Author: kenraetz

Terror and Rest… Facing the day

I woke up this morning terrified.  Not from a bad dream or extreme trial or tribulation I was facing today.  I looked at my calendar this morning and looked at the 4 things I am responsible for accomplishing today at work, wondered how I will get it done, and felt a little sense of dread about it all.  But this was something more.  This was deeper than impossible “to-do lists”.  And I feel like I live with this terror, sometimes more subtly, but definitely there, almost every day.  I am absolutely terrified that I will be EXPOSED.

I’m not talking about the kind of exposure you get from frostbite, where everything hurts because of the damage done by the cold.  Not fear of pain or even embarrassment.  Deeper.  I’m talking about that fear that I’ll be sitting in class or a meeting one day and realize I’m sitting in my underwear.  That “how did I get here and how do I get out without anyone finding out?” fear.  I’m afraid that people will discover me for the IMPOSTER that I think I am.

Now, I have 4 children, ages 5-14; I teach a 5th grade Sunday School class; I lead men’s groups.  And in all of these settings, I can teach with FIRM conviction that in Christ, I am not an imposter.  I have everything I need to live life and godliness.  God is taking care of me.  I know this.  So, why do I sit here this morning dreading something I intellectually know is not true?

Well, I think there are many reasons, but it seems the one that God laid on me this morning has to do with my sin.  Specifically, my relational sin.  Meaning, the sins I commit which destroy my sense of feeling connected to God.  Let me explain with a parable (Ha!).  But seriously, let me use my relationship with my wife as an example:

Let’s say my wife was upset about something I didn’t do earlier that she had asked me to do.  Instead of stopping to reflect about it, I blow up!  I react and say harsh things to her.  Now…  how am I feeling after I’ve cooled down?  Based on what I’m likely seeing in her face, I probably feel pretty rotten.  Initially, I probably feel more rotten about myself, why did I do that, what is wrong with me?  Have you been there before?  So often, I do this with God.  I feel bad about what I did, and I turn that bad feeling to myself.  Deep down, I feel rotten about myself and despise my many bad choices.  And I fear I will be exposed and have to face the “reality” of how someone will see me.

But what if in that moment, instead of feeling rotten about me, I felt more of a sense of deep regret over the harm I caused her?  What if I turned to my wife in deep sorrow and expressed how I wish I had not done that, and I know I harmed her?  What if, for a moment, I didn’t care what I felt about myself, and simply loved her to the point of restoration and healing?  Ironically, I end up feeling much better… not because I proved I’m right.  Quite the contrary.  But because my relationship is restored and I now probably have a stronger sense of steps I need to take to correct that sin in me.  And likely, I don’t even consider being afraid of being exposed about this sin.  In essence, I’ve bared all before my wife already.

Such is the way with God and me.  Like David’s deep repentance to God over his sin with Bathsheba (Psalm 51), when I see my sin first as an affront to God, I come to Him with deep sorrow and full assurance of what He can do about it.  The result?  Confidence that today, I don’t have to worry about being exposed.  I’ve already bared all to the one who matters most to me, and the one who can actually do something about it.  I can rest in the fact that Christ, through His sacrifice on the cross, paid the penalty for that sin and is restoring me to wholeness.  In fact, Jesus is our rest (Hebrews 4:11-16).  And I’m going to rest in Him today.  I hope you do too.

If the Son Has Set You Free… Are You Really Free?

We all have probably felt prisoner to something at one time or another in our lives.  It is inevitable.  We live in a fallen world.

My prison:  An addiction that began at age 11, grew deep roots through teenage years of dumb choices and a dysfunctional home, and became disgustingly stealthy after I got married in 1995.  In late 2001, God led me to full repentance before Him and a full disclosure with my wife, thus beginning the road to recovery from this lifelong battle.  And as they say, the rest is history…

At least that’s what I want to say.  However, the last 14 years have been among the most joyful, triumphant, discouraging, and at times utterly hopeless moments of my life and that of my family life.  I would like to say that once God showed me the path, I never looked back.  Unfortunately, like Lot’s wife leaving Sodom, I looked back again and again at the addiction, the object of my affection.  Only, my “pillar of salt” was a wall of shame and self-serving destructive behaviors that continued to keep me in bondage to the very thing I most despised.

About 5 years ago, God set me on a different path, one which was less about performance (how sober can I be) and more about affection, desire, pursuit of the beautiful Jesus Christ as the object of my greatest affection.  It is why I write what I write.  And it is not a quick-fix road.  One of the major themes that has come out of this has been the theme of “Freedom”, freedom from the bondage of sin and self.  I wear a “Freedom” band on my left wrist day and night reminding me of the beautiful truths taught me 5 years ago by 180 Degrees Ministries.  It is a sweet truth to me.

Some of the sweetest words spoken by Jesus to my heart are:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
Luke 4:18-19 (NLT)

Though the last 5 years have been filled with their share of struggles, God has shown me that He HAS and IS setting me free from and for something:

From:  The bondage (oppression) of shame and guilt; the bondage of “doing what I don’t want to do, and not doing what I want to do.”  The bondage of destructive behaviors that leave those who love me asking “Why”.  Bondage.

To:  Live and Love… the entire point of my blog and now, my life.  Freedom to live life for God, loving Him, loving others, accepting my humanity and all of it’s imperfections.  Freedom to pursue Christ as the object of my greatest affection.  Freedom to enjoy life without having to be “religious.”  Freedom… To Live and Love.  Jesus said “if the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.”  John 8:36 (ESV)  Am I free?  I have no doubt.  Do I struggle sometimes in this life?  Absolutely.  The answer?  Jesus.  When I’m hungry, the answer is to eat.  When I’m thirsty, drink.  When my soul is thirsty for anything in this world that will fill me up and help me escape the pain I’m in, the answer is… Jesus.  May we treasure Him today!

What is God setting you free from?  What HAS He set you free from?  Share!  Tell others.  This is a dark and painful world, and the hope of Christ needs to be shared.

Back to the Future

I’m a big fan of the Michael J. Fox “Back to the Future” movies.  These were among the most popular movies of my teenage years.  A lot of perspective is gained as Michael’s character Marty McFly travels back in time to see his origins and possibly alter his future, and then eventually in the series, his future.

Back to the Future movie image

I’ve recently been taking part in a Facebook “Group Goal-Setting” community started by Jon Acuff called “30 Days of Hustle.”  In it, Jon is challenging every member from January 1 to January 30 to do something very specific and intentional toward a goal that we set forth on January 1.  I am SO excited about this.  With each day comes a new challenge.  I’m already behind, but will catch up.  Today’s challenge (for me anyway) is to cast the VISION for my goal.  So, I chose to describe this vision as an article written about me sometime in January… 2015.  Yes, next year!  Thought it would be fun to look back and see how my year would look when I hit these goals.  So, the following is written as an interview taking place next year.  Here we go:

January 8, 2015 – Looking back in 2014

As we sit in the office of Ken Raetz, a technology consultant living in the Nashville area, one of the things that stands out is the simplicity and neatness of his office space. No stacks of papers or books lying around. Just a clean workspace, and a notebook neatly laid out on his desk. Ken tells us this was not what life was like prior to the “Getting Things Done Revolution” that happened this past year. A self-proclaimed dreamer and tech-geek, Ken has always been fascinated by the idea of being “hyper-productive” in his personal and professional life.  He spends a lot of time reading about productivity methods.  About 2 years ago, Ken was introduced to the Getting Things Done methodology which began the transformation.  However, often he would get caught up in the mechanics of the organization and forget the “getting done” part of it. “Discipline has not been my strong suit,” says Ken. “So often, I start something in a very excited way, then drop off after a few months.  It gets too hard.” However, 2014 was to be different.  Why?  “Because I was tired of not getting the most important things done that I wanted to get done.  So, my goal in January was to put into habit a disciplined schedule that support both my personal and professional priorities,” he says.  Not surprising, 2014 brought a whole new level of discipline Ken thought would never happen.  Starting in January, Ken spent the first 30 Days putting in place the daily, weekly, and monthly schedule habits that would support him meeting the goals he had laid out for rest of the year. What has been the result?

– His personal faith in Jesus Christ is stronger than it has ever been.  He has shared the gospel with complete strangers, close friends, and family members, and has had the privilege of leading several people in a confession of faith in Christ and follow-up discipleship.

– He exercised 3-4x per week consistently, losing 10 pounds (which had not even been the goal).

– He rolled out a new service in his business in the first two months of the year, and it has proven to be the most successful work his team has done in years.  His clients love it!

– His relationship with his wife and kids has flourished, as he is spending regular time with them together and one-on-one.

 

Who is Ken most thankful to? “I have to say that God gave me a clear vision for what I was going to do in 2014, and I am very thankful for that.  And, He provided me a beautiful community of support through the Jon Acuff ’30 Days of Hustle’ Facebook group to encourage me along the way.”

What does Ken have planned for 2015? “Growing my business that I now have an ownership stake in (as of December, 2014).  And taking my wife on a wonderfully long 20th anniversary vacation.”  Now that sounds exciting!

The Red or Blue Pill… Entering Narnia

I woke up to a new reality today.  Nothing earth shattering.  Nothing that will make headline news.  Just a certain awareness and an inescapable readiness to choose to enter the wardrobe and see what lies beyond… to choose the red pill.  What is it that awaits?  An adventure beyond my wildest imagination.

Lucy - ChroniclesOfNarnia

I love stories.  As a child, I used to read those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, and I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen if I chose one option over the other.  As a computer programmer by trade, my earliest memories was of writing a Quick Basic “Choose Your Own Adventure” style program on a Mattel Aquarius computer.  Movies always affect me too.  The Narnia books are a great example (if you haven’t read them all, I HIGHLY recommend it).  As Lucy stands before the wardrobe doors and decides to enter in, she is entering in to the adventure that awaits her.  I was stunned after I saw The Matrix back in 1999.  Watching Thomas Anderson (played by Keanu Reeves) come to a sudden awareness that the world is not as it seems, and there is more going on than he ever realized (but that he always suspected).  And suddenly Thomas Anderson gets a new name:  Neo.  So many powerful stories happening that spoke to me in my own personal and spiritual journey.  It awakened curiosity and desire in me to seek truth… to do great things.  And yet…

So often, I choose to close the wardrobe doors.  I choose the blue pill, remaining in the blissful ignorance of the illusion of my life of comfort as I go about my life.  I imagine what comes if I choose the life of adventure, and my heart begins to sink.  I imagine all the past failures, the obstacles that await me, all the worst fears it awakens in my heart, and I simply turn away.  In The Matrix, Morpheus, the underground resistance leader who offers Neo the choice of facing reality or remaining blissfully ignorant says:

You have to understand that many people are not ready to be unplugged, and many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it.

That’s me!  I don’t just choose, but I fight to protect my blissful ignorance.  Sometimes by escaping to my closest habitual comforts.  Sometimes by burying myself in work or some other important, but ultimately not eternity-changing, tasks.

And then there are days where I REALLY want adventure.  I get caught up in the intoxicating feeling of thinking about what the adventure will bring.  And I start thinking about what I need to do to bring that adventure to reality in my life.

Neither approach is the path I believe God has carved out for me.  I was thinking about this as I read an excerpt of John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance (emphasis mine):

We are faced with a decision that grows with urgency each passing day: Will we leave our small stories behind and venture forth to follow our Beloved into the Sacred Romance? The choice to become a pilgrim of the heart can happen any day and we can begin our journey from any place. We are here, the time is now, and the Romance is always unfolding. The choice before us is not to make it happen. As G.K. Chesterton said, “An adventure is, by its nature, a thing that comes to us. It is a thing that chooses us, not a thing that we choose.” Lucy wasn’t looking for Narnia when she found it on the other side of the wardrobe; in a way, it found her. Abraham wasn’t wandering about looking for the one true God; he showed up with an extraordinary invitation. But having had their encounters, both could have chosen otherwise. Lucy could have shut the wardrobe door and never mentioned what had happened there. Abraham could have opted for life in Haran. The choice before us is a choice to enter in.

Today, I am going to choose the life of adventure that God has planned for me, and accept those challenges and difficulties that come as part of that as the training God needs me to go through to continue.  This is difficult.  I have to fight to take back that which has held sway over my heart for so long.  I have to fight to see the greater reality of the desire of my heart to pursue God and His adventure in my life.  What will you choose today?

Kicking Habits and Taking Names

I love turning chaos into organization.  There is something very satisfying about walking into a room of people who are looking down at their pile of issues, and they look to me and ask “what do you think?”  One of my favorite movies of ALL TIME is Apollo 13.  There is a scene in the movie where they engineers have to figure out how to create a CO2 filter from one size that fits in the hole for another size.

http://youtu.be/C2YZnTL596Q

The reward is SO great when these obstacles are overcome.  You look around and just want to high-five anyone standing there.

group-high-five-12001063

However, I am a creature of habit.  Well, a creature of many habits to be precise.  Some of these are good habits.  I eat right (mostly).  I exercise some.  I read a lot.  You get the picture.  Then, some of these habits are not so good.  In fact, some of these addictive behaviors can become quite harmful and destructive if gone unchecked.  One such habit that I’ve fought on and off through most of my life has been especially challenging.  And until last month, I thought I’d never kick it.  However, God has been working on my heart over the past few months to slowly (on my part, not God’s) help me understand just how great the truth is that Jesus not only died for my sins, but came to “set the captives free.”  This freedom extends into areas of habits and addictions, where the pull is so strong, and the feeling is you’ll never get out.  When I fully understand how beautiful and treasured Christ is, that joy and satisfaction in Him will expel the sinful habits from my life.  Sometimes this is slow, sometimes much more quickly.

So, last month, I began experiencing a measure of freedom in this area.  It was nothing spectacular at first.  No visions or bright lights or crazy dreams.  Just a growing realization that I’m not craving that which I had craved before.  It was wonderful.  For about 6 weeks, I experienced complete freedom.  My awareness and presence in life was sharpened, my relationships with my wife, children, and friends grew stronger.  It was incredible.  While it lasted.

The other day, I found myself thinking about this habit and how nice it would be to experience it again.  So… I did.  And, of course, it wasn’t as exciting and enjoyable as my brain tells me it will be.  In fact, it was quite miserable.  Though that did not stop me from partaking, God definitely used it to remind me once again that He is the ultimate answer.

So, it left me wondering today:  Now what?  Have I suddenly lost all that ground I had gained?  Am I suddenly “back to square one”?  I used to count the days, weeks, and months.  But that led to widely oscillating cycles of despair and pride.  No good for me.  Now, I just focus on each day and enjoy the freedom Christ has given me.   So, today, I look upward to God for the strength He gives, and I give that habit the equivalent of an MMA-style knockout kick.

Knockout Kick

Is this easy?  NO, NO, NO!  In fact, I suspect the guy delivering this knockout blow had probably been hurt pretty badly during this fight.  No, kicking these habits is never easy.  But the process is very simply defined.  I cling to truth.  Winston Churchhill once said “The Truth is the most valuable thing in the world. Indeed, it is so valuable that it is often protected by a bodyguard of lies.”  My habits and addictions tell me lies about who I am.  My only solution?  I take names like

Child of the One True King

Chosen One

New Creation

Co-Heir with Christ

Mighty Warrior in Christ

Yep… Kicking Habits and Taking Names…  So, go look at those nasty habits in the face, and rather than rely on our own strength, give them over to the one who has given your very meaning in life.  And kick those habits right out of your life!  Join me!

Hello 2014, My Name Is…

So, I’m working through a goal-setting course this week in preparation for accomplishing EVERYTHING I always wanted to accomplish.  Hah!  Yeah… right.  Again, the fear side of me says that this will be like any other year, and the “real me” will come out at some point and wreck the whole thing.  He’ll has his whole merry band of friends with him.  Fear, Sloth…  even Approval-Seeker will be there.  Of course, my favorites, Self-Condemner.  Yes, they’ll all be there.  Of course, they’ll throw a big “Breaking Bad” party and remind me that I’ll never move past these hurdles in my life.  I may as well go back to the bad habits and addictive behaviors that have dragged me down for so long.  That I shouldn’t waste my effort with goal-setting or pursuit of something greater.  I’ll never be the Warrior for Christ I long to be.  I’ll never be the Prince my wife wishes I were.  I’ll never be the Fearless Leader my kids need to help them navigate this world.  And I’ll never be the Successful Leader my company is waiting for me to become.

Yes, these are the voices in my head that tell me who I am… Reminds me of that song by Matthew West, “Hello My Name Is“.  Oh, how I relate to these lyrics.  And THAT is what I’m going to cling to and remind myself of every day of 2014 (or at least every day I remember – Hey… I’m not perfect).  When I start to hear those lies that so easily get into my head, this year I’m going to do something different.  I’m going to speak the truth to myself.  I’m going to remind myself who I am in Christ.

whoIaminChrist

(Special thanks to Pam for her blog from which I borrowed this image.  This is a great article on the topic of Who I Am In Christ.)

In conjunction with this, I am thinking about a “theme verse” for 2014.  Now, to sum up my life for the next 365 days with one or more verses seems next to impossible.  That’s not my aim.  It is more to give a direction… a compass needle of sorts… so that I can be reminded of what God may be doing in me this year.  Have you ever had one of those moments when you read something… a line in a book, a quote in an e-mail, or even a line out of a movie?  And you read or hear it, and it stands out to you with such clarity that you just have to stop and re-read (or re-hear) to make sure you get it.  That is what happened with me last night reading 2 Corinthians 4.  I started by looking at verse 7, as God put the thought of “treasures in jars of clay” in my mind.  But I ended up reading the entire chapter, and what stuck out to me is this truth:

I must not lose heart.  Many things around me will lead me to believe failure is inevitable and that this world is filled with sadness and disappointment.  For what I cannot see that is going on far outweighs what I do see.  So, I should look to the “unseen” (God’s activity). 

This is all coming from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  So, I think I’ll land on that with my 2014 verses.

What things do you need to remind yourself of this year?  What will be the theme of your year?  Though we could never predict what will happen, we can certainly dedicate ourselves to living our lives in such a way that whatever comes, we can withstand it with grace and courage.

Overcoming Barriers in 2014

I’m doing a lot of thinking about goal-setting in 2014.  Not “New Year’s Resolutions” or “wishes”.  Actual goal setting.  Achievable goals.  Meaningful goals.  Measureable goals.  Goals with a definite start and end.  In short… goals.  Thinking about the barriers I’ve had in the past to accomplishing these goals, I came up with the following barriers:

1. Fear – Fear of failing, fear of the unknown, fear of not finishing well!

2. Apathy – I’m so lazy in many areas of my life, and so passionate and gung-ho in other areas. Overcoming apathy in the “hard things” is challenging.

3. People-approval – Sometimes I get so focused on feeling approved and accepted by others, that I’m not willing to risk and get outside of my comfort zone to do something, especially when I may “feel” rejected in the process.

4. Undisciplined mindset – Related to #2, I love generating ideas and find it difficult to follow them through. It is difficult for me to discipline my mind to do the hard work of “thinking and deciding” to move to the next step.

5. FINISHING – I have 20-30 unfinished books by my bedside. I have started and never finished many Bible studies. I have bought parenting guides that I never worked through. You get the picture. I keep wanting the next purchase to somehow solve my issue of finishing things, and finishing them well. Truth is, like losing weight, often the starting of a project is the most rewarding and possibly the easiest part of it. It is slogging through the details, overcoming the hurdles, and finishing that is tough. I want to do that this year!

There… I feel like I’ve opened up my journal to all of you. But that’s it. Those are my barriers.  What are your barriers?

 

I Want To Meet Jesus

When I was a kid, I used to dream about meeting my favorite celebrity in person.  This could have been a professional athlete, a TV or movie star… shoot, even a local newscaster seemed celebrity enough to me.  I would think about being like that person.  Oh to meet John Schneider or Tom Wopat (HUGE Dukes of Hazzard fan – so, yes, to have met Catherine Bach would have been pretty AWESOME).  Or Erik Estrada from CHIPS.  More recently, I remember sitting in a Shoney’s while I was in college, and I look over and see John Schlitt from Petra.  I was star-struck.  I loved Petra in college.  Their brand of Christian “rock” fueled the tiny engine of faith I had during those college years as a young Christian.

What was it about these people that seemed larger than life?  What kept me so fixated on meeting them during those year?  I found myself pondering that question this week as I reflected on a recent message our pastor gave entitled Meeting Jesus.  I was moved during this message on a very familiar passage, John 1:35-51, Jesus’ calling of His disciples.  Each one: Andrew and an unnamed disciple, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel, all had a unique, divinely-appointed encounter with Jesus.  They met Jesus!  I want to meet Jesus.

Now, the cynic in me says I’ll hear the following responses:

The Non-Christian: “Meet Jesus?  He is a man who supposedly lived 2,000 years ago and is dead now.  You say you want to meet Jesus?  That’s crazy.”

The Christian: “Meet Jesus?  You already met Him when you accepted Him as your Lord and Savior.  There is no need to meet Jesus again.”

I disagree with both.  Here is what I saw on Sunday that just makes me want to know Christ more and more.  Jesus came to be met.  To be known.  For us to encounter Him in the way we might encounter a celebrity, where we are so enthralled with the “glory” their lives represent that we just want to be near Him.  To follow Him wherever He goes.

Have you ever been at a party and there is that one person that everyone loves being around?  You know, every story they tell is followed by raucous laughter.  Every time they moved to a room, they are followed by a crowd of people.  They stand out. They are attractive.  You just want to be near them.

Oh, how much more the Son of God, the man known as Jesus Christ, deserves my attention, adoration, affection, and my time.  So, how do I meet Jesus?  What does this mean differently in my life:

1. I look at what I’m seeking for contentment in my life, and as I approach Jesus I do so seeking to be with Him rather than get something from Him.  It is there that we meet Jesus.

2. Go…  Go seek Him!  Go after Him.  It won’t be perfect, but get going with it.  Make time to seek, listen, and learn from Him.

3. Follow Him.  Meeting Jesus should shape my life.  It should cause me to look at my life and see the need to give up something… control, idols, fear, need for affirmation and approval… give it up because Jesus offers so much more.

4. Trust and know that He will change us.  We all have areas we want changed.  God knows I have many areas.  Just as Jesus looked at Simon and told him “your name will be Cephas (Peter)”, Jesus looks on us and tells us we are not who we think we are.  We are becoming something much better.

I think this is what is meant with Hebrews 12:2

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

How have you met Jesus?  What ways is Jesus shaping your life?  Share your story.  Tell the world.  He’s worth it. 

4th Quarter Comebacks and Parenting

I am a huge Peyton Manning fan.  OK… so, Carol says I have a man-crush on him.  I’ll own that.  He’s fun to watch.  Now, opinions are pretty polarized out there about whether he is as good as people say he is.  I’ve personally followed the Manning family since I was kid growing up in Louisiana watching Archie play for the Saints.  I’m also a graduate of the University of TN, Knoxville, where Peyton played 4 solid years before coming out as the #1 pick in the NFL prior to the 1998 season.  He is just so fun to watch, calling all those audibles, engineering drives with such precision and timing.

One of his stats which just blows me away is his 4th quarter comebacks and game-winning drives.  There are a number of sites depicting various stats on this topic, but this one probably has the best detail (and I’m a numbers guy).  http://www.pro-football-reference.com/play-index/comeback.cgi?player=MannPe00

Peyton has completed 40 4th quarter comebacks and 51 game-winning drives!  The level of intensity Peyton maintains throughout the game, but especially in the 4th quarter is unbelievably inspiring.

Manning-Audible

I liken parenting (really life in general… but for this topic, parenting) to the various quarters in a football game.  We have 4 children, ages 5, 7, 11, 14.  Things seemed easier in the 1st and 2nd quarter (the younger years) of our family life.  Raising 2 boys who were close to 2 years in age that played pretty well together seemed… manageable.  In fact, during that time, I would have even declared our family to be playing at an “elite level”.  We were commended over and over for our children’s behavior and character.  So young and prideful…  Flash forward 8-10 years to the present, and well… life is very full and challenging.  I would not trade it for the world, but it is challenging.  Our approach and expectations as parents has been difficult to maintain when it is spread across 4 children with different ages, different needs, and extremely different personalities.  And our once “elite level of parenting” (Ha!) seems to have dropped like an NFL team that loses a 30-point lead and goes on to lose the game.

So, today, we are in the 4th quarter of parenting.  In fact, every day from here on out, I am in the 4th quarter.  I desire to raise my family to become people who love God, love others, are productive citizens in society, and hopefully one day, lead their own families, ministries, or whatever they are called to do in life.  To do this, I must maintain a high level of intensity and commitment to the goals we have as a family.  Because in the moment, when I’m tired or have an agenda that doesn’t match their willingness to follow that agenda, I forget it and lose it.  And those who watch football know that when a team starts to “lose their cool”, they forget who they are, and eventually kill themselves with penalties and turnovers.

But maintaining that level of intensity is not so easily done.  For me, this means every day… every moment, much like every play in a football game… every moment could be that game-winning moment.  Every moment counts.  Make the most of them.  Maybe that is what Paul meant with Ephesians 5:14-17:

14Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Football games are won and lost in the 4th quarter.  What things do you do to “win in the 4th quarter” of your family?

Stiff-arming God

I really enjoy watching football.  I can tell myself on a Sunday afternoon that I have a number of other things to do, and like a moth to a flame, if that TV is on with football, I’ll stand there in one spot for 30 minutes watching without moving.  The sheer force of will and strength these guys show, week in and week out, is something to behold.  I think one of the greatest displays of this strength is the stiff-arm.  Most reading this will know what a stiff-arm is.  But for the benefit of those that don’t, a stiff-arm is when a runner who has the ball is about to be tackled. The would-be tackler is starting to wrap his arms around the runner, when suddenly the runner extends his arm with full strength straight into the facemask (or neck) area of the defender.  The defender seeks to keep his grip on the runner after the initial devastating blow to his head, and meanwhile, the runner continues pushing into the defender’s helmet, further contorting his neck and head, in what has become a severely disfigured looking posture.  One of the best I’ve seen is this shot of LaDanian Tomlinson administering a pretty brutal stiff-arm.
tomlinson_stiffarm
So, I found it intriguing Sunday when our pastor began talking about how we sometimes “stiff-arm” God.  That is an immediate word picture for me and helps me get what my pastor is saying.  Later that day I heard a message on Desiring God from John Piper where he too spoke of stiff-arming God.  OK… 2 times… I think God is trying to get my attention!  Now, removing those images of football players dropping guys like flies to the ground with their stiff-arms, I start to wonder… what does it mean that I stiff-arm God?  Clearly, I cannot apply some kind of force to make God go away from me.  I am not more powerful and more wise than God that I can somehow keep Him from doing something.  No, I think it is when, over a series of choices, priorities, and idols, little-by-little, I push God away from that innermost part of my life… you know… that most vulnerable part of you that feels pain, sadness, joy, ecstasy, delight, desire, anger.  It is that part of me which fears God coming close to me because of who and what He’ll see.  Not wanting God to see the “inside of the cup,” which would reveal all manner of sin and idolatry.  So, I push Him away.
Now, picture for a moment a small child… maybe a 2-year old… running down a football field and suddenly a large, athletic football player like this guy below comes running up to tackle this 2-year old and suddenly from out of nowhere, the 2-year old stiff-arms the would-be tackler and drops him to the ground.
gholston-bigguy
Seems absurd, doesn’t it?  Of course!  And this is not the way of God.  Like this large fellow with the 2-year old, God could easily force me into submission, if He chose.  But He doesn’t.  God is interested in our heart, not our blind, loyal, resentful obedience.  He wants me to know and love Him.  He wants me to desire Him above all other things of this world.  So, when I stick my “arm” out to prevent God from interfering with my life, something peculiar happens.  He sometimes lets me experience my intended result.  But my “stiff-arm” has a sort of “Corsican brother” affect, where the only one I end up stiff-arming… is myself.  I experience the pain and agony of that loss of “felt” closeness to God.  I feel the longing in my heart that there must be something greater meant for this life.  So when I finally drop my stiff-arm, God reveals a wonderful promise to me:
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…
2 Corinthians 4:16-17 
God is continuing to work in me, shaping me to be made into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. So, about the only stiff-arming I can do is to stubbornly attempt to refuse the love God has poured out on me so lavishly through Jesus.  And He will make it miserable for me during that time.  For His commitment to me is to keep me in His grip.  To “not let one of them fall”.  For that, I am ever grateful.  And it makes me fall in love more and more with Jesus each day.
In case that first stiff-arm picture was not enough for you, enjoy this youtube video shows a compilation of NFL stiff-arms.  There are a bunch of these out there.  I picked one.  Good stuff.