For those of you who follow me on social media you know I like to post about a certain hobby of mine. And it’s not meant to be braggadocio, but rather a measure of accountability for myself. In order for me to be the best me I can be I try to at least daily, or every other day, head out and go running. You see, for me running is self-care. And the more I post about it, the more I hold myself accountable to do it. The reasoning behind this is because I am also a father of four and a husband. So, in order to find space to be a good husband and father I have taken to running in the wee hours of the morning. Thus the need to stay accountable. That being said, in Nashville the sun doesn’t even wake up in the wee hours of the morning. So today I tried a new convention and ran with a headlamp for the first time…and it was quite the adventure.
I found out quickly that in order to run with a headlamp one has to concentrate on the immediate. There were moments where I wanted to look ahead and try to anticipate the next bend or the path up ahead and the minute I would do this is the exact moment I would stumble. I found out pretty quickly, that although I moved slowly, it was so key to keep the light on my next step. There was a verse from scripture that kept coming to my mind that comes from Psalm 119, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” And I know most of us are familiar with this passage of scripture, but we often don’t really know what it means to apply “the word” to our immediacy. We struggle with the future and the next steps versus the now and the immediate. But believe it or not, scripture itself can help us to understand how to avoid this trap of confusion that often overwhelms us with anxiety for the future.
In the prelude to his gospel, John writes to us that in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. We can often become overwhelmed in trying to apply the word to our lives, but there is actually a really simple place to start; Jesus. He is the word incarnate and He draws us into what it means to live into the present. In fact, his own words to us are, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:33-34. I think the headlamp for us in the immediate is to realize what it means to live as Jesus lived. Someone who was fully present at each and every moment. He would see the hurting, touch the leper, feast with sinners and love the unlovable at every step of the way. This is our roadmap. This is our light. And this is the way we learn not to stumble but to trust the next step.
In his now classic allegory The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis begins the process of introducing the Christ-figure character of Aslan to the children in the following fashion. “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Lewis chose to portray his Christ figure as a lion and so it should go without saying that he isn’t ‘safe’, but what holds up his Kingship in the eyes of all Narnians is that he is good. Lewis allegory that ran throughout the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia always had a robust way of seeing God. Through the image of Aslan we never however see him as safe, but as wild and free and good. I makes me think that sometimes we may have reduced our image of God in the way in which we live our lives today.
Before Christ ascended into heaven he made a promise to his disciples in the book of Acts. The writer Luke puts it this way, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 This verse of course refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but there are two terms I think we need to pay closer attention to. The first is the Greek word dynamis which means “the power to carry out a task”. As you can see it is where we get the word dynamite. The second is the word martys which refers to a witness in legal matters or one who tells their story. Strangely enough, this is where we get the modern word martyr. Stop me if I am off a bit, but putting those two terms together doesn’t seem very safe.
To me the wonder of Pentecost and the birth of the church was the movement from safety (at least relative perceived safety) to the disciples being willing to lay down their lives for that which they had experienced. They had been in hiding from the authorities until receiving this power and then all of a sudden they were willing to risk everything to tell their story. And now 2,000 years later we have at times reduced the gospel of Jesus to something that promises safety and comfort and very little risk to your current way of living. I’m not sure this is what was intended when we were promised power to share our experience with the world around us. In fact, I think we need to be reminded that we are not called to safety and comfort but to share that which we have been given in a real and true way. Ours is the story that has called apostles to confess before the coliseum of death, martyrs to share Jesus to the bitter end, missionaries to travel at risk to family and friends and saints to pursue bringing others to Jesus above any worldly comfort.
This same power is available to you and I today…we just have to be willing to give up feeling safe. May you embrace the risk and adventure of walking in The Spirit today.
I enjoy riding my bike. When I say that I need you to understand this is a bicycle and not a motorcycle (evidently those terms can be synonymous). The tricky part about my bike riding habits was that for the most part this was an early morning activity. That being said, as it began to get darker earlier (roughly around late June) my riding started to be come a bit more difficult. In fact, roughly around mid-August I gave up my riding so that I wouldn’t injure myself or any number of early morning walkers around the UTPB trail. However, about a week ago I purchased a bike light and all of a sudden my world changed. Welcome back early morning bike rides.
I set out on Monday morning of this week around 5:30 AM for what was sure to be an amazing ride. And I thought that this would be about as easy as driving a car with headlights…boy was I in for a shock. Imagine driving a car with a single headlight that lights up about as much as the width of your car only. Sounds tricky, right? It took me quite a while to get used to this. I am sure it greatly improved others being able to see me, but I really had to focus on being able to see the things in front of me (especially when there were no street lights). In fact, any time I took my focus away from that point of light it made it that much more difficult to get adjusted again. I found though, as I was able to maintain my focus ahead I enjoyed the bike ride all the more and was free to ride once again in the early morning hours.
This past week for me has kind of been a bit like an early morning bike ride. In life, I think that for many of us, it is easy to get overwhelmed by our to-do lists. Whether it is job related, family related, ambition or future plan related, etc. life can be quite a lot to deal with at times. Even in ministry one can get overwhelmed by the to-do’s of running a church or para-church program. And I will let you in on a secret…pastors struggle with stress just as much as non-pastors do. But in the midst of the heaviness of this particular week I was reminded of my bike ride. As long as I was able to focus on that point of light, I was enjoying the ride. Sure there were other things about the ride to worry about, like hitting a rabbit or a pedestrian. But as long as I was focused on that light those other things became part of the background. I was reminded of the verse from Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The “all that” Jesus is referring to? The stuff of life. The to-do lists. The stuff that if we are not careful can rob us of our true focus; God’s Kingdom. So if you find yourself overwhelmed with the to-do’s of life today…stop. Take a breath and ask yourself, ‘Am I following after God’s Kingdom first?’ If you are, then I think you will start to see the other things fall into place behind your true focus.
I am a creature of habit. I know that this statement may strike many of you as a bit of a paradox. ‘But Andrew, you seem so spontaneous, so spirited’. And I thank you for those complements. But truth be told, I like to kind of have a steadiness about my schedule. And so this time of year can kind of drive me crazy. Here I am just truly getting settled into a lackadaisical summer schedule and boom; school starts again. Now all of a sudden my schedule gets shifted around my son’s transportation and homework and sleep schedule etc., etc.. And not only that, but I guess I thought it was a bright idea for me to start back to school as well…as if one of us in our household in school wasn’t enough (19th grade if anyone is counting). But needless to say this has caused me some weird undue stress and sometimes I don’t exactly know how to deal with it well.
One of the ways in which I try to deal with stress is by going to the gym (I now know some of you are smirking behind your computer or phone screens). But I do enjoy getting to work out…when I get to it. You see, sometimes when I go to the gym I don’t get much working out done. Instead I find myself getting interrupted by others in the midst of my routines. And I have come to love it (and not just because it is an excuse not to work out). I once heard someone say that ministry happens in the interruptions. And more and more I am beginning to see that this is the case. Why? Because when our routines/schedules are interrupted we become more aware of what is actually happening in the moment. Hebrews 13:1-2 says this, “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” I know many of us have read this verse before and I have always been tripped up by the ‘showing hospitality to angels’ part, but I’ve been doing some thinking about this.
You see, most of the time our encounters, maybe I should say our true and real encounters with strangers are in the interruptions of life. When we are going through our routines and schedules very rarely do we actually have a true and real encounter. But when we allow space for interruptions, all of a sudden we find ourselves engaging others or being engaged by others. And as far as the ‘showing hospitality’/’being a friend to’ (this is what the Greek really means) to angels…well I have a different approach to this. In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis had this to say about our encounters with others. “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
So perhaps our interruptions have eternal effects. May you find yourself aware of those around you and allow Christ to shake up your schedule for the sake of another.
About a week or so ago my wife and I got to take part in that ever so elusive activity for a pastoral family with small children…date night. And my wife had been plotting our excursion for a while and so we went with excitement to the opening night of Pitch Perfect 2. And although I enjoyed this movie for a lot of it’s comedic elements, I found myself wrapped up in one of the final scenes for a completely different reason. As with many movies of this nature the finale comes upon us with the protagonists defying the odds and somehow coming out on top. But the way in which the writers lent a hand to the Barden Bellas (the competing A Capella choir) was perfect. As their final song reached a crescendo the stage illuminated to reveal that they were all of a sudden surrounded and accompanied by alumni of all ages of that same A Capella group. And being the masculine specimen I am, I realized that the movie theater was all of a sudden very dusty or my allergies were bad or something like that.
Allow me to explain my leaking eyes conundrum a bit. There is this statement in the Apostles Creed that we as believers affirm that I always take a huge amount of comfort in. We believe in…”the communion of saints”. What I love about this phrase is that the intention is not limited to the saints of here and now, but is also inclusive of those who have gone on before us. The writer of Hebrews puts it like this, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” – Hebrews 12:1I love the image behind this. in the midst of us running our race we have this heavenly cheering section in the stands so excited to rally behind us reminding us that every step is worth the journey.
There is one more story that helps me reflect on this a bit more. About eight years ago I found myself in a church service as a regular layperson and worshiping along with others in the seats. After the first few songs and during our greeting time, the woman in front of me turned around, shook my hand and then said, “You’re Garland Patterson’s grandson aren’t you? I can tell by the way you sing.” Now mind you, I had never met this woman before. In fact, I have never met my grandfather either, as he passed away when my mom was seven. Yet something in the way I was singing reminded this woman of my grandfather, who she was friends with many years before. And so I thought about my grandfather. And how he is part of the cloud of witnesses. And how they are singing along with us, backing us up, watching over us in our difficult circumstances and so excited to see us finish the journey. So that when life gets tough and our way seems difficult we take comfort in that knowledge. May we go on knowing that those who have gone before us are in our corner and so excited to see us join them.
It’s Maundy Thursday. This is the day in the Christian Calendar that we set aside to commemorate and remember the Last Supper. This is a beautiful part of the Passion story and I love for our focus to be on the remembrance of Jesus’ last meal with his disciples. But my focus always seems to drift towards his final moments with them instead. The last moments that Jesus spent with those he shared life with in his pre-resurrection state were spent in a garden, Gethsemane to be precise. In that moment Jesus encourages his disciples to watch and pray with him. He specifically calls Peter, James and John to watch and pray more closely with Him only to find them sleeping three times. During the second of these interactions Jesus utters this phrase, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Mark 14:38. And I’ve always read this as Jesus chastising/correcting His disciples, but what if it was just as much a reflection of His own struggle?
This is one of those unique passages in scripture where we struggle with our Trinitarian theology. We, and when I say we, I am referring to those who claim Jesus as Lord, believe and affirm through our creeds that God is three in one. Yet when it comes to the passion and last moments of Jesus’ life we often struggle with reconciling God in flesh. In fact, in the garden we find Jesus praying for the cup to pass from Him while in conversation with the Divine life. What if this request, this struggle, this agony was born out of Jesus humanity versus His Divinity i.e. the Spirit is willing but the Flesh is weak? It at least could give us new eyes into Jesus struggles up until the very end. ‘Am I ready for this cup?’ ‘Have I done all I needed to do?’ ‘Will they understand what is about to take place?’
I think sometimes that those of us on our Christian journey need to gain perspective as to where we each are along the way (I don’t think it’s coincidental that our Faith is sometimes called The Way). Some of us are in the prime of our ministry. We find ourselves consumed with spreading the gospel and sharing the Kingdom in all that we do. Some of us have yet to be Baptized and our ministry has not yet begun. Some of us find ourselves in the Garden. We have given our life to the church and to God’s Kingdom and now we know what is ahead, but are we ready? I guess I say all this to say that although we may be in differing perspectives in our ministry we are all still on the same journey. And even though our perspectives may be different we are all still called to love and support each other regardless of that stage. And our perspective ultimately should never effect the way we act towards those on the journey as well as those yet to begin, because our perspective doesn’t change our calling.
So today, as you remember our Lord and Savior in His final stage, may you be cognizant of your own stage and know that God still calls us along The Way to be ambassadors of reconciliation to those around us.