Archives For Spiritual Life

My oldest daughter wrapped up her basketball career with a gut-wrenching last minute loss in the high school state semifinals this past weekend. We knew this day was coming, we’d even talked about it openly, but for some reason no amount of mental preparation was ample enough. I’ve had to (not-so-subtly) excuse myself from more than one room the last few days, not quite sure where all the different layers of emotion were coming from.

We’re sad.

We’re joyful.

We’re grieving.

We’re thankful.

Yes. Thankful.

When we walked into the first meeting before freshman tryouts four years ago, we just hoped Emma could somehow make the team. We weren’t AAU parents. She never played on travel teams or spent time in the offseason at skills camps or with special trainers. We weren’t looking for college scholarships, we just wanted our shy kid to find a place to fit in, to make some friends, and enjoy her high school years.

As I look back, I think that accidental perspective is actually what made the experience so rich. Unlike other areas of our lives, we didn’t see our family as being owed anything. Every moment, from her first cleanup minutes off the bench as a freshman member of the JV squad, to watching her take the court as a varsity starter in the State finals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse – none of it was expected. All of it was a gift. A glorious surprise we never saw coming.

I believe one of the key reasons Emma’s basketball career was so deeply fulfilling is because we experienced it with such unforeseen thankfulness.

Entitlement shrinks my world. It makes me selfish and grouchy when my expectations aren’t fulfilled. It creates a barrier between me and others.

Thankfulness opens the floodgates! It deepens my relationships and fills my heart with joy, even when things aren’t unfolding the way I planned.

What if I approached more things in life this way? 

Owed nothing.

Grateful for everything.

I want to experience more seasons of life that are so rich and full that I can’t help but weep when they’re over. What if thankfulness is the secret sauce that just might make that possible?

A few months ago I typed the following words into my MacBook’s screen saver:

“Be thankful today, even for the littlest of things.”

I want to do better. I don’t want to take anything for granted. What my daughter has experienced, the forever friendships she’s made, the incredible young woman she’s become – all of it has been such an unexpected gift.

Thank you Covenant Christian. Thank you Coach Smith and Angie, Coaches Howell, Fish, and O. Thank you to all the parents who have become dear friends, and are still willing to sit next to me in the stands even when I’m yelling irrationally at the referees. Thank you to all the beautiful girls who have loved my daughter so well and given us so much joy.

We’re thankful for it all. Every. Single. Bit. This isn’t the end, it’s a new beginning. Let’s embrace it all with thankfulness. It’s not just the best way to play basketball, it’s the richest way to live.

Our Hope Is In Christ

Erik Cooper —  January 20, 2017 — Leave a comment

There is a story in Scripture that absolutely confounds me. The Israelites have been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years when God decides it’s time for their exile to end. He does it with flare: snakes, and plagues, and an Angel of Death, seas parting, water from rocks, pillars of fire, three square meals a day miraculously falling to the ground, shoes that never wear out. Supernatural stuff!

The tangible presence of God was in their midst every day, leading and guiding and saving and providing. And yet the first thing – the very first thing! – they did when Moses left them to go up the mountain was to make their own god out of gold and bow down to worship it.

On first read, this seems like a new level of insanity! Until I realize that I do the exact same thing, too. Every day.

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”
–John Calvin

Every day we fight the broken, human instinct to fashion gods with our own hands – gods we can understand, control, and ultimately find our power and identity in. We were made for God, and yet we default to making gods. As we watch the various public reactions to the transfer of power taking place in Washington DC today, and even as we gaze inward to the condition of our own hearts, this idolatry becomes clear in so many ways.

We all have political leanings, and in our own way we can each reconcile these beliefs with our faith. But we are prone to find our identity, and ultimately our hope, in the wins or losses of our preferred political candidates. As Christians, this should cause us great concern.

If your party is taking power today, go ahead and celebrate the ideological win. But don’t place your hope, and certainly not the security of your Christian faith, in the incoming administration. That is idolatry.

Our hope is in Christ.

And if your ideology is leaving office today, don’t despair. If you find yourself despondent and emotionally wrecked by these election results, your hope was in something that was destined to fail you. That is idolatry.

Our hope is in Christ.

I believe God allows us to experience the futility of the many things we place our trust in apart from Him. He does this because He loves us. Our idols will always fail us. If your hope, security, and identity is moving in or out of the White House today, I encourage you to pause and reflect. The idolatry of politics will fail you, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ never will.

Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,

but we boast in the name of the LORD our God.

Those nations will fall down and collapse,

but we will rise up and stand firm.

–Psalm 20:7-8

For Yours, Jesus, is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever and ever.

Nothing

Sometimes things don’t work the way we planned.

After nearly 40 hours, an overnight airport delay, and two itinerary reroutes, I found myself cuing in a mass of disgruntled travelers in the Addis Ababa airport waiting for our now twice-delayed Ethiopian airline flight to board for Nairobi. Our original team of twenty had been split up twice already, and my wife and three kids were the only 4 left with me. We were trying to count that blessing as my children, travel novices at best, were questioning why we ever left our quaint Midwestern suburb for dad’s claim of a life-changing missions adventure. In all my travels, I had never experienced anything quite like this. We were exhausted, we were hungry, and we were stuck in one of the least desirable airport terminals in the world. And to top it off, I was powerless. There was absolutely nothing I could do about it.

So we pulled a few snacks from our carry-on bags and tried to keep each other in good spirits as many of our irate East African co-passengers argued with the gate-check agents in unknown tongues about the unexplained delays and lack of communication. The intensifying scene was already beginning to make me a little uncomfortable when I glanced down at my 11 year old son. He had been complaining of an upset stomach since we arrived in Addis, but now his face had grown a bit pale, too.

What happened next unfolded in slow motion. His knees stiffened, his eyes rolled back in his head, and his body tumbled backward like he was doing the Nestea plunge. Had it not been for his oversized backpack, his head would’ve certainly cracked hard on the concrete floor. His sister’s scream silenced all other activity and conversation in the buzzing terminal, and we found ourselves on our knees tending to our unconscious son surrounded by a circle of curious and concerned Ethiopian onlookers.

This was not the beautiful journey I had promised my kids for the last 6 months.

Thankfully, he had just passed out, the result of extreme fatigue, lack of food, and airplane dehydration. After convincing the airport officials he was not suffering from some horrific communicable disease and in need of quarantine, we were finally allowed to board the plane to reunite with the rest of our companions (although I can’t say as much for our luggage).

This was not the trip I had planned. It was nothing like the picture I had painted in my head. But there are unexpected blessings to encountering moments of complete powerlessness.

Many of you know my son’s personality. He’s a strong-willed negotiator, never content with an answer he doesn’t like. On many occasions I’ve told my wife, “I wish he would just listen to his dad sometimes. I wish he could find rest in my decisions, that I know what’s best, that I can be trusted.”

This terrifying moment deeply impacted him. In this new unknown environment, he’s humbly asked a lot more questions, he’s paid attention to my instructions, he’s literally clung to me physically as our days have unfolded here in Kenya. He falls asleep grasping my arm. As a dad, there’s nothing you long for more, even though the circumstances that got you here could not be desired less. He’s sought refuge in his father, and together we’ve both found refuge in The Father.

Powerlessness can be a gift. It can connect us to God in unmatched ways, draw us into His covering and protection, and tap into a strength so much greater than our own. We were made to find our rest in the Father, but to get there we usually have to walk the uncomfortable road that leads us to the end of ourselves.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”
–Matthew 5:3 (MSG)

So here’s to powerlessness. It just might be more powerful than you think.

LoveHands

Moralism is the byproduct of religious self-sufficiency. It’s a form of self-righteousness that may start with professed dependence on Christ, but lives itself out as if pleasing God is an outflow of a person’s ability to outwardly obey the rules (or at least only break the ones that are socially and culturally acceptable to ignore).

Moralism is comparative righteousness. It completely misses the transformational power of the Gospel because it misidentifies our core problem as bad moral behavior. In today’s shifting moral climate, religious moralists are finding the cultural to be more and more hostile toward them. They’re called out as modern day Pharisees (or worse), accentuating their own virtue by looking down their noses at the lack of virtue they see in others. Jesus definitely had strong words for people like this.

But here’s my rub…

Tolerance is just secular moralism.

I texted the following to my brother-in-law earlier this week after the news of the horrific Orlando massacre began filling the airwaves and our social media streams:

I hate the word hate. Secularism can’t solve any problems because it refuses to identify real causes. If “hate” is the problem, then “tolerance” is the answer. Unfortunately, we humans have proven for 4,000 years that more and more enlightenment doesn’t seem to change us all that much.

But if SIN is the problem, then we have to acknowledge we don’t have the answer – in ourselves. And herein lies the rub for human hubris.

If good behavior is the moralist’s redemption, tolerance is the secularist’s redemption. It’s a battle of varying forms of self righteousness, and it all completely misses the beauty, the power, the hope, and the true transformational ability of the Gospel message.

That we are all horrifically broken.

That we are completely incapable of fixing ourselves.

That we already have a Savior.

And His name is Jesus.

Religious moralism and secular tolerance are just two sides of the same self-righteous coin. If we really want to learn to love each other, to truly get along, it’s going to take a whole lot of humility and dependence on Someone greater than ourselves.

EnvyBlog

I opened the newspaper Sunday morning to a full weekend spread on the housing market in Indianapolis. It’s booming. And the full-color photo collages were there to prove it. One in particular caught my eye. It was a wide-angle shot off a beautiful custom kitchen, complete with high end, hand-made cabinets, stainless steel appliances, marble countertops, and stunning hard wood floors.

“We need a house like that,” I thought to myself.

“And, you know, our bathroom could sure use a makeover, too. Our shower is too small, and the space isn’t segmented properly.”

“You know, I wonder if we could swing a bigger mortgage? Maybe get into a nicer part of town?”

“I tell ya, some people are just luckier than we are. I wonder what kind of work they do to be able to support a home like that.”

If we didn’t have to think about getting three kids through college, I bet we could afford something like that. It just doesn’t seem fair sometimes.”

It’s amazing where the sinful mind instinctively takes you. We have a beautiful house with a huge finished basement, some custom features, and a mortgage payment I am fortunate enough to be able to make every month. And I’m lucky enough to have three incredible kids I get to try and help make it through college.

Here’s some irony: it’s often hardest to see what you actually have. It’s much easier to see what you don’t.

And when I really begin to feel what I don’t have by meditating on what others do have, I can even begin to despise them for their “good fortune.” Catch me in a really fleshly moment, and the road to bitterness will lead to an even darker place. It’s called envy.

We talk a lot about greed in Western contexts, and rightfully so. We are the wealthiest culture in the history of the earth. We roll around in abundance like no generation before. Add Christian faith to the mix, and we are admonished by Christ to care for the poor and to serve the least of these among us. We need to be challenged not to hoard, to live with an open hand. It’s biblical.

But while greed causes us to say “I deserve to keep all that is mine!” envy drives us to scream “I deserve to have what is yours!” For some reason, we don’t seem to challenge envy quite as much. Perhaps it’s our love for the underdog. Perhaps it’s something darker.

When you dig right down to the bottom of it, both greed and envy are symptoms of the same root cause – sinful desires.

You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”
–James 4:2-3

It’s interesting to me, especially in a hotly contested political season like we find ourselves in today, to watch how different candidates have learned how to tap into our visceral, sinful natures.

“Build a wall!”

“It’s not fair!”

“You should keep what you have!”

“You should have what they’re trying to keep!”

Greed.

Envy.

They’re two sides of the same broken coin. We need to confront the scourge of both in our lives.

What about a Gospel solution? A third way? A free people willfully generous with all that they have, while simultaneously content with all that they have. Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

Come, Lord Jesus.