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

Mass Murder Is Why A Suffering Sovereign Came

“Mass murder is why Jesus came into the world the way he did. What kind of Savior do we need when our hearts are shredded by brutal loss?

We need a suffering Savior. We need a Savior who has tasted the cup of horror we are being forced to drink.

And that is how he came. He knew what this world needed. Not a comedian. Not a sports hero. Not a movie star. Not a political genius. Not a doctor. Not even a pastor. The world needed what no mere man could be.

The world needed a suffering Sovereign. Mere suffering would not do. Mere sovereignty would not do. The one is not strong enough to save; the other is not weak enough to sympathize.

So he came as who he was: the compassionate King. The crushed Conqueror. The lamb-like Lion. The suffering Sovereign.”

John Piper

Read the rest of the article.

Suffice to say last Friday was the saddest news this nation has faced since 2001. As a father of two sons (1 a year away from kindergarten) and a public school educator the heartache was twofold for me.

I hope this reeling nation doesn’t get too obsessed over tertiary political/social issues in this time.

The only agent that can change the hardest human hearts is not of this world or public policy. Saul, David, and Moses were all once murderers turned servants of the righteous King.

The only agent that can comfort the most shattered human hearts is not of this world either. The perfect hands that were wounded on the cross are strong enough to bind our wounds forevermore.

I pray Sandy Hook turns to the “Suffering Sovereign” alone for comfort.

I pray the other broken on looking souls in America do too.

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

The Gospel Whitney Houston Heard

Note: This is not an indictment on the eternal state of Whitney Houston’s soul. God will do right regarding what everyone deserves in the end.

I happened upon Whitney Houston’s funeral service yesterday while channel surfing. I only caught the last 45 minutes or so, but the last message caught my ear.

Pastor Marvin Winans delivered the eulogy at New Hope Baptist Church; Winans seems like a passionate articulate leader. But with stars from around the world in attendance and an audience of  millions in television attendance, he  dropped the proverbial gospel ball a bit. To his credit, when bringing up Matthew 6:33, he did stress the “Kingdom of God and His righteousness” before all things be added to us. But righteousness was equated to merely right living, not the righteousness that is only given through the perfect work and person of Jesus Christ. Pastor Winans last sermon point he stressed to the listening masses was this: We need to “keep God first” and make Him “our priority” in all things. I agree with him, but what gives us the strength to carry out such an impossible task?

Let me say I know I may be looking through all this with a negative lens. My wife is always surprised by my ability to find the touch of grey in every silver lining. Sometimes I seriously wonder if God has given me the spiritual gift of  discouragement. : )

I really don’t know what gospel Whitney heard throughout the duration of her church life. There may have been some thorough biblical Christ centered teaching that she accepted or rejected at one time. But I am treating the message at the funeral service as a microcosm of the broader message most people hear from American Christianity:

The gospel of behavior modification.

This type of gospel when fully lived out will lead well meaning men to become “twice the sons of hell” they once were (Matt 23:15). It is certainly powerless to lead any man or woman out of the grim demonic grips of drug and self addiction.

Did Whitney hear on a consistent basis that sinful man had to pull himself up by his own boot straps, activate his own faith, or just rearrange his lifestyle to fit God’s standards? I hope not. Because that gospel only births desperation in the hearer. Though it masquerades as a gospel of grace, that gospel is actually the bad news of law keeping mingled with very little good news. Jesus said the flesh “profits nothing” (John 3). Paul said the purpose of the law was to “reveal sin” (Romans 3). James said to fail in one letter of the law is to be “guilty of all of it” (James 2)

Our greatest issue is not that we are merely failing to be Christlike. That’s a given. Our greatest issue is that we are dead in our sins and need supernatural resurrection in Christ (Ephesians 2).

As Pastor Tullian Thcividijian says: “Jesus came first to effect a mortal resurrection, not a moral reformation-as his own death and resurrection demonstrate.”

I’m sure over the course of her life Whitney Houston probably heard the gospel of self-fulfillment, the gospel of behavior modification, and maybe even the prosperity gospel. But this may be the saddest commentary of all regarding Whitney’s death: Despite her Christian heritage I don’t know if she ever consistently heard the gospel of the bloody righteous Savior Who lived a perfect life she never could live, and died a perfect death she never could earn. This is the undeniable understated gospel with a resurrection power that can obliterate the deepest sins, weaknesses, and addictions.

Did Whitney ever hear this clearly? Do we?:

God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we may become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21)

A tragedy is a life lived in utter bondage. But an even greater tragedy is life everlasting in total bondage. May the biblical gospel we preach always address and free the captives of both.

Bryan Daniels

Why We’re All Related to Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen is a poster boy.

No, I’m not talking about a poster boy for cocaine overdose or how to utterly shipwreck one’s life. Though Sheen could fill an infinitum amount of reality shows with such surreality.

Charlie Sheen is the type of poster boy who not only placards his own weaknesses in glaring fashion, but reveals ours also.

I propose the recent shenanigans of Sheen not only display his own personal excesses, they display with crystal clarity our own excesses as a society.

For too long we have been bingeing on the most ridiculous and superfluous news our culture has to offer. The hangover effect we will reap from it will not be worth the seconds of satisfaction we got from watching a rap about an attempted rape or a father getting hit in the groin by his kid.

In the world right now:

A deranged dictator who is capable of real damage to the world has made Libya a cauldron potentially bubbling over to an international war.

In a display of global implications, thousands of protestors in Egypt still storm the streets and cry out for justice and freedom from a tyrannical government. 

The United States Supreme Court continues to hand out landmark rulings nearly every week like they’re sticks of gum.

And yet all we are infatuated with are the drug induced incoherent ramblings of a madman. I mean really, count the Facebook statuses you can attribute to Sheen alone. Case in point: Sheen made Twitter history when he recently opened an account and garnered 1 million followers in just 24 hours. We can thank him for such thought-provoking gems such as these:

 “We’re Vatican assassins. How complicated can it be?”
“They picked a fight with a warlock.”
“Duh, WINNING.”
“Resentments are the rocket fuel that lives in the tip of my sabre.”

A regular warrior poet you are, Mr. Sheen. Or something like that.

Charlie Sheen is not the primary issue, rather he is just a microcosm of what’s wrong with our insatiable thirst for meaningless information. And I do say what’s wrong with “us” and not the big bad mainstream media. The media is just playing the ratings game, and if a monkey that scratches and sniffs it’s butt gets them the right numbers then they just as well will show that 24/7.

Try this yourself. Take the aforementioned shot to the man region for example. Upload a video on Youtube of a father getting hit in his manhood while playing baseball with his child and you will get 1,000+ hits and 100+ comments by the end of the day. We take illogical delight (at least I do for some reason) in a father being virtually emasculated before his children and world. And this is a man who is doing the good and fatherly thing by spending quality time with his child, which is becoming the unfortunate exception in our biblically man-less culture. Yet, write a thoughtful piece on the scourge of fatherlessness on our society and it’s rating will remain stagnant with little or no participation from the e-world.

A keyboard playing cat is an internet mover and shaker, but a dying father and husband’s heart-rending last words of wisdom to the world are barely a blip on the radar.

Our constant diet of shallow frivolousness is an indictment on our spiritual depth. “I will delight in Your law” once said the wise Psalmist (Psalm 119). The contemporary Psalmist says “I will delight in the foolish meanderings of a publicity and cocaine addict.”

What’s worse: living a wretched life or delighting in the fruits of a wretched life? Those two are not as distant of cousins as we would like to confess.

We must be vigilant with what we sow into our soul on a daily basis. If we become what we behold (2 Corinthians 3:18), we may want to turn the tube off the next time Sheen (or the likes of him) is given a megaphone to air his madness. Especially if we are self-aware of our inherent fascination with train wrecks and car crashes.

Apart from the grace of God, we would all end up as the poster children for a sad wretched self-absorbed life. We do have the same ancestral father after all (Romans 5:12). We are struck with the same tragic malady (Romans 3:23) Sheen is just a natural-born member of the depraved human race like every other man, woman, and child is (Eph 2:3-5).

Maybe we shouldn’t laugh so hard at Charlie. We have a lot more in common with this “Warlock” than we are willing to admit.

Bryan Daniels