God’s Work, My Response

A few days ago, I was looking back through my thoughts from past devotional time as I worked through Romans. I happened upon a reflection based on Romans 3:21-31. I am using the Daily Quiet Time Bible. In the section Applying the Word, this question is asked: “In what ways might you feel or act differently if you more fully grasped what Jesus has done for you?” I answered this way:

Being reminded often of the sacrifice of Jesus on my behalf is important. It is stunning to consider the fact that God put forth his son to satisfy the requirements of his justice and holiness. Any consideration of Jesus sacrifice must have an impact on the way we live our lives.

My reflection is centered on God’s work for us.
God created everything. He created us not because he needed fellowship. Indeed he had perfect fellowship within himself in the Godhead. God desired different fellowship with those who loved and worshiped him and enjoyed an unbroken connection and love relationship with him. In order that we might truly love God, he had to give us the free choice to choose not to love him. In the intervening millenniums, God continues to call us back to himself.
The truth is humanity continues to pull away from God. We continue to reflect brokenness. In my experience, the brokenness around us causes many to seek answers. Many people ask, “Is this all there is?”
Indeed in Ecclesiastes 3:11b, the Preacher writes: “…he has put eternity into man’s heart…” St. Augustine wrote,

Thou has made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.

Human beings are different than any other of God’s creatures in that we long for the face of God. C. S. Lewis said,

Our Heavenly Father has provided many delightful inns for us along our journey, but he takes great care to see that we do not mistake any of them for home.

There is a longing for home. From deep within the human spirit comes a call for more than life can offer. This itch which we cannot scratch is part of God’s plan.
955167D072AC5CF820FC5B697821FE1E41CCFDC3During this season of Lent, we are apt to spend more time than in most other parts of the year reflecting on the sacrifice of Christ. Many of us know John 3:16 where we read: “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (New Living Translation). In our familiarity with this passage, we should not take it lightly. The Romans chose crucifixion because they wanted a form of execution that was slow and painful. In his book, Witness the Passion: Discover the Hope, Embrace the Power, Experience the Grace, Richard Exley does a very skilful job of describing the crucifixion from the perspective of the Roman centurion who was in charge of Jesus crucifixion. What I write here is a summary of his words.
The cross beam is fitted beneath the prisoner’s shoulders and his arms are extended along its length. Soldiers hold them in place while the executioner probes the little hollow spot just below the hand.

Once he finds it, his movements are swift and sure. He takes a five-inch, square-cut spike, places it against the wrist, and with one blow, he drives it through the hand and into the wood. Moving to the other arm, he repeats the process.

Standing to his feet, he motions for the other soldiers to lift the cross beam into place on the upright planted in the ground.

A pair of soldiers grasp each side of the timber and lift until the mortise can be fitted over the tenon, forming a cross.

Next the executioner kneels before the cross and with the aid of other soldiers, positions the prisoner’s right foot on top of the left, being careful to make sure his legs are bent at the knees. With a measured blow, he drives a third five-inch spike through both feet and into the hard wood. Due to the weight his body, and the V-shape of his arms, the victim is forced to push and lift himself up and down the cross to take a short ragged breath. Over time, the victim will become exhausted and eventually he will die of asphyxiation.
Crucifixion was the most horrendous method of execution ever devised. It was meant to maximize the pain of the victim and send a gruesome message to any who were considering defying Rome.
My friend, Jesus Christ has done this to give us right standing before God. In the comment section below, I invite you to consider the question I noted above: “In what ways might you act differently if you more fully grasped what Jesus has done for you?”

3 Ways Creatives Can Overcome The “Resistance”

the resistanceIn his book, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield introduces us to The Resistance, anything that would keep us from our creative endeavors. Several months ago, I met The Resistance. It was not a good meeting. This post is the first new material written by me in almost a year. For half of that time, I wanted to write. I always found a reason not to. I’ll be vulnerable and share a part of my story. Then I will offer you three simple steps you can take as you seek to overcome the resistance.

If you look around my blog, you know I am an active duty chaplain. I am in my second billet (our word for job) as a chaplain. As I came into this battalion of Marines, I was aware we would deploy for several months during my time as the Battalion Chaplain. Along the way in my first year with this unit, we informed we would leave in the first part of 2014 to the island of Okinawa. This was not a combat deployment. As any Marine, or their chaplain will tell you, our deployment was an “easy” one. We went from working at Camp Lejeune, NC to working on Okinawa, and throughout the Pacific area of responsibility. The deployment lasted from mid-February to late August.

I came into 2014 as I do every year. I sat down over my Christmas and New Years break and worked through my goals for the upcoming year. I wrote out my goals knowing more time would be available. My family would remain here in North Carolina while I away. Vicki would assume the parenting role. My time (when not working), would be mine to use as I saw fit. My rationale was I needed to fill my extra time with bigger goals. Among other goals, I planned on reading through my back log of books, writing more than I am home being a husband and dad, and completing a writing course. The day came for us to board a plane and wing our way to the little Japanese island halfway around the world. Several hours after landing, I received a key to an efficiency apartment, my home for the next several months.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when resistance hit. It came in increments. I would sit down to read, and wouldn’t feel like it. I’d decide it was time to write, and the words wouldn’t come. “I’ll come back to it later,” I’d tell myself. “When I settle and get used to being here, then I’ll write, then I’ll read. For now, I’ll watch a movie.” At first, it was appropriate for me to say these things. I was on a small island surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. I would be away from my family for 6 months. The problem is I kept saying it. I bowed to the resistance. I read part of one book and wrote part of one blog post. Lest the reader believe I did nothing while away from my family, I preached about 1/3 of the Sundays I was on the island, and I completed lengthy study for an intensive professional qualification. This qualification required passing a difficult written test and a challenging oral board.

For me, resistance came as the emotional challenge of being away from my family. I missed my family intensely. I missed the strength I draw from my wife and children. There were no kisses from my wife.  No hugs from my children. I laid alone on the bed at night. At first, being able to stretch out was a luxury. After a while, it became a burden. This was the longest I had been away from my family. I misjudged how much the separation would affect me.

And then I returned home. Over time, I adjusted to being a father and husband again. We came back August 19, 2014 and the progress of overcoming the resistance since then has been slow. After a good chunk of vacation, I went back to work. Just now, I have written my first new post and my ability to focus on a book for an extended period has come back.

As I look back, there were ways of overcoming the resistance. The old axiom is “Hindsight is 20/20.” In what remains of this post, I will point out three things that would have helped me overcome the malaise that kept me from completing my personal goals. May my experience benefit others who are facing a deadness toward accomplishing important personal goals.

Three ways you can overcome the resistance:

1) Be a better student of yourself

I’ve been walking on this earth for more than 40 years. I think I know myself well. In the months leading up to the deployment, we left for shorter periods of time for required training. The challenge of being away from my family was tiring. During these times of being gone, my motivation toward accomplishment was not the same. Through the glasses of hindsight, I see my goals were audacious. I set my sights to high. I didn’t take into account the emotional impact of being away from my family. In normal circumstances, my goals were realistic. Since I’ve been away from my family for an extended period, I know better what to expect. Being a better student of myself is one of the important ways I can beat back the resistance.

2) Plan strategic, small wins

The second strategy for overcoming the resistance is to plan strategic, small wins. In his post, How to Make the Most of Your Momentum When Getting Things Done, Henry Lui writes “Small wins are key to building momentum and sustaining it.” As look back over my time on Okinawa, many things would have given me a sense of small wins. Below are three examples:

  1. A goal of completing one lesson in my Tribe Writer course.
  2. Read one chapter from a book.
  3. Committed to write for 30 minutes.

Over time, small wins help create momentum and help break down the wall of resistance.

3) Set smaller, short-term goals

In my goal setting for 2015, I focused on 90 day goals. Tom Mendoza writes about this idea in his post called 90-Day Goals Changed My Life: Here’s My System.

In 2014, I set audacious goals for reading, writing and completion of a professional qualification. Unlike this year, I set six month goals (matching the length of the deployment). When I realized I would not make my goals, I shut them down. Goals with a 90 day time frame would allow me to revise my goals. Once I understood the emotional impact of being away, I could have reset my goals to ones that could be completed.

In what I wrote above, I let you see a time of my life when I let The Resistance stop me cold. I listed three strategies:

  1. Be a better student of yourself
  2. Plan strategic, small wins
  3. Set smaller, short-term goals

I hope that these hard learned strategies will help you beat back The Resistance during challenging times of your life. I’m like to read your have strategies for overcoming The Resistance in the comments section.

An Unwelcome Intruder: Two Reflections on Death

death3As a Navy Chaplain, I have the unfortunate privilege of presiding over memorial services for fallen Marines. Wednesday is such an occasion. I will lead my Marines, Sailors and the family in celebrating the life and mourning the death of a young 21-year-old Marine. Philip was a son, a brother and a friend.

I used the phrase “unfortunate privilege” above for a specific reason. There are few times when I challenge the entire group of Marines that I serve. Memorial services are such a time for me. I always use the opportunity to call my men to challenge my Marines to survey their lives. Below is part of my thoughts from the service I will lead at 9:00 AM Eastern Time on February 4, 2015.

With death comes grief. Phil’s death left a void in the midst of a family and an extended family. God can fill that void, answer our questions and grant us peace surpassing  understanding. We need only ask. The Scripture tells us God is a friend who will never leave us nor forsake us. In Isaiah 41:10 we read:

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Death will come to everyone. Below are two short reflections on how we should respond to death:

The brevity and uncertainty of life

Everyone have goals for our lives. We might want to get our college degree and we set career goals. We might want to get married, have children, and grow old with our spouse. The present moment to serve God and our neighbors. It is in the present moment when we can make sure we make every moment count. We have now to maximize the opportunities are laid before us.

We must be ready to die

Death is not the end; it is the start of our life in eternity. Death is a doorway, a portal to eternal life: a life without end. In my Christian faith tradition, death is not victorious. In 1 Corinthians 15:55, we read:

O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
When we close our eyes to this life, we open our eyes to eternal life.

We must be ready to stand before a righteous God who will either be our Savior, or our Judge. When your death comes, how will God respond to you? If you are not ready to die, I pray that the death of our fellow Marine will be an instrument God will use to turn your heart toward him.
Amen

Dear reader, death is coming. If you are not ready to meet your creator, I pray you will respond to the call of the Holy Spirit this day and that you will welcome Jesus Christ to take up residence in your heart today. I welcome any thoughts in the comment section.

Every Body Matters: Second Thoughts

everybodymattersThis post is a follow-up to what I wrote in my Every Body Matters post. I challenged the reader with the idea that taking care of our bodies is an act of worship to God. I quoted Gary Thomas, the author of Every Body Matters: Strengthening Your Body to Strengthen Your Soul:

Christians who don’t take their health seriously don’t take their mission seriously. What we’re saying by our actions is, “My life doesn’t really matter.”

Today, I offer practical thoughts on why fitness is important and how you can make it a part of your life.
The Apostle Paul wrote “…for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way…” (1 Timothy 4:8). Notice Paul did not say bodily training is of no value. He said it is of some value. The comparison here is between the physical (our earthly lives) and godliness (which holds promise for our present life and the one to come).

There is another reality at play here. William Lane Craig writes:

…we live a sedentary society vastly different from the society in which Paul lived and wrote. Much of people’s daily lives at that time consisted of what we would call exercise. Just think how Jesus walked all over Palestine! People in that day and age weren’t the couch potatoes we tend to be today.

To be considered physically fit, three main criteria are considered:

  1. Your eating habits include eating a well-balanced diet. Here are two informative sites: HelpGuide.org, Mayo Clinic Nutrition-wise blog
  2. Maintain your weight within standards for a person of your height and body style: HealthCheckSystems
  3. Fitness is gained from a 30 minute session of moderately intense physical movement on most or all days per week. Physical movement of this type should allow you to carry on a conversation with some effort. You should see a moderate increase in your heart rate. Check out CDC.gov for more information.

Every person should exercise because of the tremendous worth they have as people made in God’s image and to improve their effectiveness in fulfilling the mission to which God has called them. In addition, here are four well-known benefits of maintaining a physically active lifestyle (are many more could be listed):

  • Exercise is a great way to reduce stress
  • Psychological well-being and reducing depression and anxiety
  • Reducing the risk of high blood pressure and related cardiovascular disease
  • Physical activity can help with weight control

Every person can include physical fitness into their life and is a responsible to do so.
We can make time for exercise. We must make adjustments to our schedule and our priorities. At different times of my journey, I maintained I did not have time for exercise. The truth is I did not manage my schedule and my priorities well.

In his book Wordsmithy, Douglas Wilson writes about time as it relates to finding time to develop the writing life. His words apply to finding time for what we’re trying to prioritize. Here are his words (Wilson apportions 60 hours to work (40 hours for the work that pays the bills, 20 hours to developing the writing life)):

A week has a total of 168 hours in it. Sixty hours of work leaves 108, and 8 hours of sleep a night take away another 56 hours, leaving you with 52 hours a week to play tag in the backyard with the kids. [I’d add: to fit in 30-60 minutes most days of the week to exercise.]

I want the reader to notice the only thing Wilson fills those 52 hours is playing tag with the kids. Elsewhere I noted the average American invests 116 minutes per day watching television (I’ve been guilty). Most of us have time we can invest better. We make time for what we value.

@RonEdmonson wrote a blog post he called 5 Clever Ways I Find Time to Exercise. Here is his list:

  • Work on the elliptical (I can’t do this. Since I am a “people helper” in my work, exercise gives me needed solitude in my day)
  • Exercise on lunch break (my regular practice)
  • Walk to talk (With your spouse, co-worker, friend, children)
  • Mental breaks (Exercise is a great way to push out the mental cobwebs)
  • Prayer time is a sweating opportunity (Can you pray when you run, walk, ride your bike? Some can, some can’t)

Ron’s list gives us great ideas for incorporating fitness into our life.

Wherever you are today, I challenge you to continue improving.
Your past relationship to fitness does not have to dictate how you relate to it now.

Dear reader: Will you commit to a regular practice of fitness? Please share your fitness goals for this year in the comments section.

3 Ways of Growing In Christ

tree1.jpgSuccessful people aren’t smarter, more gifted, nor luckier. Their habits fan the flame of their success. Those who succeed in business are self-starters, goal oriented, have strong priorities, and think of others when making business deals.

The author of Psalm 1 identifies three practices important in our course toward success.

Don’t Follow The Crowd

We are going along to get along when we follow the crowd. We should engage with people whose values differ from ours, while not allowing their habits and conduct to influence us.

In Psalm 1:1, King David writes:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…

Notice the different levels of engagement. As we walk by others in the hallway, we greet them in a casual way. And we might stop for a short conversation. We are most engaged when we sit to converse.

The level of fellowship we have with people whose values differ from ours can lead us away from pursuits that will take us in right directions for our lives. Wrong desires lead to wrong actions that can lead to death of dreams.

When Walt Disney came up with a brainstorm he pitched the idea to ten people. If everyone was against it, he set to work on the project. His lesson learned was the crowd isn’t always right.

Adopt A One Track Mind

We are to delight in right thinking.

In Psalm 1:2 we read this:

…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Keeping destructive thoughts from our minds requires vigilance. The Apostle Paul gives us good guidance in gaining a one track mind:

Finally brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8).

Gain Deeply Rooted Core Values

In Psalm 1:3-4 we read:

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

A life not grounded by strong core values is as chaff and influenced by the surrounding culture. A person with a grounded life is as a tree planted by rivers of water. Sturdy and resilient trees are well watered and stay solid when storms come.

A life rooted by core values will stand strong in the face of challenges from those who seek to sway you from your path.
Forming our character takes time. We must:

  1. Commit to do what is right (Don’t follow the crowd)
  2. Keep an honest and pure heart (Get a one track mind)
  3. Be patient (Gain core values that run deep)

The Apostle Paul said it this way:

And let us not become weary in doing well, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).