While I was talking to God…

And your Father who sees in secret will reward you..
(Matthew 6:4 (ESV)

Oh, how sneaky Satan can be!

The last couple of weeks we have been reading through Matthew 6, the section of the sermon on the Mount when Jesus talks about hypocrisy in our acts of devotion.  Jesus warns us, not to stop doing acts of devotion like alms-giving, prayer, and fasting, but to be very careful that these acts are not done for the recognition and praise of man.  If you are performing for the applause of man, that that will be your sole reward.  However, if you are performing for the eyes of God, then your soul will be rewarded.

The problem is, this is a very tricky thing.  Satan, that “sneaky-sneaker” (a literal translation of “more crafty” in Genesis 3), likes to take the good things that God has given us and encourages us to abuse them.  You say you love the law, then Satan begins to make you a legalist, holding others to a standard that you could not even hope to attain.  You say you love the freedom that is given in Jesus Christ, then Satan tempts you to a lawlessness in which anything goes.  You say you love the traditional, long held beliefs of the Church, then Satan lures you into an inflexible orthodoxy that is all head and no heart.  Satan cannot offer you anything, he is not a creator; but he will always try to twist and pervert that which God has created so that we love the gift more than the giver.  You say you love the new contemporary movements within the Church, then Satan draws you into a shallow, vacuous, “experience” in which a lot of words are said but little is communicated.

I was thinking about this on my run this morning.  “Who am I running for?”  Well, I’m running for my family – I want to lose weight and stay healthy so that I can enjoy watching my kids (and, eventually, grandkids) grow and be successful; and enjoy a long life beside my loving wife.  But then vain-glory creeps in and I become obsessed with my weight and if I’m “looking better.”

I’m running for the goal of completing a marathon, and hopefully running several over the next few years.  I’ve wanted to do this since I was in High School, and I’m only now reaching the point where that seems possible.  But then, while running, I find I like to be noticed.  I see other runners and I pick up the pace a little.  I make subtle references  to my running(or in this article’s case, not so subtle), so that others will stop and say – “Good for him, he’s running.”

What a mess.

We do the same thing with our lives of devotion.  We like to say to people, “As I was spending time in prayer and devotion this morning…” as a way of demonstrating our excellent religious affections.  We put bumper stickers on our cars like (WWJD, and “God is my Co-Pilot) to make sure everyone knows that this is a Christian’s car.  We carry around Bibles stuffed with notes and highlighted through so that everyone knows we’re serious about our study – or we get new Bibles with all the footnotes and the genuine hand sewn leather cover so that others can see how you value God’s word.

Friends there is nothing wrong, in fact I encourage you, to pray and study God’s word every morning, to put as many bumper stickers on your car, to highlight, annotate, and study the Scriptures; against these things there are no laws.  But always keep your heart in check.  Make sure that your devotion is a time of sweet fellowship with the Lord; a time to hear His word for your life, and a time to offer thanksgiving and praise for His life.

Your life of devotion should be a lot like the time you spend with your spouse.  You share quiet moments together, working through the difficult times, encouraging each other and supporting one another, whispering words of love and adoration, developing a life-long relationship.  These are the moments shared between the two of you, never broadcast for others to see.  How inappropriate it would be for someone to say, “While I was whispering sweet nothings in my wife’s ear last night…”  But what the world does see are two people who are madly in love with each other, and who will be together until death does part them.

So it is with your devotion to God.  Let your acts of prayer, charity, and dedication be done in secret.  Let it be the quiet, intimate time with God that sustains you through the day.  Don’t broadcast it to the world.  Do this, and the world will see someone who lives in the love of God, and nothing, not even death, can separate us from that.


Running Man

I used to be a runner.   There was a time when it was nothing for me to go on a 10 mile run. I looked forward to it, actually.  I ran Cross-Country and Track in High School, went to state in both all four years.  I  held (and might still have) the Augusta High School Cross-Country Record for teh 5k at 16:04.  I lived and breathed running.

Now I’m just lucky to live and breath.  Since those High School days I’ve run off and on.  In 2006 I ran a half marathon, and still plan to run a full marathon this year or next, but I cannot call myself a runner.  I jog, plod, pound my way around town, usually after sunset so as not to frighten small children at the sight of an overweight ogre chasing them down the street.

Over the past few years I’ve blamed my job, my children, or just about anything else under the sun for my lack of discipline in running.  The truth is, I’m just lazy.  I’d rather sit in the recliner with a soda and chips and watch the boob-toob whlie I slowly and methodically atrophy.  I’ve had scares that have prompted some feeble attempts at running again; my dad’s health issues before his death, the expensive suit pants that no longer fit, the jabbing comments from my 10 year old daughter. 

I’m trying again.  I still want to run a marathon.  There is a flat marathon this spring called “Marathon to Marathon” (creative, I know), which starts in Storm Lake, Iowa, and finishes in, wait for it, Marathon, IA.  There is also the Sioux City Marathon this fall – not flat.  I have also got plans to go hiking this summer in the Colorado Rockies with some friends, and running will help me lose the weight and build the lung strength for that trek.  Then, I am making plans now to attend my 20 year High School reunion this fall – I want to at least be recognizable.

So I’m running again.  Not that the deck isn’t stacked against me.  I chose to start running in January, when the temperature never gets above 10 degrees, and there’s at least a foot of snow on the ground, and it will stay there until March.  I’ve got a treadmill, but I hate it.  Nevermind the shock that each foot stroke causes the body, give me a dirt road any day.  It’s the fact that I run for 30 minutes and go nowhere.  I can run on the roads for hours with no ipod and be perfectly fine – I’ve got plenty to think about.  But the treadmill is simply mind-numbing monotony – too much of it will drive you insane.

I realize though, that the treadmill is a valuable training tool, the only option available in this climate.  I can build a good foundation so that when the thaw does come, I will be ready to hit the streets.

I guess that’s what this journey of discipleship is sometimes like, too.  There are times when God’s Spirit keeps teaching the same lesson to our hearts again and again.  We think we’ve got it down, but we keep covering the same old gound.  We want to move on to bigger and better things, but we feel stuck in a rut, like a gerbil on the wheel, going round and round.

We think that such Spiritual monotony is fruitless and defective, but could it be that God is strenghtening us for the real adventure that is just around the corner?

Friends, sometimes the training is nothing like the race.  Sometimes its the simple act of showing up and saying, “Here am I, Lord,” is what we have to learn, so that we’re there when God says, “Whom shall I send.”  You may feel that your prayers are going nowhere, that the invitations and pleadings to your friends are falling on deaf ears, that all those chapters you’ve read from God’s word are just a jumble; but remember, “the one who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

Keep praying, keep sharing, keep on keeping on, and “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).