Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What Is At Your Core

While in athletic training at Penn State University, we would always talk to our athletes about training their "core."  Your core muscles ... abs, hips, obliques, lower and middle back ... this is where power comes from.  A strong core allows you to generate power when you need it and speed when you need it.  A strong core allows you to change direction quickly when you need to.  And, it also helps prevent injury.  Even if you have strong "mirror muscles," and by that I mean the ones we like to flex in the mirror (biceps, triceps, chest, legs) ... you know, the ones you wish were as muscular as mine ... even if you have strong mirror muscles, one won't be as powerful as they could be if their core muscles are weak because the core is where the power comes from.  It doesn't matter what activity you're doing, strong core muscles will just help you perform better.

In life, I think it's the same, especially for men.  If our center is right, if our core is strong, we'll get the most out of life.  But, if all we're doing if focusing our efforts on those "mirror muscles" of life ... the things that may make us look good or even feel good, we will not be functioning at our highest level.

The picture above illustrates this.  I caught some of these thoughts from two guys: John Woodall and David Benner and I thought they were very powerful.  Men tend to run to 5 different areas to escape life or to find life:  

1) The Ball Field.  This represents a man's desire for recreation.  For some it's playing sports.  For others it's watching sports.  For others it's music or art or video games.  It's basically our hobbies and they can easily become a place of escape or a place of identity.

2) Our Brain.  It's our intellect, our ability to reason, our desire to sound like we know what we're talking about.  If I can prove myself through my capacity to reason or my ability to figure things out, a whole lot of respect can come with that. It's nice to feel like the smartest person in the room ... or so I've heard anyway.  Another way we use our brains is by philosophizing so much that we use it as a defense to keep people at bay and at such a distance that we never really let anyone in.

3) The Boardroom.  This is our job.  One of the very first things God did after creating Adam was give him a job.  He said "subdue the earth ... rule over it."  I believe God has placed within our souls a desire for something great or to be a part of something great.  This is not a bad thing.  But, as men, we know that it's really easy to get lost in our careers.  In the Bible I'm told to love my family and do my job.  The problem comes when I get that reversed ... when I love my job but just do my family.  

4) The Bedroom.  This represents our sexual desire.  When God created us, He gave us these desires and it's a beautiful thing!  My wife and I have 4 kids and I thoroughly enjoyed my part in making our each one of them!  But, as men, again we recognize that this God-given desire can become a place of escape or a place to try to find life.  A sexual conquest can make us feel powerful.  Pornography can give us the illusion of intimacy.  So much hurt can come out of this one area when used selfishly.

5) Our Bank Account.  God gives us the ability to make wealth.  So many are really good at this and can take a little and turn it in to a lot.  But, Psalm 62:10 reminds us that "though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them."  It's so easy for us to set our hearts on money because with money comes a sense of power.  

Here is the picture again.  Just a couple of observations.  First, these are the areas of life where men begin to compare and compete with each other.  We never win when we do this.  When we compare ourselves to other men, we'll either see them and think they are better than us (which can lead to a sense of shame and create envy).  Or we'll see them and think we're a whole lot better than them (which leads to a sense of pride and arrogance).  We never win when we compare.

Second, these are the areas of life where men wake up one day and realize how lonely and isolated they feel.  We are told that these things will give us life, but we find ourselves more isolated.  And, the reason we feel this way is because something is missing from this picture.  Can you see it?  What is missing is the "core."  The core is empty.  The core is weak.  One can be strong in all of those other areas and yet still be weak because strength does not come from any of these areas.  Our strength comes from our core and the only One capable of penetrating our core is Jesus.  

Sometimes we think that a rich and satisfying life happens by being strong in one or all of those 5 areas.  But, as people get older, they will often start to realize that all of those things are not what they thought they would be.  And, the same guys that made a ton of money when they were younger would cash it all in to get their family back or their marriage back or their life back.

We have an enemy who wants to steal what is most important to us, kill our closest relationships, and destroy the sense of authentic manhood that God has placed within us as men.  And, he does that by always trying to move one of those 5 areas to the center and moving Jesus to the extremities.  Those 5 areas were never meant to be the source of life and they will never hold up to that weight and pressure.  A full, meaningful, productive, purposeful life starts with Jesus at the core and allowing Him to saturate our very being.  He's the only One capable of carrying that weight and when He does, we'll discover that we are not (and were never meant to be) defined by what we do but rather by who we are ... a man who walks with Jesus ... a very son of the living God.

Those 5 areas were never meant to be the source of life, but they were designed to be expressions of life.  And, just like physically ... when our core is stronger, our extremities become stronger ... I believe it's the same in a spiritual sense.  When we allow Jesus to become the focus of our attention, the source of our life, the one who fills and strengthens our core ... when that happens, all of those other things only become stronger.  They finally become what they were meant to be all along.  

So, what is at your core?  It's a question you need to answer because your core determines the direction of everything else. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Christian and Government

For the longest time, my thoughts on government came from watching SNL skits.  This certainly reflects my age a bit, but I sit here with a smile on my face thinking of some of the hilarious bits SNL has done over the years with presidential candidates or debates ... the Joyride w/ Ross Perot and James Stockdale, Dana Carvey and Will Ferrell playing George W. and George Sr., and the President Reagan Mastermind are some of my favorites.  You can probably tell that I wasn't all that engaged in governmental at the time, but I sure did laugh a lot.  But, as I've gotten older and have had kids, I'm certainly more interested in what goes on in Washington ... especially since I live 40 minutes away now!

At church yesterday, Pastor Mark gave a really good message on how our Christian faith can intersect with our government and what our role as followers of Jesus should be.  It was really good. I just want to briefly share some thoughts from it:

1. We live in a broken world.  Imagine a 4-way intersection with no stop signs, traffic light, or semblance of order.  People would be on their best behavior, right? No accidents. No horns blaring. No "fingers" pointed.  Yeah, right.  We live in a world that is broken because of the effects of sin.  Government is God's provision for the effects for mankind's fallenness ... to reward good and punish evil ... to help provide a sense of order. (Romans 13:2 - 4)  

2. Broken people are in government office.  Fallen people are in our government which means they are not perfect. Some are honest. Some are dishonest. Some are wise. Some ... not so much. They all make mistakes and yet God is still Sovereign and in control. God simply isn't in control of my world. He's in control of THE world. Proverbs 21:1 reminds us that "The king's heart is like stream of water directed by the LORD; He guides it wherever He pleases."  

3. It's easy to joke and complain about our government.  How about we pray for it instead. As followers of Jesus, we have the incredible opportunity and duty to pray for those in office.  If God guides the "king's" heart "wherever He pleases," let's pray that God guides it in the way of wisdom and integrity and morality and ultimately toward Him. (1 Timothy 2:1 - 2)

4. Followers of Jesus have the opportunity to engage our government.  Abraham Lincoln once said, "Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed."  In our system of government, we have the incredible privilege of stating our opinion, of sharing our voice.  We can express how we feel and can bring our Christian values in to the arena.  Sometimes we'll see things go the way we desire and other times we will not. When it doesn't, remember number 5 ...

5. Followers of Jesus have the opportunity to be the best citizens.  (Mark 12:13 - 14)  Andy Stanley once said, "We can make a point or we can make a difference."  It's easy to make a point.  All you need is a sign or a megaphone or a Facebook account or a blog.  But, making a difference ... that's much more difficult.  To make a difference, we have to be willing to be involved and love our neighbors and sacrifice ... even with people who disagree with us or with whom we disagree.  It can get messy and there are no easy answers.  But, ultimately, we need to be a light in the darkness and be an arrow pointing to Jesus.  Something Mark said was really powerful.  "Sometimes Christians become so heavenly minded that we make no earthly difference."  Let's make a difference. 

6. Followers of Jesus can make a difference.  Someone noted that democratic governments usually are not conquered from the outside. They usually crumble on the inside.  They stated the following pattern:  

These nations have progressed through the following sequence:
  • From Bondage to Spiritual Faith
  • From Spiritual Faith to Great Courage 
  • From Courage to Liberty 
  • From Liberty to Abundance 
  • From Abundance to Selfishness 
  • From Selfishness to Complacency 
  • From Complacency to Apathy 
  • From Apathy to Dependency 
  • From Dependency back into Bondage
Number 5 is hi lighted because this is where Christians can draw a line in the sand and say "No further."  Abundance doesn't have to lead to selfishness.  As followers of Jesus we recognize that abundance comes from God and can lead to generosity and caring and selflessness because of how Jesus has changed our heart.  We are responsible for pursuing Jesus and allowing Him to be the center of our lives.  Love and generosity are just a natural result of that. 

It's easy to complain and, those of us who vote have that right. But, are we looking at the "sawdust" in everyone else' eyes and neglecting the "plank" in our own?  (Matthew 7:3 - 4) Let's try to remember that "our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."(Ephesians 6:10)  When we make "flesh and blood" the enemy, our real enemy always wins.  Let's remember who the real enemy is "and maintain good conduct among the non-Christians, so that though they now malign you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God when he appears." (1 Peter 2:12)

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Eyes of Belief

I'm a graduate of Penn State University (WE ARE ... ).  While there, I studied athletic training, which meant I had the opportunity to work with a few of the different sports teams. One semester I worked with the men's basketball team.  Anyway, being a part of the Big 10 meant that, occasionally, some of the games would be televised on ESPN.  One night Penn State was playing I.U. and the game was going to be televised on ESPN 2.  So, I called my mom and let her know that if she turned on ESPN 2 at 7:30pm, she might see me on TV.  She was super excited about the possibility.  So, the game ends, Penn State loses, and at 10:30pm I receive a phone call.  It's my mom.  She says, "I saw you on TV tonight."  And, I'm like, "Oh, you did.  Good."  And she says, "You were number 32, right?  Wow, you're really good.  I didn't realize you were that good at basketball!"  And, so, I have to break it to my mom that I don't actually PLAY for Penn State.  It was a sad realization for my mom ... especially when she realized I wasn't on a full-ride scholarship and that some tuition money would be due at the end of the month.

Well, there are a few things about this story I want you to know:
  • # 32 was the best player on the team
  • Only a mom would think her  5'8" slightly pudgy son with speed somewhere between a sloth and turtle could be a Division 1 basketball player.
  • It felt really good to be looked at with such belief
I don't know about you, but it feels really good to be looked at through the eyes of someone who really believes in you ... who sees past the problems and in to the potential.  One of the greatest gifts we can offer another person is our trust and the simple words "I believe in you."  The poet Goethe once wrote: "Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be and he will become as he can and should be."  I think this is the same thing God does for us.  All throughout the Bible you can see that God has a pattern of choosing the least likely:
  • Gideon ... He was hiding from the enemy and when the angel of the LORD appeared to him, the first thing He called him was a "Mighty Warrior."  (Judges 6:12)
  • Moses ... He wanted nothing to do with God's call on his life.  He tried everything to get out of it and gave God every excuse in the book. God said, "I am sending you and I will be with you."  (Exodus 3)
  • The Disciples ... Jesus called each of them personally and I doubt that anyone else would have picked them first for the team.  He chose them even though they were called "unschooled, ordinary men."  (Acts 4)
  • The Apostle Paul ... He persecuted the church! No one believed in him until one day Jesus met him on his way to Damascus. (Acts 9)
God seems to display this pattern in the Bible of choosing the least likely ... of choosing someone who doesn't think they are up to the challenge and then just pouring courage in to their lives and speaking to their potential and, most of all, offering them Himself.  "You can do this. I believe in you. And, most of all, I am with you. Let your courage come from Me."

I think that is ultimately what we are called to do as well.  Hebrews 10:24 reminds us to "Consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds."  Our job is to consider how we can do this.  Who can we express belief in? Who can we offer trust too?  Who can we pour courage in to?  How can we move people toward these things.  I think one way is simply by sharing the simple words "I believe in you."  

In his book, The 8th Habit, author Steven Covey discussed an experience he had early in life when someone expressed belief in him.  He said "he entrusted me with a charge and responsibility far beyond my experience and perceived ability. He gave me his trust, without evidence, without proof. He simply believed and expected I would rise to the challenge, and he treated me accordingly. It was an act of faith. But that act of faith so affirmed my worth and potential that I was inspired to see it in myself. His faith in me increased my own faith and vision of myself. I aspired to the highest and most noble inclinations within me. I was not perfect, but how I grew! It also became a philosophy of life to me. Affirm people. Affirm your children. Believe in them, not in what you see but in what you don’t see— their potential."

This is exactly the pattern God has set for us.  He entrusts us with the responsibility of loving others. He entrusts us with living out our faith. Someone once said, "God's church has a mission but even more amazingly God's mission has a church!"  He sees our "junk" and knows about it even more than we do and yet He invites us to be a part of the greatest thing He's doing in the world today ... building His Church.  

Who is someone you can encourage today?  How can you consider how to spur someone on toward love and good deeds?  I have a few people in mind for me.  I want them to know what it feels like to be looked at through the eyes of someone who really believes in them.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

My Dear Friend Coni

Let me tell you about my dear friend Coni. For starters ... she's dying. Just a few months ago she was diagnosed with cancer. It rapidly spread throughout her body and, unless God miraculously intervenes, it appears it's only a matter of time until she meets Jesus.

Coni is truly an inspiration. Polio has caused her to be in a wheel chair for many years but I have seen this "disabled" woman do more than would have ever been expected of her. I could make a list of all of her accomplishments (and they would be many) but I'd rather just tell you about who she is as a person because it's not her accomplishments that have left of mark on my life.  It's simply her.

Coni is in love with Jesus. If you've ever listened to her story, you'd understand that when Jesus touched her life, she was never the same. You could see it in her smile. You could see it in her eyes. You could hear it in her words. You could see it in her actions. She was just crazy about Jesus and He was her hope and ultimate joy.

Coni is a woman filled with passion. Passion is a great equalizer.  And, her passion to serve and inspire and encourage and to stand up for what is right and to meet needs allowed her to persevere and get more done when others ... maybe stronger and more healthy physically ... gave up. Coni just didn't quit. 

Coni is an amazing woman of prayer. I can't even begin to tell you how many times she let me know that she was praying for me and my family. My family and many other families have countless prayers lifted up for us because of Coni. I believe the effect of those prayers will linger long after she is gone.

Coni is full of compassion. I'm not sure I've ever met anyone so willing to serve and so full of compassion. She allowed Jesus to fill her soul and she gave to others out of the overflow. I would often watch her interact with others ... especially with others who were suffering from either a mental or physical disability ... and I was truly amazed at her patience, her love, and her compassion. 

Coni is an encourager.  I left every interaction with her feeling loved ... every single one. Even when I intentionally tried to be an encouragement to her, I was always the one who left feeling encouraged. 

Coni is a gift giver. Toys. Candy. Clothes. Stuffed animals. Coni always thought of our kids on holidays and even randomly throughout the year. She gave so much to our kids. The fact that this woman, who was incredibly busy herself, always made the time to give something to our kids and to many other kids at Grace Community Church in Goshen ... again, she just did more than was ever expected of her and it was her love for others that inspired her to do it. 

Coni is not perfect. She would be the first to admit it.  We are all broken in some way. But, more than anything else, Coni is a beautiful daughter of God who, because of the cross is holy, without blemish, and blameless before God. (Colossians 1:22)  Her body may be broken, but her soul has been healed. She is a beautiful woman because she is loved by God. 

My family is better because of knowing Coni and her legacy will live on in our lives. So, Coni, I truly am amazed at all you've accomplished, but your value was never in that. Your worth and purpose and identity and beauty was always found in the Savior you loved not in the work you loved. And, it was you ... the person ... that truly touched my life and I will be forever grateful. 

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