resting on His father’s chest, I want to enjoy the safety of His plan and trust that the answers will come as I lean in and just rest to the sound of His heartbeat.

Nobody Said It Was Easy

Yeah. Begging God to answer day after day and waiting for Him to answer is hard. I’m there–believe me. All I can say is that I have found His promises to be true, and I have to make the deliberate decision to trust Him. So when He says:

“but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31

I have made a choice to believe Him because He’s not proven to be unfaithful yet.

And for today, that is enough for me.

Dear Jesus, thank you for this wonderful day and thank you for Nani and Pops and The Polar Express. And thank you for our ears and all the noses and all the eyes. And thank you for our bunk bed and fan. And I pray that you would put a baby in Mommy’s tummy. In Jesus’ holy name, Amen.

My 3 Year Old Son’s Prayer Last Night

Give Yourself Away

November 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

At church yesterday, a woman came up to me to tell me how thankful she was for my wife. I had been sitting near the back of the auditorium while Julia sang on stage with the band. After the service ended, the lady–the mother of one of Julia’s voice students–stopped me to say how thankful she was for how Julia is investing in the life of her daughter. I was quick to tell the mom that Julia felt equally blessed by her daughter.

She continued to express her gratitude, explaining that there is a gap sometimes with teenagers where the parents don’t have sway for a season. She was so grateful that Julia was able to come in and fill that gap for her daughter and be a godly woman for her daughter to look to.

Photo Credit: Daniele Zanni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Daniele Zanni via Compfight cc

“I understand completely,” I said, as I pointed to my two boys, who were sitting at our feet, engaged in some sort of game on Julia’s iPad. “We’re happy to be that for her now, and you can join us in praying that someone is able to come stand in the gap for our boys when that season comes for us.”

She smiled and nodded in agreement, and we left feeling mutually encouraged.

Follow the Leader

I’m thankful to have had people over the years who have invested time and energy in me. If I can draw the analogy between people and software, I’d point out that both are always in the process of iteration and improvement, with the earliest versions being the most buggy, featureless, and crash-prone. I’m incredibly grateful for the friends and mentors who put up with a lot of bugs and crashes to stay with me and see me through to better iterations of myself.

To the degree that I am thankful for their investment in me, I want to always be intentional about seeking out opportunities to mentor and positively impact the lives of those who are just a little ways behind me in life. I also want to be faithful to encourage Julia to do the same. Obviously, Jesus had his own Disciples, and Paul did, too. He puts it so well in 1 Corinthians 11:1:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

That is what biblical mentorship is all about.

Short Time, Eternal Impact

When I think of my life on this earth and consider how short 80 years really is, it makes me realize a couple of things:

  1. At this point, my time on earth is close to half way over.
  2. I need to make good use of the time I have left.

What will my legacy be? Where will I invest my effort while I’m here? Which strings will continue to resonate after I’m gone? I love the quote from the movie, Gladiator:

I will leave a few echoes, I’m sure. Some of them will die out faster than others. But the ones that will reverberate the longest are the ones that echo down through the generations. When I spend time over lunch with some young guy trying to figure out if he should ask his girlfriend to marry him, God willing, I’m talking to someone’s future husband. When Julia invests her time in a high school-aged girl, God willing, that’s someone’s future mother–or grandmother. These people will undoubtedly go on to influence and lead many others, so the investment in them has the great potential for a return.

It can be difficult to see past the mundane routines of life, but I want to see every opportunity through a spiritual lens and ask myself, “will this have value in eternity?” and focus intently on the things where I can say “yes.” I often fail miserably at this, so I am thankful for God’s grace.

Whose World Are You Rocking?

So that’s the real question, right? Who are you impacting? How are you making your life count beyond these 80 or so years you might have? If you aren’t sure, I have a few tips for you:

  • Live in community. If you only crawl out of your shell in the morning, then crawl back in each night, you’ll find it hard to build relationships and invest yourself in others. You’ll also miss out on giving others opportunities to invest in you. (Hint: This is what the Church is for.)
  • Look for targets. I don’t mean to objectify people by using that word, but look for people around you that you can impact. (Hint: Teenagers and kids are a great place to start, and younger kids will think you are cool just for showing up. They are also very forgiving of mistakes.)
  • Give yourself away. I prefer life on my terms. We all do. But giving yourself away means sacrificing time and schedules to serve others. If you have a family of your own, always make sure you give yourself away to them first. Otherwise, volunteer at a local charity or co-op. Mentor or tutor kids after school. Opportunities are everywhere.

Are you sacrificially giving your time and energy away to others? Feel free to share your story in the comments!

My wife and I are coming up on ten years of marriage in a few months. People used to warn me that the first year of marriage is the hardest. Looking back, I’d probably agree with that, but it wasn’t because we argued a lot. It’s just that early in marriage, you’re forced to think for someone besides yourself all the time.

And quarter-century-old habits like that can be very hard to break.

I remember the first big post-marriage argument we ever got in. It was over something dumb, as most arguments always are. We were aggressively paying off the nearly $50,000 in debt and student loans that we married with. We had an aggressive plan that involved a lot of skipping “wants” in favor of “needs.”

Photo Credit: yezi9713 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: yezi9713 via Compfight cc

That day, Julia had gone to the grocery store and come home with a 12-pack of Gatorade. This bothered me for two reasons–both of them stupid:

  1. As a Georgia Bulldog, I’ve always chosen to avoid the sports drink named for and developed by one of our most hated sports rivals, opting for Powerade instead.
  2. I’ve never been one to reach for sports drinks anyway. Water is free, and while we were paying off these loans, I saw sports drinks as a luxury, not something to be brought home en masse.

Being the sophomoric groom I was, I chose to say something instead of carefully choosing my battle. It started innocently enough, but there was menace in the question that she immediately detected.

“What’s up with all the Gatorade?” I asked.

“It was on sale, so I bought it,” she answered.

“Do we drink that much Gatorade?” I asked, knowing the answer.

She did not appreciate the obvious question, and the conversation quickly deteriorated. Not wanting to back down, I continued to press until she became very upset. She slammed the refrigerator door and retreated to our bedroom as ice began to form on the walls of our apartment.

I don’t remember how long we let the tension sit, but I remember thinking that was our first real argument. I felt like I was right. I kept justifying my actions to myself. She should be more careful with our money. She should have thought before she bought that. She should just agree with me.

You should just drop your guns.

The words rang out in my head like a megaphone in a library. The thought was so piercing, so resonant, and so foreign to my line of thinking in the moment that it couldn’t have come from my own head. God was telling me to shut up. He was telling me to go win back the bride that I had wounded.

I battled with the idea of walking in our bedroom and just telling her I was sorry. It was so counterintuitive. It’s the worst part of any argument: admitting you were wrong. In the moment, I began to question why it seemed so painful to just tell this beautiful girl that I was sorry for how I’d treated her. Then, I realized the answer.

It was just my own selfish pride.

 Photo Credit: Christopher Chan via Compfight cc


Photo Credit: Christopher Chan via Compfight cc

Pride. What a scaly, fire-breathing beast. It growls and stomps its feet, unapologetically demanding respect while giving it back disproportionately. It wrecks the house with its own special, grandiose kind of bullishness. It poisons the air with its putrid breath until it suffocates life. My pride had just taken a bite out of my wife, and I was letting it make its den for the night in our apartment.

What does it cost me to just walk in there and apologize to her and tell her I’m sorry? I questioned to myself. The answer was clear: I had to sacrifice the beast, my pride. I had to take a sword and stab my pride between its scales, right in the heart. So the question became “is my pride worth it?” Did I value preserving my pride more than I valued my wife’s feelings?

I love my wife. I knew the answer was easy: No.

I walked into the bedroom, over to her side of the bed and knelt down where she lay on top of the covers. She looked tired and wary, unsure if I was there for round two. I looked her in the eyes and, as sincerely as I could, said, “I’m sorry, baby. I shouldn’t have made a big deal about that Gatorade. It was so dumb and not worth making you upset. Will you please forgive me?”

As she always is, she was quick and gracious to forgive me.

Since then, we’ve had a standing pact to never go to bed angry with each other. In ten years, we’ve never done the sleep-on-the-couch thing because it’s not how we operate. We like to take Ephesians 4:26 rather literally:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,”

And you know what? It’s made a big difference in how we argue, when we do. But most of all, it has taught me to be willing to sacrifice my pride quickly; to not value it over her.

My pride betrays me. It makes me think I’m more important than I really am. It inflates my sense of ego and distorts how I see the world. It’s like a fisheye lens with me standing front and center. It skews my heart toward entitlement rather than sacrifice, love of self rather than love of others, and toward valuing the temporal over the eternal. My pride lies to me.

Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

So when the storm comes and it’s time to start pitching things over the side of the boat, I want to be spiritually well-conditioned enough to have my pride start to shake nervously, knowing it will be the first thing I’ll point to angrily and demand, “YOU!

I’m not there yet, but by God’s grace, I’m getting there.

One Sunday morning a few years ago, our band met backstage just before the worship service to pray. As we ended the prayer, I walked out on stage with the rest of our team, strapped on my guitar, and looked out into the audience.

On this particular Sunday, as I casually scanned the audience, one face stood out to me. I recognized him immediately, and there was no mistaking who he was. It was Ed Roland, from the rock band, Collective Soul.

edRoland

Ed Roland. Photo Credit: Darla Vaughan via Compfight cc

Immediately, my distracted mind began racing. It flashed back to Collective Soul music videos I’d seen on MTV and to the Collective Soul albums I’ve owned. Then, I thought to myself, “As many times as Ed has made music for me, now I’m about to make music for him.

I wish I could say that I immediately caught my errant thinking, but I didn’t realize how I’d lost perspective until later. The rest of the set, I just tried to focus on not playing any wrong chords or hitting any wrong notes. Heaven forbid I should miss a note while Ed Roland was watching.

After the service was over, I kind of hoped to see him in the crowd and maybe shake his hand or have him validate me somehow by saying something like, “Cool! Nice job, man!” (Because all rock stars say “cool” and “man”), but as soon as the service let out, he was gone. It was for the best because I’m sure I would have said something dumb anyway.

Now, lest you think my struggle with this way of thinking is relegated to my past, I should also mention another incident that happened just this weekend. Saturday night, I was at the home of an active Major League Baseball player for a mutual friend’s engagement shower. Julia and I were talking with him and learned that he goes to our church.

Photo Credit: Hello Turkey Toe via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Hello Turkey Toe via Compfight cc

As we chatted, we mentioned that we play on the worship team, and that I would be leading in one of the venues the next morning. He replied, “Oh yeah? I’ll be sure to come in there, then!” We finished chatting, and as Julia and I left the party, I caught myself feeling a bit the way I did when I had seen Ed several years before. But this time, I caught myself. I repented.

When I say that I caught myself and repented, here is what I mean.

Keeping Things in Perspective

When Thomas Edison invented the first commercially practical light bulb in 1879, it changed everything. Soon, light bulbs would dot landscapes and light homes worldwide. Eventually, astronauts would be able to see entire cities lit up at night as they orbited the earth hundreds of miles above in space. The lightbulb is an amazing invention that’s hard to imagine living without.

I like to think of fame in this way: imagine Thomas Edison standing in front of a room full of people. I am standing beside him. From the audience, you ask both of us who we are and what we’ve done.

Thomas Edison straightens his tie, looks to the floor and back to you and humbly says, “Well, I invented the first commercial lightbulb and helped make it practical for everyone to use. Then, I started an electric company to begin distributing electricity to the people of New York. It kinda took off from there, I guess.” He finishes with a smile and tip of this hat.

Thomas Edison in the electric car he invented. Photo Credit: aldenjewell via Compfight cc

Thomas Edison in the electric car he invented. Photo Credit: aldenjewell via Compfight cc

Then you look to me and say, “And what about you?”

I step forward, and in grandiose––almost comical––fashion, announce to the room, “I flipped a switch on the wall at my house, and thereby turned on a light bulb!”

Upon hearing that, everyone in the room bursts into applause, pulls out their camera phone, and begins taking pictures––of me. The crowd swarms in, asking for my autograph and wanting pictures with me. Mr. Edison makes his way to a quiet corner of the room, watching the scene unfold, somewhat amazed.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

Athletes, musicians, supermodels, and anyone else––famous or not––are all just using the talents or skills God has given them, whether they recognize it or not. So a rock star plays music. God invented music. So the great athlete plays sports. God designed the athletic human body. Praising the wrong thing there is a lot like rushing past Thomas Edison to applaud me for turning on his light bulb.

Now, don’t think, “Oh, poor Jesus. We forgot about Him!” Let me be clear: Jesus doesn’t need your applause. But if you give your praise to the things He’s made and not to him, that just makes no sense.

Performing for an Audience of One

So when I take the stage to help lead people in worship as I did yesterday, I have to remember that I am there to perform for an audience of One. No matter how many people are in the room or what their names are or what they’ve done in life, we are all there for one purpose: to make a big deal out of Jesus and what He did for us.

Not only do I perform for an audience of a One, but that One did more than just make a cool album or a game-winning catch. He made stuff like…oh, you know…supernovas, nebulae, mitochondria, cute little babies, lightning, and the double-helix DNA molecule. Minor things you may have heard of, to name a few.

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc

Having thought about this, it was incredible to take the stage yesterday with that perspective. It’s also incredibly humbling to know that anywhere I am and anytime I want to, I can talk to Him and meet with Him right there. I don’t have to get dressed in a suit and tie. I don’t have to use fancy language. I don’t even have to be politically correct.

It would be a privilege to serve anyone with humility and open availability like that, but that is all the more true when that person is Jesus, who not only made Himself available to me, He made Himself nothing for me. That’s why Philippians 2:7-8 says:

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

And what happened as the result of His unbelievable, improbable humility? Verses 9-11 give the answer.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

I still like Collective Soul, and my new baseball playing friend is a neat guy, but these experiences were gut-checks for me. My prayer is that when I take the stage, and even when I’m off it, that I will always remember I do what I do for an Audience of One.