Archive for the ‘A Bicycler's Guide for Discipleship’ Category

A Brighter Light

January 7th, 2013

A Bicycler’s Guide to Discipleship: Get a Brighter Light than Comes with the Bike

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.

Psalm 119:105

Bicyclers amass local knowledge of paths and trails, back alley shortcuts, and those ways to avoid. No adequate substitute for the specific information about roads exists for cyclers other than the personal “been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt” type of experience.

Countless navigational systems exist for autos, with regular updates about detours and even warnings about traffic jams, etc. To date, nothing like this exists for bicycles or at least not to the same degree as for cars. For auto travelers the journey can be filled with pleasant conversations among friends and listening to beautiful music while they all seem to float gently over the rises of smoothly asphalted highways - as their journey is expertly mapped out by navigational systems, road signs, and numerous roadside attractions.

Cyclers have a very different experience - more earthy, on the street or path level, more connectedness to the road itself. Enjoying the ride no less, and perhaps even more, they jar their way along paths, feeling every bump and stone, being suddenly confronted without warning by necessary detours, bridges out, and unreliable maps. The best guide for a cycler is the one who rode the path yesterday, or even just hours before, and can tell you exactly what to expect and what to avoid.

Christ and His Word are like this to our lives - the guide who took the same trip just hours before and can personally advise on every matter.

Many bicycles come with lights, hi-tech wheel-generated halogen lights that profess to brightly light up the road in the darkest of nights. Anyone who travels regularly in the dark on a bicycle will normally find that these lights are only acceptable for well-lit city streets, not for the dark pitch of a forest. The cycler needs to buy a better light than came with the bike.

Generally speaking no light is too bright for a cycler who is traveling in the middle of a dark forest. You do not want to guess what is ahead or what is off to your side to the right or left - you want to know. The advertisers will say that the light offers 9 lux or 12 lux, and some even 25 lux. But in the dark you want more. My current additional light gives 70 lux, but sometimes I wish I had 200.

There is a spiritual parallel here. We human beings also come with lights to see where we are going - we call these our conscience, an inner concept of right and wrong - and every one of us has a conscience, at least to some degree. This is the legacy of our original act of creation, that we were given the nature of our Creator. After the rebellion of our original parents, however, this sense of right and wrong was marred and damaged beyond repair - at least beyond our own ability to repair it. The Bible says it is seared as with a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2), so even the best among us cannot always discern what is right and what is wrong. We need God’s help. We need a brighter spiritual light than came with our original creation.

Much of life seems to be lived in a relative darkness - either sadness envelops our hearts or confusion clouds our vision. Often the wrong things that we do or do not do seem so bad to us, and only in retrospect do we understand their true nature. We are often caught not being sure of which road to take, which path will ensure our success. We see partially, but not totally. This is the nature of life. The pain of old wounds warns us of the possibility of danger but not always clearly. Friends give us advice but more often than not, despite their best intentions, their wisdom does not fit perfectly to our situation. The Bible, as the Spirit aids our understanding, and as we discuss its practical application among a community of believers, becomes this bright light for our souls.

Life has a rugged reality to it - we do not always float over the bumps of life, but sometimes they jar us from head to toe - just like the ruggedness of bicycle travel. A cycler needs a light that is not fragile, one that can take the bumps, the rain, and the cold as well as the heat. Life is lived like this - out in the elements of hurt and pain. A normal household flashlight (”torch” to my British friends) with a couple of D batteries does quite well for around the house, but is not made to endure a storm. All bicycle equipment must be made for the storm, for harsh and extreme conditions. And the best advice for life must also come with this quality - we need truth and insight that will help us endure the storm, to stand in the pouring rain of difficulty and the extremes of temperature of sadness and pressure.

The Bible is also called “the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17) and His Spirit will always affirm in our hearts the truth and the practical application of the Word. In Christ we have someone who has gone before, whose light is just what we need for the moment, whose truth stands for all circumstances and endures all circumstances. His Word is both a lamp unto our feet, showing us the immediate issues we need to face, and a light for the path, that casts a long view down the length of eternity. From Him we know the issues of each day as well as the direction in which we are headed.

Some practical and good advice on getting a personal Bible is to purchase a translation that you can read and understand. Get one with some helps - notes in the margins, cross-references, a concordance, and some maps in the back. These do not come cheap, but neither are they priced beyond their personal value to us. The Word of God is the main thing, not the notes in the margins, but a good study Bible helps us to better grasp the message and understand some of the difficult passages. Christians books by reputable authors are also helpful tools and worth to our souls the cost.

A church where the Word of God is preached and where there are opportunities to sit in small groups with other believers and discuss the meaning and how to live in obedience to it, are also tremendously helpful to our spiritual growth. Here is where encouragement also is helpful; a true Bible believing church should be also a church full of encouragers who patiently help us to learn to live out the faith.

Our consciences alone will not be enough. We need a brighter light and help in understanding and applying His truth.

A Bicycler's Guide for Discipleship

Prepare for Flat Tires and Rain

November 14th, 2012

A Bicycler’s Guide to Discipleship: Prepare for Flat Tires and Rain

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Acts 14:22

A missionary colleague of mine in the Philippine Islands had six flat tires on his car in what would have ordinarily been about a thirty minute trip. The gravel road he was traveling had take opportunity a few spilt pieces of sharp metal had afforded it and, well, the rest was history. The trip took all day - a long, hot, hard day.

But bicycles go where cars don’t and flat tires are even more likely. In addition your own pedal power will propel you up hills and along paths, so light travel is always the best. The time-honored solution for bicyclers to this dilemma is to carry a tire repair kit, and to know very well how to use it.

Actually, you hardly need to practice in advance on how to repair a flat tire. Just hop on your bicycle and sooner, rather than later, you are likely to get plenty of experience. These two little hard plastic gizmos that help you take the tire off the rim - and you need at least two - are the equipment pieces most essential. You can, of course, use all kinds of other things as well - pocket knives, screw drivers, ball point pens - but these two tiny “thingy’s” are the quickest and the best. And, they are also fairly easy to break, so you need a back up to them as well as. I personally carry about five!

And the possibility of rain, another calamity that is sure to happen. In the beautiful forests of Europe, cold rain comes quickly and often. No matter what the weatherman says, or how the sky looks - you can be wet, cold, and muddy in no time at all. You have to carry a back up, something light enough to tote and thick enough to help. There is a saying in northern Europe, “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” The outer trials alone do not ruin our journey if we are adequately prepared.

How often the secret to achieving our plans in life comes down to the availability, or lack of it, of a seemingly small and insignificant piece of equipment. You can plan the best vacation ever, but if you forget your credit card, passport, reading glasses, or that ointment for your skin rash, it may turn into one of the worst weeks of your life.

In spiritual growth the backups are attitudinal, the preparation is spiritual. We cannot prepare for the hardships just by throwing a few more Bibles into our tote, but we can by memorizing and meditating on a few more key Scriptures. We need to be prepared in our hearts to face the flat tires and sudden downpours of life. The Bible calls this perseverance, the spiritual trait of being able to continue when things get tough. This attitude may seem like a very small thing, maybe even something inconvenient to carry around in our hearts when things are going well, but it is the spiritual tool we need to strengthen and repair our souls.

Perseverance has two major aspects: the patience to wait out bad conditions to pass, and the endurance to keep on even when things get tough. Getting stuck in a rain storm with a flat tire can be miserable, unless we know how to repair the flat and have the proper clothing. Enduring trials is not pleasant, but if we are prepared spiritually we will find the grace of God sufficient for us in our moments of need. To be a follower of Christ means that we will experience rejection and difficulty in some ways, and this is a indispensible aspect of the journey. Life in Christ makes us tough, resilient people, and we need this toughness. Toughness need not be roughness; resilience need not be rudeness. We can hold the kindness of God and the strength of God in our hands at the same time.

I am struck how often the need for perseverance came up in the early church. In Acts 14 Paul and Barnabas were on the end run of their first missionary journey and they stopped by Lystra and Iconium, places where they had evangelized earlier. Paul had even been stoned by a mob and presumed dead at Lystra, his body dragged outside the city by hardened and hateful persecutors. In an experience coated in mystery the believers gathered around him. If there was ever a time when the church needed a spiritual tire repair kit it was here, but as they stood over him - no record in the Scripture of them praying, they just came together as broken hearted, shell shocked believers who had just seen the man who had won them to faith in Christ presumably put to death - suddenly Paul rose and walked back into the very city where he was stoned.

Paul and Barnabas went back to these churches and these believers and told them that it will be through many hardships that we enter into the kingdom of God. The message of the apostles was not always health and wealth. Often it was a delivered to people who knew that to trust in Christ would bring difficulty in their lives - loss of employment, rejection of friends, ostracized by family, even possible death. The gospel was the challenge to become what was right in a world that was wrong, to accept a Savior and Lord who had been publicly executed by Roman authorities, which made Him an outsider, a convicted and executed felon. They could not expect everyone to understand. Every conversion to Christ was understood only as a miracle of God’s grace, a work of His Spirit, bringing conviction, conversion, and great inner joy.

For the average Christian, after salvation his outer life improves. He has better friends, lives a healthier life, becomes a better employee, and earns more money. By the Spirit his soul is brought into a more disciplined state, so he works harder at his job or studies harder at school. Traits essential for success become his: honesty, a positive hope, kindness, personal confidence, the ability to work well with others, attentiveness to details. However God made our minds to think and our hands to function, they will all work better if we live in the fullness of the Spirit.

But none of us can avoid difficulty entirely. We will each have our share of difficulty. We can expect in our Christian walk over the course of our life time to experience most of these challenges:

  • Conflicts with people at the work place
  • Financial challenges
  • Trouble with our marriage
  • Days of doubt
  • Personal loneliness
  • Persecution for our faith on some level (2 Timothy 3:12)
  • Serious illnesses
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Betrayals, injustices, jealousy, gossip, and prejudices
  • Temptations and our own moral failure on some level
  • Overwhelming responsibilities

In writing to Timothy Paul explained that the Scripture was profitable for us when we feel run off the road from our Christian walk - when we feel spiritually like the guy who is off on the side of the road trying to fix a flat tire in the rain. It is useful: for doctrine that teaches us what spiritual realities really are; for rebuking, and we can think of this like God’s way of telling us that our tire is flat; for correcting, for helping us to understand how to make things right, how to repair what is wrong in our soul; and for training or instruction in righteousness, meaning how to get back on the road and continue our journey. And the intent of all of this is so that “the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Several passages of Scripture are written just to prepare us for the times of trouble in life. Just a few of these spiritual tire repair kits are tremendously helpful to know:

  • Loss and bereavement: 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
  • Injustice: 1 Peter 2:13-25
  • Persecution: 2 Tim 3:10-17
  • Betrayal: Philippians 1:12-18
  • Moral failure: Psalm 51, 1 John 1:8 - 2:2
  • Loneliness: Psalm 23
  • Pride, Philippians 2:5-11
  • Worry: Philippians 4:4-7, Matthew 6:34
  • Fear: 1 Peter 5:7
  • When you feel under attack: Psalm 40:11-17
  • Impure thoughts: Philippians 4:8
  • When others seem to be better off than you: Psalm 37:1-8, 25-26; Psalm 73
  • Forgiving others: Matthew 6:14-15; 18:21-35; Romans 12:17-21
  • Heavy responsibilities: Matthew 11:28-30

The best of this flat-tire-analogy is the part about re-inflating the tire. Trials do not deprive us of the Spirit, He is still there within us, but we certainly do feel like a deflated flat. The Bible uses two different types of descriptive words in referring to the Spirit of God in our lives: presence and fullness. He is present in every believer’s life (Eph. 1:13-14 and Rom. 8:9-11). This is a constant reality in our lives as He promised never to leave us.

The fullness of the Spirit refers to the power of Spirit in our lives, the degree to which He dominates our thinking and our living. We are commanded to live in the fullness of the Spirit of God (Eph. 5:18). The teaching of the Bible is that the Spirit of God is great and awesome, beyond our ability to contain and control. Trials often seem to cause us to forget this reality and we need to let Him re-fill us with His power to live for Him.

To do otherwise is like “riding on the rims” and we feel every jolt, every bump, even every pebble. But if we allow Him to re-fill us with Himself, then we glide over the temptations and trials of life. We will still feel them, but not nearly as deeply as before.

How to Repair a Punctured Soul:

The procedure is simple for bicycles tires: (1) First, find the hole in the tube, and the piece of metal or sharp wood in the tire; (2) Remove it and throw it far away so you will not run over it again; (3) Clean off the tube around the puncture, sanding it down just a bit; (4) Apply the glue and the patch and let it dry for a few minutes; (5) Put the tube back in the tire, re-inflate it, and put it back on the bicycle.

For souls:

  • Find the offensive thing - the weakness or temptation. What has happened that has wounded your soul? Get to the bottom of it and be honest.
  • Remove it from your soul through confession, through honest evaluation in prayer to God. Get rid of it so you do not experience it again.
  • Clean it out of your soul. Do not blame others for what is your mistake - this tendency is one of the biggest weaknesses in our lives and it prevents us from maturing. There are always others who influence us to do the wrong thing, and some who have hurt us severely, but we must take responsibility for how we react to circumstances. For those events where we have been abused by others it may help to speak with a Christian counselor or a pastor to get to the bottom of some circumstances.
  • Apply the grace of God in Christ through faith. If it is moral or spiritual failure that is your problem, confess that and accept that God has forgiven you in Christ. If others have wounded you, take them along with you to the cross and in prayer trust that the Lord’s grace is more than sufficient to cover the sins of us all.
  • Take some time to let these things settle into your soul. Take a walk in the woods, spend a few extra minutes in prayer, listen to comforting Christian music, meditate on a Scripture. Often we expect to recover instantly from our wounds and in reality they take time. Christ spent much time in prayer, conversing with God, and this is a great resource for our spiritual healing.
  • Put the wind of the Spirit back into your Christian experience. Let the Spirit of God refill you with Himself and re-awaken your heart and life to all that He is. Often our struggles get us down because we have forgotten that the nature of the Christian life is one of fellowship with God by His Spirit. “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Gal. 5:16).
  • Put it all back together and get back into the stream of life, trusting Christ to enable you and strengthen you. You will be wiser and stronger for the future.

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