LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Category: Encouragement (page 1 of 5)

My thoughts meant to encourage us to live wholly devoted to God in the grace and victory He intends.

I am fine, but I am tired.  I am on autopilot.  That’s not entirely bad if the path is a good trajectory.  But I am not taking as much joy in this part of the journey as I would like.  I find frustration and grumpiness to be expressed too often.  I am feeling more envy than I wish of those who travel and have leisure.  I am confident in my call and choices, but it does have times when it tires one out.  I am not going to crash and burn so don’t worry for me, but I welcome prayers.

Healing Through Service

IMG_0524I recently had the honor to take a team from my church to serve at Door of Faith Orphanage (dofo.org) in the town of La Mision, B.C. Mexico.  It is located between Rosarito and Ensenada.  It is a most surprisingly charming place.  If a child has to be in an orphanage, this is the place to be!  As the Director, DJ, gave us his welcome and shared the values of the orphanage that he has led for over 20 years, one of the three values were Healing through Service.  He began to share that the children and staff of DOFO are encouraged to serve, and not just chores.  But real ministry outreach service.  The kids raise funds, go on trips and make real differences in the places they go.  This leads to a healing in their own lives as most are social orphans, having been removed from broken or abusive homes.  Teaching them to serve others brings a lasting and deep healing in their lives.

Javier is a man we met when we went to make and serve breakfast with the Baja Family Outreach located the Tijuana dump area.  A church has been built in the heart of the community of thousands who live on reclaimed dump land.  Most are uneducated and find their income by recycling garbage.  Their homes are built with items found in the dump.  We saw more than one roof made from the vinyl banners of highway billboards.  As we made the breakfast a family of 8 came in, Javier being the dad.  His children and wife sat down to eat the food we had prepared, but Javier stood at the entrance to greet people and watch over his family.  I asked him why he wasn’t eating and he shared he normally volunteers.  By our team being there, we had taken his job.  Of course he was blessed by our presence and asked we pray for his family and to please return.  But I saw something powerful in him.  He had no money to care for his family as I am sure he would like, but by volunteering he felt he was part of providing.  Serving was healing for him.  Serving was empowerment for him.  Serving made him feel like he was being a provider for his family.

IMG_0543No better example of healing through service came in the story of Martita, a lady we met serving at another organization, Life in the Canyon (lifeinthecanyon.vpweb.com).  This group is led by Dave Hessler and he found basically the poorest community of Tijuana and began serving a number of years back and was an outgrowth of his time with the Baja Family Outreach.  He landed in the former TJ dump that has created massive hills of garbage covered in soil and is now being reclaimed by squatters and the poor who have built pallet shacks and small homes.  A little over two years ago Dave came across Martita as he walked through a cemetery.  She was high on crystal meth and was digging through burn piles for scraps of metal to sell to support her habit.  He offered, through his ministry to serve the community, some help.  At first, if I understood her story, she didn’t accept, but time after time he continued to reach out to her and eventually she came to the community center.  There she saw loving people serving their community and something drew her.

She asked if she could serve and they found a place for her.  The desire to quit drugs grew and at a point she quietly decided to stop.  After a week went by being clean, she came to Dave and shared her good news.  He told her to go one day at a time and every day to come and give him a number; the number ‘1’ for one more day of sober.  He wrote that number on a white board and eventually it grew from 7, to 25, to 50.  As of our meeting her it has been over 2 years!  Her love for God, her purpose found in serving her community, and the love shown her by Dave and others gave her hope and strength to go on.  Today she is trusted with keys to everything, is one of Dave’s trusted assistants, and has a restored relationship with her daughter and grandchildren.  She is no longer homeless but has a tiny micro-home built with money from a 16 year old boy who did a fund raiser in his church!  She can’t read or write but has learned to post on Facebook in order to be connected.  She gave us a tour of her community, the dump, and you could see the love she had for it’s residents.  She found healing through serving!

One of the things that I found most exciting with DOFO is that they don’t have teams come just to stay focused on them as an orphanage.  DJ said many times to me, almost to the point of sounding a humorously insulting, “We don’t want you to stay here.  Our kids have seen every drama and are pretty saturated with Americans!”  But as he clarified you knew exactly what he was saying.  Come and use DOFO as a hub to serve the broader area of Baja.  Go to the dumps, build a house for a resident, serve at the rehab homes, do an outreach to drunk Americans at the beaches and bars, give out groceries and pray with residents of the dump.  I believe DOFO is as blessed and beautiful as it is because it too has become whole by serving others and not manipulating donors and guests to selfishly stay committed to them.  They have a mature faith, a generous faith.

The  Beautiful Paradox

Over the years I’ve heard from many who don’t understand why so many in the Church appear to have a “woe is me” mindset. I can see their confusion, because if anybody should be joyful, it should be the Christ follower!  And yet there is a paradox that exists in our faith.

In fact there are many!  We’re already saved yet are working out our salvation. We are at the same time both in eternity and yet also bound by time. We are righteous but know full well we are being sanctified. This last one leads to the what I think is the most beautiful paradox of all. It’s the place where mourning and joy exist in their fullest at once. It is in that state where grace is realized in such beauty!

The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful and core teaching by Jesus that can be found in Matthew 5-7. The first section has become known as the beatitudes and has challenged and transformed me as I have wrestled with what seems like an impossible way to live.  We know Jesus came to set us free from the “law” and yet at first glance this sermon calls us to a life even more severe. And so one is compelled to look deeper to reconcile the apparent contradiction.

The first section of the beatitudes is where the tone is set.

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:3-6 NIV

I used to think of each of the Blesseds like individual traits to attain.  “I like the peace maker, but mourning, not so much.”  Sort of like a buffet.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more like a 6 course meal.  It’s not a buffet, not individual attributes that we pick and choose from, but a layering, a building to become the person Jesus calls us to.  And the first is necessary to move on to the next.

When you are poor in spirit having come to the end of yourself, acknowledging you have nothing to bring to God, it’s then you mourn deeply for the reality of sin and it’s destruction in your life. It’s then that the power of meekness, the control of yourself is able to set in. The choosing of God’s control rather than sin’s.  And at that point one is spiritually bankrupt, desperately hungering, desperately thirsting for God’s righteousness!  The promise?  We are filled. God imputes, or puts in us HIS righteousness!  Then and only the does the rest of the sermon makes sense. Then and only then can any of us begin to live the sermon out!

For example, take the passages on murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-30). It’s easy in our righteousness to live a life of fidelity and never murdering someone. Most succeed in that!  But by age three we’ve all called someone a name in anger and by 12 we’ve all lusted.  And so in my abilities I am a failure. And if we haven’t come to the end of ourselves and realized we have nothing, we are nothing apart from Christ, then we will never live the life God has made available to us through Jesus.

Do I have a purpose and potential?  Of course!  Do I have gifts I bring to the table?  Absolutely!  Are they of any value?  For this life and the common good?  Sure.  But for eternity, no!  My righteousness is nothing and His is everything!  And in His hands those gifts and potential will become something wholly different, better.

So the beautiful paradox, the sweet spot…is being both mournful and filled with joy at the same time.  Not dwelling in ashes, but acknowledging my capacity and propensity to sin.  Not “woe is me” but most definitely full on mourning.  “Woe is me” is a self-focused declaration. The mourning Jesus calls us to is recognition of our sinful condition.

And the joy?  It can and should be full-on crazy celebration!  As I mentioned earlier, the sermon can seem like an even more severe life than the law. And here is what most fail to see and even when we see it, we find hard to experience. Jesus knows we can’t. We can’t live free of anger and lust and judgement and unforgiveness!  That’s why He offers us His righteousness. That’s why mercy is given. That. Is. Grace!

And until I come to the end of me and bring my nothing to God, there is no room for grace to be experienced. And so the dance of the paradox begins. Living in spiritual poverty and the riches of Christ together is the challenge.

If you’re like me, and you are, you begin to take credit for spiritual maturity at times. You take for granted the all-encompassing nature grace must have in our lives. The longer I live in Christ the more I realize how much I need Him. The dos and don’ts are easy, grace is not. It requires dying and mourning and spiritual bankruptcy. But then and only then do we experience freedom and joy.

By the way, this why we desperately need each other!  But that’s another post.

It’s a journey and one in which I hope you find joyful mourning.

What On Earth Am I Here For?

For the past six weeks our church has gone through a campaign using Rick Warren’s, What On Earth Am I Here For? (formerly, The Purpose Driven Life) book and materials.  It has been a wonderful experience as all our LifeGroups went through a study together and our weekend services addressed the same topic each week.  It also coincided with each person reading the daily readings from the book.  And of course we threw in extra special events and activities along the way creating a really fun and unifying season in the church.

Each week I sent out special update emails with various  bits of information about what groups were doing, the reading schedule and more.  It also included a “blog post” of that week’s purpose, adding some of my insight into the topic.  Each week got a bit longer as I grew into doing this (I had not originally intended to include this).  Even though some of post is specifically “to” our church, I wanted to capture them in and repost them here.  Just in case you are not aware, Rick Warren’s premise is that God has designed his followers to live lives that demonstrate 5 purposes: worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism.  Here are the repostings of my insights for each of those.

Worship; “Assigning WORTH or VALUE”

As you in your reading and in your LifeGroups look at the purpose of worship, remember that worship is not characterized as an act or ritual like bowing down.  Instead it is an attitude of the heart and will – recognizing the value of someone or something and giving it the proper attention in our lives.  So when we hear something like, “He worships money or sports more than God” it makes more sense.  Of course nobody is bowing to money or sports or hobbies, etc.  But we certainly can give them greater value and importance in our lives than they deserve.

Fellowship; Worth the Risk!

Each of us has a built-in desire to be known, accepted and loved!  But for many of us the risk or fear of rejection is huge.  Or the risk of feeling obligated to deal with someone else’s “mess” is too uncomfortable to consider.  But an insulated life is not a rich and full life that God wants for us.  And while inviting others into our “space” can be messy sometimes, ultimately the reward of rich connections and relationships makes all the difference.  Additionally, the call to live like Jesus can only be achieved in “the one anothers.”

That is why Mariners believes so strongly in the role of LifeGroups.  Of course thats not the only way to express and live in fellowship in our lives, but it sure is a great one!  If your group is a temporary one started for this series, please begin to consider what it might look like to stay formed and work together to see Christ formed in each other.  If you are not in a group yet, please seek one out.

Take the “risk”, it’s worth it!

Here’s what some are saying about their groups for this series:

“Our group is loving every minute and we’re having some very profound times together.”

“Our group is also really enjoying meeting together and sharing life. Some great insights have been coming out, as well as questions answered more comfortably in a small group setting than buttonholing the pastors. We’ve been laughing, learning, sharing, and having a great time of participation. We’ve been able to spend a lot of time on prayer requests, which is even better than I hoped.”  

“I have seen some members of our group begin to sense a value and significance in Christ.”

May you all experience the power of fellowship,

Pastor Len

Discipleship; Christ Formed In You

Maturing in Christ, having Him formed in us, is our calling.  To live like and become like Jesus!  Somewhere along the way, the idea of disciple became synonymous with bible study and prayer times and daily devotions.  And yes, disciples do those things!  We do develop habits or “disciplines” of faith in order to understand and grow in faith.  But the habits are not the mark of a disciple.  Christ-like character is!  Do we live humbly, exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit”, consider others…Love one another?

Over the past few months a number of our messages have included themes of sufferings and difficulties in life, and one might get the impression that to follow Christ is all down-and-out hardships.  We don’t share those things to be depressing or because we have a cup-half-empty worldview.  We do that to help each of us have a clear perspective that, despite the modern western view that we should have a life of ease and happiness, we live in a broken world and following God doesn’t exempt us from experiencing it’s hardships.

What makes our message different, however, is that the sufferings of life are not wasted in God’s plan.  A verse in the message this past weekend was, “Trouble produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope.”  Romans 5:3-4   The process “in God’s plan” leads to hope.  Outside of God, there is no hope.

So do we as followers of Christ have times of happiness and joy and ease?  Yes, of course.  Can we experience God and grow to be like Him in those times?  Yes, of course!  But let’s not be naive or caught off guard or run from the difficult times in life for as we face them with the view that God is working in us, then we are led to a hope, a Christ formed in us hope!

May we all “know the power of His resurrection and participation in His suffering”,

Pastor Len

Ministry; Going For It!

Ministry is an interesting concept  There are so many aspects and layers to it.

As I brought out in my message this weekend it is “anything” you do to bless others and honor God.  And yet, I also brought out that we are called to find a role in our church family to fulfill our corporate calling to reach our community.  So there is this tension between “where” and “how” I serve that seems to be casting a shadow on all of this.  That is until we remember, ministry is less of what we DO and more of who we ARE.

We are ministers!  The creation of the career pastor has kind of messed us all up a bit in our idea of ministry.  God has shaped and called all of us to be ministers.  And as we understand our new identity as Christ-followers we can begin to tune our “ears” to hearing the Spirit of God lead us to bless others at any given time.

There is another tension that casts a shadow, and that is the “need” versus “gift/skill” area.  I’m going to speak to this in context of finding a role in our church.  At the Connection Sunday this past weekend you saw serving teams with sign-up sheets expressing they need people to be on their teams.  And as you walk from table to table you may think, “well, I don’t know where I fit in!  I love to cook, or I love organize things, or I love to help people …(fill in the blank).”  And you just don’t know how your gift or skill fits in with so many of the teams.

We had a discussion about this as a staff this week and so I want to pass this on to you – we understand the potential disconnect for many of us!  And we are committed to figure out ways to make opportunities to serve be more relatable to your gift mix rather than our team/department name.  Our next Connection Sunday will be based more on gifts and skills required instead of ministry teams!  And to start off the opportunity to serve… if you are a person who likes to organize things and help communicate systems, I would love to have you help me create an even more relatable Connection Sunday Ministry Fair!

Until then, here is what you can do to find a place to serve now.  If you know what your gifts and interests are, I and many others on our leadership would LOVE to talk to you about custom areas for you to jump in.  There is a place for EVERY gift here and there are more opportunities than you can imagine to be part of the great calling YOUR church has to make difference in Half Moon Bay.  If you really hunger to take those next steps to serve, then please reach out and we will help you find a role that can be very fulfilling for you and a powerful blessing for those you serve.

It starts with a couple of “reframing” actions.  First, begin to embrace your calling as a full-time minister rather than an occasional volunteer.  Second, become self-aware of what you bring to the table.  You ARE gifted in some way by God and likely more than you give yourself, or frankly God, credit for!  Third, recognize that those gifts can be used for more than your career or hobby and instead or in addition can lead people to experience God!

We looked at Romans 12 for our discussion on “Fellowship” a few weeks back, but I love this verse:

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Romans 12:10-13 (NLT)

So much can be drawn from that passage and the verses surrounding it.  But what struck me that week and again today is the “serve the Lord enthusiastically” phrase.  I want for us all to love serving and give our all to this high calling, and to just go for it!  As you move forward in your adventure, the adventure to see others blessed by God working through you, I pray you experience the incredible joy that God has in store for you!

Pastor Len

Evangelism; The Highest Form of Worship!

This is our final update email and therefore my last blog post on our purposes.  I have been privileged to be part of this event with our church and I hope you have been moved to take steps closer to Christ in trust and faith.

Evangelism is really an interesting call or purpose for our lives.  Certainly, if any of these are controversial, it’s this one.  Just the word…evangelism…has developed an awkwardness these days.  For many it conjures up images of TV preachers or street corner harassment or door-to-door campaigns.  Our fears of rejection or turning people off or being labeled judgmental or just not knowing what to say gets the best of us.

And yet it’s the sharing of the “good news” that is the last thing Jesus told us to do when he left this earth.

I don’t know about you, but I get pretty excited about my latest tech gadget or running shoe, and want to tell people.  And practically every survey I have ever taken about a product or customer support asks how likely I am to tell somebody.  So if it’s expected that I share about the insignificant, then how much more should I about the eternal?  I don’t ask that to guilt any of us!  I understand our fears.

But let me present this in just a bit of a different way for a moment.  As we have learned of the 5 purposes, they have been presented as individual attributes or callings that we should aspire to develop in our lives.  Sort of a measuring stick to see how healthy we are in our faith development.  I want us to do just that, and yet instead of seeing them as separate, we should also see them as integrated and intertwined and all of them as “worship”.

An old statement from church history says, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  John Piper takes it a step further and changes the last half to “by enjoying Him forever”.  So if worship is our goal, then how does evangelism fit in as the highest form of worship as my title suggests?

Our God is worthy enough for all of mankind, and more personally, our friends and family, to give their lives.  Our God is worthy enough for us to “shout from the mountain tops” of what He has done in our lives.  By sharing the good news, we in fact worship!  And if one more person gives their life to Him, one more person is a worshipper.

I don’t know if that helps any of us overcome our internal obstacles to sharing more.  But perhaps by seeing it’s importance, we might make the opportunity to work through our obstacles more intentionally.

We have the good news!  Let’s pass it on.

Pastor Len

A Life Filled With Awe

In recent months a number of thoughts have been bouncing around in my mind.  But even deeper, my heart.  Life has been going on with all it’s busyness.  Demands for work projects, recovery pain from latest marathon, family activities – just like everyone, I am busy.  But like an underground spring, there have been thoughts of what could be.  What I hope for.  What I sense is missing or coming up short in my life.

I’m not depressed at all.  Rather quite hopeful and encouraged!

These thoughts have been spurred on by a few passages of the bible that have come up in some of my readings or small group discussions.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47 (NIV).

Lord, I have heard the news about you; I am amazed at what you have done.  Lord, do great things once again in our time; make those things happen again in our own days.               Habakkuk 3:2 (NCV)

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.  To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.  Colossians 1:28-29 (NIV)

Each of these passages have burrowed deep into my heart to create this longing.

As pastors, church leaders, and workers in our churches (paid or not) we are part of a powerful experience, opportunity and responsibility to be part of presenting “everyone fully mature in Christ”!  I know life can be busy and overwhelming.  I know that we can lose some of the wonder and joy and passion for what we do in ministry and see it as another obligation or task.  And at seasons in my life it has been reduced to that.

I want the awe!  I want the amazement!

I don’t long for some 1st century re-creation of the church.  It can never be exactly like that.  I’m not expecting signs and wonders.  I’ll take them, sure.  I don’t envision a series of revival meetings with ecstatic behavior either.

What I see, what I hunger for is a revival of community.  The principals of the Acts community can be developed.  And there is no greater miracle to be seen than “Christ formed in us”.  I want to see the Lord adding to our numbers daily.

I want these things for my generation!  My time!

I want to see a church strenuously contending with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in us!  I’m seeing signs of that in my particular local church right now, but my hope is for the Church, not just my church.

I don’t want to dismiss what I know He is already doing now, or imply we are not “strenuously contending” now.  I see the power of God at work all the time and am moved to praise and gratefulness.

I just have this sense there is something…more.

I want to encourage us today to make space in our hearts for the wonder to grow – the wonder that God would use each of us to transform lives.

Let’s not get caught up in the distractions of politics…God is bigger than America!

Let’s stop whining about the marginalization of the church in America and be the church America…and the world needs.  Our authority is not given to us by congress or the zeitgeist of culture, but by Christ!

Let’s not try to impose our faith on culture, but compel our culture to adopt our God through the irresistible grace He offers!

Let’s devote ourselves to the teaching and the fellowship and the prayer.  Let’s fill our worship centers with praise and celebration and let’s fill our homes with each other – admonishing and teaching and encouraging and proclaiming.

Embrace the “SUCK”

Wisdom…goals…safety…accomplishment…health…pushing to limits.

These are all values in a delicate dance I just played around with. Now let’s be clear, I didn’t do anything that was truly dangerous or outrageous. But the dance was danced nonetheless.

It seems most of my posts have been around running and yet, they end up not about running at all. Well, here we go again. 😉 This year has been a difficult year for me since March when I ran the Oakland Marathon. My feet have never felt well since then and with all the training for a Marathon one craves food more. But a person with weight issues like myself has a hard time keeping the food intake in balance with the lessening of training once the run is over. So the weight has creeped back up a bit. Combine that with the foot pain, Achilles bone spurs and tendonitis, and then an additional muscle pull from a half marathon in May, and well, running has been difficult.

Fast forward to September. My muscle pull is healed; I complete another 10K and half marathon challenge; and am feeling well. I come to realize that I am one 5K and one marathon away from completing 3 of each distance in 2015. I’m not sure why, but that sounds like an impressive and cool thing to accomplish! I mean, just a few years ago I was a couch potato, a 435+lb potato. So to be able to say I did this, well, it’s just cool.

And that’s how goals get set I suppose. A dream comes out of nowhere, gets imagined and one goes for it. I never thought I would run at all, anywhere, let alone do an official event of any distance.

And that’s how goals get set I suppose. A dream comes out of nowhere, gets imagined and one goes for it.

The problem though is that my body didn’t cooperate with this self-created goal. Sure the muscle pull is well, but the heels are worse. So I attempt a marathon training plan that my body just can’t manage. The extra weight on the Achilles is not a good fit and admittedly I am struggling to get the weight back off. But I press on to accomplish the goal. I get a 5K done in October. That was easy enough. Just a marathon to go. just…

I get some long cycling distances in, do some short runs, spend time in the gym trying to keep fit, but the runs are short with more days of rest between than allowed for a good training plan. I try the Jeff Galloway method of run four minutes/walk one and that seems to be good to let me get further without killing my feet. But let’s face it; I am not in as good of shape as I was in January when I ran my first marathon.

But with goal setting comes determination and stubbornness. Isn’t that how we push ourselves? And so the dance with wisdom begins. I knew this was going to hurt and not be a good running time. I wasn’t ready, but I wanted to complete this new dream.

Race day came and actually I was feeling pretty good. My legs were fresh, my heels were in a pretty good spot and I was prepared for ways to manage the pain and allow myself some latitude in walking and going a bit slower. And actually as the race began I was doing really well.

The first 11 miles were well under the pace I needed to finish within the 6 hour limit. I even could end up with a personal best if kept it up. But then my body had different ideas. My heels had moments of pain all along, however, it was manageable and expected. But my left foot started to hurt horribly under the arch and that started to slow me down.   Miles 12-17 were below pace but still ok and the average would be good enough. I was going to do this! I was walking more than I wanted and had some serious bouts of self-doubt and thoughts of quitting, but I pushed on.

I noticed a different pain than I had ever felt though on my right foot. The pad next to the ball of the foot was really tender. I could feel the sock rubbing. It had been raining at times so I thought the wet sock was causing some pain. By this time I was beginning to lose it mentally. I was hurting and I couldn’t run and now even walking was getting hard. Diane met me at mile 18.5 to give me fresh socks and shoes, but the damage had been done. A bruised pad and blister had formed. The dry socks helped, but I could not get my body to get moving and my feet were killing me. And then the real emotional battle happened. The race crew began to open up the roads behind me and I desperately tried to stay ahead of them. In my attempt to give my feet relief by walking, the slowing down caused my muscles to stiffen and so I became even slower. I just could not get my body to respond to a quicker gate. There were less and less runners around me and I began to think I was dead last. I wanted to quit, but I just couldn’t. I was well over 20 miles into this. How could I give up now? But how could I continue? I was hurting so bad. I knew it wasn’t injury hurt, it was just pushing myself to the limit hurt. And so I continued to hobble on.

Different people along the way shouted out encouragements that I soaked in to get me steps further. At mile 22 or so is when I made the final decision to just not consider quitting any longer. At the top of an overpass, one that seemed like it was miles long to get to the top, there was a volunteer who spoke truth to me in the most encouraging way. You see, up to this point people were saying things like, “You’ve got this!” or “You’re killing it!” and I was thinking, you are being kind, but I am so not killing it. I am near the back, the race is closing down and I am dying in pain. I am SO NOT DOING WELL.

But this lady was different! She asked how I was and in my saddest voice I said, “I hurt so bad, I don’t know if I can make it”. And she agreed with me! She said, “I know, it sucks, huh?” Throughout this short conversation she encouraged me to “embrace the suck”. I was going to hurt the next day whether I finished the race or not. But the pain I would feel would be far worse if I gave up at this point. So keep going!

And so I pressed on. I did finish! The race had been completely closed down and they were removing the finish line as I neared. My incredible wife advocated for me for them to stop just a bit so I could finish and she stood there at the finish line for me. They gave her the medal to place over my head as she gave me a kiss.

IMG_1003I did it! In 2015 I completed 3 5Ks, 3 10Ks, 3 Half Marathons, and 3 FULL Marathons. Admittedly this final medal gives me mixed emotions and will remind me of many lessons. I am “embarrassed” at the level of fitness I let myself slip to and the poor time to finish the race. In the end it was 7 hours and 46 minutes; almost a full 2 hours worse than my best time. Nobody can say that was done well. But I am not embarrassed at all really, as this is also one my proudest moments. I gutted it out. I didn’t give up. I pushed through pain and temptations and doubt and accomplished my goal.

And so here is where the post is not about running at all. A major take-a-way from this experience is that real encouragement is not in platitudes and “you can do it” type statements, but in truth that acknowledges the pain and difficulty and then moves you to a place to dig deeper any way. I in no way dismiss the well-meaning motives of anybody who cheers you on. It’s welcome and meant well. But when you know you are hurting or not doing well, to be told you are isn’t useful.

As a pastor, I deal with people on many different levels of brokenness in their life. Some are going through serious trials and facing huge odds and the spiritual high-fives aren’t useful. Empathy is to share in one’s pain, to cry with them, to understand. I can’t fix their life or make the pain go away, but I can acknowledge that it hurts or “sucks”. I can pray with them to find the strength that God provides to move through the “suck”. Sure, I feel a bit helpless. I want to fix and rescue and make everything better. But the journey through the “suck” is what is needed to get to the goal. The determination to finish has to be found in each one of us.

A Year of Accomplishments Celebrated This Weekend

This weekend marks the first anniversary of the long distance run events I have done. I started running in February 2014 with a 5K, loved it and then signed up for a whole lot of crazy. I started it all with the Disneyland Half Marathon weekend by doing the Dumbo Double Dare – a 10K on Saturday followed by a half marathon on Sunday. I was so excited for completing this first major run and felt it to be a great accomplishment. I was so emotional crossing the finish line.

Well a year has passed and I have done so many races since.

  • 4 5k’s
  • 3 10K’s
  • 5 Half Marathons
  • 2 Full Marathons

I will add this 10K and half this weekend and hope to add another 5K and full before year’s end. I want to do that so that 2015 will have three of each distance. This, however, is a negotiable goal. 😉

My life is so different now and as I go into this weekend I have very mixed emotions. Sadly I am not all that excited. I think I will do fine, but the last few months have been very difficult physically and emotionally. I really jumped in too hard too fast by doing the second marathon in March. Many would say that about the Dopey Challenge, but I really felt fine after that. But the marathon really set off a whole lot of pain. Partly because I had not recovered enough from the first marathon and partly because I have not been able to afford the massages I was regularly getting leading up the Dopey. Those massages I think kept me from getting injured.

In any case, my feet just have not been the same. And then I did the Pixie Dust half marathon on Mother’s day and strained the right TFL. That has been a long recovery as well. And so now most everyday is filled with various body aches. The worst being my feet and achilles. I have bone spurs (well before the running) and they just hurt so bad.

But I hurt when I don’t run too, so I figure why not stay fit and hurt instead of being a couch potato and hurting? Right? But emotionally this has taken a toll. I have put on weight by not being diligent about food journaling and going back to old habits somewhat and that has been tough too. Not just because I am not as comfortable with my weight but it affects the running ease too.

So that is why I am going into this weekend with mixed emotions.

Now all that whining put out there. I am also going into this weekend feeling like even my lows are highs compared to where I came from. That the fact I have done all that this last year is not just crazy, but a sign of God’s power to change a life. I am not who I once was. I never will be. And even though I have struggles, I am coming at them from a new place. I am a man who sees fitness and health as important. I am a man that has learned that my strategy to cope was an utter failure and that I serve a God who has a better plan. I am a man that knows that even when I go back to old ways, I have a reference point to get me back to His better ways. Before, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Now I am aware and have seen God at work.

This weekend may not be the “first” and therefore not as emotional and satisfying of an accomplishment, but it will be a marker of the great things God has done and the places He has taken me. And I will cross that line knowing that all the struggles and pain are far less than the health and victory I have experienced.

Perspective, Getting it Right.

On March 22 I completed my second marathon with only 10 weeks between them.  What follows is a “report” of my run that I sent to a group of fellow runners and in it you can see some of my perspective issues that I will speak to at the end.

I thought I would give you my update from the run this past Sunday.  I did complete it and for that I am pleased. It was not what I hoped for, but realistically, it was just fine. My training going into it was hindered from lingering sickness from the January runs in Florida as well as asthma and this “great” weather. So I knew it was going to be rough. But I did learn some things. DON’T TRUST PACERS! Well, I won’t be quite as extreme as that, but at least my first dive into a pacing group was not so good. I decided to hang with the 5 hour group thinking that I should have been able to do that. We headed out on the run and I was feeling great! We were talking and I was enjoying the course. After a few miles though I realized we were going pretty quick and then I overheard the pacer guy say that he generally had the problem of starting out pretty fast. Sure enough we were logging some under 10 min/mile times for a pacing group that was planned for 11:30. I suppose with some hill section coming up he was compensating too, but it pretty much wiped me out and then later I was hurting and toast. I can’t and won’t blame him entirely. As I stated, my training was not as good as it should have been, so I likely would have dropped back anyways. But I will use my devices in the future for pacing instead of relying on others.

The marathon itself was really nice. I have a new respect for Oakland as a city. I grew up in the East Bay and was in Oakland a lot, but mostly in really rough neighborhoods for jobs I worked at. We ran through some nice areas and the residents were out on their porches cheering us on and thanking us for participating. Apparently a lot of money is raised for local charities so they really were appreciative of our involvement. And despite the major uphill section at mile 7-9, the course is mostly flat. The hill section is long and sustained, but not really steep. Sawyer Camp trail is steeper. The downhill from the Mormon Temple to Fruitvale was steeper and also long. The course was well marked and monitored by traffic directors and police so it felt safe from cars too. The event was organized well and pretty fun. It was not a “Disney” run, but still very good.

As for my personal goals, I wanted to try a solo marathon to see if I really liked long distances. If you recall I did the Dopey Challenge in January at DisneyWorld (5K, 10K, Half, Full in four days) with the flu. I hoped that doing one alone would be more fun or easier. I don’t know, I just wanted to see how different it would be. Well, I don’t care to ever do a run longer than a half again. I felt so good on this run up to the half. Every mile after that became increasingly painful. I had no injuries or joint issues, just pain – everywhere. So I think that my conclusion is that at 51, and only running a year, and still being a bit heavier than normal, it just isn’t my thing. I will consider a marathon again in the future only if/when I get to a goal weight. Until then the pain is just not worth it. I am smart enough to know this decision may shift as I get further away from the memory of the pain. 😉 I have been pushing myself hard this year and I am glad I have, but I need to be wise as well. I just don’t know how you guys are doing these ultra runs. I am even more impressed.

I am so proud of all that I have done in such a short time. Five 5Ks, Two 10Ks, Four Half Marathons, and two Full Marathons in 13 months. If you take out the first 5K in the timeline, then all the other runs were actually done in a 7 month period. I don’t know if that is normal or not for most serious runners, but it seems like a lot of runs in short span of time to me. I have a 10K/Half combo planned in both May and in Sept so far and may throw in some others. We’ll see.

Thank you to many of you have been encouraging. Since you “get” running and the drive to push yourself, it has been nice to receive your encouragement. I will try to jump in more to the Saturday runs.

Oh, so time? I finished in 5:51:58, nearly a half hour better than my first. I was 649 of 836 runners, but in my old man age division I was 44 of 241. I’ll take it.

You can’t really hear, but it is in there.  I was discouraged and frustrated at my poor showing – pain and slow speed.  Call it being too hard on myself, call it being too competitive, call it being unrealistic.  However you look at it, my perspective was off.  It took a number of replies from the fellow runners to help remind me just how big of a deal this.  Only 0.5% of the US population has run a marathon and I did two in 10 weeks!  I shaved off nearly a half an hour from my first time.  I am 51, still a bit overweight, and a new runner (only running for 13 months).  AND it has been a relatively short time since my last marathon.  Apparently the recovery time for these things is a big deal.  I thought that once your body aches were gone, you were good, but there is a lot more too it.

What I learned from this was that once again the value of community, people who know better than I or at the very least understand the immensity of what I have really done, is so important.  It’s so easy to be myopic and expect too much of yourself.  Frankly it’s pretty easy to expect too little as well.  But when we are open to adjusting our perspective or reframing our expectations, then we can approach life in a healthier manner.  As is often the case, my experiences fall in line with where God is leading our church.  This week we start a message series (I am not presenting it) entitled Seeing through God’s Eyes.

It’s so radically important to not only lay our will, choices, and life before God, we need to lay our perspective down too.  My impressions, opinions, worldview…whatever word you want to use, must be realigned and rethought passing it through the filter of God’s word.   Many of us hold up our opinions and conclusions and project them on to God and His word, rather than let them be informed and shaped BY His word.

As for my running, I have already backed off.  I have not scheduled another marathon just yet and do feel that losing the rest of my weight is a key to doing better and enjoying it more.  That said, it’s not about if I will do one again, but when.  I have that personality to push myself.   I just need to do it in a way that is healthy and honors the steps along the way, instead of becoming frustrated at what I came to see as slow progress.  But it’s anything but that.

Celebrate the baby steps and keep moving ahead.

A Fitting End to an Incredible Journey

Well I did it! I ran my first marathon and on top of that I combined it with the run Disney’s “Dopey Challenge”, 48.6 miles in 4 separate runs in four days building up to the full marathon on the last day. Some people I suspect thought I couldn’t do it, I know some thought I shouldn’t. But I did. It was probably more than I should have tackled being new to running, but it kept me motivated and inspired to learn properly how to run and avoid injury. I worked real hard to be mindful to listen to my body and surround myself with people to help coach me. In the end, as I shared with my church in a message recently, A Story of Trust, Grace, and Community (you can listen here), I discovered so many lessons on community that have profoundly shaped me. It has been a wonderful experience.

But then came the weekend of the runs themselves. I got sick!

I suppose it is fairly normal as I have discovered. You train hard and kind of wear your body down a bit. In addition, these runs are during the cold/flu season, so chances are, one will get sick. I was so discouraged. I felt horrible, and in fact still do. Chest and nasal congestion, that out of body skin crawling achy feeling, weak. And I am supposed to run 48.6 miles. I considered canceling. I agonized over it. I had been adamant about listening to my body all along the way. Why stop now? And yet, I had invested so much time, and frankly money, to get here. So I did some reading from other runners about how to manage it. And most said they would run no matter what. They just had to reframe their expectations of the goals. Since my goals were never time and only finishing, that wasn’t too hard. So I just tried to stay hydrated, get as much rest as I could, and do my best without pressuring myself.

The journey wasn’t just physical here though. I had some significant God-moments. And why not? It has been my desire all along to not have this story be about me. I never wanted to become self-absorbed in this. I tired of hearing myself talk so much about running because I knew there were more important aspects of my life to be shared. But frankly, the fitness transformation has been a true God-transformation and so to share it was to share God’s story. Well here it comes, God showed up in pretty cool ways.

I had one of those nights where I woke up feeling absolutely horrible. I was half delusional in the middle of a NyQuil dose. I couldn’t sleep because my whole body was crawling and I had to keep moving to avoid the feelings. I couldn’t keep still. I was at the bottom mentally wondering why my journey was coming to an end with the goal unmet. I was desperately calling out to God to know why. As I tried to lay in bed to get rest to run the next morning, I felt a strong impression say to me, “Drink the coconut water”. (I use coconut water on long runs to hydrate and so had stocked some). I pulled myself out of bed to go get some and after drinking it, my body calmed down, the skin crawling stopped and I slept through. I determined later that despite trying to stay hydrated, with the races, cold medicine, and the extreme cold, I had thrown my electrolytes way off and was in need of hydration.

I haven’t mentioned till now that an arctic cold blast came down into Florida and so while we are standing for an hour or more waiting for the race to start, we are doing so in mid 30’s and 40’s. As I was sick, I was taking my body to more and more extremes.

So the coconut water got me through that race and then I became even more diligent to monitor that. I began to feel at least stronger in terms of that. But of course I was still sick. I got through the half marathon fairly well. Of course my times were way off their normal. But I succeeded. I tried as best I could to enjoy it, running down main street in the Magic Kingdom, coming through the castle, but honestly, I just wasn’t present enough to care. It was just get through it. runDisney’s tagline is “Where every mile is magic” and I assure you, there were no magic miles for me that day. So going into the full marathon on Sunday had me very concerned.

Thankfully the weather improved and it wasn’t nearly as cold. And I was starting to feel a bet stronger, however, still sick. I felt pretty good getting ready that morning, but the burst of energy plummeted as I got closer to the race time. As I left that morning Diane prayed with me and in her prayer asked for wisdom for me as I approached Medical tents. To pay attention and balance the goal with health. She had been a great encouragement to not give up after working so hard for so long, but of course she didn’t want me to harm myself either.

The first mile I felt awful. Seriously, I really thought I would not make it. But then all of a sudden I felt strength come. I ran virtually all the next 8 miles and even enjoyed the experience going down main IMG_6602street and through the castle. And as I ran I began to pray and wonder what lessons I was learning through this. I mean, a personal goal of completing a marathon, while lofty and impressive, won’t last for eternity. In the grand scheme, it’s not what I am about, what I have given my life to. Now I am not suggesting we don’t have such goals or that God frowns on them. Of course not, but nobody would go to heaven because I ran a marathon. My heart’s desire had all along been that God get the credit for what was being done and as I have said, He did. I don’t think He zapped me with illness to play with me. But I do think that it caused me to push on relying more on Him. If I was going to do this, I know it was because of His strength and not mine alone. And so in sharing my marathon story, I am again sharing a God-story. A story of His transformational power, the power of community and trust and grace. And maybe someone will come to know and love my God the way I do as a result. Or perhaps risk trusting Him more where they had been holding back.

Miles 9-17 were physically hard. I stiffened up and ran even slower. Had to walk more than I wanted. And it was in miles 15-17 that I hit an emotional bottom. I actually don’t remember much of it. I zoned out and just lost will to really keep going. I kept telling myself, “Just keep running”. At one point I saw the medical tent and thought, “Is it the time to give up?”. I just felt horrible! But I found myself repeating in my head, “Fight for this Len”. And it was literally in a moment that a cloud lifted. I was emotionally light and clear headed. And I began running again as if it was a new race altogether. I don’t know what it was, but I believe it was likely prayer. I saw later that people had posted they were praying for me that morning and I think it was around the same time.

Well the rest of the run I was in a good head space, now I just needed to keep going. I was concerned that I was not keeping up the time limits needed to complete the challenge. I knew I would finish the race, but thought I might be DQ’d from the bonus challenges for being too slow. So that rattled in my head a lot and got me moving. We went through Hollywood Studios, the boardwalk area and then on into EPCOT. As we ran around the world showcase, the soundtrack music had epic swells and was inspiring. The crowds were cheering and I knew I would be finishing soon. And then it happened. The fitting end!

All throughout Disney races, they have bands and entertainment venues to make it all fun. Well at the last .2 of a mile they had a gospel choir all decked out in gold robes. As I rounded the corner, I heard beautiful voices lifting high praise to God, singing,
IMG_6606
“We Worship You, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!
We Worship You, for who you are.
You are God!”

(I will post a link to the full song)

I began to raise my arms in celebration and started crying because I knew exactly that was the case. It was God who started me on the journey and it was going to end with Him being praised for His goodness. Along the way I got to do some pretty incredible things, accomplish some lofty goals, but I will never lose sight that those are all just little extras that in God’s grace I was able to experience. The real story, the real accomplishment, is that God revealed Himself once again to me, and hopefully to others, just how strong and powerful He is. He is GOOD!

a day to remember

November 2, 2012.  Not a holiday in most people’s experience, but for me it is the day of my “fake heart attack”.  So it’s not a holiday for me either, but certainly a watershed day in my life.  Although I had already been spending a year doing heart work – emotional and spiritual, it is this day that began the physical transformation that all that heart work was leading me to.  I remember being in the hospital trying not to be afraid, but with the wires connected to me, doses of nitro being administered to no effect, and being prepped for an angiogram, I was admittedly scared.  Later we realized the nitro had no effect because it was not my heart that was damaged.  I had/have acid reflux.  Not a fun condition to be sure, but a manageable one.  One whose management meant a radical shift in my diet, thus the physical transformation.  When one can’t eat spice, fat, citrus, tomatoes, chocolate or even coffee, one is going to lose weight.  And weight I lost.  After a short while, I began to notice this and with all the heart work that had happened, it was like a light came on and weight loss just sped up.  My new heart wanted a new body to go with it.  I no longer needed to use weight to hide or suppress my fears and hurts.  I no longer needed to use food keep from trusting God’s plan for those hurts and to manage them on my own.   The first year I “moved more, ate less” and I lost about 10 lbs a month.  The next November I joined a gym and the weight loss slowed, despite beginning running.  But it still comes off.  My general eating has returned many of the foods that acid reflux doesn’t care for, but with the weight loss the doctors said I might not need to worry so much about it.  In retrospect, my fake heart attack was a gift, a wake up call from God and another step in my healing that he was taking me on!

IMG_6238Look at this picture!  The left side is me in late October 2012.  And that wasn’t even my highest weight.  A few years earlier I was 40 lbs heavier.  The one on the right is me yesterday on my longest run to date.  I stopped for a moment to ask a random person to take a picture of me.

I still have weight to go, but that is not a concern for me so much.  I am loving fitness and the new me. I still have those moments of snacking late at night, but because I run and work out so much I am able to handle it.  But that explains the slower weight loss these days.

In earlier posts I have referenced a couple of songs with lyrics that mean so much to me.  One is “Brand New Day” by Joshua Radin.  As I was running yesterday it came up in the playlist and one of verses struck out to me.

Most kind of stories
Save the best part for last
And most stories have a hero who finds
You make your past your past
Yeah you make your past your past

It’s a brand new day
The sun is shining
It’s a brand new day
For the first time in such a long long time
I know, I’ll be ok

It reminds of what Paul says in Philippians.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14

It’s not that I forget the past, but I make it my past!  I press on to the future and as he says in the next verses, I hold on to what I have attained!  This new me IS me.  The old, is a memory, one which shows the God of grace at work…MY God.

Who am I that you would find me here?
Who am I that love would draw me near?
Who am I that you would die, to save a broken soul like mine?
Who am I?
Who am I?

The maker of the heavens knows my name.
The author of the oceans gave me grace
My should my soul will ever sing your praise
Almighty God!
(Almighty God, Todd Fields.  North Point Live: Here + Now)

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