Friday, January 22, 2010

What Price Obedience?

When we usually ask, "What does my obedience to God cost?" it seems that we point to things that we have to give up in order to satisfy the demands of obedience. Oswald Chambers takes a different approach. In My Utmost for His Highest, Chambers makes the point that our obedience costs us nothing because obedience is the best and highest response of the subject to the King. But Chambers poses the question, "What does our obedience cost others?"

None of us lives and functions in a vacuum, so the decisons and choices that we make have an impact on others. This is not news to any of us. The decision to spend time on a home project means that there is less time to spend with a friend or family member--or on another project. The decision to spend a dollar in one place means that the dollar is no longer available for other uses. A choice to take a certain job may mean moving to a new location--with attendant consequences for friends and family. So too with spiritual choices--and obedience is primarily a spiritual choice.

Should the cost of my obedience to others be factor in my ultimate decision of whether to choose the obedient course of action? Likewise, should the cost of my disobedience to others be a similar factor? For example, if I knew that making a disobedient choice would remove me from a place of God's blessing in some area of my life--with the corresponding loss for my family--shouldn't that motivate me to choose obedience? (That one is easy.) But what if my obedience will cause changes for my family that they are not excited about, or that they are opposed to? I would contend that I must choose obedience, despite the difficulties to others. But at some level doesn't that sound a bit selfish?

I get the benefits of obedience while my wife or kids or friends "suffer" the consequences of my obedience. They may be uprooted from their social, school, work, and church networks. Is that really fair? (DISCLAIMER TO MY FAMILY: I am not considering a major transition that will have these direct effects on your life in the near future. You may resume normal breathing.) Was it "fair" to Abraham's family that they should leave Ur and travel to some place that they had never seen at the direction of a God they didn't really even know? Was it fair to Noah's wife and kids to expose them to ridicule for their Dad's construction project--undertaken to address a natural phenomenon that had never occurred? Was it fair that the apostle Peter had to leave his family behind for much of his post-Jesus life in order to do what he was called to do? Was it fair to the families of the martyrs to lose a father or mother or sibling, when a few simple words of recanting would have spared them from the trauma? In the face of costly obedience, what better opportunity to talk with our kids about what obedience to God is really all about?

I suppose that ultimately "doing right" is not always fair--never has been; never will be. But it is still always right.

Press On!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Next?

What is it about some people that we cannot be content unless we are pursuing the next? The next adventure, the next dollar, the next relationship, the next house, the next job, the next [fill in the blank]. Is there something inherent in human nature that makes us strivers? Or does this attitude afflict only some people?

Not long after crossing the finish of last Sunday's marathon I began considering what comes next? Certainly some time of reduced running distances is called for, but what will be the next challenge that I want to pursue? A century ride (100 miles) on my upcoming 50th birthday? A long trail run? A thru-hike of the Superior Hiking Trail? I don't yet know the answer, but I feel the pull of the question. (And why isn't sitting by the fireplace to read a good book or going to an opera on the list?) I love running just for the sake of running, but I find that it always helps to have some goal out there to be pursuing. It helps me to stay motivated and it helps me to get out the door on those cold, windy, or rainy days when I feel like I would much rather just turn off the alarm clock and roll over in bed.

Seems to be a bit of a Catch-22. Those of us who feel driven have a love/hate relationship with that state of being. We love the thrill of the pursuit--whatever we are pursuing (and sometimes the "what" doesn't even matter)--but we are torn by the constant internal push. It is almost as if we are trying, by our efforts, to find our ultimate fulfillment in this life. And it is often an uncomfortable tension.

I wonder whether a part of this tension is that people were not designed for this earth/this life alone. And if this life is not the sum total of our existence, then it seems to make sense that we would continually long for more--or at least find it difficult to be fully satisfied with what this life has to offer. If we are not primarily intended for this life alone, then even the highest and best accomplishments of this life will only serve to point us to the "something more" that we were designed for. And if we are striving to find our ultimate fulfillment in this life alone, that quest will always be unsatisfying in the end. We will always cross one "finish line" only to begin wondering, what next?

I am convinced that the single greatest gift that I can give anyone--including myself--is to live with an eternal perspective. A rock solid realization that shapes my thinking and decision-making that this life is not all that there is. I still wrestle daily with how that eternal perspective interlaces with the day-to-day reality of having a job and a family, but I believe that it does. I also have this nagging feeling that if I get this one right, then a lot of the other questions about life will fall into place. Hmm...

Pressing On!

Monday, January 11, 2010


"Dead Last Finisher" is greater than "Did Not Finish" is greater than "Did Not Start." I was not the dead last finisher in the Goofy Challenge, but this was the best "item on a shirt" I saw in both races. I do not know what else to say--this was the hardest thing that I have ever done--both physically and mentally. There were times on Sunday when all I could do was to keep putting one foot in front of the other--reminding myself that if I stop, I will never finish. The race organizers said that between the 5k, the half marathon, and the marathon, there were 55,000 runners. There were more than 17,000 finishers in each of the half and the full marathons. That is a LOT of people. Looking around I was reminded that runners come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. And everyone is there running their own race.

For most people, finishing the race was the goal. Some had a particular time in mind, but for many people, success was found in crossing the finish line. Ultimately in an event like this one, each person runs their own race. It is really only the front 10 people who are realistically trying to win the race. Everyone else is running for something other than glory and public accolades. With everyone other than the front few people, it really doesn't matter what or how anyone else is doing.

Again I am reminded that life is that way--it doesn't really matter what someone else is doing. What matters is how I am managing all of the various aspects of my life. Not in comparison to anyone else, but in comparison to who and what I am called to be. The task is not to get to the "finish line" ahead of others, but to run the best race that I can. The ultimate measure of my success in life cannot be in comparison to others, but only in comparison to how I am fulfilling my calling.

I am taking today off from running, but I am looking forward to a short run in Florida tomorrow and in Central Park on Wednesday.

Pressing On!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Esse Quam Videri

"To be rather than to appear." This phrase has stuck with me since I first came across it a few years ago. The concept is not new--be authentic and not fake--but the Latin has a certain memorable ring to it. If one accepts the value of authenticity, the question then becomes what does it mean to be authentic? May I suggest that to live an authentic life means that my actions should be a window into that which I believe--without explanation or interpretation. After all, if I have to interpret my actions, then I am putting a spin on what I do that seeks to change the action's nature. If I have to say, "What I really meant was __", then I have not lived clearly.

I have come to believe that this kind of authenticity goes beyond merely believing the right things or thinking the right way. Esse quam videri-living goes primarily to what I do. Over the years I have become less concerned with the why and more concerned with the what. I know that some people would disagree with me, but I would rather do the right thing for a less than ideal reason than to not do the right thing at all. (Of course, the best outcome is to do the right thing for the most right reason.) I have just seen too many people--and certainly have been one myself at times--who believe or think the right things, but do not live out those beliefs and thoughts. That kind of living is of no practical value.

In today's Advent reading (yes, my book has readings through January 7th), Soren Kierkegaard observes that the wise men must have been perplexed that the scribes--the scholars and right-thinkers of the day--did not accompany them to honor the infant King. Did they not realize the import of what they claimed to know? How did they not draw the connection between what they knew and what that knowledge meant? The King of kings had arrived on the planet? How could the scribes simply treat this amazing event as a mere intellectual puzzle? And I must face the real question of the day, how do I so often overlook the connection between this ancient royal infant and the way I live day to day?

I wonder how 2010 would be different if I more consistently lived out my relationship to this King throughout the year? If I knew the answer it might translate into a plan of action, but I am not yet sure what it would look like. Perhaps I can think this through during the Goofy Race and a Half--after all, I should have plenty of time. I have this lingering feeling that this could be an important question to answer well.

Pressing On!