Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2Let me start by dismissing any and all false impressions that the following blog post might create. I am not a runner. If I run on asphalt or concrete my knee swells up to the size of a pummelo (have fun googling that one). If I run on a treadmill, I stay in constant danger of falling off, which I have done more than once.
Now that my disclaimer leaves you no chance of you being led astray and falsely impressed, I can move on.
I was sitting in church not really paying attention to the announcements because I was watching the sky spew snow as thick as cotton balls and trying, with a great deal of irony, to take every thought captive to Christ and keep my mind from wandering into dangerous territories. I pretty much failed, and though I'd love to blame it on the snow, that was not the real distraction. But thinking about taking every thought captive brought to mind Hebrews 12:1-2, about fixing our eyes on Jesus.
As a parent and a teacher, I have learned not to underestimate the power of eye contact. Emmett and I have always tried to teach Quinn to meet our gaze, and each of us could be heard multiple times a day saying, "Look at my eyeballs, please," or my personal favorite, "say that to my eyeballs," or even just, "eyeballs, please." Just today I was in a meeting that reminded me how much I still need to work on eye contact when communicating. I am embarrassingly bad at communicating orally anyway, so add in my general aversion to eye contact and most days I feel like the stapler dude from Office Space, except that he ends up on the beach with an umbrella in his drink and I don't even really have a stapler.
The last week of Emmett's life I often found myself lying in bed just looking at him. There wasn't much left to say or pray, and so I lay there trying to memorize how it felt to be near him, to touch him, smell him, hear his voice, see his smile. When our eyes would meet, there would be so much love and sadness, mingled with peace and acceptance, that we may have used words, but they weren't really needed.
And lately, I've wondered what it will be like to look Jesus in the eyes.
I have a growing suspicion that the tenderness and passion in his gaze will be scandalously indecent.
The opening line from Phil Wickham's song Desire says, "I'm running through the gates of love, as fast as I can. I can't wait to see you cause I'm a desperate man." I love to listen to this song while I run, especially about the time I want to throw up or fling myself off the treadmill on purpose just so I have an excuse to stop running. Now's the time to remember the disclaimer, don't be impressed because that point occurs approximately 37 seconds after I start running.
But I am captivated by the visual imagery of running into the arms of Christ. I'd like to think I have Chariots of Fire music playing in the background of my life as I run with perfectly coiffed hair kicking butt and taking names. Yeah, I just wrote that - don't judge - you know that's how you picture your life when you flex your muscles in front of the mirror and pretend you're Batman. A more accurate picture might be that I'm dancing on a bed of coals while trying to throw off a school of piranhas that have their teeth firmly clamped in my flesh accompanied by the overdubbed sound of canned laughter as my actual soundtrack. Yep, that's definitely more realistic.
But it sounds so good when the writer of Hebrews says it. And later on in Chapter 12 when it says:
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.I just want to get up and shout "Hallelujah, yes!" and give a fist pump and then go bench press a Volkswagen. And then my floaties spring a leak and I realize I am drowning without the slightest idea of how to stay afloat on my own.
What is it about faith that can lead us to such extremes? How can I be so captivated by the love of Christ but so incapable of even knowing how to begin loving others? How can my heart be so broken for the people in my life that are hurting and I can't string together four coherent encouraging words? How can I be so motivated to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, yet I can't even get my arm free to throw? How can I long to look my savior in the eyes but not find the strength to lift my head?
In the words of Paul, "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Or perhaps John, "Amen! Come Lord Jesus!"