Tuesday, September 11, 2012


On Sunday, I honestly believe I caught a glimpse of heaven.

The temperature was in the lows 80's.  I was drenched in sweat and my legs pleaded with me for rest, but I overruled their petition and kept moving forward.  I had been swimming, biking, and running in the Nation's Triathlon for over 3 hours.  Last year, I was a chemotherapy patient and spectator, but this year, I was a cancer-free competitor.  I had faced some unexpected adversity on the course and was really hurting during the final miles of the run.

As I rounded a corner, I saw my youngest brother, Jeff, waiting to run me in to the finish line.  He came alongside me and said "You're almost there, Mike.  Once you get over that bridge, you will see the finish line and everybody is waiting for you."  His words put a little bit of pep in my step and we made it over the bridge.  I swear that last quarter mile of road was paved with gold and the word, FINISH, sat atop the pearly gates.  Every part of my body was screaming at me, but it didn't matter now.  As Jeff veered off, I saw the grey cluster of Team Hoj shirts and the cheering got louder and louder; I couldn't keep my lips from quivering and the tears from falling.  Crossing that finish line was unlike anything I had ever experienced before and the floodgates of my emotions burst wide open.  All I could do was nod my head amidst handshakes, hugs, and congratulations.

And just like that, it was over.  The race that had taken all morning to complete was finished.  Months upon months of training had paid off.  A year's worth of anticipation and preparation had suddenly vanished.  I was utterly consumed by the joy of the moment and no longer felt the pain of last year's struggle.  Only one word could do it justice: heavenly.

This race was just a reflection of life.  Every affliction and trial that life brings our way has devastating potential because we can't see the finish line.  We just want it to be over.  We just want to quit.  But Paul reminds us, just as he did the Corinthians, "For this light, momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (II Corinthians 4:17-18).

This is one of our foundational hopes, is it not?  Heaven is eternal and its joy is everlasting.  The trials that brought us to it will no longer bring us to tears, but bring us to worship the One who brought us through them.  When we cross that finish line, we will find true peace, rest, and fulfillment.  I only got a taste of heaven this weekend and it has left me starving for more.  The anticipation of running towards the Kingdom and hearing "Well done, good and faithful servant... enter into the joy of your master" is unrelenting.

Everyone has their own course marked out for them to complete.  Finish it by the grace and strength of God's spirit, and give Him the glory when all is said and done.

Considering the cancer chapter officially closed.




Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Where Would Jesus Be?

As I exited I-95 into the bowels of the inner city, I must admit that I was a bit apprehensive.  The buildup to this Saturday had been quite extensive (at least in my mind).  Several friends and FCA board members had told me that this was the worst neighborhood in the entire city of Philadelphia.  In this area ravaged by poverty, people seem to have no money, yet they find a way to get a hold of drugs.  Prostitutes roam the street corners and crime abounds.  The neighborhood is fighting to hold on, yet most steer clear altogether.  If you've seen the Rocky movies, then you've seen this place.  This is Kensington.  

So why would this 23 year old white boy, bred in a polar opposite world, be going into this place instead of away from it?

"This is where Jesus would be."

Yes, this was technically part of my job that I was asked to participate in.  FCA was invited to represent our ministry at a block party in Kensington, hosted by Rock Ministries.  There was a live band, blow-up castles and obstacle courses, classic summer food, and several boxing exhibitions.  We brought a few basketball hoops and free FCA Gear as yet another way to love on these people.  You could make the argument that I was obligated to be there, yet it didn't feel that way at all.  I was so excited, yet equally nervous as I stepped out into a place unlike anywhere I had ever been.

No sooner than we had our sign set up, a man walked up to me and immediately inquired about our ministry.  As we started talking, he began to tell me his story.  He was a home grown, Kensington product that experienced many of the struggles that the majority of its residents do.  He turned his life around and, by the grace of God, is now a member of the congregation at Rock Ministries.  He told me to turn around and as we looked out over the chain link fence, he echoed all of the negative things that I had already heard.  But he folded his arms, and said with a sigh...

"But this is where Jesus would be."

I'm ashamed to say that I can't even remember this man's name, but his words are burned into my brain.    After being asked why He ate with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Mark 2).  What kind of "good news" do our lives exemplify if we disregard these people as unsettling statistics and avoid them like the plague?  These are human beings, made in the perfect image of the triune God who have beautiful little babies and families and dreams.  But they live among streets that are overflowing with destructive behaviors and lifestyles.  They need to experience a gospel whose pre-eminence is love.

It was so encouraging to walk along that street and see the sign for Rock Ministries.  They are providing outlets for juveniles at risk to box, grapple, and even learn skills like music or art.  Buddy, Paul, and all of the other staff there are the face of Jesus to those who badly need to know Him.  They have traded comfort and security to get in the trenches in an area starving for hope.  

What a privilege to be a part of it for an afternoon.  I can't imagine I'll be able to stay away for long.



Friday, May 18, 2012

The Sparrow

Now that the weather has taken a turn for the better, I typically wake up to one of two sounds in the morning.  Some mornings I am slapped out of my slumber by the rumble of mower decks and weed-wackers as the grounds crew attends to the grass.  But on others, the much more pleasant sound of birds chirping provides me with a natural alarm clock.

Last week (on a day that was not mowing day), I woke up to the birds and rolled over to lay in bed for a few more moments.  As I slowly regained consciousness, I laid there for a bit and thought about those birds.  How do they decide where to build a nest?  How do they know where to go get food?  What do they do during a hard rain?  All of these questions revolved the basic necessities of life, and I made up my own answers as a completely uneducated ornithologist.  However far off I may have been, my mind quickly went to a passage in Matthew 6:25-33...

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying 'What shall we eat?" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?"  for the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  

Even though I am a bit scatter-brained at times, there was a point to my bird pondering so early in the morning.  You see, the topic of fundraising was on my mind and had been for some time.  It is usually one of the biggest sources of anxiety and worry in my life.  But on this morning, things were different.  I had recently been blessed by several donors who had come alongside me to help meet my budget goals for the upcoming year.  I had been "fed," just like the birds of the air.

I've heard my fair share of sermons on this passage before, and the message is pretty straight forward: don't worry because God will give you what you need (not necessarily what you want), if you seek His kingdom first.  And I agree.  But through this process of fundraising, I have also had to come to grips with another element of this passage: the time component.  "When" will God give me what I need?  Think about the birds again.  God the Creator causes the right worms to crawl up to the surface of the ground at the right time, so that the right bird can gobble it up.  He does the same thing with the seeds and anything else they consume.  He orchestrates that they would have what they need in the right place and the right time.  He could just as easily give them a big cup full of night crawlers like we buy at the bait and tackle shop and say "Here's your portion for the week."  But He doesn't.  Why?

Because there is no dependency in that.

God is constantly moving us towards a place of increased dependency.  I wanted to have a full year's worth of funding in place months ago and He could have done it without batting an eye.  My mind wouldn't be at ease until I had stocked the barn completely, but it didn't go that way.  The funds came in slowly, check by check, but it was not until I was a month away from moving to Philly that the funds were finally in place.  Each and every donation was a reminder that He was providing the way for me to accomplish this enormous task.  His provision was completely sufficient and His timing was impeccable.  

I suppose it is unrealistic to think that human beings will never be completely rid of worry or anxiety about life's demands, but we can never forget that our "heavenly Father knows that you need them all."  He made you and he knows what you need...

And when you need it.  

Humbled yet again,