Friday, February 28, 2014

A Little Out There

Sandy Alderson, the general manager of my New York Mets, set a goal of 90 wins for the team this year. That's a fairly audacious aspiration since we haven't sniffed the playoffs in several years and have only averaged a win total in the 70's recently. Some people are calling his statement ridiculous and foolish, but there is some sense to his declaration. Setting a goal that will take hard work and favorable circumstances can be an effective way to motivate and inspire players. It's certainly better than setting an objective of mediocrity.

What goals are we setting for ourselves? Are they easily attainable? Are they worth it if they can be reached without a combination of disciplined effort and time? There is some wisdom in putting manageable steps into lofty goals, but to challenge ourselves and grow we should shoot a little higher than what we've done in the past. Stretching to reach a new height can bring about new gains in personal strength and maturity as well as uniting a team with a common focus.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

It's Pretty Simple

Our community suffered a great loss this week as Freedom Church lost their senior pastor, Brother Wendell Thomas. I only had the pleasure of meeting him on a few occasions during my limited time here, but always found him to be a very pleasant and positive man. As people have continued to mourn, my eyes have been opened to his incredible influence and legacy.

I heard a brief anecdote today at his funeral that made me laugh while also reminding me of what is most important. A local pastor had asked Wendell what they were doing since the church was growing. I assume he was looking for some philosophy of church development or ground-breaking technique. Apparently Wendell simply responded, "We love Jesus and we love people." The other pastor followed up by asking, "Is that it?!" Wendell's response was simple without being ridiculing. He apparently replied, "Well, what else is there?"

This speaks of a man that knew what God had asked us to do: love the King and love other people. There were no fancy strategies or complicated techniques. It was simply a matter of following what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments. How much better would our communities be if Christ-followers chose to follow this model in all that they did? How many more thriving churches would there be if they kept their focus on these two principles?

Thank you Brother Wendell for your faithful testimony. It's a powerful reminder of where our focus needs to be.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Old & New

"Never confuse change for a lack of respect for tradition." Buck Showalter

Buck is the manager for professional baseball's Baltimore Orioles and a former major league player. He is a well-respected leader who is extremely intelligent and well-versed in baseball history. While he understands the value of change and progress, he clearly values the foundation that history has built for the present. Buck appreciates what has been done while also working with today's leaders to move forward.

Recognizing the need for growth while honoring tradition is a delicate balance. Too often leaders are passionate about the potential of the future and neglect to pay homage to the past. Even when a cultural shift is necessary there should be some recognition of the traditions that have build a solid foundation. It's the decisions and actions of the past that have allowed this moment in the present to take place.

In case we might forget: the change of today will become the tradition of tomorrow. We'll take it more personally when it's our revolutionary shift that is now being phased out for something new. Treating traditions with respect while continuing to move forward creates momentum that honors the past and the future.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

First or Last?

Is God the first thing we turn to or the last? Is He an after thought once we've tried everything else or do we seek Him above all things? Our response reflects our true estimation of our abilities and the value we assign to God. 

I can admit that I've reacted to problems both ways. Sometimes I've stepped up to address a situation believing confidently in my own abilities and only looking for divine intervention when I'm unable to make it better. In other (frankly, more mature moments) I stop to ask God for guidance first and then continue to trust Him in the process. The interesting thing is that I have more peace when I start my process with God regardless of the outcome. I tend to react more calmly and with more confidence when God is my primary source of help.

In which direction do you turn when things get tough?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Planned Coincidence

So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. 
As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz...Ruth 2:3

Without the benefit of a Biblical history lesson this verse may not make a whole lot of sense. Suffice it to say, Ruth (our heroine) went to work in the exact field that she needed to for the most success. This man (Boaz) possessed high character and was the right family for her to marry into even though that was not her original aim. As it turned out, she was in the best position she could possibly be in for her future.

I don't believe in coincidence. I just can't bring myself to believe that I just happened to cross paths with someone or that it was accidental that I was in the right place at the right time. I've seen far too much evidence in my own life to attribute personal interactions to chance. I instead choose to put my confidence in a divine, sovereign God who sees more than I ever could see. I believe that He is guiding me into scenarios that are directly for my benefit and intended to guide me down the right path. 

Some might argue that my perception of this is irrelevant as long as I accept the "happenstance" and move forward. I would quietly disagree. My faith in God's path helps me to keep my eyes constantly open as I wait for these divine, seemingly random moments to appear. My willingness to recognize God's direction in all of this makes me keenly aware of the value of each interaction and incident in my life. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Unexpected Generosity

I'm not an avid follower of NASCAR, but do read a bit more about it online during my hometown's Daytona 500. I was checking the web version of the newspaper this morning and ran across a story involving driver Kevin Harvick. He was flying into Daytona Beach and saw a fan on Twitter named Louise Groomer. While he doesn't normally engage fans via social media he chose to talk to her & her husband while traveling. By the time he landed he decided to treat the Groomers to an all expense paid trip to the 500. This include their flights, accommodations, and luxury suite tickets to the event today. Needless to say, it was an incredible act of unexpected generosity.

I can't match that level of giving and don't know that many people could do so on a whim. I also believe that we don't have to give thousands of dollars away to practice generosity either. We can do so in many simple ways whether it is anonymously paying for someones meal, donating to their mission trip, or paying for for the car behind you in the drive through. It just requires that we have an open attitude towards people, resources to share (no matter how small they might be), the willingness to take a risk, and the commitment to making it happen. 

Unexpected generosity has the opportunity to immediately change people--the one who receives as well as the giver.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

First Step

A small beginning is better than none at all. Unfortunately we often want to make a big splash and hesitate to leap into something without grandiose plans and expectations. The truth is that we can spend so much time trying to perfect something that we delay taking action. Don't fly into something blindly, but sometimes we just have to take a risk and take action in a small, positive way. It won't always be exactly like you drew it up but that doesn't mean it wasn't successful. The positive momentum gained from taking that first step can eventually build into what you hoped for.

The longest journeys are started with a first step.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Creating a Spark

It's a good idea to ask yourself if the things you are doing make a difference. I regularly check my actions to see if what I spend my time on is catalytic in nature. In other words, is it creating momentum in a positive direction or just checking off a task list? While that sounds like a lofty goal, I think it can be expressed much more simply than that by asking if what I did that day/week made a difference. 

I think we make a difference in more ways than we are aware. It can be deliberate acts of kindness like paying for a stranger's coffee, baking cinnamon rolls to appreciate teachers, or letting someone in front of you in the checkout line. It can be through our deliberate, faithful prayers for other people's relationships and for physical healing. Differences are made with the intentional time we set aside to spend with our families-from a family dinner to coffee dates and random conversations. Our impact is felt when we volunteer at church and in the community. Speaking words of encouragement simply for lifting other people up will make a bigger difference than we realize.

Determining what we do that has a catalytic effect may not sound simple, but hopefully we can see the things we do that are making a difference each day. It's the day-to-day little things that build our character and help bring positive change.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


If you only look at what you're doing from one viewpoint you won't ever see anything differently. Not only can this lead to a jaded outlook, it can cause you to miss something important. 

How can we change our perspective?
  • Intentionally look at something from a different angle.
  • Giving someone else the freedom to speak about what they see in your life.
  • Changing a routine to allow freshness into an important discipline.
  • Shifting your schedule to do important things at different times than usual.
  • Looking for a specific way to change the pace of your thinking.
  • Seeking input from a trusted individual who may not know you well, but can offer fresh insight.

This isn't mandatory, but it is certainly helpful if you want to bring vitality and a unique perspective to your life and calling. It may reveal some uncomfortable truths and give you the opportunity to mature in new ways in the process.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Stability & Peace

How do you react when things around you seem to be moving faster than you can control? How do you respond when difficulties arise in the middle of routine? Where do your instincts lead you when traumatic and catastrophic events occur?

Some will be tossed and tumbled by what happens. They won't be sure of their next response or how to find a way to stand on their feet. Others will be calmly stable as their circumstances rush by them--not distant and removed, but carefully surveying the present and determining what the next best steps to recovery will be.

There is no guarantee that we will automatically be in one category or another, but I am certain that a consistent, growing relationship with Christ is the key to finding peace. It's the strength gained from the indwelling Holy Spirit that makes the difference in our response and gives us the ability to be calm when everything else is in chaos.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Best

"I'm doing the best I can!"

We won't ever be completely prepared for what life brings us. We won't have all of the knowledge we think we need to accurately process what's happening. No matter how much experience we might have we won't be able to predict the future with 100% accuracy. Even when it seems like we are making the right decision we can't guarantee that the consequences and benefits will unfold how we hoped. This unpredictability is a factor of life.

What I do know is that I can continue to do what I know is right as I am guided by God. I can put my trust in Him above all other things and continue to do the very best that I can in this moment. I can deliberately decide to keep doing what is right and trust that my God (who sees & know all things) will make all things work out for the good of those who love Him. My cry of "I'm doing the best I can!" doesn't have to be one of exasperation, but a confident claim in God's ability to work through the most fulfilling and most trying of my circumstances. It means that I will continue to do the best I can right now and trust that God will reward my faithful intentions.

There is a life-affirming value in bringing our best to the One who is the best.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Some college students decided to build a huge snowball this past week and see how big they could make it. Unfortunately, what seemed like a good idea quickly got out of control. As the snowball continued to grow it became unmanageable and unpredictable. They were no longer able to stop its momentum and eventually it crashed into one of the dorms causing damage to the wall.

That's a very similar path to sin in our lives. We start something thinking that it's a good idea and find out quickly that we are no longer in control. As our choices pile on top of each other the results of our behaviors start to become unmanageable and unpredictable. When we operate on our own we find that we can't seem to slow down the momentum of our consequences and eventually we cause damage to the people around us.

What can we do to make sure we don't see a snowball effect in our sin?

  • Recognize that something is starting to build up.
  • Get outside help if we don't think we are capable of seeing these potential pitfalls.
  • Stop patterns of destructive behavior before they get too big too handle.
  • Fall back on the old advice, "Don't start none, won't be none."

These college students didn't intend to do any harm with their snowy experiment. For most of us the same is true in our sinful experimentation. It's best to bring it to halt while it's still within our power to do so.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Generational Influence

After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Judges 2:10 

It can be too easy to blame the current generation for their poor choices. We can sit back and shake our heads at the decline of morality and the apparent lack of old-school values. Unfortunately, it's not entirely accurate to point fingers of accusation at the present generation without admitting our own faults. Where is our level of blame?

  • Have we taken the time to engage in dialogue about values so that they can be passed on?
  • Are we sharing stories of victory in trials and how we managed to make it through?
  • Are we also sharing stories of defeat and the lessons that we learned?
  • Are we engaging this generation in a way that respects their passion & abilities while giving them a chance to contribute to the overall story?
  • Do we recognize the need to be loving, patient mentors--not for our own sake, but for the purpose of helping someone mature and fulfill their potential?
  • Do we understand that this has to be a journey together? It should be a shared investment of respect and unconditional love for it to truly benefit both people.

Leaders, churches, and families can't sit back and complain about the upcoming generation without realizing our responsibility to help raise them the right way. If we aren't willing to be part of the solution then we're just perpetuating the problem.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Lack of Value

Are you in love with the principle of something or just the idea of it? You can talk about an ideal, but if you don't do anything about it then it's not personally important. It's a matter of moving from philosophical agreement to an action statement. Our actions (or inaction) will define what we truly believe.

  • I believe in saving for the future, but keep spending without a budget or idea of what I am working towards.
  • I love my family, but I am spending all my extra time on hobbies & not together.
  • I value a peaceful attitude, but I'm always flying off the handle emotionally instead of calmly processing.
  • I want to have good health, but I keep finding excuses not to exercise & rationalizing my eating.
  • I value purity, but I keep focusing on things that cause lust and refuse to get help for addictive habits.
  • I want to make a difference in the community, but instead I keep sitting around talking about it over coffee without being generous with our personal resources.

There has to be a corresponding action with a stated value or else it's not really a value. Define what's important to you and then figure out a way to do something about it.

Friday, February 14, 2014

No Idea

It was 22 years ago today that Dana & I had our first date and 21 years ago that I proposed to her. She had no idea what she was saying "yes" to when she responded to my question. Honestly, I had no idea what I was really asking her. We just knew that we were in love and wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. We couldn't have predicted:

  • How hard we would have to work to see our relationship grow
  • The joy our three children would bring us 
  • The trials & triumphs that we would have in parenting them
  • The sorrow we would endure as we lost loved ones
  • The comfort we would gain from each other in those moments
  • The completely unexpected events of life (cancer, pregnancies, job loss)
  • The depth of connection and maturity these events would bring us
  • Our level of spiritual growth and focus on God
  • A level of completion that we bring to each other
  • The depth & intensity of our passion for one another
  • That this is the life we would be living right now

I couldn't have foreseen the winding path of our journey together, but I have no regrets. The uncertainty of these travels is that much more satisfactory when I can travel with the love of my life. I don't know what lies ahead anymore than I did 22 years ago, but I do know who I get to travel with on this path. That's all the security I really need.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Scar Tales

I have a few scars on my body: one on my forehead from tackling a church pew at 3 years old, one on my hand from catching a broken ceramic bowl and getting 10 stitches, and a couple on my right knee from arthroscopic surgery many years ago. My wife has her own collection ranging from c-sections to cancer-related surgeries, and nerve reattachment in her finger.

Our body's scars tell personal stories of accidents, healing, and recovery. Our emotional scars do the same even though they may not be as outwardly visible. Sometimes our inward scars scare us and we try to hide them instead of confronting them and then telling our story of healing and recovery. For our own growth and the benefit of others, we have to not be afraid to tell those stories. Our testimony can encourage others and speak of the healing power of God in our lives. They help describe who we are and the journey we have taken to be at this point. We can help people in similar circumstances endure the hard parts of recovery and realize that they aren't alone in the painful part of their journey.

My scars don't inhibit me like they used to, but they do remind me of the path I've taken to get here and the power that is found in sharing recovery.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Icy Buildup

If I throw a piece of ice in the sidewalk it won't make the news. No one is in danger of losing their power or having tree branches fall on their roof and car. It's when the winter storm hits and ice builds up on the trees that we are in danger. The combined accumulation threatens our safety and comfort.

Sin is dangerous and threatens our well being, but when it is allowed to accumulate it is extremely harmful. The combined effects of lying, gossip, lust, and pride can threaten to topple our families, destroy our reputation, and diminish our influence. The best way to prevent that additive effect is to regularly clean out our lives through confession and repentance. Don't allow it to build up to the point of catastrophic damage or you may find it too big of a mess to clean up.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

It's Your Move

I've been reminded this week of a lesson that I already have been over far too many times. No matter what my scope of influence is, no matter how much I pray, regardless of the passion and intent behind what I say, I can't make another person do something. I can plead, cajole, administer tough love, gently nudge, and model good (and poor) decision making and I am still unable to make someone choose wisely.

My children are going to make decisions that I will not agree with (some that will cause them pain and disappointment) and I won't be able to stop them. People that I have invested in over the years will defy logic and wisdom and make decisions that will obliterate their life as they currently know it. There will be those that come to me seeking counsel that will ignore what I share with them at the next convenient moment.

I can choose to be overly frustrated by these unfolding circumstances and quit or continue to prayerfully push ahead and do what I know is right. It's really not a difficult decision to make, but it doesn't mean that the disappointment is any less when you see people suffering due to the pathway of their own choosing.

Monday, February 10, 2014

It Hurts

The beginning of the process of change is always painful. There will be moments of difficulty in the days ahead, but the initial steps of change are never easy to manage. One of the most powerful motivators to continue is the passion for a different future--having our vision fixed on a distant goal that can't be achieved by doing the same thing we've always done.

We have to continue to keep that picture out in front of us or we'll give up during the struggle to create new habits. Write that potential future down, talk about it often, and remind yourself what it is that you're truly aiming for. Sometimes it's the hope for something better that motivates us to keep striving when the journey of transformation seems too strenuous to travel.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Hardest Task

I've had several different jobs in my life ranging from outdoor maintenance to fast food, telemarketer, professional theater, caterer, waiter, manager, teacher, athletic trainer, and pastor. They all have had their inherent challenges and levels of difficulty. i honestly say however, that the most challenging thing I have ever undertaken is the role of a parent.

Nothing stretches my prayer life more, reorients my thinking, or teaches me patience like being a father.There is a constant balance between my initial reaction and what is actually best for our kids. I carefully consider my responses to new circumstances as I think of what is best for them and what I should do to help prepare them for their future. We are striving to teach them the better way to make personal life choices and to carefully consider where the path they choose will lead them.

I do worry about them and not because they are "bad children." I worry like any other parent would about the influences that will be around them and the constant questions that I ask of myself: did we do the right things in raising them to prepare them for this world? Did we show them enough of the beauty of the world around them that they can see all the wonder there is to experience? Did we give them enough confidence to be who God has created them to be? Will the hold fast to their upbringing in Christ and deny the influence of those that would pull them off of this path? Through our flawed parenting and many (many) mistakes have we done the best we can to set them up for God's preferred future for them?

I can't completely answer those questions. I do know that my wife & I trust that God will fill the gap between our hopes & the reality of what we have done. It's the best we can do as parents.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


We will find success more often when we know what is expected of us. It's difficult to achieve objectives when they are unclear. You can work diligently, investing great emotional & spiritual energy only to discover that your efforts were wasted on the wrong track. It's why we need clear communication in our personal relationships as well as in our career calling. Without this clarity you can expend a great deal of energy only to find out that you are no closer to your desired objectives than when you began.

God doesn't want us to do that to ourselves so He gives us specific directions to help us as well. He wants us to see the importance of how we speak and what our hearts are intently focused on. It's by following His pathway that we can be assured of making progress in the right direction.

Psalm 37:30-31   The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak 
what is just. The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

No Shortcuts

"Our tendency as human beings is to favor the quick over the slow, the cheap over the expensive, and the easy over the difficult. That’s why we often seek the fastest shortcut to the biggest bang." Brad Lomenick

It's only in the most rare of circumstances that success comes quickly. For genuine, satisfactory success there is a great deal of patience, learning, failure, and character shaping that lead to that point. It requires a vision for our future, identifying the pathway to achieve it, and the hard work of preparation and personal molding to make it a reality.

I believe that success doesn't come to everyone because of the length of the process to find it. We tend to be impatient people who want results immediately after our efforts. It's a reflection of the microwave culture we live in--expecting instantaneous results for minimal effort. The most worthwhile things are worth waiting for and we'll value them even more after our sustained, often lengthy, efforts.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Game Plan

There are a lot of people that can be in charge, but that doesn't make them a leader. The best leaders don't just move an organization forward or add to their resume, but they intentionally invest in their followers. They are able to see individual strengths and weaknesses and create opportunities for people to contribute in the best way. These leaders don't see people as an asset to use up, but as individuals with incredible potential to grow. They recognize each person's gifts and understand that as they develop the staff that the organization will mature as well.

I recently read that good leaders play checkers (every piece moves the same and in the same direction) while great leaders play chess (exponential potential based on each piece.) I think the fundamental difference is in the maturity of the leader who understands the responsibility of the leader to their followers. The most effective leader is able to bring out the best in those that are following them.

How are you leading?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

No Regrets

I've seen people who tattoo this on themselves as a symbol of their willingness to take risks. Adopting this as a life philosophy is sometimes used as validation for poor decision making and an excuse for recklessness. In spite of that possibility I want to adopt this motto for my own life. I don't intend for it to be a license to take foolish risks, but instead as motivation to leverage every opportunity:

  • Always telling my family that I love them
  • Stopping what I'm doing to have conversations with my daughters
  • Giving my wife a good night kiss
  • Holding my wife's hand whenever I can
  • Praying for people in the moment they ask
  • Taking risks of generosity with our finances
  • Seeing strangers in need and engaging them in that moment
  • Seizing a unique opportunity of faith that takes us out of our normal routine
  • Investing in a potential leader who might not fit the typical mold
  • Breaking out of routines and stretching my thinking
  • Establishing new disciplines that help me overcome poor lifelong habits
I don't want to have a ton of regrets at the end of my life, but I want to make sure it's for the right reasons.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Teachable Moments

You can't expect what hasn't been taught. 

I use this phrase quite often when people put expectations on others who don't know any better. It is a challenging statement meant to remind us that there is often a genuine lack of knowledge in our population. It isn't always an indication of complete ignorance, but instead highlights a need for education. It is a challenge to those with experience and maturity to invest in the people who are desperate for direction. There is an obvious spiritual element to this, but it also spills over into all areas of life. Instead of ranting about the problems we see this should motivate us to be part of the solution. Christian married couples should find a younger couple to mentor, older husbands & fathers should look for younger men to invest in, mature women should seek out women in need of direction and support, and experienced leaders should discover inexperienced leaders to develop. Educating others with grace, patience, and compassion should be a common calling of a Christ follower. A transformed community is best accomplished through the power of mutual investment, shared stories, and dedicated concern for others.

If we aren't willing to be part of the solution and share the life lessons we have painstakingly learned, then we forfeit the right to complain about the problem.

Monday, February 3, 2014

God Built

Patrick Morley continues to work to impact men for the cause of Christ and to equip them to lead as godly men. His latest book, How God Makes Men, furthers that work in a practical, Biblical fashion. Morley begins his book with the simple, yet difficult to grasp principle that following Christ is harder than it looks and will take longer than expected. The journey of developing into a godly man is not finished overnight, but requires diligent faithfulness in what God is doing and the process that He is guiding men through.

Patrick uses the example of ten flawed men from the Bible to illustrate specific principles of godly development. His intent is to help men become faithful leaders in family, ministry, community, and industry. Each chapter details the journey of faith of Biblical men along with the developmental principle used by God. Morley doesn't just give a history lesson, but makes this principle applicable in a real-world way for present day men. The various states of imperfection of the Biblical examples only makes it more tangible for our circumstances today.

As a pastor that works to connect men to the church, I see the incredible value in this book. Patrick continues to write in a way that speaks to the heart of men and our desire to lead effectively in all aspects of our life. While he is challenging in his approach he is also conscientious of our need to rely on God to make this a reality. The principles reflect common predicaments with God-driven solutions that will strengthen & refine our character. The book is set up well to be used as an independent study or in a small group setting. I see how it will fit well with our plans for developing men as leaders and can be used in a variety of environments.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grace Finds

One of my new favorite worship songs is by Matt Redman (a worship leader that I greatly admire) called, "Your Grace Finds Me." It is a powerful song that speaks the truth of God's grace being able to work in our lives no matter what circumstances we find ourselves in. It reminds me that this marvelous grace of God is enough for me regardless of where I am in my faith. This beautiful grace is more than enough for saints & sinners alike and makes no difference between the two-all are in need of what God offers.

One lyric in particular stuck in my mind as we sang this song this morning:

"There in the darkest night of the soul
There in the sweetest songs of victory
Your grace finds me
Yes your grace finds me"

God's grace is abundant in our lives when we are completely devastated and when we are in our strongest moments of victory. From the highest point of joy to the deepest valleys of sorrow His grace will meet us and lift us where we belong. I am grateful for the confidence I can have in this grace and will continue to preach this truth as long as I am able.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Random Kindness

I took my wife out to breakfast this morning on a morning date. We try to set aside times to spend together as a couple even if it's something as simple as a breakfast date at IHOP. While we enjoyed our meal (who doesn't like pancakes?) we were more blessed to discover that someone had picked up our bill. We don't know who it was, but were both very pleasantly surprised at the generosity & kindness of our anonymous friends. 

I love the opportunity to be a random, surprise blessing to other people as well. We try to share these moments with our girls so that they see the potential of a life of generosity without expectations. It's an important value that we pray will take root in their character and inspire them to act the same way as adults. If we will model this attitude of kind generosity for our children & give them the opportunity to live it out, we will leave a legacy of compassion that has can change our community.