Bowling is one of the most popular sports in America, though some struggle to label it a sport. I would conclude it is a sport because of its competitive nature, score-keeping, some athletic ability is required and it has aired on ESPN (at least ESPN2). While bowling is certainly available to the masses and requires little training to play, a definite chasm exists between casual bowlers and competitive masters. Aside from their designer wrist-guards, highly-personalized bowling balls and shoes reminding all of an era gone by, these men and women truly have talent for hurling a weighted ball at 10 unsuspecting odd-shaped targets.
I remember learning to bowl in 4th grade. Rosedell Elementary began an after-school program and I was enrolled. My grandpa was an avid bowler and my parents still had their bowling paraphernalia of a decade earlier. I thought I might have the gene. After a great deal of time and practice, I learned to hold my own but it never amounted the career I dreamed (ok, not really dreamed). However, the most important lesson I learned from a true expert was to follow-through. You could step the right steps, release the ball well, and even look great doing it, but without follow-though, the ball would likely miss most of the abused ten pins. What I believed about the ball and its trajectory mattered little without good follow-through. Don’t get me wrong, I was still a bowler. But without good follow-through, I was utterly ineffective.
James 2 begins painting a picture of follow-through. He opens the chapter with a challenge to treat everyone equally with love and a heart to serve. The church was no place for partiality. Brothers and sisters in Christ are equal no matter their upbringing, race, socio-economic status or appearance. He then follows this discussion by writing a difficult passage about Faith and Works. “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17 ESV) Remember that taken in context, James isn’t discussing salvation but instead refuting ineffective and apathetic Christianity. These Christians were still lacing up their shoes, pulling out their colorful ball, and displayed their league and team colors. But they lacked follow-through.
Scripture is full of mandates to effectively follow-through your beliefs. If we say we really believe something, like Scripture, why do we not live like it? Why do I not? My kids, my neighbors, my co-workers and my friends are watching my follow-through every day. Frankly, they don’t care what I look like or if my ball curves brilliantly down the lane. They are watching to see if the pins fall. They are watching to see if I am faithful to live what I say I believe. Only then will I attract them to this amazing game. Only then will they see that it isn’t a game at all. How’s your follow-through?
I have a confession to make. It is difficult to admit but true nonetheless. I like quiche. I am addicted to eggs, cheese and that amazing pastry pie crust. Together, they make a mouthwatering combination with a feminine name. About a month ago, my wife Jessie decided to use a quiche recipe she discovered. Considering the booming preschool population at our home, times arise where I must learn to check to the food in the oven for completeness. The litmus test for quiche – is it still wobbly?
Paul, sensing the end of his life, penned a powerful epitaph in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These inspiring words have launched many sermons and emboldened those facing persecution or death. This verse paints a vivid picture of a man completely devoted to the cause of Jesus Christ now laying down after a long journey running full speed. Yet it is not the finish that makes Paul’s marathon meaningful but every step along the way. At another time, we read these words, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
Accomplishment and success can easily lead to complacency. In our walk with Christ, complacency often results in a comfortable feeling of arrival. Or in quiche terms, we become “set”. I have been in the oven of Christendom more that seventeen years and I find it easy to “set” living a comfortable life with my wife and 2.3 (really 3) children in suburban America. However, the words of Scripture draw me to a place of wobbliness. I must recognize that I am far from complete and will only reach that moment when my fight is complete as well. But for now, I have to keep fighting, keep running, keep the faith real and life-changing. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God gives us the strength, courage and prodding to live wobbly lives. No matter how many years the oven browns us on the surface, may our hearts remain flesh, moldable and movable by an unpredictable and untamable God.
Are you still wobbly?
Because of what I do, I often hear the stories that shake families. Stories of husbands who never meant to, of wives who simply got carried away in the moment resound throughout the hallways and offices. Most began the journey innocently and after a series of subtle compromises discovered they were past the point of no return (or so they thought). It is one of the most difficult things to hear and even more challenging is watching the face of the one receiving the news. A faithful husband discovers his wife has been seeing a neighbor or co-worker. A loving wife’s heart breaks as her husband confesses news that will take years, if not a lifetime, to work through.
I have often heard and even studied the incredible parallels Scripture draws between marriage and Jesus’ relationship with the Church. We are called His Bride. Scripture even details a wedding ceremony and covenant of sorts dating back to the giving of the law to Moses and Israel. Upon becoming a follower of Jesus Christ, I became the bride of Christ and said yes to the covenant of “marriage”. Out of love and passion, God gave His Word, the Bible, to lead and guide every believer in relationship to Him. Living according to HIs ways leads to an amazing abundant life. It is a life build on God’s grace, love and mercy and the covenant necessitates my obedience.
I can’t imagine or comprehend ever sitting down with my wife and hearing her confession of unfaithfulness. Nor can I grasp the idea that she would one day tell me that she is bringing another person into our covenant with no regard for me. What is holy and sacred would become filthy and desecrated. Our covenant and my trust would be destroyed and my intense love for her would fuel a passion expressed in anger and tears.
After thinking so personally about this covenant that I share with my amazing wife, it hit me for the first time. Years of study and understanding of the bride of Christ symbolism hadn’t pierced my heart. Yet such a personal perspective brought a real lump to my throat. How can I treat sin so casually in my relationship with Christ? How can I make excuse for pride, discontentment, or any other “pet” sin I choose to keep and subtly feed? It is no wonder that God’s anger burned with Israel and the Church when they turned from Him! It is not simply wrath, rage, or purposeless anger but instead the heart of a Holy God who gave His Son to redeem mankind. It is the passion of a God who loves me like I love my wife, actually, much much more.
Today, I am thankful for the cross of Jesus Christ because my sin was dealt with there. I am thankful for the resurrection of Jesus Christ because my death was dealt with there. Today, I am also thankful for the righteous anger of God fueled by a love for me I cannot comprehend.
Oh how he loves you and me…