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

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.