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Monday, July 30, 2012

Run the Race

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12: 1-2 NIV)

The opening ceremonies for the 2012 summer Olympic games in London included a comedy skit about the theme-song of the movie Chariots of Fire, which was about a group of British runners who attended the 1924 Olympics in France.  While I laughed at the comedy, I found myself thinking how great it was that the entire world would soon be revisiting that movie, and Eric Liddell's testimony would again have an opportunity to reach hearts. 

Read about Him on Wikipedia
His name came up in the Beijing Olympic coverage, as well, because he was born in China and died in a Japanese internment camp there, near the end of World War II.  He wasn't just an Olympian, a gold medalist, or a world record holder; Eric Liddell was a missionary, and I think that in some ways he is still ministering for the Lord.

I can't help but think that this is what he would have wanted, especially in today's world, where competing on Sunday could be seen as the least of our offenses, and bigger issues like traditional family and abortion are shaking the church to its very foundations.  In the end, Liddell's reason for holding out on that race was not just "the principle of the thing."  He wasn't doing this out of an obsession with keeping ceremony or being legalistic.  His decision not to compete in the races on Sunday was motivated by his deep conviction that pleasing God is much more important than pleasing men.  He did not want to place his sport (or indeed any part of his life and work) above his God, even if it cost him everything.  Though he had invested a great deal of time in racing, he didn't want to say, "God will understand," because he believed that he was made to serve God, and God was not made to serve him.

This conviction had the unexpected side-effect of distinguishing him in history.  Others have won gold medals, and his world-record has long-since been outstripped by others.  Many of those athletes have been forgotten as more have followed in their place--and yet, we still remember Eric Liddell as a distinguished Christian, and an athlete secondly.

This is a challenge to Christians today.  As we go out and run our respective races (whether we are training for the track, or nailing down roofing, or sitting in a cubicle), we should remember to run our race as for the Lord, and not just for ourselves.  Indeed, it is all for God's glory.

For more about Eric Liddell, I glowingly recommend the biography, Run to Glory, by Ellen Caughey.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Restored to Youth

I've had a lot on my mind this week.  From conversations with friends to events in my life and career, to the discovery, on Pandora, of the lyrics to "Logical" by an old group called Supertramp (this isn't really a recommendation), I found my mind wandering back to contemplate the future as I foresaw it as a preteen, looking forward.  For awhile, I guess I felt "old," but God reminded me of His promises and His future, and I felt the youthful optimism returning.

There was so much idealism then; the future had a polished gleam of promise and success. I saw myself without obstacles, working for the cause of Christ, succeeding in all that I lay my hands on. There were things I knew would complicate my life, and I recognized that I would encounter difficult people along the way, but I really had no concept of what the future would be like.  Maybe the details were foggy, but what I most wanted to see was a path traced out by God, which managed to thread its way safely through the maze of troubles.

So where am I, many years later, in reaching those goals? Where has the gleam gone, now that I've encountered a little bit of the "bitter reality" that often comes along in this life? Some of my old dreams are yet to be realized. Some of them have been discarded along the way as impracticable.  A few more didn't happen the way I planned, at all. Maybe people have gotten nastier and more personal than they were, and maybe there is more work and less play than there used to be.  Maybe life doesn't always warrant a laugh, and maybe success is fleeting.

Still, throughout my life I see the golden thread of God's plan woven into every scene, every moment of joy, and even the deepest pits of despair. It may not be a fairytale outcome so far, but it is definitely a good one.  When I give some serious thought to all of that, the old optimism comes flooding back!

 God hasn't changed. His words still hold true.  Hope hasn't gone, or even been dimmed. 

Life has dark and disappointing times, and we usually can't look forward and fully comprehend them ahead of time. I certainly didn't.  I don't want to minimize or overlook pain, but I do want to say it's not good for us to focus on it too long.  If we do, we will forget God's goodness, His kindness, His joy, and even more, His power. If you want to lose the old gleam of optimism, that's the way. Obscure the light with a few clouds.  It didn't go; we just looked away.

That's it, exactly.  In reality, troubled times are all shifting shadows that will soon perish when God scatters them with the light of His presence (Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 60: 1-3; Zechariah 14: 6-7; James 1: 17). Let us not make more of pain than it is.  It is real, but so is God. It may linger, but God has been there from the beginning, and He will still be there at the end.  It sometimes seems final and life-long, but God has overcome the world, and we can, too, in Him. These are not trite sayings; they are promises that have held through many generations of testing, including my own, and maybe yours, too.  God has made a solemn promise to us that He is going to take all our troubles away and restore our youth (Psalm 103: 2-6), and I fervently believe that He doesn't lie (Numbers 23: 19).

Do you feel "old" today, perhaps because something in your life has made you feel bitter?  Take heart! What you believed as a child about God is still coming true.  It wasn't a fairytale then, and it never will be. Even if pain has since tried to steal away your hope, cling to Jesus and He will restore your spirit.

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (Psalm 103: 2-6 NIV)

Monday, July 23, 2012

In Need of Encouragement?

I realize today that I'm a bit discouraged...okay, maybe a lot discouraged...about how far away my dreams are from becoming reality, and about how messed up the world is today. I'm sure I will feel better about this in a couple of weeks (the next time I hit a goal or feel that I've made significant progress, or after hanging out with some friends), but for now I can only soldier on and wait for God's strength to get me through.

You know, God commanded Joshua not to be discouraged, even while he was wandering around in the desert and there was trouble on the horizon.  However, God wasn't just giving Joshua an empty pep talk or asking him to do something beyond his human power.  Joshua's source of strength through the discouraging times was God Himself; it was God who was going to hold him up through all the storms ahead.  In this situation, the Bible records God's words to Joshua, so that they would be a source of strength for the rest of us, as well:
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9 NIV)
 I don't know what is causing discouragement for you today, but I thought I might remind you of some older posts where I talked about specific kinds of discouragement.  Maybe re-reading one of these (or perhaps discovering it for the first time) will help you.  Just remember, because we know the Lord, and because we know He is with us, we don't have to be discouraged, even in the midst of...
Be encouraged today, everyone! God is pulling us through the hardest of times, and He is refining us and building our character. Hold on, and He will hold on to you!

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Herd's Plans and the Shepherd's Plan

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. --Proverbs 19:21 NIV
A couple of days ago, I wrote out a list of things I wanted to get done this week.  Within minutes, I had filled an entire page, one item per line, and frankly I think I might have missed a few things.  The sight of this list stressed me a little bit.  It's not that anything had actually changed, but suddenly I was confronted with the reality that I have a lot of irons in the fire--possibly too many--and the only way to simplify my life is to complicate it further for a little while.
Most of us live this way all the time.  In fact, I'm pretty sure others I know are leading more complicated lives than I am.  I'm also fairly certain that at the heart of a lot of those struggles is the desire to fulfill needs, such as the need for food and shelter, and the need for companionship.  There's nothing wrong with that, but today I wanted to pose a more basic, Christian question: Do our little plans line up with God's big Plan?
As Proverbs 19:21 tells us, we can make a lot of plans for our lives, but God can prevent us from carrying them out if they are not a part of His Plan.  When I say "His Plan" I don't just mean His plan for us as individuals, since He really has a Plan for the entire world, for all history, and He is carrying that out now.  He wants to bring as many people as He can into a personal relationship with Him (2 Peter 3:9), and He wants to bring about lasting peace and justice, and a final end to wicked and harmful plans that have torn this world for so long (Isaiah 61: 1-3).

He has made plans for this world to accomplish this purpose, and He is actively carrying out this purpose daily, both on an individual basis and a grand scale.  Although He gave us all free will, which complicated things greatly, He herds us like sheep in the direction of history (history being the unfolding of His plan), and He deposes kings or holds them in office (Daniel 2: 21), if necessary, to direct the flow of history.  It is all for a good purpose, but sometimes only visible to us when we look back over the path we've come.

Mercifully, a fairly simple instruction manual has been given to us to see how our plans line up with God's Plan.  God gave us the Bible, with the purpose of giving us hints and outright statements about His Plan, as well as basic instructions for life, which are meant to guide us gently along that path of history.  He didn't make this a struggle or a never-ending search, because He wanted us to quickly find peace in knowing Him, and knowing where we're going (Matthew 11: 29-30).  I'm not saying that life is easy as a Christian (I think I've explained that plenty of times on this blog), but I do know that it's easier if we agree with the Shepherd, and only have to endure the buffeting of other sheep who are trying to go their own way.

On top of that instruction manual, God sent us His son, Jesus Christ, to give us a living example of how to pattern our lives and our plans after His great Plan.  Jesus revealed with His life the Plan of God (2 Timothy 1: 9-10), and on top of that, He came so we could all have a chance to get back on track, even though we'd strayed from the Plan (Romans 5:8).

Today, as we tackle our to-do lists, I pray that we'll remember God's Plan, even in the midst of our menial tasks.  That way, when we do things, we will do them in the way that pleases God, and which welcomes His purpose for the world.  Remembering that God has a greater purpose and a Plan gives deeper meaning and significance to every little thing that we do.  His purpose is not an earthly kingdom built by human hands, but a spiritual one that He has been building in us, and through us.  Let us glorify Him, and His kingdom, in our daily living.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. --Colossians 3: 23, 24 NIV