What is your saddest Christmas memory?  My apologies if this question caught you off guard or if you were expecting an opening line that was significantly more “merry and bright” on the day before Christmas.  But, I seriously want you to stop reading for a moment and think about it.  What is the saddest memory that you associate with Christmas?

Maybe you just now thought about something that happened many, many Decembers ago, so long ago that it almost seems like it happened in another lifetime, or someone else’s lifetime.  It might be that you have experienced several Christmases that could competitively vie for the title of “worst ever.”  Perhaps you would identity the Christmas that is coming tomorrow, because of what is currently burdening your heart, troubling your thoughts, and causing pain in the depths of your soul.

If circumstances past or present have you in a state of mind and emotion that simply makes it impossible for you to feel overly excited or enthusiastic about feasting and festivities, ribbons and bows, trees and wreaths, tinsel and toys, please keep reading.  Christmas is precisely for you.

My saddest Christmas came in 1984 when my grandfather passed away unexpectedly on December 25 from a heart attack, just as our family was gathering at his home.  It wasn’t just sad, but shockingly so, and Christmas Day would never be the same again.  One of the two Christmases that I spent in Australia was the most melancholy and disappointing that I ever experienced because a much-anticipated holiday visit from a friend from the U.S. didn’t happen.

At this time eight years ago, Dad was in St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa following another heart attack and MRSA infection, all of which seriously negated the recovery he had made since the massive heart failure he suffered two hours after Mom’s death on September 16 of that year.  I was asked to leave his hospital room while a PICC line was being put in his upper arm, so I headed to the lobby to wait for Kim and Hannah to arrive for a shift change.  I stood alone on the stairs above the lobby and listened as a choir of Amish teenagers sang, “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.”  Tears began to flow.  There was not an ounce of happiness lurking anywhere in my body at that moment, but my grief, sadness, and emotional wounds were being bound up and dressed with the oil and wine of hope, expressed in the words of those hymns of faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Son, Immanuel, “God with us,” a Savior, the hope of the nations, love’s pure light.

Christmas is a season for every emotion.  Christmas affirms our faith that Jesus came into this world to bring light into our darkness (John 8:12), to provide sympathetic mercy and comfort for our sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-4; Heb. 4:15-16), to offer gentle nurture and loving protection for the bruised reeds and flickering candles of our hearts (Isaiah 42:1-3), to compassionately bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1), and to bring reassuring calm into our chaos as the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

Far beyond a mere wish, my sincere prayer for you this Christmas is this: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 15:13).

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,

We praise you for your majesty and greatness. We exalt your high and holy name. We thank you for your grace and mercy that you have abundantly poured out upon us through your Son Jesus. We glorify our Savior who willingly laid down his life for us and suffered so cruelly that we might be freed from the penalty of our sins. We thank you for your constant abiding presence through your Holy Spirit who dwells in us and supplies strength and help in the very depths of our souls.

Father, in all our distress we turn to you. In all our troubles we cry out to you. In you, we find shelter from the storms of life. In your presence there is calm and stillness; there is respite from the battering winds of uncertainty, and peace in the midst of life’s relentless anxieties. In you, we have a haven, a refuge of safety from those who would seek to do us harm. You are our fortress against the powers of darkness, our stronghold against the forces of evil, and our sure and steadfast rock in a desert of shifting sand.

Father of mercies and God of all comfort, protect us, as a father defends his children. Embrace us and wrap us in your presence, as a mother cradles and comforts her child. Heal our wounds. Soothe our sorrows. Wipe away our tears. Bring joy and laughter to our hearts. Cast out our fears. Sustain us through our confusion and questioning. Give clarity to our thinking. Grant us confidence and boldness in doing right.

Be our strength when we are weak. In your slowness to anger, be patient with us when we fall. In your covenant love and endless compassion, blot out our transgressions, keep us washed clean in the blood of your Son, and make us as white as snow. Guide us. Make the road clear before us. Show us the way. When the way is darkened by evil or overshadowed by our own doubts and fears, may the brilliance of your glory dispel the darkness and the light of your countenance brighten our path. Let us feel the prodding and correction of your staff and rod. Order our lives according to the truth of your word.

Our hope is in your goodness and righteousness, and not our own. We trust and listen to your voice as our Shepherd. We bow before you and submit to your will as our King. We accept your instruction and your discipline as our Father.

Lord, through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, we ask that you receive our praise, accept our thanks, hear our confessions, and grant our petitions. We ask all of this with bold confidence in the name of our Savior Jesus Christ.


I’ve long marveled at the timeless relevance of the Sermon on the Mount.  The passing of nearly 2,000 years has not diminished in the slightest the power, potency, or truth of Jesus’ message.  On the contrary, these words are infused with a divinely uncanny ability to speak directly into our hearts and lives, no matter what stage or circumstances of life we find ourselves in or where we are on our walk of faith in Christ.  For that reason, we can never read or hear this sermon exactly the same way twice, because we always encounter it (and it encounters us) at a different place on our journey.  It never fails to speak to the needs of the moment, whether that is comfort, encouragement, conviction, or correction.  This message of Jesus, brief though it is, will seek us out and find us wherever we are.  It will expose our deepest longings and hurts, bringing comfort and assurance.  It will sometimes ambush us with convicting rebuke in an area of life in which we may have been negligent, blinded, or in denial.  It was the latter of these that I experienced several months ago.

Last December, I enjoyed a sabbatical week in the form of a silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Cistercian monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky, about 45 minutes south of Louisville.  This was my fifth consecutive year to “unplug” there for the purpose of reading, prayer, meditation, and rest within a context of silence.  It’s impossible for me to quantify or adequately express the spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits that I gain from these sabbatical weeks away from regular responsibilities and the distractions of media and electronics.

My flight back home was on Friday afternoon.  I was among the last to board, and my seat was nearly at the back of the plane.  I found an overhead storage space for my backpack, and then apologetically informed the woman sitting on the aisle that I had the window seat.  As she stood up and stepped out to let me in, she said, “Thank you for being a normal sized person,” which sort of stunned me.  All I could think of to say in response was, “You’re welcome!”

It was a great flight.  I read an entire issue of TIME magazine that I had purchased in the airport terminal.  My “next door neighbor” slept through most of the two-hour flight.  She woke up as we started the descent into DFW, and we chatted long enough for me to learn that she was a special education administrator in the Louisville-Jefferson County School System.  We talked about Coleman and the road races we’ve run together, special education, and the Abbey of Gethsemani.  We exchanged parting pleasantries as we deplaned.  “Nice talking with you!”  “Safe travels!”  I should have known that the “odds of air travel” demanded that the flight from Dallas to Tulsa would not be that good.

What does this have to do with the Sermon on the Mount?  We’re almost there.

On the Dallas-to-Tulsa flight, I was the guy sitting on the aisle with nearly everyone on board, and the window seat next to me was still unoccupied.   It looked like it was going to be a full flight, but could I possibly be fortunate enough not to have a traveling companion?  No!  The last person (the absolute last one) to enter the plane was a tall, long-legged, broad-shouldered young man with ear buds in both ears.  He stopped beside me, tossed his big leather coat and sizeable man purse into the empty seat, and grunted, “I’ve got the window, but I’m going to the bathroom first.”

It was really close to flight time.  We had started to taxi out, and he still hadn’t returned to his seat.  Finally, he reappeared.  I unbuckled my seat belt and stepped out so that he could get in.  Standing next to him, I realized that he was even taller and broader than I first thought.  Since he was in his seat before I was back in mine, he quickly claimed his territory, positioning his long legs out at 45-degree angles from center, which put his right knee significantly beyond the internationally recognized border that exists between airline seats.

Peaceful, calming sabbatical or not, I was in no mood to surrender without a fight.  Even with my leg positioned straight out, my left knee pressed firmly against his illegally invasive right knee.  I kept my knee in firm contact with his, hoping that the awkwardness and discomfort would serve as a hint.  It didn’t.  Neither of us was going to blink.

The young man unplugged his earbuds from his cell phone to make a quick call just before we took off.  Then, back in his ears they went as he watched what I gathered from the corner of my eye were music videos.  The volume from his earbuds was so loud that I could hear it over the engine noise.  He would periodically minimize the video so that he could tap out messages on his phone.  I could only hope that his phone was in airplane mode and that he was using the plane’s Wi-Fi, but I wasn’t about to ask him.  He sneezed.  I turned and said, “Bless you!”  He never uttered a word.  This was going to be long 40-minute flight.  My week’s worth of peace and tranquility were disappearing fast.

My solution, with my knee still pressed against his, was that I would focus my mind on the Sermon on the Mount.  I had committed it to memory over 25 years ago, and I periodically rehearse and recite it (silently or aloud) in order to keep it current and fresh in my mind.  It takes about 15 minutes to recite.  Perhaps I could review it in my mind twice before we touched down in Tulsa.  It would be spiritually beneficial to me and would help pass the agonizing minutes ahead.

The following are a few excerpts of how Jesus’ words located me with pinpoint accuracy on the plane that night.

I closed my eyes and thought…

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.  He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying…

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Oh, yeah!  That!  Gentleness.  Okay.  But, certainly, demanding the legroom that I had bought and paid for could not be considered a failure to be gentle.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteous…

That’s what I’m trying to do here, Lord!

Blessed are the merciful…

Ouch!  That one hit much closer to home.  I relaxed my leg a little.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Wow!  I remembered what I have preached and taught over the years about what it means to be a peacemaker; not just a peace-preferrer or a peace-wisher, but a peacemaker; a peace initiator; someone who works for peace; sacrifices for the sake of peace; yields and forfeits for the sake of peace.

I straightened my leg, placing my foot under the seat in front of me, so that my knee was positioned below his and wouldn’t contact it.  It was plenty comfortable; not a problem at all; not really all that much to give up.

You are the salt of the earth…

You are the light of the world; a city set on a hill cannot be hidden, nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house (or on the plane).  Let your light shine before others in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

His elbow nearly clocked me in the face as he pulled his laptop out of his man purse.  I flinched, but he didn’t make contact.  He typed frantically for a while, then slammed the laptop shut.  We had another near miss when he put it back in his bag.  Still… no harm, no foul!

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but I say to you, “Do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.  If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.  Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.  Give to him to asks of you and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but I say to you, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your father who is in heaven.”

Did I mention that this young man was Middle Eastern, with a heavy, close cut beard?  Oh, yeah!  He was.  I’m ashamed to admit where I had let my thoughts run.  The long stay in the bathroom; the quick phone call before takeoff; the text messages; the laptop.  I had played out the entire scenario.  I had Criminal Mind-ed this guy.  I caught myself (or God did) in shame and embarrassment over allowing myself to fall prey to fear, suspicion, stereotyping, prejudice, profiling, and a whole lot of other things that my better self would like to believe have no place in my mind and don’t exist in my heart.  Apparently, however, they do!

Do not judge, so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

I handed him his drink (apple juice, I think) from the flight attendant.  He said nothing.  Given the short flight and the fact that we were at the back of the plane, it wasn’t long at all before they were collecting the trash.  I tilted my empty cup over toward his and said, “I’ll take your cup for you.”  He put his empty cup inside mine and said, “Thank you.”  A small response, yes, but an adequately kind one.

So, the rest of the story is that, later that night, this guy confessed his faith in Jesus and was baptized, right?

No.  That’s not the moral of the story.

The moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter how or even if other people respond, or whether they ever acknowledge or appreciate our actions.  That’s their call, their choice, and their responsibility.  My responsibility as a disciple of Jesus is to listen to the words of my Teacher, write them on my heart, and live them out in my life in daily circumstances as I seek to walk in His steps.

Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell and floods came and the winds blew and slammed against that house, and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell – and great was its fall.


Unlike fast food, which is served and sometimes even consumed with considerable haste, “slow food” grants you time to linger; time to savor; time to let your mind wander to far away places, then return home again; time to think; time to thank.

The first meal on my sabbatical and silent retreat two weeks ago was a rather simple one: a cup of potato soup, a small plate of salad, a piece of whole wheat bread, a slice of cheese, and a glass of water.  But, the meal was so much more than initially and superficially met the eye.

I knew from home gardening that potatoes take about 90 days to grow and mature to harvest.  I wondered, “Were these grown locally?  Were they raised, processed, and shipped from hundreds of miles away?  How long did it take for the iceberg lettuce to grow for my salad?”  Ditto the cumulative growing time for the spinach, carrots, celery, radishes, and tomatoes.

The wheat in the bread came from heads of grain that at one time had waved in the wind.  I remembered Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life,” and, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  It was leavened bread.  Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to yeast at work in a batch of dough.  According to the warnings of Scripture, evil influences also spread like leaven.  The salt that I sprinkled on my soup made an immediate, noticeable, positive difference. “You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus said.

How old was the cow from which the milk came that went into making the cheese? Did I mention it was aged cheese? Tack on even more time!

This meal had been years in the making!

Just a glass of water, but… the waters above the expanse, and the waters beneath it; waters gathered into seas; the mist that irrigated the Garden of Eden; water pouring from the windows of heaven and gushing from the fountains of the deep for 40 days and nights; the Red Sea; water flowing from a rock; the Jordan River; Jesus’ baptism by John; six jars of water; no, wait; correction; six jars of wine; the Sea of Galilee; water to wash the disciples’ feet; “I am thirsty”; water and blood; 3,000 immersed on the Day of Pentecost; my own baptism into Jesus Christ and the washing away of my sins; the gift of a glass of clean, clear, uncontaminated drinking water, a blessing sadly unknown to millions of people in this world.

A simple meal?  Hardly!  It was an amazing meal!

“Thank you, Father, for your gracious and abundant blessings. Thank you for my daily bread.”



I posted a couple of photos on Facebook on Tuesday that captured the odd juxtaposition of seasons that we are experiencing in our yard right now: pink azaleas in full boom and a maple with its leaves set ablaze in incendiary red.  Despite the climatic prankster who keeps radically moving the thermostat up and down (a high of 84º yesterday and frost likely by this weekend), the spring-like blooms and the autumn foliage are complementing each other beautifully.

While summer is enjoying a last gasp, colder weather will soon be here for its seasonal stay.  Plants that become dormant during the winter will invariably do so again this year, even if they’re currently staying up a little past their normal bedtime.  Those that always flower in March, April, and May will burst forth in bountiful botanical color again, keeping their unbroken bloom streak alive.  It’s simply the ongoing fulfillment of the postdiluvian promise: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease,” (Genesis 8:22).

I’ve commented recently on Facebook and in my weekly bulletin article about the splendor of the night sky and the tranquil beauty of daybreak that I have experienced on early morning trail runs over the last couple of weeks.  Setting out from the house at 5:00 a.m. yesterday, I wasn’t really anticipating being overly impressed after having experienced the simultaneous setting of the supermoon in the west and a picturesque, pink dawn on the eastern horizon on a crisply cool and windless morning earlier this week.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  Though the moon was beginning to wane from its fullness, it was no less brilliantly lit in the cloudless sky, still bright enough to cast shadows on the trail.  It was as if the Lord had left the porch light on for all who were out in the darkness.  Then, just for good measure, He traced a lightning-fast backslash in the northern sky with a shooting star.  Yes, yes, I know; it was a meteor and not really a star!

Big and small; terrestrial and celestial.  Thank you, Father, for daily reminders, both subtle and sublime, of your creative power, majesty, sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, and grace!



One:  “having the value of 1; used to refer to a single person or thing.”

Each:  “every one of two or more people or things considered separately.”

As they relate to all of the people in our lives and those who surround us every day, the gist of the words “one” and “each” is: a single person considered separately.

We are all familiar with the multitude of “one another” and “each other” passages in the New Testament; fifty-nine of them according to one list that I found online.  While many of these reiterate the same imperative instructions, it is still quite an extensive list.  Love one another.  Forgive each other.  Serve one another.  Encourage one another.  Carry each other’s burdens.  Be kind and compassionate to one another.  Pray for each other.  Offer hospitality to one another.  Be patient with each other.  Stop passing judgment on one another.  Simple statements.  No difficult words.  Pretty straightforward, right?

The challenge is that, given our great familiarity with these passages, it is all too easy for us to subconsciously begin to view the intended targets and recipients of these attitudes and behaviors as the vast, vague, all-inclusive aggregate of humanity.  “One another” starts to mean everyone, which in effect means no one; i.e.,  everyone in general, but no one in particular.  Au contraire, mes chers frères et sœurs!!!

It’s not “everyone in general,” but “that person in particular” that God has in mind. That person with their own distinctive face, name, date of birth, Social Security number, workstation, address, cell phone number, and Facebook account.  Love him.  Forgive her.  Serve that man.  Encourage that woman.  Carry that grieving person’s burden.  Be kind and compassionate to that exasperating, insensitive, tiresome individual.  Pray for that politician.  Offer hospitality to that stranger or homeless person.  Be patient with that brother.  Stop passing judgment on that sister.

You know who they are.  Look for them.  They are everywhere.  They are us.


(Do Not Open Until Election Day 2020)

November 3, 2020


Dear followers of Jesus,

It’s Election Day!  Wow!  Has it been four years already?

Today, the people of the United States will either: 1) re-elect President Donald J. Trump to a second term, 2) elect another Republican in the rare event that someone successfully challenged President Trump in the primary elections to become the party’s nominee, or 3) elect the Democrat candidate in the 2020 Presidential race.

I’m writing this letter to bring some things to your remembrance and to ask some things of you, especially if the third possibility becomes a reality today and a Democrat is elected to lead our nation as the next President of the United States.

1)  Keep praying. 

Four years ago, in the days following President Trump’s election, many Christians composed some beautiful and deeply meaningful prayers on behalf of the President-elect and our nation.  Some posted and shared these prayers on social media.  They acknowledged and praised God’s sovereignty, credited His wisdom and His guidance upon the electorate, professed their confidence that His divine hand had been decisively active in the outcome of the election, and petitioned His richest blessings to be upon the new President.

I hope that you saved those prayers in an easily accessible place.  Please retrieve them and pray them again today and in the days ahead… verbatim.  Change them only to reflect the name of the new President-elect.  They would be splendid prayers for you to continue praying over the next four years.  I’m asking this of you simply because I don’t recall the composition of such prayers in 2008 and 2012, and it would be a real shame to reserve such lofty petitions only for candidates of our liking and choosing.  Or is it possible you believe that God only selectively involves Himself in our elections, with unfavorable outcomes serving as an unmistakable signal as to which ones He has chosen to sit out?

Oh, and the countless public prayers that I have heard in Christian assemblies over the last four years that specially requested heavenly blessings upon President Trump, openly and unashamedly mentioning him by name… those would be great to continue as well.  Again, my mind isn’t quite what it used to be (I’m nearing 60 now), but I just can’t remember such prayers being offered with any regularity during the eight years prior to President Trump’s election.

2)  Keep reciting and living out Scripture.

Do you remember those Scriptures and memes that were so prolifically posted on social media when President Trump was elected?  They included Biblical texts like:

“First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.  This is good and it is pleasing in the sight of God who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4)

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good… Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God.  Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:13-17)

That was so great!  Please do that again!

Many Christians experienced a miraculous measure of renewed interest and dedicated commitment to these Scriptures on November 8, 2016.  I just don’t want to see these texts fall back into the depths of obscurity, neglect, and disuse that they suffered from 2008 to 2016.

3)  Keep calling for unity, healing, and overcoming divisions and differences.

Following President Trump’s election four years ago, there were repeated calls from Christians for the nation to come together, unite, support our new President, and heal the wounds of division within our country.  Harsh rebukes were offered to those engaged in post-election protests, urging them to get over it, accept the will of the people, and respectfully support the President-elect as the incoming leader of one nation under God.

The memories of many were apparently instantaneously wiped clean of any recollection of the divisiveness, disrespect, incivility, insults, name-calling, demonizing, venom, and vitriol in which far too many Christians had been deeply involved for the previous eight years.  I lost count of the number of believers I know who stated or wrote, “Barack Obama is not my President.  He will never be my President.”  I regularly heard President Obama’s name spoken with derision and contempt.

You can’t speak like that and behave like that for eight years, and then, upon the election of your favored candidate, wave a wand, flip a switch, sweeten your tone, invite everyone to grab a hand and sing “Kumbaya,” and expect to be taken seriously.  You can’t repeatedly toss grenades and verbal weapons of mass destruction, and then glibly pontificate about the need to heal.

So, if “the other candidate” wins this 2020 election, please commit yourself to be among the first to call the nation to unity, to demonstrate solidarity and show support for the President-elect, and commit yourself to sincere and ceaseless prayer on his or her behalf, and for our nation under their leadership.  Whatever you thought “God is in control” meant in 2016, try to speak and act as if you still believe it now.

Only when we’ve lived it can we credibly prescribe it.

When we fail to do these things, the light of Christ becomes shrouded by our duplicity, our hypocrisy, and our blatant double standards.  We ensure that those who are skeptical and dubious about our belief in Jesus will find it even more impossible to accept our faith as genuine and authentic.

If we believe that our God’s sovereignty and the successful working of His will is dependent upon the election of a particular candidate or the dominance of a single political party, then our God is far, far too small.

Lest you think I’m being overly critical of believers or unduly “beating up on fellow Christians” to the neglect of pointing out the faults and failures of those in the world, please understand that the latter is not within my purview as a minister of Christ.  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?  Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside.” (I Corinthians 5:12-13)

My desire is that our light shine more brightly, our convictions more consistently, and our witness more credibly as disciples of Jesus.

Grace and peace always,



For the benefit of those who are westbound on the Creek Turnpike Trail near Memorial Drive in Tulsa, there is a warning sign that alerts cyclists and runners to a steep downhill grade.  You’ve likely seen such signs before.  The lower portion bears the word “Hill”; the upper portion features a bicycle headed down the hypotenuse of a right triangle.  A couple of days ago, I noticed that some whimsical, enterprising, athletic, smart aleck had spray painted “Duh!” on the upper portion of the sign.

While lamenting this blatant defacing of public property, I’ll have to admit that I did chuckle when I first saw the vandal’s commentary on the sign.  I could somewhat relate to the mindset of the graffiti artist.  “Thanks for the heads up, Captain Obvious!  I would have never guessed that this was a hill!”  However, as is often the case, further reflection allowed me to see the sign in a more helpful and needful light.  What about first-time riders and runners on the trail who unsuspectingly approached the abrupt onset of the slope?  What about those who cycle before dawn or after dusk?  Not everyone has been on the trail multiple times before.  Not everyone knows the lay of the land.  Not everyone is “from around here.”  The sign serves a purpose, if nothing more than a courteous and cautionary reminder.

In public announcements during our worship assemblies, I try to remember to make references to the Outreach Center instead of the O.C., or to Vacation Bible School instead of V.B.S.  Who doesn’t know what the O.C. is?  For starters, all first-time visitors and most new members at the Broken Arrow church don’t know.  Who in the world doesn’t know what V.B.S. is?  Well, just about anyone who didn’t grow up in a church context or a Christian family, a segment of the U.S. population that continues to grow.  For all they know, V.B.S. might refer to the Venezuelan Broadcasting System!

A newcomer to our congregation would have a lot of legitimate questions.  What’s B.O.B.?  What’s W.O.W.?  What’s Mission Forum?  What’s New Heights?  What’s Take-a-City?  What’s a City Leader?  Are they the people who Took-a-City?  At one level, such esoteric terms, insider abbreviations, and in-house acronyms are naturally to be expected and are quite useful as convenient shorthand in our congregational communications.  However, churches should never lose their sensitivity to the fact that they likely mean absolutely nothing to newcomers and to those uninitiated in our ways.  If we express disbelief at their unfamiliarity or fail to patiently offer explanations, it makes them feel even more as if they just landed on an alien planet, that they don’t speak the local language, and that they don’t belong.

I shared these thoughts in my bulletin article this week.  Each Friday afternoon, an electronic copy of our weekly bulletin is posted on the church’s website, and an email is sent to current and former members with a link to the new upload.  Within 20 minutes of the link being sent out on Friday this week, I received an email from friends who recently moved out-of-state after spending 30 years at our congregation.  It was great to hear from them and to catch up on family news.  She wanted me to know that she had just read the article and offered their full confirmation and complete verification of these realities as they have been settling into a new church home over the last few months.  “We are the very people you referred to as the newcomers,” she wrote.  It’s real, people!  It’s very, very real!

What might seem like a “Duh!” statement to you, may be precisely the kind of helpful and insightful information that is desperately needed by someone else.

Don’t spray paint the signs!!!


As he is often prone to do, Coleman woke up extremely early on Friday morning.  I know that the term “early” means different things to different people, but last Friday it meant 4:15 a.m.  I was already up for the day (don’t ask!) when I heard his bedroom door open and the distinctive “thump.. thump.. thump” of his bare feet coming down the stairs.  As we met at the base of the stairs, he signed “cereal,” which, in this case, clearly meant the Strawberry Frosted Mini Wheats that Kim had purchased for him at Reasor’s on Thursday.  When either of us returns home from grocery shopping, Coleman pilfers through all of the bags, taking inventory and making detailed mental notes.  He must have dreamed about Mini Wheats on Thursday night: a pleasant dream in which the healthy grains of the cereal were totally negated by the sugary syrups and artificial dyes that make up the frosting.  There’s no “real strawberry anything” in it.  Trust me.  I read the list of ingredients!

As I filled his bowl with cereal, Coleman picked up his iPad, touched the screen a couple of times, and, using the pleasant, young adult male, synthesized voice of his communication software, stated, “I want to go to church!”  In emphatic reiteration of the point, he patted his hand on his chest a couple of times, the part of his chest where “In His Image” appears on the church t-shirts that he wants to wear ALL the time!  Coleman regularly digs through my computer bag, retrieves my folio of paperwork, rifles through the pages until he finds a bulletin or a sheet of letterhead, and points to the word “church.”

Your attention, please:  Coleman loves to go to church!  “Oh, but Tim, you do realize, don’t you, that we really don’t go to church… we are the church; you see, the Greek word ekklesia means…”  Yeah, yeah, yeah!  Whatever!  You explain all that to Coleman while I keep writing, okay?  Coleman LOVES to go to church.  He loves seeing his sweet friends and the people who so lovingly interact with him, visit with him, and sit with him in the Caring Corner during services.  He thinks about it during the week.  He “talks” about it.  He anticipates it.  He can’t wait to get there.  It means that much to him.

Isn’t that the way it ought to be?

finish line

Running with Coleman; 2016 Bedlam Run 10K; Tulsa, Oklahoma

Uphill.  Downhill.  Level Ground.

That pretty much covers it.  There are variables to be sure.  It could be a smooth road, a rocky trail, or a muddy track.  But, regardless of the surface, the grade is either uphill, downhill, or level ground.  Just those three.  That’s all.  That’s enough!

So it is when we walk, run, ride, and drive.  So it is with life.  So it is with following Jesus.

Recently, I’ve become more highly sensitized to the significance and impact of the grade of the ground.  In 2016, I’ve done more running, by far, than in any year since 1985.  Why have the entries in my running log multiplied and the distances grown?  It’s not because I’m getting younger.  It’s not because running is getting any easier.  It’s not that my knees don’t ache and periodically swell.

It’s because I have a new motivation: Coleman!

About a year and a half ago, we purchased a jogging stroller so that we could get Coleman outside more, for longer periods of time, and in places where a wheelchair is less practical or functional.  While Coleman is ambulatory, he wears over-the-calf AFOs (ankle-foot orthoses) on both legs.  He fatigues very quickly, which makes long walks difficult and extended excursions an impossibility for him.

The jogging stroller has far exceeded our hopes and expectations regarding the level of enjoyment that it brings Coleman to be outside and on the move in the fresh air and warm sunshine.  Mind you, this isn’t your average jogging stroller.  It is a specialized push chair designed for older children and small adults with disabilities, engineered to accommodate an individual weighing up to 200 lbs.  The stroller has been worth every single penny we spent on it, and is one of the best investments we have ever made.

How can I be certain that a non-verbal, developmentally disabled, autistic, 23 year-old young man actually enjoys riding in the stroller?  It constitutes crystal clear communication when Coleman goes to the garage, stands beside the stroller, and repeatedly points to it.  Ditto, when he sets out my running shoes and a running shirt.  While riding, he sits perfectly still and beautifully contented, moving only to periodically sign “bird” or “train” or whatever other sounds he hears in the great outdoors.

Long walks with Coleman in his stroller turned into short jogs.  Short jogs gradually morphed into longer runs.  An average week now involves two solo training runs (my creaky knees don’t allow me to run every day) and an outing with Coleman in the stroller on Saturdays.  In addition to our regular Saturday jaunts, we’ve recently competed in three official 5K road races.  We upped our game a couple of weekends ago with our first 10K.

Back to the subject of uphill, downhill, and level ground.

The Challenge of Uphill

 Uphill is hard.  Uphill hurts.  Uphill is a beating.  Uphill makes you want to quit.

All of us experience uphill challenges in life.  It may have been growing up in a dysfunctional family or a broken home.  It may have been academic struggles as a child, social awkwardness, or frequently being the target of bullies or mean-spirited classmates or neighbors who took sadistic delight in tormenting you.  Perhaps it was the deeply scarring trauma of being physically, sexually, or psychologically abused as a child or as an adult.  The heartbreak of rejection by someone you love.  The loss of employment.  The end of a marriage.  The death of a child.  A diagnosis of cancer.  Bankruptcy.  A shattered dream or an abandoned vision.  Questioning your faith; not just the common “unanswerable questions” that most people grapple with at one time or another, but seriously doubting the core tenets of your belief system, including the very existence of God.

Life has lots of uphill.  But, it’s not forever.  Every hill has a summit.  Uphill is seasonal.  Uphill is survivable.

Before I started pushing Coleman in his stroller, I would have sworn that most streets that I frequent were almost entirely flat.  Deception!  Trickery!  It’s a lie!

The stroller is so well designed and constructed that pushing Coleman on level ground is not too much of a challenge.   However, since he weighs 170 lbs. and the stroller 30 lbs., even the slightest uphill stretch is immediately apparent.  On steep grades, you become painfully aware of the gravity of 200 lbs. pushing back in the other direction, naturally wanting to go back down the hill.

Uphill calls for adjustments.  Gone are the days when I could simply charge a hill, frenetically grind it out, and get it over with as quickly as possible.  Now, I have to slow my pace and dramatically shorten my stride, or I’ll be fully spent long before I reach the summit.

Uphill is time to focus.  Uphill is time to pray.  Uphill is time to dig deep.  Uphill is time for positive self-talk.  Uphill is a reminder that extraneous things really don’t matter.  Uphill is minimalist.  Uphill is simple; a simple, singular struggle.  Uphill is time to channel Dory with a bit of terrestrial, poetic license, “Just keep running, running, running…”

Coleman keeps me from quitting.  He doesn’t say anything.  Quite literally, he doesn’t say a word.  But, he’s there, and he’s why I keep running.  “We’ve got this Coleman!  We’ve got this!  Almost there.   Almost to the top.  Almost over.  We’re not going to stop.”

Whatever form your uphill is taking right now, don’t give up.  Don’t pack it in.  Don’t quit.  Don’t bail.  Don’t stop.  I know it’s hard.  I know it hurts.  I wish it were different.  It will be different.  It will be better.  I don’t know when, but it will be.

Until then, remember who (or Who) you’re running for.  Others are counting on you.  They love you.  They’re pulling for you.  They believe in you.  They are with you.  You’ve got this!  Uphill makes you stronger!

The Deception of Downhill

Downhill comes as such a relief.  Downhill lets you breathe.  Downhill makes you want to extend your stride, pick up your pace, and make up for lost time.  Downhill makes you feel like you could run all day.  Downhill makes you feel younger, lighter, and fresher.  Except, I’m not.  I’m older, heavier, and have logged 53 years already.  53 isn’t fresh by any definition!

Downhill is where I’m tempted to get a bit (or a whole lot) overconfident. The ease of downhill can make me cocky, complacent, and inattentive.  Going downhill, it’s all too easy to turn an ankle or allow a stroller wheel to drop off the edge of a paved trail.

Downhill is where I have the urge to stretch out my stride so that I don’t appear to have such an “old man gait.”  Therein lies a serious problem.  My particular knee ailment (owing to surgery on both of them in the ‘90s and sundry injurious tweaks to them in the two decades since) is made much worse by not keeping a short running stride.  I don’t understand all of the biomechanics, kinesiology, and physiology of it, but downhill is much harder on my knees than uphill.

So, I’ve got to keep it slow, short, and steady on the downhill slopes.  Thankfully, Coleman’s stroller is equipped with a handbrake, connected to the front wheel, that keeps me from being pulled downhill too fast by the 200 lbs. in front of me.

I imagine that running downhill slowly and methodically appears rather odd to some other runners, especially those who are younger, stronger, faster, and who breeze past us with ease.  That’s okay.  When tempted to join their accelerated romp, I audibly repeat to Coleman, “Our race, our pace, buddy!  Our race, our pace!”

Don’t measure yourself in comparison to anyone else, regardless of who they are.  They’re not living your life.  They’re not where you are.  They may be opinionated about the circumstances of your life, but they’re not responsible for it.  It’s not their load to carry.  Let them run their race.  You run yours.  When I asked a young friend as to how I could best pray for him, he answered, “Just pray that I’ll be best version of me that I can be!”  Keen insight and wise counsel!  Your race, your pace!

Downhill is temporary too.  There’s a bottom to every hill, beyond which may either be level ground or an immediate steep incline that will suck the wind right out of your lungs.  Don’t lose your focus.  Don’t assume it will always be this easy.  Enjoy it while it lasts.  Keep it real!

Doubling Down on Level Ground

The challenge of uphill and the deception of downhill has caused me to really relish, embrace, celebrate, and maximize those stretches of level ground.

Level ground is an opportunity to reestablish my pace, restore my running rhythm, regulate my breathing, and get into a groove again.  Normalcy is relative, but whatever normal is for you, that’s your level ground.

Double down on level ground!

Take advantage of the relative calm to become more disciplined, more tenacious, more resolute, and more zealously committed.  In terms of discipleship in Jesus, utilize times of level ground to restore the rhythms of spiritual discipline in your life through regular times of prayer, mediation on the Word, silence, and service to others.  Allow the wind of the Spirit to refresh you, equip you, and strengthen you.  You’re going to need it for the next hill.  There’s ALWAYS another hill!

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May 2023