Saturday, October 29, 2011


‎”26.2 club ....checked it off the bucket list.” This was my daughter’s Facebook post just a couple Sundays ago after she completed her first marathon. It’s always interesting to me what people put on their bucket list (the list of things they want to do before they die). Bucket list entries usually fall into one of three categories: places to travel (“I want to spend two weeks on a Hawaiian beach”), something adventurous (“I want to skydive”), or a significant accomplishment (“I want to complete a marathon”). I don’t know what else is on Kari’s bucket list, but I know that she just knocked off a huge accomplishment as an athlete. Less than 1% of the population has completed a marathon—which is interesting because most marathon experts believe that just about anyone can do it . . . if they submit and stay committed to a tested training regimen. . . if they stay injury free. . .and they adapt their nutritional habits to build muscles and stamina. The simple reason why 99% of us have never run 26.2 miles is because we are just unwilling to endure the training.

Our whole family gathered near the finish line to cheer Kari on at the end. We all hoped to see her healthy and strong after four hours of running. But as she approached, I found her in my camera lens. As I zoomed in, I could tell immediately that she was struggling. Her face was an eerie gray color, her shoulders were drooped, and her legs, though carrying her forward, were struggling with every step. As she passed by, we called her name, cheering her to the finish. She didn’t seem to acknowledge us as she passed with a very glassy look in her eyes. Later, she told us that she heard us but didn’t have an ounce of energy to turn her head. We caught up to her after she crossed the finish line. I yelled again to her, “Way to go, Kari!” I was hoping for a big smile, a thumbs up, or a victor’s hand raise; but instead, she just shook her head with a look that I interpreted as disappointment. I thought, “She looks like she’s regretting this whole thing.”

Once she got warmer clothes and some nutrition in her system, she started to talk about the race. She talked about hitting “the wall” at mile 18 and how “the wall” lasted for over 5 miles. Her pace had slowed dramatically as fatigue was doing a number on her physically and emotionally. At mile 23, she broke down in tears as she was completely spent. But in the final three miles, she was able to push through and pick up her pace at the end. I waited a few minutes to ask her about her time. I knew she had some time goals and was curious if she had met them. I said, “So, through all of this, are you happy with your time?” She looked down at her watch and with the first smile I had seen she said, “Dad, I killed it!” She had beaten her goal by over 15 minutes. A few days later, her aunt asked her on Facebook, “So would you do it again?” Her reply, “Initially, I say no… but the idea is slowly growing.”

Perseverance is a virtue that God loves to see displayed in us when life gets long and hard. As a matter of fact, Jesus commended the church in Philadelphia for obeying his commandment to persevere. Did you know that God commands us to patiently endure? The church in Philadelphia had gone through some incredible trials: their city had been devastated numerous times with earthquakes, and their people had been persecuted over and over because of their commitment to God. Jesus says, “You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and didn’t deny me.” You stayed on course. You kept your feet moving. “Hold on to what you have, so no one can take away your crown.” Hold on! Run with hope for something good at the end. It will be worth it all.

When Kari left the starting line for her marathon, she knew with certainty how long the race was and how her training had prepared her for this endeavor. Unfortunately, life’s marathons (relationship, financial, health and depression marathons) don’t always come with clear training logs or a finish time. We’re just asked to patiently endure with hope. Those who finish a marathon of any sort, finish because of hope. They are able to look past the pain and strive toward the day when they will find rest, encouragement, nourishment, relief, and joy again. People with hope have a conviction that when they patiently endure, somehow it is worth it all and there is something good to be found at the end.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wake Up

When they were younger, two of my three kids were mild sleepwalkers. On any given night, Janice and I would be sitting in the living room watching TV or reading, and we’d hear a bedroom door open. Normally, one of our kids would walk down the hallway rubbing their eyes, and we’d hear a request for a drink of water or comfort from a bad dream. We’d give them whatever they needed and walk them back to bed. But on those few sleepwalking nights, their demeanor was much different and very strange to watch. We would hear their door open but instead of hearing them walk down the hall to us, we just hear them walking around. So, one of us would get up to see what was happening and we would find our child walking aimlessly or standing in some part of the house. We’d ask, “Hey, what are you doing up?” Often they would answer, but it would be a bit off topic and somewhat incoherent. Because they looked awake, it would take a minute for us to realize that our child was sleepwalking. Their eyes would be open, their legs and feet were moving their bodies, their hands were opening doors and picking up things, and they would communicate. But when we watched carefully, we would notice their eyes were unfocused and glassy, they were walking without purpose, and their communication was not clear or helpful. Gently, we’d lead them back to bed.

Have you ever wondered what happens in the brain of a sleepwalker? Here’s an explanation I pulled off the internet.

There is a 'sleep center' present in the brain which controls the sleeping and the waking of the body. When you sleep, the sleep center blocks off a part of the brain so that it goes to sleep and does not perform any action and it also blocks off certain nerves that brings in the messages to the brain thereby allowing your body to go to sleep. Generally, the sleep center and the body are connected but at times they can separate. Under such conditions, while the brain goes to sleep, the body remains awake. The people suffering from this condition sit up in their sleep or stand near the bed. Some even go about for a stroll but do not remember this incident later. (

As common as sleepwalking is to kids, I think there may be a more common adult condition that can be called “spiritual sleepwalking.” Like the “sleep center” in the brain, we have a “worship center” in our soul. Its purpose is to connect the heart, the mind, and the body to engage God. Too often the heart is disconnected from the mind and body. Here are some possible symptoms of spiritual sleepwalking:

1. You mouth the words of songs and prayers in church without your heart engaging the meaning of the words.

2. Your mind drifts to other thoughts and plans when a friend is sharing something significant, heartfelt, or vulnerable. Your ears hear the words, your head nods politely, but your heart doesn’t connect or respond.

3. You eat your food, drive your car, and enjoy the safety and comfort of your home without speaking words of gratitude.

4. Your relationship with your spouse seems more like that of a roommate than a passionate companion.

5. Your Bible needs a good dusting.

If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms in the past, know that you’re not the first to spiritually sleepwalk.

To the church in Sardis, Jesus wrote,
…I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up!

Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. Revelation 3.1b-3a

Questions to ponder:
1. Is there anything growing stale in your spiritual life that needs a breath of fresh air?
2. Do your relationships feel vibrant and alive or dry and routine?
3. What’s your delight factor in Scripture?
4. When you pray, do you truly believe that God is listening and cares?

Let today be the day you allow something sleepy in you to wake up!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Three Guys

Here are three stories of guys tempted to stray and how they’ve responded to the wayward pull.

Guy #1

I’ll call him Jim to protect the guilty. I had not met Jim until we had lunch together. His small group leader had connected us because, as Jim’s leader said, “He really needs to talk to a pastor about the decisions he’s making.” Jim agreed to meet with me. Honestly, it was an awkward conversation but once I asked a few direct questions, Jim became very honest about his situation. As we started into our sandwiches, he said, “So… there’s this woman.” Jim was a married man; I could tell “this woman” was not his wife. I probed for more details and he was remarkably forth coming. He had met her at an on-going social activity. She was very attractive and gave him lots of attention. She was married as well and they had found their struggling marriages to be something in common. When I asked him if his new relationship had become physical, he confessed to being involved in a full-blown affair. I confronted him with the biblical truth about adultery. Without excuse, he acknowledged this was against God’s way of living. But it was clearly evident that he was unwilling to end the affair and pursue his wife. He had finally found what he always really wanted and he was willing to face the pain and consequences to pursue his new found passion. He left our lunch together early.

Guy #2
We’ll call him Joe to protect the innocent. Joe called me and asked to have lunch. I got the sense from our phone conversation that he wanted to talk about something significant. I was right. As we started into our sandwiches, he said, “So… there’s this woman.” When I probed for details, he was remarkably forthcoming. He met this other woman at an ongoing social activity for his kids. Her kids did the same activities as his and they, as parents, were deeply involved in this venture. She was very attractive and gave him a lot of attention. He wasn’t looking for an affair but her presence and affirming words were making him feel things he hadn’t felt in a long time. His marriage was struggling and he suspected hers was as well. “What should I do?” he asked. “I’m afraid if I pursue this, it won’t end well. But, I’m so drawn to her.” We spent our time talking about practical ways to create distance with this woman. We then chatted about new ways he could pursue his wife. Our friendship continues today and his marriage is improving.

Guy #3
A year ago this week, I got a call that my dad had passed way. He was a man of faithfulness, integrity and principle who had served as a pastor for 56 years. He was also a man who loved to share his faith with anyone who would listen. God had taken him quickly and peacefully.

A couple of years previous to his passing, a woman living in his assisted living facility asked to speak with him. She was in the mid-stages of Alzheimer’s and her days were a combination of mental sharpness and debilitating confusion. She was struggling to remember some important tenants of her faith that she had believed all her life. She wanted dad’s help to understand who God was in her life as her mental capacity was slipping away from her. Dad agreed to meet with her in his room but told her that she needed to bring a friend because he couldn’t meet with a woman alone. It was a principle that dad had lived by for over 60 years. When I heard that, I thought, “Really, dad? You’re 93 years old. What do you think could happen?” That didn’t matter to dad. He had chosen principles of protection years ago and he refused to stray from them.

In our discussion of the seven churches in Revelation, we come to the fourth church: Thyatira. Thyatira seems to be a church whose people are split in how they will live out their faith. There are people who had once been known for their deeds of love, service, and perseverance but had been seduced into an “anything goes” theology of living. Some had given into a lifestyle of sexual immorality, thinking they could have their faith in Christ and still engage in immoral relationships. To them he says to repent or grave consequences will follow. Jesus points out those who had been faithful; to them he says, “only hold onto what you have until I come.” Stay on track! Keep doing what is good and right! Nothing new—just keep being faithful.

Questions to ponder:
1. Are you rationalizing sinful behaviors, patterns, or habits? Do you have a foot in both worlds?
2. Do you believe the biblical warning that consequences will follow sin?
3. Do you long for God’s smile and approval in your life? Will you pursue a heart of faithfulness?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Art of Deception

I’m a big Detroit Tigers fan—have been since I was 10 years old. This is only the fourth time in my lifetime that the Tigers are playing the post-season; so I’m enjoying every moment, whether they win or lose. I’m not only a big fan of baseball but I’m also a high school coach. So when I watch the best players in the world play on the big stage, I tend to study their approach, their strategy, and how they handle given situations. Though baseball is played on a fairly large field, much of the game centers near a 60 foot, 6 inch stretch between the pitcher and batter. Anything that happens on the field is determined by what happens when the ball is thrown to the plate. Over the years, I’ve bumped into people who really hate watching this aspect of the game. They call it slow and boring because players have the tendency to do things to cause the fans to wait. Both hitters and pitchers do a lot of thinking, tugging, and scratching before they step on to the pitching rubber or into the batter’s box.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate what’s happening in these slow moments of the game. In these tedious moments a plot of deception is being crafted. The pitcher is scheming how he’ll use his arsenal of pitches to fool the hitter to fail. One of the Tigers pitchers, Justin Verlander (the best in baseball this year), has three effective pitches. His fastball often travels over 100 mph, the fastest in the game. He also throws a big bending curveball that looks like it’s coming high and inside but it ends low and outside. His other “money pitch” is a change-up. This pitch is the ultimate deceiver because it looks like a fastball coming out of his hand but it can be 10-15 mph slower. The hitter, fooled into thinking the ball is traveling 100 mph, will swing early, missing or hitting a weak ground ball. Good pitchers are good liars.

The hitter, on the other hand, is trying to predict or plan for the deception. Good hitters are able to hit any pitch… if they know what’s coming. But since this is not the case, good hitters have to understand how good pitchers deceive. So they study pitching patterns and they look for tendencies that could reveal what type of pitch is coming. That’s what’s happening in those nervous moments between every pitch. The pitcher is planning his deception and the hitter is trying to anticipate what’s coming.

In baseball, the art of deception is fun to see in action. In the series between the Tigers and the Yankees, crowds of over 40,000 people hang on every pitch. But in life, navigating through the art of deception can be tough and the outcome can be devastating. Each day, whether we realize it or not, someone, Satan, is attempting to deceive us. He uses powerful things that look like a 100 mph fastball. But, he can also throw a nasty change-up to knock us off balance.

This week in the sermon series, The Seven Churches of Revelation, we’ll look at a church called Pergamum. Jesus describes the city as being Satan’s city, inferring that this is the town he lives in. I think this is his way of saying, “Satan runs this place. He owns it.” The way Satan got such a deep foothold in this community is through deception. In the church in Pergamum, he’s deceived many of the people into ways of idolatry and immorality. Idolatry is placing anything above God. Satan has convinced them that the One True God is not enough and that there are other gods that need their attention and their allegiance. And in their idolatry, they became immoral, engaging sexually beyond what God had intended. In essence, they’ve believed the lies of Satan that God is not enough and that he is holding back.

Not everyone in the church was fooled by the big bending curveballs of Satan. Jesus commends them, “I know that you live in the city where Satan has his throne, yet you remain true to me. You refused to deny me…” Revelation 2.13 NLT

The art of deception is making something false appear to be true. It’s making something bad look good. If Satan were to play baseball, he’d be a Hall of Fame pitcher. He’s a master deceiver. He has a way of making ugly, destructive things look attractive, beautiful, and life-giving. But, there’s good news. We have the Holy Spirit in us to help us distinguish between a fastball and a curveball— between truth and a lie. When we a walk in step with the Spirit, we can see a lie coming and knock it out of the park.

Some questions to ponder today:

1. Are you recognizing the lies that Satan is spewing in our culture?

2. Where are your weak or vulnerable points? Where are you susceptible to being deceived?

3. Jesus closes his note by saying, “Anyone who has ears to hear must listen to the Spirit…” How are you listening to the Holy Spirit? Are you quiet enough to hear him? Remember, Satan’s lies scream loudly, but the Spirit whispers.