Lord's Day Liturgy

A Heart to Run

The heart is not just an internal organ it is a muscle. Like most muscles, it can be exercised, it can be made stronger, it can get bigger. The heart’s work is to deliver blood to other muscles in the body, and in most cases the bigger the heart the better capable for work.

I used to be more of a runner, and I preferred longer distances rather than sprints. According to some research, an endurance athlete’s heart can be up to 50 percent bigger than a non-athlete’s heart (source).

There are a number of things necessary for running; the blood-pumping organ doesn’t map out the course or see the mangy dog straying outside his fence. The heart doesn’t take even a step by itself, but it enables the legs and feet to stride and the arms to pump for forward momentum.

When it comes to obeying God, we do need knowledge of His law, and His Word lays out the map. Psalm 119, for example, is full of prayerful praise requesting open eyes (verse 18) and learning (verse 7) and understanding of His precepts (verse 27). But there is another request the singer makes that we would do well to imitate.

I will run in the way of your commandments
when you enlarge my heart! (verse 32)

In one way, our hearts are enlarged as we obey; obedience is a strength exercise for greater obedience. Obedience begets obedience. And also, the Lord Himself will expand and spread and increase our heart size. It may not be the case that you don’t know how to run in the way of His commandments, you are just out of shape. Pray that He would make your heart wide.

Lord's Day Liturgy

40 Miles Uphill

I’ve run a few marathons in my life. The most brutal was the Seattle Marathon in 2003. It’s always the weekend after Thanksgiving, and having a full gut doesn’t make the running easier or make the weather warmer. The course covers 26.2 miles, and I’m sure at least 40 of them are uphill. Marathons are a metaphor for good reason.

The author of Hebrews exhorted his readers to such a long distance faith-run.

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

The “witnesses” include a bunch of waiters in Hebrews 11, those who “died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (Hebrews 11:12). They finished their race, they kept the faith, we have their example. We also have Jesus’ example.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)

“Consider him…so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (12:3). This is not getting someone to pat your hair, this is getting someone to wipe the sweat out of your eyes so you can keep running.

In most marathons these days they have water stations and even food stations spread throughout the route. It’s not only a long distance, but slower runners like myself could be out there for multiple hours, and the edible energy helps. In our long faith-fun, we also get bread and wine, and the opportunity to “consider Him” who endured hostility so that we can enjoy hope.

Enjoying the Process

Today on the Treadmill

About five years ago I started reading Kindle books on my iPad while running on my treadmill. I know some people think that sounds like hell, or at least vanity for hamsters, but I really enjoy it.

It was also around that time that I began hearing about “plodding,” which is a kind of discipline with little bundles of minutes sustained over numerous days. Plodding is not natural to me. I don’t prefer it. But I have been practicing it and learning to appreciate the slight edge.

Sometimes I plod by reading while running. The earlier days of the week I read whatever commentaries are appropriate for the next passage I’m teaching. When that reading is done I move on to whatever is next, which may be a book for Omnibus or a book that I’m reading with another group.

I just finished an hour on the treadmill today reading six books for ten minutes each. Here’s my annotated list.

  1. Antifragile. This is my second time through the book, now reading it with the elders at our church. Interestingly enough, the section I read today talks about how boring people who surround themselves with books may become.
  2. On Writing. Most of the lists of “favorite books on writing” I’ve read include this one. I’m not sure what I was expecting, apparently something else. But today I read King recount news of his first book getting a paperback contract. My whole face was a smile.
  3. Moby Dick. We started this in Omnibus earlier in the year. I couldn’t keep up with the pace then, so I’m on my own. I finished chapter 99 of 135 today.
  4. Citizen Soldiers. This is another Omnibus leftover. I have really enjoyed this account of the WWII European Theater, and really want to finish it before we visit Normandy beach on a Europe trip later this summer.
  5. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I mentioned that our school board agreed to read this together over the next seven months. I started with The Lion again today, and was encouraged by this line in the dedication: “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” Yes!
  6. 12 Rules for Life. Since watching this video a few months ago, Peterson’s name has come up more and more in our circles/house. Mo has even started listening to his podcast, and, since I prefer reading to listening, I thought this would be interesting. And of course it will be instructive to compare a pagan’s thoughts on handling chaos to a puritan’s

There is nothing special about ten minutes per book, and I don’t always follow that breakdown. But it was a thought-provoking variety today for sure.

A Shot of Encouragement

Hold It Together

I had a particularly good time reading my Bible and praying this morning, and saw some really interesting things in Hebrews 12. In particular, the word “weary” which the author uses a couple times (verses 3 and 5), is an emphatic form of λύω which is the Greek word used in the beginning verb paradigms. For Greek students it’s sort of funny because it doesn’t seem as if you see λύω very often in actual New Testament sentences. By itself luo means “I loose,” so I wonder if this kind of “weary” could be loosely translated as “not holding it together.”

Verse 3 gives a plan for not being weary: consider Christ. And verse 5 quotes wisdom from Proverbs 3 and commands God’s children not to be weary. In other words, hold it together, son!

I also forget about the running illustration in verses 1-2. I like running. I really miss when I can’t run. The exhortation is: “with endurance, run!” And specifically we’re to run “the race that is set before us.” God is obviously the one setting the course, and with every step we should be acknowledging Him as the one who laid out route, including the interruptions and opportunities and difficulties. So, run, son!

Lord's Day Liturgy

We’ve Got a Long Way to Go

I have never met a runner convinced that he would race faster if only he could carry a heavier bag. Runners run better by dropping weight, not by picking it up, just as a Trans Am loaded down with a year’s worth of college accumulation doesn’t get better gas mileage. Switching illustration fields, rose bushes never trimmed never bloom as much as they could.

Often we ignore these realities in our souls. We stubbornly cling to beloved burdens and sin that makes running that much harder.

We pile on worldly mindsets and wonder why we can’t get up to spiritual speed. We defend every branch of interest we have, even the dead ends and judge the emptiness of our branches as a sign that spring just hasn’t arrived.

God does not accept or make excuses for our fruitlessness. He calls us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” so that we can “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). He calls us “put off [our] old self, which belongs to [our] former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22). And “every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). If God didn’t love us, then He would let us hold on to things that keep us from true life and more fruit. Let us not despise His correction but receive it for our good as sons.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Ready to Run

The author of Hebrews urged his readers to join him and “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” While our leg of the race is ahead of us, we know what sort of race it is by looking behind us. The “great cloud of witnesses” are done with their runs, runs that included conquering kingdoms, enforcing justice, escaping the sword’s edge, and putting armies to flight. Others had less visibly successful runs, being tortured, mocked, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two, and other afflictions. Not only is the race ahead of us long, it is demanding and requires us to be ready for conflict.

Our readiness to run by faith with endurance requires repentance. Not only must we “lay aside every weight,” getting rid of bulk and burdens, we must also “lay aside…the sin which clings so closely.” Other translations refer to “sin which so easily entangles” (NAS) or “sin which so easily ensnares” (NKJV), sin that gets around us and trips us up.

The word euperistaton (εὐπερίστατον) itself includes the nuance of how easily the entangling happens. Sin has a way of circling in close, of making itself seem desirable so that we wouldn’t expect that sin to cripple our run. For example, the cape of super-competency we drape over our shoulders turns out to have cords of pride at the bottom that hamstring our legs.

The run of faith is a good one as we look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that is set before us, let us put off sin that keeps us from becoming like Him.

Enjoying the Process

The Finish Line

High school senior Claire Markwardt was running the Ohio state high school cross country championship when her left tibia and then her fibula snapped in half. She crawled the final 45 feet and still finished only 18 seconds slower than her personal best time. Click here for more of the story and video.