Over an entire lifetime, there are many people, places, books and ideas that influence us along the way. As a child of the seventies, I vividly remember how Jesus People movement affected the evangelical world that I was connected to and then the intensity of interest in the second coming of Jesus Christ and the rapture. It seemed as if there was a special urgency to the Christian world at that time and almost a sense of crisis. Much of that sense of crisis, I suspect, came from the unsettling decade of the sixties when much a what was considered “normal” seemed to be turned on its head. This was compounded of course by the very real world events of the 1970’s like Watergate and the oil embargo that made everything seem like it had gone wrong in one way or another – the church groaned for the return of Christ in those days.
As I have noted in other blog posts, this desire for control and a return to normalcy is in part what I believe led to the significant evangelical involvement in politics in the next three decades. While I certainly do not condemn those who chose that route (I was heavily involved in Republican politics in my college years myself), it seems that this did not bring about the results that we had hoped for. In light of that reality, I have recently been pondering Hebrews 12:1 which says,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,”
It seems to me that the people that most deeply influenced me where the ones that gave me a chance to do what God created me to be and pushed me even when it made me uncomfortable. These days, some of those folks have gone on to glory and I am sure that they are a part of that cloud of witnesses that cheers me on each day.
When I was just thirteen years old, a man named Philip believed enough in me to give me my first job and eventually trusted me enough to make daily deposits at the bank nearby. At fourteen, my grandfather asked me to share my personal testimony in front of an entire church audience (much to my surprise and dismay at the time). How surprised I was that at 17, I was asked to speak at my grandfather’s memorial service with men much older than myself. Each one of these experiences and the people involved taught me something about myself and what God expected of me as I relied on Him for my strength.
As I think back now, however, one person outside of my family members sticks out in particular. Roy Lowrie, Jr. was my eleventh grade U.S. history teacher, my coach, mentor and eventually friend. That school year, I had transferred to a boarding school in Ashville, NC and I did not really know anyone at this new place. I had a mind that was bigger than my body (all 125 pounds of the 5 foot 6inch scrawny guy that I was) and lots of questions. These questions were about much more than U.S. History and given that this was a Christian boarding school, Roy often indulged me and even invited me to his home occasionally. He did not know all the answers to my questions, but he knew where to find them. As we searched the scriptures together, he also introduced me to authors like C.S. Lewis, R.C. Sproul and Francis Shaeffer who could amplify and expound on the deep issues that I was struggling with at the time. What I remember most about Roy though was that he believed in me personally. He allowed me to play on all three of the sports teams that he coached that year including the JJ Basketball team which meant that even though I was a junior in high school and playing with freshman, there was still a place for me. Much to my surprise and sadness, Roy went home to be with Jesus at any early age, but I know that he is in that great cloud today of witnesses today.
This past week, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, made the point that the violence erupting in England was the result of a slow motion moral decay. In the past, I would have been inclined to wonder what new policies or laws could be voted upon and then implemented to turn that tragic situation around. Now, however, I wonder if the real answer lies in the church choosing to invest in the lives of young people one at a time. Who will be the Roy Lowrie, Jr. in their lives, pointing the way to Jesus as the answer to all of their questions big and small?
As I think about my own life this week, I am so deeply indebted to that great cloud of witnesses that I am challenged to think about who else I am cheering on, encouraging, challenging and even prodding in this daily walk of faith. Oh that I may be a little bit like Roy to someone I am called to invest my time, talent and treasure with in the days ahead and someday join that mighty cloud of witnesses myself.