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For the Love of Money

The love of moneyDo you love money? Most, if not all, of my Bible friends will immediately shout, “No! The love of money is the root of all evil,” quoting 1 Timothy 6:10. “So, no, I don’t love money.”

But we deceive ourselves. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Would I like a raise, a promotion, a bonus?
  • Would I like my salary to be a bit higher?
  • Would I like to grow my business, double my clients, increase my sales?
  • Would I like to have more money in savings?
  • Are you content right now with what you have, or would you like more money?

If you would like more money right now, listen to what King Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 5:10:

Whoever loves money never has money enough;
Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.

Let me simplify this for you: would you like more money right now? If yes, then you love money.

I think most Americans are dissatisfied with what they have. I wrote an article about this undertow of lack that is so pervasive in our culture. We are convinced that we need more stuff. We think excess = success. So, we buy, we collect, we gather more and more stuff, thinking it will be bring us happiness, peace and joy. But, ironically, this craving for more is what is killing our happiness, peace and joy.

It’s even popular in most of our church sermons. “Give to God so he can bless you (with a better job to make more money to buy more stuff).”

I read the following quote this morning from a book called “The Rest of the Gospel”,

It’s easy to live as if we are the center of the universe. We would never say it, or even think it consciously, but we can live as if God is here for us. That has come across in a lot of “Christian” teaching. God is here to bless you. You ought to be rich. You ought to be prosperous. It’s your due to be successful. It’s your due to get ahead. God has to respond to your faith. God has obligated Himself to bless you if you do the right things. All of which means what? You are the center of the universe.

Are you the center of your universe? Are you building your kingdom?

It’s funny how we Americans desire to be rich. It’s funny because if you make more than $40,000 a year, you are wealthier than 99% of the world. Yet, we’d never think that a $40,000 per year salary would make anyone rich. In fact, we’d almost say you’re bordering poverty with that kind of salary.

We think being rich will give us peace and rest. But, it’s backwards. It creates misery, pain, struggles and distress. Here’s what James said in 5:1-3,

Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

The great American lie is simply this: life is better when you have more.

I don’t think it’s evil to have money, or even lots of money. Nor is it evil to make money or grow a business. Scripture does not say, “Money is the root of all evil.” No, it’s the “love of money”. The evil is when we desire more because we think it will bring security, peace, joy and happiness. Ironically, the pursuit of money does exactly the opposite. Read all of 1 Timothy 6:10,

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

This really resonated with me this morning as I was listening to an excellent sermon from Pete Briscoe at Bent Tree Church called “Less is Better.” Everything he says is spot on and so true. It’s so easy to get sucked into this “more” mindset, but as we crave more, we miss out on what we already have today.

Here’s Pete’s sermon:

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.

— Jesus in Luke 12:15

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Finding Life

If we choose not to find life in a beautifully dependent relationship with our Creator, we must strive to find life in our doing, in how we appear, and in what we can acquire on our own.

These strategies for acquiring life never fully satisfy, even when we are successful at them, and so we have a persistent sense of emptiness and shame that we try to hide.

If part of my strategy for getting life is having others regard my opinions as right, for example, I must conceal all honest doubts that I have.

If part of my strategy is being acknowledged as successful, I must conceal all failures.

Or if part of my strategy is appearing holy, I must conceal all struggles with sin.

The idol from which we strive to get life determines what behaviors we must display and what realities we must conceal.

From “Seeing is Believing” by Greg Boyd

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Am I REALLY an Ironman?

Last week on Sunday, after 15 and half hours, I crossed the finished line at the 2014 Arizona Ironman. I heard Mike Reilly, the “voice of Ironman” say, “Russ Pond, you are an Ironman!

Interestingly, I still can’t say to myself, I am an Ironman.

Months before the race, people would often encourage me, “All your training will pay off when you hear those words, ‘You are an Ironman!'” Even during the race, random spectators would encourage me, “You’re almost there. You’re about to hear those words, you are an Ironman!” Then, after the race, the text messages and Facebook posts flooded in, “Russ, you did it. You are an Ironman!”

Finishing the race and hearing those words didn’t affect me like I thought it was supposed to. Sure, I was glad to be finished, but it was just a race. And even now, I still can’t say it. And, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to.

Pain in temporary BadgeAccording to the Ironman organization, I did everything you were supposed to do to finish an Ironman race, and within the allotted 17 hours. By all accounts, I have the right to call myself an “Ironman”.

Here’s what I think is going on. And, it’s a good thing. Maybe even a great thing.

For the past few years, I’ve been really focused on this issue of identity. What defines me? How do we define ourselves?

Most of us define ourselves by what we do:

  • I write. So, I’m an author.
  • I run. So, I’m a runner.
  • I make movies. So, I’m a filmmaker.
  • I started a business. So, I’m an entrepreneur.
  • I do good things. So, I’m a good person.

Those all sound good. But, what about the not-so-good things we do?

  • I eat too much. So, I’m a glutton.
  • I sleep in too much. So, I’m lazy.
  • I can’t hold a job. So, I’m a failure.
  • I sin. So, I’m a sinner.
  • I do bad things. So, I’m a bad person.

The struggle I’ve been trying to overcome the past few years is to not let what I do define who I am.

And, it’s hard! It’s so engrained in our culture, our upbringing and our world system. Sadly, we often define ourselves by what we do, good or bad.

How would you reply if I asked, “Who are you?”
“I’m John Doe.”
Well, not really. That’s just a name someone gave you at birth.

“Who are you?”
“I’m a chef.”
No, that’s just a job you do.

“Who are you?”
“I’m an American.”
No, that’s just the country you were born in.

“Who are you?”
“I’m an Ironman.”
No, that’s just a race you finished.

“Who are you?”
It’s a hard question to answer.
And, I’ve been trying to answer it for a the past few years.

I’m working hard to not define myself by what I do or what I have done. And, I’m working even harder to not define myself by what I haven’t done, or the wrong things I’ve done.

My focus the past few years has been to define myself by what God says about me, and only what he says about me, because He says things like:

  • You’re my child.
  • You’re the apple of my eye.
  • You’re forgiven.
  • You’re righteous.
  • You’re accepted.
  • You’re perfect.
  • You’re mine.

And, the more I push aside the world’s definitions of who I am and focus on God’s definition of who I am, an incredible peace and confidence fill my heart, and I find such joy in knowing who I really am.

While thinking through this article, I remembered a song that wonderfully summarizes this idea of how we define ourselves. It’s called “All He Says I Am” by Cody Carnes with Kari Jobe. (By the way, Cody and Kari got married his weekend! Congrats you two!) So, I spent the weekend putting together a video of this song with the lyrics.

Am I an Ironman? I guess. Maybe. If that’s what you want to call me.

I’d much rather be called a “child of God.”

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The Beauty of the Now

The Beauty of the NowMy racquetball buddy surprised me one evening when he leaned over and whispered, “Russ, I have a couples crush on you and your wife.” I laughed. I knew what he was talking about. But, I also knew something he didn’t.

You see, I run a video production business. It’s quite simple. There’s one employee: me. There’s one office: my home. I take on the clients I like and turn away the ones I don’t. My schedule is wonderfully flexible. I work as little or as much as I want. Dreamy.

My wife is in a similar situation. She’s a personal trainer, works out of the home and sets her own schedule as well. We spend much of our day together. Our marriage is really amazing. Again, dreamy.

But, here’s what my friend didn’t know. In the wee hours of most mornings, before the sun comes up, my wife and I often stir awake thinking about the day ahead. And then it hits. Pressure. Stress. Moments yet to happen rushing into the now.

These mental, morning intrusions often provoke anxiety and pressure—pressure to perform, succeed and accomplish. What exactly? Not sure, but the day already feels heavy and we haven’t even gotten out of bed.

It shouldn’t be this way. If anyone should awake to an exciting day of opportunity and promise, it should be us. Throughout our marriage, we’ve made specific, intentional choices to live a simple, minimalist life. Why then is it so hard to experience the dream life that my friend thinks we have? I want to know why this uninvited pressure continues crashing into our calm mornings, setting an unhealthy pace for the day.

I think it has something to do with our cultural mindset of performance—if you work hard enough, you’ll be happy. We learned it as a kid: work hard and you can have a happy life. But, if you’re not working, not succeeding, not accomplishing, then you can’t be happy.

It’s so pervasive in our culture. Do well in school, and you’ll get good grades. Work hard at your job, and you’ll get that promotion. Perform well and you’ll do well. It’s the American Dream. But, if you’re not performing, then life will not be good for you. What we do becomes who we are instead of letting who we are become what we do.

What is it that drives us, that fuels our need to perform? I believe it’s this undertow of lack that makes us feel like we haven’t quite arrived yet. There are more tasks to accomplish, more mouths to feed, inventions to create, stories to tell. So, get to work. No time to rest. Why? Because right now, in someway, you are lacking. You can always be moving towards more.

This lie fuels performance. And, it’s everywhere. It’s prominent in the TV commercials we see, the magazine ads we read, the sermons we hear. The unsettling discontentment shifts our thoughts away from the present moment. We become focused on the past (with its failures) or the future (with its pressures), and we miss the beauty of the now. Perhaps, choosing to live in the now is the key to a joyful life.

Last night after dinner, my wife was getting ready to take the dogs on a walk. Alone. I was busy juggling some client emergencies and trying to get things ready for the next day. Alone. Our son had disappeared into his teenage man-cave to the battle cries of League of Legends. Alone.

I was about to sacrifice a now moment at the altar of tomorrow.

So, I shut down the computer, grabbed my shoes and said, “Hey, I’ll come with you.” My wife smiled, probably leaping on the inside. Then, to our surprise, Caleb emerged from his gaming lair and wanted to join us.

We spent the next 20 minutes walking, talking and laughing. Together. Completely content in the moment. And, it almost slipped right by us.

Yes, we do have an amazing life. I have a wonderful, beautiful wife who loves me unconditionally. I have brilliant, witty son attending college to be a professional game designer. (Go figure.)

Life is good. I just need to be careful not to miss the beauty of the now.

“God deals out joy in the present, the now.” — King Solomon

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My Ironman Mental Game

Arizona Ironman Mental GameExactly six weeks from now, around this very time (5:30 am), I’ll be wrapping up my morning race routine with one cup of coffee and some toast. Then, I’ll put on my Zoot tri suit, grab my start bag and head to the race venue. On November 16th, I will be doing my first, full Ironman race in Tempe, Arizona.

Previously, I wrote about my quest for 140.6 in hopes of sharing some of the motivation as to why I want to complete an Ironman. (I need to go back and re-read that.)

This morning, I want to share more about my training experience. I have learned so much about myself and life in general during the process.

Getting Started

A year ago, I sat at the computer, my stomach was churning. I knew that once I hit “Submit”, I would be registered for Ironman Arizona. It was nerve wracking! You have to register a year in advance to secure your spot in this coveted race. It always sells out in minutes.

Click! “Congratulations! You are now registered for Arizona Ironman!” That was too easy. Time to start training.

I don’t like training in the winter. The cold and I don’t get along very well. So, I started doing lots of indoor activities, mostly racquetball at the time. Occasionally, I would run or bike, even swim a few times. The key for me was to get moving and stay active through the winter.

Once spring hit, I was able to get outdoors more. In March, I signed up for DFW Tri Club and started training with them once a week. But, as the spring turned into summer, I knew I needed a more focused training regime designed specifically to get me ready for Ironman. Through the recommendation of a friend, I hired coach Trevor.

On June 2nd, six months before Ironman, I started training everyday for Ironman.

Work the Training and the Training Works You

I’m not a fast guy. Never claimed to be. In fact, my Ironman goal is very simple. It’s three goals described in one short sentence:

I want to finish (1) within seventeen hours (2) uninjured (3).

My coach said there are two types of people who do Ironman — those who race and those who survive. It should be clear by now which one I am.

Over the past few months, I have really enjoyed seeing the benefits of training. Sure, it’s hard work and takes a lot of time, but if you work the training, the training works you. I have seen this first hand. My bike times are faster. My run times are quicker. My swims are stronger. All measurably so.

But even as you make progress and get stronger, you still have to fight the Ironman mental game.

Get to the Start the Line

They say that running a marathon is 90% mental and 10% physical. For Ironman, it’s 90% mental and 10% mental.

The past four and half months have been extreme. The mental highs and lows have been challenging. Just the other day, a friend asked me how the training going. I replied, “It’s the most exhilarating, frustrating, exciting, terrifying experience I’ve ever had. Ask me again tomorrow.”

The swings between “I can do this” to “What the heck was I thinking” are drastic. Sometimes, an injury will set you back or you bonk on a long ride, and then the doubts start singing in your head.

Then, there are weeks like this week where everything clicks. The runs are strong, the bike rides feel good, the swims are fast. You’re back to, “I can do this.”

I asked my coach about this and he said something very important: The hardest part of Ironman is getting to the start line.

I think in life, this is also true. What “start lines” have alluded you because of doubt or insecurity? What voices in your heard have convinced you not to try? What dreams have you shelved in hopes that “One day, I’ll get to that start line.”

To get the start line, here’s how I’ve changed my perspective about the race.

Many Small Goals instead of One Big Goal

The thought of doing an Ironman–2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a 26.2 marathon, all in one day–is daunting. That’s a massive goal. It can be overwhelming to look at it as one big goal.

Another great piece of advice from both my coach and my wife is not look at the race as one big goal but as many small goals.

For the swim, once that horn blows, your goal is simple: swim to that first buoy. Woo Hoo! I made it. Next goal, swim to the buoy. Yeah, another goal accomplished. Eventually, you’ll finish the swim.

On the bike, there are three 37.5 mile loops. That’s a comfortable Sunday ride for me. I can do that. That will be my goal. I will bike 37.5 miles. Awesome, finished 37.5 miles! Next goal, 37.5 miles. Killed it! And then another goal, 37.5 miles. Bike ride finished.

Then, the run, my weakest event of the three. I will not look at it as a marathon. I don’t have to run 26.2 miles. Instead, I will just run one mile. Then, celebrate that mile accomplishment. Then, run another mile. Then, run a mile. Just a mile. Run another mile. I do this 26 times, each mile celebrating the goal of running that mile.

But, Russ, it’s the same. No, it’s not. Not in my mind. They are not the same. Short, achievable goals are… well, achievable.

I have experienced this in a few areas of my personal life. When I made my first movie, I was a bit naive (kind of like my Ironman experience). I wasn’t sure what to expect, so I broke it down into many, small steps.

First, I needed to find a story. That was my focus. My only focus. After finding the story, the next step was finding funding. Again, that was my only focus. After the money, I needed to find a team. Next, we needed to shoot the film. Next, we needed to edit the film. Etc. Etc. I didn’t look at the entire process, only the next step.

Had I truly known the extensive amount of work it was going to take to make a feature film, I could have easily talked myself out of it. Today, having done three feature films, it’s a daunting task when you look at the entire goal. So, don’t.

What goals do you have in your life that seem too big to accomplish? Why don’t you figure out the first step towards that big goal, and focus on accomplishing that one small goal first. And see what happens! You might be surprised.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin (Zechariah 4:10).