More than 107,289,600 Americans are expected take a Road Trip this year. Now this may sound rather adventurous and transformational and exciting and for many it will be. For others, it may simply include hitting the backroads from here to Muskogee. A fifty-mile ride was distance enough for the folks at AAA to call it a road trip. Some of those trips will have been carefully planned out, perhaps for even years now. Others will follow from a simple last minute text message from a friend who says, “Pick you up in ten.” It’s kind of a contagious spirit sort of thing. “Hittin’ the open road,” we say with a sense of freedom and satisfaction. Rubber meets the road and you’re like Jerry McGuire who finally finds Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ on the radio. He belts it out with the top down, the wind having its way with his hair and his hand hitting the steering wheel like it’s a drum. I’d love to give you slots for about five 30-second conversations right now with those sitting around you to ask them, and share yourself, where you’d road trip if the only stipulation was that you had to leave straight from here – right after the service. Where would you go? You’d probably determine pretty quickly who you might want to go with and who you might rather pat on the back and say, “Have a great trip!” We all have our own sense of what makes for a good road trip.
My family just returned from a big road trip. Covered more than 3,000 miles of good ol’ American highway and after a few years of family therapy, we’ll probably be able to recover from the experience. Just kidding. We’ve never traveled that far with the kids before. My folks joined us for the journey as well – first time any of us had made the trek to northwestern Wyoming to experience the Grand Tetons National Park and Yellowstone. I’m pretty sure that’s where God hangs out on vacation. The landscape is stunning. The weather this time of year, pristine. We had a remarkable time – one of our best family vaca’s ever – which, in part, inspired my consideration of this series and I’ll be sharing a bit from what I learned about road trips and the Spirit of God along the way. I will say, from the onset, since so many of you have asked me about the race, “It was great; not fast, for me, but wonderful nonetheless.” Carrie and I ran the Grand Tetons Half Marathon as part of our trip. Carrie’s done more than her share of half-marathons and she’s good at it. She took third place in her age division and got a little podium time. Super proud of her discipline and efforts. She’s running a full marathon next weekend because – well I don’t know why – it may be a syndrome or something. We’re checking into it. It was my first ever half-marathon. I am really just not built for this sort of thing. I ran the entire time. It hurt. And I wasn’t very fast. In fact, if you started watching the Rocky movies in sequential order when I started running that race, I would have finished the race about the time Ivan Drago towers over Apollo Creed in the boxing ring in Rocky IV saying, “If he dies, he dies.” Spoiler alert. Apollo dies. And, I was close.
But I lived. Here’s a little look at me finishing the race as historical proof. My kids, my wife, and my parents cheered me through the end and were the most honest with me. The kids were quick to point out the guy with the broken arm and the woman pushing the double stroller that finished before I did. “Did you see her, dad?” Son, yes, yes I did.” I tipped my hat to her about mile 8. I’m glad I did it; mostly to show my children that you can do hard things even when you’re not that good at them. I am grateful for your prayers and interest in this experience. I thought and prayed for you through those 13.1 mountainous miles. Thank you so much. It was a great part of our road trip.
A road trip is a marvelous metaphor of the spiritual journey we all find ourselves on in some shape or form. There are maps and caffeinated beverages for weary eyes. There are wrong turns and more bugs on the windshield than you imagined possible. I’m pretty sure we wiped out the entire population of all species of bugs on our recent trip. All. Of. Them. But the spirit life is this way too. It’s not a straight path. We get lost. Our spirit gets bugged to death and we can fall asleep at the wheel of our faith. Just pause for a few seconds and drop a pin on where your soul is right now. Dropping a pin is a simple Smartphone maps trick that allows you to know where you are exactly at any given moment. Think about your faith journey and watch the highlight reel in your mind in high speed. The first time you heard about God. The moment you accepted Jesus as the Way, the truth, the life. Your baptism. The first real struggle you had with some point of theology or some scripture passage that just didn’t fit your understanding of God. The time where you felt forgiveness was the Jesus-thing to do but for the love of all that is sacred, your heart couldn’t make that leap. Maybe you remember the first time you got that call from the nominations team, “Hey – we think you’d be a great elder. You game?” Maybe you have tough memories when you felt burned by church or couldn’t justify the hypocrisy of others you encountered who claimed to be fully devoted followers of Christ. Now – maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “Man – I haven’t experienced any of this.” That’s fine too. I’m not saying any of this path has to happen in some particular order – and maybe that’s just it – the spiritual journey is long and winding and different for each one of us. We’ll be exploring this idea of a spiritual road trip over the next three weeks together.
We start, today, by packing our bags. This is by far my least favorite part of any road trip. Packing for a trip is hard. We want to take the right things with us just in case some particular item will be the perfect thing for whatever situation arises. And in my household, that is my issue times five. And it’s hard to pack early, right? Because the stuff you likely want to pack is the stuff you’re using most days so you find yourself the night before the trip, scrambling around the house, laundering that ‘must have’ outfit that you wore that day because it was so cute but couldn’t imagine not having it as an option while you were on your trip. You watch three YouTube videos on ways to pack more compactly in the space that you have but your origami attempt at your boxer shorts just doesn’t come as easily as it did on the instructional video. You pack and then you unpack because you think you packed too warm of clothes and you think, “Layers is the way to go.” Then, you inspect what your kids have packed. They have a totally different sense than you do about what are essentials and what are not. My five-year-old may not have a single pair of socks or underwear packed for the trip but he’s got swim trunks, his entire action figure collection, and, now, two bags of totally crushed potato chips. “Packed! Let’s go!” By the time we get this sorted out times five, get the cooler packed (because ‘essentials’ right?), and everyone has the right number of car comforts in hand, you’re ready to just call the whole thing off.
I wonder if some of the disciples felt that way when Jesus sent them out to share the message of God’s love as they’d come to experience it in Jesus and heal the sick. The ninth chapter of Luke’s Gospel gives us this short account and it really gives us no reaction from the disciples themselves. The sending moment follows too very public healings where Jesus was overwhelmed by the crowds who were making demands of his gifts. He heals a hemorrhaging woman who had suffered for twelve years which happens to be the same length of time of the life of a community leader’s daughter who was dying whom he healed next. The desperate father begged Jesus to heal her and Jesus did so. It makes sense that the growing demands facing Jesus led him to call the twelve together and say, “Ready or not, tag – you’re it. You’ve got to get in on this ministry now in a new way. You’ve been learning and witnessing and experiencing what I’m about and now you’ve got to get out of the garage and on the road to carry this work with me.” Luke offers no commentary here though we get some of the typical disciple push back elsewhere so we can do some speculating. Peter was probably ready to roll – he’s been biting at the grit to get out there and preach and heal and walk on water. He was always game. Thomas was probably more hesitant – “Hold up, J-man. Your schematics are a little, shall we say, less than structured. I doubt this can work. We’re not ready for this.” Judas throws in a “What do we get paid?” and others scampered off to pack their Star Wars collection for the great road trip. I can’t imagine that the scene wasn’t a little chaotic – lots of questions and doubts and fears from the disciples. But Jesus quiets them down and gives them clear and straightforward directions: “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. You’ve already got everything you need for this spiritual road trip.”
And isn’t that the truth? You’ve already got everything you need to start your spiritual journey – or your new spiritual growth spurt. Instead of getting so caught up in what you lack – trust God and back your soul out of the garage. Get out there and experience God afresh. Donald Miller wrote a book called ‘Through Painted Deserts: Light, God, and Beauty on the Open Road.’ It’s a road trip memoir, if you will, about finding himself. He writes, “Life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath: “I’ll tell you how the sun rose a ribbon at a time…” In his introduction, he says, “My prayer is that your story will have involved some leaving and some coming home, some summer and some winter, some roses blooming out like children in a play. My hope is your story will be about changing, about getting something beautiful born inside of you, about learning to love a woman or a man, about learning to love a child, about moving yourself around water, around mountains, around friends, about learning to love others more than we love ourselves, about learning oneness as a way of understanding God. We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and the resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?”
Jesus tells the twelve – something beautiful is born inside of you – if you never get out there and let that out of your soul, you’ll never experience the gift of loving others, of being a healing presence, of making an impact beyond your own benefit. And some of them probably just wanted to stay home. They may have wanted to remain behind Jesus and point out who touched his robe or which kid had a picnic basket of bread and fish to share but never to be out front of him, commissioned by him to preach and heal. I’ll be darned if I don’t know what that feels like. My faith life gets comfortable. I believe enough. I serve enough. I know what it feels like to be on a faith-high like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus when he says, “Hey – it’s good for us to be here. I’ll build us a camp right here and pick up some snacks and we’ll just stay here forever.” Of course, Jesus says, “Pete, no. We’ve got to get back out there.” Where are you stuck in your faith? Where are you simply too comfortable? What part of your spirit life is sitting parked in the garage – paralyzed to get out there and find space for your spirit to grow in new ways?
Our most common excuse for remaining faith-stuck employs the “One day syndrome.” When the kids are out of the house. When I make partner. When I retire. When my schedule fits. When I know more. When I don’t have to change. When it won’t cost me any time or any money or my lifestyle or any of my stuff to take that next step of faith… then I’ll pull my soul out of the garage. Jesus says to his disciples what he says to us now – “You don’t need all that stuff.” He knows the person who travels light travels far and fast. He knows the person who isn’t caught up in the material is way more ready to be open to the spiritual. Jesus said, “Leave it.” And then as simply as Luke could have possibly put it, he says, “Commissioned, they left.” Blessed for the road; equipped in the soul; they set out to change the world. And they did it. It has often been said, “We regret far less the things we did than the things we did not do.” What can you leave behind that is weighing you down? How can you pack lighter so you can find God at work in the world more freely because you’re not consumed by your own things or your own agenda or your own schedule? Whether you’re stuck in park or revving your engine with the gear in neutral, it’s time to shift from a high-centered faith to a driving faith – one open to the road ahead.
Jessica Dyer finishes three years on our staff team this morning as she shifts out of her role as our Spiritual Development Director. I am so grateful for her collegiality and leadership in this adventure we have shared and am grateful for the ways we’ll continue to walk together yet. If Jessica Dyer has taught me anything, it is that the best is yet to come. Our story is always building if we’re willing to engage it where we are – we certainly know Christ meets us where we are. I’m grateful for her spirit that has helped our congregation get out of the garage — continually seeking, growing, and being open to the Spirit’s spark in each of us and each new person who finds a place on the Way with us. Jesus says, “Go. Preach with your life. Heal people who need healing. Get out there.” Your life is an ongoing inspiration waiting to be discovered again. How will your life preach Jesus today? Not in a cliché or corny sort of way – but how will your life bring light to the world today? Where is there discord that your presence might bring healing? This is what Jesus sent the twelve out to do. This is what he sends us to do now.
After the race in the Tetons and the award ceremony and the picture taking and the Cool and the Gang rendition of “Celebrate good times, come on!” we loaded our family onto one of the race shuttles to head back to the designated parking lot for the runners. There were seven in our family and so I ended up as the odd man out and in a seat next to a stranger. I was no longer sweaty nor out of breath but looked like I had fallen victim to a stampede of Wyoming Bison. Suzanne, a woman I learned was somewhere between the age of 60-64 due to her race division, was the lucky person who got to sit next to me. After settling in, she asked me a question about something out the window and we began to talk about the race. I immediately saw her gold medal, noting her finishing first in her age division. I congratulated her. She said she cried as she crossed the finish line — not even knowing she finished as well as she did. She was simply thrilled to race again – something she has enjoyed for years but had not done since she had her hip replaced seven months ago. She was a delight. We swapped ideas for good running music and she shared more about her recent surgery and the thought that she would never race again. She said, “You just have to get out there. At first, you can only run for thirty seconds before stopping. Then, another thirty and another thirty and before you know it, you’re running a half-marathon.” As we parted, I asked if I could take this picture. I told her, I like good stories and she has a good story.
A road trip of the soul is about living a good story; a story grounded in faith, in Christ, in hope and love. You don’t need much stuff for the journey; just a heart and a willingness to make that first move. At 6:17 AM on May 31st, having wrestled for a couple of hours with the game of luggage Tetris and loading up five souls in the car, I took a breath, offered our Briley travel prayer aloud, put the car in gear and we pulled out of the garage. The shift of that gear is the only reason we have the memories of 3,000+ miles of adventure, inspiration, family talks, and God-driven transformation. We can’t expect our souls to be any different. So take a breath won’t you? Say a prayer and put your soul in gear. You owe it to yourself. You owe it to others who may need your story to move along their own. You owe your one and precious life to God – to get in gear – to get out of the garage. No one can do it for you. You’ve got to make it go. You ready? Set? __________. The ‘go’ is up to you.
* * *
 Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller. Nelson Books. 2005.