Life, Faith & Running
". . . let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
(Hebrews 12:1, NIV)
One could use a lot of different adjectives to describe training for a marathon during the winter months in Minnesota. For example: gruesome, challenging, freezing-cold, and of course some would even use the word, stupid. But I like to stay on the positive side of the spectrum and describe it as an adventurous test of my threshold for cold in order to avoid double-digit miles on the treadmill.
The other day on one such run (16.5 miles in a feels like temp of -17F), my friend and I embraced the adventure and I again found that I am so thankful for a friend to run with and a God who meets us on the road no matter the conditions of the weather.
Somewhere about mile 10, after all the small talk was done and catching up on our kids’ lives and upcoming events, our conversation took that lovely turn to deeper topics. My absolute favorite part of endurance training--you have time to get below the surface with the people you are running with. As we embarked on sharing what God has been up to in our lives and the ways He has been teaching us through the books we are reading, the conversations we have had lately with other friends, and the Bible passages that had come up in both, I began to share with my friend a new perspective that had come to me when I was reading Luke 15 with our church’s Youth Group a few nights before.
In this passage there are three parables told in succession as a response to the Pharisees and teachers of the law questioning why in the world Jesus would choose to hang out with “tax collectors” and “sinners” (Luke 15:1-2). If you are unfamiliar with the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, suffice to say, they didn’t like him. In fact, they would grow to hate him and play a role in him being crucified on the cross. His teaching made them uncomfortable because it confronted the perceptions they had and called into question the validity of the laws they instituted. Laws that often put knowledge, sacrifice and behavior above grace, mercy and love as it was designed by God.
So, Jesus could have taken a very hard-headed response to their question, but instead he told them parables (a simple stories used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson). It is significant to note that it wasn’t just a story, but three stories with a common denominator--a lost thing. (I highly encourage you to pause right here and go read Luke 15 in its entirety and then come back for the rest of this commentary.)
Actually, there are a few commonalities between the stories: lost items, found items, and parties.
In the first story, there is a lost sheep. A shepherd who went searching for it. Found it. And had a party with his friends and neighbors when he got home with his lost lamb. In the second story, there is a lost coin. A woman who goes searching for it. Finds it. And has a party with her friends and neighbors when it is found. In the third story, there was a lost son. A father who stayed home. A big brother who stayed home. A son who returns home in order to be found. And, again, a big party with friends and neighbors to celebrate the lost being found.
When we lived overseas we had the fun opportunity to travel to markets in various countries in Asia. At many of these markets people made a living from selling goods, mostly to tourists. When trying to sell you on something they may have caught you looking at but set back down, it was common for them to say, “I find you something same same but different.” Meaning, if you like this but don’t want it I have something for you that is similar but I think you will like it better. Mostly the same, but a little bitter different. A little bit better!
As the youth and I were discussing this passage and looking for the commonalities in the text, I had this “same same but different” moment because for the first time I saw that the differences in the stories perhaps held just as much or more significance than the similarities. In the differences I began to see a message I hadn’t seen before. Later, I realized when we look at the commonalities we get the gist of the story. But when we look at the differences in the details we see this other side, this same same but different view of God’s uniquely persistent love for us.
Perhaps, because you are keener than me you have already picked this out--the differences are the ways in which the lost things were found. In the first story, the shepherd coming after the sheep represents Jesus or God (based on prophetic scripture from the Old Testament), and the lost lamb each of one of us. So, the lost is found by our amazing Jesus who searches and finds.
But in the second story, the lost thing is found by a woman. Have you ever thought of the significance of this in light of the time period? Woman didn’t hold too high of an honor in this society, so for Jesus to have a woman as the main character of a parable showing how the lost can be found makes me excited to get to heaven and ask Jesus why he did that. Needless to say, the character could have been a man and it would still be impactful because this second parables reveals that a person was instrumental and necessary for the finding of the lost coin. Same same but different. Something lost. Something found. This time by a woman.
The third story is longer and holds more detail and depth with there being a father, an older and younger brother. But for the sake of focussing in, I will save my intrigue with the older brother for a later writing. In this story, there is a son who in leaving finds himself lost. But no one goes looking for him. Not a shepherd. Not a women. The father, loving as he is, doesn’t appear to do anything to get him to come back home.
Do you see the magnitude of this difference?
Somehow when I have heard this taught or discussed I have walked away with the theme, “Jesus comes after us when we are lost.” Which isn’t wrong, but it actually only represents the first parable. In the second parable it isn’t Jesus who comes after us, instead he uses another person as a means to helping us be found. And in the third story he doesn’t come after the lost son at all. The father waits for the lost one to return.
Let that sink in for a little bit. Let that wash over your precepts for a moment.
As my friend and I were discussing the implications of understanding these stories in a new light, she said something very profound: “You know, there are so many stories that I have heard over and over again as person growing up in church and reading the Bible. Sadly, sometimes I skim through stories like this because I know that I have the gist of it down. But some of the most familiar stories have so much to teach us when we really dig into the details.”
Isn’t that the truth? Sometimes the Word fails to move us because we skim through what we think we know or have heard before. In the process we may miss the same same but different instances that could completely shift our perspective on who God is, a circumstance in front of us, or the posture of our hearts.
And these new paradigms don’t mean we were reading the Scriptures wrong in the past. A live and vibrant faith is not instant nor static. It is built over time by encountering Jesus, studying His words in the Bible, and having conversations with our friends and family about what we are reading, recognizing and learning. The path to maturity should be full of these paradigm shifting moments with the Bible because our view of God, ourselves and others always has room for growth.
You and I can each glean something slightly different from the commonalities and differences of the parables in Luke 15. For me, these differences ask me to believe that the ways God comes to the lost parts of our souls, broken relationships, or hopeless circumstances may look different from person to person and circumstance to circumstance or season to season. Sometimes I may experience Jesus coming to me in my darkest moments of of being lost. Other times I will be found by Him through a person he has placed in my life. And in some seasons, when my heart has turned away from him, He will stand there at the end of the road waiting with patience, filled with compassion and abounding in joy when I return.
Same same but different.
Throughout my life, I have experienced over and over again that God can not be put in a box. In our culture we want to formalize, organize, systemize, categorize and strategize our faith, finances, relationships, and mission. But Luke 15 reminds me that God is not one who operates within our human confines. He loves you and me too much to categorize, systemize or simplify his relationship with us. He is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. But he will always be meeting us differently based on what He knows is going to create the most growth in our souls and propel us toward unashamedly using our gifts, relationships and circumstances to go in search of lost coins needing to be found. Remembering all the while that the way one coin is found may not be the way the next one will be. Yet, no matter the method, when the lost is found a party of rejoicing should follow.
Same same but different.
Lastly, I hope this little ditty reveals to you how awesome it is to digest Scripture with friends. The first part of this paradigm shift in my understanding of the message of the parables in Luke 15 began with a discussion leading youth through the passage, it was extended during my own personal reflection later, and was greatly enhanced, affirmed and cemented in my mind and soul on a very long run, on a very cold day with a very dear friend. My challenge to you is to let Scripture come alive by allowing it into your daily conversations and reflections. Who knows what you might find when you do?
Her family and friends know her as, Jaci. She is the wife of a pastor, a mom of four, writing and communications education instructor, a visionary and an avid runner. As a firm believer in the power and effectiveness of the body of Christ united together to live out the Great Commission, she holds fast to this verse, "Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). Of equal importance to her are these words, "...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1).
Posts in the Run for Your Life, series: