Well, Easter weekend is over and I'm tired but completely filled with joy and I want to draw a parrallel between two major events in my life this weekend and the Christian walk.
My first event was Saturday morning in Champaign for the inaugural Illinois Marathon. (Yes, I planned to run a marathon the day before one of my biggest preaching days of the year and you are not the only one who thinks I'm crazy!) Anyway, I was ready. It was a little chilly and I didn't get to stretch much (too crowded in the starting area), but it was a sunny day and my good friend J.P. Jones from 1st christian in Champaign said the opening prayer and that was cool. Really the race went pretty well all the way through the half-way point. I remember when the half marathoners turned off at about 11 miles thinking to myself, "man I'm fresh". Well, so as not to bore you with details at 17 miles I really crashed. My calves started cramping and then my thighs (this has NEVER happened to me in training for and running three marathons!). So I reasoned to myself I'm not hydrated enough (which at that point is way too late) so I overcompensated on the next couple of fluid stations and now my stomach is upset. And all of that is not the point of this blog (I finished in under five hours, way off my pace and ready to drop dead...but I crossed the finish line running). The point is people cheering others on. For nearly five hours, strangers I didn't know said things like: "keep going, you guys are doing great", "you can do it", "you are doing it, you're running a marathon", "You look great 107 (that was my race number)", "You're awesome". Apparently, these people sat in their front yards and did this for 6 hours! It was awesome. Early in the race when I felt great...I thought how incredible is the power of encouragement! Later in the race, I thought how many times would I have quit if not for these words (I actually considered quitting the race many times - having arguments with my inner self for being a quitter and doubting if I could possibly make it. I actually hoped at one point to be struck with an errant golf shot while we were running by the course so that I'd have a legitimate reason to quit). Then there was this incredible encouragement that came from a good buddy who happened to be on the course cheering his daughter on. I came up on about mile 17 and there is Steve Bellman and his wife Dannett (and I'm sure I spelled her name wrong), but they saw I was hurting and so Steve handed his jacket to Dannett and ran with me for about half a mile (I could tell him then because my body was numb, but it was a huge encouragement). do I need to tell you where this is going?
This past Sunday, I preached an Easter Sunday to the largest crowd we've ever had at Eastview. And we knew going in that we needed to pray (a lot) so we did for a month, twenty four hours a day. And it was a marathon Sunday, but let me tell you I had so much encouragement; I was able to finish the race. I can't count how many encouraging notes, e-mail, messages left on the stage, etc... I received from people saying, "I'm praying for you pastor" or something similar. I want you to know that those verbal and written encouragments were felt all throughout the day yesterday (not to mention the presence of many praying as they walked around the building).
It occurs to me that whether you are running a marathon or living the christian life, encouragement is something we can't do without. Maybe that's why Hebrews 10:24 says, "let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" and "let us encourage one another and all the more as we see the Day approaching." I don't know if I'll ever try another marathon (I've officially retired from running them, but I did the first two times as well), but I know this: if I do, I'll need encouragement. And I don't know what lies ahead in the ministry here and in my life as a pastor, but I know I'll need encouragement. Thanks to all of those who by their lives, prayers, words, and deeds encourage my family. Because of you, i'm still running today!
And speaking of encouragement, let me encourage you to go to eastviewchurch.net and vote for the four passages that Doug and I will preach beginning May 10!