Wednesday, November 30, 2011


"You have to forget your last marathon before you try another. Your mind can't know what's coming."  
- Frank Shorter

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

            Yogi Berra is credited with this wonderful quote. "Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical." Although Yogi’s math is off he understands a significant truth about life. Everything that we do outwardly is born in our minds. If we believe that we cannot do something we will not do it. If we believe we can do something we will overcome enormous obstacles to make it happen.

            I often play mind games with myself when I go running; especially if I really don’t feel like doing it. I will tell myself that I will run to this spot and see how I feel. Or I’ll tell myself if I am at a particular time at this spot I’ll keep going or turn around. These things really have nothing to do with my actual physical condition. They have to do with my attitude. These little mind games often are enough to get me moving.

            We play mind games with ourselves every day. If we are having a particularly difficult time at work we may steel ourselves by looking forward to lunch or to the weekend. If we are struggling to lose weight we might rationalize one thing against another. For example we tell ourselves, I will eat this chocolate donut now and walk an extra mile after work. We play mind games with our relationships. We set up all kinds of scenarios about how the other person should act or react. We draw conclusions about motive and intent without ever engaging the other person. These mind games literally shape our everyday world.

            Not all mind games are negative. In fact positive mind games are just as powerful to shape our lives as negative ones. If I can envision a positive outcome to a situation then I am more likely to attain that outcome. If I begin my work day expecting to be productive I will be. If I expect good things from other people I usually find them.

            In his letter to the Philippians Paul stressed the importance of focusing our minds in the right direction. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.” [Philippians 4:4-8 (NIV)] Whether our minds are at peace or in turmoil is dependent upon what we choose to dwell on.

            I have found that running is a great time to think. The normal distractions of life are eliminated. After I have found my pace, my mind is free to focus on other things. I often use running as a way to process things I am struggling with. I also use running as a time to pray. Prayer is a powerful tool that God has given to us to capture and control the mind games we all play. When we tap into this powerful tool we are able to gain a godly perspective on life. This doesn’t come naturally or easily. That is why we often struggle with prayer. In fact prayer can often become a battle ground; a struggle to see who and what will gain control of our minds. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” [2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)]
            You could say that prayer is the ultimate mind game. Prayer is a dialogue with God. It is not just wishful thinking or even positive thinking. It is bundling up all of the cares, concerns and desires that clamor for our attention and offering them to God. Prayer is inviting God to work in our lives, even more than that, to be in charge of our lives. Prayer is not just unloading our minds but allowing God to speak into our minds. Whether we pray out loud or in silence the action is happening within our very souls. We are consciously inviting God to be an active participant in our world. Rather than carrying the burdens of life all alone we are inviting God to carry the burden with us. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV)]

            There are some positive steps we can take to win the battle for our minds and ultimately our lives.

            The first thing we can do is pray in the Spirit. Have you ever found yourself involved in some activity outwardly but not engaged inwardly? We have all had that experience at some point in your lives. Maybe even right now. Human beings have the remarkable ability to be physically involved in some activity and have their mind in a different universe. Our body goes through the motions while our mind freely roams somewhere else. This can happen at work, at home, at church, even driving the car.

            When Paul tells us to pray in the Spirit he is challenging us to be fully engaged when we pray. We all know what it is like to have a conversation with someone but not be fully engaged. We are physically present but our mind is somewhere else. We can, and often do, experience this in prayer. The Holy Spirit is our advocate with God and our pipeline to God. As we pray we need to be fully aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are not just speaking words into the air, but we are holding a conversation with a real person, the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus left this earth he promised to send his Spirit to be with us. He is the very presence of God in our lives. To be in the Spirit therefore means to be in active cooperation with him.
            The Spirit plays a very significant role in our lives. After we receive Jesus’ invitation to be His disciple the Spirit takes up residence in our lives. He becomes our constant companion and guide. His role is to lead us to Christ. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” [John 14:26 (NIV)] Many times when we pray our focus is on us and our needs. Our prayers can become just a wish list of things we want God to do for us. When we invite the Holy Spirit to guide us in our prayers they become more centered on Christ and less on us. This does not mean that God doesn’t care about our needs. He does. Jesus himself told us to bring our requests before God. The difference is that the Holy Spirit helps us sort out what is only self-seeking from what will help us grow in our faith. As someone once said, God does not want to make us happy, he wants to make us holy.

            There are two ways that I can approach prayer. I can approach prayer in my spirit. My spirit is often like a spoiled child who demands to have his way. It is not that my spirit is completely evil, but it is tainted by evil. If I approach God only from my perspective I will have a very hard time seeing Him at work in my life. On the other hand I can approach prayer in the Spirit. When I do this I consciously submit my will to the will of God. The content of my prayers may not be substantially different but my perspective will be. I intentionally allow the Holy Spirit to reshape my thoughts and words to conform to God’s will for me. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” [Romans 8:26 (NIV)]  

            When I pray in the Spirit I can be totally honest with God. I don’t have to bargain or play games. I can freely unburden my mind and my heart to Him knowing that He will act on my behalf. When I pray in the Spirit, I release the perceived right to determine the outcome. Instead of telling God what He needs to do, I submit my requests to Him and trust Him for the best answer. To pray in the Spirit is to acknowledge that God is God and I am not. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Is There Room in the Middle for Me?

What’s Your Dominant Side?

If the left side of the brain controls the right side of our body,
And the right side of our brain controls the left side of our body,
Then only left-handed people are in their right mind.

                We are all fully aware that we have a dominant side to our bodies. We are either right-handed or left-handed. There are a few “balanced” people who can function equally well from both sides; we call them ambidextrous.  Although we notice it most with the use of our hands, our whole body reflects this “one-sidedness”. I noticed this on one of my runs. I became aware that I was pushing off harder with my right leg than my left leg. I made a conscious effort to balance the effort on both legs, but I was unable to sustain it. My right leg is definitely stronger than my left leg.
                There are many of these dichotomies in life. In a general sense we can divide people into extroverts and introverts. In simple terms an Extrovert gains energy by being around other people. On the other hand an Introvert gains energy by being alone.  Both kinds of people can be very social but they respond to social settings differently. Just as the scale tends to tip toward people being right-handed, the scale tends to tip toward people being on the Extrovert. Most people will find themselves somewhere in the middle. These people are called ambiverts.
                In a similar way there is a tendency for people to be directed by emotions or reason. For some people, their first response to most situations is to respond emotionally. For other people, their first response to most situations is to respond thoughtfully. Most people respond with some combination of the two.
                What I want to do is establish two important points. First, everyone tends to lean to one side or the other of the continuum. Second, while some people live at the extremes of the continuum, most people live somewhere in the middle. Even in our physical bodies, the difference between our right and left side is not so great that they cannot function together in a coordinated effort.
                When it comes to theology, one of the dichotomies is Law vs. Grace. On the Law side of the equation a heavy emphasis is placed on doing the right things. Sometimes this is referred to as “works righteousness”. In an extreme form it demands that a person live under all the Old Testaments laws. In a more common form, being a Christian is seen as carefully keeping a set6 of rules regarding a person’s conduct. A good Christian does not do certain things and definitely does other things. On the Grace side of the equation a heavy emphasis is placed on freedom. An extreme expression of this would say that it doesn’t matter how we live our lives. We can do whatever we want to do because God’s grace has covered us. A more common expression of this is to downplay lifestyle issues as less important than what a person believes. What I would like to suggest is that there is a place in the middle that is where God wants us to be. You could call it being spiritual ambidextrous or a spiritual ambivert.
                Jesus lived in the middle between Law and Grace. He always upheld the Law but also demonstrated grace freely. The clearest display of Jesus’ law side is found in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. Jesus walks through the demands of the Law and applies them in even stricter terms. He made it clear that it was not enough to keep the Law outwardly but that a person had to keep it in his heart as well. Matthew 5: 17 makes it clear that Jesus did not intend to do away with the Law. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” [Matthew 5:17 (NIV)] On the other hand Jesus demonstrated grace. The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is an example. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to openly condemn the woman because the law demanded it. Jesus challenged them with their own sin, then forgave the woman, but not without a challenge as well.
                When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.  Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin." [John 8:7-11 (NIV)]
                Jesus offered grace without compromising the true intent of the Law.
                The Apostle Paul took a similar stand. We often think of Paul as the Apostle of Grace. Indeed he fought a constant battle with those who would impose Jewish Law on all believers. At the same time Paul challenged those who wanted to turn our freedom in Christ into license. What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? [Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)] In 1 Corinthians Paul reminds his readers that how we live our lives matters. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
[1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (NIV)]
                Our faith also tends to have a dominant side. We either lean toward Law or Grace. We tend to either focus on rules for Christian living or on the freedom we have in Christ. The Pharisees focused on the rules. The disciples focused on freedom. We will naturally lean more heavily to one side or the other. We will also wonder about the spiritual health of those who lean in the opposite direction.
                Dietrich Bonheoffer, in his book Life Together, counsels us to be careful that our dominant side does not cancel out our other side. Spiritually we need both sides of the equation to be whole and healthy followers of Christ. We need to learn to be spiritually ambidextrous. 

Friday, November 25, 2011


Paul was able to rejoice in his thorn in the flesh because he saw the power of God at work. His weakness was an opportunity for people to see that the power of God is real. He came to realize that his real strength was found in tapping into the eternal power of the Living God. The more Paul was able to step aside and let God work the stronger he became.

            Our weakness is an opportunity for God’s power to show through. God has given us incredible abilities that allow us to face a variety of situations. At our best we can tackle complex problems with skill and confidence. I believe God is pleased by that, but God is not always honored by that. It is not that the individual believer is leaving God out of the picture. She may be actively giving the credit to God for her success. But from the outside, from the perspective of the unbeliever, it is only a case of a competent person using their talents well. Our strength can get in the way of people seeing God at work. But when we are weak a different story emerges.

            Brian was a pastor in Nebraska. He had a successful ministry in a solid church. People were blessed by his preaching and teaching. Then his health began to deteriorate. He was diagnosed with cancer and began treatment. He became physically weak and was unable to do all the things that he normally did. Brian could have become discouraged and even bitter. I’m sure that he had more than one session of pleading with God. But Brian tapped into an inner strength that turned his situation into a demonstration of God’s power. Brian used very cancer treatment as an opportunity to declare the glory of God. While the doctors and nurses attended to his physical needs he would joyfully tell them of his relationship with Jesus and the hope he had for the future. Out of his weakness Brian demonstrated the power of God to overcome. Brian lost his battle with cancer but left behind a legacy of hope. He ran his race all the way to the end. At his funeral many of those doctors and nurses testified to the joy Brian radiated in a dark situation.

            When Paul says that when I am weak then I am strong he wasn’t negating the gifts and talents God had given to him. He was acknowledging that he could accomplish only so much on his own. At the end of his abilities the power of God took over to do amazing things.

            God wants us to us our gifts and our talents to their full potential. But he doesn’t want us to become enamored with them. Instead he wants us to surrender them to him so that he can use them in ways we never could. The cry of a true follower of Jesus is not look how great I am but look how great God is. The very breath I take is a gift from God. The more I embrace the reality that I am powerless on my own the stronger I become.

            When the pain comes, as it inevitably will, the temptation is to stop running. At the end of the Living History Farms Race there is a long incline. It is a real killer after you have already run 6 miles. Half way up the hill I was laboring; struggling to keep moving forward. I was really tempted to stop. A young lady came running up from behind me. She could tell I was having a hard time. As she passed me she said, “You’re doing great. Keep it up. You’re going to make it.” I smiled back and kept on fighting for the top. Over the past 30 years I have faced many painful and discouraging times. I have been tempted to pull out of the race. It is at those times that Jesus runs next to me and assures me that we can do this together.

            We can let the struggles of life defeat us or we can see the struggles of life as an opportunity to experience the power of God. God’s grace is sufficient for every situation we face. We can keep on running even when it hurts.

            “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


When Paul was facing his pain God did not leave Paul to “walk it off” so to speak. Instead of taking away Paul’s pain, God gave Paul his grace. He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.” What did God mean by that? God would give Paul the power to overcome his pain.

            Grace is an interesting word. It can mean to conduct oneself in a composed and appropriate way; to be graceful. For example; she descended the stairs with grace and dignity. Or he conducted the meeting with grace. On a much more profound level it refers to the unmerited favor of God. Steward Briscoe defined grace this way. Mercy is not receiving the punishment you deserve. Grace is receiving the benefits you don’t deserve. When God told Paul that His grace would be sufficient He was saying that He would provide the resources that Paul didn’t have to meet the challenge Paul was facing. As Paul trusted that grace he could then conduct himself in an appropriate, God-honoring way.

            By trusting God in the face of his pain, the power of God was demonstrated in Paul’s life. It was evident to all around Paul that his ability to handle the pain came from outside of himself. Paul became a living example of the grace of God at work. Instead of being bitter he could rejoice. Instead of giving up the race he was able to keep on running.

            Derek Redmond had a dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. At the age of 19 he had shattered the British 400 meter record. His dream was put on hold when just 10 minutes before the start of the 400 meter race at the 1988 games in Seoul he had to withdraw due to an Achilles tendon injury. Five surgeries and much rehab later he was ready to compete at the 1992 games in Barcelona.

            The day came for the preliminaries for the 400 meters. The top four runners from the two semi-final heats would advance to the finals and compete for the gold. Derek was confident as he approached the starting line. The race went well for Derek and it looked like he would easily qualify for the finals. With 175 meters left to go Derek heard a loud pop then stumbled. Grabbing his leg began hopping toward the finish line. Then he fell to the track in pain. The medical staff rushed to assist him but he pushed them away. He was determined to finish the race. Suddenly a figure came running out of the stands. It was his father Jim. Jim helped Derek to his feet, and then with his arm slung across his father’s shoulders, they made their way to the finish line.

            What a powerful image of the grace of God. When we stumble and fall, when pain immobilizes us, our Father comes to pick us up. By His strength we are able to continue the race. The pain may not be gone, but the power to overcome is there. All we have to do is lean on Him.

            God always gives us what we need to handle the pain. The thing we need more than anything else is His presence. Throughout the scriptures God repeats a promise to all who face the struggles and hardships of life. I will be with you. When Abraham left his home and headed for the Promised Land God assured him I will go with you. When Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt God promised him I will be with you. When Joshua stood on the shore of the Jordan River God promised him I will be with you. And when Jesus’ disciples faced the challenge of building the church Jesus promised I will be with you even to the end of the age. God has not gone back on His promise. When we find ourselves headed into the storm Jesus assures us I will be with you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


"Running is a mental sport...and we're all insane!"
“Learn to run when feeling the pain: then push harder.”
-Les Brown

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

            One of the things that every runner has to contend with is the aches and pains that come with the sport. Sometimes it comes in the form of a side ache. Most of us can remember what those are like from running the mile in gym class. Somewhere during your second time around the track you would get a cramp in your side. All you wanted to do was stop because it hurt so badly. But the gym teacher always had a stock answer for those who tried to give up. Do you remember it? Walk it off. It was the same answer I got from my track coach at the beginning of the season. Coach I’ve got a side cramp. Walk it off Banfield. Just walk it off.

            I cannot remember the last time I had a genuine side ache when running. That doesn’t mean that I am pain free though. Instead I feel the pain in a number of other places. Before I start my run I feel it in my legs as I stretch out. Every muscle is tight and wants to stay that way. They protest loudly as I stretch each one. Once I am on the trail the pain moves to my knees. As my foot pounds down on the blacktop path the shock is registered in my knees. But the real pain comes later, after the run is done and I have cooled down. I sit in the chair to read or watch a little TV. I am lulled into as false sense of well-being, which quickly dissipates when I try to stand up. At that point my back, my hips and my legs all complain at the same time. Some people ask me if you experience that much pain, why do you keep running? Because it makes me feel so good, I reply.

            Pain is a part of life. We would all like to live pain free, but that is unlikely to happen. We can expect to encounter pain all along the journey of life. It will come in the form of physical pain. Most of the time it will be mild like a headache or a stubbed toe. It may come as a major crisis like a heart attack or cancer. No one gets through life without facing some kind of physical pain. It will also come in the form of emotional pain. Often emotional pain is far more difficult to deal with. Physical pain is mostly external but emotional pain sinks deeply into our soul. The real question is not if we will face pain in our life. It is how we will handle the pain that we will encounter along the way.

            Paul was no stranger to pain. During his race he had to face pain time and again. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-29 Paul expounds on his many difficulties along the way. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” Paul faced both physical and emotional pain, yet he kept running.
            In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul used his pain to teach us about how to approach our struggles. On this occasion he was referring to a physical ailment that he does not identify. He spoke of how he pleaded with God to take this pain away from him. I have always found this passage strangely intriguing. We know from the book of Acts that God had given Paul the ability to heal people. Yet on this occasion God chose not to heal Paul. More about that in a moment. First let’s deal with the reality that Paul was not immune from pain and suffering.
            There is a popular view today that if a person is really in tune with God he or she will never be sick of face any major difficulties. This is just not true. Paul, one of God’s most influential servants, faced a variety of painful experiences during his race. If Paul was not exempt from suffering then we should not expect to be.
            What did Paul do when confronted with pain? Did he whine and complain? Did he stop running the race? No, he took his pain to God. The passage tells us that he prayed three times for God to remove his “thorn in the flesh”. In fact he pleaded his case before God. Paul took his situation seriously and went to the one place where he could receive help. Paul was living out what he had often taught others to do. Paul instructed the Philippians to do exactly what he was doing. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)  
            When we feel the pain of the race the first thing we need to do is take it to God. Unfortunately this is often the last thing we do. We tend to exhaust all our other options first. Our tendency is to try to handle it ourselves. Sometimes this only makes the situation worse.
            Dirk had little time for doctors. When his wife suggested that he have a physical he brushed the idea aside. I’m in great shape. I don’t need to see a doctor. The problem was that Dirk was not in great shape. He had been experiencing some discomfort in his chest whenever he exerted himself. He ignored it, rationalizing that everyone has small aches and pains as they get older. One night, as he sat down to watch TV, a massive pain slammed him in the chest. He slumped in his chair, unconscious. He awoke the next day to find himself in the intensive care unit of the local hospital.
            In the race of life, when we choose to ignore the pains that come our way we set ourselves up for a fall. God has given us pain as an early warning system of danger. We ignore it at our peril. This is true of both physical and emotional pain. Pain of any kind should lead us to the Great Physician.
            Paul took his pain to God. What he discovered was that God doesn’t always take our pain away. At first this must have been a surprise to Paul. He had witnessed the healing power of God firsthand. He knew that God could heal him. He desired for God to heal him, but God said no. Paul was willing to trust God even if the pain was not removed.

            God does not spare us from all pain in life. I think we would all be amazed if we knew just how much pain God does protect us from. There have been many times when I know God stepped in to protect me from some pain, but he doesn’t always do that. God does not remove all pain in life. Sometimes God has a higher purpose for our pain. He may or may not reveal that purpose to us. We need to learn to trust him.

            Terry was a member of my youth group. He was a typical, energetic 13 year old boy. On one occasion I took the youth on a weekend camping trip. For dinner we had some fresh cherries. I warned the kids not to eat too many of them because of the potential consequences. Terry ate more than his share that night. About midnight I heard a rustle and looked out to see Terry sprinting for the bathroom.

            Terry was fun and full of life. He was also full of something else, cancer. Terry spent a little over a year waging a valiant battle with his deadly enemy. We prayed earnestly for Terry that God would heal him. I visited him several times while he spent time in the hospital. There were signs of progress and we all hoped for the best. Then I received the call that Terry had lost his battle.

            I performed Terry’s funeral. Through bitter tears I tried to give some comfort to his grieving family. I was angry and disappointed with God. Why would he let a 13 year old die? I still have no answers, but I know that that experience of pain had a profound effect on my life. I have walked that same path with many families since that time. I have learned to walk with genuine empathy. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Genesis 1:26 (NIV)
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."

                What does it mean for us to be created in the image of God? Usually when we think of the word “image” we think of the outward appearance of something. Obviously God was not referring to our physical appearance when he said let us make man in our image. If that were so we should all look alike, but we do not. Besides, God is spirit and does not reside in a physical body. So He must have been thinking of something else. To find the answer to our question we need to look past our outward appearance to what is on the inside of us. I don’t mean our internal organs. I mean our soul.
                The primary way that we are created in the image of God is that we have an eternal soul. We were created to live forever. Because of sin our lifespan on this earth has limits, but our soul does not. The Bible tells us that when our physical body dies our soul survives and enters eternity. Because we have been created with a soul that is shaped in the image of God we have been blessed with some qualities unique to humanity. Each of these are expressions of the image of God in us.
                One of the things that sets us apart from the rest of creation is our ability to think and reason. We are able to take in information and process it in a variety of ways. We can reflect upon the past and learn from it. By storing information from the past we can build a data base that allows us to progress. We are not limited to doing the same things over and over. We have the capacity to analyze information and change our behavior accordingly.
                We can think about the future. The future is an abstract concept. It does not yet exist, yet we can visualize what it might be. Even the fact that we realize there is a future reflects the image of God. Our ability to think in abstract terms allows us to think about God.
                We have the ability to make choices that are adjusted to our circumstances and our needs. We are not controlled by the survival instinct alone. We can choose to make sacrifices now in order to attain a greater good in the future. We can even choose to disregard our safety for the sake of others.
                We have the ability to learn new things. We can learn new skills. We can learn new applications of information.
                 We also reflect the image of God by our ability to be creative. God has given to us the ability to take the raw materials of this world and create new and beforehand unknown things. 100 years ago who could have imaged the internet or an IPad? Yet they are a reality today because God has given us the ability to be creative.
                This ability was demonstrated from the very beginning. Genesis 2:18-20 (NIV)
The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found.
                God gave the task of naming all of the animals to Adam. I cannot even imagine how Adam did that, yet he did. He was reflecting the image of God. In fact scientists carry on Adam’s legacy today. When they find a new organism they name it.
                There are many ways that we exhibit this aspect of the image of God. Some people do it through music. Although some animals have songs, no animal has the breadth and variety of music that humans do. For all other animals songs are functional; mating or warning. For humans music is transformational. We attended a band concert the other night. The variety of instruments in a concert band reflects the creativity of God and the uniqueness of humanity. I have never seen an animal play a French horn or a flute.
                Some people are gifted in art of various forms. Art is an expression of the creative image of God. Art serves no purpose in the survival and propagation of the human race, yet it enhances and enriches it. It can take the form of painting, sculpting, or forming things out of clay and other materials. Animals do not paint pictures or create statues, but we do.
                Some demonstrate the gift of creativity through writing. Writing combines our ability to think and reason with our creative nature to produce something that did not exist before. We can create a world that is totally different from anything we know. For example; the worlds of Middle Earth from the pen of JRR Tolkien and Narnia from the pen of CS Lewis. There is a wealth of stories, both short and long, fiction and non-fiction that express the breadth and depth of our creative possibilities in writing.
                Some of us are creative in practical ways, such as architecture or making furniture. How many animals do you know live in a three story brick house and sleep on a four poster bed with night stands at the side? In all of creation humanity is unique because of our ability to be creative.

                One of the most amazing ways that we reflect the image of God is our ability to feel and express emotions. Animals seem to demonstrate this quality on a very simple level, but only humans have a breadth of emotions. An example is our ability to love. This comes directly from God. 1 John 4:7-12 (NIV)
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
                We can feel love, hate, anger, frustration, joy, delight, sorrow, happiness and the list can go on. Not only do we feel these emotions but we can express them in both words and actions. We are, at our core, emotional beings, even when we try to hide it. All of these emotions come directly from God. We don’t often think of God as having emotions, yet if we look closely at the Bible we will discover that He does. Not only does God express love, He also expresses anger, delight, joy, frustration and more.

                The greatest reflection of the image of God is our ability to enter into relationships with other people and with God. If you notice carefully, Genesis 1: 26 says “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” “Our” is a plural word. For all of eternity God has existed in perfect community; Father, Son and Spirit. When God created us he did it with the understanding that we too would live in community. First we are to live in community with God and then with one another.
                When Jesus was asked what the most important command was he answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Luke 10:27 (NIV)
                Animals may live in herds or family groups but they don’t live in community like we do. They may interact with the members of their group but they don’t develop genuine relationships like we do. They may communicate basic information to one another but they do not communicate the depth of information we do. A wolf or a monkey may be able to express fear but not sadness over the loss of a friend. The whole concept of friendship is a human quality not matched in the rest of creation. We are unique in our ability to develop meaningful relationships.

                There is much more to being created in the image of God, but I hope this has raised your awareness of just how unique you are. As we approach Thanksgiving take some time to celebrate that you are created in the image of God. Reflect upon your life and then express your gratitude to God. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Paul told the Galatians that once they had tested themselves they were free from the comparison game. Knowing who God created us to be and then living that out is the most freeing thing we can do. God has gifted each of us in unique ways. When we discover our unique makeup and live within those boundaries we are energized.

            When we compete against ourselves we are free to become who God created us to be. The problem with comparing ourselves with others is that we let them dictate who we become. Growing up we all let peer pressure shape our lives. We find our sense of value and worth by comparing ourselves to others. I am a better athlete than she is. I am a better student than he is. I am more attractive than they are. Instead of discovering our unique qualities we strive to prove ourselves against some external standard.

            Growing up in the church being a missionary was held up as the highest form of service to God. If you were an exceptional Christian you became a missionary. If you were a good Christian you went into some kind of “full-time ministry” like being a pastor. If you were just an average Christian you showed up on Sunday and supported those who were really committed. This message was never overtly stated in this way, but it was definitely communicated to an impressionable young boy. When I felt the call of God on my life I automatically assumed it meant missionary service. Without confiding this information in anyone else I set my sights on becoming a missionary. I determined that I would do this by becoming a Medical Technician and working in a hospital in Haiti. I spent six years of my life actively pursuing that goal. Along the way God kept whispering in my ear that maybe my gifts were in a different area. I pushed those promptings aside because I was going to be a missionary with a capital “M”. It wasn’t until I was in seminary that God finally broke through and redirected my course. I finally began to accept the person God created me to be instead of trying to be the person I thought others expected me to be. My journey turned from duty to delight.

            Fully accepting the gifts, talents and interests that God has hard-wired into us is the first step to true freedom. As you journey through life you will encounter people who are more gifted than you are and less gifted than you are. Your value as a person is not dependent upon how you compare to those people. Your value is measured by the person God created you to be. Instead of seeing others as the competition, view them as fellow travelers on the same journey. You are free to celebrate their gifts as well as your own. When we stop comparing ourselves to others then we are truly free to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and to mourn with those who mourn”.

            There is another benefit to competing with ourselves rather than others. We are free to ask for help from others. One of the greatest fears people have today is to be viewed as weak or powerless. To admit a need makes us feel vulnerable. That can be a very scary place to be. Consequently we guard ourselves against showing any weakness. Instead of asking for help we adopt a “do-it-yourself” mentality.

            There was a severe car accident on a bridge over a river. A car had crashed through the railing and was hanging over the edge. The driver of the car, a young woman, was pinned in the front seat. A truck driver rushed to the car, attached a toe-rope to the frame and secured it to the other side of the bridge. Soon the emergency people arrived but they were unable to reach the young woman. They had to call for a crane to come and lift the car back unto the bridge deck. Finally, with the use of the Jaws of Life, they freed the woman from the car. Afterward one of the emergency workers commented, “It was the strangest thing. The whole time we are working to rescue that woman she kept repeating I can do it myself.”

            The Bible tells us that we cannot do it ourselves. The journey of life is not a solo journey but a community adventure. Each of us needs the other to be successful along the way. All of us need help from time to time. If we are secure in our identity in Christ we are free to ask for the help we need. James 5:16 tells us, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  
            Finally when we compete against ourselves we are free to offer help to others. My major in college was biology. Most of my classmates were “pre-med”. That meant that they had their sights set on going to medical school. Getting into medical school is very competitive. Only about 40% of applicants are accepted each year. Because of the very competitive nature of medical school acceptance many of my classmates were reluctant to help other students who were struggling. They were not free to help others succeed. They were afraid someone else’s success would threaten their own.

            This competitive spirit is alive and well within the church. Churches compete against other churches for pride of place. Believers compete against other believers to prove how spiritual they are. Some are reluctant to help others to develop their spiritual gifts and talents because it might threaten their place within the spiritual community. They give lip service to encouraging one another while they let others struggle and fail. Thankfully this is not always the case. Many successful churches have realized that they have a responsibility to help other churches succeed. Many mature believers willingly give of their time and wisdom to help young believers grow in their faith.

            The root cause of a negative, competitive spirit is pride. By nature we like to compare ourselves to those who are “not as good” as we are. This makes us feel better about who we are. But it is a false sense of well-being. Pride is a trap that sets us up to fail. Proverbs 16:18 makes that very clear. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
            Paul talks about a different kind of pride: pride born not out of comparison to others but born out of a realistic understanding of ourselves.  The more secure I am with the gifts and talents that God has given me the freer I am to extend help to others. When I help others use their gifts to their fullest potential the whole body of Christ benefits. I am not threatened by their success, I am energized by it. By helping others grow in their faith my faith is strengthened. Unlike in the world of medical school there is room for everyone to succeed on this journey of faith.
            At least on the surface it looks like we live in a world where it is ok to just get by. Many people are willing to settle for something less than their best as long as they can maintain their position in the race. Two men were backpacking in the wilderness when they came upon a grizzly bear. Upon seeing the two hikers the bear rose up on his hind legs and roared. One of the hikers quickly took off his pack and pulled out a pair of tennis shoes. As he frantically tore off his heavy boots the other hiker declared, you will never outrun that bear. I don’t have to outrun the bear, he replied. I just have to outrun you. That is the way many people view life. There is a better way.
            In the race of life the only measure that matters is the progress I am making toward becoming more like Christ. I am running against myself and no one else. When I get to the finish line it will not matter how I did compared to the other runners. What will matter is if my master declares, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Every successful corporate body is guided by an overarching vision. This is true of businesses and churches. The vision becomes the measuring stick against which success is measured. Groups work very hard to craft a meaningful and compelling vision. But once the vision is established something else happens. It is called vision drift. Unless the vision is constantly revisited the group, over time, will drift off center and away from the vision.

            All of us are subject to spiritual vision drift. As followers of Jesus our ultimate goal is to conform to his image. We want to become more and more like Christ. Jesus summed up this vision in Luke 10:27. "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" This vision is worked out in the great commission. We are to invite people into a relationship with Jesus and then help them to grow in that relationship. In our heads we affirm this lofty vision, but in our everyday lives we live out something else.

            Vision drift leads us off course to places we didn’t intend to go. We begin to believe that the real goal of the Christian life is to be happy and have all my needs met. We begin to glory in the gifts and talents that God has given us and forget about the giver. Instead of using these gifts for God’s glory, we use them to increase our status and influence. As a church we begin to measure our success by the size of our building and the number of people who attend our programs. The idea of inviting people to become genuine followers of Jesus is gently pushed into the shadows. There are many other ways that we experience spiritual vision drift. The important point is to recognize when it is happening and correct it.

            Paul told the Galatians to do an honest self-evaluation. “Each one should test his own actions.” When I worked as a lab tech in the hospital one of the tests I had to run was blood gasses. It was a very important test and so the results needed to be accurate. In order to assure the accuracy of the results I had to calibrate the machine using a known standard. Once the standard was establish I could trust the results. God has given us an accurate standard against which we can test the actions of our life. It is found in the Bible. The Bible is like a spiritual X-ray machine that has the power to reveal what is below the surface. It takes courage to submit ourselves to the revealing power of God’s Word. God doesn’t put spin on our reality to make it more positive. God holds up the X-ray and shows us exactly what is there.

            In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul writes to his young apprentice about the power of God’s Word. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Our lives are not measured against what others are doing. Our lives are measured against the ultimate standard of God. The Bible is not just another book of wisdom and knowledge. The Bible contains, reveals, and unlocks the life of God. We cannot experience a significant relationship with God without the Bible. The Bible teaches us what it really means to be a follower of Jesus. It reveals to us the sin and rebellion that are so deeply imbedded in our lives. It shows us how to turn away from sin and toward God. It gives us the tools to live truly godly lives.

            We all need to conduct regular self-exams to guard against spiritual drift. This is more than just a five minute scripture reading on our way out of the door. If we want to stay on course we need to spend time absorbing God’s word. Then we need to let God’s word shape our thoughts and our actions. When our thoughts and actions come into conflict with God’s Word we need to have the courage to face reality. Failing to face reality will have serious consequences.

            There is great freedom in having an accurate view of ourselves. Comparing ourselves to others can become a very confining experience. The 1981 movie Chariots of Fire is the true story of two British track athletes, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell. Both were selected to run for Great Britain in the 1924 Summer Olympics. Liddell was a committed Christian and ran for the glory of God. He had once remarked to his sister, “God has made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.” Abrahams was obsessed with being the very best. His life was nothing if he was not better than the best in the world. Both men won gold medals in their individual races at the Olympics. Liddell was able to celebrate his victory and move on. Abrahams was undone by his victory. His whole life was wrapped up in winning the gold medal. Once he had achieved that goal he felt hollow.

            That is the way it is when we compare ourselves to others. The thrill of the victory quickly fades as we realize that it is only fleeting. There is always someone who will work even harder than we do to be better than we are. Being the best at anything lasts for a fleeting moment. But you can always be your best.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors.
Try to be better than yourself.

--William Faulkner

"In running, it doesn't matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say 'I have finished.' There is a lot of satisfaction in that."
-Sam Mussabini

If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
 Galatians 6:3-5 (NIV)

            Running is a simple sport. It requires very little equipment. All that you need is a good pair of running shoes, shorts, a T-shirt and a watch. Every run begins with the click of the watch.

            My standard training run is a four-mile course. After I have stretched to loosen up the old muscles, I start the timer on my watch and take off. Because I have run this course so often I know where all the ½ mile and mile markers are. As I pass each one I glance down at my watch to see how I am doing. It tells me if I am slow, fast or on pace. My goal is to gradually improve my time. Every time I run I am running against the clock.

            There are several annual runs in our community that I participate in. These runs are of various lengths over different courses. Usually at these races there are a hand-full of pretty serious runners. The rest of us are there for the experience. Before I start a race I determine a time that I am shooting for. For example, in my first ½ marathon I set a goal of finishing in two and a half hours. So when the gun goes off I click my watch and start running. As I pass each mile marker I check my watch to see how I am doing. I don’t gauge my race by the runners around me, but by the time on my watch. I like to start near the front of the pack. My adrenaline is pumping so I don’t like feeling trapped in the middle of the crowd. Very quickly the faster runners pass me. I know that if I increase my pace to keep up with them I will not have enough energy to finish the race. Instead I let them go by. At the end of the race it doesn’t matter how many runners finished ahead of me. What matters is if I reached my goal.

            Competition is a big part of running. It allows us to test ourselves against others. When it is kept in its proper perspective it is a good thing. Competition challenges us to push our limits. It motivates us to work hard. It actually helps us achieve more than we thought was possible. But when it becomes all about winning it can distort our perspective.

            In the race of life the only person that we need to compete against is the one we see staring back at us in the mirror. We can use others to motivate us to strive harder, but at the end of the day the question is did I meet my goal. A wise Rabbi once said, “When I get to heaven God is not going to ask me why I wasn’t Moses. He is going to ask me why I wasn’t me.”

            Paul gives us some great insights into running against our personal clock. He begins by telling us to take a good look in the mirror. Many of us have a distorted view of ourselves. Our tendency is to view ourselves in a more positive light than is warranted, although at times we see ourselves more negatively than we should. We tend to overlook our faults and focus only on our perceived strengths. Paul warns us against developing an inflated view of ourselves.

            Arthur was a gifted runner. He had been blessed with stamina and power that allowed him to excel in long distance races. Throughout High School he was a star on the cross-country and track teams. Although he didn’t win every race, he was consistently among the top runners. After High School Arthur went on to college. As happens to all of us, life got busy and running took a back seat in his life. A couple of years later some friends challenged him to run in the Chicago Marathon. He thought, why not? I can do this. So he pulled out his running shoes and started preparing. His training wasn’t as consistent as he would have liked but he reasoned that he was still in good enough shape to make a good showing. He set a goal of finishing in less than 3 hours and 10 minutes, which would qualify him for the Boston Marathon. The competitive fires that he had felt in High School began to burn bright. He started talking boldly about what he would do in the marathon. The day of the race found him filled with excitement and only a little apprehension. He had never run a marathon before. All went well at the beginning of the race. He quickly settled into his pace and was feeling good. He even began to think he could do better than his goal. He passed mile 20 tired but in good spirits. At mile 23 his legs cramped, forcing him to stop. He walked the last 3 miles of the race. He finished the race in 3 hours and 45 minutes; a great time but well short of his goal.

            When we develop an inflated view of ourselves we set ourselves up for failure. Natural talent and giftedness can take us only so far. Without a regular reality check we soon discover that we have run out of steam. Just as this is true in the physical realm of our lives, it is ever truer in the spiritual realm. Paul warned the Galatians that thinking they were more spiritually mature than they actually were was very dangerous.

            Throughout my years of ministry I have often had to face a spiritual reality check. This usually occurred following an extended period of outward success. I would begin to feel very comfortable with my spiritual leadership and then I would hit a wall. God would do something to make me take a more realistic view of myself.

            There are several warning signs that should alert us to an inflated self-image. The first is the feeling that I cannot fail. Like the runner who arrogantly announces that he will win every race, we begin to believe that whatever we do will be successful. We don’t consider failure to be a possibility, let alone an option. We begin to buy into the lie that we are too big or too important to fail. The twin sister to the feeling that I cannot fail is the feeling that I am better than everyone else. My opinions are worth more. My actions are of greater significance. I desire to be honored as the best. Underlying both of these warning signs is the warning sign of denial. We strongly deny anything that threatens our false sense of reality. As one comedian put it, I reject your reality and assert my own. When we are challenged with information that makes us face reality we get angry and fight back. Paul says that when we yield to ego inflation the only person we are deceiving is ourselves.

            One of the ways that we can guard our hearts against ego inflation is to engage with a small group of trusted friends. A true friend is someone who will hold up the mirror of reality with love and grace. They don’t do it to tear us down, but ultimately to make us stronger. Like a good coach, they can point out our weak spots and help us move in a new direction.

            When I began my ministry as a solo pastor I knew that I was going to be in trouble if I tried to go it alone. I began to pray for God to reveal to me a couple of men who could both encourage me and hold me accountable. He gave me two men who agreed to meet with me on a weekly basis. It took a little time for the three of us to develop an appropriate level of trust. We had to get to know one another on more than just a superficial level. Once trust was established we were able to talk about all aspects of life. Through the years these men have supported and challenged me. They have not been afraid to tell me when I was off base or unrealistic. They have been one of my greatest assets on this journey of life. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Is There Room in the Middle for Me?


                A question that often arises is, “Can a person lose their salvation?” That is an important question to consider. The way that we answer that question will shape our relationship with Christ. On the one end of the spectrum is the perspective that, yes, a person can lose their salvation. If this is taken to an extreme, it leads to a life lived in fear and anxiety.  On the other end of the spectrum is the perspective that, no, a person cannot lose their salvation. If this is taken to the extreme, it leads to an apathetic life. I believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. I believe that once a person is saved they cannot lose their salvation. I also believe that how we live our lives matters to God. We are not free to live however we wish and expect God’s grace to cover our sins. So let’s take a look at a few scriptures that can guide us on this exploration.
                There is a powerful passage in John 10 that speaks to this issue. Jesus refers to those who are his true disciples as his sheep. This is what he says. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. [John 10:27-29 (NIV)]
                Jesus declares that those who are his disciples are given eternal life and they shall never perish. When a person puts their faith in Christ they are infused with the very life of God. That life is never ending. A true believer cannot perish. Jesus was not talking about physical life but of spiritual. This physical life is temporary and will come to an end. Our life in Christ will not. Now here is the significant image that Jesus gives us, which speaks to our security in him. He says it twice so that we won’t miss it. He says that no one can snatch them out of his hand. He takes it one step farther and says no one can snatch them out of his Father’s hand. Then verse 30 says “I and the Father are one.”
                I have three children. When they were young, whenever we were in a public place, I made them hold my hand. I did it for their safety and security. Sometimes they would want to chase after something and so they would try to let go of my hand, but I would tighten my grip. Their safety was not dependent upon the strength of their grip but of mine.
                This is the image that Jesus is using here. We are saved by God’s grace and we are held secure by God’s grace. The security of my salvation is not dependent upon the strength of my hold on God, but of His hold on me. In fact, we are held doubly secure by the Father and the Son. It is like a child walking between his parents, with each parent holding a hand. The child may try to escape but his chances are slim. We are held secure in the firm and sure grip of our Lord and Savior.
                There is another passage that speaks to the security of our salvation. It is found in 2 Corinthians 5:17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! This passage speaks of the transformation that takes place when a person puts their faith in Christ. Paul tells us that we are recreated in Christ. Our old nature is taken away and replaced with a new nature.
                We are all familiar with the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The caterpillar begins life as a fat, slug-like creature that is confined to crawling on the plants as it seeks food. At the right time the caterpillar attaches itself to a branch of a plant and encases itself in a fine silk robe. For a time it seems like nothing is happening. The fine silk is battered by the elements and become dull and dirty. Then one day the case splits open and out emerges something very different, a butterfly. It has a slender body with delicate legs and beautiful wings. Within minutes the butterfly is airborne and experiencing a whole new life. There has never been a case where a butterfly has turned back into a caterpillar. It is impossible. The old is gone and the new has come.
                So it is with our spiritual transformation. We still must battle the effects of sin. We still struggle to do what is right. But an inner transformation has taken place that cannot be reversed. We have been given a new heart. In the book of Ezekiel, God promises to remove our heart of stone and give us a new heart of flesh.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. [Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NIV)]
                Let’s look at one more passage that speaks of the security of our salvation. This passage also speaks to the importance of what we do with our lives. Christ gives us eternal life, but he also calls us to make the most of our life here on earth. Paul writes about that in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.
                By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
                Paul teaches us a couple of very important truths. First, once the foundation of faith is laid it is secure. Because we are saved by grace and not by our works, the foundation of our lives is guaranteed by God. He is the Master Craftsman who built a perfect foundation for each one of us. Second, we are expected to build upon that foundation. In fact we spend our lives building. Every action, every decision, every word combine to create our spiritual house. When we respond to God’s leading and faithfully follow His direction, we build with enduring materials. When we choose to go our own way, we build with temporary materials. On the Day of Judgment our spiritual house will be put to the test. All that is enduring will survive and all that is temporary with disappear. I’m afraid most of us will have some major holes in our structure. The good news is that even if it all collapses the foundation will remain.
                We dare not take these truths for granted. How we live our lives matters to God. God wants to use us to further His Kingdom and His glory in our world. We only have a short time to do that. Every day counts in light of eternity. God values what we do so much that Jesus promised that He will reward us for our faithful service. When we presume upon God’s grace we forfeit the rewards God has planned for us.
                Someone pictured it this way. When we get to heaven Jesus is going to take us to a special room set aside for us. In that room will be a large table and upon that table will be many gifts. He will bring us to the table and joyfully present us with our rewards. Also in that room will be a series of shelves that are out of our reach. Upon those shelves will be sealed boxes. Out of curiosity will we ask Jesus what is in those boxes? He will reply, “Those are the rewards you could have had.” It is a fanciful way of looking at heaven, but it makes the point.
                For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. [2 Corinthians 5:10 (NIV)]
                There is one last thought I must interject at this point. Jesus does not want us to live in fear. In fact Jesus came to deliver us from fear. One of the most repeated commands in the Bible is “do not be afraid.” When we enter into a relationship with Jesus, through faith, we experience his love and grace. His love is perfect and 1 John 4:18 tells us that perfect love drives out fear. If we are living under a cloud of fear that we might lose our salvation then we are not experiencing Jesus’ perfect love.
                The Scriptures teach us that we cannot work for our salvation; it is a gift from God. Therefore I believe we also cannot work ourselves out of our salvation. Yet we are responsible to work within our salvation to the glory of God.
                Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. [Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)]

Friday, November 11, 2011


Not all of the rewards God promises are reserved for the sweet by and by. God offers us many rewards along the way, which we can experience now. Each time we master a skill or overcome a difficulty we experience the joy that comes from knowing that we succeeded. It is like an actor winning several Oscars during his career and then winning a lifetime achievement award. The smaller wins made the big win possible. God promises us many rewards if we will continue to run the race.

“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
    So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (Hebrews 10:32-36 NIV)

            In the movie Dead Poets’ Society John Keating (played by Robin Williams) taught his students to experience life not just observe it. That movie popularized the Latin phrase Carpe Diem; Seize the day. We can be observers to life or we can become actively engaged in life. As we run the race of life we need to seize the moment. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Galatians 6:10 NIV)

            Paul tells us to make the most of the opportunities life affords us. There are times in life when we are unable to act, but in most cases there is something positive we can do. This is not an issue of acting only when it is convenient. Too often we use this as an excuse for not getting involved. “Well I didn’t have an opportunity to serve.” What that usually means is that it did not fit into my schedule. What Paul is saying is seize the moment to make a difference. We are faced with opportunities every day to be the presence of God in someone’s life. God wants us to make the most of those opportunities.

            The investments that we make in the lives of others are the only investments that will last for eternity. All of the investments that we make in this material world will one day pass away. The efforts we make to touch another life with the love of Christ will pay eternal dividends. Paul reminds us that we should begin with those closest to us and work our way out. Sometimes those closest to us are the hardest for us to see, because we are so familiar with them. Our hearts can be captured by the plight of people half way around the world and miss the need standing right next to us. We overlook them because they are too close. God has placed people into our network of relationships so that we can invest in their lives. These close relationships are the foundation for whatever other investments we may make.

            Doing good is not always heroic or profound. Most of the good we do will take place in small ways in our routine lives. A recent commercial demonstrates this principle in a very effective way. They show one person doing a simple act of kindness, which inspires another person to do another simple act of kindness. This is continued until it comes full circle back to the person who started it. Once a person’s eyes are opened to the possibility that they can make a difference, opportunities to do good become far more evident.

            In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus makes it clear that we are called to be His presence in our world all the time. "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:13-16 NIV)

            We are involved in running the most important race of all. There will be times during the race when we are tempted to give up. We may even find ourselves crying out, “Lord, I’ve had enough. Just take me home!” But Jesus’ message to us is clear and consistent. Don’t give up. God’s message to Joshua as he faced leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land is still applicable to us today. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9 NIV) Our race is not over. There is still much territory to cover. But we can be assured that we will win the prize if we do not give up. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011


An obstacle we all face in the race of life is weariness. We just get tired; tired of the struggle and effort. Every runner knows the battle they must fight against weariness. In Galatians 6:9 Paul encourages us not to give in to weariness. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

            Marathon runners are keenly aware of the battle with weariness. Steve was excited to be running in Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth. The race began, as all races do, with a rush of excitement and adrenaline. Part way through the race Steve started thinking that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. He felt like giving up the race. At one point the battle was so great that he was ready for Jesus to come and take him home. But Steve didn’t give up. He was determined to finish the race. As he neared the finish he noticed three old ladies sitting by the side of the road in lawn chairs. One of them was crocheting. As he passed by, without looking up, she said in a deep voice, “Bring it on home. Bring it on home.”

            Paul encourages us to not stop short of the goal but to bring it on home. Weariness plagues all of us from time to time. We are a tired nation. The promise of technology was that it would make our lives easier. Instead it has made our lives more complicated. We live at a faster pace today than we ever have in history. There is now so much more to do that we talk today about the importance of multi-tasking. This fast paced, overloaded life is making us weary. Dr. Richard Swenson, in his book The Overload Syndrome, shares the following insight.

“It is perhaps true that Americans get less sleep than at any other time in history. In 1850, for example, the average American got 9.5 hours of sleep per night. By 1950, that had decreased to 8 hours. Currently, it is 7 hours – and still declining. As a result, fifty to seventy million Americans (depending on which study you read) have sleep disorders.” (The Overload Syndrome, page 126)

            Along with the challenges of physical weariness we face emotional and spiritual weariness as well. Sometimes doing the right things is hard and takes effort. Trying to follow Christ in practical ways is not always exhilarating. Many times it is draining as we dig deep to give all we have to the cause of Christ. Along the way we can become discouraged when our efforts do not seem to be rewarded. We are so much an instant society that when we do not see immediate results from our efforts we feel deflated. Paul challenges us to not become weary in doing good deeds.

            We can fight weariness by keeping our focus along the way. Hebrews 12:2-3 encourages us to maintain the proper perspective. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:2-3 NIV)

            Weariness comes when we lose sight of the goal; when we expect results prematurely. We can get impatient during the race. We are much like young children on a long car ride. Every parent has had this experience at some time. You have only begun the journey when your children begin asking the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?” That is the way we often are with God. We have hardly begun the race before we are complaining about how long it takes. We start questioning if we will ever see any results. Paul reminds us that we will reap a harvest at the proper time if we don’t give up. One of the laws of the harvest is that it takes time for things to grow and mature. You cannot plant seeds today and expect mature plants tomorrow. Like farmers we must be patient for the harvest to come at the proper time. We cannot hurry the process.

            The harvest also depends on following through. A gardener who plants seed but then neglects the garden cannot expect to get a good harvest. In fact if he neglects the garden completely he will probably get no harvest at all. Spiritually we will never realize our full potential if we stop short of the goal. Part of the race is cultivating the fruit of the Spirit so that we can reach our full potential in Christ. We cannot stop at the beginning, we must continue through the entire course.

            Don’t let spiritual weariness rob you of your rewards. Almost everyone faces discouragement and the temptation to quit. Athletes face times of discouragement as their training gets harder and they don’t immediately see the results they want to see. Musicians face discouragement when they have difficulty mastering a particular piece of music. Students face discouragement when a subject they are studying does not come as easily for them as they would like. Discouragement and weariness are a normal part of the race of life. True growth and maturity come by fighting through the weariness. The athlete, the musician, the student who fight through difficulties discover success on the other side. This is true spiritually as well. There are lessons to be learned and skills to be developed. These are shaped and formed in the crucible of difficulties, hardships and weariness.