Tag Archives: grow

The Ruck

“Ruck up men.”, the beady eyed Ranger Instructor bellowed. The air was crisp, the mood tense as I slung the hundred pound green pack over my head and slid my arms into the web straps. The pack creaked as the weight settled onto my back. Shock waves of pain shot down my arms as the straps dug into my shoulders. This was just a taste of the discomfort to come.

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It was the year 2000 and I was a Ranger Student in the second of three phases at the U.S. Army’s Ranger school, a 61 day experience designed to teach leadership and small unit tactics. This was the Mountain Phase, and along with the thirty other men in 2nd platoon I “rucked up” or put on my very large Army issue backpack to begin the first of many patrols in the mountainous terrain of Dahlonega in Northern Georgia.

A patrol is the military’s term for a long, miserable walk in the woods. The Army has a way of transforming any enjoyable experience into a nightmare. This little jaunt in the forest was no exception. We climbed the intensely steep mountains all day and most of the night. To avoid detection, hiking on trails and talking was strictly forbidden. I still have a scar on my left hand from the thorns that ripped into my skin that day as we clawed our way through the underbrush. Each group of 9 men, called a squad, was responsible for carrying a collective amount of equipment, weapons and supplies to the “objective”, a point in the woods where we fought a simulated battle with another group of soldiers pretending to be enemy combatants. Each Soldier hauled his own food, water, extra clothes and other provisions. Additionally, the squad distributed the shared equipment, like machine guns, extra ammunition and medical supplies. Survival meant working together. Mission success depended upon the entire group of men and equipment arriving to the objective, ready to fight.

After weeks of long walks like this I learned lots of important lessons about walking in the woods but one stands out.

Never carry more or less than you need. 

In life, as in patrolling, we mustn’t carry more than we need for our journey. Things have a way of weighing people down. Despite what the world will tell you it is entirely possible to have too much.

I recently shared a meal with a very rich man. He has everything in the way of material possessions and yet he is a lonely person. His wealth causes him to be suspicious of everyone. He has many servants and few friends. He has lots of money and no one to spend it on. His is a miserable existence. His rucksack is too heavy.

I also know people who don’t have enough. In the poorer communities near our house I meet people who struggle to provide the basic necessities for survival. Their rucksack is too light.

If my wealthy friend and my poor friends were in a Ranger squad the answer would be simple. Those with heavy packs would let those with lighter packs carry some of the load. There would be this intense focus on the mission, on arriving to the objective together. There would be an innate understanding that the stuff in our rucks is there to help us accomplish our mission. The equipment has no value unless it is used for it’s intended purpose.

But somehow in the church we miss this simple lesson. Some of us strain and buckle under the weight of our money and possessions while others struggle to scrape together the basic necessities to survive.

Why?

I think it’s because we lose sight of our mission.

We are a people on the narrow road, sojourning towards the new heaven and the new earth. This is our reality, yet we often live as a people who have no where to go.  We are a missional people, called to move together, follow our Jesus and invite others to join us.

I love the story of Jesus’ encounter with the blind man named Bartimaeus in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus and his followers are on a journey to Jerusalem. Bartimaeus is one of many spectators sitting along the side of the road. As Jesus passes by, the blind man calls out to Jesus, “Son of David have mercy on me!” The disciples and the crowd try to shut him up. They are embarrassed because he is making a scene. Suddenly, Jesus stops. He turns to face the blind beggar and tells him to come. Without a second hesitation, Bartimaeus leaps up, leaving his cloak behind and runs to meet Jesus who heals him. The thing that really gets me about this story is that Bartimaeus leaves his only possession, a cloak, behind. He follows Jesus with nothing. He is a man on a journey.

I am inspired by my memories of Ranger patrols to live as one on a mission. My prayer is that Jesus would cause me to thirst for him so that I see my life properly as one on the narrow road. I pray that he gives me the wisdom and the courage to pack appropriately.

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New

When I was a child my parents bought our first new car. I was five or six years old. I do not remember much about the event except for the smell. It was that fresh aroma of virgin carpet, metal and molded plastic that cannot ever be replicated. It is a scent that refuses to return regardless of the most valiant effort to scrub the coffee and fast food stains out of the carpet. It is yours to experience for a brief time until you ruin it by subjecting the newness to real life. Mundane habit and activity will transform what is new and wonderful into something old and smelly in a shorter amount of time than you think possible.

I long to live in a world where everything is new. I’m 35 and when I look in the mirror I’m often dissatisfied. I want to be 25 again. So I join the gym and work feverishly to regain what the years and my habits have stolen. Of course even in my most disciplined years, all the striving never results in a cure.

Sometimes I wish my relationships were new. I have this longing to return to the pristine beginning when every conversation is exciting and encouraging. I dream of a time before the wear and tear of life exposed the deep flaws in my personality. If you stick with any relationship long enough the facade of a person will fade away and you will be left with a real person with all of their strangeness and smelliness. I’m grateful for a wife that has seen the real me and chooses to love me anyway. Commitment like that is a rare and beautiful thing.

The truth is that we were made to long for what is new. Our thirst for bodies without sickness and relationships without turmoil is a God-given craving. It is a deep longing that can only be satisfied by God himself. Our own efforts to make ourselves or others new are futile and exhausting. The temptation is to think that we long for something that we once had and lost. This is a lie. The truth is that we never had what we longed for. Our longing is not for something we can recover from our past but rather something that we can experience in part in the present and fully in the future.

One of my favorite stories about our quest for newness is the account of Jesus and Lazarus. Jesus arrives at Lazarus’ home four days after he died. He finds Lazarus’ family and friends weeping uncontrollably. Jesus is filled with compassion and weeps with his friends. Then he does the unthinkable. Jesus tells them to roll away the stone sealing Lazarus’ grave. Martha, Lazarus’ sister responds in horror saying, “Lord by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.” Martha knows that death brings irreversible decay of the body. She knows that any human effort to reverse these effects is futile. She is repulsed by the idea of smelling her brother’s decaying flesh.

Undeterred, Jesus moves towards the smell. He prays and tells Lazarus to “Come out!” and he does. In an instant the dead, decaying flesh is transformed into a living body. The wild reality is that this restoration was still only a hint of the newness to come. Lazarus eventually died again. The Scriptures tell us that those who call Jesus Lord should expect new bodies that will never suffer from sickness or death, a new heaven and a new earth where Jesus reigns and God’s people live in peace with one another. The new earth will be free from tragedy and chaos. It will be the world we long for and we will be the people we long to be. This is our hope.

As I think about all of my longings for new things I am gripped by this story. I am reminded that I cannot experience the scent of new life that I long for by cleaning myself or others up. Instead, I beg that Jesus would move toward my smelly life and into my smelly world and that he would make me into a new creation.

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Disappointed

This morning I woke up to find disappointment waiting for me. The details are unimportant. What matters is that in my first moments of waking consciousness I discovered a situation that stirred up dark emotions and thoughts lurking deep within my soul. In the end I was more disturbed by my response than by the situation that caused it.

The short, sanitized version is that something didn’t work out the way I planned.

In the hours since, I have wrestled with my feelings and ideas. My first inclination was an attitude of indignation. “Don’t they know who I am?”, I said to myself.  “I deserve better than this.”, I thought. “They owe me.”

Then the Lord spoke. “Am I not the giver of all things?”, he said. “Am I not the one who numbers the hairs on your head?”. “Is that a bald joke?” I asked.

He dug deeper.

“What are you afraid of?” asked the Lord.

That question brought the high euphoria of my indignation crashing down. Suddenly, the force of my emotion turned away from the one who did not meet my expectation. I saw the frailty of my heart. “I’m afraid that my plans will not work out.” I responded to the ever listening Lord. “What do your plans have to do with anything?” the Lord replied. Then he reminded me of words that have corrected and encouraged the people of God for thousands of years:

21  Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.

I reflected on these 21 words. The Lord is so right. I have many plans. When they don’t work out the way I imagine, I often react in fear and anger. Why? I’m not exactly sure, but I think it has something to do with my memory.

I easily forget my place in the kingdom. I am not the King. I am a servant. I am a creation made to serve “the purpose of the Lord”. He reminded me today that His purpose will stand. He will succeed. My plans are irrelevant and small in the scheme of things.

I also forget his faithfulness. When I follow Jesus I have no reason to despair. I have no reason to become angry or fearful when my circumstances fail to conform to my particular version of the future. He is the Lord who is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the Lord who promised to give Abraham a son and did. He is the one who heard the cries of his people and rescued them out of Egypt. He is the one who sent his one and only son to die and to overcome death. He is the one who shows up again and again in my story. He is always faithful and right on time.

Finally, I forget that his Kingdom is coming and nothing can stop it. I have this image of the Kingdom coming like a forty-foot wave in Cape Town. I’m like the surfer who ludicrously paddles against the force of the swell. I’m struggling because I haven’t learned to ride the wave. I’m trying to go my way with my own ideas under my power. The Lord says “stop struggling and follow me.” “I will make a way where there seems to be no way”. “I will carry out the things I have set out to do.” “Rest and trust me.”

The weight of disappointment nearly crushed my spirit this morning. Now I receive it as from the Lord and I give thanks. Thank you God for disabling my impulse to control. Thank you Lord for giving me deeper faith in the place of fear. Thank you Lord for this disappointment which reminded me of your great faithfulness.

He is the Lord God Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth. He turns the night into day, death into life and my disappointment into thanksgiving. Great is the name of the Lord!

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