We are spending the next 45 days preparing for the Easter celebration by embarking on another Warrior Discipline Challenge. If you have not ever utilized our Warrior Disciplines Training Chart, why not give it a try and see how you do? It's certainly not for everyone, and we can respect that. We have a certain flavor to our pursuits, highlighted by the virtues of both a disciple of Jesus and of a warrior. The Warrior part is obviously the optional portion, but it is something that has given verve and excitement to our Journey, and we know that it resonates with many of you. If you want to join us in a way that has some competitive accountability to it, let us know who you are, and where you are joining us from. You can do that by leaving comments here, or, if you have a facebook account, by posting on our facebook page "the Warriors Path". Then check in once a week, or more often if you wish, to register your scores for the week and see how you are doing in comparison with us and with others!
"You're not just anyone. One day you're going to have to make a choice. You have to decide what kind of man you want to grow up to be. Whoever that man is, good character or bad, is going to change the world." - Jonathan Kent from Man of Steel movie trailer 2012
Change the world.
You, reading this line at this very moment. You, despite all appearances to the contrary - you. You, sitting down at the computer after a frustrating day of long hours spent doing absolutely nothing of great significance - earning money, chasing personal successes, satisfying small wants and needs that begin and end with yourself, that never radiate beyond the four walls of your own home, and that will be forgotten even by yourself come tomorrow's dawning light...
Yes, you. You've got choices. Choices about what kind of man (or woman) you want to be. And those choices can change the world.
Don't we all long for that to be true of us? To matter? To be powerful enough to make some sort of difference in the world? Who among us sits down to watch one of these increasingly popular films about superheroes like Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Iron Man, and walks away afterwards thinking, "I am SO glad I can live a small, insignificant life that doesn't radiate with strength, purpose, and heroic impact on the world?" No - we leave the theatre awash in a mixture of bittersweet longings, with the scab ripped away from one of our most ancient wounds: the loss of any sense that our lives really matter.
I know, I know: what about humility? What about giving God ALL the glory? What about being nothing more than a sinful wretch in the sight of the All-Powerful? What about Jesus saying to his closest friends and greatest disciples, "Apart from me you can do nothing?" How often have you heard a preacher remind you to be encouraged, because God likes to use failures, losers, and nobodies?
Well, my guess is that you've had more than your fair dose of that side of things. And don't get us wrong - there is certainly truth to all that. A whole lot of truth. If we wanted to we could, in all honesty, sit around day after day trembling at the thought of our complete frailty, our precarious position clinging to a biological life threatened in a thousand ways by a thousand possible deaths, aware that the hope of new life on Eternal Shores is even more beyond our control than this fragile biological life that can be extinguished like a candle's flame in a mere moment.
Yes, before the sheer power and magnitude of God, we are certainly as dust. Here today, gone tomorrow. Desperately dependent at every turn. Small, weak, insignificant creatures compared to the might and power of our Creator.
But we just aren't sure how helpful its going to be to focus on all that at this point in the story...
Because there is another side to all this, and contrary to what you've probably been told, it is not a battle between "humanism" and "true Christianity", where the one side believes Man is powerful, capable, and creative, and the other argues that Man is dust, and evil, and a worm. The truth is - hold your breath now and get ready - the truth is that all of it is True, depending what you are focusing on. Ever since right near the very beginning of humanity's story, we have been a race that has Fallen. What does that mean? Well, the obvious thing that you hear talked about in Christian circles the most is that this means we now have a nature that is a slave to evil and imperfection. That is where the Race has fallen to. But equally important is where the Race has fallen from, and what exactly the Christian "gospel" promises in regard to God's ability through Christ to restore us to the place from which we have fallen.
It's all a matter of what piece of the overall picture you want to be focusing on. And right now, in most of our lives, the thing we need more than anything else is a renewed sense of significance. We may be dust, but it is a priceless dust, and God has dared to call that dust His sons and daughters. We may be frail, short-lived creatures, but those creatures do matter. To God and to the universal movement of restoring all things to the way they were meant to be. To the mission that has been appointed to us. To the people that need us - our love, our good news, our courage, our strength, our intervention, labor, and sacrifice on their behalf.
Yes, Jesus told his closest allies and friends that apart from Him they could do "nothing". But that was merely a warning, not the focus or heartbeat of His message to them. The central thing you find as you read the gospel accounts is what Jesus says about what these young men can do with Him. They can heal the sick. They can raise the dead. They can wield supernatural power to defeat forces of evil from another world. They can calm storms, walk on water, throw mountains into the sea. They can bind up the broken hearted and set the captives free.
They can, in fact, change the world.
And so they did.
"The question - O me! - so sad recurring - What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here. That life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse." - Walt Whitman
"Always have an objective. Know your end game before you lift a hand...the most important thing is that you understand your motivation: always know what it is that you want."
- Gabrielle Gray, "Heroes" NBC Feb. 2009
"What I do is me. For this, I came."
-Gerard Manly Hopkins (as quoted by John Eldredge, "The Four Streams")
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, the exclaimed, "Everyone is looking for you!"
Jesus replied, "Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so I can preach there also. This iswhy I have come." Mark 1:35-38
We live in a world starved for any sense of the "end game". For most of us, the days of our lives progress in the most disjointed manner imaginable, lacking any sense of cohesiveness, direction, or mission. Work hard, earn enough money to make it to the end of the year, try to avoid pain and suffering, do your best to deaden the longings for more Life, return to step 1, repeat. We don't live: we exist, we survive.
But to what end? What is the goal of our survival? To not die? Is that it? To keep doing what we are doing - going around in this endless cycle of simply existing - for as long as we possibly can? Do we even still hope that something, some day, will change?
Remember the story of The Count of Monte Cristo? Edmond Dantes spent fourteen years imprisoned in the hellish Chateau D'If for a crime he did not commit, betrayed by his own friends. Do you think he survived that long because he thought his life of imprisonment was better than death? Not on your life. He survived because he had a motivation. A mission. He knew his end game, and it wasn't to perish in a stone cell, agonizingly forsaken. No. He would live to breathe the free air again. He would live to see the star-studded heavens once more, to sail the mediterranean sea and feel the salty brine spraying his sun-drenched face, to feel the soft warmth of his true love's kiss. He would live to see injustice overturned. And if all else failed, he would live to have his vengeance.
But he never would have bothered to keep himself alive if he thought the Chateau D'If was going to have the last word, would turn out in fact to be his everlasting and eternal destination.
Edmond Dantes was certainly far wiser than you and I. And strangely enough, probably far happier, because he lived with purpose. In fact he lived with nothing else. We are drawn to his story, captivated by it because we see the great romance of the undistracted life - even in the context of horrible pain and suffering, we know that we have been confronted with something better, stronger, higher, more desirable than our lives of aimless dissipation.
But is this confusion, this lack of purpose and mission, this life lived without any firm and resolute grasp of our "end game" simply what it means to live under the Curse that fell on the race of Man once upon a time in that Garden back at the beginning of the Story? Maybe so. But even if we grant that this is exactly what we are dealing with, isn't there more to that Story? Wasn't the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Savior supposed to have some impact on all that? Some counteracting influence?
"For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." - Romans 5:17
Jesus came to Earth to do a lot of things, some perhaps more important than others. (Wont every different church, denomination, and theologian make it very clear which ones you ought to place higher than the others? But that is why we say perhaps. We doubt very seriously ourselves that God sees holes, weaknesses, or incidentals in His Great Work). But certainly one of the things He came to do was restore a man's (and a woman's) original gift of living a significant life. Of finding answers to the questions "Why me?", "Why now?", "Why here?" "Why do I exist, and what is expected of me?"
Jesus actually was quite specific in answering the last question you know. Much. He said much was expected of you. "To whom much is given, much will be expected".
Of course, you will hear that message in plenty of Christian circles. I remember hearing that in my youth and feeling like I had just been assigned a 40 page research paper, with end notes. Just one more guilt trip. You better watch out. No skating into heaven on a free pass.
But there's another way to look at Jesus' words. To the one walking the Warrior's Path, these words are not just heaping one more duty on our burdened lives, they are the invitationto a magnificent gift.
The gift of a mission.
So, that's what God wants from my life? Much? Hey - so do I! You see, He's not the one behind the monotony of an insignificant life after all. We can choose to live one, certainly. But the offer is for something more. We can have the purposeful, driven, missional life that Edmond Dantes had - and we don't have to spend 14 years in the Chateau D'If to discover it.
In other words, we can live like Jesus.
Don't miss this. Don't rationalize it away, don't subordinate it beneath some favorite theological scheme that dismisses it as "optional". If we are to take Jesus as our Lord and King, then We must take Him as we find Him, not as we admire the parts of Him that reflect our own wishes. Jesus knew exactly who He was, exactly why He had come - like no other human before Him had ever known these things. There are some stirring images in Chesterton's writings about how Jesus marched towards His destiny with unswerving determination, and swept across the Jewish countryside like a whirlwind and a clap of thunder. When you love Jesus, you are loving the kind of man who set out to do so much more than grow in His personal relationship with His Father while living at peace with his family and neighbors. You are loving a man who set out to save the world.
And then He invited us to walk that same path. To join Him in saving the world. To be drawn forward into the days ahead with an unquenchable sense of purpose, to live with "a touch of destiny" about us. To be so completely His that we, of all people who have ever lived, be the most completely our true intended selves.
What is your motivation for what you are going to do with the rest of today? This week? This summer? Do you know your mission? Do you know your end game? Do you know why you have come?
"A very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain. If you have a pipe about you, sit down and have a fill of mine! There's no hurry, we have all the day before us!" Then Bilbo sad down on a seat by his door, crossed his legs, and blew out a beautiful grey ring of smoke that sailed up into the air without breaking and floated away over The Hill.
"Very pretty!" said Gandalf. "But I have no time to blow smoke-rings this morning. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it's very difficult to find anyone."
"I should think so - in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and I have no use for adventures. Nasty, disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner! I can't think what anybody sees in them," said our Mr. Baggins, and stuck one thumb behind his braces, and blew out another even bigger smoke ring. --The Hobbit, page 13
The beauty, the genius, the near universal appeal of Tolkien's writings are summed up in this man of great imagination's ability to recreate in a world of fantasy the very truths that permeate our own Reality - though we know them not by the names with which he has named them. Indeed, he has haunted us with visions of the Truth that have more vivid clarity than that with which we approach our own lives, and if we have the heart to listen, we are certain to find ourselves in the silly, self-indulgent creatures with which he has populated 'The Shire'.
John Eldredge has said that three ultimate longings found in the heart of a man are for "an adventure to live, a battle to fight, and a beauty to rescue." Women too, he contends, long for the same thing, with an added relational angle - it is for "and adventure to share" that their hearts equally ache and yearn.
A thirst for adventure, set deep within the hearts of us all. A key ingredient in bringing our hearts fully alive, our lives fully awake, our waking full of purpose, our purpose full of joy.
So why is Adventure the last thing we seek in the way we choose to live our lives? Why have we settled into our own self-indulgent routine of comfort and avoidance of anything that might be classified as 'nasty', 'disturbing' or 'uncomfortable'? What sort of an evil enchantment has been cast over us that we, 'a stem of that victorious stock' which dared to create the Universe, and then gave His life in a daring raid to rescue it, should yet ourselves, choosing against our own hearts, choose the monotonous boredom of safety over against the daring of a truly great Adventure? What Power holds sway over us to teach us to lie to ourselves so? To gratify the appetites of our stomach at the expense of the longings of our heart, the very nature of what we were created to be?
What madness is this? Have we forgotten who we are? If comfort, security, and being well-fed are the greatest pursuits a Man can aspire to, why is it that there is more depression here in our comfortable Western "Shire" than in any other corner of the globe?
"As they sang the hobbit felt the love of beautiful things made by hands and by cunning and by magic moving through him, a fierce and a jealous love...Then something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains, and hear the pine-trees and the waterfalls, and explore the caves, and wear a sword instead of a walking-stick." -- The Hobbit, page 22
"And wear a sword instead of a walking-stick."
Oh, how that speaks to our deepest hearts! Can you feel something welling up inside of you even now - a longing to break out of the monotony of the life-long habit and culture of self-preservation and fling yourself headlong into a Great Adventure? To leave hearth and home and your provincial little sphere of knowledge and strike out into the Wide World on a journey full of risk and mystery?
'But think of the danger!' whispers that same cold voice that has chained us to our lives of quiet desperation for this many years.
"So Thorin went on: 'We shall soon before the break of day start on our long journey, a journey from which some of us, or perhaps all of us may never return.'
....Poor Bilbo couldn't take it any longer. At 'may never return' he began to feel a shriek coming up inside, and very soon it burst out like the whistle of an engine coming out of a tunnel...the poor hobbit could be seen kneeling on the hearth-rug, shaking like a jelly that was melting..." -- The Hobbit, page 23
Who can deny it? With bold and unblushing strokes, Tolkien has painted us well, and captured the inner struggle that we all face. We are, above all else driven by Fear - and so accustomed to its ability to seep into every thought, consideration, venture for the future - that we don't even recognize it for the work of the Devil that it is.
"God is love...there is no fear in love..." I John 4:16,18
The horns of a dilemma indeed. The voice of fear is the voice of a Liar, and yet we have been trained all too well to listen to it as the voice of wisdom, the voice of reason. We desire more; we fear the cost will be to high.
"But this I will say to you: your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true..."
Sometimes the most astounding and distressing thing about our lives as Christians is the lack of a sense that there is really any pressure connected with how we move forward into whatever lies before us in the Story that we have fallen into.
Naturally, who would want the pressure? Our lives are already awash with anxiety, panic, the tyranny of the urgent. Those bills have to be paid NOW or they're going to shut off our electricity or repossess our car. If the grass isn't mowed THIS weekend, it'll be too tall to get through it with that lawnmower that's put in good service, but has seen better days. If we don't get that project in the mail TODAY we are going to have some very angry clients, maybe jeapordize the whole business. If I don't come up with an incredibly romantic date SOON, that relationship might be headed for the rocks.
And so it goes...
There's no question that we understand the need to "git 'er done". Whether it's human nature or not, it's certainly the spirit of this Age. In almost every area of our lives, choices come with consequences.
So what are we doing wandering through our spiritual journey like it's one big invitation to spend an afternoon at the mall, or the zoo, or the beach?
Sure, Grace is a pretty big deal in Christianity. There's plenty of it to be had, and most of us don't mind standing in line as often as it takes to get all that we need and then some.
I get that.
But even though it is "grace that leads me home", and grace that carries us so often along the Way, there are still other components to our creation as image bearers, made in the likeness of God. Even in the midst of our addiction to grace, we never fully extinguish our longing to have something expected of us.
John Eldredge writes "Oh how we long for this - for a great endeavor that draws upon our every faculty, a great 'life's work' that we could throw ourselves into".
And your heart says, "Yes." That sentiment is not the sort of thing a preacher has to exort you to do your best (with the help of your accountability group) to manufacture.
It's just there.
It's in you.
Your soul leaps at the suggestion.
I think it's safe to say that we were made to feel that way.
So who do you know that treats the next 24 hours in their relationship with God, with Jesus, and with the whole Unseen Realm like it is something more than a walk in the park, a pasttime, a hobby for the 'good' people of the world, the last thing on their list of what really needs to get attended to NOW?
This is why cultivating an 'epic' mindset is so vitally important. Because, to some degree, the Quest does stand upon the edge of a knife. Ground is being won or lost right now, today, that has HUGE implications on the Journey ahead -- both for you and for those that need you.
"Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all..."
May we all inject our spiritual lives with some of that sense of importance and urgency...
Ultimately the Christian world is divided into only two groups: those who believe that this invitation is at the core of the heart of God (and therefore all human existence), and those who do not.
Or did you even know about the first group?
We believe a great many things about God, but, for the most part, topping the list is not the belief that He is offering Himself to us in an open, present, engaged, knowable way. If there is anything that is deeply (if unconsciously) believed about the God of all Creation, it is that He is unsearchable, thatHe is unknowable. "His ways are not our ways" we are constantly reminded, and after all, "Who can understand the mind of God?" Not that we needed any theological support for this feeling that God is, well, hiding from us.
How different would your take on Life be if you thought the One who designed the whole shebang...well...wanted you to find Him? To know Him? Intimately, like a friend, or like the kind of Daddy you wish you had but never really did?
It was during the Christmas holidays (not surprisingly) that during some time alone in prayer, I felt this phrase from the Dickens classic leap to mind: "Come in man! Come in and know me better!" If you are a fan of the George C. Scott film version, you will have the same mental picture I had of the Ghost of Christmas Present, in all is warmth and jocularity, practically laughing out his lines as he summoned the terrified Ebenezer Scrooge into his presence.
Sure, I could have conjured up the words out of my own memory cells. Maybe I did. But, oh, the thrill in that moment of thinking that this was what God was saying! Really, Father? You really want me to throw open the door and come closer? You wont snuff out the light and disappear into the darkness like elves caught unawares in the forest at night? Could I dare believe it?
In the midst of all the hustle and clamor of your life, what have you come to believe - not in theory, but deep in the unspoken places of your heart - about God's attitude towards intimacy...towards drawing close and becoming increasingly knowable...towards sharing Himself with you?
Oh, I know a lot of people who are growing in their theoretical knowledge about God.
But who do I know that is living out this invitation to "come in and know Him better?"
Who do you know that's living like that?
It's arguable, you know, that if this Christian thing is remotely accurate, then the whole purpose of our existence is to know God. Personally. Intimately. Increasingly. The fact that this is just about the last thing happening in most people's lives is one more VERY BIG claim for the worldview that fuels the Warrior's Path: quite simply that spiritual warfare is the context of our Story; that, like it or not, we are at War. Assailed. Besieged. Opposed at all costs from discovering all that God is offering.
"Come in man!" (Said with cheery welcome and abundant mirth, you'll remember!) "Come in and know me better!"
Or, as Jesus said, "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him..."
When I think about all the lies about God that I have come to believe in...
A new chance to fight a little tougher, hang in there a little longer, rise a little higher, become more like the person we've always wanted to be.
No, this isn't just some kind of self-help mumbo-jumbo meant to psyche you up for a challenge that you are destined to lose.
Yes, God does play a crucial role in this whole "becoming something more" thing we call growing into the image of Christ, growing into restored humanity.
But come on - you're the one living your life: all the theological arguments aside about what part God plays and what part humans play, youknowwhat happens when you let yourself slip into complacency...when you stop chasing this thing called holiness...when you stop fighting for abundant life and intimacy with the Father and power through the Spirit.
You know what happens.
There just aren't a whole lot of 'free passes' in the Christian Life. Most mornings God is not going to leave a message for you in your email inbox, so if you run straight into checking your mail and all the rush of the day, He's probably going to let you. It's not that He doesn't care. It just seems to be the rules that govern this particular fairy tale that we have fallen into. There's just a whole lot that's up to us.
More than we are comfortable admitting, for the most part.
"Creation seems to be delegation through and through. God, it appears, does nothing on His own that He could possibly delegate to His creatures..."
"Without God we cannot. Without Man, He will not." (Augustine)
Again, this isn't about 'theology'. This is about what happens when you try it. Spend an hour a day getting alone and quiet and attempting to access the presence of God, and you are likely to find Him...with varying levels of success, admittedly. But spend your whole day on the run from one thing to the next with no time for God and, well...we both know how that works out. It's like the whole supernatural reality can fade into non-existence, begin to feel like a farce and a fantasy.
So what are we to do? Regardless of the unseen theological mechanisms at work behind the scenes, here at the level of our experience we can't deny that so much appears to basically be up to us. What will we do next? What will we do with this year? With this day? With this moment?? Will we develop a Warrior's spirit? A dogged refusal to stay down in the mud, no matter how many times we've fallen flat on our faces? A unyielding commitment to our own transformation - to the long and brutal training that it may require to turn us from lambs to lions?
We'll be honest with you: if 2011 felt like you spent more time with your face in the mud than on your feet, you are not alone. We're right with you on this one. No worries that we think anybody who feels like its a fight just to keep moving forward is some sort of failure who just needs to understand their 'victory in Christ Jesus'. No, we know it's not that easy.