For it is by grace you have been saved...

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Reflections on 15 Years at Faith

Today marks the 15th Anniversary of my first Sunday as Pastor at Faith Southern Baptist Church. Given the fact that we've served in pastoral ministry for just less than 30 years, and have served a handful of churches and ministries in that time, it doesn't take a math genius to realize that we've been at this church for more than half our ministry lives (and three times as long as anywhere else). Also, given the fact that this fellowship is getting ready to celebrate our 20th Anniversary, it's overwhelming to me to realize that I've been the pastor here for three quarters of the church's existence. Wow!

I jokingly mentioned to someone recently that “you'd think a guy would accomplish something in 15 years.” To which they said, “You have accomplished something; they let you stay for 15 years!” The truth behind that is sad. With the average pastor staying less than five years (even in my own early history), it seems to be a remarkable thing to be in the same church for 15 years.

There is much for me to be thankful for. This church fellowship has been amazingly loving and kind and patient and supportive and generous. Not that we haven't had our bumps along the way. I wish it weren't so. I wish I could take back every mistake, every oversight, every hasty word. I wish that some who have come and gone over the years, would have come and stayed. In hindsight I know that my sermons could have been better, my priorities could have been stronger, my love and care for these people could have been displayed better.

Yet, as my Daddy used to say, “wish in one hand and spit in the other, and see which one fills up the quickest.” May not be the most theologically perfect statement, or the most tactful; but it's true. And to “wish” for things to be different, in the end, denies the goodness of our Sovereign King who ordered it to be so. But I digress.

As I was saying, there is much to be thankful for. We have seen God do some amazing things. We've seen Him provide in situations where only He could have provided. We've seen lives changed that only He could change (which is really all of us, right?). We've experienced the joys of friendship and fellowship. Though some ministries/programs have only lasted a season, we've seen blessings in them all.

One of the joys of a longer ministry tenure is seeing children become adults, get married and start having children of their own. It's mind boggling to me to know that some of these young people have never had a pastor other than me. That's humbling, and quite honestly, frightening in a sense; challenging. (Keep you up at night kind of challenging!)

We've shared joys and sorrows together. The whole “marry 'em and bury 'em” king of thing. We've seen some come to see Christ for the first time, and some go to see Christ face to face. Thankfully, we've seen so many grow in their faith, and are blessed right now to have a group of folks who genuinely hunger for the Word of God. I once told someone that I've always said I'd rather serve 30 people who genuinely love Christ and are seeking to grow in Him, than to serve 300 professlings; and I'm about to whittle it down to those 30!

Sadly, while the truth of the blessing part of that, those growing in faith, is true; the down side of that, the small number, is also truer than I'd like. Of course, we're never satisfied with “numbers.” We'd always like to see more people in our worship services, see more lives changed eternally, more...I don't know, just more. Being an introspective/melancholy kind of person, I could get a little depressed that maybe we haven't seen some more of those outwardly visibly kinds of things. I sometimes wonder if the church would prosper more with someone else as pastor. If maybe I'm “doing it wrong,” or some other self-centered, pity party kind of thought. But God rescues me from those and reminds me of His grace; that it's all about Him, all according to His plans and purposes, all for His glory.

So, I am grateful for all God has done. For all He has taught me. For the little I've been able to teach others. I'm thankful for the blessing of serving this fellowship of believers for the last 15 years; and God willing, I'm am excited about serving for the next 15, or 20, or however long God will allow it. I've said frequently, and mean with all my heart, than I am perfectly content to retire here. Not that I'm looking to do that anytime soon! Just that I have no desire to go elsewhere. No desire to leave this precious family for any other.

I could go on, but I've rambled on too much all ready. So let me just say, “Thank you.”

Thank you to the people of Faith Southern for allowing me to serve you. Please pray for me that God will enable me to do a better job of that serving. Pray that He will continue to draw me to His Word, so that Christ and His glory will remain at the center of all we do.

Thank you to my wife and children. You have given and given up more than many will ever know. Only another pastor's family can appreciate the level of commitment and sacrifice. I pray your love for Christ and His church continues to grow, in spite of me and sometimes in spite of the things you've seen in “church.”

And Thank You, Father God. For the privilege of being Your child, and the sacrifice of Christ which makes that possible. Thank You for the joy of serving You at all. And thank You for the blessing of serving this body of believers. I know I'm imperfect, and I know You know I'm imperfect; and I thank you for the grace that allows me to serve anyway. Give me grace and faith and strength to keep pressing on, to one day here those most long-for words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Sunday, July 29, 2018

A Fasting Hymn

I've read about so many pastors of a few generations ago, who would regularly write hymns for their church services.  Especially if they couldn't find one that "fit" with a particular service.


Preaching through Matthew I come to a mention of "fasting."  So, I'm preaching on fasting.  There aren't many hymns about fasting, at least that I could find.  So, I wrote one.  This is what we sang this morning.

We come with empty hands, O Lord
To lift Your Name in praise
We take our eyes off of the world
Upon Your face to gaze.

We set aside the things of life
To seek Your will and way
We need Your grace, Your guiding light
Oh help us, Lord, we pray

Our daily bread comes by Your grace
For that we praise You, Lord
Yet gladly we forego that taste
To feast upon Your Word

In Christ we have all that we need
In Him we rest secure
Upon His truth we now will feed
And our reward is sure

To You, O Lord, we give our fast
Your presence now our aim
We ask for blessings that will last
To glorify Your Name.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Cure for Racism (or at least in our family)

I would never suggest that my wife and I are perfect parents, that our children are perfect people, or that our efforts are the perfect example.  But please read to the end before making any judgments on what I'm saying here.  Because I have to say that my children have demonstrated more than once that gospel centered living, a biblical understanding of personhood, and Christ like love is the answer for racism.

I've been hearing so much lately about how the only way we can reconcile all the racial tension is for “white” people to apologize for every wrong ever done to “black” people.  This is so flawed because it is in itself a “racist” idea.  The very concept divides us into categories.  It assumes that because I'm white, my family history is full of racists; and because someone else is black, they are the children of slaves and victims.  That's racist.

It could be that my family heritage is full of Christ centered opponents of slavery and racism.  It could be that this person is the descendant of tribal royalty only recently emigrated to this country.  Probably not.  But to automatically infer that my skin color defines my heart and the heart of my family is racist.  To demand for me to apologize for something I didn't do simply based on skin color, is in fact racist.  And it's no more helpful than asking those of darker color to have to apologize for inter-tribal atrocities done in their own history.  Furthermore, it just reinforces our differences, instead of focusing on the truth we are all just People.  

I dealt with this while living on a Sioux Reservation in North Dakota.  My response to people who brought up the past “outrages” done by one side or the other, was simply “that wasn't me, and it wasn't you.  We live in the here and now, and I love you with the love of the Lord.”  I know that sounds simplistic.  But here's where my kids come in.

Our oldest daughter was only a toddler when we moved to that Reservation.  When we moved back to Missouri several years later, she heard some folks talking about “Indians” in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.  And she came home and asked us, “Do we know any Indians?” We chuckled and started naming some of our friends from North Dakota.  And her innocent response was shock.  “They were Indians?!”  It never dawned on her that those folks were anything other than People.  Friends.  Church members.  Children of God.  People, period.

Again, we aren't perfect parents.  But we've tried to always live with a biblical attitude that says there is only one race: the human race.  And there are only two kinds of people: those who know Christ, and those who need to know Christ.  And, thankfully, our children picked up on that.

Example number two.  Fast forward almost 20 years.  Our little later-in-life-surprise is now 13 years old.  We've tried to raise him like the other, older three, with the same ideas of personhood.  And it seems to have paid off. 

We brought home the DVD of The Greatest Showman, which he hadn't seen yet.  For any others who haven't seen it, one of the main sub plots is the budding romance between two people of different skin colors.  And they are the focus of much scorn and derision by other characters in the movie.  

After the movie was over, I asked our son:  “Do you know why the relationship between Carlyle and Anne was such a big deal?  Why people were so offended and upset by it?”  And his answer was a confused, “Uh, not really?”  My heart just exploded with joy.  He is so oblivious to the very idea that people would be upset by an “inter-racial” relationship, that it blew right by him. 

When I explained that in the time this movie was set, folks were bothered by that sort of thing, he just said, “Ohh.  I didn't think of that.  Yeah, I guess that makes sense.”  Just didn't even seem like an issue for him

I know I'm probably just being a little naive here.  But if we just spent more time seeing people's hearts changed by the gospel, living lives according to biblical ideals, seeing people as people instead of doing a million other things to highlight our differences, we just might be a little better off.

In the end, I realize that we will never “end racism”, because racism is sin and we will never be free from sin in this world.  Only when Christ returns and establishes His kingdom will we finally live together in the harmony God desires.  But we can at least work toward that end.  We can look at people as people, not as a skin color.  And we can teach our children to do the same, not teach them to feel guilty for the sins of generations ago.  Instead let's help them look to the present and future with the hope of Christ.  And maybe that will bring us just a little closer to that elusive “end.” 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Don't Be Anxious About Your Anxiety

I can be a real mess.  I mentioned in the last post about anxiety being the prompt for the whole thing.  And I've confessed here, and to our church, on many occasions this ongoing struggle. But what really gets me is the circular pattern I can get into.

I start to feel anxious about something.  And then knowing that I am commanded in Scripture not to feel anxious, I get upset about being anxious.  And then my anxiety increases as I become more anxious, and more anxious about being anxious, and... well, you get the point.  Told you I was a mess.

As I got to thinking about this, I realized that while it is still wrong for me to be anxious, it may be even worse to be anxious about being anxious.  Because God knew I would struggle with this. That's why He has to tell me in His Word, over and over, not to fear; not to be anxious.  I don't think He would have felt the need to repeat this so many times had He not known what a real, ongoing temptation this was going to be. 

And not just for me. I'm not arrogant to think that God wrote all those things just for my particular case.  He must have known that His people in general would struggle here. 

Now, before I go any further, let's put this one little thing to rest.  I have heard, read, been told that God says “Do not fear” exactly 365 times in the Bible, one for each day of the year.  Isn't that amazing??  Of course, a few problems here:
    1) The Jewish calendar only has 354 days.  The 365 day calendar is a much more modern invention, so to say that God put that number in the Bible just for us today ignores the multitudes who came before us.  Pretty arrogant, don't you think?
    2) A survey of the Biblical text shows that combining all references to not being afraid, all commands, all variations of words, etc., doesn't total anywhere near that number.  I've done my own counting, read several others, and while we all had different numbers (based on translations, what we included, etc) the most anyone came up with was about 250.
    3) Does God really need to say it once a day to get the point across.  I've read this like it makes it a special command because of the 365.  God only needs to say it once for it to be true.

So, forget that little piece of fake trivia.  And yet, the truth is that though God doesn't need to repeat a command, this happens to be one that He does repeat.  Not 365 times, but frequently.  Which says to me that He knows this will be an issue. We need to hear it. I can't imagine Him bothering to repeat a command that folks aren't even going to struggle with.

So don't be anxious about being anxious.  God knows it's a struggle.  I'm not excusing the lack of faith and maturity that often leads to that anxiety in the first place.  After all, God does indeed command me to “be anxious for nothing.”  I need to obey that.  Not excuse it.  But I also don't need to continue to beat myself up over the struggle when obviously God knew that struggle would be real.

Instead of focusing on the fear, or on the sin of fear, put your eyes where they are supposed to be.  On Christ.  C. H. Spurgeon once said, “Great thoughts of your sin alone will drive you to despair; but great thoughts of Christ will guide you into the haven of peace.”  I'll just put an “amen” here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Blowing the Dust Off


Sorry about that. Just trying to blow the dust off this old blog to see if anything still works. It's a bit rusty and dusty. The buttons might be sticking a little. But I think it might be salvagable.

Honestly, I don't know if I'm going to be able to really get this back up and running regularly or not. I've tried a couple times in the past. It's sad really. For several years I was able to put together some thoughts on a regular basis that were almost worthy of being read by others. And then it all just seemed to dry up.

I wrote about some of the reasons I thought this might have happened, so I won't repeat that here. To be honest, I've had in the back of my mind a desire to get this going again for some time. Time will tell how that works out.

The truth is, in my ongoing struggles against anxiety, I was up last night in prayer. Again. Being faithless. Again. And a few words came to mind as a hymn/song/prayer and I wanted to write them down. I want to remember them for myself, sing them to myself. But I also thought they might encourage someone else as well.

Hence the plan to blow the dust of this blog, simply as a means of sharing. Nothing magical. Nothing profound. Just a few thoughts on the struggle. Sometimes I need to blow the dust of my faith as well; remind myself of truths I know, but seem to forget. I pray you are daily reminded that though the struggle may be real, the victory truly is ours in Christ. Soli Deo Gloria

Great and gracious God of glory,
In my weakness I cry out.
As you write this day my story,
Give me strength to shatter doubt.
Sins o'erwhelm me,
Fears assail me;
Christ has come to conquer sin;
Come, O Lord, and heal within.

Daily battles still confront me;
Daily to the Cross I run.
Though I'm weak and often weary,
In Christ's work the battle's won.
Give Your power,
For each hour;
Give me faith to trust each day;
For Your glory, this I pray.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
Three-in-One, my Savior, Lord;
When I pray, I know You hear it;
You are faithful to Your word.
Help my eyes see
Christ in vict'ry,
So my life will praise Your name,
And help others do the same.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Your Greatest Need

Just a short excerpt from a recent sermon reminding you of your greatest need.  All you need to know in less than one minute.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Watching “The Shack” and Eating Doggie Doo

Sorry for the strong language there.  Doggie doo isn't something I normally talk about in public.  But I can't help but think of the analogy when I hear so many well meaning Christians talk about wanting to see The Shack movie, recommending it to friends, etc.  They say it's a “beautiful story of forgiveness”, and we can overlook any shortcomings it may have when it comes to what it says about God, because it is after all, just fiction.   Well...

I'm not going to give a lengthy critique of the book/movie and what it teaches.  For a lengthy treatment on that, I recommend Tim Challies wonderful review of the book (here as a pdf file).  I think most folks have heard the debate.  Most are aware of the issues involving the author's portrayal of the Trinity, the nature of God's Sovereignty, the nature of salvation, etc.  All of those are presented in non-biblical, and even anti-biblical ways.  

My point here is to simply address the argument that we can overlook these things in light of what a “good story” this is.  The emotional part, the feel good part, outweighs the poor theological part, right?  Well, that's where the doggie doo comes in.

There's a great old sermon illustration about a father trying to teach his children about what should be acceptable for them in terms of entertainment.  Games, books, movies, etc.  His kids had been trying to convince him of why they should be able to see one movie in particular.   It had their favorite actors.  Everyone said it was great, even some Christian friends.  It only had minor sexually suggestive material, only some profane language, and only three times where the Lord's name was taken in vain.  Otherwise, it was a fantastic movie with great effects, etc. But the father wouldn't give in. 

Later that evening, the dad asked his kids if they'd like to have some brownies he just baked.  He said he used the families favorite recipe, used all the best ingredients, gourmet quality in fact.  He baked it at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time.  However, he added one little special ingredient...that's right...the doggie doo. 

Of course, the kids were horrified and disgusted. No way were they eating that.  Dad tried to remind them of how good all the rest of the ingredients were, and told them that it was only a little bit of doggie doo.  They would hardly even notice it.  But as you can imagine, the kids still refused to eat the special brownies.

Now, I'm sure you can see the application of that story for what we read and watch and entertain ourselves with on a regular basis.  And I admit that when it comes to my favorite action films, I may have choked down a bit of doggie doo on occasion and tried to justify it.  Judge me if you will.  But here's where The Shack, for me, is a bit different.

In the case of this book, this movie, the doggie doo is about God!  The story may be great.  The lessons on forgiveness may be great.  The emotional appeal may hit all the right buttons.  But the one doggie doo element, the objectionable part, is about our God.  Do you see the problem here?  What we're saying in defending this movie is that it's ok to teach people doggie doo about God as long as the story is good, the emotions get tugged, etc.

But, again, people will say: It's only fiction.  Well, two responses to that; maybe three. 
1) The author never intended it to be “just” fiction.  He intends to teach spiritual truth, which is why the book is more dialogue than action.  It's didactic; intended to teach.  For him the theology is central. 
2) Non-Christians will come to see this film, and since Christians are talking it up as a wonderful “Christian” film, they will walk out assuming that what it teaches about God, His nature, salvation, etc. is all true.  Is this what we want to teach them?  And..
3) Fiction is no excuse for heresy.  It's still doggie doo.  Regardless of the “vehicle”, books or movies or whatever, to present God in any way other than how He has revealed Himself in Scripture is dangerous and unwise.

So, I probably won't change anyone's mind about going to see this movie.  And in the end, a Christian won't lose their salvation if they do, unwise though it may be.  I'll just lift my glass in a toast to you and hope you enjoy eating your doggie doo. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Turning 50...

When my biggest spiritual hero, Charles Spurgeon, turned 50, there was a great celebration.  The church he had pastored since he was 19 held special services.  Friends and dignitaries alike spoke, wrote letters of congratulations, etc.  As part of the service a listing was read of the many ministries Pastor Spurgeon was instrumental in starting.  All in all it was a fantastic tribute to this man whom God had used in mighty ways, a reflection on the thousands and thousands he had preached to and touched in his ministry.

Turning 50 today, I'm not looking at that kind of fanfare.  We did have a little cake and ice cream at church last Sunday night.  But rather than thousands, we're blessed to have 100 on any given Sunday morning.  I appreciate each person in our fellowship, and feel blessed to serve them.  Yet, over the years I've buried more people than I've baptized.  As for a listing of accomplishments, all I can claim is an unfinished doctoral degree and this blog I can't seem to keep alive. 

On the personal side, I have been extraordinarily blessed with my family.  I have an amazing wife of 28+ years, whom I grow to love more each day.  She has been a faithful partner in ministry and an incredible encouragement to me.  We are blessed with four fantastic children, the older three who have grown into outstanding, godly adults of whom I couldn't be more proud.  I'm truly a blessed man.

But as I look back on a half century, I'm not sure I've made the best use of those years.  I'd like to say I've always given my best effort, but quite frankly, I'm not sure I have.  Not because I can't compare to Spurgeon; not many can.  But there are too many failings, one of which is apparently self-pity.  And yet, I also know that God's grace is greater than my shortcomings.

My ministry is never meant to be compared to Spurgeon or anyone else.  God calls and gifts each of us in various ways, according to His plans and purposes, for His glory.  And while I haven't always given my best efforts, I hope that I'm giving more and more each day as I grow in His grace, seeking that purpose and glory.

I could go on introspecting all day, but I'll stop.  And I'll just say this.  While I may never live up to the Spurgeon's of the world, I hope that in the end I can at least say I emulated him in this.  As he addressed his congregation on that “jubilee” celebration, he began with words that reminded his people of two major things.  Their indebtedness to the work of God's Spirit and to the power and centrality of the Gospel.  I pray that if anything, I can say that I've tried to focus on these two things as well.  We are totally dependent on His grace and His power, and the Gospel is at the center of that.  Every time I preach, I want to focus on His grace, His saving power, and His glory.  If nothing else can ever be said of me or my ministry, I pray this is it: I pointed people to Jesus.  That would be a fine legacy indeed.

Just for fun, and in case anyone is interested, here are some of Spurgeon's opening remarks as he celebrated that 50th birthday with his church, words I wholeheartedly agree with: 

“The blessing which I have had here, for many years, must be entirely attributed to the grace of God, and to the working of God’s Holy Spirit among us. Let that stand as a matter, not only taken for granted, but as, a fact distinctly recognized among us. I hope, brethren, that none of you will say that I have kept back the glorious work of the Holy Spirit. I have tried to remind you of it, whenever I have read a chapter, by praying’ that God the Holy Spirit would open that chapter to our minds. I hope I have never preached without an entire dependence on the Holy Ghost. Our reliance upon prayer has been very conspicuous; at least, I think so. We have not begun, we have not continued, we have not ended anything’ without prayer. We have been plunged into it up to the hilt. We have not prayed as we should; but, still, we have so prayed as to prevail; and we wish it to be on record that we owe our success, as a, church, to the work of the Holy Spirit, principally through its leading us to pray. Neither, as a church, have we been without a full conviction that, if we are honest in our asking, we must be earnest in acting. It is no use asking God to give us a blessing if we do not mean it; and if we mean it, we shall use all the means appointed for’ the gaining of that boon; and that we have done.

“Next to that, it behooves me to say that I owe the prosperity I have had in preaching the gospel to the gospel which I have preached... I have tried, and I think successfully, to saturate our dear friends with the doctrines of grace. I defy the devil himself ever to get that truth out of you if God the Holy Spirit once puts it into you. That grand doctrine of substitution, which is at the root of every other, — you have heard it over and over and over and over again, and you have taken a sure grip of it. Never let it go. And I say to all preachers who fail in this matter, that I wish they would preach more of Christ, and try to preach more plainly. Death to fine preaching’ There is no good in it. All the glory of words and the wisdom of men will certainly come to naught; but the simple testimony of the goodwill of God to men, and of His sovereign choice of His own people, will stand the test, not only of the few years during which I have preached it, but of all the ages of this world till Christ shall come. I thank you, dear friends, for all your love and your kindness to me, but I do attribute even that, in great measure, to the fact that you have been fed with the pure gospel of the grace of God. I do not believe that the dry, dead doctrine of some men could ever have evoked such sympathy in people’s hearts as my gospel has aroused in yours. I cannot see any reason in myself why you should love me. I confess that I would not go across the street to hear myself preach; but I dare not say more upon that matter, because my wife is here. It is the only point upon which we decidedly differ; I differ in toto from her estimate of me, and from your estimate of me, too; but yet I do not wish you to alter it.”

Friday, December 30, 2016

Of Endings... and Beginnings

I don't know that I've written about it here that much, but I've also made no secret of the fact that I'm a pretty big fan of the BBC SciFi show Doctor Who.  If you haven't seen it, I can't explain it here, just go with me.  I'm old enough to have watched the Fourth Doctor back in the day, the guy with the big hair, big grin, big scarf.  He's my favorite.  In fact, last Christmas my oldest daughter sent off to get me a personalized Christmas card from Tom Baker himself, the actor who played the Fourth Doctor. 

Anyway, we're on Doctor number Twelve now, and I love him as well. But due to the inner workings of the BBC, there was no series this year (just one more reason to hate 2016), but we finally got to see the Doctor back on the screen with this year's Christmas special.  Again, if you haven't seen it, can't explain it, just keep reading.

Near the end of episode, the Doctor is reflecting on past events, specifically the loss of the love of his life (which we saw in last year's Christmas special...sort of...).  And in a very melancholy mood, he says something very profound.  He says, “Things end. That's all. Everything ends, and it's always sad. But everything begins again too, and that's always happy. Be happy.”

He's talking about his relationship with River Song, but could also be hinting at the fact that this next series will be marking some endings for this show; possibly even this actor's run in the role (though I hope not!).  But he's also making a pretty good observation on life in general.

As we come to the end of another year, we mark lots of endings.  Some of them not so sad at all.  Lots of folks are happy to see this year end.  But still, in our individual lives, there are endings that are not so happy.  We've lost loved ones.  Family has moved on.  We're all another year older.  The end of the year makes most folks a bit reflective, even melancholy. 

And yet, the end of this year is also just the beginning of the next. And it's not for nothin' that we all scream, “Happy New Year!”  It's a time for new beginnings, new hopes, new goals, new dreams.  Everything ends, but everything begins again, too.

After all, as Christian people, this defines our entire existence.  Scripture tells us that those in Christ are new creations, the old is gone, the new has come.  It's all about forgetting the past, and moving toward the future.  And that's happy, because we know Whose hands that future is in.  As John Newton wrote:  “Help us to praise Thee for the past, and trust Thee for the rest.” 

In the long run, we are looking for the ultimate ending/beginning.  We anxiously await our Savior's return, marking an end to this world, and a beginning to the Kingdom Eternal.  And even there there is a mixture of sadness and joy.  He's coming will mark the coming of judgment as well.  That ending will be a sad one for many, those who don't now Christ, who haven't come to Him in faith, trusting in His finished work on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for their sin. A sad end indeed for those who will spend eternity separated from our King in the torments of hell.  And even sad for those of us in Christ, at least now as we think about it.  (Which should also be a motivation for us sharing the gospel, but that's a whole other post).
Yet, the ending is also a beginning.  And in that, there will be great joy.  In the revelation our Lord gave to the apostle John we are told, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."' (Revelation 21:3-5)

What joy awaits in that new beginning.  A joy we begin to experience with the new birth, coming to Christ in faith.  A joy we even get a glimpse of each new year that rolls around.  The old has gone, the new has come.  Everything ends, and it's always sad. But everything begins again too, and that's always happy. Be happy.

I pray you have a happy new year. And even more, I pray you have the true joy of new life in Christ, and are looking forward with me to that greatest of all new beginnings.  Amen, come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Theological Reflections On My First 5K Runs

OK.  First off.  Serious runner types can skip over the details of my running ability here.  I'm a guy who 6 months ago was 60 pounds heavier and couldn't walk to the track from the parking lot without getting winded.  It's the principles here.  So, that being said...

I wrote here before about my little effort to lose weight.  And I even mentioned the idea of “laying aside every weight” as mentioned in Hebrews 12:1.  But as I moved from just losing weight to actually running, and then to attempting to run a 5K race, the thoughts of Hebrews 12 just kept coming to mind.  Especially as they apply to our spiritual race.  And so, having now run two 5Ks, I thought I'd reflect a bit again on the ideas of this text and four particular lessons I've been reminded of lately. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

1. The Matter of Witnesses.  When I first started the weight loss thing, I mentioned I publicly so that I would have a bit of accountability.  Still, when I first started walking for exercise, I did it in the privacy of the church gym because I didn't want people to see me.  I was very self conscious.  

Later, as I realized that the gym floor isn't the best on my joints, I moved it outside out of necessity.  Then, as I started to actually run, there were only a couple other folks out there, so no biggie.  But when I showed up for my first 5K....all those people!!  But while still being self conscious about the whole thing, I realized two truths.  One, the other folks out there were just trying to run their race as well; they weren't there to judge me.  And two, those who did care about me out there were cheering me on. They wanted the best for my health.

In our spiritual race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  For some, that might make you a bit self conscious.  In some sense, it should.  We should be concerned about the witness our own life is in front of others.  But as for those around us each day, remember that those other folks are just out there trying to do their best as well.  We're fellow runners in this thing.  And in the end, those who care most about you are cheering you on.  We want the best in each others' spiritual lives.

2. The Matter of Weight.  As I said, I already wrote about the issue of laying aside weight.  And the obvious goal was originally to lose weight.  But moving on to the 5K thing I realized that weight is an issue in more than one sense.  Losing weight in general made the running easier.  But even from day to day, the clothes that I wear while running, even the little weight difference can matter.

When I started this thing, the weather allowed for shorts and a t-shirt.  Now, of course, it requires a couple layers, sweats, hoodies, gloves, etc.  And I've noticed that these layers make a difference.  It seems minor, but wearing a heavy sweatshirt and gloves slows me down a bit.  It's actually harder over the longer distance than it was when I carries less weight. My 5K times would only be a minute or less more than before.  Most wouldn't notice, but I did. Minor differences, but still differences.

In our spiritual lives, it's not always just about the “big sins.”  Sure we need to toss those.  But at times there are just little things, things other people would hardly even notice, but if we're honest, they slow us down.  They make it just a little harder.  Which is why Hebrews tells us to rid ourselves of those things that entangle and weigh us down.

3. The Matter of Endurance.  I know this is obvious, folks. I never claimed to be a genius or anything.  But running a 5K takes endurance, especially for those of us just starting.  I know some of these guys go running by me and finish in half the time I do.  But the goal is to make it to the finish line.  Keep pressing on.

And it's not always easy. You'd think after time it would get easier, and in some sense it does.  But circumstances change.  My first official run was a morning run, which is when I was used to running.  I actually did ok.  The second run a week later, was a night run.  It had been a long day. I wasn't used to doing night runs.  And my time was 30 seconds slower.  It even felt harder.  I struggled more in the second run than the first.  Different circumstances.  But I had to keep pressing on, it takes endurance.

Our spiritual life does get easier in some senses.  As we walk with Christ, as we grow closer to Him, many things get easier about that relationship. But circumstances change.  We may find ourselves in situations we're not used to.  We may struggle more at times.  But we keep pressing on.  It's about finishing the race.  It takes endurance.  It takes commitment and effort.  Keep running.

4.  The Matter of Goals.  My original goal was weight loss.  When I reached that, I added more weight loss.  Then it was to move from walking to running.  Then it was to run an actual 5K race.  Then it's to keep finishing those races.  I know I'm not going to “win” those things.  That's not my goal.  I know others are in it for the medal, coming in first, whatever.  My goal is to finish.  To keep running, and to finish. If I take my eye off that goal, if I try to run to compete with those who are just plain better at this, then I probably wont' have the “gas” to make it to the end.  Remember the goal.  Keep running to the finish.

In our spiritual life, we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus.  He is the author and finisher of our faith.  He is our goal.  Other people might run in life to get trophies, but we just look to finish.  We look to Him, and long to hear Him say, “well done, my good and faithful servant.” We just want to finish well.  If we take our eyes off that goal, it may cause us to become weaker, and feel as if we're “running out of gas.”  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  He's the goal.  Run to the finish.

I know this isn't anything earth shaking.  (It all sounded a bit more profound in my head while running this morning!) It's just really been on my mind.  I'm so thankful to have made it to the point of being able to actually finish two 5ks now.  I loved running the second with my brother-in-law, even if he did finish more than 5 minutes ahead of me.  (He is 9 years younger after all!).  It's been a fun journey for me.  I hope to keep it up. 

But more than that, it's reminded me of some serious issues about this race of faith.  I'm hitting middle age hard.  Coming up on 50 years.  More than 30 of those walking with Christ.  I need to be reminded to keep running.  Keep pressing on.  Keep my eyes on the goal.  Keep laying aside the weight.  Thank God for those around me who encourage me. And just keep running.