Train like a Martyr

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It is fitting that the Church celebrates Christianity’s first martyr, the Feast of St. Stephen, on December 26th each year, the day after Christmas. At first glance, this may seem out of place…after all, isn’t Christmas supposed to be all about a sweet little baby being born and placed in a soft manger by His nice, but naïve, parents Joseph and Mary? Not Quite.

The Church, in her wisdom, shows us the implications of the incarnation when she places St. Stephen’s example of martyrdom in front of us at the beginning of the Christmas Octave. St. Stephen was one of the first deacons of the church and the first martyr when he was condemned to die by being stoned because of his belief in the truth, Jesus.

A martyr is one who is willing to suffer, even death, rather than to deny the truth.

The celebration of the life of St. Stephen fits perfectly with Christmas, because it shows us in a profound way what following Christ demands of each of us. Far from a sappy, saccharin cult aimed at teaching us all to be nice to each other, Christianity demands men to abandon living how they want, and to seek the fullness of truth which is embodied in Christ.

When St. Stephen encountered Christ, he bumped into real love which compelled him to share his experience with everyone, even at the cost of his own life. The love that I am speaking of is not the sentimental, fluttery feeling kind of love that our culture has erroneously re-defined it to be.

Christian love is free, total, faithful and fruitful. Anyone who looks upon the image of a crucifix can clearly see what this love looks like. The love that St. Stephen encountered “kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob, his love of neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. This kind of love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend”. “Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven”. **

Train like a Martyr

For all of us, there is no more guess work in what God’s will is for our life. We are all called to be Saints.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3)

With this call in mind we ought to know what it takes to be a martyr; someone who is willing to suffer, even death, rather than to deny the truth. I believe each of us can apply this concept to our daily lives.

Through identifying simple truths that we all know, we can practice putting to death our inordinate passions, attachments and omissions rather than deny that truth.

Here is how it works.

Identify a simple truth that we encounter in our daily activities, like:

  • Improved physical conditioning is good for us and has proven short and long term health benefits
  • Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and NO sugar and keep intake levels that will support exercise but not body fat
  • Control the use of technology, don’t let it control you
  • If you are more up to date on the current Dallas Cowboy’s stats than your family’s needs, there is a problem

You can begin to train like a martyr by grabbing a hold of one of these truths and when you encounter an opportunity to fall to your passions and deny it, make the choice to kill that passion rather than to deny the truth.

Training like a martyr can begin in the kitchen when one becomes intentional about choosing to eat a clean meal, which may involve a little suffering, rather than to deny the simple truth of good nutrition.

Through this gradual process of dying to self in these small ways we can train our will to become comfortable holding to the truth, regardless of what suffering comes our way. This process of acclimating our lives to that of a martyr, will enable us to live the life of Christ, who is truth itself.

“Put on the armor of God” (Eph 6:11).

**Sermon by Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe, Bishop

Eating Clean in 2016

eating-cleanMy journey to better health has been a two edged sword – diet and exercise.  Both have played an extremely important role but, to be sure, changing the way I’ve eaten has been the most important.  You simply cannot out work a bad diet meaning all the burpees in the world won’t defeat an unhealthy diet.

So, in this article I thought we’d revisit some of the nutrition based posts we’ve shared this past year.

My first “diet based” article came in January of 2016 when I explained how I dropped a pants size in 30 days!  Now, choosing a clean eating plan can be confusing.  There are many options out there including the paleo, primal, and bulletproof diets.  This is why we’ve done our best to combine what we believe to be the best of all these diets into the clean eating plan we lay out in the Intentional Wellness eBook that can downloaded for free at the bottom of this article.

And while I was on my journey to better health Mike was also working hard to refine the way he was eating as well.  He’d obviously been working out a LONG time and was in great shape.  But, sometimes, looks can be deceiving… especially as it relates to diet.

Now, an important part of my journey has consisted of learning more about how my body works.  Yes, I knew eating processed sugar, especially things like sugary drinks, was bad for me.  But why?  I needed to know the why.  Well, as it turns out a major obstacle for folks trying to lose weight is something called insulin resistance.  It’s bad news… but, luckily, it can be defeated with persistence.

And while insulin resistance is bad enough the science doesn’t stop there… ever wonder why you’re so hungry?  If so, you may be dealing with something called leptin resistance.  And if all this “science” makes your head hurt the good news is defeating these issues is pretty straightforward – stop eating sugar, processed foods, and most grains.  If you do this for around 90 days I can pretty much guarantee you’ll see results.

Now, as I continued to see improvements as it relates to weight loss I began to focus on the way my body performed during workouts.  This is why I began to experiment with supplementation including whey protein and creatine.

Finally, as the year progressed and my weight stabilized and my new eating habits had been solidified I continued to focus on how what I eat impacts performance in the gym.  I’m officially in the best shape of my life as a 43-year-old man but I’m not satisfied.  I want to continue to progress.  I want to get stronger.  I want to be more fit.  As such, I have slowly started to introduce more carbs into my diet… especially white rice.  I also eat things like white potatoes on a regular basis.

To be sure, my journey is just getting started and it will be be fun to point to this article in December of 2017 when I, God willing, share another update of how things have progressed, or possibly stayed the same, in the coming year.

I know many that are reading this have also made big changes to the way you eat.  I’m so proud of you for this.  Keep up the great work.  Don’t stop.  And when you mess up and eat badly don’t despair.  Get back on the horse and continue to ride.  Today is a new day.  In fact, if you feel God is calling you to make changes to the way you eat and take care of yourself don’t wait until January 2 to start.  Start today.

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

p.s. If you’d like to check out all of our “nutrition based” articles from this past year… simply click here.

Best of 2016

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With the first year of the Intentional Encounter project under our belt, Ron and I wanted to share with you some of the highlights of 2016.  We began the year hoping to share our journey with others who could relate to the struggles and setbacks as well as the victories of becoming the men that we are made to be.  We hope to share with you our story and provide an incremental and intentional way of creating new habits, so that you can begin your journey towards freedom and an encounter with Christ.

We look forward to big things to come in 2017!

Here are the top 10 articles of 2016:

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Ron shares an anxiety filled experience from his childhood titled “Throwing up on the Bus” which helped shape the way he looks to be charitable towards all…especially those suffering.

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In this article, Mike shares how his son, Dominic, is an example for us all of how God designed our bodies to eat real food regardless of what difficulties we are dealt.

P90X My Redemption Story

Ron shares a common story of those who have tried to get in shape in the past but fall short.  This article shows practical ways to overcome these defeats and an insight into Ron’s wellness journey.

Ron conveys the great journey of Exodus 90 that he and I along with two other brother’s in Christ took in gaining freedom from the daily distractions of life in order to encounter Christ.

Wonderful reflection on a beach at sunset, with a cross on a mans back.

My lovely wife, Chasity, expresses in no uncertain terms, what women are looking for in an Intentional Encounter Man!

Ron discusses the reality of suffering that has come and is to come in his family and how he plans to mitigate these through an intentional wellness plan that all of us can follow.

Spiritual Combat

Mike discusses the importance of male friendship in fighting the most important battle…the one for heaven.

How to Lose Weight & Keep it Off

Ron discusses a practical approach to losing weight and consistency in our approach to keep it off.

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Mike shares the benefits of adding combative training to your wellness plan to ultimately discover the inner warrior in you.

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Mike shares how each of us are called to participate in the saving mission of taking Christ’s world back. This can start by intentionally beginning our own personal wellness journey.

Suffer for Others

suffer-for-othersI suffered through a pretty brutal workout early this morning.  It’s cold here in North Texas (at least for us Texans!) which caused my fingers to go numb early in the workout… but the wicked side stitch that set in mid way through is what really made me want to shut things down early.

Now, I’d like to say I’ve never cut planned workouts short.  I’d like to say I’ve never cheated reps or walked when I should have been running.  Sadly, I’ve done all these things.  But not this morning.

This morning I pushed through.  It was me versus myself.  And I won.  In fact, when the pain really set in I decided to suffer as well as I could and immediately thought of my Exodus brothers and those that are consistently working out with our group.

I thought of these men by name.  I literally said their names out loud as I struggled to catch my breath.  I saw their faces.  I thought of the sins and struggles they’ve dealt with and possibly still deal with.

I then told our Lord how sorry I was for the times I’ve failed Him.  For the times I’ve sinned.  I asked our Lord, out loud, to make me stronger.  I asked Him, out loud, to make my holier.  I told Him, out loud, I loved Him.

Once I was done with the workout I collapsed on my cold barn cement floor.  Steam rose from my now sweaty face as I attempted to collect my senses.  I normally roll around and moan a little after intense Metcons and this morning was no different.  But the thing that was different is I did my very best to offer my minor sufferings for others.  This made me smile a little in between the moaning and rolling around.

So, the next time you find yourself face to face with a nasty workout would you please pray for me by name?  Would you also pray for Mike?  Finally, would you also pray for Intentional Encounter and the work we’re trying to accomplish?

Now, as a subscript to this article, I’d like to share a short Advent meditation one of my Exodus brothers, Colter Goodman, shared with our group via text.  I actually received the text shortly after my workout.  It was perfectly timed.  I pray it helps you as much as it helped me.

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

The Coming of Christ: “O Clavis David” – “O Key of David!”

O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel; who opens and no man shuts, and shuts and no man opens; come and deliver from the prison-house the captive who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

The key and the sceptre are the symbol of supreme authority; they indicate the sway that the Saviour is to hold over His faithful people, and the right which He alone possesses of opening the gate of Heaven to the children of men, and of extending to them the golden sceptre of His mercy and forgiving love. To me, O Key of David, unworthy though I am, open in Your mercy the door of Heaven; stretch out to me, all undeserving, the sceptre of Your favour and Your love.

You shut, O Lord, and no man opens. O shut not upon me the door which will admit me to draw nigh to You. Shut not upon me the door of Your mercy and grace. Shut not the door which leads me into the inner sanctuary of Your love. Shut not the door of that fold wherein Your favourite children dwell in peace and happiness. Shut not, above all, the door of Paradise at my last hour.

Come then, O Lord, and open to me now the door of my captivity. I am a captive to my own self-will; a captive to my want of charity; a captive to my vanity and love of display; a captive to my self-indulgence and dislike of mortification; a captive to a thousand faults of which I am scarcely conscious. “Come, O Lord, and set the captive free.” I am weak, and cannot break my chains unless I receive from You the necessary strength; come, O Lord Jesus, come quickly.

– from The Coming of Christ: Meditations for Advent, by Richard Frederick Clarke S.J.

Nativity

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The coming weeks are a great opportunity to consider the Rescue Plan that God executed just over 2000 years ago when his beloved Son, Jesus, came to save us. After all, the name Jesus means “God Saves”. This position and the ability to ponder the greatest story ever told presupposes that you believe that Jesus actually did exist and is not some mythical figure like Santa Clause. If you are in the Santa Clause camp, that’s ok, check out Trent Horn’s short article about the Four Reasons why Jesus Existed.

One of the fundamental truths of Christianity is that Jesus, the God Man, was born of a virgin named Mary. As we ponder the story of how this went down, I often find myself leaning towards looking through the eyes of St. Joseph. Personally, I rather like the image of Joseph that Fulton Sheen wrote about in his book The World’s First Love;

“Joseph was probably a young man, strong, virile, athletic, handsome, chaste, and disciplined; the kind of man one sees sometimes shepherding sheep, or piloting a plane, or working at a carpenter’s bench. Instead of being a man incapable of love, he must have been on fire with love”

As recently as 1998, St. Joseph appeared to a man named Edson Glauber in Brazil. In the Church approved apparition, Glauber described St. Joseph’s appearance as having

“brilliant green eyes and a beautiful smile – he appeared to be very young with an indescribable beauty”.

With this backdrop we can enter the story as Joseph and Mary have fallen in love with each other in a unique way. Together they developed a distinct plan for their marriage by dedicating themselves wholly to God primarily and each other secondarily…it was a Holy plan! But God broke into their lives with a different plan…one that was unimaginable. God loves surprises.

It had to have been that early on in their relationship, Joseph and Mary were well versed in the language of love and respect which are essential to the bond between men and women. Author, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, shares his understanding of the essential nature of love and respect in relationships in his ministry called Love and Respect Ministries. In his work, Eggerichs describes how men communicate by an honor code and respond to language tilted towards respect. Women on the other hand, while obviously needing respect, communicate primarily through a language of love and respond by connecting with the other. Men and women often get crossways with each other when one stands on the “air hose” of the other. During a conflict, women tend to step on the air hose of men that supplies respect and honor and they can come off as being disrespectful. Men respond during a conflict by stepping on the air hose of their spouse which supplies a steady stream of love and men can come off as unloving.

This insight is significant because when St. Joseph discovered the news that Mary was with child, but they had not consummated their relationship and had no plans to, he must have felt like Mary was stepping on his air hose and had disrespected him. He was likely in disbelief that something like this had happened since he knew Mary’s heart, or so he thought.

Then God radically broke into Joseph’s life through a dream and He reveals a plan for them which Joseph could have never imagined. It is a plan that is spontaneous and goes far beyond the expectations of their former plan…as Holy as it was. When Joseph woke up from that dream he must have been elated and scared to death at the same time.

Elated because his bride hadn’t disrespected him, and their fire of love for one another was true. Scared to death because being one who knew well the anticipatory prophesies and writings of the Christ who was to come, Joseph was suddenly aware that he had been picked for a star role in the Theo-drama of God’s rescue plan.

Discovering how God was acting so dramatically in their lives, Joseph must have experienced the ultimate communication of honor and respect, since it had been communicated to him directly from God. All men, like Joseph, respond to being respected and honored in profound ways. It moves us.  St. Joseph’s reaction to being honored by God and Mary was one of sacrificial love, chastity and devotion.

We can gleam from this story several insights. First, we can’t sit around and wait for a plan from God to fall in our laps. Joseph and Mary made a plan that was based on their solid relationship with God and began to move in that direction. Secondly, expect God to break into our lives and make His plan known.  This will inspire us to move in a direction that can be surprising. Lastly, look to St. Joseph’s response when he was honored, respected and entrusted by God, and know that God delights in honoring each of us and awaits our response.

Don’t Wait Until Jan 2!

By Ron PereiraAs 2016 comes to an end and 2017 comes into focus many new years resolutions will be formed.  Losing weight, getting into shape, or some other variation of improved wellness will, once again, be an extremely popular goal.  Gym memberships will spike and dieting will be all the rage… for about 12 days.  OK, maybe 15 days.

Now, I don’t normally like be negative but, sadly, research shows that around 92% of all new years resolutions end in failure.  Put another way, only 8% actually reach their goals.  So, sadly, the odds of you (and me) succeeding with any new years resolution are less than good.

Now, there are many theories on why the failure rate is so high and perhaps we’ll explore that topic in a future blog post.  But, today, I’d like to share the most important tactic I personally used to go from fat, lazy, and full of sin to the best physical and spiritual shape of my life.

And this tactic is simple.  Around a year ago, I made the decision to change my life – physically and spiritually – and started immediately.  I didn’t wait.

So, if you want to finally make a change you must start now.  As in today.  Not tomorrow.  Not next week.  Not January 2.  Now.  In fact, if you’re not willing to start now you can stop reading this article.  I can’t help you.

You see, when we say things like, “Yeah, I’m going to start that diet on January 2” or “I’m going to get back to the gym in the new year” you’re really just lying to yourself.  Sure, you may try that keto diet for a week or so and you may even hit the neighborhood globo gym a few times in January.  But, deep inside your soul you know you’ll quit.

So don’t wait.  Take control of the situation and start the moment you finish reading this article.  You see, when you take immediate action you’re subconsciously telling yourself you’re serious this time.

Now, if you’re wondering how to start… well, we’ve got your covered.  You can start with our 40 day Intentional Wellness plan by downloading the eBook below.

But if you’re not ready for that no worries.  Start by cleaning up your diet.  Run to your local grocery for lunch and pick up a salad instead of devouring that greasy burger and fries.  Then, tonight, go home and begin to clear out all the processed food from your pantry and replace it with real food.

We also cover some clean eating guidelines in the Intentional Wellness eBook but, really, it’s pretty simple.  Eat real food.  Shop on the outside of the grocery and avoid the middle (unless you need toilet paper… that’s important stuff).

Put another way… if it’s grown, or can spoil, it’s probably OK to eat.  But if you can leave it sit on your countertop for 10 days without it changing appearance or going bad… well, it’s probably poison.  Unless it’s rice.

Finally, from a fitness perspective, if you’re in no position for things like push-ups or air squats don’t despair.  Go for a 5 minute walk 3 times this week.  Then increase to 10 minutes next week.  You don’t need to go crazy.  Just start the process.  Today.

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups (or walking)!

Fight Club

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Do you remember the last time you were in a physical fight? Have you ever been in a fight? Physical confrontations normally takes place in adolescence, as boys try to prove that they have what it takes and will fight for what is just. For most of us, if we have ever even been involved in a physical altercation, it happened years ago. I wanted to jog your memory of these moments because you can put yourself back in that place and time, and recall the adrenaline coursing through your veins and the energy spent in trying to overcome your opponent. There was skill and focus required under intense pressure in order to succeed.

I bring this subject up because I recently added combatives into my workout programming and I wanted to share the benefits that I have noticed with you. By combatives, I mean throwing punches, kicks, knee strikes, and ground and pound skills using a heavy punching bag. My fitness programming is the same as what you are doing with the 40 day wellness plan, which is designed to be a high intensity interval training system. Of course, the Intentional Encounter plan starts slow and works up to more intense and varied workouts, but essentially it is the same system I have been following for the past 9-10 years to prepare myself to be a SWAT operator.

Through adding combatives to these workouts, like thirty seconds of knee strikes for instance, repeated during a workout, I have noticed several positive outcomes which I want to pass on.

Fitness Capacity

Combatives help train several of the components of the general physical skills which a fitness program should aim to increase competence in. Through the use of combatives, athletes test cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, balance and accuracy. During a workout, I have found that I have to concentrate on a certain skill set while being fatigued, and perform that skill with power, speed and accuracy in order to gain the desired combat effectiveness on a target that is needed during an actual fight.

You are a Warrior

Men in particular are made to fight. Interwoven through our lives is an innate desire to fight for the good. This comes out in a particular way in adolescence when boys hone their desire to be warriors and are ready to throw down with anyone who disrespects or dishonors them. This desire is good when properly ordered. It leads to justice on the streets where police officers, for instance, kick in doors and grapple with suspects in order to reclaim order and honor to a portion of society that has fallen away. This warrior mentality is also justly played out in military conflicts where a just cause compels a people to defend themselves with military force.

Every man has this warrior in them, whether or not you see it anymore during the normal rat race that we find ourselves in. By adding combatives to a workout, you can become more confident and apply the aggression that is within you in an appropriate way. While it is unlikely that you will need to engage in an actual physical confrontation, there is something to be said to having the skills and confidence to take care of yourself and family. It is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it as the saying goes.

Spiritual Battle

“He will destroy death forever” (Isaiah 25; 8)

Our culture reduces Christianity to a soft, “Pollyanna” worldview, but Jesus came into the world on a mission to destroy death…and he did. As Christian men, we each play a unique role in the battle to take back God’s world and are sojourners on our way back home. Combative training can provide a practical way in which we prepare our bodies and remind ourselves that we are called to be warriors for Christ. As a soldier must have a disciplined mind and body for combat, we too must gain self-mastery so that we can respond to God’s battle plan for us.

Metanoia: Turning Away From Sin

metanoiaThis past Sunday we heard the following during the Gospel Proclamation:

John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Matt 3:1, emphasis added

The word used throughout the Gospels for repent is the Greek word metanoia. This word, metanoia, literally means the changing of one’s mind through repentance. Metanoia occurs when a person examines his or her life and decides to turn away from sin and towards God.

Put another way, metanoia requires a radical change of mind, heart, and soul. But what some seem to miss is in order to achieve this radical change action, on our part, is required. In other words, it’s not enough to want to change, or say we’re going to change… we have to actually do something.

Along these lines, this past Sunday, during his homily, our Parochial Vicar challenged our congregation to seek out areas of our life that need refinement… that need change.

Obvious examples include dealing with any mortal sins we may be struggling with. But even venial sin should be dealt with since these “paper cuts” often lead to deeper, deadlier, sin over time.

Later that same evening, during dinner, my family and I talked about how we could put Father’s words into action. After some discussion we decided on a plan. Specifically, we’re now working on building each other up more than we have been. Unfortunately, we’ve fallen into a bad habit of being overly critical with one another and not always as kind as we should be. We also plan to do a “review” of how we do each day during family dinner.

So as we all continue to work our way through Advent I’d encourage you to look at how you, and your family if applicable, might also seek out ways to strengthen your relationship with God and with one another. Or, as a very wise man once said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Until next time… be holy, eat clean, and do more push-ups!

Crucial Questions

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Recently, I ran across a powerful homily from Fr. John Riccardo who is a dynamic and gifted purveyor of the Gospel. He is a parish priest in Plymouth Michigan, but shares his gifts with those who can’t attend Mass where he preaches by broadcasting them online. In this homily, Fr. Riccardo asks us a crucial question which all Christians should consider in order to have an answer for those in our culture who haven’t encountered Jesus.

The question is why should anybody follow Jesus? Listen here.

Leave us with your answer!