Last Sunday, we began “The Strong Challenge” which is an all city, multi-church journey encouraging all of us to get strong by practicing certain spiritual habits.

I have to confess that having a weakling like me do a series called Strong has a certain poetic irony. I’m an athlete, I play sand volleyball and water/snow ski, but I have never been a fan of the weight room. I remember in high school track, we were told to go into the weight room for at least 30 minutes a day to get strong. I’d go into this room filled with mostly football players. They’d be bench pressing hundreds of pounds.  I’d sit down on the bench and barely be able to bench press the bar.  I remember one day trying to push this stupid bar off my chest and back up into the rack when I noticed my coaches in the corner watching me and laughing…as well as a few high school girls walking by snickering.  I was humiliated.  It’s bad enough to not be strong, but to be humiliated “becoming strong” just wasn’t worth it.  As a guy, I don’t want to be put in a place to look foolish.  So, honestly, I haven’t been in a weight room hardly ever since then.   In fact, when I was in 5th grade, I didn’t like Ronald Reagan.  I didn’t know anything about politics. I just knew that once a year, in gym class, I was required to “attempt” a chin up -in front of my entire class- thanks to the Ronald Reagan Fitness Program.   I was always humiliated that I could barely do one pull up. My weakness didn’t drive me to become stronger, it drove me to avoid situations where I felt foolish.

When it comes to spiritual habits, strength, and disciplines, I think many of us -especially guys- are the same.  If we don’t know much about the Bible, we don’t want to be in an environment where we are made to look foolish. We may not pray out loud because we are not “good at it.”  I want you to know that our STRONG challenge will not make anyone look foolish. It will challenge us to grow, but in a way that makes it easy to develop skills. These skills or habits are called spiritual disciplines. We’ll look at 6 of them: PLAY STRONG, STRONG COMMUNICATION, STRONG LEARNING, STRONG TRAINING, STRONG SERVICE, and STRONG LIVING.

Why would any of us want to spend the time, or waste the time doing this?  If you are married, you know that it takes supernatural strength and staying power to keep committed when you go through a dry spell in your marriage.  If you are single, you know how hard it is to keep your standards and dream of the spouse you want, you need strength. Even if you casually walk through life, you know that life will kick you in the teeth and pound you to the ground…we all need strength and inner fortitude to sustain life’s constant blows.  If you have ever tried to forgive someone who has wronged you deeply, you know it takes a supernatural strength to let go and not become bitter. If you are a worrier, you know that the power of worry seems to wrestle you to the ground, you need a strength to free you from the stress, the addiction to worry, and ulcers you are creating. Bottom line…we all need Strength Training.





When I think of a discipline, I intuitively define it as:  Discipline is doing what I should do instead of what I WOULD do otherwise.

I know what I “should” do.  I “should” eat better, run more, take better care of my health. I know I “ought” to have some faith practices (go to church, pray, read the Bible, etc).  I know I “ought” to get up earlier and go to bed earlier to get more rest and be ready to go in the morning, but these “disciplines” of what I ought to do seem to be the polar opposite of what I want to do.  I want to eat more ice cream. I want to watch one more TV show at night. I want to hit the snooze button. I want to NOT go running. I want to eat more steak, not salad. I want to “check in” and “check out” spiritually after Sunday.  So, one of the main reasons I avoid spiritual disciplines is that I define them they way they feel, they are the opposite of what I want to do.

Here’s the thing about Disciplines: They Can Become Obsessions. We have many people in our church who love to train, run marathons, even the iron-mans.  They become obsessions for many. I talked to one guy who ran another marathon recently and asked where he got his love for running, his obsession for this sport.  He told me that it began as a “SHOULD DO” rather than a “WANT TO.” He was on a board for a cancer group and felt like he ought to be part of raising money with a 5K.  He always thought it would be neat if he COULD run a marathon.  But, he needed some SHOULDS to enable him to his COULDS. He started training as a discipline to…and he came to like it. It became a WANT to.

Many of us can play an instrument like a guitar, piano, clarinet, or drums.   Before it was a “want to” though, it was years of mom, dad, a teacher, a coach, or a mentor making it an “ought to.” The same is true in dieting, working out, and even something like Bible study or prayer. Constantly we hear stories of busy people who are invited to start a Bible study on a Thursday morning or 1-on-1 with an older professional, and what reluctantly began as an “ought to” became a “want to” in their calendar.


You may think, Christianity is a whole list of doing things I “ought to do.”  It’s a list of obligations. It’s a bunch of joy-sucking, fun-killing, no-no lists.  It’s the opiate of the masses. It’s the way to control people and keep them from being free. Is that true?  God says that the practices that He offers don’t make you less free, but more free.  The opposite — I know many people who tried “doing whatever they want” and they ended up less free, enslaved to an addiction, ulcers, workaholism, etc.  They lost their marriage, they lost their health, they lost their integrity… all practicing doing whatever they wanted. Then, they had a “ah-ha” moment.  They began to realize that God’s “ought to do’s” freed them…so instead of doing what they ought to do, they had something happen that made them rethink their habits.

It may be cancer, a heart attack, or other health crisis.  Suddenly we’re interested in both physical disciplines (how we eat, work out) as well as spiritual disciplines (What happens when we die? What’s the real meaning of life? What kind of a legacy have I left?).  Most folks I know who start going to church begins with a crisis.  Their marriage is in trouble, they have a teenager in rebellion, or an addiction that got out of control.  There is fear that life is out of control or heading into a ditch. Fear that “What got us here, won’t get us there.”  We say to ourselves, “I have to try something different, I’ve tried doing what I want. Perhaps I’ll try doing what God wants.”

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