Tuesday, January 25, 2011
It's all cultural. Our effectiveness will only change if we recognise our selfish motives. People openly talk about how their present performance is going to serve their career progress. The reason for the overwhelming majority of people turning up to work in the Death Star to help orchestrate the dispositions and activity of the Star Fleet is for their personal gain. I do not believe for one moment that the inhabitants of this solar system don't detect it. Now, as it happens, they follow a culture that is all about earning their salvation through strict prayer, fasting, honour codes, valour and sacrifice. They empathise with us, to a degree, though find it hard to understand why we would pay such a price as the blood of our sons and daughters for so paltry a return. They do not see what many on the Death Star also fail to see that within the weave of our culture still exists the will to love. It's scattered but one day will be gathered in a harvest. Just imagine when that harvest comes, are you going to be wheat of chaff? Don't so readily accept your destiny as chaff because there is a gift, it's called grace and it's available no matter how bitter and twisted your character, life and history. It's called light and life and lights a path to new passions, desires and appetites. Oh how easily to ignore such profound evidence in favour of what culture teaches you. How readily your pride prevents you from the humility required to repent. You helpless sinner, thank you goodness you are being pursued relentlessly with love, just turn and accept the hand of friendship, compassion, kindness, and generosity. It's not available through ideas, religions and philosophies. There can only be one truth and beyond the love of Jesus, ignoring his battered, torn and beaten body hanging on a cross for you, yes you personally, are lies, deceptions and nonsense. Think it through with fear and trembling and just imagine for a moement, what if it really is true.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The bleakness of the weather and the landscape stripped of foliage makes winter the most impressive season. Things that are hidden through the summer are revealed. In the fallow season the ground recovers. For the athlete it's the same. You build your base and the depth of commitment is revealed, as you either cower in the shelter of your garage on a turbo or brave the strong winds, rain and slippery roads. The weather has dramatic destructive quality I enjoy.
People go through winter seasons. Times of distress, hardship and tension. Just so as you know, telling lies wont help. If someone say, "things can't be all that bad", they may well be, or, "could be worse", nope probably they are as bad as they could get right now, or the best one, "nearly there, we'll soon be over this", nope you have a way to go yet and it'll probably get much more painful. If you are in a dark, lonely and painful place caused by betrayal, abandonment or perhaps illness then you need to know your life may not get any better. The world will offer you all kinds of things to numb the pain but it'll always be there. Pills are usually the first option, accompanied by counseling and a series of self help manuals by luminaries like Oprah Winfrey. These are usually augmented by addictions. Addiction being something or someone that helps mask the pain. In some cases this could be a cause or your work, in others more traditional worldly material like alcohol, gambling, relationships or shopping. Some people choose the most destructive form which is religion. Where else do you suppose suicide bombers come from other than those who can see death as a better option than living.
However, there is a reason for living. Your life does have a genuine purpose beyond the reason you got out of bed this morning. It's not to be a better person, realise your potential or come to terms with your situation. No, it's a cosmic purpose. It's a purpose that can only be seen by looking through the lens of history to a bloody, torn corpse hanging on a tree, the person having died a slow, tortuous, excruciatingly painful death. I want you to imagine the heartache of losing who you care most for, those who are most dear to you abandoning you and someone you trust betraying you. How can you do it? I struggle. However, if you can get there then you will get a glimpse of the agony Jesus Christ faced 2000 years ago.
Are you impressed by athletic endeavour, are you impressed by strong men who overcome terrible odds, are you impressed by valour in the face of formidable odds so others can live? That's where you need to go before you reject Jesus or take him as nothing more than a really good teacher. How little those who rebel against his calling know of him. He once said to the scribes, you memorise the scriptures but you know nothing of them. Wow, this was a guy who really upset the intellectual elite. He said you know the problem with you guys is you are educated beyond your intelligence. You diligently read your Bible, quote verses to impress family and friends but you can't see that they are all about me!
For all the triathletes out there I have good news. Jesus became a phenomenally fit, lean and healthy athlete. He walked hundreds of miles, many miles up mountains where his followers could keep up with him. He lived by the sea and I like to think would have been an excellent swimmer, ( history only records him walking on water once so I imagine he swam for recreation). He was also a construction worker while growing up in obscurity and probably through much of his twenties. And here's what the nemonic triathlon really stands for:
T - Truth - If you pursue triathlon, at any level, and consistent, it will compliment a healthy lifestyle. You see there is truth and there are lies, nonsense and fabrications. You must consider the truth claim that has an amazingly dramatic impact on the whole of human history. Jesus claimed to be God, no other prophet, of any credibility, has claimed that.
R - Revelation - Nobody comes to triathlon having said that I am going to be great at this. People have a go first because they are aware of their ignorance. When it is revealed to them that it is attainable and rewarding that develop an appetite for further exploration. Faith in Jesus similarly comes through revelation. He reveals himself to us through personal experience not through some intellectual exercise. You really need to know that you are up against the omnipotent creator of the universe. The good news though is that he is relentlessly pursuing you in love and when you turn to him and take the hand that is offered the world changes. P.S. This seems like a load of cock and bull to your average atheistic Joe :-)
I - Intelligent - As with triathlon you've gotta think about it. Jesus will meet you wherever you are, be you a doctor of philosophy or someone who struggles day to day to deal with the ordinary things of life. Each has a unique purpose that takes thought, consideration and planning. If you care well for what you have been given you will be productive and be sure more will be offered. Training for success in triathlon is incremental, you need to accumulate the talents for them to become a skill. Our habits develop our character. Thoughts words and deeds that are focused on Jesus will carry the athlete to achievements that today seem implausible.
A - Awe - There is an awe attached to every demanding training session that leads to every race. You can't help but acknowledge that the human body is quite phenomenal. There's a kind of out of body experience, "I really achieved that with this body?" Is that body were simply a collection of random chemicals that by some genetic mutation took us on an evolutionary branch away from the apes? Is that spirit, drive and ambition one of a turbo charged chimp? Or is it the fact that we are image bearers of our Father in heaven? Are those companions from the race circuit who you so enjoy to be in community with in fact unique, with equal dignity, value and worth? I look at them, whatever there athletic talents, and see each loved and precious.
T - Trust - Organizers measure courses, brief safety marshals and prepare for the prize giving. We trust organisers who have reputation. We have seen the fruits of their labours and gives us confidence. You will tend not to risk your life, some courses have some nasty hazards, if you mistrust the organizers. Of course the organisers can only ensure the safety of those who are obedient to their signs. If you choose a different path you are on your own, disqualified. Only be coming back and starting another race do you have the opportunity to reach the finish. Jesus said I am the truth, the light and the way, nobody comes to the Father but through me. But how do we know that he is a credible saviour, where's the fruit? Look at the blood stained hands and feet, the torn flesh on his back from a brutal flogging, scars from the thorns and wound in his side. Look at the sacrifices of those who have loved and served him? Don't check out your powers of discernment, this is a saviour who wants you to see how much he loves you.
H - Humility - Don't for one moment think you are humble, for the moment you do then you have fallen into the cardinal sin of pride. However, if you want to join me in pursuit of humility then I will be a willing training partner. There is so much we have to learn each day of our lives; it's exciting, if you only think about it. Consider every conversation, every training ride as a learning experience. How wonderful to share this experience, to have a training buddy to serve, a prayer partner with whom you can make yourself vulnerable. Do you not see how it helps to live your life as an open book? How readily you would reject temptations to lie, cheat or cut corners if you had made a solemn oath to share all your transgressions? And when you do transgress the liberating act of confession, repentance restitution and a change of behaviour. We need accountability partners, training partners, people we know are watching our lives because we have invited them to. Who is yours?
L - Love - Do you know that love is an action and a commitment before it is a feeling. Have you ever gone on a training ride even when you are not feeling like it? Have you had to overcome your emotions to finish a race? That's because love requires foundations, it requires covenant, commitment and action. True love continues despite the child who claims to hate the parent, or the spouse who rejects the offer of affection. The athlete gets out in the foul weather, when all his senses are telling him to stay in to take a rest because he or she is committed. You do not love by giving your body away cheaply as culture encourages us to but by disciplining it. You train your body, take control of it and use it to serve and love people. Not just people today but people of the future. The freedoms we enjoy are a loving gift from all those who have served before and the soldiers who give their lives today are not just loving this generation but loving the next and the one after that. The truth is that God is love but love is not God. God's love is woven in with his justice that ensures there will be peace when those who choose to reject his path breath their last. They will not cross the finish line and be invited into there rest but by disqualified from his KIngdom, and end up in the destination they chose, no medal, t-shirt or cigar in the eternal conscious torments of hell.
O - Obedience - When did you last have a lengthy conversation about obedience? When did your boss last use the word - obey? It's really not a popular word, mmm... I wonder why? Perhaps it's because we are not naturally inclined to obey. Ever heard anyone regret not obeying their training programme? I have seen many athletes reap unparalleled success by simply following a measured, carefully thought through programme. I am confident that had I obeyed the programme my IM personal best of 10:03 would today be considerably better. If that programme is rooted in what's best for the athlete how much more do we stand to gain from being obedient to Jesus whose laws are rooted in love?
N - News - The very best I have kept till last. Your coach, triathlon magazine or club mates will have plenty of advice to share. You'll find, especially as a novice, that the advice offered will be relentless, more than you can process and certainly more than you need. Careful filtering, experimentation and some wasted journeys will follow. And of course in the words of my friend and accomplished veteran athlete Dave Butters, you will need to "just get out there". Nothing will be achieved without hard work. The harder you work the richer the rewards. This is where triathlon and the Gospel bear no resemblance for Jesus has finished the race. The hard work, struggle, patience and pain has all been endured and it was done as a substitute for you. This was the one race that no matter how talented an athlete you are you could not endure. You are simply, in case you hadn't noticed imperfect. You are corrupted from living in a fallen world, and despite your efforts you have failed to reach the standard of perfection necessary to live connected to a perfect, all loving and just God. That's the news. This isn't about advice, it's about the news that the stone was rolled away so that we could see inside and know the body was gone and that He was resurrected and returned in the flesh as a victor, a conquerer, the Creator and only person who has ever and will ever have power over death. Let that news weigh heavy on your soul for your soul is eternal and its fate rests upon you using your free will to believe all the world tells you or believe Jesus. Eternity is a long time to be disconnected from love. Jesus came to take the punishment you deserve and connect you to the father of the fatherless who loves you beyond imagination, take the hand that's offered today. Have a blessed triathlon career and love well.
“Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?
For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
1 Corinthians 6:18,20
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
When I was a younger man I was really good at complimenting people. Do you know why? Because I wanted them to like me. That's not complimenting that's using. Are you sure you have any friends? Are you really sure your spouse loves you? Are you absolutely confident that you are loving your children? Just how deep are your affections for those you say you love, how much do you care? Are you willing to die for them? Oh yeah? Or is It you who you are willing to die for?
Dependency is not love. If you need something you are using it. The selfish use people and things and most commentators agree that love is sacrificial. Love has been tested in the fire, it is refined, strengthened and robust. Even when you don't feel like loving someone, when they are frustrating you, upsetting you or ignoring you, love perseveres. What if they are not feeding you, abandon you, thump you, abuse you, don't want physical intimacy with you and spit on you, does love survive that? We are all desperate to be loved and people have endured some horrendous circumstances in the hope that this felt need will be met: "Yes I know he swears at me, kicks me and when he's drunk forces himself upon me but he tells me he loves me and why else would he want sex with me if he didn't care?"
Here's the point. Do you love those who you care about enough to seek to love them better? Do you want to explore a radical love? That kind of love can only come with truth, weighty truth that demonstrates its power with compassion, mercy, generosity, sacrifice and bewildering grace. Oh, if you would only truly dismiss all the world has taught you. If you would only recognize that disease grips the mind, corruption infects the mind, pride and vanity destroys. A friend is a nettle in the side not an echo. Do the people you spend time with, do those you listen to and whose words you enjoy simply echo much of what you agree with, desire and admire? How often do you welcome someone showing you your weaknesses, foolishness, or ignorance and seek to correct your habits and behaviour through their teaching? Every day? Your habits, after all, are forming your character. So what source of wisdom are you using to shape your habits and form your character?
It grieves me to know so many of those I know, love and meet think as I once did. Accept the ideas, theories and philosophies of the world as I once did. Set up false gods like children, success, intellect and comfort and invest in them their time, treasure, talents and emotions to provide the affections and love they hunger. These are idols that can never fully satisfy, will often fail you and eventually break you if you don't break them first with your disappointment as they fail to fulfill all the hopes you placed in them. Consider this faith you have in the scientific theories the world has presented you through its programmes of education and culture. You solemnly trust Uriah Heap album cover, that the world is a great big onion, that George Harrison and John Lennon are men of consummate truth, love and wisdom. Just teach the world to sing, imagine no more war, wave the karmic wand and we can all believe that something came from nothing? Have you searched the deepest recesses of the Cosmos? Then stop putting such blind faith in clinically depressed men like Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins and Socrates
"It is true that somehow real satisfaction is missing but surely that's just the way of things, we came from nothing, we're going nowhere and the bit in middle has winners and losers?" "Those who can't take the heat commit suicide, others find addictions but in the order of natural selection, I'm doing fine. I get along okay with people, some get used along the way but I am essentially a good person, I'll do my best and we'll see what comes next."
Oh you ambivalent, complacent and indifferent fool! What if it's true? Just meditate on that as often as you can. What if there is a source of unparalleled, eternal and righteous love? Are you so callous, stubborn and obstinate that you would risk the souls of those you pretend to love? Will you not do all within your mind, soul and strength to investigate this astonishing truth claim? Are you too idle to reach out and grab your young child as he or she runs toward a busy main road? Then you should not be too idle to wake up. My deep desire is that you wake up.