by Kirk Walden, Advancement Specialist
Every four years I can’t help but tune in. Sports I never watch at any other time are now “must see TV.”
Watching swimming one evening, I was mesmerized by the closeness of the women’s 100-meter freestyle event, where the USA’s Simone Manuel and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak tied for the gold medal by touching the wall in exactly 52.70 seconds. The third place finisher, Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, was just .29 seconds behind, barely enough time to blink an eye. And the eighth place finisher? Still only .66 seconds from winning the gold.
Usually, the difference between gold and bronze, or between bronze and 8th place, is not just natural talent or luck. Instead it is the extra effort of adding the extra practice time, of working on a start—or a turn—just a little longer than someone else. It is early mornings in the weight room, running when it is raining outside or deciding to skip the “day off” or the “you deserve a break today” meal and sticking to the regimen, no matter what.
The difference, in a word, is choice. The greatest choose to do the most difficult tasks, and refuse those things which get in the way on the journey to victory.
So it is with the Christian life. The writer of Hebrews tells us in chapter 11 that Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing instead to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward.”
Moses had to refuse and choose in order to fulfill God’s will for his life. Each day, we face “refuse and choose” moments. These moments may seem quite small, but added up, they are significant.
As an athlete chooses one more repetition after a grueling day of workouts, we—if we want to truly win the Christian race—must often choose another moment in prayer, another few minutes in our study of God’s word or another hour pouring into someone else’s life if we want that extra breakthrough in our walk with Jesus Christ.
Rarely does someone have to sit down and tell us which are our “refuse and choose” moments. We know, because we sense the Lord’s tug in our spirit.
Athletes sometimes fall short, just as we do. But the greats get back up and start choosing again—because they are looking to the rewards of victory.
Let’s take heart. Yesterday is behind us. Today is another day to refuse . . . and another opportunity to choose. Let’s choose, and be victors in the race set before us.
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:4
Like the Proverbs in the Old Testament, many see James’ letter as the New Testament’s letter of wisdom. Throughout James we see practical advice on how live out our faith (“faith without works is dead,” for example), and this counsel begins in the opening verses as James talks of trials and their role in our lives.
Trials, James tells us, produce endurance and perseverance in our character. This perseverance he concludes, makes us whole, mature and complete, “lacking in nothing.”
Honestly, I do not wish for trials. If I want good company in this view, I need look no farther than Jesus who, when facing crucifixion—the greatest trial of all—asked that “this cup pass from me.” Yet Jesus knew that unless he submitted to God’s will, even he would not be complete in fulfilling his mission to save humankind.
Jesus pushed forth through this unfathomable trial and was able to say with his final words, “It is finished.” This was his defining moment, when all could see Jesus was “mature and complete, lacking in nothing” just as James wishes for us in his letter.
We only get to completeness by trial. Apparently, this is the path. The trials may sometimes be small, asking us to persevere when someone treats us poorly. Or, the trial may be incredibly large, such as a physical or health challenge, the loss of a loved one, or rejection by others.
Our next trial could be financial, relational, physical or mental. We don’t know, and that’s the thing about trials. Rarely do we see them coming.
Trials are surprising, sometimes shocking. Many times we do not understand the “whys” of our trial. All we know is that it is our mission to persevere, and to count this trial as “joy.”
Why joy? Because we know that when we persevere, we grow in the character of Jesus Christ. As we follow Jesus, we prepare ourselves for entrance into his kingdom.
And we are reminded of Jesus who saw his greatest trial as one of joy. We are told in Hebrews 12:2 that Jesus, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus persevered. He endured. If anyone is “perfect and complete,” it is Jesus.
God offers us a similar opportunity. The path includes trial. It is not the easy way, but it is the only way.
Trials are coming. We will look at those trials not with happiness, but with joy. Because we know when we persevere, we will be everything God wants us to be.
by Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here...” When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. Exodus 24: 12; 15-16
The Lord’s presence meant everything to Moses, in fact at one time he declared, "If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15) A few verses later, he prays, "Please, let me see your Glory" (Ex. 33:18). Moses had such a desire for something more, something eternal. He wanted to behold God face to face, and his desire was satisfied according to Deuteronomy 34:10.
How was Moses prepared for His encounters with the Lord? For a season he lived in the wilderness 40 years when suddenly, one ordinary day became an extraordinary day when... “the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush. (Exodus 3:2-4)
The book of Hebrews gives us more insight into the relationship the Lord had with Moses. In the eleventh chapter it says, “He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:25-26). The word for “looked or looking” in the Greek, is apoblepo, (away from) and blepo (to look), hence to “look away from” all else. Moses turned his gaze away from everything, and fixed his gaze on a reward that waited for him beyond this present age.
In verse 27 it says, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.” Moses was able to persevere because “he saw” the unseen real. When our eyes of faith are fixed on the King of all Kings, we will walk by faith, not fearing the kings of this earth, persevering through tribulation and trials because “the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of His Glory and Grace.”
Amazing! Moses first turned aside to see, then he chose to look ahead to his reward, and eventually he saw Him who was invisible. When Moses died at the age of 120 years, the Bible says his eye was “not dimmed” (Deuteronomy 34:7).
We naturally gravitate toward the things we set our sight on; and when our sight is set on things above, we ascend!
Moses was invited into the cloud of God’s Glory on the seventh day. The seventh day is when God rested from creating heaven and earth. (Exodus 31:17). It is out of that place of rest...ceasing from our works that the Lord calls us from within “the cloud.” He calls us as a lover calls his beloved. There will always be things to do and places to go, but will we take the time to turn aside and see, look ahead, and behold Him who is invisible? In the seeing we are drawn into that secret place, and there really is no other relationship on earth that fulfills like knowing our Beloved Jesus, the one who “knows us best and loves us most!”
"But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called 'today,' so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13
None of us wants to be involved in sin. It's an ugly thing and as Christians we certainly want to avoid whatever it is that tempts us. Still, in the real world, avoiding sin is not easy.
What would we do if there were a "sin shot" we could take that would shield us from falling into vicious anger, gossip, hatred or any one of the sins that can so easily overtake our minds?
What if someone came up to us and said, "Here's the vaccine; take this and if you continue with regular doses and up the medication when temptation comes, you'll likely avoid doing wrong altogether!"?
Would I take that shot? Yep . . . And the writer of Hebrews gives us our "Sin Antidote" in Hebrews 3:13. The antidote is simple - encouragement.
The writer here is not giving us a nice phrase to remember, but a proven fact for the Christian: Spend your day encouraging, and sin will flee your mind and your actions. The hardened heart you fear will never be a problem for you.
Often I can see the word "encourage" as only icing on the Christian cake - a nice addition to the walk of faith, but nothing to get too excited about. Yet that's not what the writer of Hebrews is saying. To the writer, encouragement is essential.
Shifting my thinking, I need to see encouragement as an integral part of every day in my life. Who have I encouraged today? And how? Who needs encouragement?
The writer's point I believe, is this: When we make encouragement a daily focus, we no longer have time for temptation—or yielding to temptations. Encouragement builds relationships, and builds up a foundation for a stronger Body of Christ.
So take heart. Today is the day to encourage. When we do, our hearts remain soft and our ability to be mighty in the faith becomes strong.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us...Hebrews 12:1
It seems not too long ago, I was constantly running kids or my elderly parents to their appointments. Trips to the dentist, orthodontist, physical therapist, orthopedic specialist, and dermatologist kept me constantly moving.
My children are now adults and my parents have since passed away. Yet, here I am with the same amount of appointments.
Funny thing is, now all the appointments are for me.
Lately, I have noticed the "maturing" process more and more. Sometimes, it bothers me. The books I've read about how exercise can help slow down the aging process have convinced me to learn the sometimes-joyful discipline of exercise, especially over the past four years.
While I was doing my thing in the lap pool the other day, I noticed a younger, very fit woman in the next lane.
Now, I rarely try to pace myself with other swimmers, but that day, I decided to go for it. I can assure you that, whatever semblance of a race I pretended we were in, I came in second place. The harder I tried the further behind I fell.
Feeling a little distraught, about to give up, and just plain old, well old in general, I suddenly heard a still small voice. "Run your own race, the race marked out for you."
Was this a Holy Spirit-inspired moment? I think so. As I splashed down the lane, I began to heed the advice. I began to zero in on my own technique and took my eyes off my unaware competitor.
Funny thing is, the more I focused on my own race, the more satisfied I became with my efforts. And, the more I improved.
In that exercise session, I did my personal best in time and, more importantly, in distance, all while losing track of the young athlete in the next lane over.
There are times and seasons in our lives when we are called to hone in and build our endurance as we run our own race. It is so easy to get caught up in comparing our own giftedness, resources, and ministries with those around us, which can either result in us feeling really good or really bad—neither of which translate to joy or are of much use in the lifelong journey of endurance.
Believe me, this "maturing" woman has been there and knows.
Is today the day you lay aside the things that hold you back and push forward in faith?
No matter your age, as long as you are alive, you are called to run with perseverance the race marked out for you.
What are you waiting for? Get moving!
By Betty McDowell, LSW, LAS, Director of Ministry Services
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split.-Matthew 27:50-51
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the veil, that is, his body.-Hebrews 10:19-20
Up until the time of Jesus, entry into the Most Holy Place was reserved for the high priest—and that only once a year. Now, suddenly, what was done from all eternity manifested in this miraculous event… as Jesus’ body was torn in death, the veil was torn from top to bottom.
God Himself tore the veil in such a way that it could never be put back in place; never again can anything (guilt, condemnation, unworthiness, addictions, sickness, poverty, etc.) separate us from His presence, from His love, from being able to boldly enter the Throne Room of Grace. Notice, it is a Throne Room of Grace!
Everything that would keep us from an intimate and fulfilling relationship with the Lord was dealt with at the Cross. We have access to Him all the time, no matter what!
Hebrews 9 tells us that Jesus entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. Now we enter the same way, through His precious blood, for it made a way for us.
Oh the precious Blood of Jesus; it washes, it cleanses, it justifies, it sanctifies, it purifies, it heals, it delivers, and it redeems us… out of the hand of the enemy. It made a way when there seemed to be no way!
As we have celebrated Passover and the Resurrection of our Lord, may we be so aware of the price that was paid for our redemption; let us walk in, and enjoy the freedom Jesus purchased for us. He became a curse that we might obtain the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
He was bound as a prisoner, so we could walk in liberty, free from every chain!
Jesus is our Passover Lamb! There was a great exchange at the cross; Jesus bound to a cross, not only became sin for you and me, He died as you and me. His body—the veil that was torn—made a way into the Holy of Holies so that we may know Him in all of His splendor and Glory!
Rejoice, for He is risen.
Debra Neybert, Training Specialist
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