Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 Superlatives

Here is my list of the very best of 2011!

My Favorite Moments of 2011

-San Diego Anniversary trip (January 2011) What can I say? We love The SD.

-Burn's Winter Camp (Feb 2011). There was snow and awesomeoness.

-Las Vegas trip to see Phantom of the Opera and Lion King (April 2011). My wife has shared with me her love of musicals. I am grateful!

-Surf Camp (June 2011). We had a blast surfing on some of the biggest waves I've ever seen at Leo Carrillo. Plus, any camping trip is always a good time with our church.

-UCYC Adventure (July 2011) This has become my favorite camp. Incredible. So many memories.

-Ecuador Trip (August 2011). I had an amazing time in Ecuador. It is a beautiful country and the people are incredible.

-Graduation (December 2011) I was happy to complete my MA. Great program and a wonderful experience

-Christmas with my family (December 2011). We had incredible time hosting our first Christmas and spending it with my family. It was such a good week!

-Our new home (September 2011). We are amazed and excited about our new place. We can't wait for the good times that are ahead.

-Marissa's new job. I am so proud of my wife and happy for her. She is an incredible teacher!

The most inspiring and best books I read

-The War of Art. My favorite book of 2011. A must read for any writer, artist or leader.

-Generation IY A great look at this generation. Challenging and thought provoking.

-The Hole in Our Gospel I am so grateful for this book and the conversations it created.

-Forgotten God A great intro look at the Holy Spirit.

-Escaping the Matrix A wonderful look at spiritual warfare and how to create real change in our lives.

-Spiritual Leadership. A classic book on Christian Leadership. Great, applicable points.

The Best Films I saw

-The King's Speech. Inspirational and beautiful.

-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallow's part 2. No words describe how great this movie is.

-Sherlock Holmes and the Game of Shadows. Brilliant!

-Black Swan. Overly and unnecessarily graphic, but wonderful cinematography and incredible acting.

My Greatest Discoveries

-Evernote. Nuff said, This app has revolutionized the way I take notes and organize my life.

-How I Met Your Mother. My new favorite show.

-Michael Hyatt's blog. A great read every day!

My Awesome Epic Failure Moments

-Accidentally bouncing a random girl off the trampoline at Sky High Sports

-Discovering our bathroom door didn't lock in Ecuador (Thanks for that Raul)

-Forgetting to do the XYZ before preaching one night. Yep. There was lots and lots of laughter.

Most Radical Realizations

-You will never please everyone so stop trying

-The Criticism equation: 1,000 positive comments + 1 negative comment= 1 negative comment in our minds. It's a lie.

-God is redemptive. How amazing it is when we begin to notice the way he redeems our past and current situations for his glory.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Yelling at the dog

I yelled at my dog today. Now, if you know anything about my dog, Duke, this is a semi-regular occurrence in our household. Usually I yell because, even though he is adorable and awesome, he has the uncanny ability to bring annoyance into my otherwise predominately calm and stress-free life. This is of course most vexing in the wee hours of the morning when he decides to bark, scratch something, or my wife's absolute favorite: incessantly lick his paw (and by paw I do mean his actual paw but also other parts of his anatomy that I don't want to mention. Okay, he licks his butt sometimes. Gross, I know.)

Today, however, he didn't do any of the above things. He slept through the night and was both peaceful and calm. This morning when I got up and made my coffee and was loud, coupled with the hustle and bustle of people waking up in our neighborhood, he remained steadfast. He was shockingly quiet. That's why I yelled. I saw him just sitting on the edge of the couch (his favorite spot) and he was staring at me. He was the epitome of being unmotivated and lazy.

So I yelled at my dog:

"Get up! "
"Go outside!"
"Chase cats and squirrels!"
"Bark at everything and everyone who moves!"
"Find something that is not yours and destroy it!"
"Go to the bathroom in the most inconvenient places!"
"Terrorize the mailman!"
"Be a dog for heaven's sake!"

This frustration came from a place of love. I just wanted him to embrace every aspect of his canine nature and live it up! I reminded him that although in human years he was only three, in dog years he was in his twenties. Doesn't he understand how quickly this life moves? Doesn't he get that in doggie years he is supposed to be an adult and he better run while he still can, and bark while his vocals still work, and eat stuff while he can still stomach it?

I wonder sometimes if God wants to yell at us in frustration:

"I created you for more than this! Get up and do something."
"Create. Engage. Invent."
"Love. Serve. Forgive."
"Run. Play. Eat. Drink. Fall in love."
"Turn off the TV and log off Facebook!"
"Stay up late once in while!"
"Dance...because it's fun!"
"Live this life to the full!"
"Be a human for heaven's sake!"

I am remembering today that I am not a machine, nor am I a robot. I am a human, trying to become fully human. Life is indeed beautiful. We face resistance from experiencing the beauty, but we can overcome it to be our true selves. We can get off the couch.

As I write this, my dog is no longer lying on the couch. I unlocked the kitchen door and flung it wide open. Duke is running around in the backyard, barking at the top of his lungs for all to hear-- patiently awaiting the arrival of the mail. For some reason that is the motivation I needed today.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Love of the Game

Brandon Jennings, an LA native, is a baller. A baller is what you call someone who knows how to play the game of basketball. You can also call him a hooper, but I like baller. When you're playing the game you're "balling." It means you have skill. This is obvious, since Jennings is in the NBA. He's a 6'1 point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks. And he loves playing the game.

If you've paid attention to sports lately, you know that it is getting extremely unlikely that the NBA will have a season this year. There are disagreements about money and salary caps and stuff that a fan doesn't care about. A fan simply wants to watch people who are good at a sport playing it and playing it with passion and intensity. I think this is what Jennings wants as well.

Sports Illustrated just ran an article about Jennings. He's been using Twitter and other social media outlets to find pickup games around the country. Jennings wakes up and tweets, trying to find a location to do some balling. He then picks one and shows up and plays. After he's exhausted the venue (which means dominated), he goes back to the Twitter and figures out where he's going next. Jennings loves the game.

When it's all said and done, a NBA player is an athlete. Take that a littler further and he is a person, doing something that he loves. He was playing the game before he got the contract and was on TV and became famous...and he will probably be doing after it's all said and done.

I remember watching an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians (yes, I watch it occasionally) and Lamar Odom was talking to his now wife Khloe. He was telling her about some of the tough times he had growing up and how he used to cope with stress. When things were tough, he went out to the park and he played basketball. All he would do, he said, was shoot hoops for hours until the sun went down and then he'd finally go home. Then the next day, he'd wake up and go shoot hoops again. He said something to the effect of, "I feel at peace when I'm playing ball."

When Jennings was in high school he had his mom drop him off at the LA Fitness by his house at 5:00am every day before school. Because when you're in high school, you have nothing better to do then play ball at five in the morning. The point is, basketball never used to be about the money. It was for the love of the game. Sure, most NBA players and professional athletes for that matter live extravagant lifestyles. They own mansions and cars probably like being millionaires. Even with all the perks of playing professional ball, though, there are still some who just want to play the game.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we do what we do. I think we need a reminder every now and again to help us set our priorities straight and realize the gift it is to do what you love and to live your life to the full (be it your job, career, hobbies, education or dreams). The question we need ask of ourselves is: Do we still love to play the game?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Greatest App In The World--Evernote

I have a confession to make. I love the application Evernote. I can't even begin to explain how much I love this app and how using it has greatly enhanced my day to day operations. I am more organized, timely, and I'm remembering things a lot better. I thought I'd write a blog (even though there are plenty out there) on what I use Evernote for and why you should start using it.

What is it?

Evernote is a web-based application used for storing information. Okay, that doesn't sound all that impressive, but what you need to understand is that it is the way Evernote organizes and stores your information that is impressive. Evernote wirelessly syncs your content via the web and allows you to access it from a number of different devices. I have Evernote on my work computer (a PC), my personal laptop (a mac) and on my smart phone (a droid). If I update something on any one of the devices it syncs auto-magically. Evernote also works on tablets, I-pads and I-pods.

Why it's awesome

Evernote helps you remember everything. It also is one of the easiest places to store information in an organized and accessible fashion. On your personal Evernote app, you organize your content based on notebooks, notes and tags. Notebooks are like file cabinet drawers, and the notes are the individual files. Tags are used to help you find information on a certain topic. When I search for, let's say a note I wrote about a ministry event, I simply type one word from the event and I can find the note in Evernote. This is incredible because I've organized every section of my life in Evernote and can access the information anywhere! I always have my phone on me, which means my notes, insights, and anything else I might need is right there. (Here is a screen shot of a typical Evernote account)

How I use Evernote

I thought I'd share some of the ways I use Evernote on a weekly and even daily basis. I hope this paints a picture as to why I love this app so much and why can't stop raving about it.

Sermon Illustrations

I do a lot of speaking, whether it's on Wednesday night for youth group, Sunday morning for a study, or an outside speaking engagement. Evernote now houses my sermon illustrations and also my notes for my messages. I go throughout my day looking for those "illustrations" that will add life to my sermons. Further, I simply like to remember what happens on a daily basis. So much of that is lost if I don't write it down. I have organized my Evernote with a section on References. I have a notebook that is full of illustrations. I organized the individual notes based on topics like Anger, Love, The Church, Community, etc. I then file my illustrations in the correct category. Next time I write a message that has something to do with one of the topics, I find that note and there are my illustrations.

Besides daily stories, I also have a section for quotes including passages in books that I've highlighted (this is especially neat if you have a Kindle since all of your notes and highlights are saved on the world wide web. Just copy and paste your highlights and notes from your Kindle page to your evernote. Bam. Done.)

Evernote also has a web clipper that you can install on your internet browser. This way, if you come across something you like while online be it an article, picture, story, etc., just clip the page and it saves in your Evernote. Again, it does this auto-magically. I have another notebook for online articles, quotes, illustration stories, and spiritual and leadership exercises. They are all stored in one place. Additionally, Evernote also stores pictures, pdf files, and voice notes. All of them are organized neatly and accessible wherever I have the internet or a 3G connection.

Note Taking/Writing

I also use Evernote for taking notes. I take notes in a Moleskin journal and then transfer every note to my Evernote. I still like writing with a pen and plus taking the time to transfer the notes every week gives me a chance to look over what has happened and also to find the appropriate category for the notes. I go through all my notes and find where they go, including notes from staff meetings, discipleship meetings, time with my mentors, etc. If they say it, I put it in Evernote. I've also done this with a number of great authors I've had a chance to listen to as well. I have notes from the Storyline Conference with Donald Miller, insights from Shane Claiborne, Dallas Willard and as of yesterday, Rachel Held Evans. I love that I have a place to store these insights and also a way to find them quickly.

I also use Evernote for my writing. All of my blog posts are stored on Evernote and other writing projets as well. If I have an idea for a new post or an insight I want to write about, it goes on Evernote and I can find it there later. Inspiration is never lost. I also find that with my note taking, I'm more diligent about deadlines and dates, and find myself remembering the important details more often now. This has been great for my personal and professional life.

Although I finished school before I started using Evernote, this is a great resource to use if you're a student. Just make a notebook for a particular class, and then start filing your notes, assignments and projects there.

Event Planning

I plan a lot of events, including camps, retreats and a myriad of other social get-togethers. I now use Evernote to help plan my events. I take notes on the events, plan out the itineraries, and all the important factors like cost, transporation, times and deadlines. If someone has a question about an upcoming event or camp, no longer do I have to search through my computer to find it. I just open the note on my phone. I'm also going to be experimenting with doing all of our camp registration with Evernote too, so I always have a list on me of who has paid and turned in their necessary forms. Parents ask me this all the time, and if I'm not at my computer, I wouldn't know everyone's exact details. With Evernote, I just show them my phone or laptop and all the information is there.

Personal Information

Evernote also keeps track of my important personal information, including receipts, important dates and confirmation numbers. I recently used Evernote to help my wife and I stayed organized during the purchase of a our new home. Every detail that our lender or realtor needed was put on Evernote. Since you can make lists with "check-off boxes" I made a list of all of the necessary paper work and documentation we needed. If something else was discovered in a meeting, I took out my phone and added it to the list. Then, I experienced the great joy of checking it off the list one by one. I also kept a copy of important files like our tax returns, bank statements, etc that we might need at any given time. Using Evernote in this process was incredible. No more bulky folders or lost post-it notes. Everything I needed was online and by my side whenever it was asked for.

My Hobbies and stuff I like

Finally, I use Evernote to take notes on my favorite hobbies. If there is a new song I want to learn on the guitar I put it in my music folder. If there is a movie that I want to see, or even a list of movies that I want to watch eventually, it goes in Evernote. I also created a folder for vacations--places we've been and places we want to go--that we can update every year. I also take notes about my favorite basketball athletes, sort of a rough draft for a fantasy league. And since I like lists I also have my "bucket list," my current reading list including books I want to read, and also notes on future schools where I want to continue my education. I've also included notes on our favorite restaurants, weekly grocery lists and more. The possibilities with Evernote are endless.

Basically, that sums up my Evernote obsession. I've even encouraged the students in our youth group to get Evernote on their phones and i-pods. This way, we can share notes on teaching topics, and if they take notes during a message or Bible study, they have them in a safe and accessible place.

If you're interested in learning how to use Evernote, I recommend you check out Michael Hyatt's blog. He first introduced me to Evernote at the beginning of the year and has written in great detail about

There you go. Give Evernote a try. You won't be sorry. After all, it is the greatest app in the world.

Are there any other Evernote enthusiasts out there? What do you use the app for?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Since this day fell on a Sunday, churches everywhere had an opportunity to reflect on the anniversary of an event that shocked the world. In our worship service this morning, our band did a special musical number by country singer Allen Jackson. The song repeated one line over and over again: "Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?"

It turned out to be not only a good question to ask, but a revealing one as well. We decided to start our small groups off with this question after the service. What followed was an incredible experience for me personally. I was able to sit and listen to my students explain where they were on September 11th, 2001 and also what their thoughts and emotions were on this day that happened so long ago. Most of them were in first or second grade at the time; a few were even younger than that. Most of the comments shared were feelings of confusion, frustration, and grief. I found myself reminiscing as well. In 2001 I was a sophmore in high school, only sixteen at the time. I realized more and more as I listened to our students that this was an event that began to shape our outlook and define much of our perception of the world, especially for some of my students who were just starting out life in 2001.

Needless to say, it was a difficult topic to cover. The events of 9/11 have had a profound effect on everyone of us. Perhaps we longed for justice to be issued. Maybe we mourned for those who lost their lives. Or we applauded the men and women who sacrificially gave of themselves to save others by either running into the burning towers that day, or participating in the aftermath of the conflict. Quite possibly we experienced those three examples and copious amounts more. Trying to process the event, even ten years later is difficult.

Moreover, the events of 9/11 make us deal with a number of emotions--anger, sadness, despair. Undoubtedly, many of us have experienced these, especially those of us who lost a loved one during the attacks.

I was surprised even by some of my own emotions as I traveled back in time to that fateful day and tried to process all that has transpired over the years and even coming to terms with how I feel about it now. I am still unbelievably saddened and astounded at the atrocities that take place in our world. It is hard to wrap my mind around the pain that has been inflicted on so many people during the attacks and the subsequent wars. Events like this solidify an understanding of the very real existence of evil in our world and the way we wage war against the spiritual powers and authorities of this dark world (Ephesians 6:12). This is a sobering reality indeed--to look upon suffering and death and to realize that in many ways we have no control over it. The events of 9/11 and following have changed the world for all of us.

I am encouraged, however, when I realize an important truth in all of this. Even though we live in a world where acts of evil are a daily reality, we have hope. Jesus Christ, our risen lord, offers real change and real peace. He is the final word in all matters. There is no tragedy that is so deep that He is not there in our midst. As Jesus himself said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

As members of His Kingdom, our goal is to live and mimic Christ in every way (Ephesians 5:1). The word translated "mimic" in Ephesians 5 is the word for "shadow." We are to be Christ's shadow in the world, staying that close to Him. His words and deeds become our own.

Equally revealing, our Jesus' own words in the Sermon on the Mount to practice "turning the other cheek" and "loving our enemies." We may never fully understand how one applies this in foreign affairs, war, or when dealing with evil and terrorism. I for one, certainly don't assume to have answers here. Nevertheless, I find solace trusting in what Scripture reveals. Jesus, our King, is the Rider on the White Horse (Revelation 19:11-21. Jesus comes back on a white horse, a king's horse ). He is the Alpha and the Omega--the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13). And He is the foundation of all truth and life itself (John 14:6).

It is my prayer and hope that today would be a time of honoring and remembering those who so valiantly gave their lives ten years ago. May it also be a time of praying for all the lives lost on 9/11 and following, including Iraqis, Afghans, Americans, and terrorists. Furthermore, I pray that today would cause us to grieve over the reality of evil and terror that exists everywhere in this world and would cause us to cry out to God. May we seek with all that we are to live the way of Jesus as citizens of his Kingdom first, and may we humbly move forward together in solidarity, striving to honor and glorify our King, awaiting the one-day reality of Heaven on earth.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Super Texts and Super Films

Time is one of those precious commodities that is easy to take for granted. Perhaps this is one of the great faults of our generation: the false notion that we have all the time in the world. We soon learn the ignorance of that statement. Indeed, the clock ticks life away.

Since time is limited and valuable, it goes without saying that how we spend our time is important. This even applies to the books and movies we give our time to. Steve Sample, former president of USC and author of The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, wrote in detail about the time we give to the books we read in a chapter entitled You Are What You Read. In the chapter he argues a rather obvious point: there are certain old books that will always be better than new books. This might be a shocking statement for a culture and generation that is fixated on the latest and greatest. The latest is certainly not always the greatest, especially in the realm of literature. Winston Churchill was once said, "There is a good saying to the effect that when a new book appears, one should read an old one." Sample agrees with Churchill and brought up what he believes are the classics or super texts that have stood the test of time. These include The Bible, The Iliad, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Plato's Republic, and Dante's Divine Comedy to name a few. Sample argued that these texts have stood the test of time and have thus defined life as we know it. Reading them is essential to our own personal development.

Another interesting concept that Sample brought up was that anytime we choose to read one book, we are also choosing to not read another. This can apply to newspapers, magazines and comic books. Time spent reading these forms of entertainment, is time not spent reading a super text. Sometimes choosing to "not read" a book or magazine is important especially if that means we free up our time to focus on something greater.

This applies aptly to movies as well. Now, I've seen my fair share of pointless, dumb movies. Sometimes you just need to kill two hours with something mind numbingly stupid. It feels good. But there is something to be said of the kind of movies we spend a majority of our time watching. Similarly, as with the super texts, there are also super films--those that have stood the test of time to become classics.

I've been experimenting for the past few summers by choosing a theme or genre of film that I will focus on watching. And thanks to Netflix, this has become extremely convienient. So far my list includes classic horror movies (that I started with my roommate in college), romantic comedies (I am married remember), best picture award winners, and most recently this summer, classic movies, especially ones starring Audrey Hepburn. As with the super texts that are unmatched in sheer greatness and originality, there are also timeless movies, super films that most modern day movies are based on. Call me old fashioned, but I love the simplicity of black and white movies, and how special effects don't get in the way of good acting. If you don't believe me, watch the emotion in Humphrey Bogart's eyes when he looks at the camera in Casablanca, or try and find a actress as timeless and elegant as Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's. You begin to see how these types of films are immortalized and will never lose relevance. They are the inspiration of present day directors, actors and screen writers.

Choosing to watch a particular movie or read a book means we are choosing to not read or watch another. We make these little choices every day. I challenged one of my students recently in this area. I told her that with every new movie she watches, to balance it out by watching an older film next. We can do the same with the books we read. Even in Christendom we can choose some of our own super texts to balance with new books. Try complementing your regular reading list with the works of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, Luther, Wesley and others.

Sample is onto something here. I'm trying to use my time wisely. I hope to do so by choosing to spend more time with the super texts and super films this year. I guess I'm saying, to find inspiration, I'm going to be looking backwards, not forwards. I challenge you to do the same.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Are we Business Minded or Kingdom Minded?

A couple of weeks back I had a conversation with a pastor friend of mine. He asked me about my future plans in ministry. I gave sort of a run of the mill answer and said I wanted to do some teaching, write a book, get hired at a mega church, have my own Christian broadcasting network in Orange County, become a politician, take over the world, and make my own brand of soda. He thought that was ambitious and wondered if I really had what it takes to make my own brand of soda. I told him probably not.

Often times when we (when I) talk about ministry there is a temptation to have a purely Business Mindset attached to it. We become very factual--caring a great deal about numbers, prices, and sizes. We evaluate ministry effectiveness based on our return from the investment. The line of thinking goes that an event or service is only successful based on how many attended, how much money was raised or how many people made decisions. When we speak about ministry this way I imagine God in heaven, making tally marks on a large piece of paper like he's keeping score. God sits down at his heavenly desk and says, "Time for my tally marks. Let's see. Billy Graham, four for you Billy Graham, you go Billy Graham! And none for Gretchen Weiners" (What can I say, I love the movie Mean Girls).

There is a different mindset, however, that takes the focus off of us and our limited way of understanding ministry. This is a Kingdom Mindset. A Kingdom Mindset is able to see with a different perspective. It understands that God is at work in ways that we don't always understand. Perhaps God is not as concerned with our culture's view of success, but instead desires that his people be faithful to Him and trust that he will produce the results that matter.

Additionally, when we operate with a purely business mindset there is also the temptation to turn our church into a "brand name." We can become so overly concerned with our individual church that this obsession overshadows what God is doing in the world-wide Jesus movement. Don't get me wrong, I love my church, but we can become so inwardly focused on selling our brand of Jesus that we miss what God is doing elsewhere.

During the school year I do a Bible study at one of our local Middle Schools. It's a great gig because a number of youth pastors in the city come and do ministry at this school. Often times we bring flyers and promote our events. I love the ministry because deep down we all care for these kids regardless of what church they go to or which all-nighter they end up inviting their friends to. We're happy to work together for the greater good.

This brings me back to my conversation about ministry plans with my friend. He had been at his church for a couple of years and was wondering if he should take a job a another church. He wondered if an opportunity like this would ever come up again and was afraid if he didn't take the job, it would be a missed opportunity. I told him I thought he should stay at his current church. I also told him more opportunities would come and using the phrase "missed opportunities" sounds more like something you say during a football game. It sounded like something John Madden would say, not Jesus.

I guess all this started to make sense to me because I realized a while ago that God didn't call me to be the CEO of a fortune 500 company. Moreover, he didn't he call me to view my job as a pastor as a way to move up the corporate church ladder.

I remember a wise person once telling me that we shouldn't view our churches as a way to get "there." Because maybe the "there" we so desperately want is here. Maybe God is so much greater at orchestrating things than we could've ever imagined. What if we began to trust him not only with our lives but also with our careers? Perhaps that would influence our understanding of ministry and the mindset needed to endure. Perhaps we could put that in a book and sell a few million copies. Maybe we could get a book advancement and begin making progress towards creating our own brand of soda. That would be fun.