Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Trail Running - THE DESERT

How does a divine encounter come to pass from the ludicrous prospect of running the arid desert?  

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
- Galatians 5:1

There was a time when I thought trail running the desert to be a ludicrous suggestion certainly not something I would do intentionally; but many do. In fact, there is an ultra marathon in excess of 100 miles across Death Valley in July. And, to make matters even more insane, the course climbs a total of 13,000 vertical feet. Who does this?

Since my arrival in to the Valley of the Sun, I have come to discover desert trail running to be an ordinary experience. Even though, I have yet to run across the local mountain preserve in the heat of a summer day, I have come to embrace the dry seemingly uninhabitable landscape as a place to not only recreate but to rejuvenate.

Encountering God face to face may appear to be a ludicrous prospect, but in truth I’ve come to discover it a respected reality. In fact, the climate we enter the spiritual “desert” will feel like we are void of answers, striped bare of comfort, without camaraderie, bankrupt in spirit, encamped by the enemy, or even ridiculed by opposition. But, the landscape provides the place to see Jesus face-to-face. In the desert biome Jesus is all we need. We quickly realize the desert is without the advice of man, the safety of certainty, the acceptance of culture, or material wealth. It is uncomfortable: the hot, dry air sucks the life nourishing moisture out the pours of our skin and at least, there is no shade to find relief. In the spiritual deserts we find ourselves running in, there are only two choices: be overcome by the enemy or rejuvenated by God. There is no middle ground. We will not find shade relief from companionship, comfort food, shopping, independence, body mutilation, rebellion, depression, sexual sin, or addiction. In truth, if we retreat to a place of isolation in the “spiritual desert” the scorching sun will cause us to dehydrate and die. Instead, if we turn to Jesus, He will nourish us with a well of living water (John ).

When we are exposed to the harsh elements of the desert, the only good answer is to allow the renewal of the mind to occur (Romans 12:2) with the peace, perspective and provision of God. He is our portion (Psalm 73:26), if we let Him be. You see, the enemy loves the desert (Matthew 4:1). The seemingly empty surroundings provide the perfect landscape to tease us with fleshly sins: distrust of man, unbelief in God, self-hatred, self-pity, anxiety, or defensive behaviors such as anger, passivity, sarcasm, vengeance, or abuse. The eventual outcome of our death looks like a shriveled up pile of bones with a thin layer of skin flapping in the breeze. The spontaneous combustion of our soul happens so quickly it doesn’t even allow for scavengers to savor the juicy meat on our bones.

            It is essential for us all to remember, our goodness is declared by the saving work of the cross. There is no method or manner of observance to social and cultural dogma and regulations that determines our adequacy: this includes Christian norms. But this is not to proclaim Jesus’ saving work is a one time receiving of grace rather a continual on-going process of growing in His likeness: we are all in process – spiritual transformation. The desert is an ample environment this progression to holiness is carried out (Hebrews 12:2).

For in Christ Jesus … The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
- Galatians 5:6

Our faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection alone secures our salvation but it is how this faith plays itself out in our daily lives that secure our peace and joy. Pastor Larry Anderson sums up this passage best, “Jesus loves us just as we are and loves us too much to keep us there.” The conundrum is to allow the desert experiences of our lives to become life nourishing instead of life wasting. I pray the “spiritual deserts” become a place of respite and rejuvenation for your soul.

Hero of the Bible … Peter’s on-going spiritual growth

When Peter came to Antioch, I (Apostle Paul) opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.
-          Galatians 2:11

The Apostle Peter submitted to spiritual growth. Peter allowed leaders of the early church to carry out the incorrect assertion gentiles (non-Jewish people) must come under the Levitical Law and be circumcised – yes, the cutting of the foreskin. This physical act represented a spiritual act of adherence to “the law” which leads to the death of our souls because no one is able to accomplish the law perfectly. Paul went on to reprove Peter by reminding him that our salvation is secured by grace alone. Later, Peter demonstrates his compliance of this truth (Acts 15).

I understand two things to be learned from this examination of Peter:

  1. We are to rejoice in Christ’s love for us in that while we were still sinners He died for us (Romans 5:8). “Jesus loves us just as we are.”
  2. We are to submit to a continual on-going renewing of the mind and compliance to grace. That is to mean … “He loves us too much to keep us there.”


Do you have memories of experiencing God in different "climates and geography"? Trail Running is a six week blog series looking at different environments we see Jesus face-to-face.

THE RAINFOREST (coming next week)