raw thoughts Category

Mar 5th, 2014

Just Keep Swimming

The only way to get to victory is to be willing to fail on the way there. True overnight successes are rare. Far more often you have people who kept showing up day in and day out until the hard, unglamorous work added up and paid off. It’s easy to misunderstand what you are seeing when you look at people who are taking a victory lap or receiving attention or promotion. What is happening there in that moment is only the tip of the iceberg. Invisible to your eye is what’s under water —the hell they went through on the road to success.

I recently read a story in the news about Kristen Anderson-Lopez that was powerful. She (along with her husband) wrote the song “Let it Go” from Disney’s “Frozen.” As the father of four daughters there are very few Disney princess movies I haven’t seen, and like many of you, we have not only seen this film multiple times but we own the soundtrack as well. (And no, I would not like to build a snowman.) The song “Let it Go” is not just a great song, it is literally the best. It won an Oscar for the best song in a motion picture. It was so good that it changed the course of the movie. Apparently Elsa, a character in the movie who freezes everything, was originally going to stay evil, but when they heard “Let it Go”, the song caused them to rewrite everything so Elsa could sing it and be redeemed.

That’s powerful in and of itself, but the best part of the the article was where it said that Kristen also wrote 17 songs that weren’t included in the movie. SEVENTEEN times her songs weren’t right. SEVENTEEN times she heard “no.” Most of us would consider ourselves a colossal failure to be shut down five or six times. It would be difficult to keep pressing full steam ahead after being rejected a dozen times. But she continued writing and creating and inventing and putting herself out there SEVENTEEN times. Let that sink in. Songs #1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14,15, 16, and 17 weren’t good enough for the movie. Attempt number 18 was a different story. This time the movie, as it was currently written, wasn’t good enough for the song.

The point is, to envy someone’s success is to completely misunderstand the nature of it. To covet the limelight and the accolades is to focus on the wrong thing. Yes, there are those who are given every advantage and people who are raised with a silver spoon in their mouth, but far more often the recipe for success is simple and unpleasant. You persevere through difficulty, bad ideas, bad days and bitterness again and again and again until something clicks. It’s not sexy, but it’s true. What you were willing to do in secret is responsible, so often, for what happens in public. It would be nice to crank out a hit on your first attempt, but those unlucky enough to do so often end up unable to replicate their accidental success. Far better to be ok with writing some duds and be able to just keep swimming.

1 Chronicles 28:10 “…be strong and do the work.”

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Jan 13th, 2014

That time I went to China

On the Great Wall

One of the standout moments of last year was a quick trip I took to China. There is technically no such thing as a quick anything when travel from Montana to China is involved, but I was only there for a short time. Regardless of how much of a whirlwind it might have been, it was certainly an amazing experience.

The trip was put together by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and lead by Franklin Graham. The purpose of the trip was to encourage dialogue and relationship between the Protestant church here in America and in China. Pastors and Christian leaders from both nations spent several days talking on the subject of reconciliation and the Gospel. Billy’s wife Ruth was born in China and the country has always been a place near to his heart and a focus in his ministry.

I was, by far, the youngest American pastor on the delegation. (I can’t even spell delegation.) Most of the others were not just leaders of individual churches but heads of whole denominations or presidents of seminaries. I assumed it was a clerical error that I was invited to be a part, but I didn’t ask any questions fearing the mistake would be discovered and corrected. Fortunately I have been watching Kai-Lan (basically Chinese “Dora the Explorer”) with my girls so I knew enough of the language to say “hello,” “please” and “thank you.”

We spent time in Beijing, Nanjing and Shanghai. We made our way across the country, in between these cities, on bullet trains that fly along at 200 mph. I have traveled to Asia a number of times but this was my first trip to China and I loved it. It is an amazing country. So cool. The fact that it is home to 1.3 billion people is astounding. Getting to spend time with Chinese pastors was a genuine pleasure. Hearing what the Lord is doing in and through their churches blessed me greatly. There are somewhere over 23 million registered Christians in the state-sanctioned Protestant church. It is estimated that the true number could be over 100 million if you include those who are a part of house churches.

In Beijing, we were hosted for two formal, 14-course dinners. One was put on by the State Administration of Religious Affairs. We visited their headquarters in a building the emperor’s father used to live in (the movie “The Last Emperor” was filmed there) before eating at a hotel that 10 years ago only state guests could enter. The second was at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, a place that is their version of Camp David, where we were hosted the former Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations and to the United States. Ambassador Li Zhaoxing told us that he has hosted every American president from Nixon to Obama right there. Amazing. He also told me that he has visited every state in America and he loves Montana.

With our very limited downtime we explored, walking through the iconic narrow Hutong alleyways, watching random groups of people dance in the streets (it would be hard to get noticed doing a flash mob over there), walked on the Great Wall of China, and visited Tiananmen Square. I took advantage of being in these spots and captured some messages that we used for our seven year anniversary at Fresh Life. (Check it out here.) It’s not everyday you find yourself in China on the verge of a new year — the Chinese “Year of the Horse” — but when you are, and you are all about running with horses … well, you gotta do what you gotta do.

More than anything, the trip intensified my desire to get the Gospel to as many people, in as many places as I can before my time on this earth is done. It’s a big earth full of souls and Jesus loves and died for each and every one of them. We must do what we can to share His love and get His Word to the ends of the earth!

Shanghai

Delishy-Fishy

Bullet-Train

Tiananmen Square

Great Wall

Forbidden City

Starbucks in a Hutong

headquarters of S.A.R.A.

Ambassador Wong

Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing

Shanghai

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Praise is powerful. Worship is a weapon. We must approach every battle with arms raised and swords drawn. We are to do everything we can do but we must trust God for what only He can do. When we stop worshipping, we stop winning.


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top102013
I enjoy writing. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as speaking but once I force myself to begin it usually flows with minimal psychological trauma. Especially in this past year it has proved to be a cathartic experience as most of my writing has been focused on Lenya and Heaven and grief. Journaling and blogging has long been a discipline I have tried to maintain, if only to have a record of things I have been learning or musing on, even if it all doesn’t end up getting posted.

Looking back on the blog posts from this past year was challenging as there are some very strong emotions and memories that they triggered but they also contain some very powerful lessons that God taught me in difficult times. I picked out ten of them that are some of my favorites and they are presented here.

Thank you for reading this blog and for sharing my posts with other people! Knowing that God has used something I have written to give hope or encouragement blesses me greatly. I hope and pray that God, who crowns the new year with goodness, would shine His face upon you in 2014 like never before.

10. A question I don’t need answered
There has been one question I haven’t asked. That question is, “why?” I have never found my heart bubbling up with that. Even in my darkest moments of unfiltered pain and confusion: “Why did this happen?” or “Why did God let my daughter die?” wasn’t what gushed out. To be honest my lack of thirst for those answers has shocked me a little bit…

9. The honeymoon is over
When you first get married there is a newness to it that causes everything to glow. It is surreal, like living in a dream. No more saying goodbye at the end of the night. No more falling asleep with your mobile phone because after you dropped her off you still wanted to talk as you drove home and got ready for bed, brushed your teeth and drifted off together. (Thanks Verizon.) Now you get to brush your teeth together! …

8. Pastor Chuck Smith: A Life Well-Lived
Early this morning I received a text that made me pause and breathe deeply. It said, “Pastor Chuck just passed into glory a little while ago.”

7. Good Grief
At various points in the last three months I have wanted to find out whoever came up with the phrase “good grief” and do physical harm to them. Too honest? Sorry. I suppose these are the sorts of thoughts you have when you are grieving. For the record there’s nothing good about it from where I am sitting…

6. A Distant Shore
Her pink bike is in the garage with her helmet hung by its strap from one of the handlebars. It has white-walled tires. Just like mine. Every time I walk by it I take a deep breath in and let it out slowly as I think about how spring will come and the snow will melt and we will go on family bike rides in the evenings, but her bike will stay parked in that spot…

5. The Pain of Searing Loss
In the movie The Avengers there is a scene where Tony Stark and Bruce Banner are having a conversation. Bruce feels as though being the Hulk is nothing but a curse, a nightmare. He feels exposed, like a nerve, and sees no good in it. Tony, on the other hand, views being Iron Man as a responsibility…

4.The Vanishing Point
While on a recent trip to the coast Alivia snapped this polaroid of Jennie and I staring out into the mysterious and gloomy sea on a foggy day. When she showed it to me it seemed to perfectly encapsulate life for us right now. Our eyes are straining to see something that we can’t. The sun is hiding behind clouds and refusing to shine. Life is unfolding in muted colors and in a minor-key…

3. Meeting Billy Graham
Last week Jennie and I were given the opportunity to meet Billy Graham. We traveled to his mountainside home in North Carolina and were honored to sit down in his kitchen and spend some time with him…

2. There’s no such thing as a wireless anchor
The Bible tells us that we have hope as an anchor of the soul. It is both sure and steadfast. Translation: It is unmovable. A permanent anchor that will never budge. We can know this is true because it is Jesus who is our anchor. He is our hope. He has entered God’s presence and has promised to bring us to be where He is. Our hope is not dead either, it is a living hope, because He lives forever…

1. 30 Days in Heaven
It has been 30 days now since my second born child Lenya stepped into eternity. Her last breath, which she took in my arms, was immediately followed by her first breath in the arms of her Savior and Creator Jesus Christ. Scripture promises nothing less than an instant transition to Heaven for the believer–to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. In her final moment on the earth…

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Dec 10th, 2013

Why I love to give

At one point in my life I attended a church that was extremely laid-back about the subject of giving. It wasn’t talked about much at all. There was no offering of any kind and the issue of money came up extremely infrequently. It was downplayed to the point of being out of sight, out of mind. Whether this was in response to an overemphasis that had left a bad taste in the pastor’s mouth or the desire to rely fully on the Lord’s provision I am not sure. I certainly am not judging that ministry decision, but what I do know is that it wouldn’t be until later on that I would discover the richness of all that the Bible has to say about the subject and it floored me.

Consequently, during that period I sporadically gave when I felt “lead,” which, if I’m honest, wasn’t all that often. It was more like a “tip” for a good sermon, or when I felt extra generous. I might have called it a tithe but it wasn’t, it was nowhere near a tenth of my earnings. Things certainly seemed to be humming along at the church though, and for all I knew the congregation was full of millionaires that gave so much that it really didn’t matter if I contributed or not. Also, I made very little in my job at that time and so I felt justified in keeping almost all of what I earned for myself.

Looking back, I am horrified that I would enjoy teaching that I didn’t support, be lead in worship by a team using equipment that I did nothing to offset the cost of, and bring friends to church, taking for granted that a chair was there for them to sit in and hear about Jesus but not help cover the costs to make it all happen. If I could go back in time I would tell a younger version of myself that only having a little to give doesn’t let you off the hook either. God expects us to honor Him with what He has entrusted to us and He is able to do a lot with a little. Yes, the amount I would have given (if I had been tithing) would have been a relatively insignificant amount compared to the staggering costs of all these things, but what I would later learn is that giving is less about my money being needed, and more about me needing to give it.

I could give many, many more but here are five reasons why I love to give and why there is nothing on earth that could stop me from returning the first and the best of all God puts in my hand right back to Him.

1. You only get to keep what you give away
Every penny I keep and everything I buy here on earth I will eventually walk away from when I die. Naked I was born and naked I will return, but every cent I have given to God is waiting for me in Heaven with serious interest. My daughter Lenya who is in Heaven left all her toys and clothes behind, but everything she gave to God is hers to keep forever.

2. It breaks down idolatry and greed
When your hand is clenched and you hold on to things tightly it is easy for your possessions to possess you. When you open your hand to give it is easier to keep a light touch on things. Worshipping God through giving money away is the only way I know to keep myself from worshipping money as god.

3. You get equity in the only thing that will outlast everything
No earthly companies, businesses, institutions or non-profit organizations will be in Heaven, but the church that Jesus Christ is building on earth will go marching on. The church is the only thing that exists today that will be here forever. By helping fund the building of the House of the Lord, as Jesus constructs it out of living stones, there is fruit that abounds in your account.

4. It causes you to be obsessed with the things of God
When you invest in the stock market, be it technology or agriculture, you don’t have to remind yourself to check up on it. You automatically think about it. To a degree that is borderline OCD if you have an obsessive personality like me. It’s the same way with giving to God. Where your treasure goes, there goes your heart. The fastest way to have a greater heart for God is to invest in His Kingdom.

5 You are opened up to God’s blessing
This has been the biggest surprise to me. It shouldn’t really, because He is God after all. I have found that He can’t be out-given. No matter how much I have increased my giving over the years above tithing (fair warning—giving is addictive) He has boomeranged it back to me and then some. Not just in entrusting me with more money to steward, but with opportunities, answered prayers, peace in storms, and dreams that have come true far beyond what I could ask, think or imagine.

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