Monday, December 24, 2007

The REAL Reason for the Season

You've probably seen the phrase on signs in front yards, on church signs, and Christmas cards: JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON. The phrase is kinda catchy - mostly because it rhymes. But, for years I read the words and never gave another thought about it. I took it at face value. I accepted it without question. Until this year.

You're probably starting to get a little nervous. You're thinking, "How can you deny that statement? You're about to cross the line."

But, stay with me for a moment.

Yes, we do celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmastime. I mean, without the birth of Jesus, there's no Christmas. No Easter, for that matter.

But, in heaven, around 2008 years ago, God and the angels were celebrating something completely different. They were throwing a party, and the cake didn't have Jesus' name on it. It had your name on it...and it had mine.

You see, WE are the REAL reason for the season.

Because man (and woman) decided that trusting themselves and others was more important than trusting God, we were separated from our Father and Creator. All the good and perfect things our Lord had put into existence were now tarnished. And, from those early days in the Garden until 2008 years ago, there was a chasm that divided heaven and earth. A huge piece of the puzzle was missing.

It's called purity. Righteousness. Freedom. Holiness. These were the characteristics of Godliness we could never achieve unless something happened. A sacrifice.

So, on that night a couple millennia ago, God decided it was time to fix the problem we created. To right our wrongs, and to give us the second chance of all second chances.

He introduced His perfect, blameless, spotless son to us. And, for the next 33 years of his life, we caught a glimpse of his Father's goodness, mercy, and love.

And, because God walked the earth in human form, and because He gave us His Word - the Bible - we are still able to catch a glimpse of our Heavenly Father each and every day.

So, this Christmas, and for days and years to come, remember God did all of this with you in mind. He sent the baby Jesus here with one mission: to die for our sins.

Because He loved us enough to make us the reason for the season.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The 2sday 10

Ten Great Christmas Movies

1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946) G
2. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) PG-13

3. The Polar Express (2004)
4. Home Alone (1990) PG
5. Elf (2003) PG
6. The Family Man (2000) PG-13

7. The Santa Clause (1994)
8. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) G

9. Scrooged (1988)
10. Love, Actually (2003) R

Monday, December 17, 2007

Nothing Normal about Christmas

Think about this. If you were an alien from another planet and you happened to visit Earth between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, what would you think?

You’re flying around and you see multi-colored light displays on the vast majority of houses and lawns. You see wreaths on windows and doors. You see these perfectly cone-shaped green objects adorned with icicles, bulbs, shiny balls, angels, candy canes, and other various objects of sentimental value. You see hundreds of plump men wearing suits of red posing for photographs with screaming children all day long. You see millions of boxes pristinely wrapped in festive paper and placed under and around the aforementioned decorated green cone-shaped object. You hear joyful songs. You see smiling faces (everywhere except in retail stores). The scent of fresh spruce or perhaps warm gingerbread or cinnamon fills the air.

If you came to Earth between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, what would you think?

On the surface, all of these Christmas traditions seem quite preposterous. Silly. Goofy. Downright weird. But, Christmas is not a normal time of year. Not by a long shot.

Christmas is a time of year when the focus is off of ourselves. We dream about ways we can create an unforgettable memory for someone else. We’re selfless. Downright cheerful.

What if we could live like this year-round? I’m not talking about having our Christmas lights up on our homes 365 days a year (if that’s you, the general rule of thumb is to take them down by New Year’s Day – FYI. If you’re going to leave them up, at least continue to turn them on each night). I’m talking about something much more profound: living joyfully.

Our greatest joy came to Earth 2008 (or so) years ago. And, there was nothing ordinary about that first Christmas, either. A virgin carrying the Savior of the world? This virgin riding a donkey for more than a week from Nazareth to Bethlehem? This Savior being born among animals? This Savior sending a special invitation to shepherds – the lowest of the low in society – to come to the birthday party of all birthday parties? Sounds preposterous. Silly. Goofy. Downright weird.

But, let’s back up a moment. Perhaps the most unusual part of this story hasn’t been mentioned. There’s another family involved here. There’s a Heavenly Father and his son. This Father loves his boy – his one and only - beyond comprehension. But, He is going to saying goodbye to Him. But, this is not your typical “see you later.” The Father knows what this means. He knows the torment his son will be subjected to. The mission that has to be fulfilled. The punishment he’ll endure. The mocking. The aloneness. And, his heart is broken.

But, this Christmas story doesn’t end here. It only begins. Because the same sorrow the Daddy feels is overcome by the pleasure he receives by his son’s actions. By his son’s words. By his son’s willingness – eagerness – to honor his Daddy.

Why would a Father send his son to Earth only to die? Because this isn’t a normal Father. Because this Father’s love for his very own son is matched only by his love for his other children – that includes me, and it includes you, if you have trusted in Jesus as your Savior.

Christmas isn’t normal. Not even close. And, if it ever becomes ordinary or routine, we’re missing out on the greatest gift ever. A gift we could never earn. A gift that only the best Dad in the world could give.

I pray THIS year that your favorite Christmas Present is HIS Christmas Presence.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Kids & Dogs

As a parent (and even more importantly, as a human being), one of the things that really disturbs me is seeing parents put their child on a leash. As a father of two young boys, trust me when I say I know what it's like trying to keep up with active children who only have two gears: fast and turbo.

But, to me, when you put your child on a leash, you are broadcasting one message more loudly than to me anything else: "I'm a lazy parent."
I know parents claim that they do this for safety reasons. And, certainly there are some safety benefits to this. But think about the psychological damage this is doing to the poor kid.

I was in an aquarium yesterday afternoon, and I saw a little boy - probably 4 or 5 years of age - whose parents had him on a leash. The kid screamed and whined the entire time he was at the aquarium. I couldn't even stand to look at him because I pitied him. It upset me.

Parents today - and I am speaking in general terms here - take shortcuts. They want to take the quick and easy route. But, what they fail to see is that the easy route in the short run creates an impossibly tenuous route in the long run.

Parenting certainly isn't easy. But, like anything rewarding in life, the journey is often arduous and circuitous.

Don't take the shortcut. You - and your child - will be thankful you didn't.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The 2sday 10

Ten Unique and Little-Known Christmas
Traditions from Around the World

Familyman Ministries

  1. Bobbing for hedgehogs (United Kingdom)
  2. Decorating the Christmas python (Africa)
  3. Icing Vegemite holiday cookies (Australia)
  4. Sea turtle tipping (Hawaii)
  5. Replacing the roof on your house (Florida)
  6. Sweating (Thailand)
  7. Hanging lights and tinsel on your Humvee (Iraq)
  8. Shooting beer cans off of your buddy’s head (Montana)
  9. Deep-frying a turkey stuffed with Twinkies (Michigan)
  10. Avoiding frostbite and being trampled to death by reindeer (Sweden)

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Gift of Appreciation

Some things I just hate to admit about myself. One of the things that I really detest is how selfish I can be. Now, I have gotten better over the years. But, I was an only child and was never really in situation very often where I had to think about others. I was oblivious to the plight of others who didn't have "first choice" of virtually anything they wanted. That's not to say I had a silver spoon in my mouth - our family had tough times. I'm just saying I probably never truly appreciated much in my life as a kid.

Because of that, it has taken years for me to really understand the whole "putting others ahead of yourself" thing. And, even when you "get it," it certainly isn't easy to do. After all, I am me - not you - and it's a heck of a lot easier to satisfy myself than to mess with trying to please you. At least, that's what I used to believe. But, I'm beginning to find something pretty profound in this notion of putting the interests of others ahead of my own - of giving abundantly and unconditionally to others.

It's this: my soul is most satisfied when I give.

Now, this certainly isn't a novel idea. Jesus expressed this idea repeatedly, and modeled this for us throughout his life here on earth. But, quite honestly...reading about Jesus living this way is one thing. Doing yourself is a "whole 'nother" ballgame.

One of the many great ways we put others first at NorthStar Church is our
Adopt-a-Family program. Essentially, these are families in our area who wouldn't have Christmas presents for their kids without a little help. In fact, our church was so gung-ho about "showing God's love" that all the families who were available to adopt were gobbled up immediately. We had to put together a waiting list of NorthStar families who wanted to adopt a family, but didn't get to!

The past two years, our couples small group has participated in this initiative, and while I am certain those receiving gifts were filled with joy, we were the ones who were blessed the most. And, the greatest gift in giving wasn't that the kids got a toy they didn't have, or a pair of shoes they needed. It was the appreciation they had. That a stranger would care enough about them to go out of their way and pay for gifts for them - when they didn't have to!

Sometimes, we can give and it goes unappreciated. That can be tough. And, that's a blog post for another day. But, on those occasions when you know that something you have done has made a difference in someone's heart, you just cannot beat it.

Jesus had it right. You can't serve two masters. You can't be self-serving and also serve the Lord by making yourself available to help others. And, after you've received the gift of helping others, you won't worry as much about satisfying yourself. Because there's no greater satisfaction than when the Spirit is alive and at work within you!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The 2sday 10

10 of the Stupidest Quotes of All-Time
Source: 365* of the Stupidest Things Ever Said

1. baseball great Yogi Berra, on the Broadway show Biloxi Blues: It reminds me of being in the Army, even though I was in the Navy.

football commentator and former player Joe Theisman in 1996: Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.

Shaquille O'Neal, on whether he had visited the Parthenon during his visit to Greece: I can't really remember the names of the clubs that we went to.

Anti-smoking spokesperson Brooke Shields: Smoking kills, and if you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life.

President Clinton, during his grand jury testimony: It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

attributed to Miss Alabama during a leading beauty pageant: Host: If you could live forever, would you and why? Miss Alabama: I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever.

Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson on a playor's injury: There's nothing wrong with his shoulder except some pain -- and pain don't hurt you.

Senior basketball player at the University of Pittsburgh: I'm going to graduate on time, no matter how long it takes.

9.Shaquille O'Neal on his lack of championships: I've won at every level, except college and pro.

10. President George W. Bush - A results-oriented administration ... will make America what we want it to be -- a literate country and a hopefuller country.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Is Your Fire Burning?

I just finished reading a great book entitled Holy Discontent by Bill Hybels, who serves as the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in the Chicago area. The premise of the book was simple, yet profound: what angers you so much that you just HAVE to get involved and do something about it?

That's a great question. And, a valid one.

Have you ever thought about it? What gets your goat? What do you see going on in the world around you each day that creates, as Hybels says, a "firestorm of frustration" within you? Enough of a firestorm that you say "enough is enough" and you get involved?

Now, for many of us, there are things happening in the world that we'd all say are just plain wrong. Murder. Injustice. The BCS (sorry, I am a UGA alumnus).

But, what is something very specific for you that gets you stirred up? Maybe it's teen pregnancy. Or, single parents who are struggling to make ends meet. Or, kids and adults who cannot read or write. What is an area that has your name "written all over it"?

For me, I think it would be helping people understand that there's so much more to life than just waking up, working, eating, and sleeping. That God has a plan for them. That He is waiting for them to take just a small step of faith so He can bless them beyond measure. It's my passion because I am a living example of that very idea - that God will take something that seems so insignificant and ordinary and mold it into a priceless masterpiece.

What is it for you? Once you figure that out, it's time to get in the game and make a difference! And, once you get after it, you - and those around you - will never be the same!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I guess the WWJD? bracelets aren't "in vogue" anymore. I used to see them everywhere. But, like any good (or bad) fad or fashion statement, it has apparently hit its pinnacle and begun its decline.

The other day, I saw WWJD? somewhere - can't remember if it was a bumper sticker, magnet, or bracelet - but for the first time I stopped to actually think about this question: "What WOULD Jesus Do?"

Now, I'm certainly not minimizing the impact or significance of these 4 letters in peoples' lives. But, as I read WWJD and thought about it, I realized something: When we're faced with a dilemma, decision, or circumstance, we probably have NO IDEA what Jesus would do.
Let me explain.

You see, throughout Jesus' earthly ministry, no one was able to predict his next move. The things Jesus said and did made absolutely no sense to man. Why? Because Jesus took after his Daddy.

God is - and always has been - rather unpredictable. That's not to say that there aren't certain things we can count on. We know He's faithful, just, and merciful. But, the way these attributes are manifested - and have been manifested since the beginning of time - are truly mind-boggling.

God wanted something that would give him immense pleasure. A mansion? Luxury automobile? An iPhone? Nope. Man. Human beings with whom He could have a relationship.

God would continue to preserve and sustain that relationship, even when we tried our best to shatter it. We chose sin. We turned from Him. We worshiped idols that we made with our own hands. We chose fleeting pleasures of sin over His everlasting goodness.
But, God is unpredictable.

While we turn our backs on those who do us wrong, He chased after us when we did Him wrong. He still does. So, to keep this relationship, what does He do? Scold us? Abandon us? Say, "Oh well, I guess that was a bad idea." No. He sends a Savior. His one and only son. Because you can't pin God down. You can't figure Him out.

This boy - Jesus - is a chip off the ole block. Hebrews says he is an "exact representation" of his Daddy. And, when He enters earth, it's not in a palace. It's in a stinky, musty stable surrounded by animals. When he grows up, he doesn't cater to high society. He hangs out with the dregs of society - the outcasts, the ordinary, the dirty, the unclean. And, when he makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem near the end of his life on earth, our King doesn't enter on a chariot or on the shoulders of men. He rides a small donkey. Why? Because Jesus is unpredictable.

In the final hours of his life, Jesus was mocked, tortured and crucified. In the midst of this torment, what did Jesus do? He prayed for those killing him. And in his final moments, he even found time to save a criminal hanging next to him. Jesus was shamed and abandoned. But, what did he do? He loved. He is unpredictable.

Time after time, God the Father and God the Son have done things and said things that man would never think of. And, that's OK. God says, "my ways are higher that your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts." He doesn't expect us to do what He does or think how He thinks.

But, there's one predictable part of both the Father and the Son. A common thread that binds them together, just as it has drawn us to our Savior. And, it's the simple answer to the question that often perplexes us.

What would Jesus Do?


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The 2sday 10

Top 10 Most-Watched TV Programs of All-Time
(by percentage of households in the U.S. who were watching)

1. M.A.S.H. Series Finale (1983) - 60.2%
Dallas - "Who Shot J.R.?" episode (1980) - 53.3%
Roots mini-series finale (1977) - 51.1%
Super Bowl XVI: 49ers vs. Bengals (1982) - 49.1%
5. Super Bowl XVII: Redskins vs. Dolphins (1983) - 48.6%
6. 1994 Winter Olympics: Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding - 48.5%
Super Bowl XX: Bears vs. Patriots (1986) - 48.3%
Gone with the Wind: Part One (1976) - 47.7%
Gone with the Wind: Part Two (1976) - 47.4%
Super Bowl XII: Cowboys vs. Broncos (1978) - 47.2%

Bonus: What's the Most-watched cable TV show of all-time?

High School Musical 2, which aired August 17, 2007 and had 17.2 million viewers.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bars of Soap Needed

I remember as a kid that my mom would threaten to wash my mouth out with soap if I ever cursed. I don't recall her ever doing this to me, so it must have worked pretty well. If she did wash my mouth out with soap, I must have blocked it out of my memory. I've tasted soap before, and it's not pleasant.

But, as effective as the deterrent was for me personally, I get the feeling that tactic didn't work too well on many people. Let's face it - cursing, profanity, foul language, 4-letter words - whatever you prefer to call it - it's all around us. And, to be perfectly frank, I loathe it. It truly upsets me. It makes me cringe. But, more than anything, it saddens me.

Now, I am not talking about what comes out of your mouth when you hit your thumb with a hammer. I'm talking about people using foul language in casual conversation, or even in a professional setting. It just baffles me.

Our family recently was on a flight, and there was a group of men on the plane who were headed out west for a hunting expedition. A few of them were seated in the row behind us and got to talking. Before I knew it, expletives were flying out of this one dude's mouth left and right. I finally turned around and hit the guy's boot with my hand and asked him to watch his mouth. He apologized, but I got the feeling that I put a damper on his story since he felt he couldn't use 4-letter words.

I also recall a trip to the beach back in September. I was disturbed one afternoon when I heard a 12-or-13-year old boy repeatedly using the "f" word - and he was hanging out with three girls his age. Nothing says "I think you're hot and I want to get to know you better" like the "f-bomb." I was about to say something to him, but he walked out of the ocean and disappeared.

I hear stories from others who work in places where bad language is the standard - even in meetings with other teams of executives from outside companies. I've been told that those who are offended by this are reluctant to speak up because they are in the minority and are afraid it could hurt their career. How crazy is that?

Believe it or not, I have had debates with other Christians who feel like cursing is no big deal. If it was not a big deal, would James (Jesus' brother) have penned these words?

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (James 3:9-11)

And, for the record, there are many times in the Bible where we're told not to use foul language and obscenities - read the Book of Proverbs, Ephesians 5:4, Colossians 3:8.

In the end, I suppose I just don't see the need for it. One of the best quotes I have ever seen appeared in Reader's Digest a while back. I do not remember the author, but it said this: "No one has ever sounded more intelligent by using foul language." That is the truth!!

I think it's time we put the bar of soap back to use!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Digging Under the Surface

I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with a friend recently. This wasn't your ordinary, everyday chit-chat. This was a discussion filled with questions, personal conviction, and challenges. It was one of those occasions that makes you stop and really think through why you believe what you believe. While it was uncomfortable at times, I must admit this time together really did three things.

First, it reinforced my personal belief system. Unfortunately, many people are never put into a position where they are challenged to really think through why they believe what they believe when it comes to their faith. But, for me, the discussion was something that strengthened me, and it really strengthened my roots. So many people want to avoid tough questions about their faith. They feel like it may cause them to lose faith. But, facing the tough questions only increases it. It doesn't mean you won't have to wrestle with things; but, in the end you'll be even more grounded than you were before - if you seek God in the process.

Second, the conversation gave me an even greater appreciation for what we do at NorthStar Church. By closely examining what we do at NorthStar - not only on Sunday mornings, but each and every day - I was able to put it all through the filter of our Mission Statement. That's one thing we do consistently on staff at the church - any idea or endeavor must be filtered through the Mission. If having an event or program doesn't carry out the mission to "show God's love" to others, we don't do it. And, sometimes even if it DOES support the mission, we don't do if it's going to compromise us in another area. It's always wise to examine your own motives, and put them up against your mission.

Finally, the conversation reaffirmed the idea that each church has its own calling. The church (not NorthStar, but the church as the body of believers) is constantly under indictment, not only from the secular world - but even from churches themselves. I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard pastors of churches talk about how "the church" has gotten it wrong. Or, that "this church" is so much better than "these churches." Or, "our church needs to be more like that church."
The fact is we need all of them.

Rick Warren once said, "It takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people." That is not an opinion. That is absolute truth. The Church at Corinth was not the Church at Ephesus. The Church at Ceasarea Philippi was not the Church at Thessalonica. Your church should not be my church. And, my church should not be striving to be another church. Each church should be called to a specific mission in a particular area. We all need each other.

That is why I am so thankful that NorthStar partners with so many great churches - locally, nationally, and internationally - to live out the Great Commission.
NorthStar cannot reach the entire world. We can't reach all of Atlanta. And, as much as we'd like to, we can't reach all of Acworth and Kennesaw. It takes all of us.

In the end, I guess my advice to someone would be to embrace the tough conversations. You'll never know what God has to say through you - and TO you - if you avoid them.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The 2sday 10

Top 10 Myths About Thanksgiving
Source: History News Network (Rick Shenkman)

HERE to read Shenkman's intriguing commentary

1. The Pilgrims Held the First Thanksgiving
2. Thanksgiving was about Family
3. Thanksgiving was about Religion

4. The Pilgrims Ate Turkey

5. The Pilgrims Landed on Plymouth Rock

6. The Pilgrims Lived in Log Cabins

7. Pilgrims Dressed in Black

8. Pilgrims, Puritans - Same Thing

9. Puritans Hated Sex

10. Puritans Hated Fun

Very interesting stuff - click to read all about it!

Monday, November 19, 2007

'Tis the Season for Giving

I am privileged to be a part of a church that really lives out its mission. Our mission is to "show God's love in such a way that people would exchange ordinary living for an extraordinary life through the transforming power of Jesus Christ." Showing God's love.

Perhaps the greatest way NorthStar Church shows God's love is through community service and acts of kindness. And, with the holiday season upon us, NorthStar is once again kicking into high gear to give, serve, and love on the Acworth and Kennesaw communities. Last Sunday, we witnessed great evidence of our belief in being others-focused.

For the second consecutive year, we partnered with Redemption Baptist Church to help provide Thanksgiving meals for families in need - families who live just a few short miles away from NorthStar's campus. In 2006 - our first year being involved with this outreach - the church delivered 600 grocery bags full of food items.

With the drought and housing market in a rut, we weren't too sure how things would go this year. But, God's people responded in an amazing way! Last Sunday, we collected more than 800 grocery bags full of food! And, not only that, but some NorthStar folks also wrote checks totaling $3,500, enough money to purchase turkeys for all of these families!

Immediately after Thanksgiving, we will continue to give to our community in many ways. On, Saturday, December 8, we will once again partner with the JOY Foundation and several area churches and organizations to support Shop with a Hero, where more than 1,000 children will go shopping with firemen, policemen, and members of our Armed Forces.

The following Saturday, we will also be a part of Shop with a Warrior and Shop with a Mustang, where students from North Cobb and Kennesaw Mountain High Schools will take disadvantaged children shopping for Christmas.

We also are working with counselors from all the area schools to identify children and families in need for our Adopt-a-Family program. Each year, hundreds of NorthStar families come together and purchase items for families in our area who wouldn't have Christmas gifts otherwise. In fact, last year we had a waiting list of NorthStar families who wanted to adopt a family because all the families in need were immediately adopted the first week we promoted the program!

It's such a blessing to be part of a thriving church body that understands that receiving joy is directly proportionate to how often we are putting others ahead of ourselves. I thank God for the opportunity to be a blessing to someone else - someone who may never know God loves them until they are served the way Christ served - humbly and selflessly.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Technology as a Substitute?

Over the past couple years, much has been said and debated about the advent of sermon podcasts and video technology in churches today. Across the country, video venues - both on campus and off-campus - are spreading like wildfire. And, with iTunes' ever-increasing popularity, thousands upon thousands of sermon podcasts are available for download.

Sounds like a great thing, right? Well, there are certainly some positives to this. For churches who are trying to reach communities in new and exciting ways, video venues have been increasingly popular. And, studies have shown that most people really do not mind watching a video message, as long as its message is relevant to where they are in life.

Further, most churches do not have the financial means to continue to build facilities to hold more people for worship services. Having smaller, more intimate video venues - both on and off campus - has been an an effective and less costly method to creating space at ideal times.
In addition to coming up with new and innovative ways to conduct worship services, the vast majority of large churches now put their Sunday morning messages - either video or audio - on the web.

On the surface, this seems like a fantastic idea. In fact, we have two primary reasons we do this at NorthStar: (1) for people who could not make it to church on Sunday (sick, vacation, business, etc.) and (2) as an outreach tool that our people can share with others.
But, for some, a podcast or video online has become a substitute for church.

And, if your idea of church is listening to a sermon each week, then I guess it doesn't change much in your life. But, as a friend of mine said recently, "Jesus didn't lay down his life for the podcast."
The church is the Bride of Christ. This is mentioned repeatedly throughout scripture. And, the church is the institution God put into place for His people. Peter was the Rock upon which the church was formed, and Christ himself is the chief cornerstone (read Matthew 16:18 and Ephesians 2:20).

In Acts 2:42-47, Luke explains the purpose of the church - how the body was completely devoted to one another, how they all sacrificed for another, prayed together, broke break together, how they met in small groups daily in homes and weekly as a corporate body in the Temple courts. He said the church - the body of believers - were together and had everything in common.

Pretty tough to accomplish all that with a podcast, isn't it? And, as much as I enjoy listening to sermon podcasts - from my church and others across the country - I wholeheartedly believe that each and every believer should be a member of a local body. That isn't my idea - it's God's.

A podcast is informative, and can be engaging. But, it has little depth. It cannot evoke the depth of emotion of a live corporate worship service. Sermon audio alone cannot possibly replace the feeling you get by being among God's people. And, sermon audio alone is typically all about the listener. A Sunday morning (or Saturday evening) experience is less about the one attending, and more about humility - a surrender to and worship of God, and a servant's heart for others.

I could go on for eons, but at the end of the day, the church was the God-ordained institution for accountability, belonging, care, and community. Can you be a believer and not go to church? Absolutely! But, it's like the difference between watching TV on a small, fuzzy black and white screen with an antenna, or watching it on a huge crystal-clear Hi-Def plasma widescreen.

If you are given the choice between the two, and they are both the same price, which would you choose?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The 2sday 10

The 10 Tallest Buildings* in the World
*buildings (not structures), which means they contain occupied floors throughout its full height

1. Taipei 101 - Taipei, Taiwan - 1,667 feet
2. Petronas Tower 1, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - 1,483 feet
Petronas Tower 2, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - 1,483 feet
4. Sears Tower, Chicago - 1,451 feet
5. Jin Mao Building, Shanghai - 1,381 feet
6. Two International Finance Center, Hong Kong - 1,362 feet
7. CITIC Plaza, Guangzhou, China - 1,283 feet
8. Shun Hing Square, Shenzhen, China - 1,260 feet
9. Empire State Building, New York - 1,250 feet
10. Central Plaza, Hong Kong - 1,227 feet

Monday, November 12, 2007

Slow Down

Why am I in such a hurry? Why can't I slow things down a bit and appreciate what is happening all around me?

To be quite honest, it all begins with my morning. I am not a morning person - AT ALL. I usually prefer to avoid conversation until at least 9 or 10 a.m. And, because I am not a morning person, I try to squeeze in every last second of sleep that I can before I finally moan and flail my way out from under the covers. It has become a daily ritual.

But, while this ritual may seem relatively harmless, it actually has become very destructive for me and likely those in my path each morning. When I allow my laziness to get the best of me, it sets my day on a fast downhill slope. What is a better word for this slope? HURRY.

I hurry to get a shower, shave, and get dressed in 10 minutes time. I do this so quickly because I have to then hurry and make up the bed. In turn, I then have to hurry to wake up my 7 year old, and get him dressed. Then, I have to hurry to make up his bed and put away his pajamas. Then, I have to hurry to get him breakfast (there's a reason Kellogg's created Pop-Tarts). I then have to hurry back upstairs and wake up his 3 year old brother. Then I whisk them both down to the basement, where I then hurry to get 7 year old to school and the 3 year old to Nana's house. Man...I'm out of breath just typing this!

All because of an extra 10 minutes of sleep. All because I am selfish and unwilling to change my routine. And, there's honestly few things I loathe more than being in a hurry. I get stressed. I get in a panic. I can't enjoy life.

John Ortberg, perhaps my favorite author, says in order to truly live the life God has planned for us, we must "ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives." Those are some strong words.

Recently, I can remember packing for a vacation. It was the night before we were leaving, and I found myself almost hyperventilating as I was trying to untangle some wires and cords for our kids' portable DVD player. I suddenly recalled Ortberg's words of wisdom, and I stopped. I took a deep breath and began to actually untangle the knots rather than making them worse. I felt like I was moving in super slow-mo. And, it was great. My heart rate slowed, my breathing became regular, and my mind was sharper.

What if I could always live this way? What if I didn't have to hurry all the time? What if I gave myself a cushion of a few minutes throughout my day so I could enjoy the company of others more?

I now realize that when I am in a hurry, it doesn't just affect me. It affects those all around me - my kids, my co-workers, the other drivers in my path. I need to slow down. Because life already happens too fast, and I don't want to miss any more of it than I have to.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The 2sday 10 (almost)

I was traveling back from Jackson Hole, Wyoming all day Tuesday, so please pardon the delay of The 2sday 10. So, without further adieu...

The Last 10 Atlanta Falcons First-Round Draft Picks
Source: Wikipedia

2007 - Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas
2005 - Roddy White, WR, UAB

2004 - DeAngelo Hall, CB, Virginia Tech

2004 - Michael Jenkins, WR, Ohio State

2002 - T.J. Duckett, RB, Michigan State

2001 - Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech

1999 - Patrick Kerney, DE, Virginia

1998 - Keith Brooking, LB, Georgia Tech

1997 - Michael Booker, CB, Nebraska

1995 - Devin Bush, S, Florida State

Click HERE for the complete list of Falcons' first-round marvels

Monday, November 5, 2007

The God of Wonders

I once heard Rick Warren say that it takes a lot more faith to believe that God doesn't exist than to acknowledge that there is, in fact, an incredible Creator who intricately wove together this amazing earth and the surrounding galaxies.

I have spent the past four days with my family driving throughout "God's Country" - aka Northwestern Wyoming, which includes Jackson Hole, Grand Teton National Park, and Yellowstone National Park. Words and photos cannot possibly suffice when describing this truly majestic and breathtaking landscape. I believe we have taken nearly 300 photographs on this vacation - and that was being conservative with the camera!

I was reading in the guest book in our condo, and one woman wrote that "God really outdid Himself when He created this area." I couldn't agree more. And, not only is the beauty of this area so amazing, but there's so little outside "noise" that you can truly get an idea of what God likely intended when He created earth - to have our undivided attention in the midst of his awesome creation.

For example, when we were unloading the car this evening, we all noticed how many stars were twinkling in the sky - it appeared that there were billions, and they were all so bright! My son asked, "Daddy, do we have this many stars in the sky at home?"

What a great vacation with my family! But, perhaps even greater is the reminder that we have an amazing, creative God who puts His splendor on display constantly...if we'll just slow down, get away, and take it all in!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Learning from the Best - Part Deux

I had the chance to meet and talk with Jack Llewellyn earlier this week. If you don't know who he is, just think about John Smoltz. Jack Llewellyn is largely credited with "saving" John Smoltz's career several years ago. Llewellyn is one of the world's most renowned sports psychologists. For 17 seasons, he has worked with the Atlanta Braves, as well as many of the sports world's best athletes.

For more than an hour, a few of us had a gut-splitting time with Jack. He was telling us some of the funniest stories I have ever heard about professional athletes. After all, he worked with Mark Wohlers, John Rocker, Chuck Knobloch, and Macky Sasser (among others). We were all in tears by the end of the morning!

At one point when the conversation died down for a minute, we asked Jack what the most surprising thing would be from all his years working with the best of the best. His answer silenced the room. "Most of them (the athletes) are just miserable," he said.

It was a great reminder that "success" that is defined by the world's standards often times isn't success at all. Without naming names, he told us stories about broken families and marriages, and athletes who just couldn't overcome the poor choices they had made in life. The glitz and glamour of their celebrity couldn't buy them the thing they lacked: joy.

Llewellyn was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years ago. And, while you'd think he may have just thrown in the towel, he now uses this debilitating and frustrating disease to his advantage. He travels the country and speaks 40 times each year encouraging others who have MS.

He has found they key to joy: using what God gives you - good or bad - to be a blessing to others!

I can't wait to hang out with him again. He's a piece of work!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Learning from the Best

Man...this week has gotten off to an amazing start.

On Monday, I had the opportunity to meet Andy Stanley, one of the most gifted leaders and communicators in the country. Andy is the Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church, and a best-selling author of many of my personal favorite books. He came to speak to our staff, as well as a few church planters that NorthStar has been instrumental in helping to launch over the past year or two.

Instead of delivering a "canned" message, Andy did something a little different. He shared with us some of the most profound quotes he has personally heard or read in his 11-plus years at North Point. These are quotes he has taped to books and bookcases in his office - words that fuel his passion for reaching people who don't yet know Christ.

Perhaps my favorite quote he shared was one he heard recently in a presentation to the board of Crown Ministries: "When your memories exceed your dreams, the end is near."

How profound! The danger of accomplishment, Andy said, was that people spend far too much time talking about the past. It paralyzes people. They cannot move forward because they are still patting themselves on the back for things they may have done a decade ago!

The real issue here is keeping your feet (and your mind) moving forward. It's great (and necessary) to look back on our lives and recall God's victories through us. But, there's no "rewind button" in life. And, if we're living in the past, we'll lose touch and relevance with both the present and the future!

I met another amazing guy on Tuesday...I'll share about that experience in tomorrow's post!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The 2sday 10

Top 10 Worst Halloween Treats
Disclaimer: straight from the above web site - I didn't write these, but thought they were funny

Apples. Not only do parents freak out about razorblades, kids can get apples any time they want! Parents give kids apples in their lunch boxes every day! Apples are a lame treat, even if you do cover them in caramel.
Bible verses. In my hometown, this always served the self-righteous pontiff with at least two cartons of Grade A Farm Fresh.
Chocolate-covered peanuts. These almost never taste good unless you buy a really good brand. Besides, Halloween can mean a lot of sweaty running around, and those things will melt everywhere.
Cookies you baked yourself. Might as well pre-crumble them before handing them out, because they are done for once they get tossed in the sack. Plus, baking cookies en masse means uneven baking and burned bits. Yuck.
Those caramels wrapped in orange wax paper. Does ANYBODY like those?
6. Dried fruit of any kind. You're not making a pity visit to the rest home. Dried fruit is an instant TP'ing.
Coupons. Probably the most disappointing thing ever to get in your plastic pumpkin.
Novelty Halloween candy wrapped in foil. This stuff tastes like wax. It may cost 20c per truckload but you'll be paying more to clean off the front of your house.
Mints. Unless there's some kind of chocolate on that mint, you're in big trouble. Kids hate mints because they remind them of toothpaste. If you MUST freshen their breath, try Andes mints or Peppermint Patties.
Popcorn balls. Stale, tasteless and crappy.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Strike a Pose

As a kid, I always had dreams of hoisting the Heisman Trophy. I just didn't know that it would be when I was 33 years old and at church on a Sunday morning...but it was a thrill nonetheless!

Yesterday, we capped off our Fanatic sermon series at NorthStar, and one of the guys who has been attending who works for Nissan Corporation asked if we would mind if he brought in the Heisman Trophy for us for the final week. Obviously, it was a decision we didn't need to stew on very long.

The final message of the series was entitled "Team Player," and each year the Heisman Trophy is awarded to a player who does more than any other player in the country to help his team succeed. In life there are individuals who are all about themselves. Men and women who look for the spotlight and run around trying to stay in it (these people are easy to identify).

And, then there are others who are so consumed with helping the TEAM win that they virtually get lost in the shuffle. These are the true champions in life. And, they're likely the people in your life who hold you up because they are your biggest fans!

Everyone loves a team player. And, I pray everyone strives to become one. Because we all accomplish more as a team than we ever can when we act only in our own best interests.

Friday, October 26, 2007

new book uncovers perceptions about Christianity among young people

David Kinnaman (The Barna Group) and Gabe Lyons (Fermi Project) have just released a new book that has the potential to truly revolutionize how churches and Christ-followers see "lost" people.

"How?" you may ask. Well, it's because the book - entitled Un-Christian - reveals gobs about how Christians are perceived by Generations X and Y. What we, as believers, do with this information will reveal quite a bit about who we really are, and if we truly care about those who don't know Christ.

I have not had an opportunity to read the book yet, but you can bet that I will!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The 2sday 10

Top 10 Baby Names of 2006

Girls' Names
1. Emma
2. Madison
3. Ava
4. Emily

5. Isabella
6. Kaitlyn
7. Sophia
8. Olivia
9. Abigail
10. Hailey
Bonus - Most popular girl's name in the 1990's: Jessica

Boys' Names
1. Aiden
2. Jacob
3. Ethan
4. Ryan
5. Matthew
6. Jack
7. Noah
8. Nicholas
9. Joshua
10. Logan
Bonus - Most popular boy's name of the 1990's: Michael

Monday, October 22, 2007

Self Perceptions and Deceptions

All too often we, as human beings, confuse "what" we are with "who" we are. For example, think about virtually any social setting in which you are in a room of people you do not know. When pleasantries are exchanged and introductions are made, what is the first question asked? You got it - "What do you do for a living?"

And, as frustrating as that can be, there's hardly a way around that question, as insignificant or unimportant it may be in the grand scheme of things. I guess we ask that question because we're fishing for common ground, and it's a less threatening question than, "Have you ever been arrested?"

But, as platonic as the "What do you do?" question can seem, the danger of that question being repeated is that we begin to adopt "what we do" as our identity. It becomes a label. "That's the mortgage guy." or "You know Jim. He's the guy who cleans gutters and pressure washes houses." Or, "She's the stay at home mom who is the President of the PTSA." Labels.

In a sense, others' perceptions of who we really are can be considered cases of mistaken identity. But, this becomes even more problematic when we are the ones short-changing ourselves and begin a pattern of self-deception. Nowhere is this more of a threat than in the spiritual realm.

Our enemy taunts us and convinces us to believe the worst about ourselves. When we make mistakes, he reminds us how flawed we are. When we make poor moral choices, he shames us. He entices us to beat ourselves up. He urges us to eliminate and disqualify ourselves from being in the game. Before we know it, we identify ourselves as "sinner." And, when this happens, he accomplishes his goal.

As followers of Christ, we have a new identity that Satan cannot remove - child of God. This is the true identity that we must embrace. In times when we fall short, this is what we have to cling onto. Without this identity, we are everything Satan tells us we are.

We all will make stupid decisions, poor choices, and use bad judgment. In those instances, the enemy will be looking for the upper hand. We can deny him this opportunity by remembering who we REALLY are, and to whom we belong.

Don't fall into the pit of mistaken identity.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You Must Be Joking

I don't know if you've been following the whole Yankees & Joe Torre deal the past couple weeks, but I am just dumbfounded. Essentially, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner issued a statement right after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs stating that Torre would not return as the club's skipper in 2008.

Then he hit the brakes. He issued another statement that a decision would be make in the next couple days. And, when a decision wasn't reached after a couple days, the team announced that meetings would be held in Flordia to determine Torre's future with the Yankees.
Now, after two days of meetings involving General Manager Brian Cashman, team President Randy Levine, and Steinbrenner, a decision still has not been announced.

Here's my take. Torre has been an incredible manager for nearly 25 seasons. He was great with the Braves, the Cardinals, and for the past 12 seasons with the Yankees. He's a winner. Now, I don't know about you, but if I was in my 60's, had millions and millions of dollars stashed away, and had amazing success with a team that wasn't sure if it wanted my services any longer, I'd make the decision easy for everyone: I'd say "sayanara" and wipe my hands clean of Steinbrenner and the Yankees.

Obviously, we haven't heard much from Torre, but all signs point to the fact that he wants to come back to the team. Why in the world would he want to come back and work for a micro-managing, unappreciative egomaniac? Beats me.

As crazy as this Torre deal is, it's probably not much different than some of the silly things we do. We might be in a situation that is less than ideal, but we're willing to compromise in order to stay in the limelight or cash a larger paycheck than we would in another set of circumstances that could ultimately be more rewarding.

Remember, there's something much more at stake than winning and a bank statement. And, it's infinitely more valuable than either of those: character.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The 2sday 10

Top 10 Deadliest Creatures on Earth

10. Poison Dart Frog - produces enough toxin to kill ten humans
9. Cape Buffalo - These 1,500 pound bad-boys charge predators head on with two sharp horns.
8. Polar Bear - Can rip your head off with one swipe of its giant paw
7. Elephant - These 16,000 pound beasts kill more than 500 people annually. Dumbo, yo!

6. Australian Saltwater Crocodile - Krikey! This dude looks like a log. Accidentally step on one, and it'll pull you in the water to drown and dismember you. Nice.

5. African Lion - A near perfect hunter - razor sharp claws, quick, and giant fangs. Hakuna Matata!

4. Great White Shark - Bloodthirsty fish with 3,000-plus teeth. I thought Jabber Jaw was a friendly dude.
3. Australian Box Jellyfish - Has up to 60 tentacles that are each 15-feet long. Each tentacle's toxin can kill up to 60 humans.
2. Asian Cobra - Not the most venomous snake, but the cobra is responsible for the most snakebite deaths each year.

1. Mosquito - Man, that mosquito bite is killing me. Really. These suckers are responsible for more than 2 million deaths each year worldwide.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Difficult but Rewarding

This past Thursday morning, my wife Amy's grandfather passed away after a long and difficult battle with cancer. A few months ago, my mother-in-law asked if I would represent the family and serve as the Officiant of the funeral service. While I must admit that the thought of delivering a eulogy for a member of the family was unsettling, I was truly honored to fill that role, particularly in such a difficult time for the family.

In the days leading up to the funeral, a steady calm came over me like I could never have expected. In the previous weeks, I was truly a basket case - mostly because I was so saddened by his declining health, and often putting myself in the shoes of those closest to him. But, I asked many of my close friends to be in prayer for the family, and to lift me up to the Lord - that I would delicately but confidently speak words of encouragement to the family during this emotional time.

The Lord came through - both for the family and for me - over the weekend. While we were all heartbroken at his passing, we celebrated the fact that he is in an amazing place now - in heaven with our loving Father. There were many tears shed at the viewing and at the funeral service - tears of sadness and pain; but, also tears of pure joy, for "Paw Paw" has a new home and a new body.

In the hours leading up to his passing, and in the days following his death, my prayers were centered around the Lord providing comfort and peace like only He can. I continue to ask for that same comfort, but also for a stirring in the hearts of those members of the family who either have not met Him yet, or who recently met Him and are just beginning the journey. And, if you would, I know these folks would appreciate your prayers as well.

Because, when we join Christ's family, we really aren't saying goodbye to Paw Paw. We're just waiting to say "hello" to him again.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doin' the Hokey Pokey

I have my head buried in my hands in disbelief after putting the words “hokey pokey” in the title of this post. What am I thinking…?

But, despite what preschoolers, elementary music teachers, and party planners might think, putting your right foot in and out of a circle of people and shaking it is not REALLY what “it’s all about.”

If you were to really observe the people around you throughout your day, you’d likely come to the conclusion that “it” is about them. Or, you may come to the realization that when you pay close attention, “it” is all about you. Don’t get upset…I realize the same thing much of the time. But, the great news is this: when our eyes are opened, we are more easily able to discover what “it” really is all about.

I just returned from a local discount retail store where I had one of these eye-opening experiences. It was fairly early in the morning, so only two check-out lanes were open. I had three items in my hands – a stick of deodorant and two small toys I bought for my son’s friend’s birthday party. As I was making my way to Aisle 13, a woman with a cart full of stuff spotted me and began to make a mad dash to the checkout counter…to beat me! You would have thought she was a contestant on everyone’s favorite grocery game show: Supermarket Sweep.

Being the kind, gentle soul that I am (cough cough), I slowed down. She then steered her way onto Pit Road so she could change the tires on her cart while the cashier scanned her items. Then, it was a race to the checkered flag, and through the automatic doors at the store’s exit. I was left covered in her dust.

Certainly you can relate to this. I can. I am often the one impersonating Dale Jr. behind the wheel of my buggy. I’m focused. Determined. Trying to set the new track record at my local store. I only pay attention to others when they stand in my way of bringing home the Kroger Kart Kup.

But, when I do this I have “it” all wrong. When Jesus was asked by the religious leaders of his day what “it” was really all about, his answer was simple and profound: Loving God and Loving Others. And, while Jesus had his own “race to run,” he always found time to slow down and serve other people.

Serving others isn’t always easy. Our tendency is to meet our own desires first. But, it’s not what’s best. What’s best is to put God #1 in our lives, then to do everything we can to demonstrate our love for Him by putting others ahead of us.

Sometimes that means doing something you don’t really enjoy doing (another word for that is sacrifice). It could be volunteering at your child’s school; serving at your church – parking, childcare, greeting; mowing your neighbor’s overgrown lawn; or stopping to allow someone else to go in front of you at a check-out line.

When we are putting others first, we are pleasing God. And, there’s nothing God enjoys more than when we get “it.” So, take a step back. Decrease yourself and allow others to increase. Then, you can do the Hokey Pokey and spin yourself around. ‘Cuz THAT’s what “it’s” all about!