Are you hungry?

bread

As the phenomenon of “praise and worship” has erupted and been integrated into our worship services over the last thirty years, a myriad of choruses have been written.  Some of these choruses are heartfelt cries and beautiful melodies to the Lord, and some are just downright terrible – as in any genre of music.  But throughout the years there has been a periodic theme of spiritual hunger and thirst.  The sentiment in music, in poems, in Spiritual understanding, tends to go something like this:

Hungry I come to you for I know you satisfy,
I am empty but I know your love does not run dry.
So I wait for you…

Jesus taught us in the beatitudes,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

 – Matt 5.6

However, and more importantly, Jesus taught us that a Spiritual hunger is one that is and can be satisfied,

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”  Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.

– John 6.32-35

Jesus proclaimed that He, Himself, was the bread of life and that anyone who comes to Him and “eats His flesh” will never be hungry again (John 6.56).  The Jews were remembering the history of the Hebrew people.  When Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt, they were punished for making an idol in the form of a calf and worshiping it.  The punishment was 40 years of wandering in the desert and none of the living adults during the time of the idolatry were allowed to enter into the promised land.  God did, however, take care of them while they were in the wilderness and He fed them bread from Heaven every day.  Manna.  For forty years God sent them bread, every. single. day.

So the Jews were testing Jesus.  Jesus had fed five thousand of them bread and fish, and they wanted Jesus to provide physical food for them just like God had through Moses, but Jesus proclaimed Himself to be a better bread:  all satisfying, and Spiritual bread.

When we come to Jesus for salvation, we are made into a new creation.  We are given a new heart.  We are satisfied Spiritually.  You will get to know Jesus better, but you will never have more or less of Him.  You might wander, and sin, and the Holy Spirit will convict you and draw you to repentance, but Jesus promises that when you come to Him, you will never thirst Spiritually again.  If you are hungry Spiritually, it is because you have not eaten of the bread of life.

Now, in the beatitudes, He does say that those who hunger for righteousness are blessed.  But this is a different type of hungering.  This is not a hunger for nourishment, this is a hunger for maturity and pleasing God.  We could paraphrase: blessed are those who come and are made new in Jesus and then strive, with everything in them to please Him, to honor Him, to be more like Him, to die to sin.  Do you long to be righteous?  Do you hunger to please God?

Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”

– John 4.34

Does it fulfill you and satisfy you to do the will of God?  Jesus set the example of obedience and commitment to God’s will as His food.  He hungered and thirsted for righteousness, even though He is righteousness.  He was satisfied and sustained by following the plan and will of God the Father.  But Jesus was not Spiritually hungry.  Do you see the difference?

When we are in Jesus, we will not be Spiritually hungry.  We ought not be able to sing songs that say, “hungry I come to you for I know you satisfy”.  We should abide in Christ.  We do not come to Jesus to get filled up and go out and about life on our own, depleting our nourishment.  We remain in Him, and He satisfied us always.  If you are not Spiritually satisfied, then you are not in Jesus.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

– John 15.4-6

Branches continually derive nourishment from the vine. Branches do not tap in to get a drink and then break off from the vine.  We are not cars that need to be gassed up every 400 miles, we are dependent and must remained attached to the source of life.

If you live your life on a “come in and get recharged” basis, reconsider your faith.  Ask Jesus to abide in you and to allow you to abide in Him.  Come to Him and be made new, be grafted in to the vine, and you will never hunger or thirst again, for nourishment.  But do hunger for righteousness!  Once you have been grafted in, strive to produce the fruit, strive to follow His example, hunger to please Him.

The Fear of Flying.

airplane

Have you heard the news?  Planes have been falling out of the sky lately.  Malaysian Airlines lost a plane, Air Asia also lost a plane in the South Pacific, and most recently Germanwings had a pilot intentionally down an airbus in the Alps.  This, of course, has reignited for many a deep-seated fear of flying.

I have never been a very fearful person; I was always the child who was willing to try.  I climbed trees, straightlined down mountains on skis, taught myself how to do all sorts of flips off the diving board, and rode horses as fast as they could go; I enjoyed going fast.  As an adult, I ride a motorcycle, and travel wherever the road (or air) will take me; I just enjoy experiencing life.  In 2008 I moved to SE Asia.  Shortly before I arrived, there was an airline called Adam Air who lost two jets within a year.  Consequently they went out of business, but air travel was not the most certain thing in my host country.  Shortly after moving there, a few more planes went down, one even crashed in the city where I was living and killed 27 people on board.  I only lived a few miles from the airport and could often hear planes flying overhead.  The entire first year that I was in country I went to language school so that I could function in the country, and part of our discipline was reading the newspaper.  One day the local newspaper listed every plane and helicopter that had crashed in the past year in this country alone.  It nearly filled the whole first page.

Suddenly, one day, fear gripped my heart.  It was a new experience for me, as I used to love flying.  Heights never bothered me, and the excitement of going somewhere had me always ready to board the plane.  But here I was, as far away from home as I could physically be, terrified of air travel.  As I finished up language school, I began preparing for my job which required me to fly at least two, and up to six times a month.  I began scheming with my partner how we could drive instead of fly.  This was impossible, of course, in a country where there are no highways!  I had a slew of meetings where I had to travel to other countries back to back, and the simple act of driving to the airport would all but send me into a panic attack.

A well meaning Christian counselor prescribed me Xanax and a more potent medication to help.  I tried the meds, but they would make me fall asleep until the plane started moving, and as soon as we pulled onto the runway for takeoff, I was awake and as terrified as ever.  For one meeting I flew with a good friend and coworker who had three children at the time, and she joked as we boarded the plane that “God would not down a plane with such cute babies aboard”.  There was a slight comfort in flying with friends, but those 3 hours were still torture.

I started my job, and my partner and I decided that we would drive (a two day drive, instead of a 2 hour flight) for our first trip.  The day before the trip, plans changed and he decided that flying was the only option, so I chose to stay home.  At this point I realized there was a serious problem:  I was incapable of doing my job.

At the time I was working on my Master’s degree from Southern Seminary, and as part of the degree program I was required to take two counseling classes.  I signed up for my first one, and in the intro lecture the professor said we were each required to have a “Personal Sanctification Project”.  “Pick one thing in your life that you would like to change”, he said.  I knew exactly what I wanted to change.  I did not consider it sin, but I knew that I needed to conquer this fear in order to do anything – even if it was just to get home!

The personal sanctification project was an issue that we would bring to the Lord.  We were required to journal about the issue, anything the Lord was saying to us, any verses that He was pointing out to us, and how we were progressing with it throughout the semester.  The premise of the course was the assumption that any issue that was not a chemical or physical imbalance was truly a discipleship issue.  Two weeks into the course he addressed the “sin of fear”.  The second of the three lectures he actually focused on the fear of flying.

Now, in my mind, my fear was justified.  I am not an illogical person.  I like to think, reason, use my logic and make informed decisions.  The risk of flying in this particular country was higher than most, and planes crashed regularly.  I could have argued my logic to anyone, and many people shared my fear.  No one approached me and said, “Alison, your fear is a sin”.  But if they would have, I am confident that I would have defended myself adamantly.  But God had prepared my heart and readied me to hear this exhortation from a professor on a videotaped lecture.  Jesus commands us not to fear.

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

– Matt 6.34

He simply asked the question, “What are you afraid of?”  He than began to reveal the fact that fearing death is, at its root, a lack of faith.  “Do you truly believe that when you die, you will enter into eternity with Jesus?”  he asked.  Conviction hit me hard.  I had not stopped in my anxiety and terror to consider that if we crashed and I died, I would get to go to my eternal home.  Yes!  He was right!  The logic began to set in, but it did not alleviate the fear.

At the time I was reading through the book of Hebrews in my quiet times, and as I began the very first chapter, verse three stood out to me:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

Jesus is upholding everything that exists in the world by His word.  He is continually speaking you and me into existence.  He is speaking the airplanes into existence!  If He were to stop speaking, we would cease to exist.  Poof!  We would be gone.

So there I was, left with a promise that God is sovereign, He is in control, and He is literally speaking me and the airplane into existence.  I was also left with a command to not fear, and the reality that letting fear take root in my heart was sin, it was disobeying Jesus and it was a lack of faith.  I began to pray that verse to God.  “God, I know you are speaking me into existence and that you are in control.  I am going to get on the next airplane and trust your plan.”

I did not have to wait very long to follow through.  The next week we headed off to the airport.  I did not sleep the night before.  My stomach was upset the whole morning.  I sat terrified in the waiting room.  And I got on the airplane.  I prayed, “God, I know you are speaking me and this airplane into existence.  If we crash, I am coming home to you.”  I prayed that over and over for the entire two hour flight.  I was terrified.  But I got through the plane ride.  For the next six or seven flights I prayed that prayer without a breath in between.  I was on a flight that landed so hard that the oxygen masks fell from the ceiling.  I was on another flight that flew through the heart of a storm, but upon reaching our destination the airport had no electricity and therefore no runway lights (it was at nighttime), so we turned around and went back to our departure city.

I obeyed in fear.

But then, one day, just as suddenly as the fear gripped my heart, it was gone.  I was in the same country, had the same job, flew the same airlines, and suddenly God relieved me of the fear.  God gave me the faith to truly believe that if I did die, it was to my benefit, and the spirit of fear was overcome.

Fear is a type of temptation.  It can be a healthy reaction.  If an oncoming car swerves into your lane in traffic, adrenaline starts pumping and you react quickly.  If you are riding passenger when a car swerves into your lane, your fight or flight reaction kicks in, you might yell, you might gasp, you might grab the handle of your door.  This is a God-given response to danger.  But if you give in to the temptation to allow fear to reign or govern your feelings or actions, you have given in to sin.

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.14-15

When you experience fear, because you will experience fear, turn immediately to God in prayer.  Examine your faith.  Ask yourself what it is that you are truly fearing.  Claim promises of Scripture.  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5.8).  “My God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory” (Phil 4.19).  “All things work together for good for those that love God” (Rom 8.28).

God is in control.
He is speaking you, and your vice into existence.
Ask Him to give you victory.
He will direct you out of sin, and into faith.

What can your faith accomplish?

lame man

And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room, not even near the door; and He was speaking the word to them.  And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men.  Being unable to get to Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had dug an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic was lying.  And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  But some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak that way?  He is blaspheming; who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Immediately Jesus, aware in His spirit that they were reasoning that way within themselves, said to them, “Why are you reasoning about these things in your hearts?  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.”  And he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out in the sight of everyone, so that they were all amazed and were glorifying God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”

– Mark 2.2-12

This is a familiar story, it is told in three of the four Gospels, and it teaches many great truths.  The main focal point is Jesus asserting His authority over sin and His nature as God.  The scribes rightly understood that God alone can forgive sins, and their conclusion was correct:  If Jesus was not God, He was blaspheming.  But Jesus proved Himself to be God by healing the lame man.  The result was that everyone present was amazed and glorifying God, even the scribes!  But notice with me one little phrase in this passage, which is present in all three passages, which stopped me dead in my tracks:

And Jesus seeing their faith said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

– Mark 2.5

And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”

– Matt 9.2

Seeing their faith, He said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.”

– Luke 5.20

Do you see it?  Jesus, upon seeing their faith forgave the lame man of His sins.  We would expect it to say, “Jesus, seeing his faith…” but that is not what it says!  The faith of this man’s friends to go to his house, pick him up on his pallet, carry him to the house where Jesus was teaching, take him up to the roof and dig a hole through the roof to lower him down before Jesus with an expectation of healing led to this man’s forgiveness and physical healing!

What does this teach us?  

There are a few things screaming forth from this passage that we cannot ignore.  First of all, the lame man himself did not have faith or healing until Jesus spoke it to him.  Yesterday I was reflecting on the wickedness of humanity and observing the simple fact that there is none who seeks after God on his own.  Faith itself is a gift of God (Eph 2.9).  And Jesus gave salvation and healing to this man.  Jesus took the initiative in this man’s heart and body.

Secondly, the faith of the friends and the action of the friends bringing this man to Jesus was the catalyst of Jesus’ acting upon him!  Jesus responded to the faith (which God had already given to the friends) to forgive and heal the lame man.  Many times when Jesus preformed a miracle, He did so in response to the person requesting.  Remember the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his son, and Jesus responded that He would go see the boy, but the centurion responded, “Just say the word”?  Jesus was amazed at this man’s faith and healed him from afar.  Also the Samaritan woman, who pleaded with Jesus comparing herself to a dog eating the crumbs off the table.  But in this circumstance, Jesus responded with eternal salvation for the lame man because of the faith of his friends.

What does that mean for us today?  We must intercede for the lost.  We must purposefully bring them to Jesus and bring Jesus to them.

Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart, but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.

– 2 Cor 4.2-4

We must cultivate a heart of compassion and love for those around us who are perishing, and we must pray for them to Spiritually bring them before God, but we must also share the Gospel with them so that they are personally brought before God too.  We must believe that God can and does save people!  And we must not get discouraged when it does not happen immediately.  The men brought their lame friend to Jesus for healing, and Jesus’ response was to forgive his sins.  This was, indeed, his greater need, but Jesus did not answer the request of the friends exactly as they had asked.  Granted, within minutes of forgiving his sins, Jesus did heal him physically too, but my point is that sometimes God answers prayers in a different – yet better and more profound – way.

Who are the people in your life who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and savior?  Are you making every effort to bring them to Jesus?  Are you carrying them to the house and digging a hole through the ceiling in order to drop them down in Jesus’ lap?  Or are you just whispering their name amongst a list of other needs and requests?  Are you interceding and stepping in the path for them?

We cannot force the hand of God.  There will be people for whom we pray who will not be saved.  There will be situations about which we pray that will not be resolved in the manner we desire.  But make no mistake, God intends to use us to accomplish His purposes of reaching the world for Christ, and it is our role to pray for, to share with, and to intercede for the lost.  Jesus will use our faith to save some!

“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies.  And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay.  If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”

– Charles Spurgeon.

To Kill 150 People.

germanwings

The news rocked us this morning with the accusation from French prosecutor Brice Robin that the Germanwings flight 9525 was crashed intentionally by the copilot of the plane, Andreas Lubitz.  It has been reported that one of the black boxes recorded complete silence after the pilot left the cockpit presumably to use the bathroom, but then the plane was manually put into descent and pounding on the cockpit door was heard, and then screams just before the plane made impact.

This will make for another excuse for those who already fear flying, to be sure.  But what is echoing through my mind right now is the utter depravity of the human race.  Popular worldviews today proclaim that humanity is, at its core, good.  Psychologists try to convince us that if someone has the right tools, assistance in handling hurts, and opportunities to do good, then we would all choose the morally upstanding path (unless there is a chemical problem in the brain, of course).

The Church has bought into this worldview (or tried to buy into it) off and on throughout the centuries.  The first few times it was suggested, councils were held and the teachers who said that human beings are essentially good were deemed heretics and not Christians.  It has only been in the very recent past that the Church has allowed such a concept to be entertained and added to doctrine.

People have also wrestled with eschatology (beliefs about the end times) as it relates to the nature of humanity.  After the Industrial Revolution, the world was changing at dramatic rates and there was relative peace around the world.  Some Christians interpreted this peace to be the beginning of the thousand year reign of Christ, and some believed that the world would continue to get better and better until it came time for the rapture and the new creation.  It is from this generation that doctrines such as the pre-tribulation rapture came to be.  The thought process was that God was blessing the world, things were good, and people had evolved beyond fighting physical wars and being uncivilized to one another.

But then the world erupted into World Wars, the Great Depression hit, and reality began to set back in:  Humanity is wicked.

“There is none righteous, not even one;
there is none who understands,
there is none who seeks for God;
all have turned aside,
together they have become useless;
there is none who does good,
there is not even one.

Their throat is an open grave,
with their tongues they keep deceiving,
the poison of asps is under their lips;
whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
their feet are swift to shed blood,
destruction and misery are in their paths,
and the path of peace they have not known.

There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

– Rom 3.10-18

The Bible clearly tells us that there is no righteous person alive.  There is no one who, by his own nature, seeks to do what is good.  Think about it, we do not have to teach a child how to steal, lie, be selfish and hit.  We have to teach a child how to share, to tell the truth, to be kind and care for one another.  Our society has also been taken captive by “The Walking Dead” the last few years, in which we see exactly what happens in the wake of any disaster:  looting, riots, mob mentality and self-preservation at the cost of anyone else.  We do not live in a world governed by worldwide economy alone, there are still battles being fought for land, for power, and to terrorize others.

We are all, at our core, wicked.  Perhaps we are not planning to crash a plane, or murder millions of people, but our selfish nature does not seek after God on our own, and we each live for our own pleasure and best interest.

But there is hope!  This world is not the end!  It is not our goal to make this world as comfortable and pleasant as we can.  Eternity is our goal, and taking as many to the New Earth as possible!  Jesus Christ was good, and He lived a perfect life to exemplify His nature, and then He died on the cross and went to Hell to pay the punishment for our sins.  Then He arose from the dead, defeating Death, and offers to us amnesty if we come to Him and confess our wickedness.  And when we come to Him, He removes our wicked hearts, our “hearts of stone” as the Bible says, and gives us hearts of flesh that house the Holy Spirit who can empower us to glorify and seek after God:  to be good.  To be righteous.

Do you long for that today?  If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10.9).

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

When you become a new creature, the wickedness of man cannot affect you, eternally.  Those who were in Christ as Germanwings 9525 went down are now in the presence of Jesus Christ.  Those who have been saved and beheaded by ISIS are being welcomed as faithful servants to the throne of God.  Man is wicked.  And God is allowing it for a time.  In fact, Scripture tells us that the only reason the entire world is not in utter chaos is because the Holy Spirit is restraining the extent of wickedness (2 Thess 2.6-7)!  Let us trust Him, cling to Him, rely on Him, and not despair over the nature of humanity, but believe that God is working all things to His glory and to our eternal best.

Gratitude and Entitlement

entitlement

“Gratitude starts where my sense of entitlement ends.”

– Steven Furtick

What rights do you have?  What rights do you think you have?  Pictures and memes are regularly floating around the internet world declaring our right to happiness, our right to respect, and our right to do what we want.  Just be happy and ditch everyone and everything that would stand in the way of that happiness is our motto nowadays.  In Christianese, “God wants you to be happy, so follow your heart”.  God, however, is not primarily concerned about our happiness but our holiness.  God never said, “Be happy as I am happy”, rather He said, “Be holy as I am holy”.

I had never spent much time considering my own personal sense of entitlement until I moved overseas.  I was suddenly in the hated, discriminated minority.  I was stopped thirteen times in twelve months in the car – for no reason other than my skin color and the expectation of a bribe.  I was charged a higher price at the market because I was an outsider.  I was denied permission to work because I might bring an unfavorable “outside influence”.  I was stared at continually every time I left my house, and I was robbed.  After the first year or two, I began to really feel my sense of entitlement emerge.  You can be gracious and laugh things off for a while, but when you truly believe that you have rights to work, to be happy, to be respected; not getting those things begins to wear on you.

Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.  Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.  For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.  You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.  Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

– 1 Cor 7.20-24

We, as Christians, are to be concerned about justice because God is concerned about justice.  But it is not our primary goal.  Our primary goal is to become holy, just as God is holy.  We are to follow Jesus’ example.  We are to be content in the situation in which we are, and to glorify God in and through it.

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,and being made in the likeness of men.  Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

– Phil 2.5-8

Jesus humbled Himself.  He deserved to be glorified as God, because He is God, but yet He became a servant.  He taught His followers that we should also become servants, turn the other cheek when we suffer an injustice, and trust God who will exact vengeance and reward holiness appropriately.  This is part of what Jesus meant when He said we must die to ourselves.  If we are slaves, we should seek to be the best slaves that we can be.  If we are hated foreigners, we must seek to be the best example of Christ and His love that we can be.

This does not mean that we become a floor mat to be trampled on, necessarily.  But most countries around the world do not provide a forum for such injustices to be addressed.  We might appeal to Amnesty International or the UN for support, but in general and in our every-day experience, we should seek to love as we have been loved, to serve as a true and humble servant and to die to ourselves.  It is not about me, and it is not about you.  It is about God.  And if God Himself can humble Himself to the point of being murdered on false charges, then I can suffer racial discrimination with a Godly perspective and humility.  What can you suffer?

It is only when we lose our sense of entitlement that we can recognize the gifts of God as gifts.  If we deserve to be happy and to get everything that we want, then we cannot recognize the gift of a job, the gift of health, the gift of comfort.  If we deserve to be respected, then we cannot recognize the gift of friendship or the gift of responsibility.  If we deserve eternal bliss then we cannot recognize the gift of salvation.  God did not owe it to us to offer us salvation through Jesus Christ.  Let’s die to ourselves today and seek to be Holy, being thankful for our comforts and our trials that produce perseverance.  Let’s be grateful.

Uphill Running

uphill

Running.  It has been a while since I wrote an analogous post reflecting on running, but on Saturday I went out for a run and was inspired by my “results”.  I have always been a relatively good pacer and quite unable to harness energy for a sprint.  My times rarely fluctuate unless I am sick or injured, and that is why I always raced distance.  On Saturday, however, I was shocked when I looked at my stats.  Mile #1 was 6:50 and mile 2 was 8:45.  Almost a two minute difference and I did not notice much of a difference physically.  Miles 3-5 were right on my normal groove, smack in the middle of these two extremes.  But all the while I felt as though I was putting forth the same effort.

My five mile loop looks pretty flat and unassuming.  If you drove it, you would probably never notice much grade change (except the big fly over smack in the middle of mile 2), but my mile times tell a different story.  The entire first mile is a very gradual downhill and the entire second mile is a very gradual incline.  This is good for me because I do not usually hit my groove until somewhere mid-mile 3 and I always hate mile 1.  A gradual slope, almost invisible to the naked eye, sped me up by a minute in my favor and slowed me down a minute when against me.

Life is like that.  There are things that slow you down and there are things that speed you up.  But I want to reflect specifically on sin.  We have all heard the word picture, “a slippery slope”.  We have all known people to “spiral out of control” in addiction, lust or sin.  When we entertain sin, we often tell ourselves we will only do it once, but once the sin has been entertained it is much more difficult to refuse the next time it comes along.  If you make peace with sin one time, it is less offensive the next.

“But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.14-15

We all have lusts and passions that are sinful.  Fighting against them can be difficult at times, and easier at times, but it takes discipline and commitment.  When we are carried away and enticed by our lust and give in, then we sin.  When we sin, it becomes easier to sin, as lust has a lesser job.

In our analogies, we consider mountain top experiences to be paramount.  We are soaring high above the clouds, we can see for miles, we are on top of the world.  But have you ever climbed a mountain?  It is hard work!  Much of the euphoria of being at the top is the accomplishment of having climbed!  Scripture speaks of the valley of the shadow of death.  Canyons and valleys are deep; they are dark, receiving little sunlight.  They are full of dangers.  But it is very easy to get from the mountain top to the valley.  It is very difficult to get from the valley to the mountain top.

Running uphill burns more calories.  It hurts.  It’s exhausting and mentally defeating.  But in the long run it produces great results.  Your time will decrease on a flat run in you train running hills.  Your overall self discipline will increase when you fight against that one particular sin of temptation in your life.  Running downhill is like coasting.  You feel good, you get great times, but it builds little endurance.  Giving in to one sin weakens your conviction and opens the door for all sorts of sin.  Giving in to one makes giving in to the next that much easier, and soon you are left in a world that you no longer recognize.

God has given us the Holy Spirit to spur us on to righteousness (John 16.8).  He has given us everything that we need for holiness and Godly living (2 Peter 1.3).  And He wants us to run the race in such a way that we will win (1 Cor 9.24)!  That means running uphill.  That means striving for the mountain top.  That means pushing and persevering, not coasting and giving in to our flesh.  What sorts of miles have you been running lately?

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

– James 1.2-4

Frumpy clothes and eternal goals.

How attached are you to the world?  Until about eight months ago, I have never owned a house.  I rented through college and grad school, then I moved abroad where foreigners are not allowed to own property, and then I returned to the states and continued renting.  My husband and I decided to invest in a house, hoping that [when] we get to serve abroad again it would be available for people passing through to use.  And we got a cat.  She is so much fun, she follows us through the house, greets us when we come home, and sleeps in the bed with us.  We are truly now a family of three.  We bought a foreclosure and have invested hours upon hours making the house livable and I have noticed that even with all of the energy we have invested in the house, I feel as though I could walk away from it and move wherever the Lord takes us.  But Aspen, our little kitten…I will jump through any hoop necessary to take her with us.

A few years ago I met a missionary couple who were in their late fifties.  They had been married over thirty years, but they had no children.  I had bought into the mindset believing that missionaries wore frumpy unflattering skirts, had long unstylish hair, and had a littler of children who were all home-schooled.  They are quirky and out of touch, right?  But these two broke that mold.  They were cool, fun and well spoken, and above all it was very peculiar to me that they did not have children.  The wife told me that when they were deciding to move abroad very early in their marriage, they decided that they wanted to be free and able to have Spiritual children, and so they made the sacrifice of not having physical children.  They were completely focused on the eternal and sacrificed what most long for in order to be most effective.

frumpy

Their testimony has forever changed me.  Yesterday I was reflecting on life goals and looked at Jesus’ teaching on treasures.  Where our treasure is, there is where our hearts will be.  And the more we make ourselves comfortable here on the Earth, the more we will become tied to it and the less we will value the things of God and eternity.  But even worse than that is the proclamation that we cannot love God if we love the things of the world.

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”

– 1 John 2.15-17

Now, we know that children are a “blessing from the Lord” (Ps 127.3), and we know that most people who go through life will get married and have children.  But we can be quick to forget that children are God’s, not ours, and we spend years of our lives catering to caring for them.  When we have them, we exist to provide for them, as we have been commanded (1 Tim 5.8).  But it is for this very reason that Paul says it is better to not even get married!

“But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.”

– 1 Cor 7.32-34

Paul is clear that getting married is neither wrong nor a sin, but it distracts us from the things of the Lord.  Having children is not wrong or a sin, but it consumes our time and energy.  Our interests are divided.

“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”

– Luke 14.26

Jesus, in saying that, does not mean that we should hate with disdain our families – our parents and children – but He is making that point that He has to be the one and only, and we must be willing to put His agenda above our own, and above our family’s.  We must love Him more than our families.  We can only truly love our families, after all, through Jesus.

What are you willing to sacrifice to be about His purposes on Earth?  A house?  Pets?  Children?  A spouse?  You will take none of that with you, eternally.  How comfortable is your Earthly home?