Running The Race (Part 7) – Our Lens

      For the last couple of months, I have been talking about possessing a right attitude in our Christian walk. If the right attitude is not present, Christians will be void of having the necessary commitment to finish the course set before them.

      The truth is people are clearly on a journey to discover the essence of life. People look to various sources based on what they think will make them happy, successful, and/or their life meaningful. However, the real purpose of life cannot be discovered unless knowing and experiencing the reality of God is the main focus of a person’s journey. We must first understand what the Creator had in mind when He created Adam out of the dust of the ground and formed within him the type of spirit that would enable him to walk and commune with Him.

      A big part of what determines our heart attitude is the perception we adopt about the Lord. This perception will establish how we not only look at God, but His Word, and life in general. We will view our different experiences through this lens and draw conclusions about what we think is reality. Jesus warned us about this in Matthew 6:22-23, “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”

      The truth about the significance of our perception was recently brought to the forefront by a Christian video called “Journey to Christmas” about five people’s journey to discover Christmas. They were all from different backgrounds and experiences, and it appears that they are all Canadian. It was interesting to know the reason for them taking this particular journey that would last 20 days and would lead them supposedly down the same path of the wise men and Joseph and Mary in the Holy Land.

      Each of these five people had different reasons, objectives, and expectations. For example, one man was experiencing a crisis in his faith. He wanted to have some type of experience to warrant what belief he had about God, as well as inspire an inner passion to continue his job as a Christian radio personality. It was clear that he had become a skeptic and wanted to somehow have his faith confirmed to him according to some vague experience that would confirm his faith. It was obvious he had no clue as to what he was looking for but it was also apparent that he wanted to be revived.

      There was a young man that had a Jewish father and a Christian mother. He was turned off to all religion and considered himself an agnostic but he wanted to see if there were any logical and historical connections that would warrant people’s attraction towards religion.

      There were also three young women who rounded out the group of five. One was a young First Nations woman. She had been exposed to Christianity but wanted to discover Jesus from a point of cultural identification because she perceived that He was only a religious figure that related to the white people, while another woman was an artist whose parents were from different Christian faiths and she was seeking inspiration that would manifest itself in her ability to create greater art. The third young woman was a singer and had clarity about what constituted Christianity. She came so she could walk where Jesus walked and grow in her knowledge of the Lord.

      The amazing thing about these five people is that they listened to each other, and never argued or tried to sway the others to their particular take on religion or Christmas. As I watched the series, I waited in expectation for each of them to come away with a greater sense of Jesus. After all, they were in the holy land. As I watched them travel over incredible terrain, walk through ruins of once great cities, witness breathtaking sunsets, wade in the waters of the Sea of Galilee, and hear the story of Christmas, I was waiting for that “wow-moment” to hit each one of them.

      In a couple of cases the “wow-moment” happened, but when it came to perception, they walked away with the same opinion. The skeptic left a skeptic because he did not have the experience he was looking for. He chose to hold onto God because nothing else made sense to him, but it was clear that God did not have a hold of his heart. This man failed to realize that the greatest way you can experience God is through a relationship with Him based on a genuine faith towards Him. This man had no real faith because he never approached the Bible to simply believe what it said about God and His redemption to quiet his struggling heart. Without faith, any fleeting spiritual experience would become a poor substitute for any personal sustaining knowledge of God. The skeptic did not need to have some grand experience to fall on him so he could have faith that God truly existed; rather, He needed faith that would allow him to experience God, he needed to see Jesus with the eyes of child-like faith (Matthew 18:3-4; Hebrews 1:6). What the skeptic did not realize is that there first must be faith directed towards God before the Jordan River parts to let God’s people enter into His promises.

      The agnostic walked away with an understanding that there was historical proof that the events of Christmas happened and why people may hold tightly to their religion, but he still maintained that he was an agnostic. Jesus may have become an historical figure to him, but his logic rejected the spiritual truths of who God is and His redemption. The truth is this young man had no intention of changing his mind about God; rather, he simply wanted to have his mind changed about religion, mainly his parents’ involvement in religion. He did not like the fact that he was very critical and negative towards his parents and their beliefs because it caused him to lack the proper respect towards them.

      As far as the girl who wanted to see if Jesus could fit into her culture, she concluded that since He was from a tribe, He could fit nicely into her culture. What this young woman failed to realize is that Jesus did not come to appeal to our cultures. In fact, He came from outside of all cultures and manifested Himself in the Jewish culture so He could be recognized as the Promised Messiah. It was this woman who needed to step outside of cultural understanding to encounter the one true God, creator of not only white people, but all people in order to relate to Jesus in His deity, humanity, and redemptive work. It is not up to God to lower Himself to our understanding and ways so we can believe; rather, it is up to us to choose to believe that the Lord is who He says He is so that His Spirit can begin to lift us up in our understanding about God and bring us into a saving knowledge of Him or closer walk with Him (Isaiah 55:8-9).

      After her journey, the artist felt more in touch with how she could better express herself in her art. But the truth was she was more interested in the artistic, sentimental aspect of religion than the reality of its truths. She wanted emotional inspiration, that touch of spirituality that would connect the dots between both parents’ beliefs. It was obvious that she possessed assumptions about her religious understanding and possibly struggled at different times with how to find common ground with what she had been taught. She wanted to somehow come to terms with what she needed to believe or know, thereby, expressing it in her art as a point of personal identification.

      This brings me to the one person who clearly possessed a testimony of Christ, the Christian singer. It was clear there was a depth and clarity about her Christian life. Her response to her journey was refreshing. She saw the Creator’s hand in the sunsets and varied landscapes; understood the depth of a seeking heart that was willing to travel great distances to pay honor to the King of the Jews like the wise men; and the sustaining faith of Joseph and Mary as they simply believed and obeyed in spite of the many challenges that confronted them. As she waded in the Sea of Galilee she remembered how Jesus taught there. She spurned the gaudy religious commercialism that she encountered at certain shrines; and, worshipped Him in song at places that possessed the simplicity that clearly invited the presence of God. Ultimately, she came out with a better sense of Jesus.

      Jesus said it best, “Who do you say I am?” Due to unbelief the skeptics may have vague notions about God, but they do not possess Him. The agnostics may see themselves too intelligent to believe the simple truths of God, but the truth is in the end they will prove to be the most foolish of all. The ones who seek to relate to the Lord on a cultural level will never discover their true identity as a child of God, and those who want some emotional inspiration to define their religious understanding will find their inspiration waning and not sustaining.

      Every person is on a journey of discovery. Granted, some become stuck in the ruts of familiarity, while others land at a certain place of understanding, deeming that they have arrived. There are those who seek to confirm their idea of reality, while others are trying to fit what they don’t understand or agree with into their present reality. Clearly, the great abhorrence that many seem to have towards truth is making it a rarity in the world, causing those who are truth seekers to appear to be a relativity small group.

      The problem is why do people insist on maintaining their own spiritual lens when it comes to God, especially since they will interpret everything they see through their particular lens? If people would choose to see God with child-like faith for Who He is, believe His Word is true, and obey what they know, they would be able to discover and see the real God of the Bible. They would know what truth is and would be able to confront the challenges of their faith and their life on a realistic plane.

      As we face a New Year, we must as believers decide what kind of lens we will put on to interpret the matters of life around us. In order to accept the right lens, we must decide that regardless of how much truth may rock our foundation, shake our present religious structure, and throw us in a crisis of faith, we must be willing to lose and sell all to possess it (Proverbs 23:23). We cannot assume we know a matter until it has been confirmed by the Lord through His Word and by His Spirit. We must not presume that our doctrinal understanding is right until we first allow it to be shaken and tested to see if it will stand up to the complete counsel of the Word of God, ensuring that it is not propped up by some type of delusion or skepticism. We must seek God to know His truth, while tenaciously making sure that what we do understand or conclude is confirmed by spirit and in line with truth. In essence, we must choose to love the truth, not our personal take on it, but God’s unadulterated truth found in His Word (John 17:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).

      We cannot run the race if we do not see clearly. We cannot finish the course unless we understand what we are looking for. We cannot expect to win the race unless we are willing to run it according to the rules established in God’s Word. We cannot expect to experience victory unless we are willing to finish the race.

      The attitudes of the people that took the Christmas journey possibly represent many who sit in churches. They are considering the matters of God according to their own lens. Whether they are operating in a right spirit and according to the counsel of God’s Word would be immaterial to them because in their mind their understanding and conclusions point to their form of truth. They feel justified in their doubts, rational in their conclusions, strong in their feelings, and loyal to their cultural understanding.

      It is vital that as believers we test our lens to see if we are seeing clearly. If we are not we must allow God to give us the right prescription. It is only after we have the right lens to see through that we can be assured of starting out on the right path in 2017.

      Once we make a determination to allow the course God set before us to discipline our walk, we must be willing to take the first step in this great adventure. Each step requires faith that God is faithful and we must understand that we will only arrive at our real destination when we obey the rules and keep our focus on the finish line. This brings me to what kind of attitude each of us needs to possess in order to avoid being deceived by some fleshly or worldly lens.

      To personally answer this question I have often consulted those who have gone before me. The Bible is clear that these people never witnessed the promises of God being fulfilled in their lifetime but they still believed. These people believed because they also had the lens of faith to see their destination in a far distance. Hebrews 11:16 gives us this insight, “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

      People of faith realize their real reward will not be obtained in this present life because it is not of this world. In Hebrews 11, some of these individuals received incredible promises, yet they realized that all the promises put together paled in comparison to the city God had prepared for them.

      This brings us to the proper attitude that we need to possess. Hebrews 11:13 gives us insight into the attitude, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off and were persuaded of them and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

      When I consider the five people who embarked on the journey to discover Christmas, I realize that two of them were void of real faith, two possessed a misdirected faith, and one possessed true faith. Two were looking for something in this present world that would raise their faith out of skepticism and would adjust to cultural influence, while one was looking for something to revive inward inspiration, and one was an observer, really not looking for much. However, the Christian was always seeing beyond the present world, looking for the Lord, fully persuaded that she would see Him in His creation, in simplicity, and in what many would consider small, insignificant ways.

      The attitude every believer must have is that of a stranger in the world and a spiritual pilgrim who is seeking a place where he or she has complete freedom to worship and serve his or her God. Notice how these people in Hebrews 11, “confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” People who are bound to this world have a completely different attitude than those who are simply passing through it to a heavenly country. Those who are teetering between this present world and the next are often frustrated, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled. There are also those whose heart is with the world, but they give the impression that they love God and want to serve and please Him, yet they often have no concern for the lost and sometimes very little tolerance towards those who do not go along with them.

      What can we learn about these strangers and pilgrims mentioned in Hebrews 11? First, they knew they were heirs of promises but they also knew that the greatest promises were attached to the world yet to come. Because they were focusing on a bigger prize than the promises attached to their present age, they held lightly to this world as they continued to look ahead to the real prize.

      The reason they had such confidence was because they were persuaded that the promises were so. The apostle Paul was persuaded about something that clearly affected his life in Christ, “For the which cause I also suffered these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou has heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:12).

      Believing comes before persuasion. Persuasion is a powerful word because it means one not only believes in the heart, but what he or she does believe serves as an anchor in the will, causing the person to be steadfast in the course that he or she is now persuaded to be intellectually so. In order to be a stranger and sojourner in this world, we as believers must be persuaded that in spite of being born into this world, our heart and citizenship belong to another country, another city that has been made by the very hands of God.

      As we face a New Year, many will resurrect “old resolutions,” with great expectation as their resolve reaches a pinnacle of zeal, only to wane within a few weeks where they will find that they are back to business as usual.

      They have not learned that before a habit can be formed, there must be a change in attitude. A change in attitude does not happen until it takes on a vision and life of its own. It is when it has vision that it also has the ability to see the resolution as a worthy mission that is greater than one’s own resolve. It will then seek the wisdom and a greater moral providence to bring it forth. That is why it only makes sense as we face uncertain times, that the proper resolution for believers is the urgency to make sure we are on the right path, and then we must stay the course, run the race, and reach forward with assurance that we will reach our ultimate destination.

      We pray 2017 will be a blessed and rewarding year for you and your family.