Learning Life on a Half-Marathon

This past Saturday I ran my first half-marathon. It was a cold but beautiful day and it was a course that was a gradual down-hill the whole way. It was a great race to be my first half-marathon. I ran well and was pretty prepared. I ran at under 10 minutes per mile which was faster than I was getting in practice.

half 8 milesFor 3 days since the race my legs are still hurting as if to say, “Don’t you ever do that to us again!” I decided at about mile 12 that I will never do a full marathon. I could not imagine having only gone half way. It is just too much of a time commitment for me right now. I do think I want to run more half-marathons though.

I remember when I started running in my last year of seminary. I could not run a mile without nearly dying. Running has been a great way for me to get healthy and burn off some stress. But I realized after running this half-marathon that I had gotten a lot more out of running than just physical health. Running has taught me a lot about life.

Life is not a sprint. It is a marathon. It is a long distance with a lot of hills and a lot of turns. If you are going to get through, you have to learn to pace yourself. You can’t burn out to early. You have to have a long term perspective. When I run I take quick walking breaks. This allows my lungs and my legs to recover. Ultimately this helps you go faster on a run. Many of the people who passed me on my first couple of walking breaks ended up finishing well after me in the end.

When you get tired, when you hit a wall, or when you are in pain, you have to just keep going. You have to walk for a few second, catch your break, and keep marching. I have found in running that eventually the soreness goes away and the miles just start to pile up.

I have learned the value of goals. I don’t run very regularly when I am just relying on my own discipline, but when I have a race coming and when I pay for that race I get much more disciplined. We need goals. We need deadlines. We need something on the line sometimes to push us to be better.

You have to train for a half-marathon. You can’t wake up the day before the race and decide to buy shoes and go for a jog. You have to run and build up the muscles and the endurance before you need them. I can’t tell you how many people I have seen that don’t build up the muscles of their faith or their family and then find themselves in a difficult part of the trail of life. They don’t come to church and they don’t develop their faith and then, when someone dies or some tragedy strikes they don’t have the training to make it through. You have to prepare for the difficulties.

There is also something strengthening for your soul when you are pushed to the brink of failure and you survive. When I saw that finish line I just kept repeating to myself, “I did it. I did it.” And the encouragement of people cheering helped me in that last stretch to give it all I had.

[1] Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [2] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)


Learning Story and People from “The Martian”

I recently saw the movie The Martian with Matt Damon. In the film, Matt Damon’s character is struck by a piece of debris on Mars during a storm. The debris pierces his life sign monitor and he is knocked out. His team cannot find him, reads no life signs, and cannot get him on their communication devices. They assume him dead and leave him on Mars to start the 9 month journey back.

Matt Damon awakes the next morning to find himself in nearly every human being’s worse nightmare. He is totally alone on another planet months away from home. He is forced to live in tight spaces. He can only go outside in a space suit (the movie made me a little claustrophobic). The debris that struck him was part of the communication system so he has no way to contact earth to even let them know he is alive. He is wounded from the debris that struck him. His biggest problem is that he only has enough food for a few months and there is no way for a rescue mission to get to him in time.

The story then unfolds about him trying to stay alive and contact earth while NASA, eventually figuring out that he is alive, tries to do what they can to help him and get him back.

This is a story happening on Mars, yet somehow it is an incredibly human story. Who has not felt pain and hunger? Who has not felt trapped? How often do we feel alone and without help? How often do we have fears or feel like giving up?

The film works (and is outstanding) because iwe can all identify with it. We can see ourselves in it. We may not have to survive on Mars, but we do have to survive today.

That is the power of story. And when you understand how story works it gives you great leverage for living and leading differently.

A Big Thank-You to Pastors

I came across this piece by Rebecca Barlow Jordan in the book Pastors at Greater Risk and thought of so many great people that I privileged to call colleagues and friends in ministry. May you not just survive the work but do so with joy:

God gave them tender hearts, to hold the hurts of others.
He gave them gentle hands, to reach out with compassion and love.
God gave them eyes, to see the beauty and worth of a single soul.
He gave them feet, to move swiftly, to pursue justice, restoration and peace.
God laid His hand upon them—and breathed hope into their spirits.
He filled them with His strength and placed a message of urgency around their lives.
God challenged them to greater works than He had ever done.
Then, with His own hand of blessing, He wrapped them up in His mantle of love…and called them pastors.
–Rebecca Barlow Jordan

LAND THE PLANE- My best advice for preachers

I was once at a denominational meeting where the speaker preached for what seemed like forever. I don’t think it was as long as it felt. The problem was that the preacher kept preaching what everyone thought was the ending to the sermon. And just as we all thought it was ending he would launch into another point. There was a certain amount of anxiety every time this happened and, in the end, the sermon lost its power.

A friend of mine came up to me afterwards and simply said, “Land the plane, man. Just land the plane.”

plane landingI thought that was a great metaphor and it has been pivotal in how I approach preaching. It felt like that preacher kept coming in for a landing and then, just as he was about to touch the tires down on the runway, he accelerated for another lap around the airport. He would come in for another landing only to take off once again.

The end of a move can make or break the movie. The end of a book leaves you with the last impression and often tints the way you see the whole book. How you end your sermon is crucial for the lasting impact of that sermon.

I am convinced that many pastors don’t know how to end a sermon. They can take off and fly the plane, but you sour the whole sermon if you don’t land the plane.

Here’s how you land the plane. To begin you have to know very clearly what your last point is. You should write it out and practice your ending. Often the end of the sermon is the only part I have manuscripted because I want to be very clear on how I am going to end.

Another way to be sure you land the plane is to be careful when you end certain points or sections of your sermon. You don’t want to preach a point onto the runway unless it is the end of the sermon. It is helpful to give clues like telling people how many points or observations you have. Sometimes if you find that you have an observation that feels like a landing maybe that point ought to be the last one in the sermon.

Here is another simply device—just say something like “Amen.” Give a recognizable end to the sermons. I often like to pray at the end of my sermons. I think it is helpful to ask God to open our eyes and hearts and to help the message sink into our lives. Praying also a clear ending to the sermon and also gives time for people to get ready for the next part of the service.

Whatever you do, for God’s sake and for the sake of your people, land the plane.


The Loss of Phyllis Tickle

On September 22, 2015, Phyllis Tickle passed away. Phyllis was a great lady and an important person for Christians today. She studied a lot of what is going on in the faith today and she was a very important figure in developing Christian publishing. Phyllis Tickle has had a big impact on my thinking. I even got to meet here once and found her to be a very kind and wonderful lady. I think she influenced me in 3 very big ways.Phyllis Tickle

First, Phyllis Tickle taught me the value of structured prayers and particularly praying the Psalms. Other traditions from Abraham pray throughout the day. Muslims and Jews both stop multiple times a day to pray. Many Christians, however, do not realize is that the early Christians also did this. It may be surprising, but the idea of stopping at fixed hours to pray throughout the day a found a number of times throughout the Bible. (See Ps 119:164, 55:17; Dan 6:10; Acts 3:1; Acts 10:9)

The early church continued and developed the hours. It was used extensively as the church developed monasteries. They continued throughout the Middle Ages. But at the Reformation they were lost except in certain traditions such as the Episcopal tradition. These prayers have been around a long time and, until recently, seem to have been a regular part of the Christian faith.

These prayers are called many things—fixed hour prayers, the daily office, the divine hours, the liturgy of hours. Phyllis Tickle wrote the most accessible version that I have found called The Divine Hours. Here version follows the annual calendar and are very ecumenical and easy to use. A couple times a year I still go back to those books to give my faith some structure and consistency.

A few years ago I wrote Divine Hours with my dad for our churches to try during Advent. (Download it Here). This is actually how I got in touch with Phyllis. I emailed her my work and she was complimentary of my efforts. A couple of months later I got to meet her at the Festival of Homiletics.

Beside the Divine Hours, Phyllis taught me the value of studying what is currently going on in Christianity. She saw that new expressions of church and faith were emerging. Phyllis tried to study this movement and report on how it was working. What are the questions that are being asked? Where are the challenges? Where is there new life springing forth? I believe that here books The Great Emergence and Emergence Christianity will go down as critical works for the church in the next 20 years. The first is an overview of what is happening. The second is like a field report for this new faith that is emerging.

The final thing I learned from Phillis is an extension of her analysis of the current emergence. When she wrote about what was happening she wrote with a historical perspective. She taught me Tickle to not just look at the present or future of the church but to look through the lens of the past. Her large point was that about every 500 years human culture goes through a major upheaval where the worldview and structure of nearly everything changes. Think about the Enlightenment and the Reformation 500 years ago. When you look back, you can see consistent elements of each of these “turnings.” For instance, every time these periods come up new forms of religion form and old forms are adapted. They are always accompanied by changes in technology. Also, they are always accompanied with questions of authority.

phyllis tickle 2The specifics of her analysis are not near as important as the fundamental basis for her thinking—that we should look backwards as we look forward.

It is very sad to lose Phyllis Tickle. She joins a list of important Christian leaders who have died in recent years—Brennan Manning, Chuck Colson, Dallas Willard, Robert Schuller, Lyle Schaller, Fred Craddock, and Gardner Taylor. These are all people who not everyone will agree with, but they were important contributors to the faith. I wonder who will step up and be the leaders of tomorrow’s church?

I conclude with one of my favorite verses to use at funerals:

[13] And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13 ESV)

Rest, Phyllis Tickle. Thank-you for your labors.


Links and Resources:
Phyllis Tickle’s Website
Phyllis Tickle’s Tribute from the New York Times
Phyllis Tickle’s Tribute from the Huffington Post
Phyllis Tickle’s Tribute from Religion News

Phyllis Tickle Lectures on The Great Emergence at Pittsburgh Seminary in 2012-
Part 1-
Part 2-
Part 3- https://youtu.be/M3bVDMy6jiQ

Here is a great little movie on Youtube about Phyllis’ life:

Click the books below to see my favorite of Phyllis’ work: