Finishing Well

startThere are 2,300 people mentioned in the Bible and 100 are prominent figures. Of those 100, only 1/3 finished well. Regarding the 2/3 that failed to finish well, most of them faltered in the last 1/2 of life.

When I look at many people older than me, I see the same trend with many struggling physically, mentally & spiritually. Many seem to have given up on aging gracefully and are just surviving, waiting for their last day to arrive. Many, unfortunately, have even given up on any kind of service to God, though they served Him fervently for much, if not all, of their younger years. “Let the younger ones do the work now,” they say. They are, at the moment, failing to finish well in the last 1/2 of life.

For much of my life, I dreaded growing older because I just didn’t see any older person who aged gracefully. All I saw were people getting more miserable with each passing day, and I knew I wanted no part of getting older if that’s what it was like.

Thankfully, my view of getting older changed in recent years as it is now being shaped by a few individuals who are aging gracefully. They serve God with increasing fervency. They possess joy, wisdom and peace that seems to come from a lifelong process of sanctification, an increasing intimacy with God that becomes immediately obvious in their presence. They still have struggles, but they never lose their focus on Christ. Their faith shines even in the toughest of times. And that, I want.

Likewise, there are that 1/3 of the 100 prominent who still serve as examples of how to finish well. I’m thankful for their example too. Combine the examples of people I know with those I read about, and I’m believing that I too can finish well.

How to Finish Well

finish

When I run in organized races, people I don’t even know cheer me on. Other runners cheer me on too. I also find myself encouraged by the others who finish the race and then go back down the course to cheer on other runners. And even though I know none of these people, I’m encouraged just to be told, “Keep going! Don’t quit. You’re almost there.”

The race of my faith life is also cheered on by people I don’t know, those who have gone before me and finished well. It’s encouraged by those running the race with, though a bit ahead, me too. My running is fueled by the words of Scripture acknowledging that the race is difficult but that finishing well is more than possible.

  1. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Cross the finish line. (2 Timothy 4:7)
  2. Complete the task Jesus gives you to do. (Acts 20:24)
  3. Discipline yourself & make sure what you teach matches how you live all the way to the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  4. Endure to the end. (Hebrews 12:1)
  5. Stay qualified through the end. (Colossians 1:10-14 & 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  6. Let Christ complete His work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  7. Stay confident. (Hebrews 10:35)
  8. Live forward, not backward. (Philippians 3:12-16)

To me, these Scriptures say, “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re almost there.” They, along with the stories of the 1/3 who did finish well and those running just ahead of me today, encourage and cheer me on daily. They fuel my determination to finish well and to refuse to join the ranks of those who, in the last 1/2 of life wax and wane into average at best and flat out failure at worst.

DISCUSSION: What individual from the Bible do you think is the best example of finishing well and why? What motivates you to follow the advice listed above on how to finish your life well?

The Physical has SOME Value

some value 1

Living in the Extremes

Some people give their physical bodies a lot of focus from extremes with exercising, weight lifting & dieting to an obsessive focus on appearances through things like clothing, hair, nails, etc. By the same token, I know many who don’t attempt to care for themselves physically much at all past the bare minimum. They pay little attention to what or how much they eat, and physical appearance seems last on their list of priorities.

At one extreme, there are people in top shape physically but doing little for their spiritual fitness because the “some value” placed on the physical is choking out any attention on the spiritual. At the other extreme, many people, while effective for God, limit their potential by neglecting the “some value” placed on the physical self.

In no way am I saying that attention toward the physical and the spiritual should be equal. Balance does not mean equal. What I am saying is that while that which lasts into eternity should hold a larger portion of our life’s focus and should be a higher priority, the physical aspect of this life does have “some value” right now. And we do ourselves – and God – a disservice if we completely neglect or give too much focus to our physical selves.

Understanding the Value

some value 2

To help better understand the balance between priority toward the spiritual and giving “some value” to the physical, consider how a life focused largely on the eternal must also live in as healthy a way as possible in the physical here and now. Let’s look at what 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 & 2 Corinthians 4:1-5:10 say about this balance.

  1. We do need our physical bodies – our tents – even if only temporarily.
  2. Our physical bodies house the Holy Spirit.
  3. We don’t own our bodies, God does.
  4. We are to honor God and aim to please Him with our bodies.
  5. Our bodies also hold precious treasure, namely, the light of the truth of Christ as Lord.
  6. The struggles of our bodies connect us with Christ’s death & His life is seen through them.
  7. The frailty of our physical bodies creates a longing for Heaven.
  8. The troubles in our bodies point to great glory beyond them.
  9. We will be rewarded based on what we do and don’t do in our physical bodies.
  10. Christ bought us with a price. We now show gratitude for His sacrifice through our physical selves.

The more I read in Scripture about the value placed on my physical body, the more I realize the importance of doing the best I can with what I am given in this life. Doing so demonstrates good stewardship of this temporal life given me.

At the same time, what I do in and with my physical body also demonstrates my eternal focus, the even greater value placed on godliness and the honor I can give God in this life even as I long for life beyond this temporary dwelling.

DISCUSSION: How do you see the balance between our physical & spiritual selves playing out this side of Heaven?

When Dreams Feel Just Out of Reach

The following is a guest post from Dave Arnold. Dave is an an author, speaker, and coach who loves helping people thrive in life and be all that God has called them to be.

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dreamsFor years I’ve had the dream of becoming a full-time public speaker. As far back as I can remember I’ve always loved to speak. As a young child, people would tell my mom, “Wow, your son is so verbal.” – a polite way of saying I talk too much.

After I gave my first speech in college, my world changed.

My professor confirmed this and said, “Dave, I think you have a real gift.” From that day on, I loved speaking. In fact, I had many opportunities to speak in college: at chapel, on mission trips, at a summer camp – and I loved it.

In 2002, just two years after my wife and I married, I got a job at a big church as the College and Young Adult Pastor, and I spoke every Saturday night to about 200 twenty-something’s. As great as this was, my sights were set on the big stage – the weekend services where about 10,000 people attended.

My goal was to speak in the main church auditorium, and I was certain the lead pastor, once he discovered my gift, would be knocking on my door for me to speak. After a couple of years, I began to wonder what was taking so long.

That knock never came. Only silence. And then one day I heard a knock on the office door next to mine. It was the lead pastor and he was there to see John, the new Singles Pastor, who started two months back.

I overheard the conversation, and my heart sank when I heard the pastor say, “John, I would like you to speak at a weekend service.”

What!?” I thought. “s only been here two months and I have been here four years!”

And then my chest tightened, I gritted my teeth, and the tears started to flow… I mean, it was Niagara Falls. I couldn’t control it.

Although I was devastated, this experience taught me some valuable lessons. Here’s what I learned.

More work Needed

The truth was, I felt entitled to speak, like I had earned it – or so I thought. But honestly that is pride, and pride is blinding and often isn’t exposed until we are forced to change.

We live in a culture of instants: instant pleasure, instant connections, instant information. And when things don’t work out the way we’d thought or hoped, we are prone to meltdown, or to cry (like I did).

Living out your dream is not instantaneous. It takes time and work and struggle. There are days we feel closer than ever, and other days like throwing in the towel.

Pain and Discomfort Are a Part of Dream-Chasing

dreams 2

“A general rule in creating stories,” writes Donald Miller, “is that characters don’t want to change. They must be forced to change.”

Ouch! But so true. I needed to change. My perspective was off. I needed a good ol’ dose of humility.

Just because we have a natural talent for something – writing, speaking, music, whatever – doesn’t mean we don’t need to work on it. And often working on it means having to face rejection and discomfort.

Great art, I believe, is often forged through pain and discomfort.

You’re Closer Than You Realize 

A closed door does not mean your dream won’t come true or is unattainable; it just means there’s more work to be done, more preparation, more transformation.

After I cried my face off for a bit in my office, I picked myself up and got back to work. And I can honestly say something changed within me that day. I no longer tried to prove myself and get noticed. I no longer measured my value in whether I would speak or not.

I decided to just be myself and do what I needed to do.

Ten years and two kids later, my dream is starting to take shape. I’ve made tons of mistakes, I’ve wanted to give up numerous times… but I’ve kept moving forward. I guess you could say I haven’t given up hope.

And isn’t that the point? To not give up, to keep moving, to keep hope alive. You’re closer than you think. Allow pain and discomfort to make you stronger. Keep believing.

DISCUSSION: How have you dealt with a closed door on your dream? Please share I the comments.

How to Live a Long, Good Life

It’s NOT About the Numbers

scaleCurrent weight. Weight lost. Weight gained. Calories burned. Calories consumed. Miles ran. Miles biked. MPH. All numbers that could easily steal my life’s focus. Add into the mix comparison to the numbers of others, and I’m stuck in not being skinny enough or fast enough or in any way good enough.

But the number that messes with my focus worse than any of these is my age. This number derails me the easiest because I can do nothing to change it. My age will increase regardless of what I do and don’t do.

StopwatchAs explained in Aging Gracefully, I struggle with aging. Within that struggle though, I am determined to age gracefully. I want my years this side of Heaven to be meaningful and effective. This requires a right focus, one that pleases God, one where numbers don’t consume me.

Unfortunately, my focus still too easily gets caught by the advertisements and books and news articles toting the keys to longevity. What the world says about living a long, good life catches my attention pretty much every time it enters my awareness.

What does the world say about living a long, good life? Here are two examples representing the world’s view well:

  • Martha Stewart (She’s now 71!) says to eat well, maintain a healthy weight, stay physically active, get quality sleep, wear sunscreen, collaborate with a good primary care doctor regularly, find your passion, connect with others, stop complaining & stay curious.
  • The Huffington Post says to avoid 7 things in order to age gracefully: Wearing too much makeup, eating too much salt, negativity, watching too much TV, too much sun, stress & overindulging.

Most similar sources say basically the same things, and they’re not wrong. The problem I have with this advice is that it never seems like enough. When I focus on what my culture and science says to live a long, good life, I never find lasting peace. The only satisfaction I’ve ever found, the kind that left me truly feeling peaceful with my life’s focus, is that shaped by my Creator’s intentions.

What does the Bible say about living a long, good life?

They key difference between what the world says and what Scripture says about living a long, good life is that Scripture points to a life not defined by the number of years but instead by satisfaction with days lived. And the only times I’ve been satisfied with my days lived are when God is satisfied with them.

God’s satisfaction with my days comes through living out His Word, which tells me that a long, good life comes when I…

  1. Control my tongue. (Psalm 34:12-14, 1 Peter 3:10)
  2. Avoid evil. (Psalm 34:12-14)
  3. Do good. (Psalm 34:12-14)
  4. Pursue peace. (Download Pursuing Peace study)

In a practical “How do I live this out?” sense, the difference between the world’s view and God’s view of living a long, good life involves focus. When I focus on what the world says, my focus goes toward myself. When I hone in on what God says, my focus aims directly at pleasing Him. My focus determines my reality.

So while the physical aspects of our lives DO have some value, and measuring them at times can be helpful toward our productivity (which we’ll talk about next week), priority goes toward godliness, toward living to please God, which has value not just now but into eternity (1 Timothy 4:8).

DISCUSSION: What do you see as the key difference between the world’s and God’s views on living a long, good life? What other principles does Scripture give for living a long, good life?

Aging Gracefully

Birthday Confetti Email SalutationEvery year as my birthday nears, I struggle with aging. Actually, I continually battle the thought of aging but fixate on it more when I must actually add to the number that captures the reality.

Yeah, I know the “age is just a number” sayings, but I don’t buy them. To me, that constantly-increasing number reminds me of my mortality, and I find I must deliberately confront my thoughts in this area in order to not find myself consumed by what sometimes feels like futility.

Maybe I love this world too much. Maybe I’m too attached to the desires of my flesh. Or maybe I simply struggle with the wasted time of my past, now lost forever. Regardless, I know I need to, as my pastor said recently, live forward instead of backwards, and for me this means confronting these thoughts that could paralyze me if I let them.

tent

While I struggle with aging, I’m also acutely aware that the number placed on my age only involves my current dwelling or “tent” as Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). I know that the real me, my spirit, renews daily (2 Corinthians 4:16)… it doesn’t age. I hold dearly to my future promised with Christ in Heaven, and I know I must “not think only about things down here” but must “also set [my] sights on the realities of heaven” (Colossians 3:1-2).

At the same time, I can’t deny my desire to extend this tent-dwelling life as much as possible, to live a long, good life on this earth. I simply cannot escape the deep sense that this mortal life truly matters even amidst its fleetingness.

Since this life does matter, I want to age gracefully. I want to live fully in a way that pleases my Creator because I don’t believe He would give me this life if it didn’t matter much, if He didn’t have a specific purpose for both now and into eternity.

Do you have a similar struggle with aging and/or a desire to age gracefully?

In my goal to age gracefully, the focus topic for August on Struggle to Victory, I’m looking to what Scripture says to help me live in victory even within the struggle. In that, I will explore what the Bible teaches about living a long, good life (which is actually quite a lot), attempt to understand the truth that “physical training is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8) and look at what it takes to finish well.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on aging gracefully?

Lessons from Galatians

Every year, my oldest son (now 15) attends Christians In Training at Bair Lake Bible Camp. And ever year, he asks if he can write a post about what he learned at camp. This is the third installment of that “series.”

4 Topics to Take Out of Galatians

galatiansThis year at CIT, our main focus book was Galatians. Some of the many seminars were Galatians, The Gospel, Justification by Faith, Biblical Generosity, Servanthood, Idols of the Heart, Evangelism and Worship. The four seminars that stuck out for me were Galatians, The Gospel, Justification by Faith, and Biblical Generosity. These four seminars helped me come up with four topics to take out of Galatians.

  1. The Gospel (Galatians 1:3-5)
  2. Don’t add anything to the Gospel (Galatians 1:6-9)
  3. The Gospel came from God (Galatians 1:11-12)
  4. The Gospel is about Jesus
  5. Freedom (Galatians 3:22-25)

In the Galatians’ seminar, the teacher (Rick Larmen) said that the main word to take out of Galatians is “freedom.”

  1. Christ has freed us from the curse (law) (Galatians 3:13-14)
  2. Before Christ we were slaves to the law, after Christ were are freed from the law (Galatians 3:23-25)
  3. Justification by faith (Galatians 3:6-9)
  4. Justification is an act of God the Father (Galatians 3:7)
  5. We are declared righteous (Galatians 3:11-14)
  6. We become children of God (Galatians 3:26-29)
  7. Biblical generosity (Galatians 6:6-10)
  8. Support your supporters (Galatians 6:6)
  9. A man reaps what he sows (Galatians 6:7)
  10. If you are not generous, it will come back to bite you (Galatians 6:8)
  11. Never give up (Galatians 6:9)
  12. Invest in everyone especially Christians (Galatians 6:10)
  13. Be generous when you get the opportunity (Galatians 6:10)

Thanks to these seminars, I learned that Galatians is more than a letter. It can teach you many things like how to be biblically generous or what the gospel is.

Check out Jonathan’s other posts from his first two years at CIT:

Time for a Paradigm Shift?

milkFood Substitutions

Because of a dairy allergy, coconut milk substitutes for cow’s milk. Because of a gluten intolerance, rice-based products substitute for those made with wheat flour.

“That’s got to be hard,” many people say to me. “No, it’s really not,” I respond. “I’m used to it.”

But the comment always reminds me of the beginning of the journey when I constantly felt frustrated. I looked at store shelves and even my own cupboards and saw only what I couldn’t eat.

Over the past five years, my paradigm regarding food shifted dramatically. Through this process, God also taught me more about Himself.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui-Gon to Anakin, Star Wars, The Phantom Menace)

cookiesAfter diagnosis of a food allergy & several sensitivities, I slowly adjusted my eating habits. My attention now goes to what I can eat, and I think little about what’s not on my menu anymore. When I focused on what I couldn’t eat, I felt deprived. When I focused on what I could have, I discovered new and enjoyable experiences.

In the Christian life, focusing on what God offers brings exciting and eternally beneficial experiences well beyond anything the world offers. What you “can’t” have no longer becomes what you want.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Ice creamIf I eat dairy or gluten, my digestion immediately slows almost to a stop. If I keep eating them, my body fails to get needed nutrients, and eventually adrenal fatigue and depression set in along with other unpleasant reactions. The consequences range from immediate and uncomfortable to severe and debilitating. I must live with a zero-tolerance policy regarding gluten and dairy.

I must also have zero-tolerance in certain areas of my spiritual life if I want to remain spiritually healthy. Days need to begin with prayer. Regular fellowship and worship need to exist. Bible study must happen frequently & regularly. Compromising in any of these areas leads to consequences that are devastating.

“Simply the thing I am shall make me live.” (William Shakespeare)

Upon first discovery of my food allergy and sensitivities, I felt like my life was horribly complicated. I struggled to figure out what I could and could not eat and felt not only like a burden when eating with others but an outsider as well.

Now I realize my diet simplifies my life and makes me healthier because most unhealthy foods filling so many dinner tables don’t find their way into my house much. Restaurant choices are limited (cross-contamination), but these limitations also simplify choices and save time. Once I accepted myself physically with regard to food limitations, I realized that simplicity was a gift that helped me and my family lead healthier lives.

As I learn to accept who I am spiritually, my life becomes simpler and more focused. Instead of wishing I was someone else with different gifts, talents and abilities, I find peace and contentment with who I am. Accepting myself as God created me is having wide-reaching impact on my life.

“[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

The integration of so many substitutions into my life also leads me to be more aware of the life-giving power that substitutions can have. After all, they created a healthier me than has ever existed.

The biggest truth that these substitutions bring to light for me involves the substition of Jesus for my sins, for everyone’s sins. No, I don’t think of this every time I make a food substitution, but I do think of it often, especially when I reflect on the journey my health and eating have taken over the past five years.

The connection between my eating and spiritual journeys exists as one of the major reasons I truly believe God wants to be in every detail of our lives. He also wants to use every detail to shape spiritual paradigms too.

DISCUSSION: How has God used a situation or journey in your life to make a paradigm shift?

Guest Post on Stretched

Stretched guestToday, I have the privilege of guest posting on Jon Stolpe’s blog Stretched while’s he’s on a mission trip in Guatemala. Jon is a Christ-follower, and he writes about leadership. life, parenting, marriage & faith.

Take a few minutes to check out my post “Finding a New Normal,” and leave a comment if you have an extra minute. While you’re there, check out some of Jon’s posts… they’re well worth your time!

Discovering Strength Through Brokenness

broken In 2009, I discovered my allergy to dairy and my intolerance to gluten. Sensitivities to several other foods (crab, eggs and cashews) also came to light. As I changed my diet to eliminate these foods, I began to feel dramatically better. In fact, I felt better physically and mentally than I had my whole life.

Then I reached a plateau about two years later. I felt a tremendous sense of isolation as well as frustration as I watched others enjoy any food they desired. I saw only limits. I saw a cage that separated me from others. My frustration increased as I realized that my body is also tremendously sensitive to a lot of stimulation.

In fact, inflammation rises at the slightest chemical imbalance. Too much of any food causes distress, but any of certain foods causes setback. In addition, a lot of noise bothers me, and too much information in too small space of time easily impedes my ability to think. I also struggle being in groups of people for very long, sometimes even at all.

At times, I’m simply at odds with understanding why I am so physically and mentally sensitive. Some days, I just feel very alone. But, this journey also brings to light my many physical and mental limitations and weaknesses and gives greater understanding of how God’s strength flow in a practical way through my weaknesses.

In this struggle, I learned a valuable lesson: Freedom comes through brokenness revealed by weaknesses.

Realizing utter helplessness to be healthy on my own truly set me free. The process began with salvation and seeing my inability to escape the grip of sin. And it grew when I finally understood that every weakness I have presents an opportunity for increased freedom from the flesh.

My weaknesses humble me. They force me to understand my inability to control. They lead me to increased reliance upon the only One who truly has control. They present a choice between letting those weaknesses define and control me or allowing them to direct me toward His strength.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My weaknesses constantly remind me of my need for Christ. They remind me every day of my lack of self-control and of my tendency toward acting based on feelings and emotion. Without Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit producing the fruit of self-control within me, I fall prey to the consequences of my weaknesses.

Brokenness opens the floodgates for His power to work perfection in spite of me. It allows for a Holy-Spirit-led life that does not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), desires that most clearly show through in my weaknesses. And this by nothing in and of myself but instead only through His strength filling in the spaces left by brokenness.

DISCUSSION: How has weakness led to brokenness in your life? What difference does God’s strength make in your struggle with weakness?

Consistent Stretching & Strengthening

Stretching 2Foot and leg pain began when I started running at age 14 because a boy I liked ran cross country. (Incidentally, over 20 years later, not only do I still run, but I’m married to that boy who also still runs.) My first memory of these problems were shin splints. My cross country coach faithfully taped my feet before every practice & meet to help alleviate some of the pain.

My mom took me to the podiatrist who fitted me with orthodics, which I don’t recall really wearing much (okay, not at all). In college, I ran very little, so the pain subsided, and I all but forgot about it.

Then the pain started again after college because I started running again. I also started teaching college classes, which meant a lot of standing, and the pain in my feet and legs gradually increased and returned worse than ever.

Stretching 1After trying orthodics again, expensive shoes & lots of rest, I finally sought to revamp my running form as well as to incorporate cross training activities. Still, the pain increased to the point of not being able to walk without a limp.

Next, I endured the most painful event ever in my life, nerve testing of my feet (seriously, huge crochet needs stuck in the side of my feet). No problems found. Next came hours of physical therapy on pretty much every joint & ligament from the waste down. Painful.

The point? I’ve done a lot to find relief from this chronic feet, leg & hip pain. But only one route brought any consistent relief… stretching & strengthening.

Physical therapy taught me how to stretch the tight muscles in my legs and feet. About the same time, I began to strengthen my core too. When I do these regularly, my feet and leg pain – along with any back pain – almost disappears. Missing a day or two here and there isn’t a big deal, but chronically missing them gradually brings back the pain and tingling sensation.

My lifelong struggle with foot, leg and hip pain and finally finding the solution of stretching and strengthening remind me of the importance of consistent Bible study, prayer and fellowship. When I do these activities regularly, my focus remains steadily on Christ and my purposes set toward His desires. When I don’t, I lose focus easily and find myself lost and unbalanced in a chaotic world. These activities, when done consistently, do for my soul what stretching does for my muscles… prepare me to better handle the stress and strain of life.

So, why don’t I always keep with the habits of prayer, Bible study & fellowship?Probably for the same reason I neglect my stretching & strengthening routine at times. When the pain goes away, I forget what brought relief. Conversely, when I feel the pain, I’m motivated toward the habits that keep me flexible and strong.

The same holds true spiritually. Unfortunately, I’ve sort of trained God that I need to feel pain and/or discomfort in order to keep to the good habits that provide for my protection. He knows I need to be reminded of the basic habits needed to remain strong and flexible in this journey of life.

Does your life reflect this truth? Share your story in the comments.