Comfort Zone

When my alarm went off at 5:15 this morning, I almost cried. This would have been a great morning to sleep in. The weather is getting cooler, I was in the middle of a deep sleep, great dream that didn't make any sense, in a cold room under warm sheets, with the sprinkler system hitting the window like rain, and a slow trickle of drool running down my cheek.

I was in the zone.

It's hard to leave the zone when you're that comfortable.

It's always hard to leave the comfort zone. I mean, why would you leave if you're comfortable?

Yet I noticed something the other day: The vast majority of significant leaders throughout the Bible weren't primarily used by God until He took them out of their comfort zone.

God called Abraham out of his homeland (Genesis 12), Jacob had to leave home (Genesis 27:41), Moses' mom took Moses out of the comfort zone (Exodus 2:1-7), and then he got to flee again later (Exodus 2:15) only to go back (Exodus 3:10), and leave again (Exodus 12). Joseph's brothers "helped" Joseph leave the zone (Genesis 37:28). It was true of Daniel (Daniel 1:1-6), Jonah (Jonah 1:2), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:2), and the disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). It's true of us too.

When we're out of our comfort zone, we're dependent on God. We're keyed in on what He's doing because we have to be. We do what He calls us to because we're already uncomfortable so we might as well. And we find that most often, it is on the ragged edge of life that God is working most powerfully - not in the places where we're comfortable.

As nice, warm, peaceful, and restful as my bed is, it's hard to make a difference in there. I've got to face the cold hard world because that's where God is at work and I want to be a part of it.

What comfort zone is preventing you from being used to the full extent of what God wants to do through you?


If you're a parent who doesn't know about Seeds Music, I'm about to make you very happy.

I remember road trips in the Freeland Mini Van. We traveled all over the country when I was young (I've been to 48 of 50 states because of those road trips). Mom had her pillow. Dad was driving. Blake had his Game Boy, and I had my Walkman.

I don't know why I had a Walkman and headphones - everyone was going to hear my music anyway. I had a tendency to rock "Wee Sing Bible Songs" at the top of my lungs.

For eight hours.

Both ways.

Seeds is the next generation of Wee Sing Bible Songs, except that the songs aren't cheesy, there are no songs about an "arky, arky," and parents won't want to scratch their eardrums out after listening to the songs with their kids.

Seeds songs are straight-up Bible verses set to music. It's a tremendous Bible memorization tool for your kid and for you. And the music isn't just tolerable - the songs are well-written and catchy, even for parents.

You should be able to find these at your local bookstore for around 12 bucks per CD. Actually, the CDs come in two CD packs so you can listen to one and pass one on to a friend who could benefit from the "seed" of God's word being planted in their child's life. It's not a bad marketing strategy either.

If you've got kids, you really should look in to these CDs unless you're a relative with kids who normally gets a Christmas present from Kari and I. In that case, forget I said anything. We've got the "Seeds of Purpose" CD playing in Kari's car right now, and love it.

How to Lose in Hard Conversations

I'm not the best in difficult conversations. I constantly fight the desire to be a people-pleaser and a tendency to give too much, skirt around hard issues, worry too much about feelings, and not just come out and say what needs to be said... especially when it's the hard thing. I guess that's why they call them "hard conversations."

But I have learned one sure fire way to lose in hard conversations, whether you're dealing with a car dealer or confronting a sin issue. The easiest possible way to lose big in hard conversations is to get angry.

It's my understanding that boxers are trained this way too. Despite the fact that boxers win points by beating the fire out of each other, they're trained to keep their emotions under control because the first boxer to lose his cool inevitably loses the match.

If your anger gets out of control you can't think clearly, process information as accurately, or respond appropriately. When that's the case, you are physically unable to accomplish the goals of the conversation.

When I am headed into a conversation I know will be difficult, I always put my goals for the conversation on paper before I go into the discussion. I also think about the things that could distract from those goals. That forces me to stay focused in a conversation, to keep my emotions in check, and to remember what I'm trying to accomplish. It also helps me anticipate outcomes.

When I can't anticipate the conversation ahead of time I try to always remind myself to slow down, listen carefully, and pay special attention to my emotions so they don't ever get out of control.

The first person to get angry loses the conversation. Keep it in check.

The Gospel-Centered Life

Several months ago, one of my friends ran across a new small-group study called "The Gospel- Centered Life." It is a nine-week study published by a missions organization named “World Harvest Mission” and written by a couple of pastors, Bob Thune and Will Walker.

This study is great stuff.

The primary idea of the study (as you might expect from the title) is that the Gospel is central to the Christian life.

I grew up in a church that emphasized the gospel on the front-end of the Christian life, but it was only a few years ago that I began to think about how the gospel is essential to the rest of my life as a Christian.

Most of us teeter between legalism and license for the entirety of our Christian life. Legalism says "my behavior defines my identity." License says "my identity shouldn't impact my behavior." Whichever side of the struggle you tend towards, this study reminds us that our focus should be the cross.

For the legalist, the cross is a reminder that God's standard of holiness is too high for our meager attempts at rule-keeping. God is satisfied in the work of His Son; not in our behavior. For the person who struggle with licentiousness, the cross is a reminder of the severity of sin against a holy God. The sacrifice Christ paid was far too severe, and the gifts we have received are far too extravagant for us to disregard what He has done on our behalf.

The problem is, as "The Gospel Centered Life" points out, we have a tendency to "shrink the cross." As we justify our sin as "not that bad," or judge our neighbors as "not as good as us," we betray the fact that the cross is a smaller deal to us than it should be.

If you're a part of a small group, or know the small group pastor at your church, you really ought to check out this study. Right now, you can download a free preview copy of it, which is a bigger bargain than you know.

At the risk of over-selling, this is some of the best material I've ever run across for small groups. It's profound and simple, precise, clear, and provoking. You really should check it out.


One of the young adult girls here at McKinney is hoping to head to Bologna, Italy with Campus Crusade for Christ for a year-long short-term mission. Economic situations have caused her support to come in a little low and she needs some other people to join her support team by this Friday for her to be able to go.

Italy is a surprisingly dark place, spiritually speaking. Bologna is even more spiritually dark than the rest of the country. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088 - the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere. A year ago when Kari and I were in Bologna on a mission, our two missionary friends who are currently serving there were not aware of a single evangelical Christian on that campus of 100,000 students.

If you've got a heart for what God is doing in Italy and would like to make an investment that will pay dividends for eternity, you can join Kari and I in supporting Crystal online. If you'd like to read more about her decision to go to Bologna, she has a blog as well. She has until Friday to reach her support goals, so check it out.

The Things You Want the Most

John Ortberg quotes James Dodson's book "Final Rounds" about the final months of his father's life. Dodson (the son) was highly engaged in his business and had little time left over for his marriage, kids, or anything else. The dying father spoke some profound words to his son that are worth repeating again:

"The danger of great ambition is that you'll work so hard, you may someday wake up and find that the things you really wanted were the things you had all along."

It's coded into the DNA of a man to be significant, to be needed, and to be successful. Unfortunately, it's also coded into our sin nature to try to miss all those things when they're right in front of our faces.

How many of the things we're pursuing are the things God has already given us?


One of my weaknesses as a preacher is the desire to say something profound in every single message.

Sometimes that's one of my best traits good. It pushes me to study and think deeply, and to prepare diligently. It's a self-imposed goal that helps motivate me.

But sometimes the desire to be profound can be a trap.

We aren't always called to say anything profound. Sometimes we're just called to deliver the same message people have heard, again. And when we start grasping for the profound we can either end up saying something in error just because it sounds good, or missing an opportunity to repeat simple truths in order to anchor those truths in the listener's ear.

It's the same for those who are not preachers. In conversations with friends, family members, or neighbors, we can feel a desire to give profound answers to simple questions just so they know we've done our homework. Instead, we can point people back to the cross time after time by giving thoughtful and simple, but not profound responses.

Facebook and Email could Kill my Ministry

Ever noticed that the more important the things are you're working on, the more frequently the distractions come?

Most of the distractions in my life are self-imposed, but they're distractions nonetheless.

When I've got something important going on - an imposing critical conversation, or a sermon, or an important meeting to prepare for - my phone rings more often, my inbox fills up more quickly, and facebook statuses are more interesting.

In Romans 8:13 Paul reminds us to "mortify the sin in our body." Recently, I'm learning the discipline of mortifying the distractions in my office.

When it comes time to do something important, I have to close down the inbox. I forbid myself from looking at facebook. I turn my cell phone on silent, and my office phone on "do not disturb." Facebook, cell phones, email, and blogs are amazing tools for connecting with people. But they can also cripple my ability to connect effectively over the long term with anyone.

Those things all have their place, but I have to stay disciplined to keep them there. Otherwise, they'll overtake my life like kudzu.

I have to mortify distractions. Otherwise, they'll suck me dry and kill my ministry.

Freedom and Boundaries - Book Review

I read "Freedom and Boundaries" by Kevin DeYoung several months ago, and am just now getting around to reviewing it.

I've said a couple of times that Kevin DeYoung is one of my favorite authors right now. His book on the Emerging Church was fantastic. His book on knowing the will of God was great as well. DeYoung has an ability to write about tough topics in a really easy manner. He's appropriately funny and appropriately serious, which are hard traits to have in balance.

Because the topic of women in ministry is such a powder-keg topic, DeYoung writes much more technically in "Freedom and Boundaries" than in some of his other books. But, the book is still written in such a way that us "less-than-technical" minds can grasp it.

DeYoung does, in my opinion, a masterful job handling a really difficult issue. The Bible gives two or three black-and-white instructions about gender roles in church leadership; enough that we can't dismiss them without making a statement about how we interpret Scripture, but few enough that we don't have instruction on every single possible scenario that could come up. That's what makes this issue so difficult.

DeYoung is a complementarian who believes that men and women were created to serve complementary but distinct roles in the family and in the church. Women can't ever be daddies, and men can't be mommies, but both men and women are vitally important in the family relationship. In the church, DeYoung believes, there should be a similar affirmation of value and distinction of roles.

"Freedom and Boundaries" examines each of the Scripture passages that talk about gender roles, and helps us understand where the Bible draws hard and fast lines, and where we have freedom to choose. Too often, Christians read "I do not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority" and either dismiss it or make sweeping declarations that aren't warranted by the passage. DeYoung does a good job at finding a healthy balance. He works hard to speak where the Bible speaks, but to not go a step farther than that, and I really respect that about his work.

The issue of gender roles in ministry can be a really difficult issue because it hasn't been handled carefully in the past. It's hard to be a complementarian sometimes, because a bunch of domineering idiots have so abused it to the point that we want to throw everything out with the bath water. There is a way where you can honor the value and gifting of every person, male or female, while recognizing that God has created us for different roles. DeYoung does a great job striking that balance.

This is a great book. It won't be of interest to people who don't want to think pretty hard about a difficult issue. But, if you're interested in doing some thinking about the role of women in the Church and want to see an example of how it is possible to hold women in the highest regard while maintaining a distinction in roles that the Bible sure seems to require, this is a great book to pick up.

Prosperity and Adversity

I'm not a big fan of adversity. I like things to be easy, comfortable, and smooth. Adversity keeps me awake at night. It consumes my thoughts and drives me crazy.

It also drives me to my knees.

When I'm thinking clearly, I fear prosperity a lot more than I fear adversity because adversity forces me to realize that I am completely inadequate to do what I'm called to do on my own.

Adversity reminds me of reality.

Prosperity breeds complacency. When things are going well, it's too easy to sit back and enjoy it - to think we deserve it. Prosperity is dangerous, because it makes me forget about God.

That's what Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 8. For forty years they faced adversity, and it turned their hearts toward God. But as they stood at the gates of the Promised Land, about to experience prosperity they could only imagine, God warned them about what could lie ahead: "You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me" (Deuteronomy 8:17).

I'd prefer prosperity, but I need a little adversity sometimes... just to remind me of reality - that prosperity comes from God.


I really resonated with Mark Driscoll's blog entry yesterday about the loneliness of leadership. To me, the scariest part of being at the top of an organizational chart is not the fact that a bunch of people are under you - it's the fact that there is often nobody beside you.

Even in a collaborative environment, there will always be one primary point leader. Every team has a primary person they look to when everything else fails. And when everything else fails (the only time the primary leader really has to use his authority) he is all alone.

Loneliness can cause a leader to do stupid things. We make foolish decisions that are not in the best interest of the organization because we're afraid we'll lose the few friends we have. We're terribly vulnerable to inappropriate and unhealthy relationships because we're desperate to find someone who truly understands. And, we cope with loneliness (as Driscoll points out) by committing sin - often in an attempt to prove to others that we're just like them, as if they did not already know.

This is the precise reason why the higher the leader goes publicly, the deeper he or she must go spiritually. If you are blazing a trail, it is absolutely imperative to find strength in the only One who is already at work ahead of you (John 5:17).

You Were Born For This - Review

I just finished my pre-release copy of Bruce Wilkinson's new book "You Were Born For This." When the publisher asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing it, I jumped on it. Wilkinson has written a couple of books I really liked. In fact, if I made a list of the twenty most influential books on my life, "Seven Laws of the Learner" would be one of them. So, I was excited to get my hands on this book.

The main idea of Wilkinson's new book is that God wants to use each of us as our life intersects with the lives of others in ways that we could never imagine. Our responsibility is to just be alert and available to what God is doing in lives and situations all around us.

I love the main theme of the book. So few of us are intentionally available to the hundreds of opportunities that pass us by every day because we see them as small. Yet every opportunity we miss to be available to be used by God in the life of another person is a huge opportunity. Wilkinson's book seeks to change our perspective of the opportunities around us, and I'm thankful for that.

However (you could sense that coming, couldn't you?), aside from the main theme of the book, this book was hard for me. I feel like in Dr. Wilkinson's attempt to clarify God's desire to work in our lives, he muddies some other things. Three primary things:

1. Wilkinson adopts a new definition of the word "miracle." Much of this book is based on the idea that we get to "partner with God in doing miracles" in the lives of others. I think what Wilkinson is trying to do is show how powerful it is when God works through your life in the life of another. However, I think his language is confusing and has a byproduct of making the concept of miracles less powerful. In the Bible, when someone does a "miracle," God reverses a natural process (sickness, death, weather, drought, or famine). And, the point of miracles, at least as Scripture seems to use the concept, is that they don't happen all the time. Wilkinson redefines the concept of "miracle," which I found confusing and misleading. It is amazing when God uses you to be an agent of His working in the life of another person, but the Bible would not call that a "miracle."

2. Wilkinson's writing style has changed considerably in the last several years, and it's hard for me to get past the fact that he tends to be the hero in most of his stories. Even though he talks a lot about transferring credit for a "miracle" to God, the truth is, it's hard to picture myself actually doing what Wilkinson does because a disproportionate number of the illustrations involve examples by "the guy who wrote the book" on the subject.

3. There's a real emphasis on listening to "nudges" by the Holy Spirit as far as discerning when to push into peoples' lives to do a "miracle," but no explanation on how to discern between a Holy Spirit nudge and the effect of a chili dog. I absolutely believe that God can lead us by nudging us, but there are a lot of people who live their lives in "God-told-me-to-do-this" mode when it's quite obvious to everyone else around that God didn't tell them to do any such thing. We have to balance our gut with Truth to ensure what we're "hearing" is from God, and not from something masquerading as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14-15; 1 John 4:1).

4. It takes Dr. Wilkinson until page 200 to say anything specific about the Gospel, and even then he mentions it in a parenthesis. In the early part of his book, when he talks about the "Master Key" to doing miracles, he fails to mention that it is impossible to partner with God apart from a relationship that comes through faith in Christ's finished work on the cross. I feel like that's a huge missed opportunity, because there is a strong possibility after the success of Jabez there could be thousands of people who read the book who don't understand the first key to joining with what God is doing is understanding what He has already done.

All in all, I have a hard time recommending this book to many people. I love the main theme, and what I think are Dr. Wilkinson's good intentions. I just feel like the book is more confusing than helpful in some critical areas.

Good Work

I don't usually use my blog for stuff like this except for the occasional gripe about the Apple Store, but think this is worth posting.

This Friday and Saturday, about 250 women from McKinney Church are headed to Waco, TX for a conference there called "Just Give me Jesus."

This morning, they got a call from the Fairfield Inn in Waco saying that a good deal of the rooms the group had reserved at the hotel were flooded last night (two days before the event) and were unusable. So, the Fairfield Inn had taken it on themselves to reserve a block of rooms at another hotel across the street where our entire group (not just those who were displaced) could stay together.

The Fairfield Inn hooked us up with their competitor, took care of the arrangements, and did much more than they were obligated to do before we ever found out about the problem. This could have been a disaster for us, and a disaster for them. Instead, our group won't miss a beat and the Fairfield Inn in Waco has won about 250 customers for life.

If you own a business or offer a service and take the time to care about your customers, they will become better than any other advertisement strategy you could ever dream up.

Going to Waco, TX for something in the future? Check out the Fairfield Inn, and tell them "thanks" for us.

Communicating Great Things

I read a really great quote the other day by Ronald Reagan. His ability to speak in way that was witty, clever, wise, and often extremely timely earned him the nickname "The Great Communicator." From calling the bluffs of Air Traffic Controllers' Unions to challenging a world leader to tear down a wall that stood for power and oppression, Reagan seemed to have a knack for saying just the right thing and just the right time. But he himself was amazed by his nickname. Look at what he said:

"In all of that time I won the nickname "The Great Communicator." But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference. It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things."

You and I might argue that Reagan did have a certain style about him but even still, he might have a point. And if he does, there is no reason you and I should be anything other than great communicators as well. We know the One who has the "words of eternal life" (John 6:68).

We don't have to talk particularly well, or have a sense of timing and style that great communicators have. But when we take the opportunity to speak Truth into a situation, God has a way of using that. We don't have to be great communicators; we just have to be faithful to communicate great things.

Good Idea or Biblical Mandate?

I'm looking forward to teaching the last week of Bible Study Methods with a group of men in the morning. I'm responsible for teaching "application."

Application is the most important step of studying the Scripture, but you can't do application until you do everything else. It is a lot like putting the roof on a house; the roof is vital, but you can't put it on until the structure is in place.

When you apply Scripture without doing the spade work of figuring out how the first person who ever read God's words would have understood it, and what we have in common with them, you end up with applications that don't really have anything to do with the passage. That's really dangerous, because we end up confused between the things that are good ideas and the things that are biblical commands.

Good ideas are wise things that I should do. Biblical commands are good things that everyone must do.

The two are often connected, but should never be confused.

When you have application before you do the hard work studying a passage, the best-case-scenario is that you become a legalist... even if you have a good idea.


I recently had a conversation with a person who was struggling through all kinds of junk. As she told me her story, I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry; it seemed like Murphy had come to live at her house, and everything she touched fell apart.

At some point in the conversation, she made the comment. "I just wish I knew what I was doing wrong."

She felt like God was disciplining her for something, but said she couldn't figure out what in the world it was.

During difficult times, it's pretty easy to default to that kind of thinking. Job's "friends" did it (Job 5:17). The disciples did it (John 9:1-2). I've done it too. But as those people all found out, God can have many purposes for allowing suffering; discipline is not always the reason for bad things in our life. And, I'm convinced that people who are under God's discipline know why they're under God's discipline.

While it's true God does discipline His children (Hebrews 12:5-6), Scripture is equally clear that He does so as a loving Father. I would never discipline my child without him knowing why I was disciplining him. I received a lot of discipline in my childhood days. While I may not have felt as though the discipline was fair or deserved at the time (it generally was), I was never in doubt as to why I was being disciplined.

Jonah knew why he was being disciplined by God (Jonah 1:9-10). Ananias knew why he was disciplined by God (Acts 5:1-5). The Corinthians were clear about why they were suffering (11:29-30). When you are disciplined, my experience is that you will have no doubt as to why you are being disciplined. God's a loving Father, not a cosmic sadist who loves to make you hurt without revealing to you the purpose.

If you're experiencing discipline and know the reason, repent and learn your lesson like a smart child would. If you're suffering for some other reason, trust in the God who is close to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18) and find your refuge and protection in Him (Psalm 5:11-12), but don't fear that God is whipping you without telling you why; He is a much more loving Father than that.


I'm doing a big funeral this Friday for a guy who went to our church and passed away on Saturday morning after a long battle with cancer.

Death always makes us think harder about eternity. And for the Christian, thinking about eternity should make us long for heaven.

What do you think about when you think about heaven? Most of the time when we talk about heaven, we talk about the streets of gold, the place Jesus is preparing for us, the loved ones we'll see there, or the fact that we'll all have hair and be able to hit a golf ball straight.

Here's a question to ponder today: If everything you believe about heaven was true, but Jesus was not there, would it still be heaven to you?

When Paul thought about dying, he didn't seem to get most excited about the end of persecution, the healing that would come to his body, or the fact that he would see his long lost buddies (though all those things are true). Paul seemed to get most excited about being present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).

The greatest thing about my friend Dave's life at this moment isn't the healing that he has experienced. Those are great things, but they aren't the best things. The best thing about where he is, is that he's with Jesus, the author and perfecter of his faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Front or Back Porch?

We were driving back home last night after dinner in the home of some friends, and I began to notice a trend.

The road home goes behind several neighborhoods where you see just the backs of a lot of homes. We had gorgeous weather last night, and we were driving home after dark. Probably 2/3rds of the homes we passed had back porches, and a good majority of those back porches were lit up; people were outside enjoying the evening.

Then we turned down our street and I realized how dark the street seemed. Those who had front porches weren't sitting out there - they were on their back porch, if they were outside at all.

I've lamented before that Kari and I don't have a front porch. Our next house will.

But last night, it struck me how many of our churches have followed the culture. Our culture is full of back porch churches: comfortable and welcoming, but built primarily for the comfort and privacy/protection of the people who occupy the house.

People who sit on front porches aren't primarily concerned with being protected from the people "out there." I'd rather be a part of a front porch church. The front porch is still built primarily for the people who live in the house, but with a different focus. Rather than privacy, the front porch allows accessibility. The front porch allows them to be seen and approachable. It gives a context for conversation, and an easy location for inviting others to be a part of the family.