Zach Thomas (center), CFA Owner/Operator in Marietta, Georgia

A Remarkable Journey

Four years ago today was my first day as an executive assistant. I had just finished publishing my first book, Hidden in Plain Sight, for Youth Alive North Texas, a ministry I had interned with since 2010. I was not planning on publishing any more books, which was evidenced when I entered the business world right after the book released.

However, after five months I decided corporate America wasn’t the best fit for me and launched my own business instead. My boss, Dan D’Amico (the CEO of the company), gave me his blessing and released me peacefully. We have met for coffee since and he’s excited to see where God is taking me.

First Day as an Executive Assistant, May 6, 2013

First Day as an Executive Assistant, May 6, 2013

I’ve been a lot of places in the past four years. I’ve participated in two U.S. missions trips, three mission trips to Mexico, and a 45-city speaking tour after the release of one of my books. I’ve published a total of eight books, and left Texas on a new adventure in the Great Northeast.

Today, exactly four years later, a leadership book I am co-writing received an endorsement from the President of Chick-fil-A, Inc. This is a huge honor, and I am stunned that it came TODAY of all days. This book is called Leader Farming: Growing Leaders to Grow Your Business. It contains the wisdom of Chick-fil-A Owner/Operator Zach Thomas (pictured above, center); I just helped with the research to back up what he is already living out in his business.

One of the things Zach talks about in this book is how the best leaders give their employees freedom. This includes both freedom from being unnecessarily micro-managed and freedom to leave the company when the time is right for them to go on to bigger and better things.

I am grateful that Dan had this mentality. I remember the night I sat with him on the back porch of his home and told him I was considering leaving. He did not guilt me, manipulate me, or terminate me on the spot. He even allowed me to choose whether I wanted to stay a full two weeks or leave immediately (I chose the latter).

Here is part of a text I sent Dan today: I would not be where I am today without your investment in my life. It was through conversations with you that I had the courage to start my own business and stick with it. No matter where I go from here, I will remember how God brought us together and you launched me into the business world. You are a great leader and it was an honor to say my first “real job” was with you!

If Dan had shamed me for leaving or manipulated me into staying, I would not look up to him in the manner that I do today. It seems counter-intuitive, but natural turnover can be a blessing in disguise for your business. Not only does it lower the amount of unengaged employees on the payroll, it allows for smooth transitions like the one I had with Dan. The fact that he still cares for me and is interested in what I’m doing with my life years later tells me that he is the best kind of leader, and I am grateful that I worked for him for the short time I did.

Leader Farming is going to be a fantastic book. We have received great feedback and endorsements from several high-level business leaders, including a foreword by Dr. Tim Elmore of Growing Leaders. A paperback pre-release limited edition of the book will be available in July, and the hardcover book will be available to the general public in August or September (depending on the workload of the printer). In the meantime, here is a sneak peak at the working back cover copy. This will most likely be a bit different on the finished book, but sometimes it’s fun to share things while they are still in process:

When Zach Thomas first became a Chick-fil-A owner/operator in 2008, he thought it would be easy to lead a team of nearly 100 Millennials, given his previous experience as a U.S. Army Ranger instructor, college pastor, entrepreneur, and chicken farmer. Instead, this Gen-Xer found himself in over his head and unable to connect with this generation, which was more interested in serving themselves than helping him grow his business.

After a series of life-altering events, Zach began to develop a new leadership strategy to grow his business by growing the future leaders that were already working in his store at the entry level. This fresh strategy, which he calls Leader Farming, is composed of principles he learned from a variety of sources—farming, the military, working in a church, and being personally mentored by leadership experts Tim Elmore and Andy Christiansen.

Zach went from being a chicken farmer to a leader farmer—growing leaders at a Chick-fil-A in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, Georgia. *Insert sentence about how today, he has developed 3 leaders who have their own CFA stores and increased sales by 100 percent* This is not a theoretical book about what might work, but a proven approach to effectively lead Millennials and Centennials and build a sustainable business.

Leader Farming addresses the challenges of employee engagement, turnover, recruiting, and leadership development, in order to help employers win the war for talent in a Millennial-dominated workforce. You will learn how to develop leaders, balance freedom and discipline, build a recruiting program that runs itself, and grow your business without burning yourself out.

Choosing to become a Leader Farmer will get you off the rollercoaster of a business that seems to be functioning well in June, only to be in a state of chaos by September. You will learn how to cultivate a healthy culture, develop emerging leaders, and create systems and processes to help you plan ahead—including a continual recruitment plan to ensure you maintain an advantage in the war for talent. Your business will be marked by increased engagement, decreased turnover, and sales growth as the team you build will grow your business and make it more sustainable. Perhaps best of all, you’ll sleep better at night and leave a lasting legacy by treating everyone who works for you with honor, dignity, and respect.

Leader Farming will teach you how to effectively lead Millennials, without losing your mind.


A Not-So-Holy Week

It began on Palm Sunday, when 45 saints were martyred by ISIS while attending worship services at two Coptic churches in Egypt.

That same day, a 69-year-old doctor from Kentucky was forcibly removed from an airplane, for no other reason aside from the fact that the airline wanted to accommodate its own staff before a customer. He was left with a broken nose, busted lip, and concussion from this dehumanizing experience at the hands of an aviation police officer.

One of these events was committed by a sworn enemy; the other, by someone whose job is to protect us.

The next day, a 53-year-old woman and 8-year-old student lay dead in a special needs classroom at a California school. The shooter was the estranged husband of the woman.

Tuesday and Wednesday were a bit quiet, or perhaps I just didn’t pay close enough attention to the news.

When Maundy Thursday came, I was relieved to begin the journey of reflection leading up to Easter. These events—in particular the first two—had taken their toll, and I was ready to catch a glimpse of hope in a not-so-holy week.

I had just finished a lunch meeting and was headed back to my office. Already exhausted, I dropped into Starbucks in search of caffeine. As I stood in line, a breaking news alert came across my phone: US Drops ‘Mother of All Bombs.

I quickly scoured the Internet for more information, the words “largest non-nucleur bomb” and “target was ISIS caves” catching my eye. Disoriented, I stumbled out of line. This is not normal! I thought to myself. Last week we fired missiles at Syria, this week we’re dropping bombs on Afghanistan. Does this mean we’re at war? Or have we been at war this whole time without realizing it? Will they retaliate? I live 50 miles from Manhattan. Is this why I saw New Jersey National Guard was on the move today? If our President views firing missiles as something so casual as eating a delicious piece of chocolate cake, there is virtually no ceiling on the short-sighted decisions he will make—especially since his favorite Bible verse is “an eye for an eye” (which Jesus directly refuted). 

These were some of the thoughts that were running through my head. They may not all be grounded in “truth” but this was my experience at the time. And to be honest, I was scared.

But that night, I went to church. As my eyes were fixed to the cross, all of the fears and stress I had felt from this not-so-holy week began to quickly fade, which is why local churches that preach Jesus are the one consistent place I know I can find peace in a world of chaos.

The Gospel According to Gaga

Coming soon.

In the meantime, you can check out the first two parts of this series that explores what it means to “take a stand against evil” and what the Christian role in that might be.

Part One:

Part Two:


Tax Collectors and Sinners

I’ve noticed over the years that many Christians love to protest things they deem as “worldly” or “satanic”—ranging from secular music to Super Bowl halftime shows. While I certainly support any person’s personal decision to avoid something that is beneficial for their life, I am baffled by the need some have to publicly proclaim that they are against these things and that all other Christians should be against them as well, especially when many of these things are quite trivial.

After last week’s Super Bowl LI, I wrote a piece about this that explores how we can become a variation of the very ‘evil’ we are condemning when we take on the voice of accusation instead of a voice of love.

For example, if we make a big scene because we saw an article on Facebook with proof that a pop star’s halftime routine involves satanic rituals we can very easily take on the voice of accusation, even though we may think we are only trying to protect others from this apparent evil.

We also tend to do this when we perceive things to be too sexualized. “Oh my gosh, I can see her stomach! Why would they put this crap on TV when there are kids watching??” Interestingly enough, this is often spoken by the same people who have no problem visiting a beach or swimming pool. Let’s face it, I’ve even seen people dressed this way in Walmart and I have not yet abandoned going there or created a Facebook group to boycott this present darkness.

I’m not defending these things and saying we should keep silent; the purpose of my writing this is to discuss our knee-jerk reactions and how we can become more Christlike in our responses so that Jesus doesn’t need to send a PR team behind us to clean up the messes we make. Again, I am not criticizing anyone’s personal decisions to avoid certain things; I believe that every Christ follower should do what the Holy Spirit leads them to do—without feeling compelled to become everyone else’s Holy Spirit in the process. (For more on this, see Romans 14.)

In Luke 5, Jesus states that His mission is not to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.

“After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him. Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’” (Luke 5:27-31, NIV).

In this instance, Jesus called a tax collector—a “worldly” perpetrator of evil—to follow Him. The man is so awestruck and filled with gratitude that Jesus would choose him that he throws a massive party at his house and invites all of his friends. Mind you, this would not have been a wholesome, family-friendly crowd. Yet, we see Jesus in the middle of the party, dining with those we would think He would avoid. Apparently the Christians were there too (even though there was no such thing as a Christian in Jesus’ day), because in the next verse we see them complaining to Jesus’ disciples.

Let’s pause for a moment here. The disciples were with Jesus at the party that was full of tax collectors and sinners, and hosted by one of their less-than-model citizens. The religious elite were apparently there as well, which I find odd, because if they truly had a personal conviction that such evil should be avoided, they would have been as far away from the party as they could get. Instead, we see them complaining to the disciples instead of taking their concerns to Jesus.

How many times do we do this exact same thing? We watch the evil halftime show that we posted about on Facebook, only to post again stating it was just as terrible as we expected it to be. We then complain to other Christians about what we have seen. We think we are doing something good, not realizing that Jesus is present at the party and it is actually Him we are complaining about! The religious spirit is not nearly as upset with the sinner as it is the fact that Jesus is present with the sinner, which could easily be misconstrued as an endorsement of their behavior.

“Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance’” (Luke 5:32, NIV).

That last verse could also be phrased like this: “I have not come to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” While Jesus proclaimed the good news to all people, His focus was the outcasts who had been been shut out by the religious system, not the self-righteous within the system.

His response also revealed their hypocrisy and the deep personal need they refused to acknowledge. Think with me about the parable of the man who was forgiven a large debt. (You can find this in Matthew 18:21-35.) He owed a huge debt and Jesus forgave it, but his response was to immediately go out and find someone who owed him a much smaller debt and demand they pay. Jesus did not tell this parable as a lesson in economics; He told this parable to illustrate that we can know the degree to which His mercy has touched our hearts by the amount of mercy we freely give to others. In other words, “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36, NIV).

In saying, “I have not come for the healthy, but the sick” Jesus is not telling the religious leaders that He did not come for them. Rather, He is revealing that they too are indeed sick! It is just a different kind of sickness. There are two types of evil: The obvious evil, such as murder, adultery, and Super Bowl Halftime shows, and the more subtle evil that veils itself in religious morality: pride, elitism, self-righteousness, and policing the behavior of others by smacking them with the plank sticking out of your own eye (see Matthew 7:5). Jesus came for the perpetrators of both types of evil, but His work is only effective with those who can acknowledge that they have taken part in this evil. Because the latter crowd rarely choose to do so, He shrugs and moves on, as if to say, “I guess you are healthy and have no need for Me then.” This is why we often find Jesus in the places we don’t expect Him to be.

Am I saying that those who condemn Super Bowl halftime shows on Facebook are the same as the religious leaders who couldn’t see their own need for a Savior? Am I saying that the show itself is akin to the party in the tax collector’s home that Jesus attended?

No, I’m not saying either of those things.

What I am saying is we must be slow to condemn things as “evil” and call for boycotts, because in our haste to protect each other from evil it is possible to end up becoming a form of the evil we are condemning, and rejecting the very thing Jesus is present in.

I’m saying we should be slow to judge and quick to extend mercy. I’m saying we should be known more for what we are “for” than what we are against. I’m saying we should be slow to call a concert a “party for Satan,” because it may actually be a party held for Jesus in the home of a tax collector. I’m saying we shouldn’t be afraid to get close to things that appear “worldly” or “evil,” because those may be the very places where Jesus is at work turning hearts toward Him, and we may miss the opportunity to partner with Him in this work if we are standing on the protest lines outside.

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Why Christians Don’t Need to “Take a Stand” Against Evil

Yesterday evening, I watched Super Bowl LI. You know, the one that was pretty boring up until the last few minutes when the dynasty-turned-underdog Patriots came from behind and won the first ever overtime contest. But this isn’t a blog about football.

I follow an eclectic group of Christians on social media, so I had seen the posts before the game warning me to change the channel during halftime. When the moment arrived, I kept watching for satan to make his cameo appearance during Lady Gaga’s performance, but he never showed up.

The next day, I saw more posts explaining how the whole performance had been some sort of satanic ritual, but I also saw a video from a few months back of Lady Gaga visiting homeless LGBT teens to meet their basic needs and show them the they were worthy of love and human dignity. I was shocked, as I realized one of these things was profoundly more Christlike than the other.

There are two pervasive voices in our society, the voice of the accuser and the voice of love. Biblically, one of these voices is connected to satan and one is connected to God. (Our English word “satan” translates in both Hebrew and Greek as “the accuser,” while John tells us “God is love.”)

Ironically, I often see those who are connected to God functioning as the voice of the accuser, while those who are not connected to God function as the voice of love. 

We see this all over the Gospels as well, with many people who claim to know God functioning instead as the voice of the accuser and failing to recognize God when He stood directly in front of them in the person of Christ. On one occasion, Jesus went as far as to tell a group of believers (John 8:31) that their father was actually the devil and they were not his children (John 8:44). In this, we see that someone can claim to bear the name of Christ, when in actuality they are embodying the accuser in their words and deeds.

I am not saying that everyone criticizing Super Bowl halftime shows is taking on the voice of the accuser, but if you spend more time being critical and tearing down others than you do loving them and building them up, you might want to check yourself. 

At this point, I may have lost you, or you may be thinking, But Jared, don’t you see how evil our society is? We need to take a stand against it!

This might appear to be a logical response, but often when we “take a stand” against evil we often become a variation of the very evil we are standing against.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2, ESV).

Here, Jesus states that when we take on the voice of accusation and pronounce judgment on another, that very judgement will come back to judge us as well. He is illustrating the principle that when we accuse someone or something of being evil, we can actually end up becoming the very evil we are denouncing.

But Jared, don’t we need to speak out against evil so people will know what is wrong and what is right?

Again, this may seem like a logical response, but it’s not the model that Jesus or the early Church gave us, and it can cause us to speak from a voice of accusation rather than a voice of love.

Jesus spent more time announcing what He was doing and the Kingdom He was building than He did criticizing and speaking against the existing kingdoms. He did not walk the streets of Israel—which were at the time under Roman occupation and rule—saying, “Can you believe how evil Rome is? Do you see what they’re doing? Terrible!”

For some reason, Jesus didn’t even seem to be surprised or perplexed by the many evils He saw around Him. In fact, one of the few times we see Him really lose it, one of the few times we see Him say, “What in the name of Me is going on here?!” is when He is in the temple and sees those who are supposed to be representing His Father acting in the complete opposite manner (Luke 2:13-22).

Jesus spent far more time telling the Church to get their act together than He did telling the world to get their act together. He didn’t do this because He wanted them to be morally superior, but because He wanted them to be who they were supposed to be: a voice of love in a world of hate, accusation, and rivalry that goes back as far as the beginning—when Adam accused both Eve and God (!) and when Cain killed Abel (ref. Genesis 3:12, Genesis 4). This is why Jesus told His followers “you are the light of the world” not “you are the accusers of the world” (ref. Matthew 5:14). He did not instruct them to curse the darkness, but to instead be the light that shines in the darkness (ref. John 1:4).

We see the early Church continuing this trend. They lived in times of great moral bankruptcy far worse than anything we see today, yet we never hear of them protesting or boycotting. Instead of cursing the darkness around them and taking on the voice of the accuser, they proclaimed Christ as King. In this way, they were defined more by what they were “for” than what they were “against.” This is consistent with the life of Jesus, who did not spend a lot of time saying things like “I am against sickness” but instead brought healing to those who were sick.

I absolutely believe in taking a stand for the things Jesus took a stand for. But I also believe that the best way to do this is by standing up for what we’re for rather than what we’re against. I love this quote from Johnathan Martin that reflects this: “Don’t stand up FOR Jesus. He’s already risen from the dead and needs no defense. Stand up WITH Jesus, alongside those at the margins.” I don’t always do this perfectly, but one of my goals is to be more known for the things I’m for than the things I’m against.

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8, ESV).

Disclaimer: I do not write this to shame or point out the fault of others, but to call us forth into our true identity as children of God. While I mention “trends” I see on social media, this is not a targeted response at any particular individual.


Breaking Apart the Foundation of Violence

On this day in 2012, a gunman entered an elementary school in a small Connecticut town and took the lives of 20 first graders and six adult staff members, including the principal, psychologist, two teachers, and two aides.
I remember that day, four years ago. I was in my office when the breaking news alert came in. I remember walking into the loft and turning on the TV and watching for a few minutes before I could not bear to watch any more. I remember walking back into my office, shutting the door, turning off the lights, and lighting a candle on my desk. I didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon, but I wrote this piece the next day.
As a person of faith, I am called to “weep with those who weep” and I don’t want this to just be something I do for a few days after a tragedy, because I know that four years later those families in Connecticut are still weeping. To that end, I have been reading the book “Newtown: An American Tragedy” over the last few weeks. I have been allowing my heart to feel these things again and weep over them again. In this season of Advent, I weep over all of the senseless violence taking place across the globe, but I also take heart, because I know that evil and violence will not have the final word.
Today, I learned that both the elementary school and the shooter’s former home were razed following this tragedy. One has been rebuilt; the other remains a blank lot. What I find most interesting is that the Lanza’s former home was not just leveled, the foundation was also broken apart and removed from its place.
Since Cain killed Abel, violence has long been the foundation of society. Though not all of us take it to the extremes we see on the evening news, we all have violence in our hearts that we must deal with. We all wrestle with jealousy and strife and all of the little things that have the potential to turn into big things. Violence does not begin the moment it is inflicted, it begins somewhere far deeper, and none of us are immune from the seeds of violence in our hearts.
And this is why Jesus came—to break apart the foundations of violence in our world and give us new hearts that are capable of cultivating love for our neighbors and even our enemies. He has broken the curse of sin and death and re-founded the world on the foundation of love and forgiveness. Because He lives, we are able to love and to feel and to weep and to hold on to the hope that violence will not have the final word.
Members of the Rutter family of Sandy Hook, Conn., embrace early Christmas morning as they stand near memorials by the Sandy Hook firehouse in Newtown, Conn.,Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012. People continue to visit memorials after gunman Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26, including 20 children, before killing himself. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Members of the Rutter family of Sandy Hook, Conn., embrace early Christmas morning as they stand near memorials by the Sandy Hook firehouse in Newtown, Conn.,Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Jan. 3, 2013 – A bus traveling from Newtown, Conn., to Monroe stops near 26 angel signs posted along the roadside in Monroe, Conn., on the first day of classes for Sandy Hook Elementary School students since the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Twenty-seven wooden painted angels created by Eric Mueller are displayed outside his home in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 16. Twelve girls, eight boys and six adult women were killed by a gunman who forced his way into Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14. (CNS photos/Mike Segar, Reuters) (Dec. 16, 2012)

Twenty-seven wooden painted angels created by Eric Mueller are displayed outside his home in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 16. Twelve girls, eight boys and six adult women were killed by a gunman who forced his way into Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School Dec. 14. (CNS photos/Mike Segar, Reuters)

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Hope for Monday Morning

Yesterday, on the Third Sunday of Advent, I drove through the first snowfall of the season to a large church in a small town in Central Pennsylvania. As the year comes to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about what 2017 will hold and moving toward a few dreams that seem quite intimidating from where I currently stand.

During the service, the pastor spoke about risk-taking and how many followers of Jesus take safe, calculated risks instead of wholeheartedly diving in to what God is calling them to do. There have certainly been times in my life when I have done the latter, but prior to yesterday I was still internally waffling calculating my risk-management plan.

After church, as Allison and I were driving home on the roads that meander along the banks of the Susquehanna River, I told her that I had decided to wholeheartedly pursue some of the dreams that God had been stirring in my heart for more than a year.

Yesterday, I was full of hope. Today … was Monday.

I’m not so cynical a person that I dread Monday mornings, but that doesn’t mean I’m always exempt from the Monday-morning blues. I struggled to get out of bed when my alarm went off, but made my way through the day with little fanfare. A few exciting things happened, but they didn’t seem to resonate with me the way I knew they should. As I closed my laptop for the day and drove to the gym after dinner, I talked to God about the condition of my heart, which was not nearly as hope-filled as the day before. I told Him that I was growing weary of being filled with hope one day and struggling through the fog the next.

When I got out of my car at the gym, I didn’t have any answers, but I knew that I was at least taking the small step to care for my body instead of going home and watching television until my brain was as numb as my heart. To some degree, I blamed myself, as I thought of all the places where God was showing up in my life. Sometimes things can be falling into place and internal soul issues pop up anyway, which in this case led me to ask myself, “Why can’t you just be happy, Jared?”

Once inside the gym, I put my headphones in and began listening to a sermon from a pastor of a large church in North Carolina. Just a few minutes in, he read a verse where the Apostle Paul talked about how he was having a miserable time on a ministry trip that God had called him to embark on, using language like “We despaired even of life” and “In our hearts we felt the sentence of death.”

The fog broke the instant I heard that. Here was the Apostle Paul, a guy who had a lot of cool experiences and did a lot of great things (like, you know, writing a good portion of the New Testament) having such a bad day that he was in total despair. The negative self-talk immediately faded, as I realized that it’s okay to feel down—and, more importantly, that I didn’t have to stay there.

You see, Paul was writing all of this after the fact. The verses I quoted above are from a lengthier section of the third letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians*, which in my Bible has a nice header that reads The God of All Comfort. (You can read the whole thing in II Corinthians 1:3-11; it’s totally worth it.) Paul starts out by praising God, “The Father of compassion” and “God of all comfort” and he talks about how his hope is firm and secure that if we struggle, we will be comforted. He’s talking to a group of people who are going through a tough time, and instead of just saying “You’ll get through this,” he then opens up and begins to share about his own struggle.

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. ~ II Corinthians 1:8-10, NIV 1984.

I love that Paul says, “He has delivered us … and He will deliver us.” He’s not only being vulnerable and sharing what he has overcome in the past, he’s also acknowledging that there will probably be more rough days ahead, but it’s okay because “on Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us.” In other words, Paul used his past experience with God to make a decision about how he would handle adversity in the future. His hope was set; He knew God would be his source of comfort and deliverance because he had experienced this and he understood that God’s heart toward us doesn’t change from one day to the next.

I worked out for an hour, my heart becoming more and more filled with hope as I listened to the sermon. Toward the end, the pastor read from Psalm that said, “I lift my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV 1984).

In other words, the Psalmist looked up at the reality of Monday morning, probably freaked out a bit, and then asked himself how he was going to get through this challenge. He then answered his own question, stating that his help would come from the one who made the hills he was looking up at from a low place. He then goes on to say, “He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber … the LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life” (Psalm 121:3, 7; NIV 1984).

What is most interesting about this Psalm is who the Psalmist is speaking to. Did you catch it? He’s talking to himself! The reality is, we all talk to ourselves—and much of the time it is negative. But that’s not what the Psalmist does. In a challenging circumstance, his self-talk does not focus on the size of the problem, but on who God is and what he is confident God will do. This is exactly what we need to regain the hope of Sunday on Monday morning.

As I listened to the pastor read those verses from the Psalms, I began to sing a melody I had not heard in some time. Pulling out my phone, I typed in the lyrics that were dancing through my mind into the Internet search bar. Within a few minutes, I was listening to a ten-year-old Bebo Norman song, a song that I had grown up singing in church. I remember this song resonating with me at fourteen, but it resonated with me even more at twenty-four. Because when I was fourteen, I didn’t realize that life isn’t just hard in your teenage years. I needed this song at fourteen, but I need it even more now that I am twenty-four.

Your kindness is what pulls me up / Your love is all that draws me in
I will lift my eyes to the Maker / Of the mountains I can’t climb
I will lift my eyes to the Calmer / Of the oceans raging wild
I will lift my eyes to the Healer / Of the hurt I hold inside
I will lift my eyes / Lift my eyes to You
~ Bebo Norman

I think what I love most about this song is the reminder that it’s God’s kindness that pulls us out of the fog and the struggle. He’s not standing around wringing his hands while you’re blaming yourself for your inability to function with a fully awakened heart; rather, He’s the one who wants to breathe the life that will awaken your heart into you.

Got a mountain you can’t climb?
Got an ocean raging in your mind?
Got hurt that you can’t seem to let go of?

Life your eyes. Take heart.
You’re not alone.
You are never alone.

h2 Church in Sunbury, PA – Sermon from Mark Gittens – December 11, 2016
Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC – Sermon from Steven Furtick – November 6, 2016
I Will Lift My Eyes – Song by Bebo Norman – 2006

* Fun Fact: II Corinthians was actually Paul’s third letter to the Church at Corinth, and I Corinthians was his second. Something happened to the first letter and it did not make it into the canon of Scripture.


Chick-fil-A on Sunday

I have spent the last week working in the Atlanta area. My client is the owner/operator of a Chick-fil-A and I have been working “undercover” in his store to observe the culture of the organization. As I drove down Powder Springs Road, the store came into view. There were no cars in the parking lot and the building was dark. Of course. It’s Sunday.

As I sat at a red light in front of the store, I realized that an empty Chick-fil-A parking lot is a silent picture of the Invisible Kingdom. In our fast-paced world, striving and noise is prized over quietness and trust. We are continually fed a narrative that if we want to be successful, we must work constantly and never slow down. Unfortunately, many in my generation have rebelled against this narrative by choosing the other extreme.

Working at Chick-fil-A this past week has taught me many things. Prior to this week I would have said I had a good work ethic, but it’s been awhile since I have worked in food service. I’d forgotten how exhausting it is to be on your feet for hours at a time, and I have a new respect for the people who serve my food at these establishments. I’m reminded of the value of hard work and, also, the value of rest.

What I like about Chick-fil-A is the way they labor six days a week, and shut everything down one day. It’s a reminder of the way God created things, that we should work hard six days a week and take a day off to care for our souls. By “work hard” I don’t mean our work must be dull and lifeless, but rather that we bring our whole hearts to the workplace and fully engage in the task set before us (Colossians 3:23). I’ll admit, this can be a challenge for me at times, especially on the days when my work doesn’t feel fulfilling.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. ~ Colossians 3:23-24, NIV

In a society where the majority of people live for the weekend and dread Monday morning, it can be hard to think of work as a good thing, let alone consider bringing our whole hearts into the work place and being fully engaged. I’ll admit, while there were times I did this at Chick-fil-A this past week; most times I counted down the hours until my shift was over. The problem with this is it causes us to miss out on the entire point of work. It becomes more about getting through it and collecting a paycheck, rather than a way to connect with God and tap into our true identity as co-laborers in stewarding creation. The end result leaves one with a feeling of “What am I doing with my life?” rather than being alive and engaged in the moment, regardless of circumstances. Whatever you do. We are not urged to first consider whether are circumstances are ideal before we choose whether or not to engage.

God created work “good,” before evil entered the story and tore things apart. Part of the curse of the fall of mankind was that work would become difficult and unfulfilling (Genesis 3:17-19), hardly something you want to engage in wholeheartedly. However, we know that in Christ the curse is broken. And I don’t think it’s solely broken at some point in the future, because I know that we live in the overlap of the ages–between the brokenness of this finite world and the wholeness of the Kingdom of God. In this life, we will experience both. Which will we experience more? I believe it will be the one we choose to be most aware of. Yes, we have a choice in which Kingdom we choose to experience, regardless of our external circumstances.

Colossians 3 begins with an admonition to set both our hearts (v. 1) and our minds (v. 2) on “things above.” I see an interesting correlation here. Whatever we set our hearts on, our minds will follow. If I choose not to be wholehearted in my work, my mind will ask “What is the point?” at the end of the day. But if I first engage my heart in whatever task is set before me, my mind will be set free to see the Invisible Kingdom in the finite hustle of Monday-Friday. And when I choose to press pause, to shut the whole thing down once a week, that is when my mind is granted perspective to see the bigger picture. That is when I am freed from this present evil age to see that the moments where I catch a glimpse of the Invisible Kingdom build upon one another; they are compounded so that I journey from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18) as I become more aware of the Kingdom that is arriving and less aware of the kingdom that is fading away (1 John 2:17).

For Chick-fil-A, Sunday is a day of rest, which brings perspective. But this perspective can only come to those whose hearts are alive and engaged in the struggle of Monday-Saturday. We can’t turn our hearts off at work and expect them to automatically turn on when we’re off the clock; we have to choose beforehand that we will live wholehearted no matter what is set before us. When we first engage with our hearts, our minds will follow. When we see work as a gift rather than a curse, we are tapping into the reality of the world which once was, and the world that is yet to come. After all, work was blessed before it was cursed; it was designed to be fulfilling before it became filled with striving. We will experience whichever Kingdom we are most aware of. The Kingdom of God is all around us, bursting into our lives to the degree that we choose to show up and see it.

What can you do to be wholehearted (fully alive and fully engaged) in your work this coming week?


Large and Small Churches

This morning, on the way home from a weekend at the beach with friends, Allison and I listened to a podcast from a large church in Colorado. The speaker, a pastor named Daniel, talked about the Trinity and how each one of us are invited into a divine dance where we are free to partake of the love that never ends. This provoked an excellent conversation as we drove across Delaware.

A few hours later, we arrived at a small church in Pennsylvania (which looked much like the one above), where Allison was meeting with the missions board after the contemporary service. This church was very different than the one in Colorado. In fact, the two churches could be considered opposites on the theological spectrum. On the surface, these two churches had nothing in common. I doubt either even knew the other existed. But the second worship song at the church in Pennsylvania was co-written by another pastor from the large church in Colorado, a guy by the name of Glenn. In that moment, as I stood in the fellowship hall of a mainline, liturgical church that was making an effort to be contemporary, I realized that we are much more connected than we think we are.

After worship, the pastor asked if anyone had any prayer requests. One man in the back row asked us to remember the two firefighters killed the night before in Delaware. He was nearly in tears.

What fire in Delaware? I thought to myself.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket. Moments later, I learned that the men had died when the second floor of a row house collapsed on top of them. I had driven through Wilmington that morning, but had no idea that this had taken place.

As the prayer time went on, the pastor asked us to remember a man who was dying of cancer. He had been a member of the church for years, but had moved to Boston ten years before.

I was stunned. You mean this guy left the church a decade ago and he’s being talked about like a dear family friend? Having spent the past several years at large churches, this was totally foreign to me.

There has been an ongoing discussion about whether large or small churches are better. But as I sat in the fellowship hall of the small church in Pennsylvania, I realize this discussion is totally pointless. The truth is, we need both large and small churches.

I love that I was able to listen to a podcast from a church in Colorado as I was driving through Delaware to attend a church in Pennsylvania. I loved that we were able to worship God at the church in Pennsylvania because of the songwriting of a pastor from the church in Colorado. I loved that one church reached a lot of people with the Gospel, while the other church journeyed deep into the Gospel with a hundred or so people over several decades. I believe this is something Eugene Peterson would refer to as “A long obedience in the same direction.”

Beyond this, what I loved even more was that the two churches were so different, yet essentially the same. Sure, one was Charismatic and the other was Reformed. One was relatively conservative and the other was a bit more liberal. One had a large following, while the other had a faithful few. One was founded in 1984; the other, 1811. One had the lights dimmed; the other opted for florescents. One pastor wore jeans, while the other wore a full suit. And the sermons themselves were totally different styles. But what stood out to me above all this is how similar both churches were: they both desired to make their communities better, and they both talked about Jesus a lot, as if these two things were connected.

After the service at the church in Pennsylvania, I sat in on Allison’s meeting with the missions board. I learned that this church was involved in many different ministries, both worldwide and in the city and suburbs of Philadelphia. They held food drives, ministered to the homeless, collected books for veterans and soldiers overseas, supported a home for troubled teenage girls, sponsored seventeen children around the world through Compassion, and assembled hygiene kits for World Vision. In a world where some of us waste time arguing about whether to support these last two organizations, they were doing what they could with what they had for both. This church even picked up trash along a two-mile stretch of highway leading into their town, a non-glamourous act of service that they will probably never receive public recognition for doing.

Though many people may drive past this church each day without giving it a second glance, it was clear that it played a vital role in the community, that the community would suffer if it were not there.

During the podcast from the church in Colorado, Daniel talked about how there is never any division between the members of the Trinity, which is why they are able to “dance” with each other in divine harmony for all of eternity. After it was over, Allison and I realized that if there was no division in this dance and we have been invited into it, there should be no division between us either. We talked about Jesus’ prayer in the garden before His death, how He prayed that we would all be one in the same way that He and the Father are one (John 17:20-23). And He doesn’t stop there; He goes on to say that when we finally reach a place of complete unity the world will stop thinking we are a bunch of freaks and realize the love we possess is not of this world.

We also talked about this guy named David who captivated the heart of God. He once wrote about how good and pleasant it is when we all get along and stop trashing one another on Facebook. He said when we can lay down our need to be right and prefer one another in love, God actually commands a blessing to come down upon us (Psalm 133).

It was at that moment when this thought crossed my mind: Perhaps the big secret of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the world will know we are legit when we stop making our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ our enemies. Because even if the Christian who doesn’t possess the flawless doctrine that we do is our enemy, Jesus said we are supposed to love them (Matthew 5:44).

And this, friends, is the reason why we need large and small churches.

Perhaps love really is all we need.

The Church in Colorado

The Church in Colorado



Good Friday: How the Cross Saves the World

Good Friday is the divine indictment of the world as we know it. And this is good news! Because on Good Friday, we discover that the violent systems of this world are so evil, they are capable of murdering God!

As Mark 12 tells us, a man planted a vineyard and leased it to tenants. When the time came to collect the harvest that was rightfully his, he sent many messengers to the tenants in the vineyards. “Some were beat, some were killed.” So the man sent his beloved son, thinking the tenants would surely respect him. The man sent his son into the vineyard, and they killed him! In this sense Nietzsche was correct in saying, “God is dead, and we have killed him.”

God did not kill Jesus; He offered Him up as a sacrifice for our sins, our systemic sins of violence and murder masquerading as a thousand other things. No one took Jesus’ life from Him, He freely laid it down to expose and indict the powers that be; then, in an act of mercy so undeserved it does not even seem plausible, He forgave the very powers He indicted and revealed the love of the Father. Good Friday is truly an indictment that humanity is far worse than we think we are, yet far more forgiven and loved than we could ever dare hope. This is how the cross saves the world. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

The renters in Mark 12 did not steward the vineyard properly. Therefore, the man who planted it took the vineyard away from them. But not only that, this parable tells us he “killed them and gave the vineyard to others.” This is what we mean when we say, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out” (John 12:31). In the words of Jason Upton, “How much longer will these renters roam the earth?”

These “renters” are not literal people as much as they are the principalities and powers that Jesus triumphed on over the cross (Ephesians 6:2, Colossians 2:15). Our battle is not against people, though people can often channel the powers of evil and invite hell to earth through their decisions and actions.

It is interesting to me that the above reference from John 12 uses the key word “now”—not once, but twice. This is a very key word. Why? Because Jesus was referring to Good Friday—to His Crucifixion and death. This means, for us, this statement is past tense. The “ruler of this world” has already been cast out. Theologically, we know that the “ruler of this world” noted here is the satan, and a glance at the world in the past two thousand years would suggest that he seems to still be at work ruling this world. Why is this? Because, though our battle is not against flesh and blood, flesh and blood individuals can exercise their free will to partner with a defeated satan to rule the world contrary to the rule of God. When we say our battle is against “principalities and powers,” we are saying that our battle is against the violent systems of the world themselves, not the individuals who partake in those systems of sin.

It is important that we exercise our free will to partner not with the systemic violence, but instead to choose the way of love—the way of the Kingdom of God. Because the problem with violence is it never really has an endpoint. Personal violence does not occur in a vacuum; it gives way to systemic violence that can lead us up to murdering the very Son of God. But while we were murdering God, He was freely laying His life down, all the while praying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

This piece includes excerpts from Brian Zahnd’s 2016 Blog and my own personal musings. For a solid theology of Good Friday, BZ’s post is an excellent read: