Friday, March 2, 2012

On Accountability, Community and God Forsaken Burpees

Lent is in full swing.  For many people this means giving something up.  Some give up chocolate.  Some wine. I remember one of my friends giving up healthy food.  The point is during Lent, many of us feel an often less than understood urge to deprive ourselves of something we like.  Whether it is some attempt to master a vice, a focused attempt to focus more fully on God or a weight loss gimmick, it is hard. 

It is hard to give up things we are accustomed to and enjoy.  This is also why quite often, we fail epicly at this attempt at "self improvement." Its like a second  chance at our New Year's resolution. 

Lent for serious Christians should be different.  It should be focused on fully and completely immersing yourself in God by withdrawing from a normal thing that could almost be seen as a necessity.  When we fast from food, our hunger serves as a reminder to pray.  When we fast from activities we usually enjoy, the urge to do them serves as a reminder that our time is not our own and we should use it wisely.  When we try to give up our vices, the STRONG urges in our lives remind us that we are never done battling sin in our lives and must continue to push and rely on the grace, mercy and power of God. 

But, just because we are relying on God for these things, does not mean it is easy.  We are after all still in control of our decisions.  Our resolve may fall short.  And this is why we need community.  This is why we need accountability.  And too often in the church, this is the last thing anyone wants.  The sad fact of the matter is we can never be the people God made us to be with out faithful brothers and sisters in Christ urging us on but for whatever reason Christianity has evolved into a "Me and Jesus and No One Else" kind of thing. 

I cannot tell you how many people have told me they can be close to God without going to church.  How Jesus is right there in the boat with them.  Its a fair point, God is everywhere we go.  that is to be sure.  But I have often noticed that those who spend the least time in a church or most often the ones whose God looks an awful lot like them.  They have arrived at views o God that have less to do with Scripture and more to do with what they think about the world.  The Truth about God is no longer altering what they think but instead what they think is altering the "truth" about God.   This comes from having no one there keeping us in check with what we believe, how we act and how we live.  I blogged about this earlier in the blog about standards.  But there is another piece to this that is really important and I experienced it last Saturday doing WOD 12.1 of the Crossfit Open.

This starts with my first attempt on Thursday Febrary 23.  I went in with a plan and executed that plan.  I had people urging me on and I am ever so thankful for that.  But in a way that attempt was "my doing."  99 reps.  not bad at all.  But, with the input from my friends at Flower City Crossfit, I realized I wasted a lot of time.  This was feedback and community accountability in action.  So, i planned to do it again.  On Saturday. 

I had talked it over, visualized it in my head and arrived at the idea that I could get 110 reps this time.  Lets do it I thought.  You got this. 

I went in on Saturday confident and ready to do it.  To be who I, and others, knew I could be.  And then the God Forsaken Burpees started. 

What I hadn't accounted for was that I would still be tired from two days before.  What.  An.  Idiot.

Of course I was tired.  I did 99 burpees and 117 x 24k Kettlebell snatches that day.  NERD ALERT!

My first minute went well.  I got 23.  My second minute went...horribly.  Dropped to 14.  I was already tired and I had 5 minutes of GFB's left.  I thought I was toast.  I thought I was gonna just suck wind to the end and take my 99.  I thought...about quitting.  And thats when the yelling started.  Now there had been cheers before, but this was different.  This was a group of people watching me fall down get up jump repeat and wanting me to get 100 reps more than I did at that point.  And so I kept moving.  They kept yelling.  I was exhausted by the time I hit 60 burpees but I couldn't quit because these people, none of whom knew I existed until late September of 2011, wouldn't let me.  They knew my goal and they wanted me to get it. 

I kept pushing.  with a minute and a half left I had 20 burpees to go to hit 100.  Again..."You aren't going to make it."  I shook my legs out and the yelling went from loud to berserk.  And I went berserk too.  Off I went and when all was done and the clock hit 00:00 I had 101 GFB's. 

I received congratulations for my achievement.  But honestly, I had so little to do with that amount it is not even funny.  If it had been up to me, I would have bailed or just half efforted to the end.  But I THANK GOD for those people who stayed in my face, and relentlessly pushed me toward what I wanted. 

This is true accountable community.  Not just reminding me that I messed up in the first WOD but investing in my success the second time.  Knowing my hopes.  Knowing my goals.  And relentlessly pushing me toward them.  This is the beauty of the Crossfit Community as I have seen it.  Unrelenting support. 

It is something the Church needs more of.  Desperately.  Local churches need to share their goals with each other and keep each other accountable for those goals.  The people in our congregations need to speak to each other about their hopes, their dreams and most importantly their struggles.  So they can have a group of cheerleaders urging them on to success.  Because in the end, when one of us struggles, we all struggle.  When one part of the body malfunctions, the whole thing starts to break down. 

1 Corinthians 12:24b-26:

But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

This is what the Church is truly about.  Not just each individual doing their own thing.  All of the cells of the body functioning together.  All of the muscles working in unison.  All systems go.  When one system starts failing, the rest try to make up for it but in the end this will result in illness, disease and eventually collapse.  

Last Sunday I urged my congregation to give something up for Lent.  Or to add something.  But not only that, I urged them to tell someone they love about it so that they can beheld accountable and be urged on. 

WOD 12.2 happens in 12 hours.  My Goal is 65 Reps.  Hold me to it, any who read this.  Pray for me if you cannot be there to cheer.  If you are there tomorrow, be relentless.  I need it. 

And thank God that He is relentless too.  We all need him to be. 


Monday, February 13, 2012

On Getting the Business End of Integrity and Grace Unforseen

Hello again friends.  I would like to start this blog with a disclaimer.  I am functioning on 13 hours of sleep (8 of which are sleep by definition alone with absolutely no "rest" being involved) over the last 4 days.  I am extremely tired and very likely will be a bit rambly if not at times completely incapable of focused thought.  Bear with me.  I am more excited to attempt to write this blog than I have for any of the others and, really, just about anything I have written period. 

And it's all because of one of the worst 24 hour periods I have had in quite awhile.  Maybe worst isn't the right word, disappointing and stressful probably fit better. 

As many of you who suffer through my ramblings probably know, I went to Las Vegas this weekend.  I was absolutely blessed by my beloved and incredible brother (Thank You God for such an amazing sibling...Beth is okay too I suppose.  Just kidding sis.  Love you.) with the opportunity to get my Level 1 Crossfit Trainer certificate.  I found this out about three weeks ago and have been eagerly awaiting my opportunity to go to this wonderful seminar.  The trainers I know all told me about how amazing the sessions are.  Working out with high level Crossfitters.  Learning from the elite of the sport.  Needless to say I was a big furry, sorry ladies, ball of excitement as I headed to Rochester to get on my plane to Sin City. 

I arrived at my gate 2 hours early.  Like I said Excited. 

And that's when the bottom fell out. 

You see it turns out you can't land airplanes in blizzards.  Well, correction, you can but it usually also includes emergency vehicles, a big fireball and looking for a black box.  So, I arrive at my gate and get a phone call from American saying "Your flight has been canceled."  Not delayed.  Canceled.  Also known as, forget this dream you have been looking forward to fulfilling.  You aren't going. 

So I did what any sane person would do.  Through an internal hissy fit and then started trying to fix the problem.  Asking people if I could pay them to give up there seat on the last flight out of Rochester.  The offer went up to 100 dollars and no takers. 

Why was I so adamant that I get to Chicago that night?  Because I assumed that if I missed the seminar, even due to acts of nature I would be fresh out of opportunities to get certified and my brothers money would have been wasted.  (It is important to note that I didn't think about it like this on Friday.  I saw it as MY money being wasted.  What a jerk I am at times.)

I called Crossfit Max Effort, the site of the seminar and told them what was going on.  They assured me that it would all be okay as long as I studied my materials hard and get there as fast as I could.  I thought "great!  I am going to get my way! Yay me!"  So I got on the first thing smoking out of Rochester in the AM.  I should arrive at 1030 and not miss THAT much of the seminar.  If only. 

Delays, delays and more delays later I finally arrived at Max Effort at 1230pm.  I had missed 25% of the course but was still expecting to get my way.  When they told me I wouldn't be taking the test I was absolutely crushed.  I had gone through so much.  Studied so hard.  Why wouldn't they make an exception for me?  It was the weather's fault not mine!  I was the victim of something I proclaim to support.  Integrity.

That's right.  Crossfit HQ said no go because I had missed 3 hours of training.  A couple of lectures and a break out group about proper squatting.  I was viciously angry.  The staff apologized profusely and yet I stated my sad story repeatedly hoping something would work out.  It didn't and you know what?  I THANK GOD THAT IT DIDN"T!

What was initially supposed to be a weekend about adding to one of my hobbies and favorite pursuits ended up changing me spiritually.  You see, after I had my 30 minute mope session (seriously, it was like I was wearing skinny jeans and had bangs hanging in my eyes while listening to Coldplay or the Verve) I started to think about what this so called rejection meant.  What it meant was Crossfit has standards they will not break on.  And thats a great great thing. 

What would you say to a doctor who admitted he was able to skip a year of med school because of some unforseen event in his or her life?  I would say "get away from me you quack!"  I would also seriously question the degree granting institution that allowed this person to get through with out, you know, actually doing what was required. 

Now, i do have to admit that the next bit of info is vital to my response to this situation.  This was the solution Crossfit HQ offered to me, in no small part because of the incredibly caring and wonderful people who ran the Vegas seminar.  I would be allowed to stay at the seminar, if I wanted to, and would very likely be given the opportunity to take another Level one Seminar (in many ways a premium product of Crossfit) for free. Think about the significance of this offer.  I missed my shot at this seminar.  Though the weather was clearly involved, I, a born and raised northerner, should have realized that if you want to get somewhere during the winter you better plan ahead and allow some wiggle room.  All I would have had to do is select that earlier flight, to make sure I would get to this important event, and this would have all been avoided.  I am not without fault here.  And even though I missed a major part of the course, the people providing it allowed me to finish the course and also are going to give me another full seminar for free.  Two premium products for the price of one.  Absolutely amazing.

So instead of getting one weekend of premier training from some of the best athletes in the world, I get two.  And while I am grateful for this incredible opportunity, it is not the biggest part of this weekend for me. 

I am GLAD crossfit didn't allow me to get my certificate after not completing the entire course.  Seriously.  While I appreciated the massive support form my friends and family when I found out that I wasn't getting the chance to take the test, I am glad it happened.  Because it makes the Crossfit Level 1 certificate mean more.  I am glad because the sport I love has standards and will not bend.  It made me realize that I have turned grace, the prescious gift of God, into an entitlement program.  Just as I assumed that I would be entitled to take the test because I am smart, and my story was sad and the money was paid, I too often assume that in life I will get exactly what I want, regardless of if I show up on time or not.

As I processed through what was happening, I went from anger to frustration and sadness to understanding.  Not because I am super smart.  I have had 6 concussions so I can't be the bright or I would stop smashing my head into things.  I got to understanding because God made it so.  He helped me to see that I will be better for all of this happening.  I will receive twice the training of a normal level 1 trainer.  I can view this as a burden (my initial reaction) or a blessing that will make me so much better than I ever thought I would be (my current state of mind brought to me solely by the Holy Spirit.  

I wrote a blog about Hebrews 12 not too long ago.    "Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it."  Hebrews 12:11

I am being disciplined.  Not in the, you are getting a spanking because you put gum in your sister's hair (Sorry Beth) kind of way but discipline like the athlete and Disciple I proclaim myself to be.  As I thought about this situation, I started to realize that if I told my story of how I became a Level 1 trainer, I would undoubtedly have to explain how Crossfit let me slide even though i didn't do all the work.  That would reflect badly on my integrity and Crossfit's. 

As I spoke with one of the friends I made in Vegas about this whole situation, he told me that I was an upright person.  That there was truth in my talk and that reflected well on me.  (Moises, shout out to you.  I hope you have gotten some sleep by the time you read this.)  As he said that I realized that it wasn't me talking.  It was the new me, that is constantly being made by the Spirit.  If it was me talkiing, I would be complaining about it being unfair and blah blah blah. 

Instead God helped me see that integrity is really important.That  Crossfit had standards and a resolution to my breaking that standard was arrived at that was pure grace while maintaining their integrity.  God also showed me that God has integrity and it was that very integrity that made it necessary for Jesus to go to the Cross for me.  God demands perfect submission to His standards.  Because of that demand Jesus went to the Cross for me, which honestly is not how I wish that it would have played out.

   (Just to be clear I am not saying Crossfit is stop typing that comment).   

Like I said this has sort of been a ramble fest.  But it was important for me to get this out now, while I am still basking in the revelation that God gave me about the relationship between integrity and my perceived rights.  As well as the incredible grace that so frequently arises out of nowhere.

Many who supported me this weekend with their words talked about the unfairness of the situation.  It was weather that caused it all after all.  I could very easily have lived in that sentiment and remained unchanged and uncomforted and unhappy.  Instead I realized just how spectacular it is that I am now enrolled in the Ann Arbor Level 1 Seminar and I will go free of charge to one of the best things Crossfit does.  Crossfit DID NOT HAVE to do what they did.  I had no reason to expect such a blessing.  Infact I expected what most people probably would...that my opportunity was missed.  That my brother's incredible gift woudl be wasted.  I would curse the God who has given me so much and ask why He let that storm stop me.  (I know I would do this because I DID do it.) 

I thank God that this all happened.  Every last minute of it.  I am a better crossfitter than I was on friday.  Sure thing.  But honestly, I feel like a very important page has been turned in my life as well.  How dare I expect grace.  The audacity.  I would love to say it will never happen again.  But seriously, I know it will.  And I thank God that he promises me grace anyway.  I just hope I thank Him for it a little sooner next time. 

This could have been shorter, I am certain of that, but it wasn't.  Thanks to everyone who made it through to the end. 

God Bless and may we all have a little more integrity and may we all handle others integrity without complaint.  And may we cease expecting grace.  Amen...or something. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

On The Fellowship of Presbyterians and ECO Conference. Crossfit Free Blog.

I want to take the opportunity to express my opinions on what happened in Florida this week. As some of you may know, though I don't know how many, the denomination I serve changed dramatically this week. At a gathering of the Fellowship of Presbyterians in Orlando, a new Reformed denomination was born. This new entity, named ECO, has already come under fire from a number of media outlets and advocacy groups.
If you do a simple Google News search for Presbyterian, you will get nearly 30 links to stories about this new denomination, almost all of which will, with differing degrees of venom, proclaim this move has been made solely because of the PC (USA)'s decision in 2010 and 2011 to begin approving the ordination to ministry of homosexual pastors. I absolutely understand that this is a hot button issue for many people for many different reasons and cannot deny the fact that it played a roll. However, most if not all of these reports would have the reader believe that this is THE reason that the decisions were made. 

I was at this conference and I can declare with a clear conscience the fact that the question of the “morality” of homosexuality or the question of ordination for that group of God's children was in no way the central issue at hand. The passing of permission for changing ordination standards was indeed the precipitating event for the discussions that followed. However, the Fellowship of Presbyterians, a religious order of conservative and evangelical Presbyterians which is committed to the ministry and mission of the PC(USA) and the newly created denomination ECO (Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians), have been created out of a concern for recapturing the missional and relational nature of the Presbyterian Church during it's hay day's of the late 1800's and early 1900's. 

We, The Fellowship(of which I am now a member) and ECO, are simply seeking to establish a group that is moving beyond the battles of recent years and attempts to recapture the mission that could have been done instead. We are focused on laboring together under a common standard that we can agree upon so that dissension would decrease, in order that mission and the spreading of the Gospel would increase.
I would especially like to address the idea that this movement is specifically anti Gay. I truly believe this couldn't be farther from the truth of the matter. This organization was formed around long established spiritual and ecclesiastical goals which have been neglected or forgotten in recent years. We are not moving AWAY from the PC(USA) as much as we are moving TOWARD something new and exciting. 

Something focused on creating new and diverse worship communities, re-establishing the core of the faith and theology around the Confessional Standards of the Reformed tradition and, perhaps most excitingly, re focusing on the connectional heritage of the Presbyterian church by uniting churches as accountability and mentorship partners for each other. These are all incredibly good things. Things that are better than what has been done in recent years in ANY Reformed body. 

In speaking with other Presbyterians, many of whom have no interest in the Fellowship/ ECO and who disagree with me on the issue of ordination, we have come to agree that the things the Fellowship and ECO intend to bring about in regards to a change in the DNA of our churches are good things. More mission. More evangelism. More justice. More biblical focus and literacy. More accountability. More awareness of how God is moving in our midst. These are the goals at hand. 

Yes, those of us who have aligned ourselves with the Fellowship and ECO are of one mind in regards to the ordination questions that have plagued our denomination for the last four decades. However, we are equally of one mind in regards to our commitment to move beyond these questions together with all Presbyterians, whether as a part of the same denomination or as part of the greater Body of Christ, to recapture what has been lost in these years of strife and battle. To declare again that Christ is Lord of all and to save those who need saving. Which, for those of you scoring at home, is all of us. Conservative or liberal. More Light or Lay Committee. Covenant Network or Fellowship. Believer or not. 

If heaven isn't a gift, none of us are getting in. But it is. So let's tell the world. They need this good news whether they like it or not.  God Bless. 

And for you Crossfit nuts out there, a series of Blogs is working its way to the top of my brain.  Sneaking up on me like the last 5 minutes of Cindy.  Stay Tuned.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On Resolutions and Discipline

It has been awhile since I have written a blog and something has come up in my life that has inspired me to jump back on the wagon.

I have now been Crossfitting for a year and 4 months.  I have been seriously engaged in "taking control" of my fitness for 3 years.  I started with Monkey Bar Gym in Lodi 3 years ago today pretty much.  I had to make two trips to the bathroom because I was that certain I was going to vomit from exertion.  Now, in my previous life I would have quit because it was too hard.  But, for reasons that I have illumined in previous blogs, I came back again and did the class another time.  And it was still hard.  IN fact it was painful.  I was sore all the time and felt like a pile of crap because I was using light weights and moving slowly.  Why didn't I quit and go back to bicep curls, bench presses and back squats with 5 minutes between each set?  Because for as bad as I felt, I also had hope.  Because I saw who I really was through the refining fire of having my backside handed to me at these workouts and I didn't like it.  But I also saw who I could be.  And my trainer Greg saw it too.  And he told me that all i needed to do was to keep showing up and working hard.  In a word, all I needed was discipline. 

This is probably one of the more maligned words in the world.  We think of discipline and instantly thoughts of nuns with rulers fill our mind.  We here discipline and we think of the weed pulling in the garden we had to do because we DIDNT do some other, and more often than not, easier chore.  We think of harsh coaches named Bear and Vince screaming at their bedraggled players that "Water is for the weak!"  We think these things and we shudder.  Because life tells us it shoudl be easier.  8 minute abs!  A full body workout in 4 minutes!  (Sidenote, now that I have started crossfit I realize that those two products are realities.  They are called Annie and Fran). 

So what's a word we Americans/ Humans like?  Hmmm.  I've got it.  Resolution.  We frickin LOVE resolutions.  I have been making them since I was old enough to pretend to knwo what the heck the word meant.  Interestingly enough, I only ever made them on December 31 of each year.  That is after all when you make such things.  Resolutions. 

Every year as we celebrate the passing of another year, and more importantly prepare to welcome the beginning of a new one, we human beings are filled with hope for what is to come.  We are reminded of the promise that every day brings.  The promise of the new.  "This year will be different!" we say with vim and vigor.  We resolve to do a great man y things, all of them good.  This is the year I get married (please people for the love of God stop it with this one.)!  This is the year I lose that weight! (For the love of GOD people, please make this the year you actually do it!)  This is the year I get my finances straight. (More on this later).

Whatever it ends up being, we resolve it.  We throw away the ho hos, join and cut our budget to that of a third world share cropper and off we go into the inevitable happy sunset because...we...have...resolved it!

And then Jan. 3 rolls around and you are starving because it turns out man does not live on rice and hormel chili alone, you really like hoho's and were/ are in fact addicted to them and those first 5 dates with 5 different women in the first 2 days of the year just didn't go as planned since your new budget only allowed the two of you to walk through snow to a park and sit still.  Oh and your married by the end of the year conversation was exactly the best idea on a first date.  Nor was your emergency fund of ho hos in your coat pocket. 

The point here is not to belittle resolutions. Resolutions are great.  3 years ago I was resolved that I wasn't going to be a fat piece of crap anymore.  And aside from a few set backs, mostly self induced, I have come a REALLY long way in achieving that goal.  But that joyous fact of my life took more than a resolution.  Some brilliant person who's name no one knows once said" The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."-Smart Person and awesomeness.  

THAT is what a resolution is.  The first step.  Now in many cases that first step is momentous and rought with immense implications and struggle.  The first step of leaving an abusive relationship, battling an eating disorder, finally getting help for the depression that has been ruining your life despite the fact that people you love think depression can be prayed away.  HUGE first steps. 

But it can't end there.  "A journey of a thousand miles is going to take more than one step and a lot of those steps are going to be through some pretty crappy territory and many of them may even hurt a lot." Me.  M Div and certified industrial truck driver (Think heavy duty segway).   

That is where so many of us stop though.  We take that step, that couple steps towards incredible life changing awesomeness and then it starts to suck.  We almost throw up twice in the first work out.  We realize that we can't lift a 45lb bar from our shins to our chin without feeling like, well what do you know, we are going to vomit all over some guys driveway (my first wod was brutal...for crossfit kids).  

I seriously used to be that guy and quite honestly I still am.  That's why I am writing today.  I am a a cherry picker.  I like to be disciplined at the things I like.  I love crossfit so I am very disciplined with doing my workouts.  I hate eating well so I am TOTALLY not disciplined at eating what I should be.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE buying crap so my finances are a total disaster zone. 

Discipline.  I have started Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University and man, in three lessons I already have realized what a disaster I am financially.  It's a miracle I never had my legs broken to collect a debt.  Thanks mom!

Crossfit has taught me incredible discipline and the ability to "fight through the suck" and I am going to need that in the coming months and years of my life as I try to right the ship and build a future for me and my russian bride Svetlana.  Apparently she likes walks on the beach and "whatever you want me to like so I can get a green card."  It was love at first profile view.

Seriously though.  I need more discipline in my life.  I don't spend enough time talking with Jesus.  I don't spend enough time reading about Him.  I don't spend enough time telling the people I love that I love them.  All because those conversations can be hard.  The can be uncomfortable.  They can be like doing Murph Rx'd and without partitioning.  But they need to happen. 

A verse came across the screen tonight as I was going through one of my FPU lessons. 

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it"  Hebrews 12:11.

There is some pain coming for all of us.  Hard decisions.  Huge first steps that seem like they might as well be 1000 miles.  But we need to take them.  We need to take those first steps and all of the steps that follow because it will produce a HARVEST of righteousness and peace for those who do so.  Not just a little garden friends.  An entire harvest.

My resolution for this year?  Do what needs to be done.  My prayer for this year?  The discipline to do it.