Tag Archives: Endurance

Super Tom! (Not)

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

When historians look back on these times that we are living in, one of the major themes that they will address is how social media has changed the world. Society has changed dramatically in the past ten years and I’m not sure we can fully realize in the moment the breadth and depth of the change.

We live in a Pinterest, Twitter, and Facebook culture in which thoughts are reduced to 140 characters or a 400×400 pixel image. Please do not read in this post what I am not writing. This is not a judgment on social media, merely an observation.

One of the things I observed is that in reducing the message to fit the medium, the context of the message can change dramatically. Take Paul’s words to his friend in Philippi in today’s chapter. The more well known translation is ” I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Talk about Pinterest quote material.

Yet, in isolating and reducing the message of the verse it appears to be a promise of unlimited potential. I might as well photoshop your face on the body of a comic book superhero to use as the background of my Pinterest post. SuperMe to the rescue. I can do all things!!

But when I read Paul’s words in the context of the previous sentences, the message of that phrase takes on what I believe is a significantly different meaning. Paul’s life journey has taken him to high mountaintops of earthly success and deep valleys of death. He has experienced “the good life” and he has found himself shipwrecked on an island like a real life episode of Lost. When he writes, “I can do all things” he is saying, “I will survive. I will be okay. Whether it’s a good day or bad, I can be content and trust that God will give me the strength to get through.

Today, I’m thankful for context. I’m glad that Paul was not writing an empty promise of superhumanity which does not fit my reality. I may be typing this post in my Batman boxer shorts, but that’s where my super hero capabilities end and I know it. To hear Paul’s encouragement to walk today’s journey knowing that whatever comes my way God will give me the strength to endure…well, that’s a message my heart can really use as I begin my day.

Hitting the Wall; Pressing On

photo by Josiah Mackenzie via Flickr

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

This past weekend I had the opportunity to hang out with some old friends from high school. They all ran together on the cross country team back in the day. Running was never my sport. I  tried it one year, but it wasn’t my thing. Nevertheless, I learned a lot from hanging out with runners. Once in a while, the guys would attempt a marathon. When they would talk about their experience with the marathon they would talk about “hitting the wall.” It’s the point at which they would fatigue mentally and physically to the point of wanting to give up. If they could gut it out and continue on they would get a surge of energy and  a dose of “runner’s high” to carry them on, but they often would hit the wall and bail out.

I’ll be honest. This morning as I read the words “Let us not become weary” my heart said, “Too late.” I am feeling weary. I am hitting the wall. Don’t worry; I am not weary to the point of giving up as Paul admonished, but I have come to realize along the way that there are certain stretches of the faith journey in which weariness sets in. It is inevitable. In a marathon, everyone hits the wall at some point.

It was in worship yesterday morning that I truly realized it. The tears started and wouldn’t stop. It was a good thing. It’s one of the things that worship is meant to accomplish. We need moments to pour it all out so that God has room to re-fill us. For me it is not one major thing burdening me but a host of little things that, en masse, have worn on me. It is what it is. I’ve been here before. I will be here again. When you run a marathon you’re going to hit the wall at different points along the way. You push through.

Today, as I start a new week, I am hitting the wall and pressing on.

He Went On

source: Keith Chastain via Flickr
source: Keith Chastain via Flickr

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (NRSV)

I had breakfast with a friend the other day. He is one of my inner circle of friends with whom I share the most intimate parts of my life journey. In the midst of our conversation he asked some very direct questions about life. He is keenly aware of some difficulties I have been facing over the past year and he was doing a spiritual check in. I needed it, and I left our time together re-freshed.

Life gets difficult. Our path sometimes leads through dark places. We face obstacles of many kinds. This shouldn’t surprise us, though I’ve observed that our natural human reaction is almost always to react with incredulity and shake our fists at God while asking, “Why me?”

The truth is that Jesus told His followers to expect difficulties. Time and time again God’s message tells us that the path of spiritual progress leads directly through painful places. It’s how it works. We are called to find joy in the midst, bring good companions for the sojourn, and to persevere.

I was amazed at Paul’s example in today’s chapter. He was stoned until incapacitated, his seemingly lifeless body drug outside the city, and he was left for dead. Talk about a bad day. Then his friends surrounded him, he picked himself up, and he went on.

Today, I’m reminded of this simple fact: He went on. Paul faced obstacles and difficulties that make my momentary stresses pale in comparison. And, he went on. So shall I.

Have a great day.

Elijah, the Spaghetti Western, and Me

28857-man-with-no-nameThe Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of theLord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
1 Kings 19:11-12 (NIV)

Elijah is such an intriguing character. His personality seemed uniquely created to be the person God needed. He appears on the scene like Clint Eastwood‘s “man with no name” in Sergio Leone‘s spaghetti westerns. Out of the wild comes this charismatic loner displaying miraculous qualities and a passion for God. He seems invincible. Outnumbered 450 to 1, Elijah gets into a spiritual shoot-out with the prophets of Baal and, thanks to a heaven-sent fiery climax, he finds himself the last man standing. It’s the stuff of a Hollywood action blockbuster.

Then, the story takes an unexpected twist. The invincible hero does a complete 180 degree turn and becomes shockingly human.  Fresh from the miraculous victory at Mount Carmel, Elijah learns that Queen Jezebel has put a price on his head and he withers on the vine. After three years of famine, scratching out an existence in the wilderness, and the big showdown on Carmel, God’s heroic prophet is physically, mentally, and spiritually shot. He shows the all too familiar human qualities of fear, anxiety, depression, despair, and suicide.

Elijah runs away. He gives up. He throws in the towel, lays down to die, and begs God to bring the end quickly. He then goes on a self-pitying pilgrimage to the mountain of God. Upon his arrival, there is a cyclonic wind, a great earthquake, and a raging fire. God was nowhere to be found in the cataclysmic manifestations.

God appears in a whisper, and asks His man a profoundly simple question: “What are you doing here?

I find in this story of Elijah so much of my own frail humanity. I experience amazing, miraculous moments along the journey and then seem to forget them when petty anxieties paralyze me. I have episodes of victorious faith, then run from the next challenge. Given to blind, self-centric drama I fail to see all that God is doing in and through those around me while I project the weight of the world on my  own shoulders, blow my own problems grossly out of proportion, and then slink into a corner to obsess and lick my petty emotional wounds.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

And yet, I am strangely encouraged by Elijah’s story. I am no different than this hero of the faith. Human frailties are common to every spiritual hero, because every hero is limited by his or her own humanity. The question is not whether I will experience common human episodes of fear, anxiety, insecurity, despair, depression, self-pity, weakness, and conflict. We all experiences these things. The question is how I will respond when they happen. And, they will happen. Too often I pray for and expect God to send dramatic winds of change, a seismic shift in circumstance, or a explosive miracle to sweep away my humanity. I am beginning to learn that what I need to listen for is God’s still, small voice meeting me right where I am, in the midst of my all too human condition.

Good News, Bad News, Encouragement, Call

photo by Spyros Papaspyropoulos via Flickr
photo by Spyros Papaspyropoulos via Flickr

Nevertheless, I have this against you….
Revelation 2:20 (NIV)

I am thirty three years into this faith journey as a follower of Jesus. I’ve come a long way. Jesus led me where I had no desire or expectation of going. I like to think that I’ve gained some wisdom. My faith is deeper and more resonant than ever. Nevertheless, I have a long way to go. I still have blind spots. The deeper my faith penetrates my mind, my soul, and my life, the more sludge it finds which must be dealt with. It is a process which will not end in this lifetime.

As I read John’s letters to the seven churches to whom the Book of Revelation was addressed, I notice a distinct pattern throughout the letters (granted, there a few noticeable exceptions to the pattern).

There is good news:

I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.

Then there is bad news:

Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

There is an encouragement:

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations

There is a call to listen:

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Today, I’m thinking about the never ending process of spiritual maturity. The good news is that I’ve come a long way and have persevered in my faith journey for many years. The bad news is that there are still dark and sinful intentions, thoughts, words, actions which I must acknowledge, confess, repent from and actively seek to change. I am constantly encouraged by the hope that awaits if and when I finish this journey. I can’t afford not to be keep my eyes and ears open to what Holy Spirit is trying to say to me.

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In Sight of the Journey’s End

homestretchI have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)

For Paul, who languished in a Roman dungeon and put the finishing touches on his letter to Timothy, the proverbial handwriting was on the wall. Emporer Nero was a couple of years into his rather successful pogrom to blame followers of Jesus for the Great Fire of Rome and exterminate as many of them as he could as gruesomly as he could. There would be no pardon for Paul this time.

For roughly thirty years Paul, who had begun as a persecutor of Jesus followers himself, had been arguably the greatest champion of Jesus’ message. The twelve disciples, Jesus’ twelve closest followers, initially stuck close to home and spent much of their time sharing Jesus’ message with their fellow Jews. It was Paul who became the unlikely game changer by focusing his efforts on carrying Jesus’ message of salvation with non-Jewish Gentiles far away from Jerusalem. The road had not been easy. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth, Paul briefly related just how harrowing his own road had been:

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

In today’s chapter, we hear a very different tone. Paul knows that he is in the homestretch of his Earthly journey. He can see the finish line. He is not giving into despair. In fact, his tone is confident. He is not giving up and limping home. In fact, he is still dishing out orders for Timothy to bring his scrolls and parchments so he can continue to work until the end. But, Paul is reflective. He looks back at his life and confidently makes three strong statements:

I have fought the good fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith.

No one knows, for the most part, exactly when their own earthly journey will end. Lord willing, I am still only at the half-way point of my own journey (even though I realize this morning that I have followed Jesus about as long as Paul had when he was martyred). It will take me twice as long to accomplish less than a ten thousandth of what Paul did. A humbling thought.

Nevertheless, today I am encouraged and motivated by Paul’s words. I have a long way to go, but when that day comes that I sense the finish line approaching I hope that my heart will confidently whisper Paul’s words to Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

Continue

Monument Valley Utah
(Photo credit: gordon2208)

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of….”
2 Timothy 3:14a (NIV)

I regularly refer to my life as a journey. If you don’t know it, the word “wayfarer” (the name of my blog) means one who is on a journey. Along the journey there are mountain top vistas and deep, dark valleys. There are occasionally breathtaking views and long stretches of monotony. Along the way we will all face our share of disappointment, tragedy, difficulties, stupid mistakes, unintended consequences, and personal failures. We will also experience our share of joy, pleasure, love, achievement, rest, recognition, and personal victories.

One of the lessons I have learned along the way, and increasingly appreciate, is that momentary stretches of the journey are best viewed in relation to the whole. My tragedies and difficult stretches always end up in my rearview mirror, and I always end up a little wiser for the experience. Likewise, I have come to have a much greater appreciation and gratitude for pleasureable moments of love and joy. Our daily journey through work and tasks and chores and honey-dos can get monotonous. If we’re not careful, we forget to relish the moments of joy when they occur.

As Paul writes his letter to Timothy from a Roman dungeon (one of the many dark stretches he faced) and realizes that his own personal journey’s end could not be far off, I found it poignant that the admonishment he gave to his young protege was: continue.

Keep going. Press on. Don’t stop. Don’t quit. Take another step.

Here we go.