Monday, February 29, 2016

Truthfully Speaking

I met with a group of men tonight as we talked about developing community with other guys and how to make that a reality. One of the key characteristics we shared was being able to speak courageously to each other. It was focused on the idea of speaking the truth in love.

I don’t think we have a shortage of voices wanting to speak truth to us. People want to point out what they see wrong and share how we need to make corrections. The problem is that it isn’t always shared in a loving way. It becomes more about someone being right than revealing a genuine concern for our growth and well-being. I don’t think this means we need to sugarcoat things and hold back from speaking words that can help. I do think it means we need to remember that love should be the primary characteristic of our interaction.

Perhaps courageous sharing doesn’t begin with words, but starts with our acts of love. If we are more eager to genuinely care for people, we earn the right to speak tough truths when they are needed. Our mindset changes to reflect true compassion instead of the need to “fix” people and be proven right.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Family Affair

My wife and I traveled to Florida this weekend for the very special wedding of someone I have known since she was a toddler. Her father has been a mentor, colleague, and friend for many years and I was deeply honored to be part of their family's day. The conditions were almost perfect and  the details came together in a harmonious blessing for the couple and all of us in attendance as well.

The weekend carried another special blessing as I was able to spend time with many of my friends from Mainland High School. These are people that have been an influential part of my life for 30 years—first as a student, then as a co-worker, and ultimately as close friends. We have endured so much together in that time. We have shared high peaks of joy, deep valleys of sorrow, frustrating seasons of growth, and great life change. There is a history of rolling laughter, sweat equity, kind generosity, stubborn disagreement, and a shared passion for making a difference in our community. Together we have made a mutual investment in thousands of lives and most importantly in each other.

These people are family to me. We know each other—the good and the bad—and we love each other deeply. We have seen each other at our best and our worst while loving each other for the complete picture of who we are. There is a bond between us all that encompasses so much of our life history and is strong enough to unite us across the miles and years. We may not share bloodlines, but we have shared so many other parts of our life forging relationships that bring great joy to my soul. My heart is full from time together with these wonderful people and I am grateful our lives have intersected in so many ways.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Trying to Remember

Have you ever walked into a room and been unable to remember what you walked in there for? Perhaps you’ve been in mid-conversation and suddenly lost the train of thought you were once confidently following. Maybe it becomes the niggling thought in our brain of something we told ourselves we needed to remember and now can’t recall.

The truth is we forget things all the time. If we recognize this we will start to combat forgetfulness with reminding behaviors. I’ve been known to carry a notepad to write things down, leave myself voicemails, send emails to myself, and use Evernote to capture thoughts and ideas before they slip away. Some people’s memory’s are stronger than others, but we all have to figure out ways to keep track of things that matter.

The same is true in our relationship with God. We hit moments of difficulty and wonder how we can make our way through it even though we’ve been delivered in the past. We struggle maintaining focus in our daily routines because we’ve forgotten about the day-to-day strength God has promised to provide. I think it’s one of the reasons God constantly gives us reminders of what He has already done. The power of the past slips from our memory as we move farther away from that momentous event. Stirring up memorable thoughts of what matters most is our best way to fight the slow fade of forgetfulness.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Time to Get Clean

The past 12 years I've had the challenging pleasure of leading a week of camp for middle schoolers. I've served at two different camps with distinctively different styles, but there has been one constant regardless of location and demographic: middle school boys don't always shower during the week. They use Axe body spray as a covering mechanism for sweaty bodies and odors, but not all of them will automatically head for the showers without some coercion. Instead they will use some pseudo-manly scent of body spray to cover themselves in an effort to appear "clean." I can tell you there is no smell on the face of planet earth like a middle school dorm at the end of the week. The blended smell of damp towels (from swimming-not from showering), socks, sweaty t-shirts, and an unholy musty odor create a nasal palette no one should have to endure. This combination of smells serves as a poignant reminder that under the superficial layer of body spray things are still dirty.

How do we do this in other areas of our life? What else do we attempt to cover up hoping no one will notice? What distractions do we use to hide the fact that we are something completely different underneath the surface?

We can spray on a number of superficial behaviors (church attendance, learning to say the right things instead of being honest, avoiding tough conversations, ignoring our feelings), but without addressing any of the underlying issues we are only covering up bigger problems. We might appear to be clean, but the longer we go without dealing with the root cause only adds to our layers of complicated mess. Even if the process is difficult,
we are better off scrubbing off the layers of hurt and frustration so we can be more confident in who we are underneath.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Don't Wait Too Long

One of favorite thoughts to meditate on is adapted from Andy Stanley, a pastor and leader. He asks the question, "Will you be where you want to be five years from now by doing the things you're doing today?" I keep this on a whiteboard near my desk to serve as a reminder of the power of vision and daily discipline. I've written before about this statement and the need to have a clear focus on the five year goal to make sure you're able to achieve it. There's another piece to vision fulfillment that often gets overlooked however--it's the idea of making incremental forward progress.

The benefit of having a five year vision is it helps you make sure what you do today is having an impact on the future. The key to making that long-term goal a reality is to figure out how to accomplish part of it each year. It's not realistic to expect to make 2% progress towards your vision in years 1-4 and then cover the remaining 92% in year 5. The key to achieving lasting change is in our focused effort to make incremental improvements. Waiting too long to get moving in the right direction means we'll only be frustrated when we can't make huge leaps of progress. Learn to take things a piece at a time to find success.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Fill It Up!

Before I changed my eating habits close to a year and a half ago, I used to say my favorite restaurant was a free buffet. I took great pleasure in putting away a ton of food and was comfortable whether it was a salad bar, pizza buffet, Chinese restaurant, or country cooking. Fortunately, I had friends who shared a love for the bottomless food pit and worked with teenagers who would relish the challenge of "all-you-can-eat." We were known for looking for a buffet when it came time to eat and would share tales of the amount of food we had eaten in different places. We even planned out the location of our favorite buffet restaurants for our road trips.

At these gluttony palaces I would pile the food on my plate even though it wasn't necessary-after all, I could go back as many times as I wanted. In fact, sometimes the food would fill my plate to the point of overflowing. In my efforts to get as much as possible on one plate I would inevitably end up losing some food item off the side when something else was added. No matter how much I wanted to put on my plate, there was a limit and something would be lost if I persisted.

While I may not frequent those eating establishments anymore, I am still guilty of trying to crowd too many things onto one plate. In my desire to not miss out on anything and to be part of big, positive projects I end up squeezing out things that are important. This doesn't diminish my desire to achieve more, but it leaves me feeling frustrated when I can't keep the things that really matter in front of me. With too many items on one day's agenda there is a guarantee that something will be pushed off due to a lack of time and energy.

I've either got to limit the number of tasks I take on or resign myself to losing something when it falls off the edge.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Kevin Stone is a fellow executive pastor I follow online who always has helpful things to say. He blogged recently about being accessible to the church staff to provide help and to model servant leadership. While I completely agreed with his post, it also moved me to think about my accessibility in other areas of my life.

Am I available to God’s direction and leading? I know I want to follow where He takes me, but am I open to listening even when I don’t hear exactly what I want to hear? Does my wife think I am accessible? Am I open to sharing with her and ready for conversation while being emotionally and mentally engaged? Do my children think I am available to them? Do they feel I am focused on them when we spend time together or is my attention always elsewhere? What about the people I see on my life’s path? Am I closed off to strangers and friends or do I leave myself open to a genuine interaction that recognizes the intersection of our journeys? Am I allowing myself to be accessible to the Holy Spirit and opportunities for compassion and growth? Am I willing to adjust my personal agenda and schedule to make room for these moments or is my task list too consuming?

Being accessible doesn’t happen accidentally. To be available for the people and moments that matter there has to be an intentional effort to be open, aware, and present.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Everybody Wants to Be a Hero

The end of the current NBA season will also see the conclusion of the career of Kobe Bryant as he  retires after 20 years. He has spent his entire career playing for the LA Lakers and has been widely regarded as one of the most competitive and intense players of all time. Kobe was always able to back it up on the court and finishes his career with five championships, multiple awards, and as the third all-time leading scorer. He hasn’t always been well-received for a number of different reasons—some of them for his exploits off the court as much as on.

I heard an interview with Kobe last week where he was asked about the reception he is now receiving from opposing crowds and teams. With his career winding down, they are showing great appreciation for his spectacular play when that wasn’t always the case. He was asked specifically about being a villain to many fans for the past 20 years and how he handles now being treated as a hero. He essentially answered by saying we all are both the hero and the villain. It all depends on the individual person’s perspective.

That’s a powerful statement to meditate on. I can definitely see how it applies to athletics—the home team is going to celebrate your competitiveness while the opposition won’t have the same appreciation. I can see how it happens in leadership as well when certain tough decisions may benefit those who celebrate and be harder on those who might vilify you. It certainly happens in parenting depending on the circumstances and the tone of the conversation and whether discipline is involved.

Can we accept playing both roles depending on the situation? I will confess I always want to be a hero, but that aspiration doesn’t always help me when making hard choices. I don’t want to intentionally be a villain, but there are going to be times when we have to learn to be okay with not saving the day.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Choosing a Path

I’ve written before about my fascination with people and their individual stories. I wonder how they’ve ended up in their present condition and location and the path of life which has led them here. It’s not always easy to see the depth of a life story from a distance and some people are very good at hiding those stories. Sadly, the pain of life can be more obvious in some people than in others even from far away.

A derailed life is a result of choice. That doesn’t mean people always choose to live a life which has drifted into pain and discomfort. It does reflect our previous (and sometimes current) choices which have crafted difficult circumstances. These can be a direct result of the decisions made by each of us while some of our present condition is caused by the choices of others around us. The weight of poor choices can be a heavy burden to bear.

While we can’t negate the past influence of these options, we can decide what to do with them in the future. Each of us possesses the power to cast aside the weight of what is behind and strain ahead into something better. It’s the only way to get a derailed life story back on track.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Two days a week I have coffee with a friend as our local Starbucks opens. We give up a little sleep and morning quiet time to connect with each other and share thoughts on any number of things. As I sat down this morning with my coffee, I was waiting for my friend to get his from the counter. Since I was sitting alone at the table, I started to reach for my phone so I could scroll through social media and email while I waited. I stopped myself before I could pull my phone out as I realized I was only looking to kill two minutes before he sat down. That’s right—it was a two minute wait I had to endure and I was looking for a way to escape sitting still.

Technology can be an incredibly useful tool, but it has also become our most common method of escapism. We avoid the people around us in public places by staring at our phones, ignore our families by scrolling through social media, and neglect the moments of potential quiet thought while waiting for the rest of our life to keep moving. It’s not just a fascination with the world around us, but it has become a way for us to practice escapism. We can focus on the details of everything except for the simple realism of the moment right in front of us.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Answering the Call

Earlier this year I wrote about the power of a "one word" focus and how it shapes the rest of the year. My word for this year is "calling" and I'm still working through what it means and how the rest of my decisions should be shaped by it. There is more depth in this particular word than I can adequately define right now, but I think that's part of the process of spending the year working through it. I do believe we each have them (several actually) that should guide us the decisions we make and the way we spend our energies.

I don't want to reduce the power of a calling to an action list of behaviors, but I also recognize some necessary steps to live it out:

-Realize you have one. This isn't just about your career passion, but the total person you're becoming.

-Develop the skills to support it. A passionate desire needs to be paired with a willingness to learn how to be better.

-Let it be the mission that fuels your choices. This should lead us to make decisions to increase our integrity and strengthen our character in pursuit of our calling. Everything we do should be structured by our desire to completely live this out.

Exploring your calling can be frightening especially as we are stretched to grow in new areas and to work on our areas of weakness. The satisfaction we gain from living fully in this will be worth the work we have to put in to make it a genuine part of who we are becoming.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Low Levels

I have a wireless headset I use to listen to music when I'm running. It keeps a charge for a decent amount of time and will also warn me when the battery needs to be recharged. It will interrupt my music to speak, "battery is low" in my headphones. I was about 2/3 of the way through my run today when it started the warning. It repeated the warning as I was about to start the last mile of my long run and I blurted out loud, "Mine is too!"

Wouldn't it be convenient if we had a warning sign when our personal battery level was getting low? It would be a clear signal that it was time to stop and recharge before our minds and/or bodies quit. In retrospect, we do have those warnings if we learn to pay attention to them. Decreased personal battery levels show themselves in our irritability, difficulty sleeping, lack of concentration, diminished creativity, lack of patience, overlooking of details, and even personal relationship upheaval. These all point to low energy reserves and predict a crash on the horizon if we don't do something to restore our levels.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Final Countdown

What would you do if you found out you only had three years to live? While we might think about tackling our “bucket list” of activities or quitting our jobs, I really believe we would extra emphasis on the things that would last.

What decisions would you make to shape your legacy? What important things would you pass on to your children? How would you prepare for their future? With a limited time frame to spend with the people you care about we would have to be very intentional.

Do we really need to wait until we believe the end is near to make these decisions? We all have a limit on our remaining time, but we don’t know what that limit is. If we want to have a lasting, positive impact we should start making those decisions today.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Self Realization

There is a certain standard of excellence for the men's basketball program at Duke University which ranks them as elite. They are almost always in the in line for national title contention, produce NBA players, and are led by one of the best coaches in the history of basketball. After winning the national title last year, they have struggled to live up to the expectations of their program during this season. While their record would be more than acceptable at most schools, the team has struggled to find the normal expected consistency of Duke basketball.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski recognizes this and was quoted after a recent of losses saying, "The margin between us winning and losing is narrow... we need to realize who we are." I think Coach K is saying his team needs to recognize their identity and learn to adapt their style based on that reality. If they are not as talented as their teams have been in the past, they will need to work harder to achieve their goal of winning. Their margin for error is less than it might have been in previous years.

This honest self-assessment isn't always easy to undertake, but it's essential if we want to be successful. We need to know who we are and what we're capable of doing to discover areas we can improve. I believe we can surpass some personal levels with reshaping and dedication, but this is less feasible without an understanding of who we currently are.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Getting Credit

This year in the NBA has been enjoyable to watch for many reasons, but especially for the potentially record-setting season of the Golden State Warriors. As a team, they have improved tremendously even after winning the title last year. It’s been fun to watch and I would love to see them go all the way again and make history.

Their head coach (in his second season leading the team) is Steve Kerr. Due to a complication from back surgery, Steve had to miss the first half of the season and his associate coach, Luke Walton led the team. While Luke was coaching, the team set a record for the best start to a season and were 39-4 before Steve returned to coach. In an interesting twist to NBA rules however, these wins and losses don’t go to Luke’s coaching record, but to Steve Kerr’s. Even though he did an excellent job of leading the team he doesn’t receive official credit for the victories.

Genuinely great leaders aren’t focused on getting credit, but on team success. They recognize the need to build for the long term without focusing on padding their own resume. Maintaining a humble attitude will eventually lead to rewards even if that isn’t the overall goal. This is the kind of leader people want to follow and work hard for.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Make It Count

This may not come across in the manner I intend it, but I want the things I do to have lasting impact. It's not so much that I want my name to be widely known, but I want the things I do to make a difference. Few things frustrate me more than feeling as if my efforts haven't produced anything of worth or made a contribution in some way.

I realize having an impact may not always be a grand event of monumental change, and I'm honestly okay with the understanding. I recognize I can't expect everything on my to-do list to radically change people's lives. My hope (and I don't think I'm alone in this) is to make my life count for something.

I believe there's a desire waiting to be activated in each of us to do something to make an impact on the life around us. If we believe this is true, we can start looking for ways to make it happen.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Competing Noise

My wife was sitting on the couch watching television while I was making a smoothie earlier today. The sound of the blender was drowning out her program and making it difficult to watch. I realized she had paused Netflix when I couldn't hear anything coming from the living room. When I asked her what she was doing, she told me she didn't want to try and compete with the blender's volume and would wait until I was done before she resumed watching. She made sure I knew she wasn't upset about it and she didn't want to get into a battle of volumes, but would wait for the right time.

How often do discussions and differing opinions become battles of escalating volume? We feel the need to speak our thoughts and will do so regardless of what other people are sharing. Adding multiple voices on top of each other creates a cacophony of noise resulting in a lack of clarity and decreased feelings of personal value. 

There is a way to find an equal opportunity to share, but it will require an attitude of patient humility and a willingness to listen. Choosing to wait your turn isn't just polite. It's the only way we can engage each other while appreciating the value of what someone else has to say.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Looking Ahead

"Some days you don't feel like going in that weight room, but you have to remind yourself where you want to be once you do get back up there,"
Zack Wheeler, NY Mets pitcher recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Zack Wheeler wants to pitch and be part of the dynamic Mets staff. As a fan, I want him back out there too because he makes the team better overall. I also appreciate how he practices discipline while keeping his eyes focused on his goal. He obviously doesn't just want to return to the mound, but wants to be successful once he gets there. Zack has a vision for where he wants to go and how he wants to perform once his opportunity arrives.

I need those reminders for myself. I believe I have a vision for where I want to go and need to use each day as preparation for future opportunities. We can each have this focus for the different areas of our lives--family, personal growth, career, and our spiritual journey. Realizing the work we put in today will affect us in the future gives more meaning to the present even as we anticipate fulfilling our vision.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Attention Getter

A few years ago, our mission team was headed to Arizona to work on the Apache reservation. We had arrived at the Atlanta airport and our group was waiting for me to give them some check-in instructions once I talked with the airline. Once I knew our plan, I walked over to our team and said (somewhat loudly), “If everyone would gather over here, I’ll tell you what we need to do next.” Thankfully, our team responded well and moved in closer to hear me. The unexpected result of my announcement was that another ten travelers moved closer to our group as well even though they had no idea who I was. Apparently my voice was enough to get their attention and pull them in to our conversation.

This had me thinking about what it takes to get our attention. What conditions have to be right for us to notice a change in our surroundings? How focused do we need to be on what’s happening around us to detect something new? Does it take great tragedy to get our attention? Is there a need within us to hear something different? Much like the people in the airport, we can be moved by a voice which commands our attention. The question is what voice we let speak to us in a way that pulls us away from our current path.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Worth Much More Than 1000 (Part 2)

In yesterday's blog I posted a picture (the one above) and left the interpretation up to each individual reader with a promise to reveal more details today. There are specifics which can't be determined without some background information and even then there are observations which vary from person to person. I think it validates the idea of the power of our own perception.

I took this picture several years ago on one of our mission trips to Arizona. This particular photo is on the White Mountain Apache Reservation at a mission we partner with called Apache Youth Ministries (AYM). They have a facility named "The Kennel" which is used to minister to youth in the Apache tribe after schools and provide assistance. They work to develop leadership skills, help with academics, show them new paths of hope, and lead them closer to Christ.

This fence surrounds their building and whether it serves to help keep people in or out depends on how you view it. I think it serves as a line of demarcation that lets the Apache youth know this is a safe place to let down their guard without fear of ridicule or abuse. You can view the reservation through the fence because we don't want to shut out the world around them, but want to help them learn to live in it in a healthy, God-honoring way. The focus on the fence is crisp in contrast to the background. Sometimes it is difficult for these youth (and the faithful people that serve them) to stay zoned in on what matters most. They have entered in through this gate and will soon leave and step back into the reality of their personal world.

This picture is worth so much more than 1000 words to me because I know the underlying story and the people it represents. I see great potential, devastating disappointment, and life-giving joy all contained in this one simple photo. Keeping things like this in front of us can remind us of the moments we contribute to.

If you are interested in contributing to mission work with the Apache in Arizona, you can contact AYM directly at or contribute to our next mission trip through PayPal and my email address

Monday, February 1, 2016

Worth 1000

This is a picture I took several years ago in a place which has impacted me deeply. They say a picture is worth 1000 words and I believe this one has many words to share.

I can tell you where it came from, but I'm more curious about what the photo says to each person who looks at it. What do you see? What details are there in the edges of the frame? Does it stir up any thoughts or emotions as you look at it? How do you interpret what you see?

I'll blog tomorrow about the real story behind the picture and leave today's interpretation to each reader's imagination.