Tuesday, October 10, 2017

WHEN YOUR WELL RUNS DRY

John 4:13-14
Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

                I turned on the faucet and noticed that the water was a dark color. I didn’t think too much about it, until I turned on the faucet on the outside of the house. The water ran brown! We contacted the neighbors, with whom we share a well, and asked them to check their water. We discovered that our well was going dry. It was beginning to pump sand. We had to have a well driller come in and sink a new well for us.

                There are times in our lives when our well runs dry and we begin to pump sand. That was the case with the Samaritan woman Jesus met at Jacob’s well. Jesus had sent His disciples into town to get food, while He rested at the well. It was noon. While He was resting, a woman from the town came to draw water.

                It is important to note that it would have been unusual for a woman to draw water at noon. The women would come in the morning and in the evening when it was cooler. It would have been a social time, as well as a functional necessity. This woman was intentionally avoiding the other woman, by coming during the heat of the day.

                Jesus struck up a conversation with this woman, and soon revealed that she had sunk a number of wells in her life; all of them going dry. With the reality of her dry wells exposed, Jesus offered her water that would truly satisfy her soul. He invited her to sink a well in the one relationship that could sustain her and satisfy her deepest needs.

                Most of us don’t identify with the woman at the well. We view this story from a distance. We tend to apply it to those people out there who have not come to faith in Christ. I want to suggest to you that, even as followers of Christ, we can dig dry wells. Here are a few common wells that we dig.

                We can sink our well in the popular culture of the day. It is so easy for us to do this, because we are enticed to buy in every day. We can buy into being relevant and cutting edge, with the hope that it will make us effective in ministry. But because popular culture is so fluid, we soon become spiritual chameleons. We find ourselves always just one step behind the latest trends. One day we wake up in flip-flops and ripped jeans, only to find that everyone else is wearing Armani suits. The deeper we sink our well in popular culture, the more we pump sand.

                We can sink our well in all of the latest technology. Technology is a great tool, but a brutal task master. Just like popular culture, technology changes at a rapid pace. Often, by the time we have secured all of the latest technology, it is out of date. We are constantly being told that there is a newer and better version that we have to have. Social media can begin to dominate our lives and drain us of energy. The deeper we sink our well into technology, the more sand we pump.

                We can sink our well into the approval of others. We are all susceptible to this, to one extent or another. Ministry is all about building relationships, but it is easy to make the approval of others more important than the goal of serving Christ. Seeking to meet everyone’s expectations, so that they will like us, is another dry well that pumps sand.

                Even pursuing theology can become a dry well. When I was in seminary, our President warned us that the greatest danger we would face in seminary was that we would become theologians and lose our faith. Good theology is essential to our faith, but when it becomes our primary focus, it dries up. Intense study can morph into a passion to be right and to prove how smart we are. We find ourselves fighting marginal battles, over obscure points of theology, for the right to be king of the theological hill. We are soon sucking sand.

                Ministry itself can become a dry well for us. We can create programs and systems to advance the work of the Gospel. These are not bad, but when they become primary, they begin to drain us dry. We can put more and more effort into maintaining “our” ministry. We give all of our energy to keep the ministry afloat, which requires us to sink our well deeper and deeper. Soon, we are sucking sand, again.

                After we have sunk a number of dry wells, we find ourselves sitting next to the Samaritan woman, longing for water that will sustain. It is there that Jesus will meet us. There is only one source of living water, and that is Jesus. If we are not sinking our well deeply into our relationship with Him, we will run dry. The means of drawing water from Jesus’ well are not unknown to us, but they are often neglected. There are four basic tools we need to sink our well deep in Christ.

                The first is regular, personal study of God’s Word. We don’t study the Bible to gain theological knowledge or to learn interesting Bible facts. We study the Bible to grow closer to Christ. We study, not to speak to others, but to allow Jesus to speak to us. As Colossians 3:16 says, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

                The second tool is prayer; both individual and corporate. Prayer is one of the ways that God shapes and molds our hearts. In prayer He makes us aware of the things He wants us to focus upon. In prayer, we learn to depend upon Him and trust Him. Through prayer, God wants to reveal His majesty and glory to us. Prayer is not an Amazon wish list, but a dynamic dialog with God.

                The third tool is fellowship. God did not design the Christian life to be a solo journey. Colossians 3:16 goes on the say, as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. Hebrews 10:25 resonates with Paul’s words. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching. We can encourage one another through corporate worship, but we also need to interact one-on-one and in small groups throughout the week. We are most vulnerable when we are alone. We are strongest when we stand together.

                The fourth tool is service. Jesus made it clear that if we want to tap into His living water, we need to sink our well into service. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:42-45

                Overall, the key to sinking our well in the right place is humility. Our wells go dry because our focus is on us and not Christ. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 1 Peter 5:6


   


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

COMPETENT TO SERVE

2 Corinthians 3:5
Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

                Have you ever been called incompetent? I have. It happened to me twice while I was working at Samaritan Hospital in St. Paul. I was hired as the night Lab Technician on weekends. I was the only one on duty Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. After I was hired, I was informed that I would have to do EKGs. That was something that I had not been trained to do. I was given a half hour introduction on how to perform an EKG and then I was on my own. The first time one was ordered I messed up. The Doctor on duty that night pronounced me incompetent. That little incident pushed me to make sure that I got it right the next time. On another occasion, a lab test was ordered that I did not recognize. I told the nurse in charge that it was not on my STAT list. I soon received a call from the attending physician who informed me that I was wrong and told me I was incompetent. That too spurred me to make sure that I was ready to perform that test the next time it was ordered.

                There have been many times, over the past 35 years of ministry, that I have felt incompetent. I encountered that feeling on my very first day as a young associate pastor. The Senior Pastor was out of town and the message came into the office that one of the church members had died. I was dispatched to go and comfort the grieving widow. I felt completely unprepared to face this delicate situation. As I drove to the home of the widow, I prayed that God would give me the right words. I do not remember anything that I said that day, but a unique bond was formed with that widow, which has lasted for decades.

                I have often felt inadequate as a leader. Yet, through the years, God has continually placed in positions of leadership. Many of those times, others have affirmed that I was to lead. On a couple of occasions, I have been told that I was inadequate for the task, yet God still used me to lead through that difficult situation. What I have learned over the years is that my competence is not dependent upon my talents and skills. My competence is dependent upon yielding my talents and skills to God and allowing Him to use them for His glory.

                Think of how many leaders in the Bible were basically incompetent to lead, until God got a hold of them. Think of Moses, Gideon, David, Peter. All of these men had major flaws, yet God used each one in a powerful way. Moses was a fugitive; reluctant to go back and face Pharaoh, full of excuses why he was the wrong choice. Gideon was timid, scared, and full of self-doubt. David was young and inexperienced. Peter was brash, often speaking before he thought; jumping into situations that he should not have.

                All of us could use incompetence as an excuse for not stepping up to the plate in service for Christ. I can tell you, from firsthand experience, that Jesus doesn’t accept that excuse. He didn’t accept it from Moses or Gideon, and He will not accept it from us. If He calls us, and He has, then He will empower us to accomplish the mission.

                Paul understood this clearly. Paul had all of the theological training that one could want. Yet, when it came to serving Christ as an Apostle, he felt out of his depth. He had to learn that his skills and talents could take him only so far. At some point, he had to rest in the power of God to take his efforts to a new, higher level. That is exactly what happened. Paul was constantly dealing with those who called him incompetent to lead. Instead of attacking them and defending himself, he turned to Christ. He was able to draw strength from the truth that it was Christ who empowered him to spread the Gospel and lead the Church. Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)

                We all feel incompetent at times to serve Christ. We all have excuses about why we are inadequate and why God should use someone else. The bottom line is that none of our excuses matter. When Jesus calls us into service, He makes us competent to serve, whether others agree or not. Our confidence is in Christ and not ourselves. As Paul says, in Romans 8:31, What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

GODLY CHARACTER

1 Corinthians 10:12,
So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!

                What does it mean for us to have godly character? It is an important question, but not an easy one. Quick, easy answers to what it means to have godly character mask a lack of genuine understanding. Godly character is not something we can apply to our lives from the outside, like a veneer. Godly character begins at the core of our being and permeates every aspect of our life.

                As a woodworker, I prefer solid wood to veneers. A veneer is a thin layer of an expensive wood that is glued to a cheaper wood to make it look better. On the surface, a solid piece of oak looks just like a piece of pine with an oak veneer. If you sand the one piece of wood enough, you will soon break through the veneer and expose the pine below. If you sand the solid piece of oak, it will remain true.

                The same principle is true for us. If our character is merely a spiritual veneer, when the trials and pressures of life rub against us, our true character will come through. If our character is genuine, the trials and pressures of life will reveal that as well.

                One of the reasons to use a veneer is to get a consistent look, without flaws. Veneers are created to look perfect. When working with solid wood, you often encounter small flaws that make the look less than perfect. If the image of my character is too perfect, then it is most likely a veneer. If on the other hand small flaws are evident, then it is more likely the real thing. So what are the general qualities of a godly character?

                A person with a godly character is genuinely humble. Humility is not a trait that is valued today. As a society, we celebrate the bold, the arrogant, the self-promoting. The truly humble person is lost in the shadows. In some ways, humility is seen as a weakness, not a strength. Yet, God places great value on being a person of humility. In Proverbs 3:34, Solomon writes: He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. James picks up on this and takes it a step farther.
    But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:
    "God opposes the proud
        but gives grace to the humble."
    Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:6-10

                A person with a godly character has a realistic understanding of their strengths and weakness. The problem with a veneer character is that it promotes a false understanding of ourselves. We begin to believe that the fa├žade we have created is genuine, when it is not. Paul challenges us to be honest with ourselves about the true nature of our character. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Romans 12:3

                A person with a godly character focuses more on what God thinks than on what people think. We put on spiritual veneers to impress others. We want to be seen as more spiritual than we really are. We want others to be impressed by our godliness. Genuine godly character looks for God’s approval above the approval of people. Paul was constantly struggling with people’s opinion about him. In Galatians 1, Paul puts his cards on the table, so to speak. Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

                A person with a godly character is gentle toward others, full of grace. One of the sure signs of a veneer character is our negative response to others when they rub against us. In the heat of the friction that is caused, our true character will come through, in the form of anger, bitterness, resentment. What we want to come through is grace. A person with a godly character may have a negative immediate response, but they will deal with the other person with real gentleness and grace. Conflict is always a test of our character. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Galatians 6:1

                A person with a godly character knows that they are unfinished. Remember that the goal of a veneer is perfection. A veneer character will always protect the image of perfection. Genuine, godly character recognizes the rough edges and imperfections. A person with a godly character sees themselves as a work in progress. They are always striving to smooth out the rough edges and work through the imperfections of their lives. Instead of hiding their unfinished state, they acknowledge it in appropriate ways. They don’t make excuses, they take steps to strengthen their character. I truly admire the Apostle Paul for this quality. He saw himself as a work in progress right up to the end of his life.
    I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:10-14

                We are all works in progress. God is in the process of shaping, molding, and refining our character.  As we faithfully cooperate with Him, we will more and more reflect His image and glory into our world. Let’s not settle for a veneer of character, but strive for true, godly character that goes all the way to the core of our being.

Philippians 1:3-6
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

   


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

REDISCOVERING PRAYER

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

                I have always believed in prayer. I have practiced the discipline of prayer most of my life. I have dedicated specific times in my day and in my week for prayer. But, I have always struggled with prayer. Too easily I fall into routine patterns. Too easily my mind wonders and I lose focus. Too easily I see prayer as a last resort, instead of my first response to every situation.

                I recently reread Ben Patterson’s book Deepening Your Conversation with God. Ben is open, honest, and candid about his own spiritual journey. There are so many things that he shares with which I can identify. His last chapter on corporate prayer was especially convicting. He points out, with lazar focus, that we have made prayer a personal endeavor and lost the power and significance of corporate prayer. He boldly suggests that one of the reasons that the church in America lacks power is that it lacks corporate prayer.

                My wife and I have been reading the Mitford books together. The main character in these books, by Jan Karon, is Father Tim, an Episcopal priest in a small North Carolina village. The author has a remarkable handle on the life of a pastor. One of the things that always catches my attention is the way that Father Tim prays. His prayers sound formal, even memorized, yet ring true and genuine. In part, because of Father Tim’s prayers, and in part, because I want to reignite my devotional life, I pulled a book off of my shelf called A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. It comes from a distinctly liturgical context, but it has been a fresh addition to my devotional time.

                One of the aspects of this guide is that it gives a written invocation and benediction for each week. The authors suggest that a person use these prayers daily. On the surface, these prayers are old fashioned and a little stiff, but their sentiment is powerful. I have begun rewriting these prayers for my own use; adapting them to my style. It has been refreshing.

                There are two ways that we most often approach prayer. First, we approach prayer as a formal duty that we dispense as quickly as possible. Second, we approach prayer as a last resort, a desperate plea for help from God. Neither of these approaches lines up with the biblical concept of prayer. Prayer is intended to be an ongoing dialog with God; a perpetual conversation, which informs all of our lives. Paul simply says, pray continually because this is God’s will for you.

                As I have struggled with prayer over the years, there are three things that keep coming to the surface. God wants us to pray often, pray broadly, and pray specifically. Paul combines all three of these observations at the end of his description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6. Look carefully at what he writes.

    And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
    Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. Ephes. 6:18-20
                Paul instructs us to pray on all occasions with all the resources of prayer that are at our disposal. He tells us to pray for all the saints, because we are not on this journey alone. It is important that we broaden our focus beyond our personal needs. Then he concludes by telling us to pray specifically for the advancement of the Gospel.


                Prayer is not a formality to be gotten through so we can get on with the real work. Prayer is the real work. Prayer is the power source that we need to be able to accomplish what God wants of us. Without genuine prayer, we are flying blind in a spiritual fog, with no real sense of direction. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Fallacy of “Full-time” Ministry

                Growing up in church, I came to believe that God’s highest calling in a person’s life was to be a missionary overseas. Second best was to go into “full-time” ministry in the States. To be a Christian working a secular job was a distant third; an also-ran of sorts. When I was awakened to the realities of my faith, I automatically set my sights on becoming a missionary. I wanted to prove to God that I was really serious, so I was willing to go all the way. In the end, God had a different path for me to walk.

                50 years later, this subtle message still permeates the church. If you are really serious about your faith, you will go into some kind of “full-time” ministry. To settle for working a normal, secular job is somehow second best spiritually. I have talked with a number of young adults who, in their desire to serve Christ, are convinced that they have to change their course and go into “full-time” ministry. Sadly for many of them, this does not work out at all the way they thought it would.

                Many people who are part of a church embrace the reverse version of this fallacy. They have come to believe that ministry belongs exclusively to those in “full-time” service, and their role is to cheer them on from the sidelines. This mentality has created an artificial divide between “clergy” (those in full-time ministry) and the laity (everyone else).

                There is a story in Mark 5 that blows a huge hole in the fallacy of “full-time” ministry. It is the story of the demon-possessed man. Let me summarize the story. Jesus and his disciples have been out on the lake in a storm, which Jesus calmed. They landed their boat at a place called the region of the Gerasenes. As soon as they stepped onto dry land, they were confronted by a demon-possessed man. He was so violent that he could not be restrained even with iron chains. He lived by himself “among the tombs and in the hills.”

                When this man saw Jesus, he ran up to Jesus and fell at His feet. The demons within the man cried for mercy from Jesus. Jesus cast them out of the man and into a herd of pigs that were nearby. The man was freed from his bondage, much to the surprise of the local residents. Now here comes the point about “full-time” ministry.

                 As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you." So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed. Mark 5:18-20

                This man had experienced a “conversion” that most of us could never imagine. His first response was to sign up to be on Jesus’ ministry team. But Jesus would not let him. Instead, Jesus sent him back to his family. Jesus instructed him to tell people about what Jesus had done for him, and that is what he did.

                As it says in Ephesians 4:11-12, Christ has called some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. The key word here is some. Some are called into “full-time” ministry to prepare all to be full-time disciples of Jesus. Like the demon-possessed man, most believers are called to go back into their normal life to be witnesses to the power of Christ to transform a life. If we want to see our world transformed, we need more full-time disciples living out their faith in every corner of society. Some of us are called into “full-time” ministry positions, but all of us are called into full-time service for Christ, right where we are.

Colossians 3:17

 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

SEEKING GOD’S WILL

Romans 12:2
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.

                At some point, every Christian struggles with the question of God’s will. What is God’s will for my life? When the question arises, it usually is focused of some very specific decision that needs to be made. Should I take this job or that job? Is it time to make a major move? Should I get married? Who should I marry? How should I handle my finances? What is God’s specific will for my life?

                All of these (and many others) are important questions with which to wrestle. God wants to play an active role in all of the decisions that we make in life. But I think that we often put our focus in the wrong place. Specific decisions, like what job should I take, are secondary to the bigger question. Who am I becoming? When it comes to God’s will, it is more about who we are becoming as a person, than what we are doing. The doing is important, but it needs to flow out of the becoming.

                The world puts its emphasis on doing. People are judged by the job they have, the car they drive, the house they live in, the influence they exert over others. The pattern of the world is all about getting ahead, succeeding, beating out the other guy, grabbing all the gusto you can get. Paul tells us that we need to start thinking in a different way.

                In a nut shell, God’s will for every person is that we would become more and more like Christ. God’s will is that we would think like Christ and then act like Christ. God’s will is that we would be changed from the inside out. When God sent Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel, Samuel was impressed by the outward appearance of David’s oldest brother. But God had a different perspective.    But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

                God cares about the circumstances of our lives, but He is far more concerned about the state of our soul. Who are we under the surface? That is really what matters to God. Who we are under the surface will guide and shape all of our decisions. When we are striving to bring our character in line with Christ, we will have discernment to make the outward decisions of life. In Colossians 3:17, Paul writes,    And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. What we do is important, but how we do what we do is more important to God. God has given us much freedom to choose our path in life. In many cases, one pathway is just as good as another. The more important issue is how we will glorify God by what we do.

                We all struggle with God’s specific will for our lives. As we strive to align ourselves with God’s general will for all believers, we can have more confidence in discerning God’s specific will.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

BLOODIED KNEES

                When I was in High School, I ran the two-mile race in track. Looking back, our coach put all of his emphasis on the sprinters and did very little to train the distance runners. His normal routine was to send us out on our own on a road run. At that time, the idea of wearing the correct shoes for each race was a new concept. Consequently, we all wore track spikes, no matter which race we were running. Track spikes are great for sprinters, but not so great for distance runners.

               Throughout my track career, I worked very hard, but I was not given much instruction about the best way to run my race. On one occasion, the coach sent us out on a road run on the dirt roads around the school. I laced up my track spikes and followed the leaders. Because I was not the best runner, I was always at the back of the pack, struggling to keep up with the others. As we crested a small hill, my track spikes caught in the rocks and I fell forward, landing on my knees and hands. Because I was at the end of the pack, no one noticed what had happened. They just kept running. I picked myself up, walked painfully back to the locker room, washed my wounds, and went home. I was back at practice the next day, but no one even noticed that I had left early.

                I have often equated the Christian life to running a long distance race. On Sunday, as I preached about what it means to be a child of God, I was convicted about my own struggles with sin. On this marathon race of faith, we all trip and fall from time to time. Most of us get up, brush ourselves off, and keep running. Much of the time we are nursing bloodied knees all alone. No one else knows about our fall. They all seem to be doing just fine, while we are in the spiritual locker room attending to our wounds.  

                It is all too common in the Church, as in the world, to put our focus on the spiritual sprinters, who always seem to be winning the race. We give little attention to the distance runners; the ones more at the back of the pack who are struggling to just keep up. If a sprinter falls, everyone knows. The spiritual medics are on the spot, getting the sprinter back up on their feet. If a distance runner falls, few people notice. They often attend to their wounds all alone. There are many reasons for this, but I know it to be true, because I have lived it.

                The Bible has several things to say to us about bloodied knees. First, we need to take responsibility for our falls. If we try to hide them or excuse them, we only set ourselves up to fall again. James was very straight forward about the need for us to the honest with ourselves and others. Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:13-16) No one can help us bind up our bloodied knees, if they are unaware of them. We can unfairly get upset with others for not acting, when they were unaware of our need. It is important for all of us to have a spiritual confessor that we can go to regularly and reveal our bloodied knees.

                On the other hand, we all need to pay more attention to what is going on in other people’s lives. We may not know the specific issues that that person is facing, but we can be aware that something is amiss. It is not inappropriate to gently probe and seek to discover how we can help. Because, like my teammates in High School, we tend to be focused on our own race, we often miss the tumbles of others. Paul challenges us to intentionally be aware of how our teammates are doing. Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:1-2

                There is one more thing we can do for one another. We can help each other run the race better. I have run several distance races in the recent past. There are two things that have always helped me to run those races better. The first are the crowds cheering for me as I run by. During the Mankato Marathon, there are cheer teams stationed along the course. Every time I come to one of them, and hear them cheering me on, I get a new spurt of energy. Hebrews 12:1 puts this into a spiritual perspective for us. After the many champions of the faith have been listed in chapter 11, the author brings us into the picture. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

                There is a second kind of encouragement that is even more powerful than those cheering from the sidelines. It is the encouragement from those running with us. On several occasions, as I hit a difficult place in a distance race, I have had a fellow runner come along side of me and encourage me to keep going. “You can do it! Don’t give up! You are going to make it!” If you are not a distance runner, it is hard for you to understand how those simple word, spoken by a fellow runner, can energize you. The very same thing is true in our spiritual race. When we are struggling with some hard spot in our race, having a fellow runner come along side of us can make all of the difference in the world. So Paul writes,  Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

                We are all running a spiritual marathon. Along the way, we will trip, fall, and bloody our knees. Satan wants us to focus on those bloody knees and give up the race. Jesus comes along side of us, picks us up, and reminds us that He died for those bloody knees.

Psalm 103:8-14
    The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
        slow to anger, abounding in love.
    He will not always accuse,
        nor will he harbor his anger forever;
    he does not treat us as our sins deserve
        or repay us according to our iniquities.
    For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
        so great is his love for those who fear him;
    as far as the east is from the west,
        so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
    As a father has compassion on his children,
        so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
    for he knows how we are formed,

        he remembers that we are dust