LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: faith (page 1 of 2)

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.

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.

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)

satisfied

satisˌfīd

adjective, contented; pleased: satisfied customers | she was very satisfied with the results.

As I finished my 10K and Half Marathon, I felt “satisfied.”   Not proud, not elated.  Satisfied.  Throughout the run I felt many things – pain, exhaustion, thrill, “this is cool!”, joy.  But in the end it was satisfaction that won out.

 

Crossing the finish line of my first half marathon

Crossing the finish line of my first half marathon

Thousands of runners surrounded me those warm mornings in August, each with their own stories and reasons for running.  Some, I am sure who just love running and the events, driven by the endorphins.  Some though had personal journeys of overcoming.  I saw a few who wore signs on their backs explaining how earlier in life they could not walk, or they were in chemo, or…  Their stories were of triumph.  Still others were running for a cause, for a sick friend or family member.  In memory of one perhaps.  But we were all running and as we crossed the finish line I hope they each felt the satisfaction I felt.  It was palpable.  I have been pleased before in a job well done, but this was an over-the-top level of “satisfaction.”

Perhaps because of the depth my journey had taken me.  Perhaps because I was so exhausted, I had no energy to muster anything else.  No, I did, and satisfied was the right and full feeling at the moment.

Throughout the run I was amazed at the power of encouragement by total strangers.  Disney had arranged for school marching bands and cheer squads to be all along the route.  The Angels Stadium was seriously full of scout troops, clubs of all kinds, friends of runners, and more.  Hundreds of people brought out their classic cars and lined the miles of the route.  They sat by their cars ringing bells and cheering us.  Occasionally some of the “strangers” would see my name on my bib and say something like, “Good job Len, keep going.”  Others would see the St. Jude singlet I was wearing and thank me for running for that cause.  In all this I found strength to keep going.  And then near the finish line I saw my wife and friends who where there for just for me – their yells and cheers drilled deep.  I became emotional as I got closer, crossing the line I raised my arms in celebration!

This gave me new context for the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews!

Throughout this entire journey I have learned so much about running – this experience in particular about the right salt intake and hydration needed, how to navigate the amount of fellow runners, pacing myself, and more.  I have learned about weight loss and exercise.  I have more importantly learned about resolving my “issues.”

But most of all I have learned and experienced deep spiritual lessons.

Disney had great medals.  It doesn't matter how fast, finishing = winning!

Disney had great medals. It doesn’t matter how fast, finishing = winning!

The imagery throughout the Bible of running the race, finishing well, is so much more real to me.  Metaphors and illustrations make so much more sense when you can relate to them.  I am discovering to greater degree that God satisfies my soul.  That His grace and trusting in Him is “enough.”  That along the run (of life), I will pull a muscle or tire out, but the cheering crowds can bolster me to find the strength to go on and finish…well.

I can with greater confidence and contentment say, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  I am content, not wanting for anything else.  Satisfied.  Pride, joy, celebration, these are all great feelings when we accomplish a life well lived in God.  But I have discovered the power of being satisfied, and to me that is so much more powerful and fulfilling.

 

Dear Father, I pray for every reader who passes over my words here to know and experience the satisfaction that only you can offer.  You truly are “enough” and may we all come to experience that.  Amen.

 

Running on Grace

This morning I left the house feeling GREAT! I had just done an hour of speed work interval training for the first time with a local running club and I am wearing new jeans in a size that I haven’t worn since probably I was 25. I was walking out the path just filled with self-satisfaction that quickly moved to a gratefulness toward God. And not a false-humility, oops-I-feel-guilty-for-taking-any-credit, kind of gratefulness. I think there is a place that God allows for us to feel a joy for our part of the relationship we have with Him. But that said, I am quite mindful of just how insignificant my role is in all the changes I have gone through in the last few years.

Now that the “number”, the amount of weight I have lost, is public (currently now at nearly 210lbs), I am getting all sorts of positive comments from people. I have been getting the ‘you look good’, and ‘how are you doing it?’ sort of statements, to which I appreciate. I am human, and compliments and acknowledgement does feel good. But it has now ramped up to a level of how inspiring I am and how I have motivated people to make changes and that I represent hope. And of course I know these are nothing but well intended and I accept them as nothing but pure compliments. But I still get a bit uncomfortable with them nonetheless as the changes REALLY are not about me.

Yes, I have had to follow-through with good behavior and choices on eating and exercise. But if you have heard or read my story you know that before there was any weight loss, there was a year or more of counseling and prayer and “dot-connecting” as to why I had developed reactionary and self-sabotaging habits. God had clearly begun a deep work of heart and I have come to realize just how much I failed to trust God’s plan to deal with stress and pain and chose my plan to self-soothe with food.

And that is ALL God! I am so immensely grateful that He loves me enough to continue to reveal in me just how much I need to continue to grow and trust. The work of “forming Christ in me” is a long and beautiful process. It isn’t easy and frankly is so difficult to discern when you are trusting in Him vs self. I really was shocked when I had those numerous AHA-moments that wasn’t really fully trusting Him. But once I saw it, I knew nothing but good was coming. Such a huge weight lifted, that was greater than any amount of fat on my body.

This new stage and passion of running may not last (although I hope it does), but what will last is the ever-growing reliance on Him. When I run, it is on a “path” of grace. “Eat less, move more” is the simple lifestyle change strategy I share, but the REAL change is found in trusting God’s plan and not your own.

Again, I don’t mind the compliments (keep ’em coming), I know they come from nothing but a great place of love and encouragement. But please know there is a BIG God behind what has happened in my life. And I would love for you to join me on that run!

Your Strength Just Might Be Your Weakness

I have been really running and training a lot lately.  In the gym I am lifting heavy and on the trails I am going far.  I am, as you have read in other posts, been so excited to see just how fit I am becoming.  It’s a great feeling!  But a couple of weeks ago while running, my knee tweaked.  I stopped running at the moment and then took a few days to ice it, care for it.  But it didn’t really seem to be going away.  Admittedly I was inwardly concerned that this might sideline my new passion and I would be out of running, losing all the money invested in registrations and equipment, and worse, reaching my newly set goals.

Jumping ahead a few weeks, still running, my lower back/right hip area was a bit tender.  I just brushed it off as random body aches.  But it got worse, so I went in to see my chiropractor.  Post adjustment, I felt great and went out to run…my longest run to date.  I did a complete half marathon in training!  FELT GREAT!  The entire rest of the day I was wonderful.  But morning came and my back was so bad I could barely get out of bed.  Now I have been icing it and visiting the chiropractor.

Thankfully both knee and back are on the mend!  And it happened through something I found to be revolutionary!  Stretching!  (DUH!) I in fact had not “injured” anything.  I got too strong, worked some muscles too tightly, and let them pull my body out of whack.  The knee pain almost left entirely when my trainer helped me to identify a hamstring that needed to be stretched out.  What a relief both of pain and hope for future goals.

The back is a current malady and I am still working on it, but again, my trainer helped me to see that all my squats and dead lifts were strengthening my lower back and running was strengthening my thighs.  Both are good things and sound great.  I am getting strong.  But something called a hip flexor was getting tight and combined with my lower back muscles tightening they both were pulling my pelvis forward causing a misalignment.  He showed me a series of stretches and again, I found immediate relief.  This one is a bit more settled in so the stretching regimen will take a bit more time.  

But a lesson learned.  Getting strong is not enough!  Packing on the miles, racking up the weight, doesn’t cut it.  One has to slow down and stretch out.  We all hear about stretching, but so many, myself included, don’t give it the place it deserves.  We take short cuts, doing just a few quick ones, but the goal is to get right to the run or the weights.

So why am I taking time writing about this?  Because I saw spiritual life parallels.  

I find in my own life and have observed in many others that we have some transformational experience and it’s exciting.  We ride the wave of the new feeling, changes, and generally go forward in our new found life with confidence.  We should!  God has brought healing or new awareness, or a lingering sin issue has finally been overcome.  That is what God does in us.  And again, it feels great!

But then some twinge of pain happens and we get discouraged or we get sidelined with some sort of “fall” through destructive choices.  What do we do?  Well some, give up.  Just as in running or another sport, saying the injury took them out.  Others gut through it, still working on getting strong and ignoring the pain, the signals telling them something is wrong and should be adjusted.

I suggest a third option.  Taking to time to stretch out.  Sometimes our getting too strong too fast throws our body out of whack.  Spiritually we seek or let ourselves ascend to areas of leadership too quickly.  We get over confident in “our” ability and become self-deluded.  We do as so many in the fitness area do, we take short cuts.  We don’t take time to do the full stretch routine.  We fail to recognize it’s vital part of the process.  What is the “stretching” part of our spiritual life in my illustration?  Resting, delighting, meditating.  I am a charge ahead doer.  I recognize and relate to Christ on the go.  I see and feel Him work through me and in me as I serve and do my tasks.  BUT that doesn’t negate the necessity of slowing down and resting in Him too.  I need to not just work the muscles of faith, but stretch them out so they don’t get out of balance.

Too many seemingly strong people of faith have crashed and burned I think for this very reason.

I don’t want to overplay my spiritual application of this illustration.  But I clearly had this aha today and wanted to pass it on.  On the physical fitness track, be mindful, build and strengthen, but don’t get wound too tight.  Listen to your body and discern if the pains are the good ones from building strength or the signals to slow down and pay attention to some other needs.

Trust in the Lord and do good.
Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you your heart’s desires.
Commit everything you do to the Lord.
Trust him, and he will help you.
He will make your innocence radiate like the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.
Be still in the presence of the Lord,
and wait patiently for him to act.

Psalm 37:3-7a (NLT)

My life-passage here reminds me to wait on Him to act.  It’s hard to be still when you’re feeling so strong and fit.  There are times to charge ahead, to take the land, to get caught up in the “overcoming”.  But don’t neglect the Delighting, Trusting, and Being Still.  Our spiritual growth, just like our physical is a holistic and multifaceted endeavor.

This is a hard but necessary lesson I come back to all the time!  I suspect I am not alone.  

 

Thanks Runner’s World

Welcome to all of you who found your way here from the motivational bio profile that Runner’s World posted of me on their site at RunnersWorld.com

I HATE having to talk about actual scale numbers so having this posted was really difficult.  But it’s not like I was ever fooling anyone that I was significantly overweight, right?  So here we are.  I hope my story will inspire and help people, not just to lose weight or to find fitness, but to find that trusting God’s plan over your own is the best.  That really is the whole point of my story these past few years.

Weight loss and fitness are wonderful byproducts of the bigger journey I have been on.  I still struggle each and everyday to not get in my own way and gut it out with will power and obsession.  It never has worked and never will.  Yielding to God’s plan does.  Now, that’s not some cop out and letting go of responsibility.  I have worked hard, I have changed my eating and exercise habits.  I am running or going to the gym or getting on my bike nearly everyday!  But I had to find internal peace and healing first.  All previous attempts failed because I short-circuited that step.

Do I have everything figured out – NO!  That’s what we in the church call sanctification.  I am in process.  Participating with God each day to grow more like Him and let go of self-direction.

I hope you are inspired to join me on such a life!

BUT God…

Following is the text of my portion of the Good Friday 2014 message at Mariners Church.  Paul, our lead pastor, and I shared the speaking and it was interspersed with worship music.  I welcome you to listen to the full service and get caught up in the worship of the evening.  But I also include my text below as it will serve to encourage you as well.  Paul opened the evening by setting up our sin condition and Christ’s suffering on the cross.  It was followed by the song: Blessed Redeemer.

My message section 1…

As we’ve spent some time recognizing that our sin has created this absolute separation from God, I think of that cinematic effect where the view of something moves further and further away from our grasp as I am pulled back in some sort of tunnel. My SIN…MY sin…has left me lost and hopeless and broken and far from the God who loves me and created me to have a full life with Him.

BUT GOD…

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. Romans 5:8 (NLT)

But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) Ephesians 2:4–5 (NLT)

Today is GOOD Friday. The crucifixion, the blood, the gore, the pain and suffering. We could focus on them. But WHY? When we could focus on BUT GOD! His love and pursuit of us is what drove Him to the cross.

Our sin forced this great divide from God that we have no ability to fix or repair. We try. But we fail.   I know this doesn’t sit well with us. We hate to hear this. We muster up all our efforts and self esteem to make ourselves look good to Him and others. But dead is dead.

BUT GOD never gave up on us.

Even though we don’t deserve forgiveness…He forgives.

Even though without God, we are worthless…He has chosen to love us.

The apostle Paul, after listing all the things that he and others would think made him worthy and a great man, said,

I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness … rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.  Philippians 3:7–9 (NLT)

This is why we devote our lives to following God. He has rescued us. This is why we worship. He is great and loving and has restored hope to us. This is why we sing and become joyful. He has brought us back from death in our sins to a full life in Him.

As we continue this evening we’re going to sing some songs that put this in the proper perspective. We bring nothing to our relationship with God. He is the one who pursued us. My goodness is not good enough. His is, and He gave it to us. My strengths are not strong enough.

BUT GOD…

This next song’s chorus says,

Our sin was strong, but Jesus is stronger.

Our shame was great, but Jesus you’re greater!

As we sing that, I invite you to get lost in a “BUT GOD” moment.

SONG: Raised to Life (Elevation Worship)

SECTION 2

So if Jesus is greater and stronger than our sin and shame, why do so many of us still struggle?

I’ve observed in others and in myself, times when I let my shame get the best of me. I see people let the victory over sin pass them by.   The victory Christ has freely and fully made available to us.

I want to go and shake that person and say, YOU’RE NOT THE EXCEPTION!

Your shame…Your guilt. They’re not a shock or too great for God!

He’s able to bring real change and freedom to all of us. To you!

We need to stop trying to gut out our plan and willpower to overcome the struggles in our lives. God can be trusted. His plan is best.

Please stop standing on the edges. Stop staring from the outside looking in wondering why you’re the “only” one not experiencing the joy that we talk about. Again, you are not the exception!

Paul writes,

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ.  Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.

This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.  So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins.  He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:3–8 (NLT)

This is why it is GOOD Friday. It was God’s plan all along to pour out His grace and mercy on us. To pursue us, to give us freedom! This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

I hope tonight something that has been said here has helped you to move God’s grace, His free gift of forgiveness, down into your heart to defeat this cycle of shame, to experience His great love.

He pursued you. So what does it look like to pursue Him? To respond to him?

What does it look like to show gratitude to the one who has rescued you? What does it look like to live your life in that freedom and pursuit of more of Him?

Our worship team is going to come and lead us in songs. Again, I invite you to focus on what He has done for us. FOR YOU!

Perhaps tonight you come here having been wrestling with letting go. Maybe you’ve felt it really didn’t seem to be for you. Or that somehow, you accepted forgiveness, but didn’t let go all the way. To live in that real freedom He purchased for us.

Maybe that cycle of shame – of going back over and over again to the same exhausting destructive choices, has left you feeling hopeless.

Maybe you’re here this evening and this is all new to you and something in you is saying to dive in. To give in. To let go.

Then please do.

His love is crazy and irrational and His pursuit of you is passionate. He never has or ever will give up on you. And He doesn’t ask that you that you fully understand it, just that you receive it.

As you sing these songs, pause and just say something to God like, “I want this. I want you to lead my life, to give me that freedom. To learn to trust you. Thank you for rescuing me, for loving me.”

In a few moments we’re going to take communion together – to remember His death on our behalf – by taking the bread and cup. It’ll be a bit later and Mark will let you know when you can come up and get them. When you do, please take them to your seat and wait with them until we all take together.

SONG: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, Your Glory/Nothing But the Blood of Jesus (All Sons & Daughters)

Communion

SONG: I Stand Amazed

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