Grateful for the opportunity to be with Providence Church in Avon this past Sunday. Had the opportunity to discuss how questions reveal much about who asks them. Two questions asked in today’s passage (Luke 18:18-30), one by a rich young ruler and one by Jesus’ disciples, reveal not only what matters to them, but also to us - Eternity.
I simply love sport. As an avid fan who has participated, coached, and observed numerous athletic events, I can safely say that nothing creates a stir within a school community or a family quicker than athletics. I can also say that nothing hijacks a Christian schools’ and families' testimony quicker than athletics as well. The “dog eat dog” mentality that so often encompasses the sporting world certainly touches down in Christian homes as well. Emotions get the best of people, perspectives are not Christ-driven, and competition is deemed as a vehicle to vaunt self. I would love to share that my Christian testimony has never been compromised due to becoming overly competitive - However, I simply would not be telling the truth. How then should Christian families (and schools) examine our approach to athletics to ensure that we are truly striving to use athletics as a venue to teach Christlikeness rather than work against it? Here are five “traffic lights” to ensure that we are leading our sons/daughters to a healthy view of athletics and ultimately one that can be used by the Lord to grow us to be like Him.
- If sport increases your lack of concern for the well-being of others - STOP. We do not take a vacation from the Lord’s command to love Him with everything we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39.) The moment we view our opponents as ones who are meaningless or minimize their value because of their ability, we are allowing the world to shape our definition of competition. A competitive arena should not minimize our concern for those we compete against. Rather, we use the arena to grow ourselves and to grow those against whom we compete.
- If sport stretches you to be more than what you were before you began - GO. The Christian life in all facets is meant to be about growth. Participation in a sport should grow you as a person as it is a controlled adversarial environment. We can learn much of ourselves when things are not going according to plan or when we come against obstacles that are greater than our initial abilities. Striving for excellence and learning how to exhibit the beatitudes when things are hard is a life-long skill - not just intended for the competition floor.
- If sport becomes your God - STOP. Not much else is needed to be shared here. We all have encountered families who turn sport into an idol. We worship what we serve with our time, talent, and treasure, and when sport has become our family’s priority above seeking to honor Christ - we have gone too far. Attributes learned on the playing field and all that surrounds it are great tools to grow your family closer to Jesus, not further from. If that is not the case - hard stop immediately.
- If sport teaches you humility - GO. Athletics too often are incubators of arrogance. Compete fiercely, but do so humbly. Exuberant celebration is fun - taunting is not. Elevation of self above team simply has no place in Christian athletics. Christ was King of Kings and Lord of Lords yet you do not see Him vaunting Himself up at the expense of others. I have a hard time imagining Christ staring down an opponent after a windmill dunk. A humble athlete can take pride in performance and enjoy the moment without self-promotion.
- If you can’t keep yourself together when your child is competing - STOP. There will never be a greater example to your son/daughter than the one who raises them. Your son/daughter will most definitely learn to emulate your behavior towards officials, opponents, and teammates. Strive to show temperance. Strive to cheer positively. Strive to focus on that which is within your control. In so doing, you are setting a Christ-honoring example for which your son/daughter can follow.
Athletics can and should be used to teach our children how to glorify God in everything. Nothing brings out an emotional response quicker than an athletic contest. Candidly, I have learned more through the crucible of sport than perhaps any other venue. The Lord has used the lessons learned through competition numerous times in my walk with Him. The key is that we demonstrate how a new creation in Christ Jesus walks through the competitive arena rather than returning to the operating system of our flesh from which we have been redeemed.
We Play for the King: Understanding the difference between faithful proclamation & the Spirit's work
“I want you to bring something back to give to someone else.” I can’t count the times I have shared some iteration of that sentiment with students. Before embarking on a trip to a conference or camp, I would often say to students and their leaders that our purpose was “to bring back what we glean” I came by this honestly as I have heard the same refrain spoken from leaders to myself. “Go to this conference and bring something back for all of us.” The sentiment is pure. It even seems to fit with Christ’s command to “Go and make disciples.” However, regardless of noble intentions, the statement is wrong and can move people away from deepening their walk with Christ rather than compel them closer.
My previous viewpoint was in error because I viewed discipleship as a relay race instead of an orchestra. In a relay race, the coach provides the lineup, runs the practices, instructs on how runners should make an exchange, and then sets the team loose to run the race set before them. The coach then watches the event and provides feedback to the team and individual runners after. This seems to align with Christ’s commissioning of His disciples and fits with any sport where I competed. The coach instructs and releases the athlete to perform. The fans then see the result. However, the visual misses a key element.
Apostle Paul shares that some water, some plant, yet God gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6), and Luke shares that the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit before the disciple-making journey began (Acts 2:4.) Still not seeing the error in my thinking? The reality is that God never intended to coach, release and then review. He is the one that does the work. Our salvation and the salvation of others is not of works lest anyone, including the discipler, should boast. We can go to a conference that ministers to us and certainly hope and pray that the Lord uses what He filled us with, but I can do nothing (neither can you) on my own. My willpower, zeal, or intellect will not make a single disciple. My model needed adjustment.
If the relay race is the wrong image, what is the right one? What the Lord ministered to me on the way back from taking students to a youth conference forever changed my approach. The visual is that God’s people are His orchestra, of which He is both the composer and conductor. You may ask, “How is that different from the relay race?” Aren’t the musicians also playing for the crowd? Isn’t the conductor releasing the musicians to perform? The answer at first glance is yes to both questions. However, the configuration is different. The coach is almost exclusively out of the equation in a relay race. However, in an orchestra, the first ear that the musician plays to is that of the conductor.
The conductor is responsible for the musicians' tempo, sound, and synchronization. The musicians play to the conductor, who fine-tunes their performance for the audience. Do you see what is happening? The conductor is serving both the orchestra and those who are listening. The conductor is in the middle, and the orchestra is playing for him. Such it is in our discipleship efforts. Our growth does not happen from the Lord releasing us to minister to others. Rather, our growth (and the development of others) depends on the Lord refining us as we serve Him. We play for Him, and He takes our feeble efforts and conducts a masterpiece. This masterpiece will draw some and leave others disinterested. In the final assessment, no one can declare that they didn’t hear the orchestra, aka His disciples, or see the conductor, Christ the King. Some will recognize the conductor as a member of the orchestra, while others will bow from the crowd. In either case, no one will question the supremacy of the conductor.
What then should be the natural expectation of the orchestra members? It is to remain in contact with the conductor, to know what pleases Him, and to refine their craft towards being well-pleasing to the ear of the conductor. How do we do this? We do this through the diligent practice of the habits of grace - the vehicles the Lord gives us to know Him. Where an orchestra member will learn with finite detail how to read the music the conductor provides, the Christian will seek to know Christ through the power of His word with equal detail. Where the orchestra member will labor to practice for hours upon hours, the Christian will learn how to pray without ceasing and meditate continually upon the Lord's Word (1 Th 5:16, Ps 1:2). Where the orchestra member will learn how to engage with fellow orchestra members, the Christian will seek to engage with the Body of Christ towards the end of glorifying the One who has brought us together (Eph 4:15,16). Where the orchestra member will understand and desire to play for an audience, the Christian will also seek to be well-pleasing to the Lord so that the Lord can use the efforts to minister to others (Col 1:10).
There will be an acute understanding that the conductor’s work through the orchestra will create a desire for someone in the crowd to one day join the orchestra itself. Isn’t it amazing that in any symphony, the audience will have varying degrees of interest - some will be bored while others will have a spark ignited that propels them to one day be a member. What a mystery that the same music has such a different effect. Likewise, the Lord’s work as we play for Him will illuminate some to become a citizen of the Kingdom, while others will dismiss the masterpiece. In any case, however, the orchestra must play, for they know not who will receive or who will reject. Similarly, Christians are faithful to our duties as we know not how the Lord will use the work with a dying world or also for a fellow orchestra member who needs the encouragement of a faithfully played song for the audience of our King.
Not only is Christ the conductor the one for which the Kingdom citizen plays, but Christ is also the composer of the symphony. He is the author and finisher of the masterpiece (Heb 12:1). So Christian - let us play. Let us not become distracted in our well-doing (Gal. 6:9). Let us not become distracted by the size of our crowd as we realize that we play for the King, and He will choose to do with His orchestra and symphony that which He desires. Let us continually remember the privilege of being a part of the most significant of symphonies and how God’s grace - only God’s grace - enables us to perform.
Reflection should be a consistently used tool for every leader. Leaders who recognize their influence, authority, and finite ability will soberly reflect and examine the leadership of others in order to grow from both observed strengths and failures. When reflecting on the leadership of the chief priests and simultaneously looking at our Savior’s leadership as well - several truths emerge.
- Collaborators influence decisions (Mark 15:1,2). The chief priests gathered with others to consult toward a mutually desired outcome. There was strategy determined and enacted - much like any conference call.
Leadership truth - Your co-collaborators will further empower your motives. Collaborate with leaders who have similar values and who will challenge your motivations.
- Decisions are influenced by motivations (Mark 15:10). Even a ruthless leader such as Pilate could see that envy was the motivation of the Chief Priests. The adage, “It takes one to know one,” certainly is appropriate here. The chief priests were jealous of Christ’s notoriety and influence as it threatened their own - therefore, they sought to destroy Him.
Leadership truth - your motivation will influence your decisions. Check yourself continually against our example of Christ to examine your reasoning (Ps 139:1.)
- Influence and authority are powerful (Mark 15:11). A leader’s position will result in a degree of deference by the crowd. The authority of position can impose agenda as well. So it was for the chief priests. The chief priests had the authority to expel from the synagogue and influence of position to the degree they incited the crowd to call for the innocent death of another.
Leadership truth - Recognize that your influence and authority will shape the decisions of others.
- Your actions equal your testimony (Mark 15:5,14&15). “Why? What evil has he done?” Pilate was left amazed at two things through the trial of Jesus - Christ’s silence and the crowd’s decision. Orchestrated in a conference and enacted by the stirring of the people was an evil plan that even amazed an evil person. A testament of the chief priests' leadership was revealed that day - one that the Holy Spirit inspired to be recorded in scripture and a testament that will not be undone.
Leadership truth - Your decisions leave a testimony of who you are and what you desire, and that testimony is not soon forgotten.
- Yet we see Christ. Christ collaborated with His Father for strength and power to place our penalty of death upon Himself. Christ, with the purest of intentions - love for His Father and for those He chose to redeem, endured the cross and its subsequent shame and pain. Christ, in His desire to have more disciples come to Him, stirred His disciples to proclaim the truth of the gospel. And Christ, in His humble strength, has left a testimony that has and will endure for all eternity.
Leadership truth - We look unto Christ, the author, and finisher of our faith, as He provides the example for leading others well. And as we look unto Him, may we also pause to praise Him for the salvation He has given and the clear example He has set before us.
Regularly, I am asked some variation of the question, “What makes education Christian?” Thoughts can range anywhere from a premier private school experience, safety from cultural influence, and/or the most common refrain being an education that has Bible class and chapel. While all of these have some degree of merit, Christian education is so much more and contains several characteristics that distinguish it from other educational systems. While the list below is not intended to be exhaustive, I would strongly caution anyone to think that education is “Christian” without what follows.
Seven Essentials of Christian education
1. The Bible is viewed as sufficient and authoritative.
Too often, Christian ministries neglect to proclaim that the foundation of ministry is the Word our Lord has given us. 2 Timothy 3:16,17 rings true in that the word of God is good for teaching and equipping believers to live a life well-pleasing to the Lord. A Christian school will establish educational outcomes that align with the authority of scripture.
2. The Bible is integrated across every touchpoint of the student’s experience.
Christian schools who believe in the authority of scripture will embrace the commandment to love the Lord with all our being (Matthew 22:37-39) and that whatever we do, we do for the glory of the Lord. (Colossians 3:17) A Christian school declares how much it believes this truth with the intentionality that it strives to integrate scripture into classroom instruction and extracurricular activities. A Christian school does not take a break in any element of its programming from declaring the truth of scripture.
3. All faculty are professing believers.
All faculty in a Christian school believe what they instruct and serve as examples of Christian living. Teachers cannot teach what they do not embrace. The Christian school staff may be imperfect, but all must be professing Christians who have recognized Christ as the Lord Savior of their lives.
4. The school views the parent as the primary spiritual influencer in the student’s life.
We live in an era where parental rights are questioned, minimized, and, in some cases, outright ignored. However, a Christian school realizes that the parent is the primary discipler or evangelist to their children. As such, a student's education is done “with” the parent instead of “without.” In such cases when the parents are not, Christian education is intentional about expressing the need for the parent to be so. Christian education supplements the parent - not supplants, and constantly strives to partner well.
5. The “Imago Dei” (image of God) is honored.
Christian education embraces the truth that humanity is created in the image of God as the crowning work of His creation. As such, life is treasured, and treating life with dignity is an expectation. Christian education teaches and promotes that life is precious and that no one has the right to remove the dignity of another.
6. Relationships are treasured and cultivated.
Christian education teaches the tragic relational effects of sin. Relationship with God and one another is broken. Christian education identifies the consequence of sin, yet actively models that God can reconcile and restore broken relationships through Jesus Christ. Therefore, staff at a Christian school are mentors to their students, and students are continually taught that their relationships with one another are vitally important. We simply cannot love God, who we do not see, if we do not actively love the ones we do see (1 John 4:20.)
7. Education should be exemplary.
Christian education provides students with the biblical principles, academic competencies, and social skills needed for the next of their lives. There should be evidence that proves the school’s strategic priorities and instruction reflect this quest.