Out running a few weeks ago, I heard this song by Rich Mullins. Although I had known it for years, the power of the words had never hit me until that day.
Tomorrow morning, just under twenty-four hours from right now, I’ll be crossing the starting line of the Rock the Parkway Half Marathon, my second race at that distance. A year ago, when I ran Hospital Hill, I basically just wanted to finish respectably. This year, I will feel that I have dropped the ball–or perhaps the baton–if I don’t break two hours. Succeed or fail, I’ll report here tomorrow.
On my longest training run, thirteen days ago, I did something I rarely do when running outside. I listened to music. Rich Mullins, a favorite of mine for many years, sang a song that I’d never really thought about.
The lyrics struck me powerfully enough as I made my way through my last couple of miles that I replayed the track. Here’s the chorus of “Let Mercy Lead.”
Let mercy lead
Let love be the strength in your legs
And in every footprint that you leave
There’ll be a drop of grace
Is there a better lyric for a Christian runner? My prayer for tomorrow and for my every endeavor is that the strength in my legs is not my strength and that the legacy of my footprints is not simply my work.
Should the first verse and chorus of that song not hook you, the second verse surely will:
You’ll run the race
That takes us way beyond
All our trials and all our failures
And all the good we dream of
But you can’t see yet where it is you’re heading
But one day you’ll see the face of love
I know where my 13.1 miles will end tomorrow, hopefully somewhere before 9:30 am, but I do not know the destination of the truly important race I am running. That doesn’t matter. Tomorrow’s race is more of a ritual, an outward symbol of an inward struggle. I can run as far and as fast as I need to when I’m sharing the road with someone who authored the mercy that will lead and the love that will strengthen me.
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters Gods rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9-10)
This morning, I journeyed with my son to my brother’s house. Wayne had dropped a couple of large trees that posed a threat to his house. His loss of foliage was my gain of firewood. Tom and I spend about four hours cutting, loading, driving, and unloading the wood–three loads of wood.
I’m thrilled to see a large pile of soon-to-be split-and-stacked wood appear outside my woodshed. Each winter begins with a sprawling pile of firewood, a supply sure to last throughout the cold months. That pile dwindles far more quickly than I would wish to see. As the available splits disappear into ash and smoke, my chainsaw springs into action. I fight a rear-guard action, hoping that the wood will last until spring.
I’m typically a calm person, but I have to admit that I experience some stress as the woodpile disappears. Will the fire give out before winter does? Will I need to call the propane company, surrendering lots of money and my sense of self-sufficiency? Will I have to wade through knee-deep drifts of snow to bring new fuel to the house? Only when late March rolls around am I able to draw a deep breath and relax. Of course the stress kicks in again shortly thereafter as the days roll past toward the next winter. It never ends.
I suppose that’s why I can rejoice at the promise of God’s rest. Just as surely as I labor endlessly to keep my house heated, I could labor endlessly to keep my slate of good-versus-bad in the positive column, blotting out every sin with a counterweighing good deed. I could try that and fail. The work would never end. I’d watch whatever store of positive fuel I had accumulated slowly diminished. But I don’t have to do that. Thank you, Lord.
God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:4)
Today, I got home from hauling my fourth load of water for the day. All the way on that last trip, I’d been hearing odd sounds, sounds that worried me and made me wonder if my 1996 Dodge Ram was about to give up on me. Returning to the hill, I hooked onto the hose and started the water flowing to the cistern. At that point, I glanced back to the truck and thought fondly of it. Then I noticed something rather alarming.
My front left wheel was missing three lugnuts. The remaining five looked as if they were holding on with their last turn of threading. In short, my wheel had nearly fallen off as I drove through Oak Grove with 3,500 pounds of water in the bed. Immediately I realized that somebody–me, of course–had neglected to tighten the lugs after mounting the spare last week.
I mention this today because my wheel did not fall off. I mention it because I’m convinced that my loving God protected me from my own stupidity and carelessness. Yes, I’ll have to fuss with replacing the bolts, which had their threads nearly chewed off, but that’s immensely preferable to grinding to a halt on Broadway as my wheel rolls off to its own private destiny.
Every day, God testifies to that great salvation we have through Jesus Christ by little acts of grace punctuated by occasional big acts of grace. I’m convinced that we never know exactly how many things God arranges in our lives to shield us from harm and steer us toward blessings. While we might grumble that God doesn’t shower us with hundred-dollar bills, He does many things, some of which utterly escape our attention.
My skeptical friends would simply dismiss my precarious truck wheel as good luck. Had I driven another five miles, they’ll suggest, I’d have come to a rough stop. Perhaps, but my God knew where I lived. He knew how much vibration those lugs could endure. He knew me–and more to the point loves me.
For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment (Hebrews 2:2)
I have taught English composition for almost my entire adult life. Doing so, one encounters a vast range of people with a vast range of ability and desire to do the work. Some of them complain that they don’t get to write about whatever they want. (Because professional life allows us to do whatever work we want to do, of course.) Some think it unreasonable that they have to continually write papers for a writing course. My favorites, though, are the ones I call the grade accountants.
A grade accountant comes to my office, graded paper in hand, and prepares to do battle. Or, to maintain the metaphor, to do an audit. The exchange usually begins something like this: “What is wrong with my paper?” Having counted up the red marks on the page, they attempt to convince me, the guy who has taught the class since before their births, that this collection of misplaced modifiers, run-on sentences, and other mechanical glitches does not warrant a C+. To their minds, every paper begins as a 100 with each mistake deducting points.
My point, more often than not, is that we should not be looking at “what is wrong” with the paper but “what is right.” Fairly frequently, I’ll encounter a virtually error-free essay that bores me so silly that it deserves a fairly poor grade. There’s nothing wrong with it except that there’s not enough right with it. In other words, every paper begins as a 0 with each positive move adding points.
The Law of Moses, referred to in the verse today, was a deduction system. The average person was assumed to be clean and blameless at the top of the morning. Touching a dead animal, eating the wrong thing, coveting your neighbor’s toaster oven, or any of a million other missteps could leave the person in a virtue deficit.
Frankly, I don’t want to live that way. Today’s verse is a sentence fragment, completed by the verse for next time. Today’s verse speaks of the lesser law and lesser message, the one spoken by angels. That message bound those who lived under it. The problem with it came in the grading system. A 99 out of 100 was failing grade. My grade accountants wouldn’t like that system.
I have no interest in grading in that manner, and I praise God that I don’t have to live under such a law. More on that next time.