If there is a God… why does he allow evil things to happen?

exhausted.jpg

I hear this question a lot. I’ve even wrestled with the “why God?” question myself.

This morning, while reading St. James I had a thought about this matter.

Let me show you what I read and then I’ll share the thought:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4 NLT)

So here’s what I thought…

When we ask the “Why does God let this happen?” question we make one or more assumptions:

  1. This life/world is all there is.
  2. I’m as good as I can get.

Let’s break them down.

This life/world is all there is.

The “why God” question works if this life and this world is it… beginning and end. “Why would you let my one shot at life be this awful?” is a fair question if this is all there is.

However, Christians, and other faiths, believe that this life/world is NOT all there is! There is something after this life: experiences to be had, relationships to be enjoyed, and rewards to be received. The opposite of these is true as well. In short, the Scriptures teach us that there is more after this life.

Christians live our lives in this world with the hope that this is NOT all there is! There is more, and that faith helps us navigate suffering, evil, and death. While we grieve and feel pain we are never without hope… because we know there is more.

The pain, suffering, and evil in this world is in direct correlation to the abuse of our free will (but that is a subject for another day). The good news is that regardless of what it looks like here, there is another place… another set of experiences waiting to be had… and that knowledge gives us hope.
This optimism allows us to fully enjoy the good times and courageously navigate the hard times in this world.
And now the second assumption, the one that was highlighted in St. James letter…

I’m as good as I can get.

St. James teaches us that suffering and hard times make us stronger. Anyone who goes to the gym understands this. In fact, we’ve immortalized this idea with a slogan: “No pain, no gain!”

Once again, we see that what is true in the gym is also true in life! Pain makes us stronger… at least it has the potential too if we navigate it well.

For those who say “Why God?” may I suggest that this pain may in fact be your path to a better you? Pain is the flashing light on the dashboard of our lives that finally gets our attention!

C.S. Lewis famously said:

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

As I was processing these thoughts this morning I spent some time journaling and ended with this note:

Suffering, pain, and even evil may actually be the doorway through which we pass into eternal life or a better life.

So, I think that both of these assumptions are wrong: this life/world is all there is, and/or  I am as good as I can be.

I believe, on the other hand that…

This life/world is NOT the end for us. There is something else… so an end here is the first step into there.

I am NOT as good as I can be. I need to get better… and then do it again which means I will need pain and suffering… often delivered in the hands of evil.

If you are in that place… suffering… St. James tells us what to do in the sentences immediately proceeding his instruction on suffering. He writes:

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. (James 1:5-8 NLT)

I hope you’re not suffering, but if you are I hope you give some thought to these two ideas, and then shoot me a note. I’d love to hear from you!

When you’re the best man in the room… go to another room.

gym-etiquette_2101068c1This morning I had a conversation with someone about the value of setting goals.

This person is trying to figure out what goals to set. For all intents and purposes this person is doing well: physically attractive, financially set, intellectually sharp, relationally fulfilled. What else could someone want? Right?

We talked for a while and I began to ask some questions… questions that have me thinking and might be helpful for you to process as well:

  • What happens when you’re the strongest person in the gym?
  • What happens when you’re smartest person in the room?
  • What happens when you’re the best… or at least better than those around you?

Not always, but often, you will begin to stagnate. You will be tempted to settle… because you’re already at the top (as least as far as you can tell).

You may be tempted to pride… after all, you’re stronger, smarter, richer, prettier, funnier, etc. than the rest of your friends so what else is there to do but keep doing what got you there?!

That’s a dangerous place to be!

John Maxwell teaches a principle that goes something like this:

If you’re always the biggest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

I’ve found that when I am surrounded by people who are better than I am, it makes me want to be better! It makes me think deeper, dream bigger, work harder, and stick with it longer!

The gym where I train is filled with strong people! Heck, the women in our gym are stronger than the men in most gyms! There are multiple men who are deadlifting over 600 pounds and squatting well over 500 pounds. Benching 300 pounds at our gym won’t even get you on the “strongest lifters in the gym” board.

In most gyms I’d be considered a pretty strong dude. In Brutal Iron Gym, when I do a heavy lift my buddies look at me and say, “Are you done warming up yet?” (Then they celebrate my lift… because that’s how we roll at BIG).

I like that… I like it because it drives me to work harder and be better!

Being surrounded by people who are better than I am makes me want to be better… and it shows me HOW to be better!

The same is true in every other area of life:

  • I want to be a great husband… so I need to spend time around awesome husbands.
  • I want to handle my money well… so I need to spend time around people who handle their money well.
  • I want to represent Jesus well… so I need to hang out around people who live out their faith consistently and well.
  • I want to be a great dad…
  • I want to be a great leader…
  • I want to be a great communicator…

You get the point.

If you want to be better you can’t always be the best in the room! You’ve got to put yourself in environments where you are surrounded by people who are better than you.

Now here’s an important caveat:

This is not a call for us to self-denigrate! This is not the time to begin private messaging yourself saying “You’re no good” or “You’re never going to be that good”… etc. NOPE! This is the time and place to be inspired… to ask questions… to take notes… to see how those better than you are performing so that you can perform that way too!

So, if you’re not sure what goals to set or how to get unstuck… get around people who are better than you! I think you might just like what happens when you’re not the best person in the room!

Why pastors don’t always preach

 

preacher in a seat

This past weekend I didn’t preach at the church I love!

I LOVE to preach, but I don’t always preach.

Sometimes people wonder why preachers don’t preach every Sunday. They may even wonder what they do when they’re not preaching. Those are fair questions.

Here are the reasons I don’t preach every Sunday:

Family Vacation.

Every preacher/pastor should do this… I mean completely disconnect and pay attention only to your family. (BTW, many business owners would do well to do this too.)

Pastors spend their lives concerned with the lives of other people… that is their calling, and they should do that. However, it is not for no reason that we see pastor’s kids turning rebellious and hating the church. In many cases, it is because their parent (usually the father) paid more attention to the people in the church than he did the people in his family.

At our church, we tell our pastors, “If you’re not leading your home well, you are not qualified to lead our church… so make sure your home is in order.” This comes straight from St. Paul.

Pastor/leader, your family regularly needs to be the focus of your attention without having to compete with phone calls and emails asking for your time and energy elsewhere. Make sure you do it while there is time.

The church needs to hear from other teachers.

If you’re a parent you know this… you can tell your kids something over and over and over… then someone else comes along and says the same thing and your kids go “OH!!! I get it!”

Pastors are responsible to teach and model for the church what God calls us to in the Scripture. They/we do our best, but sometimes a fresh voice with new insight is just what is needed for the church to have that “OH! I get it” moment.

Some pastors hesitate to bring in guest speakers because they are afraid that the speaker might be better than they are! Listen, if you’re that bad people aren’t going to come week after week to listen to you. Besides that, you and I are not the best preachers out there. There’s always someone who is funnier, smarter, more passionate, and more experienced… and the people of your church are probably already listening to them on iTunes!

If you don’t take a break because you’re scared that your replacement might be a better teacher than you then you need to take some time off and do a heart check!

Not preaching gives me time to prepare to preach better sermons.

Carey Nieuwhof is a pastor, thinker, and writer who writes often about current trends in the church. In a recent article he addressed this matter of preachers preaching less. He wrote:

a growing number of preachers are realizing that preparing 52 excellent Sunday messages is increasingly difficult. Personally I’ve cut back from writing 70 messages a year a decade ago to about 35 a year today.

The result? I’m a much better communicator.

What’s creating all this change?

Simple. It’s the wide availability of digital options.

A decade ago, people who attended your church only really ever listened to you. Now they can hear anyone for free.  And they do.

As a result, the local pastor is often being listened to alongside today’s best communicators, and local pastors are opting for quality over quantity.

At some point, quantity and quality compete. And in today’s digital landscape, innovative leaders are opting for quality.

I’ve found that when I teach less, I teach better. Cranking out new material every week is something I love, and I find that when I take a break I am more passionate, clear, and thoughtful when I teach.

Finally…

Pastors do more than preach.

Just because you don’t see your pastor on Sunday doesn’t mean he’s not working! Meetings, weddings, funerals, study, planning, praying, thinking… all of that happens during the week.

Just because he’s not there on Sunday does not mean he/she didn’t put in a full week!

BTW, people who joke that “preachers only work one day a week”… I know they’re trying to be funny, but they don’t understand what St. Paul wrote:

“I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?” (2 Corinthians 11:28-29)

Pastors go to sleep with the people of their church on their mind… and they often wake up with those same people and situations on their mind… praying for them, thinking about them, wondering how they can help….

So what do preachers do when they’re not in church?

I can’t answer for every preacher but I do one of four things:

I visit another church.

Every preacher should do this! We forget what it’s like to visit a church for the first time. We forget what it’s like to be in a place where no one knows your name.

If we want new people to come and feel welcome in our church, then we need to know what it feels like to be a stranger in a church!

I take time to learn something new.

Sometimes a conference runs into a weekend and it requires that the pastor be gone on Sunday.

I speak at another church or conference.

Most pastors have an allotted number of weekends for speaking opportunities outside of their local church.

I do what you do sometimes… sleep in and chill out for the whole day.

Yep. That happens sometimes too!

So that’s why pastors aren’t teaching every Sunday and some insight into what they might be doing.

If you’re a pastor, what would you add to this list?

Making Space

Making Space1

Are you tired? Are you too busy to take a break? Are you so busy that you don’t have time to enjoy your life? Are you stressed out? Do you have unchecked action items on your to-do list at the end of every day? Are you living with no space… no margin in your life?

Richard Swenson wrote a book called Margin that every busy person should read. Seriously!

Swenson says “margin is the amount allowed beyond that which is needed.” Do you have that? A little more time than is needed? A little more money than is needed? A little more strength than is needed? Most of us live so that we need more… never enough… always catching up.

Swenson writes:

Many people commit to a 120% life and wonder why the burden feels so heavy. It is rare to see a life prescheduled to only 80%, leaving a margin for responding to the unexpected that God sends our way.”

Starting on 9/11/16 we are doing a teaching series at Church180 called “Making Space.” We are going to tackle this problem head on. The truth is that most of us live with no margin… no space. Consequently we enjoy God, family, friends, and fulfilling work much less than we could. There are answers. They are simple. Simple, but not necessarily easy.

This series will require each of us to take a hard look at the vision for our lives, our habits, and the daily decisions we make that lead us to a life with no space. We can change this!

I’m excited and convicted as I prepare for this series. I know I have changes that I’m making and I hope you will join me either at church or online as we explore this matter and learn how to “Make Space.”

 

Ten things I love about Church180

I am a deeply fulfilled man. I am a pastor and a personal trainer (in addition to my other roles of man, husband, father). I absolutely love what I get to do every day.

I often tell people that “I love our church!” Today I thought it would be cool to list out some reasons why I love Church180. Here are the top ten things, in no particular order, that I love about our church:i-love-my-church---header

We don’t fake it.

I can’t stand the “Sunday morning best” that we’ve all heard about and pulled off. We put on our “Sunday morning clothes” and “Sunday morning face” and go be fake for an hour… then we get home and back to our “Monday morning self”… which looks totally different.

I love that at Church180 you can be real. No faking allowed. Of course some people still fake it… but that’s only because they haven’t realized yet that only when we quit faking will we discover the truth that God has for us and the love of the church!

There is little to no gossip.

We say this frequently from the stage, “If you are gossiping… please stop. If you cannot stop… please leave.” We mean that too. We want people to be honest about themselves. If I am honest and you start gossiping… I’ll probably not be honest with you again… and that destroys everything we are trying to create.

I rarely hear of gossip as a problem at our church… and I love that!

We aren’t scared to make changes.

From service times to leadership transitions… from stage design to building layouts… things are always changing around here. There is minimal complaint which is another reason I love this church!

People laugh a lot around here.

I can’t recall a Sunday when there wasn’t the sound of laughter ringing through the halls. Time can slip by quickly and if you’re not careful you’ll realize that “it’s been a while since I’ve laughed.” I think it’s hard to show up several weeks in a row at our church without having a laugh sneak out! I love our church for that!

People respond well to tough teaching from Scripture.

We’ve had some tough conversations over the years I’ve been here. You can look back over the series here. We’ve talked about race, sexuality, money, relationships, faith and science, etc.

People respond well to these teachings. Tough questions are asked and solid answers are sought after, and that’s another reason I love our church.

We are realizing our goal of increasing diversity (racial and generational being the two biggies).

From day one we’ve said, “We want to be a place where Sunday looks like Monday.” We’re working hard to make that a reality…and it is coming true. It is becoming common to see different ages and races worshipping together… and that is another reason I love our church!

We honor those who have gone before us while we learn from those who are coming behind us.

We know that our faith has been passed to us by “those who have gone before.” They have taught us and modeled it for us. We honor and love them. We know, however, that if the faith is to be passed to the next generation we must present it (without changing it) in a culturally relevant way… so we are continually listening to the next generation and working to present the Scriptures and our faith in a way that engages them. That’s another reason I love our church.

People are maturing in their relationship with Jesus.

This really is the most important work of the church. It is happening. Men are assuming spiritual leadership in their homes. Women are stepping up and pursuing God-given dreams. I love this! People are embracing spiritual disciplines and maturing in their faith… and I love this about our church.

We are willing to work through problems.

When two or more people get together at some point there will be misunderstandings… arguments… frustrations… etc. We expect that. BUT we also expect that Christians will work through not run from problems! I see that happen at our church… and I’m in love with that part of our church.

I can wear my Converse sneakers!

This sounds shallow… but it’s not. At our church you can come in a suit or t-shirt and shorts. It really comes back around to this… we love it when you are you. Max Lucado wrote something that I have never forgot, “God loves you just like you are, but refuses to leave you that way.” At our church we want people to be real and experience love. We also want them to grow in that love… but that only happens when they choose to be honest first. So… wear your Converse to church! #bereal

There are other things that I love about our church too, but these are some of my favorite.

How about you? What do you love about your church?

Be someone (#plantwhatyouwanttopick)

someoneHere is a sampling of the conversations I had last week with people who are experiencing tough times…

  • A man who survived multiple affairs and is working to put his marriage back together.
  • A lady who is going to die any day now.
  • A dad whose young son has cancer.
  • A man whose wife wants to leave him because he has functioned as a child when she needed a man.
  • A man who is trying to figure out the concept of boundaries.

 

My heart hurts for these men and women. As I listen to them and reflect on their stories I realize a few things:

  • Everyone needs someone who will listen to them.
  • Everyone needs hope.
  • Everyone needs instruction.
  • Everyone needs love.
  • Everyone needs someone

Whether you are trying to die well or live well, at some point you will need someone.

I hope you have someone. I hope you have multiple someones.

If you don’t, can I suggest something that can make all the difference in the world?

Be someone for someone.

Do you ever listen to anyone, or are you the one always talking?

Do you ever help anyone, or are you always the one asking for help?

Do you ever offer to pray for someone, or are you always the one asking for prayer?

If you want these things you must do/be these things! What you plant is what you will pick! If you plant isolation, you will pick loneliness. If you plant anger, you will pick anger. If you plant love… you will pick love.

The good news is that you can plant things that will be good picking later!

Jesus taught us how to do this:

“Do to others as you would like them to do to you.” (Luke 6:31 NLT)

If you want someone to be there for you… then be there for someone! In other words, plant what you want to pick!

When I listened to these stories last week I realized, some of these people have been someone for someone and now, when they need someone there is someone. Others are lonely… struggling… trying to do it alone.

I urge you to start being someone for someone today… because you never know when YOU might need someone.

#plantwhatyouwanttopick

 

4 things I would say to the younger me in the gym

Today I’m working on a project with the owner of Brutal Iron Gym. He is asking the trainers “What advice would you give the younger you in the gym?”

If I had this chance I would say these four things to me…

Remember the tortoise and the hare.

Consistency wins the day. I see this all the time as a trainer… people come in the gym and hit it hard for a few months, or even a year… then they get distracted, tired, hurt, discouraged, busy, or any other excuse… and quit showing up.

When they first start, everyone is watching them thinking… “He’s off to a great start!” “She’s going to be awesome!” Maybe he even participates in a show. Maybe she puts up big numbers quickly… but then “life happens” and before you know it she’s gone. The next time you see her (or him) you wonder “What happened?”

Then there are those people who just quietly show up and do the work every day. They aren’t necessarily blowing up Instagram with selfies… but they are changing who they are from the inside out.

Give it three years and see who has come further… the 6 month freak (aka “The Hare”) or the dude who just kept showing up (aka “The Tortoise”).

If you don’t remember the story… you have to watch this video!

If I could tell my younger gym self anything I would say “Show up. Do the work. Don’t stop.”

HINT: the best way to do this is to put the gym on the calendar! If you treat it like a meeting you will show up. If you try to “squeeze it in” it will get “squeezed out” of your busy life.

The second thing I would say, to myself…

You look and perform like what you eat.

If you eat Little Debbie’s you will look like and perform like a Little Debbie.

The biggest lesson for me these last six years has been the role of food. You can train like a maniac… but if you’re not eating right you’re not going to see or show the results!

I tell my clients all the time:

Working out gives your muscles a REASON to grow. Eating gives them the RESOURCES to grow.

If I could do it again, I would eat like a farm boy (meat, potatoes, and vegetables), drink a lot less pop (soda… or whatever you call it), and eat more meals throughout the day (5-7).

Keep learning.

Whether it’s nutrition, new exercises, improving technique, or developing mental toughness… I would never stop learning.

Every day now I set aside time to read an article or watch a video on something related to nutrition and/or training. It doesn’t have to take long. I actually do it while I am eating one of my six meals.

If you always do what you’ve always done… you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

If you’re not happy with your results… learn something new! Get a trainer! Read a book! Watch a video! Push your limits! Do something every day to keep learning!

Finally, I would say to my younger gym self…

Keep setting goals… and conquering them.

Some of my personal bests have come as a result of training for and participating in Physique Shows. I’ve done three of them to-date. In preparation for these shows, I typically cut 15-30 pounds and get shredded!

The discipline that it takes to stand on the stage and look like that is unbelievable. It is 16-20 weeks of self-denial, hard work, some tears, and lots of tough days. There’s a reason why there are hundreds of people watching and only a few on the stage… because it’s work that few are willing to do. 

BUT… after you’ve done the work and accomplished the goal, you look back and realize, “I can do really hard things!” It’s so empowering to set and accomplish really hard goals!

I would tell my young gym self to set goals, and conquer them.

Don’t just show up… throw some weight around, and go home! Throw weight around with a purpose! Eat with a purpose! Run with a purpose! Stretch with a purpose!

Your goal can be anything you want it to be… just set one… and crush it!!!

So how about you? If you could go back and tell your young gym self some things… what would they be?