Friday, January 25, 2013

Sore Muscles

A little over 2 years ago, I finished P90-X for the first time. All 90 days. It was incredibly challenging, but at the end of the 90 days, I felt great. I was so pleased with the results that I decided I was going to start over from day 1 and do the whole thing again. But about the 3rd week into the 2nd 90 days, I got busy with something & missed a couple days. Then those couple of days turned into a couple of weeks, which then turned into me not doing any kind of consistent workout program at all......

Until last week. After almost two and a half years, I finally reached a breaking point in my lack of physical activity & started doing P90-X again. I'm not going to lie, the first week was brutal...and when I reached the weekend, every single muscle in my body was sore (Understatement). It hurt to move my legs, it hurt to reach my arm across my body, it hurt to sit up in my bed in the morning. But you know what? I love it. Not because I'm a creepy weirdo that loves pain...but because the pain & soreness in my muscles tells me that the program is actually working! Anyone who works out (or ever has) probably knows exactly what I'm talking about. The soreness is almost like your body telling you that all the sweat & hard work from the day before was actually profitable. I'm thankful for the sore muscles because otherwise I would begin to wonder if I had pushed myself hard enough, or if I need to find a different workout program. The "pain" is there because getting in shape and staying in shape is hard work. The easy thing to do is what I did for the last 2.5 years - nothing! Doing nothing requires no discipline, no effort. It doesn't force me to make time in my schedule every day to make sure I work out. Doing nothing requires...nothing.

Which finally brings me to the point I'm trying to make in this post. There's something I've been trying to think through the last couple of weeks...and even as I'm writing this, I'm still trying to figure out exactly how to put it into words. This one is totally just me thinking out writing, I guess. A "stream of consciousness" if you will. So bear with it goes. I wonder if we should be "spiritually sore" sometimes-? I wonder if our walk with Christ some days should give us "sore muscles" from stretching ourselves & getting out of our comfort zones? From cutting out sinful practices & habits from our lives? I don't know exactly what that would "look like," or if that makes any sense, but I've really been thinking about this lately. Especially because I know that the Christian life is not meant to be easy (most of us know this from firsthand experience - and if you don't, you will). But when I really stop to think about it...I think about some of the hard things Jesus said about following Him. The way He urged the crowds that followed Him everywhere to "count the cost" of true discipleship. Things like:
  • "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters - yes, even his own life - he cannot be my disciple."
  • "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
  • "Anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."
  • "Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple."
These are hard sayings! And basically what Jesus wanted to drive home was the idea of self-denial; Self-abandonment. That's not easy...that's entirely out of my comfort zone. I like to take care of me. I like to put myself make myself comfortable. I like easy. But the life of discipleship that Jesus describes is anything but easy. He even promises that people will hate me for it, and Paul promised Timothy that living a godly life guarantees persecution! After taking a serious look at Jesus' call to follow appears the life of a Christ-follower involves a lot more than just posting some verses to Facebook, listening to Christian music, getting a Bible verse tattooed on my back, and saying "Praise the Lord" every now & then. Obviously I'm being facetious...none of those things are wrong & any one of those things can spark conversations & opportunities. But I guess I'm coming to more of a realization in my life of what this whole Christianity thing is meant to be. A realization of what Jesus was calling people to - and what He requires of me. There are so many broken, hurting people. There are so many lost, dying people. What am I doing about it? Why am I wasting my life worrying about & taking care of me?!

If I had to be absolutely, brutally honest...I think the reason why I haven't fully embraced the concept of "self-denial" and getting out of my comfort zone is because it scares me to death. I have no idea exactly why...but it does. It always has. I think I care way too much about what people think about me. I got a very small taste of "ridicule" in high school for being a Christian, and I didn't like I retreated. It's absolutely pathetic for me to think about that now - and then think about how Christ-followers in other nations have to meet in secret because if the wrong people found out they were believers, they would be instantly executed. The whole point of getting out of my "comfort zone" is for me to realize my need for rely on the Spirit of God to work through me. We're usually not very good or successful when we do things we aren't "comfortable" with...and I think that's the point. I don't need to be "good" at doing something - I just need to take the opportunities God gives me & be willing to yield to His Spirit & watch Him work through me. Man - if only that was as easy as writing it!!

Following Christ the way He requires isn't easy. It's not comfortable. It's costly. But my mind keeps coming back to what David Platt says in his book Radical:

"Based on what we have heard from Jesus in the Gospels, we would have to agree that the cost of discipleship is great. But I wonder if the cost of nondiscipleship is even greater. The price is certainly high for people who don't know Christ and who live in a world where Christians shrink back from self-denying faith and settle into self-indulging faith. While Christians choose to spend their lives fulfilling the American dream instead of giving their lives to proclaiming the kingdom of God, literally billions in need of the gospel remain in the dark."

I don't know exactly what keeps holding me back...but my prayer is going to be for those chains to break. I know this is a weird concept, but I can't think of a better way to put it right now: I need to start getting out of my comfort zone. I want to have "sore muscles" for Christ.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


It's 100% impossible for me to describe in words how much God has used music in my life the last 8 months. He has used it in so many different settings - playing & singing songs for worship on Sundays, listening to music during the day while working, friends & family sharing songs with me through Facebook, or even just having the radio on while driving from here to there. It has been amazing for me to see how God allows me to either hear or learn a song I've never heard before that is perfect for what I'm going through, or puts me in a situation where I'm listening to a familiar song & it hits me like it never has. Music can be so powerful, and I believe God chooses to use it in powerful ways.

Very recently, someone posted a familiar song on Facebook. A really good song, but one that I've heard innumerable times; a situation where I normally wouldn't take the time to listen again. However, I decided to click on the brought me to tears as I read the words of the song while listening to it. I heard the song on the radio again today, and it just about hit me the same way. The song is called "One Thing Remains" by Kristian Stanfill. The part that hit me the hardest was the beginning of the chorus that says this: "Your love never fails, it never gives up - it never runs out on me."

Why did this hit me so hard? I thought about it, and I concluded that it's because we all know too well what the very opposite feels like. We have experienced at one time or another what it feels like for love to fail - for love to give up, to run out. This could be the same as the feeling of rejection I talked about in one of my previous posts - but it could also be something completely different. Think about it - not only have we inevitably experienced someone else's love failing us, but we all have been on the other side of this. We have all been guilty of our love failing someone at least one time in our lives...of our own love finally giving up on someone for one reason or another. We have all decided at some point along the way that our love has just finally run out for that one person. To clarify, I'm not exclusively talking about the romantic, feel-good, mushy kind of love, although that definitely falls into this category (it's probably safe to say that all of us have experienced that type of love fail us). But what I'm mainly talking about is the love that we are supposed to show one another as followers of Christ. The kind of love that is supposed to move me to put others before myself.

Why are these feelings so widespread? Why is this an experience that we all have in common? It's simple, really. The definition of Failing Love is:  Human. In fact, to be more accurate, I should really say that the antonym of love is human. Sin has utterly destroyed our ability to love others the way we should. Romans 3 tells us that because of our sin nature, nobody is good & nobody does good. While that doesn't speak specifically of love or our ability to display it, I would say it makes a pretty good argument for our inability, wouldn't you? You see, it's in our very nature as fallen, sinful people to allow our love to fail someone else - even those that may be closest to us. This doesn't always mean it was fueled by an intention to hurt - but the hurt is a result nonetheless. A failing love that manifests itself in so many ways: from someone you thought of as one of your closest friends talking about you behind your back, to a girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse telling you they love you one day & deciding they are done with you the next - and everything in between. This is why the aforementioned song hit me so hard recently, because the opposite of this is so foreign to us. "Your love never fails..." Never??? Like...ever? Not once? After the experiences we have all had, it's basically impossible to envision a love like this. It's just as impossible to envision myself experiencing a perfect love from someone else as it is to envision myself displaying a perfect love to another person.

But that's the awesome part - while the antonym of love is human, the very definition of love is GOD. Think about that...He's not just a "picture" of what love is like. He's not just a "metaphor" or "example" of love. God IS love...His very essence. It's one of His indivisible characteristics that make up who He is. If His love could ever fail, He would cease to be God. But while God is not just an example of love, He did show us what true love really looks like:
  • 1 John 4:9-10 - "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
  • Romans 5:8 - "But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
That is love; this is grace. That the God of the universe - the creator of all things - chose to love sinful, unloving, unlovable people...and sent His Son to die for us in order to offer forgiveness for our sins against Him. And once we place our faith & trust in Jesus for doing so, we can immediately experience His unfailing love & the grace needed to then display love to others. Experiencing His love, obviously, doesn't mean that I will never face hard situations or trials in life. In fact, I should count on just the opposite - because one of the manifestations of God's love for us is that we experience firsthand His strength in our weakness. John Piper speaks about this in his book Don't Waste Your Life: "Love is not Christ's making much of us or making life easy. Love is doing what He must do, at great cost to Himself (and often to us), to enable us to enjoy making much of Him forever."

The Psalms are full of incredible verses that speak about God's "steadfast" love...but I believe the apostle Paul describes the indescribable most appropriately:

Romans 8:35, 37-39 - "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? ...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Once we are in Christ, nothing can separate us from His love; nothing can cause His love to fail - even my own failures, no matter how big or frequent. God's love is not dependent on me - it's dependent on Him...and God IS love. Unfailing, unchanging, absolute, boundless, constant, inexhaustible, reliable, steadfast love! "Your love never fails, it never gives up - it never runs out on me."  ...Never??? NEVER.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thoughts on 1 Peter

Over the last few weeks, I have read through the entire book of 1 Peter probably 6 or 7 times. Not sure why...but after I slowly made my way through the first time, I decided that there was way too much good stuff in there & I wanted to soak in some more. So I started to slowly make my way through it again..and for some reason after that, I still didn't want to move on from this book. So many different themes can be traced throughout the book, so many familiar verses that become exponentially greater when found within their given context - all contained in such a short letter! So a couple nights ago, I read through the whole letter in one setting to capture more of the flow. Last night, I read it through once more before bed. Today I've read it 2 or 3 times. I know...not normal. But I know the Spirit of God kept bringing me back there for a reason, and He has shown me a very timely theme woven throughout the 5 chapters of this amazing letter. And I'm going to try my best to share that with you...while also trying my best to not make this a 5 chapter letter of my own!

First of all, it's very clear who Peter is writing this letter to. Not "who" as in a specific church, city, or people group (Jews, etc)...but "who" as in more of a category of people. He addresses it at the beginning to "elect exiles of the dispersion" (or those who are scattered), so we know right off the bat that his readers are 1) believers and 2) living all over the place. But the greeting aside - it can be seen clearly throughout this letter that Peter is writing to believers who are suffering. I counted Peter referring to some form of suffering around 19 times in the book...I counted words such as trial, temptations, and all variations of the word suffer. Attempting to use a concordance, I traced these references back to at least 5 different Greek words. Now - I fully admit that I probably either missed or miscounted the uses of these words or the Greek words they point back to. I'm sure if I dug around in some commentaries, I would be able to find the accurate count of all of these things.

However - regardless of the exact number of Greek words & the English ones they have been translated into, my ramblings on this matter are supposed to make this point: it was not one specific form of suffering or trial that Peter was addressing in his letter. Not all of his original readers were suffering in the same way. While he specifically addresses a few of the different forms (persecution for their belief in Christ {3:14-17; 4:12}, servants treated poorly by their masters {2:18-19}), he also mentions trials & suffering in a general sense {1:6-7}. In fact, the Greek word that I found to be used by Peter the most had this statement next to it in the concordance, "Almost always (used) in (the) New Testament with reference to unpleasant experiences."

What does that mean for me - what does that mean for you? Well, one thing I think it means is that suffering takes on so many various forms. I believe this implies that we should not "compare" the suffering of two (or more) different people. What I mean by that is this: circumstances that might not seem all that terrible for one person may very well be a completely heartbreaking, seemingly unbearable circumstance for another. We should never look at someone's life & tell them that the circumstances or situations they are dealing with aren't "that bad." Different things hit different people different ways, and it is not my job to determine what "suffering" should really look like for someone else. But all of this also tells me how applicable this letter is to me; to us as the church...because we can't read this letter and say, "Well, this isn't applicable because I'm not going through (insert specific trial here)." There's always some kind of hurdle in the road, isn't there?

Which brings me to what I took away as the main theme of this entire letter. I will say this first - there are various topics or themes that one could probably take away from 1 Peter. But the great part about Scripture is that the Spirit of God helps us & teaches us while we read - and this is the theme He made stand out to me as I read through this book: What is my responsibility in the midst of suffering? I believe this is the theme based on who Peter is writing to, and I believe the answer to this question is very clearly presented. In fact, the answer to this question is also exactly the same as it would be to the very basic question of, "What is my responsibility as a follower of Christ?" The answer to both of those questions is this: Holy living. This is most obviously seen in chapter 1, verses 14-16: "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy' " (all of the references of holy living in 1 Peter can be seen Here).

The Why of holy living is easy, but it is profound: Jesus Christ gave His very life to enable us to do so. He bought us out of sin - He found us spiritually dead & made us alive. This is so beautifully mentioned over & over again in the letter. My life is not my own, it is the possession of Christ. The How of holy living though - that's where we get tripped up. I think this calling usually gets thrown into 2 different categories. The first category is legalism. When thinking of "holy living" or "personal holiness," some instantly tie it to legalism in their heads. They start thinking about all the extra-biblical boundaries others set up for themselves, and scoff at instead, some choose to go and re-enter the slave market of sin that we've been bought from & do so in the name of "Christian liberty." The other category is impossibility. We think of all the great passages of God's holiness, such as Isaiah 6, and we instantly realize that we can never attain such a standard. "Be holy as I am holy" - ?? There's no instead, we give up on personal holiness altogether. But my last pastor, who is now one of my best friends, gave the simplest explanation of personal holiness I've ever heard, and I found it echoed again right here in 1 Peter: choose right. In each daily situation; every turning point in your day - choose right. Man...that seems so much easier to follow than the grandiose thoughts of God's indescribable character, doesn't it? That explanation is pretty difficult to link to legalism, isn't it? Just choose right. Obviously it's not always easy to do so. We are literally at war with our old sin nature. But does it make personal holiness seem like something much more attainable? Absolutely, especially since I have the very Holy Spirit of God living inside of me. So how does this link back to my responsibility in the midst of suffering, or trials?

1 Peter 4:19
ESV: "Let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good."
NLT: - "So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for He will never fail you." 

My favorite part is that I'm not supposed to do good or choose right just because I'm told to. No, there's a much deeper reason - it's because I can trust my "faithful Creator." It's because I can trust the God who "will never fail" me. At the very beginning of the book, Peter says that the ultimate reason for trials & suffering is to test the genuineness of our faith. But at the very end of the book, he tells us the result of enduring them:

1 Peter 5:10-11 - "And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever."

The result is that God Himself will build both my character and my hope in Him as He carries me through - but the best result is that HE receives the glory for doing so.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Rejection...we've all been there. At some point in life, we've all felt it. Rejection can take on so many different forms; it can happen on so many different levels. It can be as simple as looking back & remembering yourself always being the last person picked for a game of kickball at recess. It can come in the form of getting laid off from a job, or interviewing for several positions & always getting passed over for another candidate. Maybe you can still remember the person who you thought was the love of your life in high school or college unexpectedly break up with you. It can happen on a much deeper level...parents removing themselves from your life or refusing a relationship with you. Children that act like they want nothing to do with you as their parent. Little or no attention from your spouse on a daily basis - or maybe you have felt the ultimate form of rejection when they decided to just leave altogether.

No matter what "level" of rejection we have experienced in life, the result is always the same: Pain. Scars. Memories. An erosion of any kind of self-confidence. An increased skepticism to continue trusting those closest to us in life anymore. And even if the rejection I have experienced was just a one-time act, it seems like that feeling is the one that wants to hit me in the face every single morning when I wake up. It seems like that's the alarm clock Satan chooses to wake me up with - "You weren't good enough."

Why is the pain of rejection so deep? Why does it linger so long? I believe that it's in our very nature as humans to want to be "accepted." Think about it - we go through life, searching for & longing to belong - to someone, to something. Some find their acceptance within their family. Others find it within sports, where they belong to a team. There are all kinds of places where people find their acceptance - in the military, in any given career, in a marriage relationship, in a church, a band, a book club - the list is almost endless. Is this wrong? Well, I think about what I find in Genesis, during the days of creation - God created Adam...then he decided it was not good for man to be alone - so he gave him Eve. They found their "acceptance" in each other (along with their fellowship with God in the garden). And an even more compelling argument is to look at God Himself - who exists in a triune Godhead - 3 distinguishable persons, yet indivisible in nature. 1 God, 3 persons in perfect harmony & fellowship with each other (or with Himself, I guess) - a "community" existing within the person of God, if you will. And we were created in the image of God - it was in the design of creation to enjoy community with each other; with other people. And this is why, I believe, rejection brings so much pain. It's in our nature to desire acceptance...and it hurts when someone throws it back in our face.

I think it goes without saying, that this is something I have been dealing with the last few weeks & months. I'll think I've moved past it one day, and then the next day it doesn't leave the forefront of my mind. One recent act of rejection in life can cause your mind to go back through & remember every other form & level of "rejection" you have ever faced, and it can really bring you down low (and that's quite an understatement). And it's in those lowest moments that I feel like nobody in my life understands - for some reason I tell myself that nobody really knows what this feels like, and I wonder if anyone even cares (even though I know that's not true). But it was just the other day that I was going through one of these times, when an extremely familiar verse came to mind, and it triggered a sequence of "connect the dots" in my head.

Hebrews 4:15. The total amount of times that I've either read this verse, had this verse shared with me, or even quoted it myself is...well, who knows, but it will suffice to say that it's a very common, familiar verse for me. And to be honest, when you're facing something tough & someone shares a verse like this with you, it's very easy to just be like, "ok, that's great...but that really doesn't do anything for me right now." But the other day when this verse came to mind, I really started to think about it. The verse says that Jesus can "empathize" with me because He was "tempted in every way, just as we are-yet He did not sin." A lot of people can sympathize with one's a nice gesture, and many times it's the only realistic feeling we can have when someone is going through a situation we've never faced. But this says that Jesus has literally, physically faced every possible situation we have & can empathize with us. He understands. He's been there. So how does this relate to my feeling of rejection? Well...when you start to think about's pretty obvious, isn't it?

  • Isaiah 53 - "He was despised and rejected by men..."
  • John 1 - "He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him."
  • Matthew 27 - "Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
If anyone knows what rejection feels like, it's Jesus. If anyone can truly empathize with feelings of rejection, it's Him. And not only was He rejected by the religious leaders of that day & those who crucified Him...but He is still rejected by billions of people every single day. Nobody has faced more rejection than Jesus Christ.

But here's the best part. Jesus didn't choose to come to earth & face rejection just so that He could "empathize" with me. He didn't willingly take on my sin & experience God the Father turning His back on Him just so that I can be "comforted" that He "knows how I feel." No, instead it comes around full circle. Jesus Christ chose to be despised & rejected by men, so that He could offer acceptance to the same men that rejected Him. And that's me. That's you.

John 1:12-13 - "But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God..." 

Wow. Think about that - not only can I go confidently to my great High Priest who empathizes with me, "to receive mercy and find grace to help in (my) time of need"...but when I'm facing those feelings of rejection, I can fulfill my ultimate desire of "acceptance" in Him. The One who took my place, who suffered the death I deserved, who still faces the rejection of the very people He came to order to redeem me from my spiritual death and give me His righteousness. Mind = blown.

Jesus Christ faced ultimate rejection, so that He could offer me divine acceptance.