God and Tandem Bikes


©Earl Harper

A friend at the church owns a tandem bike.  He has been after me for some time to give it a go.  I finally got around to borrowing it.  The last time I jumped on such a bike was nineteen years ago when my wife and I were visiting Mackinaw Island.  Sunday was the first time either of our kids rode one.

Tandem bikes are an interesting invention.  They require a great deal of patience and coordination.  It involves communication and focus.

There was a bit of anxiety the first time we jumped on the bike.  One person would turn towards the left; the other person towards the right.  At times, the front person would stop peddling while the rear person continued.  It caused a lot of instability.  The bike would shake back and forth.  On several occasions it seemed as if we were going to topple over.

On one stretch my son wanted to be in the front.  The front person is in charge of steering, speed, and braking.  In essence, they control the bike.  In my opinion, it is also good to have the heavier person in front for balance.  But, I thought this would be a good experience for him.  So, Ryan jumped on the front while I sat on the back.  Needless to say, there were some tense moments.  It took several attempts to get the bike going as it wobbled back and forth between the grass and the sidewalk.  One of us would shift our weight in the seat causing the bike to twist and turn.  He wanted to go faster; I wanted to slow down (primarily because I did not have control in the backseat).  I kept instructing him by barking from the back seat to speed up, slow down, keep it still. Several times we had to stop the bike.

However, once we got going, once we were in sync it was a very enjoyable ride.  It was smooth as both people peddled together.  There was coordination as the front person focused on steering while the back person kept their eyes open for other bikers coming up behind us.  The moments we worked together were the smoothest and most enjoyable.

Our relationship with God works in a similar way.  Too often, we are out of sync with God.  God is moving life along at a particular pace.  Yet, we have a different plan.  We want things to happen quicker or slower.  We are asking Him to speed up, slow down, or keep it still.  Other times He is prompting us to talk to someone, serve in a particular area, or surrender a specific area.  However, we are very happy ignoring these promptings by going in the opposite direct.

We want control.  We want to lead.

When we work against God it leads to a stressful ride.  It is not smooth.  It is tense.  It is confusing.  It does not work when we try to be in charge.  God desires that we work in tandem with Him.  We can choose not to.  However, we should not be surprised when it leads to problems.  It doesn’t mean the ride will always be easy.  We learn through difficulties.  Yet, many of our anxieties and problems would be resolved by simply allowing God to be in control.  Let God steer.  Let Him dictate the pace.  Let Him direct us.   It is much more enjoyable and smooth.



Perseverance is a group endeavor


Perseverance is a group endeavor.

Our vacation consisted of a lot of hiking – 26 miles worth.  It has always been a dream of ours to take the kids to Yosemite.  We waited until they were old enough to remember the trip and to endure some good hikes.  In our opinion, the only way to see a national park is by foot.

We planned our hikes.  Our goal was to do two major hikes:  a fourteen mile and a seven mile.  The fourteen mile is intense.  It involves getting up at 4 a.m. in order that you can return before it gets dark.  It is considered one of the most dangerous hikes in America.  Yet, this is how we generally approach vacations – go for it.  Our plan was to tackle this hike first while we still had the energy.  Our daughter infused some wisdom into us by saying we should build up to it.  We decided to start with the seven-mile hike.  It actually turned out to be a ten-mile hike when it was all said and done.

We packed up for the hike the day before.  Cliff bars, cheese, crackers, sausage, and six bottles of water each.  The rangers recommended three liters of water per person for this hike (yes we went through every one of them).  We woke up at 6 a.m., ate a quick breakfast, and hit the trailhead by 7 a.m.  It was a perfect day – cool and sunny.  We attacked the first part of the hike with ease.  We stopped occasionally but everything seemed to go as planned.  At the half way mark we reached the base of the Upper Yosemite Falls.  Gorgeous.  Breathtaking.  This was definitely worth the hike!

The second half of the hike proved much more difficult.  It was 10:30 in the morning.  The next hour and a half involved a series of switchbacks in the direct heat.  By this time, it was in the high 80s.  We started an intense climb at roughly a 45-degree angle.  The guidebook warned us that we would climb what amounted to two Empire State Buildings over the course of the hike.  They were not joking!  I think it was more like three!  We found ourselves stopping every ten minutes.  We would rest for five minutes in the hope that our energy would return.  Then, we would start again only to find ourselves tired after two to three steps.  We are not inclined to give up on anything.  Yet, this hike nearly beat us.  Our son began calling it the “death hike.”

At this point, we began to encourage one another.  We checked on how each person was doing.  We make sure everyone was drinking ample water.  We would find a shady place and rest whenever we could.  I began to create a fictitious story with my son to keep his mind off the fatigue.  We kept reminding one another that we were almost there – a few more steps.  It became group survival.

During the first part of the hike, we were together as a family but leisurely walking as individuals, not necessarily dependent on another person to move forward.  It was a different story during the second half.  We needed each other!

In the end we finished the hike.  We enjoyed a wonderful lunch at the summit.  Then, we made the easier trek back downhill, making sure to encourage those that were coming up behind us.  Spent, we wisely decided to only do the first half of the fourteen mile hike the next day.

It is easy to do the Christian life alone.  We live in community but not deeply.  We see people but do not depend on them.  We are walking through life at a leisurely pace without true need for the other person.  It is the American way – independent and self-sufficient.  Yet, it is not enough.  Christ wants us to live in intentional, life-giving relationships.  Relationships where we are in it together encouraging and spurring on another.  It is these relationships that help us through the challenging times of life.  Christ loves these connections.  He resides in the midst of them.  Ironically, it is the very relationships where we are most dependent that we are the most strong.  Strong because we are depending on Christ and one another!


Reconciliation is more than skin deep


Our country continues to face a racial problem.  The events of the past week indicate the ethnic divide runs deep.  The tensions between particular groups highlight the deep animosity and distrust that exists in our country.  Eight years ago news banners proclaimed that we have moved past the problem of race by electing an African-American president.  Recent events indicate no such reality exists in our country.  In fact, it seems that we are more polarized than ever.

Elections haven’t worked.  The problem has not been solved through education.  Diversity in our schools hasn’t eradicated the tension.  Public awareness is not serving as the solution.  Conversations about the distrust and discrimination are helpful yet not guaranteeing racial harmony.  These improvements are necessary and highlight progress in our country.  However, it doesn’t change the core problem – the human heart.  There is something inside of us that instinctively throws up barriers to other people, namely those that look different from us.  Racial tension is intrinsically linked to our fallen nature that repels reconciliation and seeks to dominate another person, especially someone who looks different than us.

Christ’s redemption addresses this core issue.  It moves past the surface to the innate animosity and segregation that exists in our hearts – “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  Jesus is not advocating for one race when he makes this statement.  Rather, he is arguing that true reconciliation is found in God’s redemptive purposes.  It is possible to live in true harmony with someone physically different from you through the cross.

In Christ, forgiveness is possible.  In Christ, healing can occur.  In Christ, we begin to see a person as made in the image of God rather than defined by their skin color.  In Christ, we can let go of painful memories in the past and make steps of trust towards another person.  It is possible because the seed of hatred, our sinful hearts, is addressed.

It is the primary reason I believe the church should be at the forefront of racial conversations.  In our hands is the life-changing reality that can spur true reconciliation.  Yet, it requires moving past simply talking about unity to living out unity in our relationships and communities.  As believers, we should be the first to extend hospitality to someone who “looks” different than us but in reality is knitted by the same Creator.  Christ’s transforming work should prompt us to extend grace and love.  Our churches should be safe places for honest discussions on matters of race.  Inclusion on a Sunday morning should be normal rather than forced.

As I look to the future, the credibility of the gospel is at stake.  My daughter attends a high school where over seventy different countries are represented.  She does not see her peers in shades of color but rather as human beings.  Several years from now when she looks for a church to call her own, will she find one where the gospel is penetrating racial lines – communities of faith that reflect the changing demographic in our country?  Or will she see polarization?   My prayer is that she will find life-giving faith communities that are living out racial reconciliation by worshiping the same God.  In doing so, the church can offer a powerful antidote to the problem of race in our neighborhoods.