Excuses, Excuses

Why is it that good habits require constant work to maintain, but bad habits are always ready to go no matter how long they have been controlled? I know several important theological truths guide this discussion, (like the “competition” between depravity and regeneration for my habits) but it still ticks me off that I have such a hard time keeping the bad habits at bay while keeping the helpful ones going.

JabbaToo often I feel like Paul in Romans 7:14-25. I know what I should be doing, and how helpful the discipline is for every area of my life. I know that I need to exercise so I don’t end up looking like Jabba the Hutt.* I mean, my wife loves me and all but there are limits to how much she is willing to put up with!

For me to stay in shape, I need to exercise. I have found out that when I run three days a week or more I keep my weight down, which then helps with my residual back issues from the car wreck I had in 2000. I sleep better, eat better, look better, and have less stress when I run consistently. Sounds like a piece of cake, right? I know what you’re thinking: “JUST GO RUN THEN!”

The problem is how easy it is for me to get out of the habit of running. It seems that something is always standing in the way of me getting out for my jog. For awhile my shins ached after runs, which made me want to quit. It has been, shall we say, a tad on the warm side this summer in Phoenix. I needed new shoes for awhile. My schedule is really tight and I have no time.

I really started thinking about my habits on Thursday, though. I ran Monday, but left the orthotics for my shoes at our kenpo studio Tuesday night. The orthotics have made my shin splints go away, and I do NOT want them to come back. I needed them, so I didn’t run Wednesday. (for the record, I did not leave them there on purpose)

On Thursday morning I got up to go, but really didn’t want to. I had missed Wednesday and was off my stride, so it would have been really, really easy to skip Thursday too. We beat the heat by running at about 6:30AM, and I was really tired Thursday morning and also knew that I would have about 3 hours of kenpo that night.

Thankfully, Laura was up and getting ready for her run. (I think she was going to run 14 miles while quoting Chaucer and correcting school work for the kids…something productive like that anyway) That meant I had to get out. She wouldn’t have said anything, but still we both knew that I needed to get out. I also have something that I am training for, as I am going to run the P.F. Chang’s half-marathon in January. I know that I need to get the miles in before January 17th, or I will fail with a whole bunch of people watching on.

So despite my laziness telling me to go back to bed, I hit the road.

4.2 miles later I felt great. I was right back on my game, to the point that I am planning a 7-miler for tomorrow. All it took was the resolve to get out for my run—even though I wasn’t going to run all the miles this week I wanted—for me to overcome the laziness and get back on track.

I realized then that I had been doing something similar spiritually too. My schedule got whacked out when we went on our cruise in May, which knocked me off of my routine of daily devotions. I had just been using my sermon preparation time as my time for Bible reading this summer.

The habits of personal devotion and sermon prep overlap, but coming to God’s Word to prepare to feed others is not quite the same as feeding myself. Think of it as the difference between cooking yourself dinner and catering a meal for a group and you get my point. When I cook for a huge group I get tastes and samples, but I don’t get to eat like I do when I cook for myself.

So I dug back in and regained my passion for devotions. I read Obadiah, and now I am 4 chapters through Micah.** All it took was a couple of days, and I am back on my stride! It’s in my schedule, on my radar, and once again filling my soul. I can really feel the difference in my attitude and in my outlook.

Laura and I have noticed the same pattern in our prayer lives. When we pray together as a couple we do much better. When we don’t is is SO easy to keep putting it off, but our marriage is so much better when we make the time for the good habits we need. Just a few minutes talking in the morning and then praying for one another makes a humongous difference in the way we relate.

Small decisions matter; when we make small decision to cut corners, it never ends well. It is the cumulative effect of the small decisions and little habits of our lives that make or break so much.

6 Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise,
7 Which, having no chief, Officer or ruler,
8 Prepares her food in the summer And gathers her provision in the harvest.
9 How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?
10 “A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to rest”—
11 Your poverty will come in like a vagabond And your need like an armed man. (Proverbs 6:6-11)

Make some good habits this week. Begin something new or reestablish something you used to make a priority that is important to your life. Rekindle the closeness in your marriage by praying over your spouse and listening to their heart; pick up the Bible that only gets brought to church on Sundays and read it a little. Put the Twinkie down! 🙂

It takes effort to make good habits, but the alternative is not pretty. Sure it is easy to see when we are not taking care of ourselves physically, but how many of us look like Jabba spiritually or relationally? Have you ever met someone who “let themselves go” in their spiritual life, complacent and apathetic because they got out of the habits that built them up? If you take an honest look, is that you?

Maybe you can’t run a marathon today (I sure can’t), but you can make a healthy decision to take a stroll. You can’t reverse years of talking badly to your kids instantly, but you can restrain your tongue tonight. You might not be able to rekindle the passion for God that you once had in a single reading, but come to your senses like the lost son in Luke 15:17 and “head for home” with some prayer, Bible reading, and heading to church this week with a new attitude.

Sure you have excuses and reasons why you can’t. As my old tennis coach used to say, “An excuse is the skin of reason stuffed with a lie.” See it for what it is and overcome it. Don’t let the laziness and the excuses win.

*Yes, kids, there are Star Wars nerds so gigantic that they have made their own wiki, and that wiki is ridiculously detailed with back-story and character analysis of the most obscure Star Wars related stuff you can imagine. You can’t make this stuff up!

**The New Testament is my specialty. I haven’t been in the Hebrew Scriptures for awhile, so I thought it was the place to go.

I’m All Grown Up!

True joy in life is a precious commodity. While we can’t always define exactly how to find it*, it’s easy to see when it’s there.

Abby, our baby, had her fourth birthday on Monday. We had a great time Monday evening at every 4-year old’s favorite restaurant, Chuck E. Cheese. Grandma came and we had pizza and cake. The kids spent tokens furiously and considered spending their tickets like an investor looking through Wall Street’s offerings.

“Chez Cheese” wasn’t the highlight of Abby turning four, though. For months she has been looking forward to being four so she can join the rest of the family and study kenpo. Our whole family trains at Attitude First Training Center; James and I have earned our blue belts,** Elizabeth is an orange belt, Sarah has a yellow belt, and Laura takes an exercise fitness class. However, our instructor’s rule is that kids must be four years old to train.

Lawrence promised Abby that for her birthday she would get a private lesson from him. She talked and talked about being four so Mr. Robinson could give her a karate lesson! Then on Sunday the anticipation built even more, when Lawrence brought Abby a birthday gift and gave it to her at church: her new uniform and white belt!

On Tuesday afternoon she came for her time with Lawrence, and the big day was here! Like you might expect from a four year old, she was bouncing off the walls a little waiting for her lesson. Laura and I were both thinking that she might get there and “clam up,” but it never happened. She did excellently. Not only that, she taught me a lesson or two about my relationship with God.

It was a lot of fun to watch Abby interact with Lawrence. She has watched her older siblings train her whole life, so this was her turn to get in the game! She made it through her whole private lesson and then 40 more minutes of a group class for kids. That is not bad for a 4 year old kiddo!

I learned a lot of lessons watching Abby and Lawrence on Tuesday.*** Seeing Abby’s joy at being “big” and getting to come to kenpo class really made me think about how I treat life in many areas.

First of all, I think I learned not to underestimate people. I was a little concerned that Abby would feel a lot of pressure with her brother and sisters watching her because they have taken kenpo for awhile. I was concerned that she would be distracted by the other students training. However, I held my tongue because I didn’t want to ruin her time with a bunch of rules, and I didn’t want to issue any self-fulfilling prophecies. So what happened? None of my fears materialized; Abby had a great time and concentrated incredibly well. Too many times I think I try to make sure that people are “prepared for the worst” when I should let them experience life with joy and stay close to help if problems do arise.

Secondly, Lawrence has an amazing ability to bring himself to the level of his student. Abby remembered 3 or 4 important concepts from that very first lesson because he brought them to her in a way that she could get. For instance, in kenpo we present our salute with an open left hand to represent our knowledge and a closed right fist to represent our strength. To Abby, her salute means “be smart” and “be strong.” He got on his knees, looked her in the eyes, and showed her what to do. How often do I overcomplicate the issues of life, when in reality I need to simplify and make them understandable for people? How much does God take large and complicated things and make them simple for me? (like His sovereignty for instance. I wonder how He can maintain control over the universe while allowing creatures to make free choices. His answer? “I’m in charge. I am all powerful. I can do it, so don’t sweat it.”)

Lawrence applauded Abby’s success and made her lesson a lot of fun! If he had made it overly strict or complicated she would not have had fun, and would not want to come back. Instead he laughed with her, reinforced her success, applauded her, and taught her something. She wants to train because now kenpo is associated with being “big” and with fun. I think that God does the same with us, helping us “grow up” in our walk while still making life fun. The people I see who become apathetic about their walk with Christ lose the joy first. Christianity becomes a set of rules instead of a grand adventure with God; the joy leaves, it becomes a drag, and they give up. I need to look for fun in my walk with God and see my discipleship with new eyes again.

The fun of our training center is also really reflective of a good Christian walk, too. It is not chaos. We have customs and traditions and rules. we wear uniforms, have rank, and do things a certain way. However, it is not so structured as to be restrictive! Christianity has an external standard of thought and behavior too, but that standard is not so rigid as to be confining. It is more about growing in relationship with God than with following a set of rules, though we have standards and expectations. Abby had fun learning from Lawrence and growing in her ability to participate in kenpo. I want to have fun learning from God and growing in my ability to participate in the kingdom of God.

Thanks, Abby Ann, for showing me God in your wonderful attitude for life. Thanks for reminding me about having fun and being joyful. Thanks for making me want to rediscover the joy of being “big.” Thanks for reminding me that as much as you want to grow up, in many ways I need to become like you more than you need to become like me.

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;”

(Matthew 18:2-5)

*For zealous theologians whose answer to the question of how to find joy is to live for Christ, I offer congratulations on a correct answer and a caution. Remember that sometimes loving God and honoring Him is incredibly painful and lonely. I imagine the OT prophets never experienced “their best life now.” Job had a pretty rough road. Paul, while joyful, had heartache galore. This is another post.
**In American Kenpo the rank structure is white-yellow-orange-purple-blue-green-brown-black. I have been studying for three and a half years and I am a fairly fast learner. Belts are not given away at AFTC by any stretch of the imagination.
***I am a “mentor” at AFTC, so I was training another student while Abby had her lesson. I got to sneak some looks though! I also help with the kids group classes, so I helped her a lot then.

Which is more important?

What is more significant to a meaningful Christian life, doctrine or relationships? Which is more important to our growth as Christians and our ability to live for God?

Christian culture is struggling a little bit right now. There is a movement afoot known as the emergent church movement. That movement is much more interested in community than it is in doctrine. The central focus is on living lives in community and participating in the community of faith; they are very attracted to the life of Jesus in the gospels and in the narrative of the story. They are immensely dissatisfied with the lifestyle of the established church, and see the church as not being God’s agent in the world effectively.

This movement has been widely critiqued in more conservative evangelical Christian circles. The main critique has nothing to do with the practice of the emergent church or their focus on community. Instead, detractors see within the movement serious doctrinal issues that compromise the message. They have sounded the warning that this movement has placed experience ahead of truth. This compromise, opponents say, changes the message and compromises the truth of God, which leads to nothing but heresy and judgment.

This debate came home to roost in my life on Sunday morning. In case you missed it, the dad I adopted as an adult died on Saturday. I did okay with it on Saturday afternoon (or perhaps I needed to hold it together to attend a wedding reception and make plans to go see mom…), but Sunday morning I woke up very sad. The reality hit me that dad was gone, and I was a mess.

Bear with me on this one. I am going somewhere.

The debate between traditional and emergent church movements is whether doctrine or community is more important. In other words, is truth more important than community, or is the community of saints a higher mandate than doctrine? Which is more important to help people live authentic, biblical Christian lives? (I am assuming that leaders in both camps seek to help people know Christ, grow in Him, and serve Him) Do people need a theological education more, or do they need a faith community where they can serve God and experience Him more?

I wondered the same in my grieving this weekend. Some Christians believe that understanding God’s truth is the most important aspect of dealing with death. Dad knew Christ; Saturday was the best day he ever had. We rest in the truth that God welcomed dad with open arms and brought him home. Some even go so far as to say that not resting in that truth (perhaps in the form of excessive grief) evidences a lack of trust in God.

Others think that the grief is paramount, and the only way to process the loss of a loved one is to have other loved ones there to grieve with you. Recognizing that you are not alone and having others there to grieve with you and support you in your loss are key.

(Okay, here is where I might get in trouble…)

The reality I experienced this weekend was that neither was enough on its own.

I preached from Luke 10 this Sunday, and when I came to Luke 10:20 I talked about resting in the truth of God that dad’s name was written in the book of life. Without that truth, dad’s loss was permanent. If there is no future for him with Christ, then I don’t know what I would think. Knowing the truth of eternal life for all who know Jesus Christ has been so amazingly critical in my grieving. I have hope, knowing that dad isn’t gone forever. I will see him again, whole and complete in heaven. Without that I would have been in despair.

Then again, I cried several times as I preached. The truth alone did not comfort me in my loss, as much as I knew it to be true. I know that material backward and forward, and am completely committed to the truth of John 3:16. All who trust Christ have eternal life; of this I am sure. Even so, I was so sad on Sunday. The truth was important, but my emotions were still raw and my pain real.

Community was just as important as truth. Our good friends (who brought us to our church) who are church-shopping came to WG this Sunday to be there with us and give us comfort. All morning friends who knew what had happened came and gave me hugs. They spoke love into my life and wept with me, like Romans 12:15 tells us to. My good friend Ryan came forward during the final song of our worship service on Sunday and prayed with me. Then he asked the church to come and pray over our family. Kara opened the gates of heaven with her prayer as my whole family in Christ laid hands on Laura and Elizabeth and me in prayer.

It was immensely comforting to have that community that was rooted in the truth of God and praying over us knowing that dad was at home. It was amazing to have so many people ask if they could help us. Friends called to offer condolences. That was as important as anything else, helping me cry some, and talk about dad, and hurt in a safe place.

So the debate, in my experience, is misplaced. Doctrine is incredibly significant. So is community. Doctrine without community is cold, dead creedalism. Community without truth gives no lasting hope and has no answers that can help. Only together did I find true solace. The word of God, the Spirit of God, and the people of God all worked together to help me sort through my heart and mind this week.

That is why I am committed to knowing God’s truth and living my life in a community that does the same and lifts one another up. I exist to know Jesus Christ, to grow in Him, to serve Him, and to help others do the same. Truth in community. That’s what we see in the first church in Acts 2:42, with their focus on the teaching of the Apostles and to community life in fellowship.

I would love your thoughts. How do you experience grief, and what do you find most important? Is truth more significant to you or community?

A Tribute to an amazing mentor and friend

Yesterday, a dear man left my life. Dr. F. Olden Pittman left this world and was welcomed into glory, “absent from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8). His death leaves a very, very big hole in my life, one that I think shows why biblical mentorship is so vital in our lives.

Allow me to walk you down the path of my life with him.

Laura and I were church-shopping when we moved to San Diego and visited a megachurch in Santee. It was full of friendly people, and we saw on their bulletin that they had a Sunday School class on parenting. We had two little ones (3 and 6 months at the time) and decided to attend.

The leader of that class was an elder in the church. Everyone called him Dr. Pittman, and I found out that he was a chiropractor. I was still hurting from a car wreck I had experienced in January, and his parenting class was very, very good. So I made an appointment to have my bones cracked. We enjoyed the class and he was very open and friendly to us.

While in the appointment we talked about church and got to know each other a little. We talked about parenting and I asked him for some advice on how to grow in my walk with Christ. He was very personable and open, and gave me some resources to get me started and pointed me in the right direction. I got those resources (a ministry that offered books and taped sermons at no charge) and started reading and listening and talking with Dr. Pittman about them during our appointments. How soon his wonderful wife would be banging on the door of the exam room to say that he had other patients waiting!

The real eye-opener was during a Saturday morning men’s breakfast the church put on. His son Micah came in and asked me if I had seen his dad. I pointed Dr. Pittman out, and Micah made a beeline for his dad. In this room full of men, Micah went to his dad and gave him a big kiss on the cheek, a hug, and asked him if he needed a cup of coffee. When I saw how this grown man loved and respected his dad, I knew that I wanted to get to know him better. I wanted a relationship with my son like he had with his. I wanted to know what he knew and decided to get closer to him to become a better man, husband, and father.

I never asked him to be my mentor. I just asked him for advice and direction, listened and applied, and came back for more. He started a weeknight Bible study and I attended. I started helping him with data entry at his office to thank him for his chiropractic care, and we spent a lot of time talking doctrine and how it made a difference in daily life. He was an elder in a large church, a businessman, a great parent, and had a wonderful outlook on life. I respected him very much.

After awhile I felt the need to find a title that appropriately showed the respect that I had for him. Everyone called him “Dr. Pittman;” I needed something to show him more respect than that. I racked my brain, and then one day I asked him if I could call him “dad.” He laughed and said that he would like that very much. From that time on he was dad and his wife was mom; to the kids they were grandfather and grandmother. I heard him joke with the butcher one day while we were picking up some pork he had butchered that I was his son, “as one untimely born.” (a joking reference to 1 Cor 15:8 and immensely flattering to me)

We continued to see each other three times a week for chiropractic care and mentorship, and on Sundays for church. He helped me learn how to parent, how to love my wife, and most importantly how to study the Bible for all it is worth. He instilled in me a love for the word of God and for the original languages of Scripture. He taught me to think critically and deeply about doctrine and to be passionate about Christ.

When the Navy was about to give me the heave-ho for my back, I planned to start a business to support my family. Dad was the one who, in the most significant interaction we ever had, told me that he thought I had the gift of pastoring and teaching. He said that I should go to seminary and become a pastor and teacher. I didn’t think it would fly with Laura, but all he had to do was say the word and she was on board. It was at his urging that I enrolled in seminary and we moved to Phoenix to pursue education and becoming a professional servant of Christ.

Oh how I remember the talks we had on the way home from my classes. I would call him at 11PM and recount what we had talked about in lecture, and we would bat the ideas back and forth. He was always so interested! He would ask questions and we would talk for the whole ride home, then offer his love to Laura and the kids. Whether the topic was atonement or bills, my marriage or my view on Phoebe in Romans 16:2 he was always there with a helpful question or sage advice. Whenever we were in San Diego he would make time for lunch at the Marie Callender’s next to his office so we could catch up. He listened to James talk about kenpo and lavished affection on all of the kids. He had a special affection for Laura and always gave her a huge hug when we were together.

When I graduated from seminary, he drove 6 hours one way to see me receive my degree. Then he had to drive 6 hours back home to make his appointments the next day. I was so amazed that he would do that; it spoke love to me so loudly that he would be there.

When I co-wrote a book on the nature of faith, I dedicated it to him and the influence he had on my life.

In the last two years or so, we had not been able to keep up much. I was frustrated about that; I wanted his time still. I would text and call, leave him voicemail when it wasn’t full. (he was notorious for not checking his voicemail) We would catch up occasionally, and he was so proud when I would call and tell him I got a new belt in kenpo. (he had a 5th degree black belt that he seldom talked about) He would occasionally text me back and tell me that he loved me and that he prayed for Laura and the kids and me every day.

I think I see now what he was doing. I think the most important and difficult decision that any mentor ever makes is the recognition that they have done all for a protege that they could. I think that he knew that he had helped so much and in so many ways that all he could do was love me, pray for me, and get out of my way as God led me in life. He saw my other mentors helping me and probably realized that his schedule was way too packed to continue a close mentoring relationship. So he gracefully and quietly let me grow as a man and kept praying for me.

What a fantastic impact he has had on me. What a great picture of biblical mentorship. He accepted me where I was, faults and all, and helped me grow into who I am. He sowed time, effort, and love into me without ever receiving in return. He never offered me a crutch, but always offered a sounding board and a few questions to get me on the right track. And when he had done all he could do, he loved me enough to let me continue to grow outside of his shadow. That is the heart of a biblical mentor.

I miss my dad. There is probably no one who has done more to shape my love for God than him. He welcomed me with open arms into his life, and for that I am beyond grateful. He now has eternity with the Lord he spent so much of his life focused on and serving, and I would be willing to bet that he has been busy tracking down the Apostle Paul to ask him why he chose to use a verb tense in Ephesians 3 or something.*

I now see the impact all the more clearly of what the author of Hebrews wrote in Hebrews 12:1-2:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…

I can see dad in the stands now, cheering me on in my race. Because he stands in that crowd, I must set aside anything that holds me back and run with endurance. I can’t keep my eyes on dad, though. If I look at the crowd I will stumble and fall. He would want nothing more than for me to keep my eyes on Jesus and run with everything I have.

He has sown so much into me, that it is now my race to run. One day, somehow, I hope that I can pass the baton to capable men who will think a tenth of me what I think of dad. I will run my race with endurance, dad, and see you when my work is done.

There are precious few people in each of our lives who have such a profound influence. None of us are guaranteed today or tomorrow, so take the time to pursue those mentoring relationships for all they are worth. Take the baton they offer and run your race with endurance.

*Do you wonder if Paul and Peter and Moses and other famous biblical figures need publicists in heaven? I wonder if they can welcome everyone who has questions and wants to meet them in person, or if they have someone whose reward in heaven is to act as their executive assistant and keep their schedule. “Apostle Paul’s office, Steve speaking. Why hello! Yes, we are excited that you’re here too. Sure, Paul would love to talk to you. His earliest appointment is in 10 months, but you’ll have so much to see and do between now and then that it will go by fast. Okay, you’re in his schedule!”

Redemption

On Thursday Michael Vick signed a 2-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. The first year will pay him $1.6 million and the second, if the Eagles keep him, pays $5.2M. The Eagles already have an all-pro quarterback in Donovan McNabb, but the addition of Vick makes the Eagles a very, very potent offensive football team. If you’re a football fan, the thought of McNabb, Vick, and Brian Westbrook in the backfield all together is crazy to think about.

Signing a free agent during the pre-season would normally be no big deal. You’re perhaps reading this and wondering why I am even writing a post about football! This particular free agent acquisition is one of great interest, though, because of the moral and ethical dimension to the signing that has caused a lot of controversy.

For anyone who has had their head buried in the sand for the last two plus years, Vick just finished a 23-month sentence in federal prison for running a dog fighting operation. He was released a month or so ago, and after a good bit of intrigue in football circles landed in Philadelphia. There will be people protesting the presence of Vick at Eagles training camp, and he will hear from the crowd in every game he plays in the NFL.

The question is the moral and ethical side of the signing. Vick is absolutely an asset on the field, being a 3-time Pro Bowl selection. However, some feel that having him back in the league lets him off the hook and implies that what he did was okay. There are many who believe that the NFL is shameful for letting him once again be a role model for kids after what he did. Playing in the NFL is a privilege not a right, and no one should be given a chance to make that kind of money and have that kind of celebrity after behaving so heinously.

Really?

There is no question that Vick participated in some horrible abuse of animals, and that the dogs in question were helpless victims deserving of protection and not exploitation. In Genesis 1 and 2 Adam is given the responsibility to care for creation, not abuse it, so this sort of thing should be viewed as intolerable. There is no excuse for what he did, and Vick has done nothing but admit his guilt.

But let’s put this in perspective. Another NFL player just killed a man while driving drunk. Dante Stallworth served 24 DAYS in jail (he pled guilty to DUI manslaughter) and will be suspended for the 2009 season. So for killing a person (and please, no arguments that it was not purposeful; drinking and driving is purposeful) a 24 day sentence and a year without pay is appropriate, while killing dogs is a heinous crime worthy of a 2-year sentence and then banishment for life? I don’t get it. Stallworth is already a kajillionaire; he will be just fine without the paycheck. His Bentley is wrecked (yeah, he was driving his Bentley), but it will get fixed. He settled out of court with the family, so everything is behind him and he gets to watch this season on his HDTV and be in excellent shape next year.

There is another dimension to this as well; it is a theological issue. Vick has done his time, none of it in “Club Fed.” (He spent time in Leavenworth…) He has been released from prison and forced to pay restitution in large amounts. The federal government determined an appropriate punishment, and he has paid that punishment. The path for him to pay his debts is through the skills he can market in the NFL.

He has apologized and seemed genuinely remorseful for his behavior; maybe sitting and thinking of all that his actions cost him has given him perspective. Sure, it could all be a careful facade maintained by a good PR firm, but it seems that he is genuine. Though we cannot tell for sure, there is always the chance at redemption. We must never get so jaded that we aren’t willing to give someone a second chance.

I think that this attitude seeps into our lives as Christians far too often. We don’t want to offer forgiveness. We want to hold it against someone when they sin and make them really prove that they are sorry by relegating them to second-class status. Christians who fall prey to sexual temptation and all that goes with it, to greed, to lust, to envy, to a host of public sins are seldom offered forgiveness. What would happen if a deacon’s wife in your church stood up and confessed an abortion in her past? Would the church rally to her, or shun her? What if a leader confessed a serious gambling problem or a pornography addiction? Would we seek forgiveness, healing, and restoration or justice?

We talk about the grace of God and forgiveness, but if we hold onto it so tightly with others can we really say that we understand it truly?

In 1 John 1:9 we are told that when we confess our sin God will forgive it. In Galatians 2:11-13 we read of Peter sinning and leading others astray; this same man, after restoration, wrote two books in the New Testament and was one of the most important figures in Christianity. In Acts 15:37-39 John Mark abandoned Paul, yet in 2 Timothy 4:11 Paul requests Mark’s presence. Paul forgave him at some point and gave him another chance to serve with him.

In Exodus 2:12 Moses murders a man. Yet in Exodus 3 that murderer is the man (after a long time away from home) God uses to free His people. In 2 Samuel 11 David commits the sins of adultery, plotting, lying, and murder. Yet God still, after David’s repentance (read Psalm 51 and see also 2 Samuel 12:13), restored him and used him in a great way.

I can see the same in my own life. I had no redeeming qualities that would make God want to use me. I had nothing but sin and depravity (Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) to offer God. And yet, with all of my sin, Jesus Christ died for me. (Romans 5:8) He owed me nothing, and had every reason to hold my sin against me. And yet because of His great love He redeemed me.

I look at my redemption before God, and I pray that Michael Vick has found the same. I pray as well that we would find it in ourselves to offer the grace of God that we have been given to the people in our lives who sin, even in big ways. With repentance comes restoration and redemption, no matter how we view the sin committed.

So this season, I will be rooting for Michael Vick. I hope he is able to recapture some of the magic that he brought to the NFL. More than that, I hope he uses this second chance to right the wrongs and tell the world that with repentance, restoration can occur. Show us all, Mike, that we can overcome our past and turn our lives around.