Poetry of Love

29 09 2010

While praying and musing at a monastery chapel high and hidden in the mountains near Long’s Peak God spoke into my inner spirit, “poetry of love.”  I was startled and confused for it seemed so foreign and out of context.  It didn’t fit at all with what my mind was thinking about at the time.  It almost seemed as if He had bypassed my mind to touch my heart.  I asked for a bit more clarity and I was greeted with silence (I hate when He does that).

I just couldn’t get those three words off my mind.  I was doomed to ruminations, meditations, and inner questions for days.  The answer came from the Word of God, through a conversation and discussion with one of the Mountain Springs pastors I was reminded of a verse.

Paul, in writing one of his most intimate letters to a church that he deeply loved, wrote,

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

The word “workmanship” riveted my imagination and served to wipe away the cobwebs of my past study.  Workmanship is derived from the word, poieema, from which we get the English word “poem.”  In the Jamieson, Fausset, Brown Commentary, this word is described as “a thing of His making,” His “handiwork,” a “spiritual creation.” John Calvin writes of this phrase:

When he says, that “we are the work of God,” this does not refer to ordinary creation, by which we are made men. We are declared to be new creatures, because, not by our own power, but by the Spirit of Christ, we have been formed to righteousness.[i]

God is saying that each of us are a unique and beautiful poem.  As a new creative poem, He is writing His sonnet upon the fabric of His book of poetry.  It’s His book but we are the verses.  He’s the poet and we are living His verse.  We are living, loving poems.  We are the poetry of God.

What is poetry? Throughout the centuries, there have been many attempts at a definition.  Poetry is “the art of uniting pleasure with truth” (Samuel Johnson)[ii], “the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself” (William Hazlitt)[iii], “the music of the soul” (Voltaire)[iv].  T.S. Eliot once said of poetry, “It is not the assertion of truth, but the making of that truth more fully real to us.”[v]

William Wordsworth may have captured our meaning best when he wrote, “the poet is the rock of defense for human nature.”[vi] Similarly, Coleridge wrote, “[the poet] brings the whole soul of man into activity.”[vii] God is the poet and it is through His Spirit that we come to discover our true nature, our whole soul moved to creative energy.  We are the poems of the Poet.

Dylan Thomas once commented that “a poem on the page is only half a poem.”[viii] You see, a poem is only half alive until the words on the page are spoken.  They must be spoken into the hearts of other people.  Our life in the Spirit is a wildly jumbled creative, unique blend of verses that have a rhythm that touches everyone around us.  But we must live, really live.

Albert Einstein said that truth is “that which stands the test of experience.”  We are a creative energy of God mirroring the Master Poet with all of our poetic experiences.  Sometimes we are a poem of pain, sometimes a poem of joy, sometimes a poem of endurance.  But with each experience, His poem is crafted, rewritten, and more deeply edited by the love of God.

Jesus said,

No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.  These things I command you, that you love one another. (John 15:15-17)

We are not just any run-of-the-mill poem.  We are poems being written by the love of Jesus.  We are the fruit of His love.  We are in a love relationship with the Poet.  He is writing His words, His purposes into the fabric of our heart.

You can tell much about a poet by his or her poems.  The poetry of Emily Dickinson is vastly different from Robert Frost.  The works of Coleridge stand in major contrast to John Keats.  We are the sheet poems, the unfinished poems of God.  We are being crafted and written by the hand of God, through the Spirit, in the blood of Jesus.  If we will let Him, if we will stop resisting, God will write us.  We are His poetry of love.

Receive the point of His pen.

[i] Calvin’s Commentaries

[ii] A Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems, Crown Publishers, New York, p. v.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Gerard Kelly, Spoken Worship, Zondervan, p. 13.

One Thing Losers

3 08 2010

I’m a loser!  If I were to evaluate my life based on the standards of the sports page, the entertainment section, and my son’s high school friends, I’m a loser.  I’m not all that intelligent, all that funny, or all that cool.  I’m showing signs of a growing spare tire around the belt line, grey hairs are popping up everywhere, I drive a truck with camo seat covers, I turn in the bill of my baseball cap, and love flannel shirts.  None of which constitutes culturally current winning qualities.

But I’m a loser with passion.  I tell my sons and daughters all the time to “give it all.”  Whether it’s a recital for piano or a baseball tournament, I say things like “leave it all on the field,” or “don’t hold back,” etc.  You know, the kind of stuff that parents are supposed to say to their kids.  The only difference is that I mean it.  I’m not saying that other parents don’t mean it, they do.  I’m sure they do because I sit in the stands with a lot of them at games and they shout, scream, pout, and almost cry like 3rd graders.  It’s an amazing thing to watch—otherwise normal middle aged worldly successful adults suddenly morphed into adolescent elementary aged behavior that often leaves me wondering what happened to the adult I was just talking to.

But I really mean it when I say to my children to be all there—focused, determined, and relaxed.  I don’t mean win, win, win, rah, rah, rah.  I mean be hot.  Be hotful (is that a word?); radically give it all—for something greater than yourself.  I sometimes say:  My time is valuable.  Don’t waste my time, the coach’s time, or your time.  Be hot out there.  I don’t care if it’s a piano, violin, or sports contest—be hot and be focused…for God’s glory.

I’m a loser for one thing.  The apostle Paul once said, “This one thing I do…”  Most of us can only do a few things half decent.  We’re just losers who aren’t very smart nor very talented.  But we can do one thing.  Yes, all of us can do one thing.  Instead of dabbling around with drink, entertainment, or whatever we dabble in, I want to be a one thing guy.  One thing.

Years ago I came across these words of Bishop Ryle.  They speak of our calling as Jesus followers,

“A zealous person in the Faith is pre-eminently a person of one thing.  It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit.  He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God.  Whether he lives, or whether he dies—whether he has health, or whether he has sickness—whether rich or poor—whether he pleases men or whether he gives offense—whether he is thought wise or foolish—whether he gets blamed or praised—whether honored or put to shame—for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all.  He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory.  If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it—he is content.  He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work of God for which God appointed him.”

Be a passionate one thing loser…for Jesus!

6 Principles (and the bonus 7th principle) of “Those Who Turned the World Upside Down” part 6

28 06 2010

This is part six in a series on the topic, “New Testament Principles on Leadership Structure.”  Enjoy.  If you want to catch up on the previous parts, scroll down.

Principle #6: Elders are Appointed

Acts 14:23 reads, “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Paul told Titus to “appoint elders in every town…” (Titus 1:5).  The word “appointed” is from the Greek verb, cheirotoneo, meaning “appoint,” “designate,” or “choose.”  Elders were chosen by the apostles and the local leadership of each church.

The early apostles knew that false teachers and heretics were growing in influence in the newly planted churches.  Indeed, one of the elder’s most important responsibilities was guarding the flock from false doctrine.  Thus, it makes sense that the apostles would have seen the need for the proper appointment of biblically educated elders.  In the context of Acts 14:23, “…they (apostles) commended them (newly appointed elders) to the Lord…”  The verb “commended” (paratithemi) implies entrusting something valuable (Strauch, ibid, p. 139).  The implication and meaning of this phrase being the value placed by the apostles on those whom they appointed to this task.

In 1 Timothy 5:17, the elders are the ones who “rule” in the local congregation. The word “rule” is the Greek word, prohistemi, meaning lead, manage, or direct.  Therefore, in crucial matters, such as the selection of leadership for the church, the overseers should direct the whole process (Strauch, p. 278).  For this reason, healthy eldership means that the elders are always on the lookout for new leadership that can be developed in the congregation.  Kenneth O. Gangel, professor and chairman of the department of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary says, “The key to reproducing leadership is to clearly plan for it.  Church leaders need to produce leaders who will reproduce leaders precisely as it is done in the family—through experience, instruction, and modeling” (Feeding and Leading, p. 309 and 313, quoted by Strauch, ibid, p. 278-9).  These explanations provide us with new meaning to  2 Timothy 2:2 that reads, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” One of the most important qualities of strong leadership in a local church is the ability to raise up other strong leaders.

Benefits of Appointing Elders:

  • The leadership of the congregation realizes the need for strong team leadership
  • The elders of the church are able to observe and choose the most qualified men
  • The leadership must fast and pray and seek God before choosing new leadership
  • New leadership is constantly being perpetuated as the elders look for and develop more leaders

In Practicum:

The MSC board elder team selects new elders for the board.  The pastoral elder team, in consultation with the board, appoints new pastors.  All pastors at MSC are required to be building their ministries with other strong and capable leaders of character that can share the load of leadership and more effectively multiply their influence into their areas of discipleship.

Principle #7:  Elders are Men

For the Bible believing follower of Christ, the fundamental principle for male leadership is the person of Jesus.  God, the Father, sent Jesus, the Son, to the earth.  God did not send a daughter, but a son.  Jesus was the “last Adam” and the “first born son of David.”  It is the maleness of Jesus that is the marital picture used for Christ and the church in Ephesians 5.   His maleness was not an arbitrary matter (Strauch, ibid, p. 52). 

Jesus chose twelve men to “be with Him.”  Peter, James, and John became the first leaders in Jerusalem.  The twelve apostles in Jerusalem appointed seven men to wait on tables.  Paul became the first elder to the gentile churches and appointed only men in positions of leadership.  Timothy led the church at Ephesus.  Titus was the lead elder on Crete.  In every example of government structure in the New Testament, men are chosen to lead. Indeed one of the qualifications given for leadership in the local church is that the elder be, “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2-7; Titus 1:6-9).  Clearly stated, in God’s divine order, men are tasked with leading the church. 

Paul loves to use the household analogy when speaking of the divine order for the local church (see 1 Timothy 3:15).  Just as he teaches male headship in the family, Paul also teaches male headship in the local body of believers, the church (1 Timothy 2:8-3:7).  Since the home is the basic unit for social order, it should not be a surprise that Paul would take the same analogy into the order for the “household of God” (Strauch, ibid, p. 58).  In Paul’s mind the leadership of a biological family is an extension of His leadership over the church family.

For the sake of not being misunderstood in our 21st century world, I must be clear in stating that I believe that the biblical teaching regarding men and women is of full equality in dignity, personhood, gifting, and value, but distinct in gender roles.  In explaining what the Bible teaches about eldership in the church, I am not making a statement about the role of women outside the church (i.e. home, work, or politics, etc.).  My purpose is to only share what the New Testament teaches about roles in leadership within the church.

John Piper, one of the editors of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, clearly expresses my heart concerning our differences:

Over the years I have come to see from scripture and from life that manhood and womanhood are the beautiful handiwork of a good and loving God.  He designed our differences and they are profound.  They are not mere physiological prerequisites for sexual union.  They go to the root of our personhood” (p. 32, cited by Strauch, ibid, p. 52).

God’s divine gender roles really matter.  Like the play, Romeo and Juliet, each actor has a role. When the roles are played according to the script and guided by the producer, a wonderful play is produced.  So it is in the church of Jesus Christ.

Benefits for Appointing Male Elders:

  • The Bible clearly states that male headship results in the proper divine order for the home and church
  • Men who lead with love (Ephesians 5:25) will imitate Christ and give their lives for the church
  • When the biblical roles of divine order are observed, the result is a unified and smooth governorship
  • Men and women, functioning in their proper roles, result in a more effective church ministry

In Practicum:

All of our MSC board and pastoral elders are men.

In Conclusion

As I finish this white paper, I feel compelled to conclude with the admonition of Peter, “above all things have fervent love for one another…” (1 Peter 4:8a).  When we read the first letter of John, we are constantly reminded of the vital importance of love in everything we do.  Love is the definer of what we believe (see 1 John 3-4).  Love is the greatest commandment (see Matthew 22:35-40).  This commandment is defined by our actions of loving God and people.  We cannot say that we love God and then hate our brother (see 1 John 3-4).  Therefore, the most important testimony of love for God is our love for God’s people.  Every elder must lead with such love.  Great love is great leadership.

A loving Jesus raises up loving elders.  Loving elders build loving churches.  What we need today are loving churches.  Churches built on walking in the truth of love (see 2nd and 3rd John) are churches which are impacting the world with the “agapeo” of Christ.  The most important function of leadership in a New Testament church is that of love.  Such love cascades down into the body and touches every member.

In conclusion, may love be our aim, may love be our vision, and may love for one another be the hallmark of our church.

Dunkin’ Donuts and Planting Pastors

26 04 2010

I have come to Okinawa every year now for over ten years, and I think I know almost every pastor on the island.

Right now, I’m eating sushi, looking out over the Pacific Ocean, and pondering the challenge of developing future spiritual leadership on this island.  I’ve spoken every night and several times a day for a week, spending almost every waking hour with these gracious, caring, pastors—eating, sipping tea, laughing and sharing our hearts and lives.

Last night I spoke at one of our network churches.  Liz and I stayed up until midnight with the pastor and his wife, sharing pictures, and talking about old times.  Together with my friend and fellow pastor, we reminisced of the days of trouble.  You see, he and I got into trouble together – big trouble in 1989—in ways that would change the direction of our lives as pastors.

It all began with a conversation at Dunkin’ Donuts when I was a missionary in Okinawa.  Yes, Okinawa has Dunkin’ Donuts. And the Japanese like donuts almost as much as sushi.  If you tasted their version of Dunkin’ Donuts, you would understand why.  Anyway, one morning we were sitting around drinking coffee and stuffing our faces with cream-filled when he asked me, “Steve, what do you think my church needs?”  After thinking for about three minutes (which is deep meditation for me), I said, “Your church needs to learn how to worship Jesus.”

Thus began a journey that got both of us in a heap of trouble! 

He asked me to teach his church how to worship, so that is what I did every Wednesday night. But more than just a sermon, back then my style was to teach for a little while and then to demonstrate how to worship.  The demonstration time involved closing our eyes and worshipping to music playing over my stereo.  On one fateful night, the Holy Spirit showed up in a dramatic way, and my pastor friend experienced a baptism of the Spirit that quite literally rocked his world.

The Holy Spirit came that night during worship as the power of God hit my friend with such peace and joy that he didn’t sleep for the next 48 hours!  In fact, on this one evening his baptism into the Spirit would initiate his journey on  a road that would change the direction of his life forever.

In the days and weeks to follow, he shared excitedly about the new things God was doing in his life.  To say his Southern Baptist church was not quite as pumped up about his new-found intimacy with God is an under-the-sea, really-deep-under-the-sea-level statement.  In a short time, he was kicked out of his fellowship, and found himself on the streets wondering what had happened.

At about the same time, I was teaching my staff about more expressive worship like raising our hands, about casting out demons, and in general, getting myself into some deep theological doodoo of my own.   I could see the wagons circling, and I knew that my days were numbered.  And like my pastor friend’s experience, it wasn’t long after our Dunkin’ Donuts meeting that my life was profoundly changed – I resigned from my position with a para-church organization and joined my friend as we freshly sought God about our futures.

What an exciting time it was!  Both of us out of a job, but loving Jesus!  Both of us unsure of the direction of our future, but confident in the Director of our future.

And so last night, after all of these years, we were reunited.  We shared of our journey and the adventure.  For my Okinawan friend, God had planted him back on the island to found and pastor Agape Community Church where he continues to minister today.  God led me to Colorado Springs to plant Mountain Springs Church. 

Once again, just like we had done 21 years ago, we worshipped together on a Wednesday night.  However, on this night we were joined by a group of men and women, many of whom hadn’t even been born or saved in 1989.  Together, we were again worshipping the same Jesus that had rocked our world—the same Savior and Lord who continues to rock our world today.  Only now, there’s a church that didn’t exist back then.  All because God powerfully visited a pastor one night during worship, then planted him to shepherd His people.

I have learned that God plants pastors.  He doesn’t plant churches; He plants pastors.  Pastors are God’s methodology, His missiology. Jesus planted pastors.  Jesus is still planting pastors. I think pastors were what Jesus had in mind with His twelve men.  And it’s what He had in mind for these two pastors, one Okinawan, one American. 

Tonight, I count it an honor to be one of His pastors, grateful to be helping to plant more pastors on the tiny island of Okinawa.

Oprah, Buddha, and the Secret to Happiness

16 03 2010

The cover article of O Magazine caught my attention:  “The secret to Happiness: meet the man who’s got it.” Oh, marketing.  Never met anyone who’s not looking for the “secret to happiness,” and to top it off, meet the one guy “who’s got it?”  I was interested.  So, not quite having enough time to get the article read before checking out at King Soopers, Oprah got my $4.50.

     I’m currently teaching through the Gospel of Luke.  The past few weeks we’ve been studying verse by verse through the “Blessed” verses of the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6).  In this sermon, Jesus is teaching on the way of happiness (the Greek meaning for “Blessed”).  So, it was in this thematic vein of study that I found Oprah’s interview intriguing.

     I learned that the man who has the “secret to happiness” is Thich Nhat Hanh, an 83 year old Vietnamese Buddhist monk.  I discovered that Nhat Hanh is the founder of “Engaged Buddhism”—a movement that “involves peaceful activism for the purpose of social reform.”[i] Martin Luther King Jr. was so impressed with the work of Nhat Hanh that he recommended him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.  He led the Buddhist Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1969, established the “Buddhist Church” in France, and has written over 100 books.  He had a best seller in 1995, Living Buddha, Living Christ.[ii] Oprah who did the interview herself, said this book “never leaves my nightstand.”[iii]

     The article is a running dialogue between Nhat Hanh and Oprah at the Four Seasons Hotel in Manhattan.  Here are a few quotes to give you an idea of the interview:

  • Oprah:What is happiness?  Nhat Hanh: Happiness is the cessation of suffering.  Well-being.  For instance, when I practice this exercise of breathing in, I’m aware of my eyes; breathing out, I smile to my eyes and realize that are still in good condition…so when I become aware of my eyes, I touch one of the conditions of happiness.  And when I touch it, happiness comes.
  • Oprah: Tell me how we do it.  Nhat Hanh:  Suppose you are drinking a cup of tea.  When you hold your cup, you may like to breath in, to bring your mind back to your body, and you become fully present.  And when you are truly there, something else is also there—life, represented by the cup of tea. In that moment you are real, and the cup of tea is real…That is the moment of happiness, and of peace…
  • Oprah: I never had that much thought about a cup of tea (my favorite line) Nhat Hanh:  We have the practice of tea meditation.  We sit down, enjoy a cup of tea and our brotherhood, sisterhood.  It takes one hour to just enjoy a cup of tea.  Oprah (another great line):  A cup of tea like this? [holds up a cup of tea]…One hour![iv]

The interview continues like this vein for another thousand words or more, but you’ve got the gist of it.  So, what can be said about the philosophy of the man who’s got the “secret to happiness?”  Can we take any of the monk’s thoughts seriously?

     Let me be fair and say that there is something good here.  What Nhat Hanh is saying (briefly here, but with more detail in the interview) is that we need to learn to live more in the moment.  We need to enjoy our “present.”  Even drinking tea can have happiness if we will relax, quit worrying about everything, and simply live more fully in that moment. We can all learn more about living in the present. I’ll admit I might have used a better example than tea drinking, but I also realize that the highlight of a monk life might be the tea break. 

Jesus said something similar:

So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things…34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. (Matthew 6:28-34 NKJV)

On deeper reflection we find that not only do our paths part with Nhat Hanh, we’re not even in the same Tea House of understanding.   

     To better understand Nhat Hanh’s worldview one must understand the underpinnings of his Buddhist philosophy.  Note the first thing out of the monk’s mouth, “Happiness is the cessation of suffering.”  First thing.  Deepest conviction.  Nhat Hanh and all devout Buddhist monks believe that suffering is an illusion because the material world is an illusion.  Our material world is a temporary copy of the real, ideal world, as Plato also taught.

     From a traditional Buddhist viewpoint, all that matters is our soul and spirit.  The material world doesn’t exist.  This is why Buddhist monks become monks—to escape the nonexistent (I know what you’re thinking). Nhat Hanh, with his more “enlightened”[v] Buddhism at least believes in an engagement with the world, but the foundations belie his beliefs.

     The teaching of Jesus is 180 degrees that of Nhat Hanh.  Jesus not only taught us that the cessation of suffering is impossible but that it is in present suffering for righteousness that we find happiness.  Jesus said that real happiness comes through suffering, not in its cessation.  Jesus said that the way to happiness was finding God when we are suffering.   Here’s what Jesus said about the way to happiness,

      Blessed (Happy) are you poor (suffering in the present),

For yours is the kingdom of God.

21  Blessed are you who hunger now (suffering in the present),

For you shall be filled.

     Blessed are you who weep now (suffering in the present),

For you shall laugh.

22  Blessed are you when men hate you (suffering in the present),

And when they exclude you,

     And revile you, and cast out your name as evil (suffering in the present),

     For the Son of Man’s sake.

23  Rejoice in that day and leap for joy!

For indeed your reward is great in heaven,

     (Luke 6:20~23 NKJV)

Jesus has given us the “secret” to happiness.  Quite the opposite of Nhat Hanh’s view.  This life involves suffering, and it’s real.  But so is happiness.  If you are going through deep suffering right now, turn to Jesus.  He’s closer than a brother and understands your pain.  He not only understands it, He says that it’s in present suffering that we discover present happiness. 

[i] O Magazine p. 162

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid, p. 192.

[v] Oprah’s opinion, not mine

Gymnastics and the Kingdom of God Part 3

10 10 2008

From the 9th grade until my senior year in high school, I lived, ate, drank, and dreamed gymnastics.  I was as crazy as my coach.  He was a fanatic about perfection in every routine that we worked so tirelessly to execute.  His disease for perfection and winning rubbed off on me.  Gymnastics was all that I thought about during the day and it was my last fleeting thought at night.  I imagined and dreamed gymnastics glory.  I could see in my mind the perfect catch and release on high bar, the flawless dismount off of rings, and the smoothly timed execution of a highly difficult trick in a floor exercise routine.  But such visions of perfection were not to remain just in my head.  They had to be worked out in my experience.  It took daily training.

Each day after class was a discipline of rigorous mental and physical training.  The constant pressures to improve were pressed into every movement and decision at practice.  The physical pain of breaking down the body to exert greater strength and flexibility was matched only by the mental anxiety of cerebral self control in learning a new “trick” (a gymnastics term used for the particular maneuver on an apparatus).  I came home at night with both my body aching and my mind exhausted from the day’s work out.

I can so vividly recall jumping up to grab the rings to perform yet another attempt at a difficult trick.  I had failed on every attempt.  I had fallen off the rings several times, coming close to major injury twice.  And as I jumped to grasp hold of the rings yet another time, I felt a warm tingling sensation on my arms—from my hands to my elbows, streams of blood were rolling down like rivers across my arms.  The blood flowed freely from the calluses in my hands that were  torn and ripped.  It was a vivid reminder of the price to be paid for gold.

Yet the end product was a flawless routine.  The pain paid off.  The blood wiped off, and the victories came.  The price was worth the admission to perfection. 

The roar of the crowd would dissipate.  But the sense of self accomplishment was a deep confidence and satisfaction that all the work, practice, and struggle had been worth it.  This goal being temperal; it prepared me to understand the uniqueness of seeking God for an eternal goal.

The Apostle Paul, in talking about his zeal for an eternal crown, said it this way,  “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)  Paul is comparing the runner to the Christian.  His challenge to the Corinthians is that every runner, who really runs, runs for victory.  And every runner who cares about winning, must discipline his body with training in order to get the advantage.  And so it is for the follower of Christ.  We “fight” he says in order to win!

Fighting to win?  That’s what Paul says.  We must fight, we must run with a holy pursuit that brings our life into subjection to a higher good, a higher passion.  The Christ follower is a passionate fighter for the imperishable gold—the victory that is awarded by Christ at the culmination of a life well lived.

Like the runner who runs daily to prepare his legs and heart for the coming competition.  Like myself, with blood running down my arms, the Jesus disciple must learn to be “temperate in all things” and train in such a way that he or she may attain the glory of God.   

We are disciples!  Fighting disciples.  A disciple by his or her very character is a disciplined follower.  As disciples of Christ, we are passionate seekers and finders of the kingdom of God.  We have found the kingdom through giving our heart to Jesus.  Simultaneously, we are lifelong seekers of Jesus that never completely arrive in our full knowledge of His marvelous, unending, and ever exploding wisdom and love!  As we choose to seek God, discipline is involved.

As a gymnast I had to leave behind certain activities to obtain a higher goal.  I had to give up, quit, and not even look at certain things—foods, drugs, and drink—because I needed my body to be in the best condition possible.  It was the only route to the winners stand.  As a disciplined seeker of God, I have to temper my appetites, my activities, and my passions for the higher calling.  And it is a constant fight, yes a real fight.

Today, I’m in a hotel room taking a day to fast and pray and seek the Lord.  I do this every month; I steal myself away from work, family, and the constant busyness of my life.  I pull away and pray.  I get real quiet and listen.  I read God’s Word for hours.  I put the activity and “go” of my life on “pause”.  Yet, I push “play” in going after God!  But I can’t push “play” on one track, if I don’t push “pause” on another.  Discipline is like that.  To go for God, we have to say no to other stuff.  I am talking about “go” and “no.”  There are certain things in our lives that just can’t go unless we choose no.

Look at your life today.  What are those activities, choices, attitudes, and even relationships that are hindering your becoming a passionate disciple of Jesus and His kingdom?  Are their lower feelings blocking the higher passions?  Are there relationships hindering The relationship?  All of us who really want to know Christ must ask these question continually.  We all tend to drift off the mark.  We all tend to shift our focus and miss God’s deeper work in our hearts.

So, let me challenge you to “no” and “go.”  Say no to three things today that are hindering your zealous pursuit of God and His kingdom!  Don’t hesitate.  Don’t second guess.  Jump up on the rings of your life and train yourself for the higher joy, the deeper love, and the greater cause.  There is a gold awaiting you—yes, it is the gold that Jesus will present to you personally.  That’s a victory worth living for.  Say no and then go!

Gymnastics and the Kingdom of God – Part 2

8 09 2008

Rick Boyer was my high school coach and a fanatic about gymnastics.  His story was intriguing and unusual.  He had attended the University of Georgia as a Spanish major but, as a freshman in college, had seen a gymnastics meet and become fascinated with the sport. And so, at 18 years of age, as a freshman in college, he started working out in gymnastics.  The amazing thing is not only did he start doing gymnastics in college, he actually trained so hard and so diligently that he became quite an accomplished ring man.  And by his senior year he was nationally ranked.  He finished his senior year 25th in the nation on rings.  Now that’s incredible!

After graduating from college, Rick Boyer came to Clarkston High School as a Spanish teacher and the new gymnastics coach.  It was my sophomore year and when the announcement went out, I decided to show up for the initial interest meeting.  So, here we were, a bunch of punk suburban kids who didn’t know the first thing about gymnastics, seated before this short muscular Hispanic looking guy (he wasn’t Hispanic, but he looked like he was).  With no real introduction or niceties, Coach Boyer cut to the chase.  “I am here to build a state champion gymnastics team.  If you come out for this team you will work out 6 days a week, yes I said 6 days a week—on Saturday’s too.  You will train 9 months out of the year.  If you are involved with another sport, quit.  If you desire to be on the honor roll, don’t come out for the team.  If you have a girl friend, break up.  If you party and smoke dope, don’t come out!  I’ll see you tomorrow at 3:30.  If you are one minute late, you will run around the school ten times.  See ya tomorrow!”  End of discussion. What discussion?  Well, this little introductory speech did not win many friends or influence many people.  If I recall, at the meeting about 60 students had showed up.  The next day, at the first practice, ten of us came out.  And thus began the embryonic team that Coach Boyer would build into one of the best gymnastics programs that the state of Georgia has ever seen.

Coach Boyer was calling us to a commitment.  Coach Boyer was challenging us to give up everything we had known for something hidden, something unknown.  He was actually asking us to follow him, even though we barely knew him, for a prize that we weren’t even sure was worth possessing. 

In a way, Jesus did the very same thing.  As he walked along the Sea of Galilee, he ran across these ragtag fishermen and challenged them to follow him.  “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’  They immediately left their nets and followed Him.”  (Matthew 4:18-20)  Simon and Andrew knew very little about Jesus yet they followed Him.  What was it that drew them to Jesus?  What was it that made Jesus different than other religious leaders? 

The verse just before our passage gives us some insight, “From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17)  Jesus came preaching about the kingdom of God.  But, He not only proclaimed the kingdom of God, He also demonstrated kingdom power.  Let’s look at what happened next, right after Simon and Andrew signed up, “(and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.) And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.”  (Matthew 4:22-24)

Jesus came proclaiming and demonstrating the kingdom of heaven!  He was calling these men to leave everything familiar, give up all plans, and follow Him!  The ultimate challenge, the ultimate commitment.  On another occasion, when Jesus was explaining the kingdom of God to his followers he said, “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)  Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven is like something that is hidden from most people, but so valuable that for the people who find it, are then willing to give up all that they possess to have it.

The kingdom of heaven is a treasure.  It is a hidden treasure.  I discovered an earthly joy as I took on Coach Boyer’s challenge in high school, but I discovered an eternal joy when I chose to follow Christ and the kingdom of heaven.  The challenge to follow Christ will require everything that is familiar and all that brings earthly security.  God doesn’t want a part of our life, He wants our total being. God wants everything to be surrendered to Him.

Coach Boyer reached down into my heart when he challenged me to give up all for the pursuit of physical gold, and Jesus Christ reaches into our hearts and calls us to pursuit hard after the eternal gold promised to bring joy and peace.  Jesus said it best when he proclaimed a kingdom that calls out for the weary and tired, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus still reaches into our hearts and calls out the best within us.  He calls us to a heart change, a heart transformation.  The kingdom of heaven will require everything we long for and desire, but the irony is that all that we have ever really desired and longed for is found in the kingdom of heaven made known through Jesus Christ.  The discovery of the kingdom of God is the greatest treasure I have ever known.  Might you discover it too?