Ir a la distancia

Soy un gran fan de las películas de Rocky y las uso para mantenerme motivado. Una de mis escenas favoritas llegó en el Rocky original, cuando después de visitar la arena donde iba a luchar contra Apollo Creed, Rocky vuelve a su apartamento y le dice a Adrian que “no puede ganar, pero todo lo que quiere hacer es ir a la distancia”.
Es una práctica común en el mundo del running hacer una carrera de “agitar” un par de días antes de una carrera. Por ejemplo, si vas a correr un maratón, un par de días antes de ir a correr 3 millas lentamente sólo para mantener todo suelto y para poner en marcha la mentalidad de “ojo de los tigres”. ¡He hecho esto antes, y funciona!
En dos días, estoy intentando un tipo de carrera que ni siquiera sabía que existía hasta hace un par de años, voy a correr por el edificio más alto de Kansas City: 42 pisos, 902 escalones. Acabo de completar mi “agitar” para correr esto que consistía en 15 minutos corriendo por una colina empinada. Mi mente vagaba hasta el domingo y ese edificio alto. ¿Estoy listo? ¿Hice suficiente entrenamiento? ¿Fue el entrenamiento correcto?
La respuesta a todas estas preguntas es “¡lo sabremos el domingo por la mañana!” He entrenado y mientras reflexionaba en este viaje sonreí cuando pensé en los entrenamientos improvisados que tuve en las primeras horas de la mañana mientras me quedaba en la casa de unos amigos maravillosos en Cuba, ¡eso es algo que Rocky haría!
Mi conclusión para esta carrera es que sólo quiero ir la distancia que quiero pararme en el piso 42 de One Kansas City Place y no estoy preocupado por cuánto tiempo me lleva. El director de la carrera envió un mensaje sobre los detalles de la carrera y uno de ellos afirma que los pisos 11, 24, 32 y 39 son “pisos de liberación temprana si no puedes llegar a la cima”. Estoy feliz de que esas protecciones están ahí… pero voy a la distancia!
Más importante que esta raza, me esfuerzo por “recorrer la distancia” por Jesucristo. 2 Timoteo 4:7 dice: “He luchado la buena batalla, he terminado el curso, he guardado la fe.” La raza eterna y espiritual es mucho más importante que un edificio atropellado y algún día cada uno de nosotros será responsable de nuestra respuesta y nuestras acciones. Te animo a que mires profundamente en la lucha y en el curso que estás corriendo.
He dedicado el funcionamiento del edificio a los hombres y mujeres que se encuentran con edificios que el resto de nosotros estamos corriendo, nuestros bomberos. Si desea contribuir a ayudarles, por favor vaya a este sitio y recuerde que no hay ninguna cantidad a pequeño.
https://action.lung.org/site/TR/Climb/ALAUM_Upper_Midwest?px=8400738&pg=personal&fr_id=18808

Go the Distance

I am a huge fan of the Rocky movies and use them to keep me motivated. One of my favorite scenes came in the original Rocky, when after visiting the arena where he was going to fight Apollo Creed, Rocky goes back to his apartment and tells Adrian that “he can’t win, but all he wants to do is go the distance.”
It is a common practice in the running world to do a “shake out” run a couple days before a race. For example, if you are going to run a marathon, a couple days before you go for a 3-mile slow run just to keep everything loose and to get the “eye of the tigers” mentality going. I have done this before, and it works!

In two days, I am attempting a type of race that I did not even know existed until a couple years ago—I am going to run up the tallest building in Kansas City—42 floors, 902 steps. I just completed my “shake out” for this run this which consisted of 15 minutes sprinting up a steep hill. My mind wandered to Sunday and that tall building. Am I ready? Did I do enough training? Was it the right training?

The answer to all these questions is “we will find out Sunday morning!” I have trained and as I reflected on this journey I smiled when I thought about the makeshift workouts I had in the early morning hours while staying in the home of some wonderful friends in Cuba—that’s something Rocky would do!

My bottom line for this race is I just want to go the distance I want to stand on the 42nd floor of One Kansas City Place . The race director sent a message about the details of the race and one of them states that floors 11, 24, 32, and 39 are “early release floors if you cannot make it to the top”. I am happy those safeguards are in there…but I am going the distance!

More importantly than this race I am striving to “go the distance” for Jesus Christ. 2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” The eternal, spiritual race is so much more important than a run up a building and some day each of us will be held accountable as to our answer and our actions.

I encourage you to look deep into the fight and the course you are running.

I have dedicated the run up the building to the men and women who run into buildings the rest of us are running out of—our firefighters. If you would like to contribute, please go to this site and remember there is no amount to small.
https://action.lung.org/site/TR/Climb/ALAUM_Upper_Midwest?px=8400738&pg=personal&fr_id=18808

Cuba I—Destino Improbable

Me acercaron el otoño pasado sobre la posibilidad de ir a un viaje de misión a Cuba, ¿me estás tomando el tomejo… ¡Cuba! Mi cabeza estaba girando ante la idea: “¿Se les permite a los estadounidenses visitar Cuba?”, “Un viaje como ese no estaba en nuestro plan de presupuesto para el hogar!”, “Ni siquiera tenía pasaporte”. Por lo tanto, la hoja de cálculo analítica que desarrollé tenía alrededor de 20 razones para no ir y sólo una para ir. La razón para ir es una vez que me he enfrentado algunas veces durante mi viaje de crecimiento espiritual, aquí hay algunos ejemplos: asistir a seminario; ser ordenado; llevar a un grupo de jóvenes a un viaje misional en el centro de la ciudad; completar un par de doctorados; completar algunas carreras locas; ir a Cuba!

Isaías 6:8 dice: “Entonces escuché la voz del Señor diciendo: “¿A quién enviaré? ¿Y quién irá por nosotros?” Y yo dije, “¡Aquí estoy yo. ¡Envíame!” Este es el versículo al que me dirijo cada vez que siento que Dios me llama a hacer algo, especialmente aquellos cosas fuera de mi zona de confort, esas cosas que inicialmente considero “improbables”, pero Dios está diciendo “Confía en mí”.

Un buen ejemplo de esto sucedió cuando me detuvieron y me interrogaron sobre mi propósito de viajar a Cuba por un agente de inmigración en el aeropuerto de Miami mientras abordaba nuestro vuelo a La Habana. No voy a entrar en las razones legales o políticas para que los ciudadanos estadounidenses viajen a Cuba, pero hay restricciones. Pensé que estaba bastante bien versado sobre qué decir, pero tenía un problema… ¡No estaba seguro de si estaba respondiendo a un agente estadounidense o a un agente cubano! Al dejar de las respuestas, pensé que eran apropiadas, podía decir que el Agente no estaba impresionado con mis respuestas, ¡especialmente cuando me informó que se me negaría la entrada sin decir las palabras correctas! Para añadir a eso estaba ralentizando el embarque para las personas que sabían lo que estaban haciendo. Sólo tenía una opción y al cerrar los ojos dije bajo mi aliento, “Señor, si me quieres en Cuba, ¡debes intervenir ahora mismo!”

Inmediatamente la actitud y el tono del agente conmigo cambiaron y me “guió” a la respuesta adecuada que estaba buscando (por cierto resulta que iba por una “experiencia cultural”). Después de repetir esa respuesta, sonrió y me deseó un viaje seguro y agradable, ya que me permitió abordar el avión. ¡Gracias Dios por mostrarme que a través de Ti todas las cosas son posibles!

Durante las próximas semanas compartiré algunas experiencias de este viaje usando este blog. Como Dios guía, puedo desviarme a un tema diferente algunas semanas. Voy a tratar de publicarlo en inglés y español para que mis nuevos amigos cubanos puedan ser parte de esta comunidad. Ruego que las experiencias compartidas aquí toquen su vida y les recuerden lo grande que es Dios!

Cuba I—Destination Improbable

I was approached last Fall about the possibility of going on a mission trip to Cuba—are you kidding me…Cuba! My head was spinning at the thought, “Are Americans even allowed to visit Cuba?”, “A trip like that was not in our home budget plan!”, “I didn’t even have a passport.” So, the analytical spreadsheet I developed had about 20 reasons not to go and only one to go. The reason to go is one I have faced a few times during my spiritual growth journey, here are some examples: attend seminary; become ordained; take a youth group into an inner-city mission trip; complete a couple doctorates; complete some crazy races; go to Cuba!

Isaiah 6:8 says, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” This is the verse I turn to every time I feel God calling me to do something—especially those somethings outside my comfort zone, those things I initially consider “improbable”, but God is saying “Trust Me”.

A good example of this happened when I was stopped and questioned concerning my purpose for traveling to Cuba by an Immigration Agent at the Miami Airport as we were boarding our flight to Havana. I will not get into the legal or political reasons for American citizens to travel to Cuba, but there are restrictions. I thought I was pretty well-versed on what to say, but I had a problem…I was not sure if I was answering to an American agent or a Cuban agent! As I rattled off the answers, I thought were appropriate I could tell that the Agent was not impressed with my answers—especially when he informed me that I would be denied entry without say the correct words! To add to that I was slowing down the boarding for the people who knew what they were doing. I had only one option and as I closed my eyes I said under my breath, “Lord, if You want me in Cuba, You must intervene right now!”

Immediately the Agent’s attitude and tone with me changed and he “guided” me to the proper answer he was looking for (by the way it turns out I was going for a “cultural experience”). After I repeated that answer, he smiled and wished me a safe and nice trip as he allowed me to board the airplane. Thank You God for showing me that through You all things are possible!

Over the next several weeks I will be sharing some experiences from this trip using this blog. As God leads, I may divert to a different subject some weeks. I will be attempting to post it in both English and Spanish so that my new Cuban friends can be part of this community. I pray that the experiences shared here touch your life and remind you of how great God is!

Intentionality

Have you ever heard someone say something along the lines of “someone should do something to help those people” yet the person saying that does nothing? Have you ever been the person who has said that? I have.

It is very easy to be compassionate from afar…it is very easy to be generous with someone else’s money. The reality is that if we want to make a difference we have to get into the game and sometimes the game is uncomfortable, risky, intimidating, perhaps even scary.

The motives that drive us to help and serve others varies, my intentionality is rooted in what Jesus tells us is Mark 12:30-31, “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 commandment greater than these.”

My 2020 word focus and commitment is “intentionality”. Specifically to be more purposeful in fulfilling the commandments seen in the above Scripture. In part to do this, I decided that sitting back saying “someone should do something” is not enough. I am committed to being one who does the doing by loving my neighbor.

Then the question becomes “who is my neighbor”? There are easy answers to this question—family, friends, and others who are near to us. However, the Greek of “neighbor” is πλησίον or plēsíon, which according to Christ is anyone irrespective of nation or religion with whom we live or whom we chance to meet.

So, if I am following Christ, I am called to love all—despite our differences or my ignorance of who they really are. That does not always happen—guilty as charged! Well, going with “intentionality” I am about to embark on a journey to a foreign land, interacting with people who have a culture I do not understand…but the Lord has blessed me with a chance to meet them.

At this point I cannot give out the specifics of this part of my journey, but as you read this, I ask for your prayers. The prayers I seek are not only for myself and the team I am going with, but most importantly that the people we encounter will become our plēsíon—our neighbors through the love of Jesus Christ.

Cleaned…Sanitized…Purified

It amazes me and gives me joy the lessons I learn from the kids as I work as an elementary school custodian. Earlier this week I was walking down the hall with two bottles of hand cleaner. A fourth grader asked me what the difference of the two. I explained one is a hand soap and the other is a hand sanitizer and again Ariel asked me again the difference. I had to think a bit and explained they both basically do the same thing, but the soap needs to be washed off with water and the sanitizer does not. Being quite inquisitive, she persisted and asked if the sanitizer is washed off does it still work?

At this point I am thinking “I’m not a chemist, how would I know!” But I just told her I think it would be, but it is supposed to be convenient when you need to clean your hands and don’t have access to water. Only through the logic of a child she said, “Well it doesn’t make sense to me; if it’s good without water it should be even better with water.”

As is often the case when I have deep conversations with these students, she gave me a hug and went on her carefree way! But our conversation stayed with me throughout the night. I contemplated how often do we complicate things? Do we really need two when one is the answer? Sometimes we seek alternatives and sometimes they are good and sometimes they are bad.

This conversation reminded me of when I submitted myself to Jesus Christ to be my personal Lord and Savior; He did not clean me, or sanitize me, He purified me! I kept trying to figure out how or why. 1 John 3:3 tells us “Everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” What is this “hope” John writes about? When we turn to God, we are His children and we become like Him.

Maybe you don’t, but I struggle being like Him—I strive to be, but I often fail. When I try to figure out how to do “better” for God I usually fail because I’m thinking about cleaning, sanitation, and am missing purification. The bath or shower or hand dispensers will clean and sanitize us; we need to focus and draw closer to what purifies us. I trust the grace and forgiveness of the Cross to purify me.

The Final Countdown

A week from now that I plan to be celebrating having crossed the finish line of the Kansas City Marathon. Yes, I will be listening to the band Europe’s “The Final Countdown” this week along with several other songs that will get me pumped up. There will be a finish line celebration with people I love who have endured and sacrificed the rigors of training over the last several months. We will be sweaty, fatigued, sore, starving, relieved, and smiling ear to ear. For now, our challenge will be over!

But more importantly than finishing 13.1 or 26.2 miles we will also realize that the final countdown is still on for the kids we ran for. I am honored to be part of Team World Vision for this race. Our goal is to not only finish the race, but to raise awareness and money for children in Africa to have clean, safe drinking water and sanitary conditions so that they have a fighting chance to finish their race—the race for life.

I recently received a letter from Osman, a boy from Karaga, Ghana, who I sponsor and am dedicating my race to. He thanked me for doing this because it might help him become a doctor and return to help his village. He and others in similar situations have big visions, but because of conditions beyond their control they need our help. What can we do? First, it starts with praying for these children and their families. The poverty level they endure daily is beyond most of our scopes of comprehension. They work hard and do not choose to be in this situation, but unfortunately, they truly are victims of their circumstance.

Second, we need to have a perspective of what we can and cannot do. Paul Shane Spear said it very well with “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.” We each can have a positive and lasting impact on someone’s life and sometimes we will never even know what that impact is. The beauty of this impact is that it takes on the ripple-effect so that when we help one, they help others, then they help others, and so on and so on!

Finally, we need to be obedient to God’s Word. In Matthew 25:40 we are told that Jesus will say, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” To me that is a powerful thought. How we treat others is a direct reflection of how we treat the Lord of the Universe! Personally, I am so thankful that He is the God of grace and forgiveness because I often fall short in this area. But He picks me up, dusts me off, and readies me to do better.

This week is indeed my final countdown to standing on that starting line, but I will be more focused on what it means to Osman and others like him and the lasting impact we can have on their final countdown. Several of you have already graciously given to this cause and I and these kids give you a heart-felt thank you! I ask that the others prayerfully consider giving to this to make the countdown one that will end in joy and promise. Please click the following link and give what you are able and called to do Help Us Now!

That or This!

Have you ever made a change in your life, just for the sake of change? How did that work out for you? I know that every time I have done that, the results are never good. We need to identify aspects of our lives that we want to change, develop a purpose for that change, develop a plan for that change, seek out the resources to help us with that change, and have a goal for that change. I often fall short in one or more of these “that’s” when I seek a change.

I am training for a marathon in 7 weeks and my training, for various reasons, was not getting me the results of improvement that I was expecting. This week I decided to make a change. I felt that I had little or no control over some of the factors that were preventing me from advancing in my training. I had to realize that and realize I cannot change “that”, but I can overcome “that”. The big “that” that I finally realized is that “that” were my excuses.

Do you have a “that” in any aspect of your life—I will admit I have had many! “That” person, “that” rule, “that” situation, “that” bad luck, “that” boss, “that” memory, “that” injury, “that” law, “that” that…I think you get the point.

We tend to point the finger to “that”, and by “that” I mean external forces, when things are not going so well for us, when times are tough, when we feel pain. Don’t get me wrong, there certainly external forces that affect our lives and quite honestly, some of those we cannot change. What we can always change is us and how we deal with the “that” in our lives.

I wonder if Paul was thinking along the same lines when he wrote in Romans 7:19 “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.” I don’t think our struggles with “that” is anything new.

Won’t speak for you but I am tired of living in the “that”. I am vowed, in all aspects of my life to go for the “this”. In my mind “this” gives me promise, it gives me direction. I am not longer chained to the “that” which is the past and other things I have no control over. “This” faces me forward, through the power of God, to face and overcome “that” and leaves it behind.

I apologize if the “that” grammar of this writing got confusing. But here is the bottom line….

“That” entraps me and gives me reasons for excuses—“This” frees and empowers me to move on and trust in the blessings that God has for all of us.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

Never Changing

See the source imageWith great curiosity, I followed the story of the New York Yankees’ banning singer Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” during their games because it was “recently discovered” the deceased singer recorded two questionable songs in the early 1930s considered racist in nature. I was not around in the ‘30s to understand the cultural context of these songs but reading some who have studied such things it seems these two songs were parodies of racists—they were making fun of the idiocy of racism. This reminded me of Mel Brooks’ song, “Springtime for Hitler”. If you do not know the context of that song it could be offensive because Brooks (a Jewish man) would be dubbed an anti-Semite.

The Yankees certainly have the right to play whatever song they want during the 7th inning stretch. I do find hypocrisy in an organization that banned black players from their team until 1947 exiling this woman for a couple of songs from nearly 20 years earlier.

Our attitudes towards others change throughout our history—both for good and bad—it is an individual decision of how we treat others. I am a firm believer in defining you by your character and actions, not by how you look or your background. The problem with that is it is subjective—it changes—and how do people know where they stand when attitudes about them change?

Have you ever had a person with authority seemingly changing in the wind? What you did yesterday was great, but when you do the same thing today, they get upset. That makes life unpredictable and frustrating.

I love all aspects of God, but one specific trait of His that I find great comfort in is His consistency—I know where I stand with Him! In Malachi 3:6 He declares “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.” Additionally, Hebrews 13:8 declares “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

We will change, and often need to; God does not. Therefore, His expectations of us never change so we are not relegated to a guessing game of our standing before Him. Scripture is very clear of the never changing path to Him in Romans 10:9-10, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

Suicide is Not Painless

Most of us easily recognize the instrumental theme song to the television show M*A*S*H*. It is iconic. But many do not realize there are lyrics that accompany the song. The chorus reads “Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it if I please”. In context, this song was written by Johnny Mandel as an ode to the horrors of war, the fears and suffering that are faced and that the thought of taking one’s own life might seem to be the least painless at times. Wars are not only fought on declared battlefields, they are fought in our daily lives, they are fought when and where we least expect them.

This week our family was touched by the tragedy of suicide. This was a second cousin of mine, who I do not think I ever met, but nonetheless my heart aches for him and those closest to him. I am certain there are emotions of confusion, anger, guilt, and most certainly grief rippling through the people in his circle of influence. As a pastor/counselor I have interacted with close survivors of this tragedy unfortunately too often. The simple truth is, there is no easy answer. People who take their own life are not weak and they are not selfish—they are lost and they are desperate. In full disclosure I have stood at the edge of the valley of darkness a couple times and contemplated if just ending it was the answer. By God’s grace I did not, but also by God’s mercy I have learned not to judge those who do and have learned to have empathy and love for them and their situations.

It is critical to remember there is no easy answer to understanding why someone makes this decision. I think the prognosis of “mental illness” perhaps gets abused, but I also know it is very real. Obviously, the degree and results are different, but I have found two commonalities that help people through the darkest of times: faith and community.

As a follower of Jesus Christ my faith comes first, I try (and fail way to often) to honor and glorify Him in all things I do. As a follower of Jesus Christ I try (and fail way to often) to honor and show compassion within my community; community meaning my family, my neighbors, my co-workers, my town, my state, my nation, our world—all those I come into contact.

Hebrews 10:24-25 tells us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Sometimes there are no rational answers to the tragedies and hardships we experience and yes, that stinks! We do not like it! We seek someone to blame! The idea here is that we need God first, but we were created to need each other. We must encourage one another, stand by one another, lift one another, cry with one another, pray with one another, praise God with one another.