How “unfortunate”

Lately I keep hearing a term getting thrown around by athletes, celebrities, politicians, news reporters, a lot of people. If there was a vote today, right now, the word “unfortunate” might be the new buzzword in town. With how “unfortunate” is being used lately, I wonder if we’ve lost its meaning.

  • “It was an unfortunate tragedy that [NASCAR race car driver Dan] Wheldon’s car crashed.”
  • “It was a series of unfortunate events that we were unable to relieve the economic pressure on our fiscal budget, thus resulting in the sudden job losses.”
  • “I regret my unfortunate actions in the conflict involving police officials on March 26th.”

Call me a cynic but I’m second-guessing the sincerity behind these statements. It isn’t very helpful though to drag out Webster’s definition of unfortunate because this word defines itself: without fortune. It implies that luck and fortune were absent, like scratching a losing lottery ticket. That’s a bummer. What a letdown.

It’s the same wringing-hands, head-shaking shoulder shrug you’d expect from a coach whose team got the crap kicked out of them in a game. “Well, it’s an unfortunate loss.” Unfortunate? Coach, your defense couldn’t stop a nose bleed! Unfortunate is losing the coin toss before kickoff.

I can understand when someone uses “unfortunate” to describe a small disappointment but I cringe when someone uses this word to describe a death like Dan Wheldon’s. He’s remembered as a family man who loved his kids and wife, a great guy to be around. The recent flooding in Bangkok isn’t another “unfortunate” event; it’s a growing tragedy that threatens the lives of millions.

Yes, I’m over-analyzing the use of one word but I want to be careful in what my words are communicating. This is more of a rant to remind myself because labeling other tragedies as “unfortunate” can be an attempt to put a nice cover on the situation. I want to make sure that I’m not putting an understatement on situations that deserve more. I’m wanting to make sure that I’m not using words that will gloss over a bad situation.

Book Review – Practicing Greatness (Reggie McNeal)

In his book, Practicing Greatness, author Reggie McNeal makes a strong call for leaders to take the next step in leadership effectiveness. “Deliberate mediocrity is a sin,” quotes McNeal at the start of his work and from there he begins a practical and theological overview of a leader’s call to abandon mediocrity in the pursuit of greatness.

McNeal introduces and explores seven disciplines of extraordinary spiritual leaders as the premise for leadership greatness. With his background as part of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, McNeal uses principles grounded in the Bible as the bedrock for his work. This is more than a man’s pursuit of greatness; this is a deeper understanding of pursuing the fullest, God-glorifying potential that a leader can in light of examples in Scripture.

The practical wisdom found in Practicing Greatness makes it a valuable resource for all levels of aspiring leaders. I found myself having to reach for a pen on a regular basis to underline another great nugget of leadership wisdom as I read through this book. From a writing standpoint it’s easy to read and has a nice overall flow to the train of thought.

I would recommend Practicing Greatness for any ministry leader because of the practical and theological wisdom that it contains. Practicing Greatness is published by Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series and is available for purchase at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other leading bookstores.

Friday List – October 28, 2011

It’s the Friday before Halloween (or “Harvest Festival” night where evangelicals like to lock their doors). I’ll have a few posts coming up to talk about Halloween. Should be a riot.

Until then…enjoy the Friday List.

  • Last night’s Game 6 of the World Series was an incredible game. I realized that I’ve seen the last three walk-off homers in Games 6 or 7 in the World Series: Kirby Puckett (1991), Joe Carter (1993), and David Freese (2011). I’m calling Cards winning tonight, 6-4.
  • J. Edgar looks like it could be good. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio and was directed by Clint Eastwood. The storyline itself should make it worth seeing.
  • With the death of Google Buzz, it raises questions about the survival of Google+.
  • In case you missed it, Bangkok is under threat of serious flooding. Runoff the equivalent of 480,000 Olympic-sized pools is trying to make its way to the Gulf of Thailand. Pray for Bangkok.
  • Creative of the Week: Forever Bicycles by Ai Weiwei.
  • Picture of the Week: Photostream of people’s expressions at a haunted house.
  • Video of the Week: “Exploded” by Lowe’s.
  • Quote of the Week:

[Christianity] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.” — Roman Emperor Julian

My Travels – Minnesota (October 2011)

Kara and I flew back last night from a week in Minnesota. It was a great time for us to spend time with her family and some of our close friends. Here are some highlights from the week:

  • I played racquetball for the first time in a while and got killed.
  • I played golf with Kara’s aunt and grandpa in some beautiful fall weather.
  • Kara and I went to the Nebraska/Minnesota football game on Saturday afternoon and enjoyed some great seats, courtesy of her aunt.
  • We also went to the Vikings/Packers game on Sunday and were grateful the game was in the Dome. Vikings lost 33-27 but the Vikings played their best game this year by far.
  • Kara’s family celebrated my birthday a few weeks early since we were there. Angel food cake…yum.
  • Phase 10 Masters. Buy it. Great version of my favorite card game.

I took some pictures of our adventures. Enjoy!

Grandpa Jones pulling back for a practice swing at the 1st tee.

We tailgated with some Husker fans even though Kara was wearing Gopher gear.

Homecoming Week at the U of M.

Getting ready for the token "Get Well" game for the Huskers. GO BIG RED!

The U of M band in their "Mound of Sound" formation.

Our view in the Dome.

Friday List – October 21, 2011

It’s a beautiful Friday here in Minnesota. A lot of the leaves have fallen and the chill is in the air. Kara and I are headed to the Huskers/Gophers game tomorrow in the twin cities. For now though, let’s get to the Friday List.

  • Nightline recently covered Ralph Richard Banks’ recently released controversial book, Is Marriage for White People? In his work, Banks makes the suggestion that interracial marriage may be a solution for middle-class African-American women who can’t find a suitable black husband. As a pastor and white man, I’m interested in how the Church will respond to Banks’ assertions and the ministry needs that might be connected.
  • Pastor Ed Dobson recently sat down with Collide Magazine and shared about his series of films called Ed’s Story featuring his life, his year lived like Jesus, and his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
  • Catalyst One Day Chicago is coming to Willow Creek on November 17th.
  • Relevant Magazine provides 10 reasons why Christians should care about science.
  • James McDonald has a great post about letting the authority of God’s Word drive a speaker’s message, not the other way around.
  • Picture of the Week: Shesus Christ.
  • Video of the Week: PS Power Tool – Learn the Law. I might have laughed at how they put together this video.

Blogging Journey – October 20, 2011

It’s been 15 months now in my blogging journey and I’ve loved every bit of it so far. Today I’m taking the time to share about what I’ve been learning over the past 3-4 months during my blogging journey.

First, thanks for being with me through this whole process. Your input as readers, thinkers, and other voices in a bigger conversation are what help me sharpen and refine and challenge my way of thinking. For all the times and ways in which I haven’t said it enough: thank you.

These are some of my random thoughts about blogging. If you’re a fellow poster or have an inkling to start your own blog sometime soon, these might come in handy.

  • I’ve mentioned in the past that I try to plan out my upcoming post topics at least two weeks in advance. It’s a good thought but really I’ve found that there needs to be some flexibility, in case something great comes up spontaneously.
  • I still recommend planning out upcoming posts and using great resources like iCal or Google Calendar to make it easier, cleaner, and more efficient.
  • I’m going to include more of my personal life in my future posts. Now that Kara’s in my life, I’d like to capture some of our memories together. For example, we flew out to Minnesota yesterday for a week with her family, some of my favorite people in the world. (I’d say that even if I knew that none of them would read this.)
  • Klout is a newfound love of mine. It has some great resources that remove the nebulous effect of stats and replaces them with more meaningful metrics that have a real purpose.
  • Having a quality picture and layout for your blog goes a long way towards how people respond to your voice. Do yourself a favor: don’t go with the photo that looks like a cropped, red-eyed, and blurry pic from the cellphone of a liquored-up college kid. Spend a little money to get quality, professional photos. If the photographer is a friend, you might even get a “good friend” discount.
  • Recently I got an iPhone and have been using Evernote to capture all my ideas in the moment. If you’re not familiar with Evernote, I’d recommend giving it a try. Even if it’s for something simple, like a grocery list, it’s worth the hassle of learning Evernote.
  • You’re probably not going to post every day. It’s unrealistic to keep up with that type of rhythm and expect to maintain quality throughout all of your posts. Set a goal of posting two, three, five times a week and then stick with it.

Ministry Highlight – I Am Second

A few weeks ago my wife and I were in New York City in Times Square when I saw an ad for I Am Second play on one of the big screens. It was then that I was reminded again how powerful an impact this movement is having in our world.

I Am Second is a grassroots movement that asks the question: if you were to realize that life is about more than just you, what would you put above you? What greater thing would be important enough to place you second in your own life?

I Am Second is a movement to discover something bigger than yourself. It’s a group of people from all walks of life, from all backgrounds and experiences, who are looking for the reason of living, specifically living for God and for others. I Am Second is a great entry point for people in search of purpose, God, answers to life, and healing from pain.

What I love about I Am Second is their short films that they produce of different celebrities, actors, musicians, pop culture icons, and athletes sharing their stories, people who have come from places of failure and God has resurrected their lives because of their surrender to Him. You hear their hurt and pain, some of them celebrities and very public icons, others are everyday people who have a story to tell.

Here are only a few of the many story films that are featured by I Am Second:

If I Am Second were about celebrities talking about their resurrected careers and getting second chances, it wouldn’t be nearly as impacting. I Am Second is really for people like you and me, everyday people wrapping our minds around God’s plans for us.

I Am Second is about realizing life is about more than just our own lives, calendars, and social circles. It’s about recognizing that there is a God and that our lives need to revolve around His agenda in the world. You can get connected to I Am Second through their website and become a part of the movement there.

Blessings in disguise

I’ve heard over half a dozen cancer survivors say they wouldn’t trade their brush with cancer for a “normal” life. My first inclination is to say, “Are you insane?” But they’re adamant when they say that their cancer was a blessing in a disguise.

Now, I’m betting that thousands, maybe even millions of people with cancer would rather have a completely healthy life than their battle with cancer. So, why wouldn’t people who have gone through the same heartache and struggles be willing to hit the reset button and go back to the way things were?

It’s easy to think that blessings can only be positive experiences. And when something bad happens, whether it rocks your world or makes you fifteen minutes late for an appointment, it’s easy to also think that nothing good can come of it.

But what if our blessings don’t always come in the way we expected? What if it’s dressed just a little bit differently than what we expected? What if our “curses” can really be blessings in disguise?

This isn’t a silver-lining mentality where life is all about sunshine, rainbows, and glitter. And unicorns, can’t forget unicorns. Nope, it’s not about that at all.

It’s about clinging to the fact that God can use anything for good, even the darkest realities of life. Sometimes God allows us to experience pain and frustration and the curveballs of life to shape us into the people He wants us to be.

What might seem like a tragedy may be exactly what God wants you to go through in the moment. It sounds backwards that God would send a disappointment as a blessing but maybe that disappointment steers you away from making a bad decision. Maybe the temporary disappointment is God’s way of saving you from a bigger heartache.

It may not seem like blessing in the moment as the casket lid closes, the phone rings, or the pink slip is read. But it might mean that someone’s suffering is over and their pain is gone. It might mean that it’s a treatable diagnosis without a terminal ending. It might mean that you will have an opportunity to try something new and fresh and exciting.

Sometimes things happen in life that leave very real scars on us. Sometimes we experience things that no one should ever have to experience. But in the middle of your darkest reality, there might be a real blessing that you won’t be able to see until you’re further down the road of life. Some of the greatest blessings come in our worst experiences but we don’t always see them for what they are.

Friday List – October 14, 2011

Friday is here and I’m really excited about this week’s Friday List.

“Christ’s followers cannot expect better treatment in the world than their Master had.” — Matthew Henry

Develop leaders but don’t clone them

Identifying and recruiting new leaders is a passion of mine. I get excited when I see someone who shows leadership potential that hasn’t been given an opportunity to develop that potential…yet. They may not even know that they have leadership ability but they might see glimpses of it. I love being able to start building into a new leader and see that “a-ha” moment when they realize their God-given gift.

But when I see a new leader, I have to avoid a big trap. I have to make sure that I don’t try to turn them into a 2.0 version of me. I also have to make sure that I’m not trying to shape them into a cloned version of anybody else, the next “_______.”

Not all leaders are middle aged, white suburbian businessmen who drive BMW’s and have a Blackberry. Leaders come in all sorts of shapes, shades, backgrounds, ages, and shoe sizes. Leadership development should be unique for each one because of where they’ve been and where they should be going.

It’s also important to remember that every leader has a different set of strengths. For example, not every leader is wired to be a great public speaker. In fact, some of the best leaders in history weren’t great public speakers. Anybody see The King’s Speech? It’s a true story. If we try to force new leaders into a mold that doesn’t fit their natural strengths and talents, we can malign their development and kill their growing confidence.

When you find a potential new leader, try to see how God has wired them first and then look for ways to develop them, not the other way around. They won’t be you because they shouldn’t be you. Leaders should become the greatest versions of who they already are, not a cloned version or improved version of you or anyone else.

Friday List – October 7, 2011

Friday is here after a week where we saw the passing of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple. Like billions of us, I never got a chance to meet Jobs but I’m sure that the world will miss his creativity. I hope and pray that he had a relationship with Christ.

  • Mark Driscoll recently wrote a long letter to Mars Hill that’s refreshing to hear from a lead pastor.
  • In case you missed the unveiling, here’s the overview video of the new iPhone 4S.
  • King’s Kaleidoscope of Mars Hill in Seattle just released their album, Sin, recorded from this past Good Friday. Band member Nadia Ifland shares about her experience with the recording.
  • I’m not a fan of ESPN’s Body Issue. That’s the very reason why I don’t subscribe to Sports Illustrated.
  • Creative of the Week: The Shoe World of Kobi Levi.
  • Video of the Week: Trailer for Hebrews 12 series from Elevation Church.
  • Quote of the Week:

“As long as we achieve our desires in our own power, we will always attribute it to our own glory.” — David Platt, Radical

Under the surface

It’s hard to see things under the surface of water. The light and waves distort what we see. Water warps and bends and changes our perspective on things that are just barely under the surface. Sometimes it’s very difficult to see what’s only a few inches below the surface, let alone several feet.

An iceberg might weigh several thousand tons but it only shows forty feet of its pinnacle above the water. No one would ever know how big it truly is unless they go under the surface of the water to get a better look. A dorsal fin sticking out of the water could be a variety of things but the angle of the water doesn’t always give a clear view to see what’s under the surface. It could be a dolphin. It could be a shark.

People can hide things very easily, you, me, we all hide things. It’s almost an art form how carefully people disguise and veil some of our biggest weaknesses and insecurities. If we really knew how many burdens and anxieties people are carrying just under the surface of their exteriors, we’d probably be amazed.

Sometimes we show just a tip of our struggles in our lives, like an iceberg coming out of the water. Maybe it happens in a tense moment, maybe it’s a sharp comeback, or maybe it’s something as simple as a deflated sigh. We might not know how big a struggle is in someone else’s life. We might not know how big that type of an iceberg is in the sea of their soul. They might be doing everything they can to avoid wrecking their life on that one struggle.

What’s under the surface of someone’s life can be a dangerous, shocking, and messy discovery. Years of pain and hurt and disappointment may be what’s lying just underneath someone’s exterior and we wouldn’t know how tired they are of struggling by themselves unless we ask to see deeper into their lives.

Don’t force it though, don’t try to be someone’s savior and fill the role that only Jesus can. Maybe it’s actually caring about someone’s answer to a simple question, “How are you?” Maybe it’s pulling someone aside in a private way and asking a non-threatening question about a comment they made. It’s wanting to see what’s below the surface because you care about them, regardless of whether they share with you or not.

It’s one thing to dismiss an off-comment, or two or three, as someone having a bad day. The challenge is truly caring about whether it’s an off-day or just the tip of the iceberg. It’s about letting God open your eyes to see what’s under the surface.

Book Review – StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Tom Rath)

If there’s one thing that Western civilization has lauded, it’s improving on our weaknesses. It might be seen in a performance review at work under the clever heading of “Areas in Need of Improvement” or “Growing Areas.” A student’s report card containing four A’s and one B- might result in much of the focus going towards the one B- rather than the four A’s.

Whatever it’s called, the Western world’s obsession with removing weaknesses has caused many people to stray away from focusing on their strengths. In the noble effort to become a well-rounded individual, it’s easy to lose the point of what drives you the most.

Enter StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, the result of forty years of systematic research to help people find their strengths. Rath has teamed with the Gallup International Research Institute to assess and analyze the response, level of fulfillment, and overall well-being of countless people when asked about the pursuit of their strengths versus the improvement of their weaknesses. Overwhelmingly the research has proven that people feel far more fulfilled where they can hone their strengths rather than make up for their weaknesses.

Through their research Rath and the Gallup team have identified and worked to define 34 separate and unique themes and ideas for action that are personified as people’s strengths. From achieving to influencing to communicating to analyzing, these strengths are clearly defined and explored as positive aspects of personality, rather than negative influences to be overcome.

From a research standpoint this work is exceptional. Rath does an excellent job of communicating the logic and evidence behind the research and provides real-life examples and testimonies of people who embody each of the 34 themes of strength. The practical element of discovering a strength is brought to light through Rath’s exploration of the pro’s and con’s of each strength.

If you finding yourself wishing you were able to do what you do best, then StrengthsFinder 2.0 is for you. If you would rather pursue where you excel as opposed to staying where you’re supposed to be “well-rounded,” then this book is for you.

Released in 2007, StrengthsFinder 2.0 has topped the Wall Street Journal’s bestselling reading list and includes an online resource for readers to discover and understand their own strengths. It may be purchased at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon.com, and other leading bookstores.

Why behavior modification isn’t really life change

Yesterday I listened to a message where the speaker spoke about righteousness, redemption, and releasing the control on our lives to God. He mentioned that it’s easy to fall into the trap of behavior modification. That got me to thinking about why behavior modification isn’t really life change.

Behavior modification is thinking that spiritual formation requires the same methodical repetition used to break a bad habit. If I do this for 30 straight days, then I might finally stop gossiping. It may work for a while but how long until what’s really inside your heart comes out when you’re hurt, disappointed, exhausted, or feel betrayed?

Behavior modification is me going through the motions of what others say I’m supposed to do, hoping that appearances are enough to convince everyone else that I’ve got my crap together. Do I really think I need to make these changes or is this just an obligatory change that I can make that gives everyone a good impression of me?

Behavior modification is the Eliza Doolittle (My Fair Lady) of ethics: maybe if we clean up the outside, make it sound nice, and behave properly, then we might be able to pass the eye-test and no one will know the wiser. But after the dust has settled and no one else is around to impress with how well we behave, how long will it be before our real hearts come out to play?

Our faith journeys aren’t about fixing bad habits; they’re about releasing to God the attitudes that we’ve adopted and letting Him restore our hearts back to what they were created to be in Eden. It’s doing everything we can to learn how to see things through His eyes and with His heart.

Change, real change, the kind that makes misers generous, bitter people joyful, and broken people restored, that type of change only comes from a life fully given up to God. Those are the lives that allow the Holy Spirit to invest in our hearts and truly transform who we are on the inside. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we could fix our bad habits; He died so He could change our lives completely.

Friday List – September 30, 2011

Friday is here and like many of you, I’m also glad it’s finally here. Enjoy.

  • I don’t think we’ll ever see a night in baseball like we did on Wednesday night. As a long-time Yankees fan, I didn’t mind losing to the Rays at all since the Red Sox are now the most talented baseball team…on the golf course.
  • Lately I’ve been digging the treasures of Slide Share. Communicators, do your audience (and yourselves) a favor and make creative slides.
  • Rob Bell is leaving Mars Hill in Grand Rapids.
  • Creative of the Week: 1000 Premieres, the grassroots endeavor to film the story of David and Goliath.
  • Video of the Week: Emmanuel Kelly sings John Lennon’s “Imagine.”
  • Quote of the Week:

What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent with your mouth.” (Source unknown)

Are you fulfilled?

Do you feel fulfilled?

That’s the question I’ve been asking to different people over the past two months. Friends, family, even people I only met minutes earlier, I’ve asked this question: do you feel fulfilled? Well, fulfilled in what sense, they might ask: work, family, relationships, hobbies, how they see themselves, etc. In what areas? In any of those areas, I might say. Is there an area of your life or even your life in general that doesn’t feel fulfilled?

Second question, if your answer is no and there’s something that you can do about finding that fulfillment, why aren’t you making that change? If it’s within your power to change things in your life to find more fulfillment, then what’s stopping you?

Fulfilled…Webster’s defines it as “to carry out, or bring to realization,” “to satisfy,” and even “to develop the full potential of.” God has every hope and dream that you will seize your God-given opportunity to make the most of your life. It’s not a self-realization gimmick; it’s being faithful with what you’ve been given and searching for something more.

People will stay in dead-end jobs, knowing that they’re dead-end jobs, because it’s comfortable. The risk of leaving may not even be that daunting but they’ve been at this job for a long enough time that leaving would just seem…well, foolish. Never mind that they feel hollow and like their dreams are more fantasy than possibility; they will stay with what they know. The energy and effort to reach for what’s best is the easy victim of their willingness to accept the way things are as being “good enough.”

But fulfillment, first defined by Webster’s as “bringing to realization,” is important. It’s the part where we realize that things could be so much more rewarding to our hearts and lives and souls and faith. Maybe it’s the first time we see the gap between where we are and where we could be if things could be changed or moved. Maybe it’s realizing that you’ve settled for what’s okay when what’s best could be knocking on your door.

If your life isn’t as fulfilling as it could be in every area, ask yourself why that might be. If you have a God-given opportunity to make a change, then what’s stopping you?

Book Review – The Talent Code (Daniel Coyle)

Have you ever wondered how you could develop faster as a musician? As a tennis player? A golfer? Even a swing dancer? Daniel Coyle’s work, The Talent Code, opens the door to a new world of concentrated skill development through the mystery and miracle of myelin. Coyle provides the medical and physiological argument for the development of skill through the growth and retention of myelin in the human brain.

Myelin is the neural version of high voltage insulation that guides electronic impulses through the neural system. As neural circuits are discovered and grown, myelin begins to insulate the circuits themselves and protects against neural atrophy. As more repetition and intentionality is focused on specific neural circuits, such as the neural impulses to produce the motor skill of playing a harmonic scale, the speed and accuracy in which the muscles are able to repeat the action is quickly perfected.

At the first glance this would begin to bore the average reader if it weren’t for Coyle’s introduction where the acute development of myelin has transformed the practice routines and success of athletes, musicians, and other motor-skilled professionals. In his research Coyle traveled to obscure tennis schools, underwhelming soccer academies, and hole-in-the-wall music studios where incredible talent has been discovered, only to face the possibility that talent may be grown rather than simply being innate.

Coyle provides basic concepts and principles for readers to follow that will dramatically affect their view of practice, repetition, and the variance of speed in which both are approached. The Talent Code is an excellent resource for anyone from success coaches to the average golfer who wants to improve their game. If you’re willing to put in the time, effort, and concentration of deep practice as outlined by Coyle, then your skill will see significant results.

The Talent Code may be purchased at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Amazon, and other leading bookstores.

My Travels – New York City (September 2011)

Kara and I just got back last night from a short vacation to New York City. Our plan was to go see the Red Sox play the Yankees on Friday night and the Phillies take on the Mets on Saturday afternoon. It was the first big step that we’ve taken on our quest to visit all of the MLB stadiums (four down, a bunch to go). I had never been to New York before this weekend and I’m confident I won’t forget this trip anytime soon.

We took the red-eye on Thursday night/Friday morning (1 AM departure, yay….) and landed in the Big Apple at around 6:30 EST. I don’t sleep well on national flights so needless to say, I was dragging for most of Friday. We flew into JFK and since we only packed in our backpacks for the weekend, it was a breeze getting to walk right past baggage claim.

Our first challenge was getting to the subway and figuring out the labyrinth that is the New York subway system. Since I lived in downtown Chicago for four years, I was used to figuring out the map. We quickly found ourselves headed downtown…albeit by a longer route than was necessary and walked up and out right into the heart of lower Manhattan. Welcome to New York City.

We took the Statue of Liberty ferry tour that visited Ellis Island and Liberty Island. If you’re planning on a trip to NYC, I’d highly recommend taking the ferry tour. Liberty Island was okay, we thought the audio tour could have been much better, but the Ellis Island experience was incredible.

We noticed that the fog was getting worse towards the end of our time at Liberty Island. By the time we finished at Ellis Island, the fog had become a downpour. We got rained on, correction-poured on. Everything got soaked: our backpacks, our spare clothes, phone chargers, wallets and cards, baseball tickets, everything. We didn’t have raincoats with us, nope, left those on a gamble that the rain wasn’t supposed to hit, at least not that badly.

We landed at the ferry stop back at NYC and puddle-jumped our way to the subway station where we emerged again near Times Square and bought a small umbrella. Thank God for an umbrella but by that point, what’s the use? We got lunch in Times Square where I was pleasantly surprised to see ads for the new NIV, I Am Second, and a few other non-profits play on the big screens along Times Square.

After lunch we again braved the rains to find Rockefeller Center and decided that as unimpressive as it actually looked in real life (it looks more impressive on 30 Rock), it was time to find our hotel and get a timeout from the rain. I won’t go into too much detail about the hotel because ghetto would have been an understatement. We laid out all of our wet clothes and decided to head down to Yankees Stadium that evening.

Yep, I’m a big Yankees fan (coming up on 20 years of fanhood) so seeing my Yanks take on the chowda-lovin’ jealous ones from up nort’ is a dream come true…until they cancelled the game because of rain. Crap. We had flown all the way to New York City just to see my boys play and they postponed the game until Sunday…after we would be back home in Denver. Again, crap. The good thing is that we were able to sit in our seats and get to tour the ballpark so technically, we can cross it off the list.

At Yankees Stadium with my bride.

The next day the rain was gone and we made our way to Citi Field where we caught a great game between the Phillies and Mets. We were glad that we got a chance to see some of the sights of NYC and that we were able to see a good game (Mets won, 2-1) but we’re glad to be back home in our Mile High home. I will say that there are some unbelievable characters in the New York subway and that quite a few New Yorkers are flat-out rude but hey, we made some great memories while were there.

At Citi Field waiting for the Mets to play.

Friday List – September 9, 2011

Friday is here and it’s the morning after the NFL season began. It’s good to know that we’ll have pro football this fall, another beautiful example of God’s general providence.

Farewell letter to Sanctuary

To our family at Sanctuary,

The past three years have been an exciting and challenging time to be involved in ministry at Metro Church/Sanctuary Christian Fellowship. We thank God for allowing us the blessing of serving with many of you and seeing how God has worked in our hearts and lives since we started. We feel privileged to have worshiped with you and grown more complete in Christ because of our time spent together.

We were surprised by the abruptness of our release but we respect the elders’ decision. This is not a character or moral failure in any way and the elders adamantly reiterated that fact when they spoke to Jon. We want you to know that Jon has not done anything that would compromise his character or qualifications for ministry and he hopes to continue pursuing a life of integrity moving forward.

It was also stated that this was not a lack of competency or calling on Jon’s part. We are grateful for the opportunity that Jon has had to grow as a musician and worship leader during his time at Sanctuary. It is our hope that the creative arts ministry will continue to grow as we cherish the memories that we carry from ministry together with you.

As we move forward we would value your prayers for us in these areas:

  • Blessings, wisdom, and discernment for the leadership of Sanctuary. No staff change is easy on a church and we pray for God to give wisdom and Spirit-led discernment to the elders and staff of Sanctuary.
  • Our future direction. We’re not just praying for God to provide a new job for Jon; we’re praying for God to give us a divine understanding of what He is calling us to do next.
  • Grace and healing for the Creative Arts Ministry.
  • Spiritual renewal and rejuvenation for us. Pray for a fresh wind in our sails and a fresh fire in our hearts.
  • Protection from Satan’s attacks – As with any prayer for a new direction, we know we will be threatened with Satan’s wish to destroy our ministry, our marriage, our minds, and our lives. Please pray for a hedge of protection to be around us.

Throughout all of this we still believe in a good God who is still on His throne in heaven. We know that God is a good Father who gives good gifts to His children and we look for the next gift to come our way. We are excited for the future and we hope for God to give us clarity within the weeks to come.

We love you,

Jon and Kara Cook

Friday List – September 2, 2011

Friday is here. Hope you have a great start to your Labor Day weekend!

  • Earlier this week I learned that after Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College in Portland, he began work at….an apple orchard. I don’t know if there’s a better testimony than using your past experience to help form your future.
  • James McDonald recently announced that the Elephant Room is coming back for round two this January. I have learned so much from all of the discussion that happened in the first session and I’m excited for the second. Watch the trailer here.
  • Video of the Week: John Piper – Do Something Risky
  • Quote of the Week: “If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.” — Madeline L’Engle

White spaces filled with white noise

I heard a message earlier this week about creating margins in life. The speaker used a phrase that I thought was interesting to describe the gaps we need to create in our personal lives. He called those gaps “white spaces,” like margins on a book’s page or on a piece of a manuscript.

As I thought about it more, I realized how easy it is to fill the white margins on a page. A crayon, a pen, even a spilled cup of coffee can permanently fill a margin. The white space on a canvas can be gone in a second if you dump a bucket of paint on it. Or an artist can take many, many hours to carefully cover that white space with delicate strokes and a picture that takes your breath away.

And as I thought about white spaces, I started to think of white noise.

White noise is that hissing noise that comes out your TV when the screen looks like a snowstorm. You know what I’m talking about, those times when the cable comes unplugged and all you get is a field of black and white pixels in a chaotic mess.

And the audible cacophony that comes with it….that’s white noise. It’s the same static that you hear when you can’t find the right radio station. It’s dull, lifeless, and has no meaning other than to let you know that it’s there. You can’t find what you’re looking for to catch your attention and all you have is that annoying hum and hiss of static.

White spaces are those margins, those areas in our lives where we separate out time and attention between the job and the hobbies and the family and the “me-time” and the thousand other voices screaming for our next fifteen minutes.

Sometimes, maybe more times than we’d like to admit, we use white noise to fill the white spaces in our lives. We use the least amount of our attention and efforts to fill time in our lives that isn’t taken up already. It’s easy to veg in front of the TV for an hour instead of working out. It’s easy to pointlessly surf the web instead of writing an email to a friend you haven’t seen in a long time. What’s worse is that white noise is no longer filling the gaps in our lives; it’s filling the main areas as well.

Our challenge is to take the white noise in life and replace it with meaning. Recapture those pockets of time and fill them with purpose. Eliminate the static and let the noise turn into harmony.

Friday List – August 26, 2011

It’s Friday and that means the weekend is here. Enjoy the Friday List.

  • J.J. Abrams is producing a new series called Person of Interest, set to air on CBS this fall, starring Jim Caviezel and Michael Emerson (Ben Linus from LOST). As a big fan of both actors, I’m looking forward to it.
  • It’s not an accurate comparison to compare the trajectory of Google+ against those of Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. It’s like comparing the Model T against the latest Ford Mustang: things are completely different when you have a world-renowned label already in place.
  • Video of the Week: Dairy Queen’s Good Isn’t Good Enough.
  • Quote of the Week: “Worrying is temporary atheism.” — Source unknown

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Target Field, Minnesota Twins (August 8, 2011)

My wife Kara is from Minnesota and grew up a die-hard Twins fan. In fact, she still has Homer Hankies from the ’87 & ’91 World Series teams. Yep, she’s a keeper. The second stop on our 30 before 30 MLB Stadium tour was Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins. We saw the Twins lose in the 9th to the stinkin’ Red Sox, but it was still a good experience overall.

100_1188Target Field is a beautiful new ballpark and one that I expect to see multiple games in over the many years to come. If you’re heading up to the Twin Cities for a game at Target Field, here are a few tidbits you should know…

  • A lot of people don’t realize how many great restaurants and sights can be experienced in the Twin Cities. Even though we didn’t get a chance to eat at Hubert’s Bar & Grill, I hear the atmosphere is fantastic on game days.
  • We parked in the main parking garage for the Target Center (home of the Timberwolves) and walked to Target Field. While there isn’t an official stadium parking lot, there are plenty of transit options between the Northwest Commuter Rail, the Hiawatha Light Rail, or the GameDay Express Bus. Target Field might be the most accessible ballpark in MLB.
  • Target Field did not allow us to bring in any outside food or drink, except for water. It’s worth mentioning I probably won’t chug another orange Gatorade ever again.
  • The main entrance to Target Field has a giant Gold Glove and there are multiple player statues around the perimeter inside Target Field. Get your picture taken while standing inside the Gold Glove.
  • The seating alignment is fairly steep for a ballpark. The left field sections are stacked almost on top of each other, making for a very up-close feel to the game.
  • Target Field has a display of all 30 MLB stadiums that can be seen around Club Level.
  • If you have some free time, the Mall of America is accessible by transit from Target Field.

Friday List – August 5, 2011

Friday is here. Kara and I are continuing the whirlwind first month of our marriage by driving to Omaha today for my best friend’s wedding tomorrow. After the wedding tomorrow night, we will be driving up to Minnesota for our wedding reception. If we cross your minds, please pray for safe travels for us.

For now though, enjoy the Friday List.

Friday List – July 22, 2011

Happy Friday everyone. It feels like it’s been forever since I’ve been able to get a Friday List out. Kara and I are neck-deep in boxes right now and headed to Estes Park tomorrow for a middle school and high school camp all next week. For now though, enjoy the Friday List!

“The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.” — Cicero, 55 BC

Shaking Loose

Lately I’ve been thinking about the idea of shaking loose. When we come indoors after being outside, we shed our coats and jackets. When a snake sheds its skin, it shakes loose the remains of what it used to be. After you’re done eating a picnic lunch, you shake loose the dirt and the crumbs off the blanket.

I once saw a prisoner get released from prison after his time was up. The handcuffs came off and the anklets were released. Like any prisoner you might have seen on TV, he rubbed his wrists and sat down to massage his ankles for a second. He flexed his hands and shook his left leg, then his right, and stretched his arms.

I wonder if he was shaking loose from more than just the handcuffs and anklets.

Our hearts and lives need to be shaken loose of things. Sometimes they’re like a jacket on a cold day, protecting us from the cold world around us, maybe too much protection. Sometimes they’re like handcuffs and anklets on our hearts – reminders of what we’ve done wrong and why we’re in that place. Our fears and anxieties and the opinions of others start to curl and tighten around different parts of our souls. Maybe it’s the sin that you keep going back to that’s anchored a hold in your heart.

But maybe the things that need to be shaken loose from our hearts the most are the dreams and hopes that we’re clutching too tight to us. Maybe it’s that daring first step or that idea that’s been bouncing around your head for too long. Maybe it’s the thought that where you’re at right now isn’t where God wants you to be.

Shake loose the fears. Shake loose your first step. Shake loose the sin that easily wraps its coils around us. Shake loose and be free.

My Travels – MLB Stadiums: Coors Field, Colorado Rockies (July 15, 2011)

One of my dreams growing up was visiting all the MLB stadiums. Of course, I’d have to be rich and not be married for a long time and make millions first before that would ever happen. At least, that’s what my nine year old brain told me.

I had no clue Kara was a huge sports fan when we first met. In fact, on the decades-long advice from my mother, I avoided talking about sports when I first met any attractive girl so I wouldn’t scare them off. It turns out, if the girl loves baseball as much as you do, you marry her the first chance you get. And you get your engagement pictures taken in Coors Field. Seriously.

Engagement Pictures at Coors FieldWhat’s this have to do with Coors Field? Our first few months of marriage we lived in Denver and surprise, we also had season tickets. It was the week after we got married when we first decided to try visiting all the MLB stadiums. Far-reaching, yes. Out of the question, not with this tag-team of awesomeness. Our journey started at Coors, which is why this is the first stop in our tour book.

Over the past twenty years I’ve seen more games at Coors Field than I can count. It’s not fair to try reviewing such a landmark location in my life as a fan, but I’ll give it a try. What I can promise is a few hometown tips and secrets you may not know about the mile high home of the Colorado Rockies.

To say Coors Field is nice would be a massive understatement. It’s in the most beautiful state in the country and sits under 300 days of sunshine a year. There are few things better than playing hookie at a Rockies game on a Wednesday afternoon in the sunshine wearing your shades and nursing a Blue Moon.

If you want to see one of America’s greatest ballparks (and I’ve 28 of them to compare), keep this in mind when visiting Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies…

  • Tickets – Here’s the deal: get your tickets at King Soopers. They run deals for Rockies tickets all the time and they’re usually a great discount.
  • Parking – Coors Field is the only place where I’ve seen a parking sign for $60 or more. The guy probably ran out of cannabis. (Speaking of weed, there’s an interesting contact high if you sit in the outfield bleachers for a night game. Just FYI.) For parking, the best bet is to head north on Market on east side of the ballpark to 24th Street. There’s free parking all around that area and it’s less than six blocks from the ballpark.
  • Did you know there’s a microbrewery located under Coors Field? The Sandlot has its headquarters on the southern side of the ballpark and its brewery containers live under the field.
  • It’s Colorado, which means bring any type of rain gear. I’ve seen it hail, rain, and sunshine all in the same Rockies game. Kara’s seen it snow there, too.
  • Food – Try Helton’s Burgers in the outfield section. Coors also has a variety of gluten, veggie, and paleo-friendly food options because it’s Colorado. If you want a really nice view of the ballpark and the mountains, make reservations at the Mountain Ranch Club.
  • If you want a great time before or after the game, hit LoDo on the south side of the ballpark. It has bars, clubs, and the best hotdog vending cart around on the southeast corner of Wynkoop and 19th Street. Two dogs, a pop of choice, and chips for $6. That, my friend, is a sweet deal.

Jon and Kara at Coors Field

Wedding Week: Independence Day

Today is Fourth of July, Independence Day here in the States, and I’m excited to get my day started. Kara, Lisa (Kara’s sister), and I are heading out to my folks’ house for some good food, lawn games, and fireworks. It should be a great day and I’m looking forward to it. Before I forget to mention it…Happy 4th of July.

July 4th….five days out from the Big Day. I’m an independent person by nature, I like being able to do things myself by myself and in the way that I want to do them. With getting married though, I’m teaming up with a beautiful woman who I still can’t believe said yes to me. The independent is becoming interdependent.

I heard one of mentors in college once say that anytime you join a collective group, you negotiate away part of your independence. You’re not as autonomous as you once were but that also means you can do things together that you couldn’t do yourself.

But I don’t want to lose my identity, my individual personality and characteristics that make me… well, me. I don’t want to deny my ideas and opinions and hopes and dreams and lose a large part of who I am.

But I also don’t want Kara to lose her personality and individuality either. I’m not marrying her because I’m looking for some Stepford wife or a Mrs. “Yes Dear” Robot. I wouldn’t be nearly as interested in her if she were clingy and dependent without an original thought of her own. Part of my attraction to Kara is her ability to share her opinion in a well-worded, intentional way. That’s hot.

The tension is good in balancing between being an individual and being an influential. I’m looking forward to negotiating away part of my independence to make something greater and keeping a healthy tension between what I want personally and what’s better for us together.

Independence is great but interdependence can accomplish so much more. We can play off each other’s strengths and step in where the other person is weaker. Gaps can be filled and pieces can be put into place to make a more complete picture, the same picture that God saw in Adam’s life after Eve was made.

Update on life – June 27, 2011

I dressed up for Mario at camp. It was a beautiful moment.

Hi, Jon here. I wanted to give you all an update about where my life is at right now. Things have been crazy leading up to the wedding and I’ve been absent at best in my posting.

I just got back from camp in Arkansas on Saturday night, hence my lack of posting for the past 9-10 days. It was an amazing time of ministry and spending time with about 200 middle school and high school students from all over the area. I’m very grateful that I was able to be a part of their lives again for the third summer in a row and I would love to be there next year as well.

Now I’m back in Denver and it’s crunch time before the wedding. Music to sort through, a sound system to figure out, and a whole variety of other details and loose ends to tie up. Kara and I could use your prayers as we get closer to our beautiful day so if we cross your minds at any points, feel free to put in a good word for us.

Another upcoming change in life is feeling that God has closed the door on my time at Denver Seminary. It was a great year of new experiences and getting back into the classroom but I believe that God has led me to pursue another direction for my Master’s.

Kara and I have talked and prayed about this quite a bit and we’re excited to see how God will lead us in this new direction. I’m going to be taking the fall semester off to get stabilized in married life, focus on my new bride (Yay!), and get settled in a bit. The plan is to begin classes towards pursuing an MBA with a Leadership emphasis online starting in January.

I am excited about a series of posts next week on our wedding week plans as I hope you will all be able to experience each day through my perspective. It should be a lot of fun; I’m really excited to share.

Thanks again for being a faithful group of readers. Your time and attention means a lot to me, even if I don’t always have the time to mention it to each of you but thank you, thank you, thank you.

Friday List – June 17, 2011

It’s Friday and the Friday List is my random collection of ideas, resources, and all of the other gems that I come across that don’t quite fit in any other bin except potpourri.

  • If you haven’t caught any of this season of The Voice, I would recommend watching Javier Colon’s audition. I like the concept of judging someone first on their voice before their appearance.
  • Interesting post from Mark Driscoll in response to Westboro Baptist Church.
  • Tim Challies shares on the value of families eating together.
  • I have a lot of respect for what Taylor Swift has done with the setup and creativity she’s put into her Speak Now tour. It’s unbelievable complex and highly creative, not to mention having a good amount of class to it.
  • Creative of the Week: Gift Paper.

Friday List – May 27, 2011

Happy Friday everyone. I’m in Minnesota at my future in-laws’ house for the weekend so the next few days will be hit-or-miss when it comes to posting. Have a great Memorial Day weekend and thank you to our troops for your sacrifice.

  • I’ve been recently reminded again how many people in full-time ministry are content with doing the same thing they’ve done for years because they’re convinced it’s worked in the past.
  • On the other hand, I’ve also been reminded how many young minds in full-time ministry, including my own, are convinced that the newest and greatest idea or method in ministry is actually both new and great.
  • My former roommate from Moody, Nathanael White, is getting his first book published soon. I’ll be posting more info as it comes available.
  • Ever wonder how LEGOs are made? Get the full tour here.
  • Picture of the Week: May 22, 2011 Billboard. Couldn’t resist…
  • Video of the Week: Making Future Magic: iPad light painting

The opinions that shape us

It’s easy to let someone else’s opinion of you influence your life. It can be good, bad, or even destructive but whatever it is, it’s easy to think that just because one person says something means that it’s automatically true.

This isn’t a group of people saying it, it’s only one person who’s close to you. It may be a parent, sibling, spouse, boss, or friend but if they say it, it must be true, right? They wouldn’t say anything to hurt you or even worse, lie to you, would they?

Someone can say that you’re the worst at confronting people and that you’re too blunt but in reality, it may be that you’re more confrontational than they are and your candor makes them uncomfortable. On the other hand, someone can say that you’re incredibly gifted at something and it can be absolutely untrue. Want an example? Watch any season of American Idol.

It’s one example, maybe a good one, maybe not, but you can fill in the blank with your own example. Whatever the situation may be, we do ourselves a massive disservice when we build our opinion and even our perspective off of one person’s input on our life. They may or may not be right in their opinion but we have to start building our self-esteem on what Christ has done for us and not from what only one person says about us.

You have a choice to make when it comes to being shaped by others’ opinions. You can either continue living in whatever parameters that fallen human beings erect around you or you can realize that God can redeem whatever situation you’re in for His glory. It’s your choice, no one else’s.

Friday List – May 20, 2011

It’s Friday and that means you’re probably tempted to coast into the weekend. Fight the urge, resist laziness, and enjoy the Friday List.

“We write frankly and fearlessly, but then we ‘modify’ before we print.” –Mark Twain

Blogging journey: Next steps

Hi, Jon here. Thanks for taking the time to read this. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about blogging, specifically my blog (if it’s okay to get selfish for a moment). It’s been a great experience so far and I’m grateful for you walking with me for part of my blogging journey.

I’m taking a long look at the purpose of my blog and what things will look like going forward. Here is some of what I’ve been wrestling through as I think about the future direction of my blog:

  • I’m wanting to mask my blog URL with a personal domain name. I purchased the domain name(s) a year ago and I’m hoping to make the switch sometime this summer.
  • Ideally, I would love for a complete re-design and I wonder if there’s a fairly inexpensive way for me to get this done.
  • Speaking of changes, I’m not convinced that WordPress is the right platform for me to use. If anyone has other suggestions or the right argument as to why I should stick with WordPress, I’m all ears.
  • I’m considering a different approach to the Friday List. So far it’s been a shotgun blend of fun, bizarre, and interesting. I’m asking myself if there would be a better purpose in how I approach Friday List. Is there a greater purpose or more attraction to not having “just another top ten list” floating around cyberspace?
  • One of the possibilities that I’m thinking about for the Friday List is possibly keeping the format but replacing it with more creative, thought-provoking, and challenging content. This past Friday List (May 13, 2011) would be a fairly good example. Nothing’s been decided yet but that’s a possibility I’ve been considering.
  • Lately I’ve also been exploring more creative elements. Over the next few weeks you’ll probably see more of the artistic/creative side of me coming out between the lines.
  • Stats…for the Type A side of me, I love comparing and analyzing the stats. This has become an area of repentance for me. If I’m more concerned with how many people are reading what I write instead of whether God’s using my writing to change people’s perspectives and even their lives, then I’ve missed the whole point of why I write. For the foreseeable future, I’m going to swear off checking the numbers.

This is what I’ve been thinking lately. I’ve also learned that part of this journey involves listening to the critical voices, even the ones who are less constructive. What should I do differently? What am I doing well? Where can I grow? I’m open to any feedback so drop a comment.

Thanks again for walking with me.

Some Thoughts on Blogging – May 15, 2011

About once a quarter I put together some of the recent lessons I’ve learned about blogging and the blogosphere. Sometimes I revisit what I shared in a previous post about blogging tips if my opinion has changed, it’s been overwhelmingly confirmed, or I’ve been proven wrong.

Here is what I’ve learned recently about blogging…

  • Blogging isn’t about saying something new; it’s about saying it better. What you want to say has probably been said before. The key is finding who said it, how it was said, and then thinking of ways to say it even better from your perspective and experience. Take it one step further, one step better.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – learn it, love it, leverage it.
  • For a while I thought that to maintain readership and traffic, I needed to blog every day that I could. With my work schedule and other demands, blogging every day isn’t always realistic. Take an off day every once in a while.
  • Speaking of off days, I’ve found that those gaps usually create enough content for the following week and beyond.
  • After establishing your blog’s identity, make it as visible as possible in your writing. The core areas of focus for my blog are at the top of my blog title: Reading. Writing. Thinking. Dreaming. Leading.
  • I do very little potpourri writing that falls outside of those five areas. It’s strengthened my writing and the overall focus of my blog as well.
  • Contraction’s are fine to use if you’ve decided that’s where you’d like to skimp on grammar. On the positive side, it’s more conversational.
  • Whenever you do post, do it consistently. Weekly, monthly, daily…whenever it is, do it consistently.

Friday List – May 13, 2011

It’s Friday and the end of the school year. I don’t know if I can contain my excitement!

Just finished the new logo for Friday List. I’ve been thinking of taking the Friday List a different direction so the tag-line (and the approach) might be changing soon.

“Three questions that will guide your life of legacy…

  1. What about your legacy would make you cry at your 70th birthday part?
  2. What do you want people to say about you when you’re not in the room?
  3. What do you love about your upbringing? And what do you hate?

— Suzy Welch, Chick-fil-a Leadercast

Friday List – May 6, 2011

Happy Friday everyone. It’s finals week so the Friday List will be brief today….but not lesser quality! It’s also Mother’s Day on Sunday so don’t forget.

Enjoy!

Friday List – April 29, 2011

It’s Friday everyone. While we all wonder how the clock seems to slow down right after lunch on Fridays, enjoy the Friday List.

  • If you’re going to use a picture of the Statue of Liberty for a new postage stamp, it’s probably a good idea to use the actual Statue of Liberty and not the replica in Vegas.
  • Police in Oklahoma can rest easy now that their most recent nemesis, popularly referred to only by her first name of Chewy, is behind bars. Chewy is a squirrel who has caused over $700 of damage to the interior of Oklahoma County squad cars over a two week period of time.
  • Three friends took a taxi ride…from New York to L.A.
  • Ever wonder how Mac and PC users compare to each other?
  • Creative of the Week: NTT Docomo.
  • Picture of the Week: Bumper Sticker.
  • Video of the Week: The Mountain.
  • Quote of the Week:

“A man and his ever-nagging wife went on a vacation to Jerusalem. While they were there, the wife passed away. The undertaker told the husband, “You can have her shipped home for $5,000 or you can bury her here, in the Holy Land, for $150.” The man thought about it and told the undertaker he would just have her shipped home.

The undertaker asked, “Why would you spend $5,000 to ship your wife home when it would be wonderful to be buried here and you would spend only $150?” The man replied, “Long ago a man died here, was buried here, and three days later he rose again from the dead. I just can’t take that chance.”

Part of my story – 4/26/07

Today marks the fourth anniversary of my jogging accident. On Thursday, April 26th, 2007, I went for a jog after work. I stopped at the street in front of my house and watched traffic come to a halt. A lady in a car that had stopped waved me across and I stepped out just in time to see another car coming from the previous direction. I turned away from the car and tried to jump up before it hit me.

I was hit by an Oldsmobile Cutlass going just under 40 miles an hour, flipped up over the hood, and did a face plant in the asphalt in the next lane over. I rolled on my back as an SUV came to stop about 20 feet away from me. I got to my knees and started to stand up. The driver who hit me told me to stay down and that I’d been hit by a car. (No kidding. He’s a nice guy though so I felt bad for J-walking and playing tag with his car.)

The ambulance came, back-boarded and C-braced me, and took me to the hospital. A full-body MRI showed no internal bleeding and no broken bones, a complete miracle. I busted out three of my front teeth, split my chin, and got a decent-sized goose egg on my forehead from where I landed. I hit the right side of my jaw on the car’s hood and couldn’t open my mouth without extreme pain for three days.

The next six to eight weeks involved me getting my teeth fixed, my chin sewn up, and a pretty steady dose of nightmares. By the grace of God, He let me live when I should have been killed. I thank God it was only an Oldsmobile and not one of the many semis that use that road to access the quarry four blocks south of there. It was a miracle that God spared me like He did and I thank God for days like today to remember.

And yes, I do look both ways before crossing the street today.

Friday List – April 8, 2011

It’s Friday everyone and spring is here. That means a vast majority of us will grow quietly spiteful on anyone who’s able to go outside. Hopefully none of us will give in to the hate and will still be able to enjoy some great sunshine this weekend. For now, cue the Friday List.

“Thanks @charliesheen for the compliment. To clarify, I’m 7’1″, a super genius, and those aren’t freckles — it’s male menopausal acne.” – Conan O’Brien (conanobrien)

Friday List – April 1, 2011

Happy Friday everyone and happy April 1st. It’s Opening Day for the Rockies so I am out to the ballpark for the afternoon. For now though, enjoy the Friday List.

Friday List – March 25, 2011

My beloved Duke Blue Devils lost last night in the tournament. So while I’m weeping and mourning, enjoy the Friday List.

  • A tech genius used a device to intercept and override the video signal of the big-screens in Times Square using just his iPhone.
  • Spoiler alert: it was actually a marketing scheme to promote the new movie, Limitless.
  • Capital One just launched their new Visigoth Sports Net channel. If you enjoy the Viking commercials from Capital One, you will love this.
  • For someone with ADD, this matrix could occupy my time for hours.
  • Picture of the Week: Centaurs.
  • Video of the Week: The Luckiest People.
  • Quote of the Week:

“AT&T is buying T-Mobile for $39 billion. It was a tough call for AT&T, but then again—EVERY call is a tough call for AT&T.” – Jimmy Fallon

10 things to never stop

As people grow older and the chapters of life begin to accumulate, there are certain things that should never stop. These are the important things in life, the ones that would lessen your life if they were forgotten.

  1. Never stop making new friends. The world is full of people who have the potential to become your next great friend. It’s ideal, or at least very optimistic, but with the amount of people in the world, it’s definitely not far-fetched.
  2. Never stop forgiving. I have heard numerous stories of men on their deathbeds regretting those offenses they never forgave. Life’s too short to not spread grace generously.
  3. Never stop learning. The day you stop learning should be the day that you die. Mark Twain said about a colleague, “He died at 30. They buried him at 60.” Don’t let that be your legacy. Live to learn.
  4. Never stop reading. You may hate reading. You may think it’s the greatest thing in the world. Whatever your taste may be, reading will be relevant in your world for the rest of your life. Reading is a great equalizer among kings and peasants: both can possess and develop this skill with equal opportunity.
  5. Never stop thinking. Don’t be a blind consumer of information. Chew on it and think through what you’re hearing and reading. Eat the meat, spit out the bones. Like the good, lose the bad.
  6. Never stop listening. As my dad says, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Listening is an art to be perfected. If you know what you’re going to say before the other person stops talking, you’re not really listening. Guilty as charged.
  7. Never stop dreaming. If we lose that idea of how to chase an idea, we’ve lost our creative nature that echoes the image and nature of God. These are the bucket lists and the wish lists, the “what-if’s” we dare to ask, and the dream vacations and the faraway places you wish to see.
  8. Never stop asking questions. Being curious and inquisitive is one of our greatest gifts from God. Some of the most successful people in the world are also some of the most curious. Coincidence?
  9. Never stop mentoring. The gift of knowledge is meant to be shared. When you’re gone and all that’s left is your legacy, who will be there to remember what you taught them and how you poured into their lives?
  10. Never stop caring. Apathy is the bane of human existence. If you stop caring, you stop living. To care is to know that some things still hold value, that some things still matter and are worth the next breath we take.

Part of My Story – Engaged

On Saturday I asked Kara to marry me.

Wow.

(Side bar: this is a big reason why I haven’t blogged much this past week and a half.)

It hasn’t quite hit me yet what this all means and I’m sure I’ll be learning more as the weeks and months go by. I’m engaged…wow!

The reality that has started to sink in is that the passages about “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church” have already started to take on a whole new meaning.

I don’t know about you but I think loving someone as Christ loved us is an impossible task. Honestly, it seems overwhelming when I step back to consider what that implies. Christ is God, end of story. He’s perfect. I’m not. I have my flaws, my imperfections, and my shortcomings so the imitation of perfection is…daunting, to say the least.

There’s not a doubt in my mind about my love for Kara but it’s not perfect love; it’s my love. It’s the love that I can give as much as a broken and imperfect man can love someone made in the image of God. But I don’t have to be Christ, only He can fill that role. I have to let Christ be in me and to be the man I was created to be.

Honestly, my growing prayer is that I can most completely fulfill the calling that God has created for me. I want to be the best man that God has created me to be for Kara and for His name.

For now though I’m pretty content with just grinning like an idiot. She said yes!

Friday List – March 18, 2011

Happy Friday everyone! It’s March Madness, the second most wonderful time of the year (after Christmas….and summertime, so I guess it’s the third). If you’re one of the unlucky citizens with a messed-up bracket (e.g. if you are living and breathing) then Louisville is probably the last name that you want to hear right now. So, enjoy the Friday List and enjoy the weekend!

  • I’ve come to the conclusion that watching the NIT games during March Madness is like watching France conduct military exercises: sure, they happen but seriously, who cares and what difference does it make?
  • ESPN has officially banned all of its employees from participating in filling out brackets for office pools. Talk about irony.
  • Apparently Batman went to college at Yale. That explains the expensive tastes…
  • A man posing as a police officer in Tennessee pulled over an unmarked cop car. Awk-ward.
  • Happy St. Patrick’s Day (a day late) from Tripp and Tyler.
  • Picture of the Week: In the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day, Irish History.
  • Video of the Week: Baby laughing. (Your day will be better because of this video.)
  • Quote of the Week:

“[When it comes to basketball] there are really only two plays: Romeo and Juliet, and put the darn ball in the basket.” ~ Abe Lemons

Running On Empty

I hate running on empty.

It’s that feeling where you know you are on the very last bit of fuel.

It’s where you wonder if you have enough left to really carry you to the next stop.

It’s the part where you feel drained. Body, mind, spirit, everything feels simply drained. Empty. Worn out. Down to the last drop.

Lately I’ve been running on empty and that’s when the raw end of life has been exposed. It’s tempting to want to deny it and suppress or downplay the stress of life. Everyone has stress, right? So, everyone should know when they’re running on empty, right? Not really.

That’s the part where the temptation comes. Maybe if I deny it I can make it until things are right again… Maybe I can fake it and pass everything off with a bright enough smile to convince everyone, including myself, that everything’s “fine.” Maybe I just need a little extra excitement in my life to get me going again, the excitement that I know will leave me feeling wrong but hey, I need this right now…right?

I’m finally getting my rest tonight and it’s not just from sleep. I still feel worn out and drained, that’s just the season of life that I’m in right now. But I’m slowly feeling my energy and joy returning. There’s life coming to me again. It’s the fact that I’m making a conscious effort to release my hold on areas of my life that I should never try to control. That’s God’s job, not mine, and I was never created to run on empty.

Tonight my prayer is King David’s from Psalm 23, “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” Fill my cup, Lord. Fill my heart. Renew a right spirit, a full and fresh spirit, inside of me.

Friday List – March 11, 2011

It’s Friday everyone. Cue the Friday mix, do that Friday dance, and let’s roll into the weekend.

“Leading hand sanitizers claim they can kill 99.9% of all germs. Chuck Norris can kill 100% of whatever he wants.” Fact.

Friday List – March 4, 2011

It’s Friday everyone. The weather’s starting to turn, baseball season is just around the corner, and I’m looking forward to a great weekend. Cue the Friday List.

  • Call me a conspiracy theorist but I’m starting to think that Hollywood purposefully bombs their big events like the Oscars because they get better ratings from an abysmal mess than the actual event would. #oscarsfail
  • I got to meet the legendary Curly Neal of the Harlem Globetrotters on Wednesday night. It was a beautiful moment.
  • Savannah, Georgia has lifted its ban on sidewalk peddling, specifically to allow the sale of Girl Scout cookies. And there was much rejoicing throughout all the land.
  • Creative of the Week: The Transformation of Church on the Move (Tulsa, OK).
  • Picture of the Week: Traffic Sign. (Buy a Mac and never go back.)
  • Video of the Week: Manslater.
  • Quote of the Week:

President Barack Obama said Thursday that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi “has lost the legitimacy to lead and … must leave.” – CNN article. (To some of Obama’s detractors I’m wondering if they smirked at him alluding that he’s able to determine whether someone else has legitimacy to lead. Out of context it’s funny. In context I would agree with him.)

Defining Moments: Embarrassment

I remember one of the first time I got embarrassed and no, I’m not going to share that moment with you.

Why not?

Because it’s embarrassing and when you’re embarrassed you’re self-conscious and open and raw and at a loss as to what to say or do. You’ve been exposed in a way that you hoped had never happened and now you’re left with something that you think is shameful and unforgettable.

Now what? Now that everyone has seen you in this situation and you’re left grasping for an explanation or a cover-up, what do you do next?

This is a defining moment and it’s one that I think we face more often than we’d like to admit. Whether it be our family, our career, our finances, or even the health of our faith we all have those pockets of life that we hope will never be exposed.

When embarrassment happens though you have a choice to make: do I let the fact that I’m human help me or hinder me? Will I do everything that I can to cover up that I’m not perfect and a work-in-progress? Will I let my embarrassment or my security in Christ define myself and the situation?

Friday List – February 25, 2011

Happy Friday everyone. I’m heading up to the mountains tomorrow for a day of boarding. Enjoy the Friday List and stay classy this weekend.

  • Workers in London have found a fox cub living the high life on the 72nd floor of a skyscraper.
  • Are you smarter than an eighth grader…from 1895? Check out this actual test from a classroom in 1895 to see if you are.
  • I don’t usually watch the Oscars but with James Franco and Anne Hathaway hosting, this could get interesting.
  • Creative of the Week: Mario Kart.
  • Picture of the Week: Shipment.
  • Video of the Week: Nike Throwdown.
  • Quote of the Week: “I never thought about that tonight. Not once. That wasn’t even on my mind.” Carmelo Anthony about the New York Knicks after playing them in November. Yep, I believe him…not.

Defining Moments: Disappointment

Disappointment is that feeling where you know that things haven’t happened as you had expected. You have this picture in your mind’s eye about how something will turn out and BAM, everything falls into pieces. It might have been a job offer, a business opportunity, a relationship, or even your expectations of God that just didn’t live up to what you’d thought they’d be but whatever it was, it wasn’t what you pictured.

Disappointment doesn’t mean that everything went bad though, it’s not like when you fail but still…not everything turned out as you thought it would. Maybe you set the bar too high (I’ve been there before). Maybe you were naive in your expectations (I would know what that feels like too. Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt.)

Or maybe you’re disappointed because you’re looking at it from the wrong angle. Maybe if we try to pull up for a proverbial 30,000 foot view of the situation we might see the whole picture and realize that our expectations were never right in the first place. It’s not that our expectations were wrong; it’s just that our idea of what’s best at the time wasn’t actually the best thing for us at that time.

God has a history of exceeding people’s expectations. I wonder what the Israelites’ expectations were once they left slavery in Egypt…only to get to the Red Sea. Trapped. Surrounded. Doomed. Question: if they had never gotten to the Red Sea would the Egyptian army have been destroyed? Maybe. Maybe not. All I know is that I’d rather have the confidence of complete deliverance than just the promise of deliverance any day.

Disappointment can be a defining moment when we realize that our expectations could have been completely out of whack and we’ve been chasing what’s good when what’s best is still yet to come. God is in the business of providing what’s best for those He loves, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

Defining Moments: Failure

Failure is one of the hardest results to accept. No student likes getting a term paper back with a big red “F” written on the top. Nobody likes being told that you didn’t meet someone else’s expectations or standards. Honestly, there are few things in life that are as deflating as hearing that you’ve failed, that despite your best efforts you just didn’t make the cut.

Failure usually comes in two contexts. There could be a graded scale, like grades in school, where failure is at the end of the scale represented by a big fat “F”. It could also be one of two results that are used for a final decision: pass or fail. No maybe, sorta, or kinda about it, the decision is either pass or fail.

But there’s another way where failure comes into play, maybe the most important way: when we don’t live up to what’s expected of us, we fail. These would be the moral failures, the scandals, the light-bulb-flashing-newspaper-reporting-microphone-in-your face type of failures that the tabloids love to run and the ones we can’t stop reading about.

One of the greatest examples that I’ve seen of someone who embraces the defining moments of failure is Ted Haggard, the former pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, just 40 minutes away from my house. Say what you will about his road to redemption but I have seen more than my fair share of information and insight regarding his journey back from scandal to say that I admire his courage and his heart. Did he screw up? Yes. Has he proven to have a repentant heart? Yes. Is God using him in a mighty way to share the beauty of redemption and restoration? Absolutely.

God has an incredible history of using moments of failure as defining moments in people’s lives. For all the Bernie Madoff’s, Ted Haggard’s, baseball steroid dopers, and Hosni Mubarak’s of the world the temptation to be swallowed by failure can seem incredible at times. Failure swings open our opportunity for God to prove His greatness and goodness to us despite our shortcomings. Failure is our chance to look at God and ask, “Now what?”

Defining Moments: Rejection

No.

It’s the word we have all come to dread at one point or another.

It’s the sound of rejection, the sound of a slamming door, the sound of heartache and defeat. It’s the switch turning on the big flashing neon sign in your mind that screams, “You’re not good enough for ______”

Rejection is the sound of a phone being hung up after that stomach-dropping conversation. It’s the email popping up from a potential employer saying they’ve chosen someone else. It’s the inevitable conversation that we never wanted to hear but had a good idea that it might be coming anyways.

Rejection can be found in some of the most defining moments of our lives. If we let it rejection can deflate us and leave us with a pretty bleak outlook. But it’s the “no’s” of life that make the “yes’s” that much sweeter. Maybe not being “good enough” in one area gives you an opportunity to see what God has planned.

Rejection may be the sound of a closing door but maybe it was a door we were never meant to walk through in the first place. For all the “not good enough’s,” the “mediocre,” the “pink slips,” and the “dumped,” rejection might be one of the best things to happen in your life depending on how you allow God to use it.

How you respond to rejection will define how you handle it in the future. This is more than just making lemonade out of lemons; this is a deep, abiding trust that God will make something beautiful out of something broken.

Defining Moments: Awkward

People hate to feel awkward. I don’t know anybody that really likes to feel awkward, unless there’s something just wrong with them. We hate that silence after someone says or does something out of place or poorly timed or inappropriate, then enters that silence, and then…. Awk…ward.

(Side note: Have you ever noticed how some situations aren’t necessarily awkward until someone says the sing-song version of “awk-ward” and then it’s awkward? Yep, it never fails.)

But there’s great potential in awkwardness. Feeling awkward means that you’re not comfortable. There are a lot of dangers in feeling comfortable. Being comfortable means that nothing is pressuring or challenging you to change or be stretched. Being comfortable means that you might become complacent.

Awkward situations and circumstances are defining moments because of how we can respond to being uncomfortable. Meeting someone new can be awkward. Confronting someone with the truth can be awkward. And let’s be honest, sometimes sharing about Christ can feel very awkward, especially if you know you haven’t been living a Christ-like life around that same person. That’s awkward.

But all of these situations have the potential to stretch us and grow us in ways that wouldn’t of happened if we had stayed where it was comfortable. It’s the awkward moments that help define what will stretch us outside of “comfortable” and will make us grateful for those moments in the end.

Defining Moments: Perspective

There are times in life where we look back and can pick out the moments that were the most impacting in shaping us into who we are today. They’re defining moments, moments when we realize that God used them to give meaning and significance and and depth to who we are.

They might be scars from lessons learned. They might be trinkets and souvenirs on a shelf or desk from that life-changing trip you took. Or they might be just a memory we revisit like an old friend from the past. Whatever they are, they remind us of places we’ve been that have defined our character, our direction, or our personal growth.

The problem with defining moments is that we usually don’t recognize them when they come along. Maybe we’re too blinded by the pain or stress of a job loss or a divorce to recognize these moments. Maybe we’re so close to these moments that we really can’t see the forest through the trees.

I’m wanting to do a self-journey into defining moments from a different angle. Over the next few days I’m going to wrestle with the elements of some defining moments that we sometimes mislabel, like disappointment, awkwardness, and failure. Some of this might be my own optimism, which I’m okay with with, but isn’t the whole idea of defining moments build on a positive outlook on the sovereignty of God?

I want to recognize the traits of these defining moments so I can better recognize my opportunities in the future. My hope is that I can see more of the defining moments that God has me in right now.

Friday List – February 18, 2011

Happy Friday everyone. Hope your weekend is all you could ever imagine it to be. Kind of. Enjoy the Friday List.

“Whoa! I I think I finally just got INCEPTION. Now can someone please explain BRIDE WARS?” – Tweet from Conan O’Brien

What Should Come With Gray Hair

The other day I was looking at some pictures from back in the day and realized something: there are people in those pictures who now have gray hair who didn’t use to have it. Now I’m not usually a Captain Obvious so hold off on the labels for now because that seemingly obvious statement led me to this train of thought…

These people didn’t gain gray hair over night.

Having gray hair means that they’ve probably seen more things and experienced more struggles, situations, and scenarios than most of us who are alive today.

They didn’t instantaneously gain the years of life experience that are a part of having gray hair. It took time and stress and fears and failures and successes to give them that crown of wisdom.

But just because someone has gray hair doesn’t mean that they’re automatically wise and full of good advice. History shows that just because someone is older doesn’t necessarily mean that they are wiser.

You and I will hopefully get to the point of gray hair in the future if God blesses us with full and long lives. The question is: will we let what caused our gray hair to give us wisdom to share in the future? Or will we ignore what God allows life to teach us and get to the end of life with an illusion of wisdom that we’ve failed to embrace in the end?

Someday, thirty, forty, fifty years in the future, I want to have gray hair that means something more than just being old. I want wisdom. I want my life to have value and insight that will change the lives of those to come. I want my gray hair to mean something when it shows up in the mirror.

Friday List – February 11, 2011

Today’s my mom’s birthday (happy birthday to you) and, on a lesser note, the weekend is here. Cue the Friday List.

  • Ever want to analyze the greatness of the Rambo movies and compares them side-by-side? Done.
  • Recent studies have shown that parents should let their little girls play in the mud with the boys to make them healthier in the long run. I’m guessing most moms would disagree.
  • The Catholic church has just given its blessing on the new Confession app. Apparently there is an app for that.
  • Creative of the Week: Mila’s Dreams. One of the most creative ideas that I’ve seen in a while.
  • Picture of the Week: McDonald’s Sun Dial Billboard.
  • Video of the Week: New from Old Spice – Scent Vacation.
  • Quote of the Week: Tweet from Jimmy Fallon — “Wind blew the roof off Wrigley Field. The Cubs called it the worst disaster at Wrigley since every season for the past 103 yrs.”

If you have any material that would fit the Friday List be sure to send it my way.

Our Memory’s Just Screwed Up

People have a memory problem. You, me, we have a problem with our memory. We remember what we should forget. We forget what we should remember.

It’s not about the grocery list or the errands to run or the names to remember. It’s bigger than whatever is written on that one sticky note on the bathroom mirror. It’s about the fact that we remember our mistakes far too often. I do it. You do it. We all remember our mistakes and are pretty quick to recall them at a moment’s notice. That one time you screwed up? Yep, you remember that time but the thing is that you keep reopening that wound each time you think about it.

We forget things too. It’s bigger than just walking into a room and forgetting why you’re there. It’s bigger than forgetting where you put your glasses or your cell phone or keys. It’s forgetting what we’ve learned. It’s forgetting where we’ve been. We forget how God brought us to where we’re at now and what it was like to grow to the place where we’re at now.

As someone who’s his own worst critic I can safely say that I know what it’s like to have a memory problem. For years I’ve beaten myself up for any mistakes in my past and I forget what God has brought me through til now. For you and I, we need to get this memory problem fixed.

Quit remembering the shame of your mistakes. Quit being so quick to recall those times where you just plain screwed up. Quit hitting repeat on the track list of your greatest train wrecks.

Now’s your chance to fix your memory problems. Remember what you should remember: who God is and who you’re not. Forget what’s behind without forgetting the lessons that it taught you.

First Things First

The spring semester just started again for grad school and I’m taking a bigger class load than I did last semester. (Now is the time when I wonder, “What was I thinking?) While I’m excited to be back in school I have put a plan in place to protect me from a pattern that I saw last semester.

Whenever I start to get very busy (ie. – back in school) I begin to mismanage my priorities and get things out of order. My productivity goes down, my attention is diluted, and I’m not the best that I could be at what I need to do. Here is what I have found to be important in my everyday routine.

  • Prayer – I need time to be with God. When I’m driving around in the car or at home I make a point of sometimes shutting off all of my distractions. Whether it be the radio, iTunes, the TV, or even my cell phone, I turn it off so I can listen more for the voice of God.
  • Sleep – I am at my best when I get at least seven, if not eight, solid hours of sleep. I wake up feeling well-rested and ready for a new day. If I’m going to bed at 2 AM with a 6 o’clock alarm I’m cheating myself by thinking my efficiency will be at its best on a short night’s rest.
  • My health – I’ve just started back into my regular exercise routine. 3-4 days a week is my normal routine. I also take a daily multivitamin and drink lots of water, especially while I’m sitting in class so that I stay hydrated and protected from getting sick.
  • Alone time – As Kara calls it, this is Cave Time. I’m an introvert by nature so there are time when I need to be by myself to think, to breathe, to process. Even if nothing life-altering has happened today I still need that time alone.
  • Five minutes before bed – I take five minutes before falling asleep to think of the biggest elements of my day. They might be a paper or project for school, a project for church, an interpersonal situation (good or bad), or something unexpected that life threw my way. Whatever they may be I take five minutes before I go to sleep to prioritize each of them in my mind. Then I take each of them, starting from the top, and I pray through them as I process the feelings, emotions, details, and importance that I’ve attached to each of them. It’s the end of the day and those problems will still be there when I wake up tomorrow.

The Writing on My Fridge

I’m a big fan of receiving hand-written notes from people. Most of my refrigerator is covered with hand-written notes from a whole variety of people. Whether it’s a birthday card, Christmas letters, or even a random note I will hold onto those notes and cards for weeks, sometimes even years, and plaster them all over my fridge and my office wall.

There’s something about reading how someone communicates their thoughts in their own handwriting. The loops, the curls, the lines, they’re all uniquely combined for a custom font of its own. Programmers have tried to create electronic forms of people’s handwriting, some with success, others…not so much. Like natural acoustics you can’t fully replicate someone’s handwriting.

It’s not just the quality of the handwriting that matters to me. Some of the notes that I have kept the longest have come from three and four year-olds from my time working in children’s ministry. Most of these notes are hardly notes at all but just a stick-figured drawing with my name, Jon, scrawled on the bottom with a backwards J at the beginning. Priceless.

There’s something about taking the time, five minutes at most, to sit down, grab a card, and write out a note or a letter to someone. Anyone can pound out a quick email and click send without a second thought. Hand-written notes take time and attention and thought.

It may seem old-fashioned and maybe a bit weird coming from a guy who loves technology but there’s something classy and meaningful about sending a well-written note to someone. Take five minutes, spend the extra cents on a stamp, and make someone’s day. Maybe you’ll see that note again on their fridge the next time you’re at their house.

Friday List – February 4, 2011

It’s been a weird week of weather here in Denver, down to -20 F with a  -38 wind chill but we’re supposed to back up over 50 today. Happy Friday everyone. Let’s start the weekend.

“I love the beach. I like to get there really early before everybody else shows up, take like 30 bottles with notes in them, and throw them into the water. Then I wait for everyone to come to the beach. When someone goes to pick up one of the bottles I go up behind them ’cause when they open it, inside there’s a note that says, “I’m standing right behind you.” – Demetri Martin

One Idea. Just One.

Our world is obsessed with ideas. With everything from TedTalks to the QIdeas to a variety of other think-tank, open discussion type of forums people are obsessed with the sharing of ideas.  But just like cars, guitars, and candy bars, not all ideas are created equal.

One of the biggest differences that I’ve found between a good message and a great message is its focus. Whether you’re writing, speaking, or teaching a good message becomes a great message when it’s boiled down to one idea, just one big idea. It’s not three points, five points, or even a two-headed monster. It’s one idea. Just one.

This is why we have things like thesis sentences and one-sentence mission statements.  That one big idea must be so important in our thinking that it is the center of what we’re communicating. Everything else is garnish and frills. The more rabbit trails and tangents that lead away from that one idea the more diluted the message becomes.

The shotgun approach works for a very limited time; people only like potpourri for decorating.  When you’re wanting to communicate, use a single shot, laser-like approach. Your effectiveness will increase. People will remember what you have to say. You will grow as a communicator.

What’s your one idea and how do you develop it to its fullest potential?

Things To Do In a Big Blizzard (or when it feels like the Arctic)

It’s official, I’m going completely away from my normal topics today since it was -22 here in Denver last night with a wind chill in the mid-30’s.  Also, most of the Midwest is under 18+ inches of snow.  Knowing that I have friends and family who are “enjoying” these pleasant conditions I figured I’d put together a list of things you can do to pass the time.

  1. Pack up any of your summer clothes in case you haven’t done it already.  With the winter that the Midwest has had, you can forget about sunshine until mid-July. (Denverites, it was over 60 here this past Friday.  Don’t tell anyone!)
  2. Do a puzzle.  Relaxing, stress-free, and a good place to have a conversation or two.  If puzzles aren’t your thing, this might be a great way to learn patience.
  3. Plan your summer vacation and dream up what it will be.  If you have the money and the plans, take some of that extra time you have and search for travel deals.  Hotels, airlines, and rental places might be more apt to run special deals for the future during the blizzards and cold to make up for cancellations.
  4. Make a phone call, Skype with a good friend, or write an email or two.
  5. Clean.  Somebody’s got to do it.  It’s better to do it when you have to be indoors instead of when you’d rather be outdoors.
  6. Read a book.
  7. Search for new music online.  Remember that one band that people keep telling you about?  Go find them.
  8. Spend an hour in silence.  Think.  Pray.  Listen.
  9. Exercise.  Get a jump-start on getting that body into summer shape.
  10. Cook up a great meal.  Try cooking something you’ve never tried before.
  11. Create a budget.  If you’re not out and about spending money this might be a good time to re-evaluate your spending.
  12. Do some research on what ministries are doing around the world to end things like extreme poverty, sex slave trading, and the spread of AIDs.  See if you can help them out financially.
  13. Adopt a Compassion child.  If you don’t know about Compassion, you can read my story about it here.
  14. Become informed on what’s happening over in Egypt.  If you’re an American then it’s probably flown under your radar.  Be in the know.  Be praying.
  15. Make a list of your blessings.  Post it somewhere you’ll see everyday like your bathroom mirror, on your night stand, or on your fridge.

Hopefully these will help pass the time during the blizzard and cold.  What do you think?  Did I miss anything?

Friday List – January 28, 2011

Happy Friday everyone.  It’s been a long week, school started up again this past Monday.  I can’t wait to start the weekend.  For now though, enjoy the Friday List.

  • The Creation Museum in Kentucky is building a replica of Noah’s Ark.  This might be a prime opportunity to get rid of those two cats in your house.
  • Ever wonder if your pastor has a celebrity look-a-like?  Enjoy.
  • Christian satire website?  Yes, please.
  • Picture of the Week: New Years Babies.
  • Video of the Week:  The Dreaded Stairs.
  • Quote of the Week:  “For nearly a decade now, I’ve begun my workdays by focusing for 90 minutes, uninterrupted, on the task I decide the night before is the most important one I’ll face the following day. After 90 minutes, I take a break.” — Tony Schwartz, Harvard Business Review

When Infinite and Perfect Aren’t Helpful To Me

It’s hard to imagine how big God is.  I mean, He’s…really big!

And He’s good.  He’s very good.

But it doesn’t do much for our thinking to say that He’s perfect and that He’s infinite.  Now, before I get some hate mail, let me finish.  He’s both of those things, infinite and perfect, but our minds just can’t fully grasp what’s perfect and what’s infinite.  We’re not perfect.  We’re not infinite.  We will never be either of those.

What has helped me the most in my life is not to think of God in an abstract infinite and perfect way.  I know that He is infinite and perfect but I’ve started to think of it in a different way.

When we try to think of a perfect God we try to gauge Him by our standards of right.  We say that God is a just God, that He’s righteous, but what about those times when we disagree with what He does?  What about when He proves Himself to be right and we’re left staring at the naivety that first caused us to think we knew best?  Would we realize that He understands right and wrong far better than we ever could?

When we think of an infinite God, maybe we should realize that God will always outpace wherever we could ever hope to be.  Always.  As great as we might think of ourselves, God will always be greater.  As smart or strong or discerning or right as we could ever hope to be, God will always be more of those than we are.

This isn’t new thinking, David talks about it in Psalm 139.  Maybe it’s better to not think of some abstract understanding of infinite and perfect.  Maybe we should realize that when we get to the end of who we are, that’s where God continues to exist and has existed already.

Reading to Stretch Yourself

Something that I’ve noticed around Church world is that we tend to limit our reading to only things that are exclusively Christian in label.  If it isn’t sold by Lifeway or another Christian bookstore then we shouldn’t be reading it.  Granted, this isn’t a blanket truth; not all Christians have this mindset but quite a few of us do, which is what I’ve noticed.  One of the greatest practices we could adopt as believers is to read books and articles that will stretch us, mentally and spiritually.

When I was in college one of my professors required us to read The Da Vinci Code for one of our theology classes.  Yes, Dan Brown’s book is filled with heretical ideas and claims but I wouldn’t have known that unless I had read it.  I might have come to that conclusion from someone else’s review of it but I wouldn’t have been challenged to confirm my beliefs in certain parts of Christ’s nature and story from reading it.

In another theology class we were required to read Communist Manifesto to see an example of a well-written explanation of beliefs that weren’t a doctrinal statement.  Some people might flip at the idea of reading a Communist writing but it stretched us and I learned about the strength of logical ordering from reading it.

As you read to stretch yourself remember two things:

  1. Eat the meat, spit out the bones.  Consume what is good food for thought and don’t adopt what fails to resonate with you.
  2. Never fully adopt everything that a writer says.  The only one whose words are worthy of our absolute acceptance is Christ.  Period.  Even if they’re you’re favorite writer, they’re human and they are capable of being wrong.

How much of what you read is also important.  It’s hard to maintain a solid grasp on what God has called us to embrace and believe if we aren’t spending quality regular time in His Word.  It’s hard to be stretched if you’re not anchored someplace first.

Read to stretch yourself and keep from being shrunk into a pigeon-hole of opinions and ideas.  As believers we are called to engage our minds and our hearts for the sake of Christ.  Give your brain a workout.  Read something that will stretch you.

Knowing Someone Worse

Have you ever noticed that when someone shares about a person they know who is the “worst boss/most awkward/dumbest/meanest/insert negative characteristic” that people usually chime in with an equal or worse example?

Picture this scenario…

You’re in a conversation and someone starts sharing about this boss of theirs who is a jerk, about how awful it is to work for them, blah, blah, blah.  Then someone, maybe even you, butts in and says, “Oh, I had a boss in college who was worse!  They were the worst boss ever!…”

It’s like we try to equal or better someone’s worse experience and it’s always two things.

  1. It’s at the expense of someone who isn’t there to defend themselves.
  2. It’s a negative characteristic, rarely a positive one, that we highlight and it’s usually over-stated.

News flash: that’s gossip and it’s pretty twisted.

Why do we do that?

Why do we highlight the bad characteristics over the good ones?  When was the last time you heard someone share about a great co-worker and you just had to share about the incredible co-worker you had back in college?  You might have experienced that at one point but it probably hasn’t happened nearly as often as when we focus on the negative.

When it comes to talking about the more awkward, the ruder, the harsher, the more selfish, the creepier, the more boorish, and all these other things, what are we hoping to accomplish?  What’s the point?

I’m just as guilty as the next person when it comes to this but I want to change.  I want to focus on the good qualities that I’ve seen instead of the bad ones that have influenced me.  It’s healthier.  It’s more joyful.  It’s having my own focus changed from what sin has corrupted in others to what Christ has created in them.

We may know someone “worse” but are we trusting that God’s growing them to be someone better?

Friday List – January 21, 2011

Friday is here.  Play your Friday mix.  Do that Friday dance.  Cue the Friday List.

The Me I Want to Be

We spend a lot of time trying to become the perfect versions of ourselves.

We try to be sexier, smarter, funnier, happier, cooler, more successful, more tech-savvy, more likable, more “in the know”, more, more, more, more!

We try too hard.  We don’t try hard enough.  We care too much.  We care too little.  We think too hard.  We don’t think hard enough.

Ever feel like you’re Peter Pan who’s just trying to chase his own shadow?  So elusive.  As soon as you get close it moves and then it’s out of reach, mocking you from a distance.  Why do we try to catch this ghost of who we hope to be but seems so far out of our reach?  Why can’t we be that hip, classy, super successful, well-admired person that we’ve always hoped to be but haven’t quite achieved?

Maybe the reason we haven’t arrived at that place of being that person we’ve always dreamed to be is because God never intended for us to be that version of ourselves.  Life is more than designer clothes, six-figure jobs, and a chic group of friends.  If we spend all our time chasing those ideals it’s less time that we’re spending in the pursuit of God.

One of the best things you could do is take a moment to realize who God has grown you to be, right here, right now, and how is He wanting to use you today wherever you’re at.

It’s time to stop endlessly chasing your ideal version of yourself, you know, the super smart, super successful, mistake-free version of yourself, and start realizing who God has made you to be for today, for right now.  He isn’t looking for perfect people to do His work; He uses us, insecurities and all.

Books for Your Reading List

Lately I’ve been asked by a few different people who are starting to compose their own reading lists if I could share about some of the good books I’ve read over the last year or so.  Here is a list of the books that I recently found to be good reads:

My Writing Journey

Over the last year and a half I’ve realized something.  God has given me a gift for writing but it’s taken me a while to recognize it.  The irony of the matter is that this is an area I formerly hated and in which I am largely inexperienced.  For whatever reason I wrote zero papers, zero, in high school and I hated my English Composition classes in college.  I was convinced that if there was another by-product of the fall it was English Composition.

But then things started to change.  I began to like writing and I realized that I can make an impact through what I type.  God has allowed a desire to grow in my heart as He’s opened my eyes to this new area in my life.  I want to be a writer, to be published, but I’m seeing some questions that I need to face:

  • Am I wanting to be published because I feel I need to be heard or is it because I have something that needs to be said?
  • Am I writing from firsthand experience or just from theories I’ve gained, from life experience or only head knowledge?
  • Am I being a faithful steward of this gift of writing by putting the effort and attention into developing it?

These are questions that I have to answer, that I have to pray through as I see this desire growing in me.  I may never have a final lasting answer for these questions.  Maybe that’s a good thing; maybe they shouldn’t have a final answer.

I’m not a great writer at this point in my life, that takes time and effort and hours sweating through endless typing and unapologetic editing.  But I am committed to developing this gift to the best that I can and seeing where the answers to these questions, and others, take me.

For those of you who have already shared with me in the start of this journey by reading this blog, I deeply appreciate your support, your feedback, and your prayers.

Thank you.

Some Thoughts on Blogging – January 15, 2011

Last September I did my first post on what I had learned about blogging up to that point.  I thought I’d swing back around and share some of the lessons I’ve learned about blogging since September.  Some of these will be for the blogger who’s serious about increasing their digital footprint and some of them will be general blogging tips and ideas.  Enjoy!

  • Like life it takes a while for your blog to establish its identity.  I’m still figuring out what some of my digital identity looks like.  It takes time but it is so important.
  • Whenever you decide to post, do it consistently.  Once a week, once a day, whatever your plan is, stick to it.  Be dependable.  People covet consistency.
  • Meta-tags will drive more traffic your way and get you deeper into the online conversation on different topics.  The trick is finding that fine-line, that law of diminishing returns, when it comes to adding tags.  The more tags you add the bigger the chance that you lose the identity of your blog.  Be diverse but don’t be potpourri.
  • Sometimes it takes a while for you to increase your digital footprint.  With well over 144 million blogs out there in cyberspace it can take a long time for your individual blog to make an impression.  Patience is a virtue.
  • Before I post I have started to ask myself this question:  what’s my purpose of posting this?  If it really has no purpose then I don’t post it.  I don’t delete it either but I save it just in case it has its purpose in the future.
  • Write from real life conversations.  If there was a topic that left a great impression on you from a conversation with a group of people chances are that a larger group of people is having that same conversation online.  Write about it and enter the online conversation as well.
  • I shared this last time but I’ll say it again because it’s important:  word count and strict editing is what drives the quality of your posts.  Being wordy and sloppy in your writing will kill your impact.

Friday List – January 14, 2011

Happy Friday everyone.  Hope you have a great start to your weekend! Doin’ the Friday dance….

“On our second date, or as Christians like to call it ‘getting engaged’, I went to pick her up at her house. She opened the door and I said confidently, “Baby, Let’s go to Jared’s.” she freaked out and started calling all her friends in the familiar “He. Went. To. Jared’s!” tone.

Not gonna lie, she was pretty upset when we pulled into Subway.” – John Crist

Flickering Pixels (Shane Hipps) – Book Review

A while back I finished reading Flickering Pixels by Shane Hipps.  To say that Hipps knows how media impacts the human mind is an understatement to say the least.  As a former marketing specialist for companies such as Porsche, Hipps knows what avenues are used to most effectively communicate a message, especially in a world that has a love affair with technology.

Hipps does an amazing job of communicating the importance of media as the foundation for Flickering Pixels.  Technology shapes our faith in a critical way, beginning from the advent of reading and writing all the way to our cutting-edge 4G and WiFi modern-day.  Images, media, and technology are all directing and shaping our views towards God, faith, and community without us even realizing that it’s happening.

Here are some snapshots from the book that stuck out to me:

“Any serious study of God is a study of communication, and any effort to understand God is shaped by our understanding – or misunderstanding – of the media and technology we use to communicate.” (p. 13)

“To many adult minds, the digital land is a foreign country with strange languages, norms, and practices.  Parents are undocumented immigrants, while their kids are native citizens of the land and serve as interpreters and gatekeepers.” (p. 134) – I completely agree, especially since I’m part of the generation of digital native citizens.  The shift in technology (read: snowball effect) is making cultural relevance increasingly difficult for people who have failed to embrace the changes in technology.

Flickering Pixels is an exceptional read and it changed how I viewed technology, media, and culture-shifting perspectives.  I would highly recommend this book, especially for anyone who extensively uses technology in their ministry.  You can pick up a copy of Flickering Pixels here at Amazon.com.

Media shapes our faith and Flickering Pixels is an excellent explanation of why.

Having Answers for Unasked Questions

Something that I’ve noticed recently is that the Church in America is really good at answering questions that nobody’s asking.  The Church is providing answers to questions that nobody but the Church is asking.  We’re an info booth filled with information that nobody’s asking for.  It’s not helpful.  It’s not relevant to our world.  We’re asking questions that the world has no interest in having answered.

The unChurched in America aren’t asking about whether someone should be immersed or sprinkled with baptism.

They’re not asking whether you’re supposed to be a Calvinist or an Arminian.

They’re not asking about transliteration, transubstantiation, or even translations.

The unChurched in America are asking questions though, tough questions, questions like:

  • How do I know that God exists and that He cares for me?
  • I have plenty of friends who are “Christians” but I can’t tell the difference between us.  What would compel me to even want to change?  (Ouch.)
  • Can you be a Christian and be gay?  (This is a growing question that the Church is having to answer with our changing culture, especially with some denominations openly embracing LGBT clergy.)
  • Is there a purpose for my life or can I live like hell and toss it up to being “good enough” to gain salvation?
  • How can we say God brings peace and love when the condition of our world would suggest that God couldn’t care less about us?
  • What is truth? (Sounds easy, right?  In a post-modern culture, think again.)

These are the types of questions that the unChurched in America are asking.  These are the types of questions that the Church needs to start answering.  We need to be listening for the questions that people are asking and then provide the answers to those questions.

The Art of Addition

Leaders are faced with unique challenges each time they begin a new position with a new ministry or organization.  They have to factor in crucial elements like the history of the organization, the make-up of the members and their personalities, the resources that are available or within reach, and the direction which they feel compelled to pursue with their team.

One of the guarantees that can be found in these situations is the prospect of change.  The very act of introducing a new leader is change in itself, especially if you’re hiring from outside instead of promoting within.  Nobody really likes change, I’ve mentioned that before.  We might say that we like change but actually we like change as long as it doesn’t affect things that are important to us.

That’s where the Art of Addition comes into place.  No leader should make changes by subtraction only; changes should be made by addition and then subtraction.  If you want to change an element of your organization you will need to do these things:

  1. Sell the idea to your team why the change is necessary and get their support.  The reasons for why you can’t live with the old have to be more compelling than the classic arguments of “But why can’t we stick with what’s already familiar and comfortable?”  Without your team’s support, specifically key members of your team, you will be hard-pressed to make the changes you suggested.
  2. Introduce a new element in place of the old that is better than its predecessor.  Show why it’s a better fit or solution than what’s already there.
  3. Open yourself up for any questions that your team members might want to ask and be willing to make time for them.  Be prepared for push-back and discussion.  By the way, if you find yourself quick to be defensive or searching for answers then you probably need to convince yourself first before you continue trying to sell the idea to your team.
  4. When it comes time to change, be prepared for a longer transition than you might expect.  Change takes time, that’s a fact of team building.

In change management the art of addition is one of the most important arts for long-term success throughout change.  Don’t short-cut the change just because you have an agenda to complete.  When it comes to change take your time and make change an art form that requires your best effort and focused attention.

Facing the Critics – The Man In the Mirror

A while back I wrote about facing the critics in your life, especially as leaders.  People use the phrase, “I’m my own worst critic.” and that can be pretty true at times.  Speaking from experience I’m usually the one who is the hardest on myself when it comes to making mistakes and not living up to my own expectations.

Why do we feel like we have to be so hard on ourselves?  Is it a mix of demanding “perfection” from ourselves and being silently self-conscious that drives us to be our biggest critics?  Something that I’ve realized is that when I feel the most criticized or judged, it’s usually coming directly from me.  No one else is leveraging that type of pressure on me, it’s all coming straight from me.

It can be so easy to think your mistakes are so glaring and monstrous, especially for those of us with Type-A personalities (guilty as charged) that we think others see our mistakes as largely as we do.  Is it pride?  Is it a lack of self-grace and self-forgiveness?  It could be a whole range of things but whatever it is, it can make us turn on ourselves very quickly.

The next time you might feel under the gun or not living up to expectations, it might take a good look in the mirror to realize who’s causing the most pressure on you.  You’re not perfect, you’re going to make mistakes.  Give yourself some grace when you see your expectations are unrealistic.  Look in the mirror and face your biggest critic.

Friday List – January 7, 2011

Happy First Friday of 2011.  Hope you’ve had a great start to the new year so far.  Do your Friday dance, cue the Friday mix, and enjoy the Friday List.

  • An Atlanta man’s cell phone saved his life by deflecting a bullet.  True story.
  • It shouldn’t be too big of a surprise to see birds falling from the sky.  Rovio has had the corner on that market for a while now.
  • Picture of the Week:  Labs.
  • Video of the Week: Ted Williams.
  • Quote of the Week:  As seen on a Twitter account: “Yes, I am single and you’re going to have to be pretty amazing to change that.”  Wow.  Humble much?

Reading List for 2011

Each December/January I put together a reading list of books that I want to consume during the next year.  With starting grad school last year, which was pretty unexpected when I started 2010, I wasn’t able to finish all my reading list of 20 books for 2010.  So this year I’m shortening the list and I’m going for 10 quality, impacting books for 2011.

  1. Radical (David Platt) – Most recommended book to me lately from a variety of ministry friends.
  2. Soulprint (Mark Batterson) – Batterson’s book, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, was the most influential book during my transition back to Colorado.
  3. Undefiled (Harry Schaumburg) – I’ve heard good things about this book, whether it be for people from broken relationships or if you’ve fallen into sexual sin.  Sound relevant for our culture?
  4. Green (Ted Dekker) – I’ve read the Circle Trilogy, loved it, and this is the bookend of the trilogy.  Can’t wait!
  5. The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell) – I read Gladwell’s book, Outliers and it completely changed how I practice music.  I’ve heard great reviews of this one as well.
  6. They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Dan Kimball) – Say what you will about Kimball, he has some incredible insights into reaching post-moderns.
  7. The Knowledge of the Holy (A.W. Tozer) – Read this one back in college, would like to revisit it now after five years of growth and change.
  8. Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) – Again, it’s Gladwell.
  9. Messy Spirituality (Mike Yaconelli) – I’ve heard messages from Yaconelli before he passed away.  One of the great tragic losses in recent years.
  10. An Unstoppable Force (Erwin McManus) – The book that put McManus on the map as a communicator and writer.  The back story for this book is incredible and I can’t wait to read it.

What do you think, did I miss any?  Any I should substitute out?  Any I should add if I finish early and have room for one or two more?

Changes in Me – 2011

New year.  New calendar.  New attitude.  We’ve probably heard more than enough about the New Year but probably not much about resolutions because, let’s face it, making resolutions isn’t hip or cool or chic anymore.  Most resolutions are dropped in a few days anyways so why wait until New Year’s to start changing your patterns?

If you’re serious about changes that need to happen in your life, that God has shown you that need to be changed, why wouldn’t you put a plan in place now to see changes begin to happen?  That’s what I’ve done for my life.  I’ve put together a list of the things that I want to see changed and improved in my life that I began to work on before the New Year began.

By the grace of God, here’s what I want to see changed in me in 2011…

  • I want to tame my tongue more this year.  It’s not just about profanity, although that has been a struggle of mine in times past, it’s about keeping myself from gossip, slander, complaining, and even verbally bashing myself when I make mistakes.
  • I want to think more before I speak.  By my nature I’m a “Ready, Fire, Aim” type of guy and I want to take three seconds, think, evaluate, and then speak.
  • I want to plan out my blog posts weeks in advance.  So far things are going well and I’m all planned out til late January.  This is one of the building blocks in my dreams to be a writer and it’s an important part of my everyday life.
  • I want to be more careful in my spending.  I struggled with finances throughout college and the first few years afterward.  Things have improved and are very good now but I have some decisions to make about my future, like grad school loans, that will demand some good financial planning.
  • I want to climb at least three 14ers.  If you don’t know what 14ers are, those are the names of all the mountains in Colorado over 14,000 feet in altitude.

I don’t know how these will hold up throughout the weeks and months to come but I’m excited to see how God will work through them.

When Problems Are Good

I have a problem with the word problem. Ironic, I know.  I think we’ve robbed problem of some of its potential.  Here’s why…

For a long time we’ve associated a negative meaning with the word problem.  If you have a problem with someone then it usually means you have a personality conflict or a dispute that you two just can’t seem to resolve.  If you have a problem at work it usually means your productivity has been somewhat halted until you get things figured out.

There’s some truth to our understanding of a problem.  It usually means that it’s a barrier between where you are and where you’d like to be.  A problem can pose as a dilemma that needs to be resolved or else you can’t continue on the path that you’ve been following.

But not all problems are bad.  Some problems are in fact very good.

A church runs out of seating space in their auditorium because God has grown their church beyond the capacity of its facility.  Your schedule is crammed because people are wanting to spend time with you.  People have donated so much money towards a charity that the charity has to hire an annual auditor and an outside accountant to manage it all.  These types of problems are good problems to have.

When we see what appears to be a problem, is it really a problem or is it a fantastic opportunity for growth?  Whenever you encounter an obstacle on your path, it usually makes you stop and look at it.  My challenge is that when you stop to look at that obstacle in your path, that problem as it were, don’t ask yourself how you can get around it, ask yourself what it is: obstacle or opportunity?

Happy New Year 2011!

Happy New Year everyone!  It’s the kick-off for 2011 and I’m getting really excited for this new year to get started.  I’m headed out to my folks’ house to eat a lot, probably play some card games, catch some Rose Bowl action, and have a great time.

My question to you is… what do you want to do in 2011 that you weren’t able to do in 2010?  Leave a comment and share some of your hopes and dreams for the New Year.

Friday List – New Year’s Eve, 2010

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone.  Happy Friday as well.  Hope you have a great time tonight ringing in the New Year.  Watch your drinking, drive safe, and cue the Friday List.

  • Here’s a chance to take a virtual tour of the Sistene Chapel.  Absolutely unbelievable.
  • The part of the Muppets that doesn’t make them creepy is their googly eyes.  I’m guessing they would scare the crap out of kids if they had human eyes.
  • Picture of the Week: The Dangers of Using Google Maps.
  • Quote of the Week: “You only need two tools in life – WD-40 and duct tape.  If it doesn’t move and should, use the WD-40.  If it shouldn’t move and does, use the duct tape.”
  • Quote of the Week #2: “Let’s check in with our weather man down in the Springs [Colorado Springs] to see if it’s still h— down there.”  Lois Melkonian, co-host on 850 AM.  I think she was talking about the weather but I’m guessing it was more of a Freudian slip.

Top Ten Posts from 2010

2010 has been a great year and I thank God for being able to dive into this new journey of blogging.  I wanted to share ten posts that rose to the top in 2010.  These are the ones that readers have gravitated towards as well as one or two that were especially important to me.  Thanks for all your support and for challenging my thinking this year.  Enjoy!

  1. Adultery and Affair
  2. “Struggling” With Sin
  3. Thoughts on “What To Know When You’re 25(ish)” (Shauna Niequist)
  4. Teams and Sabbaticals
  5. It’s Not the Worship Leader’s Responsibility
  6. Bad-mouthing other churches
  7. They’re Already Leaving
  8. History and Turning One Year Older
  9. This is for the Grown Boys
  10. Shift – The Lost Coin, Sheep, & Son (Part 4 of 6)

Finishing 2010

It’s December 29th, two days away from the end of the year.  Wow, where did 2010 go?  We probably hear people asking that question all the time now as we’re only a few days away from the new year.  We might even hear that question throughout the year as we get deeper into the calendar.  Seasons come, time flies by, and our schedules speed us along from week to week.  Then we look up and realize that the whole year is over and a new one’s on the horizon.

As I think about it more I realize that my question isn’t, “Where has the year gone?”  My question should be, “What have I done this year that I wasn’t able to do last year?  What did God let me do in 2010 that I will remember for years to come?  What did I do in 2010 that made a difference forever?”

I want to be able to look back and say, “Remember back in 2010 when…”  I want good memories to have come from this year.  I want 2010 to hold the beginnings of great things, not just in my life but in the lives of others who crossed my path.

What will you remember about 2010?  What will you change for 2011?

Lessons I’ve Learned from George Bailey – #3

It may be a few days after Christmas but I still want to share some of the things I’ve learned from watching George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.

Lesson #3: “Sometimes God keeps you in a place much smaller than you feel you were made for specifically because you need to learn lessons that can only be learned in a smaller place.”

This might sound confusing at first but honestly, this was one of the things that stood out to me the most when I re-watched “It’s A Wonderful Life”.

As I look at George’s story I notice that he tried to leave Bedford Falls, several times in fact, but there was always something holding him back:

  • George’s dad passed away and the board voted to keep the Bailey Building and Loan from being dissolved.  The one condition was that George had to stay on as the head of the Bailey Building and Loan.  Crap.  I bet he didn’t see that coming.
  • His younger brother Harry went off to college and was supposed to eventually come back and take over for the Building and Loan so George could finally go to college.  Harry married Ruth and took a job with her father’s factory, leaving George no choice but to stay in Bedford Falls.  Strike two.
  • Sam Wainwright offered George a job, remember the “chance of a lifetime”?  George turned it down and ended up marrying Mary.  How many times do you think he wished he’d actually taken that job and moved out of Bedford Falls with Mary?

I’ve had more than a few people talk to me about why God has them where they’re at.  Sometimes we wonder why God has us in more obscure, less-limelit places when it’s “obvious” that we were created and gifted for something greater, right?  So why aren’t we in those “greater places”?  Why are we seemingly stuck where we aren’t feeling fully used?

Our job is not to question why God has us where we’re at.  News flash: that’s His business, that’s why He’s God.  We have to push down our arrogance (guilty as charged) and humbly embrace our calling in the here and now.  Our job is to make as much out of these opportunities and trust that when we’re ready, God will call us to where He wants us next.

Merry Christmas!

Hey everyone, I hope you are having a great Christmas today.  Whether you’re with friends or family I hope you get a chance to rest and relax as we celebrate our Savior’s birth.  Merry Christmas to you!

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.”  (Micah 5:2)

Friday List – Christmas Eve 2010

It’s Christmas Eve everyone, what a news flash, I know.  Our Christmas Eve service starts at 5 PM and I’m excited to see what God is going to do through our ministry tonight.  I hope you all have a great time at any Christmas Eve parties or services that you’ll be at.  Drive safe and watch your drinking.

For today though, get that last-minute Christmas shopping done, hang the stockings, rock around the Christmas tree, and do your Friday dance.

Lessons I’ve Learned from George Bailey – #2

I’ve started to share a few of the lessons I’ve learned from George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.  I think a lot of us in ministry are victims of this next one.

Lesson #2:  Even if Harry gets to go off, do great things, and get all the recognition, there’s still a “war” going on in Bedford Falls, which is just as important as well.

In the movie George’s younger brother, Harry, goes off to war and wins the Congressional Medal of Honor.  While Harry is making headlines as an ace pilot, George is back home in Bedford Falls fighting the same fight against Potter and helping people make something of their lives.  To the outside observer it might seem that George is doing virtually nothing nearly as important as what Harry’s doing.

Sometimes in ministry it can be a fight for glory.  The sad part is that a lot of times we’re not fighting for God’s glory, just our own.  Roommates from college start going overseas, get published, or get plugged into a church plant that really takes off.  Are we happy for them?  Sure.  Are we wishing that were us?  Absolutely.

We might be sitting in a smaller, seemingly insignificant church or ministry wondering when we might get that same opportunity.  When will we get the chance to make Relevant Magazine or Catalyst Monthly or any other of those headline, attention-grabbing, (jealous-inducing?) ministry magazines?

The part that I struggle with is that I’ve been there before and I will be there again.  I’ve watched as classmates and ministry friends of mine have been published, have landed that sweet gig at that one (insert hot-trending local church name) church, and have been interviewed for a variety of things.

The part that I forget though is how important it is for the local churches to do our part in winning the war at home.  We can’t all be off on some great ministry endeavor, although those do have their place of importance, and leave the neighborhoods around us unreached and unloved.  Some of the greatest ministry to be done is in the places that people will never hear about or read about.  But it’s just as important in the end, with or without the glory.

Lessons I’ve Learned from George Bailey – #1

When I was growing up my family would watch It’s A Wonderful Life around Christmas time.  Every year.  Every single year.  This year I’ve started watching it again and realized that there a lot of great lessons to be learned from George Bailey.

Maybe what makes this such a classic movie is that we’ve all probably been where George is in the movie: frustrated, stressed, fighting an internal struggle, and not living the dreams or plans that we always thought we would.  Sure, we’re not in Bedford Falls but could you just as easily slip in the name of your own hometown or neighborhood in its place?  Absolutely.

So I figured I’d share some of the lessons I’ve learned from watching George Bailey and It’s A Wonderful Life.  Most of these lessons are directly related to my place in ministry and the rest of them are more closely related to my own personal life.

Lesson #1:  Some of your friends will likely make far more money than you will but you will touch others’ lives in ways that dollar signs can’t.

In the movie Sam Wainwright had it all: the women, the money, the car, and the high-class lifestyle.  While George is stuck in Bedford Falls, Sam is in New York living the life that George always thought he’d be living.  There’s that part where Sam offers George a job and a chance to invest in a new growing industry.  Remember what Sam says, it’s “the chance of a lifetime”?  George turns it down, marries Mary, and sinks his roots deeper into Bedford Falls.

While George stays in Bedford Falls scratching out a living, how many times do you think he thought about that job, of what could have been?  After a long and crappy day at the office did he wonder if the job was still open?  If you’re in ministry, does that sound familiar to you?  You’re driving home from a rough day or a long and tense elders meeting only to think of that church plant or another job that was open that you could have taken.

But what about those times when George helped the people who couldn’t possibly get help from Mr. Potter?  Instead of having to beg Potter for money to make a decent living they find hope and opportunity with the Bailey Building and Loan.  God has put you in a unique opportunity in ministry to touch people’s lives and provide hope and second chances for them that they may never gotten elsewhere.

If you are in full-time ministry you’re probably never going to make the six figures, that’s just a cold, hard fact.  But you will be able to change lives in ways that dollar signs never could.  And that’s why you will always be richer than the Sam Wainwrights of this world.

Friday List – December 17, 2010

Snow has finally come to Denver!  Do your Friday dance, play your Friday mix, and cue the Friday List.

Friday List – December 10, 2010

Happy Friday everyone.  It’s December 10th here in the Mile High City and no snow to speak of.  15 days til Christmas so cue Bing Crosby singing White Christmas and enjoy the Friday List.

  • O Tannenbaum – Police in Berlin have found a pot plant decorated as a Christmas tree.  The owner probably wouldn’t be too upset at first if the tree happened to burn down.
  • Someone made a mistake with the basketball at the Illinois/University of Oakland game.
  • Just had to share one of the most inspiring versions of Go, Tell It on the Mountain that I have ever seen.  Warning: sarcasm but prep for a riveting experience.
  • Someone told me that Santa got shot down over the 38th Parallel last year and has been a silent hostage in North Korea ever since.  In my eyes that would make for a just war.
  • Photo of the Week:  The Protector.  No words for this one.
  • Video of the Week: Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes.

Friday List – December 3, 2010

Happy Friday everyone.  It’s Hanukkah, spin the dreidel and cue the Friday List.

  • Admit it, the Hanukkah song by Adam Sandler is already playing in your head right now.  Enjoy.
  • New music video on Hanukkah – Candlelight by The Maccabeats.
  • A Pennsylvania man attacked his roommate after believing he was a Jedi Master.  True story.
  • Britain is in a financial crunch so they have decided to auction off one of their aircraft carriers online.  The real debate is whether they will have UPS or FedEx do same-day delivery.
  • Video of the Week:  Epic Cat Fight
  • Picture of the Week:  Canned Unicorn Meat

The Balanced Life

People talk about having a balanced life, that the ideal life should be in equilibrium with all of the demands that are placed on us.  Whether it be work, family, friends, commitments, community, hobbies, and even our vacations, they should all be corralled into a neat and tidy bundle of time management where nothing overlaps and all of our deadlines are met.

We spend our spare pockets of time trying to magically suspend all of our commitments in this juggling act of life and wow the crowd in hope of some commendation.  “Wow, Mike, how do you do it all?  How do you keep everything going and your schedule so coordinated?”

But what happens when “life” happens?  Have we built up too many of our expectations and the pressure to be balanced?  What happens when too many aspects of your schedule and life begin creating friction in your life and you have to start making some serious decisions?  Example…the demands of work increase because you’re being a good employee and all of a sudden the temptation to bring work home is a new tension on your horizon.  Work has started to invade your family time.  Now what?

The truth is that as much as we might disagree, maybe even deny this fact, life is naturally unbalanced.  And that’s just how it is.  We will constantly be fighting the demands of all of these elements and that’s a tension in itself.  If the tension wasn’t there then we would not be forced to make priorities, practice self-discipline, and have our paradigm challenged and corrected as we mature.  There’s a healthy aspect of these tensions and we have to realize that not everything may be in order and that demands change as life changes.

Life is naturally unbalanced.  It’s about finding the rhythm of “need” instead of appeasing the demands and expectations.

Friday List – November 26, 2010

Happy Black Friday everyone.  Hope you got your Christmas shopping off to a great start.

  • Apparently the reason it’s called Black Friday is because it’s supposed to bring all companies who are running in the red back into the black in their accounting ledgers.  Makes sense.
  • A 24-year old North Carolina man has been arrested for impersonating an ER doctor…for a month.  Frank Abagnale, Jr. or just a wanna-be doctor?
  • A man in Germany built a brick wall in his attic and then realized that he couldn’t get out.
  • Photo of the Week: Parking Bumper Sticker.

Happy Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the US, which means lots of eating, drinking, football, and early bedtimes with the two-fold purpose of sleeping off that turkey you ate and also getting enough rest before the 4 AM sales start the next day.

Thank God for all of the blessings and lessons that He’s given to us.  Without sounding too cliched, I am grateful for what God’s given to me that others might not have.  I realize that as I get older the more grateful I get for things that flew under my radar in years past.  Things like having a good job, enough money to cover the bills, and a dependable car to drive are things that are easily taken for granted.  Thank God for providing beyond what we need.

Have a great Thanksgiving everybody.  We are blessed.

Tales from Sawyerton Springs and Pastor Ward

When I was a kid we had a book that was pretty popular in our family, Tales from Sawyerton Springs by Andy Andrews.  It’s a collection of (mostly) true stories from this town that may or may not exist down in the deep South somewhere that was Andrews’ hometown growing up.  Supposedly.

When I was out at my parents’ house recently I picked it up again and flipped through the pages.  It brought back some memories, memories of great laughs, memorable stories, and the characters you grow to love.  One of the stories that stuck out at me was one about Pastor Ward.  I won’t ruin the whole story but I also won’t do it full justice taking things out of context.  You can read the whole story here.

Maybe it’s because I identify with his struggles as a pastor.  Maybe it’s because I’m reading it through the eyes of a man now  and not a ten-year old boy anymore.  Whatever it is I want to write a list of my own to remind myself of my blessings.

1.  I thank God for the life and breath that fills my lungs.  With at least 2-3 incidents in life that could have killed me, I thank God for being alive today and for being absolutely healthy.

2.  I thank God for my Savior, Jesus Christ, and the second chance He gave to me.

3.  I thank God for being in ministry, even if it is a love/hate relationship at times.  I have a unique opportunity to make an eternal difference.

4.  I thank God for my family.  Dad, Mom, Joy, Tom, Julia, Jenna, Jaella, and Jillian, you are priceless to me and I thank God for you.

5.  I thank God for giving me a purpose and gifting in life.

6.  I thank God for friends who challenge and encourage me to be the man God has called me to be.

7.  I thank God for being able to grow and mature, especially with grad school.  I’d be even more grateful without the school bills though but hey, for now I’ll just say I’m grateful for school.

8.  I thank God for change, even if it is tough and uncomfortable at times.

9.  I thank God for the people who don’t see things the way I see things.  I learn from you and you stretch me to get outside of myself.

10.  I thank God for the ability to create and imitate.  Whether it’s music, art, teaching, performing, or any number of areas, I thank God for the chance to imitate His creativity.

Appetites

Last week I got the flu, which is usually as enjoyable as getting a TSA full-body scan.  One thing that happens when I get the flu is that my appetite goes south for about two weeks.  Things are just now getting back to normal but for a while there it didn’t look good for our hero.

While I was sick though I listened to a message from Andy Stanley about appetities, of all topics.  Appetites are insatiable, no matter how satisfied we might feel.  We eat a meal and say that we’re stuffed, we couldn’t possibly eat another bite, and three hours later we’re standing at the fridge door, taking inventory of our options.

Food, sleep, sex, possessions, power, our appetites can be ruthless at times.  We take the shortcuts to being filled and find our appetites are ruined, sometimes forever.  Sometimes when we feel hunger pangs we might eat a small snack to “tide us over until dinner” but that only works well in our physical appetite.  We might think that if we take a small sampling of what might whet our appetite that our appetites will be appeased.

We have those voices and thoughts that whisper into our minds that if we could just get the next greatest ______ by Sony or Dodge or Apple that our appetite for owning things will be appeased.  We allow marketing experts to hijack our brains, brand our thoughts with their logo, and then we follow those breadcrumb trails back to their dealerships like the willing victims that we are.

The urge for sex can be distorted, maybe even for life, with one bad decision to steal someone’s virginity that was never yours in the first place.  Sometimes it comes under just “the power of the moment” or “we’re going to get married anyways so what’s the big deal?”

If you throw that appetite for power into overdrive you can become so consumed with your career and the almighty dollar that you lose your family, your spouse, and your dignity, all for one more dollar and another and another and another.

Whatever our appetites may be they will never be fully satisfied in this world.  Our fight is usually not in deciding what is good or bad, it’s usually deciding between what’s good and what’s best.  We need to quit snacking and let God fill our appetites with His very best.