Twice a year televisions across America tune-in to the live finale of a weight-loss show to witness the culmination of eighteen or so episodes that follows contestants who undergo physical transformations and see their original form nearly cut in half. Trainers and nutrition specialists serve as the experts who lead members of the show through various forms of exercise circuits and dieting to help them become who they once were or more so who they now want to be. As the remaining three individuals step onto the scale, they hope to be the lone survivor that has achieved the largest percentage of weight-loss in order to take home the grand prize.
With Body Mass Indexes that would be classified in the Obese Class III (40 or higher), a massive 15 points beyond what could be classified as Normal, ‘biggest losers’ experience an ending percentage of loss somewhere between forty to sixty percent. The heaviest contestant who claimed the top prize once weighed 526 pounds. He lost 262 pounds when all said and done. A year ago, one participant lost nearly 60% of her original weight.
Episodes come to a close with a weigh-in to determine who will continue on in the program and who might find themselves ‘below the yellow line’ and up for elimination. Other members of the show then listen to these folks plead their cases as to why they’ve fallen below the cut-off and why they feel they deserve a second chance to proceed. Votes are cast. Decisions are made. Someone always ends up heading home, forced to forge their own way and left to discover whether or not enough change has been instilled for them to succeed no longer under the watchful eye of trainers and specialists.
I’ve watched these shows for years from the comfort of my living room recliner, content to consume another slice of pizza, seeing this program as nothing more than another form of entertainment on a weekday evening. This year though, I considered what moments or periods in my life I’ve felt like I was flirting with the ‘yellow line’. Putting in the work, exerting myself to just survive long enough to get one more week in the program. Like the contestants interrogated into admitting what may have contributed to their poor performance (undisciplined eating habits and/or lack of effort in the gym), my own internal cross-examination might quickly uncover what areas my effort may have been less than 100%.
But in our ‘yellow line’ moments, doesn’t the attitude of merely surviving rather than discovering what’s necessary to thrive become the obstacle that stands in our way the most? Just as contestants must learn that there’s no new-fangled diet, super-food, hard-core training regimen, or magic pill that will alter their figure long-term we as well must admit that only by reshaping our entire lifestyle will we realize a transformation that can be sustained.
Psalm 51:10 [NLT]
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me.
A crucifix pendant around your neck or colorful rubber band encompassing your wrist won’t ‘be just the trick’ to send you down the right road. Bumper stickers, bookmarks, or Sanskrit tattoos won’t forever be your guide. Only a reconciled relationship with Christ Jesus that will provide a new heart and new spirit will put your old-self to death and send put you on the avenue to success. Then and only then will your days of feeling stuck below the yellow line become nothing but a distant memory.
Set a Fire Down in Your Soul,
Growing in your Christian walk is not the same for all people. Each of us experience different stages in life and where we are at in the process. A process that will never end in perfection but pursuit of perfecting our faith in Christ. I am reminded of a quote by legendary football coach Vince Lombardi who once said to his team “Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”
Philippians 3:14-16 tells us “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
The Apostle Paul in this section is writing about a future prize that we will attain as the trophy of salvation in its fullness in the Kingdom of Heaven. He is speaking to people who either think that they are fully mature in their faith or those that think that they have already attained perfection.
As we do today, Paul faced this constantly within the church. Each of us has a specific calling and within the mark or sanctification that we all are in Christ, each of us is marked with a unique and specific purpose. None of us has achieved perfection. In this there is however a dangerous game that we can play- the comparison game. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 17
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him
There is the phrase that “if God has called you, then he will get you through it.” This verse is speaking on the conversion of a person in the work that God has called them to. Becoming a believer does not require a status change, whether marital, social, or ethnic. We can find ourselves engaging in a religious attitude that you have to be like this, look like that or follow a certain way to be accepted in the club. Or the fact that we may see a person and covet what they may have within their walk. Remember what Paul wrote “The life that the Lord has assigned to you.”
Paul is not saying that we should avoid trying to seek a better condition for ourselves. What he is saying is that he doesn’t want Christians worrying about situations or circumstances that cannot be changed or act in a way outside of where God has called them to. We can become dissatisfied and become continuous complainers which can cause us harm spiritually.
Becoming dissatisfied and trying to change a situation or circumstances can cause us to be burdened with an unnecessary weight and become “slaves of men”. This kind of thinking can damage us spiritually, the place where the Spirit of God now dwells. Instead we need to be grateful for the freedom that we have been granted to achieve the calling of who we are as individuals to serve the body of Christ.
We are a “living stone” as it says in 1 Peter 2:5 to be in union with each other building up Christ’s spiritual house, unmovable and able to stand together in today’s challenges that we now face.
So what we need to do, men, is to move as we are called, strive for the goal of the prize in glory and always move forward together with the individual gifts assigned by God for the glory of Him!
Strength & Courage
Whenever I hear the story of the Israelites worshiping the golden calf in Exodus, I ask, how could they do such a thing just after seeing how God had rescued them from Egypt? Are they that short sighted that they turn to other things and other gods when they were witness to some of the most amazing miracles ever seen? I wonder how many of us would have done the exact same thing. How soon after we have reminders, or even when we come down from a mountaintop experience with God, do we find ourselves chasing after other things that we think will satisfy us? How quickly do we fall into sin when we turn our eyes from the one true God?
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. Exodus 20:3-4
Throughout history, people have been chasing after created things instead of the God who created them. Even in the church, Martin Luther was appalled at the system of selling indulgences and how members were seeking after relics to earn their holiness. Sometimes we may even seek out certain places, pastors, or gatherings as we try to recreate the next spiritual high, as if we are looking for God somewhere other than in our own hearts. God did not disappear when the Arc of the Covenant went missing after the Babylonians invaded Israel. Objects others hold sacred also fall apart. The iconic funeral mask of King Tut had to be glued back together last week. The sacred Inca stone Intihuatana at Machu Picchu was broken by a crane while they were filming a beer commercial. The physical things in this world are all limited, just as we are.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. Matthew 24:35
The same can be said with every object we hold dear here on this earth. They are not ours to begin with, and they are all temporal…they will all be gone in time. So, why do we put so much time and energy into trying to get them, maintain them, and then replace them? It is important to be a good steward of what we have been given, but when things become more important than our relationship with God and people, our priorities may be off. What things do you hold sacred in your life? Where does most of your time, attention, and money go? When we take a quick inventory of these things, it may reveal our true passions and allegiances.
This Sunday, millions will be worshiping at the altar of athletics as they watch a bunch of grown men wrestle for a pigskin, all while being entertained by whatever the next, best ad is for the next, best thing that we don’t yet have in our lives. Fun? Sure, but beneficial to our spiritual growth…not likely. I’m not saying you should boycott the game, unless you think some good could come from that, but just hold it in the proper perspective. Enjoy it with your friends or family, but seek to build relationships more than building on the hype of the game, regardless of the outcome.
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters. Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. Psalm 24:1-4
What are the Golden Calves in your life? Most are not as obvious as a golden statue, but they creep in almost unnoticed, until you wake up one day and realize that something is guiding your life which seems beyond your control, and in fact, you may feel enslaved. Most may be socially acceptable or easy to hide. Consumerism, having nice things, eating and drinking well, being gung-ho about your work or business are all applauded in our society. But do any of these things truly benefit us or bring us any closer to God when we place them first in our lives? In fact, they do the opposite.
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33
We may find ourselves chasing after the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect home, job, car, vacation, food, drink, etc, ad nauseam, without regard for the perfect God. Chasing after things might get us some recognition or short-term satisfaction here on earth, but it will never fully satisfy the soul. That is a void that only God can fill in our lives. As long as we allow him only second or tenth place in our lives, it may feel as if we are living a lie, and we will always be unfulfilled. Until we give God first place in our lives and submit everything else (all our family, friends, funds, hopes, dreams, life, and pride) to Him, his Spirit will remind us that we still have room to grow.
Not too long ago, I was reading the story of Jesus and thought about what it meant for the Father to send His Son to die for me (his enemy). Being a father of a 7 year old little boy, I would never sacrifice my son for my enemy. Then my thoughts got a little deeper, I would not sacrifice my son to save me. To think of the undeserved grace that I have received just led me to tears. I never want to get over the fact that I have been saved, and God found it in His interest to allow His Son to die so I can know Him.
Jacob knew this kind of grace. He was known as a deceiver, a cheat, a father of 12 sons with four mothers. Not the story a great man worthy of God’s attention. Jacob had again ruined another relationship and was on the run. While on the run from his father-in-law, he hears that his brother is coming to kill him. He only stole half of his brothers inheritance and the blessing that belonged to his brother. Feeling trapped my his past catching up with him, he goes to be alone. This is where our story begins:
Genesis 32:24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 “What is your name?” the man asked.
He replied, “Jacob.”
28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel,
Did Jacob deserve God making him new? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Did Jacob deserve the blessing of the Lord? NO WAY! Then maybe “deserve” has nothing to do with it… Maybe the Gospel is true in that while we were still sinning, Christ died for us! Maybe the religion many of us grew up in, “There are bad people who need cleaned up,” is actually a lie. Maybe the Gospel, “There are only dead people, who need Jesus to make them alive,” is TRUE! Maybe you could never “earn” it. Maybe you can’t fix you.
Truth be told… You are no match for the weight of sin, the power of hell, and the captivity you live in! You don’t deserve to be called anything more than Jacob. You don’t deserve God showing up in your story to rescue you from a fate you created for yourself. But my friends… THIS IS THE GOSPEL! JESUS LOVES YOU AND WANTS TO MAKE YOU NEW. YOU COULD NEVER DESERVE IT, BUT HE GAVE IT TO YOU ANYWAY. IT IS NOT ABOUT BEING GOOD OR BAD. IT IS ABOUT FOLLOWING JESUS AND LETTING HIM CHANGE YOU!
So stop trying “hard” enough, and ask Jesus to change you, your ways, your name. He wants your freedom more than you will ever want to know His freedom. STOP TRYING, AND BE A SON OF THE KING! GIVE YOURSELF TO HIM, AND LET HIM CHANGE YOU!
Recklessly, obsessively following Jesus
When emotional heartbreak arrives in our lives, the sympathy from others follows. Although it is pleasant to have people extend their care, the responses we sometimes receive flutter with an inability to be applied to our life. Though many words come, their impact and meaning can remain far away.
There is one Christianese phrase that makes me cringe in these moments: “All you need is Jesus.” The heart behind it is sincere, but the content of it needs some refining. I think when we say this, we fall short of how life was meant to be lived together with others in community. Even Jesus himself valued 12 men around him at all times, and in the beginning of the world God recognized Adam needed a companion. Yes, we need Jesus, but we need him in and through others, too, not in a solitary state.
Jesus expands in our lives when we encounter him in others. In the midst of a chat about Jesus over steaming coffee, in the brevity of an unscheduled run-in sprinkled with life updates and how Jesus is working through it, we discover more about who Jesus is and what he is up to in the world. To categorize Jesus as our own, to narrowly view him only through our eyes, makes us miss out on the beautiful interactions and life he is sewing through others.
That’s why the four gospels are unique. Each was written by a different guy, with a different perspective on Jesus, and written to a different crowd. Jesus, to each of us, is a culmination of overcomings throughout our lives. We are able to tell what he did for us, why we believe in him, and what he is doing now. His very nature is the foundation and what we all know, but how we have translated him in our lives is the story we are looking to hear and can learn from.
To “only need Jesus” suspends a life of revelation waiting in the stories of others. Perhaps, in the hard times, we want Jesus to be more prevalent or we need him more, but he is working in so many and doing so much that we simply can’t allow ourselves to close doors and only have him.
Ecclesiastes holds a great truth for us in this, “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” The verse gently touches on the obstacles that we face in life. Alone, we can probably get by for a while, but when the next challenge comes we will surely be beaten.
Jesus is our firm foundation, we can never deny that. But to only have a foundation with no structure would be fairly useless. That’s why we must not only have Jesus, but build our view and perspective of him by incorporating Jesus’ work found in the hearts of others. The more, the merrier.