Category: Oikos

How to get started now

Today I moved over 8,000kg in 45 minutes. I’m tired.

I am almost 100,000kg (or 220,000lbs) into my total volume goal of 1 million pounds lifted this year using the squat, overhead press and deadlift. I really believe in these movements as the basis for strength, not just for men, but for women, as well.

A dear friend posted this comment, and I’d like to take the opportunity to help some of you who are interested in building a basis of strength to get started.

She said:

Thanks for these two posts! Am processing as a middle-aged woman who wants to be a faithful servant of the Lord and His people for as long as He gives me breath. Prov 31:17 comes to mind. Would love to hear any thoughts you might about specific physical goals for women!

Well, I’d love to share some thoughts! How about that?

It comes down to this – time. We only have so much, and we’re hoping to use our time training to make the best investment we can in our current health and long-term usefulness. So, what’s the best use of training time for most of us?

People train because it provokes adaptation. Training and exercise aren’t the same thing. Exercise is burning some calories. Training is doing specific things, aimed at stimulating specific kinds of adaptations that your body is designed to make in response to stress.

So, what kind of adaptations do we want? Well, all kinds. We’d all love to have excellent endurance, plenty of strength, crazy agility and gumby-like mobility. But it’s hard to train for all those adaptations at once. So, which one is most important? The research says strength.

Really, it says strength is the base of the pyramid, because positive strength adaptations mean you need less energy to do more (endurance), and you can usually do it faster (speed). Stronger joints get injured less frequently as you later build agility, and moving increasingly heavy weight over time (small, small increases over long, long time) builds strength in the full range of motion (mobility).

Further, strength adaptations take longer to make, but it takes a lot longer to lose strength adaptations than other kinds of adaptation. High school athletes get in adequate cardiovascular condition in two weeks before the season, and a week after the season is over, they’ve lost it. Not so with strength. Put another way, you can add adequate (not olympic, but adequate) cardiovascular fitness to a foundation of strength. But cardio fitness has no strength carry-over. You can have all the cardio endurance in the world, but it’s not going to help you pick up that bag of gravel. Cardio is good, but it’s not a good foundation.

Is this different for men and women? No. For older and younger people? No. Older people take longer to recover, but they make the same adaptations. Men and women make adaptations the same way, but the hormones responsible for those adaptations are flowing in higher volumes in men, so men get bigger and stronger. Women also get a little bigger, and lots stronger – but less so than men on both counts, usually. And everybody burns lots and lots of fat.

So, for anyone looking to build a foundation of strength, I’d recommend the following:

  • Use StrongLifts 5X5. It’s a program a Dutch guy name Mehdi adapted from the strength programs of a strength-training great. It’s excellent for beginners because it comes with youtube videos that teach you proper form, and (best of all) a free app for your smartphone that tells you exactly what to do every time you go to the gym, and tracks your progress for you. The 5 movements in this program are gold. Learn them well, incrementally increase the weight you lift every time you to the movements, and you won’t be a beginner for long. This guy will tell you to start with just the barbell. You won’t want to. BUT START WITH JUST THE BARBELL. It’s better to make small progress over a long time without stalling, than to make quick progress and stall a lot. Stalling a lot teaches your body to fail.
  • If your gym has a coach, ask him or her to teach you perfect form on those 5 lifts. Form is everything. Get those 5 lifts. Do your workout and go home.
  • If you want to scrap one of the lifts and keep it to 4, lose the bench press. There is almost no carry-over into real life for most people, as most people aren’t playing professional football or having to throw an opponent off them from their back in the UFC ring. If you only want to work with 4 movements, scrap the bench press. Maybe do some push-ups instead.
  • End of Three Fitness is a great site. I think the guy is a believer. His programs work, his advice is good, and he has the professional chops to make me trust him. Also, unlike other sites that teach you to grow strong, he doesn’t use profanity every three lines and isn’t into the frills and fluff.

I’d work with that, man or woman, young or old or in the middle. Start there, stay with that until you’re stalling all the time (unable to complete your sets frequently), and then either move on to intermediate training plans, or stay with the beginner plans (which are 90% of the gains you want to make, anyway) and start adding conditioning or sports. I.e. run.

Ok. Enough for now. Stay tuned for another post in the OneLove category soon. In fact, the system didn’t alert readers to it last time, so you may have missed one. I’d love to get your thoughts on that, so take a look and leave a comment!

Strong and True.

My strength goals

Many of you will be totally uninterested in this post. Don’t worry, my feelings aren’t hurt.

Some of you, however, are just like my friend Jim. A great guy who routinely had trouble with personal discipline. Spiritual disciplines, keeping up with homework, getting work done to raise support to go overseas as a Worker. And then he started training with weights, and much of that changed.

Some of you can feel yourself getting close to 40 and know that your best contribution to Jesus’ cosmic scheme to heal the world will happen after your 50 or 60, if you live that long and your health holds up. So you’re looking to make changes to your life, but you’re overwhelmed by all the information google gives you, and you’re struggling to find a way forward that you can stick to.

And some of you have made New Years resolutions to lose a certain number of pounds of you, but you can sense that just being lighter won’t necessarily mean you’re healthier or more useful. So, you quit the fight every February, and the way you inhabit your body continues to negatively affect the way you inhabit your spiritual life, your relationships, your marriage, your family, your friendships and your ministry.

And some of you are dangerously riding a line where stress is going to push you into a seriously diseased state if you don’t start pushing back. Panic, fear, fatigue, depression, anger….stuff that everyone tells you is spiritual is hitting you broadside and your normal spiritual means of offsetting it are going nowhere.

And, finally, some of you want to be as strong as your dad was, so your son has a good reason to tell his friends that you can beat up their dads, and so your daughter remains so in love with you that she won’t settle for less than a Christified Brawny Man for a future husband, because that’s what her daddy looked like.

So, my fitness goals are all about strength. Why, you say? Why not cardio goals? Why not some kind of cross-fit workout of the month goal? Because strength is a skill, the foundational skill to human movement. If you get strong, your heart gets strong with you. If you get cardio-fit, it goes away in two weeks of not training and you’re still weak. Strength is much harder to gain and much harder to lose. And it makes your bones denser. And changes your internal chemistry, increasing the amounts of free testosterone and human growth factor in your system, reducing the risk of literally hundreds of chronic diseases, some of which are lethal chart-toppers these days. If you get strong – not ripped, shredded, pretty, but very strong – everything else either comes naturally or is easily added to that brick-house foundation.

For me, I have a two year raw strength goal, and a one year volume goal.

Before I turn 40 (2 years from last week) I want to be able to:

Deadlift 500lbs

Squat 400lbs, and

Overhead Press 200lbs.

And in the next year, using only those 3 lifts, I want to lift a total volume of 1,000,000 lbs.

That’s what I’m after. In a coming post I’ll tell you how I’m gonna get there, but now you know that this is what mean when when I say “Athletic physicality – StrongDad”. If I get this strong, I’ll be able to enter the second half of my life (God willing) positioned to inhabit my body and my assignments well. Better than if I were doughy and weak, at least. And my kids will have a dad that can show them a third way – not the appearance-worshipping neo-GrecoRoman aesthetic way to have a body, and not the couch-sitting, chronic laziness diseased way of having a body that the cultures they’re exposed to have been showing them. My wife, too, will have a husband who, though he still can’t reach the top shelf, can open the pickles, move very heavy stuff, scare creeps away with his raw physical presence, and have a back like a gorilla (I know, that one is aesthetic, but cut me some slack).

Join in this conversation. Anyone is welcome, ladies, and gents, I’d really like to hear from you.

What strength goals do you have?

How do you use your body to more fully inhabit the gospel and become most useful to the neighbor you want to love?

How has overcoming obstacles, illness, injury and the like made you strong in unexpected ways?

What’s your plan for becoming DadStrong?


A few weeks ago I posted my Key Result Areas for the next 3 years. One of them – Me – included, “Athletic physicality – StrongDad.” I wanted to take a moment today and expound on that one a bit, in part to give me more accountability, in part to give guys out there a little help in an area that can be overwhelming and life-threatening at the same time, and in part to introduce a topic on the blog that I’ll write to now and again – namely, Strength. While this is open to all my readers, this string will be aimed at the men. Ladies, feel free to read on, but if something sounds harsh, just remember I’m talking primarily to the guys, and guys are designed to be tough 🙂

Last year I was struck by the sheer number of times we are commanded to be strong. And I was struck, almost as crisply, by the way folk on the Jesus Journey seem to almost elevate weakness. While I am the first to insist that what we do is “not by might, and not by power, but by [His] Spirit,” I also want to insist that none of the Biblical writers ever command us to be weak. They tell us we need to let the Lord’s strength fill our weakness, and they tell us not to put our trust in our strength, but they are conspicuously forceful and consistent in their command that we, as God’s people, be strong. Do a search.

It’s not helpful to spend lots of energy focusing on our weakness, apologizing for our weakness, or blaming our weakness for our lack of courage, failure of nerve, or simple unwillingness to cultivate a little fortitude. It just doesn’t help, and that issue of helpfulness is where the strength conversation becomes distinctly Christian. We want to be strong in order to be helpful, and stronger people are, on the whole, more able to be helpful than weaker people. Just pay attention to who you ask for help next time you move house. And obviously, it’s not primarily physical strength I want to draw our attention to here. When emotionally fractured or spiritually undisciplined or underdeveloped people move to a place like where I live to do this kind of work, they tend to go home pretty quick, but usually not before they implode their teams and drain them of years of vitality and potential fruitfulness. We don’t need strong people in this line of work because God likes strong people better, or because we like strong people better. We need strong people because stuff is hard and strong people can do hard stuff. And when God chooses to make them weak in a particular way, we treat that as an anomaly (as Paul did, praying fervently three times for it to leave him because he counted it an oddity), and we can learn how to inhabit God’s strength. Still, strength.

Physical strength has a role to play here, too, as we’re not gnostics and we don’t believe that our bodies are just shells and that real life is totally un-physical. The discipline, dedication, willpower and simple relentlessness it takes to become physically strong (not to get abs or to get ripped or shredded or skinny or hot or whatever ridiculous aesthetic goal present culture idolizes, but actually strong as a human being) has significant carry-over into the rest of life. Men should not be weak. It doesn’t help them be men.

So, enough for now about the Strong bit. The Dad bit is as important to me. Last year I had a month or two where I ate whatever I wanted, I didn’t train, I got up at a different time every day. Everything was just loose. I and remember thinking, “If some chump who got up at a different time every day, never did anything that amounted to mastering himself, and generally coasted, tried to marry my daughter, I’d kick him to the curb. Why in the world am I allowing myself to be that guy?” Fellas, it was a gut check.

I remembered working in the yard with my dad as a kid and being routinely amazed at how immensely STRONG he was. Not big, not strapping, not muscular. Just flippin’ strong. If he hit his thumb with the hammer, the hammer broke. Every time. He was made of iron.

At the time I was having this revelation, I was made of jello and chocolate nougat. Not iron. And I could hear the Father telling me to be strong. That part of being Dad is being the Hero. God was, I feel, inviting me to go with him into the land of strong. Into Joshua and Caleb’s yard. Into the wilderness with David and his lunatic commandos. And he was showing me how Fatherhood is the pinnacle of manhood. How being spiritual men is about being spiritual and about being men. And men, when fully formed, Father well. Even the single ones, they uncle well, and then they spiritually Father well. God was helping me sense the connection between strength (in all its forms), fathering my own kids, and the broader calling I feel to one day spiritually father leaders for the global church.

Now, I am learning more deeply of late how thoroughly every facet of life interpenetrates, conditions and informs every other area. So I’m not going to try to be spiritually strong while I “grow fat leaning on a pulpit”, as Jim Elliott was fond of saying. And I’m not going to arrange my whole life around counting calories and antioxidants and grams of gluten and stupid isolation exercises to get a nice pump and make my pecs pop. I’m going to follow Jesus into the arena where strong men are made, and I will show my sons what that means. I will be the man I want them to be. I will be the man I want my girls to marry. And I’ll use my body to get there. Just like when I fast I use my body to help the rest of me engage something real, I will use my physical training to do the same thing. Physical training only profits a little, but when leveraged as part of bringing my body into subjection, it goes a long way.

So, posts in this subject area on the blog are going to explore the role of strength in the Jesus Way, as well as discussions of physical training – and especially strength. Sometimes I’ll post my own goals, as well as my progress or lack thereof as I make my way toward strong.

For now, I’ll leave you with three quotes from the Bible on the topic.

The first from God himself to a young leader who has just inherited a task well above his pay grade (Joshua 1:6-9) –

Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”


The second from a father to his son on when it gets tough (Proverbs 24:10-12) –

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;

hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.

If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts perceive it?

Does not He who watches over your soul know it,

and will he not repay man according to his work?”


And the last from a weathered apostle, to all of us (1Cor. 16:13-14) –

“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all you do be done in love.”

Team Vagabond

I’ve been experiencing a sort of renewal of late with regard to the pragmatics of family life. To be able to make sense of what that renewal is looking like, I’ll need to build some background.

The first piece of background is something you’ve likely heard me harp on before. Individualism is silly. Not evil, not the root of all evil. Just stupid. Incongruous with reality. I’ve been saying that for years, but it’s critical to understand. The Enlightenment, which insisted (rightly) upon the value of the individual has been taken to its extreme in the West, where affluence has put people in a position where we can each take a crack at self-realization without needing the resources of our communities and families. And by affluence I mean the financial situation of the rich, middle, and lower classes in America, with the exception of the extremely poor. Having lots of disposable income has given us opportunity to buy into (literally) the myth of the self-contained human individual. In reality, there is no such thing, and the rapid dissolution of the social fabric of Western societies (far faster than any prior empire in human history) is testament to the fact that humans were never designed to live as individuals. I recall God once saying that – “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

Second – and I’ve always known this – family is important. God works through families. God saves the world through the family of Abraham. Here in Narnya, we seek families coming to trust in and loyalty to Jesus together (for several reasons). God made families. God loves families.

In my heart I’ve really pushed back against this one, though. Not because I disagree with the premise, but because I’ve been pretty appalled by the incarnations I’ve seen of this value. Leading in a church for nine years I heard the word family used in terrible ways.

“I’m looking for a church that can meet my family’s needs.” Ok. Would you like a side of fries with that? Can I supersize it for you?

Or, “We need to get back to the values this country was founded on – God and family.” That would be fine if it were a politician saying that while presenting a compelling platform. The trouble is that when I heard this (and I heard it often) the “we” referred to believers or the church. I don’t even know how to say all that is wrong with this sentence. The Way of Jesus does not exist to sustain America or the nuclear family. Nor is America God’s solution to the problem of global sin and dislocation. I’ll just stop there.

At the core, what bothered me was that when the Western church said “the church needs to help families” it tended to mean that the church’s function – ergo, the gospel’s function and God’s function – was to rescue/improve/build my family. My family didn’t exist for a greater purpose…my family was that greater purpose that God, Jesus, the Bible and the church were supposed to serve. This notion is totally contrary to the clear teachings and example of Jesus.

With each way that I heard “family” used to mean “an extension of myself” or “the consumer unit you should serve” or “the unit that you must protect from the world by cloistering it away safely”, I got less and less interested in thinking about “family”. Again, not because I didn’t love family or care about the notion. But rather because the word “family” had come to mean something different than what God means when he says it, and because it was being offered as a primary competitor or obstacle to us actually healing the world. I didn’t like that, but I didn’t know what to do with it.

So, so far we know that 1) individualism is dumb and we know that family is important to God, both as a unit to save and as a unit through which he wants to save, but 2) I have had trouble with it because no model I had seen or heard of was itself salvific – it always ended in what’s best for my family. Which is exactly the opposite of what Jesus said and what Jesus did.

That brings us to the third piece of background. Living in Narnya as an apostolic worker, the work in this particular cultural milieu can be really disintegrating for a family. Men and women live fairly segregated lives, so there hasn’t been a ton of ways for my wife and I to work together. On top of that, we’re a gajillion miles from our extended, so our kids are prone to feel even more rootless – and identityless – than we do. Our team goes a long way as a surrogate family, but we all know there is a difference. So, in recent months I’ve been praying for ways to integrate the apostolic task and our family thrive. We want our family to work together in the apostolic task in ways that increase our effectiveness, and we want the way we engage the apostolic task to increase our family’s thrive.

So, with those three pieces of background, here’s what God has been doing with us to help us along. Most of this I’m actually learning from a new friend in the Way named Jeremy Pryor. Check out his stuff at if you’re interested. What I was missing was a compelling vision of family and of my role in it, and I was missing some practical tools.

So, what if my family isn’t a group of individuals that I nurture to adulthood, when I’ll set them free to go and make disciples and whatever? And what if, conversely, my family is not the community I’m primarily to protect from the world until they are old enough to go out and create cloisters of their own? Neither of those visions are compelling to me, and they don’t make a bit of sense when lined up with the Bible, the God of the Bible, or the Christ of God. What if my family – my household, which is larger than my nuclear family, but we can start there – is my primary team, and I’m the coach and/or team captain? We don’t exist for ourselves, or for the individual success of one or more of our children. We, as Team Vagabond, work together to bless and to build people and communities until Jesus fills the whole world with himself.

That’s been the primary renewal-engendering shift: identifying my family as my primary missional team. They are not so much my primary ministry as it is that we are the people who take care of each other while we together work to heal the world. And we engage this task in ways that are compelling and that have resonance with each and all of our gifts and wirings. To make a shift like that you need new rhythms. Here are some of ours. The first three have been staples in my household for a while, the fourth is a new addition, and the fifth is a future project that I’m praying toward right now.

> Nightly bible reading/discussion and prayer. We like to use the Jesus Storybook Bible.

> Weekly Sabbath wherein we try hard to do no work and we focus on resting and allowing/encouraging one another to come to an all-stop. In a culture like Narnya, the environment sometimes doesn’t allow an all-stop (the water lines burst, the neighbors pound on the door, the police come, etc.), but we see about a 90% hit rate on this one. Without Sabbath, people de-humanize one another and begin to treat each other as units of labor – valuing one another based on what we did or didn’t get done or do right or do good enough. That can kill a family.

> Weekly huddle time (me and my lovely wife), where we check-in and plan for the coming week’s work and ministry. Usually this is on the first day of the week, but we might move it to a lunch out later in the week to get a jump on planning the kids’ inclusion in our work for the coming week.

> (Almost) daily morning Team Vagabond meeting. Here the kids review the most recent Bible stories in clusters. This helps them keep a sense of the metanarrative. We also talk about that day’s strategic goals (ministry goals or family needs), we assign the kids tasks to contribute to our family achieving those goals, and we talk through the impact that doing those tasks (as well as maintaining generous, kind, patient attitudes) will have on our success with those goals. Then, we pray toward the strategic goals and through each of the tasks. The goals could be as vague as”Today we’re going to give extra time to praying for Mr. Nick,” or as special as “Tonight Miss Junia is coming over, so we need to practice hospitality together so she can feel the welcome of God,” or as mundane as “We’ve had lots of team mates over this week and mommy needs Team Vagabond to really step up and help out today in getting the house back together.” This one addition to our rhythm has done a TON for our family and for me as I seek to lead well and to connect deeply with our kids.

> Using travel. A super cool apostolic ninja has been coaching me. He has made clear that a dad’s travel is morally neutral – it’s not bad or good for a family. It’s how it’s done that matters. As I am called upon more and more to travel to coach, teach, train and help other workers in other places, I want to take one kid with me on each trip, and occasionally the whole family. This will allow us a neat way to take advantage of our apostolic assignment to build our family, and to do our apostolic work together as a family. I’m praying for a few donors who feel with me the value of something like that and want to help us pay for our kids’ travel when I bring them with me. We’ll see how the Lord works that one out. Feel free to drop a line if helping this way rings your bell 😉

These five practices, along with engaging the task as a family team and engaging the family as a team-on-task, is what we’re doing these days. And I’m loving the effects.

I’d love questions on this one, and especially any practices or paradigms that you parents out there have found helpful as you seek to incorporate your family in the healing of the nations!