Monday, January 31, 2011

Mmm, Chick-Fil-A

A friend sent me a New York Times article about a Gay Advocacy group that is boycotting Chick-Fil-A for providing sandwiches at a marriage seminar in Pennsylvania. I wish I could share the link with you, but the website is demanding that I login; unfortunately, I don't have an account with the Grey Lady so I can't share the article. I'm not even sure how I was able to read it in the first place...

I have a few thoughts about this. First of all, in America, Chick-Fil-A has a right to distribute sandwiches however it chooses. Secondly, any group has a right to boycott any business because of its business practices. These are wonderful rights that we possess as Americans, and I wouldn't want to give those up.

That said, boycotts are generally a bad idea. Christians know this as well as anyone. We've learned the hard way that boycotts often do nothing but draw more attention to the entity being boycotted. In fact, most boycotts make the boycotters look shrill, angry, and outright ridiculous. In this instance, we have a wonderful quote from a boycotter: "Eating Chick-Fil-A is eating anti-gay." That doesn't even make grammatical sense. But grammar is often the second thing to go when you organize a boycott (reason being the first).

My thought for this particular Gay Advocacy group is this: You look ridiculous. You sound shrill. This is not a fight worth picking. You're making a caricature of your cause, and if you follow this path of knee-jerk boycotts, you will turn people off to your message. See also, fundamentalist Christianity. I mean, do you really want your message to be: "Beware the evil evangelical Christians and their delicious, delicious chicken sandwiches"? Oh, by the way, thanks for reminding me that Chick-Fil-A makes delicious, delicious chicken sandwiches, because I'm really hungry.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Excuses

We're good at giving excuses. Whether it's the cliche, "The dog ate my homework," or the more creative, "I have a psychosomatic impairment that literally prevents me from hearing the audio frequency on which your voice travels," we know how to get out of stuff.

The book of Jeremiah opens with God telling this priest named Jeremiah that he has been ordained from before time began to be a prophet to the nations. Comfortable with his position as a small-town priest, Jeremiah immediately tries to dissuade God by offering up two excuses of his own. Here's the exchange:

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations."

"Alas, Sovereign Lord," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am too young."

But the Lord said to me, "Do not say, 'I am too young.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the Lord.

Here comes the Maker of the Universe to this young priest, telling him, "I knew you before you were even conceived; since before time began I set you apart as a prophet." And how does Jeremiah respond? He says, "But I don't know how to speak, and I'm way too young to be a prophet." God paints this massive, cosmic picture of calling Jeremiah to be a prophet, and Jeremiah offers two excuses as to why God must be mistaken: I don't have the ability, and I don't have the experience.

It's funny how God responded. He didn't say, "Oh Jeremiah, c'mon, you're an excellent speaker. And you've got plenty of experience to do this job. Stop being so modest, you silly goose." No, God simply says, "Don't say, 'I'm too young.'" He doesn't coddle Jeremiah; he commissions him. "Don't give me any excuses, Jeremiah. You're going to go to the people I send you to, and you're going to speak the words I give you."

God doesn't accept our excuses. Jeremiah lacked the ability and experience to be a prophet, but that didn't stop God's plan for him. Don't let your excuses short circuit God's call on your life. If he's called you to something for which you feel unqualified, then he either made a mistake (which he didn't) or he will make you qualified in some unexpected way.

This is how God qualified Jeremiah for the prophetic office: "Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you." The simple truth is that Jeremiah wasn't qualified to fulfill God's call on his life, and neither are you. The only thing that makes God's task possible is his presence with you. If you're succeeding based on your ability and experience, then you're not dreaming God's dream or answering his call for your life. God's call on your life will be so far beyond your ability that it will demand his presence to accomplish.

Don't settle for anything less than God's most difficult task for you. Be aware of your limitations, but don't let those be an excuse to run and hide from his commissioning of you. Lean into him. If he has called you, then he will be with you.

Monday, January 24, 2011

26 For Your 26th!

Today is my wife's birthday! She's 26 today, and to honor her, I want to write 26 things that I love about her. So Breena, this is for you.

1. You love Jesus very, very much.
2. You love each of our kids with a ferocious agape love, and you don't show any favoritism between them.
3. You love me very much, and I can never doubt this.
4. You teach our kids about how much God loves them.
5. You have a compassionate heart for people who are going through hard times.
6. You're generous with your time and money.
7. You work very hard at making your 31 business very successful.
8. You are unconditionally supportive of what God has called me to do.
9. You prioritize our family and desperately want to raise our kids well.
10. You speak life into the hearts of others.
11. You have an amazing sense of humor and make me laugh at the most random times.
12. You yield to God and learn what he wants to teach you in any given circumstance.
13. You respect the authority of God's Word.
14. You're freaking smoking hot!
15. You laugh at the same things I laugh at, though sometimes you don't like to admit it.
16. You are fiercely committed to our marriage.
17. You love your friends and don't give up on people quickly.
18. You're a great cook.
19. You're a servant leader.
20. You are so relational--sometimes I just stand back amazed at how much people love and trust you.
21. You figured out how to drive in Boston. (No small feat.)
22. You press through your issues and seek the healing of God's presence in your deep heart.
23. You're a helluva lot smarter than you've ever been given credit for.
24. You work hard at being kind to me when I'm sick, even though I'm a difficult patient.
25. You lay down your life for your family and friends.
26. You make me want to grow in character, integrity, humility, and love.

You made this list very easy to write. I love you, Breena. Happy 26th birthday!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Being Sick

For the third time this winter, I'm sick. These things happen more often when you have kids, and with three of them who always seem to have something wrong between them, I've been sick more this cold & flu season than any other I can remember.

I don't do well when I get sick. My body gets overwhelmed. I get cranky. I convince myself that some day God will vindicate me by revealing to all mankind that no human has ever experienced more pain than Andy Holt when he gets sick. In short, this is me:

This, of course, puts a great deal of stress on my wife. So I've tried to take a closer look at what happens to me when I get sick so that I can make life better for her.

What being sick reveals about my character is that I'm a pretty selfish person. I also become absorbed in my own trials and circumstances and am unable to empathize with others. What troubles me about this is how this reflects my true character--character that will be revealed not simply by being sick, but by trials and difficult circumstances of all kinds.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More Than A Message

The gospel is not just a message, it is a world re-creating event that continues to live on in the community of Jesus' friends.

That thought struck me while I was praying for...something...the other day. Many of us, including myself, tend to think about the gospel as just a message, something along the lines of, "Jesus died for my sins so that I can go to heaven when I die." While that statement is true, it doesn't really do justice to the gospel.

The gospel is more than words; it's something that happened. The gospel is the atoning death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. That's an event, a thing that really happened in history. But this event was so powerful and world-shattering that its effects can still be felt today, thousands of years and thousands of miles from where it occurred.

The death and resurrection of Jesus live on in the community of his friends because that event transforms us; in fact, we live it out each day. Every day we die to our old sinful patterns of thought and behavior, and every die we rise again to new life in Jesus.

The gospel was and is an event that re-creates the world, and it starts in the community of those who call themselves friends and followers of Jesus. More to the point, the gospel is an event that re-creates you. Paul called the gospel "the power of God for salvation." I don't know about you, but I need to be saved and re-created every day.

This is what the gospel says to us: 1) All my sins--past, present, and future--have been forgiven by God through the death of Jesus; and 2) Jesus rose again from the dead by the power of God, the same power that is now at work in me through the Holy Spirit. God has forgiven you through the blood of Jesus. God has given you resurrection power through the indwelling of his Holy Spirit. God has given you everything you need to be re-created, to be the person that, deep in your heart, you truly want to be.

In Christ, you are not who you used to be. By the power of the Spirit, you can become the person God is re-creating you to be. Live the gospel today.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Genesis 12 tells the story of when Abram met God. God had a great plan for Abram--a plan to bless him beyond his wildest dreams, to give him a vast and fruitful land, to make him the father of a great nation. This what God said to him:
Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.
I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
So Abram left. Wouldn't you? What an incredible promise from God! Abram took his wife and everyone in his household and set out for Canaan. He entered the land God promised him and immediately made an altar to the Lord. Then he wandered around the land, scoping out his new home, and built a couple more altars to God.

But then he left. He walked away from the land God had promised him and went down to Egypt. Why? Because "there was a famine in the land." Not just any famine, mind you, but a "severe" one. So Abram made a practical decision to move to Egypt for a while, at least until the famine relented. I contend that it was the wrong decision.

Abram made a practical decision borne out of the physical reality of the famine. He did not make a decision based on faith borne out of God's promise to 1) give him this land, 2) make him a great nation, and 3) bless him. Abram abandoned the promise of God for the security of Egypt. He forsook God's blessing that he might enjoy the blessings of Pharaoh. Abram let a famine, not the God who had spoken to him a blessing and a promise, determine his reality.

It would be decades before Abram would learn that barrenness of land and womb are a small thing to God. Don't let a famine dictate your reality. God can bring water from a rock and food from the sky. Don't leave the land you've been promised to pursue safety in Egypt. Egypt is the land of slavery, not security. Don't let pragmatism replace faith. Don't let the famine steal your blessing or promise. God is bigger than your famine. His promise will outlast it. His blessing is greater than this trial. Persevere through faith and lay claim to God's promise and his blessing.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Payoff of Doctrine

Last Tuesday we started the context track of e4 at church. e4 is a program we've developed and designed to lay deep foundations of Christian faith and practice. It's intense and challenging, a bit like drinking from a fire hose, but we've seen great results and this year's group is really excited about the program.

The context track deals with theology, church history, and culture. The first session is on the Trinity, and even though it was the same night the Buckeyes' played in the Sugar Bowl, we had a full house and some great conversation. The Trinity is a difficult subject to tackle because it defies explanation; it presses the boundaries of human intellect and language. We don't have any good metaphors to help us understand. The doctrine of the Trinity strips your intellect naked, revealing in what you finally trust--human reason or the character of God. Personally, I couldn't believe in a God I can fully explain and understand. The doctrine of the Trinity helps me to have faith and is, in a strange sense, a satisfactory proof (for me) of God's existence: If God exists, he must in some way be beyond our comprehension. The doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension. Therefore, the God known as the Trinity must exist.

But that's not the real payoff of learning the doctrine of the Trinity. Tom, one of our most faithful e4 participants (I call them e4eigners), asked about the internal dynamics: "Is there a hierarchy within the Trinity?" What a great question! I thought it about for a bit, running through the Scriptures in my mind, and answered that there was not. The Son submits to the Father; the Father glorifies the Son; the Father and Son honor the Spirit; the Spirit speaks only what he hears from the Father and Son.

What we find at the heart of the Trinity is not hierarchy, but humility. Each member defers to the others. Each member glorifies the others. The very nature of God--that he is three-in-one--is held together by total humility manifesting itself in agape love. This is why John can say, plainly, "God is love". There is no striving for position or selfish ambition within the Trinity; there is only complete and total humility and selflessness. The payoff of the doctrine of the Trinity is the invitation to possess in part what he possesses in full: humility. The nature of the Trinity teaches us to be humble enough to be unified with our brothers and sisters in Christ in this life. Pride and arrogance make unity impossible, but humility makes it inevitable.

Be humble, then, as God is humble. Defer to your brothers and sisters. Praise them publicly. Speak exceedingly well of them behind their backs. Listen well. Take correction without becoming defensive. The doctrine of the Trinity compels us to pursue utmost humility and manifest it in agape love.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wolverine Advice

Dear Wolverines,

Congratulations! You've just fired Rich Rodriguez; and so a 3 year debacle comes to an inglorious end. I'm not going to sugarcoat it: You embarrassed the Big Ten in your bowl game. The Game has become predictable and boring. Worse yet, it has had no impact on the Big Ten race since that epic contest in 2006. Your football team has become a glorified WAC program: a niche offense combined with horrible defense simply won't get it done in the big boy leagues.

So, three years too late, RichRod is out. And now you have your sights set on Jim Harbaugh, the rising star out of Stanford. He's a Michigan man through and through. He's turned around a program out west and just won a great bowl victory. What's not to like about him? He would be perfect for you! Right?

Let me tell you a story. At the end of the football season in 2000, Ohio State fired John Cooper. Like RichRod, his success in The Game was meager. Unlike RichRod, however, Cooper was a good coach and an outstanding recruiter. We had some unbelievable talent come through Columbus in the '90s. But he just couldn't get it done when it counted. So we let him go.

At that time there was a rising star out west, a coach who had just won a National Championship by turning around a once-great program. Bob Stoops had roots at Ohio State. He was a Buckeye through and through. We all wanted him. But, like Jim Harbaugh is apparently doing to you, he turned us down.

So the search committee turned its gaze to a little-known, 1-AA coach out of Youngstown State named Jim Tressel. Sure, he had won 4 1-AA National Championships there, but would it translate to big time college football? Ten years later, we've beaten you 9 times. We've won 7 Big Ten titles, including 6 in a row. We've been to 8 BCS bowls, winning 5 of them. We've won a National Championship. We've had a Heisman Trophy winner. We've finished in the top 5 of the final AP rankings 6 times. We've won 106 games and lost 22. (RichRod lost 22 in 3 seasons, by the way.) Nobody has been to more BCS bowl games. Nobody has won more BCS bowl games. No team in college football has been more consistent, including Bob Stoops' Oklahoma program.

My point is this: Jim Tressel wanted to be our coach. This is his dream job. Nobody talks about him leaving for the NFL or coaching anywhere else because this is the only place he wants to be. We took a chance on a guy from a lower division of the NCAA because he wanted this job, and it's paid off in a big way.

Michigan, if Jim Harbaugh doesn't want to be your coach, if he's talking to the NFL, then you don't want him. Let him go. Find somebody who wants you. You have too much history and too much class to be anybody's stepping stone. You are a destination job, now go find somebody who wants to be the next great coach at the University of Michigan more than anything else.

Don't get me wrong. I love beating the crap out of you every year. But you depress me. It's sad to see what has happened to you. I hope you find a coach that cares about you, that cares about The Game, and gets you ready to play us. Lord knows we'll be ready for you. See you in November.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Guilt + Shame

What do you think about guilt? How about shame? Generally things to be avoided, right? Sometimes guilt and shame are irrational emotional responses to situations, and we would do well to move on. Many folks live with an oppressive sense of guilt and shame because of horrible sins committed against them. But what about when those sins are our own? Are guilt and shame bad in that instance?

Jeremiah wrote this in response to the sin of Israel:
Let us lie down in our shame,
and let our disgrace cover us.
We have sinned against the Lord our God,
both we and our ancestors;
from our youth till this day
we have not obeyed the Lord our God.
Jeremiah is calling his fellow Hebrews to press into their guilt, not to run away from it. "Let your disgrace cover you like a blanket," he cries out in the streets, "and lay down in your bed of shame."

What about us? Do we need to press into our guilt? "But we have Jesus! And the cross!" True, but forgiveness is not a replacement for guilt; rather, forgiveness is found on the other side of it. We must press through our guilt--lie down and let our shame cover us like a blanket--in order to find the deep, healing forgiveness of the cross.

So often I just want to ignore my sin and step casually into forgiveness. This is like asking for the cross without the pain. A cross with no suffering is just two pieces of wood.

Forgiveness only comes to those who truly repent, and true repentance only comes by pressing into our guilt--by owning our sin. You can't give away something that you don't own. Only when you own your sin can you give it away to Jesus. Sure, pressing into your guilt may make you sad, but it is godly sorrow, after all, that leads to repentance.

Guilt and shame are not things to be avoided when they are a result of our sin. Instead, they are to be embraced, to be pressed into, in order to for healing to take place. There is no forgiveness without repentance, and there is no healing without forgiveness. When you're looking for light in the dark night, you can chase the sun by going west, and live forever in a half-light. Or you can go east, pressing through the darkness, and meet the sun as it rises.