Saturday, September 17, 2016

Know Yourself

One of the hardest parts of personal growth is self-awareness. I know of very few people who are completely self-aware, but I know far too many who have no apparent self-awareness at all. This makes personal interactions difficult and also complicates lasting life transformation.

Having self-awareness is having a correct view of who you are. It is what is true about yourself and is the first step for growth and development. Looking introspectively reveals a willingness to confront and change negative behaviors while reinforcing positive interactions and attitudes. This is a growth process which takes a heaping dose of humility as we see things we may not want to see, but need to recognize if we want to grow.

This wasn't always an area of strength for me and while I am far from where I would like to be, I feel I am more cognizant of who I am than I used to be. This has been helped by people who cared enough to tell me the truth and were patient as I worked on improving. It hasn't (isn't) been an easy process, but the consistent work pays off in better relationships and an improved understanding of who I really am moving forward.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Find the Pattern

My wife and I attended a church planting conference a few years ago and spoke with a leader who talked about examining the patterns in our lives. He said that analyzing these rhythms would enable us to see how God had worked in our past and the potential for how our future would develop. Since that conversation I've found myself thinking more about the patterns that affect my life and how I've developed them. Some of them are the result of years of influence while others are more recent as I work to make positive changes.

If we are willing to risk taking a closer look, I think we'd discover there are healthy and unhealthy patterns in our life. Some of them are positive building blocks for our future (i.e. exercise, a healthy work/rest balance, and religious practices) while others are detrimental for our health (negative thinking, destructive cycles of addictive behavior, and poor relationship choices.) Often these have become the foundational parts of life without us realizing it.

If we want to make changes in the current state of our lives, we've got to examine the patterns we live by and be willing to replace life draining behaviors with those that are life-giving. This careful introspection isn't easy because it makes us look honestly at the underlying reasons for our choices in thought, speech, attitude, and action. We then begin a lifelong journey of cutting out deep-rooted negativity and substituting better choices. This isn't done overnight, but only through a commitment to escape the cycle of unsatisfactory living.

Refusing to acknowledge and change those patterns condemns us to a journey of repeatedly making the same mistakes.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Got to Go

I get excited about new ideas and the potential for change. I love the excitement of dreaming of what could be and sharing the vision with other people. The danger in new directions however is that they can stay in the idea phase if we aren't intentional. At some point we have to figure out how to make things happen and take steps of action.

If we want to see things move forward there has to be actual movement.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

What You Said

We all have certain phrases and words we commonly use. Sometimes it's a specific word we use to express our surprise or the way we react to circumstances. Most of us have even established patterns of speech we use to interact with people closest to us even if it isn't always the best.

There are some things I have purposely removed from my verbal repertoire once I realized it, but others have stayed over the years. Those that stay become words that define me, my thoughts, and even describe the people around me. I would like to say those are always healthy, but that isn't always the case.

Instead of just focusing on the specific words (although those carry a lot of weight) I might be better served to ask myself deeper questions. Am I speaking words of blessing or words of discouragement? Do people look forward to hearing me speak to them or look for ways to avoid me? Am I a bringer of life with my speech or do I take life away? These thoughts focus on the motivation for what I say instead of just correcting poor speech habits. Honestly answering these questions gives me an opportunity to make positive changes to benefit other people and become a better person.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Desire for Flavor

A friend of mine would frequently go on a diet to lose some quick pounds. He kept a pretty strict plan while he was on it and was careful about each food item he ate. He had one quirky behavior while on this plan however. When he had the desire for something sweet, he would chew up a brownie and then spit it out before swallowing it. His thought was that this gave him the taste of chocolate, but it didn't give him the calories he was trying to avoid.

If we take in teaching or an experience and are emotionally stirred but don't apply it to our lives, we are doing the same thing. We've had a taste of something, but haven't ingested it to let it have an impact on our life. If we aren't changed in some way (even minimally) we haven't really committed ourselves to what we've experienced.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Recovery Shot

A good friend of mine who was a high school golf coach once told me that if I wanted to be more successful in the game I needed to learn to hit a decent recovery shot. He said the best golfers realize they won't hit every shot perfectly and have developed the ability to recover from that mistake. Sometimes it's learning to sacrifice to get back on a level playing surface and out of uneven territory. Other times it's about navigating through hazards and tough terrain while moving toward the goal. This shot is something every golfer will need at some point.

I shared this idea with a friend over coffee this morning as I realized how we need the ability to hit a recovery shot whether we play golf or not. We are imperfect people and won't always say the right words, react in the healthiest way, choose the right path, or treat people like they should be treated. When that happens we can either keep plugging along in the wrong direction and cause greater damage or we can recover from our mistakes and poor choices. It isn't realistic to expect people to always make the right decisions, but we can work together to recover and get back on the right path.

Admitting we make mistakes is an important step. It's incomplete, however, if we don't do what's necessary to make things better.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Continually Updating

Two years ago I started a journey of personal transformation. I had reached my IHHE moment (I Have Had Enough) and committed to a a lifestyle change to improve my physical health. I didn't know exactly how things were going to progress, but I knew I wasn't content to let them stay the same. It hasn't always been easy and there have been some potential detours in the road, but I have maintained my focus and kept pushing forward. I don't know exactly where this will end up or exactly what I will look like in the future, but I feel more confident walking down this pathway.

I am still a work in progress in many different ways and not just physically. I want to see my compassion increase, my emotional health improve, to become wiser, to increase in positive influence, to be a more fully devoted follower of Christ, and to find new ways to use my personal strengths to help others. I want to be an improved husband, father, and friend who benefits the lives of others. While I may be on the right track in some of these areas, I also recognize how far I have to go. Thankfully, my entire life is part of this journey and as long as I am drawing breath I have space to improve.

There is the potential for a better version of me in the future (Craig 2.1 if you will) and I am not content to stick with the present condition. I'm willing to work even when it isn't easy and chase after that vision even though I don't know exactly what I will look like. I do know that this commitment will bring noticeable changes over time and that can sometimes be the fuel I need to carry on.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Seasons Change

One of the things I have enjoyed most from living in Georgia is the changing of seasons. While our summers tend to be fairly hot, we also enjoy an actual spring, fall, and winter too. I like the anticipation of something new and the different activities the varying seasons bring with them. I find myself reaching the end of one season and looking forward to the next with some excitement.

While I can't manipulate the weather to change based on my preferences, I can have more of an impact on the seasons in my personal life. Even though some circumstances may be out of my control I still have greater influence than I do over nature. In times of great busyness, I can choose to continue that pace of intentionally build in down time and rest. In an obvious time of personal growth, I can spend more concentrated time in meditation and journaling to help clear my thoughts. When it is a season for action, I can create opportunities for reflection and rest to make sure I'm at my best.

I want the seasons in my life to change and look forward to the differences each new one will bring. I'll enjoy them more if I'm aware of which one I'm currently in and how God is working to prepare me for the next one.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Seeking Interaction

I started to share a blog post about seasons changing (stay tuned to tomorrow for that one) but wondered how many people would actually read it on the first college football game day. As much as I write for personal release of thoughts and some manner of discipline, I also want what I write to be read.

When we speak (in whatever medium we choose to use) our hope is to be heard. It's not just communicating so we can say we communicated. It's about an interaction and hopefully a continued dialogue.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Just Tell Me

There are several traditional "parenting" sayings that I promised myself I wouldn't use with my own children. For the most part, I've been able to stick with that conviction. One of the biggest ones was to not answer the question, "But why?" with "Because I said so!" While it might be annoying to have to answer that question when it's posed multiple times, I always felt it was better to explain the motivation behind decisions. It didn't always have to be a complicated answer, but I felt it opened communication with our children and helped them to see it wasn't an arbitrary decision. Most of the time they were more at peace when they understood.

We all operate better when we understand the "why" of what we are doing and how decisions are made that affect us. If we focus on the underlying motivation it fuels us into more consistent action. As we share the "what" it helps if we can also effectively communicate the "why."

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What We Want

Our society is structured mostly for us to consume. Products are created, services are marketed, experiences are designed, and innovations are intentionally developed to satisfy the needs of the consumer. A consumeristic attitude is focused on the quality of what we receive and gives our wants permission to drive our actions. When we don't like something the responsibility falls on the provider to make things right or we'll take our attention (and resources) elsewhere.

This may be the basis of a capitalistic society, but it doesn't necessarily translate well to other areas of our life. A self-centered focus doesn't create positive change in our community, help our relationships mature, or encourage others to grow. We've got to actively engage in being part of the change we want to see. If we want things to be better, we've got to become contributors and not just be consumers.

Consumers point out problems. Contributors are part of the solution.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

All You Can Need

When I was a high school student at the Mainland High School in Daytona Beach (Buc Pride Never Dies!) our group of friends was known to frequent a local pizza buffet called "Mr. Gatti's." It was about $6.50 for the pizza/pasta buffet and a pitcher of soda and we would eat there often. There was a back room where cartoons were always played and our request for them to play Bugs Bunny was always met. This was a place we ended up at quite often. The number of our group would range from 3-4 to 25-30 and our presence was guaranteed to put their pizza ovens into overdrive. We wanted to make sure we got the most for our money and did some serious damage to their bottom line (even if it didn't show in our waistline at that age.)

I don't remember much about the taste of the pizza. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was far from the best we ever had. The best memories of our many hours spent there aren't about the food at all (even if a buffet can be a teen's best friend.) It was much more about the community we shared with each other. We laughed, told stupid stories, flirted with each other, shared dreams for our future, and wondered what was going to come next. This place was special because it represented a safe place for us to be in this season of our lives. It holds memories (even though it no longer exists) of a group of high schoolers who weren't quite sure what was in our future, but knew we wanted to enjoy the time we had right then.

There is solid power in community. The togetherness of over 25 years ago is still cemented in my memory as valuable and important. We still need those places of gathering and a close group around us even if an all-you-can-eat buffet isn't part of our present agenda. We just need to be part of a group that delivers those same values regardless of the menu.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

More Than a Schedule

Your schedule is less about what you are doing and more about who you are becoming. 
-Bill Hybels

We all have schedules to maintain and tasks that move us through each week. There are dozens of important items and appointments and it doesn't take long before we have completely filled up our days.

Being busy isn't necessarily a bad thing (at least not all the time), but we do need to keep the right perspective on it. Are we aligning our tasks and calendars just to get things done or do we intentionally structure our agenda to build towards a better future? This isn't always an easy balance to maintain, but we feel less frustrated by our days when we see how it helps us grow into something more.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Know Yourself

A few days ago I was in the gym and a news broadcast was on the big screen TV nearby. I happened to look up while they were interviewing one of the vice presidential candidates and saw on closed caption what he was saying. In just a few sentences he took a personally directed question and turned it around to blast his opponent. It was a quick, learned response that avoided answering the question he was originally asked and focused on diminishing the opposition. I never did see him respond to the personal question as he was too busy telling people why he wasn't like somebody else.

This response provided an interesting observation into human behavior. So often, we focus on what we aren't instead of being clear about who we actually are. Solidifying our personal strengths and being confident in them (without being arrogant) puts forth a better representation of who we truly are. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) this takes a good dose of self-awareness and the godly confidence to be content with who we are. This doesn't mean we are complacent and perfectly happy with our present state, but that we are willing to be a work in progress and be comfortable as we keep growing.

Own who you are as a work in progress and focus on your next steps of change. That's a healthier approach than elevating yourself by pushing others downward.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Better Story

There are some very entertaining viral videos by a guy who walks up to random people and says, "Story Time!" and then proceeds to make up a sentence or two about them. They are quite hilarious and always catch these strangers off guard with his creativity. In most of the videos, the people who are part of his story quickly engage in his humor and make the situation even funnier. They play their role in this made-up story because they are actively engaged in its telling and he doesn't portray them in a hurtful light.

Made-up stories don't always work out so well, however, especially when we invent them in our minds. We are all capable of writing a terrible mental story about other people and the conflicts we face. I'll admit I've even had arguments without ever speaking to someone I'm in conflict with. Instead, I have a very one-sided internal dialogue that doesn't usually go well. I'll mentally script out an encounter, expect the worst possible response, and end up making the situation more negative without speaking a word out loud.

As a story teller, I can fall into this unhealthy practice pretty quickly if I don't pay attention. It's caused relationship damage in my life and I've had to learn to recognize when I start down this very slippery slope. Even though I don't always combat it perfectly, I've learned one simple phrase that helps me keep from writing these stories in my mind. When I feel I am drifting into a dangerous practice I tell myself, "Believe the best." This puts other people in a positive light and reminds me to have an honest face-to-face conversation without making up a mental story that isn't going to help anyone.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Currently on Repeat

In the past few weeks I have found myself meditating on the phrase, "Guide me, O great Jehovah." It keeps showing up in my journaling, my prayers and in my meditative thoughts. I shared this with my wife this weekend and she quickly identified it as my present liturgy. It's the powerfully repetitive phrase I need to continue to focus on as God guides me through what it means. There is tremendous impact in regular rhythm of pondering these five simple words.

I am still sorting out where that guidance will take me, but I can think of several current pressing areas I need that wisdom from Jehovah:

My family's future
The conversations I have with people
My daily schedule
Meetings I participate in
Preparation of messages, teaching, and ministry direction
To interact with people my life intersects with
My thinking and how my mind shapes all I say and do

I don't believe this is supposed to be a short-term practice, but something I am called to slowly wade through in the days ahead. This spiritual mantra can be affirming even as it challenges me to look at my life with new vision and obedient perspective.

Monday, August 15, 2016

My Own Appearance

In the past two years I have undergone a radical physical transformation as I've dedicated myself to a healthier lifestyle. At the beginning it wasn't easy to keep my focus, but it has now become a disciplined part of who I am. I feel better about myself and like how my improved health has changed my physical appearance.

Spending more time in the gym has also exposed me to a wider group of fitness fanatics who have obviously been working at this longer than I have. I see many of them coming in to work out in tank tops or cut off shirts that show off their weightlifting dedication. Several times I have thought to myself, "Don't wear a tank top to the gym because you don't look as muscular as that person." Even though I am comfortable with my fitness level, I still find myself caught in the comparison trap.

Comparison can be dangerous to our well being when we find ourselves constantly measuring our success based on someone else. It's not easy to set this aside, but it's essential if we want to keep a healthy perspective on our own progress. I think we can let others encourage us and push us forward into positive life change, but we can't allow their growth to define us. We don't need to look, think, talk, or live just like anyone else. Our confidence needs to come from being the best version of ourselves we can be.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Be There

Are we so consumed with the busyness of accomplishment in our lives that we’ve forgotten to take pleasure in the journey?

Often it’s easy to become so consumed with doing things to maintain a lifestyle that we forget how to live in the middle of those efforts. Our passion for pursuing health can lead us to being consumed by exercise regimens instead of taking pleasure in good health. Our pursuit of career goals can lead us to tunnel vision that eliminates the enjoyment of progress. We can pour our lives into church and working for Christ and never really walk with Him in a relationship. A deep passion for providing every opportunity for our family negates the simple joy of doing things together. The efforts to push ahead are valuable and shouldn’t be neglected, but we’ve missing something incredibly valuable if we just zero in on the perceived destination.

I think sometimes I’ve become so focused on doing that I’ve forgotten the value of being. Life isn’t just about the targets in front of us. While there is great satisfaction in achieving those goals our memories are made in the steps along the journey.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Changing Trajectory

Trajectory is a great physics principle that refers to the flight path of an object. From a sociological view it can also be used to describe individual lives and the path each of us takes through life. In either instance, there are outside factors that influence what that trajectory looks like.

We all have the power of influence. Our conversations, brief interactions, and personal efforts all have the potential to make a difference in another person’s life. It may be a significant opportunity to influence (parents, mentors, teachers, coaches, pastors) or it may be a more subtle personal interaction with people we see on our path of life. We won’t always see the full impact we potentially have on others, but it’s important to mindful of it as we walk through life.

How can we positively affect people’s trajectory? How can we look to intentionally change someone’s life path in an encouraging way? Don't only focus on long term growth, but on how you are changing things for people each day. You never know how important our positive encouragement might be and the difference it can make in that person's life.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Adjusting As We Go

Our family is entering a new season of life as our oldest daughter starts college in just a couple of weeks. She is attending the local community college and we are all in agreement on the wisdom of that plan for many different reasons. Part of her future desire is to finish her two year degree and then take some time off from school to be sure what direction she wants to follow. I think she might sometimes feel pressure to have those answers already confirmed even though we continue to reassure her that isn't necessary. I've shared with her my own journey and how I was able to use my two years of community college to narrow my focus and figure some things out.

I believe God has a purpose for each of us, but I also believe that purpose can be adjusted based on our season of life. While I am confident in my current life calling, I also believe it was different when I was younger. When I was just coming out of college, there was no doubt in my mind that I was supposed to be an athletic trainer and teacher. For nine glorious years at Mainland High School I was fulfilling my purpose and serving where I was supposed to be. When that season was complete, I stepped into the next role I was meant to fill and found great satisfaction in living it out through youth ministry. Even though I hadn't necessarily anticipated this change in direction I was able to maintain flexibility and adjust as life created new opportunities around me.

We don't always have to have every step of life's journey figured out. This doesn't mean we can't dream and plan for the future. It just means we should be ready to make adjustments as we grow and new opportunities arise. Even as we chase after our purpose we've got to be flexible as that calling changes as we mature.

Monday, August 8, 2016

On the Journey

Our church staff took a drive through our community today to get an up close look at places around us. For many of us it was a first look at some places we had only heard about and never seen in person. It was an eye-opening experience and helped to make the conditions around us very tangible as we search for ways to be intentionally missional.

While we were riding around we passed one of our local food banks. A partner from Northridge was outside the bank with a truck and trailer full of food for families. We seized the opportunity to pull over and spent some time working together to help their volunteers unload it. It worked up a good sweat for all of us and also gave us the opportunity to serve in a very unexpected way. None of us had planned on stopping there, but God presented the opportunity and we felt led to take action.

I don't think it's a coincidence that we were focusing on ways to make a direct impact in our community and then immediately had the chance to do something about it. God will give us chances to work together and put our faith into practice if we're willing to take action when the moment presents itself. We've just got to have our eyes open and be willing to stop and work when we get the chance.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Avoiding Circles

In the past year and half I've developed an addiction to running. I've also discovered I don't like running around a loop to put in my miles. Perhaps it's a throwback to my days in junior high PE where we had to run around a quarter mile track to reach our long distance. Those circular patterns reinforce my desire to change my scenery and vary the pace when I'm running. It keeps things fresh and stimulates my senses enough to prevent boredom from setting in.

This isn't confined only to my running habits either. I can get caught up in patterns of thought and emotion which run me around in uncomfortable, unfulfilling circles as well. When I recognize this circular rhythm, I have to find ways to bring change to my surroundings to find variety in my routine. It reminds me of a phrase I often reflect on from an author/pastor I follow: "Change of pace + change of place = change of perspective." 

Getting tired of moving and thinking in circles isn't change-provoking on its own. I've actually got to choose new patterns and methods if I want my scenery to be different.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Steady Focus

Pat Summitt was the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee until her health caused her to retire. She passed away recently and will always be considered one of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport. Pat was known for her remarkable commitment and her ability to get the best for and from her athletes.

I was listening to an old interview with her recently and she commented on her coaching philosophy with her teams. She said that offense sells tickets, defense wins games, and rebounding wins championships. Her point was that you can have an off night shooting the basketball, but should never have an off night on defense or rebounding. Unlike a shooting rhythm, the other two actions are predicated mainly on hard work and discipline. Success in those two areas didn’t come down to luck, but was centered on focus, energy, and intensity.

That mindset doesn’t just apply to basketball. While I don’t necessary need to play defense and rebound in my day-to-day life (at least not in the literal sense) I can take that same mentality with my commitment level. I know there will be days when I’m not at the top of my game. It’s in those moments that true grit will be rewarded as I pour my efforts into consistent energy and selfless teamwork. When I recognize things are not as smooth as they might sometimes be, I can still give my focus, energy, and intensity to those around me.

Consistency in effort is a defining mark of character.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Making Choices

Friday is usually my weekly day off and gives me the chance to sleep in a bit later than usual. I don’t always stay asleep much longer than normal, but I often take my time getting out of bed. I’ll pray and meditate on a few things and just relax in the thought of a day off. Some days I prefer to spend that time leisurely enjoying a cup of coffee, but today I chose to lay in bed a while longer.

I had other things I intended to do today as well. I needed a haircut, wanted to hit the gym for a hard workout, and ended up needing to run a few errands. By choosing to stay in bed longer, however, I eliminated some of the time I could spend reading and drinking my coffee. Unless I was willing to be gone until mid-afternoon, I had to get moving a little faster. My early decision to not get up and get moving eliminated other early morning options.

That happens to us as we make choices. There are decisions we make which cause us to forfeit the right to make other decisions. The path we pick (even a short-term one) removes other options from our horizon. These could be financial, health related, in relationships, and our professional path. That doesn’t always mean our choice was poor, but it reminds us of the need to carefully evaluate options. When we understand how the decisions we make are not only affecting this particular moment, we start to see how our lives are the sum of all the things we choose to do.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Out of Practice

There are good habits we build into our lives that don't always endure. Any number of factors can crowd that established behavior out of our schedule including those in and out of our control. I feel that way about writing for this blog. I went through a period of nearly three years where I wrote a daily entry and committed to creating content intended to help people. In the last twelve months, however, that dedication has wavered due to a crowded schedule, personal choices, and even writer's block. Even though I haven't been able to place the emphasis on writing I once did, it's something I want to add back into my regular routine.

We can learn to reestablish habits if they really matter to us. Even if we have started and stopped multiple times, it is possible to relearn the rhythm that once came naturally. It takes a focused desire to follow through, a willingness to set aside the time to make it happen, and some level of accountability. The decision to create and maintain these habits is up to each of us and the value we place on them.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Frequently Disconnected

Our family has just returned from our annual vacation where we hide out on the beach and completely unplug. It's a refreshing time for the five of us to be together and eliminate many of the distractions we face back home. The past three years we have gone technology-free in an effort to engage in the moment without having our attention pulled to social media and the need to respond to every email and text. My wife and I agree we could have stayed for another week while our teenage daughters were not as willing to forgo that connection any longer (or to share a room for one more day either.) All of us agree, however, on the health of disconnecting.

There is tremendous value in stepping away from the frenetic pace of life on a regular basis. While we have committed to making our family vacations free from the tether of our electronic devices, I think we need to make this a more consistent habit. Too much life can pass us by when we are constantly feeling the need to be connected to the rest of the world. Our week away proved that the world can keep moving just fine without my input, influence, or reflections. It's a healthy reminder of the need to focus on the people and events taking place right in front of us.

Are you feeling the need to unplug from the rest of the world? How can you create space to be in the moment and enjoy the people sharing your physical space? What do you need to do to make this a regular habit to help you refocus on what matters most?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Open to All

The Statue of Liberty stands as an icon of freedom and represents the ideal of the open doors of America as we offer refuge and safety to those in need. A poem by Emma Lazarus is located there as well and contains the well known words, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Those words are powerfully inviting as they offer hope for new beginnings and a place to make a home.

As I meditated on that poem this past week, I felt those words should be used to describe the Church as well. We should be a people offering refuge, safety, rest, and the grace of Christ to those in need regardless of their social background, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, skin color, and past life choices. Perhaps this poem by Emma Lazarus could be modified to more accurately define the church's welcoming mentality:

Give me your tired, your poor, 

Your captive masses straining to be free from the heavy weight of sin, 

The rejected, recovering, confused, skeptical, and sinful. 

Send me your depressed, addicted, disadvantaged, neglected, and forgotten.  

Send those who are wandering looking for a home, tossed back and forth by the misguided intent of those who should be speaking love instead of hate. 

Send those searching for acceptance, genuine compassion, a life filled with purpose, and a safe haven from lies, abuse, discrimination, and legalism. 

We are Christ’s church and we lift His lamp as a comforting light to all who choose to enter. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Right Desire

While reading this week, I came across this prayer from Thomas Merton, an influential American monk. I connect with his transparency and the way he is able to communicate his raw emotions. I think this kind of authenticity is appealing because it helps to know that we all struggle through different phases of this life.

"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 that 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 will I 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.”

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Listen Closely

When I'm exercising I like to listen to a variety of things. Running is always done to music, but I will listen to podcasts in the gym. Sometimes they are geared towards leadership, some days are focused on listening to other pastors messages, and others days it's sports. This helps me drown out the other noises and focus on what I'm doing.

Today I was at the back of the gym listening to a podcast while a workout class was taking place near me. Their trainer was yelling out instructions and countdowns to the entire group while loud music played in the background. There was also the mixed soundtrack of people lifting weights, the treadmills and ellipticals behind me, and my own rowing machine. With this cacophony of sounds I had to concentrate a little more than usual to hear my own headphones and what I was trying to take in. With a little focus I was able to tune out the other noises and hear what I wanted to hear.

Can we learn to tune out other distracting noises and listen to what is most important? Are we able to narrow our focus so we can pay attention to what matters most instead of being constantly distracted by surrounding sound? The noises around us may not be completely bad, but they can cause us to lose positive momentum if we can't focus on the messages we need to hear.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Taking a Break

In the past few weeks I've been bothered by some pain in my right heel. I'm not sure what has caused it, but I noticed it after one of my running days. I took a week off in hopes of giving it some time to heal, but it didn't get completely better. Since I'm stubborn (and perhaps a little addicted to running) I decided to get back on the streets in spite of my discomfort. It doesn't hurt too much when I'm running, but I have to concentrate to make sure it isn't altering my stride which would lead to other problems.

I was talking about it with a friend over coffee this week and came to the conclusion that I should take some extended time off to allow it to properly heal. I don't want to do something so damaging through my stubbornness that will cause me long term damage. As much I don't want to stop running, it's in my best interest to adjust my habits to give me time to recover. I will have to ramp up my gym time and use other methods of keeping my fitness levels where I want them.

Sometimes we've got to make difficult decisions that aren't the most appealing in the short term, but make better sense for our long term health. This takes an understanding of life goals and the willingness to make temporary adjustments that will eventually bring greater benefits. Success in life isn't just about what's happening right now, but how the present is setting us up for a better future.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Growing Older

Growing older each year isn't an event that has usually affected me emotionally. I haven't been too caught up in the "number" of my age, but have felt fairly content with each phase of life and the idea of getting older. For some reason, however, turning 45 this year has caused me to be more contemplative than usual. I don't know if it's the realization of being halfway through my 40's or checking off a different age bracket (no longer marking the "36-44" box) that has me thinking more about getting older, but this birthday is one that has been looming on the horizon of my mind for several months.

In spite of my thoughts about my age, I've never felt better physically and am in the best shape of my life. Our girls are maturing with one entering college this year and the other two to follow right behind as we enjoy this season of life with them. My wife and I are in our 22nd year of marriage (25th year of being a couple) and are still madly in love. I believe in the calling God has on my life and look forward to these next steps as He continues to guide us forward. With all of those positive things, I still find myself pausing to think more about aging this year than most.

I suppose it is because I am beginning to comprehend the overall brevity of time and windows of opportunity in front of me. Even though those may be open for another 30-45 years, it still is focusing me on the value of each day and how I choose to spend it. I don't want to waste moments I've been given and yet don't want to rush through anything either. This one life is a gift I have been given and I have a deep desire to use it wisely. This is a truth that hasn't changed since I was a teenager, but I am starting to grasp the tremendous value of it as I move farther along my own timeline.

It's been a relatively good ride so far and I'm ready to do what I can to make sure the next part of the journey is just as enjoyable.

Friday, July 1, 2016

One Big Story

There is one big story being told through the totality of our life. We don’t always see the whole tale or understand how it will all play out. Sometimes the chapter we are currently living out can be discouraging or frustrating and cause us to lose focus. Remembering that this is only part of our larger story can sometimes give us hope to keep pushing forward—to turn the page.

Our story won’t be made up of one bad day, one lousy season, or a few bad decisions. Like any good novel, these are only parts of the bigger narrative of our whole life and there is always hope for redemption and restoration. We do ourselves a disservice if we only focus on one negative (or positive) piece. Keep moving forward and focusing on the big picture and it helps each small season make more sense and not seem as overwhelming.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Seeking Serenity

We have recently started a program called Celebrate Recovery which is a Christ-based recovery program aimed at helping people find healing from life's hurts, hang-ups, and habits. There are repeated elements of the weekly service which help as we all search for positive routines in our life. One of those practices involves reading the serenity prayer aloud collectively before dismissing to our groups. While the repetition can potentially lead to numb recitation it can also become more powerful as it embeds itself in our spirit. The words are powerful if we focus on the intent behind them and hopefully learn to make it a vital part of how we push forward in recovery each day.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pick Up Your Head

One of the most useful tools developed in the last decade is the smart phone. I will admit I have a difficult time imagining how to get work done without one. It's also incredibly useful for my personal life and helps me keep track of important items and reminders. They have also become a handy distraction for when we have to wait. It only takes a minute or two waiting in a line before we pull our phones out and start scrolling through social media, texting someone, or playing a game. While this might seem to help pass the time, I think it can actually be a detriment to real relationships.

I think we've forgotten how to engage in conversations. I think we've neglected the art of being in a moment. Our first reaction when we are forced to wait is to escape to some other place. What if we stopped in those lengthy moments and noticed the people around us? What are we missing out on because our faces are pointed downwards towards our devices? I don't intend this to be a rant against technology because in truth, I am a big fan of technology and find it to be extremely useful. I can only speak from the personal conviction I feel to not jump to my phone when I have a moment of inaction.

Put down your phone and engage in the life around you.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Trying to Find It

When I left Daytona Beach to finish my college degree in Nashville, Tennessee, I was enrolled at Lipscomb University. It is a Christian school and I had certain expectations about the culture I was stepping into. As someone who had struggled to maintain a commitment to a Christian way of life, I expected it would be easier to stay focused on this campus. I mentioned this to a friend of mine (who had also attended Lipscomb) and he shared a thought with me I have never forgotten. He said, "Craig, you will find what you look for." He wasn't trying to discourage me, but wanted to give realistic counsel. Everything I might want to see is available depending on how diligently I'm willing to search.

That principle is still true today. Despite what our social media feeds and news headlines might tell us, there is still a lot of good in our world if we look for it. If we only want to focus on the negative and complain about what's wrong, there will be plenty of that available as well. It's up to us as individuals to decide what we want to search for and how we want to see things. The people and circumstances in our lives will be partially defined by how we view them. What we find depends on what we seek.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Surviving the Heat

The smoldering hot summer temperatures are here. Other parts of the country have been feeling them longer than we have here in Georgia and we are now in the middle of the oppressive heat. It's an overwhelming high temperature that tests the capacity of air conditioning systems and human tolerance. This obviously leads to complaints wherever you go about the summer time temps and how awful they are.

I can't do anything to change the triple digit heat, but I can try to do things to adapt. I've had to adjust my exercise routine and no longer run right after work. We're closing curtains to keep out direct sunlight and have added a window A/C unit in our bedroom. We've even adjusted our dinner habits on the hottest of days and don't cook anything that requires the oven to be on for long periods of time. Our best option is to make adaptations where we can for our best benefit.

There are many circumstances in our lives we can't directly alter. Complaining about the state of things often becomes the next natural step even though that only increases our frustration level. When we are faced with those seemingly unconquerable moments, we'll cope more effectively by shifting our perspective. We aren't always able to transform what we're going through, but we can revise the way we approach it.

If you can’t change your circumstances, you’ll need to change your attitude if you want to survive.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Moving Along

It's no secret that I've become addicted to running in the last year and half. If I go too many days without putting in miles, I start to twitch and become a little unruly. When I'm running I listen to music and also use a running app that alerts me to my running splits. I currently have it set to tell me what my last mile's pace was so I can make adjustments if necessary. There have been several times when I set out at what I thought was a moderate pace only to find out I was running much faster than I anticipated.

Once I realize how fast I'm moving, I have two choices. I can keep up that fast pace or slow down. The biggest factor in my decision is how far I intend to run as the distance is the key for the pace I set. It's no big secret that I can keep up a much faster pace if I am only out for shorter distances.

This is the same for other areas of my life too. I can maintain a fairly frenetic pace if I am only maintaining it for a short period of time. I can get by with less sleep and higher levels of stress if I know there is an end in sight. My energy levels, coping skills, and relationships tend to suffer if I try to keep moving too quickly over long periods of time. If I want to stay healthy, I've got to recognize how fast I'm moving and determine how long I can sustain it before I have to come to a stop.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Vision Training

Ted Williams was arguably one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He is the last man to hit .400 over an entire baseball season and is a measuring stick for all great hitters. Baseball legends report that his eyesight was so crisp he could see the seams on the baseball as it was thrown from the pitcher. Whether that was true or not, he still had extraordinary vision which is key for success in baseball.

This type of vision doesn't come naturally for everyone. When I was in college, our baseball team went through vision training drills. We would set up a room in the offseason where each player would go through exercises specifically trained to increase peripheral vision and reaction time. These also included agility and balance drills while focusing on improving eyesight. The theory was that training a player's vision would improve their performance.

We had no real time data to determine if this made baseball players better, but the principle of vision training applies to other parts of our life. We function as parents because of what we have seen our parents do (or not do.) We lead others because of how we have seen other people lead. Our life experiences shape the way we view things. These are all a current part of our vision, but they don't have to be the permanent way we we look at things. I believe we have the choice to train ourselves to look at people, circumstances, and our environment differently. We have the power to decide the old way of looking at things is not satisfactory and to do something different. It may not be easy to retrain our vision, but it is possible if we decide it matters enough to us.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Being a Dad

I still remember when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child. There aren't really adequate words to describe the overwhelming joy, excitement, and anxiety of realizing you are going to be a father. I had the opportunity to get used to that feeling as we ended up having three daughters in a little over three years. With three girls that young and close in age there were many times we were just trying to survive while keeping them alive as well. We didn't always know what we were doing (that never changes apparently), but did the best we could with love, laughter, and grace.

Being a father has been one of my most challenging and rewarding life roles. I have never felt qualified (are any of us?) to effectively lead my girls, but have strived to let them know they are loved. I know I've made a ton of mistakes, but I'm hoping they have heard my message of grace for myself and for them. I couldn't love them any more than I do and am excited (and slightly nervous) about this next season of life. I am truly honored to be their father and to love and lead them with their mother. I don't take this responsibility lightly and am grateful every day for the blessing of being their dad.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


Early in our married life my wife and I were terrible slobs (thankfully that is no longer the case.) We didn't really have the discipline to keep a tidy house and allowed our schedules (and laziness) to keep us from cleanliness. Eventually we would reach a mutual point of disgust (and lack of clean dishes) that would force us to stop pretending things were clean. We could no longer hide piles of newspapers under the couch or dirty clothes behind a closed laundry room door. Things had to be dealt with or the situation was never going to get any better.

I think we can do the same thing with the spiritual health of our life. We don't have the proper habits to keep things in order so they slide into disarray. While we might be uneasy about the state of things, we also realize we can hide it for a while if we're careful. Eventually, the mess will become more noticeable in our relationships, our attitude, and our overall health and we'll be forced to do something about it.

I don't want to pretend that spiritual health is supposed to be neat and orderly. In fact, I think it's the exact opposite. An authentic spiritual journey has rough edges, is far from perfect, and doesn't always flow smoothly according to everybody's expectations. The key to keeping things moving forward is to be free to call it for what it is as we keep working on it. Pretending that things are neat and clean because we are hiding the truth doesn't benefit anyone. Be willing to admit we are all messy while pursuing God's best in our lives. That's the quality of a genuine life headed in the right direction.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Work the System

Last week at middle school camp I had a plan for running before the campers got up. There were two fellow runners on our camp staff and we all agreed to meet at 5:30 am to run 5-6 miles together. As I was walking back to my cabin the night before we were supposed to run, I told my friend that I might not have committed to it without my running partners.

I was in the middle of stretching the next morning shortly after 5 am when the first text message came in letting me know one of our running group wasn't going to make it. I kept stretching after sending a quick response, but only had to wait a few minutes before my other partner bowed out. At this point I could have changed clothes and put the run off for another day, but I was already committed to the process of getting ready. Having already taken a few steps in the right direction gave me the impetus to follow through.

I like to go with the flow of things, but sometimes having a process of steps also helps to keep me focused. Having some idea of what I should be doing and the order I should do it in can give me the motivation to keep moving forward when I might falter. Sticking with some routines of preparation and planning create an opportunity to develop discipline and to keep doing the right things.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Camp Memories

We wrapped up another week of middle school camp this past Friday with 132 campers and 27 staff members. While this was one of my most stressful years leading into camp, it ended up delivering many things I am grateful for:

  • Quality time setting up for camp with a guy I've been able to invest in over several years
  • Running pre-dawn miles that gave me time to meditate and focus
  • Watching a team of volunteers come together around a common purpose
  • Seeing the positive transformation in a group of middle schoolers over four days from being disengaged in worship to active participation
  • Being goofy enough to make a fool of yourself to get campers & staff to laugh
  • Witnessing two college teams (8 people) make an incredible impact on campers with their willingness to engage in activities, dance & sing, and have serious conversations when needed
  • Having tough talks with a few campers and watching them make better decisions as a result
  • A heartfelt, tearful hug and a "thank you" from a 7th grade boy after a message on grace
  • Getting to see eight baptisms take place in the camp pool--one girl being baptized by her father who was also baptized at camp
  • A goodbye hug and thanks from a sweet hearing-impaired camper who was a complete joy all week long
  • A week that already has me looking forward to next year

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Not This Way

When I was in college a group of us decided to take a late night road trip to Jacksonville just to get out of town. We ended up at a Denny's for a post-midnight breakfast before heading home. When I left the restaurant in our car I quickly discovered that Jacksonville is a circuit of one-way streets. Unfortunately, I had started out in the wrong direction before realizing it and ended up driving the wrong way. There was some momentary panic as I saw other cars advancing on me and realized that I was the one driving in the wrong direction. Fortunately, we were able to get turned around before anyone got hurt and figured out how to get moving in the right direction.

It's also easy to get turned around in our life decisions and head in the wrong direction. If we aren't paying attention to the warning signs, we can stay on that track longer than we should and end up hurting ourselves and others. Knowing which direction we want to move, setting up boundaries to keep us from going off course, and enlisting reliable people to help us can help prevent long-term movement down the wrong path.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Not Alone

Waiting for an answer to prayer that never seems to arrive can be frustrating. It leads to feelings of isolation and even beginning to question where God is in our struggles. We might think no one understands exactly what we are dealing with and that we are left to our own strength to make it through. When we falsely believe no one is there for us, it becomes increasingly harder to stand strong in adversity.

I think we might be able to persevere if we could be confident that we are not alone. Knowing we don't have to bear the burden of life's consequences by ourselves can be the small ray of light we need to keep moving forward. This can be found in genuine human relationships, but most importantly in the promises of Christ to always be present for us in good and tough times. There is tremendous power and comfort in believing three simple words, "I Am Here."

Friday, June 3, 2016

Enjoying the Comfort

We have owned this couch for several years now. It isn't one we purchased, but was a hand-me-down gift from friends as they were moving. My wife recovered it and we bought new pillows for it, but it's definitely an old couch. I suppose we could buy a new one, but this one is still comfortable and it doesn't cost me anything to keep. If we were to buy a new couch we would have to shop around for a good bargain, find something we could agree on, and decide if it fits in our house. It's just easier to keep the old one since I already know what I've got and there is no risk involved.

What might seem like solid logic for furniture isn't necessarily the best guide for other decisions in my life. Always staying with something comfortable and familiar doesn't open up new opportunities and pathways of influence. Even though there is very little risk in sticking with old patterns and methods, there also isn't a great opportunity for growth. The truth is we won't discover if something fits us until we give it a shot. We might find the newness is more comfortable than we thought possible once we risk the opportunity in front of us.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Tough Audience

I’ve spoken to a wide variety of audiences in the past twenty plus years. The size of the group has varied from just a few to over a thousand and the setting has been just as different. In recent years it has been mostly adults, but there have been a large number of youth as well. There have been classroom settings, church congregations, youth groups, middle school camps, wedding and funeral attendees, conferences, and devotional thoughts. While I was always invited to speak (in one way or another) that doesn’t mean I was always well received. Some were eagerly open to what I had to say, some maintained tolerance (with a dash of indifference), and others were openly hostile, although that was rare. The receptivity of the crowd and the circumstances surrounding our communication would determine how tough the audience was.

If I was asked to identify the toughest audience I ever had to speak to, it wouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. It wouldn’t be a youth group or a disgruntled group of adults resistant to a message of change. The truth is that the toughest audience I’ve ever had to speak to is me. I know me far too well, think too cynically at times, and don’t always believe the positive things I tell myself. Even when I know what I have to say is good for me, I don’t always take it as well as I should.

A good speaker finds a way to connect with their listeners even through their resistance. You change your approach, use humor to loosen them up, and feel the tone of the room to discover if you’re making an impact. It’s interesting how changing things up is the best way for me to learn to listen to my own voice of reason.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Looking at Things Differently

There are certain routines I keep in my life to help me stay focused and disciplined on what matters most. While I will admit this is helpful in many ways, it can also create ruts that get deeper over time. What were once helpful routines now become ingrained habits that can become so second nature I miss out on important things along the way. It's like driving the same path to work every day. Since it is second nature, there are occasions when you end up at work and don't remember any part of the drive itself. The routine crowds out our attention and creative thinking.

To break that cycle I've started to do simple things like changing my parking spot at work and sitting in different chairs in meetings and in worship on Sunday mornings. It's amazing how something as simple as moving 10-15 feet in a different direction can change your perspective. It changes my sight line of the room and lets me see things in a new way. Even the act of parking in a new spot changes my path of walking into the building and the way I perceive our property.

I still believe firmly in good routines and disciplined living to help me stay on track with what is important. It's just a good idea to change the way I look at things now and then so I don't take them for granted.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Thinking Ahead

Part of my afternoon was spent in advance meal preparation. I cooked two pounds of sausage and 18 eggs to make burritos for my breakfasts for the next two weeks. It takes about an hour to cook the ingredients, wrap the burritos for freezing, and clean up the kitchen. The benefit is that I now have food covered for the rest of my week at home and for next week while I am at middle school camp. The up front cost of time and energy helps me make a healthier choice because I was willing to plan ahead.

Too many times we are left with poor choices in the moment because we haven't planned far enough ahead. We haven't set back financial reserves, created margin in our schedules, or even thought about contingency options in our plans. Obviously there is no way to be entirely equipped for changes in circumstances, but we can hopefully set ourselves up to be a little more successful if we think some things through ahead of time.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Start Riding

"It's like riding a bike." I've heard that phrase most of my life in relation to an action I've done many times before. The premise is that once you've learned to do something, you'll always know how. What you gain is something called muscle memory that can be triggered in the right situation to help you use skills your mind and body remember.

This is a transferable principle to other areas of our life even though it may not always be positive. If our learned response to stressful circumstances is a negative one, we will tend to fall back into those patterns. When we don’t have time to think about how we want to react our learned instincts take over.

Much like a poorly executed athletic movement, this doesn’t have to be a permanent reaction. We have the ability to learn something new, but need to be willing to invest the time and energy into developing a new skill set. This means we have to recognize our poorly formed habits, commit to learning a better method, and then continuing to practice it until it becomes our new reality. The increase in eventual positive response will make it worth our efforts.