“Unselfing”…

“The primary barrier to displaying the beauty of Jesus in our churches comes from the way we re-insert ourselves into that sacred center that belongs to Him alone.

Exalting ourselves always diminishes His visibility.

That is why cultivating a gospel culture requires a profound, moment by moment, ‘unselfing’ by every one of us.”
Ray Ortlund

Mamba Down

Dear reader.

I’m sorry in advance if this post sounds more like a bunch of jumbled thoughts than a well-organized, thought-provoking article.

I’m still trying to process that Kobe is actually gone.

In the words of sports commentator Shannon Sharpe, I feel like I’m grieving the loss of a family member.

And I feel a bit silly about it.

Because I didn’t know Kobe personally. I wasn’t close to him like his wife or daughters, or the rest of his family, his friends, his fellow NBA players, his coaches. I’ve never spoken with him, never interacted with him on social media, never seen him in person.

Why am I so distraught over his death?

I guess part of it is the utterly tragic way that it happened. A routine helicopter trip to a basketball game for the girl’s team that he coached, at the basketball camp he sponsored, ended in a fiery crash…a crash that tragically claimed the lives of 8 others, too.

Including his beloved daughter Gianna, who was eagerly following in his footsteps.

And Vanessa…oh my goodness.

How gut-wrenching must this be for her? To have her husband and daughter snatched from her like this. To have to somehow recover from the shock and conjure up strength for her 3 remaining daughters. And those daughters now having to face this harsh reality themselves.

I can’t even imagine the extent of their pain right now. Which, again, is why I feel silly about mine.

Perhaps it’s not fair for me to say that I’m mourning the loss of a family member. But I’m certain that I’m mourning the loss of one of my heroes.

Yeah…maybe that’s it.

Kobe was my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE basketball player, and without question one of the greatest to ever play the game. His tenacious work ethic has literally been branded (the Mamba Mentality).

But even beyond basketball, the way he fathered his daughters truly resonates with me. Kobe grew into a true family man, and despite how much he was away from home, he managed to be there for his wife and children.

His life was not without controversy, though. He had some glaring and inexcusable moral failures on his part. But to his credit, he owned up to them, and did what he could to make amends. To me, there is a redemptive arc to his story that is noteworthy.

Kobe was larger than life to me. But his death is a sobering reminder that…truthfully…none of us are too big to die.

That thought makes me think about the other heroes in my life. They are in much closer proximity to me than Kobe was. If he’s not invincible, then neither are they. I feel compelled to pray for them more than ever.

Okay, I’m done rambling. And for the record, I don’t have a deep theological lesson at the end of this.

I sincerely pray for Vanessa, her daughters, and the other grieving families. And I pray that God would grant them the strength and comfort they need to make it through this.

I hope those reading this will join me.

Thankful, But Careful

“The primary barrier to displaying the beauty of Jesus in our churches comes from the way we re-insert ourselves into that sacred center that belongs to Him alone.

Exalting ourselves always diminishes His visibility.

That is why cultivating a gospel culture requires a profound, moment by moment, ‘unselfing’ by every one of us.”
Ray Ortlund

Toxic

There are some words nowadays that you don’t ever want to be labeled with.

Homophobic and racist are two that come to mind immediately.

But I think the trending word-weapon of choice in our current cancel culture is toxic.

The word sounds as nasty as it’s meaning. And it’s effects on your reputation are devastating. Being labeled as toxic is almost the equivalent of being handed a social death certificate.

But for a word that is so lethal, it sure is thrown around pretty carelessly.

It seems commonplace now to arbitrarily place the toxic label on people; not because it accurately fits them, but because we feel like they deserve it.

Maybe we just don’t like them. Or perhaps there is some hurt (real or imagined) that they’ve inflicted on us that spurns us to retaliate, but in a passive-aggressive way. Maybe they’re a part of a certain opposing political party or social group that we just know can’t be up to any good.

Could it be though that our rush to file people in the radioactive category is a desperate, underhanded attempt at feeling better about ourselves?

For instance, if a relationship doesn’t work out, I can say that it was toxic anyway…and if I’m the one to say that first, then everyone will assume that the other person was the toxin, and I’ll look much better in comparison.

See what I mean?

Am I denying that certain relationships are bad for you? Nope.

Am I denying that there are nasty people out there? Nope.

But everyone has toxins…including us. And if we’re really honest, our viewpoint of certain “toxic” people just might be distorted by the mental hazmat suit we have on. Sure, a hazmat suit is great for protecting you from external hazardous materials.

It sucks at helping you when the hazard is on the inside.

Truthfully, if there is one person who has every right to arbitrarily label people as toxic, it’s Jesus.

Glad He doesn’t use that word so carelessly.

Our Soul’s Picture

“We look for our true identity, our ‘soul’s picture’, in many things. The culture tells us it can be found in accomplishments, relationships, or possessions.

Scripture tells us something very different. Our true identity cannot be discovered or constructed; it can only be received.

It is given to us by the only One who can see what we truly are.”
Skye Jethani

Planting Tomatoes

I’m no gardener.

If you want proof, ask my wife. She’ll be more than happy to reiterate that fact.

But I may not be as bad at it as I thought.

I recently got to sit in on an informal forum about black fatherhood. My barber, who I consider a big brother and mentor, hosted it at his shop, which I felt set the tone for open and honest dialogue.

The convo was amazing.

Despite being the youngest (and the only millennial) in the room, I didn’t feel like my voice was irrelevant. I was surrounded by a treasure trove of older, seasoned black men who were refreshingly transparent about the challenges and rewards of being a black father in our society.

I followed suit and opened up about my fear that I wasn’t doing enough to foster my two daughters’ relationship with God. “We don’t do enough family devotionals, we don’t pray together as often as we should, they don’t know enough about biblical history, there are so many arguments against God that can be seen with one swipe”…my list goes on and on.

A retired colonel looked me dead in the eye and said, “Young man, if you plant tomatoes, you expect tomatoes to grow, correct?”

“Yes sir.”

“Well then, if you’ve planted seeds of faith in your daughters, then expect what you planted.”

Boom.

I hope he reads this post, because that simplistic yet profound wisdom nugget has stuck with me ever since.

The truth is, even if I did a devotional with them everyday, prayed with them every hour, did an apologetics course with them every week, and had them listen to an audio bible every night while they slept…my efforts would be meaningless without God’s intervention. As with any seed that is planted, there is a growth process that goes on without the gardener’s hands being involved. And that process ultimately brings about a crop despite how good (or bad) the gardener’s skill level is.

And if there is one type of seed that is strong enough to grow on it’s own, it’s the seed of God’s kingdom.

So, I’ll continue to plant kingdom seeds in my daughters with these inept hands of mine, and leave the results to God.

Looking forward to seeing the tomatoes.

The Tyranny Of Self…

I realize this sounds hard. Delaying gratification, doing what’s right, surrendering your will. It might seem like teeth-gritting, white-knuckling stuff. But it isn’t.

As we’ll discover, though building self-control requires effort, it gets easier as you go. Eventually, it can feel like gliding.
In a beautiful twist of biblical irony, submission leads to victory.

Surrender produces freedom. As you are liberated from the tyranny of self, you’re able to experience God’s best for your life.
Drew Dyck

The Value of Privacy

“Today value is increasingly measured by publicity, not privacy, and we are losing sight of the truth that genuine intimacy requires secrecy.

This cultural desire to be seen makes us approve Jesus’ call to, ‘Let your light shine before others’…

…but we forget that in the same sermon Jesus said, ‘Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them.’

~ Skye Jethani

Mentionable and Manageable

This post is being brought to you by a movie, a tweet, and a devotional. Interesting combo, right?

On Christmas Eve, I went to see “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood” with my wife, youngest daughter, Mom, and Dad. ‘Beautiful’ is definitely the appropriate word to attach to this movie. Not surprisingly, Tom Hanks nailed the character of Mr. Rogers, and the movie did an amazing job of illustrating just how much of a handprint Fred Rogers left on the lives of those who met and watched him.

I came across a tweet later that day from one of my favorite “Twitterers” that highlighted a particularly poignant phrase from the movie.

Fast forward to a couple days ago, where I read a devotional concerning the mixed emotions that Mary (Jesus’ earthly momma) must have felt when Simeon the prophet shared his thoughts on her newborn son. He sang Jesus’ praises, but then added that a sword would eventually pierce Mary’s heart, foreshadowing the agonizing heartbreak she would feel during His crucifixion.

How does this all come together?

I believe that there are many people reading this who currently find themselves in Mary’s shoes. The holiday season can be a mixture of overwhelming joy and excruciating pain.

And sometimes, in an effort to keep the positivity going into the new year, we don’t mention or manage our true feelings.

This isn’t healthy…or necessary. Keeping up the “Christmas spirit” and holiday cheer doesn’t require us to mask our pain or sadness. Because doing so would undermine a key component of Jesus’ earthly ministry.

His empathy.

Every aspect of Jesus’ life was sprinkled with suffering. He didn’t shy away from it, and He lovingly offers us His nail-scarred hand to hold in the midst of our own sorrow. We don’t have to be fake about how we feel.

Our feelings are mentionable, and manageable, in Jesus’ hands.

Christmas Rally

As most of you reading this are aware, the President has been impeached by the House of Representatives.

So how is a President supposed to respond in this situation? I’m certainly not an expert on such matters, but I can say pretty confidently that his two hour rant at a “Christmas rally” wasn’t very presidential…or Christlike.

But I digress.

What I’m more interested in pointing out is how much differently Jesus responded to being accused of wrongdoing.

When given the opportunity to defend Himself, Jesus didn’t berate or belittle His accusers. Nor did He encourage His followers to do the same. Jesus didn’t grandstand about His long list of wins, or mouth off about how much of a Messiah He was. He didn’t flex His divine muscles in anyone’s face.

The same Jesus who made men from dirt didn’t pull up any dirt on the men who treated Him like dirt.

As much as He had EVERY right to do it, Jesus, as the old saints used to say, didn’t say a mumblin’ word.

Instead, He extended grace to those who lied on Him and spit in His face. He didn’t punch back with words or with fists, but instead asked His Father to forgive those who were complicit in His brutal execution. And He charged His followers to do the same.

Our president…and everyone else for that matter…could stand to learn from Jesus’ example.

He’s the one truly worth rallying around.

Show Them Through Our Love…

“Marilynne Robinson has observed, ‘The word Christian now is seen less as identifying an ethic, and more as identifying a demographic.’

In other words, being a Christian in our society is more about what you buy and how you vote, rather than how you care for people.

Rather than showing the world our faith through our merchandise or yard signs, what if we showed them our faith through our love?”

~ Skye Jethani

No Fruit, No Root…

“We tend to think of self-control as a strictly human enterprise, but Scripture describes self-control as a product of being connected to God.

It’s something that grows when your life is rooted in divine reality. In fact, if it’s missing, your faith may be a ruse.

No fruit, no root.”

~ Drew Dyck



(Kan)Ye or Nay?

Is he in…or not?

Is he for real about Jesus…or is he pulling a fast one?

Is he actually saved…or does he just think he is?

Is he really trying to serve God…or is he just desperate for good publicity?

Is he a baby believer clumsily trying to find his footing…or is he a sleeper agent of the devil looking to make a mockery of the church?

Are all the people who believe he’s truly been converted just gullible, non-discerning idiots?

Are all the people who are skeptical of him just non-compassionate, judgmental haters?

Just so you know, all of these questions are rhetorical. I doubt I could answer them to anyone’s satisfaction. So I won’t waste my time trying. But I have to be honest…I’m really frustrated with how some of my Christian brothers and sisters are reacting to this situation.

It’s as if some are unwilling to even entertain the slightest possibility that Jesus may have actually saved Kanye West.

I understand the need for a healthy level of skepticism in this situation, particularly given Kanye’s “track record”…pun intended. It wouldn’t be very wise to just absentmindedly take his word for it when he says that he’s given his life to Jesus.

But why are some of us so QUICK to dismiss him?

Is the God we serve incapable of saving a man like Kanye? Is God unwilling to sully His holy hands with the muck of Kanye’s past sins? Is God simply not interested in redeeming a guy who indulged in idolatry and called himself “Yeezus” at one point?

I think most believers would emphatically answer ‘NO’. And yet, I believe that’s precisely the message being communicated when so many of us immediately write Kanye off.

And even worse, I get the sense that many are actively looking for that one scandalous headline, that one wayward quote from an interview, that one misstep on Kanye’s part that will prove what they “knew” all along.

What does that say about us? I think it says that we have a bad case of selective amnesia…and an even worse case of subtle hypocrisy.

It’s one thing to be discerning and watch for fruit like Jesus tells us to. It’s another thing to cut down the tree before the fruit even has a chance to grow.

Is Kanye truly saved? I don’t know for certain.

But I would rather patiently hope for the best than loudly assume the worst.