Four for Forty – January 2018

It is the second day of February and I am now into the second full month of the #FourForForty challenges I set myself at the start of the year. I guess i am at the very least a little proud in that i have NEVER taken a New Year Challenge or resolution more than a couple of weeks into the year…

One month in, I am still full of enthusiasm and drive to achieve the goals I have set myself.

So how are they going?

1 Memorizing Mark’s Gospel

This aspect of the challenges is, I have very quickly recognized, going to be the toughest of them all over the long haul. I am very much on schedule as I write this having committed to memory 2 verses a day for the last month. Chapter one is very well memorized and I am now in the middle of chapter two (at the point where Jesus gives his wine/wineskins teaching).

I have to confess that i did not consider the devotional impact that this challenge would have on me. As one friend commented on a previous post, in doing this I am taking Mark’s gospel into my heart. So far, that has very much been my experience. As I repeat those verses again and again I find myself sometimes being stopped and moved by a single word or phrase or action in the story. I am enjoying this challenge a great deal, but it is still early days, and in the great scheme of it all, I have hardly scratched the surface of what I have to commit to memory over the coming year…but so far so good!

2. The Tonne Run/Walk

This challenge started out well in early January. I was in Washington D.C. for classes and living the student life, i.e. I had no car and was going everywhere on foot or on metro. I got to bank a lot of extra miles in the time I was up there.

If I am honest, I wondered if this would be the one that I would try to back out of in the first month. I am not a natural mover or lover of exercise by any stretch of the imagination (unless it involves team sport). Also, as one friend reminded me, there are days when life just takes over and it is hard to find time to get the three miles I’ve targeted each day done. Life has certainly tried to take over in that January has been a very busy month in church and family life, but I have made it and remain on target with this challenge. When I first returned from D.C. my natural laziness and laid back style kicked in for a couple of days as I took some of those banked D.C. miles and enjoyed the luxury of not moving. Soon I realized that this is no way to move forward and that it’s important that i knuckle down and get the exercise done each day. I have to MAKE the time for this one and that is what I have done.

I am very thankful for the presence of my friend, JW who accompanies me on this journey as much as he can. The friendship, conversation, and general witty banter between us is motivating.

In January, I walked or ran 102.35 miles. These are all miles that are over and above the normal miles that might be accrued in the working day. They represent extra, intentional movement, which is the idea of this challenge for me. Those 102.35 miles represent an average of 3.3 miles per day. My target for a 31 day month is 93 miles or intentional running/walking, and so, January’s efforts have left me with 9.65 spare miles banked for those days when life takes over.

3. 40lbs for 40

The weight loss challenge.

As expected, after the Christmas holiday, and with all the extra movement I have managed to shift a good amount of weight in the first month. Currently I am 10lbs lighter than I was on January 1st. This is a good achievement for me, for sure. However, if i am to lose a total of 40lbs this year it will involve me focussing in a lot more on this aspect of the challenges. The extra movement alone is not enough. My diet is still erratic. Some days it is very good and other days it stinks. If the 40lbs are to be lost this year then my focus on what I am eating will have to improve. No question about it. But I know I can do it. I am confident of it. Watch this space.

4. The Savings Challenge.

This particular challenge involves me putting away the dollar value of the corresponding week of the year we are in. Of course, as the weeks go on, this will be come harder and harder, but there is another reason this challenge is a difficult one: I simply don’t carry much cash around with me. Therefore, the trick to following through on this challenge will be my intentionally visiting the bank and withdrawing the cash to save.

So…confession time. I did not save any actual cash for the first three weeks of the year because I did not have any on my person. So in week four of January, i visited the bank and withdrew the needed cash and some extra too. I don’t know if it is cheating, but I have put away enough cash to carry my savings challenge through to the second week of March. I don’t think it is cheating. By doing it this way, I am getting myself ahead a little bit, and using my time as wisely as possible. I don’t get to the bank each week (my nearest branch is a 30 minute drive away), so it is wise to “stock up” for this challenge when I do go there. Simple!

So there we go. I am on target after one month. I am pumped that I’ve lasted a month and I am pumped to continue moving forward in each of the four for forty!


Four For Forty – Week Two Update

This is just an update on how the #fourforforty challenge is going for me. For those of you unfamiliar with what the challenge is, you can catch yourself up here.

It is now two weeks into the challenge – two weeks that have been spent in Washington D.C attending classes for my degree. Those weeks have been helpful in that I did a lot of walking and covered a lot of miles towards my 1000 mile movement challenge. The bad news is that it is always a time filled with rich food too – which doesn’t really help the weight loss aspect of my challenge.

So here are the numbers so far.

Miles covered through Saturday 13th January = 52.8 miles
Verses committed to memory from Mark’s Gospel: Mark 1:1-28
Weight lost: 8lbs (don’t get excited – the early pounds ALWAYS fall off me quickly when I start to do the right things)
Dollars saved: $3

So…all is on target. The Gospel memorization is going to be the toughest aspect of these challenges, and it will be the one that requires the most focus for sure. I am still up for it though!

So there you go…another report to come next week 🙂

Peace out!

Four for Forty

Just an update for my own accountability on the third day of the year long challenges I have set myself for the coming year.

The biggies that need daily attention are the challenges to memorize the gospel of Mark, and the challenge to cover 1000 miles (walking and running) over the calendar year.

In terms of memorizing the gospel of Mark, three days in my schedule would have me having the first 6 verses committed to memory. I have succeeded in that target and was able to recite the verses to my buddy, Stephen, today.

The 1000 miles requires me to move at least three miles every day. Three days in, I have covered 11.4 miles, which is well on target so far. The best advice I received going into this is from my two good friends back home – to be willing to “bank” extra miles over and above the three per day – to help cover the days in the coming year when ‘life’ will happen and I will not be able to get out for a walk or a run.

The other two challenges are the 40lbs of weight loss and the savings challenge.

I will not be able to report on the weight loss challenged until I weigh in again on January 13th. I am hopeful that will good eating and daily movement I will have dropped a few pounds from the weight I started at on January 1st.

The Savings Challenge is easy at this part of the year. in week on, I have to save $1. That is done.

I will use the blog as my place to update on a regular basis. If you are interested, please give the blog a follow so you can get the email updates as I write them.

Thanks for reading and supporting.

New Year 2018 – Four for Forty

As I begin to type this, it is Saturday night, 30th December 2017. In just a couple of hours, in my timezone, we will be well and truly into the last day of the year – New Years Eve. Traditionally, this is a time of revelry and praying as we let go of the year gone by and embrace the year ahead. Looking into a new year is always a time of hope for changes and new things in our lives: “Maybe this year will be my/our year…”

This new year is a particularly significant one for me because I was born in 1978. Yep. as we enter 2018, I am on the extremely fast slide to my 40th birthday (July). To be honest, I am not really that bothered about turning 40 – it is not worrying me in any way, and neither is it exciting me in any way that much either. but i do feel a sense of occasion about it as I look a few months ahead to the actual birthday. Last year, my very best friend took the calendar year of his 40th birthday to enter a year of celebrations and challenges. Inspired by him (as I frequently am) I have come up with my own challenges for the year – “Four Challenges for the Year I Turn Forty,” if you will. The challenges are by no means small. They will stretch me to my very limits if I am to complete them. I have never been the most disciplined person at all, but I feel a sense of wanting to achieve all of the following. Here they are:

1. Memorize the Gospel of Mark.

Mark has 16 chapters containing 661 verses in the New International Version of the Bible. I was introduced to the idea of memorizing the entire Gospel of Mark in 2014 when I attended the Marcy Preaching Fellowship at Candler School of Theology. That little preaching course gave me a brand new love for the shortest of the gospels. I reckon if I take 2 verses a day, I can fir it in to the year. I am also very, very aware that this one will become particularly time consuming as the year goes on and rounds to an end. Nevertheless, the older I get the harder it will be to memorize things, so this is the time to give it a go.

2. The Tonne Run/Walk

Again, inspired by my best mate, who did this a few years ago, I want to achieve this one and believe it to be possible. Three miles a day will cover the 1000 miles in 334 days, leaving me roughly a months worth of days to rest somewhere in it all. It is achievable. It will not be enjoyable. Exercise that doesn’t come in the form of team sport is not my first love at all. This challenged will also push me to my limits, and likely well beyond them too, but that is no bad thing. Again, the older I get, the harder it will become to do this type of thing, so now is the time. I will be running and walking because I do not believe I would have what it takes to run 3 miles every day, but you never know. I might surprise myself…

3. 40lbs off to mark 40 years of life.

I have always been a large fellow, and have always carried extra weight. When in college/seminary I managed to shift a large amount of weight, some of which I have put back on. It’s time to put the effort in and lose it again (and some more). I can do this one. If I am exercising daily, I know I will shift pounds quickly in the first couple of months of the year, and I know that if I keep it going, the rest can follow. As always, my eating will be the enemy of this challenge, as will my enjoyment of wine, but with a little discipline and devotion to this challenge, I think I can do it. We’ll see.

4. A Saving Challenge

This one has done the rounds on social media in the last couple of days. I saw it and thought it would work for me. The idea is simple: each week I save the dollar amount for the week of the year I am in ($1 in week one of 2018, $2 in week two of 2018, and so on) Over the year, this will represent savings of just under $1380 over the year. Again, this will put some pressure on as the year goes on, but I know it can be done – and it will definitely make Christmas 2018 a little easier for sure!!

So there we have it – Four Challenges for the Year I Turn Forty. Who knows if I’ll make it…

But I’ll be trying for sure.

Thanks for reading.

Finding Light in the Daylight

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. I preached a sermon based on the Old Testament text for the day – Isaiah 64:1-9. The main thrust of the sermon was to introduce this season as a season of waiting for the promised savior, and to remember that as we wait we already know the end of the story. The Savior has come and therefore our job is not only to wait in this season, but also to look around and notice the signs that remind us he has come. As I drew the sermon to a close, I invited our church family to keep their eyes open for signs of the Savior all around, and then to tell the stories of what they see and hear.

They say that a leader can’t lead what he or she is not prepared to live. Therefore, I too am keeping my eyes and ears open for those signs of Christ around me, and I too am committed to telling the stories as I experience them.

This morning, I got up and decided to take a walk. It was around 7:15am. The darkness of night time had disappeared and the hope-filled light of a new day was already all around. This time of year is a magnificent time of year to have the privilege of living in America. Regardless of the meta-narrative of political turmoil in the United States, my experience of most ordinary people is that they are simply getting on with life each day while circus of all the other stuff goes on around them. That means that most people in my neighborhood, whether they are Republicans or Democrats, enter into the spirit of the season and put Christmas lights on their houses. That’s why it is so magnificent to live here at this time of the year. There is something amazing about seeing light shine in the darkness of night, right?

We too have put lights up on the outside of our home. Each evening at around 5:30pm we switch the lights on in time for the disappearance of the sun, and then we turn them off as we go to bed (less risk of a fire in the night AND less money to Florida Power & Light!!). Not everyone is as frugal though. Some people leave their lights on through the night and into the light of morning. Thanks to these people, I met with God this morning.

As I walked along one road, I noticed that a person had not switched off their lights for the day. The person’s lights were shining away, right there in the daylight. At first I didn’t notice them, but then, when I focussed a little harder I realized that there they were burning away for all to see.

It made me think that light can be hard to see in the daylight.

Stay with me.

During Advent and around Christmas time, we (in the church) make a big deal of reciting the opening words of John’s Gospel as a means of recognizing and celebrating the Incarnation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5 NRSV)

The closing words of the above passage are some of my favorite words in all of Scripture – they are a persistent reminder that light always breaks darkness. I have used these words again and again in prayers and sermons and conversations to remind folks that even though the world can seem dark and over bearing, no darkness can ever overcome the Light of the world found in Christ. Those words are so very true. However, as I reflected on the Christmas lights shining in the daylight, I could not help but be reminded that I do not live a life that is persistently in the dark. Sure, I have known times of difficulty in life, and I have even known times of unexplained sadness and depression. I also am deeply aware of the difficulties we face in the world in general – crippling poverty, mindless violence, an obsession with power and control…the list could go on. But if I am very honest with myself, the truth is this: I do not exist in a life clouded with perpetual darkness all around me. I am happily married and have two fantastic children. I have food on the table when I want it. I am employed and have a roof over my head. I have good and reliable friends and have had access to a good education.

Although life can certainly be difficult to experience at times, I would not describe my life as one which is lived in darkness. To the contrary, by and large my life is lived in rich and colorful light. I know that this is privilege. I know this is not everyone’s experience in the world, and I would never presume to say it is. However, I do know that there are many others in the world who also experience life in this way; that there are many others who live in a privileged world of rich and colorful light.

Here’s the thing though – in the same way I almost missed those Christmas lights shining in the daylight this morning, when we live in a privileged and light filled world, it can be difficult to see the “Light of the world”. When we live in such abundance, which many of us do, it can be a real challenge to recognize the Savior. It’s hard to see light shining in the day light unless we are intentionally looking for it.

Today I was reminded by God, in a very simple way, that he is not just a 911 emergency God, who is present and shines in the dark moments. Today, God reminded me that God is ALWAYS present – in the best of times and the worst of times. God is always present and always bringing more light into the world. I was challenged this morning; this first ADVENT morning to watch even more closely for God in this world, and to be amazed at God’s goodness and God’s ability to shine in all places.

All Saints Day 2017

All Saints

I am a Christian because someone lived as a Christian before my eyes and showed me the story of God’s great love.

I am a Christian because someone told me the story of God’s great love. That person had been told the story by another someone, who had been told the story by another someone, and so on…

I am a Christian because of all the saints who have gone before me.

I am a Christian because Christ called those saints, and shaped their lives.

I am a Christian because those saints chose to follow Christ.

I am a Christian who is surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

I am a Christian who stands on the shoulders of other the Christians before me.

Today I am thankful for all the saints…

How Long, O Lord?

Today our community has been rocked by yet another teenage suicide. I find myself utterly heart broken for this little boy and for his family.

I find myself wondering where God is when a little boy is crying out, and becomes desperate enough to end his own life.

And so, I write this lament as a means of expressing my own grief and despair (even though the youngster is not known to me personally):

How Long, O Lord?

How long, O Lord?

How long?

How long until we stop hearing about young lives lost to hopelessness?
How long until despair and disappointment is a thing reserved until much later in life, when we can perhaps deal with it a little better?
These kids are too young, too energetic, too talented, and too brilliant for us to lose.

How long?

How long will loved ones continue to walk into a room and find their little ones dead?
How long will the hearts of whole communities be ripped apart by tragic premature death?

How long?

You promise to be with us.
You promise to never leave us, nor forsake us.

You assure us that your “yolk is easy and your burden is light”
We are told to cast our burdens upon you because you care for us.

Since the beginning, you have made yourself known to mankind,
So why are you hiding yourself from these young people?
Why do you hide yourself from their understanding; from their experience of life;
Why do you hold back your hope?

I have experienced that hope.

I know your “Good News!”
I know that hope always pervades and cannot be diminished.

I know that light always shines in the darkness, and that darkness cannot ever overcome it.
I know that you are good all the time, and that all the time you are good.

I know this.

But I am nearly 40 years old.

So tell me…
How can you reveal yourself to me, but you do not seem to be able to reveal yourself to the young one getting ready to end his or her life?

I know you are love.
I know you are love and that your love will continue with the grief stricken, broken family of that little boy.

But why was your love not made real for him before he ended his own life?
Why was his wee heart not healed and transformed?
Why was your hope hidden?

You loved that boy enough to die for him,

But you could not show yourself to him in the most desperate of moments, when he needed hope most.
I’m astounded by that.
Your apparent absence is staggering.

How long, O Lord!

How long will we wait for you to revive us?
How long will we have to wait for hope?
How long will the young continue to despair?

I’m hurt as I write this.
I’m angry at you, God.
I’m angry and disappointed.

And yet…

…there is nowhere else to turn.
There is no other place to find hope and healing.
There is no other place to find unconditional, life transforming acceptance and love.

My faith hangs on by a thread right now, God.

Show yourself.
Show yourself.
Keep your promise and show yourself!

We need you to show yourself.

How long, O Lord, until you do?