Running Without Legs

hunterwoodhall

This is based on a sermon I delivered at the South Boone Church of Christ a few years ago. Image of Hunter Woodhall of Team USA 2016.

On January 2, 2008, one of my favorite tech bloggers posted this short anecdote:

On the final day of a trip to Disney World with my family last month, I saw something remarkable: a boy, 4 or 5 years old, with two artificial legs, running around Mickey’s Toontown Fair in the Magic Kingdom. Running. If he had been wearing pants instead of shorts, you’d have simply thought he had a bit of a limp.

He was born without legs, but yet there he was, galloping across the playground on a warm, sunny December morning, every bit as happy, excited, and carefree as every little kid in the world ought to be.

His legs — sleek, lightweight, and impressively dextrous — were inspiring and beautiful. And they were made using technology that simply did not exist when I was his age, one generation ago. Focus solely on current events and it’s all too easy to despair at the state of the world. But science and progress march ever forward, and the world is a better place today than it used to be.

This post caught my attention for several reasons – not the least for shaking my perspectives about this world we live in, for contradicting that, “What is the world coming to?” voice. I really think that sometimes we have grown very fixated on negative things to the detriment of our spiritual lives. Hopeless and pessimistic attitudes can impair our spiritual walking in a way this child’s disability fails to impede him.

Recognizing Our Obstacles

We often go to Ephesians 5 to discuss our Christian walk, and in verse 2, Paul instructs us to walk in love. If we skip to verse 5, he encourages us to walk as in the light, and the apostle concludes in verse 15 that we should walk with wisdom. Love, light, and wisdom should guide our lives. In other words, we should be able to:

  • Clearly see what matters. This is light.
  • Make good choices based on what we see. This is wisdom.
  • Allow compassion for others and for God motivates every step we take. This is love.

Worldly Cares

Unfortunately, there is much around us to tear us away from this walk if we allow it to consume our energy and attention, leaving us sitting along the side rather than progressing toward our goal. We can grow discouraged at crime rate statistics, at political figures, at business decisions, at stock market trends, at individuals or groups who somehow offend our sensibilities.

We argue these issues over the dinner table. We complain about them around the water cooler. We blog about them. We yell at the TV about them, and, in so doing, we are sitting down and giving up. We are forgetting how to walk. We are failing Christ. We are failing our brothers and sisters. We are failing those toward whom we should be examples – and over what? Over things that are temporary and insignificant in the bigger picture.

Matthew 6:19-21 reminds us that the things of this world are temporary and warns us about letting them take hold in our hearts. Also, I John 2:15-17 warns us against loving the things of this world, which are transient and will pass away. Often, we apply these passages to outward temptations and covetousness, but we fail to apply these at a deeper level.

When I argue with and berate you because my politics don’t agree with yours, am I not putting worldly cares first? When I mope and complain about taxes or bills, am I not allowing money to rule my life? In these cases, I have stopped walking that Christian walk of light, wisdom, and love, and I have allowed myself to become helpless along the side of the road.

Back in Matthew 6:31-34, Jesus concludes that we should not be overly concerned with the petty details of this life, relying on God for what really matters, and Paul, in Philippians 4:8 reminds us to concentrate mainly on those things that are virtuous and encouraging.

Helplessness

Additionally, I can permit my own sense of helplessness disable my journey. After all, I am apparently powerless against sin (Romans 3:23). I cannot earn my salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). I deserve death (Romans 6:23), and every sin I commit reinforces the torture Christ went through millennia ago (Hebrews 6:6). I may feel myself a hopeless case. I am expected to walk the narrow path. I am expected to walk in light, love, and wisdom. Yet I find I have no legs to stand on.

James 4:10 tells us that we should humble ourselves before God, and He will lift us up. I Peter 5:6 reiterates this sentiment, encouraging us to cast all worries and doubts upon Him who cares for us. In every passage that recounts our helplessness before God, his grace and mercy is described as negating those obstacles between us and Him.

The imagery of God’s hand is replete throughout the Old Testament, and the prophet Isaiah encourages God’s people with the news that His hand is able to save them from their helpless state if they would but take it in Isaiah 59:1 . We may be unable to walk on our own.

We may be unable to make the Christian journey on our own legs, but remember Jesus in Mark 2 when helping a paralyzed man. He asks the scribes around Him which was more difficult, to make him walk or to forgive his sins. With this man, Jesus does both, and today He gives us the ability to walk with Him because of the forgiveness He offers.

Running Toward the Goal

The child at Disney World was not content to walk, though. Even on his artificial legs, he wanted to run, and he ran so well, he could have fooled those around him had it not been for the shorts he was wearing. Likewise, I Corinthians 9:24 encourages us to run to obtain the crown. Hebrews 12:1-2 encourages us to run with endurance toward Christ, but to do so we have to be willing to lay aside anything that burdens us.

I personally like the account in John 20, when Mary Magdalene tells Peter and John of the empty tomb, and both race to see it for themselves. John makes it first, but Peter runs right past him and into the tomb itself. For all intents and purposes, these two should have been strangers to each other by now — the disciple possibly closest to Christ and the one who verbally denied Him. Still, they set aside their differences, and they ran toward Christ. We can do likewise. Though we have no legs of our own, through Christ we can run.

I’m Just a Passing Through

mountain-path

Is it possible we’ve grown overly comfortable with this world? I saw a preacher I love and respect talking about how he simply doesn’t feel welcome in America anymore. I understand where he was coming from, and I sympathize with his feelings. I do not criticize him for the statement; it was just an impetus that got me thinking. Are we supposed to feel welcome in this world? How welcome did Christ and His apostles feel in their home country, and did it affect their mission or relationship with God?

An Unwelcome Savior

In Matthew 8:18, a scribe approaches Jesus and says he will follow Jesus wherever He goes. Jesus responds to this by saying, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” In other words, I might be willing to follow Jesus, but am I willing to be an outcast for doing so? Just look at how Jesus’ own hometown receives Him in Matthew 13:54 – 58. The reception is so unwelcome that Jesus goes away without performing a single miracle.

Consider also Hebrews 11:13 – 16:

These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

I Can’t Feel At Home…

When I was growing up in the church, we would sometimes sing a song that went like this:

This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door.
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

O Lord, you know I have no friend like you.
If Heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door.
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

We would sing that, but living it is another matter. Think about going to visit another country. What would you do while you were visiting? Would you spend your whole time trying to make your hotel room suit your needs exactly? How involved would you become in local controversies? Would you even be aware of them? Would you convert every cent of your savings into the local currency? Probably not. Instead, you’d have an itinerary to follow, and, if the hotel sheets are the wrong shade of periwinkle or the local cuisine doesn’t sit well with you, oh well. It’s not like you’re going to live there.

Looking Toward Home

Additionally, those things that can make you feel a bit uncomfortable in another country — driving on the other side of the road, unfamiliar foods, different languages, currency conversions — make you long for home all the more. Again, we might sing, “I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” Those things that make this world uncomfortable and even unwelcoming should, instead of distract us into focusing more on this world, set our eyes above to our true home. They should make us long for our home where God is our light.

We have an itinerary in this world to do God’s work, to live like Christ, and to seek out lost souls to share His hope with. This world is a layover before eternity. It’s a temporary residence. It’s not our home. It’s nice to feel welcome, but it’s not necessary. Wherever we are and whatever the climate is toward our Christian faith, our hope and our work remain the same. Our relationship with God through Christ stays the same.

September Twelfth Christianity

APTOPIX Sept 11 Anniversary

How we respond to tragedy often speaks to who we really are. On September 12, 2001, I and many others saw some of the greatest outpourings of love and support toward all of those affected by the tragedies of the previous day.  Some call September 11 “America’s Darkest Day”, but the days and weeks to follow were some of our brightest in terms of charity, in kindness, and in helpfulness.  Prayer gatherings, migrations to New York City to help in any way, financial giving, even things as small as flowers and notes left as close to ground zero as could be placed – things like these fill my memories of the aftermath. We all wanted to do something to help and were actively looking for opportunities. When we should have felt our most helpless, we became not only helpful, but we became hopeful as well.

Romans 12:12 says, “Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer”  in the context of living sacrificially, of loving good and rejecting evil, of being fervent servants of God. In many ways, this is who we were on September 12. While some focused on those who committed the acts of violence, the energy of our nation was being poured into spreading hope, devoting ourselves to prayer, and standing strong in the face of hopelessness. We saw many acts of nobility and self-sacrifice. We saw generosity and love for our fellow man. We saw resolution and strength.

September 11 was a dark day, but many faced September 12 as stronger and more deeply spiritual people. Let’s remember that.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

I Peter 1:6-7

When things seem darkest, that’s when our hope should shine the brightest. When things seem at their worst, we should be at our best. September 11 was a terrible day, but suffering is continuous. There are souls in need of your love and compassion right now. There are people who need your hope and your help; you just have to feel compelled to share it. Remember who you were on September 12, and recapture that. Stand your ground against the hopelessness and despair so easily found in this world, and be a beacon of light and hope to those around you. Devote yourself to prayer, and be happy in your hope, always looking for reasons and opportunities to share that hope with others.

18,000 Light Years

I once heard an astronomer explain that we can’t help but live in the past – in a very literal sense. Every point of light we see in the sky happened in the past. If we are looking at a star that’s 18,000 light years away, then we are looking at light that began to travel from its point of origin 18,000 years ago. If we were closer to the star, it might look different. It might not even exist at all anymore, but we won’t know about any of those changes for 18,000 years.

All light takes time to travel. Even when you look up at the sun, what you see is what the sun looked like eight minutes ago. Even my talking to you is happening in the past. You are hearing and seeing everything I do after I do it. Nothing is truly simultaneous. We perceive nothing instantaneously. Even if the delay is imperceptible to our senses – for we have thoroughly adapted to the lag in which we live – it still exists. Every piece of stimuli in our environment has happened in the past, so we can’t help but live in the past.

Unfortunately, we probably spend too much time living in the past emotionally and spiritually. We still react to mistakes, stumbles, frustrations, and obstacles that should now be light years behind us are still clearly in our sights. Imagine if Paul had dwelled on the past. How crippled would he have been as a servant of Christ? Here was someone who had fought against Christianity, who had helped torture and kill Christians, who took pride in the harm he would inflict on Christians.

Here was his approach, though, in I Timothy 1:12-17:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever.

Paul makes some similar statements in Philippians 3:7-11:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Paul recognized his past. He recognized how he got to where he was, but he didn’t live there. His past could not be escaped, but he put it light years behind him so he could focus on the future. It should be the same for every one of us. We all have our own baggage, our own issues, our own histories. But those pasts are not what define us any more than the reality of a star 18,000 light years away is governed by what we see from our perspective here on Earth.

Instead, we should be reaching for a future ahead of us, a hope that nothing else can offer us. That future should be our reality. It should be what defines us, and that should be what motivates us every day.

Al Tirah

The text in this post is very similar to a post I wrote November 1, 2010. I recently revised it and presented it as a sermon at the congregation I attend. I present the lesson here in its entirety, along with the text I lifted from my previous post. Original lesson inspired by and Fear Monsters from altirausa.com.

What can separate us from our relationship with God? Immediately, most Christians would say, “Nothing,” and go on to cite passages like Romans 8:35-39, where Paul addresses persecuted Christians thusly:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We quote this. We’ll testify that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God, but do we really believe that? Do our lives – our attitudes and our conduct – betray otherwise? Does our fear of the things in this world lead us to act like we actually are concerned that those things Paul writes about really could separate us from God’s love?

 

We look around, and we see several things to fear – some are worthy while others are things we are taught and conditioned to fear by those who seek to benefit from our fears. We’re taught to fear the scary secular progressives who supposedly want to take our right to worship away. We’re taught to fear the scary Muslims who supposedly want to kill us all. We’re taught to fear scary authority figures who supposedly want to take all of our money. We’re taught to fear the scary New World Order that’s supposed to do…something scary. We’re taught to fear the scary immigrants who are supposedly up to something equally as scary. All of this is exacerbated by a fear-driven media we hungrily consume while forgetting the peace we should have in Christ. For, if we live in fear, we have no hope; we have no peace.

Fear in God’s Word

God repeatedly calls upon His people to “Al Tirah” several times in the Old Testament. That is, to “Fear not.” He does this over a hundred times. Some examples of God or one of His messengers telling His people not to fear include Genesis 15:1, Genesis 26:24, Genesis 50:19, Exodus 20:20, Deuteronomy 1:21, Deuteronomy 31:6, Joshua 8:1, Judges 6:10, I Samuel 12:20, Isaiah 41:13-14, and Daniel 10:12. The list could go on and on. As consistent as the message to “Be holy as I am holy” is this theme of God’s people trusting in Him and avoiding submission to base fears.

Fast forward to the New Testament, and we see Jesus and His disciples playing a similar tune about fear.

  • In Luke 12:4, Jesus says: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.”
  • Luke 12:32: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
  • Paul, in Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”
  • II Timothy 1:7: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
  • Hebrews 13:6: “So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”
  • I Peter 3:14: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled.”
  • I John 4:18: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
  • Revelation 2:10, regarding coming persecutions: “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

Defined By Fear or Faith?

Again, this list could go on. This is not to say we will never experience fear. Even Paul admits to being afraid at times in II Corinthians 7:5. Rather, this is about what defines us. Despite his fears, Paul still lived a Christian life. He still spread the word. He did not let fear define his attitudes, actions, and outlooks. When we succumb to the fear-mongering marketed by cable news networks, by talk radio jocks, by political figures, then we are allowing un-Christlike influences into our hearts and minds. We become centered around secular concerns, and we begin behaving like Christ never took us from this world at all.

What are we allowing ourselves to be frightened by anyway? Revocation of our freedom of religion? How could we possibly have it worse than those First Century Christians? Last I checked, I haven’t been too worried about being used as a human torch or as lion food. If they could persevere under such religious persecution, surely we could do no worse if we are truly dedicated to God. Do we fear those who can take our money? Since when do Christians care about their treasures on Earth? Money can’t buy salvation. Do we fear those who may kill us? Again, Jesus said not to, for they can’t claim our souls. In the vast majority of cases, what we are taught to fear centers purely around our comforts and conveniences. We fear that being a Christian might one day be truly difficult. That true spiritual living is hard is the point of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 10:34-39.

Put even more simply, if Christ could face the cross, we can face anything this life throws at us. We don’t have to let fear rule us.

A Personal Addendum

Now I’ve been criticized of being “naive,” “shallow,” “short-sighted,” “stupid,” “ignorant,” and a bunch of other things that basically amount to, “You contradict my favorite talking head,” because of this view. The argument usually descends to something like this: “Well, your mom had cancer, so you should know better than to discount small things that can lead to greater disasters,” or something like that. First, leave my mom out of this. Second, I HAD CANCER TOO, so, you know, you could go there. It would make more sense. It wouldn’t sway me (because such arguments are complete non sequiturs), but it would still almost be more compelling…if it wasn’t so non-compelling.

Cancer may have threatened my life, but it could not threaten my soul. It may have inexorably separated me from an internal organ, but it could not separate me from Christ. It may have made me physically weak, but it could not touch my strength in the Lord. Cancer may have reinforced my mortality, but it could not steal my immortality. Yes, it was difficult at the time, but my refuge in God was stronger. Likewise, no terrorist, political ideology, financial burden, or outside threat can take our hope in Christ. When we let those things insinuate themselves into our being we cease living as those with a hope in Christ, and we become no better than those who refused to enter the Promised Land in Numbers 13 because the inhabitants were big and scary.

Conclusion

We sometimes sing that our God is “Mighty to Save.” Do we really believe He is mighty and can protect us in the refuge of His love? We might be afraid at times, but, if we truly believe in His power and love, if we do truly believe He is mighty to save, we do not have to live in fear.

When news of wars and terrorism assail us, Al Tirah – fear not.

When natural disasters strike, Al Tirah – fear not.

When disease threatens our health and our families, Al Tirah – fear not.

When crime and violence touch our neighborhoods, Al Tirah – fear not.

When markets tumble, and banks collapse, Al Tirah – fear not.

When society seems destabilized and our lives seem chaotic, Al Tirah – fear not.

When our bank balances are low and the pantries are bare, Al Tirah – fear not.

When godlessness and immorality prevail in every corner, Al Tirah – fear not.

With that in our minds, let’s end where we began this lesson:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:37-39

Our Spiritual Goals

What impression do you make upon others? Much of it is based on what you believe of yourself. Are you encouraging or discouraging? Friendly or unfriendly? This is critical not only to who we are, but to our identity as a family in Christ. I Peter 3:15 tells us to, “regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” Who do we want to be? What kind of person do we want others to see?

In building our spiritual character, Ephesians 4:14 calls us to abandon childish frivolity and uncertainty, so we can be certain of our place with God. Salvation is not random. We have to work toward it as certainly as we must work toward any other goal we have. Have we made planning for our next home a mission in our lives?

Goals in God’s Word

Joshua 24:15 records Joshua firmly stating, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua’s mission was to lead his family and his people in the ways of our Lord, and verse 31 shows how influential that decision was – both his generation and the next followed his example in staying faithful to God. Joshua’s goals and his character centered around one focus, and his impact on the world around him was significant.

Psalm 16:7-8 records David praising God, saying, “bless the LORD who gives me council; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.” Chapter 18:22-23 then records David speaking of God’s word as always before him, determined to stay innocent in God’s eyes. Even when he failed to do so, we see the humility and eagerness he returned to God.

II Kings 22:1-2 describe king Josiah as one who walked in the ways of his forefather David, never turning to the left or the right. This was possible both because of Josiah’s resolute goal and because of the example he had to build upon because of David. Our character influences our own spiritual lives as well as others.

Our Own Goals

Jeremiah 6:16 calls on us to seek God’s paths and God’s ways, and II Peter 1:3-4 tells us we have all we need for our souls in His word and that we should strive to partake of His divine nature. We need specific goals in following Him. We need to be relying on Him and helping others grow closer to Him. We should be reviewing our goals and our mission daily so we never lose sight of that for which we are working.

Remember Jesus praying in the garden, declaring that it not be His own will that is done, but the will of the Father. Our goal should be the same. II Corinthians 13:5-6 challenges us to test ourselves, to examine ourselves, to see if we are truly living by faith and to assure ourselves that Christ lives in us. Our mission statements should be focused on and centered around God. We must determine to be the person we know we should be, knowing our own challenges and obstacles so we can face them in the confidence of God’s word. Through this confidence, we can resolutely press after God, keeping that Heavenly home forever in our sight.

lesson by Mike Mahoney