Archive for the ‘Christian Discipleship’ Category

I’m prone to living my life in a way where I don’t have to talk to people.

For instance, I resort to e-mail over a phone call and I can be really stubborn with this. Sometimes there’ll be minor issues that need to be taken care of (school schedule changes, internet bill questions, calling to make a doctor’s appointment) and I’ll totally avoid these calls. I’ll email if possible, but if not, then I usually just ask Julie to make the call (this can’t be a healthy marital move, but I will say, she’s so much better (and meaner!) at talking to the obnoxious internet people).

I’m seeing that my stubbornness with such things can be quite foolish. I could save myself (and Julie) time and stress by calling and crossing things off the checklist faster. I simply need to have more responsibility and do these types of things.

I’m also prone to living my life in a way where I don’t have to know people.

I’ll talk to the people I want to talk to and even pursue certain people that I want to pursue. But I’m not prone to actually getting to know people. I tend to keep people at arm’s length and I lack intentionality in seeking to get to know people’s backgrounds, interests, views, and joys.

Living in a way where I don’t have to talk to annoying business people on the phone is silly, but living in a way in which I don’t have to know people is downright unhealthy. The consequences of the first are minor stresses and perhaps an extra $30 on the monthly bill, but the consequences of the latter are a lack of relationships and community.

Let’s zero in on the latter, because there’s clearly much more to zero in on. Why am I like this — prone to not get to know people?

Here are a couple reasons that jump out:

Reason #1: We live in a world of distractions. I frequently walk the streets of Chicago (where I’m a graduate student) and I often find myself dodging fellow pedestrians who are entrenched in the latest app on their I-Phone.

Now, I better not dare act like I’m never one of those swerving pedestrians who almost run into a sweet old lady or trip and fall in front of a taxi. I frequently find myself texting as I stroll the city streets. Think about that for a second. If I’m texting while walking through a metropolis (where there are thousands of other people and things to look at), you better believe I’m busy probing my phone, Facebook, Twitter, my fantasy sports teams, and ESPN.com whenever I have a free window of time elsewhere. My mind runs towards this clutter. I gotta have it and I don’t know why, because the thing is I know that I don’t really gotta have it but I still keep running towards it.

I’m rambling.

What I’m trying to get at is this: we can live entire days completely immersed in our own little bubbles of social media with a little work thrown in on the side. We may know people through one-liners on the internet, but all of these distractions pull us away from intentional relationships. We can always find a way to busy ourselves and it takes away from actually stopping and talking to people.

Reason #2: Relationships are work, and as much as I don’t want to admit this, I often don’t want to put in the time. Life is about me and allowing other people to enter my world is often inconvenient.

We don’t just get to know people automatically. It takes effort — asking questions, listening (which can be really hard) to people’s stories, inviting people over, making plans for an event and then following through with it, and committing to doing these sorts of things frequently, because we don’t just get to know someone on one occasion, but over time is when guards are let down, vulnerabilities are exposed, and a true, intentional relationship begins to blossom.

I want that but I don’t want that, and that’s what I don’t like. My life’s grown accustomed to being centered upon me, and I know that my selfishness needs to be peeled back for these types of relationships to develop and grow.

Therefore, I’m going to try to end this cycle of living without really knowing anybody. And I’ll certainly fail at this time and time again. But it’s time for me to take some responsibility with this. I’m not saying all the internet distractions are being thrown out the door, but they’re going to need to be limited. If anything, those are the things that need to be held at arm’s length, not people.

And I hope I can begin to step out of my inwardly consumed shell and begin to see people, to really see them, as people who God made just like me — with stories, fears, hopes, dreams, and futures.

I know one thing: the people who’ve intentionally invested in me have encouraged and instilled me with joy in a way in which I’ll be forever grateful.

Should my life seek to reciprocate this?

For most of my life, I’ve viewed counseling as a “last resort” option.  If things are really messed up, then you see a counselor.  Therefore, if you see a counselor, that’s a bad thing.  That means there are major problems and fixings are necessary.

I’ve also viewed counseling in a very “fix-it” type of way.  You have problem A, here is solution A.  It’s like going to the hardware store.  You broke something at home and you jet to the hardware store for the quick “fix-it” solution.  And the solution works.  Unfortunately, many forms of counseling cater to such ideas.  But people aren’t projects to fix like broken faucets.  We’re broken people and each of us has a different, complex story.  Morever, we’re all broken.  We’re not “above” counseling.  Counseling isn’t reserved for the really messed up people, because we’re all in the same boat here — broken and in need of ongoing healing and redemption.

It’s evident that many of our presuppositions concerning counseling are naive and need to be debunked.  A major example of this is seen in how pre-marital and post-marital counseling are viewed differently.  It’s amazing that whenever couples subscribe to pre-marital counseling, everybody is so affirmative.  “Oh, that’s great.  You’ll learn such healthy foundations even before you’re married!”  But when a couple goes to post-marital counseling, alarms sound.  “Oh no!  What happened?  Who did what?!”

Frankly, in the marriage counseling arena, I believe post-marital counseling to be of much greater value than pre-marital, because when you’re engaged, you’re infatuated and can’t wait to snuggle 24/7 and do…other things.  But you have no idea what the reality of marriage is really going to be like.  After you’ve been married for awhile though, reality sets in and you realize you can’t base a marriage on happiness and infatuation.  You realize how selfish you are, you grasp that marriage isn’t always easy, and you perceive that you’re somewhat clueless.  You’re then in a much better place to receive counseling.  My wife and I have certainly learned this!

That rant hopefully paints the picture of how skewed our perspective towards counseling can be.  We stiff-arm counseling and resort that it’s only for people with “issues.”  Not only is that seriously prideful, but it is also naively foolish.

I’m not saying everyone needs to go sign up for counseling right now, but I think it should be an option we consider way more than what we do.  And we also must select our counselors wisely, because counselors that give quick “fix-it” solutions aren’t digging to the root of the brokenness.  They’re just patching up things with a band-aid.  What is ultimately needed is biblically-shaped counseling, where the themes of the Bible are foundational.  Otherwise, we may just end up being another project to fix.

I’ve been dwelling on these thoughts quite a bit recently due to a pastoral counseling class that I’m in.  I thought the class would teach me how to deal with various issues (i.e. Here is what you do when someone has a struggle with depression…).  But my presuppositions have been ignorant.  This class has helped broaden my perspective and I’m now seeing the unfading value that biblically-shaped counseling has for each and every one of us.

Lame Church Signs

Posted: January 13, 2012 in Christian Discipleship

We’ve all seen them and cringed.  They’re instant turn-offs.  And yet they’re all too common.  The world would be a better place without lame church signs.

There seems to be a pattern with them, as they typically fall under one of these three categories:

1) Guilt Trips

2) Cheesy

3) Hell

Here are some prime examples.

Guilt Trips:

Cheesy:

Okay, this one actually made me laugh:

Hell:

Do you really think people are going to read the guilt trips and somehow be softened to the idea of church?  “Oh, thanks God!  I definitely only go to church on Christmas and Easter.  I promise I’ll be there every Sunday now!”

Are people slapping their knees so hard in laughter after a cheesy sign that it makes them want to come on Sunday morning?  “Oh honey, that was hilarious!!!  Let’s try out church on Sunday, what do ya say?!”

And worst of all, are people compelled by God when they read a fear-driven sign about hell?  “Wow, this hell place sounds scary.  Count me in for church this Sunday!”

Lame church signs not only turn people away from church, but they also drastically distort God’s loving character and the biblical model of what the church should be.  They make church appear like a cheesy, unloving, controlling, manipulative, and insincere place.  They push people away rather than draw people in.

Don’t get your idea of who God is or who the church is based on a lame church sign.  The story of the Bible creatively reveals God’s redemption and His drawing of people to Himself.  He did this genuinely, lovingly, freely, purely, and sincerely.  The church is certainly far from perfect, but it’s unfortunate that signs get skewed like this.  Therefore, don’t be deceived, don’t get resentful, and certainly don’t let a lame church slogan scare you like a sign at a haunted house.

In my previous post, I reflected on “Band-Aid” Christianity and how temporary solutions can unfortunately shape Christian identity.  Band-aid solutions to deep rooted problems aren’t going to enable much, if any, transformation.

I’m currently taking a counseling class and we’ve been discussing how often counseling views individuals as “projects.”  “You have problem A, here is solution A.  Try that, hopefully it works.  If it doesn’t, we will try solution B.”  Some Christian counseling even permeates these ideas.  “You have problem A, here is Bible Verse A.  And Bible Verse B too.  Think about those verses.  Pray about them.  Change will soon happen.”

While such examples may be a bit exaggerated, the truth is that these sorts of patterns are common in counseling and in one’s view of God.  People become projects, and even view themselves as “projects” who have to find the right band-aid solutions to get to God.  There are a plethora of insidious problems with this.

First of all, it reduces people to projects and people aren’t projects, they’re people — valuable people made in the image of God.  Because we’re each uniquely crafted in God’s image, God does not view us as His projects.  We’re His created people whom He delights in.  Thus, to dwindle our nature down to projects is a fundamentally flawed view of who we are in God’s sight.  He’s lovingly made us and has divine concern for each of us.  Any view of Him that doesn’t capture this is going to possess major defects.

Secondly, the Bible becomes an encyclopedia when people become projects.  “You’re struggling with anxiety, well then turn here.”  Using the Bible in this sort of way is not only improper, but also harmful.  The Bible is God’s grand story and it’s all connected.  There’s a Creator, Redeemer, and Enemy/Deceiver.  There’s a great deal taking place in Scripture and it has eternal implications.  It’s not a self-help manual.  Moreover, using the Bible like this is harmful because a verse gets thrown in someone’s face.  “Apply this verse and your life will be fixed.”  Life isn’t that easy, and misusing the Bible in this way can end up being more degrading than anything.

(DISCLAIMER: Don’t misunderstand me.  The Bible is foundational in counseling people.  It is changeless truth.  But using it to extract self-help “tips” neglects the holiness of its ongoing story and overlooks the historical contexts of its books.)

The last problem I’ll share is that band-aid Christianity/forms of counseling overlook the pilgrimage of embracing Christian identity.  The Christian life is a long haul.  You cannot get a prescription that fully eliminates struggling with sin while we’re here on earth.  God does enable one to live with power over sin in which growth and change can be seen, but this doesn’t happen quickly nor through slapping band-aids on our problems to stop the bleeding.

True change happens through examining the grandiose picture of who God is.  Life should be seen through the lens of His story, not through self-help manuals that don’t dig at the heart.  Patching up our problems with band-aids is only going to end up being exhausting.  And God won’t even be impressed.  He ultimately longs for broken hearts who cry out for His grace.  Transformation begins with grace and reflects His nature that’s a part of His grand narrative to the world.  I’m seeing the need to not lose sight of this amidst the noise in culture that’s causing us to think otherwise.

One of the biggest tendencies in life is to put “band aids” on our problems, struggles, and issues.  A person we know consistently makes us angry, so our band aid solution is to now avoid them.  We’ve been gossiping a lot lately, so we decide to start hanging out with new people.  Conflict is reigning in our marriage and we quickly resort to better communicative methods to patch up the messiness.  In these situations, there may be a desire for change, but we all know our typical, unhealthy behaviors will continue to reappear in due time.  Change isn’t that easy.

You can see these types of solutions in the New Year’s resolutions that we’re setting right now.  I’m going to spend more time with family and friends.  I’m going to work out 5 days a week.  I’m going to quit smoking.  I’m going to begin volunteering.  We reach for solutions or resolutions that have no foundation.  At times (especially initially), we may have the strength to muster up enough resolve to head to the gym and work out or drive to the local homeless shelter and volunteer.  But don’t these types of things wane over time?  Don’t the band-aid solutions/resolutions to our lives fade when life gets hectic and complicated?

We do this in Christianity with Christian-solutions.  I’m going to pray more this year (And we forget, or life gets busy).  I’m going to read my whole Bible this year (And we get to Exodus and it’s already September).  I’m really going to work on controlling my anger this year (And we’re soon barking at our spouse because she left the milk out again).  Stuff like this happens all the time.  Our band-aid solutions, whether they be secular or Christian, tend to get swatted down like a Dwight Howard blocked shot.  We throw these efforts up in the air thinking they will bring us newfound life and growth, but then disappointment sets in as the efforts come up well-short.  Moreover, we’re embarrassed — because often times we only make it a few days (even hours) before these solutions are dashed.

The curious thing about our Christian band-aids is that God doesn’t like them.  He doesn’t sit up in heaven and applause when he sees us laboring towards solutions that have no root.  It’s not that he doesn’t like structured discipline and resolve, but He simply knows that individual efforts aren’t going to last.  He knows that only His grace can cover and transform the struggles, insecurities, and failures that we carry.

Jesus reveals his displeasure towards such band-aid solutions in Matthew 23:25-26: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”

Jesus was not in favor of those who covered themselves beautifully on the outside while their hearts remained a mess. He sees right through that.  And our band-aid solutions to life typically decorate us on the outside in ways that only feebly change us on the inside, if they even change us at all.

I’ve recently been reading a book entitled Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp.  He drives home the reality that true change begins in the heart and not through altering behavior or changing circumstances.  Changing behavior or relying on new solutions may help for a period of time, but they don’t dig roots.  Tripp writes, “God changes us not just by teaching us to do different things, but by recapturing our hearts to serve him alone” (pg. 71).

Lasting change starts and ends with the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  His death and resurrection opened up the door for true change.  Faith in Him creates the avenue for His lasting work to happen.  Otherwise, we will just buffer along searching for fixes that only end up falling off like a band-aid at a water park.

I’ve never been a big New Year’s resolution setter.  In fact, I can’t recall anything.  But I do know that I’ve often settled for band-aid Christianity, where I try to get near God by fulfilling the good, Christian-flavored duties.  I’ve believed that doing these things and developing a commendable spiritual performance is what God wants.  In that, resting in His grace becomes more of an afterthought.

I’m now realizing more and more that God is looking at me and seeing how out of whack my view of Him is.  My desperate attempts to keep putting on band-aids don’t last, and I need His grace to bring about legitimate change.  God’s grace is what truly enables us to redeem our lifestyles in renewed ways.  It covers fully, not temporarily.  It cleanses entirely, rather than just stopping the chaos.  And it instills life and a new identity, which our hearts need.  These are the realities our hearts should rest in as we enter a new year.

Remembering things that happen in life is much harder than it sounds.  When pressed to dwell on this past year, the happenings that jump to the forefront of my mind are these: winning the fantasy baseball championship, riding in an un-air conditioned van (in August) all the way to Pittsburgh, playing NBA 2K11, watching 24 with my wife, and discovering that Golden Oreo’s are actually better than traditional Oreo’s.

Really, brain?  That’s what comes to mind?  And, brain, it seems that what you remember appears to be quite random and seemingly insignificant.

When pressed to think harder about this past year, I can scrape up some happenings of deeper value: My sister had a baby boy (who I call The Bubbas) and I’m now Uncle H, my family went on a memory-filled vacation to the Michigan dunes, and Julie and I ran our first lap (lap=year) in the race called marriage.

Why is it that remembering the important stuff in life gets tricky?  Maybe we should write down the stuff that happens each day, because it seems as if our most important happenings trickle down the drain while the seemingly random stuff remains.

What gets even trickier is when we try to remember what God taught us over the past year.  Being a seminary student, I always feel like I have to have a profound, biblically sound answer to whenever I’m asked, “What has God been teaching you?”  Something like, “He’s been teaching me surrender (a Christianese buzzword, by the way) — surrendering my dreams, my hopes, and my fears.”  I feel the need to say something like this — transcendent and also mysterious.

But if I’m really honest with the “What has God been teaching you” question, I usually have no idea what to say.  And this is a bad thing for a seminary student like me.  Shouldn’t my answer be crafted perfectly, rattled off routinely, and include at least one biblical reference?

Truthfully, my honest response to the “what has God been teaching you the past year” question is this: “Umm, that I can really be selfish, overly-critical, and nagging.  I place too many expectations on my wife.  And…despite the fact that my collegiate basketball career is over, I still find ways to yell at referees in church ball.  And let’s see…what else…oh yeah, I took long breaks from reading my Bible this past semester because I was getting exhausted from seminary.”

It appears I’m not a cookie-cutter Christian after all.  And that’s just the beginning of “what God has taught me this past year.”  The list could get uglier.

So anyways, what has God truly taught me this past year?  Umm grace?!  Anyone need some of that?

At the end of the year, it can almost be a burden when pressed to think of what God has taught.  Certainly there are avenues of growth we experience, and thank God those enriching times of growth do occur.  But we often feel like we should have pristine knowledge of what God has taught us in a year — something that prompts applause and admiration.  But Christian growth is much messier than that.  Sin gets revealed.  It gets ugly.  And we see our need for the redemption of Christ more and more.

The older I get, the more I realize how in need of God I am.  And this is because He teaches me things because I keep tripping up and doing things my own way.  My steps of growth are not without stumbles.  In reflecting on the past year, it is easy to want to concoct an immaculate set of knowledge that sounds so beautiful — stuff we assume Christians will love.  But if we’re honest with ourselves, each year features plenty of stumbles with growth meshed in between.  Thus, celebrate the growth meshed in between while praising God’s for His grace to cover the stumbles.  That’s my $0.02 as we enter a new year.

God and Santa Claus

Posted: December 23, 2011 in Christian Discipleship

I remember when I was a kid and Santa was real.  He came to my house one time.  He really did.  My dad got some guy to dress up as Santa and he came over.  So did his wife, Mrs. Claus.  My sister and I were delightfully stunned.  Did Santa go to every child’s house like this?  What was going on here?

My parents would also leave cookies for Santa by the chimney and each year Santa took a few nibbles when he dropped off our presents.  I also recall sitting on Santa’s lap at the local mall, where he would give me a Dum-Dum and ask if I’ve been a good boy (My Mom was always relieved when this was over).  Heck, I even recall an elementary classmate who talked about Santa being real with such convincing passion.  He said he saw him swooping through his backyard on the sleigh.

All that to say, the facts were lining up.  Santa came to my house, ate our cookies, and apparently was seen with Rudolph in my classmate’s backyard.  It was all beginning to make sense.

Plus, I believed in God and the Bible as a child too.  And in Sunday school they taught us these wild stories, like a guy getting swallowed by a whale and living through it, and animals gathering on an ark because the earth flooded.  There were also a whole bunch of crazy stories about Jesus — walking on water, feeding thousands of people, and even rising from the dead.  He was Jesus/Superman.

These crazy Bible stories had trained me to grasp the unthinkable.  Therefore, since God and the incredible stories of the Bible were all true, then Santa’s exploits must be too!  How else would the logic of my elementary school mind track with all of this?

Then came that daunting day.  Santa’s not real!  That’s what they said.  Potty-mouthed classmates reeked of the awful news and I then asked Mom if she could verify the despicable, alleged rumor.  With tenderness and grace, she revealed/consoled my curious heart.  Santa’s not real, Mom said.  And Mom never lies.  What about the people who came to our house?  They were disguised family friends, Mom informed.  What?!  You tricked me like that?!  Mom!!!  So what are you going to tell me now, that Dad’s been eating the cookies all these years?!  Yes, it was just for fun while you were young, honey.  But what about Mikey (my elementary school classmate’s name) seeing Santa on a sleigh, Mom?!  Honey, I’m sorry (She apparently doesn’t respond to such inane queries).

Santa disappeared just like that.  He melted faster than a snowman in the Sahara.  It was just a big Christmas ploy to get kids like me excited.  And suddenly Santa was gone and the best thing I could now do with him is not tell my younger cousins that’s he fake.

Anyways, back to God.  Sooo, if Santa is a ploy, what does that make God?  I mean, Santa dropping presents through a chimney is wild, but God is much wilder.  Those Sunday school stories are insane!  God can’t be real if Santa isn’t.  But Mom said He was!  And so did Dad!  And Dad never lies either.  Thus, the facts were lining up in God’s favor.  But what was the catch to this?  How did Santa come toppling down so quickly while God kept standing?

Faith, in the mind of a 6-year old, suddenly became an insecure thought.  Faith in Santa, faith in God, and faith that Michael Jordan would lead the Bulls to another championship were what I held to.  And suddenly, two of the three remained while I would never look at Santa the same.

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Now comes the point where I have to wrap up this blog with some profound message.  It’s time to connect the dots and make you say, “Ahhh, so that’s where he’s been going this whole time.”  Welp, I got nothing.  These are just my random God and Santa Claus thoughts that I’ve been waiting to get out for years.  It feels so good to release them.

At the end of the day, let’s just thank God He’s real and delight in the gift of Jesus Christ’s birth, a holiday we celebrate but a meaning that’s so often hazy.  The way children are indoctrinated to the holiday season is quite comical if you take a step back and examine it, especially when you picture the logic of an analytical 6-year old like me.

Despite knowing doctrines about God and professing to be a Christian for the majority of my life, I’ve spent years seeking to “beautify” myself in an effort to please God.  I sew fig leaves, like Adam and Eve, hoping to cover myself desirably so I can feel worthy before a holy God.

This tendency to please God is engrained in the way most of us think.  Almost everything in life is earned–jobs, spots on sports teams, money, success, fame, etc.  Therefore, a worthy status before God must feature some sense of beautifying or seeking to dazzle God with attempts at spirituality, right?

We might reason that God sprinkles some grace here and there and overlooks some foolishness.  But overall, we tend to assume that God approves of the people who’ve embellished themselves with impressive fig leaves.  Thus, we strive for ways to decorate ourselves so when we one day stand before God, he’ll give us a complimentary nod, like a 14 year-old boy gives to his friend who just got a new pair of Jordan’s.

It’s truthfully silly that we seek to sew fig leaves over our shame in an effort to please God.  The sin of humanity is so flagrant.  No spiritual performance is going to fully cover our sin and shame.  God is not looking for a heart that seeks to adorn oneself through moral effort.  No matter how decorative one is able to ornament oneself, a perfect, holy God still sees the underlying disease, which is blatant sin.

So, why do we sew fig leaves?  If this is so silly, why do we keep doing it?  We do it because we’re aware of our guilt.  We know we’ve messed up.  Thus, we must do something to purify ourselves.  So we get busy thinking of ways to make ourselves look good before God.  We act like God is going to soon give us a report card and we better get our grades up. We don’t want to fail his big test (whatever it is).

Underneath all of this is the fact that we attempt to deal with our guilt without grace.  We deny, ignore, or doubt the redemption of Jesus Christ, who makes us beautiful because of His atoning work on the Cross.  This is where the good news of the gospel is drastically different from what the world perceives, or what many religions preach.  God doesn’t want our silly fig leaves that are honestly like filthy rags.  He wants our broken hearts, which acknowledge our messiness and claim His redemption.  Psalm 51:17 states, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

Acclaimed pastor and author Timothy Keller wrote in his book The Reason for God, “Religion operates on the principle, “I obey–therefore I am accepted by God.”  But the operating principle of the gospel is “I am accepted by God through Christ–therefore I obey.”  You can see the radical shift in the gospel and the subsequent change in the way one lives as a result.  Living to obey and beautify ourselves with fig leaves is not the gospel.  The gospel reshapes our identity as a child of God, and our hearts are thus broken and thankful before Him.  The interesting thing is that when the gospel is truly embraced in this manner, then a redemptive lifestyle out of gratitude will follow.  There will be freedom, peace, and hope.  But seeking to please God through spiritual performances, through “designer” fig leaves, and through stern-minded obedience will only end up draining us.  This is obedience without Christ.  It is obedience without grace.

I’ve been dwelling on this recently because of a counseling book I’ve been perusing.  I mentioned it in a previous post, as its intention is to teach me the proper tools to biblically counsel people in the future.  But it has actually been counseling me.  I need constant reminders of God’s grace and the wondrous reality of the gospel.  I’m being alerted, more and more, to how so many Christians (including myself) so easily forget the crux of the gospel.  Despite knowing of God’s redemption, we still seek to find fig leaves that supposedly fit us.  But such efforts are far from brokenness, far from grace, and far from knowing a God who truly changes us from the inside out.

When I graduated from high school, I was as moldable as a wet chunk of clay.  I professed to be a Christian but interest in seeking out what that really means was wavering.  I could talk like a Christian but no roots in that identity had been dug.  I entered college searching for purpose and in a place where my peers had an overwhelming amount of influence.  They had the opportunity, knowingly or not, to impact and mold me in deeply formative ways.

At that stage of my life, I could have been sculpted in a handful of ways, but thanks to God, I was blessed to land at Cedarville University and soon become a member of the Men’s Basketball team.  I was soon surrounded by men who did not just profess to be Christians, but were enriched in this identity and were embodying it towards others.  Cedarville was incredibly unique in this regard.  This type of godly fellowship is rare in this day and age and its value cannot be underestimated.

I remember arriving as a freshman and soon rubbing shoulders with senior teammates who seemed more like theologians, such as Tyler Yoder.  I was called up to the varsity team a few weeks into the season, which meant that the varsity players had already received lockers and everyone already had their niche on the team.  I didn’t know how I, the newcoming freshman straggler, would be received.

They gave me a locker sandwiched right next to Yoder, which blatantly eliminated space for him to dress his 6-4, 250 pound body for practice.  This was undoubtedly inconvenient for him.  Moreover, my addition to the team hiked the total of freshman players to around half of the team.  We were immature and thought we were pretty sweet.  For the upperclassmen, the thought of having yet another freshman saying stupid, incoherent things in the locker room was not necessarily appealing.

Despite such obstacles, Yoder welcomed me with a consistency I will never forget.  Truthfully, he probably doesn’t remember much of this.  But little did he know how influential it was at the time.  I listened to him and the other upperclassmen have conversations and latched onto every word like a little boy listens to his daddy.  They could have talked about putting pickles on ice cream and I probably would’ve done it in the campus cafeteria that night.

This was why it was a major blessing that I was surrounded by godly fellowship at Cedarville, because the camaraderie of the team drove me towards pursuing Christian identity myself.  There was an “iron-sharpening-iron” feel to the team, where everybody was spurred on by one another.  The fellowship of the team molded me in ways that would’ve otherwise gone untouched.  Truthfully, if I would’ve been surrounded by a team that had no family like feel and no godly trajectory to it, I could have easily lost sight of my faith as a Christian and never critically engaged what Christian identity really means.

I will never forget my freshman year at Cedarville because of how formative it was.  It was more than a timely blessing.  It was the type of fellowship I needed to instill God’s goodness in me.  I will be forever grateful.

During my sophomore, junior, and senior years, this fellowship continued.  I graduated with a class of teammates who are like brothers to me and I consider them the reason God led me to Cedarville (Oh, and I also met my wife ;)).  The refining, the fun, the conversations, the laughter, and the unfading fellowship was the story of my time as a Cedarville basketball player.  On paper, I was a backup point guard, but in my heart, I was a story whose script was desperately longing to be written.  And the fellowship of the team at Cedarville helped guide my story towards a grander story–towards Christ.

I hope the fellowship that has been seen at Cedarville can infuse more athletic teams.  Being a part of a team is such a joy and it can be handled in different ways.  This is why when I now give a piece of advice to a high school kid who wants to play in college, I tell him to look at the players on the team and try to get a feel for their character. Is it going to be a godly, maturing environment, or is it going to build immaturity, impurity, and prompt one to make decisions that will just end up being regrets?

We need more Tyler Yoder’s out there, who set an example and help shape teammates in life-changing ways.  Guys like him light a spark of fellowship, a torch that gets passed down to the next class, and then the next… The interesting thing is that by the time I was a senior, I hardly realized I could be another Tyler Yoder.  When you’re a senior, it doesn’t feel as if the younger guys really look up to you.  But they do.  How you handle adversity, competition, relationships, and life in general are things that are constantly taken note of.

I hope that professing Christians will seek to wear their identity on teams more and more, because it is such a unique arena that comes and goes.  Yet in the time this fellowship is present, godly character can be nourished and radiated towards others.  This establishment of godly character should be the real reason to play sports, because what it leaves athletes with is far more valuable than putting a ball in a hoop, hitting a home run, or catching a touchdown pass.

Josh Hamilton and Tim Tebow are two of the most well-known Christian athletes.  Both have boldly declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ and seek to exemplify Christian character.  What’s interesting about these two athletes is sports culture has received them in different ways.  While Hamilton has garnerned some attention, Tebow has virtually become a national icon.  He has quickly become one of the most scrutinized athletes in history.  People are coming at him full speed with every move he makes and no one appears ready to put on the brakes.

Why do we treat these two successful, Christian athletes differently?

Hamilton and Tebow possess drastically different Christian testimonies.  Hamilton was known as a “wild man” for years, specifically dabbling in drugs.  He was once a top draft pick, but because of his voluptuous lifestyle he appeared to be forfeiting much of his potential.  It seemed as if his baseball career would be defined as a bust.

Then came his redemption.  He sought help for his addictions and put his faith in Jesus Christ, longing for restoration–both spiritually and physically.  This happened in a remarkable way.  Hamilton soon found his niche as an All-Star caliber hitter in the Texas Rangers’ lineup.  He has now anchored their lineup to two consecutive World Series trips.  This year, he even hit what would’ve been the World Series-winning home run in game 6, but the Cardinals manufactured an improbable comeback.

Hamilton’s story has been inspiring because it consists of a 180-degree turn.  He cast away his old life for a new life.  His life is a living redemption that we can relate with.  We see it.  We grasp it.  We respect it.

(Watch this powerful video of Hamilton describing his redemption.  Seriously, watch it.)

Tebow’s journey has been much different.  To the eyes of the public, it appears that Tebow has never sinned. He grew up as a missionary kid and arrived at the University of Florida rooted in his Christian identity.  He never “dabbled.”  He even claims to be a virgin and that he’s saving himself for marriage.  In this day and age, this is not only unusual, but this is something that unfortunately causes laughter.

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Therefore, when it comes to Tebow, we aren’t prone to look and see redemption and hope.  Despite his consistency in his faith and conduct, Tebow has not received wide-ranging respect.  Some surely do respect him, but many view him as someone to question, someone to search for any flaws to be found, someone whose life should be distinctly examined.  He is too good to be true and many voices in culture simply do not like this.

The stark difference between Hamilton and Tebow is that Hamilton is relateable.  He is easier to handle because he has a bad past.  We connect more with Hamilton because his flaws have been exposed.  He was lost, but now he’s found.

In the world’s eyes, Tebow has never appeared lost.  Tebow’s life seems like a living miracle.  It’s what we dream of our kids being like one day but we know they never will be.  Thus, we’re almost jealous of Tebow.  We essentially want him to fail so we can at least relate to him.  We can identify with Hamilton and his redemption story, but Tebow is tougher to handle.

I must say that at the core of the Christian faith is that we’re all in need of redemption.  Everyone falls under the umbrella of sinful humanity and needs redemption through the Savior Jesus Christ.  This is the lens in which God sees the world.  Hamilton, Tebow, you, and me are all lost and can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ.

But our humanly eyes often distort this perspective and it is seen in how Josh Hamilton and Tim Tebow are viewed.  Hamilton is esteemed and respected because of his faith and the way his character has changed.  Tebow, on the hand, often receives the brunt of unwarranted criticism.  Truthfully, we can call this criticism, but at the core appears to be a society that is skeptical, perhaps even jealous, of Tebow.  There’s always “a catch” to things that are too good to be true.  But what is “the catch” to Tim Tebow?

Frankly, it is quite silly that there is currently more talk centered around Tim Tebow than Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers is having the best season a quarterback has had in NFL history.  The numbers and wins don’t lie.  And yet Tebow is the story of the 2011 NFL season.  He’s the story because there are so many stories about him, whether it’s praise for his team leadership and grit, criticism of his throwing mechanics, praise for his faith in Jesus Christ, or criticism of his overly zealous admonitions of faith.  Praise and criticism are raining, check that, downpouring on Tebow.  Everyone has an opinion and everyone is voicing it.  We’re now overly hyper over him.  Tim Tebow literally has us going bonkers and we don’t know whether to praise or criticize.

Maybe we should just calm down and let Tebow live, both as a player and a person.  He’s 24 years old and a second year NFL quarterback, but we’re treating him like a presidential candidate.  Truthfully, we should be thankful for a man like him in professional sports.  The reality is that both Hamilton and Tebow instill hope, and they do this in different and similar ways.  Hamilton gives hope to the blatant rebel and his life reveals the loving forgiveness and transformation found in Jesus Christ.  Tebow shows the steadfastness of a godly man’s character, a person who presents the next generation with a true role model.  And they both ultimately hold the keys to life that is rooted in their faith.  Above all else, this is what should be examined.  There is something about both of these athletes that is compelling, and it should warrant our intrigue rather than our skepticism.