It has been a few months since I have written, and I apologize to my school family. Something interesting happened the last six months: grad school. All of my writing and reading time, which used to be at my personal disposal was now dictated by professors. It had been a while since I was in formal schooling, and it was quite the shock to my system. Anyway, I am glad for summer and some time to get back into my own routines of reading and writing. Before too long, fall will be here – back to grad school and the arrival of the twins. (My wife and I are in deep discussions on names, suggestions welcomed in the comments!) I can’t guarantee too much writing then, but I'll do my best!
At the end of May, I ran my first marathon, the Buffalo Marathon. It was the culmination of about a fifteen month journey of becoming a running junkie (addict?). Distance running has really become a source of joy and relaxation for me. I know, I know – most of you think I'm crazy. But for a few of you, this makes total sense. There is the peacefulness of finding a good pace that creates some space for reflection, worship, and even deep community when running with friends. And there is nothing like the good tired that comes after a long train run. And I've got to say, there is nothing like crossing the finish line on a landmark race. (more on that later.)
A quick word of warning for those of you thinking about becoming a distance runner, it's not cheap. I actually thought it would be – all you do is run right? But when you run through three pairs of running shoes in one year, pay for race registrations, get the right breathable clothing and running gear, it becomes a big investment! It's still cheaper than a lot of hobbies, but be warned!
There are many, many lessons learned from training and running a marathon. In fact, the Bible uses the metaphor of running a race, and many Christians have made, and wrote about, the spiritual connections and biblical applications of distance running. I'll spare you of recounting them all, I'll stick to just one.
My biggest lesson: you can’t run alone.
Well, actually, lots of people train and run alone. But I couldn't. I don't think I would have had the motivation, and I physically also needed the support. I train with the Moor Ponies, (pictured here with our support poster from the BCS students) our small collection of BCS alum and staff who enjoy running. (Anyone is welcome to join us!) I rely on my running friends to help me keep going, to get out of bed, and hit the trails or hit the road. I count on them to encourage me when I'm not feeling great, to keep pace, and help me reach my goals. They sharpen my skills with healthy competition, encouraging words, and smart council. We keep each other accountable, and it is the companionship that really makes running enjoyable, not the actual running.
It was a tough race for me, really pushing me to my limits. But mile 19 is where it all went downhill. (well not literally, it was actually a slight incline) I had been struggling for a few miles to keep up, but my teammates did not leave me. Every mile or so, we would take a few seconds of walking as a break before we started running again. I yelled ahead that I needed one of these breaks and started walking. I was mentally and physically exhausted and thought, “I don't think I can start running again.” And then, my legs just buckled. I stumbled and fell. Trying to get up, I realized two of my teammates were already by my side lifting me up. I had one arm around one teammates shoulder, and a duplicate on the other side. They asked me if I could walk, I could. We started moving forward. One teammate yelled if anyone had food. A fellow marathoner pulled up along side. “Here, eat this. It's homemade honey cookie. Chew the whole thing, you'll feel better soon. Keep going.” And she was off. My teammate yelled for water. A spectator ran into her house, and came back with water. She didn't need the cup back. My teammates carried me for about a half mile.
Miraculously, my strength returned and I was able to start running again. With much support from my team, and some help from some fellow running community members, I finished the race. Friends, this is the Christian life. Following Christ is difficult and many do not even get out on the race course because it is too hard. But the few of us who understand the payoff strain and strive and undertake the journey. God equips us to run well, and one of the key gifts he gives us is the family of God. We are blessed with a running team of brothers and sisters in Christ who are there beside us, running the same difficult path.
My BCS family, we can't run alone. We need each other. Sometimes it is just to tell each other to keep going, sometimes it is to help each other to keep pace, and sometimes it is just for the companionship on the journey. And sometimes, we literally need each other to pick us up after a fall and carry us. It is not enough to talk about community, we must do it! As we each go our own ways over the summer, I hope we will all be intentional about continuing to engage in Christian community. And as we regather in the fall, I hope that we will all be fully committed to running this race together. It is one of the key ways we train our children in discipleship and show the world the power of the gospel of Jesus.
Update on Compassion International
THANK YOU to all of our families who come together to support our friends around the globe through Compassion International. Our last dress down day brought in $524.21 which included a gift from one of our alumni. This covers all of our summer expenses and will give us a strong start for next year. It is a simple but powerful example of what we can accomplish when we choose to run together as the family of God. To learn more about our compassion International program http://berkschristian.weebly.com/compassion-international.html
The last time I wrote to all of you I had just attended a wedding, a significant moment we share in community that reminds us of sacrifice and love. And now I have just attended a funeral, a significant moment that reminds us of grace and legacy.
About two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away after complications with heart surgery. He was a man who cared about his family, and desired relationship, but did not follow Jesus in his life. This created many difficult chapters for my Grandfather. I am thankful that in recent years my family has been able to reestablish healthy relationships with him, and we have some hope that he responded to the gospel at the end of his life.
At the funeral, the pastor, who didn't know my grandfather, commented that two things that stuck out to him in the various eulogies by family members were the legacy of a man, and the thread of the gospel. Even though there were many rocky times in my family, in the room were all the lives my grandfather influenced – his legacy. And, by God's grace, many of those people in the room have experienced the joy of accepting the gospel message. Many stories of joy and difficulty, fun times and difficult times revealed a thread of God's redemptive work in our family.
My grandfather's funeral ended up being the same weekend as my big fall race I had been training for. Against some common sense, and the advice of my doctor, I am a bit of a hard-core runner. I gladly exchange some tight muscles and sore knees to that feeling of sailing along, heart pounding, and the thrill of finishing a good run. God often teaches me simple lessons on my runs, and the length gives me time to reflect and deepen my understanding. It has been natural for me to reflect about my Grandfather and about legacy on recent runs.
I've been enjoying the colors of autumn and noticing again the majesty of trees. I feel like I don't really notice trees during the summer, they are just there. But then, suddenly, they burst forth in color – screaming at our eyes, “look at me!” I just ran a race on Saturday, and honestly it was not my best run even though it was a PR (personal record) for that particular distance. Actually, it was probably my worst run ever in competition. It was really cold, my muscles were sore, and I never hit a good stride. The entire journey felt labored and challenging. I was glad to finish, but frustrated with my overall performance.
The first lesson I have been learning from running lately is that what place we finish pales in comparison to the way that the race is run. I think I've heard this analogy many times in my life, but it means so much more now that I am actually a runner. (side note: experience makes lessons come alive) Even though I had my best time ever, I felt terrible after the race because I had not done well throughout. How often we focus on how we compare to others at the finish line rather than making each moment a quality response of praise to our creator.
The second lesson I have been learning is a more simple and reflective truth: God is always creating beauty and redemption. Even though the leaves are dying and the trees are doing dormant, beauty emerges – it shouts at us. It's been a gentle reminder that all of God's works are redemptive. He is making all things new and beautiful. No matter what we are facing, or fear we will face in the future, it is all for His glory and the good of His children.
Sitting there at the funeral, I was reminded that our success in life is not measured in all the results of our work, but rather the legacy we leave with those we love. We all reach the finish line, either quickly or slowly, but what matters is how we run the race. As I sat there listening to my Uncle describe his love for his brother even though they had fought for many years, I was reminded that God brings redemption and healing, even through death.
Brian Simmons, president of ACSI, often reminds us that we should have the 10 and 10,000 year goal in mind for ourselves and our students. Do we know what God is calling us to work toward in the short term, are we focusing on our pace, our muscles, our stride? And are we confident we will be sharing in eternity with our Heavenly Father 10,000 years from now – sharing that experience with those we have shared Christ with in this life?
BCS family, I challenge you: Are we leading our students to a finish line with a the thread of the gospel woven throughout their whole race? Are we helping our students measure success in the right way: by Kingdom building not treasure building? I challenge you to teach our students to measure success by lives impacted for Christ, not high grade percentages, promotions, popularity, or politics. I challenge you to develop the 10 and 10,000 year view for your life and in the lives of those you impact.
Run well my friends.
Grace and Peace,
Family pic before the wedding
The big news in my family is that my little sister got married on Friday. It was a picturesque weekend filled with all of the wonderful and usual things that accompany a wedding: flowers, fancy clothing, food, friends and family. (please enjoy the gratuitous pictures, who doesn’t love a baby in a suit?) It was a special moment, a significant moment. A moment worth pausing to enjoy. A moment worth pausing to ponder.
While there are many moments that I will remember from the weekend, there is one thing stood out that I wanted to share with my school family. The pastor at the wedding took some extra time during the giving of the bride. Rather than just asking the typical question (who gives this bride to be married?) and moving on, he reflected on the significance of the sacrifice the families made in raising the bride and groom and on the sacrifice of the bride and groom sacrificing their own lives to enter into marriage. In the course of the pastor’s reflection, he made a pretty interesting comment, “Most of the significant moments in life involve sacrifice.” Typically, when we are just going about our business, looking out for ourselves, days pass in a fairly average way. But when we put ourselves on the line, when we decide to give our energy, resources, and very life - in these moments we find significance.
The question arises: do we give enough space to sacrifice? Are we missing significance in our day to day lives because we aren’t giving enough of ourselves away?
My little sis coming down the isle with Dad
I see a lot of truth in this in my own life. Beyond my own wedding day, I can think of various examples of significant moments. The birth of my son was probably the biggest in my life. It was a time when me and my wife decided to dedicate our lives to raising another. This, I am learning daily, involves a tremendous amount of sacrifice. One example from school life was our choir tour two years ago, Behold the Lamb. It was one of the most significant moments of worship I’ve ever experienced as we celebrated Jesus and raised funds for Bulgaria. It was only made possible by a lot of people sacrificing a lot of time.
When we begin to examine the biblical narrative, we see this pattern of sacrifice-significance from beginning to end, but we see it most dramatically in the life of Jesus. Human history hinges on the sacrifice of Jesus - the most significant moment of all. Ultimate sacrifice, ultimate significance. We can spend a lifetime studying the impact and implication of Jesus’ act, and we will still find more to discover and celebrate. There is no end to profoundness of this event. It is here we find our meaning, and here we find our example.
In Matthew 16, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” This same command was repeated in two of the other gospel accounts as well.
Paul picks up this idea in his letter to the church at Rome. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Paul is inviting them to a life of significance, a life lived in response to the sacrifice of Jesus. It is this act that we celebrate, and this act that we need to replicate.
In light of Christ’s example and command, where do you personally need to invest in more sacrifice? As a school community, where do we need to invest more in the practice and teaching of sacrifice? It is on the road of sacrifice that Jesus showed us that we will find the most significant moments and meaning of life.
Grace and Peace, (and congratulations Jen and Brian!)
P.S. - I used the word “significant” seven times in this post. And you know what? I think I misspelled it almost every time. It’s a challenging word, and apparently my brain is very stubborn learning it correctly. I’m thankful for spell check! Also, anyone read any good books lately?
Philip S. Warner, administrator of Berks Christian School.