Expecting to Fear No Man

I’m pretty sure that it has been at least 20 years since I attended my last Kansas City Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. That changed Sunday when my son bought us tickets to see the home team play the Jacksonville Jaguars. All week long, the hubbub from people who know things about football had been trumpeting the “elite” Jacksonville defense. “Sure,” they suggested. “The Chiefs have a good offense, but they haven’t been up against a unit like this one.”

By the end of the day, the Chiefs offense had scored a healthy 23 points on this elite defense (the KC defense adding another touchdown), and the Browning boys went home happy. We can be certain that the Chiefs knew very well how talented their opponents would be, but they believed in themselves, in each other, and in their leaders.

Why do I mention something as unspiritual as NFL football? Am I dealing with my feelings of guilt for playing hooky from worship? I don’t think so. Instead, I’m reminded of a simple fact about life: when we expect ourselves to fail, we usually come through and live down to that expectation.

Read Numbers 13 and consider the differing responses of the scouts sent by Moses into the Promised Land. After some vocal members of the scouting party have bragged on the place, somebody, Numbers 13:28 tells us, voices that troubling word: “however.” Yeah, the land is great; however, the people are giants. We can’t beat them.

In response to these words, up jumps Caleb: “Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!” What a guy, this Caleb! Wouldn’t you be inclined to follow his leadership. He heard the same things that the others heard. He saw the same walled cities and tall enemies. So why was Caleb saying “Let’s go up now” while the others were drifting toward the rear?

Clearly Caleb believed in himself. For some reason, despite what he’d heard, he believed in his fellow Israelites, but most importantly, he believed in their leaders–yes, Moses and Aaron, but their ultimate leader, God himself.

When we believe that we will be defeated by whatever faces us this week, we’ve taken the first step to failure. Rarely do we succeed when we expect to fail. On the other hand, we sometimes fail when we expect to succeed, but the odds are far stronger.

This week, I expect to face a few challenges from other people. I can shrink from them or I can assume that God will be beside me. Like Caleb, I can say, “Let’s go up now!”

The October Resolve

As I mentioned my “October Resolve” in the cheesecake entry published Thursday, it occurred to me that I had not explained what I meant by that term. Actually, I invented that term (but not the goals that lay behind it) when I wrote the post.

Recently, I have become irritated by myself and my failures in several areas. A week or so back, I determined that I had to make progress on these three items or I would probably find myself frustrated and defeated going forward. I’ve code-named them G, L, and S, but I can trust you with their actual identities.

G stands for the sin of gluttony. I’ve been up and down with my weight, my healthy eating, and my general level of fitness over the last five years or so. Over the summer, Penny and I both did great. Then I went back to school and wheels came off. Workouts ended and restraint with food went out the window. My G resolve is to eat within control every day through October. I’ll be measuring myself using MyFitnessPal and remembering Proverbs 23:20-21.

L stands for the sin of lust. Let’s be clear–especially if you’re my wife reading this–I’ve not completely gone off the rails. However, I have found my eyes and thoughts going where they should not go.  My L resolve is to keep my eyes on the right things as much as possible and to maintain a pure mind in sexual matters. I seek this beyond October, but I’ll start with these 31 days. To assist, I’m lining up scriptures like 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 to remind me of the importance of mental fidelity.

S stands for the sin of sloth. Although I have plenty of good things that I should be doing with my time, I’ve been a bit of a sluggard recently. With Proverbs 6:10-11 in my mind, I know that I simply have to use my time more productively. Yes, there are lots of good things on Netflix, but I don’t have to watch them all right away. I’ve created a document file that I’ll use to record my actions each day. So far, I’ve felt very good about my use of time, but can I keep it up for a month? We’ll see.

That’s what I’m striving to do this month. There’s no grand conclusion to draw, but I thought I’d share.

Praying for Your Eyes

This morning, my preparations for a meeting tomorrow had my eyes on the first chapter of Ephesians when these verses jumped out at me:

This is why, since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength. –Ephesians 1:15-19

Paul didn’t have an endless amount of paper, and he couldn’t fire off letters as easily as we send emails today. Why then does he spend–I want to say “waste”–so much space on this topic. I’m inclined to read this and say, “Okay, okay, we get it. You pray for us. Now get on to the good stuff!”

Since I’m not quite the spiritual giant that Paul was, I’m going to assume that my impatience reflects poorly not on him but on me. To that end, I’d like to look at the substance of his apparently endless prayers. Let’s take these verses apart and examine them.

Thanks for the Ephesians–Paul doesn’t just thank God for the Ephesians. He claims to “never stop giving thanks.” I routinely thank God for my wife, but beyond that I’m bad about not thanking him for the others in my life. Either I’m falling down in this regard or the people in my world don’t rise to the level of those in Ephesus.

Spirit of wisdom–Notice that when Paul gets around to asking God for things on behalf of the Ephesians, he doesn’t pray for their pastor search or their building fund. He asks that God will give them the Spirit of wisdom. It seems to me that the following three requests are more specific effects of that Spirit.

Hope of his calling–Paul is addressing himself here to the “faithful saints at Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1). I’d expect that they wouldn’t need to experience the hope of God’s calling, but that’s what Paul asks for them to see first. But then I recognize that although I have experienced that calling and enjoyed some of its blessings, I don’t always have a clear vision of the hope that it provides. If I did, would I still struggle so constantly with sin?

Wealth of his inheritance–Here he doesn’t pray that they’ll receive an inheritance but that they’ll recognize just how rich an inheritance they’ve already gained. Again, if I were truly cognizant of those riches, would I worry about a high electrical bill?

Immeasurable greatness of his power–Again, Paul prays that the Ephesians will see God’s power. He doesn’t ask God to be with them–he’s always with them. Instead he prays that they will have their eyes open, like Elisha’s servant in 2 Kings 6:17 to recognize that power.

I rarely pray these things for myself. Almost never do I pray them for others. Instead, I pray for Aunt Edna’s gout or Cousin Buford’s marriage problems. Clearly, I’m blind when it comes to intercessory prayer. I just need to pray that people’s eyes will be open. That will solve a host of other problems.

A Shortstop’s Kind of Readiness

I’ve just suffered through one of the worst seasons that the Kansas City Royals have ever played. The team that won the World Series in 2015, lost 104 games, topped (bottomed?) only by 106 losses in 2005. As painful as their season proved, they showed signs of hope with some promising young players.

Watch baseball for very long and you’ll see that there are players who are in the lineup mostly for their fielding and some mostly for their bats. When you see a powerful hitter who plays in the field like he’s competing in a sack race, that player will normally be positioned in right field, the spot where he’s least likely to do much damage.

On the other hand, a shortstop who cannot field is a terrific liability. Sure, you’d like him to be able to hit, but he absolutely must be able to range around the left side of the infield, snag balls hit his direction, and make long, accurate throws to first base. Without that talent, the team is sunk.

Any shortstop worthy of playing professional baseball wants the ball to come his way in critical moments. With the game on the line, he should be not just thinking, “What do I do when the ball is hit to me?” but also, “Hit it here. Hit it here. I dare you.”

On the other hand, that right fielder, the one who wouldn’t be on the team if he couldn’t smash the ball with his bat, might be excused for standing out there at the crossroads between victory and defeat, whispering, “Don’t hit here. Please don’t hit it here!”

Which player do you more resemble in the ballgame of Christian service? Are you the shortstop, eagerly wishing for the chance to start a game-winning double play or the right fielder hoping beyond hope that the ball goes somewhere, anywhere else?

Esther initially wanted to hide in the outfield. When encouraged to bring the Jews’ problems to the king, she tried to get off the hook. In Esther 4:14, Mordecai lays it on the line for her. Unlike in baseball, God’s tasks will get done if we don’t do them. But if we fail, if we try to avoid the play, then the glory will go to someone else.

In 1985, when my Royals won their first World Series, the right fielder, Daryl Motley, caught the twenty-seventh out in game seven, clinching the series. I’ve remembered that for thirty-three years. My guess is that I’ll remember it for another several decades.

While we might be frightened to see the ball coming our way, we need to overcome fear and get ourselves into the game. A bad season for a baseball team is no big deal. A bad season for the church is regrettable. And the individual Christian often gets only one significant season to play.

Cheated of Cheesecake?

Today was one of those good days when my employer fed me lunch on their dime. A guest speaker, Joshua Neufeld, the artist behind such graphic creations as The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media or A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon Graphic Library), a graphic account of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, had given a lecture. We gave him a luncheon (and presumably a wad of money).

As I sat down to the table, I found the usual fare, including glasses of water and tea. We’re swanky at JCCC! But then I saw the precise slice of dessert pictured here lurking just past my super-healthy grilled chicken salad. Not only were they tempting me with cheesecake, but they’d drizzled caramel or somesuch all over it. I knew that, given my October Resolve to control my eating, I could not indulge in this delicacy. It would be colossally hard!

That’s what I told Penny when I got home. “It was hard.” Then I thought about it for a moment and realized that not eating that marvelous confection really had not been that hard. I looked at it. I saw Beth to my left eat about half of hers. Maureen to my right ate most if not all of hers. Mine never moved.

That’s when I found myself reminded that resisting temptation is not the incredibly difficult thing that we make it out to be. Temptation came my way not by the hand of Satan but my the hand of JCCC Food Service. The desire for it might have been nudged forward by Satan, but for me to truly be tempted, to find it hard, I would have to turn that desire over in my mind.

James 1:13-15 describes the process by which temptation develops. It starts with an idea, but it only moves from desire to sin to death when I allow myself to be “drawn away and enticed by [my] own evil desire.” It’s not the cheesecake’s desire. It’s not Satan’s desire. It wasn’t the desire of Beth or Maureen. It was mine. All I had to do to win the moment was not to feed–either literally or figuratively–that desire.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.