The Journey

“It’s a journey, not a destination.”

Today, that was a friend’s comment on happiness. I’ve heard that said about relationships, about financial responsibility, even about being a whole person who lives the way the Air Force wants its Airmen to exemplify.

I’ve even said this phrase. Two days ago, for the H entry, I mentioned the hope we enjoy, knowing that we can strive for a closer relationship with God and a deeper spirituality. We’ll never arrive at a point where we can say we’re done, but every day, we can take steps in the right direction. I also made the same point about a fitness lifestyle on my other A to Z blog.

With that in mind, today’s joint topic on both this blog and the fitness blog is: the journey.

So what does this really mean?

For me, it means asking not only what goal I have in sight but also where am I actually headed. If we are believers in Christ then it makes sense to say that we will have Christ and some form of Christ-like living as the goal we home in on. But having that as a stated goal doesn’t mean we’re making progress toward it.

Campus Crusade for Christ uses a tract with a graphic meant to depict the difference that takes place in our lives after we accept Christ.

Three examples of our spiritual nature

Three examples of our spiritual nature

The first picture reflects our state before we were saved, where Self sits on the throne, Christ is out of the picture, and we do as we please. The black circles of various shapes and sizes are meant to portray our efforts and interests. In the first state, we do what we please.

The second shows the idea of a “carnal Christian,” someone who has “faith” as a part of their life but still does what they please. Christ is in the circle, but Self is on the throne.

The last circle puts Christ on the throne and Self at His feet, with interests and efforts balanced, ordered and directed by the Savior, not Self. That’s the ideal for a believer in Christ. That’s part of going on the journey.

But that’s not all. There’s a key point I believe we must understand.

When we think about spirituality, we often assume that the closer you are to God, the more spiritual you must be. A mean-spirited lustful slob of a man is pretty far away from Christ, where we might look at a faithful pastor or public figure and assume they’re pretty near to Christ. This is a faulty assumption. Sometimes the non-believer is more spiritual than the believer. How can that be?

Where you're headed matters.

Where you’re headed matters.

With a journey, it’s not just the goal that matters. It matters how you’re progressing toward that goal.

When my wife and I are headed to a new place in Omaha, we sometimes pop open maps on the iPhone and turn on location services. A little blue ball pops up to show us where we are, and it moves along as we drive. We might be really close to the red ball marking the destination on the map. But if we’re driving away from it, are we better off by virtue of being “on a journey” toward the destination? Of course not. Not at all!

Spiritually speaking, Christ is our destination, and He is moving and doing things in the world around us. Is our little blue marker slowly moving toward Him, moving with Him, orienting to Him, even if we’re on the other side of town? That’s healthy spirituality, recognizing that we may be nowhere near the level we want to be, while keeping focused on how to get there.

On the other hand, we might see Christian figures who are “so godly” in public and yet find out that they stopped moving toward the red location some time ago and started doing their own thing. Maybe they were really close compared to me, but it doesn’t matter, because they aren’t moving toward the goal, staying in line with Christ. They’re driving away.

“It’s a journey” doesn’t simply mean we should enjoy the process along the way. It means we should know where we’re headed, and roughly how we go about getting there. Then we should point ourselves in the right direction and take steps. No matter how far away we are from the mark, if we’re aiming for it and moving toward it, that’s what makes us “spiritual.”

 

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Me Time

There’s a great blog post going around about the iPhone mom, the one at the park looking at her mobile phone and missing her girl dancing around or climbing the monkey bars, her son doing cartwheels or swinging high in the sky. The point is that those moments may be that stay-at-home mom’s only opportunity to converse with an adult during the course of a busy day. I know my wife and I have talked about the difficulties she faces when she gets almost no interaction with adults until I get home after work, let alone any quiet moments to herself.

There’s a Baby Blues joke about a Valentine’s Day gift the husband presents to the wife, purchased from the hardware store. She looks unimpressed, until he reveals that it is a titanium bathroom deadbolt so that the children cannot interrupt her privacy. Suddenly, it’s the most romantic gift ever.

Sometimes we need a quiet place where we can shut out all the distractions and just be alone.

This is where worship ties in. There’s a parallel here that worshipers would be wise to follow.

The worshiping church body hopefully has a team of worshipers that do all they can to remind the congregation of God’s presence and goodness. That worship team is hopefully made up of passionate individuals – the ‘I’ for the day’s A to Z blog challenge entry.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.'” Or so goes the prevailing logic. But the truth is, there are several ‘I’s on any team, and those individuals need to be at their best in order for the team to succeed at its best. That involves time spent in the presence of God, not just corporately with the congregation, or even as a worship team. It means that I need to have an active worship life of my own.

Multiple times in the Gospels we see Jesus go off to be alone, early in the morning, late in the evening, spending time in prayer. There’s a reason. We read that Jesus discerned what was in men’s hearts, and did not entrust himself to any man, but solely relied on and followed what He saw from the Father.

Where do we think Jesus got this revelation of what the Father was doing? How did He develop the skill and intimacy with the Father to see where He was meant to go, what He was meant to do, what He was meant to say and to whom?

“Well, Jesus was God in the flesh, so of course He knew what the Father wanted Him to do.”

But Jesus was also fully man, and our example to follow. He was limited in His knowledge while He walked on the earth – how would anyone’s faith surprise Him, and how would anyone’s lack of faith spontaneously frustrate Him? He temporarily gave up that equality with God in order to come as a Man (see Philippians 2).

There are other examples throughout Scripture. Consider Daniel’s habit of private prayer, something he would not give up for any reason even on threat of death. Peter is in prayer, alone, when he has his vision in Acts 10. David had many opportunities to worship in solitude, and we read his songs throughout the book of Psalms. Job had a daily worship routine. Hannah goes to the Tabernacle alone to pray for God’s mercy.

Life is full of distractions, both good and bad. Everything vies for our time and attention.

But worshipers cannot point the way to a place they have not been, an intimacy they have not known or seen.

We often say we need to find time, but the fact is time comes to everyone in exactly the same quantity every day. We must make time, by locking out all other voices and distractions, throwing that titanium deadbolt on the door, and spending a few moments alone with God.

What ways do you find most helpful for blocking out the busy world to focus on the Lord?

What’s for Dinner?

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I wrote on my fitness blog about dieting and healthy eating.

There’s a clear spiritual parallel for anyone who’s seeking God.

A writer at our writing group spoke about her experience hearing God more clearly when she turned off all the other constant inputs around her. No TV, no radio, no cable, no Internet (ok, maybe a short fast from the Internet)…

And suddenly she was able to find God in the midst of her circumstances.

Consider how often you see people with heads down, phone in hand, checking a text or tweet or status update, liking a friend’s comment or post or blog.

I’m standing in Wal-Mart on crutches, writing this on my phone. I’m one of them, one of (i)Pod People.

We have the world at our fingertips. This wealth of information is great, but it has risks. Autocorrect saw me accidentally type “unformation” and tried to fix it, but there’s a ring of truth to that mistake.

The media we’re consuming does little to help form us into our best. Like eating junk food because it’s there, we often mentally take in whatever is around us, even though we know it’s devoid of nutritious spiritual content.

No one goes without food without either serious challenging circumstances or without a determined decision. Food is essential, and we make sure we get what we need. If we’re pursuing a weight loss or fitness goal, we pay much closer attention to what we’re consuming.

Those of us intent on chasing God, why would we pay our spiritual diet any less heed?

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies. (Philippians 4:8, 9 MSG)

Storm-proof

There’s nothing quite like being at the center of a cyclone. 100 knot winds have an effect on things!

A super-typhoon heading toward Okinawa

A super-typhoon heading toward Okinawa

I spent a total of 14 years living on Okinawa while serving in the Air Force. Being a tropical island on the Pacific Rim, Okinawa can get hit by several typhoons each year. As much as we pay attention to hurricanes in the news in the West, you’d think this would be a big deal.

But Okinawa is used to getting smashed by the weather, and so all the housing on base and off base is built to withstand powerful storms. For the most part, strong typhoons mostly result in some time off from work, sitting inside, listening to the wind and watching the trees bend and sway in the storm. Damage can occur of course, but it’s usually minimal, especially compared to the post-hurricane devastation we often see on the news in the States.

As I started prepping for the A to Z Blogging Challenge, “C” seemed full of options and possibilities.

There’s Christ of course. That’s the Sunday School answer, absolutely correct but all too obvious. There’s conviction but that’s very close to beliefs, which I wrote about yesterday. I thought of the center and how we must make sure we keep Christ as the focus of our individual and corporate worship. Then I considered the change that must take place when we experience an authentic conversion and a genuine relationship with God.

The overall analogy of this blog came to mind. When we pursue God, we open ourselves up to the powerful, the mysterious, the far-beyond-our-imagination, the One who is holy — separated and transcendent above us, wholly other than us. Over and over in Scripture, we see that encountering God leaves permanent changes in the lives of men and women of faith. Isaiah spoke of himself as doomed by the sight of God. Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his days after wrestling with the Angel at Bethel. Job’s entire life falls apart around him, and then when he has nothing left but his faith, his understanding of God crumbles as deeper revelation overwhelms him. Nebuchadnezzar is reduced to an animal’s lifestyle for years. The disciples are drawn away from everything they know by a repeated two-word invitation to “follow Me.” With only one exception, they meet violence, persecution, and execution. Paul’s world gets rocked and his eyes go blind at the sight of the Savior.

Chasing after God often means experiencing sweeping changes in our lives.

But there’s another sort of danger here. We have another choice. Instead of allowing God free reign, we can become callous.

When those tropical cyclones batter Okinawa, after you’ve lived there a bit, it feels very routine. “Ho hum, here comes another storm. No big deal, our house is made of concrete. Our windows are sturdy, our doors are well sealed, and our stuff outside is all tied down. Bring it on, I can use a day off from work.”

Similarly, we can become too familiar with God, too presumptuous. “Here we go, another set of worship songs. No biggie, we got this.”

We take the security of our relationship with God and His great intimacy with us, and we mistake it for an equality, as though God is a safe little thing we keep in our back pocket until we want to show Him off to our friends.

How else do we see Judas walk with the Son of God for three years and yet grow disillusioned? How else do we see Ananias and Sapphira decide to put on a show of holiness to win the respect of their peers at the expense of their integrity before God? How do we explain the failure of the priest Eli, who turned a blind eye to the corruption his sons brought into the priesthood? Consider Uzzah reaching up to steady the Ark as if it were a common thing – and consider the willingness of the people of God to simply toss the Ark on a cart in the first place.

Take Laodicea, the church who Jesus condemns in Revelation 3.

15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. (NASB)

Jesus calls out not only their failure, but their mistaken assumptions about their security and relationship with Him.

He challenges us as well. Oddly enough, a verse we often preach as an invitation to sinners is actually spoken to the Church.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. (v.20)

The presence of God comes to us all sooner or later. We who routinely chase after Him must be careful. God’s presence must change us, or we will grow calloused. Jesus Christ must remain the convicting and challenging center of our worship, or He will call us out for our unsanctioned comfort and mistaken confidence.

Are we changing? Or are we concrete?