This week I fade from mid-thirties to “late-thirties,” and so hit pause to consider the milestone and road ahead. A summary in thirty-eight words:
Shadow of life lengthens,
While the spark inside brightens.
The path to joy becomes clearer, obedience lonelier.
Healed back, finding strength, embracing weakness.
What makes a man? Not what … WHO!
In lieu of presents … GIVE WATER! 1
An estimation of times and efforts for Saturday’s solo training race:
Access to Clean Water is a deep need for more than 700 million people, who are left alone to cope. Let’s do something about it. Will you join me? As part of a training regimen to raise donations for life-giving world projects, I’ll be competing solo this Saturday in the Loneliman 38.3, and while training for October’s bigger race, Ironman AZ 70.3. I promise to swimbikerun faster as you give!↩
I’m participating in IRONMAN Arizona 70.3 on October 16th, 2016, racing for Team World Vision to help provide clean water for kids and families in Africa! The needs are real, and there is something we can do! $50 = clean water for 1 person
Last year we set a modest goal of $1,500 while I trained for a sprint triathlon. In hopes of staying motivated I personally promised to match the amount raised if I finished the race in first place. (What happened? Read about it here, but suffice to say it was the best Father’s Day I can remember.)
We did much more than I even dreamed. Together we teamed up to provide life-changing water for more than 100 children in Africa!
Let’s do it again this year!
I’ll do the training and sweating, more than quadrupling the distance in this year’s race. It’s called a Half IRONMAN — or “70.3” (seventy-point-three) for the total miles. For about five hours I’ll endure and push my body to full exertion.
“Christmas has become cozy. Advent calls us to stay awake.”
The forgotten season of Advent is upon us. What’s this “Advent,” you say? Well, it’s akin to Christmas but much bigger — and better — I say. Advent is a forgotten season because in the Christian Church around the globe we know Easter is a big deal, even though it moves around from year to year, can vaguely remember there’s something to give up during Lent (was it all sugar or just chocolate or do we give up unforgiveness?), and Pentecost sounds like a party with a delicious potluck.
But why Advent, and why not just call it Christmas-time, or even more broadly, “Happy Holidays”?
Well, let me say this at the outset: I’m not outraged when someone neglects to say “Merry Christmas,” or when a certain purveyor of caffeinated beverages takes those words off their red cups in order sell more of those red cups.
Christmas is so special, and the Holidays are “Holy Days” because JESUS is so special. He alone is Holy, pure, whole. That’s why we care, and He’s the reason for the season. His image is meant to be impressed upon every aspect of our lives. No gift or purchase can do that for me; I must enter into God’s Story and discover the meaning of Jesus personally.
I won’t rail against consumerism (much) here, nor rant about how we should have more Christmas cheer and be making more merry. I will say this: I long to embrace and embody the kind of Hope I find in the great promises of God. Advent is a reminder that I don’t often do this, and how we can again. More than one message, Advent is an unfolding narrative — the whole of Scripture and all of history — coming together in the incarnation of Jesus. This God-Man moved into the neighborhood and made God’s promises real. For us. To us.
So for this season of six weeks, we as a church family and as families within the church will join with our brothers and sisters around the globe keeping watch and waiting for the coming (again) of our King Jesus. Advent means “arrival” or “coming,” derived from the Latin word Adventus. So, as we celebrate His arrival through an unexpected and miraculous birth, we keep in mind His second coming, for the Son of Man will come again to wrap up the scrolls of history and right every wrong. And much wronging there has been! Jesus will make every sad thing untrue (as our favorite children’s Bible reminds).
Our efforts this season will be guided by the Advent Catechism1, a helpful resource for all ages. Each Sunday from November 29th to January 3rd we will dive into the rich themes of the Advent Story, for all ages of Renew Kids and the main sermon teaching as well. I’m excited! 2
Why six weeks? There’s much more to be discovered about this season 3, but suffice to say that the weeks leading up to Christmas Day cannot tell the whole story. There’s the travels of the Magi to come and behold the newborn King, on the day known as Epiphany (celebrated on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016). Technically, it’s really four weeks of Advent, followed by two weeks of Christmas.
Here’s the plan of emphases we’ll follow, each Sunday kicking off a new week:
Each week’s entry in the Advent Catechism has a story centered on that theme, bringing to light the promises of God and hopes of His people. All are encouraged to READ, MEMORIZE, CHAT, and PRAY. This four-fold pattern helps us remember well God’s remedies for what aches our souls. And it’s a helpful way to invest time around the dinner table.
This first week we honed in on the first lesson of Advent: “A Distant Promise.” With five responsive lines of biblical history we see God’s promises becoming a clearer reality:
Advent is an invitation to ache with the longings of the world by believing that the incarnation of the Son of God is the solution to all of our problems. It’s rare to hear about a problem in today’s world that does not have a promising human-made solution, only to realize that today’s solutions will inevitably create tomorrow’s problems. On and on it goes, and without God and the Hope He brings by entering the Story, we will be left to our own devices.
Let us keep focus upon the coming of Jesus our King. He comes in unexpected ways, disrupting history, illuminating God’s promises, waking us up to the stunning reality of His promises.
But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
Available for purchase in print ($15) or to download as a PDF ($10). Email hello@Godrenews.us to get your copy. ↩
Mondays are the worst, right? They just punch you in the face.
Unless you punch Monday in the face first.
(Not advocating violence per se, except that winning your heart decisively — and winning their hearts — is the key to finding joy, even on a Monday.)
Winning the battle on Monday starts with surveying the land: What. Just. Happened. (?)
As a preaching pastor, I can wake up with a “case of the Mondays.” You ever feel that way? Lethargic, not wanting to move. Tough to get motivated. In a malaise, mentally and emotionally. 1
This experience is not confined to pastors, and it’s not just a spiritual thing. Rather, the root of this Monday feeling comes from what Archibald Hart calls “Post-adrenaline depression.” He describes it this way:
“…what I was experiencing was a profound shutdown of my adrenal system, following a period of high stress or demand. It was as if my adrenal system were saying, ‘That’s enough abuse for now; let’s give it a break,’ and shut down so that I had no choice in the matter.”
While this might seem like a mini-crisis, this slow-down provides a helpful clue to something we all need: active rest. Have you noticed that when you lay in bed all day you feel achy later, while going for a brief walk actually energizes your body? Your body needs rest, but active rest is better.
“This really isn’t unique to pastors. Even if you aren’t a pastor I’m guessing that you have had times of a great spiritual high, only to find yourself the next day feeling like a total schmuck.”
I’d say if you’re never honest about when you feel like a “schmuck,” then you have other problems.
Yet we need not be surprised or sidelined about needing to work at a slower pace in our jobs. While we seem to naturally swerve between over-confidence and despair, let us find a new rhythm to combat the inevitable fatigue and mental battles.Continue reading →
Surprise: not all pastors preach regularly, and so until the last three years hit me I didn’t realize the weight of the day after Sunday. Until this new season with Renew Church I was just as much a pastor/shepherd, but I did not preach regularly so this is all new-ish to me. ↩
What do you think about while exercising? I think about many things while running. For one, my thoughts are scattered in the darkness around, but eventually they take upon a new order as I turn to meditate on Scripture. Usually the passage from Sunday’s sermon (e.g., if on an early Monday morning) comes to mind, and I mull over what I said and should have said. Or the text I will speak on the following Sunday fills my mind, followed by its implications. I meditate on truth, and meaning, and beauty, and most of all, seek to loop back to the Father’s character.
To be honest, I don’t always feel like running, nor do I always feel like thinking. Sometimes I just want to “zone out.” But this is a sacred moment, perhaps an hour of uninterrupted personal space, the only of its kind that day.
Rise & Run
The discipline of running — and going for a run, whether I feel like it or not — is akin to other disciplines in life. Like the effort needed empty the dishwasher, fold clothes, listen to voicemail, or respond to that ill-timed email. These habits are hardly convenient, but daily necessary. Like getting in the rhythm and routine of opening the Bible to allow God’s thoughts to interrupt and intersect my thoughts. This is Letting in Light, the brightest Light shining in the deepest darkness.
An unfortunate side effect of repeatedly praying the same prayer is that, over a period of time, it can lose its sense of pertinence. One way to keep it fresh is to unpack the content with language that expresses what you mean in a new way. 1
For example, here’s an amplification of the I. O. U. S. prayer:
Incline my heart to you, not to prideful gain or any false motive. That is, focus my affections and desires upon you, and eradicate everything in me that would oppose such a focus.
Open my eyes to behold wonderful things in your Word. That is, let your light shine and show me what you have willed to communicate through the biblical authors.
Unite my heart to fear your name. That is, enthrall me with who you are.
Satisfy me with your steadfast love. That is, fulfill me with the fact that your covenant love has been poured out on me through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
A prayer for each new day, and our new Family Verse for Renew Church:2
“Is it okay that I read your wife’s blog? Her writing challenges me every time I read.”
—recent comment from a man friend 1
Right now our kids are scurrying from the yard to driveway pretending to be a peregrine falcon and Thompson’s gazelle, respectively, so we’re safe to write for a few minutes. Until a playful predator comes.
That would be a crisis to their uninterrupted play time.
That’s what I want to talk with you about: crisis.Crises, in fact. Lots and lots of mini-crises, created from our own hands.
A crisis is when you need God to come through, because otherwise you’ll fail. You don’t have what it takes, so you take what He alone can give.
Of course, we cannot create anything ourselves, but all of our creative powers — our creativity — is on loan from the Creator. It’s borrowed to be used well. Whether we steward these powers for good or spend them foolishly on self, we better know what kind of power we’re dealing with. Too many people use their supposed “power” to play it safe, seek comfort, take no risks. That’s some kind of tragedy. A power failure. (Others create all sorts of drama for themselves and every moment seems like a crisis. That’s sad but not in view here.)
Humanity has been made in God’s image. We may not look like Him in outward appearance, or take a representative form too often, but our essence, our createdness, is in the similitude of God. Makes sense, since He’s our Father.
God has created us for crisis. We were made to shine brightly in dark situations. Yet a person will only know if he or she is ready to trust Him in the inevitable big, unplanned crisis, if they’ve first learned by experience to trust Him with many mini-crises.
That is one secret to Jesus’ life. He is the definition of true humanity, coming to recreate what has been broken lost in us. Yet He did not do it by Himself. Jesus the Son depended moment by moment on the love, approval, and power of God the Father. He imaged the Father well. Perfectly, in all manner of crises. Never hurried, ever-present, calm and collected to unleash the power of God on the situation of Their choosing.
On my wife’s blog Sacred Mundane (on which this post first appeared) she reflects on various mini-crises encountered each week. As crises help you consider ours, each can find perspective to keep on creating these crises and growing as people. It is because of her steadfastness in the face of these crises, forged in fact by each crisis itself, that each us gets to read on the Sacred Mundane. That’s why many men I know read her blog. There’s meat there, substance more than mere style. Using the mundane moments of each life, what seems at first so un-spiritual, she makes connections to the Gospel. Every man, woman and child can benefit from that. Kari makes public many private details, though each is processed in prayer and with her husband (me), and together we sense the Spirit’s leading for her to share. Frankly, it would be easier to not share anything personal. Just “write about God,” but while the words would be true, they would not be real.
Realness is where the crises happen. Realness is what we’re after.
Actually, wholeness is the goal. Wholeness in Christ. We’re convinced real wholeness is only found in Him, and only on the other side of embracing realness.
There is a gap for each of us between the ideal and real, between what we say we believe and how we really live it out.
Most men I know … scratch that: every man I know likes to do things he feels confident about. Some only do the things they feel confident about. It’s why some don’t search for a better job, and why others like to fish. Confidence makes one work on their own car, and for the same reason others take it to the dealer to get serviced. Confidence. One can have the appearance of confidence with mere talk, yet to truly reveal one’s confidence, a crisis has to do it’s work.
On the first day of Summer, which happened to be Father’s Day, I competed in a sprint triathlon here in Oregon City. Here’s a bit about how I did, and especially WHY I raced in this fundraiser for Team World Vision. Some of you gave (Thank You!), and many have asked “How did the race go?” Plus, a new and different race is just around the corner.
This was my second attempt at a triathlon, as I did this same one here in our backyard in 2014. As one who has endured some acute and chronic injuries1 since high school, I found a cross-training balance has improved my life in immeasurable ways.
One of my brothers compelled me to start training as I observed his legit endurance. He’s competed in multiple cycling races and a few years ago became a triathlete. He’s conquered every distance up through Ironman2 and this Fall we’ll be there cheering him on at Ironman Arizona. (His new goal is to go sub-ten-hours, which means he will likely pass some pros.) We train virtually together from afar; swimming-biking-running has become an enjoyable triad, a shared experience for us.
This race was about much more than a triathlon, though. “Sprinting” for an hour or so was the easy part. The real challenge is the six kilometer plus daily hike women and children in East Africa have to endure just to get water for the day. Every day, multiply times for so many, hauling many gallons and dozens of pounds at once. All for un-clean water! It’s exhausting, dangerous, and yet this problem is solvable. Through the community development efforts of World Vision, partnering with countless local and national organizations, clean water can be accessible for the poorest of the poor. Lives can be rebuilt, children have new opportunities, women can flourish as made in God’s image. Their sufferings are ours to lean into, to be part of what God can do, if we will care.
In Africa they say, “Water is Life.” About 768 million people in the world lack access to safe water.
Lack of clean water is the number one preventable cause of death in the world. Women and children often walk 6 kilometers or more each way, two to three times a day, to gather water that isn’t even safe to drink; for water that could kill them.
It was an extraordinary experience doing fundraising while training, gaining confidence each time I told others about why I wanted, scratch that, they needed to give. At first I was apologetic about it, and then I realized that no apologies are needed, and I couldn’t be ah-shucks about it: kids are dying and through us be given a whole new opportunity in life.
I trained long and hard, enjoying it all. Besides thinking about and praying for the kids who will no longer thirst, the hour or two every morning is the highlight of each day. This was my second triathlon (sprint: 800m swim » 12mi bike » 5K run) so I am still a total newbie, especially on transitions, and I usually feel like I’ll drown on the swim.
Running with Heidi
The best part is how our kids got involved, cheering me on in training. Nearly all my training times are complete before 6:45 AM every day, so they usually don’t see me out there running, biking, even swimming. (They see me spent and sweaty afterward, though.)
But Dutch and Heidi asked me about it, and ask if they could “train” with me, so we’d go out front and run some sprints, or ride bikes a few dozen times up and down the block. Then it occurred to my wife Kari and I to connect our extra giving to this vital need. We decided that if I placed third overall we would donate $500, second place would be $1,000, and first place overall would have us matching the $1,500 goal.
I was the first one to cross the finish line, by a few minutes, which made my family think I won it. (Our kids were so enthusiastic!) Alas, I knew the athlete — another pastor named Jeff as well — I passed to start the 5K run not only beat me last year by a good margin, but he started behind me in a different wave by at least 5 minutes. I kept thinking, somehow I need to gain 5 minutes in these 5 kilometers. If only I could have matched my personal best in a 5K to end the race! Fatigue set in and the mind games started. Don’t slow down!
Nothing topped this hug at the finish line …
Yet we were so stoked with the finish, and I couldn’t say ‘no’ to our kids (nor to those kids in Africa!), so we happily matched the $1,500 to make it $3,000 for clean water. That made the whole race so much more enjoyable. Announced at Renew Church that morning when I arrived late, thankfully not preaching a sermon that day. Best Father’s Day I can remember.
Afterwards a few of the sponsored triathletes I passed asked about my Team World Vision race kit and if I was “sponsored by World Vision.” Got to explain how it works the other way around (!) and share about the project.
Which brings me to another race I was just asked last week to join. This one is more ambitious, and I get to do the easy part of training and running, and you get the joy and challenge of providing life-changing water for more kids!
The New Race: On August 28-29th I’ll be running, fundraising to provide life-changing water and resources for the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan. Working with the 4 South Sudan organization (founded by US Olympian Lopez Lomong, one of South Sudan’s “Lost Boys”), Team World Vision has ten teams participating in Hood-to-Coast, the world’s largest relay running race.
How about we aim to support 200 now?! $10,000 will provide water for TWO HUNDRED children FOR LIFE!
In joining a Team World Vision running team during the Hood-to-Coast relay, a total of 120 runners on ten teams are seeking to collectively raise one million dollars. Most of my new teammates are raising $10,000 each. Since I’m new to this party, let’s try to catch up. Okay?
(p.s., Many companies have programs to provide matching gifts.)
World Vision works with communities in desperate need to help provide things like clean water, nutritious food, education, medical care, and economic opportunity.
World Vision has the largest privately funded water initiative on the continent of Africa.
Clean water is a problem for which there is a solution. World Vision is the leading organizations bringing clean/safe water to communities in Africa in a sustainable way. When a community gains access to clean water:
Child mortality rates can be cut in half
Children enrolled in school can increase by as much as 80%
Women can begin working to provide for their family
Individuals and communities are changed in almost every way
A couple challenging injuries include: a broken vertebrae at age 16 (never completely healed), and later ran over left foot in Jeep Wrangler a decade ago. ↩
An Iron-distance or official “Ironman” triathlon is 140.6 total miles in three legs: starting with a 2.4 mile swim, transitioning to a 112 mile bike ride, and then capping it off with a marathon. Yep, run 26.2 miles to finish. ↩