Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hunger Games

Every wandering eye, every unfaithful thought starts from the same place. Hunger. Emotional and physical needs aren't being met. "Love cups" or "love tanks" aren't filled and a person is left feeling empty and in need.

An affair never starts with the intent of being unfaithful. It starts when someone else, a stranger, a coworker, meets a need that isn't being met at home. Maybe it's listening and relating. Maybe it's paying a long-needed compliment. Maybe it's the physical attraction that goes along with a little flirt. However minor that first step towards cheating may seem, it still ends in the same place.

And it all starts from being hungry.

Throughout the Bible, God relates the unfaithfulness of His people to adultery, giving the image of His relationship to the Israelites as equivalent to that of a man and wife. The New Testament goes further and calls the Church Jesus' bride. And so the temptations above, made strong by hunger are the same.

We hunger because we think our Lord and Savior cannot satisfy. We don't believe His promises. We don't count on Him when times are bad. And so we stop believing that He completely satisfies and we fool ourselves into being hungry for something else.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things
(Psalm 107:8-9)

And we can be unfaithful to our churches for the same reason. Sometimes we hunger because we are not being fed. How long have you been nursing on milk, when you should be eating solid food by now? (Hebrews 5:11-13) And so churches around us are wasting away, starving to death, because no one is being fed.

It is then, in these times, when the pangs of hunger are so overwhelming that any little morsel resembling truth suckers us into consuming whole meals of false teaching. Paul instructs the church in Ephesus how to grow and mature through solid teaching, so that "we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." (Ephesians 4:14)

It's all hunger games. We allow ourselves to wither and starve when we don't feed on God's Word, when we are not trusting in Him.

[H]is delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:2-3)

[B]lessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8)

You don't have to starve when you have nourishment right at your fingertips, when you have a loving God who longs for you to be satisfied. Don't go hungry and fall into the temptation of another. Another lover, another church, or another God.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Take One For the Team

The eleventh chapter of Kyle Idleman's book, Not a Fan almost had me stumped. Though the title of his book relates to a sports meme, he actually doesn't spend that much time talking sports. That's where I come in. But I was struggling coming up with a sports analogy to this chapter's theme of dying to self. Then this weekend, the biggest sports headline (other than March Madness) fell right in my lap.

We all knew Peyton Manning would be looking for greener pastures long before he was officially released. And when I saw the writing on the wall I told my football fanatic friends that "the Denver Broncos should make a serious play to get him." What? After all the Mile High Messiah did last year? Of course! Doesn't it make sense to have your potential franchise quarterback with major technical flaws study under one of the most technically proficient passers in the game? I guess I wasn't the only one who thought so as sports-talk radio and the Internet speculated away all weekend as Peyton Manning met with Hall of Famer, and Broncos exec, John Elway to talk shop. (Let's pretend I actually got this post out on time and Manning hadn't yet met with the Dolphins and Titans)

So what does this have to do with dying to self? Well the consensus in the talk circuit was that someone with such a will to win as Tim Tebow displayed last year wouldn't put up with being a second stringer after all he accomplished last season. (A good example of this opinion is the Denver Post's Mark Kiszla, who knows the Broncos better than just about anybody.) But I think that's where the prognosticators are wrong. If any number-one could take a back seat to a future Hall of Fame quarterback, even if he were to pull a Brett Favre and postpone retirement a dozen times, it's Tebow. That is, if his off field humility matches his on field display of faith. (And based on his many mission trips, hospital visits, and that goofy smile that drives me nuts, I suspect it does)

Would there be a better example of taking one for the team than the NFL's most popular player (according to multiple polls last season) riding pine so that he can get better under the tutelage of one of the all time greats? If that's not dying to oneself, I don't know what is.

But I have a better example: Eric Liddell. If the name isn't familiar, think Chariots of Fire. Yeah, that guy. If you don't remember the two hour long epic and its Christian underpinnings, one of the driving plot lines was Liddell's refusal to participate in the 100 meter dash, his best race, at the 1924 Olympics because that would have required him to compete on a Sunday, the Christian Sabbath (he also didn't run the 4x100 or 4x400 relays for the same reason). Instead he focused his training on winning the 400 meter dash, of which he was a significant underdog. Naturally, he won and set a World Record in the process.

He literally sacrificed his best for the greater glory of God. There was no guarantee he would win the 400. It was unlikely he would even make the finals. And if the race didn't have such a storybook ending, could you imagine the backlash over his religion? Instead Liddell leveraged his new found fame to become a famous preacher and author. Oh wait, no he didn't. Instead he went back to China, where he was born on the mission field, and continued his calling as a missionary. In fact, he didn't rely on his celebrity to keep him out of an internment camp when the Japanese occupied China just prior to World War II. He had opportunity to leave, but refused. And instead of living the life of an celebrity athlete or even a recognizable face in the Christian community, he died humbly from a brain tumor after serving the other missionaries and youth held with him in captivity.

So the fan of Jesus watches the movie and listens to sports-talk radio and might get inspired by the sacrificial act of an athlete. But does that inspiration spur them on to "love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24)? It's unlikely you or I will ever have to face decisions like Tebow or Liddell. But that doesn't mean we don't face forks in the road nearly every day where we must choose whether to live for ourselves or die for Christ. A fan cheers for himself, but the follower sacrifices for others.

I woke up this morning with this song in my head:
Oh the wondrous cross,
Oh the wondrous cross,
Bids me come and die
and find that I
may truly live

Die to live. Take one for the team. Don't just be a fan.

This post continues my series blogging through the book, Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. I encourage you to follow along by clicking on the Not A Fan label to the right. And I urge you to pick up a copy of this book for yourself.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Slave to the Grind

It is common to hear, when an athlete tests positive for performance enhancing drugs, that there was no way it could have been an accident. When competing at such an elite level, these athletes are meticulous in what they ingest into their bodies. My favorite example is when Manny Ramirez tested positive... for a fertility drug used by women! (It masks synthetic testosterone, in case you were wondering) To say he could have taken such a drug by accident is absurd. These athletes depend not only on their skill, but most importantly on their health. If they are out of shape or sickly, their performance suffers and ultimately so does their paycheck.

Ever wonder how movie stars stay so fit and trim? They make enough money to hire personal chefs and personal trainers to ensure their fitness. And their lifestyles afford them the luxury to take as much time as they need to get in shape for that next big role. Like the athlete, their livelihoods depend on their health and appearance.

Simply put, at the superstar level, these people make their bodies their slave.

Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the Corinthians, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 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. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Or without the religious jargon, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. So I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that I will not be disqualified for the prize."

Every detail controlled. Every minute of training accounted for. Every calorie counted. The elite makes his and or her body their slave.

Slave isn't a word we use a lot these days. There's just too much baggage that loads the term. Even New Testament scriptures about slaves obeying their masters get a 20th Century gloss-over to apply to employee-boss relationships. Never mind the fine print that follows, "as if you are serving God, not men." But lets call it what it is. Slavery. Bondage. No rights. No freedom. Slavery.

We are all slaves to something. We might be slaves to our jobs. We might be slaving over housework. We have all been, and may continue to be, slaves to sin. We are slaves to the grind.

But are you a slave to Christ? In the tenth chapter of Kyle Idleman's book Not a Fan, Kyle talks about slavery. Not the whips and chains version. Or the kidnapped and shipped overseas to be sold at auction version. But the slavery where we give up all our rights, all our privileges, and make Jesus Christ our master. He makes the contrast that fans of Jesus never become his slave. They cry out to defend their freedoms: my pastor said this, but I think... our church voted to have... I know the Bible says, but... What we think what we want is more important than what Jesus commands. Oh yeah, and majority rules. The twelve Apostles could have out-voted Jesus anytime, but they functioned like a consensus group.

NO! Jesus' Apostles may not have known what they were getting themselves into, but they knew they were giving up everything. Oh yeah, that's a popular Bible verse: "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:33) Anyone. Everything. Or you cannot. There is no grey area of compromise here. There is no voting. There is no sensitivity to your rights as an individual. No, Jesus is you master and you are his slave.

If you were to give up drinking on the weekends because you were training for a marathon, you would probably be encouraged by your friends. But if you gave up drinking because you are a slave to Jesus, you should expect to be mocked. If you go on a diet at the beginning of the year because losing weight was a New Year's resolution, most would relate and say they're doing the same thing. But fast from something for 40 days to draw closer to God (when it's not prescribed on a church calendar to do so) and few would understand. A friend invites you to an R-rated movie and you turn it down because you can't afford it, your friend would understand. But try and explain to someone that you don't have cable at home because of the filth that permeates every station. Cutting back on expenses because times are tough? Sure, why not? Cutting back on expenses because you give at least 10% of what you earn back to God, and you're part of a legalistic church.

Which of those examples did you relate most to? As you go about your walk with Jesus are you really submitting to him as a slave? Or are you twisting his teaching to suit your wants and needs and making Jesus your slave?

This post continues my series blogging through the book, Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. I encourage you to follow along by clicking on the Not A Fan label to the right. And I urge you to pick up a copy of this book for yourself.