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Momentum for LifeBiblical Practices for Sustaining Physical Health, Personal Integrity, and Strategic Focus
By Michael Slaughter
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2008 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter Onemomentum: mass in motion
MOMENTUM> Mass in motion. Quantity of forward motion. Impetus. For example: "A team that has momentum is on the move and hard to stop."
I rejoiced with those who said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD." (Ps. 122:1)
For all its storied history, the World Series rarely captures my attention. Most years I've forgotten who has won by the time the next spring training rolls around.
Don't get me wrong—I am a lifelong baseball enthusiast. All the boys I knew growing up in Cincinnati in the 1950s and 1960s were baptized in sauerkraut, German beer, and baseball. A trip with my dad to see young Frank Robinson send one downtown in old Crosley Field was truly a transcendental experience.
There is just one problem with the World Series—my hometown team is usually not in it, so come October I turn my attention to more pressing matters.
There was something different, though, about the series of 2004. The Boston Red Sox had a history of coming up one short. They had not won a series since 1918, after which they traded Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. Between 1918 and 2003 the Sox appeared in only four World Series, losing each in game seven. Their almost-victory in 1986 was a classic study in futility. One out away from a long-awaited championship, they and history watched as a ground ball rolled through first baseman Bill Buckner's legs and into right field. Buckner hadn't gotten his glove low enough, the ball rolled by, and the Mets scored the series-winning run.
The curse of the Bambino (as people called it) seemed to strike again in 2004 as the Sox fell to the mighty Yankees in the first three games of the American League play-offs. No team had ever come back after being down three games to none. Boston would need to win four games straight, the last two of them in Yankee Stadium.
The Red Sox won games four and five, and then I turned on my television. There was a growing confidence in the eyes of the players as they traveled to New York for the sixth game of the series. It appeared that momentum had begun to turn in their direction, and a team that has momentum is on the move and hard to stop.
Boston went on to accomplish what no other team in the history of baseball ever has. They won the championship series against the Yankees after being down three games to none, and then swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four straight games to win the World Series.
Momentum for Life
Every baseball team goes into the season with the goal of reaching the Series and winning the prize. Some teams break out early, only to fade in the heat of August. Others persist, however, paying the patient daily dues of disciplined practice on the fundamentals.
Likewise, you cannot get where you want to be in your faith, influence, relationships, vocation, or physical-emotional health if you are not moving forward. From priests to presidents the landscape is littered with the corpses of talented people who failed to maintain the positive momentum of character development.
All progress, all positive influence, begins with self-leadership.
Leaders and influential people have failed all around us, from the military command at Abu Ghraib prison to those behind the USA Today plagiarism scandal. From Bill Clinton's indiscretions to Martha Stewart's deceptions, from the executive failure at Enron to the high-tech meltdown —people of influence in government, business, and religion alike stumble into the oblivion of moral and ethical failure.
Many church problems trace back to such failures as well. They show up in the Catholic sex-abuse scandal and its widespread cover-up. They're evident when the president of a major Protestant denomination admits to an extramarital affair and is jailed for financial misdealing. And what is true for people in the news is true for all of us. Maintaining life-momentum is imperative if we are going to navigate our way faithfully through a world of clouded moral boundaries.
What's more, we are all people of influence. We are all real or potential leaders. Each of us has an effect on those in our circles of acquaintance, a bigger effect on our circles of friends and colleagues, and a still bigger one on our family members. Those of us who are parents are in a position of profound influence—even during those years when we're sure our children aren't listening! Influence is more often about our actions than our words, and it can be negative or positive. Kind words and angry words, conscientious work and slipshod work—each can cause ripples that extend much farther than we can see. That means the integrity we bring to each action is vital, for it sets in motion events we often don't foresee, no matter who we are.
You may recall the 2004 scandal in which an independent review revealed the false report given on the program 60 Minutes concerning President George W. Bush's National Guard service. The failure to follow the disciplined procedures of faithful reporting resulted in the firing of three news executives and a producer. The incident no doubt also influenced the timing of Dan Rather's announcement that he would soon step down as anchor of the CBS Evening News. Not exactly the footnote that you want on your obituary after a long, illustrious career! These newsmen didn't seem to realize that all leadership begins with self-leadership.
Settling for Lesser Dreams
We dream about the incredible opportunities that we have to influence the world for God's purpose. We know that through God's Spirit we can make lasting contributions that benefit the well-being of others. But having a dream and having the disciplined, lifelong dedication to realize that dream are two different things. It is easy to make a commitment, but keeping that commitment for life is another matter.
When I was in seminary, I hung out with five guys. We were drawn to one another because in our pre-Christian lives all of us had lived large and lived lost. Each of us had known some form of major failure, ranging from academic frustrations to chemical addictions. Each of us had experienced a new life "calling" and wanted passionately to be used by God in major ways. All of us were married and voicing our commitment to make our marriages last a lifetime.
Things haven't turned out the way we planned. Today only two of the five are still married to the same woman and both of us endured years of marital crisis, which we survived only by God's grace.
Most good things don't happen magically or suddenly. They are the result of a predetermined desire, an ongoing commitment to build momentum for life. Faith is not an instant realization of a desired future, for nothing worthwhile can be acquired at once.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb. 11:1)
Many young people start with dreams of walking closely with God and being used to make a difference on planet Earth. As I invest the second half of my life in training young leaders, however, I see bright, rising stars tempted to compromise their idealistic visions by age thirty. They begin to work for money instead of meaning. They settle for a job instead of a life calling. They focus their lives on personal achievement rather than on enduring contributions.
Young people are selling out and older people are cashing out.
God wants so much more. God wants to build lifelong momentum toward what we were created to become. The Apostle Paul compares the life of faith to running a race that requires the impetus of momentum.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
Instead of climbing to new heights, too many people plateau when they meet resistance. It doesn't have to be that way. God wants to win the battle for the soul of the world, and it begins for each of us with the management of the world inside. I've learned this the hard way through several conversionlike crises:
My marriage. On June 1, 1992, my wife, Carolyn, and I made the disciplined commitment to start our marriage over. After almost twenty years together we were headed toward divorce. Instead, I had a conversion about investing in that key relationship. My devotion. On August 17, 1994, I traveled to Korea with a doctor of ministry class from a nearby seminary. As we learned firsthand about the amazing revival sweeping that country, I saw that the real power was in the Korean church's commitment to prayer. I made the disciplined commitment to begin every day with a time of devotional meditation and prayer. My body. On August 18, 2000, I was at a restaurant and started to feel sick. Seconds later I collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. In the days that followed, a cardiologist said I hadn't taken good care of my heart and body. My body fat content was in the 30s—a ridiculously high level—so in October 2000 I started working with a personal trainer. I was converted in the way I eat and exercise. In the wake of these potentially catastrophic events and my accompanying mini-conversions, I had a breakthrough. I discovered a group of practices that helped me achieve a self-discipline I had not experienced before. These practices cover every key area of my life—spiritual, intellectual, interpersonal, physical, and missional—so that when I follow them faithfully I am a more complete human being. The opposite is also true—when I neglect any one of them, I begin to plateau and lose momentum. Worse, I begin to downsize God's dream.
These practices enable me to build momentum for life. They keep me on an upward climb. My belief that they can be useful to you is at the heart of this book. I am convinced that every follower of Christ needs to find self-management practices that create momentum for life. Mine are based on the acronym D-R-I-V-E. They are the elements that keep me moving with momentum toward God's promised future, and I believe they can be effective tools for you as well.
D stands for devotion. This is the spiritual element. Many persons of faith lack depth and prophetic clarity because their devotional lives are superficial. Daily Bible study and journaling, undertaken with rigorous discipline, vitalizes my devotion to God. I do it first thing in the morning, just like I shave, shower, and dress for the day. If I don't practice this discipline, I find that it takes me only twenty-four hours to lose my fear of God.
What we do determines who we become. I want to see life through God's eyes and become passionate about the concerns that matter most to God, and this morning devotion helps me do that.
There is a big difference between deciding what I want to do and moving toward what God wants me to do. My devotional practice is the S.O.N. method that helps me see through the eyes of the SON of God. It involves the Scripture I read for the day, the Observations I journal as I read, and the practical applications I Name for my life. I then take time to express my feelings and thoughts in a written prayer. I'll show you a specific example of what I do when we explore the importance of devotion more in chapter 2.
R represents readiness for lifelong learning. This is the intellectual element. I'm an avid reader, spending at least an hour a day studying the best practices of today's leadership culture while staying faithful to ancient truths. As a disciple of Jesus (the word disciple means "learner"), I want everything I read and observe to influence the faithfulness and effectiveness of my life ascent. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice" (John 10:27 KJV), and I want to learn to better recognize his voice.
What are you reading and learning? Many people stop learning once they've received a diploma. That's one reason people lose their effectiveness and relevance in their communities of worship or their workplaces. They simply quit learning. They have grown redundant and boring, having nothing new to say or offer. Any of us can grow similarly stale unless we remain committed to expanding our horizons, and that is exactly what this discipline is designed to accomplish.
In chapter 3 we will look at the importance of nurturing this disciplined practice of lifelong learning, and I'll share with you my personal daily regimen.
I denotes investing in key relationships, beginning with my family. This is the interpersonal element. I've rearranged my work schedule so that my life partner, Carolyn, feels supported by me rather than widowed by the church. I'm committed to putting my family before my work and church.
I also invest in other people who are strategic for the mission. All people are equally important to God, but not all are equally strategic when it comes to the expenditure of your time for God's purpose. Maybe for you it's a key group of volunteers who act as unpaid staff, or a few certain young people in need of a strong mentor. For me, it's the senior management team at Ginghamsburg Church. They are my "mission critical people," the only people besides my family who can contact me anytime, even when I'm on vacation.
Who is most strategic in your life? It's easy to let others set and fill my schedule based solely on who calls and says, "Pastor, I've got to see you today," but practicing this discipline helps me keep first things—and first people—first.
V indicates a vision for the future. This is the missional element. This is the most critical discipline, the one that all the others point toward and support, because no amount of learning, personal relationships, spiritual discipline, or physical health can give you momentum for life if your life has no purpose. If you have no future pictures, you'll live in the past. Your actions will be random, your movements aimless. It's critical that you have a vision, because you become your life picture, as my book UnLearning Church (new edition forthcoming in 2008 from Abingdon Press), emphasizes. At Ginghamsburg Church one of our current pictures is to create a twenty-six-acre campus with forty-eight living units for at-risk children. It will be an interracial, intergenerational community of foster parents and senior adults who will receive reduced-rate housing for mentoring the children.
As the book of Jeremiah opens, the Lord asks the prophet twice, "What do you see?" (Jer. 1:11, 13). It's important to see and develop the picture God has given you. You can't live someone else's picture. You have a unique calling; you must become who God has created you to be.
One characteristic of risk-takers and innovators is that they have clear faith-pictures of life. Like Joshua, they need courage to step into their dreams (see Josh. 1:1-9). Like Jeremiah, they must act upon everything God has commanded them or they will yield to fear. I worry about twenty-something church leaders who have great potential and yet begin to yield to the mean-spirited negativity of the congregation's godmothers and godfathers (my terms for those older members who don't want to see "their church" grow and change). They begin to relinquish their dreams to fear, and then they downsize God's vision.
Eating and Exercise
E stands for eating and exercise. This is the physical element. Sustaining momentum for life requires spiritual, social, and intellectual discipline, but you've got to make sure your body will be around for the future you've envisioned! With the Apostle Paul, I want to say, "Do as I do" in all areas of my life (see 1 Cor. 11:1), including the way I take care of my heart and health. I've already told you about my heart scare in 2000. Since then, I have become much more disciplined about my physical health. I run regularly, work out with weights, and watch my fats, carbs, and sugars. As a result I have more energy now in my fifties than I had in my thirties. I've come a long way since that night I collapsed at the dinner table.
Excerpted from Momentum for Life by Michael Slaughter Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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