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More than Basketball: Why the Kings Staying in Sacramento Matters to Me

For many years when I was a kid my dad shared Sacramento Kings season tickets with three other guys. That meant each year he would get tickets to ten games, and of those ten games I would get to go to four or five (one of the drawbacks of having siblings).

And when I was growing up those days were high holy days as far as I was concerned. There were few things I looked forward to more than going to those games, and it’s funny to think about the snapshots from those nights that have remained through the years.

I remember sitting in the nosebleeds in the early years. I remember hoping the coach would put in Joe Kleine- a 7-foot white guy who only played when the game was decided, but who inexplicably had become my favorite player.

I remember asking my dad all sorts of silly questions about what was and was not allowed in basketball, reflecting my overly-literal interpretation of the rule stating defenders weren’t allowed to touch each other (Can they do thiiiiiiis????).

I remember when we finally got to move down to section 108 and sit behind the basket in the lower bowl. We were still 25 rows up or so, but it felt like we were court side.

I remember one game against the Dallas Mavericks went into double overtime. Walt Williams made a running shot down the lane at the buzzer to win the game, and the place went bonkers.

I remember another game against the Miami Heat. Mitch Richmond hit a three-point shot from the corner to tie the game at 98 at the end of the first overtime, and the Kings went on to win.

I remember bringing three one dollar bills to the arena because there was a place on the concourse where you could pay three dollars, shoot three free throws, and if you made two in a row you got to take the ball home (Looking back on it, the ball was likely not worth three dollars, but to seven year-old me that didn’t matter).

I remember the time when I was very young when we got half way to the arena before my dad realized he’d forgotten the tickets. We only saw about half of the game against the Celtics that night.

I remember if the game wasn’t on a school night Dad would let us stay for the post-game interview on center court. I’m not sure why I thought it was so cool, but I sure did.

I remember going to a playoff game my senior year of high school. We had long since given up our season tickets, and I thought I was much too cool to care about the Kings anymore, but I went anyways. I can summarize the experience by saying I later wrote a column for my school paper entitled “Best Fans in the NBA Provide Real Entertainment at NBA Playoff Game”. The Arco thunder was loud that night, and it gave me goosebumps. There is something special about hearing the Sacramento crowd roar.

More than anything, I remember Kings games being a time to hang out with my dad, to talk on the way to and from the games, to pester him with my silly questions about basketball, and to make memories together. My dad has talked about how those games- and all of those experiences rooting on the Kings together- were great memories for him as well.

And that’s what I was thinking about yesterday, as I was sitting in a coffee shop in Carmichael. I was working, but I couldn’t help but take a break to listen to the commissioner’s press conference where he announced the Kings wouldn’t be moving.

I listened as a fan, but more than that, I listened as a dad.

I listened as a dad whose oldest son is only now able to say “basketball” when he sees basketball on TV.

I listened as a dad dreaming of years in the future when I would get to take my boys to Kings games. I listened as a dad dreaming of sitting on the couch with my boys- cheering on our team, suffering through loses together. I listened as a dad who remembered what the Kings meant to him and his dad growing up, as one who remembered how many conversations took place while watching the Kings together.

And so for me, the Kings staying is about much more than basketball. It’s about fathers and their sons, me with my boys, families learning together to take pride in their team and their community. After moving back to town this summer, I made it to four games this year- three with my dad and one with my brother. Each time I saw mothers and fathers with their young kids. I saw the looks on those kids’ faces as they sat next to their parents and watched their heroes on the court.

It looked very familiar.

So there are surely more important things I will teach my boys than how to root for our crummy basketball team.

I will teach them about God and about life and about how to get along with people and about how to love difficult people and how to pray and about the sort of girls they should date and not date and about how to throw a baseball and how to get into college and how to bounce back from disappointment and a million other things.

Conversations about those things will happen at the dinner table and on the hiking trails and in the family room and in the backyard.

But I anticipate many of those conversations happening in the car, on our way to a Kings game.

That’s why the Kings staying in town matters to me.

 

On Knowing God’s Will (Or Not)

When faced with major decisions in my life I have had a really difficult time “figuring out” God’s will.

In fact, nothing has caused me to doubt my own spiritual maturity more than the difficulty I have had in this area.

I cannot think of a single major decision I have made with absolute certainty that I was doing the “right” thing.

Where should I go to college?

Do I take the job in Oceanside and go to seminary in L.A., or do I move back east for seminary?

Should I get married? Is she “the one”? 

Do I take the job in L.A. or the job in Santa Barbara?

Do I quit my job and move back to Roseville, or should we stay in Santa Barbara?

Those are all questions I have wrestled with during my adult life. I immersed myself in prayer in search of clarity. I studied the Scriptures. When choosing between schools or jobs I made “pro” and “con” lists.

And while those exercises were helpful, I was asking for clarity and getting a fog.

In every one of those cases I ultimately had to make a decision.

There was some fear involved, there was some uncertainty involved, and there was some trust involved.

But I would be lying if I said there was no frustration involved. I wanted clarity on major life decisions, God didn’t give it to me. I felt I was doing my part, and God wasn’t doing his (or so I thought).

I really felt like I needed to know God’s will before I could make those decisions, but in every case knowing his will was elusive.

Several years as a pastor have confirmed I’m hardly the only one who has had this experience. I’ve met  folks who have felt clarity from God in the face of major decisions, but they are a small minority. Far more common are people just like me: people paralyzed by indecision and seeking clarity from God.

My own experience and my experience as a pastor has caused me to return to the Scriptures seeking to better understand God’s will- and the extent to which I can expect it to be revealed to me.

I have come to realize that while making these decisions I was seeking the wrong thing from God.

I wanted him to make my decision for me, when he has given me a brain to use to make decisions myself. I cannot look to his Word for absolute clarity about who to marry, what job to take, or what city to live in. Instead, I can submit myself to him as best I can, and then make a decision.

Now before you write me off as some sort of faithless heretic, hear me out. God gives instructions that can be used in making decisions, but it is rare that he makes non-ethical decisions totally clear. Consider the following verses:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what  is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” -Romans 12:1-2

These verses contain three commands and a promise. The commands: 1) Make your life a living sacrifice, 2) Do not be conformed to the world, 3) Renew your mind (and be transformed by doing so. The promise is that in doing these things we will be able to discern the will of God.

So then, discerning the will of God is less about getting clarity in specific situations and more about the daily practice of forming ourselves into the sort of people who can know God and his commands, and act with freedom within those commands.

In other words, I believe as we continuously submit ourselves to God, as we continue to study the Scriptures, as we continue to engage in Christian community, we will grow into the sort of people who are more likely to make God-honoring decisions. Then when it comes to making decisions we need not wait for absolute clarity. Instead we can act with freedom knowing that our chief end in all of our decisions is the glory of God. With moral decisions, typically we can look to the Scriptures for clear instruction. With non-moral decisions we can have freedom, knowing we need not fear stepping out of God’s will with our decision.

Other verses give us similar insight into God’s will. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 tells us God’s will is our sanctification. Colossians 1:9-10 tells us that the purpose of knowing God’s will is so we may “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” and that we might “bear fruit in every good work” and “increase in the knowledge of God.” There isn’t much in those verses about whether my family should live in Santa Barbara or Roseville.

That means when it comes to making decisions we can pray, study Scripture, seek counsel, and then act with confidence, knowing that we need not receive absolute clarity from God before we can act. If we are walking with God, there is no reason to be paralyzed by fear of making a wrong decision.

 

 

What Jesus Did Not Say About Loving Your Enemies

Jesus did not say:

Love your enemies, unless they annoy you.

Love your enemies, unless they have wronged you.

Love your enemies, unless they are demanding and unreasonable.

Love your enemies, unless you would rather post mean articles about them on Facebook.

Love your enemies, unless they come from a different denomination.

Love your enemies, unless they are rich.

Love your enemies, unless they are poor.

Love your enemies, unless they are Republicans.

Love your enemies, unless they are Democrats.

Love your enemies, unless it costs you something.

Love your enemies, unless they wish do to you harm.

Love your enemies, unless it will make your life more difficult.

Love your enemies, unless they come from another country.

Love your enemies, unless they are anti-American.

Love your enemies, unless it makes more sense to fight back.

Love your enemies, unless it’s easier to passively take their abuse.

Love your enemies, unless they are intolerant.

Love your enemies, unless they are from a different ethnic group.

Love your enemies, unless they are of a different sexual orientation.

Love your enemies, unless they do not share your religious beliefs.

Love your enemies, unless they refuse to approve of your sin.

Love your enemies, unless they wear you down.

Love your enemies, unless your family, company, or country tells you not to.

Love your enemies, unless they don’t deserve it.

He didn’t say any of that.

He just said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

May we, who have been loved deeply and radically, love deeply and radically.

And may we, like Him, seek to transform our enemies through love rather than destroy them with hate.

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons Kathleen Patrice

Book Review- Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke

Several weeks ago, if you had asked me if I knew how to swim, I would have told you I did. I would also have told you I could swim for survival, but little else. Over the last several weeks I’ve invested some effort in learning how to swim more efficiently. By watching some DVDs, working on some drills, and spending plenty of time in the water I’ve improved my swimming by leaps and bounds.

I suspect reading is like swimming for many adults. Nearly all of us are able to read, but learning to read well requires some focused training.

Because reading requires this sort of training I am grateful for Tony Reinke’s book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books.

When I finished Lit! I thought, “I’ll be recommending this one to people for a long time.” Whether you read a book every year or a book every week, you’ll get more out of your reading if you read Lit!.

The first half of Lit! builds a theology of books and reading. Reinke shows how the gospel can and does shape our approach to books, and he says Scripture is our ultimate guide when it comes to reading. When we have rooted ourselves in Scripture, we can read other books in light of Scripture, and this can allow us to enjoy books with discernment from a variety of genres.

Reinke also makes the case for continuing to read even though we live in what he aptly calls “an eye-candy culture”. He points out how God’s people have always been a Word-driven people in image-driven societies. Even in Old Testament times, God communicated to his people through his Word, while constantly discouraging the fascination with idols that plagued their surrounding cultures.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Reinke rightly points out there are important truths that simply cannot be captured in images. “As a view of images,” he says, “I need words and explanation to interpret the images accurately. Once I receive the words, the pictures are given a richer an deeper meaning.” Language is also necessary for the formation of a worldview. A Christian worldview in constructed in large part through reading. One of the primary ways the great truths of our faith can be absorbed is through the work of reading.

He ends the first half of the book by providing seven benefits of reading Non-Christian books, and showing the value of developing our imaginations through reading. I appreciated these chapters because I’m trying to read more fiction and “secular” non-fiction, and I believe these sorts of books can be of great benefit to my walk with God.

In the second half of Lit! Reinke provides some practical advice on book reading.

He devoted one entire chapter to how to prioritize what books to read. Several years ago at a conference I heard Steven Sample, the president of USC, say something like, “When you choose to read one book, you are choosing not to read thousands of others.” His point, of course, was we should be very careful in selecting the books we read because there are many books out there and our time is limited. Reinke’s system of prioritization encouraged me to create my own system (which ended up looking a lot like his!).

Later chapters provide tips on how to read non-fiction, finding time to read, highlighting and note taking while reading, building community around reading, and creating a culture of reading in your family and/or church.

In the course of a few chapters Reinke manages to give readers a blueprint for happiness in their reading lives. His chapter on “defacing books” as he put it was outstanding. Though I do most of my reading on my Kindle these days, I’ve been “defacing” my old-fashioned books much more since finishing Lit!. 

As a new parent, I loved the chapter on raising a family of readers. His suggestions were simple and practical: Fill your home with books, read to your kids, read in front of your kids, push other entertainment into the background, etc. As I, even as a committed reader, struggle to put other entertainment in its place so I can give books the attention they are due, I know encouraging my kids to be readers will be a challenge.

What I appreciated most about this book is that it does not simply encourage reading for its own sake. Reinke makes the case throughout that reading is a valuable aspect of Christian discipleship. Through good reading we can be taught to savor Jesus, enjoy the Holy Spirit, live out our faith, crush our idols, repent of sin, and grow in godliness.

If you desire to be a good reader for the glory of God, I commend this book to you. I give it my highest recommendation.

 

Links Worth A Look- January 31, 2013

I didn’t get this post finished in time for last Thursday, so here are a few links from the last two weeks.

Dan and Me: My Coming Out as a Friend of Dan Cathy and Chick-fil-A- This article has been all over the place the last several days, so you may have read it. If you haven’t, please do. It’ll be the best article you read today. “It is not often that people with deeply held and completely opposing viewpoints actually risk sitting down and listening to one another. We see this failure to listen and learn in our government, in our communities and in our own families. Dan Cathy and I would, together, try to do better than each of us had experienced before.”

I Come Messy and Ashamed- This is so good. If you are a parent or future parent I can’t recommend this article highly enough. “I want my son to learn that he can come before God just as he is. I want him to come confidently to the throne dirty and ragged, be drenched by the gospel, and leave wearing the righteousness of Christ. I want him to know that the path from sin to freedom goes right through the muck and mire of life, and that he can leave a trail of dirty foot prints all the way to the base of the cross.”

The Secret Ingredient for Success- I have a (very successful) friend who says self-awareness is the highest form of intelligence. I think he’s right (or at least pretty close). Turns out, it’s also a key to success. “The successful people we spoke with — in business, entertainment, sports and the arts — all had similar responses when faced with obstacles: they subjected themselves to fairly merciless self-examination that prompted reinvention of their goals and the methods by which they endeavored to achieve them.”

 3 Things I Wish I Knew Before We Got Married- I’m pretty sure roughly 10 million articles like this have been written over the years, but this is a really good one. Even if you’re already married, there are some good reminders found here. “Most people—myself included—jump into marriage with suitcases full of misconceptions and bad theology, entirely unaware of the unique beauty and paradoxical intentions of marriage. The following are three thoughts on marriage that friends and mentors have shared with me.”

Don’t Let the Screen Strangle Your Soul- Kevin DeYoung shares his take on some of the dangers of the many “screens” that fill our days. Also not an especially original topic, but some wonderful insights.

In Which There Is No “And- This a beautiful tribute to grace. “Let go of your “should” and your “ought to” and your “need to” and your implied and overt “and” attachments to Jesus. Live like Jesus is enough, and remember you do not earn any part of your redemption.”

Juicers Invade Kitchen Counters- Ever since I adopted a plant-based whole food diet on my 30th birthday I’ve made smoothies on almost a daily basis. For Christmas this year Christie and I got a Vitamix – a 64 oz. blender with a motor strong enough to power a jet ski (no really) – and it’s been awesome. I blend about a half-dozen (mostly dark green) vegetables with a few pieces of fruit (including skin and seeds) and some nuts/seeds every morning, and it’s awesome. I drink 32 oz. in the morning and the other 32 oz. throughout the rest of the day. It’s made a wonderful difference in the way I feel. In light of all of that, I enjoyed this Wall Street Journal article.

Links Worth A Look- January 10, 2013

A mom’s 18-point iPhone contract for her son- This has been floating around the Internet for the last several days, and while it may be a little extreme, I think it’s a great concept. This contract reminds me of the one my parents presented to me when I got my driver’s license. It seemed crazy at the time, but it worked.

Why You Should Care About The Hobby Lobby Case -And Be Alarmed- I am, in general, a supporter of the Affordable Care Act. I won’t go into the reasons why, but as a Christian I believe it is a very important piece of legislation. However, I’m not a fan of all of it, and what is currently happening with The Hobby Lobby is alarming. Adjustments must be made to prevent what is happening here. “Millions of Americans are already outraged. And rightly so. Our government not only allows for abortion, and celebrates abortion rights, and wants women to have unfettered access to abortion on demand, it now requires other Americans to pay for abortion-inducing drugs or face crippling fines.”

How Secularized Has American Evangelical Christianity Become?- This was a very convicting article from Roger Olson. I have some more thoughts on it that I plan to share in a blog post tomorrow. “What is bad, in my view, is when secularity invades the churches (or is invited in) and becomes the shaping ethos in Christian life. That usually happens without anyone noticing it or pointing it out. It is like the proverbial frog in the gradually heating water who fails to jump out and ends up boiled to death.”

What My 4-Year Old Son Can Teach Us About Creativity- This is great. “One of the things I love about how his mind works is that it has few limitations. He happily mixes times and cultures and different kind of toys like stuffed animals and LEGO. He doesn’t know about ‘rules’ yet that prevent us grown ups from doing the same.”

“But While He was Still Far Off” – (or, what if God actually loves us?)- “I read stories like this and I wonder, What if this is actually true? What if there is a God who is really like this?  What if God can’t wait to have us around–even with the garbage we keep carrying around and our half-hearted “I’m sorries?”

Team Commandments- This is a great list of “commandments” that the author has for his church staff. It would be a great list for any organization.

Why I Changed My Mind About the Millennium- Here is one for my fellow theology nerds. I’m sharing this article not so much because I agree with his perspective (though I do, without great conviction), but more because I thought it was interesting reading about this pastor’s journey of changing his view on an important theological idea.

And finally, some clever propaganda posters for the modern age from The Art of Manliness:

The 2012 California International Marathon: The Monsoon Marathon

Preface: Sometimes after significant life events I like to write a lengthy post remembering the experience. I do this mainly to get my memories written down before they fade away. I write these posts for myself, but I share them so that those who are interested in the subject area can read about my experience. This is one of those posts. I’m sure what follows contains quite a few typos, and for that I apologize.

Prior to December 2, 2012, there were exactly two times in my life where I found myself starting a physical challenge and thinking, “This is just plain stupid. What am I doing here?”

The first was in the summer of 2004 at the start of my lone ascent up Mount Whitney. It was 4:00 a.m., dark, and cold, and I was starting what would be a 22 mile round trip hike to the 14,497 ft. summit of the mountain.

The second was in the spring of 2005 when I found myself starting a backpacking trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon in a snowstorm.

I survived both instances, successfully making it to the top/bottom and back again, and both were memorable and incredibly challenging experiences.

December 2, 2012 was number three.

I had been looking forward to running the California International Marathon for some time. Completing a marathon has been a dream of mine for many years, but that dream has always been derailed by some sort of nagging injury. I’d spent the last several months training for this one, and was fortunate to make it through training with no major problems.

In the days leading up to December 2, it became clear that ugly weather was coming. Very ugly. Meteorologists predicted a major storm would come into Sacramento in the early morning hours of Sunday, pound the region with rain, and then move on by noon. And this rain was going to accompanied with winds of up to 30 mph. All told, the series of storms that hit Sacramento throughout the weekend left a total of 4.74″ of rain- one quarter of Sacramento’s annual average. The majority of that rain fell on Sunday.

As I struggled to sleep on Saturday night, I heard the wind howling outside. I knew the weather was going to be brutal. I’d been training to break 3:30, but I let that goal go on Friday when it appeared poor conditions were imminent. I woke up at 4:15 a.m., determined to allow myself plenty of time to get dressed, eat breakfast, and get myself ready to run. I’ve learned that it takes me about an hour of being awake before the thought of exercise is even remotely appealing, so I wanted to be sure to be done with that hour before leaving the house.

At my parents’ house on race morning. Ready to go!

After quite a bit of waffling about proper gear for the conditions, I ended up leaving my tights, gloves, and beanie at home and going with my Speedo Jammer swimsuit (I’ve come to really enjoy running in these, they are basically bike shorts without the padded butt), an Under Armour compression sleeveless top, and a Champion long sleeve black technical shirt. Despite the wind and rain, the temperature was supposed to stay in the high 50s, so I knew I could leave the cold gear at home. My main priority was wearing the least absorbent clothing I had. I also wore my regular shoes (Altra Provisions), my Zensah calf sleeves, my Native sunglasses with clear lenses to keep the rain out of my eyes, and two Pro-Tec IT band compression straps.

Once I was dressed and fed I drove over to my parents’ house. My dad was running the half marathon that morning, and my mom was driving us to the start line.

When I got in the car, it was raining.

When I got out of the car at my parents’ house ten minutes later, it was raining substantially harder.

We drove over to the starting line near the intersection of Auburn Folsom Road and Folsom Crossing, and by that point it was raining buckets. The fierce wind and angled rain was ridiculous. We sat in the car for a few minutes, watching runners in ponchos and trash bags make their way to the starting line.

Finally, at around 6:35, we couldn’t delay any longer. We got out of the car, and stepped into the elements. The first thing I said to my dad was the bit from the start of this post about this being number three. I wondered what I was doing out there.

This wasn’t just rain. It was a flat-out downpour.

As I waited in line to use the restroom my thoughts oscillated from disbelief at the craziness of the task ahead to confidence. ‘I know the weather is crazy, but once things get started, it’s just running,’ I thought.

I found my place among the thousands of runners at the starting line, and waited those final moments. It was an amazing sight. Thousands of people- an incredible mass of humanity- stuffing a normally busy street to capacity, all with various types of gear meant to ward off the rain. The energy was tremendous.

The gun went off right at 7:00, and to my surprise things got moving pretty quickly. I was probably over the starting line in about a minute and a half. I knew the first mile would be very crowded, so I just got myself into a slow, comfortable pace and tried to relax. Ahead of me I could see thousands of runners. It was incredible.

My plan was to run for four minutes, and then take a thirty-second walk break throughout the first half of the race. I knew this would be tough during the first mile, so I planned to start that in mile two. During that first mile I found myself incredibly excited to finally be running in a marathon. The last week had dragged by. Some stomach issues brought on by a pain reliever I’d been prescribed had made the last few days somewhat unpleasant. I had spent months training, faithfully lacing up my shoes at least four times be week for runs of various lengths and paces. And now, it was finally here.

Despite the conditions, I wanted to enjoy myself. I wasn’t worried about a time goal. I just wanted to relax and take it all in.

After the first downhill mile I got into my walk break rhythm. Early walk breaks seem ridiculous. I obviously am not tired yet, and I never feel like I need the break. However, the author of the plan I’ve been following (Jeff Galloway) insists that the early breaks are the most valuable. Starting at about a mile and half into the race, I took those thirty-second breaks every four minutes. I take these breaks on every long run I do, and I really can’t say enough about how helpful they are. I believe they help mentally just as much as they do physically. Rather than thinking, “I’ve got 19 miles to go,” I can think, “Two minutes and thirty seconds until the next walk break.” That’s not quite as daunting.

At the two-mile mark I was at 17:00, well above the pace I would have needed to hit 3:30. That was fine with me. I had no intention of picking up the pace and paying for it later. The next several miles ticked by without much incident. I’ve discovered on my training runs that once I get locked in to a pace it’s tough for me to run much faster, even if that pace is relatively slow (for me). I ran in the neighborhood of 8:30 miles, and felt pretty good.

After five miles we turned from Oak Avenue on to Fair Oaks Blvd., and what had been a crosswind turned in to the headwind. The ran was still coming down just as intensely. My shoes were soaked and heavy, and my long-sleeved shirt was retaining water. I hadn’t eaten much for breakfast on account of some lingering stomach issues, so by about mile six I was ready for my first energy gel pouch.

After a few miles on Fair Oaks we entered Fair Oaks Village, a well known place in town with an old town feel. Bands played on the covered patios of restaurants, and cheering people lined the streets. I was amazed throughout the day at the number of people that came out to support the runners. Given the conditions it was astonishing.

Christie waiting to cheer me on at just past the halfway point. I’m not entirely sure what she was thinking right here, but it was probably something along the lines of, “My husband is nuts.”

From the beginning of Fair Oaks Village thorough the next couple of miles there were some rolling hills. I was careful to take it easy, and felt like I was able to get through them without too much trouble. On the last hill I felt some soreness in my quadriceps on each leg, the first noticeable leg pain of the day. Up to that point I felt I was holding up pretty well. I felt a bit undernourished,- despite taking PowerAde at every aid station- but my hips and knees felt ok. Probably the most persistent pain I felt all day was in my left foot. Three weeks ago at church I was helping to break down some tables, and a round plastic table slid off of its rack and onto my foot. It hurt, but not badly, but it was enough to cause me some discomfort during the first mile or so of every run I’ve done since then.

On all of my other runs the pain had gone away, but to my dismay it never really left on this day.

Right after passing Christie, about 13.5 miles in at the corner of Fair Oaks Blvd. and Manzanita Ave.

With the hills coming to a close I was nearing the halfway point. I knew Christie would be meeting me there, and I was anxious to give her my now entirely soaked long-sleeved shirt. I found her at about mile 13.5, gave her the shirt, and kept going. My half marathon split had been around 1:53, well over my initial goal pace, but easily under 4:00 pace.

I expected that giving her the shirt would give me a surge of energy- without the added weight I thought I would feel stronger and would be able to pick up the pace a little bit.

I was wrong.

I was really wrong.

I turned from Fair Oaks Blvd. onto Manzanita Ave. and instantly realized I had underestimated how cold it was. Running south made the wind almost a pure headwind, and it did not feel good on my bare arms. In addition to that, my feelings of undernourishment starting growing rapidly.

It was remarkable to me how quickly I went from feel good to feeling really bad. When I passed Christie I felt strong and was in good spirits. By mile 16 I was hurting big time. I was uncomfortable, I was hungry, and the starts and stops were starting to be more and more uncomfortable. By about mile 18 I decided to decrease the frequency of my walk breaks, but increase their length. For the duration of the race I went around 7-10 minutes between breaks, but then walked for a full minute.

These miles in the late teens were the toughest of the race. I was too far from the finish to start thinking about it, and the thought of running 8+ more miles was not a happy one. I was wishing I’d eaten more during the race, and was having to tell myself that quitting wasn’t an option. I’d worked too hard to get to this point, and I wanted it too badly.

I found that the experience of running this race differed significantly from the 20-mile Clarksburg race I’d run a few weeks ago, and not just in that the conditions at Clarksburg were perfect. At that race I really felt strong. I started at a fast pace and improved upon it as the race went on. During the marathon I mostly felt ok, but I never felt like it was going to be a day where I could run a fast time. Some of that was probably in my head. I was worried about trying to push it and then running out of gas. But for whatever reason – no doubt the weather had something to do with it – I never felt like I could get into a good grove during the marathon.

I had loaded up on energy gel at the half way point, and I took two of them in the forty five minutes that followed. These eventually helped me feel quite a bit better, and by mile 20 I was running stronger. The rain had relented somewhat, and I passed through the point of the race known as “the wall” without too much trouble.

The trees that lined the streets blocked most of the wind, and I started counting down the miles. I knew my pace had been slow, but I also knew that I still had plenty of time to make it in under four hours. During the last six miles of the race my Achilles tendons both started hurting. The extra weight I was carrying in my shoes was putting extra strain on them, and they didn’t like that very much. I had to be careful each time I started and stopped running to avoid putting too much strain on them. I was also starting to cramp a little bit on my lower quadriceps on both legs. Fortunately, that didn’t ever get too bad.

At around mile 22 I passed the final uphill portion of the course, the J Street Bridge (as luck would have it, I reached the base right at a planned walk break), after the bridge, the cross street was 56th street.

The finish line was near 8th Street.

My dad, a CIM veteran, has told me about how brutal it is to count down those city blocks. I was prepared for the worst, but it ended up not being too bad. I tried not to look at the street signs too often. I was more interested in the mile marker signs anyways. During those final miles I was surprised at how congested the course was. It wasn’t uncomfortable, and I had plenty of room, but there were a lot of people around. I saw the 3:55 pace group creep up on me, and I was happy to see them simply because they were confirmation that I would easily make it in under four hours.

I passed mile 24, took my final walk break, and focused on the finish. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the city blocks passed by. 24…..23…..22….the end was so close! I found that in both this race and the 20-mile Clarksburg run I did a few weeks ago that the feeling of being in that final mile or two is kind of funny. On the one hand, it’s incredibly exciting to be almost done. On the other hand, but that point in the race I have sort of resigned myself to the idea that I will be running forever, so the thought of stopping doesn’t even seem real.

Upon passing mile 25 it hit me that I really was going to finish. This had been a dream for so long. Running has been a part of my life for so many years, but it has in many ways been so cruel to me. I’ve wanted to run, and I’ve wanted to run long, but injuries caused by my weak arches and subsequent bad knees had always held me back. Steps forward it my life as a runner have always been met by huge steps backward. But now, here I was: soaking wet and way behind my goal time, but ready to finish.

Finished!

The rain had completely stopped by this point, and there was even some blue sky overhead. The street was lined with people cheering and shouting encouragement. I picked up the pace just a little bit as the blocks continued to creep by. 12….11….10….9…..and finally I passed the 26-mile marker and it was time to turn on to 8th Street. From there it was one more quick left into the final straight away towards the famous CIM finish line at the base of the capital.

I crossed the finish line at 3:55:45 (by my watch) and I could hardly believe it. For so long I’d been stuck believing that completing a marathon just wasn’t in the cards for me. It was something I wanted so badly, but years of injuries had resigned me to believing I just didn’t have the body for it.

But I made it.

It had been windy, rainy, cold, and painful, but I made it.

As I made my way into the finishers chute there were two sets of medals, one for relay participants and one for individual finishers. The person handing out the medals saw I was wearing a yellow relay number (I’d had to register for the relay because individual registrations were sold out before I signed up), and offered me a relay medal.

“So I just ran the whole thing, I promise,” I said. “So would it be possible for me to get a real medal?”

Not the most tactful way I could have presented that request.

But the volunteers were gracious and were happy to accommodate my request. I got an individual finisher’s medal. For some reason my time still isn’t listed on the race website, but I’m looking in to figuring that out.

I walked through the finishing area towards the back where I would meet Christie and my dad, and as I walked the emotions of the moment caught up to me a little bit. I teared up as I thought about what this meant to me, and everything I’d gone through to get to this point. I exited the finish area, found my dad and Christie, and enjoyed sharing the moment with them.

My first marathon would have been memorable under any circumstances, but the craziness of the weather only made it more so. Even as I sit here typing this less than 24 hours after starting, it seems crazy to me that so many of us were out there running a marathon in that weather.

And yet, there are those moments in life when you just know you are a part of something special- those moments you know you will never forget. Today felt like one of those moments from beginning to end. I don’t know how many more marathons are in the cards for me, but I know I will always remember this one. It was, like my snowstorm descent of the Grand Canyon and my ascent of Mount Whitney, an unbelievable experience.

This marathon left me with a lot of questions. How much did the weather effect me? Did I run slower because of the weather or because of some other factor? Was I just unable to do my best running on that day? I didn’t have a great last two weeks of training, did that make a difference? It’s hard to say. As mentioned, I didn’t feel great all day, and I’m just not sure what caused that. I am interested to get out there for a marathon is a little bit better conditions and see what happens.

More than anything, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do this. Marathons are amazing events. They are celebrations of both human will power and human craziness, and there is a certain kinship between all people who feel the need to subject themselves to these sorts of activities. It is, I admit, a little bit crazy, but there is vitality to be found in that craziness that can be found in few other places.

Today I’m tired, and I’m sore. I’m walking funny and my muscles tighten when I lay down. I’m pretty sure I am incapable of making sudden movements.

But I can’t wait to heal up and get back out there.

Napa in March maybe?

Links Worth A Look- November 15, 2012

The Perfect, “Ordinary” Life- This is an outstanding post. I hope you’ll read it. “I mean, it sounds pretty “ordinary,” doesn’t it? A husband, wife, daughter, and son growing up under one roof with a modest income and a happy home life. That’s “ordinary,” right? Actually, no—it’s not. A lifestyle like the one I just described isn’t ordinary at all.”

A Few Kindle DealsGodspeed: Making Christ’s Mission Your Own by Britt Merrick- This is possibly my favorite book I’ve read this year, and it’s currently only $2.51. Seriously, BUY THIS BOOK AND READ IT! Britt is a phenomenal preacher and even better guy, and you’ll be inspired by GodspeedTrusting God Even When Life Hurts by Jerry Bridges- This one is free, and while I haven’t read it, I’ve read a fair amount of Jerry Bridges’ stuff, and it’s solid. God’s Love: How the Infinite God Cares for His Children by R.C. Sproul- This book was free the other day, but at $2.51 it’s still a great deal.

Fear-Mongering and Kingdom Loyalties- A sensible post addressing some of the fear-mongering that has been happening in the Christian world since the election. “My point in this article is not really even political. I care little about a discussion on Obama, Romney, or any third-party candidate. What I do care about are those professing to be believers being swept up in worldly fear.”

The Signs of Political IdolatryPolitical idolatry was everywhere this election season. This post quotes Tim Keller talking about how to identify it. “When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country. They become agitated and fearful for the future. They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once was reserved for God and the work of the gospel.”

Opportunity or Possibility…Know the Difference“Confusing a possibility for an opportunity often gets churches, organizations and people in trouble quickly. I have heard too many people say, “This is such a great opportunity”, when mistakenly what they have is an attractive possibility. Confusing the two they may feel no prayer is needed, because the answer is clear, when really the opposite is truer.”

Holiest font everThis post by Jon Acuff made me chuckle.

How Google Makes Their Money- I thought this was interesting…

 

 

3 Reasons to Argue Against Your Own Political Views

For many years when I was growing up my parents would host what they called “voter parties” several weeks before elections. “Party” may have been a bit of a misnomer, as the purpose of the gathering was to discuss candidates and initiatives on the upcoming ballot

Each person in attendance would asked to give a short presentation in support of a candidate, or on one side of a ballot initiative. The purpose was simply to educate voters about the issues in play in a moderately social setting.

I remember one family friend who would come to these parties over the years, and I loved the approach he took to his presentation.

He always chose to argue for a position he did not support.

I have no idea where he stood politically, but he said he wanted to challenge himself to understand the viewpoint he opposed so well that he could make a compelling case for it.

What an excellent approach. And from what I hear, he was pretty persuasive.

How often do we see such a mindset in the political world today?

Not very often.

In fact, my question for you is, can you do that?

Throughout my adult life I have tried to follow this gentleman’s lead when making my own political decisions. Even as I prepare to vote tomorrow, I could present a confident case against voting for the presidential candidate I support, and I could even argue persuasively against a few ballot measures I favor.

I even took this approach to a public speaking class many years ago, arguing strongly (and I’d like to think, persuasively) in favor of the legalization of steroids in sports, something I strongly oppose.

I have come to believe if you can’t argue persuasively against your own views in many arenas of life, you probably don’t understand them very well.

In fact, I believe if I can’t make a strong case in favor of a candidate I oppose, I’m not ready to vote.

So I’ve tried, imperfectly, to learn to argue against my own views. There are many benefits to this, and I will give you three:

1) It increases humility and understanding. 

I confess I, like many others, can get frustrated with the views of those who disagree with me. This is especially true if I am not careful to get my news from sources that will challenge my own perspectives. Often when I am more educated about candidates and issues, I still may be frustrated with those who disagree with me, but I at least have a truthful understanding of them. As I observe the bad behavior of many this election season, it is clear that much of this behavior comes from an unwillingness to understand and learn from those on the other side of issues. Taking the time to listen and educate oneself prevents this sort of bad behavior, and also takes the wind out of extreme voices that promote hate and division.

This process also helps me to see the faults in my own views. Many issues are black and white, but many aren’t. I feel a good case could be made for either side of several propositions on the ballot in California, so I’m reminded the side I have landed on is not necessarily “right” (meaning “correct”, not “conservative”).

2) It exposes gaps in my own thinking.

When I consider the strengths of positions I oppose I see ways that I may have made errors in judgment. It also helps me see ways that I may have inadvertently accepted the opinions of those whose partisan bias prevents them from being truthful. As I have read several articles endorsing the presidential candidate I oppose I have come to see I have been wrong about him in many regards. As much as I try to filter for bias, I have been duped into believing things that are not true about him. I still oppose him, and I strongly hope he is not elected, but I have a deeper respect for the nuances of some of his positions. There have been times, even in this election cycle, where this process of education has changed my vote. I have also been led to simply abstain from voting in a particular race.

Examining my own views also helps to remind me that neither side has the market cornered on biblical truth. I know that if I find myself supporting one side much more than the other, I have probably allowed the platform of that party to inform my voting behavior more than Scripture. That’s not to say I’m always “even” in my voting (I’m not), but it’s an important check I place on myself to keep me from believing what is false, and allowing conservatives or liberals to shape my political thinking instead of Scripture.

3) It reminds me where true hope really lies.

The most depressing part of this election season, for me, has been observing the behavior of Christians. The most vicious, slanderous political statements I have seen have been from Christians who have rejected the teachings of Jesus and joined the partisan media in spreading lies about candidates they oppose.

Many Christians have also suggested that their candidate in God’s choice. Just this morning I read several Facebook posts urging Christians to fast and pray for the success of conservative candidates. Praying for elections is a good thing, but these sorts of partisan prayers are not. Considering God is neither conservative or liberal, I have a hard time believing such prayers are in line with His will. 

I confess I find myself getting quite excited about my own political views, but it is in seeking to understand others that I am reminded that true hope is not in a politician or a law. It’s not in government or a political party.

True hope is found in Jesus, the one who calls us to love our enemies, who calls us to be more concerned with our own faults than our enemies faults, and who ultimately died and rose from death to offer the only hope that last forever, regardless of the outcome of elections. Jesus is King, regardless of how the election turns out, and unity in Christ can, and must, trump any political divisions. I am not often tempted to support either political party, but when I am I simply remind myself that Jesus stands with neither one, and he calls us to a third way.

So I urge you to join me in examining your own voting decisions as critically as you can, and in doing so ask God to increase your humility, expose gaps in your thinking, and increase your devotion to Him over your devotion to any political party or message.

What are some other benefits to challenging your own political views?

How Should Christians Vote? Let this Mad Lib Help!

Ok, everyone, listen up. It’s almost November, which means only about a week until the election, and it is critical that you understand that the _____(1)______ (current year) election is without a doubt the most important election in the modern era. The results of this election will have a _____(2)____ (overly melodramatic synonym for “big”) impact on the future of our country.

It is imperative that you and everyone you know get out to the polls to vote for the candidates from the ______(3)_____ (your political party of preference, Republican or Democrat) so we can make sure that we get as many of them in office as possible. Anyone with an iota of common sense knows that the ________(4)________s (political party you did not choose for blank 3) are evil, wicked, kitten-kicking, old lady-tripping liars, and their single-minded goal is to destroy America.

If you are a Christian, it is especially important that you vote for ______(5)_____ (conservatives or liberals, depending on how you answered blank 3), because the _______(6)_______ (opposite of blank 5) agenda is obviously anti-God, anti-faith, anti- Christian, and quite possibly a tool of the Devil himself.

You can’t be a true Christian and vote _______(7)_______ (same as blank 6), everybody knows that. I’m pretty sure Jesus said it himself (just trust me on this, please don’t actually test that statement against what you read in the Bible). It is especially important that we make this clear to people who might be exploring Christianity but have different political views. If they can’t see things our way politically, it’s best we do everything we can to alienate them from the gospel.

If the ______(8)_______s (same as blank 4) gain any more power, then the next thing we know we might all be singing “___(9)____ (pagan deity) Bless America,” and you don’t want that, do you? I just know that’s what’s going to happen if  _____(10)_____(ranking member of party from blank 4 in the Senate) and all of his/her cronies have their way. If you really want to be productive, find whatever _____(11)_____(synonym for “ridiculous”) articles you can that promote our candidates and disparage the other party’s candidates and post them on Facebook every ______(12)_____ (number between 1 and 10) minutes or so. The less fair and the more exaggerated they are the better.

It’s important that the world knows that we Christians care far more about our beloved _____(13)_____ (same as blank 3) party and their success in this election than we do about the gospel. We must ignore Christ’s command to love our enemies, and set aside Christian character in the name of victory for our party!

In today’s ______(14)_____ (overly melodramatic synonym for “uncertain”) world, your vote is as important as ever. So remember, don’t be a ______(15)______ (derogatory name you would call someone you don’t like) and think for yourself, or decide who to vote for on the basis of their positions, experience, and competency.

This is not the time for something as sane and sensible like that. Just listen to _______(16)_____ (television or radio political pundit that endorses the party in blank 3 without a shred of balance or intellectual integrity) and do whatever he or she says without thinking about it. Better yet, all you need to know is _______(17)______s (answer from blank 3) in and ______(18)______s (same as blank 4) out, because in a time like this where there is such a clear distinction between good and evil, it is imperative that we all band together to kick the ______(19)________s (same as blank 4) out of office so that finally we can get this country back on track.

As any good Christian knows, our hope is in partisan politics, and God is on our side.

This is a slightly edited re-post of something I originally posted before the 2010 election. It is part satire, part lament, and still, sadly, accurately describes the way many of God’s people behave when it comes to politics. I suppose you could also say it’s a plea for us to be better, and a plea for us to remember where true hope lies

Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons Vaguely Artistic

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