THEY MADE IT–AND SO CAN WE!

January 15, 2015

The battle is not yours but God’s. 2 Chronicles 20:15

Have you been keeping up with Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell’s freeclimb up El Capitan’s Dawn Wall in Yosemite? Well, they made it!

The pair reached the 3,000-foot high summit yesterday after 19 days of scaling the vertical rock face in a single expedition using only hands and feet to pull themselves up—a first. I watched them on TV the other day—the picture showed one of them sitting in a tent hanging off the mountain (yikes!), their bloodied fingers, and a short fall, stopped only by the rope they used only for safety, not for ascending.

In an article in the New York Times earlier in the week, Jorgeson talked about the most difficult part, called Pitch 15. It’s a sideways traverse, and he fell 10 times in a week attempting to get through it. He rested his fingers and allowed the skin to heal for two days, studying footage of each of his failures, and discovered each fall had to do with a single foot placement. So last Sunday, he tried again, and succeeded, while a crowd in the meadow below cheered in the twilight. “I’ll always remember that battle,” he said.

All of us have battles, albeit probably not as visible as this Yosemite ascent was, but important and noteworthy to us. We fall, we fail, we get beat up physically and emotionally. Maybe Jorgeson will recall his climb with a kind of pleasure, but many of us would rather not remember our battles, possibly because they didn’t end as well as his did, but left us with deep scars and unpleasant memories. We might even be afraid of what’s coming next.

God understands fear. He knows pain. He identifies with struggle. How? Because not only did He create us and knows us inside and out (Psalm 139:1-16), He sent Himself in the flesh, in the person of Jesus, to be one of us (John 1:14, Romans 1:3, Galatians 4:4, Philippians 2:7, Hebrews 4:16, 2 John 7).

God recognizes that even the godliest among us experience distress and anxiety when faced with overwhelming odds. In 2 Chronicles 20, Jehoshaphat encountered a huge enemy army coming against his kingdom, and was scared (v. 3). His first move, though, wasn’t to draw all his military men together and plan strategy. He began by “turn[ing] his attention to the Lord, and proclaim[ing] a fast throughout all Judah” (v. 3). Then he gathered the people together to pray, to “cry out to [God] in our distress [knowing] You will hear and deliver us…For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You” (vv. 4, 9, 12).

And God graciously answered His people, as He always does. As Jehoshaphat acknowledged, “Power and might are in Your hand” (vs. 6), God reminded them that the battle wasn’t theirs but His: “[P]ut your trust in the Lord your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed” (vv. 15, 20). And the enemy was routed.

We live in a world full of trouble, within and without. Jesus wasn’t saying anything new in John 16:33— when He admitted life wouldn’t always be a bed of roses for anybody, even for those who believed in Him as Savior. Not every conflict will have a happy ending: the apostle Paul pleaded for relief from his burden, but God told him “My grace is enough to get you through it” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Many early disciples met gruesome deaths (see Hebrews chapter 11, for instance)—and still suffer in parts of the world today. But we can all cling to God’s promise that He is greater than anything we come against. He fights for us and brings us through, no matter what. And in the end, when we reach the summit, He’ll welcome us home, where we’ll struggle no more.

The strife is o’er, the battle done;

The victory of life is won;

The song of triumph has begun:

Alleluia!

 

 

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE LICHEN (EXCEPT ITS CREATOR)

January 6, 2015

“To whom will you liken Me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.” Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?” Isaiah 40:25, 26a

At Christmas, Joe and I were at our daughter Mimi’s apartment, and the three of us decided to go hiking in Shenandoah National Park.

Shenandoah is a long, narrow park, and we entered from the south, at Rockfish Gap, then proceeded up Skyline Drive, a scenic roadway that follows the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains for 105 miles. We only went in about 15 miles, to go on the Riprap Trail, a moderate 3.4 mile round trip. For part of the way, we were on the Appalachian Trail.

The weather was moderate, so we dressed in layers, alternately taking our jackets on and off as we went up and down the trail, in and out of the sun. I’m more used to hiking in the summer, when there’s an abundance of birds and other animals about, and I was surprised at how quiet and still it was. We met several people along the way, but neither saw nor heard any animals.

We got to a mound of boulders which may or may not have been Chimney Rock (the park signage needs work). The adventurous (and much younger) Mimi wanted to see what was on the other side, so she scrambled up the rocks while we oldsters chilled out. The mother in me couldn’t watch her climb, so instead I busied myself exploring our immediate surroundings.

The area was in deep shade, with nearly everything covered in lichen. If you’re like me, you know nothing about lichen, having no reason to even think about it in everyday life. If I ever did know anything about the subject from school, I have forgotten it entirely. But here I was, waiting around for Mimi, so I peeled off a couple of specimens and idly studied them.

That pale green fungus is beautiful! I wished I had a microscope to really examine my samples. To the naked eye, they looked like miniature shrubs with branches ending in fine leafy frills.

Later I looked up lichen on Wikipedia, whose lengthy entry is enough to make your eyes glaze over. Let me summarize the main points: lichen are not plants, because they don’t have roots, nor are they mosses or even parasites on the surfaces on which they grow. They produce their own food from sunlight, air, water and minerals in their own environment, which can be in a variety of elevations and climates. It’s estimated lichen covers 6% of the earth’s land surface, they have a long life span and could be one of the oldest living things. Who would have guessed there was so much to know about those little things?

But you know what my first thought was when I sat on a rock and considered the lichen? A homonym! The verse I quote at the beginning, in fact: God saying to the prophet Isaiah, “To whom will you liken Me?” (get it—lichen and liken?).

Try to wrap your mind around the power, the uniqueness, the attention to detail that went into creating such a tiny yet exquisite organism!

What’s even more mind boggling is to realize that as much work as God put into lichen, which most people ignore, He pours even more into us, created in His own image (Genesis 1:26, 27)!

He has “crowned us with glory and honor” and made us ruler over all His creation (Psalm 8:5-7), bestowed on us every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3), invited us to bring all our concerns to Him to find grace and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15, 16; 1 Peter 5:7), given us freedom from the guilt and shame of our sins (Romans 8:1, 2; 1 John 1:9), and promised us eternal life (John 3:16, 1 John 5:11-13). No one else could do that but God (Deuteronomy 3:24; 2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Chronicles 29:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 43:10-13, 44:6-8, 45:5-7, 46:9-11; John 1:3; Revelation 4:11).

What a wonderful thought with which to begin the new year: we are of great value to God (Matthew 6:26).

I hope your response is the same as mine was that late December day: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! I will praise You, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders. I will be glad and rejoice in You” (Psalm 8:9; 9:1, 2).

QUITE THE SPECTACLE

December 19, 2014

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.” Luke 2:8, 9, 13, 14

Wildlife, great scenery, hiking paths…those are the things most of us imagine when we think of the national parks. But a 17th century Christmas pageant? Hardly!

And yet, for nearly 90 years Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel has held the Bracebridge Dinner, transforming its dining room into an English manor hall for a festival of food, song and ceremony. The Ahwahnee—a National Historic Landmark—is a beautiful building all by itself, with a granite façade, log-beamed ceilings, massive stone hearths, Native American artwork and elegant stained glass, but it’s transformed into an even more stunning venue for the occasion.

The four-hour event, held several times during December, incorporates Renaissance rituals, Middle Ages music, caroling and a sumptuous meal. Over 100 people participate in the show, based on Washington Irving’s early 19th century novel Bracebridge Hall, portraying the Squire of the castle and his family, their servants, minstrels and other performers. This annual holiday tradition has carried on since 1927 (interrupted only by floods and World War II), and evidently is a very popular affair, despite its price: this year’s hotel and dinner packages start at $490.

Sounds like quite a spectacle, doesn’t it? And yet it can’t hold a candle to what it must have been like over 2,000 years ago, when “the heavens exploded with music everywhere, and the angels spilled over heaven’s edge and filled the air,” as the lyrics of one of my favorite Christmas songs describes the announcement of Jesus’ birth.

This display, though, came at high cost to Him, something we usually don’t think about during the Christmas season: “Being in very nature God, [Jesus] made Himself nothing…being made in human likeness…He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

Handel’s Messiah, another magnificent composition we often hear this time of year, leads us through God’s plan for human redemption, from the prophecies concerning Jesus’ first coming through His death to the final spectacle, when “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever” (Revelations 11:15). The libretto reiterates the Biblical promises that that day will be even more magnificent than His birth: “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we will be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51, 52).

The Bracebridge Dinner sounds amazing, but I can get by without experiencing (and paying for) that fancy fete. But those other two spectacular events? I wish I’d been there to see the first, and I live for the second!

BE A SURVIVOR!

December 6, 2014

Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:3

Four of the nine living survivors the USS Arizona are gathered in Hawaii this week, set to commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor.

On Sunday, the actual 73rd anniversary of that “day of infamy,” they’ll toast their shipmates with a bottle of sparkling wine given to their survivors’ association in 1975 by President Gerald Ford from the White House wine collection, reports Stars and Stripes. It’s likely this will be the last official reunion in the islands, since the men are all in their nineties.

The Arizona sank during the massive attack that brought the U.S. into World War II, and 1,177 sailors died that day. Many of the bodies remain entombed in the vessel, and 38 survivors chose it as the final resting place for their cremated remains. The ship is now part of the National Park Service’s World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument.

One of the survivors at this reunion, Donald Stratton, was burned over 65 percent of his body. He spent a year in recovery and rehab, and then was medically discharged. But he re-enlisted and went on to serve in the South Pacific until war’s end.

Scripture often uses the analogy of soldiering and fighting to describe the Christian life, especially in 2 Timothy. Like Mr. Stratton, who felt so strongly in the cause for which he fought that he signed on again despite grave injuries, Christians have a “holy calling, not according to our works, but according to God’s own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus” (1:9, 10). Christians—like good soldiers—are commended to be single-minded (2:3, 4) and disciplined (2:6-10) in their crusade to serve the Lord.

Soldiers never know what will happen when they go to war—injury, death and defeat are always possible. Very few escape unscathed in some way. Same in civilian life. But no matter where we do battle, we have a Commander who fights alongside us (2 Chronicles 20:15; Psalm 16:8, 9), and He guarantees victory when we stick with Him: “It is a trustworthy statement: If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

Soldier on!

 

WHAT ARE YOU PURSUING?

November 19, 2014

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. Matthew 13:44-46

Maurice Barboza’s idea to build a memorial to black Revolutionary War soldiers first came to him in 1984. That was the year his aunt achieved her goal of becoming the second black member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Over the next 30 years, Barboza did a lot to see his vision realized—historical research, development of a monument and congressional legislation. He even sold his house to raise money for the project.

Last month, all his work started to pay off. Congress unanimously approved a site for The National Liberty Memorial on the National Mall—under the National Park Service’s jurisdiction—and President Obama signed the authorization into law. “It’s been a long struggle,” Barboza told The Washington Post of his effort to honor the 5,000-10,000 black soldiers—some free, others falsely promised freedom in exchange for their joining in—who fought for independence from the British.

But his job is hardly over. He and his supporters still have to raise at least $6 million for the memorial’s design and construction. Then they have to get approval from the National Capital Planning Commission and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

What makes a person chase a vision over three decades and at the cost of selling his home? Only something valuable, something he believed in with all his heart.

Jesus wanted His followers to understand that kind of quest. Commentators debate two interpretations of the parables (stories told to illustrate a spiritual or moral truth) of the hidden treasure and the precious pearl. They could demonstrate God’s great love for us by sending His Son Jesus to pursue us for Himself—in other words, each of us are His “treasure” and “fine pearl,” and He gave up all He had (i.e. His life) to pay the price for our salvation so that we would be with Him forever.

Alternately, the treasure and pearl may stand for the incomparable value of knowing God, for which no sacrifice is too great. It is the comfort and joy of having Him as Savior in our life now (the earthly kingdom of heaven), and looking forward to that future, eternal kingdom after death or when Jesus comes again (Matthew 25:31-46, 2 Timothy 4:18, 2 Peter 1: 10-11).

Maurice Barboza is admirably determined to see his dream come to fruition, and he’s more than proved he’s willing to work for it. Either interpretation of these Biblical parables expresses a similar truth: precious things are found not by passive waiting, but by conscious seeking. God took the initiative for His beloved (John 3:16). His desire is for every person to know Him (1 Timothy 2:3, 4; 2 Peter 3:9). He never gives up searching (2 Chronicles 16:9) and standing by for our response (Isaiah 55:6; Matthew 6:33, 7:7).

Because He is the greatest reward of all (Psalm 19:7-11).

 

LIFE–OR DESTRUCTION PART II

November 7, 2014

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God…How much more severely do you think a person deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?…It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26, 27, 29, 31

More vandalism in the parks—graffiti-like paintings have been found in eight western locations. Joshua Tree, Yosemite and Death Valley in California; Crater Lake in Oregon; Zion and Canyonlands in Utah; and Rocky Mountain in Colorado are all national parks that have been hit with huge, colorful pictures painted on rock outcroppings. Colorado National Monument also has been tagged. Park workers are trying to get rid of the “art” by sandblasting or using chemical strippers and even spatulas to scrap off the paint, trying to find the best methods to loosen the material without damaging the natural rock.

The woman suspected of defacing the parks posted photos of her work on Instagram and Tumblr, perhaps not anticipating the furor it would set off (she’s since disconnected her phone). People who love the national parks and other wilderness areas are livid over this defilement of nature, and justifiably so.

Investigators are interviewing her and collecting evidence for what could be felony charges.

But all this makes me wonder—why do we think these same rules don’t apply to our relationship with God? Why do we take our desecration of Him so lightly? Why do we imagine there are no consequences when we “trample the Son of God under foot?”

On his “Desiring God” blog, John Piper discusses this very subject, referring to the verses I quoted at the beginning:

“When it comes to God, all we want to hear is the sweet side—the tender side, the warm side…We believe that the only good motivation comes from hearing about grace, not judgment. And little by little we let that motivational conviction (as unbiblical as it is) creep into our view of God Himself, until we have no categories anymore to understand, let alone love, a God whose wrath is a fury of fire against sinners. But the writer of this book of Hebrews will not be silent about the wrath of God…

“Whatever your view of God, the Creator of the universe and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, if it does not include this, it is a distorted, unrealistic view. God is a God of vengeance, and to fall into His hands is a terrifying thing…

“Most people today do not tremble at the power and wrath and judgment of God. He is a good old boy. Or a coddling father. Or a doting friend. But rarely a raging fire of indignation and holy anger at sin.”

Just like the woman “artist” in the parks, we’ve all left a trail of graffiti—all the things we’ve said, done and thought that are fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23)—behind us, sometimes even boasting of our “work,” never considering that we justly merit the anger of our Creator, whose standards we have ignored or defiantly disobeyed.

And yet…like any loving parent, God desires not punishment but restoration. John Piper again: “God has made a provision for escaping His anger, namely, the sacrifice of His Son in the place of sinners. The love of God provides escape from the wrath of God by sacrificing the Son of God to vindicate the glory of God in forgiving sinners. That’s the gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ—the essence of Christianity—makes no sense at all apart from the wrath of God. If there is no wrath and no judgment to escape, then Christ was sacrificed in vain.

“But He did not die in vain. He died so that you and I and anyone who believes on Him might be saved from the wrath of God and have everlasting life in the love of God—in the peaceful eye of the hurricane of His holy wrath.”

Piper concludes with a warning: “Take heed to yourselves. You have received a knowledge of the truth. The Son of God has laid His life down for you to receive as your substitute…Do not trample the Son of God or make light of His blood or insult the Spirit of grace that is blowing over your soul even now.”

Let God gently and lovingly scrape away all that stands between you and Him. His Son is the right tool for the job. Even the most stubborn stains are no problem (Isaiah 1:18). Only He can restore you to the way in which you were meant to live.

LIFE–OR DESTRUCTION?

October 23, 2014

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

A couple of reports about destruction in the national parks came to my attention recently, one from natural causes and the other due to humans behaving badly.

An example of the former is the recent fire at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania—the non-suspicious blaze wiped out three administrative buildings, a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on September 11, 2001, and some personal possessions of the 40 people killed when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed that day.

Then last month, someone damaged a fossilized bone at Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument, taking a hunk out of a sauropod’s humerus, most likely as a souvenir. That, of course, is illegal.

Stealing and destroying don’t happen only in national parks, of course. Spiritual forces of evil are everywhere (Ephesians 6:12).

I don’t like to talk about the devil and demons too much, because people can get all weirded out about the subject, and some are especially prone to look for a demon behind every bush, so to speak. As C.S. Lewis writes in the preface to The Screwtape Letters, his humorous (but spot on) take on how Satan works in a Christian’s life, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

Along the lines of disbelief is making Satan into a joke. Believe me, I love Flip Wilson’s routines, and he weaves his catchphrase—“The devil made me do it”—into hilarious skits (find one of his best here—and wait for the punch line). But it’s much easier to laugh at the thought of the devil than to ponder his reality.

Because he certainly is real. Satan is mentioned in 7 Old Testament books and by every New Testament writer. Jesus acknowledged his existence (Matthew 13:39; Luke 10:18, 11:18); He even did battle with him (Matthew 4:1-11). The devil is called a liar and murderer (John 8:44), an accuser (Revelation 12:10), a deceiver (Revelation 20:3), a schemer (Ephesians 6:11) and an all-around adversary (1 Peter 5:8). He’s involved in all that is dark and evil (Ephesians 6:12), and works in opposition to God (Matthew 16:23), trying to prevent people from believing in God (Luke 8:12, 2 Corinthians 4:4). John 10:10 sums up the devil’s mission very well—steal, kill and destroy.

The good news is that Satan does not have ultimate power over those who profess Jesus as their Savior. He can be successfully resisted (James 4:7). We may be tempted to wrong and evil, but God limits just how far the devil can go (Mark 1:23-27, Job 1:12). God protects believers spiritually—and sometimes physically (John 17:15; 1 John 3:8, 5:18) and equips us with everything we need to fight back (Ephesians 6:13-18).

We only go around once, but Satan whispers in our ears that in order to make that trip worthwhile, we need to get what we can while we can, maybe even stealing, killing and destroying things and other people to do so.

But the only “souvenir” we can take from this life is our soul, and nothing we could gain in this world is ever worth destroying or losing that (Mark 8:36, 37).

CAN YOU TELL ME HOW TO GET TO…

October 2, 2014

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. Acts 4:12

Sesame Street was one of my favorite children’s shows when my daughter was growing up. “Watch Sessie,” she would say, wanting to see “Big Ick” (Big Bird) and the gang every afternoon during her toddler days.

Even now, years later, Joe and I still reminisce about and quote lines from the show. Do any of you parents remember Smokey Robinson singing “You Really Got a Hold on Me” while trying to get out of the grip of the letter U (get it—“you” sounds like “U”)? “Squeal of Fortune” with the Count and Prairie Dawn? Ernie and the boogie-woogie sheep (“Oh, not the bugle!” Bert moans)? Grover and the waiter (“Round and tasty on a bun, pickles, French fries, yum, yum, yum”), and Captain Vegetable  (“My name is Eddie, I love spaghetti…”)? Or Guy Smiley and the shrieking shovel?

So I was glad to read that Elmo and Murray have teamed up with the National Park Service to introduce youngsters to the national parks. So far there are videos for the Grand Canyon and Gateway National Recreation Area, and you can find them here. It’s a fun way for you and the kids or grandkids to explore our great landscapes together.

Sesame Street’s theme song ends with a question—“Can you tell me how to get, how to get to Sesame Street?” Thomas, one of Jesus’s disciples, posed a similar query to the Man he’d been following for three years. At the time, in view of His coming crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus had been encouraging His disciples: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” (John 14:1-4).

Obviously, Thomas wasn’t quite sure he did. “Lord, we do not know where You are going; how do we know the way?” (v. 5). And Jesus graciously and plainly answered him: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (vs. 6).

Christianity has been denigrated as a religion of exclusivity, meaning it shuts people out. One way to God? How narrow-minded! Yes, it is—“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it,” Jesus said in Matthew 7:13 and 14.

Think of it this way: finding the “broad way” is pretty simple. We humans are always looking for the easy way, the shortcut, the quick route—and the world gladly offers plenty. It’s so much easier to do what we want and go with the flow, but the consequences aren’t pretty: “Professing to be wise, they became fools…and exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator…[So] God gave them over to degrading passions [and] a depraved mind…being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:22, 25, 26, 28-32).

Finding and traveling down a “narrow” path takes more time and effort. It means searching out and choosing a different direction. For example, who really wants to work out and eat right, or go to work every day? Not most of us. But we make the decision to get off the couch or out of bed because we enjoy the rewards—a healthy weight and body, and money in the bank. We feel better, act better, live better. And that makes the discipline and sacrifice worth it.

That “narrow way” is what Jesus offers us—a meaningful life with the God of the universe alongside to help us stand up under its slings and arrows (Matthew 11:28-30, John 16:33, Ephesians 6:10-13), and eternal rewards. And that path is open to everyone who looks for it: “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

It’s not how you get to Sesame Street, but it’ll get you someplace even more delightful!

WE’RE ULTRAMARATHONERS!

September 22, 2014

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 1 Cor. 9:24, 25

I’ve heard about ultramarathons, runs that go for more (usually much more) than the usual 26.2 marathon miles. And I recently read about ultramarathoners who are increasingly taking to the trails of the national parks for their epic adventures. And why not, since these places are among the most beautiful landscapes in the country.

While I hate to run, and the thought of all that sprinting over miles and miles makes me want to take a nap, I was fascinated to read there’s a website that unofficially keeps track of the FKT, or fastest known time, of different ultramarathon challenges not just in America’s national parks but all over the world. It seems to be an online community that shares information on different routes and comes up with new ones every year, and is also a place to claim bragging rights.

The problem with bragging rights, though, is that they often last only a short time. Being the greatest feels terrific, but as Solomon said, time and chance take their toll (Ecclesiastes 9:11), and FKTs and other such distinctions eventually matter not a whit in the eternal scheme of things.

In the verses I quoted at the beginning, the apostle Paul compares our lives to the Isthmian games, with which his readers in Corinth would have been very familiar, since they were held in that city every two years. The games were in honor of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea (his Roman name is Neptune). Athletes—men and women—competed in footraces, wrestling, boxing (and not the gentlemanly kind either—it was brutal), discus, javelin, long jump and chariot racing, as well as poetry reading and singing (!). Participants trained rigorously. All competitors took an oath to abide by the rules of the games; if they violated that pledge, they were disqualified. And at the conclusion, there were no silver or bronze holders—only one person won each contest. He or she received a crown, in the early years one of celery leaves, but in Paul’s day a wreath of pine, supposedly sacred to Poseidon.

God recognizes that we are all ultramarathoners in our life race, and through Paul’s words, He tells us what have to do to win. Physical exercise is important, but we also need to train ourselves spiritually, recognizing that our biggest struggles are in our heart, mind and spirit (Ephesians 6:10-12). And we must vow to follow the rules—God’s, not our own, since He’s the final arbiter (Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 3:16, 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15). To do both, we’ve got to know the “rule book,” that is, the Bible.

When we run our life His way, God promises us not a crown that withers away, spoils or fades, but one that is worth more than any precious medal, reserved in heaven just for us (1 Peter 1:4, 7; 5:4).

Then we can say with Paul, as our earthly FKTs, honors, awards and laurels fall away, and we look toward our final reward: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7, 8).

Keep running!

P.S. And think about visiting a national park this Saturday, when entrance fees are waived for National Public Lands Day.