Beach Jogging Repentance
Rich Mullins penned these words:
“I’m just out of reach of the lights and the music; they silence out on the beach.
I know that’s where we’ll meet. And I’m not head over heels, and I’m not on cloud nine.
And I don’t think love is blind. `Cause I know that You see me, yet You still chose to be mine.”
I’ve met God out on the beach a lot over these past two weeks. No tingly, super-sized dose of unfettered quiet time emotions. Just God decidedly whispering, and bringing me to a place of gospel repentance. That’s how I’m walking (maybe limping) away from this study break. It’s been good.
On one waning morning, Sherry asked me what I’d been noticing. I told her there were a lot of strange runners. There were runners dressed like they’ve never run, and runners who probably had never run but looked like they had. They were outfitted to the hilt, and probably should focus more on their running. Some had funky strides, and many… though not really running… had arm movements to convince themselves they were running. Rarely would a pure, gazelle-like marathoner glide by, but when they did — it was a thing of great beauty. I explained to Sherry how water belts, fluorescent running shoes (they’re all the rage) and ipods were abounding all up and down the beach. If equipment was a measure of running, we were witness to Olympic training. I arrogantly surmised a mathematical running equation: the amount of giggly was equal to the amount of running previous to the beach. Sherry laughed. I took off for my run. I wonder what was said by the other beach chair judges about my stride. I wonder what Sherry thought.
During this excursion, I had poured through I Corinthians, various Old Testament stories, and five other selected study break books when I came to my last one. It was sovereignty with page numbers. I decided to take in Ray Ortlund’s “The Gospel: How The Church Portrays The Beauty Of Christ.” I poured through it. It was the punctuation point on what God had welled up within me this break. More gospel… only applied and practical. Ortlund is an engaging proponent of gospel-saturated churches. He believes there is a broad awakening and gospel discovery ripping through the Church. Continual gospel doctrine creating gospel practice will create a gospel culture with Jesus’ Church.
I was drinking Ortlund as fast as my ice tea. My bright green highlighter was given no time to rest. It was a scripture Ortlund had given over to small font that began breaking me. Galatians 2:14 reads… “When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel…” I’ve done ministry not focused on the depths and truth of the gospel. Over many years, I’ve been seeker-targeted, purpose-driven, emergent, contemporary, relevant, and just about anything I could get my hands on to grow churches. I have lead and vision cast and preached out of selfish ambition.
Remember those words of Paul in Philippians 1? Paul was jailed while others were preaching Christ out of selfish ambition. Paul lamented and resolved that still Jesus was preached. Over the years, I had always, always, always placed myself on Paul’s side. Everybody else around me was jacked up. OTHER preachers and pastors had sold out and operated from a clearly selfish ambition. Not me.
The fam and I went to a Saturday night church service last night. I had encouraged Sher and the kids to look for the gospel (we’ve been having this conversation…). The building was huge. The lights and stage smoke was… smokin.’ The music was loud and the sound impeccable. The free coffee was tasty. Jesus was mentioned but relegated as a guide for life. He could give deeper feelings of peace. Kept on the surface, this doesn’t sound too awful. But it all was focused more on me being a better me, and a church of thousands who believed in dreaming big. It was stuffed into a 30-minute message. John Stott says, “This is the age of the sermonette, and sermonettes make Christianettes.”
Although attracting hoardes in four services, I arrogantly deemed this church as having a weird, gospel-weak stride. My mathematical equation went something like this: The amount of church bells and whistles was equal to the amount of gospel lacking. It was self-ambition couched as relevant ministry to lost people. It was also what I have been so guilty of… and what God was/is pushing me to repent of.
How many years have I exhausted to work and strain and keep a leading edge on growing Christ’s Church. That’s a big job for any pastor, but one way too big for me — especially when the gospel was so incredibly minimalized. I thought about the many past efforts and campaigns and visions cast. Christ was preached. People found Jesus. Selfish ambition reigned. A need for repentance. It’s good for pastors too.
What I’ve realized is how a huge gospel has been neglected because of my large ambitions of success and equal fears of failure. However, over the past two or three study breaks, God has been driving me towards a bigger story. The gospel. This break has driven the gospel deeper than ever. God wants me to lead and be a part of a gospel-saturated church. His limitless grace still pours over me and is teaching me… and leading me to repentance because I’ve not led like this before.
Ortlund writes, “What will it take for the gospel, which we love, to renew the churches we also love? Given the corruption of our hearts (Jer. 17:9), the first thing to do is to kneel before God and humbly beg him to hold on to us. Every one of us is always five minutes away from moral and ministry failure.
I’m begging God to let me commit to and tell His bigger story in everything. I’m begging God to help me lead a gospel-saturated church. I can’t wait to preach this Sunday.
I took my last run on the beach. There was a stark realization of how I’m no better than any of the other weirdo beach joggers. Perhaps I’m worst. At least the other runners are honest about who they are. They obviously are hiding nothing. I still try to see how far I can run and suck in my gut. Ridiculous. More need for repentance. Sigh. So I began to run with abandonment and freedom. I cranked up gospel-saturated vocals of Rich Mullins in my ipod. My study break this year doesn’t have me floating on cloud nine with Jesus, but… “I’m just out of reach of the lights and the music; they silence out on the beach. I know that’s where we’ll meet. And I’m not head over heels, and I’m not on cloud nine. And I don’t think love is blind. `Cause I know that You see me, yet You still chose to be mine.”