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.”
Warm Up: Hebrews 3:15b, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.
Stretching: Exodus 11.
Run: I have a favorite loop that I like to run when I’m traveling. I’ve been running that loop for several years. It surrounds a lake and includes a beautiful stretch through a patch of elms that produce magnificent golden leaves in the fall. On this particular day, I decided to run the trail backwards. My dear friend and mentor, Dr. Darlene Graves, calls these activities, “Rutbusters”. Running that way, I discovered a faded trail that I had never noticed that looked to go through another wooded area. I decided to explore and ended running past some exquisite rock formations which made for some fun leaping and jumping. The ‘shortcut’ was exhilarating and the adventure of the journey was much more interesting than my regular route.
I may never have known that trail was there until I happened to come at it from a different angle. Many things happen in our lives which have the ability to change our perspective. What experiences have I missed because of rigidity, inflexibility, or my stubborn refusal to change? If I would have missed the gentle prompting to go a different direction that day, I would have never known about that trail on the other side of the lake and missed the joy it brought me that day and on subsequent runs after that. The scripture verse is an admonition to hear and obey the spirit of God. A stubborn refusal to do so leads to a ‘hardened heart’ and our Bible story today shows the deadly results of that. When Frank Sinatra released the hit, “My Way” back in 1969, he sang, “I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway. And more, much more than this, I did it my way.” That hard-hearted approach to running the race set before you only leads to a dead, ‘end of yourself.’ Instead, let your song be “Thy Way”.
Cool Down: “Lord, I recognize that there’s always something you want to shape and mold in me. But, I’m just like the Israelites in the wilderness who mumbled and complained in times of difficulty. Help me to see that my response to times of conflict and crisis usually indicate the areas in my life that you want to work on. Help me not to harden my heart to what it is you want to do, so that I don’t miss out on the promises that await me on the other side of your redemptive work. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.” – Juma Ikangaa, 1989 NYC Marathon winner.
Warm Up: 2 Corinthians 5:10, For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
Stretching: Read Ecclesiastes 12: 9-14
Run: My neighbor has a daughter that runs cross country. He is constantly reminding her before the meet to run her own race because she has a tendency to want to try to start out too fast to keep pace with someone who takes off quickly. Other times, she’ll stay back with a slower pack hoping to save a big kick for the end. Inevitably, that crowd has the same mentality and all have big kicks that they are saving for the end of the race too. There are certainly some strategies that you have to make based on course, competition and how you feel that day. But, mostly you should plan to run your race and stay away from letting the competition shape your run. I always liked to start out slowly and pick up my pace as I went along saving the big kick for the end. The problem was saving just enough so that you are completely spent when you cross that finish line. You try and run the race in such a way that you don’t leave anything behind on the course, knowing that you could have had a better time.
In today’s Stretching, we find that Solomon left a lot on the course when he finished his race. The book of Ecclesiastes is a letter of regret written by Solomon. Perhaps it was his hope that writing this letter to young people would help to redeem the feeble attempt he made at running his race. You see, Solomon had a lot of potential. He was picked to be a big winner. Given the chance to have anything he wanted, he chose God-given wisdom and God was so pleased at his request that he made Solomon the “wisest man who ever lived.” That may sound like quite an honor but it certainly raised the bar, maybe so high the Solomon crumpled under the pressure. For several reasons, he didn’t live up to the hype and his glory fell with his kingdom. Ultimately, Solomon knew that he was going to face a stiff judgment based on all that squandered potential. The book of Ecclesiastes was his response to this great failure in his life. Perhaps he hoped to find a little redemption and subsequent mercy from his judge by sharing the hard truths he learned with generations to follow. More than anything, I think he would remind us to run our own race so that life isn’t filled with the same kind of regret he experienced. The point is that you will be judged on the how you ran the race set before YOU.
Cool Down: “Lord, your word says that I am your workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which you prepared in advance for me to do. I know you have a unique plan for my life; one that you designed me for. Help me to live my life in such a way today as to line up with your purposes. I don’t want to fall short of the mark, Lord. Help me to run MY race in such a way as to win the prize you have already set before me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it.” –Oprah Winfrey
arm Up: Deuteronomy 4: 23, 24, Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Stretching: Read 1 Kings 18: 16-46
Run: I can remember being ten and thinking that I needed to work out every day. What ten-year-old has that thought? I kept a journal (Yes, the weirdness continues…) and I logged my work outs every day. I would count the number of push ups or sits up that I did each day and add them up at the end of the year. Each year, I would try to do better. In any event, I’ve been working out ever since. I think it’s safe to say that I’m addicted. It’s funny that I can say that and not feel bad about it. I rationalize it by saying it’s not like I’m addicted to drugs or alcohol; all negative addictions. I mean, being addicted to fitness should be a good thing, right? The problem with addictions is that something takes the place of God. The spiritual implication is that running or exercise can become in idol in your life if it controls you instead of visa versa. In the poetic language of Ross King, ‘anything I put before God is an idol; anything I want with all my heart is an idol; anything I can’t stop thinking of is an idol; anything I give all my love to is an idol.”
In today’s story, Elijah is called to confront the King of Israel, King Ahab. Ahab not only allowed the worship of a foreign god within the palace, he also built a temple for Baal. In addition, he allowed Jezebel, his wife, to bring a large entourage of priests and prophets of Baal and Asherah into the country. The prophets of God had been hunted down and killed. Elijah had a huge bounty on his head because he was a prophet of God and Ahab blamed him for a blight of drought that was upon Israel. (Interestingly enough, Baal was the local nature deity responsible for rain, thunder, lightning, and dew. You would think they would blame Baal instead of Elijah!) So Elijah arranged a show down between the two ‘gods’ and the well known story unfolded on Mount Carmel. As it plays out, God was a consuming fire that completely engulfed the offering, the wood, the altar, and the earth beneath it. That is the nature of God: He is a consuming fire; a jealous God. In Romans 12:1, Paul encourages us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God as our spiritual act of worship, allowing the will of God to be the thing that consumes us and not gratifying the sinful desires of our flesh.make some space for the one who deserves it.
Cool Down: “Dear Lord, have I forgotten my first love? Have I been so negligent in my relationship with you that I’ve allowed something else to take your place? Show me the things that control me Lord, so that I may deal with them. Whether it be running, exercise, television, money, fame, success, or something else, help me to put things in perspective starting with my relationship to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“ Clear the Stage” Words and music by Ross King, c2002 Ross King. Administered by Ross King.
Warm Up: Zechariah 4:10, Who despises the day of small things?
Stretching: Read Nehemiah 2: 11-20
Running: It can be toughing ‘getting back into it’ after a layoff. We can walk away from running for a lot of reasons: injury, rest, boredom, fatigue, lack of discipline, etc. But once we’ve stepped away from the discipline of working out, it can be hard to get back into it. Sometimes after a layoff, I have felt so overwhelmed by the prospect of starting up again, that it paralyzes me and I don’t do anything at all except put it off longer! I have found a secret however: Don’t be afraid to start small. Easing back into a training program is a good idea anyway. Just doing something, no matter how small, can kick start the process and get things moving in the right direction again.
In today’s story we learn about the importance of doing something to get things moving. Nehemiah is a Jew who was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Much like Esther and Daniel, however, he found favor among the ruling party of the day. In this story, he is cupbearer to King Artaxerxes, ruler of the Persian Empire. After speaking with friends who have returned from Jerusalem, he is distraught to hear that there is much distress and upheaval in the city. This news leads him to fast and pray. The king notices his sad countenance and in a strange twist, grants Nehemiah’s request to return to his homeland, under the king’s authority, to see what is happening. Upon his arrival, Nehemiah takes notice that the walls were in ruins around the city. This is an interesting observation and one that shapes his strategy. He summarized that the problem with the restoration of Israel wasn’t outside the walls of the city, but inside it. The remnant that had returned had fallen into apostasy and had become distracted and discouraged by the enormity of their task. After 141 years, the city was still in disarray. Obviously, there was great opposition from those who did not want to see Judah restored and the Jews returned to their homeland. Nehemiah’s strategy was not to focus on what he couldn’t do, but what he could do. He started by rebuilding the walls. In the secrecy of night, he made his plans. Then, he set his hand to the plow and never looked back (Luke 9:62). The result is found in Nehemiah 6:15: “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.” That’s an amazing recovery. Once protected from the outside, Nehemiah and Ezra started working on the people in the city from the inside out and Judah’s reformation had begun. Remember, whether you’re just getting started or getting back to it after a layoff, “inch by inch, life’s a cinch; mile by mile, life’s a trial!”
Cool Down: “Lord, I know I’ve been disobedient in some disciplines in my life and I hear you speaking to me about this. I know you want to restore discipline in my life, but sometimes, it overwhelms me. Show me a strategy for getting back to work. I love you enough Lord that I want to try again. But, I need you to help me. Put it in my heart a way to begin again without being overwhelmed. I know you are able to do that Lord and I submit to your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen”
I was able to see Noah this week and LOVED it. Most importantly, it made me want to go back and read the biblical account again. What more could we hope for? Obviously, it was a story loosely based on Noah. I’m not sure why Christians would have expected more from Hollywood and a director who doesn’t share our beliefs. I certainly didn’t. Maybe, that’s why I wasn’t disappointed. Still, if it puts the subject out there and gets a discussion going and if it gets people to open up their Bibles and read more, I want to support that.
Word on the street is that Christians are actually going to movies and Hollywood can make some money if they are paying attention. For the first time EVER, two of the top five movies this weekend were about the Judeo-Christian worldview of God. (I haven’t seen “God’s Not Dead” yet.) And there are more coming! I’m looking forward to seeing “Heaven is for Real” and later this year is “The Exodus”.
Just perhaps this movie wasn’t FOR us. The idea that God might be using Hollywood to tell the world that He’s coming back was not lost on me. “As in the days of Noah….
Warm Up: Matthew 5:39, But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.
Stretching: John 8: 1-11
Running: I was running on a restored train trail in a suburb of a popular city in the U.S. that I’ll leave unnamed. It was a very pleasant Sunday afternoon, and there were lots of other folks using the trail and enjoying the day. Being an old farm boy who was brought up with manners, I acknowledged the people with a greeting as I (or they) went by. It didn’t take long to notice that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. People were less inclined here to respond or make eye contact with strangers even in a setting like this in broad daylight. After about the fifteenth time I greeted someone along the way and they didn’t respond, I decided I wasn’t going to waste my (short) breath trying to be polite. These people were obviously hardened criminals that wouldn’t recognize hospitality or generosity or kindness if it was a branch that hit them in the face. I set my glare on tunnel vision and off I went to show those rogues that…well, that I could be just like them.
The kingdom of God is a paradox. The Beattitudes make this point in the most beautiful language: The poor will be rich; the weak shall be strong; those who hunger will be filled, etc. My pastor has a wonderful saying that has been a life lesson to all of us who have sat under his teaching: “Respond in the opposite spirit”. It’s connected to the law of sowing and reaping. Those who give will get; those who are merciful, will be shown mercy; those who forgive others, will be forgiven, etc. In today’s story, Jesus masterfully deflects a difficult situation, a trap, by drawing a line in the sand and reminding those who would throw a stone at a woman for a sin she committed that they are not without sin. His point was that by judging others, they bring judgment upon themselves. As Christians, we are aliens in this world. This is not where we belong. We stick out; we’re not supposed to blend in. Jesus said that they hated him and we should expect similar treatment. I’m always leary of popular Christians leaders in mainstream media. Holding onto the things of God make us foreign to this culture and people won’t understand us. Still, we are the overcomers in this world because Jesus overcame the world first. Unfortunately, in my story above, I chose to be like the world instead of the light of the world. I responded in the same spirit and who knows what blessings I missed along the way?
Cool Down: “Lord, this is a strange place I live in. Help me not to get too comfortable here because my home is in eternity with you. But while I’m here, help me not to be conformed to the image of the world but transformed by the renewing of my mind. Let my light shine in such a way that others will glorify you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Is Heaven is for Real?
I Saw the movie, “Heaven is for Real” this weekend. It was a great movie to see on Easter….if you’re going to see a movie on Easter. First of all, it was done well, which is always refreshing if you’re a Christian watching a movie made in Hollywood. The last couple of weekends, we’ve gotten Russel Crowe, Emma Watson, Greg Kinnear, and Thomas Haden Church. The cinematography, scriptwriting, and acting were all very good. The boy who played Colton was a magnet. You couldn’t take your eyes off of him. Other than a few scenes designed to show his playfulness, his performance was very authentic.
I read the book and was concerned how it would play out in a movie. There were several good subplots which kept the story moving forward, although a little slowly throughout the middle. The thinnest, which I thought would have been more interesting, was the story of a woman who lost her son in combat. The story could have mined her struggle a little more because I think it was the one most closely related to the questions being raised by the movie. The previews showed a wonderful scene where Colton tells her that he saw her son in heaven. It was not in the movie and I wonder why it was taken out.
My oldest son was quite put off about the picture of Jesus, or that Jesus was given a ‘face’ in the movie. He felt like it somehow discredited the boy’s experience. I think it was simply part of the story that was true to the boy’s experience. Personally, I think the fact that it was the same image as the girl from Lithuana’s drawing makes for a more compelling argument. His point was that others who say they have seen Jesus have reported different images. By the way, the opening sequence of Akaiane Kramarik’s drawing the eye of that image, into the beginning of the story was stunning.
My youngest was surprised by how the pastor’s church responded to the story as it unfolded in their community. Therein lies the theme of the movie; Is heaven for real? And if it is, how does it affect the way we live our lives on earth? The church response went deeper than whether the boy’s experience was real. It questioned the reality of heaven. Samuel (my son) was surprised by that. But, as we watch Christians live out their lives on earth, do we see an eternal reality? Do we live in such a way as to ‘store up treasures in heaven’? Is our earthly life, heavenly minded?
This is the challenge that Burpo leaves his congregation and the audience with as the movies closes (rather abruptly, I would add): Do we live our lives ‘on earth as it is in heaven?” If we believe heaven is for real, should we?
It’s a good movie and one I would recommend seeing with your family. I found it encouraging, affirming, and well done.
Warm Up: Galatians 5:16, 17, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 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 do not do what you want.”
Stretching: Read 1 Corinthians 9: 19-27
Running: I didn’t do well in physics. Actually, it was the only class I had to drop out of in high school. Today, my simple understanding of physics is limited to work: I exert less energy and work more efficiently when I employ the laws of physics. By using simple machines like pulleys, levers, wedges, wheels and axles, inclined planes, and the like, I can don’t work as hard! This is not true for those who exercise however. If we want to train to be stronger, we have to increase resistance. Increasing resistance strengthens us. When I was running in college, my best friend and I used to go into the mountains to spend long weekends fishing, hiking, and running. When we were in training, we would always head for “Killer Mountain”. It was practically the face of a cliff on the side of a mountain that was more mountain climbing than running up a hill. The rule was that you couldn’t stop moving your feet. That was the only failure. We would moan and complain the entire first leg of the run knowing what was ahead or us. Then we would arrive at the base of Mount Killer-manjaro, crane our necks back to see the summit, grit our teeth, reach deep down inside, and start scaling the path up the mountainside. By the top, you were practically crawling, and completely exhausted. But in the end, we knew we were stronger.
Paul liked resistance training. In our reading for today, he related his work as an apostle to training for an Olympic-like sporting event. In this case, he was probably referring to the Isthmian games which held competitions every five years in running, wrestling, boxing, and throwing a discus. The Corinthians understood the intense training required by the athletes to compete in these games. The reference alluded to sacrifices, disciplines, hardships, and struggles. There was no cutting corners in preparation and these elite athletes took no short cuts in their training. Likewise, Paul resisted anything that might weaken him in ‘running the race set out before him.” This was a recurring theme in Paul’s epistles. He spoke often about the fight between the flesh and the spirit and the need to be vigilant and disciplined. His prize was in winning souls and he resisted anything that would keep him from that goal.
Cool Down: “Lord, I admit that my flesh is strong. But I understand from your word that gratifying my own desires is contrary to living a life led by your Spirit. Help me to run towards spiritual disciplines instead of running away from them. Sometimes my greater obstacle in overcoming is myself. Thank you for sending your Spirit to guide and strengthen me in my resolve. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
“He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.” Proverbs 147:15