I Don’t Know Who You Are!

This next radical thing that Jesus said hits pretty close to home for me. As a boy, I spent a lot of time at church. We were there every Sunday,  Wednesday, Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, and choirs. We were ushers, deacons, Sunday School teachers, committee members, staff members and pot-luck eaters. Outside of the church building, we prayed at meal time, did Bible studies and had family devotions.  Learning and talking about God were important pieces of daily life.

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “familiarity breeds contempt”. I had become so familiar with the common bible stories that I stopped paying attention. I knew the stories, I knew the characters, I knew the setting and the ending and from that, I knew what I was “supposed to learn” from each one so I tuned them out. 

By the time I was a teenager, I was simply through the motions of Christianity. I thought I knew how to be a Christian, but I didn’t allow Jesus to have any real impact on my life. And I was miserable. I didn’t like going to church anymore. If given the choice, I would choose something else. But my parents faithfully attended the church, there wasn’t really a question of whether we would go or not. So I sat through the programs in silent rebellion, tuning out the lesson and letting my mind wander to anything else.

Which makes today’s tangible truth totally terrifying. It is found in Matthew 7.21-23. 

 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.

This may have surprised some in the audience. These harsh words are spoken to those who were identified as believers. Those who thought they had God reduced to a list of “do”s and “don’t”s – People who had had every chance to connect with Him and still missed Him.

That describes my teenage years.  I went to church, I acted like I was supposed to act on the outside at least. I gave all the Sunday School answers I could, and I truly believed that I was doing what I was supposed to do. But I now know that I didn’t know God.  And if I heard his words “I never knew you” I would plead with him. “Didn’t I have perfect attendance at Sunday School, and memorize the Lord’s Prayer and 10 Commandments? Could I not list alphabetically and chronologically the parables of Jesus and recite the different ways that Jesus healed people? God, can’t you see all that I did to show others that I was living right?” And He would say to me – Chris – You spent all your time trying to look good for me, but you never got to know Me! You’ve never let me in to change your heart or guide your life. I don’t know you!”

I wonder how many in our churches are in this same place. We have learned how to “do” church. We’ve learned how to have the appearance of following God but not actually surrendering our life to Him. We think following God was supposed to look a certain way, but without complete surrender, we are not following God. 

We are good at hiding behind masks- at looking good on the outside and hiding what is really happening on the inside. Jesus called out the Pharisees for this exact thing in Matthew 23. He said they were whitewashed tombs – looking good on the outside but dead on the inside. It continues to surprise me how similar we are to the Pharisees. Jesus came to give us life more complete and amazing than we can imagine (John 10:10). But unless we are willing to really let Him be in control, we miss out on that life.

So how do we give Him total control? We realize that our checklist that we are trying to check off really only has one item on it. Trust God. That’s it. Trust that God’s plan dealt with our sins. Trust that his plan for us is the best life we can know. Stop trying to meet his standards on our own. Allow Him to work in our hearts, and ask for Him to change us. It may be hard, uncomfortable and may make us vulnerable in front of others. But it will also connect us to the one that went through all those same things so that He could offer us life. He is patient and willing to work with us over the long haul. We are not a quick fix, we are a pain-staking process. But He is OK with that. Let Him get to work in your life. He began His good work in us and will carry it through to perfection (Phil.1.6)

 

 

Undersized but Confident – Case Keenum -QB- Minnesota Vikings

Case Keenum – QB for the Minnesota Vikings

I am a New Orleans Saints fan living in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. The Vikings first game of the 2017 season was against my beloved Saints and I heard a lot of reasons why the Vikings would beat the Saints in the opener. And many of the things Vikings fans said came true. The Saints defense was not very good, the Vikings were a team on the rise. In that opening game, Sam Bradford (who I blogged about last season) led the Vikings offense to a comfortable victory over the Saints. So comfortable in fact, that hope began to rise that this could be a special season for the Vikings.

Keenum’s time at Houston was prolific. He is the all time NCAA leader in yards, TDs and completions.

Then it was announced that Sam Bradford would not play in week 2 against the Steelers. Instead, Case Keenum – an undrafted quarterback in his 5th season out of University of Houston where he was the most prolific passer in college football history. He also sustained a torn ACL which is likely why he went undrafted. You can read about that injury and how his faith in God grew through the injury and recovery process in this article from foxsports. Throughout his rehab, he would often pray for God’s help and end his prayer with “I’m going to trust in what Your plan is for me“.

And while the path he took was not the one he would have dreamed up, God did lead him, not just to make it to the NFL but to become a starting NFL quarterback. Over the course of his 5 seasons -he has started 27 games for 3 different franchises. He has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions and despite being smaller than the prototypical NFL quarterback, he keeps getting a crack at leading a team – often due to injury or ineffectiveness of those ahead of him on the depth chart.

Keenum’s accuracy and mobility lead him to a career day against Tampa earlier this season

And with Bradford ailing, the high hopes for the Vikings season landed on Case Keenum. As you can read in this article from Sports Spectrum, he has turned in a couple of solid performances (and a couple that were not as strong). He had the best game of his career 2 week ago against the Buccaneers and came in at half time to lead the Vikings to a come from behind win against the Bears on Monday night.

Over the course of his career, he was signed as a free agent, waived, signed to the practice squad and traded.  He has been a starter, backup and even third string quarterback. He knows that if he were to base the importance of his life on the game of football, he could feel pretty low. He says “You just realize that football is fickle; it’s not going to be there all the time. Just getting my priorities straight and knowing the true reason I play the game, and that’s to give glory to God. That’s something I take pride in. It’s why I do what I do.

His faith in God and its connection to sport comes from his father who, according to this article from lubbockonline is a regional Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) director.  He also has a couple of sisters and a wife that also work for FCA. His dad, who is also a football coach had plenty of Christian Athletes around Case when he was growing up and helped him understand the importance of good character.

Here are my takeaways from Keenum’s story:

Keenum lead a come from behind win over the Bears last Monday night.

1- Confidence –  I titled my post “Undersized but confident”. Confidence is an interesting thing. It is necessary for anyone looking to make it as a pro athlete or really, in any field. There will be plenty of others doubting your ability, you don’t need to be one of them. But there is a line that you don’t want to cross going past confidence to arrogance. It is important to maintain a level of humility.  Humility is often easily found. It comes from things not going according to our plan. For Keenum, it would have been easy to tell everyone “I am the all time NCAA leader is passing yards, completions and touchdowns! It would be really good for you to have me on your team” but instead of being able to rest on those credentials, get drafted early and have a starting job handed to you, Keenum injures his knee. He goes undrafted, he sits on a practice squad, gets cut, gets traded.  His confidence is not in his own ability or in the game of football. It is in God’s plan for his life. That is something that we can strive for too. Because so much of life is beyond our control. The only thing that we CAN have confidence in is Jesus the Savior and God’s perfect plan for our life.

2- Unlikely leader– At every stop in his NFL career, Keenum has come in as the back-up plan – in some cases the third or even fourth option. And yet, at each step along the way, he has become the starter – the man with the dreams of his team and their fan base in his hands. This season is no different, and with Sam Bradford’s knee issue proving to be unpredictable and Teddy Bridgewater not quite ready to return from his own knee injury, again it is Keenum who is guiding the Viking Longboat through the season, trying to improve on last year’s 8-8 record and with the ultimate dream of playing in a Super Bowl in their home stadium. And while there is a lot in the way of that ultimate dream, Keenum has shown the ability to take leadership when given the chance.  The Bible is also full of people who were not the first thought when it came to a leader rising up, and yet they did rise up and lead effectively. I think of Moses, Gideon, and even Paul. People who battled doubt, had rough edges and still God used them to lead. What leadership is He calling you to take? Trust in His plan and lead well!

Equipped

I’ve been working with kids for 20 years. I know a lot about how to relate with kids and have gained some insight on how their minds work. And while I know that I still have a lot of things that I can learn, I do know some things that don’t work. When someone suggests something that I’ve tried unsuccessfully before, I can be hesitant to follow that advice.

So, I can relate to the fishermen that Jesus would call to be his first followers. We read this account in Luke 5. Jesus drew a crowd and began teaching them while sitting on a boat. Verse 4 tells us “When he finished speaking, he told Simon, “Take the boat into deep water, and lower your nets to catch some fish.” 

Now let’s stop the story here for a moment. I thought about this exchange recently when I read it. These men whose boat Jesus used were professional fishermen.  It was a family business, so they had been around the fishing trade forever.  Jesus, well, Jesus was a carpenter. He would know what he had studied with his father, Joseph, but he was not a fisherman. So initially, this advice doesn’t make a lot of sense. If anyone in this scene knew how and when to increase their chances of catching a boatload of fish, it was the fishermen, not the carpenter. They even say as much. In verse 5, Simon answered  “Teacher, we worked hard all night and caught nothing…” They were tired, frustrated, and probably ready to get some rest. But Simon continued “But if you say so, I’ll lower the nets.”  This is a Tangible Truth #1. In fact this entire blog series is pointing to this truth. When Jesus asks us to do something, even if it sounds crazy, it is worth trying.

We may know the story from here. The fishermen push out a little ways and drop the nets. And the nets fill! The nets begin to tear, the boat fills with fish so full that another boat is called in to help. Both boats are so full that they are on the verge of sinking.

When they return to the shore, Simon asks Jesus to leave, recognizing his own sinfulness. Jesus responds with another radical challenge. He says to Simon “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.”

Wait a minute here. What does that really mean. I live in Minneapolis – home to the largest mall in America. That would be a great “fishing spot” if I was trying to catch people. What do you think would happen if I were to go to the MoA and lower a lure over the railing from the 3rd floor balcony? How about if I were to toss a net at the lines waiting for the Rock-Bottom Plunge at Nickelodeon Universe? I bet I would get to meet some people in MoA security uniforms and hear requests not to return to the mall again.  What could it mean to fish for people

I am learning that when Jesus speaks to us, there are many layers to what He says and how He says it. That this was a word choice Jesus used specifically because He was talking to a fisherman. It is his way of saying “I’ve equipped you to what I have called you to do. It may look a little different than you expected it to look but you will do what I’ve created you to do, you will just do it for my purposes and in the way I set up for you.” Simon knew how to fish, how to draw fish in, set the bait, and catch them. Now he was looking to draw people, show them the best bait this life can offer and allow Jesus love to capture them.

What has he equipped you to do? How has he worked in your life to build in you a skill set that He wants to use for His purposes. Are you going to try and send him away? Or are you ready for the adventure that He has equipped you for? Simon and the other fishermen made their choice. They left their boats and nets behind and joined Jesus seeking to capture the world with the truth of His love and forgiveness. They trusted Jesus and joined him even though the end was uncertain for them.

Are you willing to trust Him?  Are you willing to set aside your excuses and faithfully respond, even if what He is asking you to do seems unsafe, risky or downright crazy?  He wants to work through us to impact the people in our sphere of influence.  He wants us present Him to people who need to know Him.  Grab your net, open your tackle box and let’s go fishing!

Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus – Zacchaeus

Tuesday night, I posted article number 400 in the life of Living Up to My Name. I really enjoy sharing stories from Christian Athletes, their stories have helped me find a point of interest in pretty much any sporting event that I watch. It is fun to share my passion for sports through these “Heroes in the Game, Heroes in Life”.

But now having reached the 400 post milestone, it is time to change things up a little bit. Not only will I be sharing stories of Christian Athletes, I also want to share some bible stories that I have enjoyed sharing with kids. The focus of these, initially, will be to look at the familiar words Jesus spoke during his time of ministry. Many of these stories, I had heard countless times, but recently I began to notice that what He said was earth-shatteringly radical. Why would he say such seemingly crazy things? Is what He said true? If so, what can we takeaway from these radical truths. So, my friends, consider this an invitation to look with new eyes at some of the familiar passages from the Gospels. Lets allow ourselves to really be WOW-ed by Jesus teaching. The goal will be to look at them with proper perspective and gain a new, deeper level of understanding who Jesus is and who He calls us to be. I present to you. “Tangible Truths from a Radical Jesus”

I will start with the familiar story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.1-10.

What do we learn about Zacchaeus? First, we learn a little about what he was – a tax collector and a rich man. Next we learn what he was not – tall or popular. I imagine the gathering crowd not being willing to move aside and let little Zacchaeus through. They may have used this opportunity to take a swing at him, who knows. You see, he was a tax collector, but he was also a Jew. That means he was largely seen as a traitor. Someone who took money from his own people and paid it (at least “most” of it) to Rome to stay in good graces with this enemy regime that had taken over Israel. Tax collectors were also known to pad the numbers a little so they could keep some for themselves. That is likely how Zacchaeus became rich. So there was not a lot of love for him on that day when Jesus was reportedly coming to Jericho.

So Zacchaeus runs ahead of the crowd and he climbs a tree. He is motivated to see the Jesus that so many have been talking about. Motivated enough to put in the extra effort to see Jesus. And along comes Jesus and his entourage. We are not sure exactly what Zacchaeus hopes to achieve in seeing Jesus in person, we just know he climbed a tree. Jesus knew it too, and as he reached that spot, he said “Zacchaeus, come down! I must stay at your house today” (vs 5). You can almost hear the audible gasp from the crowd. The bible says “they grumbled”. They were upset because Jesus was going to visit this “sinner”. ‘Why him?’ I’m sure they asked each other.

But Jesus knew. He said “I came to seek the lost”

And Zacchaeus? He was a changed man. He vowed then and there to repay 4 times all he had collected dishonestly. He also vowed to give half of what he owned to the poor. And Jesus declared that Salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house today.

What “tangible truths” can we take from this passage?

1- Jesus knew Zacchaeus – We don’t know about their relationship – if this was the first time they had met or not, but we do know that Jesus calle Zacchaeus by name. Undoubtedly, He knew all about Zacchaeus’ shady dealings and dishonesty. But it didn’t scare Jesus off. Instead, it allowed him an opportunity to show grace and change Zacchaeus’ life – which brings me to #2.

2- Meeting Jesus changes lives – Zacchaeus was curious about Jesus. He had heard enough to motivate him to check it out. But when he met Jesus face to face, everything changed. That is the power of Jesus. He realized his sinfulness and was convicted to make things right again.

3- Jesus sees potential – Jesus forgave Zacchaeus’ life of sin. The crowd was not so forgiving. They saw the sin, the problems he had created. Jesus saw a sinful man realize his sinfulness and looked to change. I see a lot of my story in Zacchaeus’ story. I know the things that I have done wrong and I understand the penalty I deserve for those things. But Jesus sees the potential in me. He has a plan for me and that plan is for his purposes. So often, we act like the rest of the crowd. We pass our own judgements on others and write people off if they hurt us once or twice. I’m glad that God doesn’t write us off and I am challenged to see people as God sees them, not as I see them. He loves them, so should we.

Modern Monday – a review of Rob Maaddi’s “Baseball Faith”

Baseball Faith by Rob Maaddi 

Baseball season is winding down and my goal of blogging ever Monday and Thursday has fallen a little short as well. That being said, I am only four teams away from blogging about someone on each of the 15 National League teams.

Earlier this year, I bought a copy of Rob Maaddi’s book Baseball faith. In this book, 52 players, past and present reflect on their faith in God. Maaddi gives each of them 4 pages, a photo, career highlights and stats, a favorite bible verse and a brief summary of faith in God as it is seen in their lives. I referenced the book earlier this summer with my post on Ender Inciarte. So to finish up the season and to give some credit to Maaddi for his book, I offer this four-pack of players stories from “Baseball Faith”

Marlins Catcher J.T. Realmuto

1- J.T. Realmuto – Florida Marlins (key verse – James 4.7)

Submit yourself then to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.

Realmuto talks about the struggle to remain humble, especially in baseball where fame and recognition from others are part of the deal. He says “...it’s extremely important to be humble and understand that all of this is just a small part of what we do…We need to stay humble, stay low-key and not buy into all the fame and the things of this world.” How does Realmuto accomplish this? “Reading the Bible every day and getting into the Word fulfills things throughout your body and your soul that you can’t get anywhere else”

Takeaway –

The devil is sneaky. He will hit us up with both ends of the spectrum. He will tell us we are the best and that other should bend over backwards for us because we are so cool. And then the next breath, he will tell us we are worthless and useless, unlovable and awful human beings. Staying in the Word is important because it will help us identify the lies of the devil and fill our hearts and minds with God’s truth. And one key truth is in the verse that Realmuto shared – With God’s power alive and active in us as believers, when we resist the devil, he will flee from us. Keep your eyes focussed on God and let His truth fill you.

Nationals minor league infielder Brandon Snyder

2-  Brandon Snyder – Washington Nationals (Key verse – Matthew 6.34) “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day  has enough trouble of its own

The son of a former Major League pitcher, Brian, and former first round draft pick (#13 overall 2005) Brandon Snyder. The 30 year old has 120 pro games on his resume mostly as a pinch hitter or defensive replacement. He discusses Matthew 6.34 saying that as a baseball player, you often think about tomorrow and what you have to do to keep your career going, to become a better player. He says “If you realize that you can give it to God, not worry about tomorrow and let Him lead you, that takes a lot of anxiety away and lets you be yourself. ”

Takeaway – Above I mentioned a couple ways that the devil tries to mess with us. Worry is another one. He will try to show us all the things that could possible go wrong and tries to paralyze us with fear so we are less effective in our witness. Jesus knew that would be a ploy of his enemy. And so during his time on Earth, to help us with this, he invited us not to worry. The verse before this one reminds us to seek God’s kingdom above all else and focus on the things He is doing. He promises to provide for our needs and work in our lives.  It is a challenge, but God is our provider. Take some time to see how He has been at work in your life, that He is always faithful, and accept this invitation not to worry about the things that are not in your control anyway. Instead, trust the one who IS in control to take care of you and meet your needs.

Mets lefty Steven Matz

3- Steven Matz – New York Mets (key verse 1 Thessalonians 4.11-12)

And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

Matz, a lefty who the Mets chose in the 2nd round of the 2009 draft set a team record for most RBIs in a major league debut with 4. Not bad for a pitcher! Over his 3 year career, he has had some great games (taking a no-hitter into the 8th inning against the Padres) offset by some injury woes.  But he is still young and has shown a lot of promise. In regards to his key verse, he says  “…(at) this level, there is a lot of demand for your attention and sometimes you want to blow people off. But this verse tells me to mind my own business, work hard and be humble.

He continues “When I realized it wasn’t a matter of being a good person or a bad person, that’s when I became a better person because I realized I didn’t have to work my way or earn my way (to heaven). Once I recognized that (Jesus loves me)…my mindset has been completely different.”

takeaway – This is where baseball and life of faith differ. In baseball, there is a constant need to prove yourself. A baseball career can be over in the blink of an eye if the statistics are not good enough. If you are fortunate enough to make it to the majors, you have to work every day to keep you place because someone is looking to take your spot away from you as they strive to fulfill their own dream. I am so glad that God doesn’t work that way. Not only do we not have to earn our way to forgiveness and salvation, we CAN’T earn it. The bible tells us that the absolute best that we can do is nowhere near good enough. Isaiah 64.6 tells us that all of our righteousness (efforts to do right) are like filthy rags. We have the work of being obedient, but the only way we reach right standing with God is through the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Phillies slugging third baseman Maikel Franco

4- Maikel Franco – Philadelphia Phillies (key verse – John 14.6)

Jesus answered “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”

Maikel Franco is a power hitting third baseman that the Phillies signed as an international free agent in 2010 when he was 17. He made his debut in September 2014 and like Matz, put his name in his team’s record book becoming the first Phillies player to record back to back 5 rbi games.  He took over as the regular third baseman for the Phillies in 2015 and has hit over 50 home runs in his 360 career games. He shared John 14.6 saying that he likes this verse because “God is everything to me. When you have a good relationship with God, it’s amazing because everything is going to be fine. Even if you have a tough moment in your life, you have to thank God for everything…God is the path to truth and life, If you believe Jesus died for your sins and give your life to Him, He is the way to heaven… In tough moments, you can’t do it alone. Pray to Jesus and give Him control. He is the Way”

Takeaway – What struck me from Franco’s words was the thankfulness. Thanking God for everything when you are having a tough time? That is not our instinct. We tend to blame him, question him and mistrust Him. But if we can choose instead to thank Him, knowing that He does have a plan for us and that it is for our ultimate best, we will see our trust in Him grow. He has given us so much. He has taken care of us in so many ways. He is with us in hard times, He is able to turn our hardest things into positives. He really is ALL we need. He is everything.