Monday, March 13, 2017

Don't Miss What's Right in Front of You

For most of my life, I’ve been absolutely terrified of speaking in front of people. In high school and college, I would barely be able to get the words out. There were several times where I literally almost ran out of the room right before I had to speak. For years, I wanted to get better at it, but avoided doing anything about it. In the last few years though, as I prayed about it, it was amazing how many opportunities were put in front of me to talk in front of people. Public speaking is by no means a top strength of mine, but it’s something I’ve become much more comfortable with and even enjoy at times. 

Did God answer my prayers? I think he absolutely did. Instead of magically making me a better speaker, he gave me opportunities to grow and to rely on Him. 

I’ve started to wonder, what if all of life is like that? 

What if what we hope and pray for is often right in front of us? 

What if I’m focusing on the wrong things, and because of that, missing opportunities that are right in front of me? 

What if in all of life’s difficulties, God is leading me to depend on Him?

I believe when we focus on what we don’t have, or we complain, or feel sorry for ourselves, we are blinded to the truth of what is really happening in and around us. 

I want more joy and peace in my life, but do I see that God is daily bringing me to circumstances, good and bad, where I can grow in these things? I want more deep relationships in my life, but do I see that God is putting people all around me that I can grow in friendship and community with? 

Fix Your Focus

God is never short on resources. He gives us everything we need to grow in joy, to have more patience, to deepen relationships, to be less anxious. We just need to fix our focus to see the opportunities in front of us. 

I often look for God in the big things, in the life-changing situations. But God is not the God of the expected. Instead of showing up in the ways we expect, or even in the ways we want Him to, He often shows up in the details and in the detours of life.  

So how do I fix my focus to make sure I see the opportunities in front of me? I believe gratitude is the key. If I’m focusing on what I don’t have or wish I had more of, my focus is off. 

But if I live with thankfulness for who God has uniquely made me, and I live expectantly looking for how God is moving in and around me, it changes everything. 

This requires thinking differently

It requires accepting that growth often comes through pain. It requires getting over myself and accepting that life is not about me. It requires knowing that I can’t do life on my own and growing my dependence on Jesus. Opportunity often presents itself in hard times, and our purpose often presents itself through pain. 

We all have things in life we wish were different, and we all have things we wish we had more of. 

But what if instead of focusing on what I lack, I focus on opportunities for growth? 

What if instead of focusing on my inadequacy, I shift my focus to God’s abundance?

When I do, it’s awesome to see what’s right in front of me. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

When Stress and Pressure Come, How Will I Respond?

I remember a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago. I was telling him about the struggle I was having with stress and anxiety. I wasn’t sure how he would react as I felt I was really opening up and being vulnerable. My friend listened intently, then laughed and said “welcome to the club…” It was a relief to know this guy that I looked up to struggled with some of the same things, but what really impacted me is what he said next:

“We all have stress and anxiety, but the key is what are you going to do with it? Are you going to let it take over and cripple you? Or are you going to let it drive you to your knees, and grow your dependence on the Lord?”


Can you remember the last time you had a week without stress, pressure or anxiety? Maybe when you were a kid or on a vacation? As I’ve gotten older, I’m realizing that these things are a standard part of life. If we try to deny that fact, and hope to have a life free from all worry and stress, we’re only fooling ourselves and will end up in disappointment.

These things will come, but like my friend said, the key is how will we respond to it?

Almost a year ago, Jude was born right as I was getting ready to start my new job. I felt completely over my head and insecure about being able to lead well at my new position while also leading my new family of 5. Looking back, that time forced me to a new level of dependence on the Lord, and He has provided time and time again in the last year.

I’m convinced the Lord allows stress, pressure and anxiety into our lives to give us opportunities to see His power come through.

So now I’m trying (imperfectly) to have a new mindset with these things. Like the verse above says, when stress and pressure bear down on me, I find joy in the Lord. 

Once I set my mindset to expect stress and anxiety, once I expose it and plan for how I will respond, fear itself becomes less scary.  We can actually find joy within these circumstances.

True joy - not happiness that can come and go with our circumstances - but true joy anchored in the Lord, can come through our response to what life throws at us. When we let stress and pressure drive us to our knees in dependence and surrender to God’s goodness, it’s there we find joy and rest. God’s power is actually made perfect in our weakness.

Ultimately, stress and worry will make us weak in one of two ways. If we try to avoid it or let it take over our lives, we will become weak physically, mentally and spiritually. But if we let it bring us to deeper trust and dependence on the Lord – “I can’t do this, Lord, I need You to come through for me!” – we become weak in a way that makes us stronger than ever through His joy and power.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hitting the Reset Button

"For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until the day of Christ’s return." Philippians 1:10

Remember on the old school Nintendo system when a game wasn't working, and you had to hit the reset button to start it over? Or if that wasn't enough, giving it a couple smacks and blowing the dust out would almost always do the trick.

Recently I was reminded that I need to hit the reset button on life too. We took a mini vacation in downtown Chicago and had a blast. I came back feeling reset and re-focused, and realized that sometimes all it takes is a short time of getting away from the day to day responsibilities and worries to gain perspective back.

I love the verse from Philippians 1 where it says "I want you to understand what really matters...". It's amazing how we spend so much of our lives focused on, worried about, and preoccupied with things that in the end really don't matter. I know I'm guilty of it.

But how do we know what really matters? One way is to ask yourself the question: 100 years from now what will matter? If we get to the end of our life and look back, what will have real value? For me, I could count the number of those things on one hand - Relationships (God, family, friends), serving others, and being humble, real and joyful in the ups and downs of life.

The Bible, although a complicated book, also helps simplify things for us. When Jesus was asked basically this same question - "what truly matters?", his answer was to love God with all that you have and to love and serve others...Love God. Love people.

I tend to over complicate life, and when I do, I struggle with insecurity and doubt. But when I'm able to hit the reset button, to stop thinking so much, I can get back to living for what really matters. My reset can be a mini vacation, a hike, swimming with my kids, a basketball game, a round of golf or anything where I'm only thinking about what I'm doing at that moment.

Sometimes I need a big reset, but I also need daily resets. A walk, a nap, listening to music, simply looking up at the clouds - something that separates me from the head-down, plowing-through mentality.

God created fun, and play, and beauty for a reason. These things help us refocus. If you're like me - spending too much time on things that don't really matter, struggling with worry and doubt - find a way to hit the reset button.

The difference between a wasted life and a meaningful one may hang in the balance.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Roles We Play

One of the reasons I love sports is there’s so much to learn and relate to real life. They allow us to follow along as stories play out. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying this year’s NBA Finals because it’s full of so many good story lines – like the contrast of the two best players in the game and how they handle success and pressure (like throwing a tantrum and a mouthpiece at the same time!). One of the stories I find most interesting though is Kevin Love’s. He’s the Cavs third “star” and has played a big role in their success all year, but in the Finals, the Warriors have shut him down almost completely.

Love and his teammates seem to have a positive attitude about it though. Each good play he has made, his teammates get overly excited about. When he’s on the bench, he’s the first one to run out at timeouts and encourage the others. LeBron has said that Love’s presence and the little things he does still make a difference – rebounding, spacing the floor and allowing LeBron and Kyrie to dominate.

Now this isn’t a perfect analogy because honestly Love’s defense stinks and he looks lost in this series. But I think there’s something to take away here about the roles we choose to play in life. Love could try to force things and try to be a kind of player he’s not. Instead, he seems to have accepted his role, and done the little things needed to contribute and help his teammates succeed.

I believe each person has different roles to play in life. Everyone has leadership capability inside them, because there are different ways to lead. There are some like LeBron who are pure God-gifted leaders, but not many of us are made to be that person. Most of us are more like Kevin Love, called to play a unique part in the greater story.

Whatever role God has placed us in, we can grow where He’s planted us, and contribute by working hard to do the little things right.

Little things add up, and faithfulness in small things leads to big things. A reminder I need daily is to be more concerned about WHO I’m becoming than WHAT I’m doing.

Regardless of our circumstances, we all have an opportunity to play a role that’s significant. But we need to remember that significance is different than what the world calls success. We don’t have to be who the world wants us to be, and we don’t need to try to be someone we’re not. God made us each uniquely for a purpose – and He’s placed us in our situation to make the impact only we can make.

I think after playing a support role for the first 6 games of the Finals, Kevin Love will be given an opportunity to shine when it matters most in game 7. This idea rings true for our lives as well – accept the role God has placed you in, be who He has made you to be, keep doing the little things to help others succeed, and you may be surprised at the opportunities placed in front of you.

Friday, June 10, 2016

You're doing better than you think

Have you ever had to do a self-evaluation of some sort? How did you rate yourself? There are definitely people who rate themselves too high and think too highly of themselves. But I'm convinced behind that pride is actually insecurity. If you're like me and at times struggle with self doubt and questioning, I can almost guarantee you you're doing better than you think. 

Most of us don't take the time to celebrate the small victories and small steps of progress.We're too busy worrying about where we fall short or where we might fail.

Maybe you've seen this clip from Moneyball. It perfectly illustrates what I'm talking about:

He hit a home run and he didn't even know it. Most of us have victories and hit home runs every day but don't even realize it. We're too busy falling over first base, worried if we'll make it to second.

For anyone who doubts their purpose in life, hear this - If you are still breathing, God is not done with you. He has a purpose for your life, he has victories for you to win, he has lives for you to impact. Don't underestimate who God has made you to be and the purpose He has for you. Don't underestimate the circumstances of your life and the power you have to make a difference right where you're at. It's likely already happening and you don't even realize it.

I find it's helpful to once in a while to step out of the day to day and look at the big picture of your life. Even if it's for 30 minutes - go for a walk, to a coffee shop or wherever you can get some quiet. Ask yourself: What is God up to in my life? Where is He already at work around me? How has He already positioned me to make an impact?

By the way - God is also doing better than we often think He is. It's easy to look around our culture and our world and wonder what good God is doing. But it's amazing what perspective does - when you're looking for it, we can start to see God at work all around us. He's at work in your relationships, your work, your neighborhood, and even in the people you'd rather avoid. God is at work in the struggles, in the waiting, in the conflict, in the tragedy, in the sadness.

When we look for it, we see glimpses of light shining through the darkness.

If youre discouraged, if you're wondering what purpose your life has right now,  if you feel like you've failed - take a moment to step back and see the big picture.

Whether you see it or not, God is on the move in your life. Trust me, you're doing better than you think.

Friday, June 3, 2016

One thing I've learned in 9 years of marriage

“You chase me down, You seek me out
How could I be lost when You have called me found?”

My wife and I celebrated our 9 year anniversary yesterday. I remember when we were first married, we’d hear the typical jokes about enjoying the honeymoon phase. The thought is the romance and attraction wares off and it becomes old and mundane. And then you’re told that once you have kids, your life is totally over. Although most people say these kind of things jokingly, I think a lot of people really feel this way deep down.

And I think as a culture we get this tragically wrong. I think what really happens is the husband and wife stop pursuing each other.

In a way, yes, when I get married, a part of my life is over. I could no longer do whatever I wanted. I could no longer spend money as I pleased. And yes, when you have kids, (especially now with 3) your life as you know it IS over.

But is this really a bad thing?

I think seeing this the right way takes a perspective shift. When we get married, when we have kids, our self-focus is forced to the background. Should we still take care of ourselves, and make sure to find time to do the things that refresh and energize us? Absolutely. But is it a bad thing to pour ourselves out for others every day? Absolutely not. That is what God designed us to do.

One thing I’ve learned in 9 years of marriage, and now as a father, is that real love pursues. As a husband, as a father, I can’t sit back and expect my wife and kids to feel led and loved and served. I need to pursue them, get to know them, encourage them, teach them, pray for them.

I know I can't do this on my own, and I'm thankful that God loved me this way first. This song "Fierce" has been my favorite song this past week. The lyrics are a powerful picture of God's pursuit of us.

I’m so thankful for an all-powerful God that chooses to pursue us. His love for us isn’t a gentle, weak, temporary kind of love. It is a fierce, persistent, powerful love. No matter what we do, no matter how much we push him away. No matter how much we try to hold onto life as we want it to be, He runs after us and gives us mercy and grace time and again.

In the story of the lost son that Jesus tells, as soon as the son turns back toward his father, the father comes running toward him and throws a party. He never gave up on his son.

God has never given up on me. He’s never given up on the people in my life who seem farthest from Him. He’s like a tidal wave, a hurricane, fiercely seeking us out for our good and His purposes. I love that imagery.

As I continue to love and pursue my wife for the next 9 years, I love to know that God is also pursuing me. It’s never too late to turn to Him. He is waiting, ready to run toward us and call us His own.      

Thursday, May 26, 2016

3 Things I Like This Week

1. The battle going on in the Western Conference Finals. I hope this series goes 7 because it's so entertaining, but most of all I'd like to see Curry and the Warriors be humbled. Somewhere amidst the record breaking season and back to back MVP's, Steph Curry lost his humility and appears much more full of himself. Probably no one deserves to do the humbling more than KD and the Thunder.

2. The fact that Jon Foreman and these guys have been telling awesome stories and putting out solid jams for 20 years is crazy. This latest one - "Live It Well" is one of their best.

3. That it's getting to be summer and I get to be around stuff like this more. We're making a point to enjoy the craziness and hilariousness of life right now, even though we feel perpetually exhausted. It's an awesome season and I wouldn't trade it for anything. God is good.