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August 1, 2016, 12:00 AM

Running the Race


If you run races, the last thing you want to see in your stats are the letters “DNF”. That stands for “Did Not Finish”, and a lot of those indicate that someone doesn’t really have what it takes to run a 5K or a 10K or a marathon.

Why do people start races and not finish? Well, it could mean that there was an injury that made it impossible to finish. But sometimes people just quit. They get tired. Their resolve fails them, and they think, “This isn’t worth it.” Experienced runners know that those thoughts and feelings happen in every single race. So perhaps the most important part of being a successful long-distance athlete is learning to push past the inclination to quit.

One word that keeps popping up in the Bible is “perseverance”. The dictionary definition of perseverance is: “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success.” So, for athletes, the ability to persevere at training even when it’s difficult is incredibly important. How to keep going even when you keep losing—that is perseverance.

Allow me to switch metaphors for a moment. Think about sowing seeds. Preparing a garden and putting in seed is perhaps the most labor-intensive part of the work. Weeding and cultivating—waiting for the plants to bear fruit—can take many long months and is often accompanied by all sorts of unforeseen circumstances: drought, and hailstorms, and excessive heat. Perseverance is required of all good farmers and gardeners.

When Jesus spoke of sowing seeds, he was referencing the spreading of the good news—the gospel—of the Kingdom of God. And words, like seeds, are fragile things. There are lots of failures and difficulties in the work of ministry. And yet we keep sowing seeds anyway. We persevere.

The greatest danger in all ministry is coming to a place where we think, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth it to keep feeding people who stay hungry? Is it worth it to help people who sometimes act as if they don’t want help? Is it worth it to keep preaching to people who don’t really want to change their lives?

The only place I know to go when I feel like giving up the race is to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asked his three closest friends, Peter, James, and John, to stay and pray with him in his most desperate moment. Yet they repeatedly fell asleep. What must Jesus have felt?

Yet he persevered in his journey to the cross—out of pure love for God’s people.

Friends, in the middle of a heat wave, persevere in whatever tasks God has set before you. Sow seeds of good news, as the Psalm says, “beside every stream”. Keep going past discouragement and frustration and failure.

Because his race we are running—this effort to follow Jesus—is worth it. I believe that with all my heart.

See you in church!  We need you! ~Pastor Julia




July 11, 2016, 12:00 AM

Small moments


I was driving down Chestnut Street yesterday and passed a young man (well, younger than I!) who was holding a sign that read: “Honk if you love Jesus!”

He flashed me a big smile when I honked my horn. And my whole mood changed. How silly, to stand out in the hot July sun with a sign. How wonderful, to proclaim his love for the Lord. How amazing that his sign could make my heart sing!

Our whole lives are made up of small moments. Phone calls. Emails. A hug in the Fellowship Hall. Laughing with a small child. Running through the rain. Small moments which have the potential to change life.

Remember the mathematician in the first Jurassic Park movie? There was a discussion about “chaos theory”. This is the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in one place could, through a series of effects on different systems, create a hurricane halfway around the world (the butterfly effect). Well, this is a very simplistic view of chaos theory, but basically there is an idea that some systems are very sensitive to small changes. Take, for example, the construction we’re enduring on I-85. One motorist who makes one small mistake can cause a backup that extends all the way past Oxford. A long line with hundreds of people who are now late. And what could be the consequences of some of those late arrivals? And so on, and so on.

If our whole lives are made up of small moments, then any one of those moments could change everything. Small acts of kindness, small efforts to reach out to others—even the small and silly act of holding up a sign on Chestnut Street—can change someone’s life.

Sometimes we can begin to feel, especially in this crazy, out-of-control world, as if our lives don’t matter. That’s a depressing thought! But we have to trust that our small words and acts are changing lives.

Remember the times that a clerk in a store noticed that you were tired and upset and took some extra time—or a stranger noticed that you were lost and gave you directions? Remember when the person you least expected came and visited when you were in the hospital?

Years ago, I had some major spinal surgery at Durham Regional Hospital, and spent about a week in the hospital recovering. I was the assistant head nurse in the Emergency Room at the time. Oddly enough, there was this one doctor—an older surgeon who was universally considered to be a strange and difficult man—who came every day and sat beside my bed and told jokes and listened to me ramble on about nothing. I was amazed and grateful. It was just pure kindness. Every person who has been kind to me has been a part of my work in ministry.

Mother Teresa said, “Kind words are short and easy to speak, but their echoes are endless.” The prophet Isaiah said, “Blessed are they who sow beside every stream.” (Isaiah 32: 20). Every place we can sow a kind word, a listening ear, a visit to a hospital room—we just might change the world.

Perhaps you think this is frivolous, pie-in-the-sky talk after watching the news of events unfolding around the world this week. Violence is metastasizing in our nation like Stage 4 cancer. Perhaps you think this “kind words” stuff is insufficient to address the level of hatred we are seeing.

But small things can be transformational. Jesus himself described world-changing results from faith “as small as a mustard seed”. We all lead pretty small lives, really; I have to believe that my small impact has the potential for great significance.

So I encourage you to be on the lookout for opportunities to sow seeds of kindness and generosity wherever you go. And, at the same time, be aware of how small things are impacting your own soul. Step away from the web and the 24/7 Cable News and sit down with friends, or take a walk in the woods. Listen to the birds. Listen to your own heart.

Boris Pasternak wrote: “When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, it is often no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is very easy to miss it.”

Today, let us pray that great prayer, widely attributed to St. Francis:

             Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

             Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

             Where there is injury, pardon;

             Where there is doubt, faith;

             Where there is despair, hope;

             Where there is darkness, light;

             And where there is sadness, joy.

 

             O Divine Master,

             Grant that I may not so much seek

             To be consoled as to console;

             To be understood, as to understand;

             To be loved, as to love;

             For it is in giving that we receive,

             It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

             And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

             AMEN.

 

See you in church!  We need you! ~Pastor Julia

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