Category Archives: Fear

FINDING HOPE IN THE MIDST OF DESPAIR

This has been a really difficult week.  A CHS student made the decision to end his life.  Knowing a young man chose to end his life is excruciating.  Even worse, is that I knew him.  So it has been a very difficult week.  Talking with students who have so many questions and ministry opportunities that have opened.  Tonight was one of those.  In fact it was a first in my ten years of ministry.

hope

I have never had a group of students, with no connection to our church and not invited by a friend, who just showed up.  Four guys, just randomly picked our church, walked up and said, “is it okay if we start going to church here?”  They had no background in any church.  As I got to talk to the guys one of them was good friends with the student who ended his life.  He was searching for something.  For me that is cool but not the amazing part.

All week I have been debating over whether or not to scrap everything for tonight, message and all and focus on suicide.  Monday, I was going to focus on it.  On Tuesday, I decided to go ahead with the original plan and work suicide into the discussion.  Wednesday, I was thinking the same thing.  One of our parents asked how I was going to handle it tonight?  I told her the plan, but as the day went on I felt I really needed to address it.  So I texted her back and she agreed.  I did not know why, I just felt God wanted me to talked about it.  So at 3:00 I decided to make the change.  I had nothing planned, nothing ready but really felt this is what I needed to do.

When the four guys showed up, I was overwhelmed.  I got to spend some time with the guys but at the end of the night one came up to me and said he was so glad he was here.  He felt like God was speaking to him tonight.  He had to have been, because I could not tell you what I said.

It amazes me how God shows up and works through our life when we simply allow him to be present in our life.  It amazes me how he can take something so unspeakable and use it focus peoples attention on him.

God is at work in our life and the lives of people we come in contact with everyday.  The true question, are we going to have our eyes opened to see him at work?

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IRONMAN 70.3 FOCUSING ALONG THE JOURNEY

Do you ever have a tendency to lose focus?  I do.  It started to become more and more evident during my Ironman training.  One afternoon, I was running by myself, a seven my mile run, very hilly loop in the country.  The first two and half miles include about 350 vertical feet of climbing.  I started out great around an 8:30 pace.  For me it is great and I managed to keep it sub 9-minute miles through the first half of the run.

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The run flattens out nicely for the middle part and finishes off with more climbing.  What was fascinating, was as I was running on the flatter portion of the run, I looked down at my watch and found my pace had gone to around 10:30 a mile for the middle part of the run.  I was not breathing hard.  My heart rate was in the mid 130’s.  I was fine and so I picked my pace back to finish out my run.

So why does it matter?  Do it too often and you aren’t getting better, your just going through the motions to do them.

Is it possible this happens to us from time to time in our walk with Jesus?  We simply lose focus.  Things get easier; we “get the hang of it.”  We start doing things not push our self and grow but simply to do them because we are “suppose to.”

We have to learn to become nearsighted and farsighted at the same time.  I know that makes no sense, but it is important whether you are an athlete, a leader or a follower of Jesus.  I was far sighted.  My mind was set on April 7th.  All I knew was I would step up, well actually swim up, to the starting line of a 70-mile race and if I were not prepared, I would not make it.  A date had become my focus.  The problem was I began just doing all the things needed to get ready for the date, rather than focusing on all of the steps in the journey and getting better along the way.

Toward the end of my training, about 3 weeks away from the race, another swimmer at the pool I train at name Chris put it in perspective for me.  Chris is a great athlete; he is in his mid 50’s probably and has done some amazing endurance events including super marathons and full Ironman’s.  I asked Chris one day what his next big event was going to be.  He looked at me and said, “well I am going to swim the best I can to the other end of the pool and then I am going to swim back.”  I was expecting to hear, I am doing a marathon or an Ironman but his entire focus was on swimming the next 50 yards in the pool.

It occurred to me maybe I had missed the point of my training.  It was not to just do it; it was to get better.  Maybe we do the same in our walk with Jesus.  Focusing so much on the big picture and how the journey ends that we miss out on growing through all the little steps along the way.  The reason we read scripture is not to know the Bible better but to know Christ better.  To understand his will.  To spend time with him simply because you are hungering and thirsting for Him.

God feared this would happen to the Israelites, he feared they would lose focus.

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. 16 He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. 17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

It is amazing how easily we can lose focus as the terrain becomes easier.  It is in the difficult times we cling to the Father, we focus on Him and thirst for Him.   But when things are easier we tend to lose the nearsightedness required to walk with Christ.  It is in the difficult times we focus more on one step at a time.

In the last few weeks we have seen the Boston Marathon bombings, a Fretilizer Plant explosion in West, TX, have good friends who lost a child and others trying to understand the magnitude of a young father suffering with cancer.  It hurts me to see so many others in pain and I rush to say, “God where are you.”  Maybe his response would be the same as it was for Israel.  I am their leading you through this vast dessert.  Notice, God did not take Israel out of the dessert He led them through it.  And there is a huge difference.  He provided for them in the midst of their struggles, but he did not take their struggles away.

This song from Laura Story is such a great reminder of a God who walks with us through the trials…

Blessings

Maybe it is not until God has led us through the pain and heartache of the dessert that we are able to look back and see his finger prints all over canvas of our life.


THE IRONMAN EXPERIENCE – PART 1

So lots of people have asked me about my experiences from the past weekend at Ironman 70.3 in Galveston.  So I thought I would write a series of blog post about the weekend, the training leading up to the weekend and the things I learned on the journey.

medal

The part that impacted me the most was the ending.  9 months of training, hours upon hours.  In the pool, in the lake, on the road.  In rain, in cold, in wind and some days all three at once.  Pain, injuries, tweaked muscles.  You seem to experience a little of everything when training for something like this.

The weekend was amazing.  If you have never been to an Ironman event I highly recommend the experience, even if just a spectator.  Race day starts early.  4:30 AM breakfast and in the transition area for body marking at 5:30 AM.  Over 2,300 athletes over 2000 volunteers and literally thousands of supports lining the run course, cheering for you and encouraging you to keep moving.

But nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced at mile 13 of the run.  At the mile 13 marker you enter the finish chute to run the last .1 miles to the finish line.  The excitement is unbelievable.  I had tried during my training to visualize the finish, to imagine my name being announced but nothing I dreamed of could have compared to the experience.

At the moment I enter the chute all of the pain seemed to vanish.  It had been a very difficult day, 70.3 miles.  1.2 mile swim.  56 mile bike ride along a very windy coast.  A very hot 13.1 mile half marathon to finish out the day.  Struggles with swimming straight.  A small bike wreck.  Really bad muscle cramps and spasms in the first mile of the run.  But then there was mile 13 and everything I had been through that day to get to that point vanished as thousands of people screamed and yelled for me crossing the finish line.  They place a medal around my neck and give me a finisher hat, which is great, but in know way compares to the experience of crossing the line.

I want to experience it again.  I am hooked to the feeling of crossing the finish line.  It made everything else I experienced on the journey worth it.  So my plan right now is a few months off to do P90X2 to really work on my core and overall strength and then get ready for Ironman 70.3 in Austin, Texas in October.

There are lots of take aways from the finish line experience but the one which stands out the most is what Paul says in 1 Corinthians.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27

We live for a singular purpose, the purpose of building His kingdom here on earth so that when we cross the finish line the prize is eternal.  In some ways I think it will be much like my mile 13 experience.  I always talk to people who are trying to imagine what it will be like.  I don’t think you can, because I believe the experience will be something so far beyond what we can imagine.  In the race, the finish line was not my focus, it was too far ahead of me most of the time to be my focus.  My focus was simply taking one more stroke in the water.  One more rotation of the pedals on the bike.  One more step on the run.  So if the finish is not the focus, what is our focus then?  Let’s borrow for the Apostle Paul once again.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Hebrews 12:2

Make Jesus the focus.  Make being more like him the next step of your journey, because at times the finish line can seem so far off.  Our promise though, is that He is never far away.  Focus on Jesus, He is more than enough to sustain you!


LANCE, TE’O & THE REST OF US – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Over the past couple of weeks we have seen some truly, I would say… “interesting?” news.  Last week cycling “great” Lance Armstrong confessed he did in fact use performance enhancing drugs and blood doping in his cancer come back to win an unprecedented 7 Tour De France titles.

The confession came after years of adamantly denying the allegations from many former competitors and teammates.  Even going so far as to take his accusers to court and question their integrity.

Lance_manti

Then we saw a most bizarre story surface.  Manti Te’o, the stand out linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist from Notre Dame came clean on the story of the death of his girlfriend.  If you are somehow unaware of the story, Te’o a senior and team captain allegedly lost both his grandmother and girlfriend during the early part of this season.

The result, a possessed Te’o played the remainder of the season in honor of his grandmother and girlfriend.  It turns out Te’o had never actually met his girlfriend because it was an online relationship.  The problem, he could never meet her because evidently she did not exist, ever.  Te’o apparently was on the losing end of a cruel hoax.

Fair enough, but he sure did not talk about her on national TV as if they had never had met.  The perception I got was one of a long time girlfriend.

In both cases these men, Armstrong more than Te’o misrepresented themselves.  They tried to portray themselves as something they were not.

Funny, we sit back in amazement wondering how they could live such a lie.  Honestly, it is the world we live in.  All of us in some way or another misrepresent ourselves from time to time.  Maybe not to this extent or in the public spotlight, but we do.

It is the reason people live in houses they can’t afford, drive cars they can’t afford and wear clothes they can’t afford.  It is the reason people act differently in different circles.  We want people to look at us favorably.  It is all about perception.  We create the perception we want people to have of us because we want to be seen (it might be helpful to read my first blog on this, Motives Matter).

Jesus warns these disciples gathered around him on a mountainside, BE CAREFUL.  Be careful not to do things to be seen by others.  Specifically, in chapter 6:1-18 be careful not to give, pray and fast to be seen.  When you do, you are portraying a relationship with God which does not exist.  Why does it not exist?  Because, you are more concerned about what others think of you than what God thinks.  Be careful!

So why the warning?  Maybe it is simple, if you misrepresent who you are, it will eventually catch up with you.  Eventually, it will all come out, ask Manti, ask Lance.  When you misrepresent yourself, you deceive people.  However the bigger problem, when you misrepresent yourself spiritually, you ultimately deceive yourself.  You fool yourself into thinking you have a right relationship with God and eventually it will catch up to you.  Jesus, goes on in Matthew 7 to remind us of this several times.

In chapter 6 Jesus tells us the “hypocrites” love to do these righteous acts in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by people.  Is it possible Social Media is the street corner we all stand on today?  With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other outlets we have complete control of how we want people to see us.  It is easy to misrepresent our self and deceive others into thinking we are something we are not.  Be careful Jesus would say, because you may just deceive yourself.

Think how much time and energy and money in our society is put into worrying about what others think.  Jesus was confronting a Pharisaical system which was overly concerned with other perception.  Maybe not much has changed.  Maybe it is why we struggle so greatly with confession.  We don’t want people to know who we really are because we are terrified of what they might think.  What if they found out about our struggles with anger?  With alcohol?  With pornography?  With cheating?  With lying?

The righteousness Jesus describes in chapter 5 is not rooted in “look how good I am,” but in a humbled spirit “I know who I am,” and it is far from righteous.  Maybe deep down, to hunger and thirsting for righteousness is a passionate plea to seek Him rather than others opinions.  Simply put, love God, love others because you can control that,  Don’t spend countless hours worried about what others think because you can’t control that, so stop trying to control it by convincing everyone you are something you are not.


MOTIVES MATTER – REFLECTIONS FROM THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Growing up baseball was a huge part of my life.  I began playing at the age of 4.  I played in High School and even had the opportunity to play in college.  In High School and College the biggest desire, other than winning, is to be seen.  In high school you want to be seen by a college or pro scout.  Once in college you want to be seen by a pro scout.  Deep inside of most athletes is the desire to be able to perform at the next level.  So when someone notices your ability it is amazing.  Personally, for me, one of the most exciting days was when Coach Fullerton passed along a letter to me from a Chicago White Sox scout.

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It was the first one I received and there was an incredible moment when I realized, someone was watching me.  I began to carry myself differently.  My mindset changed instantly.  I had so much more confidence.

We all have within us a desire to be noticed, to stand out, to be seen.  It is why we spend so much time changing clothes, asking how we look, trying to cover up our imperfections.  We want to be noticed for our looks, our clothes, our athletic ability, our intelligence, our music ability, our leadership, our planning ability, our preaching.  We all want to be noticed.  Even those who are behind the scenes, who would never want to be out front, I believe, want people to take notice of how well they do what they do.  And now with the reach of the internet, through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instangram, ect. our world revolves around the ability to let people see what we want them to see about us.  Have you seen the new State Farm Commercial?

We have the ability to control other people’s perception of us.  And honestly we love it that way.  Jesus talks about a new righteousness in chapter 5 of Matthew and leads into chapter 6 with a warning.  Be careful not to do acts of righteousness for the purpose of standing out, of being seen, because if you do the only reward you will get will be from the people who praise you for your piety.

Jesus knows us so well.  He understands our nature will be to seek praise for what we do.  If we give, there will be a tendency for us to want people to see how generous we are, or at least how generous we want them to think we are.  If we pray, we will want people to be impressed by the depth of our relationship with Christ.  If we fast, for all to know we are fasting, so they can be impressed by our devotion.  So Jesus says, BE CAREFUL!  This is a dangerous trap.

Jesus tells the first followers, be careful because Your MOTIVES MATTER!  You can say it like this…

WHY you do, WHAT you do, is just as important as what you are doing.  

But why?

The focus of these and other disciplines is to grow closer to Christ.  Period!  If you are doing it to be seen you are merely pretending.  Interestingly enough the word Jesus uses throughout this section, “hypocrite” was not a word that was made up just for the Bible; as in someone who says one thing but really does another.  Hypocrite was actually a secular Greek word that was used in the theater.  In theater a hypocrite was an actor who wears a mask.  So anyone on stage wearing a mask was a hypocrite.  So Jesus uses this word to describe a person who gives, prays or fasts for the purpose of being seen.  He says, if you are just giving so others see how spiritual you are, you are an actor, wearing a mask pretending to be someone else.  There is a danger in fooling others but there is an immense danger that you would fool yourself, that you would deceive yourself and think you are something you are not.

This deception causes two problems.  Some might see you and feel they could never be as close to God as you are, when in fact you’re not that close.  Secondly, it creates a false sense of security.  It becomes easy to look at others and say things like…

Luke 18:11-12 NIV
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

Jesus is merely reminding his followers, you are not saved because of what you gave, how you prayed or how often you fasted.  You are saved by grace.  Stop deceiving others and yourself, making them think you are saved by your own works.  Life in Christ is not about being perfect, it is about realizing you are not perfect and are desperately in need of a savior!


IMMANUEL – “GOD WITH US” – EVEN IN THE MIDST OF TRAGEDY

Following tragic events, like the senseless assault on a Connecticut Elementary School last Friday, the question which always seems to arise is where was God in the midst of this tragedy?  How could God allow this to happen?

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When I heard the first news of the shooting on Friday, I was on a field trip with my daughter’s school.  I was part of a group of approximately 60 kindergartners watching the Polar Express at the Omni.  As the movie concluded, I glanced down at my phone and noticed news alerts beginning to pop up on my phone.

Sitting there in the midst of what seemed to me like chaos, I watched these innocent children interacting with each other.  Laughing, talking, and sharing without a care in the world.  Wow!  Purely innocent children.  My daughter and I went to Chick-Fil-A for lunch on the way home.  As she played on the playground I searched for details.  As the story unfolded, it was amazing just how meaningful my day with my daughter had become.

Over the past several days, I have spent time reflecting and asking the question of why.  Then, while driving home one evening, my attention was drawn to a manger.  My attention was drawn to the birth of Christ.  In that moment, Hebrews 4:15 began to take on a new meaning for me…

Hebrews 4:15 NIV
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.

We have a God who did not spare Jesus the heartache and chaos which we experience.  He did not send Him into a comfortable palace to sit on a throne.  He sent Him into a world ruled by a tyrant sitting on a throne, into a world of a King fighting for more power and control.  Following Herod’s failed attempt to have the Magi deliver the baby who would threaten his kingdom, Herod took matters into his own hands.

Matthew 2:16 NIV
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.

The question arises, how could God stand by and do nothing.  But, here is the thing, he did do something, He sent his son into the midst of our chaos and suffering.  He sent Jesus into a world where power was so important to a man, he would have thousands upon thousands of babies killed, to preserve his desires.  Where was God, He was in the midst of our pain, our suffering and our grief.  God never promises to pull us out of the suffering but he does promise to walk through it with us.  He asks his followers to be his light in this darkness.

This Christmas, as you see the scene of the manger unfolded, in yards throughout our communities, may we not forget, God is truly with us.  He is here in the midst of our despair.  The manger was an announcement of hope, to a world and a people void of hope.  The manger was an announcement to the world,

Matthew 1:23 NIV
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”–which means, “God with us.”

So how is God with us today?  Through the lives of people all around us, who are bringing light into the midst of darkness; who are bringing hope in the midst of despair.   So where have I seen God in the midst of this tragedy?  With teachers, who’s love for their students was greater than the love they had for themselves.  Through Robbie Parker, who lost his precious daughter, and yet someone showed graced to the family of the killer.  Through Monsignor Weiss, sitting with and comforting a grieving community.  Through the people of Newtown who are walking along each other through unspeakable circumstances.

Immanuel – God with Us


CONFESSIONS FROM THE TRENCHES – LIFE IN STUDENT MINISTRY

Wow, what a summer!  That’s what our students say.  Wow, what a long summer!  This is what I say.  And with every year it seems to get longer.

It is not that I don’t enjoy it because I do.  But quite honestly it is the reason many don’t last in youth ministry.  And the same is true for different seasons in other ministries as well.  I wanted to spend a few minutes sharing my heart as the summer draw to a close.  Not what is on my heart per say, but rather the condition of my heart.  There is a song we sing from time to time, it says…

My eyes are dry, my faith is old
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me

If I am completely honest, this is how I feel at the end of every summer.  So why is it that the summer takes such a toll on me.  The bottom line is this, you can only pour out so much of yourself without being filled back up.  It is so easy to fall into the trap in ministry of “doing ministry”.  Summers are full, in fact they are jam packed.  Lots going on, lots of students who need attention, lot of being out of town, a lot of late nights, a lot of prep work to be done.  And then there are the responsibilities at home; the relationship with your spouse, your kids, helping around the house.  The question then comes, if your pouring yourself out in all different directions, then who is pouring into you?  If I am honest, the answer for me is no one.  During the summer, I go into one of two modes.  There is ministry mode and there is family mode.

You could think of it like this.  You work and work at building up your lung capacity for an extended period of time and then you hold your breath as long as you possibly can and then… you pass out.  I feel it is where I am at the end of every summer.  I will admit I am getting better at one thing, masking the condition of my heart.

I guess you could some up my heart condition like this, I have gotten much better at “doing” than “being”.  I have gotten better at doing ministry, and being a minister than I have at simply resting in God’s presence.  So why share this?  There are a several of reasons.

  1. I have a feeling I am not alone.  Not alone as far as other ministers go and not alone with the people I minister to.
  2. To recognize the problem is the first step in working toward a solution.
  3. Openness about our condition should be the norm in church.  People are so afraid of what others will think, to the point it completely nullifies the openness we are to share with one another.  And I admit I am even nervous posting this, because we never talk openly about it in our churches, especially those in ministry.
  4. So that you can pray for me in my journey.

So where do I go from here?  Back to abiding in the one who gives life and resurrects from the dead; significant time in the word, in prayer, listening to the loving voice of our God.

Paul prayed this for the church in Ephesus, but this is my prayer today for me and anyone else who is or has been where I am…

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:14-1 NIV

So where are you in your journey?