Keep running

 

It’s been a while.  I love running but several months ago I took a bit of a spill and injured my knees.  So, it’s been a while.  Even during the early times when I first got injured there was a sense of loss.  I know, that sounds a little extreme and a little pathetic.  And let’s be clear, I was neither running particularly fast nor for particularly long distances.  But I ran.

However, the injury caused a more-than-temporary pause in my running and although I’m back at a place to get running again now that the injury has healed, it brought to mind an admonition for life from which we can all benefit.

You see, when I have run regularly there is no doubt that I draw a sense of energy even as I exert it, and there is an huge feeling of accomplishment when I’m done.  But there are often times in the midst of my runs when I get to a point of exhaustion.  For longer runs, that’s called hitting the wall.  It’s a point when both physically AND mentally we get to a place when we just want to stop.  Like a point when I feel like I can’t take another step, and I don’t want to take another step.  When you hit that place both physically and mentally, it’s a pretty daunting impediment, and it’s super tough to keep running.  But that’s exactly what we should do.  Keep running.  In life, too.

We all have seasons in life when things get difficult.  Really difficult.  Like difficult to the point that it feels too difficult to just get up in the morning and move on.  I can think of many of my friends, including some of you reading, who have trudged through unimaginably difficult times with health, family relations, financial peril, and the like.  The magnitude of courage you had to simply arise in the morning and get on with the day can’t be overstated.  I have to admit, I haven’t (yet) been there.  But I guess most of us will, at some point.

The bible acknowledges times such as these in life, and speaks to the importance of mustering the will to keep running.

Romans 5:3–5

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.  And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.  And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

James 1:2–4

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

Now, there are some common elements in both of these passages, and they warrant both mention and comment.  The Romans passage says we should “rejoice” when we hit these hard times.  James says those are opportunities for “great joy.”  Huh?

Living here in Central Texas, there’s about four months of the year where, when I run no matter the time of day, the weather makes it really difficult.  I literally get to points when I’m so out of gas that I don’t want to keep running, no matter what.  So, saying that in times of great difficulty and trial in life we should “rejoice” or have “great joy,” is like saying that in the moments when I totally feel crushed and with nothing left in the tank – hot, sweaty, thirsty, and in pain – I should be giddy about it.  It makes no sense, and I can assure you it’s the last thing on my mind in those times.

But we have to read the entire passage for each of these to understand why we should “rejoice” and have “great joy.”  Paul tells the Romans that we should keep running because in those times the decision to do so helps us develop endurance.  Not just endurance, but successively, character and hope.  James says similarly; our endurance “has a chance to grow,” to the point of completion.  That is, the more we keep running in those moments, the more we will be able to keep running in later, possibly harder, moments.

In my running, I’ve learned that.  When I finish a tough run, or a long run, I can literally think in a later difficult one about how I got through the prior ones.  In a way, knowing that I did, helps me to feel more confident that I can.

God wants us to know the same thing.  The challenges and struggles we face are not punishment or purposeless.  They’re providential and preparatory.  When God ushers us through them by His grace and through our persistence and perseverance, He “develops strength of character” in us, and reminds us “how dearly God loves us.”  When our “endurance has a chance to grow,” and “is fully developed,” then we have the ability to rely on it in our next trials, knowing we’ll be perfectly prepared, “complete, needing nothing.”

Please know, I am not trying to minimize the really hard times in life.  There are real-life situations when what we really need is professional help and support.  I acknowledge and support that.  Yet, the significant majority of the challenging seasons in our lives don’t rise to those levels.

In my times running, what I now try to do, is when I hit the hard spots, I keep running.  Maybe not at the same pace, and I guarantee it isn’t much of a sight to see, but I keep running, slowly but surely.  It’s because of the times in the past when I chose to keep running, that I can have greater confidence for the present, and hope for the future.

We should do the same thing in our everyday lives.  Those rough spots will hit, and we’ll be tempted to stop.  But we need to press on.  Even if we slow down.  Just keep running.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Welcome mat

I wonder at what point in history the welcome mat became commonplace.  A cursory web search suggests that they may have started roughly 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, but who knows?  (I guess you can’t necessarily believe everything you read on the internet???)

Regardless of its origin, I quite love the notion of a welcome mat.  In this day, it seems we less frequently tend to visit others at their homes, opting instead for the ubiquitous coffee shop or restaurant meeting place.  Perhaps it’s my perspective only, but I remember during my childhood it seems far more typical that folks would pop by the house, even unannounced, to pay a visit.  In fact, my recollection of those occasions is fond … I actually enjoyed the impromptu stopover from friends and family.  The only time someone wouldn’t be definitively welcome is if we happened not to be home.

Whether or not we had a literal welcome mat at our house then, we certainly had a conceptual one.  A welcome mat at the doorstep says, in effect, “Thank you for coming and for allowing us the opportunity to host you.  Please come back again, often.  You are always welcome.”

There’s a bible story that speaks of a welcome mat, though not one at a front door.

Mark 2:1-5

When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home.  Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door.  While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat.  They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head.  Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”  But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”  Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts?  Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’?  So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.”  Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”  And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers.  They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

The paralyzed man’s buddies approached the house and perhaps saw a welcome mat, but not a welcome set of circumstances for another group of people to enter the already packed house.  Not only were his friends undeterred, but Jesus was unrelenting in His welcome of the devoted group of guys and their paralyzed compadre.  The mat the paralyzed guy was laying on was just as welcome as if he’d entered in a more conventional way.

When it came to those in need, Jesus always had a welcome mat around Him (and let’s be clear, they were – and we are – all in need of Jesus).  And just as I internalized about welcome mats as a kid, the welcome mat didn’t solely welcome someone into His presence, it said demonstratively, “Thank you for coming and for allowing Me the opportunity to host you.  Please come back again, often.  You are always welcome.”  Perhaps Jesus’s welcome mat would say more than “Welcome,” it would say, “Always Welcome.”

You see, I suppose many of us think of Jesus as someone who “did” things previously.  At some ancient time in the long-ago past.  Or that He was someone who did some things “for those people” … you know, the ones in the Bible.  The ones that were part of the stories.  Or maybe we see Jesus as someone who did things back then for other people but wouldn’t or couldn’t do things for us today (like heal us, care for us, be concerned about our issues, etc.).

To believe those things would be to miss the glaring welcome mat that He would want us to see.  That is, the Always Welcome mat.  And not only see, but to actually internalize and take in the feeling of welcome He wants us to feel.  Today.  Now. 

He is never “out,” never busy, never in the middle of something else.  He is always home, and He is always thrilled to spend time with us.  More than that, He is always present and ever ready to tend to whatever it is we’re grappling with in the moment.  When it comes to us seeking Jesus, there is always a welcome mat.  Really, an Always Welcome mat.

Moreover, He is not limited to a previous time, to certain miracles, for only certain people.  He is present NOW, in ALL things, and specifically for YOU and for ME.  He is All we need for all we need.  Not only is there always a welcome mat when we arrive, but He tells us, “I’m always here.  Whenever you need me or just want to spend time.”

Of course, in the old days, we were always happy to receive visitors.  But we couldn’t receive visitors that didn’t visit, that didn’t come by.  So, Jesus would invite you and me to remember, He is always home, but you and I can’t experience His hospitality and welcome, His rest and healing, His accommodation and love, if we don’t actually go to Him, to visit Him and to stop by.  The thing is, His residence and His abode is in our hearts (if we’ve accepted His free gift of forgiveness), so in order to visit we don’t have to go far.  He’s readily available and closely local within us, so all we really have to do is approach His presence and He is always at the ready to receive us.  There is not just always a welcome mat before Him, there’s an Always Welcome mat.  And, He is ALWAYS able to care for whatever needs we bring along with us. 

Let’s you and I avail ourselves to His Always Welcome mat!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

God Can’t

God is omnipotent.  That’s a fancy word for “all-powerful.”  Meaning, God can do anything and everything.  That’s a place from where most of us draw the greatest sense of comfort as we walk through life as His followers.  Nothing is beyond God’s ability.  The apostle Paul could do “all things through Christ” (Philippians 4:13) because Christ can do all things.  In Matthew 19:26, Jesus says, “with God everything is possible.”

There is power in knowing that God can do all things.  That’s why there are dozens and dozens of verses in scripture that remind us that this is so.

But what if I told you that there are things that God can’t do?  Would that strike you as odd, disappointing or even dismaying?  If there is power in knowing that God can do all things (there is), does it somehow diminish or detract from the power to acknowledge that there are some things that God can’t do?  Perhaps this burst your proverbial faith bubble.  We gain encouragement from knowing that God can do all things, so naturally it would crush us to think that He is not indeed able somehow.  Right?

Actually, I’d argue that there is even more power that we can draw from the things God can’t do.  Confused?  Perfect.

It is precisely the fact that God can’t do certain things that I find all the more comfort about Him and that, to me, make Him all the more praiseworthy.  The very things He can’t do are some of the foundational bedrock that allow me to feel solidified in my most unstable and uncertain moments.  I reckon if we explore some of the specific things God can’t do, we can better unpack the potency of the inability.

God can’t lie.

Hebrews 6:18

So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.

Clear as day … it is not possible for God to lie.  God can’t lie.  This is also demonstrated in other places in scripture such as John 14:6 which describes Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life,” (emphasis added).

Let’s walk this out a little.  Given that God can’t lie, what does that mean to you and me?  The bible tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalms 139:14), that God has a plan and purpose for our lives (Jeremiah 29:11), that even though we are inherently sinful God sent His one and only son Jesus to die for our sins (Romans 5:8), and once we accept Jesus’s free gift of salvation we are secure for eternity (John 6:37).  Nothing can change that.  And since God can’t lie, we can know that we know we are eternally secure, regardless of how we might behave, how we might feel, what the world might tell us, or how the enemy Satan may try to accuse us.

What power there is in the certainty that God can’t lie!

God can’t change.

Hebrews 13:8

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Malachi 3:6a

“I am the Lord, and I do not change.”

Why does it matter that God can’t change?  Because what He has promised us won’t fade.  Who He is, He will always be.  His love will never become conditional.  His power will never diminish.  Those are some of the attributes of God (among many) that we can depend on to counteract the things in the world that do change.  Like our circumstances, our standing with others, our health, etc.  The things that can cause us physical, spiritual or emotional whiplash can ultimately be governed by and rationalized through God’s steadiness.  There are many things in this world and in our lives that we believe we can depend on, only to find that they are fleeting and capricious.  God is the ultimate in reliability.

What power there is in the certainty that God can’t change!

God can’t learn.

Isaiah 40:28

Have you never heard?  Have you never understood?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.  He never grows weak or weary.  No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

The fact that God can’t learn means that He already knows all things.  Things that have already happened, things that are happening presently, and things that will happen in the future.  When you and I go through difficulties in life, we only know our experience now.  God not only knows – already – our experience in the future, but He also knows how He uses our experiences now to grow us, to prepare us, and to bless us.  He already knows because He knows all things.  If He knows all things, then by definition He can’t learn.  Since He can’t learn, we can take solace in knowing that our difficulties are not frivolous, random or surprising to God.  He knows, and He knows what’s best for us … what conveys to us the greatest good while giving Him the greatest glory.

What power there is in the certainty that God can’t learn!

Therein lies one of the most amazing things about our Father in heaven.  We gain comfort and power from Him because He can do all things.  And yet, we can also draw comfort and power because of what God can’t do!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Stirred and not shaken

I admit that I’m not the hugest fan of the James Bond, 007 franchise though over the years I have, like perhaps many of you, watched my fair share of the movies.  At least, the old-school ones, with Roger Moore and Sean Connery.  I can’t say I have ever watched any of the more recent ones.  Even if you’re not a fan of the 007 franchise, we can all appreciate the entertainment value and there are elements of it that are generally familiar. 

He always had cool gadgets and technology.  He always dressed impeccably … at least according to my admittedly limited fashion sense.  He always caught the significant – if sometimes unintentional – attention of very attractive women.  He always drove pretty cool cars.  And, his drink of choice was a vodka martini, “shaken, not stirred.”  I’m not much of a drinker, and I don’t know if there is any particularly notable merit to a vodka martini that was shaken and not stirred, but apparently the shaken part was especially crucial for 007.  He made sure that shaken was the manner in which his martini was prepared, and everyone around him appeared to know it.

As we have closed out one of the past two … “memorable” … years, I am personally in a season where I feel God beginning to work in my life.  I have a very clear sense that He is preparing me for something substantive and significant in 2022.  A change?  Some growth?  Challenges?  Not sure. Who knows?  Let me state clearly, though, that God is always at work.  And we have ample assurance from scripture that He does all that He does for us in order to bless us (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 2:10, among others).  But that doesn’t mean things are easy or expected.

What I’m sharing is that I’m in a season where I truly feel “stirred” by God.  Meaning, He’s giving me a sense that He is bringing some type of new change to bear in my life, on my behalf.  And that’s good, but it can also be a bit scary.  That’s natural.  Being stirred can be scary.

However, what I’ve learned over the years of experiencing God’s presence and walking with Him through other similar seasons, is that I can go through this type of season and be stirred, and not shaken.

Isaiah 46:4

I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age.  I made you, and I will care for you.  I will carry you along and save you.

Genesis 28:15

What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.

Our ability to be stirred and not shaken is dependent on our experience of watching God’s faithfulness in our lives, as well as the bona fide evidence God provides in His word.  The passages above are great examples of both, from the points of view of the Israelites during Isaiah’s day, and Jacob (son of Isaac, son of Abraham).

In the Isaiah passage, this amazing and reassuring word from God to His chosen people through Isaiah comes at a time when, no doubt, the Israelites felt stirred if not worse.  Isaiah was charged with responsibility to call out his fellow Hebrews for their unfaithfulness and idolatry, and he prophesied to the Israelites from God about how God was going to bring correction and discipline to them, partly via exile to a foreign, enemy-led land.  They may not yet have seen the discipline but Isaiah’s job before God was to introduce the forthcoming stirring.  And yet, in the midst of a bleak and jarring message from Isaiah, God reminds the Hebrews that the stirring is not the end of the matter.  He would remain steadfast to care for them, to lovingly bring them to a new and restored place with Him.  Hence, they could take comfort in His promises and their personal experience to be stirred and not shaken.

In a similar way, Jacob had the opportunity to experience miracles and blessings of God as firsthand as anyone in all of history, certainly through his ancestors’ experiences.  He saw God’s fulfillment of promises and he received God’s protection (without being worthy of it).  In this passage, Jacob had just stolen the birthright from his brother Esau and had to flee for safety.  No doubt Jacob felt stirred, either because he had to leave his home under auspicious circumstances or because he felt afraid for his safety since Esau might exact vengeance on Jacob, God makes it crystal clear that though Jacob might be stirred, he ought not be shaken.  God made him that promise directly, and Jacob had seen God’s provision and fidelity in the past.

You and I can stand on the same solid ground as did the Hebrews of Isaiah’s day and as did Jacob.  In fact, on the same ground as innumerable Christ followers of antiquity.  That ground allows us to be stirred and not shaken amid transition, trials, unforeseen circumstances, and unexpected times. 

That ground is the rock-solid recollection of God’s deliverance in our pasts or in the pasts of those around us.  I can know that God will bring me into new and better places, places of growth and places of a greater sense of His love and care, simply because I have watched Him bring me into those places, through being stirred, in the past.  I can know that God will because I can recall that God did.  Perhaps you haven’t walked with Him long enough or closely enough to see that He has.  Consider hearing the stories of other Christ followers in your life, or your pastor(s), life group leader(s) or whoever else in your sphere might be able to convey their experience for your benefit.  One of the reasons God stirs in us during a season could be so that we can help support one another down the road.  We don’t always know what His reasons are, but we always know that He does have a reason.

That alone can help us to remain stirred and not shaken!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Walking together

One of the activities my wife and I enjoy, even here in the midsummer heat of Central Texas, is walking together.  Here in Waco there are a number of places where we can walk and enjoy outdoors, God’s creation, views, and certainly exercise (though I have to admit, the views are not as picturesque as back in southern California … but the positives here outweigh the negatives haha – and I digress).

Yet, what I love about walking together is more than just the exercise and the views.  There is an inherent closeness and intimacy that is borne out of walking together, more so than any number of other activities.  Several guys in my life group also enjoy walking together and a few times we’ve had the opportunity to share times with one another during which we do what guys very infrequently do together.  Talk.  Share.  Emote.  All those things that allow us to grow close with each other.

Walking together is something God values as well, and what He seeks from us.  A closeness and intimacy with Him is what He most desires.  He invites us to talk, share, and emote, as well.  But I fear that many of us may not realize this or few feel comfortable that it’s really true.

Genesis 3:8-9

When the cool evening breezes were blowing, the man and his wife heard the Lord God walking about in the garden. So they hid from the Lord God among the trees.  Then the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

Even among the first people ever created, God sought to walk together in close fellowship with them.  In fact, as God walked throughout the garden, He noticed the absence of Adam and Eve.  It mattered to Him that they weren’t able to walk together, both actually and figuratively.  But it was only when Adam and Eve sinned that God moved them out of the garden to sever the closeness.

The Bible talks about numerous people (Enoch in Genesis 5:22-24, Noah in Genesis 6:9, Job in Job 1:8, Moses in Exodus 3:4, and many more), who were described as close to and intimate with God, who enjoyed authentic fellowship with Him.  And here’s the deal … it’s clear from these passages that God similarly enjoyed the fellowship with them.  And with us.

So it’s true that not only can we go walking together with God, but He desires it.  But it’s also true that our ability to do that was obscured because of the fall that resulted from Adam and Eve’s sinful choice to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.  The fellowship that God established was destroyed by virtue of that unvirtuous decision.  And yet God so desired walking together with us that He restored the fellowship beginning on a day we now choose to celebrate on December 25 (and culminated on Easter Sunday).  Walking together with us was so important that God sent His Son to serve as an indelible means to do so.

Walking together seems easy enough, but there are conditions that must be true for it to work.  Amos 3:3

Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?

Another translation renders that verse, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?”  I actually like the broader approach to that translation as I think about walking together with my wife or my life group buddies.  See, to go walking together we need to agree on a time and place to start, a direction to go, a pace to walk at, a distance to cover, etc.  There’s a conjoining that must happen both in advance and during the walking in order for it to be together.

There has to be an intentionality to allow for walking together in the spiritual sense.  Time, place, direction, pace, etc. … all are important to establish from the outset.  Here’s the great thing about God in this particular respect, though.  If we simply ask and invite Him to, he is always ready and willing to go walking together.  For the most part, He will join us at a time and place of our choosing, provided we go in His direction.  He’ll adjust to our pace until we can increase it, and He never gets tired so He’ll go walking together with us as long a distance as we desire, though He always desires to go a longer distance with us.  After all, it’s the closeness and intimacy He is after, and He is gracious enough to meet us wherever, whenever, in order to have them with us.

As we think of Christmas, let’s remember that it is not just a day for the giving and receiving of gifts, but a day for remembering we’ve already received the greatest of gifts.  The gift of our heavenly Father sending His only Son to you and me so that we can enjoy walking together with Him.  Failing to do so is like getting a Christmas gift and tossing it straight in the trash.  I would never let anyone I know or love do that.

Walking together is far too fun than to allow that.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Safe at home

World Series Cardinals Red Sox Baseball

Last week was the birthday of my beautiful bride. It was a celebratory occasion as usual, and a privilege to know that not only did she get to enjoy another year of life, but I got to enjoy it with her. As I reflected back on all the other birthdays we’ve shared with one another, I also cast my thoughts forward to all the future ones we’ll share and the memories we’ll make. So it was both a nostalgic time in thinking through the celebrations of the past, and an expectant one as we look forward to exciting times yet unmade.

The combination of nostalgia and expectancy also bubbled up last week as I had the privilege of wishing a happy 76th birthday to another very influential woman, in this case not a member of the family. But as a young high schooler I had the privilege to get to know Joyce and Carl Dieda, the mom and dad of a couple good high school friends. You see, they were among the first truly authentic Christian people I knew as a kid. They had a nice home in Huntington Beach where I grew up and in which they still live to this day. In fact, I still have their address and their phone number committed to memory … 30 years later!

Mr. and Mrs. Dieda were truly like second parents to me. I always felt safe in their home. It wasn’t that my parents were bad … they just had their personal and relational struggles during my high school years, and in addition to the normal teenage attitudes and weirdness, there were times I didn’t want to hang out at home and needed some normalcy in my life. Safe at home … at Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s home. I went there often, sometimes under the guise to see my friends Cindy and Cheryl, sometimes just to pop in. They always welcomed me. Mrs. Dieda would offer me something to eat, which I never declined (what teenage football player ever declines food?). And mostly, they just loved me. They “shared” Jesus with me … rarely in words, but vociferously in love and action. Through the years, we’ve stayed in touch. They’ve met Helen and the kids, have consistently sent us all birthday cards, anniversary cards, and encouragement galore under many different circumstances.

I was always safe at home at the Dieda’s home when nothing else felt safe. As much as I appreciated a safe place to go and to spend difficult times without judgment and only with loving reception, I also now realize there was a different purpose to Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s warm home. They were there not just to make me feel safe at their home, but to point me to where my ultimate home will be, where I will forever be safe. It wasn’t about them making me feel comfortable, it was about them pointing the way. The way up.

Often, I refer to the Dieda’s when I think about how Helen and I have grown through the years and how we like to open our home to the young men, women, and couples we mentor. Or even just open it for ministry. We know … our job is to make it safe at home for others, and to point them to their ultimate home. It’s an incredible blessing to do that with Helen.

So all of that preamble leads me to where God pointed my attention during my reading this week, from John 1-21 – Acts 1-8. Interestingly, it was in reading a short simple initial passage about John the Baptist in John 1:6-8 (Message paraphrase) …

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

John was serving God with the primary purpose of showing folks the way home … the way to eternally be safe at home. It was challenging for him because people wanted to venerate and elevate him. Often times in this world, the enemy can use our open heart for serving others and start to push us to “believe our own press clippings.” In other words, for us to start to feel like it’s because of us that people want to engage with us, spend time with us, be mentored by us. No. It’s about Jesus. It was for John, and it is for us. It was that way for Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, and Helen and my prayer is that it is for her and me as well.

Frequently through his ministry, John had to reorient folks back to Jesus … to point to Him and say, “That’s Who you need to follow. I’m not even worthy to buckle his sandal.” That should be our hearts too.

BUT … and this is important … just like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, there has to be a connection to others, a way for them to begin to see and know Jesus, through us. For Mr. and Mrs. Dieda – and Helen and I pray, for us – it was by helping others feel safe at home. At our home. It doesn’t matter how big or nice or comfortable your home is … I doubt the Dieda home is more than 2,000 square feet, but for me when I went there and spent an hour with them, it felt like a palace. That’s our calling too.

Who are you helping feel safe at home? It doesn’t need to be young teenagers (they’re not for everyone, to be sure – haha) or young adults. We all need to feel a place of safety in the journey of life, particularly when the footing gets dicey. It’s just a heart of welcome, openness, and comfort that allows a home to feel safe. A cup of tea or coffee, a loving conversation … a relationship … can help others not only feel safe at home, but can ultimately help them find the eternal home that Jesus promised when He said, “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” (John 14:1-4)

Maybe you’ve never quite felt safe at home. Can I at least point you to the way that you can find one that will be comfortable eternally? Just as Jesus pointed out, He is preparing one for you right now. But without a relationship with Him, unfortunately you’ll never be able to take residence. Like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, He wants to help you feel comforted, welcome, part of the family, but here’s the deal … unlike Mr. and Mrs. Dieda when I went to their home, Jesus comes to us, and he knocks on OUR door and we only need to open the door and let Him in. It’s like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s outgoing answering machine message …

“If you’re looking for Carl and Joyce, please leave a message at the beep. If you’re looking for joy and peace, those can only be found through Jesus.”

If you’ve never felt that safety that comes from a relationship with Jesus, please send me a message or talk to someone perhaps you know who has. I pray you will open the door of your heart if you haven’t already. I pray we all get to be safe at home eternally together.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

No such thing as a free launch

hot-wheels

Hands down. Coolest toy EVER was Hot Wheels. I remember growing up as a kid playing for hours and hours and hours. I have to admit I think Hot Wheels were WAY better than Matchbox. It was something in the suspension of the wheels. I’d bet some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. And while I loved the cars, I think what made them most amazing were the tracks. Even though they weren’t super high-tech, they were flexible enough that you could bend them and configure them in ways that most times didn’t work, but just the prospect that they would was good enough.

There were also track sets. These were sort of pre-configured setups that got the imagination flowing in vivid ways, conjuring a combination between race car driving and Evil Knievel. Somehow, even though those cars were really small, I could practically imagine myself being inside, whipping around these amazing tracks – on tv – blew your mind. That said, it never seemed to work the way it did on tv. Somehow the car always made the jumps and loops and maneuvers in the commercials, but when we tried to do those all at home it never quite did the trick. Still Hot Wheels had to be the most fun toy, and had utility long into my teenage years.

An important component of those track sets were the launchers. The cars didn’t move on their own, they had to be propelled by something and usually it was by hand. But these battery-operated launchers would fit on the tracks, and using a couple fast-spinning wheels, would zoom the cars out on the track, around a figure-eight, over a loop, whatever. The problem was sometimes that the car wouldn’t get enough propulsion to make it around the track, depending on the configuration. Most times, the car would get just enough zip, to just barely make it over and around the track to get back to the launcher and vroom! it would crank around the track again. That is, until the batteries started wearing down.

Isn’t our life and spiritual life a little analogous? Sometimes we seem to just barely make it from point to point in life, nearly running out of momentum to clear the lap. With that in mind, I reflected on the gospel reading I did this week through The Message paraphrase, from Mark 14-16, and Luke 1-24. Two passages caught my attention … Mark 14:32-40 and Luke 4:1-13:

They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.” Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?” He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.

 Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry. The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.” For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.” Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.” For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?” “Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’” That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.

These are pretty commonly known passages, but they display for us a model to use for constant launch in the laps of life.

In the first, Jesus embodies His surrender to His Father and a devotion to prayer. In the second, He shows us His knowledge of and reliance on scripture. When I think about the two wheels on the Hot Wheels launcher, I see these two imperative spiritual disciplines as the launch wheels in our daily walk with the Lord.

All of desire more out of life than just enduring between laps, exhaustedly crawling into the completion of one, desperate to muster the strength to commence … let alone survive and say nothing about thrive … the next lap as perilous as it might seem. For me, I’d like to come into that next lap accelerating, prepared to stand nose-to-nose up to that next lap with confidence in our Lord, that not only will He get us through, but that there will be growth and victory in that lap. But there’s no such thing as a free launch into that next lap, and Jesus demonstrated it well as He always does, showing us the way.

In the case of the Hot Wheels track, if we’re going to set up the car to do more than barely make it to the next lap and launcher, we simply place more launchers along the track. That way, we have multiple ways to get acceleration and hum around the turns, figure-eights, loops, etc., that accompany living life on a daily basis. And so it should be in our spiritual lives. Jesus demonstrated His dependence prayer and the Word of God as ways you and I can be launched. So it follows that the more dedicated we are to both, the more regular we engage in them, the more seriously we approach them, the more launches we’ll have through the laps and loops of life.

The question for us, then, is what are we doing? How serious are we devoted to prayer? To the Word? To studying what God’s Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth tells us? Are they afterthoughts? Or Christmas and Easter events? Do we approach prayer frivolously, infrequently, passively? Do we have God’s Word on our bookshelf or do we open it from time to time? Or do we read it? Devour it, as the very food to our lives God desires it to be? If this hits home, welcome to the club with me. And join me in realizing that I really shouldn’t be surprised if the Hot Wheels track of life sometimes seems too difficult to circumnavigate.

Let’s you and I prayerfully decide today that we’re going to realize that there’s no such thing as a free launch. We need to devote ourselves to placing more launchers on our track, to incline ourselves to make them frequent, intentional touch points to propel us not just to the next lap, but through the next lap of life. Jesus already showed us how.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Our steering wheel ain’t connected

steering-wheel

One of my favorite songs almost ever is by Randy Travis (yup, I’m a Puerto Rican version of a “hick” … call me a “browneck”) called “Ants on a Log.” I’ve probably cited it before on this blog, but the lyrics, in part, go …

 

Ants on a log
Floatin’ down a river
Runnin’ around
But not gettin’ anywhere
Our steerin’ wheels
Just ain’t connected
And we can’t jump off like flees on a dog
Can’t fly away like flies on a hog
We’re really just along for the ride like ants on a log

 

Bottom line, we’re not in charge. We think we are. We try to seem like it. We talk about “looking out for numero uno.” Can you think of one thing in life that you 100 percent control? I can’t. Like the song says, “our steering wheels just ain’t connected.” I love that visual … turning a steering wheel actively, aggressively, confidently, when all the while it is not connected. We can steer and steer and steer but there is no effect on the car. Honestly, that’s a lot like life.

Now before you start to argue with me, I understand that there is still an inherent cause and effect aspect to our lives. There are consequences to choices and decisions, but even those in some ways are not totally within our ability to control them. And you can’t refute the bottom line … we’re not in charge. Trust me, you don’t want me in charge of things. I’d mess it up. Frankly, I sure don’t want you in charge either. We just aren’t capable in the way God is. Jesus reminds of us that in a portion of scripture that I read this week as I read through Matthew 27 – 28 and Mark 1-13. Reading in the Message paraphrase, Mark 8:34-37 shares the words of Jesus …

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

Jesus says we’re not to look out for “number one,” we’re supposed to look out for the “other one.” He says we can’t depend on ourselves, we need to depend on Him. He says helping ourselves can only result from our dying to ourselves. We can’t control what goes on to us let alone what goes on around us. Our steering wheels ain’t connected. We aren’t “in the driver’s seat.” He is the One driving.

This is a fact, whether or not we choose to accept it. Our choosing not to believe it does not change the validity that He’s in control, He’s driving. We might think we’re driving, but the steering wheel ain’t connected. So much of our pain in life comes from fighting against this reality. We wrestle and wrestle with the truth, but Jesus says, “Don’t try so hard to take care of yourself, I’ll take care of you. In fact I’ll take care of you better than you ever could. Don’t worry so much about setting up your future, I’ve already got your future set.”

One of the best examples of applying this principle that I’ve ever seen is one of my best friends Scott Cubbler, but the reason might not be quite what you might think or even believe. Scott realizes that there are times in life when things go in directions we never would envision or even allow if left to our own devices. God provides situations for His purposes and in His way for reasons we might never know or understand. It’s those moments when we have to recognize that our steering wheels ain’t connected and the best thing to do is simply take our hands off of the wheel and let God drive.

You see, my dear friend of 25 years, Scott Cubbler is a write-in candidate for president of the United States. Yup, the United States of America. No joke. And he has my vote.

Is it likely Scott will be elected? Probably not. Is it possible? Absolutely (brush up on your knowledge of the 12th Amendment of the US Constitution). God has the steering wheel. Scott let go of it long ago, trust me. I believe the reason he’s running, and certainly the reason I support him, is because these days the presidential campaigns are so pervasive and yet so painful to watch. The self-aggrandizement and self-promotion are overwhelming to the point of nausea. Regardless of what side of the political aisle you sit on, can any of us truly be proud of either of the major party candidates? More than ever in our history this election is more of a non-election … that is, I’d bet more people are voting against a candidate rather than for one. Why? Because it seems today few politicians are truly motivated by actual service to others let alone service to God. I don’t mean to offend, just to observe.

With that backdrop, Scott felt called long ago to run for president. He’s a business person, a former Marine combat and public relations officer, a former counterterrorism leader for the state of New York, and a current protective security advisor for the US Department of Homeland Security. All of this he pursued with hands off the steering wheel, allowing God to drive, even into incredible and perhaps perilous territory. Let’s face it, running for president is … well … crazy. But not to God, and that’s something Scott understands well and a principle to which he’s subscribed all his adult life. I can attest personally.

God is in the business of doing the impossible, the improbable, the unbelievable. My dear friend Scott Cubbler long ago chose to let God lead, to let him drive, to follow Him regardless of what that means … to realize that Scott’s steering wheel wasn’t (and ain’t) connected. In this presidential election despite what the media want us to believe we are not stuck with the two major party contenders, neither of whom seem to have a modicum of morality, ethics, temperament or frankly humility and experience to lead our country out of the sad state of affairs we currently find ourselves in. We’re less prosperous, less safe, less united … less “in God we trust,” than at any other time in our history. The “none of the above” situation we’re in demands we realize we don’t have to choose only between the two unsavory choices we have. Our constitution allows another way, and perhaps it’s the way God intended it to be, not just for Scott but for you and me. I invite you to see Scott’s web site (to learn why he feels led onto this course at this time) and watch and share his videos and like his YouTube channel.

My prayer for you and me (and Scott) is that we continue not only to realize that our steering wheels ain’t connected, but to embrace the freedom that comes from letting go of the wheel and letting God drive our every journey. After all, His is the only steering wheel that is connected!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

I got it, I got it … I don’t got it

i-dont-got-it

It’s one of the goofiest plays in baseball. A relatively routine pop fly goes to say a mid-depth part of the field, causing three separate players to converge on the ball while it’s in the air. Now mind you, each of those three players are likely being paid in the millions of dollars to stand on that field and catch the ball when it’s in the air. While I realize that’s an oversimplification, that’s essentially what they do. On average, each of those players gets probably one or two of those opportunities a game. They may have a game where they never get an opportunity to catch a pop fly. So you’d think the routineness of it, coupled with the infrequency of it, would yield a near-perfect success rate.

Well, it does. But, there are times when the goofiness kicks in. Three players converge on the spot where the ball is going to land. They all call it … “I got it, I got it.” Problem is, all of them may call it, and while these guys are professionals and the absolute best at their sport on the planet, they’re also human. Each calls it and yet realizes that each other called it. And “plunk,” the ball hits the ground right in between all three of them. It’s been the stuff of blooper shows for decades. It’s like they said, “I got it, I got it … I don’t got it.”

Most of the time, there’s one particular player who is in the best position, facing the right way, who sees the ball better than the other two and that player calls off the others. The others, of course, have to allow that player to make the play who’s best equipped to and in doing so they have to back off and let him catch the ball. It’s the times when they don’t that the ball goes “plunk.”

Unfortunately, it’s how life works at times as well. This past week, I read through Matthew 10 – 26 and as I mentioned last week it is through The Message paraphrase. Incidentally, it’s interesting to read through that paraphrased version … I would not rely on it for in-depth Bible study or for doctrinal matters, but it is a nice supplement to reading the Bible in a more diligently-translated version. Anyhow, I camped out on Matthew 14:15-21 because it thematically struck me along the lines of the “I got it, I got it … I don’t got it” concept from a life perspective.

Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.” But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.” “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said. Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed.

Life can sometimes be overwhelming. It’s funny, too, because a lot of the time we take things upon ourselves thinking, “I can handle it. I don’t need anyone’s help. Getting help will only show that I’m weak. I’m not weak.” Sort of like thinking, “I got it, I got it.”

In the case of the apostles being worried about feeding the 5,000, it was related … while they may not have been over-attributing to themselves an ability to do something without help, they clearly were evaluating the situation in that way. They defaulted into the realm of, “I don’t got it.”

What both situations demonstrate is that regardless of what you “have,” you have enough. It depends on how you define what you have. A lot of times we don’t think we have enough, know enough, are equipped enough to serve God’s people. “There’s NO WAY we can feed 5,000 people with only five loaves of break and a couple fish!” All the disciples needed was whatever they had, plus God. God used what they had and multiplied it to what they needed … more than they needed. The enemy wants us to think we don’t have enough that we can’t work or accomplish anything. God says “if you have me, you have more than enough!”

I don’t realize this often enough. So much of the time, my default position is to try to handle things on my own, to see things from only my point of view. If a tough situation comes up, I spend my energy, time, and effort trying to manage situations through my own strength, only to find that I’m incapable. I holler out, “I got it, I got it!” But not too long after, I have to concede “I don’t got it!” And plunk! The ball of the situation bounces haplessly before me, uncaught.

What if, instead, I realize there’s one particular Player who is in the best position, facing the right way, who sees the ball better than I and others around me do. I can then let that Player call me off to make the catch, to successfully handle the situation before the ball drops. Before it goes “plunk.”

That’s our God, folks! He’s always in the best and most advantageous position. He always faces the right way and has a far better vantage point of the ball while it’s in the air. He never loses sight of it, never loses it in the sun, and never let’s the ball “plunk” on the ground. He knows where the ball is, knows where I am, knows where the other players are, and always … ALWAYS … makes the play. He’s got it.

The key for us is to let Him make the play. To say, “You got it,” long before we frivolously and foolishly say, “I got it, I got it … I don’t got it!”

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

On your marks … set … on your marks …

Athletics - Men's 100m Semifinals

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t believe what I was watching. It was during the Olympics … I’ll explain more in a moment. But I love watching the Olympics. It’s pretty funny, in fact, because I’ll literally watch any sport with the possible exception of rhythmic gymnastics. No offense but seriously? That’s a sport?

Anyhow, when I get particularly geeked is when I watch the hardcore competitive sports like gymnastics and track and field. Which brings me back to my point. My mind was literally blown this past summer watching the Olympics and particularly several of the track and field events … in fact, the races that Usain Bolt ran. One particular race was staggering, like nothing I’d ever seen and probably won’t ever see again. But it serves an important basis for my reflection this week.

It was one of the 100-meter heats where the runners were running to qualify for the finals. Bolt was, as you’d expect, competing against many of the fastest men on planet earth. The buildup by the announcers was pretty intense and you just knew that something special was going to happen during the race. But I’m not quite sure I expected a bit of a life lesson from it.

So the runners take their marks and get set. The gun goes off, and the field starts off understandably fast. But … Bolt is in the middle of the pack at first. He remained at the middle of the pack even at about the 50 meter mark, too. Then, what seems to be literally out of nowhere, without any visible exertion and while all the runners are running, it looks like Bolt begins his race. Now granted, he was running the entire time, but then it looked like a whole new race began. And Bolt? Well he looked like he came out of nowhere midway through a 100-meter race, like his race started in the middle of someone else’s race, and he won … easily. The craziest thing is every other race he ran seemed exactly the same. It was like when Bolt was competing it was difficult to see when one race began and another ended.

That’s sort of the filter applied to my reading this week.   I read John 16 – 21, and then started the Gospels once again in Matthew this time in the Message paraphrase (in keeping with my plan of reading over and over through the Gospels through the rest of the calendar year). This notion of not knowing when one race begins and another ends … in life … is a metaphor borne out of the cycles in life that we go through. In John 20:11-18 gives us a picture of such a situation:

But Mary [who had returned] was standing outside the tomb sobbing; and so, as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She told them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” After saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? For whom are you looking?” Supposing that He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you are the one who has carried Him away from here, tell me where you have put Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, reporting to the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had said these things to her.

In the proper context, Mary, Jesus’ disciples, and the rest of the community had just watched Jesus die on the cross, laying His life down for the sins of the world. Although He had told them multiple times to expect that, they still struggled to understand (see last week’s post) what had happened just a couple days earlier. To them, the horrific end of a glorious race had just concluded, but He had just started another, glorious race forward. That was the essence of Jesus’ earthly ministry in a sense. The glory of His birth was somewhat muted by the threat of King Herod’s order to kill all male babies under two years old (an attempt to destroy Jesus), and then the jubilant commencement of Jesus’ actual ministry only to be followed by His arrest, torture, and crucifixion, completed by His victorious resurrection and defeat of death. Hard to see when one “race” begins and one ends.

Life is like that. From one moment to the next it’s hard to know where we are in a particular race. Sometimes it feels like we are on sprint after sprint after sprint. At other times, it’s like we are running a marathon for the purpose of arriving at the start of a marathon. Perhaps for you it feels like you’re running a marathon, but at the pace of a 100-meter dash. How incredibly taxing that would be. At other times, it’s like we know we only need to cover 100 meters, but we’re running at a distance pace and although the finish line is closely and clearly within view, it’s taking forever to get there.

I totally get it. I’ve been there. In some ways, right now, I feel like I am there.

Sorry to break the news … though it probably isn’t news … but it feels like it’s difficult in life to figure out when one race begins and another ends precisely because it IS difficult. Our lives are a series of races, a conjoining of each other’s races, and races that are orchestrated, developed, and overseen by God. Just like Jesus, we will all have seasons of starts and stops, times when we’re running a sprint, hurdles, middle distance, long jumps, and marathons. It can be tough.

Ever realize that in an Olympic race there’s one and only one winner? Sure you have. So the question is, what makes the other runners run? Let’s face it, in the 100-meter final, there were probably three of the eight runners that had a legitimate chance. In the marathon in Rio, 155 men started the race and it’s probably not a stretch to assume that probably 120 were long-shots to win. So what’s the point?

Competing. Giving it your all. Representing your country. Doing better than last time. Setting a “personal record.” Getting experience in the top competition level, on the biggest stage. Taking the chance of actually winning. Improving your technique. Honoring your coach and teammates. Not looking back and wondering, “what if I did?” There are some pretty interesting parallels in there for life, isn’t there?

In life, we can get stuck on the fact that there’s little chance of winning when it’s all said and done, or we can focus on the experience of running the race. We can focus on the finish. We can focus on honoring our Coach and teammates. Yeah, it can be hard to tell when one race begins and when one race ends, but our job is to finish. To continue. To run to win, and even if we don’t, at least try to set a “personal record.” Good thing is we have Jesus, who ran the race ahead of us and showed that it can be done … and stands at the ready to encourage, teach, train, and – when things get real tough – to run the race for us.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR