The Battle on Park and Maple Avenues

(Or…”Yet One More Running Sermon for You.”)

The following is a sermon delivered at Asbury Church on Sunday, October 16th.    The scripture for the message was Psalm 55)

I make no qualms about the fact that I am very hesitant when it comes to singing.    I have no skill, and virtually no ability to hold a tune or a note for any extended period of time.   When I sing paint peels and dogs bark.   It is my cross to bear, so more often than not, I keep my mouth shut.   Otherwise, the cross becomes yours to bear.

Yet, someday I will learn how to hold my own.  A wise man has told me time and time again,…especially after witnessing me mouthing the words to some hymn or a round of Happy Birthday, that God does not care  whether or not I have a voice to sing.  Instead God  only cares that I have a song to voice.  There is some comfort in this, because deep down I know that regardless of how hard it is for me to string the notes together,  I do have a song to voice.

Between you and I, I do wish that I could sing.   I wish I could witness a room made silent through gentle melodies of my voice, rather than disbelief that one could harness such hideous noises.    I enjoy the thought of singing.    I find myself singing all the time.  I sing in my car.   I sing in the shower.   I sing on the treadmill and on long runs through the middle of nowhere. Its singing in front of other  people that I have issue with.  

As a matter of fact, when I run, singing is one of those mental tools that get me through. When the body slows and the hills become steeper sometimes trying to pick through my noggin for songs and lyrics become a way to forget out the shin splits or the Charlie horses.

Oftentimes the songs I choose range from old 80 hair bands or pop classics, while other times it might be the music that I hear each Sunday.  When all else fails I pull out the Beverly Hillbillies, Flintstones, or Gilligan’s Island theme songs to help me forget the screaming of my calves or gasping of my lungs.  Nine times out of ten it works.  

Because it works, no music is beyond my exploitation or my massacre. From Lady Gaga to Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra to Whitney Houston,  I have many favorites.  I certainly have my favorites from our hymnal; and Amazing Grace, I’ll Fly Away, and We are Marching, are all songs that seem to repeatedly enter my running repertoire.  

Among all of them, there is one that surfaces more frequently than all the others combined.   Oddly, its “Take my Life and Let it Be”

On that note,…when it came time to get the t-shirts printed up for the church’s run last year, I thought about using one of the lyrics from this song.   Eventually the words from Hebrews 12 won out (“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us”).   Maybe next year it will be this classic.

We all know the song;  

Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

In the end, it was the second verse that almost made the back of a couple hundred t-shirts alongside a cartoon mosquito.   Verse two is the piece of the song that always seems to come back to me when I am struggling to complete that extra mile.  The words seem incredible appropriate as I push myself along the road side.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee

When I am running, and the muscles ache and the chest burns, I want to give up.  I am pleading for some part (any part) of me to be swift and beautiful.   The truth is something far from that reality.    I want to stop and walk to the closest 7-11 and buy me the biggest tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream I can find.  I want to sink my face into a giant tub of Chunky Monkey, Chubby Hubby, or Cherry Garcia with wild abandon.   When I am done I want to wash it all down with all the syrupy rich Grape Soda I can find..

I want to pick up my running shoes and throw them into the nearest river without thinking twice.  I want to find that spot in my couch that was once so perfectly formed to my backside and slip back into blissful vegetation.   I want to fall asleep with the front of my shirt being used as a platter for Buffalo Wings, and not think twice.   Right there and then, I want to surrender but something in me tells me not to.

It is in that moment the war begins.  It’s a war like no other.   It’s a war between the man I am called to be, and the man that I am all too frequently willing to accept.  It’s a war that pits good Scott versus Bad Scott.

There on the side of Maple or Park Ave in Keene, I experience a colossal and cosmic battle with the Fat Scott of old, and the Scott that is too tough to stop because of some cramp or blister.   Somewhere just outside my grasp, and just outside of that moment, is the Scott I want to be, the Scott that I could be, and the Scott that I should be.   It’s a battle between the cramp that says stop, and the voice that says keep trying to move that mountain.

As I said earlier, In that colossal battle one of my weapons of choice is a random tune, a passing lyric, or some made up melody.    It might be Michael Jackson, or it might be some long since obscure hymn writer. It might be the Doxology or it might be Gilligan.   Whatever form that weapon takes, I weld it like some long since gone, knight of the round table.

As in all wars, sometimes the battle doesn’t go as planned.  In those moments when victory seems to quickly elude my grasp, its usually good old Frances Havergall’s Take My Life that is pulled from my quiver.    It becomes my weapon of last resort.

The hymn becomes a plea.   The words become a desperate plea to God to take those lummoxing, smelly size 13 things I call feet and transform them into something beautiful, whose primary purpose is to give God glory.

Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

In between gasps of breath, the words take flight.   At first it sounds like some meditative chant, but slowly it brings me back.     The words remind me to surrender fully and completely.  If you begin telling yourself that each step is not for you, but for God, the idea of giving up quickly loses its appeal.

In that moment, the pain and the struggle becomes about something else. Its not about the battle, its simply about moving forward.   Its not about the next mile, its about the next step.   Slowly the next step becomes the next two, the next two becomes the next ten, and so on.    The song slowly finds its voice.  God doesn’t care whether you make it to mile 6, 9 or 12.  He cares that you make that next step, and trust that he’ll keep pushing you along.

Take my voice and let me sing, Always, only for my King.

Take my lips and let them be Filled with messages from Thee.

It might take a while, but eventually the song takes over.    Before I know it, I create a spectacle that – for the unknowing – is probably quite alarming.   There is some buffoon, running down the street, sweating like no one man should, with a giant Cheshire cat smile on his face, singing at the top of the lungs.  

 In that moment, I become the 16th century monk facing down persecution.   I become the priest in the coliseum eying the lion.   I become possessed with the idea of not giving up or not giving in.    That battle becomes a very real and very brutal acknowledgement and test of my faith.  I am a man possessed, and I would imagine that the casual passerby expects little white suited men with nets to be chasing right behind me.

When the run is over, and this one battle of this great war for my physical well being and with the demon that is Fat Scott comes to a close, I find myself continually surprised on how surrendering to the music works so well.  Somewhere between mile 5 and mile 6 it becomes all about him.

Take my will and make it Thine, It shall be no longer mine.

Take my heart, it is Thine own, It shall be Thy royal throne.

 Take my love, my Lord, I pour At Thy feet its treasure store.

Take myself and I will be Ever, only, all for Thee.

Maybe the reason I turn to this hymn so frequently is found in its pure simplicity.   It is a call for us to a complete and full surrender.    We are called to surrender everything we have, are, and own to God.   There is no second guessing.  If there is one truth about our relationship with God it is that there can be no second guessing.

I know that I tend towards the over dramatic.   I know that running down the street may not be the greatest battle of my life, and perhaps I over do the whole battle metaphor.  I also know that I find too many metaphors in my running, and I try not to bore you with some newly acquired revelation found in my running each week, but it is a big part of who I am, and in those moments I find, from time to time, a truth that needs sharing.  Today, its that there is a daily part of my faith journey that is all about surrender.   It should be the same for each of us.  It should be something that we embrace more fully.

Our faith journeys need to be about this.  Our faith calls for complete surrender.     No matter how bizarre or how melodramatic my point may be, I know that in that moment of complete surrender, I find my breath and I find my freedom.

Sadly, we are too often about control rather than surrender.  There is a great story that emphasizes this perfectly.   It’s about a little boy who is sitting at a table with his mother.   He had just spent the morning outside in the snow, making snowmen and snow angels and when the chill finally hit, he returned home and was greeted with a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

Together the Mom and little boy sat in complete silence, and the snow melted.   After a long time and a full mug of coffee, the Mother saw the boy absent mindedly staring at the empty mug.

“Is there something wrong Bill?” Mom asked?

“Mom, I got a question,” he replied.   “Is God Everywhere?”

“Of course,” said Mom.

After a pause, he asked “Is he in this room?”

“Yes, He is everywhere”

After still a longer pause; “Is he at our table?”

“Yes, Billy, God is everywhere”

After a much longer pause, Billy’s eyes got bigger and through what looked like equal parts revelation and fear, he asked a final question;  “If God is in this room, and at this table, and God is everywhere…   Does that mean he is in this mug too?” he asked as he raised his now empty cup of cocoa.

Not sure where little Billy was going with this, Mom replied as matter of fact as she could.   “God is everywhere Billy.”

No sooner did the words come out of her mouth than Billy slammed his hand on top of the mug, and screamed out “Gotchya!”

In the end, so many of us are like that little boy, thinking we can capture God.  We believe that we just need to get close.   When we are, we can trap God.

We look at this thing called faith, and we see that we are so close, but there always appears to be something just outside our grasp.   We know God.  We know and feel his presence among us, but there is something that just isn’t quite there.

We find ourselves cursing the mistakes we make from day to day, and wishing we were better parents, didn’t lose our temper so frequently, or were willing to take the next step to be a better spouse or friend.   We question.  We doubt.  We find ourselves coming close but never quite making it over that hill.  We figure if we can just get closer, we too can throw our hand over the top of the mug, and capture God.

In the end, it’s not about capture.

When we find ourselves hurting from the running, and we want to give ourselves over to what the world has to offer, and then wash it down with the most syrupy grape soda it has to offer, we need to realize that surrender is our only choice.    I’s about our surrender to him.

We spend so much time in this place dreaming of a world that is better.  We dream of the ways we could be different.    We long to know God more fully.   We long to know our calling.   We long to answer the questions of this world that haunt us.     We want to figure out a way to juggle the world of outside with a life lived fully in the Word.

The answer is simple.  We need to say take this life and let it be consecrated all to him.    We need to be about living, doing, and existing for him.    This means putting aside the selfishness, the ego, the materialism and choosing to pursue him with as much vigor.

We need to take our lips and let them be filled with Him and his Word.   We need to give our intellect, our feet, our hands, and everything we are to him and his will.   We need to allow his will to become ours fully and completely.   We need to give him our silver, our gold, and our treasure, and realize that all is worthless without Him.     It’s simple.   It’s a complete and total surrender to him.

This is the one war, the one battle, the one run, the one challenge we have in our life that is won by giving up.    It’s won when we say:

Take this life and let it be, consecrated all to thee.

Take these hands and let them move at the impulse of His love.

 Take these feet and let them be Swift and beautiful.

Take this voice and let me sing,

Take these lips and let them be Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold,

Take my intellect and use every power as you choose.

 Take my will and make it Thine,

It shall be no longer mine.

Thanks be to God Amen.

The above pic is credited to S.R. Pak 2007
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