Let’s get uncomfortable!

“Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.”1

That’s a keen insight from long-distance runner Dean Karnazes. His words apply to all “adventure,” really all of life, as running and training can be a good metaphor for the real “endurance” events we call daily life. The ordinary, common, everyday activities are where we need the will to persevere and willingness to get uncomfortable.

In short: We can either be comfortable and stagnate or stretch ourselves—become uncomfortable—and grow.

We tend to think that comfort leads to happiness. It doesn’t. “Happiness” comes from growth, a deeper joy than temporal circumstances. In comes in part from making commitments and keeping them. We find a measure of joy in making progress, and especially joining others in their development. When we persevere, we grow.

Let's run up those hillsFor me that means hitting the pavement in search of some hills almost every morning. In reality, running is the easy part. It’s the other “endurance” events of life where we must embrace the uncomfortable: relationship tensions, hard decisions, confrontation, adversity, setbacks, each new challenge an opportunity. This is essential if we are to reject apathy.

I wonder if one reason 80%+ of people fail on their New Year’s resolutions is they remain committed to their own comfort. The love of comfort keeps them from a better adventure. People embrace apathy, which is a slow death. And a love of self-comfort keeps them for pursuing health and wholeness for the sake of others. If we are to benefit—and better yet: if others are to develop under our care and leadership—we must get uncomfortable. Seek out a measure of adversity, and train for the real adversity than will inevitably come your way.

“Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.”2

  1. Dean Karnazes in an interview with Outdoor Magazine, published online December 2006.
  2. Timothy Keller, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.
 

I am an adult, and I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, and I need someone to take this power from me.

Newsflash: I’m an adult, and I can eat whatever I want whenever I want, and I wish someone would take this power from me.

Every year during the 100-days-of-holidays1 I eat too much sugar and salt. Salty things are my favorite, as they are for one of my brothers. Probably because salty snacks make me feel worse at a slower rate than sugary things. (Make that high-fructose-corn-syrupy things.) If there is a bowl of pretzels, or nuts, or jerky, out on the counter, it will be consumed faster than it took you to read that last paragraph.

So I run.2

Well, that’s not the only reason why I run 5-6 days a week. I really enjoy running, so there’s that. And other good and somewhat terrible reasons too.

But during the holidays—from Thanksgiving, to Christmas, to parties such as watching football on New Years and the like—I snack too much. Even loved ones get me salty and/or sugary gifts and say things like “I know you like these,” and “you don’t seem to gain weight.”

Wait a second. Yes, I like these, a lot. A lot too much. (And I gain plenty of weight during the holidays, but who’s counting besides me?) The snacks aren’t the problem. The problem is I eat them too fast. Why can’t I restrain myself?3

In any case, I turned to my wife yesterday and said what she was about to say: “How about you hide these from me? Can you hide these from me?” We agreed that I would have an appropriate ration, after I have forgotten about them.

Snack bag

The point is: sometimes we need to give people authority in our lives to help us grow into maturity. Sometimes we don’t have the willpower or motivation or even aptitude to make healthy decisions. This can be in areas of food, relationship, social media, exercise, or even growing spiritually. I’d say especially all of those.

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  1. Actually, I count 107 days from 10/31 spanning through 2/14. Those are the sugary holidays.
  2. I exercise about an hour a day. Running stats: In 2014 I bested my year goal of 1,420 miles by more than 200 miles, and was out running for more than 250 hours total, plus another 102 hours on the bike.
  3. John Owen writes, “Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.”
 

Beauty: find it everywhere!

It’s possible to find beauty in just about any situation, a glimpse of it everywhere, if only we will look for it.

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Like at the DMV in Gladstone, waiting for my wife yesterday. Kids and I then waded through that still puddle as well. An even more beautiful scene when interrupted with play.

Note: the puddle was about five-and-a-quarter inches deep, measured by our young scientist in rain boots. The puddle’s contribution to the beauty in this scene was much deeper, the kids’ even deeper still.

 

What is poverty?

What if poverty isn’t about a lack of food, money, or clothing?

What if our attempts to help the poor can actually hurt them?

Good intentions aren’t enough.

Brian Fikkert—co-author of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself 1, and founder and executive director of the Chalmers Center (whose vision is for “local churches to declare and demonstrate to people who are poor that Jesus Christ is making all things new”)—looks at the deeper meaning of poverty [video]:

We were created for a relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.

It’s a beautiful mess.

Let us commit to learning together how we can walk with the poor in humble relationships, rather than only providing temporary handouts to them. We cannot “fix” them. Only Jesus can.

I too am poor.

You are too. 

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  1. I can think of no better book on poverty and truly helping the poor than When Helping Hurts (AmazonWTS Books).
 

Hungry for God.

I really like food. Like really, really like it.

In fact, while I can exercise much discipline in some areas of my life (e.g., running), when it comes to good food I’m defenseless. I simply enjoy eating.

That’s why I constantly ask my wife to help me by keeping me on track, providing healthy meals in good portions of only the best foods for me (e.g., not cheese). Because food is often my comfort (such as after a good long run), I can rely upon it more than its Maker.

Here’s an invitation … to join me in … not eating … Continue reading

 

Ending all this March Madness (watching with my kids, in April).

March Madness is my favorite sports season. It’s quick, exciting, and provides good conversation with friends near and far, because one doesn’t have to follow the teams all season long to have an opinion. It’s an easy on-ramp to accessible sports to end the winter and bring on spring. Plus, there appears to be a genuine “love of the game” displayed out there on the court. Of course, the genius of March Madness is the filthy amounts of money in it. TV ads sell at a premium for all the broadcasts of the field of 64 (or now, 68). There’s a different love of the game at play for those wearing suits instead of jerseys.

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For the last two weeks you’ve probably heard about the big business of college sports. Bloggers calling for accountability with the NCAA, the governing body lining its pockets with gold and sweat from the players’ brows. Beat writers giving the behind-the-scenes interviews with disaffected student-athletes dishing on being special recipients of cash, pleasure or good grades. Even a new awareness of why the term “student-athlete” is the preferred lingo across the land. (If they are students and athletes, and not employees, there’s no responsibility to provide workers compensation—both in insurance, and renumeration). Kevin Ware’s horrific broken-leg injury on Easter Sunday brought more of these issues to the limelight. Will he ever play again? Will a scholarship be waiting for him next year? Will he resurrect his playing career? (I won’t link to a photo of the injury; almost threw up when I saw it happen live in front of the Louisville Cardinal bench.)

These are calls for justice, even in the arena of sport.

(Maybe you’ve heard it. I listen to a bit of what I jokingly call “conservative sports talk radio.” It’s the only radio programming I can stand, because the personalities on political talk radio seem to dumb it down too much and talk at us like we’re all idiots. Well, maybe we are, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Back to justice in sports …

People get really amped up when their beloved past-time (read: way of checking out and coping) suddenly feels rigged. We like things to be “pure,” and somehow act surprised when things aren’t as they should or appear to be. From the public outrage over Beyonce lip-syncing at the Presidential Inauguration, to wardrobe malfunctions during the Super Bowl halftime show, to the time you suggested an old favorite movie to watch with friends or your kids and realized, “Oh no, this isn’t as ‘clean’ as I remember it was!” (News flash: the storyline and innuendo in the nice feel-good romantic movie “Dirty Dancing” is appropriately disclosed in the title. It’s not so much a movie about “dancing.”) I’m the same way. It takes stepping back and recognizing the good-and-bad mixed together, especially when it comes to entertainment.

Tonight I will probably watch the National Championship basketball game, the climactic end of this run of March Madness. (My bracket is in shambles, as I somehow thought Gonzaga would shine brightly in their moment of recognition and make it through the gauntlet as a #1 seed.) I say “probably” watch because I first need to check with the boss on that.

If we watch, our kids and I will sit in the home office on the big chair and snuggle and spill popcorn. During the commercials we’ll do some pretty important things together: go feed their new goldfish, get ready for bed, pick up the loft, brush our teeth, and so forth. Not without protest.

Bedtime means the end of the day of fun. Yet the protest could have other special reasons tonight. The timing of our breaks may lead to some disagreement. There’s something subconscious that happens during the breaks in the game action. See, my son’s favorite part of television is the commercials. If we had it on much he would wish to only see the commercials, not the shows, and would spend the rest of his days reciting the mantras of his favorite ads. One time at bedtime he remarked that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth because … well … “it’s where magic happens!” (I’m sure he learned that at his grandparents. 😉

When bedtime comes around—likely before the game is over and the nets are cut down—we’ll snuggle and laugh and talk about the highlights and lowlights of our day. It’s a drawn-out process, as much as the kids have a say. The stories of adventure, questions of what fun things happened today (and tonight, probably about the television ads) fill the dimly lit room.

It’s during those times I long to be a good father. Of course, part of telling these stories is to buy more time before having to fall asleep. And part of it, the cute part, the part I will never miss as a father, is the way in which their curiosity and learning is seeping out of them. It’s always my favorite time of the day, the least “productive” yet most rewarding. Even when tired, it’s the most wonderful time of the day.

20130408-045607.jpgAs for the game: apparently there is a method to all this madness. The NCAA recognizes the money to be made in advertising, and while they sell the product promote the student-athletes on the court, many suitors have shown up on their porch (at the door of CBS, TBS, TruTV, and the online streaming broadcasts of the games) to promote their wares in ad space. They are buying time. A basketball game is actually a pretty short contest. There’s a reason for all the stoppage of play, timeouts, and long breaks. Ben Cohen reveals the numbers on the sports blog for the Wall Street Journal:

“In fact, basketball accounts for just 29.4% of a basketball broadcast. The rest is devoted to stoppages like media timeouts, which are extended in the NCAA tournament and take up 20.5%, and halftime, which is more than 22 minutes on average. The stoppages starting with the last media timeout, at the first whistle after the four-minute mark of the second half, averaged over 17 minutes. The total time of rest after whistles is more than 12 minutes. And the wait during free throws accounts for 13.2% of NCAA tournament broadcasts, or almost 18 minutes. In fact, the median break for free throws in these three games lasted 50 seconds—enough time to think of everything else you could be doing with your time.”

My question for you: what will you do with all that extra time? If the game lasts three hours, and about 30% (54 minutes) of it was actual game action, how will you fill the remaining two hours and six minutes?

I’ll be there, remote it hand, to mute or turn off the TV, asking our kids questions about their thoughts and feelings. The real action will be thousands of miles from the game in Atlanta. It will be right in the room, with plenty of time to make sense of the madness.

Who’s playing again?

 

Men: today is International Women’s Day.

I woke up today without a voice. Everyone at home is straining to hear me. This reminds me of so many in the world who practically lack a voice, to fight oppression, injustice, abuse, and neglect. Today we celebrate the “better half.” Let’s give them a voice.

As my wonderful wife Kari opens on her blog, today we have reason to celebrate:

Today is International Women’s Day, which means that for this one day we get to shout YEEHAW! to the world about all things woman. Raise a chocolate bar in the air, swing your hips, turn your face to heaven and give your biggest smile to thank God for making you a woman. You are beautiful, you are cherished, you are celebrated, you are the crown of his creation. (Or, if you’re a man, thank God for making women and consider how you can bless one today!)

Seriously, men, let’s pause and thank about that. Today we celebrate women by pursuing their best.

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Kari continues:

Yesterday afternoon my Bus Stop 32 friend Julie and I sat in my kitchen over steaming bowls of lentil soup. I watched her face light up as I sliced up an avocado and sprinkled it with salt. “My favorite!” She smiled, and as I looked across the kitchen at her, I couldn’t help but stop, struck by this one thought:

She’s so beautiful.

So incredibly beautiful. Yes, broken. Yes, addicted. Yes, in desperate need. But so am I and when I look at her I see her beauty and it’s a beauty that’s worth fighting for.

A beauty we must fight for.

Because every woman displays the beauty of God.

Yes, women show the world the beauty of God.

Yet not in the way we typically assume.

(By the way, later in the evening while Kari was at a meeting celebrating a dear friend, and while I had my attention on creating a model volcano with the kids, the re-heating of that lentil soup went awry, and I burned it. Didn’t offer it to the kids, but I ate some. Later, when Kari arrived home she asked, “What’s the smell? Is something burning?” I should have responded: “It’s the smell of me needing you. Thanks for being awesome.”)

Again, all women are beautiful in a deeper-than-skin way. Kari continues:

No, I don’t mean the beauty of a size 0 figure or flawless skin. The beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. The beauty of bravery and courage. The beauty of faith-filled trust. The beauty of sacrificial love. The beauty of vulnerability. And yes, even a woman’s physical appearance–in all sizes and shapes and ages–reflects the beauty of our God.

It’s a beauty that the evil one wants to destroy. Julie had told me last week that in her job search she’d found an 80-year old man who said she could clean his house for $15. So she did. Then yesterday when I asked her about it, she got quiet.
“Yeah, that’s probably not going to work out. I cleaned his house Monday night but then he wanted me to do other stuff. Take off my clothes and stuff.”
She looked up at me. “I can’t do that. So I guess that job is probably gone.”

Man aside: I kinda want to punch that dirtbag in the face. (I won’t, but angry rises in my heart over situations like this.)

There is no doubt in my mind that Satan has a special hatred for women. We need look no further than the pages of history to see this focused assault. Stasi Eldredge says it like this.

“The assault on femininity — its long history, its utter viciousness — cannot be understood apart from the spiritual forces of evil we are warned against in the Scriptures. That is not to say that men (and women, for they, too, assault women) have no accountability in their treatment of women. Not at all. It is simply to say that no explanation for the assault upon Eve and her daughters is sufficient unless it opens our eyes to the Prince of Darkness and his special hatred of femininity.” (Captivating, 84)

But instead of sitting around and wringing our hands about the state of our world, we can take the LIGHT of Jesus Christ into the darkness and illuminate God’s women and lift them up so they too can be beacons of his beauty, love, grace.

International Women's DayWhenever we bring light into the darkness, we discover more and more of His beauty that we never even knew existed.

So today, for International Women’s Day, here are 4 ways you can shine light on the beauty of God’s women in our world:

0. Encourage a Godly Man.

(I added this after realizing I tend to rant about terrible dirtbags, yet often neglect speaking words of encouragement to inspire more courage in the godly men who are already giving their time, talents, and treasure to causes greater than themselves. They are the unsung heroes who rebel against the low expectations we’ve normalized for “boys” in society today.)

This morning I sent personal text messages and emails to many of the godly men in my life who daily represent The Man Jesus by serving, loving, cherishing, protecting, and promoting the women in their lives and those who do not have godly men in their lives. They are faithful husbands, loving fathers, courageous leaders, wise teachers and coaches, generous volunteers, and hard workers. May their tribe increase, and may more women be served by more men in their image.

1. Sponsor a Woman Missionary.

For only $30/month (cutting out one restaurant meal a month could free up this much cash) can sponsor a woman missionary  through Gospel for Asia.  Consider: Over 50,000 female children are aborted every month in South Asia. Females are often the last to eat and the most likely to be illiterate. They’re the first to work as child laborers and sometimes even sold to become one of 1.2 million child prostitutes. As they grow they gain little respect. They live in the most unreached parts of the world—places that have yet to hear the Gospel. And many women cannot be approached by men due to cultural customs, making their slim chance of hearing the Gospel even slimmer. Gospel for Asia has a burden to reach them. We believe that uplifting the lives of these women is one of the most significant things that can come about to transform families and communities for Christ.

Today, if you will sponsor a woman missionary through GFA, we’ll send you a FREE copy of Half The Sky. Just email me your receipt (jeff at Godrenews dot us) and I’ll send you the book.

2. Watch the GIRL RISING trailer and request a screening in your city.

girl rising

WORLD VISION hosted Seattle’s red carpet premiere of this documentary last night, and Kari and I have requested to have a screening come in April to the Hilltop 9 theater in Oregon City. Go HERE to request a screening in your city (direct link here to pre-purchase a ticket; still need 100 people to “tip” it at the theatre near us) after watching the trailer:

3. Read Half The Sky.

half the sky No, it’s not a light read. No, you won’t fall asleep with warm, happy feelings in your heart. But I believe you will have a better understanding of this focused assault on women, and be encouraged and inspired to do whatever you can to share the love of Christ with women in the margins worldwide. From the far reaches of Cambodia to the neighbor woman right down your street. ALL women are worth of God’s love and special care.  It’s about $10 for the paperback on Amazon, with Kindle version about $12 and DVD about $15. Not a reader? Get the DVD and watch with the women in your life. Bring a tissue.

Or, better yet » hop back up to #1, sponsor a missionary and we’ll send you the book for free!

“We love because HE first loved us.”

—1 John 4:19 (about Jesus The Man)


My beautiful wife ends this with a word of thanks:

Thank you to all you beautiful woman (and fabulous men!) for spreading the light of Jesus Christ to the dark corners of the world. Let’s pray this International Women’s Day finds a few more girls rising in the light of His love … Thanks for reading.

Men, if you read it to the end, you’re awesome. Thank you.