Monday, March 31, 2014


This flesh betrays me daily. I battle my own flesh in order to serve my creator and it weighs on me heavily. My lips claim fealty and my mind tells my lips what to say and yet my mind also turns on itself all the time. It is frustrating and I demand to know why I must wage this war on a daily basis. I know from the book of Romans that Paul dealt with this exact same thing and yet he seemed to move beyond it to a place I can only seem to dream about.

Struggling with doubt is no fun, let me tell you. Sometimes, I feel like I’m putting the right foot in front of the other at the correct time. Other times, I have two clubbed left feet. Please accept my apologies if you have two clubbed left feet. Simply stated, I want what I cannot have and that is to claim my love for Jesus and then simply hang on for the ride. As it turns out, there are some hazards along the way and if I turn away for too long, assuming the auto pilot is doing its job, I am surely doomed.

Lately, the toughest things to deal with are emotions and I am certain the enemy is throwing road blocks in my way to trick me into thinking that I am incapable of working through them. To some degree, that assessment is fair; which is to say that I am incapable of working through them. Fortunately, God is faithful and I am thankful for His provision in all things, especially in dealing with something as tricky as emotions. The toughest of these is the feeling of inadequacy. Oddly, I have never experienced this to any great degree until recently. Sure, there have been a few moments when I questioned myself for a split second, but somehow I have always managed to rise above when necessary. Lately, it has been a battle and I have found myself questioning my abilities, even with God’s help. It’s not that I question God’s abilities, as I am fully aware that He can and does do great things through His people. It simply comes down to falling short.

As I am discovering, my greatest weakness is indeed His greatest strength. I fall apart and He shines. I slip and He stands firm, ready to catch me when I fall. He never falters and that’s the part that is so hard to comprehend! Even during times when I feel strong and able to run on my own, He is right there, ready for whatever this life throws at me and ready for whatever bonehead move I make that causes me to stumble. I used to question what it looked like to praise Him in the midst of my trials and now I know He is faithfully waiting for me to acknowledge Him as the one whose strength carries me through those tough times.

More than my savior who rescues me; more than the rock that I lean upon; more than the foundation I build my life on; He is the breath in my lungs. And while that thought makes me smile, it doesn’t end all my doubts. Sometimes, I wish God would just grant me superhero status so I could fly above all of this. But I’m no superhero and every time I attempt to fly I rediscover I wasn’t born with wings. Being made aware of my inability to fly isn’t so terrible, it’s the forgetting how to walk that ultimately brings me to my knees. I suppose that being down there is a good place to be but after having spent the first 40 years being more than capable of walking on my own, I’m realizing I’m not strong enough for the next 40 if I try it alone.

I am convinced that God is refining me right now. He is pruning and shearing and shaping me for His purposes. For that, I live in a constant state of joy because I know that He is working on me and as I change I see His handiwork displayed in the reflections of the people that He continues to bring into my life. The trick is to let Him make His changes before attempting to branch out too far on my own. I get so ahead of myself all the time that I become unplugged. And when that happens I lose sight of what I’m supposed to be doing in the first place. It feels like I’m trying to follow Him in a driving snow storm and I keep winding up in the ditch. So naturally I accept responsibility for driving off course and I begin to doubt whether or not I can keep up. And this is exactly what weighs me down.

However, I am determined not to fall away. I have something in me that cries out for more and I know what it is. No one can take it away from me either, it will live in me for all time and I am thankful for it. God has given me hope. It is a gift and I cherish it until my final breath, knowing full well that the hope within me will live on long after I am gone. Regardless of my doubts, inadequacies, inabilities or imperfections, God declares His love for me by writing that hope deep within me, on the lining of my heart.

“I’m not saying that I have this altogether, or that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: by no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward – to Jesus. I’m off and running and I’m not turning back”.

Friday, March 28, 2014


In this landscape of space we live in, it never ceases to amaze me how angry some people get, especially when having a conversation about a polarizing topic, such as politics. Personally, I have taken to refusing any conversation that involves a polarizing subject matter. This frees me to concentrate on heady issues that are not laden with anger and vitriol, but instead I can be positive through and through. The results are remarkable for my very being as I have noticed a sincere change in my temperament.

Beyond getting angry in conversations, humans tend to get angry in a lot of high friction situations, including driving, shopping in crowded locations, attending crowded events and attending sporting events. In each case listed, there is a task involved that induces a type of situational stress. Some handle that stress well and others not so well. Typically speaking, it comes down to a position or more specifically; an opinion. Opinions are seemingly all too often tied to emotions and while this might seem natural, having an opinion about something should not lead one’s blood pressure to rise rapidly, as is often the case.

For instance, if someone asked you your opinion on coffee and which brand you like and why, you might offer some sound advice based on your experiences and knowledge of coffee. An opinion like that is typically devoid of any emotion with the exception of possibly the emotion of pleasure (or displeasure) as you describe your favorite (or least favorite) coffee. At best, the emotion is simply not there. At worst, you may exhibit an over-reaching opinion that went beyond what you were being asked about as you got excited about something you really like or dislike. Ultimately, any conversation like that can be had without much trouble. There are a bevy of topics that one can discuss in a similar manner and we would do well to take mental notes as to how we interact with such conversations.

Unfortunately, there are also a few topics that when they come up, cause heart rates to rise immediately. There is absolutely nothing healthy about such conversations and yet we find ourselves drawn into them from time to time, sometimes without want. The trick is learning to pull away from them as gracefully as possible, because in the end, no one is going to remember you for how eloquently you argued for or against the color of dominoes (or whatever useless topic you get sucked into). Life is simply too short to get entwined in angry chats about things that people vehemently hate but have absolutely no understanding of how to truly fix. This is not to say there are no good ideas out there about how to solve a lot of what is wrong with our current society, but it more comes down to proper implementation and follow through, something the average citizen has no clue about. This is not to suggest that we as a populace should not be educated about our world, but instead we need to come at arguments armed with solutions, not just stones to throw.

This comes down to intent. I’ve written about it before for other reasons but this is a little different. Intentionality is more than just why, or why not; being intentional reveals not only who you are but also what you think about others. When we drag someone else into a conversation involving a toxic subject, we make certain assumptions and jump to conclusions. The first assumption is they want to be involved in this discussion.  The second is we overvalue our own opinions. We conclude it’s because we enjoy a good argument. And lastly, we seek to validate our position, usually from the perspective of being heard that we are right. For some of us, we might read that and think; what’s wrong with any of that? Your intentions are what speak the loudest and they give away the position of your heart. Conversations are either constructive or destructive in nature and our words will decide which direction we take.

Simply put, you can decide the direction of any given conversation based on what guides you. If your ego is central, your conversations will be guided by what you want and you will find yourself in discussion after discussion involving hollow content (that which does not build up). If instead you value others as much as you value yourself, you may find yourself listening more and responding less. You will avoid baseless chats unless they provide a spring board to a more valuable conversation. And valuable conversations are what we want!

The signs of a healthy discussion should be obvious by now, but just in case there are questions, let’s list them out. The words you use should be for building up and not tearing down; of anyone or anything. Opinions are OK but not if they are used as weapons or ultimatums. Your opinion matters, just try and remember that other people have an opinion too and it might differ drastically from yours; this does not make them ignorant. Everyone deserves to be heard because when we invite as many diverging ideas and opinions to the discussion, we learn not only what other thoughts exist on a given topic, but we become more aware of how and why people think the way they do.

All of this is not to suggest that we cannot have a heated debate because in reality, healthy arguments do exist but they tend to be rare. The reasons for this are quite simple and will always boil down to two things; intent, which we have already discussed and respect, which has been alluded to. It is quite possible to have an ardent debate with one or more people without it leading to a fight. In order for that to be possible, we must learn to respect each other first.

If we can reach the point of respecting each other we can erase most of the anger from conversations and begin to truly arrive at solutions to our woes instead of creating more troubles because of our fighting. It’s a noble thought indeed, but I suppose, it’s only an opinion.

Monday, March 10, 2014

steps to leading

What makes a leader and what entices people to leadership positions? Possessing the qualities of leadership is one thing that marks a true leader, but what happens when a person that is marked as a leader does not step into their place?

First of all, should all those that are marked as such, automatically step into roles of leadership? My belief is that those who possess the character of a leader will not only feel led to that place but others around them will follow accordingly. True leaders have a way of acquiring a following, without trying very hard; this is called influence. This is not always a good thing but when someone possesses the skills of a natural born leader, there is a great deal of responsibility that must be acknowledged, both by the leader and those who follow.

Jesus was (and still is) a perfect example of a natural born leader. What is interesting is looking at how He might have felt regarding the following that occurred during His time and how He dealt with it. The Bible gives us accounts of Jesus own words regarding how, in my opinion, He tried many times to stifle the effect of His leadership. I understand by reading the scriptures that Jesus was making a case first for the intent of the hearts of His followers and was concerned for what would become of these people after He was gone. Jesus had the clarity of knowing His future and how He would only be with these people for a short amount of time. It is important to realize that His concern was the long term effects of following Him and that those around Him during that time were not aware of what was coming.

Leaders in the world, that are of the world, are consumed with a following as well as maintaining a popular view in order to draw as many people to them as possible at that moment. Most leaders are not concerned about their following after they are gone, it is only in the here and now. Leaders who are thrust into their roles early in life are naturally consumed by a certain level of celebrity once a following is established. It is difficult to contain those feelings once they manifest themselves. Ultimately, this type of leadership is mostly concerned with a ‘my needs first’ mentality.

A true leader will inevitably get out of the way so that his or her followers can become leaders and that process will multiply if each new leader shares the same vision. Leadership must start with humility because it is a humble person who can take the hearts of others into consideration before leading them in any direction. Therefore, leaders must also possess compassion in order to manage the tenderness of those that follow. Classically, it was Jesus who told His disciples that whoever would be first must be last and whoever is last will be first. Jesus was specifically referring to the concept of a servant leader. The term is an oxymoron in western culture, but for Jesus it was, and still is, someone who leads from a position of service, especially service to those closest to you that you are leading.

Here in America, we might view that type of leader as weak, or soft, and therefore dismiss their insight and prowess as a leader. However, we would do so at our own peril as it is typically this kind of leader that is thinking of the needs of others ahead of his/her own needs. It is not intrinsic to be this kind of leader as it takes coming to a point of humility first, before one can see the needs of others clearly. Interestingly, I find that people who have kids are more likely to possess the ability to be a servant leader, as opposed to those who have yet to have kids.

Ultimately, I would suggest that we beware of any person who considers themselves to be a leader but does so by ordering others around without compassion. It comes down to being able to count the cost and a good leader understands what is at stake. A humble heart and a tender disposition is key, because those who follow are often exceptionally impressionable. Understanding that is vital because leaders are looked to as motivational forces who hold the ability to shape and mold others. Future leaders will rise up because positive, bold and empathetic role models and leaders invested in their lives; not because they were ordered around on a whim.

Leading by example means leading by performing the steps necessary to teach, train and educate those who follow. This is no small challenge but it cannot be met by simply telling others what to do. Leadership will never be just words, it must be an action. And the first action must be a step in that direction.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Game time

The other day, my daughter got invited to play basketball with some friends. My son was also invited, as my daughter’s friend has a little brother. Technically, I was invited too since their dad was going to be there, but I had planned to go for a run, which sounded infinitely better than shooting hoops; any day.

Naturally, the moment we got there my kids both said goodbye as I was expected to leave. I hesitated and started chatting with the other dad and within seconds I was tempted to stay and play with them. The kids were planning to play Bump, which is a terribly addicting game. As if I were a moth drawn to a flame, I gravitated towards the basket and a ball and simply felt compelled to stick around.

We ended up hanging out for more than two hours and played some 4 on 4 as well as more Bump. The atmosphere was nothing more than fun and everyone was into it. We ran hard, we sweat, we high fived each other and at the end agreed we needed to do this again very soon. In fact, we ended up playing again just a week later and the experience was the same.

The takeaway from our play time was in watching how the kids simply played. I say this because over the past two years or so, I have seen how our kids, and really most kids, get so wrapped up in their electronics. As a parent, I, along with my wife, have worked hard to limit what our kids have access to, which also means we have worked to control what they might become addicted to, in a way. Electronics can become just that, an addiction of sorts. This may very well be this generation’s version of substance abuse.

Looking back over the course of a few days off, where my wife and I set aside an entire day to be free from tech of any sort, we can instantly see the ramifications on not only our kids, but even ourselves. In the times where we pull our minds away from these screens that at times seem to enslave us, we enjoy more, laugh more often and even love each other better. This is not to say that electronics are somehow inherently evil but there has to be a limit placed. I think most parents know this but giving your two year old your tablet to keep him from running amok is an easy remedy and one that I completely understand. The problem is the tablet acts more like a sedative, rendering the child completely inactive for as long as they have it.

It seems we all know this about our devices, including the effect they have on us as parents, but we trudge ahead anyway. Mindless and numbed by the glow of the screen, we dive into each day with less enthusiasm and wonder than the days before we held a light in our hands. Stephen Covey said, “Between stimulus and response is our greatest power – the freedom to choose”. We indeed have the ability to choose to stimulate or to engage ourselves and those around us. My suggestion is to start with a “tech-free day” and see what happens. Maybe you’re so ingrained you have to start with just an hour at a time! Either way, give it a shot. There’s a lot to do out there when we lift our heads up.

I would recommend some basketball with friends.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

life of service

I used to believe that I had to give something to God before He would give me anything. It was this concept of penance that made me think that God was holding His love over my head, just waiting for me to obey Him first. It only made sense, especially given all that I had done in my youth.

Naturally I was bitter towards God, or what I thought was God. For a long time I thought of God as very impersonal and untouchable. I believed He was far away, never close, except when He came down to punish people. I used to think that it was only a matter of time before God was going to just rub me out and then I would spend eternity shoveling coal into a furnace for the devil.

As a kid, I was never privy to the word grace, except for at dinner time, where someone needed to say grace before we could eat. Grace meant nothing to me even though we grew up going to church every Sunday and I attended a private school through the 8th grade. I was left with a very clear understanding that for me to get on good terms with God, I was in for a life time of work…and even then there were no guarantees. To quote a recent sermon, I felt unlovable, worthless and lonely. I struggled with close friendships and as I entered my teen years I became bitter, resentful and arrogant. At the time, those feelings felt completely natural because of how alone I felt. I isolated my thoughts and shared them with no one.

During that time, I would still jump at opportunities to help others. There was always someone that needed help moving, or needed a ride someplace, or needed ten bucks until Friday. I would listen patiently to girls cry about their boyfriends and listen to guys whine about their girlfriends. In the process, every time I did something for someone or helped in any way, I found ways to angle and leverage my position so that I got something out of the deal. Sometimes it was food, other times it was money, sometimes it was a favor but in every case, I was building myself up as a sort of super hero. I was the guy who could solve all your problems, fix everything that was broken and move mountains when necessary. In the process, I became exceptionally prideful.

Interestingly, I was serving others in the process but I never saw it that way. It was always about what I wanted and what I could get out of the deal. I did nothing for free, or at least, rarely. My intentions were purely motivated by how I looked for doing any such act and I wanted everyone to know what I had done. What could have been an amazing 15 years of giving my life for others was severely tainted because it was so one-sided. Certainly, I lacked humility completely and had no interest in humbling myself to others. Not only was I prideful but I was also full of condescension and cynicism; most people were beneath me, or so I felt. Even when faced with individuals who were clearly bright people, I would simply resort to having to one up every story in order to tout my abilities and knowledge. That attitude cost me friend after friend, including family members. Sadly, for a while I was OK with that, because I believed it was easier anyway. If they were so less than I was, why in the world would I want them in my life?

By the time I moved to Oregon, I was down to a couple of friends. Slowly that changed as I met new people and began settling into my new home. But my personality hadn’t changed and before long I was manipulating my relationships for personal gain, just like before. Sadly, even after I met the woman of my dreams, fell in love with her and began our new life together, I continued to treat those around me in the same way as always. It seemed that I was happy to help anyone and even became known, for a while, as the guy that dropped everything to help. Sometimes I would do something just because but most of the time I expected something, even the notoriety and accolades.

The slow change started when we moved to Oregon City and my family life became a little more insulated. I began to take notice of how my help affected others and I became aware that I was capable of more. I had also started spending a little time reading a Bible; something that was somewhat foreign to me at the time. I certainly knew what the book was about and even owned one, somewhere, but I had never truly investigated it. What I found, especially from the New Testament writer Paul, was something I had never really heard about before, and that was grace. More importantly, I learned that grace was something to be given out, especially in acts of service.

The more I read, the more I responded with helping others out with no expectation of a return. It certainly didn’t happen all at once but over the next few years I was able to grasp a reality that I had been ignorant of up until then. That reality was that this life wasn’t about me and never would be. When I faced that reality down for the first time, it hit me hard. I held onto a piece of control for a while afterwards, just to see if I could. The more I fought it, the more obvious it became that I was fighting a losing battle. In time, I stopped trying so hard to please myself and instead spent hours trying to serve others.

That shift in mindset took many years but today I am thankful for the road that God carried me down. And while I certainly do not have it all figured out, I love that He was patient with a wretched sinner like me, that He taught me grace and in the end He showed me what it meant to truly serve another.

I learned that I didn’t have to give anything to God to get something from Him. In fact, I discovered that He gave me His grace and His love while I was still a mere sinner and now all He wants back is my devotion and praise. And as I praise Him for all He has done for me, I am led to pour out that love, grace and joy on others.

Monday, March 3, 2014

It starts with a smile

When we talk about first steps at reaching a lost world, we usually talk about building relationships. It is a natural place to start and we often consider that it all starts with a simple introduction. I think that for most people, it would be easier if that introduction happened through a hospitality ministry worker at their church, but then again, that may be my sarcasm showing, in which case, I apologize.

Being proactive about your witness and sharing the gospel is something we are called to do and yet in today’s modern culture there is an extreme disconnect between individuals. We can certainly place blame all we want to, whether it be on social media, smart phones and electronic devices of all shapes and sizes or even on the fear of rejection. Whatever the case, our receptiveness to reach a lost and dying world seems rather frozen at times. This is not to say that people are not coming to know the freedom of a life that is fully devoted to Jesus, but the ways in which that is happening has more to do with the recently saved reaching backwards to help someone they know. The proof of that can be seen in nearly every modern church today.

What is necessary then, to make a change for those in church today, is to look at how we approach evangelism. That word may take on a different meaning for you than it does for me but either way, it should mean reaching the lost, pure and simple. Sometimes, I think that wearing a T-shirt that says Jesus on the front should be ample but I know the truth and that is that those who are truly disconnected from Jesus aren’t looking for an interrogation. They are also not looking for condemnation, but instead they all seem to want respect for having an open mind. So we stand back, pray for them at times and let them be, hoping that one day they will walk into our church and be introduced to us by the guy at the door. At that point, they are now safe enough for you to talk to because they are in your comfort zone.

Wouldn’t that be nice; evangelism without the messiness and effort? Time for a wake up call; the chances of that happening are slim to none and we need to face that fact in a hurry.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this thought entirely. The spreading of the gospel is said to start with a relationship and therefore we are advised to get to know our neighbors, co-workers and friends who are far from God in order to share with them about our hope. There is truth in that, believe me, and I do not want to deter you from that truth. However, let’s take a look at scripture for a moment. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus called his first four disciples to join him. All we have to draw from these verses is that Jesus simply called them to follow him in order to be fishers of men. We do not get a glimpse into the emotion, banter, dialogue or possible doubts and/or hesitation that filled the moment, primarily from the 4 men who were called. However, consider this; if someone called out to you to drop what you were doing and follow, what would your response be? Jesus probably didn’t yell at the men in an angry tone, to be sure, but He must have been convincing. There must have been something about Him that led those 4 men to make the choice they did. Do you suppose Jesus introduced Himself first? There must have been some sort of introduction, right?

Given that we have to read something into these passages, I am led to believe that Jesus was probably a fairly positive individual. As we read further into His ministry, we find this to be true and in fact, we find no negativity in Him whatsoever (although maybe a hint of frustration at times). What Jesus possessed is something we call assertiveness but He was also very positive in the way He spoke to His disciples and also the crowds. In order for Him to be effective in His approach, He had to possess an immense air of positivity and assertiveness, all before He spoke a single word. Jesus indeed had all that and more because of the authority He was given from the Father. What we fail to recognize at times is that we too possess the same attributes because they have been given to us as gifts by the Holy Spirit.

What does this mean in regards to the spreading of the gospel? Before we even introduce ourselves to someone, we have to possess an air of positivity and assertiveness. In order for us to do that, we must pray for discernment and seek to listen and wait for promptings from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will indeed lead us, even with the right words to say, but we must be willing in mind and body to be used by God for these works. And the first step is not to wait inside the 4 walls of a church building for a supposed lost soul to be introduced to us. Instead, we must be prepared to project an air of positivity to the world around us at all times; prompting conversations from strangers that want to know the reason for our joy.

If you still don’t know what this looks like, imagine walking into every room, every day, for the rest of your life, with a huge smile on your face and a spring in your step. You might think it’s goofy but here’s where I ask you, what on earth are you here for? Those lost souls are going to stay lost unless we choose to take some bold steps of faith for the kingdom. We have been called to be light to dark places and even if where you work is a “dark place”, that might be your best place to shine. The hope that is inside of you needs to be visible outside of you, too. And when that happens, people will want to know why.

The hope within you should be all the introduction you need in order to begin a conversation with someone far from God. Positivity is contagious, more so than the opposite and this world is ready for a reason to smile.