Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mission Team

Each mission team is unique and wonderful in their own way. They are created by a complex recipe of personalities, stages of faith, life maturity, and timing. These combinations can't ever be duplicated even if the same people are involved. This is part of what makes the trip special and creates a lasting bond that is rarely broken. I am grateful for each group of people I have been honored to be part of and hope that those teams look back on our shared experiences just as fondly.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Glimpse

Mission work on the reservation is not always easy. I have tremendous respect for our full-time missionary friends who have committed their lives to serving here for more than the week we are able to give. We see small sample sizes of the difficulties they face each day, but can't completely recognize the depth of their emotions.

They continue to pray and reach out to young people and families in hopes of sharing Christ and changing futures, but often see more disappointments than successes. The weight of hopelessness and despair increases with each child that wanders away. I know from talking to several of them that they often wonder how effective they are. Thankfully, God gives glimpses of hope that remind them that they are having an impact.

We talked with a beautiful young woman today that is focused on God and His plan for her. Her path is not easy and she will continue to have many difficulties to overcome. She is resolutely intent on rising above her circumstances and even her culture to make a difference. She knows her identity in Christ and wants to follow His path. She isn't abandoning her people either, but wants to come back and be part of the solution.

This is a powerful testimony to what happens when a life is transformed when surrounded by darkness. It's the glimpse of hope that is needed to keep working to make a difference.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Helpful Truth

Our perception of current reality is very often defined by our past experiences. While this can be helpful in some circumstances, it doesn't always present the most accurate view. Our past wounds, disappointments, and even victories will color our reactions to our present situation. After a while it can even harden our hearts and solidify our minds to the point that we are unable to see the truth. 

As I thought about people and situations in my life this morning, I found myself asking God for one simple truth: "Help me to see things as they really are." This can be a scary prayer because it means that God will reveal things about me that I may not be aware of. If I really want to help others and be a positive, shaping influence, I need to start here. How can I handle the truth of the world around me if I'm not willing to see the truth about myself first? 

As someone who often mentally makes things worse than they really are, what I need most is to see the absolute truth and that is only available if I open myself up to what God wants me to see. His way is the only real truth and if I want to be an influencer for Him, I need to know what I'm really dealing with. Even if dealing with myself is the first step.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Reason

We come out to Arizona for a lot of different reasons, but sometimes a simple picture of two very happy girls is reason enough for today.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Keep Driving

We passed a road sign on our sight-seeing with our mission team today that said, "Rough Road for Next 6 miles." I appreciated the caution and shared it with our team, but also thought to myself, "This would be helpful in other areas of my life too." How much easier would it be to deal with difficulties if we always knew when they were coming and how long they would last? If we could see a sign that let us know exactly when we were about to hit a rough patch we might be able to endure it better. 

Since we don't always have the power of predictability we will just have to persevere when uneven patches come. The road we are traveling leads through this tough section and we'll survive it if we just keep moving until we reach the other side.  

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Heading West

After months of preparation, prayer, and sacrifice, our mission team is in Arizona today. We've traveled across the country (most of us) to meet in Show Low and begin a week of dedicated mission work. This is my 12th year of leading trips and I can attest to the fact that every trip is unique. I'm excited to see what is going to happen with this group and how we will form a great team through working together. There's nothing quite like the bonds that are formed through selflessly serving others. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Enjoy It

I was driving in town today and passed by employees of two different restaurants. They were each holding signs advertising their lunch specials and hoping to entice drivers to stop in. The first one had a huge smile on his face and was dancing as he tried to get your attention. The other employee offered a halfhearted wave and limited smile. I didn't stop at either one, but it did make me think about their commitment to what they were doing. One of them was passionately engaged in the task at hand while the other was apparently going through the motions.

The tasks we are charged with completing won't always be the most enjoyable thing to do. I've discovered that the difference is often found in our attitude. Our individual perspective determines how we engage in sweeping floors, speaking in front of hundreds of people, or taking out the trash. We get to decide whether we will enjoy what we do or not.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Start Strong

I am enjoying the fact that my beloved New York Mets have now won 11 games in a row and have the best record in the league. I am not a brand new fan however and am not fooled into thinking this will necessarily guarantee our success for the rest of the year. Our record in April does not automatically mean that we will be in the playoffs (as much as I wish that were true.) I just keep telling people that I am going to enjoy a run of good baseball for as long as it lasts.

There are a lot of leadership principles to take from that example: starting off strong leads to long term success, a good beginning sets you up for a good ending, staying focused at the start of a long journey helps you stay focused on your destination, and probably several others. Perhaps the lesson I need to see most out of this is much more simple: enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Daily Writing

My wife is an excellent writer who is able to capture emotions, stir up thoughts, and create conversation through the power of her words. I write more frequently, but differently in style and content. In our individual ways we are story tellers with different and effective approaches.

The truth is that we are all story tellers. Each day we write another portion of the tale of our lives through the decisions we make, the words we speak, and the actions we live out. Some days we write grand chapters of adventure and positive outcomes. There are some sections marked by mediocrity and idling along. Sadly, there are also portions sprinkled with poor decision making and regret. It is the sum of these experiences that make up the story of our life.

We all know when our story began, but none of us knows for certain when our epic tale will end. We just have to continue a real life exercise in "Choose Your Own Adventure" that will create memories and steer us down our life pathway. We won't always get it right, but simply need to keep a focused commitment of writing the very best story possible.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Yes Means No

When we choose to say "yes" to something we are also choosing to say "no" to something else. The truth is our resources are limited: time, money, energy, relationships, mental capacity, and connectivity. If we buy a new car and make payments, we are declining to use that money in other areas. If we decide to get up early to exercise each morning, we are giving up the option of sleeping in. If we decide to play golf after work three days a week, we are forfeiting the opportunity to spend time with our kids.

Regardless of what popular culture might tell us, we can't have it all. We've got to decide what we want (and need) the most and choose accordingly.

Monday, April 20, 2015

To Do

How do you measure the productivity of a day? It's fairly constrictive (and often disappointing) if it's only evaluated by the number of items checked off a to-do list. I need some of that in my life due to my personality, but I can't only determine my effectiveness this way.

Sometimes it's found in taking the time to have a conversation with a friend, stirring up thoughts through well-timed brainstorming sessions, a good run at the end of the day, and taking the time to help your daughter. These aren't "industry approved" measures of productivity, but I feel good about where they have led me today. Sometimes we've accomplished more than we think even when our to-do list doesn't reflect it.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Be Flexible

I've had to work to increase my flexibility and it hasn't been a quick or easy process. It has required intentional focus, discipline, and perseverance. If I don't put the time in to stretch myself out I know I'll end up getting hurt. I won't be able to endure the strains of exercise or make quick adaptations to the terrain around me and I'll fall short of my goals. 

That's not a bad idea for other areas of my life either. The terrain of life is constantly changing and things very rarely work out exactly as planned. I can choose to allow those unforeseen circumstances to derail me completely or I can be flexible enough to adapt and move forward. I've got to continually stretch my problem-solving muscles by finding ways to overcome adversity. Then I'll be able to keep moving forward in the right direction even if the path doesn't look exactly like I thought it would.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Don't Rush It

My family (and the rest of our mission team) will be in Arizona a week from now. We've been planning this trip for months and will soon find ourselves out west once again. There is a palpable energy of anticipation among the team as all our preparation becomes reality very soon. It's an exciting time to look forward to and while I want to get there quickly, I also don't want the experience to be over too soon. 

It's a regular part of human nature to want time to speed up to get us to the exciting things and then for it to slow down once we arrive there. Sadly, that isn't the way it works. Instead, we've got to be patient in the preparation and planning and enjoy the moments as long as they last. Hurrying through parts of our life will cause us to miss something important. Even if we repeat an event (like a yearly mission trip) each year is unique enough to merit its own special attention.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Ministry of Presence

A friend of mine speaks of the need to practice the "ministry of presence". I take this to mean that there are times when we just need to be there for people. We don't need the exact words to say or all of the wisdom in the world, but just simply need to be present and available. This isn't just for the incredibly tough times in life either, but in regular every day relationships. It's how we model genuine compassion and show our willingness to share life with each other.

Our desire to be present for people reveals the value we see in them and the recognition we give of who they are.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Old Friend

We had to put our old dog, Zeddy, to sleep today. These decisions are never easy to make and even when it's the obvious, right choice it still causes heartache. Any attempt to keep him around would only be selfish on our part at this point of his health.

There is a palpable sorrow in our house over our loss of this smelly old dog that was ever faithful and tolerant. He was always clearly my wife's dog and would follow her from room to room while often getting under foot. When my wife would leave the house he would sit at the front door and whimper until she returned. His loyalty was clearly with her before all others.

Zeddy also absorbed his share of ridicule over the years at the hands of three girls that loved him deeply. They would dress him up and take pictures, carry him around in baskets and bags, and cover him with blankets and stuffed animals. I don't think he ever minded because all of it meant that he was loved and that was good enough for him.

He was as stubborn as any dog I've ever met and was the ultimate escape artist when he was younger. Zeddy would wait for the exact moment your attention was elsewhere and would bolt away. Before his hips betrayed him he was one of the fastest dogs I've ever seen and couldn't be caught unless he wanted you to catch him. We would often sit around and tell stories of his running escapades and adventures in stupidity.

I made jokes about him and would often laugh at his escapades, but will miss him deeply as well. Good dogs have a way of working into your heart while becoming an integral part of your family and letting them go is painful no matter the circumstances.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Juggling Act

I've shown the video above multiple times in the years since I first stumbled on it. I'm always in awe of the skill and practice that he put in to make this happen. At my current ability level, I'm not sure I could do what he does with just one tennis ball. Even if I could, I doubt an audience would be as impressed with my singular focus as they are with his ability to juggle multiple things with such dexterity.

I wonder if we are missing the boat when we are only impressed with someones ability to juggle multiple things. Perhaps we're missing the true value of a concentrated focus on one thing. It might not be as entertaining a show to watch, but I think we would realize great personal benefits from practicing it. Our intimacy with God would increase and we would be led into a deeper understanding of who He is. We would be more engaged in our personal relationships when we aren't trying to handle too many things at once. I believe we would even find more satisfaction in our calling if we could narrow our focus and energies.

I'm not saying that there aren't times when we will have to take on several things at once, but I do see great benefit in being able to narrow and intensify our focus sometimes too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Right Course

I was talking with a fellow runner this morning over coffee about the 5K race we ran this past weekend. This was the race that had a confusing cone placement that caused all but two runners (my friend & I) to run a different course than what was mapped out. I told him that after we turned the wrong corner my immediate thought was that I needed to get back on course as soon as possible. I didn't know what the other runners were going to do, but I knew that I needed to correct my path quickly.

What do we do when we end up off course in our life? Do we even realize that we aren't moving in the right direction? If we aren't clear on the path we should be on we won't necessarily notice and will just keep moving farther away from where we want to be. When we are finally aware that this isn't right we've got to make the necessary adjustments to get back to where we belong. It will take some extra effort, but that will make our journey more rewarding in the end.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Push The Limits

I want to be a better version of myself in every way: physically, spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and mentally. If I want to make that a reality and not a far-fetched goal, I'm going to need to push myself. I won't see personal improvement unless I'm willing to stretch myself farther than I have before. That's not always a pleasant process, but settling for anything less won't lead me towards the new man I want to be. Bumping into previously unpassed boundaries and surging past them helps me find out what I'm truly capable of.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

More Than a Song

Some songs have a more powerful personal impact than others because they stir up memories of special occasions and important events in our lives. It may be a song from our wedding, a melody that takes us back to the carefree days of our youth, or lyrics that helped us through a tough season of life. These songs tend to stick with us through the years and evoke pleasant emotions whenever we hear them. There is a special significance to them which may not matter as much to others, but certainly carries great power for us.

There is a woman in history who had an interaction with Jesus which is recorded in the book of John. We don't know much about her except for this brief engagement. She met Jesus at a well in Samaria while looking for water and ended up finding the Savior she had been searching for all her life. Despite all her choices and the social and spiritual isolation that resulted from it, she found forgiveness, comfort, and value in the eyes of the Messiah.

She may not have had the songs of today to sing, but I would imagine that she could identify with the powerful lyrics of the song below as a result of her encounter. This redeemed woman could speak with authority on the rescuing power of Christ and how her world would change. If we could listen to this song with that story in mind it might make it as powerful to us as well.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Which Way?

I ran in my first 5K this morning and had some goals going into it I hoped to achieve. I was close to my goal for my overall time, but didn't win a medal. There was an interesting development in the race as confusion arose over the layout of the course. This led to almost all of the runners turning down the wrong road and running 2.2 miles instead of 3.1 miles. I had run the course a few times based on an online map so I didn't think we were on the right track. Instead of following the runners in front of me, I chose to double back to get back on course even though it cost me and put me in a definitive minority. I don't regret the experience or my decision even if it didn't turn out exactly as I had hoped.

Life will present opportunities to either choose to follow the crowd or set your own course. Hopefully, we're aware enough to know what is right and can stick to that direction even if we don't end up running with the crowd.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Simple Prayer

This song reflects a simple prayer for me, my family, and the church I am blessed to be part of.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Practice Thinking

"Thinking always ahead, thinking of always trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing seems impossible." Henry Ford

What are you consistently thinking about? How is your thought life pushing you to new things in your personal and professional life? Stretch your mind to imagine new possibilities and strengthen your creative muscles. You'll find new horizons and be challenged by exciting potential opportunities.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Set It

We just finished up our Wednesday night services at the church and cleaned up our tables and chairs from our meal. We have racks that are used to hold the chairs which make it much easier to store them. There is only one way that the chairs fit on the rack, however, and if they aren't put on there correctly they will fall over. When working with our volunteers to clean up I've discovered that the key to success is to set the first chair on the rack so others can see how it should be done. Once the first chair is set, there aren't many questions about how it should happen.

What example am I setting in other areas of my life? How am I setting "the first chair" for my children so that they see how a God-honoring life should be lived? What example am I setting for my friends in the choices I make in my life? What steps am I modeling for other believers as a pastor? What leadership beginnings am I developing so other leaders can take over?

We've got to carefully evaluate the model we are establishing through our choices. There are other people watching and following whether we recognize it or not.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


Baseball season has begun and my New York Mets won their first game last night. It wasn't necessarily a pretty win, but we are undefeated on the season at 1-0. At this pace we will win 162 games and be the first undefeated baseball team in the history of the game.

Naturally, I don't expect this to be a reality. In fact, my Mets have the best winning percentage on opening day of any major league team since 1962 and yet that hasn't always translated into winning seasons. A baseball season is often described as a marathon and not a sprint. While winning games early in the season is preferable to losing them, it doesn't automatically guarantee championships. You've got to be consistent over the long haul to win.

This is even more true in our personal relationships. Good parenting isn't defined by a random moment of life investment. Success with one leadership decision doesn't cement a positive, lasting legacy. A solitary tender moment between husband and wife won't create a loving relationship that endures. The relationships in our life are meant to thrive in a marathon environment with consistent attention and effort. Anything less might be temporarily appealing, but the lack of sustainability will derail any positive credibility.

Monday, April 6, 2015

At This Moment

There is an inner part of a leader that is programmed to desire greater things. When we acknowledge it, we realize that we genuinely want to be part of something more. We want our life to have powerful influence and impact. Leaders want to see growth increase and blessings in our life multiply.

As I think about asking God for these things and imagining the potential, I find myself asking this simple question, "Where are you presently being obedient?" We can't begin to think about where our next leap of faith will be if we aren't being faithful to the moment we are in.

The opportunity for future faith is formed through present obedience.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

We Believe

Today is a day to celebrate life and the power of Christ that defeated death. I'll let this song speak the truth of what I believe.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

In the Middle

The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday couldn't have been easy for the faithful followers of Christ. I feel certain they were still in shock at what they had witnessed and the deterioration of Christ's ministry in such a short period of time.

I would imagine they woke up on Saturday and had a moment of unpleasant orientation to this new reality as the awful events of Friday settled in. There had to be doubts about the past three years of ministry and the soul-crushing weight of questions about their future. Despair, great sorrow, and paranoid fear fueled their emotions that day. In all of this, they had no idea of the joyful surprise that awaited them the next day. They had no way of predicting that their deepest sorrow would soon be turned into unbelievable relief and the start of something completely new.

Where are we on this spectrum of emotion and experience? Are we devastated at our current life circumstances? Are we able to see a glimpse of hope and believe that better days are ahead? Or do we feel like we are stuck in the middle and unsure of what to do next? God is working in all of these phases even though it may not feel like it at that moment. Being in the middle means that hope is still on the horizon. Knowing a new day is possible may provide the strength we need to endure.

Friday, April 3, 2015

It's Good

It can be difficult to reconcile the idea of calling something "good" when it seems things are actually  the complete opposite. That is the unexpected twist of Good Friday. We use this to describe a day that was devastatingly awful in history and not because the events of Friday were necessarily pleasant. It's because the death that took place that day was the only way we can experience what is truly good and right. The darkness that overwhelmed Jesus and the doubt that entrapped His followers on that fateful day set the stage for the goodness that was to come. Sometimes we only see the good part of things once we understand how they prepare us for what comes next.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Right Training

I was reading a running magazine the other night that gave a simple, powerful piece of advice.

"Train to race. Don't race to train." 

This running coach shared this with his athletes as they prepared for a big event. He wanted to make sure they understood you don't completely exhaust your physical energy before the big event. Your objective is to train to get ready for the race without racing at full speed the entire time you prep.

That's good counsel for other areas of our life too. I've often exerted so much energy getting ready for something that I don't have the reserves I need to be as successful as I want to be. This doesn't mean that I shortcut my preparation, but that I carefully focus my energies to make the most of training with an eye on the big day. This is a necessary balance between engaging fully in the art of preparation and recognizing the main objective of the big moment. It helps me to develop a pace that builds strength over the long haul and brings greater success when the time is right.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Follow That Leader

Jimmy Fallon has revolutionized The Tonight Show. He has gained a loyal following while adding a new dimension to a television standard that has existed for decades. In a short period of time he has boosted ratings while becoming one of the most coveted appearances for actors.

Jimmy has convinced actors to take part in ridiculous contests that bring embarrassment, pies in the face, and being soaked with water. They will enthusiastically lip sync to all genres of songs, inhale helium to read things, and take risks that could potentially reveal weaknesses in their talents. Even though they know this potential exists they still love to be on his show. 

How does he get them to do this? How is he persuasive enough that they will willingly engage in such frivolous activities? I don't think there is a magic formula, but I believe Jimmy exhibits certain qualities that make this is a reality: 
  • He never asks them to do something he won't do himself.
  • He laughs at himself as much as they laugh together.
  • He has earned credibility through consistent character. 
  • He is a genuinely nice guy which is refreshing in a place of pretension.
  • He takes risks which are aimed at engaging the audience and never at ridiculing anyone.
  • He trusts the team around him even when their ideas seem outlandish.
  • He obviously has fun at what he does and doesn't take himself too seriously.

These qualities make for a good late night show, but I think they make for a pretty good leader as well.