Posts Tagged ‘Perseverance’

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RACE MODE – April 25

April 25, 2014

“You were running well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”  Galatians 5:7

I have six weeks to go until the Ironman Boise 70.3. Time has slipped past quicker on the calendar than the asphalt has passed beneath me since my decision to enter (The Agnostic will never be an Ironman). My training has been very consistent yet my time-on-legs has not accumulated as rapidly as I would have liked.

Two rules of thumbs have come to press me into an uncomfortable dilemma. I need to add running miles slowly to avoid injury. Yet, I need to begin tapering from my longest run, three weeks before race day so I will be fresh when it really matters. I have been adding one mile per week. If I get in a 10 mile run this weekend, then I can get to 13 miles over the next three weeks, just in time before I need to start backing off.

It will all work out as long as I stay on schedule.

However, the weather has not been cooperating with my schedule. This last week has been full of rain and wind that has completely kept me off the bike and has forced me to limit my runs. I look to the forecast of the weekend without much hope of a break in the weather.  I need to get in a long run, but that will probably mean a miserable run in a cold, driving, rain.

My race day looms through the gloom of storms. The storm front will not push my race day back.  I will either have to endure through uncomfortable training conditions or face the disappointment of not being ready on race day.

If a race did not occupy a spot on my calendar, I would not train in inclement weather. I would not go out in miserable conditions when they could be avoided by delay. I would not strive to improve at the expense of unnecessary discomfort.  There is no need to endure the uncomfortable when there is plenty of time to train or there is no race on the horizon.

We train differently when we are in race mode. We have to demonstrate more self-control in our training when we are striving to do well in a race. Therefore, I will be going for a run this weekend. I hope it does not rain but I am resolved not to let the weather detour me from my goal.10299087_634665106615225_8860704770501170396_n

The same is true of our spiritual training. We live differently when we are in race mode.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

We all have a day coming when we cross the finish line of life. Will we finish well? Are we striving to obtain the prize? The storm clouds of life will not push back our final day. That glorious day should loom through all the momentary gloom of daily cares.

Yet, I do not see a lot of folks living in race mode. The self-control of spiritual disciplines is quickly discarded at the hint of inclement conditions.

Evening prayers are shortened to accommodate late-night TV.
Comfort is sought in ice cream rather than our Savior.
Praise of men governs a prideful tongue.
Charity is withheld in lieu of vacation.
Ministry is replaced by a nap.
Envy flourishes in the discontentment of loss.
Worship of flesh replaces praise of the Almighty.
Harsh words are not withheld due to unrestrained anxiety.
Morning bible reading is discarded for minutes of additional sleep.

It is easy for the cares of this world to throw us off our game. Self-control is difficult when the pressure and discomfort of a sinful will wars against our redeemed soul. It is easy to surrender to our sinful passions when we are living as if there is no finish line and cease to strive for the prize.

We do not live aimlessly. Our self-control is not in vain. We are following Christ in order to obtain the prize of eternal life. We are striving in our spiritual training to glorify the God we love and to enjoy Him daily. We say  “no” to our flesh because we are in a race for the glory of God and we only have so many days to the finish line.

Let’s not waste a day of training.  May we continue to follow Christ even when the world around us is miserable and we just want to stay in bed.  The finish line is coming and none of us knows the day.  What is hindering you from running well?

I think this video by John Piper, Make War, is excellent at describing the attitude we Christians should live in.

PRAYER: Father, keep me in race mode. Lord, help me to make war on my sinful flesh.  Don’t let me be live like there will always be another day to glorify you.  Help me to number my days.  Give me the strength to follow you in the foulest of circumstances.  Give me the perseverance to always strive forward in obedience regardless of what my flesh wants to do.   I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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REVELATIONS FROM A BAD RACE – April 1

April 1, 2014

““Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” 1 Corinthians 9:24

In my last post (Race Day), I was in the midst of pre-race excitement and the unknown of never having competed in a cycling event.  I am now in the haze of reflection on a weekend of bicycle racing.

 

ToO Road Race 2014

I now know that my day-dream of standing on a podium really was a silly fantasy.
I also know the dreaded realization of being crushed by  “real” cyclists.

Time Trial:

I knew I was in trouble as I watched the other riders warm-up. I was impressed by the degree of aero-equipment that whizzed past me; TT bikes, aero-helmets, aero-wheels, and skin-suits of every variety and shape.  The vast majority of my competitors wore the gear of a cycling team and looked very fit.  I did not see any newbies, like myself.

The actual race confirmed my fears. They release competitors individually, in one minute increments. I was passed by three racers. In fact, I was passed within the first two miles by the guy who started immediately behind me, after I had been averaging over 23 mph.  I finished 10th…out of ten, in my age group, 76th out of 87 overall. However, I had personal bests on both climbs and I maintained my heart rate between 155-165 bpm. It was probably the best I could do.

I am satisfied with the race since my finish was strong (for me).

Criterium:

The crit course is located in the downtown section of a local town, in the form of a rectangle with two block straight-aways and 90 degree corners. It is flat and fast. From the whistle, we were immediately up to 25 mph. I managed through the first and second corners.  On the third corner, I was set up on the outside of the turn. I could not see very far ahead due to the group so I set my line base on the rider inside of me. We all leaned into the turn but I quickly released that I was being pinched into the curb as we were coming through the turn. I grabbed my brake a little too hard and felt my back tire slip toward the curb at which point I felt this sense of weightlessness. The next thing I knew I was standing in a grassy area adjacent to the course, inspecting my bike.

I had crashed in my first lap. Fortunately, I landed on the only grass aligning the whole course.  A rider with better bike handling skills and experience probably would never have crashed. I am a little disappointed that I did not get back on my bike and finish the crit – I probably could have. The crash rattled and scared me.

I did not finish well. In fact, I did not finish.

Road Race:

I didn’t want to do the road race after my experience with stages 1 and 2. I had been humbled and outclassed. I had done the pre-race ride and knew what a day on the road race course would be like.(Strava-Like Community)   A few friends encouraged me to continue and consider the road race as an opportunity to train and gain experience. I had no answer to their encouragement so I sucked it up and went for it.

To my surprise, I hung with the group until the climb at the end of the first lap when I was dropped and the group was gone. I rode in solitude for the next two laps, as I had expected, finishing 12th …out of twelve, in my age group, 49th out of 58 overall. I am happy that I persevered through the race even though my time was not competitive.

Measure the Heart
I was thinking about Paul’s encouragement to compete in a way to obtain the prize.  Thankfully, God does not judge our faith by outward appearance. He knows our heart. He knows the blessings and abilities that He has granted each one of us. He does not grant the prize based upon the external accolades from this race we call life.

God judges us based upon our heart.

I may have exhibited more heart and determination than my weekend rankings may have exhibited. I have not been blessed with much of the youth, experience, strength and athleticism on display by those real cyclists. I don’t have the luxury of time to put into dedicated cycling training necessary to achieve the sort of cycling fitness and power that I saw this weekend. But given where I am, I might not be in last place if heart were a category.

God judges us based upon our heart and what our love for Him motivates us to do with all the blessings and abilities He has given us. That is why we should not judge other people by their actions. We never know how competitive their heart really is. They might actually be running a better race of faith than I am without many of the advantages I have been given.

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Race Well
We are all in a race. The goal of this race is to persevere and finish strong in our faith. We should all be striving to hear the words, “well done, good and faithful servant”.

We may feel outclassed by other people’s faith and dedication.
We may have crashed our faith due to inexperience and poor decisions.
We may be rattled and afraid of where following Christ might take us.
Bad experiences may have us at the edge of wanting to give up.
We might feel discouraged as we slog along in solitude.

Remember, God does not judge the external results of your faith. He judges your heart. He knows the gifts He has given you. He knows the disadvantages you are overcoming. He knows the faith He has given you. He has you exactly where He wants you. He is providing you with experience and training so that you will persevere to the finish line.

So, don’t give up; look to other real faith racers as examples of what is possible. Take heart in knowing that God has given them the strength to follow Him as they do. He can do the same for you. Most likely, He is already doing it as long as you continue to show some heart – a heart dedicated to loving God more than anything.

PRAYER: Father, thank you for the opportunity to race this weekend. Thank you for showing me how important heart is.  Thank you for giving me grass to crash into.  Thank you for the faith that you have given me.  Thank you for the experience and training that you are putting me through.  Lord, examine my heart.   Give me examples to follow and be encouraged by.  Help me to suck it up and continue when I feel like giving up.  Remove all fear of following you with a wholly dedicated heart.  Help me to keep the prize of living well for your glory in sight. I want to embrace the hope of obtaining the prize. Grant me a spirit to race my life well. I pray this in the precious name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

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“PRINCIPLES OF ENDURANCE – Small Tasks” – Jan 4

January 4, 2014

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.   Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Matthew 6:34

Tri-Bike TrainerThe mental weakness that has been exposed by my indoor cycling trainer has gotten me to thinking about endurance and some of the common principles between physical and spiritual endurance.  However, I came up with six principles that help me practice mental toughness in times of endurance both physical and spiritual.

1.      Control Your Emotions.

2.      Small Tasks

Physical:

How do you eat an elephant?… One mouthful at a time.

Endurance requires that we do not waste energy on those things outside of our control.

long_road-ahead

When running, I have found that it is not good to think about what mile 10 is going to feel like when mile 3 is not feeling so good.  I can usually make it to the next intersection or up the next rise or around the coming corner.  I don’t have control of much of what is down the road.  It might be pretty ugly but then again it might not.  I never really know.  Therefore, I try to run the road immediately in front of me.  I have confidence in my hydration and fueling strategy.  I know what heart rate will keep me in an aerobic zone.  All I have to do it keep putting one foot in front of the other and eventually the finish line will appear.

Endurance is much easier to bear when you have companions working with you.

tour2

Riding 100 miles on a bicycle is daunting.  However, it is not too bad when all you have to do is stick to the wheel of the rider right in front of you.  I have been amazed at the difference between riding in a group and going solo.  There are clear drafting advantages that make riding in a group easier but I think the mental assistance is just as important.  The preoccupation of the brain with the dynamics of a group ride makes the miles slip by largely unnoticed in comparison to the mental battle of a solo ride.

Always count your own laps. Counting might seem trivial but keeping track of where you are and where you are going is critical for endurance.

20131001-235329My stomach always turns when I think about swimming over 40 laps.  I have tried counting down; I have tried counting up; neither has worked very well for me.  Therefore, I count laps in groups of five; I can’t count much beyond that anyways but my brain accepts 8 sets easier than it does 40 laps.  However, I always know how far I have to go.  I have a counter that straps to my index finger.  Although I play games with counting to keep my mind occupied, there is always the sure lap count on my index finger.  I am reminded of a swim story that I read:

At one California high school meet where there were no lap counters, nearly an entire heat of the girls’ 500 freestyle lost track of how many laps they had raced. Everyone in the heat except for the girl in last place assumed the girl in first place was keeping the right count. While everyone else was hanging on the wall thinking they were done with the race, the girl in last place—who knew exactly how many lengths of the pool she still needed to race—flip-turned. By the time the others in the heat figured out what was going on, the girl who had been in last place was nearly 25-yards ahead of everyone else. She finished the race in first place.  How to Count Swimming Laps

Spiritual:

Why do we worry about tomorrow?  Anxiety and worry makes spiritual endurance so much harder – it makes me want to give up.

For me, the sinful tendency of my worrying heart overflows during those sleepless, semi-conscious, nights with insomnia.  Just the other night, I overcame the temptation of anxiety by following the principles of endurance.  I awoke, a quick glance at the clock on my night stand told my brain that it should be asleep yet the cogs of worry had already started to turn.

1:30 AM and I worried about work – how to retain clients, why didn’t we get that last job, will we get the next one and how, how will a lawsuit play out, how should we respond, how do we respond to all the changes in our market, how can we keep everyone working, …what if , what if,…I have got to go to sleep.

2:30 AM and I worried about my kids – an upcoming NCFCA tournament, will my son be ready, will he make friends, what about my daughter’s friends, what about their hearts, do they love Jesus, are they saved, how to pay for college, will they have a happy life,…what if, what if,…I have got to go to sleep.

3:00 AM and I worried about my family – declining health, the lifestyle of extended family, their salvation, what about my retirement, where will we live if the wheels fall off, can I take care of all my responsibilities, how will I provide for my wife and kids, what will people say, surely they will gloat over my failures,… what if, what if,… I have got to go to sleep.

3:30 AM and I bemoaned my existence – the hours of fretting and worrying had successfully found the combination to a dark and brooding mental file that contains all the necessary supporting evidence of my failures and defeats.  The full force of a pessimistic mind had turned in on itself and shattered my will to endure in those dark hours before the sun rose.

By 3:45 AM, my anxious mind had swirled my desire to endure around a drain of defeat; whispering the glories of a hermit and a retreat to a protected life in a secluded warehouse,… I had had enough.  I roused myself from its semi-conscious state that was allowing my sinful heart of worrying to prey upon my undefended mind.

I prayed to regain the control of my mind.

I prayed the promises of God –He is in control of the future; I recalled how He took David from a cave to the throne; He was the one who blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; He is the one who brings rain and drought.  He knows what I need.  He is my Father and He knows how to give good gifts.  I am so much more valuable to Him than the birds of the air.  My fretting about all that is beyond me showed me how little faith I have.  I cried out into the dark, “Lord, help me in my unbelief.  Take my worries and concerns.  I trust you with them.”

I prayed God’s presence.  I thanked Him for never leaving me or forsaking me.  He is my constant companion.  He is in me and I in Him.  I recalled that all that He calls me to do is to take up my cross and follow Him.  Even when I feel friendless, I am never alone.  I just have to set my mind on the things of His Spirit.  The joy of the Lord is the wheel set before me.  I just need to set my eyes upon it and follow.  I can do that.  He has promised to give me the strength to do that.  I know if I do that then these times of worry are going to slip by largely unnoticed if I will trust in Him alone.

I prayed my Ebenezer’s (1 Samuel 7:12).  I contentiously went to that gloriously bright mental file of all the victories that the Lord has given me.  I counted them and recalled how God has been faithful to me particularly in my defeats and failures.  I considered how far he has taken me.  His grace has carried me through so many laps.  His grace has always been sufficient.  I praised Him for is love and mercy.  I praised Him for how He has used me in all my weakness and unfaithfulness.  While Istill long for heaven, I thanked Him for the work that He has given be to yet accomplish through the power of His Spirit; I thanked Him that my hope is not in this world; I praised Him for the life in His presence that He has promised.  I run this race to that finish line and I am not done yet.

…and sometime during those prayers of praise… I slept, my will to endure restored through the power of the Spirit.

(I hope to post the other 3 principles in the coming days.)

PRAYER: O Lord, come, my fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing the praises of your grace and mercy; Father, I raise my Ebenezer; here by your great help I’ve come; and I hope, by your good pleasure to safely to arrive at home.  I am constrained daily as a debtor to your grace.  Let your goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.   Hear my praise O Lord (Come Thou Fount)   I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

Resources:
Extravagant Grace, Barbara R. Duguid
6 Navy SEAL Tips to Achieve Mental Strength

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“PRINCIPLES OF ENDURANCE – Control Your Emotions” – Jan 1

January 1, 2014

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

Tri-Bike TrainerRiding an indoor trainer is hard.  The physical endurance required for a trainer is no harder than riding along a rolling countryside road.  My legs cannot tell the difference between an interval in my basement or one on a road separating vast crops of mint and sugar beets.

However, my brain can tell the difference.

My brain is the nemesis that often defeats me.  My legs rarely demand that I dismount the trainer.  Physically, I know that I could go longer but it is my will that cracks when I am laboring.  I hate that.  I hate it when my brain quits while my body still has more left in the tank.  My mental weakness is fully exposed on the trainer.

Mental toughness in physical activities naturally leads me to contemplate mental toughness in spiritual realms.  Perseverance is the Christian word for those who are spiritually tough.  I have yielded to temptations when I knew that I did not need to.  I have seen some yokes of the Lord and cringed at the anticipated burden.  I felt heavily laden and sought out my rest.  I know that all my failures and weaknesses come from a sinful heart that exposes itself through mental weakness.

BonkI hate that my brain quits while the Spirit has unfathomable strength to offer.  I do not want to be the guy who does not endure well.  I want to be the one who perseveres to the end.  I have found that mental toughness does not just happen.  It has to be practiced.

Mental will is a muscle that needs exercise, just like the muscles of the body.
~ Lynn Jennings

I realize that analogy between physical and spiritual mental toughness is not perfect.  It falls apart because we have an all-sufficient God who supports our faith.  However, I came up with six principles that help me practice mental toughness in times of endurance both physical and spiritual.

1.     Control Your Emotions

Physical (Negative Thoughts):
There is nothing that will get me to quit quicker than negative thoughts.  I fight negative thoughts.  I keep speaking the positive to myself – “You’ve got this”, “easy-peasy”, “Shut-up legs; you will obey me”, “I can go for miles”, “this is too much fun”.  I try to grimace with a smile.  I try to keep good posture and form; my emotions follow my posture.

Spiritual (Negative Thoughts):
Doug Wilson wrote “Sins are like grapes; they come in bunches.”  The truth of that statement resides in the negative thoughts that we wallow in after a spiritual failure. I try to fight those negative thoughts by practicing the following: (1) Immediately repent; (2) Acknowledge that I am weak and sinful; (3) Preach the wonder of the gospel to myself; (4) Praise God for my redemption through Christ Jesus; (5) Allow my weakness to drive me in greater joy in Christ rather than self-deprecation.

We must fight to keep the negative thoughts of defeat from stealing our joy. We are weak and sinful. Our joy does not come from our own strength and self-discipline. It comes from the fact that we are forgiven. Our perseverance comes from learning to quickly run head long into the arms of our forgiving Father when we stumble and fall. It is always bad for our souls when we linger in the negative thoughts away from the presence of our Lord.

Physical (Racing Someone Else’s Race):
Nothing gets me to implode quicker than racing someone else’s race.  I have to fight the over exuberance of chasing after other competitors.  It is easy to start chasing someone else beyond your ability and find yourself exhausted along the edge of the road.  When someone passes me, I work to trust my strategy.  I control the discouraging emotions of being passed and look for encouragement of being in the same race as that exceptional person.

Spiritual (Living Someone Else’s Faith):
The other area where I have imploded spiritually is through an unhealthy desire for the faith of others.  I have chased after the faith of others and wondered why I was unable to do what they had done.  I have ladened myself with the latest spiritual self-help methods.  I have thought that if I just followed prescribed spiritual disciplines than I would be able to live a life of personal holiness. It is easy to allow a healthy appreciation of the faith that God has blessed other brothers and sister in Christ with to transform into an unhealthy concept that our sanctification is wholly based upon our efforts.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

We need to trust that our faith is in the capable hands of its founder and perfecter – Jesus Christ.  We are to be encouraged by fellow followers of our age and those who have gone before us.  Their examples are given as an encouragement for us to strive with endurance in our own personal journeys of faith – setting aside the weight and sin that clings to us.  However, our personal paths are not found by chasing others.

Jesus is perfecting our faith uniquely in each of us.  He has us exactly where He wants us for His glory.  We should be encouraged by fellow followers of Christ, but still trust the one who created the new life within us.  We will do what we love to do – we were created that way.  We need to follow the joy that has been set before us.  New desires come with the new life that we have in Christ Jesus.  Therefore, follow the bread crumbs of joy that the Spirit has laid before you.

The Spirit has taken us on a wonderfully rewarding journey of endurance to the very end.  We need to trust Him and not make our sanctification a slave to someone else’s faith.

(In my not so successful attempt at keeping my posts shorter, I will post the other 5 principles in the coming days.)

PRAYER: O Lord, thank you for being the founder and perfecter of my faith.  Thank you for giving me a joy unspeakable.  Father, help be to focus on You in all that I do.  Help me to look to You as my example; make me gentle and lowly in heart.  Show me the rest that I can find only in You.  Teach me to endure.  Train me so that I will learn to rely upon you in everything and thereby become mentally tough in you.    I pray this in the precious name of your Son,  Jesus Christ.   Amen.

Resources:
Extravagant Grace, Barbara R. Duguid
6 Navy SEAL Tips to Achieve Mental Strength

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“STRENGTH TRAINING” – April 5

April 5, 2013

“…O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their  hearts,…” 2 Chronicles 6:14

English: Cycling towards Thorverton. good leve...I am a little sore and fatigued this morning.  Yesterday, I did my own little triathlon throughout the day.  I started the day with a 3 mile run and ended it with a 1,100 yd swim, followed by a 33 mile bike ride.  This morning, I am reminded that building and conditioning muscle can be a bit uncomfortable.

However, we all know what happens to muscles that are not worked.  They become weak.  If your muscles are weak, then you cannot do all of  the things that your mind may want to do.  Therefore, I do not regret yesterday, even though it has made this morning uncomfortable.  I know that my discomfort will pass and I will be stronger for the exertion.Finally

As I try to find a comfortable position in my chair, I wonder how similar muscles are to faith.  The Bible describes faith in ways very similar to muscles – it can be strong or weak; it can grow or stagnate; it can be small or large.

When I read Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple, I was encouraged by his faith.  It seems like he got it but then we know the rest of the story.  Solomon did not finish well.

I don’t think that Solomon’s manner of finishing is wholly unique.  I know of older believers who seemed to have had a very active faith when they were younger but are finishing in a very weak and indifferent manner.  It seemed like their faith was strong and dynamic when their kids were in their home but now that their nest is empty that strength is not as evident.  Their Sunday mornings are now spent in relaxation and recreation when they previously would have insisted that the family go to church.  Their affinities for vices appear more pronounced now that watching eyes are not as evident.  Their discussions span a vast array of interests and experiences but interest in the things of the Spirit seem lacking.

I wonder how well they are finishing.

I wonder because I see the opposite in others.  I see many with gray hair and grandchildren who speak often of their Lord.  I know of some whose bodies have failed them but they are faithful in every prayer ministry that is available.  I see bent backs supported by walkers mingling on Sunday morning being an encouragement to all who they can reach.

They seem to be finishing very well.

I think that they are finishing well because their faith is strong.  A weak faith will not result in a strong finish.  I want to finish strong. I want to grow old like those brothers and sisters I see who are finishing well.  They are the example of who I want to be when my hair is gray and my body cannot follow the commands of my mind.

Paul wrote, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:10-11)  Spiritual strength comes from continually building the muscle of faith.  Just like muscles, we build our faith by exercising it.  Faith is exercised when we:Armour IMG_5687

Fasten on the belt of truth;

Put on the breastplate of righteousness;

Put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace;

Take up the shield of faith;

Take up the helmet of salvation;

Take the sword of the Spirit;

Pray at all times in the Spirit;

Keep alert with all perseverance;

Make supplication for the saints;

Proclaim the mystery of the gospel;

Strength in the Lord comes from action.

All of the activity of putting on the armor of God builds our faith.  It is when we stop putting on the armor of God when we become susceptible to the schemes of the devil and we don’t finish well.  Putting on the armor of God is going to cause some discomfort and maybe even some spiritual soreness.  That discomfort is evidence that you are exercising your faith, which should be encouraging because that means your faith is getting stronger through the power of the Spirit and that means you are finishing well.

You will never regret the effort that you expend in suiting up in the full armor of God; the discomfort will pass and your faith will be stronger due to the exertion.  It is that strength, through the Spirit, that will carry us to the end in a manner pleasing to our Father.

That is how the good and faithful servants will hear – “well done”.

PRAYER: Lord, I want to finish well.  I want to hear, “well done, good and faithful servant.”  Lord, give me a heart that desires the discomfort and fatigue of faith building.  Build my faith through your Spirit.  Make it strong in order that I may persevere well unto the end of my days.  Lord, keep my hope in You and You alone, for your glory alone.  Amen

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“TRAPPED LIKE A MISERABLE GOPHER” – April 2

April 2, 2013

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:11-12

I am a ruler; a sovereign noble over more than nine acres of flora, fauna and terra firma.  My kingdom produces a variety of produce including cheatgrass, kosher weed, thistle, white-top, knapweed, ragweed, stinkweed, milkweed, morning glory, hemlock, crabgrass, Russian olive, among other varieties of the unwanted.  My kingdom is not a land of agricultural produce.

IMAG0018However, there is trouble in my kingdom.  There is open rebellion to my rule.  Not all the inhabitants of my lands are willing to subjugate their existence to my rule.  The gophers have declared their independence.  They have declared their freedom and pockmarked my fields with mounds of defiance.  They are usurpers and destroyers.

I hate gophers.

Their existence is a stench.  Their menacing message has reached even within my yard.  The audacity of proclaiming their message of defiance by blanketing mounds of soil over my grasses of fescue, cultivated by my own hand, has to be stopped.  My domain must be defended.

I have declared war on all gophers and have bounded myself to their destruction.  Their destruction has been primarily wrought through the use of the trap.  This season my wrath has been particularly felt by these usurpers.  I have already trapped 44 of their rebellious kind.

Mazama Pocket Gopher trapping arrayDeception and lies are the principles of effective trapping.  The gopher must be deceived into complacency in order for the trap to deliver them to their destruction.  The gopher must be lured from the safety of their natural environment into the artificial environment of my trap.  This dance of enticement requires the practice of the art of deception.  Every gopher that I have trapped has followed the promise of one of my lies.  I have never pursued any gopher down their filthy tunnel.  I am a master of deception and lies.  My lies are crafted upon their natural tendencies to orchestrate a sonata that is so seductive that they willingly shuffle from the hand of safety into my hand of destruction and death.

The immature gophers are easy.  They are oblivious to a change in environment and the danger that it represents.  I don’t even have to be very careful in crafting the deception of my trap for these wee-ones.  They stumble along and don’t perceive that the walls of their tunnel have changed from dirt to plastic, they don’t comprehend the unfamiliar scent of my hand, they do not consider the danger of the message dangling enticingly before  their nose.  They push against the trip-wire that I have lured them to and there is no time for escape once tripped.  They are in my hand in that instant and their destruction is assured.

I prefer to kill gophers when they are young, before they get the chance to mature and start to reproduce.  That is when they become a real problem.  Therefore, I am diligent in setting my traps during those periods when I know that the young are venturing out into their own tunnels.  I can tell when a little one is finding its own way.  Their tunnels are small and their mounds are little.  Their tunnels are shallow and easy to dig up.  I seek them out.  I will pursue a young one over a mature one.  A mature gopher is hard to deceive.  My time is best spent on the young ones.  Therefore, my eyes roam my lands for small mounds and I am quick to spread my traps of deception when the young ones venture too close.

This does not mean that I do not entice the mature gophers.  I celebrate every mature gopher that I destroy.  They are the ones responsible for the greatest encroachments into my domain.  Therefore, the mature gophers, especially the leaders, which I can ensnare, are particularly satisfying because I understand the difficulty in getting them to fall.  The trick for trapping a mature gopher is to get them distracted from their natural senses.  The deception for a mature gopher must be sufficient to get them to rush into the trap.  They must be enticed to rush forward with passion, otherwise the warning signs of even the most skillful lie will alert them to danger and they will flee, backfilling their tunnel, and the opportunity lost.

I play on the passions of the mature.  I know what they love.  I know what instincts drive them.  Gophers are very territorial.  Each gopher has its own tunnel system and they defend it vigorously.  Their territory is their greatest love; it is their greatest passion.  They will rush to the defense of their territory.  When I set a trap for a mature gopher I spin the lie of their greatest passion.

I take the body of a gopher that I have already killed and lay it behind the trip-wire of my trap.  A mature gopher will be blinded by their passion to protect their territory and rush past all the warning signs that normally would have kept them safe.  I have trapped gophers so large that I don’t know how they pushed themselves into my trap.  Their territorial passion must have been all consuming.  This has been the only way I have been able to kill the big ones.  It is the only way I have been able to effectively deceive them.

I use death to entice them to death.

Every follower of Christ lives in a world, whose ruler hates them.  Those who call on the name of Christ are an abomination to the ruler of this world.  We have an enemy who is seeking our destruction.  We have an enemy who cannot destroy us in safety of our new environment in Christ.  Therefore, he must lure us out of the safety with deceptions and lies.

He has an affinity for feasting on the destruction of the immature.  He spins lies that the words of God are not true and cannot be trusted; he crafts the deception that giving up the pleasures of this world is not worth the gift of eternal life; he amplifies the cares of this world to choke the young with anxiety and worries so that they forget what they have been promised; he send in charismatic wolves to preach a slightly different message that sends the careless in a direction that leads only to the trap trip-wire.  He seeks the young ones who are venturing out on their own because they are easy to deceive.  He wants to get them before they spread the message of the Gospel and become a real problem.

However, that does not mean that he does not come after the mature ones.  He just has to work harder.  He has to craft more elaborate lies.  His traps may take years to be laid.  He knows that he must get the mature followers of Christ to blindly rush after his lies and ignore all that they know to be true.  He must stoke their passions for the flesh.  He must get them to abandon their first love.  All he has available for bait is death.  Therefore, he must make death appear beautiful and desirable.  He must craft an illusion that in death there is the promise of all that they have ever desired.  He must get them to believe that death is preferable to life.

He uses death to entice the wayward to death.

Our enemy roams this world seeking those whom he can devour.  Do you believe that?  There are many who don’t believe that.  There are many who live in so careless a manner that it appears that they are oblivious to the existence of a predator.

It is in Christ where we are safe.  We are secure when we are living according to the Spirit and our minds are set on the things of the Spirit.  We have nothing to fear when we hear the word of God, believe it and bear fruit.

The fact that we have nothing to fear does not mean we should be lackadaisical to dangers.  We do not need to fear of this world due to our ability to cling to the promises of God.  The setting of our minds on the wonderful promises of God and the things of His Spirit is what grounds our hearts to our first love.  It keeps our passions for our first love.  When we love God with everything that we are and have then there is no passion that will entice us to rush away from our Lord.  Perseverance is the following of our passion for Christ and Him alone.

Let us not ignore  the world that we live in.  We have an enemy who is cunning.  He will lay many traps for us.  However, he is not to be feared as long as we do not let our love for our Lord to venture from our hearts.

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for freeing us from a spirit of slavery and living in fear.  Thank you for giving us the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom we can cry “Abba! Father!”  Thank you for hearing our cries.  Lord keep us and protect our hearts from all of the passions that can be used to entice us to wander away from you and our minds to drift back to the things of this world.  You are better than all that this world has to offer, combined.  Keep me under the shelter of your wing.  Amen

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“WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?” – Mar. 19

March 19, 2013

“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing he was dead.  But when the disciples  gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.” Acts 14:19-20

Why does one person persist when others quit?

How are some able to push through pain and discomfort to continue when others beg for a break?

Why does discouragement cling like Velcro to one but never seems to find a crevasse to hide in another?

Where does the fighting grit come from when the majority shout out in surrender?

I am amazed and humbled by Paul’s example.  I have never had a day like Paul had in Lystra.  I have never been dragged from my home for what I have preached or written.  I have never had a crowd try to execute me for what I believed. That was Paul’s day.  The crowd beat Paul to an unconscious, lifeless, state with rocks.  Stones were thrown with workman strength that struck his skull, lacerated his skin, caused trauma across his body allowing blood to seep. They abused Paul until they thought that they had killed him.

By God’s grace and protection, they had not killed him.  Paul got up and went back into the City.  We are told that the next day, “he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.”  We are not told what Paul looked like.  However, we know from other passages that Paul was not spared the scars of his mistreatment.  I think that Paul was a bloodied and bruised mess that day when he left Lystra with Barnabas.  I imagine that he was sore and tender.  He probably was suffering from the effects of a concussion and had a horrible headache.  He may have had some broken or cracked bones.  He probably was nauseous and weak but he got up from his bed and walked on.

He had no Advil or Tylenol.  He certainly had no Vicodin.  Yet, he continued.  He walked about 65 miles from Lystra to Derbe that next day.  When they got to Derbe, they preached the same gospel that got him nearly executed in Lystra and made many disciples.   Paul continued when most would have at least taken a break for the season.  I am amazed at the determination of Paul.

I am equally humbled by Paul’s example because most of us are detoured by much smaller degrees of discomfort.  A poor night sleep can put me off my game.  A hang-nail can preoccupy my senses.  Indigestion can be my excuse to stay home.

An unkind word can dissuade me.  An angry look can induce me to start brushing the dust off my shoes.  A lack of appreciation can make me give up.

I wonder what Paul would think of our perseverance in the face of discomfort and tribulations?

I think that Paul might preach to us the same message that he preached to the believers in Lystra.  They had returned from Derbe to the believers in Lystra and encouraged them by saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.  The believers in Lystra would have known what had happened to Paul.  Many may have seen him stoned and left for dead.

Paul’s message to them was that tribulations, like the one he experienced, are part of following Christ.  I believe that Paul’s example was borne from a mind-set that understood that everything he was experiencing was part of being a Christian.

We get ourselves in trouble when we begin to think that the Christian walk is supposed to ensure that we will not experience troubles.  The Christian walk draws in troubles and tribulations.

When we understand that tribulations and following Christ go together, then we should not be shocked into giving up when bad things happen.

Our ability to mentally handle suffering is tied very closely to our expectations.  The Spirit has never failed in provide the strength to a child of God to endure any tribulation; even tribulations that lead to death.  We are the ones who tap-out.

Paul @ Bundoran

Paul @ Bundoran (Photo credit: bettlebrox)

Our expectations must not be set in this world.  Paul did not have his expectations set upon the people of Lystra.  He was looking forward to the glory of God.  He was able to suffer a stoning because it was worth it in comparison to the glory of God.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  Romans 8:18

I get myself into trouble when I overvalue what is happening in this present time and undervalue the future glory that is to be revealed.  I stumble when my expectations are placed in the present and not in future revelation of God’s glory.  It is easy to give up when discomfort seems more important to me than the Kingdom of God.

Our hope is not in this world.  Our expectations of this life can never surpass what God has waiting for us.  That makes all of the tribulations that come with following Christ so very worth it.

PRAYER: Lord, the bright and shiny things of this world’s are nothing in comparison to the glorious radiance of your Son.  Yet, my tendency is to act like they are equivalent.  Father, I pray, as Jonathan Edwards before me, for you to write eternity on my eyeballs.  My expectations are nothing less the to experience the full revealing of your glory by your grace and mercy.  I long for that day.  There is nothing that I will trade.   Lord, help me to leave all of my expectations with you; right where they belong.  Amen

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