Stress and Embarrassment

My life has many stresses on it right now, as most of us live with some sort of stress at one time or another. However, my constant focus has always been to allow the stress of the situation make you stronger, but don’t let it break you. Unfortunately, it almost broke me last night, as I drove home in tears, sad, disappointed, and grasping for control. The signs were there that I was allowing the stress to pile on without a valve to release. My blood pressure was high, my emotional control was waning, and I was feeling isolated in a room full of friends.

The thing about stress is that it can either break you, or make you stronger, but if you just allow it to pile on without a release valve, then it will break you. I was beginning to crack, and even though I always tried to put up the facade that I was alright, my body was physically rejecting that, and was telling me I needed a relief valve pulled. I have always had running and exercise as a valve to give me relief, but with a leg injury that has finally sidelined me, I needed something else as a relief valve.

Sorrow and embarrassment clouded my mind last night, and I was not my usual jovial self. I was not a person that anyone would want to be around. I was lost in my own mind while my body was paying the price; my relationships were paying the price; my sanity was paying the price. I felt out of control, I felt for the first time since I had lost my weight as if I was the unhealthy person, which was too much for me to handle. My pride broke. The stresses were mounting, and my blood pressure was spiking.

I ultimately did something I had to do, and I sought solitude. Ironically, I had just preached on how Jesus needed solitude after feeding the 5000, but I literally had a hard time practicing what I preach. The mounting stress had caused me to isolate myself even among a group of people I call friends, and the only way to break from this isolation was to find solitude. To find a place where my mind was free, and I could commune with a loving God that wants me to simply raise my arms and cry out, “Save me!”

Stress can only make me stronger if I manage it, and admit that I need help dealing with it, dispersing and relieving it when necessary, for that I need to acknowledge I am mortal and I need saving. When I need solitude, I need to go and seek solitude. When I need relief, I need to seek relief. Life is a roller coaster, full of ups and downs, but I don’t ride this ride alone, God is with me. When I forget; I embarrass myself, I lose control, and I begin to break.

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With A Thankful Heart…

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I may be late to the party here, but I would like to wish all of you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving. Over social media, November has been a month where many have daily listed the things for which you are thankful. This is a great practice, and a good way to focus upon the many blessings in each of our lives. I am thankful for the practice and thankful for so many of my friends that have adopted the practice, which have encouraged me that I need to live a life filled with more gratitude.

So here’s to living life with thankfulness for all the many blessings surrounding me everyday. No matter our lot in life, we have much for which to be thankful. Personally, I have a wife that loves me and chose to walk beside me in the craziness that we call our life. I have four kids that are absolutely amazing and they teach me so much and unconditionally pour out love upon me. I’ve been blessed with a family that is close enough to spend many weekends and vacations enjoying one another. Life has brought me friends from many different walks of life that teach me that no matter how diverse we are we can share our life and find enrichment and growth in one another.

Although there is much that I desire, but there is nothing that I need that I cannot obtain or is not provided to me. I understand that this is not true for everyone in the world, and as we sit down to eat our Thanksgiving meals, or any meal, we need to be mindful that we are blessed. There are many things that we have in abundance, but a majority of the world does not have the same abundant living.

I wish I didn’t need a national holiday to remind me to change my heart, so that I am much more thankful for all that I have been blessed with in life. No matter where life puts me, I need to remember that God has provided for me, and will continue to provide for me. God’s love is forever, and forever God’s love will be with me. Hopefully, I can remember to be thankful, and to live a life filled with gratitude for all that I have been given, and all the reasons I have to be thankful.

Saying, “Thank you,” is a beginning, but living my entire life with a thankful heart is a process, not a once a year celebration.

Thank you Almighty God for giving me Your never ending love.

Psalm 118 ESV
Oh give thanks to the Lord , for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!  
Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”  
Out of my distress I called on the Lord ; the Lord answered me and set me free.  
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?  
The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.  
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.  
All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  
They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!  I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. 
The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. 
Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,  the right hand of the Lord exalts, the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”  
I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord . 
The Lord has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.  
Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord . 
This is the gate of the Lord ; the righteous shall enter through it. 
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.  
The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 
This is the Lord ’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.  This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. 
Save us, we pray, O Lord ! O Lord , we pray, give us success!  
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord ! We bless you from the house of the Lord . 
The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!  You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.  
Oh give thanks to the Lord , for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

3:46:00

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This past summer I ran my fastest marathon in three hours, forty-six minutes, and no seconds. Although this time is not terribly fast by the standards of marathon running, although it was much faster than I could imagine I could run a marathon even a year ago. In Jr. High and in High School I was an athlete, but when in college, I realized I didn’t want to pursue athletics any longer, for many reasons that are not important, I quickly lost the athlete within. I covered him up with sloth, with gluttony, with self-destructive habits, and just letting myself go.

In early 2009, I realized that these habits were going to lead to my ultimate demise. I wasn’t going to be around when my son was going to grow up, I wasn’t going to be able to participate and play with him as he got older. At nearly 350 lbs I was on track toward a shortened life span, and maybe not seeing my son grow up. I decided to begin an exercise regiment. This wasn’t huge, I walked slowly on a treadmill for an hour three times a week, and I jumped in a pool and swam once a week. I also learned portion control, one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, no more “Taco Bell Fourth Meal”. In the midst of this first step, I began losing weight, within six months 50 pounds, and 80 lbs were off by Christmas 2009. There was no magic diet, I ate less, and I exercised more.

Have you noticed the pattern? Have you realized my error? I, I, I, I, I, and I. I am taking the credit for all this hard work. Certainly, I did the work, but it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that I was prompted, I merely answered the call. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I was transformed, not only spiritually, but also emotionally and physically. I was broken, and I needed fixing. God took hold of me, and shook me.

This shook me straight into a crazy thought, I should run a marathon! I set my sights on the next LA Marathon. My sister encouraged me to run at least a half-marathon before that, so we ran in the Las Vegas Half in December 2010. I completed that race in just over two hours, and was able to set a goal for the marathon of five hours. I had lost nearly 100 pounds, and felt as if I was ready to take on 26.2 miles. That was 2011, and a legendary rain filled LA Marathon struck. Shortly into the race, my focus shifted from my goal of five hours to finishing the race. Every joint hurt, my legs were tight, and I started counting down the miles or fractions thereof. All the hard work led to pain, and I was barely able to keep my legs going. After 5 hours and 17 minutes, I crossed the finish line, bruised, battered, and barely walking. (As a thank you, the LA Marathon team gave us the opportunity to walk an additional mile so that we could get our gear.)

I accomplished something, I finished the ridiculous distance, and I was not beaten by the weather. I was proud that I accomplished a feat that only a small percentage of people have accomplished, but my feat was not impressive. I was still far from what I could be, and far from what I was before the stench of sloth covered over body. I kept running more and more and my next race was a two hour half marathon later in the year. After that race my daughter was born and the training took a brief hiatus, but when I restarted I set my sights on another marathon, this one the 2012 Santa Clarita Marathon. I followed a strict training regiment and figured I would improve upon the five hour marathon and set my goal to run it in four and a half hours. However, half way into the race I realized that I was in much better shape and was most likely going to beat the goal I set for myself, and I was on pace to run a four hour marathon. I eventually finished the race in just over four hours as I slowed down at mile 24, but this was a huge win for my psyche.

First I worked hard to lose weight, then I worked hard to get myself into better shape, however it was all worthless compared to the riches I have in Christ. However, the way that I have worked on losing weight, and running faster only serve to show that I am constantly being refined and made better by the work of the Holy Spirit moving in my life. So I sit here tonight, having accomplished running a marathon in three hours and forty-six minutes, and having lost more than 150 pounds, but God is still working on me. Not to lose more weight, and maybe not to even run any faster, but God is working to refine me, and make me more into the man that God desires, a man after God’s own heart.

Paul reminds us in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 ESV)

God isn’t finished with us. I have a marker and a path I have followed, and although I took the steps toward where I am today, God is the one that worked on me, and has brought me on this path toward holiness and sanctification. I pray that as I continue in this path toward a deeper relationship with God, that I can be faithful to God’s call. Praise be to God.

BUT I say to YOU!!!

43″You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 ESV)

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This passage from the Sermon on the Mount gives a new take on love, and a new take on enemies, but even more so a new take on what God requires of us. God’s call to love those around us stretches beyond just the people who are easy to love, but rather love EVERYONE. Love doesn’t belong to us, and we don’t get to determine a person’s worth, God gives them value, we need to love them. Unfortunately, we commoditize love;  when someone gives love, we give love; when we give love, we expect love in return.  This is the way of the world, which is easy… sort of.

In this worldview, a ledger exists. We can examine our lives and determine whether we are in a love debt, or whether we have a love balance in our account. The only problem with this type of world is that we are constantly opening and closing accounts that it could get extremely complicated to figure which accounts are positive and which accounts are negative. In my experience, when paying love forward, and it doesn’t get paid back, those people either become enemies, or even worse they get forgotten. We all have limits with how high we will let our accounts get, and when our accounts get too low sometime shame leads us to running away from them.

God wants more! There are NO LIMITS to God’s love, which we need to emulate. God’s love pours out on everyone. Jesus died to show how far God will go to LOVE!

Tear up the ledgers. Treat everyone like they are family. Let the blessings flow! If you try to live out the love ledger, you don’t understand God’s love, and I venture to say that you are exhausted trying to keep it up. We will never even up the ledger with God, we will always be in debt. Even worse, I have family and friends that I wouldn’t even come close to clearing out my love debt. I am thankful for them, and I am thankful that God has let me pile up this debt without casting me from the bosom of the Almighty. I am not worthy.

However, at the end of this passage that one command trips me up, “BE PERFECT!” Not that God’s love will be withheld for a lack of perfection, but our constant striving must be perfection. Love God with every inch of your being, may you live your life out in worship to God. Love one another to the furthest extent possible. Love as if you are in a love debt to everyone. If you ever get to a point where you stop and think that you have loved enough, love some more. Strive for perfection in the way you love God, strive for perfection in the way you love every person with which you come  in contact! This is Shalom.

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. (Romans 12:10 ESV)

34

Today I turned 34. Thank you for so many of the loving birthday wishes.

Days like these, whether they are birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. are times that we celebrate, times that we remember, and times that we get a new start. I had an opportunity to do each of these today.

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Today I was celebrated, through song, through food, through gifts, and through time spent with my family.

Today I remember that I have been blessed with 34 years in this life. I remember that even though everything hasn’t been perfect, God has been beside me every step of the way. God reminds me of how much I am blessed through celebration, and the abundant love my family has shown to me throughout the years, no matter what.

Today, though, I am excited that it is an opportunity for a new beginning. Every year between 25 and 30 I always said that would be the year I would lose the weight and trim down. Unfortunately, most of those years showed a net gain, rather than loss. Thankfully, starting with my 30th Birthday I began losing weight. Over the past four years, I have lost somewhere between 130 and 150 pounds. Birthdays showed an opportunity, a jumping off point for me to get my life in order and pursue a change for the better.

Today, I want to make my life better, my walk with God closer, my family more complete, my world a better place. May I work toward new beginnings. I want to dedicate myself to making me a better me in this 34th year.

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Black Friday?

Today there were sales. Today we were all supposed to go out and buy in order to help make sure that people stay employed. Today a lot of money, energy, and other resources were wasted.

Life has conditioned us that we instinctively look in the newspaper on Thursday to find out what big screen television we have to get. Look, even my nine month old daughter thinks that she has to get in on Black Friday.

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The whole concept that we must go out and support the consumer culture is terribly flawed. I wish I were immune from the draw toward the mall and to the stores in search for a couple deals. Unfortunately, I was out there with many of you, and I engaged in our consumer culture and spent resources.

I will not spend time reciting the numerous statistics I saw throughout social media today about the amount of money that is spent this weekend, and the amount of money that is needed to end any number of ailments in the world. It is appalling that so much money is spent on things that are of little to no worth. Last year I hit that point with my kids, we spent and spent and spent, and filled up two car loads of toys for them last year. How many hours were spent by them playing with these toys? Not enough. How much joy did they get out of these gifts? Not enough. How much money did we spend so that they could have a “good” Christmas experience and get lots of toys? Too much.

I don’t think that you are a terrible sinner because you went shopping today. We are all terrible sinners because we give our allegiance to things instead of God. I cannot change your heart, I cannot even change my own heart, but I pray that we allow the Holy Spirit to come in and make our hearts a little less “black” this holiday season, and may we remember that God calls us to give all of our hearts, minds, and souls to the Almighty.

“Thank you Lord for giving us the will to hand over our power to spend to You, so that You may make a difference beyond what we could expect or even imagine.” Amen

Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Today we celebrate and give thanks for the blessings we have received this past year. I indeed have been blessed this past year. I am thankful for my extended family that have showed me love in my lows and have celebrated my highs and have also been beside me in the in-between times. I wish all of you love and blessings today, and may you be blessed this day wherever you are celebrating.

I am especially thankful for my kids, as they have been the source of some of the greatest joys in my life, and I thank God for each and every one of them.

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Today serves as a great example that Thanksgiving is an important part of our life and relationship with God. As we raise our kids we remind them to say “please” and “thank you” to make sure they have a spirit of thankfulness when people give you something. Our relationship with God is just as important to say “please” when we want something, and “thank you” when God blesses us.

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. (Psalms 69:30, 31 ESV)

In Psalm 69, we are reminded that today we have much to be thankful, and that Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be an elaborate expression, but rather we simply need to raise our voice and sing. So the dinner table may not be the place to sing, but in a Spirit of Thanksgiving, raise your voice and sing to the Lord, with your whole heart, mind, and soul.