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Who Are You…Really?

April 30, 2014

Who are you...really?

Who are you…really? It’s an interesting question, and it probably seems to be a simple one, but only on the surface. If someone asked you that question you might say that you’re a man or a woman, your age, your race, or what you do for a living. But that’s on the surface and that’s superficial. Even superficially though you are many things. You may be a father, a son, a brother, a husband, a friend, and a businessman all at the same time. You aren’t any one of those things, you are all of those things.

Being all these things might make one tend to feel schizophrenic if you stop to think about it, but really with all of these things they are just your parts of your public persona, because whether you are interacting with your kids, your parents, your siblings, your wife, your friends, or your coworkers and clients, you are still allowing people to see the “you” that you want them to see. Some people, like your closest family and friends might see more “sides” of you than others, but only you and God may know the real you…who you are when no one is looking. If the public persona and the private persona don’t match then you really will feel schizophrenic.

If you smile at people face-to-face but then gossip about them when they leave…you are who you are when no one is looking. If you’re in sales and you tell your clients that your company’s products or services are the best in the business and exactly what they need, but then when you get a better offer with a competitor you change your story…you are who you are when no one is looking. If you’re all smiles with your family in public, but at home you’re verbally or physically abusing them…you are who you are when no one is looking. If you’re sitting on the front row at church every Sunday, but the rest of the week if someone from church saw what you were doing they wouldn’t even recognize you…you are who you are when no one is looking.

But you don’t have to stay that way. You can stop being schizophrenic by becoming consistent. It won’t be easy, especially if you’ve been schizophrenic for a long time, but change can happen if you desire it, work at it, and pray for strength. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Are you ready to ask yourself the question, “Who are you…really?” And even more importantly are you ready hear the answer?

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ALL IN

March 31, 2014

ALL IN

When was the last time you went ALL IN on anything? Do you even remember? What was it that got you so excited that you put all of your heart, mind, and soul into it and went ALL IN? Was it calling in sick at work, hopping in the car, driving 12 hours across the country, paying hundreds of dollars for a ticket, and painting your whole body to cheer for your favorite team during March Madness? What happened when they lost? You didn’t stop being a fan did you? No, you’re disappointed, but you’ve been ALL IN for years and nothing is going to change your loyalty to your team.

Or, maybe you’ve never been ALL IN for anything. You go through life driving from home to work to home again without much interest or effort being expended at any point along the way…you’re just going through the motions. What will it take to catch your attention, to get you to wake up and go ALL IN for anything? Ultimately going ALL IN for a basketball team will accomplish nothing of significant value for anyone except the school, coaches, and players (one and done…just sayin’) who make their money from their ALL IN fans.

If you’re looking for something that can excite your soul and is worth going ALL IN for, and can actually change the world, look at helping others. Wow, that’s it…that’s the pay-off for reading this far? Help others? I can barely take care of myself, why should I care about helping others? Most of us have a warped view of our own situation. If you live in America and make over $34,000 a year you are in the top 1% of income earners in the world, and if you make over $70,000 you are in the top 0.1% of income earners worldwide. If that fact doesn’t change your perspective I’m not sure what will.

My wife and I have an ALL IN item that we are currently pursuing with a passion. It’s something that excites us to our core, makes us laugh and cry, and we know without a doubt that our life will be changed for the better through this. What is it? Adoption. We are ALL IN for adoption. Not just one kid, and not just a cuddly baby, but possibly sibling groups, older children, and minorities, all of whom are some of the hardest in the system to place. What craziness would make us look into adopting multiple kids when we already have three other biological children? To put it simply we are just putting our faith into action. We’ve been blessed and we’ve seen the power of adoption to change the lives of both adopted children and the parents who adopted them.

It is a travesty of the highest order that there are children in this world who are in need of a forever home and there are millions of families right here in our neighborhoods, churches, and social groups who have more than enough resources to take care of every one of them, if only they would open their eyes to the need, see the potential life changing impact, and go ALL IN! Won’t you join us in making adoption as natural a choice as having biological children? If you have questions about adoption, leave a comment, contact me, or check out the Adopt US Kids website.

Is Your Church a Black Hole?

February 28, 2014

Black Hole

Is your church a black hole in the community? That sounds like a pretty serious allegation. After all black holes are dark spots in the universe. We only know they exist because of the effect of their strong gravitational pull on surrounding stars. They are hard to find and we don’t know much about them. We just know they are not good and we don’t want to go anywhere near them. So how could a church be considered a black hole? Shouldn’t churches be a beacon of light in the world? Without a doubt the answer is yes. Jesus even said it this way:

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

With that as a backdrop, where I’m about to go might step on some toes, but Jesus wasn’t afraid to step on some toes from time to time either. My intent is not to say what your church may be doing is wrong, but to say what your church is not doing could be having a negative affect on your impact in your community. Sometimes the Church needs a wake-up call too. Think about contemporary American culture and the image the church has in the media and in society in general, not how the Church sees itself, but how those outside the Church see it:

  • That church bought that great piece of property and they don’t pay any taxes on it.
  • That church spent millions of dollars building a monument to themselves on that property.
  • That church took that great piece of property and put a gate across the entrance. What is that some kind of Christian country club for members only?
  • That church is open one half day a week and the rest of the time it is a black hole in the community.

Bingo! If God has blessed your church with the resources to buy a piece of property shouldn’t you make sure it is used to bless the community you are serving? Instead of literally building a “cathedral” that is internally focused on those who already believe, shouldn’t you figuratively dig a well that is externally focused, creating a comfortable place where those who haven’t met Christ can meet Christ, just as Jesus did when he met the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26).

Beyond just the building, couldn’t your property serve your community by being open seven days a week instead of just Sunday morning? Shouldn’t those who serve the Creator of the universe be able to be as creative, or more creative, than the rest of the world in engaging culture and reaching this generation? It might take the form of outdoor play equipment, recreation fields, or walking trails. Could your parking lot double as a park-and-ride location for commuters? Could your building host boy scout troops, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, home school groups, or high school graduations and concerts? Could your church compete in the marketplace by operating the best coffee shop in town, a killer cafe, or a top notch bookstore? Is your Tax Exemption more important than the Great Commission?

I think Paul set the example for this in Corinthians when he said, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” If your church isn’t reaching your community, have you tried “all things” yet, or has your church settled into complacency and disappeared into the darkness of deep space like a black hole?

Apple vs. Microsoft: My Experience with Customer Service from Opposite Extremes

January 27, 2014

Apple vs. Microsoft

Let me start by saying, I grew up on Microsoft. My first home computer was a large desktop PC running on Microsoft DOS. Yes, that tells you how old I am. After that I transitioned to Microsoft Windows starting with version 3.1, followed by Windows 95, 98, ME (yes that horrible version), NT, 2000, XP, Vista (yes that other horrible version), and 7. I’ve worked on my own machines, added memory, changed out hard drives, and installed and managed all manner of software on Windows. While I’ve had no formal training in either hardware or software I feel extremely comfortable working on, troubleshooting, and operating PCs. I never jumped on the Bill-Gates-is-Satan bandwagon, and in fact I admired him for growing such a large company and for his philanthropy later in life.

For all my life I have been a PC nut and thought that Apple was nothing more than a creative marketing company with simple toys for non-techy types and kooky artists. I had played around on a couple of Macs, and one former company I worked for had a few, so I knew the basics, but I wasn’t interested. I was a hardcore PC guy. That’s not to say my experience with Microsoft Windows machines was all rainbows and unicorns. I can’t even count the number of times I was ready to chuck my computer out the nearest window, or ready to smash my screen in when the bright glow of the “blue screen of death” appeared in the middle of an important document that I hadn’t saved recently, but I assumed that was just the normal tradeoff you had to accept for something as complex as these magic little boxes of circuitry and microchips.

After lugging around huge Dell laptops for years at work that felt like a cross between a boat anchor and a set of dumbbells, I was intrigued by the sleek, lightweight, aluminum-body MacBooks I started to see all around me in airports and at meetings with clients. So in early 2009 I bought my first MacBook, a late 2008 13″ model, for my wife and I to use at home, and quickly began to see what I had been missing all these years. Then along came my first iPhone, the 3GS, later to be followed by an iPhone 5. In between I bought an iPad 2, and got my own MacBook Pro at work. The combination of my great experiences using these amazing devices pushed me closer and closer to Apple fanboy status, but what really sealed the deal was a recent call to the “Help Lines” for both Apple and Microsoft. To say that the differences between the two were night and day is too small of a distinction to make. Let me elaborate.

When I bought my wife our first MacBook we also purchased iWork (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote). For a while that was fine, but eventually we decided to purchase a 3-license copy of Microsoft Office for Mac 2011 so that we could more easily share files with everyone else using Office, and figuring that we’d be buying other Apple computers in the future. Not long after that purchase we moved to another state. Zoom forward in time a few years later and our almost 6-year-old MacBook had a full hard drive, and was starting to feel sluggish, so we got another MacBook Pro and decided to upgrade our old MacBook to OS X Mavericks, wipe it clean, and let our kids have it.

Our first issue was to somehow get all of our “stuff” from our old MacBook to our new MacBook Pro. Having not done this before with a Mac I thought I’d try a call to Apple’s help line. After a brief wait on hold I spoke to “Jason” who was extremely helpful, spoke perfectly intelligible English, and went above and beyond the call of duty at every step. It was immediately apparent that he wasn’t a computer illiterate simply reading from a step-by-step “Idiot’s Guide” of help questions to try to troubleshoot my problems. No, I could tell he was actually a computer expert and knew what I needed without having to ask me a long list of inane and useless questions such as, “First, are you sure your computer is plugged in and turned on?”

Since I had previously purchased an OS X upgrade in the last year and never used my free 30 days of support he said he would enact it for my OS X Mavericks upgrade and it wouldn’t cost me anything for his help. Score a big plus for Apple! He told me how to use the “migration” function built into OS X and how to download OS X Mavericks. He created a case number for me and told me to call back once OS X Mavericks finished downloading and was ready to install.

Several hours later I called Apple back and talked to “Julie” who pulled up my case number, knew everything I needed without me having to repeat anything, and walked me through the rest of the installation and migration process. After a few simple steps and a couple of hours time everything (programs, data, pictures, music…everything!) was transferred to the new machine and I was fully up and running on OS X Mavericks on both machines. Score another big plus for Apple!

So, what’s the problem and where does Microsoft come in? I’m glad you asked. When I launched Microsoft Word on my MacBook I was told I needed to enter my “Product Key” again in order for it to work. Somewhere in our house, maybe in a box in the attic, a closet, or drawer is the software case that contains a slip of paper with the Microsoft Office for Mac “Product Key” on it, where it has been packed away since our move to our new state several years go. Without that “Project Key” we couldn’t use Microsoft Office on either of our MacBooks.

After turning the house upside down looking for the software box and then searching the internet for any way to find out what my “Product Key” was, I ran across some links saying you could call Microsoft’s Help Line and buy a new “Product Key” for $40. While I thought it really stunk to have to buy another “Product Key” for something I had already paid for once, it was cheaper than buying a whole new copy and we really needed the program to actually work. So I called Microsoft’s Help Line and spoke to someone whose name I couldn’t catch because I couldn’t understand their broken English. Obviously this was an overseas call center, and while I’m sure they all meant well and were just doing their job, it was abundantly clear that these “helpers” were reading from scripts and likely didn’t know much more about my issue than if I asked a random person on the street. One thing they were all really good at was continually apologizing for the problem…obviously they had loads of experience in apologizing for not actually being helpful at solving problems.

This whole experience might have seemed comical if it hadn’t been so mind-numbingly frustrating. First I spent about an hour getting transferred from person to person and department to department having to repeat the exact same information over and over to every new person I talked to, occasionally getting lost in “hold oblivion” or getting disconnected and having to dial in and start all over. Nobody could seem to set up a “case number” so that the next time I got disconnected I could call back and not have to repeat myself for the five hundredth time. My wife then thought she would give it a try, and that was just fine with me. It took her another 3 hours on the phone going through the same run-around, pass-the-buck, transfer-you-back-to-this-department-that-just-transferred-you-to-them-five-minutes-before, to finally be able to purchase a new Product Key. Score a minus one million for Microsoft!

If you were to ask me which company I think is going to grow and thrive and which one is going to spiral toward oblivion, I’d simply point you to my experience dealing with their “Help Lines”. Apple far exceeded my expectations, which were already high, while Microsoft fell so far below my expectations that I can’t adequately describe it, and my expectations were extremely low to begin with. I believe it is customer service that will play a large role in whether these companies succeed or fail in the long run and my money, and my future purchases, are going to be heading to Apple…as long as they remember that.

Have you had any excellent or excruciating customer service experiences like this? I know I can’t be the only one. Let me know about it by leaving a comment.

Christmas Isn’t Over

December 28, 2013

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When does Christmas start for you? When does it end? If you’re like my family the Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when the decorations come out and sometime over the Thanksgiving weekend the artificial tree goes up or we go cut down a real tree. Presents are purchased and Christmas music starts being played on a regular basis.

This all continues for the next month, culminating in Christmas morning with kids excitedly racing to the tree and tearing into presents. A trip to visit extended family between Christmas and New Years wraps up the Christmas festivities with additional gifts, big meals, and good times.

The weekend after New Years brings the drudgery of boxing up all the Christmas decorations and putting them in the attic until next year. It means kids going back to school and me going back to work. Christmas is officially over.

But why should it be? Christmas isn’t decorations, seasonal music, gifts, or time off work. True Christmas is a celebration of God becoming flesh and coming to live among us. Christmas is something we should celebrate in our hearts and in our actions every day.

During the Christmas season we drop money in the Salvation Army red kettles, we pull names off the “angel tree” at our church and buy gifts and food for less fortunate families. Do these families’ needs magically disappear after December 25th? We all know it doesn’t so shouldn’t our “Christmas Spirit” and generosity last all year too?

Christmas is the gift of Christ to all. Jesus gave us the gift of his life, ultimately sacrificing himself for me and you on the cross. That was an amazing gift, but would have been for nothing if not for His resurrection, which brought with it the gift of eternal life. In addition to remembering His birth, Christmas should also be a time to anticipate and prepare for His second coming. I’m forgiven and because of Jesus I have hope that extends beyond the Christmas season and even beyond this brief mortal existence.

Unlike Clark Griswold’s jelly-of-the-month club, Jesus really is the gift that keeps on giving all year round. The generosity and love of our Savior is reason for daily celebration and is an example for us to emulate. So what will you do in the new year to make the true meaning and spirit of Christmas a year-round part of your life?

Santa, Triplets, & Other Gags: Airline Safety Videos & Sermons Don’t Have To Put You To Sleep

November 27, 2013

flight attendant seat belt

If you’ve ever flown, even just once, then you’ve sat through what is normally a boring and tedious “safety demonstration” before the plane takes off. During this monologue the flight attendants tell you how to buckle your seat belt…I just have to interrupt myself here and say, if you don’t have the intelligence to figure out how to put on a seat belt I’m not sure how you made it all the way to the airport to get on a plane in the first place, and I’m not sure I want to be sitting beside you, but I digress. I guess we can all thank the lawyers for that little gem, because somewhere, someone couldn’t figure out how to put on or take off their seat belt and got injured and hit the jackpot with a lawsuit…but I digress again.

In addition to the infinitely helpful seatbelt advice the flight attendants also tell you all the rules: no smoking, no cell phones, where you have to stow your luggage, how to put on oxygen masks in case of a loss of cabin pressure, where the emergency exits are, how to put on your life jacket in case of a water landing, and how to use your seat cushion as a flotation device. If you weren’t afraid of flying before you got on the plane, you might just be screaming to get off when faced with that long list of potential dangers. It’s like the warning labels on the TV commercials for prescription drugs. When you hear all the side affects do you really think it’s worth the risk to take that pill…but I digress again.

I haven’t done any scientific polling, but I wonder how many flyers actually pay attention to these safety demonstrations anyway. After all some of this information is of critical importance and involves life and death situations, no matter how remote the possibility may be, so the airlines really do want people to actually pay attention. I know among frequent flyers like myself, the number of people paying attention is probably approaching absolute zero. Been there, done that, heard it a thousand times, so many times that I think I have it memorized, but in reality it’s like my ATM pin number, I know it on a subconscious level, but if I stop and try to consciously remember it I sometimes can’t. Because I’ve heard it a million times I’ve learned to tune out these safety demonstrations completely, similar to my wife trying to talk to me during a football game (sorry honey, but see it’s not just you)…but I digress again.

I’m typically a Delta Airlines flyer, and on some planes with TVs on board they have replaced the “live” safety demonstration with videos. Now with a nation of couch potatoes that seems like a genius way to keep people’s attention, but once again our short attention span culture has overcome even this attempt to engage us. Some of Delta’s first safety videos were basically little more than professionally edited versions of the live monologue using attractive flight attendants to try to hold your attention. That alone was a drastic improvement over the typical live monotone version, but after a while interest is lost again. Sometime in the last year or so Delta decided to lighten up and insert humor into the video, and mix it up with multiple versions. Now I’m intrigued. Now I want to watch the video and see if I can spot all the puns, gags, and “Delta inside jokes”, like the red-headed stewardess from the old video wagging her finger at the passenger who is smoking. See what you think about this transition.

Check out the “old school” safety video below.

Now check out the newer humorous safety video below.

And finally watch the newest “holiday edition” safety video below.

Which one of these messages would you actually watch and which one would you remember? Presenting messages of “life and death” importance in an entertaining and interesting way has not diminished their importance or cheapened the message, and in fact I believe the opposite has happened. As a result of engaging their audience in a fun and relevant way more people are likely to get the airline’s message and in the event of a real life and death situation more people are likely to remember what they are supposed to do, because they saw Santa put his oxygen mask on first before helping his elf get his mask on…but I digress again.

So what in the world do airline safety videos have to do with sermons? The answer is that unfortunately most church sermons are little more than boring airline safety monologues. In this case the stakes are even higher. We’re not just talking about life and death, we’re talking about eternal life and death. With a message that important shouldn’t we care enough to make it engaging to those who have come to hear it? Isn’t the point for them to be on the edge of their seat listening to every word, and more importantly, to remember it after they leave the parking lot, and most importantly, to apply it to their lives when faced with those eternal life and death situations in the real world?

I’m not saying church services should be turned into sitcoms or sermons should be given by stand up comedians, but it is important for every preacher and teacher to know their audience and communicate their content in a clear, engaging, and relevant way. Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Perry Noble, Rick Warren, and thousands of other pastors you’ve never heard of, have cracked this communication code and their churches are flourishing. Each has their own style and have figured out how to effectively reach and communicate to their people. More importantly their people are impacting their communities because they are excited and engaged and want to share this with their friends. In addition they are eager to help the less fortunate in their neighborhoods and globally.

It’s okay to use videos, music, plays, performance art, visual props and scenery, or just great oratory skills to help engage your audience. Figure out what works for your people. I can’t tell you what that is for your church, you’ve got to solve that puzzle yourself. I’ve never met a pastor who thinks they have enough time to present their message. People in the pews are looking at their watches and the countdown clock is ticking…no more than twenty minutes or the band will start playing like on the Academy Awards and someone will come in and usher you off the stage…but I digress again. So, pastors, here’s your free bonus for reading this far: If you engage your audience they will not care if you go long. In fact if you keep them on the edge of their seats the time will fly by and they won’t even realize you actually went 35 minutes instead of 20 until they are late to their favorite Sunday restaurant and have to wait in line for a seat. But they still won’t care because they’ll still be talking about your message.

Here’s the takeaway. If you are responsible for preaching or teaching at your church just remember to be yourself (people can spot a fake), know your audience, practice your craft, put in the time to prepare and rehearse your content, and go out and change the world one person at a time by communicating your eternally important message with culturally relevant methods, and maybe a little humor, like triplets sitting in exit row seats…but I digress again.

Stop Hunger Now!

October 29, 2013

Stop Hunger Now

This past Sunday at Lifepointe Christian Church was one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had in church. It wasn’t the preaching (sorry Nate), or the rocking worship band, because we didn’t do any of that Sunday. So what was it? It was hundreds of people in hair nets. What?!? Yes, it was moms, dads, kids, young and old, rich and poor, members and visitors, all pulling together to be the hands and feet of Jesus by wearing hair nets and packing 40,000 meals in just a couple of hours that will go to feed hungry people in Haiti and Uganda.

How can only a few hundred people accomplish so much in such a short time? Through the ingenuity and passion of an organization called Stop Hunger Now. Started in 1998 by a Christian minister, Stop Hunger Now is a non-governmental, non-profit, international relief organization, that has provided over 118,000,000 (yes that’s million) meals to starving people in 65 countries (see interactive map). All of these meals have been packaged by volunteers from groups like our church.

Stop Hunger Now utilizes a people-powered assembly line process for the streamlined packaging of highly nutritious dehydrated meals comprised of rice, soy, vegetables, flavoring and 21 essential vitamins and minerals. The meals are easily transported to crisis-burdened areas or supplied to school feeding programs around the world. The food stores easily, transports quickly and has a shelf-life of two years. The meals cost only $0.25 each to create and they are purchased by the volunteer group who does the packaging. This model has allowed the program to expand nationwide and they are still growing, so look for them near you soon. The video below shows the packaging process.

Consider the following facts about worldwide hunger (from Stop Hunger Now):

  • Approximately 823 million people do not have enough to eat, and 98 percent of them live in developing countries.
  • One in seven people in the developing world suffers from hunger. 400 million are starving children.
  • More than 110 million starving children live in just 10 countries.
  • Malnutrition is associated with more than half of all childhood deaths.
  • A child dies every 15 seconds because he or she is severely underweight or lacks essential nutrients. This is the equivalent of 20 jumbo jets crashing every day.
  • More than 25,000 people die of hunger-related causes every day.
  • More people die each year from hunger-related causes than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
  • Between 5 and 6 million children die each year from infections that would not have killed them had they been properly fed.
  • The industrialized world, including the United States, makes up only 4 percent of the world’s hungry.
  • More than 2 million children have severe vision problems due to a lack of vitamin A.
  • The lives of approximately 684,000 children would be saved by increasing access to vitamin A and zinc.
  • There is enough food in the world to feed everyone 4.3 pounds of food every day.
  • The world has produced enough food to feed itself since the 1960s.
  • Farmers produce 25 percent more calories per person than they did 30 years ago.

With such a simple solution available there’s no reason we can’t work together to help take care of “the least of these” who are in desperate need. If your church, corporation, university, or civic organization is looking for a way to give back and help others I’d encourage you to contact Stop Hunger Now to host a packaging event. They will take care of all the details and bring everything to you. You just purchase the meals and supply the volunteers.

If you don’t live in an area served by Stop Hunger Now yet, or don’t currently belong to a large group who can hold a packaging event, there are still ways you can get involved by hosting a dinner party, donating money, volunteering your time, etc. No matter how you choose to get involved, together we can all do our part to Stop Hunger Now worldwide.

If you’ve worked with Stop Hunger Now before, leave a comment below about how it impacted you or your group. I’d love to hear about it.

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