Author Archives: ViaChicago

Running Up Hills

bobby posting:

I’ve been running a lot lately.  So much so, that I’m even beginning to enjoy it.  I know…it sounds crazy.  It’s actually getting to the point, though, where I have that little itch if I don’t get out each day and hit the road.  It was hard to pinpoint at first.  I thought I was just getting sleepy or irritable or restless…maybe even anemic.  Turns out my body just wanted the exercise, because once I got outside and got moving, I came fully awake and alive.

I’ve written about running here on the blog before, my love/hate relationship with the daily grind.  But I’m not sure I’ve ever told you about one of my running rules.  So here goes, get ready to get educated:

Running Rule #454 – Never stop at the top.  

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When I run, I open up my front door and just go.  I don’t have a path or routine that I follow.  I never really know how long or far I’m going.  I just figure it out along the way.  Wherever I go, though, I try to find a hill.  A good one.  At least once along my route, I want to encounter something difficult that will me push me to fight and grind.  And when I get there, I do my best to follow my rule every time:  never stop at the top.

When you’re incredibly tired and worn and beat, everything in your body wants to rest at the top of that hill.  Your mind begins to beg, your legs begin to give.  All of you just wants to lie down.  Fetal position.  In some stranger’s lawn.  Passed out like a frat boy on a Sunday morning.  Okay…so you also may be tempted to just walk.  Slowly.  Very, very slowly.  That’s what’s wanted.  But not what’s needed.  What’s best is another thing altogether.

After a big climb like that, your body needs to wind back down at a more continual rate.  It needs a light jog and a steady heartbeat.  Pushing on, when everything in you urges you not to, is great for the body and the soul.  It has to be.  It’s science or something.  I think.  At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Your body loosens back up and finds its stride again.  Your soul finds strength, the desire to keep going wins over.  And so you keep on, looking for another hill to climb.  Searching for the next challenge to bring the most out of you.  Always pursuing.  Never settling.  Never stopping.  At least not at the top of a hill.

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One of our pastors here at church told me once that he never makes any major decisions on a Monday.  The mental and emotional and physical and spiritual toll of teaching and preaching leaves him worn and weary the next day.  He allows himself that day to regroup and renew.  But as far as I can tell, he doesn’t just stay in bed, pull the sheets over his head, and call it a day.  He recognizes the importance of moving forward.  Even if this part of the process — the leveling back out on a Monday morning — is different than that earlier part — the long, hard climb to Sunday morning.  Monday gets him to Sunday…and Sunday leads him to Monday.  But all of it leads him to where he ultimately wants to be.

That’s a man who knows where he wants to be.  And he does something to get there.  But what about us?  Do we know where we want to be?  All this talk of “not stopping at the top” dismisses an important question:  are you even running in the first place?  And if you are running, are you challenging yourself in the process as well?  Are you running up hills?

If you want to be stronger, you have to fight to get there.  Faithfully.  Regularly.  Daily.  Maybe you need some more prodding.  Here’s a few more questions to get you going…

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Where are you facing hills that make you want to stop climbing? 

What’s creating in you a desire to give up and give in? 

When are you stuck at your lowest when all of you could be climbing to its highest?

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I have my list.  I could even write them out, right here, right now.  I’m even tempted to.  But instead, I’m going to keep running.  Not from heartache and hardship, but thru heartache and hardship.  Not fleeing or flying but pursuing and persevering.  Friends, if there’s one quality I’d love to be known for, it’s that I’ve been faithful.  Full of faith.  Faith is believing without seeing.  But it’s also a rugged commitment to keep on going.  Grinding out instead of giving in.

When you climb your hill today or tomorrow or next week or next month, and you will climb your hill, don’t stop at the top.  Keep running.  Keep your blood pumping.  Keep your heart alive and well.  Fully engaged and full of life.

Monday taking you to Sunday.  Sunday taking you to Monday.


Summer Camp

bobby posting:

So I spent last week taking 50 of our middle and high school students to this camp in Missouri called Kids Across America.  The whole experience is what led me to write both of those earlier posts this week.  But our creative guru at church wanted me to write a little more on the subject, to make it all a little more accessible for anyone that wanted to hear about camp in general.  So if you’re interested, head on over to the Fellowship North church blog and read all about it.  If you’ve been with me so far this week, this will bring it home a little more.  I wouldn’t lead you astray.  Well, at least not today.

…And Now I Know What to Change

bobby posting:

I spent all of last week as a Kaleo (leader) at a Christian sports camp called Kids Across America.  I’d been told that as a leader, the whole week would be a “bubble bath in Jesus.”  Sure enough, when I got to camp, there was a notecard on my bunk that said just that.  This week was about relaxation and rejuvenation and restoration.  But for me, it became about so much more.  I found myself growing significantly spiritually in all sorts of ways.  The  most profound though, was during our Men’s Bible study time.  The camp director took a room full of pastors and youth leaders and volunteers and walked us through a Biblical view of conflict.  I’m hoping that time changed the course of the rest of my life.  I know that’s a big statement, but I’m good at making those.  And I earnestly want it to be true.  Perhaps you can even join me in the change.

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During our first session, our teacher asked us to play word association with the word “conflict”.  Men all across the room began throwing out words:  misunderstanding, hurt, shame, loss, pain.  I chimed in with “tension.”  I could even feel my body clench as I said it out loud.  Conflict has always created that reaction in me.  Maybe it’s the peacemaker in me, that whole middle child thing, intervening and settling down and hoping for everyone to just get along.

We would’ve gone around the room again with more negative words and sour faces if it weren’t for Taido, my friend and mentor.  There was a lull, a quiet hush, and then Taido spoke up.

“Opportunity,” he said.

“What was that?” our teacher asked.

“Conflict creates opportunity.”

Opportunity?  Taido’s good at stuff like this.  He has a knack for always flipping the coin to the other side.  And usually, the other side of the coin looks pretty good.  If not always shinier, at least more interesting.

A light bulb clicked all around the room.  Conflict creates opportunity…for good.  Sure it wouldn’t be easy, but looking at conflict through the eyes of Christ changed things.  Immediately.  It was as if a veil had been removed from our eyes.  I know I began to see clearly.

You know all that pain and frustration I wrote about yesterday…the kind that came from seeing my friends always hugging and laughing after those “serious conversations”?  Well all that rose to the surface because I couldn’t possibly believe that conflict could create anything good, much less anything better than before.  I thought of conflict as a necessary evil, not a potential blessing.  Certainly not as an opportunity for God to have great victory in our lives.

But isn’t that the story of our God over and over and over again?  Isn’t this the God I know and love and follow?  Isn’t our God the one who came in the face of conflict and conquered it?  On the other side of that conflict, did the Apostles become bitter and broken?  Or did they come to life in ways they’d never dreamed of before?  Look at the Disciples in the Gospels.  Then look at them in the book of Acts.  They’re hardly recognizable.  So what happened?

Conflict.  At its worse.  Opportunity.  At its best.

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You ever set yourself up for failure?  I’m pretty bad about it.  Big, giant sweeping statements.  Writing blog posts about change that’s gonna come.  That kinda stuff.  I can already tell you where I’ll be weakest.  How do I know?  Because in the few days since I’ve been back from camp, I’ve already taken note of where I’m still missing the mark.

The little things.  Yep, those same little things that I’ve written about before.  Love is in the little things, right?  And in all the little things, where the conflict usually starts, that’s where I’m forgetting that “opportunity” is still sitting right there, waiting to be discovered and put into action.  I find myself waiting to pull out “opportunity” when the BIG conflict comes.  When a relationship is falling apart or a friend is let down terribly by a job or bad situation.

But opportunity’s knocking at spilled milk as well.  It’s tapping on your shoulder when you and your spouse are communicating terribly that day.  It’s whispering in your ear as you’re confronted over something you forgot to do.  It’s there beside you as you get tired late in the day and become selfish and lazy.  It’s everywhere.  In the BIG and little.

Conflict creates opportunity.  Do you see it?  I’ll keep trying to show you.  I’ll keep trying to see it myself.  Seeing is believing.  Believing in something good out of something bad?  That’s everything.

A Change is Gonna Come

bobby posting:

A few months ago, I came across a statement that went something like this:  if you can’t remember the last time you changed your mind about anything significant, than perhaps you’re not willing to grow.  About a month after I read that little nugget, a group of guys posed this question to me:  how will the way you live your life look different five years from now?  Needless to say, the idea of change has been cycling through me like Lance on a climb.  I had no desire to become some old, crusty curmudgeon, stuck in my ways to the bitter end.  I wanted to grow.  And if you know anything about our God, if you admit to being willing to be stretched, well he answers that kind of prayer.  Gladly.  Certainly.  2011 has since, certainly been a year of growth.  Here’s just one of the changes I believe is coming out of me.  At least, I sure hope it is.

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In 2004, I made what I considered to be one of the wisest decisions of my young life.  I decided to move in with three of my best friends into a nice little, apartment right off campus.  The ViaChicago boys all living under the same roof for the first…and last…time.  Four solid Christian men together, constantly pushing each other further down the road to love and servanthood.  Well, that’s what we all desired going into the experiment.  But that year was tough.  We were all going through difficult things in our personal lives and collectively had a hard time managing expectations for this unit living together…as one unit.

The hardest part, though, was managing conflict.  Because we were all “solid Christian men”, we felt the need to constantly correct each other.  We’d sit down and have “serious conversations” and poke and prod for the deeper err beneath the error.  Frankly, I hated it.  And I let it show.  All.  The.  Time.

On a scale of 1-10, my ability at dealing with conflict was somewhere between zero and zero point one.  I hate to admit failure, but I sucked at conflict management.  Terribly.  I’d shut down and roll my eyes and respond with sarcasm.  And that’s when I would actually respond.  Most of the times I’d do my best to avoid the conversations altogether.  I’d dart from conflict like a deer after a rifle shot.  There’s a certain story that about me and a 2-on-2 basketball game and a shove and an f-bomb and me sprinting off into the night…but we don’t need to get into that.

As much as I hated being in the conflict itself, though, I hated even more the aftermath of the moment.  It just ate me alive.  The other three guys would come through the muck and mire with smiles on their muddy, ruddy faces.  They were somehow closer than they’d been before.  There’d be boyish laughter and manly hugs.  Hope would conquer heartache and new life would spring forth like a good rain.  For everyone.  Except me.

I’d sit there with my head tilted and eyes squinted, looking back and forth at these guys with a strange mixture of confusion and disgust.  How could these men enjoy each other’s company right now?  How could things magically be all good again?  How could anyone be for the better after conflict?

Conflict for me simply created more conflict.  It did not create anything of value.  And I couldn’t imagine a world in which anything was different.  I looked at my friends as inauthentic and insincere.  The thought that conflict had crafted them into something stronger, had chipped away and fashioned a faithfulness and fidelity among them was beyond my thought process.  Like a toddler with times tables, the concept was not only foreign, it seemed utterly useless.  Out of my reach.  Until recently.  Really recently, actually.  Like maybe a week ago recently.  A light bulb finally clicked.  Better late than never…

And that’s where we’ll go tomorrow.

Little Big Words

bobby posting:

To make it in the punditry business, you have to draw lines in the stand and hold your ground.  There’s no middle space in between for moderates.  From sports to politics to religion, people want someone shouting out extremes.  At least some people do, certainly not a “moderate” like myself, though.  Which lets you know that I would never have made it as a pundit.

I find myself thinking these thoughts after reading brave, bold declarations by two great theologians.  A couple of which I’d love to share with you today.

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I remember being struck by Richard J. Foster’s thoughts on prayer in “Celebration of Discipline” the first time I read them years ago.  It was one of those moments that caused me to stop and consider and reconsider and begin the whole considering process all over again.  And again.  Like a dog with a bad itch, I just had to keep searching and scratching and…

Foster writes, “Of all the Spiritual Disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father.”  I immediately wrote in the margins of my copy of the book, “Do I believe this?”  Certainly if you looked at my life, if you studied the hours (or lack thereof) of my prayer time, the answer would come clear to you.  Or maybe not so clear, actually.  Because I really do think that I believe prayer is the most central, it’s just that my desire for “perpetual communion” isn’t exactly regularly focused on centering in on anything close to God.  I am all too selfish, all too regularly.  Which I’ve already written about before, so we’ll keep going.

Foster wrote with clarity and belief a big, bellowing statement.  Not meditation or fasting or study or service or worship…but prayer.  Prayer is the most central.  Maybe it’s middle child syndrome, that whole peace-maker mentality, but I feel like I can sit here and argue for anything at any time.  The ultimate defense lawyer.  My Mother hates this about me.  Most of the time, she just wants to complain about something that sucks in her life.  She doesn’t want me to try to bring clarity and weight to the other side.  She just wants me to agree with her and join her in the muck and mire.  She wants some company.  I wish someone would have explained that to me years ago about women.

So instead of defending any of the other spiritual disciplines, I find myself agreeing with Foster.  Prayer must be the most central.  Not just because he says so, not just because he defiantly throws it out there and leaves no room for argument.  But because prayer is us boldly and bravely communicating with God.  Face to face.  In a way that is contrary to any and every other religion or thought out there.  Relational interaction with the maker of the universe.  Pretty big stuff going on there.

But the point of this post was not intended to be what Foster said, but how he said it.  Which brings me now to Oswald Chambers.

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There have been a few fruitful seasons in my life in which Oswald Chambers’ “My Utmost for His Highest” has played a daily role.  The past month has been one of those times.  We recently gave this book out to our graduating high school Seniors, so I’ve had a copy on my desk for a while.  Today, Oswald’s words cut through like a knife.  The Holy Spirit was alive and prodding.  Through another great declaration.

Chambers begins, “Drudgery is the test of genuine character.”  And then he continues with this nugget, “The greatest hindrance in our spiritual life is that we will only look for big things to do.  Yet, ‘Jesus…took a towel and…began to wash the disciples’ feet…’.”

The most, the greatest…these are large words.  Written with conviction and certainty.  The only thing I’ve ever been certain of in my life with great conviction is my great affinity towards and weakness for dark chocolate.  Sorry wife.  Sorry Jesus.  Crap, that probably should’ve been in a different order.  Oh well, at least you know where my real heart is on a regular basis.

But seriously, Chambers can write with honesty and truth that he knows the greatest hindrance in our spiritual life.  And I can’t sit here and argue.  I tried to play the part of the defense lawyer this morning, but I couldn’t even get there.  Maybe it’s because I really, earnestly believe love and life is in the little things, maybe it’s because I’d been wrestling with putting a VIA post together for a month now but hadn’t felt the BIG inspiration for it, maybe it’s because I was stuck in the drudgery and was ready to get out.  Whatever it was, I appreciated it.  Greatly.

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I can promise you something right here, right now, with all the punch and lack of panache only a pundit can provide, I’ll never be great at dropping loud, piercing, matter-of-fact, earth shattering, declarative bombs.  And while the ones on TV that yap their mouths off louder than a baby crying in church will never actually speak in a volume that I can rightfully hear, I’m grateful for the force and forthright manner in which the Holy Spirit uses certain writers to speak certain truths into my heart.

I can hear them.  And I can respond.  Even if the response is something little.  Like a blog post.

Baptism. Graduation. And Deep Significance.

bobby posting:

Sometime last year I sat here in my office and did my best to think of an analogy that explained baptism.  I knew that baptism didn’t bring about salvation on it’s own, but I knew it was more than just a little ceremony.  Taido and I wanted to communicate clearly that something significant occurs during that experience.  It’s not that a personal relationship with merman Jesus is found somewhere under the water, but that something more than nothing takes place.  The best we could come up with was graduation.

When a senior walks across that stage and accepts their diploma, they become a graduate.  I know, technically, they’ve graduated long before.  With all the tests turned in, scores calculated, credits counted and GPA maxed out.  But the walking across, cap and gown and all, does something.  Something that holds deep significance.

I used the analogy at the time and felt pretty good about it.  I watched a few students get baptized a few weeks later.  Their hearts full and bursting with pride.  I knew something was taking place right before my eyes.  You couldn’t put a finger on it.  Certainly couldn’t calculate anything about it.  But there it was.  Plain as day for everyone to see.  Significance.

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On Monday night, I got to see that analogy in action.  I watched as several of our students walked across the stage at their own high school graduation.  Some, too cool for school at other times, couldn’t help but smile as they walked across the stage.  They’d already earned their degrees, but now they were able to hold on to them.  With parents and brothers and sisters and friends watching, they moved their feet in one swift direction toward the next phase of their lives.  If you watched their faces, which I did on the big screen, you could see the transformation take place with each step forward.  With nearly every single student.  No one could contain it.  If you could bottle up “graduation” and sell it as a drug, you’d make a lot of people proud and happy.  And you’d let them know what deep significance feels like.

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Baptism and Graduation are both outward expressions of an inward reality.  Something has happened to us or is still taking place within us, and we have to let it out.  For the world to see.  And that sort of expression pulls something out of us that we aren’t quite able to quantify.  Pure, unadulterated joy.  A moment has been marked.  A landmark has been laid down.

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Makes me wonder if there’s anything brewing inside all of us, at all times, that we should get out.  We walk around sometimes like closed containers.  Maybe pry the lid open up a bit.  Share your real heart with the rest of us.  When you don’t hold back, when you let it all go, that bliss is pretty beautiful to witness.

Freedom found in faithful fortitude.

When the world would love to hold you down, when circumstances could pull you down into the depths of apathy, it’s inspiring to see you fight back with bold outward expressions of inward realities.  That is where significance is found.

Deep, long lasting significance.

One Big Question / Seeking God / Jen’s Take

Our friend Jen has jumped in again with yet another great post.  Enjoy her work.  I’m sure it’ll push you to seek God more regularly and earnestly as well.
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jen posting:

Where is your favorite spot,

what is your favorite activity to seek God?

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When I think of this question I automatically think of my mornings with french-pressed coffee, a journal, a Bible, some other book that speaks spiritual wisdom to me, and a sleepy Jen curled up in a chair. Now truth be told, I wish every morning started off this way. Usually, it’s my scrambliness that gets the best of me in the morning, with just enough time to mutter “Good morning, Jesus,” before I realize I’ve overslept. Other preferred spots/activities include going on a walk by myself, especially evening walks when the weather is warm enough for me not to freeze and think bad thoughts about Chicago. Early morning walks are nice too–again with appropriate weather. I’m a sucker, or I should say my soul is a sucker for stillness and quiet. If you play your cards right in the mornings, even in a bustling city like Chicago, you can encounter just the right amount of peace, solace, and hopefully a bit of God.
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The extrovert in me, though, can’t spend all her time in solitude as a means for seeking God. About a month and a half ago, a friend of mine and I attended a Taize service, which is an ecumenical service of simple songs and liturgical prayers. The place was enchanting, yet simple–tall ceilings and stain glassed-windows, pristine, white furniture (if you can call it that–I guess I’m referring to the alter, lectern, etc.), and white candles galore. It was one of those majestic, older churches that makes your voice sound echo-ey. To top it off, the choir situated themselves in the back balcony. So you heard these angelic voices coming from somewhere “up there,” making you feel as though you’ve arrived at the pearly gates. In all seriousness, though, it was a stunning experience for the senses. The smells, the sights, the sounds, and your own participation alongside a group of “strangers” turned sisters and brothers. I cried. God was there.
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On a more intimate-friend level, I love seeking God with dear friends in a home, around a table of delicious food. Cooking together, laughing with one another, sharing the confusing and painful parts of life, then gathering to sing our joys, hurts, and exhaustion to God–if that is not a rich way to seek God, I don’t know what is! God’s love comes in the form of a friend’s cheeky smile, in a simple exchange that makes you feel known, and–a favorite of mine–a bear hug. And it comes in the form of all of us being still and quiet before God that God mysteriously gives us a keen sense that he is among us.
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Oh, and listening to Mumford and Sons is helpful too.