Thursday, October 3, 2019

Building Toward Bigger Risks for God

What you’ve just witnessed is me jumping and clearing a 12-foot gap on my mountain bike.

Now, if that sounds big…it is! And if that seems a bit crazy…it is! And if you’re surprised that I both tried and succeeded at this big, crazy feat…you should be! Because I don’t normally try those sorts of things and I’m a little shocked, myself, that that’s really me in the video.

I like to go fast and push the limits, but there is a threshold to my adventures and it’s usually well short of 12-foot gap jumps.

The interesting thing about the daring feat in this video, however—and the reason I’m sharing all this with you—is the process it took for me to be mentally ready to take this risk. Like I said before, normally I don’t do things like this. If I were to walk up to this jump, look at its size, and ponder its difficulty, there’s no way I would ever try it. But the reason I felt comfortable and willing to tackle this obstacle was that there was build up to this jump that you don’t see in the video.

This 12-foot jump is actually the final (and largest) jump in a series of about 12 consecutive gap jumps in one short trail. You start small—with an easy jump that spans only about 2 feet—and then proceed to encounter 11 more gap jumps, each of greater length and difficulty than the last. But you’re building up speed and confidence throughout the run and by the time you reach the more-daring of jumps on the trail, you feel like they aren’t much harder than the jump you just cleared, so why not give the next one a try.

Seriously, I would have been freaked out to try that longest jump cold-turkey.

But when it was the climax of a series of obstacles strung together in a way that built courage and reassured confidence, it was suddenly no big deal. Of course I would hit that jump after everything I’ve already tried and succeeded at!

And I think that’s true, as well, of the great risks and adventures that we are called to as followers of Jesus.

Following Jesus is hard. He asks much of us and there is great risk of failure and pain. I’m not sure I can sell my possessions and give them to the poor. I’m not good at feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and caring for the outcast. I don’t always want to love my neighbor as myself. I really don’t like the idea of loving my enemies and praying for those who persecute me. And the ultimate challenge of Jesus is to lay down our lives and take up our crosses—which seems daunting and scary and way too hard—especially when we approach a challenge like this cold-turkey.

But what if we start small, with simple ‘yeses’ to the invitations of Jesus? What if we begin with random acts of kindness that require almost nothing of us—a dollar to someone on the corner or a smile to someone on the street. And what if we allow these simple ‘yeses’ to being the hands and feet of Jesus in our world to foster fearlessness for trying the next ministry adventure that God places in our path?

Let’s build up some confidence in small, simple, easy ways of following Jesus and see if it doesn’t bolster bravery in more difficult demands of discipleship. Let’s work our way up the ladder of love and service and see if we aren’t shocked, in the end, at what we are willing to, and capable of, accomplishing for the Lord if we say ‘yes’ to the little things and build up confidence as we travel the trail of life with Jesus.

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Peaceful Presence in a Warring World

not Peyton's team...but it sure looked like this
I need to tell you about Peyton’s soccer game yesterday.

You see, I’m the coach for her team of 6 four-and-five-year-olds, so as you might imagine, you never know what might happen at practice and games—good, bad, ugly, or funny—and yesterday was no different. From kids scoring in the wrong goal to the egregious use of hands, from little boys missing minutes of action while watching airplanes overhead to little girls saying ‘excuse me, coach’ at inopportune times to alert me that they just saw a bee, little kid soccer never lacks for entertainment.

But yesterday’s game had less ‘fun’ and more ‘ugly’ than usual. It got out of control in a hurry. And by the end of the game there had been elbows thrown, t-shirts pulled, kids injured, and full-throated screaming in faces. Not good.

The other team was just really dirty. They had one little girl—their fastest and most-skilled player—who was rough and intense and generally ran around the field with her elbows out and her mean face on. She pushed opponents, pulled jerseys, and wreaked havoc on the game, and that attitude filtered down to the rest of her teammates—so much so that I spent most of the game reminding kids to stop pushing, keep their arms down, and play safely.

And unfortunately, after a while, I had to start reminding my own team of that too. Because it took a toll on them, and these four and five year olds were struggling to let it go, not retaliate, and focus on playing soccer. No matter how many times I urged them to play the right way and not succumb to the same dirty tactics being used against them, it was awfully hard for these little ones to resist retaliation.

And, of course...because even as adults we don’t do this well. When we are wronged, our primary instinct is too-often revenge. When we get hurt, our first thought is usually to hurt back. No one likes being pushed around. We all want things to be fair and just. Everyone hates a bully.

So, we fall prey to the same behavior we despise in others, and in doing so, we neglect the call of Jesus to turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, and give the shirt off our back. When we trade blow-for-blow, we ignore the challenging task of loving our enemies and praying for our persecutors. Central to following Christ is the need to forgive—to offer mercy as we have been offered mercy—yet we struggle so mightily with this basic instruction of discipleship.

In a world that justifies and glorifies bitterness, revenge, and the myth of redemptive violence, may we be people who choose forgiveness and peace as the path to new life. May our Jesus-centered lives transcend and transform our world by beckoning it forward into a new way of engaging our enemies. And in the challenging moments where we are seduced by violence and enticed by retaliation, may we learn to hear the peaceful encouragement of God’s voice—our discipleship coach beckoning us to metaphorically (or sometimes literally) ‘stop pushing, keep our arms down, and play safely.”

May we allow the Prince of Peace to lead us into being peaceful people in warring world.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The Call to 'Sacred Seeing'

I have a friend from my youth, Jacqui, who is an excellent photographer…I mean FANTASTIC! Her photos often inspire me, move me, and leave me speechless in their artistry and beauty. Her pictures need no commentary—they are brilliant in their creativity alone.

But Jacqui recently shared a meme on social media that included two of her photos—the two shown here—with an accompanying caption for each photo. And Jacqui’s message is an excellent and much-needed reminder of something I talk about often: the need for better vision…and more specifically, the kind of vision that can see the sacred intertwined within the ordinary.

As Jacqui explained in her post, the location of these photos is an ugly, wasted, vacant lot that is scheduled to be developed soon. There’s nothing of obvious value about this place. There’s nothing overtly beautiful to be found there. And yet she found it. Jacqui was able to see what most of us would miss. She noticed beauty in what would normally go unnoticed. She had eyes to see the sacred in the mundane.

And this skill of sacred seeing is the same thing we are invited into as followers of Jesus. We are invited to notice the beauty and goodness of God all around us. We are tasked with seeing the ways in which the light of God so subtly breaks through the darkness of our world. We are called to witness the sacredness of God’s presence in the ordinary places of God’s creation. And, most of all, we are invited to see our friends, enemies, and neighbors with fresh vision—through the eyes of God—and to offer them the same love and grace that God does.

So, I offer thanks to my friend for reminding me of the need to see differently. May we all be encouraged, invited, and challenged to better vision—to see the world through the lens of God’s kingdom. May we all be able to pick out the sometimes-subtle, yet incredibly-profound presence of God all around us. And may we have eyes to see the ways in which the normally ordinary places of our existence are actually teeming with sacredness. May we learn the art of sacred seeing.