The Freedom of Being A Nobody

Repeat after me: I am a beautiful snowflake. I am a unique individual. There is no one else like me. I am significant. I am important to the world. I have important things to offer the world.

This is kind thing we hear everyday, right? If you watch Sesame Street for more than three minutes you’ll hear some version of the above. An affirmation of self-worth. An affirmation of importance. An affirmation of uniqueness. We’re constantly being told how valuable we are, and how much we have to offer the world. And social media isn’t helping us either. Everyone, myself included, feels like they need to keep updating their status. It’s like we feel this constant compulsion to say, “Hey, hey! I’m still here, and I’m still really important!” It makes us feel good when people “like” or retweet our status updates.

To be honest, I’m getting kind of tired of trying to remind the world that I’m important. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. We are important in God’s eyes. He created us in his image, which gives us value in his eyes. My sense of self-worth should come from the fact that God made me, saved me, and adopted me.

But so often my sense of self-worth comes from what other people think about me. How many people liked my status update? How many people complimented me on my sermon? Do people think I’m doing the right thing by homeschooling my kids? Should I be eating more organic food and investigating various vaccinations? What did [insert person] think of my worship leading, or small group leading, or prayer meeting leading? It’s exhausting to keep feeding my need for the approval of others. It takes a lot of work to maintain a cool persona without looking like I’m trying too hard to be cool.

So what’s the alternative? To embrace the freedom of being a nobody.

As I read Psalm 90 this morning, I was reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m a nobody. Psalm 90:3-4 says:

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

In the grand scheme of things, my life is dust. A vapor. A mist that quickly passes. A flicker of a blip on the radar of eternity. Billions of people have come and gone before me, most of them unknown by the rest of the world. Billions will probably come after me, going from birth to death in relative obscurity.

Compared the eternal God, I am a nobody. Compared to the great God who reigns over all the nations, I am insignificant. In fact, everyone is insignifcant. Everyone is a nobody. And that’s a wonderful thing! If everyone is a nobody, I can quit comparing myself to other people. I can quit trying to be the king of the nobodies. I don’t need the approval of others to feel good about myself.

My approval rating is rooted squarely in God. It’s not rooted in whether or not people notice me. It’s not determined by whether or not people will remember me. Embracing “nobodiness” is a really freeing thing. I’m free to simply serve the Lord, without caring if people approve of me. I’m free to embrace the lowly servant tasks that nobody notices. I’m free to parent according to my God-given convictions, and to homeschool/public school/private school/unschool. When I embrace the magnificent greatness of God, I’m free to quit caring about my standing with other people.

So let’s all be nobodies together. Let delight in the freedom that comes from not caring what others think. Let’s remember that we are dust, and that God is the only “somebody”.

What If You Got All The Smartest Men In The World Together…

Dude, this party is cuh-razy! Check out that corner over there. Must be nerd corner. That guy in the wheelchair, that’s Stephen Hawking. Apparently he has, like a four digit IQ. See that dude with the mustache? That’s Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Oh my goodness, is that…that’s Albert Einstein! Man his hair really is crazy. I wonder what those three geniuses are talking about. I probably wouldn’t even be able to follow along. Those guys are so smart, my brain would collapse if I listened to them for more than three minutes. Those are some greatly smart people (yeah, I know that’s an awkward sentence).

Woah, check out that huddle over there. That must be where the jocks hang out. There’s Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest athlete ever. Look at those diamond earrings he’s wearing! And there’s Stephen Strasburg, the pitching phenom for the Washington Nationals. If I’m not mistaken, that’s Cal Ripken. THE Cal Ripken. Iron Man himself. Oh, and wouldn’t you know, Michael Phelps. Boy, I’d like to hang out with those guys. There’s some serious athletic firepower in that group. Those are some greatly athletic people.

Now that’s odd. What’s that giant pile of books in the middle of room? It appears to be a massive pile of encyclopedias, in all sorts of different language. We’ve got Syrian encyclopedias, English encyclopedias, Medieval encyclopedias, religious encyclopedias, astronomy encyclopedias, and a whole lot more. There are also a bunch of famous, history-altering books. We’ve got Thomas Paine, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson, Sun Tzu, Chairman Mao, Karl Marx. It’s crazy! There is a lot of knowledge and ideas piled up here. A great amount of knowledge.

And then there’s that corner over there. There’s nothing in it. Wait, there’s slip of paper with something written on it. On it is written Psalm 145:3

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. (Psalm 145:3 ESV)

Turns out that if you put all the smart guys in the world together, you’ll come to the end of their greatness. You can search it out. If you collect all the athletes of the world, you’ll come to the end of their strength. If you take every book ever written, including all the encyclopedias and dictionaries, you’ll come to an end of their great knowledge.

But you’ll never come to the end of God’s greatness. It is unsearchable, inscrutable, and unfathomable. Our God is great. All knowledge is his. All power is his. All strength is his. The nations? A drop in a bucket. The A-list celebrities? Dust in the wind. The people of power? A vapor.

Our God is unsearchable in his greatness.

Can You Outgrow God?

When I was a boy, I loved to climb trees. There was one particular tree in my yard that was a favorite for aerial acrobatics. With dazzling originality, we called it “The Climbing Tree.” It was perfect. There were branches just the right size for boyish hands to wrap around and perches that looked like they’d been made to cradle an eight year old boy. The limbs started low to the ground, so it was easy to access for even short legs. And there were a few spots just the right height so an adventurous soul could swing out into space and drop nimbly to the ground without harm. The Climbing Tree was a boy’s best friend.

It was only in my teenager years that I discovered my climbing tree was a bush. A largish bush, but a bush nonetheless. I could see my boyhood “perches” at eye level. The branches were smaller than my wrists. With a modest vertical leap of two or three inches, a chap could touch even the limbs that had once seemed so dizzyingly high. What had once seemed enchanting and so much bigger than me now seemed sad, small, and slightly pathetic. I had outgrown my boyhood entertainment.

It’s impossible to go through life without similar experiences – but thankfully not in relationship to God! No matter how much you change, no matter what you accomplish or experience in life, you will never outgrow God.

He will never be smaller than you once remembered. He will never be left behind by the speed at which your seasons of life change. No matter how deep your knowledge of God, he will always be more grand, more glorious, more awe-inspiring than you have even begun to fathom.  Though he is not unknowable, he is certainly indescribable. And no matter how much your life changes – another child, a new job, increasing strains on the budget, relocation to a new home – you will never surpass God’s ability to care and provide for you.

Christian, you will never outgrow your God.

 

How To Overcome Grasshopper Syndrome

Have you ever experienced “Grasshopper Syndrome”?  I have.  The Israelites did too:

“And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”  Numbers 13:33

God told Moses to send 12 spies to spy out the promised land before the Israelites entered.  Except for Caleb and Joshua the spies came back shaking in their boots. Caleb believed Israel could take the land. But the 10 spies gave a negative report. They looked at the Nephilim and then they looked at themselves. The Nephilim were bad boys. Warriors. And when the Israelites compared themselves to them they felt like grasshoppers about to get squashed.

Their problem wasn’t the Nephilim.  Their problem was they forgot to look at God. God had promised to give them the land. But instead of focusing on God, they looked at the size of their problem and their own smallness and weakness.

We can do the same thing. We can look at our gargantuan sins and feel like grasshoppers facing King Kong.  Our circumstances can look like Nephilim to us.  Marriage problems, challenges with our children, an unsaved teen, a difficult coworker, financial needs – when we fix our gaze on these things and compare them to our own pitiful resources, we can feel like grasshoppers.

The way to overcome our “grasshopper syndrome” is to lift our gaze above our challenges to our great God on his throne.

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.  They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.  Psalm 145:3-6

God is so much greater than our sins and problems – his greatness is infinite – “unsearchable.”  He does “mighty acts”, “wondrous works”and “awesome deeds.”  These are what we should declare and meditate on.

Imagine a child who suddenly bumps into the neighborhood bully on the street. The child trembles as he looks up at the bully’s massive hulk and snarling face. But suddenly the child sees his father walking up behind the bully. Now he’s no longer intimidated by the bully, because he’s shifted his gaze from the bully to his dad.

What are you focused on today? Your sin? Your circumstances? Or your God?

If you are feeling like a grasshopper today, say with David:

For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.  Psalm 18:29

By our God we can run against troops, jump over walls, drive out Nephilim and conquer our grasshopper syndrome.  Lift up your eyes to see the greatness, majesty, power and glory of Jesus today.  He’s reigning over all.
….

Vast, Unlimited, Unsearchable Greatness

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.  Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.  Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. (ps 145:1-3)

Imagine if you had a million years and unlimited money to explore every nook and cranny of this world. You could climb Mt. Everest, K-6, Kilimanjaro and all the mountain ranges on earth, then explore the Amazon and the Everglades.  You could get in a bathyscaphe and dive to the depths of the oceans and see the incandescent creatures that live there.  You could go spelunking in every cave, then tour the Taj Mahal then stroll through London’s Royal Palace. You could go through every room of every single house, hut and hovel on earth.

It might take more than a million years, but eventually you’d come to an end. Eventually you’d see all there is to see. And eventually, given enough time, you’d be bored.

Not so with God. His greatness is unsearchable.

That means we’ll never ever come to an end of discovering new glories and wonders in him.  And for all eternity there will always be things about God’s greatness that only he knows. Even the angels in heaven can’t know all God’s glory because they are finite and he’s infinite. His glory is unsearchable.  After we’ve explored the marvels of God’s greatness for 10 million years, there will still be unlimited unexplored regions of glory to ravish us.

Sometimes on vacation at the shore I stand on the beach and marvel at the ocean’s vastness. Yet I know that if I sailed straight ahead I’d eventually run into Europe. But God has no boundaries. He has no other side.

How should we respond to such an infinitely great God?

Worship. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. We should adore and magnify him for his infinite unsearchable greatness.  Isn’t it exciting to know that we’ll have eternity to explore Jesus’ majesty and glory?

photo by EarthOwned

Drunk Ladies Shouldn’t Judge Sober Baseball Players

I’m pretty sure that they were drunk.

Or at least well on their way to being drunk. I personally witnessed both of them consume two large beers, and it seems possible, even likely, that they had sucked down more than that.

I was at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game this past Friday night, and I was sitting behind two middle-aged women. At least one of the women was a season ticket holder. Because the Pirates were playing the Philadelphia Phillies, the ballpark was crowded, maybe even sold out, and the majority of people there were Phillies fans.

Philly fans have a hard earned reputation as being the most obnoxious fans in sports, and there were definitely some annoying Philly fans at this game. But the ladies in front of me weren’t obnoxious. At least not at first. However, as the game wore on and the alcohol kicked in, the ladies started to do something that I found very humorous: They started judging the performance of the Pirate players.

After a ground ball scooted past the first baseman, one of the ladies shouted, “He’s a jerk!” She then turned to the other woman and said, “He’s terrible!” Advice was also given to the players by the women: “No high stuff kid!”, and “Don’t walk him!”, and other helpful words of advice.

As I sat behind them and listened, I couldn’t help but laugh. Here were two, middle-aged, slightly drunk women giving advice to some of the best athletes in the world, and screaming at them when their performance wasn’t up to par. And I’ve done the same thing. I’ve yelled at my television, telling LeBron James to, “…just shoot the ball!” and Ben Roethlisberger to, “…get rid of it!” When I think about it, it’s absurd. The middle-aged ladies could never do what professional baseball players do, and neither could I.

Now, if it’s utterly ridiculous for me to judge a professional athlete, how much more absurd is it for me to judge God?

There are many times when I question God’s ways. When I wonder if God really knows what he’s doing. When I think I could do a better job than God when it comes to ruling the universe and ruling my life. If God knew what he were doing, he wouldn’t let me get sick yet again. He wouldn’t let my budget get tight. He wouldn’t…

Isaiah 55:8 says:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

God knows what he’s doing. His ways are not my ways and his thoughts are not my thoughts. He is God and he is good and he is faithful to me. I may not understand him, but then again, that’s what I should expect. After all, I’m clay and he’s the potter. The potter doesn’t need to explain himself to the clay.

It’s not right for drunk ladies to judge professional athletes, and it’s not right for little people like me to judge God. Lord, help me be humble before your wisdom.

+photo by Stephen Drew

Humbled, But Not Discouraged

How can we discover our own sins and failures and not be discouraged?

Especially when we realize that no matter how much we actually see, there’s far more than we’re aware of.  John Newton has good advice for us:

“You have one hard lesson to learn, that is, the evil of your own heart: you know something of it, but it is needful that you should know more; for the more we know of ourselves, the more we shall prize and love Jesus and His salvation.  I hope what you find in yourself by daily experience will humble you, but not discourage you…”

It is important that we know ourselves.  By examining our hearts with the Holy Spirit’s help we can discover sinful cravings and expectations that trip us up and lead us into temptation and sin.  But God doesn’t intend that our self-discoveries dishearten us.  Instead, as John Newton says, they should lead us to “prize and love Jesus and His salvation.”  The worse our sin appears, the greater our Savior is seen to be.

Newton says that we find the evil of our own hearts “by daily experience.”  It is when God brings the “heat” of trials, small and large, that the grumbling, discontentment, lust, anger and other sins of our hearts rise to the surface.   Newton says these daily discoveries of sin should make us humble.  Humble to know what we’re capable of.  Humble to realize how much we need God’s help.  Humble to make us gentle and patient with others.

Why should we not be discouraged?  Newton elaborates:

“But let not all you feel discourage you; for if our Physician is almighty, our disease cannot be desperate; and if He casts none out that come to Him, why should you fear?  Our sins are many, but His mercies are more: our sins are great, but His righteousness is greater: we are weak, but He is power.”

Our sins are many, but they are finite.  Jesus Christ is infinite.  Infinitely merciful, infinitely powerful to change us.  Completely faithful.  His infinitely powerful blood paid for every last sin and purchased our entire sanctification.  Yes, we are weak and feeble, but Jesus is supremely powerful.  And he is able to finish what he began in us.

So, be humbled by your sins but not discouraged.  And look to your infinitely powerful Savior to forgive you, cleanse you, and empower you to overcome.

The Greater The Sinner, The Greater The Glory

cross

“I saw Mr. Newton near the closing scene.  He was hardly able to talk; and all I find I had noted down upon my leaving him was this: ‘My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.’”–from “The Roots of Endurance”, by John Piper, p. 347

Christ is an infinitely great Savior.  All the sins of all peoples of all time, if massed together, would be but a speck compared to the ocean of Christ’s blood.  Combine all the unbelief, doubts and fears of the whole human race and they would form a tiny anthill next to Christ’s faithfulness that reaches to the heavens.  Mountains of guilt and regret are like chaff that Jesus can blow away as far as the east is from the west by just a puff.

Heaven will be populated with great sinners, to display the awesome power of Jesus to save.  To save a young child is a marvelous miracle, but to save someone hardened in their sins after rejecting Christ for decades is even more amazing.  And to save millions of wicked, cursing, God-hating, lying, unbelieving, arrogant, dead people is more amazing still.  The greater the sinner, the greater the glory Jesus gains.  Heaven will be filled with great sinners like Newton the slave trader, Augustine the slave to lust, Paul the Church persecutor, David the adulterer and murderer, and me and you.

Every time you’re overcome by a sense of your sinfulness, remember that as great a sinner you are, Jesus is an infinitely greater Savior.  And every time you’re tempted to quit praying for someone’s salvation, remember that no one is too wicked for Jesus to rescue.  So keep praying to the Great Savior for the salvation of your family and friends.  The greater the sinner, the greater the glory.

photo by hour of the wolf

Billy Joel and the Glory of God

piano keys

Two Fridays ago, my friend Scott took me to see Billy Joel, one of my all-time favorite songwriters.

The Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh is packed with thousands of excited fans. The crowd begins cheering as the Arena lights dim. For a few minutes we sit in darkness as shadowy musicians move about on stage. Suddenly lights flood the stage and in the center Billy Joel is bent over his grand piano pounding out the unforgettable staccato intro to “Angry Young Man.” “I can’t believe I’m seeing this!” I shout to a smiling Scott.

Hold it – don’t call the Christian music police on me. I know Billy’s not a Christian. And he’s got a few songs I don’t listen to. But I can praise God for him.  Why? Because he’s fulfilling Psalm 8:

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands (PS 8.5-6)

God has crowned human beings (even non-Christians) with glory and honor by giving them dominion over creation. This means that God has granted us the ability to take the earth’s raw materials and make things out of them – skyscrapers and grand pianos and iPods, yarn and yogurt, bridges and basketballs. When Billy Joel writes a song, he’s unknowingly taking dominion over the creation.

I once heard Wayne Grudem say that if Adam came back today and saw our automobiles and washing machines and televisions he’d be amazed at what we’ve done with the earth and he’d praise God for giving humans such abilities.

In Psalm 8, as the writer contemplates the heavens, he’s amazed that God would care about us clods of dirt, and even more amazed that he would crown us with the talents to do such incredible things with his world. As the Psalmist contemplates man’s creativity he’s not amazed at humans, but at God:

O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (v9).

I can praise God for paintings by Monet and Van Gogh, though they were probably not Christians. I can worship him for Google and Gibson guitars and digital cameras and Teflon pans, and for the gifts he’s given Billy Joel. Because I’m not amazed at Billy. I’m amazed at God.