LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: trusting God

Embrace the “SUCK”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Year of Accomplishments Celebrated This Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!

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

Exchanging What Seems Right for What is Really Right

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. Proverbs 16:25

I have heard and quoted this verse so many times in my life, but it really didn’t mean a whole lot to me because, first of all, I was already “saved” so it didn’t apply to me any longer regarding that.  And of course I was trusting God for the leading of my life – going into vocational ministry and all.

But this past few years, and especially this last, I have come to realize that I still was keeping control of so many areas of my life.  And in fact may unknowingly still be doing so.  I had developed deeply embedded coping skills to manage hurts and pains from my childhood.  And even though I would pray about it, “trust” God for His answers and help, I kept on my path thinking my ways were succeeding or enough.  How foolish and useless.  Cuz as Dr Phil says, How’s that working for you?”  My answer?  Not so well.  I still would find my responses were more like reactions.  Rather than truly dealing with issues, I would mask them or self-medicate with food.  It all seemed right.  I spoke the Christianese and I love God, so how could it not be?  But I found myself going round and round the same issues with no resolve.  For the longest time I wasn’t even aware I was even in need of some healing.  But eventually I did allow God to show me I had some issues, and once He did, I was ready to work some things out.

Praise God for His patient grace!  That we are in a process of change and becoming.  That He is wise and loving and knows we are frail and take time to made complete.  It’s easy to think we are disappointing Him and making Him mad and that He may get so frustrated with our (lack of) progress that He drop-kicks us away.  But that is most definitely not God.  He is long-suffering and His love never fails and He forgives and forgives and forgives yet again.  So if you find yourself struggling over and over with the same sin issues or patterns of behavior that don’t move you closer to God or find yourself saying, “Why does this keep happening?”, instead of beating yourself up, ask yourself, am I working my plan or God’s.  I can pretty confidently tell you it is yours!  But you need to own that and then figure out God’s.  For me it took more than prayer and Bible reading.  I needed outside sources to help me connect the dots and I needed to trust God enough to let others have that kind of access into my life, past, pains and psyche.  I think that is needed for all of us, cuz if we could figure it out on our won, we likely would have already.  But we are on our own plan that seems right.

I think it originated from Rick Warren, but at our church we say, “It’s not your position, but your direction that matters”.  And by that such amazing grace can be experienced.  Because none of us are in the “perfect” position yet, but as long as we are in the direction pointed to a desire to be like Jesus, then there should be no guilt or condemnation from self or others.  Because certainly there is none for our God.

That, however, is not license to just be a blob where you are at.  We do need to suck it up, put our big boy pants on, and lean in to being/becoming mature.  Don’t beat yourself up, but also don’t give yourself a continual pass.  Grace has no problem or conflict with effort.  The key being an effort working God’s plan, not ours.  One of the major lessons I have learned and hinted to at the beginning, is that even though I thought I was trusting God, I really had not been.  And even though God had broken open huge areas of my life, I still have not arrived.  So what else am I unaware of?  What more is God going to work out in me?  The more I trust, the more I see I need to trust.  The healthier I become, the more I see I need to become healthy.

Do I think everyone is unhealthy and has such issues?  Of course not.  But I do think that everyone has to mature and lean into maturing and that takes more and more trusting and less and less relying our ways that seem right. In that process perhaps we discover we were less healthy than we thought.  But most definitely we will all discover that we need to decrease so He can increase.  And that won’t happen until we let go of what seems right for what is really right.

The Faith of a Child

DSC03557As a KidMin I have a great opportunity to often see child-like faith in action, particularly when I run a Day Camp/VBS.  Having the kids everyday for a week they have huge faith steps and share great comments and stories.  This week was no exception!  We used Group’s Kingdom Rock curriculum this year and the five Bible points were so foundational and wonderful and the kids have really enjoyed it.  But because they were such basic points, they speak to me and our team of volunteers too!

  • God’s Love Helps Us Stand Strong, Psalm 18:1
  • Family and Friends Help Us Stand Strong, 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • Prayer Helps Us Stand Strong, Philippians 4:6
  • Trusting God Helps Us Stand Strong, Isaiah 26:4
  • God’s Word Helps Us Stand Strong, Psalm 119:105

As the week went on we are able to see and hear examples from the children about what they are discovering.  One day I “carried my burdens” in a dramatic way to start our large group time.  I had a huge bag full of pots and pans and selected individuals came in to add to my cares by asking me to help them.  The point of the drama was for me to give my cares to God in prayer and not worry and I played up just how hard it was to carry all these burdens.  But before I could even get anywhere near the stage to complete the point of the drama, about 20 kids jumped up to come and help me lift the bag above their heads.  They were living out the point from the day before – Friends and Family should encourage each other!  So beautiful!

I received an email from one parent thanking our team for a great job.  Her appreciation was based on a comment by her 6 year old son on Day 4 of camp as he was getting ready for bed and listening to the music, “Sometimes life is unfair, but I just am feeling good listening to music and loving God.”

The pure trust and acceptance of kids is exactly what Jesus meant when he said unless we have faith like a child we cannot see the kingdom.   Of course they aren’t perfect, but they sure seem to get this idea of letting go to trust.

Children are all about trust.  They have virtually no ability to care for themselves and so they yield to others all the time – parents, caregivers, teachers, etc.  And so when you invite them to love Jesus who so clearly loves them, they are quick to do so.  But of course as we age and become more self-sufficient and aware of our surroundings, we  wrestle back control, not only from parents, teachers, and other adults, but we often do it with God too.  The challenge for us as we “mature” is to not make the mistake that maturity means self-sufficiency or independence.  We always need someone!  God designed us to live in community with others, and significantly with Him.  And it takes the faith of a child to know when to let go and trust Him.

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