Christian Living

Five ridiculously hard steps to a better you

Tim is right. There is a whole lot of lying for the sake of SEO in blogs these days. While there might be five easy steps to creating a Facebook page for your business, there aren’t five easy steps for everything.

Becoming a better you is ridiculously hard. I know it not from issuing advice but from walking through a few difficult seasons in my own life and finding success, happiness, and satisfaction on the other side.

Here are five ridiculous hard lessons I’ve learned towards become a better me:

  1. You often have to say no to the wrong opportunity when you have no idea when the right one might come along. For me this has meant, several times, shoving off into the great Lake of the Unknown with no idea if I’d end up where I needed to or have the financial resources to keep going.
  2. Sometimes you have to do things you are dispassionate about in order to get to things you are passionate about. Sure, I probably look like I’ve lived a storied life. But I’ve had jobs I hated. And I’ve done countless things I hate in order to finance what I love. Walk around any art museum and you’ll see that most of those people didn’t become famous until they were dead. All of their life they did work they hated to pay for the work we adore after they are gone.
  3. Being the smartest person in the room is not nearly as important as being the hardest worker in the room. Some of my friends joke with me that I never sleep. That’s not true. But success has never come easy for me. Any success I’ve achieved has been the result of ridiculously hard work. And today’s success only got me here. To get somewhere else I’ll need more and more hard work.
  4. You can’t figure it out on your own. When I make big decisions on my own I usually make a mistake. But when I take the time to add plurality to my decision making process I make wiser , better informed choices. That’s a frustrating, personal, slow, arduous, and humiliating experience. It’s not that I don’t know what’s best for me. It’s that I’m so “in it” emotionally that I have a hard time seeing the bigger picture or asking the really obvious questions of myself. Left to my own, I make a decision and then generate a full-proof construction to justify my decision.
  5. Failure is not the enemy. Failing to see the opportunity in everything is. Albert Einstein said, “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.” Thomas Edison said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” We consider them both genius’ but maybe they mixed their natural born intelligence with a unique ability to fail well better than their peers?
What are some ridiculously hard lessons you’ve learned on your way towards success? Let’s learn from the wisdom of the crowd by sharing a comment. 
Christian Living

3 Big Questions

I can’t decide if its the lack of sleep (ht to Jackson) that caused me to wake up asking myself these questions, if my “fasting from sleep” provided clarity on some things which brought these questions to the surface of my awareness, or if these are just really good questions that popped into my mind this morning after reading through some of the Gospel narrative on the way to the cross. You decide.
  1. What is the difference between what I will do today and what I am about today? I have a lot of stuff to do. Work stuff. Personal stuff. Stuff I want to do. And stuff I need to do. But which of that stuff am I about?
  2. With information, tragedy, and calls to action coming from everywhere in the world at once, am I called to take action globally or take action locally? (The sister question to this is: What can I actually do today to make the most impact for Jesus?) Because the idea that I’m supposed to respond to both is driving me crazy. How is that even possible?
  3. Why is it the relationship between learning facts and changing my behavior? I know all of the facts about big things that need to change in my life but I haven’t taken a single step. Conversely, I tend to change the most on things I’ve just learned about. Why is that? If facts don’t change my behavior, what does?

This I do know and find soul rest in today:

When I live with my struggles I deal with them. I grow through pain. When I pour myself out to God, declaring my weaknesses, it reveals His strength.

Christian Living Church Leadership

4 Clarifying questions to begin my day

Am I called to lead or to serve?

Am I called to give or to receive?

Am I called to prosper or to sacrifice?

Am I called to endure or conquer?

youth ministry

What Would Judas Do? Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and You

The youth ministry world is wrestling through the ramifications of what Christian Smith coined as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

What is MTD?

After interviewing 3,000 teenagers, the authors found that many young people believed in several moral statutes not exclusive to any of the major world religions:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.


Since the original study came out about five years ago, youth workers have been scratching their heads, more research has been done, many books/articles have been written, and essentially we are all just trying to figure out both how we got to this point and how we can rebuild our ministries in ways that combat this.

As a simplest– I have often wondered if MTD in our students may be related to MTD in their youth pastor? In other words, are we even willing to consider that our own relationship with Jesus  (or lack thereof) may be leading students to follow our lead into MTD?

As I look in the mirror I am left to ask myself and my fellow youth workers some difficult questions.

  • Is youth ministry my vocation or is it my calling? (The latter isn’t an independent evaluation)
  • Am I still passionate about my relationship with Jesus?
  • Do I still love and chose to be faithful the Bride of Jesus? (His church, all of it.)
  • Are my actions reflective of my first love? (personalize Revelation 2:1-6)
  • Am I setting expectations in my teaching that are realistic for my students walk with Jesus? (Am I teaching Scripture in a way that is approachable and personal?)
  • Do I consider myself a manager of a program or a minister of the Gospel?
  • Do I still have the passion for lost teenagers that I had when I dedicated my life to this cause in 1993?

Let us look at ourselves with sober judgment and search our hearts; making adjustments and repentance a necessary part of that self-appraisal.

As I minister to students it is always my heart that they pick up my faith.

My fear is that in too many cases they are picking up a faith that is vastly different than the faith we want them to pick up.

Church Leadership management maturity

4 Things to Do With a Legit Opportunity

Let’s face it, success is about being opportunistic.

Here’s my simple outlook on opportunities. I’m thankful that I’ve made more right steps than wrong ones so far. But having the right outlook on the various ideas I’m presented with makes a huge difference.

  1. Pause to ask questions, hard ones. If you don’t ask how something will help you no one else will.
  2. Think about how you want to tie it in. You know what they say… if you don’t have a defined target you’ll miss it every time.
  3. Be audaciously bold. Wimps need not be opportunist. Go after things, with gusto!
  4. Go. Sitting on the sidelines will never get you anywhere. Nor will being shy or nervous about failure. Jump first, ask for forgiveness later.
hmm... thoughts illustrations

Asking Nerds Fun Questions

Makes me wonder about how we make complex things about theology or life in the church interesting to non-theologians and non-churchgoers.

Church Leadership

Pastors Most Powerful Answer

New pastors quickly learn that ministry life is full of big questions.

Questions that make you feel very small and insignificant. Questions that make God feel massively huge and almost out of reach. Questions that are so loaded and full of pain that they prime tears just to get the words out. Questions that have layers and layers of answers.

Questions in which the answers will define a persons walk with Jesus for years to come.

In those moments it is tempting to rattle off a pat answer. Or the denominations party line. Or what the board would rule as the right answer. Or something you read in a book. Or what you think the person wants to hear. Or a mechanical theological opinion.

My encouragement is that often times, the best first answer is simply… I don’t know.

Why did my dad die?

I don’t know.

Why did God chose me to get this disease?

I don’t know.

Was I born gay?

I don’t know.

Why did God allow my parents to divorce?

I don’t know.

Why can’t I have children and all my friends can?

I don’t know.

Why can’t the Cubs win the World Series or Brett Favre stay retired?

I don’t know.

Why did I lose my job?

I don’t know.

Why does God answer some people’s prayers but not mine?

I don’t know.

The list never ends. It gets longer and deeper every day.

Why say “I don’t know?

I’ve found that when someone comes to me with a big question like that they really do need to know the answer to that question. But my responsibility, and what is ultimately helpful for them, isn’t to give them “my answer.

I’ve found it most helpful in those situations to comfort, console, reaffirm, and point them to Jesus as the author, answer, and hope for those big questions.

With those questions I always point them to Scripture. I always make time to pray with them. I always follow-up later. I always affirm where the Bible is clear on a topic and where it isn’t. I always look in their eyes and say, “I do know this, that God always shows up. He always loves you. His ways aren’t always meant to be known by you.

But my first response is almost always, “I don’t know.”

The temptation

I bring this up because it is incredibly easy to pretend to have all the answers. As if, a seminary degree is permission to have all the answers. It makes you feel powerful. It makes you feel like you know what you are talking about. It feels good when people come to you with big questions.

But the role of a pastor is not to be the Bible Answer Man or to just to give the hard, cold facts. (There is a place for that, for sure. But an initial meeting isn’t it.) More often, our job to point people wandering the desert in their pain, sorrow, and longing to the Grace Giver. To the only answer to life’s hard questions. To remind them that no matter what, Jesus thought they were worth dying for.


6 Questions for Those Starting a Business

Grand Opening
Photo by whizchickenonabun via flickr (Creative Commons)

The Great Recession of 2009 has created a new breed of entrepreneur– the I-don’t-have-a-job-but-I-was-once-successful-in-business-and I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life-since-I-can’t-find-a-good-paying-job-that-satisfies-me-quite-like-my-old-job-did-entrepreneur.

What’s interesting about this group is that they have great ideas, limited capital, and a mixed bag of preparedness for starting a business. Honestly, that’s a perfect combination!

Tunnel Vision
Photo by rcameraw via flickr (Creative Commons)

The bad part is that since they don’t have jobs, they need this thing to take off instantly and provide for their families before their unemployment benefits run out.

I have a fundamental belief that people are at their best when up against that type of adversity. But while that kind of desperation can create tremendous energy to succeed– I’ve found that it can also lead to dangerous tunnel vision.

So here are my 6 Questions for Those Starting a Business as a result of getting laid off by the Great Recession of 2009.

  1. How little capital will you need to start generating positive revenue initially? In other words, how little can you invest to start making money with your idea now?
  2. What will you do to acquire customers outside of your sphere of influence? Your biggest weakness is thinking you have the contact base to maintain a business beyond 180 days– if you had that strong of a contact base one of them would have hired you by now. How will you grow your sphere beyond yourself in the first 30, 60, 90 days?
  3. Who are the gatekeepers to your success? Who are the power brokers in your niche and what do you need from them in order to succeed in this space?
  4. Have you defined the boundaries of your niche? What safeguards have you put I’m place to keep you in your niche?
  5. Is the product or service dependent or repeat business? If a repeat business, how will you manage customer relationships beyond the transaction?
  6. Is this a product or service that you need? If you don’t need it what makes you think it will keep you up at night making it awesome or that it will motivate others to evangelize your product?

What makes me qualified to ask these questions? In 2005 I started Youth Ministry Exchange with a small group of friends. We turned a profit on the first day and had positive cash flow every quarter until we were acquired by Youth Specialties in June 2008. In other words, I’ve done exactly what this breed of entrepreneur is attempting.

hmm... thoughts

5 Clarifying Questions

As another week begins and another year winds down I hope that you are pausing long enough to reflect on who you have become, who you are becoming, and the trajectory/pace you are taking.

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. Luke 12:28-30

Where have you set your heart?

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. If they stopped paying me to do what I do… would I still do it?
  2. Am I proud of what I’m doing?
  3. Am I doing something worth dying for?
  4. Am I doing something worth living for?
  5. If I were to go back nine years, am I on the path of things I dreamed about for ten years in the future?
hmm... thoughts

What if you’re asking the wrong question?

With some of my friends I’ve had the same soul conversation 100 times. Together we bang our heads against the wall asking the big question we are facing. With various friends that soul question takes various forms. “Why aren’t my kids following Jesus? Why isn’t my business taking off? Why do I struggle with my faith? Why can’t life be easier? Why does God not answer my prayer? Why isn’t my church growing? How can I be better at running my youth group?”

Let’s face a truism. All of us have a deep soul question. Whether its a matter in your relationships, your faith, your profession, or somewhere else… we are all able to identify the one nagging quesiton that haunts us day and night. Go ahead, fill in the blank. My soul question is ____________________________?

Dang, it feels good just to say it, doesn’t it? Know this… While your soul question is unique, we are all united in having a question our soul longs to see answered.

My thought here is simple.

Have you ever stopped to wonder if you’re just not asking the right question?

Let’s be honest. If you’ve had this soul question for more than a couple weeks, you are probably asking the wrong question! With myself and the people around me there comes a magical moment when we realize we’ve been beating our heads against the wall for years… and continuing to bang it harder and harder isn’t producing anything more than a headache.

So what do I do about it? Ask a different question. I can speak from my own experience to tell you that the answer is not more introspection. For me, the answer to finding peace with my own soul questions, more importantly… my ability to reframe the question so that I know I’m at least asking the right question, tends to lie in one of these three sources.

#1 Seeking wise counsel. That’s spiritual mumbo jumbo for saying I talk to people who are smarter than me on the given field my question seems to fall into. Many times I’ve had someone look at me and say, “Adam, you’re missing the point. The point of what you’re talking about is ______.”

#2 Reading the Word. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? Here’s what I’m talking about. The story of Israel found in the Old Testament is full of leaders asking the wrong question… then God leading them to the right question. These stories help me reframe the questions in my life.

#3 Reading books. I’m drawn mostly to biographies, autobiographies, and non-fiction in general. There is so much wisdom in reading of others folly, upbringing, life transformation, and triumph. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading a persons story and I realized… I’m asking the wrong question!

The point isn’t the methods I use to reframe the soul questions in my life. The point is that, if you are wrestling, make sure you’re asking the right question.