Each year, I like to think of a verse that will capture and define my life for the next 365 days. Last year, after preaching through Jeremiah, I knew the verse God was setting before me: “If you have raced with runners and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5)
Here was a man’s man—overwhelmingly God’s man, summoned to be a prophet, called to shatter and form worlds by his speech and warn those disinterested in God of the hazardous consequences. But somehow, maybe it was the strain and demand of prophetic duty, Jeremiah began to despair, began to be pulled down by the currents, by an unresponsive nation.
In the midst of this, God did not apologize nor explain Himself. He did just what Jeremiah needed—what I have found I have often needed most. God emboldened Jeremiah to live at another level. I hear Him saying to Jeremiah—if you can’t make it at this level, how can I expect you to run at the next level I have called you to? If you can’t make it at self-level, how will you will at God-level? Stand your ground. Stretch for the next race. Live maximally rather than minimally; intentionally rather than aimlessly; authentically rather than vicariously; courageously rather than cautiously. Live as a victor rather than a victim. If you are fatigued by this run of the mill crowd of apathetic mediocrities—what will you do when the real race starts—the race with the swift and determined horses of excellence?
There were moments in 2013, like every other year, where there have been the pull of disappointments (the rejection of a grant that would have provided for pastoral renewal after 30 years of ministry); the fears (a brief hospitalization in the Spring when the signs indicated pancreatic cancer); the weight (of leading a church through a capital campaign); and numerous other small setbacks, frustrations, letdowns—where puzzlement began to give way to frustration, to disappointment and anger.
In many of those moments, this verse carried me through. Behind these words I could hear God saying—MAN UP! If you can’t handle JV, what makes you think you can run varsity? If you can’t handle domestic, how will you survive international? If you are slack in the day of distress, your strength is limited (Pro 24:10). As I noted in a sermon, this is God asking—“I have bred you to run at the level of My will, My purposes—will you?”
And now it is another year, and another verse—John 20:21: “As The Father has sent Me, I also send you.” As I will say to the church this weekend, we live in serious times. In a December WSJ article, “America the Vulgar”[i], Lee Siegel asks: “How do you shock people who have seen and heard everything?” The living room has become a locker room. Among the thousands of new laws taking effect in 2014, recreational marijuana is now legal. In my beloved California, transgender students can now use restrooms according to the gender they identify with. And in this year’s Tournament of Roses parade, its theme “Dreams Come True” was celebrated as a gay couple wed during the parade on a giant wedding cake float.
Only a life, a church that is focused, intentional—in the case of 20:21—MISSIONAL—is there hope of influence and impact. My guess is I will run to it often to become recentered.
[i] “America the Vulgar”, Lee Siegel, WSJ, Dec 7-8, 2013