IRONMAN 70.3 FOCUSING ALONG THE JOURNEY

Do you ever have a tendency to lose focus?  I do.  It started to become more and more evident during my Ironman training.  One afternoon, I was running by myself, a seven my mile run, very hilly loop in the country.  The first two and half miles include about 350 vertical feet of climbing.  I started out great around an 8:30 pace.  For me it is great and I managed to keep it sub 9-minute miles through the first half of the run.

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The run flattens out nicely for the middle part and finishes off with more climbing.  What was fascinating, was as I was running on the flatter portion of the run, I looked down at my watch and found my pace had gone to around 10:30 a mile for the middle part of the run.  I was not breathing hard.  My heart rate was in the mid 130’s.  I was fine and so I picked my pace back to finish out my run.

So why does it matter?  Do it too often and you aren’t getting better, your just going through the motions to do them.

Is it possible this happens to us from time to time in our walk with Jesus?  We simply lose focus.  Things get easier; we “get the hang of it.”  We start doing things not push our self and grow but simply to do them because we are “suppose to.”

We have to learn to become nearsighted and farsighted at the same time.  I know that makes no sense, but it is important whether you are an athlete, a leader or a follower of Jesus.  I was far sighted.  My mind was set on April 7th.  All I knew was I would step up, well actually swim up, to the starting line of a 70-mile race and if I were not prepared, I would not make it.  A date had become my focus.  The problem was I began just doing all the things needed to get ready for the date, rather than focusing on all of the steps in the journey and getting better along the way.

Toward the end of my training, about 3 weeks away from the race, another swimmer at the pool I train at name Chris put it in perspective for me.  Chris is a great athlete; he is in his mid 50’s probably and has done some amazing endurance events including super marathons and full Ironman’s.  I asked Chris one day what his next big event was going to be.  He looked at me and said, “well I am going to swim the best I can to the other end of the pool and then I am going to swim back.”  I was expecting to hear, I am doing a marathon or an Ironman but his entire focus was on swimming the next 50 yards in the pool.

It occurred to me maybe I had missed the point of my training.  It was not to just do it; it was to get better.  Maybe we do the same in our walk with Jesus.  Focusing so much on the big picture and how the journey ends that we miss out on growing through all the little steps along the way.  The reason we read scripture is not to know the Bible better but to know Christ better.  To understand his will.  To spend time with him simply because you are hungering and thirsting for Him.

God feared this would happen to the Israelites, he feared they would lose focus.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

It is amazing how easily we can lose focus as the terrain becomes easier.  It is in the difficult times we cling to the Father, we focus on Him and thirst for Him.   But when things are easier we tend to lose the nearsightedness required to walk with Christ.  It is in the difficult times we focus more on one step at a time.

In the last few weeks we have seen the Boston Marathon bombings, a Fretilizer Plant explosion in West, TX, have good friends who lost a child and others trying to understand the magnitude of a young father suffering with cancer.  It hurts me to see so many others in pain and I rush to say, “God where are you.”  Maybe his response would be the same as it was for Israel.  I am their leading you through this vast dessert.  Notice, God did not take Israel out of the dessert He led them through it.  And there is a huge difference.  He provided for them in the midst of their struggles, but he did not take their struggles away.

This song from Laura Story is such a great reminder of a God who walks with us through the trials…

Blessings

Maybe it is not until God has led us through the pain and heartache of the dessert that we are able to look back and see his finger prints all over canvas of our life.

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THE IRONMAN EXPERIENCE – PART 1

So lots of people have asked me about my experiences from the past weekend at Ironman 70.3 in Galveston.  So I thought I would write a series of blog post about the weekend, the training leading up to the weekend and the things I learned on the journey.

medal

The part that impacted me the most was the ending.  9 months of training, hours upon hours.  In the pool, in the lake, on the road.  In rain, in cold, in wind and some days all three at once.  Pain, injuries, tweaked muscles.  You seem to experience a little of everything when training for something like this.

The weekend was amazing.  If you have never been to an Ironman event I highly recommend the experience, even if just a spectator.  Race day starts early.  4:30 AM breakfast and in the transition area for body marking at 5:30 AM.  Over 2,300 athletes over 2000 volunteers and literally thousands of supports lining the run course, cheering for you and encouraging you to keep moving.

But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced at mile 13 of the run.  At the mile 13 marker you enter the finish chute to run the last .1 miles to the finish line.  The excitement is unbelievable.  I had tried during my training to visualize the finish, to imagine my name being announced but nothing I dreamed of could have compared to the experience.

At the moment I enter the chute all of the pain seemed to vanish.  It had been a very difficult day, 70.3 miles.  1.2 mile swim.  56 mile bike ride along a very windy coast.  A very hot 13.1 mile half marathon to finish out the day.  Struggles with swimming straight.  A small bike wreck.  Really bad muscle cramps and spasms in the first mile of the run.  But then there was mile 13 and everything I had been through that day to get to that point vanished as thousands of people screamed and yelled for me crossing the finish line.  They place a medal around my neck and give me a finisher hat, which is great, but in know way compares to the experience of crossing the line.

I want to experience it again.  I am hooked to the feeling of crossing the finish line.  It made everything else I experienced on the journey worth it.  So my plan right now is a few months off to do P90X2 to really work on my core and overall strength and then get ready for Ironman 70.3 in Austin, Texas in October.

There are lots of take aways from the finish line experience but the one which stands out the most is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We live for a singular purpose, the purpose of building His kingdom here on earth so that when we cross the finish line the prize is eternal.  In some ways I think it will be much like my mile 13 experience.  I always talk to people who are trying to imagine what it will be like.  I don’t think you can, because I believe the experience will be something so far beyond what we can imagine.  In the race, the finish line was not my focus, it was too far ahead of me most of the time to be my focus.  My focus was simply taking one more stroke in the water.  One more rotation of the pedals on the bike.  One more step on the run.  So if the finish is not the focus, what is our focus then?  Let’s borrow for the Apostle Paul once again.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

Make Jesus the focus.  Make being more like him the next step of your journey, because at times the finish line can seem so far off.  Our promise though, is that He is never far away.  Focus on Jesus, He is more than enough to sustain you!


THE HOPE EASTER BRINGS

Easter, it comes around every year, where believers around the world celebrate an empty tomb.  But his year I needed Easter.  There are times in ministry where it seems like everything is flowing smoothly and ministry is going great.  There are other times that tend to be more difficult.  Times there are more questions than answers.  Times of uncertainty.

emptytomb

For me, the last several months fall into the more difficult category.  Not that ministry has been bad, it is just changing.  New students stepping up and needing to step up into new leadership roles.  More families struggling and going through difficult times.  More kids struggling.

In these seasons it is easy to lose focus.  It is easy to get discouraged.  Questions begin to arise in your mind…  Is my ministry making an impact?  Am I making an impact in peoples lives?  Are student’s lives really being transformed?

Can you think about what it would have been like for these early disciples.  They had literally given up everything to follow Jesus and now He is gone.  Worse of all, he did not even put up a fight.  The one disciple who really tried to fight for him in the garden, Peter, is reprimanded for doing so.  He invited them to join him on this mission to reclaim a lost humanity.  Now the leader is gone and they are left wondering what to do next.  I am sure questions flooded their minds.  What now?  Was He really who He claimed to be?  Were the last three years a waste?  All hope seems to be lost.

But can you imagine the hope that might have begun to slowly seep into their minds as they heard news of an empty tomb?  I am sure the over whelming thoughts were, no way.  It’s a hoax.  But I have to imagine, in the back of their minds were the questions, “what if.”  But then, to see him, to touch him, to hear him.  Hope was not lost because He lives!

While the resurrection is something we remember throughout the year, this year I needed the reminder more than in the pass.  I needed the reminder because in the midst of families falling apart, students struggling with decisions, in spite of what seems like hopelessness there is hope because the tomb is empty.  Because He lives!

I love the words to this hymn,

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know, I know He holds tomorrow.
And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

Such powerful and true words.  Words of hope in the midst of despair.  We find hope in an empty tomb and a risen savior.

He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
Luke 24:6


THE BEST DATE I NEVER WENT ON – SORT OF…

Today is my 8th anniversary.  Cami & I met for the first time in June of 2004.  We had a rather awkward first meal together with a family of six, and another single guy at a Chinese buffet.  I can at least say it was memorable.  She was planning on moving to Cleburne to work for a friend (the dad in the family of 6) and handle his accounting.

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I had been the Youth & Family Minister at Central for a little over a year and had yet to meet anyone in Cleburne I really connected with.  I was discouraged and thinking I needed to find a job at a bigger church with a singles program.  We walked away from lunch that day thinking we would never go out, friends sure, but dating never.  The next time I saw her was July 28th when she was beginning her new job, I remember the date because it was my birthday.

The next week her boss and his wife were heading out of town, she was going to house & baby sit while they were away.  Her boss gave her my number; she got board and gave me a call.  We talked a little and I even went over one evening to hang out with her and the kids.  Later that week we talked on the phone several times, one night for three hours.  The next week, she was getting settled into her house and I decided I wanted to go out on a date.

I had just bought a house and our secretary at the time gave me, as she called it, “a house wetting present.”  A 10 week old black lab puppy I named Kramer.  Knowing no girl in their right mind could resist a puppy, I used Kramer to my advantage.  I called Cami and asked if I could swing by and show her Kramer.  Also, the day before my sister had offered me 2 tickets to see the Rangers and Yankees, second row behind the Rangers dugout.

If you know me, you know I love baseball, especially Rangers baseball.  I said yes and I knew exactly who I was asking, Cami.  After all, I had always told my parents, I will know the girl for me when I ask her what she wants to do and she says, go watch baseball and eat a steak.  So I went to her house, armed with a 10 week old puppy and a pair of tickets to the Rangers game.  It was can’t miss!

So I show up, and trying to get up the nerve to ask her out, and just before I made my move, she says, “My brother-in-law is in town performing in an opera and I wanted to know if you wanted to go with me?”  I said sure and she tells me it is the same night as the game.  Oh man, I had to make a choice.  So that night I went home and called my sister to tell her I could not go to the game, I was going to the opera.  Haha  When we hung up the phone she called my dad and said, “I don’t know who he is going to the OPERA with but Gary is going to marry her.”

Now, I love baseball, but I could not tell you what happened between the Rangers and Yankees that night, but I can tell you I went on my first date with my future wife.  We did eat steak that night but no baseball, and I don’t regret it.  The past eight years have been amazing.

We have 3 amazing kids, Gracie who turns 6 this month, Ryan who is 4 and Caleb is 3 months.  We love life, love ministry (most of the time, haha), love our family and church family.  Best of all, I am married to my best friend, a beautiful woman and an amazing mother.  I love you so much Cami and I am so thankful for the past 8 years and look forward to many more to come.


LANCE, TE’O & THE REST OF US – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Over the past couple of weeks we have seen some truly, I would say… “interesting?” news.  Last week cycling “great” Lance Armstrong confessed he did in fact use performance enhancing drugs and blood doping in his cancer come back to win an unprecedented 7 Tour De France titles.

The confession came after years of adamantly denying the allegations from many former competitors and teammates.  Even going so far as to take his accusers to court and question their integrity.

Lance_manti

Then we saw a most bizarre story surface.  Manti Te’o, the stand out linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist from Notre Dame came clean on the story of the death of his girlfriend.  If you are somehow unaware of the story, Te’o a senior and team captain allegedly lost both his grandmother and girlfriend during the early part of this season.

The result, a possessed Te’o played the remainder of the season in honor of his grandmother and girlfriend.  It turns out Te’o had never actually met his girlfriend because it was an online relationship.  The problem, he could never meet her because evidently she did not exist, ever.  Te’o apparently was on the losing end of a cruel hoax.

Fair enough, but he sure did not talk about her on national TV as if they had never had met.  The perception I got was one of a long time girlfriend.

In both cases these men, Armstrong more than Te’o misrepresented themselves.  They tried to portray themselves as something they were not.

Funny, we sit back in amazement wondering how they could live such a lie.  Honestly, it is the world we live in.  All of us in some way or another misrepresent ourselves from time to time.  Maybe not to this extent or in the public spotlight, but we do.

It is the reason people live in houses they can’t afford, drive cars they can’t afford and wear clothes they can’t afford.  It is the reason people act differently in different circles.  We want people to look at us favorably.  It is all about perception.  We create the perception we want people to have of us because we want to be seen (it might be helpful to read my first blog on this, Motives Matter).

Jesus warns these disciples gathered around him on a mountainside, BE CAREFUL.  Be careful not to do things to be seen by others.  Specifically, in chapter 6:1-18 be careful not to give, pray and fast to be seen.  When you do, you are portraying a relationship with God which does not exist.  Why does it not exist?  Because, you are more concerned about what others think of you than what God thinks.  Be careful!

So why the warning?  Maybe it is simple, if you misrepresent who you are, it will eventually catch up with you.  Eventually, it will all come out, ask Manti, ask Lance.  When you misrepresent yourself, you deceive people.  However the bigger problem, when you misrepresent yourself spiritually, you ultimately deceive yourself.  You fool yourself into thinking you have a right relationship with God and eventually it will catch up to you.  Jesus, goes on in Matthew 7 to remind us of this several times.

In chapter 6 Jesus tells us the “hypocrites” love to do these righteous acts in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by people.  Is it possible Social Media is the street corner we all stand on today?  With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets we have complete control of how we want people to see us.  It is easy to misrepresent our self and deceive others into thinking we are something we are not.  Be careful Jesus would say, because you may just deceive yourself.

Think how much time and energy and money in our society is put into worrying about what others think.  Jesus was confronting a Pharisaical system which was overly concerned with other perception.  Maybe not much has changed.  Maybe it is why we struggle so greatly with confession.  We don’t want people to know who we really are because we are terrified of what they might think.  What if they found out about our struggles with anger?  With alcohol?  With pornography?  With cheating?  With lying?

The righteousness Jesus describes in chapter 5 is not rooted in “look how good I am,” but in a humbled spirit “I know who I am,” and it is far from righteous.  Maybe deep down, to hunger and thirsting for righteousness is a passionate plea to seek Him rather than others opinions.  Simply put, love God, love others because you can control that,  Don’t spend countless hours worried about what others think because you can’t control that, so stop trying to control it by convincing everyone you are something you are not.


The Lines We Walk


MOTIVES MATTER – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Growing up baseball was a huge part of my life.  I began playing at the age of 4.  I played in High School and even had the opportunity to play in college.  In High School and College the biggest desire, other than winning, is to be seen.  In high school you want to be seen by a college or pro scout.  Once in college you want to be seen by a pro scout.  Deep inside of most athletes is the desire to be able to perform at the next level.  So when someone notices your ability it is amazing.  Personally, for me, one of the most exciting days was when Coach Fullerton passed along a letter to me from a Chicago White Sox scout.

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It was the first one I received and there was an incredible moment when I realized, someone was watching me.  I began to carry myself differently.  My mindset changed instantly.  I had so much more confidence.

We all have within us a desire to be noticed, to stand out, to be seen.  It is why we spend so much time changing clothes, asking how we look, trying to cover up our imperfections.  We want to be noticed for our looks, our clothes, our athletic ability, our intelligence, our music ability, our leadership, our planning ability, our preaching.  We all want to be noticed.  Even those who are behind the scenes, who would never want to be out front, I believe, want people to take notice of how well they do what they do.  And now with the reach of the internet, through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instangram, ect. our world revolves around the ability to let people see what we want them to see about us.  Have you seen the new State Farm Commercial?

We have the ability to control other people’s perception of us.  And honestly we love it that way.  Jesus talks about a new righteousness in chapter 5 of Matthew and leads into chapter 6 with a warning.  Be careful not to do acts of righteousness for the purpose of standing out, of being seen, because if you do the only reward you will get will be from the people who praise you for your piety.

Jesus knows us so well.  He understands our nature will be to seek praise for what we do.  If we give, there will be a tendency for us to want people to see how generous we are, or at least how generous we want them to think we are.  If we pray, we will want people to be impressed by the depth of our relationship with Christ.  If we fast, for all to know we are fasting, so they can be impressed by our devotion.  So Jesus says, BE CAREFUL!  This is a dangerous trap.

Jesus tells the first followers, be careful because Your MOTIVES MATTER!  You can say it like this…

WHY you do, WHAT you do, is just as important as what you are doing.  

But why?

The focus of these and other disciplines is to grow closer to Christ.  Period!  If you are doing it to be seen you are merely pretending.  Interestingly enough the word Jesus uses throughout this section, “hypocrite” was not a word that was made up just for the Bible; as in someone who says one thing but really does another.  Hypocrite was actually a secular Greek word that was used in the theater.  In theater a hypocrite was an actor who wears a mask.  So anyone on stage wearing a mask was a hypocrite.  So Jesus uses this word to describe a person who gives, prays or fasts for the purpose of being seen.  He says, if you are just giving so others see how spiritual you are, you are an actor, wearing a mask pretending to be someone else.  There is a danger in fooling others but there is an immense danger that you would fool yourself, that you would deceive yourself and think you are something you are not.

This deception causes two problems.  Some might see you and feel they could never be as close to God as you are, when in fact you’re not that close.  Secondly, it creates a false sense of security.  It becomes easy to look at others and say things like…

Luke 18:11-12 NIV
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

Jesus is merely reminding his followers, you are not saved because of what you gave, how you prayed or how often you fasted.  You are saved by grace.  Stop deceiving others and yourself, making them think you are saved by your own works.  Life in Christ is not about being perfect, it is about realizing you are not perfect and are desperately in need of a savior!