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Archive for the ‘Endurance’ Category

In this series, I would like to address some concepts we don’t hear much about these days in the regular course of life. However, in the Scriptures they have been given significant importance. We neglect these “forgotten concepts” at our peril.

Endurance

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” –James 1:2-4 (NIV)

We were doing fine until  . . .

The storm blew in, the car broke down, my wife became ill, I was diagnosed with cancer . . . Fill in the blank. We hear the news, we read the stories and we relate to people everywhere who are asked to cope with a seemingly endless list of trials and tragedies.

Sometimes It doesn’t take a lot to throw us off course. The unexpected situations of life that often beset us can throw us sideways or even shut us down.

Almost weekly I hear of another person who was moving through life apparently with a genuine faith and trust and God and then along came an unexpected setback. Obviously, everyone’s situation is distinct but one thing seems to be consistent – most who don’t persevere seem to depart from their faith because a traumatic event or situation wasn’t resolved according to their desires.

Other times we are beset with problems we never asked for that have little to do with our choices – Our parents suffer chronic illnesses or our children end up with addiction issues. If it’s not us personally it’s a close friend or family member.

After spending a six months this year back in the USA and travelling over twelve thousand miles by car, talking to many people along the way, never did I encounter an individual I knew personally who was not dealing with some very serious matter or awkward person in their family or circle of influence.

Everyone, including myself, is having to draw on strength beyond themselves to persevere in their present context of life.

What is endurance? Why do some endure, and others do not? What makes the difference?

In my view,endurance or perseverance is the resolve to stay on course with God’s plan and purpose for your life regardless of storms and setbacks that come your way. It’s basically staying the course for the long haul.

One reason why I believe many of us do not endure well is the flawed expectation that life should be easy. We live in an era of entitlement. We expect results without the suffering and sacrifice it takes to commit to a process which will lead to the outcomes we are seeking.   

Last Christmas I was beset with a horrible case of influenza. I felt next to death for a week. It easily took another month to fully recover. I must admit I was peeved that I had to endure the flu, but then many others had it just as bad and even worse. I was able to recover at home and I wasn’t even docked for time missed at work.  Many around me ended up in hospitals so full that they had to recover in the corridors. A part of me felt, “why me?” On the other hand it had been years since I last had the flu so, “Why NOT me?”

I used to think endurance had a lot to do with gritting my teeth and putting up with difficult situations until they passed. Unfortunately, that only resulted in lingering frustration and anger. After further thought and reflection I think that one’s inner core beliefs are the difference maker when it comes to perseverance.

Look at what the apostle James says in the passage quoted above, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”

Something in how we are created by a wise and loving God while living in this broken world reflects the reality that we will never fully mature without endurance.

God’s desire for us is also reflected in James’ words, “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Despite our suffering, God is still good and meets us in the process of our pain so that we can come out the other end as stronger, mature people.

I’m just recently getting back to my gym routine. I can easily spot the men and women who endure difficult, consistent workouts. They are the ones with the slim, muscular figures and the fit bodies. Why should the spiritual realm be any different?

I’m learning that in the suffering I must endure (which is really pretty minor compared to many others I know) God is giving me a much bigger, long-term view of Himself and His purposes.

The Christian counselor and author Larry Crabb writes, “Trouble is inevitable.  Endurance is necessary.  Our high call from God is to trust Him and to trust His heart, a heart filled with love.  Nothing can happen to us or in us that He cannot work together for our good.“  When God’s Ways Make No Sense, Chapter 11, “The High Calling to Trust.”

When beset with unexpected suffering I know that my core beliefs are challenged. I have to come back to a place of trust in God and His greater purposes for my life, my friends and my family. Maybe that’s why endurance is such a key component of maturity and why it’s often such a forgotten concept in these days of entitlement.

God wants access to the very core of our being, where ultimate decisions are made and we align our lives with His greater good. This is the intimate space where endurance and maturity meet. 

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Memento of my evening with Dr Bob Rotella

Memento of my evening with Dr Bob Rotella

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” – Romans 8:18-21 (NIV)

Recently I had the opportunity to hear and meet the famous sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella.

After reading many of his books and finding help for my own mental health in his writings I was wondering if I should even bother going to this special event which was held at my local golf club. It really was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity but to be honest I wondered if I was setting myself up to be disappointed. What if I make the effort to go along and find just him repeating the same stories and facts that I had been reading in his books?

As is often the case with me I found myself gearing up for disappointment.

As I grow older I often find myself more disappointed with life. My expectations of where I “thought” I would be at this stage of life don’t match where I actually am. The reality of what I can accomplish in life doesn’t match up with my former expectations. Although, I have to admit that many things in my life, because of God and His abundant grace, are actually better than I expected.

It’s another election year in the USA and even though I no longer live in North America it’s interesting to see what expectations are being generated by the presidential candidates. One wonders what disappointments lie ahead – and for whom.

In the passage quoted above from Romans chapter eight, the apostle Paul reminds us that we live in a world packed full of disappointments. The reality of what we imagine “could be” or “should be” doesn’t meet our expectations. Paul says that creation, of which we are a part, is subjected to bondage to decay and frustration and is waiting to be liberated from this cycle.

Until God steps in and liberates us along with all creation, we will, unfortunately continue to be disappointed. Life, and the people who are part of it – including ourselves – will continue to fall short of expectation.

This doesn’t mean that we should take a fatalistic attitude to life and give up, but we move ahead in the grace and power of God knowing that He is the one who gives meaning to life even when our hopes seem to fade.

My evening with Dr. Bob Rotella turned out beautifully. My expectations were more than met. I was able to meet and talk with him for a few minutes before his presentation. We exchanged stories about common experiences and he told me of his opportunity to spend a day in my home town of Fort Worth, Texas with the great Ben Hogan. It was a memory I will treasure into the future.

Dr. Bob, as he is affectionately called, works with athletes of all abilities and walks of life. One of his major themes is that of expectation and disappointment. He well knows that what one expects in a competition is not always the result that one gets so process is much more critical than result. He continually reminds his clients that if they are committed to the process that they can control they won’t be as frustrated by the things they can’t control.

That’s a great lesson for all of us! I’m finding that my disappointments generally revolve around things I have little or no control of and that’s a recipe for more disappointment.

As my evening with Dr. Bob showed me, even though the world is fallen and decayed we will have experiences that do match expectation. But this isn’t guaranteed!

Ultimately for those who are followers of Jesus Christ, we are promised a glorious future that will not disappoint. Until then we live in a twisted world where disappointment will be woven into the fabric of life.

No matter what pleasures we may enjoy this side of heaven only in Jesus Christ will experience ultimately match expectation.

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A New Series on Acceptance – my thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Philippians 3:13-15a (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the past and must only carry life-lessons with me.”

I used to feel that the more energy I expended on negative things in my life the more likely I was to fix them. Actually just the opposite is true.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our problems or escape reality. So often the energy we could be expending on effectively dealing with today’s problems gets diffused by carrying unnecessary baggage with us along life’s journey.

Even though I think I’ve made peace with my past there’s often a reminder that I’m not as far along in “letting go” as I think I am.  Sometimes reality has to hit before we realize how our past is robbing us of joy and contentment in the present.

Last year I really suffered with my back. When the problem started I immediately made an appointment with my physiotherapist. After she couldn’t work out the problems after almost six months of treatments I discovered Tony a local Osteopath who was recommended by some trusted friends. Tony found the solution to my back problems but also reminded me of what I knew in my head but in reality wasn’t practicing.

Tony indicated that not only were my back problems related to a past physical injury that was never resolved but they were also related to my emotional state which wasn’t healthy either. He said, “Jesse, you have to let go! You’re still holding on to a lot of things and tension is keeping your problem going! I have no clue what it is, but you have to find it and let it go.”

My weekly sessions with Tony ended up being consistent reminders to me that I cannot change the past and have to “let it go.” No matter how much I try to grasp the things that don’t seem to be resolved the only things worth holding onto are positive lessons learned through life’s failures and success. It seems we always learn a lot more through failure than success.

I think this is where the Apostle Paul seeks to take us in the passage quoted above. Even though he had a lot of things going for him as an individual, as an apostle and leader in the early church he was focused on the present and the future. The task of being a builder in God’s church in the early stages of its existence was too great a task for him to be bogged down by the past – precisely where he could not live and what he could not change.

But Paul also had the personal resolve of knowing God intimately through Jesus and was fully convinced of his eternal destiny. He took every opportunity to present Jesus Christ to others and proclaim the message of the Cross – that God’s sacrifice of His Son, when accepted, resolved his past and gave him everything he needed for the future.

To say that Paul had his eye on a larger picture would be an understatement at best.

So often when I get focused on the past I insist on carrying fear, wounds, grudges, burdens, shame, anxiety and bitterness with me. In doing so I am focused on the small picture. It usually just has “me” in the picture and no one else. We often carry scars with us that tell a story of difficult situations and perhaps others that harmed us. Carrying all the negatives with us will lead to depression and despair. I know, I’ve gone there far too often.

When we refuse to “let go” of the past we lose sight of the fact that God in His greatness can run the universe. He’s been doing it from eternity past and we can trust Him with the present and future no matter where we have come from.

So let go of the past and be grateful in the present. Be grateful for where you have come from and the lessons you carry with you instead of getting mired in the details. Be grateful for where you are headed, but be sure you are headed in the right direction.

Ultimately the only place secure in this world is the eternal world to come where we will be free from every snare that kept us in bondage during this life. There is One who goes ahead of us who is quite willing to take us there.

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No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”  – 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV)

It’s a common human trait to get somewhat reflective as we start into a new year.  If you are like me, I tend to see old patterns and habits that seem very difficult to break out of and starting a New Year seems to be a good time to make a new resolve to let go of the past and form new habits for a healthier future.

One easy way to spot habits in life is to look at temptations we face that seem to crop up again and again. In my own experience I tend to see a pattern with these temptations that seem to keep pursuing me month after month and year after year.

Recently I began to probe why this might be the case. Some have suggested that a simple way to look at temptation is to reflect on a legitimate human need or desire and see temptation as a quest to meet that need in an inappropriate way.

In doing so recently I returned to the scene of an incident in my life in order to ask myself, “What was really going on there?”

In the days of my youth in Texas I would often go to a Methodist church camp that was located in the town of Glen Rose, the same town were my mother had grown up. My mother’s brother and his family still lived in Glen Rose and we had spent many days of my youth in their home which was located less than a mile from camp just down the Paluxy River.

One day while at a youth camp during free time I realized that I could sneak out, walk right down to the river and follow the shoreline right up to a hill near where my uncle, aunt and cousins lived. One afternoon without the knowledge of the camp kids or staff I took a little walk and visited my relatives!

When my plan worked to perfection by making it back without anyone’s notice I decided to try it again from time to time. A very clever way to add a little spice to my camping experience, but obviously outside the bounds of what was appropriate.

A few years later at an older teen camp, I got to bragging to Darrell, one of the other campers, about my antics in previous years. I also knew that there was local movie theater (cinema) in the town of Glen Rose and it wouldn’t be very difficult to sneak out via the river, see a film and sneak back in without anyone knowing!  So that’s just what I did along with Darrell, my new recruit in crime.

Looking back on these boyhood antics I see that there were certain needs in my life that were getting met by these excursions – needs for adventure and a feeling of being special – no one knew the secrets of Glen Rose and my ability to sneak in and out of a camp! A small and insignificant boy (so I felt) could be a magician and do something clandestine – so I thought!

That day Darrell and I did make it down the river and out to the cinema. To this day I still remember the film. About half way through we were shocked when the director of the camp walked down the aisle and sat down right next to us! Someone had blown our cover and we were caught in the act!

Suddenly the great and powerful plan for significance had fallen completely apart.

I’m seeing now that much bigger and more significant temptations and failings in my life have followed a similar pattern.

When I get to feeling small and insignificant I intentionally try harder to manufacture something that will build my sagging ego and fulfill an unmet need for significance.

I can easily feel that temptation is running after me when in actual fact I’m running after temptation. I’m seeking some experience outside of my relationship with God, like a trip down the river on my own, to find meaning and significance that only my LORD and Maker can legitimately provide.

When we begin to see temptation as a pursuit more than something pursuing us I think we’re in a better place to see what’s really going on there.

Where do you go when you need care, love, significance or satisfaction? All are legitimate human needs. What are the patterns that continually trip you up and what are you seeking in the process? I think honestly probing these questions may provide significant clues to breaking patterns that continue to bring us down.

For those of us, like myself, who claim to be followers of Jesus, we have One who know us intimately and always offers us not only Himself but a way of escape in every temptation we face.

That’s good news for all of us at any time of the year.

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If I were to rebel today where would that leave me tomorrow?

I am today where I came from yesterday and the day before.

Today I find myself at odds with the man I am and the man I wish to be.

 

Rebellion does me no good but feels like freedom in the moment

I can go there in my mind without the pain of consequence

I can also stay with You and choose to enjoy the fruits of our relationship.

 

If I were to rebel today I know You would be there with me, and you would be there tomorrow.

Like many men I struggle to feel Your presence,

It makes the rebellion easier to justify but does nothing to soothe the consequences of my poor choices.

 

If I were to trust You today and see beyond momentary gratification,

I could experience a better life free from condemnation.

 

If I were to praise You today and consider my high position,

the foolish ways of selfish rebellion would fade into insignificance.

 

The choice is mine and the fruits are mine to enjoy.

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“By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. A wise man has great power, and a man of knowledge increases strength; for waging war you need guidance, and for victory many advisers.” – Proverbs 24:3-6 (NIV)

Yesterday Dustin Johnson, the thirty-year old, highly successful professional golfer at the top of his game, announced that he has decided to take a break from golf to address personal issues in his life and seek outside professional help.

Today the news is that drug use is the issue. It’s being rumored that he is being suspended for six months by the PGA for being tested positive for cocaine.

So the sporting world is facing a new challenge for one of its star performers. Even so I can relate to where Dustin is at just now.

Being a film-fan I always enjoyed a good western movie. In the great westerns of yesteryear you could generally count on the US Cavalry coming to the rescue in desperate situations. When the peaceful, hardworking homesteaders on the frontier got surrounded by the enemy and all hope was lost, the US Cavalry seemed to arrive just in time to save the day!

Life has a way of landing us in trouble that we can’t squeeze out of unless someone from outside comes to the rescue. The problem is that we often don’t know how much trouble we’re in before we call for help. I don’t know about you but it seems that in my life I keep having to learn lessons the hard way. All too often pain seems to be the best teacher.

In the early days of US television there was a famous western series called “The Lone Ranger.” It featured a masked man who, along with his trusty Native American sidekick, “Tonto” would rescue people out of hopeless situations.

In my generation, it was every boy’s dream to be “the Lone Ranger.” Strong, independent and reliable were subliminal code words we seemed to inhale with every episode.

For most of my life I preferred “The Lone Ranger” to “The Cavalry”. I wanted to be able to solve my own problems and meet my own needs without having to call in anyone else to help. For more years than I care to admit, I never sought out a mentor, although I often heard that it might be a good idea.

Unfortunately in the real world pride makes small men even smaller. Proud men dislike outside help. Hollywood, fueled by pride and competition, doesn’t preach that sermon.

In reflecting on Dustin Johnson’s situation I can’t help but think back to the beginning of Tiger Wood’s problems in November of 2009. He was in deep trouble long before the news hit the media. Although many of his problems may be resolved he’s still working his way back to prominence in golf almost five years later. He was in a deep crisis way before the Cavalry arrived.

The verses quoted above from Proverbs direct us to a much different pattern of life  – people who are wise, successful and productive in life have “houses” (i.e. lives) that are built on understanding, knowledge, strength and guidance from many advisers!”

The best leaders are also people who are led, most of time by the people they intentionally and willingly choose to follow. They are team players, not Lone Rangers! They rely on key outsiders and even disgruntled customers to speak into their lives and situations.

People who are growing and influential are vulnerable and connected to others. They welcome feedback because they know they can learn from it. They seem to know who they can trust. They confide in those people, seek their input and make mid-course corrections. Generally everyone wins from that type of behavior.

Because of our natural self-protection and blind spots we often don’t know we are in trouble until someone on the outside gives us a clue that we are not in a good place and that we need wisdom beyond our own boundaries.

Several years ago when facing a personal crisis I finally started to stop trying to be the Lone Ranger and start calling in the Cavalry. It made all the difference in my own life and new life patterns of dealing with problems emerged.

Often our own pride blinds us to see God-given advisers all around us. The truth is that we can’t watch ourselves travel through life – but others around us can. Many of them are smarter than we are and have pretty keen eyesight and life experience.

Look at your own life. I’d say that your “Cavalry” is all around you. They can be friends, spouses, small group leaders, pastors, teachers, church leaders, business consultants, coaches, doctors, specialists in a field of interest and the list goes on.

Now that I’m a little wiser I continually update my list of “Cavalry” members God has placed around me. I’m grateful for a growing number of key people near me whom I can call in to help before the crises of my life get out of hand. It’s like heeding the warning signs of cancer as soon as they appear – and doing something about them before it’s too late.

My hope is that at age thirty Dustin Johnson hasn’t left his decision too long before seeking help. If things go well for his recovery he’ll be the real winner in the long run.

Now when I see a crisis brewing I’m quicker to spot my foolish pride and call in my own Cavalry because in reality Lone Rangers finish last.

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“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)

Now that I’ve hit age sixty, I think I’m finally beginning to see that my desire for personal comfort is somehow contrary to my desire for personal growth. Why do all the major lessons we seem to learn in life have to come the hard way?

This week the famous golfer Gary Player was being interviewed by the Golf Channel in La Quinta, California where the Humana Challenge is currently being played on the PGA tour. Those who are familiar with Mr. Player know that he has been a health and fitness advocate long before professional golfers knew much about how H & F would bring them to a higher level of competition.

Gary Player has never been one to take the comfortable route in life. Speaking of the health of the average American he said something to the effect that it would be easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than to get the average American to go to the gym and eat a healthy diet! He advocated eating less and walking more as a creative, less painful alternative!

Those of us like myself, who serve in professions where we work with people and love to see them develop are always interested in the dynamics of change and growth. What are the barriers that hinder our growth and development?

After having come through a season of life when I faced some tough discipline issues myself I have come to see that the path of least resistance looks pretty good to most of us, whether it be a physical, emotional, spiritual or relational challenge.

The writer to the Hebrews in the verse above observes the type of discipline that our Heavenly Father often imposes on His children for their good and well-being. The discipline may be painful – cutting out undesirable habits or unhealthy patterns of relating to others. But the good part is that after the discipline has run its course it produces a harvest – one of genuine righteousness and peace.

Recently in conversation with a good friend we just happened to observe that there are people in our lives who tend to cause us pain and “push our emotional buttons.” Quite simply we feel judged around them or inferior because of the ways we interpret or filter messages they send us. I notice that I tend to withdraw from such people for my own sake. Preferring comfort to change and growth, we withdraw and accept the status quo.

It looks selfish when you really examine it.

Not surprisingly, I have several friends in the counselling field. One of them told me on one occasion that the human heart is as soft as a marsh mellow so we tend to encase it in armor for comfort and protection. This is a natural response to the wounds we have suffered in the past.

I’m finding in these years that it takes courage to risk being hurt and rejected to really have a life of growth and positive change. When we move toward others in love our marsh mellow heart may get wounded, but the results may be a harvest of “righteousness and peace” further down the road.

The price of genuine growth is never cheap, but it’s well worth the pain and the price over the long haul.

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