Points to Ponder/As the Wheels Turn Reflections From a Summer Bike Tour
by Pastor Dennis Whitmore
Every summer I take a bike trip, ranging between 400 to 1000 miles. I pack enough clothing to accommodate varying weather conditions and a variety of tools and tubes to keep the bike running. I also pack a Bible, my daily journal, and a special book just for journaling during these rides. That’s really what these rides are about.
These journeys are done alone for about a week. It’s my time to be in the Word and just listen for God’s direction, or admonishment, as the hours of pedaling through the countryside tick on by. New perspectives are learned and major decisions have been made while on the saddle just talking with God.
This year, I rode 488 miles from Laurel, Maryland to Abingdon, Virginia. Marcella and the girls (a 5-year old and a 9-month old) were to meet me there by week’s end.
As I put in this space weekly, I had a “point to ponder” for myself every morning as I rode along. Being on the bike somehow helps me hear the Lord at a different level. I never take the time or sit still long enough at home to really get into some things. On the bike, all alone, I’m talking out loud. Perhaps it’s that act of just letting it all out that leaves me more open to allowing God’s perspective to ease in.
On day one, as I rode through Washington, D.C. at about 7:30 a.m., I was rolling through a rough-looking section. As I passed a church, I saw a man, in his 30s, drop to the sidewalk. Judging from the clothing and beat-up bags he had, he appeared to be homeless. I caught him going down out of the corner of my eye as I rolled past. I assumed he was drunk. I did not stop.
The reasons flooded my mind: bad neighborhood; hard to get this heavy-laden bike rolling fast if trouble came; he’s out in front of a church - someone will help, etc... On and on I justified the increasing distance my bike was taking me away from the situation.
Then I thought of the Good Samaritan story. “You are the priest - passing by on the other side of the road!” my conscience said. “Oh great,” I thought. “Come on. He was drunk!”
“He appeared to be drunk,” my conscience shot back. “He could be dead.” By this time I was blocks away and in a traffic situation that was preventing a quick turn about. Lucky me. However, I just couldn’t let it go. My brain was in this argument, and we hadn’t even gotten to breakfast yet. (“We”, meaning this voice and me.)
I did find a police officer and reported it to him. But still, I reflected on the energy it took to have this debate within myself in order to justify doing nothing.
Yeah, I guess I was the priest passing on the other side of the road. Maybe Jesus (in Luke 10:25-37) doesn’t list all of the priest’s and Levite’s excuses for not stopping because it would have taken too long. I know how long it took me.
Ministry is a lot like this. We put on conferences, seminars, and “summit meetings” with fancy titles, mottoes, and themes. But how much of it is an exercise in self-deception? When I was in sales we were taught a basic principle to keep in mind: “DON’T CONFUSE ACTIVITY WITH ACCOMPLISHMENT.” So many conferences and meetings are just celebrations of busyness - “look at us and all the things we are doing for God. ” Sometimes I think people believe God ought to be appreciative of the hard work and sacrifices we make in His name. For some, putting in that one hour on Sunday is something for which God should be grateful.
So what does this have to do with my being the priest who passed by on the other side of the road? A lot more than you may think.
It’s easy to preach on the Good Samaritan and the love command, which Jesus illustrated with the parable. It’s also easy to sit and listen to sermons and powerful stories that present scriptural truth. Most everyone likes a sermon that “hits you where you live.” However, when it’s time for some rubber-meets-the-road acting out of those truths, we find ourselves stuck in neutral. We already know what we need to do. It’s just a matter of having the guts and taking the risks to do it. We can, but most of us don’t.
I justified not stopping to help that fallen man because I felt more concern for my own safety than for that man’s life. That’s a tough confession to make, but there it is, in writing.
Now, get this: I was embarking on Day #1 of 5, on a 400-plus mile bicycle ride across parts of Virginia and North Carolina - ALONE - and yet I couldn’t stop because I was concerned about safety?
Here’s the point to ponder from that morning: My excuse was rational, sensible, and justifiable but it defied the greater purpose of the entire ride - to be in conversation with God. Imagine the conversation I could have had if I’d taken the risk to step outside of my comfort zone. Did I somehow think that God wasn’t there?
“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2 NIV)
Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment. True accomplishment that pleases God will always involve Risk. God will always be faithful to His children. Are we being truly faithful to Him?
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Whitmore serves God at The First United Methodist Church in Laurel, MD.