Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Theology of Bike Racing

All of these ruminations on Joshua and the Israelites have led me to make an attempt at a theology of bike racing. For those of you who stop by this blog who are in the bike racing community, you will probably think I am nuts. If you are Christian, you may also think I am nuts. If you are a Christian athlete who longs to compete I think you may find these thoughts interesting.

Like Father Like Son
My wife is a watercolor artist. I marvel at the work of her hands. There is a longing in her heart to create. Why? Why does she long to take raw materials and create beautiful paintings from them. I believe it is because she bears the image of her creator. Being made in His image, she displays his characteristics. God is the ultimate artist. He created all that is out of nothing and pronounced that it was all "very good." When his good creation became corrupt because of sin, God set about recreating his good creation redeeming it.

So much of what we do finds it's roots in this same phenomenon. Why do we love competition? I believe it is because we were made for battle. Sounds strange I know, but God is a warrior strong in battle. Jesus, his son and the Holy Spirit are likewise mighty in battle. I know you might shrink from this and see some kind of discontinuity between what I am describing and the ethos Jesus gives us especially in Matthew 5-6, (sermon on the mount). Don't give up on me quite yet. As the godhead is a warrior so are his creatures made in his image.

War as metaphor
Metaphor is huge in the bible. A quick survey of the New Testament yields an amazing amount of metaphor. Sports, marriage, agriculture and war are just a few metaphors that are used in scripture. We are simple people. The God who created us knows this speaks to us in ways that cement understanding. Look at this passage from Ephesians 6:

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

How about Romans 8:32:

37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Not to mention nearly all of the Revelation where the metaphor plays out for most of the book.

Reflecting on the scene from Joshua, I see metaphor there also. Yes, this was a real bloodletting but if we miss the metaphor we miss how it was intended for us. As I wrote in the previous entry, I believe God wants us to see our enemies as being every bit as devastating as those five kings he slaughtered before Israel. In fact, we should see our enemies as the motivating force behind those kings. God wants us to cut through and see the sin that underlies the evil around us and he calls us to battle. When I read scripture, I don't see a milquetoast God. I don't see a timid Savior. I see God fully invested in battle and he summons us to join in the fight. As we fight, he wants us to fully understand the battle is his and we are invited to participate. The armies of the five kings were given to Israel by God. He held the sun in the sky and rained down hailstones to give Israel the victory. It was their job to believe and charge forth in faith knowing that it was God who fought for them.

Christian Warfare
So, how do we fight? Do we charge forth into the culture to do battle? Do take this charge to mean we should resist the government? I believe we are called to militancy but not as the world around us would see it. Look at the beatitudes of Matthew 5:

1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them saying:
3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

This is Kingdom language. These are the blessings of redemption. This is the new creation and Jesus has brought it and is bringing it. Those who follow Jesus in faith display these characteristics because they are inhabitants of God's redeemed creation. They are the advanced guard living in the now. They are the citizens of a different age when sin is no more. They seek the peace of heaven today. They long for the shalom of heaven to rain down upon this fallen world. They long for all the things that will exist in that day to prevail today. Thus, they become light and salt in a fallen world.

I believe we are to militantly pursue the peace of Heaven. I believe we are to militantly pursue mercy, righteousness, justice, humility, faith and love. The enemies of these must be crushed. We must see our savior as victorious over them and place our figurative feet upon their necks as he slaughters them before eyes. Jesus has won the victory for us! He goes before us on the cross and through his resurrection crushes all of the enemies of God. We have lived too long accommodating them when our God has called us to utterly defeat them.

What about the bike?
Okay, let me tie this all together. Why do I love to race my bike? There are many reasons for this, some are wrong some are right. I battle the sin of self-glorification. I am guilty of racing for my own glory and validation. This is an enemy to be defeated. It is the idol of self that must fall under my foot as Christ utterly destroys it. Like all good things in this age, sin creeps in and corrupts that which God made for good. I also race for much the same reason as the artist paints. I long for battle. I long to defeat my enemies because I am built that way; built in the image of my creator. Perhaps that explains why we are so attracted to sport in general. I confess to you that when I race I am bloodthirsty. Not literally of course but I want to utterly defeat the riders around me. Is this compatible with Christianity? Is this sin? No, this is metaphor. This metaphorically speaks of the greater battle I have been called to. We must join in the battle against the "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms". We must gird ourselves for battle and fight! What does this look like? To those looking on, they don't see a wild-eyed warrior but one who is gentle and meek. They see the humility of Christ our brother in us. They see a people reaching out to the down-and-outers in love. They see us as the forgiveness of sins people forgiving as we have been forgiven. This is what battle was always meant to look like but like just about everything else in this fallen age, sin has done its work and deformed what God meant for good. Our battle is against the enemies of the ethics of the Kingdom of Heaven and we must stand and fight recognizing Christ has already secured the victory.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Fear and Joy

Pastor Chuck has asked the church to read "Champagne for the Soul" by Mike Mason. This book has become a little treasure trove for me. I have been praying for joy for the last year and now this book has been placed in my hands. Not just any book but a book written by one who has struggled and fought for joy.

Circumstances in life, invisible forces lead me to fear. Things like lust, job loss, anger can overwhelm me with a sense of defeat. Joy flows away from me like water draining from a sink. Mike used this text today to make his point:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged.
~Joshua 1:9

The Israelites have been lead by Joshua through the Jordan river into the Promised Land only to be met by a menacing force of five kings all united in their opposition. The people of God are a little rag-tag band of ex-slaves coming out of forty years of desolate desert dwelling. They must have felt terribly frightened in the face of so great a force but God rained down huge hailstones upon their them and they were defeated. After, Joshua brought these five kings to lie prostrate before all Israel. He summoned his commanders to come and place their feet upon the necks of these once fearsome enemies while Joshua killed them.

To us moderns this sounds brutal but in God's economy, a lesson was being taught that his people desperately needed to see. Not only them but me also. They needed to know that God himself was going before them. Therefore, they should not fear the fearsome only trust in God's ability to save.

Fast forward to today. My heart is given to fear in the same way as the Israelites. Fear robs me of my joy. I meditated and thought of the things I fear seeing them as men lying prostrate on the ground in front of me. It wasn't Joshua who summoned me to place my foot upon their necks but it was Jesus. Jesus invited me to feel his victory as I placed my bare foot upon the necks of these that mean to do me in. While I stood there in this position, Jesus, utterly destroyed them before my eyes! Instead of joy trickling away, I felt the comfort of increasing joy.