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This past summer I ran my fastest marathon in three hours, forty-six minutes, and no seconds. Although this time is not terribly fast by the standards of marathon running, although it was much faster than I could imagine I could run a marathon even a year ago. In Jr. High and in High School I was an athlete, but when in college, I realized I didn’t want to pursue athletics any longer, for many reasons that are not important, I quickly lost the athlete within. I covered him up with sloth, with gluttony, with self-destructive habits, and just letting myself go.

In early 2009, I realized that these habits were going to lead to my ultimate demise. I wasn’t going to be around when my son was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to be able to participate and play with him as he got older. At nearly 350 lbs I was on track toward a shortened life span, and maybe not seeing my son grow up. I decided to begin an exercise regiment. This wasn’t huge, I walked slowly on a treadmill for an hour three times a week, and I jumped in a pool and swam once a week. I also learned portion control, one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, no more “Taco Bell Fourth Meal”. In the midst of this first step, I began losing weight, within six months 50 pounds, and 80 lbs were off by Christmas 2009. There was no magic diet, I ate less, and I exercised more.

Have you noticed the pattern? Have you realized my error? I, I, I, I, I, and I. I am taking the credit for all this hard work. Certainly, I did the work, but it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that I was prompted, I merely answered the call. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was transformed, not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically. I was broken, and I needed fixing. God took hold of me, and shook me.

This shook me straight into a crazy thought, I should run a marathon! I set my sights on the next LA Marathon. My sister encouraged me to run at least a half-marathon before that, so we ran in the Las Vegas Half in December 2010. I completed that race in just over two hours, and was able to set a goal for the marathon of five hours. I had lost nearly 100 pounds, and felt as if I was ready to take on 26.2 miles. That was 2011, and a legendary rain filled LA Marathon struck. Shortly into the race, my focus shifted from my goal of five hours to finishing the race. Every joint hurt, my legs were tight, and I started counting down the miles or fractions thereof. All the hard work led to pain, and I was barely able to keep my legs going. After 5 hours and 17 minutes, I crossed the finish line, bruised, battered, and barely walking. (As a thank you, the LA Marathon team gave us the opportunity to walk an additional mile so that we could get our gear.)

I accomplished something, I finished the ridiculous distance, and I was not beaten by the weather. I was proud that I accomplished a feat that only a small percentage of people have accomplished, but my feat was not impressive. I was still far from what I could be, and far from what I was before the stench of sloth covered over body. I kept running more and more and my next race was a two hour half marathon later in the year. After that race my daughter was born and the training took a brief hiatus, but when I restarted I set my sights on another marathon, this one the 2012 Santa Clarita Marathon. I followed a strict training regiment and figured I would improve upon the five hour marathon and set my goal to run it in four and a half hours. However, half way into the race I realized that I was in much better shape and was most likely going to beat the goal I set for myself, and I was on pace to run a four hour marathon. I eventually finished the race in just over four hours as I slowed down at mile 24, but this was a huge win for my psyche.

First I worked hard to lose weight, then I worked hard to get myself into better shape, however it was all worthless compared to the riches I have in Christ. However, the way that I have worked on losing weight, and running faster only serve to show that I am constantly being refined and made better by the work of the Holy Spirit moving in my life. So I sit here tonight, having accomplished running a marathon in three hours and forty-six minutes, and having lost more than 150 pounds, but God is still working on me. Not to lose more weight, and maybe not to even run any faster, but God is working to refine me, and make me more into the man that God desires, a man after God’s own heart.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

God isn’t finished with us. I have a marker and a path I have followed, and although I took the steps toward where I am today, God is the one that worked on me, and has brought me on this path toward holiness and sanctification. I pray that as I continue in this path toward a deeper relationship with God, that I can be faithful to God’s call. Praise be to God.

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Ugh

More than once as I have journaled my prayers I have uttered the UGH which has been my way of expressing complete frustration and an inability to put my thoughts into words. Should I feel bad about not being able to articulate my prayers? A quick reading of Psalm 5 reveals that the important act is not the articulation of my prayers, but that in fact that every morning I come to the Lord with my prayer is paramount.

Give ear to my words, O Lord ; consider my groaning. Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord , in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. (Psalms 5:1-3 ESV)

Additionally, the prayer time is our worship and should be part of our sacrifice to the Lord. This is followed by a time of watching. This is too often the part that I end up skipping. Once I pray, I feel as soon as I am done with all of the elements of my prayer are complete, I am done with the worship time, but rather the prayer and worship need to continue by watching and waiting for the Lord. It isn’t certain that God will always turn the “ugh” into something, but the Holy Spirit will intercede for us. Even though sometimes all I can muster is “ugh”, this can sometimes be used by the Holy Spirit as something that is too deep for any words we could ever muster.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. (Romans 8:26 ESV)

Even if all I can bring is “ugh”, God wants it, but I am called to more than simply bringing my “ugh” but I also need to sit and wait and watch what the Lord is going to do with my exasperation.

2013 will bring trials of all sorts, but…

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This New Year will not be perfectly harmonious, I know that may not be the most clairvoyant statement, but it is one that we should take to heart as we look into the new year. For many of us it has already presented its first trial or two. Some of these trials are unavoidable, some we create ourselves; some will be big, some will be small; some will make us feel like giving up, some will make us want to dig in our heels and fight. For each trial we have options and directions that we can go, but whatever we face, there is always hope.

The bible is full of passages about trials of all sorts. David faced many trials. Some of them he caused himself, some he couldn’t avoid, but in the face of every trial he turned to the face of God. I admire that about David.

David, by no fault of his own, but powered by jealousy, was pursued by Saul. Each of these times David asked for God to deliver him. He did not betray the blessing of God as he would not take matters into his own hands by killing Saul, as he had opportunity to do so, but rather he leaned upon God to take care of him. He wrote about it, he sang songs about God’s blessing.

Even in his darkest hour, as he transgressed God’s commandments and committed adultery, and then covered up his adultery by committing murder (2 Sam 11), when the prophet confronts him he repents. This repentance didn’t help avoid the death of his child, it didn’t help avoid the loss of power to his son, but it got him back in right relation with God. To David, his relationship with God was paramount, not all of his earthly possessions.

2013 is here, and we will face challenges of all sorts, but if we try to emulate King David in his earnest pursuit of the heart and mind of the Almighty God, then these trials may make us into better followers of God, and more equipped to face trials of all sorts. That is my prayer, “May I learn to be more like David leaning upon You more and my own understanding less, may I sing to You God in good times and in times of need. Help me, fill me with Your Holy Spirit, that I may be completely yours, and help me to remain yours no matter what trials I may face.” Amen.

God Came, Therefore I Know Christ Is Coming

Eagerly we anticipate this season. Thanksgiving has past, and now the decorations go up, houses get lit up, parties get planned, cookies are baked, and we begin to get ready for the Christmas holiday. Commercially, this is the season of spending, this is the season where we see how well our economy is doing. We purchase gifts for loved ones, and others to whom we feel obligated. Debt is accumulated. Weight is gained. Consumerism is filing the air. This is the backdrop of contrast that we find Advent.

Spiritually, this is the season where we celebrate and commemorate the coming of Christ as an infant, and prepare our hearts for the second-coming of Christ. So much of the skepticism regarding the second coming focus on the empty manger.

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However, God’s promise about the coming salvation came in the form of an infant. Unexpected in form, but a promise fulfilled. This serves as a warning for us about our preconceived notions about the form of God’s fulfilled promises. What we need to focus upon is the fact that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, therefore I know God is coming back, because the character of God is the same as it was 2000 years ago when Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem.

When we look at this in reference to the commercial hope surrounding the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is plenty of contrasts. Commercial hope depends on what we do, how much we spend, how much we decorate, and how much we do. This is empty hope, because it is uncertain, and hope that is uncertain is not hope at all.

In this season of Advent, I will focus upon the consistency of God. My hope is assured in the fact that the Advent of the Almighty God is happening because it happened. Stay on your toes, and don’t lose hope. May God be celebrated and worshipped, for God’s hope (elpis) is eager anticipation of what is certain.

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Today we celebrate and give thanks for the blessings we have received this past year. I indeed have been blessed this past year. I am thankful for my extended family that have showed me love in my lows and have celebrated my highs and have also been beside me in the in-between times. I wish all of you love and blessings today, and may you be blessed this day wherever you are celebrating.

I am especially thankful for my kids, as they have been the source of some of the greatest joys in my life, and I thank God for each and every one of them.

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Today serves as a great example that Thanksgiving is an important part of our life and relationship with God. As we raise our kids we remind them to say “please” and “thank you” to make sure they have a spirit of thankfulness when people give you something. Our relationship with God is just as important to say “please” when we want something, and “thank you” when God blesses us.

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. (Psalms 69:30, 31 ESV)

In Psalm 69, we are reminded that today we have much to be thankful, and that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an elaborate expression, but rather we simply need to raise our voice and sing. So the dinner table may not be the place to sing, but in a Spirit of Thanksgiving, raise your voice and sing to the Lord, with your whole heart, mind, and soul.

Old Familiar Friends and Places


Today and tomorrow are going to be filled with reunions and gatherings throughout the US as the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us. For many of us it is a chance to connect with family and friends, and connect back to old places where we have memories both good and bad. Holidays themselves all a call to remember what has happened and to commemorate and/or celebrate something, some one, or some event. For this reason, we see people either looking forward to or dreading this time of year because we cannot escape the signs of the season, and they seem to begin their invasion of our offices, cafes, stores, and neighborhoods earlier each year.

This is also a time of year that we are confronted by the fact that our lives are not static as people are continuously coming into our lives, and leaving our lives. While we may not have to deal with the ebb and flow of people on an everyday basis, it unavoidably confronts us during these gatherings. In some ways this is exciting, like if a new member of the family has been added, such as the birth of a child, (this is my sweet Sophia’s first thanksgiving) or a new marriage. However, some people dread these times, maybe there has been a death, or a divorce, but there is clearly an absence that cannot be ignored.

During this time, we need to remember that no matter the people that come into our lives or leave our lives, God is constant. Take time out of your day today or tomorrow and look at the things that surround us and allow them to be our altars where we remember that God has been with us. The picture above is of the Campanile on the UC Berkeley campus, which reminds me that God is always beside me, even when it gets very dark and I have trouble finding hope. The people of Israel, as they crossed the Jordan, grabbed stones from the dry river bed and placed them on the banks of the Jordan to remind themselves and future generations that God had been there to allow them to enter into the promised land. The history of Israel had many ups and downs, but God never left them, and no matter what, the stones were there to remind them that it was God who led them into the promised land.

I have so many friends that each time we connect I am reminded that God loves me, and that it has been by His grace and mercy that our relationships have grown and flourished even though time, distance, and life have created space between us. So for those of you who I have not seen in a while, I thank God because of you, I thank God that our lives have crossed paths, and I thank God that because of our relationship I have become better than I was before we met.

So to my old familiar friends and places, I am thankful for you!

Struggle and Structure

Looking through the Psalms we see that Israel and David are often ensnared in struggles against their enemies and against themselves. Sometimes we become our own worst enemy. I know I took the picture below before a game I attended during warmups, but when a team’s season begins to unravel the team often fights against itself. This causes the team to lose more games than they should. We also tend to underperform when we start unraveling. One bad decision leads to another, and this builds upon itself.

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We are creatures that desire structure and consistency. We don’t trust ourselves to operate according to God’s purpose without structure. We have organized ourselves into organizations and churches that we hope will provide us the structure/ theology/ preaching/ group dynamic that we need to keep us within God’s desire for our lives.

The structures we put in place to define our situation, and to make sense of the world we live in often betray us, and take away the freedom that we have been given. Sometimes these structures do not allow us to worship God in a variety of forms, they do not give us the freedom to seek God, to question the things that will help us grow in our faith. In some of these circumstances, we abandon and strike out against what we see as oppression, only to exchange it for another form of oppression. In these cases we either vilify or deify the structure.

All this being said, structure is not bad, but we must be free to challenge the structure at times, when we have come across a situation where structure becomes oppressive, but we also need to be willing to be wrong, and allow the structure to show us where we may be wrong. Understandably, this takes maturity that not all of us may have, but should develop in our relationship with God. This is part of the struggle that we cannot escape or hide from within our structures.

Our God needs to be God, for only God can pull us out from our struggles, and the closer we grow to God the more mature we become in our faith, and the better we are within the structures within which we are organized. Struggle happens, and when it does, let God be our God.