The Olympian Quest

Have you ever watched the spotlight pieces during the Olympic games that talk about the athletes’ lives and backgrounds?  Those spotlights are one of my favorite things about the Olympics, especially when they’re about athletes from other parts of the world.  You get to learn a bit about where they come from and the sacrifices they’ve made to reach their goals.  They tell the stories of dreams born in childhood, and nurtured through years of intense training and preparation, until the day they become a reality.  Sometimes the story is a happy one; sometimes it’s bittersweet.  Sometimes the ending is everything the athlete hoped for; sometimes it’s heartbreakingly tragic.

I remember watching the 1992 Summer Olympics as a kid.  My favorite sport was gymnastics, and my favorite gymnasts were from the Romanian team and the Unified Team of the former Soviet Union, as well as some of the American girls, of course.  I remember a particular bit of drama surrounding two of the Unified Team gymnasts, Tatiana Gutsu and Roza Galieva.  Tatiana was the favorite to win the individual all-around gold medal, until a fall from the balance beam in the qualification round took her out of the running.  The next qualifier in line was her teammate Roza, a slightly younger, slightly less experienced gymnast, who had performed beautifully during qualifications.

Image:  Foto Libra

However, on the night of the all-around final, the Unified Team coaches replaced Roza with Tatiana, claiming that she was injured.  Both girls were just 15 years old.  Neither had a choice in the matter.  Their coaches felt the pressure to bring home gold medals for the countries of the now-broken Soviet Union, and Tatiana was their best chance.  So with one crushing decision, Roza’s dream was sacrificed while Tatiana’s received new life.

Have you ever considered what it really means to be serious about something?  Ask any gymnast who competes at the Olympic level, and she (or he) will tell you of sacrifices made and dedication to hours and hours of countless repetitions of awe-inspiring skills.

In Russia, little girls start training at age five or six, sometimes younger. Around age 11, they try out for the junior national team in hopes of being one of the few out of hundreds of other girls to become the next generation of rising Russian gymnastics stars.  Those who make it live at Round Lake, the team’s training base outside of Moscow, for several months out of the year.  They train eight hours a day, except for a shorter training period on Saturdays, and Sundays off.  During their 16th year, gymnasts try out for the senior national team.  Hundreds of girls from across Russia come together to compete for a spot on the senior national team, but only a few can make the cut.  These chosen ones have the opportunity to compete at the highest level on the world stage; and from them the cream of the crop, the top five (and three alternates) will participate in the game of games: the Olympics.

These girls are constantly working towards that goal.  Everything sacrifice they make and everything they do is done with that goal in mind.  They follow a strict diet, abstaining from certain foods and moderating their calorie intake, to maintain their “optimum weight.”  Warm-ups, running, stretches, weight training and conditioning are part of their daily lives. They live with coaches, physical trainers and therapists, choreographers, and teammates most of the time, visiting family members on free weekends or holidays.  These girls will sometimes even compete with pain, if the injury is a minor one.

And why do they do all this?

What is the reward for such dedication and sacrifice?

Image: Unknown

A round gold-plated medallion that says they have conquered the world.

I love the metaphor Paul uses in 1 Corinthians, likening our walk with God to athletes training for a competition.  Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to gymnasts and their stories.  Like them, we as followers of our heavenly Father are striving for a prize.  A prize of more lasting value than a medallion.

Our prize life eternal with Jesus in His country.

How dedicated must we be if we would win our prize, how focused on our goal?  Well, consider what God’s Word says about an athlete’s dedication:

“All athletes practice strict self-control.  They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize.  So I run straight to the goal with purpose in every step.  I am not like a boxer who misses his punches.  I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should.  Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.”  1 Corinthians 9:25-27, NLT

Like athletes, we fight daily our own human tendencies that would disqualify us from the prize.  We are daily training our minds on Jesus, doing everything with Him in view.  It’s a lifestyle.

This summer, thousands of athletes from around the world will take the Olympic stage.  All their dreams, goals, sacrifices, training, and efforts will come down to a few short moments before the London crowd.  For some, the dream will die tragically when it’s barely begun.  Only one can win in each event.

Each day, you and I take the stage before the universe in the race of our lives.  How well have you been training?  How will you perform before the world?  Will they see Jesus in you?  Because that’s why we run this race.  We become more like Jesus, so others can see Him in the way we live and accept Him as their Savior, too.Although in the Olympics only one is crowned the victor and given the gold medal, in this race, all of us can be crowned and receive the prize.So maybe we should take the words of Hebrews 12 more seriously to heart:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.  Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.  Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.”

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Random Thoughts…

Thinking you have the truth vs. seeking the Truth

Some of us think we have the truth because we know and understand certain doctrines and practice certain lifestyle principles.  And all these things are tied to the Truth, but the Truth is Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)  Knowing and understanding doctrines and practicing Christlike principles are no substitute for coming to the Father through Jesus Christ.  We must seek Him and have a relationship with Him if His doctrines and lifestyle principles are going to have His intended effect on us.

Pure Milk

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“Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” – 1 Peter 2:1-3

“The pure milk of the word.”  Sounds like God is prescribing a healthier diet for His kids.  No more indulging in the unhealthy junk food of ill will, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and evil speaking about others, which includes gossiping.  Instead, only the pure word of God.

Have you ever given any real thought to what “food” we’re feasting on?  Are we feasting on envy, gossip, and deceit?  I’m not just talking about what we read or watch on TV or in movies either.  How about what we talk about with others?

All of us know in our heads that God does not approve of gossip, and we even say we don’t do it.  Maybe we listen to other people gossip, but we don’t pass it on…to anyone unreliable.  We don’t say things to be mean to others; we just say them because we feel someone else really should know…The list of reasons can go on into infinity.  But is it acceptable to God?  Is that the kind of food God wants us to partake of?

Besides repeating gossip, listening to it does nothing to help us grow spiritually.  Both only serve to strengthen ill will, deceit, hypocrisy, and envy.  And that’s what this text in 1 Peter is all about.  What will make us grow?  Will desiring that evil befall another draw me into a closer relationship with Jesus?  Will dishonest statements or misrepresentations of the truth help me to know the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life better?  Does focusing on the hypocrisies of others or even indulging my own make me a more genuine follower of Jesus Christ?  Will coveting another make me more content in all the situations God places me?  And can malicious words, spoken about someone else either by me or in my presence, help me to be more deeply rooted in the Savior?  Is this the kind of food that will root me and ground me in the love of God?

The only food we can safely eat is the word of God.  Feasting on the word of God will take away bitterness, hard feelings, ill will, covetousness, hypocrisy, selfishness, and all gossip and backbiting.

It also helps us discern between truth and error in what we hear in church or read in a book.  In the Bible, God gives us a lot of instruction about knowing the truth, knowing whether what you hear is of God or not.  He tells us to test the spirit behind each person who comes to us in the name of the Lord (1 John 4:1).  He says to examine all things and hold fast to the good (1 Thess. 5:21).  And those are just two examples, but clearly, God wants us to check things out against His word, instead of just buying into everything that comes from the mouth of a fellow human being just because he or she claims Christianity.  The Bereans were commended by Paul for not accepting his preaching without first testing it against the Bible (Acts 17:11).  So we are to know the difference between truth and error, and be willing to counter error with truth (James 5:19-20, Is. 58:1, Jer. 1:7, Ez. 2:3-5, and Ps. 40:10, to name a few).

When we feast on the pure milk of God’s word, we will be able to recognize and avoid hypocrisy, half-truths, and whole lies.  Just as an expert in recognizing counterfeit money studies the true to recognize the counterfeit, we who feast on the true will recognize the error when it comes.  The more we feast on the word of God, the less desire we will have for feasting on the sins, short-comings, and failings of others.  We will grow in Christ-like love, patience, and forgiveness towards others.  And we will clearly know the difference between speaking the truth as God desires and merely spreading gossip as Satan desires.

So the idea is this: get into the word of God.  Make that your food.  Leave behind the junk food and feast on the words of life and truth so you can grow up strong in Christ.

~ What do you think?  Email me at TheNarrowPathway@hotmail.com. ~

A Vibrant Life

What’s the essence of Christianity?  Think about your answer to that question for a moment.  What does it mean for you and me to be Christians?  Think of your answer to that too.  What does Christianity look like lived out?  Really consider that one.

After thinking about it, I’d describe Christianity as belonging to one person: the One who bought us back from death.  Real Christianity is not the result of a series of outward actions: the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the activities you do, the food you eat, the things you watch, etc.  The Christ-life starts inside, when you give Jesus your heart.  But it doesn’t remain there.  It moves out.  It changes every aspect of your life.  Yes, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the activities you do, the food you eat, the things you watch, etc.  And it touches the people around you.

Remember Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed?  He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matt. 13:31, 32, NKJV)

A mustard seed is really tiny.  Yet for starting out too small to provide even a decent bite for a bird, it becomes home to many birds.  This is how our Savior works.  Jesus starts inside our hearts, forgiving us, changing us, transforming us, nurturing us from newborn babies until we’ve grown up into men and women fit for heaven.

Jesus told another parable along the same lines.  “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” (Matt. 13:33)  That little bit of leaven, mixed in with the bread dough can’t be removed.  It permeates the entire loaf.  The same with Jesus once we surrender our lives to Him.  He’s no longer a bystander on the edge of our lives, or a once-a-week visit to a steepled structure.  He’s real, living, present, active in every part of our lives.

This is what the Christian life looks like.  It’s dynamic, not static.

Now consider that in terms of the relationship between faith and works.

Faith is important, nay vital (I couldn’t resist!)  But it doesn’t stand alone.  Jesus intended it to be mixed with works, yet never with the idea that your works are earning you a spot in heaven.  Check out these two contrasting yet complimenting passages:

“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!  But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?  Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?  And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  And he was called the friend of God.  You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.  Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?

For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:14-26)

“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.  Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.  Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.” (Romans 3:27-31)

“We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.

“But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  For if I build again those things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor.  For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.” (Galatians 2:15-21)

To make it even more interesting, add love into the mix.  Just reading 1 Corinthians 13 alone makes it clear that even the best works without love are empty.  Yet check out what Jesus said about the connection between love and obedience to His law: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15)  And He didn’t stop there; He repeated it again in verses 21 and 23.

Obedience is the outflow of love, not the other way around.  Obedience shows that we know God.  “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.  He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” (1 John 2:3-6)

These passages are important because they help us understand how to live the Christian life as we prepare for life with our coming King.  Satan doesn’t want us to understand.  He doesn’t want us to be ready.  He wants us to be like the unfaithful servant in Matthew 24:48-51.  But God has made His truth known in His word.  So prayerfully take a look at these verses again and hear what God is saying to you.

My point is simple: by faith, the seed was planted in my heart and began to grow; the leaven was added to the lump of bread dough and mixed in.  The end result is a life of obedience to His will, the lifestyle of the King’s daughter in a foreign land.

The Basics ~ Adoption: Step 3

Step 3: Live Your Life Following Jesus

Once you receive Jesus into your heart and give Him your all, it’s important that you now walk with Him and the Father.  I know, you must be wondering what it means to walk with Jesus and walk with God.  Well, they both mean the same thing; after all, if you know Jesus, you know God (John 14:9-11).

Walking with Jesus involves getting to know Him more closely every day and obeying Him.  Let’s take a closer look at this obedience thing.

This is extremely important, because Jesus can see the end from the beginning.  He knows the future.  So when He tells you to do something or not to do something, it’s because He sees the future consequences, the end results of your actions, which you cannot see.  He’s not trying to take all the fun out of your life, as the world often leads us to think.  He would never take away anything that is good for you (Psalm 34:10).

As with any good family, there are rules for all those who would live in God’s Heaven, and of course, they can be found in the Word of God.  There are two general rules that cover everything (Matthew 22:37-40).  These are broken down into ten more specific rules (Exodus 20:1-17).  They are referred to as God’s commandments or the Law.  Other terms are sometimes used to describe them, such as the “will of God” or “God’s character”.  It is His will that everyone be saved from sin and know Jesus, the One who saved them (1 Timothy 2:4).  To be saved you must know Jesus and have His character.  This is also known as being like Jesus.  Which brings us to the next step.

The Date: Getting Ready

Ladies, take a moment to envision a few scenarios with me.  Suppose there’s this guy that you really care about.  In fact, you love him!  You’re getting ready to go see him, so you take a little extra special care getting ready.  You style your hair attractively and pick out an outfit you think he’ll like, probably in his favorite color.  You may even put on those cute pumps he said looked very nice on you, even if they do get a little uncomfortable after a while.

Suddenly it’s not about you anymore.  You love him and you want to look your best for him.  You want to please him.

How do you think that makes him feel?

Now imagine another picture.  You’re still going to spend some time with this guy you love and his friends.  But instead, of wearing the pretty blue dress he really liked, you wear the enticing one his friend liked.  It’s his friend’s favorite color, and your guy has told you before he really doesn’t like that dress.  But you wear it anyway, even putting your hair up in a way his friend likes, when you know your guy likes your hair down.

Now, it’s all about your true love’s friend?

How do you think your guy will feel when he sees you dressing for someone else?

Now just bear with me for one more mental image.

You’re going to meet your guy.  You love him, yes, but you’re feeling lazy, so you just run a comb through your hair and grab the nearest, comfiest clothes from the floor of your closet and pull them on.  No matter that their a little old and wrinkly or that they make you look like a lazy slob.

It’s about you, what makes you most comfortable, and you just don’t feel like going to the extra trouble of dressing up.

How do you think your guy will feel when he realizes that you didn’t care enough to make at least a little effort to look nice for him?

Consider this: Jesus is your Love.  He is the one you care about and love so much that you want to please Him and look nice for Him.  Which of the three images do you think would be most pleasing to Him?  What response does your appearance present to His awesome character and tender compassion when you go to meet with Him?

The Accident

Today I was in my first real car accident.  Thank the Lord, the only injury was an orange-shaped, swollen bruise on the elbow of the lady in the passenger’s seat of the car.  We were in our motor home, and they were in a car.  They didn’t realize they were running a red light.  We had the right of way.

The moment it happened, we were all ready to get out, Mom, Reuel and I with our cameras, ready to document what had happened.  First questions between the man and his wife in the car and us were, “Are you all ok?”  Then we began checking the damage on each other’s vehicles.

This is probably the thing that impressed me the most.  The attitudes all around were so Christ-like, so caring for the other person and so humble and honest.  That can only be Jesus working in hearts!  A lot of times when you see an accident like that, someone starts casting blame on someone else, people may show little care for each other’s wellbeing, and a spirit of anger and coldness.

But here, the man was honest about what happened and humbly took responsibility.  We were all trying to make sure the woman, who had bruised her arm, had ice to bring down the swelling and was feeling fine.  She was asking us if we were sure we were ok.

My friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, this is what our Heavenly Father asks of us in difficult, stressful, horrible situations.  Actually, in every situation.  No matter what bad things happen, whether it’s our fault or not, our defenses should not fly up.  Anger, a blaming attitude, and pride in your own “rightness” should not instantly flare up.  The first thing should be care for the other’s wellbeing.  As the Bible tells us, each of us should not spend our time looking after our own concerns, but looking after those of others (Philippians 2:4).  This isn’t a license to nosiness.  It’s genuine, Christ-like love for our neighbors.  As Jesus said, the commandments are summed up in loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and our neighbor as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27). In another text, we’re admonished to prefer each other in honor above ourselves (Romans 12:10).

This is God’s will for His children.  This is His character, and this is how it must be lived out in the lives of all who take His name.

After the accident, while we waited for the police, my brother and I talked about the parables or spiritual lessons we could draw from this experience.  Several came to mind.

One is to always be alert in the present, instead of living in the past on automatic.  You see, the driver of the car explained that a little ways back up the road, they had come to an intersection just like the one where the accident took place, where construction work was being done on the other side.  The light was red and he stopped.  But one of the construction workers on the other side of the intersection was holding one of those “Slow/Stop” signs, and he had just turned it to slow.  So he waved at him to come through the red light.  So he went.  A little while later, they came to this intersection, where another construction crew was working.  The driver came to a stop, but then he saw the guy with the sign turn his sign to slow.  The guy didn’t wave him through, but remembering the previous situation, he started across the intersection.  But we were already crossing.

We cannot live our lives by what happened in the past.  True, we must know the past so we will not repeat its mistakes and will learn from its victories, but we have to live within the present, making new victories and continued progress.  And we must remain alert!  We should never go into automatic mode!  That’s when we become too relaxed and comfortable that we’re certain to fall right into the enemy’s carefully camouflaged traps.  Driving on cruise control may be alright in a car on a long road trip, but it’s absolutely deadly in your spiritual life!   “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

Another valuable parable from this experience is about focus.  My brother loves to come up with witty one-liners, so he came up with one that goes something like this:

Keep your eyes on the Light, and not on the man.

Fitting advice.  Too much of our time is spent focused on humans and what they’re doing or not doing.  We say to ourselves, “She wears those things and she’s a Christian, so I should be able to do the same.”  Or, “He goes there, and he’s always speaking in church, so I can go there, too.”

Never a thought for what Jesus would have us do, or say, or wear, or be. We compare ourselves to faulty, frail humans, who sometimes aren’t even walking with God, instead of to the only spotless Example, Jesus, the Son of God Himself, who lived out the life that He wants to live out in us.

So let’s look at Jesus, contemplate Him and His character and His way of living.  Let’s look to Perfection and walk in His footsteps.

Eye Candy Gives You Cavities

A few months ago, I was reading about how many of us girls, whether naively or consciously, sometimes dress in ways that make guys see us as nothing more than sexual objects.  Then we get upset and complain about how they are objectifying us, when we are actually the ones who made ourselves eye candy to them.  The use of the term “eye candy” got me thinking about how I view eye candy.

I always considered it an innocent thing to see an attractive guy and consider him as nothing more than a handsome face, with no interest in his character, personality, or spirituality.  But this time I had to give it a second thought.  Is it really so harmless?

Suddenly I had a vision of myself sitting next to my wonderful future husband…gazing across the room at my eye candy.  How would my future husband feel about that?  Here I am, sitting next to him, while staring at another man who I claim to have no interest in and know nothing about.  Staring is not accomplished without simultaneous thought processes, and I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t want to have to tell my future husband what I was thinking about my this other guy.

The world says, “If all you did was think about it for awhile, it’s no harm.  You didn’t do anything.”

Our Lord says that the dwelling on the thought is already sin (Matthew 5:28).  Harboring inappropriate thoughts about someone else’s man is not a God-approved passtime.  And yes, let’s face it, he’s someone else’s man.  Don’t lie to yourself and say, “He could be my future husband.”  Because when you stop and count all the eye candy you’ve indulged in, it’s clear that all those guys were not your future husband.

Furthermore, that eye candy does nothing but ruin my appetite for a healthy dinner.  It takes away my appreciation for the real attractiveness in the character, personality, and, yes, even the looks of the person my Savior has chosen for me.

Like real candy, eye candy is void of nutritive value.  All it does is create an addictive feeling of pleasure, a high that feels great but doesn’t last.  And when it’s gone, I’m left feeling empty, and sometimes, a little sick.

God knew what He was talking about when He told us the first thing we should be seeking: His kingdom and His righteousness.  Instead of seeking temporary highs, He invites us to everlasting joy and contentment in Him, whether we are in a relationship or not.

Seek Him first, and let Him give you the healthy dinner and dessert that won’t make you fat, won’t make you sick, but will completely satisfy because you’re surrendered to Him.

Being Me

This is something I’ve thought about for a while.  I’d love to hear your reactions!

~

As a Christian, what does it mean to be yourself?  Is it even a God-sanctioned pursuit?  Consider a person who has cultivated a personality that keeps huge barriers between her and others, to the extent that her actions show no care for anyone other than herself.  If she should try to change these tendencies once God reveals their sinfulness to her, she is going to have a very uncomfortable, painful task ahead of her.  Being any other way will seem entirely unnatural and exhausting.  Does God really expect her to be someone she’s not?

God does ask us to be people we are not.  He asks us to be emptied of self and allow Him to fill us with His spirit.  We learn to walk in His steps, to live set-apart (holy) lives in which He is the center, and everything we do is all for love of Him.

When Jesus is the Lover of my soul, the One I love first and best, it makes a completely new person out of me.  My priorities change.  My desires, pasttimes, interests, hopes, dreams, and plans change.  Now, the only thing that matters is making Him happy.  I wantto be wherever He is.  I want to do whatever He’s doing.  And I’m fiercely loyal to my Love.

The old self, with all its less than beautiful traits, dies, giving way to the new self, carefully, thoughtfully molded by the hands of Jesus Himself.  This new self may be a radical change from who I was previously, but it’s still completely unique.  It’s a transformation that actually does turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.