The NCAA’s Monday Justice

Monday was a day for justice.

First, James Holmes—the movie theater mass murderer from Friday morning—had his first day in court. But since much more is to come of this, I am going to focus on another case of Monday justice, the NCAA’s sanctions against Penn State.

Punishment had already being thrown (and even more yet to come) at the many individuals involved in the horrendous cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s sexually abusive acts. Nothing had yet been levied toward the institution that facilitated all of this cowardly evil—the Penn State football program. That’s where the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) comes into play. The NCAA is the regulating body of all the major universities’ athletic programs. As such, the association felt compelled to discipline Penn State for its negligence.

Slate lists the sanctions as being:

A $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban, and the vacation of all wins dating back to 1998.
The penalties also include the loss of 20 scholarships per year over four years and a five-year probationary period. The NCAA likewise announced that any current or incoming football players will be free to immediately transfer and compete at another school, a decision that is sure to deplete the Nittany Lions squad moving forward.

The severity of such a penalty is unprecedented but the situation prompting them is also unprecedented. Previously, all of the NCAA’s sanctions towards a university athletic program had been because of “cheating” in its various forms. That all changed on Monday.

Many have already asked, what right does the NCAA, a body that is supposed to focus on athletic violations, have in disciplining a program that had not “broken” any NCAA rules? Every right. They had every right, because Penn State had neglected to protect the children, allowing a monster to continue in his rampage unseen, and instead opted to protect a football giant-of-a-program and a football god. The NCAA had the right to judge this sports program because the program had gone too far.

Penn State had created a world and culture in which the highest good was not loving God and loving your neighbor, but loving your team and loving to win. You cheer for your team. You adore your team. You protect your team. You die for your team.

But to be honest, this is not just a Penn State problem. What happened there was bound to happen sooner or later somewhere else in some other form because we all kind of let this happen. As Americans, we have created a culture of football, sport, and celebrity that is larger than life—larger than God.

Our team, our coach, our star can do no wrong and how dare you for suggesting otherwise. If the situation had occurred in Eugene, I shudder to consider how our university, football program, and community would react.

Next time you attend a college football game, look around, and try to prove me wrong. They are worshiping.

I am speaking from experience; in the past I have been caught up in this hysteria too. Don’t get me wrong, I love football but we have taken this too far in the name of championships and bowl games. And it doesn’t just have to be football. Any time we elevate something above morality, truth, and God, we are setting ourselves up for trouble.

May this Penn State situation be a wake up call to the rest of the nation that football is not more important than a human life—than a child’s well-being. This is precisely the message the NCAA is trying to send to the other institutions of this country.

“Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing, and protecting young people,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. Let us hope he is right.

Outside Penn State’s football stadium was placed a 7-foot tall bronze statue of Joe Paterno—the former winningest coach in history, the coach who should have done more. It has now been torn down by the university.

Let us make sure that we tear down our idols too, lest we fall with them.

To Whet Your Appetite: 07/20/12

  • To continue in Christianity’s quest for good music, the blog Mere Orthodoxy has a good post on one band that is creating beautiful things, Gungor.
  • A humorous little story from D.A. Carson on why recognizing authorial intent when reading the Bible is so important. Summary: a postmodern reader actually does care about authorial intent when they are the author.
  • How do we persevere when faced with extreme challenges? Wesley Towne shows that you do that by keeping your eyes on the finish line.
  • The Gospel Coalition has compiled a series of updates on many current events happening around the nation that are affecting Christians.
  • Voddie Baucham writes that the same-sex marriage movement is actually not the same as the black civil rights movement at all.
  • John Piper and Tim Keller, arguably the two brightest minds in Christianity Today, have a video discussion about justification, sanctification, and the dynamics of faith.
  • A new study has linked sexual behavior among adolescents to their exposure to sexual content in media.

Tweets of the day:

How Can a Good God Allow Evil?

Many Christians wrestle with this question and many doubters tout this as the trump card to all lofty theistic arguments.

Normally the flow of thought goes like this:

  • The God of the Bible appears to be good and all-powerful.
  • We know that evil exists and it is everywhere.
  • If the God of the Bible exists (being good and all-powerful) how can evil also exist? Wouldn’t the mere presence of evil negate the existence of either God’s goodness or almighty power?
  • If that is so, the God of the Bible must not exist.

Pretty sound logic, right? Or so it may seem.

The actual reason why this argument is a stumbling block for many Christians and seen as a fool-proof gambit by others is that they are looking at evil and suffering through an imperfect lens.

Consider Mitch Stokes’ explanation of the problem of evil and why it is actually not a problem at all. The quote is long but well worthy of a careful read through:

This is where it is particularly useful to look more closely at the Christian story of redemption. God created humans to bless them, to allow them to enter a deep, fulfilling relationship with him…

But it is entirely different for us; to put oneself above the most perfect being is morally wrong. Yet this, apparently, is what we desired. We wanted things that only God could have. And in trying to take them, we marred our very natures, so that—although we still retain something of God’s image—it is badly misshapen. And now, of course, we’re suffering for it.

But God suffered more. Infinitely more, in fact…

When God’s Son was crucified some two thousand years ago by the Roman government, the eternal relationship between the Father and Son was severed. This is why the cross is so horrific. To be sure, the physical suffering was genuine suffering, but that suffering was negligible compared to the pain of losing this infinitely close relationship. Anyone who has felt the pain of a lost relationship—especially a close one—knows that this suffering can be devastating. Separation from someone you love is nearly unbearable. And in Jesus’ case, the pain would be infinite.

God, then, suffered an excruciating evil, and on our behalf. This is no small thing, and it may be of some comfort. Realizing that God himself suffered far greater pain to save creatures who—at the time of their rescue—hated him, might offer some perspective…

And so, “perhaps that invitation [of salvation] can be issued only to creatures who have fallen, suffered, and been redeemed. If so, the condition of humankind is vastly better than it would have been, had there been no sin and no suffering. O Felix Culpa, indeed!” O Felix Culpa: “O Happy Fall!” Ironic, paradoxical, yet a story with a wildly happy ending. But like all riveting stories, the journey is at times unbearable.

The problem of evil, while still a problem for the believer, isn’t one that makes belief in God irrational. And so despite the problem’s centrality in the atheist’s arsenal, it is surprisingly weak, from an intellectual standpoint. But there is more to say about evil, this time about its implications for the atheist or, more accurately, naturalism’s implication for morality in general. And the conclusion is simplicity itself: if there is no God, there is no evil.

Nor is there any good.

(A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, p. 198-200, emphasis mine)

Making Christian Music Beautiful Again

Normally, I really hate self-promotion but I’m gonna give a shameless plug to a guest-post I wrote called “Putting the Art Back in ‘How Great Thou Art’” for Trevin Wax’s blog, Kingdom People, which is part of The Gospel Coalition blogging network (If you don’t read his blog, you should!). In it, I write about Christian music and its need to proclaim truth more beautifully:

God loves music. He created it. The problem is that sometimes us Christians act like we hate the art of song. That must be the case, for how else could we justify the mass production of what attempts to pass for “Christian” radio these days?

Much like of our books, a large portion of our music is not beautiful. That is a problem, for it does not properly represent the One we adore.

In contrast, the Bible is full of beautiful songs. Here are four things they have that many of our songs today do not:

Imagery, Depth, A God-Centered Focus, and Awe.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can read the rest of the post here. It was a really great learning experience to be able to write for a crowd who is not familiar with my writing, ideas, or lame jokes. I even got my first negative blog comment ever! Pretty exciting stuff.

Many thanks to Trevin and his willingness to let a green blogger like me on his fabulous site. And thank you to the Creator whose greatest work of art was completed on Calvary.

Expectations and Identity

For a change of pace I thought I would ask my lovely wife, Rebecca, to share something on the blog. Being married to me already is not that easy but add on top of that the task of being a pastor’s wife—Rebecca has her work cut out for her. Here she shares how she handles people’s expectations and where she finds her identity.

As someone who doesn’t enjoy a lot of anonymity at church (and when not known by name, referred to as “Kyle’s wife”) I often face the temptation to take on the burden of my own and others’ expectations of who I should be. The pressure and stress this can cause is not from God. Rather, it can lead to pharisaical mask-wearing that steals the joy of a raw and real relationship with God and other Christians.

When we are burdened by our own expectations it is because we are trying to achieve something in our own strength. To discern where our hearts lie in this area we need to ask ourselves continually, who am I trying to reflect?  Am I trying to create an image rather than reflect His image?

This kind of thinking reveals a discontented heart in the way God made us. Not that we don’t work hard to grow and be more like Christ, but the difference lies in the heart and mentality behind what we are trying to achieve. Are we trying to be perfect, philosophical, funny, or look hip, etc. for our glory? Or are we humbly accepting Christ’s forgiveness for our failures and persevering in this life-long process called sanctification?

When we are focused on meeting the expectations of others a few things happen: One, we begin people-pleasing, pure and simple. Instead of living to please God we choose instead to make an idol of man. This does NOT mean we are not accountable to others or that we should not listen to godly counsel. But again, who are we trying to please?

This kind of mentality leads to surface relationships with the people around you. I have never met a person that longed for surface relationships. As people made in God’s image we desire depth, not platitudes. And to do this requires showing people your heart, your hurt, and even (yes) your sin. We are not perfect. We cannot be perfect in this fallen world. Be we can be raw and real, allowing others to see the process of sanctification in our lives.

God’s expectations for our lives, in comparison to all others, are really quite simple.

We are to follow Him.

This means loving Him, worshiping Him, and obeying Him. Living to promote an image that we have created or that we are trying to live up to in the eyes of others is sin. We have been made in His image, for His purposes, for His glory–quirks and all.

When we try to convince ourselves and our peers that we’re always great, we never make mistakes, we don’t have sorrows and difficult seasons in life, we essentially deny God the glory He is due. We forget that His power is made perfect in our weaknesses. Paul, in fact, declares that he will boast all the more in his weaknesses, because it shows how great our God is, that He could redeem and use us sinful, weak people.

Oftentimes our expectations for our lives and others’ expectations are not in line with God’s priorities for our lives according to His Word. We become Perfect Peggy and Susie Smiles-a-lot in the company of others when in reality God would prefer humble, broken, and contrite hearts before Him, because until that day when we see Him face to face sin is a reality. But praise Jesus, we have a gracious Savior. It’s because of Him we can be genuine and have real depth with our God and His people.

Don’t hide. Don’t feel as if you have to put on your good Christian mask as you stroll into church on a Sunday. God cares about our hearts.

Is It a Sin to Get a Tattoo?

I had a conversation about this with a few people yesterday and it got me thinking more deeply about the topic. I almost wrote my findings down but then I found Matthew Lee Anderson’s article about tattoos on Relevant Magazine’s website. Matthew is a super-blogger and author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith, which sports a chapter dedicated to the issue of tattoos.

His article far exceeded anything I could have written on the subject so I am going to give you his highlights.

THE TATTOO TABOO

First, Matthew briefly addresses the traditional biblical concerns people have about tattoos.

It’s nearly impossible to draw a straight line from the Bible’s teachings on tattoos to today, as the meaning of tattoos has drastically shifted. The Bible knows nothing of tattoos for purely aesthetic purposes or as artistic self-expression. Instead, tattoos in the ancient Near East were punitive, expressions of fidelity to the local deity, or marks of ownership over slaves.

The debates over Leviticus 19:28 are officially worn out, and most everyone knows the exegetical troubles that come with trying to interpret and apply the Old Testament law.

The exegetical troubles mentioned are found when a Christian chooses certain Levitical laws to adhere to but ignores others, such as eating meat with blood still in it (sorry steak lovers, Lev. 19:26), eating fruit from trees that are younger than five years old (Lev. 19:25), and mixing kinds of cattle, seed, or cloth (that polyester blend you are wearing, Lev. 19:19).

The idea behind all of the commandments in the context of Leviticus 19:28 is not that these practices are sinful in themselves, but these were practices that the pagans were identified with and used for pagan worship. The people of Israel were not to engage in such acts because they were called to be different. Set apart.

Romans 14 shows that such ceremonial laws do not necessarily bind us any longer because our set-apartness is based upon our standing in Christ now. Our personal conscience now drives what we abstain from or indulge in—granted it is not illegal, outright sin, or causes another to stumble.

While the Old Testament may seem to have a negative outlook towards tattoos, Matthew finds a contrasting viewpoint in Isaiah:

The more interesting Old Testament passages are in Isaiah, where the Lord suggests that some Israelites will one day write on their hands, “Belonging to the Lord” (44:5) and that the Lord has written their names on His hands (49:16). In the former, the marking seems to be tied to the Israelites’ perfection as the people of God. Isaiah points to a day when the people of God will be so faithful that some will mark the name of the Lord on their bodies. The tattoo, or tattoo-like mark, signifies a permanent status—a physical expression of human faithfulness and God’s ownership.

Matthew’s conclusion on the Bible’s take on tattoos is this:

The record from Scripture is mixed. There aren’t necessarily any explicit prohibitions of aesthetic tattooing, but it’s not exactly endorsed, either. Instead of focusing on the diversity of self-expression through the body, Scripture repeatedly turns its attention toward the pattern for self-expression: the person of Christ and the means He established to bring believers into conformity with Him. The Christian identity is given in union with Christ and by a life within Christian community, as the book of Ephesians repeatedly emphasizes—not in tattoos or the histories written on a body. The primary concern of the New Testament is not aesthetics or fashion but faith working through love.

IT’S ABOUT THE HEART, NOT THE SKIN

While such a conclusion may cause people to quickly run out the door, rip off their shirts, and go under the needle, Matthew still issues a caution about Christians getting tattoos:

Yet in this, there may be reasons for caution. When self-expression takes a religious form through tattooing crosses or other iconography, there is the risk of obscuring how the Bible enjoins believers to express faith through their bodies. The faith, hope and charity that set Christians apart in the world are not aesthetic markings per se, but rather expressive behaviors that reshape a Christian’s muscles and organs (including the skin). Holiness, in other words, can’t be tattooed on—it can only be cultivated through the practices of the Christian life.

Whether any particular Christian should get a tattoo is, then, an open question. But Christians should think about them differently than they have. In short, the question of whether to get a tattoo should be a question of Christian discipleship, rather than purely individualistic forms of self-expression. (emphasis mine)

I think Matthew’s conclusion is spot on. In the end, it’s still all about the heart. Just because you have a Hebrew word on your arm does not make you anymore of a Christian than the puritanical old woman who thinks ear piercings are from Satan is more of a Christian. A Christianized tattoo is no substitute for picking up your cross and living a life for Christ.

Where is your heart at when you decide to get a tattoo?

Is it in line with 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 and 10:30—seeing your body as not your own but Christ’s, purchased with His priceless blood and dedicated in every action and adornment for His glory?

Or is it more in line with the fashion whims of the world—trying to construct your own persona, making Jesus a piece of your identity instead of the entirety of who you are?

In his book, Earthen Vessels, Matthew ends his chapter on tattoos with this admonition:

Here and now, tattoos function as aesthetic expressions of meaning-making, as we attempt to navigate the hollow emptiness of the world in which we have been raised. The danger with our tattoo preferences is that in a consumerist culture where we are brands we consume, tattoos can function as a sort of polytheistic expression of devotion to our local deities—as it might have for the poor chap who covered his back with a Twilight tattoo. As Christians, we need to ensure that we do not place Jesus within the pantheon of gods and make him one option among many, but bear witness to his lordship as Christians always have—through sacrificial love, hope in suffering, acts of mercy, and the proclamation of the gospel. (120)

Is getting a tattoo a sin? It depends. Where is your heart?

You can read the rest of Matthew Lee Anderson’s article here. You can check out his book here. He blogs at Mere Orthodoxy.

To Whet Your Appetite: 07/06/12

  • Sexual sin is destructive—especially for those in the ministry. We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to stay pure. Here are 7 helpful steps to avoid sexual sin.
  • This post on how to reduce stress at work is written for those in the ministry but I believe it applies to everyone.
  • This being an election year, the political realm is getting pretty heated. Before you criticize the president, read this post.
  • If you’ve been hearing about the “God Particle” in the news at all you are probably curious about what the theological implications are. Does this prove or disprove God? The Gospel Coalition gives a complete rundown.
  • Look for good books to read? World Magazine just released their book issue, naming their favorite books of the year.
  • Good, God-glorifying music is hard to find. Musical genius, Josh Garrels, has released a new EP. And just like his previous album, it is brilliant and it is free to download.
  • Christianity Today has a great piece on the late Andy Griffith and his impact.

Tweets of the day:

Is Putting God in a Box a Bad Thing?

Sort of. It depends.

Usually when someone uses the phrase “putting God in a box,” it is used in a negative manner. As in, “Don’t put God in a box. You can’t figure out God.”

For the most part I don’t disagree with such a statement. Can I fully figure out how the Trinity works? Or the virgin birth? Or what it means to have no beginning and no end, but self-sufficiently exist?

No. I can never fully comprehend and wrap my mind around such mysteries because I am finite, mortal, and human. Those things about God are things I have never experienced and never could experience because of my nature. And that’s ok. If I could fully understand and comprehend everything about God, He would not be God, would He?

I can barely figure other humans out, let alone God. This is why David says, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139:6).

WORDS ARE NOT ENOUGH

But here’s the problem with the phrase, “putting God in a box.” It is not normally used to describe the profound nature of an all-powerful, everlasting, triune being, but is instead used to discredit any sort of categorization or description of God.

So if I were to say, “God’s character demands that He judge those who sin,” the other person would respond, “Don’t put God in a box, Kyle. God is so much bigger than your understanding. You can’t reduce God to mere descriptions with words.”

I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with any of the things that person said, but I would disagree with how it was said. Yes God is bigger than anyone’s understanding, but is using words to describe God, reducing Him to something less? How else am I supposed to communicate about God—interpretive dance?

No. Words are good. Words are powerful. This is why God chose to use words to reveal Himself to us through His Word. We can confidently say, “God is _____” because God has chosen to describe Himself in such a way. Yet at the same time I do somewhat agree, all of our words cannot do full justice to the majesty of God. This is because it is human words being received by human brains.

FIND THE RIGHT BOX

But here’s the funny thing. I think in some ways, putting God in a box is a good thing because boxes have boundaries. Things are either inside the box or they are not. The Bible doesn’t just tell us who and what God is but it also tells us who and what He is not.

  • “God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one” (James 1:12).
  • “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
  • “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16).

God is wholly against sin and that is a definite box He is inside.

And so I think the issue ultimately comes down to what kind of a box you are putting God in. Let’s be honest, even the “don’t put God in a box” people are putting Him in one—it’s the box of their mind, which is a far smaller box than the Bible. Some put Him in the philosophy box. Some put Him in the consumer Christian box. Some put Him in the social gospel box. Some put Him in their own personal box of their making—custom découpage and all.

Instead, let us allow Scripture to be the box. Not because God can be fully explained or described through words, but because the Bible is how He has chosen to reveal Himself. And we must trust that His Word is more than sufficient to give us a deep relationship with Him.