Month: May 2009

Trying vs. Training

Maybe it’s just me…but I think we are fooling ourselves.

After watching the Cleveland Indians blow another lead.  I just could not stomach any more baseball for one night.  So I started my nightly channel surfing routine… when I came across  the NCAA Track and Field Division II Championships.  I love to watch track and field. I sat there watching these fine tuned and highly trained athletes demonstrate their skills and abilities as they competed on the track.

I know it is hard for anyone to believe but I was a pretty good runner back in the day.  The longer the distance the better I was.  I have always wanted to run in a marathon. I would often imagine what it would be like to run in the NCAA or the Olympics.

As I sat there on my couch, I imagined for a moment that there is a knock on my door.   I open the door only to find that standing on my doorstep is a delegation from the  USA Olympic Committee.  They inform me that they have had some serious discussions and the result is that they would like ME to be the  representative for the marathon at the next Olympic Games.

Of course this is the very moment which I have been waiting for.   Now is my chance to get into those brief marathon togs and show the world how good of a runner I am (was).    But suddenly it dawns upon me that I have difficulty running to the refrigerator, let alone in a marathon!   In fact,  I couldn’t run a marathon even if  I tried really hard! No matter how hard I would try…unless I had trained there would be no way I could accomplish the task.

When it comes to running a marathon, you must train, not merely try.  If I went out tomorrow and tried to run an marathon…I might make it a few hundred yards before the paramedics would have to surround me, with shock paddles in hand to jump start my heart.  I can almost hear them yell, “CLEAR!!!”  I know for a fact that it would end in disaster.

Trying hard can accomplish only so much.   So, if I am serious about grasping this chance of a lifetime, then I will have to enter into some serious training.   I would have to rearrange my life around some practices that will enable me to do what I cannot do now, by willpower alone.

I laugh at myself for the ridiculous thought of me ever running 100 yards, let alone a marathon.

Then it hits me.   I realize that the same principle applies to my spiritual walk as well.   Simply trying is not enough.  I have to train my mind and my heart to be more like Christ.

In fact, training is required for any significant challenge in life.   We learn much more by Training than we do by Trying.

Which one are you?  Are you trying to be more Christlike, or training to be more Christlike?

We even talk about the Christian faith sometimes as “trying to live like Jesus”! – but that’s not what the Christian faith is about at all.  Its not all about us “trying” harder.   Unless I have developed some of the skills and abilities in life which Jesus had, then try as hard as I may, I will still not be able to live like Him or respond to life’s challenges as He did!  This is what the apostle Paul means when he encourages his young protégé  Timothy totrain yourself in godliness.”- He didn’t say “try to be godly”!   Paul uses the familiar imagery of training for athletics when he writes to the Christians in Phillipi when he says how he is “striving to win the prize” – and how he is running straight towards the goal  in order to win the prize.   Inherent in this imagery is the strong understanding of the necessity for training.

So spiritual transformation is not a matter trying harder, but of training wisely.  It’s a time to get serious about our spiritual training.

I believe Jesus was effective when tempted by the devil and overcame those temptations because he had spent the first thirty years of his life  “training  in godliness “.   He didn’t just come out of nowhere – without any background of prayer, or learning of scripture, or communing with God, or fasting  – he didn’t just arrive on the scene in the dessert without having spent time in spiritual formation – and then faced Satan head on, and overcame him – just like that! .  I am sure there were many other lesser occasions when Jesus knew the power of Satan to tempt and to lead astray, but he had grown through those temptations.

I want to conclude with briefly pointing out just three reasons why Training in godliness is important.

1.  To get the most out of life!

If I can be more like Christ – then I think there is a much greater chance that I will get along with people better, enjoy relationships with people more,  find that life runs more smoothly than before.   The apostle Paul writes that he “doesn’t want to put obstacles in anyone’s way, and so we show that we are God’s servants by patiently enduring troubles, hardships and difficulties.” ( 2Cor.6:3f)

Life isn’t always easy, and we need to learn how to patiently endure troubles, how to be kind, how to be joyful even when we don’t feel like it.   If I can be more like Christ then living my life as an example to others, will be less of a challenge for me,  because I will want the things which God wants for my life.   If I can be more like Christ then mostly I should get along with my friends (and my family) better, handle my finances more sensibly and have better priorities for my life.   Just as I get more out of myself physically when I train for a marathon, which I would never get by simply trying,  – so I will get more out of my own life, spiritually,  and my relationship with others and with Jesus Christ – when I train in godliness.

2.  Training in godliness is important because it’s the only way we mature, or grow up into the likeness of Christ.

In Ephesians chapter 4 , the apostle Paul speaks about the church as the Body of Christ and how God gave each of us spiritual gifts which, when we diligently exercise them, and employ them – then the whole church is built up in maturity.  We are given spiritual gifts, – in order for the church to benefit from them  – we should also train well in their use.

3.   Training in godliness is important because it pleases God.

This really, is a combination of the previous two.

Does God want us to grow spiritually– to be more loving, more forgiving, more compassionate, more generous, more joyful– and all those other fruits of the spirit?   I believe Yes!

And those things only happen, and those fruits of the spirit only grow when we employ the means that help them grow.

Jesus confronted people directly about the choice to become a follower.  He came with the gracious announcement that it is now possible to live in the presence and under the reign of God.

It IS possible to live in such a way that when people see us they will say “I didn’t know a life could look like that?”  It has happened for many who have followed Christ, and its really possible for us to experience that.  This is the race for which we were born.

But we will not drift into such a life if we merely try…we must decide to enter into training.

We need to stop fooling ourselves and quit trying to be Christ-like and train to run the race He has called us to run.

I believe that today is the time to start.

But then again…maybe it’s just me.

Every Kid Deserves to be a Hero

baseballsLike many parents in Fremont, Ohio I have spent many late nights at the park watching my kids play ball.  Having my wife be at one game while I was at the other and then switching after three innings so that we could both see our children play are great memories.  My kids are now all grown and not playing ball anymore.  I miss those times. They went by so quickly.  For the past few years, I just drive through the park to get the feeling again.  Every time I do, the memories flood my mind.  Often, I am taken back to my playing days… a long time ago…

As a kid, I loved baseball.  I would play it as often as I could.  Game days were the best. I usually spent most of the day dreaming of playing in the game that night.  Back in 1972, the ultimate sin on game day was the fact that we were forbidden to swim. ( Is that still a rule?) So, since I could not swim, I would play out the game in my mind. With my wiffle ball and bat in hand, I took my place in my backyard playing out the many different situations of the game. In my mind it was always me that was up to to the plate at the crucial time…and like always it was me that delivered the mighty blow to win the game.  I would be carried off the field in honor of my athletic feat.

Who of us hasn’t dreamed about the getting the big hit, scoring the basket or catching the pass for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the game to secure the win for your team?  I believe that it’s every athletes dream that has ever played the game.

On a hot July day in the little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio something happened that I have never been able to forget.  It has been over 40 years since this event and it feels like it was yesterday.

Here is what happened…

It was every boy’s dream.  We had a big game on that hot day in July.  We were playing the best team in the league.  I did not start the game that day.  I was charged to sit the bench until it was time for me to get in my required one inning of play.  Don’t get me wrong, in my backyard I was always the hero, but in reality I was content to get my one inning and maybe one at-bat.

It was a very close game.  We had the lead 4 to 3 in the top of the sixth inning.  The coach had no other choice but to put me in the game.  I was sent to my usual place in right field and just prayed to God that I would not have a ball hit in my direction.  I did not want to be any part of losing the lead.  I would just be happy to be able to celebrate with my teammates after the game. Three outs and we would win the game.

The events that caused our lead to dwindle had nothing to do with me.  Not a single ball came in my direction.  The other team scored two runs in the top of that inning.  We now were losing 5 to 4.  As I ran to the bench after we got the third out, I looked up and saw my coach looking down at the score book.  Then it hit me…I may have to go up and bat!!! I went over and looked at the score book and saw that I was scheduled to be the 5th batter.

“Ok, maybe we can score two runs before I have to get up to bat.” I was hoping in my mind.  But fate would have it’s way that day. To my dismay, I was going to have to bat.  We had one man on second base and one on third.  Two outs and now it’s all up to me.  I reached down for the 28″ bat I used and started my way into the batters box. I am sure the sound of my knees knocking in fear could be heard in the stands.

RLLBI closed my eyes and reached deep down inside and gathered all the courage I had in my body. “I can hit this guy,” I thought to myself.  All I needed to do, was keep my eye on the ball. After all, I had done this a thousand times in my backyard.

Just a hit…a hit would at least tie the game.  If I hit it well, maybe I could score both of them and we would win the game.

“Don’t over-swing…just make contact” I told myself.

As I dug my cleats into the dirt, I tried not to show my fear.  I also did not want to look too confident. I only wanted to be the hero.

I settle into my standard Johnny Bench batting stance.

(NOTE: I am an Indians fan.  I have been my whole life, but back in 1973, there wasn’t a whole lot of players on the Indians squad that young boys would try to emulate.  So, just like about every other kid I knew, we took turns trying to look like Joe Morgan or Johnny Bench of the Cincinnati Reds)

First Pitch…  here it comes…  right down the middle…  it’s perfect… I grip the bat harder with my hands and start to swing and I suddenly stop myself.

“STRIKE ONE!!!” the umpire bellowed.

I didn’t want to seem too eager…”Make him pitch to you” I told myself as I stepped out the batters box.  I reach down and grab a handful of dirt and rub it into the bat.  I would be ready if he threw another pitch like that.

Next Pitch…  here it comes…  it’s perfect! SWING

I’m not exactly sure how it happened, my memories begin with the crack of the bat, and the sight of the ball rising high into the crisp blue sky of summer. My mind raced…  “It was perfect and I got all of it!” I thought to myself.

Then something happened that had never happened before.  I don’t know why I did it but I did…

I put my head down and start to head to first base.  I was sure it was gone and I started go into my  backyard “home-run trot” around the bases.

As I round first base, I  keep my head down and keep on my trot around the bases. Thoughts of being a hero were rushing through my head.  I couldn’t wait to hear the cheers from my teammates, coaches and fans. It was exactly how I played it out a few hours before in my

I reach second base,  my teammate is still standing there.  I wanted to tell him to run, because I just hit a home run.  But the look in his eye told me something was not right.  He was looking at me like I was the village idiot. Then suddenly I hear the sharp laughter of the fans, not to mention the cries of laughter from the opposing team.

“What happened? There is NO WAY that they caught the ball,” I thought to myself.

Then it hit me… no, they didn’t catch the ball… it fell well short of the fence and in foul territory!

I stop my trot around the bases, hoping to find a place to disappear.  There is no escape from the laughter of the opposing team and the snickers from my own teammates.  I pan the crowd to see who exactly saw this and to my dismay…just about everyone.

I look to see my coach just shaking his head…

I really don’t remember the last pitch.  Just the umpire yelling out, “STRIKE THREE!!!”

I have told this story over the years with many different endings. Sometimes, it’s another player who does this embarrassing act.  I then get to make fun of him. Sometimes it’s me.  I usually get a hit to tie the game.

Not often, but sometimes I tell the story as if I hit the home run to win the game.  I tell the story with as much conviction as any story I have ever told.

So, maybe it’s not exactly what happened.  But that’s the way it should have ended, and that’s the way I like to remember it.

And if dreams and memories sometimes get confused… oh well… that is as it should be, because I believe that every kid deserves to be a hero.  Even if that hero may stretch the truth every now and then.

Is God Pleased? Are You Everything He Wants You to Be?

Maybe it’s just me…

But I have been challenged with a question that has been weighing heavily on my mind for a while.

A few weeks ago, I sat in my office, putting together the final touches of a presentation I have to make.  The President of the company I work for, is coming in for our First Quarter Business Review. I have worked hard on this presentation.  Reviewing it over and over, making sure I cover all the information that he has asked for.  I was using all the latest tools and tricks of media presentation to communicate the details of my review. In light of the current business condition that my company is dealing with, some of the information is not good.  Sales numbers are down, the forecast of future orders are weak and our raw material cost are increasing daily.  I was not going to let some bad news of poor business conditions get in the way of making a good presentation.

Just then,  a co-worker came up to my desk and said, “Will he be pleased with your presentation?”

I  blurted out, “Of course, I have tried so hard to practice it and I am going over the timing and I have included all the information he asked for.”

Before I could go on, my wise co-worker stopped me and said, “I did not ask you if you included all the information.  I did not even ask you if you practiced it.  What I meant was, is the information your presenting everything he wants it to be?  Will he be pleased by the information?”

I understood what he was asking.  No, he was not going to be happy about all of the information.  Suddenly it hit me that, no matter how much I dressed it up and made it look good, I could not get away from the fact that the information is not good.   My focus was on the presentation and not focused on how the information was going to be received.  As I sat at my desk trying to place myself in the seat of the person receiving the information, I came to the conclusion that I needed to review the information more and stop working on just the presentation part.  I needed to know the information inside and out.  I needed to be able to answer the hard  questions of where we are going in our business and what we need need to do immediately to ensure our company remains solvent.   Information about bad business conditions no matter how it is wrapped up in a professional media presentation is still “bad”.

That night after working late to get myself prepared for the “information” part of my presentation.  I started my drive home.  I flipped on the radio like always.  At first, I thought there might be something wrong with the radio because nothing was playing.

Then this song came on…

As I listened to Chris Sligh sing this song, I had to pull the car over to the side of the road.

Could I ask God these questions?

Are You pleased with me?  Am I everything You want me to be?

Sitting in my car, I tried to rationalize it by saying, “Well, I try to please You.”  Then the lyrics of this song cut through to my heart like a knife…

Can you see through all these filthy rags
That I like to call my good
And see the mirror of my heart reflecting you
I know you listen to me, but what do you hear
Am I lovely to your ear?
All I want is to hear you say “well done”
Are you pleased with me?
Am I everything you want for me to be?
Are you pleased?
I know that I am nothing
Outside of who you are
And it’s you I should be striving to become
I know you’re watching over me, but what do
you see?
Am I moving towards the grace that covers me?

Are you pleased with me?
Am I everything you want for me to be?
Am I drawing closer to you?
Is my heart deciding you are all I need?
Are you pleased?
Oh, I know I could never do enough on my own
But still you see me through the precious blood
Oh, it’s only the blood of Jesus…
All I want is to hear you say “well done”

For the first time in a very long time, I realized that God never wanted me to “try” to be like Him. He wants me to “be” more like Him.

How often do we hear, or are exhorted to “TRY to be more like Jesus”? –but  I am learning that’s not what the Christian faith is about at all.   Its not all about us “trying” harder.   I try, and most of the time I fail  – just like I might sit down at the keyboard and try to play it, and if I haven’t trained to play it, I will also fail miserably.  There is an immense difference between training to do something, and trying to do something, and this principle especially applies to our spiritual walk.

Unless I have developed some of the skills and abilities in life which Jesus had, then try as hard as I may, I will still not be able to live like Him or respond to life’s challenges as He did!

This is what the apostle Paul means when he encourages his young protégé  Timothy to “train yourself in godliness.”- He didn’t say “try to be godly”!   Paul uses the familiar imagery of training for athletics when he writes to the Christians in Phillipi when he says how he is “striving to win the prize” – and how he is running straight towards the goal  in order to win the prize.  Inherent in this imagery is the strong understanding of the necessity for training.

So spiritual transformation is not a matter trying harder, but of training  wisely.

It’s a time to get serious about my spiritual training.

I also realized that I was no different than the presentation I was working on all day at work.  For years I have worked on the outside…the presentation part and avoided the reality of my heart.

The reality of trying to make the message of this song real in my life is daunting. There is a lot of baggage that surrounds my heart.  It is time for me to “let go” and forgive as I have been forgiven.  Time to make things right between a few folks in my life that I have been harboring bitterness towards.  I am challenged to come to peace about my failures in my Spiritual walk.  I need to be used of God again.

So, what about you?  Is God Pleased? Are You Everything He Wants You to Be?

I am the last person to place judgment on anyone.   It is more of a question to be answered in your heart, because the truth be known…not very many people would be able to answer “yes” to the question.

So to answer my own question….No…I am not everything God wants me to be.

But for the first time in a long time…from the depths of my heart…I want to be again.

But then again…maybe it’s just me.

Anyone else want to add their perspective?