Category Archives: Biography

Independence and Freedom

I was privileged to start a new church 20 years ago today. We held our first worship service at 111 Ranch in Garland, Texas on a hot July 4th evening in 1999. I chose the date with auspicious intent. 

Today is Independence Day, the day the the Continental Congress officially approved the Declaration of Independence affirming freedom for all people and rejecting British rule. It is the day we became United States of America. It took many more years for that freedom to become a reality for slaves, but the truths stated therein supported the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement. 

WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Individuals and nations have the right to separate themselves from tyranny and to establish independence, in order to be free to pursue the life God created. 

Separation

Over the years I have been involved in several great churches, and for the denomination and its agencies that assisted in the launch of our church I have the highest regard. However, anyone who has been involved in church on more than a surface level can likely give examples of legalistic and judgmental attitudes among leadership and people. In fact, I must admit, as much as I dislike those attitudes, I’ve been judgmental too! If I am going to love people the way Jesus does, I must stop judging them.

Back then our name was City of Refuge, another symbol intended to help us turn away from being judgmental. In the Old Testament the Cities of Refuge were established to protect those who were accused of murder. Here they could run to safety from the avenger of blood, and here they would receive a fair trial. In this city the accused could continue to live without fear or shame as the result of their past mistakes or misfortunes. 

Too often, down to our day, an accusation is enough to destroy the reputation of the accused. People believe what they want to. Anyone may say anything about anyone else, publicize it via the press or social media, and many people will assume the worst, refusing to change closed minds, even when facts contradict the accusation. What happened to the presumption of innocence? Instead there is a de facto assumption of guilt toward anyone accused.  In my observation judgmental attitudes rule our culture today, from bottom to top. So, a church that suspends judgment, whether moral, social, or political, would be a welcome contrast.

Twenty years later we are called Lifewell Church, but I hope we continue to be a refuge for the oppressed and accused.  I pray we continue to be a source of acceptance and a dispenser of God’s grace to people who have been rejected. As the pastor, I seek to root out any source of sanctimony and judgment in our midst, beginning with myself!

I also wanted us to separate ourselves from all of the pretense and presumption I experienced in the institutional church. Enter some churches and you can feel the fakery. Oh, they may have orthodox theology, but the heart is not there. Concerning such people Jesus quoted Isaiah, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8, Isaiah 29:13). This may be seen in high church ritual, the slick Sunday production of a mega church, or the well worn routine of any church in between. 

Independence

I just wanted everyone to be real. When it concerns individuals that means stop hiding, no more “fake it until you make it.” Be the same person in church as you are at home, at work, at school. We can’t get well if we keep hiding the fact that we’re sick. Worse, we may be flaunting in the world the sickness we hide while we’re at church. The theme passage for City of Refuge came from Matthew 9:12-13: 

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Matthew 9:12–13, NIV)

Sadly, some (too many!) abused this grace and simply continued in their sin. Establishing a church that accepts people as they are without judgment doesn’t mean people should continue living unchanged by God’s amazing grace. Too quickly our City of Refuge became for some a Den of Thieves! “How can we who died to sin live any longer in it!” (Romans 6:1)

When I am exposed to the truth of God’s Word and inhabited by His Holy Spirit, I am changed and become more like Jesus. When you offer grace it is always possible for people to abuse it and use it as tacit acceptance for their bad attitudes and bad behaviors. No judgment doesn’t mean, no evaluation, no appraisal of right and wrong. What it means is I’m not the judge, and neither are you! We’re not even on the jury. I don’t determine your guilt or the punishment for what you may have done.

In reality, I’m here to be a physician’s assistant and Jesus is the doctor. First, I need to get well, then I need to be concerned and compassionate about bringing you to life and health. Jesus said this clearly, and it is intimately part of the same teaching about not judging.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1–5, NIV)

I hope and pray that we’ve not lost sight of this as Lifewell Church. It is the reason we came into existence 20 years ago. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. Acceptance and repentance are both essential to being made well by Christ. I cannot live life well when I am sick with sin. I will never come to Christ if I believe I’m too bad, too dirty, or too sick. So, we must accept people as they are, not as we wish they were. We must speak the truth in love and seek to lead people to receive the transforming spiritual life of Jesus Christ. We accept them as Jesus has accepted each of us, and we offer them the living water that will become a life well leaping up from their hearts to eternal life!

but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:14, NIV)

Freedom

The result of this is genuine freedom, and that may be what most people associate with July 4th. The natural understanding of freedom is, I can do whatever I want. What irony, we think that we’re free when we do what we want when all the time the will is deceived, enslaved to bad habits and destructive desires. What I want falls short of God’s design. “For all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23). Although sin seems like freedom, it is inextricably tied to death. “The soul that sins will surely die…. For the wages of sin is death” (Ezekiel 18:4, Romans 6:23). The Apostle Paul calls this principle the law of sin and death. Jesus taught emphatically that those who sin are slaves to sin (John 8:34). 

Real freedom is not unlimited choice. I am not free when I choose to be something God didn’t design or command. There is a way things, and people, are supposed to be, and that’s not some arbitrary demand superimposed by an autocratic almighty God. There are laws of physics, the universe is fine tuned to an exquisite degree. God created it this way. The same God established what we would call moral laws as well. He gave us a conscience. He revealed a moral code to Moses. He paved the pathway to life through Jesus Christ. Now, the person who comes to Christ fulfills the law and is set free by the Spirit.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2, NIV84)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17, NIV84)

This is important to understand, to fully realize, and I sought to teach it in those early years, but some failed or refused to receive it. They left preferring a deluded lifestyle, which has resulted in destructive consequences for those who failed to have a change of heart. Once again, I hope and pray that Lifewell receives this truth and lives in God’s intended freedom.

July 4th is an auspicious date, even 20 years later. Lifewell remains a church committed to separation from sanctimonious judgment, bureaucratic religion, empty ritual, and fake faith. We are not independent from our founding denomination, although we have a strong non-denominational outreach. We are committed to the principle of priesthood of the believer, which means that each person is privileged and responsible to relate to God and read the Bible anticipating the Holy Spirit will teach them. This doesn’t mean the individual is independent from the community, rather we are mutually reliant and recognize the gifts and callings of the members of the body. I am a teacher and the overseer of our community of faith. People follow my leadership and teaching as I follow Christ. Finally, we are free! Free to worship in a manner that allows us to speak and be spoken to by God in Spirit and in Truth. We are free to follow our consciences in debatable matters, eating and drinking and dressing and entertainment. We are free from sin and it’s awful consequence: death. Praise God! Happy July 4th Lifewell Church! 

20 Years of Ministry

20 years is a long time to do any one thing. That’s two decades. A child grows to become an adult in that period of time (hopefully!). I am always proud of married couples who make it 10 and then 20 years and beyond. A business that continues for that long is established and usually respected. What about a church?

Come July 4th (a purposefully chosen auspicious starting date) the church I was privileged to start, and continue to pastor, will celebrate 20 years of ministry. A number of core people have been with me the entire time, and many others have joined along the way. It is not my church. It is ours.

1999 seems like a lifetime ago. I was a youth minister, and it was one of the most difficult years of my life. The back story is posted on this blog if you are interested in reading. Suffice it to say my time as a youth minister seemed to be coming to a conclusion. In a staff meeting at the church where I served I mentioned that one day I’d like to start a church. The senior pastor jumped at the idea. A few weeks later I was meeting with local and state denominational leaders. A few months later I led a few adults and about two-thirds of my youth group into uncharted waters.

The church we launched was called City of Refuge. The name comes from the Old Testament. Israel was required to have special cities where those who had unintentionally killed someone could flee for safety. The concept was our church would be a safe place, a community free of judgmental attitudes, the church where those who have made mistakes would be accepted. This is the nature of God’s grace. I believe our church still possesses it as a part of our DNA.

Wherever there is grace, there will be those who use and abuse it. Virtually everyone in our church was between the ages of 16-22. It was basically a youth/college group, only without the financial and moral support of a larger church of adults. We experienced a lot of storm and stress. People left. New people came. A small core remained. This was drama ministry. I believed it was time for a change.

The City of Refuge needed to grow and grow up. I wanted us to become a city set on a hill for all to see. In February of 2002 we officially changed our name to Zion. At first I hung on to the concept of a city. In fact, our website was cityofzion.org The name Zion has deep significance in the Bible as a reference to God’s people, often connecting them with his promises. It also had some cultural resonance at the time. We loved it. I had hoped it would help connect people to our roots and God’s promises. For some it did.

At first we didn’t have our own space. We held worship on Sunday evenings in ballrooms of hotels, and had a noon brunch and discipleship Bible study on Sunday at a house I rented. During that period we continued to do a theatrical event every Halloween called House of Judgement. Although we were a very small church, we reached a very large number of people with the Gospel. In 2000 we rented an old movie theater. This permitted us to do our activities and to produce other dramatic events. It was a great venue for those programs, less so for worship. We quickly discovered the building didn’t have heat, and that it flooded during hard rains. The landlords wouldn’t do anything about this, so at around the time we changed our name to Zion, we left the theater and become nomads.

We met in parks, and in other churches for two years. In 2004 we came to downtown Garland and began meeting at a large coffee shop. I rented an office in the same building. There was a conference room where we soon moved our worship services.

The church experienced some turnover as well as slow, steady growth. By 2006 the last of the orignal adults who had helped start our church had moved on. We grew up and began the process of becoming multi-generational. I officiated the weddings of young people who now have children of their own. They stayed and grew and now form the core of leadership in our church. I cannot help but be reminded of the children of Israel who fought to live in the Promised Land that their parents refused to enter.

We’ve always had a talented group of musicians in our church. There was turnover in the early years, but one young man stepped up and stayed. Dean Short has been the backbone of our band for many years now. He and Natasha met at our one year anniversary. I performed their wedding a few years later.

As the church broadened in age it was important to continue ministering to youth, and to start a children’s ministry. In 2002 one of our young people started serving as the first youth minister right out of college. The young lady who would be his wife served as one of our earliest children’s ministers. In 2005 I officiated Craig and Rachel Wilson’s wedding. They’ve served faithfully all these years. Rachel is one of our beautiful vocalists and does our finances.

In the days leading up to our church start back in 1999, I had discussions with young people on the patio of my apartment. We talked about the kind of church we wanted. What would our target audience be? One of the young men mentioned a girl he had dated in high school as the perfect representative. She had recently been living in Austin, had no relationship with God or church, but would likely be receptive to a church that wasn’t judgmental, legalistic or formal. Heather came to our inaugural worship service on July 4, 1999 at 111 Ranch. Over time she put her faith in Jesus and was the first person baptized in our church. She got to know Josh as they attended over the years, and I was blessed to officiate their wedding. Two more solid core people who have two wonderful boys. Heather does our finances. Josh has been the drummer for our band for many years.

I could go on. There are others who’ve been with us since they were kids too: Both Elijah and Veronica are in our band. Veronica is married to Sy, who has also been with us from the early days, another wedding I was privileged to do. They have two amazing boys. Craig officiated Elijah’s wedding to Sarah several years ago, and they have a beautiful daughter. Brooke has been with us since the early days; I officiated her wedding to Chris the same year as Craig/Rachel, and Dean/Natasha. Many others have been around for a decade or longer.

What about our kids? Our first official child is the adopted son of Craig and Rachel. His name is Jacob. He was born in 2003; we’ve watched him grow up. He’s now a teenager who runs our tech on Sundays. Then there’s Jayme, the firstborn of Dean and Natasha. We watched her grow up too. I had the privilege of taking Jayme to youth camp this year. And there’s Miss Jubilee, Craig and Rachel’s first daughter. I mention her because at the point of her birth our church began to see an explosion of kids, and they are all wonderful!

So, we’re called Lifewell now. After a decade as Zion, the church had changed. We were now multi-generational. By 2011 Craig was our Associate Pastor and we partnered with others to send him to Indonesia. This is the largest Muslim country in the world. I became concerned that our name would be misinterpreted. This concern was reinforced as I encountered people (usually older) in our own community who misunderstood and misinterpreted Zion. Lifewell comes from the passage in John’s Gospel, where Jesus spoke to the Woman at the Well and promised: ““but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”” (John 4:14, NIV). Our motto is: Live Well; Love Well. The double meaning of well is intentional. Receive the Spirit of Life in Jesus and live life well.

We’re still in downtown Garland. In 2009 we began meeting in a 100 year old building at the corner of 6th and State. For years it was McKnight’s drug store, then the Garland Opry. It’s our home, as is downtown. We seek to be good neighbors and to represent our city well. I confess I don’t know specifically what the future holds, but I believe God’s promises, and that He has promised great things for our church. It is not time for us to rest in the past but to rise to the promised future!

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. “Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the hip. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come. 

(Isaiah 60:1–5, NIV)

The Call

“But I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).

Forty years ago March 4th fell on a Sunday. It was the first day of an eight day series of televised meetings held by evangelist James Robison at the North Phoenix Baptist Church. I was in attendance every day. I don’t remember what Robison preached on at every meeting, but the first night stands out: that’s when I responded to God’s call to preach the Gospel.

The message was on apathy. It affected me so strongly that I crafted my own oratory speech on the topic for my high school forensics team the following year. It was a speech that won the largest tournament in the Soutwestern U.S. that year at Arizona State University.

I was a junior in high school when James Robison came to our church. I would turn 17 on the final day of the crusade. The preivious Easter Sunday, not quite one year earlier, I had committed my life to Jesus Christ. I was baptized the Sunday after Easter and attended church each week from that point forward. In fact, I became immersed. I went to youth choir on Sunday nights, Monday night outreach, Wednesday prayer meeting. I was at every youth activity and went to youth camp the following summer. I wanted to be whatever a Christian was supposed to. This went further or deeper for me, though.

The pastor of my church was Richard Jackson, a passionate Gospel preacher. Many times when he preached I felt compelled, not just to do what he urged, but to run up to the pulpit and preach! When Robison came, the fever grew stronger. I wanted to do what these men were doing. On the first night of the Robison crusade I responded to the invitation to recommit my life, to stop being apathetic. I spoke to a crusade counselor, I believe his name was Mike, who was just a few years older than me. I think we prayed first, then I said, seemingly as an afterthought, “I believe God is calling me to preach.” It wasn’t an emotional decision. I had come to the realization, perhaps admitted to myself for the first time, that this would be my life.

Interestingly, my grandmother called it when I was only five years old. She told me I’d be a preacher. I never gave it another thought, until I came to the same conclusion at age 17.

For 40 years I’ve pursued and practiced preaching the Gospel. I don’t know that I’ve been that successful, and I’m certainly not worthy, but I remain committed. So long as the Lord Jesus has a place for me to serve, I’ll keep it up. I don’t intend to retire. Maybe I’ll go on another 20, 30 or 40 years. Who knows? I just want to finish the race and hear the Lord say, “Well done, faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

1969-2019 Auspicious Events for Ministry

It is appropriate for me that I started this article at 11:11 on 1-1-19. 1111 has had significance for me for some time, and it is the first day of a new year. Not just any new year, however. I’ve considered it, and during my lifetime significant events have happened at the end of each decade. Now, I suppose I could attempt a similar exercise with any year, but during each year ending in nine, something life changing has occurred, and/or something new has been inaugurated.

I wrote a blog yesterday and took it all the way back to ’79, but as I was thinking just now, I can even find a life changing event that occurred in ’69, when I was only seven years old. 1969 was the year my parents divorced. My biological father was an alcoholic and his irresponsible, sometimes violent, behavior precipitated that permanent separation. I never had a good relationship with my dad beyond that time. Early on he was a dangerous person to be avoided. Later he was distant and I had limited communication with him until several years before he passed away in 2008. This left a painful wound on my heart that didn’t heal until I fully accepted the reality that through Jesus, God is my Father, and He has not abandoned me. I will admit there is still a scar, but that has served to glorify my Heavenly Father. I am also thankful that my biological dad eventually put his faith in Jesus, so I’ll see him again one day.

I publicly committed my life to Jesus Christ at the North Phoenix Baptist Church when I was sixteen. One year later, in 1979, I surrendered to God’s call to preach. During that first year as a follower of Jesus I attended church faithfully, and often when Pastor Jackson passionately delivered his message I would feel a strong compulsion to do the same thing. I didn’t really recognize this as a calling until, shortly before my 17th birthday, an evangelist named James Robison came to our church and conducted and eight day event (back then they were called crusades). On the first night he spoke on apathy, and I responded to the invitation to recommit my life to Christ. As I was talking to the crusade counselor I mentioned, almost casually, that I thought I was being called to preach. The next year I graduated high school and pursued a college education to prepare for the vocation I’ve pursued since that time.

My first staff position in a church began after my first semester at Southwestern Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. I became the youth minister at First Baptist Church, The Colony–about an hour’s drive from seminary. In January of 1989 something remarkable happened at that church. You see, when I started ministry there they had recently hired a new pastor due to a previous church split. Two-thirds of the original congregation were meeting in the high school cafeteria with the previous youth minister as their pastor. The other third, who called me to be their youth minister, maintained control over the church property and met in the original building. The remarkable thing that happened was this fractured congregation agreed to unite. There was serious resistance from the pastor who hired me, and he quit in protest. My youth group increased ten-fold immediately. It had dwindled to just nine people due to the contentious atmosphere created by our pastor, but the Sunday after our merger there were 90 teenagers in attendance!

That wasn’t the only significant thing that happened 1989. It was also the year I started producing House of Judgement in the DFW Metroplex. The idea of an alternative haunted house was not mine. The concept came from a church in Alabama, and they called it Judgment House. Pastor Bill Wilks of our church, who was from Alabama (and ministers there now) outlined the concept and asked if I’d consider getting our youth to do a Judgment House. Frankly, the whole thing sounded cheesy and exploitive. But I kept thinking about it. I came to the conclusion that we could do it in a way that was realistic and relevant. I introduced the idea to our youth group in the living room of the home where I stayed. There were 30 kids there that night, and they enthusiastically committed to make the event a reality at our church. In fact, that first youth group was responsible for us called it House of Judgement, rather than Judgment House. They thought that sounded much better, and I added to older spelling of the word judgement. The rest is history. I wrote my very first play, and we produced it in what I like to call a “mobile theatre format.” Instead of audiences sitting still and watching the set change between scenes in a traditional theater, we moved audiences from scene to scene. Each year I wrote a new play. I wrote and directed of House of Judgement and led in it’s production with three different churches from 1989 until 2006. During that time nearly 100,000 people attended, and over 10,000 made public professions of faith in Christ. 1989 was an auspicious year indeed.

By 1999 I had been serving for seven years as the associate pastor and youth minister with Freeman Heights Baptist Church. It became obvious that God wanted me to start a church. A series of events took place that forced me to take action sooner than I would have planned. However, I had strong support from the pastor I served with and from our denomination. On July 4th, 1999 (Independence Day was intentionally significant), City of Refuge launched at 111 Ranch in Garland, Tx. Our day to day operations were out of a house I leased, and we met in hotel ballrooms for worship. About a year and a half later we decided to change the name of the church to Zion–a city on a hill, the people of promise. Ten years later we changed the name again, largely due to a changing culture and persistent misunderstanding of the name by some. We are now Lifewell Church. On July 4th of this year we will celebrate 20 years of ministry in the Garland area.

In 2009 our church leased the building where we still meet on the downtown Garland Square. It is 122 years old, one of the oldest structures in our city. We’ve had a presence in the center of the city for 15 years, but getting this building established us. It is the launch point for what I believe God is going to do next…

Do you see the pattern? 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999, 2009: during each of these years something significant has happened that has shaped my ministry.

It is January 1, 2019 as I write this. What will God do next? That’s something about which I’ve prayed fervently for several years, asking and seeking and knocking. The watchword for me this year is GROW. I want to see our church grow significantly, as individuals mature spiritually, and as God exponentially adds new people to our community. However, this morning I came to the conclusion that the time has come for me to write consistently, and to finish the book I started several years ago. I am insecure about this. I don’t know who will read what I write, but I’m going to write. What you’ve just read is the result of that conviction.

79-89-99-09-19: Ready, Set, GROW!

I believe 2019 will be a significant year for me and for our church. The watchword for  this year is GROWTH.

It seems that every 10 years at the end of the previous decade, God establishes something significant in my life as a minister. 79-89-99-09-19. 

In 1979 I had been a follower of Jesus for a year and surrendered his call to preach. I pursued an education to prepare for ministry for the next decade.

In 1989 I was a year into professional ministry (as in, I got compensated financially; I’d been a volunteer minister for several years up to that point). Two important things happened: the church in which I ministered was reunited and re-established, and an I had the privilege of starting an annual event that was destined to reach thousands of people with the truth of the Gospel.

In 1999 the church I and a small group of young people founded the church I still pastor. At that point we called ourselves City of Refuge. Today the church is Lifewell. We’ve had our ups and downs, struggles and celebrations, people have come and gone, returned and left again, but we have a core group that has persevered. There are many new faces, and I believe they are the firstfruits of a new beginning that will result in tremendous GROWTH.

In January of 2009 our church established the lease on one of the oldest buildings in town. It is a 122 year old structure on the Garland downtown Square, and it’s been our place for ministry and worship in the heart of the city for a decade now.

So, every decade something significant has been established. Is something new coming in 2019. I cannot say. However, I do believe it is our year. I do believe it is a year the Lord will rain favor on me and our church–undeserved favor, which is grace. I’ve been tracking God’s promises for 20 years, and I’m looking forward to their realization in my life and ministry this year.

Here’s a promise I received from the Lord just this morning. Psalm 90 is a good Scripture to read as a new year begins. I memorized verse 12 many years ago: “Teach us to number our days rightly, so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” However, the Spirit of God spoke at the end of the Psalm today.

“Make us rejoice for as many days as you have humbled us, for as many years as we have seen adversity. Let your work be seen by your servants, and your splendor by their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be on us; establish for us the work of our hands— establish the work of our hands!” (Psalm 90:15–17, CSB)

Amen. I’ve seen hard times, lean times, and certainly some good times. However, I must admit I’ve been persistently disappointed at the limited growth of our church. But I am a prisoner of hope (see Zechariah 9:12)! I have continued to believe that we are moving through a process of preparation for significant impact on our world. I believe God will bring remarkable growth to me and to Lifewell Church in 2019– personal, spiritual and numeric growth. It is our year. Let the beauty and favor of the Lord our God be upon us! Establish the work of our hands! Amen.

Physical Training Anniversary and New Challenge

One year ago today I embarked on a project to renew my body. I’d gained flab and lost fitness. I made a meme of Frosty the Snowman with my face superimposed because I looked like a snowman. I don’t look like that today!

I won’t go into all of the details of my diet and exercise program here. If you want to look back at earlier entries in this blog you can discover what I did. Suffice it to say, what I’ve done worked. I’m maintaining less than 10 percent body fat and have gained muscle mass. My waist is at 29 inches. My goal is to gain about 10 more pounds of lean body mass and keep the fat percentage where it is currently. However, I’ve encountered an obstacle: injury.

Over the years, I’ve seen a repeat of the same issue. I’ve gotten myself back in shape and then sustained an injury to my shoulder(s), which results in my not being able to train my upper body. I get disappointed, don’t do other exercise, let my diet go, gain weight, and remain out of shape until long after the injury heals. I re-injured my right shoulder while doing benchpress last week. This is sad because I had gained strength even though I still have a mis-located (broken) collarbone sustained while doing incline benchpress. I’m afraid I’ll have to find other chest exercises. Bench has proven destructive. Yes, I warm up. Yes, my form is correct. 

I’m not giving up, but I am learning. First, I’m not afraid of gaining too much fat, even if my workouts are curtailed while this shoulder heals. Why? I’ve found the golden ticket to fat loss and maintaining lean body mass. It’s called intermittent fasting. You could also call this scheduled eating. I’m not the expert here. You can look it up. Read books by Jason Fung. Watch YouTube videos by Thomas DeLauer and Dr. Eric Berg. What I will tell you is, it works.

Intermittent fasting means I fast periodically for at least 13 hours, up to 24. Typically I stop eating between 3pm and 6pm and don’t eat again until the next day until noon. On the 13 hour fasting days I drink Bulletproof coffee and/or eat eggs, no carbs in the morning. Secondly, I limit my carbohydrate and sugar intake. I eat almost no bread, no pasta, no potatoes, and limit the amount of fruit. Of course, I avoid all sweets, and don’t put sugar in my coffee or tea. Intermittent fasting is easier on a low carb diet. When I eat carbs I’m hungry all the time. When I eat healthy fats, I’m not. The simple reason for this is, when you eat carbs, your body uses that as fuel immediately; therefore, it wants you to keep supplying those carbs throughout the day. When your body doesn’t have carbs/sugar for a longer period of time, it learns to burn fat. This is what happens when someone follows the now famous keto diet.

A keto diet is a good place to start before entering into longer periods of fasting (ie. longer than over night). Once your body is in ketosis, it isn’t craving carbs for fuel. Fasting becomes easier in this state because your body is used to burning fat, and will easily burn body fat in the absence of food. That’s what you’re looking for, at least if you need to lose some flab.

So, I’m injured. I’m disappointed. However, I’m not giving up, and I’m not going to get fat again. Fasting is a discipline often associated with religion. In fact, every major religion practices fasting to one degree or another. Sadly, many Protestants or Evangelical groups do not practice it. We should. It’s healthy, both spiritually and physically. I’ve written about this as well. The reason I bring in the spiritual aspect at the end of this entry is, I believe God’s providential reason for allowing my current injury is to move me away from focus on self and toward increased spiritual discipline, or what the Bible calls training in godliness. The essence of this kind of training is focus on God instead of self. Fasting is one of the spiritual disciplines I want to pursue. There are others.

I’ve just purchased the Kindle version of Richard Foster’s classic A Celebration of Discipline, along with Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines. One year after my physical transformation, I will now focus on training in godliness/a holy life. Basic to this is becoming more like Jesus. I’ve got a lot of work to do. I’m impatient. I’m easily frustrated. I complain often. I’m lustful. Just saying no to these things will not stop them. I know because I’ve tried that approach my entire life. What I need is to learn to say yes to a good and loving God, and that includes saying yes to spiritual training and discipline.

for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8, NRSV)

My Smile

I never smile with my teeth. At least, not on purpose. I have need for quite a bit of dental work, but have never been willing or able to invest the money. However, the most visible flaw that I seek to hide is a broken tooth, which I’ve had for 35 years. Today that will change. In a couple of hours I will finally have a crown put on that tooth.

I’ve related the story of my broken tooth to audiences when speaking about fighting and turning the other cheek. You see my tooth got knocked out by an employee of an Exxon gas station.

It was 1983 in Phoenix, Az, and I was on Christmas break from Baylor University. I purchased a 1970 yellow Chevelle Malibu to get around. One December evening I decided to go to Metrocenter Mall to see the movie Bladerunner. However, my Chevy was running rough. I figured the timing needed to be adjusted, so I pulled into a full-service Exxon gas station near the mall. The bay door of the garage was up with a big sign that said, “open.” I parked and asked the guy if he’d put a timing light on my car real quick. He said, “We’re closed.” I pointed out that the sign said open. He insisted. I walked away and muttered an obscenity under my breath.

I sat in the driver’s seat and proceeded to try staring my car. Next thing I know there’s the employee I’d asked, standing at my open window. He grabbed my face with a greasy hand and punched me with the other. I watched my tooth fly across into the passenger side of the car.I was shocked, injured, in an indefensible position and probably outnumbered, since I seem to remember seeing another guy walking up behind my attacker. So, I pulled away. Humiliated

I had to have emergency surgery on the tooth that night to disconnect the nerve. For 35 years I ‘ve lived with that broken tooth. It’s been a reminder of several things.

1) Watch your mouth. I haven’t always done so to this day. However, blurting out whatever you feel can get you hurt or in trouble. We have some politicians today that could stand to learn this lesson today.

2) Be mindful. Have 360 degree awareness of people and surroundings. It’s too easy to be distracted. Far more so now than in ’83 due to all of our little tech gadgets. There are bad people out there, and they will take advantage of those whom they perceive to be weaker than themselves.

3) Don’t allow a potential threat to approach me while sitting in the car with an open window. Keep the window up. Don’t roll it down to meet a confrontation. If I cannot drive off, I’ll get out of the car.

4) Turning the other cheek is costly. It’s humiliating to get hit and not hit back. My pride was more injured than my tooth. I wanted to return to the garage that night with some big friends and pay the guy back. I didn’t. Not fighting back bothered me for many years, even though I am a Christian who says he believes in the teaching of Jesus. However, this is the perfect example of what Jesus spoke about. I turn the other cheek in response to an offense, not an onslaught. This guy proved to be what I had called him under my breath, a jerk (I used a more offensive term), and he hit me and hurt me because I had offended him. It stopped there. He didn’t keep hitting me. His friend/co-worker didn’t hit me. I was permitted to leave. Self-defense was not necessary, except that I should have been aware of the threat and blocked a punch.

Thirty-five years is a long time to live with a broken tooth and an embarrassing smile. Hopefully, the need for a reminder to keep my mouth shut is over. After today I’ll smile a little more. In fact, I’m thinking of getting braces in the near future, so a mega-watt smile may be in the works.