Thursday, February 28, 2013

Shut Your Mouth

You can keep talking about how fat you are, but if you don't exercise & eat better you won't get healthier. You can complain about the state of your marriage, but if you won't work at fixing it you'll just stay miserable. You can complain to anyone who will listen about your job, but if you won't look for a solution you'll just stay keep hating it.

Too often people keep complaining about their current circumstances, but refuse to do anything to change it. Sometimes the best advice we can give people is to tell them to shut up and get to work.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


As men and leaders do we realize how many people are counting on us? I think we sometimes fail to realize exactly how many people are influenced by the decisions that we make. There shouldn't be any doubt that our families are shaped by how we choose to live & the allegiance we show to them. We forget that our jobs, our friends, our peers, and even our church will be greatly affected as well.

We have a responsibility to make wise decisions and while we should be concerned with the shaping of our character we need to be motivated by the influence we have on those that are watching us. We have to be sure not to forfeit our right to lead because we choose to ignore the position we're in. The impetus to choose wisely should come from a desire for godly character and the realization of the influence we impart either way.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Not You

With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith. (2 Thessalonians 1:11 TNIV)

It gets tiring and frustrating when you are constantly striving to do what's right and find yourself falling short. I want to live a life that is worthy of my calling--not just as a pastor, but also a Christ-follower. The problem is that no matter how hard I continue to work, I will slip up at some point. I will find myself doing things that I have promised myself (and God) not to do. I know of too many people who reach the point of hopelessness as they drown in a swift current of broken resolve and self-defeat. How refreshing to read these words from Paul's pen! God is the one who makes us worthy of His calling and it is by His power that our good deeds come to life. The confidence we gain from His power providing the solution is the hope we have all been searching for.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Raising Children

I can say with certain authority that parenting is the most difficult challenge I have ever faced. You are constantly learning as your children grow & it's readily apparent that no amount of reading or previous experience can adequately prepare you for what you will endure. Proper parenting requires vision and persistent consistency. It's a balance of discipline and modeling grace. Sometimes you feel like you spend as much time praying & crying as you do laughing. Nothing can humble you faster than genuine parenting--both when your children excel in God-given opportunities and when you see your own weaknesses fleshed out in your offspring.

Even in the middle of the challenges there is tremendous joy. It's in the shared tender moments of a lasting hug, a laugh shared in public from an inside family joke, and the fervent affirmation that you are on their side. It's the pleasure found in bringing home a surprise that brings squeals, watching them stand up for what they believe in, and seeing how much they have matured.

The joys of parenting make the difficulties worthwhile and even the trials that much sweeter.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Keep Going

Perseverance and endurance are words that we understand cognitively, but have difficulty living out practically. I was inspired by a story of genuine perseverance this morning-you can read it here on one of our missionary's blogs. The woman in this story traveled for six months through difficult physical, financial, and spiritual circumstances to find healing. It would have been easy for her to quit at any time or even to convince herself of failure before beginning the journey. Instead of falling short she persevered and was able to see her hopes fulfilled and her persistence rewarded.

Why don't we have the same drive? We set mediocre goals and then fail to follow through after a few days or weeks. Couples go to counseling to improve their relationship and quickly abandon what they have learned when the 1st real conflict arises. We make a pact with ourselves not to do something again and abandon our commitment for fleeting pleasure. Without endurance we are self-appointed knights flailing at personal dragons with a flimsy sword made from our own weak-willed fortitude.

When the goal we set reflects something that is genuinely important to us, we won't stop just because the journey is difficult. Instead we will constantly remind ourselves of what we are striving towards and wrestle our way through adversity. Not only will we taste success, but our mettle will be strengthened in the endeavor. Our individual character and the character of our relationships will reflect either our lack of effort or our enduring effort.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Making a Mess

I was in my office working this morning and noticed that the carpet was wet. As I pulled back the plastic floor protector I noticed that there was no small amount of water on the carpet. Since we have had a lot of rain this week (and are expecting more) I checked on the other side of my office wall to find another puddle. I could have ignored it, but have a good idea that I would soon have a floating office if I did. Obviously, this problem won't be quickly fixed (as evidenced by the fan currently blowing on the carpet & the disarray of furniture in my office.) At this point I'm not actually fixing the problem that caused it--I'm simply cleaning up the mess and we'll deal with the main problem later.

We have the same choices in our own lives. There will be times when we are faced with a problem that we can either ignore or deal with. The results of this turmoil might leave a big mess, but after we spend some time cleaning it up we're going to need to figure out what the cause is or we'll be back in the same position again soon.

Friday, February 22, 2013

1 out of 7

I take pride in my work ethic (that is a topic to be unpacked some other time) and struggle with taking time off. I have also worked for leaders who possess exemplary work ethics which set a precedent that infiltrates the entire organization. As a result, I have a difficult time relaxing and enjoying a vacation and especially struggle with taking a day off each week. In fact, I will often battle with a touch of guilt over taking time off when I know other people are working.

I recognize that this isn't the way it should be and that it requires a shift of my perspective. Instead of trying to determine whether I deserve time away (because I have earned it) it needs to be more about simply obeying God's directive to rest. He gave us the gift of the Sabbath so that we would bring a halt to the chaotic pace of normal living and refresh ourselves. It's a day that re-energizes us and allows us to remember the important things in our lives. It provides a solid reminder that we need to depend on Him for our strength and that the universe can roll along just fine without our input--even if it's just for one day.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reflective Thoughts

I am often challenged by great quotes & thoughts. Here are a few to meditate on:

  • I must first have the sense of God's possession of me before I can have the sense of His presence with me. -Watchman Nee
  • There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. -Nelson Mandela
  • Character-the sum of our abilities to deal with life as God designed us to. -Dr. John Townsend
  • I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels. -John Calvin
  • The proof of desire is in the pursuit. -Rod Parsley
  • When values are clear, laws are unnecessary. When values are not clear, laws are unenforceable. -Goethe
  • Some people claim to be normal Christians when they actually mean they are nominal Christians. -A.W. Tozer
  • Be not angry that you can't make others as you wish them to be, since you can't make yourself as you wish to be. -Thomas A. Kempis
  • The difference between the truth that you know and the truth that you live equals the pain that you experience. -Craig Groeschel
  • Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. -God

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Surfing USA

I grew up in Daytona Beach, FL and spent many hours at the beach. We were pretty poor growing up and the beach provided days of free entertainment. I never did try to surf (didn't know anyone with a surf board) but spent hours body surfing and riding boogie boards. We would paddle out and wait for the big wave to carry us all the way to the beach.

The key to getting a get ride back to the shore was being able to catch the right wave at the right time. You had to pay attention to what was coming at you, time your move just right, and have the guts to jump on the wave to take you in. It didn't always work out the way you expected and sometimes you ended up with a bathing suit full of sand and a mouth full of seawater. 

Life isn't a whole lot different from trying to catch that wave. We can get excited by the potential of an opportunity and if we aren't paying attention, act at the right time, or have the guts to take a risk, we simply miss out. Even if we take a leap of faith you aren't guaranteed to find success. You might end up with a bad taste in your mouth and a chafing sensation that rubs you the wrong way. You then have to decide whether you're going to wade back out for another chance or give up and sit on the shore. I can assure you that very little adventure happens while we sit watching other people look for the next wave of opportunity.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Great One

I was listening to ESPN radio in my car the other morning (no shocker there) and heard a sportswriter talking about his recent, lengthy interview with Michael Jordan. The quote that got my attention was, "Greatness up close can be really ugly."

Sadly, the same characteristics that make for mesmerizing competitiors, powerful leaders, and people of influence can be difficult to stomach up close. People who are used to the limelight aren't always able to adjust to stepping aside or sharing that light as abilties wane. The greatness that brings worldly success can reflect an incredibly large ego, a lack of compassion, and a continual insistence on being right. I would wager that once the moments of grandeur are over it leaves a very unsatisfying aftertaste in a spirit that keeps searching for the greatness that once seemed so easily attainable and unending.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Begin Again

There is something about a blank whiteboard that hints of promise. It's the potential for a sermon to be fleshed out as I study. It's creative space for camp planning and the assorted details that go with it. The white space can be used to map out ideas for developing leaders, for writing task lists, for writing thoughts to meditate on for a few days or weeks. 

Metaphorically, it means even more. It's the fresh start we get with God each day when we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. It's the beginning of healing in a relationship when you are both willing to learn from the past and move forward in unity for the future. It's an unwritten end to your own story with the details left to be filled in as you decide what your next steps are. The blank space waits for our obedience, sacrifice, and risks of faith as we believe in the promises God has already given to us. 

Something will be written on that board and we active participants in deciding what it will be.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Do It Anyway

I don't feel like blogging today. I have a list of the reasons why I don't want to do it and yet I find myself sitting down to write anyway. My main motivation is that I have been blogging daily since November and don't want to let one afternoon of indifference keep me from continuing that streak of writing. Honestly, there are going to be days when you just do what you need to do even if you don't necessarily feel like it. The discipline of eating right, exercising, reading your Bible, praying, staying focused at work, and investing in your family will pay off in the long run. On the days when your motivation is low and you feel like giving up it's still important to maintain your commitment. Nothing worthwhile is ever accomplished by only being disciplined when we are highly motivated.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Great Unknown

My family & I were blessed to attend the wedding of a special young couple today. They have been in love for quite some time and we knew long ago that this is where they would end up. As I sat holding hands with my wife of 18+ years during the ceremony, I thought about the journey this couple is beginning. There is no way to predict the specifics of what their future holds. I do know they will experience triumph, sorrows to battle through, fights and the joy of making up, and the great works of God in their lives.

I'm not envious of the start of their marriage, but am joyful for the unknown that they will face together with God's blessing. I can look at the success of my own marriage and smile in anticipation of the life they will build together.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Deep Longing

There is a deep longing in each of us for the freedom that only God can bring.We settle for filling that desire with a poor substitutes that leave us less than satisfied and frantically searching for something more. When we gain a glimpse of the purity of God's way, it stirs our soul and touches us spiritually in ways that outshine all our other efforts. It gives us a taste of something that we have been striving to find. The packaging may be in a quiet moment, the unexpected kindness of a stranger, genuine compassion in the face of tragedy, or in the power of a song.

I saw some of that in a video clip from American Idol today. There is no doubt this young lady is talented, but there is something even more engaging about the song that she has written & performed. I can see the impact of the words on the faces of the judges and know that it stirs in them the same thing it does in me--the cry of redemption and restoration as we are set free.

You Set Me Free by caseycarlsonx1

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Half Life

Today is an anniversary for my wife and I--it was on Valentines Day in 1992 that we had our first date. We had talked & semi-flirted for a while and had made a pact in early January that we would be each other's compensation dates on Valentines Day if neither of us had one. As the day drew closer neither one of really wanted to find someone else, but were eagerly anticipating the time together. I remember purposefully waiting to kiss her until that night (even though I had walked her to her dorm room many nights before the 14th.) I knew she was something special, but had no idea on that day in 1992 that she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I did know it in 1993 on our one-year dating anniversary when I asked her to marry me.

Although we hit this milestone for her a few years ago (since she is younger than me) we have now been together for half of my life. These 21 years may seem like a long time together, but I can say with confidence that another 21 years won't be enough time either.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Manly Men

Most men are very concerned with their image (present company included) and work to make sure that image is maintained. We make it a goal to maintain a "manly" demeanor that is always strong. When it's applied incorrectly it damages our relationships and reduces the integrity of our character. Our goal of appearing strong is actually eliminated as we reveal our insecurity and weakness. 

Even though it might seem contradictory to what we have been taught, we can make the conscious choice to say things that will show we are a real man:
  • I'm sorry
  • I was wrong
  • I forgive you
  • How can I help?
  • Thank you
  • I love you
  • I need help
  • I don't know
The truth is that strength is found in authentic vulnerability and humility.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sharing the Middle Places

I am blessed with a wife who has a phenomenal way with the written word. She has several woman friends who share this gift and who were kind enough to let their husbands step in to write for them on their Middle Places blog this week. My turn was yesterday--check out the link below & feel free to peruse the other postings.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Man Alive

In his book, Man Alive, Patrick Morley speaks to the heart of men who are looking for validation and inspiration as they pursue a deeper purpose in their life. His commitment to men's ministry is evident in his body of work, but never has it been more evident than in his most recent book, Man Alive. He writes with the wisdom of his years of experience in men's ministry, but admits his own vulnerability as well. He is able to accurately pinpoint the root causes of the struggles men face and identify the life changes that need to take place to address them.

In his opening chapter, Morley accurately identifies the shortfall that all men are facing: the lack of transformation through the power of God's Word. His assessment of a man's desire to be a powerful leader is correct as is his assertion that we fail when we neglect to pursue it through God's means. This lack of spiritual connection is the fundamental flaw in the development of our character and leads to dysfunctional relationships as a spouse, parent, friend, and industry leader.

I have always been a fan of Patrick Morley's writing and the ministry he leads for men. Even though I have enjoyed his other books, I firmly believe this is his best work to date. I accredit most of this to his years of ministry experience and his careful analysis of the psyche of men who are searching for purpose. I highly recommend this book for any man and even for Christian wives seeking to help their husbands improve their relationship. I am adding this book to the reading list for my men's group and look forward to re-reading it in the near future.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Life Hurts

Sometimes life is difficult. I'm not talking about small interpersonal conflicts or stress at work, although they can create a tension to be managed as well. I'm writing specifically about the gut-wrenching pain that we suffer when things go horribly wrong. It's the hammering of your heart in your chest as the doctor tells you that you have cancer. It's the deep sorrow that envelopes your soul as you learn of an unexpected death. It's the shock and pain of discovering you have been betrayed by someone you trust. It's the incredible sense of loss when that person you love has walked out of your life for good.

I haven't endured all of these, but I have experienced enough to know how deeply these can wound you. In the middle of the initial shock and recovery you often feel as if you can't see past the pain. When we see those we care about suffering we want to help, but often don't know what to say or do. There are no easy answers and often the cliche statements (although spoken with good intentions) don't appease the pain.

When life hurts perhaps the best thing we can do is simply be with the people we care about. Words aren't even necessary, but we can provide comfort through our tears and our intentional presence. We learn to trust in the God of peace and the comfort that He brings through us as we share in the grief of our loved ones. Trusting in His soothing Spirit is better than any words we can speak.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Self Check-Up

We had intended to open our services tomorrow by dropping things into a small pool on stage and seeing how big of a splash we could create. Unfortunately, the pool had a leak in it and now there is water on the stage instead. I had even stacked two kiddie pools inside one another and laid down plastic, but apparently the leak was big enough that those steps didn't matter. It's clear now that I should have checked the pools more thoroughly before putting water in them.

We should regularly examine ourselves in the same manner. We can't assume that our spiritual relationship is still strong when we don't perform regular checkups. It's foolish to assume that your marriage is rolling right along when you haven't stopped to assess the health of your spouse. Don't pretend that your children are just fine because their schedules are busy when you haven't paused to really find out how they are doing. Failing to be diligent in faithfully examining ourselves will leave a bigger mess than a puddle of water on the carpet.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Good Together

My wife and I will have been a couple for 21 years next Thursday. I've written in this space many times about what a lucky man I am and the incredible relationship we have with each other. As much as I could fill this blog with poetic words about my wife's strengths and our marriage, I won't do that today. I will simply say this: we are good together. As cheesy as it sounds, we complete each other. We are able to provide a balance of thought and emotion for one another that other people just can't fill. I am her solid rock and calming presence and her thoughts, reflections, and insights are the ones that matter the most to me. We can make things right for each other simply by being together--even if it's just conversation over a cup of coffee. It's a good fit for us & I couldn't be happier or more blessed to go through life with such a complementary companion.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Speed It Up

When I was working in athletic training there was always a lot of pressure to get athletes back on the playing field as soon as possible. This was a shared desire among coaches, athletes, parents, administration, and even the athletic training staff. One of the most common questions was, "What can you do to speed up the healing process?" The truth is that you can't speed up the natural process of healing. What you can do is create optimal conditions for the body to heal itself. You can work to remove obstacles that slow down the natural process and in turn set the athlete's body up for success. 
When we suffer emotional, mental, or spiritual damage the same principle applies. We want to be healed from this trauma right away, but there is always a process we must go through. 

What should we do to remove obstacles to healing? 
  • Work actively towards forgiveness
  • Practice persistent & consistent prayer
  • Have accountability with people we trust
  • Immerse ourselves in Scripture
  • Confess & repent our sins
While we can't necessarily speed up healing, we can work to eliminate things that will impede our forward progress.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Top Rated

It's national signing day for college football programs and the debate over which school has the best recruiting class is in full swing. Experts (both paid & amateur) have been analyzing the talents of young men and their potential impact and future success. I admit to reading the reviews of the programs and their new players (especially in regards to my beloved Gators who have either the 1st or 2nd rated class depending on who you believe.) It is a time of year that brings increased hope to some programs and lowers expectations for others.

The truth is that no games are won in the recruiting wars. Just because a young man had great stats in high school football doesn't mean that he will succeed at the next level. Opposing teams are not going to automatically forfeit just because their opposition had a higher recruiting rating either. The game must be played within the same set of rules for each team and the team with better preparation and execution will win most contests. The success these recruits have had in their past only serve as part of the preparation for the future, but don't guarantee a win alone. 

The same principle applies to leadership. Our past success does not guarantee future gain, but provides a foundation to build on. We have to continue to be diligent in our preparation, execution, and protection of our integrity to experience the victories we are working towards.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Back in Time

What would my 41 (almost 42) year old self like to say to my 20 year old self?
  • Don't spend so much time at work--go home & be with your family
  • Not everybody is thinking about you--don't take everything so personally
  • Develop a better exercise plan now--you'll develop a pattern of health that you can stick with instead of yo-yoing back & forth with your weight
  • Credit cards are not an opportunity to spend just because they have a high credit limit and no, the minimum payment won't pay things off
  • Buy stock in Apple and Disney.
  • Have the hard conversations with people early in the conflict process. Waiting months (or years) won't make it better on its own--it really just makes it worse.
  • Assume the best about people and not the worst--don't be stupid with your trust in others, but give them a chance.
  • You don't have all the answers so stop acting like you do. Be humble enough to listen to people with different & more experience. Not everything they share with you will be "gold" but you'll gain enough to be a better person if you pay attention.
  • Don't pass up opportunities to show kindness to people--those close to you & those who can't do anything for you. You'll feel better about it and so will they.
  • Do the right thing as a parent when your children are young & you won't have to work so hard to correct your mistakes when they are older.
  • Make room for God in your daily life & don't just keep Him for the weekends. You'll find much more satisfaction in your relationship this way.
  • Don't be such a jerk when people disagree with you. It's a really unattractive quality.
  • Protect your mind. You might think it doesn't matter, but it will later lead to actions you will regret if you don't.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Setting the Pace

We are in Florida visiting my family for a couple of days--it's always good to have a full house & spend time with each other. I got up early this morning & spent some time reading and drinking coffee (as I usually do) before heading down to their exercise room. After biking I was sitting outside cooling off and was reflecting on the idea of establishing a healthy rhythm. It's something that is not always easy to do, but I am convinced is essential for health and productivity.

This isn't just about finding regularity in your routines. I firmly believe it's a matter of operating within your strengths to maximize fulfillment in your life. It's the discipline of creating time for your family to thrive, engaging in physical activity to increase health, developing spiritual devotion, and investing time in growing our natural abilities for true fulfillment. It's a conscious effort to rearrange our lives around the most healthy rhythm for growth.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Make a Wish

Discontent is found in "I wish" statements. They represent our interpretation of a present or past circumstance and the desire to create a change. This isn't necessarily a negative thing depending on the resulting action, but it usually isn't properly focused. 

We can allow our "wish" statement to cause us to pursue material things as we search to fulfill deep longings that cannot be filled with temporary objects. This leads to brief periods of satisfaction with promotions, new technology, bigger homes, shopping, and saving. This type of discontent can only be alleviated for short periods of time however as we always end up searching for the next, newest, big thing.

We do have the choice of utilizing our discontent as an impetus for change as we transform our personal relationships and actively work to improve the world around us. The truth is that we are all wired to be discontent--to search for something bigger and better, but too often fail to realize what we really should be looking for. Aligning our hearts with God will shift the source of our wishfulness so that we care about the things He does. This change of perspective will certainly lead to a change in our actions.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Always Good

God isn't like the parent who gives praises to a child only when they make good decisions and then blasts them when they mess up. If that was the case, I'd be in God's doghouse (much) more often than I would be out of it. Fortunately, God's goodness is not determined by my obedience. He is slow to anger, abounding in love, and continues to share good things with His children even if we haven't done anything to deserve such blessings. This doesn't negate the need for me to follow His commands, but it reinforces the perfection of His Holiness. He is the God of all good things and is willing to dispense them liberally to His children.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Make It Count

We had another family dinner tonight--me, my gorgeous wife, and our three beautiful daughters. It was a delicious meal filled with laughter, talking over each other, and interrupting one story to begin another one. We read Scripture and talked about what it means to each of us as a part of our nightly family devotional. There were movie quotes, improvisational songs, random humor, and love shared all around. We even almost had a drink spit across the table in laughter.

I was cleaning up the kitchen when the thought occurred to me: we now had one less family dinner together than two hours ago. It wasn't a depressing thought (maybe a little) but it did reinforce to me the need to value every experience we have together now. We need to make sure to take advantage of every chance we have to laugh, love, teach, encourage, hug, and eat together. It's a reminder to all of us to soak up every experience we have with the people we care about because this particular moment can't be repeated or saved for the future.