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Archive for the ‘Competition’ Category

“For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:32-33 (NIV)

“How much did you save on Black Friday?”

This question looms large in households throughout American communities as the run up to Christmas begins now in early December.

The Thanksgiving Holiday is held on the fourth Thursday of November in the US. The day after this national day of feasting has been referred to for some years now as “Black Friday.” It’s a day when many people are off work for the extended weekend and major pre-Christmas sales begin.

This year Black Friday began on Thursday evening. Before their turkey dinner was even digested consumerism tightened its stranglehold over many Americans who gladly participated in the mayhem. Pandemonium was created when consumers shopping in certain locations began to attack each other hoping to be the first to escape with “Christmas blessings” in material form.   

My nephew wasn’t alone when he referred to the day as “Black-Eye Friday” on his Facebook page.    

As a product of a consumer society I now have a better understanding of myself, materialism and the number it does on my own soul. I come directly from a culture of people who constantly measure or quantify everything from bank accounts to beauty secrets. I want desperately to know “how much” of just about everything in my life.

“How much is my house worth?”

“How much do I have in the bank?’

“How much fun did I have at the party?”

“How well are my kids doing?”

“How does my marriage measure up?”

Not only do we have arbitrary measures for our own lives and all we possess in comparison to others, but we judge people based on their purchasing power and then feel satisfied and justified when we beat someone else out of a bargain.

Too often our treasure is in the things of this world of ours that can be measured.

A few years ago it gradually began to sink in that God’s Kingdom cannot be measured. The values that should dominate our lives are not measurable, at least by human standards.

Who can quantify eternity?

Who can find any measurement for the eternal God?

What about qualities such as love, kindness, patience?

If we look for it, we can see evidence of God’s grace all around us, but are never able to contain or quantify it. What are the statistics of heaven? Can we even dare to speak in those terms?

God designed His Kingdom to be just that way and Jesus His Son told us so. Somehow in God’s economy, He is the sole Judge of what’s valuable. We are told to seek His Kingdom and His righteousness first and then the material and the measurable will take their rightful place in our lives. 

This presents a problem for a consumer society. It’s been said that the best things in life are free, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the best things in life are immeasurable.

When we get focused on the measurements rather than the eternal value of God and people we lose sight of where true life really exists.  The measurements of the world are not the measurements of Heaven.

Next time you start feeling that you, your spouse, your children, your job, your income or your possessions don’t “measure up” to standards start asking yourself, ”Whose standards am I living by?”

The flow of our culture is to gather and compare and consume. The flow of God’s Kingdom, as embodied in Jesus Christ, is to receive gratefully from Heaven and joyfully give to others out of a heart captivated by love.

This year Black Friday’s values really spoke deeply to me. Or perhaps it’s better to say that true Christmas values spoke louder by way of contrast.

In the Christmas season we reflect on the reality that God sent His Son here to bring us through faith into a Kingdom that cannot be measured. How a consumer-driven society handles an immeasurable truth like that one is an issue that only an Eternal God can address. 

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Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed– not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” – Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)

Seems like summer is a good time to catch up.  We may find that a change of pace in these summer months gives us opportunities to get to things we don’t have time for the other weeks of the year. Perhaps one can take time to kick back and relax especially if one is so blessed with good weather and time to spend with family and friends or perhaps take a vacation or “holiday” as it’s referred to in some places around the English-speaking world.

Personally speaking I can recall not being able to relax at anytime during the course of the summer or  the year.  Several  years ago I was under intense stress that had steadily grown from month to month and year to year.  It became a toxic force in my life and I would not be surprised if others out there are suffering the same malady.

Some of us can be so driven that the thought of relaxing or backing off of a busy schedule is anathema to us. I wonder why that is?

I’ve never been a fast runner, but I have been in a few footraces in my time. I’ve always despised the feeling of seeing all the other guys running past me and not being able to “catch up” regardless of how fast I ran.

One day I stopped running.  I just had to stop and rest because I found myself constantly under pressure in my life and career to catch up with people whom I perceived where running the same race as myself but were far, far ahead of where I was.  In stopping I started assessing. In assessing I found some answers about how I was living that weren’t pleasant, but helped me find answers I really hadn’t been looking for.

In the passage quoted above the Apostle Paul instructs the followers of Jesus to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  I take it that it’s our own salvation we’re meant to be “working out” without comparison to how other followers are performing. I came to realize that I had been running my “race” in comparison to and in competition with others of my choosing instead of in relation to the One I was meant to be worshipping and serving.

For followers of Jesus the only race to be running is the one in partnership with Him, not in competition with other followers.  I think there’s a lot of us that have issues with that.

The Apostle also says in the context, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  I see a clearer picture here that as we focus on our own walk with God He’s the one calling the shots and working in us to accomplish His purposes through our faith and obedience.

I do know that races are won by those who focus on their own plan of action and take their eyes off of the competition, especially during a race. Some races are lost by those who start looking over their shoulder and fearing those coming up behind them.

Maybe this was in the mind of the author to the book of Hebrews who said  “… 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. ” Hebrews 12:1b-2 (NIV)

It was long time before I realized how committed I had been to a plan that wasn’t energized by the Author and Perfecter of my faith. Fortunately, He is at work in all who follow by faith and are willing to lay every burden on His shoulders.

When our focus shifts from the One we’re meant to be following to others in the race, we begin unfair comparisons that skew our perspectives.  There’s no “catching up” with the One who’s in charge. He’s always in the lead and is always meant to be in focus.

Let’s shift our eyes back to the One we’re meant to be following in the first place and enjoy the pace He sets for each of us. The winning prize goes to Him who ultimately set up the race in the first place.

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But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”. – Matthew 5:44-45 (NIV)

This week those of us who have an interest in the sporting world have been inundated with media hype about the Super Bowl, the main sports event in the US calendar year. This year’s game will be played tomorrow, February 3rd in the Superdome in New Orleans between the  San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s been observed by some members of the media that the Baltimore Ravens have a very strong core group of Bible-believing Christians who are very expressive about their personal faith in Jesus Christ. On the opposite side of the field on Sunday the San Francisco 49ers are not disadvantaged in this area. Their second-year starting quarterback sensation, Colin Kaepernick, dons many tattoos on his arms which quote Bible verses and express the identical faith in Jesus shared by many in the sporting world these days.

When the Ravens were victorious over the New England Patriots a couple of weekends ago, Ray Lewis, a team leader for the Ravens was quick to acknowledge God and the role He played in the Raven’s victory. In essence Lewis commented that God would not have brought the team this far and allowed them to lose this major contest. The same team lost to New England last year in the NFC championship.

When it comes to the Super Bowl on this major world stage which team will God support, if either?

Does God have any favorites in the sporting world?  Or a related question is what difference does one’s faith in God have on an athlete or on a team and is it an advantage or disadvantage in competition?

At times, I have found it very difficult in my own life to reconcile the desire “to win” in sports or any competitive endeavor with my Christian faith.  Perhaps we try to re-form God in our own image when it comes to sports and justify our own self-seeking agenda.

If we look solely at the person of Jesus Christ for direction, which would seem logical since many people and sports stars make a claim to follow Him, we might be surprised at the implications of what His life and ministry mean for our passion for winning in sports and life.

One of Jesus’ key teachings to His disciples was  “the first shall be last and the last first.” Stated differently,  God is building a Kingdom of Jesus-followers who will, or should, live by different standards, as empowered by God’s Spirit. Those we think are “on top” by the world’s standards, may in fact come in “last” in terms of God’s Kingdom. In effect, God’s Kingdom, espoused by Jesus is an “upside down” Kingdom compared to most of society’s norms.

We might be shocked to know what God really thinks of what we consider to be our greatest “victories” in life and the lengths we go to in acquiring them.

Jesus also directly taught His disciples to follow His example of humility and grace. They  were known to jockey for highest position among themselves, playing favorites and rivalry games.  Jesus corrective  to them was “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”

In thinking about my own hunger and thirst for victory in life, I have to admit as a follower of Jesus Christ that I believe God is much more interested in developing my character than filling up a trophy cabinet of awards, not that the latter is inherently wrong.

I do admire many of the athletes these days who compete at a high level and acknowledge Jesus Christ as having helped them reach the goals they have set in their area of expertise. In my formative years in America Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys and Bart Starr of the Green Bay Packers were clear examples of this. In more recent times golfers Bernhard Langer, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, and American football stars Tim Tebow and Ray Lewis along with many others follow in their footsteps.

All of these individuals, and others like them, would be quick to point out, I think, that their victories did not mean that God was not passionately involved in the lives of their opponents as He was in their own.

In the end I believe God views our competitors differently than we do. We often demonize our opponents and treat them as enemies. Jesus taught His followers to love even their enemies. That surely applies to our competitors as well.

When the teams take the field on Sunday I believe that God will look down and see a level playing field. He’s intimately involved with all individuals on both sides of the field whether  they acknowledge Him or not. He’s also seeking to shape the life and character of any and all who will bow the knee and follow after Him.

After all, when all is said and done,  “He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” –– win or lose.

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