Something struck me this week as I read about the trip that Jesus took with his disciples on foot from Bethsaida (near the Sea of Galilee) where he healed a blind man to the villages of Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30).
He took the opportunity to ask his disciples who people said he was and they offered various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Then he went deeper. “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter, who was usually quick to speak, spoke up and answered correctly. “You are the Christ.”
What struck me about this was the fact that it took place on a road trip that would’ve been maybe 25 miles long. If they were walking at a leisurely pace of say 2.5 miles per hour, it would’ve taken them ten hours to reach their destination, giving them plenty of time to talk.
Something about being shoulder to shoulder with somebody with a long stretch of road in front of you makes it easy to go deep in conversation.
Maybe it’s because you don’t have to look the other person in the eye. Maybe it’s the lack of distractions. Or maybe it’s the rush of freedom from routines that relaxes us enough to have meaningful conversations with one another.
This has certainly been my experience.
A friend and I used to listen to sermons in the car on 200-mile car trips we took to a baseball stadium. That always led to great spiritual conversations afterward.
Several years ago, a friend invited me to a college baseball game after church. We jumped into his vehicle and had a spiritual conversation. I can’t remember what we spoke about. I only remember that afterward, I wondered if maybe I’d been a little too real since his son and one of this friends were with us and heard what we said.
“Not at all,” he said. “I want my sons to hear conversations like this.” In fact, he said, it’s one of the reasons he goes to such events.
A little over a year ago, a friend moved from a small town in central Nebraska to my city on the eastern side of the state and he needed to go back one last time to close his bank account and handle a couple of other things. I jumped at the chance to go with him that Saturday morning, nearly inviting myself. Okay, inviting myself. But it, too, led to a spiritual conversation.
Maybe we should be a little more intentional about planning trips with people—or at the very least, taking advantage of them when the opportunities arise.
In Lauren Graham’s memoir Talking As Fast As I Can, she writes about how she created a character she named Old Lady Jackson when she realized she was giving grandmotherly advice to some of her much younger co-stars on the Parenthood set.
At one point in the book, Old Lady Jackson chimes in about how we are missing what’s right in front of us because we are so addicted to our phones.
“If absolutely everything important is only happening on such a small screen, isn’t that a shame?” she writes in her Old Lady Jackson voice. “Especially when the world is so overwhelmingly large and surprising? Are you missing too much?”
She continues, “Will you do me a small favor, dears, and look up? Especially you New Yorkers and Londoners and other city dwellers who cross all those busy streets? How else will you take in the majesty of the buildings that have stood there for hundreds of years? How else will you run into an acquaintance on the street who might turn into a friend or a lover or even just recommend a good restaurant that no one has complained about on that app yet? If you never look out the window of the subway car, how will you see the boats gliding by on the East River, or have an idea that only you could have?”
You can read a bigger excerpt here. But you’ve probably already got the gist. If you have a smart phone, you are probably guilty of not looking up frequently enough.
I certainly am.
You know how some people keep a gratitude journal? They jot down three or five things they are thankful for in any given day. What if we were to retrain our brains by jotting down three to five things we noticed each day by looking up?
I have a family who lives next door to me who planted red, yellow, and pink flowers in their back yard. I really don’t know what kind of flowers they are they are, but they look like roses to me, so let’s go with that. In the past week, I’ve taken the time to look out my window and just stare at the flowers. They are beautiful and calming, and I have no idea how long they’ve been there.
This coming week, I’m resolving to look up more often. How about you?
Even though I moved seven months ago, I'm still unpacking boxes. A couple of weekends ago, I came across several letters my dad had written to me. And you know what comes next.
I got lost in them, reading information and advice he wanted to share with me in 1984 and ‘85. We lived hundreds of miles from each other most of my life, but he took time to clip newspaper articles about things I cared about and send them to me in his letters.
In these three letters, he sent me articles about Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne (little did he know that I'd interview him one day) and about Elvis because I was a fan of both. Dad dropped in tidbits of advice or observations to go with the stories as he underlined sections. One such tidbit was to listen to both sides of every story.
In these letters, he also offered me advice about my girl troubles. He suspected that the girl I was interested in was playing games with me. I won’t share his advice, but I got a chuckle out of it all these years later.
And he was always checking on my car, asking if I was keeping up on the maintenance.
Seeing his distinct handwriting a couple of weekends ago was both a thrill and heartbreaking (he passed away in 2000). But I’m so thankful he left his love for me on the page so I can still feel it some thirty-five years later.
It probably sounds like I’m going to reminisce about old letters today, but I’m not doing that as much as I'm thinking about the depths we used to plumb when writing letters was the common means of long-distance communication.
Something about the informality and immediacy of being able to write somebody an email or text today seems to lead us to think we can dash off a couple of sentences now and always go deeper later.
Later never seems to happen, though, does it?
Letter writing used to be an activity for which I’d set aside time. It was an event, and I looked forward to it. Maybe you did, too. But writing email doesn't have the same feel, so we don't treat it the same way. That's my theory, at least.
Exceptions do exist. Every Friday, I hear from a number of you who willingly share snippets of your life with me after you've read this newsletter. You make it feel like a return to letter writing.
The funny thing is, authors are often driven to write books because they want to connect with people on a deep level. I certainly hope to do so with the readers of my books. But it doesn't replace corresponding with readers one-on-one. That’s what makes this newsletter so special to me.
I think it’s also reawakened my interest in going deeper via email with other people I know. In fact, as soon as I had that thought, I realized I really want to email someone and offer her some encouragement over something she's going through.
How about you? Is there someone in your life who needs some encouragement that you can touch base with via email this weekend? Make it an event.
My mom loves to watch a show called “Rocky Mountain Vet” on Animal Planet. I watched an episode with her recently in which a dog owner brought in his pit bull with a rattlesnake bite.
For a while, the dog’s life and leg were in jeopardy, and Dr. Jeff warned that even if he could save the dog, he might lose his leg, or it might never be the same. In the end, Dr. Jeff saved the dog and his leg, sending him home with his owner four or five days later.
It was a beautiful picture of redemption in the small R sense of the word. I get so much satisfaction when I see little redemptions taking place because it reminds me of what Jesus did on the cross for all who will believe.
Once we have been redeemed, how can we be anything other than little redeemers? Not in the sense that we save people’s souls, but we are made in the image of our Creator who chose to step into time and space to redeem us, so it’s natural for us to express redemption.
Ephesians 5:8-15 tells the believer to redeem the time. John Wesley made this comment about time redemption: “Saving all you can for the best purposes; buying every possible moment out of the hands of sin and Satan; out of the hands of sloth, ease, pleasure, worldly business …” All of us could do a better job of this, couldn’t we?
So many other possibilities come to mind.
Tending wounds (emotional and physical) in others is redemptive. So is cleaning, caregiving, yard work, decluttering, restoring old furniture, letter writing that is restorative — anything you can think of that attempts to return something to its original design or intent.
Redemptive work is active but not for the mere sake of activity. It’s more about being intentional. It’s about leaving a park cleaner than you found it. It’s about putting books back on the library shelf where they belong, even if — especially if — they were out of order when you found them. It’s about fixing a bicycle for a neighborhood kid who just wants to get back to riding with his buddies.
Of course, as little redeemers, our powers are limited.
The dog that Dr. Jeff saved may have ended up losing his leg or walking with a limp. The person you are taking care of might never return to good health. The bicycle you fixed for the neighborhood kid might only have a little life left in it. Even so, we do our part, knowing the long-term results aren’t up to us.
We live in a time in which hope seems to be in short supply. The world is in turmoil. The old Christian guard is dying. And Christians around the world are under heavy persecution.
In reality, believers have always lived in tension with the world. Granted, our tension looks different than in centuries past, but that’s all the more reason to return to the fundamentals, such as singing hymns.
This past Sunday during worship, we sang “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” written by Robert Robinson in 1758.
According to Hymnary.org, “In 1752, a young Robert Robinson attended an evangelical meeting to heckle the believers and make fun of the proceedings. Instead, he listened in awe to the words of the great preacher George Whitefield, and in 1755, at the age of twenty, Robinson responded to the call he felt three years earlier and became a Christian. Another three years later, when preparing a sermon for his church in Norfolk, England, he penned the words that have become one of the church’s most-loved hymns: ‘Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace.’”
In the second verse, Robinson writes:
Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Robinson hoped, by God’s good pleasure, to safely arrive at home. This is the great Christian hope — the believer’s confident expectation of heaven. Confident in the finished work of Christ. Confident that we can’t do anything to earn it. Confident that Jesus left earth to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house, just like he said.
Such gospel hope caused Paul and Silas — who were beaten and thrown into prison, having their feet bound in stocks — to sing hymns to God at midnight. It saw Corrie ten Boom through the darkness of Ravensbrück. And it has caused a multitude of Christians throughout the centuries to lay down their lives.
Christian hope sustains us, prompting us to take our eyes off our circumstances and placing them on our Savior. We all need to be reminded of this sometimes.