Archive for the ‘Christian Living’ Category

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“DILATED SOUL” – Jan. 20

January 20, 2016

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  John 1:4-5

The door swinging shut was like plunging into an abyss.  I stood for a moment in the stunned shock of a lost sense.   A long repressed fear manifested in a disquieting shiver as the gloom of darkness seeped into my being.

In the disorienting gloom, my hands spring out as like the sudden sensory loss might cause me to crash into a surrounding wall.  I groped for a wall.  My fingers, landing upon textured drywall, immediately began sweeping the surface as if trying to read indiscernible Braille.  My eyes strained against the blackness in a futile attempt to distinguish the outline of the light switch.

I knew the switch had to be somewhere near the door, in its usual place.  My hands began to swing in large radii in the desperate attempt to find light.  My search was going disconcertedly nowhere.  In mounting frustration, I paused.

In that pause, my eyes adjusted to the lack of light.

RedeyeThe pupils of my eyes dilated to a degree that captured all the light available.  I had not noticed any light when the door had initially closed.  However, my eyes now collected a sliver of light that was penetrating the door at the threshold.  It was not much light but it was enough.

Having opened up to the light, my eyes were able to distinguish the faint outline of a switch right in front of me.  I flipped the switch without thinking and immediately was hit by a rush of light into my wide open eyes that nearly dropped me to my knees.

My floundering in darkness reminded me of the amazing nature of the eye.  The eye is a marvelous organ for the regulation of light.  The iris of the eye has two types of muscle.  There is a ring of sphincter muscles that encircle and constrict the pupil down to a couple of millimeters across to prevent too much light from entering.  There is another set of dilator muscles that can expand the pupil in low light.  The function of the iris is to pull in all the light necessary so that we are not blind.

The human body was created for light.
We were specifically designed to let light in.

I wonder if our soul isn’t similarly designed.

We were designed to have the true light of the world within us.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  John 8:12

Yet, sinful man sits imprisoned in the gloomy darkness of a closed off soul.  The sinful desires of the flesh have constricted their soul, preventing the light of the world from entering in.  They grope about in search of the light but they cannot find the source.  Yet, the source is all around them.  They cannot see because the pupil of their soul is closed.

I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.  Isaiah 42:6-7

Every person needs God to dilate the pupil of their soul.  God overcomes the power of sinful flesh in order to open our souls to His penetrating light; He opens the eyes of the blind.  The light of the glory of God flowing into a dilated soul drops every sinner to their knees.

Iris_close-upThe Christian life is merely learning to live in the light; learning to live with a dilated soul.  Our sinful nature continues to want to clamp down and close out the light of the world; it has malfunctioned into regulating the amount of light that can be let in.  Repentance and following Christ is a continual process of yielding to the dilation of our soul.

We were created to have the light of life.  Thankfully, God has not left us in the darkened prison of our closed souls.

“The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God.”  Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for not leaving me in darkness.  Thank you for sending your Son, the light of the world, to lead me out of the dungeon of my own darkened soul and into the light of life.  Father, continue to dilate my soul; continue to open up my heart to your light.  Do not let the cares of this world constrict my desires and prevent your light for entering into me.  Help me to walk in your light in all things and at all times.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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“SECULAR SKEPTIC BUT NOT UNIVERSALLY SKEPTICAL” – Nov. 16

November 16, 2015

“And  we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”  Hebrews 6:11-12

I watched the most recent Republican Presidential Debate on FOX Business News with my son.

At one point during the debate, he asked me what I thought about the candidates.  I grumbled some affirmation regarding the candidate’s sound-bite solutions but mixed in my reservations as to whether any of them will actually fulfill their promises.

“I’m skeptical” was the conclusion of a decidedly negative lament on my doubts associated with the promises of leading candidates.  To which, my son commented on the fact that I am the most skeptical person he knows.  While, I had selected that particular word.  It made me a little circumspect when I heard it used as an adjective to my character.

Granted, my son hasn’t been around very many skeptical people; we homeschool after all.  Yet, I recoiled at being a skeptic in my son’s eyes due to the negative association that comes with that word.  I was concerned by what I might be patterning for him.

Skeptical is defined as not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations.  Based on this definition, I am a skeptic, particularly of politicians.  I am not easily convinced by charismatic talk of how a candidate is going to make America better.  I have doubts and reservations regarding the grand promises of those seeking political office because I have seen so few of those promises fulfilled.

In fact, I probably have gone beyond mere skepticism into full political cynicism.  Cynical is defined as distrusting or disparaging the motives of others.  In general, I distrust the motives of all politicians of both parties.  My cynicism has come from years of being lied to or mislead by those in political office especially if that office is in Washington, DC.

Therefore, as I listen to candidates make their promises I am overwhelmed with an equal sentiment of skepticism and cynicism.

Skeptical – I doubt whether they have or can obtain the political ability to actually do what they say.
Cynical – I question whether their words are mere semantics formulated for an election-day victory.

Politicians in America have earned the skepticism and cynicism of the US voter.  I wish more voters would think critically of what candidates are selling and hold them accountable to their promises.  Yet, I have lost my optimism of the political process.

Years of broken pledges have fouled my political optimism with the contaminated water stored up in the reservoirs of campaign promises.

I am not pessimistic but realistic.
I am a secular skeptic but not universally skeptical.
I am a humanistic cynic but not celestially cynical.

I want to pattern for my son that it is important to think critically about all promises that are dependent upon the ability and will of the one making the promise.  That is why I am skeptical and cynical of all politicians in their ability and will to keep their promises.

I desire my son to follow this same example of critical thinking and apply what the Bible teaches about God’s character to what He promises.

God’s character is why I am not universally skeptical.

“Ah, Lord God!  It is you who has made the heavens and the earth
by your great power and by your outstretched arm!
Nothing is too hard for you.”  Jeremiah 32:17

God has the ability to keep any promise that He makes.  If God has the ability to create this world and all that is in it, then there is not a promise in the Bible that is beyond His omniscient, omnipotent power.

God’s character is why I am not celestially cynical.

“Anyone who does not love does not know God,
because God is love.”  1 John 4:8

God proved His love for us by sending His only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  If God proved His love by giving His Son so that I can have eternal life, then there is not a promise in the Bible made with questionable motives.

With God, all skepticism can end because He can do everything He says.

With God, all cynicism can end because He has proven His motivation.

With God, we can have full assurance of hope in every promise that He has made.

“Prayer irrigates the fields of life with the waters
which are stored up in the reservoirs of promise.”
~ C. H. Spurgeon

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for the promises that you have made in the Bible.   Thank you for revealing yourself to us so that we can have confidence in all your promises  Lord, give me a full assurance of hope to the end.  Father, grant that same assurance to my son and daughter.  Help them to see mankind for who we are and You for who You are.  Help us not to be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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“No One Waits for a Domestique (LOTOJA Part 3)” – Sept. 21

September 21, 2015

“It shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:26-28

Thank you for sticking with me as I have reflected upon my experience at the 2015 LOTOJA.  You can find part one and two here:  No One Waits for a Domestique (LOTOJA Part 1); No One Waits for a Domestique (LOTOJA Part 2).lotoja map_thumb[2]

I surmise that the general impression from the reading of my LOTOJA experience will be viewed as rather negative.

The LOTOJA is a very long bike ride on which you experience many emotions.  I experienced spectacular vistas, exceptional volunteers, and the exhilaration of achievement.  Yet, those experiences are not what come to my mind as I reflect upon the LOTOJA.  I have to consciously push aside my memories of frustration to mine the positive from my LOTOJA experience.

This reality demonstrates a distinct failure on my behalf. 

I allowed the behavior of others to dominate my perception of an epic ride.  I grumbled through seventy-five percent of my LOTOJA. My grumbling was fixated upon actions that demonstrated a disregard of my expectations.  I realize that the recounting of my fellow riders may characterize them as being rude.  However, it is not an entirely fair characterization.  They are good guys.  I never perceived any ill will through our trip.

Therefore, I choose to view my LOTOJA as a case study in differing expectations.

The term domestique, in cycling road racing, refers to the cyclist who works for the team and team leader.  They are the cyclists who carry the water bottles and food and do the work of pulling team members through difficult sections.  The French word, Domestique, is translated “servant.”

I had the expectation that this ride would consist of a team composed entirely of domestiques.  We were going to be servants to each other in order that we would all finish together.

981002_10201434224324276_965735367_oApparently, my team did not share my expectation.  They held an understanding more typical of cycling racing in which a domestique is dropped when he ceases to be useful.  My grumbling originated in the offensiveness of being treated as a domestique.  No one waits for a domestique and I had expected someone to wait for me.

I grumbled away the blessings of an epic ride dwelling upon unfulfilled expectations.

I confess that the LOTOJA is not the first time where I have allowed my grumbling to dominate the perception of my life.  I have expectations, like most people.  Those expectations typically reside upon people who are close to me.  I have expectations of family, friends, and Church fellowship.  I have the most expectations of those who have joined me on this spiritual journey called “life.”

I have relatively few expectations, beyond lawfulness, of those who are outside the immediacy of my life.  I don’t have a problem with them treating me as a servant.  If a person is not a Christian, I don’t expect him to display the fruits of the Spirit.  As John Newton  stated, they warrant my deepest pity, kindness, and prayers.  If he is a Christian, I seem to be more inclined to extend him grace because I don’t know his level of spiritual maturity.

I struggle most when those who are close to me treat me like a domestique.  I am referring to those situations when someone we consider a teammate in life acts upon differing expectations or fails to live up to our standard.

It hurts when those expectations are not fulfilled. 

It hurts to be disregarded.
It hurts not to be valued.
It hurts to be perceived as useless.
It hurts not to be included.

It hurts to be treated as a servant.

long_road-aheadI have wasted too much of this epic life grumbling about being treated like a domestique.  I know of too many circumstances where someone has allowed an offense to linger for years because of a failure to meet an expectation.

I have no solution to avoid the hurt.  We live in a messy world.  Those who are close to me are imperfect humans with indwelling sin.  I am an imperfect man in need of sanctification.  We will let each other down and treat each other in ways that are perceived as undeserving.

Our fundamental problem is that we don’t inherently want to be treated as a servant.  We get our feelings hurt when we are not appreciated or valued or included.

We grumble when we are actually treated like the very person we have been called to be.  Many Christians are comfortable with the title of servant just as long as they are not treated as such.

Ideally, we would live in a community abounding in the fruit of the Spirit where everyone has a servant’s attitude.  It would be like the perfect group ride where we are servants to each other in order that we would all finish well together.  That perfect world is coming, but it is not here today.   Our reality is that sometimes our teammates lose their servant’s attitude and do not reciprocate our expectations of servanthood and we are left feeling like a lowly domestique.

USAPCC_2Jesus called himself a domesitque.  Jesus did not come into this world to be served but to serve and he continued to serve even went He was treated like a servant…and worse.

We have been given an epic life to live.  Don’t allow the behavior of others to dominate your perception of value.  There are those in this world who may treat you like a lowly domestique.  Are you living for them?

God calls the true domestique great.  Greatness in the eyes of our Lord is our goal.  May we be true servants; in actions and attitudes.

PRAYER:  Father, forgive me for so often taking title of servant, but not the attitude.  Forgive me for allowing the opinions of others to dominate my perception.  Forgive me for not seeking first your kingdom and greatness in your eyes.  Help me Lord to be a servant in actions and attitude.  Help me to be joyful in being treated as your Son was treated; like a servant.  Give me a heart that values your approval above all others.   I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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“No One Waits for a Domestique (LOTOJA Part 2)” – Sept. 18

September 18, 2015

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

I apologize for the length of this recounting.  In the spirit of Treebeard, the LOTOJA (Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming) takes a very long time to ride, hopefully, it is worth taking a long time to recount.   You can find part one here:  No One Waits for a Domestique (LOTOJA Part 1).
lotoja map_thumb[2]

After catching up with my team at the top of Strawberry Summit, we pedaled on as a reduced team of four.  We had two more climbs and about 60 miles until our next stop in Afton, Wyoming were we would meet our own support crew.  It was so nice to work within my own team.  I slowed my pace to fit the team as we all took turns pulling the group in order to conserve energy.  My irritation evaporated with the increasing temperatures of mid-day and the friendly chatter within the group.  We stopped for about 20 minutes to fix one team members shoe cleat but other than that we made good time.

We passed over Geneva Summit without much problem and headed into the last major climb after stopping to allow a couple of the team members time to recover.  I have a climbing cassette (12-30 gears) on my bike for rides like the LOTOJA.  It allows me to keep my cadence up on climbs without burning out my legs.  I can spin freely but I don’t go very fast.  As a result, I was the last team member to summit the Salt River pass.  My climbing cassette had worked wonderfully but the heat and duration of climb had still taken it out of me.   I rolled into the rest station to find one team member anxious to get off the pass.  I acquiesced after taking on some water but not fully recovering.  It is all downhill into to Afton, so I thought I would be fine.

The descent off of Salt River is fun.  It is a wide highway with long, sweeping curves that allow you to really let loose.  Since my legs were still a little fatigued, I let the team go on the descent at 40 mph.  I figured that we would regroup at the base and pedal into Afton together.  However, I was dismayed to see my team about a quarter mile ahead of me when I came out of the tuck of my descent.  They had jumped onto a group of other riders and were pedaling away.  I dropped into an aero position with the intent of trying to catch up but that was when the headwind hit me.

There would be no catching up with this head wind.

I finally soloed into Afton, exhausted and infuriated.  My team never waited for me and as a result I had expended precious energy bucking a headwind mostly by myself.  I tossed my helmet onto the ground as I approached my team already recovering in the park.  I thought I was done and I was ready to quit this so-called team.  I sat down and began to indignantly eat through my weariness.  Fortunately, my self-control returned just prior to my ability to coherently communicate so I was able to restrain myself from expressing my consternation in a manner that I would later regret.

We rolled out of Afton as a team.  I realized that my appreciation of landscapes was declining in direct proportion to the accumulation of miles.  Beyond 120 miles, I had to remind myself to periodically look up and behold the beautiful country that we were cycling through.  We were now focused more on the 8:30 PM cutoff time.  One team member abandoned the ride in Alpine so we were down to three.

I was concerned about the cut-off time so I took the majority of the pulls after Alpine.  I had gotten my second wind and was feeling pretty strong.  I pulled our group through the out-skirts of Jackson, Wyoming, accumulating slower riders who jumped on as we passed them.  I took a break after a particularly long pull, falling behind my two remaining teammates.  While I was still recovering, we passed over a drainage grate when I heard twang-clank-clank.  I wasn’t sure what happened but everything seemed fine and the sun was setting.  So, we pedaled on.

I realized something was wrong when my turn to pull came.  Pedaling had become really hard.  I was struggling to keep the pace of my team.  I fell to the back and did everything I could to just hang onto the wheel ahead of me.  The sun was going down and my team members turned on their headlights.  I didn’t have one.

We approached a slower rider and my team accelerated around them.  I tried to go when it was my turn but I didn’t have anything left.  It was taking all of my effort to just keep the pedals moving.  They were quickly 100 yards ahead and I had no voice.  I watched the light of their headlights flicker into the distance.  They had left me, again.

I rode on alone doing everything I could to maintain 12 mph worried that they were going stop me due to the darkness.  I surmised that I had expended too much energy trying to get us to Jackson before sunset and was now tanking out.  The last fifteen miles to the finish line were the hardest I have ever pedaled.

I crossed the finish line exhausted.  After dismounting, I started walking in the direction of the guiding volunteers.  I went to pull my bike alongside me but the rear tire would only skid.  I pulled harder and the tire rolled but again began to slide.  You don’t think very clearly after 200 miles so it took me a little while to realize my problem.  I could now see in the illuminated dark that the twang-clank-clank I heard at sunset was the breaking of a spoke on my rear wheel.  I had just ridden 10+ miles on an out-of-balance wheel, which was rubbing against my brakes.  That is why it was so hard.

The overwhelming feeling that coursed through me as I was handed my finishing metal was:

“I’m glad that is over.”

I learned a lot on that long ride through three states.  In the next post, I will share some of the reflections that a clearer mind has sifted through.

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“No One Waits for a Domestique (LOTOJA Part 1)” – Sept. 17

September 17, 2015

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  2 Corinthians 12:9-10

 

The LOTOJA (Logan, Utah to Jackson, Wyoming) is an epic cycling event.  The ride takes you over 205 miles, three summits, and through three States, all in one day.lotoja map_thumb[2]

It is a very long day.

Accepting the challenge of the LOTOJA seemed like a good idea in March, but as September approached my trepidation grew.  I found confidence in the fact that I was part of a team.  We had five riders and we were going to stick together so everyone would finish.  We were not concerned about any time other than the cut-off time.  As a team, we could cross the LOTOJA off of our individual bucket lists.

That plan fell apart from the start of the ride.  Some of our team members are not morning people and as a result we got to the starting line with just minutes to spare from our 6:27AM start.  This was also the time when my decision to drink another cup of coffee while waiting made its presence felt.  I hurriedly sought out a Port-a-Potty.  I did all that I could to hasten this untimely call of nature but by the time I got back to the starting line they were already lining up the next wave of riders.

My team was gone.

I started my LOTOJA by cycling through Logan, Utah in the dark.  I pedaled along, slightly consternated about being abandoned, but I figured that they would wait for me at the first stop in Preston, Utah, 33 miles ahead.  I rode by myself for about 15 miles until another group came along and I was able to jump onto their pace line, which took me into Preston.

SAMSUNG

SAMSUNG

I rolled into my designated feed zone at Preston with the surprise of not seeing any familiar faces.  I wandered around for a while in search of our support crew until I finally resorted to my cell phone.  Fortunately, the support crew was still there but it was disheartening to hear that my team had just left Preston within minutes of my arrival.  I was on my own, again, until the base of Strawberry Mountain, where I was told that they would wait for me.

I pedaled on, jumping onto other groups of cyclists when I could and pedaled solo when I couldn’t.  I passed a rest station at the base of the first small climb.  There was no team waiting for me.  My irritation grew as I watched the miles accumulate on my odometer.  I pasted over the summit of the first climb to find it vacated by my team.  “Surely they’ll wait for me at the bottom of the descent”, I thought.

1Buff Bill SH near UXU RncUnsurprisingly, there was no team at the bottom of the descent.  I started the ascent of Strawberry Summit with the realization that I might just have to finish this ride solo.  After riding through beautiful farm land and into rolling mountains canvased with a stunning combination of pine and deciduous trees, I came to the rest station at the top of Strawberry Summit.  To my surprise, there was my team getting ready to leave.  It had taken about 60 miles but I had finally caught up with them.  This time they waited but there were only three cyclists.  One team member had decided to drop them and ride solo.

I thought that odd.  This is not what I had expected from a team ride.

(The LOTOJA is a long ride.  It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the recounting of it takes a long time.  Therefore, I am breaking my tale up into a series of post.)

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FEAR OF FALLING – Sept. 8

September 8, 2015

“Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God.”  Joshua 23:11

DSC_0011-ZF-5601-95690-1-001-010I recently returned with my family from our vacation to Northern Idaho and Montana.  A highlight of this vacation was ziplining within views of Coeur d’Alene Lake.  It was thrilling to soar from treetop to treetop, unencumbered by the constraints of the ground.  A zipline may just be the best substitute for wings available to man.DSC_0019-ZF-5601-95690-1-001-018

 

This activity was a huge accomplishment for my wife who has a fear of heights.  Her fear of heights is a misnomer.  She has a fear of falling.  Therefore, I appreciated the care taken by the tour guides of Timberline Adventures.  Our guides were very careful to make certain that we were always secured from falling.  We had safety harnesses that were always attached to the trolley, a tree, or a railing.

DSC_0021-ZF-5601-95690-1-001-020TheDSC_0023-ZF-5601-95690-1-001-022y were very careful because the danger was real.  That danger could have kept us from soaring.  It could have kept us from experiencing th
e heights.  It could have prevented us from encountering the freedom of an eagle.

 

By being very careful, we were prevented from falling and we saw the world from a new perspective.

The word “careful” has been resonating in my mind as I have observed the revelations and opinions spilling into the public awareness after the disclosure of the Ashely Madison registrants.  The mere existent of a website like Ashely Madison is a stark reminder of the current condition of our society.

We live in a careless culture.

Consider the habitual attitude inhabiting a mind, long before a person registers on a site like Ashely Madison.  Those exposed in this latest of scandals probably embraced the carelessness of our culture long before any action was taken.  This revelation is not an abnormality and not limited to the secular world.  The majority of professing Christians that I know, myself included, live in a morass of careless and muddled thinking.

I believe that careless minds devastate more Christians than anything else.

So, what causes us to be careless?

I am careless when I don’t perceive danger.  I am careless when I am comfortable, confident, and certain.  I am careful when I am fearful of falling.  I am careful when I sense danger.

My carelessness rises in direct proportion with my freedom from fear.

Joshua warned the Israelites to be careful.  He warned them to be careful because they were in danger.  The danger that they faced was from not following the commands of God.  The Israelites were warned many times to fear God and be careful to obey His commandments. Some will argue that the fear of God is an Old Testament warning.  However, consider Jesus’ warning to the disciples:

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.  (Matthew 10:28)

I know that a lot of people struggle with the ideas of both loving and fearing God.  I have reconciled these two seemly contradictory concepts by equating the fear of God to the fear of heights.

I don’t fear heights.  I fear falling.

I don’t fear the majesty or glory of God.
I don’t fear a God who is merciful and gracious.
I don’t fear a God who is abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
I don’t fear a God who forgives iniquity and transgression and sin.

I don’t fear God. I fear falling away from God.

I fear the indwelling unbelief of my own heart.
I fear the unbelief that prefers the trinkets of this world to the glory of God.
I fear the unbelief that the pleasures of this world are better than the love of God.
I fear the unbelief of a lukewarm faith.

We live in a spiritually dangerous world.
Yet, many live in careless tranquility.

We were meant to soar in the love of God. DSC_0026-ZF-5601-95690-1-001-025

However, I don’t have the ability to stand in God’s presence on my own.  I will certainly fall without the power of the Spirit working in my life.  It is those thrilling heights of God which increases my fear of falling from His presence.

Therefore, we must be careful to secure ourselves to His presence by being careful as to where we allow our minds to settle.  That is why we need to be careful.

It is easy to be critical of those currently blushing due to the revelation of their sin.

I cannot cast a stone.  I have too much carelessness in my own life.  For me, the Ashley Madison revelation has been a good admonition to renew a healthy fear of God and increase the carefulness of my own daily walk in the Spirit.

By being very careful, we abide in the Spirit and are secured to God’s presence.
There is no greater height than the throne of God Almighty.

So, before you start throwing stones, ask yourself:

How careful are you?
Where do you allow your mind to wander?
Do you allow your mind to settle on the things of the Spirit or the things of the flesh?
Are you aware of the dangers of your own unbelief?

PRAYER: Lord, I pray for all those whose carelessness has resulted in such a devastating sin as adultery.  Father, I ask that your healing and restoration will abide on all those caught in this sin who call upon your name.  Lord, I ask that you will raise up within your Church, followers who excel in self-control.  I ask that you will grow in me this wonderful fruit of your Spirit.  Help me to rely upon you in all things.  Help me to be aware of the danger.  Help me to be careful to love you with all of my heart, soul, and strength. I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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“THE GEM OF COMPETITION” – Mar 29

March 29, 2015

“But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” 2 Corinthians 10:12b

I sit before my computer after a full night’s sleep, exhausted. I suffer from post-tournament exhaustion. My family and I have spent the last three days lost in the altered existence of the NCFCA Idaho Open. It is a strange world unto itself as days are consumed with alternating rounds of speech and debate. Days seem to endlessly stretch, yet pass in a blink.

I love these tournaments.  I love getting to watch the skills and talents of so many young people.  This year I had the privilege to speak to these competitors during the morning devotion on the opening day of the tournament. The following is a portion of what I shared:

National Christian Forensics and Communication...

 

This morning you will be embarking into competition. I love competition. Through competition, we get to test our skills and learn where we can improve. Obviously, this competition will be a test of your speaking and debating abilities.

However, I want to draw your attention to another test. It is a test that will be happening over the next three days, but will have no awards ceremony, there will be no ballots, no points will be tabulated and there will be only one Judge.

It is a test most competitors are unaware of and many will ignore.  You will all be competing in this test, whether you acknowledge it or not. However, you do have to submit yourselves to this test if you want the results and the subsequent value.

There is a gem in this competition beyond the superficial comparisons of who is the better speaker or superior debater.  I am interested in that, but what I care more about is your understanding of what is in happening in your own heart.

A glimpse of what is really happening in your heart can come from this competition, if you are attentive. That is my hope. I challenge all of you over the coming three days to be attentive to this important test. Believe me; it will be more important than any ballot comment  you may receive.

For those who will hear your name called for breaks, who will receive the NCFCA single clap of recognition, who will cross the stage on awards night, I encourage you at the brief instant of achievement to be attentive to your heart. That is the moment of your true test from this tournament. What will you boast in?

You will boast in something – you have no control over that; we were created to praise.

Therein lays the beauty of competition. Rarely, do we have so clear, so distinct of a moment to observe where our hearts will assign praise. It is why I love competition. It tests our souls; it informs us of what often lies hidden in our hearts; it draws it out and that is of eternal value.

2 Cor. 10:17 says: “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

I challenge all of you who will accomplish what you have come here to achieve; have the courage to honestly assess where your heart is assigning praise.

  • Will you bask in your personal achievement or will you praise God for giving you the opportunity and the gifts;
  • Will you show kindness and compassion to those who are disappointed;
  • Will you be appreciative of all who made this opportunity possible;
  • Will you humbly acknowledge your dependence upon God in that moment of success?

Learning this lesson is hard and you will learn that it must periodically be re-learned. Our human tendency is to want the praise of people but here, in this competition, you will receive a lesson on how to turn the praise of people into the praise of God.

That is a fragrant act of worship.

If you can learn that, it will be of value to you for a life time;
eternal value.

It can be a lasting treasure from this tournament.

For the rest of you, the majority who will not hear your name called, who will not receive an award, you have an opportunity to receive a gem that actually might be of more value than those who receive medals.

Paul tells us in 2 Cor. 12: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness….For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9, 10b)

I challenge all of you who will not break; those whose memories will fail mid-speech; those whose arguments will crumble in debate; those who may be judged harshly – have the courage to honestly assess what your heart does when confronted with disappointment; when confronted with failure; when confronted with your weakness.

  • Does your self-esteem rely upon the praise of people or does your value reside in the reality that you are a child of God – is God’s grace enough?
  • Will you let a judge steal your joy or will you continue to walk in the Spirit and set you mind on the things of the Spirit – relying upon His strength?
  • Will you seek to encourage others who might be similarly disappointed?
  • Will you celebrate in the achievements of others?
  • Will you take results that you did not want and turn them in praise of your Sovereign Lord?
  • Will you allow God’s power to be made perfect in your weakness – whatever that might look like?

Paul said in 2 Cor. 11:20, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

In that moment of disappointment what will you boast in? Remember, you will boast in something – you have no control over that. Once again, herein lays the beauty of competition.

This is a test that is of more practical value than the one for those who will receive an award. In comparison to God, we are all ignorant; we are all helpless; we are all weak. We must learn how to boast in our weakness. It is a hard lesson to learn. We all want to be strong, smart, witty, and self-reliant. It is our default condition.  Therefore, it is a lesson that you must learn and will be re-learning throughout your lifetime.

If you’re attentive, this competition can teach you a lesson in how to live humbly before the Lord in all circumstances; how to be satisfied in God’s grace alone whether in victory or in defeat.

You can learn what it means to be righteously humble in defeat
if you attentively allow it.

You can learn what it means to be righteously humble in victory
if you attentively allow it.

This is why I love competition. The inward praise of you hearts will be revealed over the next three days.

I am looking forward to what the Lord is going to do over the next three days.  I am trusting the Spirit to reveal these answers to all who attentively submit themselves to this test and our one, true Judge.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for the last three days.  Thank you for showing me, once again, that you are raising up a capable generation.  Father, I pray that your hand will be upon all the competitors from this tournament.  May your Spirit remain upon them and continue to teach them all that you have for them.  Soften their hearts and grant them an understanding of grace that goes beyond their age and experience.  Lord, encourage all the staff and volunteers who served at this tournament.  May their service be fruitful and continue to bring praise to your glorious Name.   I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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