There are two tensions, two stressors at work in my life at any given time. One is driven by authentic things, good things:

The pressure to hit a deadline at work.

The pressure to save money for retirement.

The pressure to spend quality time with my son.

The pressure to pay my bills by the due date.

The pressure to be at a meeting before the designated start time.

The pressure to remember my wife’s birthday.

This type of tension can be a good thing – an inner drive that makes me a responsible and healthy human being, that helps me meet the needs of my family and others who place their trust in me. I need this kind of tension.

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And then there’s the tension created by my idolatries.

The pressure to attain power and influence.

The pressure to be known as a perfect father.

The pressure to look like I always have my stuff together.

The pressure to gain accolades and praise from those around me.

The pressure to satisfy that insatiable need for wealth and accomplishment.

The pressure of earning God’s blessing and approval.

This type of tension is dangerous – an inner drive to find my own identity, to fulfill my own destiny, and to become my own savior. I need to repent of this kind of tension. 

Which tension is driving you today? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the difference, to discern between the two. One is healthy, the other is hindering. One is suitable, the other is sinful.

Which tension tale are you telling?

The Car Thief In Me

Erik Cooper —  March 18, 2015 — Leave a comment

It didn’t take long to realize that my morning was ruined.

“Do you drive a gray Honda Pilot? Was it parked down on the end, next to the alley?”

Yes.

and…

Aw, for real? Are you kidding me? Yes.

I was still a good 30 yards away, but I could already see the shattered shards of what little remained of my passenger side window. In a matter of seconds someone had ducked in between the parked cars, and, keeping their head below the roofline of the vehicle (and therefore off the video surveillance footage), smashed the glass and slipped quietly into the nearby alleyway, my briefcase in tow. I had even laid it flat on the floorboard and tucked it partially under the seat. So much for partial precautions.

Brand new briefcase.

iPad.

(and the worst by far)

My personal journal and reflections from 2013, perhaps the most difficult and profound year of my life.

All gone. Probably spread between various pawn shops and dumpsters in and across the near north side of Indianapolis by the time I snapped this picture.

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Less than two weeks later the briefcase and iPad have been replaced, and I’ve (almost) come to grips with losing the journal. Maybe those words found their way into the hands of someone who desperately needed to read them. I don’t know, but I can hope.

But there’s another nagging feeling I can’t shake. One I haven’t like facing as I prayed for some kind of redemption from this unfortunate situation.

Why did this guy steal my stuff?

Sympathizers might say, “maybe he needed food for his newborn infant,” and cynics will undoubtedly chime in,” it was probably to buy drugs.” But regardless of the tangible why, the simple truth is this: he wanted something that didn’t belong to him. At the root of this theft was envy.

“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”

–Exodus 20:17

Now here’s where things get really messy.

Jesus upped the ante when it came to the 10 Commandments. He said it’s not just wrong to engage in an adulterous relationship, it’s a sin to lust after that person in your mind. It’s as if you committed adultery with her in your heart. He said it’s not just wrong to murder someone, it’s a sin to be angry with another person. It’s as if you murdered him in your heart (Matthew 5).

(Jesus was strangely concerned with washing the dirt from the inside of the cup, not just the outside).

Well, nuts then! How many times have I envied someone (this week)? Their house? Their job? Their family? Their lifestyle? Their financial situation? Their vacation pictures? By Jesus standard, even though I never acted on it, that still makes me…well…a car thief.

I’m not suggesting there aren’t different horizontal consequences between lust and adultery, anger and murder, envy and stealing. This isn’t about dumbing down the severity of our actions or not holding people accountable for the ugly, damaging, and evil things that they do. This isn’t about trying to justify excuses or create some kind of moral equivalency.

But it is sobering to realize the level of perfection God’s holiness demands from our lives. It’s not just what we do, it’s why we do it. It’s what’s inside. And if that’s the litmus test for holiness, I’m just another car thief.

The Law crushes.

The Gospel raises up.

The Spirit empowers.

My only hope is not in my goodness (at my core I have none), but in the righteousness Jesus offers to me as a gift. His righteousness, and the promised work of His Spirit in and through me. I hope the guy who stole my briefcase finds that life someday, too. He won’t have to break a window to steal it. The door is wide open and everything he could ever long for is just laying right there on the front seat, free for the taking.

From one car thief to another, I might suggest you consider taking it, too.

I had the honor of putting my “preacher” hat back on this week, filling in for my friend Steve Greene at The Point Church in Seymour, Indiana. I got to share a little about our missions-based nonprofit, Community Reinvestment Foundation, and dig a bit deeper into my favorite topic: The Gospel of Jesus Christ…

The Law crushes.

The Gospel raises up.

The Spirit empowers.

…all within the context of The Point’s most recent message series: Love Does.

If you live in or around Seymour, or are ever driving through southern Indiana on a Sunday morning, I can’t encourage you enough to stop and visit this great church. Steve, Joel, and the entire team have led this century old church to be a continued expression of hope in this beautiful community.

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Parenting Into Grace

Erik Cooper —  February 25, 2015 — 1 Comment

My 9 year old son asked me a tough question as I walked out of his bedroom last night.

We had just finished our pre-bed routine, and after a new story from the Bible App for Kids, a couple of sibling pot-shots at his older sister, and a short bedtime prayer, I was reaching for the light switch when his pensive, little brain conjured up this inquiry:

“Dad, sometimes I have bad thoughts run through my head. I can’t make them stop. I try to make them stop, but they just keep coming. How do I make them go away?”

Whoa.

In one short interrogative, my 4th grader stumbled squarely into the greatest issue we face as human beings. Sin isn’t just a list of the bad things that we do, it’s a disease rooted deep inside us.

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Last year, I was diagnosed with a blood disorder. The antibodies that normally fight off infection issued a unilateral executive order that the platelets in my blood were now foreign objects that needed to be destroyed. This screwed up reaction causes my blood to clot when it isn’t supposed to. Scabs around a wound stop dangerous bleeding, but scabs floating freely through in the veins and arteries in your head stops….well…life.

I use this analogy to explain sin to my kids. It’s like a blood disease. It’s inside of us. We were born into it. And it isn’t something we can cure by ourselves.

So how do we step into a question like this with our kids? We parent them into grace.

  • The Law (God’s holiness) is meant to crush us.
  • The Gospel (Jesus’ death and resurrection) raises us up.
  • The Holy Spirit (God’s promised gift to the redeemed) empowers us for righteousness.

This is the Good News!

But in our desire to be both perfect and loving parents, we sometimes respond with two unfortunate mistakes. In my son’s case those might look something like this:

It’s okay buddy, God’s love is big. Don’t worry about it.

Or…

What?! (Schwartz!) You can’t do that! Exercise some self-control! No television or video games for a month!

Problem #1: Our sin is not okay. Let me say that again. Our. Sin. Is. Not. O. K. Brokenness is part of the human condition, no doubt. And surrendering to the fact that you’re broken is the beginning of hope and healing. But no matter what this culture of tolerance and acceptance is telling you, your sin, my sin, our sin, is not something God overlooks. And it won’t stand up under the weight of God’s holiness. Don’t tell your kids that it will. The solution to our sin is not the removal of God’s standard. Let the Law crush them.

Problem #2: We can’t fix ourselves. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. It doesn’t originate in us, it originates in the work of Christ on our behalf. Sharing Jesus with our kids solely as an example to emulate will do them in. Showing them Jesus as a Savior will bring them life! As Tim Keller so poignantly says it, “The key question in order to change you is not ‘What would Jesus do? but What has Jesus done for you?

My son stumbled quietly toward a beautiful truth last night. His “blood disorder” was producing bad things in his heart and mind and he knew it was wrong (the Law was beginning to crush him). Where we parent our kids from that point becomes the key question.

The Law crushes. The Gospel raises up. The Spirit empowers.

Let’s parent them into that grace. I wish I always got this right, but I guess that’s why I desperately need this message, too.

Her eyes widened then quickly shifted down at the table as she moved uncomfortably in her seat. I had asked one of those awkward dad questions.

“So have you and your friends heard about this new movie ‘Fifty Shades of Grey?'”

She paused, then sheepishly acknowledged.

“Don’t worry, I’m not going where you think I am with this dialog. Relax.”

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Photo Credit: Craig Swatton

She exhaled and I began to wax parental eloquence. It went something like this:

When I was kid, we ran from culture. We shielded ourselves from it and even created our own Christian versions that we could embrace with safety and piety. Christian books, music, magazines, and events allowed me to live in a somewhat cloistered world of sexual abstinence and hard core replicas with a biblical twist. 

(Let’s just ignore 1980’s Christian television and movies).

And while it’s fun to make jokes today, I didn’t completely hate it. In fact, you can listen to my favorite high school throwback Spotify playlist by clicking here. That’s some quality stuff (don’t judge).

There’s no doubt, one of our most popular Christian reactions to secular culture was to withdraw from it, recreate it in our own image, and then condemn what was left behind from our place of manufactured purity.

But then a new wave of Christianity came along. One that was tired of “Pharisees” casting self-righteous condemnation on the “Common Grace” of the world. God was manifest in the creativity of all human beings, regardless of whether those creatives acknowledge His Lordship or not. Let’s be honest, many of the best musicians, and artists, and storytellers, and entrepreneurs profess no faith in Christ, yet they are making some of the most beautiful impact on the world around us. That can’t be easily discarded, nor should it.

So many of us swung from the pious constraints of the sheltered re-creation in which we had been raised and began hysterically consuming this unexplored culture with little critique or caution. While faith remained vital for many, life became easily compartmentalized into the sacred and the secular. It was time to enjoy all the things we had been told were wrong for so long.

And in our attempts to lay down the sanctimonious idols of man-made morality and doctrinal purity, we embraced new idols of enlightenment and sophistication. We simply created a different, more socially acceptable brand of self-righteousness.

So what does this have to do with 50 Shade of Grey? 

Stay away from it. Far away. No contemplation, no hesitation. Not because it makes you more righteous and better than, but because the One who gave you His righteousness has much better things for you. We can love the “common grace” of this world and find grace and love for sinners without naively consuming its perversion.

The Gospel doesn’t hide from culture, but it doesn’t blindly consume of it either. It engages. It brings life. It resurrects what is dead and distorted.

May the same be said of us.