Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Amazing Race

My granddaughter went out for track at her school. She wanted to be on a team, do a sport, but she did not want to run. We all laughed about that, but she worked it out to do shot put. She is a thin, petite girl and I can only imagine her trying to catapult that shot a few feet. But she is happy and she does not have to run.
We often think that the life of a Christian is a race, running hard, sweating profusely to make it. I have found it to be more of an endurance race. It is more of a Marathon, but you do not have to finish first, just finish.
Brennan Manning, in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, says it like you are on the football field and you are struggling and it feels like you are losing and suddenly the referee calls the game and declares you the winner. You did not earn it, you fought valiantly, but felt like you were losing. How did that happen?
I think I naively thought I could reach a place where I would live above the problems, I would have victory with years of maturity. Somehow I thought the older saints had it all together and nothing would shake them or challenge them. (Maybe I am not old enough yet) I have not reached that place of being on top of it. I have pretty much come to the conclusion that there is no place like that on this side of glory.
I think my granddaughter is right. Why run? Running is exhausting, necessary at times, but it is not the way to really succeed in the Christian life. 
I remember how people would encourage us to press into God.  I can tell you that no amount of pressing will make God allow you any closer to Him than He wants you to be. The illusion that He can be attained by force will lead you to disillusionment. Religion may give you a set of disciplines to follow and the disciplines may only make you religious and not any closer to God.
This life with God is eternal. He is not a mountain to climb and plant your flag. He is not one who is fully knowable. Someone said that the Seraphim have been crying “holy, holy, holy,” for eternity and do not tire of it because they see new facets of God constantly as they surround the throne. 
God is not a discipline to be learned. He is not codified in a manual. He is a living, life giving God. 
I have learned that life has its challenges in every phase. The understandings of a twenty year old are far different than a forty year old. Each decade offers its trials, its confrontations, its mountains. We never seem to come to the place that there is not something different to stand in our way and require us to conquer it.
It really is not a sprint, but a long walk with God. Paul uses the analogy of a race which indicates there is a course, a track, a way, but it is he who endures to the end. Maybe this Christian life is more like a steeplechase than a neat, lined track. We have many more obstacles to overcome in this race. We are contested every step of the way. We run through rivers, bogs, up mountains, across deserts, hurdle obstacles thrown in our path; it is a long term battle to finish the race.
Those who try to run too fast exhaust themselves with the effort only to find they did not accomplish much. Like one busy Christian said, “I am working like the devil for the Lord.” Many times we are creating more activity and dust than we are progress. Another observation made by many Christian workers and pastors is that the ministry is not a place to have closeness to God and spend hours in his presence. Most observe that the ministry gets in the way of that pursuit and the busyness of ministry robs them of their intimacy with the Lord. So, running fast does not get the job done.
I have found that slow and steady works, but there are the times you are prompted by the Holy Spirit and you need to run. Slow may indicate lethargy rather than determination. It really comes down to a life with the Lord that includes times of intensity and times of dryness, times of slow pace and others of fast pace. One thing is for sure, it is not dull.
In this world we will always have tribulations of some sort. It is the nature of life. If you care, if you have family, if you associate with friends, if you have a job, you will have times of difficulty. Those looking for perfection and no trouble will be troubled by the fact that they cannot get there. Some of Christian theology, at least, popular theology, wants to paint a picture of the ideal, peaceful life, no troubles, good family, good job, popular, material needs met and abundance. When, in truth, the race is won by those who are overcomers, maybe slow, maybe not the best runners, or even those who just walk because they do not like to run.  To finish is the goal.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Love So Amazing

 I was ten years old. My mother and I had been talking about what I would be when I grew up. Looking back, how serious do you take a ten year old? But she engaged me like I was an older person I guess. She did not make fun or push me aside with “you’re too young” or “we will talk about it later.” I was serious. I had been wondering about eternity and time and how long was eternity and what would we do forever? My head was swirling with thoughts and the abyss of thoughts that could not be answered pushed rationality to its limits. Fear would play with my mind because it was too incomprehensible to think of a forever in torment and punishment. I knew I needed to do something. Eternity was calling.
In Sunday School I had learned the many Bible stories from capable teachers who invested their time in kids. I liked the miracle worker and he touched so many desperate lives. However the part that gripped my heart and caused pain was the death of Jesus. It was an unfair execution of the innocent. It was a kangaroo court of hateful men exploiting the emotions of a mob to kill the Son of God. The injustice of all of it caused me anger and frustration.
The worst part to think about was the crucifixion itself. Imagining the agony and the humiliation of being stripped, beaten, and then nailed through the metacarpals and metatarsals caused a shudder in my body. What pain did he endure? What humiliation did he tolerate? When I went to see the “Passion of the Christ,” those particular scenes of the beatings and the crucifixion pushed me to the limits of my ability to sit and watch. I cried through the whole series of scenes depicting the moments that seemed like hours. I will probably never watch that movie again. Once was all I could take.
At ten, these eternal issues weighed heavy on my heart. God was calling. How could one man endure so much for me? For the world? For the haters and mockers at the foot of his cross? How? I knew I had to take care of my eternal destination. I did not want to be lost, forsaken, cast into outer darkness, sentenced to the Lake of Fire. I still don’t! What must I do to be saved from this eternal punishment? What must I do to enter the gates of Heaven? How do I find the narrow gate that leads to eternal life? For a ten year old these were important quests.
The preacher gave an invitation at church each Sunday. In our church, at that time, it was an invitation to accept Jesus. There was never any talk of being “born again,” just accept Christ. Our church did not really talk about getting “saved,” just accept Christ. We can use different terminology but the Holy Spirit knows how to get the job done. It was Good Friday Service and we were there. I knew when the invitation came, I was going up there.
In asking my mother what to do and how it was going to happen, I got the answer that we all do not want to hear. “ You just ask and you will know.” As always, we want a “how to” list. We want to know the procedure. Where do I sign? What are the prerequisites? But as is true with God and His important moments, it is not a list, but an encounter. It is learning to have spiritual experiences without the checklist. Too often we want to reduce the walk with God to formulae that can easily be used by all. It is not that way.
So, that Good Friday, with determination aforehand, I waited through the sermon. The sermon did not convince me, I was waiting for it to be over so I could get to my encounter. Finally he finished. I have no idea what he preached. He extended the invitation and I was out of my seat heading for the front. I knew this much, I needed to confess before men my decision to come to Christ. The preacher led me in a prayer of confession and acceptance. I then went to be baptized. I came out of the water clean in soul and spirit. There was a lightness and cleanliness indescribable for it was on the inside, not the outside.
Following that day, there was no more fear of damnation. But to this day, there is the wonder of the unknown. I still have the question, “What are we going to do for eternity?” Oh, I know a lot of what the word says we will do, but where do I fit in? Eternity is still a concept I cannot wrap my rationality around. I know it is there and I know I will be a part of it, but it still holds a lot of mystery for me.
But this I do know. One man, Jesus, paid a huge price and suffered beyond my imagination to bring us to himself and give us life eternal. The stakes must be huge to have God have His Son suffer like that to rescue us. The loss that people will suffer by not knowing Christ will be for them incalculable. What is the consequence of being wrong forever?
I am eternally grateful!!