The Runner’s Reward

d12258d8514d9b95e29341dcaaeae1dd
The shallow, fast breaths hint at the difficulty.  The runner’s arms begin to droop as fatigue washes over the body, and the knees falter in their stride, striving to hold up the exhausted body.  A thought of aborting flashes,  “Quit now!”

That runner was me last night.  Running long and hard, I felt weak and the challenge of finishing well seemed impossible.  The race wasn’t just any ordinary race.  Everyone runs this race called Life; but the drive that pushes each one to the finish line is dependent on the desires of the runner.
exhausted-runner-clipart-elmarie-porthouse-orgq0l-clipart
“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…”  Straighten up and run.  Run tough.  Keep going.  The race is known for its continual hardness.  Make the path straight.  Consider how to prevent turned ankles and other injuries. Keep your eyes fixed on the reward.

Do the brutal realities of life make it a race too challenging to win?  Resolve weakens.  Our life is compared to a hard race, so hard, in fact, that many are defeated and lose heart.

Our Father God talks straight to us:  The hardship is necessary.  I do not act as a coach, but I am your Father your who loves you completely.  The training and discipline is given because it is necessary for you to finish well.  You will finish.  You will see victory.

When our Father God allows hardship that requires our exertion and exercises our faith, it is to prevent spiritual flab and to grow our faith. “But he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.  For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10-11).
6_20treadmill20cartoon
During the training, the pain makes us feel weak.  However, endurance yields a greater good.  What is the energizing principle?  Is it pain-free living?  Then suffering will beat you.  We are promised the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Our loving Father wants us to know a peaceful life, so he continues to perfect all that concerns his children, exposing what is weak, and  teaching us the right and good way.  “And the highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it.  It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.”  Our Father guards us with his strong love and protects us.  He has given us everything we need to finish the race.

Grace is God’s benevolence poured out on his children.  There is always more grace for the believer.  “But he gives more grace.  Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’”  More grace.  Always more grace.
grace-2
When you feel overwhelmed…His grace is the higher Rock to securely stand on.
When you feel broken…His grace heals the broken-hearted.
When you feel hopeless…His grace removes the shame through His love poured out on us.
When you feel afraid…His grace gives courage.
When lies have sucked you in…His grace tells the truth and sets you free.

So, today I turn in child-like faith, with trust and dependence, to the Father for help.  His Father’s heart is always for His children.  His grace is always more than our greatest defeat. God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them.  Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live?”  (Hebrews 12:7-9).

So I am reminded of how to run the race.  Endure.  Trust the Father and live in practical obedience.  “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15).
fecc31f7cbe81b81ee854d12b6013d05-1
Why even run?  The great motivator to run this particular race is the reward.  Come on!  Let’s run together!  Fix your eyes firmly on the reward.  And the reward? My eyes longingly gaze on the beautiful face of my Beloved Jesus, who is my soul’s lover and my heart’s greatest reward.  The more I trust him, the more I know of His infinite beauty, the more I need him. His love is strong and enduring; and because he loves me, I love him.  And although I am weak, He is strong and always my ally.

I remember in hope that my beloved Jesus endured exceptional suffering for a greater reward.  What joy gave him the reason to endure the evils of the cross?  You and I were the reason. Because Jesus loved us, he endured losing God His Father so that he might reconcile us back to God.  Jesus endured  suffering to receive us as his reward.  Look to Jesus “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”  (Hebrews 12:2).

Can we not trust a God like this?  Are we not strengthened to run to obtain the prize?  Love has suffered.  Love is now poured out in our hearts.  “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  More than that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:1-5).

Advertisements

The Unraveling of Peace

efbb9__2048
(Photo credit:  Marc Adamus)

God planted a garden.

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. (Genesis 2:8)

Cain built the 1st city on the planet.

Cain also had the distinction of having the very first birthdate in mankind’s history.

Sadly, Cain was also the first criminal having murdered his younger brother in anger.
So this is how it happened that God removed Cain, alienating him from Himself and the earth.  Leaving the presence of God, Cain remained determined and took control on his own terms.  Doomed to be forever restless and experience frustration and futility, Cain discovered being separated from God mattered in ways that he could have never imagined.  It began an unraveling of peace.  option2
Cain remained forever on the outside of things and continually wrestled with his own insecurity.  So, in response, Cain built a city, constructing his own alternative reality, as a way to run from the curse.  In truth, it was a denial of God and His spoken Word.  Attempting self-salvation, to satisfy those gnawing longings of the soul, Cain sought to create his own enduring greatness in his own prideful way.  Blaspheming the things he did not understand, Cain abandoned himself to destruction.Pride is a battle that never ceases, and the heart is the bloody battlefield.  From the dawn of time, the story of human pride has marched defiantly through the corridors of history leaving the refuse of destruction and the unraveling of society.
pride_quotes1
Yet, there is hope.  God’s plans are not last-minute attempts but an ancient, long-established, settled victory.  Incredibly, God takes the very symbol of our rejection of him-a city built on pride- and redeems it, declaring, “You shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Isaiah 1:26). 

What is the cost of Shalom?

God paid an unimaginable price to reconcile us back to Himself.  Even while we were without hope and alienated from the life of God, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13). he-has-now-reconciled-in All of sin’s curse and punishment is taken once for all by His Son Jesus on the cross.  The God we have rejected offers us redemption.   “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth.” (Isaiah 25:8).

No longer outcasts, God keeps us in His peace and gives to us a song of praise: “We have a strong city; He sets up salvation as walls & bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
(Is. 26:1-3).
d593043a4952fa340ddeba699395999e

Travel Light

winter-trees
Travel light with eyes bright
The King’s beauty on display
Let me not be taken away
With longings for lesser glory
At best a temporal story
Wasting my life by wishing for
That which has no Life or Light

Dreaming with a Bigger Lens

vangogh-stars-quote1           (PC:  Rebecca Barray)

Dreams are often wishes unfulfilled.  Our longings take concrete shape as our minds explore endless ways to create what our visions for justice, push for discovery and desires for beauty beg for.  Made in the reflection of the infinite, God wires us with aptitudes and investigative minds able to innovate, design, build, create, examine, explore and solve; and it would seem humanity is a tireless and thrilling resource for more of whatever our restless mind can imagine.  Because dreams are not easily navigated, the formidable limitations that hold us back, whether our own inabilities or weaknesses, or the less controllable ones like being born in the wrong century or the wrong neighborhood, can kill our dreams.   As poor, destitute Fantine would sing, “But the tigers come at night, With their voices soft as thunder, As they tear your hope apart, As they turn your dream to shame.”  Dreams often remind us of what we are not.

Dreams were never meant to define us.  All people everywhere are defined by their relationship to God.  Because we were intended for oneness with God, God is to be central in all things; and the inspiration of our dreams must be motivated by the realization that our longings will only find a satisfying reality when they are in correct alignment to Him .  Hundreds of years ago, the apostle Paul spoke in the meeting of the Aeropagus in Athens saying, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”  The reality of whatever we are hoping for is made a real hope in the resurrection of Christ, the glorious central figure in all of reality.

Another interesting aspect about dreams and hopes are how they shift and morph along the sands of time.  What you dreamed about as a kid probably is not your current big dream.  slide_442010_5844780_freeSimilarly, as our culture has shifted its focus on what matters most, we discover  it is reflected in our own aspirations.  Dr. Tim Keller states, “In ancient cultures what mattered most was honor and making your community proud by fulfilling your duty. The world was conceived as a testing ground to see whether you would be faithful to truth, beauty, and causes higher than your own emotions and interests.  Today, however, our cultures are highly individualistic. There is no duty higher than plumbing the depths of your own desires to find out who you want to be. In modern narratives, the protagonist is usually a person who bravely casts off convention, breaks the rules, defies tradition and authority to discover him or her self and carve out a new place in the world. In ancient tales the hero was the person who did just the opposite, who put aside inner dreams, aspirations, doubts, and feelings in order to bravely and loyally fulfill their vows and obligations.”  So it is that our lofty goals often mirror our world’s changing reflections.  (PC:  Rhiannon Logsdon)

The coming of Jesus brings hopes to our dreams.  What do you dream about?  What keeps you up at night pondering and planning?  Each part of our life is to be laid in submission to the King’s command, and yet the eagerness of the King is for his people’s eternal joy.  Do we dare to place our susceptible aspirations and most secret, heartfelt longings into the hands of the one who breathed life into us, offers rescue from our sinful destitution, and assures that in Himself is life full of love and acceptance?  Is it hard?  Are we afraid of disappointment? The beloved preacher Charles Spurgeon said, “If you reject Him, He answers you with tears. If you wound Him, He bleeds out cleansing, if you kill Him, he dies to redeem. If you bury Him, He rises again to bring us resurrection. Jesus is love manifest.”  In an individualized society, do we dare to turn over our dreams?

Jesus offers an alternate way of living human.  Jesus asks us to have the same mindset that compelled him to completely empty Himself and become a human.  Though completely equal with God, Jesus did not grasp after it.  Though a king, he became a servant of all. manger2013 Jesus deliberately gave up the biggest, living dream ever, lost it all, in order to gain something greater–the redemption of his people.  Now Jesus tells his followers to do the same, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” The Word became flesh and lived right here among us, and we saw his grace and glory.  This glory is life overflowing, and it spills over onto us to give us what we need; grace and truth is spilled out, ever-present, ever-holding on to us, overflowing like a river in us, giving us grace, over and over, grace upon grace.  828fdc9db1c33ecb221f6a7dc7bed7c5

Jesus also provides us with a new filter for the longings of our heart.  Jesus leaves us with His Spirit, the power of the crucified and resurrected Christ.  The Lord tells us that we may ask anything in His name, and He assures us that He will do it with every desire and every dream processed through that precious name for the glory of God.  We ask for His fame, not ours.  Our desires and dreams are put through that filter–His fame, His worth, His wisdom, His honor, His glory.   And we find that our dreams were never really big enough, our lens were too small to capture the story of glory that is now ours through Christ.