Parable of the Marathon

The runners waited for the race to start.  Some of them were doing stretches.  Some of them were pacing around, trying to get warmed up.  But only a few of them looked like typical runners.  Several were very overweight.  In fact, several could even be called obese.  And then there were some that, although they looked quite fit, they carried bags.  Some had just a small bag, but others had immense backpacks hanging off their backs.  As the call came for them to line up, they all gathered around the starting line.

As the gunshot rung out in the cool morning air, the runners took off.  The fit runners, wearing packs or not, were the first to move ahead.  The slightly overweight weren’t far behind.  But the heavier a person got the harder it got.  One fellow was really struggling to even start walking, he was that heavy.  One had to wonder why he had even bothered to try to run this race.  Anyone watching could see that he wasn’t fit for a race like this.

As the race progressed, a few of the fit runners lost their packs.  And, unbelievingly, a few coming behind them picked them up.  And some runners even picked up some bags of trash by the road and started running with them.  It seemed ludicrous.  It was hard enough to race without anything extra. Why were they picking up trash?

An amazing thing happened as they raced: the overweight literally grew thinner.  The obese fellow at the beginning of the race hadn’t given up and he was a good 150 pounds lighter by now.  He had started out barely walking, but now he was up to a steady jog.  Those who were just a few pounds overweight now looked  fit and trim.

But, curiously, those with packs on their back were really struggling.  The woman carrying the biggest backpack–75 pounds or more–just couldn’t continue.  She staggered to the side and had to rest.  After a few minutes, she gave it another go using a slow steady pace.

Okay, so I know you would never attend a marathon seeing this motley group of people.  But what about the race *Hebrews 12:1 refers to?   Oh, now that is a motley group of people, is it not?  God saves all kinds of people.   He saves fit, trim people, who never developed a lot of baggage.  He saves obese people who are weighed down with guilt and consequences of terrible events and habits of their pasts.  He saves people encumbered with baggage they have chosen to carry with them, things like sinful habits, material possessions, sports, entertainment…anything that keeps us from running the best race we could.

Sure, some of us start out fit and trim.  We have had great families who love the Lord and taught us to obey His word.  We start the race out in pretty good shape.  But we are still sinners.  We can still improve.

And as we run the race of  life, the overweight start dropping off their pounds one by one.  As they continue to run, the baggage of the past slips slowly away.  God heals their pain and, while they may still have some stretch marks from carrying all of that extra weight, the weight…the burden of the weight…will be lifted.

And the ones carrying the bags?  Well, some of them wise up and throw those sins and idols to the ground and experience a wonderful sense of freedom, as they start to race unencumbered.  And some of them carry the bag with them the whole way to the finish line.  The thing is worn, tattered, and downright ugly but they keep clinging to it.  Some even pick up a bag or two after they have started the race.  Sometimes the bags get thrown on the ground for a week or two and then, unbelievingly, the person will come back and get them.  These bags cost the runners a lot of time.

If you are saved by grace alone through Jesus Christ’s shed blood on the cross, then you are running the race that was referred to in Hebrews.  I don’t know about you, but I would like to be one of those who is fit and still running with energy as I approach the finish line.  But, even now, as I write this, I can think of some pretty heavy bags that are keeping me from running the best race possible.  Bags I have thrown on the ground…just to come back and pick them up again.   May we all evaluate the race we are running today.  May we run with robust health and unencumbered!  Happy running!

Hebrews 12:1  Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Lesson from Les Mis

The Bishop was quite poor by worldly standards. One of his few worldly possessions of worth was a handful of silverware.  When a dejected man knocked on his door, quite bereft of worldly goods and looking quite frightful, the Bishop welcomed him warmly and provided both a meal and a bed.  When, during the night, the man stole his silver and departed, the Bishop took no care.  When his sister and the maid cried out in dismay and indignation, he stated that it wasn’t his to begin with.  It was God’s and he should have given it away a long time ago.

Stop there for a moment and think about one of your prized possessions in light of this story.  I don’t know about you, but I would have been right there with the women, crying out about the unfairness of giving someone a hot meal and warm bed and then have them turn around and steal from you.

But the story gets better…and even more convicting.  A few hours later, the Bishop hears a knock at the door.  It is the local police with the man.  They have caught him with the silver and have brought him back for arrest.  Upon seeing him, the Bishop serenely welcomes them and then turns his gaze upon the thief.   But he does not treat him like a thief.  He proceeds to ask the wretch why he did not take the candlesticks he had offered to give him, as well.  The Bishop then takes the candlesticks and hands them to the man,  all the while treating him like a friend.

At this point in the story, I am starting to squirm.   I am becoming aware of my unhealthy attachment to my worldly possessions.  If my silver (or iPad?) had been stolen, I know that this is not how I would have reacted.  I would have pressed charges immediately.  I would have demanded that my things be returned to me.

Because after all, they are my things.  But perhaps that is where my thinking takes a wrong turn.  Are my possessions really mine?  If  I have given my life to Christ, wholly and fully, do I own anything?  And I realize that while my mouth says, “yes, yes, it all belong to God”, my actions speak quite differently and I am ashamed.

And I wonder how it would change the world if we Christians loosened our tight grip on our stuff?  Would it matter if our cars got scratched?  Would it matter if we lost our cell phones?  Would we be more thankful?  Would we complain less?  Would we be less materialistic?  Would we give more?  I don’t know.  I am just wondering.

I do know that the Bishop– a fictional character in a story written long, long ago– has challenged my heart and my priorities.  My simple re-telling of just a minute part of that classic does not do it justice, but I hope that perhaps you were challenged, as well.




Marjory, the Ant

Marjory proudly carried the huge crumb she had found underneath the Hendersons’ picnic table.  It looked to be the best crumb she had found all year.  Wouldn’t the ant colony be impressed with this large crumb?  As she moved slowly across the patio towards the colony, a grasshopper landed in front of her out of nowhere.  She started to think about how nice it would be to be able to jump like that…instead of having short, little legs.  As she glanced upwards to follow the grasshopper’s next jump, she saw a beautiful Monarch on a golden flower.  She pondered what it would be like to be the orange and black butterfly, extracting delicious nectar from lovely flowers…instead of carrying heavy, human leftovers to the ant colony.  Marjory started to get depressed.  She started to stumble under the weight of the immense crumb.  What had been a blessing started to seem like a burden.  As Marjory took her eyes off her purpose—gathering food and feeding her fellow ants—she became more and more discontent in her duty.  The crumb began to feel 10 times heavier than it had when she had first picked it up.  As Marjory’s thoughts continued on the path of “what ifs” and “if onlys”, her pace slowed.

Suddenly, Marjory felt her world grow dark.  A shadow had blocked out the sun and covered her whole world. Something…something really big…was behind her…or beside her…or…Marjory stopped walking…and just waited.

A foot stretched down out of the sky towards Marjory.  A large, sneakered foot.  Marjory started to scream.  So this was how she would die.  She closed her eyes and braced herself for the worst.  As the foot touched the ground, she felt a rumble in the ground beneath her…but she wasn’t dead.  She peeked through her half-closed eyes…the foot had come to within a millimeter or two of where she stood with her crumb.

As Marjory’s breathing started to slow back down to normal, she couldn’t help but be thankful that she was alive.  She was alive!  Suddenly, her lot in life didn’t seem so bad, after all.

As Marjory became focused once again on her purpose, she once again carried her crumb proudly.  Her load felt manageable, and even a blessing, as she realized that she was alive and able to do the job she was designed to do.  She continued on her journey across the patio with a new sense of purpose.

Ahhh…silly story, is it not?  Ants do not have feelings and they probably have no concept of what the other creatures in their world are doing.  But, in my imaginary world, I can imagine a worker ant being a little disgruntled about having to do all of that work, while it appears that other creatures are given much more fun and interesting things to do.

Can you see the similarity?  I am not going to write a whole lot more, but I will say this:  When we remove our eyes from the purpose God has given us—whether it be to raise a family or to fix a machine or sing in front of millions—and place it on those who we think have it so much better, we lose focus.  Let’s keep it all in perspective and remember how good we have it.  Wherever we are and whatever we are called to do…right here…right now.

How to move a pile of dirt

Sam scratched his head and stared at that pile of dirt. The pile was wide and high. He knew his job required him to move it. But he wondered just how his boss expected him to do that? He stared at the shovel that lay on the ground nearby. Surely, he was not expected to use that? But he did not see any other equipment anywhere.  Just when he was about to give up and walk away, his boss brought him a skidloader with a big bucket attached to use.  Sam jumped in the machine, excited about using it.  But he had never used one before, so he had to first learn and understand the machine before it was actually an effective tool in Sam’s hands.  When Sam became familiar and efficient with the machine, the machine did just what it was supposed to do…make an overwhelming, impossible job become possible.

What pile of dirt are you staring at today?  What overwhelming, impossible task or ordeal are you staring at?  Did you know your Heavenly Father gave you a tool to use?  A tool so often mishandled, because we don’t know anything about it.   That tool is prayer.  God gave us the wonderful gift of prayer.

But prayer is so often misused for our own selfish desires.  Or not used at all…until the very last moment, when we realize we can’t fix it ourselves and we may as well just give it to God.  Most of us spend our days using a shovel to move our pile of dirt.   We moan and lament how hard it is, but we keep moving shovelfuls of dirt.  Of course, some of us just give up and walk away from our pile and pretend like its not there.

However, if we take a biblical approach to prayer, then prayer becomes like that machine.  A useful tool.  Ah…but here is where the problem comes in…a tool to do what?  Supply all our wants?  Or the wants of others?  No.  Actually godly prayer has nothing to do with our desires at all, but with what God desires.  As we mature in our walk with God, our prayers should be centered around what God desires…not what we desire.

But God loves His children.  A lot.  And He hears the prayers of those who are truly His saints.  If we are going through a difficult time and are really struggling, God wants us to pray about that, too.  But our petitions need to be out of a heart of submission and repentance (if necessary).   Many are the times King David implores with God to protect him from his enemies and to give him what he needs.   But David’s prayers also show his submissive and repentant heart (Psalm 51).

So, how do you know if you are using the tool of prayer in the correct way?  With the correct heart?  I think it has something to do with how you react when the pile of dirt isn’t moving as fast as YOU think it should…or maybe it’s not moving at all.    Do you get angry?  Irritable?  Depressed?  Despairing?  You see, if we are praying with a correct attitude of submission to God, then we will not get angry or depressed when our prayers are not answered in the way we think is best.

But that’s in a perfect world…because ALL of us have struggled with this at one point or another.   But we need to keep moving in the right direction…using the tool of prayer as the most effective way to further God’s kingdom…just like Sam moved that pile of dirt.   Put down your shovel, turn your submissive, repentant heart towards God and let’s allow Him to use us to accomplish the impossible!

The surgeon’s instrument

The nurse held out her hand with the surgical instrument.  The surgeon reached out and grabbed it without even looking at it.  The patient before him was a young man.  A young man in desperate need of a new kidney.  But just as the surgeon was about to get started, he glanced at the tool in his hand.  It was filthy.  Dried blood clung to its surface.  There was even a little rust on the one side.  He would not be using this instrument.  Instead of healing this young man, this instrument would likely cause infection, making his immune-compromised system fight a fight it was unable to fight.

Alistair Begg used this analogy yesterday in a very challenging sermon.  The topic was how to prepare ourselves to tell the world about Jesus.   And his first main point was this: We need to be a clean instrument.  Just as a surgeon would desire sterilized instruments to perform surgery, so God would desire clean instruments to share His message.

What a challenge!  Am I clean?  How does the world view me?

When people think of me do they think of someone who stands boldly for Jesus?  Or do they think of me as someone who will compromise my standards to be popular?  Is it obvious I am a believer?  Or does the conversation about me when I am not there include sentences like: “I think she is saved…I know she goes to church…She says she believes…she was ‘saved’ at camp when she was 10, but…”

Saying we are believers and acting like it are very different things.  And in order to truly be useful to our Heavenly Father we need to live what we say.  We need to be different.  We need to continually endeavor to be like Jesus.  In how we love.  In how we spend our time.  In standing up for the Truth.

Let’s face it…it is not our words that prove we are a clean vessel, it is our actions.    Words without actions lead to a confused and angry world.  All of these people say they believe Jesus died for them…but they are not living differently than me.  They go to church on Sunday, but they cheat on their taxes on Monday, listen to rap music filled with filth on Tuesday, wear clothing that does not leave much to the imagination on Wednesday,  lie to get their own way on Thursday…you get the idea?  It leads to confusion and anger because we are saying we believe God and the Bible…but we are not living like it.  The worlds asks…why does it matter?  Why would I need Jesus?  It is a good question.  One that should never have to be asked.

I pray that today we would consider what we look like to a lost world.  I pray we would reflect on how effective we can be for Jesus in our current lifestyle.   I pray that we would be salt and light in a world that needs Jesus desperately (Matthew 5:13-14).


A Parallel


A very long time ago, in a faraway land, there lived a young man. He was strong and brave and ready to take on the world. He lived in a forest with his sick, old mother. Every day he would go in to the forest to hunt for food. One very sad day his mother died. He had nothing left to live for and despondently wandered through the forest. He went further than he had ever been before. He was in the darkest part of the forest.  Things turned almost black under the dense cover and then–suddenly–he was in the sunlight. He found himself in a meadow full of blue sky and green grass. As his eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, he saw little blue and white flowers in abundance and over to his left was a family of rabbits cavorting in the tall grass. As he looked out towards the horizon, he caught his breath. For there, far off into the distance, was a huge castle with dozens of turrets and towers gleaming white in the sunshine. The young man found himself embraced by a new sense of purpose.

He would go to that castle.

The young man was warmly welcomed at the castle and immediately accepted into the King’s army. He proved himself such an intelligent and diligent worker that within a few months he found himself one of the King’s personal servants. He was fully dedicated to the King and would do anything the King requested.

Now in this kingdom there was a Wicked Usurper. This usurper had been away for a long time doing his evil and dastardly deeds in other parts of the world. But a few months after the young man had become the King’s personal servant, the Wicked Usurper returned.

When the young man talked with the Wicked Usurper, he was captured by his charisma and his wonderful promises. Gradually, his fascination with the Wicked Usurper changed to allegiance and the young man left the Good King’s service to become the personal servant of the Wicked Usurper. He forgot about all that the Good King had done for him and decided to join the band of wicked thieves and robbers that served the Wicked Usurper.

The End.

WAIT!  What?!?  That is not how the story is supposed to go.  What happened to “happily ever after”?

If you call yourself a Christian, think with me for a moment. Have we turned away from serving The All-Powerful, Loving God, to instead serving–

Entertainment? Sports? Career? Personal Goals? Money? Beauty?

Have we left the safety, security, and peace of God’s Kingdom and instead turned to serving Satan’s dark and perilous Kingdom?

I am not talking about who we SAY we serve. Talk means nothing. What do our actions show? What do we spend our precious hours doing with our time? What do we think about?

We need to ask ourselves this very important question: Am I serving my King or am I serving something or someone else?

Exodus 20:1-4; Mark 12:30

A Tale of Perspective

Two little girls grew up in the same home.  They had the same parents who loved them both dearly.   They had the same house.   The same grandparents.  They went to the same church.  And they had the same backyard.   In fact, they were so close that they did almost everything together.

But when they grew up, life took them different directions.  One daughter was stricken at a young age with breast cancer and survived to tell the story after a long battle.  The same one cared for her invalid mother-in-law for 8 years in her home.  She had also had a child who had been born with a serious heart defect.  And to make matters worse, her husband had been jobless at the time and they had no health insurance.

The other daughter had a life that almost seemed bereft of trials.  She had married a very rich man who loved her.  She had 3 healthy, beautiful children who got straight A’s, played soccer, and took music lessons.  She never worried about what she was going to feed her family or how they would pay their bills.

One of these daughters was very content and happy with her life.  One was not.  One praised the Lord with a thankful heart.  And one did not.  Which do you think was which?

By the circumstances, you would think that the one with the wonderful life would be the content one, right?  But…you would be wrong.  It was the daughter whose life was full of trials who had the grateful heart.  The other daughter took for granted so many of the blessings God had given to her and focused on the things that went wrong in her life.

Sometimes, we have a difficult time seeing the blessings that surround us…that surround each and every one of us.  Yes, we all have trials but we also all have blessings.

I will always remember a family that I met while in Ukraine.  We were privileged to share a meal with them and we talked with them through an interpreter.  Here was a family who lived in one of those cookie cutter Soviet apartment buildings.  They had a small kitchen and a tiny bathroom with a water supply for only a few hours each day, and another room that functioned as bedroom, nursery, dining room, and living room.  There might have been one other bedroom.  Five people lived in that little rundown apartment.  And yet this family just radiated with the joy of the Lord.  They were blessed and they knew it.  They had enough food to share with their brothers and sisters in the Lord and they had a place to sleep at night.  They had each other and they had a wonderful church family.

I couldn’t help but contrast it to my life here in America.  Not only was I grateful for what I had but I also realized the spirit of discontent that I hear from so many people (sometimes from myself!) so often here in this very materially blessed land.

You see, joy and contentment do not come from what we have.  Joy and contentment are the fruit of a grateful heart.  We all say this as truth…but are our lives showing we believe it?  As Thanksgiving approaches, I hope I do not take any of my many blessings for granted.  But instead truly realize the many blessings that God has given me…and thank Him often for those blessings!

The unthankful heart… discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings!  ~Henry Ward Beecher

Once Upon a Time


Once upon a time there was a princess. She looked with longing from her room window. She was not allowed to leave the castle property. She had to play in her room or in the castle garden. If she did go past the castle gates, she went with her nanny or a servant. She was never allowed to run in the meadow. Or wade in the creek. Or play games with the village children. Her life was full of doing the proper things. She felt like she was in prison! As she watched the other children, she wished she could be like them instead of stuck inside the cold and dreary castle. Her parents, busy with state affairs paid little attention to her and she had no siblings. Her fancy clothes and filled tummy provided little comfort in the midst of her great loneliness.

Meanwhile, there was an ordinary girl in the village sitting under the shadow of the castle. She was the much-loved daughter of the town cobbler and his wife. She looked with longing every day at the castle. Oh, if only she could be a princess. She thought of the clothes she would wear, looking down at her own drab, torn dress. She thought of  the magnificent carriages she would ride in for she had never even been in a carriage. She thought of having servants at her beck and call. And the food! Oh, the meat and the pastries that would be on her table. What a wonderful life it must be to be a princess! If only.

Two different people, two very different lives. Which is better? Maybe neither is better. Perhaps they are just different. I think we all spend a good part of our lives looking at others and wishing we had their car or house or job. Perhaps it is their spouse or children or salary or vacation or talent that we envy. You get the idea. We forget that no matter how good someone else’s life looks to us, there are always problems and issues they are dealing with because, believe it or not, no one’s life is perfect. Instead of focusing on what someone else has, perhaps we should focus on our own blessings.

Most of us have so much for which to be thankful. Every life is different. God has given each of us varied blessings and varied struggles. Why some seem to struggle more than others we will never understand. But let us remember that everyone struggles. Everyone has problems–even if you can’t see them from the outside looking in. But everyone also has blessings in their lives. Finding them can sometimes be hard in the difficult moments and times of our lives. But if we will consciously focus on the blessings in our lives, we will be filled with joy and gratitude. If we focus on what others have and what we do not have, we become dissatisfied and unhappy. It is a constant struggle. By nature, we are not content.

Let’s remove our longing eyes from the lives of others and the words “if only” from our lips and instead be like Paul, who learned to be content in all circumstances.

I Timothy 6:6; Philippians 4:11-13



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