Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
I Corinthians 9:25-27
I am in the beginning of my training regimen for the Avengers 1/2 Marathon at the Happiest Place on Earth. I must tell you, I’m sooooooo excited to run and high five the great Marvel superheroes that the Mouse now rules with an iron fist owns. I picture myself finishing with flare like Iron Man and raw strength like the Hulk.
However, as I’m starting to run regularly, I remember the days when I could run for quite some time and feel good about it. However, this time around, it seems like another emotion has taken hold. My perspective on training?
Well, friends, training sucks.
Training costs me something. It costs me through the stress of cardio and the soreness of my legs. It costs me in the hours I will put into it and the cost of saying no to certain food choices.
No wonder the Christian life has been compared to training as an athlete! Following Jesus is a lot like training for a race. We have to say no to certain activities in order to say yes to others. When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we say ‘yes’ to an abundance of life.
But it will cost us.
It will cost us if we choose to follow Jesus. If we follow Jesus the Messiah (whose only path to restoring our broken relationship was through the suffering of the cross), then we can bet that we too need to model this. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:16, the only path to reveling in God’s glory is through suffering.
Sorry Joel Osteen, following Jesus will cost us something and it will often remove the options of the standard American dream. Sometimes, God will call you to move from the house of your father like Abram or leave a profitable ministry like Jonah. Sometimes he will call us to stand as a prophet disregarded by everyone like Jeremiah. Sometimes we will even die before our dreams have been realized like Moses.
I have been confronted with this choice: Am I ready to give up certain things in my life? Am I ready to pay the cost of discipleship?
Today I have the privilege of guest posting over at Incite Faith. Here is a snippet of what you’ll find:
If you could compete in any Olympic event what would it be?
If I had to pick, I would go with downhill skiing and curling. Yes, curling.
Curling is chess on ice with a lot of strategy and thinking through the shots. I imagine if I wanted to become good at this game I would need a lot of hours of practice on the ice, strategically placing these stones along the frigid surface.
When it comes to playing sports and games, practicing is really a no brainer. You simply need to practice to succeed and hopefully with enough practice you will do well at your task.
In his first letter, the Apostle John wrote about a practice of a different sport. No, not wrestling or javelin throwing, instead it’s practicing our sinning and righteousness.
Check out the rest of the post here. Hope to see you there!
I read a beautiful article about the late-Dallas Willard written by John Ortberg. If you have never read any of his works, then I would highly recommend Willard’s books. Willard had a gentle brilliance that engaged the minds of grad students and laity alike. As a philosopher at USC, he knew how to engage the heart and mind, leading people to the depths of the Christian faith. Here is an excerpt that I found absolutely brilliant,
For Dallas’s students and friends—and these categories largely overlapped—the best moments, the ones I will miss the most, were the moments with no hurry, no schedule constraint, nothing in the world but time and God and love. Then you could ask him, “Hey, Dallas . . .” (There are a thousand stories that begin with the statement, “Someone asked Dallas.”)
“Hey Dallas . . .” You could see him thinking—not about the problem, which he had worked out long ago, but about how to express it in a way that those of us listening might be able to grasp it. So that it would not be a “pearl cast among swine”—one of dozens of Scripture passages I heard him explain better than any professional exegete.
Dallas and I used to play a game. I would ask him for definitions of all kinds of words. And every definition would contain a clarity and freshness and precision that would require folks to sit and reflect for a while. “Hey Dallas . . . ,” and then I’d ask him about any word or concept that mattered, and would receive a brief education in the possibilities of redeemed thought.
The word spirit. “Disembodied personal power.”
Beauty. “Goodness made manifest to the senses.”
A disciple is “anyone whose ultimate goal is to live as Jesus would live if he were in their place.”
Dignity is “a value that creates irreplaceability.” (This one, he graciously attributed to Immanuel Kant.)
Dallas was ruthlessly committed to logic, clarity of thought, and the constant cultivation of reason. He held such commitments because they were indispensible to navigating reality, and because helping people navigate reality is indispensible to love.
“Hey Dallas, what is reality?”
“Reality is what you can count on.”
“Hey Dallas, what is pain?””Pain is what you experience when you bump into reality.”
Because of this, Dallas had a deep aversion for Christian speakers or writers who use emotion to manipulate a temporary response from their listeners—a response that bypasses their “mental maps” and leaves the audience in worse shape than when they started. He said at one conference that speakers should never tell stories. This prompted a group of publishing types to propose the “Dallas Willard Study Bible,” with all the stories taken out. (Pretty much just Leviticus.)
“What is spiritual maturity?”
“The mature disciple is one who effortlessly does what Jesus would do in his or her place.”
“What exactly does it mean to glorify God?”
“To glorify God means to think and act in such a way that the goodness, greatness, and beauty of God are constantly obvious to ourselves and all those around us. It means to live in such a way that when people see us they think, Thank God for God, if God would create such a life.”
May you walk in God’s light and glorify him now and forever.
Do you have an influential mentor?
When I was a kid, I hated eating my vegetables. I hated green beans. I hated potatoes. I hated peas. Bring in the oddball veggies like squash, Brussels sprouts, or broccoli and I was out of there.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t be out of there; I would sit at the table until I finished my dinner. The tri-tip steak and roll were easy, but I tried to hide those greens. I chewed them up and spit them into my milk cup. I’d feed it to our dog or tried to hide it in the bottom of the little bit of mashed potatoes on my plate. As brilliant as I thought I was, it seemed like I just could never get away with it.
Do you ever feel that happens with you? That whatever you do sometimes you just can’t get away with it?
I wonder if that’s how we see God sometimes. I wonder if we think God just wants us to eat our veggies, be good, and help little, old ladies cross the street, and if we don’t he grounds us for the week. But I wonder if God truly cares about whether or not we eat our veggies and clean up our room.
Maybe God wants more of us than just crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s.
Maybe, just maybe, he wants us to come to him. Maybe he wants to transform our desires, and to give us a new desire.
A desire to be loving, and not just be tolerant.
A desire to be people filled with integrity, and not just be good.
A desire to be people marked with true compassion, and not just periodic altruism.
Once I was a child and hated my vegetables. Now I’m an adult, and I love butternut squash, green beans, broccoli, and even Brussels sprouts. Perhaps that’s how God works within us. Maybe he helps order our desires and we begin to want to want to do good. (with or without the broccoli)
One of the more awkward metaphors in Scripture for me to comprehend is the metaphor of marriage. Throughout the Bible (both the Old Testament and New Testament) we are given the illustration of God in a covenant/marriage with his people. Specifically in the New Testament, we are described as a bride adorned for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but as a man, that’s a bit of a stretch to get excited about!
However, Luther sees it differently. He sees it in the light that we are indeed united to Christ: what is ours is his, and his is ours. Much like my marriage with Kristen, we bring everything together into a union. But unlike my marriage, this union provides something better; all things are in common, both good and bad.
Think about that image for a moment—all that Christ has can be yours.
Sit with that for a moment.
He is full of grace, life, and salvation. He will take on all that we have in exchange for all these good things, he will take on all the sin, death, and condemnation that plagues us. Through this union, Christ provides us immeasurable benefits for his own good pleasure. He gives us his righteousness, though we don’t deserve it.
To close out this point, hear (or read) what Luther has to say when we take hold of the righteousness of Jesus by faith in him, since his life is more powerful than death:
“Christ, that rich and pious husband, takes as a wife a needy and impious harlot, redeeming her form all her evils and supplying her with all his good things. It is impossible now that her sins should destroy her, since they have been laid upon Christ and swallowed up in him, and since she has in her husband Christ a righteousness which she may claim as her own, and which she can set up with confidence against all her sins, against death and hell, saying, ‘If I have sinned, my Christ, in whom I believe, has not sinned; all mine is his, and all his is mine,’ as it is written, ‘My beloved is mine, and I am his.’”
Martin Luther is arguably best known for his argument that the “just shall live by faith.” His creed sola fide captures this biblical principle and he raises it quite about in Concerning Christian Liberty.
For Luther, faith is an inward action: it is an action that is done within the person. Of course, they will outwardly confirm the inward reality through public confession (baptism, their life, and participation in Eucharist) and through a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit living within them (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Paul wrote in Romans 10:9, “For with the heart, one believes and is justified, and the mouth one confesses and is saved.” Out of the new life rooted in the heart of the Christian, they then confirm the inward reality to others. While they ought to live differently, no outer works can ever replace what happened inwardly.
Let me put it another way. Psalm 1 describes the righteous person as a tree planted by streams of living water. This tree, out of a place of health and growth from the living water, will then produce fruit and shade for others. Out of the tree’s health it then demonstrates that health through outer means.
Luther argued that the only work we need as a Christian is to lay aside our works and trust in the work of God in Jesus. As John 6:27, 29 asserts
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’…Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’”
If you don’t catch anything though, catch this: everything is dependent on faith. If you have faith, then you have everything. If you don’t have it, then you have nothing. Putting faith in Christ will lead to life and to all the blessings God promises his people. They will find rest in seas of turmoil and peace in the darkest valleys, for one day Christ will put this world to rights and will wipe away every tear. As Tullian Tchividjian put it recently in a book: Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
“One thing, and one alone, is necessary for life, justification, and Christian liberty; and that is the most holy word of God, the Gospel of Christ, as he says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me shall not die eternally (Jn 11:25),’ and also, ‘If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed (Jn 8:36),’ and, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Mt 6:4).’” -Martin Luther On Christian Liberty
This chapter of the Wisdom Wednesday series on Martin Luther will hopefully clear up some issues that I have wrestled with. Growing up in a church that emphasized the “word” made me feel confused every time I heard it. No one ever explained what that loaded word meant, so I hope Luther will help unpack this for us.
“Word” has a dual meaning within this passage, it can mean the language recorded on the page and it can also mean the Word (Logos, a Greek term that has an eternal meaning to it), of God. Jesus was described in John as the Logos, the Word of God that was given to the world (see John 1).
Words have power
Words have power, they mean something. If you have ever been lied to, or have fallen victim to believing an elaborate tale (only to find out later it was false), you know how broken words can leave you crushed. But please hear, this word of God gives a promise, it promises that if you trust in Jesus, you will have life. If you take hold of God’s word and the offer that Jesus gives to each one of us, then you will be free.
While the word of God (Scripture) is quite an expansive collection of books, Luther would tell his readers that the word of God that we can especially cling to is in the promise of life through Jesus, the incarnate, suffering, risen, and glorified through the Spirit that sanctifies.
Through this Jesus (and the word/Scripture that testifies about him), salvation is brought to all who put their faith in him: For those who confess with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead, then they shall be saved (Romans 10:9).
Faith in God is what will bring salvation, it is not about how hard you try.
How refreshing is it that all we have to do is trust in another instead of working our butt off to earn something?
For Luther, holding on to the promise of God is all that we can do. It is also through this faith that we are free yet servants to all. Freedom rooted in faith leads to a life of service to others.
Walking the streets of San Francisco this week brought to mind this passage from C.S. Lewis. Enjoy!
Excerpt from the essay “The Weight of Glory”
It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbor.
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.
It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics.
There are no ordinary people.
You have never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat.
But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn.
We must play.
But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.
And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment.
Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.
—The Weight of Glory (HarperOne, 2001), pp. 45-46.
For this month, I wanted to introduce an incredible thinker that I’ve recently discovered- John Stott. If you don’t know the British theologian John Stott, then I really hope you get to know him through his work. Quite frankly, Stott is incredible and this month will be centered on his book The Radical Disciple. With that introduction out of the way, let’s get on with the show!
In his book, Stott would write that two marks (among many) of a Radical Disciple are nonconformity and Christlikeness. For followers of Jesus, the first mark is cultivating nonconformity. We are called to live, serve, and witness to the world while also avoiding contamination from it.
The Church has tried to escape from the world many times in the past to preserve holiness, creating little subcultural ghettos. The church also has given up a bit of holiness in order to conform and go along with the world. Stott saw that the church needed to reject both escapism and conformism.
Holiness is a big theme in Scripture. We are called to be holy because God is holy (I Peter 1:15-16), to be transformed instead of conforming to the patterns of the world (Romans 12:2), and to follow Jesus by not acting like hypocrites (Matthew 6:8). Overall, Radical Discipleship in this characteristic is centered on a call to engagement without compromise.
While we engage the world by being present in it, we must also affirm the uniqueness of Christ. Jesus has no rivals nor successors and we should bear witness to this belief with a spirit of humility. Radical Discipleship calls for nonconformity, not “shaking in the wind like reeds or grass, bowing down before gusts of public opinion.” Instead we are to be as “immovable rocks in a mountain stream.” We are called not to be like a dead fish floating with the current, but to swim against the stream, to stand out visibly in a spirit of humility instead of changing our color like chameleons. We are called to be different, to be like Christ.
A lot of people hear what a Christian should not do, but they do not often hear what a Christian should be. They should become more like Jesus.
Stott unpacked this positive message through three passages calling for Christlikeness.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Romans 8:29
And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. II Cor 3:18
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. I John 3:2
Still not entirely convinced? I John 2:6 puts it even more bluntly: “whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” If we claim to be Christian, then we need to become like Christ, there simply are no other options. Practically, Stott sees Christlikeness in these ways:
In his incarnation– Christians are called to follow his humility Phil 2:5-8
In his service– Christians are called to help others and serve them, even if the task is menial of degrading John 13:14-15
In his love– Christians are called to love others in our lives, even if the love is costly like on Calvary Ephesians 5:2
In his patient endurance– Christians are called to endure, even when suffering comes unjustly.
In his mission– Christians are called to enter other people’s worlds, and to get skin into the game. We go to lost and lonely, for that is Christian love
Though suffering might come and sharing this message of Jesus might be difficult, but the reality is that we are not alone in this. God has graciously given us his Holy Spirit to help us fulfill this purpose in life.
“God’s purpose is to make us like Christ, and God’s way is to fill us with his Holy Spirit.”
To continue this series on who the Holy Spirit is, we will look at how he unifies and sanctifies.
Spirit as our Unifier
One of the strong characteristics of the work of the Holy Spirit is that he unifies followers of Jesus. Let me unpack that.
Theologian Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen points out in his book on the Holy Spirit that the the Spirit is grounded in love. St. Augustine would similarly suggest that the primary presence of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life is that he offers love over knowledge. Augustine got that through John’s description of the Spirit as love in I John 4:7-16. His logic runs like this:
If we love one another, then God abides in us (v12), and since God is love, and he abides in love, then God will abide in them (v16b). We then recognize that we abide in him and he in us, because God has give us his Spirit (v13).
Did you see how Augustine would have concluded that?
If we exhibit love (love, not merely being tolerant), then the Spirit dwells within the person. And it is because the Spirit dwells in the person that they then begin to exhibit love.
As I have mentioned previously, the Spirit acts as a unifying role in the Trinity and with humanity. He is not only the communio (sharing, mutual participation) between Father and Son, but he is also the unifier between Christians and God and also among Christians themselves. He brings peace and connects people to the source of life and also to real community.
Author of Sanctification
Scripture also tells us that he is the author of our sanctification (I Peter 1:2). Please don’t be afraid though at the use of sanctification, it simply means “to be set apart” or “to be made holy.” The Christ follower will be made holy through the redemptive work of Jesus and they are then called to grow in holiness through the Holy Spirit. Eventually, the sanctification will be complete when the woman or man will be made into the image of Christ. Believe me though, it’s a tough road, but the narrow gate will surely lead to life abundant.
Fruit of the Spirit
To wrap this up, Paul reminded the church in Galatia to walk by the Spirit. He warns them that people who live contrary to the Kingdom of God are in fact not in the Kingdom of God. Jealousy, strife, sexual immorality, drunkenness, divisions, envy, fits of anger, and rivalries are only a handful of examples that Paul uses in Galatians 5, but suffice it to say that the follower of Jesus should be different from that list. Those who have the Spirit within them will exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you are in Christ, then these fruits will begin to grow.
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25)
How have you encountered the Spirit as a unifier or sanctifier?