Thursday, November 20, 2014


The second to last day of October I was less than two miles from home and nearing the end of my run when I felt something distinctly unpleasant in my left hamstring.  It caught me by surprise, as I hadn't done anything unusual.  No sprinting.  No stepping on a rock and getting thrown off balance.  I just put my left foot on the ground and it hurt, when all had been well as recently as the previous step.

It wasn't a passing sensation, as it quickly developed into a small, but sharp pain.  I glanced to the north, at Archuleta Mesa.  I had been planning to run to the top of the mesa the next day and I knew that was completely out of the question now, not just for the day, but likely for the season, as winter weather was approaching.

So I cut back on my miles, stretched my leg, perhaps a bit more often and with more diligence than usual, and gradually my left leg improved from having sensations of pain, to more of a dull ache, to feeling normal.  And just in time, because there was a short race in town last week that I had been hoping to run.

I ran the race, and was surprised to have one of my best efforts of the year.  And the next day, being very undecided about my running plans as I left the house, I headed west, to the river.  It is downhill heading out and uphill coming back, a round trip of just under nine miles.  And, somewhere along the way, I developed an ache in my right hamstring. 

Just an ache.  No big deal.  But in the last few days, with short runs and aggressive stretching, it seems to be worse, and not better.  What was it I did that helped the identical injury in the other leg get better?  I don't know.  I recall a bit of massage, compression and ibuprofen.  Were they the key?  I have no idea. 

When it comes to running and recurrent injuries, this is, unfortunately, a common occurrence for me.  I rarely seem to be able to recall what it was that aided my recovery the last time I had a particular injury.  And, also unfortunately, it is a malady that in known to affect my spiritual life, something that I was reminded of as Robin and I read from Judges 2 the other night.  Verses 10 and 11 say this:

"And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.  And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals."

The generation that had followed the Lord during the conquest of the Promised Land has passed from the scene and their children, who appear to either have no knowledge of God, or an unwillingness to follow Him, or both, are quickly about the business of doing evil in the sight of God. 

What catches my eye in the story is the abrupt nature of the change in behavior by those who were called as God's chosen people.  They appear to be going along just fine one moment and then, like my sore hamstring, they are derailed in the next.  And that happens in my own spiritual life as well. 

Going along just fine, attending to those things I know are good for me, such as reading my Bible, prayer and worship, and then in the next moment making a choice that I know, as I'm making it, is against everything God would have any of His children choose.  And with that knowledge then going on to make another bad choice, and another.  A 21st century version of the same things done by God's people in their promised land.   It is as if I have forgotten all that God has taught me.

Thankfully, my forgetfulness isn't the last word.  God's faithfulness is.  God, who reminds me through His Spirit, that I am His, claimed by the price of His Own Son, and held by Him forever.  God, who never has, and never will, fail to show mercy to a dearly loved child who turns back towards Him.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Yesterday was Veterans Day and we were at the Grand Canyon National Park.  We live about 370 miles from the canyon and had made an overnight trip there to be able to spend a day with one of our older daughters and her children. 

After breakfast I was waiting outside the lodge while our grandchildren and our youngest daughter played together.  I was wearing a sweatshirt bearing the name of the ship I served on while in the US Navy, and a hat from an outfitter in the boundary waters of Minnesota and Canada.  And that was when someone came up to me asking me to show him on a map how to get from the lodge to the canyon.  He said that he thought I worked there.

In my head I thought, "What is it about my appearance that suggests I work at the Grand Canyon?  Navy sweatshirt?  Outfitter hat?  Not even an employee nametag.  Anything?"  I kept all of that inside, glanced at the map, which I didn't quite understand myself, gestured with my hand and said, "The canyon is that way.  You can’t miss it."

And that got me to thinking about appearances and how we take care to present ourselves publicly in a particular way, a way that may or may not be an accurate representation of who we really are.  I had made a conscious choice to wear my Navy sweatshirt on Veterans Day, in part to obtain any benefits that might have been available to veterans at the canyon or on the way home.  I did wind up having some conversations with other vets I met at the canyon, but that was all that came as a result of my clothing choice.

But of infinite more importance than how I appear on the outside is my inside appearance, or the condition of my heart.  In calling out the Pharisees for their diligence in outward appearances and neglect of the state of their heart, Jesus says this in Matthew 23:25-26:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean."

Jesus is telling the Pharisees that they need to pay attention to what is going inside of them first, and then the outside will take care of itself.  He may have been speaking to the Pharisees, but when I read those words I know that He is also talking to me. 

Just before that section of Matthew, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He replied:

"And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

There is a way that I really want to present myself to the world, and that is as a servant of Jesus, my Savior and Lord.  I could do that in a begrudging way, because I felt that I have to, even though I may not want to. 

Or…I could first love the Lord my God, with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind.  Loving God first is what will truly let my actions show His beauty and goodness to  the world.  And it is His appearance, not mine, that is of infinite value.   

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Where is your center?

One of the stories in the news yesterday was the death of Brittany Maynard.  She was the young woman who earlier this year had been diagnosed with a very aggressive brain cancer.  As her cancer advanced she moved to Oregon with the intent of using means that are legal in that state to end her life in the time and manner of her own choosing, rather than face death in the increasing grip of her illness, and the very real pain and suffering that would come with it.  Maynard's plans were first in the news about three weeks ago and over the weekend she followed through on them.   

Maynard had a terrible illness, one that would quickly end a life that just one year ago seemed to be so full of potential and promise.  She knew that cancer would bring pain and suffering not just to her, but also to those who loved her and would be with her through to her life's end.  She chose to use the option that is called "death with dignity."

In one article online Maynard posted this in her final message on her Facebook page: "The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!"

According to the report I read online from CNN, her last words were: "It is people who pause to appreciate life and give thanks who are happiest. If we change our thoughts, we change our world! Love and peace to you all."

I have been reading and pondering these stories of Brittany Maynard at the same time I have been reading and pondering the Bible passage I am preaching from this week.  I have been preaching through First Peter and this Sunday will be the conclusion, 1 Peter 5:6-14.  As I reflect on the intersection of this news story and this scripture two verses stand out.  The first is verse 8, where Peter writes,

"Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."

And secondly are Peter's closing words, in verse 14:

"Peace to all of you who are in Christ."

The story of the last year of  the life of Brittany Maynard is a tragic one.  A young woman, newly married and with what appeared to be so much to look forward to.  All of that potential taken by cancer, and for what purpose?  That is a question that I can’t answer.  I am a pastor and believe that God has purposes in all things, but there are times when I can't clearly determine what they are.  This is one of those times.

Peter's words in verse 8 remind me that in places where we can't clearly see what God is up to we can be easily led astray by God's enemy.  The shadows hide danger that is very real.  It is easy for us to read Maynard's final words and to think that they are words of comfort and peace to those who cared for her, and that they offer parting wisdom to the world.  While they may sound nice to our ears and perhaps bring a sense of order to our minds they offer no comfort to our souls.  They are words that are rooted in the belief that each of us is the center of our own world.  And this is the basic lie that the person Peter calls "your adversary the devil" desperately wants us to believe. 

As his letter reaches the end Peter has given his readers a final warning, but he doesn’t just end there.  His last words bring us back to the truth.  They bring us to God's truth.  In the end, peace is to be found in Christ. Lasting peace is found in Christ, and nowhere else.

We can have peace in Christ when He is our center.  It is a peace we can know now, no matter what the circumstances of our life might be at the moment, and it is a peace that will be everlasting.  May His peace be the center of your life.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.