Want self-encouragement and motivation? Send an email to your future self.

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Perhaps we haven't quite mastered time travel like Doc and Marty, but we can send emails into the future (courtesy of sean022.blogspot.com)

Perhaps we haven’t quite mastered time travel like Doc and Marty, but we can send emails into the future (courtesy of sean022.blogspot.com)

And David was greatly distressed ; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved , every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. – 1 Samuel 30:6 (KJV)

Rikki don’t lose that number; You don’t wanna call nobody else.  Send it off in a letter to yourself. – Lyrics to “Rikki Don’t Lose that Number” by Steely Dan

As you start the New Year, you’ve likely had the chance to take some time off from work, spend time with family, relax, and generally mentally detox.  You may have set formal goals for the New Year, but if not, at the very least you have dreams and aspirations you’d like to see come to pass.   In many ways, this may be the most clear thinking and enthusiastic that you’ll be all year, rivaled only by the week leading up to your vacation.  But what happens?  It’s called life, what John Lennon described as “what happens while you are busy making other plans.”  The daily grind of living occurs and the plans we had to have more consistent devotions, get in shape, become more organized all become casualties to life.  By February we look at our lack of progress, become discouraged and give up.

But what if your January 1st self, your lucid, optimistic and faith-filled self, could reach out to your February 1st self?  Now you can.  In reading Jon Acuff’s book, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job & Your Dream Job, he referenced using a website called futureme.org to send an email to himself that would be delivered at a date of his choosing in the future. Acuff used the email to remind his future self to avoid a situation his current self was dealing with. I became fascinated with the idea of sending my future self emails and decided to check out futureme.org (the service is free, but the site does accept donations.)  The applications for such emails are only limited by one’s imagination.  I could, as Acuff had done, send a warning to my future self.  I could also send an email to my future self from a time when a great spiritual victory or answer to a deep seated prayer was still fresh.  This email of present victories might equip me for future battles.  But as I penned these words on January 1st, I thought it would be good remind and encourage myself about the goals I set for 2013 and that “God had not given me a spirit of fear, but of love, power and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).  So I used futureme.org to send an email to myself to be delivered on February 1st.  I have no way of knowing what I’ll be facing on February 1st, but whatever it is; encouragement can never be in short supply.

I Got Nowhere Else To Go!

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Scene from Officer and a Gentleman when Sgt. Folely attempts to get cadet Foley to drop out of training. (courtesy of “Unpaid Film Critic” Blog)

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. – John 6:68 (NIV)

While movies might be dismissed as merely the light fare of pop culture, they can have a profound effect on us.  For me one such movie was An Officer and a Gentleman.  Released in 1982, it tells the story of U.S. Navy aviation officer candidate, Zach Mayo, played by Richard Gere, who comes into conflict with Marine Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, played by Louis Gossett, Jr., who serves as Mayo’s Drill Instructor.  I saw this movie as a college sophomore contemplating how I was going to land a job and pay back my school loans.  ROTC would seem to offer a solution to both problems – employment and the repayment of the school loans.  I was more than toying around with the idea of enrolling in ROTC until I saw the movie.

Gunnery Sergeant Emil Foley, rides Navy aviation officer candidate, Zach Mayo, mercilessly believing he is not officer material.  For his portrayal of the tough Drill Instructor, Gossett won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.  He did more than just convince, the Oscar voters, he convinced me!  His portrayal of Foley was the catalyst for me to consider other career options!

While Foley makes life miserable for Mayo throughout the movie, but there is a pivotal point where it reaches a climax.  Foley attempt get Mayo to DOR “drop on request”, i.e. request to terminate training.  Foley does this by subjecting Mayo to grueling calisthenics and verbal taunts.  Foley yells at Mayo, “I want your DOR!”  Exhausted and exasperated, Foley yells back with conviction, “I got nowhere else to go!”   Mayo ultimately does complete his training, becoming a naval ensign.

Nearly two millennia early, another instructor was putting his recruits through their paces.  Jesus had just performed the miracle of feeding the five thousand, and his popularity was growing.  The crowd gathered sought to forcibly make him king.  Jesus performed an evasive maneuver and withdrew to a mountain by himself.  He put further distance between himself and the crowd by traveling to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Undeterred, the crowd found Jesus on the other side.  Wary of their affection for the wrong reasons, Jesus issues this warning to the crowd in John 6:26-27, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”

Over the succeeding verses, Jesus makes the case with the crowd that ultimately it is the eternal life he has to offer, not the food he is able to conjure up, nor any miraculous signs he is able to manifest that should cause their devotion to him.  However Jesus presents his case in a way that is not particularly winsome or understandable, but rather to many, offensive.  Jesus proclaimed “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (v54).   The Jews did not practice cannibalism and the Mosaic law expressly forbade eating blood (see Leviticus 17:10).   Like Gunnery Sergeant Foley, it seems as it Jesus was intent in getting his recruits to DOR, drop on request.  What was the crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ message?  On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it? (v60) and from this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him (v66).  Jesus then turned to his closest followers, the twelve and asked them whether they intended to desert him as well.  It was to this question that Peter responded, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (v68).

It would not be until after Christ’s death and resurrection that his disciples would come to understand what he meant by the need to eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Jesus was the ultimate fulfillment of the Passover lamb and the culmination of the sacrificial system.  The twelve could not have known that on the day Jesus’ words offended so many and turned them away.  In the meantime they had to trust in the person of Jesus, even if they could not comprehend his practices.

At times it seems like being a Christ follower is one extended boot camp.  Scripture even compares it to military service.  The Apostle Paul tells Timothy, endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3).  The point of military boot camp is to transform the recruit into a soldier.  God’s discipline serves an even greater good, God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 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 10b-11).

You Are What You Eat

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The yellow-banded poison dart frog gets its poison from its diet

And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise – Philippians 4:7 (NLT)

Recently my oldest son, Ryan, and I made the 12 hour trek by car from Pittsburgh to Atlanta to visit the Georgia Aquarium.  Ryan is an aspiring marine biologist and what better way to spend some father and son bonding time than to visit the world’s largest aquarium?  While there, we went on a behind the scenes tour of the aquarium.  Our guide described some of the inner workings of the aquarium as well offering some interesting facts about the some of the animals there.  He talked about the animal pictured above, the yellow-banded poison dart frog.  The frog and its Central and South American cousins are called “dart frogs” because the indigenous Amerindians use their toxic secretions to poison the tips of blowdarts.

What was interesting to learn was the source of the frogs’ poison.  Unlike poisonous snakes that generate their toxins internally, the darts frogs poison is derived from their diets.  The frogs eat ants, centipedes and mites than contain toxins.  The frogs store these toxins and secrete them through their skin.  If the frogs’ diets are changed, they cease from being poisonous and are even sold as pets.  Learning this reminded me of what I already knew about the color of flamingos’ pink plumage.  Flamingos in the wild derive their color from proteins found in the plankton they eat.  Additives are placed in the food of zoo kept flamingos in order to maintain their pink color.

“You are what you eat” holds true for people as well as frogs and flamingos. Morgan Spurlock humorously and soberly chronicled in his documentary, Super Size Me what happens when he lived exclusively off a McDonald’s diet for a period of 30 consecutive days.  Spurlock’s physical and emotional health deteriorated by the end of his experiment.

Just as what we ingest in our bodies effects our physical health, so too what we allow to enter our minds effects our emotional and spiritual health.  To maintain our spiritual health we must partake of a diet rich in the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, prayer, mediation, worship and fellowship with other Christians.  Our physical health also impacts our spiritual and emotional help so it makes sense to eat reasonably, exercise and get an appropriate amount of sleep.

Let’s go back and visit our friend, the poison dart frog.  The frog, like all non-mammals and birds is cold blooded, meaning its body temperature is not regulated internally, but externally, by the surrounding air temperature. Too often our minds are like the frog’s body temperature.  We allow our surroundings and circumstances to regulate our emotional and spiritual temperature.  But unlike the frog, we can influence the environment of our minds by what we put into them.  As a contemplative person, I can easily find myself given to extended periods of melancholy. It is during those times that I must remind myself of what the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Philippi “And now, dear brothers and sisters, let me say one more thing as I close this letter. Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

Some might misconstrue Paul’s message as one of simply “think happy thoughts.” The Gospel message does not ignore the ills and heartaches of the world.  The Gospel or “good news” is that Jesus Christ came to redeem the world of its greatest ill, sin.  When Christ first proclaimed his public ministry he read these words from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” Luke 4:18-19 (NIV).   As Christians or “little Christs” we are called to do the same.

Remaining Upright

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Crossing the finish line – courtesy of sfgate.com

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress. And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish. Hebrews 12:1-2a (NLT)

In my last post entitled, Derailed, I wrote about how we can allow a sense of entitlement or blind ambition to cause us to be become deflected or derailed from achieving a goal, a purpose or even our life’s mission.  In this post I want to address how we successfully fight and win the battle against derailment and what to do if we find ourselves derailed.

Winning the fight

  • Realize you are not immune – Suppose you found yourself in an environment where your chances for contracting a contagious and deadly disease were high.  What precautions would you take?  You might don gloves, goggles and a protective mask at a minimum.  Perhaps you would seek protection from a biohazard suit.  News flash – we do indeed exist in such an environment and the highly communicable disease is sin.  In order to prevent infection, awareness is the first step.  1 Corinthians 10:12 offers this warning, ‘So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” – (NIV).
  • Build up your immune system – During cold and flu season we are encouraged to strengthen our immune systems by receiving flu vaccines and taking supplements such as vitamin C or echinacea.  Christians have a spiritual immune system.  Our first line of defense is God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit that takes up residence in the heart of every believer at the moment of conversion.  We must be proactive in nurturing our relationship with the Holy Spirit through the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible study.
  • Take advantage of herd immunity – In the study of infectious diseases a term is used called “herd immunity.” Herd immunity is the resistance to the spread of infectious disease in a group because susceptible members are few, making transmission from an infected member unlikely.  God provides us with herd immunity through fellowship with other believers.  When we interact with fellow believers, we have the opportunity to strengthen and encourage one another.  Have you ever been sick and either ignored it or was unaware you were sick in the first place?  You needed someone to point out your condition and encourage (or nag) you to seek medical attention.  While not practiced as often as it should be, we have the responsibility to hold one another accountable.  Like King David, from time to time we all need a prophet Nathan telling us, “you are the man!” and confront us with our sinful practices.  We also need to be a Nathan for others.  It is for the sake of preserving herd immunity that the author of the book of Hebrews writes, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” – (10:35 – NIV).

Becoming upright again

  •  Hit the attendant call button – Some years ago a TV commercial aired for a service called Life Call.  Life Call was designed to assist senior citizens desirous of independent living but also wanting the assurance of assistance in the event of a medical emergency.  The Life Call user  wore a pendant around his or her neck. If a medical emergency did arise the person in distress simply pressed a button on the pendant and spoke about their condition to a dispatcher who had been automatically notified.  While not intended to be humorous, viewers, including me, found the commercial hilarious for the now infamous line, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”  If we ignore all of God’s road sign and careen into a ditch or over an embankment, he will not leave us there.  We simply need to cry out to God, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”  Psalm 18:6a states, “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice.”
  • Go through rehab – We may have to suffer the consequences of our derailment.   A physical derailment may result in bodily injuries requiring therapeutic rehabilitation.  So to, may a spiritual derailment do injury to our souls.   But take heart. We have the confident assurance that God will be with us throughout the rehab process.   God answered David’s prayer to restore to him the joy of his salvation and he will answer your prayer to do the same if you but simply ask.