Christ is The Greater Eleven

In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war. – Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley

My father had a habit that whenever we would watch a movie, he would quiz us on what connections we could make toward the gospel. Regardless of what movie, Papa would always somehow find a way to relate it. Though it would at times exasperate my nine-year-old self, it taught me the value of seeing God and people’s need for Him everywhere.  This little exercise, awakened me to the reality that we do not merely live in the mundane ordinary but also in the spiritual extraordinary.

It is in the mystery of this spiritual reality, that creates the allurement of fantasy and science fiction in our world. We know there is something else out there and we even dream of possibilities of this potential. Whether Tolkien, Lewis, Rowling, Lucas, Roddenberry (that Star Trek guy), we fantasize about the possibility that we can escape our present reality and get caught up in another one. Like the eery mist at dawn, does the faint sense of something more leaving us grasping for substance.

Yet in all of society’s dreaming, thoughts, and wandering of another existence, would it vehemently disagree to actually believe in another one. To believe in another one would be to admit that they are not all that is there, and implicitly our life is not merely our own. It would mean our actions have consequences that go beyond only this world’s sphere of influence.

One of the greatest tragedies of our society, is the disbelief in this greater actuality. The cognitive dissonance that will not entertain the thought of something or someone greater than us. That beyond us, there cannot be anything more.

Further, for the Christian, one of the greatest inhibitors to overcoming sin is the disbelief that we do not wage a war on a cosmic scale. We believe we fight on the plains of the ordinary, and only battle with that which we can see and feel. Our sins are only immediate and the solution to them lies with restraints toward our fleshly will.

We spend far too much time with minimality, testing our conscience at every opportunity.  We toy with lust, providing superficial accountability and porous safeguards onto our computers. We toy with pride with faux humility, speaking in a self-degrading manner, so that no one will know what we really think. We toy with stale spirituality, reading our bibles minimally, offering generic prayers filled with ‘Christianisms’, to the end of being justified by our own ‘maturity’. Far too often, we toy.

This I believe, is a grave mistake; even further, in the words of Arthur Wellesley, “it is the worst mistake”. That we would rather make little of our enemy, and make a little war with whom we in ourselves cannot over come.  To believe the answer lies only in our doing-to do and do more- is like bringing a knife to a gun fight. It is woefully, ineffective.

Similar in predicament are the unassuming characters, in Netflix’s new hit tv-show Stranger Things. Their initial mistake and perhaps their most costly one, was the  inability to comprehend the gravity of trouble they were in. Neither the scientists responsible for opening the portal, the children who stumble upon it, or the sheriff who looks to answer all the questions, can understand that they are in over their heads. They need a saviour.

The Upside-Down, is both darker and contrary to the white-picket-fenced Hawkins, Indiana they live in. A place that exists as the inversion to their world, it is skulking full of  shadows; containing monsters only seen in nightmares.  In this place, hope is all but a forgotten memory, as one by one inhabitants of Hawkins are dragged into the darkness.

Stranger Things  is a story of intrigue, curiosity, mystery, bravery, courage and 1980’s nostalgia. It is a story of monsters, and men unbeknownst in their humdrum, that just beyond their mundane life is a realm which looks to incite evil and take over all that they hold dear. It is a story of coming of age, naive friendships, and loyalty to a fault. It is also a story ‘El’ aka ‘Eleven’, a child psychic, who is the heroine that acts as their functional saviour.

We do not live in a world all that different. There is a cosmic war going on, an immense spiritual battle being fought for our very souls. This is happening now, on the battlegrounds of our heart and mind. The devil prowls (1 Peter 5:8), yet God is near (Psalm 145:18). This is our reality.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly place – Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

However, Satan and the evil which he incites is much more insidious in nature. Like the Mind Flayer who takes over Will’s body in season 2, does he desire to direct our will against God in every aspect. Sin is the means to which we open the portal to our souls, enslaving ourselves. Satan and all his demonic forces, take advantage of that open portal, reaching deep within, laying root to decay the foundations of our heart and mind. This, continual indulgence into habitual sin is the enslavement with we lose ourselves: our created reality in the image of God. Simply being taken from this life is not our worst nightmare.

Sin has devastating effects, and not all are equal in their devastation. Unfettered sin, has implications of eternity, in a realm much, much worse than the Upside-Down. Yet the means to which we fight out this spiritual reality, is not abstract and intangible war. It is not a battle fought in the hazy vague with no real grounds on which to stand. It is not mere random incantations and blasts of ‘positive’ energy. The means to fight is found in the now, in our ordinary. To wait would be deadly for our spiritual reality. We need to be transformed (Romans 12:2).

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses.  – 2nd Corinthians 10:3-4 (NASB)

So then,  how does spiritual warfare and divine transformation look like to those who are joined in the physical reality of Christ and His body?

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might

– Ephesians 6:10-11 (NASB)

If we fight in the ordinary, the body we currently abide in is the means to which we wage war within the spiritual reality. How we act in the day to day is our hand to hand combat. Every minuscule action, every deed, every thought is directed toward fighting an enemy who seeks to destroy us.  Our living in this realm is the avenue provided to gain victory in the next.  Yet while we remain in the ordinary, we do not fight an ordinary battle by ordinary means. Though we wage ware in the flesh, we do not wage a war according to the fleshAs proven over and over again by characters of Stranger Things, what is ordinary cannot overcome the extraordinary. Our ordinary means to fight, requires extraordinary help; so we turn toward our saviour.

By the grace of God we have been afforded this extraordinary means  (Hebrews 4:15-16), a sinless Messiah who stands to intercede on our behalf. It is by His blood-bought means that we fight. Not in the will of our own, but by the strength of His might. 

Therefore… work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. – Philippians 2:12-13 (ESV)

A favourite author of mine, John Piper recently expounded this verse in a way that I had never before seen. In paraphrase Piper says something to the effect of: Therefore…Therefore in view of Christ’s sacrifice, his death, and resurrection, forever earning your atonement, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Not a fear or trembling to force us into His righteousness because of the wrath of God, but a fear in the awe and wonder at the very God who works out our salvation from within us. A God who works within us, sealed onto completion by His sovereign will. Not onto our own desires does He do this, but for the sake of His glory, His good pleasure. 

This floored me, I was left absolutely stunned. I do not work out my own salvation, I do not fight sin in of myself, but I do through the power of Him who works mightily in me. This is the means to which I fight in His might: by faith alone on the grace of God, to do His sovereign will, in which He keeps all of His sovereign promises. This is to “sever the root of sin, [by standing upon] the power of a superior promise” (Piper).

Therefore, to be strong in the Lord is to take courage at the strength of His might that resides within us. Like Will Byers, we can turn to face the enemy when Satan haunts us with his temptations. Unlike, Will we stand to face the enemy not by the strength of our own might, but in Christ the solid rock on which we stand. We take courage to fight the good fight (1 Timothy 6:12). We take courage to be strong in the Lord, knowing our victory is assured.

If then I fight in the strength of Christ’s might in the spiritual reality, by what practical means do I fight in the ordinary reality?

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  – Ephesians 6:13-17 (ESV)

To take up the armour of God is to live by Spirit empowered obedience, and abide by faith in the word of truth (John 15:3-4). To live by faith is more than a belief in the right things, but a deep conviction and consequential commitment to do the right things. A firm desire joined with the Spirit, to exercise all the might of God against every temptation which seeks to devour. This is not a matter of who will win, but when and at what casualties.

Thus by the grace of God, let us put on this strange armour; equipped with weaponry not of this world, but of the spiritual (Hebrews 13:20-21), ready at every turn to slay every vile sin which encroaches upon us.

We then put on the belt of truth, the truth defined by the almighty God, in whose right knowledge sets down every lie of the enemy.

We put on the breastplate of righteousness, held up by the truth, we bear toward the holiness of which God has prepared for us.

We put on the shoes of readiness prepared by the gospel of peace. Ready to face every trial and tribulation, knowing the one who calmed the storm says to our soul “be still” (Mark 4:39).

In addition to all, we pick up the shield of faith with which- after having been stood upon the truth, beared toward righteousness, and been made ready by the gospel of peace-every fiery arrow of the evil will be extinguished. Faith is the means by which we stand upon the superior  promises of God, and sever the root of sin.

Lastly, we take up the helmet of salvation, our crown of life (James 1:12), and holding firm to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Spirit inspired faith in the word of God is the deathly blow, which cuts off the head of the snake. It is the heat which releases the Mind Flayer from it’s host. The very word of God, wielded by the Son of God (Matthew 4), will prove to be our decisive attack against the enemy and free us from the entanglement of habitual sin (Hebrews 4:12). Let us in meekness, humbly receive the word implant which is able to save our souls (James 1:21).

To put on the armour of God is to stand in Christ, who is our greater Eleven. Christ did not simply defeat the enemy for our justification, but acts as the means within us to carry us through toward sanctification. Christ did what Eleven couldn’t; He resides in us as the power within with which we take courage to be strong, and fight by the strength of His might. The ordinary man took victory in the extraordinary spiritual. Not by means which was expected but in a strange and divine way; namely His suffering, death and resurrection displaying the peculiar glory of God.

Chris has won the victory, not by bullets, flames, or psychic powers, but by taking the sting of death and the power of Sin (1st Corinthians 15:55-57), destroying the enemy strongholds forevermore.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not underestimate the enemy, but wage a war to the fullest extent of our armoury in which we no longer strive on our own, but hold to God. So far as we remain in the body, we are refined by fire (1 Peter 1:6-9) being transformed from degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18) by the saving power of the Lord. Let us look to Christ who is the assurance of our salvation and author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus. – Philippians 1:6 (NASB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In every Opportunity, Do Good

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. – Galatians 6:10 (NASB)

Since having moved to Toronto from my hometown of Edmonton, I have been made more aware of the big city-life. The higher pace, the always-have-to-be-somewhere-else attitude, the almost cut throat, dog-eat-dog world makes it more apparent people’s need for Jesus. Not only for the city, but also intrinsically for myself. The hustle and bustle, the busyness,  and the consumerism caters itself toward selfishness, and maybe for myself it’s been there all along, but in Toronto it has been microscopically high-lighted not only in my actions but thoughts as well. I have definitely been made more aware of it now, then I have ever before.

Why should I hold the door for you? Does everyone have to push, fine I’ll push too! You’re asking for money again? Hurry up, you’re making me late! I’m better than you.

It’s sad to see how quickly I regress into self-serving, self-righteous, egotistical person each in every day. Sin runs deep.

There are a lot of people in Toronto, and most people are only looking out for themselves. In a place where there is 2.81 million (2016) people within the city itself and a estimated total of over 6.4 million in the greater GTA, what makes someone stand out? Often it comes down to uniqueness and excellence at the cost of selflessness. My desire is to excel above all others, so therefore I am only going to look out only for myself.

As a Christian, this is fundamentally opposite of what it means to reflect the Christ imitating relationship of the church to the world, especially within myself. Whereas Christ was serving humbly in selflessness, the rest of society is dispositioned toward a morality that looks for the self above others. A morality, that is based on ironically on each self-imposed standard of what is right or wrong. Each person does what is thought to be best for themselves or what they feel is best for others. This fluid standard almost always regresses to further compound our sinful nature.

Some would liken this morality as the golden rule of ethics, which is ironically from the bible: Do to others, what you would have them to do you – Matthew 7:12. Often, it is interpreted as do to others, so far as to what you expect to be done for yourself. The verse, when standing on it’s own is seen as an opportunity for someone to set the definition of their own morality. If I am okay being treated this way, then I can treat others this way. This is flawed logic as one’s current inclinations, can define how they are permitted to act toward others. What they may at one time be okay to be treated with, to another be completely unacceptable. Further, the opportunity to be treated as you expect and the opportunity to treat others as you expect to be treated are rarely at the same time or to the same degree. It is easy to convince oneself that you would be okay being treated in such a way, if that circumstances were merely hypothetical.

Yet, we know as Christ followers we are called to deny oneself and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23-24). Therefore there is a mandate for Christians to be peculiar, if not unique in conduct and action toward both within the body of Christ but further to the rest of the world. We are called to reflect the Christ imitating relationship of the church to the world.

However if we are to reflect what it means to be Christlike concretely, what characteristics make a Christian stand out to everyone else?

For the Christian, there is a need to appeal to a higher standard, a perfect standard. One whom stands heads and shoulders (infinitely so) above the rest. This standard does not limit itself to human terms, not even logically, but holds itself to whom who lays the base for the very meaning of truth. Thus, this goes beyond comprehension of the person, showing evidence to the divine. We stand out from the world, by not holding to the worlds standards, but ascribing to to one that is not of it.

The evidence of this standard, are characteristics shown to be so peculiar and contrary, that we are set apart (1 Peter 2:9) from everyone else. Not that we hold this standard in of ourselves, but simply bear fruit in evidence of whom is within us (Galatians 5:22-23) as He moves us toward sanctification. In Him, we are being transformed into one degree of glory to another (2nd Corinthians 3:18)

So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith. – Galatians 6:10 (NASB)

If our standard is to be distinct in our standard of doing good, then our mandate is to do good as much as possible to the glory of Christ. While there are many opportunities to do good, it can be overwhelming to think of each chance we did have and passed on, even more so are the opportunities that we pass on any given Sunday morning. As mentioned earlier if my relationship within the body of believers is a reflection of a Christ imitating Church to the world, my proverbial pews would sit empty. If my sinfulness ran rampant on any given day of the week, Sunday morning is no different. Though I may be more used to veiling it outwardly I am all the same prone to being a whitewashed tomb, eager to trend toward selfishness inwardly.

Ultimately the call to do good, is a call to lay down oneself for the sake of Christ. In this are we called to reflect Christ: to be distinct, unique, and set apart from the rest of the world at the cost of our own desires. Especially are we called hold differently those that are brothers and sisters in Christ. This because we share in the hope of a risen saviour, those that are in the family reflect a tangible representation of who we should serve sacrificially. Yet despite the sin present and no matter how slow the apparent work of sanctification, both in view of others as well as ourselves are we expected and called to love Christ including those who have the same love that we do. Our love is a testimony of whom we believe in. Our actions display like a mirror, the glory of God to those who are on the outside. Like warm lantern on a cold winter night emitting from the dining hall, should it beckon to those peering from the end of a long drive-way to come in and feast.

In the light of this, is it all the more important that we bear the weight of this responsibility solemnly.  There is a huge need to take this with burden, eternity may be at stake. As the catholic hymn goes almost eerily:

They will know we are Christians by our love – Peter Scholte

It is not a task or responsibility to be taken in passing, nor is it one that can be confined to within the walls of church. It is neither small talk nor the social club, but must and needs to be lived out daily, in as much as we are called to deny ourselves daily. It must go beyond ‘hellos’ and ‘good mornings’ and move into “how are you doing” and “what can I do to help?”. It must move from self-serving to other-serving, this is a love so peculiar that it will stand out to others. It must take risks.

Practically, it means giving up my best interests so that I can reflect Christ. Whether starting small like staying a few extra minutes to get to know someone new, or progressing to something bigger like opening your home for a meal with new students or the new refugee family. Each step outside of our comfort zone allows us to step further into the outstretched hands of the Father. Whether a small or large step, let each step be a death to selfishness, removing all that may inhibit us from moving toward need and not comfort. Let us lay down our time, our comfort, our money and whatever else for the sake of furthering His kingdom.

I can give my time to sit down and listen. I can approach someone we may not know well and offer to help them anyway I can. I can offer to spend the afternoon with a difficult person. I can offer to pay for the meal. The list goes on. The bottom line is, by the grace of God, I can, because my hope isn’t held in this world but in the next.

So then let us do good in a continual effort and with immediate action. Let us not merely waiting of a happening or an opportunity to arise but rather, lets intentional seek to display the servant-hood of Christ in love so that his testimony may be proclaimed. For by this they will know we are Christians, because of our love for one another.

 

Living With The End In Mind

The mind and heart to understand
And love the sovereign Lord who planned
That it should take eternity
To lavish all his grace on me.

O God of wonder, God of might,
Grant us some elevated sight,
Of endless days. And let us see
The joy of what is yet to be.
And may your future make us free,
And guard us by the hope that we,
Within the light of candle three,
Your glory will forever see.

– John Piper (Glorified) 

A few months back I watched a science-fiction movie titled Arrival. The premise of the movie follows a linguist tasked with the responsibility of attempting to communicate with an invading alien species. The film initially seems to follow in a linear timeline, where the beginning scenes are appeared to have occurred in the past as per usual in film sequences. However the sudden plot twist comes when it is revealed that the logographic symbol, a circle, repeatedly used in communication by the invading aliens is a tool designed to alter how they perceive reality. From what was assumed a mere symbol of written communication, instead forms the basis of their entire concept of time.

This tool alters their perception of time, in that, in order to understand the present, the future becomes their past. In essence, life and therefore movement in time is not a single progressive line, but rather a continuous circle, where the future events dictate how to affect the present. The film then ends with the revelation that the entire initial sequence was part of the future rather than the past.

The film, thoughtfully written, and carefully unpacked brings about an existential question of what it would mean to live by acting according to your end. It is an interesting notion, where the impact and potential for opportunity could be expounded knowing how much more certain moments would hold. If knowing the future would be a reality, foresight becomes 20/20. If I could do it all over again, is the wistful thought of man in a mid-life crisis. To be young, re-write history and fix our mistakes we all think would make the world a better place. It is what makes a time-machine so appealing. With the knowledge that I have now, I know I would’ve done it right in the past.

However, i’ll admit thankfully, time is linear, and though advantageous it may seem to live life while watching the rearview mirror of our future, this is not our circumstance. Humanity attempts to play god enough, and in the midst of our fallible mortality, is the reality that we do not know how our life will end. We cannot know where we may get a job, to whom we will marry, and specifically how we may die. Throw in amongst that the thousands of micro life events that could be altogether life altering, and keeping a big perspective on life is like trying to solve a complex thousand piece puzzle with blindfolds on. You can sense edges and shapes, generally knowing where each piece should go, but have no clue about how it all fits together.

In spite of this, by and large, majority of people live their life on their own assumptions. Speculations that are based on their history, and the expectancy that those past trends will continue into the future. It is what forms the basis of mortgages, budgets, job-performance, health insurance, etc. Humanity, lives as though the past will automatically become the future, altogether forgetting the future is not guaranteed.  We assume that we will go to college, find a job, buy a house, have a family, and otherwise live a comfortable life. We assume, and therefore expect. However much foggier is the future, then we would either realize and even more so like it to be.

Yet regardless of the haze that is planning for the future there are a few constants that all people can rely on. Further, the only constants that people should rely on

  1. All people will experience death
  2. All people will face their Creator in judgement

As a Christian we can hold to a few more constants

  1. Promises fulfilled as children of God
  2. Eternal life in Heaven with God

In simplicity living with the end in mind as a Christian, would mean working toward the affect of eternity.  Belief in God, means we do not live our lives inn a linear motion like a movie, not knowing the end of it. Rather it is, seeing the end, and finding out how God effects the present. By the grace of God, we have the very word of God written out for us (John 1:1). The words of God which promise God is sovereignly in control of our life (Jeremiah 29:11). The plans, may not be as expect them to be, nor necessarily what we want, but it calls to move forward in greater dependance on him (2nd Corinthians 12:9). In our movement through life, is our purpose not to live based on our assumptions, throwing a half-guess in the wind, but looking at the Word, and taking it in accordingly. Therefore when we view God in this lens, is the perspective of viewing God’s sovereign end as a reality.

This perspective impacts our perception of life in a two-fold way.

  1. Time becomes all the more valuable, as every moment as an affect toward eternity

Knowing that the time we spend is not just a fleeting moment caught in the transience of time, but rather directly changes how we will enjoy eternity is a sobering thought. Put into this perspective, eternity creates a much more distinct picture of what is important in life. Given that with each passing day the preciousness of time increases, to strive for a living hope and treasures that will not be defiled (1 Peter 1:3-9) becomes a priority. Therefore to act according to eternity and not temporary joys, gives a purpose to strive for, regardless of the haze of the future.

Too often are we caught up with a few pixels on a screen, ensuring that they go right, that when we look at the whole high-definition picture, do we then realize frivolous this really is. Like a cleaner caught up in a spec of dust, are we so often focused on one small section of our lives. Too easy is it to forget that if the rest of the house is out of order, the spec of dust really does not matter! Get the rest of the house in order first, and deal with the spec of dust later. There are much more important things to worry about.

Lastly, knowing our own situation is secured, it should open our eyes to the plight of the millions of others around us. Living in the light of eternity, can we no longer be the blind leading the blind. Like a starving peasant for the first time eating a feast at the King’s table, can we no longer be satisfied knowing that there are millions of our desperate brothers and sisters all too content to eat crumbs and spoiled food. There is an open invitation, and they only need to accept it.  Since our eyes have been opened to the wonders of our God and the opportunity at eternity spent with him, there is an urgency needed to point others toward it.

2. Since Eternity is guaranteed, and all the promises thereof, satisfaction and joy presently is possible.

We can rest assured that all the promises of God will be fulfilled, and therefore are satisfied as we find our joy in Him in our current moment. Knowing that in our whatever circumstance, God is working for our good (Romans 8:28), we can learn to abide in all circumstances (Philippians 4:12-13). We then can take joy, in the wonder of who God is, knowing our greatest needs have already been met in Him. If then we are presently satisfied, we can cease to strive for hope in future satisfaction. Future satisfactions in shallow temporal joys, that are presumed and expected, but never guaranteed.

Though our future may not necessarily hold what we expect, nor what we want, we can cease to fret over what may happen, knowing all along our dear saviour is with us (Matthew 28:20). Though jobless, unmarried, poor, alone, and a career with no upward trajectory, the Christian can endure because their treasure will not fade. Though hardships come, joy can be had (Philippians 4:4). There is a deeper, more satisfying rest living with the end in mind. Rather than fretting over what may happen in the future, we hope toward it, knowing the best is yet to be come.

Run, Not Meander

My knowledge of that life is small;

The eye of faith is dim;

But it’s enough that Christ knows all;

And I shall be with Him.

-Richard Baxter

I often find myself when running to take the opportunity to go down a new path or trail, not knowing where it may lead me. There is a sense of curiosity and wonder as you delve into a new road that deviates from your normal routine. One can explore different paths as the only limiting factor is the amount of time you want to take to get to your destination. Running for me is often not so much about the pace, as much the journey to complete the goal. More than reaching a distance goal, it is to enjoy the nature and the scenery , to challenge myself as I avoid roots and rocks as I go down rabbit trails, and to explore the ravine/neighbourhood around me. My running path resembles much more a meandering river than a straight away at the airport.

However this form of running contrasts greatly to when I ran track in highschool.

By the grace of God, some of my favourite times in highschool were on the track.  Comparison to most other sports I have played, in track, the only competition really is yourself. The question when sprinting is, how efficiently can you run fast? You are the only variable that can answer that question, and how you prepare for it can effect the entire outcome.

There was something comforting about systematically getting ready to run your race. It starts with a slight jog to get the muscles going, then a static stretch, ABC’s, tempo’s, dynamic stretch, and finally accels. Each step is done individually as you mentally visualize running your race over and over again. In your mind you go through the various cues that your coach has told you to focus on as you run your race: high knees, stand tall, stay high, arms at nintey etc. You rehearse again and again, until you can see yourself running the race perfectly.  Finally, when they call your heat, you head to the table to sign in and get ready to take off your warm ups.

There is a world of difference between sprinting and meandering.

When one meanders, one can go to and fro with little regard to what the end destination is. Each deviation from the main path presents a new opportunity to explore, each bend in the road intrigues the imagination with new possibilities. The goal itself is not to reach anywhere in particular, but rather more about enjoying yourself in the journey to get there. Whether you get there or not is a bigger question than how.

However, when you sprint, there is one sole focus: to get to cross the line as quickly as possible. It’s not necessarily about winning, though you try, but it is to run faster than you ever have before. When you take off your warm ups, and you place your hands on the starting line there is absolutely nothing else on your mind. When you settle into your blocks, you think only of a blank canvas as you focus your whole body on one thing: to react. Then, as you explode out of the blocks, you drive with all your might to push everything behind you, locking your eyes on the finish line.

Therefore, since we are surroudned by so great a cloud of witneses, let us also lay aside every wight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1-2 (ESV)

There is a world of difference between running and meandering.

When it comes to my Christian journey, it has unfortunately at times resembled a meandering walk rather than a hundred metre run. I have been more keen on stopping at the side of the road to smell the flowers, or to stop and enjoy a nap, or to deviate from the main path to explore, than crossing the finish line well. I’d rather enjoy netflix, sleeping in, procrastinating, and wasting time on the internet than to seriously think about pursuing Christ. I would plan out my life with the outcome of what I enjoy most, rather than set it on a trajectory for Christ. I would rather stay in my warm ups, taking a brisk walk on a lazy weekend afternoon than to fully commit myself to Christ.

I would rather meander than run, because to run would require effort. To run would require sacrifice, to run would be to die to my desires and to live for Christ. For, ” we have not been given grace to fulfill selfish desires, but freedom to do the will of God who has set us free ” (John Piper).

I have a cd in my car that contains John Piper’s sermon series on Hebrews. The cd came with the car and it has honestly changed my life. I have listened to it dozens of times. In one of the sermons on Hebrews 12, Piper describes the difference between running and meandering. The question that comes to mind  is would we rather meander or run? Would we rather pursue God haphazardly hoping that we gain the prize, or do I want to run as to win Christ? Do I want to lay aside every encumberance and the sin that so easily entangles and run with endurance the race that is set before me? All too easy is it to forget there is a race to be won.

All to easy is to get caught up with the question of What is wrong with it? When in reality that is alltogether the wrong question; the question should be does it help me run?

The fight of faith — the race of the Christian life — is not fought well or run well by asking, “what’s wrong with this or that?” but by asking, “is it in the way of greater faith and greater love and greater purity and greater courage and greater humility and greater patience and greater self-control? – John Piper

There is a need for Christians to ask the question, does it help me run the race? Warm ups may be comfortable, but there is a need to examine our own life and see what we can take off. There is a need to shift from a perspective of toeing the line of allowance, and move toward complete avoidance.

As a sprinter, you shed every weight, every article of clothing that could possibly cause you to run slower. You go down to being as streamlined as possible, wearing only your spandex, singlet, and spikes. Everything is meant to help you run well. Every extra weight is put aside, everything that could hinder, laid down. The question is not, can I run with it? But, does it make me faster?

It is ridiculous to think of an athlete, who refuses to take of their warm ups, proceeds to get set in their blocks, hears the starting gun, only to come out of it slowly  jogging toward the finish line. The same can be said of the Christian life. Do we really think to pick up our cross daily is only meant for the hyper spiritual? Do I really believe to gain Christ as my all is bound to Sunday mornings and year-end retreats?

Like a sprinter coming out of the blocks fixated on the prize, so should our sole focus be on winning Christ. Our whole life should be systematically focused that we may run well. Like a runner going through his pre-race routine, do we need to prepare well and then run well. It is daily time spent in the word and prayer as we meditate over and over again the application of it in our lives. It is a desire for deeper understanding of God, stretching our minds and strengthening our faith as we delve into books, articles and sermons. It is actively living out our faith among our colleagues and family,  and it is dynamically living it out in our ministries and small groups. All this, that when we take of our warm ups, get set in our blocks, and started our pursuit of Christ, that it may be our only hope. Then, when it is all said and done, in eternity can be said of us “well done my good and faithful servant”.

 

p.s. if you wish to listen to the full sermon, it can be found here. I would highly recommend it!

A Mighty Call

We are the musical instrument that God masterfully plays, like a trumpet that proclaims his thunderous notes, is it His breath that first fills us. The Holy Spirit beckons us to proclaim His glory, as the Performer carefully composes the song.  The Author and Perfecter of our faith then turns the notes into an arrangement of melody as he skillfully presses, limits, and conducts the precise inner workings of our life.  Ultimately the melody is not for the instruments themselves, but rather the player who enjoys it, bellowing His glory. – S. Kang (paraphrased)

Among some of my favourite times in spring is watching the various sports leagues go through their draft process. As an Edmonton Oilers fan, this has unfortunately been a reoccurring highlight of the season. Year after year, fans such as myself, will hang their hopes on these  new prospects, hoping that they will step up and fulfill their potential. For the athletes, it is a hope to hear a call, a hope to hear someone on the other side tell them they’ve been chosen. Each year, hundreds of these athletes will either gather live in the arena, or tune in to their local television station to see if, when, and where they will be selected. As each selection passes by and one by one owners or GM’s pass the podium, the momentous occasion centres around hearing the phone ring. The athlete does not necessarily focus on whom they were chosen by, nor when in the draft they were taken, but simply that someone in authority deemed them worthy enough to select them. For most athletes this is a culmination of a life’s work in the gym, field, and court. They have been called out of the tens of thousands, if not millions playing their sport, and been specifically, carefully, and thoughtfully picked to be a part of an exclusive group who are meant to be the elite. They have been called to a higher calling.

In contrast, when the Spirit calls, how often do we listen? I find myself repeatedly ignoring or missing the prompting to be still and listen to the call in which I must surrender and follow.

If it were in the strong wind, or the earthquake or the fire, would it be easy to listen to the call of our Lord. Yet we know it is not the Lord’s way to go the way of the easy or the obvious. Rather through the “sound of a gentle blowing” is His voice heard. Here in this quiet beckoning of God, it is an easy temptation to turn a deaf ear. In His gentle nudging to let go, in his prompting to go deeper, in his plea to fall into the mystery, do our fears overwhelm is to grip tighter to what is safe, easy, and dull. Like Bilbo Baggins all too comfortable with the Shire, would we rather stay in our humdrum than pursue our adventure set before us.

Why is that when called by God to do great things do we hold back?

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. 20 He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him. – 1 Kings 19:19-21 (NASB)

Elijah renowned as a great a man of God personally calls Elisha through placing his mantle on him. The mantle a symbolic representation of a call to total commitment to the work of Elijah and his God. This call would totally shatter Elisha’s current worldview, shake everything he had known up until then; this call would be a call to leave behind the familiar and move forward into the unknown. From a  wealthy farmer to a poor prophet; from leading livestock to leading lives back to God was this a weighty decision. He could stay in the comfortable known, or venture into  God’s big unknown. Till then what was familiar was his family, their land, and their workers. Life was consistent and repetitious. To leave would mean to give it all up and trust that Elijah knew what he was doing; this was an incredible risk.

However, in this hurricane of pro’s and con’s, choices and factors influencing the decision, was in the eye a simple understanding: the only proper response was total submission.

Elisha understood the grandeur of his calling and shared this calling into ministry with joy. He did not hesitate to sacrifice a pair of his oxen, symbolically burning the yolk to which was his now past means of work, and sharing it in a meal with the community he would soon leave. God challenged Elisha to leave his comfort zone to pursue a higher calling.

As Elijah first drew Elisha to him, does the spirit first draw us to a total commitment to God. If Elijah a great man of God personally called Elisha, how much more should we respond to the calling of our mighty King? In our own hurricane of decisions should we look to make a consideration: Am I ready to be completely submissive to God’s call?

The balance of being swayed either way depends on understanding the weight of which we have been called. Do I understand grandeur of my calling, and take joy to what I have been chosen to do? Do I see the reality  to which I have been plucked out of and and the new one on which I have been set upon? Am I willing to be led like a blind-man into a mystery, trusting that it is better than anything I could have hoped to have before? Am I ready to allow God to transform my world? Like a master teaching a pupil, am I ready to listen?

Here in this decision we cannot rest nor tarry, wait nor linger. There is a call, and it requires a response. We’ve been chosen to a higher calling.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:14 (NIV)

How much does God love us that he would remove us out of our mundane and dreary existence and instead by the workings of His marvellous grace set us toward a course that would echo it’s effects throughout eternity; one that is already pre-planned, meditated, and thought out toward which we are specifically gifted for. The response? Only radical obedience is required.

Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. – Luke 6:92 (NIV)

 

3 Christian Considerations For The Parent Of An Athlete

I was recently asked by someone how to navigate involving their children in sports, especially in regards to today’s ultra-competitive society. This question was an interesting one and made me think as both a coach and someone who grew up playing sports, where that line would be. The problem is, increasingly, there is a trend within youth sport to shift from a recreational leisure activity, toward a performance based competition. While I firmly believe in competition, and see the benefits of playing at the highest level one can, there is an issue with the amount of pressure placed upon athletes. Young athletes are pressured to be ‘elite’ at an early age, and are expected to  progress at the same pace consistently throughout their career, irregardless of different growth rates, maturity, skill acquisition etc . The phrase ‘for the love of the game’ quickly transitions into ‘for the love of fame’, as viral social media hunts down the ‘next one’, rocketing them to worldwide recognition. Veiled behind rhetoric of ‘leadership’, ‘moral values’,’scholarships’ and ‘education’, the reality is that youth sport today for a lot of parents is more about vicariously living through their children than it is desiring the inherent value of sport.

As a Christian myself, I can think of three key considerations to keep in mind, whether as a coach or as a parent involving their kids in athletics:

  1. God is Ultimate

Whether this is sport, another hobby, or even academics, it is especially important that God is ultimate. We’re designed to enjoy God first and foremost, anything else is a mere reflection of that, therefore the pursuit of God must be on the forefront of our minds. We are expected to give God our best, but this in of itself cannot replace God himself . It’s both sad and ironic that children are taught to pray to God to help them in their game, exam, or performance, yet doing daily devos, attending youth group, or Sunday service becomes secondary to practice, games, and studying. In the end sport is not eternal, but God is. The implications of what we value most will reflect on where we spend our time.

2. Sport is a gift

Like anything else, sport is not the end all be all of life, and should not be treated as such. It must be remembered that sport itself is a gift for us to enjoy. As a result, sport becomes the instrument in which we glorify God with, but cannot be the end of the pursuit of glory.  As a society, humanity celebrates distinction, uniqueness, and talent. While this displays the incredible diversity in which we were created, the created cannot be worshiped above the creator. Like a sign that points which direction to go, so does our performance point to whom we should be paying attention to, namely God. The danger lies when the means is seen as the end, and not the end itself.

3. The chances of ‘making it’ are small.

The reality is among the hundreds of thousands of kids participating in sport, by large only a few will make it to a varsity team, even fewer will make it to pro sports. This isn’t to discourage participation in sport, but it should keep in check the expectations placed on an athlete who ‘has a promising future’. Just because you shuttle your child to 6 am practices five times a week, and tournaments every other weekend, will not guarantee them entry into pro sports. Even if you obey the 10,000 hour rule, going above and beyond to provide them with personal trainers, elite coaches, and surround them with the best talent, it will not necessarily mean they will be the next Connor McDavid or Serena Williams. No matter how much yelling to ‘pick it up’, ‘play with some fire’, or  be ‘more competitive’ is done, it will not suddenly induce them into super stardom. More likely is the chance that the child burns out and resents the sport they once loved. In the end, if your child does not ‘make it’ does not mean they wasted their potential, rather it might be that God has a different plan for them than you do.

In conclusion, I think of Colossians 3:17 “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father”. In all that we do we are called to do our best, not for ourselves but for God. Remember in all things whether sport, academics or the rest of life, whatever we are given on this earth is a gift. I enjoy sport, whether the friendships, memories, leadership values learned, discipline instilled, or the ability to perform at my best, but I do know none of these are the end itself, but a reflection of my God who has gifted me with them.  Therefore, encourage your child to participate in sport as there is a lot of value in it. On the field, encourage them to do their best, to try their hardest, and be okay with whatever result that is. Inspire a healthy love for whatever God has gifted them with talent in, teaching them to be diligent in what they have. Above all, show them how to love God in all that they do.

God’s Sovereignty In Suffering: Utter Joy

 

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance – James 1:2-3 (NASB)

How can you know what it feel’s like to thirst as a man travelling in the desert parched for water? How can you know what it feels like to hunger for food as a child who has gone weeks without a proper meal? How can you know what it means to gasp for breath as an endurance runner at the last hundred metres of his race? How can you know it means to be so desiring God that you would be wholly and utterly dependant on Him?

The answer in all of these is desperateness. Consistent across all of them is that you would have had to go through that experience to truly know what it feels like.  To know of these experiences could not simply be spoken about, described, or read in a book. There may be glimpses, hints, shadows, and whispers, like an appetizer at a meal, yet unless you have gone through the fire does it remain simply taste and nothing of substance.

Similarly our Christian faith is an easy road when God leads us by green pastures and still waters, yet it is in the howling winds of the stormy sea that we are drawn to cry for someone to save us. Faith can be spoken of without much further ado when all that is required is a verbal confirmation. Endurance is easy on a Sunday morning stroll, perseverance unchallenging when one simply has to place one foot after another. However, we will have little knowledge of  what it would mean to run the marathon God has set before us if all that God requires is a leisurely commitment to Him.

To run the race well would mean to endure at all costs, the confirmation that we would do so would have to be in the face of suffering. It is in the shipwreck of our life does God wreck all preconceived notions of who He is and what it means to be dependant on Him.  Only when all else has been eliminated can we say we are desperate for our saviour.

Contrary to this, is the belief that our faith is supposed to be built on going to Church on Sundays and reading the bible occasionally. God’s goodness prevents Him from allowing  suffering to happen, and when he does, it is a mere by product of sin.

To them, God is a reactionary God who simply fixes the mistakes of mankind- attempting to clean up the mess left behind. It is patchwork rather than designing, a temporary fix rather than a premeditated plan. If God is good, he simply wants my good and nothing more.

However to say that a good God would protect us from all suffering because he wants the best for us is simply not true. A good God would want the best of us not by how good is defined by human construct, but rather on how in his infinite wisdom he determines it to be.  Therefore, a good God would ordain all things so that the believer would be drawn to the highest good there is, namely Himself. If that would mean He take away all that prevents the believer from doing so, so that He alone would be glorified, He does. This is because for the believer, staying Christian is not about avoiding suffering, but about becoming closer to God. The nature of suffering in the Christian faith is not to evidence our faithfulness to our Creator, but rather to be made aware of our ineptness and need for a saviour.

Hebrews 12:4-13 describes this in comparison of a parent disciplining their child.  Where the parent directs a child to live among society well, does God in perfection directs a higher standard in our lives for our benefit so that we maybe become more like the highest good in godliness (v.10). God, knowing what is specifically needed for our good, works all things toward that (Romans 8:28). Therefore, he purposes discipline in our lives not because he does not care, but more importantly because he does. A parent knows what is best for their child, and will sometimes restrain, prevent, limit or otherwise take away what appears to the child good or joy in life. God thus acts in a similar way not because he does not want us to experience joy, but because he desires to have our joy founded in the only thing that is satisfactory. Therefore, when discipline emerges as suffering for the believer are we made more acutely aware of our insecurity, flimsy mortality and otherwise powerlessness. This awareness is not only for humbleness, but a directed attention to one who holds the promise that in whatever we face, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

This is a faith that may found to be more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7), because only when we are drawn to a place where God is our everything, do we let go of everything else. When we are made aware of our desperate need for him, we become utterly dependant on Him, like a child who cries “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15), does God want us cry out to our heavenly father, resting assured that he works toward our righteousness.

In this, can we find absolute joy in all our suffering, knowing that in the sovereignty of God, does it not occur at random, but because God has purposed it for our good. As long as the world remains, we are imperfect. Though justified, we are still being sanctified, though sons of God we are still progressing toward godliness. As cruel, senseless, unneeded, and heartless does suffering appear in the moment, we do not follow a God who knows not the outcome our lives, but ordains all things for our benefit.

The character of faith that allows us to be transformed by suffering and darkness is not doubt-free certainty; rather, it is tenacious obedience. – John Ortberg

Therefore we fight for faith with joy, inexpressible and full of glory knowing that to endure  will be to obtain the outcome in the salvation of our souls (1 Peter 1:8-9). We fight for joy, by finding our happiness in Him alone who can give it beyond the limited and perishing world that we live in. We strengthen our weak hands and knees that are feeble, and we prepare to face whatever is coming against us, knowing that He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Lastly, we hold confidently to the promise that “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). We need to look beyond the world that we live in, holding onto the promise that is to come.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. – Romans 8:28