Learning a Healthy Lifestyle

“Before I die, I want to experience what it’s like to be thin,” I told a friend a couple of years ago.

I’ve lost several hundred pounds over my lifetime but I always found them again. Like most overweight people, I’m too familiar with diets.

At the risk of highlighting me too much, I’ve decided to share my recent journey in response to people’s questions. Maybe there will be encouragement for someone else.

November 2015

After weighing in at 229lbs, I sat in my friend/physician’s office to get the lab results of my blood work. This was our conversation:

Dr: Mark, your triglycerides and cholesterol are too high and now your sugar is increasing. It may be time for you to begin taking regular medication.

Me: I really don’t want to do that. What if I went on a diet? If I lost some weight would that fix my problem?

My friend stares at the ground for a minute trying to form the right words.

Dr: Mark, we had this same conversation two years ago. I suspect losing weight will help but there’s no guarantee. But this is harder than you just losing weight. You need to embrace a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable. That will probably be a two-year process. If you aren’t willing to take on that kind of challenge, we need to begin the medication soon.

I felt my jaw clinch from determination. This sounded hard. This sounded true.

Me: Give me one more chance. I want to try the two-year healthy lifestyle approach.

January 2016

Here are six things that were catalytic (no particular order):

  1. Self-control: I chose to focus on this one fruit of the Spirit as my New Year’s Resolution. I asked my small group to pray for me, which was humbling but helpful.
  2. Ginger: Since this wasn’t just another diet but a two-year healthy lifestyle change, I knew I couldn’t do it alone. Ginger chose to embrace this challenge with me. Bonus surprise? This gave us another point of connection in our marriage.
  3. Shelli: We connected with a life coach, Shelli Birdwell. I needed to raise the bar if I wanted different results. This was the best decision we made! Ginger and I are convinced that we would not have succeeded without Shelli.
  4. Manual:* Along the way, Shelli offered a healthy lifestyle manual which changed how we shopped at the grocery store, how we cooked, what we ate, how much and how often we ate. We had to reread it again and again to change how we thought about food. Ginger pointed out early on that eating healthy meant our pantry was almost empty and our refrigerator was full. (Fresh foods vs. processed foods.)
  5. Workouts: I walk regularly, hike a little, paddleboard a little. I simply need to stay active. However, I lose weight in the kitchen not in the gym. My eating is where I need to focus for now.
  6. Transparency: I had never shared my weight with anyone . . . not even with my wife for the twenty years we’ve been married. It was too embarrassing. For the first time in January I told my wife my specific weight. I needed to own my weight and quit pretending it wasn’t the real me. A few weeks later I told Shelli my weight. This was terrifying but somehow it released some of my secrets and helped me more fully embrace this new healthy lifestyle approach.

*Shelli helped us identify goals, develop a strategy to achieve them, and offered an avalanche of support and ideas along the way. If you’re attempting to change your lifestyle, reading a book (or a blog post) isn’t sufficient.

May 2016

I reached “One-derland” by weighing under 200lbs for the first time in 20 years.

September 2016

I reached the “normal” BMI range. I’m still pretty giddy about that.

October 2016

I revisited my physician having lost 50 lbs. This time he said with a smile, “Mark, your blood work reveals that you are completely healthy. Every category is now in the normal range. Congratulations, you’re hard work has paid off.”

I’m proud of my wife who has lost 25lbs.

Here are a couple of pictures I found of me speaking that represent the “before” and “after.”





We’re almost halfway into our two-year transition of learning a healthy lifestyle. Thanks for your prayers.

Before you make a significant change, do this one thing

Do you want to change something in your life?

  • Grow your faith?
  • Grow professionally?
  • Lose weight?
  • Improve your marriage?
  • Become a better Mother/Father?
  • Create financial margin?
  • Write a book?
  • Achieve a dream so big that you’re afraid to say it out loud?

Here’s what I know about your dream: You can’t get there alone.

Two years ago a friend of mine made an impromptu trip to Israel with a buddy. They simply bought some maps and knew enough Scripture to have a sense of what they wanted to see. When my friend returned from his trip he was a bit disillusioned because he didn’t see as much as he hoped and didn’t get much out of his trip.

A few months later, I traveled to Israel with a group that hired a local guide for our entire trip. I returned feeling like the Bible had somehow transitioned from “black and white” to “color.” For me, the trip was life changing!

The only difference between my experience and my friend’s experience was the guide.



You can change! Your big dream can happen. But you can’t get to where you want to be alone. God created you that way . . . intentionally. He made you to thrive when you humbly lean on others.

“In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’” 1 Peter 5:5

You can change but you need a guide. This year I’m putting this principle to the test.

I want to grow professionally, improve my health, and improve our financial plan. It’s unrealistic to find one person to be my guide in all three areas so I looked for a person in each area. I didn’t require an expert – just someone further down the road.

Professionally – I emailed a retired pastor friend whose ministry I respect and asked him to invest in me. He generously agreed and immediately shared his “best practices books” to begin his investment. I anticipate learning a great deal and the only thing it costs me was the humility to ask and the time to read great books.

Health – I struggle with my weight. I hired a coach and my wife and I began choosing healthy habits together. With the help of my coach and my wife, I have lost more than 30 lbs. and we are encouraged about our future. This required a financial investment but this is the best money we’ve spent this year.

If you’re looking for a coach (health, parenting, family, etc.), I cannot recommend Shelli Birdwell highly enough. Connect with Shelli on her website HERE.

Financially – I reached out to a man and his wife who are financially responsible and further down the road than us. They generously agreed. We provided them our family budget (everything), savings, and retirement plan. Then they had us over for dessert to make recommendations to us. I cannot tell you how helpful and reassuring this was. Again, it only required our humility.

How about you? What major changes do you want to make?

Chances are God has already provided you access to a guide. Goals with a guide are likely to thrive! So, whom do you have access to that is further down the road in the area you’re wanting to change? Shoot them an email and humbly ask.


The one thing you must stop saying

“I’m learning a lot from your book. I wrote down my story in one paragraph and am focusing not to tell it again.”

(Facebook message I received from a man on Sunday)

He’d just finished reading chapter three in my forgiveness book and he took the challenge! What challenge? To keep quiet.

Let’s be honest. Telling your story might be a little bit fun. Okay, it can be a lot of fun! But it eventually paralyzes you.

After you’ve been hurt, two things usually happen and people rarely connect the dots:

  • You tell your story
  • You struggle to forgive

It turns out your story is part of the problem. Every time you tell someone else what your offender did, you strike a match in your heart lighting a bitter flame.

Quiet Please

I know this about you – you’re telling a story right now. Even if you’re not telling anyone else your story, you’re telling yourself your story. So, what’s your story?

Here are three reasons you should be paying attention to the story you’re telling:

Reason #1: Your Story Fuels Your Emotions

Your mind is like a filing cabinet full of categorized memories. For instance, every time you recall a memory from the emotional category of “anger” you access the other anger memories filed nearby. Maybe you’ve notice when you’re telling your story that you often remember other times you’ve felt angry and you feel yourself suddenly more “fired up”. Your story is fueling your emotions.

Reason #2: Your Story Isolates You

Every time you tell your story, you further isolate yourself from the people you most care about. Repeating your story as a victim quickly removes your warmth. You are pushing people away by rehashing your story. Even though you want to draw sympathy and support, your story sounds like a broken record and people can endure that kind of noise for only so long.

Reason #3: Your Story Reveals Your Heart

“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” -Luke 6:45

Your public words reveal your private heart. Your story is your heart’s MRI. So pay attention to what you’re saying and what you allow your mind to dwell on.

Jesus was:

  • Betrayed by his friend Judas
  • Abandoned by his closest friends, the disciples
  • Rejected by the religious at Caiaphas’ Council
  • Physically and emotionally assaulted by strangers
  • Humiliated in public by Herod
  • Falsely condemned by Pilate
  • Publicly crucified

If anyone was ever entitled to tell his story as a victim, it was Jesus. But he didn’t. Instead, Jesus did something odd.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. — Isaiah 53:3-7, emphasis added

“When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’ But

Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.” — Matthew 27:12-14, emphasis added

Jesus said nothing.

No story.


If his answers had been transcribed, it would have read “. . . .”

As I read these verses, I feel myself begging Jesus to defend himself and shout something like, “People, I’m innocent! I’m holy. I’m your creator. I could speak and the earth would swallow you up. I could dropkick you from Jerusalem to Rome! Don’t you know who I am?”

That’s what I want him to say. That’s the story I would shout.

This treatment of Jesus isn’t fair! These people obviously misunderstood Jesus and his motives. Why didn’t Jesus speak and clear things up?

He could have at least said, “People, I’m here to save you. After all, I created you and I know you intimately. I left Heaven so that we can have a relationship. These charges are false.”

But our Savior said nothing.

The maker of vocal cords waited in complete silence.

I envision extended periods of awkward, pin-drop silence in Pilate’s court. Even today, we’re struck dumb by Jesus’ non-answer answers. Why didn’t he speak?

I believe it’s because Jesus knew something I often forget: words get in the way.

Jesus taught that forgiveness isn’t found in speaking, but in surrendering. Forgiveness isn’t found in defending, but in dying.

That’s why I feel so much encouragement when someone chooses to stop telling his or her victim story. That’s what our Savior did.

That doesn’t mean you should carry your burden alone. Choose one or two people, like your spouse, a close friend, a pastor, or a counselor with whom you can share your story.

But stop telling everyone else.


Remain silent.

Even pin-drop, awkwardly silent.


Do you have what it takes to be a good Group Leader?

Do you want to be a group leader someday? Who wouldn’t? After all, it’s a great way to disciple and encourage others. Plus, you get first dibs on leftover snacks.

But how can you tell if you have what it takes to be an effective group leader?

group leader

Though personalities and strengths differ, here are four common traits of an effective group leader:

1) Personally pursuing a relationship with God

This doesn’t mean long-time Christian, perfect person, or biblical scholar. Are you currently pursuing a relationship God?

2) Consistent in attendance and preparation

If you aren’t reliable or prepared, the group will suffer. Consistency trumps knowledge and charisma. Do you prioritize your group in your schedule?

3) Positive and encouraging attitude

There is a shortage of encouragement in our world. Effective leaders fuel others with encouragement. Do you regularly look for ways to encourage others?

Paul said, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.” Rom. 1:11-12

4) Humble and transparent

“At every stage of our Christian development and in every sphere of our Christian discipleship, pride is the greatest enemy and humility our greatest friend.” –John Stott

Are you transparent enough to allow others to see your weaknesses and humble enough to allow others to be the subject of conversation?

Here’s the GREAT news: Each of these traits can be developed. So, you CAN be an effective group leader.

5 Things Your Husband Wants to Hear You Say

After I preach, no matter how many people offer encouraging feedback, the one person whose feedback I’m most interested in is Ginger’s. After all, my wife knows me best and she’ll be honest with me. Her words are most important to me.

Whether your husband admits it or not, your words impact him more than anyone.

Last week I spoke to a gathering of 75 men and asked them, “What’s the one thing you want to hear your wife say to you?” Below are their responses.


5 Things Your Husband Wants to Hear You Say

#1 “I respect you and trust your leadership.”

#2 “I love you no matter what.”

#3 “I appreciate you. Thanks for all you do.”

#4 “Take the day off & go surfing” (or whatever his hobby is).

 #5 “Let’s have sex tonight.”

(Last week I also spoke to a gathering of 75 ladies last week and asked them to tell me the one thing they wished their husbands would say to them. I shared their responses yesterday, which you can read HERE.)

Everyone’s love language may not be words of encouragement but everyone benefits from positive reinforcement.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Prov. 18:21

Let’s speak words of life today!

5 Things Your Wife Wants to Hear You Say

I noticed Ginger walking down the stairs with a basket full of dirty clothes after having worked all day and having fed our family dinner. I said, “Ginger, you’re a good wife and mom. Thanks for all that you do for our family.”

Ginger responded, “And whyyy do you say that?” She was suspicious of my motives because I don’t talk like that often.

You see that morning I’d spoken to a gathering of 75 ladies and had asked them to tell me the one thing they wished their husbands would say to them. The far majority of these ladies (61%) said they wanted their husbands to simply say, “thank you.” Below are their responses.


5 Things Your Wife Wants to Hear You Say

#1 “Thank you for all you do for me and our family.” -61%

#2 “I think you are beautiful.”

#3 “I’ll always be faithful to you.”

#4 “Take the night off while I do the dishes.”

#5 “How can I help you this weekend?”

Everyone’s love language may not be words of encouragement but everyone benefits from positive reinforcement. Most of us feel gratitude but fail to express it. You can change that this weekend.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Prov. 18:21

The following night I spoke to a gathering of 75 men and asked them, “What’s the one thing you want to hear your wife say to you?” Click Here to see what they shared.

Coach Jim Harbaugh teaching Jameis Winston a Biblical principle

Jameis Winston will probably be the #1 pick in next week’s NFL Draft. The biggest knock on him is his off-the-field behavior.

For example, Winston was issued a citation for shoplifting crab legs and crawfish about a year ago. What’s fascinating to me is how hesitant Jameis is to own any guilt. The truth is I’m just as hesitant. We all are.

In an episode of ESPN’s Draft Academy released this week, Winston met with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. As Jameis explains the shoplifting incident, Coach Harbaugh tells Jameis to just own it by admitting that he messed up. However, Jameis immediately responds, “But how am I supposed to handle it if someone gave them to me for free?” Jameis doesn’t want to own any part of the guilt. After all, there’s someone else to blame. Watch the 2-minute video below.

Heads-up: The language is censored but typical of “locker-room talk”. 


The most captivating part of the interview is when Coach Harbaugh looks at him with a wrinkled brow and repeats to Jameis that he just needs to own it and admit that what he did was wrong. It seemed to frustrate Jim Harbaugh that Jameis didn’t get how obvious the solution is.

Own it

But it’s more complicated in Jameis’ mind. You see, someone at the store apparently offered to give him free food even though they may not have been authorized to do so. Therefore, Jameis fails to see his part in the incident because in his mind someone else is mostly responsible.

You will never confess your sins if you blame everything on someone else.

This isn’t unique to famous athletes. I know exactly how Jameis’ feels. It’s hard for me to own my part of my problems.

I instinctively argue, “It wasn’t my fault. It was their fault. They are to blame. They were wrong. All my friends agree with me.”

It’s easy to overlook the wrong we’ve done since our part feels minor compared to what they did. We’ll never confess our sins as long as we’re blaming everything on someone else.

“To make peace with your past, you need to own your piece of the past.” –Andy Stanley

Child abuse or unprovoked crimes are exceptions when the victim has no responsibility. But in most cases there is something we should own.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:8-10

Here are a few examples:

  • He clearly mistreated you, but as you pause and look back, maybe people had advised you to beware of him.
  • She consistently demeaned and hurt you, looking back, maybe you kept answering her texts and letting her back into your life.
  • She seduced you, but as you pause and look back, maybe you stayed too long.
  • He stole from you, but in retrospect, maybe you rushed past all of the warning signs.

Your offender is wrong for what he or she did. Owning your part doesn’t make your offender any less guilty, but it will free your future.

Owning your part will take humility and courage. Ask a trusted friend if they see any part of your past that you have yet to own. Resist being defensive. Then humbly thank them for loving you enough to share hard truths.

It’s time to OWN IT. You may not be the #1 pick in the NFL Draft but you can experience something even better: a peaceful heart.

Pick up your copy of STUCK When You Want to Forgive but Don’t Know How by clicking below:


Church Change by Andy Stanley

Change requires 3 things

1. Craft a laser-focused vision statement

andy stanleyThe worst place to begin a conversation about change is talking about what you want to change.

The best place to begin a conversation about change is talking about where you want to go.

2. Cast it over and over and over

Memorable is portable.

3. Organize to your vision statement

Organizations work toward status quo. Organize your hiring, budgeting, and systematizing toward the vision.

Most little boys finally start wearing deodorant because they like a girl.

They don’t want to give something up. They want something better.

When people see something better they don’t feel like they’re giving something up.

3 things we should change in the local church:

1. The church must be the safest place on the planet for students to talk about anything, including same-sex attraction.

2. The church must stop expecting outsiders to act like insiders while insiders act like outsiders.

As Christians we do a horrible job policing ourselves but we’re quick to police everyone else.

1 Corinthians 5:12-13

How to change our nation in one year:

For the next 12 months every Christian should stop looking at porn, smoking weed, having premarital sex, committing adultery, pay our taxes, and help one family in every church foster one child and our country would be immediately different.

3. The church must capture and keep the hearts and minds of students.

Stop this endless cycle of students graduating from high school and the church at the same time.

If your church is designed by 50-year olds for 50-year olds at the neglect of 15-year olds, shame on you.

This should bother you all the way to your budget.

What is this generation of students worth?

Let’s not lead anymore people to Jesus at age 6 and then convince them at age 16 the church has nothing for them.

What if we were the church that decided 16-year-olds would love their church even more than when they were 6?

We must decide we aren’t creating churches for 50-year-olds anymore. It’s 15 or bust!

Creating a Culture of Innovation by Craig Groeschel

Craig Groeschel – Catalyst West


The Church should lead the culture in innovation.


Limited resources + willingness to fail + increasing passion = exponential innovation (Mark 2)

Limited resources

We often think “We can’t because we don’t.”

We should think, “We can because we don’t.

God guides by what He provides; however, sometimes He guides by what He withholds.

Willingness to fail

Too many church leaders think failure is missing God but failure is often the first step toward success.

We think, “Failure is not an option”. The fear of failure drives us to stop taking risks and to live without faith.

Failure is an event not a person. God uses failure to shape you. If you are not failing now and then, you are playing it way too safe.

I would rather please God by thinking too big than insult him by thinking too small.

Increasing passion

We think, “We want to reach people for Christ.”

We should think, “We have to reach people for Christ.”

You’re not going to lead people to Jesus unless you sometimes smell like smoke.

What Breaks Your Heart? by Andy Stanley

Catalyst – West Session #1 by Andy Stanley

Nehemiah simply responded to what broke his heart. (Nehemiah 1:1-11)

What breaks your heart?

andy stanleyWhat causes you to pause mentally when everyone else moves on in the conversation? If you could just do something about one thing, what would that one thing be? Bring it front and center and let it bother you.

God uses broken-hearted leaders. When you chase back all major changes that happen in the Kingdom, you’ll always find a broken-hearted leader.

Truths about leaders:

  • There’s a direct correlation between leadership and change.
  • Leaders make things better.
  • Leaders love progress.
  • Progress requires change.
  • Leaders like to fix things that are broken.
  • Leaders are perpetually dissatisfied with status quo.
  • Leaders don’t blame.
  • Blame is an effective change-avoidance strategy.
  • Leaders don’t change for the sake of cool.

Nehemiah’s broken heart was by Divine design. We are all part of a Divine design.

You have no idea what hangs in the balance of your decision to embrace the burden God has placed in your heart.

Ask yourself: “Many years from now, what would I like people to line up to thank me for?”

The Church will go on forever until Jesus comes. Apart from our calling, we have no purpose.