Monday, May 14, 2012

Courageous or Crazy?

Have you ever been in a marathon?  I mean a real marathon... a 26.2 mile run?  I have been a runner off and on since Jr. High school.  I've never been that fast.  I've never won a race.  I've never even placed in my age bracket.  In fact, the last race I ran, I finished in 694th place.  And yes, there were more than 700 people in it.  But I digress.  I have decided to run all 26.2 miles of the first ever Canton Marathon on June 17, 2012.  I have paid the entry fee, I have been training, and strangely enough, I'm looking forward to the challenge of running a full marathon.  I don't plan to win... I just want to survive and finish.  Am I courageous or just plain crazy?

As of today, my longest run ever is about 17 miles, and the race is 33 days away.  I will do a few more long runs of 15-20 miles between now and then in addition to many shorter runs and swims.  For many months, I have been doing all I can to prepare.  I know this will be the most difficult physical challenge of my lifetime.  To me, this is an intentional step of faith - not faith in myself, but faith in God. 

Every moment of every day we depend on God for everything.  We may indeed depend on Him, but how much do we really trust Him?  I am asking myself:  Can I trust God enough to help me prepare adequately?  Can I trust God enough to protect me?  Am I willing to trust God to strengthen me for the long, grueling miles of a marathon?  Am I willing to take that kind of step of faith?  This race is as much of a spiritual test for me as it is a physical challenge. 

I could be injured on my next training run and miss out on the marathon altogether.  Or, everything might go as planned and I run it, finish it, and live to tell about it (obviously my preference).  There are a million possibilities, and only God knows the outcome.  But I want to be a stronger, more determined person so that I can ultimately better serve God with the life He has given me.  I believe the step of faith to run this marathon will better prepare me to do just that.  In fact, it already has. Some may call me courageous.  Some may call me crazy.  But if it's possible to run a marathon so I am better equipped to serve God, that's what I fully intend to do.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Complaint Department

Here's a conversation that never happens: "Hello? Is this the complaint department? Ok, good, I have something I'd like to say. And I'm going to be cynical, mean, degrading, loud and long-winded as I say it. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah."

Well, the complaint department "warning" almost never happens, but the "blah, blah, blah" part happens all the time. You and I know of people who persistantly and constantly complain. These complaints are so regular that they're literally a way of life; a way of breaking the ice or striking up a conversation. We live in a culture where complaining about anything and everything is commonplace. The social media culture has tremendously multiplied the number of complaints we see and hear every day. Lest you think I'm complaining about all the complaining, my rant on complaining is as much directed towards me as anyone. As I study the Psalms, I am convicted at how much I complain and how little I intentionally use edifying speech.

I'm in the current habit of studying 5 Psalms a day as part of my devotions. Most of the Psalms contain at least one statement that could be considered a complaint. But comparatively speaking, there are many more positive statements of praise and thanksgiving than complaints. One Psalm that has really stuck out to me is Psalm 34. These 22 verses are positive, God-focused, realistic and encouraging. The positive tone makes me want to read them again and again! Yet without complaints, these verses still acknowledge difficulty and suffering that happens in life. But one thing is clear: David intentionally avoided the temptation to complain. Instead, he said, "I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth." I love Psalm 34:12-14 which says, "What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it." If you (or someone you're close to) has been frequenting the complaint department hotline, spend some quality time in Psalm 34 and let God's Word demonstrate how to speak words that build others up rather than wear others out.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Halloween Confession

On this Halloween day, it is time to brush aside the cobwebs and resurrect my dead and buried blog. I have recently stolen my share of Halloween candy from my boys’ stashes and it has me thinking about honesty. I will steal it when they’re in the next room. I will take it after they have gone to bed. I even secretly took a piece to work with me today. If we are not careful, we can too easily slip into a lifestyle of deceit, and cover-up. Halloween candy aside, how many people live with destructive secrets that are harbored, enjoyed, and covered up to protect the guilty? It happens every day in marriages, families, relationships, churches and workplaces. We can fool everyone around us, but that’s really nothing to Snicker at. In fact, it is a Whopper of a problem. Deceit and lies and cover ups cause people to live paranoid lives. It builds Mounds of walls between us and others as people live in fear of being discovered.

Honesty is like the chocolate in an M&M. Without it, our relationships will be hollow and disappointing to everyone – including ourselves. When honesty is valued, we have a built-in system of accountability. A person who has nothing to cover up is free. A person who harbors secrets out of fear is a slave to his or her own pride. The Lord sees it all, so let’s start with being brutally honest with Him. Proverbs 15:3 – “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” Rather than seeing this promise as a threat, let’s embrace it as a blessing. God’s conviction brings eventual blessing when we choose to value honesty. I’m off to ask for a Reese’s Cup.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Taking the Plunge

I have recently developed a new habit. It isn't one that I expected or even wanted. In fact, I used to scoff at people who did such things. I'm really not sure why I even tried it. Most people who hear about it act like there's something wrong with me. I could stop if I wanted, but it is after all a habit now. I'll tell you what it is in a minute.

A habit is a nice, safe word that people with addictions like to use. Is there something in your life that you can't live without? Have you tried to stop with only limited success? People just don't wake up and say, "I'm going to start a new addiction!" But addictions are the prison bars of life that countless people grab onto every day even when they want to release. I know people addicted to drugs and alcohol, pornography, food, eating disorders and television. You probably do too. I know people addicted to other people, technology and sports. You probably do too. I even know a few addicted to themselves. You probably do too. Addictions always seem easier to spot in someone else's life. Do you have the ability to distinguish between an addiction and a habit in your life? Whether it's a habit or an addiction, it can and needs to be given to God and controlled.

My new habit is swimming. I get up at 5:30 AM 2-3 days a week and swim. My first day I felt like I was going to drown after 12 lengths of the pool. For some reason I decided to go back and try it again... and again... and again. Every swim day I wake up and decide if my habit is worth getting out of my warm, comfortable bed. At this point, I have made the decision to go swim every time - 14 different times now. This morning I swam 44 lengths. I have learned that the benefits far outweigh the struggle. I've decided that a good habit is a conscious decision every time... it doesn't happen automatically. Conversely, an addiction is something that almost happens automatically because saying "NO" seems impossible. My swimming habit is far from an addiction, but like anything, it could become one. It has to be given to God and controlled.

Is there a new habit that you need to start? It won't ever be a habit unless you begin and decide upon it every time. Is there an addiction that you can't live without? No matter what it is, it can be controlled when you develop the habit of giving it to God.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Heaven is a Place on Earth

Recently I took Benjamin and Ethan on a camping trip to some family land in the sticks of West Virginia. There is no house there, no building, no water, no people, and of course, no bathroom. But there are endless camping spots, plentiful firewood, hiking trails, wildlife and seclusion. My busy life needs the occasional refreshment of time in the wild and time with my boys. I was reminded yet again that Heaven is a place on Earth.

At the crackling campfire we stared in amazement at the innumerable stars filling the crystal-clear night sky. The three of us and sang the song, "Indescribable" and discussed how God knows the name of every one of those stars and everything about them. We talked about how the Big Dipper looks the same 3 hours away as it does at home. We listened to an owl join in with the night sounds as it repeatedly called into the darkness. We discussed at length the dangers of alcohol and drug use and how to say no to temptation. We actively missed LaVonna and the younger boys and look forward to them joining us when the young guys get a little older.

What makes Heaven a place on Earth? Extended, secluded time with God, His creation and family. On this side of Heaven, it simply will not get any better than that.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bible Reading Laziness

People everywhere are reading their Bibles... at least for a few more days. Thousands of guilt-avoiders have entered 2010 saying, "I should read my Bible more this year." As a Christian and pastor, I'm always thrilled when people read their Bibles. Lots of slipping is starting to take place - on the roads - and in our Bible study attempts. We are less than 2 full weeks into 2010 and there are untold numbers who have started slipping from their vague "read the Bible more this year" resolutions. It has become another chore or "to do list" item. It can and should be one activity that we really look forward to doing. I actively work to avoid the disease of "Bible Reading Laziness." Here's some things that I do to keep it fresh and exciting for me.
1) I develop a plan of what I will read today in the Bible. I have done many different plans over the years. Without an intentional approach, you'll stop sooner.
2) I pray that God will help me stay focused and interested. Don't forget, this is His word after all.
3) I work to understand what it meant when it was written before I seek to make personal applications. This is the hard part, but it is the key to becoming a Bible student.
4) I often read with a pencil in hand. My mind is much more focused and engaged when I am looking to circle or underline in my Bible (I like pencils b/c pens & highlighters too often bleed through the thin page).
5) I will sometimes read out loud. The words sink in when I see, hear, and say them.
6) I read (much) more than a chapter a day. I can read most chapters in 5 minutes or less. Spend some time reading more at once so it has a chance to sink in.
7) I always read a more "interesting" book when I'm in a tougher book. For instance, I recommend reading a New Testament epistle to supplement your reading of books like Leviticus or Ezekiel. (there are no unimportant books - but some are more straightforward and directly practical)
8) I view Bible Reading and Bible Study as two separate activities. All Christians should do both. Bible Reading is like doing an aerial tour of the Grand Canyon. Bible Study is like hiking through the Grand Canyon.
9) I look forwards to sharing what I learn with others. Why should I keep all this good stuff to myself?
10) I read the Bible through in a new translation every year. With true respect for those whom this appals, this helps me evaluate translations while experiencing true spiritual growth through the readily available resources of our day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Dawg-Gone Disappointment

The profanity was profuse, the beer was flowing, and the deafening boos rang out. Welcome to Cleveland Browns Stadium. Of these activities, I participated in only one - the occasional "boo" of disapproval. It was my first NFL game, and I won't soon forget it. Monday Night Football. National TV audience. As predicted, the hopeful anticipation of the first half soon turned to dismal embarrassment. Final score: Ravens 16, Browns 0. I'm pretty sure that I was more entertained by the insane fans than the game itself. Clevelanders passionately love their Brownies. They also love having no leg room, sitting in the personal space of their neighbors, waiting 25 minutes for a piece of expensive pizza and coffee, and paying $25 to park. Amid all of the inconveniences (including the horrible team), thousands of those people live for evenings like that. In a joyless world of debt, stress, and frustration, people everywhere long for something to bring happiness and fulfillment to life. By the end of the 3rd quarter, tens of thousands of angry, disappointed, and drunk fans hit the exits like cattle being herded towards greener pasture. I actually felt bad for them. Not that their team is so horrible... I felt bad that so many lives are lacking true fulfillment. Sure, I left disappointed too, but I actually looked forward to getting up and going to work on Tuesday. I get to serve God. I am genuinely fulfilled in life because of my relationship with Him. I hope you know Him in a personal way and are finding true fulfillment in life by following Jesus. "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord." Philippians 3:7-8.