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.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Conflict makes a story better

I may have jinxed the Miami Heat. I didn’t mean to and I feel bad about it. I was actually rooting for them to win the championship. My wife and I were following the series like mad, hoping that they would pull it off. I wanted Bron Bron to win a ring. I wanted to see him hoist the trophy high into the air. I wanted Dan Gilbert to be speechless. But winning championships is not easy work.

The jinx came a few days ago, right before game five. I was thinking about the drama of Lebron leaving Cleveland and how he became this villain character and how everyone hated him and then he wound up in the Finals (something his team wasn’t expected to do until a year or two later.) This is where I jinxed it. I told my wife that Lebron leaving Cleveland and then the next year winning a championship didn’t seem like a good story. It was sort of the antithesis of hard work and perseverance. I’m not saying that the Heat didn’t work hard this year. They did. They had an incredible season. I started thinking, though, that the team hadn’t struggled enough to win it all. Sometimes in order to win, you have to lose first. Motivation comes from almost achieving your goal and then falling short. It then makes the time you do win that much sweeter.

I was thinking about Lebron and the Heat and the fact that they hadn’t dealt with enough pain and heartache to win a championship. And then the clock ran out in Miami in game six with a 7 foot German holding his first championship and the MVP of the Finals trophy. And Lebron’s critics flooded the social media scene with posts and tweets. “He’s no MJ.” “He is not as good as Kobe.” “He can’t make change for a dollar because he doesn’t have a fourth quarter.” The funny thing was that most of it was spot on criticism. He didn’t show up to play in the last three games of the series. It was an accurate description of how poorly he played. Yes, the team failed, but so did Lebron. And eventually, if he can return and rise above the criticism, it will make for a good story.

The only way critics are silenced is with action. The only way dreams are achieved is when you work long enough and hard enough to see them unfold. Lebron has a lot to work on to improve his game. He may even have to change the way he plays in order to help his team win. A better story than winning a championship your first year with a new team is losing it, and coming back in the future, ready to achieve what you couldn’t before.

Conflict in a story and in our lives is necessary. Conflict shapes characters and people. It forces someone to persevere. It also puts things in perspective. Furthermore, when people have to work hard for something it calls out the best in them. A relationship will have a better foundation if there is a conflict a couple must work through and overcome. Graduating from school is that much more meaningful when you shed a little blood, sweat and tears along the way. Our careers take on new meaning when we face adversity and hardship, and find a way to succeed even if those around us desire us to fail. Conflict makes a story better.

I’m not sure what is next for Lebron and the Heat. Perhaps they will add another team member to their squad and become “The Big Four.” Perhaps Heat owner, Pat Riley, will reveal his slicked back hair is actually the world’s most massive comb over. I’m not sure. I imagine, though, that the pain of not winning a championship will add some fuel to the fire. A team that appeared destined to win and didn’t, will have to start all over again. And the conflict will make the team better. It might even propel them to win a championship in the future.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Your dream stinks

There is a great musical number in the movie Tangled where a bunch of scary misfits confess their dreams in a tavern. It’s comical because the scene is full of tough, ruffian Viking characters—who are large and in charge, brandishing massive weapons—all singing about wanting to be concert pianists and die hard romantics. The song simply says over and over again, “I’ve got a dream…”

At the end of the musical number there is a funny one liner. Rapunzel is leaving the tavern and one of the Viking’s says to her, “Go. Live your dream.” Flynn Ryder, Rapunzel’s costar/romantic interest, answers back, “Thanks. I will.” The Viking turns to him and says, “ Your dream stinks. I was talking to her.” My wife has watched this movie at least a dozen times since we bought it and I still laugh every time I hear that line.

Your dream stinks.

Perhaps we haven’t heard someone tell us outright that they think our dreams stink, but maybe we’ve felt the sting of our dreams not working out. We really thought we could play professional basketball one day and only grew to be 5’2. We were certain that the music gig would have turned into a record deal, and it only landed us playing at birthday parties and church coffee houses. And of course, the silver screen was going to be our destiny until we realized we weren’t Disney Channel “material.”

Undoubtedly, we’ve all cringed when watching a show like American Idol, witnessing the candidacy of the judges, shattering the dreams of hopeful pop stars. We’ve thought: How can they be so cruel? Most of the time when we’re criticized, especially when it’s directed at something we’ve grown passionate about, it translates in our minds as a critique of our personhood and character. Someone tells us we’re not good at something and we think that means we’re not good. If our dream stinks, then, well, we as person must stink too.

I wonder, though, if there is another way to look at it. Perhaps at times our dreams do stink, but not because of anything we’ve done. Our dreams stink, rather, because we’ve been sold a lie about dreams. And so a lot of us have been pursuing dreams that aren’t giving us life or producing goodness in the world. Our dreams stink because they are motivated by selfishness.

One of these dreams in particular is the dream for fame and wealth. Naturally, we seek recognition, status and prominence. Our world has told us that to be of value we have to be of a certain caliber. This means we need the looks, the job, the money and the swagger (yes, we might even need to hire a swagger coach). A combination of wealth, fame and talent give us great worth. Furthermore, it is only when these things are recognized by others (and by others I mean lots of others) that we truly have worth.

No wonder Youtube is full of people singing, acting and pursuing their dreams. They long to be discovered. We are taught that only in discovery can our dreams be reached. We are advertised a version of success and asked to consider how we might reach that too. The problem, however, is that not everyone in the world can be famous. There has to be a chasm between the rich and poor, the un-famous and the superstar, the unknown and the “it guy or girl.” There needs to be those who can support the famous. And this is what we dream about—making the move from unknown to known. The world has influenced us so heavily that at the core of our dreams, we are really searching for someone to tell us we’re valuable.

We should pause for a second. Every one of us probably in some way shape or form desires a little fame and fortune. Who wouldn’t? It’s not necessarily a bad thing to want to be known for your contribution to the world. But if that is all our dream is— a chance to be famous and rich—it really does stink.

A glance through the Scriptures reveals that God is a perpetual dreamer. He is involved in creating and recreating life in the world. He pursues relationships and surprises us with mercy and grace. He coordinates miraculous signs and wonders to take place. He waits patiently for his people to respond. The Zohar (a book of Jewish mysticism) states, “God creates new worlds constantly.” He is a creative, dream pursuing visionary. Then we reach Jesus in the New Testament. He is a dreamer too. He challenges the status quo and invites his follower to pursue a different existence; he invites them to dream radical and life-altering dreams and does this all under the title of “His Kingdom.”

God’s kingdom—his reign, rule and place of authority—is an invitation to dream. It’s a place where actors act, artists create, leaders lead, and authors write. God’s kingdom is a realm where dreamers don’t stop pursuing their wishes, but there is a change of focus.

Back to Tangled.

Flynn Ryder’s dream was about making lots of money. That was it. It’s not hard to see why that dream stinks. I often wonder what God thinks of some of our dreams. If we want riches, God might say: “I’m not impressed with the size of your bank account or your accumulation of stuff—it’s meaningless.” Or for those who desire fame, He might add: “Why do you so desperately need to be known? I know you and that is all that matters.”

We need a different foundation for our dreams. Instead of following a pattern of dreams that only a few people can ever reach, we start thinking in terms of God’s Kingdom. Is the focus of our dreams utterly selfish, or is it self-less? When we join God’s Kingdom, we begin to dream the type of dreams that bring healing, life, love and forgiveness to the world. We pursue a different way to live and desire to tell good stories with our lives. Our attitude changes to become like that of Christ (Philippians 2:5). Moreover, instead of weighing our lives down with impure expectations and motives, we embrace God’s dreams and find ourselves lost in a cause so deep and wide that anyone can join in. There is room for every dreamer out there to have a different kind of dream.

So, how do we know if our dream doesn’t stink? Does your dream involve others? Fame and fortune are fleeting. No matter how big your hearse is, you still can’t take it all with you. That leads us to wonder if a dream, inspired by God, is something that lasts in a different way. Rather than building our dream upon a foundation based on what the world says is success, we build our dreams upon the very things that God believes in: love, justice, acceptance and redemption. Dreams with an altruistic foundation outlive our lives and find fruition in the people we’ve helped along the way.

Perhaps, then, there are times when we need to reevaluate our dreams. We ask probing questions of our dreams and see if they line up with God’s dream in Scripture. In this way, we pursue something beautiful and lasting. Our dreams, fused with God’s purposes, are light in a dark place. They have the potential to bring healing and real change in our world. Rather than accumulate awards and riches, we practice the wonderful act of surrender in order to receive from God.

What do you think? Does your dream stink? 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Love Wins

It seems like everyone and their mom has been blogging about books lately, especially Love Wins. I thought I should blog about it as well: it was awesome.

Here is another awesome book about the power of love--perhaps even God's love. Maybe you remember reading this book when you were younger or receiving it as a gift and thinking: "Thanks, a book." Compared to Nintendo Games and Ninja Turtle action figures, it did little to impress me in childhood. The ironic thing, though, about most "children's" books is that they are about something more. Exploring the "more" later on usually results in gratitude.

Check out this short reading of the book by Brennan Manning:

"'And that, Shel Silverstein said, is my understanding of Jesus Christ.'" Have you reflected lately on the unstoppable, passionate love of Christ for you? It's a love that knows no bounds.

"If God is for us, who can be against us" Romans 8:31

Friday, April 8, 2011

Saints--Rich Mullins

I decided I would write a series of blogs about people who inspire me to move closer to Jesus. I guess we can call these individuals “saints.” Some of these saints are a little old school; others are more contemporary.

I decided to start with a man who, like many saints throughout history, left this earth a little too soon (although I’m sure he isn’t complaining). His name is Rich Mullins. He was a Christian recording artist, a dreamer and a follower of Jesus. His life, his story and his music continue to inspire me. I’ve attached a video that, I believe, captures the beauty of his life.

In the video he shares openly about the nature of sin and temptation as well as a personal struggle he was dealing with on one of his travels. Then, he plays one of my favorite songs of all time, which also happens to be one he wrote, called Hold Me Jesus. I encourage you to take five minutes out of your day and watch this video. Even in this short video, you will notice how remarkably transparent this man was and how deeply he loved Jesus.

I honestly don’t think there is another song that touches my heart the way this tune does. I hope you are blessed by it:

Monday, March 28, 2011

What I learned from Kobe Bryant

A few weeks ago I was listening in on ESPN radio and none other than the Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant, happened to be on. The show’s host had invited him on the air for an interview. Immediately, curiosity set in and I turned up the volume. Now, I should be honest here. Nothing against Kobe, but I’m not a huge fan. I always recognize and respect basketball talent, but that doesn’t mean I cheer for the person. Part of this has to do with being a Blazers fan growing up and always wishing the Blazers could have taken it to the Lakers when it really counted. Alas, this never happened. My bitterness, though, has receded over the years. I’ve been healed. It was good money spent on therapy.

Anyways, the interview with Kobe was fascinating. Kobe shared some of his thoughts on the NBA and on how the Lakers were doing so far this year. He answered some critical questions by the host and with an air of confidence, assured the listeners that the Lakers would be doing just fine come play offs. I have to say, I completely believed him. One thing I noticed from the interview was that Kobe never took the focus off of himself. When asked about the Heat, he brought it back to himself. When questioned if the Spurs would upset the Lakers, again, without hesitation, he brought the issue back to his setting and his life. This move wasn’t done out of arrogance or some deep seeded narcissism; rather, I realized, it was done out of confidence in his pursuit of excellence.

Kobe believes his success is not contingent upon what other people do around him. That is why on the air he didn’t get rattled by criticism or even react to the mentioning of the successes of other players and teams. It just didn’t matter because he was confident in his job and his skills. One line from the interview that really stood out to me was when Kobe said, “I know I have to put the work in.” Putting the work in, as Kobe explained, is about doing what you know you need to do in order to be the best you can be. “Putting the work in” is not about comparing oneself to others or living in a state of reaction, based upon what’s happening around you. On the contrary, it’s about focusing on oneself.  Besides, as Kobe mentioned, the only real improvement I can make is to improve myself.

Many of us find heroes or successful people we want to emulate. We see the good they produce—the books they write, the movies they make, the songs the compose—and we want to be like them. We see loving families and notice strong friendships between people.  It looks attractive and we want that for our lives too. The only problem is, that most of us don’t want to do what they did to get there. We want the success, but lack the work ethic and discipline to achieve it. Reading a good story is always fun. Writing the story, on the other hand, rarely ever is. We all want to tell good stories, but first we have to be willing to write them.

Perhaps this is the reason why there is only one Kobe Bryant.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sometimes the best advice is no advice

Have you ever noticed how sometimes the best advice you can give someone is no advice at all? We live in a society where we are constantly searching for answers. It seems like everyone has at least one consultant they can call upon. You have someone to help you with your finances; another to give you “life coaching” (whatever that is); and if you’re rich then you might have a personal trainer as well. In every aspect of our lives, we are searching for those who can give us good advice.

I think this is true in my life to a degree as well. Especially in hindsight, I can see the many people I sought advice from over the years. Some of it was great advice. I had people who genuinely cared about me. They wanted what was best for me. Regardless of their motives, though, the best advice doesn’t always come in the form of stating your opinion. In fact, I think it rarely does. The best advice I’ve ever received was when someone intentionally chose not to give me advice at all. Their silence spoke louder than words or proactive plans that I could follow. They helped me because of what they didn’t say. Their ultimate refusal to tell me what I “should do” was not a hindrance to my growth as a person; rather, it was an opportunity to become the person I had to become on my own initiative. No advice was good advice. Further, not giving me advice was really a sign of someone’s wisdom.

When I think of wisdom, I can’t help but think about the book of Proverbs in the Bible. It is a book full of wise sayings that were passed down from different generations. This book of sayings and adages, though, were not secret formulas that automatically gave you wisdom. Rather, they were ideas that could help someone live a good and fulfilling life. Proverbs devotes many of its chapters to the achievement of wisdom and the importance of seeking wise counsel.

Wise counsel.

When we ask someone for advice, what we are really asking for is their counsel, right? But wise counsel doesn’t necessarily mean giving people answers or telling them what they should do. That is not counsel. That is not empowering someone. That is simply the stating of your opinion. Which depending on who you are, could mean very little. It’s like the person who is always sharing advice on relationships and they’ve never been in one. They might have read some Joshua Harris book in the past, but that in no way gives them credibility to speak on the subject. They are a purposeless voice, who may have great intentions, but is nevertheless, an incessant and annoying reminder as to why some people should keep their opinions to themselves. No one wants to be “that guy” or “that girl.” Do we seek to give wise counsel or to just be heard?

Counsel is really about helping someone find their way. It is assisting them on their journey and allowing them the power to choose and figure things out on their own. When we constantly “counsel” people by the sharing of our opinion or telling them what we would do in a given situation, we take away the power of their choice. Our influence can become too big in someone’s life. Instead of figuring out how things should really be, they just do what we say. That is not helping someone become a mature and complete person. That is hindering them. Parents do this. Pastors do this. Friends do this.

Viktor Frankl, the famous concentration camp survivor and author, said that the last of any human freedom is the ability to choose—to choose one’s attitude, thoughts and to make decisions. Do we allow people to truly choose if our counsel is always giving them answers? Sometimes our silence says as much as the words we say. Furthermore, our ability to not tell people what to do has a tremendous impact, even if it is not immediate. It is a sign of maturity when our counsel gives people freedom to figure things out on their own.

Mark Twain once said that if he had to live life over again, he would have said less. Perhaps there should be times when we practice the art of restraint. Not because we don’t have meaningful ideas or good things to say, but because our silence can mean someone else finds the solution they were looking for. Moreover, I rarely hear someone praised for his or her “advice-giving-opinion-stating” abilities. People are praised for their ability to listen. A good leader, and a good friend for that matter, will artfully and tactfully choose when to give advice and when to say nothing. They will allow their silence to be as important as their words.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

God—A Hopeless Romantic

Have you ever read a part of scripture and thought: “Really, God? That seems a bit over the top, even for you.” Sometimes reading though scripture feels like your watching a Tim Burton movie—constant special effects and weird stuff happening everywhere. There are bushes that catch on fire, the parting of waterways, multitudes of angelic choruses singing together, and dead people rising from the grave. Have you ever read one of God’s miracles and thought God was a bit too theatrical? Or perhaps thought that he likes grand gestures a bit too much? By the time you reach the New Testament you begin to think that maybe God is bragging just a bit, almost as if to say “Look what I can do next!”

Perhaps God is a bit theatrical at times, constantly showcasing his power through signs and wonders, all the while continually reaching out to his creation time and time again. There are moments when God seems too forgiving and too loving. There are moments when he says one thing and then does another. He tells his people he is going to bring calamity upon them and then decides to give them a second chance (well, more like a thousand second chances). Just when you think he has finally done enough, voila! He strikes again, reaching out to touch his creation once more. In fact, we begin to see that God never tires of reaching out to his people.

As God reaches out to his people, he begins to appear as this greater pursuer. He is deliberate, patient and tenacious. But what exactly is he pursuing?

One of the things God seems pretty keen on is getting his people to recognize his love for them. God keeps sending all of these reminders in the scriptures that he is close to his creation, cares for them, and has their best interests at heart. His love is so grand that uniformity alone would not do it justice. God could have chosen to make every person reciprocate this love automatically. He could have made us robots. But forced love, is not really love at all. Love is a choice. God chose to love us and allows us to choose to love him back. However, his love is never contingent on our love. In fact, his love cannot be defined in our own limited understanding of what love should be. His love is infinite, pure and unending. God is a patient lover who has made the first move. He waits for us to return the gesture, all the while showing us that His love is eternal and will never fade out. Brennan Manning puts it this way: "Human love will always be a faint shadow of God’s love. Not because it is too sugary or sentimental, but simply because it can never compare from whence it comes. Human love, with all its passion and emotion, is a thin echo of the passion/emotion love of Yahweh."

I wonder if that is why the psalmist can cry out “Your love is better than life.” Or why he can pray to God: “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” Satisfy us with your unfailing love? That is a bold request. Could it be that God’s love is so good and so strong that it can do just that? That it can satisfy us.


That is a word we don’t hear very often. It seems like most of us are very unsatisfied. We keep searching for the next thing, the next love or the next relationship that will finally give us peace. It’s a Never-Ending Story—and not a cool one that has mythical far away places and giant flying dogs.

God’s love is not far away or distant. His love has no contingencies. It is real. It is unfailing. And it is all-satisfying. I wonder if God is really a hopeless romantic at heart and he delights in wooing and awing his creation. Perhaps he is the greatest romantic that exists. And maybe every time we take part in a little romance or choose to show some grand gesture of our affection to someone we love, we are, in fact, acting like our creator. Perhaps romance is a sign that we are partnering with God in an epic love story that has existed since the beginning of time. We are choosing to love and be loved. We are embracing the hopeless romantic inside all of us.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

It's never over

This is a picture of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. On the surface, it looks like an ordinary motel. History, however, tells us this particular motel will be remembered forever. This is the site where Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated so many years ago.

The hotel has been converted into a museum of the Civil Rights Movement, with special emphasis on the events leading up to Dr. King’s assassination. Dr. King was a man with a dream and a plan to see it come to fruition. He was a social justice worker and peacemaker. And we lost him too soon. One thing is certain, though, his legacy lives on.

On the day King was assassinated, two men were with him: Andrew Young and Ralph Abernathy. Tony Campolo tells a story about the words these men exchanged when King was shot. Young was the first to reach King and he began to cry aloud, “It’s over, it’s over, it’s over.” Young cries these words as if to say they’d lost, their progress was for nothing, and things would never change. Abernathy, on the other hand, did not share Young’s sentiments. He grabbed Young in his arms and shouted passionately, “It’s never over. This will never be over!”

It’s never over.

Indeed, King’s work and his dreams are not over. His legacy of resilience, peace and nonviolence lives on in the hearts of men and women who dream of a better world. His incredible amount of patience paved the way forward. His life gave us an supreme example of sacrifice and love. His work will never be over.

Perhaps the same is true for our lives. We can resiliently hold on, even when it feels like everything is falling apart. We can echo Abernathy’s words and live like “It’s never over."

Monday, January 17, 2011

How well do you know the Bible?

Remember all of those Bible verses we used to diligently memorize in Sunday school? I do. I vividly remember my childhood Sunday school room displaying a large banner with the names of every student in the class. Next to each of our names was a blank space for a star. Every time we memorized a verse we received a star. This star also translated into a trip to the candy bucket. I loved that candy bucket and was also quite fond of gold stars. Hence, I became a Bible scholar by the fourth grade.

I’ve heard the term “Bible literate” used quite a bit recently. The question asked is: does your church know Scripture? This question is often used to distinguish between churches that really teach Scripture and others who aren’t as in depth in their preaching and teaching. I’ve been thinking about this lately in regards to my church and many others. How well do we know Scripture?

Since I’m a pastor, I tend to listen to a number of sermons every month. It’s always interesting to hear what other churches are preaching on and what I can learn as a communicator from others in my field. There are a number of preachers around. They have their unique styles. Some are insanely creative; others a tad bit boring. But they have one thing in common—they’re teaching from Scripture. Their congregants are listening to them so they can interact with a text. The preaching moment happens on Sunday morning or Saturday night and people come to listen. It doesn’t matter the size of the church. People are coming to hear. How we teach the Scriptures is important.

I heard someone sing a song the other day that listed all 66 books of the Bible in order. It was an assignment they received in their Christian school. They learned a song, so they could know the order of the books of the Bible. I was asked recently if I could recite every book of the Bible in order on the spot. I could not. I got mixed up somewhere in the Minor Prophets. I forgot about Obadiah. This person was shocked that I couldn’t recite the books of the Bible. “I thought you were a pastor,” they said jokingly.

All of this makes me wonder what knowing the Bible means? What are we really getting at when we ask that?  Jesus certainly knew the Scriptures in his day. He quoted from them, taught from them and applied them to his ministry. He certainly had an understanding of the Scriptures, but it was more than that. He understood the Scriptures to be full of life. He embodied them in a way others didn’t.

I’ve heard it said that knowledge is a gateway to action. The more you know, the more you care. I’ve often wondered, though, if the way we talk about “knowing” Scripture can be misleading. Instead of equipping our churches, we’ve left them believing retention and fill-in-the-blank inserts are the key to knowing the Bible. Perhaps many of our congregants who know so much about the Bible, are missing a fundamental insight: what to do with it. We try so often to interpret Scripture, but how often do we allow Scripture to interpret us? We strive to know more, but do we attempt to live out with what we do know?

Is knowing Scripture the same as being changed by it?

I certainly aspire to know the Scriptures. I study them, take courses on them and engage in conversations about them. I desire that my church knows Scripture too. But I also want them to embrace Scripture. Whenever I preach, I’m not looking to simply transfer information. Rather I desire to invite my church to experience transformation.

I have a few students that I disciple on a monthly basis. Some of them want to know more about Scripture, theology and ministry. I’m happy to teach them and help them study Scripture. But my goal is not for them to be the new day Hank Hanegraaff (the Bible answer man). Instead, I hope that in learning about Scripture they would be prompted to do something with it. Because God’s word comes alive when we live with the text.

Here are some ideas that I’m trying to use in order to help my church move beyond the realm of informative and into the realm of transformative:

-Preach sermon series that are focused on a book of the Bible or a particular genre of biblical literature. This way, we have the chance to get a better understanding of a book’s overall message and context. Instead of simply memorizing individual verses, we have a broader understanding of the book as a whole.

-Promote quality Bible reading over quantity. There is something important about meditation and repetition that many of our modern churches miss out on. Liturgy is powerful. Rather than have our church members read chapter after chapter, challenge them to reflect on a smaller portion of Scripture several times a week.

-Allow creativity to intersect with a Bible study. Scripture can inspire us. Can we allow our church’s to react in creativity to the Scriptures through art, music, video, song, dance and craftsmanship? This way, a passage or book becomes alive to an individual.

-Expand the preaching experience. Sometimes we (myself included) put too much emphasis on what happens Sunday morning or Wednesday evening. Preaching and Bible study, though, are not confined to that hour every week. Find ways to broaden the preaching experience. Allow our churches opportunities to live with a text in their world—events, projects, and outings. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

Leading or Being Led

I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. John 21:18

There is a difference between “leading” and “being led.” A Christian leader is primarily someone who chooses to be led, instead of leading. It’s an interesting concept. Our culture emphasizes the importance of leading. We crave great leaders who are visionary and charismatic. We search for those who can help us navigate the changing waters of the future and guide us into the unknown. Our world celebrates these types of leaders. Our churches hire these types of leaders. Jesus, however, has a different version of leadership he shares with his people: the art of being led.

Jesus calls us to follow him. We are to be disciples. Learners. Students. Followers. He doesn’t call us to be leaders. He calls us to follow one true leader. Jesus’ version of leadership is to strip away any barrier or position and submit to his way and not our own. Jesus is anti-institution, anti-“The Man” and anti hierarchy. In the gospels, Jesus avoided any kind of conversation that was political or power oriented. When James and John argue about their places in heaven, Jesus talks about the little children. When Jesus is questioned about paying taxes, he doesn’t get caught off guard, but refocuses the attention on serving God, not man. A Christian leader is called to mimic his example (Ephesians 5:1).

Peter was one of the foundational leaders of the Christian movement. By the time we reach the book of Acts, he is leading a great deal. He is bold, strategic and effective. But we shouldn’t forget the advice Jesus gave him before he became this great leader.

John 21 shares a unique scene in Scripture: the reinstatement of Peter. Most scholars believe the twenty-first chapter of John was a later addition to the gospel, being as chapter 20 concludes the gospel quite nicely and a number of other theories that we don’t have time to explore. In my opinion, though, John 21 offers one of the clearest pictures of what a Christian leader should do. Regardless of its origin, I am thankful the gospel bears this chapter.

The story is quite fascinating. After Peter is reinstated, Jesus tells him a proverb about young age versus old age. Peter was reminded that when he was younger (perhaps, in his days before Christ) he did what he wanted and went where he wanted to go. When he is older, however, he will stretch out his hands and be led… even to places he would rather not go. Jesus reinstates Peter to be a leader. But his primary “leadership ability” is going to be as a follower. He needs to choose to be led.

Peter’s world came crashing down when Jesus was arrested and crucified. It destroyed his hopes of what the Messiah would do—restore Israel, reestablish the law—and who he would be. Jesus’ mission was different. God’s true plan for the Messiah was something bigger than Israel—it was global and spiritual and far more radical. In John 21, Peter has left the path of following Jesus and turned back to his old way of life. He is on a boat, fishing. The same thing he was doing before he met Jesus.

Jesus appears to Peter and challenges his current way of living. No longer would he sincerely follow Jesus according to his way or his own thoughts about how things should be. Now, he would be led. Furthermore, he would also be led to places where he might not want to go. That is a shocking thought! Following Jesus means going where you might not want to go? Henri Nouwen says, “Jesus has a different version of maturity: it is the ability and willingness to be led where you would rather not go.” Peter’s new found commitment to Jesus eventually led him to martyrdom. It also established him as a Christian leader.

I’ve heard a number of pastors and other Christian leaders talk very candidly about “following” God’s leading in a given situation, usually when it relates to a new job or opportunity. The line of thinking goes “We’ve prayed over the right decision and believe God has led us to make it.” Interestingly, when it comes to accepting a position at church or other organization, it seems people are always led by God to accept the job at the bigger church, with the bigger pay check.  God doesn’t lead us to stay at our current churches, or heaven forbid, accept a position at a smaller church in a less affluent area. He doesn’t lead us to work with the poor or give up the comforts we desire. The way people talk about following God’s leading, it seems God only guides us according to our bank accounts. I wonder why we can’t just be honest and say this isn’t God’s leading, it’s my own.

The Christian leader, however, will learn the art of “being led.” He may learn to dismiss certain opportunities because he’s following God’s leading and not his own. He may choose to look foolish in the eyes of the world because he understands there is a difference between “leading” and “being led.” Like Peter, he may choose to stretch out his hands and follow the path of Jesus, even to places he would rather not go.