Thursday, December 26, 2013

Three Lessons From Professional Hockey

Those who know me, know I don't much like professional hockey.  The reason is the same for why I don't like any blood sport: it is barbaric to place money and entertainment before life--particularly human life.  Professional hockey is a classic example of this; it is not about tactics and skillful playing, but brawling, bloodletting, and indirectly, killing.

In a recent edition of Lab Reporter (of all sources), Ashley Peterson discusses the rising cases of brain damage among pro hockey players (Lab Reporter 2013 (4), 32-33).  These brain injuries, which usually don't manifest until years after they first occurred and are not detectable with current technology, often result in premature death.  Case in point is the recent demise of Derek Boogaard at the tender age of 28 years.

I'm not here to rant against blood sports, though.  Ashley's expose on the state of professional hockey affords three glimpses into the human condition.  We can learn three lessons about ourselves from the discussions around the problems stemming from violence in hockey.  It is these problems I want to briefly address here because they clearly illustrate why we all need a Savior.

First of all, fallen humanity thrives on what it sees as power.  Even though faced with mounting evidence of the lethal ramifications of aggression in hockey, the promoters are reluctant to completely do away with the fighting.  As Ashley reports,

"However, as long as rough action sells tickets, a major change to totally eliminate fighting in the NHL may still be a ways off."

You see, even though we all talk about the value of human life, tolerance, peace, and all such noble causes, we secretly value power more.  Money is power.  And if we are not making money at the expense of human life, we are doling it out so we can vicariously beat up those in our lives we want to see bloodied--if not killed; indeed, it is becoming less and less satisfying for people to pay others to burn their personal effigies for them; this is why we are hearing of more and more cases of post-game violence among the spectators.  Blood sports are and have always been a legal outlet for our hate.  This present world believes hate is power.  The incentive of hate is death or the threat of death; and the currency of hate is money.

Therefore, people value power because they see power as both a means to promote hate and to protect themselves from hate.  They want to promote hate--although they deny this--because it is hoped this will produce more power for themselves. They want protection, because to be king-of-the-hill ultimately comes down to survival. And if they lack the innate gifts to achieve such power on their own, they buy it.

Secondly, we easily blind ourselves to the clear facts in order to get what we want, which is, of course, power (see above).  I laughed aloud when I read in Ashley's article,

"Specifically, researchers presented new findings in support of the elimination of fighting [i.e., in hockey], suggesting that repeated punches to the head can cause the most serious injury.  While there is still no irrefutable evidence that fighting results in brain damage, many experts continue to press the issue."

Really?  Do we really need insurmountable evidence before we believe hitting someone repeatedly in the head will cause brain damage?  Are we really that stupid? Of course we are; but it is a self-imposed stupidity for the sake of power; and for this reason we will always question the data, no matter how irrefutable it might be.  Fallen humanity is--despite its protestations to the contrary--comprised of liars. And sadly, these liars have long ago believed their own lies.

Finally, we discover we cannot really protect ourselves from ourselves.  Ashley points out the fact that recent NHL legislation against blindside checks actually resulted in more concussions.  Furthermore--as I suspect we have been seeing in Pro football--implementing better protective gear actually emboldens the players to take more risks, which means more aggression.  Rules and armor will never overcome our thirst for power.  Truly, it has been said by someone, "Necessity is the mother of invention."

The last point locates the core of the fallen human condition: the human heart.  All I have discussed here flows from a heart of selfish-ambition and conceit.  For this reason, all the analyses, good intentions, and legislation will never bring peace to our world.  Until the human heart is changed to see what true power is and then act in it, we will continue to slit each other's throats, and congratulate ourselves in the process.

We will never possess such changed hearts until we completely surrender ourselves to our Creator; because only He knows what real power is and can give us the wisdom to possess it.  The true power which I speak is love.

God's answer to the human condition was for Himself to take on humanity as His son, Jesus the Christ, walk among us in perfect love, and take upon Himself, as an act of true love, all the so-called power this world can muster in defense and validation of itself, and sacrificially die.  But then prove the world's power to be powerless against the true power of love, by raising Jesus to eternal life as transformed humanity; so that now, if we surrender ourselves completely by faith to the living Christ, we will possess His heart of love as He lives within us by His spirit; we will become transformed humanity together in Christ and live forever in the power of his love, which is true lasting peace.

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end.  He will reign on David's throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this." (Is. 9:6-7) [NIV]

Through three lessons from the NHL we have found ourselves severely wanting; and therefore from them we hopefully come to see our need for our Savior, Jesus the Christ, who is God with us.


Monday, December 9, 2013

Why am I so tired? (Part 2)

[Please don't read the following unless you have read the preceding post.]

We become tired any time we do anything, because work requires energy.  Not all fatigue defeats us, though. When we work hard at something flowing from our inherent strengths, the fatigue we feel actually exhilarates us.

My friend wasn't speaking of this kind of fatigue, however.  He wants more than anything to strive for his Lord Jesus, yet frequently finds himself feeling defeated at the end of the day.  This is why he asked me, "Why am I so tired?"

There are, of course, many reasons one could address in answering my friend's dilemma, but I would like to suggest three common reasons for the demoralizing fatigue my friend so desperately wants to overcome.

Firstly, when we walk with Christ we can often become burdened down with guilt.  We are well aware of the fact we all too often fall short of Holy-Love; and we worry we are rapidly using up the grace God has allotted us.  Consequently, we begin wringing our hands, pace, and fret that God will drop us from His roster unless we straighten up and fly right.  We work even harder to make up for our infractions, and fail again.  Before long we are exhausted and defeated under a heavy weight of guilt.

This guilt-based fatigue happens because we have misunderstood the Gospel of Christ.  Jesus took on all our guilt--past, present, and future--and paid for it once and for all by dying on the cross.  There is no longer any condemnation for anyone who is in Christ. We are forgiven when we stand in Christ by faith.  There is no limit to the mercy He will afford us.  Yes, we will fail; and yes, God's Spirit within us will help us  recognize our failures--not to discourage or shame us, but to awaken us to the new life we have in Christ.  Instead of becoming defeated by guilt, we become invigorated by the wisdom we gain through our failures, because our eyes see more clearly in the light of God's forgiveness.  Truly, in Christ we are freed from the burden of guilt.

Secondly, we tend to exhaust ourselves by  constantly second-guessing, modifying, mitigating, or down-right ignoring what the Holy Spirit tells us to do; instead of simply obeying by the grace He provides, we labor to find loop holes to the Spirit's simple instructions.  The fatigue I am talking about here is of the same ilk as experienced when we tell a lie and don't fess up.  The first lie soon begets a second and then a third, and we find ourselves embroiled in a complex chess game of manipulations, intrigues, and moves and counter-moves; just trying to keep it all spinning wears us out.  In the same way, when we override the Spirit's direction, we collapse under a heavy load of consequences; and our futile attempts to manage these consequences to our best advantage quickly incapacitates us.

Christ frees us from the burden of trying to figure it all out for ourselves--to find wisdom on our own. God's sight is always 20/20; we simply don't have the wherewithal to craft lenses thick enough to correct for our lack of wisdom.  Jesus frees us by lighting our path; we now see through His eyes. All we have to do is to trust Him by stepping where He tells us to step.

Thirdly, we tend to defeat ourselves by thinking walking with Christ is the same as keeping some grand New Year's resolution to ourselves. We tell ourselves, "I've got to be like Jesus," so we proceed to lay out our stratagems,disciplines, and rules.  Unfortunately, we soon find ourselves defeated by our inherent inadequacies.

The good news of the Gospel of Christ is it is God who does and must change us.  No longer are we fettered by our weaknesses, but we are being renewed in the perfect adequacy of Christ.  In ourselves we only find tortuous paths to death; in Christ we find life, and life to the fullest.  God is transforming us as we drink from the well of the eternal spring of Holy-Love gushing within us through His Holy Spirit.

There is an inescapable fatigue in following Christ, but it need not defeat us.  The fatigue I mean comes from persecution.  Persecution is resistance to the Truth of Christ; and we encounter persecution both from within and from outside of ourselves.  To suggest this persecution isn't exhausting would be a lie. But the truth of the gospel of Christ is Jesus suffered every persecution we face, and even the ultimate persecution of death by crucifixion.

In Christ, then, we are freed from having to bear this persecution alone. In the same way Jesus upheld Peter back to the boat through the torrent raging around them in the middle of the lake, He will uphold us through the terrors of this life.  And in the same way Jesus quelled the storm after returning Peter safely to the boat, the day is coming when Jesus will bring eternal Shalom for all who are standing in Him.  This hope is a sure comfort in our afflictions.

My friend asked me what this all looks like practically. Certainly when we can, we should read the Scriptures, which is God's revelation to us.  We should also not forsake His assembly; God often brings His wisdom, comfort, and strength through our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  We also need to find designated times to engage in focused prayer to God.  All these things must be done.  But there are times in life when we simply don't have access to them.  The beauty of the Gospel of Christ is Jesus is always within us.  Therefore we can and should be always chatting with our Lord; in work or play or anytime, we need to be talking with God as an active listener--thanking Him, questioning Him, seeking guidance from Him in everything, and celebrating the fallout of His love both to us and to others.  It is as the Holy Spirit teaches us through St. Paul:

"Always rejoice, pray without ceasing, and in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (I Thess. 5:16-18)

In this way we are no longer taxed by the demands of Holy-Love because we are already entrusting ourselves fully to the sure power of Christ.  We find rest as we continually stand in Christ's righteousness.  And the fatigue we experience no longer defeats us but invigorates us as we confidently pursue God's purposes for us.

What Paul says next summarizes this present post much better than I can:

"Don't extinguish the Spirit, do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil.  And may the God of peace Himself make you completely holy and may your spirit and soul and body be kept entirely blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He who calls you is trustworthy, and he will in fact do this." (I Thess. 5:19-24)[NET].

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why am I so tired? (Part 1)

The Sermon on the Mount is the Law fulfilled in Christ.  Jesus perfectly practiced both the letter of the Law and the purpose/meaning the letter of the Law points to.  The purpose/meaning behind the Law is like the flesh covering the bones; it is love filling and energizing holiness and being energized by holiness.  It is God's righteousness.

What we must understand is unless we conform to this fulfilled Law--this righteousness of God--we absolutely will not stand in God's Kingdom.  Jesus teaches us very clearly,

"For I say to you (plural), unless your righteousness far exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you (plural) will absolutely not enter into the kingdom of the heavens." (Matt. 5:20)

If we understand righteousness as obeying the Law according to any standard outside of Love, we are neither standing with Christ in God's kingdom, nor will we ever so stand with Him in God's glory.  The Law of which Jesus speaks is the ten commandments; because the ten commandments are the necessary but not sufficient measure of the Law of God's righteousness that is love. For the Holy Spirit teaches us through the Apostle John,

"The one claiming, 'I have known Him,' and is not obeying His commandments, is a liar, and the Truth is not in him or her.  But whoever obeys His word, truly the love of God has been perfected in him or her, by this we know that we are in Him." (I John 2:4-5)

Therefore, Jesus unpacks Holy-Love (my concise term for the compass of fulfilled Law) for us through His Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7).  The latter serves to illustrate for us who dwell with Him in His kingdom (i.e., His disciples) what the Holy-Love looks like.  Because Jesus perfectly conformed to Holy-Love, we too can conform to Holy-Love if we live in Christ.  Not only can we conform to Holy-Love in Christ, we absolutely must do so; otherwise, we are not truly walking with Christ in His kingdom, TODAY--that is, we are not true Christians.

Immediately upon hearing this, our first reaction is God has given us an even harder set of rules than before to try to follow, and we become exhausted before we even start; we quickly feel defeated.  A fellow parishioner approached me recently explaining he understands the mandate of Holy-Love but is worn out by what it requires in practice.  "Why am I so tired?" he asked me.

I can relate.  But I also know this fatigue my friend is experiencing doesn't seem to jibe with what Jesus would later teach,

"Come to Me everyone who is toiling and has been loaded down, and I will give you (plural) rest.  Take up my yoke upon you (plural) and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you (plural) will find rest for your souls;  For My yoke is good--kindly--not pressing, and My burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)

Does Jesus contradict Himself?  By no means, and this is good news for us.

The yoke of a Rabbi was his example for how to fulfill God's righteousness; and a Rabbi's disciples would do absolutely everything their Rabbi did, to the letter--that is, they would be yoked to their Rabbi.  Jesus' yoke is the final word on fulfilling God's righteousness (above).  And even though Holy-Love appears daunting--and it is, because it runs counter to everything this world holds dear--Holy-Love is nevertheless the only way to the peace of God that is Shalom--the perfect rest of God's kingdom; Jesus promises us this is true.  And we can go to the bank on Jesus' promises.

The reason He promises His yoke is light lies at the heart of the Gospel of Christ--the Good News for all who are believing in Him. Next week, I will answer my friend's impassioned question by explaining what I mean by this.  For now, I think I have given us quite enough to chaw on.

See you next week.