Triathlon Training- Scripture Training

I am trying something new next weekend.  I am attempting my first triathlon.  Its actually a tri-sprint, with smaller distances than what you find in an Olympic triathlon.  The race I am attempting to complete is the  McMinnville Triathalon in McMinnville TN.  You can check it out here

It has been a lot of fun getting ready to do this race.  My wife and I have been training to do it together.  Neither of us have ever swum much for distance although we were both life-guards during our  college years.  So being complete dorks, we learned how to swim efficiently by reading the book “Total Immersion” by Terry Laughlin. You can check out his website here:

It has been amazing to go from barely being able to swim a lap to being able to swim a half mile easily.  When I started trying to learn how to swim efficiently I was overwhelmed at how badly I swam.  I didn’t think I ever be able to swim the distance we were going to have to swim for our race.  Along the way, I learned something really important.   If you invest small amounts of time on a regular basis into any activity or discipline, you will see results that you never anticipated.  I was so surprised how quickly I developed the skill of swimming  by spending a little bit of time practicing something every week.   I was a dork about swimming.  I brought my book with me to the pool and would pause between laps to evaluate how I was doing in my drills.  I asked my wife for coaching and asked her to evaluate my swimming form.  Little by little I realized that I was getting better and swimming was getting easier.

A couple of weeks ago I realized to my surprise that  I really enjoy swimming.  When I am done with my workout, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated instead of tired and sweaty.  I think I enjoy it even more because I know I am getting better at it. Even thought the task of learning how to swim efficiently seemed daunting last winter, I now find swimming exhilarating.

The power of seeing results by daily investing time into something important can translate into every part of our lives.  I have been challenging myself to invest time daily in my walk with God.  It is really easy to become lax in my study of God’s word and in my prayer time.  I easily become busy with checking email or starting to work and before I know it, I have completely ignored God.  So, what I am trying to do is to spend 3o minutes with God every morning before I do anything else.  Just me, my Bible and Journal and my coffee (can’t forget that of course).  I think that if I spend every day focusing on Jesus and learning God’s word I will find that a year from now I will have grown in my faith significantly.  I am trying to do the following things.

1.  Read a passage of scripture every day.  I try to just pick a book of the Bible and read through it.  I usually read a chapter or 2 a day but sometimes I will just read a couple of verses and go deeper in them if I feel that God wants me to pause there.

2.  I am memorizing one new scripture passage a week.  I am trying to do scripture memory in a 3 week rotation.  I memorize one new section every week but I keep reviewing and mediating on the scripture passages I learned that last 2 weeks.  Note cards are invaluable in this process.  I write out each verse and keep it in my Bible.

3.  I journal every morning.  I try to write down insights from the scripture I am reading and I write down all my prayers.  This keeps me focused and fully present.

4.  Finally read other books to make me grow.  I am convinced that unless I read extensively I will never grow. So, I am reading books by people much wiser than I am.  Right now I am reading Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God.”  Its a great read!

Slowing- and a New Josh Bronleewe song

If you are anything like me your life is a checklist.  I wake up and the first thing I think about is what I need to do that day.  I seem to have been born with a personal task master wired into my brain that is OCD about arranging the items I have to do in order of importance, urgency and the most efficient order to do them in.   There is always something new to do and something new to see.  So if I want to do something, even if it is fun, I just add it to the list and proceed to execute that task with as much precision and focus as I can muster.  Unfortunately, I get so busy thinking about what is next and how to do it that I miss the beauty and pleasure in what I am currently doing.  It’s what I call the curse of “NEXT”.

It is so easy to live in the future and not in the present.  If we are not careful, we can miss life while we plow right through it.  I used to think that when I got my iPhone my life would be so much easier because I could keep my calendar synced up and I could find a lot of extra time once I had all my calendar issues settled.  But instead of being less busy, I have simply filled the time with other busy things.

This week I have been thinking about the concept of slowing down.  John Ortberg, the author of “T he Life You Have Always Wanted”,  devotes a whole chapter that is very worth reading about this concept.  His premise is that if we don’t slow down we will miss the most important things in this life.  Ortberg says we must choose to slow our life down or else it will constantly be out of control.  We will never enjoy life unless we choose to slow down.  No one else can do that for us.  We must practice it as a discipline.  In the same way that we train for a 5K or a Triathlon, we must train to be people who enjoy the moment.

Last year I had the opportunity to start a church.  Although it is a labor of love, it is a lot of hard work.  There is constantly something to do and people to minister to.  In the midst of all this I must choose to slow myself so that I can enjoy the journey God is allowing me to go through.  There will never be another beginning to Green Hills Church.  If I am not careful, I will miss the joy in seeing a new church bloom.

We all need seasons in our lives to rest.  Doing things are very important, but if life is constantly doing and never being then it is not enjoyable.  I don’t want to be a human doing, I want to be a human being.  That’s why God has given us the Sabbath, a time to rest.  God from the beginning has chosen to model that we need to take time in our lives to rest.  He told the people of Israel to rest every week and every 7 years they had to let their land rest.  Rest is very important.  It allows us to live, not just to do.

Summer time is a great time to slow down.  The pace of life around us naturally slows down due to the change in seasons. This summer, my Co-Pastor, Brad and I decided that we were going to enjoy the summer.  We decided that we were going to slow down and choose to rest because the fall is an exciting and very busy time.  It’s just really hard to honor that commitment.  But this week I have realized that summer is passing by very quickly and if I don’t choose to slow myself, I will enter the fall fatigued.

So here are some ideas on how to proactively rest.  I don’t mean that you shouldn’t go to work or that you should slack off on work but I think there are some ways to slow life down.  First of all turn the TV off.  Thats right.  Football isn’t here yet and all your favorite shows are on hiatus until the fall, so why do we need to watch reruns for hours at a time at night?   Try this, instead of watching TV, pick out a book and immerse your mind into another world.  I know some people like reading non-fiction, I think there is no substitute for escapist fiction.

A second idea is to choose to be either 5 minutes early or 5 minutes late to things.  You would be surprised how much pressure you relieve when you do this.  You take the control of the situation instead of falling into the tyranny of deadlines.

Lastly, I think a great way to slow down is to remove something from your calendar that is important.  Our lives are constantly filled with things that are important and urgent.  Many things we think are important really aren’t.  I often find myself doing things that I dont want to do, in hopes of impressing someone.  Sometimes we need to let those things that only seem important to fade away into the background and let the truly important things like family and God rise to the forefront.

Some of you have checked out my buddy Josh Bronleewe’s music- especially his song “Wake Up” that I posted a while back on the blog.  I was listening to a new song he posted on his myspace page called “Highway.”  It’s really mellow and it slowed me down as I listened to it.  I hope you like it:

First Sounds Game

I had a first for me last night.  Tab and I got a chance to go to the Nashville Sounds game.  If you don’t know who the Sounds are, they are the Milwaukee Brewer’s AAA affiliate.  It was my first time to go to one of their games.  I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun it was.  We dined on $1 hotdogs and chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone.  Seriously is there anything more relaxing that watching a late afternoon baseball game.  It seems like time just stands still.   There was actually a lot of good talent on the field.  Thanks to some online research on and Buster Olney’s blog I found out that they have an absolute stud in their 22 year old short stop, Alcides Escobar. You can read Buster’s blog here:

If you got a free evening, I highly recommend you checking out a Sounds game.

Here are some pictures of the event.

Rob Bell Compassion Video

Rob Bell put this video/talk together and it is really inspiring.  He talks about the value of serving others and how to be blessing.   Of course it has his trademark creativity and relevant explanation of Old Testament teaching.  If you have 5 minutes to watch it I promise it will move your soul.

To see the video just cut and paste the link:

This tumor was specifically designed for me by God.

I heard through some friends about a man named, David who is battling brain cancer.  He found out that he has a tumor in his brain that is around his comprehension and language centers.   I couldn’t imagine going through an experience like that.  I wanted to turn you on to his blog because it is incredibly inspiring to hear his heart.  This is right in line with what I have been writing recently about trusting God when bad things happen to us.

Here is something that David posted recently:

This tumor was specifically designed for me by God.
The other day my sister sent me an article written by John Piper called ‘Don’t Waste your Cancer’ <> .  Written on the eve of John’s prostate surgery, his first point is:

1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.

“It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer but does not design it. What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a ‘design’. If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.”

God didn’t give me a bum leg or a sore back. He has designed a tumor to grow in my brain in the specific place – the exact location – where I would never ever want it to be.  He has intricately fused a massive lesion into the middle of my comprehension and language centers.  He has calcified cancerous tissues around the speech production areas of my brain; the essence of my personality, my career and my future.

If God were about to tell a compelling story with my life that ended in His glorification, this is a pretty incredible way to start it.  After all, would we still talk about Goliath if he wasn’t a giant?

This is the beginning of a new story, but I want to make a clarification.  This new story is about God, not me. So I confidently declare Psalm 20:6-9.

6 Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.

7 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses;
But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

8 They have bowed down and fallen;
But we have risen and stand upright.

9 Save, LORD!
May the King answer us when we call.

Please be praying for David.  If you want to follow along his blog is:

Twitter Sellout

Ok!  So I have a confession to make.  I just joined Twitter last week.  I feel kind of like a sell out but I think it will be a cool instrument to continue reaching people through this blog.  If you are into Twitter you can follow me at Mike_Harder or

See you online!


I don’t know if you are anything like me but I struggle with comparing myself to others.  Its something that happens in the back of my mind constantly.  I find myself gauging my own performance or self worth by looking around.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing with benchmarking yourself to seeing how you are doing and what you could be doing better but comparisons can be very dangerous to our psyche and our walk with God.  The reason they can be dangerous is because we can become slaves to an image of what we should be and miss the freedom that comes with being who we really are.

Many times when I compare myself to others I make dangerous mistakes.  I either prop myself up and push others down, allowing to think I am doing really well because of my perceived superiority, or I see myself as a complete failure because of someone else’s success.  Comparisons make us ride a out of control emotional roller coaster.  I become a hostage to my emotions.   The dirty little secret about comparisons that I have learned recently is that comparing yourself is really a form of pride.

Two areas that I struggle with are Comparisons with my dad and comparisons with my peers.

Comparison with Dad – I have a great relationship with my dad but it is easy to compare myself with where he was in his ministry or his life when he was my age.  I know other people struggle with the desire to please their dad and live up to his expectations.

Comparisons with Peers – This is probably the worst arena of comparisons for me.  It is so easy to compare myself with my friends and co-workers.  Performance is valued highly in western culture an the pressure to perform is exhausting.  I think preachers really struggle with this because we have so much value tied into how we do when we teach.  Everyone else is evaluating us as we teach and so we also evaluate ourselves.  We can fall in the trap of equating our personal value to our teaching popularity.  Compounding the problem is the power of the internet and podcasts.

Honestly the only way to be free from comparing yourself with your peers is to choose to walk in humility. defines humility as: having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance and rank. I really like that definition.  Humility frees us to be who we really are.  1 Peter 5:5 says:  “And all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud,but gives grace to the humble.” Humility covers our nakedness and our insecurities. Humility brings God’s favor on our life

If you struggle with humility and comparing yourself to others I encourage you to trust God and fire yourself from comparing yourself to others.  That will allow you to find true freedom and the ability to enjoy your life.

I talk about this topic a lot more on this week’s podcast from Green Hills Church.  Check it out here!

Just click the link to listen:

Humility and Stress

This Sunday I am teaching on the topic of humility as we teach through the book of John.  Honestly, I am not the best person to be teaching about humility since I have not come close to attaining it.  But I really have felt burdened for this message since I returned from Italy.  I have really been convicted of my sins of comparison in the last week.   Being away for 12 days on vacation was so refreshing.  I completely unplugged from my life here.  No email, phone calls or computer.  Just my iphone that I used to blog our trip. When we got back I felt really rejuventated.

On Monday morning as I was getting ready for our staff meeting, I began to feel the weight of life begin to creep upon my bones.  I was surprised to feel how heavy the stress felt that I had been under before I left for vacation.  The stress was pressure to perform as a pastor, pressure to succeed, and the pressure of leadership.  I was worrying about things I had no control of but hoping that through my worry that I would be able to overcome my obstacles.  In that moment I felt God convicting me of not trusting him.

I immediately began to pray and ask God for forgiveness.  I needed forgiveness for trying so hard to carry all the burdens on my own.  I vowed to turn that stuff over to him and just work hard at doing what he has called me to.  I need to just focus on being myself and staying humble.  Humility frees us from the pressure of having to prop ourselves up by our accolades.  

Jesus modeled humility throughout his life.  Most of us are aware that Jesus set the gold standard for what it is to live a life that was humble and selfless.  But as I have been digging in the scriptures I am amazed at how truly humble Jesus really is.  I am struggling as a flawed vessel to live a life that resembles that of my savior.  

Please pray for me as I share this message on Sunday.  I know that so many of us are trying so hard to succeed and to find validation.  My prayer is that our people can find freedom from the tyranny of comparison and the weight of pride this Sunday.

Back in Nashvegas


We are back.  Back in the blessed United States.  We had such a good time but we had such a hectic 24 hours on our way home.   Sorry I didnt blog the last couple of days.  We stopped in Positano which is off the Almafi coast and didnt have internet there and then made a quick journey back to Rome to get on a plane and head back to Nashville.  

Our stop in Positano was a pretty hairy adventure.  We took an overnight train from Cinque Terra that started at 1:37 at night.   We had to leave Vernazza at 11:30 to go to a slightly larger town called La Spieza.  That was fine except for the fact that La Spieza got a little shade after midnight.  Tab and I hung out with some very silent families who were visibly trying to ignore the sleeping homeless people sleeping on the train platform.  But it was worth the discomfort to sleep overnight on the train all the way down to Naples.  Our train was pretty cool.  We had our own little bedroom on it that had a locking door and a guy who watched over us as we slept.  He also woke us up with hot coffee when we were about an hour away from Naples.  

The trip to Positano was pretty scenic except for the time we were in Naples.  Rick Steves warns about Naples because it is known for its thieves and pickpockets.  Over 1/3rd of the city’s adult male population is unemployed which leads to rampant petty crime.  With great apprehension we rode the rickety subway called the Circumvensuvia to the town of Sorrento.  From there, we took a bus over the mountains to Sorrento.  We stayed at a really cool Pensione called Pensione Maria Lousia.  Our host, Carlo Milo, was amazing.  He was so hospitable.  Our room had a balcony that overlooked the Mediterranean.    You can check them out here:  

If you ever get to go to Positano, you will find that the city is really quaint and built on a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Think Cinque Terra on a much larger scale.  Both on the size of the town and the size of the scenery.  It is the town that Robert Downey Jr. and Marissa Tomei go to in the movie Only You.  It is very beautiful.  But it is very steep.  We counted 414 steps from our Pensione to the beach.  

One of the coolest things was we bought sandwiches that evening from a local deli and ate them overlooking the sea.  Believe it or not, we finally got tired of pizza.  As we were heading down we heard this guy singing in a deep baritone from up around the corner.  We thought we were going to be crashing a private concert but it was just some random guy just bringing it.  He had one of the most incredible voices we have ever heard.  We just camped out right there and ate our sandwiches, watched the sea and listened to an amazing free concert.

We left Positano the next day by boat to go to Salerno.  We found out there that there is a Trenitalia train station in Salerno.  It is right across the street from the docks.  The trip that way is cheaper, shorter and safer.  The views from the boat are really beautiful.

Our trip back was pretty uneventful.  We went out one more time to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon when we got back to Rome.  Tabitha bought some cool shoes and we went to bed.  

The next morning at 6 AM Rome time, 11 PM Nashville time we got up to head home.  It was such a long flight.  We were up about 24 hours straight, minus some small naps on the plane.  It feels so good to be home though and in our own beds.  

Here are some pics of Positano.  


Jet lag is seeping in and I am about to crash.  I am going to post some more pictures tomorrow.  I have to edit them down in size and I just hit a wall.  Its great to be home though!