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Checkpoints Week 8: Enthusiasm

I made it.  Eight weeks of Checkpoints have come and gone, and all I can think is how I need to go through the book again. I’m more cognizant of the parts of life the book covered, and how God works in those areas. Because of the scripture memorizations, I focus more on studying what I read, and not just simply reading. Overall, I’d say my enthusiam for God has grown incrementally.

If it’s one thing I’ve learned over the last two months, it’s that daily changes lead to life changes. Focusing on one aspect can affect another; almost like steps. We have to care enough to put the energy into making the change however. When we stop caring, that’s when apathy sets in. We become more focused on what WE feel needs to change versus what God desires to change in us. We focus on the external, i.e., how we look, where we live, the car we drive, whereas God focuses on the internal. The only true change comes from God anyway, so allow Him to work.

As has been pointed out more than once while going on this journey through Checkpoints, day one of each week is foundational. Week 8 is only slightly different. Apathy feeds into self-centeredness, yet apathy can itself be fed by self-centeredness. Pride is another aspect of self-centeredness. As stated about apathy, the focus on self gets in the way of doing God’s will. We’re no earthly or spiritually good to God when we can’t get out of our own way. No matter how it manifests itself (pride, or depression) being self-centered puts us closer to being like the enemy than it does Christ. Jesus came to serve, and if He’s our example, then we should do the same. That will take our sight off of us, and put it where it needs to be; on Him.

To experience the full joy that enthusiasm can bring, we have to be comfortable in our own skin.  Insecurity robs us of that joy.  When we aren’t secure within ourselves, we really are unsure of our Identity.  If our identity is to be found in Christ, and we’re not sure of it, then are we really trusting Christ?  Insecurity within ourselves will manifest itself in other areas of our life.  We won’t be confident around others, nor will we actively take hold of the promises of God, because we shall always question Him.  As Paul stated in 2 Timothy 1:7, “God didn’t give us a Spirit of fear…”, and ultimately that is what insecurity is; fear.  We must allow Christ to strengthen us by seeking Him, and studying His word.  Not only will we find renewed strength, but we’ll find ourselves as well.

Insecurity isn’t the only thing that will rob us of our enthusiasm for God. Having feelings of burnout will, also. Another name for it is exhaustion, or fatigue. Burnout is what happens when we push past our internal limits consistently. If we don’t take the time to rest, our body can betray us, and we won’t have energy to do what brings us joy. Even Jesus drew away from everything and everyone except God, so He could rest and let His spirit be refreshed. Think about that. Even the supernatural being that is Christ needed refreshing. We must listen to our bodies and rest when it tells us to.

If we push past burnout, as some of us are apt to do, we’ll fall into a state of depression. Feelings of hopelessness, despair, and thoughts of giving up all accompany depression. Rest isn’t the only thing we’ll need if we reach this stage. Focus, direction, and support will all be needed. In these times, it’s vitally important to have the Word “hidden in our heart”. We’ll also need to ensure our mental and physical wellness is tended to. Depression is not something fallen into easily, nor is it something we get out of easily. However, if we take the time to figure out what caused it, and how to combat it, it can be overcome.

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Posted by on 12/17/2012 in Checkpoints

 

Checkpoints Week 7: Loyalty

Loyalty is defined as strong feelings of devoted attachment or allegiance. It can, and should include love as well. God desires for us to show loyalty to Him and His commands. We wish it to exist between us and others as well. There are 5 problems that affect our level of loyalty to God, and each other.

When thinking about what affects our loyalty, the first issue that comes to mind is betrayal. At betrayal’s core, it is a breaking down of trust between people. In our relationship with God, we are the cause of the breakdown. God is never the cause, since He IS truth and is constant. If we ask Him, He’ll show us where we betrayed Him, and how. God is forgiveness also, which means we have to ask for it, and do what’s necessary to make amends for our lack of trust.

When I personally think of loyalty, disrespect doesn’t immediately come to mind. But, after reading the devotional about disrespect, I better understand the correlation. Implicit in the disrespect is a lack of trust, and if there’s a lack of trust, it’s difficult to remain loyal to that which is being disrespected. When we don’t defer to God, or those whom God has given authority to, we disrespect them directly, and God indirectly. Even if we don’t like something or someone, there are two thoughts for us to remember. The first is that how we feel about something is secondary to being obedient to God. The second is that we can’t allow our emotions (heart) to take us to a place where we’re outside of God’s will.

Why can’t we allow our heart to take us out of God’s will? Scripture after scripture in the Bible tells us that the heart is deceitful. It cannot be trusted. The heart will have us continually committing habitual sin, even when we know it’s wrong. Yet, it feels good to our flesh, so we keep on doing it. It’s easy to believe that a particular sin doesn’t “have” us, but our actions and thoughts will tell us different. You know what else habitual sin does? It betrays our relationship with God, which affects our loyalty. Jesus was crucified once and for all; let us not keep crucifying Him.

For us to keep crucifying Jesus shows an inconsistency in our walk with Him. We don’t want to be like the first two examples that Jesus gave in the Parable of The Sower. Instead, we need to be like the third kind of seed. One that continues to grow and produces good, spiritual fruit. The way we ensure we do this is by staying in communication with God; talking to Him, reading His word, and allowing Him to guide us. We fight inconsistency by holding fast to those things that God has commanded us to do.

And finally, we arrive at a byproduct of inconsistency, which is mediocrity. If we half-step anything, we’re not giving a full effort. The Bible calls it being lukewarm. It even makes mention of being lukewarm in our Christian walk, which leads to ineffectiveness for the Kingdom of God. Or when we do (what we think is) just enough in/for our Walk, we’ve taken the easy way out. But God calls us to do everything with excellence, which is a challenge, but one we should strive to rise to. The question is when we die, what do we want to hear? Is it well done, or you just made it?

I want my growing loyalty to God to mean on the day I pass on, I hear “well done my good and faithful servant.” What about you?

 
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Posted by on 12/10/2012 in Checkpoints

 

Checkpoints Week 6: Patience

Out of all the characteristics that men deal with, Patience has got to be the hardest to exercise.  In fact, out of all the aspects of God that we are to reflect, it’s the one we show the least.  It’s not just because of society’s “instant gratification” culture.  The inability to exercise patience is innate.  To show it means we are purposely doing so.  Several emotions fight against it; but through the strength of Christ, patience can be cultivated.

One of the emotions that feeds into a lack of patience is anger. When we get angry, we have a tendency to rail against people, and even God. Anger isn’t always negative however, because we can have righteous indignation. The difference comes in the motives for us being angry. Are we upset about a personal affrontage, or is it something that would grieve the Holy Spirit? Examining the reasons for our anger will help form an appropriate response.

Want to know what really tests our patience? It’s frustration, and not just with people, but with God as well. There are a myriad of reasons we become frustrated with relationships and people. The reasons all have one common denominator though: us. We become frustrated by the expectations that WE PUT on others. People don’t have to meet our standards, but God’s.

But what about when we become frustrated with God?

Woooo…this is a doozy. The problem isn’t that God can’t live up to our expectations; it’s that we can’t live up to His. At least not consistently. We have ideas on how things should be, how people should act, and how situations should turn out. God decides all of this though. He is in control, and that is the issue for us. We can’t control these things, so we get frustrated. Learning that we need to “let go and let God” will help us deal with our control issues, as well as increase our patience.

Another emotion that tests patience is feeling misunderstood. It feeds our frustration. There are two ways to handle it. We can let it fuel angst and anger, which can lead to sin. Or, we can channel it and acknowledge that not everyone will “get” us. Just remember that Jesus was misunderstood by His own family, and disciples. If the Son of God was misunderstood by those closest to Him, we shouldn’t be surprised when we are too. Living for God will cause misunderstanding at times; it’s His choice to clear up what He wants.

Since it is God’s choice to make things clear or not, it’s up to us to beseech Him for clarity. We tend to misunderstand, for instance, when we desire something and do not receive it. There are either two reasons we don’t get what we want: it’s not meant for us to have, or God has something better for us. Neither is acceptable to us when seeking instant gratification. We want what we want when we want it, not even realizing that what we want could be detrimental to us. Yet, in those other times, God will allow us to gain what our heart desires, even though He had something better in mind. In either case, we must pray for 1) peace of mind, 2) the ability to trust the Lord and 3) the provision of what He knows we need.

God provides the tests that cultivate our patience; it’s up to us to pass them.

 
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Posted by on 12/03/2012 in Checkpoints

 

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Checkpoints: The Midpoint Recap

Prior to the last week, I had been reading Checkpoints faithfully. Last week was hectic with holiday preparations (no excuse admittedly), so I missed a few days.  Nevertheless, instead of the prior week’s recap that is normally posted, I present the opportunity to get caught up on the first 5 weeks.

Week 1: Identity

Week 2: Integrity

Week 3: Community

Week 4: Self-control

Week 5: Courage

The weekly recaps will resume next week.

 
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Posted by on 11/26/2012 in Checkpoints

 

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Checkpoints Week 5: Courage

I’ve said it a couple of times before since I started reading Checkpoints, but this week was challenging. It was arguably more challenging than the preceding weeks, sans the first. Mostly because our Identity is the very foundation of how we, as men, see ourselves. Our ability to exercise Courage in living in our identity, or if necessary, changing it, is what week five focused on.

Courage, as defined in the New Living Translation, is “mental, or moral strength.” For many, courage is also a prerequisite of manhood. It’s not foolhardy, but wise. It takes a certain amount of security within ourselves to live courageously. Courage also comes from knowing who we are in Christ.

There’s a saying that states “courage isn’t the abscense of fear, but acting inspite of it.” Well, that’s all good, but if we haven’t taken the time to acknowledge our fear(s), how can we act purposefully? We must take time to see not only what we’re fearful of, but why. As we identify the causes of it, then we can pray for strength and the ability to face the fears head-on. Doing so increases our reliance on God, stretches our faith, and enlarges the purview of our conquered apprehensions. When doubt sets in, we should remember Philippians 4:13.

Rejection is predicated on fear. It’s the fear of wanting or desiring something or someone, and not attaining that which we desire. If we think we won’t get what we want, we’re apt to not pursue it. However, this is the wrong attitude to have. Christ has told us to ask for whatever our heart desires. If it’s in the Father’s will for us, we shall receive it. If we don’t, then we have to trust in God’s sovereignty that it is not for us, either at that time, or ever. But if we don’t ask, we will never know. The Bible instructs us to come boldly before the throne of God; if we fear rejection, we can’t.

If we are rejected by a situation, or someone, we can develop a grudge against them. Holding grudges is a sure fire way to not be like Christ. We are instructed to be forgiving to those who we feel have wronged us. Not only forgive, but we must be free with it. There are two schools of thought on forgiveness. One says to offer it readily to another, regardless of if it’s been asked for or not. The other says, have it readily available when it is sought. God didn’t wait for us to seek it; it was already extended to us. If He, who is the author of forgiveness extends it freely, shouldn’t we do likewise, and let go of our grudges?

When we forgive, it does something for the forgiver and the forgiven. What it does is effect change from the inside out. The same action needs to happen as we strive to fight against secularism as men. It’s so tough for us because we ideally set the standard for what happens in society. Either we are actively against it, or passively for it. Men have to take a stand first, then make one to combat the increasing hostility against Christianity in the world. We can’t look at women to take the lead in this fight; it’s on us. If we set the standard and be brave in our homes, it will flow over to our communities, and then the nation. But the only way it’ll happen is if we plant our flags now, and tell the enemy that WE are going to be the change we want to effect.

However, if we are to do it, us men cannot show timidity. Forces in the world now are slowly eroding what manhood is. Some images of men show us as bumbling fools, while other images show us as misogynistic ne’erdowells. Neither is accurate. Men are supposed to be bold, stand in the face of fear, be protective of our loved ones, and take charge. Christ is our example, and He embodied all these traits. They’re not the only aspects of manhood, but they’re a good place to start. Take heart and work to exhibit the example that Christ set for manhood. We’ll be amazed at the confidence that will spring forth.

 
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Posted by on 11/19/2012 in Checkpoints

 

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Checkpoints Week 4: Self Control

As I’ve been going through the Checkpoints book, various aspects of syrivinf to a godly life have come into clearer focus.  The first three weeks of devotionals have been challenging.  They focused on preparing the mind and spirit for living for Christ.  Week four takes it to another level by using the first three weeks as the foundation for Self-control.

If we know who we are (identity) in Christ, then we’ll be more apt to apply His standards and truths (integrity) to our lives.  Being around like-minded men (community) will strengthen us and allow us to better exercise self-control.  This self-control is rooted in the knowledge of Christ, and what He requires of us.

Where we must allow Christ to make a difference in our lives is our heart and our mind. It is in these two places where addictions reside. Addictions can wreck lives almost as fast as pride. When we become addicted to something, it achieves the status of a god (idol). God explicitly said in the commandments to have no other gods before Him. If we’re addicted to (idolizing) anything, our focus is off of God and we aren’t living as He desires for us to. We must not let anything become more important to us than doing the will of God.

As addictions take many forms, some are more detrimental than others. The ones that cause harm to the body, mind, and soul fall into this category. Pornography is arguably chief among them. Porn feeds sexual lust. It places images in our head that placate carnal fantasies. Not only does porn affect our mind, but it affects our body as well. Watching it can desenitize us to physical contact from our spouse, which affects intimacy within marriage. Being addicted to porn can break fellowship, but professional help, and Christ can restore it.

A by product of an addiction to porb could be an increased desire for self-pleasure. Also known as beatin’ off, wackin’ off, choking the chicken, etc., masturbation is a self induced orgasm. It’s not necessarily a problem in our formative years. However, if it continues as we get older, then its necessary to wonder why. Orgasms are a wonderful thing, but in the context of marriage. When masturbation is a continuous habit, at it’s core it is feeding physical pleasure. The focus has become “chasing the high” of the orgasm. The only way to get control over it is to pray for strength, study the Word, and subjugate our will to God’s will, wholly.

I try to keep myself out of this, but I feel like transparency is called for here. In my life, I struggled with an addiction to porn, and masturbating when I was younger. One of the reasons some drug addicts keep using is because they’re attempting to reach the intial euphoric feelings of when they first started using. I know it was because of “chasing the first high” that I kept doing it. It’s not everybody’s reason, but it was mine. Eventually, “doing me” wasn’t enough and I started having sex.

Pre-marital sex is a big deal for most people. Initially, for me it wasn’t. As I got older, I began to understand why it’s so serious. Sex itself is supposed to be within the confines of marriage. It’s not just a merging of bodies, but also minds and souls that is supposed to be for two people, as God designed it. When pre-marital sex is engaged in, it usurps the originally intended purpose, as well as merges souls of the participants. Perceptions can become slanted as well. Even more serious though is the fact sexual sin is, as the Bible says, is the only one we do to our own bodies. Our bodies are called temples by God, yet if we are doing things to damage our temples, do we really value them?

How do we get into situations where we need to exercise self-control? After the desires arise in our hearts, and thoughts get formed in our minds, we set in motion the actions by our words. Words can make or break people. Destructive words are ones that tear down. We set in motion destructive habits by what we speak, then follow up on by acting on what we say. Even if we think something, it’s not always necessary to voice it. The words we use are just as important as what’s said. Self-control is knowing how to say something, and when it’s best, frankly, to shut up.

The only way we can effectively exercise self-control is by submitting ourselves to Christ. A component in it is staying in the Word, and allowing it to convict us. That’s why effectively studying and scripture memorization is so vital to our spiritual walk. As we hide the Word in our hearts, we will have the necessary strength to not be overcome by the things that seek to take us out.

 
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Posted by on 11/12/2012 in Checkpoints

 

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Checkpoints Week 3: Community

It’s been an experience going through Checkpoints the last three weeks.  The inward focus has made me take a harder look at my relationship with Christ. Suffice it to say, some aspects of it have been found wanting.

I’ve felt like I have a strong Identity in Christ, but it could be stronger. Admittedly, my Integrity. has waned from time to time. I’ve known, but it was reiterated again, that having a strong sense of Community can help men, like myself, who struggle with the first two checkpoints.

Truthfully, I’m not sure how many men struggle with feelings of Isolation. What I do know is that we control it. If we separate ourselves from others, then it’s easier for sin to creep up on us. We can’t withstand an onslaught of negative forces if we try to combat them on our own. Even though He is the Son of God, Jesus had His Disciples, and they were His community. As men of God, it’s important for us to be around other likeminded men, who are striving to live for Christ. As Proverbs 27:17 states, “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” We can only sharpen each other, and ourselves, if we spend time with other men.

Conflict can impact community as well. When there is discord amongst people projects, plans, and progress all generally grind to a halt. Nothing gets accomplished because folks are harboring negative feelings toward one another. The feelings can sprout from anywhere, and each man involved has his own. But, whatever it is, the conflict must be resolved for the bonds to be reestablished. Even the Bible says (paraphrased) that “if one commits an offense against his brother, stop whatever is going on an rectify it.” The kingdom of God is about harmony, and if harmony doesn’t exist, then those who are preventing it need to do what’s necessary to make it happen.

What else affects the harmony amongst men? Would you believe Gossip? It sounds weird because not many people automatically think of men as gossipers. We can be. Has anybody ever told you something in private, but you shared it with another? Yup, that’s gossiping. Keeping private things private and not spreading lies is the best way to not be a gossiper. That and minding our own business.

In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to become an inadvertent gossiper though. Why is it you may ask. We’re more technologically connected than ever before. The advent of the internet, and social networking allows us to connect more easily. This can be both good and bad, but doing it too much can lead to what’s termed as Online Abuse. Be mindful of the connections both in real life and virtually, but we’re to never let our virtual ones replace the real ones. Jesus nurtured people outside His circle, but after God, His first priority was those closest to Him. Our lives should be the same way.

The same way we have to guard against isolating ourselves, we must watch for the wrong kind of community that may want us as part of it. Peer pressure is a part of this. Often when we hear the phrase peer pressure, it has negative connotations. The fact is it can be negative or positive. Being around Godly men, such as in a small group or men’s ministry, will exert positive peer pressure. Not only positive, but it can be encouraging as well. When we align ourselves with the right peers, doing so can make all the difference in our natural, and spiritual lives.

***Along with the Bible, Checkpoints gets to the heart of manhood. I’m seeing a difference in my life, and can only assume that other readers of the book are too. It’s still five more weeks to go, but I expect them to be as revealing, and better than the weeks prior.***

 
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Posted by on 11/07/2012 in Checkpoints

 
 
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