Run to Win

I am always amazed at the skill almost supernatural performance of those Olympic athletes. What we don’t see is the dedication and drive that goes into preparing for every competition. Every contestant spends their life in perfecting the skill they seem to demonstrate with so little effort. They are directed by sports psychologists, fed strict meals at set hours, have time management experts, work out trainers, and coaches who guide them trough countless hours of practice in the hopes of improving by the slightest of time. They do all this to win a gold medal and temporary fame. Has anyone heard of Larisa Latynina? She was a soviet gymnast who is still the record holder for most individual medals won at the Olympics (14). She competed in 1956 and 1960. Michael Phelps is a close second with 11 individual medals. Maybe you heard of Teofilo Stevenson who boxed for Cuba. He won 3 heavyweight gold medals. (1972, 1976 and 1980) How about Emil Zatopek who won the 5,000 meters, the 10,000 meters and the marathon at the same Olympics handily beating all competitors in the 1952 event.

I am sure that the Apostle Paul would have been a track enthusiast as he describes what it is like in 1Corinthians 9:24-27:

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore, I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Paul described the training need to run the race of eternal life in Hebrews 12:1-3

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

We will never be perfect till Christ returns, but let’s not give up trying.

Russian Athletes Have Been Disqualified from the Olympics

We hear of a culture of cheating to win. If we are honest, we know that every country does whatever it takes to be in the medals. I compare this to the shift in Christian organizations to be more concerned about numbers than preaching truth. The victory is not given to those who are admired by mankind or have the largest following. The crown is given to the faithful few.

Are we preparing for the future witnessing of Christ? Have we been faithful with the responsibility entrusted to us by Jesus?

Paul expresses the need to teach others who will be able to teach. He further asks that those who teach must not give into social pressure but remain faithful, enduring any suffering. We are to be like soldiers standing our ground and persevering all manner of opposition. We are to be like athletes who train and keep the rules lest we be disqualified.

No soldier determines his own objective but does what he is commanded, and no athlete makes his own rules. We have been commanded by Christ. To receive the crown and share in the harvest we must prepare future generation to follow in like manner.

Paul writes in 2Timothy 2:1-7:

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

As Red Green would say, ”keep your stick on the ice, we’re all in this together.”

Everyone has an opinion

puppet godI asked a young man if he was studying for his high school exams and he answered, “I don’t need to. They just ask my opinion.” I was quite sure that the opinion had to be based on some material he had learned in class, but apparently he did not think so. His logic would be good enough. I cannot tell you what the result of the exam was though I would guess he failed.

This got me thinking about how we approach our faith. Many of us simply assume that our opinion is right even if scripture says contrary. We tend to read only what supports our opinion. We are all sinners but are forgiven yet we justify our continued sinning.

1John 3:4-10

 Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.  But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.  No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

Don’t let your opinion overshadow truth.

A Visit with Pops

Philippians 1:21 For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

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Every time Brenda and I visited Bruce in the hospital there was a sense that Christ was present. It is hard to describe the atmosphere in his room without accounting for that. Everyone he met knew he was a follower of Jesus. We were there when his doctor explained they were going to disconnect the defibrillator and that his time was short. Bruce told him, “You don’t decide when I die. Only God does that. Whether I wake in bed or next to Jesus I win.”

Bruce was a living example of Philippians 1:21. He understood that the statement had two parts as follows:

For me to live is… You can fill in the blank with whatever you like. To live is to party, to have wealth, to have whatever. The second part relies on the first and if the first is anything but Christ, then to die is loss. Bruce would have told you without Jesus there is no hope.

It was Bruce’s prayer that all would come to understand, and he prayed fervently for those who did not get it. To live is Christ, to die is gain.

There is a paradox in this statement because we wish him here with us and yet we would not want to take him away from his home in glory. Bruce, we miss you and you deserve your reward. Well done good and faithful servant.

Fill the Pews or Preach Truth

When I was ordained, Pastor Bruce St. Jean charged me with three things: read the word, do the word and preach the word. These things seem simple enough, but have proven to be more difficult than one would think.

Read

Read the scripture not to justify what you think; read earnestly, seek to understand what the author [God] is conveying to us. Read to experience the emotion, the conflict and the lessons. Look for similar related verses. Investigate the period in history related to the verse. Reading the Bible in this manner is challenging and takes practice, but the rewards are well worth the effort. It will give you insight as to what the passage meant to the original audience and what it means to us today.

Don’t be lazy and just read what others have written, but use their writing to affirm or challenge your thoughts. Always check sources – especially on the internet.

Do

Doing is even harder than reading. After spending time in scripture and being convicted of what God has said, you cannot continue life without seeking to apply the word. The real battle in doing comes from the realization that we were not following in God’s will in the first place. It also demands that we change (repent) and some things that need to change are not easy to give up. We humans are extremely good at find exceptions and the making the exception the rule. We can justify almost anything. We continue to practice what we know is wrong by a false belief that God can overlook our minor indiscretions, or that God loves us unconditionally. It is true that we are all sinners and we will never be perfect until Jesus returns. Does that mean we give in to our habits and stop trying to work out our salvation? Do we keep our eyes on the goal of becoming more Christ-like or surrender to the lie that we are what we are? You are better than your past but not as good as your future. We are called to edify one another as iron sharpens iron. Who are you investing in and who comes along side to help you be the person Christ intended? Doing requires accountability and commitment.

Preach

Sharing our opinion or only the parts we like, is a lie because it is the omission of the whole truth. Are you ashamed of the gospel? Do we talk about the easy parts and forget the rest? In these days of political correctness, we punish anyone who does not agree with the imagined consensus, the rule that protects the rights of the marginalized while abusing anyone who may not agree. Those who call for tolerance are the least tolerant to anyone who professes a different belief.  When to have a different opinion is met with name calling, slurs and insults; freedom of expression and freedom of religion is lost. The one claiming to be bullied is now the bully.

God has given us a spirit of boldness and we should be willing even to face death for the sake of the gospel. I would rather offend man than offend God. Do not deny Jesus lest He deny you before His father.

Philosophy with a Christian Influence

A man franticly approached the security guard in the mall. Out of breath he gasped, “Have you seen a bunch of Boy Scouts in here? I’m looking for them. I’m their leader.”

If Jesus returned today, would He find you as a faithful disciple following Him and all he commanded?

It seems to me that our religion is based on libertarian thought that picks and chooses what to believe, how to interpret scripture, and application is then based on what is acceptable to majority. It is possible to shop for a church that will tell you what you want to hear. In the event you cannot find the perfect church, you could even start your own.

Did Christ suffer and die in order that His church could chose which of His commands they felt comfortable in following? Many who call themselves Christian teachers or leaders rarely read the Bible. Many of them go to scripture only looking for what they want to prove and thereby miss the intent of the text altogether. Others refer to imagined biblical passages or self-help books to justify a personal belief system. Some even incorporate other religions into their faith.

Some hear the word and understanding it they refuse to follow.

Ezekiel 33:30-32

“As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it.  When this comes – and come it will – then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

Gender-neutral Identification

Look at your license or passport and you will see that you are identified as either male or female. Some want to change that to a gender-neutral X. Sex and gender are no longer interchangeable terms. Sex refers to biological identification where as gender (of which some have identified 63 variations, 6 of which genders Gay Pride has represented on the Pride Flag) today refers to social convention. It is impossible to define these accepted conventions without the use of sex. Homosexuals cannot be defined without referring to the fact that they are male and similarly, we cannot define lesbians without the identification that they are female. In fact, every gender refers to sex (male or female) in some sort of combination.

The discussion gets cloudy when we include personal belief as to sex, a man who believes he is a woman for example. If such a man is recognised as a woman and loves another woman, is he a lesbian or a heterosexual?  With so many genders and questions of orientation I am thankful that the basic identification of male or female is not related to gender and can easily apply to almost everyone. Another consideration is that other countries or provinces have already stated they will not accept gender-neutral identification.

If someone robbed you and you were asked by police to describe the perpetrator, would you describe the person without using sex, race or other identifiers? Would it be adequate to describe him or her as an individual, 1.68 metres, weighing 70.76 kilograms, with blond hair?

Be Refreshed

Way back when typewriters were still in use, I was a firefighter in Montreal. Coming back from a fire my clothes were filthy and I smelled of smoke. I would not put on a clean uniform over the dirty one. I would first remove the dirty outfit, then shower and finally put on the clean uniform. The smell of smoke, however; stunk for several days even after the shower.

Ephesians 4: 21-24 describes our spiritual cleansing as follows: “assuming that you have heard .about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Just as I would take off my ruined clothes, we are told to put of our old selves. Then like a shower we are renewed by the transforming (or cleansing) of our minds. Finally, like dressing in a fresh uniform, we put on the new self. It is not possible to dress in the new without first removing the old and before putting on the new we need to be refreshed. The problem that many are having is that they want the new without having to give up the old

My God

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How do you picture Jesus? Here in North America we imagine Jesus as a good looking European type. In Asia he is pictured as Asian and in Africa he is African. More than just appearance, our understanding of him is based on cultural and historical experience. Much of our interpretation is sub conscientious perception. However; we often squeeze Jesus into a mold created by our desire to make him fit into our context.

The consequence of doing that can be devastating:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

(Matthew 7:21-23)

We need to be vigilant to read scripture within the context it was written. Failing to do so may lead followers astray.  David Platt, in his book “Follow Me,” points out that saying a sinner’s prayer is not biblical and does not necessarily lead to salvation. We are call to make disciples (students and imitators) of Christ and to do so, we best get it right. We need to be more concerned about biblical truth than numbers as everyone is waiting to hear what they want to hear.

Love Is…

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Have you ever noticed how love is usually pictured as a warm feeling that tickles your heart?  We see some couples and wonder what they ever saw in each other. Sometimes we see a couple who look perfect for each other but are miserable. We see public figures who have been in many unsuccessful relationships that ended because the feeling has gone. I even heard a ceremony where the couple were declared, “married as long as they both shall love.” I’m not saying that the thrill is not important, but a relationship that is based on that alone is doomed to fail. Someone said, “Love is blind, but marriage is the eye opener.” Surely, love is more than a one sided gut feeling. Love is a commitment to hard work and the results are well worth the effort.

Relationships need guidelines. I have found the best rules for arguing in the following definition of love:

  • Love is patient
  • Love is kind
  • It does not envy
  • It does not boast
  • It is not proud
  • It is not rude
  • It is not self-seeking
  • It is not easily angered
  • It keeps no record of wrongs
  • Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth
  • It always protects
  • always trusts
  • always hopes
  • always perseveres
  • Love never fails

The above definition comes from 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. Try it you will be surprised at how it works.

Love is a fairy-tale come true that lives in a practical word.