Let’s Not Waste Our Vapor On Safety

Coffee with Jesus-2

It’s easy to reduce people to walking trees.

But she’s not just a mean girl who spreads nasty sexual rumors about others.

She’s a maladapted splintered soul who was molested by her uncle at the age of four.

He’s not just a hopeless stoner who skips school to smoke and fight club with his buddies.

He’s a directionless fatherless son trying to take care of a mother struggling with meth addiction.

I recently read about a morbid scandal in California that included explicit sexual acts. At a Lutheran preschool. Between four-year olds. My heart hemorrhaged at that news.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to home school my sons forever and a day. Shelter them from the nasty asteroids of the world and demons who live in children of men. We could live on the fringes of town with the doomsday preppers, cursing the darkness while drinking my pet goat’s milk and storing up an arsenal of Walking Dead level weaponry. Safe from the stains of fellow humanity.

But it’s hard to reach people with your back turned to them.

It’s easier to cry “anathema” from a proud hill than enter uncomfortably into the valley that’s cursed. Only armed with the counter intuitive swords of intercessory prayer, sacrificial love, and words of peace.

The world’s default is darkness. And we have the only illumination that will quell it.

God never called us to safety. He called us to salt and light living, but not safety. Even in a sanitized bubble existence, germs and cancer can reach us there. Old age will reach us there. The question then is not how or when we die, but what we die for.

We’re all given a fleeting vapor to work with.

I’ll do my God-given best to protect my sons from the wiles of the world; but they’ll have to jump from the nest soon enough. Wherever they land I pray they will each take ownership of their own cross. That they will work out the implications of being in, but not of, a world that is both lethal and beautiful. Perilous and precious. That it would be done with hard thinking and risky living.

In the process maybe they’ll learn how to live well and die well. The hardest part is the simplicity of “just living.”

It’s a process their daddy hasn’t quite figured out yet.

And I pray they grow to see all people as precious souls not stone facades. Bruised, neglected, twisted, torn, souls. That they’d be better than their daddy in that regard. That they’d see their overwhelming need to receive and grant this indiscriminate grace.

A living grace found in one person:

Jesus. Only Jesus. Just Jesus.

Bryan Daniels

Hug, Don’t Hate, The Pharisees In Your Life

There are some modern groups in which it is still politically correct to hate. For instance:

Westboro Baptist Church.

Dallas Cowboys.

The Kardashians.

Nickelback.

In Christian culture there is one biblical group in particular that gets our self-righteous blood boiling more than any other:

The Pharisees

They were the most religious, prestigious and openly critical Jewish sect towards Christ’s brief public ministry. They wielded their knowledge of the Law like a battle-axe. They held people captive and enslaved under the crushing weight of the meticulous ceremonial law. They would hold immaculate banquets to honor their own religious devotion before Israel’s upper crust, while locking out the broken, poor and unclean from their sight.

Ancient Jewish religious culture was married to the political establishment. Pharisees weren’t just the religious elite. They were the social elite. Political elite. Educational elite.

Jesus definitely had hard words for this particular religious opponent: They were called bleached tombs housing rotting corpses on one occasion (Matthew 23:27); on another, he accused their mothers of shagging the devil (John 8:44).

Everyone ELSE is a Pharisee

Some modern Christian groups commonly get compared to those ancient hypocrites: The red faced Fundamentalist who shuns sex, drugs and rock & roll. The Theological nitpicks and watchdogs, who commonly accuse other Christian groups of heresy. Any pastor who may say any word of exhortation on the matter of homosexuality, abortion, or anything deemed a political issue.

We love to hate on the Pharisees. And we love to ascribe that title to every other group but the one we happen to identify with. It may sound like this:

“Sure, grace is for tax collectors, prostitutes, gang bangers, drug addicts, etc….But don’t get me started on that old fart deacon who gave my wife an ugly look when she raised her hands during worship…I can’t stand that guy!”

Do we really think we’re gonna reach that crazy dude with the megaphone, who is thumping nothing but the law to deaf masses, by shouting “SHUT UP!” out our window as we screech by in our car?

Modern pharisees need grace as much as the anguished teenager considering an abortion.

I know this because they are human. And we all happen to be in the same sinking ship by nature (Romans 3:23).

Hugs Not Drugs….Or Hate

I also know this: The apostle formerly known as Saul was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). And a dang good one. Before Christ knocked him off his donkey, Paul was notorious for his ability to hunt down men and women of “The Way” and see to it they were murdered for their faith (Acts 7:54-60). The blood of the saints was all over his hands, and he was quite proud of it (Acts 22:4)

A Pharisee of Pharisees
Paul, a “Pharisee of Pharisees” murdered Christians

Think:

The next modern-day apostle Paul may, at the moment, be murdering Christians in Sudan.

Maybe more shocking to you:

The next modern-day apostle Paul may, at the moment, be the church deacon you’re cursing underneath your breath.

If we have any reservations over those statements it is because we don’t believe in invincible grace. One thing is for sure: The only force that changes the heart of a murderous or judgmental Pharisee, is the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Next time you’re shocked by their critical spirit and blind religious hubris: stop, take some deep breaths, smile and say something like:

“Is there anything I can pray for you about?”

“You wanna go for coffee some time?”

“Tell me your story.”

or even, God willing:

“Can I give you a hug?”

If God’s kindness brought Pharisees like us to repentance (Romans 2:4), you never know what similar grace will do to the hearts of those bound in legalism now.

Stop the hate. Try a hug instead.

What are some ways you could express greater grace towards the “Pharisees” in your circle?

Bryan Daniels

What The Heck Does “Chief of The Least” Mean?

The apostle Paul never appreciated the suped up title of “super-apostle.” That doesn’t stop us from putting him on that pedestal today. But if we read the NT carefully it’s plainly apparent:

Paul wasn’t all that impressed with himself

We praise him for his perseverance in mind-boggling persecution: stoned, five times whipped, shipwrecked thrice, beaten and imprisoned mercilessly and more (2 Cor 11:23-29). Paul said it wasn’t his true grit, but Christ alone who strengthened him in these things (Phil 4:11-13)

We hold studies searching for the nature of Paul’s notorious “thorn in the flesh.” Was it poor eyesight? Ugly face? Lingering torture wounds? Celibate life? Bad case of hemorrhoids? Paul didn’t point to the nature of the thorn, but rather the nature of sufficient grace was the focal point of the story (2 Cor 12:9).

Some pastors call Paul the most brilliant Christian mind in the church era. He had the modern equivalent of three Ph. Ds and oratorical powers that made peasants in Lystra call him a Roman god (Acts 14:12). Paul calls all of his extensive formal educational training a big steaming “pile of s—” (literally in the Greek) compared to the knowledge of Christ (Philippians 3:8).

What Spiritual Progress is For a Chief

We shouldn’t be surprised when Paul turns our view of Christian maturity on its head.

Indian Chief
Not that kind of Chief, guys.

We hope maturity in faith and sanctification would mean grappling less with the pet sins and shortcomings that rack our conscience daily. It may mean some of that. “Progress” is a nice clean catchword for politics and spirituality. But watch how Paul views progress in his Christian walk (Chief of the Least comes in here):

In the beginning of Paul’s ministry he called himself (1 Cor 15:9)

“the least of the apostles”

The least of the small select group of New Covenant Church founders. In the middle of Paul’s ministry, he called himself (Eph 3:8):

“the least of the saints.”

The least member of the growing New Covenant Church. In the end of Paul’s ministry, in his letter to his spiritual son Timothy, he called himself (1 Tim 1:15):

“Chief of Sinners”

The guiltiest and greatest sinner in the Whole. Wide. World.

This is what progress in holiness looks like: As we mature in our faith we become more humble and more broken over the sin still latent within us. As we realize we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies our faces are brought lower than dirt in servant gratitude. Paul wasn’t the greatest sinner in the world compared to other Roman dictators and miscreants.

True.

Paul was convinced He was the greatest sinner because he was in a prime position to be more aware of his own sin than others. One of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to us the depths of our own sin, not the sins of others.

So we find true progress to be an ever growing cyclical progress in brokenness. In humility. In gratitude.

In more brokenness.

In more humility.

In more gratitude.

A greater awareness of our sin brings an even greater awareness of the gospel that killed its grip in the person of Jesus Christ. “Chief of the Least” is a merging of Paul’s self titles.

I’m applying it to me.

But it is not just for me; It’s for anyone acutely aware of their broken estate on one hand, yet caught up in greater grateful flood for the Savior that utterly repairs and restores it on the other.

We fellow “Chiefs” adhere to this simple lifelong confession:

Yes, I am a great sinner. But I have a much greater Savior in Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Bryan Daniels

How Lance Armstrong Taught Me I Was A Dirtbag

I heard on the radio this morning Lance Armstrong is preparing to come clean (kinda).

I must confess, I’ve never cared for the public image the cycler portrayed. He seemed cocky, seemed like a womanizer, and even seemed to over-state his battle with cancer for publicity purposes. I remember the interview after one post cancer Tour De France victory where the reporter asked if Armstrong thought his rousing success was a miracle of God.

Armstrong’s (paraphrased) response: “This wasn’t God, this was me.”lance armstrong

After lying about doping for years and hiding behind his foundation under the guise of righteousness, a revealing light has come out against Armstrong in the testimony of a great cloud of witnesses. In the past ten years some of these hapless victims Armstrong has taken to court, publicly slandered, privately bullied, and viciously squeezed every last penny out of their reputation in humiliating fashion.

Their crime: Telling the truth about Armstrong’s cycling legacy.

What a dirtbag! was the first bitter thought on my ride into work.

But as I brooded over the injustices I heard, a chord struck me at the soul level:

Lance Armstrong is a broken soul that needs grace at least as much as I do.

He is in the same perilous boat we are all by nature in:

Dead in our trespasses (Ephesians 2:1).

Enemies of God (Romans 5:10).

Children of Wrath (Eph 2:3).  

Natural rebels against a high and Holy King.

Armstrong may not see it that way, but God forbid I withhold grace from a soul who clearly needs it. Because in the end, I likewise am a soul who clearly needs it. If true, Armstrong’s wrongs against humanity are real and demand repentance. But they are no worse than my daily crimes of neglect and brattiness against a Father who has called me His child through the blood of His dear Son.

The main difference between Lance Armstrong and Bryan Daniels? If I have experienced this dynamic grace in the person of Jesus like I claim to, I should know better.

So this morning, by the grace of God, my pretentious self-righteous anger turned into mercy filled intercessory prayer for Armstrong.

I pray his lasting mark on earth won’t be a yellow Livestrong bracelet, but the bloody red embrace of strong love found at the foot of cross and empty tomb. I pray he sees there is a far better race to run and prize to win in this life, and he will never win it without the grace of a Father being lavished on him.

And I thank God for His free impartial intervening grace to fallen undeserving men; even dirt bags like me and Lance Armstrong.

Bryan Daniels

Orcs, Gunmen, and Bad Guys Like Me

While watching a Lord of The Rings Scene my four-year old son, Josiah, caught a glimpse of an Orc, a miserable snarling subhuman warrior for the “Army of Shadows.”

As his inquiring mind processed the battle scene before him, Josiah asked,

“Why is that guy mean?”

Before I could respond he answered his own question:

“Because he’s bad?”

Sounded like a sufficient reason to me:

“Yes, baby, he’s a bad guy.”

Such a description easily rolls off the tongue when encountering hypothetical terrorists on a movie screen. But when the perpetrators become human and the victims flesh and blood it seems our ability for succinct language becomes squishy and vague.

Whether it is the recent murder-suicide by NFL player Jevon Belcher.

Or the more recent Portland mall killings by a crazed gunman.

The response of many public network pundits has been the same the past few years:

Legal experts and resident psychologists will try to psychoanalyze the mind of the killers: social constraints, political persuasions, chemical reactions, or stunted emotional growth are all posited as the source of the madness. The whole world goes straight Dr. Phil in its obsession with the dark mind(lessness) of these murderers.

I don’t want to neglect the socio-economic, genetic, psychological, etc, factors that make up a person’s character. I don’t have anything meaningful to add to the timeless nature vs. nurture debate. But I believe something unfortunate is lost in our culture when we try to process man-made tragedies while altogether omitting words like “evil”, “bad”, or even “depraved” from our vocabulary.

Some times the “bad guys” aren’t just in a movie script.

Whether the heartless violence happens in Arizona, Norway, Columbine, or a mall, the social commentary in the aftermath shouldn’t always swirl around periphery issues like gun control, childhood upbringing, bullying, and poverty. Not that any of these don’t matter. Just that most of this chatter is to the neglect of personal responsibility for the evil actions of an evil man.

I know the world bristles at any value judgment that has moral overtones but that shouldn’t matter.

I want my son to keep this “bad guy” moniker in his vocabulary.

Not because he is “better” than anyone else, but because he could be much worse than anyone else. I want him to see that apart from the grace of God the natural bad guy that lives within his own nature can also manifest itself in horrifying ways.

I want him to see his daddy as one of the “good guys” not because I have anything inherently noble about me, but because I don’t. What separates any good man from the bad man is nothing but undeserved grace through the God Man.

Sometimes my mind goes places I don’t even begin (or want) to understand. I imagine if our thoughts could be projected for all to see we would be horrified, embarrassed, and left utterly friendless in less than a few hours. If we don’t believe in words like “evil” it may be because we haven’t lifted up the floorboards of our own nature and peered in to see what really lies beneath our daily facades.

There is real evil.

There is real invincible grace that trumps real evil too.

That’s the story we should tell. But if we keep denying with our words the natural-born bent toward wickedness in us all, then we’ve denied the need for the overpowering righteous given at the cross (2 Cor 5:21).

And for bad guys like me, there is no other hope in the world but the gospel of Jesus that saves sinners (1 Tim. 1:15)

Bryan Daniels

Come Thou Fount To Every Wanderer

One of my favorite hymns performed by one of my favorite artists (Sufjan Stevens). It offers a heartrending backstory too. Around the “prone to wander…” lyric I usually start falling apart at the seams.

Bryan Daniels

Why I Love Being An Educator (Satanic Bibles Excluded)

The Kids

This particular reason could equally be the leading point in a corresponding blog post titled “Why I Hate Being An Educator.” But seriously, my job is ALWAYS interesting and it ALWAYS keeps me on my toes; and ninth graders are the main reason for that. You never know what off the wall question, what bipolar mood, what hilarious comment, or what surprising encouragement you may get from day-to-day. I could be stuck in a sterile office environment and chained to a screen and desk.

But I am entrusted with real humans with real issues and real potential that I may play a part in tapping. There is high risk/reward in such an endeavor, especially when factoring in raging hormonal activity.

But maybe their relatively short experience in my class will help them garner a life skill, a moral lesson, a thirst for learning, or just an appreciation for a person that cared about their future. That’s a gamble worth taking.

The Schedule

I coach football and track, so I don’t have as much free time as others, but as an educator family time is easily planned and executed around holidays and summer time. When my oldest son, Josiah, starts kindergarten  next year I will be even more thankful for our corresponding schedules. Being an educator really is a family friendly occupation and I venture to guess that is one reason many of my coworkers are young mothers.

Also, do you remember that feeling you had as a kid anticipating Christmas morning? Teachers, in part, still get to have that.

I get to celebrate and revel in the arrival of Thanksgiving/Christmas/Spring/Summer break as much, probably more than, my students. I’ve even been known to blare Rebecca Black’s “Friday” given the weekend occasion, and at the end of last year I can neither confirm nor deny my class may have heard Will Smith’s “Summertime” on the last day of school.

Being an educator keeps me family focused and keeps me young.

The Ministry

As a public school educator, there are some legal constraints as to what I can say in my daily dialogue with students. But being in the mission field of a public high school the past 4 years has kept me cognizant of how lost and hurting and broken this youth generation is. When I was involved extensively in church youth ministry I always felt there was a religious facade that had to be penetrated before real ministry began with a young person. Spiritual games can be easily played at a church.

That facade doesn’t exist in the context of a high school hallway.

Not in the emo kid (with an absentee father) who brings his Satanic Bible to class instead of his Algebra book.

Not in the ninth grade athlete with a violent short fuse because his mom tragically died last year.

Not in the pregnant fifteen year old whose baby’s daddy is in jail for grand theft auto.

These are real kids with real issues. Sure, they can be hyper-emotional, rude, angry, lazy, disrespectful, and scallywags in general. By nature we all can be. But many of those attributes were learned in their early nurturing. And all of them need the same basic virtue applied to them that has been generously bestowed on me by One greater: Grace.

When I can’t give that overtly in words, hopefully they experience it in the way I treat them.

There are certainly more reasons than these, but these three are enough for me to be thankful for my calling/occupation.

Do you love what you do? Why?

Bryan Daniels

He Delights To Hurl

Who is a God like You, who pardons iniquity
And passes over the rebellious act of the remnant of His possession?
He does not retain His anger forever,
Because He delights in unchanging love.
He will again have compassion on us;
He will tread our iniquities under foot.
Yes, You will cast all our sins
Into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

As we saw in the book of Hosea yesterday, God doesn’t mince His words when dealing with our sin in Scripture.

The biblical metaphors in Micah all point to the utter finality of God’s indictment of sin. Through Jesus Christ, God will “tread our iniquities underfoot.” This vivid picture is of God stomping a mud hole in our sin (not us!) and walking it dry. To trample or tread over an enemy is to utterly destroy it and lay waste to it. It’s the image of an army in battle defeating its nemesis in such an absolute way that the enemy army becomes a doormat (Micah 7:10).

But God is not satisfied with just a trampling of the sin that condemns us.

He then picks up our trampled sin and hurls it in disgust overboard to sink forever to the forgotten utter depths of the sea (7:19). This is not a casual dropping of an SOS bottle off the side of the boat, this is the hurl of righteous violence to get rid of a toxic trash heap that would infect the whole ship.

Referencing this verse, Corrie Ten Boom used to say: God put up a sign saying, “No fishing allowed.”

Through the finished work of Christ, God has forgiven and disposed of that sin committed years ago that haunts us, that sin last night that fills us with anguish, and even that future sin that we may fall into. No storm cloud needs to accompany our failings long, God has cast the scourge of our soul like a sunken stone into the unrecoverable ocean floor.

What is endearing and amazing about God is His capacity for complex emotions.

This is a hurl of disgust.

And it is a hurl of delight.

He extinguishes our sin because “He delights in mercy.”

Let that sink into your soul’s sweet spot.

The sacrifice of the Son is of such infinite immeasurable value that the Father delights in applying it to ungrateful sinner. His mercy is more beautifully displayed the more grievous the sinner is who has apprehended it. God is not reluctant to forgive the sin you committed the last hour, He delights to forgive.

It gives Him a high degree of joy. Great pleasure. Deep satisfaction.

Beloved He delights to apply the saving benefits of His dear Son’s gospel for your good and His glory.

The trampling of our sin was actually the trampling of His own son. The casting away our transgressions was actually the rejection of His own Begotten on the cross. And God has delighted to crush the Son in our place to display mercy to His enemies.

I need a renewed vision of this God daily. For I fail Him in sin daily. But what that means is that I also have opportunity to experience the daily delight of the merciful Father.

The sky is not overcast in His kingdom. The brooding storm clouds of guilt have been hurled overboard with our sin.

The beloved Son Has caused the Father to delight over His people, while utterly destroying what has been destroying them.

Amen.

Bryan Daniels

God Loves Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church

Chief of the least

There are few areas in life where I would joyfully side with the likes of a Bill Maher, Rosie O’Donnell, or Nancy Pelosi. But because of a certain maligned group of tortured souls masquerading as the prophetic voice of God I share a healthy disdain with these progressives. I do not share any mild fascination my leftist friends may have in attributing this group as Christian, Baptist or a Church though. A landmark false advertisement suit may be in order, right after the courts go after “Christian Science” for not even vaguely representing Christianity or Science. Rather, I submit to you the graceless vitriolic propaganda group hilariously called “The Westboro Baptist Church” is neither Christian, Baptist or a Church.

If their virulently offensive website “Godhatesfags.com” wasn’t a clear enough clue, maybe their picket signs that broadcast “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” should be. Could one group galvanize liberals and conservatives against them in a more unified and total fashion? It should be apparent that the “church” is…

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I’m a Winklevoss Twin; God is Faithful

I empathize with the Winklevoss Twins.

No, I’m not born into ridiculous wealth and I have not received ridiculously more wealth riding on the heels of Mark Zuckerberg.

But the sentiments of one of the jaded Winklevoss twins from “The Social Network” resonates with me. Bewildered at the overnight growth of “TheFacebook” (650 people registered the first day) he says, “If I was a drug dealer I couldn’t give free drugs away to six hundred and fifty people in one day!”

I feel him.

When surveying the litany of part-time jobs I held throughout college the one I was probably most ill fitted for was appliance salesman. I couldn’t give free washers and dryers away if I tried. I’m not a closer by any sense of the word and I don’t have that wheelin’ and dealin’ killer instinct. Some people could sell ice to an Eskimo, I’d find it difficult to give away free snuggies to one. On the job, I was there to politely answer any pertinent questions and I tried to stay relatively knowledgable about the product, but employee of the month I was not. In the end, I figured if they really wanted to make a major purchase, they’d do it.

This natural disposition doesn’t necessarily serve me well in the spiritual realm. Mentally I go through a thousand ways a ministry opportunity could fail before I step into it. Too many times, I make baseless assumptions about people’s spiritual state: they’re not ready for the gospel, it’s not God’s timing, it’s not an appropriate situation. I’m not saying I never share the gospel, I am saying my preconceptions get in the way of sharing much more than they should.

This shouldn’t be.

Especially as one called to give free grace away to those who are dead in their sins (Eph 2:3-5). Sharing the gospel is not like talking a dog off a meat truck, it’s more like resuscitating a drown victim with life-giving air.

This is one of the many areas my life doesn’t seem to match up to the biblical reality. And this is where I am thankful that the underlying (and overlying!) thread in biblical reality is not me, but God and His glorious grace through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:6).

I’m reminded of the verse my spiritual mentor shared with me in my early Christian walk. They were the words that had kept him going when the fires of life’s diversity were raging or the fruit of ministry seemed wanting.

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it. (1 Thess 5:23-24)

Though I am certain there are many areas in my life the Holy Spirit will continue to convict, encourage, and change, I can thank God for this: His mission, His purpose, His calling is not predicated on my impotent ability to muster up faithfulness or boldness, but rather His infinite ability to call and equip whom He pleases while working all things according to how He pleases (Eph 1:11).

My “natural disposition” must bow down to the infinite purposes of a Sovereign King.

Doubt be damned.

And it will be.

And it is.

He is faithful.

He will do it.

Bryan Daniels