My Election Reflection [please please read]

fullsizerender

On Wednesday morning America woke to perhaps the greatest upset in political history.   Today, we have a deeply divided country that is venting and attacking one another on social media.   Honestly I am heart broken by what I see online, especially by those who claim the name of Jesus.   It seems silly to me that I even need to write this post. But in light of how Jesus followers are responding, I am compelled to give a brief election reflection that I pray will give us some perspective.

The morning after the election I sat my 3 amazing kids down before school [ages 12, 9, and 6]. I saw this as a critical moment to teach them how followers of Jesus are to respond.

Here’s what I said:

If you do not have anything good to say…

Today at school your friends are going to be saying all kinds of things about the election. Do not get caught up in it. Do not get pulled down to speaking negatively, making fun or saying mean things.

Remember if you have nothing good to say, then say nothing at all.

It is not about whether you agree or disagree, it is about honoring others with our words. We need to bite our tongue instead of using biting words. Social media is not the place to vent, emote or attack.  

Before you post take a deep breath, pray and ask: will this be helpful or harmful?

 

We are called to pray for our political leaders.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Funny side note: At this point my youngest raised his hand and ask, “How can we pray for people if were dead?” He thought persecuted meant that you were killed. So we clarified what it meant to be persecuted.

Now back to the main point, Jesus was absolutely clear:

We are to love those we consider an enemy and pray for those who are mistreating us.

The Apostle Paul commands us to pray for our political leaders. At that time he’s writing the church was under Roman oppression and persecution. And he is saying, pray for the leaders who are oppressing you. And so no matter how you feel about Mr. Trump, even if you would consider him an enemy, we are called to pray for him. I am praying that he has a life-changing encounter with Jesus. I’m praying that God gives him wisdom and discernment.

Even though our political leaders change; God never changes.

The good news is that God is still in control.

He is not surprised. He is not caught off guard. Nothing can thwart His plan. Though our president is changing and there is uncertainty in our nation, the true King is still enthroned and reigning. That morning I opened my Bible to Hebrews chapter 13 verse 8 where it says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Followers of Jesus should not be bent out of shape or freaking out.

Our hope is not in a government, a president or a political system.

Our hope is in Jesus.

And so yes our country is changing but God has not changed. We can face the future with confidence because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

We have an unshakable hope because we have an unchanging sovereign God.

 

It was now just about time for my kids to head off to school. But before they did, I ask each of them to pray for Mr. Trump and our country. We went around with each one of them praying starting with the youngest and then I closed out our time. How precious it was to hear my kids pray for our country and praying for Mr. Trump’s salvation.

My dear friends this is how we are called to respond in light of the recent election.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the shadow of shame

fullsizerender

As a college student going to school to study the Bible, I was struggling with pornography. Porn had a powerful hold over my life.  There was an internal war raging and guilt flowed through my veins.  I had tried countless times to be free of this addiction, yet time and time again I came crawling back to the altar of my computer.

Failure soon became my identity. It wasn’t that I failed but now I was a failure. Failure is who I am. I began to believe this is who I am and I will never change. I was broken, hiding—shame had become my companion.

Shame is powerful.

Shame says that you are what you did. It’s not that you failed or you made a mistake. Shame says you are a failure; you are a mistake. Shame finds its power in the silence, in the absence of community and our destructive self-talk.

In that college dorm room trying earnestly to pursue God, I was living in the shadow of shame. It tainted how I saw life. It tainted how I thought God saw me.

I remember one particularly dark moment of shame. Shame was whispering in my ear, you are a failure, you’ll never change, it is not worth going on. And an insidious thought ran through my head to end the misery, the world would be better without me. That really scared me.

The deep work of the Christian life is rejecting our perceived identity and embracing God’s imputed identity.  

This is spiritual formation. As a follower of Jesus, our identity is not based on what we have done or even what has been done to us. It is based solely on what Jesus has done for us. Our identity is not based on WHO we are but on WHOSE we are.

I remember the turning point for me. One night in my dorm room, I had a dream. The room was dark; the only light came from the blue hue of my laptop. Sitting at my desk looking at the computer was the 8 year-old version of me, scrawny, blonde, innocent boy.

My heart broke for that little boy. “Don’t look at that junk! Don’t get stuck!”

It was in that moment that I first saw how God saw me. He did not see a failure, He saw His kid that He loves. He was not made or angry. His heart broke for me.

The truth is, I am His kid. I do not live in the shadow of shame. I dwell in the shadow of the Son He loves. My identity is secure, fully loved, completely forgiven, absolutely delighted in by my heavenly Father. And that changes everything!  That was the beginning for me to experience freedom from my addiction.

There is this incredible Psalm that I memorized in college, Psalm 15. In it David asks, “Who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” One of the things David says about those who live in the shadow of the almighty is that they, “speak truth in their heart.” I love that.

My friend Kevin Queen says, “If another person talked to you the way you talk to you, you’d file a restraining order. Replace those lies with truth.”

Pay attention to the self-talk. Is it true of what God says is true of you?

No matter what shame says, you do not have to live in the shadow of shame. You are God’s kid. He loves you more than you could ever know. He’s not down on you. You already dwell in the shadow of the Son He loves.

Start telling yourself the truth.

4 Things I Would Do Differently [if I could go back and do it all over again]

 

12112297_10156236155730096_683073515495586608_n-copyA couple of Sunday’s ago we celebrated our 4th birthday as a church. 4 years ago we stepped out to start Awakening Church to reach this generation.

I can still remember the butterflies I felt our very first service.

A couple years into planting Awakening I started a list of what I would do differently if I could do it all over again. Many of the lessons I was learning, I was learning the hard way.  I wanted to make sure that I did not miss the lessons God was teaching me or repeat the same mistakes.

I thought I’d share 4  lessons I learned over the past 4 years. These have deeply shaped my life, my leadership and as a result our church.

  1. Really listen to those who are older and wiser.

When we set out to start Awakening Church there was an older gentlemen by the name of Ken Dean. He is a wise sage known as Father Dean. He generously gave me his time and wisdom.  I would sit at his feet and learn. The problem was I wasn’t really listening. I only listened for the things that confirmed what I was already thinking and dismissed the things that challenged my thinking.

Before there was Awakening Church, there was Awakening ministry. It was a college and young adult’s ministry of Westgate Church. I remember Ken telling me that I needed to stop our evening services for at least 2-3 months so that we could restart something new. This would’ve given us the space and time to thoughtfully launch our new church. As well as, it would have marked the ending of a sweet season for those who journeyed with us in Awakening ministry.

Oh that I wish that I had taken his advice. It would have saved us so much pain and heartache. Instead, we limped along as a church those first couple of years even though we had a crowd showing up.

  1. Have the courage to have the necessary conversations.

My wife thinks I like confrontation. It may be because I’m a fairly blunt person. But the truth is, I hate it. I do my best to avoid it. Looking back I realized I wanted to be liked or thought of well more than having the tough conversation. I had a tendency of avoiding necessary conversation and hoping things would get better on there own. They often get worse, not better.  I now realize that my aversion to the necessary conversation was actually limiting my leadership and others development.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.

Ephesians 4v15

  1. Lead from your knees, not from your own strength.

There is something about the crucible of pain, especially self-inflicted pain that moves good ideas to a conviction for life. When we started Awakening I liked the idea of leading from my knees. It sounds good. It’s what a pastor should say.

Truth be told, in the first two years, I didn’t come close to leading from my knees. I led out of my own strength and energy. I thought if I worked harder, smarter and more hours then we would be “successful.” Sure I would pray but only to check in with Him to bless my agenda and plans. It took the toughest year of ministry I’ve ever experience for this to become a soul shaping conviction.

Today, as a staff we take 30 minutes out every work day to stop and seek the heart of God. Not because we have to but because we need to.

  1. Do what only you can do and give the rest away.

I have a really hard time asking for help. My mode of operation often has been if I can do it then I should do it. I never realized until recently how much that actually held back our church. In the early days, I was apart of everything. Setting up chairs. Sound system. Lights. Café. Tearing down. Organizing our trucks. We have great people serving but I felt guilty not being there. How could I focus on the one thing that only I could do, preach a great message, while people were sweating to setup for Sunday service.

Unfortunately, this communicated to our amazing teams that I didn’t trust them. It also kept me from bringing my best contribution to our church. As a result I taught mediocre messages, I didn’t keep the vision white hot in front of us and I was too overwhelmed to raise up and develop key leaders.

Part of growing and learning is making mistakes. It is part of the process. We all have things we wish we could go back and do all over again.

The key is to learn from the pain of our past and apply the lessons we learned.

“Though you cannot go back and have a brand new start. You can start now and have a brand new end.”

– John Maxwell

 

 

The question that is changing my life

mexico-415

With my kids I’m famous.

Right now they think dad can do anything and everything and everything that dad does is the best. During the Olympics, my youngest son asked if I would go to the Olympics and win a gold medal. I realize this season will not last much longer. Soon it won’t be that everything dad does is the best but dad you don’t know anything. Dad you are embarrassing me. And dad why are you such a bad dancer?

I’m at the halfway point of my kids in the house. And as a result I’ve begun to wrestle with an old question in a new way. I believe what Michael Hyatt said is true, “Our lives are shaped by the questions we ask.” This question is certainly shaping my life and parenting in a fresh and powerful way.   In the midst of all the noise, distractions and demands this questions has brought incredible clarity.

It was on a trip with my daughter that I began to wrestle with this question.

This past year I took my daughter on a trip to Mexico.  We visited an orphanage called Rancho De Sus Ninos. Ever since my daughter was very little she has had a heart for orphans. She would talk about, cry for and pray for kids without a mommy or daddy. So I reached out to my friends who run an orphanage and we booked our flight.

Honestly, I was incredibly nervous and anxious about taking my little girl to Mexico. So many things could go wrong. In the weeks before the trip I began to obsess over them.

Was this really the wisest thing to do?

What if the drug cartel kidnaps us?

What happens if there’s a medical emergency?

I was losing sleep.

One of my goals as a dad is to take my kids on a trip when they turn ten that would expand their view of who God is, grow their faith and foster the passions God has placed in them. But now that was being put to the test.

It is one thing to trust God for yourself.

It is a whole other thing to trust Him with your kids.

I think sometimes in our effort to protect our kids we can unintentionally pass on a faith that isn’t very compelling, attractive, or captivating.   We say we believe in God but our kids never see us believe God for anything. We say put your faith in Jesus but then never step out into something that requires any faith.

And so we were off to Rancho De Sus Ninos for 2 packed days to visit the orphanage.

On the return flight home I sat safe and sound with my daughter who couldn’t stop talking all about our trip.   She excitedly recounted every part of our trip; playing with the kids at the orphanage, sharing Jesus one night in a very poor neighborhood, playing soccer with a crew kids in the street and of course the amazing taco stand.

I couldn’t help but sit back in my seat and really ask:

What do I want to be known for as a dad?

What do I want to make sure I pass on to my kids?

When my kids talk about me as adults, what do I hope they will be talking about?

How do I want to be remembered?

On this trip Ella got a glimpse of who God is and how He is working. And on this trip I got a glimpse of who God made me to be as a dad and what he was calling me to do.

In the hurry and hustle of life we get caught up with a list of demands and to do’s. Life has an unrelenting way of continually coming at us.   Like waves in the oceans, one after another. Sometimes it feels like you barely have a chance to get your head above water.

And rarely do we stop long enough to truly ask the question,

What do I want to be known for?

You are going to be famous for something by the closest someone’s in your life.

What do you want to be remembered for you?

Busy. Successful. Tired. Irritable. Kind. Present. Anal. Unpredictable. Fun. Loving. Absent.

This is the legacy we leave behind. And what’s remarkable is we get to determine what we are known for. The decisions we make and the responses we have determine what we’ll be remembered for.

So, what do you really want to be known for?

 

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.  We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

 1 Thessalonians 1v2-3

 

A lion in the wild

Encounter_slide-01As a kid I loved lions. Still do. In fact my nickname as child was Ryan the Lion. I would let out a ferocious roar almost everywhere I went. I remember I was only allowed to trick-or-treat one year and my mom made me a lion costume. It was amazing! When we would go to the zoo as a family, the only place I wanted to go was the lion enclosure. Lions are beautiful, magnificent, powerful– the King of the Jungle.

I was at an attraction recently with my family that had a mountain lion behind the glass wall. The mountain lion was sleeping. One of my sons starts to bang on the glass wall. When I told him to stop and asked him what was he doing. His said, “Dad, I just wanted to see him do something.”


Much of the way we approach God is like a lion in the zoo. 

We want to see Him do something but observe safely behind the glass.

One of the primary reasons we do not encounter God, is we come to God on our own terms. We want to be in control.  We want to determine when, where and how. We want to get close enough to have a glimpse but not so close to have to adjust our lives.

It is our desire for control that keeps us from truly encountering God.

Yes we know that God is great. Of course He is all-powerful. We sing the songs and pray the prayers. All the while sitting behind a glass wall that protects us – so that we can see him but not fear him; see him but not be moved; see him but not respond.

When the Bible describes encountering God I get the impression that it is much more like coming across a lion in the wild. In fact some of the prophets would talk about God like a lion. Even Jesus is called the Lion of Judah in the book of Revelation.

A lion in the wild is unrestrained, untamed, and powerful. It is mighty, majestic, fierce and dangerous. In its presence you don’t just feel powerlessness, you are at its mercy and will. You do not impose your will upon him but you respond to his movements. You are exposed fully before Him.  You dare not bang or yell or ask it do a trick.  Encountering a lion in the wild, it is not the lion who must adjust. It is we who must adjust to the lion.

A true encounter with God is like coming across a lion in the wild.

It is impossible to encounter God and not be changed by Him, to not respond.

Everyone who truly encounters God is changed.

My kids and I are reading the Narnia books together. In it C.S. Lewis depicts Jesus as Aslan. One of my favorite parts in The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe is when Susan ask about Aslan and Mr Beaver responds:

Aslan a man? Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the woods and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the Sea. Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

Somewhere along the line we replace the glory of the risen King with Buddy Theology. Buddy Theology is the idea that Jesus is my Best Friend, my BFF. We have reduced the King, creator and sustainer of the universe to buddy. Yes it is true that Jesus has called us friend, but he is our sacred friend.

In the Gospel there is this great juxtaposition: Jesus is both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. The King in all his glory is also the perfect spotless lamb. The Creator who would leave his throne to suffer and die at the hands of his creation.

Until we sit in the weight of God’s glory we will not rightly appreciate the worth of His grace.

 

When I am afraid [which is more often, than I care to admit]

“Fear is a useful servant but a harmful master.”

I don’t like to admit that I’m afraid. But the reality is that I am often afraid.  I’ve shared over the past year with our church my struggle with anxiety.  It doesn’t’ feel very manly to say, “I’m afraid.”  In fact it doesn’t seem very godly to say, “I am afraid.”  And I think for that reason far to many of us live secret lives of desperation.

The Bible talks a lot about fear.  In fact, the most common command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”  And this has been somewhat problematic for me. Especially in the last few years when nightly anxiety attacks started to become a common experience.

I think the problem lies in how I’ve always heard this command of God.  What I all too often hear is:  It’s wrong to be afraid.  You’re broken if you experience anxiety.  You don’t have enough faith if you’re afraid.  And so I spent many sleepless nights alone, hiding even from my wife my fear and anxiety.  What would she think about me or what would the church think about their supposedly fearless leader caused me to run into hiding with my anxiety and fears.

Recently, I had an experience that has deeply shaped how understand or view this command to not be afraid.  My family and I were on vacation together hanging out at the beach.  I love to surf, play volleyball and really do anything that involves the ocean and sand.  While at the beach we had a paddleboard and my daughter who is almost 10 years old wanted to go out with me.  I was so excited to share with her something that I love. And while she was on the beach she was excited too.

She put on a life vest and off we went into the wild blue yonder.  Actually we only went out about 20 or 30 yards out.  What started out as excitement soon turned into shear terror as she began to notice the depth of the ocean below, the size of the waves all around and the feeling of being completely out of control.

My daughter grabbed her knees and cried desperately for me to take her back to shore.  In that moment I had such compassion for her and my heart broke. I quietly and repeatedly let her know, “It’s ok, daddy’s with you. The waves aren’t as big as you think and the water isn’t as deep as it seems. I know it feels scary but your safe because I’m with you.”

We sat on that paddleboard in the midst of the beautiful yet terrifying ocean and I simply reminded her that she was ok because I was with her.

In that moment I so wished my daughter could see it from my perspective. If she went out there by herself she would have every reason to fear.  She could get swept out to sea or pummeled by waves.  But she was with her dad, who loves her, who would do whatever it took to take care of her and make sure she made it safely back to shore.

Her fear was bigger than what she was actually afraid of.  And that’s how fear works much of the time.  Fear itself expands, grows and consumes us until it’s way bigger than the thing we are actually afraid of.

It’s interesting that every command in the Bible about not being afraid is almost always coupled with the phrase; “For I am with you.”

These commands read so much differently when I hear them as the whisper of my Heavenly Father saying, “I’m with you, you don’t have to be afraid. I wish you could see it from my perspective.

In the midst of the rising waves and the ocean deep, the whisper of the Father can be heard, “I’m with you.”  He knows that waves of life seem so big and strong.  And the ocean of worries, feel far too deep and dark to traverse.  Even there, even now, He is with you.

When I am afraid I have to quiet my heart so I can once again hear the loving whisper of my Heavenly Father saying “I’m with you sweet child, so don’t let your heart fear. I know it feels big and scary but I am with you.”

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  Joshua 1:9