Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

 

On Saturday I got to travel to Madrid, IA to visit some really good friends. Since I arrived in Iowa nearly five years ago my friendship with them really blossomed. I met them both my freshman year in college. The both finished their schooling there at Florida College that year so I never really got the chance to become really close to them like I did with those that I went to school with for four years. Their children were about the same age as my own, he was also preaching, and they had chosen to home school their children, just like my wife and I. It was a perfect scenario for a good friendship to develop. We met up several times throughout the next five years, evening take a mini-vacation together last year. The early this year we learned that they were moving to Texas. My oldest daughter was devastated as their daughter was my daughter’s best friend. They were two peas in a pod and for the most part inseparable. So, Saturday we decided to head over and see them one last time before they moved away at the end of last month.

Knowing that they are leaving had filled me with many mixed emotions. I truly am saddened because I am losing a good friend. Nat has been so helpful to me through the years. A few years ago I was going through a particularly difficult year and Nat really provided a great deal of encouragement. While he is always a phone call or a text away, it just isn’t the same as being able to talk face to face.

But, knowing that he is leaving to help a church in need and to move closer to family I am thankful for his decision. He hasn’t chosen the easy path. It would have been easier to stay where he was. Stay were his “job security” was secure. He could have stayed where he could argue that he lives too far away to help with family problems. But that was not his choice. I for one and thankful for the example he set for me. It reminded me that there numerous churches out there that need men who are willing to move there. Yes, some of them are in Iowa, some are in more remote areas of our country like North Dakota, some are overseas in Africa, the Philippines or China, and some are in our backyards. Where ever they are we need those willing to work, to help them get out of the stagnation that has plagued the church. I pray that when it comes time to move on, I might have the courage to help those churches in need.

I am also relieved. In April of next year he is scheduled to preach at a Gospel Meeting here in Grinnell. He intends on bringing his whole family with him. This will be wonderful as we plan on making some improvements on our home so that we can host them that week. I think all the children would appreciate that. However, I am more relieved in knowing that no matter what happens in this world, so long as we both keep the faith, I will one day see them again. That is one of the great blessings of being a Christian. We can say goodbye knowing that it is not really goodbye. We will one day see each other in heaven. And while I long for the day that we see each other again in this life, it does not compare to the longing I have to be united with his family as we enter within the pearly gates.

I also feel really blessed. As a preacher I have always been the one to move. In fact, in the eight years prior to rekindling this friendship I had lived in five different states, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Virginia and Iowa. In total I moved 8 times. Leaving is something that I have gotten rally used to. And here I am being the one left behind. Rather than being sad, I am feeling really blessed. I work with a loving church that in the last couple of months have experienced three baptisms. I work with a church that is exceptionally good at inviting people to our gospel meetings. I work with a church that has made me feel at home. In November I will have been here for five wonderful years. Twos and half years longer than any other place that I have labored. I don’t know what the Lord has in store for me, but I have no doubt that God will be good to me.

Advertisements

Facing Your Giants

A couple of weeks ago I faced a giant I never thought I would dare to encounter. I ran 13.1 miles. When I first started that journey the giant seemed daunting. Even the week leading up to the race I slept very little. I was nervous. I was beginning to doubt my body could handle the abuse it takes to run that far. On race day, the fear was gone. I was ready. 2 hours and 50 minutes later I was celebrating with my family and friends. That giant was slain and I was victorious.

While my giant was no Goliath, I can’t help but to relate just a little with David and Israel. David was nothing more than a shepherd boy. But, when he heard the denouncing cries of the mighty warrior of the Philistines he couldn’t understand why none of God’s people would stand up against Goliath. His courage was rather amazing. Goliath stood over 9 feet tall. His armor alone weighed near 125 lbs. His size and stature were so large he would have made men like Wilt Chamberlain, Shaq, and Andre the Giant seem small. And a little shepherd boy walked onto the battle field to meet him.

His courage was not in his own skill, or his own might, but in God. He knew God was with him. It was made manifest to David when he killed a bear and lion (I Sam. 17:34-37). If God would deliver David from the bear and the lion, he surely will deliver him from the hand of this godless Philistine.

He met Goliath on the battlefield with nothing more than a sling and 5 smooth stones. He carried no sword, no spear, and no armor. He didn’t look like a warrior prepared for battle. He looked like a kid ready to be slaughtered by the might Goliath. In fact, Goliath was so confident, he continued to mock Israel (I Sam. 17:43-44).

David, not only defeated Goliath, it was no accident. He didn’t try to run away and hope that Goliath would stumble. He didn’t back into a corner waiting for the nation of Israel to rise up and come to his aid. The text says he ran into battle (I Sam. 17:48). He took one stone and defeated the giant.

This victory was then followed by another. Israel, seeing the mighty Goliath defeated, rose up and slew the Philistines (I Sam. 17:52). The Philistines ran all the way back to their cities, with Israel hot on their heels. It was a great day for God’s people.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t help but to relate. I had my own giant. I ran out to meet him. And I won. But, my battle is not over. It was only one giant among many enemies. It does me no good to defeat this might giant only to watch the rest my enemies take me down. I have to keep fighting. I have to keep pursing. I have to win the war. My battle against my sin of gluttony certain is in my favor. For the 1st time in 12 years I am winning the battle. I have taken control. My past failures are a reminder that I can’t just return to my old ways. The truth is, in my lifetime I have lost hundreds of pounds. The problem is I have always gained all of them back. At least until now. My enemies include doubt, frustration, depression, stress, tiredness, and the general attitude of quit. They still try to threaten my choice to no longer be glutton. If I do not fight back, if I do not push them back, I will find them conquering my soul once again.

I pray that my journey can inspire you as David’s inspired me. I don’t know what sins, what demons you battle. We all have them. Some are like the might Goliath. They seem impossible to take down. But, remember, with God on your side it can be done. He can give you the victory to finally overcome whatever your giant maybe. Be it drugs, alcohol, pornography, depression, loneliness or how to deal with the declining health of yourself or your loved ones.

 

 

A Good Family Can Carry You Far

On Saturday I finished my first ½ marathon.  I am the big guy in the middle wearing the gray shirt in the picture above.  I think I was the tallest guy running the race and I was easily the heaviest.  And it was easily the hardest thing I have ever physically done. I wrestled in high school, I played football as well. But none of that prepared me for what running 13.1 miles would do to me. For those following my blog, you know that I was injured a few weeks back and I was actually unable to complete my training for the run. In fact, this past week was the 1st time I was able to run since I first got injured. I ran 4 miles this past Tuesday and 3 miles this past Thursday. When my run was done Thursday, my hip was killing me. I thought that there was no way I was going to be able to run, not 13 miles, not with this pain in my hip. But, I was determined to give it my best effort. I was going to try anyways. I figured if I couldn’t run for two months, at least it would be because I tried. So, Thursday afternoon I met with my trainer. She and I discussed my running form and learned that I was running incorrectly uphill. We discussed other strategies and she informed me that she would be there to help me run as soon as she finished her 5K. I saw my chiropractor on Friday and had him adjust that bad hip one last time. When race day arrived, my parents were there, watching my three youngest children as my wife and daughter were running a 5k at the same time. I ran into others I had been training with to help me lose weight, many were either volunteering at the Grinnell Games or they were running the 5K themselves. They offered words of encouragement, and one even told me they would hunt me down after they finished to cheer me on.

When the race finally got underway I watched most people pull away from me. I expected this because after all, everyone wants to put on a good show for the start of the race. Me, I wanted to run my race. I let them go. Over the course of the next mile I passed many of the 5K runners and a few people running the ½ marathon. Before long I was pretty much on my own. I didn’t have many in front of me, and I didn’t have many behind me. I passed my 4th mile and figured it wouldn’t be long before I saw those that said they would cheer me on. And I didn’t. Another mile passed by. Still no one. I reached 6th mile and I was passed by the person that finished 1st in the ½ marathon (we ran a loop in town twice). By the time I reached the starting line I was wondering where everyone was. It was then I saw my wife and kids cheering me on. So were my parents. I even saw a couple of others. It got me through the next mile. There I ran past some members of the church here. They cheered me on more. That got me through the next mile. By mile 8 I was getting worried my hip couldn’t take the hills so I walked some and ran some. It was then I heard my trainer cheering me on. She rode her bike with me off and on for the next 5 miles. I even had a friend run some with me as I reached the end. When I finally saw the finished line something amazing happened. I saw 20-30 people that I knew cheering me on. People that have helped me on my weight loss journey. People I worshiped with. People that loved me. All of them encouraging me to finish strong. The cramps I had felt for the last 2 miles were gone. I felt invigorated. I started to sprint and the 13 miles behind me were long forgotten, it was amazing what their voices did for me. While I trained hard, if it had not been for all of them, I wouldn’t have finished.

The following day of course was Father’s Day. My sermon that day was about how wives could honor their husbands not just on Father’s Day, but every day. Husbands need encouragement to keep going. Many of them go to work only to be beaten down all day. They get mocked, some are shot at, others fight fires, others travel the world to provide you and I security and peace of mind, others work physically exhausting jobs. Jobs that rob them of the strength, their joy, their hopes and they do this so that food can be put on the table. They need encouragement from their families when they get home. But, the truth is, it is not just the father’s that need encouragement. We all do. The kids, the moms, the grandparents. We all need encouragement. This world tries every day to tear us down. We need those on the sidelines cheering us on.

We all have our cheerleaders. Whether we see them or not they are there. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1).” Who are these witnesses the Hebrew writer references? They are those that have run the race before you. They are those specifically mentioned in Heb. 11. It is Abel who was slain by his own brother. It is Enoch who broke the pattern of death, by breaking the pattern of life. It is Noah who built an ark and saved his family from the coming flood. It is Abraham who journeyed to a land he didn’t know. It is Sarah who believed she could give birth even though she was well past birthing years. It is Moses who gave up living the life of debauchery, believing suffering with God’s people was better. It is the faithful of Israel that crossed upon dry ground as they escaped Egypt.  They are cheering you on. They want to see you finish. They want you to be as they are… victors in this race of life.  There is no better family to be a part of.  There are no greater voices to hear cheering you on than those of God’s people.  So, listening closely.  Don’t lose hope. Keep those legs moving. Take it one step at a time. One mile at a time. One day at a time. And, before you know it, you’ll cross that finish line and God will welcome you home.

 

Don’t Quit Now

These are the words that I keep saying to myself over and over again. I have to say them because my journey has been hard, and took an unexpected detour that certainly could destroy any hopes I had of accomplishing my goals for Father’s Day weekend. Many of you have been following my journey, others might be new here, so let me simply state I have been training to run my 1st ½ marathon. When I first started this new chapter in my life I was extremely unhealthy and on the verge of a heart attack and possibly an early grave. I weighed in at 367 lbs and kept telling myself it didn’t matter. I started going to some exercise classes at the local hospital in hopes of changing my life. That is when I met my trainer Holly. She is dear to me. She worked me hard and never let me give up. The weight started coming off. In June of last year I decided I wanted to run a 5K. In August I ran my 1st 5K. Hungry for a new challenge I asked Holly to help me train for a ½ marathon. Little bit, by little bit I grew stronger, faster, and can run longer than ever before. I was up to about 10 miles when something went wrong. My body could no longer take the beating of running and it quit on me. I was in such pain that I couldn’t even step on a curb to get off the street without crumbling to the ground in pain. One month to go to the ½ marathon and my dreams of finishing were crumbling down around me.

After talking with a doctor he suggested I gave up the dream of running. Men my size simply cannot take that kind of abuse. I was devastated. I didn’t want to quit because I had come so far and I have gotten so close to my goal. So I told myself don’t quit now. I have spent the last month letting my body heal. I have taken spin classes to keep my legs strong and my cardio up. Thursday last week I ran two miles and my body was okay. I get it, two miles is a far cry from 13.1 miles. But I have to tell myself, “Don’t give up now.” I imagine those will be words I will be repeating throughout the race. Each time I hit those hills that I crumbled upon I will have to remind myself, don’t give up now. When I finish the half way point… “Don’t give up now.” And when I come down that to that final mile I again will be hearing me say, “Don’t give up now.”

You see, the truth is, it isn’t about how you start the race. It is about how you finish. What good would it have done me to lose the 30 lbs I had lost as of the day I got injured if I put I all back on (which I have done numerous times throughout my life). I need to finish what I started. Amazingly I have lost another 14 lbs over the last month making some more changes in my diet and spinning. I can’t quit. Not now. Not when I am this close to my goal.

Winston Churchill once said, “Never, Never, Never Give Up.” That is exactly what I am doing with my exercise my physical body. And that is exactly what I am doing in exercising my soul. I don’t want to be known as that guy that started well. Many people in the bible started well and ended up making a mockery of their faith. Adam started well, but later blamed God for his own short comings. Lot started well, but later got drunk and committed incest. King Saul started well, but later would turn against God’s people. He even ordered the slaying of priests. Judas Iscariot started well, but what go on to betray Christ and ultimately committed suicide. We look at those men and think, I don’t want to be that guy. I would rather by the guy that stumbles out of the gate, but goes on to finish strong. Men like Paul who spent his early years persecuting the church, but would go on to be one of the biggest reasons why the church grew so well during the 1st century. Men like Abraham who on a number of occasions showed God he didn’t really trust him, but finally came to trust God in all things when he didn’t withhold his only son.

My friends, I encourage you to finish strong. Like the story of the tortoise and the hare it isn’t about running faster than everyone else. It is about finishing to the best of your ability. It is about never, never quitting. You will never be perfect, but God is not asking you to be. He is simply asking you to keep pursuing righteousness and he will take care of the rest. Keep pursing even thought it gets hard. Keep pursuing even though the world tempts you to quit. Keep pursing even if it means taking up your own cross. Keep pursing when your family wants you to quit. Never, Never, Never Give Up!

Repentance Requires Honesty

This was me for a really long time. Let me tell you my story. About 12 years ago I began pursuing a “career” in the service of the Lord. I started going down to Mattoon, IL and preaching for a small church of wonderful loving people. As the time I preached just every other Sunday for them, and being that my home congregation was without a preacher at the time I was preaching for them the other Sundays of the month. At that time I thought I had it all figured out. I was a newly married man, a daughter on the way and vision for what my future would be.

For whatever reason, I can’t even begin to tell you what it was, I became victim to an addiction. While I was never really a small guy most of my life, I was in really good shape when I got married. I had been running a couple of miles every morning and then life got busy. I ceased running. Instead of having an apple I grabbed a donut. And before long my 10+ year addiction to food had begun. It was nothing for me to put away a large pizza on my own. I loved diet coke. (And yes, I know that I was only fooling myself there as there is nothing diet about it). To make matters worse I began preaching lessons on self control and temperance all while my health was going down the toilet and my weight was sky rocketing.

From time to time I would convince myself that I needed to do something. Usually, it was when I found out I couldn’t do something that I used to be able to do. So I would lose 10 lbs here and 20lbs there, but I always gained it back. About 4 years ago I thought I had my big breakthrough. I thought I finally defeated my “demons.” I lost 30 lbs in about 4 months. I was feeling good. I was stronger, faster, leaner. It felt really nice. But then, I get distracted with life again. My 4th child was born. I needed to help out more with the kids and I no longer exercised. The weight started coming back on. And this time in dangerous proportions. I ballooned to my heaviest weight before I realized how bad things had gotten. I was 367 lbs. I couldn’t walk up the steps without being winded and playing with the kids was impossible.

It was then that I realized what I was doing. I was not just killing myself slowly with food, I was lying to myself about what my problem really was. I was leading my church astray because I couldn’t exercise some self control. So 15 months ago I did something about it. I repented. I broke down and explained to God how wrong I was. I begged for his forgiveness. I pleaded for strength to overcome my addiction. About 6 months after that day I began working on running my 1st ½ marathon. But there was still a glaring issue I had yet to deal with. And until I fixed that problem, my repentance wasn’t complete.

I had to come clean before my brothers and sisters in Christ. It is one thing if my sin was between me and God. But my sin, while others may not have actually seen me overeating, they saw the affects of my wicked ways. They saw how much I had gained. They saw what I had done to myself. I was ashamed to tell them where I was. I was ashamed to tell them I was a sinner. And as preacher that is not a good place to be. It wasn’t until I watched another preacher make a confession of his own sins that I was able to overcome this barrier. He did so because none of us our perfect and none of us should be afraid to tell someone I am not perfect, I am a sinner and I need forgiveness. So, after more prayers were said, I finally did it. I stood before this church in Grinnell and told them what they already knew. I until recently, never showed self-control when it came to what I ate. I ate what I wanted, when I wanted and I failed them because I asked them to show self control over their owns sins while I chose to be a glutton.

Then, an amazing thing happened. They had already been seeing the changes I had made. They saw how hard that I had been working and they forgave me. And the 8 months that followed they have continued to encourage me on my journey towards spiritual and physical health. But even more amazing then that, my guilt was gone. It felt like 30 lbs were just taken off my shoulders. I wasn’t ashamed to be around them, worship with them, or even eat around them.

Repentance requires honesty. It requires honesty with yourself, your God, and your church. And until I had that kind of honesty I remained bound to that sin.