Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Binds Us Together

For the past two years I have been getting up early three days a week (most weeks!) to walk or jog on Rushing Road. One person has been with me the whole time, Forrest Grimmett. It was his idea. At Thanksgiving Dinner at church two years ago he looked across the table and over my piled up plate and asked if I wanted to start exercising with him. What could I say?

It's been a great two years in a lot of ways. I've lost weight. I've cut my BP and cholesterol meds in half. I have more energy. I've bought new clothes! And I've gained dozens of sermon ideas and illustrations.

A few days ago I was thinking about this journey. Forrest and I have had others join us. And we've had some leave us. The reasons for hopping off Rushing Road vary. "Not for me." "Too much work." "Too early." "Not getting enough out of it." "I'll do something else, somewhere else, with someone else."

As we started out and began to shape up a bit, our band of merry walkers was strung out along Rushing Road. We didn't all go at the same pace. Then some began to run while others still walked so we were strung out further and further.

I think people think that doing something together means doing it at the same pace. Granted, I've told Deana that I'd rather walk with her than run without her. But I prefer to run while she is walking.

What binds us together isn't that we are within arm's reach of one another but that we are all on Rushing Road. It's the road, the path, the journey that binds us together. Some of us run on Rushing Road. Some of us walk on Rushing Road. It doesn't matter if your pace is 18:00 per mile or 8:00 per mile, we are on the same road. We are journeying together.

That reminds me of church in a lot of ways. We ought to focus on the journey - which is walking with Jesus. As a church, we journey together. So I don't understand why some who start the journey quit. "Not for me." "Too much work." "Too early." "Not getting enough out of it." "I'll do something else, somewhere else, with someone else."

Rather than focus on how spread out we are on the journey, focus on the journey. It's true that some people have been walking longer with Jesus. It's true that some people put more effort into walking with Jesus. It's true that - for whatever reasons - some people get more out of walking with Jesus. To let that frustrate you (or puff you up) is like using the differences on Rushing Road as an excuse to quit exercising.

The journey, the walk with Jesus, is what binds a group of people together as a church. We help each other. We encourage each other. We share the load. But letting the fact that we aren't all within arm's length of each other deter us from the journey makes as much sense as letting the same reality keep us from Rushing Road.

Sometimes I think that church people think we are to be bound by a rope tied all around us keeping us firmly together. Maybe that rope is to be stretched out along the path and we are all to hold on to it - wherever we are along the path of walking with Jesus. It's time to break out of the Holy Huddle and enjoy the journey.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Me and the Goofballs

I bought a bright green cord for my iPhone. That's about the flashiest thing about me. Well, that and the little dance move that only Deana, Riley, and I know about. And they can't share that or they might turn up missing!

On the other hand, there are people who seem to announce their arrival into a room. "Hey, it's me!" You'd be shocked if you found out they hand a black or white phone cord. Maybe black and white stripes.

People are so different from each other. I guess that's a good thing but I think the normal ones are the ones like me. The rest of you are just goofballs!

It's when we make a big deal about our differences that we should get a slap on the wrist...or bottom...or face. The biblical perspective is that every person is created under the great care of our heavenly Father. Each of us is special and carry the image of God within us. I understand the biology of reproduction but I also know there is a mystery of creation behind all of it. Creator God is not far away and aloof. Instead, he is near and engaged.

He cares.

In the New Testament we can read that because of and through Jesus Christ there is no longer a difference between races, sexes, occupations, or anything else. There are really just two kinds of people: those who follow Jesus Christ and those who do not.

Yet there is no other person who looks just like me (Silence!) and nobody else acts like me. I'm unique and so are you! The diversity obvious in the human race is a testimony of God's genius. Blend that with a single purpose that we all hold in common and something about God comes into clearer focus.

We are all created to honor God with our praise. That looks different from person to person but the bottom line is the same. A person in Asia honors God with her praise differently than a person in South America does with his.

Don't misunderstand me...I'm not talking about a syncretistic outlook that sees all religions as equally valid. I believe faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to righteousness with God. No world religion can accomplish this so all of them fail. Praise is genuine only when directed toward Jesus.

The book of Philippians says that we will all one day bow to Jesus and confess him as Lord. That's a good thing except that for some people this will happen in hell as they finally realize and admit the truth. But by then it will be too late to escape the place of torment reserved for those who reject Jesus during their lifetimes.

Does that bother you? As followers of Jesus we ought to get a sick feeling in our stomachs when confronted with the reality that many people we see today will spend eternity in torment separated from God. We ought to have a sense of urgency to help others come to Jesus.

Jesus isn't looking for an army of clones who spout religious sayings. He is looking for people of every nation, tribe, and tongue to honor him with their praise. We will all look different. We will all speak a different language. We will all praise him in ways unique to us. But we will all direct that praise to the one true living God - Jesus Christ.

The Bible paints a clear picture of such a diverse group praising Jesus in heaven for eternity. When we pray, "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we are really yearning for a little bit of that heavenly picture to be our reality today. Amen! Let it be so!

Now, what can you do to gather this diverse crowd around the praise of Jesus?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Running the Race and Keeping the Pace

Today was the first day to run in over a week. I could feel it. My lungs were protesting.

Forrest is my trainer. You probably know him pretty well if you've read much of my blog over the last two years. He's in great shape and probably gets very little physical exercise from these outings.

As we ran today Forrest kept a steady pace. At times I would stay up with him, then lag behind. I realized that I lagged behind as we headed up an incline. On flat ground I could stay with his pace. On the downward slopes I could catch up. My pacesetter didn't change his pace, I changed my pace. Once I realized this I concentrated on keeping the pace on the inclines. For the most part, I did pretty good.

Since I'm usually breathing too hard to talk during these runs, I think to myself a lot. My thoughts today were connecting the reality of the running pace to my spiritual life. Jesus sets a steady standard that I am to live by but I often lag behind. I get off track. Sometimes I stumble and fall.

I have to stay focused and stay with the pace. I want my life to honor God and help others see Jesus even when life gets hard. If I'm wandering or lagging, well that just doesn't get it done. I'm working on keeping the pace and running the race. Christians must "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus" (from Hebrews 12:1-2).

Although I haven't put out much effort to run on Rushing Road lately, I admit that sometimes I put out even less effort to run the Christian's race. Father, forgive me.

Our plan is to run three days each week. The Christian race must be our focus seven days each week. Lace 'em up and let's go!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day

Today is Veteran's Day.

I'm thankful for people like my grandfather, Jim Appleton, for serving in WWII. I admire mens like David McLemore who served in the Gulf War. I appreciate guys like Forrest Grimmett who served in Iraq. So many of my classmates have served in the military. The closest I ever got was JROTC in 9th grade.

I can't remember ever wanting to enlist but I also can't remember ever thinking anything but respectful thoughts for those who did.

The debates that go on across our country about political, economic, religious, social, and cultural issues could not take place outside the framework of freedom that marks the United States. Without freedom, we would be limited in our expressions. Our Founding Fathers did a good thing when they established a land with constitutional freedoms like ours.

Merl Haggard wrote, "Stand up for the flag and let's all ring the Liberty Bell." What a great thing it is to be an American!

So I say "Thanks" to all the veterans, those serving today, and their families for the great sacrifices you've made so I can live the life I do and express myself like this. We are a great nation because of great men and women like you.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


I'm in the Dominican Republic for a few days showing the Jesus Film in neighborhoods around San Pedro. Not far from where we are working are developmental camps for several Major League Baseball teams. Today we drove past the facilities for the Tigers, Blue Jays, Brewers, and Braves.

These camps are for young men ages 16 - 21 who are hoping to make it into MLB. Each camp may have 60-100 young men but there are several times more than that playing ball all over the island.

We can barely drive 15 minutes without seeing kids playing ball in a vacant lot, a run down ball field, or even in the streets. Today we visited the village of Monte Cristy. Our host pastor leads a church in the village along with one in a nearby town. The church in Monte Cristy runs a nursing home for elderly people who have no family members to look after them. The staff takes care of them from the moment they move in until they die. They take care of the funeral, too.

Southern Baptists from Georgia built a medical clinic years ago that is staffed by doctors provided by the Dominican government. A doctor and nurse come to the village two days each week. We stopped in during the lunch break to meet them. They had already seen 20 patients this morning. The doctor is a family practitioner and she told us that it has been years since a dentist has been to the village and she is not aware of an optometrist every coming there. The village has a great need for medical teams to come alongside the clinic and provide basic services.

Across from the village is the road leading to the baseball facilities. We drove in because two or three of us are baseball nuts. We stopped alongside the road and peered through the chain link fence, under the scoreboard, through the right field fence and watched an inning of Tigers and Blue Jays. No numbers of the jerseys. Only one umpire - and he was dressed like the coaches. But a bunch of guys who love the game and hoped to make it to the show.

Hustle. Sound fundamentals. Teamwork. These guys know that if they don't make it here they'll never make it to the next level. For some of them, this is their hope for a better future. Others just dream of being the next Sammy Sosa or Pedro Martinez.

We drove to the next complex and were able to sit behind home plate. We had the attention of every one in the park. Six white guys... We stood out. We sat on concrete bleachers and watched another group of Tigers and Blue Jays. These must have been the older or more advanced teams. They had numbers on their uniforms. They had three umpires in uniform. Most of them wore their pants up to their knees like real baseball players do.

I wondered how many would make it and how many would become stars. Probably just a few out of the 60 or so players involved in the game. I bet they all thought they would be one to make.

Not everyone will be the next slugger or ace pitcher. But as long as they have the dream they should follow it. Great opportunities are lost when the opportunity is ignored or mis-managed.

Everyone in my church has the potential to be a slugger or an ace. Not in baseball but in the Great Commission. We have opportunities every day to share with someone how they can trust Christ for salvation. I'm afraid that we let too many opportunities slip by. Many we don't even notice.

What is at stake is not a contract or fame but eternal life for people we pass by in the market, at school, and in the home.

While I was watching the game, I could smell the fresh cut grass from the next field. And I thought how I could spend a lot of time doing just this.

Is my interest in sharing the gospel that great? Is yours? Can you think of spending lots of time just helping others know Jesus?