Learning 5 YouTube Videos You Shouldn’t Miss


For an inspiring story:

  • My Last Days:  Meet Zach Sobiech.  With only months to live, a high school teenager can’t stop writing songs.  It’s his way of saying goodbye to those he loves.  One song has reached millions.  He wants everyone to know, you don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living.

For a good laugh:

  • An Honest Facebook Movie.    Tripp and Tyler have been creating hilarious moments on a regular basis.  In this more recent clip, they put their own twist on the popular Facebook movie.  If you’ve made your own or watched a friend’s, this is a guarantee laugh.

For a new perspective on leadership:

  • How Great Leaders Inspire Action.    Simon Sinek codifies leadership around a thought which he believes may be the world’s simplest.   According to his research, all the great leaders and communicators do the same thing, but it’s the complete opposite of everyone else.

For help with preaching and speaking:

  • How to Give a Good Talk.  As on of our nation’s most effective communicators, Andy Stanley describes what he believes is necessary for a delivering a good talk.  His approach boils down to letting the goal determine the shape of the message.  To do so, he asks 5 questions.

For theological discussion on justice issues:

  • Breaking the Habits of Machismo.    Rose Berger, Jim Wallis, and Dr. Michelle Gonzalez host an online conversation on gender issues.  In particular, they discuss the experience of woman in some of our churches as it relates to leadership and empowering women to see their full value.

Learning What Comes First: Chicken or The Egg? Hypocrites or the Nones?

eggWhat came first?  The chicken or the egg?

I guess the answer depends on whether you are a creationist or a evolutionary theorist?  But, that’s a discussion for another day.

I’m left wondering a different birth order, what came first?  The hypocrites or the nones?

If you’re not sure what a “none” is, let me explain.  First off, I am not misspelling a catholic sister often known as a nun.  The “nones” is a new term in the United States religious landscape used to describe a growing number of people who identify themselves with no religion.  When it comes to religion, they have none.  Subsequently, they began to referred to as the “nones.”

The term has gained notoriety by Christians (mostly Pastors) in our country who are concerned about a rapid decline in church attendance.  Participation with or in church is on the descent.  Fewer and fewer people in American consider the weekly pilgrimage to church as a necessary part of life.

Fear is growing that America is becoming less Christian.  What once everyone considered to be a Christian nation is now experiencing a growing population of non-religious.  Nones.

Recognizing the trend, pastors and church leaders are asking why?  Why are so many people turning away from church?  One resounding answer is:  Hypocrisy. 

Too many people in the Church are hypocrites.  Churches are full of people who believe one thing yet live another.  Their walk contradicts their talk.  The “nones” want nothing to do with religion like that.

Still, I’m left wondering, what came first?  The hypocrites or the nones?  Did hypocrites lead to people becoming “nones?”  Or did the “nones” lead to recognizing hypocrites?

Hypocrites have been around for a long time.  At least since Jesus’ day, they have been earning the title.  Jesus says to the religious leaders, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” (Matthew 23:13 NRSV)  Then, check out what he follows it up with, he says, “For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven.”  

I don’t think Jesus’ words were inspiration for Bruno Mar’s song, Locked Out of Heaven.  But, they do sound alarmingly familiar to the response of the “nones.”  Hypocrisy is uninspiring.  It functions like a natural deterrent.  None want to follow people who “do not practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:3 NRSV)

I’m not sure we can ever answer who came first.  It seems like hypocrites, but I don’t think everyone would be generous enough to give them that much credit.  Regardless, one thing seems obvious.  Hypocrisy is antithetical to the way of Jesus.  God’s kingdom will never be built on it.  Wherever it exists, people will be turned away from it.

I’d rather be a “none” than a hypocrite.  I don’t want to be responsible for locking anyone out of heaven.

So I pray with and for the Church, “God, forgive us of our inconsistencies and contradictions.  Open our eyes to see the things that need to change.  Soften our hearts to accept responsibility to make things right.  Strengthen our spirits to live what you teach us to believe.  Reconcile us to those we have have hurt and pushed away.  For your kingdom to come.  Amen.”

What do you think comes first?



Learning Rules and Breaking Them is A Recipe for Creativity

RecipeHow you cook can determine how creative you are, or aren’t.

I cook.  I realize that traditional gender roles forbid the male from cooking the family meals.  I know the cliche, males are gatherers and women are housewives.  Right?  Good news, we’re not so traditional in our home.

Since I cook, I made it one of my goals for 2014 to cook at least one new meal a week.  I made a pledge to cook something I’ve never tried before.  Two reasons:  (1)  I’m tired of eating the same old things, (2)  I’m want to my daughters to grow up remembering really great meals at our house.

I’ve done well so far.  I might have missed one week, maybe.  But then again, I also tried two in one week.

I’m reading a book by Shauna Niequist called Bread and Wine:  A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes.  She wrote something that struck me.  She writes,

“Recipes are how we learn all the rules, and cooking is knowing how to break them to suit our tastes or preferences.”

Having tried at least 8 new recipes in the last 2 months, I realize the brilliance of her statement.  Without recipes, I would have know idea where to begin.  Tell me to make chocolate souffle, and all you would see is a blank stare.  Within the guidelines of recipes, I can reproduce some tasty food.

Recipes are meant to be the beginning, though.  If not, then I’m limited.  I can only make what’s already been made before.  Nothing else.  Nothing original.

As soon as I learn the rules (the recipes) of cooking and feel free to break them, I’m set free to be creative.  Through my aberration from the rules, I’m able to create something new.

This is the recipe for creativity.  Becoming so familiar with anything that you’re able to make duplications, then re-creating it with modifications that come from who you are.  You move from being told or taught what to do to writing your own rules to break the mold of the same old, same old.

The question is, are you okay with everyone else cooking for you (ie, restaurants)?  Are you satisfied with following the best that someone else can come up with (ie, recipes)?  Or, if you knew you had the potential to create something better, would you try it?

I’m not just talking about food, either.  You are created to be creative.  Only you have the potential to create what you can imagine.  Don’t let rules and structures hold you back.  Don’t let fear of failure scare you away.  Don’t let hardships or hard-work stand in the way.

All of us want to break the rules from time to time.  When it comes to creativity, God gives the go-ahead.  God sets me free to create new possibilities.

Are you willing to take the risk of creativity?

Learning 5 Bits of Advice for Becoming Great at Anything

GradeSchool BballI will never forget the advice I received when I was 10 years old.  I was a camper at Jay Burson’s Basketball Camp.  Jay played at The Ohio State University until he broke his neck with an unfortunate landing after a layup and hard foul.  I remember watching it happen live on TV.  It was a career-ending injury.

Jay was my favorite player for many reasons, not to mention my middle name is Jay.  For several years, he held the Ohio High School Athletic Association Record for most points in a career:  2,958.  To put it into perspective, Lebron James still stands two positions behind him on the all-time scoring list at #4 with 2,646.

At camp, he asked all the campers to circle-up around him at center court.  I’m sure he said many other things, but the one that still seems as clear as day was his advice for becoming great.  His said, “Whenever I stepped onto the basketball court, I knew one thing for sure.  I put in more time and practiced harder than any other person out there.  It didn’t matter if they were taller, faster, bigger, or could jump higher, when I looked at them I knew I had one advantage.  I worked harder.  That is how I became great.”

On that day, I vowed to do the same.  No one would outwork me on the basketball court.  For the next 8 years, I lived his advice.

25 years later, I’m sitting in my office giving advice to a student athlete who has dreams of earning a college basketball scholarship. Here’s the advice I gave:

  • Be self-aware.  Know your potential.  Recognize your strengths and your areas for growth.  The best way to do this is watching yourself on film.  Seeing yourself allows you to evaluate your own skills in order to determine if you truly believe your potential is there.
  • Set attainable goals first.  Every person wants to be a professional.  In basketball, we call it hoop dreams.  Before one gets to the highest level, other accomplishments stand in the way.  Do what it takes to reach the most pressing goal, then move on to the next.
  • Create a plan.  Becoming great doesn’t happen by accident.  It is important to know what it takes and develop a strategy to make it possible.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail.  Everyone starts somewhere, and that somewhere is far from perfection.  Knowing you have room to improve, you can’t expect yourself to get something right the first time.  Or second time.  Or maybe 1,000th.  You will fail at first, so don’t let it get you down.  Failure isn’t your enemy.  It is the key to knowing what you need to keep working on.
  • Let desire drive you.  Desire is the compulsion to do something that won’t go away.  It is what burns deep down inside of who you are.  You can’t deny, nor can you manufacture it.  Anything else will probably sell you short.  Pressure from family, friends, and coaches won’t sustain the drive.
  • Practice harder then anyone else.
  • Give yourself time.  Becoming great doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes weeks, months, years, and even decades.  Don’t give up too soon.

You probably don’t play basketball, or any other sport.  You’re probably past that age.  But, I believe this advice applies to anyone who wants to become great at anything.  No matter your age, I also believe all of us have something great we need to accomplish.  Only you know what it is.  I say go for it.

Middle School Bball1000th Point

What advice would you give for becoming great at something?


Learning Leadership Doesn’t Come with a Title

Words&ActionsAs a kid, I dreamed of the day when my title could change.  I was tired of always being the subordinate to my teachers, my parents, my coach, my pastor, and to every other adult.  I wanted to experience some authority.

It’s not that I was a bad kid wanting my own way.  Ok, maybe desiring my own way did play a bit of a factor.  But, it wasn’t so I could get away with bad or wrong things.  It was because I was yearning for influence.  I wanted to know I had influence over my own life, as well as over the decisions of others.

I thought this influence would happen with a new title.  “College Student.”  “Husband.”  “Ordained Elder.”  “Manager.”  “Director.”  “Pastor.”  “Parent.”

It happened, and I misjudged.  Gaining the titles didn’t give me the influence I was looking for.  No one felt more compelled to follow me because of the title next to my name.

It happens a different way.  Leadership and influences is made possible by two things:  words and actions.  Leadership happens when my words are reflected in my actions.  The things that I say (and the way that I say them) must be corroborated in the way that I live.  My own words should first influence my own actions.

The difficulty is putting them together at the same time.  Sometimes our words come out right, but our actions fail to match.  Other times, our actions are right, but our words fall short.  For me, it’s the words that normally fail me.

Leadership through word and action is the way of Jesus.  Jesus didn’t come wielding a title.  He came with words of love and actions to back it up.  God could have called down from heaven with a stern voice saying, “I am God.  You must listen to me.”  Instead, God sent God’s son as a servant to lead us with words and actions.

Leadership doesn’t come with a title.  It comes in a person whose words are reflected in their actions.

What do you rely on as a leader?


Learning How to Unlock the Creativity in Our DNA

LockI’m a follow-the-instructions kind of person.

I just need you to tell show me how to do it, and I can get it done.  Give me instructions to solve a math problem.  Done.  Give me instructions for drawing a cube.  Done.  Give me instructions for reading Greek.  Done.  Give me instructions for making chocolate souffle.  Done.

Ask me to figure it out with no instructions, and I will cry.  Okay, maybe I won’t cry.  But, I might punch something.

I once thought I would be an artist.  I was pretty good at it, too.  In middle school, I could draw almost any Disney character with impressive accuracy.  As long as I was copying an image.  Challenge me to draw from memory or imagination, I reverted to the skills of a kindergartener.

Instructions are handy.  I’m most comfortable when they are available.  I’m able to accomplish amazing tasks with their help.  But, I also feel trapped by them.  I feel boxed in.  I feel limited.

I don’t feel creative.

Creativity is in my DNA, though.  It’s in your DNA.  It’s in everyone’s DNA.  The Creator (God) created you and me and everyone else in God’s image.  God infused creativity into our identity.  To be created in the Creator’s image is to be creative.

The problem is, I (we) don’t always believe it.  And, if I (you) don’t believe it, no one in our culture will try to convince us of it.  We’re labeled normal, average, or inferior.  It’s better that way, less competition and more power for the self-proclaimed creative heroes.

God wants to unlock the creativity in all of us.  Here’s how I’m learning it can be unlocked:

  • No idea is a stupid idea, it is only one step closer to a great idea.  Always produce new ideas.  
  • The assembling of my knowledge and experience is unique, don’t be afraid or ashamed to use it. 
  • Combining unrelated knowledge and/or ideas unlocks new possibilities.  Hold onto what I already know and constantly seek to acquire new knowledge and experience.
  • It takes time for others to catch up with my ideas, don’t expect immediate approval.
  • Failure isn’t losing, failure is never trying.  Try and try again.
  • Many ideas will not produce the results I desired, but a few will far exceed them.  Celebrate moments of success, and build on it.

God put in every person’s DNA a creative gene.  God didn’t play favorites.  Christian or not, it’s in there.  It doesn’t all look the same, but that’s what makes it creative.  Creativity reaches it’s full potential  and finds its true purpose when motivated by God’s pure love.

What unlocks creativity in you?



Learning to Be Generous

If I had $100I’ve never felt overly generous.  Giving things away or sharing isn’t easy for me.  Since I can remember, my moda operandi is to build and protect what is mine.

I know it’s not the way God created me to be.  Stingy.  Tight.  Or close-fisted.  I want to change.  I want to be different.  I want to live with open hands.  I want generosity to come naturally.

It seems to come natural for my daughters.  Kirra is 6 years old and Mya is 4.  They are teaching me what it means to be generous.

Mya goes to preschool 5 days.  All of her classmates go either 2 or 3 days.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she has one set of friends.  On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, she has a second set of friends.  Because it is setup this way, Mya experiences most activities twice.

Yesterday, her Tuesday/Thursday friends celebrated Valetine’s.  One day early.  At pickup, May couldn’t wait to show me the goodies in her Valentines’s bag.  The first words out of her mouth were, “I’m going to share some of my candy with sissy.

Two hours later, Mya and I are picking up Kirra from school.  I forgot the stroller, so I carried Mya and she carried her Valentine’s Bag the 1/2 mile trek.  Kirra showered us with her normal welcome hugs and smiles.  As soon as she handed me her backpack, Mya says to Kirra, “You can have whatever candy you want from my bag.” 

Kirra chose the most desirable candy.  Mya was overflowing with joy.  She basked in the warmth of generosity.

Kirra completed a writing assignment at school.  The instructions were to complete the thought, “If I had $100…”  The first time I saw it, what caught my attention was her drawing of a snowman.  I’m curious.  What does a snowman have to do with $100? So, I read it.  Here’s what it says:

I would buy some little toys for my little sister.  I can play with her all the time.  She would be very happy.  I would buy 2 toys for her.  She is sweet like a bunny.  She is as cute as a snow-girl. that is what I’d spend on my 100 dollars.

My heart melted (no pun intended).  Generosity was Kirra’s natural thought.

I’m learning to be generous.  I’m learning it best from my two little girls.  They are showing me the beauty of giving with joy.  Not out of obligation, but with love for others.

I pray I only encourage generosity to blossom in their lives.

I’m thankful for two daughters who are teaching me what it means to love as God loves.

Does generosity come natural for you?

Learning 3 Steps for Sermon Prep

stepsThere’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all method for preparing a sermon.  I wish, but there’s not.

I took my first preaching course in college.  I loved it.  Finally, I felt like I was learning the secret.  For years I sat amazed in front of great preachers who had the ability to make me hang on every word, and now I hold the key in my hand.  Until…

I took a different preaching course in seminary (graduate school).  Completely different method.  There may be  some crossover, but not so much.  I felt like I was starting over.  Talk about confusion.  My dream was crushed.

Now, I can do a search on google and receive hundreds of books on preaching.  Each books comes with its own version of the secret to great preaching.  I think it might be a conspiracy.  Great preachers have created a scheme to end the possibility of developing more great preachers, by confusing us.

The key is knowing yourself.  I could try a 1,000 preaching methods, and might fail every time.  I’ve learned it’s not about finding the right method and conforming myself to it.  It’s about finding myself and choosing a method that complements me.

So, for me, 3 steps are essential for good sermon prep.

  • Be honest with the Biblical text.  I can’t lie to the Bible.  I come to it with all of me.  My experiences.  My hurts.  My expectations.  My social location.  It’s impossible for me to set me aside and be completely objective.  Rather than pretend that I can suspend all that makes up me, I approach my study of the Bible with honesty.  I admit the lens through which I’m looking and allow God’s Word to respond.  I find that God’s Word accepts me where I am and speaks into that reality.  It is here that I draw inspiration for the sermon.
  • Slow cook the sermon.  This isn’t possible if I write it the day, or even two days before I preach.  Sermons need time for all the flavors to settle in.  It needs to sit awhile.  I write the sermon ahead of time.  Leave it for a couple days.  Come back to it again.  By then, I feel more clear headed and able to polish the rough edges.
  • Add elements of story.  Most audiences need a good story to bring to life the message of the Biblical text.  Bible exposition is great.  Teaching people what the Bible says is important.  Doing so without connecting it to their lives is lacking something.  I put much effort into finding great stories.  If you’re wondering where I find them, check out 3 Resources for Finding Good Stories.

What steps do you take for your sermon prep?

Learning What Breaks Down Most Relationships

Prepare-EnrichThe locus of beak down in most relationships is easier to locate than most of us assume.  We search long and hard for the source.  We look up and down, over and under, ahead and behind, yet find ourselves without answers.

If you’re like me, your focus is on the other person.  Where did she go wrong?  What doesn’t he understand?  How do they need to change?  Will this person ever learn to give me what I need?

Too many times, break down occurs because I (we) overlook the simple, obvious reason.  COMMUNICATION.

Communication is how you and ____________ (wife, husband, mom, dad, son, daughter, friend, colleague, boss) share feelings, understand, and listen to one another.  **Definition provided by Prepare/Enrich.

To be frank, relationships fail because we stink at communication.  We are not good at sharing how we truly feel in a way that can be received with understanding.  We are not good at listening to the feelings in a way that demonstrates and leads to understanding.

You might be thinking, “Nahhh, that’s not me.  My problem is much bigger than communication.” Good news is, you’re not the first to think this.  Bad news, you are probably wrong.  Here’s how I know if I’m fooling myself, by honestly admitting how I would agree or disagree with statements such as (credit to statements given to Prepare/Enrich):
  • It is hard for me to ask my __________ for what I want.
  • I am very satisfied with how my _________ and I talk with each other.
  • I can express my true feelings to my _______ .
  • My _______ is a very good listener.
  • My _______ often doesn’t understand how I feel.
  • I wish my _______ were more willing to share her/his feelings with me.
  • My _________ sometimes makes comments that put me down.

If your ___________ (wife, husband, son, daughter, etc) and you answer these questions candidly, chances are you will discover that communication is the crux of the breakdown in your relationship.  For things to improve, how we share feelings, understand, and listen to one another must improve.

I can do it.  You can do it.  We can learn to communicate well.

From time to time, I need to remind myself of a word of advice I give to every engaged couple I counsel before marriage.  Whatever communication shortcomings you fail to correct in your current relationship will only carry with you into your next.  You can blame the other person and end the relationship, but part of the problem will follow you.  You go with you into every relationship, and with you comes communication flaws.  Learn to improve communication, now, with the one closest to you.  If you do, they will remain the one closest to you.”

I’m learning to look at my communication first.  The more I do, the more I realize how much work I need done.  I am forced to stare in the face of my own demons.  But, it’s worth it.  With God’s help, I can do it.  We can do it.

How is your communication with those closest to you?




Learning One of the Most Serious Considerations in Missional Work

EuropeIt’s a consideration that has been mulled over for centuries.  Here we are today, in the 21st century, encountering this age-old dilemma.

How can we know to what degree and with what methods do we adapt to a given culture to proclaim God’s message of salvation?

Throughout history and in the present, we experience attempts to do missions without adapting to the culture of the ones receiving the message.  The method is completely raw.  No frills.  Cultural relevance is ignored, whether it’s language, customs, symbols, stories, laws, values, or history.  There is no effort to accommodate the culture in order to gain acceptance of the message.

We also see, in past and present, attempts to do misisons by adapting to the culture of the ones receiving the message.  This method takes seriously the social, economic, political, and religious context of the people to whom they are offering God’s salvation.  Cultural relevance reigns supreme.  Every effort is made to accommodate the culture for the sake of making the message acceptable.

With both strategies, one finds fault.  On the one hand, the message of God’s salvation is so pure from cultural influence that is undesirable.  On the other, the message becomes so intermingled with culture that essentials are lost.

History is teaching us, there must be a balance.  The difficulty is knowing what that means here, now, in this place, and with these people.

It is a balance Christians in the United States are being forced to create on a daily basis.  No longer is this country a place where it can be taken for granted that the majority of people are Christian.  A shift is occurring.  It is becoming less and less a Christian nation, and more a nation with Christians.

The way the message of God’s salvation was offered 50 years ago doesn’t have the same relevance today.  The American culture has changed.  If the Church neglects to consider to what degree and with what methods do we adapt to culture to proclaim God’s message of salvation, Christianity will likely find itself in one of two places:  completely undesirable, or indistinguishable to the point of being lost.

How do you think the Church is doing?