Month: November 2016

You Really Don’t Want to Be the Storm

The Devil whispered in my ear, “You’re not strong enough to withstand the storm.”
Today I whispered in the Devil’s ear, “I am the storm.”
-Unknown

What about the days, when you’re just not?

When you are really weak and you cant try anymore?

What about the times when the storm rages against you and you fling your fists in the air and make no headway?

What about the times when you are so beaten down and broken that not even your Instagram account can fake it anymore?

Are you the storm then?

Unbelievers often watch Christians and see us make statements of strength, but live lives that are just as shattered as theirs. Our failure to acknowledge our failure leads them to dismiss us, along with our gospel, as either crazy or untrustworthy. I think the reason we make claims like this and attribute them to our faith is because we have a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be strong in the Lord. This misunderstanding leads us to trade the truth of the Bible for the lies of the world.

Why is it that we as Christians settle for so much less than what God has promised us?

Why is it that we are so willing to allow Satan to deceive us into believing we are less than what we have been created to be?

Why would some of us rather be the storm, instead of Sons and Daughters of the Most High God?

Because they have no faith in the One who conquers all who oppose Him.

When I saw that one of my former students had posted this quote on his Facebook page, my first reaction to this quote was to comment, “That’s just silly,” but the more I saw this quote being shared, the more I realized that this was evidence of a real problem. I realized that for many Christians, the idea of being a champion or victor over the evil one is appealing, but they really don’t know what that means. It’s apparent that many assume that to be able to conquer the enemy, Christians have to be stronger than the enemy, but that’s not the case. Apparently, some believe that to win a fight against the Devil, they must embody the very thing that the devil is using to defeat us, but that’s even farther from the truth.

The reality of our existence is far more compelling than some silly quote.

When Jesus was with his disciples, he made his nature and character clear to them on several occasions, and even though they didn’t always understand what he was saying, Jesus was patient with them as they learned. One such event occurred while on a boat with his disciples. The boat was about to be lost in a violent storm, but Jesus had another motive altogether.

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
Matthew 8:23-27

It’s apparent that Jesus’ disciples could not withstand the storm that night. It’s also apparent that they tried and failed to the point that they could no longer try any more. Their only course of action was to ask Jesus to intervene. They asked this carpenter’s son what to do on the open sea. They asked a Rabbi what they should do when their ship was breaking up. They asked because they had run out of fight.

Jesus, half-asleep, scolds them by asking them why they had no faith…

I’d bet that at least one of these fellas was thinking, “What? Faith? We don’t need faith; we need to not drown tonight!”

Jesus got up out of bed and spoke to the storm like he knew it. He told it to be still, and it did. Jesus expended more energy getting out of his bed, than he did eliminating the very thing these fishermen couldn’t withstand.

The Devil didn’t have to whisper in their ear, “You aren’t strong enough to withstand the storm,” because they were acutely aware of that fact. They had struggled against it, and realized that truth for themselves. And honestly, there hasn’t been a follower of Jesus in history that could withstand the storm. But you don’t have to!

Jesus didn’t call his disciples because of their experience in withstanding storms, and Jesus didn’t ask them to withstand the storm. He asked them to have faith in the fact that He, and only He, could overcome the world.

The same is true for you and me. I don’t have to carry the weight of my church, or even my youth group on my shoulders, because I can’t even carry the weight of my own sin.

The reality is, Jesus already conquered sin and death. Satan’s fate has already been sealed, and we have been enlisted into the greatest mission that the world has ever seen. We have been called to tear down the gates of hell to redeem those who are still dead in their trespasses and sins.

God doesn’t want us to be the storm.

More Than A Game

To be honest, I have not always been a sports fan, and I realize that this can put me at odds with some who read this, but its true. Sure I’ve enjoyed playing and watching sporting events my whole life, but I haven’t always been willing to follow one particular team over another. However, several years ago, my wife and I watched a documentary that altered the way I thought about sports, especially the role they play in the lives of teens.

In October 2009 a stunningly well-presented documentary, directed by Kristopher Belman, told the story of a basketball team from Akron, Ohio. More Than A Game centers on a particularly talented individual who played on that team, and focused on some of the elements of basketball that failed to make the stat page.

In this documentary, LeBron James is depicted as a child of a single mother, who’s future options for life include very little, and whose circumstances don’t seem to be changing any time soon. Correlations are made between him and several basketball players before him who failed to attain a level of play that could help transport them out of the arena in which they lived their lives.

The film focuses on the hard work and determination that this group of young men possessed, and illustrated the importance of the mentors, coaches, and schools that supported this team throughout their AAU and High School careers. And yes, it even helped to open my eyes to the fact that a game, even as simple and insignificant as basketball, could be life altering for some students.

But the title of the film helps to address the most important element presented in the case of LeBron and his teammates. For them, this was far more than a game. This was a ticket out. A ticket to…something they could not really even fathom. It was the means, by which they might escape the confines of the inner city, and the culture and an economic system that had failed them.

…and escape they did.

LeBron’s success in the NBA champions a list of accolades that this team received as they graduated, and helps to substantiate the role that basketball played in the lives of these young men. However, I have one question as it relates to my leadership of students in my own context.

Would LeBron James have ever said, “Ball is life?” Or was life, more than a game?

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a student share their deepest source of stress and regret, and it be about a game. Sometimes they are talking about their identity as a player, and sometimes they are actually talking about their failure to perform in a single game. My question to them is always the same, “Why does your performance in this particular game, or even this activity in general, mean so much to you?”

Their response never waivers, “My _______________ expects me to…”

That particular blank can be filled by anything. Sometimes it’s a real expectation expressed by a coach or parent, and other times it is a perceived expectation of living up to a former player, sibling, or self-projection. Regardless of the individual, and irrespective of the reality of the expectation, the pressure mounts upon the shoulders of student after student. It’s like these kids think they are going to be able to singlehandedly lift their families, schools, and/or communities out of some fundamental human struggle by hitting the game-wining three. And maybe they do hit the three and win the game. Maybe they even win it all and escape the doldrums of their socioeconomic reality. Maybe they even make it to the big show, and their success catapults them into stardom. What then?

What happens when you achieve everything you’ve ever hoped to achieve and it still doesn’t satisfy?

What happens when the ball drops for the last time?

Because, lets face it, at some point in time or another, the lights wont be for us, and the crowds wont cheer our name.

When that time comes, will we be like so many adults today, whose focus is held captive by past failure or even success? Will we be incapable of deriving any sense of hope or joy from our present because we believe, we really believe that our best days were spent in High School, and the best we can hope for is to live vicariously through our own child, desperately yearning to catch a glimpse of what it was like way back when?

I hope then, we can say that life is more than a game, and I hope we actually believe it.

For that team from Akron, basketball was a way up and out. It was a tool to adjust their future. It was a means to an end.

At some point in the future, even LeBron James will stop playing basketball, and he will determine for himself if life really is more than a game.

I hope his eyes will be open to the one who can satisfy, regardless of his legacy here on earth.

I hope you and I can start living as though there is more for each of us than a score on a board. I hope we can impress upon this upcoming generation that their success or failures in life only matter in eternity if they relate to matters of eternity. I hope I can display a level of satisfaction in Jesus Christ that my kids look to Him to satisfy the longing that is in their own hearts.

 

 

*Jeremy A Walker is an avid supporter of whatever team LeBron is currently playing on, and continues to herald him as the greatest player in NBA history. Any of you slack-jawed knuckleheads that comment otherwise will be censored. That is all. 

Sometimes We’ve Got to Actually Stir

Matt Chandler is one of the better-known Christian communicators today, and does an excellent job of answering the question of, “What do I do when I don’t feel God moving?”

I can’t really say how many times I’ve been asked a variation of this question, but the reality is, nearly all of us struggle at one point or another with our relationship with the Lord, and this kind of distance almost always manifests in a sense of spiritual boredom, callousness, or staleness. Many Christians struggle to find a spark to restart the fellowship they once had with the Lord. Others simply assume that the Lord has forgotten them altogether. But the truth is, sometimes we simply have to stir our affections. At other times, the method we are using to stir our affections is the very thing that is failing us.

But How?

I was recently asked this question, “Is it bad if I only read the Bible when I want to be closer to Jesus?”

At first, I’ll admit, I didn’t quite understand what my student meant, but as she described her Bible reading pattern, it began to make sense. She perceived that she was only reading the Bible to satisfy some vague sense of spiritual sluggishness. She wasn’t particularly interested in the content, nor was she all that concerned with fellowshipping with the Lord in the process, she simply wanted to, “Catch the spiritual feels…”

My encouragement to her was as simple as I could muster. I encouraged her to take an additional step before she read her Bible. I encouraged her to speak to the Lord as though he were present with her in the room, and ask that the Holy Spirit would focus her heart on the character and nature of the Lord God while she read.

I tried to open her eyes to the fact that she was speaking to the Living God, and reading the story of that Living God. I wanted her to see that the words on the page, the feeling of obedience, and even the fellowship with the Lord, if pursued as ends in themselves, can become idolatrous. I wanted her to connect with the Holy Spirit as a pursuit of God, not a pursuit of the warm fuzzy feelings we get at camp…

The last thing I encouraged her to do is to be willing to stop and ask questions.

I think it’s silly that Christians seem to have such a fundamental problem admitting that we don’t know everything about the Bible, but in the case of one of my High School Students, I hoped that she would see that the Holy Spirit is willing to teach us as we read.

I encouraged her to read until she misunderstood, then stop and ask the Lord to guide her. Then, start reading again.

When we acknowledge the Lord’s leadership inside our pursuit of Him, we recognize our limitation and deepen our dependence on Him. Now, He becomes both the means and the end.