“Obnoxious!” Really?

“Obnoxious,” he said riding by me from the other direction.

High vis“Well, at least you can see me,” I mumbled under my breath. And that’s the point; every wise cyclist knows that the first most important thing about riding is being seen. Drivers in fast cars and big trucks run into that which they cannot see. Thusly, I dress in the high-vis gear pictured here. Okay, so it’s not the most attractive outfit, but ya gotta admit—it catches your eye. On top of the high-vis attire, I also have a bright, flashing headlamp and two bright, flashing tail lights (called torches in the bike biz).

So, how dare he call me obnoxious, especially as we’re both riding on paths shared by pedestrians. Why, I’ll have you know I’m riding wisely and safely; not like him, he had no lights and was wearing dark clothing that was even adorned with my undergrad alma mater—sheesh! But I’m visible.

Mom’s with baby strollers see me, couples with gigantic mastiffs or teensy poodles on leashes see me, and, obviously, other cyclists see me as well. This means no accidents, everyone leaves the park as whole as they arrived. But rather than trading insults, we usually exchange pleasantries like “hello” or “what a beautiful dog” and so on.

Obnoxious indeed!

But then again, maybe he’s right. No, I don’t mean about my on-bike wardrobe, but more along the lines of my thinking. I definitely had obnoxious thoughts about him after that ride-by insult. I compared his poor example to my good example. Then I got to thinking how I often I view certain bumper stickers as obnoxious; or certain body-adornments; or even some t-shirt slogans. Yes, I instantly judge others just as easily as Mister Dark Rider judged me. And that’s obnoxious. I don’t even know these people, I don’t even know Mister Dark Rider. I don’t know their backgrounds, their hurts, their fears, their successes or their failures. I just snap judge them based on some sticky paper attached to their rear chrome. Yes, I’m well aware that people intentionally put bumper stickers on their cars as a statement, often to rile people up; but what led them to feeling justified emblazing that message for all to see? I have no idea.

Another thought occurred to me later in the week. It was easy for Mister Dark Rider to see my “light” due to the high-vis gear. But does the Light residing in my soul by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit shine out as easily? When others see me to do they see Jesus? Do people sense the presence of the Lord in my life?
Jesus said in the Beatitudes that,

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:14 & 16

Maybe God meant for Mister Dark Rider to stir up some deeper thoughts in my soul. Maybe this was a way to allow the Holy Spirit to shine His light into the deeper, darker corners of the closets of my soul. Maybe the Lord was showing me what he wants to work on next.

Could it be that God wants me to be more sensitive to how quickly I judge others on little things like bumper sticker and t-shirt slogans? For behind these little cultural artifacts are hearts and souls that are dear to the heart of our Father. Perhaps the Lord used Mister Dark Rider as a way to move my thinking into a more eternal realm. Each soul, whether draped in high-vis gear or festooned with slogans, are souls that have eternal destinies. Am I helping these souls to consider salvation in Jesus, or do I drive them away?

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Ride of Blessing and Contributions

I rode my bike yesterday for the first time in three weeks. I’m not recovered enough to go for a hardcore, gonzo, killin’ it ride; but I was on two wheels, feeling the breeze caressing my face and seeing the sights of a sunny Saturday. Large volumes of people were milling through the parks. There was a walk-a-thon promoting a cure for Alzheimer’s, some sort of dog rally and a bunch of others like me going for a pleasant ride, run or stroll.

What a blessing. I don’t typically take being on my bike for granted, but it did get me thinking about how many other things, or even people, I do take for granted. It’s funny, and sort of sad, how a loss of something is the spark toward thankfulness and a deeper awareness of other people’s needs. Some people of course, allow hardship to make them bitter; but still, we all have a choice to either let the hardship better our character or to shrink it.

So, while on my bike and being attentive to my surroundings, my mind also seems to almost float, like it’s been freed from a cage of inactivity. In this freeing feeling a dawning of understanding broke through over the horizon of my soul. The dawning was a realization that I need to be more intentional about cultivating thankfulness. This sort of intentionality will improve my character while helping me be more of a blessing to others. It will also provide power in staving off any root bitterness from taking hold in the soil of my soul (see Hebrews 12:12-17).

1 Thessalonians 5 says:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (vv. 16-17).

It’s easy to be thankful while on my bike riding over a brand new sparkling bridge spanning a

Bike bridge

My bike with the Willamette River in the background.

gurgling creek. But have I have been thankful in the depth of mental or physical pain, or in work frustration or family tension? As I ride with the sun warming my face and with my quads cheering on the beauty of each pedal stroke, I become more mindful of my lack of thankfulness when I’m not experiencing such a blessing. It’s just one more reminder that I’m a work in progress; thankfully, God is patient with me!

 

 Contribution

As most of us, I am deeply aware of the ravages happening in the wake of two raging hurricanes slamming into our brothers and sisters. Please pray for these people and for these tragedies to somehow turn hearts to God and not away from Him. Also, if possible, please consider contributing to one of the many good fund-raising efforts or even volunteering to help if possible for you to do so.

God, please help them!  

A Cognitive Dissonance of Faith

Caleb_bush_treatmentBless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

—Romans 12:14-15

Blood Cries Out

I feel a little strange today. Right now my youngest son is riding his bike around the cul de sac bellowing like a siren; he’s pretending to be a paramedic. I rejoice at the joyful heart of my child and his innocent imagination. I am also proud of my oldest son as he makes a life of his own in North Dakota. He’s a grown man now that makes his father proud. And yet there is a heaviness in the pit of my soul; it is like a mournful cry rising out of the earth itself as little children like my own are being murdered for their faith. The dust of the Middle East is muddying up in the blood of the innocents. God have mercy.

Dissonance

Amidst this I still have a paper to write for my Old Testament class, on God’s grace, oddly enough. I will eventually get on my bike today to enjoy the countryside, the sunshine and the feel of my body laboring in the love of cycling. We will probably grill up some tasty steaks on the back patio with an avocado salad.

And yet the pit of my soul beckons me to pray..pray for the children, pray for their parents, pray their faith remains strong, and, yes, pray that the murderers wake up to the wrong they reap with their own hands; no matter what they do, Jesus is still Jesus, and they will someday meet Him. I pray they come to faith prior to their meeting. Even so, I pray for God’s justice to reign through all the cruelty humanity heaps upon humanity.

A New To-Do List

How, then, am I to live my life? Do I hang my head in guilt that I’m not suffering as they? Do I pack, leave my family and head into the danger zone? I don’t think so. I think part of what I’m learning about this pit in my soul is the Holy Spirit encouraging me to pray as mentioned above. But He is also using this to remind me to be thankful for the life I am living, to love my sons with all I have, and to protect my marriage and my Bride by not taking her for granted, or having a wandering eye, or by thinking of her as anything less than a dear daughter of the Most High God. And to take care of myself, the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19).

I can rejoice and I can weep. I can pray and I can celebrate. I can rebuke guilt and embrace the love of God that washes clean each heart of faith. I can go on with my day with a new motivation to never take for granted the life I live and the people I love and the people that love me.  And I can pray…

Herons Flock? Early Morning Cycling and God’s Surprises

001I glanced off to my right on one of my early morning rides. The sun had been up for about five minutes so when I looked right, I looked right into the sun (I totally forgot that right was also east). This two-lane country road was vacant except for a lone cyclist in a bright red jersey (that’d be me; I wanted to make sure bleary-eyed, under caffeinated drivers saw me). On each side of the road are large cow pastures. In the field on the right was a gigantic sprinkler with big earth-mover wheels. I think it runs off a big water pump in the center of one those round fields you usually only see from the air.

Anyway, standing in the misty spray was a lone and large Blue Heron. Or so I thought. I had to look again, because I love viewing wild life (the natural kind, I had enough of the other wild life as an undergrad—and what little I actually remember is more about mysterious bruises and pounding headaches). I’m fascinated by the bird’s long, slender neck and needle-like beak. Then I saw another one, then another and then…a whole bunch of them! About 20 were gathering in rather loose proximity to each other, apparently all of them basking in the swirling mist of the sprinkler heads. I always thought they were solitary birds. I would have stopped to take a picture but I didn’t want to slow the awesome momentum I had in my blistering pace of 18 mph (all right, I heard that snicker…so I’m not Jens Voight, but I do ride a Trek).

Later on, I told two of my colleagues about this as we were waiting for one of those dreary, late afternoon meetings. Neither of them believed me so they whipped out their smart phones in a race to ascertain the truth. It was sorta like a phone-on-phone High Noon scenario, I can just see Gary Cooper jangling in spinning spurs, whipping out his Android and….oops, I digress. Anyway, Susan won the race and found out that Herons occasionally flock in an effort to round up prey in a Heron-induced circle of breakfast. Apparently they eat rodents from time to time as well. Who knew (except early morning cyclists, and, of course, Google)?

Every now and then I run into one of these fascinating nuggets of discovery. This was something I would have never known had I not been cycling early in the morning. And as a person of faith I could only smile at God’s creativity with all the varieties and oddities of life right here in my own proverbial backyard.

Cycling, Worship and Jesus

Trek Bike“I went to the ocean, took my shoes off, started to run [or cycle], and invited Jesus to come along. … All I had to do was invite Him.”
─John Ortberg, The Me I Want to Be, Kindle location 2783

“Cycling is like sailing on land, the wind, the oneness, the freedom!”
─Journal entry

It’s been over 18 months since my last neck surgery. Eighteen months of recovery, of trying to see what my body can and can’t do, and saving money for a new bicycle. Yes, a new bike; a Trek 1.5 to be exact.

My old bike (a 1987 Trek Elance) no longer fit my new triple-fusion neck. But I love to bike. I miss biking. Running just isn’t the same; plus, with a solid rod of bone now banging around in my cervical area running mercilessly batters the few remaining disks I have left. When the run is over my neck explodes in spasms to such a degree I wind up throwing down 600-800mg of ibuprofen, which sorta defeats the purpose of clean living. Then there’s the hamstring issue. And walking, while a great activity is…well…walking. You can’t just go out do 42 miles in the morning like you can on a bike (like the great ride I had yesterday).

But how does Jesus fit into to this? Is my desire to bike detracting from my faith in Jesus? Does Jesus even care if I bike or not?

I used to always live with the mindset that if I wasn’t suffering I wasn’t serving the Lord. Oh brother, how appealing is that. Nowhere in that thinking is there room for God to rain any sort of blessing upon me or those around me. Talk about living with a cloud over my head, it’s like that character Shleprock from the old Flintstones cartoon (yes, I’m showing my age), everywhere he shuffled he was followed by this little dark cloud hovering just above his head.

Yes, I give and serve and go through trials. But holding these things up as some sort of merit badge is not something Jesus condones. What He does condone is entering into His rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Part of the way I rest is on my bike. I recognize it is a physically demanding sport, but at the same time it is a highly rejuvenating sport as well. I get to be outdoors in the fresh air (except when the fields are being harvested or big diesel trucks are chugging by). I get to feel my body working and revel in the fact that I’m physically restored enough to cycle again. All of this points my heart and mind toward Jesus. Why, you ask?

Who created the outdoors? Sure, there are nay-sayers and God-rejecters, but no one can properly explain where the origin of everything came from. A strictly utilitarian universe wouldn’t have as much beauty as the Willamette Valley has; only a God of creativity and love would make such a beautiful place. For instance, the other morning I was on my bike a little before sunrise. As I looked east I saw Mt. Hood in all its majesty way off in the distance. This time, however, the mountain was shimmering with a bright pink aura. It was simply stunning; the sun was directly behind the mountain emblazing it in a pink backlight making it look like Mt. Hood itself was eclipsing the sun.

On other rides I have seen rainbows of flowers in carefully cultivated fields, talked with friendly locals in nearby towns while buying water and thought through a number of difficult work-related problems.

And the fact I’m physically able to do this again is such a blessing I can’t help but pray thankful prayers out loud for anyone in earshot. Being unable to ride for so long has given me a much deeper appreciation for the opportunity to ride again. Sure, I enjoyed riding before, but I could basically ride whenever I could fit one in. When my spine started deteriorating and I could no longer ride, I missed it like an old friend. Riding is a time of solace for me, it’s my time to get away and feel free with the wind and the exertion. I was thankful for being able to walk, but it just wasn’t the same.

However, another important lesson through the season of deprivation is training my mind to be more thankful for what I can do. Stop focusing on what I can’t do and strive to lean more deeply into what I can do. This thinking enables me to be more thankful to God and more cheerful and empathetic with others that are suffering. Through all this time, I recovered enough to realize that with the proper fitting bike, I could get on the road again. Now with new bike, cleated shoes, and my Road ID wrist band I’m on the road a lot these days. This time last year it was only a dream as I watched cyclists streaking by while on one of my walks.

While cycling is a positive hobby because of its fitness benefits it is also a solid spiritual discipline because I celebrate life and praise God while I’m on the bike, even in strong headwinds and malfunctioning cyclometers. Even with quads screaming and chest heaving, I praise God I’m alive…the pain only confirms how alive I am! And I’m thankful…thankful for fitness, for the bike, for a wonderful Bride that understands…and for a God that carried me through the darker spots of deprivation.

It is good to be alive!