I never wanted to be the guy who lived vicariously through his kids, but suffice it to say, it happens. I was (rightfully) cut from my 7th grade basketball team (strangely enough, there wasn’t much demand for a slow white kid who couldn’t jump), so when my oldest daughter made the JV squad her freshman year of High School, I at least felt my Hoosier DNA had been mildly vindicated.

We’ve watched her blossom the last two years, not just as a player, but as a person. And the whole family has been so grateful for every unexpected opportunity:

Making the freshman team. Cheesy grin.

Those first JV minutes. Wide-eyed wonderment.

Her first points. Wow! How cool is that? She made the stat sheet!

And the thankfulness scale just kept tipping:

Dressing varsity. What an incredible opportunity!

A few varsity cleanup minutes at the end of a few games. Can you believe it? Our daughter is playing varsity high school basketball!

Making an impact on the court. Who is this girl? I’m so proud of her.

And then two weeks ago she came home with the craziest news of all:

“Um, dad. Coach said I’m starting Tuesday night,” she tried to mute her glee. “Ok, goodnight!” As she ran up the stairs, I couldn’t believe the metamorphosis we were seeing. Steady, faithful Emma, lacking in the years of playing experience many of the other girls had, was reaping the benefit of showing up, working hard, and giving it her all every time she stepped on the court. We were so grateful.

Two nights later, her mom and I pushed back tears of thankfulness as we watched her run through the tunnel formed by her teammates as the starters names were announced over the loudspeaker.

And then something strange happened inside me when I wasn’t even looking. 

Two games later she was back to the bench. “Coach said this team is really tall and we need more height on the post.” She wasn’t phased in the least, but I was.

My dad gene faked it. “That’s ok, kiddo. Every player matters to the team. It’s not about starting.”

( Inside though, my flesh was singing a different story. Why? She played so solid. What did she do to get moved back to the bench? Did she not play as well as I thought she did? What happened?).

In one short moment, my instincts shredded the long list of things we had been so grateful for for so long. My overwhelming sense of gratitude had become an ugly sense of entitlement. I forgot what I used to be thankful for.

Thank God for conviction of the Holy Spirit. If my kids only realized how many of the inspiring speeches I manage to concoct for them are really just God smacking me around. Somewhere inside, I found this truth:

“Every minute you get on the basketball court is a gift. If you play starting minutes, be grateful. If you come off the bench, be grateful. If you play 20 minutes of prime time, be grateful. If you get 3 garbage minutes when the game is already decided, be grateful. The posture of your heart is what matters. We deserve nothing. We’re grateful for everything. The most important characteristic you can carry in life is a spirit of thankfulness.”

I don’t know about you, but I am quick to forget the things I used to be thankful for. Gifts subtly transform into expectations when I’m not even paying attention. And when my focus shifts from thankful to entitled, I lose so much of the beauty in this life. I become completely obviously to the things that used to breed wonder and joy, and I set a course for disaster.

This Thanksgiving, what if we took some time to remember the things we used to be thankful for and let them overwhelm us with gratitude once again?


I’ve been praying this prayer every day for awhile now.

Not these exact words in a rote, memorized fashion. But this general heart cry, aimed at recalibrating my spirit in a vital way each day.

And it’s changing everything. Take a look:

“Lord, today I put You back on the throne. I put You back at the center. I so readily replace you Jesus. It’s not even conscious most days. I instinctively cling to other saviors that I fully know are powerless, yet in the moment they seem so natural and necessary.





But it’s not just the “ugly” imposters, Jesus, there are some seemingly beautiful ones that take over, too.



My job.


My kids’ happiness.

Good things, even gifts from you, that slowly become my ultimate treasures. Things I can’t imagine living without. Things that I so easily allow to define who I am. Things that replace you, Jesus.

My heart manufactures these false saviors on its 24-hour fraudulent assembly line. And so today, Lord, I make a conscious effort to stop my insane manufacturing process. I repent and return to you. Forgive me and help me. Get me on your page today, Jesus. Lead me to your solutions, Jesus. Introduce me to your people, Jesus. Give me your heart, Jesus.

Everything beautiful cascades from my life through my connection to You. So today, I return again. To my only Savior. My only hope.

Jesus on the throne. Jesus at the center.


As I look back over the last year of posturing myself before God in this way, some subtly developed, yet definitive patterns have emerged:

• New Ideas: Exciting concepts and possibilities have suddenly been unearthed, ideas that are far above my creative pay grade.

• Unexpected Relationships: Dots have begun to miraculously connect, creating the opportunity for trajectory-changing partnerships.

• Surprising Opportunities: Out-of-the-blue phone calls have uncovered stunning new possibilities.

• Gut-Wrenching Heartache: Yeah, this is the part no one likes to talk about. But when I ask Jesus to help me destroy my false gods, I must be ready for a massive onslaught of anxiety, pain, discouragement, sadness, questioning, sleepless nights, failure, disappointment, grief, betrayal, and suffering. Putting Jesus at the center takes my life on a different journey than the one I saw in my mind. Sometimes in a major fashion, but always in a thousand little ways that destabilize the trust I had placed in anything other than Christ Himself. If you pray this prayer, brace yourself. Jesus doesn’t share His throne with others.

• Unexplained Courage: A boldness has emerged in the face of fear and suffering, a courage that can only be explained by Something Greater.

Jesus on the throne.

Jesus at the center.

Pray this prayer every day. I dare you.

Let’s face it, it’s much easier to leave Jesus out of missions. He gums up the works. Messes things up. Makes them awkward.

I’m part of an organization that mobilizes business for missions work around the world. It’s an awesome company, doing awesome work, both here and abroad. But I’ve noticed something interesting:

When I share with our staff (many who are not Christians) about the missions work we do, it’s so easy to tell them about the schools and the medical clinics we’ve helped start. It’s the stories about church planting and the proclamation of Jesus I struggle to craft. The excitement quickly morphs into uncomfortable silence. “Why’d you have to go and bring Him up?”

That leaves me in an interesting spot and pondering what will likely be a controversial statement for some of you:

Missions is about the proclamation of Jesus Christ and the establishment of The Church.

I know, I know, some of you are rushing to your Bible (or the latest millennial magazine article) to show me why I’m wrong. You’ll (mis)quote Francis of Assisi who (never really) said “preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” No one really knows where that came from by the way, as Assisi was a bold proclaimer of Jesus in everything that he did. Personally, I prefer Ed Stetzer’s rewrite:

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and because it’s necessary, use words.”

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Photo CreditivanCHANG

We humans have a unique ability to overcorrect, and today’s generation is understandably energized by “doing good.” That is a beautiful thing. We must do good works, serve the poor, respond to the oppressed, care for the orphan and the least of these (I can quote you all those scriptures, too) to live out or roles as Christ-followers in this world. But if the proclamation of the Gospel and the declaration of Jesus is not central, not on our lips, not the ultimate point, then we are not engaging in New Testament missions work.

Good works will accompany the proclamation of Jesus, but they cannot replace it. Jesus is the game changer.

I think there are two main reasons modern christians get uncomfortable with the idea of Gospel-proclamation and expansion of The Church as the ultimate focus of missions work:

1. Western Cynicism Toward The Church: I think many have become disillusioned with the idea of church in our western sphere. Pick your poison: too traditional, too institutional, poor leadership, too personality driven, too wealthy, too inward focused, too _____________. Because we’ve embraced cynicism toward The Church here, we don’t get real excited about the idea of replicating it elsewhere. But The Church, broken and imperfect, is God’s idea and has been His mechanism for spreading the Gospel message and His Kingdom to a broken and imperfect world. We’ve got 2000+ years to prove it.

2. Our Obsession with Being Liked: It’s a “how many likes can I get” world out there. I know, because I’m engaged in it, too. Addressing social ills and championing charitable endeavors garner positive media attention and “good feelings” from outsiders. Who doesn’t rally around anti-sex-trafficking and clean water? Adding Jesus to the mix just stirs up controversy and narrows our platform. And to make things worse, proclamation is associated with the obnoxious bull-horn preacher standing on his soap box and reading hellfire verses from the King James outside local sporting events. Who wants to be that guy? It’s easier to focus on the good we’re doing and just keep Jesus to ourselves. And in that, I fear we lose the whole point.

Just to be clear…

When we see the hungry, we feed them. When we see the naked, we clothe them, When we see the uneducated, we teach them. When we see marginalized and abused, we fight for them. But to everyone, at all times, and in all ways, we must proclaim the deity of Jesus, and His life, death, and resurrection as the only hope for this broken world.

With our mouths.

It’s not “we’re right and you’re wrong,” it’s “we’re all wrong and Jesus is the only One who can make things right.”

Missions cannot be over-simplified to “do good.” We must embrace the proclamation of Jesus (with our words) and the establishment of His Church to the ends of the earth. Good works will accompany our proclamation, but they cannot replace it. Let’s make sure that Jesus is “messing up” our missions work.

The Danger of Chasing Happiness

admin —  August 5, 2015 — 2 Comments

I went looking for happiness.

She’s hard to chase down.

I pursued her down many hidden corridors and back alleys, occasionally catching the faint gleams of her beautiful hair blowing in the early morning light.

To no avail.

She was there, and then she was gone. She was there, and then she was… 

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No wait! There she is! A faint silhouette! Her shadow dancing in the soft glow on the stone path ahead. Just over the hill, I see her now. Keep pushing on!

So we climbed. Up, up, up we pushed, the hem of her dress just beyond the reach of my straining fingertips. Feet grinding, stomping, pushing desperately for solid footing to propel me higher and closer to the object of my desire.

Almost there. Almost. There. Almost….


She collapsed beneath the weight of her passionate suitor. I had finally caught her! All those years of manic pursuit had paid off.

I had happiness. I finally had happiness.

I grasped her delicately by the back of her shoulders and slowly spun her graceful figure. I couldn’t wait to stare deeply into those beautiful, fulfilling eyes.

But oh, the horror!

Her face was distorted and mangled, and her eyes glared with a fiery hatred that sent fear deep into the recesses of my soul. I pushed her away in disgust. What is this?!

I pursued happiness, but I caught misery.

As I slowly regained my bearings, I looked back down the path we’d been so manically climbing, There laid the crushed remnants of joy, and friendship, and intimacy, and peace, crumbled beneath my feet as I desperately clambered after the happiness imposter.

You see, happiness is not a pursuit. It’s a byproduct.

Chase her, and you’ll never find her. Chase her, and you’ll find nothing but sorrow.

On the journey toward love, and service, and sacrifice, and adding value to the world – toward walking the path that puts loving God and loving others ahead of loving ourselves – happiness just shows up. She’s cool like that. It’s true. She always comes to hang out when you least expect it.

When you weren’t looking for her at all.

So what are you chasing?

My 13 year old is a drama queen. Yes, in the typical way drama oozes from an adolescent girl, but also in the strictest sense of the term. She loves acting, singing, the stage, all things thespian.

This summer, she attended a week-long drama camp and won the lead role in the end-of-the-week mini-production of Willy Wonka. There’s nothing like seeing your baby girl dressed in a purple velvet suit singing The Candy Man as grade school Oompa Loompa’s dance around her with glee. It was a proud moment, and we watched her stand up a little straighter and walk with a bit more confidence as she received accolades from her camp directors, fellow students, and the audience full of camera-happy parents.

There’s nothing like that first awakening of “hey, I’m pretty good at this, and other people are noticing.” Those are powerful, identity-shaping moments that can change us forever.

In beautiful and in dangerous ways.

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It hit me watching everyone’s favorite summer-time TV show, “America’s Got Talent” last week with the fam. An unknown performer steps nervously to the stage and wows the celebrity judges with a jaw-dropping presentation. The crowd erupts in wild applause and (cue the emotional music) the overwhelmed performer breaks down weeping beneath the mass approval.

It’s great television.

I think part of the reason we love it so much is because we all long for it so much. The way we view ourselves is shaped by how we are viewed by others, by their approval of our talents and abilities. Our identity is in the accolades, and the accolades are in our performance. But performance is a vicious taskmaster.

The truth is, our identity has been secured by the performance of Another. All the standing o’s are already ours because Jesus Christ took the stage on our behalf. And he crushed it (I mean seriously, best performance in a historical drama of all time). And because of what Jesus did, God’s applause is already raining down on you today. The approval you long for you already have when you put your faith in Him. Let that ovation overwhelm you to tears.

Because of Christ, our life performance becomes an act of love, not a frantic search for identity. The stage is yours, but the performance is already done. Find your rest and your identity in His thunderous applause today. He’s ready to give it to you (free of charge).