These are just a few random things that have become a part of my life and have helped me, so I thought I’d share them with you:

1. Slack – This is an app that runs my work life communication. I can’t imagine doing what I do without it now. It has virtually eliminated email between me and my team. It’s where we share ideas, plan things together and touch base on everything from the major to the minor. We can share documents, links, photos and more.

2. A treadmill – It was this time last year that we made the big purchase. Every once in a while I’ll still go outside and run but then I remember why a treadmill is so nice. Mainly, I don’t hurt as bad. My joints and my feet thank me. I get to watch Netflix to forget that I’m running, and I get to dress the same every time – no special arctic running gear necessary. I don’t run for the joy of it like some crazy people, I run to be healthy. So anything I can do to turn a discipline into something more enjoyable is worth it to me.

3. VidAngel – Well, this app is currently not available because of some legal issues. But if it ever comes back, it’s something you should know about. It allowed us to “rent” movies via streaming for $1 each. Before watching users got the chance to filter anything they wanted to filter out of the movie. It really helped to be able to feel good about what I was showing my kids, but I appreciated the filtering option for me as well.

4. The 5 year journal – I heard about the idea of a 5 year journal on a podcast. I’ve never been able to keep the habit of journaling, mostly because I felt this pressure to write a lot. This journal has a few lines per entry. It’s a place to capture a quick thought about the day, about something I learned, a prayer, etc. I’ve found that writing in it at the end of a day works best for me. I still don’t do it every day, but it’s more than ever. And the cool thing is that you keep using the same journal for five years, so at some point I’ll start seeing past entries and what was happening in prior years on that same day. Pretty cool. (The one I purchased is by Levenger and is linked above.)

5. Podcasts – I know, it’s not anything new. But I don’t know that I understand people who don’t use these as a primary way of learning and growth. Last year I added a few that were more storytelling than anything else. I binged my way through Serial, as well as Revisionist History. But my regulars include the Relevant podcast, the Andy Stanley Leadership podcast, the Craig Groeschel Leadership podcast, The Matt Keller Leadership Channel.

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Time to dust off the blog. This is my annual list of the books I read and a little commentary on some of the highlights.

  1.  Jesus’ Son – Johnson
  2. Our Story Begins – Wolff
  3. The Heroic Path – Sowers
  4. Defining Moments – Heath (not yet published)
  5. How to be Here – Bell
  6. The most excellent way to lead – Noble
  7. The Divine Conspiracy – Willard (re-read)
  8. Girl at the end of the world – Esther
  9. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – Lencioni (re-read)
  10. The Emotionally Healthy Leader – Scazzero
  11. The Ideal Team Player – Lencioni
  12. Band of Brothers – Ambrose
  13. Addicted to Busy – Bloye
  14. The Customer Service Revolution – DiJulius
  15. I don’t care if we never get back – Blatt & Brewster
  16. Intentional Living – Maxwell
  17. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – Scazzero
  18. The Very Good Gospel – Harper
  19. Rooted – Liebscher
  20. Crucial Conversations – Patterson, etc.
  21. The New Jim Crow – Alexander
  22. The Bible Tells Me So… – Enns
  23. The Pastor – Peterson
  24. When your father dies – Veerman and Barton
  25. Extreme Ownership – Willink and Babin

So many good reads here. (Speaking of goodreads, see below if you want to connect there.) The theme of the year seems to be going deeper inside myself. I read a lot about emotional health (Scazzero books), about healthy rhythms and rest (Intentional Living, Addicted to Busy, How to be Here), and about calling and purpose (Rooted, The Pastor, The Heroic Path) and ultimately about grief and understanding loss (When Your Father Dies).

I love to read leadership books and this year was no exception. Probably my favorite in that department was a less traditional leadership book – Band of Brothers. I had finally watched the show by the same name this year on Netflix and so reading the book was me wanting more. I gleaned so much from the real life examples of this incredible group of men.

I tried to be intentional this year in learning and growing in my understanding of injustice. I’ve only just begun that journey but I was so moved by The New Jim Crow and The Very Good Gospel. The first was an incredibly eye-opening journey into inequality and injustice in current day America and the second was a more theological journey. Both have left a lasting impression on me.

I think my favorite book I read this year was “The Pastor.” It was written by Eugene Peterson (The Message translation author). It’s a memoir of his life and calling and the ways he wrestled with the role God gave him as a pastor. It’s packed full of wisdom from a man who has done this a very long time. I’m deeply grateful for his wisdom and insight and will come back to it a lot I’m sure.

So there’s the list. What would you recommend I put on my list for 2017?

**Connect with me on GoodReads here.

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Some Monday mornings I wake up and wonder “Did I really say that yesterday?” Usually it’s more of a situation where I wish I had made my point clearer, or maybe not said that one joke that seemed to bomb. And then there’s today.

Yesterday at STORYCHURCH I shared the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000. Somewhere during the message I went out of my way to make the point that the Sunday school song and story we had all learned about the little boy offering his lunch was, in fact, not real. In my preparation for the message I read through Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s account of the story and the boy is nowhere to be found.

But then this morning…. I started having doubts. Something seemed… fishy. A very quick (embarrassingly quick) google search pointed me to that pesky fourth gospel writer – John.

John 6:8-9
Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

So there you have it. That dang little boy. Right there in John. With his five loaves and his two fish and his puppy dog eyes.

Gripes.

So here I am on a Monday morning, thankful for grace and laughing at myself. Hope that gives you a little laugh today as well!

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Hearing God

April 25, 2016 — Leave a comment

I love the story of Samuel in the Old Testament. As a young boy he ends up serving in the temple under the priest Eli. Eli had grown old and his sons were out of control, but there was Samuel – faithfully doing what the priest should be doing.

There’s an interesting line at the beginning of 1 Samuel 3:

1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

The word of the Lord was rare.

Ever felt like that? Like the word of the Lord was rare or even absent in your life? I’ve gone through seasons where I wondered if God was still listening. Or whether he was even present at all anymore.

In the story, Eli the priest seems to have given up hearing from God. The last time he heard from God it wasn’t good news and it’s almost as if he’s quit on everything. And so we see this interesting detail:

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Did you catch that? Eli is in “his usual place” while Samuel is lying down “in the house of the Lord.” And guess who hears from God?

Here’s the thing. If the word of the Lord is rare in your life, maybe it’s because you are doing what you usually do. Maybe your “usual place” isn’t where you need to be. The truth is that if you do what you usually do, you’ll get what you usually get. 

For me, I find that I hear most clearly from God when I get out of my usual routines and do something different. It’s when I get out on a lake to fish. When I go to another city and get away from my normal work for a few days. If the word of the Lord is rare in your life, break a routine. Fast, pray, change something. Take a different route home. Turn off the radio. Silence the social media. Go to a conference. Sit on a dock. Go for a walk.

I’m praying for you this week to hear the voice of God in your life.

*For a full message I did on this subject, check out this podcast.

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New Song

March 17, 2016 — Leave a comment

A few days ago, Alastair Vance shared this song with me as we were working on planning our Easter services. It’s been on repeat ever since. I hope you’ll listen and if you’re a STORYCHURCHer I hope you’ll learn it – we’ll be singing it on Easter!

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Sometimes the familiarity of something makes it lose its power. Psalm 23 is pretty familiar to many of us. So the other day I asked the question – “What if the Lord was not my Shepherd?” For me, it came alive in new ways.

The Lord is not my shepherd, so I lack a lot of things.
I rarely lie down in green pastures.
I’m parched for thirst.
My soul is dry.
I end up down the wrong paths, trying to make a name for myself.
When I walk through the darkest valleys,
I’m terrified and feel completely alone.
There’s no one there to comfort me.
I’m hungry and weak and my enemies seem to know it.
I’ve got no purpose of calling.
My cup is empty.
Surely goodness and love have left me and will never return,
and as far as I can tell there’s no future for me at all.

 

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Seattle Mariners batter Ken Griffey Jr. connects for his 40th home run of the season off Tampa Bay Devil Rays pitcher Wilson Alvarez during the fourth inning Tuesday night, July 21, 1998 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Nesius)

Those that know me well know that one of my favorite things on the planet is baseball. And my all time favorite player is Ken Griffey Jr. Today as I write this the vote will be revealed and Jr. will be headed to the Hall of Fame. So it felt appropriate to tell my favorite Ken Griffey Jr. story today:

It was right in the middle of his prime. Ken Griffey Jr. as part of the Seattle Mariners was coming to Anaheim to take on my Angels. The stage was set for an epic battle. Randy Johnson on the mound for the M’s. Chuck Finley on the mound for the halos. Two great lefties and arguably the greatest player of a generation roaming center field.

I knew I had to be there. So I gathered some friends together, bought some tickets and headed to the “Big A.” Now you have to realize, this was 1995. The Angels were still a long ways from their first World Series so the fan base was a little thin. All that meant for me was that despite my cheap seat ticket, we were able to make our way to about 8 rows behind the Mariner’s dugout.

Randy Johnson was dealing. But so was Chuck Finley. And he appeared to have Ken Griffey’s number. A strikeout in the 1st inning. The fans around us were all over Griffey. Another strikeout in the 4th. Now one particular fan was giving Griffey all kinds of grief. Every inning as he’d leave the dugout to head out into the field this guy would heckle as loud as he could. When the inning was over and Griffey would come back to the dugout – more heckling.

“Hey Griffey, Finley’s going to strike you out again!”

“Griffey, you’re going to strike out for a third time!”

Now, these guys are professionals. They are paid to tune this kind of thing out. It happens everywhere they go all the time. So as funny as it is and as much fun as we’re all having hearing this guy who has probably been a bit over-served, if you know what I mean, no one expects Griffey to even acknowledge this guy.

But that’s where the fun started. As Griffey is coming off the field we all know he’s due to lead off the 6th inning. This guy is laying into him with everything he’s got. “Griffey, if you strike out again you gotta give me an autograph!” And suddenly Griffey looks up, makes direct eye contact with the guy, and with a big old smile says “If I strike out again, I’ll give you the keys to my Mercedes.”

WHAT?!?! Did that just happen?

Of course, everyone around us is going nuts. We love it. Griffey is having fun and so are we. So when he makes his way up to bat our section is out of control. One strike. The taunting begins at a whole new level. Two strikes. Mr. Heckler is losing his mind. The rest of us are watching this moment as if it’s the most important moment in the history of baseball, when it reality it’s kind of a meaningless game in May. Chuck Finley goes into his windup, he delivers – STRIKE THREE. Griffey doesn’t even swing – he was totally fooled and strikes out looking. By now, my man in the stands and all the crowd around us have gone into a frenzy.

What now? What’s going to happen? What’s Griffey going to do? Did this guy really just get Griffey’s Mercedes?

Two more batters come up and are retired and out pops Griffey from the dugout on his way to center field. But just before he heads out to his position he stops, looks up at our section and tosses a ball to his loudest critic that day – autographed and personally delivered.

Ken Griffey Jr. hit over 600 home runs. He’s probably one of the top 3-4 baseball players in the history of the game. If it weren’t for injuries, he might have been the greatest. I saw Griffey play minor league ball in San Bernardino CA. I saw him hit homeruns and crash into walls making catches on TV. But the day I’ll never forget is when he struck out three times and still managed to be the most entertaining player on the field.

 

**After much digging, I found the box score to this game here.

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Well, it’s that time of year again. Every year I like to keep track of the books I read and then take a look back at what shaped me and what stood out most. First, the list – then I’ll give you some thoughts on some of my favorites.

  1. The Barbarian Way – McManus
  2. The Bourne Identity – Ludlum
  3. Things Fall Apart – Achebe
  4. Notes from Underground – Dostoevsky
  5. The Bourne Supremacy – Ludlum
  6. The New Rules of Love, Sex and Dating – Stanley
  7. The Bourne Ultimatum – Ludlum
  8. Vanishing Grace – Yancey
  9. Let Your Life Speak – Parker
  10. Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good – Wright
  11. Good Leaders Ask Great Questions – Maxwell
  12. Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff – Moore
  13. Scary Close – Miller
  14. Leadership Pain – Chand
  15. The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis
  16. Inside the Box: A proven system of creativity for breakthrough results – Boyd, Goldenberg
  17. Procrastinate on Purpose – Vaden
  18. The ABCs of Financial Freedom – Cameron
  19. The Key to Everything – Keller
  20. H3 Leadership: Be Humble, Stay Hungry, Always Hustle – Lomenick
  21. Love, Live, Lead – Brian Houston
  22. Millones Cajones – Bell
  23. Leading with the Heart – Krzyzewski
  24. Coaching 101 – Logan

I started the year with an old favorite, The Barbarian Way by Pastor Erwin McManus. Years ago that book gave me a fresh look at faith that caused me to begin to dream crazy dreams and it was good to dip back in to that.

Five of the next six books I read were fiction, and nine total on the year – which has to be some kind of record for me, at least since college. And of course, that’s if you count The Bourne trilogy as actual books. They were incredibly fun to read and hard to put down. I probably didn’t learn much from them but I do know several ways to turn everyday objects into weapons if need be. So there’s that.

I read Things Fall Apart and Notes from Underground on the recommendation of a friend. I get it. Classic literature isn’t always about entertainment. In this case, they were both kind of laborious, but if I’m honest – they have stuck with me in ways other books haven’t. They disturbed me and weren’t necessarily “fun” reads, but probably important nonetheless. (You’re welcome Jared.)

Probably one of my favorite reads this year was “Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff.” The story is told by “Biff” who was apparently the childhood best friend of Jesus. I laughed out loud a lot reading this while on vacation. It’s disturbing at times, and would be deeply offensive to some I’m sure. But in some weird way it made the humanity of Jesus so much more real to me. I loved it. There’s one scene in particular where Jesus’s cousin John is sort of bullying the other kids and won’t stop dunking them under water which basically had me losing it. So good.

On the leadership end, I think Sam Chand’s “Leadership Pain” was so timely for me and one I’ll come back to again and again, while Matt Keller‘s “The Key to Everything” was probably one that resonated deepest with my own leadership values and beliefs. Matt has been a mentor and a friend to me and his voice has been one of the loudest in my life and for that I’m thankful. It has quickly become the must-read book I give to other leaders. I also really loved Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s book “Leading with the Heart.” I’ll admit, I’m a Duke fan so maybe I’m biased. But anytime I get to mix my love of sports with my love of leadership I’m probably going to say it was awesome no matter what.

Well, that’s the quick rundown of the books that shaped me in 2015. What did I miss? What would you recommend I pick up in 2016?

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The local church is unlike any other institution around. As a community the local church is just that – local. It is made up of the people who live in the neighborhood. Today, the “neighborhood” is bigger than ever. It used to be that the local church was made up of those who could walk to it. Today, commuting several miles – even to another city – is quite common. And with all the amazing connections possible through technology – the “neighborhood” is now anyone with internet access.

In some ways the easy access and availability has resulted in the elimination of borders and boundaries. And yet, in many churches those who walk through the doors all look the same. There are lots of reasons for that, many of them good reasons. Some communities are very homogenous. Some styles are simply preferred by people of similar ethnicities. Sometimes there’s an ultra practical issue like a language barrier.

Despite those very normal reasons people end up gathering with others who are like them, the scriptures are full of language highlighting the fact that heaven will be a place of great diversity. People of “every tribe, tongue and nation” will gather together in the worship of God.

STORYCHURCH happens to be in the middle of an extremely diverse community in Durham, NC. In fact, statistically speaking there is no majority group here. No one group holds more than 50% of the population. That fact alone creates a really rich dynamic in our city. Add to it the fact that people from all over the world come here to study at world class institutions like Duke, UNC and NC State, and you’ve got an incredibly diverse community.

Which brings me to my dream for our church. 

 If this is what heaven is going to look like then how great would it be to see a little bit of that here on earth? It won’t be easy. It will create some difficult situations. We’ll have a lot of work to do to be understanding with one another. But I’m just crazy enough to believe it’s possible.

In fact, I think we are starting to see it. As I was writing this post I noticed a picture one of our group leaders posted this week of a gathering of women from our church and I couldn’t help but smile. It’s happening.

ladiesofstory

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IMG_2099(This series is based on a recent teaching I did at STORYCHURCH. I don’t normally do this but it was so important I’m asking you to listen or watch when you can.)

To read part 1 of this series, go here.

The picture above demonstrates so clearly the heart of God.

In James 1 it says “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

In other words, take care of the vulnerable, namely vulnerable children and vulnerable women. In our culture today it may not be orphans and widows, it may be foster kids or single parent homes (mom or dad). It may be kids being raised by grandparents or it may be a teenager whose father is incarcerated.

My dream for our church is that we would be known in our city as a church that is taking serious the call to be mentors, coaches, tutors, foster parents, respite providers, youth leaders and advocates for those without a voice.

I pray that teenagers in our city find our church to be full of people who believe in them and want to see them succeed. I pray that single moms find support and mentors for their children. I pray that young people are empowered and raised up to be leaders who shape their culture and break the cycle of pain in so many of their families.

My wife and I have been praying these prayers for a decade or more now and when we moved into our first permanent facility in 2014 we wrote those prayers on the door frames, on the floor and on the stage before finished our renovations.

fatherlesspic We believe these prayers are beginning to be answered. Multiple families within our church are checking in to becoming foster parents, some have already completed classes (including my family!). And this fall we will be hosting Durham Social Services as they train dozens of new potential foster parents right in our facility. It’s an exciting start to what we hope is a movement within our church and ultimately our city.

If you’re interested in learning more about foster care in Durham County, you can go here.

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