When Opportunity Doesn’t Come Knocking

I’ve been arguing with myself a lot lately.  
Maybe you’ve had a dual like this too? It goes something like this.

Play By Play

Ready? Allez!

You so enjoy the ministry stuff you do. Counseling and teaching and online- it’s so fulfilling. Just think what could be done with better PR and another degree!  Greater opportunities for the message you love to share. 

Then Me-Two interrupts Me- usually long before that’s all out- and lunges.

If God wanted that for you, someone down here would have made it perfectly clear. When was the last time a Leadership Development Head tapped you on the shoulder? And when was the last time you got asked to speak?  Leave well enough alone. 

But I don’t. Not yet anyway.

I’ll go for it- God can always close the door, says Me.

Don’t get too big for your britches, thrusts Me-Two.

But good desires can be from God, gingerly sidesteps Me.

Mid-life crisis, jabs Me-Two.

Nah- This  degree has been on my mind since I was 23, parries Me.

But God’s using you without those extra letters behind your name, says Me-Two.

Yes, but God ordains means- including training and degrees, strikes Me.

Me-Two lunges, now, sharp and true, Be content with what you have.

I am grateful, says Me, disengaging sheepishly.

That’s about it, how the match plays out.

Get Out Of God’s Way

Enter Pastor Crawford Loritts and his right-on-point, 90-second broadcast, I just so happened to catch.

Loritts has spoken a ton and led a whole lot. But he says he’s never asked for a speaking engagement or sought a leadership position. “While that sort of self-promotion may be appropriate for others,” Loritts said, “it’s not for me. God won’t let me do that. Maybe to keep my pride in check.”

He cited Galatians 1:22-24 to show how God prepared the way for Paul, without Paul doing a bit of his own PR.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They kept hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.  

“They kept hearing.” The Judea Christians were hearing good words about Paul- praise of Paul-  without a bit of self-promotion from Paul. God went before Paul. He prepared the way for his messenger Paul. God set the stage and Paul obeyed the call and climbed on.

Then Loritts shared this principle: When God wants the Word to be spread, He’ll get it done. PR can be a tool in God’s hands, but we need to get out of the way and make sure what we do honors and glorifies Him. 

Me-Two was right. But it wasn’t the end.

Put in a Good Word

Because the very next day, I tuned inagain.

This time, in a message called, “Help Others Be Used By God,” Pastor Loritts explained how God raised up leaders who put in good words for him. Loritts credits his ministry opportunities to the goodness of those who came along and said, I like Crawford. Give him a chance.

Pastor Loritts described a time when this happened for Paul. And when James, Cephas, and John who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship that we should go to the heathen and they to those of the circumcision.  

The right hand of fellowship, explains Loritts, was an endorsement. It was leaders saying, We stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We’re gonna speak up for you and what you’re all about. Then with God’s big grace, and the leaders’ good words, Paul began a ministry that shaped the history of the world.

God uses encouragers to propel us and open doors. Their handshakes and ‘Atta boy’s” and “You go girl’s” push us on. God has marked every one of His children for usefulness, Loritts said. So let’s help them to be used.  

We all stand on the shoulders of others. Who of us can’t name a teacher (Mr. Baughn, English Lit), coach (Koceja, Track and Field), co-worker or friend (Traci, “Maybe start a blog.”) who encouraged a gifting or put in a good word? Their praise then pushed us to enter that race or hone that skill or take that class.

So don’t save your praise. When the opportunities we await don’t come knocking, we can still use what influence we do have to put in a good word where we can. 

Let’s help them be used. 

Do Unto Others: Encourage

Me and Me-Two still fight sometimes, about knocking on doors and doing more.

I could wish I had leaders opening doors for me the way Crawford Loritts had for him. I could. 

But I will do what I tell my boys to do, when they wish they’d been treated differently: Do to others as you would have them do to you. And this one’s not holy writ, but Be the change you want to see, also fits.  

The old-time pastor Matthew Henry had it right, There may be a just occasion for us to vindicate ourselves, but it does not become us to applaud ourselves. Proprio laus sordet in ore—Self-praise defiles the mouth. Or, Praise in one’s own mouth stinks. 

Self-promotion might get IN God’s way. But using your mouth to encourage others IS God’s way.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.

Proverbs 27:2

Cross Training: Why I Kissed Ice Cream Good-Bye

Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. 

We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means. 

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Gabe gave in the day Aunt Danielle took him to Dairy Queen. 

Everybody else was having something, and they were making me really, really anxious, 
he explained with a shrug. 

I wanted ice cream really, really bad. So I just had a banana split.

So ended a seven year old’s self-imposed Lenten fast. He fell midway through week two.

My countdown continues: 42 hours left, give or take. Then Easter feast breaks Lenten fast. Cappuccino Fudge meets Resurrection Morn. 

Why bother with Lent? Why give up a good thing? Why wage an optional war? 

It’s not hard to find good answers.  Read five broad benefits of observing Lent at this Gospel Coalition blog post. Or my two reasons here. You might be surprised. 

Why do I fast? In a word, training. In four, Christ-exalting soul strength. Each time I skip a soft-serve and pass on pie a la mode, my soul gets a wee bit stronger. Train yourself to be godlyPaul told TimothyI from a little thing like ice cream and am strengthened for bigger battles against greed and pride, anger and envy.

Lent is testing ground; a time for spiritual cross-training. It’s a battlefield of sorts. Fasting shows what controls me, what comforts me. It exposes what I really live by: ice cream and coffee, Facebook and fitness? Or every word that comes from the mouth of God? 

Christian fasting-giving up a good gift for a time- is not about Stoic pride, or proving my love for God. It is about training in godliness. It’s working my soul in a new way to build spiritual fitness. It’s resisting what would lure my heart away from my all- glorious, all-satisfying God.

Fasting is a cross training to increase the strength of my soul, so, I will not be mastered by anything (1 Corinthians 6:12). That is why I gave up ice cream.

If I can’t deny myself ice cream for six weeks, how can I resist the more habit-forming, tempting tastes of pride and envy, of anger and impatience?

A heaping bowl after dinner and steaming cups in the morning and push notices on my iPad-Each of those would have me for breakfast. When my comfort and joy hinges on the bowl, or the cup or more Facebook likes, I’m done. I’m captive.

All are innocent pleasures. Caffeine and ice cream, Facebook and fitness are gifts from God. And all can move subtly to become an end in themselves. To enslave.

Ice cream has that power?

It does. Or did. And so does coffee in the morning and posting that elusive “40 likes” photo. A sub-seven minute mile can do it, too.

But I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing his suffering, becoming like him in death. Starting with these little denial deaths. Paul said he counted everything rubbish that he could know Christ. Little food fasts make me strong for big soul fights, because in them I know Christ better.

But there’s one more big reason to fast.

How God is glorified and Christ is exalted in a little Lenten fast. 

C. S. Lewis hinted at it. Only those who try to resist temptation knows how strong it is, he wrote. And Christ is the only one who never yielded to temptation. 

The author of Hebrews’ said it straight out: Jesus was like us in every respect, and because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (2:14-15). He can sympathize with our weakness, because in every respect he has been tempted as we are, yet was without sin. 

And here is how Christ is exalted. It’s when we confidently draw near to the throne of grace, to receive mercy-forgiveness when we fall and find grace-power to keep from falling-to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

He gives mercy and grace. I call, tempted and weak. Christ answers, sympathetic and strong. I called, you answered, and you came to my rescue. That’s Hillsong’s version.

David’s last line is a tad different. I called, you answered; my strength of soul you increased (Psalm 138:3). And, Call to me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you and you will glorify me (Psalm 50:15)

That exchange- I call, God answers- is soul-strengthening, Christ-exalting cross training. 

But what does look like in real life

For me, it looks like closing the freezer without sneaking a bite from the pint in the back. And refusing to pop open my iPad at 10:30 at night to see if someone liked my post. At Arby’s last week it was Thank you Jesus as the rest of the family shared a Jamocha milkshake. 

Cross training looks different, but always sounds similar. We don’t call uncle; we call Jesus. Help me stand, help me resist the itch. Remind me of your good truth.  

  • It might be countering your itch for human praise with this reminder: Let another praise you and not your own lips. 
  • Or dueling with envy the minute he starts to whisper, You ought to have a four bedroom, sunny-side house. Nope: Godliness with contentment is great gain.
  • Or striking with the sword of the Spirit when despair over a failed friendship falls. Why so downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God. He’s the lifter of your face. 
  • Or wielding the Word to kill worry when the infection spreads to your kids. Cast your cares upon him, for he cares for you. And, Commit your way to the Lord. 
  • Or trading gratitude for grumbling, when we feel entitled to better this, or more that. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 

That’s how God gets glory when we cross train. The One who was tempted in every way, who is right now interceding for us, His strength is exalted when we work my soul muscles. When those muscles ache, when temptation’s strong don’t cry uncle. Cry Jesus.

Then we really know the truth we talk: no temptation can seize us beyond what we can bear. God truly is faithful to provide a way out so we can stand up under it. That strengthens spiritual muscles.

Yes, we are a Resurrection People; Christ is Risen indeed! My sin is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. We stand forgiven at the cross. But our battles aren’t over yet. 

Jesus suffered and died so I won’t have to suffer is NOT its message. It’s He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:24).

The cross isn’t just past. The word of the cross, Paul wrote, is to us who are being saved the power of God. John Piper contends that the cross of Christ is not merely a past place of substitution. It’s also a present place of daily execution.  

It’s not just history. It’s a present way of life for the Christian. It’s Colossians 3:5, Put to death what is earthly in you. It’s Roman’s 6:11, Consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ. And, If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 

But fasting and denying are not an end in themselves. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Luke 9:23-24). Lenten fast always leads to Easter feast.

In heaven there will be no self-denial because none of our desires will tend toward sin. We’ll be with the Bridegroom and we won’t fast. Till then we struggle with desires. So we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. 
*       *       *       *       *

The ancient hymn, Audi benigne Conditor describes the bonds between our bodies and souls. Anthony Esolen’s translation beautifully expresses how God is glorified when we bring both into subjection. When we cross train in the present power of the cross. 

(You might sing it to the tune of the Old 100th, Praise God from Whom all Blessing Flow.)

Our sins are grave indeed, but we,
Are far too frail to bear the blame;
Spare us, and bring the remedy,
Unto the glory of Thy Name. 

So while we make our bodies lean,
Prune back our spirit’s pride within,
That hungering hearts made strong and clean,
Shall leave untouched the food of sin.

Grant, O Thou blessed Trinity;
Grant, O unchanging Unity;
That this our fast of forty days,
May work our profit and Thy praise! Amen!

Our profit, his praise. Weak made strong by the power of the cross. Christianity is not a settle-in-and-live-at-peace-with-your-sin-within religion. It’s I consider everything as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord. 

Easter comes, then goes. But let’s not lose the present power of the cross when we tuck the plastic eggs away Sunday night. Let’s live its message daily. The cross is not just a symbol of the weight of our sin and guilt. It’s the present power of God to fight our sin within.

This side of glory, we live in the shadow of the cross. If by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live, (Romans 8:13). All life, not just Lent, is Christ-exalting cross-training.

That’s why I kissed ice cream good-bye.  Until Easter. 

Mohawks & Bop It!s

One of the biggest perks of parenting are all the low-cost life lessons. Likenings abound with kids around; we compare our realities to deeper spiritual realities. Mohawks and BopIt!s are fresh from last week.


Gabe had a mohawk. Technically, it was a fauxhawk. But, hair today, gone tomorrow. Or last Saturday; Gabe’s lasted five days. (The ‘stache stuck around for an hour or two; a night’s VBS curio.)

Dress the part. Look professional, act professional. Wear pro-flare pants, play fab baseball. Sport a mohawk, play a fierce rebel. Hence, Gabriel had a mohawk.

Gabe was more aggressive, assertive and rebellious last week. I caught him a few times by the mirror: chin up-defiant, sly-grin gazing. He swaggered and sparred. Gabe doesn’t usually swagger. (He does often spar. But not with that zest and zeal.) 

A recent post about dressing up included a lengthy Lewis quote. To identify as a child of God, he wrote, means you dress the part. Even to pray the Lord’s Prayer implies a certain style. And it’s way more than mohawks and mullets, fauxhawks and flattops.  But I don’t think it’s less. 

Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean?  They mean, quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God.  To but it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending…In a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.   

-C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 160

As God’s chosen people, holy and beloved, we’re told to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience (Colossians 3:12). That dress might feel funny. Clothing ourselves with Christ will be awkward and unnatural sometimes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; I ought to feel awkward wearing frayed jeans to work. Or Nikes to a wedding. 

The inverse is also true. What feels good and natural might be all wrong. Gabe thought the fauxhawk looked really good. 

I love it mom; it’s so cool, he said. You cut it just right, he said.

The wardrobe thing is a perennial problem. Jude forewarned of scoffers who follow ungodly desires and mere natural instincts and do not have the spirit. (vv. 18-19) Natural and spiritual garments may clash.  

I know. We look at mullets and mohawks, but the Lord looks at the heart. The clothes might not make the man. 

But still dress the part. 

BopIt! (Tetris)

Two months post-birthday, his $20 gift card had smoldered a hole in his pocket. Visions of Lego ships danced in his head. But then days before the Wal-Mart run, caring parental collaboration resulted in the Edict of Dad. It dashed all Lego hope: 

Thou shalt buy off any shelf in the toy aisles, but from the Lego rack thou shalt not buy. 

Grief’s stages were predictable: denial (It’s my gift card, I can spend it on whatever I want.), followed by anger (That is SO! SO! NOT! FAIR!!), then bargaining. Lots of bargaining. Big-time negotiation by both sons.

Aw, Dad, we’ll just get a little Lego ship.  We just need that one ship. and 

Can’t I just spend half  on a little Legos kit? and

After this one we won’t need to buy any more Legos, I promise!

Desire re-ignited as we pushed our cart through housewares to toys. Oh, the sway of lustful eyes. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.  (Jonah 2:8) We reached the Lego aisle; now within arm’s reach of Lego Star Wars and Chima, Lego Super Heroes and Angry Birds, and-agony of agonies- Lego Minecraft. Still I held the line. Even in Desperation’s words.

You are so mean. You are the meanest Mom. And then, the mother of juvenile manipulation: I wish I wasn’t your son. 

Kinetic sand, Connect 4, and Angry Birds Mega Fling all took a backseat to Bop It! Tetris. It was an instant slide it, spin it, slam it MEGA HIT. Tetris on the 7 year-old brain, round the clock:

Can I take it to bed with me, please, Mom? 

And on the way home from VBS he told my sister:

I am so sorry to interrupt, Aunt Danielle, but I just can’t stop thinking about my Bop It! Tetris. It is so fun! I used to not even know what it was, but it is awesome. 

Gabe interjected at random times to say, and this one is verbatim:

Mom, I can’t tell you how much I love this game.  I am just telling you because I just love it.

We pray, submitting our requests: Legos or healing or the sale of a house. An infinitely wise, infinitely good God may say no. Instead, he does a new thing. What spring up might just be immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Not another set of tiny plastic pieces awash in a Lego sea, but a Bop It! Tetris.

Immeasurably more.

I am beginning to feel that we need a preliminary act of submission not only towards possible future afflictions but also towards possible future blessings. On every level of life-in our religious experience, in our gastronomic, erotic, aesthetic, and social experience- we are always harking back to some occasion which seemed to us to reach perfection, setting that up as a norm, and depreciating all other occasions by comparison. But these other occasions, I now suspect, are often full of their own new blessing, if only we would lay ourselves open to it. God shows us a new facet of the glory, and we refuse to look at it because we’re still looking for the old one

-C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm