Warm Up: 1 John 3: 2: Dear friends, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
Stretching: Read Luke 24: 36-44.
Run: I’m not the runner I once was. Age and injuries have taken their toll on me. Back in the day, I could hold my own, although I was never an elite runner. I was young and I ran a lot. Additionally, I do a lot more cross training now since I’m not running races. But the joy of running is that it really is a life sport and so I’ve tried to keep an exercise program that allows me to run 35-40 minutes at a steady pace whenever I run. Still, because I don’t run everyday, I do feel the aches and pains of muscles that have gone unused and the chaffing of skin in places that isn’t hardened from a rigid running regime. I wish I could fly across the hills again or experience that ‘runner’s high’ from taking long runs and feeling like I was invincible. I’ve thought about ‘getting back into it’ and training for road races and maybe even a marathon. At my age, it would be an accomplishment to get back into running shape. But aching joints and pulled muscles remind me that it won’t be easy.
In today’s passage, John reminds us that those who are in Christ will be transformed to be like him. We get a glimpse of what that might be like when we see Jesus after his resurrection. We know that he could eat food, walk through walls, and he had recognizable shape and form. He knew his friends and they knew him. My favorite thing is that he could apparently ‘fly’ from place to place. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” (Philippians 3:20, 21) I read that to mean my glorified body will put me back into running shape and even better. Think about it: No more stretching, warming up or cooling down. No ice downs, bandaging, or chaffing. No more irritants! Just run like the wind without getting winded.
Cool Down: “Lord, thank you for the promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ and the hope of a resurrected body. I know that everything you have planned for me in this life and the next is more wonderful than I can even imagine. Help me let go of the things in this world through the renewing of my mind, so that I might see things in the light of eternity. In Jesus’ name, Amen”
"When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:12
Warm Up: Hebrews 12: 1, Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Stretching: Read Hebrews 10: 19-25
Run: I was in the Army for eight years before I resigned my commission to start a full time ministry. I did a lot of running while I was in the Army. I ran alone, I ran with a running buddy, I ran in small groups, and I ran with large groups. One of my most unique running experiences was running in a formation of soldiers. We sang jody songs which were echo songs sung between a formation leader and a company of soldiers. Sometimes the formation was 250-300 people strong. It was quite a unique dynamic. The point was that the singing built a type of camaraderie or group unity that kept people from falling out of the formation. Sometimes, I had the opportunity to lead the jody calls from the side of the formation. The soldiers seemed to like the fact that the company commander could actually keep cadence. Those days are long gone, but I still sing my own jody calls when the running gets hard. I sing the songs I remember and I make up new ones as I go. I don’t sing them out loud, but I do the echoes as if a whole company of soldiers were running beside me. It helps keep my mind off the pain or other distractions. There’s an African Proverb that says, “If you want to run fast, go alone. If you want to run far, run with someone else.”
Our Warm Up for today talks about a great cloud of witnesses that is cheering us on from the heavenly sidelines. The angels and the saints of old watch with great interest to see the plan of God intersect with the schemes of men. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that this verse is a running metaphor. It is Paul’s call to the Hebrew Christians to persevere and stay true to the cause of Christ. The metaphor refers to a great amphitheatre, an arena for the runners and the tiers upon tiers of seats rising up like a cloud. In those seats set those who have gone on before us to include champions of the faith like Moses, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Rahab, and others. They are encouraging us to set aside the obstacles, much like runners in those days practically stripped themselves of all their clothes to run, so that nothing hinders us or causes us to stumble. Knowing that others are not only watching, but cheering me to hold on to the higher calling of another world, helps me run faster and farther.
Cool Down: “Lord, help me remember today that I am not alone. I thank you that there are some who have crossed the finish line ahead of me and they have shown me a better way to run this race. There are others who are running with me and they provide encouragement and help to run this race. Still others are yet to come along and they will be watching me for inspiration. Grant me the strength to endure and grace to finish the race you have called me to run. In Jesus’name, Amen.”
Warm Up: Hebrews 13: 25, Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
Stretching: 2 Samuel 24
Run: With their highly recognizable slogan, “Just Do It”, Nike became the ‘it’ brand for sports apparel in the 90’s. Those ads never really focused on a product, but rather a mentality. It was about a certain type of person; anti-establishment, intensely competitive, and fiercely independent. In an age of sports heroes and hero-worship, anything Nike conferred royalty. It was about status. But the slogan worked on another level, too: It’s simple and true. How many times have you had to drag yourself to the track or to the gym for a workout? There are a million reasons why you shouldn’t do it, but deep down inside you know you need to. Just changing your clothes makes you dry heave and the thought of stretching seems like torture. Maybe you can just forget it today and…Just Do It!. And so you go through the motions, pushing and pulling and making yourself take the next breath. Finally, you set your watch and you start running. At first, your legs feel like cement poles and then you shake a little of the lead out and begin to get into a stride. Before you know it, you’re off and running and eventually it’s over. The work leading up to it was actually more painful than the run and you wonder what all the fuss was about. You’re glad you ‘pushed through’ and now you’re ready to take on the day.
Praise is a lot like that. Paul tells us to use our bodies as living sacrifices because it our reasonable act of worship. (Romans 12:1) Anyone that knows anything about the flesh however, will tell you that it wants what is contrary to the things of the spirit and so it resists the will of God because the flesh is of fallen nature. Galatians 4:17 says, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you don’t do what you want.” When it comes to worshiping God and lifting up our praise to him, we need to learn to “Just Do It” and see the same dynamic happen as described in our running metaphor above. In today’s Bible story, David wants to buy a piece of property from a man named Araunah in order to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. But Araunah doesn’t want his king to pay for the property, he just wants to give it to him. David vehemently refuses. He says, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24b) Sometimes praise demands a sacrifice and when you don’t feel like it, remember the words of the great prophet Nike and, “Just Do It!”
Cool Down: “Lord, I praise you today because you are steadfast and unchanging. You can not be moved and are the same yesterday, today, and forever. I thank you that you are not fickle and contrary, but are a strong tower and a refuge where we find shelter. Help me when I am weak and troubled to look past myself and focus on you and your amazing and awesome character. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
I am an ardent Pittsburgh fan. The only reason I don't follow pro basketball is because Pittsburgh doesn't have a team. Therefore, basketball doesn't' exist. Baseball-Pirates. Hockey-Penguins. Football-Steelers, baby! If you love Pittsburgh, you LOVE the Steelers. So, you can imagine how positively disgusted I was several weeks ago when a certain kicker for the Kansas City Chiefs named Ryan Succop, missed a chip shot field goal that would have put the Steelers in the playoffs.
"Stupid Succop!" It became my mantra as I watched other teams in the playoffs. I do not consider the part of me that is a sports fan to fall under the umbrella of my Christian witness. It's a separate entity. It has to be. How else could I live with myself? I am an entirely different person as a sports fan. I'm not making excuses. It's just the way it is.
Then came this year's Less-than-Super Bowl. I was impressed by the strength, speed, and size of the Seattle Seahawks; especially on defense. There appeared to be a notable disparity between them and the Broncos. Of course, I could point to the final score to support my best guess here, but I would say that Seattle was the superior team. Just saying'… If you play that game 10 times, Seattle wins 9. They appeared dominant and destined.
So, I was thinking that probably for this year, at least, the Steelers wouldn't have done much better than the Broncos against the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. As I was watching the waning moments of the game, I turned my friend, a Kansas City Chief's fan, and said, "Thank you Succop!" She understood exactly what I was saying.
That 'rear-view-mirror theology always shows a bigger picture, doesn't' it? Things happen that we don't understand. Then, one day, we get a revelation of a hand of protection or provision. Garth Brooks wrote a song with the lyric, "Sometimes, I thank God for unanswered prayers." I'm reminded by the Psalmist that God is faithful to the faithful; He does good things for those who do good." Thank you, God. Thank you Succop!
Warm Up: Zechariah 4:6, So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.
Stretching: Read Ephesians 2: 1-10.
Run: After a bout of heat exhaustion during my military training days, I can tell you that I don’t do so well running in the hot sun anymore. But one particular day back in 1998, I found myself running at noon in the heat of summer. Taking a route on an old back road, I can remember weaving back and forth from one side of the road to the other to pass through the shade being offered from trees that lined the roadside. Running in direct sunlight was brutal. But passing through the shade of those trees offered some temporary relief and helped me finish the race.
1998 was the same year I took a mission trip to Kostroma, Russia. This was an exciting trip because the country was just opening its doors to Christianity after years of Communist rule. It didn’t take long to realize that although the Russian people appreciated their new freedom, they didn’t know what to do with it. This was equally true with those in the church. Although new Christians in Russia celebrated the opportunity to meet and fellowship without fear of government retribution, they were locked into old habits of rules and regulations. Churches looked for structure and order. What quickly filled the void was religion. I was not prepared to do battle against religious spirits from the LEADERS of these new congregations. Instead of walking in freedom, they were captive to spiritual bondage and oppression; the supernatural equivalent of what the country had been through for 60-plus years. The metaphor of the shade was a word picture that I tried to share with them. We’re not strong enough or good enough to take the heat of what God requires from us. We have to stand in the shade of the cross, if we’re going to finish the race. That requires us to walk in grace, mercy, and compassion; the essence of what the cross was all about. Anything that requires striving in the natural is contrary to grace offered by Jesus Christ and makes a mockery of the cross. There’s nothing we can do to earn our salvation. This was the thrust of Paul’s letter to the Romans from Chapter 3 through 8. Today’s scripture verses reinforce this. If there was any way we could earn salvation, the cross wouldn’t be necessary. But Jesus knew this was not the case and so he died to save us from our sins. We should not forget Isaiah 64:16, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Cool Down: “Lord, forgive me when I strive to do what you did for me.. Help me to realize that I’ll never be good enough to earn my salvation and always be thankful for the atoning work of your great sacrifice on the cross. This day, I thank you again that I am saved by your grace and your grace alone. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Warm Up: Matthew 7: 3-5. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.”
Stretching: Read Acts 10
Run: It’s easy to focus on the negatives when you’re running, especially if the run is hard or you don’t feel like running. “It’s too hot.” “The course is uneven.” “I’m not dressed appropriately.” “My legs are tired.” “It’s too wet.” Although it is important to listen to your body, sometimes it helps to shut off your brain. Whereas the irritants can be a distraction, I can find creative ways to divert that negative energy to something more positive. I call these diversions, “Prayer Promptings”. For example, a pebble in my shoe is a reminder to pray for our missionaries in Lima, Peru. When it’s too hot, I think of the work of our missionaries in Thailand and Camobida. That mentality helps me to finish every race I set out to run. Relationships can be like this. I can get so caught up in one negative characteristic of a friend or relative that I lose sight of every other admirable quality. Every time they say that or do this, I get irritated instead of creating a diversion that changes my focus to something more positive. In another dimension, this can be the basis of prejudice with people I don’t even know. Because a person is a certain race or gender or age, I can assign characteristics to them that don’t allow me to see them as a child of God. That ‘minor irritant’ becomes a wall that divides. In today’s story in Acts 10, Peter almost missed God’s plan for the Gentiles because of a prejudice that the Jews had against all other nationalities. In a vision, God showed Peter his prejudice by saying that everything he created was good and Peter was not in a position to determine otherwise. When Peter arrived at Caesarea, he spoke to Cornelius and those who were gathered at his house that day: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him.” (Acts 10: 34, 35) This represented a clear break in Jewish law and national tradition. This was not the race Peter thought he was training for. But God made the path clear and to Peter’s credit, he followed the way and Cornelius became one of the very first Gentile converts.
Are you missing God’s vision for your life because you can’t get past a prejudice? Who knows that the very people or person that God is calling you to help isn’t someone that you would not consider because of an annoying character flaw or worse yet, an issue of race, nationality, gender, or age?
Cool Down: “Lord, begin to show me the prejudices I have developed against people that you love and died to save. Open my eyes and my mind to consider that these might be the very people you want me to share your plan of salvation with and that my biases could be the thing that keeps them from knowing your love. In Jesus’ name, Amen”
Warm Up: Matthew 16: 24, Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
Stretching: Read John 6: 1-29
Run: My son’s cross country coach always told the kids that ‘running wasn’t just for sport, it was for life’. Anyone who runs regularly knows how true this is. I’ve been running for almost forty years of my life. I’m not always in training, but I run to stay fit. Sometimes, I run to familiarize myself with a new area that I’m visiting. Sometimes I run to relieve stress. And sometimes I run because I actually like to be outside running! Sometimes I even run to get somewhere else! I don’t need a lot of expensive equipment and I don’t have to put a team together or follow a training schedule. I don’t have to find facilities, either. I can just run. I’ve been to so many different places and have always found places to run; trails, roads, paths, open fields, streets, tracks, treadmills, etc. As long as my body permits, I’ll be able to run. It really is more than a sport; running is for life. Christianity is like this too. You’re not a Christian for a season. You don’t sign up to train so that you get something from God or get through something with the help of the Holy Spirit and then drop out. Obviously, some people do this for a variety of reasons, but this isn’t God’s plan. Following Jesus requires that you count the cost and die to self. Being “in Christ” leaves no room for selfish ambition. It is laying down the life you have known and picking up your cross every day. It requires strict training. Perhaps, this is why some people are afraid to follow Christ. They don’t want to give up the life they have and the idea of commitment scares them away even more. Who wants to commit to running for the rest of your life?
In today’s story, Jesus had just fed a multitude with a small portion of food. Given the other miraculous signs and the wonders that had followed his ministry, the people sought him out and desired to make him their king. Everyone wanted to jump on the Jesus bandwagon. But Jesus was quick to make a point that it’s not all fun and games. He reminded them that they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood if they desired to be his followers. In other words, there is a cost to following Christ. Runners know a little something about the cost; cost in terms of time, money, aching bones, sore muscles and the list could go on and on. But who would trade that for the rewards we get from running? Those who have followed Christ know the same. The cost of following Jesus is nothing compared to the rewards of a life lived as his follower.
Cool Down: “Lord, you made it clear that anyone who follows you is not in it for the glory, but for your glory. Many flocked to you at your triumphal entry, but fled from you when you were hanging on a cross. I say that I’ll never deny you and then run at the slightest persecution. Lord, I want to be ‘in you’ as you created me to be. Help me to put away my self and lay down all the pain that goes along with trying to manage my life. Let me gain what you offer in return; Peace and Hope. In Jesus’ name, Amen
Warm Up: 1 Peter 5:8, Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Stretching: Read 2 Samuel 11
Run: I like variety in my training regime. Sometimes that means varying up race training with long runs, short runs, wind sprints, hills, and resting. When I’m not training for a race, it can mean swimming, biking, cardio equipment, aerobics, weight training, or other variations of exercise. Because I can get so easily bored, it’s important to spice it up whenever possible. Even if that means different routes on different types of terrain, or different times of the day if my schedule permits, variety is truly the spice of my life. The key is consistency. I think cross training is important because it keeps me engaged in the training process and everyone knows it’s easy enough to find reasons not to work out. Last week, I was feeling a little gloomy about a scheduled work out and decided at the last minute to explore a new trail in a park on the other side of town. After working in an errand, I headed over to the park and enjoyed running with some different scenery.
In today’s story, David finds himself outside the will of God. For whatever reason, he was not on the battlefield where he was supposed to be. It was the spring and the rainy season was over. Apparently, war was a seasonal event in the world of kings around this time period. But, his lack of personal discipline led to trouble when he spotted Bathsheba on a roof top taking a bath. The consequences of this singular act of adultery were deadly and would change the course of David’s life. How would his story have been different if he had been doing what he should have been doing? I don’t know about you, but one of the great rewards of a disciplined, healthy lifestyle is the feeling I get after a run. Part of it is physical and part of it is a sense of accomplishment. On a spiritual level, this means staying disciplined to do the things you need to do in order to be in the will of God. This would include disciplines like reading your Bible, Bible study, prayer, fellowship, scripture memorization, fasting, etc. And being disciplined doesn’t need to mean boring. You can vary your ‘cross training’ up in ways that help you to stay engaged. Don’t let your training regime get old. Let your imagination and creativity help focus your training so that you stay physically (and spiritually) fit.
Cool Down: “Lord, there is nothing about you that is boring. Like Solomon who looked to the world with its wisdom, wealth, and pleasures to fill the emptiness in his life, I sometimes think it would be more exciting to follow the desires of my heart. But that is meaningless and ends in endless addiction, frustration, despair, and death. In you there is abundant life; a life that is more exciting than anything I could imagine for myself; an epic journey. Grant me the patience to wait on your plan and the grace to hold onto your promises. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“The harder I train, the luckier I get.” Gary Player, PGA Golfer
Warm Up: Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.”
Stretching: Read Numbers 13.
Run: I have a friend who just took up running. He was not heavy but just slightly overweight for his size. He decided to run for health reasons initially. So, he picked up a training program from a running magazine and started to train for a 10k. He had his share of obstacles, distractions, and irritants. At one point, his training was disrupted by a groin pull. But he was able to work through the training program and make it to his goal of running in that race. Afterwards, he was exhilarated by the sense of accomplishment; not to mention that he lost some weight and felt better about himself in the process. He was hooked! When he told me he was looking for another race to run, I wasn’t surprised. But his rationale for finding another race was very insightful. He said he needed another race to help focus his training. It is certainly true that we can accomplish more with a sense of purpose.
In today’s story, the Israelites are just two and half years removed from the experience of the plagues and the Red Sea miracle. The leaders of each tribe are sent into the Promised Land as scouts and they bring back a terrifying report of giants in the land. Panic spread in the camp until Caleb’s scathing reminder that God was bigger than any giant in Canaan. But the damage had already been done and that generation, the one that saw the miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, would be denied access to God’s promises because of their unbelief. Though harsh, it is a startling reminder that those without vision perish. The New Living Translation Bible says, “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful”. Because they didn’t obey, Israel was running away (wild, unfocused) from their destiny. Lack of vision is like that. We run wild from the very thing God has created us to be. Ephesians 2:10 says, “You are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” There are many other passages that declare the good plans God has for those who obey him and delight in doing his will. “For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. What we need to understand is that God has a plan for us. A ‘purpose-driven life’ was God’s idea first!
Cool Down: “Lord, I know you have a plan for me. You have given me gifts, talents, experiences, temperament, and many other tools to accomplish this purpose. Help me to run the race set before me and not waste my time running a race that I’m not equipped to run. Speak to me about your plans and your vision for my life that I will not be like a runner beating the air or running aimlessly. Thank you for your intentional design and your wonderful, wonderful plan for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Warm Up: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Stretching: Read Psalm 3
Run: The weather man was calling for highs in the mid-70s. That was noteworthy considering it was the second week in December; near record highs for that day. I had made plans with a friend to do some golfing. I got up early and did some work so I would be ready to go. I was waiting to hear back from my golfing buddy about another friend joining us and hadn’t heard from him. So, I decided to call to start the trash talking and get some information. You can imagine my disappointment when he told me that his plans had changed and he wouldn’t be able to go. He was in construction and weather like this was just too good to pass by when deadlines were looming. I was irritated that he hadn’t called me and frustrated that I was going to miss a good…no, great day for golfing because his plans had changed. Then, I decided to get on my running clothes and go for a run. My mind fought with me for a little while, but I knew I needed to run off a little steam. Forty-five minutes later, I had finished a good morning run and was ready to face the day with a brand new attitude. It was transformational.
The psalm you read today was written by David in the context of 2 Samuel 15: 13-31, where David flees Jerusalem because Absalom, his son, has usurped his throne. In context, David’s life is in shambles. His administration is in ruins. Absalom has already killed his brother Amnon for raping his sister Tamar. Now, David is fleeing in shame. Life’s a mess. Our reality is not that much different from David’s at times: Life is complicated. But many of the Psalms remind us that if we put our trust in the Lord and seek first the kingdom of God in all things, then God will deliver us and make a way where there is no way. Did you know that over a third of the Psalms are considered psalms of lament? The psalmist lays out a lament before the Lord and petitions for intervention. But what makes these psalms powerful is their confession of trust in the Lord and a vow to praise Him when he WILL show himself faithful. God is not afraid to wrestle with us when we feel mistreated, neglected, or abused. In my story, I ran to ‘put things in perspective’ and it gave me a new outlook. The Psalms clearly teach that making our petitions known in light of reaffirming our trust in his sovereignty is clearly part of our worship as it relates to our daily lives. The Psalms declare that “God alone is our refuge and our strength; an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) Run to him in times of trouble.
Cool Down: “Lord, today I’m run down, I’m running in circles, and I’ve run out of ways to cope. I have a problem that is breaking my heart and I’m not sure where to turn. Your word says you will not despise a broken and contrite heart. So hear my prayer, Lord. You’ve been faithful in my life. I remember your mercies and I recount your many acts of kindness to me. Lord, hear my prayer about this matter that troubles my spirit. Speak and I will listen. Help me to obey the Word I receive and I will praise you again for your unspeakable favor. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”