Thriving in the Middle

EIB pinning

The Army’s EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) “forced march” is daunting. With full pack and weapon, a soldier set out to complete the twelve-mile journey in less than 3 hours as part of the testing to earn the proficiency badge for the infantryman’s craft.

I was never an infantryman, but this “twelve-mile ruck march” was adopted by several other training courses I participated in as a way to test physical and mental toughness. The physical element test is self-evident…but let’s take a moment to explore the mental test and see how it applies in other areas of our lives.

On my first EIB March, I can say that there was great enthusiasm at the onset and the last few hundred yards also bolstered enthusiasm within. Where the difficulty resides is in the middle. Somewhere after the first six miles or so, the road begins to drone on forever and the pain in your body appears to be more prevalent. It is in this difficult “middle” that the mental test reveals itself. A battle rages in the mind of the soldier to succumb to the throbbing feelings in the back, legs, and feet…or to press forward. Pressing forward is not complicated but it requires mental toughness. Simply stated, to work through the middle requires one to intentionally continue placing one foot in front of the other.

EIB Badge

Step, then step, then step, then step. This is the recipe for overcoming the middle. Some guys create games to focus their minds such as developing a cadence in their head. Some will simply focus on another soldier and the interval between them. Others will work on counting off paces along the way. Whatever mental game is implemented, the task is to put one foot in front of the other and then to repeat.

Life in general is like this too. Church life (my present reality) also bears these characteristics. In recent days, I’ve watched several people I love simply lose focus in the middle. They struggle to attend faithfully. They struggle with their personal devotion time. They struggle with fulfilling obligations made to teams and committees. They, frankly, are in the middle of the march. Some of those, experience teaches, will fall away. Some will think the problem is the “march” they are in and will look for other marches (churches) to join. Others will just focus on the throbbing in their legs and sit on the side of the road waiting on the pick-up truck to carry them back to the rally point where they will tell the many reasons why they needed to stop and try again some other times.

But…and this is huge…some will simply put one foot in front of the other and repeat.

Where is the motivation to continue the march?  Friend, that is the part of the test that demonstrates mental toughness. It is individual and personal. At the same time, there are a few aids that seem to be common with everyone who presses through to the finish line:

  • Don’t forget WHY you started. The Infantryman doesn’t want to march, he wants the proficiency badge and the honor that goes with it.
  • Don’t focus on the pain. Feet and legs throb in the march. I get it. Focus though on the terrain or the interval to the next “soldier” ahead of you. Paul instructs us in this when he says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  • Eliminate “other marches” from your field of consideration. All marches in life have a middle. They all test mental toughness. If you quit this one, your future ones will be that much harder, even if you change marches.
  • Remember those around you. Yep, you became part of a team when you started. Someone loved you, cared for you, and encouraged you through your difficulties. If nothing else, defer to your sense of loyalty to the group and put one foot in front of the other. Failure to do so will be a thorn in your side eventually and will serve to discourage the “family of marchers” that loved you to the point where you are.

You can finish. One foot in front of the other. Step, EIB Finish 2then step, then step…

Grace and Peace…and finish the march.

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The Draft, the Bench, and the Will of God

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Two years. That’s almost how long I “rode the pine” in ministry. God had spoken and moved in my life. I surrendered to the call to ministry and began to preach immediately, and often…most months as often as three times per month. But no church called me.

Have you ever “known” the will of God and were certain that God was sending you in a particular direction…only to get passed over?

How did it feel? Did the enemy whisper in YOUR EAR as he does mine?

  • You’re not good enough.
  • You’re not ready.
  • You’re not qualified.

We have recently gone through another season of college football players being examined and selected in the NFL Draft…

The players in the draft represented the best of the talent from their college football squads. They were the guys who made the amazing plays caught on the ESPN highlight reel, and they were the guys making the block that made the plays on the reel possible.

One of the familiar refrains among many of the observers related to why “their player” did not go sooner or did not go to a particular team. Certainly, the “Monday morning quarterbacking” (pun intended) is evident as people like me try to second guess those involved in the process. We might not approve of the message it sends when our favorite University standout doesn’t go until the second or third round. We may even carry a burden of offense for the message of “value” attributed to our player if he goes later in the draft. After all, aren’t all the good players going in the top ten of the first round?

What we may miss now and again is the underlying message. The draft picks are based on the quality of the player AND the needs of the drafting team. It is important to remember that a team with a great quarterback and significant depth on the bench is not making a value judgment of our favorite quarterback when they choose to select a defensive player first. Their selection is about the needs of their team first, and the caliber of your player second.

In our lives and assignments, it is tough at times to watch God draft others for assignments ahead of us. Sometimes He selects people that we should have beaten out for a job. But doesn’t such assessment lack insight? Is God not also able to consider the needs of the team as well as the talent of the player?

Monday comes every week. Every week we look back on Sunday and ask the question about our usefulness in our assignment. If we have a good understanding of God’s will and God’s ways…we must consider that He is working on a larger vision than we cannot often fully grasp. We look at our areas of awareness but God is infinitely more aware of the needs that exist everywhere and at every time…including those that won’t even be revealed for months or years to come. So, rest easy dear friend. Trust the process of the Draft and war against the desire to accept the implicit value judgments. You are valuable. You were drafted. You are exactly where He assigned you and your next assignment, whatever it is, is already known. It is perfect…not only for you but for Him who called you as well.

How not to share the Gospel

Thinking about a conversation this week with a man as I was sharing HIS Story with him. The man, we will call Bob, lives here in Pensacola for over 50 years now minus a few years away in early adulthood. As we discussed his story, he shared that he was Cathoic but doesn’t attend any more. He had married a protestant woman and they never really fit in the Catholic church again. He said that he attended a non-denom church with her a few times through the years but whenever he did, they were “bashing Catholics.”

Here is the interesting point for me…This man did not remember what these churches were FOR, only what they said they were against. He did not know the differences in doctrinal beliefs. he did not know why they held to their beliefs in the Gospel. He only knew they were against Catholics.

Here is what else is interesting…Bob was already out of the Catholic Church…but now he felt compelled to defend it. The efforts of these chruches actually pushed him closer to the Cathoic church. His position as a “Catholic” was now more galvanized.

I don’t imagine that any of the churches or their pastors intended to galvanize this man’s Catholic allegiances. I don’t suspect they wanted him to become resistent to the gospel or to withdraw from attending any church. I suspect their desires were, in fact, the opposite; however, if we focus on what we are against rather than what we are for…we should not be surprised at the unintended but anticipated outcome.

I shared truth with Bob. We discussed the similarities of the faith and had a cordial discussion. We have a little room now for future follow-up but it will be tough sledding. I pray for Bob…but I also pray for us, those with a mandate to share the Gospel (which is all of His people):

  • That we would be wise stewards of opportunities to speak of our King.
  • That we would be bold and kind at the same time.
  • That we would share truth in love. If either is lacking, the “gospel enterprise” is deterred.
  • That we would speak. Frankly Bob meets 4-5 believers a week as customers. He seemed surprised that one (me) would actually invite him to attend a church event in the coming days since he is most definitely a “Catholic,” and I am not. [I invited him to come to my Christmas Eve Service and told him I would not be offended if he did not wear a tie if he was not offended that I would not be wearing my robe :)].
  • Finally, that we would repent of majoring on minors when all eternity hangs in the balance.

Your thoughts are welcomed. What would you do differently? How might you handle “Bob’s” experience? Open Bible 1

 

Politics, Refugees, and a Call for Consistency

Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys

ARLINGTON, TX – DECEMBER 12: Referee Terry McAulay #77 at Cowboys Stadium on December 12, 2010 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

I, like many of you, have been watching with great sorrow the events that have unfolded in recent days with terrorism against Russia, (An airliner bomb) in Paris (Multiple coordinated attacks of an Islamic group), and in other places. There are thousands of people directly affected and millions more that are indirectly affected through the strategy of causing terror and disrupting social order (terrorism).

These events have been read into the narrative of the US policy to accept Syrian Refugees (political and humanitarian cause refugees) as 10,000 have been relocated to the United States as part of an international effort to alleviate suffering.

I am not going to opine on the wisdom of such actions. The problem is complex and cannot be solved with a few sentences on one pastor’s “blog site.” I believe there are scores of people who are far more qualified to offer a solution to the two-pronged problem of humanitarian assistance and national security. [NOTE: I believe that we have a tendency to drift toward one pole or the other in this complex situation and the ultimate solution may ver well be a balance of interests between both extremes]. 

Today I am a bit perplexed by some of my fellow pastors and missionally-minded individuals that have weighed into the discussion. Some have advocated a fullscale approach of receiving all refugees as a means by which we have an instant audience for the gospel. Others have advocated that we secure the borders and reject all refugees as an effort to provide security for our nation’s citizens because there is a clear lack of security protocol in screening the refugees.

What I find most curious…many of these pastors were the loudest critics of the church engaging in political causes through the years. These precious servants of God argued that the will of a previous generation of pastors to seek to engage the political process, help like-minded believers get elected, and prevent candidates of a different values system from coming into office was totally MISPLACED and HURTFUL to the missional purpose fo the church. These dear brethren trumpeted a position that the church was “supra-political” and should not seek to identify with or even be overly concerned with the political will of a nation since the Christians’ first and highest loyalty was to a King and not a political entity.

The arguments notwithstanding, is not your current demands for the national government to act in a certain manner the antithesis of your previous position on the church and politics?

I think, it would do well for us to remember that our nation has a role. Our government has a function as ordained by God to be a means of bring good to a people (common grace) regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. The national government of the United States is not an instrument of the church to accomplish any particular act of will.

In other words, if you think the church should get out of politics, then you are inconsistent to argue for a Christian immigration policy. There is no such thing. There is, however, a responsibility for Christ-followers to care for and help the needy among them…including the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner/refugee. We can and should do that because our King tells us too.

In closing, the words of a really wise philosopher seem appropriate: “Before you tear down a fence (i.e. argue for the church to remove itself from politics), you ought to consider why someone may have built it. Perhaps there is a “bull” you don’t want to tangle with just beyond the former fenceline.

Love to hear your thoughts…

 

I am Dying…Just 1 More Year!

lightIn a conference that I participated in this week, one of the speakers posed the question, “What if you had three and only three years left to live?” How would you lives those remaining days?

As I have been chewing on that, it occurs to me that this is both helpful and painful. It is destructive and edifying…all at the same time.

How so…you might ask? (Yep…me too.)

If you only had a limited and fixed number of days to live, you’d likely spend every one of them in the most productive way possible. You would pursue the most important purposes. You would not allow yourself to become bogged down with the trivial things that so often consume your time and energy. You would be highly sensitive to the investment and outcome of every ounce of effort. After all…today is nearly gone and tomorrow promises one less day to invest in the Kingdom of God.

  • Certainly, you would invest in helping your family know how to live without you. You would pour into your children (in every possible way) the wisdom necessary to make it through the next several chapters of their lives.
  • You would seek to impress your affections for your spouse.
  • You would “bury the hatchet” with that old and lingering enemy. After all…life is short.
  • You would make amends with everyone.
  • You would seek to help others know (if you are a disciple of Jesus) the urgency of Salvation!

What would likely not be so prominent:

  • Your sports team’s record.
  • The fact that your friend hurt your feelings by saying something stupid.
  • Getting another raise (as if ten cents an hour really was important).
  • Buying that third pair of shoes or the latest CD or “rims” for your truck.

The fact is, we spend a lot of energy on things that are temporal and allow that which is eternal get pushed back until tomorrow. This, in light of the fact that we do have a fixed number of days (It is appointed unto man once to die), and that all men will stand before God and give an account for what he/she did with the Messiah of God. He/she will not be judged for his comparative righteousness or his education or heart for social justice…but for what he/she did with Jesus. In light of that…does not our daily concern for the temporal call us to repentance in light of its idolatrous pursuits.

I am dying! This is certain. If I am to be effective in my life and not squander the gift that God has given me, I must act AS IF it is at an unknown but very soon coming date and live purposefully and for the glory of God above all else. God deserves nothing less from me as I respond to His great grace toward me in giving me abundant life through salvation in His Son.

#P5: Obedience includes location

Pastor's Five, P5 logo“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you.’ “ Gen 12:1, NASB

This is where my mind was today when I woke up. I leave in a couple of hours with a team traveling to NY to work with a church planting partner. It is an exciting adventure and for several on the team…is a “first mission trip” experience. Whether it is the first of the fiftieth, this coming week is significant for several reasons, not the least of which is because WHERE you do what the Lord tells you to do is as important as WHAT you do.

Many look at the call the “missions” as a strange consideration. “Why go somewhere else when there is such great need around us?” The reason is…because obedience includes location. If you look at this command to Abram, God gave him very little info: GO…go from, go from, go from…TO a land which I WILL SHOW you. Abram knew more about where and what he was leaving behind than about where he was headed to. He was told to leave the familiar. He was told to leave his security. He was told to leave what was comfortable. Where he was going was undetermined. In fact…the only thing Abram knew about his future endeavor…was that God was mindful of him, present with him, and fully versed on what the future held.

If Abram had stayed in his land and preached powerfully, met the needs of all the people around him, started 1000 soup kitchens, cured disease, and funded 1 million charities…he would still have been disobedient to God. Why? Because OBEDIENCE includes location.

God places us in situations where our only security is Him. He alone is our hope and strength and support. If we rely on anything else…we are in some regard…engaged in a form of idolatry. But…after all…why would we place any trust in anything else since God is greater? WHy hope in less than His awesome love, grace, and purpose.

Go FROM and TO a land I (have yet to show you up to this point but I know perfectly says the Lord and) will show you.

Shalom, CA.

An Open Letter to my African-American Friends

Racism, PeanutsDear brothers and Sisters:

I wish to begin by declaring my love and respect for you. I am thankful for you and for your ministries. In many ways, each of you have had a profound influence on my life and ministry.

I also wanted to share with you a concern of my heart. As you know, I am on a journey of discovery. This journey is important to me because I desire to model grace and to mirror the heart of my Savior. I recognize that there are issues pertaining to race in my community. I know that my ancestors treated black Americans as lesser beings, failing to honor the Imago Dei (Image of God) that your ancestors bore. This was and is wrong. It is horrible and while it was culturally acceptable at the time, it should have been recognized as wrong. I also recognize your claim that latent racism exists in the systems of our culture and community. I don’t see these as readily as you do. Understandably (I hope), your perspective is far clearer than mine in these areas…but I am learning. I do not recognize myself as part of the systemic problem nor do I desire to be there. I want to honor you as a fellow Image-bearer. I want you to know what I believe in my heart…we are brothers and equals in every way imaginable. I feel no sense of superiority to you. If anything, perhaps the opposite is true.

Still, I ASSUME that there are things about my life, my actions, and/or my thought life that may hold to a racial bias. Thought I would adjudicate myself innocent of this, my judgment alone is not sufficient to pronounce my innocence. Only God can know and judge my heart.

One thing I ask of you and I pray you will hear me out. I know that you are angry over the injustice you see. I know that there are things that occur that you earnestly believe are related to racism. I get that. At the same time, when you speak of the culture as racist, or the white community as racist, or the system as racist…I accept some of the weight of that personally even though I do not see it in myself. Yes…I FEEL as if you are calling ME a RACIST! Perhaps you are. If so, I hope to prove your assessment wrong. If, however, you are right, I want to learn better. Doing so requires a willing spirit on my part and I must confess….that is far more difficult to do when I hear you call me a racist. When you immediately declare RACE as the reason you were pulled over, passed over, or looked over…I hear you say that all people who are not black (including myself) did that to you. This immediately places me on the defensive.

This is my pledge to you. I will not assume you disdain me because I am white. (This too is racism). I will defend you at every opportunity if others mistreat you because of your race. Further, if I am acting as a racist…I want to know. Please…I “give you permission” to call me out biblically if I am in error, or if you perceive me to be in error. If I am wrong, I will admit it and seek your forgiveness.

But, please, help me keep the conversation going. Please don’t see racism in everything that occurs. Sometimes you’re pulled over simply because you were driving poorly. Sometimes you are looked over simply because others are distracted. Sometimes you are passed over for promotion at work..simply because there is someone who is more suited for the job.

I love you. You are my brothers and sisters. I want to do meaningful work with you. Help me address the injustices shown toward you, whether by me or others. Let’s address it together, as family…in Christ.

Peace.