I want to run…

Heroes.  I read the story of a hero recently in John Ortberg’s book about Jesus: Who is this Man?.  Dick Hoyt and his wife welcomed their son Richard into the world broken.  The umbilical cord had been wrapped around his neck.  His brain was deprived of oxygen, and he would never walk or even talk.  They took him home with determination to love him and enjoy each day with him.

At age eleven, they took Richard to Tufts University to the engineering department with a request.  They wanted to see if a device could be made so they could communicate with their son. The engineers told the parents that his brain was not capable of communication.  Right then and there, Dick asked them to tell Richard a joke.  When they did, Richard laughed.  They designed a communication button that Richard could bang his head against since that was the only body part he has control over.

The years passed and one day Richard heard about a benefit race being run to help a young man who had been paralyzed.  Richard typed out with his head the message: I want to run.  Now Dick was not in the best shape, but somehow he managed to push his son in a wheelchair and complete the race.  Astonishingly, Richard said: When I ran, I did not feel disabled.

hoytThis spurred his father to run even more.  Dick has since pushed his son those 26.2 miles more than 85 times, and he has pushed, pulled and carried his son through more than 200 triathlons.  Dick got his marathon down almost to 2 ½ hours, just 30 minutes behind the fastest runners in the world.  That’s amazing.  But, what is even more amazing is that when Dick is called a hero, he points to his disabled son and says, He’s the hero.  He’s my inspiration.

When I read this story, I thought of the power of love.  How much a father could love a son and how much our Father loves us.  I thought of the commitment of Jesus to take us in his arms and carry us in all of our brokenness.  I thought that when he is carrying us we don’t feel broken.  We feel whole. I thought:  I want to run.

Missing Jesus

This is far from theology, simply the fact that the poorest little wood-cutter or peasant on the heath or miner can have moments of emotion and inspiration which give him a feeling of an eternal home to which he is near. –Vincent van Gogh

Years ago when Sandy and I were coordinating a summer youth hostel ministry in Europe, one of the missionaries we visited said he was taking us somewhere just north of Paris.  He wanted to surprise us and so he did not reveal our destination.  He drove us to the little town of Auvers-sur-Oise and then to the town cemetery.  He walked us to a plot and pushed away the vines covering much of a stone.  It was the headstone for the grave of Vincent van Gogh.

Vincent-Van-GoghPerhaps, you know much of this man’s story.  Born in the Netherlands, he learned art from a very early age, but painting did not capture his heart.  Jesus did.  He was trained as an evangelist and worked among the poor, the working class. Indeed, he adopted their lifestyle and received criticism from his supervisors for doing so.  He became disillusioned by a church distracted from her mission.  The result was that he lost his mission.

Somewhere along the way, the church had lost her humility.  No longer did she see her mission as to love the poor and share the grace of Jesus.  No longer were her pastors to be among the people.  They were too dignified for that.

Christ labored for thirty years in a humble carpenter’s shop to fulfill God’s will. And God wills that in imitation of Christ, man should live and walk humbly on earth, not reaching for the sky, but bowing to humble things, learning from the gospels to be meek and humble in heart. Vincent van Gogh

I couldn’t help but wonder if the church has always faced this temptation: to turn from the humble love of Christ to other things, from the poor to success, and in the end has lost the glory of Jesus.  This morning I am preaching on James 5, the opening verses of that chapter.  James’ letter almost turns bitter at this point because he sees believers turning away from Jesus and his kingdom to live for the kingdom of this world.  He grieves because they have forgotten Jesus.  I worry as I read the text that the “they” is me.  Our culture of wealth and status remains alluring and enchanting.  My heart can so easily be taken captive by it all.  I need to constantly look at Jesus.

I am still far from what I want to be, but with God’s help I shall succeed.  I want to be bound to Christ with unbreakable bonds and to feel these bonds. –Vincent van Gogh

Wholehearted?

…for they followed the Lord wholeheartedly… Numbers 32:12

Are you all in?  Reviewing my to-do list today, I could not help but notice things I’ve been putting off.  Here’s what’s on the list:  calling an old friend to renew contact, getting a colonoscopy (Okay, who ever wants to get around to doing this?), working on a book that’s been in my heart and head for a long time, confronting someone that I love with something pretty important.  I have a tendency to move other things ahead of these on my list.  What’s going on?

I like the way Brene Brown explained in her book The Gifts of Imperfection:

Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.  It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.  It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.

I agree with Brown, but I often find that positive psychology (that is what she is doing here) has the right thing to say about life, but it does not have the ability to empower us to do so.  It wants us to be brave, to be vulnerable, and wholehearted.  It wants us to risk trusting that we have what it takes to do these things.  It assumes we already have the resources but we just can’t see it or we can’t believe it for some reason.  It assumes we are really worthy of love and belonging.  But, is this true?

yesWhat if we don’t have the resources?  What if we don’t feel worthy?   And besides, who makes us worthy?  I find that positive psychology wants us to go where only the good news can take us.  How can we belong?  How, when we have been forsaken by everyone we know, can we trust that we are worthy of love?  And, if I have had courage and connection from the beginning, why would I be struggling as I am right now?  What is been missing?  Do I simply need to practice these things to discover I already have them?

The passage from Numbers above reflects on the wholehearted service of two men who trusted God in the face of immense challenges.  They had seen the deliverance of the Lord.  They crossed the sea on dry ground when they left their enslavement in Egypt.  They tasted the manna and quail of the wilderness. Their courage resulted from their trust in God.

This is the source of our courage as well. We trust that God made us in his image, and that we reflect his glory, and because of that we have extraordinary capabilities. I am reminded of the story from Maya Angelou’s life as she explains:

One day the teacher, Frederick Wilkerson, asked me to read to him. I was twenty four, very erudite, very worldly.  He asked that I read from lessons in truth, a section that ended with these words: ‘God loves me.’ I read the piece and closed the book, and the teacher said, ‘Read it again.’ I pointedly opened the book, and sarcastically read, ‘God loves me.’ He said, ‘Again.’ After about the seventh repetition I began to sense that there might be truth             in the statement, that there was a possibility that God really did love me.  Me, Maya Angelou.  I suddenly began to cry at the grandness of it all.  I knew that if God loved me, then I could do wonderful things… For what could stand against me with God…?”

What relationship or challenge would you move into if you knew this was true?  If I think about this and then return to my to-do list, perhaps I can call the friend, get back to the book, and having a loving confrontation. Who knows? I might even have the colonoscopy!

Easter Letdown?

The days following Easter are a letdown for me.  Our staff (me included) focuses so much energy, passion, and planning into Easter that it seems natural to feel relief and also a dip in our feelings afterward.  The good news for me is that the joy that God gives us in the gospel is not a short burst of emotion that arises during a seasonal worship service.  (Even the Passover for God’s people was more than a one-day experience. It was a week of celebrations called the Feast of Unleavened Bread bookended at the start and finish by lavish feasts. One wonders when they got their work done!)  No, Jesus came to make our joy full and complete.

glassesIf I’m honest, the reason that I don’t experience this joy day-in and day-out is that I have a divided heart.  I am not looking to Christ alone. The joy of Easter comes, for me, not just in the special times of worship we enjoy (although these are special moments with God and with each other).  The joy comes from focusing on Jesus and what he has done for us in the gospel.  Easter tunes my heart to the promises of Jesus and his love for me.  This is the source of the Christian’s joy.  It is found in knowing the truth of the gospel, the confirmation that Jesus came, that he died, and that he rose again for me.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Now, I, for one, would enjoy of week of feasting at Easter, but I think God gives us something even better.  He gives us his Spirit and his love through Jesus that never dries up, never grows cold, and never fails to move me.  This is why our joy never ends.

Celebrating Lent?

From the beginning Christians have used the calendar to remember the mighty acts of God and to be renewed in their faith and trust in him. Since ancient times lent has comprised the 40 days preceding Easter (beginning with Ash Wednesday). As spring is coming Christians turn from the longing of winter and look to Jesus and the new life he brings.

20130213-201934.jpg

The days of lent are to be spent in preparation for the redeeming work of Jesus at the cross and in welcoming the joy of the resurrection. Christians prepare in prayer and repentance. The purpose of lent is to deepen your hunger for God by seeing your own brokenness and seeking filling in Christ.

You may hear someone speak about “giving up” something for lent. Lenten practice in the beginning focused on fasting because physical hunger can reveal deep spiritual need. When you are hungry you know your weakness. So the goal is to increase your longing for Christ and his kingdom. Today someone might “give up” rich food or sweets for he same reason. The goal is not to gain anything from God but that you might yearn for Christ.

How can we benefit from lent today? First, be mindful of the calendar, that it was this time that Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem to go to the cross for you. Second, use these days to read the gospel accounts of this time in the life of Jesus. (Matthew chs. 19-27, Mark chs. 10-15, Luke 13:31-23:56, and John 11-20.). This will help you focus on Jesus and walk with him as he approaches the cross. Third, commit yourself to prayer, longing for Jesus and his rule in your life. Lay anything aside during this time that can deepen your awareness of your need for him. (Note: We do not fast to gain anything from God, but because he has already loved us and we want to know our deep need of him.). “Giving up” anything for lent only has value to the extent that it aids your prayers by making clearer to you the depth of your need for grace. Finally, focus your attention forward during lent to the cross of Jesus and his resurrection.

May God bless you this Lenten season with his grace by renewing in you the joy of your salvation.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Matthew 5:6

Separated?

Separateness seems to be an indelible and universal part of human existence.  In Israel during the time of Jesus, Jews and Gentiles lives in separate communities.  They refused to enter each other’s homes and made an effort to limit social contact as much as possible.  They weren’t the only ones.  The Romans thought nothing of enslaving people different than themselves.  Indeed, slaves were mere chattel. Women didn’t fare well in the ancient world either.  In Israel the rights of women were limited, and in the Roman Empire women were often taken advantage of in the worst sort of ways.

BBC- What Jesus might have looked like.

BBC- What Jesus might have looked like.

Jesus, in his earthly ministry, challenged this universal separateness.  He took women into his cadre of disciples. He spoke to women in public social situations (a cultural no-no for the Jewish people).  He healed Jews and Gentiles alike.  He and his gospel challenge us to take down the walls between people. How?  First, look at Jesus.  He did not resemble a man of European descent.  I for one like the BBC rendering of what Jesus might have looked like.  Our western artwork of Jesus does not do him justice.  He was middle-eastern in appearance, looking more like a desert Arab than a white Caucasian.  What category would we place him in? He came to break the categories—or, better, to create one new category.

Second, his teachings and his gospel remind us that every race and ethnic group is both glorious and fallen and in need of redemption.   Not only Gentile outsiders need to be saved. His people, Israel, had no hope without redemption.  The good news was that racial background didn’t condemn or save anyone, only his grace could.  And because our place with God is the gift of his grace, anyone can receive it. Paul’s declaration of this was scandalous to the Jewish people:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3

This doesn’t leave much room for pride in your ethnicity, your sex, or your spiritual background.  Jesus says none of that really matters as you stand before God. Only his gracious love does.

Now making this practical for me….I grew up with immense racial stereotypes.  Miami remains awash in them. Our city continues to reflect the separateness to which our sinful nature gravitates. It has only been the grace of Jesus that has changed my heart, the ability to see that I had nothing to bring before God, and that Jesus has given all for me.  Grace and my own brokenness continue to give me the ability to identify with everyone, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this grace has created a community of beautiful diversity in our church that is a gift of God’s grace that I cherish and enjoy every day.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2

 

Doping Charges

Okay. Why did he do it?  This week the spotlight shined in the eyes of Lance Armstrong. Lance held more Tour de France victories that any man in the history of the race. (Notice the use of the word “held” not “holds.”)  He became a role model for people battling cancer. His name is synonymous with perseverance and endurance.

Lance ArmstrongThis week we finally heard honestly from Lance. He admitted being doped up in every single Tour win, all seven of them. It was Lance in those races, yes but he juiced up to do it.  My question as I heard his story was: Why did he do it?  Why was winning so important?  What was missing inside this man, what did he need so desperately that he would break the rules to win?  Was it fame or the approval of people cheering from the sidelines? Was it the need to be important in the world, the need to know his life matters?  Whatever it was, three or four wins were not enough.

I could be a lot more critical of Lance if I did not see this in myself.  As the story has unfolded, it reminded me of the emptiness of all of our hearts, how we are looking to be filled.  We show up in life broken and we work hard to fix ourselves.  We have to prove ourselves, to demonstrate that we are good, worthy of the life we live, strong and capable, bright and beautiful.  As Brene Brown says:

…we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside our story and have to hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.

Lance was hustling on his bike, in front of the crowd, and before the court of public opinion.  He’s been falling behind in this stage of the race for a long time.  This week he lost. Indeed, all of us can win if we find a foundation for our worth not built on the achievements of today.  That is a race we can’t win.  It leaves us exhausted and defeated.

As Augustine said:  Our hearts are restless until we find rest in you.

God is the one who gives us worth that a yellow jersey or ____________(you fill in the blank for yourself) never could in any lasting way.  Or, you can keep riding harder with the hopes that you will somehow arrive.  But, this is a race we humans have been running for a long time and without success. Hopefully, now that Lance has lost the yellow jersey, he will find the life that really is life.  Then perhaps he will be able to ride to feel God’s pleasure rather than riding to justify himself.

God’s love for Jesus provides what all our hustling never could, a value and worth that our hearts have hungered for all along. Lance is not alone in needing that.  I need it as well.

For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Jesus in Matthew 16:25-26

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.