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Religious

The Deepest Form of Prayer

“ ‘Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.’ ”

Matthew 11:28, 29 (Common English Bible)

In the deepest disquiet of the day I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s words in The Old Man And The Sea, “’ But man is not made for defeat,’ he said. ‘A man can be destroyed but not defeated.’”[i] We live in an anxious time. Trouble and tumultuous trials capture the larger narrative of the present day. Jesus is correct that there seems to always be present some war or rumor of war – both wars of combat and wars of poverty, illness, disillusionment, and failure. A thousand-antagonist line-up to squash any optimism we once may have had about life. As I have written elsewhere, we may profess faith but that faith is hesitant, uncertain, and unsatisfactory. If Hemingway is correct, if men and women are not made for defeat, then some resource must be available to combat the destructive forces that rage all around us – something more sound and sturdy than the temporary escape various addictions provide.

The Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoyevsky captures the psychological and spiritual impact such anxiety, despair, and disillusionment can imprint upon our consciousness in his short story, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man.[ii] The protagonist despairs of life, fails to find any meaning in life, and is convinced nothing in the whole world made any difference. One evening, a little girl desperate for help suddenly grasps him by the elbow. But he did not help her. On the contrary, something made him drive her away. If life is meaningless, if nothing really mattered anyway, then this little girl is nothing more than a distraction. Arriving at his small apartment he is resolved to take his own life. Before the decision is executed, he falls asleep. Through a startling and poignant dream, he is made to realize that as long as he is alive, life was not meaningless and that the world – in some way or other – now depended on him.

This invitation from Matthew’s Gospel is set in a larger teaching where we learn that God has chosen to reveal the same truth to the world. Life is not without meaning and each one of us is called – in one way or another – to make a difference. When life’s storms rage and swirl and we are disheartened and disillusioned Jesus offers himself – “come to me, all of you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Jesus becomes for each of us that inner resource that guarantees that we are not defeated. Here, Jesus is immensely practical, “Put on my yoke, and learn from me” (Matt. 29). In that culture, the yoke was a symbol of obedience to the wisdom of God. Similarly, Jesus’ yoke is obedience to all Jesus teaches and Jesus’ call to serve others, to recognize that the world is dependent upon us. To come to Jesus is to learn from Jesus and to join Jesus himself in serving the world in a manner that God’s Kingdom flourishes.

Each one of us is under a divine compulsion. We must go out and try to take a world that is upside down and set it right. That requires that we lay down our arms of rebellion and turn from seeking our own desires and ambitions and begin to be concerned with God’s own purposes in the world. It is accomplished by living in obedience to God’s will. It is God who can accomplish the inexplicable. God can bring to pass in our turbulent, confused, and frantic day a peace that is transformative – a peace that recognizes beauty where once we only saw brokenness and hears the cry of a little girl and realize that we cannot drive her away. Does that mean a life now lived with ease? Not at all! But it does mean that in those moments when we grow weary from life’s strains, moments when disillusionment seems as close as the next breath we take, we can find rest in a prayerful communion with Jesus. This is the deepest form of prayer that the disciples knew.

Joy,


[i] Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man And The Sea (Norwalk, Connecticut: The Easton Press, 1952), 96.

[ii] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoyevsky: “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” (London: The Folio Society, 2021)

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Religious

Life Without Shame

“‘I really thought that I ought to oppose the name of Jesus the Nazarene in every way possible. And that’s exactly what I did in Jerusalem. I locked up many of God’s holy people in prison under the authority of the chief priests. When they were condemned to death, I voted against them. In one synagogue after another – indeed, in all the synagogues – I would often torture them, compelling them to slander God. My rage bordered on the hysterical as I pursued them, even to foreign cities.’”

Acts 26: 9-11 (Common English Bible)

Snoopy, of Peanuts comic strip fame, was sitting on his doghouse writing another novel. No Ernest Hemingway, he begins his novel as he begins all his novels, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Lucy comes along, looks at Snoopy’s draft and begins to berate him. “How silly you are,” she says, “for such a beginning. Everyone knows that every great novel begins with, ‘Once upon a time.’” In the next frame, Snoopy starts again. “Once upon a time it was a dark and stormy night.” Perhaps you feel that way some days. In your heart it is a dark and stormy time. For many people, the inner storm is the result of guilt, guilt for failures that have hurt those we love. Lucy fails to understand that no turn of phrase can settle the storm.

It seems to me that most people today live with some guilt. For some, the burden of guilt diminishes their posture, shoulders pushed down and eyes that are heavy. Guilt is felt for what has been done and for what has been left undone. In one church that I served a man confessed that he cheated on his wife during a business trip. He asked that I tell her for him, “She will take it better from you. She respects you.” Naturally, that comment was code that he no longer carried any self-respect. He was ashamed of himself, knew that his wife deserved better. He continued that there remained nothing his wife could do to make him feel worse. The shame would remain on his back forever, he told me.

This story from Acts is the third account of Paul’s conversion to the Christian faith. As in the previous two times the story is told, Paul details his persecution of the church. Paul holds nothing back. Paul does not gloss over the details. Paul locked up many of God’s holy people. When they were condemned to death, Paul voted against them. In synagogue after synagogue, Paul tortured Christians for their belief in Jesus and compelled them to slander God. When Christians ran to foreign cities to flee Paul’s persecution, Paul pursued them, Paul’s behavior often becoming hysterical. What is striking to the reader is that Paul confesses his evil but never demonstrates any sense of shame. Not one word of dark remorse is spoken.

What is Paul’s secret to a life without shame? Well, according to the Bible, true guilt follows the judgment, not of others, but of God. It is our refusal to live in dependency upon God. That refusal results in behavior that harms our relationship with others. Shame is the felt condemnation of the brokenness that follows. Yet, pay attention to the moment Jesus confronts Paul with Paul’s sin – Jesus does not beat Paul down with shame. Jesus tells Paul to stand on his feet. It is only then that Paul can return to God. Jesus does not use Paul’s guilt to disgrace him but to change him. It is then that Paul learns that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. Without condemnation, without God’s judgment, there is no shame.

Joy,

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Religious

Praying As Jesus Prayed

“Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ ”

Luke 11:1 (Common English Bible)

Some years ago I returned home from a business meeting in South Carolina. After claiming my baggage at the Tampa International Airport I proceeded to my car parked in the short-term parking garage. I found a flat tire. Only once in my life had I ever changed a flat tire. That was before I was married. That one time it took me nearly forty minutes. I remember my father once telling me that I wasn’t worth much with my hands. I never disappointed. Exhausted from my trip and staring down at a flat tire I made the decision to call my father-in-law who lived near the airport. He giggled – he giggled at me often, wondering what kind of man his daughter married – and said he would be there in ten minutes. In about the same amount of time it took him to arrive, my tire was changed and I was ready to go. I thanked him, we hugged and each of us said “I love you” to the other. On my drive home I realized that it had been nearly a month since the last time I spoke with my father-in-law.

Often, this is what our prayer life looks like. Life is moving forward in a pleasant manner, we are happy, and our needs are few. Conversation with God – in prayer – is virtually non-existent. Suddenly we look down at a flat tire and a phone call is made to God. For many, it completely escapes them that there is anything deficient in their practice of prayer. All that has been understood about prayer is that God is the great giver who shows-up when we make the call. Some of you reading this will recall the major home appliance manufacturer, Maytag, and their television commercials of the Maytag repairman sitting by the phone waiting for a call. When our flat tire is not resolved quickly we question, “Where is God?” Our confidence in the power of prayer wanes. Perhaps even more tragic is that some may begin to question the very existence of God.

Jesus’ practice of prayer astonished the disciples. Such was their amazement at Jesus’ prayers that they asked him to teach them to pray. As far as we know from the Gospels, this is the only thing the disciples explicitly asked Jesus to teach them. Notice that this fresh interest in prayer does not arise from the study of an apprentice manual for discipleship or from a conversation with Jesus on the topic. It followed immediately after observing Jesus at prayer. There was something about Jesus’ prayer life that was different from their own practice of prayer; something that evidenced a greater sense of intimacy with God, and something that gave release to more power. As Harry Emerson Fosdick so clearly expressed it, Jesus went into prayer in one mood and came out in another. Praying was not a form but a force.i

Fortunately for the church today, the Gospels have captured many of Jesus’ prayers. A close examination of those prayers reveals a surprise for many: absent is any hint of begging. Jesus does not approach his heavenly father with pleas for his personal welfare, as though a disinterested God must be cajoled or convinced to offer a blessing. What becomes startling clear is an affirmative tone to Jesus’ prayers. Jesus turns his back on any doubt of God’s goodness and stretches out his hand to appropriate the inexhaustible resources available to any one of us. Such prayer retires for a moment from the swirling darkness that may surround us from time to time and affirms that God is present and active in our life. Such prayer, Fosdick affirms, “does not so much asks as take; it does not so much beg for living water as sink shafts into it and draw from it.”ii That is praying as Jesus prayed.

Joy,

________________________________

i Harry Emerson Fosdick, “On Learning How to Pray”, Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), 112.

ii Fosdick, 116.

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Religious

Here And Now

“Give us the bread we need for today”

Matthew 6:11 (Common English Bible)

Perhaps some of the greatest wisdom the world has ever produced was written in the ancient language of Sanskrit, “Look well to this one day, for it and it alone is life.” Those words were written approximately 4,500 years ago and they remain fresh and relevant today. Yesterday has past and, contrary to the wishes of the songwriter and performer, Cher, no one can “turn back time”. Tomorrow remains only a vision of hope. Only in the brief course of this one day do we live. The ability to love deeply, to act boldly, and to cherish beauty is available to each one of us only today. Yet, this one day, well-lived, multiplies the value of yesterday and deepens the richness of tomorrow. Look well, therefore, to this one day, for it and it alone is life.

Here And Now, a song recorded by country music singer, Kenny Chesney, has as its central theme this ancient wisdom. Chesney cautions those who put off living their lives in the present moment because there is so much other stuff to do, “Everybody’s waitin’, but they’re waitin’ on what. Better get to livin’ ‘cause all we got is here and now.” Infused with an “in-the-moment” philosophy, Chesney begins with a melancholic glance back to yesterday, “I’ve seen the skyline in New York City. Fireflies in Tennessee. Sipped a little ‘shine from a paper sack That’ll knock the horns off a Cadillac. I must’ve sat on a dozen islands. I’ve watched the sun sink into the sea.” Then there is a shift to Chesney’s favorite place, the “Here and Now.” No looking back or dreaming of another day, Chesney chooses to live in the moment.

This same wisdom is captured in Jesus’ instruction on prayer. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus prays, “Give us the bread we need for today.” Jesus doesn’t strive to push the rewind button so he can redo portions of a life located in the past. Nor does Jesus allow anxieties for the future to distract from the present. Jesus looks to this present day, and this day alone. More, Jesus is confident that God will abundantly provide for the needs of this day. All that is needed is that we ask, as a child asks of a parent for what is needed. Elsewhere in scripture, Jesus values the careful planning for tomorrow. Yet, there is a difference between planning for tomorrow and becoming consumed with anxiety about tomorrow’s needs. Jesus asks that we trust this day, and each day in turn, to God.

Here And Now seems to suggest that there is no moment in the entirety of life like the present moment, “Ain’t no better place, ain’t no better time than here and now.” The truth that most of us miss is that joy, enrichment, and success – or anything we might now imagine – lies not in wait of the future, nor has anything in the past denied it to us. All of it is available in the present moment. The one thing necessary is the conviction that God is present and has a heartfelt desire for our best, “Give us the bread we need for today.” Additionally, maturity is required to discern the difference between what we “need” and what we may “want.” Chesney captures the ancient wisdom well, “Why you think we call the present the present. ‘Cause there ain’t no better gift than here and now.”

Joy,

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Religious

Happiness Begins Here

“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 7:12 (Common English Bible)

Recently I found something on Facebook that may interest you. “’I suffered, therefore you must suffer, too’ is such an odd mindset to carry through life. I hear it all the time when people defend unpaid internships, awful entry-level jobs, student debt, etc. Whatever happen to wanting the next generation to have it better than you did?” I don’t recall the source of these words. I simply took a screenshot of them to share. What would be fascinating is to listen to how these words land upon the mind and hearts of others. My guess – and this is a guess – is that our response to these words will demonstrate whether we live by an ethic of fairness or an ethic of generosity. My contention is that those who live by an ethic of generosity are the happiest.

There is much that is unfair in life. It is unfair that an apple is a better diet choice than a blueberry muffin. It is unfair that some have a greater fluency with languages than others. More deeply, it is unfair that some children must struggle with cancer and other illness while – fortunately – a vast number of children will mature into adulthood with health. This week I read in the news of an airline employee who noticed a pregnant woman experiencing considerable discomfort while waiting to board her flight. The airline employee asked the person at the head of the line if he would graciously permit the pregnant women to board first. His response, “Tell her to wait in line like everyone else!” Upon hearing this, another man near the front of the line invited the woman to take his place.

What is remarkable in this story is that the man who gave-up his place in line walked to the rear. Apparently, he sought to avoid anyone else behind him making an argument of unfairness. Who does that? Perhaps he would answer that this decision – the decision to put others first – makes the world a little more pleasant, a little brighter, and increases his own happiness that he can make that happen. There is an incredible force that is unleashed in the world by such a generosity of spirit, a force of such immense warmth that it is life giving to others. It reminds me of a professor in my graduate studies that said that when the people of God fear scarcity, fear that there is not enough “good stuff” to go around, we become a mean people, struggling with others for our fair share.

There are destructive forces that are loose in the world, forces of anger, fear, resentment, and jealousy. Additionally, misfortune falls upon every one of us from time to time. Car accidents, natural disasters, and theft are ubiquitous. Amy Morin writes that, “We all experience pain and sorrow in life. And although sadness is a normal, healthy emotion, dwelling on your sorrow and misfortune is self-destructive.”[i] Matthew’s Gospel offers an alternative. Focus less on yourself and focus more on adding value to others. Treat others, as you would like to be treated. Such daily deposits into the lives of other people, strengthening them and encouraging them is one of the world’s oldest and best rules. Practice this rule regularly in your life and you will discover that it is golden.

Joy,


[i] Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014) 18.

Categories
Religious

Where to Begin

“Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8 (Common English Bible)

When the king in Alice in Wonderland was asked where to begin, he said gravely, “Begin at the beginning… and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Begin at the beginning. Naturally, that guidance seems reasonable. That is, until you have to actually open your mouth, and speak. With thoughts racing from one place to another, it quickly becomes apparent that there are many fine places to begin. Jesus tells his disciples, here in Acts, “you will be my witnesses.” Where do the disciples begin? Where are we to begin? Sharing our faith in Jesus seems reasonable until we actually confront that moment – that moment when we are asked, “Who is Jesus?”

That moment came to me one Easter morning. I was enjoying breakfast in a Doylestown, PA diner, looking over the message I would preach in just a few hours. Mary, the waitress assigned to the table where I was seated, approached with coffee and said, “I guess this is your big day, pastor!” “I guess so,” I remarked. Then Mary asked, “What is Easter all about anyway?” Initially, I dismissed her question, not thinking she was serious. But I was mistaken; Mary was very serious. It was then I took the time to really notice her, to look into her eyes and really see her. I will not forget those eyes – eyes that betrayed her silence; silence of considerable pain. “Where do I begin?” I thought. I began with her pain. “Easter means that you can stop beating yourself up. Whatever guilt you may have now, whatever mistakes you have made in life, Easter means that you are to stop immediately from beating yourself up. God has removed it all.”

“But there is more,” I said to Mary. “Easter is an invitation to pay attention to Jesus.” I shared with Mary that as she paid attention to Jesus, by reading of him in the Bible, she will discover that she will want to be more than she is now. “Pay attention long enough to Jesus and you will experience a compulsion to be something more; you will begin to live differently.”  Mary needed to hear that Jesus doesn’t leave a life unchanged. Any significant time spent with Jesus always results in a desire to be made new. “Your whole world will appear different. You will want to be different.”

“Finally, Mary, begin to follow Jesus as you learn about him.” I shared with her that what that means is to “do what he asks in his teaching.” Imagine Jesus as a mentor in life and do everything that is asked of you. Something inexplicable happens when someone commits to doing all that Jesus’ asks: they receive an uncommon power to do so. People who obey all that they understand of Jesus’ teachings receive a power from outside of themselves; a power that actually makes them something so much more than what they were. Mary began to cry and asked how to begin. That is when I knew I had come to the end. And there, in a diner in Doylestown, PA, Mary gave her life to Jesus.

Joy,

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Religious

What God Does for Us (Via Dolorosa)

“When Pilate heard these words, he led Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench at the place called Stone Pavement. It was about noon on the Preparation Day for the Passover. Pilate said to the Jewish leaders, ‘Here’s your king.’”

John 19:13, 14

Via Dolorosa means, the way of the cross. Historians and archaeologist disagree over the precise route that awful procession would have taken; the route Jesus took to the cross. What is certain is that it would become a route marked with grief. But the route to the cross began from a place known as the Stone Pavement, part of the Tower of Antonia bordering the northwest corner of the Temple complex. It is here that Jesus is tried before Pilate. It is here that Jesus is sentenced to flogging and crucifixion.

Jesus walked the Via Dolorosa alone. The twelve men who shared in Jesus’ ministry, the twelve who shared a meal with Jesus only the night before, are not with him. What is likely is that they are hiding behind a locked door, questioning the abrupt arrest of Jesus and what that now meant for them. Specifics of their location are unavailable – only that they were not with Jesus. Perhaps they were experiencing shame, horror and disbelief. Their golden dream has now turned into a nightmare. 

N. T. Wright, that wonderful teacher of our faith says that the absence of the disciples is important. Jesus had to walk the Via Dolorosa alone. It is a major problem in Christian devotion, suggests Wright, that when we think of the way of the cross we so often think of Jesus as the great example, with ourselves simply imitating him. Actually, central to our faith is the conviction that Jesus must do for us what we cannot. An important point of the Via Dolorosa is that Jesus must walk it alone.

“Jesus suffers so that others need not; Jesus dies so that others may not”, observes Wright. Pilgrims who walk the Via Dolorosa today do so for many reasons. Some make the journey out of simple curiosity. Others wish to shop the endless souvenirs that are sold along the route. All jostle in the narrow streets and alleyways. But perhaps an authentic walk along the Via Dolorosa is one where we realize that here Jesus walked on our behalf, that this way of grief was an achievement, an accomplishment that could only be completed by God’s Son. This is a walk best completed in silence and reverence.

Joy,

Categories
Religious

When It Is Difficult to Love Yourself

“… and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Luke 10:27 (Common English Bible)

Nothing runs deeper in human nature than the desire to be loved. It is seen in people of every age. Children craving attention and approval, teenagers eager to be acceptable and affable to their peers and adults longing to be welcomed and valued. In every age there is present the widespread desire to be liked and loved. There is nothing wrong with this. Approval, acceptance, and appreciation are yearnings of nearly every normal person. Each of us wants to be loved.

It is upon this healthy quality of the human condition that Jesus constructs his Great Commandment, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet, for numbers of people there is present a practical difficulty – they have trouble loving themselves. And this is where the Great Commandment comes apart for them. Perhaps because of some physical defect, lack of general attractiveness, or problems with personality or temperament, they have experienced avoidance or blatant rejection. The consequence is pain. Unpopular and unwanted, it is difficult to give to God or neighbor a love they have not known personally.

Desperate for acceptance and community – or simply a friend – lonely people will compromise nearly anything. They will become anyone others want them to be, value what others demand, and behave as others do, even if that behavior is wrong and hurts others. They willingly put to death the person they are. Being authentic only brought loneliness. Peer pressure is the common label used in such circumstances. And it is a powerful weapon by those who would manipulate others to conformity.

Jesus offers an alternative. This very commandment – The Great Commandment – demonstrates Jesus’ reverence for people. Jesus assumes that people love themselves because he found them worthy of being loved! This is demonstrated again and again in the ministry of Jesus. Zacchaeus, a tax collector, dishonest and loathed by the people, a woman caught in moral failure, and a man who lived alone in a graveyard, Jesus loved those others ignored. And there is Christ’s power. By personal influence he brought out in them what was the finest in them. He gave them a new self-respect and that became the basis of their recovery and transformation. Jesus did this for them. He continues the same today for those who receive him.

Joy,

Categories
Religious

Never Til Now

“These things were my assets, but I wrote them off as a loss for the sake of Christ. But even beyond that, I consider everything a loss in comparison with the superior value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have lost everything for him, but what I lost I think of as sewer trash, so that I might gain Christ and be found in him.”

Philippians 3:7- 9a (Common English Bible)

Saint Augustine writes in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Restlessness is the dominant mood of Never Til Now, written by Matt Roy and Ashley Cooke and performed by Ashley Cooke; “I’m a walking definition of unsettled and restless. The needle in my compass points anywhere but home.” These lyrics speak to a relatively constant way of living: movement from one place to another, never finding contentment, never finding “home.” A bleak and disappointing existence settles in on the voice of the song, “I thought I’d always be alone.” And several stanzas later, “Never saw myself with a white picket fence dug into the ground.” Suddenly, the narrative shifts, “Never ‘til now.”

In this teaching from Philippians, Paul’s world has been turned upside down. Observance to the law of God had been used as the metric for separating the “clean” and the “unclean” – that is, those who were worthy in God’s sight and those who were not. Suddenly, Jesus walks into Paul’s life and the cross topples that religious distinction. Every element, every conviction of Paul’s former life has been called into question. Paul falls for Jesus; Paul falls hard and life simply will never be the same again. Former markers of status in Paul’s life and ministry are now empty – are “as sewer trash.” These prior riches have paled in compassion to Jesus. One thing matters to Paul, “that I might gain Christ and be found in him.”

Never Til Now captures the discouragement of a restless heart, a heart that seeks home but never finding, and celebrates the possibility of arriving at a place of rest brought by the love of another, “Out of all the prayers I’ve prayed. You’re Heaven’s answer.” The voice of the song initially denies unhappiness, “I never wanted to tap my brakes. I never wanted to settle down.” Yet, as though there is a Freudian slip, admits traveling through “hell” until that someone special “walked into that bar” and they danced until closing time. No longer the same person who walked into the bar alone, the voice of the song has become something new because of experiencing something new in another.

This is what Paul wants us to hear in Philippians, that when our restless hearts are nearly consumed in the flames of anguish, an encounter with Jesus becomes Heaven’s answer to our deepest longings. Each of us knows people who struggle through life without a deeply satisfying relationship with Jesus. Perhaps we are that person. They deny anything is missing in their life. They make an effort to convince those around them that they don’t need a church, don’t need to read the Bible, don’t need to cultivate a prayer life. Nonetheless, secretly their hearts remain restless. Paul’s life never lacked anything, he claimed, before Christ. The voice of Ashley Cooke’s song never thought about a different life. Then a great love walked into their lives. That is when “never” became, “Never ‘til now.’

Joy,

Categories
Religious

The Gift of Encouragement

“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (Common English Bible)

In the January, 2020 issue of Runner’s World magazine, a woman shares her struggle to complete the New York City Marathon. Halfway through the twenty-six mile run, personal resources ran out. Physical and emotional resources depleted, she would walk to the sidelines and drop out. Except, there were people on the sidelines. Strangers to her. Moreover, not one of them would let her stand with them on the side of the street. They were not rude. Rather, they shouted, and cheered, and pushed her forward with words of encouragement. Strangers would not allow her to quit. She finished the marathon in last place. However, she finished the race!

That is the business of the church! We encourage people not to give-up on the race. We shout words of encouragement. We urge them to continue, particularly when it is difficult. We do so in the certain confidence of God’s strength that never falters. Showing-up for worship is a shout from the sidelines. Serving in some ministry, alongside others, is a shout from the sidelines. Financial giving to ensure that the church continues to move forward is a shout from the sidelines. Paying attention to others, listening deeply, caring with an expansive heart, is a shout-out from the sidelines. Each is a real and meaningful means of urging people forward when they face every kind of struggle, difficulty, and challenge.

Some years ago, the distinguished Christian thinker and teacher, Lesslie Newbigin taught that the primary task of the Christian is engagement. Preaching is important. Teaching is important. However, the primary task of the Christian is deep and meaningful engagement in the lives of those we encounter every day. What the church preaches and what the church teaches is not the primary concern of most people. What is most urgent in the lives of the common person is the question “Is there someone who cares?” Authentic engagement in the life of another, championing them through difficulty, creates a ripple effect that changes multitudes of lives.

The single greatest mistake that Christians make is the assumption that their faith is a private matter. Such an assumption directs the believer down the path of selfishness. Comments such as, “I can be a good Christian without going to church” reveals that selfishness. As Newbigin argues – and as the apostle Paul asserts here in his letter to the Thessalonian Church – Christians are to gather so that they may mutually encourage one another. Demonstrations of care, support, and encouragement are shouts from the sidelines to those discouraged and defeated by life. These “shout outs” become enough for those whose own resources have become depleted to finish the race.

Joy,