The Importance of Challenging Yourself and Others
Twenty-one years ago, I walked across Westfield’s ceremonial stage in Spring, Texas to receive my diploma and finish high school. By the time I became a member of the graduating class of 1997, it occurred to me that I didn’t know a whole lot academically. Still though, I was 18 years old, so it was easy to believe that I knew everything. I was definitely under the impression that I did. “No one could prove otherwise.” That’s how stubborn I was. And I can remember three certainties from those days: (1) I was sick of school, (2) I was sick of books, and (3) I was sick of teachers. So, I picked the military recruiter with the best looking uniform and the branch with the hardest boot camp, then shipped out to San Diego, California to become one of the few, the proud, the Marines.
I literally had no clue what I was getting into. But, I was convinced that putting my knuckle-headedness to good use in the United States Marine Corps and fighting for freedom might be good for me. What I inevitably discovered was that the military isn’t for young men without any direction or passion. It isn’t for those who lack integrity or conviction, or for wild teenagers who are shallow, arrogant, and empty inside. The only thing I ended up fighting for was me. Everything was about me and what I wanted, and I’d stop at nothing to make myself happy.
That all changed when 9/11 hit in 2001. That morning I was finishing up a 12-hour guard duty shift, patrolling the hallways at VMFAT-101, a fighter attack training squadron at MCAS Miramar. When I entered the command center, there were two naval officers glued to the television. I looked up and saw the breaking news on the screen. The twin towers were on fire, black smoke filled the sky, and civilians were plunging to their deaths. The more I watched, shocked that someone would commit such a horrible act, I realized how life as we know it could change in the blink of an eye. From that point on, I knew that no matter who you are or where you are—tomorrow is promised to no one.
In that moment, I admit, I was scared. But, I had recently become a Christian and God had been speaking to me about my fear, about my lack of zeal and boldness. That night George W. Bush addressed the nation, quoting Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” That scripture comforted me, but I could sense God had been trying to put His finger on a lot of things that weren’t right in my life. My priorities were off. They weren’t fully centered on Him.
God wanted me to trust Him in all things. He wanted me to grow in maturity, compassion, faith, and love. He wanted to teach me His definition of honor, courage, and commitment. It was going to take a while—months, years, maybe even decades for me to be trained up in the Lord. Sadly, there were seasons in which I resisted. I was reluctant to learn things like purity, humility, and sobriety. But, if you know God, you know that once He starts something, He sees it through to the end. Which, I am so thankful for, because dealing with me requires patience. It causes long-suffering and I am known to learn things the hard way.
By the time I left the Marines, it was clear I had two passions: (1) to share gospel of Jesus Christ with everyone, and (2) to look good doing it. I wanted to be on fire for God, but my obsession with having the outward appearance of being happy, healthy and handsome would creep into that as well. As a result, I made sure I paid attention to my body. Working out and staying in shape was always something I made time for, but in a selfish way, not in a way that glorified God.
Inevitably, I ended up in the fitness business. Learning more about nutrition, health, and the various systems of our bodies sparked a lifelong interest in me to want to help others get fit. So, I then spent years training people in the gym. Something was missing though, and God knew it. He was orchestrating toward revealing to me that He’s not just concerned about what we look like on the outside, but what our condition is on the inside as well.
Digging deeper into the Bible helped me realize and better understand the wonderful connection between spiritual and physical fitness. As I began to share the things I was learning with people in my church, it was encouraging to find other men and women that were already living in accordance with a biblical diet and exercise. It was awesome to discover more fitness-minded brothers and sisters, confirming I wasn’t the only one who thought that way. I’ve made many friends in the church who are way ahead of me in the mindset of keeping our bodies (which are God’s temple) clean and healthy, free from disorder and disease.
One of those friends, is Bill Eaton.
Bill is a true warrior of faith. He’s a man of integrity who believes in fighting the good fight, running the race that matters. Shortly after we became friends, Bill and I decided to start having lunch together every month. We became Facebook friends and followed each other on Instagram as well. I noticed he had a workout routine that included running up and down the bleachers of a local football stadium every Saturday morning. There came a point in time when Bill had to unexpectedly cancel our lunch appointment, but he was committed to rescheduling as soon as possible.
I then told him, “Instead of having lunch this week, why don’t I meet you at the football stadium Saturday morning and we can run up and down the bleachers together? When we’re finished, we can go to breakfast and catch up.” Bill replied, “Sounds like a plan.” That was early on during the following week. By Friday, Bill sent me a text saying…
[Just a heads up, on Saturday, I go for 90 mins. I run up and down the bleachers, but I also run sprints. Then, I turn to leap frogging up and down the bleachers, as well as side-stepping. We will workout together, but at our own pace. Cool?]
I said, No problem. But, I thought to myself; there’s two ways I could interpret Bill’s text. (1) Bill was letting me off the hook from keeping up with him. He was essentially removing any pressure on me feeling like I had to perform at his level. Or (2) Bill realized that I am younger than him—I’m a former Marine and therefore might turn our workout into a competition, putting pressure on him to perform at my level. I never asked him about the text. I just decided to wait and see what happens.
Saturday came. We started our 90 minute workout and after about 10 minutes into it, I was DONE! Running up and down bleachers is AWFUL! My legs were burning. My calves were shaking uncontrollably. I thought to myself, “How the heck am I gonna go on for 80 more minutes?? Meanwhile, Bill was making it looking like a cake walk…
I took a few laps around the track and that helped. Once I recharged, buckled down, and got my second wind, I was able to make it through the workout. We celebrated with a hard earned breakfast at Denny’s. Afterwards, I drove home. I got stuck in traffic because it was the same weekend of the Ironman race. Lanes were cone’d off so that the bicyclists had room to ride uninterrupted through the course. As they zoomed by one after another, I wondered why I never had any interest in doing the Ironman triathlon. Was it because it looks hard? I started pondering that through most of the afternoon. Later, in reflection, I wondered what often keeps me from a good challenge. Why wouldn’t I insist on Bill challenging me that day? And why was I reluctant to challenge him? How different could my experience have been, as far as performance, training, and conditioning went, if I had a greater tendency toward challenging myself.
I took it even further…
What if I would’ve better challenged myself in high school to get better grades, be more focused on my education and involved in extracurricular activities? Could I have gotten a scholarship? Could I have better inspired people? Would I have joined the military at all? My life maybe could have ended up looking different.
What if, while in the Marines, I applied myself more? What if I would’ve gotten better fitness scores, tried harder for meritorious promotions, or served my country to the fullest, instead of doing the bare minimum all the time? What if I would’ve gotten off my lazy butt and went to college to get a degree? Could I have been a Marine Officer? Could I have worked for the Pentagon or the White House?
I don’t like to live in a hypothetical world, so I stopped there and took my pondering to the Bible. Through a brief quiet time of reading over scripture, I found myself thankful that Moses accepted the challenge to go to Pharaoh and help set God’s people free from slavery and captivity. I found myself encouraged that Noah accepted the challenge of building a 500 foot long ark that stood higher than a four-story house to protect his family and the animals from the flood. I found myself grateful for the testimony of godly men in the Old Testament. Their outspokenness, their zeal, their courage, and their commitment to God inspired me. Men like Joshua, who led the charge to bring down the walls of Jericho. Men like David, who challenged and defeated Goliath. Men like Jeremiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abdenego and Mordecai, all have a story of devotion to the Lord.
This testimony carries on through the New Testament in the hearts and souls of the brave men who followed Jesus. Men like John the Baptist, who challenged Herod. Men like the apostles, Peter, Paul, John, and James, who stood up for freedom in Christ and who defended their right to proclaim the gospel. Men like Stephen, who was martyred for his faith, who died protecting the church.
Their testimony lives on through American history in the hearts and minds of Christian men who accepted the challenge of denying themselves, who took up their cross daily to follow Jesus (Luke9:23). Men like Martin Luther King, Jr., who advanced civil rights and took a stance against racism. Men like Billy Graham, who devoted his life to evangelism. Men like Chris Kyle, who devoted his life to patriotism. All of these men were born in the land of the free, the home of the brave; a country that has a history of challenging anti-Semitism, communism, and terrorism.
This world is a better place because of men and women who healthily challenge themselves and who encouragingly challenge others. This world benefits from men and women who step up to the plate, who aren’t scared to climb up hills, who have faith that can move mountains. People who accept challenges persevere, they endure, and thus grow stronger. The bible says in Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
I hope and pray that all of us wake up every morning with a breath of the fresh air of freedom, ready to challenge ourselves and prepared to challenge others in Jesus’s name.
Love you guys,