…When a Plan Comes Together


IMG_1506159561000So I decided to run the Virginia Ten Miler this year, a race I have followed since I was a teen.  A race with a tradition that runs right through the heart of the original running boom.  With victors like Rodgers, Shorter, Sinclair, Shea (both of them), Dixon, Gareau, the list goes on and on, and how have I not run it yet?!

Time to check it off the old bucket list.

But I’m preparing for a marathon. So how do I run this famously hilly course as a training race without losing focus on my marathon, which is a priority.

I needed a plan.

Element 1: establish a cruising speed at which I can run most of the race. Element 2: put my head down and get up all the hills without regard for my pace.  Element 3: Run the famous 1.5 mile ending hill without stopping.  Element 4: Run in the 90-minutes range.

I did all of these things, above and beyond. I cruised 9-ish minute miles, ground my way up every hill, and passed 40 people on the way up the famous “Farm Basket” hill, to finish in 98 minutes.

But here’s the point.  Why was I so successful at this plan?  It was supported by some elements that are important in the life of a Christian, a Christian with goals of serving Christ and knowing Him better.

The first is research. I studied the course, I knew about the hills, I read everything I could about this race and course. I knew what I was dealing with.

Next is preparation.  I practiced what my research told me I needed to do.  I ran hills. I looked for hills. I devoured hills. If two routes faced me and one had hills, I took that one.  I practiced what I knew I was going to have to do.

Finally, I executed my plan.  I did what I had practiced, what I knew worked.  I didn’t make any race day changes.

And it all worked, to a “T.”

But, of course, most of you don’t care about my race.  And that’s not really what this blog is about, anyway.

Research. How can we possibly know what being a Christian is about, or know about the mythical “God’s will” if we never research the very book He gave us to tell us these things.  We plead so much ignorance of these things, like they’re insurmountable, hidden mysteries, when in fact, we’ve just not done the work of listening to Him.  We’re lazy. We’ve not done the research. Our blindness to God’s will in our lives is usually proportional to our level of Biblical ignorance.

Preparation.  The thing you want to do, you practice.  The ability you want to have, to repeat over and over.  You want to be patient, faithful, loving, compassionate? Then practice these things.  The opportunities are there.  Look for them.

This dialogue from “Evan Almighty” speaks to this point:

God: Sounds like an opportunity. Let me ask you something. If one prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If they pray for courage, does God give them courage, or does he give them opportunities to be courageous? If one prayed for their family to be closer, you think God zaps them with warm, fuzzy feelings? Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?

Practice makes permanent, whether it’s a physical skill, attitude, or compassion.

Execution. You HAVE to practice what you want to execute, and you HAVE to execute what you’ve practiced.  You can be as prepared as you want, but if you never get in the game (or the race) you never see the fruit of all that work.

s-l225It seems that the number one hinderance to Christians getting involved in people’s lives, whether witnessing, counseling, or just being friendly, is confidence.  I was confident in my ability to attack that last hill, because I had done it over and over and over.  I practiced what I wanted to execute, and I executed what I had practiced.

If there was ever a time when the world needed to see Christian love, compassion, unity, discernment, and calm, it is now.

Let’s research.  Let’s practice. Let’s execute.

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The Unspoken Language of Trial


So I ran a good 25K race today.  Met all my goals.

I’d love to tell you about all that, but that’s not the point of this blog.

I saw a few of my Rocky Mount running friends there, notably to this blog, Pam Rickard.

We didn’t get to speak before the race.  But there is a short spur on the 5282048-03_-_Salem_Lake_Trailcourse, where we passed each other on the first lap, around 7 miles.

At this point, we were in a groove and feeling cheery and amicable.  I saw her coming, we embraced, exchanged inspiring pleasantries, and headed off in our respective directions.

But when we passed each other on that spur the second time, at 15 or so miles, it was a different story.  I was nearing the finish of my 25K.  She was just approaching halfway of her 50K.  We were both head down, focused, concentrating, working hard.

We merely reached out and gave each other a passing mid-level five, without speaking. But in that wordless gesture, I felt more connected to her than in our previous greeting.

You see, there is something in shared struggle that is beyond words, and says more.  The nature of hardship is that in its camaraderie is such a deep connection of understanding that it is beyond words.

We were just running, and I only mean this as a trivial illustration.

But the truth of which I speak is understood to those who share a common grief, a common loss, a common fear, a common addiction.  There is a language that only they can speak to each other, that only they can hear, and only they can understand.

I have two friends who both lost sons, one many years ago as a small child to cancer, and one more recently as a young man in a sudden accident. As it has been recounted to me by one of the wives, the two couples were in a Sunday School class together and were asked to speak of a fear.  The man who had lost his boy years before recounted his story to the group.  The one who had just lost his son a couple of years before then felt emboldened to speak of his experience, for the very first time outside of his immediate family.

When he was done, the two men shared a knowing glance.

A look of understanding.

A silence that spoke volumes.

I Corinthians 1:3-4:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Why do we suffer?  That’s a series of blog posts in itself.  But how can we redeem our suffering?  By using it as a springboard of compassion and understanding.

To be the feet, hands, heart, and shoulder of Christ.

Pointless Shelter


Sometimes shelter is the last thing we need.

Many years ago, I began a blog that never materialized.

Life has completed it for me.

I was running in an extreme storm that morning, in the dark of course, so much so that I was looking for something to hide under.  It was heavy-rain-rainy-rainstorm-storm-weather-british-summer-downpour-precipitation-london-england-uk-runner-road-street-rob-cartwrightjust so oppressive and saturating that I was having trouble making progress.  As I ran by a local store,  I ran across the street to the dry porch under the front canopy.

But then I had a thought.  A reality thought.  An uncomfortable thought.

But the truth.

I couldn’t stay.

I could be dry, temporarily.  But that would not get me any closer to my destination.

I would not get through the storm . . . unless I ran through the storm.

There is no shortcut to getting through a storm.  You can shelter yourself and hide, but the storm will be there waiting for you when you come back out of hiding.

This has been a stormy year.  I’d love to avoid it all.  There are dates coming: birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries, and I’m not looking forward to any of them.

But to get through the storm . . . I have to go through the storm.

I just don’t have to go through it alone.

 

A Piece of the Puzzle


Dan Feryance died this past Monday.

While a few people may know who I’m talking about, most probably won’t.jigsaw-puzzle

He wasn’t a man who changed the world. But he was a man who changed HIS world.

As I remember it, I met Dan over 10 years ago, when I was told he and his wife were home on furlough, so I scheduled him to do chapel at C.H.A.  I was struck over the few times he did chapel at his genuine love for God’s Word (in multiple languages), and his genuine love for missions.  I also realized quickly that he didn’t just consider his country of ministry to be his mission field, but he considered his current location his mission field.

During the brief two to three years I interacted with Dan, I was also deeply involved in the lives of two C.H.A. high school students, Adam Spencer and Matt Peters.  They were concocting plans to minister in Franklin County with Adam leading praise and worship, and Matt preaching.  Dan took to Matt, and Matt took to Dan.  Dan would ask me how the “preacher boy”  was doing (I don’t think he could remember his name), and he would tell me “tell him to keep preaching.”  Matt and I went to visit Dan at his home so he and Matt could talk.

We have lots of interactions in our lives that impact our personalities, our behaviors, and our view of things:  parents, childhood and adolescent experiences, God’s Word, the Holy Spirit indwelling us, and people who float in and out of our lives.  All of them are pieces of the puzzle that is us.

Dan Feryance became a piece of my puzzle. He became a piece of Matt’s puzzle.  There was a little unfinished part of the teacher I was becoming so long ago that is now filled in by my interactions with Dan.

I used to think I had to be everything to everyone.  But I have learned over 20 years of teaching teens that the best I will ever do is to be something to some. And that is the greater life accomplishment, because it’s possible.

Jesus only called 12 “puzzles” to fill in.  He healed “many” who were sick, but never “all.”  He used His short 3+ years to become something to some.

The part of my heart Dan filled in hurt when I heard he had passed.  To be honest I hadn’t thought of him, or any of these memories I’ve shared, in years.  But this has all reinvigorated my mission to make something of myself.

Something to some.

A piece of their puzzle.

When “Coexist” really just means “be quiet”


coexist-bumper-sticker

Always.  The answer to the blog title is “always.”

We’ve all seen the bumper stickers.  I saw one while running Sunday morning.  “Coexist” written with symbols representing Islam, peace, gender equality, Judaism, Wicca, Hinduism, and Christianity.

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  A call to mutual respect, acceptance, and tolerance.

Here’s the problem:  it is actually the opposite. It is disrespectful, divisive, and intolerant.

I am a Christian.  I believe strongly that I have good reasons to be so, based not just on revelation, but on reason and science as well.  I believe truth is a real thing that exists: objective, universal, truth.

And I believe that kind of truth exists not just in physical and scientific matters, but in moral and ethical matters also.

So I have two observations about this bumper sticker.

  1.  This does not represent a religious desire for world religions to get along.  In fact, it seems to be inherently devoid of any religious meaning at all.  It is a socio-political statement.  It is a political bumper sticker, stating from a viewpoint outside of any religion, telling us all to drop our differences and quit fighting.  “Can’t we all just get along?”
  2. As such, we are being told that our beliefs that make us who we are are irrelevant.  We should just drop them because getting along socially is the only ideal that matters.  This bumper sticker is motivated by disregard and disrespect towards all the religions involved:  “Your beliefs don’t matter, they’re of no real consequence anyway, so just get along.”

I have more respect for truth than that.  And I teach more respect for truth than that in my Bible classes.  I teach my students that truth, both physical and moral, is a real thing that exists.  And by virtue of its existence, it matters.  It is not irrelevant at all.

Because I believe truth to be real, then I may believe some viewpoints to be wrong.  But I don’t dismiss them as irrelevant.  I teach my students to refute them.  If I believe them to be wrong, then I respect the holder of them enough to give them good reasons.

At Christian Heritage Academy, we believe in truth, both Divine and Natural.  We teach our students discernment:  to recognize truth as such, and to refute falsehood, not just to blissfully ignore it or dismiss it out of hand.  We want our students to not only be able to say THAT is it wrong, but also to be able to articulate reasons WHY in true tolerance and respect.  When discerning truth-seekers dialogue with each other in the true search for wisdom, then truth wins.

We all win.

Four Fulfilling, Frightening Words


“I took your advice.”

.

.

.

I heard these words the other day, and they were both a blessing and sobering at the same time.  A few days earlier, a student had asked my advice on a difficult personal matter she is dealing with.

And she took it.

I had two thoughts.

“Great, she took my advice. I’m glad she listened and I hope it helped.”  I was very self-satisfied and encouraged.

“Yay me!”

Then, “Whoa!  She took my advice!  I hope it was right!” I was slightly rattled and uneasy.

“Oh me!”

For all the times that I have felt blessed and privileged to be involved with teenagers, I’m sometimes struck by the sobering sense of responsibility that is inherent in the role of being a significant adult in the life of a teen.

There are only two ways to find yourself in this role, to be genuine, and to be knowledgeable.  And these are listed in order of importance.

Who you are, and only then, what you know.  You can be wrong, but you cannot be a hypocrite.

talkingWhen a teenager has decided that you are genuine, trustworthy and wise, there is no going back.  The only way to get out of that relationship it is to disappoint them, to betray the confidence they have placed in your words, to potentially destroy them.

I can’t do that.

Every time I’m asked “Mr. Miller, can I talk to you about something?” I understand the significance of what is about to happen.  I see my own teenage kids asking the same question of some significant adult in their young lives.  I know I have to try to help this teen in front of me in the same way those adults helped mine.

Early on in my Bible teaching, I had to come to terms with the passage that begins James 3.

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Jas 3:1). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

There is an obvious truth in this verse that is very important to the interpretation that is behind my Bible teaching.

But that same truth is even more important to the discernment behind my advice.  The teaching goes into their mind for processing, sometimes immediately, sometimes later.

But the life advice goes straight to their heart:  a heart that is scared, confused, alone, or just immature and naive. In fact, it is usually an emotional vacuum powered by all of those motors.

Our words are drawn right into that vacuum.

 

To balance the pressure,

we had better be genuine . . .

and hopefully right.

 

“Never forget” what, exactly?


Having been only 1 year old when Kennedy was assassinated, and understanding that the Challenger explosion was an accident and not a deliberate act, 9/11/01 has been, and will always be, the defining tragic event of my lifetime. I do not refer to it as a tragedy, for that seems to have connotations of a permanent and unresolvable sense of exclusive despair.

I do not believe that is the case.

It was definitely a tragic time.  It was purposeless, though it was carried out with great purpose.  It was a time of despair, though it was carried out with great enthusiasm and joy. It seemed random, chaotic, and bewildering, though it was planned in great detail.

But it unified a nation, as shared pain usually does. It awoke a naïve and self-insulated nation to the reality of terrorism, long understood as a fact of life by most of the rest of the world.  And now, 13 years later, I hope it has made us a country more compassionate to the suffering of others, not just our own citizens.

I hope it has made us a country more discerning of the true nature and threat of evil.  I hope it has finally helped us understand that evil does not have a face, a skin tone, or a label.  Ideals are evil.  And when men, any men,  of any worldview embrace those wicked ideals, events such as 9/11, Nazism, Communism, and the Inquisition happen.

“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities . . . against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.”

I have often seen the phrase “never forget” associated with Holocaust remembrances. And there is much truth and benefit in deliberately “not forgetting” events such as this.

I say this with one caveat.  This should not be a call to remember, to hang on to, the pain, anger, and bitterness towards the event or its agents.  That is emotionally, physically, and spiritually unhealthy.

So w9-11-memorial-600-400-09-11-11hat then do we remember?  We remember that there is an enemy. We remember to be keenly aware of his existence, of his methods, of his influence, and most importantly of our own susceptibility to fall under his influence if we are not discerning, sober, and grounded in God’s Word.  We remember to pray for those who have lost greatly. We remember to be thankful if we have not.

So today we “weep with those who weep,” we resolve to pursue every embodiment of evil in the name of righteousness, and we hope in the fact that we are not alone in the fight. The gospel of Christ is the only true weapon that can redeem evil at its root level ideal existence, in the minds of fallen men.