Monday, March 31, 2014

Jesus the Pioneer

I'm from the West Coast of the US, Washington and Oregon. In the 1800s people took the Oregon Trail west to seek their fortunes. Pioneering is in our blood. My father found his bride in England during the war, settled in Nebraska (mid west) for a while, then took the family to Washington state where I grew up. Ione's great grandfather was a rogue who travelled across the US from the East Coast to the West and joined the gold rush in the Yukon. He painted and decorated famous homes up and down the West Coast of the US, and some of these homes still sport his artistry and craftsmanship. Recently Ione transcribed his diaries and has been putting them online. Great grandpa Atwood did not go to the Yukon territory alone, he followed a guide, a leader, a pioneer who knew the way and understood the dangers. The guide knew what time of year was safe for a mountain pass crossing. He knew when to pull the boats onto shore and carry them around rushing rapids and waterfalls that would have drowned everyone in the expedition. He knew the way, because he had travelled it many times. Their leader was a pioneer.

In Hebrews 12 Jesus is described as "the pioneer and perfecter of our faith" and we are told that we "must keep our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith". The Contemporary English version puts it this way

We must keep our eyes on Jesus, who leads us and makes our faith complete. 
Heb 2:10 says "For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings."
When reading this I felt confused by the word "pioneer" so I looked it up in the dictionary. says a "pioneer" is:
a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.
Jesus is the pioneer who opened the land of salvation for you and me. He is the leader who prepared the way for us through his sacrificial death on the cross, and he personally leads us into the amazing kingdom of God. There is one thing you and I need to know about the journey...

The way through this wilderness is dangerous. The Oregon Trail and the Yukon trail were littered with the graves of those who didn't make it. They fell behind and lost sight of their leader. Like stragglers from a herd of wildebeasts they were picked off by the lions along the way.

Modern life is also filled with dangers that can lead to the death of our spirits. Distractions: smart phone notifications, news bulletins, telephones ringing, people constantly interrupting, easy access to pornography, ladies on the street offering 'massagee, you like?'. Then there are the temptations to covet and envy others. Most of our customers make a lot more money than we do. Their lives seem glamorous compared to ours. If I don't keep my eyes on Jesus, my leader, I can and will easily go astray. The path will look wide and smooth at first, but before long I will find myself lost, trying to hack my way through briars and brambles, with no idea where Jesus is. There will only be the quiet terrifying sounds of wild beasts following my trail, waiting for me to injure myself or give up, so that they can move in for the kill.

What should I do? Keep my eyes on Jesus!

"Through many dangers, toils and snares I have already come". But there are still more to come. Keep your eyes of Jesus, the leader, the pioneer, the one who has gone before and prepared the way. Don't get distracted, don't turn off to the right or the left. Go straight after him.  And if you have strayed off the trail that he has blazed for you, cry out to him. "Jesus, help me. I'm lost. I need you."  He will come. He will rescue you and lead you in the way.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

It's not easy

Yesterday as we were finishing our set of TaiChi a young man who looked to be 26 or 27 years old came over and watched. After we finished he asked my Sifu if he would teach him TaiChi. Yu Sifu told him that he would have to meet certain conditions and then took a few minutes to demonstrate a few basic warm-up exercises. The young man tried his best to follow Master Sifu, but after a few minutes he was panting for breath and holding his thighs and knees. Gasping for breath, he said "I thought it would be easy." I wonder if he'll be back today.

It reminded me of the young people who came to Jesus and said "I'll follow you anywhere", but then found they had more pressing matters to tend to (planning farewell parties, taking care of their parents, looking at a field, growing their money and building a financial empire, finding an actual bed to sleep in at night. Did they think following Jesus would be easy?

Every path we choose has its difficulties. The path that promises pleasure and ease leads to chains, pain and regret. The path that seems more difficult at first leads to the peaceable fruit of righteousness. I deeply regret the times I walked away from the Master thinking that I was denying myself some pleasure that 'normal people' got to experience. It was a lie, and the pleasures were a well laid trap. Following Jesus is not easy, because it is a daily choice. Still, I can't say it is hard because Jesus said that his yoke was easy, and the burden light.

Following Jesus is not easy, but it is worth doing. If you have the chance (and you do) don't walk away. Walk as close to Him as you can.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's not FAIR!

Some people face great difficulties in life, while others have it pretty easy. Scientists, by looking at your place of birth, can fairly accurately predict how long you'll live. I was born in America, so my life expectancy is much longer than someone born in Somalia. Even within our own circles, e.g., Filipinos working in HK, some come from happy families and work for kind bosses, while others come from backgrounds of great brokenness and may end up with an unkind boss. It doesn't seem fair.

Hebrews 12:1 says, "And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us."  The ESV translates it this way: "And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."

You and I are both running the race of faith, but my race is NOT the same as your race. My race may run along a flowing stream, while the course of your race is through the mountains. The road I'm running on may be smooth while yours is rough and strewn with rocks, or vice versa. Everyone's race is a race of faith, and yet, everyone's race is different. Your race is different from mine. The challenges you face are different than the challenges I face. It is easy for us to compare ourselves with others and say "It's not fair."

The race set before me is different than the race set before you, but some things are the same.

  1. The race is SET before us by God. Our loving Father in heaven determines the racecourse that we each will face. He has a plan for our lives and it is a plan to bless us, not to harm us. 
  2. Jesus has gone before us and will run our race with us. We are not alone in our race. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the pioneer, the trailblazer. He has promised "I will never leave you nor forsake you." No matter how hard the race is right now, Jesus is besides you to help you. 
  3. Others have finished their races, and they are cheering for you and me to finish ours. They are our examples and by studying their lives we can learn to run well and will be able to finish our race.
  4. The race demands endurance. It won't be easy, but you can finish. Just don't quit. If you fall down, get back up again. Move your feet. Whisper a prayer for help and keep going. 
  5. It will be worth it. Someday we will enjoy the joys of being in the presence of Jesus. We'll be living on the new earth, and every day will be filled with unbelievable joy and wonder. Every tear will have been wiped away and we'll experience pure happiness. 
Keep on running. Don't give up. Life is not fair, but God is good and Jesus is running beside you, so keep moving. You can finish the race of faith.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What are you looking at?

"looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."  Hebrews 12:2

Someone has said "you become like that which you focus on". Children naturally and unknowingly imitate their parents because they see them all the time. I'm amazed how much my grandson Ethan's mannerisms are similar to Jennifer his mom, whose mannerisms are similar to mine (grandpa). This process happens naturally by simply being with another person. Have you ever noticed how married couples begin to look like each other the longer they are married or how we finish each other sentences?

The rate of transformation can be increased by being intentional about it. I go out every morning to learn TaiChi from Master Yu Wing Ho. As I am learning I try to watch and imitate his every move. I've even asked him where he got the light cotton pants he practices in, because they look way more comfortable than my Western warm-ups.  Someday I'll show up dressed like him! (He shaves his head every 2 weeks, but I'm not ready to go that far, yet.) :-)

When the author of Hebrews exhorts us "looking to Jesus", we should understand the words in the fullest sense possible.

  • Hang out with Jesus. The more time you spend with Jesus, the more like him you will become. Listen to the Bible as you work or exercise. has audio versions for your phone that you can play and meditate on as you do housework, exercise, etc. Listen and talk to Jesus about what you are hearing. Attend church and life groups. Hang out with other people who want to be like Jesus. Hang out with Jesus.
  • Be intentional about imitating Jesus. Read the gospels and let the heart of Jesus touch and challenge you. See how he treats others and intentionally do the same. If you have a "big brother or sister" in the Lord, watch them and imitate them as they imitate Christ. Don't imitate their failings, but learn from them as well. 

Looking to Jesus can be both natural and intentional. What are you looking at?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Running or Walking, finish the race

Such a large crowd of witnesses is all around us! So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won't let go. And we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us.
Hebrews 12:1

I have a confession: "I hate running." I run for the bus. I used to run away from the police (another long story). I ran when I played basketball. But generally speaking, "I HATE RUNNING". So it bothers me that God likens the Christian life to a foot race. I have Christian friends who when they travel overseas, they always bring their running shoes. They invite me along for a jog, but I politely decline. Runners seem so much more spiritual and self disciplined than me. I want to put sand in their shoes. (not really)

When I was 30 years old I entered a 7 mile river run in our Lewiston, ID. I ran every night after work to get ready, going up and down the hills around where we lived. I trained for weeks so that I could finish a 7 mile long race. When the race day came along, my friend who ran with me, asked "Is that how fast you're going to run this whole race? I said 'yes" and he promptly ran off and left me in the dust. By the end of the race old ladies with walkers were passing me by. Little kids who alternately ran and walked passed me. I was pathetic, but I finished the race. 

The Christian life is described as a race, but also as a walk. "Walk in the light". "Walk as children of light", "walk in the truth", "Walk in the Spirit", "walk in his ways", "walk in newness of life". Did I mention that I love to walk? Both walking and running are metaphors that describe what it means to follow Jesus. Rather than fixating on "running" OR "walking" the key is to focus and finish. "Run with endurance the race set before you". "Be determined to run the race that is ahead of us (and to finish)."  Walk in the way, the light, love, in his commandments, etc. 

The issue isn't walking or running, but rather our heart's motivation and purpose. Have I determined to follow Jesus? Are my eyes fixed on him? Do I want to please him? walk in his ways, in his light, in his love. Am I determined to finish the race? 

Every step of that 7 mile river run was painful and tortuous for me, but I finished the race. I may even have finished ahead of the old lady with her walker. The race I face today is a much longer and arduous race. I hope that "walking" is acceptable. I think it is, as long as I walk in love, in the light, in the Spirit. 

Lord help me to run or walk with my eyes and my heart fixed on you.  Amen 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Did you know you have something clinging to you?

Christians talk a lot about "abundant life" and "victorious living", but I have often struggled in my walk with the Lord. There have been times when I fell into bondage to sin, and felt like I would never get free.  I felt like I should change my email address to I wanted to experience freedom, but found myself floundering in sin. What was wrong?

Hebrews 12:1 says, 

So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won't let go. 

Sin that just won't let go - Once sin takes root in our lives it is very difficult to pull it out. Like a weed with a long root, we pull off the top of the weed, but it grows right back. Sin clings to us like a bad haircut. I wondered why I couldn't break that bad habit -- Why did I  repent and cry out to God, then turn around and sin again.  It was because sin just won't let go. Even the great apostle Paul cried out  "Who will set me free from this body of death?" (Romans 7, yeah you should probably read it) Roman soldiers used to punish people by tying a dead body to them and making them carry the corpse around for days. Imagine that! That is what it is like to carry around a "clinging sin." Nothing is more painful or shameful - nothing.
How can we get free from clinging sin? The Bible's solution is simple and radical.
"Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed"  James 5. The first step is to confess your sin. For years I struggled with a secret sin that was ruining my life and making me miserable. I felt like a hypocrite and I was filled with self hatred. I confessed my sin again and again to God, but it didn't result in freedom. My life verse was 1John 1:9. The Bible says to "confess your sins to one another."  That's the secret.  I needed to "out" myself. Hebrews 12 says "we must get rid of sin" - WE - nobody does it alone. Finally I confessed my  sin to my  wife, and to some Christian leaders, and others I had sinned against. I thought they would condemn me, but instead they helped me defeat the bully of sin and find freedom and joy  again. 
Sin is like a 300 pound bully. He will beat you down until you just give up. Sin's motto is "Resistance is futile." Sin wants us to believe that we can never be free. I believed Sin for a time, but after I admitted my sin to others I discovered freedom and learned that Sin is a LIAR. I discovered that I could live free. So can you. If you have a "clinging sin", please find a mature Christian and tell them the truth about what you have done/ are doing. Freedom and help is waiting. It's time to leave the shame and the clinging sin behind. You've got a race to run.