Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Becoming Vulnerable

Suffering an injury or having to go through a major surgery is a terrible experience for anybody -- doubly so for an athlete.

I spoke with a collegiate volleyball player recently who came off a major surgery last year and was going through the rehab process with one of the university’s athletic trainers.

But there was a problem.

During rehab, she wasn’t always truthful. She would say she was feeling great, even though she wasn’t. She would say everything was fine, even though she knew something didn’t feel quite right.

She ended up getting hurt again with the same injury and had to go through a second surgery -- forcing her to sit out the whole season she was trying to get back to.

She wanted to get back on the court so badly that she was not willing to be completely honest and vulnerable with the trainer whose job it was to get her back -- and it cost her.

How often do we do the same in our own lives?

We look at vulnerability like we used to look at broccoli when we were kids -- we want nothing to do with it. We would much rather try and figure things out on our own and not ask for directions even though we’re pretty sure we’ve been driving around in circles for a couple hours.

But we need to be vulnerable. We need to be able to say Hey, I don’t have it all together. I need help. 

Vulnerability is not optional, but essential in our relationships with God and those who are closest to us.

VULNERABLE WITH GOD

Healing requires vulnerability. It requires us to be honest with God about everything that we’re feeling and everything that we’re going through. Not for His benefit, but for ours. He already knows what’s going on. We can’t hide from God, so why not be completely honest with Him?

But just like an injured athlete, if you’re not willing to cooperate with the process and disclose everything to the One who is there to help you recover, then you’re only hurting yourself.

If we are going to develop a thriving, flourishing and enriching relationship with God, we need to trust Him with every part of our lives. You can’t be vulnerable without trust. We need to trust Him with our desires, our struggles, our dreams before God.

VULNERABLE WITH OTHERS

Your experiences are valuable. Your story is valuable. Everything in your life is there for a purpose. Your past or present pain can let someone else know that they are not alone. Your deepest hurts can lead to someone else’s deepest healing -- and yours, too.

We can’t guide others, serve others, love others or help others without becoming honest and open about our own lives first. We can try to edit out the bad stuff in our lives and puff up the good in an attempt to portray some kind of perfect life, but instead we end up creating a mask -- a false image of who we are.

For me, blogging has been my avenue to becoming more vulnerable. Maybe becoming vulnerable looks like having a cup of coffee with a trusted friend. Or it could be writing poems and songs. It could be sharing your experiences with someone you are mentoring.

Don’t hold your life back from people who need it the most.

WHAT HOLDS US BACK?

Make no mistake: becoming vulnerable is frightening. It means we are putting our hearts, our minds, our lives in God’s hands. And that means giving up a false sense of control we think we have.

The list of things that kept me from being vulnerable with my own life was long -- embarrassment, fear of disapproval or getting hurt by others, pride, and guilt to name just a few. Maybe someone betrayed your vulnerability and trust and you’re afraid to become vulnerable with anyone else.

Are there risks to being vulnerable? Absolutely. Are there limits to how vulnerable we should be? Definitely (Everyone doesn't need to know everything about you).

But the risks of not becoming vulnerable are even greater -- a life filled with regret and loneliness, empty of love and service. A life lived in the dark can’t make an impact in the light.

Becoming vulnerable means placing your life in more capable hands -- God’s hands. Becoming vulnerable means not being afraid to ask for help. Becoming vulnerable means being real with who you are, what you struggle with and who you want to be. Becoming vulnerable means sharing your story with someone so they can learn from what you went through.

Becoming vulnerable means throwing down our masks and allowing God to use our lives in ways we couldn't dream possible.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Some Things To Remember About God During a Crisis

"He says, 'Be still, and know that I am God...'" - Psalm 46:10

* * * * * * * *

In our attention-deficient world, where a million different things are fighting for our attention, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. 

It's already hard to keep perspective when things are going well, but when stuff starts to fall apart around us, it can become nearly impossible. In the midst of chaos, it's easy to get a skewed perspective of our surrounding circumstances, of ourselves and, most importantly, of God. 

When it feels like the ground beneath us is shaking, when chaos abounds, when mountains start to fall, we have to remember that God is:

1. OUR REFUGE

Life can feel like a hurricane sometimes -- like we’re being tossed around by hundred-mile-per-hour winds and pelted by everything from hail to your neighbor's kitchen sink. When the storms of life appear in our lives, we can run to God. The word refuge means “shelter or protection from danger.” The storms we face won't always subside as quickly as we'd like, but He will shelter us from the elements.

2. OUR STRENGTH

My first instinct is to try and fight my battles on my own. But after a while, I will get tired. I will get burned out. I will slip and fall. God’s strength is available for us, and His strength never runs out, never falls short and is always enough. Asking for His strength to pull us through instead of counting on our own isn't weakness -- it's recognizing we can do more with Him than we ever could without Him. 

3. ALWAYS PRESENT

Whether a thousand voices are screaming in our ear or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, everything goes quiet, it can seem like God is absent. He’s not. He is there. Sometimes there are so many things fighting for our attention that we lose sight of God in the process. We need to remember that God is always present, ready to help in our times of trouble.

4. OUR FORTRESS

In God, there is protection. There is security. God is a fortress, a stronghold from which we can fight our battles from.

5. WITH US

He is not far off in the distance, detached and disengaged. He is right there, with us in our crisis. And when God is with us, who can stand against us? He is there to fight for us and is ready to meet our every need with His presence. God is with us… the most comforting words we’ll ever hear.

Remembering that God is still God, even in the gravest circumstances and darkest storms, will keep us on solid ground.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

7 Questions To Ask Yourself During a Transition


In Miami, fall and winter are foreign concepts.

It’s pretty much summer all year round, with the occasional day or two when the temperatures dip below 70 degrees. (Only in Miami will you see people sporting fur boots and coats when that day’s high temperature is a frigid 68 degrees. Seriously.)

A trip to Nashville several years ago gave me my first taste of fall. The oranges and yellows and reds that enveloped the countryside as my flight descended into the city made me feel like Kevin McAllister entering Duncan’s Toy Chest for the first time in Home Alone 2.

The transition from summer to fall is clear: the days grow shorter, the temperatures begin to cool, and pumpkin spice lattes are available at every Starbucks (hallelujah!).

In life, we go through similar transitions. New opportunities. New locations. New friends. New everything.

Whether we’re entering the spring of a new job or relationship or the winter of loss or disappointment, we need to be prepared and ready take on whatever comes our way.

Here are some questions to ask as you transition into a new season:

Thursday, April 10, 2014

5 Words That Will Get You In Trouble

There are five words that, when put together, will open the door to trouble in your life and mine.

Like accidentally pressing the button that opens the gates of a city surrounded by enemy forces waiting to waltz right in, they will end up causing a lot of pain:

“I would never do that.”

We see the celebrity who gets busted for drug possession, the football player who squandered millions and goes broke, the pastor who commits adultery, the politician mired in scandal and we swear that we will never make those mistakes.

In our outrage, we forget that we are just as human as they are. They are tempted just like us. They have weaknesses. They have fears. They have doubts. They bleed. They hurt the same way we do. It just so happens that their blunders are front-page headlines instead of Facebook-spread gossip.

How we respond to the mishaps, failures and sins of others says a lot about who we are. Shamefully, I admit that there have been a number of times when my first response was “I would never do that.” I would think I was a stronger man and a better person because I didn’t make that mistake. I didn’t commit that sin. That’s pride, callousness and hypocrisy on full display.

Don’t hear me wrong, I’m not minimizing the ramifications of their actions. Their moral failures affect many people, not the least of which is their own families. Sin always causes collateral damage. They know it. And they will feel the consequences of the decisions they made -- just like we do. It’s disappointing and upsetting to see people we look up to for leadership fail.

In the end, however, God’s grace is available to them -- just like it is for you and me (and thank God that it is). I pray that they would seek to turn from whatever actions they might be and seek God’s forgiveness and the forgiveness of those they hurt.

When we decide to point fingers without reflecting on our own humanity and weaknesses, we can easily become blinded by arrogance and susceptible to fall in the face of temptation in our own lives.

Instead, we should take time to inspect our own lives and find our own blind spots -- and take preventative measures to avoid making colossal mistakes in our own lives.

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF

What do you struggle with? Where are your weaknesses? For me, I’ve battled with my temper and my anger for as long as I could remember. My anger has caused me to say things that I still regret to this day and do things that I am not proud of. It wasn’t until I admitted my issues to God, myself and the people I trusted the most that I was able to confront it head on.

The longer we pretend we’re strong enough to overcome our weaknesses on our own or try to hide them in a dark corner hoping no one sees them, the greater the chances become of making some big mistakes. It’s time to get real.

STAY AWAY FROM THE CLIFF

Many people ask “How close can I get to the sin without actually sinning?” That’s as dumb as driving a Ferrari a hundred miles per hour straight towards a cliff wondering when the last possible moment is to pump the brakes before plunging towards a grisly death.

Don’t flirt with temptation. Do not compromise. You will lose. Every single time. Set boundaries far, far away from the cliff.

ALWAYS BE ALERT

First Peter 5:7 states: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

We are facing an enemy who is crafty, slick and resourceful. He will set out bait, specifically tailored for you, and will cast it out hoping you sink your teeth in -- only to feel the sharp pain of the hook if you’re not paying attention. Always be aware of what’s happening in your life and around you.

And don’t put yourself in vulnerable positions by abiding by the H.A.L.T principle. Do not make any big decisions -- our put yourself in places where you know you’ll be tempted -- when you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. It’s a recipe for disaster.

ESTABLISH A SYSTEM OF ACCOUNTABILITY

When predators hunt, you won’t see them go after the herd; they will single out the loner and then go for the kill. If you think you can fight off a fierce predator by yourself, good luck.

Instead, find a few people -- maybe even just one person -- to keep you accountable. Someone who knows everything and will keep you in check. These people -- a family member, close friend, mentor or pastor -- will serve as the voice of reason in your life. There is power in numbers, so get plugged in to a group or community that will help you move in the right direction.

We should always seek to live lives according to God’s Word. We should always seek to honor God and others with our actions, our words and our thoughts.

But we will fail. We all fall. There is no way around it. But humbly acknowledging our weaknesses, setting boundaries, being alert and finding people that will hold us accountable helps steer us far away from decisions that will destroy our credibility, diminish our influence and hurt ourselves and those around us.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Weight

“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” - 1 Peter 5:7

* * * * * * * *

If you've been in an airport for more than five minutes, you've probably seen them.

Those frantic travelers lugging around bags filled with stuff that slows them down, their faces contorted like Olympic weightlifters, one wrong step away from everything just spilling out on the floor.

It’s easy to walk through life like that without even realizing it.

The weight of expectations. The weight of responsibility. The weight of everybody’s opinions. The weight of doubt. The weight of guilt. The weight of worry. The weight of fear.

It all adds up, one bag at a time, piling on until we feel crushed by it.

The weight of it all has driven me into fear. A lot. It has driven me to tears. A lot. It has driven me to feel like a five-year-old version of myself struggling to stay afloat in the deep end of a swimming pool. Every single time.

I think a lot of times we feel like we need to carry this burden on ourselves. Like we’re expected to and need to be strong enough to press on, one sluggish step at a time, until we reach some destination that always seems just out of our reach.

The truth is we don’t. We think everything depends on us. It doesn’t.

If you are tired, weary and broken, there is refuge. There is rest. There is hope. It’s all found at the feet of Jesus.

He wants your weight and mine. All of it. He wants to take whatever it is you’re still carrying, whatever it is you’re not willing to let go of or don’t think you can let go of. He can handle it and do more with it than we ever could.

In exchange for worry, He will give you peace. For all that anxiety, you’ll get comfort. In doubt's place, you’ll get a quiet assurance that it will all be okay. Instead of perpetual exhaustion, you’ll get rest. You'll get freedom when you lay down the chains of other's expectations. It's the best transaction you could ever make!

He wants you to cast your cares on Him, because He cares for you. He wants to give you peace and rest, because He loves you.

Let Him.