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Friday, December 1, 2017

Have A Very Merry Materialistic Christmas!

If I told you that I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas, my wife Diana would have said, “Now, that’s an understatement!” I think a big part of my turn off has always been the materialism of Christmas.  Merchants use it to sell everything imaginable at exorbitant prices.  So when I was assigned to preach this year on “The Materialism that Stole Christmas,” I looked forward to the opportunity with relish.  Interestingly, it turned out differently than I expected.  I discovered something about Christmas that I had forgotten, or at least neglected in my mind.

The real message and meaning of Christmas is story about materialism.  It is the story of how the God of the universe who is Spirit, but who created everything material that exists, entered into the world which He created in the person of His Son.  It’s the story of how God became man in order to save sinful human beings. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

In reality, the most important aspect of Christmas is the material one, the fact that Jesus Christ took on flesh and blood in order to become our substitute. Only as a real human being could Jesus take our place in living a life of holiness in perfect obedience to His Father’s will.  This is the life that God’s righteousness demands of us, but that we can never live because of our sinful human nature. Because of our sin, we are under the condemnation of the Law.  We deserve to die eternally.  But Jesus took our place. “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

Because Jesus lived His life perfectly in our place, he was able to offer His life as the sacrifice for our sins by dying on the cross.  He was only able to do this because He had a material body, because He was fully human, even though He was also fully divine.  This is the miracle of the Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas.

However, since the beginning of Christianity, there have been false prophets who have sought to deny that Jesus was fully human.“Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 7) So there is a form of “anti-materialism” that can steal Christmas by denying that Jesus came into the world as both true God and true man.  If Jesus wasn’t fully human He could not take our place.  He could not be our substitute.  He could not die and rise again for us.  And that lie can also rob us of eternity. 

This was probably my wife’s favorites Christmas decoration.  She loved it because to her, Santa Claus has come to represent the materialism of Christmas, but Jesus is the reality of Christmas.  So this image shows us the false materialism of Christmas becoming subject and submitting to the real materialism of Christmas, which is Christ, the Son of God born as a real human being.

So do not forget the truth that Christmas really is about something material.  It is all about God becoming a man.  It’s all about the Incarnation.  Without the material gift of God’s Son, we would not have anything to celebrate at Christmas. That’s exactly the reason why we give material gifts at Christmas, to commemorate the gift of God’s own Son.  It is appropriate that we give material gifts to those we love, because God, out of love for us, gave us a material gift of His own, Jesus Christ our Savior.   But even as we buy and wrap and exchange material gifts at Christmas time, let’s make sure that our focus always remains on Jesus, the greatest material gift of all.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Unrestrained Evil!

This afternoon, shortly after returning home from church, I heard the devastating news about the horrific church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  This small town is about 35 miles southeast of where I live in San Antonio.  For such a massacre to take place so close to home forces one to come to grips with the reality of this evil in a whole new way.

I am a man of great faith, but I have to confess that my first reaction to this report was the same as my first reaction to the reports of the massacre in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.  "God, why would you let this happen?"  In a sense, we can never understand the answer to that question because we will never have  a command of anywhere near the knowledge, understanding and information that God has at his command.  God does restrain evil.  His Word makes that clear.  But God does not restrain all evil.  And we probably would not be able to understand why evil is seemingly allowed a free hand on some occasions even if God tried to explain it to us.

As I reflected on this shooting through the course of the day, a number of thoughts came to mind.  This world is very evil.  Why is that?  It's because ever since Adam and Eve misused their free will to rebel against God's command, sin has been a reality in the heart and mind of every human being that ever lived.  Evil is real, but it is not just an impersonal force floating around in the universe. It is a part of the very nature of our being.

If you doubt that evil is a very real part of your being, just imagine a machine that would portray your every thought on a theater screen for everyone to see.  How long do you think you could perfectly control your thoughts while sitting there looking out at the audience of your friends, neighbors, family, co-workers?  How long before thoughts of jealousy, envy, hatred, lust, revenge, greed, or a thousand other sinful ideas would be played out for everyone to see?

Yes, evil resides in everyone of us. Left to our own devices, we are all capable of the worst evil that we can imagine.  But thank God that for those of us who know and believe in Jesus Christ, there is a check on the evil within us.  That check is our faith and the power of the Holy Spirit.  It begins with the realization that there is a God to whom we must answer.  The Bible says that "the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom."  The fear of God can restrain evil within us and help us make wise choices about our actions.

But even more so, it is our new birth though faith in Jesus Christ that helps us overcome the evil within us and helps us live our lives to the glory of God.  "If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation."  It is Christ living in us that empowers us to say no to sin and say yes to God.  Furthermore, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is going on in us to transform us into the image of God's Son.  "It is God's will that you should be sanctified," Scripture says.

The more we immerse ourselves in God's Word, the more we seek God's face in prayer, the more we honor Him in worship, the more we taste of His grace in the Lord's Supper, and the more we serve Him with our hands and feet as we serve others in love, the more the evil within us will be overcome.

What America needs to overcome the kind of evil that we've seen in Las Vegas and in Sutherland Springs is repentance and faith.  Jesus warned us, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world." Because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ at work in the hearts and lives of God's people all manner of evil is restrained every moment of every day.  But because unrepentance and unbelief is rampant all around us, there will always be evil to contend with.  Some of it God will choose to restrain outwardly. Some of it will be limited by His divine power.  And some will seemingly go unchecked. In the last instance we must trust God's promise that He works all things for the good of those who love Him, even if we cannot comprehend how that will be.

But to give up on faith because of evil men like the one who senselessly massacred 26 people at First Baptist Church this morning will only make the world more evil.  When we who have faith lose it because of evil, we become more evil ourselves.  Cling to faith, it is the only thing that can restrain the evil within us.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Battle of Growing Older

Today was an absolutely picture perfect day in San Antonio: eighty-two degrees, bright sunshine, not a cloud in the sky with a very light breeze in the air.  I just couldn't resist the bike even though I had not ridden since October 10.  Fortunately for me, today was one of my smarter days.  I only did seven miles, with 345 feet of vertical gain at 13 miles per hours.  It was just the right ride for my body in my shape at my age.  It was glorious!

Having reached my late 60's (67 to be precise) I think I've finally figured out that growing older is a battle.  Soon after Diana passed away (and I realized that I would no longer have to be devoting large chunks of time each day to her care) I decided I was going to get back intro shape.  I went at it with a passion that soon left me burned out.  Then I gave up.  It didn't take too long for me to realize, however, that I was losing strength and mobility much too quickly by just sitting around.  But when I did try to exercise I would usually go overboard and leave myself feeling drained at least for the rest of the day, if not for several days.

Now I recognize that growing older is a battle, and no matter how hard I try to win, it is a losing battle.  That's because nothing in this world can prevent the infirmities of age from eventually overtaking my body.  Scripture says, "The wages of sin is death," and I am now collecting my pay for all the sins I've been guilty of in the past nearly seven decades of my life.  Like it or not I will die, and the best I can hope for is to maintain enough health and strength to remain independent for as long as possible.

It will not do me any good to abuse my body in an effort to become again what I can no longer be.  I will never be the cyclist I was at age 55 when I rode the 206 miles from Seattle to Portland in one day at an average speed of 17 miles per hour.  I will never again be able to climb from the Puyallup Valley to the end of the road at Sunrise on the top of Mount Rainier, climbing 9000 feet and covering 140 miles in a single day. No matter how much I abuse my body, my age will forestall such achievements in the future.

On the other hand, it will not do me any good to abuse my body by sheer neglect.  Though the easy chair clamors and the cockpit of my Corvette lures me, I cannot allow myself to just sit around and wait to die.  Somewhere in the middle there is a better place to be, and I think I found it on today's bike ride.

A reasonable ride at a steady pace on a regular basis will do my heart good.  Some light weights and some moderate resistance training will keep me as strong as possible.  Some casual swimming of laps will keep me relatively flexible. And between it all I hope to be able to slow down sin's payments long enough to experience life for a few more years of independence and enjoyment.  It should also allow me to enjoy watching my wonderful grandsons grow up to be godly young men.

However, the prideful sin inside me keeps wanting to tell me, "Go a little harder, Bob, you can do better, think of what you used to be!"  So growing old is a battle.  It's a battle against foolishness and pride,  but also against neglect and slothfulness.  One thing's for sure, I agree with my mother-in-law's assessment (who at 87 still lives independently): "Growing old ain't for wimps."

Monday, July 11, 2016

My Amazing, Wild and Crazy Life that I Never Dreamed Of!

I recently changed my profile picture on Facebook.  It was a picture taken of me behind the wheel of a red Corvette at Spring Mountain Racetrack in Nevada.  Looking at it made me pause and think about all the incredible things have happened in my life that I would have never dreamed would happen.

Growing up in Detroit I started working at the family business at age 12.  At first I thought I would probably work there the rest of my life.  Then I started Confirmation class and fell in love with the Word of God.  I never dreamed that God would call me to be a pastor instead of a wholesale florist.  But that's what happened.

I married my childhood sweetheart.  Yes, I did dream about that for many years before it came to pass. That was no surprise, but then Diana and I discovered that instead of children of our own God's plan was for us to adopt two beautiful girls and make them our own.  And along came Rebekah and MaryBeth.   Growing up I had hardly even heard of adoption.  Who would have thought it?

I was a young, active pastor in suburban Chicago.  I played racquetball, swam one kilometer several times a week.  I was thin and fit when at age 34 when I woke up in the middle of the night with a heart attack.  And two weeks later I had a second heart attack! I would have never dreamed that such a thing would happen to me at such a young age.  But it did.

I was studying Scripture with my associate pastor and the outcome of our learning was a book published by Concordia Publishing House, our church's denominational publisher.  I had dreamed of writing a book, so that was not a surprise.  But when a few years later I was charged with false doctrine based on what I wrote in a book approved by the Missouri Synod I was shocked!  I never dreamed that would happen.  I never dreamed I would have to fight a four year battle to remain a pastor.  Not in my wildest imagination.

I got through all of that and received several calls at the same time.  Two were to Chicago, where we had lived previously for 12 years.  I never dreamed I would end up accepting a call to Tacoma, Washington.  I barely knew the Pacific Northwest existed, let alone that I would end up living there for almost ten years.  What a blessing Our Savior, Tacoma turned out to be!

But after twenty five years of ministry and three heart attacks I was far from the thin and fit young man that I was when I had my first heart attack in 1984.  I never dreamed that I would get back in shape in my mid 50's.  Then God convicted me of the sin of gluttony and after losing 100 pounds I found myself riding my bike all over the west coast, literally.  In five years I rode more than 20,00 miles. I never imagined I would ride from Canada to Mexico in three weeks and raise $11000 for ultrasound machines for Crisis Pregnancy Centers.

Along the way Rebekah found herself with child and no place to live.  Yes, Diana and I urged her to move back in with us, but deep inside I confess that I was angry.  I knew my life would never be the same.  Now I'm ashamed of those thoughts, because I never dreamed what a blessing Elijah would be.  If someone told me that I would get to be "father" to a boy 25 years after Diana and I adopted a baby girl I would have said they were crazy. I was right that my life would never be the same, in the most wonderful ways!

Then came Texas.  Diana and I have always lived "up north."  Then MaryBeth received a DCE Internship in Houston, Texas.  The next thing we knew she was married and we had a brand new grandson "down south." Diana and I never dreamed that her last home would be in San Antonio, Texas, home of the Alamo. Yet, as we dug through her family history we found she had ancestors buried just a hundred miles from our home in Texas. And, yes, I had been to conferences at Concordia Lutheran Church, but I never dreamed that I would serve in ministry there.  Yet, here I am blessed to be a part of this wonderful church family and their exciting ministry.

But God had another surprise in store for us, one that neither one of us would have ever dreamed of in our worst nightmares.  Diana never smoked a day in her life so the diagnosis of Stage 4 Lung Cancer almost knocked us off our feet.  She fought her battle for 18 months with faith, courage, and above all hope through Jesus.  I never would have dreamed Diana would have died from lung cancer, but I should have known that she would bear her cross with grace and strength.

I never really thought about it that way, but I guess that in a certain sense in addition to being a pastor, I've been a wholesale florist most of my life.  Ever since my grandfather passed away some of his shares in the family business were placed in trust for his grandchildren. When my father died I inherited some more shares. I never would have dreamed that at exactly the right time, when we were facing extra expenses from Diana's illness, the family business would be sold.  It was a windfall that Diana and I never, ever counted on or even hoped for.

For my last birthday before she died Diana gave me a radio controlled C7 Corvette.  She knew that I've dreamed of owning a Corvette my whole life.  As she presented it to me she said, "This is the closest you'll ever come to owning a Corvette."  At the time, I thought she was right.  Then, the impossible happened, and I was able to not only own a Corvette but to drive one on a race track at Corvette Owners School.

My point in all of this meandering is that our plans are never God's plans. I ticked off about a dozen things that I never dreamed would happen in my life, but they did.  If I started to name all the amazing, wild and crazy things that have happened in this world during my lifetime that I would have never dreamed of happening, I couldn't even count them all.  The world today scares me.  But when I look at my own amazing, wild and crazy life and see how God has been faithful through it all to uphold, sustain and bless me over and over again, then I have peace.

What has God done in your life that you would have never dreamed of happening?  The next time life goes crazy and something wild happens, just remember that even though you never dreamed that would happen, God knew about it from the beginning of time.  And He will see you through it, just as He has me.  Otherwise, I wouldn't be driving that Corvette.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Delighted All Along... and at Long Last!

Having grown up in Detroit, the Motor City, cars run in my blood.  I have yet to buy my first foreign car.  In Detroit, if you didn’t buy a new American made car every two or three years you were not a loyal American.  My dad was bit by the new car bug at least every two years and sometimes more often than that.  I will always remember his 1964 metal flake gold Oldsmobile 442 convertible with a red interior. After a couple of years he passed it on to me, and I had way too much fun driving that muscle car along Woodward Avenue.  As a result, over the years I’ve spent far too much money buying new American cars.  Some of them were great (like the 365 horsepower Ford Explorer Sport I now own).  Some of them were awful (like the Chevy Citation whose hatch I had to prop open with a broom stick).  Some were fun (like my Dodge Neon with a sunroof and a four on the floor). And some were rather forgettable (what year was that Buick something or other?).

There’s one car that I will never forget, however.  It was September of 1956, and as usual all the new car dealers up and down Woodward Avenue had papered over their showroom windows in anticipation of revealing their newest models.  I was just seven years old, clinging to my father’s hand as the dealer unlocked the showroom doors and let the public in for our first glimpse of the new 1957 Chevys.  I’m sure there was at least one iconic 1957 Chevy Bel Air on that showroom floor but that’s not the car I saw.  The one that caught my eye and captured my heart that day was a Corvette convertible.  It was a gorgeous shade of blue with white coves and a white interior.  I drooled all over that car while my dad walked around looking at the more practical, family oriented options.  “Someday,” I thought, “I’m going to own a Corvette.”

God had other plans, however, and called me into the pastoral ministry, which made it impossible for me to even consider such an expensive and impractical automobile.  Nevertheless, I still nurtured a secret passion in my soul for that two seater that would snap necks on take off, and turn heads as it flew by.  I’ve inwardly drooled over just about every generation of Corvette ever since.  The 1963 split window coupe is an all time favorite of mine.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really love the C4, and 5 iterations nearly as much as the early versions.  Somehow the smoothed-out fenders with bug-eye, pop-up headlamps never really did much for me.  But when the C6 Corvette came out in 2005 I fell in love all over again. 

Then, in 2014 Chevrolet did something that pushed me over the edge.  For the first time since 1983 they brought back the Stingray nameplate.  When I first saw a picture of the C7 Corvette Stingray online the styling took my breath away.  I knew I had to own one, but how?  Then, almost unbelievably, God graciously provided a once in a lifetime financial windfall that actually made it possible for me to consider such an outlandish idea.  At last, after almost 60 years of “wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin', plannin' and dreamin’ each night of [its] charms” (thank you, Dusty Springfield), I finally ordered my own 2016 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 coupe.  I was able to justify it, in part, as an investment, since it won’t be my daily driver.  Although it may never sell for more than its purchase price, it will retain a significant portion of its value for that day when my kids decide to sell it, after I’ve enjoyed it here on earth and can no longer drive it, or have moved on to better things in heaven.

I am delighted to praise the name of the gracious God I serve.  Throughout my entire lifetime God has consistently met every single need in my life.  I have never wanted for anything I truly had need of.  And on top of all that, God has time and time again fulfilled my wishes and longings for things that I really didn’t need, but only wanted to enjoy.  In fact, God has been so good that there were only two things left on my "bucket list." One is to ride my bike in France and watch a stage of the Tour de France.  I'm confident that God will one day make that too happen.  The other was to own a Corvette.

This gift of God's grace is one more example of His divine goodness, of which there is absolutely no merit or worthiness on my part, whatsoever.  It is just amazing that God would be so kind and generous to me!  But all of this is perfectly in line with the promises of His Word. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him.” (Psalm 145:18-19)  In this incredible piece of automotive engineering God certainly has fulfilled the "driving" desires of my heart. What else can I say but, “Thanks, Lord!”  Incidentally, that's the license plate I chose for my new "Vette." THXLRD!

Saturday, March 5, 2016

When Life Becomes Death

I just finished reading a book from the New York Times best seller list.  The book is entitled, "When Breath Becomes Air."  It was written by Paul Kalanithi.  Paul was a 36 year old neurosurgeon who died of lung cancer on March 9, 2015 almost two months to the day before Diana died.  Like Diana, he had never smoked, and was first diagnosed in Stage IV of the disease.  

Reading his book was profoundly difficult for me, but also healing in a very real sense.  It helped me relive some of the joys and sorrows Diana and I experienced during her battle with cancer.  It made me appreciate how good God was to us during the course of Diana's illness, allowing us to enjoy many good days, probably  many more than Paul did in the course of his battle. It also helped me see Diana's courage, grace, faith and hope, qualities that were clearly present in Paul's life as he fought against cancer.  

Paul died before he had the opportunity to finish his book.  The epilogue was written by his wife, Lucy. She wrote beautifully of the final days of Paul's life.  It was as though I was sitting once again in the easy chair in my study, next to Diana's hospital bed, holding her hand during her final days.  One paragraph she wrote was particularly poignant to me.

"Although these last few years have been wrenching and difficult— sometimes almost impossible— they have also been the most beautiful and profound of my life, requiring the daily act of holding life and death, joy and pain in balance and exploring new depths of gratitude and love." (Kalanithi, Paul (2016-01-12). When Breath Becomes Air (p. 219). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.) 

I've written before that at a certain level I was thankful for Diana's cancer, because it brought us closer together than ever before.  I now realize that it was also a blessing in many other ways.  It gave me the opportunity to serve Diana more lovingly and selflessly than I had ever done before.  It allowed me to see her faith profoundly at work in a terribly difficult time.  It truly was a time of "holding life and death, joy and pain in balance."  It absolutely did allow me to "explore new depths of gratitude and love," in my relationship with both Diana and our Lord.

Reading Paul's book was a little bit like tearing the scab off a wound before it was ready to come off on its own. As I read, I remembered and I wept.  It brought all my pain to the forefront again.  I believe, however that in the end I will heal better for having read it.  I strongly recommend it to anyone who would like to wrestle with the issues of life and death.  The truth is, every single one of us is terminally ill from sin.  And none of us, not even those diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer knows exactly when or how we will die.  But when we have our faith and hope securely anchored in Jesus, in the reality of his life, death, and resurrection, then we can die well no matter when or how we die, because we know with certainty that we will live forever.  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Just a Guy on a Bike... Again

I’ve been riding bikes for as long as I can remember.  My youth was filled with the usual bike related mishaps including one incident where all I remember is waking up flat on my back with my mother bending over me, willing me back to sentient existence.  This pre-helmet-era crash left me unconscious but fortunately, not permanently brain damaged.  My first geared bike was a five-speed Schwinn Continental that I rode many long miles on the back roads of southeastern Michigan.

Sundays while a student at the seminary were marked by leisurely rides through the park in Springfield, Illinois with my wife and our best friends.
By the time I became a father with two girls on bikes of their own, I had graduated to a ten-speed Continental.  It was a tank of a bike with steel everything, except the tires.  That Schwinn weighed more than either of my two young daughters, who danced on the pedals ahead of me as we followed the Illinois Prairie Path to the yogurt store several miles from our house.

A few years later, I bought a steel frame cross bike and rode various distances out and back on the Luce Line Trail between Wayzata and Hutchinson, Minnesota.  All this time I never considered myself a serious cyclist, just a guy who liked to ride his bike. Gradually I let myself get seriously out of shape.  By the time I was pastoring in Tacoma, Washington, biking was nothing more than a fading memory, even though I was only 53 years old.  Then my life changed, radically.

I was preparing a series of messages about the seven deadly sins.  Honestly, I was way too proud about the sins I thought I had under control: pride (ironically), sloth (despite my inactivity), wrath, lust, greed, and envy.  But the last one troubled me: gluttony.  Being seriously overweight at nearly 300 pounds, I came to the conviction that if I was going to preach on the subject of gluttony, I had better face it head on. Thus began a nine-month regimen of eating less while walking, swimming and working out at the gym.  It left me a hundred pounds lighter and pretty fit.

Even though I was as fit and trim as ever, I had never gotten back on the bike.  Then, one Sunday morning a friend overheard me talking about how I could keep off the weight I lost.  He asked if I owned a bicycle and I said, “Yes.”  He offered to meet me later in the week at the Foothills Trail near where we lived.  

It was a cold and damp late winter morning when I showed up in shorts and a sweatshirt with my now very dusty and slightly rusty ten-year-old cross bike. I looked at Michael and wondered if I made a mistake.  He had a bright and beautiful aluminum road bike with integrated brake and shift levers.  He looked the part of a serious cyclist in weather-appropriate tights and jacket, full-finger gloves and a helmet.  On top of all that, he was wearing some strange looking shoes that attached to his pedals, something I had never seen before.  As we headed out on the trail I told Michael to go easy on me.  I struggled to hold his wheel at a miserable 14 miles per hour, but I soon began to wonder if I might learn to enjoy riding my bike all over again.  

On our second ride just a week later, Michael took a left turn we hadn’t taken before and headed up Military Rd.  He didn’t warn me about what lay ahead. It was a mile long climb of over 500 feet, with grades as steep as 20%.  After a half-mile of climbing my legs felt like jelly, and I was forced to stop and rest.  Michael asked if I wanted to turn around and coast back down the hill. With all the strength I could muster I said, “No! Let’s finish it.”  By the time I reached the summit my legs and lungs burned with searing pain, but I hadn’t felt so good in 30 years.  I knew I was hooked!

It was shortly afterwards that Michael shared his dream with me.  He wanted to ride the “STP” and was looking for a partner.  The Seattle to Portland ride is one of the largest organized bike rides in the country. Most riders complete the 200-mile classic in two days. Michael wanted to finish the whole course in one day.  Was I interested in joining him? “Sure,” I replied almost glibly, while wondering internally about my own sanity.

We began our training and I soon realized that my sadly aging cross bike was not up to the task.  In my heart I already knew I was going to become a serious cyclist, so I decided to make a serious commitment.  I plunked down $1000 and bought a new aluminum road bike. I began to take turns with Michael pulling for the two of us.  Soon he suggested that I go whole hog and buy some cycling shoes and clipless pedals.  There was no turning back.  I practiced clipping in and out on the front lawn, but on the first outing I fell and fractured my right arm.  It was already April. The STP was roaring at me like a fully loaded freight train due in the yard on July 17, but nothing could stop me now.  One month after my fall I was back on my bike training hard.  I’ll never forget the first time our computers registered 100 miles during a ride.  Michael and I whooped and hollered. We even took a picture of the digits to make a record of our accomplishment.

When the day of the STP arrived, Michael and his wife picked me up at 4:00 am.  We left Seattle at 5:15 in the morning and didn’t arrive in Portland, Oregon until 8:15 that night, but we made it.  We had trained well and the weather was great. It proved to be a rather uneventful ride that didn’t weigh heavily on either our bodies or minds until the last 20 miles.  The thrill of victory was written all over my face as I crossed the finish line.  It finally registered in my head, “I’m a cyclist!  I’m a serious cyclist!” 

The STP was just the beginning.  I began gobbling up miles as though I were a glutton at a Thanksgiving feast.  My favorite ride became a 60-mile jaunt to Puget Sound and back.  I would regularly ride a solo century to Mercer Island.  Over the next four years I undertook every cycling challenge I could cram into my busy schedule as Senior Pastor of a large church.  

I rode a century for the benefit of a new charity called Ride4US.  I did the Courage Classic, covering more than 150 miles and climbing three mountain passes in three days.  I attempted the Ride Around Puget Sound (168 miles) but quit at 111 miles in a drenching rain. (A wrong turn had taken me down to the Hood Canal and forced me to do 700 feet of needless climbing to get back on course.)  I rode the Tour de Blast, climbing Mount St. Helens. The most beautiful ride of all was from Monterey to Cambria on Highway 1 along the California coast. A friend battling cancer asked me to join his Team in Training group on the Honolulu Century.  The most difficult ride was the day another friend and I started at the foot of Mount Rainier and climbed all they way to where the road ends at Sunrise. Then we turned around and rode back down the mountain.  It was 140 miles and 9000 feet of climbing in 12 hours.  

By now the members of my church were well aware of my cycling exploits. They honored me for Pastor Appreciation Month with the gift of a new high-end carbon fiber road bike.  It was the same bike used by Tour de France champions!  It was sleek, light, fast and beautiful, a better bike than I could have ever bought myself.  It was a better bike than I deserved, for the caliber of cyclist I had become.  Yes, I was strong and could ride a long distance, but I wasn’t fast.  Nevertheless, the road was calling and I was answering on the best bike I had never dreamed of owning! It was as though I was possessed.  I couldn’t get enough time or miles on the bike.  I had become a cycling fanatic in a cycling frenzy!

When I received a three-month sabbatical leave from my congregation, I decided to spend part of the time raising funds for Ride4US by riding my bike from Canada to Mexico.  Over three weeks I rode from the Canadian border in Washington State, down through Oregon and California, to the Mexican border in San Diego.  I treasured both the miles and the adventure.  The sights, sounds and smells of the Pacific Ocean provided an ever-changing kaleidoscopic backdrop for my ride.  It was the cycling odyssey of a lifetime and I relished every mile of it.

Two years and several thousand miles later, I took an early retirement from full-time ministry and moved to Texas to be near family.  I envisioned myself circumnavigating the Texas Hill Country, pounding out century after century in my newly acquired leisure time.  Instead, I found that my life as a cyclist had entered a new phase.  

As I explored the roads and hills around our new home, I experienced the pleasure of going on shorter rides at a more relaxed pace.  I realized I didn’t have to ride my body into the pavement to achieve something of value on my bike.  Now my average ride is 20 to 30 miles.  My average pace is 13 not 18 mph.  My purpose is to celebrate the bike, not conquer the road.  My goal is simple, to enjoy the ride.

In addition, I’m once again experiencing the joy of riding with a child.  This time it’s my grandson who scurries ahead of me, like my daughters did so many years before.  Sometimes, I pull my younger grandson in a trailer while my older grandson rides along.  It’s a totally different kind of riding than the fierce, hard-driven endurance cycling that marked my middle 50’s.  It’s more like the riding I did before I became a “serious cyclist.”  It’s riding my bike just for the fun of it.

I’m thankful for the season in my life when centuries were the norm. I had some terrific experiences.  I saw some tremendous sights.  I made some great friends.  I conquered some significant challenges, both physically and mentally.  But I am also thankful that just as I began my life simply riding a bike, now I can wrap it up by riding my bike for the fun of it.  It’s good to be just a guy on a bike… again.