The Good Fight

Some battles in life are fought and instantly won; passing tests, playing games, solving a puzzle in the newspaper, or winning at a sporting event. We preoccupy ourselves with these “battles” because they give us instantaneous gratification and bring us a measure of pleasure and self assurance.

Some battles are fought for a while and won; graduating from high school or college, getting a promotion at work, achieving “retirement.” We can see the need for fighting these kinds of battles because there is a significant achievement to be won at the end and once we have achieved that level, we can move on to other things, having won the battle.

There are other battles, however, that are ongoing and we will never, in this life, completely win until we conquer them in death. These battles are constant and daily efforts with which we must struggle on a regular basis. This is a hard thing for our society to accept who are accustomed to complex crimes being solved in a one hour TV program, sporting events ending in less than two hours, and conquering the sudoku in 30 minutes. This kind of battle is only won in the continued fighting of it; it isn’t a battle that is won, never to be fought again.

It is becoming quite evident to me, that my success in weight loss is only as good as my desire to maintain that success. Months ago, I spoke with another gentleman about this and he related to me how it was a regular struggle to eat right, exercise and keep the weight off. He then said, “But it’s a good fight, so I guess I’ll keep on doing it.” Losing weight and keeping the weight off isn’t one of those battles that are won, never to be fought again. It is a constant and daily effort.

Similarly, in my police training this past fall one thing that I learned is that the law will eventually catch up to the criminal. Police activity is a constant and ongoing battle, one that never stops. It also isn’t one of those battles won, never to be fought again. It is a constant and daily effort.

We need to realize that living the Christian life is the same kind of battle. If we realize and accept this, I believe we will have a great weight lifted from our shoulders. The person who is constantly telling himself, “I’ve got to win today!” will soon find himself hopelessly burned out with trying to achieve this task. Why? Because living the Christian life is only something that is won while we continue the struggle. Paul told Timothy, “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) and wage the good battle (1 Timothy 1:18). It was a battle that Paul was only expecting Timothy to win by continuing to fight it.

Let us recognize that today we fight the battle and that our victory is in our faith on a daily basis (1 John 5:4) and through this, we will overcome, not in this life, but, in the next. For today, however, if I have struggled, then I have won.

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Mi Corazon

On just about any mission trip, one thing can be assured, there are going to be some interesting stories. Recently, while in Panama, I had the opportunity to participate in a youth camp for a few days. Around 4:00 AM, Thursday, February 1st, 2007, I awoke to embark upon such a camp. We did so via the pick-up truck of one of the good brothers from David, Panama. During the ride, I met one of the more colorful persons that I have ever come in contact with on a mission trip, Edelma. Edelma was seated on the opposite side of the back seat with Rolando Rovira, my Panamanian contact, between. The first thing that Edelma did was offer me something to eat. As it was 4:30 in the morning, I was hungry and so I took the potato like substance that she offered and ate it. She then gave me some chicken and that too I ate. This had this surprising (to me) effect of amazing my hosts. They were not used to a foreign missionary eating the local food. Most all others who have visited have refused to do so claiming that they would become ill. (I’ve never become ill due to eating food in Central or South America, though I’ve gotten ill after returning to the states and recommencing eating our food!) I soon became their fast friends all because I ate what was put before me.

A few years ago Randal Matheny was recalling a lecture he had given mission students at one of our colleges. He told them that they wouldn’t be good missionaries unless they ate the local cuisine. There is just something about doing this that bonds the missionary to the locals. In their country, the missionary is the foreigner, but he becomes one of them when he eats what they eat and drinks what they drink. This is sound Biblical doctrine! Long before we were studying missions in our country, Jesus, the Master Missionary, said, “And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you” (Luke 10:8). Jesus knew what He was talking about!

As a result of my eating Edelma’s food, she became my fast friend. On the journey, when we were visiting the local markets for food for the camp, she would talk about this food and that. She asked me, “What kind of foods do you like?” As we drove through the countryside, she would point at all the flowers and say, “Look at this flower, Kebin!” “Look at that one!” And when we arrived at the camp, she treated me as a special guest seemingly catering to my every culinary need.

I learned later that this lady was a very special lady indeed. One of the members where she attends told me that when she comes to the services she always blows kisses to everyone whether she is early or late. Even when the men are preparing for the worship hour, she will go out of her way to make sure that they have been greeted by her holy kiss. Her behavior has garnered for her the nickname, “Corazon” or “heart.” Upon returning to the camp with this knowledge, I soon put it to use and after she had offered me a taste of what the cooks were preparing for supper, I said, “Gracias, Corazon!” The effervescence from my comment almost lifted the ceiling as all who knew her bubbled with glee at my discovery of her special name and from that time on, she was no longer known in the camp as Edelma, but simply “Corazon!”

Who would have thought that such a relationship would have developed simply because I ate a bit of “potato” and some chicken? It just goes to show that a little love and care can go a long way, can bridge the barriers of culture, and can pave the way for a great relationship. “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed.” “eat such things as are set before you.”

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Is Your Christianity Machucado?

I’ve never quite had an experience like crossing the border south of the border between Costa Rica and Panama. We arrived at the border late Wednesday night, the evening of January 31st, after a long eight hour bus ride from San Jose through the mountains that caused me to regret having eaten as much as I did for breakfast. Nevertheless, we arrived at the border around 7:00 PM. It had already grown dark. We obtained our exit stamps from the Costa Rican authorities and proceeded to obtain our entrance stamps from the authorities of Panama, but they wouldn’t authorize the stamp without return tickets for the Costa Ricans which we didn’t have because we were being shuttled by car in Panama. To make a long story short, we called our Panamanian friends and they came to our rescue. Yet, about two miles down the road from the border was a check point, a document inspection station, to ensure that we didn’t cross over illegally. We were all asked to exit the car and to state the purpose of our visit in Panama. I was asked if I knew Spanish and after the bus ride, the border fiasco, and the various inspections, my reply was somewhat muddled. The border guard said, “Your Spanish is machucado.” I didn’t hear what he said at first, but the rest of the party got a pretty good laugh out of it. Later I learned what was said and what the word meant. “Machucado” means “mashed” or “chopped” depending on the context. So my Spanish was mashed, is what he had said. The laughter was understandable.

Over the course of the next week and a half we found new and various ways to use the word “machucado” as we recounted the story in the presence of our friends and brethren back in Costa Rica. Maritza served us papas machucado, yes, that’s right, mashed potatoes. I illustrated the meaning of the word with a banana, or, I thought to. I stopped short of making a big banana mess on Martiza’s kitchen table. We had eggs machucado for breakfast, and fish machucado for lunch (though this was more of a joke by this time). And I eventually was able to incorporate the word into describing Moises English as well. We even told Isaac to get out of the road, one time, because his mother didn’t want him to be machucado! It seemed that we were able to apply this word to just about anything. Carlos Ulate translated the word best when he said the word, when applied to language, means “choppy.”

Perhaps, however, instead of looking to apply this word solely to physical things, we ought to ask the question, “Is our Christianity machucado?” That is to say, is our Christianity choppy? There are practice Christianity in fits and starts. There is no consistency to their efforts. Perhaps being a Christian is just a once a week event for them. Or maybe they decide they are going to be Christians only when it suits their mood or acquaintances. To be a Christian requires a twenty-four seven commitment. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). I’m working on my Spanish and hopefully in the future it will be less machucado than it has been in the past. But let us all resolve not to let our Christianity be machucado, but instead live each day consistently as a Christian.

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A lot of what we accomplish in life depends upon our focus. The story is told of the golfer Arnold Palmer, who, in the 1961 Master’s finals was approached by a friend and congratulated on his victory a few shots prior to his finish. Palmer is on record as saying that in that moment he lost his focus and he ended up losing by a point. It happens time and again; there is the football player who looks toward the goal line and drops the ball; the ice skater who falls and simply can’t recover to conclude the performance; the politician who misspeaks and ruins his political career all for a lack of focus.

Out of all of the kings of Israel, David was arguably the greatest; he had his problems, but he always ultimately sought to put his trust in the Lord. Nevertheless, because David was a man of war, his greatest desire, to build the Lord a house, could not be accomplished by him. David, however, purposed to do all that he could toward the construction of the temple prior to his death. He made agreements with nations for materials; he collected materials; he assembled workers. Before his death, David commanded the princes of Israel to help Solomon build the temple (1 Chronicles 22:17). He exhorted them, “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God; arise therefore, and build ye the sanctuary of the LORD God, to bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD, and the holy vessels of God, into the house that is to be built to the name of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 22:19). Do we see the focus in the words, “Set your heart and soul to seek the Lord your God”? Because they focused upon seeking God, they were able to accomplish the task at hand.

Oscar Hammerstein II wrote the following lyrics in 1928:

Give me some men who are Stouthearted Men
Who will fight for the right they adore.

Start me with ten, who are Stouthearted Men
And I’ll soon give you ten thousand more, Oh!

Shoulder to shoulder and bolder and bolder
They grow as they go to the fore!

Then there’s nothing in the world can halt or mar a plan,
When Stouthearted Men can stick together man to man!

Where is our focus? Is it upon God or upon the world? John wrote, “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:14-15). It is so often the case that we don’t accomplish the things that we desire to accomplish because we have not adequately focused upon God and His word in our lives. However, intensifying our focus upon God will bring us further along than any other thing.

So, do we find ourselves at our wits end because of the countless tasks that are before us? Focus on God. Do we fail to get anything accomplished due to the many distractions that come our way in life? Focus on God. Do we have godly goals and aspirations that we seek to accomplish? Focus on God. Whatever our situation is, we can improve it by focusing upon God and refocusing our life upon His priorities.

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Rend Your Hearts, Not Your Garments

In ancient times in the near eastern lands, when individuals wished to show mourning or a deep sense of sorrow, they would tear their garments. Jacob mourned Joseph in such a way (Genesis 37:34). Job so mourned the loss of his family and possessions likewise (Job 1:20). 2 Samuel 1:11 records for us David’s response to the death of Saul and Jonathan. Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him: and they mourned, and wept, and fasted until even, for Saul, and for Jonathan his son, and for the people of Jehovah, and for the house of Israel; because they were fallen by the sword. This custom expressed in an external way what was happening inside the suffering individual.

In the day of Joel, the fickle people of Israel had a history of acting one way, but being another. For their sins, God’s prophets proclaimed that God would bring judgment upon them. Joel was one of those prophets. Nevertheless, there was still time for repentance. Referencing this custom, Joel emphasized that it had to be the people’s heart that changed, not merely their outward appearance. He wrote, Yet even now, saith Jehovah, turn ye unto me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning: and rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto Jehovah your God; for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in lovingkindness, and repenteth him of the evil (Joel 2:12-13).

Rend your hearts and not your garments! Joel’s message still rings true today. God has always demanded that we first give to him our heart. David wrote in Psalms 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. So he desired God to Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Proverbs 4:23 states, Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life.

The heart is what God desires from man. It is from the heart that either good or wicked things come. Jesus said, A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things (Matthew 12:35). If we give our hearts to God, then good things will come out within our lives. Yes, God wants our heart!

The only question we must answer is, Will we give it to him? As the people of Joel’s day were, so also are many today. God calls for them to repent, but the call goes unanswered. How about us? Will we give our hearts to God so that He may make of them what He wills? Will we, in humility and lowliness, kneel before the Father of all men and give Him what is due to Him? Rend your hearts and not your garments means that we must look inward to make changes before that which we do on the outside will be seen as a legitimate exercise to serve. Are our hearts torn?

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