What Golf Has Taught Me About Faith

Since graduating college, I’ve picked up the game of golf, and I’ve loved it. And when I say ‘I love it,’ I really mean that I love it and I hate it. I’ve come to learn that golf is an extremely technical sport. Precision and fine-tuned mechanics is the name of game. There’s very little margin for error. Which means that the theme of frustration typically dominates the opening chapters of one’s own storyline with golf.

And while I’m still learning many disciplines about the sport—such as grip position, hip rotation, and weight distribution—one main thing I’ve learned is that hitting the ball on the ‘sweet spot’ of the club is absolutely crucial, if not the most important element of the game.

At the end of the day, it won’t matter how hard you can swing, how perfect your form, or how controlled your mechanics: If you fail to hit the ball on the ‘sweet spot’ of the club, there will either be little contact, little distance, or little precision… or any combination of the three. But, if you hit the ball on the ‘sweet spot’ of the club, you’ll likely get good contact, good distance, and good precision all at the same time.

What matters more than anything else is if you can hit the ball on the sweet spot of the club. In other words, it doesn’t really matter how hard you hit the ball, but if you hardly hit the ball in the right place, it will go where you want it to go.

It’s natural to think that we will successfully put distance on the ball if we swing hard enough and hit hard enough. But it’s quite the reversal: even if you hit the ball with great force—but just barely miss the ‘sweet spot’ on the club—the ball actually won’t go that far or that straight. But, if you swing comfortably and freely—not really trying to crush the ball—and simply strive to center the ball on the ‘sweet spot’ of the club, the ball will rocket off the club. You’ll get more distance and more precision that way.

My dad is in his 50s and I am in my 20s. I’m not huge, but let’s be real, I am much stronger than my dad and I can swing the club much faster than he can, too. But regardless, he still out-drives me every single time. Why?

Because he’s doing what counts: he’s relying on the power that’s in the ‘sweet spot’ of the club to do the work of propelling the ball down the fairway, whereas I’m throwing my own strength into the ball to do the work…and missing the mark. As a result, he’s getting distance and precision, and I’m getting a sore back (and bad shots).

The hard work of golf, therefore, is not in the hard swinging and hard hitting, but in the hard work of hitting the ball on the right spot. The hard work of golf isn’t actually ‘hard work’ per se, insofar as physical strength is concerned, but insofar as right contact is concerned. That’s also why golf is considered a sport for all peoples, too. The sport doesn’t require a lot of strength, just a lot of right contact. And it’s only until then that you’ll start to see long-term progress and success in your game.

And I think this profound principle in golf presents to us a pretty compelling analogue for the way that many things work in life, including the way that faith operates in the life of a Christian.

Take vocation or scholastic endeavors, for example. One could argue that it doesn’t matter how hard you work at your vocation or college major, because if that work simply lies outside the ‘sweet spot’ of your natural gifts and abilities, you’ll probably never see that much success or personal fulfillment in the long run. However, if you put even the slightest bit of hard work towards the ‘sweet spot’ of your natural gifts and abilities, that’s where you’ll experience better results and higher chances of long-term growth and satisfaction.

The gist of the principle is clear: it’s not about ‘how hard you can hit it’ that makes the biggest difference; it’s about ‘how well you can hit it’ that makes the biggest difference.

And the principle applies in the same way concerning where we direct our faith and trust, too.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how much faith you have, how hard you strive to obey, or how determined you are to grow spiritually—because if your faith is grounded in a wrong view of God or the gospel, you just won’t see that much progress. But, if you root even just a little bit faith and trust into the soil of a biblical view of God and the gospel, that’s where you’ll start to see more immediate results sprouting through the surface, more tangible signs of fruitfulness, and more long-term indicators of growth and fulfillment.

In that sense, playing good golf is a lot like demonstrating effective faith: With golf, if you hit the ball hard in the wrong place, it will be a much worse shot than if you hardly hit the ball in the right place. With Christianity, if you direct a great degree of faith in the wrong object, it will yield much less fruit than if you direct a small degree of faith in the right Object.

A faith hardly ‘hit’ in the right spot will always go further than a faith ‘hit’ hard in the wrong spot. Jesus himself conveys the idea that a small ‘mustard-seed’ of faith in the right thing is more powerful than a large ‘mountain-size’ of faith in the wrong thing (Mt. 17:14-20). It’s not the amount of faith that saves you or sanctifies you, but the object of your faith that does; so, even if you have a little bit towards the right thing, you’ll always be better off than a whole lot towards the wrong thing.

I think this is why the Pharisees (who were the religious elites) typically failed to ever know God in a real way, and exactly why the prostitutes and tax collectors (who were the religious outcasts) were typically the first ones to understand the real way of salvation: God’s grace. Indeed, the Pharisees had ‘mountain-sized’ faith in the wrong thing (the law) to save them, but the prostitutes and tax collectors had ‘mustard-seed’ faith in the right thing (Jesus) to save them—and it made the biggest difference.

Ultimately, playing good golf is a lot like demonstrating effective faith. It’s all about right contact with the right thing. That’s where power is found. That’s where progress is found. That’s where personal fulfillment is found. It’s of the object’s strength, and not of your own strength, so that you cannot boast.

That’s precisely why anyone can play golf—fat, skinny, old, young, weak, strong, man, woman, bad, good. And it’s on that same premise that anyone can be a Christian, too.

You can’t say the same for football, basketball, soccer, or swimming; it’s about the degree of your personal strength. Nor of other religions for that matter; it’s about the degree of your personal faith.

With golf and with the Christian faith, real strength is in the object itself, not in your own faith yourself.

And if you just have a little faith in the right thing, it won’t matter how messed up you are, how sinful you are, or how blind you are to your own weaknesses—just that little faith will go a long, long way—and in the right direction, too.

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Prophesies Fulfilled in Jesus

Most people can generally agree that one of the most outlandish, eccentric, unusual, and yet compellingly profound things about Christianity is its Old Testament prophesies, which foretell—with often an uncanny and incredible degree of precision—about a coming messianic figure, whom we now identify as Jesus Christ.

What’s interesting is that all of these prophecies were told more than 400 years before Jesus’ birth, and in fact, some prophecies were told more than 2,000 years before his birth. These rather peculiar promises of a coming messiah started as oral tradition, as far back as the time of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:15), and were later written down in what became known as the Pentateuch, which the Hebrew people possessed since the time of Moses and the Exodus out of Egypt. The rest of these prophesies were written down during the completion of the Jewish scriptures (The Old Testament), which were largely written during the Israelite exiles in 700-500 BCE.

The Jewish people were acutely aware that God was promising to send a messianic figure who would come directly from the seed of Abraham, their own people group. They knew what to expect. However, what’s so astonishing is that, as a whole, these prophecies are hardly ambiguous generalities; rather, they are staggeringly detailed and remarkably specific pronouncements about this Messiah.

Practically speaking, that’s pretty significant because having prophecies that are specific can be a double-edged sword. For example, if the prophecies are really specific, that means they can be easily overturned if proven wrong. However, if the prophecies are really specific, that also means they can be easily verified if proved true.

Having prophecies that are more or less ‘ambiguous generalities’ doesn’t really help anyone, because there would be no way of actually ‘proving it’ one way or another. You could argue from subjectivity more than objectivity—from eccentric interpretations than concrete observations. As such, prophecies like we find in Scripture can’t fall as easily into unclear, subjective interpretations precisely because they have such specific and concrete details. This makes it much easier to verify or refute because you can simply use the criterion: “It either happened or it did not.”

So what are these prophesies? And do they give us enough reason to trust that they are true?

Here are a handful:

Scripture tells us that the coming Messiah would be…

  • …born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14)
  • …from the line of Abraham (Gen. 22:18)
  • …a descendent of Judah (Gen. 49:10)
  • …from the household of David (Jer. 23:5)

He would be…

  • …born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2)
  • …presented with gifts at his birth (Ps. 72:10)
  • …then forced to flee an evil king who would want to kill all the children in the region of Bethlehem (Jer. 31:5)
  • …he’d be exiled to Egypt as a kid and return home to Israel from there (Hos. 11:1)

He would claim to be ‘God with us’ (Isa. 7:14)

He would function as…

  • …a prophet (Deut. 18:18)
  • …a priest (Ps. 110:4)
  • …a king (Ps. 2:6)

He would…

  • …be a teacher of parables (Ps. 78:2)
  • …be preceded by a messenger crying out in the wilderness (Isa. 40:3)
  • …begin his ministry in Galilee (Isa. 9:1)
  • …perform many miracles (Isa. 35:6)
  • …enter Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey (Zech. 9:9)

And then, there are more than 20 prophecies that get fulfilled in his life in ONE day:

On the day of his death, this messiah would be…

  • …betrayed by a friend (Ps. 41:9)
  • …sold for 30 pieces of silver (Zech. 11:12)
  • …and that silver would be thrown into God’s house and be used to buy a potter’s field (Zech. 11:13)

In the hours before his death…

  • …he’d be abandoned by his friends (Zech. 13:7)
  • …be accused by false witnesses (Ps. 35:11)
  • …stand silent before his accusers when they taunted him (Isa. 53:7)
  • …be wounded and bruised (Isa. 50:6)
  • …mocked (Ps. 22:7)
  • …be beaten and spat upon (Isa. 50:6)
  • …have his garments be split up and be gambled for (Ps. 22:18)
  • …physically stagger under the weight of his affliction (Ps. 109:24)

At his death, he would…

  • …have his hands and feet pierced (Ps. 22:16)
  • …be executed together with criminals (Isa. 53:12)
  • …experience great thirst (Ps. 69:21)
  • …pray for his persecutors (Isa. 53:12)
  • …have his side pierced (Zech. 12:10)
  • …despite great physical travail, not one of his bones would be broken (Ps. 34:20)
  • …he would die at midday, and during the hour of his death, darkness would miraculously descend upon the earth (Amos 8:9)
  • …he would then be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isa. 53:9)
  • …after which, he would be resurrected to God the Father’s right hand and pour out gifts on his followers (Ps. 16:10; 68:18)

According to the Gospel accounts, all of these prophecies in the New Testament were fulfilled in Jesus’ life–whether the disciples realized that at the time or not.

Convinced yet? Probably not, but that’s ok.

If you’re a thoughtful person (which you probably are), you might already be thinking, “Well, maybe some of these things are just coincidences.” Mathematicians say that the odds of all these things randomly coalescing on any one person are 10157, which is 10, followed by 157 zeros after it, and a whole lot of commas in between. To put that in perspective, 1016 would be like covering the entire state of Texas in silver dollars two feet deep, painting one of them red, and having a blind man pick the marked coin on his first chance. Mathematicians generally agree that, statistically, any odds beyond 1 in 1050 have a zero probability of ever happening, which has been named Borel’s Law.†‡

With the prophesies about Jesus, we’re talking 10157, which is Borel’s Law times itself, and some change (like, multiplying it by another 10,000,000).

Still, a reasonable objection might be, “Well, maybe the Gospel accounts have been doctored up to confirm these prophecies.” For example, maybe a couple early Christians read the book of Zechariah, where the Messiah would be betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, and decided, “Let’s make up a story about how Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, then bought a field with that same money to go hang himself.”‡

To be sure, they certainly could have made up stories like that, I won’t deny that. And they might have been able to get away with a few things like that, too. However, most of these prophecies were simply out of their control, and therefore, would have been easy to refute by others if they actually didn’t happen.‡

In fact, early Jewish and Roman leaders had all the motivation in the world to refute these things, too. They hated Jesus and the movement he was starting. The Jews hated him because he was destabilizing their religious structure from within. The Romans hated him because he exclusively claimed to be God, which Caesar took offense to. The Jews or Romans could have claimed, “Jesus was not born in Bethlehem. He never grew up in Nazareth. We never gave Judas 30 pieces of silver for his life. We did break his bones. We crucified him alone. We didn’t gamble for his clothes.” They could have made any of those sorts of claims. But nobody ever made those claims because those claims simply weren’t true, and could have easily been refuted.‡

Still, you might object, “Well, the early church just destroyed all the accounts of Jesus that conflicted against the story they wanted to create themselves.” This is a great objection, too. However, it assumes that only the early Christians had all the information surrounding Jesus’ life, and that the unbelieving Jews and Romans were completely out of the picture. That presumption fails because Jesus’ life and teachings was witnessed by Jews, for he was one himself and ministered mostly to them anyways. Some believed and some did not. The information about Jesus’ life, sayings, and death were all heard, seen, experienced by people who came from both ends of the faith-spectrum. Meaning, if the believing group tried to invent something about Jesus, the unbelieving group could have easily refuted it because they witnessed it, too.‡

But you might be thinking, “Well, the majority, ‘believing,’ Christian group of Jews simply overruled the minority, ‘unbelieving,’ group of Jews, and this is why the ‘better’ or ‘doctored’ story triumphs in the narrative.” That’s a great thought, too, however, it’s presumes that the early Christian groups were in fact majority, or that they possessed some kind of controlling power—which simply is historically inaccurate. The early Christian church didn’t have any type of majority influence or political power or social sway until over 300 years after Jesus’ time. In the first three centuries after Jesus’ life, Christianity’s enemies vastly outnumbered its followers, and it was the enemies who had the majority, power, or sway—not the church. Yet, even though the enemies of Christianity had all the power, no one person ever came forward to challenge the validity of these eyewitness accounts about Jesus’ own life, teachings, death, and resurrection.‡

It just doesn’t stack up that the early church’s ‘prophecy-fulfilling’ narrative was doctored or won out over the ‘actual’ stories about Jesus in history.

Plus, to conclude, one must also ask another legitimate question, too:
“Why would early Christians die for what they *knew* to be lie?”

People certainly can die for something they personally believe is true, even if it is objectively false. But it would seem harder to die for something that you know is false. If you were making something up that you know is a lie, there would have to be a motive for doing so.

Yet, if you have a motive, dying for it would effectively forfeit what you were motivated to get all along. If you die for something you know to be a lie, at that point, your motive for lying won’t be ever become actualized anyways (because you’ll be dead). So why invent a lie…out of a motivation to get something… and then be willing to die… therefore, effectively prohibiting yourself from getting what you were motived by anyways? In other words, if there is a motive, then dying for the lie wouldn’t help your motive; it would end it.

Nevertheless, let’s just entertain the possibility that early Christians did, in fact, choose to die for lying about the things about Jesus’ life that made him a perfect match for all these Old Testament prophesies.

What was their motive? What did they gain as a result?

Power, prestige, activism, or to escape harm? They certainly didn’t get power or prestige. In fact, many lost their homes, jobs, and property. They had no political activist agenda, because Jesus never did. They simply trusted the testimony of Jesus that he alone was God and the Savior for all men, which was a threat to Caesar. They certainly didn’t escape harm, either—many were tortured, killed, and/or burned alive for Roman parties. There was no ‘gain’ in sight, except to prove their faith in Jesus—taking Jesus at his word about what he said about himself.‡

I love what philosopher Blaise Paschal says:

“Witnesses who are willing to have their throats cut become believable.”

Let’s remember, the early church was not a group of ‘Navy Seal-esque men’ who were striving to not cave for what they knew to be a lie. It was a bunch of uneducated fisherman and many other ordinary people. It was not because they all somehow mustered up the mental and emotional fortitude to keep them from admitting it was a sham of their own creation.

No, rather, and more naturally so, they just believed it to be true.

The prophesies of the Old Testament pointed to a very specific type of Savior… and fortunately, we received a type of Savior who fulfilled these prophesies in every specific type of way.


Footnotes:

† Emile Borel, Probabilities and Life

‡ This post was largely taken from J.D. Greear’s sermon transcript, “God’s Miraculous Love Letter” (Isaiah 52-53), The Whole Story, #21. June 12, 2016. You can find the audio and transcript to his message here. Wherever there is a “‡” marking, it generally denotes that I took the main idea from his sermon and tweaked it with my own words.

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Foundation & Direction | HPCA

Several weeks ago, I had the incredible privilege of speaking at the graduation ceremony for the 2016 class of my old high school, High Point Christian Academy.

The gist of my message focused on two terms, ‘foundation’ and ‘direction,’ and more specifically, how the interplay of these two things—how they relate, how they inform one another—is what will ultimately make the biggest difference in your life when it’s all said and done. In other words, how your sense of foundation informs your sense of direction (and vice versa) is what will most shape how you live—possibly more than anything else.

So, in the following post, I’ve essentially redacted the speech into a more blog-esque format for readability’s sake.

*          *          *          *          *

DEFINITIONS

So, foundation and direction. What do I mean when I say ‘foundation’ and ‘direction’?

Let’s do ‘foundation’ first: what do you think of when you hear the word, ‘foundation’? You probably think about a building or a house, right? Large structures need a sturdy foundation; otherwise, they will threaten to collapse under slight circumstances.

In college, I would frequent this house that hosted dance parties, and that house…shall we say… had very loose foundations. In fact, now the house has been condemned because it literally cannot support the weight of 200 kids jumping up and down in it anymore. Houses have a foundation: it’s the structure that gives it stability and resilience.

As people, we have foundations as well, and it’s what is at the very bottom of who we are. Namely, it’s where we find our greatest degree of personal significance or ultimate sense of self-worth or identity. It undergirds pretty much everything we do and why we do them.

What do I mean what I say ‘direction’?
This is more self-explanatory. Whereas foundation is ultimately about what’s at the bottom of who are you, direction is ultimately the overflow of what you do. It might be going to college, getting a certain major, or setting your hopes set towards a certain career path.

That’s foundation and direction. Foundation is the who. Direction is the what.

HOW THEY RELATE

Mainly, what I want to talk about is how these two things—foundation and direction—relate to one another. Everyone has a foundation and a general sense of direction. But—how these two things play out in your life is what will make the biggest difference in your life.

Ultimately, there’s two main ways this foundation-direction relationship can take shape in your life.

#1

The first is this… and it’s by and large the mantra of culture.

It’s believing that our foundation and direction are wrapped up together and completely dependent upon one another.

It’s the idea that our foundation—who we are, where we find our significance, self-worth, or identity is fundamentally found and achieved in our direction—what we do, what your grades are, what college you’re going to, what profession you have, how much money you make, etc.

Essentially, it’s the idea that personal significance is found in personal performance.

#2

And there’s only one other alternative. So, if the first paradigm of how foundation-direction can relate is by being completely together, the second paradigm is that they can relate by being completely apart as separate, non-overlapping categories.

So, instead of finding your personal significance in your personal performance, instead of looking for your foundation in your direction—these things are separate categories. It’s the idea that your personal significance is not based on your personal performance. This is what I want for you all. This is where you’ll find freedom and joy in life.

But naturally, you might object, saying, “What’s wrong with having your foundation and direction totally wrapped together? Why is it ‘wrong’ if I base my self-worth on what I accomplish? My achievements make me feel good about myself!”

It’s certainly acceptable to celebrate your achievements; however, the danger with making your personal significance totally dependent on your personal performance is that whenever you approach your job, work, grades, your athletics, or etc.—it won’t ever just be about your grades, job, or work… it will ultimately be about securing your self-worth. Which means anytime you approach your work, your self-worth will always be hanging in the balance of your success or failures. We can all agree that this is dangerous place to be.

NY TIMES

I read a NY Times article recently that talked about people’s insane, obsessive, workaholic habits nowadays—that students and employees every where are running themselves into the ground, bleeding themselves dry, and striving with break-neck levels of ‘moderation’ when it comes to their work. Why?

The author was a little sarcastic in his interpretation, as he said: “Do you think employees and students are really sacrificing their sleep, their health, and their relationships on the altar of work or schooling… just because people really love their jobs or because they just really love their calculus homework?” His rhetoric makes anyone readily admit, “No.”

So, then, why are students killing themselves over every point? Why are there employees striving so intensely up the corporate ladder?

The columnist said this—and I think it’s profound—“There’s a bigger, more critical type of work that’s going on underneath their vocational ‘title’ or ‘job description’—and it’s the unending, tireless work of trying to establish a sense of personal significance through their work. If they achieve this or that, then they are something. But if not, then they are nothing.”

People are using their direction to get a foundation, and because of it, it’s making people miserable and it’s making their work a personal ‘Roman Coliseum’ of sorts to prove their self-worth and to find their personal validation.

PERSONAL FAILURES

I certainly don’t bring this us as if I am completely detached from that kind of experience either. In fact, in high school my entire self-worth was written on my resume. My personal validation was found in my personal accomplishments. I felt like I mattered because of all these things I did. My foundation was totally wrapped up in my direction. My personal significance was based wholly on my personal performance.

And when I got to college, all the accomplishments I had worked so hard to achieve and the personal significance I had strove so tireless to secure, immediately didn’t matter any more. In college, all those didn’t matter any more, and as such, I was left with a gaping whole for my foundations.

In fact, in my first day of Organic Chemistry, the professor asked for a raise of hands, “How many of you were valedictorians or salutatorians in high school?” No joke, like half the class of 300 people raised their hands. And I felt small and inadequate. All my hard work in high school didn’t distinguish me from anyone else at all. I didn’t feel important anymore.

And when I failed that first Organic Chemistry test, it hurt so much…why?

Because it wasn’t just a shot at my grade point average… it was a shot at my identity. It was a kick to one of the pillars of my foundation.

It doesn’t have to be grades (I know I’m speaking out of the context of being a nerd). But maybe your foundation is what college your going to, how successful you are in athletics, how many followers you have on Instagram, or the girl that you’re dating.

I’m not trying to be Debbie-downer… I want to be realistic. So let me ask you this: What happens when get an injury? What happens when you fail a test? Or don’t get into the business school? Or don’t get recognized like you think you should? Those things don’t just jeopardize your career… they jeopardize your self-worth.

ANOTHER THING

When you depend on your direction—your grades, major, school, sports—for your foundation or your ultimate sense of self-worth, not only is your self-worth always hanging in the balance, but I’ve also seen another terrible thing that happens to many college students.

And it’s that students don’t do a career path that fits with their abilities, passions, and burdens; rather, they try to be someone they’re not… because this ‘Pre-Awesome’ major or this ‘Wealthy Profession’ appears to promise a better type of self-worth than other majors or career professions. Students who are under the influence of the ‘direction-is-my-foundation’ intoxication begin to seek a profession that they think will give them higher degrees of self-worth instead of doing something that God actually created them to do all along.

Students and employees are mutilating their direction on the altar of trying to get a foundation—and by doing so, they are sacrificing their strengths, exalting their weaknesses, and as a result, bleeding their vocational motivations dry.

Unfortunately, you see this all the time. This is the last thing I want for any of you, and that’s why it’s the only thing I want to talk about in this time I have with you.

RELATE SEPARATELY

I want don’t want you to use your direction as the basis for your foundation. Rather, I want you to separate those categories. Direction & Foundation were never meant to go together. Your direction—your schooling, athletics, jobs, and efforts—were never meant to be the means where you would find the foundation of self-worth and identity in life. Your direction was simply intended to bless society, serve others, create culture, enjoy life, and love God through it all.

I want you to get a foundation separate from your direction. I want you to get a direction that is simply just an overflow from who you are, what you love, and what you feel a burden for—not sense of direction that comes from trying to fulfill the need to feel like you matter.

So… that begs the questions: Where do you get a foundation that is not is based on your performance? And how can you have a direction that isn’t constantly paying tribute to a foundation?

GOSPEL FOUNDATION

Everything in the world says your personal performance gets your personal significance.

But there’s one place that says otherwise. Right now, you’re probably thinking, “Your seminary is starting to show, bro…” I understand that, and I’m certainly not trying to be preachy. I know this isn’t the place for it, so in that case, let’s just approach this strictly from a LOGICAL standpoint.

If your self-worth is wrapped up in your college, career, money, relationships, and accomplishment… those are unreliable foundations because they are subject to circumstance.

If an unstable foundation is one that is subject to circumstance, that means a sure foundation is one that is not subject to circumstance. LOGICALLY speaking… there’s ONLY ONE place where you can have a sense of foundation and self-worth that isn’t subject to circumstance.

And the answer is God; it’s the gospel. Logically speaking, there’s one foundation, one source of self-worth that is not based on circumstance, and it’s what he thinks about you.

He says, “You have ultimate self-worth because I say so, and more clearly than that, I demonstrated it at the cross! You’re worth everything to me!” If you’re a Christian, you have access to a foundation that’s not subject to circumstance. In Christ, you have the ultimate approval from the only One whose opinion of you really matters anyways! A true, sure foundation of self-worth is defined there—it’s ultimate, unconditional, and maximal—and it’s not subject to circumstance.

God gives you type of self-worth, that is better than you could ever give yourself. It’s not earned by your performance, it’s given by grace and you accept it. And oddly enough, it’s in receiving and possessing a foundation that can’t be improved by performance that’s precisely the grounds for empowering you and enabling you to have a healthy sense of direction after all.

Once you have this sure foundation, your direction is redeemed because now your self-worth is no longer hanging in the balance; your direction is no longer about proving yourself… it just becomes about work for work’s sake, serving others, and just enjoying it because you love it. Your direction—your work—is no longer turned inward to validate yourself; it’s turned outward to serve others.

Let me end with a quick illustration that shows how having a foundation separate from a direction actually empowers a healthy, free direction after all.

CHARIOTS OF FIRE

How many of you have seen the movie Chariots of Fire? For those of you who haven’t seen this movie before, the movie is about two Olympic track stars, Eric Liddell and Harold Abrahams, and it essentially illustrates the nature of each runner’s careers. And what the movie does so well is that it foils the ‘foundations’ of the two runners, showing how different they are from one another even though they have the same career, or ‘direction.’

The movie portrays that Harold Abrahams was someone whose running career (his direction) was his source of self-worth (his foundation). His running career is what made him feel important and distinguished—it’s what gave him significance. And his self-worth, naturally, rose or fell based on how well he did. But the movie relates that Eric Liddell was someone whose running career was not his source of personal significance. Rather, he had a source of self-worth separate from his career—and it was in what God thought about him.

There’s one scene in particular that I’ll never forget.

An interviewer asked Abrahams a probing question, “What’s on the front of your mind right as you approach the starting block?” And his response is startling, horrifying, chilling. He says, “As I get on the blocks, right before the gun goes off, there is one thing that goes through my mind. And it’s this: ‘I have 10 seconds to justify my entire existence.’” (Bang).

No pressure, right? That’s insane! But at least he was honest enough to admit how most of us approach our lives, too.

However, the same question is directed at Liddell, and if you’ve seen the movie, you already know what his response was to this question. He said, “When I run, I just… feel God’s pleasure.”

In those two statements you have two completely different approaches to life. Abrahams and Liddell are both Olympic runners. On the exterior, they might look exactly the same. But on the interior, they couldn’t be more different.

Abrahams ran because he needed a foundation; and his career was essentially a self-salvation project. But Liddell ran because he had a foundation, and running, or his direction, was just the natural overflow of his life.

Here’s the good part: Who do you think had more success in his career? Abrahams or Liddell? You got it, Liddell. Why?
Abrahams ran FOR a foundation, FOR validation, and FOR personal self-worth—and it absolutely ruined him. Sure, he had marginal success… but he was absolutely miserable because of it. But Liddell, on the other hand, ran FROM a foundation, FROM validation, and FROM a sense of personal self-worth—and it was oxygen in his lungs.

RECAP

When you make your direction the means to get a foundation, your life will be full anxiety, discontentment, and jealousy because your identity will always be on the line every time you approach your work.

But if you have a foundation separate from your direction, then you’ll have freedom and joy in your work because your identity won’t be hanging in the balance. Instead, you can work and love what you do. You won’t feel forced into a major. You’ll see a burden in your society, and you’ll help it.

And even when you fail—because it will happen—you’ll be free to fail. You’ll still have an identity that is just as in tact as it was before. A vocational failure will not be a stamp of ‘FAILURE’ across your existence or foundations; rather, the red ink will only go as far as the direction of your project or grade. If your foundation is Christ, then the red ink of vocational failure will never be able to color over or overrule the blood of Jesus on your life, which is the permanent ink of self-worth. Vocational red ink can be eventually washed out; Jesus’ blood can’t be.

Indeed, if you have a foundation separate from your direction, then you’ll be able to weather the storms of circumstance precisely because not one drop of circumstance will be able to affect your foundation. Your house will be built on the rock. And even when the waves of failure or disappoint come ashore, you’ll still be left standing.

CONCLUSION

Your Foundation and your Direction will define the rest of your life.

Graduates, you are exceptionally smart. You are extraordinarily talented. You are inordinately driven. I’m confident that I will be watching some of you on TV one day, whether it’s reporting the news, blocking a shot into the stands, or marketing an incredible product.

BUT, if you make your direction your foundation—if you make your self-performance the basis of your self-significance—it won’t matter how smart, athletic, driven, or successful you are… you’ll be miserable.

Right now, you’re metaphorically stepping up to the starting blocks of life as it were… you’re getting set… And before the gun goes off… I just want to encourage you: Don’t run your life in order to get a foundation; run because in Christ, you have a foundation. And because of that, when you run—whatever it is you end up doing—when you run, you’ll feel God’s pleasure.

So take a beautiful photo, and feel God’s pleasure.
Dunk a basketball, and feel God’s pleasure.
Write an article, and feel God’s pleasure.
Create a phone app, and feel God’s pleasure.
Put a cast on someone, and feel God’s pleasure.
Fight injustices, and feel God’s pleasure.
Teach the next generation, and feel God’s pleasure.

You can do that well and you can do it with joy if you have a foundation separate from your direction. So get a self-significance that isn’t based on self-performance –for doing so will be like hoisting large sails in your life. And wherever the wind of your direction blows, it will propel your vessel forward more naturally; in fact, sometimes it might not even feel like ‘work.’ You’ll be able to spend more time soaking in the scenery and enjoying the company of others—and less time below the deck, rowing to no avail, and exerting yourself to no end, all the while paddling with no destination in sight, except yourself and an empty hull. But…if Someone has achieved the work of your identity for you–and given you a foundation at the very bottom of who you are–only then can you climb out of the hull, and instead, tend to the sails and see where you’re really going… enjoying the view and the company along the way.

So get a hold of This foundation, and then let your direction get a hold of you.

Thank you guys and congratulations once again!

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Should I Pray to the Father, the Son, or the Spirit?

Have you ever stopped and wondered, “Who exactly should I pray to: the Father, the Son, or the Spirit?”

Since God is Trinitarian in nature—one in substance and three in person—that can inherently leave room for some complications when it praying to someone. And certainly, because God is both one and three, if you pray to either of the three, you will inevitably be praying to God per se, because each is God, and yet God is one.

Nevertheless, is there a ‘right way’ to pray when we address our prayers? Are we being too technical here, or is there actually a way that is more doctrinally precise after all?

It seems the Bible does give us a general idea of whom we should pray to in specific. In actuality, I think most of us are probably addressing our prayers correctly anyways, that is, if we are keeping to the Christian tradition of beginning our prayers with, “Dear Heavenly Father…” and ending them with, “…in Jesus’ name, amen.”

It seems that this tradition has its roots in biblical theology, and I think we can see that it ultimately stemmed from Jesus’ teachings on prayer and what other passages of Scripture have to say on the subject, too.

For example, in one of the most famous passages of the Bible, “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus tells his disciples to address their prayers like the following:

“Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.’”
(Matthew 6:9)

In another place of Scripture, when Jesus teaches his disciples about prayer, he again tells them that their prayers ought to be directed to the Father, but in Jesus’ name.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.” (John 15:16 ESV)

Hebrews 4 echoes this same idea as well, encouraging us to direct our prayers to God the Father because God the Son is our mediator and our means of doing so.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. … Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14,16)

And furthermore, Scripture also tells us that the God the Spirit, whom we receive by union with Christ, compels us to pray to the… Father.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15)

Overall, the Scriptures generally seem to communicate that prayer should have its trajectory towards the Father, even though it’s certainly mediated and made possible by the Son and the Spirit. The Son functions as our positional mediator by whom we can approach the Father, standing in our defense. And the Spirit functions as our personal discerner and communicator, helping us to pray with greater clarity and enabling us to experience greater intimacy with God through prayer.

But I also think we should follow this format of ‘to whom we should pray,’ specifically because it aligns most closely with the nature of the gospel and the type of relational dynamic we share with the Trinity now that we have been redeemed. Therefore, by praying in this way, we are affirming what the gospel means and what it has accomplished for us.

In essence, we should pray to the Father, by the Son, and in the Spirit.

For the sake of an analogy, think of beginning a prayer insofar as you might address an email, with the To: and the Cc: filled out accordingly:

To: Father
Cc: Jesus; Holy Spirit

Maybe that’s not precisely theologically accurate, but hopefully this quick story might help illustrate this idea a bit more:

I know someone who just landed an incredible job at one of the most prestigious digital marketing agencies in Raleigh, and possibly the entire state of NC. And can you imagine how she got the job? Was it her education? Talent? People skills? Sure, she did attend a great university; and yes, she is extremely talented; and indeed, she does have good people skills.

So what made her email and attached resume stand out from the other 50+ applications that are sent every single day? It was whom she CCed in the email. She knew someone from inside the office. So when the boss was mindlessly scrolling through yet another set of 200 new applications at the end of the week that are all relatively competitive, her email stood out because the boss recognized a connection that verified credibility.

And so it is when we pray to God the Father, in God the Spirit, by God the Son. Jesus is our ‘insider’ who appeals to the Father, and the Spirit is our ‘Microsoft Outlook’ as it were, except he sends our prayers successfully every time—without fail, disconnection, or crash.

And this is just a glimpse of the beauty of the Trinity’s role when we pray; we are utterly hemmed in, listened to, and loved in every way as we pray. So when we pray, let us direct our prayers to the Father—knowing that we can only ever approach him because of the Son, and resting assured that every prayer is heard and cherished, because of the Spirit.

“Pray to God the Father in the power of God the Spirit, in the name or by the authority and the merit of God the Son.”
–John Piper

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If Satan Took Over a City, What Would Happen?

Have you ever once considered, “What would happen if Satan took over a city?”

I realize that’s kind of a dark thought… but let’s just consider it for a moment. Try to imagine in your head what that might possibly look like.

Maybe you immediately thought of one of the presidential candidates with red horns, brandishing a golden scepter from the throne of Jerusalem. (I jest, hope you are, too…)  But likely, you’re probably thinking of a Las Vegas-type city on steroids where there’s unchecked climates of drugs, prostitution, trafficking, poverty, violence, political corruption, economic oppression, and social segregation.

Personally, I like Batman, so naturally, I think of Gotham City when the Joker or Bane rules over an anarchic society, and it’s complete chaos as sin abounds without restriction.

But I heard a response to this question the other day that took me quite off guard. When asked, “What would happen if Satan if took over a city?”, here’s what I heard in response:

All the bars would be closed. Pornography would be banned. Everything would be clean. No swearing. Churches would be full every week. Pews would be full. But Christ would not be preached.

Wow. I think his assessment is right on the money, too.

After all, Satan is not really all that troubled by a moral improvement plan. But he is troubled by a Christ that is preached. Certainly, morality is not a bad thing, we can all agree on that. But by itself, it is insufficient for a truly transformed life. And therefore, by itself, morality can be dangerously deceiving because it can lead people to believe in a pseudo-salvation that is solely based on good deeds. It’s moralism, which is essentially the idea that I must earn God’s acceptance and good graces by keeping moral principles. It’s the same thing as thinking, ‘because I am not doing this sin, I am acceptable in God’s eyes.’

The problem is, however, is that moralism inevitably leads into either pride or despair.

On the ‘pride’ end of the spectrum, if you say, “I’m good, so God accepts me,” you will inevitably sow deep seeds of self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and spiritual condescension to those who aren’t as good. Your boast is in your own ability to keep the law; which means, thereby, that you are your own functional savior… so what need is there for Jesus? Conversely, on the ‘despair’ end of the spectrum, if you say, “I’m bad, so God does not accept me,” you will inevitably spiral down into despair, hopelessness, and self-deprecation. You will begin to believe that you have to ‘undo’ your sinful deeds with your good deeds, and it ultimately enslaves you to living up to a standard to finally ‘get right’ with Jesus… and where is Jesus in that?

For all of moralism’s nice, polite, and *sparkle when you smile* traits, it nevertheless invariably drains into two dead-end extremes of either pride and despair, which both paint incredibly distorted pictures of Jesus, and therefore, the concept of salvation, too. And that’s why Satan loves moralism so much–because moralism, probably more than anything else, convinces us that great morality is where salvation is found, not Jesus.

Satan takes the byproducts of the gospel, and presents it to us as if it is the basis of the gospel, which is no actually gospel at all. Satan takes the indications of a saved life, and presents it to us as if it is the qualifications for a saved life. And if believed, that will keep us unsaved, just like it did to the Pharisees who believed the same lie, despite their extreme religiosity.

Indeed, it is such a powerful lie precisely because it is so nice, neat, and clean–so diametrically opposite from our natural notions of ‘sinful, unsaved, Sodom and Gemorrah-type Gotham City.’

It looks ‘religious,’ so it has to be ‘salvation-promising,’ right? Hook and line. Satan is the master deceiver (Jn. 8:44; 2 Co. 11:3, 14), and he takes morality, a good thing, but makes it an ultimate thing, which eclipses and blinds us from seeing our need for a Savior.

This means that even the nicest, most clean-cut, moral cities or places where Jesus is not preached or trusted in are simply places where salvation is as thin as their veneer of their moralism that disillusions mountains of pride and despair.

Moral examples in the Bible, indeed, are not wrong in and of themselves. But they are wrong if modeled all by themselves—and that’s because these moral examples ultimately point to something, some story, and Someone greater. Jesus says that all of the Bible is completely about him (Luke 24:27, John 5:39). So to treat the Bible in a way that marginalizes or ignores Jesus at the expense of following a moral example is the same thing as to misuse the Bible completely.

Therefore, to “preach Christ” primarily means to make him the hero of every message, the ultimate focus of every passage, and the hub for every axle of life application. Therefore, Christians, we should desire to preach Christ from the whole Bible because it all points to Jesus after all, and because it all holds together upon this Cornerstone anyways. He’s the one who accomplished our right standing, acceptance, and full salvation from God by his perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection. So now, our approach to morality is not “I have to honor God because I want to be saved,” but rather, “I want to honor God because of how I am saved.” The former view produces pride and despair, but the latter view produces confidence and humility.

Practically, we can begin to approach morality rightly and preaching Christ properly by making sure we are not excessively allegorizing Scripture with moral parallels, and also by making sure we are not being too narrow-minded in our morality either by not seeing the full scope and entire context of the Bible’s redemptive theme in Christ.

With every moral example and with every moral application, just like with every ray of sunlight, there’s a source behind it, and the trajectory from which it extends can be followed back to Jesus in the same way that a ray of sunlight can be traced back to the sun.

A ray of sunlight is not just merely for sunlight’s sake, but about the necessity and glory that is the sun.

As such, theology is not merely for information’s sake.

And it is not just information for application’s sake.

Theology is about adoration and transformation, for Christ’s sake.

______

† The following post is an adaptation from an anecdote in Michael Horton’s book, Christless Christianity (found within Bryan Chappell’s Christ-Centered Preaching), concerning the conversation, “What would happen if Satan took over a city?”

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Stanford Swimmer & Victim

We all want justice… And when justice is slighted, there is typically an outrage, as many have likely already seen today concerning the recent jurisdiction of the ex-Stanford swimmer who had sexually assaulted an unconscious, co-ed collegiate.

Today, we found out that this ex-Standford swimmer has officially been sentenced 6 months in prison. Many thought the offender deserved more time than that, such as anywhere from 6-14 years behind bars. Instead, the court ruled that 6 months was sufficient, and as a result, public opinion raged that the ex-Standford swimmer certainly did not receive his fair share of justice, and therefore, neither did the victim. The Stanford swimmer appeared to get merciful sentence, but as a result, the victim seemed to get even more injustice.

Many cry out for this young girl’s justice, and rightly so. We all deserve justice as humans, and when justice is slighted, the tuning fork of our moral awareness signals that something is out of key.

Because this judge’s indictment seemed unjust, people would not consider him to be loving… at all. Rather, if he made a just indictment, people would be more willing to say he acted in love with his ruling.

In other words, love and justice go together, hand in hand. You simply can’t have one without the other. As a judge, you can’t truly love someone and not give them justice. You can’t be loving and unjust at the same time, because you’re injustice to them would prove that you weren’t looking out for their ultimate well-being. To love someone is give someone what is best for them, and justice is best for all people. For instance, if we lived in an unjust reality, an unjust society at the expense of a completely loving one… it wouldn’t be that lovely of a place after all, can you agree?

Unfortunately, however, I think many people have a view of God like a loving-unjust judge or a just-unloving judge. Many religious and non-religious people prefer the idea of a loving God, but when you mention a just God, people shy away or become defensive. Problem is, you can’t really have a loving God without also having a truly just God. If your God is completely loving, he will also have to be completely just as well. If your God isn’t that just, then he just isn’t that loving.

Certainly, it is is preferable to have a God who loves you unconditionally and accepts you fully and approves of you maximally. And in terms of our sin, it’s more palatable to initially believe that because God is completely merciful and loving, that he’ll just sweep them under the rug of the cosmos, and we’ll just all forget about them. That type of loving God sounds nice and neat, and maybe even logical at first thought.

But put yourself in the shoes of the young girl today who was raped and was slighted of a just decree towards her offender. Maybe the judge was merciful and loving to the ex-Stanford swimmer for almost ‘sweeping his sins under the rug;’ but was the judge loving to the victim who deserved justice? It would seem not. Likewise, with God, is a God who sweeps people’s sin under the rug of the cosmos loving to those who are victimized by sin? Would such a ‘loving’ God be loving to this young, victimized girl and her situation? Absolutely not!

Let’s follow the logic: If God swept the sin of the ex-Stanford swimmer under the rug, the swimmer might say that that God is loving. But the young lady who was victimized by the swimmer’s sin would not say that that God is loving because she would receive injustice as a result. Conversely, however, if God does give justice to the victimized young girl, that means he wouldn’t sweep the swimmer’s sin under the rug, but instead would judge him for it… Would God be considered loving then if he… judges him for his sin?

Yes. Because true love is just that: just.

Besides, the swimmer getting justice is the best thing that he could have received anyways. The best thing he could have received was not a shortened jail time. Otherwise, his view of sexuality, respect, and justice might become cheapened. What he needs most is an acute awareness of right and wrong, the rightness of sexuality, and the true meanings of love and justice. That’s what will make him a better citizen. To give him justice is to love him… and to also love the victimized.

As such, what you need is a God who is both completely just and completely loving. Absolute love must be absolutely just—otherwise, that love is just a faux love.

What I love about Christianity is that it projects a God who is utterly holy, just, and loving–all at the same time. Though, humanity is fallen and sinful because we have rebelled against God’s authority. The punishment for sin is death (Rom. 3:23), and God–by his very nature of love and justice–can’t just sweep sin under the rug. In order to truly be loving, he must judge and be just. And in an incredible demonstration of love, he chose to pay the price of our judgement, dying on a cross for our sin, absorbing the just wrath of God in our place, so that we might be dealt a loving justice instead: forgiveness. The debt, the jail time, the judgment we deserved was paid in full by Jesus. By doing so, God honored his very nature of being completely just and being maximally loving at the same time. Sin must be paid for; it can’t be swept under the rug. In love, he paid for it with his own life, so we wouldn’t have to.

Christianity says God is full of grace and truth… Your good deeds can’t undo your bad ones. You need forgiveness. And you won’t be judged on your sinful works, but the righteous works of Christ through faith.

And it is in receiving that kind of radical grace makes any recipient of it a lover of the highest degrees of both justice and love.

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NonChristians Scoff at Unevagelizing Christians… And Rightly So

It’s pretty obvious that we currently live in a culture saturated by staunch policies regarding religious pluralism and tolerance, where supposedly no one wants to be to evangelized to or told what to believe. As such, the general consensus is that the topic of religion is totally off-limits to public conversation and should only be dealt with in a private manner.

But, is that assumption entirely true?

Sure, I think it’s fair to say a majority of modern people disdain the idea of evangelism, but, I also think it’s also fair to say a percentage of those modern people, however ironically, think that Christians should evangelize nevertheless. Wait, why would that be? Ultimately, it’s because some these non-Christians are quite discerning and understand that a non-evangelizing Christian is simply a hypocritical Christian after all, which indeed, is a great point! Thus, it seems like there’s this odd tension of disapproving the idea of evangelism while also disapproving the Christians who don’t evangelize.

So, is this a lose-lose situation for Christians, or what?

Well, not exactly, because conversely, according to these non-Christians, a Christian who evangelizes proves his/her authenticity, and authenticity is actually what they want to see most. Therefore, in a way, they’re encouraging Christians to evangelize and expressing how illogical and hypocritical it is for them to not evangelize! I think Jesus would agree with them on this point, too.

But don’t just take my word for it, either. In fact, the whole reason for this post was to spotlight a popular atheist who expresses these sentiments exactly.

Penn Jillette, who is a rather avowed and vocal atheist (and who is also one-half of the famous comic-illusionist act Penn and Teller), makes a profound statement about the necessity of Christian evangelism, and I don’t think he’s the only atheist or non-Christian to think or express this sentiment, either.

Check out what what he says, it’s great:

…I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward… How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that…†

Pretty profound and challenging, right? Jillette is right on the money. As a Christian who believes the gospel to be truly true, to not evangelize would be the essence of hate, but to evangelize would be the greatest expression of love. If Christians really want to show the world that we actually believe in the gospel and that we actually love them, then we must evangelize–despite the potential awkwardness and in spite of the personal sacrifices that it might require. That’s how we put on the display the hope that is in us.

Let this atheist’s quote sink in… let Jesus’ Great Commission command sink in… let the truth of Jesus’ love and salvation for all people sink in… and be a living vessel who demonstrates and declares the power of the gospel.

Christian, how could you possibly disagree?

________________

Sources:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa9JE_ZVL88

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