This is the song I heard as I rounded the corner of the last .2 miles of the marathon. A Fitting End!
This is the song I heard as I rounded the corner of the last .2 miles of the marathon. A Fitting End!
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 street 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,
“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!
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 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.
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)
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!
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)
SONG: I Stand Amazed
We are in! Our church held it’s first service in our new building last night. It has been a long journey and there is no other way to explain it other than giving God all the credit to make a way for us. It is not finished as floors and a whole lot of other things still need to be done to get our final inspections approved. But it is safe and it is ours and God is being worshipped in it. I have seen people step up and serve in such incredible ways and sadly I have seen others who I would have expected to, not. Of course they have their reasons and so this has revealed to me once again the part of me that I don’t like.
I found that I slip towards discouragement and judgement and anger far too easily. I am not trying to beat myself up or bring a cloud over this wonderful watershed moment in the life of our church. But I strive to be more like Jesus and can’t just pass over and excuse my own behaviors. Yesterday as we were digging in to get it ready, still doing major electrical installs along with serious clean up, I was “stressed out” which is just code for angry and grumpy and fearful it wouldn’t get done. Of course it did because people stepped up and some of us stayed until very late, even after our first service. But while the service was happening and worship was playing I found myself weeping both out of joy and repentance/shame at the same time. It was so wonderful to finally have praises to God going up from our congregation and at the same time I was so sad I let the pressure of the day almost steal the joy of that moment.
It is so easy to miss silver linings by focusing on the cloud. And in reality it is less of a cloud with silver lining and more of a gloriously sunny day with just a small rain cloud on the horizon. But I/we can get focused on the wrong things. I am glad I was able to step back and see it, but it came much later than I wished it had.
Thank you God for what you have done and how you have done it through incredible people who I have such a deep appreciation and respect for. Thank you for working in me to reveal areas of needed growth and to help me step back and not miss your hand at work. You are such a great God.
I’ve been posting worship songs that reflected my heart to “yearn” for God, but there are just times you want to jump, shout, and be filled with an exuberance. That is where this song comes in. I rejoice that God, the “maker of the heavens knows my name”. My soul will ever sing His praise!
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.
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”
A great soulful cry to trust in the strength of God!
Whatever comes my way I will trust You…
Sometimes statements like that are only seen in light of trials and storms. But trusting God during the calm and joyful times is even more important to remind ourselves to do. It is in those times when we are tempted to forget the very real presence of God who carries us. It is in those times when we may even begin to take some sort of credit and fail to give God His due.
As much as I appreciate the God who rescues, I am grateful that He is sovereign and is mighty and in control in the good times as well. He doesn’t just show up when I need Him, but is with me even when I think I don’t!