No Pain, No Gain: the story of my first painful morning run, my weight loss and a few other thoughts.

No Pain, No Gain: the story of my first painful morning run, my weight loss and a few other thoughts.

(Edited on 7/16/2016)

The blog post below was written over 9 years ago (May of 2007) on my old blog. It would be an understatement to say that I was a different person then: spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. This blog post is important to me because I wrote it at the beginning of a long season of transformation in my life.  The person who wrote this post was very different from the person editing it now.  I think the “old Eric” would be both afraid and proud of the Eric who writes this update.  -Afraid of him because he would eventually put most of the old Eric’s dreams to death… -And proud of him because he had the courage to do so.  This blog post is a watermark in my life.

It seems that as with physical activity, for any positive change that we attempt to make in our lives there are “negative” forces that come against us. –Often those “negative forces” are causes of pain, sometimes great pain. With weight loss and physical fitness, the pain is physical. However, there are other times when the pain can present itself in different forms. I truly believe that there is a lesson to be learned in “not running” from the pain. From my experiences, I have found that great benefit can be found by confronting, enduring, and at times even submitting to the pain created by making a positive change. I have lost track of the physical aches and pains that I have experienced over the past nine years as I attempt to stay physically active; something is always sore. BUT, the results that I see in my body and in the way I feel far outweigh any ache or pain that I have experienced as a result of working out and becoming more “healthy.”

I believe there is no “happily ever after” when it comes to our health.  Staying healthy has not been easy; especially since moving back to south Louisiana.  As of right now, I weight around 225 pounds -roughly what I weighted when I graduated high school.  I have been as heavy as 315 pounds and as light as 200 pounds.  This has been a journey; a journey of ups, downs and hard decisions. -A decision to get out of the bed at 5:45am in the morning to go workout, a decision to NOT go to the Chinese buffet for lunch, an overall decision to eat healthy food and live a more active lifestyle. -AND many, many decisions to get “back on the wagon” after I had fallen off.  But the “painful” decisions do pay off and the results are worth every ounce of pain caused by the “negative” forces that came and still come against me.

The most humbling realization that I have had to come to terms with is the fact that I STILL struggle in my relationship with food. I know that there is the potential for me to “fall off the wagon” at any moment and go back to my old lifestyle. I HATE that fact, but I am learning to come to terms with it and deal/cope with it. I wish I could say, “I have obtained total victory over my relationship with food.” But, I would be lying. This is probably a struggle that I will have for the rest of my life. I can honestly say that I think I have a “hint” of what it feels like to be an alcoholic, drug addict, etc. The alcoholics and drug addicts may get the most attention, but we all know there are a number of things that we can be addicted to; and yes food is ABSOLUTELY one of those things among many, many others.

-And do not be quick to judge me or someone else who is struggling with their vise because chances are, you may have your own vise that you need to keep in check OR that you need to get in check.

We live in a society that runs from pain. We intoxicate ourselves with “painkillers.”  Food is the potential painkiller for me; just as physical fitness, alcohol, drugs or even sex can be a painkiller for someone else.  In the midst of the pain, and all of our assortments of our painkillers, there is a Man named Jesus who commands us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.  Has it ever occurred to you that He commands us to deal with the “pain” of life by bearing “our own” crosses? But, maybe that is the whole point of taking up our crosses? If we stare the pain down, endure it, and face it, then maybe that is how we can overcome it. (When I first wrote this, I had no idea of the depths this nugget of wisdom would take me to.)

My weight loss is the most noticeable change in my life only because it is a physical change. God has made more profound changes in me in these past nine years that cannot be seen with the naked eye. ALL of those changes required me to deal with the pain of facing situations and coming against negative forces as I made positive changes. Often times the pain caused by those changes seemed simply unbearable, and I mean that literally. There were times when I wondered if I could handle the cross I was bearing… -the cross that God refused to take from me. In the end, when God finally weaned me off painkillers and refused to give me anymore, I faced the pain. I endured the pain. And then I overcame the pain. It was not pretty. It was not fun. –But I am so glad that I did it. –And He ***proved*** His faithfulness to me in the process. –No pain, No Gain.

We often look for a painless gospel; I have found that it simply does not exist. Therefore, when we attempt to fashion a “painless gospel” it is counterfeit and therefore a “cross-less gospel” and a “power-less gospel.” Then, we wonder why we do not see the power and hand of God revealed or lives transformed.  Our Christ-less gospel becomes empty and dead religion -full of judgemental people and lifeless rules.

My blog post from nine years ago is below. I weighed approximately 310 pounds at that time.  It is also worth noting that I first attempted this “change” in May of 2007. It was not until the end of that August that Amy and I made the health changes permanent. In other words, I FAILED and fell back into my old routine for 3 additional months after I wrote this post.  -The only person who truly fails, is the one who stops trying.

REPOSTED FROM WEDNESDAY, MAY 2, 2007
No Pain, No Gain…

During the past few weeks I have been making some lifestyle changes. My latest change that I added yesterday was jogging every morning. I got up at 5:15 (a.m. that is) and walked/jogged for 30 minutes. I was not naive going into this; I knew it would be difficult and painful at first. When I started yesterday, it was not that bad. I walked for about 1/2 mile to warm (and wake!) myself up and then I jogged for 1/2 a mile. I then repeated that routine again. My first morning jog woke me up and stimulated my mind and body. Then… this morning happened. When my alarm clock went off, my legs immediately made me aware of their condition. I had not jogged in over 10 years! Overnight my muscles must have went into shock or something. My whole lower body was very sore.

Even though my aching legs contested, I forced myself out of the bed. As I headed out the door, I was determined to at least walk for 30 minutes and stay committed to my new routine. After I walked my first half mile and painfully loosened my muscles up a bit, I decided to continue my jogging and repeated the same walking/jogging routine I had completed yesterday. By the time I made it to the second 1/2 mile of jogging, it was really tough and painful, but I made it.

After I finished, I completed my regular morning routines and went to work. When I got out of my truck at City Hall, I realized that my legs were very, very sore. To make matters worse, I had a large blister on one of my heels- I’ll spare you the gory details but let’s just say it was a bad blister. I found myself almost limping up the stairs to my second floor office, in pain the entire time. Every time I had to leave my desk today, it was very painful. Honestly, this was probably the most pain that I have felt in years.

However, a strange thing happened to me during the day as I limped around in pain. In an odd sort of way, the pain I was feeling fueled my determination to stay committed to my new routine. You see, I knew I was feeling the pain because I am out of shape. The very pain that I was feeling reminded me of the process that was taking place in my body. The muscles in my legs were being torn down and rebuilt- better and stronger, my metabolism was increasing, and my heart rate would begin to drop. The sometimes EXTREME pain I was feeling served as a reminder that I was on my way to being a healthier person- thus a better husband, father, and pastor. Therefore, I found myself driven by it.

Then, this thought hit me. “What if those of us who have committed to the journey of following Jesus viewed pain the same way?” What if instead of running from the pain and discomforts we sometimes experience as we follow Jesus, we embraced them. What if we realized that during the times of our pain, discomfort and sacrifice, he is actually crucifying our flesh, imparting life to our spirits, building our characters, and teaching us a different way to live. Though this process may be painful, it is necessary… and good.

What if, rather than running from this pain, discomfort and sacrifice, we embraced it? What if we allowed ourselves to be driven by it? Just a thought…

 

What Does a Healthy Church Look Like?

oaktree

Some time ago, I received a question via private Facebook message that made me stop and ponder.  The person said something like, “I think I might be in an unhealthy church environment right now.  But before I leave, how am I supposed to know what a ‘healthy’ church looks like?”  I answered her question the best I could at the time.  However, I still found myself pondering that important question.  I even threw it out at our local pastor’s prayer group.  I dare say that their response was very similar to my own.  As I was, they were caught a bit off guard by such a simple but direct question.

I think the hesitance of a seasoned pastor to quickly answer this question is caused by the need to reflect on past experiences and current situations.  As we reflect and evaluate, we find ourselves asking more questions like: What is the Biblical definition of a healthy church?  What does “healthy” look like? And probably the most important question for each of us, “Is my church healthy?”

I will be the very first to say that I certainly do not have all the answers.  However, I am willing to ask the hard questions and I am willing to wrestle with answering them.  I think there is definite value in the wrestling and reflecting.  So… in my wrestling and reflecting this is what I have come up with so far.  I have tried to keep my thoughts as simple and concise as possible.

Here are my reflections on what a healthy church looks like:

  • A healthy church is centered around authentic relationships that have real depth. These relationships extend beyond Sunday mornings.  Authentic relationships require time, trust, love, communication and grace.
  • A healthy church practices discipleship and realizes that discipleship is much more than a sermon, class, or a program. Authentic discipleship requires authentic relationships.  I like to say, real discipleship happens when “life rubs up against life.”  This is how Jesus did discipleship.
  • A healthy church experiences organic evangelism.  Organic evangelism happens because the Christians who make up the church are maturing and are naturally reaching out to those around them.  This is not because of a top notch evangelism campaign or a flashy church sign, it is simply natural.  Keep in mind, this growth does not need to be explosive -and it is probably better if it is not.  Some of the best church growth is… s-l-o-w.  That large oak tree in your back yard did not get there over night, -but the weeds around it may have.  Think about that.
  • A healthy church has a plurality of New Testament leadership.  Call them elders, deacons, or just “the leadership team.”  The label that is used does not matter.  What matters is: there is more than one or two of them, they are clearly biblically qualified, are gifted to be elders, take the role very seriously, are in authentic relationship with each other and are accountable to each other.  BTW, you cannot be accountable to someone you are not in authentic transparent relationship with.
  • A healthy church is diverse.  Diverse in its people. Diverse in age.  Diverse in opinions.  Diverse in experience. Diverse in it’s creativity.  And diverse in the expressions of the people who form the church.  God made us all different; if he wanted us all to be the same, he would have made us robots.  I believe a healthy church celebrates the diversity of its people rather than forcing everyone to be the same.
  • A healthy church is governed by Grace AND Truth.  If all we focus on is the grace of God, then “anything goes” and our sin nature reigns. If all we focus on is the law and rules, we become legalistic pharisees who are constantly casting stones at each other. I have seen both extremes and neither one is healthy or God honoring.  However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to govern us by grace AND truth a beautiful thing happens.  -We begin to be transformed into who God created us to be. The theological termed used to describe this process is called “sanctification.”  Sanctification naturally happens in healthy churches as well as healthy people.
  • And obviously, a healthy church is a group of people who are in relationship with God.  Meaning than that prayer, the Word and worship are practical parts of their everyday lives and continuously steer them along the journey of following Jesus.

 

What Does Authentic Love Look Like?

Superman

What does authentic love look like?  What does God’s love really look like?  What should our love for each other look like?  Does the Church actually have a Superpower?

The video below answers these questions and more.  In the end, I do believe that the Church possesses an unstoppable Superpower.  All we have to do is access it via our love for each other.

IT IS REALLY NOT ABOUT “THEM,” IT’S ABOUT YOU!

It's all about you

It is really not about “them,” it is about “you.

When you choose to return evil for the evil that was done to you, it is about you.

When you choose to slander because you were slandered, it is about you.

When you choose to hold on to bitterness and refuse to forgive, it is about you.

When you choose to commit petty theft because others are thieves, it is about you.

When you choose to hate entire groups of people because of the murderous actions of a few, it is about you.

When you choose to take unethical shortcuts because others are taking shortcuts, it is about you.

When you choose to judge -and show no mercy, it is about you.

When you choose prejudice, it is about you.

When you choose to remain ignorant, it is about you.

When you pass by an open door because of fear, it is about you.

When you choose to follow the crowd even though deep down inside you know the crowd is wrong, it is about you.

When you refuse to say, “I was wrong.” even when you know you were wrong, it is about you.

When you allow yourself to be negative because everyone else is being negative, it is about you.

When you refuse to show any compassion to “strangers,” it is about you.

When you walk away from an opportunity to make the world a better place -because others are walking away, it is about you.

When you say, “It is just too hard.” because others are saying the same, it is about you.

When you choose to not love your neighbor, it is about you.

When you make excuses -even very good ones, it is about you.

When you refuse to love the “unlovable,” it is about you.

When your children, loved ones and others with whom you may have influence watch you do the above things; it is about them.

And when I do these things, it is about me -and my loved ones.

The moment by moment choices we all make, make us who we are.  And the ripple effects from those choices make infinite impacts on those around us.

-May we choose to be wise, gracious people who truly embrace God’s Kingdom.

What Does God Look Like?

Christmas_JesusIsTheReasonForTheSeason

I can remember being asked “What does God look like?” as a child in Sunday School.  Glimpses of the pictures we drew as children come to mind: an old man with a beard, crayon rays of light zig-zagging out of the clouds, lopsided crosses -and then a simple stick figure of Jesus.

So what does God actually look like??? -These question marks punctuate a profound theological question. As Christians, if we allow ourselves the freedom to respond with the simple child-like faith that God calls us to, we find the answer.  Our God looks like Jesus. Whenever we have a question about God’s character or His posture towards humanity, all we need to do is look to Jesus as our divine reference point. Famous preachers, our own religious preferences and even trusted denominational doctrines are not reliable points of reference for what God looks like; only His Son is qualified to show us the Father.

As St. John said in John 1:17-18:

“For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Jesus has made God (the Father) “known” to us. In other words, we KNOW exactly what God looks like; He looks just like Jesus.

  • So… Jesus eating a meal at a DESPISED tax collector’s house, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus taking the time to speak to that MESSED UP half-breed woman at the well, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus confronting and REBUKING legalistic religious leaders, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus attending a wedding CELEBRATION and turning water into wine, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus WEEPING over Israel’s rebellion, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus chasing the MONEY CHANGERS out of the temple, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus REFUSING to stone the woman caught in the “very act” of adultery, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus being CONCERNED about the practical needs of people and feeding the five thousand, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus distancing Himself from FICKLE crowds seeking a sign, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus not being afraid to speak the TRUTH (in love,) was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus FORGIVING the Roman soldiers while they were crucifying Him, was Jesus making God known to us.
  • Jesus pursuing the disciples who DESERTED Him (at the cross) would also be, Jesus making the Father’s heart known to us.
  • And finally… “the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us” would be, EMMANUEL declaring God the Father and making His Kingdom known to us -by way of a baby in a manger.

Jesus is what God looks like. Do not make the tragic mistake of cherry picking versus from the Bible and then saying, “God said!”  NO; that is simply incorrect.  JESUS is what the entire Bible has to say, in perfect context with human history. The Bible tells us a vivid story of humanity desperately in need of a Savior. The sole purpose of the Bible is to point us to God’s Son; the True Infallible Word of God.  If we cannot reconcile a religious teaching directly to Jesus, caution flags should fly up in our hearts and minds.  There is no biblical character or contemporary religious figure with the authority to critique or tweak Jesus’ teachings and actions.

We must learn to reconcile ourselves back to Jesus and His teachings.  Jesus is what God looks like -and Jesus is what God has to say to us as we prepare to celebrate His birth.  Merry Christmas!

What does “Real Freedom” look like?

holding_hands_by_aniqeanuk-d72jy0w

“You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  -Jesus

While Jesus has never let me down on this “journey to freedom,” He has led me down some unplanned paths over mountains, through valleys and across rivers that I thought were absolutely impassable. And so, I have discovered this elusive thing called “freedom” to a greater extent -in the most unexpected places.  I am often pleasantly surprised when I catch a glimpse of what lies on the other side of the hill I have been climbing.  You think you are “free,” and then He takes you to that new place that He has never shown you because you were not ready to see it yet.  -Before “that moment,” you could not yet handle the experience and you did not have the capacity to truly appreciate it.  Just a few years before you would have sped over the crest of that hilltop -not fully appreciating the view and perspective He wanted you to see at that beautiful summit.

But now, you stop at the top of the hill and you inhale a deep breath. You take in God’s wonderful scenery and you appreciate the majesty of it all.  You savor all of the new insights that you gain from that view. -And then, from this view you are reminded that there are countless others who are struggling down their own paths to freedom and you feel a great sense of responsibility to help them.  So it is with the Kingdom of God.

So what does true freedom look like? Freedom from child abuse, alcohol & drug abuse, spousal abuse, divorce, obesity, a traumatic health event, a soured romantic relationship, sexual abuse, dysfunctional family relationships, spiritual abuse, abandonment… and I know I have to be leaving dozens of others off this list.  Freedom has many perspectives; it all depends on the chains that are binding us…

All of these wounding agents have at least two commonalities that link every single one of us together. -Regardless of where our place is in society, we all get wounded and we all need healing.  The “sickness of sin” has infected us all.  We all need freedom.

So what does freedom look like???  Well, I can tell you this: it is NOT a magic pill, a magic prayer to Jesus or a single session with a counselor, therapist or even your pastor.  IT’S JUST NOT THAT! And if someone tells you that, even with a well-meaning heart, they are simply wrong. Freedom is not found in those places. -At least not in those places alone.

To my wife and I, freedom has been a process. Though at times I desperately searched for the fast forward button to speed up that process, it simply was not there.  Real freedom is a godly phenomenon that takes place over time. Freedom has been a process of time and relationships for us.  And when I say relationships, I mean with common everyday people that God put in our lives. Some relationships are very short lived, -and some are long.  But regardless, as we follow Jesus on this search for freedom, He will lead us down paths that intersect with just the right people.  And sometimes we have no clue what is actually happening. -While we are busy focusing on the ordinary, the Spirit of God is working on the extraordinary the entire time.  You see, God knows that we need each other.

Then… that moment comes when we realize that we are indeed becoming more -and more free… We find ourselves experiencing a level of freedom that we never even knew existed.  We smile, a few tears roll down our checks and we think to ourselves, “This must be what ‘Real Freedom’ looks like.”

A Few Thoughts from the Wilderness

Hero Tweet

Above is a tweet I posted a few days ago. I really appreciate those people who are bold in speaking the Truth, but also humble and vulnerable in sharing their experiences, lessons learned and the mistakes they have made.

Wisdom, patience, the future and calculating the risks have been the elements of my contemplation for sometime now.  And just about the time I think I am dragging my feet in making an important decision, God sends a messenger my way to reinforce the reality that true wisdom is the fruit of patience; a lot of patience…

Here is what I am learning in this season: true wisdom, good decisions and God’s will often do not come quickly. Sometimes they do, and I praise God for those times. But often Godly wisdom is the fruit of patience.  Sometimes God will lead you into the wilderness… -And yes, while you might very well be in the wilderness, GOD is the one who led you there. He wants you there. Any attempt made to leave this foreign, uncomfortable place “early” negates the wisdom that He is imparting in you.

So we are back to patience… -and then contemplation. You see, being in the wilderness gives you time to think, time to wrestle… You find yourself at the feet of Jesus asking questions like, “Jesus, what is this following you thing supposed to look like anyway?”

“And what is ‘a call to ministry’ and ‘the pastor thing’ supposed to look like?”

“Jesus, what does it mean to practically love you and my neighbor? -And just exactly who is my neighbor??? -because I am starting to get the feeling that You might want me to love some people that I might not want to love…”

Patience… contemplation… wrestling… in the wilderness… And before you know it, you begin to see things differently. Your appetite begins to change… You begin to sense God’s heart and your prayers even change…

I am learning that I must lay all those “God Dreams” that I had at the foot of the cross -rather than chasing after them.  By “God Dreams,” I mean the dreams that I was absolutely convinced that God planted in my heart. For me, right now wisdom is the willingness to lay everything down -and to allow those dreams to die. -Then trust Jesus to resurrect what dreams were truly from Him. if any…

But this means I must take my hands off! No scheming, no planning, no “making things happen! No plan B.” Eric must stand in the back of his own end zone and punt the ball…

And I’m not even a good punter…

My intellect and emotions protest, “Who wants to be a punter anyway? I want to be the quarterback, a middle linebacker or free safety! Heck, I’d even be the fullback or an offensive lineman! Jesus, do you really want me to just stand here and hand the ball over to the other team?”

In the midst of my fear, rebellion and wrestling Jesus softly whispers, “Yes… Trust Me.”

I sense His loving soothing voice, so I submit. Yet, I am still fearful.

Patience… Contemplation… Wrestling… Wisdom… Trust… Faith… in the wilderness. I am learning that this is what it looks like for me to follow Jesus.

…I thank God for the wilderness.