2AM Wrestling

“It’s important to remember to silence your phone before getting in bed.” 

That’s what I told myself at 2am this morning. A not important notification chirped me out of sleep. Before looking at the phone, I had guessed it might be about 5. What? And so my mind started. It was the final round in a wrestling match.

This match started two months ago. I can tell you when and why, but that’s not the point of this post. The point is to learn from the match. The match was a mental one involving my talking self, my listening self, and God. If that sounds confusing or you think I need help, stop and read my last blog post.

My listening self actually wanted to talk when I woke up. He started it. And my talking self wasn’t ready to listen. He demanded God to join in. It was exhausting. But guess what? When it was over, not only was this round over but the entire match was over. 

How did that happen? Because I told myself to stop listening to myself. And more importantly, I invited God onto the mat. The result was an answer that can only be explained by knowing God got involved. It was one of those, “How have I not seen this before? This could have saved me from years of wrestling.”

Takeaways from this scenario:

  • Keep wrestling. The winning is in staying in until the final round.
  • Be willing. Answers come to the persistent.
  • Invite God. He’s good for anytime, even 2am.
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Stop Listening to Yourself

I read this quote yesterday from Martin Lloyd-Jones. I’m guessing we all could use this reminder from time to time.

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us!…Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you…The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: “Why are you cast down” -and say to yourself: “Hope in God”-instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do.

*D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 20-21

Understanding Gender Dysphoria (book review)

January 13 I posted my 2018 reading plan. My coach helped me develop it as an answer for personal growth. Apart from that plan, I would have missed an important read.


In my search for a book on the divisive cultural topic of sexuality, I discovered author Mark Yarhouse, a Wheaton College graduate and a psychology professor at Regent University in Virginia. He’s written several books in this field for the Christian audience, so I figured he would be a good choice. He proved me right.

It is important to consider that original sin has corrupted all of existence, including human sexuality and experiences of our gendered selves.

Scripture reminds us that God does not abandon us in our fallen state.

The topic of gender dysphoria is not the same as homosexuality.

This 7-chapter book is graciously written for readers on all sides of the conversation. To assist us all in the conversation, he gives a great explanation for where we could fit in an integrated framework in the dialogue. He divides everyone into one of three groups: integrity, disability, and diversity. These names are lenses through which people often approach the topic of gender identity. Evangelical Christians are drawn to the integrity framework as it emphasizes the sacredness of maleness and femaleness. He encourages learning from all three in order to inform ministry settings and engage the broader culture. I agree.

You may be asking, “So what is gender dysphoria?” If you haven’t already googled it, do so. But then give Yarhouse the opportunity to give you an exhaustive look at the topic. If you are asking “should I read this book,” allow me to answer with the following questions:

  • Are you a church leader who truly wants to engage your community? If so, yes.
  • Are you a therapist? If so, yes. Your specialty field doesn’t matter as much as this subject does.
  • Do you know someone in your family or in your friend’s family who struggles with sexuality questions? If so, yes.
  • Do you struggle with giving grace to others outside your belief system but wish you didn’t? If so, yes.

Christians can benefit from valuing and speaking into the sacredness found in the integrity framework, the compassion we witness in the disability framework, and the identity and community considerations we see in the diversity framework. No one framework in isolation will provide a sufficient response or a comprehensive Christian model of pastoral care or cultural engagement.

For everyone’s sake, consider reading this book.

The Autonomy Problem

(For regular readers of this blog, this entry will not be like others. It is not indicative of future entries. Allow me this one and done, please. For first-timers, you’re welcome to follow along for future posts with the same expectations.)

I am a Christian. My father was an Independent Baptist minister (to be clear, that didn’t make me a Christian; that choice was my own). For all 50 years of my life, I’ve been a member of Baptist churches-the first 25 in Independent Baptist (IB) churches, the second 25 in Southern Baptist (SB) churches. At age 29, I took my first church staff position. In these last 21 years, I have served three SB churches in associate minister roles. These churches have varied in weekly attendance from 60 to 1,600. Over my lifetime, my church experiences have included seven IB and SB churches in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Much like being blessed to be an American, I have been blessed God has granted me this history.

Recent SB news hasn’t been pretty; that’s being nice (to be clear, I will not be including links to any news stories or responses from others in this post. Google is your friend). My pastor tweeted this week that he is “heartbroken over the tragic events in our SBC family.” I haven’t asked him this question, but I’m pretty sure if asked if this is the first time his church experience has broken his heart, he’d say no. That’s my answer. Chances are, that’s the majority’s answer. Why is that?

The exhaustive answer to that question would take a series of blogs. I’m only in for one post, remember? So I’m going to zero in on just one, which was actually brought up in a response to my pastor’s tweet. And it’s been an answer for me since I was 12 years old. The answer to why my heart has continued to go through a cycle of being broken and mended is autonomy.

So we’re all working with the same understanding, autonomy is defined as self-governing, free from external control or influence, independent. All IB and SB churches exist under this theological conviction. Is it the right or wrong conviction, some are asking? My answer is, that’s the wrong question. The conviction has been chosen. Frankly, if you don’t like the conviction, consider other churches that have another conviction. The better question I raise is this: how can every Baptist church improve its autonomous state?

It’s easy to point fingers at the other guy, the other church, the other president or professor or minister like you’re the Monday morning quarterback who knows how they could have been held in check. Before we do that, let’s take our eyes off the news and our mobile devices and consider how our local autonomy is going. That starts in every church member’s heart, then moves to their home, and then to their church. Why? Because we all are bent toward autonomy. We all desire to be self-governing, free from external control, and independent. That’s a problem. I know it is for me. Chances are, it is for you also.

Start there. With you. Then your household. Then your church. Ask yourself better questions. 

  • How much is God in charge?
  • How dependent am I on God?
  • Where am I allowing other Christians to speak into my life?
  • How should we best keep each other in check?
  • Where am I tempted to be independent from God and others? How could I address that problem of autonomy?
  • How open am I to accountability in all arenas of my life? How can I establish it?

Scripture tells us to guard our hearts. I believe we need to avoid more broken hearts by guarding them against the autonomy problem.

This is my opinion, one answer to why. I understand the autonomy of one person’s blog. Feel free to offer accountability.

Get to the Doctor!

Psalm 19 is full, rich, and worth meditation. Verses 12-13 jumped out at me this morning.

Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults. Moreover, keep your servant from willful sins; do not let them rule me.

Did you notice the two types of sin he acknowledges? Unintentional and willful. That’s worth chewing on.

We all have a pretty good idea what our willful sins are, if we are honest. Many of them start with our tongue: slandering, gossiping, lying, or stretching the truth for our benefit. Others stay hidden from others in our minds and hearts, but they aren’t hidden to us. These types of sin are easy to address because we are aware of them.

But what about those unintentional sins? How are we supposed to address or acknowledge what we can’t see? 

May I suggest thinking of these sins as blind spots. If you were experiencing strange spots in your vision, what would you do? You’d probably go to the doctor, right? Because of his experience and knowledge, he could explain to you why your vision is spotty. 

What if the difficulty in your emotional/mental/spiritual life is hidden from your view? If you knew what it was or how to address it, you would do it, right? So when we can’t figure it out on our own, we have options similar like going to the eye doctor:

  • Pray these two verses
  • See a counselor or therapist
  • Go to church
  • Lean on a friend/mentor
  • Get connected to a small group

These are just a start. I would say that they could/should also be moved from optional status to non-optional status. If we want to stay clear of experiencing blind spots, ongoing connection with others desiring the same thing is the best place to be. Don’t wait for the blind spots to rise. Expect them. Position yourself in places where they can be seen, and you can receive the answers you cannot see for yourself. Get to the doctor!

The Butterfly Effect, according to an 8th grader

Amalia is her name. She hadn’t really thought about the story she was telling, until she was asked. At least that’s what she said. But when she started answering, she voiced an important story. The story is found in her drawing.


Amalia said the story is about a broken girl who made a choice that has made her “unfixable.” She summed it up by her definition of the butterfly effect. I had my definition of that term, but I wanted to know hers. So I asked. And she answered, “One choice you choose can change everything in your life.” She’s certainly right.

Amalia didn’t know because we just met today, but I’ve been thinking along those lines a bit lately. My thoughts have been less about life-altering decisions and more about day-to-day decisions, which of course can lead to life-altering ones. All your “yeses” mean something to you, about you. Every “no” speaks to who you are and what you value. And each of both of those impact everyone in your world. Like it or not, they leave a wake that is its own butterfly effect.

Thank you, Amalia, for this visual reminder. To hear our full conversation about this drawing , visit https://www.facebook.com/firstpassage/

Didn’t See That Coming

In my experience, if you ask God a curious “I want what you want” question, he is happy to reply. And he often surprises you with his answer. And I believe he enjoys whispering to your heart, “Bet you didn’t see that coming.”

When I opened the winter issue of Facts and Trends a few months ago, I read about an Arkansas church that has a unique approach to engaging their community through the arts. The Article (see pages 16-19) describes their intentionality of establishing an art gallery in their new building as an avenue to connect worship and community. After reading it, I had a “Hmmmm…” moment. 

That moment was a connection between the answer to an earlier question (see It Started With a Question) and another question, “Where could this go?” The connection was the expansion of a one-time showing of work from Ballard students to an ongoing gallery that involved all facets of our community. No, I didn’t see that coming.

So I did two things. I called the church in Arkansas. Then I visited the Arts Center. Between those two things, we felt equipped and eager to follow what God seemed to be up to. Long story short, we now have a gallery that will continue to go after wanting what God wants. And pretty much all I can say is, “God did this.”

How might you incorporate curiosity into your prayer life?

What area of your life needs a “I want what you want” attitude adjustment?

When’s the last time you could only answer, “All I can say is, ‘God did this'”? What if you prayed for it to happen again?

How might you prepare to receive what you don’t see coming?

Shout Out to Miami

This time last weekend, these lovely people were together in Miami.


We left Friday 9am, returned Sunday 6pm. Our mission for the weekend was to serve two ministry partners, City Church and Florida Baptist Children’s Homes. 


Friday afternoon Pastor Tommy gave us a tour of City Church’s facility, where we prayed for them and their work before heading over to Miracle Mile to engage the community to introduce people to this new church opportunity in their neighborhood. 

Saturday we spent most of the day at the Miami campus of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes where we provided lunch, talked with the house parents and kids, and assisted in cleaning up. What a memorable visit!

Here are a few of our takeaways from this weekend mission trip to minister to our southern Floridians:

  • They are open to an invitation to church
  • They recognize how impactful faith can be in their lives
  • Having a pastor who is committed to making roots in a community is needed and has potential for long-term impact
  • Churches of all languages are needed in South Florida
  • We have an obligation to continue to embrace foster children and those ministering to them
  • Immediate response to a spoken need goes a long way in showing you heard them, you are for them, and so is God

We see you, Miami! 

Children of Jihad (book review)

The library is my friend. These days it’s because of the audio books available there-“there” meaning the Manatee Central Library just blocks from the church office.

My routine so far this year has been to get an audio book, listen to it while driving around town, return it as soon as I’m done and immediately get a new one. In selecting a new one, I am content to take the first one that grabs my attention. 

The last one to grab my attention was entitled Children of Jihad. I’m guessing it got my attention because of my recent travels to the Middle East. This writer, Jared Cohen, had travelled there-much more deeply than I had or probably will and for completely different reasons. The cd jacket cover said Cohen’s reason was to try to understand the spread of radical Islamic violence by researching Muslim youth. Attention grabbed.

Published in 2007, this book recounts Cohen’s travels for a few years starting in 2004. Cohen was 23, a Rhodes scholar wanting to learn about global affairs by witnessing them firsthand. His travels took him through Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. He visited villages, cities, universities, and even unknowingly drove through the heart of an insurgency war zone landing him in Mosul.

His tales are mind blowing, mind shifting, and even mind altering. He reveals a perspective that only comes from firsthand encounters and perspectives. He challenges, like any good journalist, both sides of the story. In this case, the one side of the story includes the locals he met while the other side includes those back at Oxford and in his home state of Connecticut. 

Again, I haven’t travelled like Cohen. My encounters in the Arab community have been in the bubble of ministry here in the States and in one country where Cohen didn’t include his research. But I agree with his assessment. We don’t have all the story if all we know is what we see on American news. We are not being respectful to the citizens of the Middle East and their relatives around the world when we lump them all under the same profile. We should lower ourselves and engage them to really appreciate their personal story and to respect them as we respect ourselves.

This book will cause you to pause. To rethink. To revisit. Maybe even to confess. If you care to do such developmental work, Children of Jihad can be a tool for you.

It Started With a Question

The question came last summer. I was searching for something. But it wasn’t really for me. And maybe that’s why the answer was so good.

My job as assistant pastor at a church is not normal. (Everyone said, “Amen!”) No need to get into all the possible answers to the wrong question here, so suffice it to say my job makes me ask myself a lot of questions. Last summer I asked the same question I’ve asked myself for several summers; but I was looking for something different, something deeper. And that’s why the core question I was really asking was this: “How can we go deeper?”

“We” referred to our church. “Go deeper” referred to our relationship with our ministry partner, Ballard Elementary School. This relationship has existed for five or so years. It’s very healthy, even admired by other churches and schools in our county. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need evaluating and tweaking and improving. So to do these three things, we ask questions.

This time I got an answer that I hadn’t received before. Looking back, I believe the answer came because we weren’t asking how to improve an existing program but opening the question up by looking for other options, avenues, and pathways yet unexplored. The answer was revealing, refreshing, and certainly unexplored. That answer was, “What about connecting with the art teacher?” I dove in.

Long story short, we met and now are walking a path that is unlike anything either have experienced before. Students and their families are creating lifelong memories because an assistant pastor and an art teacher are collaborating on their behalf. And this collaboration has opened the door to a whole new ministry of the church in the form of an art gallery. Didn’t see that coming (more on that in an upcoming blog)!

But how can you see something coming when you don’t ask the question? 

How can you expect a different result when you keep asking the same question? 

How can go you deeper when you only ask questions about the surface? 

What could start in your corner of the world by asking the right question? 

What if you started by asking, “How can we go deeper?”