“The Blessed Depressed Man” (Psalm 6, sermon audio)

This past Sunday I was invited to fill in for Pastor Josh Hutchens and to preach at his church in Buffalo, Kentucky, Mt. Tabor Baptist Church.

As I’ve gotten opportunity to preach over the last year or so, I’m making my way through the Book of Psalms. And Psalm 6 was next in line. The experience of preparing and delivering this psalm was massively healing for me. I hope my message can be encouraging and instructive, but I also hope it will help my hearers appreciate and identify with the sufferings of Jesus. For as one commentator said, “We perceive the pathos of Psalm 6 most clearly when it is read in the context of the Passion.”

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger,
nor discipline me in your wrath.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing;
heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled.
But you, O Lord—how long?
Turn, O Lord, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.
For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes.
Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of my weeping.
The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment.

“Prayer and Painful Relationships” (Psalm 4, sermon audio)

Below  is another sermon from the psalms that I preached at First Baptist Church, Washington, Michigan. This sermon was remarkably instructive and comforting for me. I find myself recollecting and re-meditating on insights I gathered from my time with this psalm.

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
    You have given me relief when I was in distress.
    Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
    How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
    the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin;
    ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent.Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
    and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
    Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put more joy in my heart
    than they have when their grain and wine abound.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
    for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.

“Contending for the Kingdom through Prayer” (Psalm 5, sermon audio)

On the first Sunday of the new year, I had the opportunity to preach Psalm 5 at First Baptist Church, Washington, Michigan. This psalm was the first one I’ve preached that might be called an imprecatory psalm. This type of psalm is one in which the words of the prayer include requests that the wicked be damned. The text of the psalm and the sermon audio are below.

To the choirmaster: for the flutes. A Psalm of David.

Give ear to my words, O Lord;
consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
my King and my God,
for to you do I pray.
O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you[a] and watch.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
in the fear of you.
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness
because of my enemies;
make your way straight before me.

For there is no truth in their mouth;
their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
they flatter with their tongue.
Make them bear their guilt, O God;
let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
for they have rebelled against you.

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield.

The First Scrooge

This is an Advent meditation I wrote at the invitation of Dan Dumas. It was originally posted on his blog earlier today.

———————–

“A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!”

“Bah! Humbug!”

“Christmas a humbug, uncle! You don’t mean that, I am sure?”

“I do. Merry Christmas? What right have you to be merry? What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”

These words are taken from the opening dialogue in Charles Dickens’ classic tale, A Christmas Carol. From the beginning, the story’s main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is depicted as a man who loathes Christmas. For Scrooge the holiday brings about a torrent of inconveniences. His employees want the day off; local charities want his money; and the cheerful spirit of the season only annoys him. So Scrooge concludes the dialogue with his nephew, “If I could work my will, then every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.”

Dickens’ indignant and heartless character seems to be contrary to everything we associate with Christmas. However, the first Advent included its own Scrooge figure. Matthew writes of him in his Gospel:

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this he was troubled…”

So the wise men are eager and aggressive in their efforts to seek out the new born king and to worship him. But King Herod responds to the report of a new king with Scrooge-like resentment. Herod is troubled; he’s annoyed; he’s bothered. Why? Because Herod the king knows that a new born king of the Jews means that his own kingdom has been invaded. The Advent of a new king means the expulsion of the old king. Herod loathes Christmas.

The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of me

The Advent dilemma that faced Herod is the same one that faces us today, every day. Will we joyously pursue the reign of Christ over our lives, as did the wise men? Or will we selfishly resist God’s heavenly invasion into our world, as did Herod? To embrace the kingdom of heaven is to repudiate the kingdom of me. To embrace the coming Christ is to crucify the autonomous self. Herod knew this. Herod hated this. And his lust for self-rule evolved from being troubled (Matthew 2:3), to being deceptive (2:7), to being murderous (2:16), as Herod slaughtered countless children in his hunt for the new born king. Herod proves to us that stiff-arming the reign of King Jesus is not without its ramifications. The kingdom of me comes undone through our humble submission before Christ’s throne, or it unravels in the moral, spiritual, and social decay that follows our rebellion.

Ebeneezer Scrooge learned this same lesson. By witnessing the sorry life he’d lived (the ghost of Christmas past), the pain he was causing others (the ghost of Christmas present), and his sad death to come (the ghost of Christmas future), Scrooge at last yielded to the spirit of Christmas and opened his heart in love to those around him. Scrooge was finally able to let go of control, especially over his money. He was finally able to give up his rights, specifically over his employees. And this led to a kind of prosperity Scrooge had never known when he sat selfishly on the throne of his life. Scrooge’s happy-ending experience is captured in Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

So how do you respond when you think about the new born king invading your life, your world? Are you troubled along with Herod? This Christmas I encourage you to meditate on the disastrous path of self-rule. And contemplate the true blessedness that comes from joyful worship that puts Jesus at the center of your life. Ask yourself, How am I resisting God’s rule in my life? Where are selfish attitudes and actions showing up? What is my joy-level like when it comes to laying down my rights for the sake of others?

In coming before our King with honesty and humility about our lust for control, there is forgiveness and freedom. May this Christmas season be one of joining the wise men in self-abandonment and rabid seeking after the kingdom of Christ.

Charles Job Eldridge – October 16, 2015

Eldridgehighresprints-46“What a gift.” This was my repeated thought over the first several hours after our son, Charles Job Eldridge, was born.  The whole time we were in the hospital I had a profound sense of being undeserving of such a delightful and precious grace. What a joy to have a son. How humbling to be a father.

As I did for William, I want to honor Charlie and recount why his mother and I named him the way we did.

As the story goes, I have a great-, great-grandfather named Newton Napoleon Eldridge. Not surprisingly, this name wasn’t super-popular with Newt’s childhood friends, and they changed it for him. For an unknown reason, the nickname chosen for him was “Charlie.” And when Charlie became an old man, he was fondly known as “Papa (pronounced more like “pap-uh”)  Charlie”.

Me, my granddad, and my dad on my wedding day

Me, my granddad, and my dad on my wedding day

Well, eventually Papa Charlie’s son named his son Charles after his dad’s nickname.  This Charles is my grandfather pictured in the middle to the right.

My Granddaddy was very dear to me. In him I saw a man of strength, wisdom, tenderness, and humor. As a young boy we had a world of fun on his western Kentucky farm, driving his truck, fishing for catfish, pulling weeds, herding cattle, growing vegetables and fruit, trapping raccoons,  neutering calves, riding his pony, harvesting honey, visiting the Mammoth Cave, watching basketball games, holding his hand on a long walk,  and singing songs around a campfire. My mind is graciously filled with happy memories with Charles Leroy Eldridge. In the strength of his embrace, the sincerity of his love, and the beauty of his farm, I tasted heaven.

Me, Charlie, and

Me, Charlie, and “E”

After Charles Leroy came my dad, Charles Edward Eldridge. I will probably never know how much my dad has shaped me. His affection through his hugs, kisses, and words of love meant everything to me as a young boy. And I’m still amazed at how much encouragement I can draw from his simple words of affirmation and assurance. Like many little boys, I had these superlative judgments about my father. He is a pediatrician and would often take us with him to the hospital when he “made rounds on Saturday morning. I remember visiting the hospital nursery with him when I was seven or eight years old, and I noticed how he moved so deftly, so intelligently within this massive building, caring for these vulnerable patients. The nurses loved and respected him. His patients listened to and appreciated him. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “my dad is the greatest.”

So for these reasons and more, I am glad to have named my new son Charles.

Now what about Job? The name Job has gotten an interesting and varied response. Several times Meg and I have gotten a “Job? Hmmm… That’s…nice,” kind of response. But, no worries. We were sort of expecting that. Job, after all, is a rare name for our context. And Job, the character in the Bible, has a mixed legacy: “Didn’t he suffer a lot?” “Wasn’t he real angry at God?”

job

A painting of Job by a Hungarian artist named Gyula Kardos

Since Charlie was conceived, Meg and I have faced varied difficulties and disappointments. One painful trial seemed to follow on the heels of another, trials relating to work, relationships, personal struggles, and unrealized dreams. Despair, sadness, shame, guilt, confusion, anger, contempt, regret, and envy have been achingly common over these months that Meg has carried Charlie.

So we were struck when we stumbled across several sermons on the book of Job starting in the month of August. This series of sermons is titled, “Walking with God When Life Goes Sideways.” And the crux of the sermons, much like the crux of the book of Job, is the mystery of suffering and God’s faithfulness to us in our suffering.  In light of our own pain, Meg and I meditated on God’s profound dealings with Job and Job’s rawness in relating with God. And in doing so we were drawn to name our son after the man from the land of Uz.

Muse on some of these lines from Job’s story:

After losing his wealth and his children, Job utters, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of Yahweh.” (Job 1:21)

Next Job loses his health, and his wife says to him, “‘Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.’ But Job said to her, ‘You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:9-10)

After expressing the grief in his heart (especially in chapter 3), and after facing some unhelpful counsel from his friends, Job hangs on to hope in this well known line, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.” (Job 19:25)

And finally after so many chapters of silence, God speaks to Job, “Then Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.  Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.'” (Job 38:1-4)

And after Yahweh’s humbling words, “Then Job answered Yahweh and said: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.'” (Job 42:1-3, 6)

“And Yahweh restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And Yahweh  gave Job twice as much as he had before…And Job died, an old man, and full of days.” (Job 42:10, 17)

This is barely a sampling of God’s intimate and powerful dealings with his servant Job. But these words are testimony to God’s wisdom and faithfulness in Job’s suffering, and they are testimony to Job’s enduring faith through unimaginable loss. Meg and I long for our son to relate to God with Job-like vulnerability and trust.

Another wonderful line from Job’s book is chapter 13, verse 15: “Though he slay me, I will hope in him.” A few years ago, a group called Shane and Shane released this song, which is, in part, a meditation on this verse. May Charlie hope in the Lord as did his namesake.

Why do we love sports? pt. 3 – “Mission”

“What are you going to do after high school?”

Spending quite a bit of time with high schoolers over the last five years, I am used to hearing this question asked of them. And I often ask it to them myself. “What’s next for you?” “What’s your plan?” “What do you want to do?”

Implicit within these questions is the correct assumption that these young people (and all people for that matter) are meant for mission. That is, we’re meant to give our lives to a cause. We were made to labor with our minds and strength for the sake of accomplishment.

Missional activity can take place in mathematics, chemistry, law, medicine, military service, commerce, design, and countless other ways. Humans apply our intellect and our force in order to calculate, formulate, heal, strategize, make deals, create, and any other number of verbs that signify actions toward accomplishing our mission. We were made for such creation-subduing work. Laziness is contrary to our deepest instincts.

And this is another important reason why I think humans love sports so much. Sports provide yet another opportunity for us to satisfy our urge for mission.  Sports teams give us a cause to commit to. Scouting, recruiting, player development, conditioning, practicing, strategizing, and finally the game itself all provide the requisite context for missional fulfillment. Strategies are executed; bodies are trained; minds are sharpened; difficulties are overcome; opponents are outmatched; ground is gained; buckets are made; runs are scored; mission accomplished.

This appetite for mission is precisely the way Scripture speaks about human nature. In the beginning, “Yahweh God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The man and woman’s mission was to “exercise dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). So our desire to do something, to join a cause, to carry out a mission is seared into our souls’ memory, and sports gives us the chance to do this.

Also, Jesus himself came on mission. He came to earth for a cause. Consider these texts:

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

“Jesus said, ‘I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.'” (Luke 4:43)

Jesus’ mission was to do the will of his Father (John 6:38), preaching the gospel and giving up his life for the sake of his people. Jesus had the most important mission in history, to redeem God’s fallen creation through his death and resurrection.

And before he ascended, Jesus sent his disciples on mission:

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 2o:21)

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

These texts are often referred to as “the Great Commission”. This is the Mission of missions. Whether we’re a sports coach, housewife, or scientist, taking dominion over our respective spheres of creation, Christians must also be engaged in the Great Commission.

So the next time you work for the advancement of your team’s mission, whether through cheering or playing, remember the Lord who designed us and calls us for missional impact. And recall that our urge to be on mission is most truly fulfilled when done for God’s glory and Christ’s commission to make disciples.

Why do we love sports? pt. 2 – “Communion”

Last week I began recording some of my thoughts on why people love sports. This is the second of what I plan on being a total of three posts.


The Blues Brothers may be an odd introduction on a post about sports, but the message in this song captures the thrust of this post. Everybody needs somebody to love. Humans connect with other humans. We’re relational to the core. Loneliness is not a virtue. And separation ( whether it’s divorce, bitterness, lawsuits, fights, break-ups, parting ways, etc.) are painful realities. So we long for communion, deep,  steady, satisfying, authentic, passionate communion.

And sports, whether as a player or a fan, provides context for this kind of connection with others.

Coaches

Attaching to an authority figure(s) is crucial for life to thrive. And in sports, athletes have the opportunity to relate through submission to a coach. The team follows his guidance, listens to his direction, and looks up to him as their leader. I’ve heard many players say that they felt closer to their coaches than they did their own parents. And I myself can resonate with a sincere, deep-seated loyalty to my coaches. I loved having their strong, experienced, and wise presence in my life. Coaches can provide a steadiness and a sense of order for their team.  This relationship, this communion between athlete and coach is a huge part of what makes so many love to give themselves to the game.

Teammates

As one example of the powerful relationship between teammates, think of the intimate ways they often touch each other. Baseball players slap each other on the rear end after a great hit. Football team captains walk to the center of the field for the coin toss holding hands. Rough and tough hockey players hug each other after a victory. If we saw these people touching one another like this outside of the sports arena, we’d think they were lovers. But it’s deemed appropriate on the sport’s field because they do love each other. They are communing together with such profundity that they shamelessly touch one another’s bodies in otherwise inappropriate ways.

When I think back on my time spent with teammates, tears can come to my eyes. Even if just for a short few years, I related with these men in potent ways. We relied on one another. We rebuked one another. We encouraged one another. We fought together. We cried together. We celebrated together.  We saw each other in our weakest moments and in our strongest moments. So we could scarcely help from calling one another “brothers” and “family”. Where else does someone find this type of community?

Fans

“The Big Blue Nation”, “The Bama Nation”, “The Auburn Family”: These are just a few of the fan bases that have named themselves in such a way that indicates their communion. But all fan bases are such. Fans share a common language, especially shibboleths like War Eagle, Roll Tide, Gig ’em Aggies, etc. “Who says this kind of stuff? What do they mean?” If you’re in the family, you say it, and you know what it means.

Fans share common colors and logos. We happily emblazon our bodies in outfits that indicate who we belong to. It allows our fellow fans to know, “We’re together. We’re connected through these sacred colors and symbols.”

Fans share common memories and heroes. Fans can spontaneously meet up and immediately tell the legends of their history: Punt Bama PuntBo Over the Top, Miracle in Jordan-Hare, and Kick Six. These tales of greatness give fans a united memory, memories that enforce the meaningfulness of their union together under the banner of their favorite teams.

As the Blues Brothers sang about, and these observations about sports demonstrate, humans were made to experience other humans in relationship. And this is exactly what’s reflected in the biblical narrative. The opening chapters of Genesis speak of man being made in the image of God, and as we come to find out this God himself exists in an eternal relationship with himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). As creatures made in the image of this relational God, we reflect God’s image by relating with others. Thus in those same chapters in Genesis it takes very little time for God to conclude, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

But as the story progresses, sin enters the picture and separates the beautiful union that was meant to exist between fellow men. The first couple is at odds with one another (Genesis 3:12), and the first set of brothers ends in bloodshed (Genesis 4:8). And the sad story of separation continues for millennia.  Graciously, God’s promised rescuer, Jesus of Nazareth, appeared in order to deal with the de-unifying effects of sin. The Apostle writes of Jews and gentiles, “In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:13-14). And he laters refers to the church as “one new man” (Ephesians 2:15). Having suffered the curse of sin on the cross, and having triumphed through his resurrection, Jesus’ disciples are now a part of a new communion, “the household of God, which is the church of the living God” (1 Timothy 3:15).

It’s for this communion that we were all created, communion centered around the authority of Christ, communion that is sealed by the Spirit inside of us. The communion that we experience through sports is a mere sample of this fuller reality in the church. All of our communing in sports, as meaningful and helpful as it can be, is only a shadow of true communion, whereas Christ’s body is the substance.

So the next time you experience community through sports, praise God. Sports are a grace from the Lord, and one of the gracious things about them is relating with other people through them. But also recognize that communion around sports is simply a pointer to the truer communion we were made for, communion in “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15).