Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Strength through Weakness

I recently heard about a ten-year-old boy who decided to study Judo despite the fact that he had lost his left arm in a devastating car accident. So he took lessons from an old Japanese Judo master and he was doing pretty well. But after three months of training, the master had only taught him one move and it was the same move. It was complicated and complex.

Finally the young boy said, “Sensei, should I be learning more moves?” And the teacher replied, “This is the only move you will ever need to know.” The boy didn’t quite understand, but he trusted and believed the teacher so he dutifully kept on training and became better and better. Several months later the Sensei took his young student with only one arm to a Judo tournament. Amazingly, the boy won his first two matches. The third match proved to be a bit more difficult, but after some time the opponent became impatient and charged him. It was then that the boy used his one move….and he won the match!

Amazed by his success, the boy reached the finals. Now the opponent was bigger, stronger and more experienced than any of the others with whom he had competed. For awhile the boy appeared to be completely overmatched. Concerned that the boy might get hurt, the referee called a time out, and was about to stop the match when the Sensei intervened and said, “No, let him continue.” The match was resumed. Then the opponent, big, strong and tough made a critical mistake. He dropped his guard and instantly the boy used his one and only move and pinned him. He won the match and the tournament. He was the new champion.

On the way home, the boy and the Sensei reviewed every move and every match. Finally, the boy asked, “Teacher, how did I win the tournament with only one arm and one move?” “You won for two reasons,” the Sensei said. “First, the one move that I taught you is the most difficult throw in all of Judo and you have mastered it. The second reason is there is only one defense against that move, and that’s for your opponent to grab your left arm.”

You see the boy’s weakness was his strength. The Bible reminds us, “God gives power to the faint and weary, and to them who have no might, God increases strength and makes it abound.” (Isaiah 40:29-30)

Whatever struggle or weakness you are dealing with today, remember that you and God are more than capable of facing it together. Receive the strength of the Lord in your life, now and always.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Running and Prayer

An interesting question was asked of me today. At least it was interesting to me. The question was: "Is running the same as meditation / prayer?" Here is my reply:

My church has lots of runners. This topic has been coming up a lot lately. Although all of us are a little different, most of us have similar conclusions on the relationship between running and prayer.

I think of prayer as something like: “speaking, listening, and responding to God.” I don’t think of running as a replacement or even supplement to prayer, but I do think that running can lead to a heightened prayer experience and thus a closer relationship with God. Personally, many of my best prayer times and many of the times when I am closest to God have come when I am running. I think many reasons exist why running can lead to a heightened prayer experience for me:
  1. It is one of the few times of the day I am alone without a cell phone, kids, an assistant, a computer, etc…Jesus says go into a closet and pray. Running is my closet.
  2. I am generally out in nature when I run. Something about still water, deer, trees, dirt, sun rises, full moons, and fresh snow helps me experience the God who has created such things.
  3. My mind seems to be sharpest when I am running. Maybe it’s the endorphins! Running seems to help me be open to creativity and possibilities.
  4. My heart seems to be most receptive when I am running. Running is a great metaphor for life. Hills, pain, sweat, victory, resurrection, forgiveness, friendship, journey, thirst…you name it.
  5. Running provides a temporary Sanctuary from the world. I think it was Karl Barth who wrote something like “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.” George Sheehan concludes in his essay, Is Running a Religion?: “Running is not a religion, it is a place…Running is just such a monastery-a retreat, a place to commune with God and yourself, a place for psychological and spiritual renewal.
We all come to prayer differently. Some selfishly and some with compassion. Some with mercy and some with hate. Some with bitterness and some with love that is nearly pure. I have learned that God is so big that He accepts us where we are and God loves us so much that He will not leave us where we are. We don’t have to be full or faith, intellect, purity, or really anything else for that matter. That is what grace is all about. We can live by it and be saved by it. We can pray by it too.

I try not to think about methods or techniques prayer. That seems a bit canned. I even try to avoid definitions, terminology, and arguments for prayer. Prayer is simply about a love relationship between a person and God. You can obviously grow in this relationship without being a runner, but I think many of us who run know that something special can happen when we run.

I remember yesterday morning as I was wandering through the woods at Zorinsky, I was having a conversation with God. It was something special that happened in an ordinary place. I remember a few months ago during a cold and hilly run, Christy and I stopped at the Holy Family Shrine for some water. We ended up in the beautiful, glass chapel. Something special can happen in an extraordinary place. Running provides us places too connect with God.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Today I talked about baptism. You can listen here. I wrote the following for the newsletter:

Baptism and Holy Communion are the sacraments of the Church. A sacrament is an outward and a visible sign of an inward and a spiritual grace. Experiencing water, bread, and grapes is kind of like wearing a red sweatshirt to Memorial Stadium in the fall. The former symbolizes you are a Christian and the other shows you are a Cornhusker fan.

But something really special exists when a person is baptized. That something special doesn’t depend on whether the person doing the baptizing is a saint or a scoundrel. It doesn’t matter if the water is from the Jordan River or the Metropolitan Utilities District. It doesn’t matter if you dunk the person in a tank or sprinkle some water on their head any more than it matters if you pray sitting down or standing on your head.

Water is the symbol God uses for baptism. It is about the only thing I can think of that is more ordinary than grape juice and bread. Much of the world is water. It is something we are all familiar with. The meaning of baptism is similar to the water itself: life… power… cleansing… refreshment… hydration… beauty… flowing… gushing… filling… washing… exhilarating.

The word for Baptism in Greek is baptidzo which means “to drench.” One way to think about baptism is that the person being baptized is being drenched in God’s forgiveness, power, grace, and love.

We are baptized so that we can be identified with the righteousness of God that was re-established by Jesus. We need the forgiveness of sin which baptism symbolizes and makes a reality in our lives. In baptism we are given the same Spirit which moved over the waters of chaos in the beginning and which descended like a dove at Jesus’ baptism. In baptism we are initiated into the kingdom which Jesus established. We are baptized so that righteousness may be fulfilled in us.

An exasperated piano teacher says to her student: “You haven’t got it right!” The student holds his hands exactly right and fingers the keys precisely. He has memorized the music perfectly. He hits all the notes with deadly accuracy. But his heart is just not in it, only his fingers. What he is playing on the piano is a sort of music, but nothing that will start voices singing and feet tapping. He has succeeded in boring everybody to death, including himself. Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) We know people like scribes and Pharisees—decent and orderly . But they are getting it all wrong, and the effects are terrible. Righteousness is getting it all right, if you play the game of life that way it the way it’s supposed to be played, there shouldn’t be a still foot in the house.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

It's Jen Hill's Fault

A few weeks ago I walked into a co-worker's office and had the following conversation that went something like this:

Jen Hill: Hey Craig, been blogging lately?

Craig: (Knowing that Jen knew the answer.) I haven't even had time to read blogs let alone write in them.

Jen Hill: Oh well. Nobody read it anyway.

It is great to have such support among colleagues. Anyway, for my mom, Jen Hill, and others, I'll others -- here it goes.

Early morning run today. I like going early because the run always gets done that way. 11 miles in the hills in about an hour and 27 minutes. Pretty easy run.

I was thinking the run this morning was grace. Grace is something you can never get but can only be given. There's no way to earn it or deserve it any more than you deserve the smell of fresh roses or can plan your own birth. Holding a baby is grace. So is an afternoon nap. Laughter is grace and so are most tears. The sunrise, climbing a hill, the heart slowing down post-run, and the taste of the original lemon-lime Gatorade -- they are all grace. Somebody loving you is grace. Loving some one is grace too.

I hope your day is full of grace! Even you Jen.