Grow older but don’t stop growing

Confession: There are times when I feel like taking a break from making myself a better person.

It can be hard work, after all, this whole sanctification thing. Sometimes I see some fruit from all the work and sometimes I don’t. Either way, it can be draining. So there are times when I’d like to coast … to put life on cruise control.

Then I re-read Daniel 6.

You might remember Daniel 6 as the chapter that tells us about his trip to the lions’ den, and that’s a great story. But what’s easy to forget is that Daniel was probably in his 80s when this story took place.

And what was the octogenarian doing? Growing.

Check it out: As Daniel reached what most of us would see as the twilight of life, King Darius took over. Great time to slip out of the leadership limelight, right? But not Daniel. He was one of the top three commissioners and he supervised dozens of satraps who were in charge of running the day-to-day aspects of the kingdom. In fact, Daniel was such a great leader that the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom. (Daniel 6:3)

Why was he such a good leader?

First, he had an “extraordinary spirit.” (Daniel 6:3)

Second, he was trustworthy (not corrupt). (Daniel 6:4)

Third, he was diligent (not negligent). (Daniel 6:4)

And while this impressed the king, it ticked off Daniel’s peers. So they conspired against him, tricked the king, and used the elderly Daniel’s faith against him. The result? Daniel became lion food, or so it appeared. You know the story. God saved Daniel, those evil peers (and their families) ended up as dinner for the lions, and King Darius sang the praises of Daniel’s God.

What we see in Daniel is a man who never put his life on cruise control. He continued to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. (Luke 2:52) He worked with excellence. He maintained a vibrant prayer life. He strengthened his fellowship with God. And he held firm to his faith. So when he was put to the test, guess what happened? He was ready … because he never stopped growing.

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Grow Like Kittens

Last week, Audrey and I went by the local animal shelter and adopted a couple of kittens. It hasn’t taken Tuck and Tessa long to make themselves at home, but they’re still rather young – less than two months old – so they have plenty to learn. That’s part of the fun of kittens: Watching them explore this crazy new world and joyfully learn how to function in it.

So, here’s how they’re doing so far with a few key kitten skills …

  • Stalking/Pouncing – Tuck, B-plus; Tessa, A-minus
  • Vertical Leap – Tuck, C-plus; Tessa, C
  • Curiosity – Tuck, A; Tessa, A
  • Obedience – Tuck, B; Tessa, B-minus
  • Climbing – Tuck, B; Tessa, B-minus
  • Cuddling – Tuck, B; Tessa, A
  • Potty Training – Tuck, A; Tessa, A (OK, one of them probably deserves a B, but we’re not sure which, and it was just that one time)
  • Sibling Wrestling – Tuck, B; Tessa, A

As you can see, they are quite advanced for seven weeks old.

Photo by me
Photo by me

Eventually, of course, kittens turn into cats, and life no longer is all fun and games. Adulthood takes over. Growth and learning seem to plateau. They settle into routines. They have real jobs with real to-do lists: Eat, sleep, patrol for mice, demand affection from humans, repeat.

Sometimes, I can relate. I’m not sure about cats, but I’m certain Jesus calls us to something more. Adulthood was never intended as a destination, but as a phase for more growth. Wherever we find ourselves in this journey of life, there’s always more to learn, always room to grow. That’s one of the broader points of Luke 2:52 and a big reason I wrote Grow Like Jesus. It seems clear to me that God is calling us to continually grow in wisdom, stature, favor with God, and favor with man.

So how are you doing? What are some key skills in your growth? How would you grade yourself in areas like prayer, time in God’s word, patience with others, dependence on God, healthy eating, exercise, relationship building, service to others, stalking/pouncing …?

OK, maybe not that last one. But whether you are newly born-again followers of Jesus or much further into your journey, the sanctification process never ends until you’re called home.

For me, the best part is that real growth in Christ always brings me joy. I’m like Tuck pulling on the drawstring of the window blind so that he hits the wind chime and makes it jingle. Life is mysterious and magical. I might not understand everything that’s going on around me, but I know life is good. I know God is good. And as I explore and grow, I think God watches and smiles.

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How to develop Olympic-style grit

Note: I wrote this blog in partnership with my friends at SVI, home of Forging Grit co-author Mike Thompson. It first appeared earlier this week on SVI’s Develop Everybody blog.

Athletes from around the world walked proudly behind their country’s flag as they entered Maracana Stadium during the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. They all brought unique stories of how talent, hard work and perseverance brought them to one of the biggest stages in all of sports.

That’s what the world wants – great stories. And that’s what the media provides.

The Olympic Games are filled with amazingly talented athletes, but the coverage always veers beyond the winners who ultimately find their way to the three-tiered podium to receive their medals. The media comb the Games for “human interest” stories that provide fans some deeper insight into the athletes – their personalities, their passions, and, perhaps most of all, their grit.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s possible to make it to the Olympics without grit. In Forging Grit, co-author Mike Thompson and I define this quality as “a passion for getting something done and the fortitude to see it through even when obstacles seem overwhelming.”

The Olympics are filled with “grit” stories. You’ll find them in the unheralded athletes competing in sports you only hear about during the Olympics (handball, badminton, equestrian dressage …). And you’ll find them in headliners competing in the popular events – stars like Usain Bolt in track, the American cast of NBA stars in basketball, swimmer Michael Phelps, and gymnast Gabby Douglas.

Me and Mr. Bolt (I'm on the right)
Me and Mr. Bolt (I’m on the right)

Earlier this year, I met and interviewed Usain Bolt in Kingston, Jamaica, and I can tell you this: He has grit. Yes, he fits the mold of the laid-back Jamaican. And, yes, he is immensely talented. But he’s also overcome some tremendous odds to become the fastest human on the planet. He comes from a remote mountain village. At 6-foot-5, he is considered too tall to be a world-class sprinter. He has a curved spine. And he’s dealt with a variety of injuries.

Bolt’s passion for winning motivates him to put in the hard work it takes to overcome injuries and compete at the highest level. Training isn’t fun. And it’s especially hard to stay at the top, where bright lights and fame make the “good” and even bigger enemy of the “great.” Grit drives Bolt to push toward more world-records and more Olympic medals.

So whether they are young first-timers at the Olympics like 15-year-old American table tennis player Kanak Jha, or older and more seasoned like 41-year-old, seven-time Olympic gymnast Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan, all of these athletes needed grit to make their way to Rio.

But no group entering the stadium that first night had overcome more challenges on their journey to Brazil than the 10 athletes who walked in behind the banner of … well … grit.

Officially, they walked behind the Olympic flag, because these athletes had no country to represent. They all are refugees, several plucked from camps with very little background in competitive sports. They were provided the opportunity of a lifetime, given the resources to train and qualified based on merit.

“These refugees have no home, no team, no flag, no national anthem,” Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, said earlier this year. “This will be a symbol of hope for all the refugees in our world, and will make the world better aware of the magnitude of this crisis…These refugee athletes will show the world that despite the unimaginable tragedies that they have faced, anyone can contribute to society through their talent, skills and strength of the human spirit.”

These athletes haven’t just overcome training challenges. They’ve overcome life challenges. Yiech Pur Biel arrived alone at a refugee camp after fleeing from South Sudan when he was just nine. James Nyang Chiengjiek escaped an attempt to kidnapping him into a military unit. Rose Nathike Lokonyen was 7 when a rival tribe attacked her village; as she fled, she came across the dead bodies of her grandparents. Yusra Mardini, a swimmer from war-torn Syria, reached Europe by way of inflatable boats that carried refugees across the Aegean Sea.

Most of us never face the types of challenges those men and women have faced – or even the types of challenges most of the other Olympians have faced. But we do face challenges. Every day. In our families. In our work. In our communities. In life.

Grit isn’t just for elite athletes. We all need it. It helps us deal with pain, heartbreak, and setbacks. It motivates us to push onward despite injury or disease. It gets us through a difficult marriage. It helps us deal with a child who has lost his way. It provides us with a sense of calm and peace during an intense dispute in our community. It allows us to endure recessions, layoffs, mergers, and that new boss who seems determined to make our life a living hell.

Grit doesn’t guarantee us a place on the medal stand. But it does provide a way forward toward our goals no matter the obstacles we face.

Want your team to forge more grit?

Check out these medal-worthy specials for getting your hands on Forging Grit resources:

http://visit.sviworld.com/medal-worthy-grit-packages/

For more behind-the-scenes action on Usain Bolt, check out these links:

  • Behind the Scenes with Usain Bolt, Part I
  • Behind the Scenes with Usain Bolt, Part II
  • Behind the Scenes with Usain Bolt, Part III

Is Luke 2:52 a Gold Medal Verse?

Luke 2:52 provides a clear, simple model for growing like Jesus, but does it apply only to the development of our faith? Or does it also help us grow in other areas, like in our work or as leaders in our homes and communities?

Think, for instance, about the Olympics. How might Luke 2:52 provide counsel for these elite athletes?

Wisdom: Jesus grew in wisdom that was rooted in a fear of the Lord, and the result was that he made “smart” choices. Olympic athletes don’t just dive in a pool and swim hard or jump on a bike and pedal fast. They study their event and their opponents. They contemplate strategies. They do their best to come up with a wise plan that gives them the best chance to win.

Stature: Jesus took care of his physical body, and obviously this is a high priority for elite athletes. Some of them, in fact, bring personal trainers and nutritionist with them to the Games.

Favor with God: Many Olympians don’t have a relationship with Jesus, so they aren’t intentionally growing in the grace of God. Most, if not all of them, however, compete for something bigger than themselves, especially at the Olympics. Elite athletes generally recognize that their talent is a gift, not a right. They compete to honor their countries and to honor their gifts.

Favor with man: Elite athletes, even those competing as soloists, need other people – coaches, teammates, family and friends. Building strong relationships provides encouragement and motivation.

For followers of Jesus, of course, growing in our faith is fundamental to every area of our lives. It’s not “a priority,” it’s “the priority. So practicing Luke 2:52 looks similar but different to athletes who call Jesus their Savior and Lord.

Consider David Boudia and Steele Johnson, the American duo who won a silver medal in men’s synchronized diving. If you watched them, you know they are in great physical shape. They take care of their bodies. You also can see that they have a relationship that lifts each other up and helps each other grow closer to Christ. And their fear of the Lord gives them not only the wisdom to make smart decisions about how to compete, but about how to live and how to view success.

In their post-event interview with NBC’s Kelli Stavast, both athletes were able to not only praise God for their blessings, but to put that praise in a context that non-believers could appreciate.

NBC screenshot
NBC screenshot

“When my mind is on this, thinking I’m defined by this, then my mind goes crazy,” Boudia said about the Games. “But we both know our identity is in Christ.”

Steele took that idea even further.

“The fact that I was going into this event knowing that my identity is rooted in Christ and not what the result of this competition is just gave me peace,” he said. “It gave me ease, and it let me enjoy the contest. If something went great, I was happy. If something didn’t go great, I could still find joy because I’m at the Olympics competing with the best person, the best mentor, just one of the best people to be around.

“So, God’s given us a cool opportunity, and I’m glad I could’ve come away with an Olympic silver medal in my first ever event.”

When we grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man, we might not always win the gold medal or get the promotion at work. But, like Boudia and Johnson, we can face whatever comes our way with peace and share that peace with everyone around us.

(Click here to watch the NBC interview with Boudia and Johnson.)

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On the base paths to repentance

We don’t have many high-profile role models these days when it comes to genuine repentance, but I may have come across one last week thanks to a social media link shared by former Major League star Torii Hunter. The link took me to a video by Dee Gordon, one of those up-and-coming professional athletes who was riding the wave of his talent and hard work until he tripped over his own poor choices.

That’s not breaking news, of course. Celebrities (including sports stars) fall off their pedestals so frequently that we hardly notice. It’s like politicians telling lies – we don’t condone it, but we’ve come to expect it.

In this video, however, Gordon did something I rarely see from celebrities in his situation – he apologized. I’m not talking about the typical PR-driven, carefully crafted written apology that tends to admit nothing, blame others, and promise no change. I’m talking about what appears to be a real, heartfelt apology that’s born of repentance and leads to true forgiveness.

I don’t know much about Gordon. I know he plays second base for the Miami Marlins. I know he’s a really good player – a Gold Glove winner on defense who he led the National League in hitting (.333 average) and stolen bases (58) in 2015. I know he’s 28 and looks like he’s about 18. And I know he was suspended for 80 games after he tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs.

If you dig a little deeper into his story, you find that Gordon probably just wasn’t careful enough about knowing what was in the supplements he was taking. At 185 pounds, he’s known for speed, so it’s not like he was bulking up to hit more home runs. But he didn’t make excuses or blame others. He owned the mistake.

I don’t know if he’s a follower of Jesus or if he was as sincere in his apology as he came across. But when I watched his video, I saw someone doing pretty much what Jesus told sinners to do:

Step 1 – Confess (to God and to anyone you’ve offended). “Repentance always brings a person to the point of saying, ‘I have sinned’.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Step 2 – Repent (turn from sin). “Repentance involves deliberate turning from sin to righteousness” – Kenneth Barker, NASB Study Bible

Step 4 – Go in sin no more. “Repenting is what happens inside of us that leads to the fruits of new behavior. Repentance is not the new deeds, but the inward change that bears the fruit of new deeds. Jesus is demanding that we experience this inward change.” – John Piper

I’ve never played professional baseball, and I’ve never been suspended from any sport for using performance enhancing drugs. But, like Gordon, I’m a sinner. We’re all sinners. The question is, how do we respond to our sins? Do we continue to live in them? Or do we grow like Jesus and live in forgiveness?

I might never feel the need to repent publicly like Gordon did, but I hope I never let my pride and ego prevent me from taking those key steps toward restored fellowship with Christ: Confess, repent, and stop sinning.

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