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Tag: discipleship

From Sacred Space to Public Grace

I was at a Christmas party with my kids this past holiday season and I was conflicted. The music was hot, the kids were eating well, and everyone was merry. Problem was, I wasn’t enjoying myself. I was trying to figure out why. I mean, I like rap, I like R&B, I like Bruno mars and Beyonce, but today I was unable to enjoy their music. Why? Because this party was in church.

I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t enjoy myself:
-Was I taking a holier than thou attitude?
-Was I being hypocritcal?
-Don’t I hear this music in other places, like the gym?
-Would Jesus even care? Would he be that offended?

Then it hit me: this is supposed to be a sacred space. Then I had to think to myself, what is the role of the sacred in our lives? Why do we distinguish the sacred from the everyday, quotidan, profane?

The sacred is a display of public grace.

What do we mean when we say something is a public grace? Grace is displayed:
-because the sacred indicates our sense of God’s existence
-because the sacred indicates our need for God’s presence
-the sacred displays our desire to know and experience God
-the sacred expresses our submission to His perfections
-the sacred indicates our awareness of sin and need for purity
-the sacred reinforces our hope in the transcendent

When we say that something is profane, on the other hand, we mean to prioritize the lowly over the heavenly, the immediate over the right, the tangible over transcendent. Profanity obscures God, while the sacred is meant to reveal Him.

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Spiritual Calisthenics

Have you ever tried to do something that flat-out humiliates you? Something you have absolutely no idea how to do and is so far beyond your abilities? Don’t stop because thats a perfect metaphor for the spiritual life.

Train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

1 Timothy 4:7b-8, NIV84

In fact, that’s exactly how I feel–that hopelessness and embarrassment–about calisthenics skills. Most other physical pursuits I’ve tried have seemed attainable if only I’d put more effort in. I’d either already mastered the movements, or at least have been familiar enough with appropriate foundational movement patterns that I was able to do it in a small number of tries. Basketball, soccer, weightlifting, and marathon running are simply not that difficult. They are all composed of very basic movement patterns that literally everyone uses every day of their lives. The coordination takes only a modest amount of training and practice to become proficient. You just add weight or try to move faster.

Body weight calisthenics skills are something else altogether. Instead of standing on your feet and legs-your strongest body parts-you stand on your hands and arms-much less strong. Instead of using your legs to perform explosive movements with your arms, you use your arms to perform explosive pull-ups and muscle ups. Your anterior core (abs) become no less important than your posterior core and shoulders for stabilizing body movements and isometrics. And almost none of the skills-planche, levers, handstands, crosses, etc.-have equivalent movement patterns commonly used in everyday life. It is embarrassing trying to learn skills that your body has literally never had to perform.

If we are honest, this is exactly what the life of the Spirit is like. In our everyday lives-especially in the US-our survival depends on our ability to be materialistic and self seeking. We have no need or practical experience with (so-called) esoteric spiritual practices that place a sense of the transcendent over our sense of self. We have no practical or useful experience prioritizing our ability to anticipate spiritual movements. We literally have no understanding of how to perform miracles or communicate in the unseen world using unlearned languages. It is exceedingly difficult for us to fight demons because we have been told from birth that they don’t exist. Therefore we live under curses and demonic possession unaware. We do not expect healing because we believe healing only happens in stories. Like in a handstand, our world is turned upside down.

Unfortunately, while you don’t need a handstand to face reality, you do need faith. If you want to live in God’s world, you must have faith in Him and know what pleases Him. You must learn to recognize his activity and learn to join what He is doing.

What can we do when our experience is wholly inadequate to reality? Well, we have some tips from the physical challenges posed by calisthenics skills. Notice that there is some level of baseline strength that one must have in order to turn your world on its head. You cannot attempt a handstand if you cannot do a push-up. And there are disciplines that start from where one is to progress them to the more advanced activities. You may not be able to perform a front lever raise today, but a number of exercises performed consistently over time can help you bridge the gap.

While there is much about our spiritual lives that is beyond our ability to control, there are basic disciplines we should pursue in obedience while our spiritual strength grows. Do you pray? Do you read and meditate on Scripture? Do you cultivate a heart of worship? You cannot expect to perform miracles or even be other-centered if you don’t consistently engage these basics first! Work on the basics and make room, by faith, for God to move in your life.

Build your spiritual core.

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run the race to win

What does it mean to “run in such a way as to get the prize”? (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Whatever it means, it is not just talking about the race. While the race is the focus and the ultimate goal of one’s training and attention, the race is simply the part of the athlete’s life that is seen by all. The race is much more about the preparation coming beforehand.

Ever since I’ve started taking up distance running as an amateur pursuit, and not just as an accessory to basketball and soccer training, I’ve been struck by how much my race times are predictable once I take a look back at my training log. There is so much truth to this that if I’d truly understood this in high school, I’d have been a much different–and much better–track and field athlete. (I would have been an excellent 300m/400m hurdler, or a decent 200m sprinter). This is because I’d have taken much more care to steward my training and my body very carefully. The goal would be the peak at the conference and regional championships (as a sophomore or junior) or regional and state championships (as a junior or senior). Every moment before then would be taken in light of the ultimate goal of winning one of these races.

In the middle distance events, I found that there is still much more variability than in distances exceeding 10k. Between 1500 to 10,000m, there is a delicate balance between tactics and talent that reveals what is in the heart of the most talented runners. If you are one who is head and shoulders above the rest of the field–and believe that is true–then you can run a fast, honest pace from the gun. This reminds me of Genzebe Dibaba and Sifan Hassan racing to break the world record at 5000m. They knew the race was among only two runners, and from the gun ran with such confident assurance. However, when the best racers equivocate, it leaves room for the less talented runners to steal a victory. As much as I love Leo Manzano, he has no business with an Olympic bronze medal at 1500m. In this case, the less talented runners race with grit and faith, while the more talented runners race with doubt and fear. At its essence, this is what makes a tactical race fun to watch–despite the often pedestrian paces.

For the longer distances, however, it is very much like the sprints. Everyone knows the one or two individuals who will have a real shot at winning. This is because there is very, very little room for error. While these races are given somewhat to tactics, they are principally determined by the condition of the physiological systems of the racers. Therefore, the training is an accurate indicator of the fitness and race capability of the racers. For sprints and distance events exceeding 10 miles, there is very little left to chance barring injury or other accident.

This is where we return to the statement above: “run in such a way as to get the prize.” You cannot run to get the price starting with the gun. The racing begins in the training so that the athlete is transformed into one who is able to get the prize. Your physiological systems must be different when the gun goes off than they were when you started training towards the event. World class athletes know this, and approach their training with the same methodical precision as a world class researcher. While the effort is not the same in each session, every session has a purpose. Each moment has a place in the athlete’s teleological transformation. This is how our lives with God should be viewed. Each moment is not the same. However, we must approach each of our days with God intending to be transformed into one who thinks His thoughts and knows His ways. We do not run the race once we enter His presence, because that is the end, the peak, not the race itself. The race is to be transformed into Christ’s likeness by having our minds renewed daily through interaction with Him, His Word, and His people.

We must run the race so as to win the prize. How will you run your race for the glory of God today?

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a week for moving: follow-up

Just to follow up on my prior post last week indicating that I’m starting a new blog related to this one…

I’ve decided after all to continue my work on this site. However, I’m in the process of using my new website to support the Navigators DC-Baltimore Metro Mission through running! Yes, I am hoping to join the millions of recreational runners out there supporting their most dear causes by leveraging their training and racing. If you have any advice or thoughts about how to best fundraise and engage potential partners, please contact me by email.

As soon as it’s ready, I’ll be sure to update you with the link. Thanks for your support!

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don’t be ridiculous… don’t waste your life

I was listening to TD Jakes this morning with my wife while preparing for my trip to Australia. He was preaching from the story of David and Goliath, specifically the part of the account when Eliab, David’s brother, rebukes him for urging the men to fight against the undefeated Philistine champion.

Although I thought I’d heard this story before, I was totally unprepared for the sermon that followed. Bishop Jakes asked his congregation, “Is there not a cause?” I suppose this question came from his observation that, as David pointed out, Israel’s armies were the army of the Most High God and this ‘uncircumcised Philistine’ was taunting and mocking him. No matter how great a champion, God will not allow His name to be profaned, and He would protect any warrior who confronted the giant on His behalf. Clearly, this was a cause worth fighting for.

Instead, the armies of Israel considered God as one who would not look out for His name, and the soldiers decided to look out for themselves. Not even God Almighty was a cause large enough for them to seek God’s glory and not their own.

So, TD Jakes confronts us the same way. Is there not a cause that urges us to interests other than our own aggrandizement? Whom are we living for? Are we growing fat on God’s blessings? Are we calling God a liar when He assures us protection if we take risks for the Name?

It was a difficult sermon for me to hear, because even in the small things, I am living for myself. When you think about it, that is a truly ridiculous way to live, but I can’t seem to shake it. I want to live for others, but I find it difficult to discipline myself to look after the needs of others first. Lord, do I need the grace to make that transformation, before I’ve been disqualified for everything God wants me to do. I know that I’ve probably disqualified myself from some things through disobedience, but I hope I can change and be changed before my youth and my life is wasted.

I am not quite sure how to end this post. Let me do so by asking you to pray for me in this regard, and if you would like prayer from me, just let me know in the comments.

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