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."