Category Archives: perseverance

Do we truly understand what a ‘blessing’ is?

How do you define a blessing? When you pray for God’s blessing in your life what are you seeking and anticipating? Peace? Rest? Healthy relationships? Prosperity on all fronts?

If God’s goal for our lives were peace, ease, and prosperity then I would agree that those things would be His ideal blessings for us. However, if His goal includes something else (and Scripture certainly indicates that it does), then it is probable that His blessings will include some other things as well.

According to the New Testament, God’s desire for us is ongoing transformation into the image and nature of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; Romans 12:1). Since this is the case, then God’s blessings must necessarily include some things that will help us transform.

If a high school sports team has a goal to become state champions, their coach must assign them grueling tests and workouts that will develop a championship heart in them. They must be stretched, pushed, and challenged until they become champion caliber athletes. When the goal is a championship the coach cannot bless them with endless rest days and easy workouts.

The same is true for us. If God wants us to grow He must bless us with situations that cause us to grow. This isn’t fun and it’s never easy, but it is necessary. Perhaps our prayers of gratitude should go beyond thanks for the sweet and easy things. Perhaps we should add: “God, thank you for the battles that teach me how to fight…thank you for the trials that force me to grow…thank you for the tests that refine and grow my faith…and thank you for your commitment to never stop transforming me. I accept these blessings—none of them will be wasted on me. By your grace, I will transform. Amen.”

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Nemesis

In Greek mythology Nemesis was the retribution goddess that brought justice and consequence against those who yielded to pride or exploitation. Her name literally meant, “to give what is due” and she ensured that people got what they deserved.

She was portrayed as a winged goddess with a whip and dagger, the perfect equipment for tracking people down and disciplining them severely.

In our day and age it can often seem like justice is forever postponed or delayed. We know that Nemesis is a myth, but we long for the reality that the myth proclaimed. Why does evil seem so entrenched? Why does injustice so often rule the day? When will oppressors get what they deserve?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that this would not always be so. Indeed, he said, “Evil carries the seed of its own destruction”[1] and it’s true. History is replete with the accounts of oppressive empires that flourished for a season and then sunk into ruins. Today, tourists take pictures of those ancient remains.

Evil will not prevail. Human suffering and exploitation will not get the final word. God is just and the Scriptures remind us that a day is coming when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

Until that day, we have the honor of extending God’s love and justice to our spheres of influence. We get to see the incremental advance of goodness, kindness, and faith, knowing that someday, like Pharaoh’s army on the seashore, the forces of injustice will be fully and forever swept away. Let’s carry on as unflagging ambassadors of God’s faith, hope, and love.

[1] Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, Philadelphia: Fortress Press: 1963, p.83.

Meanwhile we groan

At Grace Church we just finished a church-wide 90-day reading campaign where we read all of the words of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The unique thing about this reading plan was that we only read Jesus’ words—we ignored the entire surrounding context.

I know. I know.

We’re not supposed to read the Bible that way. We’re supposed to understand the Scripture’s context so that we don’t misinterpret or misapply its message. We’re not supposed to lift an isolated passage out of context or we run the risk of “proof-texting”. Even so, it was very powerful for me to read Jesus’ words all by themselves. Hearing Him say, “I am willing; be clean” or “I have chosen you” or “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven” and just absorbing those words was exhilarating.

Although I don’t generally advocate a “proof-texting” context-less reading of Scripture, I had another experience today where a single phrase of Scripture lifted up off the page and spoke to me. In 2 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul was painting a vivid picture of our promised eternal state with God, and then he said, “Meanwhile we groan” (verse 2).

For some reason that phrase spoke to me on multiple levels:

  • Our ultimate hope is secure…but meanwhile we groan.
  • The Gospel keeps advancing in our lives…but meanwhile we still groan.
  • God will finish what He has begun in us…but in the mean time we still endure some groaning.

This isn’t pessimism! This isn’t a gloomy, Eeyore perspective on life. It’s a validation of our groaning. It’s recognition that sometimes—even amidst God’s potent promises—there is a groaning in this life that has to be endured.

Please be assured that our groaning isn’t the final word—rejoicing is. Victory is. But in the meantime, we groan. We groan as we wait for His unveiling…we groan as we wrestle with sin, temptation, and compromise…we groan as we fight for the liberation of the human soul…and we groan, knowing that He is beside us in our groaning.

William’s 400-meter failure

EUGENE, OR - JUNE 23: Bryan Clay reacts after getting disqualified in the men's decathlon 110 meter hurdles during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 23, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)During the past few months I have been volunteering as the assistant track and field coach at my daughter’s high school. I’ve loved it, and it has been the fulfillment of a dream I’ve carried ever since I first met Pat Stahl, the track and field coach who profoundly shaped my life in high school.

Part of why I love track so much is that its lessons speak so profoundly to our spiritual journey. To spend a day on the track is to witness lessons about perseverance, work ethic, mental preparation, and hitting the wall. It is a sport about running with comrades and also running alone. It’s a tremendous sport that is jam-packed with spiritual truths and metaphors.

I experienced one of those lessons last week when William failed in the 400 meters.

He didn’t actually fail; he just thought he did. Leading up to our last track meet, William (not his real name) was about one second shy of qualifying for league finals in the 400-meter dash, and I was convinced that with some extra training and inspiration he would be able to qualify.

He worked incredibly hard all week, he ran the best race of his life in the meet, but he still failed to qualify. I was proud of him, I commended him for setting a personal record, and then I watched him slump under weighty feelings of personal failure and shame.

I am a competitor and I hate to lose so I understand the post-failing emotions that accompany a moment like William’s. However, after he apologized to me for the 10th time for failing to qualify I realized that something was wrong. He didn’t just feel failure; he felt a sense of shame.

As I spent the next thirty minutes trying to reinforce truth and liberate him from shame I realized that we do the exact same thing. Sometimes we work hard, do our best, fall short of our personal expectations, and then get taken out by shame.

I’m sure my words to William would echo God’s words to you: “I’ve seen your effort…I’m proud of you…you’re doing better than you realize…you’ll do even better next season…you are not a failure…now kick this shame to the curb because WE’VE GOT ANOTHER RACE TO RUN.”

Inspired when there’s no inspiration

getinspiredIt’s easy to feel inspired when you’re inspired (and, yes, I do realize how silly and obvious that sounds), but what do we do when we’re not inspired and yet we’re still expected to perform?

How do we get inspired when nothing moves us or awakens our creativity?

The Apostle Paul expected Timothy to find a way. In 2 Timothy 4:2 Paul told his young disciple to, “Be prepared in season and out of season.” Paul knew there would be times when Timothy was in the off-season of his life—he wouldn’t feel especially motivated or prepared—and yet he still believed that Timothy could find a way to produce.

It’s great when we’re hit by moments of inspiration. It’s wonderful when ideas are flowing, interest is high, and we feel motivated to tackle the task at hand. However, we cannot become dependent on those times because the real treasure of life occurs in the uninspired, daily-ness of living.

We can’t wait to get externally inspired; we have to learn to summon it from within. Here are a few ways that we can do this.

  1. We can speak to our soul. In some of King David’s worship psalms he begins by speaking to his own soul, and then he ends by speaking to God. He begins with, “Praise the Lord, oh my soul” and He ends with simply, “Praise the Lord.” He speaks to—he engages—his own soul, and then once his soul is engaged the inspired emotion takes over.
  2. We can get to work, trusting that inspiration will follow. Creativity is like a muscle; the more we engage it the stronger it gets. As Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration ninety-nine percent perspiration.” We can wait around forever to feel inspired or we can get to work, knowing that inspiration will soon follow.
  3. We can remember that motion creates emotion. At least that’s what motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, tells his listeners. He says that if we will get moving—if we will rouse ourselves and move ourselves to physical action—the internal feelings of inspiration will begin to chase us down.

Whether it is natural coaching like Robbins’ or more spiritual counsel like David’s, the bottom line is the same. We can’t sit around until we get inspired. We have to get busy, faithfully doing what we know we are called to do, trusting that the inspiration will eventually find us.

Are you a visionary?

Finish-LineVisionary

adjective vi·sion·ary

  • having or showing clear ideas about what should happen or be done in the future
  • having or showing a powerful imagination
  • of or relating to something that is seen or imagined in a dream or vision

Every person possesses visionary gifts, and is able to dream about a brighter future. However, some people are specifically gifted of God with unusual visionary skills and talents.

Here are several visionary statements to help us gauge our visionary aptitude:

  • While some say, “No one understands” the visionary says, “I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, and I am not alone.”
  • While some see a problem, a visionary sees a race to run.
  • While some worry, “What if I trip?” a visionary wonders, “How fast can I go?”
  • While some see a “finisher” T-shirt, a  visionary fixates on the victory lap.
  • While some fix their eyes solely on their own strengths and abilities, visionaries glue their eyes to Christ.
  • While some lament the sacrifices that must be made, visionaries celebrate the lives that will be changed along the way.
  • While some count the cost, visionaries count the reward and joyfully move toward its acquisition.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Winning, losing, and the Christmas story

boxersSometimes in life it is difficult to tell who is winning and who is losing.

Consider Joseph’s stint in slavery, the three Hebrews’ stroll in a fiery furnace, and our Lord’s own trial and crucifixion. Each of these events shouted defeat for God’s purposes, and yet each of these defeats became a doorway to a greater victory.

Sometimes defeated moments of extreme anti-climax are actually tipping points.

From all natural perspectives the birth of Jesus Christ was the greatest anti-climax in human history.

  • His entrance in to the world was not with the splendor of a world ruler bent on global conquest.
  • His arrival wasn’t marked by dignity and fanfare.
  • No one would have peeked into the stable and thought, “Surely, a king has just been born!”
  • Rather His nursery smelled like cow manure…his crib was a feeding trough…and his only attendants, shepherds.
  • Everything about His birth was a giant anti-climax.

Yet in that disappointing moment something else was happening and all of heaven knew that the most glorious of victories had just been unleashed. Immanuel, God with us, had come near.

What looked like anti-climax was the tipping point for the universe.

Christmas reminds us that things aren’t always as they appear. Don’t be too quick to judge and label the defeated moments in your life. God might see them as portals to a greater victory.