Olympics Overload?

O Rings SmallBy the time you read this, the Olympics will be over by several hours. After almost two weeks of absolutely breathtaking scenery and physical prowess, and some not-so-breathtaking reporting, I’m on Olympics overload.

I wonder how the participants are feeling? While some will be ready to take a break from the intensity of their sport, looking forward to their own beds, soaking away those aching muscles in hot tubs, a few will experience an emotional letdown after all the preparation and participation. Almost all are already looking forward to the next competition.

Frequently words read or ideas discussed rattle around in my head until before I know it, a biblical (or vaguely spiritual!) connection surfaces. This about the Olympics:  Let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith… Don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God… We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over… (All from The Message paraphrase of the New Testament.)

It’s easy to experience “Christian service” overload. We serve and no one notices (we’re so far from the podium that our names don’t register on the scoreboard). We work and the announced goals remain unmet (all that practice endured, all that money spent and we fall on our faces before reaching the finish line). We’re told that our service is no longer wanted (only the top three board the plane for Sochi). We don’t agree with the leadership (“It’s all my coach’s fault.”) My needs aren’t being met (too much yogurt in the cafeteria).

How do the athletes keep going? While there is personal pride, commitment to the sport and—in some cases—monetary gain, interviews indicate that these well-trained men and women have their eyes on the gold. While some are grateful for the silver or bronze, almost all say they strive for that ultimate prize, the gold medal.

It’s not any different in our lives although a gold medal is much too low a prize. The Apostle Paul said, “I want to know (intimately experience) Christ…I press on toward the goal.” Another writer recorded, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…”

In my life, service overload happens when my eyes get “fixed” on something—or someone—other than Jesus. When I focus on Him—how He lived His life, how He empowers mine, how He related to the people and circumstances that frequently disappointed Him—it’s so much easier to keep on keeping on.

THE Olympics are over. OUR Olympics never end.

Abide or Visit?

AbideThe word abide has become so religiously common that we are tempted to ignore its essence: to stay in a given place, state, relationship; to continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, tarry… Recently when I approached the rocking chair that has become my morning meeting place with God, I glanced at the clock. “How much time do I have before leaving for that appointment?” DID I REALLY SAY THAT??? Do I regularly look at this morning time with God as a mere visit? Am I so ruled by clock and calendar that the words stay, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, tarry are not even considered?

Jesus’ commands to abide in Him, to have His words abide in us are wrought with meaning that goes far beyond my morning time with Him. And yet… Is not that daily time an indication of my entire life with Him? Too often that time is ruled not only by the clock, but by habit that has been anything but “spiritual.” I follow the rules: read the next chapter in the Bible, scan the day’s devotional, go through my prayer list, ask God to bless my day and AMEN.

Two of Jesus’ heavy-hearted disciples were emotionally exhausted from the events of recent days. Their precious Jesus had been beaten, mocked, crucified and buried. They had heard the amazing reports from companions who had seen the empty tomb as well as the story from the women “who told us that they seen a vision of angels,” but it was just too much to believe. Their world with all its hopes and dreams had disintegrated.

And then Jesus—flesh and blood Jesus—appears to them and tells them “the rest of the story.” They want to hear more and so they invite Him for a meal. They “urge him strongly.”  “Stay with us… So He went in to stay with them.” There’s that word: stay, remain, abide. Clocks as we know them weren’t on their tables, but I’m firmly convinced they didn’t look impatiently at shadows on the sundial or grains of sand  trickling in the hourglass during the meal with Jesus. I’m sure they begged him to stay—remain, abide, tarry—even longer. After He left, they were so excited that they tossed their Emmaus travel plan, returned to Jerusalem and shouted, “It’s true! The Lord has risen!!”

When was the last time you tarried with Jesus? Not speaking, not reading. No lists, no books. No clocks or calendars. Just present with Him. Try it for five minutes. Tell Him you want to abide, not visit. Just this once.

Walking with Jesus

LabyrinthWalking with Jesus

It has been an unusually hectic few weeks filled with people, events, a crisis or two and…LIFE! Not only was my body weary, but that core called the soul was crying out for tender, loving care that we know only God’s Spirit can provide.

And so I took a few hours away from all that was everyday familiar to drive up to the peaceful Mount St. Francis Catholic retreat center in the hills northwest of our city. I’d been to meetings in their buildings and enjoyed walking the green lawns, sharing space with singing birds and totally disinterested deer, from wobbly fawns to bold and brash bucks.

On this visit I noticed a path behind the conference buildings and walked up a gradual slope to a spot where a small waterfall gurgled into a lily pad-covered pond.  There I sat on one of the stone benches, feeling the afternoon sun gradually relaxing my tense and tired body, feeling the breeze, listening to the water and peering into the cloudless sky.

Eventually I glanced farther up the hill and saw something that caught my attention—irregularly sized small rocks laid out in a circular pattern 10-15’ in diameter.

I walked up the hill and discovered the rocks placed in the form of a labyrinth.  In cathedrals around the world, a labyrinth design is often laid into the floor. These paths have been part of  Christian worship for thousands of years. Beginning in the 11th century, labyrinths were used to symbolically represent pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

Today, labyrinths are for reflection, meditation, prayer and comfort. Although I had knowledge of labyrinths and remember seeing them in European cathedrals, I had no personal experience with one, and even wondered at their value. (Incidentally, labyrinths are not mazes—mazes have dead ends, labyrinths have a beginning and an end.)

Curious, I stepped into the labyrinth and began walking the paths.  When I finally stopped wondering how long this was going to take, would someone see me if I skipped over some of the rocks to make the journey shorter, and was this just an activity for people more “spiritual” than myself, I found my mind and heart quieting.

I began to think that labyrinths are a lot like the Christian life:

  1. The path is narrow and I’m alone. While community is necessary for disciplined spiritual growth, we also need to consistently walk alone with Jesus.
  2. It’s easy to slip on the loose gravel. It’s the little things in life that distract me from abiding in Christ.
  3. It seems to go on forever! Just when I think I’ve conquered one of life’s challenges, another rises up before me.
  4. Wasn’t I just going in this direction? I’m sure I’ve passed this way, but the path circles back. Will I never get to the center? And what will I do when I get there? Just sit on the boulder? Why? The questions in my life with God seem never ending.
  5. Who in the world laid out this path?? For that question, I knew the answer!

An interesting thing happened as I walked. The questions faded and I began to sense that Jesus was walking with me. Not beside, but before, behind and in me.

I finally did get to the center, sat as comfortably as possible on one of the boulders and enjoyed the quiet that had entered my soul. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words came to mind: Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)


I suspect the labyrinth will become a regular part of my worship.

She Did What She Could*

The prophesied end is near. The ragtag group around Jesus can now smell it in the air. In recent days—even while Jesus taught profound truth—His followers sensed that the horrors He warned about would soon happen.

The mood at dinner in Bethany had been subdued, but the atmosphere was suddenly disturbed by the entrance of a woman. Whispered conversations abruptly end when Mary enters the room, not as a servant but in the starring role. This sister of Martha had always been the more contemplative sibling, preferring to stay in the background, but now she takes center stage, breaking open an alabaster vial, pouring its priceless contents on the One she adores.

You know the story. Jesus’ followers, influenced by increasingly angry Judas, are outraged. Some of those present were saying indignantly, “Why this waste of money?” In the middle of Jesus’ defense of Mary we read, She did what she could.

Mary couldn’t stop Judas’ betrayal or the venomous accusations of religious authorities or the cruelty of a Roman court. She simply “did what she could.” Spoken by one offering something to God, these words can be uttered with a whine: “Don’t expect too much of me.” “I’m not valuable enough to do anything important.” “Don’t you see I’m busy?” Or with a firm, quiet voice of total commitment in spite of others’ indignation or misunderstanding: “I’m holding nothing back, it’s all for you, Jesus.”

Mary didn’t know all the terrors of the coming days. Perhaps she was one of those women standing near the cross, maybe she ran the two miles back to Bethany to weep in private. But her story is heard even today as Jesus promised: wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered and discussed (Mark 14:9

I wonder what would happen if I consistently, quietly and without fanfare did what I could? No excuses. No whining. In place of self-interest, total commitment. “I’m holding nothing back, it’s all for you, Jesus.”


*Mark 14:8