Wednesday, July 28, 2021

On Athletes, Anxiety, And What We Are Doing To Our Children

Almost every athlete who has played at any competitive level has experienced what is often called "the yips" (apologies to Ted Lasso). These days, we call the yips a "mental health" issue, and while Simone Biles is the most current and high-profile example, what I have to say isn't really about her.

In fairness to Simone, gymnastics is a unique sport. A soccer player or golfer with high levels of anxiety (or other mental health struggles) might play poorly, make a bad pass, or miss a putt. A gymnast could seriously injure himself if he's not in a state of mental clarity. A four-foot putt is very different than a backflip on the balance beam.

My question, rather than being about the 2021 Olympic gymnastics competition, is much broader. What has happened over the last five years (or more) to create this environment in which so many world-class athletes are so drastically underperforming? On a wider scale, what is happening to our children? Why is anxiety at an all-time high? Why are suicides drastically on the rise?

Of course, the common narrative (not just in athletics, but everywhere) has been that the past five years, and especially the past two, have been incredibly traumatic for many different reasons. I want to spin some of those reasons in a slightly different direction.

The election of Donald Trump was not traumatic, but the reaction to his election was trauma-inducing.

*The onset of COVID-19 was not traumatic, but the reaction to its spread was trauma-inducing.

The killing of George Floyd was not traumatic (to the general public and those who did not know him), but the reaction to George Floyd's murder was trauma-inducing.

The violence of January 6 was not traumatic (to those who were not directly impacted, and within the global context of protest violence over the past decade), but the reaction to January 6 was trauma-inducing.

In comparison, the events of 9/11 were not traumatic (again to those who were not directly impacted), and the reaction to 9/11 was not trauma-inducing. What was the difference?

The constant drumbeat of fear, catastrophe, doom, and unprecedented horror along with the expectation that anyone with a platform will be an outspoken advocate for the social issue du jour, has placed young, prominent athletes in an untenable position. 

Kids today (not just athletes) are overwhelmed with the seriousness of life. They are terrified about climate change, white supremacy, and unmasked or unvaccinated people. Even worse, they are consistently aware of the possibility that they might accidentally misgender someone. They know that being on the wrong side of any of these issues will have dire social consequences. They are filled with guilt and shame because of their nation's past sins and don't know where or how to find redemption.

It's time for everyone to dial down their own rhetoric, turn off the national "news" broadcasts, and block the blue-checks on social media. We need to stop cowering in fear, worshipping the false god of safety, and turning every issue into a crusade. 

It's time to recognize that bad people still exist and always will. Those bad people will do bad things. But the actions and choices of individuals are neither reflective nor representative of others who may look like them, talk like them, vote like them, worship like them, or be from the same place as them.

We can find a middle ground on how to handle COVID.

We can find a middle ground on how to stamp out racism.

We can find a middle ground on how to move forward after a divisive election.

Step number one to finding a middle ground on any of these issues is realizing that none of these issues should dominate our lives. These are all serious issues with significant impact, but none of them are so important that our kids should kill themselves because of how we've reacted to them.

We need to embrace adventure, complete with the danger it brings. We need to exemplify hard work and pushing through difficulty, especially when the next step looks and feels impossible. We need to put down the broad brushes we use to paint others into the corner and start listening for understanding. We need to laugh more, embrace silly fun, and recognize that disagreements don't have to lead to division. 

Life is hard. We don't need to make it harder.

We can't always control what happens, but we can always control how we respond.

We need not leverage every unfortunate event into an opportunity to proclaim doom and gloom. The world will not end because our favorite cause fails. Let's teach our kids that peace and hope are not dependent on what happens to us or what others do. Peace and hope are the results of our CHOICES and our RESPONSES to whatever life throws our way.

Choose to breathe. Choose to relax. Choose to love. Choose to listen.



*Nothing kills communication more quickly than choosing to read the words of another in a way you know they didn't mean them. I trust that the readers of these thoughts are capable of understanding that general statements almost always have exceptions. I did not spend the time to mention or list every exception to the general truths I espoused here, not will I engage in arguments with those who prefer to nitpick with exceptions rather than engage the general concepts.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Be a STONE, not a Brick (Sermon Leftovers from Genesis 11)

Genesis 11:3 says that the people of Babel built with bricks instead of stones. While this is not the main point (or perhaps even an important point), the contrast between bricks and stones is interesting.

Bricks are man-made, while stones were made by God.

Every one of us has a God-given purpose in life. When we pursue that purpose, we discover life as it was meant to be. When we choose to chase after our own purposes and desires, we eventually discover that they leave us empty and unfulfilled.

Bricks are not unique.

Every brick looks exactly the same because they are mass-produced. Stones are all unique, no two stones are ever the same. God did not create you so that you could look like everyone else. His desire for you is not that you be "one of the crowd" or that you be a nameless face in the crowd. Don't compromise so that you will fit in. Be the person God created you to be, even if (especially if) that makes you stand out.

Bricks are replaceable.

If a brick is damaged or unusable, it can easily be discarded and replaced by another. A brick-shaped hole is easily filled. Stones cannot be replaced because every stone leaves a different-shaped hole. It is a hole that no other stone can fill. If you do not play the role God created you to play, no one else can take your place. He created you and gave you gifts so that you could accomplish the specific task he has for you.

1 Peter 2:5 says, "you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ."

God is building His kingdom, one living stone at a time. He is not looking for those who are conformed and look exactly like everyone else. He wants those who have been transformed by His Spirit, who have embraced the uniqueness He created, and who are ready and willing to use their gifts in His service.

Monday, March 1, 2021

10 Sermon Leftovers from Genesis 6. No Nephilim Though.

On Sunday, I preached from Genesis 6. Although this passage is famous because of its reference to the NEPHILIM, I am not mentioning them here. They aren't really the point, so I won't really use up the bandwidth.


Some Christian beliefs do not make sense to the world. The resurrection is our central truth.

Everything that looks good is not good for you.

You do not need to take everything you want.

Satan's plan is always to counterfeit and corrupt God's good creation.

God's people are to live in the world but look different from the world so that they can influence the world for good.

God's people are to influence the world, but not to partner with the world.

Everyone wants to live in a world where evil is judged justly.

God's judgment of evil is also usually the preservation of His plan and protection for His people.

If the focus of your life is the evil of the world, you will either wallow in despair or well up with pride.

If the focus of your life is the goodness of God, you will experience the peace, contentment, and joy He offers.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

5 Daily Habits to Help You Follow Jesus


Yesterday at The Gathering, I talked about "Following Jesus." At the end of our time, I told you that deciding to follow Him is one of the most important decisions you can ever make. This email is a short follow-up from that message.
Below are five practical things you can do every day to help you follow Jesus. Just as you have daily habits which sustain your physical life (breathing, eating, moving, etc.), these are spiritual habits which will sustain your relationship with Jesus. Please take a moment and consider whether or not these five simple activities might make a difference in your life this week (and beyond).

FIVE DAILY HABITS TO HELP YOU FOLLOW JESUS

  1. Get Inspired
  2. Give Something Away
  3. Connect With Other Christians
  4. Make an Eternal impact
  5. Celebrate God's Gifts

Get Inspired

Spending a few minutes reading God's Word is the best possible way to start your day. Whether you take 10 minutes or a full hour, time in God's Word empowers you to know Jesus and follow more closely. If you aren't sure how to start, try using the SOAP method to study your Bible (choose any book of the Bible to start. John and James are good one. So is Mark!):
Set aside time every day to study the Bible. As you become more proficient, you may want to set aside more time. Don’t overload yourself in the beginning. Keep a “SOAP” journal because there will be an opportunity to write your thoughts everyday (you can use a word processor, journalling app or the Bible App from YouVersion).
S – SCRIPTURE: Read your chosen scripture passage aloud so you can hear it. Begin by writing every word of the scripture in your journal. Both reading it aloud and writing it will help put the scripture in your mind and heart.
O – OBSERVATION: Ask yourself the question, “What does this passage teach about God's character?” As you ask yourself the question, your mind will be full of thoughts. Write those thoughts down. Try not to focus on yourself right now, keep your mind on what you can learn about your God and Jesus.
A – APPLICATION: Ask yourself the question, “How does this scripture apply to my life?” Look for promises to claim, attitudes to change, challenges to accept, sins to confess, commands to obey, actions to take, examples to follow, or skills to learn. Write in your journal how the scripture applies to you and to your life situations.
P – PRAYER: Write a prayer to God. Depending on what you have observed, your prayer might be one of praise and thanksgiving or a prayer asking God to help you apply the teaching to your life. You might feel compelled to write a prayer of confession. This is your prayer to God. The discipline of writing your prayer is important piece of connecting with God.

Give Something Away

Following Jesus means giving like He gave. He gave His entire life away for us. When we give things away, we are loving like Jesus did.
Try to give one thing away every day. It may be a small thing or a large thing. It may not cost you much or it may cost you little. Whether you are giving away possessions, money, time or attention; developing generosity is an important step on the road to Christ-likeness.

Connect With Other Christians

Jesus called 12 apostles to follow Him so that after He left they would still have one another. The Bible says much about how we can help one another to grow closer to Jesus. We are to encourage one another, bear one another's burdens, pray for one another, teach one another and more.
Find a way to connect with at least one other Christian at least once every day. You might sent each other emails with Bible verses or encouraging text messages. You might grab coffee together with 2 or 3 others or you might spend a few minutes on the phone. At least once a week, try to connect with a larger group (like a LIFEgroup) for prayer, discussion and encouragement.
As Hebrews says, "Don't neglect assembling together..."

Make an Eternal Impact

I mentioned on Sunday that Jesus' followers always talk about Him. You can make an eternal impact on those around you by pointing them to God. Every conversation you have doesn't need to be a religious debate, but as you get to know people they should see your love for Jesus through the conversations you have.
Try, at least once a day, to say something to someone about your faith. You can tell them how God has blessed you, you can tell them about a verse you read, you can tell them about a neat experience you had at church, you can talk about something you heard in the sermon or you can tell them about your favorite worship song. Somehow, find a way to talk about Jesus every day.

Celebrate God's Gifts

Don't go to bed without saying "thank you." As you lay down at night, spend a few moments to be grateful to God for all He's done for you. Before you sleep, consider how God's hand was providing for you and protecting you all day long.

Stephen Covey said, "We make our habits and then our habits make us." Commit yourself to these daily habits and you will be surprised how they change your outlook and your life. Following Jesus makes all things new because when we follow Him, He changes us from the inside out.

Grateful People Have Selective Memories

PHILIPPIANS 1:3
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

Paul's time in Philippi wasn't exactly a vacation at the beach or a walk in the park. You can read all the details in Acts 16, but among other things, he had to deal with a heckler, he and his friends got beaten up, and he was even thrown in jail.


Yet, in Philippians 1:3, Paul wrote that he was thankful every time he remembered the people who lived in Philippi. Was he thankful for all the bad times? (not that he shouldn't be as God helps us grown in difficult circumstances) Actually, verses 4-5 clue us in as to why he was grateful.

PHILIPPIANS 1:4-5
always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Paul was grateful for the good times. He had warm memories of partnering with the Philippians to see the Gospel spread throughout their time. He was thankful for the support they had given as He proclaimed the truth.

GRATEFUL PEOPLE HAVE SELECTIVE MEMORIES.

You can choose which memories you dwell on. Only you can decide which story from the past you will play on repeat in your mind. If you choose to focus on the worst of times and the worst of people, you'll be depressed, bitter, and tough to live with.

If you choose to focus on the blessings and the blessed people, you'll be grateful, hopeful, and a joy to be around.

What will you put on your memory playlist today?

This $5 journal will change your life!





Wednesday, December 30, 2020

My Drawer Runneth Over

I like t-shirts. I especially like shirts with logos of my favorite sports teams. I also have a problem getting rid of old t-shirts. Earlier this week, I put on a shirt that I calculated to be at least 10 years old. As a result of my inability to let go, my shirt drawer is overflowing with Spartan, Tiger, Red Wing, Lions, Liverpool, Warrior, Trojan, and Bruin shirts.

Let me be clear. My drawer is not overflowing because of any one shirt. It is overflowing because I have SO MANY shirts.

Ephesians 5:20 says, "giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ"

The keywords here are "everything" and "always".

Colossians 2:7 is a parallel passage. Here Paul is encouraging a group of Christians to live consistently with their roots in Jesus' example and teaching. This is accomplished, according to Paul, by "overflowing with thankfulness." Saying, "thank you" every so often is nice, but a quick prayer of thanksgiving once a day is hardly "overflowing."


Causing anything to overflow requires filling it with more than it can handle. If you want to overflow with thanksgiving, you must FILL your life with more gratitude than you can handle. This means being thankful even when you don't feel like it.

  • Begin your day by giving thanks (you can start by thanking God that He woke you up). 
  • At various points throughout the day (meals), give thanks. 
  • At the conclusion of your day, give thanks. 
  • When things go well, give thanks. 
  • When others treat you with kindness, give thanks. 
  • When things go poorly, give thanks that they aren't worse. 
  • When others treat you with malice, give thanks that you are being treated like Jesus was. 

You can always find something for which to be grateful. The more you thank God, the more you'll be rooted in His Son.





Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Use the 10 Commandments as a Template for Gratitude

Gratitude is a powerful tool for fighting anxiety, fear, and selfishness. It also promotes contentment, generosity, peace, and trust. I am always looking for new methods to develop more gratitude in my life. Here is an idea I have to use the 10 commandments as a jumping-off point for gratitude. Consider praying through these commands and using each one to express thanksgiving to God.



1. Have no other gods before Me.

Thank you for being all-powerful, all-present, always in control, and still caring about me.

2. Make no false idols.

Thank you for being everything I need so that I never need to look elsewhere for provision.

3. Do not take the name of the LORD in vain.

Thank you for the privilege of calling on your name through prayer. Thank you for hearing my prayers.

4. Remember the Sabbath.

Thank you for all of creation and for building healthy rhythms into creation as an example for how to live my life.

5. Honor your father and mother.

Thank you for my family and for the people in my life who are like family to me.

6. You shall not kill.

Thank you for life and all you do to sustain me.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

Thank you for relationships and for love and for the gift of marriage. Thank you for your faithfulness to me.

8. You shall not steal.

Thank you for entrusting me with so many gifts. Thank you for giving me far more than I ever needed.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Thank you for truth. Thank you that Jesus is the truth and the life. Thank you for you Word which is truth for life.

10. You shall not covet.

Thank you for providing all my needs. Thank you for your promise to always give me everything I need.