March 26, 2015


"The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe." Proverbs 29:25

No words from King Solomon could more accurately sum up the reign of his father's predecessor, King Saul. Anointed by God to be the first King of Israel - to lead the people of God - Saul's decisions, actions, his reign, and ultimately his life would all boil down to the one thing that consumed him more than any other: the fear of man.

Over the last few months as we've explored 1 Samuel at The Brook, we've seen Saul "hide in the baggage", run from the truth, deliberately disobey God, ordain and oversee the murder of priests (and their entire families), and become obsessed with jealousy for the future king - so much so that he made it his life's mission to hunt David down and destroy him. Does this sound like the King of God's people?

During our sermon series we've talked often about Saul being driven by the "approval of man". He was much more guided and swayed by his desire for the approval of the people rather than the approval of the One who made him king. But there's a crucial principle in this that we all need to understand:

The APPROVAL of man = The FEAR of man

Saul feared the Philistines - that they would overtake his army.

Saul feared his own people - that they would choose David over him.

I'm quick to judge Saul because I'm falsely led to believe that history gives me that luxury. I have Saul's life as my own rearview mirror. I'm not at all saying we should condone most of anything Saul did or said; but we also shouldn't get so clouded in condemning him that we miss where he exposes our own blindspots and weaknesses. There are moments of my life and yours where we begin to live more for the approval of man than the approval of God. And when this happens - when I begin to be consumed with what other people think, with whether or not they like me the way I want to be liked, with whether or not they place their stamp of approval over me - I am living in FEAR. The FEAR of man.

The fear of man drives us to doctor up appearances.

The fear of man compels us to say one thing and do another.

The fear of man lures me away from relationship and seduces me into religiosity.

The fear of man says (without saying a word), "Lord, at the end of the day, I simply don't trust you."

The fear of God on the other hand - the assurance and trust and faith that the Sovereign God of the universe is always working for my good - leads me to a different place. To a place of great joy and hope and peace. To a destination that King Solomon describes as "safe". Don't confuse this with earthly safety. This is a safety that is clothed in the righteousness and holiness of God. A safety that only exists in the presence of the Spirit of God. A safety that can be known but can never be seen. That's the safety I should long for - for the approval of the only One that matters.

This safety resides "in the shelter of the Most High".
It exists "in the shadow of the Almighty".
It causes us to say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust." 
This is what King David proclaims in Psalm 91.

The heartbreaking thing about Psalm 91 is knowing that King Saul could never make this proclamation. He never knew this peace or hope or joy. Saul's whole life was caught in the snare - the death trap - of the fear of man.

Are you wrestling for the approval of man?

Or are you resting in the approval of God?

The greatest news of all is, because of the Cross of Jesus Christ, and because my life is hidden there, God looks at me...and He approves. Paul proclaims in Colossians 3:3, "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

When you live for the approval of man, the wrestling never ends.

When we live for the approval of God, because of Jesus, the resting can begin. 

I don't know about you, but I can certainly use some rest.

March 20, 2015

This Is Your Brain on Exercise

Exercise. It's so simple. Sure, lots of people go off the deep end. I'm not sure why any middle-aged man or mother of 3 has any need for running a 50-miler or bench pressing 495 pounds. There are always extremists. But we don't all have to be. 

I try to start the day (6 days a week) with exercise. Now I have some friends who think I'm crazy. "I can't function in the morning!", they say. I get it. One friend of mine goes religiously during his lunch break 3 days a week. Another buddy goes on the way home from work every weekday. If something works for you - your body, your schedule, your family - work it. For me, I have always preferred to start my day in the gym or out on the sidewalk. Obviously there are some days that it just doesn't work out. Some days you adjust the schedule. Others days you realize that your body just needs a break. (Yes, that happens once in awhile.) But for me, I have grown to not just physically, but mentally and emotionally benefit from knocking it out first thing in the morning. I wanted to share a little about WHY.

Observe the chart.

If you're my age, you may remember the "This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs." campaign. Pretty effective. I think this picture tells an even greater story. Exercise not only greatly contributes to increasing production of serotonin - a chemical in your brain that effects mood, energy, and focus - but also (possibly more important) its release. Here's a great article from LiveStrong (go HERE) on The Effects of Exercise on Serotonin Levels. You can Google Serotonin Exercise Brain and find countless information on the subject. If you do any reading or research at all and begin to understand the mental, psychological, and emotional effects that even a small amount of physical activity can have on you, you quickly understand how beginning your day like this can impact everything else that happens before you crawl back in bed that night.

Your emotions - reactions, responses.

Your relationships - the level of patience you display.

Your mood - how you see the world, your circumstances

Some people look at this from a different angle. There are many who say that working out in the afternoon - let's say on your way home from work - sleep better at night. They find themselves snacking less and less before bed (on junk food, that is). There are certainly countless arguments for why working out at a certain time of day are the most beneficial. But that's not the point, debate, or conversation that I think is most crucial here. It's simply this: Exercise is PRIORITY! The physical, emotional, psychological, and mental benefits of exercise (even as little as determining to walk fast for 30 minutes just 3 or 4 times a week) are too great to pass up. There are even relational and familial benefits when you choose to be active with friends and/or family. So stop making excuses, formulate a plan, have some fun, and change your life. NOW!

Take another look at your brain.

Then take another look at your brain on exercise.

Any questions?

March 18, 2015

Leadership Fundamentals (Part 1) :: Start With Why

I had the opportunity this morning to do some leader development. This is something specific that I'm working on for an extended period of time. I plan on sharing much of it here so that anyone who's interested might benefit from it. Most of it will be progressive, in that I'm starting with foundational elements and working into more detailed specifics. I will also be sharing it in more of the rough form that comes straight from my notes in Evernote, rather than a well scripted blogpost. So there might be a bit of interpreting and piecing together for you. That said, I'll be glad to answer any questions or expound on anything that seems unclear. If it's not clear, it's not worth much.

Getting down to business, the beginning point for me in leading - a team, an organization, or even your family - always goes back to one simple question: WHY? (If you'd like more on this, I wrote a blogpost about it a few years ago HERE.) Here are my notes, outline, and scratch work from The Fundamental Question of WHY:

Luke 9:51 
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem."
From that moment on, Jesus had resolute purpose of WHERE He was headed & WHY He was headed there.
All kinds of things attempted to distract him from this:
Peter - challenging him that he shouldn’t talk that way
People in need - who Jesus chose not to stop & heal/help

Start With WHY
Instead of asking "WHAT should we do?”, we have to ask the questions:
“WHY did we start doing WHAT we’re doing in the first place?"

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.” -Henry Ford

Apple’s WHY:
"To challenge the status quo & empower the individual."
Apple is defined by WHY it does things, not WHAT it does.
It’s not a computer company, but a company that challenges the status quo & offers individuals simper alternatives. They do it through technology.

The Filter of WHY = PURPOSE
The purpose - the WHY of the decision, event, trip - is not clear. 
This is why the WHAT of the decision, etc...continues to be in flux.
There are people involved who don’t know WHY they’re involved.

SOLUTION: Stick to the purpose
REALITY: We begin trying to accommodate 
Accommodation that jeopardizes purpose will kill inspiration & trust
“When we are selective about doing business only with those who believe in our WHY, trust emerges.” -Simon Sinek, Start With Why

Finding the clarity of WHY is not the hard part. It’s having the discipline & the guts to stick with it and stay true to the purpose.

March 17, 2015

The Love of the Father

Last night I had to confront something going on between my 2 children. As I'm sure most of you understand, they act like best friends one minute and then the next...there's a civil war breaking out in my home. I don't know how it is for everyone else, but with our kids it's never usually about anything. It can be that "he's messing with my stuff" or "she stepped on my head". There are screams, cries, groans, and ear-piercing screeches from light-sabers to the face, Nerf darts to the head, sneak attacks jumping out of closets, and (the unthinkable crime that's almost too horrible to mention) "borrowing" electronics without asking. [GASP!] You get it. They're kids.

That said, part of the fun of being a parent is using these moments (which often seem to come at a never-ending pace) to teach, instruct, and disciple our kids to put others first, to care more about people than stuff, to take an objective look at their behavior, and most importantly, to begin teaching them to seek out the direction, wisdom, instruction, and guidance of the Spirit of God and the Word of God. Many may read that and think: "Wait a minute. Your kids are 10 and 12. You honestly think they understand all of that?" As I've said many times before, I'll say again: They may not understand all of it, but they are absorbing it. We have to seize these moments to raise them up and train them to walk with God - to chase after and pursue Jesus Christ with their whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. In light of that, last night was another opportunity. And in taking time to instruct my daughter, I was not only reminded of her very unique and sensitive heart, personality, and character, I was also reminded of my own.

As I was confronting and addressing our little sibling meltdown, my daughter burst into tears. While I knew she might feel some conviction, guilt, and (hopefully) sorrow for her role in the post-dinner battle, I didn't expect it at this level. After all, she didn't destroy anything of her brother's or physically harm him in any way. We were dealing with trust and integrity issues. I wasn't really prepared for this level of emotional breakdown (which I now question, in talking about an almost-teenage girl, what was I thinking). So I put my arms around her and simply said, "Sweetheart, I'm disappointed in the decision you made, but I'm not disappointed in you. I'm not mad at you." Without a second of hesitation she blurted out, "Oh, Daddy, I'm so glad you're not mad at me!" And then...more tears - followed by mascara all over the front of my new shirt.

In that moment, it hit me loud and clear: My daughter was paralyzed by the thought that I was disappointed in her - that I was mad at with her. She still - at times - thinks my discipline means the loss of my love, not the presence and manifestation of it. Yes, I was upset by the situation. Yes, I was disappointed in the way she treated her brother (&) the way she initially responded. And yes, the consequences were (and are) still there. But my love for her has not wavered for a moment. I'm not mad at her. She's my child. My love for her is beyond being able to articulate in a blogpost. I don't think I even understand or comprehend it. All I can say is, it's powerful.

It's very, very powerful.

And my love for them is always going to trump my anger at something they've done.

And that, my friends, is the exact same thing I struggle with in relationship to my heavenly Father. So many moments, and days, and weeks...I walk through life bearing this weight and burden and guilt that the Lord is mad at me. That He most certainly has to be disappointed with me. I've been convicted and broken. I've walked in repentance. I find myself there again. And then it comes. The weight. The guilt. The shame. The disappointment. And I learn, from watching my own children, and knowing my own disjointed, frail, human, imperfect heart as a father, that my Heavenly Father's love for me - for them - is so much greater. This is the heart of the Gospel.

The Gospel doesn't keep bringing back the weight; it lifts it.
The Gospel doesn't keep smearing guilt; it erases it.
The Gospel doesn't bring condemnation; it breaks it.
The Gospel says, "God isn't mad at you. He loves you!"

Reflect on 1 John 4:9-19 for a moment:

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

And of course we all "know" John 3:16. The question is, do we live our lives daily reminding ourselves - preaching to ourselves - the life-changing truth that God's love for us is so great that He gave His Son to save us? He's not mad at us. Jesus isn't disappointed in us. The love of the Father is incomprehensible. And the Father - the perfect, eternal, almighty Father - has no desire for you & I to live our lives attempting to obey Him out of fear, or shame, or guilt, or the thought that this is the final straw

We obey Him because we love Him.

We love Him "because He first loved us."

It's mind-blowing that as a follower of Jesus Christ - as a child of God - nothing in all of creation "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Be encouraged. Be obedient. Turn from sin. Rest in His love.

Dig Deeper:
Romans 8
1 John (Yes, read the whole letter)

March 13, 2015

A Little Tension...

Tension / ten-SHun (n.) - the state of being stretched tight; causing mental or emotional strain

Over the last several years of my life (thankfully not quite as frequently as of late) I have experienced tension headaches. In keeping with the definition, they are typically caused by tightness in my neck or upper back, which is also typically a result of strain of some sort. They can get really bad. If I let one get too out of hand, it can put me out. I can wind up in the darkness, curled up in a fetal position. Most of the time Excedrin Migraine, hot compresses, and/or massage can knock it out. I've had one actual migraine in my life, and so I know that my tension headache is no match. That said, a little tension can go a long way to wreaking havoc in life. But a little tension might not always be a bad thing.

There is a great tension in the life of the 21st Century American Christian. A tension that, as much as we'd prefer it, I don't believe is supposed to be resolved or released. As a Christ-follower, I'm called to "seek and save the lost". I'm on a mission to reach out to those who don't yet know that Jesus Christ has come to bring them from "death to life". I'm sent out as a "sheep among wolves" to share the Good News of the Gospel; that Jesus has come to make all things new - including you. So far, pretty clear. No tension. 

But then you realize that you're called to go into a war zone polluted with weapons of destruction that you yourself were rescued from and dragged out of. There are land mines throughout, wrecking peoples' lives as they recklessly wander through - some thinking that tiptoeing will make a difference. And [let me get this straight] I'm supposed to go back into the war zone that I was saved and pulled from? Well, sort of. The reality is, you might have been saved from it, but you were also saved for it. Can you feel the tension?

In John 17, as Jesus is praying to the Father for His disciples (and us), He first of all says, "...the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world." As Christians, we are exiles here. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are not of the world. But then in the next breath, Jesus proclaims, "I am not asking that you take them out of the world... As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world."

BORN into this world.
SAVED from this world.
SENT back into this world.

There's an unavoidable tension here. A tension that we would really love to resolve, but is not intended to be relieved. At least, not until Christ comes back.

So, for now, how do I navigate this tension?

I know in my life I have to keep a careful eye on what is winning over my affections and my heart. While I'm called to be an influence, I have to be very mindful of everything I'm allowing to influence me. As my heart longs for the people around me to know Christ, I can't begin to long for the things around me that I can allow to so easily take His place. This isn't a one time decision I make, either; it has to happen all over again each day. I have to decide who or what I'm seeking. I make the decision of who or what will influence me. As a Christian, I wake up every day to a brand new opportunity to determine whether or not to answer this beautifully messy calling on my life.

Jesus saved me from sin and slavery and emptiness and hopelessness.
Will I go back for the ones who haven't grabbed the rope yet?
Do I realize there are many who don't even know the rope is there?
Am I willing to live in the tension that I was saved from it and then sent back into it?

When we - you & me - followers of Jesus - choose to live our lives in this tension, the Church is present. Without this tension, what we call "church" is merely a collected group of people who claim to believe - even memorize - everything Jesus said, but refuse to actually follow through and obey any of it. 

"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21)

SEEK the One who SAVED you and SENT you.
Know that when the Spirit of God is ruling your heart, transforming your mind, and guiding your life, a little tension might not always be a bad thing.

March 12, 2015

Just Start!

What on earth?

It's been 266 days since I've written on my blog. The last time I posted something I lived in a different house, only had 1 dog (yes, there's now a 2nd), and did NOT have a child in the youth ministry. How did this happen? ("How did my daughter all of a sudden become a teenager?" is another post for another day.) How and why did I go so long without ranting and raving about any of it? I have about 37 excuses (10 of which are totally made up) along with 2-3 actual reasons why this has occurred. But I'm not going to go on about that. I don't think the first post in over 8 months should be devoted to how that all started. I do, however, think it's worth talking about how it continued and grew and carried on so long. Why is it, that after months and months of knowingly avoiding this, here I am again? Great question. Even better answer.

I know people who look in the mirror often and think, "How did I get here? When did I gain all this weight? How did it get so out of control?"

Someone out there today is looking at their bank statement and wondering, "How did this happen? How did I let myself waste all that away?"

Marriages are weakening because that conversation of forgiveness and reconciliation keeps being avoided. A husband wonders, "Does she really love me anymore?" A wife wonders, "Does he even like me anymore?"

Alcoholics are whispering and lying to themselves (as they've possibly done thousands of times before), "It's just one beer. I'll quit tomorrow."

For so many - the overweight, the almost bankrupt, the broken spouse, and closet drunk - that tomorrow turned into 266 days. Your staring at the mirror, the withdrawal slip, the person in bed next to you, another empty bottle...and wondering, "What on earth? How did this happen?"

I've been there. And not just with my blog.

But today I want you to know that life change is in reach.
Today can be the day you decide that there won't be a day 267.
I want to encourage you with 2 words that can change everything. 
The first word is: STOP.

STOP wondering how you got here. (You already know.)
STOP making excuses. (No one - including you - wants to hear them.)
STOP waiting for the other person to say, "I'm sorry."
STOP spending money you don't have. (Genius concept, I know.)
STOP living in the past. (Has that ever worked for anyone?)
STOP pursuing the toxic waste that's been destroying your life.
STOP being a victim, a whiner, or a statistic.

Just STOP. 

And when you've finally decided to STOP, there's another word that's waiting for you - waiting to lead you on to a brand new Day 1. 
The second word is: START.

Plain and simple. Straight to the point. Nothing to misunderstand. START.

START writing.
START going to the gym.
START making healthier choices.
START dating your spouse again.
START saving money and paying off debt.
START pouring it down the drain.
START praying about how you spend every cent.


Jon Acuff makes the statement: "Regardless of your age or station in life, it all comes down to one simple truth: you just have to start." (Start: Punch Fear in the Face

It's so simple, yet me somehow make it so complex. We want to see all the results NOW - we want immediate gratification. But it often just doesn't happen that way. It's a long, hard road. An uphill battle, if you will. But man, is it worth it!

That first step is hard. I know it is. But when you realize that Jesus makes "all things new" - that he takes spiritually dead people and raises them to life - you begin to realize that He has given you the power to overcome debt, addiction, pride, gluttony, laziness, and every other idol and stumbling block standing in your way. 

Just STOP.
Just STEP OUT in faith. Trust God. Lean on Him. Lean on others.
Welcome to Day 1.