Wrong way, Magellan.

I know its been three weeks in a row of parallels I’ve drawn between the bike trail and spiritual truth, but hey–when its there as plain as the nose on my face (and have you seen my nose?!?)–well, I’ve got to share it.

Okay, so you know I’ve started biking, you know I got a helmet, you know I’m prone to getting lost, yada, yada, yada.  In this week’s installment, I’ve upped the ante even more by becoming somewhat of a mountain biking missionary; or an ambassador at the very least.  I was in a recent conversation with a good friend we’ll call “Dicky” and ended up inviting him to come biking with us this past weekend.  Dicky was on the hunt for a new bike since he hadn’t ridden in 20+ years.  I told him not to worry about how long it had been since he’d been on a bike, because it’s like riding a bike; you never really forget how.

On the threshold of making that monumental purchase for himself, Dicky’s wife (who’ll remain nameless) reminded Dicky that he already has a bike and that it was hanging in the garage where it’s been for 20+ years.  A mountain bike, no less.  An ’89 Huffy, no less.  Steel frame, gears, and a classic 80’s speckled paint job no less.  So Dicky pulled it down from its perch, wiped off the dust, pumped up the tires and mounted the relic.  The next morning (the morning of our ride), he found the tires still inflated and the bike (albeit old) was ready to roar.

Dicky showed up at my house Saturday morning with his 80’s flashback ride hanging out the back of his van.  I hoisted it up on my bike rack and off we went with our friend “Todd” in-tow.  (You remember “Todd”, don’t you?)  We arrived at the trail a few minutes later and soon we were in the thick of our ride through the woods.

It didn’t take long for Dicky’s bike to start showing it’s age.  I kid you not–at one point we stopped because his handlebars were detaching from the frame.  Thankfully, Dicky had the foresight to put several wrenches in his backpack, which I think was also from the late 80’s.  With bars re-tightened, we were on our way.  Not soon after, “Todd” contacted “Martin” (you remember “Martin”, right?) and informed us that he (Todd) would be joining up with Martin on a nearby trail for a longer ride and consequently would be leaving Dicky and I alone.

Have you read my post about the last time Todd and I parted ways?

So after giving us what he was sure were crystal clear directions about how to find our way out, Todd disappeared into the distance and Dicky and I kept on rolling.  After several minutes of being “pretty sure” we were going the right way, I heard the sound of cars which told me we were getting closer to the parking lot.  That was good news.  However, after several more minutes of rolling along, the sound of cars seemed to disappear and I began to feel like we were indeed going in the wrong direction.  Bad news.

Oh, how right I was to think I was wrong.

Not only were we not getting closer to our intended destination, we were also heading the wrong way on a one-way trail.  Certain of our (my) mistake, I pulled off the narrow trail to rethink and regroup.  So there we were, me with my Schwinn and Dicky with his “iffy” Huffy and bag of wrenches, pointed the wrong direction next to a narrow bike trail.  Dicky–being the consummate hipster–had (thankfully) brought his iPhone with him.  Unfortunately for us however, it could only tell us where we were on the planet; not where we were on the trail.

As we stood there contemplating what to do, a few obviously avid & serious bikers came flying past us (in the right direction).  Decked out in spandex, expensive bikes gleaming in the morning sun, and without a hint of desire to stop and help us, they flew by in a whir.  Whoooosh.  It was a breathtaking display of disregard for our plight.

Not two minutes later a group of 3 bikers came (also going in the correct direction) and stopped next to us.  One of them had a GPS mounted on his handlebars, but his GPS app (called “MapMyRide”) not only showed that we were in Virginia, but EXACTLY where in Virginia and better yet: where in Pocahontas State Park we were.  They were glad to show us where we were on trail, how we got there, and how we could get out.  So thankful for their help, we bid them farewell, turned our bikes around to head in the right direction, and started pedaling.  Several minutes later after we arrived at an intersection of sorts, we were surprised to see these same 3 men waiting there.  Clearly they were more experienced bikers than we were.  Clearly they had the gear and the physiques to go wherever they chose. Clearly they could have simply kept going.  But for whatever reason they chose to stop at the very spot we would need to turn, so as to insure that we would indeed make the CORRECT right turn this time.

Needless to say, I was impressed.

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to follow Jesus in the flesh.  To walk with Him while He walked on this earth.  What would have been the murmur of the crowd as we shuffled along behind and around the Messiah?  While this is only speculation, I’d suspect that many of the rumblings in the crowd would have echoed that of the Samaritan woman; the one Jesus spoke to personally and privately at the well.  She said to the townspeople, “I’ve found the man who knows everything about me.”  (John 4:29)  In other words, I’ve found the One!  Or perhaps common to the chatter in the crowd would be the words of Peter when Jesus asked him, “Who do you say I am?”.  Peter answered: “You are the Messiah. The Son of the Living God.”  (Matt. 16:115-16)

Being “lost” and encountering 2 very different types of people on the trail that day reminded me that I have a choice to make as I live my life knowing the Truth that I know.  I can either zip along life’s path, paying no attention to people in need, or I can keep a eye out for an opportunity to stop, share the Map, and show someone the way out of the dark and into the Light.

*By the way, I downloaded “MapMyRide” to my phone as soon as I got home.

Helmeted but Alone. (An Unintentional Sequel)

I wrote recently about a trail biking outing I had last weekend.  If you haven’t read that one yet, you can go to it by scrolling down or by clicking here.  Just promise me you’ll be right back to read this one.

I’m fresh off the trail of yet another adventure with some good friends who have sucked me into enjoying trail biking.  After surviving last week’s helmetless ride, I was pleased to find out that today my friend “Todd” did in fact have an extra helmet for me.

In this small gaggle of 2-wheeled friends, there seems to be a few different categories we can be broken down into: those who have clickety-clack shoes (the kind that attach their feet to the pedals), there are those who have nifty “Camelbak” backpacks (the kind that have the hose that comes up to your lips), there are those with cushy padded seats, there are those that have a GPS attached to their handlebars, there are those with really, really nice bikes (the kind from the specialty bike shop), …and then there’s me.

This past week, emails were passed back and forth amongst all of us as to what the ride plan was for this morning’s ride.  Various people chimed in on if/when they’d be available and for how long they’d like to ride.  It was determined that there would be “short riders” and “long riders”.  Needless to say, I’m a “short rider” and proud of it.  And I was under the impression that there would be one or two other short riders with whom I could share solidarity and camaraderie.  When I arrived, I quickly found out that I was, in fact, the only short rider.

This is where the plot thickens.

Undaunted by my position of sole short rider, we all hit the trail with the understanding that at some point (at which “Todd” would inform me), I would detach from the group and head back while the other riders kept on going for their “long ride”.  So, at the appointed time and at a fork in the trail, “Todd” gave me instructions as to how to get back from where we came.  I assured them that I’d be fine and to enjoy the rest of their ride, and we parted ways.

Remember when I told them that “I’d be fine”?  Turns out, I wasn’t.

I thought I was following “Todd’s” instructions to the letter (and part of me will go to the grave believing I was), but instead of ending up where I wanted to be, I ended up on the muddy banks of a pond with no discernible trail.  Alone.  I whistled “Singing In The Rain” as loudly as I could so as not to be shot by local hunters.

I decided that swimming across the pond with my bike on my back wasn’t the best choice, so I walked myself back up the rocky hill I had just descended at break-neck speed.  I found a park worker blowing some leaves around and asked for a trail map.  He didn’t have one, but told me where I could find one.  A while later, I found myself with my very own trail map and was not at all shocked to see where I was on the map in comparison to where I wanted to be.

After several more wrong turns and u-turns (yes, I know I had a map but that often makes no difference when you’re me), I finally found the path I originally wanted and successfully made my way to the parking lot where my trusty minivan awaited me.  As I pulled up to my van, and hoisted my bike up onto the bike rack, I heard a familiar voice, “Jerry?”  It was the guru of our group.  We’ll call him “Martin”.  He, along with the rest of the “long riders” had just returned from their long ride, not 60 seconds after I returned from my “short ride”.  As it turned out, I too took a “long ride”.  The only difference was that I did it alone.

Going it alone can be peaceful.  I really did enjoy the quiet of the woods.  Going it alone can be relaxing.  I really did enjoy not feeling the pressure of having to “keep up” with a larger group.  Going it alone can be lots of things that might qualify as desirable.  However, I was reminded today that “going it alone” isn’t at all what God created us for.

Many people in our society bristle when they hear the word “religion”.  There’s an online video that has recently gone viral in its popularity that bears that out.  And I don’t think it’s so much the “religion” per se, but rather the “organized religion” aspect of it all.  Which leads so many to refer to themselves as “spiritual, but not religious”.  I’ve spoken with more people than I can remember that seem to think that a “its just me and God, so leave us alone” mentality can fit nicely into God’s plan for His people, laid out in Scripture.  I’ve spoken with people that say of themselves, “Oh, I’m a Christian, I’m just not a ‘church‘ kind of Christian” which to me is just like saying, “Oh, I’m happily married and I love my spouse, I just don’t like to ever be around them or have anything to do with them.”

Jesus told us that He’s the “head of the Church” (Eph. 5:23) and His followers are “the body” (Col. 1:18).  But there seem to be “Christians” that think they can cut off the Head from the Body and still make it work.  I’ve seen plenty of amputees; people who have lost fingers, a hand, an arm, an ear, or a leg.  I saw a guy once with no arms and no legs and he seemed to somehow be doing just fine and dandy.  But I have yet to see someone lose their head and still make things work.  There’s no way to lose your head and simply get a prosthetic, go through physical rehab and make it work.  But in a spiritual sense, lots of people are trying.

Just like me at the fork in the trail today, as I assured the others and myself, “I’ll see ya on the flippity-flip!”  Sure, I had my helmet, sure I had my trusty Schwinn from Walmart, sure I had my water bottle (my only after-market addition), and sure I had Jesus.  But what I didn’t have was the fellowship that–in all likelihood–would have saved me from countless wrong turns, lost time, lost energy, and who knows what else.

Just as important as your connection to Jesus as the Head is, so is your connection to Jesus’ Body, the Church.  Don’t make excuses, don’t think you’re stronger alone, don’t think “I’ll be just fine.”  When Jesus called you to Himself, He called you into community with His body.

Now let’s ride.

The Exclusive Jesus

“Depart from Me….I never knew you.” –Matthew 7:23

Have you ever felt out of place?  I remember a few times in life when I was in a place where I felt entirely out of my element.  Maybe I was underdressed, uninformed, or in some other way not in the right place at the right time.  While I made the best of the awkward situation, I most definitely was feeling like that old Sesame Street song I remember from childhood: “One of these things does not belong here…”

At the end of time, when Jesus wraps up all of history and begins His reign, the Bible tells us that there will be people that He won’t know.  When it’s all said and done, Scripture leads us to believe that not only IS there a hell, but hell will actually be more densely populated than heaven.  We’re told that comparatively speaking, only a few get in to heaven.  (Matthew 7:13-14)

And while this might be a point of contention for Christians and non-Christians alike because of the seeming harshness of Jesus’ words in that final day, it is no less part of the gospel message that must be shared.  It’s the “bad news” that leads us to the “good news”.  The gospel is offensive before it is redemptive.  It is the slap in the face before the embrace of grace.  In order to receive the good news of Jesus Christ, we must first face our own sinful depravity.  We must confess our need of a healer, of a Messiah, of a Savior.  It is those willing to make this confession that Jesus came for.

(This flies in the face of most people’s view of how entry into heaven is gained.  Most people are relying on their good works outweighing their bad works.  Sounds fair, right?  Too bad God isn’t as interested in fairness as He is in repentance and obedience.)

Now, at the risk of sounding self-contradictory, I want to also state that I believe that Jesus died for all people.  (1 John 2:2)  I absolutely believe in the “whosoever will may come” aspect of Jesus invitation to relationship with Him.  (Luke 14:16-24)  A wonderful hymn of the faith puts it beautifully, “The vilest offender who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives!”

Sadly, it is this exclusivity of the Gospel message that so many can’t choke down.  For a wide variety of reasons, its difficult to think of God as being that narrow, that cruel, that mean, that unfair, that prejudiced–that He would only welcome those who welcome Him, and to the rest of humanity give an icy cold, “I never knew you.”

There’s a 3-year-old inside every one of us that screams, “But that’s not fair!!!”

But do you see that the exclusivity of Jesus is the great equalizer?  Jesus completely takes the effort out of our hands and places it on Himself.  All that was needed to secure your salvation was accomplished on the cross.  Throw out the scales. Forget the past. There’s no such thing as worthiness when it comes to us and an eternity with God!  “There are none that are righteous, not even one!”  (Romans 3:10)  So, in grace–beyond all notions of us trying to reach Him, beyond all thoughts of us being good enough, beyond all laborious and futile expressions of us closing the gap between our sickness and His holiness–God levels the field and says, “Anyone of you is eligible.” when the Scriptures declare, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved!” (Romans 10:13)

So, its not that Jesus is exclusive insomuch as He only takes some and not others based on effort or goodness; it is that He is exclusive in that He only receives those who willing to make their confession of lostness apart from Him.

My advice.

The other day my oldest daughter asked me if I’d written a new blog post yet. In order to be truthful, I had to answer “No. I haven’t.” I had told her the day before that I had planned on writing a new blog post and I’m pretty sure she has become one of my most faithful readers. And I love that.

So, I’m going to dedicate this particular entry to her. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to share some advice; just a few things (definitely not all) I sincerely hope she has learned/is learning/will learn from watching my life and hearing my stories.

Be in love with Jesus. Your love relationship with Him will shape, guide, and enrich every other relationship you will ever have. Everyday, remember that its Jesus who took our place in death so that we can have life to the fullest possible measure; life now, life later, and life eternally. Life that overflows with joy, peace, hope, grace, laughter, and rock-solid faith that no matter what comes your way, Jesus holds it all together.

Be crazy about Jesus before falling in love with any other guy. Never let a guy take Jesus’ place of first love in your life. My marriage works for lots of reasons. Among them are: your Mom’s patience with me, the grace of God, and the fact that both of us love Jesus most. Its no disrespect to my wife–quite the opposite actually.

Never let comfort dictate anything. So many people are driven by and bound to what’s comfortable. Embrace discomfort as a way of life. Be willing to set aside your own ideas of what’s safe and good to instead take up God’s idea of adventure and obedience. Most everybody plays it safe and as a result gets to the end of their life and looks back with regret for chances not taken. Don’t live like that.

Be the You God created. He only made one. Don’t look around at others and wish you were them. Don’t chase what other people say you should be. You’re You for a reason. God only made one. Be the You God made.

Do what the Bible says. Don’t make excuses. Read it, love it, live it. Plenty of people disagree with that (always have, always will). But it’s really that simple. I’m sure there’ll be lots more to add to this, but this is just what’s on my heart at the moment.

And never forget that I love you.

Without a Helmet

*I already know that I’m going to get a phone call from my Mom on this one.

I recently started mountain biking with a group of friends.  Each Saturday we trek deep through the woods of Pocahantas State Park–dodging trees, forging streams, making laborious climbs up rock and root covered hills.  All in the name of fun, togetherness, and exercise.

When I first began, a good friend and fellow rider (we’ll call him “Todd”) immediately noticed that I didn’t have a helmet.  Concerned for my safety, he would lend me an extra helmet he had.  Nice guy, that Todd.

But this past Saturday the group was a bit bigger than normal.  One person bigger than the number of helmets, in fact.  And guess which one?  Yep, there I was standing at one of the trail openings with my group of helmeted friends, ready to embark on a new (more technical) trail — helmetless.

I shrugged it off, playing the “tough guy” card.  (Anyone who knows me knows that’s a laughable card for me to play.)  I assured my fellow bikers, with the deepest voice I could muster: “I’ll be fine.  Don’t worry about me……..Let’s do this.”   And off we went.

The trail was actually my favorite trail I’ve biked so far.  It had plenty of tight turns, downhill grades, uphill challenges, and even a couple log jumps thrown in for good measure.  But make no mistake about it: there were a couple very specific moments on that trail yesterday that I was especially mindful that my head was unprotected; a sharp turn in the trail where water/mud had collected, which was right next to a large tree.  As I rode cautiously past, I fully realized and appreciated the very real potential of my head becoming one with the tree.  As I went safely by, I would quietly thank God that I was safe and even having a blast.

A common Christian prayer is “Lord, protect me from (fill in the blank).”  Before a long road trip, before going to work, before getting on a plane and in all kinds of places, God’s protection over our lives seems to be fairly important to us.  And just like me on that trail yesterday, we’re ever mindful of when it seems to be missing.  Thankfully those times are rare since we seem to take for granted that God will protect us.  Our thinking goes something like this:

God loves me.

Since God loves me, God wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to me.

God will show His love for me by not letting anything bad happen to me.

But what if God’s first desire for you isn’t to be protected?  What if God’s first desire for you is to be faithful?  Let me take you back to a time in Jesus’ earthly ministry when one of His disciples asked about that.  Look at John 21:21-22:

“When Peter saw him [referring to John], he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 

When it comes to God’s desire for you, everything else is second place to faithfulness.  It would seem that Peter was asking a legitimate question in response to Jesus’ 3 charges to Peter: “Tend my lambs.”, “Shepherd my sheep.” and “Tend my sheep.” (NASB)  It reminds me of when I tell my youngest daughter that she needs to clean up her room and her first response starts off with the words “But what about…???” as she points to her older sister who is seated comfortably on the couch.

In our desire for equity, justice, and fairness we lose sight of the fact that Jesus calls YOU and Jesus calls ME.  While Jesus certainly calls US corporately, I don’t see any US in Scripture that will stand before God in judgement as an US.  YOU will stand before Him and I will stand before Him.

What then should be our first desire?  Is it coincidence that 11 of the Apostles were martyred and the twelfth was left for dead on an island by himself?  That doesn’t sound like God’s first priority for them was their protection.  But because they were faithful–faithful to share the Good News with someone, who in turn shared it with someone, who shared it with someone else, who shared it with me–I am sitting here forgiven of all I have done and ever will do, with the deepest desire of my heart to simply be faithful to the One who has protected me.