Man On The Run

•January 13, 2011 • 3 Comments

I’ve started running.  Again.

In pursuit of a potential half-marathon later this year, I’ve found my way to the gym on a regular basis. At this point I’ve discovered a pace that will allow me to break a sweat without launching myself off the back end of the treadmill.

Small victories.

This returning to running triggered a painful memory from my middle school years.  Many of you have experienced the Presidential Physical Fitness Testing.  This annual rite of passage was the brainchild of some bureaucrat who somehow believed that 11 yr olds would be more motivated to get off the couch from their afternoon special re-runs if they were forced to compete against each other in ridiculous test of physical prowess.  So twice a year, we would trudge to PE class to be subjected to strange rituals.  Honestly it was all in pursuit of the magical 85 percent which triggered the Presidential Award..  Percentiles seemed to hold such power as a kid.  I envied the kids who achieved it.

This was the birthplace of the dreaded shuttle run otherwise known as “The Ridiculous Eraser Grab”. Sprinting across a basketball court  at high speeds to procure the elusive eraser, returning it gently to the starting line and then heading back to retrieve the other.  All the while, the PE teacher with their high shorts keeping a watchful eye, stopwatch in hand. It was extremely tricky to stop quickly on that court that I’m sure had been slicked up to resemble an ice rink.

But chin-ups remained my most humiliating event.   Everyone would gather near the bar and you would just be out there in the open, dangling there, exposed for everyone to see.  You’re kicking, grunting, groaning, straining, fighting, weeping, and often just quitting.  Miserable.

After a year or two I learned to at least get in one pull-up, by doing the “running start – jump up before the teacher noticed” trick.  The mob of your peers were brutal.  They would snicker, giggle, and sometimes just burst out laughing as your arms shook from the strain.  Remember, you weren’t just disappointing yourself and your parents. You were letting down the president. You were letting down your country.  Loser.

I’m still convinced there are 7th grade girls throughout our fine land today who are in therapy as a result of hanging from a bar and holding a chin up for as long as possible while their classmates mocked them.

As a 7th grader, I was scrawny and physically not impressive. When this testing took place, my only shot at glory was the endurance run.  This consisted of an 800 meter run (2 laps) around our middle school track.  It usually took place on the final day of the testing week. When the boys turn came, I was determined to not only make an impression, but to win, especially as the girls lined the inside of the track to cheer us on.

The sound of the whistle sent me sprinting out in front. I felt good, I felt strong, I felt…impressive.

The girls running along the inside infield screaming my name didn’t hurt either. That first lap was a  once-in-a-lifetime victorious moment.

Unfortunately, the race consisted of two laps.

At about the first curve of the second lap, something happened. Experienced runners call it hitting the wall, but for an 11 yr. old it felt more like a pallet of bricks crushing me. My legs burned and I could no long hear the adoring cheers of my short-lived fan club. I kept moving, but one by one my competitors passed me.  Eventually there was just me and one other poor soul bringing up the distant rear. I finished…barely and collapsed on the grass infield.


Not Impressive.

It seems all of life is a race.  It all begins with the race down the birth canal (some of us took a shortcut) and continues from there.

Through our childhood years, parents race to compare their child’s growth progress, “Oh, Tommy can speak in full sentences now – how’s little Steven doing?”  Then there are the childhood games that serve to re-enforce our race mentality.

  • We played tag where the race is to avoid being it –
  • We played hide and seek where the race is to avoid being found –
  • We played Red-Rover-Red-Rover where the race is to break through the other teams line –
  • We played Duck-Duck-Goose where the race is to get to the empty spot –

Not a lot changes when we become adults.

  • We still play tag…isn’t it always someone else who is responsible for our actions?
  • We still play Hide and Seek – we don’t want to be found out.

We are bombarded in our world with the call casually cried in our childhood years, “Last one IN is a rotten egg!”  Clearly, we were never mysteriously transformed into an egg or labeled rotten if we just so happened to be the last one in the pool as a child, but later in life when we perceive ourselves to be trailing in the race, we feel…rotten.  Many start off fast, enjoy a period where we seem to be out in front, but inevitably we hit the wall, suffer some setbacks, and fall off the pace a bit.  It is a terrible feeling – it robs us of our joy, of our sense of self-worth, and of our hope.  For some, no matter how hard we run, you still can’t seem to get out of last place.

What if its not so much how quickly you run the race; just that you finish?

The Greeks, well-known for their competitive spirit, invented the art of competitive running. There was one race which held periodically outside of the Olympic competition that you may not be familiar with.  This race was called the torch relay. This race, which is the basis of the modern-day Olympic torch race and ceremony, took place through the busy streets of Athens.

A team of ten or twelve men would assemble, each holding a torch, which consisted of a simple bundle of twigs wrapped together. The twigs were then coated with tar and, one by one, each torch was lit from the same flame.

As the race began, the competitors would navigate the course including the various obstacles and barriers that had been placed in their way.  The object of the race was to cross the finish line with your torch still lit. You couldn’t stop,  put the torch down or prop it anywhere. You had to hold it high and run as best you could.

In this particular race the victory seldom went to the fastest or the strongest. This was a race that was solely dependent upon timing and rhythm. To keep that torch lit required the ability to hold it properly, shielded from objects along the route and held away from the wind. If you ran too fast, you might put out the flame. If you ran to slow, the tar might burn up completely before you reached the finish line. If a runner’s torch flamed out, there was no relighting it. He was forced to drop out.  Done.

The winner of the race was the first man to cross the finish line with his torch still lit. Winning was, therefore, dependent upon endurance, not speed.

So ignore the screaming fans in the infield…Pace yourself. Perhaps the second lap will be your best.

That’s impressive.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith ” 2 Tim. 4:7

I’m Afraid Of The Dark

•January 7, 2011 • 2 Comments

As a kid, I struggled with the whole concept of darkness. Night lights were my best friend and constant companion.  It was a necessary accessory to insure against things that always go bump in the night.  The childhood adventure of spending the night at a friend’s house required that the nearest bathroom door be propped open to provide that comforting glow…and to serve as a guide should nature call in the middle of the night (bringing your own personal night light would be considered very uncool).

Over time, the adult expectation is that this fear will fade and we will realize that the darkness is actually not something to be feared, but it can even be embraced. There is nothing better than blacking out all the shades of the bedroom of your home or during a hotel stay. In thick darkness, you sleep until no more sleep seems possible.  I crave those nights of sleep on a more regular basis.

Today I realized that I’m still afraid of the dark.  A lot of us are.

We struggle with needing to be recognized, feeling significant and wondering if the glow of the spotlight will hit us.  For many, our roles or calling in life has led to places where the light shines brightly.  In many cases, perhaps too bright.  As someone who has a small amount of notoriety and is sometimes recognized by people in public places,  I realize the light is a dangerous side effect of serving in a large church and being a person who is “seen”.  As someone who literally stands, “in the light” on a regular basis, I know that light can be addictive and dangerous.

The light lies.

I constantly wrestle with my fear of the “dark”.  Do people know who I am? What if I somehow become irrelevant?

The voice inside my head can whisper thoughts that breeds insecurity and over-confidence.  Insecurity that forgets my position in Christ and his ultimate love whether I’m known by anyone.  Over-confidence that places trust in my own decisions, abilities, leadership, giftings, and charisma.

I am not alone.

Francis Chan suddenly resigned his church early last year.  Part of the reason behind his decision was summed up in the following  interview with CNN:

“When there is a large constituency, there’s a lot of voices,” he said. “It makes you arrogant or it makes you want to shoot yourself. When thousands of people tell you what they think, how can I be quick to listen, like the Bible says? I don’t want to be a jerk and tune everyone out. At the same time you, can’t love every single person and answer them.”

So after lots of prayer and soul searching, Chan decided it was best to leave the church, country, and Internet behind to focus on serving others one-on-one.

Today there was news concerning Ted Haggard. His much publicized “issues” stripped him of the spotlight he had been living in as a pastor of a large church in Colorado and leader of a large Christian organization.  The darkness was a necessary place for him. It was where God could have led him to re-discover the truth about himself without the limelight. It must have been a scary place for him to be.

I watched him slowly emerge, observed his appearances on talk shows and the obligatory book tour that followed.
The light was shouting out to him.  He probably had missed it.

Now he is doing his own reality show. He’s shouting for the lumens to be increased and cranked up brighter. “I’m over here,” he shouts.
It seems that Ted is still afraid of the dark.

Our fear of being in the dark causes us to need the light, crave the light…to absorb the light. But by always standing in the light, we miss what God wants to teach us in the obscurity of the darkness.

There is an alternative.

Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words in  Matt. 5:16 this way:
Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to BE LIGHT, bringing out the God-colors in the world.”

God’s light reflecting FROM US, not ON US.  And when it does, the world is a more colorful place.

I’ll leave the night light on for you.


Shooting Baskets In The Cold

•January 4, 2011 • 7 Comments

Perspective can come from the darkest of places.

I stopped, dragged my old tired body to a nearby cold neighborhood park, and shot baskets with my son tonight.  A brief softball season seven years ago made me do it.

In 2003, my daughter started her softball career on an 8U team coached by my friend Bill Schum. That’s right.  Twelve barely able to yet catch or throw little girls made up the Red Rockies.  Most were there for the pure social aspects and post-game snacks.

Shelby was one of those girls.  She, however,  was clearly more naturally gifted, more intense, and much more motivated than the others.  Everyone could just tell she had IT.  She played that one year with us and moved on to greater things.

As seasons passed, the girls all drifted onto other teams, other cities, and other sports. On occasion we would catch a glimpse of Shelby, usually pitching extremely fast and overwhelming the other girls on some high-level travel team with the bleachers filled with admiring parents and fans.

Ashlee reconnected with her in Middle School. Never close friends, but always friendly, they spent and survived the dreaded middle school years together. The arrival of their freshman year of high school sent them in different directions and to different schools again.

Today my phone vibrated in the midst of a weekly regular meeting and jarred my routine.  A text from Ashlee.

Shelby had taken her own life.

And the question that thankfully is rarely asked, but never ceases to shake me, rolled through my head again.  “What makes a 15-yr old girl become so lonely/angry/discouraged/scared/confused that she would see exit as the only solution?”

The answer is never completely clear or simple.  It’s always complicated and complex.
I pondered as well a devastated family and destroyed parents.

I prayed.

And in a year in which I’ve determined to live deliberately, I paused.

Parenting 101 instructs us to “Always Know Where Your Kids Are”. Today I realized that is more than a call to be a parental GPS, but rather to really KNOW. Where is their heart? Where are their thoughts? Where are their hurts? How are their dreams? What are their fears?

I need to know.  I always need to know.

And so we shoot baskets. Well, He shoots. I rebound. I pass it back. He shoots again.
I attempt to KNOW.

Perspective can come from the darkest of places.

Your One Word

•January 3, 2011 • 5 Comments

Stumbled onto this awesome thought/idea by Alece on her BLOG.  If you had to pick one word as your resolve / life word for the next year, what would it be?

I spent a bit of time pondering mine. I believe I have landed on … Deliberate. I want to slow my life down, slow my thinking down, slow my speaking down, slow my brain down and allow my life to percolate more. What have I missed from often failing to be DELIBERATE? What might I do differently if I lived in a more DELIBERATE fashion? Based on the words of Henry David Thoreau, “I wished to live deliberately” James puts it this way, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (Ja. 1:19).  DELIBERATE.

These questions hopefully will be answered in 2011 as I strive to keep this one word in front of my thoughts and prayers.

So…WHAT’S YOURS?  WHAT is it and WHY did you choose it?



•January 2, 2011 • 1 Comment

And so 2011 begins…

  • Snow. They’re talking snow possibly over the next couple days here in Vegas. If we get an inch, they may have to declare a snow day and shut everything down.
  • Starting off 2011 reading “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand.  Great true story of determination and survival centered around Louie Zamperini–a juvenile delinquent-turned-Olympic runner-turned-Army hero. If you’re looking for a read, recommend it.
  • Pondering doing the 13 mile Half-Marathon in San Diego in June of this year.
  • Had the best pizza I have had in over 20+ years in Vegas on Thursday night with some great friends at Grimaldi’s.  Heard they filter their water so it tastes like New York water…whatever the case, man it was amazing.
  • Something tells me the Packers could be dangerous in the playoffs starting next weekend. Problem is they are a road wild-card team that would have to win three games to just get to the Super  Bowl.
  • My wife and I are addicted to the show “Parenthood”. Not sure anyone else is watching, but for some reason it resonates with us.
  • Saw two movies last week.  True Grit: Thumbs up. Social Network (I know, a little late): Also Thumbs up. Is there anything better than movie popcorn?
  • Excited to re-start guys small group at our local PT’s Pub early Wednesday morning.  We’ll be reading “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. Always an awesome time and we have some newbees joining in.
  • Football playoffs / Bowl Games / College Basketball…great time of year.
  • Starting to prep for weekend speaking to our students at their Winter Retreat in the middle of Jan. Love hanging with students and spending a couple days in Utah will be awesome. We have some fantastic students at The Crossing.
  • New Favorite Thing: White Cheddar Popcorn. I keep stashing bags from Fresh N Easy in all the key locations of my life.  Awesome.

Everybody Is An Artist

•January 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been following Seth Godin’s blog for over a year now. I would encourage you to as well.  You can find it HERE.

Revisiting his book Lynchpin this week in kicking off the New Year.  “Everybody is an Artist.” You may have missed this one, but if you are looking for an early 2011 read – grab this one and prepare to be challenged.

A couple quotes:

“You work with people who are totally at the mercy of the resistance. They assist the devil by being his advocate in meetings. They follow the rule book, even parts you didn’t know about. They love what worked before and fear what might be coming. “

“Artists think along the edges of the box, because that’s where things get done.  That’s where the audience is, that’s where the means of production are (still) available, and that’s where you can make an impact. “

I don’t know what to do”—this one is certainly true. The question is, why does that bother you? No one actually knows what to do. Sometimes we have a hunch, or a good idea, but we’re never sure. The art of challenging the resistance is doing something when you’re not certain it’s going to work.”

“The linchpin is able to invent a future, fall in love with it, live in it—and then abandon it on a moment’s notice.”

    Grab it here if you are so inclined.

    Google Year In Review

    •January 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment