Look Up!

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame,
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
(Hebrews 12:2 NIV)

I’ve started running again.  After a brief hiatus (weather, schedule, laziness – whatever), I’ve gone back to the streets for my early morning run.  I’ve forgotten how much I love that time.

Sure, I know it sounds crazy, and maybe it is.  It’s early.  It’s cold.  It’s dark.  Still, there is something beautiful about the morning run.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook.  Sometimes you can get so preoccupied with watching your steps, figuring the pace per mile, avoiding skunks, calculating how much time you’ve got before you have to turn around and get back home to get the kids going for school – you can sometimes forget to even look up.

This morning I looked up, and what a blessing.  I came to the top of the hill, to a clearing of trees, and there, sitting on the horizon of the lightening sky was the moon, golden and full.  If my arm were just a little longer, I swear I could have reached out and touched it.  Was I watching it, or was it watching me, as I ran my course this morning, I couldn’t tell.  Then, in the light of the moon, five deer ran in front of me, gracefully clearing the snow drifts and tall grass as they made their way to the frozen creek.

Something like that doesn’t happen on every run, but I can tuck that picture away for quite a while.  All I had to do was drag these sorry old bones out of bed, hit the trail, and look up.

I think this is why the letter to the Hebrews tells us that we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”  We can get so caught up in all the “busyness” of the Christian life, i.e. small groups, reading programs, mission trips, worship services, Bible studies, all of which are good and valuable practices, but sometimes we can miss the forest for all the trees.

As we read through the Bible, we can get so preoccupied with just getting the reading done that we fail to actually hear what the word says.  We plan and prepare for the program, find the right verses to support the lesson, and pretty soon the Bible becomes nothing more than a book of fragmented quotations to help defend a position.  We come to the Holy Days in the life of the Church (Christmas, Holy Week, Easter), and adding church into the “holiday” just seems like one more thing we have to do.  The church gets so busy doing, serving, caring; we forget the main purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel, to call the world before the cross and the empty tomb.

Hear the word again: “fix your eyes on Jesus.”  Fix your eyes on Him, regardless of where you might be.  Are you preparing a Sunday school lesson or sermon?  Fix your eyes on Jesus.  How does that passage you are reading today show you your need for a Savior, point you to Christ, establish your hopes in Him?  Are you swamped by the busyness of work, family, and everything else you’ve got to do – you feel like you are sinking and cannot swim?  Fix your eyes on Him, cry out to Him, and He will save!  Are you overwhelmed by the weight of the world, wondering how we came to such a time and place as this – where if someone pulled the right string the whole thing would simply fall apart?  Fix your eyes on Him.  Jesus has overcome the world!  The grave could not hold Him, the kingdoms of this world rise and fall for His glory, and one day all things will be placed under His sovereign reign.

Calvin had an adaptation of the Sursum Corda, the prayer that is offered before the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  Not wanting the congregation to be preoccupied with the elements of bread and wine, as though they had been transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ, Calvin urged believers to look up, where Christ is now interceding for us before the throne of God, and where the true communion of Christ exists.  He writes:

With this in mind, let us raise our hearts and minds on high, where Jesus Christ is, in the glory of his Father, and from whence we look for him at our redemption. Let us not be bemused by these earthly and corruptible elements which we see with the eye, and touch with the hand, in order to seek him there, as if he were enclosed in the bread or wine. Our souls will only then be disposed to be nourished and vivified by his substance, when they are thus raised above all earthly things, and carried as high as heaven, to enter the kingdom of God where he dwells. Let us therefore be content to have the bread and the wine as signs and evidences, spiritually seeking the reality where the word of God promises that we shall find it.

Today, whatever you are doing, look up.  Find yourself at the foot of the cross, the cross that was meant for you, the cross that symbolizes your sin, your guilt, your offence before God.  Look up to the cross and find that it has been carried for you, it has been occupied for you, it has been emptied for you.  Don’t get so caught up in everything else that you miss this one thing.  Christ has died for your sins, and was raised for your justification.

Look up!  There is more to see than just the trees.  Look up!  There is glory all around you.  Look up!  Fix your eyes on Christ.  Look up!


Divine Discontent

“But godliness with contentment is great gain…”
(1 Timothy 6:6)

I have a confession to make.  I really struggle with Paul’s teaching on contentment.

It is not that I am filled with avarice, a greedy desire for wealth, success, and all the materialistic worldliness around me.  In many ways I am content in life; I have been blessed with a wonderful family and some very good friends, I am never forced to go hungry, I have a safe, spacious, and beautiful home, I have a good job doing something I love that supports my family – who could ask for more.  The Apostle says, “if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”  I can agree with that.  I have everything I need.  God has richly blessed me.  Who could ask for more?

And still…

I find myself asking for more.  No, not more stuff.  Not more in a sense of quantity.  If I am discontented, it is perhaps a discontent in quality, a discontent in character.

I get frustrated with myself, and am dissatisfied in who I am.  I struggle with the same old sins, day in and day out.  Just when I think I’ve got them licked, I find myself neck deep.  Anger, pride, jealousy… they disguise themselves so well in false-righteousness. “I’m angry, but I’ve got good reason to be angry…”  Shouldn’t I have a handle on these things yet?

I long for my life to be the kind of life that points others to the life of Christ.  I want John the Baptist’s words to be mine, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  I long for that kind of transparency, where others see Christ, his goodness, his love, his mercy, in me.  I want to be able to preach the gospel, and then have my life so consistent with, and dependent on, that gospel that I do not disqualify myself from the ministry.  So yeah, as long as I struggle with sin, I’m guessing I will always be discontented with myself.

Here’s the thing.  None of us has arrived yet.  None of us has attained perfection.  Each of us is still under the sanctifying and transforming grace of God’s Spirit.  When we have walked with Christ, we are different than what we were when we started, but none of us has become what we shall be.  The Spirit teaches us in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”  We are becoming like Christ, we’re not there yet, and we won’t be there until he appears.  God, who began a good work in you, is faithful to complete it in the day of Christ (Phil 1:6), and until then, He is still working in you.

I think that means that there is a sense in which a little divine discontent is appropriate for the Christian life.  I want more of God and less of me in my life.  I want to be transformed by His glory, not conformed to this world.  You can be content, whatever you face, with the blessings that God has given you, especially the blessing in of knowing that he will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).  And at the same time, while walking through this pilgrimage, you can hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6) and long for your heavenly dwelling (2 Cor 5:2).

Stay hungry.  Keep growing.  And give God thanks in all things.