Don’t always fear what you don’t yet understand

Lost and Confused SignpostThere are a lot of things in this world we don’t understand. Many things are happening all around us, almost daily, that just don’t make sense. Where is the logic? How could the scientific method answer questions like why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people? How could reason and intellect answer why an 18-year-old, recent high school graduate died in a tragic car crash?

The problem is, we are finite. We are incomplete. We are not all-knowing, all-powerful, or really in control. When things happen that we don’t understand, it seems natural to rebel against these facts. We can rebel against the notion that we are finite and are not invincible. “What do you mean I won’t live forever? I mean, I know at some point I will pass away, but I have so many years left! I don’t have to worry about facing death!”

Or maybe we rebel against not being all-knowing. When something happens we don’t understand, we seek an explanation, because there has to be one, right? If we can’t figure it out, then we don’t rest until we have an answer. If we don’t find an answer, we use clever verbiage to develop an answer that delivers us an escape from the reality that there is no answer.

Maybe we rebel against not being really in control. Everything in our lives is neat and orderly. We have all our i’s dotted and t’s crossed and we know what to expect, how to handle it, and we always know what to do. But then something unexpected happens that places us in the backseat because it is something beyond our control. Someone does something to us or to someone we love, and we weren’t able to stop it. So we spend the rest of our lives devoted to never letting this sort of thing happen again.

What if our negative impulse to being out of control, to being incomplete, not all-knowing or powerful or invincible, is really just a fear-focused reaction? It really does seem like when we are out of the drivers seat, not in control, that decisions come from the fear instead of the faith inside of us.

Matthew 1:20 comes in the middle of the proclamation that Jesus is going to be born from the virgin Mary. Joseph, Mary’s husband, who has not had sex with her, finds out that Mary is pregnant and is going to react in a way full of integrity and grace. He decides to divorce her quietly. The situation is beyond his control. But, an angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, as recorded in Matthew 1:20, and says,

“Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”

The angel tells him to not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Taking Mary as his wife must have brought the fear of shame and fear of rejection and fear of bad reputation and fear of a difficult life because of marrying a woman who was already not be afraid

The angel gives advice to Joseph that I think is very applicable to our lives when we feel out of control, afraid, and uncertain: “Do not fear…” Even though we may  not understand what is going on right now, “that which is conceived…is from the Holy Spirit.” Trust in Him. Believe in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Follow God’s Word. We may not get it, we may not know why, we may have no answers, no solutions, no clue… but what we can know is Jesus Christ as our Savior (1 Timothy 1:15), God as our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1-3), and Jesus as our burden bearer. We can lay our burdens down at His feet (Psalm 55:22), and He will walk with us through it all (Psalm 23).

3 things I learned from a personal trainer

Last Friday I was able to witness a personal trainer in front of a large group of student athletes give training and instruction, and basically run these students into the ground. Throughout the course of the two hour long workout, the trainer said some inspirational things. Three specific things stuck out to me that I wanted to share with everyone:

1. Give 100% every single time. f5413f56dad093593d05fa0edc2febc3

Okay, the personal trainer actually said to give 110% every single time, but you can’t give more than you have, can you? So we will stick with 100%. Give it all you’ve got every single time! He said this during a jumping drill. The athletes would be working on squats and jumping for the entire 2 hour session. During this portion of the workout, the trainer had already taught them the form of how to jump properly, and now was having them practice it. He had every athlete line up on the base line of the basketball court and jump out five jumps. Then, he asked all of them to turn around where they were. He told them they now had five jumps to get back past the base line. He threatened (or motivated?) them by saying they wouldn’t want to find out what would happen if even one of them didn’t make it back across. You can bet they all jumped with all they had and everyone got back across the line! After they all made it back across, he talked to them about how they should give that kind of effort every single play, even without the motivation or threat of not making it. They should be able to internally motivate themselves like he had externally motivated them, every single play.

2. Even if you’re the last one, own the drill as yours

This was more of a reprimand than an inspirational quote, but I think it suffices. There were a couple athletes who were the last ones through the drill, and they were obviously just going through the drill as fast as possible with the purpose of just completing the drill, not learning what the drill was trying to teach. The personal trainer commented on this and basically said that if you’re not going to do the drill right and for the purpose of learning what the drill is trying to teach, then you’re wasting your time. Even if you are the last one through, the last one finishing up, own the drill. Own whatever it is you are doing and take pride in your work. Do it with excellence.

3. Your team is only as good as you are

At the end of the workout, when everyone is dragging and exhausted, they still had more work to do. As the athletes are lunging across the length of the gym, stopping every so often to do squats and other leg-killing exercises, the trainer reminds them why they shouldn’t give up when they are exhausted and everything inside of them is screaming to give up: “Your team is only as good as you are.”5 When the going gets tough, your team needs you and you need your team. Every player is vital to the success of a team, whether they realize it or not. Because you are vital to your “team,” make sure you give it your all (even, especially, when you don’t want to) and that you do things with excellence (even if it would be faster to take the easier way out).

If we could take these three principles and apply them to marriages, to jobs, to schoolwork, to sports teams, to our faith in Jesus Christ, I think we would change the world. There would be fewer broken homes, happier work environments, better educations, and more genuine followers of Jesus Christ representing His love and grace and mercy on this earth.

Hope makes a difference

Hope is an intriguing concept. I read this story one time about an experiment some graduate students did with lab rats and light. The first phase of the experiment was simply putting rats in a tank of water in a room of absolute darkness. There was no light sneaking in, just complete darkness and no chance of the rats climbing out of the tanks. These rats in darkness swam for 6 hours before giving up. What was most interesting about this experiment is that, when these Hopegrad students tried the experiment again, they experienced a different result. This time, the experiment included having a small light in the room. The rats are still placed in a tank of water with no chance of escape, but with the light in the room, a little pinprick of hope, the rats swam for almost 17 hours! Hope makes a difference.

There’s this passage tucked into a minor prophet in the Old Testament book of Zechariah. This part of the narrative comes after Israel’s many ups and downs and twists and turns. Israel was chosen by God to be a nation set apart; to be a nation that shows every other nation the goodness and glory of God the Father, our Creator.

But there was just one little problem…that whole “being human” thing. The Israelites failed with incredible resilience. Even when it was hard to fail, they found a way. They were obstinate, moody, “stiff-necked,” ungrateful, whiny and selfish, among other things. Remind you of anyone you know? Checking the mirror, I can definitely be all of those things (more often than I’d care to admit).

God was not pleased with the way His chosen people had been acting, especially worshipping created things rather than the Creator, and so He allowed His people to be enslaved, imprisoned, and unfairly treated…for centuries. All throughout the history of Israel, there is this history of the nation doing well for a few years, and then going back to what they had always done, pursuing idols and false gods and believing and putting their faith in weird things that didn’t make any sense compared to the God who talked with them.

But, this story in Zechariah, is a ray of light. This piece of the narrative shines a light into the darkness and provides incredible hope that God is not done, the Israelites will not be discarded and thrown out, but in fact God has a greater plan (if they follow Him). After all, a guide may have a great route to take and may know very well how to get you from point A to point B, but unless you follow that guide, you may never reach your destination.

Here is the hope-filled piece of the narrative in Zechariah 8:13, 16-17:

“And as you have been a byword of cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so will I save you, and you shall be a blessing. Fear not, but let your hands be strong… These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace; do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, declares the Lord.”

The houses of Judah & Israel used to be used as a curse because of the destruction and calamity they had faced…but now God would save them! Now God would bring them blessing and peace! If they will follow His guidance.

I think the same is true for us. No matter where we have been, no matter what we have done, no matter who we think we are, God loves us. God loves us so much He sent Jesus Christ, His only Son, to die on a cross, to be tortured, crucified and buried, for our sins. Three days later God raised Christ from the dead so that we could have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the ray of light in the midst of darkness.

God is our refuge and our hope. Let’s be honest, if things in your life are crazy and horrible and hard, and you don’t have a relationship with Jesus, the situation is pretty hopeless. There is not much you can do. But if you choose to follow Jesus Christ and His guidance, there is hope for you today. See the light and run toward the only real hope–the hope we have in Jesus.

Louis Upkins Leadership Notes from #LeadMichiana

Louis Upkins took the stage as the author of Treat Me Like a Customer. He has worked with many well-known stars, from Whitney Houston to Oprah.

Leadership Principles from Louis Upkins:

  1. It takes courage to lead differently. It takes courage to sit down and listen.
  2. COURAGE is something EVERYONE needs.
  3. How is the family?
    • This is an important question about what really matters, but isn’t asked enough and is usually answered with surface level activities.
  4. How can you add value to your family?
    • We can set up mission statements for our family


Question asked in a video from Centier Bank:

  1. What do you appreciate most about leaders? The responses:
    • Example
    • Passion
    • Character
    • Coaching
    • Lift people up
    • Clarity
    • Give opportunity
    • Learn
    • Let others leader
    • Authenticity
    • Courage
    • Honesty
    • Focus
    • Encourage
    • Communication
    • Failure is an option
    • Open
    • Personal
    • Caring
    • Present
    • Invested
    • Humble
    • Safety
    • Real
    • Challenging

Invest in your people and get out of the way. Give people the opportunity to lead, fail, get back up and lead.

Tommy Newberry Leadership Notes from #LeadMichiana

Tommy Newberry is a leader and author of multiple books. He wrote books such as The 4:8 PrincipleI Call Shotgun, and Success is Not An Accident.


Leadership Principles from Tommy Newberry:

  1. We all want things, but we have to get up and go get it. Only the magnificent minority get up and go get what they want.
  2. Our best decisions and our worst decisions all started with a thought…all future decisions will too.
  3. Think 4:8
    • What are you thinking? Look ahead at your thought life.
      • We often think more about what we don’t want than about what we do want.
      • The average person thinks 50,000 thoughts per day (the vast majority are repeats from yesterday)
      • We want to change, but we want to stay the same. We want to change but we aren’t willing to change the way we think.
      • We have to line up our thinking with our hopes and goals and dreams. Every thought is a seed. Random negative thoughts won’t yield much, but consistently bad, negative thinking is of great concern.
    • Every moment is a new beginning for us to begin thinking in a new way.
    • Our emotions allow us to feel what we’ve been thinking about, giving us the opportunity to reevaluate what we’ve been thinking and dwelling on.
    • We feel what we dwell upon (if you feel rotten, what have you been thinking about?)
    • We soak up our surroundings
      • It’s so hard to pull someone up to your level
      • It’s so easy to be pulled down by the negative people around you
        • The one who is negative and cynical always has the leverage on you
  4. Think Huge
    • Think beyond where you are, who you are, what you’re doing, etc.
    • Where do you want to go?
      • Using today we can shape tomorrow
      • What are you shooting for?
        • There should be an urgency here
        • Be concerned with your future because you will live all of your life there
    • In life there are a bunch of options, like in the grocery story. At the end of your life you will have a cart full of stuff. If you don’t have goals (a shopping list) you will end up with things you didn’t want in your cart.
    • Like with a GPS if you don’t get moving, you won’t get any instructions (a.k.a. You can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving)
      • If in doubt, take action!
    • SDIMJWT — develop goals on this
      • Some Day I Just Might Want To
        • (develop this with a team or in a marriage and make it Some Day We…)
    • Be intentional
  5. Tomorrow Changes Today
    • If you want tomorrow to be different, today must be different.
    • Your decisions determine your direction which determines your destination.
    • Ask yourself: What’s been working, what has not been working, and what am I going to change?

John Maxwell Leadership Notes from #LeadMichiana

I had the opportunity this weekend to attend the Lead Michiana conference in South Bend, IN. This event was put on by Justin Maust in honor of the 150th Anniversary of the City of South Bend. The following will be some of my notes from the John Maxwell segment of the conference.

Leadership Principles from John Maxwell:

  1. “If you will spend one hour a day on the same subjective for five years, you will be an expert on that subject” – Earl Nightingale
  2. The better the leaders are in your organization, the better your organization’s chance for growth
    • Leaders develop daily, not in a single day. As leaders in an organization, we need to spend our resources (time, money, etc.) on improving our leaders.
    • The people in our organizations are the most appreciable resource we have, but we have to train and equip them.
    • There is no room to “microwave” leaders; we must “crockpot” them.
  3. 5 Levels of Leadership:
    1. Position — as a level one leader, people follow you because they have to
      • 80% of leaders stay in this level
      • Being a level one leader does not make you a leader. A person may have a position, but the position doesn’t make you a leader.
    2. Permission — as a level two leader, people follow you because they want to
      • Followers of level two leaders give a significant amount more of energy to the organization because they have a relationship with the leader and want to be there.
      • In order to be a great leader you have to connect with people.
      • If you are going to lead, you have to listen (listen, then learn, then lead).
      • Most leaders lead by assumption, assuming they know where their people are, what they are passionate about, where they are going, etc. Leaders need to walk slowly “through the crowd” in order to know their people.
      • Level two leaders are servants.
      • True leaders don’t need to be introduced.
      • There are three questions followers ask their leaders (leaders should ask themselves these same three questions):
        1. Do you care for me? (Do I care about others?)
        2. Can you help me? (Can I help them?)
        3. Can I trust you? (Am I trustworthy?)
    3. Production — as a level three leader, people follow you because of what you have done for the organization
      • This level is where you really get the credibility to lead. People want to follow successful people.
      • Leaders cannot send people where they have not gone. As leaders we have to be tour guides instead of travel agents.
      • You reproduce what you are, not what you want.
      • Level three leaders lead by example.
      • You attract who you are, not who you want. The better producer you are, the better people you attract (on a scale of 1 to 10, if you are a 5, you will not attract levels 6-10).
    4. People Development — as a level four leader, people follow you because of what you have done for them personally
      • Level four leaders are good recruiters.
      • You can only raise a person’s skill level one or two levels, so recruitment is essential. If someone comes in with a skill level of three, then you will most likely only be able to raise their skill level to a four, or at most a five.
        • Recruit with care. Don’t hire the wrong person for the job.
      • After recruiting, you must train and equip your leaders
      • Five steps to equip people well:
        1. I do it.
        2. I do it and you are with me.
        3. You do it and I am with you.
        4. You do it (and I hope you are better than I am!)
        5. You do it and somebody is with you (you’ve never equipped someone until they equip others).
    5. Pinnacle — as a level five leader, people follow you because of who you are and what you represent
      • When you do levels two, three, and four well, for a long time, level five happens naturally as a result

I hope these notes help you grow as a leader! I know there are some challenging concepts in here. Work your way through them, take the time to do them well, and strive to always improve as a leader.

Does God answer prayer?

Have you ever wondered this? It is likely that whether you are a Christian or not, you have asked this question at some point in time. Maybe you thought it during a rough family time when you found out that someone you love has cancer. Or maybe you thought about it during a stressful personal time when you wondered if life is worth living.

Does God hear me? Does He care about me? Does God answer?

Is God ListeningThese questions are hard and they are real. The answer is is a resounding yes. God hears, God cares, and God answers. I think where the hang up so often comes is God answers in a differentway, on a different timetable, and with a different response than we most often want. It could be that we too often pray with our own selfish interests at heart, not understanding fully what prayer is supposed to be like. Prayer is communicating with the Creator of the Universe, the Father who sent His only Son to die for you and for me, the Son who gave His life willingly, the Holy Spirit who guides and directs and dwells in us when we are saved.

Luke 1:13 records this:

But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John.

Zechariah and Elizabeth were “advanced in years” and “Elizabeth was barren” (Luke 1:7). They didn’t have children, because Elizabeth was barren. They were also “both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (Luke 1:6). The Bible doesn’t record how long they had been praying for a son, but I would be willing to make a strong suggestion that Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed more than once for it. I would be willing to make a strong suggestion that they prayed over and over for an extended period of time, probably even many years.

Doesn’t this sound comforting? God answers prayers, but it may take decades to receive the answer. Not the kind of thing we want to hear or believe, is it? And yet it is the truth. Because prayer is not about my wants and my desires, but it is about God’s glory and God’s kingdom and me having the opportunity to come alongside that for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, that Jesus Christ came to this earth, lived a sinless life, was tortured and crucified and killed, buried, and rose again from the dead three days later to conquer sin, death, and hell!

woman praying silhoutteThe next time you pray, pray with passion and purpose and perseverance. Do not give up in prayer. Keep going at it. God always answers. Sometimes He answers right away, sometimes a short time later, other times many years down the road; He might answer with a yes, a no, or a not yet, but He always answers. Don’t give up. Be faithful in prayer and be faithful in relationship with Jesus Christ.

God hears you. God cares about you. God loves you. God answers prayer.

You’ve still got work to do

Life is perpetually moving forward. Even as I’m writing this right now, life is moving forward, not backward. We can use our memories, photos, scrapbooks, journals, Facebook, Timehop, to Moving Forwardremember things in our past, but life will never move in that direction. Everything that has happened to us or that we have experienced or that we have done is in the unchangeable past. What we do with what happened to us or what we have experienced or what we have done makes up our present and our yet-to-be-determined immediate future. There are some things that are determined to be in the future, but even the normally safe assumption, “I will wake up tomorrow morning,” is not a guaranteed truth.

Sometimes our circumstances can become so overwhelming that we develop a narrow tunnel vision. We begin to lose perspective. We begin to fear, to doubt, to question, to lose sight of what is most important. I think that if we focus too much on our circumstances we become self-focused and have a hard time seeing the bigger picture..seeing the purpose behind pain, difficulty and suffering.

Keeping a broad view doesn’t diminish the acuteness of agony that pain and suffering bring, but it does help us to understand that Jesus Christ endured torture, beatings, mocking, and horrific crucifixion so that you and I could have a right relationship with God. This doesn’t take away the present hardships and difficulties but I think it gives us a hope and joy that this is all worth it. This is all worthwhile to serve the risen Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what we endure, he is there to walk through it with us.

God may not take us out of the circumstance or choice or situation, but He is faithful to walk with us through it. Guiding, directing, leading, loving, caring, restoring, healing, conforming, drawing.

Acts 27:24 reveals God’s response to a crazy situation the Apostle Paul found himself in:

and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’

Paul was in the middle of a storm, at sea, in a boat that was getting ready to sink. An angel of God appeared to him and told him not to be afraid because he still had work to do for the Lord.

When I am in the middle of a storm in life, I know it is my normal reaction to focus on the stormstorms-of-life, to see how big the waves are, how strong the wind is blowing, how cold and dark everything around me is. But, I also know that my normal reaction is not a reaction based in faith, but is a result of my flesh. So my encouragement to you is to keep pushing forward, to keep strong in your faith, to trust in God and His Son, Jesus Christ, to walk with you and trust in God’s Holy Spirit to guide and direct the way you are going.

The way out of a storm? Moving forward through the storm through the power of God available to you when you trust in Him. Put away insecurities and fears and trust in God. Keep moving forward because if you’re still alive, you’ve still got work to do.

A control freak’s worst nightmare!

I’ll admit it, I like to be in control. I don’t know many people who don’t enjoy being in control of their situation. Have you ever driven with a backseat driver? Yep, me too. And often, I’m the backseat driver if somehow you were able to talk me into not driving (because I’m always the driver…because I like to be in control).

Control freakWhen it comes to being out of control, I think there is a huge amount of fear. Rightly so! To not be able to control your situation, the outcome, the circumstance, is hard to do because that means we have to sit back and let it all play out. It’s like sitting in a rollercoaster blindfolded, not in control of the ride and having no idea when the twists and turns or drops will come. But they will come, no doubt about it.

I think Joshua in the story below is living in the tension of not being in control, but believing and trusting in God, who is always in control. There is always this element of tension, because so much of our lives is out of our control. I can’t make my puppy listen, as much as I would love to. She does what she wants, and then will listen if I have a treat or food to give her! In the wintertime in Michigan, I can’t control the amount of snow we get and how often I have to shovel and how long shoveling takes. If I could control this, I would be a millionaire because who wouldn’t pay good money to not have to shovel ever again, but stay in the nice warm bed and sleep an extra hour?

Here’s the story as told in Joshua 11:6 (NLT):

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them. By this time tomorrow I will hand all of them over to Israel as dead men. Then you must cripple their horses and burn their chariots.”

Now this out-of-control situation is one we will probably never be in ourselves. Ultimately Joshua was the one physically engaging in the battle, but he was not really in control of the outcome. God told him not to be afraid, not to worry, because God Himself will “hand all of them over to Israel.” So, Joshua, don’t worry about your life or the lives of your warriors or their families, because God is in control. But it is war. How can you not be afraid? How can you not be worried?

Control - God is inThe tension is that we can be in scary circumstance, in scary situations way beyond our ability to comprehend let alone control, and yet not be afraid. Instead, we can find the hope and freedom from fear that God gives when we recognize and understand God’s place in all situations. He is powerful, He is in control, He is good, and He desires great things for us. This doesn’t mean every situation is great,  and if a situation is hard or scary or terrible we’re in the wrong. Often that is actually not true. But, we can trust our Heavenly Father. We can trust Him and believe in the Son that He sent to die for us and experience this freedom from fear.

Twentysomethings unite and grab a copy of “All Groan Up”!

coverI recently had the privilege of reading Paul Angone’s latest book, All Groan Up. This follows on the heels of another book he has written, called 101 Secrets for Your Twenties.

The years between 20 and 29 can be a time where we are lost, found, confused, on track, right, wrong, satisfied, depressed, on top of the world, living in our parent’s basement, working a dead end job, getting fired from our “dream” job, and the complicated, contradictory list goes on, never seeming to really have much of anywhere to go (kind of like our lives seem to be doing), but in a hurry to get there.

Paul writes with an intense honesty that is both hilarious and yet penetratingly vulnerable all at the same time. Some of the situations he found himself in a ridiculous, and yet the principles of those situations are evident in my own life. He writes about an all-too-common struggle that many are all-too-silent about.

All Groan Up is full of adventure and true stories of struggle, pain, loss, and yet is also so full of hope, joy, and being found. One of my favorite quotes, and one of the turning points in the book, is this:

I thought I could tell God something about my identity with guilt. With all my bitterness and  pain, I could change the way he thought of me. But I’m slowly realizing I gave myself way too much credit. He doesn’t love like us; he loves like him.

Boom. So powerful. God doesn’t love conditionally like we do. God loves perfectly and unconditionally like only God can. What a profound turning point. It takes a journey to arrive there, but it becomes worthwhile the moment that light bulb comes on.

My prayer for every twentysomething who reads this book is that you will be encouraged, as I have been, along this journey, and that this book would give you the hope and the courage to keep pressing on and to keep moving forward. Don’t give up on yourself, on your family, on your friends. Don’t give up on God. He hasn’t gone anywhere.

Grab a copy of this book and join the rest of us on this journey forward through our twenties!