Monday, February 20, 2012

Cross Timbers 50 Trail Run

I've actually done this race before. It was my first 50 miler ever, and only 3rd ultra in February 2008. See report here. You would've thought I learned my lesson then. Guess not. (Now I've completed 35 ultras and another 30 marathons. See full archive here.)

Trail runs are always tough but when you add rain and mud, it can get down right nasty, slow, and just obnoxious. But you push and fight and climb and stumble and fall and keep going towards the finish, sometimes wondering if you'll ever make it but you keep fighting and then you get there. I guess that's the long and short of it.

The trail around Lake Texoma would be a tough trail even in the best conditions. I believe it has a lot of similarities to some of the toughest parts of Flatrock, Psycho Wyco and Free State as well as Rockin' K. But add to it that it rained literally all day Saturday, the day of the race and the trail turned the clay to a sticky, shoe-sucking mud. Sometimes forward momentum up the hills was one-step forward and two-steps (skiing steps) backwards.

The start was at 6:30 and it was still pitch dark so started with a headlamp. Made a few friends on the trail and realized that I recognized some people from Tulsa I've run with several times before at Flatrock. Talking and sharing the stories really helps the time to fly. I was conservative for the first hour allowing my body to warm up and felt great through most of the first half.

The course is 12.5 miles out and 12.5 miles back on the same trail and then repeat. Of that 12.5 the first 6.5 is really hard, mostly a 5 out of a 5 scale (5 being the hardest kind of terrain to run on with wicked climbs, roots, rocks, and all that good stuff). The other 6 miles is more reasonable with longer runable sections but still with plenty of mud and rocks and climbs, etc.

The first 25 was really uneventful, though I was kind of discouraged with my time of 5 hours and 45 minutes at the end of 25 miles. I was working really hard out there - how could I be going so slow. The return trip on the hard 6.5 was atrocious with the mud becoming a sticky clay which almost pulls your shoes right off you. Makes climbing and descending the hills on the trail much more challenging and even dangerous. There was about a 4 mile section where I just kept thinking "brutality" as I was trying to get to top of the next hill.

Just after I left the aid station at the start/finish to start the 2nd half of the run the rain picked up harder and stayed pretty steady at this level for the rest of the day, into the night. The trails turned into creeks and were mostly all covered in water - this was our trail to run on!

Out of 50 miles I ran at least 30-35 by myself getting in some great solitude. At one point I even found myself practicing some of the ninja yoga labor breathing techniques we are learning in advance of giving birth.

Above two pictures are at the finish line. Weary, muddy and relieved to be done.

The last hardest hour to hour and a half was definitely the most challenging because darkness set in. I had my headlamp but, not thinking, I didn't grab my best headlamp for some reason because I didn't think I would be out after dark, hoping to finish well before sunset. Anyway, I should've had my best headlamp and an additional handheld LED flashlight. It was absolute darkness with no ambient light from any source. I was hunched over with my light pointed at the ground to make it possible to see the next step. The pace at this point was ridiculously slow and manuevering on the trail was just ridiculous. Unless you have tried to run on such trails in the mud in the dark you can't really imagine what it's like. My first and only wipeout came at mile 49, hitting my knee pretty hard on the ground. I was determined to stumble my way into the finish. I didn't pass anyone or get passed by anyone or really see anyone for the last 10 miles. All by myself in the dark woods. It was just what I needed this day. Somehow the sheer misery of 13 hours and 1 minute on the course and the pure victory of the finish line just seem to rejuvinate the soul and teach me even more lessons about discipline and perservance and patience and keeping my eyes fixed on the prize/goal and running my own race. I was definitely glad to be done but looking back I find myself even thankful for the journey and lessons learned.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture

Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture
By Brandon Hatmaker

Barefoot Church is an excellent complimentary book to the missional church movement literature, taking a hard look at the responsibility and power of the sent church to be the hands and feet of Jesus, contributing to individual, collective and social renewal. One of Hatmaker’s themes is that serving the least is not a trendy act of benevolence but a lifestyle of authentic community and even spiritual transformation.

Mother Teresa lived by a belief that there is physical, emotional, and spiritual need in every community. Need is everywhere, yet we too often fail to see it. If we don’t see it, we won’t be bothered by it. If we’re not bothered by it, we won’t engage it. By our neglect, we become the oppressor. 22

Some of us need an organizational tweak, some a structural overhaul, but there’s one hard truth we all have to hear: all movement toward mission requires sacrifice. Nothing of great value comes without great cost. That said, there’s hope for the church. There always is. 24

Let’s stop complaining about the church we see and start becoming the church we dream of. 25

We feel bad. We recognize need. WE talk about it with others, buy the T-shirt, and even read the books. But so often we fall short of doing anything. We often confuse the heart of compassion that requires a response with the feeling of sympathy that remains idle. Most of us hear about need and sympathize. But that’s not compassion. It’s not justice. It’s not mercy. Sympathy remains only sympathy until we do something about it. Then it becomes an act of compassion: an appropriate response to the call of need. 34

Jesus did not define “neighbor” by proximity. He defined it by mercy. The whole world is our neighbor. Only after we move past the argument of who our neighbors are and what Jesus meant by loving them will we be moved to accomplish anything of significance. Until then, our questions remain excuses. 37

The purpose of missional communities is to be a source of radical hope, to witness to the new identity and vision, the new way of life that has become a social reality in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. The persistent problem is not how to keep the church from withdrawing from the world, but how to keep the world from withdrawing from the church…The forming of Christian community is therefore not an option but the very lifestyle and vocation of the church. 69

The wrong kind of tension occurs when we protect what we do. The right kind of tension occurs when we proclaim what God does. The wrong kind of tension comes when we make it about us and our kingdom. The right kind of tension comes when we make it about God and his kingdom. The wrong kind of tension comes from using Scripture to defend our lives. The right kind of tension comes from letting Scripture define our lives. 126

God’s movement will never be safe, predictable, and clean. God’s movement will never be about your ministry. God’s movement will always be about his kingdom. God’s movement cannot be based on the old measurements of success. 160

We have to cultivate a healing culture—where it’s okay to be imperfect. We have to become a forgiving culture—where grace is expected and extended. We have to create a culture of acceptance—where love is unconditional. We have to offer a culture of permission—where we can wait to move until we hear God’s voice. 191

Friday, February 10, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: "The Treasure Principle" by Randy Alcorn

…first and foremost we give to God (2 Corinthians 8:5). Before anything else, giving is an act of worship. Giving jump-starts our relationship with God. It opens our fists so we can receive what God has for us. When we see what it does for others and for us, we open our fists sooner and wider when the next chance comes. 33

Another benefit of giving is freedom. It’s a matter of basic physics. The greater the mass, the greater the hold that mass exerts. The more things we own—the greater their total mass—the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them. Finally, like a black hole, they suck us in. Giving changes all that. It breaks us out of orbit around our possessions. We escape their gravity, entering a new orbit around our treasures in heaven. 34

Treasure Principle Key #2: My heart always goes where I put God’s money…As surely as the compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure. Money leads; hearts follow. 43-44

Treasure Principle Key #4: I should live not for the dot (life on earth) but for the line (life in the kingdom of the heavens).

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot 51

Commentary on Ecclesiastes 5:10-15…the more you have, the more you want…the more you have, the more people will come after it…the more you have, the more you realize it does you no good…the more you have, the more you have to worry about…the more you have, the more you hurt yourself by holding on to it…the more you have, the more you have to lose…the more you have, the more you’ll leave behind. 55-56

The act of giving is a vivid reminder that it’s all about God, not about us. It’s saying I am not the point, He is the point. He does not exist for me. I exist for Him. God’s money has a higher purpose than my affluence. Giving is a joyful surrender to a greater person and a greater agenda. Giving affirms Christ’s lordship. It dethrones me and exalts Him. It breaks the chains of mammon that would enslave me. 59

Nearly every study indicated that American Christians give on average between 2 and 3 percent of their income. 63

When it comes to giving, churches operate under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. We lack communication, accountability, and modeling. It’s as if we have an unspoken agreement: “I won’t talk about it if you won’t, so we can go right on living as we are.” Think about it. How does a young Christian in the church learn to give? Where can he go to see what giving looks like in the life of a believer captivated by Christ? Why are we surprised when, seeing no other example, he takes his cues from a materialistic society? 84

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Bangladesh Mission Trip 2012

How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news! Romans 10:15 NLT

A and M A are the EFM National Leaders in Bangladesh. They've been working with EFM since 2005. They are such effective, wise, and powerful leaders, and are carefully and patiently leading an indigenous Friends Church planting movement in Bangladesh. Albert says one of his goals is to one day have a Friends Church in every one of the 64 provinces of Bangladesh. Albert and Metali continue to impress and challenge me with their radical commitment to the gospel and ministry of Jesus Christ. They are so, so faithful to the ministry God has called them to and live out faithfully the disturbing words of Jesus in Luke 14:26-27 & 33 so well!

The 2012 prayer, encouragement, and exposure mission trip to Bangladesh was a great success! Team members consisted of Kevin Johnson (Crossroads Worship Leader), Lisa Leslie (Crossroads Elder and Mission Team Leader), Matt Macy, myself, and Dana Quigley, all from Crossroads. This is Crossroads 5th annual trip and my 4th> to be a part of. I believe this trip may have been one that will have some of the greatest impact on me, my teammates who went, and on my church (and hopefully even Mid America as well).

There are so many new Christians and new churches popping up and so many new ministry sites where new Christians are taking the gospel to new places. With only a few exceptions, in my four trips to Bangladesh, we have visited new sites (whether churches or ‘preaching points’ or ministry outreach sites) almost every time. This shows how fast the church is growing and how quickly new disciples are making new disciples.

On this trip, we very intentionally continued our deep friendship between the Bangladesh mission and Crossroads Friends. We presented our greetings and gifts (pictures and other tokens of love and reminders of our care as a church). The Bangladesh Christians send back their greetings! We also were able to hand-deliver greeting cards handmade by Crossroads Kids, church people and especially meaningful were the cards from Crossroads Friends Women.

Our ministry consisted of Bible teachings, impromptu messages of encouragement and discipleship to people who are new Christians or who are newly exploring the Christian faith and know almost nothing about the Bible. We visited a dozen different villages, some with newly baptized Christians and some that are preaching points where the gospel was newly being shared. In every occasion, our ministry of presence and our words of testimony were an important encouragement to the Bangladeshi believers, many of whom have endured significant persecution for making their important decision to follow Christ. Each group we visited offered us very kind hospitality (tea and a snack, like fruit from a nearby tree and crackers) and was very eager to hear our words, demonstrating a spiritual hunger and desire to learn and grow.

Other Trip Highlights:

The Beautiful Women’s Movement that was born in the Fall 2011 women’s retreat has been having a powerful impact on us and some very practical implications for our family and church, and possibly even some other areas in the Friends Church. We are thinking about how to apply it to Crossroads, probably calling it the Beautiful Feet Movement, based on Romans 10 passage which states, “beautiful are the feet that take the good news.” Disciples make disciples and have beautiful feet that serve and sacrifice for others.

We washed feet on our last morning and it was quite the experience. We washed the feet of Kanok, the persecuted Christian and Depali, the hero apostolic gospel-preaching woman worker, and of course A/M as well as our team. And they also washed our feet. And the most moving thing to me was that they washed each other’s feet, with much weeping, and they just kept doing it over and over. It was a sort of commissioning as we consider feet washing to commission more at Crossroads to live as sent people.

Albert challenged us with the clarity of his passion and strategy that he is called not to be in the office but to be “in the field”. They had ministry months in November and December, which means they said no to everything except taking the gospel to people. They produced great fruit because of that focus. We are so challenged by this and realize it speaks to our condition at Crossroads…less ‘office work’ and less ‘in the church walls’ work and more getting into the neighborhood and entering people’s lives.

We enjoyed riding in the EFM car that we raised the money for. It was perfect size for 7 and sometimes 8 of us. So it was different this year not riding public transportation as much.

We did not stay in the hotel down in Khulna, as we have done every year in the past, but rather stayed in A and M's home, which they were so afraid of because they don’t have hot water or soft beds or toilets (just squatties) or even a door on the bedroom us guys stayed in, but it ended up being a great blessing to us. We had such a wonderful time of fellowship with them over the three nights there. The meals and time with them was invaluable. Some of the best conversations were during morning and night times that we wouldn’t have been present for if we had gone back to the hotel.

Our small missionary team was such that we were on maximum silliness much of the time, so we were plenty goofy and laughed plenty hard. Kevin Johnson was a tremendous blessing and so smoothly and easily participated in the ministry and interactions with people/kids (his first mission trip). Dana Quigley’s ministry of presence was super good and her gifting in offering very timely words of encouragement was a blessing. Lisa Leslie, aka “missionary Lisa”, has that chemistry that even when in a totally cross-cultural environment, puts people at ease with her smile. Thanks for your faithfulness to send, support, and pray. Personally I am grateful and I believe whole-heartedly that the Church is blessed and advanced because of it!

Adam Monaghan

Link to Kevin Johnson's blog report:

From Lisa Leslie: trip was amazing... told cal that i didn't want to come home, just wished he could get on a plane with the kids and meet me there. my heart has melted for these people who so want and need the good news. i'm anxious be back with them. i know it's God because it was not an easy vacation of a trip! so many crazy things that i would almost always shrink, squatties, buses/trucks/bikes/motorbikes/ricksaws coming at you at unknown speeds with really no traffic laws, people staring all the time, etc... so many good things and watching God work makes all of that seem like nothing. they are church planting fools! taking the good news to hindus and muslims like crazy. there is lots of persecution, so when they accept Jesus, it's no walk in the park easy thing. we live like kings and can choose to act like a christian or not, eat whatever we want whenever we want, buy whatever we want, move to another part of the country at a whim, be wasteful, etc... my life has been changed for the better. i want to have the "beautiful feet who bring the good news." but how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? and how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? and how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? and how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? as those who love Jesus, we are all sent out. who are you sent to?

From Matt Macy: We are addicted to hanging out with the unreached peoples that God desperately pursues, telling the beautiful story of Good News, and becoming better disciples of Christ while rubbing shoulders with the persecuted church.

As they traveled from town to town…the churches were strengthened in the faith…they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them...Then they left Acts 16:4-5

Out life is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work of telling others the Good News about God’s mighty kindness and love. Acts 20:24

When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. Acts 11:23

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Everything Must Change

“Everything Must Change: When The World’s Biggest Problems And Jesus’ Good News Collide” by Brian D. McLaren

I finished Everything Must Change by McLaren on the trip to Bangladesh this past week. I have loved most everything McLaren has ever written and considered it music to my soul and speaking the language of my heart. This book, however, was a little harder to read than his others. It was more academic and at times, esoteric. But I agree with the heart and core of the message of the book – that the coming of the kingdom of God (heaven on earth) is so much more than just individual, personal salvation but salvation/redemption/hope/change in our relationship (not just to God but to the world (earth), others, and to ourselves. This has been a common reading in a lot of the books I’ve read in the past year, including When Helping Hurts.
Some of my favorite exerpts from this book:
Jesus’ message is not actually about escaping this troubled world for heaven’s blissful shores, as is popularly assumed, but instead is about God’s will being done on this troubled earth as it is in heaven. 4
…It’s about changing this world, not just escaping it and retreating into our churches. If Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God is true, then everything must change. 23
So we must carefully seek to determine not just what Jesus said, but what he meant, and how he would have been heard by his original hearers. Only then can we venture to explore what his original meaning would mean for us today, and even then, we must do so with great humility and awareness of our amazing human capacity to be wrong. This process is far more complex than simply marshaling quotes, and it is also more fruitful. It requires more than an ability to lift quotations out of context and fire them at an opponent like a missile. It requires the ability to get a sense for the shape, feel, and direction of Jesus’ life and words, in the swirl and spin of his times, and find patterns of resonance with our own. It is from start to finish a matter of interpretation, which, like reading itself, is as much art as science. 121-122
The phrase “the Second Coming of Christ” never actually appears in the Bible. Whether or not the doctrine to which the phrase refers deserves rethinking, a popular abuse of it certainly needs to be named and rejected. If we believe that Jesus came in peace the first time, but that wasn’t his “real” and decisive coming—it was just a kind of warm-up for the real thing—then we leave the door open to envisioning a second coming that will be characterized by violence, killing, domination, and eternal torture…This eschatological understanding of a violent second coming leads us to believe (as we’ve said before) that in the end, even God finds it impossible to fix the world apart from violence and coercion; no one should be surprised when those shaped by this theology behave accordingly. 144
Mohandas Gandhi, who said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. 146
In defending the American “war on terror,” former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld summed up his, and the US government’s, security strategy: “We have a choice, either to change the way we live, which is unacceptable, or to change the way they live, and we choose the latter.” In light of the security policy of Jesus, I would say it slightly differently: “We have a choice, either to change the unacceptable way we live, or to change the unacceptable way they live, which is impossible to do against their will—without stooping to ethnic cleansing so they don’t live at all. So, we choose the former, in the confidence that a voluntary change in our behavior will precipitate an unexpected change in their behavior.” The key, then is to change the way we live not in capitulation to “them,” not in fear or intimidation or surrender to “them,” but in adjustment to the ways of God and the kingdom of God. What would it look like to “change the way we live”—which, by the way, is another decent definition of the word repentance? What would it mean to trade the love of power for the power of love? Discovering good answers to these questions is not made easier by popular preachers who call for a violent strain of the Christian religion. 183-184
[quoting Watson & Meeks] …As long as evangelism presents a gospel centered on the need for personal salvation, individuals will acquire a faith that focuses on maximum benefits with minimal obligations, and we will change the costly work of Christ’s atonement into the pragmatic transaction of a salvific contract…The sanctifying grace of God in Jesus Christ is meant not just for the sinner but also for a society beset by structural sin. 24.
Sadly, in too many quarters we continue to reduce the scope of the gospel to the individual soul and the nuclear family, framing it in a comfortable, personalized format—it’s all about personal devotions, personal holiness, and a personal Savior. This domesticated gospel will neither rock and boats nor step out of them into stormy waters. We have in many ways responded to the big global crises of our day with an incredible, shrinking Gospel. The world has said, “No thanks.” 244
The hard work of rebuilding community and family is essential—through community organizing, through moral instruction in local churches, through support for women and children through community centers and health clinics and schools, through micro-enterprise projects and drug rehabilitation programs to help people development employment or become employable.  264
While most of us won’t be called to sacrifice our physical lives (but many may), having faith in Jesus and sharing the faith of Jesus will lead us to make what an early disciple called “a living sacrifice.” We will give up the life we could have lived, the live we would have lived—pursuing pleasure, leasure, treasure, security, whatever. And instead, we will live a life dedicated to replacing the suicide machine with a sacred ecosystem, a beautiful community, an insurgency of healing and peace, a creative global family, and unterror movement of faith, hope and love. 277