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Heroes

Growing up playing sports I had certain heroes that I idolized and always wanted to be like. In my brief stint in baseball (that would be anytime where there was no ability to cut me from the team) I idolized Tom Glavine. Left-handed pitcher, Cy Young Award winner, part of the great three from the Atlanta Braves. Every time I stepped on the mound I imagined myself being him. In weightlifting those heroes have changed over time but between Naim Suleymanoglu, Urik Vardanian, and Syzmon Kolecki, I was always watching and imagining that I moved like those guys. (Some of the weightlifters out there just laughed at me because of how different each of those lifters are but nonetheless I wanted to be just like them)

We do this with the Bible and with our Christian heroes as well. We look at Paul as a man worth imitating. Surely if there is somebody worth copying it's the man who wrote half the New Testament is the greatest missionary to ever walk the earth. Or what about David, titled a man after God's own heart who was so deeply intimate in his relationship with the Lord that God promised and sustained his lineage from which Jesus would come. Or one of my personal, nonbiblical heroes, Martin Luther who would give his life for the perseverance of the Holy Scriptures and proper understanding of faith during the Protestant Reformation. These are all men we look at, hope to imitate in many ways, and title as heroes of the faith.

All of these things are good. Certainly David, Paul, and Martin Luther lived lives lifting up the gospel of Jesus Christ. Certainly many of their habits, writing, and actions are worth imitating in our own lives. However, in our noble desire to honor these men for their work for the Gospel, we can miss a very important implication.
In 2 Corinthians 4:7, Paul points us to this reality. He says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” David reminds us in 1 Chronicles 29:11–12 that, “Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.”

Each of these men, despite their honorable lives, were failures. David slept with another man's wife only to get her pregnant and kill her husband in an attempt to cover it up. Paul was the modern day ISIS, seeking out Christians to imprison and murder. Some of Martin Luther's words and anti-semetic views were not only filled with hate but made many question his salvation. Each of these men gave the world much to imitate but each of these men fail as worthwhile heroes. In fact, this is true of every man or woman who has ever walked the face of the planet except for one.

Second Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 John 3:5, among multiple multiple others, notes that there's only been one Man, one Hero who never fails. That Man is the Lord Jesus Christ. Our heroes in the faith, those worth imitating will always fail us except the one true hero Jesus Christ. The good and the admirable that we see in so many men and women of the faith in the past and today are only meant to point us toward the one true King who has never failed. All of the men that I've listed, outside of Jesus, will make terrible Saviors. The heroes we love and idolize are meant to point us to Jesus.  Jesus is the only hero who has ever lived and will ever live able to save us.  Only Christ can save and for that reason is He the real hero of the Bible.

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Why is Good Friday “Good?”

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  2 Corinthians 5:21

As a young kid, long before I really understood who Jesus is, I always wondered why they called today “Good” Friday. It seemed ironic to me that the day Jesus was killed is the day Christians call good. It always seems more fitting to me to call Easter Sunday,  good Sunday instead. Why not call the day He rose from the dead “good?” Why not give a negative name to the day He died?

When I became a Christian at 19, while the Gospel had been explained to me, I still did not quite grasp what was so good about His death. Christians celebrated the execution of a innocent man on what would be a modern day electric chair.  I knew His resurrection and Christ defeating the grave was good. I just didn't understand why we needed Him to die the way He did.

Some time soon after I became a Christian I was handed a book by John Piper titled “50 Reasons Jesus Came To Die.” It's a short devotional that details 50 “good” reasons Jesus needed to die and how that was a good thing. I would highly recommend the book. After reading it, two really important things stuck with me:

1. Christ's death was the fulfillment of hundreds of Old Testament prophecies, and the final conclusion of a Messianic promise. Since the time of Abraham, God's people had been looking for the Messiah. There were literally dozens of Messianic figures who looked like they might be the Messiah, but only failed in the end.

  • Moses led his people out of Egypt and then ultimately failed them in his sin against God in the desert that would keep him from the promised land.
  • Joseph tried to save God's people by bringing them into Egypt and save them from famine, but ultimately just led them into slavery.
  • Pick any one of the judges who got appointed to save the oppressed, downtrodden people of God and you'll see their ultimate failure in the end.
  • David, titled “a man after God's own heart,” had everything in line to bring God's kingdom to ultimate power, and instead sinned against God by sleeping with Bathsheba and killing her husband.

Every single Messianic figure who enters the Biblical story ultimately fails to save God's people. They were always unsuccessful because of their ingrained sinfulness.  Yet they always point us to the true Messiah to come. Christ comes as the only perfect human, perfectly free of sin, who would save God's people from their own depravity. However, his only viable route to pull that off was to die the death mankind deserved.

Prophecy after prophecy declared that the Messiah would come the way Christ did. Isaiah 53 clearly details that the Messiah would suffer and die for His people that wanted nothing to do with Him. Why is Christ's death ultimately “good?” Because it fulfilled every prophecy ever written about Him, the prophecies people had been waiting for Him to fulfill for thousands of years. Christ ended their waiting.

2. It's good that Jesus died because our death couldn't heal the sin problem in this world. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sinned against the holy, perfect God. That sin wrecked their lives, their relationships, and every single life and relationship following them. Their sin created in man a depravity that could not be filled outside of the work of God. Prior to Jesus, every death that occurred was deserved and a direct result of the ingrained sin in our lives. Without sin there is no death, and one day when sin is no more, there will be no death. (Revelation 22) Our sin condemns us.

Romans 3:23 details very clearly that we all have fallen short of the glory of God and there's not a thing we can do to change that status. Our sin carried a punishment and that punishment is death. Therefore, God's “good” gift to us was to send the ONLY perfect human to die the ONLY innocent death as the ONLY way to reconcile our debt to the perfect holy God we have rebelled against. Philippians 2:7–8 details that the most humble act in history was Christ moving from perfect glory to take on human form in order that He might die for a people who only desired to hang him on a cross. Stuart Townsend in his wildly popular song “How Deep the Father's Love for Us,” concludes his song with these words:

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer;
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom.

That's why today is good: Christ had to die for people who couldn't fix their sin problem so that they could gain relationship with the holy Father again. Without His death we would still be looking for a perfect Savior to pay our ransom. Christ has died. In three days we celebrate that death and that sin could not hold him, and our God could never be conquered by the grave.

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Why Do We Run From What Is Good For Us?

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”
2 Timothy 3:16
The CrossFit Games Open is one of the best opportunities for an athlete to evaluate their own weaknesses. Furthermore, it's an excellent opportunity to see how much better they've gotten over the course of the year and whether or not their strategies to fix their weaknesses have worked. I love how well the next five weeks level the playing field and force competitive athletes to take a hard look at their training regiment. At the end of the Open every year most athletes have the opportunity to assess where they need the most growth. However, as we all know, the year drags on and we forget the feeling we had after the last Open workout and we start falling back into the routine that we once did ignoring those weaknesses all over again. The Open comes every year to remind us that we have to stay focused on our weaknesses in the sport of CrossFit in order to see consistent improvement.
We really have two options, if you are a competitive athlete, when it comes to the sport of CrossFit. First, you can let competition give you a clear picture of what you need to work on and then respond by attacking those things. Second, you can let competition show where you are weak and what you need to work on and fall back into what you have always done, ignoring the need to attack those weak points. Which route you choose will have a massive impact on your development as an athlete.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul tells us the same thing is true of our reading of the Bible. The Bible does a very good job of helping us to look at our own growth and pursuit of holiness. Literally one of the major reasons God has given us Scripture is to refine and direct us in our sanctification (growth in holiness). Paul reminds us that one of the Bible's major purposes is to correct us and teach us as we pursue the Gospel.
However, just like with CrossFit competition, when we read the Bible we have two options:
1- We can read Scripture, ignoring what it really says, and make sure it fits our preferences, desires, and emotional needs.  I mean the Bible shouldn't be offensive after all right? This is really an easy route and one most of us will take if we are not careful. We have certain ideas about how our Christian life should look and yet there are certain Biblical truthes that we don't necessarily like. There are certain ideas in Scripture that make us feel uneasy but we always have the option of ignoring those. Therefore, because we don't want to feel uncomfortable about what Scripture says, we mold it and twist it just a little to make it feel comfortable and fit our idea of what Christ is calling us to. We often leave out or glance over very important things that God has intended to refine and reprove us with. This is very similar to seeing our weaknesses in competition and throughout the year ignoring them for the purpose of doing what we most enjoy in the gym. While the Bible certainly can be encouraging it can also be sobering. Much of what is written in Scripture forces us to take an introspective look at things that we don't want to look at. We have an option at that point. Glance over, soften, or ignore what is a very prominent in Scripture or be honest with ourselves.
2- Our second option is exactly that. Let Scripture say exactly what it says. Let it read us. Let the Bible be exactly what God calls it. Breathed out by Him, inerrant, perfect, and absolutely applicable to our lives. In the same way that we can look at our weaknesses in CrossFit and do something about them, we must read God's Word through the lens of life application. God does not give us the power or authority to mold and manage Scripture to fit our preferences. He gives us Scripture as an unchanging, perfect lens by which we can look at our own growth for holiness. If something makes you feel uneasy in the Bible, it might be worth spending some time on. If there are themes or doctrine in God's Word that pushes back on certain areas of our life that we hold dear, we might have an idol problem. It's lunacy to look at our weaknesses in exercise and continue year after year to ignore them and hope that they get better. Reading the Bible in hopes that it will fit our desires and our affections and make us feel better about ourselves every single day is the same lunacy. The Bible was meant to drive us towards the Gospel and refine us in our holiness. While the Bible certainly has elements of encouragement and grace and love, it often times has an element of reproof and teaching.  We would be doing ourselves a disservice to ignore them.
As we progress through the Open I would encourage each of you to take a look at where you struggle, write those things down, and plan over the course of the next year to do the things that make you uncomfortable in order to grow in those areas. I would also advise the same introspective look toward Scripture. What makes you feel uneasy? What do you read and not necessarily agree with? Don't gloss over those areas and certainly don't mold them to fit your personal desires. Let the Bible be exactly as God intended it and I pray we would mold ourselves to it rather than the other way around.

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Normative Suffering

3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

– Romans 5:3-5
There are certain things we expect in certain situations. I expect that when I step into the gym for a heavy squat day that my legs will hurt and that it will take some physical and emotional wherewithal to make it through the squat session. Many of our athletes expect that Open workouts are going to hurt really bad. The expectation of pain and suffering in those workouts are a given for them. When CrossFit athletes compete at the Regional and Games level, they expect that there will be movements that are not their favorites. They know that as part of their competition they will be asked to be proficient at a particular movement or energy system that they may not be great at. This is true of every sport. There are things that are not pleasant but are required for us for our growth in the sport. Nobody likes conditioning at football practice. No tennis player like hitting hundreds of balls in the same location over and over again. However, the best not only endure and suffer through these than glorious parts of the sport but they look forward to it. The best athletes in the world will look at the parts of their sport that seem the toughest and smile. The challenge and the suffering, they know, is what makes them better. I think the biggest difference in elite athletes and mediocre athletes can be found in the delight of suffering.  The understanding that suffering is a normative piece of their lives.
Ironically, Christians do not seem to embrace the same mindset when faced with daily suffering in their own lives. The idea that suffering would be a standard part of the Christian experience not only is not attractive to most Christians but we run from it. Matthew 5:10–12 calls the suffering Christian “blessed.” John 15:18 reminds us that we don't suffer alone but in fact Christ suffered first and because of his suffering do we now endure much of the same experience. One of the best examples of suffering, as a result of a life lived for the glory of God, can be found in Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers for revealing a vision that God gave to him and while in slavery in Egypt he refused to sleep with his masters wife and she had him thrown in prison. He literally took the stand that would bring the most glory to God and honor God and the result landed him in prison for two years. If anyone had reason to throw their hands up and look up to God and ask why, it was this man. He had done nothing but serve the Lord and remain faithful and the only experience he had known as a result was suffering. Yet what do we see from Joseph? Joseph is famous for the words “what you intended for evil God intended for good.” Joseph's mindset was always to trust in the Lord's sovereignty, believe in His faithfulness, and rejoice in his own circumstances. Joseph did not shy away from suffering but instead boldly remain faithful to God. Joseph could have absolutely bowed to the commands of his masters wife and avoided prison. However, suffering and persecution were not things to be feared in Joseph's mind. Joseph feared the Lord and to the Lord alone was He faithful.
The Bible reminds us frequently that, if we are living as faithful followers of Christ, we can expect to experience suffering. James 1:2 tells us to count it joy when we meet trials of various kinds. David in Psalm 119:71 tells us it was good that he was afflicted for it caught him the statutes of God. Peter in 1 Peter 1:6–7 tells us to rejoice in our current affliction for it will make our faith stronger and ultimately bring glory to God. Make no mistake, if your Christian experience has been devoid of suffering the Bible would tell you that your Christian experience has been devoid of Christ. Christ's presence in your life does not give you license to run from hard things. In fact, Christ's presence in your life pushes you right into the middle of hard things. No faithful Christian can go through daily living without an understanding and experience of suffering. This is a truth found throughout Scripture that most Christians like to gloss over. God's primary desire for our lives is not pleasantry, comfortability, or happiness but instead is ultimately His glory through our faithfulness. Suffering is light and momentary according 2 Corinthians 4:17 when compared to the joy and glory of God. Consider how often we run towards hard things to make us better athletes and yet run from hard things despite God's reminder that it will make us more refined, more holy men and women of God. This is not to say we should seek out suffering but the Bible clearly commands believers to embrace and rejoice in the midst of inevitable suffering. This is our Christian experience and God promises that He will remain faithful to us in the midst of it and refine us through it.

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Standing on the Promises

 

I think we can all look back and see times when we made a promise or someone made a promise to us and it was not kept.  Some of those memories are trivial and humorous while others may have some long-term struggles.  I can remember promising to do things for my wife that slip my mind or promising an athlete I would modify something in their program and not getting to it.  The old adage, “promises were meant to be broken” carries some weight and truth in our lives.  However, when we struggle with broken promises and the impact they have on our trust for others, we often will portray this on God.  How many times have you read somethign in the Bible, understood its meaning, but did not trust its truth when it was time to put it to practice.  We see this all the time with financial giving.  How many times have we not given to someone or to the church because “we can't afford” it right now?  Yet the Bible promises in Malachi 3:10 that our giving will never return empty.

There are some great examples of this struggle in the book of Genesis. Abram was promised by God that he would not only have a son but that through him, his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. And yet when those plans did not meet his time requirement or did not mesh with his hopes and dreams, he took God's plans into his own hands. At the bidding of his barren wife Sarai, he took God's plans into his own hands and had sex with Hagar (their female servant) in order to create a male heir.  He did not trust in the plans and the power of the Lord nor did he trust in His timing. The hopes and dreams that Abram yearned for pushed him to not believe and rest in God's promises.

Abraham is not alone in this struggle. His grandson Jacob and Abraham's daughter in law Rebecca plotted against Isaac (Abraham's son) to steal the blessing and birthright of the oldest son Esau. They were successful but caused a family rift that would force Jacob to flee from his land and from his family and never see his beloved mother again. The irony of their plot is that God had promised Jacob that his older brother would serve him saying “the older will serve the younger.” God made that promise the day they were born. Jacob and Rebecca could not rest in the promises of God and instead took matters into their own hands. The result was disaster rather than peace.

The stories could go on and on of God's people struggling to trust in His promises. The Israelites in the wilderness often complained and worshipped other gods for fear that God would not fill hHs promise. Aaron, fearing that Moses had died on Mount Sinai, could not trust in God's promise to save the people of Israel and built a golden calf for the people to worship. Solomon, despite his massive economic success, did not trust God in his sovereignty to make the nation great and instead married multiple wives for the purpose of diplomatic strength. The list goes on and on.

In 2016 we read these stories and wonder what they were thinking. How could The people of Israel struggle to trust in the Lord who had miraculously saved them from the Egyptians? It is hard for us to see in hindsight how these men and women could not trust God's promises. However, in 30 years we will look back on our own life and decisions and likely feel the same way. There are so many times where I know God has promised faithfulness and I know God has promised to make all things ultimately for my good and his glory but in the midst of trial or suffering or even when I just feel like circumstances aren't going my way I look to God and wonder what he's doing. I, the created being, look at God, the Creator, and question His ability to be faithful. It's no different then a two-year-old child wondering and complaining to their father about why they took the scissors from them. We can't see all that God is orchestrating and to not trust in his promises is to believe that we know better than our Creator.
If you look back on each of those circumstances in the Old Testament where the patriarchs of the Bible did not trust in the promises of God, you see two things. God's promises still came true. Our attempts at creating our own destiny or manipulating God to fit our desires will always fail. His promises are true and His will unstoppable. Secondly, you see in each of those patriarchs that their attempts to force or change God's plan or mess with His timeline only ended in disaster. Jacob was forced to flee from his homeland and never got to see his beloved mother again. Solomon, despite all of his grandeur and splendor, was succeeded by a civil war and a split in the nation of Israel because of his son's lack of wisdom. We don't know best. Even at our best moments we fail miserably in comparison to the sovereignty and knowledge of God. To believe that His promises aren't good enough or they aren't working fast enough or they aren't meeting our desires reveals our shortsightedness and lack of faith.

In 1886 R.Kelso Carter wrote a now famous song titled “Standing on the promises of God.” One of the verses from this song says this:

“Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.”

Carter nailed it. God's promises do not fail and his faithfulness is as consistent as the sunrise. Because of these truths we can rest in the Lord as our Savior and stand on His promises. Despite your circumstances and regardless of your current situation, God is unchanging and his promises are always sure. Remember who God is, remember His character, and lean on His promises. We are in far better hands when we rest in His promises then we try to make our own way devoid of the Lord.
 Romans 11:33–36 says “Oh the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are His ways and how inscrutable His judgment. For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor. Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To him be the glory forever, Amen.” 

Who are we to believe we know best or that God's promises and faithfulness aren't working fast enough?