Frog-life

I was a frog. I say that based on the following illustration provided by Bruce Larson in Ask Me to Dance.

“You ever feel like a frog? Frogs feel slow, low, ugly, puffy, drooped, pooped. I know. One told me. The frog feeling comes when you want to be bright but feel dumb, when you want to share but are selfish, when you want to be thankful but feel resentment, when you want to be great but are small, when you want to care but are indifferent. Yes, at one time or another each of us has found himself on a lily pad, floating down the great river of life. Frightened and disgusted, we’re too froggish to budge.”

This passage reminds me of Romans 7. I think Paul was talking about the same frog-life.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart.23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!  (Romans 7:21-24)

You may be familiar with the frog’s life cycle: egg, embryo, tadpole, frog. I was a frog. I’ve learned, however, that there’s another stage traditionally reserved for fairy tales: prince. There is no benevolent princess to bestow the unexpected kiss in this story though.

Paul follows his frustrated admission with a question. He then provides the unbelievable answer.

Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. (Romans 7:25-8:2)

I was transformed from frog to prince, not because I tried harder, but because I was forgiven. I was freed from my bumpy, ugly, miserable skin when I finally admitted that I could not change myself. In my desperate I can’t-take-this-anymore submission, I was given a robe, a ring, new sandals, and a feast (Luke 15:22-24). I was released from condemnation and made holy in Jesus’ image.

Don’t settle for a frog-life. No matter what you’ve done, no matter who you’ve been, you are already loved. Leave the lily pad; take one small hop from death to life. Accept Jesus! Your prince-life awaits. Love you!

 

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Lightning, then thunder

The speed of sound is 767 mph or about 0.2 miles per second. This enables us to estimate our distance from a lightning strike by counting the seconds until we hear the thunder. For every five seconds we count, we’re about one mile removed. We hear thunder because lightning’s tremendous power heats the air to a very high temperature in a short time, which increases its pressure. As the high pressure air expands outward, it produces the sound wave we call thunder. The power in a typical strike is 10 billion watts. If it lasts for one second, this supplies enough kilowatt-hours to support about 50 houses for one day.

I enjoy thunderstorms, always have. I love the bright lightning flash, the delayed rumble in my chest, the smell of ozone in the air. It’s a dizzying assault on your senses!

What I’m particularly interested in, though, is the gap between the lightning (light) and the thunder (sound). I don’t think this is an accident. I think it’s symbolic.

Listen. Jesus proclaimed Himself to be the light of the world.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

His time here was short, but so powerful. A person’s salvation, acceptance of Him as his or her one and only Savior from sin, happens after His departure. Lightning, then thunder. For us, salvation occurs thousands of years later, but the sound still echoes mightily. It resounds in Heaven just as if we’d visited the freshly vacated tomb and placed our own Thomas-fingers in His wounds (John 20:24-27).

Lightning already struck. Now sound the thunder, friend. Embrace your Savior! I love you because I am loved (John 3:16).

 

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#Goals

What do you want? Is there something that drives you each day? What is your motivation, your ambition, your dream? I get it. I’m a goal setter and relentless pursuer of those goals. Re-lent-less.

I’ve learned something, though. As usual, it took me a while. Listen.

While goals are a good thing, they can’t be the every thing. In Christian vernacular, that’s called an idol. God is not down with idols. Nope. That’s bad mojo, my friend.

God gave us 10 basic commands to protect us from (and expose) our sinful nature. Here’s number one, numero uno, nummer eins, ichiban.

You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

Let me interpret it for you. You [that’s you] better not decide that your motivation/ambition/dream/desire is the most important thing [god] in your life.

Here’s why God tells us not to do this: because every other god (money, sex, drugs, alcohol, career, success, acceptance, entertainment, spouse, children, … go ahead and name yours, it’s what you think about all day long) will fail you. Let me be clear. Any god, except for God, will. fail. you. Guaranteed. These things were not made to support you. They are not strong enough and will collapse under the pressure of your expectations.

Ever worshiped an idol? Ever spent every waking moment working, planning, scheming, dreaming about how to get ________, that thing? Yeah, me too.

In fact, I’ve pursued many idols. As a young man, it was football. First playing, then coaching. At 14 years of age, I made a promise to myself: for my four years at Oxford HS, I would do something every single day to make me a better football player. Really. Five foot four, 120 pounds. I was going to play college football. I managed to get a key to the gym and I religiously went to the weight room at 6 am, every morning. Only car in the parking lot. No spotter, just me.

Don’t get me wrong; football is a good thing. I still love the unique opportunity to compete so purely, to find out who wins within the confines of 60 minutes on the field. As a player, it provided the opportunity to answer the fundamental question: who is more skilled and has the mental discipline and toughness to make the play, time after time? As a coach, it was a chess match with living pieces that is played right before your eyes. It’s inspiring! But it fails if it becomes the every thing, an idol.

As a professor, my idols were grants/contracts, publications, and professional recognition. This is how the academic game is played, so I played to win. I showed up early and left late. Only car in the parking lot. It was how I lived – do you see a pattern?

Here’s the problem. There will never be enough wins. You will never arrive. You are not different, or exempt. Then what, friend?

The good news is that there is another way. Do this. Turn all that effort toward getting to know the God who loves you so much that He gave His only Son to die in your place (John 3:16, Romans 3:23-25). Jesus died to pay your sin debt, your idol penalty. It’s true! You have been selected, you are good enough, you are loved.

Here’s where I live now. I only have one Every Thing. I only worship the true God. He commands all my loyalty. Even more, He then blesses me with greater than my desires, goals, and dreams (Matthew 6:32-34). He is a good God!

Here’s my new anthem. Sing it with me!

You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth! When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, GOD is rock-firm and faithful. Look! Those who left you are falling apart! Deserters, they’ll never be heard from again. But I’m in the very presence of God— oh, how refreshing it is! I’ve made Lord GOD my home. God, I’m telling the world what you do! (Psalm 73:26 MSG)

 

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Trophies

I apologize in advance. What I’m about to say makes me, by definition, old. Because I am getting older, though, I’m going to say it anyway.

When I played youth athletics in the 70s and early 80s, only the team with the best record got the award. I started playing tee ball when I was 6 (we played one team that used a baseball instead of a softball like us – we were all Babe Ruth that game, we were calling our shots by the third inning!). Swim team at 8 (yes, I was a skinny 8-year-old in a black Speedo – it was humiliating). Soccer at 9 (I grew up in rural Kansas, soccer was a curiosity and considered mildly Communistic). Track meets at 10 (the softball throw replaced the shot put – isn’t that funny?). Basketball at 11 (my 6th grade team lost in a tournament to the 5th grade team from my same tiny school – it remains the single greatest defeat of my athletic career, hands down). Football had to wait until I was 12 in the 7th grade (love/hate relationship there – until you get used to it/crave it, those collisions actually hurt!). In every instance, without exception, there was a league champion at the end of the season. One team, one medal.

cham.pi.on, noun, a person who has defeated or surpassed all rivals in a competition, especially in sports.

Can you guess where I’m headed? [This is the part that makes me old.] Imagine my surprise when, as a coach for my children’s athletic teams, every player on every team got a trophy at the end of the season. What’s more, the parents purchased them. Really! I coached some truly non-competitive soccer, basketball, and tee ball teams and, every time, the parents chose to purchase trophies. Frankly, I thought it was silly and, beyond that, poor training. Me: “Someday these kids will have to learn that not everyone gets a trophy.” God: (in the voice of Lee Corso) “Not so fast my friend.”

As usual, I was wrong. Full disclosure, for nearly every scenario where I’ve set myself up as judge and jury, as the all-knowing oracle, and said “I will never do that,” I’ve been corrected later.

Listen. With God, through faith in Jesus Christ, we all get the medal.

What a God! His road stretches straight and smooth. Every GOD-direction is road-tested. Everyone who runs toward him Makes it. (Psalm 18:30 MSG)

It is my great joy to direct you toward this truth. Relax. You can stop straining at the bit. You can stop competing. You are loved and forgiven. Just lean back in your Father’s arms and hug your trophy. Like a child on a YMCA soccer team, you haven’t earned it, but you’ve been crowned victorious anyway (Romans 4)! Love you much.

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White knuckle: A testimony

I was in church singing “King of my Heart” by John Mark and Sarah McMillan when I was struck full force by the song’s outro:

When the night is holding onto me
God is holding on

It may surprise you to learn that the early years of my academic career were plagued with insomnia. Like the song says, the night held on… with a vengeance; fear of tomorrow was my vivid reality. I got out of bed before the sun each morning and white-knuckled my white Cherokee to the University of Florida. The issue was that I could not possibly do enough each day to assuage my fear of failure. I left for home each evening feeling like I’d left important tasks undone and arrived the following morning driven to do more (and more and more).

I didn’t want to live this way. I expected better, to be honest. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, mind you. I knew that Jesus died for my sins, I went to church each Sunday, I prayed, but… in my heart of hearts I trusted in me, not Him. I believed it was effort, and my effort alone, that would provide the success and, therefore, the security I so deeply desired.

A person can only live in this condition for so long. I lasted five years, until I was awarded tenure. Certainly tenure would provide me with the reassurance that I craved! Or perhaps not. I arrived at the office the following Monday morning (early as usual) and… nothing had changed. All the pressure remained. The fear persisted. I had a moment.

I decided in that moment that this life was not for me. I simply could not do this for 30 more years. No way. So, I left my faculty position to coach football and teach at Newberry high school. Surely this would eliminate my fear! Imagine my surprise when this carefully crafted escape plan was a complete disaster. [May I insert here that I have a very understanding wife?] The one lesson I took away from this episode (some may call it a mid-life crisis) is that I am woefully unqualified to be a high school teacher.

I returned to the university six months later humbled (okay, humiliated at least) and restarted my academic career. Through much prayer and honest questioning, I realized that the root of my fear was actually pride. And, further, hidden under that pride was its sneaky cousin envy. It took me several years, but I was finally able to follow the instructions provided in Hebrews 12.

…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Like the rich young ruler and his wealth (Mark 10:17-27), I had to lay down pride in order to pick up faith. I didn’t stop working hard at my job, but fear was defeated when I trusted in God, not my success, to define me. May I encourage you today? May I offer you a promise, not from me, but from God? If you will trust in Jesus (like a child trusting in a caregiver’s hand), freedom from fear and security in God’s love will be yours!

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear… (1 John 4:18)

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Victory formation

In football, the game sometimes reaches the point where the result is no longer in question and the (soon-to-be) winning team with possession of the ball aligns in the “victory formation”. The quarterback then receives the snap and takes a knee to run out the remaining time on the clock. This is a tremendous moment of celebration for the victor. It’s even a staple for the final practice of the week.

Did you know that we are, right now, living in a victory formation? Let’s see why this is true.

The Bible is separated into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament points forward in time to Jesus, the Messiah who rescues us from our death-in-sin. The New Testament begins with the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that describe the time when Jesus lived here on Earth. The follow-on letters address the spiritual growth of the Christian church after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and return to Heaven. In between the Gospels and the letters is a bridge, the Acts of the Apostles. This book of the Bible describes the transition time that occurred after Jesus’ resurrection and the establishing of His church.

Acts 1 tells us the good news about Jesus’ ascension back to Heaven:

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-10)

The statement made by the two men-in-white is the key. Jesus already defeated sin through His death and resurrection. We’re now just waiting for His return — He’s coming back. The game is already won! Assume the victory formation, friend. The outcome is already decided.

Don’t fear. Be bold. Peace!

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Save me now

Have you ever reached the end of your rope? I’m talking about true despair, the I-can’t-do-this-anymore moment. Have you been in physical peril, in imminent danger of drowning or falling? Have you cried out “Save me!”?

If so, when did you want to be saved? By and by, mañana? Or now? The answer is now, right now.

If you’ve spent any time around church, you may be familiar with the exclamation “Hosanna!”. You may even associate the word with Palm Sunday (the week before Easter) and waving palm leaves or branches. Let’s see why.

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
(John 12:12-16)

We see hosanna used here as a praise term to celebrate Jesus’ arrival into the city. The Jewish people were anticipating that Jesus was to be the king who would deliver them from Roman occupation and oppression. (Their perspective was far too limited. Jesus was actually entering the city to serve as a living sacrifice for the sins of all people for all time, to deliver everyone who believes in Him from death. They missed the mark to say the least. This is often my experience with God, though. My tiny requests are met with giant, unimagined blessings.)  Hosanna is a Greek word that means ‘save now’. It is derived from the Hebrew phrase hoshi’ah na.

They were excited. It’s happening, finally! The long awaited Messiah is here. Save us now! Hosanna!

This proclamation is an echo of Psalm 118:25, written hundreds of years earlier in anticipation of Jesus’ arrival. The method of His arrival was prophesied by Zechariah.

9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey
. (Zechariah 9:9)

These events were no accident. They were all part of a plan that began at creation and extends to this very day, to you, personally.

Shout your own hosanna right now, friend. Don’t wait! Welcome Jesus into your life, into your heart, this very moment. His desire is to save you, heal you, love you.

Hosanna!

 

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