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.”


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.

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!



Summer Reading Program–Week Six

English: Everest - photo by Ryszard Pawłowski ...
English: Everest – photo by Ryszard Pawłowski – Polish International Mt Everest expedition 99 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grace Church Summer Reading Program: Lord, Make My Life a Miracle by Ray and Anne Ortlund. Chapter Six: “Have a close friend”

You need a Sherpa to help you get where you’re going.

You remember who the Sherpas are right? They’re a group of Himalaya-dwelling Tibetans that are renowned, among other things, for their expertise in mountain climbing.

Sought after for their skill in mountaineering, Sherpas often serve as guides for those daring people who desire to climb Mt. Everest.

Climbing Mt. Everest might not be a top priority on your bucket list, but you still need a Sherpa—you need a friend to journey through life with you. In their book Lord, Make My Life a Miracle Pastor Ray and Anne Ortlund describe what that friend should be like.

  • They should faithfully love you, never leaving any doubt that they are on your side
  • They should be skilled at killing giants so you never have to face Goliath alone
  • They should to be brave enough to confront you when you wander off track
  • And they should love your children as much as they love you

At the end of this chapter the Ortlund’s wrote: “Do you have a loving circle of friends with whom, when they live, you live; and when they die, in a sense, you die? Do you have friends who will love you and your children and your children’s children? If you don’t have anyone like that, step out by faith. Live a little dangerously, and give your heart away. Find someone who will be a godly friend to you, who will strengthen your hand in God. I plead with you for this.”

And as you set out to identify your Sherpa, remember what the Proverbs says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly” (Proverbs 18:24 NKJV).

Sometimes the first step to identifying your Sherpa is to become a mountain guide for someone else’s journey.

For more information about our summer reading program go to www.gracechurchlaverne.org.

Summer Reading Program–Week Five

Sioux teepee
Sioux teepee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grace Church Summer Reading Program: Lord, Make My Life a Miracle by Ray and Anne Ortlund. Chapter Five: “Put it together with other believers”

Do you have a tribe?

Although there are some significant gaps in my family’s known genealogy, we do know that we have a close connection to the Cheyenne and Blackfoot Indian nations.

Sometimes the tribal longing of my Native American bloodline still stirs in my soul, and I yearn for a place where I belong.  Although I crave solitude at times, there is still something in my soul that needs a place to connect. Some people call that place a “band of brothers” or a “community” or a “small group,” but regardless of its name it is a rare and wonderful place.

And you don’t need Native American blood to hunger for it.

From the opening pages of the Bible we are told that it is not good for mankind to be alone (Genesis 2:18), and then all through the ensuing biblical narrative we see God placing His followers in community.

  • Moses had Aaron
  • David had Jonathan
  • Jesus had Peter, James, John, and the other disciples
  • Paul had Barnabus, Silas, Luke, Titus, and Timothy (and the list goes on…)
  • The 1st century Christians had one another

If the tribal element of your Christian faith is lacking, then you are missing out on some incredible encouragement, strength, and life that is available to you.

This is not a “join one of our small groups” sales pitch; however, if you have yet to “connect” in a significant way with our Grace Church community, please take the time and pay the price to find a niche where you can belong. God wants you to find a place where you can be strengthened, stretched, supported, and where YOU can invest in the lives of OTHERS as well.

Your tribe needs you.

For more information about our summer reading program go to www.gracechurchlaverne.org.

What Super Mario Bros. is teaching me

New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Image via Wikipedia

In recent months my daughters and I have become addicted to the Wii version of Super Mario Bros. My wife laughs at us as we alternately cheer, scream, and groan while our respective characters, Mario, Luigi, and Lemon-head face off against giant mushrooms, poisonous fish, and nasty snapping turtles. We’ve gotten pretty good—we’re more than halfway through the entire game—and we’ve also learned an important lesson along the way.

Heroic fights can seldom be won alone.

Through our Mario Bros. exploits we have discovered the incredible power of synergy, and we’ve learned to rely on one another during the tougher parts of the game (Amber is the best at dodging falling rocks, and I’m the best at jumping on the giant frog at the end of each level). When we pool our strengths, and guard each other’s backs we progress much further than we could ever do on our own.

That sounds almost biblical doesn’t it? 🙂

The Bible makes it clear that life’s adventures should be tackled in community. Jesus never sent His followers out to do great works alone—at the very least he sent them out in pairs so that the power of unified synergy would accompany them. Leviticus 26: 8 says, “Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.”

The principle in that verse has proven repeatedly true in my life–and it will likely be proven again tonight when Amber, Maddie, and I attempt to conquer level 5.