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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Games 2-17-2010

Skiers fly through the wind like birds landing lightly on the snow; lugers plunge down the chute at 90 mph in a death defying dive; skaters slice through the ice and downhill skiers carve moguls on the mountain. The Vancouver Olympics stir memories: the magnificence of the mountains, the silence of the snow, the rush of the wind. (I started snow skiing in 1978, broke my leg in March of 1992 while skiing with my son and skied again before the year was out.)

But it is more than the majesty of the mountains and the beauty of the sport. I am captivated by the personal stories. In the classic words from Wide World of Sports, it is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” It is the tragic story of Nodar Kumaritashvili’s fatal crash on the luge the day before opening ceremonies or Lindsey Vonn’s struggle to overcome a bruised leg and win gold in the downhill.

The Winter Olympics remind us of Dan Jansen skating for gold moments after his sister died only to crash into the wall on the final turn. Who can forget the image of Jansen sitting forlorn on the ice? Four years later he returned to capture the top medal and carried his one-year-old daughter on a victory lap in memory of his sister.

Two thousand years ago the Apostle Paul used Olympic metaphors to help us understand faith. He wrote, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

The race is different for each of us. Our challenges are unique. But we all have a race to run, a challenge to face. No one has the luxury of sitting on the sidelines as a spectator. Faith requires discipline, determination, perseverance and sacrifice. The good news is that we don’t have to face our challenges alone. We are surrounded by those who have gone before who cheer us on through our discouragements and defeats. We have One who has run the race and shown us the way. We have One who enters the race alongside us, pacing us and spurring us on to the finish.

The author of Hebrews writes, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

White Space 2-10-2010

For most of us, life starts out fairly simple. When my wife and I married we could, quite literally, pack all our possessions in the back seat of our car. But along the way, we picked up clutter. The closets and attic overflow. Periodically I move boxes around in the garage so she can get her car in. Stuff seems to multiply to occupy every nook and cranny. It is hard to throw it away. Even what looks like trash is somehow attached to memories. Every scrap of paper, baby shoe and broken toy possesses a part of my life.

The calendar is the same. Business, or “busy-ness,” expands to claim every minute. Many leave the house in the dark, stagger out to the car swigging down a last cup of coffee and maneuver onto the freeways munching a breakfast burrito. Memos, phone calls, meetings and a commute home in rush hour traffic to pick up kids and head off to practice sessions. No wonder we are exhausted.

Christians may be especially vulnerable. Richard Foster wrote, “We are trapped in a rat race, not just of acquiring money, but also of meeting family and business obligations. We pant through an endless series of appointments and duties. This problem is especially acute for those who want to do what is right. With frantic fidelity we respond to all calls to service, distressingly unable to distinguish the voice of Christ from that of human manipulators."

We need white space!

Look at Google. Someone discovered that the greatest impact is made when there is plenty of white space. Google keeps it simple. The iPod and the iPhone do the same. The iPod has one button. The iPhone has none. We need to learn how to live Google lives, with plenty of white space, space in our lives that gives us freedom. We need deliverance from crammed calendars and cluttered closets.

It takes discipline to create white space, room for flexibility and freedom, margins in which to breathe. Some have been surprised in the present economic downturn to discover a newfound freedom by scaling back, ridding themselves of clutter, finding time for family and friends.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and thieves break through and steal …” Jesus knew how to order life with “white space.” He took time to listen to children, to help a desperate woman who risked touching his garment, to heal a paralytic passed over by the crowd. He had time for people, and, when he died, his robe was his only possession. He never punched a time clock. He did not wear a watch. He was never rushed or in a hurry.

It is entirely possible that, with our break neck race to “get somewhere” that we might end up “nowhere.” This might be the reason Jesus said, “… you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” (Luke 10:41). When we simplify our lives with fewer “things” and build “white spaces” in our lives for others we discover life itself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Less Judgment More Jesus 2-3-2010

Ten years ago I met Sharon. Not face to face. In fact, I have never seen her. She worked for a printing company in Illinois that helped publish some of my books. She was great to work with, helping finalize the lay out and look for my books. She did such a good job that she was promoted to a higher position in the company.

I had not heard from Sharon for several years. Recently, knowing that I wrote Christian books, she contacted me. She was going through a difficult divorce, a painful end to a difficult marriage. She was filled with shame and guilt, and moving to the small town in Illinois where she worked. She wanted to find a church that might help her, but she was terrified of the condemnation and rejection she might find. I tried to help her, encouraged her and prayed for her.

She wandered by a local church, liked the looks of it from the outside, and sought a personal visit with the pastor to explain what she was going through. It took courage for her to do that. She was afraid, but she found acceptance and support, and started to attend. A few weeks ago, she joined.

With much weeping, she shared what she was going through with her new found friends in a Bible study class, then, during worship, presented herself for membership in the church. She was surrounded by believers who hugged her and welcomed her. The pastor asked her to say a few words. She told the congregation she was going through a difficult trial. She said, “Then I talked about how worldwide the church is so good about making sure everyone knows John 3:16, which I quoted. I mentioned how that is good, but we need to keep going because John 3:17 says "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." I told them that the world has enough condemnation -- it needs more Jesus.”

Jesus maintained a high bar for marriage. “What God has joined together,” He said, “ let not man put asunder.” But whenever he encountered people who were broken and wounded he always responded with compassion and redemption. When a woman was caught in adultery and thrown at his feet, he challenged her accusers. “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Convicted by their guilt, the crowd melted away. Turning to the woman, Jesus asked, “ Does no one condemn you?” She replied, “No one, Lord.” “Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:3-11).

We need to do all we can to help every marriage survive and thrive. But divorce is a reality in our world. Most, if not all, of our families have been affected by it. We need to embrace and help those whose dreams have been shattered. Like Sharon said, the world needs less judgment and more Jesus.