Running Together

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“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

Hebrews 12:1

 “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:20

It is easier to run alone, rather than run in a group. Running with others means keeping pace with those around you. Not so fast that you outpace the slower ones, and not so slow that you slow down the group. There are many who simply prefer running without the ‘constraints’ of others. Consider these:

  • Timing, learning the right stride so you won’t collide.
  • Encouragement, for those who are weary or limp.
  • Finish line, keep everyone’s eyes on the final outcome.

Perhaps this seems difficult. To be consistent in this kind of running is far too restrictive. It seems more difficult than running alone; there are far too many issues. And yet, I have determined that running with others has its own rewards.

We were never meant to be alone— solitary persons. We were created to engage the personalities of others. We must slow or speed up to keep the cohesion of everyone. We may want to speed up the pace a little bit. But if we do, it would mean the separation of the slower runners. But we are meant to run with others.

We will make these decisions on the spur of the ‘racing’ moment. Yet they determine everything. Will I curtail my desire to win, without you? Can I stand at the ‘winners line’ confidently after leaving you far behind?

We belong together. We simply can’t run solo anymore. Mental illness (as well as a physical illness) has a strong tendency to isolate. We find ourselves alone, far more than what is healthy. We make excuses, far more than is appropriate. We determine to advance, or to just ‘give up’ without affecting the other runners.

At times we must ‘gear down’ if we are to run with others. We must stop thinking ‘me’ and start thinking ‘you’. This so militates against our personal preferences. We don’t want to give up our own quest for glory. We ascribe to the virtue of the ‘first gets the best.’ But at other times we must speed up to keep the pace.

There is nothing in the scriptures about ‘going it alone.’ There is nothing that would suggest this. Yes, there are individuals, and yes they stand out. But the glacial mass is toward a corporate understanding of the truth, we will arrive together, with one another.

I would simply suggest that we become aware of our brother and sister who are trying to run next to us. They are working so hard to keep pace. Some even limp trying to keep up. We can’t ‘blow them off.’ We realize that we’re linked with them. We can’t turn away from that. When we do cross the finish line, it will be together.

“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

1 Corinthians 12:27

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The Art of Denying Jesus

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Peter weeps

“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

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It is God’s Glory, Not Ours

 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

 1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV

We are to make distinctions of all that passes by us.  Making the decisions based on value and content and worth is the correct way to go about deciding what is worthwhile.  The radiance and brilliance are not our way of sounding poetic about something.  It is the real core of essential nature.  It’s like watching a doctor perform a biopsy.  They extract a tiny speck of organ tissue with a long needle.  A biopsy will give the physician a real understanding of what is really happening inside.

The Bible tells us ‘taste and see, that God is good’ [tasty].  This is what real faith does, it reaches out and takes a sample.  Often in a big grocery store the management sets up a card table.  A person attends the table, and offers passing customers samples.  Of course, they do this so you will buy this new product.  (Sausage and cheese samples are my favorites.  I generally try to avoid the cole slaw, as a general rule).

I guess God made us humans with an adventurous and inquisitive nature.  We climb mountains, and eat Korean food.  We have this built in curiosity that leaks out all over the place.  Some really need a taste of danger, or to be creative, or competitive.  The point is this– we are created in God’s image.  And only God is majestic enough, and big enough–  to be enough.

We are learning that all our activity, and all our passion is to contribute and build His Glory.  In order to do this we need to amputate our passivity and stretch out to a muscular faith.  Flabby and flaccid discipleship won’t be able to give God any real glory, or give us any real joy.  We were designed and built specifically to give God immense glory.  There is nothing better to do with our lives.

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The Blue Letter Version

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The ‘red letter’ Bible emphasizes the words of Jesus by making them red. But sometimes we can learn just as much by which words he didn’t say.  I would like to submit to you the ‘Blue Letter Version’ of things Jesus never said.

He never said:

V. 1) You’re too far gone to be saved.

V. 2) I’m so disappointed in you.

V. 3) This wouldn’t be happening if you were a better Christian.

V. 4) It’s okay not to love certain people.

V. 5) Everyone should be just like you.

V. 6) Its all up to you.

V. 7) You don’t have to forgive someone who has hurt you.

V. 8) You missed my will for your life.

V. 9) I’ve given up on you.

V. 10) This is a cross you must bear alone. 

When we think through these we should realize that each ‘verse’ is wrong. Jesus never said any of these; I am certain he wouldn’t even think these things about us. We can only surmise that what he did declare is real, and that his love for us is boundless and limitless. People like you, and like me, are loved in spite of our sins. His love doesn’t fit the conventional wisdom.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

John 6:37

There are other verses to consider. These affirm his love to each of us.

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.”

1 John 3:1

The Blue Letter Version exists only in my mind. Yet sometimes I catch myself thinking things from our list. But in a way, each of the above is logical. But each are also wrong.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.”

Isaiah 55:8

I encourage you to listen to the ‘drum roll’ of grace that is beating from the heart of Jesus. He loves you with a supernatural love that can not be silenced. Accept his love (or not) and he will love you the same. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). Securely attach yourself to this love.

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An Eternity With God, [Get Ready]

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18″ So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

2 Corinthians 4:18, (NLT)

This dear ones, is an awesome verse with some pretty profound implications. The more I marinade in it, the better it gets.

But more importantly, it refuses to give in to the temporary. The earthly reality that swirls around us is brief. Its provisional purpose is an exclusive one; it exists to prepare us for an eternity with God. That hope ‘rewires’ us. We must be prepared for this encounter, we must be changed.

The spiritual realities are the ones that are truly real,

And the ‘Bible truths’ are the ones that are really authentic.

Issues must be settled in the temporary ‘here-and-now.’ You might say, without being too audacious, that we’re being groomed to be royals. And maybe we truly are. Perhaps this is the fuller implication of having eternal life? We seem to be destined for a throne. And God is eager enough to make it happen.

C.S. Lewis writes: “We are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ It’s as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course, the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”

Eternity is the real world. It is quite unlike anything else. Our present situation is one of preparation: a new ‘language,’ new attitudes, new relationships– in short, a new life. Someday we will shine like a newly minted penny! And some, are starting to shine already.

C.S. Lewis also wrote, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”

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The Real Treasures, [Weaknesses]

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As Christians often our theology tells us that mental illness, depression, and bipolar disorder have no place in the believer’s life.  So we hide, sneaking into our sessions with our therapists, and change the subject to minimize our exposure to direct questions. We have had to hide our issues really well. 

But I would submit to you that it is we who are closest to the Kingdom of God. It is far easier for us to approach the Father, in our brokenness, humility, and general lostness. We have needs; a sound mind, a healthy body and we know it. We have no illusions of wellness, nothing can convince us that we are well. We are not.

We are broken and only our loving creator can mend us.

You might say that the Church needs us. An Archbishop was given an ultimatum by the Huns who surrounded his cathedral. “You have 24 hours to bring your wealth to these steps”, the war-leader demanded. The next morning the Archbishop came out leading the poor, the blind, the lame, and the lunatics. “Where is your treasure? Why have you brought out these… people?” The Archbishop simply and quietly replied, “These are the treasures of the Church, these who are weak are our valuables. They make us rich.”

We often can value giftedness more than weakness.

I am afraid the the Western Church no longer sees its “treasures” like it should. In our pride and self-centeredness we have operated our churches like successful businesses. We value giftedness more than weakness. We definitely have no room for the desperately weak. I suppose it’s time for the Church to begin to act like Jesus.

Church isn’t where you meet. Church isn’t a building. Church is what you do. Church should be a verb.  Church is who you are. Church is the human outworking of the person of Jesus Christ. Let’s not go to Church, let’s be the Church.

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Notice Leah’s Eyes, [Handicaps]

Portait of woman wearing scarf with eyes closed Stuck in the wonderful convolutions of scripture we can start a great study of Leah and her sister Rachel. These two daughters of Laban have become Jacob’s wives.

Now, we may question this polygamy when all we know is monogamy. These kind of decisions may be criticized and even outright challenged, but we will change nothing (and does it really matter)?

Jacob longs for Rachel. She is his “soul mate” and because he is so much in love, the customs and technicalities of the day somehow get by him. Because of this, he will have to take on Laban’s subtle trickery, where daughters get exchanged, and he must sort out who is who. Laban’s deception really creates a crisis. But it seems Jacob just rolls with it. I suppose deception has always been Jacob’s strong suit. (But when a deceiver gets deceived, that can’t be all bad, I suppose).

Jacob is so in love with Rachel that he works for seven years for the right to marry her. This may be a bit outrageous. But we really must weigh these issues. I believe Jacob really is a monogamist at heart (shh… don’t tell him). He can only see that one girl that he is crazy about, his true love, Rachel. But it’s Leah that I think about. Her own issues are unique. Genesis 29 explains it a bit cryptically,

“Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.” 

Genesis 29:17

I must tell you that there is confusion by commentators about the “weak eyes.” Some take it literally (as in, she in very “near-sighted,”) others who look at the original Hebrew find the words to be a bit looser and vague. They think that this is a polite way of saying she really wasn’t pretty. IDK, but I think I can gain from either interpretation.

In the long view, Leah would birth four patriarchs for Israel. But she would struggle with jealousy over her younger sister’s beauty and favor. Her pain was real, and she would hurt deeply over this.

I think I may understand Leah. She is wounded, and life requires that she live as unwanted. She sticks out as a woman of tragedy and broken hopes and dreams. She will always live as a reject. At best, she will always be a distant second, and perhaps a bit scorned and neglected for this.

I so love Leah. Her life is a long tragedy and very full of sadness. For the next 30-40 years she will always be a cast-off, someone who has been broken on life’s hard wheel. I look at her with a painful bit of understanding. She reminds me of being a struggler and a survivor. Her sad life is comparable to us who have to fight so hard over our own illness or handicap.

I suppose its “Leah’s eyes” that catch me. I have no idea what the issue was. But I know that she was weak, and challenged by this terrible weakness. I understand this. My own life has been “topsy-turvy” and a really hard struggle. Somehow it seems we must work through way too much. It doesn’t seem fair. But than again, we are the ones who must drink our adversity straight; and the ones who get to know special comfort.

For those of you who are confined to a ‘chair,’ and the others who must deal with mental illness. Leah should be our hero.

Those who have been betrayed by addiction, or who have felt rejected through a bitter divorce. Leah speaks to us. For she is for every loser and for failures of all stripes. But through all of our “set-backs” and messes, we must realize that God does love us– even as we weep.

We may have “Leah’s eyes,” but we also have His grace.

One more thought that might be relevant:

“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.”

–Francis de Sales

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