Tag Archive: Jesus


A common, and biblical, metaphor for describing the office of pastor is that of the faithful shepherd.  Jesus presents Himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).  Drawing from the deep well of the Old Testament canon, Christ brought to mind the words of the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Micah.

Isaiah 40:11 Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs, And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.

Ezekiel 34:23 “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.

Micah 5:4 And He will arise and shepherd His flock In the strength of the LORD, In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God. And they will remain, Because at that time He will be great To the ends of the earth.

The imagery is certainly a beautiful reminder of the loving care in which Jesus provides to us.  It is best illustrated in the Shepherd’s Psalm.  According to this psalm, God provides for us, blesses us, nurtures us, protects us, and leads us in the paths of righteousness (Psalm 23).

This same representation is used in the New Testament also.

Hebrews 13:20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

1 Peter 2:25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Though pastor is arguably the most common title for church leaders today, it is only found twice in the AV translation of Scripture.  Well, sort of, let me explain.  In the Old Testament, Jeremiah invokes the term as he prays to God for vindication in the midst of a corrupt people (Jer. 17:16).  Paul uses it in Ephesians, teaching on the various offices of the New Testament Church.  He writes, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).  The Greek term for pastor is poimen (pronounced poy-mayne) and though not translated often as pastor in the AV, it is found in numerous other verses, translated as “shepherd” (Matt. 9:36; Matt. 25:32; Matt. 26:31; Mk. 6:34; Mk. 14:27; Lk. 2:8, 15, 18, 20; Jn. 10:2, 11-12, 14, 16; Heb. 13:20; 1 Pet. 2:25).

The Good Shepherd, painting, Philippe de Champaigne

Cliché advice comes frequently in the ministry.  It will come from pastors, church members, non-church members, the unsaved (which can include any of the three previous groupings), etc.  No matter one’s experience level with the Christian faith, their biblical literacy, or even their genuine interest in your ministry, people will always have advice for you.  In my young and more impetuous days, I did not know how to handle these moments.  Over the years, I have learned how to smile, nod, and then hand it all over to God.  Oh what a difference a decade in ministry can make!

The most popular advice centers upon my role as shepherd.  I am advised to feed the flock, nurture the flock, love the flock, admonish the flock, protect the flock, and so on and so forth.  While I believe each of these charges are biblical in nature and I strive to fulfill them each day, I do believe there is a misnomer that arises from such advice.  These charges are not universally applicative.  What I mean is, God’s command in all of this is directed toward HIS FLOCK!  The sad reality is that mingled among the sheep (the true followers of the Great Shepherd) are some old goats (Matt. 25:32-33) and even a few wolves (Matt. 7:15; Matt. 10:16; Lk. 10:3; Acts 20:29).

So my advice to my fellow pastors?  Feed the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:1), love the goats and share the Gospel with them at every opportunity (Lk. 19:10), and love the wolves as well, but be sure to freely use your shepherd’s crook against them (Jude 3, 4).

In 2012, on a sunny February day, Ryan Braun stood before a collection of media outlets and gave a speech.  Earlier, Braun had won an arbitration hearing that overturned a 50-game suspension he had received for violating MLB’s drug policy.  Press conferences have become the societal norm in such situations.  Braun’s handlers, and no doubt Braun himself, were going to use this opportunity to get in the last word on the matter and move forward.  You can watch the whole press conference here.

An athlete testing positive for performance enhancing drugs (PED) is not a shocking revelation.  It happens frequently enough that the public outrage is little more than a scroll along the bottom of your television set on the major sports networks or an even briefer television segment.  Braun’s case however was different.  The Milwaukee Brewer’s outfielder won the 2011 National League MVP, beating out Los Angeles Dodger Matt Kemp.  Winning such an award, when arguably Kemp was the better player during the 2011 season put Braun in the national spotlight and in the cross hairs.

Adding to the Braun drama was also the contract extension that he signed in April 2011.  Previously signed by the Brewers in 2008 to a 7 year deal at $40.5 million, the Brewers locked Braun in for an additional 5 years at $105 million.  The signing set Braun up as the center piece of the Brewers organization until 2020, presumably a strong player to build around.  Upon signing the contract, Braun was quoted as saying, “From here on out the only thing that really matters is winning.”

I do not think anyone put much stock into those word that spring.  Some people believe the mind subconsciously lets out our most guarded secrets.  Jesus did say, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Mat. 12:34).  I am not sure if this applies specifically to Braun’s words or if I am merely being anachronistic with the information I now have at my finger tips.  After all, I can think of no athlete in any of the major sports that would take a different approach to their profession.  Winning is the reason they play the game.  Winning is why franchise owners spend millions each year so that grown men can play games to the amusement of the masses.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Braun’s elation at signing a new contract, winning an MVP award, and successfully fending off a 50-game suspension came crashing down into the miry clay of despondency last week.

"I told a lie, THIS BIG!"

“I told a lie, THIS BIG!”

MLB handed down a 65-game suspension to Braun for violating the league’s Joint Drug Program.  Sources report Braun negotiated the terms of his suspension with MLB executives and will not appeal.  The number of games is significant because it means his 2013 season is over.  The suspension is without pay, which means Braun will lose roughly $3.85 million.  When compared with his potential earnings of $141.65 million throughout the life of his contract, this season’s loss appears insignificant.

My point with this post is not to go over Braun’s financials, nor is it even to comment on the use of PEDs in professional sports.  It is the reaction of Braun and those around him to the years of deception that has been at work.  Braun’s previous suspension was overturned on a technicality.  The technician handling the sample did not send it directly to a lab, but kept it refrigerated for a few days before sending it off to be tested.  Despite his best attempts at moving beyond the controversy after the suspension was overturned by an arbiter, there was a lingering cloud over him.  People were convinced, myself included, he was guilty of “juicing” and had gotten away with the crime.

Braun’s own words at the press conference following his acquittal were, “We were able to get through this because I am innocent and the truth is on our side.”  It took me some time to come to terms with the state of the American morality last week after all these revelations came to light.  In the presence of the media with microphones and cameras rolling, Ryan Braun stood before those reporters and the American people, particularly the baseball fans of this country and lied.  It was not a lie of ignorance that we all make from time to time (i.e. “I believe his name is George.  Oh, it is Glenn, my mistake.”).  It was a premeditated, scripted lie.

Appearances on a Sean Bean meme spell disaster.  You career has the same chance of survival as Bean's character does in any movie.

Appearances on a Sean Bean meme spell disaster. Your career has the same chance of survival as Bean’s characters do in any movie.

At the time, there was merely speculation.  After the infamous press conference, one reporter put it succinctly, “He wasn’t exonerated. He was acquitted. There’s a difference.”

Fast forward a year and a half.  The tune has changed, but there is still this lingering cloud of dishonesty that hangs over Ryan Braun and MLB in general.  The PED issue is not dead in MLB and is perhaps taking on a new life with a current list of active players linked to Tony Bosch and his Biogenesis clinic.  A bigger name and contract than Braun’s is at the top of everyone’s list in Alex Rodriguez, who has admitted to using PEDs in the past, but appears poised to fight the new accusations of impropriety.

After the 65-game suspension was announced, Braun came forward with another statement.  To me, it was no more contrite than his previous comments on the matter.  He said, “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect.  I realize NOW that I have made some mistakes.  I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions” (emphasis mine).  I have a few problems with this “apology” from Braun.

First, Braun’s acknowledgement of his imperfection is irrelevant.  He was not coming across as a saint to anyone.  He was acquitted on a technicality from a previous suspension.  While this feat is nothing short of miraculous legal maneuvering, it did nothing to endear Braun or his camp to the general public.  I would dare say, outside of the Milwaukee fan base, Braun became an enemy to the state of baseball.  Recognizing our imperfection is a good thing when it is done correctly and in the proper perspective of God’s Word (Rom. 3:10, 23).  Braun’s admission read and sounded like an arrogant deflection of the real issue.  This view is only supported by the eventual revelation of his PED use.

Secondly, if I am to take Braun’s words at face value, he only came to the conclusion that his actions were wrong after being caught.  There is nothing apologetic about such a statement.  It implies that Braun’s previous, premeditated lying was done with a clear conscience.  Only after exposure did Braun come to the conclusion that perhaps he was wrong!  In essence, Braun is not apologizing for the multitude of lies and subterfuge he used to escape detection and sanction previously.  No.  He is apologizing that his deception and legal maneuvering backed him into a corner from which he could not escape.  If an undetectable PED substance existed, I am confident Braun would use it without remorse.

And last of all, the interesting aspect of consequences is they come whether we accept them or not.  Braun’s willingness “accept” the consequences of his actions further solidifies his perceived arrogance in the face of this reputation-staining ordeal.  MLB sets a dangerous precedent on the cusp of the Biogenesis controversy by negotiating the terms of Braun’s suspension with him.  Plea deals are common occurrence in our judicial system; however, it does little to discourage future offenses, especially from morally blind players such as Braun.

The Executive Director of the MLB Player’s Union, Michael Weiner, praised Braun saying, “I am deeply gratified to see Ryan taking this bold step.”  What step has Braun taken that is worthy of praise.  He lied to baseball executives in 2011, lied to his organization and fan base in Milwaukee, made a mockery of the arbitration process by contesting his first suspension while knowing he was guilty, and in the process of that arbitration Braun and his lawyers sullied the reputation of the courier that collected his tainted sample.  It should also be noted that Weiner sat on the three person panel that overturned Braun’s previous suspension.

This issue has struck such a cord with me for a few reasons.  First, I am a true baseball fan.  I love the game in all of its various incarnations from Little League to Major League.  I have been a fan since childhood and feel as if I’m in a sporting limbo between late October when the season ends until the beginning of Spring Training in March.  Yes, I like other sports as well, but nothing fascinates me like baseball.

The first sign of Braun juicing was seen on this play in left field vs. the Blue Jays.  Braun was standing on first base when he jumped.

The first sign of Braun juicing was seen on this play in left field vs. the Blue Jays. Braun was standing on first base when he jumped.

Braun and all the other players have marred the game with their selfish antics.  I am not unsympathetic to those who come forward and confess their impropriety.  I even believe these men should eventually take their place in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  However, I am over the great deception from men such as Braun.  I pray he one day becomes truly penitent for his actions and becomes more than he appears to be now, which is an unapologetic cheater.

The second reason this is so troubling to me is that my son is at the age of imitation.  He likes to imitate everything that I do from the words I say to the actions I perform.  It is just a stage of life.  One of our favorite things to do is watch baseball together.  I can say it is difficult to watch the game with the deluge of questions coming my way, but I do get to see the wide-eyed wonder on my little boys face as he watches these professional athletes play baseball.

These anti-PED policies are not in place to protect the professional athletes.  They are in place to protect the teenagers and young men coming up through the various systems.  When PEDs were previously free to use, though still secret from the majority of fans, their was rampant usage in all levels of the game.  I personally know middle school athletes that were using PEDs in the early 1990’s while I was in school.  The reasoning was for competitive advantage and that minuscule hope of hitting it big in a major sport.  The ugly truth of PEDs were virtually unknown to many of us during my high school days.  I never played organized sports seriously or even very long, so there was no allure for me to use PEDs.  However, I understood why others did.  Their hero, their idol used them and that was the only motivation needed.

I know how easily hero worship can develop in a young mind, especially one with an overpowering cocktail of my genes running through his little body and mind.  My son is not old enough to understand any of the details surrounding this case and I am confident he knows nothing about it.  But, what do you say when your child does understand?  How do you prepare your children for disappointment that will surely come as they look up to these so-called heroes?

I cannot protect my children from every evil in this world, but I can prepare them to deal with it as Scripture commands.  One of the greatest lessons we try to teach our children is honesty.  The truth does hurt sometimes, but it is always, without exception, the best policy.  Merely being honest for honesty’s sake would be difficult, and I do not believer virtue for only virtue’s sake is biblical.  We teach honesty because God is truth (Deu. 32:4) and His law is truth (Psa. 117:2).  Bound within the Godhead is absolute truth and when we strive for truth we are striving to bear the image from which we were created–God.

Superstars will rise and fall in the world of Major League Baseball.  Our era will no doubt see the rise of stars faster, stronger, better equipped, and more thoroughly trained than any of their predecessors.  Long-standing records will be toppled and previously unheard of stats will be recorded for future generations.  In the end, the records and statistics are nothing more than numbers.  Sure, they lead us down memory lane and bring smile to our face as we remember the legendary player or an unforgettable game.  Yet, what are numbers against the backdrop of eternity?

A blog post about the Zimmerman trial?  I know dear readers, you are accustomed to being on the cutting edge of blog topics!  I do not think anything I write today will necessarily bring anything new to the debate table.  Yet, this post has more to do with working through my own personal interpretations of the Zimmerman trial than it does with changing anyone’s mind on the topic.

I have purposely waited a week to collect my thoughts and attempt to approach the problem with new eyes.  I must admit that I am as flawed as any other person on earth, admittedly more so on many issues, so my initial reaction to things is not always correct.  To be more plain, I struggle with reacting in the flesh rather than in the Holy Spirit.  I am a sinner saved by the grace of God, and sometimes the old nature has a way of making an appearance, especially in my reactions to the mainstream media.

I admit my flaws so that anyone reading this will not assume my personal opinion holds anymore weight than another.  I must also admit my bias before I continue.  I loathe the state of the modern media.  Loathe is perhaps not strong enough a word to describe my distaste for the practices of the day.  I have always believed, and continue to believe, journalism is to be as non-biased as humanly possible.  I qualified that statement with “as humanly possible” for a reason.  I am aware we all carry bias in our sinful hearts.  I feel the modern media has forgone the balanced approach to news and chosen sides on the right and left.  As such, I have no confidence in the media narratives from right or left on the matter.

Oh well, no use lamenting that which I cannot change, so I will end my digression and move onward to the topic at hand.

By now, if you do not know the names George Zimmerman or Trayvon Martin, I want to welcome you back to planet earth, particular these United States.  I say that because the only plausible reason you have not heard these names is you are an alien visitor or you were abducted by the aforementioned aliens and have just been teleported back to a cow pasture in Kansas after a one year captivity in a space ship.

The new law of the internet says that anytime you mention an alien, you must post a picture of this guy.

The new law of the internet says that anytime you mention an alien, you must post a picture of this guy.

I will not take the time to recap the entire story, you can find that here.  I will say that on July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty by a jury of his peers in the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  It has been a topic of discussion over the past month and continues to be a divisive subject for many.  While my typical writing voice with such posts is serious with a splash of humor, from this point forward in the post I will abstain from my usual behavior due to the nature of the subject matter.

I feel I also must preface the following discussion with a disclaimer of intent.  I do not know, as I will elaborate later, what happened on February 26, 2012.  I have no strong opinion to either Martin or Zimmerman, the left or the right, prosecution or defense, etc.  My opinions in this piece are more geared towards the systems that surround us as a civilized people.  It asks for us to make a visible line of demarcation between flawed human perceptions and perfect spiritual truth.

The key problem with the outcome of the trial was the cries of derision at the jury’s decision.  The reactions came from a plethora of sources such as your usual race-baiters Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, from pro-athlethes, from pop stars, and every one that runs the gamut in between.  My Facebook feed was littered with family members, friends, and acquaintances on multiple sides of ethnicity, gender, and financial class, opining on the case.  There were cries of a corrupt judicial system or miscarriages of justice on one hand, and as you can imagine, there were cheers of support for a smooth trial and a right verdict.  This is where the case of mistaken identity has arisen.

We have adopted the wrong idea about secular justice, the American Justice System specifically.  Too many people believe that secular justice and truth are synonymous with one another.  They are not.  American justice aspires to lofty goals of equality, truth, and the defense of human rights.  These goals are not always attainable under the man-made system of law.  The American judicial system is administered by fallen judges, tried by imperfect lawyers, and decided by errant jurists.  As a system it is subject to decay and after years of degradation it becomes an anemic shell of its foundational principles.  On a human level, justice does not equate truth, the two can operate exclusive of one another in this fallen society and often times do.  We know this because innocent men have been imprisoned and guilty men have gone free.

The masses cry for justice, yet they do not always want the truth!

Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” after Jesus declared to the pontiff His reason for coming into the world (John 18:37-38).  There are no shortages of answers in regards to truth.  For this reason, skeptics have declared “truth” to be subjective.  I write from a Christian perspective, so I accept truth is personified in Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Secularists would disagree with my assessment, and my answer to them is write your own blog!  Truth comes forward throughout the pages of Scripture.  Jesus declares that worship must be performed “in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  He declared Himself “truth” (see 14:6 above).  Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples’ sanctification by godly “truth” (John 17:17).  Jesus’ claims point to truth being found in God alone.  This concept of truth’s divine source is supported through Scripture (Exo. 34:6; Deut. 32:4; Psa. 43:3; 119:142).

So what is the conclusion to the matter?  I do not think there will ever be a conclusion as long as both sides are embroiled in a quest for justice.  Justice is flawed despite humanity’s best efforts to the contrary.  The only recourse is truth.  The problem with truth is our limited capacity to know truth because we are finite beings.  There is truth, free from media spin, personal feelings, and political agendas in the Zimmerman-Martin ordeal.  The question remains whether the truth of the matter will be revealed.

I pray for Trayvon Martin’s family.  It is not the natural order of the world for parents to bury their children.  The situation is compounded by the tragic events of February 26, 2012.  Regardless of your personal perception of Trayvon Martin’s life, he was a young man that died before having experienced many of the wonders of life.  It happens far too frequently in our world and it is no respecter of race, gender, or social status.  Whatever your perception of Trayvon Martin’s character, good or bad, the fact remains he has no more opportunity to add unto or to take away from it.  A life has been lost and this is a true tragedy.

I know the statistics of murder among juveniles, black on black crime, and dozens of other tragic events that plague humanity.  I find people spout off such statistics as if the numbers somehow excuse or over-shadow individual events such as this one.  All these events are horrific, yet we cannot miss the tree for the forest.

I pray for George Zimmerman.  I do not know the thoughts that were running through his head on that fateful night.  I do not know if he left his vehicle with genuine concern for his personal safety and that of his neighbors.  I do not know if he exited with malice in his heart.  I do not know what unfolded between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman that winter night.  Who was the aggressor and who was the defender? From Zimmerman’s own admission, he discharged his pistol and this resulted in the death of Martin.  Sadly, this is the only truth we know for certain.  Was he justified in the use of deadly force?  According to a jury of his peers, the answer is yes.  Justice spoke and it declared George Zimmerman innocent in the 2nd degree murder of Trayvon Martin.  Was truth revealed in the jury’s decision?  Zimmerman is the only living person that knows with any certainty.

With such uncertainty, in what or whom can we trust?  Our legal system has its limitations.  Our ability to know truth is hindered by our own finite existence.  It is because of this uncertainty that I trust Jesus.  It is because I am finite that I place my trust in an infinite God.  Justice will be served one day because truth, glorious absolute truth, will be revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Revelation 20:11-13

“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.”

“He is going to be okay, isn’t he?” she asked me again, perhaps the one hundredth time I had heard that question.  She asked that question numerous times throughout the course of a normal day.  She asked it more frequently before visiting the doctor’s office, and she asked it every night as I prayed with her before bed.

Weeks earlier, prior to breaking my back, I had lied and said, “Yes, he is fine.  Stop worrying.”  I always told her to stop worrying, even though I was guilty of it myself.  I worried about Samuel having some type of birth defect.  I worried about Leah’s body reaching its physical limit and shutting down, potentially harming her and Samuel.  I worried about Leah’s health as each new day became a struggle for her.

I used worry in the past tense because I no longer worried about it.  In the midst of my own personal conflict, namely breaking my back, I had the time to reflect upon what God was doing in mine and Leah’s life.  Lying on my back with very limited mobility, I had time for plenty of introspection.  I was angry at God for our overall situation.  I was angry at God more specifically because of my wife’s health and the potentially bad health of my unborn son.  It was only after carefully consideration of Christ on the Cross, no less through the leading of the Holy Spirit, that I realized any suffering I endured in this world paled in comparison to Jesus’ suffering.  From that point forward, my burden of anxiety, which in turn produced my burden of anger, was lifted as I sought forgiveness from God and strength to move forward.  Thankfully, He is an ever gracious God to His children when it comes to forgiveness.

By this point in Leah’s journey, fatigue was the greatest enemy and it was only compounded by frequent bouts of insomnia.  Despite having placenta previa and placenta accreta, there were no serious complications that prompted the doctors to order an emergency delivery or bed rest.  There was no bleeding, major abdominal pain, nor were there any severe contractions.  She went twice weekly for Samuel’s heart monitoring and life continued onward.

It took weeks for me to recover from my injury to the point where I could function semi-normally.  I am blessed to pastor a church family filled with Christ-like servants.  We were flooded with kindness both personally and professionally.  After a few weeks, I tried to transition back into a normal routine; after all, Samuel’s delivery date was fast approaching.

Samuel’s original due date was May 28, and this date was established long before there was a sign of complications.  After it was determined Leah would need to deliver by c-section, the date was pushed ahead to May 20.  This change was of no consequence at the time.  However, as Leah’s ailments began to be unveiled, the doctor was beginning to eye the first week in May.

As a side note, Leah wanted to deliver Samuel on May 4th because she thought I would enjoy having a child born on Star Wars day.  She was absolutely correct, I think that would have been very cool.  Yet realistically, it was never going to happen because her doctor performed surgeries on Thursday, so May 2nd would have been the day.

Anyway, none of these dates would be relevant because Leah’s placenta accreta continued to advance and her surgeon decided April 25 was the day Samuel would make his appearance to the outside world.  All the tension that had been building since Leah’s diagnosis would finally be coming to a close.  The mystery surrounding Samuel’s health would be solved.  We were ready for the ordeal to be over and we finally had a day for the climactic scene of our story!

If you have been following along closely, you know there is going to be a big twist in the story before there can be any form of plot resolution.  At least, you expect a shocking plot twist at this time when you are reading a good book.  It adds to the conflict of the story and brings it to life for the reader.  Our story is no different, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Four weeks of planning for Samuel’s arrival soon turned into three, but in one fell swoop of a doctor’s visit, we only had two weeks left to prepare.  April 25th was the day and we were going to utilize every moment of it.  Or, we thought were going to utilize every moment.  Leah’s fatigue became increasingly worse and during those final two weeks, she began to have back contractions.  In the midst of caring for our older children, keeping the house in order, and working a full-time job, I was also doing my best to insure Leah did as little as possible.

Tentative plans were made for our children as the day approached.  Leah’s parents, who had traveled extensively for ministry through much of the month of April, were coming to be with us, along with Leah’s two sisters.  They were set to arrive on April 24.  They would find a hotel close to the hospital and keeping our two children with them.  Our goal was to minimize the trauma on our other two children by keeping their routines relatively normal.  Having gone on family vacations with Leah’s parents and sisters in previous summers, we knew I children would see it as an adventure.

Leah and I did I best to prepare in the midst of doctor’s appointments, preschool, and church.  Though the big event was still days away, Leah packed travel bags for Daniel and Ellie and placed them in the minivan.  There were a few tasks that remained incomplete when we left on the afternoon of April 24 to meet Leah’s parents and sisters in Newport News for dinner, but they could be easily dealt with when we returned home.

I am not exactly sure who loves Red Lobster in Leah’s family, conceivably all of them because we go there a lot, which is awesome because I love it too.  We found ourselves at Red Lobster in Newport News this night enjoying time with family.  The kids were naturally excited because our family was visiting, but they were also anticipating staying in a hotel with Grampy and Grammy.  Or, they were anticipating the hotel having a pool.  It was surely a combination of the two.  Leah’s family appeared equally excited at all the possibilities before them with our children for a few days.

The evening was going well.  We made it through the appetizer and salad phases without major incident, which means only three or four calls for bathroom breaks with the kids.  The waiter brings out the main course dishes and splays them before us like a seaside cornucopia overflowing with fried shrimp, scallops, fish, and clams.  After the initial excitement of the food before us wore off, Leah arises rather quickly and goes to the restroom.  She returns a few moments later to inform me that she is bleeding and we need to go to the hospital immediately.  The table erupts as if someone has pulled a fire alarm.  I head out to get the van and plot my course for Norfolk General Hospital.

The morning of March 13, 2013 was not much different from the others.  I woke up to children running up and down the hall making every attempt to be quiet as not to wake up daddy and failing miserably.  I loosed the mask of my CPAP machine, took a deep breath, and pulled myself up from the bed.  Leah was moving from kitchen to bathroom in a repetitive pattern as she spent time with the kids while getting ready for work.  Everything was normal, almost everything.

Even though spring was little more than a week away, our area was enduring a rather nasty cold front.  Weather in the southeast is never predictable, but March displayed the type of schizophrenic behavior you only expect from relatives at a family reunion.  Temperatures dipped as low as 24 degrees to as high as 72 in that span.  The thirteenth was not a particularly memorable day.  The overnight temperature dipped below freezing causing a heavy frost to coat everything.

The rear exit from our home has a large wooden ramp.  It is a nice feature and has served us well through the years.  You appreciate it most when you are trying to make only one trip from the minivan to the house after grocery shopping.  Its one drawback is that the smallest amount of moisture can turn it into a splintery Slip-N-Slide if temperatures drop below freezing.  This day was one of those days.

If you are familiar with the Lord of the Rings, you probably know that Bilbo told his beloved nephew Frodo, “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”  Oh, Bilbo, truer words can only be found in the Holy Bible.  I assessed the situation when I stepped out the door that morning.  The frost was visible on the wood slats, and for the briefest moment I had the clarity of mind to use the other door and avoid the ramp completely.  Sadly, the moment of clarity was just that—a moment.  I started down the ramp.

I made it halfway down the ramp when my left foot suddenly appeared in front of my face.  I thought it odd, but it was soon followed by the right foot.  My regular view of the frost covered field out behind the house was quickly replaced with the morning sky.  With a thud, I landed on my back and the air was forced from my lungs.  I was in shock for a moment, trying to catch my breath.  I did not hit my head, but it took me a few moments to gain my senses and realize what had just happened.  Pain was shooting throughout my body and I laid there gasping for breath in between the jolts of pain.

When my sense finally returned, I tried calling for Leah.  I am not exactly sure why I was calling for her.  There was nothing for her to do.  She could not pick me up, or even help me up because doing so would mean coming down the frost-covered ramp.  My calls went unheard, as I expected.  Finally, I began to press the remote door locking button on Leah’s key chain.  I did this for minute before I saw my son’s head poke out the back door.  “Get your mom please,” I forced out through gritted teeth.

Leah became frantic when she came to the door and I began to question why I had even called her to the door.  I was able, after the most excruciating ten minutes of my life to this point, work my way up with the help of the hand rail.  I could not stand up straight and walked like a slow moving treasure hunter who could not take his eyes from the ground.  I made it to my chair and remained there until forced to move.

My precious wife wanted me to go immediately to the emergency room.  I was able to deflect her because I still possessed pain medication from a shoulder surgery in October.  I assured her they would only give me pain medication and muscle relaxers.  This only gave me a brief reprieve and she was soon asking me once again to go to the ER, or if not the ER, call our physician and seek to slip into his daily schedule.  I refused.

My wife did what many wives have done through the years when dealing with an obstinate husband.  She called my mother.  I still maintain this was a dirty move, but I cannot argue with its effectiveness.  A two minute phone call from my mother got Leah what she had lobbying for most of the day.

Leah’s instinct was correct and my logic was wrong.  It happens often enough that it should not surprise me, but pride makes many of us slower learners.  When the doctors had finished their diagnosis, I walked, rather shuffled, from the ER with two fractured vertebrae and a severely bruised coccyx, which is a fancy word for tail bone.  That is right, I had broken my back in the fall.

To put our life into perspective at this point of the journey, Leah was in the midst of a high risk pregnancy and continuing to become more fatigued each day, and I broke my back.

Up until this point in my 35 years of life, I never understood how someone could be angry at God.  I saw it as a pointless venture, a road to nowhere.  When you become angry at God, I thought, what recourse do you have because God will always be right and you will always be wrong?  Even with that knowledge in my heart, I became angry with God.  It was short-lived and personal, but it was certainly anger.

The conversation in my mind went like this:

“Father, you know how much our family is struggling at the moment with Leah’s condition.  Why did you allow this to happen to me now?  Why not after Leah delivered?  Why here?  Why now?”

I played through that dialogue for nearly a week.  There was no self-pity.  I did not lament my lot in life; I bristled at it.  People get angry all the time, why was this so different.  It was different because of the hypocrisy that was creeping into my life.  I was incapacitated with a broken back, my wife was deteriorating weekly under the strain of her pregnancy, and I was angry at the only One who could truly help my situation.  As mentioned, I stayed in this hypocritical state for nearly a week.

I had last preached on March 10, a mere three days before my accident.  Though heavily medicated with pain medication, I was groggy, but fundamentally aware of my fractured emotional state and declining spiritual condition.  I reached for my sermon notebook and began flipping through its pages.  I had no intention of writing, and I was not interested in reading, which made picking up the notebook all the more puzzling.  I came to the last sermon I preached, Contentment in the Christian Life from 1 Corinthians 7:17-24.

This sermon led me to the first few chapters of Job.  And like all things from God, Job led me to the Gospels and the Cross of Christ.  My anger melted away and was replaced with shame.  How could I be angry in my condition or my wife’s condition when I considered the sufferings of Christ?  I did not know why I picked up that notebook, but I knew what God was trying to tell me.  No amount of suffering I can endure will ever match the agony of Christ.

I let go of my anger and replaced it with thankfulness.  Am I saying I became thankful for a broken back?  Yes, I am.  Knowing myself as I do, I am confident I would not have come to my realization for a very long time.  I allowed my anger with the circumstances to obscure my judgment and harden my heart to that which I knew to be true.  God is good and gracious every moment of every day.  I made peace with God, asking for forgiveness for my anger.  I sought strength for the days ahead and assurances that I could share with my family for the trials that were to come.

God knew the lesson I needed to learn, He knew the perfect time to teach me that lesson, and more importantly, He knew how important that lesson would be in the days to come.  So at peace with God, I moved ahead with peace in my heart concerning God’s plan for our family.

Paul’s teaching in the first half of the chapter dealt with marriage and divorce.  He closed out his discussion by addressing husbands and wives with unsaved spouses.  Moving on to a new thought, but with that context in mind, Paul shifts to address the idea of contentment.  There were some among the Corinthian believers who were not happy in their present state.  There were married members who wished to be single, single members who wished to be married and even slaves who longed to be freed.

This section is a pause in the overall thought of marriage and singleness, but one that addresses the root of the problem that had taken over the hearts o the believers in Corinth.  The underlying problem in Corinth was one of contentment.  People were simply unhappy with where they were in life, whether married or single, and seeking to change their circumstances.

The Corinthians failed to realize what many of us today fail to realize – our circumstances are not as important as our obedience to God.  The priority of life must be living a life of faith that trust completely in Almighty God and is obedient to His Will in all things.  Paul even tells Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Tim. 6:6).  So join this morning as we examine this passage and struggle with the idea of contentment and the struggle each of us must endure to live contented lives.

I.        Teachings Concerning Our Enjoyment in the Christian Life (v. 17)

A.       Individual Application—“But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.”

1.        Priority of Application—“But as God”—This section is the application portion of what Paul has been previously teaching as I have mentioned.  Paul can teach whole Scripture, but unless there is an application of those teachings it means very little.

Pastors can preach the truth of the Gospel and the Christian life, but unless you make it a priority to live this truth when you leave church this afternoon it accomplishes nothing.  The amazement of pastors and Christian leaders, and I speak from a decade of experience, is not that sinners do not come to church or even the various acts that sinners commit.  No, the shock comes from professed Christians who darken the doors of churches yet never change anything in their lives.

2.        Providence of Assignment—“God hath distributed” and “as the Lord hath called”—You are not in a position in your life that God has not allowed to come.  If you are in the face of trial, God has allowed it to come to you for a purpose.  In the midst of trials, God is seeking to prepare you for what lies ahead. It may be a more difficult task or it may be as a counselor to one who will be facing a similar trial.  God has a plan for your life and your priority should be discovering that plan and preparing for it each and every day.

3.        Particulars of Appointment—“as the Lord hath called, so let him walk”— This is a very important lesson for every one of us to remember.  Do not despise how God called you and when God called you.  My wife and I have very different testimonies and ways in which we came to know the Lord.  She was raised in a Christian home and came to know God at a very early age.  Many of the temptations and sins that I struggled with before becoming a Christian, my wife has never known.  Why did God place me where he placed me and why did He put my wife in her situation?  I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know now that I am a follower of Jesus Christ my command is clear—be like Jesus.

God called me early in life from a Christian home—be like Jesus.  God called me from a life of horrible sin—be like Jesus.  I came to know Christ at a very late age—be like Jesus.  However you came to know Christ, the command is still the same—be like Jesus.

B.        Universal Application—“And ordain I in all churches.”—Paul is not giving an isolated teaching.  He is declaring the apostle’s doctrine, therefore the Lord’s doctrine to Corinth.  This was the expectation in every church that he Apostle Paul established.  This is the expectation of every Bible-following church in existence today.

II.       Teaching Concerning Our Ethnicity in the Christian Life (vv. 18-20)

A.       Our State at Salvation (v. 18)—“Is any man called being circumcised?  Let him not become uncircumcised.  Is any called in uncircumcision?  Let him not be circumcised.”—People have a tendency to focus upon the outward, even when we know the reality of the spiritual life is on the inside.  Paul’s charge here is that it does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile because those outward signs mean nothing in comparison to true conversion.

B.        Our Command to Sanctification (v. 19)—“Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.”—This is where the rubber meets the road in this particular discussion.  Circumcision, that most sacred rite of the Jews, means nothing in the great spiritual reality of Christianity.

What is Paul truly saying here?  Was every circumcised Jew a true follower of God?  The answer is no.  Is every one that is baptized a true Christian?  The answer is no.  If these outward signs are not an indicator, how can we separate the false professors from the true possessors of the Holy Spirit. Luckily, Paul gives us the answer by saying one who keeps the commandments of God is the true follower.

It did not matter if one was Jew or Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, male or female, black or white, etc.  None of these things mattered.  All that matters is are you following the commandments of God?  Have you believed on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ?  Have you repented of your sins to God and accepted His gift of eternal life through His Son?  Are you living a life

C.       Our Calling to Vocation (v. 20)—“Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”—If God called you to dig ditches, be the best ditch digger you can be for the glory of Christ.  Did He call you to be a supervisor, CEO?  Be the best that you can be for the cause of Christ.

What this is NOT is a statement supporting a caste system such as some religions follow.  Paul even says, if you can improve your condition and situation by all means do so, but do if you cannot, be content with where you are and serve the Lord.

III.      Teachings Concerning Our Economics in the Christian Life (vv. 21-24)

A.       Reaction to Our Economy—“Art thou called being a servant?  Care not for it:  but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.”—The gospel is the medicine we need to make it through situations that are less than ideal.  We cannot relate to the concept of slavery in our present day United States, but it was a reality for many nearly 150 years ago and is still a reality for some around the world.

Slavery, lower class, poor, down-trodden, etc.  It does not matter what categories we use because the message of Scripture is still the same.  Our reaction in the face of such things should be obedience to Christ.  Wherever you find yourself, obey Christ.  But some will say, “Pastor, my situation isn’t the best.”  You need to obey Christ.  “Pastor, you do not know what hardships I have in my life.”  True, but you are still to obey Christ.  Our circumstances should not determine our contentment.

I know this flies in the face of what the world teaches you because worldly wisdom says your circumstances determine your happiness.  It says you cannot be poor and content.  You cannot face tragedy and have joy.  If you do not know Jesus Christ, you are correct, there is no contentment in poverty or trials, but neither will you find it in riches or success.

Sinner, you are never going to be content outside of Christ.  You will never have enough material and money.  You will never have an inherent joy of knowing your sins are forgiven and you can stand justified before the Great Judge in the last days.  Saints, your reaction to your present state is a very telling fruit of your Christian life.

B.       Reality of Our Economy—“For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman:  likewise also he that is called being free, is Christ’s servant.”— If the gospel is the dose of medicine one needs to perform menial jobs and endure bad situations, then the gospel is also the antidote needed to combat pride in highly desired jobs.  It sounds like a paradox, but Christ frees the slave and enslaves the free.  Simply put, the ground is level a the foot of the Cross.  There is neither bond nor free, male or female, Jew or Gentile.  There is only sinners saved by the wonderful grace of God.

C.       Rate of Our Economy—“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.”—Salvation is free, but it is not without cost.  A farm boy ran home one day to his father and exclaimed, “Daddy, they gave us free milk at school!”  His father patted him on the head and reminded him, “Someone had to milk the cow.”  Salvation did not cost us anything, but there is still a value attached to it.  Paul states it both positively and negatively in this verse.

1.       Bought with a Price – This statement takes the Corinthians mind back to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Salvation is free to the world, but costly to Christ.  He gave Himself for the Church and it is through His death, burial, and resurrection that we can gather today in the power of the Spirit.

2.       Be not ye the servants of men—This is a spiritual charge for the Corinthians not to be under the subjection.  MacArthur says Paul is warning us against becoming slaves to the ways of the man, the world, and the flesh.

John MacArthur—“That is the slavery into which many of the Corinthian believers had fallen, the slavery that caused their divisions and strife and their immaturity and immorality. . . God allows us to be where we are and to stay where we are for a purpose. Conversion is not the signal for a person to leave his social condition, his marriage or his singleness, his human master, or his other circumstances. We are to leave sin and anything that encourages sin; but otherwise we are to stay where we are until God moves us.”

D.     Rejoinder to Our Economy—“Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”—This final phrase is a reminder that Paul has given twice before.  If God will move you, trust in Him and move.  However, if God has called you to stay, be content where He has placed you and seek to serve God to the best of your ability.

There are some very exclusive clubs around the world if you take the time to look for them.  I found a few clubs with some very odd entry requirements.  Here are a few of them:

  • Goldfish Club – Group started in 1942 for servicemen that have crashed landed into water and survived.
  • The Silky Club – For membership, one must catch a bonefish using a fly reel, take a 30 meter (98.4 feet) dive from a cliff, and then kiss a silky shark in its natural habitat.
  • Cordon Rouge Club – Members must be invited and also have accomplished a great exploratory feat such as climbing Mt. Everest, reaching the South Pole, or sailing solo around the globe.

These groups may sound silly or adventurous, perhaps even dangerous, but they highlight a very important aspect of many groups—qualifications for admission.  There are certainly other groups, honors, and institutions that come to mind when we think of qualifications for admissions.  Young people often think of colleges when you speak of admissions, while adults tend to think of organizations, usually job related to which they do or should belong.

I remember a few years ago when I was preparing for college that I had made a list of things I needed to complete.  I had to go through the whole admissions process—submitting test scores, transcripts, and all the paper work that goes along with the application process.  I had to endure interviews.  I had to write essays.  There was so much to do that I had to make lists of documents, requirements, and tests that I needed because each college admissions requirements were different.

In this particular portion of 1 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with a problem in the Corinthian church that follows along this line of reasoning.  The Corinthians had lists of things they believed to be important such as wisdom, wealth, and influence.  They foolishly thought God had a list as well and it looked strikingly similar to their list!  As we explored their foolishness previously, we discovered they were wrong.  They didn’t grasp the purpose, the person, or the power of the Cross!

  • They replaced Christ with human wisdom
  • They replaced the Cross with their own ability
  • They replace Grace with worldly status

It is a very prideful statement for us to say we know the mind of God.  We know nothing more about God than He reveals to us in His Word.  All the knowledge we have of God has come from God.  In the verses before us this morning, God shows the Corinthians just how wrong they were in that line of thinking.  He wants us to know that human pride has no place in His plans.  So this morning, we are going to look at how God destroys human pride.  How does God insure that there is never a question of His greatness and work in the lives of men?

I.             The Fact is Stated (v. 26)

A.            Their Position “For you see your calling, brethren,” – Paul is using the Corinthians as the perfect example of what he is saying.  He reminds them to think of themselves when God called them.  The “calling” here refers to this position in the world when they heard the Gospel.  There were not that many educated among them or noble.  If you remember, Corinth did not have nobility as some of the other cities because it had been destroyed and resettled by Romans.  The Apostle is in effect holding up a mirror to the believers and asking, “What do you see?”  If they were honest, the majority of them were ordinary men and women saved by the grace of God.  They were ordinary, but made extraordinary by the saving power of Jesus Christ.

B.            God’s Preference “not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” – I know many people would look at such a statement and not find it very flattering.  God takes the weak over the strong, the forgotten over the famous, and the nobodies over the some bodies.  There are no exclusions in the kingdom of God, the Gospel is to “whosoever.”  Yet, it tells us here that human pride keeps many from responding to those sweet words of life, but God is not discouraged.  God’s purposes are not prevented because the prideful reject His precious gift of eternal life.  No!  God takes those the world chooses last and saves them to the uttermost.  God takes those that the world deems as useless and makes them useful.  God takes the broken, the addicted, the dirty, and immoral and He remakes them into the image of His Son Jesus Christ.

II.            The Reason Given (vv. 26-29)

“But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

A.            God’s Illumination – The Countess of Huntingdon said that she thanked God for the letter M in the word many.  If God has said “not any” instead of “not many” it would have excluded her.  There will always be those of wealth and power that will come to know Jesus Christ as Savior.  The early church had its Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus, and Erastus, and through the ages there have been many others; however, as John Philips points out, the rank and file of the church through the ages has been made of fishermen, slaves, freedmen, and artisans.  The Sanhedrin mocked the apostles because they thought them to be “unlearned and ignorant” (Acts 4:13).  Though the ages, God has delighted in using the nobodies to accomplish great things.

1.            He does not call many sophisticated people – “not many wise after the flesh” – Sir Isaac Newton rocked the world in which he lived with his works, founding mathematical schools still used today and scientific theories that are the foundations of modern physics.  Newton was also a devout follower of Jesus Christ.  Yet, not many such as Newton answer God’s call to salvation.

2.            He does not call many self-sufficient people – Perhaps the greatest illustration of self-sufficient is David of the OT.  He was a mighty man of warrior, a proficient leader, and yet one who trusted in God’s direction for his life.  From the time he faced Goliath until he drew his final breath – David’s self-sufficiency paled in comparison to God’s amazing grace.

3.            He does not call many society people – There are few Queen Victorias and Count Zinzendorfs in the church’s history, but they do exist.

B.            God’s Illustration

1.            He does call the foolish to confound the wise – The wisest counselor David had was a man by the name of Ahithophel.  Unfortunately, Ahithophel was also a vengeful man and when Absalom rebelled, he turned his back upon David.  While fleeing from the Jerusalem, David prayed for God to make the “counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness.”  God answered that prayer by using the foolishness of Absalom.

2.            He does call the feeble – Read Exodus 2:1-6, with a special emphasis upon 2:6.  All it took for God to overthrow the power of Egypt and free His people from bondage was the cry from a baby.

3.            He does call the failures – Our text says God takes the “base things” of this world.  This literally means without family or descent.  He has chosen those with no family or friends, no illustrious lineage, no powerful kinsmen.  He has chosen those things which are despised, literally things “counted as nothing.”  He takes those with no fame or fortune.  He has chosen the things which are not to bring to nought the things that are.”  The phrase here is in the Greek subjective.  It signifies things that men regard as nothing, non-existent, non-entities.  God has chosen things with no face and no form.

        • Left-handed man (Judges 3:21)
        • Ox-goad (Judges 3:310
        • Feeble woman (Judges 4:4)
        • Nail (Judges 4:21)
        • Millstone (Judges 9:53)
        • Pitcher, Lamp, and Trumpet (Judges 7:20)
        • Jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:16)
        • Sling and Stone (1 Samuel 17:49)
        • Little maid (2 Kings 5:1-3)
        • Insomnia (Esther 6:1)

He used snowflakes to halt the armies of Napolean and Hitler, altering the history of Europe.  He used a miner’s son in Martin Luther, a shepherd’s son in Ulrich Zwingli to change the world during the Reformation.  D.L. Moody was an uneducated shoe salesman and William Carey the missionary was a cobbler.  God can take the base and make it great.  God can take nothing and make it something.

III.        The Purpose Explained (vv. 30-31)

“But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

A.            Relationship to Christ – “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus”

B.            Resources in Christ – “made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption”

1.            Wisdom Transforms Our Minds – Instead of relying upon our own minds, we can draw upon the infinite wisdom made available to us in Jesus Christ.  He is the embodiment of True Wisdom.  All others, even the wise Solomon, pale in comparison to Christ’s omniscient wisdom.

2.            Righteousness Transforms Our Morals – The world’s standards of right and wrong are relative, cultural, and accommodating.  The world calls wrong right and right wrong.  God’s standards are absolute, universal, and inflexible—based upon His absolute holiness.

3.            Sanctification Transforms Our Motives – The Greek word for “holiness” means to set apart for God.  It stands for the kind of life that belongs to those who are separated from the world around it.  Righteousness has to do with our standing, while sanctification has to do with our state.  Righteousness meets the demands of the Law; sanctification meets the demands of the Lord.  Righteousness is imputed by Christ; sanctification is implemented by the Holy Spirit.

4.            Redemption Transforms Our Members – While we have redeemed souls, we do not yet have our redemption bodies.  Our present bodies remain susceptible to disease, death, and decay and, all too often, are the instruments for carrying out our sinful desires, just as they are the instruments for carrying out the will of God.  However, there will be a final redemption that will transform us wholly into the image of Christ and eradicate the sin stain that is now upon us.  The Apostle John put it the most eloquently when he said, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1Jo 3:2 KJV).