How Running and Living Spiritually Go Hand in Hand: 3 Practical Ways to Live Spiritually

Back in 2003 I decided to become a runner.  Running, for me, has always been a problem.  I’ve suffered from Abdominal Migraines most of my life, which are, as I described them in my blog Dancing Con Aguafiestas, set off by running.  So, why did I take up this difficult task, one most people who don’t suffer from migraines avoid?  Simple, I wanted to lose weight and I wanted to challenge myself.  I knew if I kept sitting around I might avoid the migraines, but I’d never live the life I wanted to live.

Learning to be a runner was a challenge, it took me a little more than three years to lose any weight, but I did it.  Leaning to be a runner taught me how to set my mind on a goal.  Training for a half-marathon taught me how to achieve my goals.

Running and losing weight take perseverance and eating healthy.   At this point you might be wondering when I am going to get spiritual on you guys.  Well, follow me on this one.  Living Spiritually is just like running.  When I started running seriously, I took all of the advice I ran across.  So, here are three practical ways to help us all live spiritually.

1. Be Attentive:  Being attentive as a runner means paying attention to your body, which is important when trying to stay healthy.  Likewise, spiritual health requires attentiveness.  We can’t see God at work if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.  Being physically healthy means paying attention to what you consume.

Being spiritually healthy is exactly the same.  So, take care of yourself by reading your Bible and spending time in prayer.  I spend at least twenty minutes every night reading my Bible and praying.  Another thing I try to do so I can see God at work in my life during the day is get a good night sleep.  We must treat every day like a big race day, which means getting a good night’s sleep.  It is impossible to stay attentive to God’s doings, let alone run, if you can’t even keep your eyes open.  So go to bed early.

2. Be in Position: During a race I try to find my mental sweet spot, which always seems to be Coldplay’s album Viva La Vida.  I pace myself to its tracks as I run, but if I were to stop running for two months before the race and then position myself at the starting line on race day, I can’t expect myself to succeed.  Therefore, I position myself for success by going to the gym at least six times a week.

Positioning is important with spiritual success too.  I find my spiritual sweet spot when I am hiking with a friend.  Hiking in the mountains with a friend gets me going, but if I position myself inside of the wrong group of people, negative people, I tend to lose focus on God.  Likewise, if I seclude myself, not go on any hikes, I typically feel like God isn’t with me.  And so I know I must go out and engage with people, ones who support me, to be able to see God work.  I do know that there are people who feel God’s presence when they are alone, for those people I encourage them to turn off their tv, or whatever is distracting them, and spend some quiet time with God.  Find your sweet spot and position yourself in a place where you are most likely to see God.

3. Be Submissive: When I train for a half-marathon, I know if I want to run the race to the best of my abilities, I must train and training means giving up certain desires, like sleeping in on the weekends.  I must submit myself to a training schedule, which typically requires long hours and lots of sweat.  But I know if I place that schedule above me, as my master, I will have a great opportunity to succeed during my race.

Again, and you’ve probably already got my point, heck you’ve probably already become Jedi’s at all of this, but I’ll say it anyway, Living Spiritually is the same.  We must live with our palms up, submitted to God.  As said in Proverbs, “In all of your ways submit to Him and He will make your paths straight.”  Turn your hands up to God in an act of submission.  He may ask you to do something out of the ordinary, but He will not lead you astray.

For we are submitting to one who has run this race before us.  We are letting Jesus be our master.  Hebrews 12:1-2 says and Tim Tebow tweeted before his first playoff game, “Therefore, as we are  surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith.  Who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, and all its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Harry Potter and Tebowing at the Climax

I love going to the movies.  I was that kid who stood in line to see all of the “Star Wars” movies when they were re-released back in the 90’s and when “The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring” came out ten years ago, I was the first person in line, not just for tickets, but to enter the theater.  And when theaters started releasing movies at midnight, I’m there at 10 pm.  Don’t even get me started on how early I had to get to the theater for “The Return of The King;” it was crazy.

I think the reason I love going to the movies is because I love good stories.  The atmosphere in a crowded theater on opening night is exhilarating.  When “The Sixth Sense” came the theater was packed.  With every twist and turn each of my friends began tucked their legs up on their seats.  We shared in the fear.  We pulled for Bruce Willis’s character to reconnect with his wife and for Haley Joel Osment’s character to receive the help he needed.  As the movie built toward its climax the hairs on my legs stood up and all I wanted to do was hug my knees like everyone else, but fear froze me.  The crowd made the climax of the movie completely captivating, but the well told story made the change the characters experienced even more meaningful and worth the level of fear I had to experience.

Good stories are filled with meaning.  Movie writer and teacher Robert McKee says, “If I could send a telegram to the film producers of the world, it would be these three words: ‘Meaning Produces Emotion’ Not money; not sex; not special effects; not movie stars; not lush photography.”  Meaning is what a good story is all about and the climax of a good movie will be filled with meaning.  McKee states that “The Climax of the last act is your great imaginative leap.  Without it, you have no story.  Until you have it, your characters wait like suffering patients praying for a cure.”

When I’m in a packed theater, I’m suffering along with the main character for that positive or negative turn to occur in the movie.  I want Frodo to make it to Mount Doom and drop the ring into the fires of Mordor.  I want Harry Potter to live or die, maybe both, and so I wait for that turning moment, that meaningful climax.  As an audience, we share the ups and downs of the characters story.  Without the ups and downs that lead to the climax, the climax would be meaningless.

There are people out there that flip to the end of a book before they start just so they can see if it is a good ending or not.  They pick up “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows” and flip to Harry’s battle with Voldamort.  They want to get the stories payoff without reading the entire book or, even worse, the other six books in the series.  By skipping to the end of the book they miss the reason why Harry had to do what he does.   But just like sharing a story with someone adds to the story’s meaning, the work it takes for character, as well as the reader, to make it to the climax is what makes it meaningful.

The people who want to skip to the climax of a book are the same people who sat down and watched the last episode of Lost with out watching the previous five seasons.  They didn’t want to see the story develop, to see the characters grow and change.  They wanted all of the payoff without watching for six seasons.  These are the same people who on December 5th want to fast forward to Christmas Day.  They want the meaning without any of the work.

More on Christmas in a moment.  Let’s not rush to the climax because right now we’re at the rising action of our story.  Sunday December 4th The Neighborhood Church celebrated the second Sunday of the Advent season by sharing a sit down meal during the worship service.  People met together, ate, and shared stories about Christmas’ past.  It was very meaningful.  The only problem was the service didn’t finish until 12 pm.  An hour into the Denver Broncos game against the Vikings.  Co-blogger and Co-pastor of the Neighborhood Church, Mike Klassen comforted the congregation by reminding us all that “Tebow Time” (A term here meaning going beast mode and winning against all odds) isn’t until the fourth quarter anyway.  So if we missed the first half it would be just fine.

I tevoed Tebow anyway.  As I pressed play on the DVR, I knew I wanted to share a meaningful story with my fellow Bronco fans who’d gathered around the TV with me.  We knew we could just fast forward to the end.  But we wanted to experience the entire story.  If we had just skipped to the end, the win wouldn’t have been as meaningful.  The time we shared together watching the Broncos game was splattered with theological discussions.  Why is Tebow so loud about his faith?  Incomplete pass!  What if Tebow messes up (On the field and in his faith)?  Fumble, no way the ground can’t cause a fumble! What is perseverance of the Saints (No, I’m not talking about football here)? I can’t believe it, the Broncos Win!

And as Tebow rallied the Broncos from an 8 point deficit late in the fourth quarter we were discussing how God’s Grace works in our lives.  Life is like a good movie with many turns.  In “The Return of the King,” Frodo loses hope.  He turns away from his mission and decides he will keep the ring, but Grace steps in (In the form of Sam) and saves him.  Grace does what Frodo cannot do, destroy the ring and bring him back to the Shire.  Grace creates the meaningful change in Frodo’s life.  If Tebow fails on the field or in life, Grace will be there for him too.  Grace is there for all of us, offering a chance to make a meaningful change in our lives.  A chance to Tebow (Go beast mode/let God takeover), which brings us back to Christmas.

Christmas is not about what you get or even about what you give.  It is about experiencing the season with the people you love.  It is about sharing special moments with those around you.  Most of all it’s about God sending the Incarnation of Grace down to the world as the baby Christ.  If we fast forwarded to Christmas Day it would be like reading the last page of a book, only watching the Broncos during the fourth quarter, and fast forwarding all our favorite movies to the climax: empty and meaningless.  So slow down and know that no matter how long it seems until Christmas, that God is working in your life.  Christmas is more than just the climax of Christmas day.  It is about the Grace we have been given and the work it does in our life.  Let Grace make a meaningful change in your life this season.

I am an avid Bronco fan and movie enthusiast who believes in Tebowing every night because the best way to live a meaningful story is to stay connected to the author.

How Does A Bronco Fan Mourn Al Davis

Saturday, as the news broke about the death of Al Davis, the owner of the Oakland Raiders, I was unsure of how to react.  One side of me wanted to smile, this was the side that hates the Raiders and wants to see misery in my opponent’s eyes, and the other side was sad.  Sad because Al Davis had run his team into the ground and well, I wanted the Raiders to remain terrible.  Now, the pessimist in me believes his departure from the Raiders might make the team I hate a more competitive franchise.  The Raiders have been an inept franchise for a decade, but they haven’t always been that way.

For a long time the Raiders were winners, committed to excellence.

Al Davis cared for nothing more than winning.  And I, like all Bronco fans, cared nothing for him and am pained by the above video, but I guess he did win some games.  According to Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, Davis was devious, but would have taken it as a complement to be described as such.  It is fair to say that hate him or love him (he does have a family) he was a driven man who helped shape the game of football.

He made the phrase, “Just win, Baby,” famous.  But growing up as a Denver Bronco fan, I just wanted him to lose.  For the last decade, if not a little more, that’s all the Raiders have been doing.  And as bad as the Broncos have been for the last five years, it has been comforting to know that the Raiders have been worse, except when they beat my team.

Al Davis may have lived his life by his “Just win, Baby,” motto, even while his team was losing, but is life about winning?  Football is just a game.  Don’t get me wrong, I love sports.  I’m very competitive and I believe if it is your job to play a game, you should do your best, but maybe there’s more to life than winning or losing.

I wonder if Davis defined his life by the wins and loses his team acquired on the field.  I did not know him so I can’t guess if he lived for more than wins on the field.  As a Bronco fan, competitively I hope he didn’t.  That way he lived his last ten years in misery.  But that’s just the Broncos fan in me, maybe I need to let God work on that area of my life.

But as a Christian, I hope he did live for something more than just wins.  While, I admire his desire to win because I believe God wants us to give everything we do our all, I don’t believe life is just about winning.

What is life about then?

What if life was about losing?  About giving instead of taking.

Matthew 5 reads like a list of objectives for weirdos.  It is counter culture to the max.  I mean, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” come on, who lives like that.  Or how about, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.”  That doesn’t sound very competitive.  You’re just going to get run over if you live like that.  Or what about, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  It’s like Jesus is telling people to be losers.  Or is he just saying, be different and you’ll be noticed for what really matters.

Jesus wants people to stand out, which is why he says, “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”  So if you are living like Jesus you are going to be noticed.  You are going to be different and like salt you are going to add a flavor to whatever you shake it into.  Did you know salt enhances the natural flavor of any food it’s added too?  Maybe that’s what life’s about, enhancing the lives of the people we come into contact with.

What about “Just win, Baby”?  That mentality seems to breed the eye for an eye mentality.  If someone punches you, punch back, ’cause you just got to win.  But Jesus says something different.  He says, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your jacket also.  If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you . . . Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Fans, Jesus wants us to lose.  To give more than what is asked from us.  To love the Raiders?  To pray for Al Davis and the Raider nation as they grieve their owner’s death.

Jesus commands us, and this isn’t just a command he is giving to Christians, this is for everyone out there, even Raiders and their fans, to love.  Jesus says in Matthew 12 vrs 29-31, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no greater commandment than these.”

Ok Bronco fans, this is what our head coach is saying, “Love God and give him your all.  Next love your opponents, even the Raiders, just as much as you love your Broncos.”

What is love though?

Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always preservers.  Love never fails.

Jesus wants me, a Bronco fan, to let go of all the hate I have for the Raiders.  So what if Al Davis never payed my beloved former coach, Mike Shanahan.  Life isn’t about money and I am sure Mike Shanahan has enough money and during his time with the Broncos he sure got the wins against the Raiders, as well as two Super Bowl wins for my team.  I think if I am to mourn Al Davis, I have to be different.

So how does a Bronco fan mourn Al Davis?  First, I stop trying to win at all costs (This is going to be difficult for me, ’cause I’ve been known to wish injuries on my least favorite players).  And Secondly, I need to look at the bigger picture of life.  Football isn’t just a fun diversion, remember how it helped restore hope to our nation after September 11th?  Sports are important, but loving our neighbors is more important.

What would Tebow Do?  Tim Tebow, the much debated quarterback for the Broncos, is a Christian who has made a name for himself by standing up for what he believes in.  I believe he would go out and play the game with the talent God gave him, but also respect his opponents with a Christlike love.  But that’s just a guess.  I know Tebow’s not Jesus.

Neither was Al Davis.  He was just a man (a neighbor), but a man created in God’s image.  He may have just wanted to win and maybe that’s what created such a good rivalry between the Broncos and the Raiders, but life is bigger than the victories on the field.  I can mourn Al Davis because he was one of God’s creation.  I can mourn him because as a Christian I am called to be different, to see past the gridiron, and to love even him, my enemy.

I’ll be home for Christmas

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells,” which is used in the song above, while he was grieving the fact that his nation was at war.  He was lonely on Christmas because his son had left to fight in the Civil War.  Loneliness around Christmas time is a pain that mocks the song, peace on earth and good will to men.  Christmas would have been extremely difficult for me if I hadn’t been able to see my dad open his Tim Tebow jersey or my mom unwrap her new cook wear.  It’s nice to think about peace on earth and good will to men, but my selfish desire was to be home.  Unfortunately I didn’t make it home.  I decided to stay in Guatemala so I could go to Hawaii this summer with my family, but it meant my first Christmas away from my family.  But Christmas Eve, as the old familiar carols played, it was very difficult.  Mostly because those carols were in spanish, but also because they made me think of home.

Every year of my life, as far as I know, I’ve spent every Christmas Eve helping my dad out at church.  If you define the word help by fighting with Katie, my older sister, in front of 1,000 people, or dropping the lighter as I tried to light the Christ candle, setting the sanctuary carpet on fire.  But this year I celebrated Christmas Eve Spanish style, with the sermon and carols in Spanish.  I know all of the Christmas carols by heart, but it was dang near impossible to sing in English while everyone else was singing in Spanish.  I forced myself to try to sing with them, but wild and sweet the words repeated with more of a fra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra, ra! (At least I wasn’t being forced to eat Chinese food like Ralphie) Yet as I heard the bells on Christmas Eve I thought how, as the night had come, there were fireworks to be lit.  The blasts were strong and the colors bright.  Then peeled the bombs more loud and clear.  It was midnight and the birth of Christ had come.

As weird as it may seem, I woke up on Christmas morning with the lyrics I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my dreams in my head.  Maybe in my dreams I had been able to make it home for Christmas.  Instead I woke up in my bed in Guatemala.  At 7:30 am on Christmas morning, I’ve never been one to sleep in on Christmas day, a cold fog still weighed itself over Xela.  It made it seem a little like a white Christmas.  It was cold so I hopped back in bed and waited for my parents to Skype me.

8 came and went and as great of an invention as Skype is, it still takes two to tango.  Fortunately gmail has a nifty little call function that allows me to make free calls to the states.  I called up my dad on his cellphone.  He answered with a sound of shock in his voice and immediately hopped on Skype.  I was able to be home for Christmas via modern technology.  I enjoyed watching Emmy, my sister, open up my gift for her.  While we were shopping in Antigua, she eyed a coffee bag purse.  I knew she wanted to buy it for herself so I had to convince her it was hideous.  It wasn’t as easy as it sounds.  Try convincing a fashionista something they think is cool is fopa. Ha! What do I really know about style.  But she listened to me and was pleasantly surprised when she unwrapped her gift.  It was very special.  It’s beautiful how something as simple as giving a gift can bring to mind peace on earth.

I was blessed to Skype with my family and spend the day with friends that I have made down here.  If everyone can spend Christmas being reminded they are loved, the wrong shall fail and the right prevail and we’ll all be home for Christmas.