Spring Break Top 5

Mya asleep in chairIt’s Spring Break!

Our Kindergarten daughter, Kirra, has been waiting for weeks for it to arrive.  If you’re from the northern half of the United States, you’ve possibly been waiting for months.  Some of you may be still waiting.

Spring break, to me, has always been a moment to refresh and rejuvenate.  A moment to pause my life from the normal routine so that I can focus more time with my family and have some fun.

So, this week I will be taking a “spring break” on my blog.  Instead of writing three new posts, I will post my Top 5 posts of 2013.  I hope you will take the time to enjoy your Spring Break this year, as well.

Here’s my #5:

1 Simple Key to the Best BBQ, & Your Life

An Easy Way to Fill 600 Seats

Kirra's Kindergarten MusicalHost a local Elementary School’s Kindergarten Musical.

Our family attended our first child’s (Kirra) Kindergarten Musical.  It was awesome!  Kirra was amazing.  No stage fright for her.  She performed like she does it everyday, which I’m assuming is a side effect of watching her mommy and daddy on stage.

The instructions sent home to the parents were:  Please bring your child to the Music room no later than 6:30pm.  We arrived at 6:25pm.  Plenty of time to find a good seat before it starts at 7, or so we thought.

I was shocked to see so many people claiming seats 1/2 hour early.  Most of the good seats were already taken.  Luckily, someone near the front recognized me and asked if I wanted to take a couple chairs she was saving.  Uh, yes, thank you.

In the next 30 minutes, the seats continued to fill up until nearly every spot was taken.  Close to 600 people cramped in plastic chairs anxious to watch their little ones sing their hearts out.  The place was full.

You might be wondering, Huh?  What’s the point?  Why are you telling me this?

The answer is in the title.  And in the title is an internal struggle most pastors struggle with:  a drive to fill the seats.  It’s not easy to look at an audience only to see a mass of empty seats.  Whether or not it’s true, it seems to reflect on a pastor’s preaching, vision, and leadership ability.  With the age of mega-churches and celebrity pastors, to be successful as a pastor is to fill the seats.  At least it feels that way.  So, the struggle ensues.

The struggle is this:  focusing so much energy on finding a way to fill the seats that we’re distracted from God’s true calling.

While sitting in my chair for 30 minutes waiting for Kirra’s musical to start, I reflected on these things.  In between Mya climbing all over me (because that’s what 3 year olds do), my mind wandered in and out of God’s calling on my life.  As I looked at and listened to the crowd, a subtle reminder came to me.

God sees people, not numbers.  

God doesn’t know me by number.  God knows me by name.  I’m more than a number, I’m person.  I’m a reflection of the creator.  God knows the hairs on my head.  God knows the desires of my heart.  God knows the pain in my tears.  The same is true for every person who ever has lived, is living, or ever will live.  God sees people and loves every single one.

As pastors and Christians, our calling is to see people, not numbers.  God isn’t asking me to find an easy way to fill the seats.  God calls us to love people in such a way that they might also love God.  To love people, we must first see people.

At Kirra’s musical, God opened my eyes to see people.  I saw moms and dads.  Grandmas and Grandpas.  Brothers and sisters.  Latinos and Latinas.  Black and White.  I heard Spanish.  Broken English.  English with a southern accent.  And Ebonics.

It was like God said:  “See these people.  Love these people.  Let me build the Church with all of these people, every person from every tribe.”

So, the lesson I learned from Kirra’s musical isn’t how to fill 500 seats.  It is learning how to lead a church that sees all people, loves all people, and represents all people.  Every culture.  Every race.  Every language.  Every age.

Our calling isn’t filling seats.  It is to participate in the expansion of God’s Kingdom.

What do you see?  Numbers or people?



What’s the meaning of your life verse? Jeremiah 29:11

Jer 29.11I don’t think this one quite edges out Philippians 4:13 for most notable life verse.  It may come in a close second, though.  I would guess the majority of you can quote it word for word.  I would also guess that 99% of the time it has been memorized in the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible.  Let’s say it together:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11  (NIV)

What a beautiful promise from God.  It offers an assurance for the future.  Whatever the circumstances today, God’s people can trust God to change their tomorrow.  It declares God’s intimate relationship to God’s people.  God isn’t leaving God’s people out to dry like a sheep among wolves.  God is intricately involved in creating a new future.  It brings a perspective of hope.

As much as I like this verse, I don’t think I like the NIV translation.  Here’s why:  our focus is drawn to two words.  Plans.  Prosper.  It’s like our mind is magnetically attracted to them.    And I’m afraid, a preoccupation with these two words messes with our interpretation.

Focused on the words “plans” and “prosper,” our tendency is to limit our understanding to me and my future.  Quickly, the verse is about God’s specific plan for my life and my success.  Taken to the extreme, we cherish this verse for the promise we think it makes about God laying out every plan for my life, such as which college I will go to, who I will marry, what career path I will follow, and how much success and wealth I will gain.

If I’m honest, I think this takes us way off the path of what the verse is really trying to say.  Check out at how different it reads in the New Revised Standard Version:

For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Jeremiah  29:11  (NRSV)

Reading just a couple chapters previous, we realize these are God’s words to a people who are hopeless.  They are in exile.  They’ve been completely stripped away from their homeland, their temple, and their king.  To make matters worse, God instructs the people to serve King Nebechadnezzar of Babylon (27:6-7).  And if they don’t serve him, then God “will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, says the LORD, until I have completed its destruction by his hand” (27:8).  God repeats this three times in chapter 27 alone.

Then, God warns the people to ignore the promises given by prophets, diviners, or any other religious person (27:9).  God says they will try to convince the people to give up obedience to King Nebechadnezzar by telling lies.  If it were me, I imagine I would gladly welcome a word that says I don’t need to obey the king who stole my life.  The lie would sound better than reality, to me.  But, God implores them to trust God’s words.

Then, in Jeremiah 29:7 God’s words are given:  “seek the welfare of the city where I sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”  What???  God’s not promising to rescue them, right now?  God wants them to do what for the city that is holding them captive?  Tough words.

It’s like God is saying, “Trust me, I have everything under control.  I know your situation stinks, but I know what I’m doing.  I have your best interest in mind.”  God says, “For surely, I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

So, maybe Jeremiah 29:11 isn’t about God’s specific day to day plan for you.  Instead, it is a message of hope for God’s people, including you and me.  God knows what’s best for us.  God will lead us in the direction of a new future.  The lies of this world, though they may sound good, will never get us there.


What are your thoughts on Jeremiah 29:11?



The Power in Sharing a Meal

In a 24 hour period, our family shared three of four meals with friends.  One meal at a favorite pizza place.  One meal at our home.  One meal as a guest in our friend’s home.  Each meal with each family brought moments of storytelling, laughter, kid’s yelling, parents yelling, and even home repair.

Sharing a meal with others is important.  It is valuable. It is a requirement of a healthy life.  It is something we see Jesus doing over and over again.  It is the central metaphor of our faith.

In religious terms, we call it the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, or Communion.  It’s the moment in our worship services where all are invited to the Lord’s table to remember Christ’s death and celebrate Christ’s resurrection.  Everyone is invited, without discrimination.  People of all nations, all languages, all colors, all genders, all ages, and all classes are welcome to pull up a chair at the table.  God shares a meal with all of us.

This is the power of communion I’m afraid we often overlook:  disparities are replaced with solidarity.  The same is true for sharing a meal.  The power of sharing a meal is discovered when individuality is replaced with hospitality.

In sharing a meal, we learn to embrace others in their brokenness and in their beauty.  Through the telling of stories, we bring to life the experiences that shape each of us uniquely.  Through listening, we learn to identify with others’ pain and celebrate in their joy.  We discover the true humanity in the other.  We get past who we think they are, and we encounter who they truly are.  Each person sitting across the table is a broken, yet beautiful, reflection of God’s image.

Sharing a meal sets up the possibility to experience this power.  Power to lover others for who they truly are.  Power to let others see you for who you truly are.  Power to replace hostilities with friendships.  Power to move from judgment to compassion.

In sharing three meals with three families in less than 24 hours, I experienced a glimpse of this power.  We sat with a family whose siblings share similar struggles as our own.  We sat with a family who spent 2 hours, after the meal, doing repair projects around our house.  We sat with a family who (the husband and wife) spent most of their childhood as missionary kids in two different African countries.  With each meal, I’m learning what it means to love and be loved in a new way.

When is the last time you shared a meal?  

99 Ways to Serve: Lesson #8, #9, & #10

Care BearThere are 99 Ways Preschoolers Can Learn to Serve and Bless Others according to Kristen Summers book teach me to serveOur family is committed to trying all 99 ways.  In this post, I will share our experience with lessons 8, 9, & 10.

Lesson #8:  Is there a chore that your preschooler can do for a sibling for a couple of consecutive days?  Can they make a brother’s or sister’s bed just to be kind?  Try to keep it a secret.  Serving others need not be visible to all.

We ditched the “making a sister’s” bed idea.  Not because it’s a bad idea, but because we need to learn how to make our own beds first.  With Kirra (our 6 year old), we decided to ask her to secretly pick up her sister’s shoes and put them away.  If your kids are like ours, there are shoes all over the house at all times.  Kirra loved the concept of keeping it a secret.  I would whisper to her and she would whisper back to me with a giggle.

Mya took on a different chore.  She decided to look after Kirra’s birthday present, which is a huge care bear.  As a three year old, it was tough for Mya to keep it a secret.  She was so proud to let Kirra know she would watch after the bear while her sister’s in school.  It was so cute.

Lesson learned:  There’s at time to serve in secret, and there’s a time to serve in plain sight.

Lesson #9:  Invite your preschooler to pray for those she knows who are sick or having surgery.  Prayer develops the heart for others.  As a family, when we pray for someone who is ill, my children are more likely to ask about the person and show concern for her.  It is a great process to watch your child grow in praying for someone and then thanking the Lord for the way God answered.

This one was perfect timing for Kirra.  She has two friends having surgery this week.  One is her best friend.  Plus, a flu bug is spreading through her Kindergarten class for a second time this year.  Her class is separated in two groups:  Beautiful B’s and Adorable A’s.  When asked how she can pray for sick friends, Kirra told me she was the only Beautiful B in her class today.  The other B’s were out sick.  She prayed for everyone.

Mya said, “no one in my class sick.”  In her 3 year old world, she’s not thinking about who’s sick or having surgery.  It’s not that she doesn’t care, she really isn’t even aware of her friends are healthy or sick.  It’s all the same to her.

Lesson learned:  Praying for the sick helps us think of people we normally wouldn’t.

Lesson #10:  When a sibling is sick, allow your preschooler to help take care of her brother or sister.  Give the sick child a bell to ring whenever something is needed.  Put your preschooler in charge of finding out what is needed when she hears the bell ring.

To do this one, one of your kids needs to be sick.  Thankfully, neither of our daughters is sick right now.  As fast as I’m typing these words, though, my luck would be one of them is getting sick.  Let’s hope not.  So, we’ll need to save this one for a rainy day.

Maybe if one of your children sick, you can try #10 and let us know how it went?  Any takers?     

Top 15 Quotes from SEU Leadership Forum

The ForumFour days agao, I attended Southeastern University’s 2013 National Leadership Forum.  If you’re not familiar, The Forum is a two-day event featuring several of the nation’s top leaders and entrepreneurs.  The list this year included: Day 1:  Mark Sanborn, Nancy Ortberg, John Ortberg, Pat Wiilliams, John Maxwell, Day 2:   AmyK Hutchens, Jon Gordon, Dave Martin, Phil Cooke, and Sarah Palin.

Brooklyn and I split the deal.  Not enough time or tickets for both of us to attend, so she took Day 1 and took Day 2.  It’s okay, though.  In college, we learned to share our notes.

Since most of you didn’t attend, I thought I would share with you the best quotes of the day.  Here’s my top 15:

AmyK Hutchens

“Leaders get:  (1)  words you say, and (2)  actions you take.”

“Leadership happens one conversation at a time, and you are responsible for the quality of that conversation.”

“Just because you’re sure, doesn’t mean you’re right.”

“When people report to you, your number one job is setting them up for success.”

“3 Questions for customers:  What are you resisting?  What are you judging?  What are you attached to?

Dave Martin

“What you continually hear, you’ll eventually believe.”

“Little victories always lead to big successes.”

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

“When you’re doing what you love, what you love will reward you.”

“Don’t ask what the world needs, ask what makes you come alive.”

Phil Cooke

“Ideas come in times of boredom.”

“Write ideas down.”

“In a cluttered marketplace, it’s the simple things that show through.”

“I’ve never met a person who’s not creative.”

“Influence is enormously powerful, but not always visible.”


Do any of the quotes stand out to you?  Are there any you would add or disagree with?




What’s the meaning of your life verse? Philippians 4:13

tattoo Phil 4.13

Philippians 4:13.  Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, then you’ve heard this verse before.  I will venture further and say, most of you can recite it word for word without much thought.  Not only have you heard it and can recite, I will guess the majority of you claim it as your “life verse.”  At least 51% of you.

I can do all things through God who strengthens me.

That’s not a bad thing, by the way.  Philippians 4:13 is an incredible verse to live by.  It offers encouragement when there’s only discouragement.  It offers hope when all is lost.  It offers peace when your life is at war.  It offers resolve when it feels like it’s time to give up.  It offers new possibilities in the face of impossibilities.

It also is a verse that can be easily misinterpreted, misunderstood, and misused.  The way we use it and the meaning we assign to it may not match the context of the one who wrote it.  This normally doesn’t happen on purpose, but it still happens.  When it does happen, the words lose some of their power to transform our lives.  Sometimes, they lose all of their power.

My hope for this series of posts is to bring a fresh meaning to a few popular life verses.  Not because I know it all and you don’t.  But because I desire for the power of God’s Word to be alive in your life and mine.

I’ll start with what, I believe, is the most common misconception of the meaning of Philippians 4:13.  Here it is:  Philippians 4:13 means I can accomplish whatever I want because God’s strength will help me.  

An emphasis is placed on the words “all things”: I can do all things.  “All things” easily becomes synonymous with whatever I want or have my heart set on.  Literally, these two words become interchangeable with anything and everything.  Seen this way, the verse is used to proclaim an assurance of future success in a job, athletic career, relationship, or any other desire of one’s life.  Philippians 4:13 is reduced to a meaning that says any dream or desire is possible with God’s strength.

Is this really true?  Will God’s strength help me accomplish anything?  Is this verse meant to convince a man his dream to be an NBA all-star can come true even though he’s 90 years old?  Should every little girl who hopes to be like Taylor Swift stand on this verse as the foundation that will make it come true?

My short answer is, no.

Philippians 4:13 isn’t meant to garner hope that any wish can come true.  Instead, I believe the meaning is this:  God’s strength enables you to face every circumstance, whether good or bad, as you attempt to live out God’s mission in your life.  Paul, the writer of Philippians, refers to it as “the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need” (4:12).  Along the journey of following God’s mission, good times and bad times will come.  Whether you’re in prison with barely enough food to survive or living in a mansion with all the amenities you could desire, God’s strength enables you to do what God’s mission is calling you to do.  There’s no guarantee of the side you’ll be on, less or more.  There’s only the promise that God will help you complete the mission.

This thought is best exemplified in Paul’s words in Philippians 1:12-14.  From prison, Paul writes:

12  I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Paul had the strength to handle everything because his focus was on God’s mission, and not his condition.  Philippians 4:13 isn’t about every one of your dreams coming true.  It’s about God giving you the strength to face anything and everything that tries to keep you from living out God’s mission.

How do you think this message applies to our culture and country of abundance?


Plan time to plan

watchIn May of 1997, I thought I woke up early for the last time in my life to get ready for school.  I was right, for 16 years.  And then our oldest daughter, Kirra, started kindergarten.  My nightmare came true.  I’m waking up early, again, to get ready for school.  It’s only the beginning, because I’m looking ahead to 14 more years of the same.  Ahhhhhhh!

If you can’t tell already, I’m not a morning person.  I wish I was.  Life would be so much easier, or so I think, if I could wake up easy.  For me, it just feels wrong to wake up before the sun comes up.  I set the alarm, only to sleep 10, 15, 25 minutes past the initial wake-up call.  Every minute counts, at least it feels so in the moment.

Reliving my school days all over again has forced me to rethink my time.  I have less of it.  Like yours, my day still has 24 hours.  But, long periods of concentrated, focused time has shrunk for me.  Here’s why:  I split responsibility between staying at home with my daughters and working a job.

I’m not complaining, I love what I do.  Reality is, though, I have short blasts of time to do work stuff and do family stuff.  As soon as I find a good flow at home or at work, it’s time to transition to a different part of my day.  Some days I wish for a solid, uninterrupted day to work on things.  It could be at work, or it could be at home.  I wouldn’t care, just let it be.  But this is my life, and I’ve learned to embrace it.  In embracing it, I’m learning the necessity of planning ahead.

I’m learning to plan time to plan.

Literally, I’m learning to schedule a time to plan my day, my week, my month, my year.  If I don’t plan time to plan, it won’t get done.  Life turns into chaos quickly.  I miss things, overlook things, and fail to accomplish things.  I need this time.  My wife needs me to have this time.  My kids need me to have this time.  And my job needs me to have this time.

I don’t want to miss an opportunity with my family, with my friends, or with those I’m called to serve.  I’m sure I will miss some, even though I plan not to.  I’m confident I’ll miss more if I neglect to plan at all.

I’m learning.  It’s new for me, but I’m learning.  I hope some of you will learn with me.

What helps you plan better?


What’s the meaning behind your life verse?

Do you have a life verse?  What is it?

If you’ve never heard of this concept, let me explain.  A “life verse” is simply a person’s favorite verse from the Bible.  It’s normally short, easy to remember, and gives one comfort or strength in their faith.  If you watch sports, you’ve seen or heard athletes espouse their “life verse.”  Tim Tebow is probably the most current example, as we’ve seen him embed verses in his face paint.tattoo Phil 4.13

I was working out at the gym last week and noticed a young person with a tattoo on his arm.  By his appearance and the other two guys with him, I was guessing he was in Middle School.  I hadn’t noticed it for most of my workout, so it came as a shock to me when I saw  part of it showing just below his shirt sleeve.  My first thought was, “What parent would let their Middle Schooler get a tattoo?”

I had to find out the real story.  I walked over and asked, “Is that a tattoo on your arm?”  Followed up by, “How old are you?”  His answer was 16 years old and pulling up his sleeve to reveal two tattoos.  One of a basketball with a crown on top sitting on his shoulder.  The other a Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, placed on the outside of his upper arm:  “I can do all things through him who gives me strength.”

Two days later, I performed a baptism in our Saturday Night worship service.  His favorite verse is Philippians 4:13.  The same night, I preached a sermon with a central text of Philippians 4:13.  The following morning, our church baptized others.  Four of them shared their life verse, Philippians 4:13.  Seems to be a cultural phenomenon.  Life verses.  And life verses that are Philippians 4:13.

If “life verses” are as prevalent and similar as I’ve observed this past week, I thought it might be worthwhile to write a series of posts to engage their meaning.  Here’s why:  I’m curious to see if our popular usage of the verses match up with the Biblical meaning intended. I’m interested to see if these “life verses” have the same meaning in public compared to when read them in the context of how they were written.  I’m wondering if in the process of becoming popular, they’ve become misunderstood and misused.

I’ll start with Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who gives me strength, in my next post.

But, I also need to hear from you.  What is your “life verse?”  If you don’t have one, “What is a popular “life verse” you’ve heard others use?