Father/Son Goals

I had a really cool day yesterday. I spent a little time with Isaiah setting some goals for us to accomplish together. I got this idea from Mark Batterson who did something similar with his son, Parker. The intent of this is for me to be intentional about shaping the kind of man I want Isaiah to become. Some of the goals are physical challenges and some of them are character-shaping challenges. We sat down and came up with 7 goals that we want to accomplish by the end of 2009. Some of them were my ideas and some were Isaiah's - but we both had to be excited about the goal and agree to them. We're both pretty excited about making these happen. Here they are.

  1. Read through the New Testament.
  2. Hike up to the top of Half Dome at Yosemite.
  3. Journal at least once per week.
  4. Complete a 100-mile bike ride.
  5. Isaiah - Put away $300 in his savings account. (Jeff - Put away enough money to do #6.)
  6. Whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon.
  7. Tag-team a sermon together on a Sunday morning.


Thoughts on Kool-Aid and Pics of Isla

We drank lots of Kool-Aid when we were kids. However, my family has never really kept it around that much - until recently. In an effort to save a little money on the grocery bill, we've started buying the cheap little Kool-Aid mix packets instead of the more expensive juices and sodas. But I think this seemingly brilliant plan has backfired in our faces, because the money we are saving on drinks is not nearly enough to make up for what our carpet cleaning bill is going to be from all the Kool-Aid spillage. Seriously, that stuff is brutal on a carpet (especially one that's almost white!). Any Kool-Aid-stained carpet cleaning tips out there?

Here are some more recent pics of little miss Isla:

Isla showing off her new running ability, new nightgown, and cool new goose-egg from her fight with the dining room chair (the chair won by split decision).

She loves talking on her new cell phone!

Isla getting a little "nakey-time" in the backyard.

This one is a blooper pic from Steph Riedel's photo session - CLASSIC!

This is Isla's daily Sesame Street time. She loves this show and as soon as the "Elmo's World" segment comes on she can't get her face close enough to the screen.


Great Ministry Metaphor

I received an email update from Tim Awtrey the other day. Tim is a good friend of mine who is a missionary in Bulgaria. I loved this story and thought I'd share it with everyone.

I was talking with our head deacon, Ruman, about our little church in Svishtov. He told me he had good news and bad news. As a pastor you are always wary about those kinds of statements. "Okay," I told him, "give it to me." The good news is that the small hall we are using on Sunday is now to small to accomodate everyone. "The bad news," he said, "is that we have to tear down a partition wall to make more space - and that means a lot of work for us." I actually thought they were both good news. Not only was God blessing the church and new people were coming to faith, but now I get to take my hammer and bash in a wall at the back of the sanctuary!

We set the date for our very first church workday and invited everyone we knew. We decided to make it not only a workday, but also another way for us to meet new people. I showed up early with my hammer ready to cause some destruction. Ruman asked me what I was doing with my hammer. I told him, "I'm going to break down this wall!" "No," he said, "we are going to gently take it down." He told me we were going to unscrew the sheetrock and save the pieces to use elsewhere in the church.

Coming from the USA I was used to just tearing out walls, but because of the poverty in Bulgaria nothing is wasted. We were not going to destroy the wall, but save it to be used somewhere else.

I wanted to write to you about how we are breaking down barriers here in Bulgaria, but Ruman reminded me that in truth we are gently taking down the barriers that divide people from the love of Christ. A kind word, a show of compassion, a quiet whisper of truth or simply being involved all contribute to a slow, but steady inroad for the Gospel. No, we are not breaking down barriers, but everyday, day-by-day, we are slowly dismantling the walls which hinder the people of Bulgaria from hearing the truth about Jesus Christ.



Spiritual Blessings

What are the greatest spiritual gifts you've ever received? I don't mean spiritual gifts like "how has God gifted you to serve Him?". I mean what are the most valuable things in your life you've received that either drew you closer to God or strengthened your spirit?

It's a tough question at first, but if I were to name my top 3, they would be:
  1. Godly parents. - I have to admit this one wasn't obvious to me at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized this one has had the greatest spiritual influence on me. I don't know why God decided to bless me with parents who are 100% committed to Him, but I'm thankful He did.
  2. Books. - Obviously, the Bible. But Brennan Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel really helped me understand grace. Rick Warren's The Purpose-Driven Church helped me love the church. I could go on and on...
  3. Children. - My kids have definitely helped me understand God a little better. They bring me joy, frustration, pride, pain, unconditional love, worry, and so much more. Everything I'm sure that the Father feels toward me.
What's your list look like?



You can't overestimate the importance of story in preaching. I believe story is one of the key differences between preaching and teaching. Story is what takes the mystery of Scripture and brings it down onto the human plane. Preachers, whether we like it or not, it's the stories people remember. You may lay out the text more clearly and masterfully than anyone since Jesus, but people need a hook to help them remember it.

Jesus knew this. Jesus must have been one of the greatest story-tellers of all time. The majority of his teaching was done through story. And I love the fact that Jesus trusted his stories so much that most of the time he didn't feel the need to explain them. There's something powerful about telling a story and allowing the listeners to discover the meaning by themselves.

Story takes on many forms. My personal favorite is telling stories from my own life that lend themselves to the truth I'm trying to convey. One of my favorite aspects of this is that it forces me to bring to remembrance things in my life that I've forgotten. It keeps me connected to my past. It also makes you approachable and sometimes vulnerable to your congregation - something I think is important.

Stories can also be object lessons, news items, humorous anecdotes, songs, video clips, etc...

The story is the most difficult part of sermon prep for me. Many weeks I'll have my sermon outline completed and I'm looking back over it asking myself, "Where's the story?" or "What can I do to make this truth stick in the minds of my congregation?" The creative process can sometimes be difficult. Sometimes the creative juices just aren't flowing. It's so helpful though if you have a few people to bounce ideas off of and get them brainstorming with you.

I've heard a lot of jokes about pastors who have their wives write their sermons for them. While Jamie doesn't write my sermons, I've found that she's one of the best tools in my sermon-writing toolbox. There have been several times when I've had a difficult time coming up with a good illustration, I present the message to her, and she comes up with a great idea to help convey the message. I'm sometimes jealous of the "big church" pastors that have a team of people they brainstorm with weekly and help them craft really creative sermons, but I'm thankful for Team Myers (the kids also supply me with an endless source of stories.)


Rick Warren Shows a Little Political Muscle

I'm usually totally against churches inviting candidates in to speak, because normally it results in the church endorsing a particular candidate, which I believe can be dangerous and an abuse of church authority. But this story intrigues me.

Rick Warren has managed to do what none of the news networks could do. He's getting McCain and Obama in the same building together. On Saturday August 16th at the Saddleback Church from 5-7 pm, Warren is hosting an event he's calling Saddleback Civil Forum: Compassion & Leadership. The two candidates will be interviewed by Warren seperately.

Obviously, an event like this has the potential to go bad. But I'm really looking forward to seeing how this turns out. If this goes according to plan, it could be a very refreshing moment in the campaign. One of the things I love most about this is Warren saying I know both of these guys and they're good men and I want the rest of the country to see that. I think all too often we have a nasty tendency of demonizing the candidates we don't support, when chances are they're good people whom we simply have differences of opinion with.

Wolf Blitzer interviewed Warren on CNN about the event. Here's a portion of that interview:

BLITZER: Pastor Warren, how did you do it? How did you convince both of them to show up?

PASTOR RICK WARREN, SADDLEBACK CHURCH: Well, Wolf, they've both been friends for a long time. I knew both John and Barack before either of them decided to run for office, had talked with them. Both of them have helped me in the past with our peace plan and with -- they've sent messages to Saddleback at some of our conferences.

And so I just thought let's -- you know, I might be the guy to get them together. So, I called them up and said, let's do it. And they said, well, we'll do it if you be the only questioner, if you don't have a forum, don't have a panel. And if you'll ask all the questions, then we'll do it.

BLITZER: But they're not going to be together. They're going to be separate. These are going to be Pastor Warren and Barack Obama, followed by Pastor Warren and John McCain. But there's not going to be any interchange between the two of them, is that right?

WARREN: Yes. I'm going to -- my plan is to bring them out on stage together at the beginning or at the end. But what I want to do is I want to let each of them talk without interrupting each other. And it's not a debate format. There will be plenty of time for debates. What I want to do is get people to know the real person like I know them without a time barrier and a buzzer and a time for rebuttal. Let them just speak what they need to say.


The One I Couldn't Shake - 7/22

1 Kings 12:13-14ish (MSG)
He [Rehoboam] spurned the counsel of the elders and went with the advice of the younger set...

King Solomon has died and his son, Rehoboam, is getting ready to take the throne. He's trying to decide how he will rule. Will he rule with compassion and an easier load than his father or will he be an even harder, more ruthless king? He ignores wise counsel and decides to follow the advice of young men. This decision results in the kingdom being split in two.

I try to bounce ideas off of people with more experience than I have. I firmly believe God can speak to me through those people. I don't want to ever assume I can make it through my life on my own power/knowledge. I just pray that God continues to send wise counselors my way!



I'm watching Avatar right now with Mollie and Isaiah. We've been watching it alot the last several days. The Nicktoons network has been running a marathon of all the episodes. I've never watched this cartoon much, but I have to admit I'm pretty hooked on the story right now. Plus it's cool sharing interests with my kids. It's a great show! It's funny, intense, well-drawn, and I like it a lot.


Amazing Grace?

I love it when kids are SO sure of song lyrics! Thanks to Travis Penn for this one.


The One I Couldn't Shake - 7/16

Today I was reading in 1 Kings 10-11 and in Proverbs 31. Solomon had become the greatest king Israel had ever known and had taken the country to its highest heights. He showed great wisdom and revered God. But later in his life he disobeys God and marries many foreign women and allowed them to bring in their false gods. He even allowed the women to influence him into building shrines to their gods. It cost him his legacy. God was going to give away the kingdom while it was under the rule of Solomon's son.

This reminded me of my first preaching class I took in college. The professor walked in on the first day of the semester, quietly went to the chalkboard and wrote two words - MONEY and WOMEN. He turned to the class and simply said, "Stay away from both of them. Class dismissed." By far, some of the best advice I've ever received!

But as I read Proverbs 31 this morning, too, I was reminded how thankful I am for Jamie. She's a wife I can brag about. She encourages me, cares for me, loves Jesus, is a great mother, a brilliant planner, a partner in ministry, and much more. I've known many guys who experienced failure because of their wives or other women in their lives. Jamie makes me a better man, a better father, and a better pastor.


"Vices" and Moderation

Last night I fixed myself an espresso made from my Cafe Duran coffee I picked up in Panama. I used my little range-top espresso maker and drank it from my little espresso cups that Jamie got me for Christmas. I was lovin' life. I love coffee and I love it strong. It pours out of my espresso maker looking a little like mud. It's extremely dark and the Panamanian stuff always has some deep red tints to it, too. A little bit of sugar and a dash of milk - it was about 15 minutes of heaven.

Even though I love and appreciate good coffee, I only drink it once or twice a week. I could drink it more, but I don't. I don't like the idea of being addicted to anything. I've seen too many people with unhealthy caffeine addictions and I just don't want to go there. Is a caffeine addiction going to send you to hell? Not likely, but self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit and Proverbs 25:28 says "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls."

There are some things that God calls us to abstain from and some things where he calls us to exercise moderation. For instance - smoking. I grew up in a church environment where smoking was prevalent. The deacons were the first ones out the front door and lighting up on the church porch. We would often go out to a diner after church and church-members would sit around smoking and talking for several hours.

Times are different now, though. Smoking has become much more of a taboo in our country. It's still done a lot, but not as widely accepted. Heck, I remember when I was in elementary school and we made clay ashtrays as gifts for our parents! Can you imagine the outcry if our schools sent home ashtrays with the kids today?!

But I'm not one who puts smoking in the "sin" category. I try to be careful to only name as sin those things that the Bible names as sin. The Bible's hard enough to follow without adding to it. For myself, I put smoking in the "unwise" category. I have to be honest - I myself enjoy a good cigar. I hardly ever smoke them (probably once every year or two), but once in a great while I enjoy one. Not enough to get hooked, not enough to do any serious damage to my body, just enough to enjoy.

Same thing with alcohol. I personally rarely ever have a drink. Not because I think it's wrong, but because I honestly don't care for the taste of alcohol. But I have several Christian friends who enjoy a beer with their pizza or a glass of wine at a party. Again, the key is moderation. Does the Bible say alcohol is sinful? No, drunkenness is sinful. God wants us to exercise self-control in our lives.

If I'm honest the one "vice" I need to use better moderation with in my life is portion size at meals. I need to learn to push away from the plate when I'm satisfied and not wait till I'm full and miserable.

Self-control is important in the life of a Christian. What areas of your life could you be exercising better self-control?


God & Country in Lebanon, MO

For three years we were privileged to be a part of an event in Lebanon, MO that can only be described as a miracle. Six Years ago Joe Wilson, pastor of First Church in Lebanon, had a dream of an event that would be fun and cheap for the entire family and that would give his church an opportunity to share Jesus with their community. It started small. Several hundred people, good music, a piece of farmland, and a killer fireworks show. They called it God & Country.

My family joined the church when the event was in its 3rd year. We had about 600 people in attendance and I thought the event was incredible. Jamie and I used to live in Washington DC, but the God & Country fireworks were the best we'd ever seen. For year 4 of G&C, we were blown away when 3,000 people showed up. It really felt like the event was beginning to build momentum in and become a Lebanon tradition. As we prepared for year 5 of G&C, we set our sights high. Maybe we should prepare for 6,000? That would be 50% of the town. God would really be blessing if we could pull that off!

But God had something different in mind.

In July of 2007, on a little farm 5 miles outside of town, 12,000 people showed up for First Church's God & Country event. We were blown away and completely unprepared to handle that many people. Despite the lack of food and drinks, traffic, and parking issues, the event was incredible! After a late night of clean-up I finally headed home and just wept all the way there. Pastor Joe put into words what I was feeling when he told me the next day, "Now I know how the little boy with the 5 loaves and two fishes must have felt!"

Oh, did I mention that First Church is a church of only about 150 people?

That's right! God is using a tiny church in rural Missouri to pull off what is nothing short of a miracle. I'm thinking about all this because yesterday was year 6 for G&C. Even though we're in Dixon, CA now - I couldn't help but pray for First Church all day yesterday as they prepared for another miracle. God didn't disappoint! This year the city of Lebanon allowed the church to hold the event inside the city limits. They shut down the little airport in Lebanon and had the event there. 20,000 people showed up for a fun and cheap event the entire family could enjoy and didn't leave disappointed from what I hear. You can read the entire story in the Lebanon Daily Record here - http://lebanondailyrecord.com/publish/article_6891.shtml. An event that was starting to become a Lebanon tradition is now becoming a Missouri tradition.

I write about this for a few reasons:
  • I wish some magazine or something would get a hold of this story. In an age that idolizes mega-churches and their pastors, it's inspiring to see God use a small church and a normal pastor with God-sized dreams.
  • The biggest thing I learned from Joe Wilson while I was his youth pastor is VISION. He taught me to dream dreams that I couldn't accomplish on my own strength and for that I'm eternally grateful!
  • I want to encourage other pastors to unapologetically dream big. First Church is not a perfect church and Lebanon is not a perfect community. There were (and still are) critics of this event both in the community and in the church, too. But there's nothing more fun than laughing in the face of critics after God comes through on a promise!
Keep up the good work, First Church! And keep dreaming, Joe!



I'm podcasting my sermons now. So if you're having trouble sleeping or feel a desire to be yelled at for 40 minutes or so, feel free to give 'em a listen.

You can access them by:
Update: You can now find it through the iTunes search tool.


Heat Wave

We're sitting on 107 degrees currently in Dixon, CA. It's pretty freakin' hot! Tomorrow is supposed to get to 110 or 113 depending on who you believe.

I know it's very cliche to say that "it's a dry heat", but it really is. Don't get me wrong, it's really hot. Small animals are exploding on our sidewalk. But it's nothing like 100 degrees in the midwest with 90% humidity. Here in Dixon, I can walk outside observe that it's hot and comment on it in a relatively casual way. In Lebanon, MO if it got this hot, I would walk outside, become immediately soaked from head to toe in every ounce of water my body contained, and then wake up some time later to snaps and smelling salts. Seriously, in Hell they say "It's hot as Missouri out there."

I love California.


7th Heaven

Okay, I have a new guilty pleasure - the TV show, 7th Heaven. It's not a guilty pleasure because there's anything wrong with it; In fact, you'll be hard-pressed to find another show as squeaky clean as this one. It's a guilty pleasure because I don't normally enjoy such squeaky clean shows with so much dramatic "cheese".

I never watched an episode while it was running for 11 seasons on network television (making it the longest running family drama in TV history). I've only recently discovered it through my daughter, Mollie, who watches it religiously in syndication on The Hallmark Channel. At first, I was annoyed by the cheesy theme song and often silly plotlines. Then I would occasionally listen in on the show as I worked from my desk. Now I have to admit that I really like this show. Here are just a few of the reasons why I like it.
  • The show is about the Camden family, a pastor's family in a fictional California town. That alone makes me glad my daughter watches. I love that there's a TV show that might help her feel that the pastor's family she's growing up in is a little bit normal. I didn't have anything like that growing up.
  • The family patriarch, Eric Camden, honestly makes me want to be a better pastor. He is a genuine Godly man with integrity and compassion. I would honestly put him up on the same level as Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) as one of the great heroes/men of character that Hollywood has ever produced.
  • The show teaches great values, but isn't afraid to deal with messy topics or portray people with messy lives. It's also a great show about second chances.
Anyway, I know it's not a perfect show and not necessarily an award-winning show, but I really like it and I'm glad it's Mollie's favorite show.

The Lion Chaser's Manifesto

Sorry for the silence over the last several days. I've been quite sick and I'm still not feeling great.

This weekend we started our Summer Reading sermon series and yesterday the book we highlighted was Mark Batterson's In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day. I was feeling so bad Saturday night that I decided to download the video of Batterson giving an "In a Pit..." sermon and play it Sunday morning. When Sunday morning came around I was feeling slightly better and decided to go ahead and deliver my sermon (doped up on NyQuil and supported by a barstool). God is good!

At the end of my message I read Batterson's Lion Chaser's Manifesto. I love this and thought I'd reprint it here for everyone. (The lion reference comes from 2 Samuel 23:20-23.)


Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Grab life by the mane. Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions. Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. Keep asking questions. Keep making mistakes. Keep seeking God. Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Consider the lilies. Enjoy the journey. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first day and last day of your life. Don't let what's wrong with you keep you from worshipping what's right with God. Burn sinful bridges. Blaze a new trail. Criticize by creating. Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks. Don't try to be who you're not. Be yourself. Laugh at yourself. Quit holding out. Quit holding back. Quit running away.

Chase the lion!


Isla's 1-yr-old Pics

We had our friend Stephanie Riedel take Isla's 1-Yr pics the other day. She really did a great job. You can see a few more at Steph's photoblog. More to come soon.

Nuking the Fridge

I learned of this great new term yesterday. The term "jumped the shark" has been around for several years. It's a reference to an old episode of Happy Days where the Fonz ski jumps over a great white shark. Most Happy Days fans point to that event as the beginning of the end for the show. In other words, the creators tried to do something "big" to generate ratings and instead sent the show plummeting in the other direction. Other examples of jumping the shark would be the newer Star Wars movies, cousin Oliver joins the Brady Bunch family, or Niles & Daphne getting married on Frasier. You can probably think of dozens of others.

The new term I spoke of earlier that is taking the nation by storm, means pretty much the same thing as "jumped the shark". It was all started a few weeks ago when the world witnessed a brand new Indiana Jones movie. Indy gets caught in a government nuclear test. To protect himself from the blast, he jumps into a led-lined refrigerator, shuts the door, is blasted through the air several miles, tumbles violently across the desert, opens the doors and walks away without so much as an "ouch". Such is the birth of the term "nuke the fridge". So the next time your favorite TV show or movie franchise goes in an insane direction, inform everyone that they've just "nuked the fridge"!

Here's a question for discussion. Obviously the church has gone downhill in reputation over the last 20 years or so. So when do you think the American church nuked the fridge?


Missional Metrics

Saw this post on the CataBlog this morning. Good stuff!

Attendance, baptisms, and giving are the traditional metrics we use to measure the effectiveness or success of our churches. They're also very easy to measure. However, some have pointed out that they don't tell the whole story - Reggie McNeal, the Missional Leadership Guru for Leadership Network, has suggested that the missional church needs a new score card to determine its effectiveness.

W. David Phillips has suggested an interesting (and a little edgy) score card with a more missional flavor. Here are some of his metrics:
1. The number of cigarette butts in the church parking lot.
2. The number of former convicted felons serving in the church.
3. The number of phone calls from community leaders asking the church’s advice.
4. The number of organizations using the church building.
5. The number of emergency finance meetings that take place to reroute money to community ministry.
6. The amount of dollars saved by the local schools because the church has painted the walls.
7. The number of people serving in the community during the church’s normal worship hours.
8. The number of times the church band has played family-friendly music in the local coffee shop.