Sunday, June 29, 2014

Straight and Narrow...Not Kilimanjaro

My friend Carla gave me some back issues of Runner's World magazine to glean some knowledge from.  While many of the articles seem to speak to the professional runner instead of the average Joe (or the ultra-extreme novice paw-paw runner like me), many tidbits of knowledge were helpful, and the human interest stories were my favorite.

It wasn't all New Balance running shoes and kale though.  One of the most disturbing articles I read was by Charlie Engle in the May 2011 issue (read the complete article here).  Engle chronicles a trail marathon series called the Barkley.  He describes it as "Brutal, terrifying, inhuman[e] (sic).  The organizers...don't care what you call the toughest trail-running competition in the world, as long as you don't finish it."

The course is a little over 100 miles, divided into 5 loops of approximately 20 miles (depending on whether the participant can stay on course), each of which must be completed in a 12 hour period.  Whichever way a runner chooses to run his first loop, he must run the next in the opposite direction and switch directions until the run is completed.  The race course is full of steep inclines, treacherous descents, unpredictable weather, no clear course markings, and no guides or provisions, save a jug or two of water somewhere on the course, if the runners can find them.  It's marathons, marine boot camp, mud runs, obstacle courses, Survivor, and Shark Week all rolled into one.
Out of the hundreds of runners who've attempted this mayhem, at the time of the article, only nine had finished.  The author was not one of them.  Extreme fatigue and hyperthermia set in, and he dropped out after only completing two loops of the course.

As horrible as this is, and the fact that people actually sign up for this torture on purpose, it's much more sinister than that.  The selection process for this race has the complexity of trying to sign up for Obamacare (yes, I said it).  If a runner is selected for this very excusive race, this is the e-mail they receive:
Our heartfelt condolences on your recent selection into the Barkley Marathon field for 20--.  Even though the odds were all in your favor, with six applicants for every slot, in any drawing someone must lose.  This time, it was you.  Should you come up with any plausible excuse to avoid the painful failure that is the Barkley, please let us know as soon as possible.  As incredible as it might seem, those other five people still want your slot.  Otherwise, there is a very bad thing waiting for you.
At the beginning of the race, the coordinator lets each runner know that he expects them not to finish, and actually celebrates when they fail.  With sadistic giddiness, he actually plays Taps on a bugle to let the other participants know that the trail has clamed another victim. If someone does have the audacity to finish, he's disappointed that he didn't make the course hard enough.

Now comes the commentary...

I've not been running very long, but I don't care if I've been running 50 years, I wouldn't run that thing if you paid me $1,000,000.00--I'd spend it all in the emergency room.  So, what has this to do with my journey?

Like many Christ followers, I've said that if people really saw the true Jesus and how much He loves them, no one would turn away from Him; they couldn't help but love Him.  Just like my dissertation on marriage, maybe the problem isn't in the reception, but in how the Gospel is presented.
  • Is God presented as a sadistic ogre, just chomping at the bits waiting to pounce on failure?  Or, is He presented as the Father who is jealous for us; who continues to warn us, draw us, love us, and take care of us (Romans 2:4)?
  • Is the pathway to Heaven presented as a the straight and narrow path with clear instructions from the Word on how to navigate it (Psalm 119:105).  Or, is it preached as a path like the Berkley; no clear direction, no help, no provision, no nothing?
  • If someone has the audacity to actually come to Christ, do we let them know that they are not alone and now set in a new family (Psalm 68:6)? Or, do we turn away in jealously and like Prince and tell them "in this life, you're on your own."?
  • Do we make the path to salvation harder with our own personal list of do's and don'ts, or do we set up clear path markers of the ease of salvation and walking with Christ?  No, being a disciple of Christ isn't easy, but the Lord Himself puts an anointing of ease on those who want to obey Him (Matthew 11:29-30).
Unfortunately, this problem is not just with those who don't yet know Christ.  Many Old Testament ideas get brought into the New Testament church and we end up with a passel of Christians with no joy, who think God is mad and only pleased when they fulfill and impossible list of rules and church activities.

I am in the throws of a paradigm shift.  I've been a Jesus freak for 28 years, and I'm just now getting a small taste into the ease of obedience and the freedom of walking with Christ.  It's a tough shift to make.  Most days I feel like the Barkley runners--preprogramed to fail and having to overcome tremendous opposition to even hope to succeed.  God didn't do that; control freaks who try to mix God's grace and the Old Testament law together did that. I don't blame them for my choices.  They gave me the recipe, it was my choice whether to mix the ingredients, cook it up, and gobble it up or not.

The good news is that there is hope.  The truth of the Gospel is right there in every page of the Bible.  Like Kenneth Copeland says, "The Bible is easy to understand.  It takes a highly paid theologian to mess it up."  True that!

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.
Psalm 119:105 - New Living Translation

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