Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Root of a Problem

It doesn't take a rocket (or social) scientist to figure out some basic sociological truths. They can be determined simply by paying attention to the condition of the community around us. One of those truths has been expressed very well by other people (Dr. Tony Evans being one of them) as he shares a simple equation for societal ills.

When men are dysfunctional as leaders, our families are dysfunctional. When our families are dysfunctional, our churches are dysfunctional. When our churches are dysfunctional, our communities are dysfunctional. When our communities are dysfunctional, our nation is dysfunctional. When our nation is dysfunctional, our world is dysfunctional.

It might sound like a lot of blame to place on men however the ills of a society can't be attributed to crowds, but individuals. The good news is that the converse of the progression above is also true. If men are willing to develop and be mentored into healthy leaders the rest of that dynamic will also be healthy. It's the hope we have for continuing to invest in the lives of men and a desire to see our communities changed one life at a time.

Friday, January 30, 2015

On the Go

I had the privilege of speaking at a local high school FCA breakfast (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) this morning and it reminded me of teaching high school, working in youth ministry and the fondness I still have for those times. Even after leaving the high school itself I spent many hours on campuses building relationships and visiting youth and adults. This is still an area of enjoyment for me even though it isn't my primary calling anymore. I enjoy the energy level, raw passion, and creativity of teens and it reinvigorated me to walk in their hallways this morning.

The bigger principle at work here is one that I always held firm as a value in reaching others. We have to leave the church grounds and spend time on the turf of people we want to influence if we are going to be effective. It's actually part of Jesus' commission to His Church-the simple command to GO. If we are going to lay claim to following Jesus we have to find ways to go into areas as His disciples.

A church that isn't on the move really isn't a church at all.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Effective Treatment

When I worked in athletic training there were injuries that were obviously acute--meaning they had occurred as a result of immediate trauma on the playing field. This could be a broken bone, a serious contusion, or a flesh wound. While sometimes serious, the course of action was fairly well laid out for immediate treatment and recovery.

Things became more complicated when you were unsure if the injury was acute or chronic. Some damage would go unnoticed by an athlete until it finally compounded enough to appear. These could actually be the result of chronic conditions and while acute treatments might alleviate immediate pain they wouldn't address the underlying problem.

We can be guilty of this in how we handle problems in our relationships and our community. If we don't recognize the ongoing nature of issues we end up throwing temporary solutions at them without having a lasting effect. To be truly effective we need to recognize the root issue and find a way to address it. It's the difference in dropping one meal off for a family without groceries or working together to change the factors that have contributed to the lack of food. One will be immediately appreciated and short-lived while the other corrects the root cause.

If we fail to recognize the difference between acute & chronic issues we can keep ourselves busy, but never truly be effective in fixing the problem.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Big Brick

This may look like an ordinary brick, but it is so much more. When I left Mainland High School and my teaching/athletic training career we were in a construction project. A team was tearing down portions of the old school as they built a new one in its place. As I wrapped up my summer position there one of the custodians brought this brick to me. It was from the classroom I had taught in for years and it has a prominent place on the shelf in my office today.

This is more than memorabilia to me. It is a symbol of the foundation laid in me through Mainland High School and the family there. It signifies the trust they placed in me when they brought me on staff and the loving patience they showed me as I matured. This was the place that developed my passion for other people and shaped my leadership skills. At Mainland I learned to think long term and see the stories behind people's attitudes. It was here that I was honored to work with some of the brightest, most compassionate, and loyal friends. This brick represents the people that are still so important to me that I deeply care for.

I suppose it doesn't necessarily matter if anyone else sees more than a brick as long as I understand it's value. I believe it's healthy to have artifacts such as this to make sure we remember how we arrived in our present position.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Thomas Merton was a 20th century Trappist monk who wrote about spirituality while being transparent about his own struggles and pursuit of God. I am reading through one of his books, An Invitation to the Contemplative Life, as part of my own growth plan for this year. He wrote a passage about his own journey of following God and I couldn't have expressed my own thoughts any more clearly than he has.

I Will Trust You Always

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. 

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Monday, January 26, 2015

Common Ground(s)

It's fairly obvious to anyone that knows me that I enjoy a good cup of coffee. Hopefully they realize this from the coffee pot and grinder in my office and not from coffee breath (I use mints for that.) I find something soothing in a good cup of java and enjoy a couple of cups each morning and often in the afternoon as well. I find that it helps to put people at ease and creates an easy opportunity to talk.

I don't aim to overvalue what can happen when people are sharing this delightful hot beverage. I do know it tends to put people at ease while providing a social encounter without great pressure. We are able to sit together over this brewed nectar and have a respectful, give-and-take conversation. I don't believe it's magical (maybe a little), but it brings us together on common ground around something we can agree on. That's the first step in sharing honestly with each other and working out the other issues we might share. I've seen it work too many times to discount it.

Perhaps we should start more potentially divisive dialogues over coffee.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Arrangements

There are only 3 colors, 10 digits, and 7 notes; 
it's what we do with them that's important. 
Jim Rohn

Where are you using your creativity? It's not as if you have to create every element of innovation from scratch. The basics are already there. Now it's a matter of rearranging them in unique patterns that reflect each of our talents. Stretching the boundaries of what is new can be done using the same tools everyone else has used, but doing it in new, thoughtful patterns.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Get Dressed & Moving

I embarked on a new journey last September. I had reached my IHHE moment (I Have Had Enough!) with my physical health and decided to take on a new course of action. This brought about a serious change in diet (no fads-just healthy, non-processed eating) and in exercise level (consistent & incremental). In fact, in the last two weeks I have invested in some exercise clothes, good shoes, and wireless headphones. I feel I have the right equipment to continue to exercise now that I have shown some consistency.

The clothes, shoes, and accessories don't mean very much on their own however. I can put on the clothes & shoes, connect my headphones to my playlist, stretch, and then sit in my recliner while watching Netflix. Even with the right equipment I have to make sure I commit to the right actions. Transformation won't happen just because I prepare, but because I was willing to engage in the behaviors that lead to that change.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Deflated Character

The current sports headline dominating the news is over the allegedly deflated footballs used by the New England Patriots in last weekend's AFC championship game. It seems to be all that the sports world is talking about as they try to determine who is at fault and whether or not the Patriots bent the rules for their own gain. Blame is flying around and journalism experts are picking apart the evidence to figure out what is going to happen next.

I understand something like this is going to make some noise, but the final score in the game was 45-7. I seriously doubt the amount of air in the footballs made a significant difference. It's fairly obvious the Patriots were the best team on the field regardless of any supposed attempts to create a competitive advantage.

This really isn't about the footballs though, but about the character of those involved. It speaks more to the integrity of a group of people and their willingness to abandon principle for the sake of success. Choosing to cheat in a small way isn't different from cheating on a larger scale. They both reveal flaws of character and a desire to cast aside integrity for personal benefit.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Little By Little

And I will send hornets before you, which shall drive out (your enemies) from before you. I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you.
 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land. Exodus 23:28-30

I like to see change take place, but I also like it to happen at a decent pace. I understand that some things take time and you have to be respectful of the process. I just get genuinely excited about the potential of the future and want to see things happen. It's a good thing God is wiser than me in these moments. 

While I am praying for newness and working hard to make it happen, God makes sure His timeline is the one that takes precedence. Much like the Israelites, God knows what I am capable of handling and He sees layers of complexity that I couldn't imagine. God tells me the same thing He shared back then, "I could give it to you all at once but you couldn't handle it." 

The step-by-step, patient path isn't the easiest to follow, but it's the best one. I'm going to keep trusting His timing and plan over mine. After all, He's got the advantage in perspective.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Boring Works

I was listening to ESPN radio last week and Colin Cowherd was talking about the teams that were still competing in the NFL playoffs. His big statement that morning was the remaining teams were boring. He wasn't denigrating their style or wishing for something more flashy, but was simply remarking on the consistency of their teams. Colin was actually giving credit to their leaders for their consistency in winning and the way they used their system to achieve that success. They weren't out to make ridiculous personnel moves, but were willing to stick to their solid structure producing proven results.

It's possible to find success through bold, broad strokes of creativity and not have it be part of your systemic structure. This is not how top organizations choose to operate however. Instead it's essential to develop the proper framework that allows for that creativity to take place. Random acts of out-of-bounds activity won't produce a steady stream of prosperity. Instead this describes teams that are desperate for a taste of the victory the "boring" winners are steadily feasting on.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

As Fast As It Goes

On the elementary school playground of my childhood a huge chunk of our time was spent at the merry-go-round. The objective was to see how fast we could get it to turn while people hung on for dear life. Once it was moving at top speed the daredevils of the group would try to jump onto the moving target. It didn't count if you waited for it to slow down to a safe speed, but it had to be attempted when it was spinning at maximum velocity. Needless to say, it didn't always end well.

That's very similar to the feeling of returning to "normal life" after being away for a week. Even though our trip to Arizona was partially business it still didn't flow at the same pace as life back home. It's always an adjustment to jump back on the spinning merry-go-round of real life and there isn't always a way to wait for things to gradually pick up the pace. You've got to pick your moment and jump back into the game even if you feel out of sorts for a bit as you get used to the action. Much like jumping on playground equipment in motion, we are the ones that have to make the necessary adjustments so we can stick the landing. 

The merry-go-round slows down for no one.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Man of Integrity

It takes a great deal of courage to take a stand in the face of adversity. While we may find like-minded people willing to unite with us, there still has to be a certain level of individual strength. People of integrity possess a sense of what is right and aren't willing to tolerate the suppression or perversion of those values. They are willing to take action even when they aren't surrounded by supporters. This is the true mark of character-to peacefully call attention to inequity and injustice while seeking solutions that elevate people without diminishing others.

 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man who refused to accept the status quo, but instead gave himself unselfishly for what was right. His legacy of action will continue to be an inspiration to men and women regardless of race or social class. I am grateful for his vision of unity, peace, and restoration, and pray that we will continue to strive together in pursuit of his dream. Change is possible if we will stand for what is right regardless of whether anyone else will stand with us.

May we walk in the footsteps of Dr. King as we seek a better community. Pursuing that dream of unity will reveal our character and honor the memory of the man who helped lead the charge of change.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Not What You See

I believe most of us are guilty of making assumptions about other people without considering their full story. We only see their reaction to circumstances or the exterior shell they have constructed while missing the life events that have led to this point. The truth is we don't know the weight they carry nor do we have a clear understanding of the source of their burdens. From a distance we can't know how people are compensating for their wounds as they limp emotionally through life, avoiding anything that might trigger previous pain. Without taking time to investigate, we can dismiss people too quickly as we only see the after effects of life without bothering to see the cause.

We must condition ourselves to avoid rashly judging people based only on what we see. I know I am more than I appear to be and I need to extend that same courtesy to others. If we would share the compassionate understanding we all hope to receive we would discover we much more in common than we might think. At the very least, we would gain genuine compassion for our fellow travelers on life's journey.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Home Sweet Home

My wife and I have a deep love for Arizona. We have served out there on mission trips for over ten years and have developed friendships that mean a great deal to us. We also have a great passion for that area of the country and the vacation times we have been able to share. There is always an eager sense of longing as we get closer to our next trip and a feeling of sorrow when we leave. Each trip is different and special in its own way and is a part of our family history.

As much as we enjoy the west however, it isn't home. While we miss Arizona we are also excited to be back where God has called us. We are honored to be part of a thriving church and community while sharing it with our beautiful family. Arizona is part of who we are, but we are delighted to be planted where we are. It's a wonderful blessing to have a place we love to visit and yet this place we get call home. I consider myself a fortunate man to be able to share two wonderful places.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Like What You Do

I've had several different jobs in my lifetime. I've worked in landscaping, maintenance, catering, fast food, telemarketing, restaurant management, sports medicine, teaching, and now ministry. I appreciate (especially in retrospect) all the various experiences and can see how they taught me necessary lessons. I don't believe that my job history is more detailed or special than anyone else's list. What matters for each of us is that we find some enjoyment in what we do.

I don't think every day on the job is supposed to be a celebration filled with cake, balloons, and a pinata, although that wouldn't be totally awful either. I do believe we are supposed to seek contentment and enjoyment in what we do. If we are unable to discover consistent joy, we need to either adjust our attitude or pursue a new avenue. Passionate engagement in our calling makes a difference in the results of our work and our personal sense of satisfaction.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


It's sometimes easy to look at people, places, and events in our past with a certain amount of derision. We often view them in the lens of how we operate today and dismiss the things of the past too quickly. I am often reminded the past, imperfect as it may be, is the foundation of our present. All of the difficulties, the lessons gained through failure, and our wise & foolish choices have brought us to this point in our lives. To attempt to ignore them completely would negate the building blocks of who we are today. Instead, we can learn from them and choose the correct path as we move forward. 

Don't forget your roots. Good or bad, these are what brought you to this point today. What you do with your roots is up to you. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Meeting of the Minds

I'm in Arizona this week attending the XP Summit,a conference for executive pastors. I am still relatively new to this role, which is also new to our church. We are still working to determine what works best for us. 

It's always interesting to hear from people in different areas of the country about the methods which work best for them. It's a relief to hear some struggles are common regardless of geography and experience. Sharing ideas and best practices will only help shape us all even as we strive to make things work in an ever changing environment. 

An executive pastor I met this week said, you have to figure out what works best for your situation and be ready to be flexible as you go. That's an accurate description of leadership regardless of the type of organization. If you aren't able to adjust, you will hinder organizational and personal growth.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Climbing Views

My wife and I are still pretty pumped about our climbing experience yesterday on Camelback Mountain. I would like to put the entire event into words (and probably will) but I'll let the pictures below speak for me today.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Ready to Climb

My wife and I climbed Camelback Mountain today. It was 1.2 miles of intense climbing including maneuvering over difficult rocks, traversing steep rail assisted slopes, and dodging other climbers. It was physically tiring, but completely worth the view at the top.

My wife and I actually attempted to climb this mountain several years ago and were unsuccessful. On that day we ended up quitting before we got very far as we didn't have what it took to make it any further. We were unprepared in our equipment choices, poorly conditioned, and unclear about the demands of what we were attempting. Since that time I have had this climb written down as a bucket list item. We approached our ambition very differently this time and worked to correct the deficiencies we had on our first attempt.

Even when we have great goals there are a lot of other factors that help us be successful. We've got to make sure we are selecting the right time to pursue our goal and that we are prepared for the hard work it will take to make it a reality. Even if success takes longer than we hoped it will be that much more satisfying when we finally see the top.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Right Ditch

I believe there are times when we need to put in extra effort to make a difference. It may be a crisis which needs our attention or a festering weakness which must be addressed. The truth is sometimes there is no substitute for hard work.

The key to hard work being effective is to make sure it's focused in the right area. Putting all our increased emphasis in the wrong direction will make us look busy, but it won't solve the problem. It's like needing a ditch to be dug that runs from north to south while we're digging one that runs from east to west. Increasing our pace, shortening our breaks, and using a bigger shovel brings the appearance of productivity while neglecting the real issue.

Don't be afraid to work hard, but make sure it's the right work too.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Do You Like It?

As I continue to seek out levels of personal change, I am also drawn to helping others do the same thing. It's part of my calling as a pastor and it stems out of my desire to see people's lives become more fulfilling as they trust God. Inevitably, I end up talking with people when things are not going well. They have reached a point of crisis or frustration and are looking for the hope of something different. 

The difficult part of this process is in realizing the personal changes that must take place for things to improve. Human nature leads us to hang onto old patterns of behavior even when those are the habits that have led us to this break point. We have reached a point of impasse: we want something new but don't want to change the very things that have led us to our moment of crisis.

I always ask a simple question at this juncture: "How has that been working out for you?" If the answer is negative, it's time to do something about it or find a way to be content in misery.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Patterns Matter

We learn new skills more quickly if we can figure out a repetitive pattern. The familiarity we find in the rhythm of something new helps us remember how to perform that task correctly. This works really well for athletic skills, but also helps us in developing new habits. In fact, I believe we can even help ourselves mature by examining patterns that already exist in our life:
  • Moments in life when you are most receptive to God's lessons
  • Times when you have experienced the most positive growth
  • Areas of negative choices that need to be avoided
  • The various people we associate with & our behavior in that company
  • Places we frequent & our actions based on that environment
  • Our response to changing circumstances
Understanding our existing behavioral rhythms will help us see the need for continuing positive patterns as well as establishing new, healthier ones.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

(Un)desirable Quality

The word "meek" tends to get a bad reputation. People generally think meekness is a sign of weakness. It's commonly used in a derogatory fashion to describe someone who doesn't have the strength to stand up for themselves. It's a term we use to refer to people who are quiet, shy, awkward, and overly submissive.

There's an interesting angle on the word that has, unfortunately, become obsolete. When we add the concept of humility, meekness takes on another level of meaning. It isn't just about avoiding pride in our actions and speech, but rather the idea of strength under control. Meekness then describes someone who knows who they are and what they are capable of, but doesn't use their strength to dominate. It describes someone who is cautiously confident and focused on doing the right thing at the right time.

This angle on the word makes meekness more desirable for describing our character. It causes us to ask the basic question: can you control your strength or does it control you?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Shifting Allegiance

Then he (Moses) took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” Exodus 24:7

That sounds like a group of fairly committed people. In fact, I think they believed the intent of their own words and didn't plan on falling short. In that moment the people of Israel wanted to follow God and stay under his authority. Sadly, history tells us that less than 40 days later they had failed miserably and suffered the consequences of their decisions. 

On the surface it seems hard to believe that an entire group of people could shift their allegiance so quickly. Before we decide to judge the Hebrews too harshly perhaps we should examine our own life patterns first. How quickly we walk away from our commitments? How often do we make bold statements about our convictions and then abandon them in a matter of days? What life changing resolutions have we written down and then ignored once the shine of their newness wore off? 

If we want to make positive declarations about what we will (or won't) do, we've got to have a corresponding action plan to make it stick or we're just making a lot of noise.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sure It's True

I was brought up (like many other people in my generation) believing an old wives' tale. It was the fable that you could not go swimming for 30 minutes after eating or you would get cramps and drown. How many children sat by pools, rivers, lakes, and ponds watching the clock and waiting for that time to tick away? How many parents held firmly to that belief because their parents had held them to the same poor standard? It's staggering to think of the millions of hours of lost swim time due to this joy-robbing falsehood.

It makes me wonder how much time we've lost in our lives because we've believed other lies. How often do we hinder our own growth because we feel limited by a restriction someone else has placed on us? What tradition do we blindly accept just because it's been done that way for years? What assumptions are we making about other people that are holding us back from genuine relationships? What obstacles are we afraid to overcome because we have made them bigger than they really are? What lessons have we been taught by well-meaning, but poorly informed people?

Don't just assume that something is true because that's "the way it's always been" or "he/she said it was true." Choosing to base your life decisions on information without checking its veracity can cost you more than lost swim time in the long run.

Monday, January 5, 2015

See the Mess

I shared a quote from Madeline Albright on my blog a few weeks ago where she had been quoted as saying, "The world is a mess." I think that might be fairly evident to some people, but what if we're in denial about the true state of things?
  • Are we calling something clean when it's dirty?
  • Are we calling something right when it's wrong?
  • Are we calling something orderly when it's in chaos?
  • Are we calling something good when it's clearly not?
  • Are we calling something healthy when it's sick & dying?
We can't begin to fix things if we can't admit things are broken. Let's get a realistic assessment of the world we live in and then let's get to work providing the solution.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Final Remarks

It seems as if I have been part of more funerals than usual lately. It's obviously always a difficult time for family and friends as they mourn the loss of someone they cared for so deeply. As a pastor you try to do the best you can to share an accurate representation of who they were while steering loved ones to the hope that is found in Christ. When people are appreciative of our efforts after the funeral we tell them that their loved one made it easy on us. They had been writing these words for us by the way they lived their lives. 

We are all writing our own eulogies as we live. Our character is having a consistent impact on those that are close to us and forging strong bonds that will last long after we are gone. While I don't think we can live healthily by overanalyzing every word & action, we should still give some consideration to the legacy that we leave behind. 

A life that is lived well by focusing on serving others will give us a foundation for positive impact. When we seek to honor God through the way we live it becomes less about our reputation and more about our allegiance to Him. That speaks a message that is so strong it will last long after we have breathed our last here.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Avoiding Complacency

I was watching an ESPN segment about the coaches from Alabama & Ohio State on the day of their big game earlier this week. Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are recognized as two of the top college coaches in their profession as their teams are consistently successful and they have multiple national championships. One of the journalists was commenting on how both men have continued to maintain high levels of performance through the years. He said that both men believe that complacency is the enemy and obsessive attention to detail is the solution. 

I believe it's possible for most people to find occasional success in parenting, leadership, and even sports. The key to consistent success is in refusing to allow complacency to set in. It's established in the discipline of repeating positive behaviors while staying hungry enough to fight for what is important. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Long Haul

I was thinking this morning about my children and trying to help them as they move through this next phase of life. The truth is that I sometimes struggle with what to do as a parent and the best way to help them. I feel the tension of dealing with current problems while trying to do what will help them best in the long run at the same time.

That's really one of the most difficult parts of leading--making choices that affect more than the immediate moment. We can pretend to make decisions that are only for the current situation, but the truth is the impact is longer lasting than that. Sadly, I haven't always realized this and have ended up causing more damage than good. My responses in the short-term have not always created the best long-term impact. It's not always easy to balance the immediate need for response and the desire to do what is best for the long-term, big picture.

I know that we won't always get it right, but if we can at least understand that principle we stand a better chance of making the correct decision most of the time. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Finish It

God is a finisher. He always finishes what He starts. In fact, it tells us in Scripture that He began something in us and will see it through to the day of completion. It's a quality of God's character that highlights His indomitable and perfect will while revealing His tenacity in doing what is best for us.

What about us? Do we finish what we have started? Is our passion for change fueled by our drive to make it happen? Are we willing to endure difficulty as we pursue what is important to us? I believe that God has shared this characteristic with us, but we have to choose to act on it. When we aren't finishing the things that we have started we are ignoring part of who we are.