You Are Not Special:

baseball-1The words echoed of the walls and fell with a thud. We had been running, throwing, hitting and diving for the last two plus hours. With each passing hour, we became more aware of the 99 degree heat that the sun relentlessly sprayed across the artificial baseball field. The glue began easing out the side of my cleats. The less fortunate guys crawled to the grandstands and began puking their guts out. 

Those of us who survived that day, managed to scramble into the dugout a little before 2PM. Windy and soaked in salt-stained sweet, we gave the head coach our full attention. He briefly thanked us for show up on that miserable July afternoon. Then he said the words the felt like an anvil sinking to the bottom of my heart. “There was no one special here today.”

Though the words were full of disappointment, they have since become a moto for me. I plan to call my autobiography, ‘No One Special.’ But do not get to excited. I have no plans to write it anytime soon, or really ever. But if I do, I have the title. I believe that is approximately around 90% of the work. Anyways, I digress.

I think back to that coach’s words often because they are a great reminder of reality. I am not special. Yes, I am made in the image of God. But when I evaluate my abilities my skills, and my life, I am ultimately no one special. I have no right to demand that others put me on their team, listen to my opinions, or defer to my prejudices.

If I do have the opportunity to play for a team, to win the ear of a friend, or to gain the respect of a coworker, those abilities and moments are all gifts from above. We essentially have the ability to be noticed, respected, and honored because God has blessed us. I.e, we are not inherently special.

The apostle Paul tackled our insignificance this way. He wrote, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” Romans 12:16

Many people in and around our churches today lack harmony because they are haughty and think themselves wise. I knew a dad who regularly lambasted his son’s 2nd grade teachers and the other adults in his sons life. His son was always in trouble because of what the teachers did. The teachers failed to understand the boy, they failed to listen to the boy, and they failed at failing the boy. In short, the dad and his son were above reproach. The dad cared nothing about the fact that his boy talked back in class, fell asleep during school, and regularly refused to do his homework. He and his son ignored everything the Bible said about respecting those in authority. They refused to listen to the Bible and to the biblical counsel of our Senior Pastor. They were haughty and were wise in their own sight. They always knew what their problem was. They cared little for living in harmony with others and regularly attacked, belittled, and verbally assaulted anyone who criticized them. They failed to grasp that they were not special.

Sadly, they are not alone. I blow up at my kids for messing up the family photo. I am quick to become defensive when my wife and others challenge my ideas. And I fall into worry because someone does not immediately return my phone call. I do all these things and more because I become prideful, haughty, and self-confident. I forget that I am not special.

newfieldThose who over estimate their value are destined for failure. James 4:6 says that, “God opposes the proud.” Those who are wise in their own eyes and who are quick to blame others for their sins and the sins of their kids will not find peace. They will find broken relationships, discord, and every kind of evil. They will feel alienated from their schools, churches, and friends because they have deemed themselves more special than those around them. Those with prideful hearts stand outside the will of God.

The solution for broken relationships is not more self-justification and more explanations of everyone’s else’s problems. The antidote for the prideful heart is humility. God tells us that God, “gives grace to the humble…Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you…humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:6-10).  We need to confess our sins to our friends, teachers, and pastors. We need to encourage our children to confess their sins. We find peace only when we humble ourselves. We find joy and happiness when we realize that, “I am no one special.”

I was not special enough to make my college baseball team. But they guys on the team and the coaches also turned out not to be all that special. The Athletic director fired the coach at the end of that season because the coach’s main gift appeared to be leading young men to lose. Even off the field, the team had knack for losing. They regularly flunked their exams and spawned the moniker “Geology for Jocks.” Evidently, they did finally find one class that a few lucky ones could pass.

I share all this not because I want to bash my baseball team. I truly love my alma mater. I share above story because it illustrates what the coach told all of us that hot summer day. No one is special. No one is above needing correction, no one is above being fired, and no one is above failing. To live well, we must live humbly boasting in our God and all his God gifts. At the end of the day, “There is no one special here.” 

Are you ready for those words to sink in?


Christians, Don’t Listen To That Other Voice

voice-in-your-headWhen Christians make decisions, they fundamentally only have two options. Either they can listen to the word of God or they can listen to themselves.

Admittedly, many of the choices that we make in this life are not directly mentioned in Scripture. The Bible says nothing about whether or not a person should eat at McDonalds as opposed to Burger King. The divine text does not tell Christians to skip basketball for piano lessons. And, the scriptures tells us little about which sofa to select.

But the Scriptures address the heart attitudes behind such decisions. Philippians 2:3-4 tells us,

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.”

If we choose McDonalds even though our wife hates it, we have sinned. If we put our kid in piano lesson because the lessons will help her thrive we have done well. If we force our husband to buy the chair that he hates because we love it, we have sinned. The actually eating, playing, and buying are neutral. One can eat McDonalds having a great heart. Another can eat there with a selfish heart. By addressing the motives behind our actions, the Bible speaks to all of our lives decisions even the gray ones.

The Bible also speaks to the black and white issues. The Bible condemns sexual immorality, adultery, drunkenness, anger, and greed. If we choose these things, we sin and we must repent.

The question then becomes, “will we listen?” Will we obey the Bible even when it tells us to do things we do not like such as staying with our spouse, such as loving our dishonest coworker, and such as caring for our sickly mother-in-law? If we answer no and reject what God’s word says, we are left only with our own opinions. We have decided like the people of Israel of Old, that we know better. Yes, sin and slavery were never really that bad, where they?

Often our answers are not this blatant. We mask our disobedience behind wanting to be happy, behind the well wishes of our friends, and behind the norms of society. We cannot imagine that God will still disapprove of our actions after we won the support of our earthly friends. But he does. Sin by any other name is still sin.

Though our own opinions seem right, helpful, and able to expedite our goal of attaining a happy, fulfilled life, they will ultimately do none of the above. The apostle Paul said it this way,

“To set the mind on the flesh is death…those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Roman 8:6-8). If Christians disregard scripture if they shut out the voice of God and if make become their own god, they will not find joy. They will find death, bitterness, and despair. As Bonhoeffer said, “The basis of all human reality is the dark, turbid urges and desires of the human mind.” (Life together p.31.). Do not listen to this voice, however, appealing. Do not listen to the voice in your head that promises life and happiness apart from the commands of God. The promise is a lie. It is the promise the snared Adam and Eve and brought death into our world. It is the promise, the continues to destroy relationship after relationship.  And if you or I believe this promise, it will bring death to our lives. Do not listen to your mind and heart. Don’t listen to that demonic and alluring voice of death. Listen to God.

Will you stop listening to the voices in your head?

How Serious Are Our Sin Problems?

doctorI once heard of a man who went to his doctor  because his side was hurting. After a brief examination, his doctor informed the man that he needed to have an appendectomy right then. The patient was not convinced. And politely told his doctor, “I think I’ll get a second opinion and let you know what I decide.”

To this, his doctor replied, “No you won’t. If you leave here today, you will die. You will be dead within 24 hrs. if you don’t have the surgery.”

Often when it comes to our sin, we take the same exact view as patient. When we are confronted about our gossip, or about your infidelity, or my greed, we tend to minimize the other person’s concerns. We blow off our spouse; we ignore the pleas from our kids; and, we discount the concerns of our small group leader. Our sin is not that big of a deal. Christ died for it. We are done here. Move on, please. I’m do not need surgery. I am fine.

Although this is often the approach we take when coming face to face with sin, this is not Jesus’ approach to sin. In Mark 9:43-50 Jesus says these shocking words,

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell,[a] to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Sin is not small matter to Jesus. He tells us to flee it at all cost. Even if we have to cut off a hand or a foot or pluck out an eye to be free from sin, the cost is worth it. Sin is death and all who love, minimize, and ignore their sin are on the path to death both physically and spiritually. Those who love Jesus will not coddle or ignore their anger, their porn addiction, or their frequently lies. They will confess them. They will seek out help from their pastor or from another mature man or women in the faith. They will do everything and anything they can to be free from sin.

Now a quick aside, I do not think Jesus is telling us to physically mane ourselves to achieve victory over our sins. Think about it for a minute. Jesus did not tell Peter to cut out his tongue because he denied Christ three times during the crucifixion narrative. And Jesus does not want us to cut off our hands because we steal, to cut off our feet because we speed through stop signs, or to pluck out our eyes because we look at porn. We do not sin because of our body. We sin because of our hearts. Our hearts and our thinking direct the actions of the body. Jesus clearly states this truth back in Mark 8:21-23,

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride,

We sin because our souls are corrupted and not because our bodies are fallen. Rather than encouraging us to hack apart our bodies, Jesus is calling us to sacrifice all for righteousness. He is calling the angry man to work fewer hours so that he can sleep more and spend more time with his family, creating a home of peace. He is calling the porn addict to give up his smart phone and to burn his computer. He is calling the drug addict to surrender his stash and to turn himself into the police. He is calling the liar to confess his sins to his wife, pastor, and friends. Jesus is saying we must being willing to lose all, including our good reputation, our friends, our family, our wealth, and every worldly thing to enter the kingdom of heaven. If we do not, we cannot reach heaven.

At some point, all of us will be tested. Everyone will face the pressure of divine inspection. The lies that masked our want of faith will be ripped away, revealing all the deeds that we have done in secret (both good and bad). The reality of whether or not we trust in ourselves or in the great physicians for salvation will be made known.

Those who refuse to flee from their sin will die. They will be cast into the fires of hell. Don’t mistake this. We may not take our sin seriously. We may not think, we have an illness leading to death. But God does. He is not fooled. He will judge us for our sins. All who love sin will die. And all who flee from sin will find eternal life.

And it is not enough for us to be around Christians. It is not enough for us to come from Christian families. It is not enough for us to flee secular friendships and to come to church. We must have true life within our very souls. Notice what Christ says in verse 50.

“Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be a peace with one another.”

If we embrace sin, if we view sin as insignificant, and if we love lawlessness, we are not the children of God. I once heard an old-time preacher tell a family that they had good genes and that he expected a lot of them spiritually because they were descended from a godly lineage. It was a nice sentiment. But, it is not true. Grandma’s righteousness does not mean you will be righteous. Your parents faithful church attendance does not mean you are a going to heaven even though you are always mean. Walking the aisle, talking to your pastor, getting baptized, and memorizing Bible verses does not compensate for your constant lying. The man, woman, and child whose life is characterized by disobedience cannot be redeemed or fixed by his or her surroundings. Salt that has lost its saltiness is worthless. Faith that clings to sin is worthless. Do not be deceived.

But that is not the end of the story. If you love sin, you can stop today. You can repent of your sin. You can confess that your are evil and in need of God’s righteousness bought for you by Jesus’ death on the cross. And then you can confess Jesus as Lord. If you do, he will liberate you from your sin. He will make you salty again. He will save you. He will fix your broken relationships; he will give you peace on earth and in heaven.

Guys and gals, God is good loving and full of glory. Anything we give up including wealth, prestige, power, and earthly satisfaction will be more than made up for in Christ. As John Piper often says, “We are most satisfied when he is most glorified.”

Our patient from before had an option, surgery or death. He choose surgery. He cut out part of his body so that he might live. He listened to the doctor and found life.

Friends, lets listen to our heavenly doctor. Let’s take sin seriously and cut it out of our lives so that we too might live.