3 Steps To Overcoming Our Insecurity

Ever wonder what it would feel like to arrive?  To be famous.  Or, if that seems too far-fetched, the best at what you do, or an expert in your field.

I’ll be honest and admit that I have.  It’s easy to think that being successful would bring with it a sense of confidence and security that we don’t have now.

But apparently that’s not really true.

Jimi Hendrix would stand behind a screen in the recording studio because he was self-conscious about his voice.  Lady Gaga admitted her outrageous costumes were a way of masking her insecurities. And NBA star Dwayne Wade confessed that money and fame didn’t fix the way he felt about his body.  The list goes on and on.

I think we’re all a lot like this.  We have a lot to offer, but we’re not quite sure that others see it that way.  And so, we (secretly) wait for them to affirm us.

young man hiding in insecurity

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Guys Need Bros (Guest Post, Desiring God)

Five Ways To Find Male Friendships

lonely guy photo

Photo by Daran Kandasamy

Hey men, let’s be honest.  After work, family, church and trying to keep our homes from imploding, it feels like there’s no time left for close friendships with other guys.  At least not ‘real life’, in-person ones.

That’s exactly how I felt as I turned 40.  I had Facebook friends and random hangouts with other guys, but nothing meaningful or consistent.  No one knew what was really going on in my life.

But when my wife, and a popular Christian author challenged me, I decided something had to change.  And – without a ton of effort – it did.

In this guest post for Desiring God, I explore how developing close guy friendships is critical for our health, marriages and walks with Christ.

You can read the post right here.

PS: I’ve done two other guest posts for Desiring God.

 

 

The Four Most Annoying Things About Christians

nails chalkboard photo

What do you find most annoying about Christians?

In an effort to get a little honest feedback, that was the simple question I asked my Facebook friends recently.  They’re all over the map spiritually, and the response went far beyond anything I expected.  Apparently, many people – including Christians – find followers of Jesus rather difficult.

As I sorted through the comments, four major themes emerged.  I’ve incorporated your (fantastic) responses throughout, so in many ways this is a group guest post. 🙂

Let’s take a look at the four ways Christians annoy others, why it matters, and, one big truth that will begin to help us change.

Four Big Ways Christians Annoy Their Neighbors

Let’s dive right in.

#1 Christians are judgmental

We can be overly critical, condemning and disapproving.  One commenter mentioned ‘church leaders and church organizations who… are instead intent on pointing an accusing finger at others’, while another said ‘the church is one of the best places to go to feel shame and judgment’.  Another person said that ‘Christians often treat us with disapproval or worse’.

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7 Ways Your Short-Term Mission Trip Can Have Long-Term Impact

Don't Let Your Short-Term Trip Be A Mountaintop Experience

mountain cross photo

For our team, it had been—quite literally—a mountaintop experience.

We had enjoyed a week of medical missions together on a mountain in Central America. God had welcomed 137 new believers into his family and provided healing for many others through our very humble efforts.

But as I stared out the window on the plane ride home, I began to feel uneasy. How could we—how could I—take what God had invested in us during our trip and continue to live that out back home? How could we apply it in our real, busy, and broken everyday lives where we so often just survive?

There’s no easy answer, but here are seven ideas that have been helpful to me that may be helpful to others returning from a short-term missions trip.

Expect Some Setbacks and Failures

Short-term trips take us out of our comfort zones, and while we are there outside the norm, we often experience a spiritual growth spurt. We learn new ways to rely on God and engage with people. But when we return, as fallen sinners it’s natural to slide back into patterns of self-reliance or simply become overwhelmed.

Recognizing and turning from unhealthy pre-trip patterns is a sign of God’s grace, but we need to have reasonable expectations for ourselves when we return. If we don’t, we may despair and fall back into doing nothing at all once we fail to integrate our new spiritual lessons into everyday life.

I had the privilege of writing this article as a guest post for IMB, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.  They have a massive vision for reaching the world for Christ.  You can read the rest of the article here.

Controversy, Cops & Black Lives Matter

4 Ways We Can Talk Even When We Disagree

yelling & controversy

Photo by global.quiz

Everywhere I went, there they were, multiplying like rabbits.

‘They’ were ‘We Support Our Police’ lawn signs.  After another highly-publicized round of controversy and tension between white police officers and black citizens, they began appearing everywhere.

Until, one day, I noticed one on my lawn.  Huh?

Turns out one of my kids had ordered it from our township, who made them available after a police wives group had donated them.

I was happy that my daughter had taken initiative, and equally happy to show support for our local police who really do ‘put their lives on the line everyday for us’, as the sign says.

A few days later, though, a question hit me.  ‘How would my black friends feel if they drove through my community?’  It’s not like they don’t support the police, but for obvious reasons their trust with law enforcement is often lower than mine.

There are (at least) two sides to the story, but our lawn only told one.

Deeper questions started flooding my mind from there.  Do I have any responsibility to tell both sides of the story?  How would I do that anyway?  And, how do I think about all this as a Christian anyway?

Maybe you’ve had similar thoughts.  If not on this issue, then certainly on others.

The Issues Behind The Issues

The questions above are (really) important ones.

But important as they are, how we deal with them is even more important.  We’re at a moment where, as a nation, we’re struggling to have thoughtful, honest, and respectful conversations on many topics, like:

  • our current political climate
  • physician-assisted suicide
  • national healthcare
  • issues of sexuality

Just try posting about any of this on Facebook, or discussing it in ‘real life’, and watch the dumpster fire begin.

I’m not okay with that.  Are you?  It’s healthy to have different viewpoints, but it’s disappointing and toxic when we can’t discuss them freely.

Salt & Light

Christians are called to be part of the solution.  To be part of shaping our culture in a more thoughtful, respectful direction.

Jesus made that clear when he said,

You are the salt of the earth… the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden... let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  (Matthew 5:13, 14-16)

The images of salt, light and a city on a hill make it plain that Christians are supposed to impact the world in a positive way.  One that involves ‘good works’ that benefit everyone, and ultimately show that our God is great.  (Anyone else feeling convicted?)

That’s why this post isn’t really about racial tensions, politics or other hot button topics.

Instead, this post is about how we, as Christians, can engage anyone, on any controversial issue, in a way that promotes healthy dialogue.  And values the relationship with another person over being right.

4 Ways We Can Move Beyond Controversy Toward Honest, Respectful Conversation

Here are four thoughts, in no particular order.

Humility required.   Our sin was bad enough that Jesus had to leave heaven and take our place on the cross.  That should produce a humility where we ‘count others more significant than yourselves’ (Philippians 2:3).  This means listening and really considering what someone else is saying.  Not just waiting for them to take a breath so we can insert our own opinion.

Examine our anger, devastation & anxiety.  When we feel – and think – strongly about something, it reveals its importance to us.  And that’s entirely appropriate.

Sometimes, though, our reactions invite deeper self-examination.  Why do we become unglued, for example, because [insert politician of choice] didn’t win the election?  Deep disappointment, concern, fervent prayer, and appropriate activism all make sense.  But if our hope is ultimately in Christ, nasty online comments and prolonged despair don’t.  When our reactions don’t align with our identity in Christ, God graciously invites us to look for idolatry and offer that up to him (see 1 John 5:21).

Think.   Christ calls us to love the Lord with all our minds (Matthew 22:37).  When we really examine something, though, we often find that Jesus isn’t fully on our team.  Or anyone’s team.

Every person, and every culture, is a mixed bag.  When we dump the bag out, we see the good that comes from being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and the bad that reflects our sinful natures (Jeremiah 17:9).

Practically-speaking, we should expect Jesus to affirm some of what we – and others – believe about a given issue.  But ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ (Ephesians 4:13), we should expect to find some serious errors and blind spots, too.

Selectively engage.  It’s possible to commit two, very different, errors.  On the one hand, we can make every issue a hill to die on, burn out, and look down on those who don’t make our pet issue their pet issue.  On the other, we can get overwhelmed, cynical and do nothing.

God offers better choices.  When Christianity was young, Gentiles (non-Jews) began flooding into the largely Jewish church, and sparks began to fly.  Many Jewish believers were insisting that their Gentile counterparts must observe the law of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:1).  Gentiles, with no Old Testament background, thought that was crazy and incredibly burdensome.  It didn’t seem like there was any middle ground, and the fledgling church seemed like it would crash before it even left the runway.

But in a genius move, the apostles listened carefully, considered what God had done, and made a wise decision.  They decided to focus on just four key commands from the Mosaic law, and require nothing more from the new Gentile converts (19-21).  After all, they too were saved by grace (11).

Instead of a battle royale, the church was freed from needless controversy and spread like wildfire.  We need more wise, selective engagement like that today.

Hope For Moving Forward

I know it’s way more complex than that, and highly-dependent on the context.  But when we follow the principles outlined in God’s word, we just might experience similar results.

Not long after the police sign appeared on our front lawn, I added a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign next to it.  I want our house to tell both sides of the story.  It’s not a game-changer, but I hope it’s a small way of acknowledging the tension and saying, ‘hey, let’s talk about it’.  (Thankfully, a few people have wanted to talk about it.)

Support Our Police & Black Lives Matter yard signs.

Yard signs in front of my home.

One small action, one small conversation at a time, let’s do all we can to form relationships where trust is built even when agreement isn’t.

Questions for reflection:

  1. What issues tend to get under your skin?  To what extent do you handle them according to the principles outlined above?
  2. What one step could you take to move in a more God-honoring direction?
  3. What did I miss?

 

Masturbation, God’s Design For Sexuality, & Your Marriage

They May Not Seem All That Related, But They Are

When it comes to something as intimate as masturbation, we worry about others judging us.  We worry about what God thinks, too.  Will he be angry, disappointed, and tell us to ‘just stop’?

In my first post, I argued that we need to wrestle with whether masturbation is right or wrong.  But that wasn’t my main focus.  I don’t think it’s God’s either, or he would have made it clearer, as he has with many other things.

Instead, I believe God wants us to wrestle more deeply with several fundamental questions.  (Jesus was always asking questions; at least 135 of them.)  If we’ll answer honestly, that will open the door to some authentic conversations with God so we can give this area of our lives – and others – more fully to him.

divorce photo

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Go Somewhere That Breaks Your Heart

In Giving, We're The Ones Who Receive

Go somewhere that breaks your heart at least once a year.

— Andrew Scott, CEO of Overseas Missionary Fellowship (USA)

Just yesterday, I returned from a place that breaks my heart.  In fact, that’s partly why I went.

Crowded homes with metal roofs and beautiful mountains off in the distance.

I’m not sure about you, but every day my heart gets crusty.  Indifferent towards God, the people around me, and their physical and spiritual condition.

Can you identify?

Do you ever ‘know’ that Jesus left heaven and died a brutal death on your behalf… and yet feel unmoved toward your neighbor?

I wrestle with that kind of dullness in my heart every day.

The bigger question is, ‘What can we do about it?’  Just hearing more facts and figures about how badly other people have it isn’t enough.

We need to go and experience it ourselves.  Today, I want to challenge you to go somewhere that will break your heart.

Entering Another World

As we walked across the main road near our medical clinic, we entered another world.

Our friend and host began to tell us what life is like.

‘People who live here don’t have running water’, he said.  ‘They try to store up water during the rainy season, but it’s not enough for the other 4-5 months.  So they have to buy it from the water trucks, often at prices they can’t really afford.’

Toilets are holes in the ground, and new ones need to be dug every few years.

People who become sick have very limited access to quality healthcare.

Gangs fight for territory and young men.  Kidnappings and murders are not uncommon. Buses that travel major routes must pay extortion money.

The country is still recovering from a brutal civil war that has left deep scars. One pastor watched his parents get shot as he peered through an outhouse door, covered waist high in human waste.

I can’t even begin to say I understand.  I – and everyone on our team – cried more that week than we have in a loooong time.

God’s Heart Breaks, Too

And that’s precisely why God had us there.

Yes, we were there to provide important healthcare services.  And to assist our national partners in sharing the hope that Christ provides.

But God also fought for our hearts, chiseling away at the stony plaque that can accumulate when we live without obvious need.  He wants us to look more like him.

And his heart is torn in two when people he created live without justice and basic necessities.

  • ‘Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise,’ says the LORD.  (Psalm 12:5)
  • For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.  (Psalm 72:12-13)
  • [Jesus] said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.’  (Luke 6:20, 21)
  • If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. (1 John 3:17)

And these are just a few examples.  Although injustice and poverty are everywhere, this is not the way it’s supposed to be!

God cares, and he is honored when we care, too.

Grieving For Our Own Culture

So far, most of what of what I’ve shared might be pretty obvious.  What you were expecting.

But seeing – and caring about – the brokenness of the culture we visit is only half the equation.

Because when we return, we come to see the deep deficiencies of our own culture, too.

Truth is, the country we visited is an absolutely beautiful place.  Not only in its lush array of fruits, birds and plants we don’t have here.  But also (mainly) because of its people.

They know they have physical and spiritual needs.  They can’t hide them, so they don’t really try to.  Relationships matter way more than stuff.  We were welcomed warmly – without exception – by everyone we met.

And our partners gave me gifts as a token of their love and hope of future partnership.

At least where I live, all these beautiful gifts are in seriously short supply.  Going somewhere they are common has opened my eyes, and now I’m in mourning for my own culture and heart, too.

And yet, not without hope.  God is equally at work there, and here, where I live.  And wherever you live, too.  His aim is ‘to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among all the nations’ (Romans 1:5).

Three Ways To Go Somewhere That Breaks Your Heart

It’s time to begin our final descent.  Here are three ways to get your own heart broken.

1 – Take a trip somewhere in the developing world.  While it’s not about us, and we should only go somewhere we’re wanted, if we go with the right heart we are transformed.

2 – Visit a place of need near you.  You don’t need to raise money or jump on a plane to have your heart broken.  Places of need exist all around us right where we live.  For example, some friends run Miriam Medical Center in one of Philadelphia’s most underserved communities where some residents don’t even have running water.

3 – Find a ministry that deals with brokenness different than your own. Then pray, get involved, and support it.  Even if you’re not able to do #1 or #2, anyone with internet access can do this.  Ministries like Compassion, Christ Community Health Fellowship and countless others reflect God’s heart for those in need of practical help.

It takes a little effort and sacrifice, but when we go somewhere that breaks our heart, we always receive more than we give.

Questions for reflection:

  1. On a scale of 1-10, how much does your heart grieve/care about those in need (of any kind)?  For your own neediness?
  2. Consider following the pray, plan and go model.  Pray for God to change your heart and show you where to go; do some research and make a specific plan; then go, ideally with others.

 

Masturbation: Better Questions, Better Help

(Hint: Don't Start With, 'Is It Right Or Wrong?')

This blog is about to get more real.  Today we’re going to talk about…

[cue dramatic music] … masturbation.

kitten and puppy stare at each other

I know it’s off-topic, but instead of changing tabs you can pretend you were watching another cute pet video.

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5 Ways To Deal With Difficult People

Are you in a difficult relationship?

Actually, the real question is not, ‘Are you in one?’, but rather, ‘How many are you in?’

And, ‘In how many are you the difficult party?’  But I digress…

The truth is, whether it’s a boss, spouse, one of our kids, or an annoying neighbor, difficult relationships will always be part of our everyday lives.  So, we better learn how to deal with them.

Let’s look at 2 Timothy 2:24-26 for some practical, biblical guidance for how to navigate those relationships we’d rather not be in.  (Hat tip to counselor Jeff Stark for sharing this framework with me. If you live near Philly or Wilmington (DE) and need a solid biblical counselor, he’s a great place to start.)

oscar grouch photo

No doubt this is someone you know (and/or you).  Photo by al.star

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Don’t Miss Your Life By Looking For Life Up Ahead

5 Ways We Can Find Joy Right Now, No Matter What

Tired and bleary-eyed, I stared at the in-flight monitor and sank down into my seat.  This was going to be a loooong trip.

Seventeen hours, to be exact.  I felt my inner five-year-old urging me to ask the flight attendant (in a whiny voice), ‘Are we there yet?’  

In my desire to land in Israel and begin what promised to be a phenomenal vacation with my wife, I was missing the small joys in the journey of getting there.  The thought of life without wifi and being surrounded by passengers who (apparently) didn’t believe in showering had me in ‘just get through it’ mode.  (I know, first-world problems.)

While we’ve all probably had flights like this, I’m not really talking about literal travel.  I’m talking about how we travel through life day-by-day.  

So often, we fixate on whatever we don’t like and begin to look beyond it to the next thing.  When life will (supposedly) be better.  But if we’re really honest, ‘better’ never comes.

How can we break free from the lie that real life lies up ahead so that we can live with joy and contentment now?  

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