Lance Armstrong and the spiral of deceit

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image credit: ESPN

 

Lance Armstrong will announce to the world tonight that he used performance enhancing drugs as part of his run to dominate the cycling world. You may or may not think that cheating at cycling is a big deal. I get it. National exposure for cheating at a niche sport is pretty weird, right? Probably not enough to get national exposure and receive the kind of press that it’s received.Until you consider that Lance is a hero outside of the racing world. See, Lance contracted testicular cancer at age 25. Left untreated, it spread throughout his body, and he had a massive, very public, battle with cancer. Knowing not whether he would live or die, he launched the LiveStrong Foundation, and began advocating and fighting for the life of people stricken with cancer. LiveStrong has done tremendous work in the area of cancer research.

But Lance has learned what many of us have learned. As he covered up his cheating by lying about his steroid use, he had to lie even more. Sin compounded sin compounded sin. The more people he deceived, the more people he had to deceive as he spiraled downward.

Sin loves to hide itself behind layers of more sin.

Lance lied publicly and privately. As people questioned his actions, he went after them, publicly and privately. In the public courts and the courts of public opinion, Lance trampled on people as they called his integrity into question. Threatening phone calls, law suits, and nasty emails were sent to try to “disprove” Lance’s guilt.

The Reaction To Confrontation

Which is no shock to us, right? When you’re called out for something you’ve done, you tend to not react so positively, right?

Sin has a way of masking itself. With masks on top of masks. The deeper you go, the deeper you have to go. The more people you deceive, the more you have to continue to deceive.

In Scripture, King David knew this, too. (see 2 Samuel 11) He saw a beautiful girl, and he wanted her. So he summoned Bathsheba to his quarters, and slept with her. He sent her home, only to soon find out she was pregnant. So to cover up his sin, he decided to pull her husband, Uriah, home from the war. He got Uriah drunk, and urged him to go home and sleep with his wife, hoping to cover up his sin by leading everyone to believe Uriah had gotten Bathsheba pregnant. Sin covering sin.

Uriah didn’t take the bait.

So David had Uriah sent to the front lines of the war so he would be killed. David had Uriah killed to cover his sin.

Adultery, murder, lying and deceit.

You know what broke the cycle? Nathan, the prophet, confronted David on his sin.

David was absolutely broken. He confessed his sin and received forgiveness. He was completely open with God about his rebellion and need for grace. He admitted he’d messed up in a big way. And you know what the crazy thing was? God heard David, answered him, and restored to him joy!

Finding Hope

Maybe you’re on that spiral right now. You’ve messed up, and very few people know. You’ve got your public persona…and your private persona. And you don’t like that. I know you don’t. It’s not making you happy, and you’re scared to death of the consequences that your exposure could bring.

To stop the spiral, you’ve got to take off the mask. Live life freely in transparency, confession, and ample portions of grace. Quit pretending, quit hiding, and quit living life in fear. Quit acting like everything’s ok, because it’s not. God longs to restore joy to you, and free you from the chains that you’ve shackled yourself with.

Sin loves to hide itself behind layers of more sin. And that cycle won’t stop by itself. In fact, If you want to break that cycle, take a cue from David. Then bask in grace, and be quick to give it away.

If you want to have true joy and true freedom, it’s time to be honest.

Was David’s life easier once he confessed? Nope. In fact, he still had a long, hard road ahead. But it was a brighter, more hopful, more full road than the dark path he was sprinting down.

The road to healing isn’t easy. But your moment of exposure and fleeting shame will lead to a lifetime of restoration and love from our Savior.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,

and they will return to you.

Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;

then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,

that my mouth may praise you. – Psalm 51:12-15

 

 

 

The difficulty of Christmas

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image credit: Joe Cavaszos

I was standing in line at Wal Mart, checking out with a few snacks that my wife and I were taking to our staff Christmas party. We were both pretty excited to celebrate a great year with the staff at Grace, whom we loved.

My phone buzzed in my pocket. I slipped it out to see who was calling as I slid my credit card to complete the transaction. It was my mom.

“Hey mom, we’re checking out at Wal Mart. Can I call you right back?”

All I heard in reply was the rapidly-inhaling wheeze someone has when their words are battling with their tears. I instantly squatted down beside the register, cupped my hand over my right ear, and strained to hear every word coming through the phone.

“Mom? What’s wrong? Take a deep breath.”

“It’s Grandma…she’s…”

*wheeze*

“Mom. I can’t hear you. What’s wrong with Grandma?”

*wheeze*

“She’s gone, son. She’s gone.”

My world started spinning. I felt like things slowed down and sped up, all in the same moment. Everything seemed incredibly real and tangible…and at the same time, chaotic. In shock, I relayed the information to Laura as we grabbed our receipt and bags, rushing out the door. I remember the sound of the ignition as it combined with the screams from the ambulance and fire trucks. I knew they were for Grandma. I knew they were headed in the same direction we were.

My grandma’s house was less than 2 miles from Wal Mart. When we pulled up, the flashing lights of the Emergency vehicles lit up the house like Christmas lights normally would that time of year. I parked in the driveway and ran up the shiny metal wheelchair ramp that had recently been installed. My dad walked out, holding my son, Rex, in his arms. They were playing with a toy. It was Dad’s way of distraction-coping. He had just lost his mom, and to keep from crumbling under the emotional weight, he played with Rex. I talked to Dad briefly, then went inside, pushing past the medical personell who didn’t know what to say to me.

Grandma was laying on the bed. She’d died in her sleep. She hadn’t been in the best of health, but her general demeanor and look were improving. Then, she was gone. In an instant, she went to be with Jesus. I bent down and kissed her cheek, a tear dripping down mine onto hers. “I love you, Grandma” I whispered.

2 years ago, just a couple of weeks before Christmas, I lost my Grandma. I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life. I’m reminded of her love, her warmth, her laugh, and her put-everything-from-the-freezer-in-the-pot soup. Every Christmas Eve, I remember the breakfasts we’d eat and the gifts we’d open. I remember the shows she loved and the coffee she drank. I remember the smell her house had.

Every year, I wish I had one last Christmas with her. That I could have one last Christmas to hear her laugh at Rex jumping off of her wheelchair. That we had one last Christmas Eve to eat her huge, very-unhealthy-but-very-good breakfast. That one last time I could hear her say, “Eat, honey. Eat ’til you’re full. Then eat some more. Eat slow and eat a lot.” That I could open up the refrigerator one last time and see all of the drinks she’d gotten…she always had your favorite good and cold.

Just one last time.

Joy for the Joyless

For so many people, Christmas is pure joy. Gifts. Family. Food. Relaxing. Celebrating.But for some, Christmas is tough.

It’s a reminder of our pain.

Maybe you lost someone you loved, and every Christmas season you’re reminded.

Maybe you’re lonely, and all of the chatter about family, friends, and celebrations reminds you that you don’t have anyone. No family. No children. No spouse. Nobody to celebrate with Christmas morning.

Maybe you got fired during the holidays one year. Maybe your dream crumbled before your eyes.

If you have a family, and you’re able to see them on Christmas, you’re prone to forget about others’ loneliness.

If you haven’t lost someone you love this time of year, it’s easy to forget that others have.

If you have plenty, it’s easy to forget that others don’t.

This season, remember that Jesus came for the broken. The hopeless. The helpless. The shattered. The confused. The sick. The lonely. The angry. The depressed. The fakers. The weak. The ones in pain.

Jesus came for us.

He didn’t stay up in heaven and simply tell us he loved us. He entered our pain. He shifted our world. He came to be one of us, and offer us hope.

He doesn’t offer hope that this life is going to be easy, pain-free, and full of wealth. But He promises to be with us through it all.

Christmas reminds us of that. At Christmas, we see a God who’s not far off, but is near. A God who can sympathize with us in our weakness. (Hebrews 4:15) A God who doesn’t just let His creation groan in pain from afar, but through whom all things hold together.

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. – Colossians 1:19-20

Jesus came for us.

 

 

A better way to keep Christ in Christmas

Do people really want to leave Christ out of Christmas?

I don’t think so. Because if we did, we’d be left with just ‘mas.’ Which can’t work.

  • We wish you a merry mas.
  • All I want for mas is my two front teeth.
  • We’d invite people to our mas Eve service.
  • We’d watch National Lampoon’s mas Vacation.

Nobody wants that. Not even pagans. Because we all know that whether you’re a pagan or a Christian, you watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at some point during this season.

With the myriad of distractions flying at us through the media, shopping, office parties, and traveling, we need reminders to keep Christ in Christmas, right? You’ve seen them on buttons, t-shirts-billboards, and yard signs.

CHRISTmas reminders

  • Jesus is the reason for the season.
  • Keep CHRIST in CHRISTmas.
  • No Christ. No Christmas. Know Christ. Know Christmas.
  • Christmas is about Jesus from long ago, not Santa trudging through the snow.

Maybe I made that last one up. But I’m not convinced that these types of reminders work. I also think that when you make it a personal mission to tell everyone you see, “Merry CHRISTmas” (over-dramatizing the “Christ” part), you don’t necessarily help your cause.

In fact, that’s offensive to many people.

“Shouldn’t that make us, the Church, upset?” you say. “It is our holiday, after all, right?” This holiday should be all about Jesus, so we should expect that everyone, even those who don’t follow Jesus, to honor him as Savior and Lord during the Christmas season, right? Oh wait…never mind…forcing someone to recite something they don’t believe isn’t necessarily helpful. Expecting that they’ll honor Jesus during December even though they don’t believe He is King may not be the best way.

Can I offer a better way?

Better CHRISTmas reminders

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to show people love. Even people that don’t deserve it.

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to pursue peace with people because God, through Jesus, has pursued peace with us. 

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to live joyfully in the midst of difficulty. Because we have a Savior who endured our suffering.

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to live generously. Because we serve a King who has given us salvation.

Maybe a better way to keep Christ in Christmas is to live our lives as if the God of the world sent his Son to call us His own.

But maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe we should just keep wearing our buttons. 

 

 

I Hope you Enjoy Your Boring Train

One of my mentors growing up made a drastic change in his life. He used to be a guy that people loved to be around…one of those people that laughed and joked and had a great time. He was infectious.

Then one day something happened.

He got on the boring train.

He began equating “holiness” with “seriousness.” No longer did he have time to joke around. Life’s too short for that. If you’re going to be holy, you’ve got to be serious and focused and intense. Truly holy people didn’t have time to joke around, because there are more important things to do.

Boring train…all aboard!

photo credit: Creation Swap user Chris Powell

The Boring Train is Empty

I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time, but this whole thing really rubbed me the wrong way. Mainly because I no longer enjoyed being around him…and apparently none of our group did, either. Instead of being a bridge over troubled waters, he created troubled waters and burned the bridge.

I’d love to say that my uneasy feelings were motivated by a deep desire to honor God, rooted in the Truth found in the Scriptures. But I was more pragmatic. He made me feel creepy. Ever said a joke to a guy and had them just stare right back at you, stone-faced? Not a great experience.

Laughter & a Good God

As I spent more and more time in Scripture, I realized that my creeper radar going off pretty strongly in my head growing up actually had some roots in Scripture. Check out what the Psalmist said:

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. – Psalm 126:2-3

I don’t know if you fully caught that. Did you see the response from the nations? When they heard the people’s mouths filled with laughter and their tongues singing songs of joy, they said, “They must serve a great God!” Laughter and joy became attractional for the church. Outsiders began to notice the community of God-followers because they were laughing. Not handing out tracts. Not going door-to-door and inviting people to Sunday morning. Not because of a billboard. But because of laughter. Laughter pointed to the greater reality that God was good.

Want to be sensitive to seekers? Laugh a little.

Want to show people that we serve a good God? Laugh a little.

Want to make much of the grace of God? Laugh a little.

Want to show people that holiness isn’t boringness? Laugh a little.

Want to live in a way that shows people how great God is? Laugh a little.

To those of you who think that holiness and boringness should go together: enjoy riding the boring train.

Get it? Enjoy riding…oh, never mind.

Question:

Have you ever equated holiness with seriousness? Ever thought that laughing could honor God?

 

* Photo credit, Creation Swap user Chris Powell

 

 

 

Lattes and the value of enjoying God

As a way of honoring the volunteers in our community groups ministry, my wife hosted a Christmas party for the wives of group leaders.  I thought that this would be one of those parties that I could just slip out of, and go hang out with the guys.  Suffice it to say that that didn’t happen.  I was stuck in the house with a bunch of ladies who would be eating and exchanging gifts.

My job for the evening was to make lattes and hot chocolate for everybody.  I am often delegated this responsibility because I worked at a coffee shop as a barista for over 3 years, and really enjoy coffee.  I made a variety of different drinks that night.

What stood out to me was their response to the drinks, and what that did for me.  Some ladies were very appreciative, saying, “Thanks!” or “We appreciate you doing this for us!”  It was nice that they appreciated my drinks, but the greatest responses were, “That’s good,” and “I really like that,” and “I didn’t even know if this would be good, but I love it!”  Now, I don’t say this to toot my own horn at all.  I say this to point you to what worship is, at its core.

Worship is enjoying God.  Sure, there are other aspects of worship.  Take, for example, giving.  Giving is an act of worship, right?  But giving to others, merely because God says to give, isn’t enough (though it is a step of obedience).  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)  There is a component to giving that requires an emotional commitment.  A cheerful giver does not give merely because he or she has to give.  They take delight in giving.  But can an emotion really be commanded?  Aren’t emotions just a reaction, not something that we can control or help?

“Delight yourself in the Lord.” (Psalm 37:4)  There it is.  Delighting involves an emotion.  Delighting means that you have a positive affection towards something or someone.  To delight in something means that you enjoy it.  To delight in God means that we enjoy Him.  David, the psalmist, delights in and longs for the sweet commandments and precepts of God. (Psalm 119:16, 24, 29-30, 36, 40, 47-48, 58, 70, 72, 77, 92, 103, 111, 131, 143, 162, 164, 174)  How do you go about the business of delighting in God?  I think it starts with two things: trusting in the Lord and committing your way to Him. (Psalm 37:3, 5) Delight can be both the catalyst and the result of trusting and committing, and is an essential aspect of worship.

The ladies showed the most value to my drinks when they enjoyed them.  The empty cup and a smile went much further in my mind than words alone.  What about with God?  Do you think He just wants your words?  Or does He want your heart, too?