Thursday, May 30, 2013


Last night I signed up for a Spartan Beast Race in December. My younger brother and I had talked about it, and a grueling obstacle course that would nearly kill me sounded like a fun thing to do. Even better, he got a free ticket so we were able to split the price! 

Then I started working out two nights ago.

Right now my entire body is sore and feels a little bit like jello. Now if you looked at me, you wouldn't think I was in bad shape. I'm thin without looking like a skeleton and I still eat pretty much whatever I want. Even my blood pressure is much lower than most people.

But inside I know that I am in nowhere near good enough shape to do that Spartan Race. This has been proven over the last two nights as I struggle through a basic body-weight exercise program to get myself ready for it. If the race were tomorrow, I would probably have to give up within the first two miles.

If you didn't click on the link, the Spartan Beast is a 12+ mile race with 25+ obstacles including rope climbing, wall climbing, and carrying buckets of rocks (or something similarly ridiculous). In short, I am not prepared, at all, for the kind of things I will be asked to do in this race.

But that's not until December.

I see the goal, I know what is coming, and I have a plan to be ready for it. You see while I look relatively fit on the outside, inside I am not. Furthermore, if I do not prepare myself for what is coming, I will be destroyed by the event when I get there. That does not make the event evil or bad, it would just make me someone who did not prepare for it.

Paul says in I Timothy 4:8, "For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come."

So many times we focus on making ourselves appear and feel good on the outside of our spiritual life. We say the right words, don't do the worst things, and try to sing the right notes. We may even speak up in class occasionally. Those are all good things, but they are also all surface level things.

The question is are you spiritually fit on the inside?

Do you work out spiritually? It is a little bit trickier than working out physically. Physically we can feel weight and pressure and exertion. We can look at the muscles on our arms and stomachs, and feel stronger when we pick up heavy things. But spiritual strength is different. Not only is it different, but it is far, far more important than physical strength as well.

So how do you spiritually work out? We have prayer, Bible reading, thinking about spiritual topics, helping others, visiting the sick and in jail, being kind, practicing patience and goodness and self-control, and many other things. Doing these things strengthens us spiritually. It works out our souls and minds and allows us to take on bigger challenges over time. But where do you start?

When someone first starts working out they don't go straight to trying to lift 200 lb weights. They also don't start their running regimen at 10 miles. They start small. They start with what they are capable of, and push themselves to go a little bit further each time. It is not an instant process, but in the end that person can run 10 miles or lift those 200 lbs. 

If they continue to work at it. 

Working out spiritually is much the same. Start with 2-3 small prayers and reading a few Bible verses each day. As you get more comfortable and more in the groove of it make those prayers and readings longer. Work on helping others and having a mindset that is focused on goodness and kindness and self-control. Begin sending cards or visiting someone who is sick or needs help.

Start small, then push yourself to go just a little further each time. With God's help, you'll be doing 10-mile spiritual runs while carrying 200 lb spiritual weights sooner than you think. But you have to stick with it, and you have to be willing to push yourself just a little further each time.

Our spiritual lives are far more important than our physical lives. Let's make sure we are working at least as hard on that as we are with everything else. Because it's the inside that counts.

Paul's words again:
"For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Modern Idols

"Idol." Does anyone really know what this is anymore? We see the word all the time in things like "American Idol," and many Japanese pop stars are called "idols." But do we really know what that word means? lists it as, "an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed."
We don't have a lot of experience with that kind of idol today. Most of us will never go to India, where there are 330 million gods (along with countless idols everywhere from on street corners to car dashes), and most of us will never physically bow down to a statue, rock, or tree to worship it. 

But for Christians, that is not where the definition ends. It cannot end at a physical object that is physically worshiped because God calls us to an internal devotion to Him as well. It is not, nor has it ever been enough to worship Him physically and have a heart that is not His. Even in the Old Testament, where so much emphasis is on ritual and doing things correctly, Israel landed themselves in serious trouble because their hearts weren't in it. It was just a physical thing.

Christianity is no different.

It is not enough for us to sit in church. It is not enough for us to give. It is not enough for us to pray or read or be nice. In fact, nothing we could ever do will ever be enough to gain the promises of God. God wants our hearts. The question we really give it?

Because if we really give our hearts over to Him, our lives will change. If we really give our hearts over to Him, not only will we give and pray and read and sit in church but we will do it because we want to and it will be more important than anything else.


I recently came to a realization that I had an idol in my life. It was video games. I love games. All kinds. I played a lot of games. I kept up on the latest news, I thought about them when I wasn't playing them, and I searched for any deals on them I could find. My personal, private actions showed that video games were more important to me than God. Video games were my idol.

I did not like that answer. For a long time I justified it. "It's on my own's not affecting anybody...I still do my job well and spend time with my family." I thought of every reason to not consider what I was considering. I looked for any way that I could say to myself "this is not an idol."

But it was.

So I made a choice. Last night I took all of my games and put them in a box in the back of a room. For at least one month I will not play any games or read about them. The only exceptions to that rule are 1) I am with the youth group or at a friend's house and they want to play and 2) my little boy is playing and wants some help with something. I will spend none of my personal time entrenched in it. It may sound silly to some, but when it has been your main source of personal entertainment for over 10 years it is difficult to break away from. 

The reason I chose at least one month was so that I could break out of the fever I was in and realign myself better with God. At the end of the month I will reassess, and if necessary, continue the self ban on them.

Everyone's idol will be different. For some it is work, for some it is school, for some it is sports and for some it is shopping. Still others may have an idol that does not fall into any of these categories.

It is not OK to have an idol in your life.

Extreme measures may need to be taken. Take them. Align yourself with God and with what He wants from your life. If there is something, anything that takes away from that, it is time for a change.

I've only just started, but I will not be stopping there. Join me in creating a life without idols. A life devoted to the One True God.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Free Stuff

 "I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing."

It was only recently that this verse came into my mind. I don't know if I read it somewhere, or if it just popped in. It's one of those weird things that just showed up floating around in my head.

And I cannot get it out.

You see, I have recognized a problem with the gifts I have been giving to God.

I have been giving Him free stuff.

Sometimes I wonder why I don't feel particularly good about my faith. I sit and wonder why I don't always seem to be growing and I question why things don't seem to be moving very well at times. I am convinced it is because I insist on giving God that which costs me nothing.

And that is not good enough.

King David realized this. He said so in that quote above. Here's the backstory:

David had done a census of the people, which God did not want him to do. It was a decision made out of a lack of faith. So God told him he could pick one of three things - a famine, being chased by his enemies, or a 3-day plague. David chose the plague, saying that unlike evil men, God is merciful.

So the plague came and went, and David went to make a sacrifice where he was told to do so. When he got there, the man who owned the place told him to take whatever he wanted. Everything he needed was being given to him by this man.

"I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God that which costs me nothing." (2 Samuel 24)

How often do our "gifts" to God come out of our convenience? And do they really count as gifts? If we only give that which is easy for us to give, that which costs us nothing, what does that say about how we view God and His great gifts to us?

Let's get more specific with some examples of people I have known over the years. I know a couple who have health problems. It is a struggle for them to be at the Sunday morning service. They often sleep through most of it and rarely go to any "extracurricular" activities. But they sacrifice to attend anything they can. It costs them a great deal of struggle just to be in the building on those Sunday mornings. A worthy sacrifice.

I know of another family who are healthy, happy, and generally helpful. However they tend to only attend services when it is convenient. Instead, if they are tired, or have sports or chores or anything else going on during that time, they almost invariably choose whatever it is that is not church. They give gifts of convenience.

Lest you think I am leaving myself out of this equation, I will tell you right now that I do both. There are many days where I have thought, "I've been doing ministry all day, I can take a break at night." However, my job is as a minister. Doing ministry during the day costs me nothing. In fact, I get paid to do it. My daytime ministry is no gift to God, but God's gift to me. It is those times when I give to God that which costs me my outside time and outside effort that is a gift to God. Not gifts of convenience, not that which costs me nothing, but a true, sacrificial effort.

So which do you do? Which will you do?

Be honest with yourself. I have found this to be one of the most difficult things to be honest with myself about. It is so much easier to say "look at this example, I've sacrificed before," and leave it at that. But what is the norm? What do you do the most? And can you become better? (hint: the answer is yes) :-)

When everything ends, when this world burns away, and when you meet Christ on the Judgement Day, what will matter? That you got that promotion by being a workaholic? That you made that special team in baseball? If you spent all your time in school so that you could make it into a certain college?

Or will it matter that you were fully God's? That you were totally and utterly sold out to Him. That  you sacrificed whatever was needed at any given time in order to do His will.

I know what I want to matter to me the most, and it's a struggle. I will be working and moving to do whatever I can to improve my relationship with Him.

What will you do?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

God Scout

I recently read a great blog article about being a God Scout. Looking at my life, and how I view the world, it seems as though I have been trying to do this very thing without realizing it. The problem with doing something without knowing it, however, is that you generally only excel at that which you put conscious effort into.

This post, therefore, is to discuss what it is to be a God Scout in my own words, and encourage you to do the same. I would also suggest reading the post linked above by JL Gerhardt. In fact, read as much as you can of what she has written. Everything I have seen is very, very highly recommended.

So what is being a God Scout? It's searching for God in everything we see. It's the search for who God is by looking at what God has done. It's trying to see Him, not just in what we read in scripture, but in the tiniest flowers, in the most powerful storms, in the holding of hands and people giving of themselves. It's seeing that sliver of God that is all around us, but which we so often miss because of our distraction, our hurry, our worries and our failure to notice.

In short, it's the slowing down of our lives.

Let me give you an example. Today I was headed out to the grocery store for a quick trip to pick up some snacks for Bible Hour on Sunday. Nothing big, just a quick in-and-out trip.

Then I looked up.

As a side-note, I was wearing my polarized sunglasses. I love my polarized glasses. By cutting down on the glare our eyes naturally see you are able to witness deeper, richer tones and colors. They're wonderful. Anyways...

When I looked up the sky was brilliantly blue. Just a few scattered clouds here and there. It was beautiful, and for just a second I stopped. Then I stayed stopped for several more seconds.

The reason I stayed stopped was because I noticed something I hadn't before. At that point, with those glasses, I noticed that the sky wasn't just brilliantly blue. The sky was covered in almost undetectable clouds that gave what I first saw as an almost completely clear sky this soft, comforting texture. It was like seeing the open ocean if the ocean was in the sky.

It may not sound like a big deal, but consider this:

God was there.

I know that God is everywhere at all times. I know He lives in me and gives His presence to all those who are His. But in that moment I realized, viscerally, that God was there.

This isn't the only time this visceral realization of God comes, either. It comes when I see the full moon on a clear night. It comes when I kiss my children goodnight while they sleep. In that moment I am reminded how much I love them, and I am reminded how much God loves me. There are so many moments to share with God (and He wants to share them with us!) if we will just slow down and accept what He is giving to us.

Look for God. See the moments He shares with you and slow down so that you can see and feel them. There will always be more work, more problems to solve, more places to drive, and more errands to run. Take a few seconds, or even a few minutes, to see what God has to share with you. You won't regret it.

Let's go scouting together. :-)