April 30, 2015

Five Years Ago Today (My Confession)

Five years ago today was a nightmare for me. I had been the Pastor at The Brook for just over a year. There were some difficult changes that needed to be made in what we were doing and how we were doing it. As I had spent months laboring and praying over this taking place, I had come to realize that ultimately I was going to have to be the one with the target on his chest - to step out, make this decision, and move forward. Man, do I wish it was all as simple as that sounds.

Part of leading is pursuing a vision of the "preferred future", casting that vision to those you're leading with the hope - the prayerful hope - that they will buy into, own, and catch that vision as well. No matter how big, small, old, young, traditional or progressive (you think) your organization, church, or business may be, you are rarely ever going to have everyone trust, embrace, and follow your lead - catch your vision. Five years ago today was no exception. Not everyone wanted to go where we were headed. And just being honest, it kind of hurt a little.

And then...it began to hurt a LOT!

An email went out. To lots of people. It was passive-aggressive. It was undermining. It was manipulative. And it worked. It was like a torch thrown into a dynamite shack. And what that looks like in the world of email is one person after another hitting the Reply to All button. The only thing that most of the folks who joined the bonfire didn't realize was that I was one of the people on the email. Every single Reply to All that lengthened that email chain was delivered right to my Inbox. And for about 3 hours that day I just sat there, reading one message after another after another. It was painful. It was like sucker punch after sucker punch right to the gut. As I mentioned a moment ago - it hurt a LOT! But when I say that, I think I need to be a bit more specific about how that hurt and pain expressed itself in my life.

The next day I took a road trip with my son to Knoxville. The only thing I remember about the trip was the misery I was in. I was dazed. I was not fully present. I missed an opportunity to simply be with my son.

Two days later I stood before our church family, broken & in tears, but boldly attempting to own my decisions and lead us forward. I was humbled. I was overwhelmed by the support in front of me, beside me, and behind me. I knew that while the minority report felt like the war cry of the masses, we were going to get through. 

The next day I sat in my doctor's office, explaining to him everything that I had experienced over the last several days; not just the situations and decisions, but the conflict, pain, and emotions I had carried. Whatever was happening to me didn't feel like it was getting any better. And after just a few minutes of questions and conversation, he delivered news to me that I had never expected in my entire life:

You've just experienced an anxiety attack. (Say what!?)

I've written about this before (NO MORE SECRETS!) and talked openly for several years now (whether in conversations, other blogposts, and even sermons) about what it was like to walk through a season of mild depression. I am always open to sharing that with anyone. But that's not what this post is about. So that begs the question: Why am I sharing this with you? Why bring this all up again? To dig up what's already dead & buried? To try and re-infect my own healed wounds? Absolutely not. I'm not writing this today to condemn or even complain. I'm writing this to confess.

It took a couple of years after all this happened, but one Saturday night while sitting in my chair reading, the Holy Spirit all of a sudden revealed to me why this had all hit me so hard - why, like never before in my life, I was so paralyzed and affected by other people's reactions and responses. (What I'm about to share with you in no way is an attempt to diminish the reality that I have genuinely walked through and experienced anxiety and depression. It's a reality. It doesn't discriminate. But for many, it's also vulnerable. It can be defeated!) As I sat that night reading JD Greear's book, Gospel, the Lord began to expose something to me. Through JD's confession came my own realization. As he is openly confessing the sins he most struggles with, he goes further in sharing that he believes they are all rooted in a much deeper issue & sin. His tendency toward anger, worry, lying, and even depression are all symptoms of a greater sickness: the need for other people's approval. Allow me to share with you what he wrote:

"My problem is that my heart so craves the approval of others that these sins come as instinctively to me as breathing! My insecurity makes me fearful. It makes me be short-tempered. It makes me willing to bend the truth for personal advantage. And even if I could discipline myself not to get angry or worried or lie, I would have only covered up the real problem: I delight more in the approval of others than I do in the approval of God. I am an idolater. That is my depravity."

As I read this, I broke. I wept. I remember my wife walking into the room, looking at me and asking, "Are you OK?" And while it was an incredibly painful realization, it was a liberating one as well. It was so clear to me. Almost every sin that I deal with in my life is rooted in or birthed from the deeper sin of seeking the approval of men. For many years of my life as a youth pastor (especially at my former church) I very rarely faced opposition over anything. To be honest, I was golden boy! I never realized I was idolizing other people's approval because I almost always had it. (And if I didn't, I wasn't aware of it.) So when, for the first time as a pastor, I was faced with what felt like a wave of opposition from people whom I simply thought I was trying to lead and shepherd (but didn't realize I was also secretly trying to win their affection and approval), I was wrecked. I was heartbroken. In truth, I was exposed. My idol had come tumbling to the ground in front of me. The thing I was worshiping had all of a sudden turned its back on me. And as I stated a moment ago, this was actually one of the most freeing and liberating realizations of my life. Why, you might wonder? Because I could now see the enemy. I could stop spending my time putting a Band-Aid on a head wound - dealing with the symptoms - and I could take an axe to the real heart of the disease. To put it bluntly: I could now repent.

The Apostle Paul told the Galatians, "If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10) Sort of crazy if you think about it, that a pastor - a servant of Christ and shepherd of God's people - could become seduced by the desire for those same people's affections, and in doing so (as Paul states) essentially disqualify himself from effectively being a servant of Christ. My affections have to be for the One who pursued me, bought me, and redeemed me with His own life. His approval is all I need. JD Greear goes on to say:

"The Gospel shows me a God who is better than the approval of others and a God more valuable than their praise. The Gospel shows me that God's presence and approval are the greatest treasure in the universe. The Gospel reveals God's mercy toward me, and that makes me more merciful with others - not because I have to be so to gain God's acceptance, but because I am so overwhelmed by His mercy that I can't help but extend that to others. We must saturate ourselves, therefore, in the truths of the Gospel."

I had not lived my life saturating my mind and heart in the truths of the Gospel - that the only acceptance and approval I need in all the world are from God. And I have found those given freely to me in and through Jesus Christ. This changes everything.

Do you struggle with this?
Is your heart secretly longing for - worshiping - the approval of others?
If so, I understand.
If so, I encourage you, repent.
If so, I encourage you to take Psalm 51 & Psalm 139 and meditate on them, pray through them, and cry out to the Lord.

There are so many invaluable things I have learned from that experience five years ago. (That's another four or five blogposts.) And just to be clear, I would walk through it all over again. It was a hard decision. It was the right decision. I would make the same decision even now. But I would also make sure to have my heart and mind anchored to the unwavering truth that there is only one person's approval I live for.

April 28, 2015

Jesus, the Church, & Sex Changes

If you haven't been to the grocery store, turned on your TV, or you've been hiding in a cave in the mountains of South Dakota for awhile, then you might not have heard the news:

Bruce Jenner wants to be a woman.

That's correct. The once-great Olympic decathlete said in an interview with Diane Sawyer on 20/20 that he started trying on dresses when he was young. Along with that, he very emotionally shared that he was sorry that he had drug his wives (plural) through his years of confusion, that he was a Republican, and yes, even a Christian. If you choose to watch the interview, know this ahead of time: you can't watch it and remain indifferent. It will provoke you toward some sort of emotion and/or conviction; disgust, pity, sympathy, confusion, anger, brokenness. Just not apathy or indifference. You have to care about this on some level. We have to care enough to feel something. But that's also where the danger lies in all of this. Our feelings. We need to know what to think first before we allow our feelings to run away with us. We need to ask: Does God's Word have truth that guides what I should think and how I should feel about someone thinking and feeling they need to become the opposite sex? And if so, how does that affect my response to this issue?

First off, I would highly encourage you to read Dr. Russell Moore's blogpost: What Should the Church Say to Bruce Jenner? I believe he addresses this issue not only theologically, but compassionately, gracefully, and with a bold, but loving response as our aim.

Second, while my flesh is tempted to joke around about this in a hundred different ways, I believe the Spirit of God is whispering, "Don't go there." There are times when we are so uncomfortable with a situation or circumstance that our only reflex to cope with it is to make light of it. To turn it into a joke. I exhort you to consider, this is not a joke. This is about someone - like it or not - who has walked through a life of inner torment and conflict. Let's not make light of that.

Finally, what do the scriptures say? First of all, beginning in the beginning, "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27) God created Adam. He created Eve. And through the divine miracle of procreation and childbirth - the mandate to "be fruitful and multiply" - God has created every single other human being to ever enter this world. He created. He creates. He does not, however, make mistakes. God has never created a woman He intended to be a man. Or vice versa. Not in any way trying to be offensive or sarcastic, we have to look at this issue throughout creation. God didn't create a cat that He meant to be a dog. Or a fish that He meant to be a bird. God is perfectly intentional. To my knowledge, we are the only species in creation with this struggle. 

At the very heart of the origin of it all is sin - the rebellion rooted in the idea that God has withheld something from me (or from us) that we deserve. Some people are tormented with the thought that they were put here to take other peoples lives. There are others who fight a battle with the temptation to shroud their whole life in a web of lies. We hope that these people choose to lay their torment and temptations down at the feet of Jesus. In parallel, there are people (like Bruce Jenner) who struggle with the idea that they feel like they are supposed to be something or someone other than what and who God created them to be. And to acknowledge this head on, these are some of the strongest, most paralyzing feelings known to mankind. But that in no way makes it right to act upon them. Our feelings lie to us all the time. Our feelings deceive us. This is why we need to be guided in truth. And so it honestly all begins with whether or not we choose to surrender to, submit to, and listen to the Holy Spirit (&) whether or not we allow the Spirit to "guide us into all truth". Do we believe God's Word is truth? If so, we seek to put sin to death the instant it rears it's head in our hearts.

I also believe it is imperative to mention that, for some, there can be deep emotional, mental, and psychological issues involved. It's a luxury that most of us have no idea what this feels like - to have your mind at war with you every single day. It has to be an exhausting battle to fight.

So what is my response to someone paralyzed by transgender thoughts?
God created you and loves you. I love you and care about you. I'm praying that through the power of the Spirit of God, He will overwhelm you with the peace and joy of knowing that you are who you were created to be.

But allow me to close with this dose of perspective.

On Saturday, a devastating earthquake hit Nepal. The death toll has reached 3,000. Sadly, I believe that number will continue climbing. Thousands are now homeless, broken, hungry, injured, mourning, searching, waiting, and wondering...what to do next. There is an opportunity - another opportunity - for the people of God to take the Kingdom of God to those in desperate need. Through our gifts, our voice, possibly even our time, we can make a difference. I say all of that to say this: Bruce Jenner no longer belongs on the front page.

Matthew 25:31-46

April 15, 2015

Remembering Dillon

This morning I received news that no one is ever prepared to receive. One of my former students made the decision to take his own life. My heart is broken. My stomach is in knots. My mind is paralyzed. The questions are swirling around, racing through my head: WHY? Why would he do this? What was going on in Dillon's life that he finally came to this conclusion? Just 8 hours ago - 8 hours before I find myself typing this - he posted on Twitter:

"To my loved ones and dearest friends, I'm sorry...this simply seemed to be my only option. For I was lost but now I am found."

Just an hour before that he posted to Instragram:

"If only my anguish could be weighed and all my misery be placed on the scales. It would surely outweigh the sand of the seas - no wonder my words have been impetuous." Job 6:2-3

My heart is broken for his parents, Mike & Lori.

My heart aches for his sister, Ashton, who loved him more than words.

My heart aches because there was something going on in Dillon's life - some burden he was bearing, some mistake that he had made, some guilt that he was carrying, or maybe even some hurt that he was battling - that led him to believe that this was his "only option". And for the sake of anyone else out there who might be carrying the weight, please know: This is never your only option!

Dillon knew Jesus. He knows Jesus. He's now with Jesus. But please know my heart in a situation like this: I don't believe Jesus was ready for Dillon to come home. He wasn't finished with everything He had planned for Dillon's very young life. I don't believe the Father ever desires that we determine our "appointed time". He determines that. But I also don't believe that our heavenly Father desires for us to carry much of the burden alone that we choose to shoulder by ourselves. We're not supposed to walk alone. Please don't carry the weight or bear the burden on your own!

I didn't post this to lecture or preach a sermon, but to remember an incredible young man. I will always remember Dillon's infectious smile and charisma. He could light up a room and make anyone feel like they belonged. He was compassionate. He was an athlete. He loved his family. He loved the Lord. I had the privilege of being Dillon's youth pastor. I haven't seen him in several years, and now I know that it will be several more. But when I do see him, Jesus will be there.

Galatians 6:1-3
2 Corinthians 4:1-18
Job 42:1-6

April 10, 2015

Racism: Enemy of the Gospel

When I hear the word racism, I immediately think black & white. Most of my life, growing up in the South, I saw bursts and pockets of this racism rear it's head. At the same time, I never understood it. 

Some of my closest friends had skin that was not the same color as mine. My heart and my mind never told me this was a problem. My history book did, though. 

As an American, apparently racism is just something you get to inherit, like your mom's eyes or your grandfather's hairline. As if we don't get to choose it; it's chosen us. Like we're just born with it or something.

I think that's a big load of crap!

My 12 year old daughter and my 10 year old son will not inherit racism. I won't allow it. I can't. You can't either. We somehow have to figure out how this disease gets cured. Sooner rather than later. And we can't keep treating the symptoms. It's like we're trying to cure cancer with a Benadryl. Many of us sit in our homes and think, "I'm sure glad that's not going on in my neighborhood. My city. My whatever." Please hear me: If you are not actively working to cure this disease, then you are feeding it. And it's coming to your neighborhood, if it's not there already. This goes deep. So we all better roll up our sleeves and start digging. All the way down to the root. Allow me to push my shovel into the earth.

In 2 Kings, when the Northern Kingdom fell to Assyria (whose capital was Samaria), many Jews were deported. Assyria then sent in many of their own people - Samaritans - to settle and help keep the peace. They intermarried with many of the Jews and became a mixed race, "impure in the opinion of Jews who lived in the southern kingdom." The result of all of this: Jews hated Samaritans. So much so that they would go miles - even days - out of their way to keep from traveling through or near Samaria. And then...Jesus came along.

Jesus got near Samaria. He went through Samaria. He talked to a Samaritan woman. He asked her for a drink of water. The whole town came running to Jesus - all the Samaritans. And Jesus loved them and saved them. But what Jesus also did was, He took a sledgehammer to the man-made wall of prejudice that had been erected hundreds of years beforehand...and He started knocking it down. The Apostle Paul came after Jesus and picked the sledgehammer back up and started swinging some more. He told the Galatians (who were being seduced away from the truth of the Gospel): "There is no Jew or Gentile, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (italics mine) In other words, what Paul was so boldly proclaiming to these new believers was: "If you're coming to Jesus, you can't bring your racism with you!"

A mistake we make is thinking that the Jew-Gentile or Jew-Samaritan thing going on in Jerusalem in Jesus' day is different from the Black-White thing going on in Atlanta, Memphis, Dallas or Detroit today. We are sadly mistaken.

Prejudice (n.) - Preconceived opinion not based on actual experience or reason

Stereotype (n.) - A widely held but fixed & oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person

So the question looms large and has to be answered: WHY does racism still exist? Why does it swell and shrink, and then swell some more? Why does it show up in places and in people where it's least expected and supposedly not accepted? Why are we still fighting this battle and not winning? Why does it seem like we're once again back on the treadmill, giving the appearance that we're moving...but really just creating a lot of sweat and hot air? Why is it that someone would even be tempted to think that Black Lives Matter is something anyone should even need to be told? 

Is it because of prejudice? Most certainly that plays a role in it. 

And what about stereotypes? Absolutely. I'm not sure that in this day and time prejudice and stereotype can exist without one another. 

But all that said, I am still a believer that they are symptoms of a much greater issue. You can't change someone's prejudice or erase their stereotypes without a transformation of the heart. 

There is only one thing in all heaven and earth that will ever cure, defeat, and overcome racism: The Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the reason racism is still alive and kicking today is because we simply refuse to yield our lives to the life-changing truth of the Gospel.

The ERLC (Ethics & Religious Liberties Commission) held a Leadership Summit recently on "The Gospel & Racial Reconciliation". (You can read more about it HEREHERE, and HERE.) I'd like to share some of the incredibly powerful and moving statements made by some of the speakers and contributors to the Summit.

"Once you've been reconciled to God you have no problem being reconciled to others." Fred Luter

"Our lack of unity and oneness is a direct contradiction of our missiological goal: disciples of all nations." Kevin Smith

"God is not asking blacks to be white or whites to be black, but both to be biblical." Tony Evans

"Our goal is not just to get black people and white people in the same room. Jay-Z can do that. We want blacks and whites in the same family." Trip Lee

"Racial reconciliation isn't just a good idea because it's politically correct. The message of the Gospel is at stake." Afshin Ziafat

If you're a follower of Jesus Christ, I encourage you today to do just that: follow Him. Follow His lead. Stop pretending the wall isn't there. Stop thinking if you ignore it, it will just go away. Go near Samaria. Go through Samaria. Drink the water. Love the people. Pick up the sledgehammer and start knocking down the wall. Government can't do this. Political correctness can't even touch it. Racism will only die in us when the Gospel comes to life and Jesus transforms our hearts. Only the Church - the people of God - can lead the way through this wall. 

Jesus - We pray that you would transform our hearts and minds to see each other as you see us. As yours. As one. Unite our hearts as partners in the Gospel, that we might see the world transformed as they see your love in us. You said the world would know us "by our love for one another". May they see clearer now than ever! Only you can do this in us and through us. Give us strength, vision, unity and courage to knock down this wall. Amen.

April 8, 2015



We all think we want it. Of course we do. We want our lives to be extraordinary. We want to climb mountains and cross finish lines. We want to see our abs, not just know they're under there somewhere. We want other people to remember us for what we did and how we lived. We want to carpe the fool out of this diem! We want these things. We want them really bad. But the big problem is, we don't want to suffer the pain and walk the road that leads to this place. The problem is...we misunderstand greatness.

Because, while crossing that finish line and reaching that mountaintop will most certainly be rewarding, those moments will not be greatness. They are the byproduct of greatness.

Greatness is my 83 year old friend I see at the gym every morning.

Greatness is that overweight lady in my neighborhood I see walking all the time.

Greatness knows that I can't go 10 steps until I've gone 1. Then 2. And 3....

Greatness cares more about the mission than the mirror. The mirror is a LIAR!

Greatness is discipline. It's self control. It's sacrifice. 

Greatness is wise enough to have discovered that the mountaintop itself is usually nothing to write home about. It's the view. It's looking back at the trail and the trek it took to reach that place.

Greatness never showed up at anyone's door and said, "Hey. I've come for you." You've got to get off your butt, get out the door, and go get your greatness. And remember: greatness isn't something you finally find at the end of that very long road. It IS the road!

How are you finding your greatness right now?
Would love to hear about it.

April 1, 2015

IMPORTANT > convenient

Doing what's most IMPORTANT may not always be most CONVENIENT.

This is where the priority of PRIORITIES comes into play.

We have to know what's most important. We have to predetermine what the standard is for our priorities. And while we obviously can't see into the future and know what choices we will face, what unforeseen circumstances may come flying into our day like a bug into the windshield on the interstate, we can determine ahead of time that certain things are more important than others. Here's a sample of some of the things we might want to consider.

People are more important than plans.
At The Brook we encourage everyone to ask the question: Is my life interruptible? If someone's in need, can I lay aside what I'm doing to help them? Am I willing to inconvenience myself for the sake of someone's urgency that might not have been on my To-Do List? This will probably not come in high on the convenience scale.

Equipping and empowering someone else trumps just doing it myself.
Man, is this so much easier to say and write than to actually stick to and abide by. But man, is it so worth it when we actually hold ourselves to this standard. I am so passionate about seeing leaders emerge, develop, and come to life. At the same time I'm also a recovering control freak. And so often, because we procrastinate and we overcommit and we arrogantly think there's seriously no way possible that there could be another way to do this.....we don't. We don't equip. We don't empower. We just keep doing it our way. We just keep doing it ourselves. And we're under the delusion that it's just more convenient. And let's just be honest: maybe half the time it actually is. But it's not more important. And because we're always going to gravitate toward what seems easier - what seems more convenient - we must determine NOW what's more important. We have to determine what's PRIORITY.

Getting to lunch on time...or helping that girl fix her flat tire?

Beating the traffic home after work...or stopping at the gym?

Sleeping in again...or spending that 30 minutes prayerfully reading God's Word?

Getting your Netflix fix...or having a catch with your son in the backyard?

Doing what's most IMPORTANT may not always be most CONVENIENT.

But man, doesn't it always seem to be most REWARDING?