3 reasons why we fear the wrong things

There are some things in life that seem predisposed to happen. Certain things are almost guaranteed to happen as we go through this craziness called life. For example, we are likely to overbook our schedule. We are likely to at some point wake up in the morning regretting how late we stayed up the night before. We will, at some point, lose track of how many pounds we have put on since starting college, or getting married, or having a baby. We probably will at some point start budgeting what we spend our money on (hopefully not too late!). We will most likely settle into a career, that hopefully we enjoy. Many will get married, buy a dog, start a family. Many will develop a habit of going to church on Sunday mornings. It’s likely that we will develop a group of good friends in the same life stage as us and will spend a good amount of time with them.

All of these things are fairly common human experiences. There are not many surprises there.

lostThe Old Testament book of Judges reveals something that, by the end of the book, seems predisposed to happen. There was a certain thing that was almost guaranteed to happen as the Israelites, the chosen people of God, went through this craziness called life. Sadly, this pattern was a very negative thing. You see, the Israelites seemed naturally predisposed to walk away from God. God had chosen them, rescued them from slavery, saved their lives, and given them victory to conquer the Promised Land. Things were good. Things were great. Life was awesome. They had everything God had ever promised. They were happy and safe and strong. But they walked away from the Lord.

The Israelites walked away from the Lord because they lost their way. They began to fear other things rather than fearing, i.e. respecting and being in awe of, God.

“And I said to you, ‘I am the LORD your God; you shall not fear the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.’ But you have not obeyed my voice.” Judges 6:10

As we go through life and experience the trials and temptations and ups and downs of every day living, we can get into this same habit. We can get into the habit of getting distracted from the main thing (i.e. God) and we start fearing what our friends think, what our parents expect, what we want, what the world says we should do.

There are many reasons this distraction comes and many different things that we can fear. I wanted to keep this short and just go with three different reasons I think we start to fear the wrong thing:

  1. We start to fear the wrong thing because we don’t understand what we should fear and why.
    • Fear isn’t bad…but misplaced fear is. Fearing God is a good thing. We develop a healthy respect and awe of who God is and we follow Him because He is worthy to be followed. He is our Savior, Redeemer, Heavenly Father, and Helper.
  2. We start to fear the wrong thing because our vision is narrow.
    • Fear can be overwhelming and come up like a tunnel around our vision so all we can see is what we are wrongly afraid of. We need to zoom out and see the big picture. In reality, that big lion of a fear turned out to be a harmless little kitten (who has already been declawed!).
  3. We start to fear the wrong thing because our focus is on ourselves.
    • We can be afraid because of what someone might think or what they might say about what we do or do not do, so our fear is born out of a selfish comparison or desire to be something that others will accept instead of being the real person that we were created to be.
    • A powerful thing we can do is to focus on others. It is a healing and fulfilling experience to focus on others needs before our own wants. Try it out and see what happens.

Fear none but the One. Fear God because this is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). When we fear God, we will change the world by His power and for His glory.

Pass the baton (Part 2)

Pass the baton. When we hear that phrase, it can bring up a couple different images in our minds. One of the first is of a track relay race. The runners are going around the track and passing the baton on to their teammate. Each runner takes a leg of the race and together the foursome finishes the race. The first runner sets the tone and all the other runners contribute to the final outcome.

Another common image of passing the baton, that really is inspired by the track image, is that of passing the baton on to the next generation. This means that one generation has carried the “baton” for a distance, whether a business or a church or a government position, and their “leg of the race” is coming to an end. The baton must be passed on to the next “runner.” This kind of talk commonly refers to the generation below you. I happen to be in the Millenial generation, the largest generation in the workforce right now. Many batons are being passed down to our generation as we take up leadership roles and positions all over the world.

The image I want to use for the purpose of this blog post is the image of passing on what we have learned. The previous post in this two-part blog referred to the reality that even though God is with us, we still have to walk through the battle. God told Joshua he would win the battle, but Joshua still had to go fight the battle in order to win the battle. We will have battles in life, and we will have to walk through them. But we can walk through them with the beautiful understanding that God is walking through them with us.

Joshua 10:25 continues the story after Joshua 10:8. Joshua fought the battle, prayed a crazy bold prayer that God answered (the sun stood still in the sky so they could keep fighting! but that is a story for a different day…!), and the five kings Joshua went to battle against have been captured. Right before the kings are executed, Joshua says to the people:

“Do not be afraid or dismayed; be strong and courageous. For thus the LORD will do to all your enemies against whom you fight” (Joshua 10:25)

The first part of this verse may sound familiar… God said the exact same thing to Joshua multiple times through the book of Joshua. In fact, between verses six and nine of the first chapter of Joshua, God tells him three different times to be strong and courageous. God tells him “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9, ESV).

In the passage above from chapter ten of Joshua, he is passing on what he has learned. Not only has God told him that he does not need to be afraid, but he has experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise. God helped him win the battle, God kept him safe, and God kept His promise. Joshua is now sharing that promise with others, he is passing the baton of his faith down to the next generation, that they might know and follow and trust in God.

This is a wonderful responsibility that we have, too. When we go through a battle, we will most certainly be stretched. We will grow and we will learn, though maybe not in the way we would have liked. What we learn in the battle becomes the baton of wisdom we can hand down.

Hold-on-to-the-promisesJoshua passed the baton after he went through the battle because God was faithful to His promise. Joshua had seen God come through and wanted to pass that on so others would be encouraged and follow God. The encouragement is to pass what God has faithfully done in our lives.

What are some things God has done in your life? Who in your life might benefit from your story?

We still have to walk through the battle (Part 1)

Life can get pretty crazy sometimes. We can say yes to too many things, work too many hours, stay up too late, watch too much TV, spend too much time on our phones, or get caught up in the latest Facebook or Instagram posts. Sometimes life can feel like a battle between what we want to do, what we should do, and what we actually do. Honestly, sometimes it really is a battle. We have to fight for the things that are most important, because so many things strive for our attention and time. Not everything can be the most important. Not every urgent thing is the most important thing; not every important thing is always the most urgent.

We fight these kinds of battles on a day-to-day basis, but we don’t have actual hand-to-hand battles we are engaging in. Joshua, in the book of the Bible bearing his name, is engaged in an actual combat situation. He is going up against five kings at the same time, getting ready to defend a city that was not able to defend itself. As Joshua gets prepared for this war, God speaks to him to ease some of his anxiety. Here’s what happens in Joshua 10:7-8:

So Joshua went up from Gilgal, he and all the people of war with him, and all the mighty men of valor. And the LORD said to Joshua, “Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hands. Not a man of them shall stand before you.”

This is pretty comforting, isn’t it? You’re headed into battle and God tells you not to worry because He will deliver them into your hands, a.k.a. you will be victorious and no one will be able to beat you. Talk about a confidence booster!

Even though his confidence may be sky high and he may be feeling pretty good about the battle, he still has to go through the battle in order to experience the victory. Even though God tells him they will win, he still has to fight. I think sometimes we misunderstand things here. We are victorious in Christ when we trust and believe in Him, but even though Christ is the victor, we still have to go through the battles and temptations and struggles of every day life.

As we go through these daily battles, we can live with the realization that we are victorious in Christ. We can live in victory even when our day might feel like a loss. We can live in victory even when a day or a week or a month feels like a failure. We can live in victory even if we feel inadequate as a parent, a student, a player, a Christian. The reason we can live in victory even through these struggles is because Christ is our hope.

We may feel like a failure, a loser, or inadequate, but the reality is that Jesus Christ died to give us victory over sin and to give us the opportunity to respond in faith and receive the free gift of eternal life beginning right now. We can live in that reality and walk through any battle or challenge or struggle that comes our way.

Faithful in the little things

gop-debate-400x324This weekend I watched some clips from the recent GOP debate. Now I am not very up on politics, definitely not as much as I should be. But as I was watching some of these debate questions and responses, I couldn’t help but notice Donald Trump in particular. He is a big personality. But in this debate it is that very personality that was getting him into trouble.

He was questioned about a “war on women” that he is seemingly engaged in (considering the way he has spoken of some women in the past), some of his more liberal ventures, and the quantity and character of politicians he has donated money to. Though these donations may have been to gain certain business leverage, it calls into question integrity and faithfulness. Trump donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, both his competitor and a woman, which seems to go against his general view of women and also seems to go against his current political party.

Trump did not win himself many favors during the debate. One thing was clear: he will be faithful where he needs to be faithful to get votes and only until that faithfulness has ceased benefiting him, then he will be faithful to someone or something else. Right now he is faithful to the Republican party, but in time, if it becomes more beneficial, he may become faithful to the Democratic party.

Faithfulness is something that often does not arise in the course of normal conversation. Usually faithfulnesswhen it comes up it is preceding by two devastatingly powerful letters “u” and “n.” Unfaithful. It is a term thrown around in divorce courts, Facebook statuses, and all too common articles about pastors and other religious leaders.

Luke 16:10 says, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”

Though it may not be commonly spoken of, faithfulness is really one of the most important things in our lives. Faithfulness to going to work, being on time, paying bills, completing homework, going to practice, being faithful with your spouse or your family. Faithfulness is something we actually engage in every day. But we choose what we are faithful to.

The challenge in our busy, sin-filled, crazy, hectic world is to make the time to be faithful in the little things.

The little things make the biggest difference in the long run.

The little things can include being faithful to kiss your spouse, to pray with your spouse, to get in the Word daily, to hug your kids, to be kind to others. These may sound like little, monotonous, daily activities, but they will make a world of difference years from now.

Choose today to live every day faithful to the things that really matter in the scope of eternity, not the things that seem important “right now,” but really are just momentary.

Trusting when it doesn’t make sense

Almost two weeks ago now I blogged about not fearing what you don’t yet understand. Going along with this theme, I talked about being out of control and how we really cannot be in control of everything (really anything!) in our lives.

365 days free from fear is really becoming a journey to understanding more and more that no one in the Bible really understood God and His ways and methods of working things out. I think this is a lot of where we are as well. God reminds us through the prophet Isaiah that “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Basically, it totally makes sense that we don’t understand why things happen, how they happen, when they happen, etc.

There is this dad in the Bible who experienced one of these times firsthand. He had gone to Jesus to try to get help from Him, but Jesus had taken too long to get there. The man’s daughter was on her deathbed. But, on the way to her, the man receives word from one of his servants that the daughter is dead. Having received that news, the dad thinks now that all is lost and Jesus shouldn’t be bothered by his request anymore. Instead, Jesus responds in Mark 5:36:

“But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.'”

Just believeThe man’s daughter is gone and he had tried everything he could. It wasn’t enough. He had lost his daughter. He gave up and considered all hope lost at this point. But Jesus told him not to be afraid. The father did not need to be afraid of what he did not yet understand, he simply had to believe in Jesus and believe in the power of God.

The same is true for you and for me. When we are overwhelmed, afraid, stressed, anxious, freaking out, overworked, lacking sleep, pulling our hair out, we should remember Jesus and trust in Him. We should turn to Him and take our focus off of our situations and place our eyes on our Savior, gracious Redeemer, mercy-giving Lord, and Heavenly Father.

Because of what Jesus has done we can live a life free from fear and full of belief in Him. We can read the promises of Jesus in the Bible and believe that He will fulfill them. In fact, 2 Corinthians 1:20 says that all the promises of God find their yes in Christ. Jesus Christ fulfills the promises of God. We can claim those promises, especially in our fear and insecurity and self-centered focus.

Trust GodSo after reading this, you will go back to doing what you had been doing, you will go back to whatever “normal” life looks like for you. But as you go, take with you a new perspective. A perspective laden with the reality that no matter what, you can trust and believe in Jesus. First, for salvation from your sins. And second, to fulfill all the promises God makes in His Word. I hope and pray this encourages you.

What does it take to get started?

Research papers are not the most fun thing in the world. There is so much work involved, from picking a topic, to trying to find research about that topic, to studying that research, and then to spreading that research out for pages and pages just trying to reach that minimum page requirement set by the prof. Knowing all of the work required to actually finish a research paper, one of the biggest hurdles to cross is actually starting. I’ve found that even opening a new Word doc and putting the title headings for the paper is enough of a small start to get me going on the rest of the paper. It puts an outline, a framework to go with, for the paper and makes it easier to move forward.

Two of the biggest hurdles in life involve actually starting something new, and then actually finishing something off. When something new comes our way, sometimes all the variables and risks and tasks pile up and it becomes a daunting beginning that we put off as long as possible. Sometimes it’s not even a bad thing. Sometimes we are just afraid to take a new step forward and beginning a new journey, so we delay. This can be like delaying to ask your girlfriend to be your wife because you’re afraid of taking that next step and moving toward marriage, even though you want to be married and have a family and be with this person you love for the rest of your life; it can still be a daunting step because of the magnitude of the decision.

Actually finishing something off can be hard because it is the end of an era, the end of a chapter of life. It can be hard to move on from a job because of the people you worked with, the history you have with the company, or the clients you are leaving behind. Or finishing something off could look like moving to a new city or state and leaving behind friends and family (this is an ending and a new beginning all at once).

Beginning and ending. They are hard.

Well, in this 365 Days Free From Fear trek we are on, today focuses on Genesis 46:3-4 where Jacob is getting ready to head to Egypt to reunite with his lost son Joseph. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers many years before, and rose to prominence in Egypt. Now he is saving the life of his family and has forgiven his brothers and renewed that broken relationship. He invites all his father’s family to come live in Egypt. Before they get there, Jacob has this vision where God says,

“I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes.”

God comforts Jacob and reminds him that God will go with him and he doesn’t have to be afraid to begin this journey. Once he begins this journey, he will reach the end of his “journey” (i.e. life) and his lost son will be there to help bury his father. Beginning this journey will reunite him with his son and will make the family whole again. Before the father dies he will be able to witness this. God gives Jacob comfort and hope so that he can go ahead and start on the journey.

In the same way, when we are facing new beginnings and hard endings, we can remember that God is with us. Even better, when we know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, the Spirit of God lives inside of us and goes with us wherever we go so that we have an even greater realization of God’s presence with us than Jacob and his family did.

Be encouraged and don’t be afraid. We all face new beginnings that are hard to start and endings that are hard to finish, but we can take hope. No matter where we are in this, even somewhere in the middle, we can take courage to know that when we abide in Christ, He is there with us (John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”).

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 pregnant.do 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.