Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Grand Master

The martial arts have been a fascination of mine for years.  I have dreamed of taking karate and becoming a black belt, but this year I decided to take the bull by the horns and pursue my dream!  I am making my temporary residence in a town which has a martial arts studio right up the street, and I wanted to do something different and crazy to commemorate the special birthday I just celebrated, so I started taking tae kwon do classes!  This is a style similar to karate.  Both are popular in our country.  My goal is to learn as much as I can in the next few months before I move back to Missouri for the summer, and I hope at some later time to be able to pick up training again.  I am heartily enjoying the experience!  Tae kwon do has a lot of physical and mental benefits.

Now, if you have read much of my writing here or on the His Ranch blog (, you know how much I love analogies between the physical world and the spiritual.  Would it surprise you then to hear that I was also struck with analogies from tae kwon do?  I have been memorizing and meditating on Colossians chapter 1, and as I was pondering verses 9-14, the ideas started coming.

First of all, you need to understand the philosophy behind the martial arts.  I think many of us who are unfamiliar with the arts tend to have the wrong idea.  We think that martial arts are about superior fighting skills and self-defense, the stuff of the clandestine underworld and the military, and about making your body a dangerous weapon.  Yes, they can be and are certainly used that way, but that is not what the arts are truly about.  On the day I passed my evaluation to enter the tae kwon do program, the Grand Master, ie; the top dog in the arts, sat down with me and explained the philosophy behind these ancient skills.  He drew the Chinese characters for "martial arts" , explaining that it essentially means "the way of stopping the fighting".  In other words, it is the way of the peacemaker.  He went on to say that if you want to make peace but are weak in your approach, you will not be able to accomplish anything.  But if you show the antagonist that you are physically and mentally stronger than he, there is a great chance that he will listen to you, and it only needs to involve force if absolutely necessary.  I thought this truly interesting, especially since I know that I am a peacemaker for God, representing Him to the world.  And I recognize that I have been weak in my efforts to make peace on the spiritual plane, whether it be to help people be reconciled with God, or to fight for justice for the oppressed, or to take a bold stand against the sins of our nation. 

Colossians 1:9-10 says, "...we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God."

The word "manner" could be replaced with "way".  Paul is praying for the believers to learn to walk in a way that is worthy of Jesus.  He's not saying that we will become worthy by what we do, but because of the unconditional love and grace of our Lord, our hearts should respond in joyful gratitude and the desire to live in a way that brings honor and fame to the name of Jesus....the name we now bear.  How do we walk in Jesus' way?  It means living like Jesus, doing what He does, but I think it is more than that.  As I see it, we cannot get any closer than to follow right behind Him, walking in His footprints.  We are to become like Him!  In order to do that, we must stay as close to Him as possible, soaking in His presence, hanging on His every word, imitating what He does.  One who is devoted to loving Christ will naturally become devoted to walking in His way.

In tae kwon do, the grand master is the head teacher of the school.  He is the one who has mastered every level of the art and is fully qualified to train others to achieve the same.  In a similar, but much greater way, Jesus is our Grand Master for life! 
Jesus said, "A servant is not greater than his master...." John 13:16
Our goal is to look as much like Jesus as possible, but we will never become equal with Him or greater than Him.  Obviously, since Jesus is God, He is high above every earthly master.  But in a lesser parallel, a student of tae kwon do has the goal of attaining the black belt, and the ultimate dream would be to achieve the highest black belt status....that of grand master.  There is nothing higher than that.  So we could say that a student might possibly become equal to the grand master, but he cannot outrank him. 

If I wanted to become a grand master in tae kwon do, what would I do?  I would spend as much time with the grand master as possible.  I would watch him closely, pay strict attention to his words, and follow his instructions painstakingly.  I would work my hardest to match his every move, to pattern my form and technique exactly like his.  In fact, this is what I must do from the very beginning of my training, if I hope to even advance to the next level.  And to truly become a master, I would need more than technique and form.  The most important aspect would be to assimilate from my teacher the heart of a leader and the mindset of a master. 

This, then, is the picture in Colossians 1.  "....that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding...."  Knowledge is useful, but alone it is not enough.  To truly know God's will, to be intimately acquainted with it, we must be able to understand His way in our hearts, so that we embrace it as truth, and we also need wisdom....the ability to put our knowledge and understanding into practice in real life.  I can't just know about the techniques of tae kwon do; I must act them out and practice them until they become second nature.  Whether I am performing the dance of moves for an audience, using them effectively in a sparring session, or engaged in an actual fight where my life depends on my reflexes, I cannot be thinking through the steps in my head and concentrating mentally on each part.  I need these moves to become part of me.  I need my body to know them like it knows breathing. 

" as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him...."  Nothing we do makes us worthy before God.  We are made worthy through the work of Christ on the cross.  But just as a child wants to please a loving and gracious father, our gratitude for the relentless grace of God should compel us to live in a way that brings Him honor and fame!  Nothing we do can change His love towards us, but the very existence of that love makes us want to live for His smile.  I had no special skills to get me accepted into the school of martial arts.  But because I was accepted and respected and treated well, I want to give my best effort to following the way of tae kwon do that I am being taught.  Students reflect on the teacher.  I want my performance to honor the grand master and to cast a positive reflection on the school.  I want to experience the pleasure of my teachers and hear them say "Well done!"

"...bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God."  Before we were even born, God had prepared good works for each of us to carry out, that we might bring Him glory!  The closer we walk in Jesus' footprints, the more fruit our lives will produce.  Fruit speaks of a life that is well-lived, with purpose and meaning and the rewards of labor.  I don't know about you, but I long to know that every moment of my life on earth has been worthwhile and counts for eternity!  If you and I are stepping in Jesus' prints, then it is a sure thing that every step of our lives are meaningful and fruitful!  And as we bring our steps in line with His, we will know Him in an ever-deepening way.  We will experience all that He is and know Him intimately, as you know your best friend or your mate.  In tae kwon do, there are many levels, signified by different colored belts worn by the athlete.  I am in the beginning level, the white belt.  As I work to know the form and technique intimately and to perfect my performance, I will bear the fruit of achievement and be ready to advance to the next level.  Each level goes deeper in the art and becomes more difficult and involved.  If I want to be a successful tae kwon do athlete, I must continue to grow, challenge myself, and increase in the knowledge of my art. 

Verses 11-12 say, "May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light." 
Jesus said, "Without me, you can do nothing."  In my own efforts, I am weak, like a light bulb that is not plugged into the electrical circuit.  The power to walk in Jesus' steps, to bear fruit, and to please Him comes from His life in me.  He wants to strengthen me so I can endure joyfully through the trials and tests of life until the end of race, where I will receive a glorious reward!  Tae kwon do also requires great perseverance.  It takes a lot of focus, sweat, and muscle pain.  My teachers want to help me succeed, to move to the next level and the next and the next, all the way to black belt!  As a beginner, my flexibility is only fair, my movements are awkward, and my body is not well-conditioned.  But as I endure the difficulty and persevere, one class at a time, my muscles and my performance will become stronger.  I will be ready to move to the next level, where I will be challenged further, and with each new thing I learn, each added stretch and conditioning exercise, each level I achieve, I will be stronger and better.  If I could continue in the program long enough, I would eventually enjoy the rewards of top physical fitness, competence and accuracy in my form, the honor of achieving a high belt status, and an excellent natural reflex if I ever need to defend myself in a threatening situation.  I would also be able to lead other people in developing the same skills. 

As verse 12 implies, we are not qualified to share in the glory of God, but it is the Father Himself who qualifies us.  Through faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, we are given entrance into the Kingdom of God and an inheritance in a new family!  In a similar way to an infant entering the world, we enter this family with nothing but our dependence on Father for eternal life and a profound gratefulness that He has chosen us to be His children and paid in the full the price of our adoption! 

Okay, so the analogy starts to break down here.  No one paid for me to enter tae kwon do; I had to pay for myself.  I had to demonstrate some basic skill in coordination, flexibility, and the ability to follow instructions.  But otherwise, I had no prior foundation in the arts.  I'm like a baby in the way of tae kwon do.  But the school welcomed me in as a part of their family.  It's a place where people at all levels of the sport can train together.  Those who are stronger help and encourage the weak ones.  Those who are further along in their training learn to bend down to the level of the beginners and lead patiently and by example.  Part of the martial arts etiquette is to look ahead to what we will be....when we face off with partners in any kind of sparring, we first bow to each other to show respect and say, "Future black belt!"  We are envisioning the ultimate achievement for each other.  There is much room for growth and maturing at each level, but the teachers are as fully committed to my success as they are to that of the black belts.  In this way, I share in the inheritance of belonging to the school.  The joy of the other students in their achievements becomes mine, and vice versa.  Watching those in higher levels gives me a picture of what I have to look forward to.  If I continued in the program and put my heart into it, I would eventually reach their level of success.  I could become what I dreamed of....a black belt.  Sadly, finances and other priorities put a damper on reaching that dream.  Given the right chance, I would take the challenge.  But since that is not too likely, I rejoice that I have better things to pursue, things that will last for eternity. 

God says that all of His fullness dwells in Christ, and I am complete in Him!  I have not experienced all the reality of that in my daily life.  But the more I look into God's Word, the Word of freedom, the more I come to realize who I am in Christ.  And the more I believe who God has made me to be, the more I see it turning into flesh, reality, in my life!  He sees me as complete, a finished product.  I may be walking out my life on a low level right now, like the white belt.  But Christ has given me His status, like the black belt!  And God sees me as a fully achieved black belt in His kingdom!  He's teaching me to see what He sees.  And by faith, I step up into higher levels, reaching toward the high place to which He has called me.  What's even more crazy is that I don't have to wait for Heaven to know that I'm a black belt, that I am a finished work in Christ!  Many of us make excuses for our flesh in our walk with Christ, saying that someday, that "elusive someday", when we get to Heaven, we will be perfect and complete.  But according to God's Word, we are already living in eternity, and we are already perfected!  We are no longer slaves to sin and our flesh, although we can choose to continue living that way, and many of us do, because we don't know the whole truth.  But we do not have to live that way!  If we walk by the Spirit-life that is within us, we CAN live as overcomers of our flesh and children of God!  It is more than being a future black is being a perfect child of God here and now!

Take this as your reality today. 

"If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory."  Colossians 3:1-3

Monday, March 11, 2013


God blessed us on Sunday with absolutely gorgeous weather!  Determined to take advantage of the early spring day, I packed myself off to a nearby park, along with a recently purchased kite.  The kid in me is fascinated with kites, so when I saw the display in Walmart, I couldn't resist. 

So there was a fair breeze on this day, and I was excited to get my eagle up in the air for his first flight!  Literally.  My kite is an eagle.  Albeit a plastic one.  I get him out in the baseball field, and I can tell he wants to take's a good wind!  I start playing out the line, and we make a launch attempt....and crash.  Then another attempt....followed by another, and another....and another!  I want so badly to watch my eagle soar as he was made to do.  And he wants to go, he's willing.....but I'm starting to realize some things. 

My kite isn't trusting me.  That's right.  You see, he really wants to make the cut.  He wants so badly to do this thing right and be all he is meant to be....but he's trying too hard!  I think he's trying to make it work on his own!  I pick him up from the ground and hold him close, than release him into the wind....he is close to me, he can see me, he knows I'm his anchor, and he takes the wind with gusto....but then I move away, let out more line, encourage him to ride higher....and he suddenly thinks, "Oh, I'm on my own now.... I've got to make this happen!"  Next thing you know, he's in a tailspin, which ends with a nosedive into the dirt.  My kite doesn't understand that all he has to do is rest; the wind and his anchor at the end of the line will work together to create the energy needed to life him up. 

And another thing.  The kite is willing to go up, but he only gets so far before he hits a glass ceiling.  He's still holding on to the security of the ground.  He knows I've got him, but can he really trust me with everything?  Do I really have his best interests in mind?  He knows he is being ridiculous, but still his mind lingers on things that feel safe to him, and before he gets very high in the sky, he panics and turns his nose back to the familiar ground.  And what happens when you go nose down?  You're gonna fall on your face.  With your head buried in the sand.  Like an ostrich.  Trying to shut out the fears drowning out your faith.  But when your head is in the sand, you can't hear the voice of truth either.  And the string that was meant to create a healthy tension between the ground and the air to lift the kite to new heights becomes instead a burdensome tether, yanking its reluctant charge with awkward, halting, painful jerks over the uneven ground.  If only he understood that his only job is to let go.  I'll keep him anchored, I'll make sure he doesn't get tangled in trees and power lines, and I will rejoice over him as he rides the currents....he can fly high and free, if he'll only let go of his self-made security!

I don't know what it was, but something was keeping my eagle in a destructive flight pattern that day, and he never did get very high into the air.  But as you may have deduced by now, I was hearing God speak to me through my floundering kite.  "How many times have you done this exact same thing?  How often have you told Me you want to jump over the edge, lose everything for My sake, and experience My fullness, but you keep hanging on to your petty loves and security blankets?  How many times have you hit the ground because you've got your eyes on fear instead of faith, and you're allowing personal comfort to outweigh the rewards of risk?  I love you, and I will never quit on you, but won't you trust Me?  Won't you see that all you have to do is let go and rest, because the work of flying is Mine, not yours, and I will never let go of you?"

I watch my kite struggle, my heart sinks with each nosedive, and I feel the pain and I know I'm being ridiculous and I really want to stop this game.  My heart cries, "Father, You know I am weak!  But I don't want to be like this kite.  Please help me to let go and ride Your wind, as I long for the kite to do!  Help me believe that You are the only anchor I need."

"For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength.  But you were unwilling.....Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore He exalts Himself to show mercy to you."  Isaiah 30:15,18