Cheer On Each Other’s Races

Occasionally, social media proves it’s actually good for something, and a fine example is when someone mocks an overweight person working out.

Take this guy:

This is inspiring. It puts to shame most of our excuses. Who cares where his starting point was? He’s heading in the right direction. And decent people cheer him on, as they should.

But there’s always some shock-value specialist, lurking in the drifting shadows of the Twitter wasteland, who decides it’s all just too positive and rushes in to kick sand into the goodwill oasis – with words of mockery.

Mocking his size. His pace. His form. His progress. His skin color. Whatever is attackable. With cruelty they wouldn’t dare

runnerThen comes the rare instance where Twitter can be relied upon to make itself useful: they’ll blast this cruel peanut gallery. Knock them back a few pegs. This man is taking charge of his life, they’ll say. He’s bending his mind and body to improvement, no matter the grade of the hill. Why should he be shamed for that? (I’m making these defenders sound polite.)

They’re tilting at windmills, of course, because the peanut gallery’s appetite for brazen tastelessness knows no bounds (they’re what keeps Family Guy and the Deadpool franchise going). It’s easy to get angry with them.

But perhaps we should feel sorry for them, too. As one of Dre’s respondents said,

“Dawg u lapping everyone who’s sitting on the couch rn keep up the hustle”

Or perhaps Jesus said it best:

The Pharisee took his stand, and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people — greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me — a sinner! ’

I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-14)

Jesus argues that the slow man who humbly runs his race is closer to God than the speedy man who criticizes from the bleachers. 

Cheering on each other’s races is in diametric opposition to judgmentalism. There’s just no room to do both. When we look down on struggles that we are not experiencing, we join the peanut gallery.

And we reveal our own lack of spiritual fitness: pride.

And our blindness: to the pride, and to our other sins, and to Whose power lifted us out of the sins we have beaten. When we see our sin, how can we possibly judge?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1)

Let’s leave the peanut gallery for the great cloud of witnesses. Gyms and Christianity should be judgment-free zones.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Don’t Resist Gratitude

Brandon J. Adams

Don’t fall for the lie that supports your discontent: that gratitude is a cliche.

That “counting your blessings” is a wispy, Hallmark-level cop-out thrown out there to distract you from how you’re really feeling about things.

That it’s God’s consolation prize given in place of just fixing your problems.

That it’s God’s passive-aggressive way of telling you he’s not concerned with your struggles.

A grateful posture this Thanksgiving really can do you enormous favors.

It can calm the storm in your heart. I mean, how wonderful would it be to go an entire day emotionally ironclad, completely unperturbed by anything going on in your life?

It can make you more attractive to people. Gratitude shows on your face. It gets people wondering how you do it, how you maintain an attitude of thankfulness in the serenity while everyone else rags Jesus about how the boat’s being swamped.

It can drive…

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Can Christians Serve in the Military?

I was recently asked whether I believe military service is Scripturally permissible for believers.

Full disclosure: I served in the Air Force in the immediate post-9/11 months. (My father served in the Army National Guard during the 1990s; his father was a sailor in World War II, had a destroyer sunk from beneath him in the Battle of Guadalcanal.)

Though there was patriotic fervor even amongst civilians following 9/11, it took a different form within the military ranks: aggression. Many soldiers took up a kind of enthusiasm towards vengeance. I vividly remember the videos that circulated through our email inboxes in those pre-Youtube days (this was one of the first and a rather tame example).

I didn’t get into that mindset. I still reject caustic jingoism and delight in death. Though combat requires a resolute and focused mindset, I do not think the Christian can justify bloodlust in the heart.

But the question remains: is violence, even without aggression, conscionable at all for believers? Some (like my Mennonite brothers) do not believe so.

I’ll stick to the Scriptural arguments I know and let you decide. Any other talking point (such as society’s perception of veterans) is secondary.

* There is reason to infer a Scriptural teaching against self-defense for state-persecuted Christians, following Jesus’ model (e.g. “He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the streets” (Isaiah 42:2) and that of the saints down through the ages.

* Personal revenge is Biblically difficult to justify – “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19).

However, these two are far from the only situations that might require force.

* Romans 13 is largely about submission, but theologians have traditionally homed in on verse 4 as justifying force to maintain order:

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. v.4b

Its simple thrust is this: there are wrongdoers in the world, God does something about them, and he uses human agency (the “sword” specifically, flawed though it be) as his instrument. He does not ignore it, nor command soldiers in this case to stand aside for judgment from heaven.

* In 2 Timothy, Paul promotes a soldier’s qualities as admirable and imitable for Christians. In Ephesians 6, he speaks of spiritual equipment at our disposal and uses military equipment as the most comprehensible analog. These are not explicit endorsements of military service, but using military imagery to address Christians doesn’t exactly rule it out, either. Paul could have contented himself with the runner analogy, and he must have been aware of how praising a soldier’s qualities might have been taken. If God explicitly wanted pacifism for his people, it is unlikely that he would have left these verses as they stand.

(The passage is not meant to portray soldierhood as a competitor to Christ. As a matter of good exegesis, we should avoiding reading into a verse things that aren’t there.)

* God used war to conquer Canaan. Though this was a specific dispensation and not permission for wanton violence in our own lives, God still used the sword, not the bargaining table.

* Ecclesiastes 3:8 teaches that there is “A time for war, and a time for peace.”

But for me, the strongest evidence that Christians can join the military in good conscience is God’s command to protect the innocent. 

Some might point to Jesus’ command to love your enemies. But Jesus actually commanded us to love all men, enemies and their victims alike (such as the Guatemalan poor).

What happens, then, when one group turns upon another? If love means non-violence, we would thus be choosing a party not to love. Inaction would then be loving the strong at the expense of the weak, the criminal at the expense of the innocent. And the divine command to love would be rendered impossible to follow.

When an evil is clear and present, inaction is complicity. That seems to be the stance of Proverbs 24:10-12:

“If you do nothing in a difficult time,
your strength is limited.
Rescue those being taken off to death,
and save those stumbling toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we didn’t know about this,”
won’t He who weighs hearts consider it?
Won’t He who protects your life know?
Won’t He repay a person according to his work?”

I believe we thus amend our definition of love to include all of Scripture’s implications. We are commanded to love our enemies. We are also commanded to deliver the weak and needy from their hands (Psalm 82:3-4, Prov. 31:8-9, Isaiah 1:17). It should be noted that the belief that Scriptures outside the four Gospels carry a lesser authority than Jesus’ words is a position this blog does not entertain.

It is fair to question the righteousness of any war. It is proper to pursue every possible alternative first (and America has historically done so, including in WWII). It is right to remove all hatred and bloodlust from our hearts. And if you cannot stomach war, it’s possible that military service is not part of God’s will for your life.

But at the end of the day, Scripture also tells me that part of my Christian duty is to safeguard the innocent from those who trade in violence themselves. It is naive to think that such men will always respond to the gavel or the negotiator. I believe it is justifiable for Christians to serve in the military under the right circumstances.

A Teasing Sense of Humor and How to Crucify It

Slowly becoming better at this. You might pray for me in this matter.

Brandon J. Adams

crucifyGrowing up and as a young man, I always had to be the guy in the room with the joke.

Always. Whenever anyone said something, my brain would immediately look for a way to turn it into a tease.

Combined with not being very good at it, this resulted in years without a lot of friends. As I grew older, I got better at it. At the teasing part, that is, unfortunately, not the “just knock it off already” part that people were no doubt wishing I’d master.

And then…I would wonder why I wasn’t getting anywhere socially.

Clueless, I tell you.

Then, for some reason, one day I started asking myself, “What do my role models do to engender such trust with people?”

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In Which I Do NOT Brag About My Pastor

joeyI’d like to consider myself marginally capable with words, but today they fail me like the Russian winter failed Napoleon. (I’m coming up…short.)

Yesterday was the 20th service anniversary for Joey, my church’s generations pastor and former youth pastor.

This is the guy (Joey, not Napoleon) who caught me after my family’s collapse and became a second father. The guy who drove two hours to watch my black belt test. The guy who taught me how to parallel park. The guy I rode shotgun with, for surreal errands, on 9/11. The guy who brought in our worship band (my favorite ministry) for my going-to-basic-training party. You get the picture.

As was aptly said at his celebration today, he has been there for thousands of young people, now scattered across the world, some now pastors themselves. The fruits of his labor are now in their third, even fourth, generation.

Yet…

Knowing Joey as I do, I feel oddly hesitant to brag of him.

I could brag about his approachability, his way of listening and setting at ease those he speaks to…but I won’t.

I could brag about his passion for equipping, delegating, and developing those under his charge…but I won’t.

I could brag about his willingness to pick up a rake or shovel alongside any junior-higher he mentors, or dye his beard in loss of a bet to one…but I won’t.

I could brag about the near-unearthly wisdom he purveys to young people navigating the eddies and tangles of growing up…but I won’t.

I could brag about his ability to take what you dislike most about yourself and turn it into an asset and affirmation…but I won’t.

I could brag about the countless family nights he’s sacrificed to spend with a student or friend whose life has been violently upended…but I won’t.

I could brag about the spark you see in his wife and children, showing the life he’s speaking into them…but I won’t.

I could brag about his positive spirit, his cultivated fitness, or his infectious laugh…

…but I won’t.

For if he were all these things, but missed the most important lesson a pastor will ever teach, then he would have fallen short in his job after all.

But I am glad to say that in the matter of passing on this crowning lesson, he has not failed:

…that every good quality we see in him is a dozen times truer, a thousand times truer, a trillion times truer of God.

Soak that in for a moment, friends of Joey (and strangers). Everything you’ve come to admire and respect and aspire to in this man, is true of God in cosmic spades.

For many, a pastor is the introduction and entry point to the character of God. And because of Joey’s upholding of that office, I learned to come to God myself. Not because Joey ever turned me away in a moment of need, but because I came to thirst for the God I was glimpsing in him.

Hebrews 4:16 doesn’t say “So let us keep on coming boldly to your pastor’s office, so that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” It says to come to the throne of grace. Instead of always chasing down my pastor for words of life, I became someone who sought them from God. I don’t like the life I’d be living if I’d grown up under a stern, detached, too-busy pastor. Instead, I am coming to know God as he truly is.

Joey would have me brag of that.

And there’s no higher honor, I submit, that Joey could possibly be paid.

We Must Never Become Black Holes

Brandon J. Adams

holeI’m stoked. To convey this illustration, I get to be geeky – I get to explain the nature of a black hole, an exotic celestial object of great lifelong fascination to me.

Black hole are collapsed stars, grown so dense that their gravity, out to a certain distance, is strong enough to arrest their own light. Since an object is only seen by the light it sends to your eyeballs, a spherical region around a black hole appears, well, black to the outside observer. The star is still inside, but forever hidden because its light can’t escape.*

For a long time, I was a black hole. Sucking everything in, emitting little. God was working on my inside, but it was a process.

Several years ago, I chanced into a dating relationship. We had a good five months before she called it off. It happens. (She’s married now.) But it was a revealing…

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Satan and Bathwater Theology

Brandon J. Adams

hell.jpgRecently, I was emailed by a follower basically asking, “is Satan real, or an illusion?”

I can’t believe I’ve reached the stage of being asked questions – yeeeeeeeeeeee – but fortunately, there’s Scripture. I’ll just go there.

Satan is real. He is treated as a conscious being with intelligence and personality. And he is a (limited) threat.

This subject makes people sensitive. There’s a lot of (pardon the expression) heated opinion about Satan and his precise role in the Christian’s life. Good teachings, bad teachings, and bad teachings that spring off both the good and bad.

Personal conviction: I want Scripture, straight-up, as it truly is. I don’t want man’s “compensational” teachings. Np Scripture tossed aside or marginalized because “people will run the wrong way with it”, or because it frightens them, or because it diminishes God in their preferred system. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, in other…

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