Author: Kyle Yarborough
I struggle with anxiety. At times, it can be severe. It can be debilitating and I can feel trapped or chained to a chair, unable to move. It can bring on nausea and headaches and it can cloud my judgement and thinking. It is also relatively common. About 40 million people are directly affected by anxiety each year in the US. That’s roughly 18% of the population. Less than a third seek out or receive treatment. Anxiety is yet another effect of sin in our world. For me, this struggle is a constant exercise in obedience and faith that my Father has my best interests at heart and that He is using my difficulties and trials to sanctify me.
Matthew 6:26-27 says “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” This is a daily reminder that worrying about moving halfway across the country, pursuing a new job, pouring into a new relationship, and all the other upcoming life changes cannot alter the path that He has determined for me. It is not mine to control. Believing that is difficult, but it brings a peace that only He can provide. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the patterns of this world and to start believing that success is determined by a number in your bank account, by the clothes you wear, or the car you drive.
David wrote in Psalm 27:1 that “the Lord is my light and my salvation — whom then shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?” More like, what then shall I fear; of what shall I be afraid? If I am not in control, then it does me no good to spend time fretting. This does not mean, “Don’t act.” It’s actually the opposite. Act in faith knowing that the Lord will guide you in his purposes, not allowing your heart and mind to be consumed by the temptations constantly before you. He is faithful to provide for those who live according to his word.
In 1932, just before the height of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said in his first inaugural address that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He sought to embolden his people for what lay ahead and give them the confidence to face difficulty. It would be a trying time but eventually industrial production rose to levels higher than before. The jobs returned but the people’s fears turned from employment to the conflict at hand, World War II.
A lot of our daily worries tend to be about things with very little long-term significance. That’s not to say there aren’t significant things to worry about in life, but each of these is an opportunity to lay our concerns at Jesus’ feet. In Mark 4:35-41 we see the disciples afraid for their lives as their ship struggles to navigate a heavy storm. Jesus, however, was asleep in the stern. Frantically, they woke him and asked, “Teacher, do you not care if we drown?” He rose from where he slept and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” and the storm dispersed. He then asked his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”, and they were terrified, asking each other “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” Our prayer should then be “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Too often, we carry irrational fears of things out of our control. We will always be able to find something to be fearful about. The Lord freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt but we struggle to trust him to provide for some of our most basic needs. There is little doubt that the onset of World War II struck fear and uncertainty in the hearts of the American People. So is fear truly something to fear? It is, but only when we fear the wrong things. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” My takeaway? Fear the right things. Fear of my circumstances gets me nowhere. To fear God is to desire to live in harmony with His righteous standards and to honor him through my actions. There is peace and sanctification in that.
Like the disciples, when we see Christ display His power over our circumstances, we fear them less, and we learn to fear Him more.
Author: Jared Lyda
The past month, for whatever reason, has brought death into the forefront of my Facebook and Twitter feeds and therefore my mind. The airport bombings in Brussels were about a month ago. There was an earthquake in Ecuador that killed over 500 people. 8 people died recently in the floods in Houston, TX. Aggie Muster, a ceremony that happens every year at Texas A&M to honor the lives of fallen Aggies, was Thursday night, April 21. One of the Aggies honored this year was Major Shawn Campbell, Texas A&M BYX Alumnus 2001. A junior on the drumline of my high school alma mater died a few days ago. An Oklahoma State BYX founder was killed in a Tulsa apartment fire within the last few weeks. Merle Haggard died about two weeks ago. Prince died last Thursday. And the list goes on.
We tend to behave in one of two ways when it comes to death — obsession or denial. Neither is helpful. Death is coming for everyone. So how does the Christian think about death? Why does the Christian think about death?
Death is not something people in their twenties like to think about. No one that young thinks they’re going to die soon. Death is something that we push out of our minds. Every now and then a celebrity dies and we start to think about death only to quickly push it out of our minds again. But let’s take a moment and not run to Netflix or Xbox or social media or friends and consider death.
Why should we think about death? Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The Bible says your life is a mist. You are here for a little time and then you vanish (James 4:14). Carrie Underwood sings about how this is our temporary home. This is just a stop on the way to where we’re going. Death is coming. It is universal. And it’s coming for everyone. No one is exempt.
Let’s not try to pretend that death isn’t sad or scary — it certainly is. It is right to be sad, it is right to mourn and to weep. But just like everything else in life the Christian has unshakable hope in life’s scariest and strangest times. For the Christian, to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). When we die we get to be in the presence of our God for eternity. My mind doesn’t really have categories to understand the idea of eternity. Don’t read that sentence quickly and move on. We get to be in the presence of our God for eternity. Our hope is in Christ and being with him forever.
“We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
—2 Corinthians 4:18-5:1
We know how the story ends. In the end we win. We look forward to the day when He will wipe away every tear, when death will be no more, when mourning, crying, and pain cease, when the former things have passed away, and when God makes all things new (Revelation 21:4-5). The Christian understands what caused Paul to write, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
You’ve probably been asked, “How would you live your life today if you knew you were going to die tomorrow?” It sparks some interesting thoughts and a lot of fleeting motivation to change your behavior that typically fades within a few hours, but that’s not very helpful. And most likely you won’t die tomorrow.
I’m not interested in asking myself questions that will get me super motivated for an hour or two and then let me go back to what I was doing before. I’m interested in life-changing questions. I’m interested in life-changing sentences and paragraphs. I’m interested in thinking deeply about things that will change my perspective forever, things that will shape my worldview, and things that will alter how I live. I’m not interested in obsessing over death. But I am interested in allowing the fact that it’s coming to shape the way that I interact with those around me.
I want to remember how small I am compared to a big God.
I want to remember how fragile I am compared to a God who is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46).
I want to remember how limited my scope is compared to a God whose judgments are unsearchable and whose ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33).
I want to remember how weak I am compared to an omnipotent God who does what he pleases (Psalm 115:3).
I want to remember how short my life and legacy is compared to a God whose name will be remembered throughout all generations (Psalm 102:12).
I want to remember these things and have them stir up worship in my soul. It is right to think on death because its reminder to us that we are small and fragile fuels our worship of a God who is eternal and all-powerful.
For now death does sting, death is sad, losing loved ones is painful. We cry. We mourn. We hurt. But we are not hopeless. We have a hope that is unfading and a joy that never ends. We serve an almighty God. Through him death is defeated.
Jared Lyda is the National Advisor for the Texas State, Kansas, Ole Miss, and Tulsa BYX chapters. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 2015 with a degree in Leadership and Development. He currently lives in Fort Worth, TX.
Author: Robert Bember
Consider your source. There is a lot of bad information out there. This is why professors would rather you say, “My dog ate my homework” than, “I cited Wikipedia” when you turn in your papers. This is why you should just keep scrolling past click bait articles with headlines that end in “You won’t believe what happened next.” This is why you should click ‘unsubscribe’ on any pastor’s podcasts whose church “pews” previously witnessed Hakeem Olajuwon raise a championship trophy.
One source that we have given far more credibility than it deserves is the 12-ounce, fist-sized organ on the left side of our chest: our heart. Culture and entertainment have encouraged us from the moment we watched our first Disney movie that our heart is our best compass. Despite the warning that it is deceitful above all things, we still want to follow our hearts.
1 John 3 reveals a danger that comes with following our heart.
“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.”
-1 John 3:19-22
Sometimes our heart convicts. That is a good thing. We can trust the Holy Spirit to reveal to us darkness. This is cause for praise. It shows us how to do what pleases God by keeping his commandments. We know we are in Christ when we see this work in us.
However, it’s not uncommon to convert conviction into condemnation. I often find myself in this position. I fail and I heap condemnation on myself. The evil one loves to swoop in and make us feel unworthy of the grace and love we have received. We feel dirty and beat ourselves up when we fall short of God’s perfect standard.
Maybe you can sympathize with this, but sometimes it’s not even God’s standard but a standard of my own that I will condemn myself for not living up to, as if I deserve punishment that The Lord isn’t going to give. I break my own rules and fail to be who I want to be, almost as if I know Jesus saved me from my sins against him but not from the sins I commit against my own standards.
I play judge to myself, heaping on condemnation and self-hate that Jesus paid a heavy price to keep me from. It’s not what he wants for me, it’s not what I’m called to, but it is often where I find myself as a result of giving my heart more credibility than it deserves. Condemnation is antithetical to what we are supposed to experience under the yoke of Jesus. While our heart lies to us, a good source promises a lighter yoke.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
This is exactly what John is compelling us to do. Much of 1 John is devoted to assuring us of our salvation. Because we are of the truth, we can reassure our hearts with truth, such as that of Romans 8:1 that tells us our heart can’t condemn us. John reminds us of here is that God is greater than our heart and he knows everything. He is more knowledgeable and authoritative than our hearts.
As an omniscient God, he knows all. There is nothing hidden from him, including the deepest and darkest corners of our hearts. This could be a terrifying reality if not for the accompanying truth that He loves us despite the depths of our darkness. Our heart lies and says we are dirty and unlovable. God says he has made us clean and he loves us dearly.
For those in Christ, God has already determined and displayed how he feels about us. He has decided that he loves us and accepts us regardless of what we have done and regardless of what our heart says. His opinion is higher and of immeasurably greater importance than that of our sin-scarred heart. That will not change.
As the highest authority over all creation, God has the final say. When he says we are perfect and spotless, it is not a metaphor or hyperbole. It is not an opinion. It is reality. It is who we are. Nothing our heart contributes to the conversation has any bearing on what is true. When the all-powerful king of the universe declares one thing and the blood-pumping organ in my chest says another, we trust our creator rather than his creation.
The gavel has fallen. The verdict has been determined. We are adopted sons and heirs, justified and forgiven, sinless and free. We can trust what God has to say about us because he is greater than our hearts. He is a good source. He is the ultimate source.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.”
-1 Corinthians 4:3-4
Robert Bember was on BYX staff from 2010 to 2016 in a variety of different roles. He now works in real estate for the Todd Tramonte Home Selling Team. Robert graduated from TCU with a degree in Journalism.
This year my local church has been reading the entire Bible together, and over the past few weeks we have been going through the Gospel of Matthew. As I have been reading, my mind continues to dwell on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and particularly how Jesus cuts to the heart of the Pharisees and raises the standard that is required to enter the Kingdom of God.
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20 (NASB) [Emphasis Added]
To me, this verse is the ultimate reminder that my righteousness is not dependent on myself. These Pharisees tithed everything, even down to their spices (Luke 11:42), and yet they cannot enter the Kingdom. How can a guy who cannot even control the lusts of his eyes enter the Kingdom?
As a seminary student, I can pick apart the Scriptures with the Greek and Hebrew, and I consider my knowledge of the Scriptures to be righteous enough. I scan the pews and weigh my knowledge to the knowledge of others, thinking that my knowledge of the Scriptures satisfies God. Oh the pride that is cloaked in “Godliness.” Paul in his letter to the Philippians answers the question: “If the Pharisees can’t make it, who can?”
“Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” -Philippians 3:1-11 (NASB) [Emphasis Added]
How can we surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees in order to enter the Kingdom? We need the righteousness that comes from the blood of Christ. He is our ultimate righteousness. He lived the perfect life and surpassed the Pharisees. He died for us in order to satisfy the standard of holiness the Father requires. He is the reason we can enter into the Father’s presence boldly even though we are broken sinners.
Our works cannot satisfy the judgment of our sin. Our eternal righteousness comes from Jesus. This is the greatest news in human history. God, knowing full well the rebelliousness of his children, sent his Son so that we may be called holy and blameless. Now we worship him, giving glory to him who reconciled us back to himself. No longer can we call pharisaic works righteousness, but we look to the cross and the empty tomb and behold the righteous one.
And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” –Colossians 1:21-22 (NASB) [Emphasis Added]
“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” -Hebrews 10:19-22 (NASB)
Cell groups are real dang important. Now that we’ve established the why, let’s get practical. The four identified marks of a good cell group are transparent life sharing, accountability, fellowship and prayer. Every cell group is going to have its own flavor, but these things are a consistent staple of successful groups. More on that in a minute.
Leaders have the responsibility of facilitating cell group meeting and discussion, while exemplifying themselves everything they hope their cell group to be. Cell group members also have a duty to the group. So if I’m a cell group leader, how do I lead an effective group? If I’m a member, how do I contribute to my cell group’s success? Glad you asked. Let me start from the bottom. First you have to get to cell group.
Step one is to be present. Regular absences by one or more cell group members reminds the rest of the group that this time of fellowship and spiritual sharpening is expendable to other demands, often a result of a poorly managed schedule. Your group members dictate the time you meet; make adjustments and show up. Secondly, be attentive. Physical attendance with mental or spiritual absence is the thumbprint of a marginal Christian, and it’s no different for a BYX cell group. When cell group starts, be ready to engage the men around you for an hour or two.
As with everything, transparency starts with leadership. Cell group leader, if you want your group to be transparent, which you do, it starts with you leading that out by example. From the other men, too, more active prodding may be necessary to get some brothers to open up. And, seeing as BYX is in the business of stretching and sharpening our men, we’re for that. Do it tactfully and lovingly, but asking follow-up questions when an individual gives a surface-level response to a discussion question is good. Never miss an opportunity to celebrate a brother’s openness, whether it’s confession of sin or opening up about a family issue, etc. Without transparency, the environment of closeness and spiritual sharpening we are aiming for in cell groups is not created.
Accountability is probably up there with “intentional” and “guard your heart” in the Christian buzzword power rankings, but let’s not forget its gravid meaning. Cell groups, when done correctly, can provide a battlefield for brothers to combat sin. It’s a safe place if you want to deal with your junk and kill sin, but not so if you want to harbor it. So ask yourself this: would you rather deal with the growing pains of sanctification or the cancer of sustained sin? That’s where the Marines surrounding you come in. When a brother is dwelling in and justifying sinful behavior, it’s time to ask some tough questions. Grace is not to be forgotten, but it is expected that cell groups hold their members to the high standards to which they’ve been called. This isn’t the hacky sack club.
Cell groups are constitutionally required to meet once per week, and that’s where a lot of the heart level fellowship is going to happen. It’s a place for men to be encouraged and embraced when they’re down and challenged when they’re out of line. But the fellowship between cell group members stretches beyond just this weekly obligation. Find a weekend to take a retreat with your cell group. Do an awesome food challenge together one night. Go to the driving range and whack some balls. Relationships are multidimensional, so there’s more to cultivating them than a weekly meeting.
Imagine if you could walk into your doctor’s office unannounced anytime and be seen right away. For free. Yeah, not gonna happen right? Why is it that prayer is either forgotten altogether or practiced as a mere formality in some cell groups? Have we missed the fact that the creator of the universe, who also happened to sacrifice himself so that you could justly have communion with him for eternity, is always a toll-free call away? And we don’t get his answering machine either. Our God is a big god. He’s strong and really smart. Inviting his presence in your cell groups, interceding to him for brothers’ needs and enjoying intimacy with him is not to be overlooked.
I can’t tell you the perfect logistical format of a cell group, but whether you have cell group in a living room, a Starbucks or a hot tub, these general principles should help produce some fruit. Never forget that brotherhood and unity is our number one aim. Cell groups provide a perfect avenue for it on the most personal level, and that truly does impact everything else the chapter does.
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” -Acts 2:42-47 [Underlining added]
Throughout the four Gospels and the book of Acts, you hardly ever read about a person going out on their own besides Jesus himself. We were designed to live in community. BYX gives you a great opportunity to live out the biblical standard of community in college before it becomes much more difficult to surround yourself with biblical community. After college, it will take much more effort to pursue Jesus with others if your local church body does not require it of members. Take time now in college to practice biblical community and see the life change that comes from it.
My local church here in Dallas has “core values” for community that I think can directly apply to how you should be living in community:
- Devote ourselves daily to a personal relationship with Jesus (John 15:5)
- Pursue deep relationships with one another, based on love and acceptance (Romans 12:10)
- Offer and receive biblical counsel in all areas of life (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
- Live authentically, sharing our struggles (James 5:16)
- Encourage & Admonish one another faithfully towards maturity (Colossians 3:16)
If you strive to do these well, you will not only prepare yourselves for post-college life, but everything your chapter does will change. The brotherhood and unity that will come from cell groups will spill over into chapter meetings, into pledge meetings, swaps, formals, etc. The maturation and love developed in cell groups will be infectious not only within your chapter, but also on your campus. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of a fraternity that is bonded tightly while also sharpening each other to look like Jesus (Romans 8:29)?
So why do we have cell groups?
Because God shows us in His Word that we cannot submit our lives to the Bible without having community (Galatians 6:1-10; Romans 12:3–13; Psalm 133:1; 1 Corinthians 1:10; Colossians 3:12–17). These three things we must do well in order to live out the purpose of cell groups:
- Promote brotherhood and unity
- Equip and train men in the Gospel
- Sharpen each other by operating on a heart level and driving them to the Gospel
Promote brotherhood and unity.
If cell groups are functioning in a healthy way, brotherhood and unity should flow out of the times you meet with your cell group. Continuing to meet outside of the once a week meeting only enhances that. If each cell group is fostering brotherhood and unity multiple times a week, think about how drastic all the other events during the semester would look! Brotherhood and unity has to begin in cell groups, and that will bleed out into all aspects of the chapter.
Equip and train men in the Gospel.
Along with brotherhood and unity, each of the men in your cell group will begin to be equipped to engage God in His Word and allow that to pour over into all aspects of their lives. Equipping and training men is important because it sets the chapter up for long-term spiritual health and maturity. On top of that, it puts the men in position to thrive post-graduation. College is a formative time for everyone, and this is a great opportunity for every member in the chapter to see how to daily walk with Jesus.
Sharpen each other by operating on a heart level and driving them to the Gospel.
Keep in mind that these first two points cannot come from a cell group that functions at surface level. Sharpening each other by operating on a heart level is important because guys do not know how to talk about feelings. Members need to learn to get to what is driving their actions more so than behavior modification. Removing the roots that drive sin is vital to sin mortification. Cell group in BYX is often first time men learn to do this, and they can take the lessons learned into adulthood. You will see when you graduate that more often than not men in the church do not know how to have deep conversations that glorify Christ. The act of continual confession and repentance alone (not to mention prayer) cannot be done on a surface level. Continue to walk out prayer, confession and repentance and operate as a cell group at a deeper level.
All this to say, if cell groups are on the periphery of your priorities, you are not doing a good job investing your time in BYX. Brotherhood and unity in Christ is our number one goal. Take every chance to pour into others and also be poured into during your time in BYX. You have an opportunity to form relationships that will last much longer than college. I hear stories of brotherhood and unity all across the country, and I would hate for you to miss out on something so precious. Invest in your cell groups, they make all the difference.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” -Hebrews 10:24-25
 All of the Core Values can be seen here at http://www.watermark.org/dallas/ministries/community/resources
There is no way I could have expected the short kid with the oversized head on my five-year-old tee-ball team to still be one of my best friends 23 years later. It’s crazy to think about what we have been through over the course of those 23 years.
When I was six, I hit my first home run and cried. Aaron, the walking bobblehead who played pitcher for our tee-ball squad, still remembers that moment more vividly than me and still ridicules me for it.
In fourth grade, Aaron and I had an argument over who was going to return a kickoff while playing football in the vacant lot next to his house. I won the argument, but ultimately lost when I broke my collarbone during the return.
In middle school, we powered through that phase of life when highlighting the tips of your hair was cool. We spent more time making create-a-players and teams on Madden than we did studying. In high school, he basically lived at my house for stretches of time for no other reason than he could. By that point in time, my parents had embraced him as “son number three.”
In high school, our friendship continued to grow as the real world started to come knocking. Aaron was the guy that I would grind away with every day on the baseball field or at the gym. We shared the same dream of playing baseball at the next level, which was a dream that ultimately came true for him. Those hours on the field working toward a shared goal helped to define our friendship.
Aaron was the first person I called after I learned of my brother’s cancer diagnosis before the start of my senior year. It was the first time I had to use the phrase, “George has cancer,” and I choked it out through the phone as I sat on the right edge of my bed. Throughout George’s battle with cancer, Aaron regularly made the 45-minute drive across Houston to the hospital with me to hang out with my brother.
We went our separate ways in college, but there were still memories to be made. The highlight of our relationship in college was immediately after I graduated from TCU. My Frogs opened the NCAA Tournament against Lamar University. Aaron was the starting shortstop for Lamar and their leadoff hitter. He was a thorn in the side of TCU pitchers. I was equally proud and angry at him, but we ultimately won.
I had the privilege of standing behind him as a groomsman on his wedding day, and he will one day, Lord willing, have that honor for me. In December 2014, my life changed more than I could have ever imagined when Aaron and wife, Savannah, had their first child, Bryce. I had no idea how the birth of Bryce would impact me, but I would take a bullet for that kid. All of the sudden, the world was substantially different because that kid with the oversized head was now a dad.We have been through a lot together, and we will likely go through so much more.
When I was reading 1 John 2:13-14 recently, I began to think about the opportunity to build a long friendship with God. The passage says:
I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
Here, John speaks specifically to the needs of spiritual children, young men and fathers. We need to hear different wisdom based on where we are in our relationship with Jesus, and John was aware of this.
For the baby Christians, he reminds them of simple and foundational truths on which the rest of their spiritual lives will be built: their sins have been forgiven and they know the Father. For the young men who are fighting to grow in Christ, he reminds them that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, they are able to resist sin. As they fight to grow, they are not left alone in the battle.
John’s insight to spiritual fathers is what really stood out to me though. Here, John speaks of longevity. I think reminding them that they know “him who is from the beginning” is an encouragement to recall the duration not only of God’s existence (forever) but also the duration of their relationship with Christ.
What the spiritual fathers have in Christ does not happen overnight. Over many years of faithful pursuit of him who is from the beginning, they have developed an old friendship. I have never thought to personify Jesus in this way, which is a travesty given he is a living person.
Old friendships don’t get boring. There are always new memories to create and experiences to have. Likewise with our Heavenly Father, we will spend our entire earthly lives plus all of eternity getting to know Him more, and we will still just scratch the surface on the depths of his love, wisdom and goodness. John is reminding the fathers that our relationship with Christ should never become old and stagnant.
As I do with Aaron, I can look back on my relationship with Jesus, about eight-years strong, and see all that we have been through together. In Christ, I have a reliable, old friend. Not like a corny, three-chord Christian song friend, but one who has fought for my soul and pursued me when I fled, one who has walked with me through the worst of times and celebrated with me in the best of times, one who builds up and rebukes, one who always and exclusively has my best interests in mind.
When I step back and consider what I have experienced in my time as a Christian (not to mention all that I went through prior to acknowledging Christ’s hand in my life) I realize I have made some memories with Jesus. We have been through a lot together, and we will experience so much more together. Over and over, He has proven himself to be a good friend. As I move toward that lifestage of spiritual fatherhood, I hope to have an increasing awareness of the friendship I have with Jesus, looking to him lovingly and recalling memories with Him fondly.
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” -John 15:15
I’ve got what I think is the best earthly father that I could have asked for. My dad has been the model of patience, understanding, strength and determination. He has been my example of what it means to live a life driven towards knowing Christ. He’s seen me at my best and at my worst, and through it all, his love for me as been unconditional.
Our Heavenly Father is all of this and more. His love for us is perfect. What my dad can’t see so easily is my heart and my deep, hidden thoughts. If the people closest to you could see those things and hear those thoughts, would they be as inclined to continue investing in that relationship? And likewise, you would be able to see into the dark corners where the goonies and gremlins hide. Nothing about that sounds appealing to me. The Father sees that, and despite it all, loves us because his only and sinless Son came and died to cover our imperfection.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8
He knows how to best discipline us.
I was spanked as a child and I’m thankful for it. Don’t get me wrong, it was never something I looked forward to, but I eventually learned a lot about how my dad loved me through it. He would always use that classic line about how “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” At the time, I didn’t understand what that really meant. Now it’s clear that while it was only a physically painful moment for me, it was emotional for him. Though I deserved what I got, it broke his heart to have to punish me.
How much more does it break the heart of the God that knew and loved me before I had a name, who knows how broken I really am?
“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” Hebrews 12:6
My dad knew what would make an impact on me, knew where my soft spots were and knew how to press into the weakness in order that I might grow and learn from it.
“It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7-11
Much good can come from discipline and correction. When a friend calls out a blind spot in life, it shows they care enough about you to have that hard conversation. Likewise, the Father disciplines us because he loves us infinitely.
He knows how to best bless us.
Like all good fathers, my dad knows what I like. Whether it’s good food, nice clothes, great music or classic cars, you name it and he knows pretty well my preferences. While these things are all great things that bring temporary joy and satisfaction, real lasting joy comes from the blessings God pours out on us. My joy largely comes in community with others and through the people that the Lord has surrounded me with, he has blessed me immensely.
He knows that we can never come close to repaying what he’s done for us.
The world would teach us that relationships are transactional. “What can you do for me?” and “what have you done for me lately?” are far too common. But God in his perfect agape love towards us, asks for nothing in return, expects nothing and knows that even if we gave everything, that it would fall infinitely short in comparison to what we’ve been given in Christ.
Isaiah 64:4 reminds us that, “all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” Thankfully, our salvation isn’t dependent on what we can do for Him. If that were the case, we’d all be up a creek without a paddle.
“His grace is a gift received through redemption in Christ Jesus whom God put forward as propitiation by his blood to be received by faith.” Romans 3:23-25
He loves with a perfect love.
He knows that despite his grace and mercy towards us that we will turn and choose sin, but He loves us with a perfect love anyways. However, we should by no means, continue in sin. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 6:1-2:
“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”
We should war against the temptations of sin, but when we fail (and we will), we don’t have to worry about our future because He holds it.
In a world where it is all too easy to question who the Father loves, it is beneficial to remind ourselves that the Father loves the weak and broken, the leper, the paralytic and the tax collector (Luke 5-6). When he looks at us, he no longer sees us broken, helpless, naked and ashamed. He sees the blood of His perfect son. His love towards us is agape. It is jealous and it is just. It is what we should strive towards and also where we will find rest.
It’s college football season. For many, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, myself included. No longer will we be forced to find something to do on Saturdays. No longer will we be plagued by preseason speculation and hype. This is a time of new opportunity. To get a fresh start, to take back bragging rights from our rivals, to lose our voices at stadiums across America, to eat more terrible food than is socially acceptable at other times of year. The season is here, and the time to put it in perspective is now.
I was born in Miami, so growing up, I enjoyed the perennial prosperity of the Hurricanes of the 90’s and early 2000’s. After my dad married into a Gator booster family in 2002, I also supported Florida, inheriting a program that would win back-to-back basketball championships in 2006 and 2007, sandwiched by two football titles and including a Heisman Trophy winner in between.
The year before I got to campus at Florida was the year Tim Tebow led the Gators to a dominant regular season, putting up gaudy numbers from start to finish, then holding the high-flying Sooners offense to 14 points in the Orange Bowl to win the 2008 national championship. My freshman year, we bowled over most of our opponents on our way to an undefeated regular season. I thought we were invincible. Then I traveled to Atlanta to watch my boys play Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
We lost that game. Then the following year was just alright, then Urban Meyer left and we hired Will Muschamp and the rest is history. Gentlemen, today’s devo is really simple, but I think pretty much everyone needs to be reminded of it.
College football makes a really bad god.
I experienced a ton of success as a sports fan early on, and I came to expect nothing less. In fact, if I wasn’t a Dolphins fan, I may not have really believed that consistent mediocrity in a sports team that I supported was even possible. That made it really hard to deal with watching my Gators lose five games in a season, then six, then eight, then five again. I watched my idol crumble and it sucked.
Thankfully, it was about the same time I met a man named Chad Gibbs, who was writing his first book, titled “God and Football.” He went to every SEC campus for a weekend to be an observer, attending a football game on Saturday and a church service on Sunday. What he found was that, more than I would care to think is true, the fanaticism on Saturdays dwarfed the devotion on Sundays in southern Christians. Meeting Chad and reading his book helped me put things in perspective a little better, but I still catch myself getting too fired up about a game.
Listen, I know that sports are sports. I can’t remember attending a Florida-Georgia game where I didn’t witness multiple fights on my way out of the stadium. I’ve been in certain student sections that would make Lil Wayne sound like a saint. On Thanksgiving weekend (that’s rivalry weekend for those of you who live under rocks), there’s not a whole lot of unity at football stadiums in America.
But here’s the thing: in the context of our interactions with others, we’re called higher than that. We’re Brothers Under Christ. As brothers, we’re called to unify under Christ no matter what colors we wear. And with the non-believing world, we’re called to give them the love of Jesus, not the hate of a sports rival. Enjoying football season and tactful trash talk is one thing, but distasteful comments and classless behavior are not the mark of a Christian. Pride and slander are still sin from September to January.
I know people with whom it is impossible to talk football because the slightest critique about their team will prompt a disproportionate retaliation. I also know people who become socially lubricated, illogical sycophants as soon as they step into a stadium. Don’t be these guys. Unity is more important. Representing Jesus well is more important, and you can’t hit “pause” on that responsibility on Saturdays in the fall.
Moral of the story: be careful where you place football on your list of priorities. Don’t put your precious mascot on a pedestal. It doesn’t belong there. Football teams will let you down. God will never let you down. He’s the only one who’s truly undefeated.