About 8 months ago I walked into a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school intent on taking them up on their offer of one free month of classes.  For those of you who have no idea, Jiu Jitsu is vastly different from most traditional martial arts; just watch a few Youtube videos and you will see.  Most martial arts employs strikes (punches and kicks), and blocks from strikes.  Jiu Jitsu is more like wrestling.  The goal-whether for self defense or competition- is to get your opponent to the ground and control them there.  Once on the ground, the goal is to get them to give up (submit, "tap out") by either choking them or manipulating arm or leg joints in a manner that if they don't submit, they could suffer a hyper-extended or even broken bone.

     For me, this has been quite a journey.   I have gone considerably outside my comfort zone.  The fact that I even set foot in the school still amazes me.  First, I am not a confrontational person.  I would rather avoid conflict at all costs; any conflict in any way, shape, or form.  In Jiu Jitsu, you must face conflict head on, in the form of another guy trying to rip your head off your shoulders.  Also, I am not a very strong guy physically.  Jiu Jitsu was created upon the premise that it can be used by a smaller, weaker person to successfully defend against a stronger, heavier person.  However, when you are fighting (or rolling as it is referred to in Jiu Jitsu) someone who also knows jiu jitsu, strength becomes important.

     The biggest hurdle for me has been psychological.  As a young child into high school, I was teased and bullied.  A lot.  I was picked on and beat up quite a bit. Had I known jiu jitsu back then, perhaps I would not have been tormented for all those years.  Nonetheless, it is difficult for me to engage myself in physical combat with another person, because it brings back painful memories of being bullied and beat up as a kid and teenager.  My natural response to physical danger is flight, not fight.  However, for some bizarre reason, I find myself coming back to class over and over again.  I am still quite terrified of actually "rolling", preferring rather to just learn the self defense techniques and "drill" (practice the techniques on a passive partner who allows you to complete the move).

     I think this journey is helping to make me a stronger person; to help me deal with my insecurities, realize my weaknesses and my limits, as well as gain confidence, strength, and stamina, while also losing unsightly and dangerous excess belly fat.  As of now, my goal is just to hang on for one complete year, then decide if I want to truly make this a lifelong habit.  There are many times as I am driving to class that I absolutely do not want to go, and actually get angry at myself for forcing myself to go (I know I'm weird).  But in the end, it seems to be worth it.

 
     Today I finished day 15 of an intense workout known around the world simply as "Insanity".  It has been extremely difficult.  There have been days I wanted to give up, or at least skip the workout for the day.  There have been many times I could not keep up with the video, and had to pause it to catch my breath.  Almost every day I get a sharp pain or "stitch" in my right side that stays with me for several minutes.  But I have stuck with the program.  I am one quarter of the way through Insanity, and I must say I am proud of myself.
     On the very first day of insanity the workout consists of what is known as a "Fit Test"; there are 8 exercises you have to perform and are given a certain amount of time to do as many as you possibly can.  Every 15 days you retake the test and chart your strength and endurance progress.  Out of the 8 exercises, I improved on 7, and was dead even on one.  The fit test is a good gauge of which muscle groups you need more work on.  Some exercises I was able to do a lot more of, some only a few, but overall I saw an increase of about 15% in the last two weeks.
     Many people use the 15 day, 30 day, 45day,and 60 day benchmark to weigh themselves or measure their waist.  I have chosen not to do so, for two main reasons.  First, I don't want to be disappointed or discouraged if I don't meet my goal.  I understand that setting goals helps in the short range for most people.  However, I am not most people.  If I set a goal to lose...say 3 pounds this week and only lose 2, or worse yet lose nothing, I will become extremely discouraged and am more apt to give up or at least slack off.  My goal is to work as hard as I can every day; to make my rest periods shorter and shorter, and be able to keep up more with the people in the video.
     The second reason I am not tracking my weight or size is that weight loss does not always happen right away.  I have done a reasonable amount of research reading Beachbody (the company that makes Insanity) blogs and massage boards.  I have found that while some people lose significant weight early on, many people do not see measurable success until around week 6.  I read countless message board posts in which people were frustrated because they had been doing insanity for a full month and had not lost a pound.  So in light of these two factors I think it would be better to just be satisfied with the fact that I am not really getting sore anymore like I did in the beginning, and I improved my endurance by roughly 15%.  When I reach day 30 and the halfway mark, I may consider measuring my waist, because I did weigh and measure myself on day 1.  If you are thinking about trying Insanity or have any further questions, feel free to message me or leave a comment!
 
     So today I started a new workout...you guessed it, Insanity.  Touted as the world's most difficult video work out series, an out of shape guy like me has NO business taking on such a monumental endeavor.  Not more than 2 months ago, I started a similar program called "Supreme 90 Day" which is actually a knockoff of Insanity's sister workout. P90X.  I made it about 10 days into the 90 days before I jumped ship.  It was not because I could not handle it, but it was because I simply "did not have time".  In my defense it was an insanely bust week, and I should have waited until after that week to start.  After I quit, I never looked back.
     So why I am now taking on the hardest workout known to man as a 36 year old who has never been in shape in his life?  Honestly I don't know.  Part of it is friends whom I have seen benefit from the program.  Part of it is I hate the fact that I can't bend down to tie my shoes from a sitting position because my bis belly gets in the way.  Part of it is I know that I am in bad health and I need to do something while I still can.
   So after my first workout, which is actually just a fit test, I felt like I was going to vomit for about 30 minutes.  My head was pounding.  There were a few exercises that I just simply could not do, so I had to modify them.  All in all, I like the program and really hope I can stick with it.  This program is a 60 day program.  i will report back here every 15 days to update any progress.   
     My biggest concern is that there will be several exercises that I simply will not be able to do, at all.  For example, for several different reasons I can not do push ups; I physically can't do them.  OK maybe 2 "real" pushups and maybe 5 or 6 "girl" pushups.  Part of the reason is I am tall, 6'6".  If you know anything about physics as it pertains to exercise, the longer the limbs, the harder to do the same exercise.  Couple that with the fact that my wingspan is actually about 6'8", it is very hard for me.  The nail in the coffin is that I have a slight physical defect such that my sternum is slightly concave, a condition known as pectus excavatum.  Not nearly as bad as some of the images you may google, but enough to make what little pectoral muscle I have work overtime to accomplish very little.
     Nevertheless, I shall push on.  I will press on.  I will dream the impossible dream, I will fight the unbeatable foe, and go where the brave dare not go...into Insanity.
 

My internet ministry presence

 I want to share with you a message I received today.  I receive messages like this EVERY DAY, often times multiple.  Many times I do not have the time to respond, but this ,morning over breakfast I was able to respond.  Take a moment to read the message and my response, and share your comments thoughts.

The message:
Hi pastor mike. I can understand the concept that God is not religion, but is the Bible a part of religion? After all, the Bible is written by mere humans and not God. Plus there are many contradictions within the bible as well as different versions that convey different meanings. So can we really say the Bible is God's word? God's word to my understanding should be universal and therefore it cannot be tampered with, but the Bible is something that we humans manipulate. I know that as a pastor you are required to use this bible to carry out teachings but is the Bible a reliable source for carrying the messages of God? People tell me that faith is required to believe, but I don't think faith in something false would be correct. Any feedback would be helpful thank you pastor =)
I used to go to church and fellowships but then I started to see the flaws of religion. I still to this day believe in an ultimate God that created all of mankind, but I still see no way that we can truly reveal the initiatives of the almighty God. After reading on a philosopher CS Lewis, his philosophies made a lot of sense saying how there is a natural law that exists within us humans. His philosophy states that God put our conscience within us to make the right decisions. It makes a lot of sense to me but I would also want your opinion on it because you are probably well educated and I am willing to learn more. Thank you

My response:
That is a lot to respond to, but I will try.  First off, I believe that the Bible was written by God through humans.  He directly inspired them and "told" them what to write.  Although he did not physically tell them what to write, He divinely inspired every word of the Bible, therefore the Bible is perfect, without any faults or error.  Next come the issue of contradictions.  If you were to look closely at each issue that has been accused of a contradiction, you would find that it is not a contradiction.  Sometimes two people write about the same event but write from their own perspective, leaving out certain details.  That's not contradictory, just different viewpoints.  There are many examples.  If you find a specific example, message me and I will explain it.  Also, you have to remember that the Bible in its original form is perfect, but it has been hand copied thousands of times, translated into thousands of languages into hundreds of different "versions" or "translations".  It can be confusing when you look at two different versions and they appear to say two different things.That is when we must go back and look at the Bible in the original language it was written in, which would include Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.  C.S. Lewis was a very great man and I would recommend and support anything that he wrote.  I agree with you that religion is full of flaws.  Religion is a man made attempt to reach God, which is impossible.  Also you have to remember that a church is full of people, and people are not perfect.  As humans, we all have a sinful nature.  No matter how hard we try to do right, we will fail on our own.  True Christianity is submitting ourselves to God, admitting that we are powerless, and asking Him to reach us.  At that point He will forgive our sins, and reach out to us.  Once again I do not believe the Bible is false or inaccurate in any way.
I hope this helps and please stay in touch.  I would love to discuss this or anything else more with you!

 
     I recently heard a sermon about how comfortable Christians have become. We don't want to take the effort to go out and share the Gospel. Why is that? We know that Jesus expressly commands us several times in the Gospels and the book of Acts. We know that if a person dies without Christ, they will spend eternity separated from God. And yet many of us are comfortable in our nice little Christian bubble. Why is that? What should we do about it? Leave your comments and share your insights and opinions on this very important topic.

 
     If you live in the U.S.A., chances are you shop at Walmart...regularly. With the convenience of having literally everything under one roof and prices that beat most of the competition, it's tough not to spend substantial time there. Most Walmart stores generally allow groups to solicit outside the building, with proper permission, of course. We've all seen girl scouts or various other groups diligently raising funds for their cause. However, recently they have been ramping up their donation solicitations, and I am beginning to wonder if they have gone too far, and may be driving traffic away from their retail Meccas.

      About two weeks ago at Walmart checkout, I was asked by the clerk if I wanted to make a donation to the Children's Miracle Network. Being a noble cause, I agreed to donate $5.00. The next day I returned looking for some items for work. Again, I was asked to donate; this time I was given an option of $1.00, $5.00, or $10.00. Not wanting to look like a jerk, I donated $1.00. Over the following two weeks I have been into Walmart and its' sister company Sam's Club about 5 or 6 times, each time being asked to donate, and each time donating $1.00.

      Yesterday as I briskly walked in looking for a last minute snack to take to work with me. A lady literally yelled at me as I was walking in the door. She said “Hello would you like to make a donation to ...” I could not hear what the cause was because I did not stop and at 6'6” at a brisk walk I have quite a gait and was out of earshot. There are two reasons why I did not stop; First, I had a very small margin of time in order to be to work on time, and second I knew I did not have any cash on me.

      Don't get me wrong; I have no problem being asked to support a cause, and I have no problem giving to a cause in which I believe. However, when you get out of your car in the Walmart parking lot knowing that you will be asked 3 times to donate money, it does get kind of old. I remember one time I was headed toward the store entrance and intentionally walked all the way to the other set of doors just to avoid some guy trying to give me a free sample of the local newspaper, trying to get me to subscribe. So what do you think? Are you uncomfortable with the bombardment of solicitation, or do you just block it out, continuing on your merry way?

 



      Generally speaking, technology moves very fast; the new cell phone you just got will be obsolete in three years, and a newer model will be out in three months. As soon as a company puts out a new video game system, it's rival is at it's heels putting out a newer and better version as can be seen in this funny commercial from a few years back. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pS9sUm5Y0sg
This holds true in the world of social networking as well. Long before MySpace we had sites like Xanga, friendster, and sixdegrees.com. Although Facebook currently rules the roost with around 800 million users, Twitter is closing in at around 500 million.

      Personally, I had a hard time making the jump from Myspace to Facebook. I had re-established connections with many friends with whom I had not spoken in many years. I did not understand what the point was for facebook when MySpace was working perfectly fine. At the behest of many friends, I reluctantly opened a Facebook account, and left it lying dormant for many many months. Once I finally made the switch, I never looked back.

      Now I am standing at the same crossroads once again. I created a twitter account well over a year ago, and have amassed a huge following of 21 people. I have tried on more than one occasion to try to figure twitter out, but end up frustrated and confused each time. I have done countless Google search such as “what is the point of twitter” and “facebook vs. twitter” and I can never find a response that makes sense to me. I have asked my friends and viewers on Facebook and Youtube. Nobody seems to have a legitimate reason why anyone should use twitter.

      So I have resolved to start a journey in which I find out exactly what the point of Twitter is, and what makes it unique and superior to Facebook. I found a few articles online when I searched “Twitter for dummies” and “Idiot's guide to Twitter”. Yes, these books do exist. Apparently I am not the only one who is confused. So I will read these articles and report back on my findings. If you have any insight into my plight, please feel free to comment here on this blog, or on Facebook....or Twitter. BTW you can find me on Twitter @thepastormike.
 
     I recently watched an interview of Penn Jillette.  Penn is one half of the comedy/magic duo Penn & Teller, and is an outspoken atheist.  He told the story of how he went to youth group as a teenager and read one book that made him decide to be an atheist; it was not "the god delusion" or "god is not great", but rather the Bible itself.  He went on to say that anyone who is seriously considering atheism should read the Bible cover to cover and they will most assuredly come out an atheist.  How can this be?  How can somebody read the entire Bible and not believe in God?
     There was also an atheist man who was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune.  He saw a picture of a starving girl in a third world country and thought to himself "if there is a God, why would he allow this?  Surely there is no God."  He set out to do a full investigation to disprove God; reading many books, traveling the world looking for indicting evidence.  The more he investigated, the more he decided there was in fact a God.  This man, Lee Strobel, went on to become one of the leading apologists-defenders of the Christian faith- of our age.
     How can two people on opposite end of the spectrum search for the truth in the same manner and both end up flopping sides?  If you spend any amount of time in a social network you will find countless stories of people "deconverting"; denouncing their Christian faith for an agnostic (I don't know whether there is a God or not) or atheist stance.  However you will also find many people who were atheists for a long time and became Christians.  Atheists seem to believe that Christianity is for unintelligent people and that anyone with a superior intellect would not fall for such gibberish.  How then, do you describe Francis Collins?  Dr. Collins is the leader of the Human Genome Project.  He was described by the Endocrine society as "one of the most accomplished scientists of our time", and is a Christian.  As a matter of fact, Christopher Hitchens, one of the most outspoken atheists of our day, has reached out to Dr. Collins for help with his cancer.  It does not take mush time or effort to do an internet search for "famous Christian scientists" to see a long list of very intelligent influential scientists who were believers in Christ.
     Both Strobel and Jillette wanted to disprove Christianity.  Jillette succeeded, by hos own estimation, and strobel was forced by the mountain of evidence, to recant his atheism and accept Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life.  And yet atheists have mounds of scientific evidence to prove that God does not exist, while Christians equally have mounds of scientific and historical evidence to prove that God does exist.  So we have an intellectual impasse, and that is where faith comes into the picture.    Do you believe that we exist because of millions of random occurrences, that we are merely biological creatures with no further meaning or purpose, or do you believe that there is more to this life, that there is a creator.  It all comes down to faith. Some things simply cannot be explained or understood.  This also hold true in science as there are many conundrums that science simply can not explain.
     I guess the point of this article is that intellect alone can not sustain a Christian faith; these point could be argued back and forth for all of eternity.You have to choose for yourself whether or not you will believe that God created the world you see around you and the universe that we see in our telescopes.  According to the New Living Translation of the Bible "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see  (Hebrews 11:1).  Sure religion has caused all types of problems, wars, hatred, and all manner of evil.  I'm not talking about religion.  I believe religion is evil.  I'm talking about faith in Jesus Christ, and believe me there is a BIG difference.  In the end, you must choose what you will believe.  A forced faith is not true faith at all.  What do you believe?
 
     After three painful and arduous years of severe illness, pain, rejection, betrayal, confusion, searching, and uprooting our family, I had come to terms with the situation God had put me in; my wife had been healed and was recovering from cancer, and was given a teaching job at a Christian school almost 2,000 miles from home.  After an extended session of wrestling with God and dealing with past issues, I was back in youth ministry, albeit a volunteer position, until God told me otherwise.  I found a secular job with a meager salary, just barely enough money to pay the bills, trusting that God would provide.
     At first I was quite excited about my new job; not because of what I was actually doing, but WHEN I got to do it.  You see, I work the night shift; the OVERnight shift.  Third shift.  The "graveyard shift", 5 days a week.  I am a "night owl" by nature, regularly staying up well into the a.m. hours, only to curse the alarm clock and stumble around when it laughs at me at 7:30 a.m.  So when I found a job working from 11:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m., I thought it would be perfect.  As I get home and go to bed, Lisa goes to work.  When she gets home, I get up and we spend the evening together.  She goes to bed I work to work, and the cycle continues.  Sounds great, but I have slammed into a few problems that are keeping me from attaining any normalcy in my sleep pattern.

Problem #1:  Sunday Morning Church
     Like most Evangelical Christians, I observe the Lord's day on Sunday....MORNING.  The obvious problem with this is that after having worked all night Saturday night/Sunday morning, my body is ready to go home and go to bed.  More often that not I spend my Sunday morning doing laps around the lobby of the church, listening to the sermon through the P.A. system because if I sat in that comfy pew I would be snoring in 5 minutes flat.  So I get home and get to bed around 1:00, bet up around 9:30.  That gives me time to shower make my lunch spend a few minutes with my wife, then back to work.

Problem #2: Days off
     Most people enjoy sleeping in at least a little bit on their days off.  They spend their time catching up on shopping, household chores, or various errands that need to be done.  For me, a day off is actually an overnight off.  It's hard to vacuum or do anything that makes noise in the middle of the night when everyone else is asleep.  it does not help that I live on a second floor apartment with sleeping neighbors directly below.  Most of the world is asleep during my "day off", especially in this sleepy midwest town.  I can't even go to the gym to work out, because...you guessed it... it is closed.  i have considered joining a 24 hour gym, but they are considerably more expensive that the good old YMCA.
     Because of this dilemma, I normally change my sleep pattern.  When I come home from work on the day before a day off, I don't go to sleep, but rather force myself to stay up until that night.  I usually get my two days off in succession, and they are quite frequently Saturday and Sunday, which means I can spend more time with my wife.  However, that means I get used to sleeping at night and being awake during the day.  So my first night back to work is always miserable because my body is ready for sleep, but I have a full night of work ahead of me.

Problem #3: day time activities
     Because most people sleep at night, they schedule their activities during the day.  I want to take part in those activities, I have to alter my sleep pattern yet again.  I meet with a local group of youth ministry workers once a month, usually around 10:00 in the morning.  By that time I am usually about 2.5 hours into my night of sleep, which means I either come home, take a 2 hour nap and go meet with the group, I stay up and meet with them, or I skip it altogether.  My church has VBS coming up soon and I will be the music director.  Our VBS meets in the late morning to the early afternoon, or as I call it, the middle of the night.  For that entire week my sleep pattern will be altered.  Then there are phone calls.  People often call me during the day when I an trying to sleep, without realizing that they are waking me up.  I could just turn my phone off, but I like to keep it on just in case my wife needs to call me, or in case of emergency.  By this time most people who would call me know that I sleep during the day and message me on Facebook, but there is always the errant wrong number.
   Our apartment is literally right next to the playground of the school at which my wife teaches.  There is only one small playground for all of the students to share, so each grade rotates recess time.  This means that almost all day long there are kids at recess; right outside my window.  Screaming.  Bouncing balls.  Arguing.  Crying.  Keeping me awake.

     If you have ever pulled an all nighter, you know how tired, cranky, and just overall miserable you get.  I usually pull at least two all nighters per week.  My sleep pattern is so erratic that sometimes I literally don't know if it's day or night.  My circadian rhythm is so out of whack that I am always fatigued and confused.  According to webmd.com, there is actually a circadian rhythm disorder called "shift work sleep disorder".  Wikipedia, speaking on sleep disruption disorders, says:
            Disruption to rhythms in the longer term is believed to have 
            significant adverse health consequences on peripheral organs 
            outside the brain, particularly in the development or                   
            exacerbation of cardiovascular disease. The suppression of
            melatonin production associated with the disruption of the
            circadian rhythm may increase the risk of developing cancer.

     Due to all of this, I am beginning to fear for my overall health.  During any given 8 hour shift, I consume a gallon of caffeinated beverage; usually one 2 liter of soda, and one 2 liter of green tea.  That's a lot of caffeine!  But I need it to stay awake; my job involves accounting, paperwork, balancing the books, and closing the business day for my company.  This involves significant attention to detail, concentration and mental alacrity. 
     At the very least, I need to get a regular sleep pattern.  But how?  In view of all of the problems aforementioned, how do I get a regular, steady "night" of sleep?  Any and all comments and suggested welcomed. 
 
I know it's my own fault.  Still, it is disappointing.
     Today, "Black Friday", the biggest shopping day of the year, I had plans to go to my local mall and sing some songs in the food court; in part to overcome my own stage fright, and in part to raise awareness about my foray with America's Got Talent.  I had all the details worked out; six songs loaded and ready to go on my mp3 player, a small amp with a microphone, hundreds of mini fliers announcing my plans.  It was all coming together except for one small yet crucial component; the permission of the mall.
     My first set was supposed to start at noon.  At about 11:52 I noticed the sharks circling.  Mall security was roaming about the food court at an unusually high proportion.  Almost immediately, one approached me, jabbering into his radio which was attached to his shoulder. I was told that the mall might take exception to my plans.  When I asked what I needed to do to get permission, he referred me to the mall office.
     It's funny because I printed lots of fliers, but had only handed out a few, probably less than ten.  However when I got to the office, they showed me my flier and said "Is this you?"  Immediately I was ushered of to the office of the chief of security.  I thought to myself "what have I gotten myself into!?"
     The officer was polite and very friendly,  he said that the mall welcomes this kind of stuff, but it must be pre-approved by the marketing director.  He said that if they allowed me to do it they would have to allow everyone to do it.  it seems to me that I was introduced to this logic in kindergarten, and yet it still holds true.  So he gave me the marketing director's card and told me to call her on Monday to work something out.  On my way out of the office to my car, security guards would stop me and ask "so did they say you could do it?"
     I can take this one of two ways; and this is where I am stuck.  Perhaps you can help.  I can either take this as God telling me not to do this, not to follow this whole singing thing anymore (the whole "closed door" philosophy) or I can take it as a lesson in forethought and planning.  The scary thing is it never entered my mind that I would need to get permission to sing in a public place.  however, I now see that it's just not that easy.  Please tell me what you think; do I take this as a sign to hang my microphone up, or do I press on and learn to get more people involved to make sure all bases are covered?