Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Finish your race in Christ’s footsteps

I don’t run. I just thought I’d put that out there. I have all these friends who are so into running, cross country, endurance, marathon. I’m glad they enjoy it, but that’s not an activity that I enjoy. It’s ironic, though, because while I don’t run for sport literally, I run through life figuratively. I’m one of those people who never stops moving. I’m always dashing about, up to my elbows in busyness, especially this time of year. But then I don’t think that’s just me.

Everyone is running a race of some kind. Everyone is seeking a goal in their life, no matter what it may be. It could be a big goal, an accomplishment that will change the world. Or it could be a “small” goal, one that will only matter to a few people–maybe even just you. But whatever the size of your goal and no matter how many people it will affect, there will be days when you won’t be up to achieving it, especially if your goal/dream is something that you want God to use to help others.

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Cubs baseball player running for first base at Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL

Today’s verses are Hebrews 12:1-3.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.

Running is hard work, especially the marathons and cross country races. Those events take time and discipline to prepare for and even more of both if you want to finish. If you sign up to run a cross country race or a marathon, you don’t get to take a nap in the middle of the race. If you’re going to run the race, you have to run it from start to finish without stopping.

I know a lot of runners, but none of my running friends have ever won a marathon. I’ve got a cousin who came pretty close, but everyone else I know doesn’t run a marathon to win. They run a marathon to finish. That’s not to say that you can’t run a race like a marathon with the goal to win, but I’m not really sure if that’s the reason to run a marathon. Remember, I don’t run. So I may be totally off course here. But marathon racing and cross country racing isn’t like sprints or 100-meter dashes. Long-distance running is all about endurance and focus.

It’s kind of like life, don’t you think? If you’re a follower of Christ, God has given you a race He wants you to run, and I guarantee it’s not a 100-meter dash. God doesn’t give us things to accomplish that only take a few minutes and a little bit of effort and faith. No. If God gives you something to do, I promise it will take more of you than you have access to, and the only way you’re going to get through it is with His help.

What we have to remember when we start running the race that God has set for us is that we’re not the only ones running it. There are many others around us who are running too. And, what’s more, Jesus already ran the race ahead of us. We have His example to draw from. We can run our races the same way He ran His.

It wasn’t easy for Him either, so don’t get into the habit of thinking that Jesus sailed through life because He was God. Nothing could be farther from the truth. He struggled just like we do with people and circumstances and the general trouble our old sinful world insists on throwing at us.

What I’ve noticed about racing–both literally and figuratively–is that the start of the race is the easy part. Sort of like the end. At the beginning, you’re fit and fresh and ready to go. At the end, you can see the finish line and you have hope that it will be over soon and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts. It’s the middle where people start struggling. It’s the middle where people give up.

Remember that. And when you hit the middle of your race, be on the lookout for discouragement and despair. You’ll wonder what you’re doing. You’ll wonder why you’re doing it. Just like a runner has to train for the middle span of a marathon, we need to prepare for the middle of our spiritual race so we’ll know how to make it through. And the key–as with everything else in life–is to watch Jesus. How did Jesus handle it? What did He say? How did He act? Follow His footsteps, and you can’t go wrong. And on the days when the trouble and the challenges you’re facing feel like too much, remember that He faced more issues than we do, and He’s right there with us offering His help if we’ll just ask for it.

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Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Making life make sense

I love the Bible. I love its stories. I love its characters. I love everything about it. But there’s so much more to Scripture than just stories about God and about people. I’ve always been amazed that when the Bible speaks about history or science, it’s never wrong. And, yes, the Bible does speak about science. It’s ironic how much science is actually in the Bible when so many people consider it to be unscientific. But that’s a post for another time.

The Bible is more than a book; it’s God’s Word. And everything in the Bible was written to help us. So I’m not sure where we got the idea that the Bible isn’t relevant to our culture. I’ve heard more than one person say it, known more than one person who think the Bible is outdated. And I’m not sure if it’s because they’ve only read the King James Version or if they’re just taking other people’s opinions for their own without looking into it themselves.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t make it through this life as a follower of Christ without trusting the Bible.

Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Handwritten poster of Psalm 19:8-10 in Kekchi on the wall of a church in Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verse is Romans 15:4.

Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.

The Bible is our road map, our instruction manual, and our life coach. It answers our questions, gives us insight to who God is, and reminds us what this life is actually all about. And if you want to know how to stay focused on living the right kind of life, knowing the Bible is essential.

The Bible is full of promises. On every page God makes a promise or refers back to a promise He already made that He will keep, and because the Bible reveals who God is, we can trust that God will keep those promises. True, He won’t do it when we expect it. Either He’ll wait “too long” or He’ll move “too fast” for us, but that’s just because God operates on His own timetable (which is superior to ours anyway).

I’m working on staying focused right now because my life is so crazy. With church, work, home, family, and personal things all piling up on top of each other, I feel like I’m treading water under Niagara Falls. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to get my head any further out of the water, and if I stop swimming, the force of everything is going to push me underneath the water until I drown.

When life gets that crazy (because I know I’m not the only one facing this sort of overwhelming flood of life right now), it’s easy to lose focus and just look out for yourself. It’s easier to just watch your own back. But God doesn’t allow all these things into our lives without reason, and He doesn’t expect us to face them alone either. He’s right there with us, and all we have to do is ask for His help. That’s what the Bible says. That’s what God has promised.

So, read the Bible. But don’t just read it randomly. Read the Bible with purpose. Read the Bible with expectation. Google verses on certain topics and then instead of just reading the one verse, read the whole chapter. Get books on topical Bible verses. I think a lot of times people just pick up a Bible and go to some random page and start reading and expect that God will provide the answers to their biggest questions. I suppose He could do it that way, but that’s not real seeking. That’s a lazy way of reading the Bible. Just opening to a page and reading and refusing to actually study? I’m not sure if God will honor that the way He would if you put some real effort into looking for your answers.

Get your Bible out today. Or go to a Bible site online. And when you start reading, tell God what you’re looking for. Whether you’re looking for an answer or just encouragement, I promise you’ll find it. God gave us Scripture to help us thrive in this life, to help us get to know Him, to give us the boost we need when life gets too heavy. The Bible is like a pair of glasses that are custom designed for your vision; it brings the world into focus.

Don’t try to make sense of life without it. Without Scripture, the world is fuzzy and blurry.

The old Roman road next to the remains of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Living for a day that may never come

Creative people are easily distracted. I’m speaking from personal experience. I can have every intention of focusing on one particular thing, and then I see something else (something shiny) and my whole focus goes out the window. And before I know it, I’m off on some rabbit trail that leads me around in circles, and I can’t even remember what I had intended to finish in the first place. Some people are born with focus in their DNA (like engineers), but for others, focus has to be learned and practiced.

The old Roman road next to the remains of Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

The old Roman road next to the remains of Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are Proverbs 4:25-27.

Look straight ahead,
    and fix your eyes on what lies before you.
Mark out a straight path for your feet;
    stay on the safe path.
Don’t get sidetracked;
    keep your feet from following evil.

The practicality of the Bible always amazes me. It shouldn’t by now, but I think I’m just awed that God cares about our daily lives so much that He would include things like this. It’s good advice.

How often do we get sidetracked? How often do we wander off the obvious road to try to make it down a path we think is better? How often does our gaze deviate from where we should be looking? I hate to admit it, but for me, the answer is frequently.

I don’t have much trouble with looking back, honestly. I try not to live with regrets, but when it comes to looking forward, I tend to look sideways. I focus on what’s way out in front of me rather than what’s straight ahead. I focus on what I think is coming ten years down the road instead of what’s coming tomorrow. And that’s not necessarily bad, but when you live your life planning for ten years from now, the things that are happening today don’t get done.

We all have opportunities in our lives. I’m sure all of us will have opportunities in our lives ten years from now too, but opportunities ten years from now will be shaped by how you handle the opportunities at your feet today. You can’t plan for what’s coming on the other side of the hill because you can’t see it yet.

Instead, focus on what’s right at your feet. Focus on what you can do today. Maybe it’s not as much fun. Maybe it’s not as glamorous. But if it’s in your path, it’s for you to accomplish, and you’ll learn something from it. Make the choice to deal with what’s in front of you before you start daydreaming about ten years down the road.

I’m not saying to forget about the future. That’s foolish. Planning for the future is wise. But there’s a big difference between planning for what might happen and living your life as though you know what will happen. The future matters, but today matters more because today is the foundation of tomorrow.

So stay on the road. Walk straight. Keep moving forward. Don’t get distracted. You’ll get over the hill to the other side eventually, but when you first see the hill you’re not ready for it. You’ve got to deal with the obstacles in your path first. Then, you’ll be ready to face what’s on the other side.

None of us know the future. We can assume certain things will happen, and we can dream, for sure. But living for the future doesn’t help you with today. And if you live for a day that may never come, what has your life been about?

Sunset through the apricot trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sometimes darkness clings

If you’ve followed Christ for any amount of time, you have probably encountered some aspects of spiritual warfare. As children of God, we have an enemy who hates us and wants to cause us pain, who wants to make us walk away from the plans God has for our lives. And there are times when we are more open and vulnerable to attack, but in those times God shows His strength through us, kind of like what I blogged about yesterday.

And while it is quite exciting to think that we have access to that kind of strength, we need to remember beyond anything else that we can’t beat the darkness by ourselves.

Sunset through the apricot trees - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset through the apricot trees – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 13:12.

The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.

This is one of my favorite verses in Scripture. It doesn’t sound as dashing in the New Living Translation as it does in the New King James, honestly; the New King James makes it sound epic … like something out of Lord of the Rings. But this is probably more practical in actually understanding what Paul is talking about.

But even this translation is full of metaphor. Removing our dark deeds like dirty clothes? Putting on an armor? Sorry. I don’t think I have one of those lying around. If I did, I think I’d know about it, no matter how dirty my house might be.

So what on Earth is Paul saying? For the most practical explanation, though, I think the Message says it clearest:

Romans 13:11-14 (The Message)

But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

Here’s the deal, Christians. We don’t have a lot of time left. God has been patient for a very long time and has extended chance after chance for the world to turn to Him. Even America. We have had countless chances to give up our futile pursuits of personal pleasure and self-entitlement. God’s patience will wear out soon.

But remember, Romans is written to Christians. Paul is talking to believers in this passage. Christians, we need to wake up. We need to pay attention to what God is doing around us. And we need to get rid of the darkness in our lives, no matter what form it takes. If it’s negativity, get rid of it. If it’s complaining or griping, get rid of it. If it’s impure thinking (the full range from sex to gossip), get rid of it.

Like every other morning, I’m talking to myself. I struggle when I’m exhausted. I can get easily discouraged by the darkness I see all around me, by people who should know better, by people who don’t know better, and by people who don’t care either way. And sometimes it feels like the darkness of our world is like a sticky black tar that clings to us, and nothing we do can get it to release us.

That’s where the metaphor comes in. I don’t have an armor lying around my house, but God has given me a metaphorical armor when He sent His Holy Spirit to live in me. When the darkness in this world gets to be too much, remember that we’re not fighting this battle alone. Stop focusing on the ground you’re losing and focus on the truth – God’s already won and you don’t have to give in to the darkness. If you’re a Christian, you’re already wearing an armor of light; you just may not be using it.

So … use it.

We don’t have any light in us without Christ. So how can we push the darkness back without Him? We can’t. So why are we trying? Why are we throwing Bible verses at people when our lives don’t match what Scripture says? Why are we doing good works when our hearts aren’t motivated by our faith?  Why are we trying to make a difference in the world on our own? It doesn’t work.

Stop trying to fight the darkness in your own strength. You will lose. And when you accept that, you can accept help. That’s how you use your armor of light. You ask God for help.

God gives us strength, not just to endure, not just to keep going, but to live and to live right. We don’t have to be negative. We don’t have to be discouraged. We don’t have to complain or gripe. We don’t have to subsist on impure thoughts and gossip and whatever else slows us down. God’s Spirit — our Armor — gives us the strength and the power to stand up against all that.

When the darkness clings to you, remember you have an armor of light. So start using it. And pay attention. Stop wasting time chasing things that don’t matter; stop wasting time focusing on what you don’t have or what you don’t know or what you can’t control. Plug in. Get busy. There’s lots to do and not much time left to do it, and it doesn’t matter where you are because the workers are few and there’s a lot of field to harvest.

So if you don’t have an armor, get one. And if you’ve got one, start using it before it’s too late.

Path through the wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

God will give us more than we can handle alone.

Sometimes I feel like God trusts me too much. I don’t think He understands how fragile I am some days, and those seem to be the days when He gives me more emotional trauma than I can handle. And I get frustrated with Him. Because if He really knew how much I was going through, wouldn’t He take it easy on me?

Path through the wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Path through the wheat - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 10:12-13.

If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall. The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.

This is one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible. For starters, people usually miss the parts of this verse that really matter. I’m not sure if it’s just because of other translations, but many Christians interpret this verse to mean that God won’t give you more than you can handle.

That’s not what this verse says. That’s not even what this verse is about.

This verse is about temptation. And what Paul is saying here is that everyone experiences temptation. No matter who you are or how long you have followed Christ, you will be tempted to sin. Why? Because we have an enemy and because that enemy wants to make trouble in our lives, so he is going to do everything he can to see that we struggle.

But according to this verse, when we are tempted, God is faithful to help us. When we are tempted to do things we know are wrong, God will provide a way for us to fight back or to escape. He won’t let us be tempted beyond what we can handle.

No where in Scripture does it say that God won’t give us more than we can handle. Life is more than we can handle. That’s why we have God. So why does God insist on giving me issues and problems on the days when I’m too weak to handle them?

Because He does know me.

He knows that I’m a control freak. He knows that I’m a fixer. He knows that I am an insufferable people pleaser. So He allows things into my life to remind me that I don’t have control over any of it. Because the more I try to control my life, the faster I’m going to lose it (Mark 8:35).

It’s easy to focus on everything that is going wrong in your life because it’s directly in front of you. It’s an inescapable truth you have to face every day when you look in the mirror. And if you’re a perfectionist, all you will see is your failures. Your flaws. The times you could have succeeded but didn’t.

But instead of focusing on everything that’s wrong, maybe we should try focusing on what’s right. Because no matter how bad we think we have it, there is always something to be thankful for. Maybe I’m not where I thought I would be at this point in my life, but that doesn’t mean God’s done with me. Maybe I haven’t accomplished all the things I wanted to accomplish yet, but that doesn’t mean those things won’t happen tomorrow or next week.

Putting God on your timetable is always a bad idea. He invented time. So He’s not bound by it, and He moves at His own pace.

So when everything blows up today (and it probably will), instead of wondering why God is throwing all this crap at me at once when I don’t have the strength to keep standing anymore, I’m going to focus on the fact that He’s the one holding me up to begin with.

Yes, He’s giving me more than I can take by myself. But I’m not by myself.