I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 8, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on our compulsion to keep up whatever image our sub-culture most highly prizes. In so doing, we present a “false self” that inhibits our relationship with God.
Image is Everything
What we do for esteem depends on what subgroup or culture we belong to. This truth became clear when I attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s extension center outside of Boston. I was required to go to the main campus in Louisville about once a year. At the main campus I noticed many people always took up the most conservative position. They took pride in being esteemed as the most conservative. Many of my peers didn’t realize that what they were saying and doing was a knee jerk reaction to keep up their image. For a time, I looked down on my peers for seeking the esteem of men. I wasn’t so haughty when God convicted me of engaging in the same esteem seeking in a different way. Being from New England I live in a bastion of liberalism and many of my neighbors consider me a conservative. Down South, however, and especially in Seminary I took pride in being on the “cutting edge.” I thought these hicks from the Bible belt were stuck in their unbiblical traditions while I was living in a cutting edge mission area. I always spoke up for considering people who aren’t from a Christian culture and for reaching the lost. I made sure everyone knew that is what I had to do in ministry. Whether I was right or wrong was not the issue. The issue was I acted a certain way to keep up an image. I liked advertising myself as a cutting edge church planter in a mission field. This image brought me esteem from the subculture that I valued most. I realized that some of the classes I took, and the ministry tasks I chose, were based on keeping the cutting edge image that brought me the rush of esteem from my peers. Continue reading
The inequalities suffered by black Americans continue. The killing of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor are just the most recent injustices. The taking of black lives has caused many people to unequivocally state that black lives matter. Because black lives have not seemed to matter, it is important to focus our voices to contradict that narrative with words and actions.
The inequalities are broader than the justice system. In 2017 on this blog, I wrote a post titled “Black is Beautiful” that unequivocally stated the truth that black is beautiful in the eyes of God and therefore should be beautiful to God’s children as well. While the current situation shows that racial issues have life and death importance, I believe that combating racism needs to go down even to the “aesthetic” level. Many others have recently discussed the structural injustices much more capably than I could. My hope is that this re-post will add a different layer to the discussion and especially challenge fellow pastors and Christians who serve in predominately white churches.
Black is beautiful. Fellow Christian, it is important to say that – unreservedly and without qualification. Fellow pastors and church leaders, has you church ever explicitly declared this truth?
I have neglected stating this truth. I was confronted with this neglect in a recent interaction with my close friend Greg. Greg was describing his disappointment with the lack of support he often feels in the church as he faces racism against blacks in our culture. Greg is not a “social justice warrior” type; he is an encourager who speaks positive words and humbly serves the church and its people. Over the last few years, Greg has served in churches with a predominately white demographic. There have been few people who have been as encouraging and willing to walk with others through their struggles as Greg—in fact, he recently walked with me through family difficulties better than any other friend. So when Greg expressed his frustration and his fatigue with racism, I realized that I hadn’t borne this burden as his brother in Christ. I discussed it with him, but in my mind it was his struggle. I am a stereotypical white suburban dad who makes bad puns; I don’t experience the racism Greg does, and I can’t pretend that I deeply understand his struggles. However, as long as I consider racism his struggle, and not my struggle, I am not truly bearing his burden (for those not familiar with this terminology of “bearing burdens,” it is taken from Galatians 6:2: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”). Continue reading
For a couple months I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 7, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on our compulsion to do things because of our desire to be highly esteemed.
The Esteem Rush
Our compulsion to do is not only driven by our quest for an adrenaline rush. We are also esteem-powered engines. Our actions are often chosen and powered by esteem. When we perform at a high level people take notice and praise us for it. We all prefer commendation to condemnation. This preference is normal and healthy. When we begin to do things to get that praise we start to become compulsive doers. Much like chemical addiction we start choosing what and how much we do based on the esteem rush it will bring. This tendency can be found in abundance in our culture. Why do boys put so much more effort into sports than academics? They receive a larger esteem rush from sports in our culture. Both boys and girls buy clothes based on the esteem it will bring or take away. And if you think you have grown out of looking for the esteem rush why does it bother you so much when your kids act up in the store? Aren’t you afraid people may esteem you less as a parent? Most sports and luxury cars are sold to adults because adults like the esteem of having a nice car – as if that has any reflection on them as a person. We may think that the esteem rush is something for teenagers but it is just as prevalent in adults, adults are simply more discreet. Children, at least, have an excuse. Children are trying to form an identity and are exploring what brings them self esteem and esteem from others. Children are testing to see if what they do has any effect on the people around them. In short, part of the maturing process for kids is to do things to receive esteem from their parents and from others. While a child’s need to receive esteem may be compulsive at times, it is a part of the process of developing independence and the confidence to one day live in the adult world. The problem is that many Americans never grow out of this phase. Many Christians are also stuck in this pursuit of esteem. We claim to “fear God and not man,” assuming that we don’t pursue this esteem rush, but Christians are not immune to the addiction to esteem. Continue reading
For the last few weeks I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 6, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on our compulsion to do things because of the chemical rush it gives us.
The Chemical Rush
We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God has made our bodies so that we can survive and thrive in this world. But humans have a knack for turning things meant for good into something harmful. Just a few examples of turning the good into bad: sex, fire, gunpowder, nuclear energy, and fast food. We have been given a wonderful brain with all sorts of chemicals that help us thrive in our environment. When there is danger or something larger than ourselves that must be accomplished, our brains give us a nice shot of adrenaline to give us a boost in this important situation. It is like Popeye on spinach, but to a lesser degree. We feel strong and confident and say, “Bring it on Brutus!” We enjoy feeling strong. We like when our hearts race. We enjoy it so much that we seek out situations that will produce this rush. Teenagers play chicken with Mack trucks. Day traders play the stock market. Senior citizens play bingo. In all these situations there is uncertainty or danger in losing something valuable. Like a well-oiled machine, the body senses this uncertainty and gives us adrenaline. We feel alive. People can seek the adrenaline rush in ways that are looked down on: gambling, racing trains, etc. or in ways that are actually encouraged by our society. Doing job-oriented tasks, playing sports, and building stuff are all endorsed by our culture. The Bible agrees that it is good to perform on the job, exercise, and make things. The danger is when we do these things for the sake of getting a rush. If we work for the rush then we are no different in principle than a compulsive gambler or a daredevil. When “doing” becomes compulsive in this way it leads to burnout and strained relationships with those close to us (God included). Continue reading
For the last few weeks I have been posting devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 5, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. Today’s chapter focuses on the pull towards constantly doing things, even when it hurts others.
Do the Do
Keeping busy is so entrenched in our culture that everyone is affected to some degree. We all tend to be more focused on tasks than relationships. Performing a task is a concrete goal that is measurable. Usually, we know when the task is complete, when we have met our goal, and when we can move on. Relationships are more process oriented and they really don’t end. Because they don’t really end, relationships seem less pressing, or urgent, than tasks. Because the task has a deadline, we do the task and put the relationship on hold. Another reason we gravitate towards tasks is that relationships involve at least two parties and all the variables that go along with each one. So what is nice and tidy and wrapped with a little bow today, may be an all out fistfight tomorrow. It is much less messy to concentrate on tasks, so that is how most of us operate. Yes, some of us are more task-oriented than others, but I think most people have had a time in their life (or their whole life) when they felt the need to “do the do.” During these times God may intervene and give us a “time out.” Continue reading
A couple weeks ago, I departed from this blog’s usual focus of applying the academic discipline of biblical studies to the church. Instead, I posted devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” Today’s post contains chapter 4, but you can read chapter 1 here: “An Introduction to Time Outs” and then catch up on the other chapters. I pray they will be an encouragement and guide in our current circumstances.
We are in deep do do.
Why do we do what we do? There are some conscious and some not-so-conscious reasons for our choices. The next few chapters look at many of the forces behind what we do. No matter the elements involved in our choice of what to do, the goal of a Christian life is to do everything from God’s guidance. Choosing what to do out of a relationship with God may sound difficult and a bit restrictive, but the Bible promises great rewards for following God in our actions. We are promised intimacy with God, deeper meaning to life, power, and inner peace.
God actually wants what is best for us and He desires to bless us by fulfilling His promises to His followers. We can’t follow God’s voice into these blessings if we aren’t listening. This deafness is why God gives “time outs.” We are busy and the activity is distracting us because our choices are coming from a source other than God. We are choosing to do many things for many reasons but none of this activity is from the Father’s instruction. God gives us a time out so that we can hear His voice once again and our actions can spring from an interaction with God. Wouldn’t it be great if all the things we did actually drew us closer to God instead of distracting us from Him? God wants you and me to experience this blessing.
The next chapters will look at the many reasons why we do what we do, why we end up getting into deep “do-do”, and why so many are hearing impaired and need a time out. Continue reading
Be Careful Where You Are Headed – You May Actually Get There.
I am a doer. When I first met my wife, Wendi, I was in college at the University of Maryland in the Washington D.C. area and I had a seven year plan. This plan spelled out what I was going to achieve over the next several years. I planned to complete my undergraduate degree with a 4.0 GPA, while interning in the nation’s capitol. I was in a Military Intelligence Army reserve unit next to the National Security Agency (NSA) and was looking into some part time work for the NSA. This scenario would have set me up nicely to be accepted into an ivy-league law school to specialize in international law. After law school the seven years would be completed and after taking stock, I could make a new plan. To me, relationships were secondary to accomplishing goals. I let Wendi know that my plan was in place and that where our relationship was going (to marriage or elsewhere) depended on the status of my plan.
I followed my plan for about a year and a half with quite a bit of success. My plan changed, however, when God brought me to my first “time out.” God gave me a sneak peak into what would happen if I actually achieved everything in my plan. I asked myself, “If my wildest dreams came true, if I become a high level advisor on the national level, or if I am elected to the legislature, then so what?” Even if I achieved all those goals, they would be gone – forgotten within a generation. If I achieved my wildest dreams I would have achieved nothingness. This revelation didn’t come about subtly. It was driven home by a Bible cult that I had started hanging around with. (I describe this association more in subsequent chapters.) God knew that I needed a LOUD wake up call. After a short time of looking at things through an eternal perspective I knew that God was the only thing of any permanence and the only thing worth devoting my life to. I soon realized that I wanted to devote my life to God but not this cult. In the cult’s eyes you couldn’t do one without the other. Rather confused and feeling that I didn’t want to follow my plan or this cult anymore, I left. I went back home to live with my parents. For the next couple of months I was in time out. God took away everything I was doing. I no longer had a plan except to abandon my old plan because it was worthless. I didn’t have a clear grasp of what the Bible really said or what God wanted me to do next. Away from college and all I had lived for, I spent the subsequent few months pouring over the Bible for myself. I really focused on the voice of the Father and my relationship with Him grew. This was my first time out and it felt like the hardest time of my life while I was going through it. But in hindsight, I am so thankful for that time out. I was so focused on doing, on achieving, on following the American dream that I was actually throwing my life and relationship with the Father away. God was trying to tell me this truth for some time, but I couldn’t hear him. I was too busy doing stuff. I needed a time out and that is exactly what I received. Continue reading
Last week I departed from this blog’s usual focus of applying the academic discipline of biblical studies to the church. Instead, I posted devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” I shared chapter 1, “An Introduction to Time Outs” and over the next several weeks I will post additional chapters. I pray they will be an encouragement and guide in our current circumstances.
Chapter 2: What Do You Mean “Time Out?”
I use the term “time out” because God does in concept what we see so many parents literally doing to their children. It all boils down to the fact that the child is not listening. They may be doing something they are not supposed to do or just doing something other than listening. The parent makes the child cease all activity. The child must now sit on the stairs, or in a special chair, with nothing to do except listen.
I will speak about the specific time outs God has given me in subsequent chapters. In general though, a time out is when God so controls the situation that you have no choice but to stop doing a certain thing, or stop doing everything. Something is getting in the way of hearing God’s voice and He is making you sit quietly until you are ready to listen. Are you in a relationship and suddenly circumstances cause you to cease contact with that person? Perhaps it is a time out. Have you ever had a job that kept you real busy and you either can’t do that job for a time or get permanently laid off? Perhaps a time out. Can you remember any period in your life when you were stuck or just unable to do a certain thing? Again, God may have been giving you a time out. This feeling of being stuck reminds me of how my wife would give a time out to our kids when they were toddlers. On occasion, Wendi would tell one of our children to go sit on the stair, but they wouldn’t go. She would then take that child to the stair and hold them very firmly. Of course they would struggle to break free, but they were stuck. Eventually, they calmed down and were ready to listen. God will hold us on the stair until we stop squirming. We want to quickly get out of the time out, but God must talk to us about the situation so that we are better able to deal with it the next time. God can bring you to a place where you are stuck financially. Is He holding you in a time out so that you will listen to Him concerning how you manage your money? God can bring single people to a place where they just can’t seem to get a date. He may be trying to get that single person to listen to what He was to say about relationships. Whether it is a specific area of your life, as in these examples, or your entire life, God gives time outs so that He can lovingly parent you to a place of maturity. Continue reading
For the next several posts, I will depart from this blog’s usual focus of applying the academic discipline of biblical studies to the church. Instead, I will be sharing devotional material from my out-of-print book (2006), “When God Gives a Time Out.” I pray it will be an encouragement and guide in our current circumstances.
Chapter 1: An Introduction to “Time Outs”
If you are a parent, you have probably experienced what I recently witnessed. At a local store, a young boy was bursting with energy. Every inch of his body was in motion. All this chaotic movement didn’t seem to have a purpose other than expending energy. He jumped on one foot, then the other. Soon he began to shake his head from side to side as if saying, “No.” Perhaps he wanted the outside world to mirror his topsy-turvy condition on the inside. The child then climbed on the front of the carriage for a ride. The mother’s call to calm down fell on senses more focused on doing than listening. Since the ride wasn’t fast enough, the child hopped off the carriage so that he could touch everything. He grabbed at everything in range of his small hands, trying to do what the big people do when they shop. The exasperated mother pulled the child into the center of the aisle to put the distractions out of reach and told him, “Stop touching things without asking first!” But this child had to DO something; there were so many stimuli in this place, and they all called out to be engaged. As the scene reached its climax, the boy cried out, “Look, a plate just like the one we have at home!” He snatched up the plate to see if it was indeed the same. Halfway through the motion, the child remembered that he wasn’t supposed to touch without asking and his attention-divided fingers let go of the plate. The frustrated mother had reached her limit. Mustering all her patience, the mother sternly told the boy to go sit on the bench for a “time out.” The mother cleaned up the broken shards and said something like, “You have to listen to me. You can get hurt and you hurt other people’s things when you can’t calm down and listen to me.”
The last several posts have explored the academic discipline and practice of “Biblical Theology.” I would like to continue that theme over the next couple months by presenting an example of Biblical Theology that traces a theme throughout scripture. In particular, I will present a Biblical Theology of preaching.
A biblical theology of preaching cannot be undertaken without a clarification of terms. By biblical theology we mean a “theological interpretation of Scripture in and for the church. It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyze and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.” A biblical theology of preaching, therefore, seeks to understand preaching as it is presented in the contexts of the biblical texts while relating those presentations to the wider canon. This process must be allowed to define preaching on the Bible’s own terms if it is to truly be a biblical theology. Continue reading