Memorial Day 2010 Musing

Today was Memorial Day, which is a day to Honor those have died in battle serving the country and serve in the armed forces. It is understandable and respectful to honor and pray for those serving in the military. Yet for Christians the fact is we really do not belong to any country but the Kingdom of God and sometimes we can lose that perspective. Personally, it is a good time to reflect on those who have served the Kingdom of God well. Last year on Memorial Day some specific Martyrs were honored in this thread: https://peacebringer7.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/in-memoriam-christian-martyrs/. This year want to emphasize all those that have gone before us. It is a good time to remember the past and the great crowd of witnesses and use it to inform are present and let us prepare for what is ahead.

The list of those that have gone before us is long and great going back to Abel and way through various people. Many who are well known, many more who are not known. What do they all have in common, the stood firm, they abide in faith, and they serve God’s kingdom well. Take a read of Hebrews 11.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated– of whom the world was not worthy–wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

 

The long list here in Hebrews 11 is just a small portion of the great crowd of witnesses, those who have gone first and stood firm in faith. They are all regarded to be people who walked by faith. They all believed that God exists and rewards. In other words believed God is who He says He is. Now it is important to note that in the list of these people of faith they had not received yet that what was promised. They stood pain, suffering, and torture. Sometimes delivered, sometimes they did not. Ultimately the focus of the faith is not on what they measured or felt but on the surety of God. It was not about what happened in the here and now on this tangible earth. It was not even about nations or places. It was about God. Learn from the great crowd of witnesses, for while they may have stumbled and faltered at times in their lives, they stayed the course.

Examining the great crowd of the faithful, we find encouragement to stand firm. We find direction that informs us of what it takes to stand firm in the faith, to persevere. In this day and age it is easy to get upset over God failing to meet some personal desire in a way or time of your pleasing. We can easily focus on things of self. The focus though needs to be on God and God alone. God does reward; God does provide; God loves us deeply. What helps us to stand firm, today is not losing focus that it is not about us, but about God. It is not about our own ideas, but God’s Kingdom. It will get difficult and hard times are coming. Any one of us is called and marked with a life as a Martyr, and even if not, we will all face pain and suffering. Difficulties are certain. But God’s faithfulness is more certain, for He will turn all things together for the good even if you do not see it.

So upon looking at the great crowd of witnesses and letting it inform our choices, when we look ahead we know that difficulty is coming. The great crowd of witness suffered much we will not be different. So right now it is a time of preparation. It is time to grow in faith and knowledge of God, for there is a time come soon of testing and trial. Deception will be at every turn. Darkness will grow and reign. Good will be called evil, and evil good. Yet, we are to stand firm. We are to be sober minded, alert, and clear. This comes from growing in God and growing faith. You grow in faith through growing in relationship with God. There are many obstacles that come, many traps set, and falling asleep is easy. But God’s call is for us to endure. Perhaps, before the time of trial and the seventh week some who are faithful will be removed and spared further trial, but do not focus on this hope. Prepare to endure till the end. Make your faith and calling sure. Test yourself and continue to root out and discard all that is untrue. Continue to let the Holy Spirit cleanse you and draw you more clearly aware of the ways you fall short in loving God and others in a pure and whole way.

So in summary, in the Kingdom of God learn from those who have gone before, the great crowd of witnesses. Let them shape your step and path today with a call to draw nearer to God and prepare for what is to come. God is in control but victory is already won. God is faithful and His reward is sure. It will be a privilege to receive His reward and then lay it back down at His feet (see a vision reported on this blog.) We serve in surrender to the Greatest commander: the God of Love. And if by chance you do not, now is the time, surrender to the King of Kings.

News Commentary: The light of the Gospel in the Life and death of Coach Ed Thomas

There have been a lot of death of famous people mentioned recently.  Not only do we have the recent deaths of Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett.  Other recent deaths include Ed McMahon, Billy Mays, Fred Travalena, and Karl Malden.   There was another death that has been made public as well.  This death was the tragic murder of high school football coach Ed Thomas.  On June 24th at around 7:45 Am Ed Thomas was shot by former student Mark Becker. 

Normally the deathof a small town football coach would not be anything people really attend to, but attention is drawn to Ed Thomas related to his having coached several NFL players with the most recent being Green Bay Packers linebacker Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville Jaguars center Brad Meester, Detroit Lions defensive end Jared DeVries and Denver Broncos center Casey Wiegmann.  So without contributing to the success of these men’s life within the apex of cultural entertainment, Ed Thomas would be widely known and this article would not be written.

The death of Ed Thomas and the man who killed him shows a contrast in lives.   Ed Thomas was a man who loved God and served others.  He was a man that taught values related to hard work, perseverance, and leadership. He bore witness to the Gospel in both word and action.  According to news reports his life reflected that of a person serving the Kingdom of God versus his own kingdom. He had success and failures in reaching many with the love of God.  His life and impact is exemplified by this quote from Aaron a “Coach Thomas was very special to me and many other young men from the Aplington-Parkersburgcommunities. His legacy for many will be associated with his tremendous success as a football coach. However, I believe his greatest legacy comes not in how many football games he won or lost but in the fact that he was a committed follower of Jesus Christ. He lived his life trying to exemplify this faith and convey those values to those under his influence. His faith in Christ pervaded everything he did and that is why in the midst of the heartache we all feel there is comfort in knowing he is with his Savior.”

In contrast, is the life of his murderer Mark Bennett.  He was a former student and player who has coached by Ed Thomas, yet some how the words and life of Coach Thomas didn’t reach Mark who chose to go a different path then the one taught and demonstrated by Ed.  Rather Mark lived a life caught in the mire of drug addiction.   He reach a point where is mind had been damaged and destroyed, likely do to the drug use.  The end result is the man with the destroyed mind and life took the life of the man who showed him another way.

These two men show the contrast between those who walk in the light of the Gospel and serve the kingdom of God and those lost in darkness.  Darkness seeks to destroy all light.  It seeks to have people lost and without hope.  The man Mark Bennett followed the path of darkness, with momentary pleasure, to the point of destruction.  Coach Ed Thomas walked in the light of the Gospel, even in tought times. He had strong faith, not just in the people in the town he loved, but in Jesus, who he served. 

Now it may seem here that darkness won the battle. The light that was shown in the life of Coach Ed Thomas has been extinguished. Yet, the light of his life still shines.  The impact he had on the town of Parkersburg will not be forgotten.  The words he spoke to the boys he coached will be remembered.  Each person that Coach Ed Thomas touched will think over what Ed Thomas meant and the Gospel he preached and demonstrated.  The end of Coach Thomas life does not end his influence. 

Sure his death brings questions such as how could God allow one who followed Matthew 5:16 (“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”) so clearly? I read in one article stated that Coach Thomas was the rock on which the town of Parkersburg   Somehow such a statement seems contary to what Coach Thomas lived and demonstrated.  Jesus the Messiah is the rock each of needs to turn.  Perhaps Coach Thomas was called to be with the God, so that others may look to Jesus and not Coach Thomas.  There are plenty of what ifs.  The simple fact is God’s purposes will be served here. That what prince of darkness and all that hates light meant for ill, will serve to reach others with the light of the Gospel. 

 Now word is Parkersburg is a moral town with many churches.  Such a fact is only a surface fact.  The town certainly has many people like Mark Bennett, lost and confused and on the pathway to destruction.  The town probably has fewer who live and follow Jesus in the manner of Coach Ed Thomas. Each person and where they are with God is unique.  Only God  truly knows the heart but the fruit of  the lives lived can be evident.  One who has a light who shined the truth of the Gospel.  One who walked a dark path of destruction.  Each person has a choice which path to follow.  The light of the path is not through self-effort. Ed Thomas lived the way he lived through the power of the Gospel to move beyond serving self to loving and serving others because of Jesus and what he did for each of us at the cross.

My prayer is for each person Coach Thomas impacted that they take a step closer to Jesus.  If they know him not, that they open their eyes and ears and heart to the Gospel and turn to the Kingdom of God.  If they know Jesus that they look for ways they can love others and walk out the Gospel in the world in which they live.   Each person was touched.  Also pray that folks do not turn to the despair of darkness that is exemplified in Mark Bennett’s life and choices but rather the light as shown in Coach Ed Thomas life.  And ultimately pray that God cuts through the damaged mind of Mark Bennett and that he may yet turn to Jesus in repentance.   May those that  were hurt by Mark’s choices be able to turn to light by embracing forgiveness rather then the darkness of hate and bitterness.

In closing, ultimately Coach Thomas has been taken away from the confines of this world into the presence of God almighty.  The tragic loss is felt by those left behind, while Coach Thomas is in the presence of the Light of the World.  No darkness, pain, or suffering.  His service on earth is at an end until the time of Jesus return and the resurrection of the saints.  Mark Bennett on the other hand will be imprisoned one way or another.  His physical status will match the prison he is already in.

The Beijing Olympics: Reflecting on stories and pursuit of excellence

A previous post on this blog talked about general Olympic principles and how it is a way the world looks toward false peace through ultimately globalization with a focus on competitive engagement. In this post, it is worth reveiwing some of the key stories and how it can be applied to life and in particular life in the Kingdom of God. 

    The starting point has to be on the record setting, incredible performances of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and Yelena Isinbayeva show that some people have just been blessed with talent. They have been gifted and created with skills that allow them to excel.  The Jamacian track team which takes home 11 medals also shows the importance of the natural giftings that make an athlete. However, if they just stopped at their talents, they would not be breaking records or winning gold medals. They have to practice and work and build on what they have been given. It is so easy to sit back and rely on natural strengths and ignore the elements it takes to pursue excellence. The same in life and in the Kingdom of God. We all may have certain giftings, certain things that come easy, or certain gifts given by God. We need to be spending time not just doing what comes easy but building and honing our skills and talents so that we can serve God to our best. 

      There were a few stories that speak of overcoming emotional distractions and staying steady in the midst of distress to reach excellence and the best.  The USA men’s volleyball team coached by Hugh McCutcheon demonstrate this.  Hugh suffered the murder of his father-in-law and the serious injury of his mother-in-law. Yet, he was able to keep his team focused and able to overcome the favored nations and win the Gold.   Another story is of German weight lifter Matthias Steiner, who won a gold medal after his wife died in an automobile accident last year.  Perhaps he was able to simply filter his grief into his goal and it helped him achiece it, but he displayed the ability to overcome great grief and keep focused on the goal.  There are many things in life that can distract us. Many losses, pains, and sufferings can lead us to take the eyes off the prize. Focusing on these things of life can lead to unfruitfullness, it can lead to failure, it can lead to sinking when we were walking on water.  As Christians, the focus needs to be on Yeshua.  Everything else is secondary and can be a distraction.

    In contrast is the story of Angel Matos, the cuban taekwondo who kicked a referree in the face after being disqualified for taking too much time for an injury.  He lost his cool and in turn lost the ability to compete in the future.  We all can do the same thing. We have things fail to go our way and we can explode and lose control.  This is especially true when the goal and dream becomes everything and an idol unto itself. We each need to check and see whether what we are pursuing has taken precedent over serving the Kingdom of God.  We also need to learn to take disappointments and failed expectations and trust God is at work anyway. It is very common when we have failed expectations or even God doesn’t work or intervene how we expect that we can get angry at self and angry at God and act out in ways that dishonor ourself and the Kingdom of God.

The Canadian 8 main row crew won a gold medal and displayed perseverance.  In the last summer olympics they disappointed in their performance and this time around displayed the perseverance needed to achieve the gold medal and redeem from past faltering.  The US men’s basketball team is similar in that they learned from past mistakes and put together a team that worked cohesively rather then simply depending on talent.  These teams showed the ability to learn from the past and make adjustments and do things differently.  Each of us need to take the same approach in our lives. We need to learn from our mistakes and failings. Often times our mistakes and failures end up repeated because we don’t learn from our past mistakes or when face difficulties we give up.  Standing firm and enduring means that no matter what obstacle, even our own failings, we endure, learn and grow. The very nature of the Grace of God allows for this growth process.  Our mistakes, sins and selfishness are dealt with at the Cross.

     Of course there were controversay in the Beijing Olympics as well. The primary controversay was that of Chinese Gymnast He Kexin, who is rumored to be younger then the qualifying age to compete.  Apparently in China, it has been fairly easy to switch dates of birth, resulting in the ability to call this event into question.  There also were two athletes who were found to take shortcuts and were disqualified from their medals: Ara Abrahamian, the bronze medal winning Greco-Roman wrestler from Sweden, and Jong Su Kim, the North Korean shooter who won bronze and silver.  It is tempting to take shortcuts to get what we want or expect. Sometimes you get what you want, and don’t get caught. Sometimes you do. Regardless, there is no honor in winning with shortcuts.  If we take shortcuts in our lives in pursuit of what God puts before us, God is not honored, and ultimately attention gets taken away from the Gospel and onto the shortcut.

     There were of course many other stories, most of them involving loss and defeat.  Some people were there just for the honor of competing in the Olympics with full knowledge of their own limitations.  We need to be aware of our limitations as well. Sometimes we are to follow a path and purse what God puts before us without any grand result. Just simple service, and there is great honor in simple services, just as there is great honor for athletes just competing in the Olympics.

     In summary, the Bible clearly uses the analagoy of altheltics and running the race in order pursue excellence in the Kingdom of God.  We need to focus and not let things of the world distract or disqualify. We need to stay grounded in truth. There is no shortcuts. We each need to be dedicated and regardless use our gifts and talents to the best of our ability, as if we were the Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt in the Kingdom of God all to bring glory to Yeshua.  So with those thoughts in mind take some time to reflect on these four bible verses.

Galatians 2:2 (NIV) I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain. 

 1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV) Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.  

 Galatians 5:7 (NIV) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 

Hebrews 12:1 (NIV) 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.