The Care and Feeding of the Heart: Prophetic Words of Warning, Hope, Encouragement. Part 1

WarningSignsGood day race-runners for Christ (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:26; Hebrews 12:4; 2 Timothy 4:7)! Grab a place at The Training Table. I’m sure you’ve worked up a big appetite during the week.

There’s been enough chaos going on ‘round the world and in our own circles of concern and influence that, frankly—at least for me—I’ve lost my appetite for all sorts of things of late.

The battle’s raging and it can be very trying and tiring, right? But this is where I remind myself, “It’s a marathon, John. Not a 10k…” As an ex-ultra-athlete, I have the blessed benefit of being able to draw on a rich past of hanging-in, hanging-on, and breaking-through to the next stage of the race. But don’t be fooled, for the Christian “ultra-marathoning” is not the exception but the rule.

Biblically-speaking, this is exactly why the Spirit-inspired authors wrote many times and in many ways exhortations such as, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12); “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:3-5); “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9); “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us…” (2 Timothy 2:12… And many more!

This is when faith, perseverance, and compassion with urgency really kick in—not the self-sufficiency, pretense, and egotism that we can slip into when tired, tempted, and testy, right?

When the going gets tough, the faithful and fit one retrenches, goes even deeper into God’s Word, polishes-up the armor (Ephesians 6:10-18), re-joins, renews a faithful community of Saints, validating the foundations of the faith… and all the while being self-forgetful and aiming to minister to hurting souls that much more! The Christian life is counter-intuitive: When we’re sapped, it’s time to seek the Lord and serve… Not sink away or shirk the delight in doing our duty!

When tough gets tougher, every fiber of own our being as well as many other influences in our life can often be prone to scream, “Slow down, withdraw, compartmentalize, stick with your own kind, don’t stir things up, ‘judge’, or polarize… just smile more and object less… just get along without getting dinged!

Prophetic Words of Remembrance, Warning, Hope, Encouragement.
The event was the 1974, “6th Annual King of the Hills Bike Race”.  The road race course just outside of Greeley Colorado encompassed 65 miles in distance with numerous steep and not-so-steep hills, very fast downhill’s and some flat and fast runs-outs along the way.  It was a beautiful, crisp, Colorado blue-sky day in the month of June, as I remember.

The races got off to a rousing start with the top racing class of about 200 riders in the Category 1 race.  The Category 1 lead pack that I was a part of decided early-on to set a fast pace to break up the pack before the steeper hill climbs and wildly fast descents early in the race.  After plenty of spirited attacking in the first 10 miles, the lead echelon of about 20 riders ascended the first long climb well ahead of the second pursuing group.  The pack got to the top of the first big climb together.  I had the last pull at the lead before we began a long and fast descent.

Instinctively, we shifted into the longest gear and the pack quickly picked up speed within the first hundred yards of the descent.  We were moving along at speeds in excess of 40 miles per hour to further open the gap between us and the pursuing group while they were still climbing.  Everyone was tightly tucked into a downhill position as handlebars, elbows and wheels were separated from each other by mere inches.  I had just completed another pull in the echelon and pulled left to get back into the draft line as the pack entered a long, yet punctuated, right sweeping turn at the base of the fast descent.

That’s when it started…  There was a gut-wrenching chill down to the marrow of my bones as I felt myself and the entire pack was losing traction to the outside to the turn.  The distinct smell of rubber brake pads wafted in the air.  For fear of skidding on the lose gravel at the edge of the shoulder, no one dare do anything to brake suddenly but rather lightly applied some consistent pressure or tapped their brakes.  The entire pack, acting as one body now, was silent and fear-stricken as we were all caught in what turned out to be the centrifugal force of a decreasing radius turn as we were moving at 50 mph.

You see, the newly-paved race course was beautiful in every respect but one: its design and trajectory.  The highway engineers had made a grievous error and the pack of twenty cyclists hurtling down the race course was being forced off the road, towards a gravel-covered shoulder, a deep drainage ditch, and steep, boulder-strewn embankment above us.  There were no warning signs.  No indications that any dangers existed.  It was all a matter of survival now…

I glanced in front of me to see several of my team members and other riders holding on to their handlebars, relying completely on instinct and fate, in the gravel for dear life.  None fell.  Unfortunately I had come back into the pack at such an angle that I couldn’t hold onto the shoulder of the road.  As I was pushed even further outside by the centrifugal force of the turn combined with my speed.  I thought surely I was going to lose it at any moment.

Solely on instinct, I made my way through the gravel shoulder, flew into the three-foot deep drainage ditch while paralleling the road and then managed—purely by God’s grace—to “ride” up the steep embankment and land in a boulder field above the road.  I paused just long enough to see if either my heart had burst through my chest of I had defecated in my shorts.  Fortunately, neither had happened.  Miraculously, I was standing feet flat on the ground, still clipped into my cycling cleats with both my front and rear wheels completely shattered by the impact.

My very next instinct was to get back up the race course as fast as I could to warn the next pack of riders.  After loosening the leather straps on my pedals, I ran as fast as I could towards the top of the hill as my friend and veteran racer Adie Weller was the first to break the crest of the hill.

I was screaming as I ran, “Slow down, slow down, bad turn, slow down!!”  Unfortunately, it was too late for Adie.  He attempted to maneuver his bike to maintain contact with the road but he was riding at too steep an angle to the hillside.  He hit the hillside head-on and broke his neck and sternum (chest bone) on impact not yards in front of me.

As I approached Adie, I had to make a snap decision as I saw that he was barely able to breathe as his broken neck was at too steep an angle to allow air through his windpipe.  I also had to warn the next group riders.  But Adie was dying.  I knelt down to adjust his body and neck so that he could breathe.  I then stood up to run as fast as I could towards the top of the hill to warn the rest of the riders

I made it back up the hill time to warn the next pack riders and tell the sag wagons of officials and fans to close the road and call 911.

I then ran to be with Adie until the ambulance arrived.  Adie, a husband, and father of three, died from his injuries later that day.  The Adie Weller Memorial Bike Race is on the Colorado Bicycle Racing schedule for many years afterwards.

A Word of Remembrance, Warning and Hope
“Well”, you might ask, “How on God’s good earth are you going to bring THIS story back to a relevant Training Table feast, John?!” Hang with me, beloved friends.  This meal is meatier than normal but critically important.

How many of you have butterflies or an uneasy feeling in the gut right now as a result of reading the story above?  I wonder how many of you wake up each day with an equally (More? Less?) uneasy feeling due to the fact that our increasingly fast-paced, secularized, privatized, and pluralized culture is careening down the road, unable to steer a steady course, and losing its beloved participants, family, friends, acquaintances, so many people… to a living, and / or actual, death every second of the day?

The world is careening off the road; it’s for very specific reasons; and yet The Church is created, called, commanded, and mightily encouraged to get in the race as VICTORS, not VICTIMS… or cultural ROADKILL!

Did you realize that an entire culture has inherent in it the exact same nature and characteristics of “cultural centrifugal force” as the pack of bicycle racers noted above?  Is it possible that the incredibly bias and worldly nature of the worldly culture—among numerous other important things like a very quiet and comparatively irrelevant Western church—has lulled us into ignoring or denying “the warning signs at the top of the hill”?

“Warning signs”?  Please allow me to point out three cultural warning signs that I’ve alluded to above before I get to my last point about how we all can have great hope.

The three terms below, and their impact on our culture, are far too vast for me to outline in any detail in Training Table feast.  These terms have been “popularized” by the noted theologian and great apologist of our day, Ravi Zacharias, and many others.  They are very much worth your close and prolonged attention because whether you know it or not they influence your every thought and decision in the war of worldviews and culturally-precipitous times.

Each cultural “warning sign” has a wide array of symptoms we’re seeing around us every day as strangers and loved ones alike are “thrown off the road” and injured or even killed as a result of the influence of the cultural-ideological forces of our day.

1) Rampant secularization – “A secular worldview is admittedly and by design the underlying impetus that presently propels western culture.  The central feature of that outlook assumes that this world—the material world–is all that we have by which and for which to live.  How all this came about is a historian’s challenge and a sociologist’s occupation.  The reality that secularism is the philosophy of choice for American government, and of our culture, is inescapable.  Any view of a spiritual essence or of other-worldliness is by definition considered irrelevant, irrational, or an obvious sign of being intellectual neanderthal.

Secularism, or “saeculum,” is implicitly “this worldly”.  Peter Berger, the renowned sociologist and Director of the Institute for the Study of Economic Culture at Boston University, defines secularization as “the process by which sectors of society and culture are removed from the domination of religious institutions and symbols.” Simply stated, the definition of secularization asserts that public life is to be governed by laws that are not influenced by religion, or any transcendent or sacred notion.”  (Ravi Zacharius, “Just Thinking”, 1996)

Does this sound at all familiar, dear friends?  The slow yet sure elimination or redefinition of things like the Ten Commandments, sexuality, marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance, religion and public life, any religion except Christianity welcomed in schools, public prayer, etc, etc reveal the trend.

2) Rampant pluralization – The politically correct definition of diversity on steroids:  Since no one worldview can be true, and since we all must live in peaceful coexistence with each other while tolerating (rather celebrating…) all religions and worldviews as being equally valid and true, therefore nothing is actually True any longer.  All truth is relative.  Truth is what you make it.  Except, of course the very statement that “all truth is relative”!  [No, it doesn’t make any sense… But it’s causing lots of carnage!]

Please don’t get me wrong here.  I’m all for a pluralistic, non-homogeneous society.  But when a pluralistic society runs headlong into a secularized society, either “True Truth” (God) or “No Truth” (Western Culture) wins. In the biggest realms, God wins at every turn; but as free-will agents capable of making ourselves the center of all things, we are the big losers.

3) Rampant privatization – The belief that what we do in our private lives has no bearing on our public life.  Hence, the incredibly bleak sense of loneliness, hypocrisy, unethical behavior, and compartmentalization that dominates our culture.  In recent history, the Presidency of Bill Clinton and many other examples—as well as the cultural complicity of a first and second term—has been a case study of this incredibly damaging lie concerning the make-up of humankind’s holistic nature.  Integrity matters. The “fact” that we can live life any way we please, while assuming such a bifurcation of self and society has no impact on anything, is, quite frankly, pure and naked insanity.

To admit anyone to the psych ward for having multiple personalities while aiding and abetting the “multiple personality syndrome” of doing whatever the hell [let’s name it for what it is] we please privately with no responsibility for the public repercussions is foolishness with deadly consequences!

We are losing our beloved family, friends, and fellow man “on the fast and uncontrollable turn of cultural decline” at a faster rate every single day!

The Church supernatural and the church institutional—THE light and salt of a dark and decaying world—were created by God to remind, warn, offer hope, encouragement, and redemption at every turn!

Okay, I know this is a plate- and brain-full, dear friends.  Please, oh please… think about these things.  Pray that God might bless you with His wisdom concerning where HIS heart is on these issues.

Three Categories and Six Steps God’s People Should Embrace
Imagine you’re at the top of the hill.  You can clearly see some warning signs that indicate that there are some major problems in the road of life—for you and all those in your circle of concern and influence that God has providentially, infinitely yet intimately placed in your life.

When we sup’ at the Training Table next week we will consider “the three categories of warning signs” we looked at above and six steps to take in order to be the very best stewards of God’s design for The Church—the sole redemptive entity; the revealing light of God’s Truth and Love and preserving salt of His compassion; the victorious yet incomplete bulwark against the forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil…

You… Me… Sinners saved by grace, running the good race, sent to serve!

May God richly bless you each and every one,


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