The Early Heroes

indexThis is part of a series, celebrating those who have cheered me on in the race…

What motivates someone to invest in the life of a teenager? It certainly can’t be a paycheck, as teachers and youth pastors are some of the most underpaid workers in the marketplace. There has to be something of greater significance and purpose for these unsung heroes who give sacrificially to make an investment in the life of a teenager.

For those early “heroes” in my journey of faith, I believe it was their love for God and love for others that motivated them to make an investment in me. Now, at the time, I had no realization what they were doing, but through their investment of time and friendship, they served to lay a solid foundation of faith on which I was able to build upon in my life.

As a teenager, I was incredibly blessed to be part of one of the largest youth programs of its day, Campus After Dark. It had an incredible presence on the local high school campuses and an incredible bunch of youth interns and workers. The youth staff was fun, well liked and cool! We played wacky games, learned about God and served our community. And in my humble opinion, we had one of the best youth pastors in the nation, Mike Maples.

Through Campus After Dark, I learned about character, leadership and life. But it was the relationships that I formed that helped those spiritual truths become reality, as they lived the Christian life in front of me. Two of those stand outs were, Dennis Bennett and Dan McElroy. While I can’t pinpoint the first time I met these guys, they shaped my view of God and their encouragement helped me through the difficult teen years. They took a genuine interest in me. One that went beyond the confines of our youth program. They shared their struggles, their ambitions and what they were learning as a follower of Jesus. They also took me to ballgames, concerts and bought me pizza!

I remember one night when Dennis and I went to a San Francisco Giants game at Candlestick Park. It went extra innings and we got the “Croix de Candlestick” button at the conclusion of the game. As a teenager, that was pretty cool, especially given that it was a school night. Dennis and I also played racquetball together. Those moments of fun, allowed me to hear truth from Dennis, because I knew he wanted the best for me. So when the hard conversations came, I listened, especially when he spoke from his own experience.

It was Dan’s eclectic taste in music that connected us together. But his influence went far beyond music and I will never forget a talk we had right before I headed off to college. His “make it or break it” talk motivated me to go the distance in my Christian faith. In fact, since that talk, the number one hope for my life has been to “finish well” the race that God has called me to. But the immediate application of that talk, was to plug into a church and a Christian group at UC Santa Barbara as soon as I got there. That advice served me well in college, but Dan also made sure I stayed the course in college, often checking in with me, sending me money for pizza and praying for me behind the scenes.

So what’s the purpose in all this? First, it’s an expression of gratitude from a grateful heart and a way to say thanks to God and to those he put in my life. Secondly, it’s a reminder that the Christian life is one that is given away. It is meant to be shared with others. This was Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 28:18-20 when he told us to “go and make disciples of all men” and Paul’s expression in 2 Timothy 2:2, when he told Timothy, “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.” Finally, it’s my way of recalling God’s faithfulness in my life, as I recall His goodness in the land of the living.

So, Dan and Dennis, thank you for making a difference in my life! I am grateful for your influence and for being among the “cloud of witnesses” in my life.

Cloud of Witnesses

cloud of witnessesHebrews 12:1-2, is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. On the heals of what is known as the Hall of Faith, which records a long list of men and women who were “commended for their faith,”the writer exhorts the reader with these words…”Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” The “cloud of witnesses” in this verse, refers back to the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. The imagery I get from this verse is one of a sports event. As believers, we are in a great stadium, surrounded by these men and women who have gone before us and they are the ones in the stands, cheering us on in the race of faith.

As I look back on the last 34 years of my life as a Christian, not only do I have this “cloud of witnesses” surrounding me in the race, but I have also have been blessed to have a physical “cloud of witnesses” who have cheered me on as well. These men and women, who I have known, served with, been blessed by, have greatly encouraged me in the journey. They have prayed for me, equipped me, spoken truth to me, demonstrated God’s love to me and generally lived out the one another commands of Scripture.

So over the coming days, I would like to introduce some of these “cloud of witnesses” to you. These are my heroes of the faith. And I am what I am in large part because of what they did to invest in me.

God’s Grace

ephesians2-8-9I did absolutely nothing to earn my salvation. God orchestrated the steps. He is always swimming upstream.

My journey toward Jesus began with an invitation to attend Thursday Night LIve, a youth ministry of First Baptist Church of San Mateo. A college student was outside my middle school handing out fliers for free root beer floats. That hooked my friends and I, so we decided that we would meet up at the church that night to check this group out.

I almost didn’t go that night. Dinner was unusually late and I was afraid of walking into the meeting without my friends. However, I somehow found the courage to walk into the room and quickly found my friends. I missed about half the meeting, but in the end I got my free root beer float and decided to come back the following week. In fact, I kept coming back because I noticed something different there. The people seemed to have a warm sincerity and genuine love of life.

So God used the program of Thursday Night Live and the youth leaders to begin drawing me to himself.  And later that year I would commit my life to Jesus at a camp that they would invite me to.

Yep, my gift of salvation had nothing to do with me. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t do a thing to prove my love or devotion to God before I could receive it. It was God ordained. God pursued. However, God did use some extraordinary people, who were obedient to his leading and direction to pursue me. People like Doug Patterson who was willing to stand in front of my middle school and hand out fliers about the Thursday Night Live program. And folks like Danny Waller who took an interest in a junior high kid and was bold enough to share God’s plan of salvation with me. As well as the generosity of First Baptist Church of San Mateo and/or an anonymous donor who was willing to scholarship me to camp.

I am forever grateful to God and his grace in my life. And I am forever grateful for those who reflected the love and grace of God to me.

34 Years with Jesus

971432_10151584246129397_1426969184_nAugust 14th will mark my 34th year as a follower of Jesus! I remember that night well. It was a summer night in mid-August at Camp Sugar Pine, just outside of Yosemite National Park.

I was going into high school that fall and had never attended a camp in my life. I couldn’t afford to go to camp, so I didn’t even consider it, when it was mentioned at the youth group. However, someone at the church, decided to make an investment in me and made a way for me to attend high school camp on scholarship! I didn’t quite know what to expect, but God had something great in store for me that week.

It was a great week! One in which I made new friends, had a ton of fun and as a “city boy” enjoyed God’s creation. That week, I also heard of a God who loved me, made a way for me to know him personally, and who had great plans for me. And although I had attended church as a kid, that Thursday night of camp, it all made sense to me and I invited Jesus to come into my life, trusted him to forgive my sins and asked him to take control of my life. I remember that night laying on the roof of the church bus gazing into the sky. I had never seen so many stars in my life and I remember being overwhelmed by the way God was revealing himself to me that night. The message I took away from that camp, was one of hope. I left with a sense that God had great plans for me. And while I didn’t quite understand it at the time, I recall, being overwhelmed by this message of hope and in the reality that I was a new creation in Christ.

As I approach my 34th birthday as a new creation in Christ, I am overwhelmed by the faithfulness of my God. These last 34 years have been an amazing journey. Filled with amazing people who have helped me know God better and serve him well.

In Lamentations 3:21, it is written, “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope.” So in following the wisdom of this verse, I am going to spend the next few weeks recalling. Recalling the faithfulness of God in my life by recalling the people, the places and the things God used to shape me into the man that I am today. I think it’s going to be a great journey. One that I believe will build my faith, develop a greater capacity for gratitude in my heart and enlarge my hope for the future. Yes, this I recall and therefore I have hope. I invite you to follow along on the journey.

Remembering Sandra

Charles & Sandra Capitol Hill 1It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since God, in His infinite wisdom, took our dear friend Sandra, to go and be with Him. At the age of 42, Sandra left behind her husband Charles and their three boys, Michael, Matthew and Christian, after a three-year battle with ALS.

ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease is a terrible disease that attacks brain cells called motor neurons. As the motor neurons are attacked, a person with ALS loses the ability to walk, move, speak and eventually breathe. And there is no known cure. In her early stages with ALS, we didn’t know what was happening to Sandra. All we knew was that something wasn’t right as she found herself beginning to lose the ability to do normal things for no apparent reason. We prayed for miracles, she sought medical advance, she tried acupuncture, but nothing seemed to work. When she was officially diagnosed with ALS, we stood in disbelief, not really understanding the implications of it all. And while God choose not to heal Sandra, this side of heaven, He did answer so many of our prayers along the way.

Through her battle with ALS, Sandra remained strong. Her faith in God was unwavering. She inspired us all. And in the end, she gave us an example of what it means to finish the race of life well.

Sandra was one of the most generous persons I’ve ever met. And today, I find myself reflecting on her life, her faith, her courage, as well as on her love for God and family. She is missed by so many. But we all rejoice knowing that this life is not the end and that one day we will see her again.

Today, I pray for my buddy Charles, who carries on her memory and legacy to their boys, but who also grieves his wife’s absence on the one year anniversary of her passing. If you would like to get a glimpse of this incredible woman, I encourage you to watch her memorial service below. You can also hear my remarks about 40 minutes into the service.

How to Stay Anchored

anchoredKnowing that life is full of up and downs as the waves of life pound our way, here’s three things we need to do in order to stay anchored in Christ…

  1. Know Your Captain – One of the things that causes us to drift from God, is our own worry/fear or indifference. We have a hard time trusting God, so we take things into our own hands or say that we really don’t care. However, it’s our level of faith and understanding of who God is, that will determine how far we’ll drift or the degree to which our faith will be shaken. As it states in Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Therefore, if you want to stay anchored in the midst of life’s storms, you need to get to know the Lord, understand his character and remember his promises.
  2. Know Your Commission – When a yacht or vessel is commissioned, it means it has received and passed a sea trial, whereby a complete and through inspection of the vessel has taken place and determined that it is seaworthy. So a commissioning is the act or ceremony of placing a ship in active service! The same is true in Christ. Once we come into relationship with God…we are commissioned into service (Matthew 28:18-20). Part of knowing our commission, is living out our identify in Christ. Remember, Jesus doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. And because he has called you, he will equip you. As it says in Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You have been commissioned and knowing that commission will help you not to drift.
  3. Know Your Course – Hebrews 12:1 states, “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” What is the course that God has marked out for you? Well the course is part of God’s plan for you. These are the “good works” that Ephesians 2:10 refers to. But if you don’t know the course, you’ll end up never knowing where to go, or how to get there! You’ll drift. In the book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby discusses that if you want to know God’s will, you must respond to His invitation to love Him wholeheartedly. That goes back to knowing your captain! As you get to know your captain and your commission, I believe you’ll discover your game plan. But beware, if you don’t have one, then you will drift!

Anyway

line-1Back in 1968, Kent M. Keith wrote the Paradoxical Commandments as part of a booklet for student leaders. These commandments, as penned by Keith, were rumored to have once hung on the wall of Mother Theresa and inspired a blockbuster song for Martina McBride.

I love the wisdom in these words! For in this life people are going to hurt us, disappoint us, and even betray us. But in those moments of pain or anger, we can rise above the circumstances and choose to love, forgive and extend grace, even if its undeserved. That’s a tough assignment at times, but with God’s help, it is possible. Because, instead of being consumed or paralyzed by what someone thinks or their selfishness behavior, we choose instead to live in the flow of the Spirit, and in doing so, experience love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22-23). So consider these words and don’t let your disappointment in others lock you into an unhappy past, when God has a joyful future for you.

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

Attitude is Everything

attitude_is_everythingAs John Maxwell once said, “Your attitude determines your altitude.” In other words, attitude is everything. In fact, our attitude can be the most important thing in determining our future. The good thing about an attitude, is that it is your choice how you wish to look at life. It is within your control at any moment in your life. So, here’s why a proper attitude matters…

  1. Attitudes Are Contagious – In 1 Cor. 15:33, Paul points out, our attitudes can either have a negative or positive impact on other people. A negative attitude only poisons the well and distracts, derails and depletes others on the team or within the organization. If you’re constantly mixing with people who talk about how lousy life is; you’ll be unconsciously thinking the same because these people form your reality. So be careful about what you allow in your head; these things unconsciously shape your worldview and eventually your attitudes toward life.
  2. You Become What You Think – Believe it or not, your tomorrow is determined by what you are thinking today. Whatever thoughts consume you about your life, will eventually be seen next week or next month or next year. Our emotions are rooted in our thinking, not the other way around. Do you really want to be a bitter, jealous and angry person six months from now? If not, start thinking differently today! I’ve never met a bitter person who was thankful. Or a thankful person who was bitter.
  3. Attitude Is Connected To Productivity – Dr. Jan Stringer from the National Business Research Institute says, “An employee with a positive attitude usually enjoys the work that they do and feels empowered and recognized for their contributions…An employee that is complacent and does not really enjoy their work, but is simply there for a paycheck usually does not produce at a high level, develops a bad attitude and generally drags a team down.”
  4. Attitude Impacts Your Physical Health – Proverbs 14:30 states, “A peaceful heart leads to a healthy body, jealousy is like cancer in the bones.” And science supports what the Bible states. In fact, ABC News reported, “Researchers found that having a positive attitude and a sense of humor could play a role in living a longer, healthier life.”
  5. Attitude Helps You Succeed – The reality is we all face challenges in life, be it a strain in working relationships, or an external challenge that is testing the survivability of your organization. But a positive attitude is always hopeful about solving problems and it allows you to persevere longer than your contemporaries. When others give up, the person with a positive attitude is forced  to be creative in order to achieve their goal. Lots of people can tell me why something isn’t working, but few can tell me how to fix it. People with a winning attitude make themselves part of the solution, instead being part of the problem. As Nick Vujucic has said, “Defeat happens only to those who refuse to try again.”

Resurrection

fastTomorrow we celebrate resurrection! Resurrection is the great announcement of the momentous fact that Christ has finished the work He came to do. Resurrection brings tremendous hope, not only because it proves Jesus’ deity, His power over death, and His victory over Satan, but it’s a grand announcement the each one of us can experience that same resurrection power in Christ. You see, on Easter Sunday, we celebrate the greatest comeback in the history of mankind and we celebrate the hope that is our in Christ!

As some of you know, I dedicated the last 40 days, the season of Lent, to fast from Facebook. In actuality, I never broke the fast on Sundays and really fasted for 46 days. The announcement of my fast was the third most read post in the history of my blog. It generated discussion and it motivated others to consider fasting from it as well. And while that is all great stuff, the greatest thing the fast did, is what it did for me. You see, this Facebook fast sparked in me a sort of resurrection of my heart.

As I said in my announcement, I imagined that I would have more time, more joy, a deeper conviction with God, become more connected to friends, be more present with family and be more content. And all that is true. However, deeper than that, I felt something lift within my spirit, that I haven’t felt for a long time. Perhaps it was the joy and contentment I felt I would experience, but I know it wasn’t a circumstantial feeling. It was much deeper than that. And I remember telling a friend, “I feel alive again” in the very early stages of this fast and wondering if it was simply the entrance of spring or the fast. I choose to give credit to God’s work in my life, as I practiced this spiritual discipline in my life.

This past week, as my son Zach and I were rounding the corner to our home, he asked me if I would continue my fast from Facebook. When I asked why, he stated that he “enjoyed spending that extra time with me” and that “he didn’t want it to end.” And while I didn’t make the promise that my fast would continue, I did promise that my management of Facebook was going to significantly change. You see, while I currently plan to keep my account, my plan is to keep it simply as a tool of communication and significantly limit the amount of time I spend on it. But if I see my moods and behaviors shift, well then I will need to reevaluate this decision all together and perhaps pull the plug for good.

Resurrection gives hope! It signals that we get a new start. It reminds us that the victory is ours in Christ. I am grateful for resurrection. And I am looking forward to relating to Facebook in a new way because of the renewed sense of God’s resurrection power I have experienced in these last 46 days. To God be the glory!

What Would I Have Seen?

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to share a brief devotional, along with an incredible team of teachers, on the events of Palm Sunday, from the perspective of the crowd. Each of us got 5 minutes to unpack Jesus’ journey into Jerusalem. It was a powerful service. Feel free to watch the whole service or just dial in about 34 minutes into the video to catch my part.

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