Category Archives: mental exercise

Middle Laps

Jim Ryun Running at Kansas

Jim Ryun Running at Kansas

In college, I ran track. I was not very fast, but I grew up watching Jim Ryun run a sub-4 minute mile while in high school. I dreamed of being such a miler, clicking off each of the four laps on the track in 60 seconds. In reality, I rarely could run one lap under 70 seconds, let alone four in a row. Still I competed each year, yearning to improve.

One thing track taught me was the value of persistence, especially in the middle laps. The first and last laps of a mile race have their own magic which can pull the runner along. The first lap has the quick start and the pack jockeying for position. The gun lap has the pull of the finish line and the knowledge that the race will soon be completed.

It is the second and especially the third lap that always challenged me mentally and physically. The pain of running at race pace had become reality, but the finish seemed too far away to contemplate. If I focused on the pain, I rarely did well. If I focused on staying calm, relaxed, and fluid, I could maintain my semi-fast pace. By my senior year I knew the challenge I faced each time I approached the start line.

I think of this as I prepare to run Twin Cities Marathon on October 7. My training is now in the middle laps; my last long run of 16 miles is still ten days away and I have a few more track sessions to complete. Nearly every day I am up early to run so as to beat the late summer heat. My mind and spirit has begun to tire from the long training cycle and many miles. Still I have been here before and I recognize that I must be patient and persevere. After my last long training run, I will begin a three-week taper of reduced miles so that my body can adequately rest and recover for the race.

The Christian life also requires persistence and perseverance. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10), yet not every day will be happy. Life can be difficult and challenging; it can feel like we are in the middle laps of a very long race. Our prayers may seem to circle around our heads, never reaching God’s heavenly ear. Saint Paul reminds us that we are to keep on praying, keep on believing and trusting, even when the days seem long.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer (Romans 12:12)

My fall marathon will soon come and then be over. Yet our life in Christ will carry on for many more laps. Christ is not simply at the start or the finish, but running beside us each lap of the race, helping us to stay patient and calm. Thanks be to God.

Lord Jesus, open the eyes of my heart to see you each day.

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Crossing Boundary Waters

I am looking forward to a canoe trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) of northern Minnesota this July with men from Resurrection Lutheran Church. Part of our preparation is to read Andrew Rogness’ Crossing Boundary Waters: A Spiritual Journey in Canoe Country. Andrew was a Lutheran pastor who wrote about his four-day solo canoe trip in the BWCA and his personal discoveries.

Early in his trip he encountered a small narrow opening to a lake that had a swift current to it.

Enough water moves through it to form a clear “V” shape with swirling eddies and small whirlpools. If I try to paddle through it, I will be going against the current. This can be hard enough for two paddlers, but manageable. I have never tried it alone. Now with a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” attitude, I decide to try. (p. 26).

Over the next several paragraphs, Andrew described his three attempts to conquer this small rapids at the entrance to the lake. It becomes almost comical in his description of different positions and approaches. After his final approach, he paddled to the smoothly rounded granite bed on the east side of the narrows. As he sat on the rock, his feet dangling in the water, he reflected on his attempt to conquer this small section of the river.

I realize that I had entered the water to manipulate, dominate, and objectify it as though it were there so serve me. This image explodes into a maze of thoughts and insight, leaving my body on the edge of the rapids. . . . What I thought were the reasons for my coming here, I now see as symptoms of a deeper issue. I had intended to search for myself, unsure if my problems were with me or with others and my relationships with them. Maybe the problem is how I relate to myself. I hear words reverberating in some forgotten sanctuary, “Whoever would find their life will lose it. And whoever would lose their life will find it.” Words that were an utter mystery to me. Why do I remember them? Why do they make perfect sense now? (p. 28-29)

Canoe trips, summer hikes, or long car drives can be time for self-reflection and renewal. Leaving the familiar routines of daily life can sometime open cracks that allow the Holy Spirit to break into our lives in a fresh and powerful way. Times of reflections can help us understand our spiritual emotions and cultivate a healthier perspective on them.

I look forward to such encounters and contemplations during my travels. May God give you time for such spiritual reflection.

Lord Jesus, grant me your perspective of my life.

Myths About Emotions Part Two

There is a  myth that emotions are irrational and uncontrollable. Certainly emotions are powerful and can be corrosive, but they are not uncontrollable. Grief, anger,  fear, love,  or gratitude can be cultivated and directed in a variety of ways and for distinct purposes. Today I will explore the myth that emotions are good or bad, positive or negative.

Our culture tends to see emotions in black and white terms. We think of joy, love, hope, peace as good or positive emotions while we categorize anger, guilt, resentment, envy, jealousy, grief and fear as negative or bad emotions. We think that to be angry is wrong and to be in love is right. But such strict categories does not reflect the reality of emotions as expressed in scripture.

In my last post I wrote about anger and an experience I had in a parking lot. I now see my angry reaction in that circumstance as a misuse of my passionate energy. However I don’t see all anger as wrong.

Years earlier I had a different kind of experience of anger in a parking lot. My wife and I had stopped at an A&W drive-in where root beer floats were served in large frosty glass mugs. The delicious drinks were brought to cars by the hard-working wait staff and then the mugs were picked up afterwards. As my wife and I enjoyed our floats, I noticed that a neighboring car was preparing to leave. As they finished their root beer, they placed the mugs on the floor of their car and the driver then quickly set the empty tray on the ground beside the car.

I felt a surge of anger swell within me. I thought, “They are trying to steal the glass mugs!” I yelled for a wait staff person, “Hey, that car is trying to steal your mugs.” I was upset that my neighbor was stealing and I wanted to prevent it. The waitress quickly returned and retrieved the mugs and I received some very dirty looks from the exiting driver.

Now in this situation I believe my anger was justified and my actions purposeful. I could have simply ignored the situation, “not my business,” but my sense of justice motivated me to act. The anger served as an energizing motivator to seek justice in this small situation. I think peaceful passivity would have been wrong in this situation while properly directed anger was more helpful.

There is a time and place for what I call “righteous anger,” when some injustice or unfair system needs to be confronted. Confrontation does not require violence, but rather the purpose of making things right. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in our nation was an expression of such righteous anger towards the injustice of racism.

Jesus demonstrated such anger when he confronted the merchants in the temple (Mark 11:15-17). The temple’s purpose had been subverted by this interchange and Jesus worked to make things right. The temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, not a marketplace of exchanged good.

Emotions are God-given gifts that need to be cultivated and directed towards God’s purposes.

Lord Jesus, harness the energy of my anger for your purposes.

Mystery of Trust

Paul at the Areopagus by artist Kennedy Paizs

One of the great mysteries of faith is why some people believe in Jesus and others do not.  One trusts completely while another turns away.  In Acts 17, Paul comes to Thessalonica and preaches in the Jewish synagogue.

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures,  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.”  Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Act 17:2-4)

Paul was persuasive and some came to trust in Jesus, yet many did not believe. I recognize that the Holy Spirit, prayer, and human temperament all play a role, yet I am amazed that within one family, exposed to the same environment and influences, some members place their trust in Jesus and other members do not. The parents and church community express the gospel in word and deed, but not everyone hears and responds. It is like the seed in Jesus’ parable of the sower in Mark 4. Some seed falls on rocky soil, some among the weeds, some on the trodden path, and some on the good soil. Only the see in the good soil takes root and bears fruit.

Occasionally what seems to be the random nature of faith can be disheartening. My intellectual curiosity can twist me into knots. At those times, I “fold the wings of my intellect” and simply rest in  Jesus. I trust in his mercy and grace. Jesus has touched and changed my life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God has impacted my life. And I have seen other lives changed as well. With hope I continue to fling the seed of God’s Word, trusting in God and not myself.

So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ, Romans 10:17

Lord Jesus, create in each of us a faith that bears fruit for your kingdom.

The Fun in Run For Others

Last Saturday, I joined other runners from Resurrection LC to run in the Cemstone Run for Others 5K/10K race. We had a blast benefiting Habitat for Humanity. Though I ran most of the 10K race by myself, the challenge and the course volunteers kept me motivated. I even got a prize for taking second in my age group!

Running is often thought of as a solitary sport. You don’t need any teammates to have a good run. Like many other runners, I enjoy the solitude of a run as a time of reflection and prayer.

Yet the camaraderie of a race is special. In a race setting, one feels the urge to do one’s best. I think the competition pushes me to test my limits, to learn how to persevere in a difficult task. I don’t have to win or even set a personal best to benefit from being part of a race.  Running in a race gives me the affirmation, “I am a runner.”

The joy and excitement of Saturday was contagious. I stand next to my friend and pastoral colleague, Mike Carlson, who was running his first race in several years. We are flanked by two great race directors, Scott Folgelson and Tim Torgerson. It was a wonderful morning for run and fun fellowship.

Also, I am so thankful for all the volunteers who gave of their time and energy to make the day special and safe. They worked hard so that the runners could focus on the race. I have volunteered at road races and the tasks can be tedious or boring. Yet without the volunteers, the race could not happen. Tim Torgerson has directed the Cemstone Run For Others race for over a decade and his efforts are to lifted up.

St. Paul writes that the church is one body, but made up of many members (I Cor. 12). Each person and part is needed for the Body of Christ to function well. We all have a part to play in our church, community and world. God has gifted each of us to participate. So whether you race, volunteer or cheer, get involved and have some fun.

Lord Jesus, continue to call me into active service in your name.

Racing with St. Patrick

Today we celebrate one of God’s great saints.

There will be a variety of St. Patrick Day celebrations, including road races. Many of the races will feature post-race celebrations, including green alcohol.

It has always been curious to me that a day dedicated to an evangelist and missionary should become the focus of such drinking and carousing. Not that I am against parties, since I can  enjoy post-race celebrations very much. But when people think of St. Patrick they seem to focus on the Patrick and not the Saint.

But that is even more curious, since St. Patrick was born in England, captured by Irish raiders and sold as a slave in Ireland. After serving as a shepherd for six years, he escaped and made his way back to England. During this adventure, he had a conversion to Christianity and he felt the call to preach the faith to (surprise!) the Irish people. He studied for the priesthood in France but was not a very good student. His superiors did not want him to go, but still he went. He preached all over Ireland, making converts and founding monasteries. He became a great hero, not only for Ireland, but for the Christian faith.

In his confession he wrote, “If I am worthy, I am ready also to give up my life, without hesitation, and most willingly, for his name. I want to spend myself in that country, even in death, if the Lord should grant me this favor. I am deeply in his debt, for he gave me the great grace that through me many people would be reborn in God, and then made perfect by confirmation, one people gathered by the Lord.”

St. Patrick reminds me of St. Paul.  St. Paul wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). St. Patrick, like St. Paul, ran the good race. Maybe we should try to run like him.

Lord Jesus, teach me to run the race of life with you and your saints.

New Year’s with JB

John the Baptist’s message is great for this week between Christmas and New Years.  He calls us back to a simple life-style. After all the feasting we may need repentance.

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. (Mark 1:4-5)

The wilderness in Scripture was not some beautiful garden-like place where people went on vacation.  Wilderness was wild, uncivilized, stripped of all niceties and refinement.  Israel had spent forty years in the wilderness during the Exodus to purify themselves from all the toxic Egyptian cultural practices. It was a place for spiritual death and rebirth.

John’s clothes of camel’s hair and leather belt, reminded the people of the Old Testament prophet Elijah (2 Kings 1:8).  Sort of like wearing a red cape to remind people of Superman. But John/Elijah had a stronger purpose than Superman, to call the hearts and lives of people back to God.

John called people to recalibrate their vision of life, success, and values.  They were baptized as a cleansing of their sinful ways so that they could begin anew, fresh and clean.

Now as 2011 concludes, we can come to our Lord seeking a fresh beginning, a new start in 2012.  We can confess our sin, knowing that God forgives us our sin and will give us a clean start.

Try this the next time you take a bath or shower.  As you wash the sweat and dirt of the day, say to yourself as you pray to God, “I am cleansed, body, mind and spirit, by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Then step out into the promise of vibrant new life in Christ. Resolve to act as a child of God, seeking God’s path this day.

Lord Jesus, cleanse me and make me new.