Tag Archives: faith

Run the Good Race

I am a huge sports fan. I love the thrill of competition. I spend a good portion of my time following my favourite teams as they compete in their respective seasons. Currently, there is a lot of sports to follow. Not only are the Maple Leafs and the Raptors among the best in their respective leagues, but the Olympics are in full swing. Nightly, I have been flipping between channels trying to catch as much of the action as I can.

Paul compares the Christian faith to running a race at least 4 times in his letters. It should come as no surprise that I have always connected with that analogy. Comparing the pursuit of athletic excellence to the Christian life provided me with a metaphor I could relate to and an ideal that I could focus on. I was never a competitive runner, but the idea of pushing on, overcoming obstacles and doing your best, were ideas I could relate to.

In 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul urges us to run the race in such a way as to get the prize. He follows that up by reminding us of two important aspects that allow you to win the race:

Train
Every athlete who competes on the highest level trains in many different ways. They train physically and mentally. They train for strength and speed. They train in ways that are common to all athletes (running, weights) and on specific skills needed for their sport. As Christians, we need to model that example and “train” in different ways as well. We need to study God’s word. Talk with Him, that includes listening as we pray. We need to spend time building each other up and growing with the help of those He puts in our lives. We need to share His love with those around us.

Keep your eye on the prize
Many athletes have fallen short by losing focus on their goal. In competition, athletes take their eye off the prize and fail to achieve their objective. How many times have I heard the phrase “he started to run before he caught the ball” uttered by TV commentators. As heartbreaking as in-game lapses in concentration can be, the real tragedies of taking your eye of the prize come outside the playing field. Many young stars have let the fame associated with their pursuits distract them. They get involved in things they shouldn’t or believe the hype and stop pushing towards excellence. For Christians, the temptation to believe in ourselves, in our works, can derail us. We start to think that it is all about us and stop giving God the credit for the work He is doing through us.

Everyone has to run their own race. Much like different athletes excel and different sports, each of us has gifts from God to use as we walk through life. As we “train” these gifts develop and by keeping our eyes on the Heavenly prize, we bring honour to God. Like the athletes going for gold this month, we all have the opportunity to realize our goal. All we need to do is keep running the good race.

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One Way

Saturday mornings have been busy for us since October. We enrolled both my 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter in the Jr. NBA program. So, every Saturday we get up early and trek off so my children can learn the skills and fundamentals of basketball. It is a full morning, with one playing at 9 and the other at 10:30. The program is run at different schools across the city, with each group meeting the same place each week.

The parking lot for the school my daughter plays at is on a side street, with “No Exit” signs posted at the entrance. Dead-end streets are fairly common in our town because every neighbourhood seems to curl into itself – using space well and offering plenty of quiet streets. What is different, and perplexing, about this particular street is that it is also a one-way street. Think about that for a moment; you can only travel in one direction, and there is no exit onto another street. The signs would indicate that the school parking lot is the final resting place for every car that started down that road.

In Romans 6:23 the Bible tells us that sin is a one-way street to a dead end. We all sin (Romans 3:23), so none of us are able to avoid starting down the road. Once we start down it, we can’t do anything ourselves to avoid being stuck forever. Some enjoy the road with no concern for what happens when they reach the end. Others convince themselves that if they follow the rules and obey the laws and are “good enough” that some way they will be able to avoid the dead end.

The truth is very simple. We cannot, on our own, avoid the penalty of our sin.

Obviously, I have not been stuck in my car in a school parking lot for the past 4 months. While city planners don’t always make the most logical decisions, they did design a way for you to exit the parking lot and get back to the main road. Sure, you can’t go out the way you came in, but the parking lot is connected to another parking lot and you simply exit that one and join the flow of traffic.

Jesus, who didn’t always do the most logical thing, did plan a way for us to avoid the penalty of sin. He subjected Himself first to a human body and then the humiliation and torture of death – and not just any death, one of the most gruesome imaginable. Through His death, He created a way for our sins to be forgiven and for us to join with God in eternal life.

Some people will hear about Jesus and decide that He is not the only way. Others will deny that He has a way at all. And still others will see His example and figure that if they are “close enough” to emulating it, they will be able to sneak past the dead-end. None of these approaches will allow you to avoid the consequences of sin. Jesus provides the way. All He asks of us is to confess that we are sinners deserving of death and accept that He is the only way to Heaven.

The truth is very simple. We can, through Jesus, avoid the penalty of our sin.

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Walk By Faith

One of my favourite things about volunteering with the high school students at my church is getting a fresh perspective of the events and people of the Bible. When I am teaching, either Sunday School or our weekly Bible Study, the passage we are studying is usually one I have known for as long as I can remember, and the events that are recounted are ones I have pondered before. When a teenager, especially one with limited exposure to God’s Word, asks a question, it is often one that makes me stop and consider things in a new light.

As we dive into answering the question, I often say “remember, these were real people, living real lives”. When reading the Bible it is easy to read it like a movie script and forget that these “characters” are not fictional and the “scenes” are actual events. Last week, we were covering the first kings of Israel, Saul and David, in an overview of the books of Samuel. As we were talking about the different events, it came up that, even though we look at the events as happening all at once, the books cover about 80 years of history, as both Saul and David reigned for about 40 years each.

I believe every word of scripture serves a purpose (2 Tim 3:16), and each event and person mentioned is there to tell us about God’s love. Because there is roughly 4000 years and dozens of main characters covered in its pages, the Bible is not an exhaustive account of history. While this makes practical sense, it does lead to us forgetting that these people dealt with life’s ups and downs, the mundane day-to-day and the uncertainty of how it all would play out.

Sometimes I take for granted that the heroes of scripture knew how the story would unfold. I don’t consider that they were acting and reacting to everything in real time, much like we do today. They were not certain of how everything would turn out, as evidenced through the many times people took things into their own hands and tried to change the situation in their favour but ultimately caused more problems than they solved.

When I approach God to ask Him for guidance, I often hope that He will lay it out before me with step-by-step instructions. I wanted to read the script before I start the action. Didn’t Daniel refuse to stop praying because he knew the lions wouldn’t eat him? Didn’t Jonah demand to be thrown overboard because he knew a fish would take him safely to shore? Didn’t Nehemiah ask the king to allow him to return to Jerusalem because he knew he would gladly allow it?

Of course, the answers to all these is “no, they didn’t know”. The Bible is full of stories of people who stepped out in faith, with no guarantees it would work out for them. Even those who had angelic intervention in their lives didn’t have foreknowledge of the details. They all had to walk by faith.

We have to walk by the same faith in our lives. We don’t get to know how things will work out. The examples of faith in the Bible are there for us to follow. They are as much to show how God works through His people as they are that God’s people must trust in Him. God will accomplish His will, we must walk by faith.

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Decisions

One of my hobbies is playing in a fantasy baseball league. The league I am in is more involved than most. It is set up to emulate the real Major Leagues as much as can be. One of the best parts about fantasy baseball is the draft. Every year I get prepared for the draft by figuring out what my team needs and looking over the available players. I plot a strategy and plan out how I will go about improving my team.

 
As I pour over the stats, rosters and draft lists, I try to figure out what the best course of action would be. Do I try to trade? What players are expendable? What players are worth holding onto? Do I need to make a move to free up salary cap space? Is this player a real prospect or should I drop him and move on? Will this guy be available in round 3 or should I take him earlier? As you can probably tell, I put a lot of thought into my team. I do know that whether I win or lose doesn’t really matter. The league is for fun and making a mistake has no effect on real life.

 
Often in life we don’t really know if we made the right choice or not – we don’t have the ability to see how things would have unfolded differently. We usually decide if a decision was good or bad based on if it worked out well, but we don’t know if it was the best, or worst, outcome. I am happy with the house I live in. It’s not perfect, there are things that need to be fixed, the water heater quit 2 days before we hosted 21 people for Christmas dinner, but I do not regret the choice we made when we bought it. Was there a better house? Maybe, but I would say we made the right choice.

 
Sometimes things don’t work out the way we hoped, but it doesn’t mean that we made the wrong choice. Maybe none of the paths we had to choose from were going to work out well. Sometimes, we make the choice we have to and live with the consequences. 18 months ago I make a career decision that didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but I believed it was the right decision.

 
As Christians, when we are faced with choices in life, we should seek God. I know that I try to, but I wonder if I do it the right way. I consider myself to be intelligent, and I approach most issues with the belief that I can figure it out if I think about it long and hard enough. Often when I face a decision, I pray about it. I also think about it. I ponder the pros and cons and evaluate the potential options. I generally come to a conclusion at some point in the process. The question is, how much do I rely on God and how much on myself? Am I allowing God to guide my thoughts, or am I praying for Him to confirm my plan?

 
I have been struggling with this a lot lately. It seems odd because I am not making any major decisions. There is no career change, relocation or any other life-altering events on my radar. I have just been questioning whether when I seek God’s direction can I be confident in the answer I believe I am receiving?

 
I am not sure how I can know. The issue is not whether or not I believe God is trying to tell me, or if I am capable of hearing it. For as long as I can remember I have tried to walk with God and allow Him to lead my path. Have I trusted God long enough that it has become second nature? Or have I become so arrogant that I think my thoughts are His?

 
I don’t have a nice answer to close off this post, but I do have a plan. I will continue to seek God; to seek His will and ask Him to help me discern it. I will ask Him to help me to let Him work in my life, without me interfering – to humble me. I believe that God is faithful; if I honestly seek Him, he will not hide, and if I truly allow Him to lead, I will walk on the right path.

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I’m in His Hands

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18 (NIV)
Daniel 3 records the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – one that I am sure every Sunday school student has heard. They defy the orders of the king knowing that the punishment is certain death. I recently read this story, and there was one line that stuck out to me that I had never noticed before – “But even if he does not”.

 

Maybe it is a product of our media culture where the heroes of our favourite movies and TV shows are always able to avoid the enemy’s (often needlessly complex) traps, but the fact that the 3 Jews survived the day isn’t a surprise.

 

The truth is, when standing up to the king, they did not know they weren’t, in fact, sacrificing their lives. All they knew was that in that moment they had no choice but to risk their lives to obey God. God doesn’t always spare His people, there are many martyrs throughout history that stood up for God and paid with their (earthly) lives.

 

Their statement “but even if he does not” is not a statement of doubt but of great faith. Faith that there is a much greater reward to being obedient to the King of Kings than obeying an earthly king.

 

I have never been faced with a life or death choice in whether to obey God or not. I have faced situations where I truly was not sure how everything would work out. Though, those circumstances pale in comparison to the events of Daniel 3, they serve as reminders of how I need to trust God when I don’t know what will happen next.

 

One example of this is my summer between high school and university. I spent that summer working at a camp north of Toronto. If you have ever worked at a camp, you know that the outside world can get a little lost in that closed community.

 

I had been accepted and was planning on attending Asbury College in Kentucky. About 2 weeks before I was to arrive on campus, I got news that due to a clerical error my spot at Asbury was in limbo. Summer was coming to an end, I was miles from my parents, who lived in Florida at the time, and didn’t have much time during “business hours” to deal with getting things figured out. On top of all that, simply going home and getting a job was not an option. I didn’t have a visa to work in the USA, just one that allowed me to live there. There was no obvious answer if things didn’t get cleared up for me to attend Asbury.

 

I remember becoming completely overwhelmed at lunch one day and having to leave the dining hall with another staff member. I don’t remember the words she used, but I do remember the feeling of relief when I was reminded that God was looking out for me. He would guide my path, and I needed to trust that He had a plan.

 

Thankfully, within a few days the error had been cleared up, and my spot was waiting for me. I look back with great fondness at the four years I spent at Asbury – I had amazing experiences and learned many lessons, both academically and spiritually. I am very thankful that they were part of God’s plan for my life. But even if they hadn’t been, I am confident that God would have directed me on a different path and used it to draw me closer to Him.

 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced much higher stakes, and a more important choice, but the principal is the same. I, like them, need to trust that the God I serve is watching over me, and I can trust Him to deliver me.

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Live to Tell

What if, by just looking at someone, you could see the soul of that person? If you could tell if they were a Christian, would that change the way you interacted with them? Would you tell them about Jesus if you could see they had never met Him?

I wondered this as I was l leaving the mall this past weekend.  I had needed some help in one of the stores and as I was walking out I waved to thank the women who had helped me. I wondered to myself if she knew Jesus. She had been helpful and friendly, much like you would expect from someone with a customer service job. The question just popped into my head: did she have Jesus’ love in her?

Christians are commanded to share the love of Jesus with the world.  My guess is that very few of us tell random strangers about Jesus with reckless abandon. I have rested on being open with my beliefs, living out my faith. I am careful not to use inappropriate language and having never had an alcoholic drink makes for a great starting point when business meetings spill over into the bar, but I fall way short when it comes to evangelizing everywhere I go. Would that change if I had a visual reminder of the danger they are in? Or would I simply pray that someone they know would tell them about the Good News?

When you stop and think about how much Jesus did for us, you would think that sharing it with others would be something we do with enthusiasm. When you stop to think what it means if you die without giving your life to Christ, you would think that we would do everything we could to share the Truth.

Most of us wouldn’t believe just anything some stranger came up and told us. What people do respond to is something they like or something they are intrigued by. So what if we treated every person we came across in a way that would cause them to ask what makes us so joyful, or positive, or loving? What if we approached every interaction with the goal of showing them Jesus? If we live and interact in a way that causes people to ask us, and we are ready with an answer, then we will be able to share Jesus with anyone, even if we can’t see their soul with our own eyes.

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My God Can Move Mattresses

It’s funny how the smallest child can so simply remind us of a great truth.

The other day, I was making our bed after my wife had done the laundry. As I know she appreciates when the sheets are well tucked at her feet, I wanted to make sure that the sheets were well anchored. I proceeded to lift up the bottom end of the mattress and tuck the sheets under, and then drop the mattress back into place. Upon seeing my, what must have seemed to her, great feat of strength, my 17 month old daughter wanted to test her strength and tried to lift the corner of the queen-sized cushion. Of course, the thing didn’t budge. She then looked up at me as if to say, well, I guess you got that going for ya.

At that moment, I could almost hear God say to me “you know there is a lesson right there”.

I could blame it on many things, but the fact is, I like to be in control and know how things are going to work out. I rely too much on my own intelligence and ability, even when they are severely unqualified for the task at hand. I try to “lift the mattress” on problems that are too big for me to handle on my own.

The problem I run into is that if I can’t figure out how do to it, I assume it can’t be done. If I can’t figure out how it works, or what the best answer is, I assume it doesn’t work, and there is not an answer. I all too quickly limit the world of possibilities to what I can accomplish and understand. As if like an infant trying to figure out how to make her parents’ bed.

I need to be reminded all the time that I serve a big God. I am not talking about a God who I can present a problem and He will help me figure it out. I am talking about a God who knew the problems I will face before I was even born and has been working in my interest all along. My God isn’t reacting to the universe, He created it, governs it and cares deeply about it. My God can look at the “mattress” I am struggling to move an inch and simply will it to move. My God doesn’t just understand things, He knows them intimately. His plans are bigger than mine, His imagination far more creative than mine – and that is saying something, because I can come up with some pretty crazy ideas!

It’s funny how God can use the look of a small child to remind a grown man of something he should not forget in the first place.

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