Archive for the ‘Running the Race’ Category

Imagine… 200 miles…. 33 hours… 12 member team running through the Arizona desert for a cause! Well that’s the Ragnar Del Sol Relay that takes place on February 24-25, 2011. The Ragnar Del Sol Relay stretches from Wickenburg to Tempe, AZ. I am joining Arizona Youth Partnership’s twelve member team will be participating in the relay to keep resources available for under-served communities.

What is Ragnar?

The Ragnar Relay is a 200 mile relay race from Wickenburg to Tempe with 12 runners per team. It begins on Friday, February 24th in the morning and the ends on Saturday, February 25th in the afternoon. Each runner runs 3 legs of the race that range from 3.5 to 9 miles and vary in difficulty.

Why?

Together we are raising money for Arizona Youth Partnership’s (AzYP) Basic Center Program for Homeless youth in rural Arizona. Arizona is ranked 4th in the nation for families living in poverty. AzYP has recently taken steps to secure community support and funding for a Basic Center in Kingman, Arizona.  This program is designed to prevent homelessness by providing a temporary shelter for youth ages 12-18 who are in crisis.

How can you help?

One of the ways that I am helping with this is raising $500. Every tax deductible donation will go directly to support Arizona Youth Partnership’s Basic Center Program. Click here to go to my donation page. Also feel free to check out the goals of the Basic Center Program below and my “Runner Profile” for this years race.

The goals of the program are:

1) Provide emergency shelter and services to runaway and homeless youth (RHY) and their families.
2) Provide outreach, support services, and referrals to youth at-risk for runaway or homelessness.

Race Profile

Like Ragnar, fun is the name of the game… this profile reflects that.

  • Name: Michael Miller
  • Nickname: Mike… or Dash Rawhide: Zippy McChafkins as a Cowboy
  • Runner #: 3
  • Amount of miles: 22.4 miles
  • Race History: In 1482 BC the a cultural phenomenon began on the island of Fartlek, where teams of twelve domesticated chinchillas were raced as a way to determine if the local tribe of the Saucony would stay on the north or south side of the island.  What they feared the most was that they would anger the gods and usher in Ragnar-rok. Unbeknownst to them the local population of chinchillas didn’t enjoy running, but preferred sitting back and drinking daiquiris, and soon organized and moved to Key West. Having no way to determine what part of the island to live on, they decided the only option was to assemble teams of twelve to run around the full 210 mile circumference of the island and hope that would be enough to assuage the expectations of the island gods. What came from this tradition was the cultural race of Ragnar, which has been observed for the past 3,500 years. Betcha didn’t know.
  • Personal philosophy on running: Running with friends is far better than running with hungry lions.
  • What is your favorite running quote? To a runner, a side stitch is like a car alarm.  It signifies something is wrong, but you ignore it until it goes away.
  • Why are you running the Ragnar?  Because I love running, I love road trips and I love AZYP… I don’t know why I wouldn’t.
  • If you happen to drop your phone in a cattle guard, what is your strategy to get it out? Hire a chinchilla with the promise of a daiquiri to scamper down and grab it for me.
  • What is your greatest fear running Ragnar this year?  I don’t know if I have any… possibly that I will have to run in denim
  • How will you pass time between each of your runs?  Taking pictures, cheering on other runners and talking trash about how my van is better than the other van.
  • What is your training strategy?  I’m training for a marathon the month before, so after that my goal is to keep up the training and get as many “kills” and zombie “kills” as possible.
  • Imagine: You are running 8 miles uphill at 6am. You receive a picture text of a wonderful breakfast that runners from the other van are eating. What do you do?  Nothing, there are some people who can’t hang… I’m not so soft, and I have no problem running 8 miles uphill at 6am. Enjoy your breakfast, we’ll send you a picture of lunch .
  • Describe the feeling of finishing Ragnar. Have you ever seen the joy brought to a chinchilla if you buy them a daiquiri? Yeah it’s something like that.
  • At what mile will you regret signing up for this? Mile 42… but I wont have to run that far.
  • What do you like/dislike about running overnight?  Not seeing the ground dip away when you are running on dirt trails, but when you look like someone out of Tron, it is all worth it.
  • What’s your favorite post running food?  Roasted Chinchilla… okay, no … Anything that Kari makes.
  • What is your favorite Ragnar memory?  Hands down it was progression of Andrew laying on the ground and the lost/retrieval of the phone from the clutches of a cattle guard. If I had a close second, it would be cheering Gauri on during the last leg, I loved her adamant perseverance and the camaraderie of a team that was going to cheer through any pain.
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And Jonah stalked
to his shaded seat
and waited for God
to come around
to his way of thinking.
And God is still waiting for a host of Jonahs
in their comfortable houses
to come around
to his way of loving.

excerpt from Thomas Carlisle’s “You Jonah”

The past six/seven months have been packed with transition and learning, and I haven’t had the will or wisdom to write. Today while sitting at a Starbucks praying through a project at church and what it looks like to have a heart for missions I realized that much of “Thoughts from a Runner” really could be summed up by the book of Jonah.

One particular similarity knocked the feet from underneath me this morning…

The past eight years as I have grown deeper in my walk with God. I am beginning to see that this growth has been a constant process of God calling me to live a life on mission, me fighting it and then, through His amazing grace inviting, and molding, and shaping me to have his heart for the people around me.

  • Ministry at the University of Arizona
  • On Mission in Kazahkstan
  • Reaching College Students in Australia
  • Helping lost people find their way back to God in Tucson
What does this have to do with Jonah?

Jonah is such an amazing book because we can see God still working to teach, to reach his thick-skulled missionary with the truth of who He is and His heart for the nations. That the entire book of Jonah is about God working on Jonah’s heart. What I realized this morning is that, like Jonah, I can many time miss the point of the storm, the sailors, the fish, Nineveh and most importantly a gourd tree.

A gourd tree?

When I got back from Australia I was blessed, due to no real effort on my part, with the comfort of an amazing community.

At the end of the book of Jonah, after everything God has done, Jonah still doesn’t get this call to live a life on mission. God uses one more approach – the miraculous tree (Jonah 4:5-11). A climbing gourd springs up quickly, and offers Jonah protection against the beating sun. The community that I was a part of was totally God given and such a blessing. What we see in the story, is that as quickly as the tree grew it withers and dies, the victim of an attacking worm.

Jonah is… annoyed.

At that point God again turns to his missionary-student, using the tree as a lesson. The creator of heaven and earth, the God of human history, of wind and waves, who spoke the universe into being, who just miraculously redeemed and restored the entire city of Nineveh to himself, tenderly asks Jonah, “Are you really so angry about the tree?”

Jonah in anger and frustration responds: “Yes, angry enough to die.”

God’s response to such bitterness is so beautiful. Despite everything that has happened up to this point, He is still calling Jonah to join him on mission, to “his way of loving”:

“You are sorry and concerned about the tree, though you had nothing to do with growing it, a plant which came up in a night and withered in a night. My heart and concern is for the great city of Nineveh, with its 120,000 who cannot tell their right hand from their left.”

While I wasn’t aware of it until today, I have been quietly discontented and annoyed with God causing the comfort that I experienced with this community to wither away. Despite this, over the past few months I have experienced a tender questioning: “Are you really so angry that I took that community away? What about the city around you?”

If I’m honest my response to God has been at times just as mature as Jonah’s.

By God’s grace, however, I am growing not only an awareness, but a deep heartfelt sorrow and concern for the 1,020,000 people in the Tucson area who “do not know their right hand from their left.” Beginning to sincerely yearn to proclaim the gospel students at the University of Arizona. To share hope and good news with broken families in the foothills and South Tucson alike. To show God’s grace and love to the thousands of international refugees who call the Old Pueblo home. To join with other Christians to come alongside the numerous military families who currently call Tucson… home.

As God works on my heart, I am growing to care more about the rescue and redemption of those in the mission field that God has called me to than I do my comfort.

It has been a hard lesson, and this thick-skulled man is grateful for God’s forgiveness and grace, humbled by God’s provision as He has provides fellowship and community, and most of all, in awe of God’s tireless and tender call for me to join his missionary heart – to live a life focused and dedicated to “Helping lost people find their way back to God.”

Oh, Have I Messed Up

Posted: 07/15/2011 in Personal Walk, Worship
Tags: , ,

Over the past week I have been studying through Psalm 51 preparing for a sermon this weekend. I have been aware of this Psalm and been able to recite a good portion of it for years, but this week it has been cutting to deep places in my heart.

I have looked at repentance and thought about forgiveness in a way that glorifies me far more than it glorifies the wondrous cross. I have spent the past week looking deep in my heart and I live out and advertise the “pretty places” the easily admirable. Now I know that I am seen as fully righteous, not out of my own merit, but becuase what was fully accomplished by Jesus… but I spend my time trying to prove to God and to others that I was a “good and worthy investment”.

So, today at work, over more coffee than I would like to admit, I have been praying through what Paul wrote to Timothy as he was encouraging him toward leadership:

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

 1 Timothy 1:12-15 (ESV)

This might be a strange connection to Psalm 51, but it is where God has been taking me. I look at what Paul says and the statement “I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service” seems like it would be a perfect and ideal appeal to authority. Of course Timothy should take him seriously… but then Paul messes it all up, becuase of what he says next… “though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”

WHAT?!?! Paul what are you doing? And then I realized he is standing in the mercy of the cross and saying “I don’t deserve this!… please know that. This is about grace. Its about the cross. Its all about God and HIS great, glorious, Gospel.

And returning to Psalm 51, sitting with the Holy Spirit, I see David, a murdering, lying adulterer talk through so much, pleading for God to do a restorative work and then he gets to:

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
  and uphold me with a willing spirit.
 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
 and sinners will return to you.

David is not content to be forgiven, clean, elect, to have a right spirit, by… I am blown away, because David, a man after God’s own heart, is not content UNTIL… his brokenness… heals others.

I look at my sin and I have wrestled with: “My sin, my past it disqualifies me from being used” or “I’ve got to be totally triumphant until I have a witness.” Often my prayer is for God to erase those things so I may never have to talk, or think about them again.

But David (and Paul) have passed through such horrors, and their plea is… if you could remind me of my salvation, you could use this so that sinners would know and glorify God. To put it another way it is as if David in this Psalm is praying:

“God, I know I have messed up. Oh, have I messed up. I have killed, and raped and my baby is dead… God, would you cause people to come to Christ… through my messed up, broken life.”

And here is my prayer: God, help me to be consumed with the scandalous beauty of the cross, to sing loudly of your great glory and profess with boldness and brokenhearted joy the awesome redemptive work you have done in my life.

This afternoon, after spending time thinking about bugs, I took a walk and was blown away about how much nature points to the glory of God.

Paul in his letter to the Romans wrote about nature and said:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

There certainly are some days that I am oblivious to the awe due to the creator of such an amazing world. But some days, like today, I feel like the holy spirit opens my eyes and everything around me seems to radiate with worship and point to the awesome power and creativity of the God we serve.

I don’t mean to delight in bugs, or in nature as a whole, as an end. I mean to savor what God has made as a reminder of who He is.

So often I am going at 100 mph and I take it all for granted, it all seems so commonplace and ordinary.

Until I am reminded and shaken out of the stupor by great authors who look at nature and see that God is so, so, so, so much greater and glorious than we ever can imagine.

This is one of my favorite examples:

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork.

People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance.

This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstasy of his life would have the stillness of death.

The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction.

Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.

The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE.

G.K. Chesterton

God, great Father and awesome Creator, may you help me to see more clearly, and worship you more constantly.

Flash mobs… I don’t know why but I LOVE them. I have spent hours looking up videos, watching people randomly decend on an unexpected public. There is something absolutely delightful and appealing about them.

One of my favorite groups is ImprovEverywhere and today they came out with a new video:

So after spending two years in ministries overseas, I found myself with the grand mission of cleaning toilets and setting up chairs at church. I also found myself, as the church had decided over the two years I was away to move to where people needed the gospel, setting up chairs and cleaning the only toilet in a-hole-in-the-wall concert venue on fourth ave, the main bar district in Tucson.

Glorious, it was not, and after two years in the mission field I had totally ended up where I didn’t expect.

But God has a funny way of doing things.

Little did I know when I called and asked what I could do to help, Dave was in California telling a friend he needed just that.  God put me in a place where I could serve, and while toilets were bad God was about to bring me to something that I was even more uncomfortable with. Preaching

A couple weeks after I returned home, Dave asked if I could talk once a month or so and give him a bit of a reprieve from juggling being a father, a business owner, and preaching each and every week.

So he asked me to take on one sermon a month as we finished up a sermon series in the book of Luke.  My first sermon was on: Luke 21:25-38.

Now let’s get two things straight…

1: Charles Spurgeon I am NOT

Sure, I had spent two years in the mission field, but that involved doing bible studies and 1-on-1 discipleship. Up to that point, the closest I had gotten to preaching was screaming rules over a crowd of nearly 60 college students trying to teach them Bunco for a bizarrely effective social event we did one week at Deakin University.

I wasn’t even sure where to begin. How do you know what to talk about? And let’s be honest, the idea of getting up in front of people, even my friends, and speaking for anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour explaining a text from the bible was daunting.

2: The passage wasn’t John 3:16

I had this idea about preachers. It was this strange impression of a well-educated figure who was able to quote the majority of the Bible without breaking a sweat. One who could come against any difficult passage and fly through it with the greatest of ease. There were only a handful of verses that I felt I really had that much of a handle on. If I had been given John 3:16 or Ephesians 2:8-10 or a number of other passages, I might have had a bit more confidence. But I was given Luke 21:25-38.

If you haven’t read it, click on the link and check it out. It deals how the sun and moon and stars testifying to the coming of the Kingdom of God and the world being judged before the Son of Man (Jesus). It even had the following line: “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” which is talked about with great vigor by scholars of “end-times”

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t feel ready at all to handle explaining/expounding/extracting much of that passage at all.

But Dave asked, and I “said” I was willing to serve, so after weeks of preparation and prayer I set down the toilet bowl cleaner and tried to honor and glorify God as I attempted to talk about Luke 21:25-38*.

* There is a recording of this sermon somewhere. I will try to look it up. If I am able to find it AND if there isn’t any horrendous doctrine 🙂 I’ll post it on here.

God certainly has a sense of humor.

I remember as a little kid being asked in church if I wanted to be a pastor, an idea that I found at the time to be wholly disagreeable, and answering that I wanted to be a doctor, a fireman, a scientist.

And that was my course, my focus.

STINT Team 2007

Weeks after finishing a degree in Biochemistry at the University of Arizona, I packed up my bags and moved to Australia with seven other Americans to serve as a missionary to reach college students down under. The circumstances that led me to that decision were subtle and it seemed like it was the appropriate thing to do. I didn’t have any aspirations to BE a missionary, it was only a couple years, it “worked in my schedule”, it was AUSTRALIA… so I jumped on board.

I arrived in Melbourne, excited and confident, with the expressed idea that God was going to the years of my life I was giving him, to shape and influence the students of Victoria and my team. And then reality hit, and my excitement and confidence melted away in two of the hardest years of my life. It might sound strange, but I think God used those two years and these students and my team to shape and influence me. The hard-headed mistakes and the painful lessons I learned while there would take much too long to write here, but God was wildly at work in my heart and my life.

Which bring us back to Tucson, AZ.

On the return flight, I was reading a book, Re-Entry: Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home, and I ran across the following passages:

Many missionaries who return home make the process of fitting back into their church difficult for themselves. The approach things with an attitude that stinks. They are proud, arrogant, and critical. They expect the church to adjust to them, instead of adjusting themselves to their church. In so doing, they neglect the example of Christ who humbly adapted Himself to our world in order to enter it and minister life to people. (87, Jordan)…

And then I read

Unfortunately, many return from the mission field having seen God use them in a certain way or ministry, and expect to be used the same way in their church upon their arrival home. When this doesn’t happen, they either demand it of the pastor or sit on the sidelines of the church and mope. But that is not the way of the servant. Instead of demanding, the servant asks what needs to be done, and sets about doing it. Regardless of what needs doing – be it cleaning the church toilets, running the nursery during services, or teaching a Sunday school class – the servant does it with a joyful heart, and in obedience to the Lord (88)

I am so thankful for both of these passages, because the idea of being looked upon as “the Missionary” had such an seductive and tempting appeal. To sit in a corner spouting wisdom from the mission field, to be the resident expert in all things “overseas”, to be the example that everyone looks to when the phrase “Go into all the world” was used. And on that plane God cut deep into my heart and exposed such sin and brokenness.

And so I got home, and I prayed. I knew what my heart wanted, desiring the admiration and approval of everyone around me. I wanted to be lauded and praised. I wanted to cash in all of the chips of hardship and toil over the last two years and be recognized for being such an admirable and exemplary Christian. And so I prayed, and called my former pastor and asked how to sign up to set up chairs before and after service, I asked if there was anything I could do to help, I asked if the toilets needed cleaning.