Running the Race

running the raceThe Olympics in Rio are over and they have fought the good fight; they have finished their course. Don’t know about you but I enjoy watching the Olympics.  Given the chance I will watch sports in the Olympics I wouldn’t spend time on if they were a part of any other competition. Badminton. Trampoline. Sailing. Okay, just kidding about the sailing, I love sailing.  But those other sports, not so much.

What is it that is so fascinating about watching the Olympics? For me it’s so many things. It’s watching Usain Bolt run with obvious joy and pleasure being in the moment. I loved watching him actually slow down and let a competitor catch him in a heat he did not need to win just so they could smile so broadly at one another as they crossed the finish line. I loved watching Simone Biles tumble through the air so high doing things no other gymnast in the world can do in a floor routine.  I love the human stories.  Michael Phelps shaking off suicidal thoughts after absorbing Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, coming out of retirement and winning everything again. Cyclist Kristin Armstrong winning an 18 mile bike race one day before her 43rd birthday and then showing her gold medal to her five year old son, Lucas while tears streamed down her face. I love watching people who don’t win but keep trying and never give up.  Derek Redmond in Barcelona tearing his hamstring in a race he was expected to win, falling, getting up, and then while leaning on his father finishing his race. It doesn’t take a very good preacher to find a sermon in that. Or in watching Gabriela Andersen-Schiess in 1984 willing her body, as she stumbled forward, to cross the finish line of the Olympic marathon. It’s inspiring to watch people heroically keep going.

There are life lessons here.  The Bible uses many sports metaphors.  “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured…”And, “Do you know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” And there are more.

Consider how you are running your race.  It matters.  What you do today matters.  Run hard. Run fast. Run well. 

Which Side is God On?

There is a strange moment in the biblical story of Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Mighty and massive Jericho looms at the gateway to the country. No way around it. To receive their inheritance Israel must go through it and that means war and battle. So Joshua and Israel are preparing to fight. The strange moment is this: Joshua sees a man standing in front of him, sword in hand. He is clearly a warrior. Joshua approaches and asks, “Who’s side are you on? Ours or theirs?” The stunning answer is, “Neither. But as the commander of the Lord’s armies I have come down.” And Joshua falls on his face and worships.

So much of our country is divided right now. Republican or Democrat. Trump or Hilary. Black or white. “Take a side,” I have been told. But I am troubled by the idea of sides. I am asking God, “who’s side are you on?” and I fully expect his answer to be, “neither.” He is not on the side of the police or on the side of those who feel abused and lash out with violence.

“But,” you may object, “surely God takes a side. God helped Israel destroy Jericho and so many other Canaanite cities. Surely God was on Israel’s side.” He says he wasn’t though. He says he wasn’t against the Canaanites either. What he was doing was working through Israel to accomplish his own mysterious purpose in the world. He was taking a necessary step in his plan to bless the whole world through Abraham’s descendants. Apparently, that story of blessing, like all stories, contains some dark, difficult to understand chapters.  Let us say this: God does not take sides against anyone.

What God is doing now is what he has always been doing. He is seeking to bless the world through Abraham’s descendent Jesus Christ. Our chapter of the story is not a dark chapter in the sense that while we have a battle to fight it is not against flesh and blood. There is no person we need to oppose any more than Jesus opposed the Jews who handed him over to the Romans to be crucified or the Romans who carried out the execution. He forgave and loved both. That’s how we fight the battle in our chapter. We love people and in doing so we seek to see God’s purpose in our day brought to fulfillment too.

When you choose a side, when you post or pontificate online, when you take a stand, do so carefully and wisely.  When you choose a side, you are inevitably turning those on the opposing side into enemies.  And God has no enemies. He only has people who haven’t been reached yet.

So Why Did We Go Down The River In The Dark?

canoe mikeSee the picture?  That’s the front of my kayak bobbing in the current of the Altamaha as the sun was setting in the west.  A group of men from our church were on the river, waiting for the sun to sink into the water and darkness to fall so we could start paddling from Pig Farm Landing to Jaycee Landing in the dark.  It did and then we did.  The moon was full.  Gators watched from the banks.  Owls hooted back and forth from one side of the river to the other.  It was beautiful and fun and epic and adventurous.  That’s why we did it.

We’re ramping up more in men’s ministry.  So look for more events like this.   A woman on Facebook asked me why in the world we would do this in the dark.  My answer, only slightly intended for humor was, “because every now and then men need to do something that makes women ask, ‘What’s wrong with you.’”   The rest of the story of why is this: men need to build camaraderie with other men.  And men do that best around action.  Give men something to do, a project, an obstacle to overcome together, and men will bond in ways they cannot by sitting in a room talking. That’s why we went down the river.  That’s why we’ll do more stuff like this. 

That’s why you’ll see not just this kind of event but you’ll see gatherings of men, adventures planned for men, men mentoring boys and young men, and men  reaching out in evangelism and mission in our community and beyond.  Gatherings, Adventures, Mentoring, Evangelism.  The GAME.  We are going to call men to get in the GAME  and in doing so get serious and be serious about being Christian men in the full meaning of both of those words.  So stay tuned for more information.

While on the subject of the river float a big thanks and shout out to Bill Headley, Wes Williamson, and Ignacio Palacio for organizing the trip.  Thanks men, and let’s do it again.

A Christian Rationale For Resisting Unrighteousness

Confused over what to do and how to live in the Brave New World that is being engineered in America almost over night? Join the club. When change happens as swiftly as a presidential edict in the night it’s hard for our thinking to keep up with the pace of change. But here are a few thoughts on what we can do.

We can realize responses based on power do not work. They do not work for a number of reasons. Boycotts and the ballot box depend on having a majority. Recent polls say a majority of people now favor such things as gay marriage. We shouldn’t be surprised. If we believe Jesus, Christianity is a minority movement. “Narrow is the way that leads to life,” he said, “and few are they who find it.” In addition, Jesus says when we are faced by an evil person we are not to resist whether the evil comes in the form of a personal insult (“if someone strikes you on the cheek”), a legal action (“if someone sues you for your tunic”), or a governmental intrusion (“if someone forces you to go one mile”). Why? When we resist our reason for resisting is usually about power. We are trying to gain, or regain, power over others. In doing so people become enemies. Our goal becomes to win, not serve, or love. Jesus warns us away from this temptation.

But there is another way, a time honored Christian way, to resist unrighteous demands. When told not to speak in the name of Jesus, the early church refused to comply. When told by white pastors not to trespass in certain areas or violate other racially based unjust laws Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. refused to comply as well. Why? And what is the difference? This: true Christian resistance is not about gaining power over others or getting power back. It’s not seeing people as enemies and trying to beat them. It’s done in love, love even for those who attempt to force us to do their will. Dr. King said on many occasions that his struggle was not about civil rights for blacks. The struggle, he said, was for the soul of America. Black people were being sinned against and needed to be freed. But those who were sinning against them needed to be freed from the sin of oppression too. One of Dr. King’s lieutenants said, “What we were trying to do in those days was to save black men’s bodies and white men’s souls.”

My point is that noncompliance and resistance against unjust, unrighteous governmental or even religious dictates is allowable if done for the right reason. Jesus told us to love our enemies and pray for people who persecute us. If our actions are, at the deep level of our hearts, for people rather than against people we are obligated, out of love, to follow the dictates of our consciences and resist in the hopes that oppressors will one day be released from oppression themselves. Whatever you do, do it in love for those who do not love in return. No other kind of resistance deserves the name “Christian”.

What Happens At Prayer Meeting Doesn’t Stay At Prayer Meeting

If you haven’t been at Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting in a while, you might want to rethink your life. You’re missing something. What happens?

We meet in the fellowship hall. We pull tables together and sit in a big circle around the round table. Bibles sit beside coffee cups. Between sips we pick up the content of the past Sunday morning’s message and try to probe a little deeper into the truth of it. We try to apply it. We ask “what difference would it make if we believed this? If we did this?” The answer is it would make a lot of difference.

And we tell stories of how it has already made a difference. This past week for instance. Sunday morning had been about how, if the Lord is our shepherd, we have assurance our needs are met. Round the table people told stories of how God had met needs. How an eight inch long metal spiked soil probe needed in Peru made it through airport security twice, in Orlando and Panama, without raising an eyebrow. How, in New York City at 2 a.m. a cab driver with a southern accent, playing gospel music on the radio, found one of our women who had gotten lost in an alley, and rolled down his window and asked her if she needed help. She certainly did. She thinks he might have been an angel.

We tell the truth. Some freely talk about their struggles. Others listen and offer understanding, compassion, and their stories of having been there, done that.

We laugh. We tell the things we are grateful for. We thank God for being so good to us when we don’t deserve His goodness. We learn to look for the ways God is at work around us.

We pray, of course. Maybe not as much as we should, but we pray. We ask God to meet our needs, heal hurts, raise hopes, reach others with the Gospel (all of which relate to the purposes of the church). We need to pray more. We need to be better at simply being with God and loving on Him a fraction as much as He loves on us.

We need help with that. We need you to help us. If you haven’t been with us, you’re missing what to me is the best part of the week. Maybe you’ll find a way to rethink your life and be with us soon.