William’s 400-meter failure

EUGENE, OR - JUNE 23: Bryan Clay reacts after getting disqualified in the men's decathlon 110 meter hurdles during Day Two of the 2012 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 23, 2012 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)During the past few months I have been volunteering as the assistant track and field coach at my daughter’s high school. I’ve loved it, and it has been the fulfillment of a dream I’ve carried ever since I first met Pat Stahl, the track and field coach who profoundly shaped my life in high school.

Part of why I love track so much is that its lessons speak so profoundly to our spiritual journey. To spend a day on the track is to witness lessons about perseverance, work ethic, mental preparation, and hitting the wall. It is a sport about running with comrades and also running alone. It’s a tremendous sport that is jam-packed with spiritual truths and metaphors.

I experienced one of those lessons last week when William failed in the 400 meters.

He didn’t actually fail; he just thought he did. Leading up to our last track meet, William (not his real name) was about one second shy of qualifying for league finals in the 400-meter dash, and I was convinced that with some extra training and inspiration he would be able to qualify.

He worked incredibly hard all week, he ran the best race of his life in the meet, but he still failed to qualify. I was proud of him, I commended him for setting a personal record, and then I watched him slump under weighty feelings of personal failure and shame.

I am a competitor and I hate to lose so I understand the post-failing emotions that accompany a moment like William’s. However, after he apologized to me for the 10th time for failing to qualify I realized that something was wrong. He didn’t just feel failure; he felt a sense of shame.

As I spent the next thirty minutes trying to reinforce truth and liberate him from shame I realized that we do the exact same thing. Sometimes we work hard, do our best, fall short of our personal expectations, and then get taken out by shame.

I’m sure my words to William would echo God’s words to you: “I’ve seen your effort…I’m proud of you…you’re doing better than you realize…you’ll do even better next season…you are not a failure…now kick this shame to the curb because WE’VE GOT ANOTHER RACE TO RUN.”


Retracting our ‘nevers’

high diveDo you get annoyed when missionaries say, “I told God I would never go to Africa, and sure enough that’s where He sent me”? Or when ministers exhort us to, “Never say ‘never’ to God because as soon as you say ‘never’ that’s exactly what He will make you do”?

I don’t love those kinds of statements because they give God a bad rap. They make it sound like God spends His time looking for ways to disappoint our deepest desires. They ignore verses like Psalm 37:4 that say, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

That’s a profound verse. God doesn’t just give desired outcomes; He gives the desire itself. If you are delighting yourself in Him, and you have absolutely no desire to do a certain ministry, it is likely that He isn’t leading you to do it. If He wants you to do it He’ll have to give you the desire first.

So let’s stop being afraid that if we go all in with this life of discipleship that God will make us do all of the stuff that we don’t want to do. He is not going to send you to some remote assignment just to spite you.

However…once we defend God a bit and push back against the inaccurate statements from certain teachers and preachers we DO need to build a figurative altar and sacrifice our ‘nevers’ on it.

Truly submitted prayers say, “Lord, send me where I’m needed most” not “Lord, send me where I’ll get the best tan…or where I’ll see the best scenery…or make the most money.”

Consider Oswald Chambers’ words from the devotional, My Utmost For His Highest: “Before we will serve, we stop to ponder our personal and financial concerns: ‘what if God wants me to go over there? And what about my salary? What is the climate like there? Who will take care of me? A person must consider all these things.’ All this is an indication that we have reservations about serving God.”

God can be trusted completely. So let’s retract our ‘nevers’ and dive into the deep end of our destinies.


Divine Delays

Detour_AheadHow do you handle holding patterns?

How do you handle the delays between God’s promises and their fulfillment?

How do you cope when you’re enjoying a sweet fellowship with the Lord and then heaven suddenly goes silent, and no matter what you do, you can’t break through to the other side?

These moments of divine delay reveal who we are on the inside. They show us the authenticity of our faith, and they expose the true benchmarks of our character.

They break us…or they make us. And just as our favorite Bible heroes taught us, how a person handles their holding patterns determines whether or not they’ll land in safety.

  • Abraham was delayed in barrenness.
  • Moses was delayed in the wilderness (twice).
  • David was delayed in the cave.

And yet their divine delays teach us a powerful truth about God: He knows the way through the wilderness, and He knows how to get people to their destinations.

You’ve been delayed in your story too, and you might need to remember today that God has not lost sight of you. He doesn’t need a compass or a GPS to find you. He has His eye on you, and He is still determined to bring you to all of your appointed ends.

Remember what the Lord told the prophet Habakkuk when he was spiraling in a holding pattern. His words will help you survive your divine delays too. God said, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.” (Habakkuk 2:2-3 NKJV)

3 Sacred texts: Your Bible, your calendar, and your checkbook

checkbook-calendar“Show me your calendar and your checkbook and I will predict your future levels of success.” Those were the opening words of a pastors’ conference, spoken by a gentlemen who was responsible for the oversight of thousands of ministers worldwide.

After the Bible, he said, the most sacred documents in a person’s life are his or her calendar and checkbook.

Do you agree with that thought? Do you agree that today’s investment of time and resource will determine the trajectory of your future?

  • World-class grandparents become so by scheduling time to connect with their grandchildren.
  • Phenomenal spouses spend the time and money to romance their sweetheart.
  • True women and men of God invest in the practices that bring them regularly into contact with the presence of God.
  • Masterful lives do not happen by accident; they are the result of intentional planning and investment in the right areas.

Are we living that way? If the conference speaker perused our calendars and checkbooks would he predict futures of impact and significance, or mediocrity and triviality?

As the spring season approaches, let’s apply our spring-cleaning tendencies to our calendars and checkbooks. What should be written into those texts that isn’t? What is written there that shouldn’t be?

Let’s do the necessary cleansing and purging so that we can live the vita sine paenitentia (the life without regret).

Get busy livin’

shawshank1_2772806bSweet spot.

You have one. It’s the place where your unique talents, gifts, experiences, and passions come together in the service and glorification of God. It’s the spot where you feel most like you—you’re alive and engaged and positively contributing to the world around you.

You don’t get as tired in your sweet spot. You don’t get as stressed out. Results come easier, and you’re happier, more effective, and more alive when you’re operating from this place.

As Max Lucado said, it’s the sweetest spot in the universe.

It takes a little effort to discover your sweet spot. It requires some internal exploration to identify all of the treasures that God has pre-packaged within you. However, it’s worth every moment of effort because once you start moving toward your sweet spot, you’ll be on the path toward an invigorating, significant, uncommon life.

Your kids have a sweet spot too. If you’re a parent, one of the wisest things you can do is to help your child identify his or her sweet spot, and begin living in it early on. Many heart-breaking endeavors come about because young people waste time exploring life outside of their God-prescribed sweet spot.

If you’re ready to get serious about living an uncommon life, there are some reflection exercises in the appendix of The Cure for the Common Life that will guide you into the identification of your sweet spot. By identifying “aha!” moments from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, and by highlighting the verbs (the actions you took that made you feel most alive), you can create a script that will startlingly identify the essence of who you were created to be.

Please avail yourselves of those exercises, and get started on the path toward an uncommon life. As Andy Dufresne said to Red at the end of the film, Shawshank Redemption, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”

Let’s get busy living intentional lives that glorify God, bless the world, and bring life to our own souls.

Know you are loved!

(This officially concludes this summer’s all-church reading program)

Study your S.T.O.R.Y.

psycho dentistThe cure for commonness begins with strength extraction.”[1] Thus said Max Lucado in this week’s installment of our summer reading program.

What, exactly, is “strength extraction”? It sounds like a terrifying dental appointment with a vigorous, pliers-wielding dentist.

However, according to Lucado; strength extraction is actually something wonderful. It’s what happens when you identify your S.T.O.R.Y. by asking and answering the following five questions:

  1. What are your strengths? What “verbs” best describe your aptitudes—for instance, running, jumping, fixing, writing, or relating?
  2. What is your topic? What “nouns” are attached to your “verbs”? In other words, where and with whom and in what setting do you prefer to run, jump, fix, write, or relate?
  3. What is your optimalcondition? People can run, jump, fix, write, and relate in myriads of settings and conditions—which ones are ideal for you?
  4. What about relationships? What are your preferred relationship patterns? Do you work best alone or in a group? If in a group, do you like to chime in from the sideline or lead the parade? Are you a collaborator or a solo inventor. There isn’t a wrong answer to the question, but you do need to answer it.
  5. Yes! Identify some of your “Yes!” moments when your strengths, topics, optimal conditions, and relational preferences all came together to form a sweet spot that made you feel alive and flooded with destiny.

Life inside that spot—at the center of your S.T.O.R.Y.—is anyting but common!


Grace Church summer reading program, The Cure for the Common Life, Chapter Four: “Sudy your S.T.O.R.Y.”


[1] Max Lucado, The Cure for the Common Life, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2005, 32.

Dreams versus contentment

???????Are you happy with today, or are you pining for tomorrow? Are you content with this leg of your journey, or are you desperate to reach the mountain’s summit?

Sometimes the tension between dreams and contentment can be pretty severe.

The Bible clearly tells us that Christianity possesses an unending, internal push for a brighter tomorrow. We, followers of Jesus Christ, are to be increasingly transformed into His image, character, and nature. Additionally, we are carrying a piece of God’s global dream to reach the entire world with His love, grace, peace, and life.

And yet somehow amid the push to grow and reach and become something better tomorrow, we’re also told to be gratefully content with where we are today. How is that possible?

Fortunately, an obscure passage in Zechariah 4 helps us. In this passage God has promised his man, Zerubbabel, that by God’s grace, power, and might the temple of Jerusalem would be restored after decades of ruin and desolation. However, in the very same breath, God goes on to say, “Who dares despise the day of small things?”

God informs Zerubbabel that He is just as excited for the commencement of a project as He is for its completion.

God isn’t anxiously waiting for you to apprehend all of His dreams for your life. He’s excited that you’ve begun moving toward them.

In God’s eyes you won’t be more successful or admirable once your dreams come true—He’s enjoying the journey with you. So let’s do the same.

Let’s not miss one glorious moment of this journey with our Lord in our rush to get to the top of our mountain.