William’s 400-meter failure

EUGENE, OR - JUNE 23: Bryan Clay reacts after getting disqualified in the men's decathlon 110 meter hurdles during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 23, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)During the past few months I have been volunteering as the assistant track and field coach at my daughter’s high school. I’ve loved it, and it has been the fulfillment of a dream I’ve carried ever since I first met Pat Stahl, the track and field coach who profoundly shaped my life in high school.

Part of why I love track so much is that its lessons speak so profoundly to our spiritual journey. To spend a day on the track is to witness lessons about perseverance, work ethic, mental preparation, and hitting the wall. It is a sport about running with comrades and also running alone. It’s a tremendous sport that is jam-packed with spiritual truths and metaphors.

I experienced one of those lessons last week when William failed in the 400 meters.

He didn’t actually fail; he just thought he did. Leading up to our last track meet, William (not his real name) was about one second shy of qualifying for league finals in the 400-meter dash, and I was convinced that with some extra training and inspiration he would be able to qualify.

He worked incredibly hard all week, he ran the best race of his life in the meet, but he still failed to qualify. I was proud of him, I commended him for setting a personal record, and then I watched him slump under weighty feelings of personal failure and shame.

I am a competitor and I hate to lose so I understand the post-failing emotions that accompany a moment like William’s. However, after he apologized to me for the 10th time for failing to qualify I realized that something was wrong. He didn’t just feel failure; he felt a sense of shame.

As I spent the next thirty minutes trying to reinforce truth and liberate him from shame I realized that we do the exact same thing. Sometimes we work hard, do our best, fall short of our personal expectations, and then get taken out by shame.

I’m sure my words to William would echo God’s words to you: “I’ve seen your effort…I’m proud of you…you’re doing better than you realize…you’ll do even better next season…you are not a failure…now kick this shame to the curb because WE’VE GOT ANOTHER RACE TO RUN.”


The twin six-shooters of spiritual warfare

lone rangerAre you old enough to remember the original Lone Ranger? In addition to the mystique of his mask, his horse, Silver, and his best friend, Tonto, I always loved his twin six-shooters.

The bad guys usually only had one gun, while Tonto, had one gun plus a knife. The Lone Ranger, however, always carried two. He could draw twin guns and pepper the enemy with silver bullets from two barrels simultaneously. If one gun missed, the other hit the mark. If one gun ran out of ammo, the other one still had a shell left in the chamber.

It’s a pretty good metaphor for how we approach spiritual warfare.

The Bible identifies Satan as “the accuser of our brothers and sisters” (Revelation 12:10) and as “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44), and the most fertile landing strip for demonic lies and accusations is in our human relationships. When hurts, misunderstandings, or offenses arise, spiritual warfare—demonically induced activity and agitation—are not far behind.

We know that we are under spiritual attack when our minds keep ruminating about worst-case scenarios, vendetta-laced conversations, and when we fail to trust our friends or give them the benefit of the doubt. Unchecked spiritual warfare, landing on real-life hurts and misunderstandings, can sink even the most solid of relationships.

So what are the twin six-shooters that can curb the assault and bring the enemy down?

The first is spiritual—prayer, the proclamation of Scripture, and a faith-filled resistance of the warfare. And the second is natural—taking all practical, necessary steps to repair and heal the relationship. It’s amazing how natural practices like humility, truth, and repentance can neutralize the spiritual power of demonic forces.

Spiritual warfare is not all spiritual; it is also very natural. Consequently, we need both a spiritual and a natural six-shooter to bring it down.

Heart Punch

heart punchHave you ever been punched in the heart? Not your literal, physical heart, but your more vulnerable internal one? You’ll know if you have, simply by gauging your emotional reaction to the term.

Heart punch.

It’s that blow that thuds into your emotions leaving you feeling sad, sickened, and despairing all at once.

It’s a blow that is thrown by friends or close acquaintances–strangers can’t usually punch our internal heart (they don’t have access to our more vulnerable sides). And it almost always happens in the context of relationships.

Hurts, misunderstandings, and unfair accusations can lead to poorly thought out words and phrases that slam into our hearts like sledgehammers. The blows leave us feeling bewildered and angry, confused and obsessed, and virtually unable to concentrate on extraneous things. We need help in moments like those, because heart punches affect our perspective and confidence, and their effects can be very difficult to shake off.

However it can be done. Healing can occur. Either the relationship will heal and grow stronger, or YOU will heal and grow stronger besides. That’s the fist step–simply acknowledging that the heart punch isn’t the end of the story.

Poorly placed words can be retracted and repented of. Confusion can be clarified. Hurts can be expressed, owned, renounced, and repaired. Misunderstandings can give way to clarity, and the agony of the heart punch can eventually fade away.

It will help if you don’t immediately punch back. Our nature when hurt is to either withdraw or lash out. If you are a withdraw-er, you risk nursing your wounds and dying of infection, and if you’re a lash out-er, you risk inflicting damage that might not need to occur.

Although it isn’t easy to uncoil the complexities that sometimes lead to heart punches, we need to commit to trying. Remember, the ministry to which we have been called is one of reconciliation. Reconciliation is never easy, but it is always worth the efforts it requires.

Before and after selfies (help for young media socialites)

engrossed in phones

friends selfies

One…two…three…smile for a selfie.

Aren’t selfies—photographic self-portraits—a curious phenomenon? Much has been written recently about the psychology of the selfie, and what our fascination with self-portraits says about us humans. My goal in this post isn’t to add my two cents to that conversation, but rather to offer a word of encouragement for those of you who sometimes feel hurt or left out because of today’s selfie/Instagram craze.

If you’ve ever felt left out or rejected when you see your groups of friends posting fun-filled selfies without you, please consider a couple of thoughts.

People aren’t always having as much fun as their selfies suggest. I recently heard about four young girls who were standing in line at a theme park, thoroughly engrossed in their respective smart phones. They were oblivious to one another, lost in their personal online worlds, when one of the girls suddenly said, “Hey, let’s take a selfie!” The other girls agreed, crowding together, and striking happy, laughing poses until the selfie was taken. Then they all checked the selfie to approve of how they looked, and then they separated and returned to their isolated smart phone viewing.

A carefully selected and posted selfie isn’t always an accurate representation of how much fun people are having without you. Sometimes they’re having more fun than the selfie suggests, but often they’re not. Selfies by nature capture a happy scene, but they say nothing about the accompanying drama and issues that could possibly be going on behind the scene.

Also, viewing other people’s selfies makes us forget about all of the times that we did fun things without them. Since posted selfies of friends highlight and immortalize the fact that our friends had fun without us, they tend to make us feel worse than we need to feel. Before the days of Facebook, Instagram, and selfies, we never had frame-by-frame updates about what our friends were doing without us, and we were just fine.

Now, however, when we see them having fun without us we can feel rejected, and that momentary sting makes us forget about all of the times when we did fun things without our friends. We’ve done tons of things without our friends, and we weren’t rejecting them. We were simply living life.

Let’s help our kids and young friends hold these things in perspective, and let’s make sure that our selfies and social media apps are tools that enhance our life without inflicting unnecessary hurt upon others or upon our own souls.

Lions versus Tigers

lion versus tiger

Who would win in the ultimate catfight between a lion and a tiger?

We humans love to ask these kinds of questions don’t we? I once watched an entire documentary that was devoted to discovering which predator would win between a hippopotamus and a Tiger Shark (the hippo won by a slight margin).

Sometimes the questions are interesting but unanswerable, like when we compare athletes from two separate eras, such as Muhammad Ali versus Mike Tyson, or a young Michael Jordan versus a young Kobe Bryant (answers: Muhammad Ali; Kobe Bryant).

At other times though the questions are purely fanciful, like who would win between Superman and Mighty Mouse, or between Batman and the Wolverine.

The catfight question though is a legitimate one, and since a Bengal Tiger and an African Lion are roughly the same size, people throughout history have sought to answer it.

Historians record the outcomes of staged battles between African lions and Asian tigers in the Roman Coliseum, and today there has been enough observation both in the wild and in captivity to come up with a consistent answer.

One-on-one the tiger usually wins.

Despite the fact that lions seem to be built to fight, with protective manes encircling their jugulars, tigers are usually more aggressive and dominant.

The exception to this rule; however, is when the two great cats fight in teams. A pride of lions will outfight a team of tigers, because while tigers are fiercer individually, lions are better at fighting as a group.

This little piece of nature trivia has an interesting parallel for our lives doesn’t it? We are safer and more effective in teams. Even if we have a more introverted temperament (like I do), we are safer when our lives are interlocked with a band of sisters or brothers.

One of my former teachers wrote, “Lone rangers build reputations but they don’t build people or nations. That takes community.”

Let’s find, latch onto, and contribute to a people-building, nation-changing community. Let’s stay entrenched with our band of brothers or sisters, so that when our various days of testing come, we will emerge victorious.

A Family of Friends

Parenthood“God is building a family. A permanent family. Earthly families enjoy short shelf lives. Even those that sidestep divorce are eventually divided by death. God’s family, however, will outlive the universe.

You didn’t pick me. I didn’t pick you. You may not like me. I may not like you. But since God picked and liked us both, we are family.

And we treat each other as friends.

C.S. Lewis said, ‘Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’

If similar experiences create friendships, shouldn’t the church overflow with friendships? With whom do you have more in common than fellow believers? Amazed by the same manger, stirred by the same Bible, saved by the same cross, and destined for the same home. Can you not echo the words of the psalmist? ‘I am a friend to everyone who fears you, to anyone who obeys your orders’ (Ps.119:63 NCV).

The church. More than family, we are friends. More than friends, we are family. God’s family of friends.

Oddly, some people enjoy the shade of the church while refusing to set down any roots. God, yes. Church, no. They like the benefits, but resist commitment. The music, the message, and the clean conscience—they accept church perks. So they date her, visit her. Enjoy an occasional rendezvous. They use the church. But commit to the church? Can’t do that. Got to keep options open. Don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.

I propose they already are. Miss the church and miss God’s sanctioned tool for God promotion. For church is a key place to do what you do best to the glory of God.

God heals His family through His family. In the church we use our gifts to love each other, honor one another, keep an eye on troublemakers, and carry each other’s burdens. Do you need encouragement, prayers, or a hospitable home? God entrusts the church to purvey these treasures. Consider the church God’s treatment center for the common life.

Don’t miss it. No one is strong all the time. Don’t miss the place to find your place and heal your hurts.”[1]


Summer Reading Program: The Cure for the Common Life Chapter Nine “Join God’s Family of Friends.”

[1] This essay is taken in its entirety from Max Lucado’s The Cure for the Common Life (Thomas Nelson, Nashville, TN: 2005): 77-82.

The struggle (is real)

elephant_Uphill_struggleSo if you’re over twenty, you might not be up to speed on some very important vernacular.

Today, in a humorous spirit of irony, young students lament the minor irritations of life by uttering the phrase, “the struggle!”

To the uninitiated, those words make no sense at all—especially within the context of doing one’s homework or bending over to retrieve a fallen pencil—however, to the informed, they demand a specific response. Sympathetic listeners respond to “the struggle” by saying, “the struggle is real.”

It took me a long time to understand, but thanks to Amber’s coaching, I finally get it. The struggle indeed is real.

And it really is. The irony of those who complain about trivia draws obvious attention to the truly severe struggles undergone by people everywhere in our world today (including people like you).

All humans struggle, but according to the New Testament, we shouldn’t have to struggle alone. In Romans 15:30 the Apostle Paul said, “…join me in my struggle by praying to God for me.”

The word “struggle” means, “to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition; to proceed with difficulty or with great effort.”

Who are you making strenuous efforts alongside? Who’s struggling for you?

I have enough struggles of my own to keep me comfortably self-centered for a very long time. However, I routinely find that when I struggle for someone else my struggles mysteriously lessen along the way.

Let’s struggle together!