Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The 2-sday 10

Our inaugural Tuesday Top 10 list. We'll do this every week on Tuesday (unless I forget, or I'm out of town, or whatever). Enjoy!

Top 10 Oxymorons

10. Definite Maybe
9. Terribly Pleased
8. Soft Rock

7. Clearly Misunderstood

6. Genuine Imitation
5. Pretty Ugly

4. Found Missing
3. Sanitary Landfill
2. Tight Slacks
1. Legally Drunk

Feel free to share your favorites!

Update: Here's one of many that have been emailed to me:

Monday, July 30, 2007

Unique Privilege

Last night was an amazing night - for our church, and for me personally. We held our annual church picnic at Lake Allatoona yesterday, and capped it off with an incredible baptism service. And, while more than 120 people went into the water, the highlight for me was baptizing my son, Chaz. What an incredible feeling, and a truly unique privilege getting to baptize your child and witness for yourself that he is publicly professing his faith in Christ.

Walking the waters of baptism is a truly great expression of humility and obedience. Essentially, by doing this we are saying, "I belong to Jesus, and I follow him." It takes putting ourselves aside and remembering that our walk with the Lord is intended to be an open book for others to read and examine.

I'll always remember July 29, 2007. It's a day that God gave me a big "thumbs up" as a dad, but most importantly the day that my son publicly gave his big "thumbs up" to God!

Friday, July 27, 2007


Are you serious? No - I mean, do you take yourself, your work, and your life in general too seriously? In his book A Whole New Mind, author Daniel Pink points out that the most effective leaders are not the ones who always have their game face on, but ones who are funny. Research by Daniel Goleman and the Hay Group has shown that this is a fact, and that those considered funny have "their charges laughing three times more often than their managerial counterparts."

Seems kinda trivial,
doesn't it? But, think about it. If you work in an environment where people are laughing all the time (hopefully you are one of them), you know how true this finding really is. Personally, I am fortunate to work under the direction of a guy named Mike Linch, who really encourages our staff to laugh and have a good time. In fact, Mike is the brunt of the joke many times, but has the wisdom (and patience) to understand that laughter is truly an essential component to an effective team.

Moreover, God has a sense of humor. Remember, we're made in His image, s
o he must. Look at the platypus. And, for a Biblical example, take a stroll back to the Book of Genesis. God delivered on the promise that Abraham and Sarah, at the ages of 100 and 90, respectively, would have a baby. He must have thought that was funny, because he told Abraham to name the child Isaac, which means "he laughs."

So, if you want to impact the world around you, be funny. Laugh it up. Create a lighter environment in which your colleagues can really thrive. People will relax, let their guard down, and they'll be more willing to go the extra mile for you.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

God Doesn't Need Your Money (July 2007 Article)

I imagine when you read the headline to this article, your immediate reaction fell into one of two responses: (1) “What in the world!!?? or (2) “That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!” But before you get a little too polarized in your beliefs, let me state this plainly once more - and I’ll ask that you take a moment to really think about this statement before reading on: God doesn’t need your money.

Those who know me are probably thinking, “He works for a church. How in God’s green earth can the boy have the audacity to make such a controversial statement about God and money?” Well, that’s a perfect segue for me to jump right in.

Before I state my case, I think we can all agree that because God is God – all-knowing and all-powerful – He doesn’t really ever need anything from us. Sure, He loves when we bring stuff to Him – physically and emotionally – but He is never in need.

And keeping this in mind, the first thing we’ve all got to realize is that “it ain’t our money” - despite our seagull mentality (remember the scene from Finding Nemo pictured above?). I know, them is fightin’ words…but when you take a stroll back to Genesis and creation, we see that God created everything. And, even though it never says, “And on the third day, God created the printing press and the federal mint,” what it does say quite plainly is that He made everything in the heavens and the earth. And, even though He created everything we can see and touch, it wasn’t until the sixth day that He molded His most prized creation: mankind.

Which brings me to my next point. While God did give us the means to print money and mint coins, He made one thing very clear when He made you and me: that we are given dominion over the things of this earth. In plain English, that means we’re supposed to take care and manage the stuff He has given to us.

Two of my favorite verses in the Bible can be found in 1 Chronicles 29:11-12:

Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength. (NLT)

You see, as much as I’d like to take credit for what I’m writing, these ideas really stem from my man David, who as King of Israel, made this statement to the entire nation as they were preparing to build the temple to the Lord. Here is a man who had experienced unsurpassed wealth, power, and honor in his lifetime making a bold declaration to his nation that everything belongs to God, and that God alone determines our status or position. That’s a big deal.

You may ask, “So, why should I tithe” or “Why do I need to give to a church building campaign” or “Why should I write a check to little Johnny for his mission trip?” if God is in control of it all. Well, in short, it’s because He has chosen us to do His work. God wasn’t completely satisfied with His creation until He created man. And, man became His chosen vessel for His work.

I, for one, am actually pretty relieved that the tithe (which literally means “a tenth”) was what God asked us to bring to Him. After all, most of Jesus’ first disciples gave up virtually everything – family, home, and everything they owned – to follow God’s Son. Living off 90 percent sounds like a pretty fair shake to me!

But even when God asked us to “bring the whole tithe” to Him, He didn’t just leave it there. Being a kind, compassionate, and graceful God, He delivered a challenge and a promise along with it. “Test me in this," He said, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

A few years ago, my wife and I tested Him – and He delivered on that promise. I urge you to put God to the “tithe test” – then sit back and watch Him work as He shows you what His version of a blessing really looks like!

Kitties and Lobsters (June 2007 article)

Meet Kitty Kowalski. Kitty is charming, attractive, intelligent, pleasant, caring, and sensitive. Some of you may recognize Kitty – she is also known as Lex Luthor’s girlfriend in the recent smash movie Superman Returns. On the surface, she appears to have it all together. She seems to be a “good person” (whatever that means). But, for all Kitty has going for her, she has one major problem: she knows the right thing to do, but lacks the will to do it.

Throughout the movie, we find Kitty constantly struggling internally to make the wise choice. As we watch, we empathize with her. We know how desperately she wants to get out of the evil trap in which she finds herself. She even sympathizes with Superman, and you can tell how full of regret her life has become. You see, she mistakes her poor decision making for loyalty - to Lex Luthor – the man she loves (and hates).

Although this particular example is perhaps a bit too fictionalized, the truth is we have Kitty Kowalski’s living all around us. They are people who desperately want to make wrongs right. They are people whose hearts ache for freedom, but whose lives are held captive by lies – the ones they tell themselves, or the ones they are led to believe by others. Some are abused women who are afraid to seek help. Many are young men and women involved in lifestyles that don’t line up with their belief systems, but refuse to walk away. Some are business leaders who crumble under the pressures at work and compromise their integrity to advance in their profession.

These people all likely have something else in common: they are surrounded by lobsters. You see, when lobsters are caught by fishermen, they are put in baskets in groups. And it’s a documented fact that no lobster will allow another lobster to escape the basket. It simply reaches out with one claw and pulls the other lobster back into the basket. The lobster fisherman no longer needs to keep his eye on his catch. (source: The Valiant – newsletter article/March 1999).

Sobering, isn’t it? People are the same way. When a group is involved in something illegal, unjust, or sinful, they make it nearly impossible for someone to “escape.” They pull them back in the basket. And, the truth is, the enemy designed it that way. And, he deceives us into thinking we can’t get out.

You know, Jesus was right on the money when He said “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.” He was facing the most grueling temptation of his 33-year life on earth. The enemy was tempting Him to walk away from His father’s plan – a plan that included humiliation, torture, shame, and ultimately death on a cross. It was so tempting, in fact, that He begged his heavenly Father to reconsider three times while He was in the garden that night. But, thankfully, Jesus didn’t cave in. He prayed, and He asked His best friends to pray for Him.

Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation. You are trying to crawl out of something you just don’t want to be a part of anymore, but you have lobsters pulling you back. It may be time to do what Ed Young, Jr. calls a “friend-entory.” That means taking a close look at those you consider friends, and it also means taking a look at yourself to see what kind of friend you are to others. Are your friends pulling you in the right direction, or are they holding you back? Are you an encouragement to your friends, or a hindrance? Are you a reflection of God’s image, or have you become a barrier that prevents others from seeing His glory?

Now is the time to finally get out of the basket and swim freely in the ocean God has awaiting for you. It may not be an easy escape, but God will be there to guide you along – if you give Him the chance.

Mom's the Word (May 2007 article)

They are the words spoken into the camera day in and day out on national television. They are uttered by the world’s top athletes after they score a touchdown, drain the game-winning three-pointer, or rip the bases-clearing walk-off homer. Perhaps once in our lifetime we will be on camera at a sporting event for a few shorts seconds, and they are the words we choose to say: “Hi, mom.”

Seems kinda silly, doesn’t it? I mean, of all the things we could say in our moment in the spotlight, why would we say these two seemingly insignificant words? Why doesn’t Dad get any love after the big play, or get his name written on the posters and banners we hold up on TV?

The thing is, Mom is special. Oh, Dad is a one-of-a-kind in his own right. But, Dad isn’t Mom. Mom has our back. Mom is our biggest cheerleader – no matter what. Mom would sacrifice virtually anything for us. We’re not only the apple of Mom’s eye – we’re the entire fruit stand! And, chances are, if Mom got on TV, she’d give a shout out to us!

Interestingly, Mothers’ Day hasn’t been around as long as you might think. In the United States, the idea first sprang up in 1872, when Julia Ward Howe (she wrote the words to Battle Hymn of the Republic) suggested Mothers’ Day as a day dedicated to peace. Mom and peace – for many of us those words are synonymous. Generally speaking, Moms tend to have a calming effect in the home, don’t they? When our hearts ache, when we’re down and out, and ready to throw in the towel, who is normally willing – no, eager – to lend an ear and a word of encouragement? Mom is.

Mrs. Howe’s idea apparently had some merit, and the movement to make Mothers’ Day a national holiday gained steam in the early 20th Century. In 1907, Ana Jarvis (from Philadephia, Pa.) persuaded her mother’s church in West Virginia to celebrate Mothers’ Day on the second anniversary of her mother’s death. The following year, the city of Philadelphia followed suit and celebrated Mothers’ Day city-wide. By 1911, virtually every state celebrated the holiday, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson formally announced Mother’s Day as a national holiday that would always fall on the second Sunday in May.

Moms have been around since the Garden of Eden, and we’ve only celebrated them and devoted a day to them for 93 years? Seems crazy. But, while May 13 will be celebrated across the globe as Mothers’ Day, the truth is we likely have the opportunity each and every day to show Mom and tell Mom how much we appreciate her.

Don’t wait until the camera is on you at a ball game to give Mom the “props” she deserves. Shoot her an email. Write her a note. Give her a call. And, while you’re at it, do your best to pour into others’ lives the way Mom has poured into yours. It may seem like a tall order, but chances are, Mom’ll be there to cheer you on.

P.S. – “Hi, mom.”

Getting Over (and Past) Ourselves (April 2007 article)

Why is it that at times I can be SO confident, so sure of my abilities, my talents, my gifts, my strengths – but at other times I can doubt, be pessimistic, sullen, and be overcome with feelings of inadequacy? It’s like some sort of bipolar disorder – not clinical – just acutely personal. For instance, as I write this, I am certain that I will finish the article – that it will make sense to some degree – but will it really make a difference? You see, I struggle with my humanity.

But, when this happens – and it does happen often – it serves as a great reminder to me that I was never meant to question the quirks, the personality traits, the idiosyncrasies that make me ME. It allows me to recall not only WHO I really am, but WHOSE I really am. After all, God took a great deal of time in knitting together every little detail to form the person – the soul and spirit – I have become.

You know, this truth can really be difficult to grasp when the road gets rocky. I don’t know about you, but when the going gets tough and I am stuck in a rut, I tend to focus more on my weaknesses rather than God’s strength. I have a propensity towards questioning my skills and my aptitudes in the valleys of life. I fail to realize that I’m better off admitting up front that I don’t have my act together, and that God has my back. If I’ll just let Him do His thing, it’ll all work out. But, I get in the way. My pride. My stubbornness. My selfishness. My blindness.

We are told over and over throughout scripture that God’s strength is perfect in our weakness. Seems strange, doesn’t it? I mean, aren’t we supposed to be strong? Aren’t we supposed to have it all together? Astonishingly, the answer to these questions is a resounding “no.”

Ironically, we are most likely to realize this great truth when we are at the end of our rope. Think about it. When things are going well, do we fall on our knees seeking God? Begging for His mercy? Hardly! When things are going well, we set our lives (and our hearts) on cruise control, and leave God out of it.

But, what happens when we hit the skids? When we lose that job? When our marriage is crumbling? When we (or a loved one) are diagnosed with cancer? These are the moments when we stop looking around us, and we begin to look up. And, likely, this is exactly where God wants you to be. He wants to remove the crutches of your life to make you totally dependent on Him. It’s the only way we learn – to stop leaning on ourselves, to stop looking for approval and satisfaction in all the wrong places, to stop worrying about circumstances beyond our control, and to stop buying into the lie that we aren’t worthy of His grace.

You may be struggling with that right now. You wonder, “How can God love me after all I have done?” Meanwhile, God is saying, “How can I not?” After all, He sent his perfect, blameless, sinless Son to this fallen earth to tell us – and show us – who He really is. And when He obediently and willingly fulfilled this mission, He was put to death so you and I would never have to taste it ourselves.

Today – maybe right this minute - eagerly and confidently accept His great gift of grace – and leave your feelings of inadequacy and your fears behind…because He already has.

Hit the Brakes (March 2007 article)

Virtually all of us are plagued by activity – we are going going going, never slowing slowing slowing. And, for many of us, our activity is the area from which we draw our identity. It’s when we are “busy” that we feel the most alive, the most important. But, we cannot confuse activity with accomplishment. Unfortunately, many of us do just that. We cram our calendars, day-timers, PDA’s, computers, and cell phones with innumerable activities. It’s no wonder we often feel there’s not enough time in the day, and why we wind up cheating ourselves and our families out of precious moments we’ll never get back.

A friend of mine recently made a great point as it pertains to our tendency to become inundated with myriad tasks and activities. He mentioned a famous quotation, which states that “we are human beings, not human doings.” When’s the last time YOU were a human BEING? If you’re having a tough time remembering, join the club. There is a way out of this cycle, believe it or not. It’s not a silver bullet that will wipe our collective slates clean. But, there are some things we can do to recapture focus and find that much-needed balance we so desperately need.

In The Life You’ve Always Wanted, my favorite author, John Ortberg, states that we “must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives.” It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? Can you imagine being able to eliminate hurry from your life? Can you see a day when you actually feel like you can take your sweet time in completing a project? How about errands? We RUN errands. Has anyone ever said, “I’ve got to go. I have several errands to casually stroll”? But it can be done – if we choose to do it. We must be deliberate and disciplined.

The second thing we need to do is an “ego check.” We have a false sense of self-worth that is based primarily on what we do, and how much we do. If someone asks us, “What did you do today?” we feel like we have to come up with an impressive answer. We’re concerned that we won’t measure up if we just say, “not much” or “I just sat around and relaxed and read a book.” I find myself starting to answer that very question by saying something like, “My day was crazy” or “You won’t believe how hectic…” When we place value on our relationships more than our tasks, we begin to see through a completely different set of lenses.

Finally, we need to evaluate our purpose. While taking an inventory of our schedules, and protecting and prioritizing our calendars are essential to a well-ordered life, it’s really secondary to discovering your true purpose in LIFE. In his phenomenally successful book The Purpose-Driven Life, Rick Warren begins with these four penetrating words: “It’s not about you.” He continues in Chapter One by saying “you were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense.”

Do you know your purpose? Is your life all about you? Is it about spreading yourself out tissue-paper thin, or trying to impress others? Or, do you have a firm grip on the One who brought you into this amazing journey called life? If not, He’s reaching out right now, straining with every fiber of his infinitely glorious being to grab a hold of you.

If you’re really looking to find something worthwhile to do – turn to Him. Whether you’ve never known Him, or whether He’s your best friend, He’s near to you this very moment. Don’t miss this chance to discover the treasures He has prepared for you at His fingertips.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I wasn’t even aware of it!” – Genesis 28:16 (NLT)

Seeing Past Right Now (February 2007 article)

I really struggle with seeing the big picture. My tendency is to stare at what’s right in front of me. What’s evident. What’s pressing. The here and now. I’m not talking so much about what to wear, where to eat, or what to put in the CD player on my drive home from the office. I’m talking about circumstances. What I am faced with. Challenges. Obstacles. Detours. It’s in the midst of life’s inconveniences that I have difficulty seeing beyond myself. It’s at these times that I am the most self-centered.

What’s funny is that it isn’t always a “real” problem or life-altering event that prompts me to behave this way. Not a serious illness in the family, a financial crisis, or relationship conflict. It’s the leaks in the plumbing, the car trouble, or unexpectedly missing two flights to the destination of your 10-year wedding anniversary, then landing and being without luggage for two days. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

It’s been said that adversity doesn’t build character, but reveals it. Ouch. If that is true (and I believe it is), I have a long, uphill climb ahead. This became evident to me recently on a family vacation. It was “drive home” day. The minivan was packed full, and had six Phillips’ on board. I was in great spirits after a terrific vacation…that is, until we quickly found ourselves off-course. As great as internet map sites can be, they fail to mention that road signs aren’t always immediately available to point you in the right direction.

So, after literally driving around in one rather large 10-mile circle, which involved an ill-timed exit and a 75-cent toll, I had had it! I was ill. At my wit’s end. And, while I wasn’t blaming anyone for the problem (after all, I was behind the wheel), I certainly didn’t make any allies with my attitude. After mumbling, “this is a disaster” under my breath a few times, I decided to focus my attention elsewhere. I said a little prayer, and asked God to help me pull it together. And guess what – he helped me. Immediately, I began to think of how ridiculous I had been. How I was only adding to the problem. Then God reminded me how all of us were safe, and that in the grand scheme of life, a 45-minute “detour” was not a big deal.

Perhaps you’re like me. Perhaps you get caught up in the moment sometimes, and your vision gets blurry. You fail to pause and feel the safety of God’s arms being wrapped around you. It’s easy to do. It’s completely normal to flail in the quicksand of the unexpected detours we encounter in life, rather than basking in the true blessings God has selflessly given to us. But, it’s not what God wants for us.

You know, I learned some invaluable lessons in the wake of our circuitous route out of town that day. I was reminded that my family means more to me than the quickest way home. And, I was reminded that my Father can not only be trusted to guide me, but that I need Him to guide me. You need that, too. And, the good news is, no matter how off-course you’ve gotten, God is eager to help!

Practical Parenting (January 2007 article)

Those of us who are parents would probably agree that being a parent is likely the greatest gift we are given in life. There are just so many special moments we have the opportunity to enjoy – the first smile, the first steps, the first words, the first “I love you” that melts your heart.

But, while parenting is the greatest gift, it’s also the greatest challenge we face, as a new set of “firsts” accompany the uphill climb: the first time our kids break a valuable item, the first lie they tell, the first time they hit their sibling, the first time they hit YOU. The list could go on and on – particularly as the child ages.

One of the most frustrating things we, as parents, face is when our child seems “out of sorts,” or when they are just not “being themselves.” Many times this is manifested in their attitudes – this is when we hear the words “NO” or “I don’t want to.” Other times it’s witnessed in their behaviors – being aggressive towards others (pushing, hitting, teasing), withdrawing, or acting like little maniacs.

It’s true that all children have those trying moments when they are simply being kids. But, what about when this becomes a pattern? What do you do when your “perfect” child suddenly turns into the Tazmanian Devil? In short, you love ‘em.

Maybe that seems too simple to some of you. Perhaps it sounds a little too vague. Let me try to clarify. When your child is acting out of control, not only are they testing your boundaries, they are crying out for your love and your attention. NOT the words, “I love you,” but they want to FEEL loved.

In his book How to really Love Your Child, Dr. Ross Campbell explains that parents can demonstrate this love in three primary ways: focused attention, loving eye contact, and appropriate physical contact. In a nutshell, here’s what this means:

Focused attention means spending one-on-one time with your child. It could be 15 minutes, it could be several hours. But, the key is that it is time spent only with that child, and without distractions – no checking email, watching TV, or talking on the phone.

Loving eye contact is simply that – looking your child in the eye in a caring and pleasant manner. Psychologists have evidence that loving eye contact is crucial to a child’s emotional well-being. So, don’t just look into your child’s eye when you are upset at them (Johnny – look at me when I am talking to you!) – but make sure you communicate your love to them through eye contact when things are “peachy.”

Finally, appropriate physical contact is key to ensuring that your child feels loved. Dads, this means you too! (Moms are already wired to show affection for the most part) Fathers should hug their sons, give them “high fives” and pats on the back as often as possible. Same with daughters (in an appropriate manner) – even throughout adolescence, as her self-image is what will drive her as she approaches adulthood.

For more detailed information on how you can begin to show your child how much you love them, please pick up Dr. Campbell’s book. When your child genuinely feels your love, you may be shocked at the results!

It's a Wonderful Life (December 2006 Article)

I’m not sure there’s a colloquialism more on the money than “never judge a book by its cover.” We’ve all said it. We’ve all been victimized by it. Some of us are guilty still of not heeding this sage advice.

The marketing world exists to defeat this idea. Their sole purpose is to convince us that we need what they are offering. Not only that, but that this new _______ (you fill in the blank) is going to make our lives better than ever! It might be the new car, the bigger house, or the no-interest loan that will “save us thousands of dollars.” Maybe it’s something much smaller – the new shoes we gotta have, or the latest, greatest MP3 player. Somehow, we have been such easy prey for marketing firms across the country, which have trained us to actually believe that different is better. We must change – or conform – to the new standard in order to really feel like we’re being fulfilled.

Think of the ads or commercials that we drive by, listen to, or watch each and every day. They play off our desire for immediate satisfaction and our longing for something much better than what we have right now. If you are like me, you have made purchases, tested products, and gone on vacations, thinking – hoping – that “THIS will really be what I need. Finally!” But, the truth is, most of the time we are treated to short-lived gratification or a surge of adrenaline, only to feel the emptiness and disappointment a few days or weeks later.

I remember about ten years ago when I made a weekend visit to perhaps the world’s most popular amusement park (you can probably guess where I went – it’s located in Central Florida, and home to an extremely famous rodent). Things just didn’t pan out that particular weekend like I had planned. It rained the entire time. The lines were longer than I had ever experienced. Five or six of the main attractions were closed down. Kids were crying. I was crying. What was supposed to be an amazing life-enriching getaway was nothing but misery. I kept thinking, “This isn’t what the TV commercials show. They show smiling faces, colorful balloons, spectacular fireworks. Funny, but I don’t remember seeing rain, long lines, and crying men and children in the ads.” Unfulfilled expectations.

We have a tendency to mask our own unfulfilled expectations, don’t we? We, like the marketing experts, show the world what we want them to see. One of my favorite authors, John Ortberg, calls this “perception management.” Basically, it means that we try to control how others think about us. And, at Christmastime, when the world appears to be a cheerful paradise of candy canes and colorful twinkling lights, deep down we feel like something is missing.

Perhaps that is you this year. You’ve got the prefect tree, the wreaths or candles in each window, the mistletoe hanging in the doorway, and the 50-foot blow-up Santa Claus in your front yard. To others, it appears that you’re living in a Winter Wonderland. But on the inside you need a little more - something that a decoration or a Nat King Cole song won’t fill. You need hope. You need a warm smile or a gentle touch. You need not only to be loved, but to feel loved.

I invite you to join us this month at NorthStar Church, as we begin a new series entitled It’s a Wonderful Life. Jesus Christ came into this world 2006 years ago with the promise of giving us a wonderful life, if we would choose to believe Him. I pray that you and your family will make that choice this year, and discover the plan God had for you from the very beginning.