Originally, I thought I'd title the post "Why I Run" because a lot of people think I'm crazy for running multiple miles 5 days a week. But running is not crazy. It's good for you! (just do a quick search and you'll find stuff like: http://www.runnersworld.com/health/nine-surprising-ways-running-helps-your-body). It's not for everybody, but it is beneficial. So running itself is not crazy. In fact, I like to quote Eric Liddel's character in the movie Chariots of Fire as to why I run:
I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure
Now, I'm not really fast, but I've always been slightly taller than others because I have long legs. Ever since I was a little kid I thought that God gave me long legs so I could run without taking as many steps as everybody else! Since I'm not very fast, I just run long distances. I'm currently training for my second marathon which has me up to 40+ miles per week that I run. Now that sounds crazy! So why do I KEEP running?
I've asked myself that a lot lately. I've hit the marathon training blues. A lot of mornings I don't want to get out of bed so early (which isn't even that early) just so I can start my day with a run before it gets too hot. But I go out running anyway. And as I run I'll cuss at myself a few times until I get warmed up or when I want to quit. But I keep going, and going. Why?
Because I'm growing, and getting stronger. It's not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I keep running because I'm training myself, disciplining myself. I keep running even when I don't want to because I have to. I have to because I have a goal in mind, but also because I'm becoming a disciplined person, a tough person.
We live in a culture that often says, "do what you want! do what feels good!" and "if it's not what you want or it doesn't make you feel good, then don't do it." We let the fulfillment of our preferences and pleasures dictate our psyche and our general demeanor and approach to life. I don't think that's healthy.
I keep running because it's preparing me for times in my job, in my family life, and in life in general when I have to do what's right even though I don't want to or I don't feel like it. Because I have a greater goal in mind. It's actually not my goal, it's God's goal: new creation, peace, love, joy, God's presence for everyone.
Running is a spiritual discipline. It is communion with God. It is developing me into someone who won't stop or give up, someone who will know to do what's right even if I don't want to or it doesn't feel good. I keep running because I want, I have to, I must. It may look crazy to train so many miles per week, but I want to be ready when the time comes. I want to persevere and have courage. Running trains me for that. So I keep running.
This graphic captures exactly the transformation that I want the churches I lead to go through. This gives me lots of questions to answer:
How do I lead consumers who are so inundated with consumer culture to see church differently? We are so enveloped by consumerism, we don't even realize it. It is that pervasive here in the west as USAmericans. In fact, they way we typically describe the American Dream equivocates our ability to consume with success. So, how do I lead others to see things differently? It starts with me. Seek to consume less, and seek to serve/give more to/for/with God.
How does being Missional change the time that we gather together on Sunday mornings? If an hour or so on Sunday morning is no longer a religious service to be consumed, what drives what we do during that hour or so? In the past, it seems like the songs we sing were chosen largely in part because they were consumable for people. You could probably say something similar about the sermons that are preached. It was an effort to sell God to consumers for what God can do for them. This is so different from the attractional, worship-driven model of evangelism. Is an average attendance number a good indicator for church health? Yes, but is worship the doorway to the Christian life as it has been in the past? It is a good indicator because it means you have more people who are being sent on mission. It can still function as a doorway for some (and even many), but maybe not in the way we've seen in the past. Why do I say this? Because if we're not trying to put out a product for consumption, then are we going to invest so much in doing over-the-top performance type of stuff? Let's be honest, the church cannot compete with Hollywood and professional concert venues--although we've done fairly well in many churches across the country. AND, I just don't think we SHOULD be trying to compete with the professional entertainers because we're not trying to put out a product to be consumed. However, we are trying to communicate and help people experience an Awesome God who can do more than any high-tech entertainment could even dream of. So I'm not saying we abandon all technology and excellence and professionalism. I'm just saying our motivations are different for using it, which will probably change the way we use it. What does that look like? I think we create it as we go in the context we are in, so it will look different for each group of people that gathers. One of my fears with stating it that way, though, is how do we keep worship from devolving into a product to be consumed.
I think this graphic also indicates another shift (transformation) that needs to happen in the churches I lead. A movement away from programs, and a greater focus on people. I feel like we get so attached to our programs so much that we'll do anything to keep them going even though they're not reaching people. The example I've seen is Sunday School. Let me first say that I don't think Sunday School is inherently bad. People learning the bible and growing in their relationship with God is good. The problem is Sunday School has become an institution that we expect new people to be willing to jump into. I've heard church members complain and say, "I wish we had more people in Sunday School." Usually it's "I wish those young people would come to Sunday School." Those of you who are leaders of established churches with declining Sunday School know exactly what I'm talking about. Like I said, people growing in their relationship with God is a good thing. Let's find ways for people to be a part of a group where that happens in their context, whether or not it's a part of the institutional Sunday School--who cares? The important thing is people are growing in their faith and supporting one another in ways that they can't (or won't) in a large group of people.
My one last reflection on this for today is applying this to Holy Communion/Eucharist/The Lord's Supper (or whatever you call the sacrament with bread and wine). The way I've experienced this sacrament in the churches I've been a part of is very individualistic and consumery (yes, I made that word up). Most of the time, it seems like communion is focused on me getting right with God. I remember what God has done for me in Jesus Christ. I consume the gift God gives, and it is my individual transaction. How is the Sacrament of Bread & Wine different when being Sent on mission is emphasized? How is it more communal encouragement and still personal?
I've had more questions than answers, but it's discussion that we need to have.
I've been away from blogging for a while now due to a full schedule. Some of you may know that I'm training to run a marathon (which you can sponsor here: www.40forfestival.com). As I've written before, running can be compared to Holy Communion--and I feel like I've been keeping constant communion. I run 4-5 days a week, and my mileage is up to 35 miles a week, and not a day goes by that I can't feel the effects of running. I'm looking forward to tapering that back soon, but until the race is over on Oct. 20th I'm prioritizing running in my schedule.
This has been good for me mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It's especially helped me realize that I can be disciplined and work towards achieving goals. There are times that I want to quit, or not get up early and run, but I keep going. I often ask myself "why am I doing this to myself?" I always figure out an answer to keep myself motivated, or I just decide to go run no matter what and force myself to run. Those runs are hard to start, but fun to finish. I especially like the feeling I get from my long runs because I accomplish something I didn't think was possible, and often it's before breakfast!
I hope to gain momentum from the discipline of running and develop discipline in other areas like prayer, bible study, blogging, and music. The point of developing spiritual disciplines: constant communion with God. Like Jesus' words in John 15:5, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can't do anything." I want my life to bear good fruit that comes from God. I want God to work through me. I can't expect that without abiding in Him and keeping constant communion.
Keeping the bigger goal of the marathon in mind, motivates my running. I have to run. Maybe as a Christian, I can keep a bigger goal in mind to motivate my spiritual disciplines so that I have to keep constant communion. What would that goal be? Paul talks of a heavenly prize. Jesus mentions storing up treasures in heaven. I like the John 15 passage talking about bearing fruit. The goal is seeing more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control in the lives of people around me: my family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, church-attenders, enemies, etc. So that more people know and attain the heavenly prize.
It's hard to put that goal into words and make it tangible--maybe that's why spiritual disciplines can be difficult, but constant communion is worth it.
This past week, I registered to run my first marathon this October in Kansas City. I have an 18 week training plan I found; I'm currently in week two. Part of me is saying, "YOU'RE CRAZY! You're going to put your body through a lot of pain and agony." The larger part of me (is looking to get smaller! LOL, I'm looking forward to the weight loss.) is excited for the added health and well-being I look to gain from this experience. A couple weeks ago, I was out for a jog with some friends, and we got to talking about running, and something like these words came out of my mouth: "I had become something I really didn't like or want to be. Running keeps me healthy physically, emotionally and spiritually." That conversation revealed a lot to me.
When I was in high school, I used to run all the time. I ran some in college, and even less in seminary, until I hardly ran at all. Fortunately, I had one 5k race I would do every fall, and that kept me running at least a month or two each year, but other than that I had become out of shape in more ways than one.
Now that I'm back on a regular running schedule, some things have started to come back to me. I am realizing that the time I spend running is time that I can commune with God. At first, I'll be honest, it was mainly a physical thing, but now that I'm in better shape, I can have the conversations and reflections with God that I really need and long for.
On one such run, I realized that the suffering I go through while running is a reminder of the suffering that Jesus went through on the cross (though His was much more painful and violent). Much like sharing the broken bread and the poured-out cup of Holy Communion is a reminder of Jesus's suffering, death, and resurrection. So when I run, I commune with God, and I am being made new.
Now, every metaphor has its limits, and this one does too. First, running is primarily individual, while communion is celebrated with the church. Next, the suffering of running is self-inflicted and it doesn't compare to Jesus' suffering, nor the vast suffering that goes on in our world today, but for me, pushing my body to its limits and beyond is a reminder of what Jesus and others go through when they face suffering.
One last thought on running, it's a great way to get to know my way around town! Keep praying for us as we begin our ministry here in this new context.
I am a Software Developer, a career shift made in 2018. So far, I have experience with C# .Net and Angular. I continue to let curiosity lead me into learning new technologies. I plan to share what I learn along the way about technology and personal/career life. Previously, my vocation was United Methodist pastor. So in addition to coding, I'll share about theology, the Church and The Bible. I also enjoy running, music, and I'm a deeply committed father and husband. Maybe my experiences will help you. I know it helps me to share.