Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Top Ten Lists: Songs

Repo Man - Ray LaMontagne & The Pariah Dogs

Heaven Breaks - Sleeping At Last

Perth - Bon Iver

Every Teardrop is a Waterfall - Coldplay

Girl with the Red Balloon - Civil Wars

Cripple Me - Elenowen (I have to admit that I have a vocal man crush on this guy)

Not Over You - Gavin Degraw (check it out - the man has a broken arm and still is rocking it)

Dust Bowl Dance - Mumford & Sons

Colorshow - Avett Brothers

Red Banks - Amy LaVere

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Top Ten Lists: Books

I read a lot more this year than in previous years. Here are some of my favorites for the year.

1. Beautiful Outlaw, by John Eldredge. In January we'll begin a series on Jesus, through the lens of Mark's Gospel. Because of that, I've been reading quite a bit on Jesus. This one has been my favorite. It's different from the others. It hasn't so much been new information, but more that Eldredge helped me to get caught up in this beautiful story.

2. The King's Cross, by Tim Keller. This one is also on the life of Christ. If you've enjoyed other books by Keller, this one will follow suit. This book is based on a series of sermons that Keller preached a few years ago.

3. A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. Most books on the subject of prayer make me feel guilty. This one was a breath of fresh air. I would almost say that the word "Life" is a better descriptor than the word "Prayer," because the book is about an everyday life with God. It's messy. It's beautiful. There are good days and there are bad days. And God is in it all.

4. The King Jesus Gospel, by Scot McKnight. I try to read everything Scot McKnight write puts out, which, if you've ever been to his blog, is A LOT. In this book he differentiates between a salvation culture and a gospel culture.

5. Love Wins, by Rob Bell. In case you didn't know, this book, which is about the afterlife, caused a bit of a stir this past year. Our church read it last spring and then devoted a Sunday night to discussing it.

6. Do the Work, by Steven Pressfield. What is resistance and how do we destroy it? Find out in this great little book.

7. Samson and the Pirate Monks, by Nate Larkin. I heard some guys talking about this, and the title alone intrigued me. Who wouldn't like Pirate Monks! This is a book about sexual addiction, community, and God's grace that leads to healing and restoration.

8. The Starfish and the Spider, by Ori Brafman and Rod Beck. I've had this book for a few years, but I finally read it this year. Over the past year our church has been moving towards decentralization. That's what this book is about.

9. Rumors of God, by Jon Tyson and Darren Whitehead. I've been following Jon Tyson and his church in NYC for the past few years, so when I heard he had a book coming out, I got a copy pretty quickly. He and Darren have been friends for a long time, and though their churches look very different from one another, their passions for Jesus and the church are identical.

10. The Cross of Christ, by John Stott. I have begun collecting and reading John Stott's books over the past two years. This one is my favorite so far. Rich in theology and beauty.

Of these ten books, eight were read on my Kindle app, and I listened to two.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Role of Money 3

In the first post I gave an introduction, using Matthew 6:24, on the role that money plays in our lives. It is either a tool that you use or a god that uses you. In the second post I gave ten indicators that money might be a god in your life. In this final post I want to give five indicators that money might be a tool in your life. That's God's intention for our life.

Before going into our list, it's important to point out that money is simply a tool that helps us to accomplish our goals. It's tied to our values. You can determine what a person values simply by looking at how they spend their money (and time - as you'll see, these two are inextricably linked).

1. You have articulated your values, dreams, and goals. To take them a step farther, you've written them out. Two helpful resources are Michael Hyatt's "Creating Your Personal Life Plan" and Mark Driscoll's teaching on Reverse Engineering (audio and notes). Both of these have been extremely helpful to me.

2. You have a handle on money. You know what's coming in and you know what's going out. This is what is meant by budgeting. Budgeting can be as simple as writing down expected income and expenses on a sheet of paper, using spreadsheets, or using an online tool such as If you're not budgeting before the month begins, then at the end of the month you're going to be left wondering how you spent so much money. As it's been said, people don't plan to fail, they just fail to plan.

3. You are content with, and thankful for, the things that you have. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:5). Contentment and thanksgiving without a doubt change your perspective on life and finances.

4. You freely give what has been given to you. This is so much more than tithing. It's stewarding (managing) well our time, talents, and treasure. You're free with those things because you know that you're a manager, not an owner. God, the owner, has entrusted these things to you, and we honor him in how we use them. Not only that, though, we find true joy in doing so.

5. You have margin in your life. This applies to time and to money. Margin is counter-cultural. The tendency today is to max out everything in life. Filling up our calenders makes us feel as important as buying things. Margin is a gift, but it's something that we have to fight for. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was once asked by Forbes magazine what he would do with a $100,000 windfall. Check out what he said (question #9 on the list). This is all about margin.

Compared to the ten indicators I gave yesterday, doesn't this sound so much more appealing? Is it counter-cultural? Yes. Will it take a ton of re-training? No doubt. But it leads to freedom. Freedom is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Christianity. We believe that following God confines and restricts us, but it actually gives us true freedom.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Role of Money 2

In the last post I gave the foundation for why we at Neighborhood Church were talking about money. In this post I'll give the 10 indicators I shared on Sunday night that money might be a god in your life.

1. There is constant anxiety about money. It's something you are always thinking about, and you might even be losing sleep over it.

2. Debt determines your decisions. We're told that buying things leads to happiness and freedom, but debt leads to bondage.

3. Most of the arguments you have with your spouse center on money. I know, that's a tough one. In our economy today, lots of people are struggling paying mortgages, looking for jobs, and paying ordinary bills. There's a great deal of tension in that.

4. Discontentment marks your life. Discontentment is simply a dissatisfaction with what you have. Your focus in all about what you don't have.

5. Therefore you're not thankful to God for what He's given you, and neither are you truly enjoying those blessings.

6. Consumerism has a grip on your heart. We've been talking a lot about consumerism as we enter into the Advent season. Here's how you know if consumerism has a grip on your heart: After a hard week at work, you go shopping and buy something, and suddenly you feel ok about yourself. This is why people say that shopping can be an addiction just like drug addiction.

7. You never delay gratification. You see something, you want it, you want it now, and so you go get it. There was a day not too long ago when, if you saw something on tv that you just had to have, you had to get off the couch, put your shoes on, and drive to a store to make your purchase. But today, you just log on to amazon and instantly purchase what you want. And with things like books, music and movies, not only do you instantly purchase it, but you instantly get it. Delayed gratification is so yesterday.

8. You have no plan. This goes for getting out of debt, spending money, saving money, and giving money. No plan.

9. You're stingy with your money. If you're honest with yourself, you're not that generous.

10. You are generous with your money. You might even give 10% away (what the Bible calls a tithe). However, because you do this, you feel that you're free to do whatever you wish with the remaining 90%. You never ask God what he wants you to do with that money. One point here: your theology matters here. If you think God frowns when you spend your hard earned money on things that you enjoy, then you have a distorted view of God. See this Old Testament passage for more. This passage, which is actually tied to tithing, shows us that God wants us to enjoy what we have, and that's it's actually tied to worship.

I'm sure that everyone reading this can check off at least three or four of these. Money plays such a huge role in our daily lives, and we all struggle with it in some capacity. If that weren't the case, Jesus wouldn't have talked about it as much as he did. Rest in the fact that he knows your struggles and wants to help you.

In tomorrow's post, I'll give 5 indicators that money is a tool in your life.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Role of Money 1

On Sunday night we ended our series "Hope, Habits & Hunger" by looking at the role that money plays in our spiritual growth. Talking about money is never a comfortable topic, especially in the context of church. But Jesus believed that money was important, and he talked about it quite often (16 of the 38 parables he told were about money).

We believe that we need to create a culture where talking about money is ok. It's way too private of a matter, and that's unhealthy for us all. We need to create a safe place where there's freedom to share our struggles and also where we've seen God move. That's one of my great hopes for our church in 2012.

I gave a number of lists on Sunday night, so I thought it might be beneficial for me to blog about that.

The big idea for the night was as follows:

Money is not neutral. It is either a tool that you use or a god that uses you.

Thinking of money as a god might be a stretch for some of us, but it wasn't for Jesus. Read this passage. For most of us, money is a god rather than a tool, and the problem with that is that though it promises freedom, all we get is bondage.

In the next three blog posts I'll give some ways to tell whether or not money is a tool or a god in your life. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When God Says No

Last Sunday night I taught on suffering. I never like talking about suffering, but we've been in a series on spiritual growth for awhile, and since people grow the most when they go through difficulties, I knew we needed to talk about it.

This morning I had to get a cavity re-filled. Not sure if that's the technical term for it, but either way, it was not fun. I decided to listen to a sermon while I was in the chair, and I settled on one by Andy Stanley. A little ironic, I realize, that I would choose a sermon on suffering while I "suffered" under the care of my wonderful dentist for 90 minutes.

I should say that the sermon wasn't specifically on suffering. It was actually from a series on faith. However, it dealt with the question of how we respond when God doesn't respond to our prayers in the way we thought he would. It was an incredible talk, and one I would encourage you to listen to.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sabbath from Teaching

[I wrote this post 2 months ago but for some reason did not publish it]

I had the night off from teaching last night at Neighborhood Church. My friends Jay and Anna visited and shared what God is doing in Burma. This morning I woke up and was hungry to read, pray, and prepare for teaching next Sunday. Normally, after teaching on a Sunday night, I need a couple of days before I am ready to even think again. Note: that's not a healthy place. And it's why I'm thankful that I don't have to teach every week.

We now have several gifted teachers at NC, and our congregation needs opportunities to hear those voices. We're stronger for it. And I'm at my best when my work is rooted in rest. That's why the Jewish views on Sabbath are so wonderful. The day begins at night instead of in the morning. It begins with rest rather than ends with rest. That changes everything. Again, our work should be rooted in our rest!

For more on this, read this blog post from J.R. Briggs. There are some great thoughts that are beneficial to anyone.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Reflections on a Great Weekender

This weekend marked Neighborhood Church's third Weekender. Weekenders are times when our entire church comes together for fun, learning, service and prayer.

We kicked things off on Friday night with our first ever Variety Show, aptly named The Rock-afire Explosion of Talent. And boy was it an explosion! We had a cover of Journey's Don't Stop Believing", with only vocals and Apple products. Oh yeah, and cow bell. Our new friend Pouya sang his heart out on The Eagle's "Hotel California." We had skits, stand up comedy, readings, and we finished the night off with some Bieber Fever. I'm sure videos will be floating around the world wide web very soon.

Saturday morning nine of us who went to the GCM Conference debriefed with the rest of our team on what we learned. We had good panel and table discussions. That afternoon we went to Hope Works for a couple of hours. We planted flowers, built shelves, cleaned, and even hung a tv. Serving together is such fun!

Finally, yesterday morning we met at John and Ashleigh's house to give thanks to God for this community and our great weekend together. It was a powerful time of encouragement and speaking into one another's lives. I am very grateful to be a part of what God is doing, and I'm grateful to be doing it with this community!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Centrality of the Heart

I'm in the middle of reading a really great book by Paul Tripp called How People Change. Here's a great quote on the centrality of the heart.

The average Christian defines sin by talking about behavior. For example, what is the goal of most Christian parents? Is it not to get their children to do the right things? We set up all kinds of relational, motivational, and corrective structures to constrain and direct our children’s behavior. These structures are not without value, but if this is your only response to your child’s rebellion and sin, you will leave him defenseless against sin once he leaves home and the structures are no longer there.
Beneath the battle for behavior is another, more fundamental battle— the battle for the thoughts and motives of the heart.

The heart is the real or essential you. All of the ways in which the Bible refers to the inner person (mind, emotions, spirit, soul, will, etc.) are summed up with this one term: heart. The heart is the steering wheel of every human being. Everything we do is shaped and controlled by what our hearts desire.

That is why the Bible is very clear that God wants our hearts. Only when God has your heart does he have you. As much as we are affected by our broken world and the sins of others against us, our greatest problem is the sin that resides in our hearts. That is why the message of the gospel is that God transforms our lives by transforming our hearts.

Lasting change always comes through the heart. This is one of Scripture’s most thoroughly developed themes, but many of us have missed its profound implications. We need a deeper understanding of Proverbs 4:23, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Worth Reading?

Here are a few good blog posts and articles I've read over the past week.

John Stott on Singleness

Hugh Halter on kids in the micro church - make sure you check out the photo.

Paul Tripp on what the gospel means to our life right now

David Fitch on the need for missional rhythms in our micro churches

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Need to Unplug

Hello. My name is Robert and I have an addiction. I love technology. Although I don't check Facebook and Twitter as much as someone in my family does (I won't go down alone dear), I do admit that there's a glorious sense of anticipation every time my phone buzzes, telling me that someone somewhere has something really important to say to me via email or text message.

There. I've cleared my conscience. Now what?

I recently heard an interview with Scott Belsky, in which he said that looking at your smartphone has the same effect as cocaine. It relieves anxiety and makes you feel in control. Now I've never tried cocaine, but I have a feeling that whoever came up with that fact is probably right on the money.

Technology has such a grip on our society. We have to acknowledge this before we ever hope to break free. In that same interview Belsky says that we have to ruthlessly pursue windows of non-stimulation. He says that true creativity will only happen when we are able to unplug from technology, because that is the only place where true and deep thinking can occur.

Where this really hits home for me is with my kids. Adam is already addicted to my phone, or more specifically, he's addicted to a game on my phone about ticked off birds. Getting him to go in his room and play is so difficult. His objection: That's boring! One of the solutions that Mandy and I have been talking about is starting a new tradition in our home, where 1 or 2 days of the week are designated tech-free days. That means no Backyardigans, Angry Birds, or Wii, but it also means no Facebook, email, or Modern Family. Instead, we will use our time to play games, take walks, read books, and, in the case of the boys and I, wrestle. This is what the home is supposed to be anyway, right?

I've been reading a book that Mandy got at Mom Congress. It's called Hamlet's Blackberry, by William Powers. In one of the chapters he quotes from Henry David Thoreau's Walden:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived...I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.
I love those words. It's what I want for my family. It's also what I want for me. I'm making some changes when it comes to technology. Here are three things I'm going to begin doing that I know will help me during my hours at work.
  1. I am going to designate 3-5 times during the day when I check email. The rest of the time my gmail will not be up. And I'm going to disable the push feature on my iPhone. No more buzzes when I get an email.
  2. I'm going to stop checking email right before I go to bed and right after I get up. I've realized that nothing good comes from that.
  3. My most productive times are in the morning. For some crazy reason I've been waking up around 5:30 every morning. At first it frustrated me, but now I've realized that it's a good thing. I'm going to begin doing any creative work (reading, writing, thinking) in the mornings, and I am going to begin scheduling meetings and appointments for the afternoon.
I know that some of these changes, whether it's for me or my family, are going to be easier than others (I imagine that Micah is going to throw things when he hears how it affects him). And I know that just as with any addiction, there will be times when I'm weak. But I believe that change is possible. I have a feeling that we are going to one day look back on the decade when instant communication became a reality, and realize that it wasn't the best thing for us.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Neighborhood Schools Movement

School is about to begin again, so I thought I would post an article that Mandy sent me last week. We continue to see Memphis education all over the news, and unfortunately, most of what we read is negative. So here's something encouraging, at least to me. It's from a Mom in Charlotte, NC, who happened to see the article about Peabody that was written last December. She reached out to Mandy to encourage what a lot of us were doing here in Memphis. Here's part of her story:

Marker-wielding kindergartners cover the stage at Shamrock Gardens Elementary, intently coloring a set of circus posters. They work in clusters, some kneeling, some sprawled flat on their stomachs, chattering happily as they fill the space between the lines with bright and varied hues. Their faces vary too, ranging from palest white to deepest brown.

I watch them with delight. There is nothing more satisfying than acting on your beliefs and then seeing your hopes realized.

Five years ago, when Peter and I decided to send our son to Shamrock, it was the kind of school that middle-class families fled in droves – attended largely by low-income kids of color, with low test scores and few enrichment programs.

Charlotte’s schools were resegregating all around us, as our district dismantled its landmark school desegregation plan and parents scrambled to avoid the schools where poverty had begun to concentrate.

But while we wanted Parker to go to a good school, we also wanted him to live in a strong community, one that lived up to the American promise of offering each child an equal shot at success. We believed school integration played a key role in making that promise a reality. We did not want to participate in its demise.

And while Shamrock struggled academically, it was full of smiles and hugs, a place where kids skipped down the halls and teachers stayed late to tutor students and work on lesson plans. We believed it was a place where we could make a difference. In the fall of 2006, we walked Parker through the front door for his first day of school.

In the years since then, staff, families and students have built a new Shamrock one step at a time. We’ve gotten to know each other, figured out how to work together, found roles to play.

Most of our families, for example, shied away from event organizing. But they were always ready to support their kids, and when they came out to school workdays they labored all day long. So when we decided to build a butterfly garden, I wrote the grant and organized the schedule. Dozens of families showed up to build the beds, haul the dirt and plant the seeds.

It took two full years to really get the garden going. But I’ll never forget the morning that students discovered Gulf Fritillary caterpillars covering the passion flower vines, gold-tinged chrysalises scattered across the brick garden walls, and a newly hatched butterfly drying its wings beneath a drainage pipe.

As our garden grew, other things changed as well. Teachers began to stay longer, many transforming from awkward, sometimes tearful novices into confident, creative veterans. Student performance improved, freeing us from the crippling No Child Left Behind sanctions.

Although we recently lost our chess club to budget cuts, we have started a Lego League, a Science Olympiad team, a basketball squad, an International Day festival and two groups of Girls On The Run. Our Asian families cook a Lunar New Year lunch, and our Hispanic women’s club sells drinks and snacks at movie night, including the Jarritos and Mexican Cokes that everyone has learned to love.

The gifted classes that we created to entice middle-class families have come to mirror the school’s overall makeup – just over half African Americans, about a quarter Hispanics, and the rest a mix of Asians, other immigrants and a growing number of whites. Because no one group dominates, everyone belongs.

Shamrock’s still far from perfect. Although our achievement rates have risen, too many kids still don’t pass tests. Too many still leapfrog from school to school, sometimes several times a year. Too many don’t have food. Too many don’t have homes. As my son’s classmates have grown older, I’ve seen the stresses of poverty weigh more heavily on some of them, and I fret about their futures in a way I didn’t think about when they were six or seven or eight.

But like those varied kindergartners striving to create a beautiful picture, we are all in it together. I wouldn’t trade my years at this marvel of a school for anything.

* * *

Our country needs to hear more stories about schools like Shamrock, tales of the joys and challenges that come when people from many different backgrounds labor together to build a civic institution that strengthens all of us. I think this administration should celebrate them far and wide. Since the legal climate no longer favors large-scale desegregation plans, creating integrated schools depends on the resolve of families and communities. Stories of success can help build that determination.

In recent years, such stories have been overwhelmed by a national obsession with test scores and individual achievement, a focus that scares families away from schools that need their help and obscures the many roles that public schools play in our society, and in our children’s lives. We desperately need to rebalance this conversation.

If our country is to “win the future,” we have to do it child by child, and school by school. No policy or curriculum or computer program can substitute for the hands-on actions of caring individuals. Shamrock has taught me that I have abilities and influence that I had never dreamed of. We all have these within us, if we will step up and take on challenges together. I hope that Shamrock’s story can inspire such actions.

This post was originally written for the White House Champions of Change series.

Pamela Grundy is president of the PTA at Shamrock Gardens Elementary School in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a member of the parents’ group Parents Across America. You can read more about Shamrock on her

Monday, June 27, 2011

My iPad

I've had my iPad 2 now for six weeks, and I'm ready to give my review. When the first iPad came out, I was not impressed. To me, it was nothing more than an oversized iPhone. My question was, "Why would you want an iPhone that can't make calls and that can't fit in your pocket?" I thought those were pretty good questions, and at the very least it kept me from catching gadget fever. At least for awhile.

A few months ago I borrowed John Carroll's iPad for a couple of days. Gadget fever started taking its toll on me right away. I immediately loved reading Kindle books on the iPad, and websites on Safari were much better than I had expected. I started doing some research and learned that I could fill out real estate contracts with an iPad and even get clients to sign them with it. I also saw how pastors were using the iPad in ministry. So I decided to start saving my money.

So after six weeks of use, I have to say that the thing I'm most excited about is the opportunity to go paperless. OK, maybe not completely paperless, but I'm getting close. Here's how I'm doing it. I was already using a lot of apps on my iPhone, but but there are two new ones that have become game changers for me. The first is Instapaper. With Instapaper, if I come across something worth reading, whether on my laptop or my iPad, I click a button on my browser that says "Read Later." The article is then formatted to remove ads and other clutter, and then I can access it through the Instapaper app. The only thing I wish it had was the ability to highlight in the app, but I'm sure at some point this will be available.

Instapaper is great, but what is even greater is PDF Expert. This app allows me to import a pdf from Dropbox (also on my iPad), and then mark it up. A more technical term would be "annotate", but I like "mark it up" better. I can highlight, underline, type notes, and even insert my signature or someone else (again, like a client's). So far I have used this for charts when leading worship, notes when teaching, and reading/annotating articles. I have no reason to ever print off another chord chart, or sermon notes, or an article. It's all here. And once I have my highlights and notes, I can email it back to me if I choose.

These two apps, along with the Kindle app, are wonderful and are meeting so many of my needs. If a book is on Kindle, chances are that I'm going to buy that version instead of a hard copy. And not having stacks of paper lying around is going to make me so much more productive. Plus, it will make my wife very happy!

Cooper-Young Home For Sale

I recently finished renovating a home in my neighborhood. It's now for sale, so if you or someone you know is looking to buy, let me know. Here's a picture of my favorite room.

For more info, check out the blog I set up, or see the listing on Trulia.

Friday, June 24, 2011

NC Weekender

Our second Weekender begins in two hours. We have carved out three weekends a year for us to be together. Tonight we kick things off with a discussion on our transition from one church to a network of smaller churches. Afterwards we're headed to Josh and Ginger's for a party. Tomorrow morning, after breakfast, we'll have four workshops on practical topics that relate to this new vision. On Saturday afternoon we have a service project at Peabody Elementary School. And then on Sunday morning we end our time with a prayer brunch.

These Weekenders are going to be our most important gatherings of the year, and I'm so glad that so many are coming to learn and to be together.

This is Discipling

This is Discipling from The Foursquare Church on Vimeo.

Monday, May 30, 2011

God's Heart for Urban Education 3

David Waters was at our gathering the night David Montague spoke. Afterwards he wrote a great article on MTR. Here's part of that article.

Virginia Boyd wants to serve God and Memphis by becoming the best math teacher any city school kid has ever had.

David Montague and Robin Scott want to serve God and Memphis by helping Virginia do that.

"You don't have to talk about the love and compassion and mercy of Christ to demonstrate it," said Montague, a former stockbroker turned public school evangelist. "Becoming the best math teacher a kid's ever had is a valid response to the gospel."

Montague and Scott are leading the Memphis Teacher Residency, one of many nonprofit organizations that have responded to the Gates Foundation's $90-million challenge to put an effective teacher in every Memphis City Schools classroom.

Like Teach for America and the Memphis Teaching Fellows, MTR seeks to recruit, train and support outstanding urban educators in Memphis. What makes MTR different is its mission to do that "within a Christian context."

MTR's "Christian context" comes in the motivation, not the implementation.

"It's a shared mission, that's the heart of it," said Scott, a former Indiana public school teacher and MTR's director of education. Teaching in large, urban systems "is too hard, too demanding not to have a sense of mission about it," Scott said. "You have to see urban education as a calling."

MTR recruits and accepts only candidates who believe that teaching in large, urban public schools systems is a Christian calling, not just a career. But candidates also must believe they should not discuss their faith in a public school setting.

"America is not short on information about the gospel," said Montague, a former Christian missionary who directs MTR's work from offices in the basement of Union Avenue Baptist Church. "It is short on demonstrations of the power of the gospel."

MTR's mission is to demonstrate the love of Christ by recruiting Christians who are committed to transforming the city's public schools into bastions of academic excellence for all children.

Christians committed to seeing academic achievement gaps as biblically unjust.

Christians committed to sacrificing their own standards of living to improve those of others.

Christians committed to serving their neighbors' children and not just their own.

"Twenty years from now," said Dr. Maxie Dunnam, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church, "when our educational system is more effectively and fairly serving the children of our city, we will look back and realize that David Montague and Memphis Teacher Residency Program played a major role in getting us to that place."

Read more here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

God's Heart for Urban Education 2

And now for some good news...God is up to something in Memphis!

Before diving into what that "something" is, let's hit a couple of theological points. The Bible speaks of a God who is not only capable of doing extraordinary things, but also one who desires to do so. In other words, our God is not only strong but also loving. If you believe this, then there's another point that the Bible makes clear over and over, and it's this: God loves to do the impossible, and He loves to use weak, desperate and dependent people in the process.

Everybody knows that Memphis has some BIG problems. Several times it has ranked at the top of various "worst cities" reports. So what a great place for God to do something extraordinary! As David pointed out, the richest man in the world has given $90 million to Memphis schools, and the most powerful man in the world has given $500 million to Tennessee, much of which will make its way to Memphis.

Oh yeah, and it was just announced that this same most powerful man in the world will be heading to Memphis in a couple of weeks to give the commencement speech at Booker T. Washington High School!!!

David believes that the epicenter for urban education reform is our city. All of the education reform organizations are now making their way to Memphis, and the world is watching to see what will happen next.

And what about the Church? Well, we get the opportunity to be the subversive community that we were meant to be. As David reminded us, the Roman Empire came to believe that Jesus was supreme not because the Christians were the most powerful political organization. It was actually just the opposite. The Christians had no political clout. They had actually been persecuted for 300 years. Instead, they were living out their beliefs in radical ways. They entered into the problems and saw God do the extraordinary through them living their ordinary lives with Gospel intentionality.

Today let us too enter into the big problems of our city, and together dream God-sized dreams, and then let us watch God do what only He can do!

Monday, May 09, 2011

God's Heart for Urban Education 1

Last night David Montague, director of the Memphis Teacher Residency, spoke at NC on the topic of God's Heart for Urban Education. You can listen to the talk here. In my opinion David has one of the voices that needs to be heard when it comes to education reform in our city. Below are some of the notes I took while listening to him.

First, some stats ('cause everybody loves stats, right):
  • Memphis is the 24th largest school district in the U.S.
  • There are 8-10 million students in those 25 largest districts
  • Of those, 50% (4-8 million) will not graduate
  • In 2010, the average ACT score in the city school district was 16.6
  • In the county, the average is 28.3
  • The injustice issue, according to David, is this 70% gap between the rich and the poor
  • Average income for someone who doesn't graduate from high school is $17,000
  • Average income for someone who doesn't graduate from college is under $25,000
  • 90% of public school students in these 25 largest school districts will make under $25,000 for the rest of their lives. This is not sustainable.
David next talked about the role of the church in the history of education reform. He started with the 1800's, during which time it was illegal to educate slaves. He drew heavily from Frederick Douglass' autobiography, which is a free Kindle download. In the 1890's Jim Crow laws emerged, which supposedly gave "separate but equal" status for African-Americans, but in reality was anything but. One of the worst things about all of this is that the people who were passing these laws were sitting in pews on Sunday mornings, not seeing any discrepancies.

Fast forward to 1954, when Brown vs. Board of Education ordered desegregation, and you see another big shift. Now children of different races could go to school together. However, this was not to be the case, because it was during this time that many private schools, many of them opened by churches, began to come into existence. David was quick to point out that the injustice issue was not the opening of these private schools, but the fact that once again we were not putting the same resources into the schools in neighborhoods of choice that we were in neighborhoods of poverty. Check out the recent Memphis Flyer article for more on this.

That's the sad and bad news. Fortunately, David did not stop there. But since this is turning into a rather long blog post, I will. Tomorrow you get the good news!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rob Bell's Book 3

Read Tim Keller's "The Importance of Hell", then read this blog post by Bill Walker. Walker's point is that Keller has already said much of what Bell is saying, yet Keller hasn't come under the attack that Bell has.

Great article from The Huffington Post called "Rob Bell vs. John Piper: Do we have to choose?" One of the best takeaways from this article is this quote: "Bell represents a movement among younger evangelicals that considers theological truth as a secondary concern. they are more about the 'journey' rather than the destination." This is so key. My recommendation with a book like this is to certainly read it, but also read what others are saying about the issue, and of course to read it in context with the Scriptures.

Scot McKnight posted a good article by Jeff Cook on the similarities between Rob Bell and C.S. Lewis. I've never read these Lewis works, but I find this very interesting. A quote: "I suspect Bell intimidates some because he is part of a culture they do not understand and cannot control (that culture is urban, postmodern, and discovers the truth more naturally through questions, sarcasm, and intuition than through the systematic presentations of the top Christian publishing house)."

Finally, a friend just told me about Darrell Bock's chapter-by-chapter review, which can be found here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rob Bell's Book 2

Here is a list of Frequently Asked Questions from Mars Hill, the church where Bell pastors.

Rob Bell's Facebook fan page has more videos

Several evangelicals have come to Bell's defense, and believe that what he is writing is not only nothing new about it, but also nothing wrong with it. Two of the more prominent ones areRichard Mouw and Greg Boyd.

Here is the video of Martin Bashir's interview with Bell, as well as video from part of his interview with Sally Quinn of The Washington Post.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rob Bell's Book 1

I've only read about 1/3 of Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins, but I've read a lot of what others think about the book. I promised some resources over a week ago, so here goes (there will be three posts since there are so many):

First off is a blog post from The Resurgence with links to the initial promo video for the book that set off a social media firestorm, along with some of the more anti-Rob Bell articles and book reviews.

Next up is a link to the video from a panel discussion moderated by Al Mohler of Southern Seminary. A synopsis of that discussion can be found here.

Ben Witherington has a chapter-by-chapter review here. Witherington is a New Testament scholar who falls in the middle on a lot of issues. He affirms much of what Bell writes, but also feels that he falls short in a lot of areas.

Mark Galli's review in Christianity Today.

Scot McKnight's post right before the book came out. In this post he defines words like universalism, pluralism, and annihilationism, all key words in this debate.

Scot McKnight is now going through the book on his blog. So far there are five posts.

Monday, March 14, 2011


Last night I began teaching through the life of David at Neighborhood Church. I started with 1 Samuel 16, which tells the story of the young shepherd boy being anointed king. Here's the jist of the story. David spends his days with sheep. Then one day, while he's minding his own business, the prophet Samuel shows up at his house, and to the surprise of everybody, anoints David as the next king of Israel. This part of the story ends with Samuel leaving and David is right back with the sheep. That's not it?

The theme for the night was contentment. What do we do when God's plans are different than your plans? Or when His timetable is different from your timetable. David's heart was formed during this time with the sheep. As Paul reminded Timothy, "Godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6:6).

At the last minute, I decided to tell our story of moving to Memphis five years ago. It was such a hard time. We had taken a big step of faith and moved here with no jobs, no friends, and just a dream of what could be. Adam was six months old at the time, so we were new parents going through some rather big transitions all at one time.

Contentment did not come easy for me. I fought God a lot of the way, yet I knew that He had something in store for us here in Memphis. I found this post that I wrote during this time. It expresses much of the frustration but also a great deal of hope.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Update on Clean Water Project

I wish I had a better update than this one to share, but here's what I received a few days ago about the area where we are building a well. They have been hit hard by flooding. Let's pray for our brothers and sisters.

The Ucayali river is a mess. It was heartbreaking to fly over the villages that are no longer there and see the peaks of the rooftops of their huts just peeking up out of the water. Dead animals. Flooding everywhere. I saw up close a couple of families living amongst the tree tops in their canoes with their stuff and family.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

To Consolidate or not to Consolidate not the real question.

To be sure, it's an important question, but it's a secondary question. In my opinion, the primary question is the same one that Cain asked God as a response to God's question, "Where is Abel your brother?" Cain's response: "Am I my brother's keeper?" This is a question that needs to be asked as we as Memphis voters consider this decision.

I admit that I am not very into politics, and I realize that there is a lot that I do not know. But the more I learn, the more I am convinced that we, especially those of us in our county who consider ourselves to be followers of Christ, need to ask this question. How responsible are we to one another? How responsible are we to those children in our city who do have anyone taking responsibility for them? The answer to questions like these will determine how we make decisions in regards to an issue like this one.

The Commercial Appeal has a great section devoted to this issue on their website. One of the most helpful is this chart. It's very telling.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Let Go of Your Stuff

Below are some of the statistics that Sandy Wilson, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, gives in his message, "Let Go of Your Stuff." The key text is Deuteronomy 14:22-15:23, which is one of the primary passages that helps us understand the Missio Dei (mission of God). In this passage he talks about the relationship between our money and the poor throughout our city and the world. One of the questions he seeks to answer is, "Am I my brother's keeper?" The audio can be found here. Notes can be found here.

· If you make $25,000/yr, you are in the top 10% of the world's wealthiest

· If you make $25,000/yr, you are just above the poverty line in this country

· If you make $50,000/yr, you are in the top 1% of the world's wealthiest

· Two million children (mostly girls) will be traded in sex traffic this year

· There are more slaves in the world today than there have been in all points of history combined

· Women work two-thirds of the labor hours in the world, and they get paid less than 10% of the wages. And they own less than 1% of the property.

· There are 33 million refugees throughout the world

· The gap between the rich and the poor is growing. In 1820 the ratio was 4 to 1. In other words, the wealthiest person was four times as wealthy as the poorest person. In 1913 that ratio increased to 11 to 1. In 1950 it rose to 35 to 1. And in this last decade it rose to 75 to 1. So now, the wealthiest person is 75 times as wealthy as the poorest person.

· The biggest gap is found in China. The U.S. is in second place.

· The joblessness rate in the U.S. is now 10%. In the urban core it is over 30%

· The average church member gives 2.6% of his/her income. During the Depression Americans gave 3.3%.

· Just 2% of our giving goes overseas.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cutting the Cord

Last month I cancelled my cable TV service. I've hesitated writing about it because I wanted to make sure we didn't go through any sort of withdrawal. I'm happy to report that we've been fine. We haven't really missed it that much, but I know that we are going to enjoy the $65 savings every month.

On our back TV (our playroom) we have a Wii, which gives the ability to watch Netflix. This is primarily what the kids watch. They have their favorite shows on there, and so with that combined with a VCR and DVD player, they are all set. On our main TV in the front room we have an over-the-air (OTR) antenna so that we can watch our local channels, plus we have a DVD player and a Roku XDS.

The Roku is pretty amazing. Our favorite channels are Netflix, Hulu Plus, HGTV, Newscaster, NBA, Pandora, BaebleMusic, and Mp3Tunes. I also have an external hard drive hooked up so that I can listen to my music and watch movies that were on my PC. Out of all of those channels, the only thing we pay for is Netflix and Hulu Plus (about $18).

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Strengths Finder 3

In this final post I want to give some thoughts on how the Strengths Finder workshop from a few weeks ago is impacting the life of our church. Last Sunday night at our Partners meeting I shared one of my favorite quotes. It's from Gordon Cosby, who founded The Church of our Savior.

The greatest impact on the world comes about by small, highly committed and disciplined communities of people focused on outward mission, inward transformation, and loving, accountable community.

I see church as a team, and in order for a team to live out this quote, everyone on the team needs to understand one another's strengths and weaknesses. As Paul said, when one part of the body is unhealthy, then the body as a whole is unhealthy. It has been exciting learning more about my teammates. I know what I do and do not bring to the table, and when it comes to some of our key leaders, I feel the same way. But now I feel that I have a handle on this with the rest of our team members.

The key now is to see this begin to be lived out. We have encouraged everyone that the first step is seeing how this impacts each of us as individuals. Then, if you're married, ask the same questions in relationship to your marriage. After that, bring it to your community group. These are our core teams, and so seeing how this fleshes out in those relationships will be key. Not only are they great places to experiment, but there can be great feedback provided by these close relationships.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Strengths Finder 2

This study has provoked a lot of conversation between Mandy and I. Here's why: she and I are about as opposite as you can get when it comes to our strengths. As ministry partners, this is awesome, because it means great compatibility. As spouses, it means the same thing, but it is oh so incredibly difficult.

Mandy has the rarest theme in America: discipline. She loves predictability. She is always asking the question "Why?" She is very focused and analytical, and is a super achiever. Me on the other hand: not so much...on any of this. I am just fine flying by the seat of my pants, making changes as I go. I don't like predictability. I prefer adaptability. See the tension!

Through our 11 years of marriage, we have most often seen these major differences as major weaknesses in one another. We certainly have not seen them as strengths. And we certainly have not changed this after a few weeks of conversation. But just realizing there is a a conversation to be had has made a world of difference. I appreciate Mandy's strengths more today than I probably ever have before, and I believe this is going to continue to have a great influence on our marriage!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Strengths Finder 1

Two weekends ago our church brought in Mike Dauphinee for a Strengths Finder workshop, which is based on this book by Tom Rath. All of us took the online inventory before the workshop. The idea is that as each of us on the team understands our strengths, it will make the entire team work better.

In this first post I want to give a reflection on how this has impacted me personally. Then, in future posts I'll reflect on how this impacts my marriage and my church.

I took this inventory about nine years ago, but I knew it had probably changed some. Below are my five themes, along with the "balcony" (potential) and "basement" (extreme) for each.

1. Self-Assurance - People who are especially talented in the Self-Assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right.
Balcony: self-confident, strong inner compass, risk-taker
Basement: arrogant, self-righteous, over confident, stubborn

2. Activator - People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
Balcony: self-starter, fire-starter, energy source, fearless
Basement: ready-fire-aim, loose cannon, speak before you think, in left field (because others haven't caught up)

3. Arranger - People who are especially talented in the Arranger theme can organize, but they also have a flexibility that complements this ability. They like to figure out how all of the pieces and resources can be arranged for maximum productivity.
Balcony: flexible, organizer, juggler, aligning and realigning tasks to find the most productive configuration possible, efficient, conductor
Basement: lack of structure, too flexible, don't follow the existing rules or procedures, constantly changing priorities, lack of vision

4. Adaptability - People who are especially talented in the Adaptability theme prefer to "go with the flow." They tend to be "now" people who take things as they come and discover the future one day at a time.
Balcony: flexible, comfortable in times of change, easy to get along with, go with the flow
Basement: directionless, indecisive, sheep, inconclusive, whimsical

5. Command - People who are especially talented in the Command theme have presence. They can take control of a situation and make decisions.
Balcony - charisma, direct, driven, inspirational, easy to follow, clear, concise
Basement - bossy, know-it-all, domineering, rude, abrupt, short, strong-willed, inflexible, stubborn

It's funny that what sticks out more than anything are the extremes of the theme, or what we continued to come back to as the "dark side" of the gifts. I have seen this in my life so many times. But this study has more than anything helped me to be confident in the way that God has wired/gifted me.

Mike defined a strength as any task we perform that makes us feel strong. Therefore, a weakness is any task we perform that makes us feel weak. This is key. In most of our jobs we all have to at times work out of our weaknesses, but the problem comes when this becomes the primary way we work. Some people have no idea what makes them feel strong. Others know but have not been in environments where they've been given this freedom.

This makes so much sense to me, and though I feel like I have been somewhat operating in these strengths, I believe that I will do so even more from now on.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Burn Out

A couple of months ago our counselor told Mandy and I that she felt that both of us were experiencing burnout. This was something new for me, but over the last few weeks I've begun to see some of the signs. This is something that I'm continuing to seek God over, but today I read this quote from John Piper's Brothers, We Are Not Professionals:

Few things frighten me more than the beginnings of barrenness that come from frenzied activity with little spiritual food and meditation.

Bingo! I sense barrenness, and I know that I am experiencing frenzied activity. I've not been this busy in a long time. So I have to ask myself what I'm eating. Sometimes our souls can be starving and we don't even know it. I am grateful that to God for these wake-up calls. I recognize His work.

Monday, January 03, 2011

2010 Top Ten Lists: Music

I got some good stuff here. In no particular order...

Mumford & Sons
Oh, yeah, this is in order. These guys were my most-listened-to band of the year. Love their album. So the rest of the list is in no particular order.

Dave Barnes
Crazy good vocals and guitar, and a very funny fella

The Avett Brothers
I know I'm probably not introducing anyone to these guys, but perhaps to the Tiny Desk Concert podcast from NPR.

Ben Rector
Mandy and I saw him open for Dave Barnes a couple of months ago. There are other songs that I like better, but I couldn't find a good video of them. Check out his album.

Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors
Not sure how I've missed these cats for so long, but at the aforementioned Dave Barnes/Ben Rector show, they kept mentioning them. Then we got to see their Christmas show a few weeks ago. And don't worry. I learned that Ellie does not have casts on both arms.

Hey Marseilles
I discovered this band on the Tiny Desk podcast.

Gabe Dixon Band
I discovered these guys listening to Ben Folds on Pandora. This song came on, and my response was, "Who is this guy?"

Aaron Strumpel
I can't remember how I heard about him, but one night, after I had just purchased his Chair & Microphone album, Mandy and I listened to it in its entirety. Just couldn't turn it off.

Steven Curtis Chapman
This song paints a beautiful picture of where hope intersects tragedy. I had this album awhile before I really sat and listened to it. I don't know that I've heard so many songs that come forth from the heart. This is my favorite song from the album.

Aaron Ivey
And last but certainly not least. This is one of my favorite songs of the year. What a great story!