FOG ON THE MOUNTAIN: Staying Upright in Zero Visibility

“Uh oh,” I said out loud inside my helmet, “not good.”

Post rainstorm fog had descended on Route 8 south of Floyd, Virginia, skirting the edge of the Rocky Knob Recreation area through which we now rode, some three thousand feet above sea level. We had avoided most of the wet that day, the return leg of our two-day spring motorcycle ride, and prospects were good for a fairly dry trip home, but visibility was fading fast.

Fifty feet, I thought, now thirty, now twenty, now … who cares! I can’t see! Get the face-shield up! Forget the distance, just stay on that white line!

I was experiencing, or right on the edge of experiencing, spatial disorientation–that unnerving feeling that happens to pilots, divers, and sometimes motorcyclists in fog, when the visual cues don’t match up with the little motion detectors in your head and body–making up seem like down, and down seem like up.

Those God-given motion detectors, called kinesthetic sensory receptors, are one of the reasons I love to ride, especially in the mountains. Carving the climbing curves with my old Beemer, swooping down switchbacks, soaring up the slopes, beveling my boot heels on the asphalt just before the foot pegs scrrrape! Pushing opposite bar, weight-shifting to the inside of the curve, down-shifting, grabbing some brake to preload the suspension, focusing everything on nailing the next apex. Then throttle on coming out, letting the physics of acceleration on uncoiling springs stand you up, ready now to fling it into the next turn going the other way.

If you can identify with that, you can understand why my friend Jamie and I love motorcycling so much. The wind in your face and bugs in your teeth are fun, too, but not nearly so much as the sensation of flying. I thank God every time I ride for the sheer joy of it.

Except when I run into fog; then I pray for deliverance, I slow down, and I concentrate on one critical thing: that bright white line along the edge of the road. Visibility may be ten feet. It may be less, but I know that line will lead me out of the fog.

Remember what the Psalmist said? “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws.”[1]

Life is like a long ride through the mountains and valleys, sometimes in sunshine, and sometimes in rain and fog. It is easy to stay upright when the sky is clear and the roads are dry. But some days the visibility will drop to almost zero and spiritual disorientation will make you wonder which way is up. That’s when you need to slow down, keep your eyes fixed on the bright white line of God’s word, and follow it out of the fog.

[1] Psalm 119:104-106, NIV.

THE CUBS AND EVERLASTING HOPE

“Maybe deep heartache takes the nearly impossible to cure because, having lost hope, the only remedy is for it to be replenished by what feels too much like a miracle to ignore.”[1]

Bill Reiter’s opening to his piece on the Cub’s improbable victory–pardon me, mauling of the Indians last night strikes a chord in the heart of every underdog-loving American.  We were watching when young Cub Addison Russell crushed a third inning grand slam over 434 feet, through the exit tunnel in center-right field.

Pandemonium! What a hit! What a reversal of fortunes! Maybe they can do it! Maybe, after 108 years, and down three games to one, the Cubs can win the pennant!

As exciting as it was to watch I have to admit that I am bemused by Reiter’s and other sports reporters’ spiritual allusions to what is, after all, only a game.

“When they move us to tears,” he writes, “to joy, to ebullience, to uncertainty and captivation and heartache and, most importantly, to awe — that is when they rise above some silly game and become something deeper and richer. Something truly lasting.”[2]

Reiter isn’t wrong to say that. In fact I agree with him. Yet the ephemeral nature of such events and our attraction, even our need for them, speaks to something deeper, reveals subterranean longings in our souls.

I remember the thrill of local hero Ward Burton’s 2002 Daytona 500 win. I was ready to paint my station wagon Caterpillar yellow. Yet Ward left NASCAR a few short years later. Current Cubs’ players, like my Atlanta Braves hero, John Smoltz, will sooner than later, be sharing a broadcast booth rather than standing on the mound in the world’s biggest baseball contest. And of course, the Cubs could go down in flames tonight!

Our enthusiasm for these transient victories testifies to deeper longings, truer truths, and our need for lasting hope. The deep heartaches we endure as members of the human race can only be healed by a miracle that offers hope.

That miracle happened and is not ephemeral, but lasting, truly too great to ignore. For one day long ago the underdog of all underdogs went up against a dynasty and went down three straight days. Buried under a curse his fans fell away with no hope at all until an amazing thing happened – like a bases loaded homer with two outs he came back to life. Hope everlasting was reborn on that day and continues down to this.

So if you’re looking for hope and awe that will outlast this year’s World Series, look to Jesus who took your brokenness, your shattered dreams, all of your errors and mistakes, and crushed them at the cross sending them, as it were, over the fence, as far as the east is from the west. Look to Jesus and live with everlasting hope.

[1] http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/cubs-indians-world-series-could-end-up-as-one-of-the-greatest-sports-stories-ever/

[2] Ibid.

OLYMPIC IDENTITIES: Who You Are is Greater than What You Do

Michael Phelp’s amazing return to gold medal form for the 2016 Olympics is the story of a man with a new mission in life. He was contemplating suicide in 2014 when his friend, Ray Lewis, an All-Pro linebacker and Christian, convinced him to enter rehab and gave him a copy of Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

Phelps recovered and thanked Lewis, saying to an ESPN reporter that the book “turned me into believing there is a power greater than myself and there is a purpose for me on this planet.”[1]

Phelps isn’t the only American medalist whose identity is anchored outside the pool. The silver medal winning U.S. 10M platform synchronized diving team of David Boudia and Steele Johnson also gave credit for their poise under pressure to something other than their training: their “identity in Christ.”

What’s going on here?

Ask the average Christian about their identity according to scripture and you often get a blank stare, or sometimes, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” But the New Testament fairly bubbles over with illustrations of the principle that once we have been “born again,” as Jesus said, or “regenerated and renewed,” in Paul’s idiom we are no longer simply saved sinners, we are “new creatures in Christ. The old things have passed away, and new things have come.”

Here are just a few Scriptural phrases that articulate the concept:

  • Colossians 2:13 – You have been “made alive with Christ” and are no longer “dead in trespasses and sins.”
  • Colossians 3:1 – You have been “raised with Christ” and your life is now “hidden with Christ in God.”
  • Hebrews 10: 10 – You have been “made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Christ once for all.”
  • Romans 6:3-4 – You died with Christ and were raised with him to a new life.

Athletes are, by definition, under loads of “performance pressure.” How they do on the field or in the pool will determine not only whether they win or lose, but often how they feel about themselves as persons; their self-worth measured by the few tenths of a point or hundredths of a second between the bronze medal and fourth place. At the highest levels, as was the case with Phelps, they often have no identity outside of their sport and once they age out, or can no longer compete with the best, become depressed. The internal need to succeed is enormous.

That’s why Boudia’s answer to how he handled the pressure was so important.

“You know,” he said during an interview after their dive, “it’s just an identity crisis. When my mind is on this, thinking I’m defined by this, then my mind goes crazy, but we both know our identity is in Christ.”

His diving partner, Johnson, agreed, “I think the way David just described it was flawless. The fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace. It gave me ease, and it let me enjoy the contest.”[2]

Take a lesson from these athletes and remember: if you’re a believer your identity is greater than your performance. You are accepted in Christ, you are loved by God, you belong to him and whether you have a gold medal day or come in somewhere back of bronze, nothing can change that.

[1] Michael Phelps is Driven; Breakpoint Daily, August 11, 2016, with Eric Metaxas.

[2] http://www.cnsnews.com/blog/michael-morris/us-olympic-divers-following-silver-medal-performance-our-identity-christ