The Cost Of Freedom

Every year we take a day off as a country to honor the men and women who have sacrificed to sustain the freedom that we enjoy.

These sacrifices include…

  • Missing the births of their children.
  • Months and years spent from young brides and husbands.
  • Leaving their children as babies, coming home to them as children, and missing everything in between.
  • The loss of mental stability as result of the trauma of combat.
  • The loss of hands, feet, arms, and legs.
  • For so many, the loss of their lives.

As a Pastor in the United States, every week our church enjoys a basic freedom : the ability to gather together and worship freely. There are many Christ-centered, Jesus-loving brothers and sisters in our world that do not enjoy that freedom.

Freedom always has a cost.

I saw this video, and thought it was worth us all watching…

Realize this too: while we all need political freedom and rightly hope for the rest of the world to experience it, we all desperately need SPIRITUAL FREEDOM.

Just as soldiers have been willing to pay the cost for our political freedom, Jesus died to offer you freedom from sin and death.

Freedom always has a cost.

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Who do you need to call, text, email, or write to thank for the sacrifice they have given for your freedom?

10 Lessons From 10 Years

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Ten years ago today I married my wife.

I think that marrying Amanda was pretty much the most significant decision I’ve made outside of responding to God’s invitation to place Jesus at the center of my life.

In honor of our 10 years, I’d like to share a few lessons I’ve learned along the way:

1. Everyone farts.
I’m pretty sure there are people that you’ve never imagined passing gas, but you know what… they do. Everyone from Barak Obama to Pope Benedict break wind, and my wife is no exception to this. When we got married I had a lofty, unrealistic image of Amanda that was quickly shattered. I’m glad it was, because now I get to love her not because she’s perfect but because she’s herself.

2. When you sin it hurts someone.
There’s no such thing as a ‘harmless little sin’. All sin hurts someone. In our marriage I saw directly for the first time how my sin hurt someone else, and it changed the way I viewed my behavior, my choices, and myself. I love my wife, and this constant reality has been something God has used many, many times in my life.

3. Morning breath is real, folks.
It doesn’t matter how many packs of mints you buy and put in a drawer in the nightstand, morning breath is killer. You can’t dress that stuff up. A mint over morning breath is like air freshener in the bathroom… I smell both of them. There are things you can’t cover up. In marriage you can’t hide, and that’s a wonderful reality.

4. The best things are worth waiting for.
We live in a world that wants instant gratification, but God’s plan has always been to sacrifice and wait patiently. We waited almost 5 years to have our daughter. Lots of tears were cried in those 5 years as we wrestled with God’s plan, but Jesus is brilliant. He knew what we needed. I wouldn’t trade anything for what we have in our daughter. Watching my now almost 3 year old daughter dance around the room while almost singing “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen last night, I was simply overwhelmed with thankfulness.

5. Something’s are worth fighting for. Some aren’t.
We pretty much fought our entire honeymoon. I was a total jerk about pretty much everything. About three-fourths of the way through the week I realized I was being a jerk and repented. Over the last ten years we’ve fought about everything from bananas (this morning) to parenting philosophy. Some difficult conversations are worth having, because it’s something that needs to be processed together. Lots of them (like bananas this morning) aren’t that important.

6. If you’re looking for a way out, you’ll find one.
If you enter any commitment looking for a reason that it can’t work, then you’ll find one. Marriage is no exception to that. Invert that and it’s true too: If you’re always looking for a reason to remain faithful, you’ll find one too. Faithfulness is the culmination of lots of tiny steps that focus on the right ending. What you’re focusing on will define your marriage.

7. Laughing is good medicine.
I’m going to confess something we’ve never shared… about once a month we stay up really late having a tickle fight. It’s never planned. They just kind of happen through a series of escalations and “don’t you dare do that” challenges. My wife has an amazing laugh. It’s contagious. Her laugh makes me laugh, and it comforts me. I’m glad she laughs, because it’s always an invitation to something fun.

8. Listen.
Most of us want to talk. We want our voices to be heard. That’s understandable, because your voice should matter. I’ve learned to listen in our marriage, not because I’m dumbfounded, but because my wife is an expert in things I’m not, namely HERSELF! So, when Amanda told me “I don’t like to come home to flowers, I’d rather you buy me flowers and bring them to work”… I listened to her!

9. It’s not always going to be easy.
It’s actually hard work. Doing this right involves a lot of sacrifice and self-denial. A good, healthy marriage can NEVER be self-centered. On a good day, that’s not easy. Hit a difficult patch, and it’s next to impossible. That’s why you can’t do it alone. We desperately need Jesus in our marriages. His love is the only love that can carry us through difficult seasons together.

10. Grace sustains.
If my sin leaves a wound in our marriage, it is Grace that heals it. If you get close to anyone, they’ll wound you eventually. Wounds hurt. A lot. That’s why we need grace. Grace sustains our relationships. After all, isn’t that God’s plan for us… that He’d love us, give us grace, and sustain a relationship with us when we’ve proven countless times that we don’t deserve it.

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What lessons have you learned in your marriage?

Focus On The Finish

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My friend Seth won the North Carolina Championship 5K this past weekend.

Seth is a part of our church staff. He actually moved to North Carolina to be a part of Vortex and has been a super valuable member of the team since well before we launched.

Seth is a natural runner. He ran cross-country in high school when I was his Youth Pastor. He received a scholarship to run in college. Even after college, he’s continued to run competitively having just completed a marathon on trails in the Appalachian Mountains.

Seth told me something when we were talking about this past weekend’s race that has stuck out in my mind…

“The whole race me and Bill (the second place finisher) were shoulder to shoulder. My body kept telling me ‘Let’s quit. We can’t keep this pace.’ You just have to ignore what your body is saying, take the next stride, and focus on the end of the race.”

If you’re married, there’s going to come a moment when everything inside your natural body is saying, “Quit… This isn’t worth it!”

That’s when Seth’s story becomes vital…

  • “Ignore what your body is saying”. You have feelings that lie to you. You have expectations that probably aren’t healthy or even communicated. Ignore them and do what’s right anyway.
  • “Take the next stride”. Don’t stop, because stopping creates a different kind of death. Simply take the next step. Focus on the incremental changes, don’t expect immediate rescue, and keep moving!
  • “Focus on the end of the race”. Commit to your spouse, in your heart, and before Jesus that divorce is off the table. Stay focused on finishing the race, because that’s God’s plan!

“I hate divorce… So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith.” Malachi 2:16

Focus on the finish. It brings everything, even this moment, into perspective.

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What do you need to do to shift your focus from this moment to the finish?

The Biggest Lie You’re Telling Right Now

BiggestLie_Web

Every relationship relies on communication.

We often think of relationships through titles… boyfriend, mother, best friend, wife, boss, next-door neighbor, etc.

Relationships can perhaps be defined by titles, but they exist because we’re working to associate with each other. One of the main ways we do that is through conversation.

Think about your relationship with Jesus… it’s sustained by prayer, which is simply an ongoing conversation with Him. If conversation is that vital to our relationship with God, it’s probably going to be important in all of them.

Not all of our efforts to communicate are effective, however. If we’re honest, some of them just flat-out stink.

Here are a few standard ways we stink at communicating in our relationships…

  • Deflection. When someone tries to talk to you about something that has to do with you, you deflect the attention to something that has to do with them.
  • Reduction. We all have big problems in our lives. A reduction is when we reduce a problem’s significance. A reduction takes a big problem and talks about it like it’s insignificant.
  • Amplification. This is where someone takes a small issue and blows it up into a huge one, often to try to shift the attention from a bigger issue that’s perhaps more uncomfortable.
  • Explosion. If a difficult conversation is going a direction you’re uncomfortable with, a full-on blow up will increase the intensity of the conversation. This is often the result of someone feeling extremely vulnerable and out-of-control.

The most ineffective way we communicate is telling a lie.

Jesus took the truth so serious that He defined himself as The Truth (John 14:6). When we lie, we don’t tell the truth. This one act communicates one simple truth: we don’t trust Jesus completely.

The difficult thing to accept is that many of us are telling lies right now, but perhaps in a way that you’re not aware of.

The biggest lie you’re probably telling is something that you’re NOT saying.

I’d like to call that an OMISSION.

Here’s a few reasons we don’t talk about important things…

  1. “We’ve already talked about this.” This is a lie that we’ve believed where we think that just because we had a past conversation about this general topic, it’s covered under that umbrella. It’s where the guy who told his wife he loved her on their wedding day, gets the idea that h doesn’t need to tell her that again.
  2. “It’s going to cause a fight.” Yep, it probably is. And, that’s probably a good thing. You most likely NEED that fight to gain some central ground. And… If you run away from it, you’ll be missing out on something that you most likely need.
  3. “They don’t need to know.” Who said that… You? You decided they don’t need to know about something that’s important and could affect them? If something’s important to someone, you talk to them about it.
  4. “I’d rather not tell them.” An intentional omission is the brother to an intentional lie. If you’re not telling them, there’s a reason. Not telling someone, intentionally, is denying a very important level of vulnerability and intimacy to your relationship.

Here’s the big reason we need to talk about important things:
When we don’t talk about important things, our enemy has the chance to fill in the gaps with lies.

Our enemy is described as the “Father of Lies” in the Scriptures (John 8:44). That means that one of the most significant attacks that we are consistently under is an attack on the truth.

So… why not make every effort to make sure the truth is talked about?

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Here’s three things you might want to do today to respond to this:

  1. Tell somebody important “I love you.” Maybe even tell them why.
  2. Take a moment to remind your kids that you believe in them and that you’re always going to be there for them no matter what they’re facing.
  3. Drop a note to someone who’s made a difference in your life and remind them how much you appreciate what they’ve done for you

What else could we do to have a conversation that we’ve been omitting?

Three Things I Ask My Wife When She’s Upset

amandaIf you’re married and have a couple seasons under your belt, you know that it’s going to be vitally important to learn to navigate tension together.

You’re going to fight. That’s a good thing; it’s the tension of iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 17:17). If you’ll let it, that tension will make you better.

You’re also going to deal with the tension that emotions create. Sometimes these emotions are deeply grounded in a situation that we’re walking through, and sometimes they’re just coming at us from out of nowhere.

Everyone processes emotions differently, and learning that difference is a huge step in allowing your marriage to be a safe and health place to process them.

I’m an ‘internalizer’. When I’m stressed, hurt, angry, or sad I try to keep it all inside. My wife has learned how to tell when I’ve had a bad day, how to serve me when those days come, and how to help me process the emotions.

When Amanda is upset, I’ve learned to ask her three questions, because, as her husband, my primary job is to always point her to Jesus first.

Question #1 – Have you prayed about this?

I don’t mean a passing prayer, like “God fix this.” I mean, have you sat down and really sought the wisdom of God in this situation? Have you searched the Scriptures? Have you listened for His voice?

The reason I ask this question is simple: if Jesus is going to be central to our lives, He must be central to everything. It’s too often that we run to other people before we turn to Him.

Pray first. That’s how we approach things.

Questions #2 – Who are you primarily leaning on for emotional support: me or Jesus?

If you know how I feel about my family, you know that I want to be there. I want to hold my wife’s hand when she cries. I want to hug her when she’s hurt. I want to be there as I should be.

But… there are things I cannot be to her.

Here’s a very important lesson I’ve learned recently:
You cannot hold a position in someone else’s life that God has reserved only for Jesus.

The Scriptures tell us that Jesus should be our “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) and invites us to “cast all our cares on Him” (1 Peter 5:7). If I try to be any of those things, or if my wife were to expect me to be them, I’d only fail her, break her heart, and leave pain in the process.

Only Jesus can be Jesus, and only He can carry the full weight of our worry, anxiety, and fear. Faith in Him frees us of those, and, in turn, allows us to look to Him first.

Question #3 – Are you trusting Jesus with the outcome?

It’s easy to trust Jesus as a concept when everything is going well. You’re kids are behaving, there’s plenty of money in the bank account, and you haven’t fought in a few days… “YES, I TRUST JESUS!”

But have something blow up…

Watch yourself in those moments. You’ll try to fix it. You’ll get involved where you shouldn’t.

When we try to fix things, we’re practically telling Jesus: “I’m not sure I can trust what You’re doing with my problem.”

And… it’s not just ‘trusting’ Him in some abstract way; it’s trusting Him with the outcome that really matters.

When this is all over (whatever it is), Jesus is going to have His way and you’re going to be better for it. Do you trust that? If you do, hold on to it, remind yourself of it, and rest in it.

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How do you work to process emotions in a healthy way that constantly points you to trust Jesus? Leave a comment below and share it!

Two Lessons From My Kids This Morning

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Three mornings every week I have the awesome privilege of getting our kids up and to wherever they’re supposed to be.

I don’t get in a hurry, either. I enjoy my mornings with them. My daughter is super-sweet and my son is extra-happy in the morning, so I get to enjoy a lot of those moments with them. Before I know it, they’ll be in high school, so I’m not going to apologize to anyone for taking extra time to be present with them.

Here’s two things I learned from them this morning…

#1 – You can’t always see what the Father is doing for you.

Pretty much every morning my son wakes up crying. There are two reasons for this… he has pooped himself or he is hungry. Either problem requires my help to solve.

Before you give a baby bottle there’s a small amount of prep that’s required. You have to get the milk (or formula) into the bottle. Then you have to warm it up.

As my son lay in his crib crying his little head off, I was in the kitchen getting his bottle ready.

It hit me this morning: we spend too much time complaining about what our current situations. Complaining tells God, “I don’t trust you to solve this problem.” That’s why the imprisoned Apostle Paul tells us, “Do everything without grumbling or arguing” (Phil. 2:14).

Faith says the opposite… it’s says, “God’s got this.”

You probably can’t see what Jesus is doing to solve the problems your facing right now, but trust Him with them.

#2 – Jesus is always inviting you to dance.

My daughter is a big fan of music. She loves to dance.

I rarely listen to music when I’m driving because I like to be left to some silence. It’s not uncommon for my daughter to request some music as soon as we get on the road.

This morning she was chatty, which I obviously love. We talk about stuff she wants to talk about… her mom, her “friends”, her grandmothers, her stuffed animals, and a thousand other silly things.

Out of the blue she made this comment to me:
“If you don’t play any music, I can’t dance, Daddy.”

This was her subtle way of reminding me that ‘this moment could be a tad more fun if you’d play some music and let me dance’.

The Scriptures tell us of a God that has invited us to dance. He’s more than capable of taking the broken and ugly moments, healing our hearts, and inviting us to dance with Him.

That’s how David could write, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing” (Psalm 30:11).

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What are the greatest lessons your kids have taught you? Leave a comment below and share with us.

4 Things To Expect As We Go To Multiple Services

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This Sunday we’re transitioning from ONE service to MULTIPLE SERVICES at Vortex!

We desperately need to increase our capacity to reach more people, so this is just us trying to be faithful to what God is doing in our church.

We want to reach more people, because we believe that there are more people who DESPERATELY NEED to be touched by the powerful, life-giving message of Jesus.

I wanted to share a few things to expect as our services change…

1. Services will not be as long.

We’ve targeted our services up to this point to be about 75 minutes, but now we’ll be shortening them by about 10 minutes to help with the turn-around between two services.

2. We’re tweaking the order of service to make sure the important things stay a priority.

We’ve always done an opening song followed by a small welcome from one of our Pastors. That’s going to change. Now, one of our Pastors will be on stage a few minutes before the service starts to welcome you

Once we start service we’re jumping right into worship. This is actually going to result in a slightly longer time of worship (moving from 15 minutes to about 20 minutes). So, if you’re the person that LOVES worship, get there on time!

3. The sermons will be slightly shorter.

Many of you don’t understand the work that goes into our sermon preparation throughout the week. We rehearse and time our messages so that we can be prepared for Sundays. Typically we’ve tried to craft messages to be around 35 minutes, but we’ll be taking about 5 minutes out of that.

You might be thinking… “Hey, that five minutes is important!” I agree with you, so that’s why I’m going to be working hard to make sure everything God would have me to say be said each and every Sunday. It’s just going to take more time to trim it down and draft the right way to say it all.

4. You won’t see everyone every week.

This past week I asked you to indicate which service you’d be attending on Connection Cards, and the crowd split right down the middle. And… That’s a healthy thing!

If visiting with your church family is a priority for you…

  • If you attend the 9am service, make plans to stay a little later and visit with your friends as they arrive for the next service.
  • If you attend the 10:30am service, get there a little early and greet your friends as the exit the earlier service.
  • We’ll have coffee service during the entire transition between services, so make the most of that time!

One last request…

Would you consider praying daily for our church as we prepare to make this change?

You matter to Jesus, and He will listen to you prayers.

Pray that God directs us, that He uses us, and that He continues to save people and reconcile them to Himself through Vortex.

Thank you so much for praying and partnering with us to see lives changed!

God Doesn’t Need Your…

God Doesn’t Need Your…

My daughter will turn 3 this July.ADI

She’s a whirlwind of affection and fun right now. She’s so expressive, dramatic, inquisitive, and relational that life with her right now is just plain fun. I love being her daddy.

Adi loves to give me gifts. She’ll grab a toy that she’s not playing with, run over to me, and give it to me with a big smile and a huge hug.

Occasionally she’ll give me her most prized possession, her blankie, only to recant the offer after a few moments.

I love it when she gives me gifts, but the truth is… I don’t need them.

I don’t need her blankie, my wife has about twenty of them stockpiled. I don’t need her toys; I’ve outgrown them. I don’t need them, but I love getting them.

There are a lot of things we think God needs from us that He really doesn’t.

Here’s a list of four things God doesn’t need from you…

#1 – God Doesn’t Need Your Talents & Gifts

He gave them to you, remember? As he formed you, He gave you those natural abilities that have grown into talents. He has given you Spiritual Gifts supernaturally since you made a decision to follow Him. He gave them to you because He loves you. He knows that we were created with a longing to be significant to others, and through His grace and mercy He has given us an opportunity to do that by making our world a better place using those talents and gifts.

#2 – God Doesn’t Need Your Money

It’s not your money, first of all. Everything you have belongs to Jesus. He has just chosen to bless you with it and trust you to carry out His plan with it. God doesn’t need your money, but He wants you to learn that you can trust Him with everything, including your financial situation.

You need money. God knows that. He knows you need shelter and groceries and gas. He wants you to give generously for YOU! If God needs our money, we HAVE to give. But… God doesn’t need our money. We don’t HAVE to give, WE GET TO!!!! There’s nothing that adds to our joy like being generous.

#3 – God Doesn’t Need You To Be Perfect

It’s easy to get in the mindset that we earn God’s favor and blessing. If we could get it right, then the cross is simply not needed, but Jesus gave us the cross because we can’t get it right without it. Actually, our perfection is never going to be the basis of our relationship with God. It’s the perfection found in Jesus that does that!

#4 – God Doesn’t Need You

We live in a world of superstars. There are magazines devoted to telling you every little detail of stars: their food, parenting decisions, style, and other obscure facts.

It’s not uncommon for our superstar culture to bleed over into our lives, as we become the superstar of the story we’re living.

Truth is, God doesn’t need you. He doesn’t need me.

I’m not a superstar. I’m not so important that God’s plan crashes to a halt if I blow it.

But… God wants me. He wants to use me.

And… He’s invited me into His story. I’m not the main character. I’m not the author. I’m just playing my part as the Grand Author writes His epic story.

What a grand invitation! God doesn’t need me, but HE WANTS ME!

Let’s embrace these as what they are, invitations to experience a loving and gracious God!

Four Things I Learned In Montana

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I just spent a week in a remote part of Montana fly fishing the Big Horn river for trout with about 12 other pastors and ministry leaders from literally all over the country.

I know, for some of you that sounds AMAZING, but I haven’t fished since I was a kid and I haven’t exactly made the outdoors a huge priority in this last season of my life.

My friend Dan Sallbaum invited me on this trip hosted by the Refuge Foundation. Dan is the Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Merrit Island, FL and also serves as one of our overseers at Vortex.

Here’s four things I learned on this trip…

1. You have to intentionally create margin. I had to plan ahead and divvy out responsibility so that I could be gone for a week. It’s true for our lives, too. If we don’t get intentional about creating margin, we’ll live at an unsustainable pace that will rob us of spiritual, emotional, and relational health.

2. Fly fishing is hard work. The Big Horn river has almost three times the amount of trout that other ‘good’ rivers have and it took some work to learn how to fish. I was the only guy out of the 12 to NOT catch a fish on the first day, but on the last day I landed almost 10 of them. In life, anything worth doing is going to be hard work. Don’t run from a challenge. Embrace it.

3. With Jesus, friends come out of nowhere. There were several guys on this trip, Dan included, that I met in weird, happenstance circumstance, but I can see God using them in my life. The best things in life are found in the margins, and if we reduce the margin in our lives… we’ll miss them.

4. Hurting people are everywhere. As the weekend closed, one of my new pastor friends that I’d met on this trip told me this: “Man, I’m hurting in life right now.” He’s the Pastor of a very successful church and has a beautiful family. I’ve been there recently… hurting and broken and not sure who really cares about you.

When you get mad & flip off that lady that wasn’t paying attention and almost ran into you on the drive into work… maybe she just found out her husbands been cheating on her and her heads not really into the drive.

When you get impatient because someone won’t return your phone call in the evening, maybe you don’t realize they’re at home taking care of a spouse that’s struggling with an addiction nobody knows about.

Let’s endeavor to be the kind of folks that refuse to make ourselves the center of our own little worlds. Let’s love other graciously and generously.

After all, if you’re the center of your world… that’s a pretty small world and Jesus has so much more for you.

Moving To Two Services

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I thought I’d share several reasons we’re moving to two services in a few weeks on May 4th.

#1 – We Need More Room

Each week two of the following three are near capacity: our parking lot, our kids environments, and the seating in our auditorium.

Have you ever walked into an auditorium with family of 5 and tried to find a seat when there’s barely three seats connected in the whole room? It’s awkward.

We need more room because our guests deserve to have a dream experience when they visit our church!

#2 – We Never Want To Be Afraid To Take A Risk

Well… For the right reasons.

We’re not afraid of more work. We’re not afraid of longer days. We ARE AFRAID of not reaching a family because we haven’t made room for them.

The move to two services is a risk because our crowds in each service will be smaller, but we’ve always said that we believe that we can grow bigger and smaller at the same time.

Multiple services has been a part of that plan from the beginning.

#3 – This Decision Reflects Our Values

It’s obvious when you visit Vortex that we don’t want to be the traditional country church you’d find throughout our community. They’re wonderful churches and fulfill a function in the kingdom of God, but we’re simply responding to Jesus by being ourself.

That means that we don’t have any ‘sacred cows’. We’ll move service times, rearrange leadership teams, and just generally be flexible to reach more people.

Whatever it takes. that’s what we’re going to do.

#4 – Our Church Isn’t Big Enough

As long as there are hurting people in our community that are far away from Jesus who need a loving church family, we’re not big enough.

As long as there is a single-mom who is struggling and feeling alone, we’re not big enough.

As long as there are men and women broken by sin who need to hear the hopeful and restoring message of the Gospel of Jesus, we are not big enough.

It’s not a numbers game. It’s a people thing.

That’s why we’re inviting you to join us May 4th at 9am or 10:30 as we take the next step in this really amazing journey of following Jesus!

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