Ride The Wave

Having just returned from a Caribbean Cruise, I find myself still thinking about ocean waves. When onboard the ship, the waves seemed inconsequential. Our room was on the 8th deck, far removed from the splashing of water. Once in a while, however, I would stumble as the ship tilted slightly, moved by the force of the waves below. This movement is even more pronounced, I learned, when one is running on a treadmill. On one occasion, the movement caused by the waves just about ejected me sideways from the treadmill!

When the ship docked in Cozumel, Mexico, we headed immediately for the beach. The waves were big. As we watched the waves recede from the beach we could see that the undertow was also substantial. I was not deterred. I was the first from among our party to jump in. It wasn’t long before the waves began to hammer me, consistently knocking me off my feet. Even when I tried to stay above the waves, taking in a mouth full of saltwater seemed inevitable.

A few minutes into my ‘swim’ I became aware how far out into the ocean I was. The undertow had been gradually pulling me further and further away from shore. I wish I could have had my friend’s perspective of my predicament. I was somewhat oblivious to the danger of it all from where I was. A few of my friends, concerned about how far I had drifted, came in to join me (or rescue me, I’m not sure which it is!). Once they were assured of my safety, one of my friends began to ‘body surf’. Instead of fighting the waves, my friend took to riding the waves. Watching this, I was reminded that the quickest and most efficient way for a swimmer to travel the ocean is to allow oneself to be carried by the waves.

I began to reflect on this theologically. Recalling something a read a number of years ago, I began thinking of waves as a metaphor for God’s movement: His workings, and His will. Whenever I attempt to stand against God’s work/will, I get battered and knocked off my feet. All of my attempts to dodge God’s movements are unsuccessful. Even if I take a more passive posture, one marked by inactivity, I find that I am pulled away from the stability of shore.

What am I supposed to do? God wants us to ride the wave. God wants us, like a diligent surfer, to be watchful for a suitable wave to transport us.

If you’re at all like me, you’ve stood against the wave and been knocked down. You’ve tried unsuccessfully to dodge the wave. You’ve attempted to ignore the presence of the wave and have drifted to such a degree that you’re left with only one option: Ride the wave home.

You probably don’t need me to inform you that riding the wave of God’s will and power is the best option for our lives. But maybe you, like me, need this reminder from time to time.

What, practically speaking, does riding the wave look like? I agree with Rick Warren, who writes that riding the wave involves changing our prayer from ‘Lord, bless what I’m doing‘ to ‘Lord, help me to do what you are blessing‘ (Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 15). Too often, I think, our prayers are tantamount to an attempt to build waves. That’s not how the Bible directs us to pray. God alone builds waves. Our task is to recognize a wave that God has designed for us to ride. To borrow the biblical metaphor, our job is not to bust down doors in order to get somewhere. Our task is to pray for God to open doors for us to walk through (Colossians 4:2-6).

God is *sovereign (*i.e. in charge). God opens doors; we walk through. God creates waves; we ride them.

I like that equation. I have neither the ability to create waves, nor do I have the power to stand against them. I need God every step of the way. Moreover, I want to be invested in what God’s doing. Time, energy, and resources are too precious to be given to anything else.

Friend, look for the wave. When you find it, when you discern what God has for you to do, put all that you have into it and ride the wave.

Be The One

Doing the right thing, choosing the best path, isn’t easy when it seems as if everyone is taking the opposite route. No doubt, there are risks involved when we choose the road less traveled…social risks, economic risks…but, I assure you, the reward is great. This past week I delighted in studying the biblical account of Jesus healing the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19). For those who might not be familiar with the story, 10 lepers cry out for Jesus to heal them. Jesus responds by giving them a task to complete without actually promising to heal them. The 10 set out to complete the task and, miraculously, they’re healed along the way. Interestingly, only one of the healed lepers returns to Jesus.

As I studied this account I couldn’t help but notice similarities between the predicament of the lepers and the current predicament of people who need Jesus’ help. And when Jesus does help us, when he does come to our aid, how do we respond? Do we respond like the nine lepers? Or do we respond like one? If like the nine, what’s keeping you from being ‘the one’?

I found myself hugely challenged by this text. I invite you to have a listen for yourself.

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I’d be so encouraged to hear if the message of Luke 17:11-19 inspires you to Be The One.

Relationship Currency

On Monday afternoon I had an energizing meeting, by phone, with a highly regarded church leader. Our phone meeting was part of my research, in preparation for the launch of The Well on September 7, 2008. We talked about everything from message content, to the delivery of multimedia, to promotional strategies. We even spent some time assessing the value of providing comfortable chairs! This was a hugely helpful, and inspiring, conversation and I learned a great deal about what is required to create an ‘irresistible environment’. I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation these last couple days, but one subject in particular has been lingering in my mind: Relationships.

My colleague explained how, in his previous ministry, a huge commitment from volunteers was required to get things moving. He went on to explain how these key volunteers would gather weekly to plan, study, and pray. The result was that close relationships were formed, and that these relationships became a kind of currency, which energized their work. They so enjoyed being together that the ‘work’ aspect of their volunteerism was muted. Setting up video, stacking chairs, parking cars…no problem. They were together, and the ministry became a kind of conduit for them to express their friendship.

That really resonated with me. Too often, volunteerism in the church descends into little more than a huge ‘To Do’ list that needs to be completed. My experience leads me to believe that when the notion of task completion becomes supreme, some really important things get lost in the shuffle……like relationships.

When The Well launches in September, I don’t want newcomers to see a bunch of volunteers frantically racing around doing things. I want newcomers to come in, look around, and discern a group of volunteers who care deeply for one another. I want newcomers to come in and see an irresistible community of people. My hope is that they’ll want to know what’s behind that. My hope is that they’ll wonder why we care so much.

Thinking of motivation for a service, it is possible that you are reading this blog post and are wondering: ‘Bryn, what happened to Sola Deo Gloria*? (Latin, for ‘God’s glory alone’). Isn’t God’s glory supposed to be our supreme motivation for Christian service?’


So why the emphasis on relationships? As I survey the New Testament, I get the distinct sense that God is glorified when we humbly serve one another, and defer to one another as Christians. Jesus has said, ‘By this all men will know you are My disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:35). Similarly, the apostle Paul instructs: ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’ (Ephesians 5:21). In other words, it’s like God is saying, ‘Defer to one another as you would to Me. Take all that respect, love, and commitment you have for Me, and pour that into one another.’

I don’t see an emphasis on relationships to be at odds with an emphasis on God’s glory. By every appearance, God wants to be glorified in our relationships.

I suppose I could message to volunteers of The Well that everything we’re doing is for God’s glory (I’m sure I will do that). But some of them might struggle to know what that looks like in the context of their volunteerism.

I’m suggesting that growing in our affection for one another will say something about the God whom we serve. I’m suggesting that the degree to which we prioritize serving one another will say something about our commitment to Christ.

Yes, the motivation for service is God’s glory. His honour is supreme. But, when you’re looking for a way to express that, I recommend the currency of relationships.

Finishing Well

Finishing well is vital. Just ask the gymnast looking to ‘stick’ their landing. Just ask the baseball manager who saves one of his top pitchers (‘the closer’) for the 9th inning. Just ask the 1996 Masters runner-up, Greg Norman (lost to Nick Faldo after beginning the final round with a 6 stroke lead). It’s not enough to start strongly. Few remember the one who begins the day in first place; people remember the one who takes home the prize.

Finishing well is an important consideration for the Christian as well. As I survey the New Testament, I am struck by the apostle Paul’s emphasis on completing what has been entrusted to him (Philippians 3:12-14; Colossians 4:17; 2 Timothy 4:6-8). Compare some of the names that appear at the end of Paul’s letters and you begin to get the sense that some finished well and some did not.

I’m sobered by that fact that not everyone who identifies with Jesus Christ finishes strongly. But, on the other hand, I’m delighted that not everyone who begins off track stays off track. There is room for all of us to finish well. It’s not an automatic thing. Paul employs athletic metaphors to convey the exertion with which he engaged the process of finishing strongly.

Yes, God wants you and He wants me to finish well. This was my burden this morning as I closed out a teaching series from Colossians. Have a listen.

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You’ll find that there’s both a sober warning and a blessed opportunity within the message. There’s a trajectory to be maintained. I’m not talking about preserving by works a salvation gained by grace (Ephesians 2:8). I’m talking about the manner in which you respond to salvation already bestowed. I’m not talking about if the Christian will persevere; I’m talking about how the Christian should persevere.

I love how John Piper frames it: “The key to persevering is to keep finding Christ as your highest treasure. Keep seeing him, valuing him, and treasuring him. It is not mainly a fight to do. It is mainly a fight to delight.”

No Shortcuts

When I left the doctor’s office this afternoon I was reminded: There are no magic pills. At least, for my ailment there isn’t. About 3 weeks ago, I blogged about an injury I sustained to my knee while playing goalie in hockey (Some might call me a typical man for waiting 3 weeks before seeing a doctor!). I don’t know what I was expecting from my doctor. In the back of my mind, I thought he might just tell me to ‘rest it’. I also braced myself for the suggestion that a surgeon repair the damage. What I certainly wasn’t expecting from him was a list of weightlifting exercises aimed at strengthening the muscles that surround the knee. I didn’t expect I had to do something in order for my knee to get better. I imagined someone else; my doctor, my pharmacist, or a surgeon would do something on my behalf to fix my knee. I suppose I was looking for an easy out; a shortcut.

On occasion, I get the impression that some Christians are looking for shortcuts. We read the Bible and we see exhortations to be like Jesus. We read and we discern that we ought to be making progress in our pursuit of *holiness (*i.e. becoming like Jesus). We recognize the enormous distance between where we are, and where we need to be, and we begin to wonder, ‘What can be done?’

If you’ve asked yourself that question, you’re off to a good start. Because some, I fear, imagine that since they did nothing to gain salvation (Ephesians 2:8), similarly nothing is required from them to become holy. They figure that God who, in His sovereignty, gave them a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) will also sanctify them in His good time.

As I read the Bible, however, I get the sense that becoming like Jesus is going to take some substantial effort on my part. I remember reading a number of years ago about an encounter between the golfer, Jack Nicklaus and his celebrity partner at a golf tournament. As the day progressed, and after watching Nicklaus sink putts all day, the celebrity exclaimed, ‘I wish I could putt like that!’ Unmoved by the compliment, Nicklaus turned to his partner and replied, ‘I didn’t get to putt like this by wishing.’

Friends, we will not become like Jesus by wishing. Nor will we become like Jesus by giving excessive emphasis to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty. Holiness is not automatic. It is something to be pursued. Holiness is something to be worked at.

On the other extreme, we ought to avoid an approach that imagines progress in holiness coming from human effort alone. I regard Jesus to have had holy living in mind when He warned, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). In the pursuing Christ-likeness, the answer most certainly is not self-sufficiency.

The long road to holiness is a joint venture between you and the Lord Jesus Christ. Christopher Love is a theologian who ably articulates this partnership, ‘As God commands His children to obey Him, so He conveys power and ability to enable them to do what He commands‘ (Love, The Mortified Christian, 29)

This is not altogether unlike when I help my 5 year-old daughter clean her room. The room does not clean itself. My daughter has never successfully wished her room clean. I refuse to clean her room for her…but I help her. There are shelves that she cannot yet reach. There are items that are too heavy for her to lift.

I require (on occasion, at least) that my daughter’s room be clean, but I assist her in fulfilling what I require. J.I. Packer also captures this equation well when he writes, ‘Holiness is both God’s promised gift and man’s prescribed duty‘ (Packer, A Quest For Godliness, 198).

I’m so grateful that the Lord does not leave this holiness thing all up to me. I’m also glad that my effort isn’t irrelevant to the process either.

I haven’t found any shortcuts to becoming like Jesus…and that’s ok. Because, truthfully, I’m enjoying the process. Yes, pursuing holiness is enjoyable–yes enjoyable. We were designed for this.

So, I’m done wishing. Time to work.