Running With Jesus+…

In case you’ve missed my recent Tweets and Facebook posts, I bought a Nike+ Running Sport Band. Just like all Nike products, these things make you feel like a professional athlete. This one specifically, however, tracks each run you make by distance, pace, time, and it even tracks the calories you’ve burned. On top of all of this, each run you post on your Nike+ Running profile gets broadcasted on Facebook or Twitter. So now people will know that I’m not kidding about my frequent, Olympic-like runs.

After posting my second run, I got to thinking what it’d be like if there were a device to track our walks with Jesus – a Jesus+ Spirit Band? What would it be like if I could see the exact moments where I was running at a consistent pace and the moments where I slowed down or even tripped up? What would it be like to see – after posting so many spiritual runs and workouts – the overall progress I’ve made since I started running? Honestly, I think I might be impressed by what I’d see. But I don’t think God would be.

God isn’t disappointed in me (or really in any of us); He simply aims higher when it comes to setting the bar. While we seek to minimize our mistakes, He seeks to make us incapable of mistakes. His work will not be complete until our sinful selves have given way to our spiritual selves – until the old wine is tossed out with the old wineskin and replaced with new wine in a new wineskin. Until faith becomes sight, God will not be content with His creation.

How, then, could we ever know if we’re making progress? Shouldn’t there be some kind of validation – even from God – that says we’re doing a certain thing right? This is where we discover that something like a Jesus+ band that tracks the individual’s progress isn’t needed. It wouldn’t be needed because there’s this thing called the church – followers of The Way, God’s people, Christ’s body. In other words, we don’t need a bracelet to tell us we’re doing something right or wrong; we’ve got running buddies. We have brothers and sisters to keep us on track, to help us keep a steady pace, and to help us continue to the very end – to endure the entire race, not just the first leg of it.

A Jesus+ Spirit Band would be useless for yet another reason: God’s focused on what’s before us, not what’s behind. Yes, seeing our overall progress would allow us to see the moments we did things God’s way and were faithful. But it would also force us to see the moments we dropped out – the moments we decided to run at our own pace or not run at all. It would force us to remember our sins. Of course, we already do, but if it was put to a chart we’d see just how damaging that sin was at that point in our lives. And it might revive the guilt and shame that God had worked very hard to extract with His grace. We’d either react by running faster at our own pace – never to again make those same mistakes. Or we’d react by walking away because we had lost all hope.

God does want not us to dwell on the past to improve our futures. Or, to put it in a way my old pastor (Danny O’Neil) once did, you cannot drive a tractor in a straight line by looking behind you. You pick a target in front of you – way in front of you. Jesus and His perfection – the way He lived His life in constant, unwavering faith – is our target. We run to Him and we don’t stop until we get there.

If we aim for an imaginary perfect version of ourselves, we’ll fail at reaching God’s goal every time – even if we succeed at perfecting ourselves to our standards. For God’s standard is much higher than we could ever reach on our own. And if we aim at His standard (Jesus); if we align our thoughts to His, our language to His, our intentions to His, our attitudes to His; and if we run at the pace He sets rather than our own, then we will be so focused on what’s before us that we won’t remember the things behind.

“By your endurance you will gain your lives,” – Jesus in Luke 21:19

God bless.


Day-Dreams, False Expectations, and God’s Story…

“Reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect,” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I remember being an eighth grader on the last day of school day-dreaming of what high school would be like. I’d be wearing cool new clothes, dominating whatever sport I played, probably have a girl friend, and – above all else – I’d be older. I repeated this day-dreaming bit when my senior year of high school rolled around – picturing myself dating some cute girl with long, wavy brown hair and bright eyes; wondering about the kinds of classes I’d be taking; and of course, seeing the truth that is my college swagger.

What kind of sucks, though, is that the things I really hoped to have happen never did (except for the college-swagger thing; that’s 24/7). Season after season, term after term, I remained the dorky single guy either reading or writing every where he went. My expectations for the future were never met and it kind of hurt.

I feel that way now. Years ago I pictured my home church, Calvary Fellowship, to be the start of something new, something fresh, something beyond the religiosity that surrounds Christianity today. I saw Danny as kind of a Captain Kirk to the Christian world; almost entirely untraditional, but always fighting for the right cause. With him retiring and Calvary handing over the keys, my expectations – what I had hoped to have happen – are practically gone. That harsh reality hit me late last night. It felt as though someone I loved had died.

Two weeks remain for Calvary Fellowship as I’ve known it. Danny preaching from his awesome swivel chair; shaking the hands of strangers whose names I’ll forget the next day; and usually finding a Mexican place for lunch after service. And believe me, I plan to milk it for all it’s worth. But until each Sunday comes to pass, there’s one thing God wants me to ponder: What He’s doing in my life for the long haul.

You see, my day-dreams really only go a couple years ahead of me. Sometimes I’ll picture myself at 30 writing some awesome book that a lot of people buy or poppin’ the question to my bright-eyed girlfriend because that’s the age Barney Stinson said you can start thinking about marriage. But for the most part I usually only picture the next year. Whether I wanted to or not, I now have to picture my life less than a month from now.

It was tentatively announced that the new pastor would officially take things over on the 8th of January, which means I have until then to decide if I want to continue on with the new pastor or take a break and try something new. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I’m certainly looking forward to Christmas and New Years Day as sort of a break. Even so, it’s a lot of pressure to have to make a decision so soon. But the greatest news of it all is that God doesn’t day-dream like I do; He sees it all.

He sees the kind of man I’ll be when I marry, when I raise my children, and when I pass them off to their husbands and wives. He sees the character He wishes to grow within me. He sees my entire novel while I only see a page or two. And even though I like to try to write my own story, He’s got this Author thing pretty well figured out.

Case in point: Peter, according to John’s gospel. He and his fellow disciples expected something completely different for Jesus and His life. They expected Rome to fall as Jesus rose politically. It was a bit of a shock, then, when Jesus was crucified and killed by Roman hands. His expectations of Jesus had been obliterated. And then Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to Peter and the rest of the disciples. But what does Peter do? He goes back to his old job. It’s not until after Jesus has ascended that Peter catches His vision.

My whole point is simply this: God had a plan that was extremely difficult for Peter to grasp. I (and every Calvary-ite with me) am in a very similar situation: Something’s happening that’s shattering my day-dreams and I can’t quite figure it out. It makes me want to think that it’s all been a waste, but that’s like saying Peter’s walk with Jesus before He died was a waste; it was really the step to a deeper faith.

God brought us on this ride with Calvary and with Danny for a reason: In order to be the men and women He wants us to be. It’s an uncomfortable ride, for sure, because it’s possibly removing a style of faith we’ve grown so accustomed to. But now we have the opportunity to see just what kind of work God has really done within us.

“Take courage sons for we must go under/The heart of darkness to set them free/But don’t lose heart when you see the numbers/There’s no measure for faith with praise,” Josh Garrels, “Rise”

“But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day,” Proverbs 4:18

Greater things are yet to come. May we have the heart to see them through.

God bless.

Following the Light…

In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been blogging much this month. Honestly, I haven’t had much time to really do anything. Between two jobs and teaching Sunday school every other week, my mind has kind of been in constant go mode. That means my pensive, reflective, and blogging mode has taken the back seat.

The only reason I’m writing anything at all today is because I had the day off. And I need to write something. Work has been crazy and awesome on all fronts (Duck Store, Putters, and church) and I’ve really enjoyed this past month. And yet, within the past couple of days, I’ve been wondering if I’m really going to be ready for what’s to come.

At the end of the month, I’m supposed to be leaving the Derbyshire. I promised them four months ago that my stay here wouldn’t be longer than September and I mean to live up to that promise. But that’s just it; I’m kind of clueless as to where to go. Normally I have roommates to live with, but it’s already too late with everyone tied up in their own living situations. My only option besides staying here longer than planned or promised would be to live alone and I don’t really want to do that.

I don’t want to live alone because, well, I believe being alone is what makes people crazy. I don’t want to go crazy. Two summers ago I was living alone for an entire month as I waited for my two roommates to get back from their summer breaks. It was absolutely miserable. Of course I didn’t have a job back then, let alone two, and summer school was over, so I really didn’t have anything going on to get me out of the house. Usually I just wound up at the nearest Starbucks drinking coffee and reading books… which wasn’t so bad, come to think of it.

But I don’t want my life to be spent at coffee shops reading books for leisure. I want to do something. I want to make some sort of significant impact on somebody else’s life and I’m not sure I’ll be in the most supportive environment if I’m living alone. What I mean is, I need people there – even if they’re always in their room or the living room. I just need them there to ruffle my feathers a little, get on my nerves every now and then, and maybe even get a beer with me after a stressful day. If I’m living alone, I’m not so sure I’ll really have that at all.

There are two things that my current mindset is overlooking. The first is that I’m never truly alone. No matter what the situation, God is here with me. This is something that I’ve often told other people who have issues with being alone like I do, which I guess might be why I’m often taking it for granted. Even so, it’s just as true for them as it is for me; God never leaves us. Another way of putting it is: We never fall so far that God cannot reach us. Not even when we’re living alone.

A good friend of mine pointed out the second thing for me. What is it? Opportunity. She told me not to think of living alone as a terrible thing, but rather an opportunity in which I could grow substantially. Or rather, in her words, “You’d be surprised what you could find out about yourself when you’re on your own.” With as much as I’ve learned about how much I need other people, I could learn quite a bit about myself and how much I desperately need a solid relationship with the Lord.

Are the Derbys really kicking me out of their place? No. And I’m sure that if I asked nicely they’d let me stay longer just to get my footing financially. But am I still going to be here when October 1st rolls around? I don’t know. With what my friend told me earlier today, I’m actually warming to the idea of living alone. I might be able to read all those books I said I’d read this summer, maybe even write a book myself, or I might watch all the episodes of How I Met Your Mother… again… for the third or fourth time…

What I’m about to say might sound terribly odd, but hear me out: I don’t know where I’m going to be in two weeks, but no matter what I’m looking forward to it. A very thick cloud of fog has camped itself on my road and instead of turning on my brights and making things worse for myself, maybe I ought to just look for the Light of the Lord. And then follow.

God bless.

Living a Mist-Long Life…

“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes,” – James 4:14

Verses like this are often used in a carpe diem (“seize the day”) fashion; life is short, so we must do all we can while we can. It’s a part of “living life to the fullest.” While I find attractive aspects about this emphasis on life’s time limit, I often feel God sending a different message.

Seizing the day often means doing a lot in a short amount of time. People become driven to get a college degree, get a job, get married, have kids, get a house, etc., etc. What I find problematic, though, is the general lack of contentment and joy within the “movers and shakers” of society.

It’s like we make a list of a bunch of different things we want to do in our lifetime and simply devote every day to fulfilling that list. The faster you go, the faster you become ahead of schedule. Once your list is entirely crossed off then (and only then) you are able to relax and enjoy your life. Some call this stage “retirement.” I’m not against writing a list of the things you’d like to do before you die (the “bucket list”), but I’m not sure about having to do all those things as soon as I can and then retire.

A little over a week ago, I went for a 3 mile run. It had been a while since I last ran, so I knew I was going to hurt afterward. But what I didn’t consider was how fast I should have run. I thought I could keep the same pace that I had a couple months ago, but I was feeling winded after a few blocks. I was running too fast.

“Therefore… let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Heb. 12:1). I’m sure we’ve all heard this message before, but for some reason, it’s been really resonating this weekend. This entire summer I’ve been seeing my friends either get engaged or get married. I’m not normally susceptible to peer pressure, but sometimes it’s difficult not to see the special friendships taking a life-changing turn without longing, even just a little, in my own heart for what they have.

Marriage is a stage of life I believe I will live one day. But I have a tendency of treating God like an office assistant: Did you get me that job on time? How about that apartment? Don’t forget the deadline for my marriage… God isn’t supposed to meet our deadlines; we’re supposed to wait on Him.

Pace is key to running. My body found out the hard way a couple weeks ago. But my heart, mind, and soul don’t have to find out the same way. “With endurance” isn’t just referring to determination and spiritual stamina; it’s also referring to setting a pace with God, growing with Him as He allows us to grow. Some seem to move through life faster than others, but when God’s the gardener, we’re all growing at the pace we need.

If our lives are but mists that vanish quickly, as James says, then maybe we should slow ourselves a little. All my life I’ve been a slow eater, a slow reader, and a slow writer. It hasn’t been because I’m unable to go fast; it’s because I never wanted to. I’ve wanted to savor what I eat, read, and write. In the same way, I think God wants us to savor our mist-long lives.

Easter’s Resurrection Experience…

Today was my last Easter celebration as a college student. Well, at least as an undergrad. When I think back to my first Easter Sunday here in Eugene, I recall skipping both services of church and even the Easter celebration at CCF (Collegiate Christian Fellowship). Why? I missed church in the morning because I wanted to sleep in and I missed CCF because I had some homework to catch up on. For whatever reason, I just didn’t feel like partaking in the festivities this day brings. It took me five years to finally take seasons like Easter’s seriously.

Danny’s message this morning was a quick summary of Jesus’ narrative, more specifically the passion. Taking bits and pieces from each of the Gospels, we tracked from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane to the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances to the disciples. The main thing Danny wanted to highlight was what the news of Jesus’ resurrection meant for the disciples. It wasn’t a mere “Oh, glad you’re okay” type of mentality; it was something much more. There was a message delivered to the disciples beyond the basic news of the empty tomb.

Mark’s Gospel is probably my favorite gospel for tracking the story of Jesus. It’s simple and to the point. Its original ending, verse 8 in chapter 16, cuts off at the empty tomb and the women being told to inform the disciples, but ultimately running away in fear. Such an abrupt ending to the gospel, though, might make some feel uneasy. And thus we stumble upon the rhetorical value of Mark’s account; its short ending was meant to cause a stir amongst the early readers.

It was meant to cause the reader to reconsider the story leading up to this point of resurrection. What the news of Jesus’ resurrection did for the disciples was very similar; it caused them to reconsider all the teachings He had given – especially the predictions about rising on the third day. As Danny said this morning, the disciples experienced a resurrection of their own on Easter Sunday: The religious systems they had grown up with were killed on Friday and raised to life in a completely knew understanding – a new faith.

On my way home, I considered what it really means to have a resurrection experience. N.T. Wright discusses this very issue and, drawing from Romans 6, says that our souls experience this death and resurrection in the act of baptism. Our old ways of understanding how the world works and how God works were killed in going under the water and we were given a completely new life – not a mere refurbishing of the old – in Jesus Christ. In many ways, I think our experiences with Jesus’ resurrection ought to be like those of the disciples; a complete alteration of everything familiar.

What I’ve been trying to do throughout this weekend is power through Luke’s Gospel and do so in way that I’d feel, as best as possible, the severity of the situation. I wanted to feel the pain, confusion, and pure anxiety of the disciples in the wake of Jesus’ death. I wanted to wrestle with the day in between where I’d be in limbo with wanting to return to my old life but having an overwhelming compulsion to live something new – based off my experiences with Jesus. And I wanted to experience the confusing and bewildering joy of hearing about the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Instead of my freshman-year Easter experience, I wanted to milk this one for all it was worth. When it was all said and done, I came back to Starbucks, plunged through the rest of Luke, and came across a simple verse that I think encapsulates Easter weekend and what it is meant to do.

“Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation,” – Luke 22:46.

In the hour I first truly saw what it meant to be a follower of Christ, it was a spiritual awakening. Here Jesus was rebuking His disciples for literally falling asleep, but in light of Danny’s message this morning, I felt the spiritual implications. As N.T. Wright says in Surprised By Hope (discussing Paul’s understanding of the resurrection), “It’s time to wake up,” (248).

But haven’t you already had this spiritual awakening, this resurrection of the soul? Haven’t you already felt the powerful revelation of God? I would answer “Yes” to those questions, but with one clarification: Just because I’ve experienced a spiritual resurrection doesn’t mean that I’ll always be awake for time immemorial. As even Jesus’ disciples struggled, strained, and stumbled in the wake of His resurrection, so we also are prone to slide into a comfortable form of Christianity that demands little from us and yet gives us all the reassuring about living forever that we could need. “You’ve been saved; there’s not much more than that,” is the message we might here. And yet the Scriptures indicate otherwise; in fact, Jesus indicates otherwise.

In His foretelling of future trials and tribulations for His disciples, Jesus says, “By your endurance you will gain your lives,” – Luke 21:19. Or as Matthew says, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved,” – 10:22. So then this race of salvation doesn’t just stop with the believing; it continues on until we can run no more, until we pass from this world to the next. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow we run, but rather that we run and complete it.

If you, like me, were moved by your pastor’s message this Easter Sunday, that’s great. But we would do these messages injustice if we were only to apply them on Easter Sunday and no other day. N.T. Wright suggests that we ought to strain to live like Easter people – people of the resurrection, people of the very kingdom of God.
If Jesus’ teaching in Luke 8 about the word of God taking root is any indication of what our lives are supposed to be like, then perhaps we ought to pray that we are the good soil – fertile enough to be fruitful for a lifetime.

Happy Easter and God bless!

“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here.” – Mark 16:6

Until His Hands Blistered and Bled…

Late in the night, whispers sounded through his window and shadows danced between buildings. Fearing the worst, he grabbed his sword and stepped quietly to the door. Floorboards creaked with each of his gentle steps, but he couldn’t care; he had no time to care. Someone was about to enter his home and he must rise to guard it, for in the word of the King, “It is the wellspring of life.” Gripping the hilt until his knuckles turned white, he set his eyes on the door before him.

As he stood in the center of his home waiting for his enemy to burst through, his feet began to tremble. Looking down he realized that it was not his feet, but the ground beneath his home. He turned his ears to listen outside. No whispers, but there was a distant thunder rolling in his direction. He ran to the window and glanced out. Dozens of torches danced through the woods just outside his home, charging towards him. Quickly he darted to retrieve his armor, but in a matter of seconds several large boulders had crashed through his walls, tearing half his home apart. Scrambling, he sought after the one thing he knew would give him a fighting chance.

“It’s too late, Thomas. You are all alone with no one to help you.”

He knew only one person in all the world spoke with a slithering tongue.

“Of course, you never believed the King had actually come back to life in the first place, so really you never expected anyone to be here to help you. And now you’re desperately searching for a shield that you never had.”

Two arrows tore through Thomas’ shoulders, knocking him to the ground by their momentum.

“You see, Thomas, your friends Stephen, Peter, Paul, and John have already tasted what you’re about to taste: death. They were your King’s finest warriors and yet in a matter of a few years they were thwarted from the battlefield and can you guess by whom?”

Thomas held his tongue.

“Ah, you know but you don’t want to admit it. It’s okay to accept defeat, Thomas; your King did it and He died rather quickly. Of course, He experienced quite a bit of pain, quite more than you’ll experience here tonight. But that depends. Are you willing to join my side? I have the power to make you far greater than your King ever was.

Thomas continued to throw aside the debris from his ravaged home searching for his only weapon of defense. Another arrow pierced his arm and his sword fell from his hand.

“Thomas, Thomas, Thomas; you realize that it is far easier for you to merely accept my generous offer and save your life. Your King certainly can’t save you from His grave!”

“He’s not dead,” Thomas whispered through his teeth.

“Well of course he is! You never believed that He had risen, so to you He’s still buried behind that tombstone. And if He’s still there, then you have nothing to hope for in Him. So do yourself a favor and put aside this whole ‘Not of this world’ business and join the world that you know to be real: mine.”

With blood dripping down his arms, Thomas crawled through his wrecked home feeling around for that metal plate that he knew would save him here. The soldiers who fired the arrows were now surrounding him, awaiting their king’s orders to kill. Several dozen of them stood with arrows notched to their bowstrings.

“Thomas, my patience is running thin, and so is your blood. Before you enter the realm where no one can save you, you might want to accept my offer and prolong your life. I have the power to heal you on the spot if you just say the word. You know better than I do that your King is dead and that your friends sacrificed their lives in vain. Quit this whole ‘gospel’ thing and live at peace with the things I will give you.”

A foot now pressed down in Thomas’ back, pinning him flat and making him unable to move. His hands were sprawled out to each side, digging through the pieces of wood to find what he had been looking for.

“You know you want to bow down and worship me.”

Thomas’ fingertips touched the metallic object he sought after. A grin came over his face.

“Lucifer!” he barked, “You know better than I that the King does live! Your demons spend their nights in fear of His return! You can’t call Him by name because you’re afraid He might be right here right now. I assure you, though,” Thomas gripped his shield still buried beneath the wooden wreckage, “He’s been here all along!” With a might heave, he unearthed the shield and slammed it into Lucifer’s leg, knocking him aside. The night air hummed as dozens of demons loosed their fiery arrows in Thomas’ direction. In a flash, Thomas closed his eyes and raised his shield. One struck his leg and another nicked his ear, but the rest struck his shield.

Lucifer recoiled and charged with his own sword drawn. Thomas stepped back and blocked every hack and slash with the shield. But Lucifer’s attack was too powerful for his weakened body. Thomas dodged and sidestepped as many advances as he could, but eventually he grew too weary and fell to the ground. Though he couldn’t stand, he still defended himself with his shield to lessen the blows from the demon army.

Kicking him back and forth across his demolished home, Lucifer and his minions wore Thomas down to where there was no willpower left in him. He had clung to his shield until his hands blistered and bled. When he became like a rag doll and no longer raised his shield in defense, Lucifer pressed his foot down on Thomas’ chest and held him there.

“If He’s been here all along, where is He now?” Lucifer gritted and growled at Thomas’ limp and defeated body. Fighting to keep his eyes open and life within his veins, Thomas padded the ground beneath him and felt a familiar hilt. “I came to give you a Sword,” he recalled the King saying. Taking several deep breaths and gripping the sword with all he had, he opened his eyes and glared directly into Lucifer’s.

“He’s right here!” and stabbed through Lucifer’s leg. Crying out in pain, Lucifer recoiled like a whipped dog and ordered his soldiers to draw their swords. Thomas lay panting on the ground, bloodied and bruised with both hands still gripped like iron to his sword and shield. He gazed up at the nighttime sky as he felt the demons approaching. It was no longer night, but in the beginning stages of dawn. Thomas marveled at the reds, purples, oranges, and blues mixing with the shimmering stars. And as he prepared to breathe his last, a wonderful sound pierced through the air, terrifying the demons circled around him with swords drawn.

To the eastern hills, the sky burned a bright orange and there stood a figure standing on top, blowing a loud horn that could be heard leagues away. The demons, though frightened, turned their faces towards this figure and prepared to charge the hill. Lucifer reemerged from the woods, gimping from his wound, and shouted orders at his soldiers. Reluctantly, they trotted forward, up the hill, to attack this one figure. And Lucifer returned to Thomas, stilly lying on the ground nearly dead.

“You’ve wasted your life, Thomas. I could have – ”

“No!” Thomas interrupted, “You’ve wasted yours! Look to the eastern hill!”

When Lucifer glanced up, horror filled his body; rising from the other side of the hill was a massive army, hundreds of thousands in number, led by massive chariots of fire, and one Man with a magnificent, burning crown leading the way.

“Do you remember what I said about the King?” Thomas teased.

Lucifer remained silent.

“The kingdom I serve is a fire that cannot be quenched,” as Thomas spoke, life returned to his limbs, “An ocean that never rests,” his wounds healed up before Lucifer’s very eyes, “And a Word that is never silent!” and he jumped to his feet with shield raised and sword poised for attack. Still shocked by the slaughter his army suffered, Lucifer glanced at Thomas and noticed something changing. The clothes he wore seemed to catch fire, but he didn’t smell smoke. It was a fire so bright he had to look away. But when he looked back, Thomas stood before him in full armor that appeared brighter than the sun. Lucifer cowered back.

“You aren’t going very far!” a booming Voice bellowed from behind him. Startled, he spun around to see a massive fiery crown supported by a mighty King. His right and left wrists bore a terrible scar, as well as His legs.

“You pride yourself as a roaring lion, Lucifer, but you forget that I am the Lion of the tribe of Judah, I am Alpha and Omega, I am the I am!”

Thomas knelt on one knee and bowed his head as Light ended dark.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop…

Running sucks sometimes. I mean, I know it’s supposed to help you out in the long-haul, but as for right now, it kind of sucks. I’ve been running periodically throughout the last month or so in a small attempt to prepare my body for next year’s Eugene marathon. Chances are I probably won’t run, but right now I like the idea of it all. And it certainly gives me something to do over the summer.

Today’s 3.4 mile run was tough, though. I hadn’t run for about five days prior to today and that run was just under two miles. This run involved quite a few more hills and required me to maintain a steady pace that lasted a little longer than a 2-mile pace. Right about halfway through the third mile is when I really hit the wall. My route starts from the intersection of Kinsrow Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. From there I take a turn onto Leo Harris Parkway and run up to the Mill Race Bridge, then cross over it towards the Autzen footbridge. After I cross the Autzen footbridge, I follow a bike path that leads to the EWEB building and then I follow Coburg Road back to MLK Blvd. and then head home. And that final stretch is exhausting.

Usually the wind is at your back, so you don’t have much resistance for that near-mile-long stretch. But today the wind was in my face and although it was kind of refreshing for my body, it really made me work. And it dried out my mouth and throat pretty badly. As I was pumping my legs for all they were worth, I suddenly thought of Philippians 3:14; “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

There are many areas in life where physical challenges often represent spiritual challenges. Like how I’ve been training for the Eugene marathon (though kind of pathetically), I find it necessary to train for the marathon God has got us running for the rest of our lives. And just like my run today, there are going to be many moments that are difficult. I remember as I was passing Autzen Stadium on MLK that I got the overwhelming urge to just stop. In fact there was one brief moment where my legs just stopped kicking. For a split second I actually thought about just walking the rest of the way, but then I remembered why I was running and I forced myself to keep going.

I find it critical, even essential, to remind myself why I believe in Jesus, why I choose to follow Him though the river of the world is surging in the opposite direction. Walking back through the memories of life-altering moments is good and even recalling my testimony is helpful. But what I’ve found to be the most helpful in recalling why I strain to follow Jesus is to picture what life might be like without Him. Trying to picture life without my Christian friends – my brothers and sisters in the Spirit, without Calvary Fellowship, without Cross Training or even without my Bibles and Christian books is difficult. Even at the mere point of changing my lifestyle, dropping this whole Christian thing would be devastating. But I think there’s something deeper.

I’ve been a believer for about eight years now and for a while I never truly understood why. I knew that going to church on a regular basis might keep me out of trouble, at least for a while, and I knew that reading the Bible on a regular basis might teach me something about life. But beyond all that, I didn’t see much of a pull. As I grew older and as I met new people, experienced new parts of life (like college), and suffered a few more heartaches, I began to see and understand why I do what I do. It’s not just because it’ll keep me out of trouble or because most of my friends are Christian. It’s because I have felt Jesus’ presence within this world, within my life, and within my heart.

This is where I’m going to stop making sense to some people. Why? Well, I believe in the Trinity – the Godhead three in one, where Jesus is both God and the Holy Spirit. Basically I believe that Jesus = God = Holy Spirit or however you want to arrange the names. I’m not sure about the science of it all and I don’t think I have to be. But I believe that when the Spirit touches our hearts, God and Jesus are also there. This means that Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 2:11-13;

For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

talk about Jesus, too. There is a fire within my heart that I didn’t put there and that I didn’t ask for, but was freely given to me so that I may truly decide whether or not I want to live a life of mystery, but of peace also, or continue on with the life of depression and hopelessness, to just go with the flow of the world’s river.

To this day I do not know why I’ve been pulled into this life with Jesus, but I know one thing: I can’t turn back. The life I lived eight years ago is no longer a life that I can truly live with any kind of true joy. Perhaps if I gave myself over to every sinful desire and allowed myself to become complacent to my heart’s pain, then maybe I might be able to live a life entirely apart from Christ. But I doubt it. Why? Because there will be some lonely nights in that lifestyle. And in those lonely nights certain painful memories will return and as I’ve already experienced, I can’t handle those on my own. The healing and life that Christ has brought has given me strength to handle the painful and haunting memories. Without Him, I don’t know how long I’d last.

Because of Jesus, I will never be the same. No matter where I go or what I do and no matter how hard I may try to run from Him, He will always pop into my mind, even if it’s just a fond memory of Him. And like the prodigal son suddenly thinking of how good things were with his father before he ran away, I’d have to think that I’ll return if only to be His slave.

If walking with God is like walking against the flow of a river, then the best thing for me to do is dig my heels in and get ready. If walking with God is like running a marathon, then the best thing for me to do is to keep my legs pumping, no matter what. And if walking with God is like walking through a desert for forty years, then the key to surviving spiritual fatigue is leaning on the brothers and sisters out there with me. If my feet slip in the river, if my legs stop running, or if I stray from the pack in the desert, my soul will be forfeit and no matter how pleasurable this world may be, it won’t have the meaning that my life with Christ has had.

I just can’t turn around.