Dying With Your Shoes On

So many times in approaching the start of another year, we look towards new beginnings and fresh starts. But it also may be a good time to commit to having a strong finish. Consider the example of Joy. On November 5, 2013, eighty-six year old Joy Johnson, a veteran of 25 New York City marathons, died with her running shoes on. Johnson, who was the oldest runner in 2013’s marathon, fell at the 20 mile marker in the event. She crossed the finish line at about eight hours. After the race she returned to her hotel room, lay down with her shoes on and never woke up.

Amazingly, Johnson didn’t run her first marathon until she was sixty-one years old. The only hint of the sport was the verse from Isaiah 40:31 which hung on the kitchen wall in her family farm home in rural Minnesota:”But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
A few years ago she told a reporter about her exercise regimen. She would wake up at 4 A.M., drink her coffee while reading her Bible, and then set out on an eight mile pre-dawn run. “When you wake up it can either be a good day or a bad day,” Ms. Johnson said. “I always say, ‘It’s going to be a good day.'”

The devout Christian ran every day but Sunday so she could attend church. Johnson sang hymns to herself to pass the time while running. According to Johnson’s daughter, “She was always a happy runner—and besides her faith and family, this was something she loved the most.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s inspiring! As someone who’s lucky to jog 3 miles, I’m in awe of anyone able to cover 26.2 miles- especially when they’re in their eighties! Beyond the physical ability, I’m impressed by the mental toughness, daily discipline and dogged determination to live life up to the very end like Joy. It puts me in mind of Caleb from the Old Testament.

Caleb is getting well along in years, but he has no intention of sitting down to retirement in a rocking chair. He is ready to take on the new challenge of going in to conquer the land of Hebron. And notice his feisty attitude as he says  “… Just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive…So here I am today eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.” (Joshua 14:10,11) He recognizes, as we should, that God is the One Who gives us life and health and strength. As the Lord says to His people, “Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He, I am He Who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you…” (Isaiah 46:4) But understand, He doesn’t just keep us alive. God blesses us with strength and purpose for our entire lives. In Psalm 92:14, elderly believers are spoken of as flourishing like a tree so that “Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green.” Will that be true physically? Maybe. Maybe not. But as long as we have breath, God will definitely give us the strength in our inner spirit to accomplish His will. I have no doubt that He has some “Hebron-like” challenge in mind for you.

So, wherever you may be at in your race, I hope and pray that you will enter 2016 with a renewed sense of perseverance to push to a strong- and glorious- finish. Keep those running shoes on. God certainly has more race for you to run.
Happy New Year, Jim


Expect a Pony

In this season of gift giving you may very well receive an unwanted gift or two. You can take heart that chances are none of your gifts will be as bad as Susie’s. “Little Susie had been born with a sunny disposition and was the most optimistic kid anybody had ever seen always looking on the bright side. She loved animals and was also an artistic girl so one Christmas her parents got her a big bag of clay for making pottery. They put it on the back porch next to a bag of horse manure for the garden.
On Christmas Eve, dad wrapped the presents. It was a little dark on the porch, and as you may have guessed, he wrapped the manure by mistake, instead of the clay. On Christmas morning, Susie was so excited as she finally got to unwrap her big present as her parents watched with anticipation to see how much she liked her clay.
When Susie opened the package with the bag inside containing several pounds of stinky horse manure, the parents were aghast. But before they could apologize, Susie said, ‘Oh boy! I got a pony!’” Now that’s looking for a silver lining!

We certainly don’t expect any loving parent to purposely give such a “crappy” gift.  In fact, Jesus spoke about how an earthly father- despite being “evil” compared to our heavenly Father- would never give their child a stone or a snake. As Christ said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11) Compared to even the best of dads, God’s gifts are SO much better. James 1:17 reminds us that ultimately, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights”. But let me propose that while all of the presents we receive from the Father are good, at first glance some may seem “bad”.

A hardship- be it physical, financial, relational, emotional or spiritual- may be a “gift” the Lord has allowed to come into our lives for our own good. Paul says in Romans 5:3 “…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…” What appears to be awful just may be something fortunate that God has in store for us. The key is our outlook.

If we can have an optimistic, positive approach to our struggles, just maybe we will be able to lay hold of some benefit God is trying to bring into our lives, be it godly character, an unforeseen opportunity or something the Lord wants to teach us.  Certainly no one likes when life brings them a big bag of Mr. Ed’s fertilizer, but if we look closely, maybe, like little Susie, we can see past the manure to expect a pony.

I hope God gives you your perfect present this holiday.

Merry Christmas,