Allenwood Men

"Crossing The Jordan"

August 19, 2022 - 1 Corinthians 10: “Disqualification” Part #1

For all intents and purposes, the life of 17th century missionary William Borden looks like a loss.  


Born into wealth, health and opulence, Borden could have done anything.  The world truly was his oyster.  Not only was he born into privilege, but Borden possessed enviable gifts that made him a charismatic, influential leader of his time.  Saved at an early age, and graced with the knowledge that he was brought out to be brought in, Borden went all in after Christ while being educated at Yale and at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Determined to make a lasting impact for his Savior, Borden answered the call to serve Jesus by ministering to the Islamic Uyghurs in China.  Before shipping off for China, however, Borden decided to study the Arabic language in Africa.  While studying in Africa, Borden contracted spinal meningitis and dropped dead.  He was twenty-five years old.


Friends called his life a waste.  Even his tombstone hints at this potential prodigality, the words ”Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life” etched in stone forever.  Why would God save, sanctify and set to flight such a promising young life, only to cut that life down in its prime, before its full weight and impact could be felt?  Seems wasteful at best, completely random at worst.


William Borden was a “five-talent life”—fully invested—whose ultimate return was loss…but only if the goal of the Christian life is fruitfulness.  Which it isn’t.  Instead, the goal of the Christian life is faithfulness.  The point of the Parable of the Talents wasn’t return.  The point of the parable was risk.  The life of William Borden modeled just that.  He risked more than most, his life ostensibly an apologetic of what not to do.


But no life invested in Christ is ever a loss.  That’s why the only loss in Christ’s parable was the loss suffered by the one-talent servant who refused to invest.  Ultimately, what looks like waste and loss now will be revealed as fruitful and victorious when viewed from eternity.  Hence the epitaph—“Apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life”.  But once we see face-to-face, and no longer dimly in a mirror, the importance and impact of Borden’s life will be both appreciated and celebrated.


Fear of loss is the first and the biggest hurdle blocking people from God’s promised ends, and like Borden before us, we all must run that risk.  But potential loss is not the only hurdle.  As GK Chesterton states so well, “The Christian ideal has not be tried and found wanting.  It’s been found difficult and left untried.”    


Immediately after Paul encourages us to run to win, he draws upon four instances from the history of his people that serve as a caution to all believers about the roadblocks—the pitfalls—that need to be avoided along the way to the promised land.  Or, to switch the analogy, four disqualifications that will keep us from running in such a way to obtain the prize.  Though each pitfall has its own unique temptation, the root of all four is lust, compelling Paul, right out of the gate,  to warn, “do not lust after evil things”.*


Lust is the temptation either to short-cut or to short-circuit—to take the easier, quicker way, or to end the stress of the present way.  This is typified in Christ’s temptations in His own wilderness experience.  Having run the risk of stepping into the Jordan, our Lord comes out the other side immediately drawn into the most difficult of battles as He begins to lay claim to His promised land.  Two of Jesus’s three wilderness temptations were to lust.  The first was the temptation to short circuit His deep hunger by turning stones into bread.  The second was the temptation to shortcut the long, hard road to the throne of this world by cutting out the cross.


As the life of our Lord attests, however, men of God have staying power.  They can hold strong and endure long as God gets to work fulfilling His promises.  The fruition of those promises is seldom quick and often replete with trials and tribulations, which makes the temptation to short-cut or to short-circuit—and ultimately to fall short—that much more compelling.  But men of God endure long and strong in God-ordained fires because they are committed to God-ordained ends—ends that ultimately advance the cause of their Master.  


The first instance in which men fall short of their promised ends is when they give in to idolatrous comfort.  Paul relates the story from the book of Exodus of how Moses was long in returning from the mountain of God with the will of God for His people. And the people of God were unable to rest during this delay.  So they took matters into their own hands.  They compelled Aaron to make a golden calf—to forge an idol—that would be the physical manifestation of their new god in their midst.  Once the golden abomination was created—and burnt offerings and peace offerings were sacrificed to it—“the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play”**.  In other words, the children of Israel could not sit down to rest until they forged and appeased an idol made with their own hands.  They could not rise up to play until they got this out-of-control situation-and the God behind it—under their control.  Essentially, the children of Israel could not get comfortable until they got control—until they did their part in what they thought was a transactional relationship.  But God is not our workmanship, we are His.  He reserves His right to forge us into His image, and not the other way around.  We all know by experience that so much of the Christian life is lived in God’s delays—waiting for God to show up, to somehow come alive.  Wouldn’t life be easier if God simply pulled up a chair and told us what to do?  Or opened and closed the doors that are immediately in front of us?  The bottom line is that we are uncomfortable in the unknown that accompanies God’s delays.  Our discomfort stems from our vulnerability.  We wonder, Will we be ok?  We ponder, Have we done our part?  And so many of us can’t rest as long as our security remains a question mark.  


As the history of the children of Israel attest, it is easier to take control in the unknown than to relinquish control and trust God through the unknown, especially when we can neither discern His voice nor His movements. As difficult as these trials of trust may be, however, your trust in Christ will be tested time and again in your life as you pursue Him because that which is not tested can never be proven true.  Ironically, that which is seldom tested is seldom trusted.  True trust is not something we know, not something that exists in our heads.  It’s something we experience, something that impacts our hearts and therefore changes our lives. 


Most of life is lived in the middle, between promise given and promise realized.  We have been delivered from but we have not quite been delivered to, waiting on God in the unknown to come alive and complete that deliverance.  But isn’t the unknown the thrill behind adventure?  Isn’t venturing into the unknown the very heart of the archetype John Eldredge refers to as ranger?  The ranger in each of us thirsts after experience, thirsts for the adventurous unknown—he can’t get enough of it.  When we give in to the temptation to control, setting up an idol of comfort, we slowly put to death the ranger who comes alive most when we step into the unknown with God.  When we rob the ranger of his full expression, we fall short of God’s promised ends in two important ways.  First, we fall short of knowing true rest—real rest—in that we forfeit the opportunity to experience the security of God in the midst of our vulnerability, for “those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever”***. Second, we fall short of experiencing true adventure because we all know that the best part of adventure is not knowing what comes next but knowing that we will be ok, nonetheless.  It took guts for the children of Israel to step into the overflowing Jordan River, but on the other side was both a God come fully alive and a people come fully alive, ready to conquer the land hand-in-hand.


The unknown is the adventure, which will always carry the risk of vulnerability, but isn’t that the thing we like most about adventure?  That chance that we might not be ok?  That chance that we might not have what it takes to come through?  The greatest adventure life has to offer is the invitation to trust an invisible God as he comes alive to solve our problems and fulfill His promises.  Therefore, we must learn to trust God as He initiates us, as He faithfully transforms our sense of security from a question mark into an exclamation point.  It is a lifelong process of initiation, and one that changes not only us, but those precious to us.


When properly initiated, the ranger in each of us trusts that, no matter the circumstance, this is going to work out in my favor.  Next time you feel apprehensive in the light of the unknown, rebrand that apprehension as excitement, embrace the adventure that is that unknown, and once again let the ranger out to play.  Neither you—nor those closest to you—will be disappointed you did.


Advancing in this life of adventure alongside you,


Jim


*1 Corinthians 10:6

**1 Corinthians 10:7 & Exodus 32:6

***Psalm 125:1

August 2, 2022 - 1 Corinthians 9: “Running To Win”

“Are you running to win, or are you running not to lose?  Is some inordinate fear of loss keeping you from going all in with Jesus?”


Psychologists tell us that human nature is more inclined to avoid loss than to risk gain.  Ever since our failure in the garden, mankind has been covering and hiding, ashamed both in and of our vulnerability.  But have we truly considered the cost of playing it safe?  To paraphrase Oswald Chambers’s take on Matthew 10:34, Jesus Christ did not come to bring peace, “but a sword…through every peace not based upon Himself.”  That includes the false sense of peace that results when we play it safe, those counterfeits we experience when we play not to lose.


Jesus is our security.  His presence, our confidence—especially in our vulnerability.  And where He calls us, He bids us go.  Even if that means stepping in where others fear to tread.


There are two significant water partings in Scripture—the Red Sea and the Jordan River.  The parting of the Red Sea was all about avoiding loss.  By contrast, the parting of the Jordan River was all about risking gain.  Which deliverance better describes your life?  Most Christians I know readily tell of their Red Sea deliverance, relating to anyone who will listen their testimony of all God delivered them from.  But most of those same Christians turn quite reticent when pressed to describe their Jordan River experiences—when pressed to describe all God delivered them to.  Too many Christians have a story of what God did, but too few have an equally compelling story about what God is doing—or what they hope He will do.  If you’ve only allowed God to deliver you from and not to, then your deliverance is incomplete.  The biblical picture to describe such a life is wilderness.


When hedged in on all sides, the unmatched Egyptian army closing in on them, and the intractable Red Sea before them, the children of Israel have no choice but to cry out to God, hoping in His hand of deliverance.   This is not simply loss avoidance, this is the frantic attempt to avoid all loss.  


Who among us would not be found faithful at the Red Sea?  


But who among us has been found faithful at the Jordan River?  There is no army forcing us forward, no fear compelling us onward.  We are not running for our lives; rather, we are being invited forward, drawn into something greater.  Something not yet realized, but promised nonetheless.  Drawn to lives of adventure, lives of battle, and lives of rescue and restoration, as John Eldridge puts it.  Drawn into the very lives for which we were created, and for which we have been crafted.  


Ultimately, we are being drawn to lives of great reward; and yet initially, lives of great risk.  And it is at this point that most of us balk, choosing wilderness over fruitfulness.


The Scriptures liken the life after Christ to a race—a race God compels us to win. Paul, who himself ran to win, asserts that he did not run with uncertainty, nor did he fight as one who beats the air.  He was mindful of the goal.  As such, there was a purpose to his training.  


In another letter to the church, Paul tells us that in his race after Christ, he lets go of what’s behind him—the struggles and the pitfalls of his yesterdays—and instead sets his sights on what’s ahead, the compelling glories of tomorrow.  Paul will not allow his yesterdays to disqualify him, nor will he allow what’s been done—what has happened—to cause him to lose heart about what can be done—what can happen.  With eyes focused on the prize, he disallows the failures of yesterday to influence him to play it safe today—even though he knew that with every step forward only more chains and tribulations awaited him.  Paul ran to win, allowing no one or no thing to move him from his upward call of God in Christ Jesus.


In the final analysis, Paul understood that God expected a return on his life.  He knew that one day he would stand before God and give an account of the grace afforded him.  Even though Paul began his ministry shedding the blood of the church, he ended his ministry shedding his blood for the church—and in many ways being the lifeblood of the church along the way.  In forgetting his former life and fully embracing his new life in Christ, Paul practiced what he preached.


Jesus expects a return on our lives as well.  Many of His parables serve as a reminder of this truth.  In particular, the Parable of the Talents paints a poignant picture of playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win.  With each of the talents the three servants were entrusted, they were expected to create a return on investment.  Could investment possibly result in the loss of the talents entrusted to them?  Of course.  But two of the three servants ran the risk, each returning double what was initially entrusted to them.  And the master positively beams at their faithfulness, promising much greater responsibilities for both of them in the future.  Yes, they ran the risk of losing every talent the master entrusted to them, but the master expected them to make something of those talents.  He expected them to take the risk, and these two servants did not disappoint him.


The third servant, however, is a completely different story.  It can be argued that the one-talent servant did the sensible thing.  Fearing the potential loss of his only talent, he purposely buries it, ultimately returning to the master exactly what was entrusted to him.  On some level, I find myself appreciating the caution of this third servant.  I get it.  It’s the safe play, eliminating all potential loss.  That appreciation, however, pales considerably in comparison with the admiration I have for the other two servants.  Those two lived with courage above caution, and ultimately, their lives meant something, advancing the cause of their master.  Yes, they could have played it safe, and guaranteed that which was given would be returned.  But these two caught the heart of the master who didn’t simply want the return of what was given.  If that was his heart, he would not have given in the first place.  Why would he?  He could simply keep his talents safe in his own possession.  The one-talent servant missed this.  As the master was off doing great business in a far away land, it was his expectation that his business would continue here, fully expecting to reap in areas that he himself had not sown.  So, as opposed to getting the positive beam of the master like the first two servants, the third got the disdain of the master, ultimately being stripped of the one talent he worried so much about losing. There is both a deep irony and an important lesson in this parable.  In our fear of risking loss we end up losing everything.  All the more reason to quit playing not to lose and begin playing to win.  Not only does our God expect it, but nobody wants to be a loser.


Playing it safe is the first roadblock to the promised land.  Living by what we see is the safe play, but we are called to live via faith, not via sight.  We are called to lives of vision, lives devoted to the realization of that which is not yet seen.  That’s the biblical definition of faith, the evidence of things hoped for, the substance of things unseen.  Your faith may be the only apologetic of God to the lives of those within your sphere of influence.  Noah spent over one hundred years building a boat in anticipation of a phenomena the world had yet not experienced.   Abram was commanded to leave behind all that was familiar—and a broken script—choosing to step into the call of God, not knowing where he was going.  David, like his predecessor Joseph, spent many years of his life holding to an unseen promise even when his circumstances showed anything but the possible realization of those promises.  These men held to promises not yet seen—and helped flipped the world right-side up when God saw fit to fulfill them.


A promise given.  That’s always God’s starting point.  A promised realized. That’s always God’s end. Is it yours?  


In a way, when a promise is given, it’s a deliverance from—a calling out.  And when that promise is realized, it’s a deliverance to—a calling in.  It’s what happens in the middle, however, between promise given and promised realized, that makes all the difference.   And it is here that so many balk, that too many settle, robbing their sphere of influence of the grace and strength they could have offered it, otherwise.


Ten of the twelve men sent to spy out the promised land gave a faithless, negative report of the land.  That’s always the report of the majority, for wide is the gate and easy the way that leads to destruction, and thereby many go in.  Like the one-talent servant, these ten spies did the sensible thing—Sure we may gain more, but we may also lose all.  So they balked.  Only two spies had eyes to see through the obstacles to the great, big God on the other side.  Only two had eyes to see the obstacles and opposition as cleverly disguised opportunities, their words revealing their heart—they are our bread.  That’s the report of the minority, forever found in the mouth of the precious few who choose to take God at His promises, for narrow is the gate and difficult the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it.


All twelve spies captured a vision of the promised land, but only two were willing to risk the status quo for the glory of God.  Sure, we may lose it all, but what if God is in this…


That’s the first and the biggest roadblock to the promised land.  Seeing but not believing.  Knowing the promises, but not appropriating them.  Standing on the edge of the Jordan, but not stepping in.  Instead, we turn back when God bids us forward—burying the gift of God or the promise of God.  In truth, what we bury is the potential of what our lives could have been.  This strategy is particularly dangerous because it proves initially effective, that which is buried is rendered unseen, and therefore ignored.  Out of sight, out of mind.  For all intents and purposes, forgotten.  


At least until the master returns from a far away land, looking to settle accounts…


In anticipation of the day of our Master’s return, how are you being intentional with the gifts and the opportunities afforded you through the grace of God?  Do you find a mirror in the first two servants, or do you align more with one-talent servant?  Is there any gift or opportunity you have buried away out of fear of failure or of loss, out of an inordinate desire to play not to lose?  What is it going to take for you to dig up that talent, invest in it, and start reaping a return for your Master?  Not only does He expect this of you, but it’s the least you can do for Him in light of all that He’s done for you.


Hoping to invest alongside you,


Jim