For the love of God, or His stuff?

20130828-003614.jpg

On the inside cover of my Bible, there is a hand-written quote by C.S. Lewis. It reads, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” Today, however, it seems so many of us do just that very thing. We are drawn to religion or a certain faith in the pursuit of happiness. We clamor for this ever-elusive sense of being truly happy and content by way of “religion.”

C.S. Lewis used the word religion here a little differently than most of us today use it. He of course was referring to his Christian faith, in which the grace of Jesus Christ is the defining building block of that worldview. For Lewis also wrote in The Weight of Glory that, “No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as ‘what a man does with his solitude.'” Religion, in a broader sense means: the service and worship of God or the supernatural; commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance; a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices; scrupulous conformity; a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith. Essentially, if religion had a bumper sticker, if it had any kind of motto, it would say this: “I obey, therefore I’m accepted.”

That’s it. That’s religion more or less when we often hear it mentioned today. Whatever belief system you want to get into, that’s basically it, but that is not the teaching of Jesus; that is not the gospel of grace. Religion says, “Morality and religious observance are means of salvation, happiness, and contentment,” but that is not the message of Jesus. The Gospel is not about what we can do, but what Jesus did.

“If you have religion for your god, you will not have God for your religion.” – John Piper

Christianity, in its correctly understood worldview, is something radically different. Some have even gone so far as to call the entire thing scandalous. Because our Christian faith teaches us that we are not just set free from fear-based behavioral modification, and the vain pursuit of pleasures that never deliver what they promise, but we are saved to the freedom of knowing that God’s affection for us does not waver despite our persistent failures and shortcomings. We have been set free to enjoy the love of our Father as adopted sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:4-14).

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

The teachings of Jesus Christ are the good news, and He is the gospel… Jesus is better than life. We don’t walk in fear of some tyrannical deity, or with this sense of having to behave to achieve a better level of material abundance or some previously elusive state of happiness, but rather we walk in love for our adoptive Father. We are no longer slaves to our own insecurities, rather we have been set free from fear-based behavioral modifications, free from the pursuit of ultimate meaning in ourselves, and into the love motivated pursuit of what we long for most. We’ve been set free from the pursuit of pleasure that has an aftertaste of guilt and shame, and into the pursuit of pleasure that leads to ever-increasing joy. We have been blood-bought, purchased out of slavery to sin.

“Religion stresses holiness over grace. Irreligion stresses freedom over holiness. Christianity is freedom through grace that leads to holiness.” – Tim Keller

The grace found in the cross and resurrection of Jesus really is scandalous. It kills our pride. It devastates our sense of spiritual self-sufficiency. It may seem ludicrous, but it actually offers us the greatest hope we could ever ask for: Jesus. Because of Him, whatever you accomplish today, you are no more justified than you are right now in Christ. We ought to work from rest, and rest in His finished work.

Give Matthew 6:25-34 a good read sometime, and then ask yourself: when you think of God, how do you think of Him? How do you approach God? How do you commune with God? Why do you approach God? When do you approach God? What causes you to want to know more of God; to know more about God? Do you seek God for the sake of His own great worth, for the sake of His name, because of how beautiful and wonderful He is? Does your communication with God come from an adoration and abundance of thankfulness for His amazing grace?

J. Gresham Machen describes a particular concept of the Christ-like, biblically-centered, view of God so well, that I’ll just let you read what he penned in his book What Is Faith? (pages 72–74):

“Many men . . . make shipwreck of their faith. They think of God only as one who can direct the course of nature for their benefit; they value Him only for the things that He can give.

We are subject to many pressing needs, and we are too much inclined to value God, not for His own sake, but only because He can satisfy those needs. There is the need of food and clothing, for ourselves and for our loved ones, and we value God because He can answer the petition, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There is the need of companionship; we shrink from loneliness; we would be surrounded by those who love us and those whom we can love. And we value God as one who can satisfy that need by giving us family and friends. There is the need of inspiring labor; we would be delivered from an aimless life; we desire opportunities for noble and unselfish service of our fellow-men. And we value God as one who by His ordering of our lives can set before us an open door.

These are lofty desires. But there is one desire that is loftier still. It is the desire for God Himself. That desire, too often, we forget. We value God solely for the things that He can do; we make of Him a mere means to an ulterior end. And God refuses to be treated so; such a religion always fails in the hour of need. If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things – even lofty and unselfish things – then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail….

… When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God; we have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call. He is not content to minister to the worldly needs of those who care not a bit for Him. . . .

“If God be for us, who can be against us?” – that does not mean that faith in God will bring us everything that we desire. What it does mean is that if we possess God, then we can meet with equanimity the loss of all besides.

Has it never dawned upon us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all?

If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall then have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. I do not mean that the Christian need expect always to be poor and sick and lonely and to seek his comfort only in a mystic experience with His God. This universe is God’s world; its blessings are showered upon His creatures even now; and in His own good time, when the period of its groaning and travailing is over, He will fashion it as a habitation of glory. But what I do mean is that if here and now we have the one inestimable gift of God’s presence and favor, then all the rest can wait till God’s good time.”

Advertisements

“God is love.”

20130818-141652.jpg

There is an all too common thought being proclaimed, embraced, and believed throughout our culture today: that all we need is love, that God is love, that God loves everyone unconditionally no matter what, and love is tolerant and accepting of any behavior or belief; because truth is relative and love would never discriminate. This sounds sweet, even almost Biblical sometimes, but is it true? Does God tolerate, accept, and love everyone?

Yes.

And no.

The question of the validity of that statement is actually deceptively difficult. Some like to use the statement as a catch all, end all blanketing statement, but the Bible speaks of God’s love in several different ways. There are at least five (which are outlined in greater detail by D.A. Carson in his book The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God and mentioned by Kevin DeYoung in a blog on the Gospel Coalition website):

1. God’s trinitarian love. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father. The love of the Son for the Spirit, the Spirit for the Father. Yes, it can be confusing. (Matthew 3:17, 17:5; Mark 1:11, 9:7; Luke 3:22; John 3:35, 5:20, 10:17, 14:31; 16:26-28; Colossians 1:13; 2nd Peter 1:17)

2. God’s providential love over all that He has made. (Genesis 1:1-31; Psalm 33:6; Matthew 6; John 1:3; 1st Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2)

3. God’s salvific stance toward His fallen world. (Ezekiel 33:11; John 3:16, 15:19; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 2:13-15; 1st John 2:2)

4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward His elect. (Deuteronomy 4:37, 7:7-8, 10:14-15; Malachi 1:2-3; Matthew 25:34; Romans 4:4-8, 8:28-39, 9:8-29; 1st Corinthians 7:17; 2nd Corinthians 5:14-21; Ephesians 1:4-19, 2:1-10, 5:25; Philippians 1:6; Colossians 1:21-22, 3:12; 2nd Thessalonians 1:11-12, 2:13-14; 2nd Timothy 1:8-10; Titus 3:3-8; Hebrews 12:2; 1st Peter 1:3-5)

5. God’s love toward His own people in a provisional way, conditioned upon obedience. (Exodus 20:6; Psalm 103:8-11, 13, 17-18; John 15:9-10; Ephesians 1:15-19, 2:8-22; 2nd Peter 1:12-25; Jude 1:21)

There are often ignored complexities and overlooked dangers of emphasizing one aspect of the love of God over the others.

First: If God’s love is defined exclusively by His intra-Trinitarian love, which is perfect and unblemished by sin, we won’t grasp the glory of God in loving rebels like us.

Second: If God’s love is nothing but His providential care over all things, we’ll struggle to see how the gospel is any good news at all because, after all, doesn’t He love everyone equally already?

Third: If God’s love is seen solely as His desire to save the world, we’ll end up with an emotionally charged God who doesn’t display the same sense of sovereignty and justice we see in the pages of Scripture.

Fourth: If God’s love is only understood as His electing love, we’ll too see easily say God hates all sorts of people, when that truth requires a good deal more nuance.

Fifth: If God’s love is bound up entirely in warnings like “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21), we’ll fall into legalism and lots of unwarranted self-doubt.

Talking about God’s love sounds like a simple theological task, but it’s actually one of the trickiest. I’ve actually heard of people debating about whether their kids should be taught “Jesus loves me” (some of the children might not be saved after all, you never know). I know many more people and churches which so emphasize God’s all-encompassing love for everyone, everywhere and always, that it’s hard to figure out why anyone should bother to become a Christian and follow Christ. The fact is that God loves everyone and He doesn’t. He hates the world and He loves the world. He can’t possibly love His adopted children any more than He does, and He is profoundly grieved by our sin. (Seriously, can some of us stop pretending sin/idolatry [or whatever you want to call it] isn’t that big of a deal… how would we even begin to explain or understand the cross in any way that makes any sense at all if we ignore the seriousness of sin.) The challenge of good theology is to explain how the Bible provides warrant for all those statements and how they all fit together.

“Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal.” – C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us, but it keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information, but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.” – Tim Keller

True love is not exactly tolerant and ever-accepting, for rather true love would call the other person out and remind them that it is ok to not be ok, but it is not ok to stay there. Genuine love warns someone when they believe they are in danger. True love wounds more like a physician, not a criminal, because while discipline, rebuke, and honesty can hurt, it may be just what the person needs to save their life; and regardless of whatever cost, we should seek reconciliation and repentance for our greater joy. So, when God wounds, He wounds like a purposeful surgeon. He doesn’t wound like a criminal. He doesn’t bash your whole world with a bat; that is not what He does. But God will lovingly take the scalpel to us. We all, like a cancer patient, have a serious infliction of sin in our hearts, and often times that requires some rough chiseling and intense reshaping of our hearts.

“Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.” – John Wooden

“For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” -Søren Kierkegaard

The Scriptures help to make this abundantly clear:

“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” – Proverbs 27:5-6

“And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:5-11

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” – 1st John 3:16-18

There is no love without wrath. What infuriates many people today is the wrath of God: “I can’t believe in a God who judges people, would condemn people to some kind of hell, and send people to suffer eternally. God is love and no loving God would get angry or be filled with wrath.” We must understand that a God without wrath is a God without love. Many people ask, “What kind of a loving God could be filled with wrath?” But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In the book “Hope Has Its Reasons,” Becky Pippert writes, “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.”

“Anger is the fluid that love bleeds when you cut it.” – C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (page 97)

Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.” She concludes: “If I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” God paid the ultimate cost Himself to love us; He passionately loves us, and simultaneously He ferociously hates sin and the sin within us.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

Idols are not made from scratch. Idolatry involves the distortion of already present truth. The truth is changed into a lie. The lie depends upon the truth it is distorting for its power, just as the counterfeit depends upon the authentic for its value. Our idols of God contain truths within them, making them all the more seductive to us. To be sure, God is love. To reduce God to love, however, is to change the truth into a lie.

Jesus says in the gospel that everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change. And that’s the hope and change we all really need. We need the hope that we have been justified by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus. And we need the hope of the promise of Romans 8:28, that God will work all things, even the fallout from our past sins, together for good for us; for His glory and our joy.

—————•—————

Related Articles/Videos:

“Three Things We Should Know About God” by: Jonathan Parnell

“The Doctrine of the Wrath of God” by D. A. Carson (Desiring God Theology Refresh blog)

“Will All Be Saved?” by Gerald R. McDermott

99 Wisdoms from Wooden

20130816-185258.jpg

Much can be learned from this great man often known quite simply as ‘Coach.’ He was so much more than simply a basketball coach, however. He was a great leader, teacher, husband, father… an example for us all.

What follows are 99 quotes by Coach Wooden (one for each year of his time on earth):

“Good things take time, as they should. We shouldn’t expect good things to happen overnight. Actually, getting something too easily or too soon can cheapen the outcome.” – John Wooden

“If you do not have time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?” – John Wooden

“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.” – John Wooden

“Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” – John Wooden

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” – John Wooden

“The coach is first of all a teacher.” – John Wooden

“If you keep too busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade.” – John Wooden

“We don’t have to be superstars or win championships… All we have to do is learn to rise to every occasion, give our best effort, and make those around us better as we do it.” – John Wooden

“I never yelled at my players much. That would have been artificial stimulation, which doesn’t last very long. I think it’s like love and passion. Passion won’t last as long as love. When you are dependent on passion, you need more and more of it to make it work. It’s the same with yelling.” – John Wooden

“I’ve never stopped trying to do what’s right. I’m not doing it to earn favor with God. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.” – John Wooden

“The best competition I have is against myself to become better.” – John Wooden

“Time lost is time lost. It’s gone forever. Some people tell themselves that they will work twice as hard tomorrow to make up for what they did not do today. People should always do their best. If they work twice as hard tomorrow, then they should have also worked twice as hard today. That would have been their best.” – John Wooden

“Basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere.” – John Wooden

“Do not permit what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” – John Wooden

“Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” – John Wooden

“Earlier in life, I put family in front of faith. I’ve fixed that. But I always tried to keep work fourth on the list. I was proud when [my wife] Nellie told an interviewer, ‘I never could tell whether John had a good practice or a bad practice, because he never brought it home.'” – John Wooden

“I discovered early on that the player who learned the fundamentals of basketball is going to have a much better chance of succeeding and rising through the levels of competition than the player who was content to do things his own way. A player should be interested in learning why things are done a certain way. The reasons behind the teaching often go a long way to helping develop the skill.” – John Wooden

“Let’s face it, we’re all imperfect and we’re going to fall short on occasion. But we must learn from failure and that will enable us to avoid repeating our mistakes. Through adversity, we learn, grow stronger, and become better people.” – John Wooden

“Happiness begins where selfishness ends.” – John Wooden

“Some of my greatest pleasures have come from finding ways to overcome obstacles.” – John Wooden

“Earn the right to be proud and confident.” – John Wooden

“We’re all imperfect and we all have needs. The weak usually do not ask for help, so they stay weak. If we recognize that we are imperfect, we will ask for help and we will pray for the guidance necessary to bring positive results to whatever we are doing.” – John Wooden

“We can plan a roadtrip or a workday down to the last detail but the unexpected will always arise. If we are not malleable, we will get left behind.” – John Wooden

“If I am through learning, I am through.” – John Wooden

“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change can be.” – John Wooden

“The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.” – John Wooden

“Remember, results aren’t the criteria for success – it’s the effort made for achievement that is most important.” – John Wooden

“Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.” – John Wooden

“Each of us has a huge capacity to learn and to achieve. Being ever alert makes the task of becoming all we are capable of becoming so much easier.” – John Wooden

“It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.” – John Wooden

“You may be better than the rest, but you are not a success until you have made the effort to become the best you can be.” – John Wooden

“Goals achieved with little effort are seldom worthwhile or lasting.” – John Wooden

“Players with fight never lose a game; they just run out of time.” – John Wooden

“Be most interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.” – John Wooden

“If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward.” – John Wooden

“As long as you try your best, you are never a failure. That is, unless you blame others.” – John Wooden

“I grew up on a farm. We learned that there was a season to plant, a season to water, and season to harvest. The planting and watering could be laborious, but without those stages, there would never be a harvest.” – John Wooden

“Tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember a story.” – John Wooden

“As I grow older, I appreciate things that I didn’t appreciate much when I was younger. I am thankful more than I used to be. I’ve been reasonably healthy, and I feel blessed. And each morning I can think, this is going to be a good day!” – John Wooden

“If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.” – John Wooden

“Much can be accomplished by teamwork when no one is concerned about who gets credit.” – John Wooden

“A leader’s most powerful ally is his or her own example.” – John Wooden

“Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.” – John Wooden

“Approval is a greater motivator than disapproval, but we have to disapprove on occasion when we correct. It’s necessary. I make corrections only after I have proved to the individual that I highly value him. If they know we care for them, our correction won’t be seen as judgmental. I also try to never make it personal.” – John Wooden

“Never be disagreeable just because you disagree.” – John Wooden

“Be slow to correct and quick to commend.” – John Wooden

“Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you. You’ll be surprised at the results.” – John Wooden

“Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity.” – John Wooden

“Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort. We are all imperfect and will fail on occasions, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all.” – John Wooden

“I believe we are most likely to succeed when ambition is focused on noble and worthy purposes and outcomes rather than on goals set out of selfishness.” – John Wooden

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.” – John Wooden

“You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for another without thought of something in return.” – John Wooden

“I wanted my players to always be searching, especially for truth. I wanted them to know what they believed and be able to defend it. Truth will always stand the test of scrutiny.” – John Wooden

“If I did only what I wanted to do, I would not be obedient to the Creator. Sometimes He wants us to do certain things that we may not feel like doing. When it comes to what God asks of us, we need more than good intentions – we need to follow through fully.” – John Wooden

“There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning.” – John Wooden

“We almost have to force or drive ourselves to work hard if we are to reach our potential. If we don’t enjoy what we do, we won’t be able to push as hard as we need to push for as long as we need to push to achieve our best. However, if we enjoy what we do and if we’re enthusiastic about it, we’ll do it better and come closer to becoming the best we can be.” – John Wooden

“Make no mistake, I always want to win, but I never fight with an opponent. My fight is within me – it is the struggle to be the best I can be at whatever I do.” – John Wooden

“Kindness makes for much better teamwork.” – John Wooden

“We can become great in the eyes of others, but we’ll never become successful when we compromise our character and show disloyalty toward friends or teammates. The reverse is also true: No individual or team will become great without loyalty.” – John Wooden

“Concentrate on what you do have, not on what you don’t.” – John Wooden

“Regarding balance – it’s the most important component in basketball and it is a very important part of life. We must always keep things in perspective so that we can maintain emotional control.” – John Wooden

“Time spent getting even would be better spent getting ahead.” – John Wooden

“We are all equal in that we can all strive to become the best we are capable of becoming. We can always improve but we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. We get in trouble when we start trying to measure up to someone else.” – John Wooden

“Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.” – John Wooden

“I felt that if [the players] were prepared, we would do just fine. If we won, great – frosting on the cake. But at no time did I consider winning to be the cake. Winning has always been the frosting that made the cake a little tastier.” – John Wooden

“There is nothing stronger than gentleness.” – John Wooden

“Sincerity may not help us make friends, but it will help us keep them.” – John Wooden

“We can give without loving, but we can’t love without giving. In fact, love is nothing unless we give it to someone.” – John Wooden

“In life, worthwhile accomplishments and acquisitions take time. Usually the better the reward, the more time it takes to acquire it.” – John Wooden

“We should never let ambition cause us to sacrifice our integrity or diminish our efforts in other areas. However, we need to remember that we never reach a serious goal unless we have the intention of doing so.” – John Wooden

“The person who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success. I expected my players to make mistakes, as long as they were mistakes of commission. A mistake of commission happens when you are doing what should be done but don’t get the results you want.” – John Wooden

“When we aren’t alert, we miss opportunities to improve ourselves. We should always watch for circumstances or situations that can help or harm us and be eager to learn from these encounters.” – John Wooden

“I believe it’s impossible to claim you have taught, when there are students who have not learned. With that commitment, from my first year as an English teacher until my last as UCLA basketball teacher/coach, I was determined to make the effort to become the best teacher I could possibly be, not for my sake, but for all those who were placed under my supervision.” – John Wooden

“Each of us must make the effort to contribute to the best of our ability according to our individual talents. And then we put all the individual talents together for the highest good of the group… Understanding that the good of the group comes first is fundamental to being a highly productive member of a team.” – John Wooden

“I believe correcting is the positive approach. I believe in the positive approach. Always have.” – John Wooden

“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur…. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens – and when it happens, it lasts.” – John Wooden

“The close games are usually lost, rather than won. What I mean by that is games are mostly won because of the opponent making mistakes during crucial moments.” – John Wooden

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” – John Wooden

“There are little details in everything you do, and if you get away from any one of the little details, you’re not teaching the thing as a whole. For it is little things which, together, make the whole. This, I think, is extremely important.” – John Wooden

“Be quick but don’t hurry.” – John Wooden

“Make each day a masterpiece.” – John Wooden

“You are no better than anyone else and no one is better than you.” – John Wooden

“Have character; don’t be one.” – John Wooden

“Do not mistake activity for achievement.” – John Wooden

“You can do more good by being good than any other way.” – John Wooden

“Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” – John Wooden

“You discipline those under your supervision to correct, to help, to improve – not to punish.” – John Wooden

“The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control, the less we will do with the things we can control.” – John Wooden

“Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. Do the best you can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts.” – John Wooden

“You can always look back and see where you might have done something differently, changed this or that. If you can learn something, fine, but never second-guess yourself. It’s wasted effort…. Does worrying about it, complaining about it, change it? Nope, it just wastes your time. And if you complain about it to other people, you’re also wasting their time. Nothing is gained by wasting all of that time.” – John Wooden

“Many athletes have tremendous God-given gifts, but they don’t focus on the development of those gifts. Who are these individuals? You’ve never heard of them – and you never will. It’s true in sports and it’s true everywhere in life. Hard work is the difference. Very hard work.” – John Wooden

“Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but rather by what you should have accomplished with your abilities.” – John Wooden

“We get stronger when we test ourselves. Adversity can make us better. We must be challenged to improve, and adversity is the challenger.” – John Wooden

“Leadership is the ability to get individuals to work together for the common good and the best possible results while at the same time letting them know they did it themselves.” – John Wooden

“Knowledge alone is not enough to get desired results. You must have the more elusive ability to teach and to motivate. This defines a leader; if you can’t teach and you can’t motivate, you can’t lead.” – John Wooden

“Practice self-discipline and keep emotions under control. Good judgment and common sense are essential.” – John Wooden

“Cultivate the ability to make decisions and think alone. Do not be afraid of failure, but learn from it.” – John Wooden

“Be at your best when your best is needed.” – John Wooden

“Profound responsibilities come with teaching and coaching. You can do so much good–or harm. It’s why I believe that next to parenting, teaching and coaching are the two most important professions in the world.” – John Wooden

Include everybody, or you’re out!

20130812-175459.jpg

In our culture today, we have so many relativistic proclamations which claim to promote inclusivity, but often come with the total exclusion of anyone who would disagree:

“Don’t you dare tell me there is any absolute truth that governs everyone or preach that one religion, faith, etc. is any more true than any other… however, here are the foods you should and shouldn’t eat… here are the companies you should love/hate… this is the way you should and shouldn’t raise your kids… the government is corrupt and full of greed, but we need it to enforce (the illusions at least of) equality… we should protect and defend the weak, defenseless, and those without a voice, but abortion is a woman’s body and right to simply choose regardless of anyone else’s belief or influence… we should legalize this and outlaw that… if it’s not hurting anyone else then it shouldn’t be declared wrong, unless you’re contradicting that declaration… leave all religion and faith out of the public square, only “secular” logic and rational proposals should be allowed (even if it has been proven a philosophical impossibility and is a laughable facade of a stance to try to take)… our beliefs are personal and private, so keep them to yourself, unless we agree or you don’t say that I’m wrong…….”

Descartes noted in A Discourse On Method that “there is no idea so strange that some philosopher has not seriously taught it.” Similarly, there is no practice so strange that some society has not legitimized it; for instance, genocide, cannibalism, etc. Nor is there anything so innocent that some group has not forbidden it; for instance, entering a temple with a hat on, or without one. So anyone who thinks values are not relative to cultures is simply ignorant of the facts, so goes the argument…

This idea of “moral relativism” we see so much in our culture today, is basically the view that ethical standards, morality, and positions of right or wrong are culturally based and therefore subject to a person’s individual choice. We can all decide (at least for the most part) what is right for ourselves. You decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me. Moral relativism says, “It’s true for me, if I believe it.”

One of many examples we see in the news these days comes from the former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Faye Wattleton, describing her view on morality in a piece called Self-Definition: Reality, “… teaching morality doesn’t mean imposing my moral values on others. It means sharing wisdom, giving reasons for believing as I do – and then trusting others to think and judge for themselves.” She claims to be morally neutral, yet her message is clearly intended to influence the thinking of others… an intention that is not, in fact, neutral. Wattleton goes on to argue that each of us should respect another’s point of view, and all views are essentially equal valid; but then she implies that any point of view other than this one is immoral, un-American, and tyrannous. If you disagree with Wattleton’s position that all points of view are equally valid, then your point of view is not valid. This argument commits logical suicide; it simply self-destructs.

“Moral relativism” can also be understood and classified as a worldview. In such a view, we are to determine for ourselves which position to hold where morality is concerned, we must first determine what we believe about the origin of life. Do you believe life evolved, unguided out of some form of nothingness, or do you believe life was created by some greater being, deity, uncaused cause, prime mover, alien or alien race, some god, a few gods, a multitude of gods, etc.?

Evolution and moral relativism go hand-in-hand for the most part; evolution teaches that life is accidental, without eternal meaning or purpose. Therefore, anything you do is essentially okay, because it ultimately doesn’t matter after our recorded history ends. If you believe we are created, however, moral relativism cannot ultimately work. Creation implies some Creator. All things created are subject to a set of laws, whether natural or divine. Moral relativism says anything goes (within reason, kind of)… but does it?

The philosophical idea and worldview of moral relativism usually includes these three claims: That morality is first of all changeable; secondly, subjective; and third, individual. That it is relative first to changing times; you can’t turn back the clock. Secondly, to what we subjectively think or feel; there is nothing good or bad, but only thinking makes it so. And thirdly, to individuals; different strokes for different folks. In sharp contrast, moral absolutism claims that there are moral principles which are unchangeable, objective, and universal. Moral relativism on the surface and at first glance can sound so reasonable, so tolerant, and so neutral. But there’s a fundamental flaw in its self-defeating and self-refuting reasoning and logical conclusion.

What is really disturbing in the morally relativistic view is the perpetuated implication such a view is neutral, unbiased, and tolerant, when it is not. Each person is entitled to their point of view, but nobody is neutral. The only place of true neutrality is silence. Instead of trying to perpetuate the idea of some faux moral neutrality, we should speak up, give our opinions, contend for our view, and forfeit any contradictory claim to neutrality.

C.S. Lewis points to the nature of most quarrels and differences of opinion as a clue to what we truly believe. Inherent in those quarrels is a concept of fairness, as in “how would you like it if someone did that to you?” When we make that statement, we are appealing to some kind of standard of behavior that we expect the other person to know about. Where do you think that standard originated?

In his 1796 Farewell Address to the nation, George Washington stated: “… Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. . . . Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle…” And then there is William McGuffey, who once wrote: “Erase all thought and fear of God from a community, and selfishness and sensuality would absorb the whole man.”

“Morality is always dreadfully complicated to a man who has lost all his principles [or moral absolutes].” – C.K. Chesterton

In the midst of all this, Christians often get called hypocrites for their “exclusive” and “intolerant” views… However, a Christian is not someone who is perfect, sinless, or above any correction; nobody in their right mind would ever claim or even think that to be so. A Christian is still human, they are still in desperate need of grace (Ephesians 2:1-10). They are not a finished product of sanctifying grace as long as they’re still breathing (Philippians 1:6; Hebrews 2:11-18). When a Christian says or does something stupid, while they should be held to a higher standard because of the faith and doctrines they espouse, they equally need grace like everyone else. Just because a Christian knows Jesus is God, does not mean they will never fail to live in accordance with that knowledge. The Gospel clearly says the law cannot save anyone, and that is why God saves through grace (Romans 3:21-31, 6:15-23; Hebrews 12:1-15).

In the end though, yes, I’ll admit that the church is indeed a mess. It is a group full of people who are completely jacked up and have some baggage. To even attempt to deny that is to be a liar. Now God has, in His divine plan, put a covering over the church so that we might be protected from the worst of all of this. However, God has never been a big fan of kings. God has never been a big fan of consolidating power into one person or even one nation to rule them all. So while we strive to be a voice of reason and hope in this culture, we must not over assume our role and wander into the delusion that true heart change can simply be facilitated through strict legislation.

The Christian faith cannot be mandated or forced upon people through strict set of rules, laws, and regulations. The book of Habakkuk tells us the story of how God used the Chaldeans to discipline Israel. And if you think about the distribution of power in ancient Israel, the kings were submissive to the prophets and the priests made sacrifices for both of them. In fact, if you remember king Saul, who was it that rebuked Saul and removed his crown? It was Samuel, the prophet. So the king of Israel was told by Samuel, “You have betrayed the Lord. You are no longer king.” Let that sink in. Where in the world does that work? Where does the monarchy established by God then lose his crown by the word of the prophet who then must seek his own right standing before God through the sacrifice of the priest?

You can see this in the triune nature of God, and you see this today in how God ordained the church to function. There is one King and His name is Jesus. He is the Shepherd of the church (Micah 5:4; Mark 6:34; Hebrews 13:20). He is the head of the church (Ephesians 5:23; Colossians 1:18). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We can see this clearly in Colossians 1:18, “And He is the head of the body, the church.” Jesus is the Shepherd of the Church, and we are graciously called to follow Him.

After all, Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments… Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him… If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” – John 14:15, 21, 23b-24 (ESV)

So, we all need to understand and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, we must admit to ourselves that not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, or simply the correct set of beliefs, but rather it is infinitely more. The truest spirituality, the most humble worldview framework, the real essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and maturation and work and weeping and rejoicing and celebrating and encountering. The gospel calls us to enjoy a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that the core of true salvation and freedom, and the greatest reality.

Compassion

20130807-172954.jpg

Henri Nouwen explained it well that “Compassion is not a bending toward the underprivileged from a privileged position; it is not reaching out from on high to those who are less fortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it in the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those people and places where suffering is most acute and building a home there.”

Our God has displayed ultimate compassion in His Son, Jesus Christ. By putting on flesh, stepping down into darkness, walking this earth, feeling pain, temptation, loss, weakness, abandonment, betrayal, hatred from others, unjust persecution, and wrongful sentencing from the government… witnessing the death of friends, and even experiencing death Himself on the cross and disconnection with the Father, the triune God has shown us He is not immune to pain. Rather, God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that He was willing to take it upon Himself. In Jesus Christ’s birth, life, and death He suffered in love, identifying with the abandoned, persecuted, and godforsaken. The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, eloquently observed, “For love is exultant when it unites equals, but it is triumphant when it makes that which was unequal equal in love.” Might we be moved by His grace and reflect this great love to the world instead of trying to merely subdue it with suffocating law. Because everything that isn’t gospel, is law.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 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. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” – John 15:1-17 (ESV)

“For it was fitting that He, for whom and by Whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the Founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” And again, “I will put my trust in Him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” – Hebrews 2:10-18 (ESV)