My wife Kelley and I spent the last six days or so in Los Angeles to see our oldest daughter, Anna, who’s a sophomore at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. And since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to run in the Los Angeles Marathon. This was Kelley’s second marathon and my first. The video above shows the race from one person’s balcony.
In a departure from the norm, I’m going to share a few thoughts about the race that have absolutely nothing with today’s reading, but everything with following Jesus.
Please join me…
Thank to our guest bloggers who filled in most admirably in my absence. Eugene, Jeff, Mike, and Mark, thank you for allowing me to take a little break!
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Deuteronomy 2. The book of Deuteronomy comprises Moses’ last words to Israel before they crossed in the Promised Land. Like the book of Hebrews in the New Testament, it reads almost like a sermon transcription.
At this point in Deuteronomy, Moses is recounting Israel’s wilderness history up to the present moment. Recounting our past is important. All too often, our society functions as if we’re only 5-10 years old. But we are the sum total of our past. All of us bring our history—good and bad—into our present relationships.
Deuteronomy 3. Notice how God refers to King Og of Bashan in verse 2: “Do not be afraid of him, for I have handed him over to you with his whole army and his land” (italics added). God refers to Israel’s defeat of Og as if it already occurred. In God’s economy, all of history is past tense. Even our current struggles. Hmmm, that gives me a different perspective on my struggles. I wonder how I would respond to my challenges if I treated them as past struggles?
Luke 6:12-38. This section is quite similar to Matthew 5-7. Matthew’s account contains the Sermon on the Mount. This account in Luke is called the Sermon on the Plain. Matthew tells us Jesus “went up on a mountainside and sat down” (Matthew 5:1). Luke tells us Jesus “stood on a level place” (verse 17). So are they one account or two? They’re probably versions of the same account, with each writer highlighting different aspects of Jesus’ sermon. Details specifying the location of Jesus’ sermon weren’t important to the people of that day—so making it fit exactly isn’t nearly as important as paying attention to Jesus’ words.
What strikes me in the Sermon on the Plain is the heavenward focus:
- “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.”
- “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven.”
At the same time, the social ramifications of Luke’s gospel are quite evident:
- But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
- Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.
Proverbs 11:27. Books like The Secret tell us that we attract whatever we think. Although I have serious concerns about the book, I will say that the principle of good attracting good is for the most part, true. People who seek good, find goodwill. People who search for evil, find it.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
Running a marathon is probably the third hardest thing I’ve ever done—after writing a book (13 and counting) and being married. Here are a few thoughts that hit me during the run:
Every person runs a different race. Despite running the same 26.2 mile route, all 26,000 people ran the Los Angeles Marathon with different concerns in mind. I was concerned about re-tearing my calf (which I tore 2 weeks earlier). Kelley was concerned about aggravating the plantar fasciitis in her heel. Everyone was concerned about finishing. Ironically, my calf never bothered me while Kelley’s heel refused to cooperate. Nevertheless, I sustained a painful foot injury on mile 13 and hobbled the rest of the way to the end. Weird injuries can materialize out of nowhere.
Injuries happen. Days before the race, I explained my concerns about my calf injury to a veteran marathoner. She told me, “Everybody who runs a marathon is dealing with some kind of an injury.” Most of us begin our lives injury-free, only to sustain bumps and bruises along the way. We all get knocked around in the course of our lives. How we respond to those injuries determines how we finish the race.
Everyone who finishes wins. While training, veterans advised me, “Don’t try to break any records on your first race—just make it your goal to finish.” When my foot injury materialized out of nowhere, I asked myself, How will I ever run another 13 miles with this kind of pain? Everything within me wanted to quit. I actually considered spending the $20 in my pocket to pay for a cab that would transport me to the finish line.
In the middle of my pain, I ran past a café, where a man sat at a table enjoying his breakfast. When he saw the grimace on my face, he looked at me, pointed at an empty chair next to him and said, “Want to join me?” I shook my head and kept running.
I couldn’t think about mile 15 or mile 21—all I could think about was finishing. But in order to reach my goal, I would have to run one mile at a time. When I completed mile 13, my next goal became mile 14, then mile 15.
Although my time wasn’t as fast as I had hoped, I was relieved once I crossed the finish line. At that point, my time didn’t matter. I finished. Sometimes life is painful…but you just keep going on.
We’re all in a race, but the goal isn’t to beat everybody else, the goal is to finish. Sometimes you just have to bear down and work through the pain. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13). Sometimes the most courageous thing you can do is stand. You don’t have to look victorious–all you must do is not give up.
We all run re in a race. We all sustain injuries along the way and we all can come up with excuses to quit.
So what will you do?
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- If you were in Moses’ shoes, what last words would you leave with the children of Israel?
- How you would respond to your challenges if you treated them as past struggles?
- What social implications do you read in Luke 6? What do they look like lived out in your life?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.