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.”

Listening & talking about stories that matter.

It takes humility to tell someone your story, without trying to downplay the brokenness or exaggerate your successes.


It also takes courage and generosity to listen to another’s story without chiming in with your own thoughts.

The RENEW men are seeking to understand our Gospel Stories (Creation » Fall & rebellion » Redemption » Restoration), finding our place in God’s big Story, where Jesus is the Hero.

Recently we’ve been sharing our own stories, and now we turn to the better task for listening to other’s stories. Call it “Gospel Listening.”

Do people think of you as a good listener? 

Since everyone has the same four parts of their life story — and in all the countless little stories and narratives that flow out in normal conversation — let’s take a look at each part, from the perspective of Gospel Listening. 1

Gospel Story

1) CREATION // Everyone has a fundamental belief about their origin — who or what brought about their existence, made them who they are, or shaped them into the person they are today.

  • Listen for: Who or what do they credit or blame for who they are today? (Or the situation they find themselves in?)

2) FALL // Each person has a central belief about the cause of brokenness in the world and a deep desire for justice. People blame their parents, family, friends, boss, government, etc. for what they’ve become AND want just for putting the blame on someone else for the pain and suffering in the (their) world. Someone is at fault and someone deserves punishment.

  • Listen for: Why are things and people not the way they are supposed to be and who is to blame? 

3) REDEMPTION // Everyone has a solution they believe in, a remedy they look to or a “savior” they trust in to redeem the brokenness in their life and world. Many are looking to a philosophy. Others look to a plan for self-improvement or personal growth. Many believe some kind of reform in education or politics will change things. Everyone believers in a “redeemer” or in a self-improvement plan of some sort.

  • Listen for: Who or what will rescue them and redeem what is broken in their life?

4) RESTORATION // Every person has a picture of the future when everything is as it should be .. or how they hope it will be. Some see a utopia with humans all living at peace with one another. Others believe Mother earth and humanity will be one. Still others see another world where they will go to where they will be at the center. Some people’s future hope is to be married, have children, get a job, be rich, etc. Everyone wants something better — restoration of what they believe their world should be like.

  • Listen for: What will the world or their circumstance look like when all is as it should be (according to them), AND who or what will be the focus of this world? 

Learn to listen to people. The aspects of life they complain about or are super excited about helps us discover what they see as “bad news” in the world, and what is “good news” to them.

As you listen to someone’s story (or consider your own), notice the reasons for not being willing or able to obey Jesus’s commands: fear, insecurities, selfishness, pride, need for approval, and the worship of child, family or work. All of these reflect trust place in something or someone other than God.

As you become aware of the people or things that have become idols or “little gods,” take the time to compare them to Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to help in revealing Jesus as the best resolution to what a person is seeking elsewhere, the opposite of what they are experiencing, and the deeper reality of what they are searching for.

That is Gospel Listening.

  1. This section adapted from The Gospel Primer, a resource the Renew Church men utilize for discipleship and learning.

Following Jesus in the Life Advice Age

We followers of Jesus try so hard to summarize what He means, turning His words into eternal life advice. But Jesus has another message: die first, then live.

Read my guest post on Tyler Braun’s blog: Discipleship in the Life Advice Age
(Image for blog series designed by Ross Gale, original iconographic artwork by Duccio)


I am not what I ought to be …

John Newton“I am not what I ought to be — ah, how imperfect and deficient! I am not what I wish to be — I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good! I am not what I hope to be — soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection. Yet, though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was; a slave to sin and Satan; and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.'”

—John Newton1 reflecting on 1 Corinthians 15:10.

  1. As quoted in The Christian Pioneer (1856) edited by Joseph Foulkes Winks, p. 84. Also in The Christian Spectator, vol. 3 (1821), p. 186.

Not fools: We exist because of Jesus’s resurrection.

On the morning of the third day [Sunday] Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus go to His tomb to anoint His body. They expect to find it, and are anxious about how they might roll away the stone that covers His tomb.

And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here.” (Mark 16:4-6)

It’s this moment that allows the apostle Paul to cry out, years later,

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:54-55)

The empty tomb shows that the greatest oppression of all—the oppression of sin and death—has been defeated. It’s gospel Judo. In Judo, you learn to use the power and movement of your attacker against them, often in moves that end with your opponent landing headfirst. Jesus takes on all that is plagued—He becomes human, taking upon Himself all the wrath of God against sin and all the attack and oppression of death, turning it on its head to provide life for God’s children.

Why did Christianity arise, and why did it take the shape it did? The early Christians themselves reply: We exist because of Jesus’s resurrection. Were there no resurrection, we would have neither comfort nor hope, and everything else Christ did and suffered would be in vain.
—Daniel Montgomery and Mike Cosper, Faithmapping: A Gospel Atlas for Your Spiritual Journey, 59, “The Gospel of the Cross.”


Speeding ahead, finding confidence, being protected.

Last week Kari and I finished writing a letter to send to friends and family, including a little bit of an update on church planting with RENEW. Re-reading it yesterday caused me to pause and thank God, while considering the rapid change in our lives. This is a season of dynamic change, while other seasons are more like plodding or trudging through the mud. (Which season are you in? Are things moving fast, or really slow?)

I sat there and thought: “Who is up for this challenge? How can we not lose heart? We’re clearly not doing everything ‘right.’ No wonder most church plants ‘fail’ (on a human level). How can we gain the wisdom, generosity, courage we need for this journey?”

That’s a moment of searching for confidence.

Then this morning this Scripture leapt of the page:

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord [the Gospel] may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
—2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (ESV)

All those verbs Paul uses jump off the page (or screen): pray … speed ahead … delivered … establish you … guard you …

It’s remarkable how a passage meant to encourage it’s first readers can also encourage us, while not really being about them or us. It’s centered on Jesus, the Hero. We gain our significance from being minor characters in His big Story.

Will you pray that for us, as we pray the same for you?

20121129-061852.jpg If you are curious about RENEW, there are three main ways to support this pioneering church plant, described briefly here. One way is to give financially at the close of this year. We’ve simplified the process, adding online giving to snail mail to the PO Box. You can also sign up to receive not-more-than-monthly updates.

Most of all we ask for your prayers personally, that the Gospel would race ahead of us, and this would clearly be God’s work and not merely ours.