Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rules of the Game

The Olympics were on tonight at my house. Just before I turned off the TV for the night, Bob Costas reported on speed skater Sven Kramer. He skated 25 laps in record time, the race of his life. Yet he walked away without a medal. He was disqualified because at the last minute his confused coach accidentally directed him into the wrong lane. Even though he posted the fastest time of all, by 4 seconds, and finished believing he'd won the gold medal, he had made the wrong lane choice, consequently breaking one of the basic rules. There was no do-over. There were no second chances.

After I heard this story, I thought of the terrible pain caused by well-meaning yet wrong advice from his coach. I thought of the agony they both were feeling, having made such a costly mistake. Sven acknowledged that though his coach was wrong, it was ultimately his own choice which lane to pick, and he had picked the wrong one.

While watching these competitions, it can start to feel like winning an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate in life. It is, after all, the culmination of years of hard work, training, sacrifice, and mental/physical conditioning. To be a champion among champions is no small feat. However, it's sometimes easy to forget that there is a finish line that is far more significant than that of a Vancouver ice rink.

As we run this race of life, we make choices all along the way - what to live for, what to believe in, and what is worth dying for. These choices are so important because we only get one race - one chance to pick our lane that will take us to the finish line. If we make the wrong choice, it could cost us eternity. Finding the truth and figuring out who to trust can be tricky at times. We can sometimes trust good-sounding advice from people we love, like Sven did, but that can ultimately lead us astray. Well-meaning doesn't equate with truth.

The truth clearly set forth by Jesus of Nazareth is that he is the only way to God the Father in Heaven. Claiming to be the only way to heaven is a bold statement. Many consider it too bold and radical. It sounds intolerant and narrow-minded. After all, couldn't there be other ways to heaven?

The bottom line is that God makes up the rules of the game, not us. He made this earth, this universe, the sun and the stars. As the author of life, he carefully forms each human being, knitting together our DNA, giving us the free will to choose him or choose our own ways. We don't have the right to call the shots. Only he does.

Still, how can we trust that Jesus wasn't just some Jewish teacher who lead a great life and made some audacious claims in the process? Why stake my eternal life on this particular man?

Aside from perfectly fulfilling ancient prophecy, living a consistent and sinless life, and performing countless miracles, Jesus backed up his claim as Savior unlike any other religious figure in all of history. He predicted that he would be executed and then would defeat death itself. He promised to come back to life. And he did just that. His resurrection and empty tomb were unstoppable proof of his identity: Jesus is the Son of God. He appeared repeatedly in a resurrected body not only to the disciples but also to over 500 other witnesses.

Saul of Tarsus, an educated Jewish Pharisee, was fiercely opposed to the message that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah and zealously went on a mission to persecute all believers - until he became one himself. Seeing the resurrected Jesus transformed him to the point where he became a new man. Renamed Paul, he wrote much of the New Testament and then went on to dedicate his life, suffering great hardship, to tell all people the good news of how to be saved.

That's Paul's testimony of Jesus. My own testimony is woven into this blog. I have experienced challenges as small in life as not making the junior high volleyball team (twice) when my best friend did, to catastrophes as great as losing my home, possessions, and health due to toxic mold. I have endured mysterious symptoms that eventually left me disabled, misunderstood, and chronically ill. I have walked through losing a career that I fought hard to achieve. I have felt the brutal sting of a father's cruel words, betrayal, and eventual rejection. I've seen first-hand the ravages of dementia and strokes as well as heart and kidney disease in my grandparents, losing them piece by piece over many years. I have also been a victim of crime. All this and more, yet through Christ I have always had a solid Rock on which to stand. Through him, I have been empowered to overcome things that seemed insurmountable, to endure what seemed unendurable, to achieve what seemed impossible, and in Him I will continue to trust all the days of my life. He has proven himself faithful and real to me, not because he removed my pain, but because he has seen me through it.

If there is a choice you can make in life that will make your eternity safe and secure, wouldn't you want to make it? If you could win the ultimate salvation - that of your very soul - simply by following the right path, wouldn't you want to begin today?

Investigate for yourself the veracity of the words of Jesus. Sincerely ask God to show you the truth. Jesus claims to be "the way, the truth, and the life." He proved his power and authority by conquering death itself. He continues to prove himself through the miracles of changed lives. In this race, where the stakes are so high, ultimate victory comes only by being in his lane.

Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
1 Corinthians 9:25
*Photo from

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Want to Be a Huge Tool (for God)

I am still chuckling to myself as I start to write this.

Where to begin?

Yesterday I was trying to figure out "what to do" about Lent. I love Lent. It's really a special time to reflect on God, to think about what Jesus did by going to the cross, and to look forward to the resurrection.

Having grown up in an evangelical/non-denominational upbringing, I never felt *compelled* to give something up for Lent, but as I've gotten older, I see that sometimes it can be good to temporarily abstain from worldly things that have a hold on my thinking or take up too much of my time. Last year, I gave up Facebook for Lent. It was dominating my time, and it wasn't a healthy fascination. I was using it as a means of escape and often to fuel unhealthy curiosity. It was the first place I'd sign in, and it usually preoccupied me throughout the day - through playing Scrabble, leaving notes, browsing pictures, and reading messages - often to the exclusion of reading the Bible.

The whole Facebook fast went really well. I not only succeeded in enduring withdrawal (they should make detox clinics for it), but I also formed a really healthy habit of not signing into my computer at all until I've spent time with God.

So this year, I was debating. Do I give something up? I don't want to get into a meaningless ritual or legalistic pattern here - especially since Jesus never specifically commanded a Lenten sacrifice in the first place. However, I do want to grow closer to God, to be used by him, and to deepen my walk with him.

So I prayed about what I should do.

Boy, did I get ideas!

The first thing I did was read about Lent. I found a link to a Lent calendar online. It gives a famous quote each day as well as something to fast, something to pray, and something to give. Neat idea!

The second idea came from my mom over lunch. She said, "How about you choose one person to pray for each day of Lent and devote that day to interceding for them?" Not only was that a great idea, but I had already been praying for a friend yesterday who sent me an email prayer request that morning.

The last thing that happened was a series of events, so bear with me as I tell the story:

I ran into someone at Bible study last night whom I'd not seen in many years. I knew her back in my "old life," before chronic illness had disabled me, before my life sort of fell apart. It was emotionally quite a challenge for me. I saw in her a symbol of where I want to be in life right now, where I could have been had I not had these very difficult circumstances to cope with.

The topic of the study was "the names of God" and his characteristics, primarily seeing how they are displayed through the psalms. We examined the psalms and found verses that revealed certain aspects of God's character as a way to learn more about him.

The one name of God that struck me the most was El Roi, which means our "God who sees." I thought last night about how God sees everything that happens. So often I'm tempted to feel like God has forgotten about me. He's blessed others, but he's kept me in darkness. Does he really see when people hurt me? Does he see all I've lost? Will he ever make these wrongs right again? El Roi promises me that he does see it all, and he will make wrongs right in his time. I am also promised that he sees me at my worst and loves me anyway. There are no surprises to God. One day he isn't going to suddenly find out my sour attitude about suffering and say, "Well, you're not who I thought you were after all." No, he knows me inside and out, and he still loves me, to the point where he died to save me.

So, as Bible study closed, we were encouraged to meditate on the names of God. I realized that the third thing I could do for Lent was to study God's names, to learn more about his character and his faithfulness. I even own a set of teaching CDs that will help me do just that.

Today, after my time in the Bible, I began poking around on Facebook. And yes, I may have possibly looked for the girl I'd run into the night before. I may have looked at pictures from a couple of people I used to know back then. And I just might possibly have been feeling sorry for myself that I wasn't in those pictures with them living that kind of life. Just maybe.

Finally, after I'd taken in the wedding shots, the special event pictures, and read the profile info, I felt thoroughly discouraged that everyone else's life seemed easier than mine. After I logged out, I decided to check out the quote of the day on the Lent calendar for February 18.

Here it is, from Mother Teresa herself:

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” — Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

I was laughing out loud after I read that! A message of hope and laughter from God right when I needed it most. Then I read the Fast, Pray, Give part:

Fast from self-pity and complaining.

Pray for God’s help in handling something difficult in your life.

Give a kind word to someone who lacks confidence.

What a wonderful way to change my perspective and get my focus back where it should be! So here I am to pass the encouragement along to you. I want to give you a kind word that you are not alone, that God sees what you are going through. The great El Roi will make things right in his good time, and if you are ever tempted to envy the lives of others, remember that he sees, he knows, and he will do right by those who wait on, trust in, and rely upon him.

I think this is going to be a very good Lent.

The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry.
Psalm 34:15

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Lifter of My Head

I learned about a new game recently called "Ingenious." The play is fairly simple. There are tiles that look a lot like dominoes with different colors on each end. You earn points in each color by connecting them together on the table. Simple enough, right? The catch is that your lowest total color is your final score. You are only as strong as your weakest score.

I'm learning that the same concept is true when our faith is tested. I've been having some very discouraging days lately, and the discouragement is made even worse because I'm already feeling weak. It seems to snowball - I feel sick physically; I encounter trying situations emotionally; I think thoughts negatively. I have so much more trouble maintaining my faith when I feel sick and frustrated. My fuse is short, my tears are on the surface, and setbacks and challenges take on monumental significance. I told my friend recently that I felt like I was completely out of gas - without the resources to keep going in the face of adversity.

King David felt the same way. In my study of the Psalms, I came across Psalm 3 and read the backstory of what David was going through when he wrote it. David's son Absalom was staging a take-over of the kingdom. Absalom had networked and plotted and gathered enough supporters so that he was in position to march into Jerusalem to take down his father completely. What heartbreak - to not only have such a cunning enemy, but to have it be a family member. David was fleeing from his son, and on this journey with covered head and bare feet, he mourned. He had even lost his trusted adviser to his son's treachery, just piling on added feelings of betrayal.

I read this account of David's discouragement in 2 Samuel 15-18 with fresh eyes. I related to the feelings of betrayal, having suffered similarly with my own father. I related to the discouragement, the hopelessness. God had once been clearly with David and prospered him, and now he was at one of his weakest points - fleeing the capital, afraid for his life.

This is all bad enough, but on the way, David ran into a man named Shimei who, because of his relation to the previous king Saul, decided to "rub salt into the wound" by cursing and taunting David and his followers as they walked along.

And he threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David, and all the people and all the mighty men were on his right hand and on his left. And Shimei said as he cursed, "Get out, get out, you man of blood, you worthless man!"

When I read that, it was like a light bulb went on in my head. Though I am not audibly taunted by a human being, so often my discouragement leads to thoughts of worthlessness and memories of past sins. When we try to follow God, it's guaranteed that opposition will come. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6 that we are in a spiritual battle. I don't think any of us really need to be told - we can feel the inner toll that fear, anxiety, and discouragement take. It's not hard to figure out that we have an enemy of our souls - one who would like nothing more than for us to give up and quit. And when does that enemy choose to attack us? When any war general would - when we are at our weakest.

So as Shimei mocks on, back in Jerusalem, Absalom is getting advice about how to finish his father off. The adviser who betrayed David told Absalom the best strategy for winning:

"I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged and throw him into a panic, and all the people who are with him will flee."

Another assault is planned for when David is weak - this one intent on scaring off his companions. When we are alone in adversity, we are easy targets.

As I read the kind of explicit plots of the enemy against David, it gives me insight into my own spiritual warfare. I see how David's faith was tested by multiple assaults all at once. He could have easily given in and laid down thinking God had abandoned him. He had lost friends, security, and hope. He was attacked, taunted, pursued, and betrayed when he was down. But God had other plans.

Psalm 3 hints at the victory that was yet to come for David.

When we follow God, we automatically have an enemy. He will whisper to us that we are worthless. He will remind us of those who have left us and turned on us. He will point out how hopeless our situation appears. He will even lift up our past sins to try to remind us of how utterly undeserving we are of God's love and help. But just like the game of Ingenious, we are only as strong as our weakest moments of faith. When David feared, he chose to confess his trust in God to sustain him; God responded by giving him security and help. I learn from David that I must do the same. God is my glory and the lifter of my discouraged head.

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill.
Psalm 3:3-4

If you are discouraged, check out this video of The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir singing Psalm 3 (Thou, O Lord). I can't help but be moved to continue on when I hear God's promises sung like this!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I've been studying the psalms, and in Psalm 90:1-2, Moses writes:

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God."

These verses kept reminding me of the song "From the Inside Out" by Hillsong, and I felt refreshed by the praise, so I thought I would share. No matter what you are facing today, remember that He who existed before the earth and who created the world loves you and longs for you. What security we have resting in the arms of the Eternal One. He is bigger than all our storms.