Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Reflections After Running for 105 Consecutive Days

Some reflections after my first 100 day Run Streak:

Running was never my thing. Quite frankly I couldn't see the point. As far as I was concerned running was something that the coach punished you with for not performing like you should on the basketball court. I'm a Hoosier. We do basketball in Indiana -- not running! During my freshman year of high school the cross-country coach called me up to the front of the study hall room and ask me to join the cross country team. I looked at him like he had lost his mind and walked back to my seat being both thankful that I had been asked and grateful that I had the courage to say "No way!" Thankfully the high school cross country coach was not the last person to encourage me to buy a pair of running shoes!

In the late 1980s my wife and I accepted assignment as missionaries to the west African nation of Guinea-Bissau. Before we could purchase our tickets we were required to spend a year and half raising the necessary funds that would sustain our first four years overseas. During this fundraising venture we would visit various churches and speak to them about our passion for Africa. During one of these visits the Pastor of the church (Don Gifford) kept talking about his new found passion for running and told me that I needed to start running too. I dismissed him about as fast as I had dismissed my high school cross country coach. That all changed, however, when we got to Africa. There were no basketball courts and in Guinea-Bissau even soccer balls were hard to come by. If you were going to stay fit in Guinea-Bissau running was your only option!

Between our first term in Africa and our second my wife gave birth to twin daughters. This was definitely going to be a challenge to my new found love for running. The solution? A twin jogging stroller! The girls and I logged tons of miles together in Senegal and along the beach front on the Cape Verde Island of Sao Vicente. Nobody had ever seen anything like it before! The stroller acted like a kite on the island of Sao Vicente when the wind was at your back, but when you turned around to head back home the kite felt more like parachute attached to your back as I struggled to take every step into the wind. The girls are now fifteen; and they still have fond memories of running and laughing with their dad off the coast of Africa.

If you were to look in my closet right now you would find at least six pairs of running shoes and not a single pair of basketball shoes! My passion for the court has been overtaken by my passion for running where there are no 'out-of-bounds' lines. When you run there is nothing that tells you that you can go here and no farther. The only lines that you cannot cross are the ones that you allow to creep into your mind. My biggest barrier is not distance, but time. I wish that I had more time to run the trails and the roads all alone. My best thinking and most intimate times of prayer happen on those long slow runs when there is no rush to get back to the house.

I'm thankful for people like Don Gifford, Jim Grams, Tad Finch, John Backes, and Michael Scott that have been an encouragement to both get me started and to keep me going along the way. It is my hope to be an encouragement to others in the same way that these men have been a blessing to me.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Disciples vs. Friends

There seems to be a general confusion among Christians concerning discipleship. Christians everywhere claim to want more discipleship, but do they? Do they even know what that means. It is the mandate of the church -- "Go and make disciples . . ." -- so surely we know what that means, right?

Does the average Christian in the United States of America truly want to be discipled; or do they just want to have a spiritual leader to hang out with at their convenience, answer all their questions, and meet all of their emotional needs? It seems that we have lost track of what the word 'disciple' means. To be a 'disciple' does not mean to be a 'friend.' A 'disciple' is a 'student'. Students are taught by 'teachers', not 'friends'.

We have allowed the culture to redefine what it means to be a 'friend' and a 'follower' as well. It seems that in this Facebook and Twitter crazed age that we live in, everyone is desperate to be 'liked', 'friended', and 'followed'.  One can even pay money in order to generate more 'friends' and 'followers'! We definitely don't want to 'follow' more people on Twitter than we have 'following' us -- that would make us look really lame! And, it must be made very clear, that when we 'follow' someone on Twitter that doesn't mean that we follow their lead and take their guidance! We don't click a button that says, "I choose this person as my leader!" No, we click on a button that says 'follow'. So what does it mean when we 'follow' someone in the Twitter age? It merely means that we want to peak over their shoulder, rob their quotes to use as our own, and feel free to disagree with them on anything that we want to even if they are an expert in their field and we know next to nothing about the subject at hand.

When Jesus said, "Come follow me . . ." He in no way indicated that it was something that was to be done at the convenience of His followers ("foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests . . . Let the dead bury the dead . . . Go sell everything that you have . . ." Etc.). Being a follower of Jesus was about denying self and taking up a cross. It went beyond paying tithes and attending synagogue and demanded everything! Following Jesus is about cross-bearing. Following Jesus is about becoming a servant. Following Jesus is about placing everyBODY else first and everyTHING else last.
Those that followed Jesus called Him "Rabbi" which means "teacher". His followers were called "disciples". They did not "friend" Jesus, nor did they choose Him to be their teacher! He found them! He chose them! They followed! He led!

Many that claim to want to be discipled today have no interest whatsoever in allowing someone else to lead them. As soon as the leader demands that they get rid of some junk and do some hard things they are ready to declare the leader inept and move on to someone else. We seem to think that Jesus chose fishing buddies. He didn't! Jesus told the guys that were fishing to "drop their nets!" He told them to drop their livelihood! Their hobby! Their social network! Their culture! And, follow Him! Their old life was over! He was no more interested in hanging out with guys that looked back on the old way of life with nostalgia than God was interested in Lot's family looking back at Sodom, or hiring a plowman that kept looking over his shoulder to see where he had been rather than where he was going.

Jesus mode of discipleship was a lot like Mr. Miagi on Karate Kid! The disciples didn't get it just like Daniel Sun didn't get waxing cars, painting fences, and sanding floors. The disciples didn't get the stories of Jesus, praying for an hour, or Jesus insistence on going through Samaria. Contrary to what some misdirected 'spiritual leaders' are saying today; Jesus wasn't interested in helping people feel comfortable around Him. Quite the contrary! When Jesus encountered people He dispensed with introductions and pleasantries altogether and went straight to their issues! The woman caught in adultery was told to "sin no more!" Matthew and Zacheus made things right with the people that they were ripping off. The woman at the well was told to fetch her husband; and the rich young ruler went away from His encounter with the Almighty Son of God dejected because Jesus didn't meet his emotional need for acceptance into the inner circle. "Who does this guy think he is telling me to that I have to sell everything first in order to hang out together?"

Jesus doesn't tell us to wax cars, paint fences and sand floors. He tells us to give until it hurts, fast until demons flee, and pray until we can't keep our eyes open any longer!

It's doubtful that any Christian would argue that Jesus wasn't the best teacher that ever lived, but if we would measure His success the way that modern day church growth consultants would look at things, then He was obviously a total failure! After all, when Jesus was at His very best only His mother, a few other ladies and John were on the scene. Even 'the rock', Peter, had denied being a student of the incarcerated Rabbi!

If being discipled means hanging out with a spiritual leader while he prays in agony over the plan of God until we become so bored that we fall asleep; we're not interested. If being a disciple means behaving like the church at Berea and pouring over the scripture to make sure that we properly understand it; we've got too much on our plate to commit to that kind of study. If being a disciple means listening to sermons that go into lunch time or that are so long that kids fall asleep and fall out of windows; we've got to leave early because we've got friends coming over to watch the game.
If being a disciple is giving one penny more than a tithe of our total income then we walk away mad.

No, we don't want to be discipled. We want to be 'friended.' We want to be 'followed'. We want to set the agenda, determine the workload, and set the guidelines. We don't want a teacher. We want control. We want 'likes.' We want validated. We want a pill to make the pain go away!

When most people say that they want to be discipled what they are really saying is that they want to be affirmed. They want a medal placed around their neck, the diploma put in their hand, the pin placed on their lapel, or their name listed in the paper. What they don't want is to do the hard work that it takes to earn it. They want to lose the weight without burning the calories; cross the finish line of a marathon without running the 26.2 miles; or play the piano without taking lessons.

Jesus is looking for students that will humble themselves and obey. He is looking for men and women that will participate in three-year Bible studies, attend prayer meetings, give beyond the Bible's minimum standard of the tithe, raise their hands in worship, commit to times of extended fasting, humble themselves by kneeling at an altar, and deny themselves the pleasures of life that the world tells them that they have 'earned.'

How about you? Do you want to be a disciple? Are you sure?
If you do then The StoreHouse is your kind of place.

You won't always enjoy it, but you will grow deeper, higher, and farther in the things of God than you ever thought possible. We won't be hanging many medals around your neck. We'll leave that to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords! He's the gift giver, not us! He knows the gifts that you lack and the ones that His church needs. We'd prefer to leave the giving of awards in His capable and loving hands. After all, He's the Savior, Healer, and Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, not us.