Walk with Christ

The Red or Blue Pill… Entering Narnia

I woke up to a new reality today.  Nothing earth shattering.  Nothing that will make headline news.  Just a certain awareness and an inescapable readiness to choose to enter the wardrobe and see what lies beyond… to choose the red pill.  What is it that awaits?  An adventure beyond my wildest imagination.

Lucy - ChroniclesOfNarnia

I love stories.  As a child, I used to read those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen if I chose one option over the other.  As a computer programmer by trade, my earliest memories was of writing a Quick Basic “Choose Your Own Adventure” style program on a Mattel Aquarius computer.  Movies always affect me too.  The Narnia books are a great example (if you haven’t read them all, I HIGHLY recommend it).  As Lucy stands before the wardrobe doors and decides to enter in, she is entering in to the adventure that awaits her.  I was stunned after I saw The Matrix back in 1999.  Watching Thomas Anderson (played by Keanu Reeves) come to a sudden awareness that the world is not as it seems, and there is more going on than he ever realized (but that he always suspected).  And suddenly Thomas Anderson gets a new name:  Neo.  So many powerful stories happening that spoke to me in my own personal and spiritual journey.  It awakened curiosity and desire in me to seek truth… to do great things.  And yet…

So often, I choose to close the wardrobe doors.  I choose the blue pill, remaining in the blissful ignorance of the illusion of my life of comfort as I go about my life.  I imagine what comes if I choose the life of adventure, and my heart begins to sink.  I imagine all the past failures, the obstacles that await me, all the worst fears it awakens in my heart, and I simply turn away.  In The Matrix, Morpheus, the underground resistance leader who offers Neo the choice of facing reality or remaining blissfully ignorant says:

You have to understand that many people are not ready to be unplugged, and many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

That’s me!  I don’t just choose, but I fight to protect my blissful ignorance.  Sometimes by escaping to my closest habitual comforts.  Sometimes by burying myself in work or some other important, but ultimately not eternity-changing, tasks.

And then there are days where I REALLY want adventure.  I get caught up in the intoxicating feeling of thinking about what the adventure will bring.  And I start thinking about what I need to do to bring that adventure to reality in my life.

Neither approach is the path I believe God has carved out for me.  I was thinking about this as I read an excerpt of John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance (emphasis mine):

We are faced with a decision that grows with urgency each passing day: Will we leave our small stories behind and venture forth to follow our Beloved into the Sacred Romance? The choice to become a pilgrim of the heart can happen any day and we can begin our journey from any place. We are here, the time is now, and the Romance is always unfolding. The choice before us is not to make it happen. As G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.” Lucy wasn’t looking for Narnia when she found it on the other side of the wardrobe; in a way, it found her. Abraham wasn’t wandering about looking for the one true God; he showed up with an extraordinary invitation. But having had their encounters, both could have chosen otherwise. Lucy could have shut the wardrobe door and never mentioned what had happened there. Abraham could have opted for life in Haran. The choice before us is a choice to enter in.

Today, I am going to choose the life of adventure that God has planned for me, and accept those challenges and difficulties that come as part of that as the training God needs me to go through to continue.  This is difficult.  I have to fight to take back that which has held sway over my heart for so long.  I have to fight to see the greater reality of the desire of my heart to pursue God and His adventure in my life.  What will you choose today?

Hello 2014, My Name Is…

So, I’m working through a goal-setting course this week in preparation for accomplishing EVERYTHING I always wanted to accomplish.  Hah!  Yeah… right.  Again, the fear side of me says that this will be like any other year, and the “real me” will come out at some point and wreck the whole thing.  He’ll has his whole merry band of friends with him.  Fear, Sloth…  even Approval-Seeker will be there.  Of course, my favorites, Self-Condemner.  Yes, they’ll all be there.  Of course, they’ll throw a big “Breaking Bad” party and remind me that I’ll never move past these hurdles in my life.  I may as well go back to the bad habits and addictive behaviors that have dragged me down for so long.  That I shouldn’t waste my effort with goal-setting or pursuit of something greater.  I’ll never be the Warrior for Christ I long to be.  I’ll never be the Prince my wife wishes I were.  I’ll never be the Fearless Leader my kids need to help them navigate this world.  And I’ll never be the Successful Leader my company is waiting for me to become.

Yes, these are the voices in my head that tell me who I am… Reminds me of that song by Matthew West, “Hello My Name Is“.  Oh, how I relate to these lyrics.  And THAT is what I’m going to cling to and remind myself of every day of 2014 (or at least every day I remember – Hey… I’m not perfect).  When I start to hear those lies that so easily get into my head, this year I’m going to do something different.  I’m going to speak the truth to myself.  I’m going to remind myself who I am in Christ.

whoIaminChrist

(Special thanks to Pam for her blog from which I borrowed this image.  This is a great article on the topic of Who I Am In Christ.)

In conjunction with this, I am thinking about a “theme verse” for 2014.  Now, to sum up my life for the next 365 days with one or more verses seems next to impossible.  That’s not my aim.  It is more to give a direction… a compass needle of sorts… so that I can be reminded of what God may be doing in me this year.  Have you ever had one of those moments when you read something… a line in a book, a quote in an e-mail, or even a line out of a movie?  And you read or hear it, and it stands out to you with such clarity that you just have to stop and re-read (or re-hear) to make sure you get it.  That is what happened with me last night reading 2 Corinthians 4.  I started by looking at verse 7, as God put the thought of “treasures in jars of clay” in my mind.  But I ended up reading the entire chapter, and what stuck out to me is this truth:

I must not lose heart.  Many things around me will lead me to believe failure is inevitable and that this world is filled with sadness and disappointment.  For what I cannot see that is going on far outweighs what I do see.  So, I should look to the “unseen” (God’s activity). 

This is all coming from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  So, I think I’ll land on that with my 2014 verses.

What things do you need to remind yourself of this year?  What will be the theme of your year?  Though we could never predict what will happen, we can certainly dedicate ourselves to living our lives in such a way that whatever comes, we can withstand it with grace and courage.

I Want To Meet Jesus

When I was a kid, I used to dream about meeting my favorite celebrity in person.  This could have been a professional athlete, a TV or movie star… shoot, even a local newscaster seemed celebrity enough to me.  I would think about being like that person.  Oh to meet John Schneider or Tom Wopat (HUGE Dukes of Hazzard fan – so, yes, to have met Catherine Bach would have been pretty AWESOME).  Or Erik Estrada from CHIPS.  More recently, I remember sitting in a Shoney’s while I was in college, and I look over and see John Schlitt from Petra.  I was star-struck.  I loved Petra in college.  Their brand of Christian “rock” fueled the tiny engine of faith I had during those college years as a young Christian.

What was it about these people that seemed larger than life?  What kept me so fixated on meeting them during those year?  I found myself pondering that question this week as I reflected on a recent message our pastor gave entitled Meeting Jesus.  I was moved during this message on a very familiar passage, John 1:35-51, Jesus’ calling of His disciples.  Each one: Andrew and an unnamed disciple, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel, all had a unique, divinely-appointed encounter with Jesus.  They met Jesus!  I want to meet Jesus.

Now, the cynic in me says I’ll hear the following responses:

The Non-Christian: “Meet Jesus?  He is a man who supposedly lived 2,000 years ago and is dead now.  You say you want to meet Jesus?  That’s crazy.”

The Christian: “Meet Jesus?  You already met Him when you accepted Him as your Lord and Savior.  There is no need to meet Jesus again.”

I disagree with both.  Here is what I saw on Sunday that just makes me want to know Christ more and more.  Jesus came to be met.  To be known.  For us to encounter Him in the way we might encounter a celebrity, where we are so enthralled with the “glory” their lives represent that we just want to be near Him.  To follow Him wherever He goes.

Have you ever been at a party and there is that one person that everyone loves being around?  You know, every story they tell is followed by raucous laughter.  Every time they moved to a room, they are followed by a crowd of people.  They stand out. They are attractive.  You just want to be near them.

Oh, how much more the Son of God, the man known as Jesus Christ, deserves my attention, adoration, affection, and my time.  So, how do I meet Jesus?  What does this mean differently in my life:

1. I look at what I’m seeking for contentment in my life, and as I approach Jesus I do so seeking to be with Him rather than get something from Him.  It is there that we meet Jesus.

2. Go…  Go seek Him!  Go after Him.  It won’t be perfect, but get going with it.  Make time to seek, listen, and learn from Him.

3. Follow Him.  Meeting Jesus should shape my life.  It should cause me to look at my life and see the need to give up something… control, idols, fear, need for affirmation and approval… give it up because Jesus offers so much more.

4. Trust and know that He will change us.  We all have areas we want changed.  God knows I have many areas.  Just as Jesus looked at Simon and told him “your name will be Cephas (Peter)”, Jesus looks on us and tells us we are not who we think we are.  We are becoming something much better.

I think this is what is meant with Hebrews 12:2

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

How have you met Jesus?  What ways is Jesus shaping your life?  Share your story.  Tell the world.  He’s worth it. 

Stiff-arming God

I really enjoy watching football.  I can tell myself on a Sunday afternoon that I have a number of other things to do, and like a moth to a flame, if that TV is on with football, I’ll stand there in one spot for 30 minutes watching without moving.  The sheer force of will and strength these guys show, week in and week out, is something to behold.  I think one of the greatest displays of this strength is the stiff-arm.  Most reading this will know what a stiff-arm is.  But for the benefit of those that don’t, a stiff-arm is when a runner who has the ball is about to be tackled. The would-be tackler is starting to wrap his arms around the runner, when suddenly the runner extends his arm with full strength straight into the facemask (or neck) area of the defender.  The defender seeks to keep his grip on the runner after the initial devastating blow to his head, and meanwhile, the runner continues pushing into the defender’s helmet, further contorting his neck and head, in what has become a severely disfigured looking posture.  One of the best I’ve seen is this shot of LaDanian Tomlinson administering a pretty brutal stiff-arm.
tomlinson_stiffarm
So, I found it intriguing Sunday when our pastor began talking about how we sometimes “stiff-arm” God.  That is an immediate word picture for me and helps me get what my pastor is saying.  Later that day I heard a message on Desiring God from John Piper where he too spoke of stiff-arming God.  OK… 2 times… I think God is trying to get my attention!  Now, removing those images of football players dropping guys like flies to the ground with their stiff-arms, I start to wonder… what does it mean that I stiff-arm God?  Clearly, I cannot apply some kind of force to make God go away from me.  I am not more powerful and more wise than God that I can somehow keep Him from doing something.  No, I think it is when, over a series of choices, priorities, and idols, little-by-little, I push God away from that innermost part of my life… you know… that most vulnerable part of you that feels pain, sadness, joy, ecstasy, delight, desire, anger.  It is that part of me which fears God coming close to me because of who and what He’ll see.  Not wanting God to see the “inside of the cup,” which would reveal all manner of sin and idolatry.  So, I push Him away.
Now, picture for a moment a small child… maybe a 2-year old… running down a football field and suddenly a large, athletic football player like this guy below comes running up to tackle this 2-year old and suddenly from out of nowhere, the 2-year old stiff-arms the would-be tackler and drops him to the ground.
gholston-bigguy
Seems absurd, doesn’t it?  Of course!  And this is not the way of God.  Like this large fellow with the 2-year old, God could easily force me into submission, if He chose.  But He doesn’t.  God is interested in our heart, not our blind, loyal, resentful obedience.  He wants me to know and love Him.  He wants me to desire Him above all other things of this world.  So, when I stick my “arm” out to prevent God from interfering with my life, something peculiar happens.  He sometimes lets me experience my intended result.  But my “stiff-arm” has a sort of “Corsican brother” affect, where the only one I end up stiff-arming… is myself.  I experience the pain and agony of that loss of “felt” closeness to God.  I feel the longing in my heart that there must be something greater meant for this life.  So when I finally drop my stiff-arm, God reveals a wonderful promise to me:
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 
God is continuing to work in me, shaping me to be made into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. So, about the only stiff-arming I can do is to stubbornly attempt to refuse the love God has poured out on me so lavishly through Jesus.  And He will make it miserable for me during that time.  For His commitment to me is to keep me in His grip.  To “not let one of them fall”.  For that, I am ever grateful.  And it makes me fall in love more and more with Jesus each day.
In case that first stiff-arm picture was not enough for you, enjoy this youtube video shows a compilation of NFL stiff-arms.  There are a bunch of these out there.  I picked one.  Good stuff.

A Love Affair With Christ

I feel a little… risky… as I write this post.  But I feel compelled to write it.  I guess it is the curse of reading John Eldredge and John Piper.  Both characterize our relationship with Christ as a love affair, as a pursuit… even a hedonistic pursuit of all things Christ.
My deepest longing in life is…  you might think I would say “is to know Christ.”  Had I began with “I want my deepest longing…”, then maybe.  I wish it were so.  But instead, my deepest longing is for significance.  I want my life to count for something, and I want to be noticed.  There you go.  I want to be noticed, affirmed, validated, told I’m special, and in general, to have my life show that it counts for something.
When I think deeper about my longing for significance, it is really a longing to be known.  It is masked in my sin to be noticed and recognized and… well, to have a good reputation.  But I believe it is definitely a deeper longing to be known.
I also know that what God desires is obedience.
Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  Romans 6:16
 But is that all God desires?  To be obeyed?  To follow a set of rules?  Or does God also desire something greater of us.  Does God desire to be known?  I was looking at a familiar passage, but until I read the New Living Translation, I did not see it in the proper light:
I want you to show love,
    not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know me
    more than I want burnt offerings.
God does want to be known!  I want to be known!  And it is no coincidence that sexual union between a man and his wife is described as being “known in the Biblical sense.”  To know God and to be known by God in the way that God intended is the most scandalous, beautiful, and satisfying love affair one can ever have.  Think about it.  If I loved and knew God the way I was made to (go read Song of Solomon 5 and see if you don’t blush a little bit), how scandalous this would be!  The world is constantly telling us to have love affairs with the things of this world.  People, material possessions, fame and success.  What I’m saying is that this Christian life is to be lived not as a set of rules, but as a love affair with the living God!
We are the bride of Christ.  One day, the marriage and consummation will happen:
Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
May we see our walk with Christ, our relationship with the living God, our enjoyment and obedience of the Holy Spirit not as a set of rules and obligations, but as a deep love affair that we will enjoy in the fullest sense one day in eternity!