Practice Makes Perfect

53-5.  This was the won/loss record of the Bartlesville High School Bruins from 1990-1992 . . . a two year run which yielded two state titles for the boys in two shades of blue.  I have often thanked my parents for having me at the right time.  Bartlesville has only won three state titles in the history of Bartlesville High School.  These three titles came my Freshman, Junior, and Senior Season.  I would like to tell you that we won these titles because I averaged a triple double four straight seasons, but a bluff that big belongs only in a low stakes poker game.  The reality is I was blessed to grow up among some of the best athletes in the state of Oklahoma for our age group.  On top of that, we had a coach who taught us how to win.  In fact, he expected that we would win.  We all did.

Winning, as it turns out, is not just something that we are born knowing how to do.  Winning is a mindset developed over years of success.  Our coach knew that, and so he designed every practice, every drill, every moment we were together as a team, to teach us how to win.  In practice, we never just killed time.  We never just did a drill for 15 minutes, then moved on to the next one.  Every drill we did, we had a clear objective that we were trying to accomplish.  The drill would be over, once we accomplished that objective.  Instead of just shooting free throws for 10 minutes, we would shoot free throws until we made 20 in a row.  We did not just scrimmage for one quarter, the first team started the scrimmage down 15 points with 8 minutes to go, and were expected to win the quarter . . . or we would play it over again.  We did not just run “suicide sprints,” we had to run them in a certain time frame.  Our coach did not just want us to practice shooting a basketball, he wanted us to practice making the shot.

In many ways, my high school coach knew the axiom my seminary professor Howard Hendricks once told me, “Practice does not make perfect.  Practice makes permanent.”  Rather than go through the motions and develop bad habits, our coach corrected us and made us do things right so we would be winners.

I thought of this truth the other day as I read Revelation 2-3.  In these two chapters, Jesus records personal letters to 7 individual churches in 92 AD.  These seven churches had been in existence for many years now.  In fact, by the time the book of Revelation is written, some 60 years had passed since Jesus’ ascension into heaven.  These 60 years were enough time for a second generation of Christians to be born and raised.  In a sense, by the time the book of Revelation is written, there were actually people who were “raised in a Christian home” . . . the first set of people who could ever make that claim.  To these churches, Jesus writes personal letters because over these 60 years of existence, the churches had experienced many things and no doubt were beginning to develop their own sets of patterns and habits.  Some of the things these churches were doing were good.  Other things they were doing were bad.  Therefore, Jesus writes them letters to point these strengths and weaknesses out.  He does this, I believe, because He does not just want the church to exist, He wants it to thrive!  Jesus knew that practice makes permanent, so He wanted to make sure His churches were practicing the right things.  Jesus is the Lord of the church, but in some ways, He is also the Coach of the church.

Stop for a moment and think about the implications of Revelation 2-3 and the letters that Jesus wrote to the churches.  He writes these letters because He cares.  He cares about how we live out our lives here and now.  He wants us to live out the life He created us for, not just take up space and time on the planet.  If you have time, read these two chapters some time this week.  In the context of those letters, you will see who Jesus is, what He cares about, and be challenged to practice the right things in the Christian life.  Winning in life seems far more complicated than winning a state title, however, isn’t it awesome that our Coach loves us enough to direct us towards the victorious life?

I’ll Go Anywhere With Him

Sitting before me was a single engine plane floating on the surface of the Pacific Ocean.  My itinerary for the day involved me getting on that plane, and flying to a pair of remote lakes found in granite bowls deep in the middle of the Misty Fjords National Monument in Alaska’s Inside Passage for a day of fishing with four of my friends.  I could not wait to get on that plane and see these pristine waters, however, excitement was not the only emotion I had as I awaited my turn to board the plane.  In addition to happiness, fear also was bubbling to the surface of my psyche, but why?

Well, in order to explain the fear I was feeling, you need to understand something about me.  I have spent the first 34 years of my life with this love/hate relationship with bears.  I love to see them, I would hate to be eaten by one . . .  and as I prepared to board the plane, this dichotomy was in full effect.  You see, I had heard that Alaskan Grizzly Bears were almost always seen at one of the lakes we would be visiting, and we should “watch our backs.”  In addition, I had spent my time at a layover in the Seattle airport reading a book entitled “Alaskan Bear Attacks.”  With that in mind, let me amend my previous statement . . . my feelings about bears just moved from love/hate, to fear and paranoia.

Even with that in mind, however, there was little I could do.  Regardless of my personal fears and insecurities, I would be boarding that plane headed to those lakes in just a few minutes.  It was at this point that up walked our guide who would be leading our extravaganza.  His name was Dan, but I prefer to call him “Big Dan.”  Big Dan was a former police officer, former fire fighter, and I am pretty sure, a former WWE wrestler.  Big Dan stood about 6’3” and tipped the scales at a cool 250 pounds.  Big Dan had spent half his life fishing summers in Alaska, and had routinely taken groups just like ours up into the Fjords.  Big Dan had the manliest gotee I have ever seen, as it raised off his face a good six inches, and was a salt and pepper mixture of brown and grey.  To top off the image, Big Dan was carrying the largest rifle I have ever seen.  The bullets he put into that gun felt like cannon balls, and Dan looked as though he knew how to use it.  As I stood on that dock waiting to board that plane, my thought was simple, if Big Dan is going to the Fjords, I will gladly go with HIM!  As a matter of fact, the thought I had was that I would go anywhere with HIM.

Though most of us will not have the opportunity to fish the Fjords in the next few months, and though there are few Grizzlies waiting to devour us on the streets of your hometown, I believe this story serves as a great picture of a deeper spiritual reality in our lives.  Though we will not face any bears this fall, there are plenty of other things that we will face that we have a love/hate relationship with that are potentially devastating to our spiritual lives.  As we enter this season of life, no doubt many of us at the core of our being are hoping to grow in our relationship with God.  Like a beautiful mountain lake, we cannot wait to get there, but at the same time, we are fearful of what we know lies ahead of us.  For some of you, you enter this season fearful of starting something new.  You may be leaving the comforts of your friends and family and heading into the new frontier of a new job.  You may be fearful that loneliness is waiting to devour you in this season.  Others of you are entering this season desiring to grow in your relationship with God, but knowing that what awaits you is a high speed internet connection and a search engine that can lead you to disaster.  You know that pornography can devour your thought life in this setting, and so you are fearful.  Still others of you have some other issue that is looming large in your life as you look to this season, and you begin to wonder how you might overcome this fear.

To answer this question, we need to turn to God’s Word.  On the pages of the book of Revelation, we see a contemporary portrait painted for us of Jesus Christ.  To the beleaguered church of the first century, God wanted to remind them of who Jesus really was, and that He was still in charge.  To a confused church in the 21st century, we also can learn a lot by looking at the portrait painted of Christ in the first few verses of Revelation chapter one.  You see, our most common image of Christ is either one of a baby (who we feel we need to protect), or a dying bloody body (who we want to pity.)  Though these images were certainly a part of Christ’s life on earth, His current state is one which need not be protected or pitied.  The picture painted for us of Christ in Revelation 1:12-18 is as follows:

“I (John) turned to see the voice that was speaking to me.  And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone ‘like a Son of Man,’ dressed in a robe reaching down to His feet and with a golden sash around His chest.  His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp double-edged sword.  His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.  When I saw Him I fell at His feet as though dead.  Then He placed His right hand on me and said:  ‘Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last.  I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive forever and ever!  And I hold the keys of death and Hades.”

When you read that passage and see the description of Christ there, you see One who is clearly in authority and in charge.  He carries a large sword, and His purity and power are evident in all that He is and does.  Though He is awe-inspiring He tells us not to fear.  When you have conquered death and evil, what is there to fear?  When I see this image of Christ, I am reminded of one thought . . . I will go anywhere WITH HIM!

As you head into this season of life, and as you identity the areas of your life which are on the margins of fear and doubt, remember this contemporary picture of Christ.  Take a good long look at the Savior and take courage.  We do not enter into our lives on our own.  He is with us (Revelation 1:20 tells us that the lampstands are symbols of the church, and Jesus is “among the lampstands), and this ought to encourage us to go anywhere with Him.

A More Recent Photograph

Take a look at the picture attached to this article.  That tan leisure suit wearing, sly smiling three year old is me.  If you don’t fully recognize the resemblance, you are not alone.  I have not looked like that for quite some time.  I have not worn a suit like that for a very long time.

If you did not know me and all you had to find me was that little photograph, you may or may not be able to ever find me.  Though I am still the same guy who was photographed in that suit long ago, a lot has happened in my life since then and a more recent photograph would surely be even more helpful in finding the current me.

I mention this today because right now I am studying  the book of Revelation . . . the last book of the New Testament.  Though the book of Revelation has been understood and misunderstood in many ways over the past 2,000 years, I believe the primary subject of the book of Revelation is revealed in the first few words of Revelation 1:1, “The Revelation of Jesus Christ . . .”  Above all, the book of Revelation is the most recent photograph of the Savior that we have been given.  The book describes Jesus current appearance, current location, and current and future work.  By reading and studying this book, I am not trying to solve a puzzle or resolve some bizarre “Bible Code.”  I am reading this book (I believe) as God intended us to read it . . . to expand our conception of Christ to include His most recent revelation.

The book of Revelation was written to a group of people who (if they were old and gray), last saw Christ when they were young and active.  The book was written to a people who had hopes of a Kingdom, but had lived through a catastrophe . . . the sacking of Jerusalem at the hands of the Roman leader Titus in 70 AD.  The book was written to a people who had hopes of the return of Christ but instead had seen the departure of all their apostles (except one) via persecution and martyrdom.  The book was revealed to a man (John) who had hopes of freedom in Christ, but found Himself shackled on the island of Patmos, a prisoner of the state.  Given these hard times, it is easy to imagine that John (the human author) might have been scared, discouraged, and downtrodden.  Given these hard times, it is possible that John might have wondered where Christ was during these hard times.

In the midst of His struggle, God graciously gave John a revelation of Jesus Christ.  While John slaved away on Patmos, Our Heavenly Father gave John a new photograph of the Savior to add to His scrapbook of understanding.  The Savior God revealed to John was one of power and not passivity.  Beginning in Revelation 1:12-16, Jesus is revealed in a different way than John might have remembered Him during His earthly ministry.  While He was still the same Jesus, He was now robed in glorious power and awesome might.  I believe this revelation was meant to encourage John in a profound way . . . Jesus was still in charge, and Jesus was still going to win.

I don’t know what you are going through in your life right now that might be discouraging to you in some way.  I don’t know what lies ahead for you that makes you tremble or uneasy.  Whatever it is, I believe we need to stop and read Revelation 1:1-20 and remember who our God really is.  We need this latest revelation to update our photo album of the Savior and see Him for who He really is.  When we do, it will encourage us so much to know that He is with us and He tells us what He told John in Revelation 1:17, “Do not be afraid.  I am the First and the Last.”