Monday, December 15, 2014

2014... A Look Back

Over the past 18 months or so, I have attempted to share a glimpse into my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression.  Lately, I have been hesitant to write much about it, as I certainly do not want to sound like a broken record!  Looking back on this past year, I feel like it might be worth another try, so here goes!

God has walked with me (and my family) through an intensely tough year.  There have been periods in this year that have been peaceful, and even serene, but there have been some very dark points, as well.

In January, one of my closest friends took a turn for the worse in his battle with cancer.  In March, David's battle ended.  I'm so thankful that he is no longer in pain, but the void he left in Austin is HUGE!  It took me months to fully realize the impact that his death had taken on me.  David was my encourager here... he was my pep squad.  At his funeral, I heard that about him from a lot of people.  I was so fortunate to call him my friend.  Almost a year ago today, he and I went to lunch.  He and I had been discussing what I was going to teach at an upcoming overseas youth camp.  I was nervous about sharing my personal story with these students, as I did not want the focus to be on me...  After listening to me talk about it, he stopped me and assured me that he had no doubt that I should share my story at the camp.  Dave was right.  I needed to share, and it opened the door to so many conversations with both teens and adults during that week.  Amazing.  I miss him... a LOT.

I guess the thing that surprised me the most this year was how much some of my relationships with others changed.  Of course, there was the loss of Dave, but 2014 ushered in some relationship changes I had not expected.  As a communication major in college, we learned that all relationships are either in a state of increase, or in a state of decline.  There is no middle ground.  While some relationships have grown over this past year, I have been surprised at a few that have declined this year.  I am just realizing the sense of loss that can occur when this happens.

This year has often been confusing, sad, and lonely.  I guess part of this is the mourning over loss and change.  However, I think that a large part of that has been trying to either handle the emotions myself, or simply trying to ignore them and act like they do not exist.  Neither works.  I must be honest...  there have been times that I have been frustrated with God.  Why did He seem so silent?  Why did He not change hearts or outcomes?  While I still do not have all the answers to those questions, I do know that these things have caused me to more deeply rely on the Lord.  When Satan comes at you with a full frontal (and rear, and side, top, and bottom) spiritual assault, you only have one option... and that is to rely completely on the strength and power of the One who came to save us all... Jesus.  To quote an old hymn, "For without Him, how lost I would be."

I know that there are many out there that struggle with anxiety and depression.  I also know that the lack of affordable counseling, and negative social stigma that it carries often make people keep these issues to themselves.  If that is you, I encourage you to talk to someone...  find someone that can point you in the direction of Godly counsel.  Trying to face these things alone is terrifying.  I just hope that my sharing all of this will be of some benefit to someone else out there.  Just remember... you are NOT alone... even when your every thought tells you that you are.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths." -- Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)

Monday, November 3, 2014

BUSY.... The Great Lie



BUSY... The Great Lie

"I'm just so busy..."  

"I am so busy that I don't have time to..."

"I do not think my life will ever slow down..."

Said one of those things in the past few days?  I know that I certainly have.  In fact, I hear variations of these phrases nearly every day.  We use them as excuses, as explanations, and sometimes we use them as a crutch.  I know this, because I am guilty of all of the above.

The truth is, we ARE too busy.  Our world does not slow down.  In fact, with the invention of the internet, mobile computing, mobile and smart phones, we have a very hard time of disconnecting from work, from media, social obligations, and even other people.  We have a constant barrage of things that are vying for every moment of our attention, 24 hours a day.

The LIE of being a "multitasker"  

Somehow, we have talked ourselves into believing that we are great multi-taskers.  Friends, this is simply not a true statement.  In reality, what we are doing when we "multi-task" is dividing our time and attention among several things.  You may think that you are perfectly capable of watching a television show, reading a story/update on your computer, and having a conversation at the same time, but are you really doing a GOOD JOB with any of those tasks?  Ask your spouse what they think...  their answer might be a bit sobering.  Sure, you might be able to listen to a lecture and take notes at the same time, but that is all involved in the same train of thought.  Divide your attention by two, or three different things, and you become like a computer with too many programs running.  Nothing WORKS the way it is supposed to.  The truth is, we are not MADE to multitask.

You NEED a Sabbath

Many times in the Scripture, you see both God and Jesus talking about taking time to slow down and rest.  We see in Genesis 2:2 that even God rested on the seventh day after creating the earth on the previous 6 days.  God even blessed the seventh day (or Sabbath) and called it holy.  Jesus often took the disciples away from the crowds to "solitary places."  Why is this so important?

You must take time to LISTEN

When we are moving a break-neck speeds through life, we begin to ignore smaller details of the bigger picture.  We again fool ourselves into believing that as long as the "big stuff" (our job, bills are getting paid, kids are getting good grades) is moving along, we are being "successful" in life.  We continue to live in this lie until one of those "big things" breaks down and forces us to pay total attention to it.  What we then find is that we have neglected the small warning signs of relationships or financial trouble, and that causes a massive failure.

We have to take time to stop and LISTEN for the voice of God.  In 1 Kings 19:11-13, we see a vivid reminder of how God often chooses to speak.  Elijah saw a catastrophic wind storm, and earthquake, and a fire, but God was not in those attention-grabbing events.  The voice of the Lord came afterward in a "gentle whisper."  Do not expect to have your most intimate moments with God in a conference, a worship service, or a rally.  We must slow down, get alone... AWAY from DISTRACTIONS, and learn to quite ourselves in His presence.  These times of quite must be of our own making, and they need to occur regularly.  Listen as God redirects your priorities.

Learn to say NO

In order to have the kind of peace that we all long for, we have to FIGHT to keep our lives in balance.  We have to learn to say NO to so many of the "good" things out there, in order to make the GREAT things (those that God has directed you towards) the things you spend your time on.

We ALL need to slow down.  My prayer is that you will find a freshness in your spirit as you do so.  I think you will be amazed at how much you have missed.  We have to LEARN to stop and smell the roses.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

5 Reasons Why You Should Donate Your Phone Rather Than Sell It


It is that time of year again!  If you have not heard yet, the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were announced by Apple yesterday, and will go on sale next week.  For many people, especially here in the United States, this means that it is time to "upgrade" our phones and get the latest model.  Or maybe you're an Android user, and are looking to upgrade to the latest and greatest Phablet phone, which is also coming out this month.  Technology moves us forward!

Many phone companies, electronic stores, Amazon, and even Apple have started programs where they will buy your old phone from you after you upgrade.  Usually, the buyback programs sound great until you hear their "offer" on your smartphone.  Others take to sales options like Craigstlist or Ebay to sell their phones, which can work for you, but offer their own set of obstacles to selling your phone by either charging you fees, or forcing you to meet unknown people in parking lots for the "exchange."  All of those options work, but let me throw one other option at you...

My wife and I work with a lot of missionary families that live overseas.  We have a ministry called Mobiles 4 Missionaries that we started after being with these families overseas.  You see, outside of the US, phones (even used) are quite expensive.  To give you an idea, an iPhone 3 could go for as much as $400-500 in some countries in SE Asia.  A new iPhone, due to exchange rates could cost 30-60% more in other countries, depending on many factors.  Our missionaries have many needs met through their sending organization.  However, most cannot afford a smart phone due to the initial purchase price.


Here are 5 reasons that why donating your old smartphone can help our missionaries:

1.  It helps them stay in touch with FAMILY at home

          Through iMessage, FaceTime, and with iOS8 (soon to be released) these missionaries have
          the ability to text, video chat, and even make phone calls over a wifi connection without having
          to pay for expensive data.  Connection to SUPPORT at home is vital to the success of their
          ministries overseas.

2.  Smartphones open up a whole range of MINISTRY TOOLS and communication with people 
     in the area where these missionaries minister.

          Group texting, apps for sharing your faith across language barriers, photos of Bible studies and
          events, ability to connect to social media at any place and time, etc.  All of these things and
          more are made possible in a mobile way by the use of a smartphone.

3.  Smartphones help SUPPORTERS AT HOME stay up to date on ministry

          Missionaries are busy people, just like those of us here in the States.  One of their tasks as a
          missionary is to keep their supporters at home up to date on what is happening with their
          ministry.  Having the ability to update web pages, post social media updates, send email, etc.
          on the go is a huge help to their ministry.

4.  It gives YOU a way to help missionaries DIRECTLY.

          Usually, when we give to missions, we put a check in an offering plate and let the church,
          mission organization, etc. divide the money up and send it out, as needed.  You rarely get to
          know where your money is being utilized.  With Mobiles 4 Missionaries, you can know that the
          phone you donate will go directly towards helping missionary families do their work, wherever
          they happen to be located in the world.  How cool is that?

5.  These gifts ENCOURAGE our missionaries.

          It may not sound like much to those of us who live in America, but the simple gift of a solid,
          working smartphone is a big deal to these families.  Obviously, it meets a need for them, but
          there is something more valuable than that.  It tells them that there is someone thinking about
          them here at home.  Caring for them in ways like this just feels good for everyone involved!

In just 18 months of our ministry, we have placed 15-20 phones with missionaries all over the globe.  We even sent an iPad to an American pastor/worship leader, working in a Hungarian church in NE Hungary.  We take iPhones, iPads, Android phones, Android tablets, etc.  We will even take phones/tablets with broken screens, etc.  Why?  Because even if we do not place a broken phone with a missionary, we are able to sell them for parts, and use that money to purchase other used phones to send out.  We also take monetary donations.  This is what allowed us to send the iPad to Hungary.  We would love your support!  And rest assured, we do not keep any of the phones or any of the donations.  Everything is used for the ministry.

Here is a link to our ministry's Facebook page:  Mobiles 4 Missionaries on Facebook

Monday, August 18, 2014

YOU... Are Okay...

"You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." -- Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

I need to read this passage from time to time.  The words of Jesus in Matthew must ring louder in my heart than the voices around me that are often nothing more than noise pollution.  You see, even though we know that God does not NEED any of us to accomplish His purposes, the fact remains that He CHOSE us...  imperfect people in constant need of forgiveness...to take the message of Jesus to the world.

Why is that important?  Well, there are quite a few out there that believe that to do actual ministry, YOU need to get out of the way, and see what happens.  Just "let God work" is the method of some out there. This "whatever will be, will be" mentality just does not make sense to me.  I mean, if you hold to this thought process, then should we stop voting?  Should we stop speaking up when the Bible is taught out of context, or incorrectly?  Should we stop doing evangelism?  To take this thought process to it's ultimate end, I guess we would all need to get robes and sit in a quiet place and wait for the world to end.  No thanks...

On the other end of the spectrum are those that teach and believe that we are to work ourselves to death in the name of the church, or religion.  One does not have to go very far to find church and Christian leaders that are so engrossed in church programming, activities, events, community and social activities that they feel like they are "failing" if they are not busy DOING something.  Burnout and discouragement are rampant among these leaders, and for good reason!

Then, there are the self-denial folks, which is honestly just a different way to say legalism.  They set up rules, often for themselves at first, which must be adhered to in order for them to feel "spiritual," or good about themselves.  Any form of ministry, or life for that matter, that does not fit into what they perceive as the "rules of religion" cannot be tolerated, and must be dealt with.  Often times, these regulations become so stringent that they involve food, exercise, church attendance, use of money, time spent doing "God-things," and limiting themselves (often severely) from the things that they truly enjoy doing.  Doesn't sound fun on paper, doesn't sound fun any way you slice it.... These guys were called "Pharisees" in the Bible.

I can write about these examples, because I have been in the church world long enough to have experienced all of these, and have even bought into some of their logic at times in my own life.  All I know is that all of these lifestyles never actually brought me closer to Jesus.  In fact, they did just the opposite.  You see, all of these things, even try to be a "self-denyer," did nothing but bring the focus of my life squarely back to... well, ME.

Now, don't get me wrong here.  I know that the Bible says in John 3:30 that,  "He must increase, but I must decrease.”  I agree that Jesus must take the #1 spot in my heart and in my life.  HE must become my focus.  The problem with all the religious stuff that I talked about earlier is that, most of the time, these things do not cause Jesus to increase in our lives, churches, and cities.  Rather, they cause us to keep our gaze on things that other people have deemed as important.

God has gifted each of us in specific ways.  Some of us have amazing talents in art or 
music, some are great writers, others are great teachers, great orators, or administrators.  God gifts some in ways that are very obvious to the outside world, but He also gifts some of us in ways that might not seem glamorous, but are vitally important.  He gifts some with a heart to serve, hearts full of mercy and compassion, and even some that are given an amazing level of discernment.  All of these gifts are hugely important, and should not ever be overlooked or thought less of.

That being said, there are still many of us who know this, but have become convinced that our own gifting should have to fit into one of the paradigms that I spoke of earlier.  In my own life, I constantly struggle with whether it is okay to actually ENJOY the ministry that I have been given both passion and gifting for.  I know, it sounds crazy when I type it, but it is true!  I even had a church leader once ask me if the main reason I did a particular ministry was because I enjoyed it!  Again, that sounds crazier than my first statement, but after that conversation, I began to struggle with my "motivations" for doing what I do.  Constantly trying to figure out if what I loved could be stuffed into a legalistic box that someone else created.  

Then, a verse that my dad often reminds me of came to mind.  John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."  The verses that I have quoted in this blog today are that voice... the voice of Jesus that drowns out the legalism, hatred, pride, arrogance, and busyness of the world.  Those things are the things that the "thief" (referencing the Devil) brings to destroy our lives, our witness to the world, and our joy.  I have to cling to the part that Jesus says that He has come to give us life to the fullest measure!  HE created me to be who I am, not who someone else wants me to be!

I am a country boy from New Mexico.  I love snow, movies, computers, playing music, and talking about life with others.  I love Jesus.  I want Him to use my abilities and passions to reach others in this world with the love and message of God.  I LOVE my family, and I ADORE my wife.  I LOVE sitting and talking with people.  I do not like doing things just to be doing something.  I like purpose... I like meaning...  I LOVE working with teenagers.  I LOVE working with missionary families.  I LOVE partnering with ministries in other places.  I LOVE sharing with those right here at home.  I am just the way God created me to be.


YOU were created for a purpose.  YOU are who Jesus died for.  YOU are EXACTLY what some part of this world needs.  Do NOT let anyone tell you that you have to BE something that you are not in order to reach others with the message of Jesus.  Stay tuned into Jesus, and let Him open the doors as you walk through this life.  YOU are OKAY... as long as you have Jesus... :)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression Is The Elephant In The Room...

Like many of you, I was shocked and deeply saddened by the passing of Robin Williams in what seems to be an apparent suicide.  This makes me sad for many reasons, as the characters that he played have been a part of life for as long as I can remember.  As a kid, I was such a huge fan of Mork & Mindy, I would put my Luke Skywalker action figure in one of those big plastic eggs that panty hose came in, just so I could pretend he was Mork...flying through space.  If you're too young to remember that show, you really should check it out...  Alladin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, Popeye, Jumanji, Night at the Museum, RV, and those are just my favorites.  He was a man of immense talent, and obvious personal pain.

The morning talk radio shows are already lighting up with thoughts on how this could have been prevented, on how someone that had so much going for them (at least as it appeared from the outside) could get to such a point of desperation that they would take their own life.  These are not new thoughts, they are not new discussions.  These are thoughts that all of us wrestle with when faced with the death of someone we love due to suicide.

These discussions are usually good, but I have already heard some idiocy in several of these discussions.  First, for most of those that struggle with depression, this is not something that you can just will to go away.  Depression is often caused by some chemical imbalances, or other natural issues within a person's body.  It is not something ANYONE chooses to be afflicted with.  It is a life-long struggle that ebbs and flows in both it's severity and duration of symptoms.  Never assume that someone who struggles with depression has "beaten" the problem.  As one who struggles with it personally, that is NOT the way it works.

Secondly, you need to be careful about what you SAY to people that struggle with depression.  No, I'm not telling you to "tip-toe" around someone... I'm just asking you to THINK before you speak.  Let me explain.  For years, depression has been a taboo subject.  Because people (even those who struggle with it) do not understand depression, it becomes the elephant in the room... the thing that we all know is there, but no one wants to acknowledge.  You may have a connection to a person that needs someone to talk to.  Often times, people with depression are ashamed of it, and out of fear will not reveal it to just anyone.  If someone feels like they can open up to you about what they are dealing with, by all means, treat them with care and respect.  If you respond to their pain with something that sounds clich├ęd or uncaring, you will very likely lose that connection right then and there.  NEVER respond with something like "can't you just take a pill?" or "can't you just get over it?"...under ANY circumstance!  Yes, there are avenues for help, but responses like this just make them feel even more ostracized and alone in their fight.

Third, learn to LISTEN.  Too often, we do not take the time to really listen to what hurting people are telling us.  Why?  Well, I think it is because we become so busy in life that we do not take the time to really stop and help those in need.  There are so many out there that need our help, that we become numb and desensitized to the need around us.  Don't believe me?  Think about the number of people you pass each day holding signs asking for help, or the amount of times you sneak past a neighbor or church friend because you just do not want to "deal" with their needs that day.  We are all guilty of it. However, it is hugely important that we learn to HEAR the people that God allows to come into our lives.  We may not be able to meet the needs of the entire world, but we are able to help meet the needs of those that God puts in our path each day.  It's our decision to make...

Over the next few days and weeks, much will be discussed about the warning signs or pleas for help that were missed in Robin Williams' life.  Some might even try to find someone to blame... that is human nature.  However, the truth is that the only real hope for a person with depression, or any other issue, is a real relationship with Jesus Christ.  The love and support from Christians point these folks to that relationship.  You do not have to be a psychologist, you do not have to be a religious scholar... All you need is to have a close enough relationship with Jesus that you can sense His leading when it comes to ministering to hurting people around you.  Love, Listen, and Think as you do ministry through the Holy Spirit.  It's not about you "fixing" anything... it's about being Jesus to the world.

Monday, June 23, 2014

FEAR

What is fear?  Ask any child, and they'll tell you... "it's when I'm afraid."  We fear the dark, we fear the unknown, we fear being alone.  The point is... WE FEAR.

One of the first Bible verses I remember memorizing was 2 Timothy 1:7 -- " For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."  I learned that verse because from a very young age, I struggled with fear.  

It may sound odd to hear that a grown man has fear in his life.  It may even sound lame to hear that a church leader has a propensity towards fear.  The truth is, I am often hit hard by fear.  The enemy (that would be Satan) chooses his attack times carefully, and skillfully.  He knows that I am most vulnerable when I am alone, and likes to capitalize on that fact.  I have long struggled with insomnia, so late at night is when this battle often takes place in my life.  It starts simply enough...a thought about something that is coming up at church, or in the community.  Then, thoughts of every kind come flooding in, thoughts of doubt, anxiety, etc.

I have spoken to my past problems in church work, and those wounds that are still healing, in some of my other postings.  The fear of those things happening again are very real.  I work through some of that thought process nearly every day.  Truthfully, hurtful things happen in church work, and that never really goes away.  You just learn to deal with it as part of the job.  Church leaders fail you, church people fail you, even trusted counselors and advisors fail you.  We are all human, after all.  Each of us fail at some point, it's just that some fail in more catastrophic ways.

One of my biggest fears is failing to do everything that God has called me to do.  I want to be a Godly husband, father, son, brother, friend, and minister to those that God has placed in my life.  That responsibility is great, and I certainly do not want to fail in any of it.  I want to provide for my family's needs in the best way that I can, which often proves to be a challenge in the ministry.  I also deeply feel the call of Matthew 28 to take the name of Jesus to the nations of the world, including this one that I live in right now.  I constantly wrestle with how to approach my part of that task.  Of course, I realize that I cannot save the world...that's up to the Lord.  However, I want to do all I can to be used by God in this effort.  This admittedly self-induced pressure and stress often adds to my feelings of anxiety and fear in this area.

I also fear people walking away or leaving me.  3 months ago, I lost one of my closest friends to cancer.  Dave was one of the two people that God used over the past 2 years to teach me to trust new people again.  We talked together, prayed together, cried together, and did a LOT of laughing together, and even traveled to Thailand together.  Dave knew when to call... he knew when to come by and take me to lunch... he was honestly a gift from God.  His strength in his fight with cancer was unreal.  I often wondered how he had the time and patience to befriend me while he was in such an intense battle of his own.  I replay our last lunch together in my mind a lot.  We were discussing a series of messages that I was preparing to give to a group overseas during Christmas break.  His wisdom and affirmation were just what I needed that day.   And then, not 3 months after that, he was gone.  Why would God allow this friendship to deepen like this, to finally bring me out of my shell again, and then allow this to happen?  Honestly, I still don't have the answer to that question, and I miss him like crazy.

Part of my fear of people leaving me is another part of me that I have discussed before.  I am a "fixer."  I love to help people, plain and simple.  In fact, I thrive on helping people.  I like being able to invest in lives, because it gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Not just because the wonderful "Steve" helped them, but because I feel like God has allowed me to make a difference in some part of a life.  In church ministry, we often develop wonderful relationships with people, and see real progress in their lives.  Often times, that progress moves them on to a new point in life, and away from our lives.  Other times, progress is made, but for unknown reasons that person chooses to move to another church or abandon church altogether.  It is part of what we do in ministry, but that does not make it easy to deal with, and often leaves you feeling alone.

Why write a blog about my fears?  For one thing, it helps me to write about them.  However, the real reason I am writing this is to continue to tear down the misconception that ministers have it all together.  I want others to know that we are just regular people that have been called to a vocation in ministry.  Yes, I know Bible verses about fear.  I've heard sermons, read books, and seen presentations about why we should not fear as Christians.  I know those things, and yet I still struggle with it every day.  Anxiety, fear, and depression are not foreign to most people today, nor were they foreign to people like King David in the Bible.  With God's help, I am working through it each day.  I would appreciate your prayers, and would in turn love to pray for any of you that need it.  Thank you for taking the time to read my words here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Not Gonna Die...

Today marks the one year anniversary of the death of the son of a dear friend in ministry.  His struggle with depression was a deep one, and his life ended way too soon.  We celebrate the fact that he is now with Jesus in heaven, but it is a sobering reminder of the dark world that we live in.  A world where the only light is that of Jesus Christ.

If you are, or have been, in a very dark place in life, you are not alone.  There are millions of people who struggle with depression and anxiety in it's many forms.  The biggest lie that Satan wants you to believe is that you are alone in your struggle.  I struggle with this lie every day of my life.  However, the Lord reminds us in Deut. 31 & Hebrews 13, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  God is with us, even when we may feel hurt or forsaken by people.  However, don't be afraid to reach out to those around you and ask for help.

This song came out during one of the lowest points for me during this past year.  It has become my anthem, and still gives me chills when I hear it.  Skillet Music, thank you for writing this... it has been something to remind me that even though Satan pushes us to just give up, the Lord wants to fight for us... that we will not just lay down and give up.  We must continue to fight for ourselves, and those around us...


Friday, May 9, 2014

The Outcry...

Lately, there have been a lot of news reports, and personal discussions about the kidnapping of the nearly 300 school-aged girls in Nigeria.  It is clearly a story that has captured the hearts and attention of the world.  As a father of two young girls, I can only imagine the grief that these families must be facing right now.  The uncertainty of the situation, and the absolute inhumane nature of this act has outraged millions.  I pray that they find these girls, and are able to return them home safely.  I also pray that the horrible "men" (I put this in quotes, because no real man would harm a child) will be caught and be given the punishment they deserve.  Even Michelle Obama is getting in on this, as she is set to give the radio address to the nation in place of the President later today.  She will be addressing the issue going on in Nigeria.  I applaud the effort of people in this country to help in the search, from our leadership down to the rest of us regular citizens.  It's pretty encouraging.

However... another thought crossed my mind as I sat thinking about the heinous nature of this story.  It was like the Lord posed the question to me in my mind... "Where is the outcry for my defenseless young sons and daughters who are killed every day in this world?"  Yes, I am referencing abortion here...

Now, before you write me off as a wacko conservative and tell me that I'm using this terrible story to jump on a soapbox, I want you to think about a few things.  Our nation will spend millions rallying together to save birds trapped in oil slicks.  We spend millions of dollars every year to protect species of insects, animals, whales, etc. Massive media campaigns are launched to support or expose the views of television personalities, which gain massive media attention.  Our culture in America has become so consumed with what the media tells us that we have forgotten what has made America great for over 200 years.  That we have stood up for the defenseless, when they had no one to fight for them.  The Civil War, Both the World Wars, Korea, Viet Nam, The Gulf War, and Iraqi Freedom...  all fought with the original intent to stand up for the oppressed, and for the downtrodden.  America has never been perfect, and most certainly made mistakes in all of these wars.  However, when the world hurts, Americans are there.  That does not make us better than other nations...  it has just made us different.  Don't think we made a difference in WWII?  Visit Europe... find some French folks that are old enough to remember, and they will tell you about the difference America made to their country.  I could go on, but the point is, we are a nation that was founded on different principles...

These principles, many of which are right out of the Bible, have guided us since our country's inception.  However, in the past 40 years, Americans have decided that truth and honor should be left solely up to the mind of the individual.  What has followed has been a breakdown in every segment of society.  Crime, hatred, school shootings, the "knock-out" game, human sexual trafficking, and an endless obsession with sex have changed America.  The root of this problem is our complete about-face from God.  Years ago, right here in Austin, TX, the battle was waged to remove prayer from schools.  Yep, that happened in Texas.  It has become routine to be in a state of chaos in America.  No one wants to admit it, but based on the history of mankind, humans are pretty good at making a serious mess of the world.

If you are outraged by the situation in Nigeria... and you SHOULD BE... I want you to think about this.  Worldwide, there is a baby aborted (killed) every 2 SECONDS...   Let that sink in...  In the the time it has taken me to write this blog (let's say, 10 minutes), there have been about 300 abortions performed.  In the United States alone, there are approximately 4,400 babies aborted every...single...day...   At that rate, the population of my home town of Clovis, NM (35,000) would be erased in just over a week.  If your neighbors started disappearing at that rate, you would most certainly notice!

Where is the outcry for these little ones?  All of these young lives are equally important in God's sight.  What gives us the right to decide that it is okay for some children to die, but that we should fight for others?  I submit that it is because we have become so focused on our own individual comfort and convenience that we refuse to listen to sound logic.  These beautiful young girls in Nigeria did not choose what has happened to them.  Men decided to force this on them...and that makes me angry!  However, the babies that have died today for being an "inconvenient" consequence of sexual activity did not choose what happened to them, either.

As disciples of Jesus, our heart needs to be broken for this world that we live in.  When you bow your head to pray for these families in Nigeria, remember to pray for the young ladies all over the world that think their only answer is abortion.  Pray that God will give them the hope and support that they need to see that their unborn children will have a good life.  Pray for our leaders, pray for the hearts of the nations to turn to Jesus!  


*If you would like to see more about some of the statistics that I mentioned earlier, you can click on
  this link:  bound4life.com/statistics/

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Restlessness Remains...



I have to confess something.... and I doubt it will be a surprise to anyone that really knows me.  I do not have it all together...  In fact, there are a lot of days that I feel like I'm barely hanging on by a thread.  I have talked before about the pressures of being a pastor (of any variety).  That pressure, which is often self-imposed, can often feel like living in a glass pressure cooker.  Everyone can seemingly see you inside, and you know that at some point the glass is not going to withstand the pressure.  The problem is, most of us do not really know how to get out of the "cooker."

Insecurity runs rampant in the pastoral world.  Some of us bury it deep, some become passive aggressive, or in the case of one pastor I used to know... just become downright mean.  The danger of burying insecurity is that someday, somehow, it will find it's way to the surface again.  It may happen through an all-out breakdown of some area of that pastor's life, or simply result in absolute burnout.

For years, I have bought into the "Pastors should have it all together" lie.  I have tried to be the man that can be counted on when all others may fail.  I have tried to ignore my own emotions and fears to try to appear strong.  However, I have to admit that over the past few months, I have crashed... and crashed hard.  My long-time struggle was finally given a name when a doctor told me that I was, in fact, dealing with depression and anxiety.  Once I came to terms with that fact, many other things began to make sense in my life.  Let me explain...

For as long as I can remember, I have felt a restlessness in my spirit.  It is a feeling that is hard to describe.  Often times, when I have tried to explain it to people, I have been told that I just needed to learn to be "content."  Well, that feeling has not gone away...ever.  When it comes to the "stuff" in my life, I feel pretty content.  I'm okay with the "stuff" God has given me.  I had a pastor tell me once that he thought that I just wanted the biggest and greatest youth room, etc. before I could be happy.  He was wrong.  It is not about stuff at all...  It's about a calling...

When I was in 10th grade, I attended a camp called Centrifuge at Inlow Baptist Camp, in Tajique, NM.  I will never forget the night that God spoke to me in that open-air log built worship building.  He plainly spoke to me about His calling in my life to missions.  To be honest, I was scared to death.  I just knew He was going to send me to the most remote, scary, cannibal tribe in the heart of Africa.  However, I surrendered to that call that night, and finished out camp.

The years started to go by, and I really had no idea what to do with that calling, so I simply tucked it away.  During my years of college, God began to develop a love for teenagers in my life, and I worked each summer with youth in camps all over Texas and New Mexico.  After I graduated and married Amy, God led us to our first youth ministry job.  We have now been serving in that capacity for nearly 16 years now.  We have been a part of several churches, and have experienced some amazing highs, and some devastating lows.  Through it all, God has remained faithful.  And through it all, that restlessness has remained.

In 2005, I began to understand what that restlessness was about.  We took a group from our church to Piedras Negras, Mexico for a mission trip.  I sat in utter amazement as I heard the pastor of that church tell me about what God was doing through their small congregation.  In one of the poorest sections of the city, a church of 80 people were completely supporting and sending out NINE full-time missionaries, both in Mexico, AND the US!  God had provided for this group in ways that boggled my mind.  From vehicles, to amazing land deals, as well a free house for them to live in.  This family and church were completely dependent on the Lord, and God had continued to open up doors for the ministry there.

In late 2010, Amy and I went overseas for the first time.  We went to Budapest, Hungary to host a youth camp for the teenage children of our Southern Baptist missionaries who are serving in Europe and northern Asia.  The moment I stepped off the plane, I understood my restlessness.  God called me  away from New Mexico way back in 1991.  Why it took me 19 years to finally go, I do not know... but I am very glad that we went.  (Kind of feel like Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit, once he was shaken from his comfortable life in the Shire) Since that trip, we have been to the Czech Republic twice, and Chiang Mai, Thailand.  Last summer, we were able to take a team from our church here in Austin back to Hungary to do ministry work with a group there that ministers to teenage orphans in NE Hungary.  My love for the people of Hungary is huge.  The spiritual need there is so great, as are basic physical and emotional needs.  I keep a Hungarian flag hanging in my office as a reminder to pray for the people there, and especially the Christians who are doing such a wonderful job in a very unchurched country.

So, how does my love for other countries and missions tie into my opening line about not having it all together?  Well, the truth is... I still do not have a clear picture of what God is doing with this restlessness in my heart.  We love working with students here in the States, we love being able to share our passion for missions with them.  God has clearly put us in youth ministry all these years for a reason.  So the thing that I struggle with is how to handle this restlessness in my heart.  Trying to figure it all out often becomes exhausting, which feeds right back into my anxiety/depressive tendencies.  It keeps me awake sometimes, often leading to prayer (which is obviously a good thing). However, I should point out that it does not rule my days.  It is just something that is always there... politely reminding me of that calling.

Why write this?  Honestly, it is therapeutic for me to write this all down.  Why share it in an open place like the internet?  Well, because I know that I am not the only person that goes through these emotions and situations.  For too long, I have tried to be that "perfect youth guy" and have failed miserably.  I have even disappointed people, even my family, in this quest for perfection.  I am here to say that I am not perfect... and I fail often...  You may see me and I may not be smiling.  Truthfully, I may not be smiling for a very good reason.  I do not want to be fake in my relationships with others, neither do I want to be a "downer" to people.  I just need you to understand that since I have let go of the "perfect pastor" facade in my life, I am struggling to be a person that simply reflects the heart of God as I live.  I am trying to figure out what role God wants missions to play in my life, and how that impacts life here in Texas.

However, the restlessness still remains.  When I see just how great the need is in the world... needs such as food, clothing, and the kindness of a person to sit and encourage them, it breaks my heart.  I wish I could help them all... but I know that I can not do that by myself.  I would be lying if I said I do not get frustrated with Americans sometimes.  We have so much, we waste so much time and money on so many things that do not matter.  However, I have to realize that for a good portion of my life, I also lived in this blindness to the outside world.  My prayer as I finish writing this is that God would stir up His people... no just to give money, but to roll up your sleeves, and go be His hands and feet.  God will show you where to go... it may be to the far reaches of the world, or just across the street.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

My Own Selfishness... and the Church

I'm struggling with something...  and for a while, I have been trying to pinpoint what it is.  It really all started about three years ago, when I travelled to Hungary.  But, before I rewind to that, I need to explain something about myself first...

I have always enjoyed stuff...  you know, gadgets, computers, guitars, mobile phones, cars, car stereos, you name it...  I have also always had a strange knack for being able to find "deals" and great prices on this kind of "stuff."  So, after years of these "deals," I had managed to gather quite a few guitars, guitar amps, electronic pieces (stereos, etc), and was pretty proud of the fact that I had managed to get it all very cheaply.  While I enjoyed all of the "stuff," I almost felt trapped in not being satisfied with what I had.

Now, jump back to my return from Hungary.  Since then, we have been in the Thailand, the Czech Republic twice, and spent 2 weeks in Hungary a second time.  I have to tell you, the time I have spent in these countries have changed the very fabric of who I am.  I have been at a loss as to how to explain these changes... until recently

I talk about my enjoyment of "stuff."  Here in America, it seems to be our national pastime, collecting things.  Those things are different for all of us, but can range from very large and expensive to small and inexpensive things.  When we moved to Austin three years ago, I was surprised at how much extra "stuff" we had in our house.  Many times, they were items that had not been touched in years, but it was stuff that we could not bring ourselves to part with.  Now, I'm not talking about "hoarder" type stuff... I'm talking about stuff that we had worked hard to buy, and things that society taught us that we "needed."  I mean, we all need a shed full of tools, or a set of fine china, right?

I bought into that line of thought.  I saw nothing wrong with my life... until we started going overseas.  I sat with pastors in Mexico who had nothing, yet were some of the most joyful people I have ever met.  I talked with a taxi driver in Chiang Mai, Thailand whose joy and love overwhelmed me.  I developed friendships with young men and women who had grown up in overcrowded orphanages in Hungary, who had only a few personal items of their own.  I saw their love of life, and even their joy...despite having no real possessions, and in some cases having no family.

I saw people giving selflessly of their own possessions, time, and efforts... to bring the love and hope of Jesus into the lives of those around them.  I saw missionary families spending their lives pouring into these people, praying that God would change these cultures, and continue to save lives.

I remember the first time I returned to the USA after being in Hungary for the first time.  I was absolutely shocked by the culture that I grew up in.  We stepped off the plane in Memphis, TN and walked right by a BBQ place in the airport.  The absolute excesses of America were pictured to me in that place.  Massive piles of food, expensive luggage, expensive clothes, alcohol...it all just made my stomach turn.  How had I grown up here, and not realized just how focused on ourselves we really are here in America?  I thought that question would fade... but it did not.

I think what I am struggling with is selfishness.   My own selfishness haunts me, but what haunts me even more is the selfishness of our entire culture, and yes... that includes our church culture.  While a church in Ukraine prays that they will have wood to heat their church this Sunday, our concern in America is focused on making sure that giant projection system gets installed or the new smoke/lights show works just right, so that we can treat people to the perfect "experience."  We build multi-million dollar facilities, have large conferences, and sell one another books about how to build the "perfect" church.  All the while, our giving (at least as Southern Baptists) to missions continues to decrease at an alarming pace.

We are (including myself) a society that has become focused on the temporary, on the things that sparkle, and we have been deceived.   I see this throughout our culture, and I see it in my own habits. Perusing Amazon, looking at the new technology that has just come out... even though the technology I already own is amazing.  Longing for things I wish I could afford, and feeling sorry for yourself when you know you cannot possibly afford something silly that you "want."  It's silly... and yet, its 'Murican thinking.

I know this is a long...often rambling...post.  I do not want you to think that I believe that it is wrong for America to be blessed.  We ARE blessed, but we are blessed by God... NOT by the work of our own hands.  Just like that famous line from Spider man, "With great power comes great responsibility," we must remember WHERE this all comes from.  Once we do that, we must remember that we do not simply have a responsibility to make America great.  Our responsibility is to make the Name of Jesus great among all nations!

God has changed my thinking on these things...and is changing the way I view ministry, and life in general.  Teaching others to be disciples of Jesus is the most important thing there is for us to do.  My prayer is that we will take a hard look at our own motives for ministry, and that God will align His church to bring about a great revival in the world!  I want to lay my own selfish desires down... but it is a daily struggle!  I would certainly appreciate your prayers!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Bruno, Peppers, and Peanut Butter... Are We OKAY With This?

Tonight, we celebrated our yearly ritual of hanging out with the youth that we work with, while watching "The Big Game."  Sadly, my team decided not to show up, but that's not why I feel the need to write tonight...

Now, let me preface my remarks by saying that my awareness was heightened by the fact that I was in a room filled with teenagers...including my daughters.  Some things really bothered me tonight during the Super Bowl.  This is not a new twist in advertising, but it really bothers me that advertisements during what is billed as a "family event" have become so racy.  I mean seriously, do you really need to turn chocolate and peanut butter into sexual partners?  Do we really need to see David Beckham losing his clothing in yet another desperate ploy to SELL clothing?  That method has never made sense to me...  Just make great commercials without resorting to off-color stuff... is that really so difficult?

However, I think what gave me the most pause was the halftime show.  It has been exactly 10 years since Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction," and after the uproar that caused, I figured that the NFL would keep things pretty G-Rated going forward.  Fast forward to tonight.  I'm not sure who decided that Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers would be a good combination for this show...  I mean, talk about polar opposites in terms of style...  However, working with teenagers, I know that Mars is HUGELY popular among the younger demographic, and would certainly draw in the younger crowd. Maybe the RHCP crew was to try and lure in some of the older crowd.... who knows?  Talent-wise, both of these groups of musicians are INSANELY talented.  Not only can they play and sing well, but they are excellent performers.  So, you ask... what's wrong with that?

As Mars began his set, he jumped into a song called "Locked Out of Heaven," which is an odd pairing of religious terminology used to reference elicit sexual encounters of his own.  Think I'm making that up?  You can read the lyrics here:  Locked Out Of Heaven Lyrics  Many of his songs make pretty overt sexual references, and there seemed to be plenty of hip thrusting and interesting "dancing" during the performance.  Follow that by trotting out one of the most hedonistic bands of the 90's, and you have an interesting show.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers have made millions off of weaving songs together that glamorize sex, drug abuse, you name it.  Here's just an example of one that they sang tonight:  RHCP Lyrics  Their bass player, Flea, has made regular appearances on stage in nothing more than a white sock... seriously.  It is no secret that these artists make no bones about glamorizing the things that God warns us about in the Bible.

What stopped me dead in my tracks tonight was seeing a large group of teenagers gleefully singing those words right along with Mars, and the adults singing along with the Chili Peppers... without even realizing what they were singing about.  We have developed a culture in America that celebrates the ungodly...without understanding the gravity of it.  We validate watching a movie with nudity, foul language, etc. without too much concern.  We buy video games for our kids that let them practice killing gleefully (I am guilty of this, myself), stealing, visiting prostitutes, and worse.  We let our daughters become sexualized before puberty with their clothing, what they listen to and watch, and how we encourage them to focus on their physical beauty above all else.  We let our sons learn about what it means to be a man from television, sports figures, movies, and their peers.  Is it any wonder why our kids struggle so much?  Are we surprised that the majority of teenagers in America say they feel overwhelmed, depressed, and anxious?  We are allowing our kids swim in shark infested waters, and they are not ready for these adult situations at such a young age.

By now, you probably are in one of two camps regarding this blog post.  You've either decided that I'm old fashioned, dumb, or are in denial about the world we live in, etc... OR you are exactly where I am right now... in disbelief and under conviction.  Please understand that I write this not just as a seasoned youth pastor, but as a convicted parent.  I know that our culture is cramming all of this stuff down our throats, but here's the big question...   ARE WE REALLY OKAY WITH THAT?  I am certainly not.  I do not want my 9 and 12 year old daughters to feel like they have to fit into this mold that America has created.  As their father, I know that it is my responsibility to be the watchman and the gatekeeper of our home.  Would I let a dangerous person come waltzing into my home without a fight?  Of course not!

If you understand my meaning in this article, then like me...you must realize that we may have to take some pretty drastic measures to protect our kids from as much danger as we can.  No, I am not advocating that we pull our kids out of society.  My kids go to public school, have non-Christian friends, etc.  However, in helping to guide them along their path toward being a disciple of Jesus, there are some things that deserve close inspection.  The programs they watch, websites they visit, people they spend time with, what they read, and yes...even the music they listen to.  My intent in this blog post is not to cast stones at the bands mentioned above.  I want to point out that we need to guard the hearts and minds of our young ones... because if we do not...  the world will do it for us.  May God guide each of us!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Their Faces Haunt Me...

Each week, I take a morning to get away from the church office, and do some study/work off-site.  Not only does this help keep my mind on what I'm doing (less things to grab at my "work" attention), but it gets me out of the walls of the church and interacting with people.

One of my favorite places to study is at a local Barnes & Noble bookstore.  They have a second floor "loft" area that is filled with books, free wi-fi, and tables and chairs to read/type.  I am a people watcher, so I usually have to position myself in a way that I can stay focused on what I am doing without hiding.... hope that makes sense.  However, even in college, I seem to do my best studying when I am in a more public place with "life noises" going on around me.  I often find myself sharing a study table with other people.  God has granted some great discussions with people during these times.

Today is my study day.  When I arrived, all of my "favorite" spots to study were taken.  I did find a table in a different part of the loft, but in a much more "public" area of the store, near the escalators.  I  always wonder if God sits in amusement as He arranges things that are "out of our norm" like this for me.  Today, I cannot help but notice the faces of those around me.  A young lady fighting sleep, trying to stay focused on some sort of novel she is reading.  An older oriental lady sipping coffee in a big overstuffed chair.  A tall, lanky african-american man with his hood pulled up, hunched over a book that he is obviously enthralled with.  There are store workers busily stocking shelves, talking with customers, and pushing carts about.  However, in the midst of all of this, there is one face that sticks out for some reason.

There is a lady of some type of Indian descent sitting in a large, overstuffed chair across the landing from me.  Dressed in warm clothing with a wooden chair pulled up next to where she is sitting, like a makeshift side table to hold her coffee, breakfast, and several books.  This lady obviously is struggling today.  Not sure if she is suffering from extreme allergies (which is possible since it's Cedar-fever season in Austin), or if she has some type of cold.  She has been here the entire time that I have been sitting here working, going through handkerchiefs, trying to read, but sleeping upright in her chair most of the time.  She is small of stature, and probably in her late 30's.  Just a guess.  Now, before you think I'm sitting here creeping on people...I am only giving this description because of what God keeps telling me through this strangers...  I LOVE these people...  I LOVE them as much as I LOVE you!  These people NEED me!

As I type this, a young, asian man in a backwards ball cap just walked by.  I see college students that look like they just got out of bed, browsing through the stacks of books.  An older balding man in a red sweater sipping on a water bottle, young moms with toddlers jumping about, they are all here.  It is astounding to be reminded of nearly every type of culture and age group in the world while sitting in a bookstore in Texas.

These faces HAUNT me...  I find myself feeling this way more and more when I am out in public.  I was in Prague a few days ago, and there were times that I felt overwhelmed by the fact that there were thousands of people swirling around me that knew nothing about the love of Jesus.  I was surrounded by a LOT of church imagery (statues, cathedrals, etc.), but that imagery was commonplace to the people who live there...they did not grasp the reality of that imagery.

How do we handle these thoughts, as Christians?  Jesus gave us to the task of taking His message to the world in Matthew 28.  That seems like an insurmountable task...  In a world of over 7,000,000,000 people, there are only about 5000 Baptist missionaries on the field.  That is ONE missionary for every 1.4 MILLION people!  Obviously, we cannot leave this task to them alone.

These faces SHOULD haunt every single one of us.   The people of this world can hear the truth of who Jesus is through our (our...meaning the followers of Jesus) interaction with them.  We must be intentional in how we live, in putting ourselves out there to interact with people in this world.  Our neighbors, co-workers, and even strangers in public.  We must show them Jesus in a REAL way...not the crazy guy on the street corner with a bullhorn method...but through our own story.

While deep into my "blog writing," I hear a large crash below on the first floor.  An older lady has knocked over a large stack of boxes near a sales display.  As she struggled to pick up her mess, I saw a young lady approaching her area, obviously headed to the coffee shop downstairs.  I wondered if she would pause to help, or whether she would just keep walking.  I smiled as I saw her stop, and help that lady pick up the boxes.  THAT is where Heaven scratches the pavement.  I do not know if that young lady knows Jesus, but I saw a glimpse of Jesus in that moment.  May I be that glimpse to someone today.

Monday, January 6, 2014

I Feel Radioactive...

I just stepped off of a plane from a week of ministry in the Czech Republic.  I find the effects of working overseas exhilarating, and a shot of life into my soul after such an intense past six months.  I was one of three teaching pastors who went to host a camp for the teenage kids of missionaries all over Europe and northern Asia.

In preparing for my sermons/talks there, I kept having problems getting one of them to come together.  I mean, I had it outlined...but every time I tried to finish it, it never felt quite right.  I have no idea how many times I tried to re-write it.  I had a sense that the Lord wanted me to share my story with this group.  Needless to say, I was pretty reluctant to do so.  So far, I have shared my story with individuals, and through this blog, but that's it.  I am generally a fairly private person when it comes to personal matters...and laying it all out there in front of a group of 100+ people did not sound exciting at all.  After prayer, and some counsel by a good friend...I decided to share about the past 6 years of my life, and about the struggles of the past six months since being diagnosed with depression/anxiety.

During the second night of my teaching, I began with some Bible study, and then spring boarded into my story.  I was terrified of rejection and criticism...which proved to be unfounded, and directly from the enemy.  My prayer had been that it would not be about me in any way, but that my experiences would somehow be an encouragement to someone there.  As I shared, I saw a range of different emotions in the eyes of those listening.  Some were distant, some were understanding, and there were tears in the eyes of some.  It was obvious that I was not alone in my experiences.  My fears had been for naught.

I was absolutely amazed at how many people came to talk with me after the service was over.  For the next 2 days, I talked with countless teenagers and adults who were struggling with these same types of feelings.  Many had never talked to anyone about it, and were so relieved to share with someone.  I pray for these young men and women, as depression is an unrelenting foe.  May God comfort their souls and bring healing about.

Of course, I had one approach me that wasn't completely enthralled with my personal story (I kind of expected some of that), but ended up thanking me for sharing, as some of the teens in their small group opened up that night about their own struggles with depression.  I'll take criticism any day, especially if the end result is a good one!

I am not sharing this with you all so that I can get some type of credit or "glory."  I am sharing this so that maybe some of you out there will be encouraged to share your story with others.  It is very therapeutic to share, even in blog form.

No, I do not have all the answers... I still struggle daily.  My heart is so burdened for these teenagers overseas.  Every time I go to work with them, I feel like I leave a part of me behind when I return home.  However, I know that God has us in Texas for a reason.  We are part of an amazing church, and have a wonderful group of teenagers right here.  I've just been imagining ways to make our youth ministry a world-wide ministry from right here in Austin...  Waiting for God to unveil His plan is the hardest part!  I'm feeling rather "radioactive," as the song talks about...  sometimes I feel like I could explode, but that energy continues to propel me...  Praying for clarity and understanding as we move forward!