When My Basketball Became an Idol

SUE HARRIS|CONTRIBUTOR I play basketball every Friday with a group of women who also love to play. When the shutdown hit in 2020, we had no place to go. We were devastated. I had access to a gym, but no one was allowed to play with me. Nonetheless, I bought a brand-new beautiful leather basketball and played on my own about three times a week for exercise and to get out of the house. I loved that ball. In some ways, it became a companion to me during a lonely season. If you ever saw the movie, Castaway with Tom Hanks, imagine Wilson, his volleyball. Unlike Tom Hanks, I didn’t have full conversations with my basketball, but I loved it. I spent time with it. I began to adore it...

When My Basketball Became an Idol2022-05-12T16:09:17+00:00

Flourishing in Christ

MEAGHAN MAY | GUEST She was simply selling magazines door to door. I never caught her name, but she asked me a question that left an impression. She asked why I would buy a magazine from her, and thinking a visual image may stick, the word “flourishing” fell from my lips. Flourishing in Relationship with Christ In Mark 10 we read the story of a man who by most standards was a success. He ran up to Jesus and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus engages him with a question, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” Asking the man if he recalls the Commandments, the man responds, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” Like this rich young man, we spend a lot of energy trying to succeed on our own. Instead of sending him away in frustration, Jesus invites the young man into deeper fellowship.

Flourishing in Christ2022-05-04T00:30:04+00:00

How God Redeems and Transforms our Work

ABBY KARSTEN|GUEST What do you want to do when you grow up? This is a question every child is asked. Even into college, I only had a vague idea. For many years, my most honest, but rarely declared, answer was that I wanted to win a Nobel prize. (That was after I realized that I would not, ever, qualify for the Olympics.) I knew “Nobel prize winner” wasn’t exactly a profession, but even as a nine-year-old, I felt stirred to do something big with my life. I wanted to change the world—and I wanted people to notice. But I didn’t know any more of the details. We can smile at youthful naivety, but a sober look at our own hearts still reveals a complicated relationship with work. Sometimes it feels like drudgery: pulling weeds, enduring seat-numbing meetings, or refolding the basket of laundry the toddler just dumped. We groan: “When will it stop?” Other times, our work sparks a fire of delight in our souls: cooking a beautiful meal, presenting an original solution to a complicated problem, or using pivot tables to construct an elegant and efficient spreadsheet. Maybe we’ve grown to relax our goal of changing the world (see Nobel Prize, above) and we’re simply thrilled to be influencing our corner of it. We marvel: “What a privilege that this work is a part of my life!” A brief history Before sin came into the world, God ordained work as an opportunity for humans to mirror God’s own work of creation (see Gen. 1:27-28). Work is beautiful and good because it offers us an opportunity to use the gifts God has given us to help participate in the flourishing of God’s world. Adam and Eve received instructions to fill, subdue, and rule; this direction only came to humans, being made in God’s image. Additionally, God took pleasure in his work (see Genesis 1) and we do, too. We create, build, and cultivate, and look back at our efforts and say, “This is good!” Unfortunately, because of the Fall of man, our efforts are almost constantly thwarted. We must acknowledge that our work will be, in turns, delightful and disappointing, fun and frustrating. Nevertheless, we should aim to pursue “good work,” or work that pleases God. Dan Doriani writes, “Work pleases God if it promotes the common good. The common good includes care for God’s creation, but we especially care for mankind. The first goal is to love our neighbor, which we do when we supply food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and whatever edifies others.”1  Paul reminds believers that when we use the gifts God has given us, we work for his glory: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col 3:23–24). And still, sin persists The tricky thing is that when we discover that we are doing good work, it can creep into our sense of identity, replacing our primary identity in Christ. Even while pursuing work that aids in human flourishing, that effort can become an end in itself, rather than a means to glorify God. Culture makes it all too easy to slide in that direction, encouraging us to let our work become a pathway to our own glory. It is socially acceptable to put in excessive hours on “good work,” while excusing ourselves from caring for those around us—or even ourselves. David Zahl posits, “Constant grinding makes a perfect diversion from conscience or loneliness or grief or vulnerability—a way of imposing order on the chaos of relating to another person or oneself.”2 Like every idol, though, the more we serve it, the more it expects of us. Therefore, the more we turn work into an instrument for our own glory, the more the effects of the Fall threaten to undermine the identity we have constructed...

How God Redeems and Transforms our Work2022-05-04T23:24:30+00:00

God Sized Expectations

If someone asked you in 2015, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” would you have said, “In the middle of a pandemic?” More than likely, it never crossed your mind. Suffice it to say we are all not experiencing what we expected. Here is the big question #1, how do we deal with the gap between what we expect and what we experience? Sometimes it feels as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon. Big question #2 follows closely behind, what will fill the gap? Since we are all riding this fluid wave of uncertainty, the potential fillers are limitless. Here is my real-time confession of what has filled my gap since March. Fear Fear of getting sick. Fear of suffering. Fear of disappointing others in a cancel culture. Fear a scratch church plant named King’s Cross we sought to launch in March will not flourish. Fear of the unknown. In Latin anxiety means “to choke.” There are more than a few days when these fears feel like they are strangling me. But when I look across this insurmountable chasm, I ask my Father for faith to fill the gap. I know without it, it will be impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). Disappointment I am a long-range planner by nature. Last year I traveled to locations all over North America working with Hinged teams to make our conference plans. I remember praying with teams, but I am not sure any of us quoted “if the Lord wills” (James 4:15). These past six months, I have led these teams through a disappointment discipleship course. It was the class we never wanted to attend. It is a gospel classroom where we ask God to transform us in the gap. The curriculum is designed by the Spirit to produce endurance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-5)...

God Sized Expectations2022-05-05T00:20:02+00:00

Raising Children in a Success Obsessed World

High school graduation is a wonderful high point in a teen’s life. Even after 22 years of teaching, I am always amazed at the transformation four years brings in the life of my students. But this year, as I watched them cross that stage, I was both impressed and bothered. Looking for Success in all the Wrong Places After the valedictorians gave their speeches, and those who were given the highest awards were announced, the students were then announced in this manner, “Sally Johnson, graduating with high honors. Graduating with honors, Joseph Brown….” As I listened to their familiar names, I started to question how we as a culture measure success. According to this ceremony, success is based on grades and advanced classes. But what of that student who is the first to graduate in his family?  The one who persevered despite homelessness, lack of home support, substance abuse, financial strain, or family obligations? What about those who overcame obstacles of disabilities, whether it be physical, mental, or academic? Indeed, our culture’s definition of success seems narrow and is far different from how the Bible views success. Our culture pursues being the best. And parents ready their children to be the best at a young age. Children attend expensive preschools to prepare them for the highest rated elementary schools. They often participate in multiple extra-curricular activities a week, attend exclusive camps, have specialized tutors—all to rise above the rest and be considered “a success.” The rise of social media only fuels this drive for success as parents share all their children’s accomplishments online for the all world to see. Success in the Bible But despite this “look-at-me” world, God has a different view of success. In 1 Samuel, God sends Samuel to anoint Israel’s next king. He tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance . . For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7)...

Raising Children in a Success Obsessed World2022-05-05T00:25:24+00:00

Are You an Image Builder or an Image Bearer?

JUDIE PUCKETT|GUEST “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:29 I confess to you that I am an Image Builder. I want you to notice me…so I build my image. I want you to accept me…so I build my image. I want you to love me…so I build my image. Build. Build. Build. I think there’s a little part of all of us (and sometimes a big part) that longs to be noticed, appreciated, or even admired. So, we work hard to show only our best side, to reveal what we think looks impressive, and to create an image that appears to be perfect. We sometimes put pressure on ourselves to be perfect. We tell ourselves that we need to work harder, stay up later, get up earlier, read more, learn more, exercise more, post more on social media. The list goes on and on. All the while, the image making continues. It’s a drive that is never satisfied. It continually whispers, “You need to do better; you need to be better.” Image building is exhausting and burdensome. Build. Build. Build...

Are You an Image Builder or an Image Bearer?2022-05-07T23:09:08+00:00

Never Enough: Confronting Lies About Appearance and Achievement with Gospel Hope

It was my sophomore year of high school, and I was sitting around with my cross-country team listening to the older girls compare fat grams in bagel brands. If you have ever looked at bagel labels, you know that there is not any difference worth noting—unless you are obsessed with your weight. The Lies of Appearance and Achievement Little did I know how influential that conversation, and many more like it, would become in my life. Add to that the billboards, magazines, and other media that boasted model-thin women all around me, and I bought into the lie “I have to look like ‘her’ in order to be beautiful.” At the same time I was running cross-country, I was also playing basketball. Unlike the girls on my cross-country team, my teammates could down a fast-food burger in no time at all and not think twice about it. And my coach certainly thought I could use a few burgers myself in order to put on some weight for my position as forward or center. Add to that the fact he could fire off a cuss word, stomp his feet, clap his hands, and throw water, attempting to motivate us to play better and harder and I began to believe another lie: “My worth is based on my outward performance.” Failure to perform well led me to inflict punishment on myself—if I didn’t live up to my coach’s expectations, then I didn’t deserve to eat.These twin themes of body image and performance are still at the heart of young women’s search for beauty and worth today. But it is not just young women. Women of all ages struggle with defining their significance by their appearance and achievements.

Never Enough: Confronting Lies About Appearance and Achievement with Gospel Hope2022-05-07T23:24:58+00:00

The Rug Rigmarole and the Treasures of Our Heart

With the combined weight of two generations and a collective deep breath, we shimmied the 10 X 14 rug into my minivan. It wedged snugly against the front dash, providing an awkwardly high armrest. Its position left me, the driver, with the ability to use only the tip of my pinkey at a precise angle to adjust the air flow and radio. I was ready to drive home from my visit to see friends and relatives with our family’s prized heirloom in tow: an oriental rug from my grandparent’s den. For several years, the rug was stored in my aunt’s garage before she and my grandmother graciously offered it to me…all I had to do was take it to the cleaners and Whoa! Old, new to me, ancestral foot trodden rug. When I arrived at the rug shop, I relayed to the owner how much I loved this rug—mainly because it belonged to my grandmother who I love dearly and with whom I share a very special relationship. The memories of time spent in my grandparents’ house made my heart swell with fondness. I also reiterated that the rug had been in a non-climate-controlled garage for a few years, and that I was hoping they could restore it to its past glory. As we rolled it out in the parking lot, let’s just say I saw something that gave the verse “where moth and rust destroy” a whole new meaning. Before our very eyes, live moths scooched their way around the edge of the rug, eating away at the colorful wool, their cocoons decorating the outer rim of the perimeter. I made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a shriek. “I’ve seen a lot of things, but I have to say, I’ve never seen this!” exclaimed the shop owner. I gasped in horror as I thought of being “that customer” whose story could comfort future customers in embarrassing rug situations: “Oh don’t worry sweetie, it’s not near as bad as the live moth lady!”  (Gulp).

The Rug Rigmarole and the Treasures of Our Heart2022-05-07T23:27:56+00:00

The God of All Comfort

Comfort—we all crave it, and too often we live for it. I wake up each morning to a fresh brewed pot of Starbucks, preferably Sumatra, but any dark roast will do. Sipping that first strong cup eases me into focus. Nice, right? But this pleasurable morning routine doesn’t hold up away from home, where such an aromatic wakeup is rare. Coffeemakers in hotel rooms are typically in the bathroom (just gross!), and don’t even get me started on powered creamer. So I resort to Diet Coke or to covering my sleep-wrecked self with a coat and a pair of sun glasses to embark on a search for a nearby barista. Over time, my morning pleasure, my comfortable way of easing into the day, has come to own me. What’s your thing? Maybe it’s that mid-afternoon chocolate bar or nightly cocktail. Maybe it’s something completely unrelated to food and drink. Whatever it is, we can so easily worship the comfort god rather than the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). We worship this idol of comfort by orienting our lives on whatever promises to provide it in the fastest, easiest, most enjoyable way, and the more we indulge, the harder it is to cope without our comfort-providing substances. Our comforts become a prison of our own making.

The God of All Comfort2022-05-07T23:59:12+00:00
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