Thursday, December 24, 2009

Adam's Letter to Santa

Left beside a plate of cookies and milk (and carrots for the reindeer), here's Adam's letter to Santa:

Dear Santa, I want you to have these cookies because I love you. Adam

Merry Christmas!!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Jesus and His Stories

Jesus told stories whose many dimensions cracked open the worldview of his hearers and forced them to come to terms with God's reality breaking in to their midst, doing what they had always longed for but doing it in ways that were so startling as to be hardly recognizable.
N.T. Wright, The Challenge of Jesus

2009 Top Ten Lists: Books

The following were some of my favorite books of the year (in no particular order). I realized the other day how many books I started this year but didn't finish. That's always been an issue with me, but it seems that I excelled in it this year. First new years' resolution of 2010: finish more books that I start!

1. The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller - Just as you can't have a top10 music list without U2, you can't have a top 10 list of books without something by Tim Keller. I don't think I've underlined in a book as much as I have in this one. Whenever I read something by Keller, the response is always the same: I need to read this a few more times so that I can really get it. I realized while reading it that I'm more of an older brother than I would care to admit.

2. Deep Church, by Jim Belcher - I'm almost finished listening to this book. I also have the hard copy, which I'm going to go back through when I finish listening. This book has been very helpful to me. It's helped me to process a lot of my journey. I've been impacted greatly by a lot of the folks in the emergent stream. I know the protest. But I've also been impacted by the folks in some of the other camps. I really like thinking in terms of Third Way, as Scot McKnight puts it, and I think Jim Belcher's book helps with this conversation.

3. The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (and God) - I first heard about this children's Bible a couple of months ago, and got a copy for our church's new library. We've been reading it with Adam, and he really likes it. What sets it apart from other children's Bibles is that fact that it tells the story of Christ from the beginning. The stories fit together when looked at through the lens of God's plan of redemption. We watched this video on Sunday night as our worship gathering got started. I looked around and the kids (as well as the adults) were all caught up in the story. Get this version for a few bucks more and it comes with the audio as well.

4. Total Church, by Tim Chester & Steve Timmis - Our leadership team is reading through this book. These guys are writing things that will challenge the status quo, but they do so without (at least it seems to me) a lot of baggage, which normally comes with the territory in this kind of work.

5. Myth of a Christian Religion, by Greg Boyd - I really like Greg Boyd. He offends a lot of people, but I think he nails it most of the time. This one's no exception. The idea is that Jesus came to start a revolution, not a religion. This big idea has helped me to shape the series that we're currently going through at NC.

6. Love is an Orientation, by Andrew Marin - This was my primary source this summer as our community group discussed GLBT issues within the church. Andrew is such a humble guy, but I especially like the fact that his writing comes from a lot of years of experience. This isn't two years of work and then a book.

7. New Testament History, by Ben Witherington - This is one of those books that you don't really read straight through, but I've been reading it off and on this past year. I used it all the time for our teaching series on Acts, and now I'm using it for the series on Luke. Highly recommended.

8. Death by Love, by Mark Driscoll - I read this in preparation for my series on the Cross last Spring. The main thing I got out of it is how pastoral it is. Driscoll devotes each chapter to a different aspect of the Cross and how they relate to us. It's not just theology for our head; it's how it's worked out in our brokenness.

9. The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, by Frank Viola - This was the primary recommended resource for our Acts series. Viola brings this story to life by weaving in history and the culture of the day. He helps the reader connect the letters of Paul to the experiences of Paul as told in Acts.

10. Chasing Francis, by Ian Cron - I can't remember where I heard about this novel, but it was the first Kindle book I bought. I don't know a lot of the history of Francis of Assisi, so can't vouch for how accurate things are, but I thought it was pretty good.

Bonus tracks...

11. The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown - I know this one had some bad ratings, but it was entertaining. Another Kindle read.

12. Crazy Love, by Francis Chan - Chan has helped me to to see that it's ok to be really passionate! It oozes from him, whether he's writing or speaking. I'm looking forward to reading his new book as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

NC & AC in the CA

Confused? NC's own Ginger Spickler is featured in the Commercial Appeal discussing Advent Conspiracy. Here's a bit of the article:

Ginger Spickler, who lives in Midtown with her husband, Josh, and their two boys (Walt, 4, and Patrick, 3 months), participates in "Advent Conspiracy" with her church and family. The tenets are "Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All" and are about restoring the focus of Christmas on Christ.

The Spicklers are raising money for global clean-water initiatives. "Americans spend about $450 billion every year on Christmas and it's estimated that it would take only about $10 billion per year to solve the global water crisis," Ginger Spickler said. The Spicklers "spend less" on things like Christmas cards, opting to e-mail a slide show to family and friends. The money they save is sent to Living Water International, which covers the "love all."

She said they "give more" by focusing on relational gifts. "Last year, we gave Josh's sister and her husband, who live in Nashville, a weekend in Memphis -- we took them to a Grizzlies game, out to dinner, and just basically spent time with them," she said. She has asked several groups in which she traditionally exchanged presents, like coworkers, if they'd prefer to take the money and donate it to a good cause instead.

As a family, the Spicklers spend a lot of time talking about why they really celebrate Christmas, which is where the "worship fully" part comes in. "Walt understands that the Advent calendar isn't counting down the days until he gets presents, but rather the days until we celebrate Jesus' birthday," Spickler said. "He's still looking forward to the presents, but he knows that's not all there is to it."

Monday, December 21, 2009

2009 Top Ten Lists: Music

This marks my third year for sharing my top 10 list. First, we begin with music.

1. Bon Iver
I discovered Bon Iver at the end of 2008 and was instantly hooked. Both of his albums are great.

2. Sojourn Church's "Over the Grave"
The song "Warrior" has got to be one of the greatest songs I've heard in a long time. I couldn't find a video for it, so check out this link from Grooveshark (if you haven't signed up for your grooveshark account, check it out).

3. Mumford & Sons
Just heard about these guys through Steve McCoy's blog. Loved it immediately! Some free downloads to get you going can be found here.

4. Derek Webb's "Stockholm Syndrome"
Perhaps you've heard that this album is controversial. Webb has always been controversial because of his message, but now he's gone off the deep end by including two curse words in his song. Here's a good article about the new album, and enjoy the video.

5. The Fray
I know they've been around for a little while, but this year I've listened to them a lot.

6. Fiction Family
Jon Foreman of Switchfoot plus Sean Watkins of Nickel Creek = Awesome.

7. Brooke Fraser
I first heard Brooke Fraser on a Hillsong United album. Such a great voice. Her album Albertine came out a couple of years ago, but I came across it this year. So many great tracks.

8. U2
In my opinion, you can't have a top 10 list of music for 2009 and not include U2's newest album.

9. The Avett Brothers
It took me awhile to get into these guys, but then I heard this song...

10. Kings of Leon
I loved these guys when they first came out, but haven't listened to them in awhile. Then I heard this song awhile back and was instantly happy.

Weekly Links

1. Gotta start out with this video. It's not everyday that something this awesome and unexpected happens.

2. When Helping Hurts - I heard Steve Corbett speak at CCDA and then purchased the book. Here is an article by the co-author, Brian Fikkert. I have to say that I had never heard anyone say these things, yet something resounded within me that these guys are speaking truth.

3. Another free ebook from Seth Godin - What Matters Now

4. Jim Belcher, author of Deep Church, responds to some of his critics. Almost finished with this book, and it is great.

5. Perry Noble's 7 questions that teams should be asking. This is very helpful if you are a part of a team.

6. Scot McKnight's brief review on Alan Roxburgh's new book makes me want to read it. Guess that's the point of book reviews, right. I think the three missional conversations that speak of are right on point.

Update on our Education Journey

Last week I responded to a post from a friend's blog on whether or not it's important for us as Christ-followers to send our kids to public schools. Below is that post. If you'd like to read more on this issue, and specifically, our journey, go here and here.

We moved to Midtown Memphis almost four years ago from the SF Bay Area. We had a six-month old at the time. We learned right away that most young families don't stay in Midtown long because of the school system. We felt called here to start a church, and believed that we needed to live here long-term in order to be effective.

We also learned that our neighborhood has a public elementary school, but the families in the neighborhood don't send their kids there. So we began our research. I should point out that my wife is an educator and taught in a Memphis City school our first two years here. This helped immensely. In April, 2007 we hosted a forum at our neighborhood school to determine if this was a quality issue or something else (racial, economic, safety, etc...). There was a large turnout, and the consensus at the end was that it's a great school. So something else is keeping families from sending their kids there. After the discussion, my wife was asked to be the Community Representative on the school's Leadership Team. Other parents (of not-yet-school-age children) have already begun to take leadership roles in school events as well. The principal is working closely with neighborhood families to see the school bridge the racial, economic, and academic gap.

Throughout the last few years, we have encountered dozens of people with the same heart cry as ours - for this to become a neighborhood school once again. Some of these we knew to be followers of Christ, but many would not identify themselves as such. Yet a community has begun to form, full of families with a common vision and mission.

Next fall our oldest will be attending Kindergarten at our local elementary school, along with several other children from this group, with dozens more planning on attending in the coming years. Over the last few years we have held this very loosely. We have prayed a lot. We do not want to sacrifice our child, and what we're doing is actually far from that. This is an excellent school, and he's going to have an excellent education, even beyond the academics. He will learn diversity, both racially and economically, and our prayer is that he learns to love others as God loves him.

At the same time, though, what we are doing is extremely intentional and strategic, and I know that it is a big part of why we're here. We never would have set out to integrate our local elementary school or attempt to change the school district, but when we pray, "God, do only what you can do" be ready to walk through the doors He opens!

We could have been called to a different neighborhood in the city, and though our process would have been similar, I recognize that the result may have been different. There are multiple bottom lines, but they all have to be prayed through and considered.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Anniversary Trip

Yesterday I booked our 10-year anniversary trip. We're going to Cancun for 7 nights in May. It will be about 11 months late, but better late than never. We actually went to Cancun for our honeymoon, but went the ultra cheap route. This time we're going the little nicer route. We got a good deal through Travelzoo to stay here. Can't wait!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hitler Finds Out About Robert's Birthday

As I said in my last post, I've never had a surprise birthday party thrown for me. Neither have I had a birthday video created for me. Especially one like this. Thank you Mr. Spickler.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Surprise, Surprise

On our way to community group tonight, Mandy got a call from Meredith saying that we were out of plates and cups for the meal. Mandy said that we were going to go by Susan's house (where the other community group was meeting) to pick it up. I told Mandy that I would run in to get it. When I opened the door, I heard "Surprise. Happy Birthday." I was completely shocked.

I later learned that it was of course the brain child of Mandy, with some help from Josh and a few others. We had Central BBQ and cake, and watched my senior recital and some flashbacks from 2% Milk, the acappella group I was a part of in college. Definitely some embarrassing moments, but a lot of fun. Never had a surprise birthday party thrown for me.

I love the folks at NC. I am blessed to have such wonderful friends.

Advent Conspiracy in TIME Magazine

If it's December, then there must be frost in the air, gingerbread in the oven, and ... right on time, Bill O'Reilly and the other defenders of Christmas bemoaning the prevalence of "Happy Holidays" - rather than "Merry Christmas" - greetings.

There's a war on Christmas, O'Reilly recently reminded viewers, driven by those who "loathe the baby Jesus." This season, a holiday-dÉcor company is marketing the CHRIST-mas Tree, a bushy artificial tree with a giant cross where the trunk should be. And the Colorado-basedFocus on the Family is continuing its Stand for Christmas campaign to highlight the offenses of Christmas-denying retailers. The campaign was launched, according to its website, because "citizens across the nation were growing dissatisfied with the tendency of corporations to omit references to Christmas from holiday promotions."

But to a growing group of Christians, this focus on the commercial aspect of Christmas is itself the greatest threat to one of Christianity's holiest days. "It's the shopping, the going into debt, the worrying that if I don't spend enough money, someone will think I don't love them," says Portland pastor Rick McKinley. "Christians get all bent out of shape over the fact that someone didn't say 'Merry Christmas' when I walked into the store. But why are we expecting the store to tell our story? That's just ridiculous."

Read the rest of the article here.

Advent Conspiracy Press Release

The following article was in Saturday's Commercial Appeal. Unfortunately, it's not online, so I decided to post it here.

Neighborhood Church believes that Christmas can [still] change the world and has partnered with the Advent Conspiracy ( to celebrate Christmas by spending less, giving more, worshiping fully and loving all this season.

Neighborhood Church (NC) has partnered with Advent Conspiracy (AC) to help Memphis experience what Christmas is really about (celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and peace and love for each other), and away from what it has become (consumerism).

NC Pastor Robert Grisham says “We’re encouraging one another to get creative and give meaningful, relational gifts this year. Then, the money we save we’re going to give away to those who really need it.

NC is holding events like the “Think Globally, Party Locally” party, where, instead of toasting to our own good health, we’re asking all of our friends to toast to the world’s good health at a rockin’ good party to raise money for global clean water initiatives through Living Water International.

The Advent Conspiracy is a grassroots movement with more than 1,000 churches in 17 countries participating as co-conspirators- with projects as varied as drilling a water well for those who lack access to clean water or simply encouraging congregations to think of meaningful acts of kindness as meaningful gift options to replace traditional gifts.

Last year, through Advent Conspiracy, $3 Million was raised for relief projects which included providing clean water and medical attention in communities around the world.

This year, Advent Conspiracy anticipates that individuals and churches will match last year’s commitment to charitable gifts and will make a lasting impact in communities around the world.

For more information about Advent Conspiracy, please visit:

For more information about Neighborhood Church, please visit

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Voice

The Voice is a retelling of Scripture from writers, poets, scholars and pastors. I first came across their retelling of Acts titled, The Dust Off their Feet a few years ago. I found it very good. Well today I was browsing the free Kindle books at Amazon and found the entire New Testament for free. I didn't realize that they had finished the entire New Testament. I'm reading Luke right now on my iPhone.

Speaking of the iPhone, if you have one you can download the free Kindle reader. If you don't have one, check out the Kindle Reader for PC, also free.

What I really like about The Voice are the italicized comments. For example, if you're reading Luke 1, which our church will be doing this Sunday night, you read in verse 5 that Zechariah was a priest, "of the division of Abijah." In italics I learn that Abijah was "a grandson of Aaron who innovated temple practices." Not life changing, but helpful. Also in verse 5 we learn that Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. If you're not sure who this Aaron is, in italics we have "Moses' brother." If you don't know who Moses is, I guess you'll have to google him. There are no more italics.

So am I getting rid of my ESV Bible for this? No, but as one who enjoys getting caught up in the story, I recommend checking out The Voice.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Generous...for a 4-yr old

A few weeks ago I spoke on the subject of generosity at Neighborhood Church. I so wish that I had had this story to share then.

Adam's weekly chore is to empty all of the small trash cans into the large trash cans. He enjoys doing this, especially since he gets paid. Tonight I decided to give him a big raise. Instead of one penny per trash can, I threw in a few quarters, nickels and dimes. He told me that he was going to give all of the money to his friend Walt, so that he could buy something nice on his birthday. Apparently he doesn't think Walt's parents are going to come through this year.

I decided that I shouldn't dissuade this, but I did make sure that this is what he wanted to do with his money. He assured me that he did. A short while later we had our community group over, so he kind of forgot about the money. Then, when he was getting ready for bed, he discovered that Mandy had put the money in his bank. He was worried that he wouldn't know what was for Walt. I reminded him what I had given him, and then he asked, "How will I know which dime is the right one?" I explained that all dimes are the same. They're all worth 10 cents, and they'll all buy you a piece of gum.

All of a sudden you could see the brain churning, and then the priceless response: "I was just tricking you earlier about giving that money to Walt."

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Christmas Set List - Pt. 2

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Chris Martin (Coldplay)

Amen, Amen, Sojourn

Christmas Time is Here, Vince Guaraldi Trio

O Magnum Mysterium, Morten Lauridsen, conductor

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Christmas Set List

Here are some of my favorite Christmas songs, with videos courtesy of YouTube.

O Holy Night, Tipitina Foundation, as seen on NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

O Come O Come Emmanuel, Sufjan Stevens

Joseph's Lullaby, MercyMe

Winter Snow, Audrey Assad & Chris Tomlin

Male Model in the House

No, Derek Zoolander has not moved in. It's my firstborn, Adam. Kristi Vickers of BluOrchard Photography and Neighborhood Church asked Adam to model for her this morning. It's for a charity event she has planned for Christmas. Apparently it went well. Hopefully it won't go to his head. But if it does, perhaps he will at least become philanthropic like Zoolander, and build centers for children who can't read good and wanna learn to do other stuff good too. I'm just sayin.

Church Buildings For Sale

Over the past 24 hours I've noticed at least five church buildings for sale. All are listed by Charles Callis, known as "The Church Man." One of the more recent churches to decide to sell is Union Avenue United Methodist Church, at the corner of Union and Cooper. I would like to know how many church buildings are for sale in Memphis. I couldn't find any stats on his Crye-Leike website or at Loopnet. Here's a good article on Memphis Daily News about the Methodist Church building.

A Night Away for Study and Prayer

I've been learning this year that I need times away in order to be a good teacher. Like all of us, I'm bombarded by details throughout the day. And I've found that for me, there is a huge need for me to keep the big picture in mind at all times. I am getting ready to start a series on the Gospel of Luke, and I told Mandy last week that I needed to get away to do some more studying, planning, and praying. She thought that was a great idea. Last Thursday we had our church planting network meeting, and John Carroll mentioned that he goes to St. Columba's Episcopal Retreat Center once a month. I got the info from him, called later that day, and scheduled my retreat.

Last night I arrived around 5:00, armed with my Bible, notebook, laptop, some books, some leftover Chinese food, and some coffee. My goal was to come away with a week by week outline of the series. Last night I read through Luke again, and jotted down more notes. This morning I began the process of compiling those notes. I am thankful that as I prepare to leave this morning, I have an outline of 21 sermons.

The theme for this study is "Christianity: Religion or Revolution?" Jake Fasano has once again designed a visual for us to use.

The series begins next Sunday and will run a few weeks past Easter. I'll continue to post on the study as we go along, but here are some of the resources I'm using.

  • The Prodigal God, Tim Keller
  • Luke for Everyone, NT Wright
  • Jesus in the Margins, Rick McKinley
  • This Beautiful Mess, Rick McKinley
  • The Myth of a Christian Religion, Greg Boyd
  • Money, Possessions & Eternity, Randy Alcorn
  • The Politics of Jesus, John Yoder
  • ReJesus, Michael Frost & Allen Hirsch
  • The Barbarian Way, Erwin McManus

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekly Links

Audio from the Acts 29 Bootcamp in Louisville can be found here. Haven't listened to any of it yet, but reading Steve McCoy's reflections of the event make me want to.

Found this site from Acts 29. Here's the tag line from Dustin Neely: "speaking up for the guys who may never plant mega-churches, while being thankful for those who do."

Great interview with Jon Foreman of Switchfoot.

My friends Linda Bergquist and Allan Karr have a new book out: Church Turned Inside Out. Check this out.

Luke 7

When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." (Luke 7:9).

This is the story of the Roman centurion in Capernaum who had a servant who was at the point of death. The Jewish elders of Capernaum thought very highly of this man. He was a friend to the Jews, and was responsible for building (funding no doubt) the synagogue there. Because of this, they came to Jesus and asked him to heal this man's servant. So Jesus went with them. During this time the centurion decided that he was unworthy to even have Jesus step inside his house, so he sent friends to request that Jesus just say the words, that his servant be healed.

This man, who probably did not know much of the Jewish faith before he was sent to Capernaum, believed that Jesus was who he said he was, which meant that he had authority. This man understood authority. He knew that Jesus could speak, and things would happen. Luke tells us that Jesus marveled at this, saying that he had not seen this kind of faith in any Israelite. The servant was healed.

Most of the time this Greek word for "marveled" is used is in reference to the crowd's response to something that Jesus does, but there are two stories where Jesus is the one doing the marveling. Both have to do with faith, but they are very different. The first takes place in Mark 6. Here we see the people in Nazareth, Jesus' hometown, refusing to believe that Joseph's son could be the Messiah. Here Jesus marvels at their unbelief. They still haven't gotten it. But in this passage, he is marveled by this man's faith. This has always intrigued me. I get that Jesus can marvel at my lack of faith. I see it throughout the Gospels, and I see it played out in my life over and over. It seems that unbelief happens so frequently in all of our lives. So when this man showed tremendous faith in Jesus, it's almost as if it's unexpected to Jesus. He marvels at it. I love this part of Jesus' humanity. I'm sure it brought him tremendous joy to see this Roman centurion express faith like this. And it gets me to wondering if my faith ever marvels Jesus.

May I walk by faith and not by sight, Lord. I know that it will be tricky, I know that it will be uncomfortable, and I know that it will take courage. But I pray that it is pleasing to You (Hebrews 11:6).

Need a Christmas Gift Idea?

I shared this with the church last night. My point was that as long as we continue to spend lots of money at Christmas, people will continue inventing crazy things for us to buy. Case in point: the Cupcake Car.

Here's the description from the Neiman Marcus catalog:

Put on your matching hat, slip under the muffin top of your Cupcake Car, and let the world figure itself out for awhile. Get (or give) the sheer, joyful chaos of a gift that is mind-blowing, triple-dog-dare, double-infinity forever cool. Make the kids or grandkids literally squeal with joy. Bring it to work and buzz the breakroom. Crash parades! Putter about the 'hood. Ever had a crowd of kids chasing after you just for the crazy gleeful heck of it? (No worries, the top speed is a comfy-safe 7 mph.) What's it made of? A 24-volt electric motor, a heavy-duty battery, sheet metal, wire, fabric, wood…and mad genius.

Be sure to get yours while they last. Only $25,000!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Bible & Money: Giving Money

Giving should come from your first fruits (first line item in your budget)
Proverbs 3:9-10 (ESV) Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.

Giving should be a regular pattern of life
1 Corinthians 6:1-3 (ESV) Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem.

Giving should be willing and cheerful
2 Corinthians 9:6-8 (ESV) The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

Giving should be generous
2 Corinthians 8:1-4 (ESV) We want you to know, brothers, about the grace that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.

Giving should be sacrificial
Mark 12:41-44 (ESV) And Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on."

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Bible & Money: Saving Money

To many of us, saving money is a fine idea, but often seems very unrealistic, especially when we're struggling to make ends meet every month. Yet it's wise, and it's biblical.

Save for a rainy day
Proverbs 30:25 (NIV) Ants are creatures of little strength, yet they store up their food in the summer.

Proverbs 13:11 (ESV) Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

Proverbs 13:22 (ESV) A good man leaves an inheritance to his children's children, but the sinner's wealth is laid up for the righteous.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Bible & Money: Spending Money

Once you've made some money, what should you do with it? Good news: the first thing you do with it is spend it. But before you start spending, you need to:

Plan your Spending (Budgeting)
Proverbs 21:5 (ESV) The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

Part of the planning process is determining what to spend your money on. Here are a few things that the Bible teaches us.

Take Care of your Family
1 Timothy 5:8 (ESV) But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 4:4 (ESV) For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

Deuteronomy 14:24-26 (ESV) And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you...then you shall turn it into money...and spend the money for whatever you desire - oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household.

Get out of debt and stay out of debt
Proverbs 22:7 (ESV) The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender.

Be content with what you have
1 Timothy 6:6-10 (ESV) Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Bible & Money: Making Money

This Sunday I'm teaching on the subject of Generosity, and yes, that means I'll be teaching on money. Money is a tough subject to teach on due to the fact that many believe that this is all churches talk about. Though it's sad to say that this is sometimes true, more often than not the exact opposite is true: many churches never talk about money. I know that I've been guilty of this. The truth remains, though, that Jesus spent a lot of time talking about money, and linking it to our hearts. Last year I took our church to the Scriptures to see the four things that the Bible says that we are to do with money. Over the next four days I'll post on each of these.

The first thing that Scripture teaches us in regards to money is that making money through hard work is a good thing. Here are a few passages to think about:

Deuteronomy 8:18 (ESV) You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV) Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 (ESV) For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Proverbs 6:10-11 (ESV) A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.

Proverbs 20:4 (NLT) Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest.

Exodus 20:8-11 (NIV) "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Based on these passages, here are a few principles to keep in mind:
  1. Working hard is good.
  2. Being lazy is bad
  3. Putting work ahead of everything else in your life will destroy your soul. Learn to Sabbath well.

The Benefits of a Small Church

I like any pastor or leader wants the organization I'm a part of, in this case my church, to grow. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. However, there are some major benefits for being a small church. This weekend we had our first 24 Hours of Prayer in preparation for Advent. The awesome thing was that almost every person in our church took on an hour. We began at 5:00 on Saturday night and ended at 5:00 on Sunday night. Then we debriefed during our worship gathering. God met with us in a powerful way. It was wonderful listening as people shared about their encounters with God.

Here's the thing, though. Everyone knew that if we wanted to fill up 24 hours, they had better sign up. I wonder what the participation would have been like if we had double the amount of people. Would we have had two people sign up for each slot? I have my doubts. I imagine that many would assume that if they sat this one out, it would still be successful. With a small church, the value of participation is greatly increased. The same is true for discipleship and mission. We have almost 100% participation in Community Groups, Life Transformation Groups, and outward projects.

I love the DNA that is being created here. I do pray that God would continue leading folks our way, especially those with less than ideal church experiences, but more important, I pray that they would see this value of participation and get involved!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

It's that time of year again. This will be our third year participating in Advent Conspiracy, and I can't wait. We kick things off this Saturday with free family photos at Overton Park in the morning, and then a screening of the film "At the End of Slavery" that evening. You can learn more about these and other events by going here.

My Pretty Wife's Blog

Did you know that Mandy is blogging? She hasn't been very forthcoming with this news, so I will. That's what husbands are for, right! Last night she posted a 2-part synopsis of the Playback Memphis' new improv "experience" called Memphis Matters. Check it out!

Kindle for PC

This morning Amazon released the beta version of Kindle for PC. I had been hoping for this for awhile, and it's great. With this as a free download, plus Kindle for iPhone being free, I definitely don't need an actual Kindle (not free). I have to believe, though, that this isn't their primary goal. Customers buying books is, and I know that I'll be doing more of this. The newest version of Kindle for iPhone has a highlighting feature. The fact that I can now open it up on the PC version and see the highlighted notes is great. Now if they will develop a way to copy those notes and paste them into a Word doc...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

More Links

Seth Godin on empathy

Wondering about Google Wave? Here's Lifehack's first look and best uses, as well as The Complete Guide to Google Wave.

The trailer for my friend Joe's new movie Hitting the Nuts is live.

Five tips for utilizing RSS feeds. I use Google Reader for this task and love it.

Ten ways to cut your energy bills this winter...and not freeze

Free Kindle Book

The Kindle version of Nancy Ortberg's Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands is free for a limited time here.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Catching Up on Some Links

Way behind on this, so I'm going to have two posts on some of the great things I've read online over the last few weeks. First, some great resources...

150 of Tim Keller's sermons available for free

Summaries from some of the talks at Catalyst this year

Free ebook on discipleship from Winfield Bevins. I'm printing it out right now and am looking forward to reading it.

Videos from The Nines

Video/audio from the Lead09 Conference featuring Tim Chester and Jonathan Dodson

Monday, October 26, 2009

Luke 6

I'm going to focus this post on Luke 6:17-36.
I find it interesting that the people in the crowd are the same people that Jesus spoke about in his first sermon. But now, instead of talking about how his plan includes them, he's telling them face to face! These are the folks who have been drawn to him. These are the ones who've traveled a long way just to hear him. Many have come because they know that he can help them. Some are lame, some have diseases, and others are "troubled with unclean spirits." Jesus is demonstrating, or "signing", the Kingdom.

These people are poor, they're hungry, they've been weeping, they've been hated, they've been excluded, they've been reviled, and their names have been spurned as evil. He is telling them that there is a place for them in his Kingdom. He is their King. He is their long awaited Messiah. The Gospel is called "good news" for a reason, and this news is truly good to this crowd of people.

Jesus doesn't stop there, though. He contrasts this "good" news with some bad news. He gives four "woe's", and it's basically the opposite of the good news. For those who right now are rich, full, laughing, and well thought of, Jesus has some warnings. What is Jesus saying here? Nothing in Scripture reveals that these are in of themselves sins. It's not a sin to have money or to have food or to laugh. I think Jesus is saying that these people (or could I say "we") need to Kingdom to come just as much as, or possibly more than, the first group.

The first group knows their need. It's evident to everyone. But the second group can easily miss what God is doing. When we have money and food, it is easy to believe that we are independent, that we don't need a King. Jesus is saying that this is a foolish, and even dangerous, place to be.

May we know our great neediness today, King Jesus. May we look to You to be our sustenance. May we not for a second be deceived in believing that anything we have is of our own doing, but instead may we remember that "every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17), and may our worship be an appropriate response.

Why I Quit Blogging through Luke

You might have noticed that I began blogging my way through the Gospel of Luke in September, but then I quit, and a month has now passed. I promise you that it's not simply procrastination. Here's the deal: I got to chapter six, and realized that I could have easily written about good trees producing good fruit (6:43-45), or the importance of building on a solid foundation (6:46-49). However, I wasn't so sure about that first part, specifically all those "blessed's" and "woe's." For that reason, I felt that I couldn't write, much less preach, on this until I had a better understanding. I had this hunch that understanding a passage such as this one was key to understanding this radical Gospel as a whole.

So that brings me to today, and more specifically, to my last few days in Cincinnati at the CCDA Conference. I had the privilege of being around many men and women who have forsaken so much in order to live out and proclaim the gospel in difficult settings. To say that I was moved would be a major understatement, however. There was a moment on Friday night where I felt as if God was ripping out my heart. I came to the understanding that my view of the Gospel is very incomplete, so I repented to God and asked for understanding. Now hear me out - I know that none of us know completely, but I realized that there are some major gaps in my understanding.

I feel that over this past year my gaps have been growing smaller. I chalk much of that up to what I have learned listening to and reading Tim Keller. My understanding of the difference between the Gospel and religion has grown so much. What I'm learning right now is very similar to this.

For some time now I have really resonated with the idea of the upside-down Kingdom of God. The life and message of Jesus is radically counter-cultural to the way many of us live today. I've always believed that it was counter-cultural to the world, but I now believe that it is often counter-cultural to Christianity as well. Jesus taught us to pray, "Let Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven", but right now I wonder if we would actually recognize the Kingdom if this was a reality.

Shane Claiborne ended his talk on Saturday night by taking us to the the fall of the great whore of Babylon found in Revelation 17-19. He made a statement that shook me. He said, "I wonder if we will rejoice with the angels (18:2) or weep with the merchants (18:3) when we hear this news. Here's what's scarier than not recognizing the Kingdom coming: it's fighting against it. Why in the world would we fight against it? Because we do not see it for what it is. Because we do not hear. This is perhaps why Jesus said over and over, "He who has an ear, let him hear."

So with that as a rather long explanation, I will return to blogging through this great book of the Bible, asking God continually to give me the courage to see what He wants me to see and hear what He wants me to hear.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Oreos and Government Spending

Shane Claiborne showed this video tonight at CCDA. Any thoughts?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Mom and Her Boys

Mandy has written some wonderful things about our sons, Adam and Micah.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Koinonia - A Deeper Meaning

Last night we finished up our vision series for Neighborhood Church. Throughout this series we've been calling people to move from participation to partnership, and last night I opened the message with a passage that includes this word "partnership." It's Philippians 1:1-11. The Philippian church held a very special place in Paul's heart, and he begins his letter by telling them this. He remembers what God has done in this city, and in joy he gives thanks to God. In verse 5 we see why. It's because of their partnership in the gospel.

Last week I looked up this word partnership. I was surprised to learn that the Greek word is koinonia. Most Christians have heard this word. One of the places it's found is Acts 2:42-47. We find the word in verse 42, and here it is translated as fellowship. Now think about this for a second. In our culture, and especially in our church culture, the word fellowship is very different from the word partnership. We desire true community. We desire to know and to be known. But it often stops there. Not for Paul, though. For Paul, true koinonia has an active component.
This is why mission trips are so powerful. Ask someone about their best church experience, about the time they felt a part of something, about the time they felt that they truly belonged - the answer is very often associated with mission. It's about being caught up into something greater than yourself. It's about having a common goal that takes the entire team's effort to pull off. This is why mission and community cannot be separated. And it's why true koinonia cannot be separated from partnership.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Mississippi Delta

I had a great trip down south last week. I left Memphis around 10:00 on Thursday morning. I headed south on third street, which becomes Hwy 61. It was a good day for a drive: overcast, cool, and an occasional drop of rain. When I got to Greenville, my first thought was how quiet it was.
Here's a view from my hotel.

And here's the other side of the hill.

I had heard about a restaurant there in Greenville called Doe's Eat Place. Men's Journal said the following about Doe's: "the best thing to eat in America." I actually decided to skip lunch, and headed to Doe's at 5:30 when they opened.

The first room you walk in to is filled with people ordering hot tamales to go. I told them I wanted steak, not tamales, so they led me through the kitchen (nice) and into one of two dining rooms. There's no menu, and they pretty much just have steak, shrimp, and hot tamales. Once again, I wanted steak. The waitress told me that the steak comes with fries and bread. If I wanted garlic bread, that would cost me extra. If I wanted a salad, that would cost extra as well. Just steak please.
I have a theory that a good steak helps you do all things better, so the rest of my time reading, writing, planning and praying was very profitable and enjoyable. I plan on visiting the Delta again soon, but this time I will take Mandy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

5 Years of Blogging

Today marks five years of this blog. It kind of slipped up on me. I actually thought this was four years, but it turns out it's five. How about that? When I began blogging in September, 2004, I really wasn't sure if it would be something that I would be consistent in, and though there have definitely been moments where I slacked off, I'm pleased that I've kept going.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Luke 5

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

I love this story. The crowds were enamored with Jesus. They wanted to be near him. Luke says that they were "pressing in on him to hear the word of God." It's obvious that not all truly wanted to follow him. Some where there to watch a show. They had heard that he was healing people and casting out demons. But there were some who were drawn to him in such a way that they understood that their life was not as good as it would be if they were following him. This is true surrender, and it's true worship! We believe a lie when we simply think about sacrifice. Peter, Andrew, James and John all left their careers and family to follow Jesus. But they didn't spend their lives in regret. They followed Jesus because something inside them believed that it would be the best decision that they would ever make.

Our next teaching series is on the subject of worship, and yesterday I was re-reading John Piper's Desiring God. I first read it during my senior year of college. As I read it a couple of days ago, I wondered if some of my passion for God has waned. Am I responding appropriately to who He is? Peter's response to Jesus was complete humility. He didn't even deserve to have Jesus in his boat, yet here he was. Do I understand what Jesus has done for me? How often do I reflect on this? As I write this, I'm thinking back to Matthew 13:44, in which Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven (God) is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."

This is the response that I desire to have. Following Jesus is a treasure. I have been given this treasure. I definitely don't deserve it, yet it's been offered to me. Today I desire to follow Jesus more than I desire anything else. Thank you, Father, for your grace. Thank you for continuing to seek after me. I repent of my inferior desires, and want all that you have for me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Luke 4

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said,‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

I had one of those great aha! moments reading this. I've always been taught that one of the ways that we resist temptation is to quote Scripture, like Jesus did during His temptation. When Satan tempts us, his first goal is to get us to believe a lie. So we combat these lies, these false promises, with truth. But get you know that Satan also quotes Scripture? Satan knows Scripture better than we do, and he knows how to twist Scripture. That's scary, isn't it!

The first step of fighting sin is understanding that Satan is so much smarter than I am. He is very clever, very sneaky. The Bible says that he's like a lion, prowling around looking for something to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Here's the good news, though. Just as Jesus resisted, so we are to resist. And I don't believe that God would give us this command if it weren't possible to obey it. Even though Jesus was weak, and even though Satan was coming at him quoting Scripture, he stood firm. He still responded with Scripture. Soon after this, Satan left. He knew that Jesus wasn't going to fall.

Father, may I never underestimate the power of Satan, but even more so, may I never underestimate Your power. May I continue to grow closer to You, and continue to become the person that You are calling me to be.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

Hwy 61 - Here I Come

Tomorrow morning I am heading down south to visit the Mississippi Delta. I try to take two overnight trips a year by myself for the purpose of prayer, study, planning, refreshment, etc. The past few have been times of seclusion, which have been very great for writing, but this time I decided to something different. I'm learning something about myself. In order for me to lead Neighborhood Church, I have to continue to find ways to fill myself up. I have to do things that are inspiring, that nourish my soul, that keep me passionate.

So this time, it's driving down the Blues Highway, Hwy 61. I know that I'm staying in Greenville tomorrow night, but other than that, there's not much of a plan. I want to listen to some podcasts, and of course to some blues! I'm sure I'll stop a lot. When I do stop, I'll probably do some writing in my journal. And I'm definitely going to eat some good food. Probably not any of these, though.

I want my heart to be at rest. As I said, I want my soul to be nourished. And I want to be in a place where God can speak to me.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Luke 3

He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

I wrestle with this passage alot. John the Baptist is hardcore. He comes on the scene after living for quite some time (Lk. 1:80) in the wilderness (in Matthew's Gospel we get more of a description of this peculiar man). The first words of his first sermon are "you brood of vipers." Nice! He tells them that repentance is required of all of them. He even throws out the name of their beloved Abraham, saying that they can't keep claiming to be his sons and daughters, but then not act anything like him.

The question I've always asked here is, why did they not try to kill him on the spot? I guess I ask this same question when Peter preaches at Pentecost. I believe that the answer on that day was the same answer on this day: they were cut to the heart (Acts 2:37). The Spirit of God was inviting them into relationship with Him. Their response was also similar to that day three years later: "What do we do?" John's answer was similar to Peter's answer: Repent. But John gives some very tangible examples of what that repentance looks like.

Here's where it gets tricky. How am I faring when it comes to John's response of what repentance looks like? John doesn't give one answer for everyone. Repentance is situational. For each person it looks different. It all depends on our sin (which, according to Tim Keller, can be defined as building your identity on anything other than God) . He told tax collectors not to collect more money than they were supposed to. He told solidiers not to use their power to extort money.

It's easy to talk about soldiers and tax collectors, but what about everyone else. John doesn't let them off easy, and he doesn't let us off easy. To everyone else he gave a blanket statement: share what you have with those who are in need. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has social dimensions. I'm intrigued with this phrase "in keeping with." The Greek word is also used in 2 Thessalonians 1:3. Here's my take: these types of good deeds (Acts 26:20), or fruit, as John puts it, ought to be a natural overflow of true repentance in the same way that Paul's giving thanks to God for the Thessalonian church was a natural overflow to what God had done in their lives.

Father, I ask that You search my heart. Am I producing the fruit that You desire, the fruit that should come naturally from a surrendered heart? If not, I repent. I receive Your grace and mercy, and I turn from leading my life. I thank You so much for Your love, forgiveness and mercy, and may my life reflect this in the way that I live today.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Luke 2

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:25-26).

Both of these passages reveal the great sense of anticipation that there must have been during this time. The angels must have no doubted anticipated the coming of the Messiah for a long time, and now it was finally there...though once again in a way that they would have never expected. The same can be said about Simeon. Here we have a human whom God has spoken to. God has told him that the promised Messiah will come during his lifetime. Luke doesn't say that God gives Simeon any details, though. No doubt like many Jews he imagined one resembling King David. Definitely not a baby! Yet when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the Temple, the Most High God whispered into Simeon's ear and said, "Your Messiah!"

With both the angels and Simeon, this anticipation has now given way to fulfillment, and the only response is rejoicing. The angels couldn't contain themselves, but, in keeping with God's plan, they revealed their rejoicing to a group of lowly shepherds. So picture that for a moment: when you see an angel walk up to you, you're definitely a little scared. But when you look up into the sky and see a multitude of angels praising God...that's got to be amazing.

God, may my anticipation grow as we draw near to Advent and Christmas. May I more fully grasp the magnitude of what happened 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. May I not miss it. And may my anticipation give way to rejoicing. Capture my heart with the majesty, humility and power of Jesus, and through it change the way that I live.