My second daughter’s first word was “tiger.” My only explanation for this is that we fell for the “Your Baby Can Read” program and “tiger” was one of the words that flashed on the screen approximately 1,000 times a day in the car as I drove the big kids around. She was an early talker too, so one day when I was pushing her 14 month old self by a stack of stuffed animals and she correctly pointed and said, “tiger” her astonished grandmother (my mom) grabbed the closest cat and bought it for her. Not long after that day, my little one toddled into the laundry room and heard a voice booming from mommy’s phone. She asked, “that Daddy?” “No,” I said. “That Jesus?” “No,” I said. “This is a preacher named Matt Chandler.” We have established that I am a sermon junkie and if you are not familiar with him, Matt Chandler is the lead teaching pastor at The Village Church here in Texas. He is exceptional. So, there are many laundry days or dinner preparations in which his voice can be heard around here. Some time later that week, as I was tucking my little girl into bed, tiger in hand, I asked her, “What is your tiger’s name?” The baby never skipped a beat and said, “Matt Chandler.”
That little stuffed tiger has not left my daughter’s side for the last 6 years. It’s the kind of thing that you have to drive home to get because you forgot him for the sleep-over. He is the only thing I am super-careful about as we do a once over when we leave a hotel room. There has never been a night when he is not by her side. We have done many a surgery on him to stitch a hole. His tail is forever held on by a mere safety-pin. We have added tigers to the collection… too many to count. She now has a “tiger room” and really only prefers to wear clothing with tigers on them.
It’s kind of become inseparable to her personality. But, nothing can compare to her utter and complete devotion to Matt Chandler. She has never wavered. She has also never thought to call him anything but Matt Chandler. Even when she got older and every name was, “Snowflake,” or “Brownie,” or “Stripey,” it was always still Matt Chandler. Don’t even think about calling him just “Matt,” or “Matty.” She has no idea who you are talking about. Matt Chandler.
Now, if you were to Google “Matt Chandler,” pictures of a brilliant pastor in his forties would come up. Perhaps information about his church, the church planting organization he is president of, maybe the names of the books he has written would be shown. But when you say the name “Matt Chandler” in this house, every single member of this family knows you are talking about a small stuffed tiger; as in “has anyone seen Matt Chandler?” or “is Matt Chandler in the car?” or “we can’t leave without Matt Chandler.” Trust me, no one is looking for a preacher. We have foolishly shown my daughter pictures of the “real” Matt Chandler. We have even visited his church and she has seen him preach. But when you try to explain to her that he is in fact Matt Chandler she becomes impossibly irritated. How dare we.
We live in a culture in which we have access to so many people with merely a scroll on our phone. We can know what celebrities are doing by following them on Instagram. We can “Facebook stalk” people we know, and their friends, and their friends and so on. We love a good Facebook stalk don’t we? I mean, really, who need the news, or real relationships for that matter, when you can sit in the comfort of your own home and learn everything you ever wanted to know about everyone from Justin Timberlake to your next door neighbor. Do you ever have those weird moments when you run into someone in the store or at your kids’ school and, because you are Facebook friends, you know what they fixed for dinner last night, or that they worked out this morning, or that they are packing for a vacation, but because you’re not real friends you don’t even really speak? ALL. THE. TIME. You feel like you know them because you know A LOT about them, but in reality, there is little to no relationship there. Or when you see people in your real life and you have the urge to call them by their WHOLE name- like first, maiden, and last- because that is their name on Facebook. It’s so strange that I know all of these people’s whole names because I really don’t know them at all. Or this: my tiger loving daughter has a nickname. We have pretty much only called her “Boogie” since the day she was born. When I post pictures of her on my Facebook or Instagram I always call her Boogie. Obviously, that is not her real name but one she may never escape it. It is so strange to me that out and about in our world, people don’t know her real name because the only connection they have to her is her mommy’s posts calling her Boogie. Most don’t have the close relationship to her or to her family that an intimate nickname would allow but that is what they know her by, though they don’t know her at all. It’s a weird world, y’all. So, back to Matt Chandler…
Not long ago I heard Matt Chandler (the preacher, not the tiger obviously!) talk about how we do this in our relationship with God as well. In our day, with inexhaustible resources; podcasts, sermon downloads, books, audibles, we can spend our whole lives sort of “Facebook stalking” God. We can learn ABOUT Him without ever being in relationship with Him. We can know His history, His ways, His likes and dislikes. We can learn about His character and even know His promises without actually ever being introduced. We may go around calling Him by ALL his names, or talking about Him in very familiar terms but we don’t have the intimacy to back it up. Now, to be sure, we need to know these things about God. No one loves a new book (a classic is even better) or a Bible Study or a good sermon series like me, I assure you. I want to study the scriptures and learn all I can about what God says, what He has done, who He is. I want to memorize those scriptures. I desire a working knowledge of the chronological breadth of the Bible. I want “go to” verses when my tribe or my kids need encouragement, edification, or wisdom…. I want them for myself. But I must say that in this world of knowledge at our fingertips, where everything about everyone is a mere Google search or Facebook stalk away, I have had to intensify my filter when it comes to my motives. Am I merely seeking to gain more knowledge about God? Do I want to impress someone else with how intimate I sound when talking about Him? Do I think knowing His whole name gains points somehow? It seems very easy to slip into this false certainty that I know Him when I really just might know about Him? Am I the only one?
Let me quote you a little scripture that scares the pants off me. Matthew 7:21-23 says this: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.” Man, harsh. These people evidently not only knew much about God, but they did much for God. They spent their lives showing off their knowledge and their good deeds but in the end God tells them that He never knew them. You see, all the knowledge, all the study, all the ministry and good works matter absolutely none if you are not in intimate relationship with the source of it all. Here is a filter I have had to use for myself; could I do all of this without Jesus? Could I do it without His strength, His power, His guidance, His Spirit, His voice? Could I read this book and know this stuff and memorize this scripture and show off my knowledge without Jesus? Most of the time, I could. But y’all, could I steward these children well, sacrifice for this marriage unconditionally, love this tribe hard, point whoever God brings into my path to Him without Jesus? No. I could not.
You see, we have a relationship, Jesus and I. It started when I was very young and kneeled on a prayer bench in my home with my parents to a Psalty record (who knows what I am talking about?). I am so blessed that this was my start. But, it certainly wasn’t the end. Like any relationship there have been up’s and down’s… seasons of intimacy and seasons of distance. We hang out. Listen y’all, we’ve fought. I’ve been disciplined and I haven’t liked it. He has probably told me to “hush” more than He has told me anything else in my life. And just like as you add to your knowledge of a good friend, or learn things about your husband in those early years of marriage, just like you watch your kids’ personalities and likes and dislikes emerge through careful observation and study, if you will, I am constantly (voraciously at times) seeking to increase my knowledge of my Jesus. But knowledge can never replace relationship. When I find myself simply checking boxes in my time with Him, I heed the red flag of warning. Wrote in the prayer journal- check. Read the devo- check. Did the Bible study- check. Went to church- check. Led the group- check. Could I do all of that without Jesus? All of those boxes are good boxes. They increase my knowledge. They increase my service. But, if they are not also increasing my intimacy and joy in my relationship with Jesus then it is time to step away for a moment and invest in that.
How do we do it? How do we really know Him and focus on relationship rather than knowledge? I think for me it has always been in the quiet. I trust that He will come through with that “still small voice” (I Kings 19:12). He always has. But, I have to posture myself to hear it. I have to ask Him to speak. I have to look for Him to show up in whatever ways He chooses. I may have to turn the sermon off and close the book and put down the highlighter and just love Him and let Him love me. He is faithful and the desire of His heart is to have you know Him, not just know about Him. Zephaniah 3:17 says so sweetly, “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” If you are having a difficult time with your filter, with your motives, just sit with that scripture today and let it wash over you with the intimacy of a real relationship with a living, mighty savior who delights in you.
So, my daughter doesn’t really know Matt Chandler. If he were to knock on our front door today she would have no idea who he is. But as I tuck her in tonight she will confidently grab a well-worn, frequently patched, not washed often enough stuffed tiger under her arm and say goodnight to “Matt Chandler.” It’s cute, right? It’s a funny, quirky thing in our home. But, let it never be said of us and God. Let us never become so comfortable with the false intimacy of knowledge, rather than the intimacy of relationship that one day He would say to us the heartbreaking words, “I never knew you.” We can know Him. He is making Himself known everyday. Do the relationship, not just the “Facebook stalk.” It’s so much better.