Where I’ve Been…And Why I’m Back

Maybe you’ve noticed. Maybe you haven’t. But I’ve not published a blog post since June 13th. And it’s killin’ me!

It’s the longest gap between posts I’ve had since I started blogging. And for good reason: I’ve been busy.

Busy with job responsibilities. Busy with family. Busy with traveling. Busy with weddings.

But who isn’t busy, right?

We all are.

And though I’m still relatively young, I’ve realized that every time my birthday rolls around I’m busier than I was the previous year. So I’ve got to figure this thing out now, because I’m not getting any younger.

I’m not saying I need to figure out how to avoid working hard. Although, we do often times allow ourselves to take on an unhealthy amount of work that becomes detrimental to our lives.

I’m not saying there won’t be “seasons” that are busier than others. There’s nothing wrong with that. You have to push through.

What I am saying is this: In the midst of life’s busyness, I (and maybe you too) have to figure out how to maintain balance and prioritize what’s most important. 

If you don’t, you’ll one day realize it’s been…

…3 months since reading your Bible…

…2 years since going on a family vacation…

…6 weeks since calling your mom…

…1 year since exercising…

…2 weeks since getting home early enough to play with the kids…

…5 years since sharing your faith…

…2 months since blogging.

I don’t know what it is for you, but there is something you intended to do that has fallen short. The good news is you can start again. The bad news is it’s not easy.

Intentions are never enough.

In fact, you’ve probably even heard the saying, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

You need a plan of action. Because busyness eats intentions for lunch every time. 

So how am I going to get back to blogging? By focusing on 2 things: self-discipline and self-development.

Without self-discipline, as life gets busier I’ll have longer and longer gaps between blog posts.

Without self-development, I won’t have anything to say.

This idea of developing ourselves is a lost art in our culture today. We look to others to develop us as if it’s someone else’s responsibility. This attitude permeates all of culture, but is unfortunately very often found inside the church. Someone will make sure you know they are leaving your church because they are “just not getting fed,” which is ridiculous. Learn to feed yourself!

I once heard one of my favorite authors say this: “I’m not responsible for filling your cup, but I am responsible for emptying mine.”

I can’t pour out what I haven’t been poured in to. Going forward I must prioritize making sure my cup is getting full. By doing so, I’ll write out of the overflow and others may be able to grab something that helps them fill their cup.

I hope this doesn’t come across arrogantly, but I know there are a few people who have benefitted from my blog posts. They’ve told me. And that doesn’t puff me up as much as it humbles me. It still amazes me that God would use me to help others. And I want to be used as long as He sees fit.

I also can’t explain it, but I have a burden to communicate through speaking and writing. It’s not something I want to do as much as something I feel like I have to do. When I do it, I have a sense of lower case “f” fulfillment.

So that’s why I’m back. I have this burden to communicate and help others.

Until I feel like I’m no longer helping people or blogging becomes an antiquated way of communicating with the world, I’ll keep it up. If I miss a week, or even two, give me some grace. Life gets busy. But if I’m ever gone again for this long…check on me.

Thanks for reading!

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Why You Should Stop Telling People You’ll Pray For Them

I’ve said it countless times. And I bet you’ve either said it or had it said to you.

The conversation goes something like this:

You kindly ask how someone is doing.

Instead of getting the rote response of “I’m good. you?”, the other person actually thinks you care and feels comfortable enough to open up to you…so they do.

If you aren’t in too much of a hurry or insensitive, you listen as they tell you about something going on in their life. Maybe how they are struggling, that they or someone they care about is sick, that they are in need of a job, etc.

After trying to empathize and show concern, you then say those 5 comforting, seemingly magical words to wrap up the conversation.

“I’ll be praying for you.”

The other person is very appreciative.

They might even reciprocate and ask how they can pray for you.

You tell them.

They assure you they will be praying.

You thank them.

You both nod.

Smile.

Then walk away from the conversation feeling better.

Have you been there?

Chances are if you know a Christian, or are one, you have.

And it needs to stop.

Seriously.

The next time you feel the “tug” to tell someone you will be praying for them, don’t do it.

Why?

Because you likely don’t do it. You won’t pray. 

Right?

You mean well. You really do. You may even plan on praying for them when you get around to it.

But at the end of the day, “I’ll be praying for you” has become in the Christian subculture a phrase of comfort more than a promise that’s delivered.

And that’s a shame.

Because prayer throughout the pages of Scripture is shown to be an incredible asset in the life of a Christian. It’s literally our access line to communicate to the God of the Universe. It’s how we can connect and grow in our relationship with Him. It should be something we cannot go a day without doing.

And it’s powerful. It’s a game changer. We are promised that things may be different if we pray.

Scripture is replete with examples concerning prayer.  Here are just a few:

  • 2 Chronicles 7:14 – If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgivetheir sin and will heal their land.
  • James 5:16-17 – The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
  • Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
  • Mark 1:35 – Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

There are obviously many other passages on prayer besides these. What’s interesting is that none of the commands to pray or examples of people praying are future tense. It’s always understood that the time to pray is now, in the present.

We don’t see Jesus interacting with people and telling them “I’ll be praying for you.” 

A couple months ago I was confronted with this issue head on. I had a short meeting with a pastor on our staff and towards the end of our conversation he asked specifically how he could pray for me. After telling him, instead of saying “I’ll be praying for you,” he did something remarkable. He prayed!

As I walked out of his office I began to recall many other times I’d seen him praying with someone in the hallway, out in public and even for me. And I realized I’d never heard “I will be” come out of his mouth. He just did it.

When we say “I’ll be praying for you” and don’t follow through, as tough as it is to admit, we lie to the person. And more than that, we reveal a disbelief in the power and importance of prayer. Because if we truly believed prayer worked, we would pray.

We all have good intentions when we utter that phrase. I know that nobody sets out to be a liar. So here are 3 things I’m committing to that I think are better options:

1. Remove the phrase “I’ll be praying for you” from your conversational default. There is no command in Scripture that says you have to say that. So just let it go. And you will immediately stop lying…at least in this area of your life.

2. Pray with someone on the spot. It’s a bit scary if you aren’t used to it. And I’ll admit I rarely do it in public.

3. Keep a prayer list. If I’m ever talking to you and I pull out my phone, I’m not messaging someone. I’m writing your name down and how I can pray for you. I have a lot on my mind, just like you do, and I know I’ll forget if I don’t. Writing it down is a way for me to remember and to hold myself accountable to pray. I’ll look at that prayer list more regularly than I’ll remember who I said I’ll be praying for.

If you do deliver on your promise to pray for others, that’s wonderful. Keep it up!

For the majority of everyone else, just stop saying it. And in the majority, I’m including myself. We can do better. We can actually pray.

What are some other ways you help yourself remember to pray for others?

When God Says “No”

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This past Monday, my daughter, Avonlea, turned 1 year old. ONE! It’s crazy how quickly this last year flew by. And it’s been too. much. fun!

I’ve held her.

Changed her diaper.

Given her baths.

Fed her.

Tickled her.

Read to her.

Prayed with her.

Laughed with her.

Cheered her on as she learned to crawl.

Tried to keep up with her as she’s learned to walk.

Picked her up after she’s fallen and bumped her head.

Said the phrase “Say _________” hundreds of times as we are teaching her words.

Been amazed by her HUGE personality!

Cleaned up after her mischievous adventures (the picture above shows that quite well).

And I’ve fallen more and more in love with her as each day passes.

She’s my “Avie Rose.”

The last couple of weeks I’ve noticed 2 new things.

First, I’ve repeated a tiny, 2-letter word more than any other time in my life. Every parent knows which word I’m talking about.

“No.”

And the funny thing is, I’ve had to say “No” in connection with other words I rarely had to before.

Toilet. Toilet paper. Outside. Leaves. Eat. Mouth. Etc.

You get the picture.

Second, Avonlea isn’t just developing mentally and physically, she’s developing her will. That precious gift given to us by God to freely use. That ability to make choices. To act and react. Yup. She’s learning that quickly. And I knew it would come, although I, like every naive first-time parent, thought it wouldn’t be as pronounced with my child. Ha!

With those 2 things in mind, get this story. It was dinner time and we had all 3 sat down at the table. Rachel and I began to eat, but Avonlea’s food was still a bit too hot. As Avonlea reached for her food, I pulled it back and said to her “Not yet, Avonlea. It’s too hot.” She got distracted by something and maybe 15 seconds later reached for it again. It was out of her reach this time and she was growing frustrated as she strained for it. I looked at her and said in a serious, slightly raised and concerned voice, “No.” She immediately started crying and then made a face that I’m pretty sure had we been filming could have won her an Oscar. It was dramatic to say the least!

I was shocked by her ridiculous reaction to that 2-letter word. Rachel and I both laughed a bit, as we watched Avonlea transform into a drama queen. And then I quickly became bothered by it all. I thought, “I know she’s only 1, but shouldn’t she be obeying me when I ask her to do something? I mean doesn’t she love me? And not only doesn’t she obey me, but she gets upset at me for just saying ‘No.’ And not just upset, but in tears. I’m not even mad at her. What’s going on?” 

As I began to rationalize with my 1 year old, I was immediately confronted by how I react when God says “No” to me.

Have you ever been there?

Maybe you’ve prayed for something and the answer, by way of the prayer not going your way, seems to be “No.”

Maybe you see what everyone else is doing around you and you want to do it, but it goes against a verse in the Bible where God has said “No” to doing that very thing, and you get angry.

Maybe it “feels right” to do what you are being enticed to do, but you know God has said “No” to doing it. Maybe you give in.

Maybe you feel stuck in this season of life and there is a shortcut you could say “yes” to, but God is saying “no.”

Maybe you want to do something right now, in the moment, but God is saying “No. Later is better. Wait. Be patient”

Maybe you are tired of even considering following God, because you feel he’s all about the rules. He’s judgmental. And the answer is always “no.”

Let’s be real: maybe you’re done feeling guilty for doing what everyone else seems perfectly content doing. And if God would just get out of your conscience life would be much easier. You could watch porn, have pre-marital sex, lie, cheat, steal, etc. with no worries.

If any of these describe you, I’m with you. I’ve been there. But hold on, take a deep breath and keep reading.

In each moment we all ideally want all of our desires to be answered “yes” and for that “yes” to not be delayed. We want what we want right now. Immediate gratification is the name of the game. And daily we are marketed to in countless ways with messages that reinforce our desires: “You deserve it. Take all you want. Enjoy it. No boundaries. Don’t wait. Do it now. The answer is ‘yes.'” 

The scary things is there are obvious consequences to this way of thinking and living.

The scarier thing is since God doesn’t at all operate like this, we often get upset with him, see his answers as irrelevant and irrational, and in the end, see no need for him at all.

What we are really doing is distrusting God’s character. And we are missing out on a much better life.

What if the next time God says “No” to your desire, you stopped and considered that maybe he knows something that you don’t? Maybe he knows what’s best for you and a “No” answer is exactly what you need.

When I was in seminary, one of my professor’s said this: “God’s commandments are to keep us from something bad and to save us for something better.”

That has stuck with me to this day. And I believe it always will.

When God says “No,” he is not trying to make your life miserable. He is not trying to make you miss out on what everyone else is doing. He is not punishing you. He is not trying to put fear in you. He is not mad at you. He is not trying to give you unattainable standards. He is not all about rules.

He actually cares about your life more than you or I ever will.

When I said “No” to Avonlea eating the hot food it was because at my core, I wanted what was best for her. I didn’t want her to get burnt and I wanted her to enjoy her food at the right time. It was an act of grace for me to warn her and give her boundaries.

Have you ever considered it’s the same way with God?

It is.

So, the next time God says “No” to something in your life, remind yourself of 3 things:

1. God wants what’s best for me.

2. God wants to keep me from something bad.

3. God wants to save me for something better.

Then obey his “No” and see how that works out for you. I’m betting it goes better than obeying your own “yes.”

Grabbin’ Exponential Quotes

Last week I had the privilege of attending the Exponential East conference in Tampa. Exponential is a conference dedicated to church planting and multiplication. Rather than each local church focusing solely on getting larger, this conference desires that more churches are planted, campuses are launched, leaders are developed, etc., so more people can be reached for Christ. It’s about the capital “C” Church (the Kingdom) growing. Pretty sweet.

With that said, Exponential invited over 175 speakers (not just the big name Christian leaders in America, but little known leaders from around the world who are making a significant impact) and offered 150+ workshops that complemented the conference objective. I attended workshops on discipleship, evangelism, leadership, creativity, vision, being missional, cultural engagement and much more. To say I was mentally drained after the week is an understatement. But it was sooo good! It was refreshing. And it stretched and challenged me in just about every way I could be, which is always healthy.

Since the majority of you who read this were not at the conference, I wanted to give you a taste of some of the content in a tweetable format. If you’re a church leader you’ll eat this up. If you’re not, it should be encouraging to you that leaders are having these worthwhile conversations.

Here are my top 25 quotes from the week!

1. There are 3 reasons people don’t share their faith: 1) Fear. 2) They aren’t passionate about Jesus. 3) They haven’t seen Jesus “work” for them in their life. – Jeff Vanderstelt

2. Christians who are seeking another Bible study to fill their time are normally just using that as a substitution for obedience to God. – Jeff Vanderstelt

3. You choose who you lose. Stop worrying about making everyone happy. Instead, make the right people unhappy.             – Steve Stroope

4. Does your prayer life match the responsibility God has entrusted to you? – Joby Martin

5. Passion moves people’s hearts, not rightly exegeted texts. – Shawn Lovejoy

6. Your role as a leader is to raise up other leaders. It’s not about you just sitting in an office and coming up with ideas.         – JD Greear

7. You want your team to have buy in not just compliance. – Steve Stroope

8. The best vision is a shared vision. Let other people contribute to its development and then let them own it and run with it. – JD Greear

9. We have to care more about how our people are doing than what they are doing for us. – Joby Martin

10. The stuff that wears you out and that you aren’t good at is someone else’s unique ability. Learn to delegate. – Steve Stroope

11. Leadership is anticipation. It’s solving problems before anybody knows there is a problem. – Steve Stroope

12. The cross is not a tragedy it’s a strategy for His kingdom come. – Danielle Strickland

13. What if the lack of growth of the American church has more to do with the leader’s idolatry of success and bigger buildings than it does with the hard hearts of the people? – JD Greear

14. People aren’t primarily moved or changed by bullet points or sermons. They are changed when you give them a different story to live into. – Michael Frost

15. God captures not by force, but by the imagination of his fallen creatures. – Michael Frost

16. “What we need in America is multiplied weakness; tear filled pastors.” – Derwin Gray

17. Encoded into the DNA of suburban American is “be safe”, “build houses,” “renovate your kitchen,” “send your kids to the best schools.” Left to their own devices they will be sucked into the American dream. The only thing that will draw them out is story….Stop only telling people that Jesus died on the cross for their sins. Tell them what it could look like if they lived like Jesus. Tell them the story of God and what it could look like if they saw heaven. – Michael Frost

18. We often never become who God has created us to be because we allow ourselves to be who everyone expects us to be. – Dave Rhodes

19. Influence is what happens when everyone is gathered. Impact is what happens when everyone is scattered. – Dave Rhodes

20. Jesus didn’t just come and die on a cross. He lived before us. Why? To show us how to live. – Hugh Halter

21. Close proximity to people doesn’t mean you condone their behavior. It just means you are with them like Jesus was.       – Hugh Halter

22. To be self-righteous is to think that others’ sins are worse than yours. – Hugh Halter

23. In today’s world nobody belongs anywhere because everybody belongs everywhere. – Michael Frost

24. A transactional gospel translates to people who don’t need discipleship. It’s simply a transaction. I receive Christ and I get out of hell. We need to recover the full gospel. Follow me. Come and die. It’s all of life. – Bobby Harrington

25. Jesus is not a footnote to our story. He is the story. – Derwin Gray

Don’t Wait Until Next Easter

It included the Easter bunny,

peeps,

Easter baskets,

hiding and dying eggs and

dressing up nice for family pictures and get-togethers.

And for millions of people it also included going to a church service.

Why?

Well, Easter is a day each year that is honored as “special” by most people. Believers and non-believers alike pour in to church services because there is still, although it’s fading quickly, an engrained conviction that going to church matters on Easter. It’s a day that honors a man named Jesus, who, 2,000 years ago lived and claimed to be God, died, and then proved it by rising from the dead. His resurrection is what is specifically celebrated on Easter.

It is a day to celebrate because this event in history is what the Christian faith is founded upon. The Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament said it best in 1 Corinthians 15:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third dayaccording to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born….And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

The resurrection is what it’s all about. It’s the whole reason to even believe. It’s what validates the Christian faith. And it’s worth celebrating, not just on Easter, but every day!

It reminds us that we serve a God who has the power over death. He is not dead. And we have hope for the future.

I was reminded last Saturday night as I listened to Lee Strobel, a former atheist turned Christian author and speaker, that if you are a skeptic to not give up on examining the resurrection of Jesus. He went through a 2 year investigation of the historical evidence for Jesus living, dying and rising from the dead. You know what he found after his journey? That it would take more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. The historical evidence was too strong.

If you’re reading this, I don’t know what you believe. I don’t know what you’ve been through. I don’t know where you were on Easter Sunday. But what I do know is this: Jesus’ resurrection is no more true and no more worth celebrating on Easter than any other day of the year.

So if you’re skeptical about Jesus, don’t wait until next year to check out the claims of the resurrection. Check it out right now! If he really did rise from the dead then that means Jesus was not just an ordinary man. He was far more than that. He would be…well…God. And that would mean that what he said would be truth and have authority. And that reality would have huge implications for your life. Don’t worry about the other questions you have about faith and religion. Just focus on one question: Did Jesus rise from the dead? In the end, it’s the only question that matters.

To read more on this, check out: Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection.

And for followers of Christ, let’s not wait until next Easter to celebrate. Let’s live each day as if Jesus really is alive and his resurrection has changed everything. How could we live any other way?

Haiti

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From March 7th – 14th I traveled to Haiti on a mission trip with 32 other students and adults from Bell Shoals. And it was an incredible trip!
 
For the last two weeks I’ve been processing it all and I will continue to do so for a very long time.
 
When you visit a country like Haiti you are impacted in ways that cannot be fully explained. In order to fully understand you have to experience it.
 
Since most people have never visited Haiti, and because I was changed by it, I’ve wanted to post about it. But I’ve been struggling to find the right words. How do you put into a single post what was such an eye-opening, life-changing and kingdom-impacting trip? You can’t perfectly. So I’ll cut myself some slack up front and briefly share some of what I experienced. What I saw.
 
I saw breathtaking views of Haiti’s mountains, lakes and coastline.
 
I saw our students stretched outside of their comfort zone and step up to serve others and share Christ.
 
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I saw children walk miles to get to school and many without shoes.
 
I saw women and children carrying water and other materials on their heads.
 
I saw beautiful smiles, joy and contentment in so many of the Haitian people even though they have so little.
 
I saw poverty. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Clean drinking water, food, health care and education are just a few of their essential needs that we in America don’t think twice about. To find out more about Haiti click here.
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I saw the necessity of partnering with an organization that has ongoing contact with the community you are serving. We partnered with Greg, Maria and Caleb Shepherd with RTS Missions. They are making a HUGE impact in Haiti. People are being saved from earthly struggles and eternal separation with Christ through their ministry. To learn more about RTS click here.
 
I saw that a mission trip really can make a difference. We fed over 1200 children a hot meal, many of which had not received a hot meal in over a week. We saw the power of holding a child’s hand, giving a hug and tangibly showing love to others. And most importantly, our team led over 100 children to accept Christ! In talking with Greg, he told me of a young girl who had been present for 12 mission team visits to her school in the past. Each team presented the gospel, but she did not accept Christ. The 13th time a team came she decided to give in and accept Him. Each of those first 12 teams had a small part in God working in her heart. And had they not gone, that young girl would not now know Jesus. There are countless other lives with similar stories. Going matters!
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Finally, for the first time in my life I grasped the weight of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46. Verse 40 sums it up well:
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Jesus cares passionately about reaching the lost. He also cares passionately about loving the least. I needed, and I believe our churches need, a renewed heart for the least. To not love them may lead to dangerous consequences. To love them gets closest to the heart of God. Read all 16 verses and you’ll see what I mean.
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There is certainly a whole lot more I could say and some key things I’m sure I left out. Maybe I’ll write a part 2. In the end, God changed my life in Haiti and I’d go back in a heartbeat. Not to just experience it all again, but to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of others. To love the least. And reach the lost. Until next time, I pray I will live out the change that I’ve experienced here at home in Brandon, FL.
Haiti has my heart.
 
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