Tag Archives: God

Escalators

Escalators are interesting devices. They allow us to climb stairs without lifting a foot and, as one comedian noted, they don’t break: they just become stairs. Escalators also provide a good illustration for our spiritual development. As we go through life, we seek to draw ever closer to God. However, we are unable to accomplish this by our own power. All of our spiritual growth comes by God’s grace alone. Even though we are given a part to play in this process by preparing ourselves to receive this growth, God is the ultimate mover and driver in this process. As the parable of the growing seed illustrates, God gives the growth.

When on an escalator, we are asked nothing other than that we stand on the escalator. Granted, this doesn’t mean that we are passive in the process. We have to step onto it and stay on our feet after all. However, many times we are in such a hurry to get to where we are going that we walk up or down the escalator we are riding. Doing so is not only dangerous, but it also takes our attention away from what is in front of us. One of the neat things about escalators is that they allow us to make progress while being in the present moment, taking in our surroundings. In a lot of ways our cooperation with God’s growing us is dependent on what we do in the present moment: Will we remember God? How will we respond to this error? What will we say to this person? Many times, we are so focused on quickly arriving at what we perceive to be our next “spiritual checkpoint” that we completely miss the blessings and invitations to serve God right in front of us. The Jesuit priest Jean Pierre de Caussade referred to this as the “sacrament of the present moment”. Essentially, we offer each moment to God. We look within and without in order to see what God would have us do or how we can serve God right now.

The habits and attitudes we build by following God moment to moment serve to move us closer to God, often without us realizing it at the time. Just like an escalator draws us up to our destination even while allowing us to really look around and see what’s going on around us, the action of God’s grace draws us closer to Him if we take the time to be present to Him and His leading in our lives moment to moment.

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The Great Commission Abridged

One of the core values of the Church and of Christianity as a whole is the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to the disciples just before He ascended into Heaven after the Resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20) I think that much of our understanding of this passage boils down to something along the lines of “get people to join the church” or “get people to convert”. However, such an understanding is inadequate because it amounts to putting butts in the pews and nothing more. Other times we cut it down to the baptism part and even that we reduce down to formalities and bestowing certificates (never mind the schisms that have arisen surrounding the mode of baptism, i.e. immersion vs. anointing, discounting baptisms from different denominations, etc.). If we make the Great Commission strictly about winning converts we would do well to also consider Christ’s admonishment in Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

There is much more to the Christ’s words than a mere numbers game. First we are told, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Before equating disciple-making to adding to the church membership list, let’s reflect a moment on what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In basic word-sense, to be a disciple is to be a learner or a pupil. As disciples of Christ, we are His students learning from Him. We strive to follow His lead and to imitate Him, hence the term “Christian” (Little Christ). As it relates to sharing Christ with others, Paul sums it up well when he writes to the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1) For we are all fellow disciples seeking to be more fully conformed to Christ. Just as we are invited to share in the loving relationship that overflows from the Triune God, we allow that love to overflow from us and we invite others to join in this transformational journey of growing in God’s love and grace. To make disciples of all the nations is more than just handing out certificates or trying to increase Sunday morning or Bible study attendance, it is about inviting others to travel with us as we all follow Christ.

Next, we move on to baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.   Baptism is an important part of our Christian walk. It is a vital milestone in our spiritual development because it is in baptism that we identify with Christ’s death and resurrection. “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,” (Romans 6:3-5) In baptism we are unified with Christ and, in Him, with each other. It is a public witness of our accepting Christ as Lord and Savior, but what’s more, it is a spiritual witness of our new identity in Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and accounted righteous through the shed blood of Christ. With this in mind, we see that baptism is not something that we get, but it is an ordinance that we receive in harmony with the transformation that has already begun to take place in our lives by the grace and working of God. Baptism goes hand in hand with being a disciple of Christ: as imitators of Christ we identify with His death and resurrection. As such, we ought not to treat baptism as if it were a stand-alone event. We ought rather to keep it in a holistic perspective, recognizing it as a flower of grace, an outgrowth of our being in Christ and He in us.

Finally we come to “teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you.” We ought not to construe this as merely handing down and enforcing a set of rules. In John 14:15, Christ says “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Since our minds are conditioned to think in terms of “do this in order to achieve that,” it is often our first instinct to read Christ’s words as “If you love me, prove it by keeping my commands.” This, however, is to get the flow backwards. Our love for Christ is prompted by God’s love for us. (1 John 4:19) Our obedience arises as an expression of our love: it is a way that we go about loving God. Instead of issuing an ultimatum, Christ is helping us to respond to God’s love. (I don’t think it is an accident that in this passage He immediately proceeds to promise the coming of the One who helps us to abide in God, the Holy Spirit.) So when the topic of obeying Christ’s commandments comes up, it is not about exerting control or being controlled. It is about teaching and learning to love God as a way of life, to live our lives with God. To essentially give someone a set of rules and say “do this” is an immense disservice to the Gospel message. One might think of the giving of the Law in the Old Testament as God’s giving us a set of rules and saying “do this,” but even then God was with the people of Israel and was in relationship with them as they struggled to keep the Law and to remain in God by their own power. God is relational and teaching to obey Christ’s commands is an invitation to join in living our lives with God.

The Great Commission is much more than the missional boilerplate we often take it as. It is much deeper and something that we all take part in in various ways, beyond our typical picture of a missionary. It is Christ handing over to us, as His friends (John 15:15), His work of sharing God with others. As the commissioned, we invite and help others to be fellow pupils of Christ; with faith blooming into the flower of baptism which gives rise to the spiritual fruit of life lived with God. However, we mustn’t be too hard on ourselves or others for abridging the Great Commission. As we have seen (and speaking from my own, I believe, not uncommon experience), the Great Commission is a rather scary investment of time, effort, and, most poignantly, our heart. However, we can take peace and encouragement from Christ’s closing words, “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Following Christ requires that we become vulnerable, so it is inevitable that we will get bumped and hurt. That is part of why it is so important that we, ourselves, remain anchored in and sustained by Christ. The other part is that what we ultimately share with others in fulfilling the Great Commission is our own relationship with God. Our abiding in Christ is the light that we share with others. As we walk with God together, our lights strengthen and rekindle each other, all fed by the Lord. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (James 1:17)

Chibi Abridged


Flay & Pray

I have written about League of Legends in the past, and I hope you will permit me to write of it again for illustration’s sake. One of my favorite characters to play as is Thresh, “The Chain Warden.” His tools of choice are a pair of chains tipped with a scythe and a lantern respectively. Thresh’s primary contributions to his team come in the form of restraining and locking down enemies while protecting his allies and helping them reposition on the map, all while soaking up the damage the opposing team dishes out.

Thresh’s first ability is “death sentence”. When activated, with the clatter of links, Thresh twirls the scythe over his head like a lasso before hurling it in a target direction. If it collides with an enemy, the scythe hooks onto them and they are stunned while Thresh tugs them toward him twice. He can even reactivate this ability to use the chain like a zip-line to dash to the hooked target. His second ability is “dark passage”. This causes Thresh to toss his lantern to a target location providing a shield to one nearby ally. If an ally clicks the lantern, Thresh uses it to quickly pull them to his location, even across walls and other obstacles. (This is sometimes called riding the “Thresh Express”.) Third in Thresh’s kit is a not so flashy move called “flay”. Passively, it causes Thresh’s basic attacks to do extra damage. Upon activation, he sweeps his chain in a line extending in front and behind him which pushes all enemies in its path a short distance in the direction of his swing and slows them. Last is his ultimate skill, “the box”. Activating this ability causes Thresh to summon five spectral walls around him, closing in anyone caught inside. If an enemy runs into a wall the wall is broken, but in return they take heavy damage and are slowed by a full 99% for 2 seconds.

As you might guess, these skills can be chained together to accomplish some pretty useful things. Most notoriously by grabbing an enemy with “death sentence”, tossing the lantern to an ally, then zipping to the enemy and using the lantern to bring your friend along to say hi. However, it is the subtle “flay” that plays a huge role in bringing many of Thresh’s combinations together and also brings a boatload of utility to the team. The slow it provides can be used to make landing “death sentence” easier and it can be used to push enemies into the walls of “the box”. “Flay” can also be used to interrupt enemy’s dashes, preventing them from escaping or diving onto one of your allies. In many ways, this least visible of Thresh’s abilities is also arguably the most important to his kit.

So why all this explanation? Well, this “flay” ability and the place it occupies in Thresh’s kit provides a good illustration of how the less visible and less public of our spiritual practices are the most important to our spiritual wellbeing. It is often the case that when we think of doing spiritual things, we think of going on mission trips, taking some huge leap of faith, or intensely spiritual experiences in general. However, while these things are good for our growth and service to God, they aren’t things that make up a large portion of our daily life. Rather, they are like highlights that give us a graceful boost. It is a dangerous proposition to try to engage in a spiritual journey using only these hops and runs, as we will soon find ourselves short on energy and short on progress.

It is better for us that we find a pattern and routine of regular time spent with God. This is, in fact, what we see modeled for us by Christ in the Gospels. In Luke’s Gospel, especially, we are shown that Jesus regularly withdrew to be alone with God and pray. When word spreads of how Jesus healed the leper and crowds come to Him to hear and to be healed we read: “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (Luke 5:16) This isn’t Jesus fleeing from the crowds and refusing to minister to them. It is Jesus making time to spend with God in quiet, even in the midst of His rapidly growing ministry. Later on, in chapter six, we read: “Now it came to pass in those days that he went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12) This account is situated directly after Christ healed a man with a withered hand and right before He calls the twelve. Again, we see Jesus stepping back from His more public and visible actions to spend time in quiet with God. In verses 9:18 and 11:1, we get another interesting perspective of Jesus’ prayer-life: “And it happened, as He was alone praying, that His disciples joined Him, and He asked them, saying, “Who do the crowds say I am?” (Luke 9:18) “Now it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He ceased, that one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) In these two instances, we encounter Jesus’ withdrawing to be in quiet prayer as something that He regularly did.

Although these portions of the Gospels are brief and not very flashy, we should not discount their significance nor overlook the importance of the picture they present when viewed together. We see Christ, who was 100% God and 100% man, regularly making time to spend with God in quiet; especially when things got busy. These times of quiet form the base from which we work and are sustained. Without them, it is easy to be swept up in and consumed by the busyness of the very endeavors we seek to serve God in. We might think of them as a sort of glue which holds the rest of our spiritual lives together by being the means by which we remain in God and abide in Him.

Just like Thresh’s “flay” is a subtle skill that brings the rest of his kit together and is crucial to him being able to fill his role well, our times of quiet retreat into secret prayer are vital to us being able to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us and to travel well on the road of discipleship.

Chibi Flay


Skills and Abilities

One of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time is playing League of Legends, an online game in which teams of players work together to destroy the opposing team’s nexus (essentially capturing their base). One of the game’s most prominent features is the sheer number of characters (champions) one can choose to play as. There are 124 champions currently, and the roster continues to grow. Each one of these champs has four abilities that can be activated and one passive ability that is always in effect. These abilities further define the character and shape their contribution to the team. Doing a little math:  124 champions, with 5 abilities each, means that right now, in-game, there are 620 unique skills potentially in play. Yet, from this dizzying variety, an order and strategy emerges that brings a team together as a unit able to accomplish goals and secure objectives.

Thinking about this, I am reminded of what Paul tells us about the Church body:  the diversity of gifts within it and its unity in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul writes of how there are many different gifts in the Church but one common denominator:  “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works in all.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6) We each have things that we are talented at and things that we have a passion for. These are also things which we can and should offer back to God and share with Him. What I mean is that these gifts given to us by God are things which we can do with Him and honor Him with. Are you a fitness buff? Praise God for the marvelous machinery of human physiology. Help others to be good stewards of their bodies. Do you delight in reading? Give God glory for the power and beauty of written words. Give freely out of your experience with books to help others. Do you love cooking? Honor God for the complex challenges and simple joys of food. Share with others the delight to be found in the kitchen.

Above all else, though, the most important thing that any of us can do with our gifts is to grow closer to God and share that joy with others. It is easy to forego the spiritual impact of our gifts and turn into the dreaded “know-it-all” or to look down on others who don’t share our interests. However, God gives us these gifts to be a stepstool to reach up to Him, rather than a stumbling block for ourselves and others. The joy and delight that we have in God in the exercising and pursuit of our gifts is the crux of what we share with others. It is what overflows from our well to fill others.

When we step back and turn this perspective upon the Church, the roster of 124 champions and 620 skills found in League of Legends seems simple in comparison. However, the joining together of these diverse characters and abilities in a common goal can serve as a small example of how the Church body comes together in a common Spirit. Paul later writes of spiritual gifts:

“And He Himself (Christ) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature and fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

-Ephesians 4:11-16

In loving God in what we do and sharing with others out of that love, we are built up in God and help build up others.

Chibi Abilities


Still Waters

Today, more than ever, our time seems to be at a premium. There is never enough of it to do everything we want and the time we do have is often split between any of a number of activities. With this being the norm, it is no surprise that our relationship with God is also dealt with in a similar fashion. Being with God is often something that we do rather than something we are. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in spiritual disciplines (which are definitely things that we do) but that we shouldn’t lose sight of what we are striving for in them: to be shaped and grown by God into the image of Jesus Christ. God has already given us the Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and works to bring about this formation within us.

However, Paul admonishes us, saying, “Do not quench the Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) Our struggle, in many ways, consists in striving to still the waters of our internal life so that there isn’t interference to cloud our ability to receive from the Spirit who wants to make known to us the things of God and to lead us into all truth. (John 16:5-15) If we wish for water to still and settle so that it is clear, we cannot force it to do so. Any attempt to manipulate the water with our own wills only stirs it up. Additionally, we can very easily cause the water to churn up once more if we immediately and violently start back into our regular routine. What is within our power is to make the time and the space for the water to still. We also have the ability to strive to keep the water still even after we have moved on from our devotional time.

As we persevere in our quest to still the waters of our soul, we will find that spiritual inertia begins to work in our favor. The default status of our water drifts toward being still and calm. This, however, is not a signal for us to slip into complacence. For our enemy is tireless in his efforts to draw us into his own ruin. Therefore, we must remain vigilant and constantly drive away the thoughts and temptations that attempt to bring confusion to our hearts once more. For it is that confusion, disorder, and general static that we allow to come between ourselves and God. Working with God to do away with this interference allows us to live more closely to Him by letting His Spirit speak clearly to us and be present to us rather than being obscured and quenched by turning our attention elsewhere. Being clearly connected to God and mindful of Him as a general rule of life is what we seek when we aim to follow Him and live our lives with Him.

Chibi Calm Waters


A Thought for Christmas – 1

In the pursuit of a deep spiritual connection with God, we often chase after ecstatic experiences during our set times of worship or devotional activity. However, the substance of a life lived with God consists in sharing each moment of each day with Him. Just as a display of Christmas lights is invisible without the glow of the individual bulbs, so the beauty of a relationship with God remains hidden without the holy light of His presence in the many individual moments of our daily lives.


Sufficiently Worried

When speaking of Christianity, we are accustomed to hearing phrases like “living our lives for God” or “giving our lives to Christ”. Such language evokes a very big-picture view. This perspective is necessary to our Christian walk because it serves as the North Star by which we set and monitor our course. However, we must be careful not to overlook the daily business of discipleship. It can lead to a situation in which our attention is so set on our map that we fail to notice the holes and cracks in the hull of our boat which eventually cause us to sink before reaching our destination.

In His famous “Sermon on the Mount”, Christ teaches us not to obsess over the future because, “sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34) We have enough to concern ourselves with each day without adding tomorrow’s trouble on top of it. In addition to tending to our material concerns (work, finances, etc.), we must also work at our spiritual concerns (keeping God as our central focus). Consider also that those entities which oppose our spiritual progress (the devil and his angels) have no need to rest or eat, meaning that they are constantly and tirelessly trying to hinder us. The point of listing all this is to highlight the wisdom and compassion in Christ’s counsel. It is difficult to make it through a single day without straying from our path. With such a hefty task before us, Christ tells us to focus on what is currently before us: the present day and the present moment.

It is important to note that this is not telling us we shouldn’t plan ahead. Rather, it is telling us not to worry ahead and lose sight of the needs of the present. Imagine, for example, that you are faced with a charging rhinoceros. Is it best to worry about whether your hospital bed will be clean or to concern yourself with the matter of getting out of said rhino’s way? Clearly the most useful, healthy, and appropriate thing to worry about is removing yourself from the rhino’s path. We must set priorities for what we worry about. If we adopt an open-door policy for worries, we will most certainly be overrun by them.

The thing about concerns is that they are very good at clumping up and blocking our view of anything else. When this happens we may even turn our gaze from God, turning away from our source of nourishment and our greatest good. Perhaps the best reason for setting priorities about what we worry about is the impact that it can have on our relationship with God. This relationship is the greatest resource we have for navigating life. God desires our good, which is why He is constantly seeking us: the greatest good He can give us is Himself. We must be careful not to let our worries crowd out our connection with the One who is able to help us through them all and put them in perspective.