LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: God’s love

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 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.

 

Together We Thrive!

“Together We Thrive” is the new ad line for the Kaiser Permanente.  It seems they are on to something very spiritual and direct from the pages of the Bible.  On another, soon to be related, note, I did speedwork with the Coastside Running Club this morn.  I am enjoying it as I can learn from others who are very experienced.  Not just about improving pace, but form, the concepts of tempo runs, and more.  And yet on another, soon to be related, note, I have joked that I have my very own wellness team, “Team Len” comprised of Mark, my chiropractor; and Trevor, my personal trainer.  They have been invaluable to me for getting and feeling healthy.  Shortly after the Kaiser commercial ran this morning, Diane joked that I had new members of Team Len – the running coaches of the club.  My reply, “Together We Thrive!”

I have seen and learned many spiritual principles on this journey towards fitness.  And one of the most important? I can’t do this on my own!  From the Ultimate Leadership team, to Dr Arnold who I spent a year with, to the fellow running friends from Church, to the previous mentioned “Team Len” members; I need(ed) each and everyone of them.  From the real deep work to put pieces together to the passing encouragements, it all plays a part in this idea of “thriving.”

And of course that is what God designed for us.  He wants so much more than survival for us.  He wants us to live, to love, to serve, to thrive! And the key to all of that is together – the one-anothers!  By nature I am not the most social person.  I love people, but I am a bit shy or awkward in new situations and I am not the best follow-through friend.  I have been described by some as aloof, and I think there is some truth to that at times or situations.  And so this lesson of interdependence is so valuable to me.  I have grown to cherish the role and interaction with others.  I look forward to growing friendships through all of this in the future.  It’s not just an ad campaign, it’s truth – Together We Thrive!

To thriving!

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!

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

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrgmjZU1ivI&w=560&h=315]

Nothing is Wasted (Elevation Worship) is a fantastic song. One lyric in particular, the title phrase, strikes me. “Nothing is Wasted, You work all things for good.” If in fact God does work all things for good for those who love Him, then there is nothing that is left outside of that work on His part. ALL means Nothing is Wasted. God is so powerful and loving that He has the ability to make even the most insignificant or most hurtful or most evil part or experience of my life work out for His good. And not just the ability, but in fact He does accomplish this.

Now let’s get real here though and let go of childish naiveté. His good does not mean our view of happy endings. As C.S. Lewis said, God doesn’t care if we are happy, He wants us to grow up. And that growth is often through sharing in Christ’s sufferings.

But as we press in and let Him accomplish the work He has begun in us, nothing is wasted.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCunuL58odQ&w=560&h=315]

These past couple of days I am enjoying the song How He Loves and it’s amazing lyrics.

“When all of a sudden I am unaware of these afflictions
Eclipsed by glory and I realize just how beautiful You are
And how great Your affections are for me

And oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us, how He loves us all”

What an amazing statement! To become unaware of our afflictions because they are eclipsed by the glory of God. What a beautiful reality to live in. What a beautiful way to say it. I am reminded of the old chorus, “turn you eyes upon Jesus…and all these things will grow strangely dim in light of His glory and grace”.

We (I) need to continually make God bigger in my view. To allow myself to focus more on Him. So much energy is spent on trial/sin/affliction management; fear, worry, fret, solutions, and frankly even telling ourselves we need to see God more and then running to the Bible for the fix. There is a franticness even in trying to see God.

But God calls us to just…rest. We don’t need to drum up His action. He already has accomplished it and it is there for us. We need to dwell, rest, delight and abide. Much different mood or tone with those words that are used all throughout scripture to describe the way to approach our Father.

The song continues,
“Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes
If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking”

I imagine those slow motion scenes where a person is falling backwards into the water and you see it just engulf them and then the shot takes you under the water where you see the silhouette floating down with the light rays behind. That moment of complete surrender and yielding. No fighting or struggling. Just a resignation. Of course we are not drowning, but we are dying to self. Drawn to the absolute grace. No more effort to maintain our image. No more struggle to become good enough. Just grace!

“I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way

Oh, how He loves us, oh
Oh, how He loves us, how He loves all”

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