Posts Tagged ‘Sin’

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DISCOURAGING SHADOWS – May 9

May 9, 2014

“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day.” Proverbs 4:18

I don’t like my shadow!

I have been spending a lot of time running. I am still building up my running miles for the Boise Ironman 70.3. I ran 10.6 miles (17.06 km) last night with two more weeks left to top 13 miles before starting to taper down prior to race day. As a result, my shadow and I have been spending a lot of time together on the lonely rural roads of my running routes.

Running is far more mental than you might think. It is very easy to fall out of form. I try to concentrate on a high cadence, feet landing under me at mid-sole, chest forward, arms pumping like a gun-slinger, and deep breathing. It feels great when it all comes together.

57536-largest_2012KonaTop15run4I feel like an athlete when I hit that rhythm in form. Images of my favorite triathlon videos play in my mind:

Bevan Docherty – Super-human Triathlon Sprint Finish
Crazy sprint finish between Javier Gomez & Jonathan Brownlee

My imagination paints the course of my impending race over the abandoned fields. I can envision myself running with long, fluid strides trailing behind me, speeding me to the finish line.

At a glance, my shadow crushes these delusions. When I look about me, I will catch a sight of my shadow. My shadow does not remind me of the runners in my favorite videos. It reminds me of Forest Gump and not the young Forest Gump but the desert shuffling Forest Gump. My strides look short and my torso looks fat as my shadow mockingly shuffles beside me.

forrest-gump-the-original-ultra-runnerI don’t like my shadow because it conveys a truth that is not helpful to dwell upon – I am sliding to 50 years old; I’ve been running (inconsistently) for less than 3 years; I can still lose another 10 pounds; and I am slow. Dwelling upon what I am, does not deliver me to what I am becoming and does not let me enjoy how far I have come.

surreal-running-shadow-scaledTherefore, I prefer to run into the sun. When I run to the sun, my shadow falls behind me and out of sight. I still am who I am – a middle-aged guy trying to stay in shape.  I know that I will never be an elite athlete,  but that reality does not need to steal the joy of being a triathlete and participating in the race.

Many people don’t realize that we cast a similar spiritual shadow. As Christians, we are being transformed from one degree to another into the image of Christ. We travel down our God-ordained paths of righteousness with the light of Dawn shining upon us; the Son illuminating our lives as we follow Him. However, the enlightenment of the Spirit will cast a shadow from all the areas of our lives that remain sinful and disobedient.

We can see who we were in our spiritual shadows. We can see all those areas of our lives where the righteousness of Christ has not cast away all darkness. I get discouraged by glimpses of my spiritual shadow – those plaguing sins; those inconsistent disciplines; those worldly loves; the slow pace of my sanctification.  In the past, I have become so discouraged that I questioned my salvation.  Focusing on my spiritual shadow resulted in a joyless religion.  Dwelling upon my sin never delivered me to what Jesus is making me and never raised praise in how much I have been transformed.

businessman-running-to-the-sunrise-with-his-shadowTherefore, I prefer to travel the path of righteousness with my face toward the Son. When I consciously focus my mind on the things of the Spirit, my spiritual shadow falls behind me and out of sight. This is not to minimize sin and the need to faithfully follow Christ, but that work is in front of us. What we have been or who we are, does not dictate who we are transformed into when our lives are illuminated by Christ.  I might never be an elite man of faith.  I know that I am a sinner in need of a Savior.  I also know that I am a Child of God with a seat at His table and that is more than enough to motivate me to continue in the joy of my salvation.

Don’t allow the joy of your salvation to be stolen
by focusing on your spiritual shadow.

Focus on the Son and enjoy the work of the Spirit in your life.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for redeeming.  Thank you for sanctifying me.  Turn my eyes toward you and away from all my continued failings.  Father, keep my face turned towards, you as I walk in the light of your Son as I continue along the path of righteousness that you have laid before me.  Keep me from being discouraged by my spiritual shadow.    I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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WARNINGS OF THE OBVIOUS – April 22

April 22, 2014

“If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting.”   Deuteronomy 28:1-2

I am dismayed by the litigious world that we live in. I know of no better example of our society’s misplaced responsibility than the absurd labels manufacturers place on their products in hopes of avoiding a lawsuit. I am inclined to think that these labels are necessary for a special type of consumer.

dumb-and-dumber

Here are a few that made me laugh from the website:
Things People Said: Warning Labels.

“Eating rocks may lead to broken teeth.”
On a novelty rock garden set called “Popcorn Rock.”

“Caution: Hot beverages are hot!”
On a coffee cup.

“Do not eat toner.”
On a toner cartridge for a laser printer.

“Do not drive with sunshield in place.”
On a cardboard sunshield that keeps the sun off the dashboard.

“This product not intended for use as a dental drill.”
On an electric rotary tool.

“Recycled flush water unsafe for drinking.”
On a toilet at a public sports facility in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“For external use only!”
On a curling iron.

“Warning: knives are sharp!”
On the packaging of a sharpening stone.

“Remove plastic before eating.”
On the wrapper of a Fruit Roll-Up snack.

“Turn off motor before using this product.”
On the packaging for a chain saw file,
used to sharpen the cutting teeth on the chain.

The sad reality is that these labels are needed. People will do stupid things because they think  they know best. Their foolishness will cause them to ignore the obvious.

I want to believe that these warning labels for the obvious are not necessary for me but then I read the Bible. I read of Moses’ warnings to God’s chosen people and they read like warning labels for the obvious.

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 28:1-2)

If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. (Deuteronomy 28:1-2)

These warnings of the Bible are pretty simple. God, Creator of heaven and earth, will be for those who love and follow Him with their whole heart. Those who are in Christ will know Him as Father and be adopted as children of God. He will grant upon them love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and eternal life.

However, it is going to go bad for those who refuse to love and obey the One, who holds the stars in place. God’s wrath will fall on those who stubbornly cling to their rebellion against the King of kings. God will discipline those who are His, to bring them back into a right relationship with Him as any loving parent will discipline their child.

I read these warnings and they seem so obvious – it is better to be with God than against Him.  Yet…Dumb_and_Dumber_To_39522

How many times do we continue to live in disobedience?
That is like trying to sharpen a chainsaw without turning the motor off.

 How many seasons have passed without opening the Bible or kneeling prayer?
That is like trying to get nutrition from a snack pack without opening the wrapper.

How regularly is the filth of entertainment consumed?
That is like drinking recycled flush water from a toilet and not expecting to get sick.

How eagerly is a conversation turned to gossip?
That is like pouring a cup of coffee on our lap and being shocked that we get burned.

 How long is anxiety coddled?
That is like grinding our teeth away on rocks and hoping they don’t break.

 How casually are the passions of lust titillated?
That is like juggling knives without being lacerated.

We often deny the obvious warnings of God because we think we know better. However, our rejection of God’s warnings simply proves that we are not any wiser than the intended audience of manufactures’ most ridiculous product warning labels.

God warns us for our good and because He loves us. Let us not foolishly ignore the common sense warning of the obvious – it is better to be with God than against Him.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me of my foolishness.  Forgive me for thinking that warnings do not apply to me.  Thank you for your warnings.  Thank you for loving me and working good for me by disciplining me.  Thank you for not leaving me as I am.  Help me to follow you as a child – in loving obedience.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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SKIPPING GYM CLASS – April 4

April 4, 2014

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds so doing when he comes.” Luke 12:43

We heard the news with glee, a substitute. My high school freshman PE teacher was out for the day but the class was going forward with a substitute teacher. We knew this substitute teacher – old, crotchety, and devoid of humor. Before we even knew what the day held, we hatched a plan.

We were going to skip class.

Locker Room

My two accomplices and I waited to implement our grand strategy. As the class exited the locker room, we turned left when they went right into the gymnasium. We scurried to the back of the locker room and waited for the sound of sneakers on concrete to dissipate.

We had done it. We had escaped from the tyranny of that humorless substitute teacher. We now had a whole hour of freedom. Except, we were confined within the belly of the high school. We had not thought about that in our hasty decision. If we left the locker room, we would be caught. We were dressed in our gym clothes; if we went anywhere, it would be obvious that we were skipping gym class. Besides, it was too cold to go outside.

The enthusiasm of our rebellion faded into boredom as we settled onto the locker room benches to wait out the class. We could hear the bouncing of balls and the excited shouting of games at play. However, it was too late to blend back into the class. The teams would have been picked and roles assigned. We would be caught if we tried to join the fun going on in the gym.

We filled the time with the combination of head-locks, talk of girls and toys, and the typical silence of adolescent boys. Our banal discussion came to an abrupt halt when we heard a door open and close. Someone had entered our sanctum. Footsteps began to fall on concrete with the unmistakable sound of an adult. To our horror, the footsteps were heading directly toward us.

We retreated deeper into the locker room. We were going to get caught. I did not want to get caught. I was not sure what awful punishment would befall me but I did not want to find out. The footsteps were relentless in their progression. They were not deviating in the least. The even pace of each step mercilessly pushed into the confines of the shower/toilet room. There was no escape – we could not get out. Yet, our rebellion was not done. We were determined not to get caught.

English: photo of toilet seat

Our only choice was to hide. A co-conspirator and I entered the toilet stall with its walls and doors. We quickly perched ourselves upon the toilet seat, so that our pursuer would not see our feet, and closed the door. There we waited, backs to the wall, frightened face to frightened face. In hushed silence, we listened to the footsteps.

He had come into our section of the locker room. He was coming down the row of lockers, clack, clack, of one foot step after another. He was taking a direct route to our confine. Does he know? How could he know? On he came; one step after one horrible step, until we heard the steps stop just outside our toilet stall. Could it be that he has to go the bathroom?

While the footsteps were bad enough, they were nothing compared to the bang on the toilet stall. I was lost in my hope of escape. So, the bang nearly frightened me off of my perch and into the water below. We were frozen until the next bang was followed by the words, “come on, get out of there”.

It was over. We were caught. I don’t know how. He must have been part blood hound. I reached over from my perch and unlatched the door. As it lazily swung open, I received the most disapproving look of condescension in my life. There the varsity basketball coach stood with two of the most pitifully idiotic teenage boys still perched upon the toilet seat before him.

Trip to New Zealand

Trip to New Zealand (Photo credit: miss_rogue)

He did not say anything other than, “let’s go” with a roll of the eyes and a shake of the head. And with that, our rebellion was over. We had been caught and now had to make the humiliating walk to the principal’s office in our gym clothes.

I later found out that our rebellion had saved us from the best day of gym class, ever.  The substitute teacher had let everyone play whatever they wanted to do, while he read the paper.

I had rebelled against supervised freedom for unsupervised confinement and punishment. That had not been a good choice.

How often do we make this sort of bad choice in our spiritual lives?

We rebel against God’s instruction in anticipation of freedom and pleasure. We refuse obedience because it seems like we are being forced to do something awful. We run from the presence of God thinking we can escape only to find that what we have escaped to is not as we had imagined.

It is foolish to think that our rebellion and sin will not be discovered. God will relentlessly pursue us. He will back us up into the confines of our own choosing until we are revealed perched upon the toilet seat of bad decisions.

While we have endured the anxiety of being pursued by God, what have we saved ourselves from? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control…yeah, that is horrible. How idiotic is it to run from real freedom under the loving supervision of our heavenly Father for the unsupervised confinement and punishment of rebellion and sin?

Seems like an easy choice to me.

PRAYER: Father, forgive me for running from your blessings. Forgive me for foolishly thinking that I know what is best for me.  Thank you for being so good.  Thank you for being so gracious and patience with my idiotic decisions.  Thank you for the freedom that you have given my in your Son, Jesus Christ. I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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QUOTE (Patsy Cline) – Mar. 5

March 5, 2014

Cline promotional photograph shortly before he...

I go to church on a Sunday
The vows that I make
I break them on Monday
The rest of the week
I do as I please
Then come Sunday morning
I pray on my knees

Dear God
I know I’m not worthy
But I need you so
Please won’t you hurry And help me turn back from
The path I have trod
You’ll never be sorry
Dear God

Each day we read in the paper
Of the carryin’s on
Of some of our neighbors
We’re sinnin’, and lyin’,
And forgetting the faith
Then we have the nerve
To ask is it too late
~ Patsy Cline, Dear God (written by V,F, Stewart)

Dear God
Just a Closer Walk with Thee

In honor of Patsy Cline, country music singer, who died on this day in 1963.

Resources:
This Day in History for March 5
Dear God Lyrics

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“OVERWHELMING INFLUENCES” – Dec 15

December 16, 2013

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”  Psalm 1:1-2

Viktor Hertz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

I currently have 300 podcasts on my computer that I have not listened to.

I have 845 unread articles on my RSS reader.

WordPress Reader provides a constant stream of posts from the blogs I follow.

I have bookshelves in my office full of books that I intend to read.

My Bible software program has over 1,000 books that I can search by key word.

My iPod has more music on it than I can remember.

My Facebook page has the 20+ symbol beside all of my categories.

I am overwhelmed with information.  We all live in a world that is awash with news, opinions, and content.  In general, I love it.  I have lived without Google.  I have lived when there wasn’t such a thing as the internet.  I am thankful that Al Gore invented it. The speed and ease by which I can obtain an answer to a question still amazes me.

I love the fact that I can access information with a few clicks of my mouse.  I love that I can carry my entire music collection in one small device rather than cases of cassettes.  I love the fact that I can read the work of amazingly talented writers and artists that I would never have know about.  I love being able to get my news from a diversity of viewpoints.

However, the management of information has never been harder.  It is easy to fall down the rabbit hole of meaningless links.  One funny YouTube video can consume an hour exploring all the related videos on the side bar.  There is the temptation to taste all the offerings but never enough time for a full meal.  We are forced to glide over the surface of most of the available information due to the overwhelming volume.  We surf past the majority of the content since there is not enough time in the day to truly consume it.  However, it is hard to learn how to pick and choose.

It is so easy to become lost in the process of being informed.
It is so easy to walk in the counsel of worldly digital pundits.
It is so easy to silently revel in the debauchery of the famous.
It is so easy to nod along with the skeptic.

I was curious what content was most sought this last year.  So, I did a little Google-ing and this what I found:

Top Searches on Yahoo in 2013:

miley cyrus
kim kardashian
kate upton
minecraft
selena gomez
obamacare (affordable care act)
amanda bynes
jodi arias
iphone 5
justin bieber

Breakout (Miley Cyrus album)

Breakout (Miley Cyrus album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Top Questions on Yahoo in 2013:
Top Who Question: “who wins the bachelor”
Top What Question: “what is twerking”
Top When Question: “when is thanksgiving”
Top Why Question: “why only 6 jurors in zimmerman trial”
Top How Question: “how to take a screenshot”

The Bachelor (US TV series)

The Bachelor (US TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Top Searches on Google in 2013:
Actor:  Miley Cyrus
Musical Artist:  Miley Cyrus
People:  Miley Cyrus
Top TV Shows:  #1The Walking Dead, #2 Breaking Bad
Scientists:  #1 Albert Einstein, #20 Richard Dawkins
Authors:  #1 Tom Clancy, #2 William Shakespeare
Books:  #1 Bible, #2 Fifty Shades of Grey

Fifty Shades of Grey produits dérivés

Fifty Shades of Grey produits dérivés (Photo credit: ActuaLitté)

I am left to wonder what counsel the majority are walking in;
what way are most people standing in;
where are the most popular seats being occupied?

Are not Miley Cyrus, the Kardashians, and Fifty Shades of Grey merely  glamorizing  the ways of sinners? Aren’t seats offered by Richard Dawkins and his like all in the amphitheater of the scoffers?  The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Grand Theft Auto revel in wickedness.  I am thankful that the Bible topped the list of books but I wonder how many who typed that search topic spend their days and nights meditating upon it.

I am reminded of my need to guard my heart.  The internet opens us to many forms of counsel, divergent norms, and normalization of deviating mores.  We all need to be careful to prevent the wave of internet content and information from replacing our time in meditation upon the word of the Lord.  I can be influenced more than I care to admit.  We are all buffeted by the changing winds of our culture and society.  We must be careful and intentional about the content that we immerse ourselves in.

I hope that my top counselor of the 2013 was the Spirit of God.

I hope that the primary way that I stood along this year was that of the righteous.

I hope that the seat I occupied most frequently was that of the one wise in the Lord.

Lel4nd / Foter.com / CC BY

I know that I did not meditate on the precise gift of God’s word like I could have.  Too often, I skimmed and perused.  We all must develop a strategy so that we will not be overwhelmed into indifference by the influences flowing onto our electronic devices throughout the day and night.  For me, this blog is one of my primary methods to help me increase my depth and duration of meditating on scripture.  I know that I am like John Piper in this regard:

I count myself as one of the number of those who learn as they write and write as they learn.
John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

Writing helps burrow my mind into the word.  Reading through the Bible in a year (or two) and writing blog posts of what jumps out at me has been the best way for me to discipline myself.  It has created a strategy for me to prioritize God’s Word above all the other influential content that is vying for my attention and my soul.

What helps you to keep the scripture as your delight throughout the year?

PRAYER: O Lord, you know that I delight in a lot of things.  You know that I am easily distracted from the best.  Father, thank you for the internet.  Thank you for this outlet of blogging.  Thank you for making a means for me to meditate more on your word.  Father, give me wisdom to understand where my influences are coming from.  Help me to seek You first.  Grant me a desire for You and your Word.  Make my delights conform to You.   I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

Resources:
Google Trends > Top Charts
Yahoo’s Year in Review

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“REAL WALLS OF FAITH” – Nov 27

November 27, 2013

“Hear, you peoples, all of you; pay attention, O earth, and all that is in it. And let the Lord God be a witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.”  Micah 1:2

dbking / Foter.com / CC BY

Masonry commands a certain gravitas in architecture.
Stacked stone hints at an ancient permanence.
The repetition of form in a brick wall assures one that chaos does not reign.

wallyg / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

We cloak our grand structures in the facades of strength and stability.

Our great hospitals are faced with brick.
Our government buildings have edifices of granite.
Our universities are aged by cascading ivy over marble.

seier+seier / Foter.com / CC BY

Many churches have facades to convey strength and stability.

How often do we deceive ourselves by the architecture that we choose?

We hope in medicine to defeat the failure of a fallen flesh.
We trust in laws to protect the righteous.
We are confident of the observable and tested.

jbhalper / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Even our souls can be left to doctrines and traditions bereft of the workings of the Spirit.

I read of God’s warnings to His chosen people throughout the Minor Prophets and the book of Revelation.  I confess to weariness at this point of my plan to read through the entirety of the Bible in a year.  I am reading through these prophesies of God’s judgment upon the disobedient. I feel dullness in my hearing.  I struggle to pay attention through the repeated warnings of a God who proves he is to be so slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, continually relenting from disaster, incredibly gracious and merciful. (Jonah 4:2)

I know that I am inclined to build up stone walled edifices of security and stability.

I long for the certain diagnosis of a fallen flesh healed from condemning sin.
I want certainty of divine rules and assurance of proclaimed righteousness.
My intellect craves the gravitas of the doctrinal memorials crafted through brilliant theologians.

However, the security and stability that I long for in my faith will never be found in the constructs of my mind.  History is replete with examples of those who have relied upon illusionary block walls of faith, painted white with their own righteousness.  Those white washed walled were proven to be built without the mortar of the Spirit.  Those walls all failed when examined under the testing of the Lamb of God.  We are called to examine ourselves.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!  (1 Corinthians 13:5)

We can have stability and security in our faith.  We can know the refuge of God.  We can be assured that the Spirit is building a glorious cathedral within us.  We can know this assurance through testing of the walls that shelter our faith.  We must push against what we rely upon.  We must probe our heart to see what crumbles and where paint peals.

All that fails is not from God.

Martin LaBar / Foter.com / CC BY-NC

The warnings of old deserve attention.  We need a willingness to expose our hearts, knock down the false walls that are bereft of the Spirit, and let the Lord God be a witness against the sin in our lives.

May the strong walls built by my hands be pushed down
to expose my shameful failures.

May the edifices of personal spiritual triumph crumble
in the ashes of a humbled and broken man in need of a Savior.

May the acknowledgement of my weakness and dependence build
within me walls of assurance in the promises and power of God.

May the finished work of Christ be magnified though
the incomplete sanctification of a child of God continuing to seek his Lord.

PRAYER: O Lord, may my faith be found in you alone.  Break down the walls of my stuborn pride and rebellion.  Lord, I expose my soul to your cleansing love.  May I know only the work of your Spirit in my need.  May I stand only on your sure foundation.  May my triumph come only through the precious blood of Christ.  May my assurance be tested and proven true.  May you be glorified in my weakness.   Complete your work within me, my Savior God.  May my prasie be a sweet fragrance in your presence. (In Christ Alone)    I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“BUT GOD WANTS ME TO BE HAPPY” – Nov 14

November 14, 2013

“When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.”  Hosea 1:2

“God just wants me to be happy; therefore I am going to do ________________.”

Murder…Divorce…Adultery…
Homosexuality… Fornication… Theft…
Overeating… Laziness… Disrespect…

I have heard these actions used to end this sentence.  This one sentence may just be the most frequently used justification for sin in our generation.

We accept a lie from the bowels of hell when we believe that our earthly happiness trumps the commandments of God.

English: "The whole world smiles with you...

God’s greatest priority is not our earthly happiness.  His sovereign plan is not contingent upon my personal feelings of joy and satisfaction in the circumstances that I find myself.  In fact, God does not want you or I to be happy in our sin.  He wants us miserable in our sin.  He wants to kill the sin of our flesh.

God did not tell Hosea to marry a wife of whoredom because He knew that would make Hosea happy.  God had a purpose for Hosea that was beyond his happiness.  God was going to allow Hosea to be deeply hurt to show how the actions of Israel were hurting Him.  God was calling Hosea to unhappiness so that the beauty of repentance and the renewal of a loving relationship with the Lord would be shown to God’s people.

True happiness is found only in the love of God. 

497273200_b23475e7f0

Photo credit: JesseBarker / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.  These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.  (John 15:10-11)

We experience the love of God, when we abide in His love.  We abide in His love, when we keep His commandments.  That is when our joy will be full.  It is by our obedience that we can remain joyful in unhappy circumstances.  Our joy is not dictated by circumstances.  Joy is a gift of God to all those who abide in His love.

The escape from unhappiness lies in the loving embrace of God, experienced through our obedience.

God does want me to be happy – in His love.“God just wants me to be happy;
therefore I am going to be obedient to his commandments through all my unhappy circumstances.”

PRAYER: O Lord, you know all the justifications that I have used for my sin.  Thank you for your forgiveness.  Thank you for leading me to repentance and returning me to your love.  Help me to abide in You.  Help me to desire your love more than my happiness.  Help me to endure sadness and disappointment through the hope that you have given me.  Help me to be joyful even if you are taking me through unhappiness.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“RACE EXPECTATIONS” – July 14

July 14, 2013

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealously, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace,  patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law.”  Galatians 3:19-23

I am a Spudman.  Yesterday, I competed in the Spudman Triathlon, which was my first triathlon of the year and my first try at the Olympic distance.

I was a little disappointed in my results.

I had hoped to finish with a time between 2 hours 30 minutes and 2 hours 45 minutes.  I had it all figured out.  Swim the 1.5 K in 28 minutes, ride at a 20 mph average, and run at a 8:30 minute/mile pace, then I would finish right where I was hoping.

My race did not turn out as I had envisioned it in my head.  My mind pictured me gliding through the water with the race leaders.  I saw myself flying up the two big climbs like I was in the Tour de France.  The visualization was to conclude with me running like a gazelle along the Boise River.

In reality, I finished at 2 hours, 51 minutes, 37 seconds.

039As usual, I was right in the meat of the race bell curve; The Meat of Average.  I did not swim with the race leaders.  I was jostled about with swimmers all around me throughout the swim.  I emerged from the water after 31 minutes, 17 seconds.  However, I swim 1.6K in a 25 yard pool at around 32-33 minutes.

Therefore, my swim was right about what I average in training.

079The professional cycling teams will not be seeking to take me to the Tour de France next year.  The two big climbs of the course humbled me to 8 mph.  I made up time on the descent and the flats but the climbs were brutally long stretches and my average speed was only 18.7 mph.  However, I finished a similar hilly course two weeks ago and averaged only 17 mph.

Therefore, my ride was right about what I average in training.

The tranquility of the Boise River Greenbelt was not sufficient to transform me from an ox into a gazelle.  I plodded along as other competitors continually passed me and I passed no one.  There were so many familiar faces that I had raced past on the bike only to see them gracefully stride past me on the run.  It was depressing as I labored in at a 9 minute, 14 second per mile average.  However, I normally run a 10k just under 9 minutes per mile.  When you consider that I had just swam 1.5K and cycled 25 miles, my run was right about my training average considering my tired legs.089

Race day expectations should be guided by everyday training experience.  There was nothing in my training that supported my vision of 2 hour, 30 minute finish time.  However, that had not prevented me from creating all of these justifications for why my race day expectations would be different from my training experience.

There are many people who are discouraged by how they respond to temptation.  They wonder how they could get caught up into something so completely of the flesh.

Why did I click on that website;
Why did I flirt with that person;
Why did I say such a mean thing;
Why did I get so angry;
Why does that person irritate me;
Why can’t I stop wanting their life;
Why did I do something so unethical;
Why did I drink so much?

It seems to me that many folks have  expectations of  responding well to big temptations that the experience of their daily spiritual walks’ do not support.  It should not surprise us that we fall when we are not regularly and consistently walking by the Spirit and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit.

Adultery never just happens –
it comes from habitually allowing our minds to linger on the sensual and lust.
Fits of anger never just happen –
it comes from allowing our selfishness to regularly be irritated for not getting what it wants.
Major lapses into the unethical never just happen –
they come from a pattern of compromise and justifications.
Feuds never just happen –
they come from years of pride and a refusal to reconcile.

Most of us want to think that we will never do those “big” sins.  What is your confidence built upon?  Is the confidence of victory over temptation based on hopeful speculation or experience?

How is your training been going? 

Does your daily walk support your expectations? 

There are many folks who expect a spiritual response when their path has not been of the Spirit.  They expect godliness when their minds have been languishing in the godless.  Our daily walk in the Spirit is a good indicator of how we will respond to those bigger challenges of our faith.

We need to have realistic expectations.  This is no place for speculation.  If your daily walk in the Spirit is not what you know it should be, then do something about it.  All of our minor flubs and foibles do matter because they show us where our minds are set.  Those mis-steps should not be merely dismissed and justified.  They should turn us back to our Lord and Savior in repentance, love, and a desire to follow Christ with our whole heart.

We can face temptations with confidence when we face them through the power of the Spirit.  Let’s make sure that we are actually living in the power of the Spirit.  Let’s run this race of life with realistic expectations based on the joyful experience of being daily trained by the Spirit himself.

PRAYER: Lord, you know that I want to persevere to the end.  You know that I want to run well.  You also know that I am very weak.  Father, help me; fill me with your Spirit and help me to set my mind on the things of you.  Lord, I need your help to walk in the Spirit.  Thank you for helping.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“A HEADWIND OF MY OWN MAKING” – May 27

May 27, 2013

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealously.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”  Romans 13:13-14

I have a century (100 miles) bicycle ride coming up way too fast and I am not ready.  I have not had the time to ride any distance greater than 34 miles.  So, I was determined to solve that problem yesterday.  I went for an early morning ride on a route that would garner me 60 miles.  I left my driveway with the sun still coming into its full light.  There were dark clouds in three directions but I figured that I would risk it.

It was a beautiful ride.  There were no cars on the road at that time of morning.  I had the countryside to myself.  The cool morning kept the sweat from my eyes as giant clouds paced me through the undulating hillsides.  It was so quiet that the songs of the birds created a melody with the rhythm of my breathing and the turning of my bike chain.  The words of Matt Chandler and then John Piper were preached from my ipod straight into my mind.  The Word they expounded was confirmed in my soul as I beheld the glory of God in the delicate wild flowers along the fence lines and the power in the gathering storm clouds.

My ride was going so well.  I passed through the town that marked my halfway point and began pedaling the return leg of my long loop.  I felt good.  I was still attacking the climbs and powering through the flats.  I was maintaining a respectable 18.5 mph/ average.  I had not had to stop.  My confidence in being able to do a century ride was rising with each pedal stroke.

I held my crouch with my forearms firmly on my aero-bars as I pushed to better my average speed.  I passed over pavement that had recently been wetted by a light shower.  I craned my neck to see what clouds lay ahead of me.  It did not look very promising.  However, I did not have many choices at that point.  My route was set.  I had decided to head out this morning with threatening clouds so this was not much of a surprise.  Home and rest lay ahead.  So, I had to just keep pedaling.  I was feeling good and my average speed was still 18.4 mph.  I rode through the last town of my route.  I had about 7 miles to go.  No problem.

English: Corn blowing in the wind

English: Corn blowing in the wind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It hit me just as I passed beyond the city limits and into the open farmland.  A brutal headwind that stretched flags and bent trees had taken possession of the land that a mere 3 hours earlier had been so pleasant and tranquil.  I geared down and hunched over to try offering the wind the least amount of opposing surface area as it flowed into my face.  My neck began to ache.  My thighs began to cramp.  My eyes dried out.  My heart was evaporating as quickly as my speed.  I struggled to keep a 13 mph pace.  I mourned the loss of my 18 mph average.  I just wanted this once enjoyable ride to be over.  I thought about calling my wife to come pick me up.  I could not do that – I was just 5 miles out.  I could make it but it was no longer fun.  I no longer felt good.  I no longer felt strong.  I was being spent at an alarming rate as I pushed through this wind.

Dave Zabriskie attacking the final 3 kilometer...

Dave Zabriskie attacking the final 3 kilometers of the USA Cycling Pro Individual Time Trial Championship in Greenville, SC. Zabriskie won the US title when defending champion Chris Baldwin fell on the course’s last corner. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I finally made it back to my driveway.  I did not feel very good.  I felt a little sick.  However, I was very thankful that I had spent the time that morning to clamp my aero-bars back onto my bike.  My aero-bars had helped me get home by giving that wind the least provision of holding me back.  It would have be so much worse if I had been forced to ride upright.  I was disappointed because the wind had affected me, slowed my average to 17.8 mph and stole the joy of my ride.

That wind makes me think of my flesh.  My sinful desires so often feel like a brutal headwind.  I will be feeling confident in my spiritual walk.  I will be feeling so good and strong.  My joy will be overflowing and no distance will seem insurmountable.

I will turn into the headwind of my own flesh and my pace and optimism will be spent in a matter of moments.

The truly frustrating part is that this headwind is usually of my own making.  I know where the dark clouds of my life are.  I know where the storms reside.  I know where I am particularly weak and susceptible.  I am well aware of where I have stumbled in the past.  I know the routes that hold the headwind of my own sinful desires.

I usually end up bucking a spiritual headwind because I have turned into it.  God has promised us a route around every temptation.  We are not required to ride through our own sin.  There is a route that God has paved that will protect us from the headwind of our flesh.  Every provision for sin that I allow in my life is a road sign directing me to a lie.  It is a lie that I sometimes believe.  It is a route that has always led to difficulty and pain.  It is a route that has ground me to a near halt.  It has stolen my joy and expended my strength.

English: Blowing in the wind Lonely daffodils ...

English: Blowing in the wind Lonely daffodils on the River Trent embankment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The good news is that I have never been abandoned because of poor routes that I have taken along the way.  We can still ride through the headwind of our failings.  God will still give us strength to overcome the powerful resistance of our sinful desires.  He will guide us back to the safe route and into the light.  When we find ourselves confronted with the headwind of our flesh, then we need to hunker down to give it the least area for it to cling to us.  We do that by going to our knees in repentance, preaching the gospel to ourselves, believing the promises of our Redeemer.  We cut off the powerful headwind of our flesh by eliminating all the provisions for it in our lives.  We are told to not give any provision for the flesh in our lives.  Every area of our lives that we expose to the gratification of our sinful desires is an area for sin to cling to and hold us back in our sanctification. God has paved a way for us that is easy, with a burden that is light.  May we not believe the lies of our flesh.  There is no lasting pleasure in the gratification of our flesh.  We have been given a narrow road to glory that already has many challenges.  Let’s not add a headwind of our making to the challenge of our daily walk.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for never abandoning me.  I know that I allow too many provisions for sin in my life.  Show them to me.  Teach me to kill the sin that resides in me.  Thank you for always providing me with an escape from my sinful desires.  Thank you for always providing me a route home to You when I have taken the wrong route.  Father, complete the work that You have started in me.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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“FREEDOM!” – May 11

May 11, 2013

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who
has died has been set free from sin.”  Romans 6:6-7

 Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key (1814)

English: American Flag blowing in the wind
English: American Flag blowing in the wind (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I live in the United States of America, the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I realize that the US is the land of the more free, but is it the land of the completely free?  Freedom is the core issue in many political debates.  There is an inevitable hint of freedom embedded in the topics of abortion, gun control, employment, morality laws, private-property, taxation, wealth redistribution, etc. The concept of freedom is generally understood but rarely well-defined.  Your definition of freedom may vary significantly from my definition of freedom.

I have been pondering whether it is even possible for created man to be free in any respect.

I was recently catching up on some of my podcasts.  I am subscribed to a podcast called Philosophy Bites.  It is podcast that interviews university professors in specific areas of philosophy.  I listen to the podcasts to get a general idea of what is being contemplated in the ivory towers of our universities.  I was engaged by the podcast Alan Ryan on Freedom and Its History.

The interview centered on the intriguing question of “What is it to be free?”  One definition in the podcast that caught my attention was: freedom is the ability to do whatever you want to do.   I think that we can agree that under this definition no one is completely free.

You agree to a promissory note; you are no longer free.
A speed limit is posted; you are no longer free.
You have children; you are no longer free.
You agree to be employed; you are no longer free.
You are required to pay taxes; you are no longer free.

You are no longer free because you are not able to do whatever you want to do.

Many people state their objection to Christ in terms of freedom.  They view salvation in Christ as a loss of their freedom; their ability to do whatever they want to do.  The deeper question is whether they are giving up any freedom.  Those who have not received Christ as their Lord and Savior are not as free as they might think they are.  For instance, they are not free to please God.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.  Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:7-8

It is not possible for people who are not in Christ to please God even if that is what they are determined to do.  Therefore, they are not free.  Humanity is born under the bondage of sin.  They are not able to do anything other than sin.  They are enslaved to one whom they obey.  There is not a person who can live without sin apart from Christ.  There is no real freedom for those who reject Christ.  They are enslaved under the bondage of the appetites of their sinful hearts.

However, there is no freedom for those in Christ, in the sense of doing whatever you want to do.

But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. Romans 6:22

When we come to Christ, we become slaves to righteousness, for we are slaves to what we obey.  We become debtors, when we receive the Spirit of adoption as children of God.  We are not our own.  We have been bought with a price so that we can glorify God with our bodies. (1 Cor. 6:19b-20)  The paradox of the Christian life is that we are set free only when we willingly submit to enslavement.  We remain enslaved to sin while we pursue our personal freedom.  The desire for personal independence is a manifestation of a love for self.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Romans 6:12

What was your first reaction to my statement that you are a slave of God?  Did you recoil from that concept?  Why should that concept be objectionable to us if we love God will all that we are?  Our desire for personal independence is a sin that enslaves us to the passions of our self-love.  I think this paradox is captured in this quote from Dag Hammarskjold:

God desires our independence – which we attain when, ceasing to strive for it ourselves, we “fall” back into God.  Dag Hammarskjold, Markings

The child of God finds true and complete freedom in Christ only when they give all to the Father in heaven; when they die to their self and submit completely to God – willingly becoming a slave of God.  When we “fall” back into God, trusting that He will catch us, then we are given a new heart, with new desires.  What we want changes when we are a new creation in Christ.  Freedom, doing whatever we want to do, is only available by being born-again.  It is only with this new heart that we can please God by loving him without compulsion.

There is no freedom available to the will of man. 

Every person must make a decision about who will enslave them.  We are enslaved by the one whom we obey.   May we humble ourselves and come to Christ as willing slaves.  In submitting to the Lordship of Christ, we will receive the fruits of righteousness that leads to sanctification and true freedom as children of God to do what we want to do, which is to love God.

The question for us all is who are we submitting ourselves to?

PRAYER: Lord, you know how inclined my heart is to go off on its own.  You know that I am so prone to wander away from You and be enslaved by the passions of my sin.   Father, keep me in You; continue to give me a new heart that wants You more than anything else in this world.  Lord, I submit myself to You with all of my heart, soul, and mind.  Thank you for giving me true freedom in your Son as I fall back into your loving arms.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ.   Amen.

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