If your church has to warn everybody about Michael and Lisa Gungor from the pulpit this Sunday morning, it might be a good indicator that your church leadership needs your prayers.
I’m intrigued by a meticulous art project from UK-based photographer Thom Atkinson, in which he obtained and laid out the battle kit of English soldiers over the past millennium. The fiction author in me, as well as the child in me, found the images fascinating. Similarly, my boys were eager to look over my shoulder and view each image as I explained the various pieces of kit.
Perhaps showing signs of age, and revealing the parts of my heart that have been touched by the realities of human conflict (particularly with regard to our pastoral proximity to Ft. Drum), I was surprised to find that some of my explanations interested me far less than they used to. And a few unspoken concepts repulsed me.
Because I knew my sons couldn’t and shouldn’t handle them yet.
I think of the use of hooked polearms, or how a gas mask protects against the effects of nerve gas.
The romance of war has certainly faded, though the call to protect and defend has not.
Moving through the various images, I was reminded that these kits were necessary because of our rebellion to God in the first place. And further, I noted how many of the conflicts had purely humanistic motives (which could be said of any conflict, to be sure). One doesn’t need to know much of the Crusades to understand its fundamental atrociousness.
For the innocent blood we’ve spilt, we’ll give answer to; for the innocent we defended, our blood is its own testament.
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!
Thanks to my friend Wayne Thomas Batson for this beautiful reminder.
I’ve been feeling a lot of pressure. While I can’t see it, I can feel it.
Something pressing’s down on me. Many things, actually. And they’re not bad things. They’re good things. In fact, they’re God-ordained things.
Serving my wife, stewarding my kids, taking care of our home, investing into people, building the local church, growing kingdom businesses that influence communities, creating art that changes hearts.
Every one of these topics have high price tags of time, energy and money. And they each have severe ramifications if I make mistakes.
And yet they weight me down.
So is the weight something I’m to be afraid of? To fear?
How about to avoid? That seems to be the most common advice I give myself. That’s the advice most well meaning people give. Avoid the weight. Look for ways to offload it. It’s unhealthy. It’s not God. If you’re not at peace with it, look for where you’re being disobedient.
But what if not giving myself to any of those things is the disobedience?
I’m also inspired by a quote form one of T.D. Jake’s famous sermons, The Weight of Glory:
The conduit from laity to leadership is discomfort.
What if the discomfort of my life is the very thing that qualifies me to lead? To stand in front of my family, my friends, my church, my businesses, and say, “Follow me as I follow the Lord.”
I’m inspired by the life and letters of the Apostle Paul, knowing that affliction is the gateway for glory.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
What if the very tactic of the enemy is to get me to believe the “burn out” lie? To subtly convince me to “take it easy.” To “quit” one thing or another “because it’s hard, and I’m so tired.”
If anxiety and burdens are the enemy of the first-world Christian, how can I consciously avoid lines like this in what most scholars believe is the first written text of the New Testament?
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:28
I can feel the loving eyes of the Father staring at me as I complain about my circumstances. As I moan about one issue or another. About how hard I have it. The past several days, it’s been a minute by minute awareness. He’s checking me. Testing me.
This past Sunday was the most frustrating tech Sunday at New Life. Ever. Four days before, our building was struck by lightning, so by Sunday, my tech department was finding more and more ghosts in the systems. Lights stopped working, lyrics stopped going up on screens, audio sends weren’t feeding. And I have no hair left to pull out.
Could God be speaking any more loudly to me?
I think I’m mining gold now. I think I’m arriving at a divine conclusion. I feel God forging it deep within me. And I’m becoming profoundly certain of a heavenly truth.
The best way to keep from spoiling our position is to correct our attitude.
And what is my attitude to be?
That I live like a king. That pastors dream about having the “problems” I do. That since I’ve been given so much, much is required of me (Luke 12:48). Anything less than my very best not only belittles my calling and my position, but mocks the one who knew I can stand here and lead. And serve.
I’ve never met a grateful person who was burnt out.
Keep going today.
Don’t give up.
Tomorrow will take care of itself. You just be obedient today.
Souls are waiting on the other side of your obedience.
Our time in Europe was refreshing and extremely productive from a personal and kingdom standpoint. Jennifer and I both felt extremely used by the Lord (a marvelous commentary to be had on how the rest of secular culture hates “being used”), and that we were in the right place at the right time.
The tour included teaching at the EDEN discipleship school, concerts in Longwy, Longuyon and Woippy, and nights of worship as well Sunday ministry at L’Eglise Sans Frontier—our home church in France. We also made stops in Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland.
The number one Comic Con perk? If you’re ultra famous, all you need is a simple mask to completely blend in.
And if you’re already known for living your adult life in your own personal fantasy world, come as you are. No one will think twice.
Wait. OK, well, maybe they’d know who you are, Lady Gaga.
Consider a bird.
No, no. Not like that. I mean, act as if you never saw one at all. As if a bird hasn’t ever existed before.
Just pure imagination. All its systems working together to create flight. And self-awareness. And self-reliance. And it’s flock mentality. Maybe a little homing sense thrown in for good measure.
Only now, you’re charged with actually making one.
For the very first time.
What tools would you use? Which technologies and materials would you employ? Today, 2014.
Where would you even begin?
Considering your prototype works, you’re now charged with mass producing them. But here’s the catch. They need to self-replicate. So your factory only needs to produce one. But every other subsequent bird needs to grow inside a self-contained (ie, all food inside), geometrically perfect oblong sphere able to withstand immense pressure and the elements, yet thin enough that the offspring can break through once they’ve outgrown the module. And your design material needs to be semi porous for breathability. You know, just because.
If you master that, let’s really make it interesting. Your new goal is coming up with 10,000 different models; you can even combine models mid-stream to produce new ones if you want. I want variations in wing size, body shape, color, eating habits, behavioral patterns and more. I want some that talk, some that swim, and some that bang their beaks against trees like an impact drill. I want fluffy ones, fat ones, and others that stand on one leg. Shoot, give me a few that can hover or fly backwards and I’ll give you bonus points—cause, man, that’s fly.
How I Use iPhone Apps to Study The Bible and Prepare to Speak
I share the following workflow for three reasons. The first is that I get a lot of requests about how I prepare my messages, and people seem genuinely helped when I explain my methods. The second is that it speaks to study in general; not everyone is a pastor or teacher, but everyone, especially Christians, should be students of scripture and of life.
The third is that I believe I’m in the cross-over generation from print Bibles to digital Bibles, at least in leading and developing first world nations. This is important. I grew up reading my Gideon hotel-stolen NKJV until it needed rebinding, and my leather-bound NIV Rainbow Study Bible. But as I traveled more (specifically flying), the sheer weight and size of my Bibles and notebooks became an impediment. As the iPhone, and then iPad made it easier to chose how I could pack, my study habits also started to change. They became more efficient, and therefore more powerful.
Superior tools allow a craftsman to do better work. The generation behind me often finds digital sterile and cold, some might even say “un-anointed.” But the generation coming after me needs to be even more immersed in the written Word. I’m sure there may have been similar despondency when people could actually bring a Bible into their home for the first time. “But how will we know what it means if the priest isn’t here to teach us?” Or how about the glaring hurdle of having to learn how to read?
The point is, if there are new tools available to us that proliferate the accessibility of scripture and allow us to understand more than ever before, we need to champion them, if nothing more than for the sake of those coming after us.
When preparing a sermon for a church service, I first have to begin where I want to end: my audience (their needs and contextual appetites), my time frame (if I’m at New Life, we have four services each with a 20-25 minute window for the message; if I’m at EDEN school in France, I look at 3-hour blocks), and obviously my goal (what I want them leaving with). Without these, I tend to ramble, over prepare, and think more about what I want to say than what God wants to say. Remember, constraints can either limit you or serve you—the choice is entirely yours.
All of my messages begin (and mostly end) on my iPhone. It’s always with me, so convenience is key. It’s also the place I do my largest amount of Bible reading. I use four different apps for different reasons.
Bible by YouVersion: This is the easiest and simplest app to read from for me. The social connectivity attributes are nice, but not really the reason I’m there. When I need to copy and paste scriptures, this app places them in my clipboard with the reference in parentheses at the bottom. I have it loaded with ESV, NKJV, NIV, KJV and NLT.
PocketSword by CrossWire: This is the mojo, the magic sauce Bible app for me. I use it for one thing: Greek and Hebrew (Strongs modules) in the KJV (the only version they appear in). When I want to research and break down the words (something all good teachers and preachers need to be in the practice of), PocketSword is my go-to app.
Lumina by Bible Studies Foundation: This NET translation of the Bible comes hyperlinked with 60,000 translation notes created by 25 translation scholars from Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew. Great for digging a little deeper into those hard-to-understand passages.
Bible+ by Olive Tree: I tend to make most of my in-Bible notes and highlights in this app as it “feels” the most like reading my favorite print Bibles. I typically read out of the ESV here. Pasting copied sections strips out the references, so if I want to grab something I like, I jump back to YouVersion.
The other reading app I use most (paired beside Evernote, which I’ll hit next) is Kindle for iOS. In here I’m gleaning from whatever non-fiction or essays (PDFs) I’ve downloaded. I’m a firm believer that you don’t have enough time to extract everything out of the Bible that you need, so you better eat from the hands of others who’ve used their entire lives to share something worth digesting.
Since I’m one of those preachers who believes that everything needs to be rooted and end up in the written Word, most all of my ideas launch out of verses that speak to my life experiences, world happenings and what I believe God is trying to say to people (my audience, in particular).
As a result, when I’m reading in one of my Bible apps, I’m bound to open Evernote within moments. Evernote is my catch-all of choice. From pics and drawings to links and syncing, it’s my jam, and arguably the best on the market.
I have an “Academics” stack that contains most all of my more heady content, and within, my “Messages” notebook. I allow this notebook to be very fluid. It not only contains finished content, but also “content in process.” Or as my Dad uses in his three ring binders, his “Sermons Working” tab.
Here’s a shot from a message I preached last Sunday at L’Eglise Sans Frontiers in Longuyon, France:
When I’m traveling or under time constraints, I preach right out of Evernote from my iPad or iPhone. But if I have time, there’s one extra step that I take. Fair warning: this is for geeks, nerds, designers and people with any level of OCD.
I import my content from Evernote into InDesign to create a good looking PDF.
I learned from designer Nathan Davis to value the added step of creating a beautiful looking PDF as it has a way of internalizing the content more thoroughly. This added process, while sometimes time consuming, is a great way of embedding the message deeper into my gut where it moves from notes I have to read verbatim to a message I can proclaim intuitively. And when I need to transition from teaching to preaching while onstage, this key component is essential.
My father, Peter, taught (and challenged) me to love scripture. And he still prepares his messages using his wonderful leather-bound Bible and 8″ three-ring notebooks filled with his handwriting. What he passed on, however, we’re not his methods, but his love for God’s Word. Regardless of how you learn, study, preach or teach, make sure that you’re more focused on imparting than on your process: few people will remember how you did it, but everyone will remember what you did.
In the arena of business, I’ve met a lot of people who start off conversations by asking future employees or other entrepreneurs how much money they’ve earned. The discussion could include additional possessions, like cars, boats and houses, as if these are medals awarded for valor on the field of capitalist battle.
But asking someone how much money they made doesn’t give you an accurate picture of the whole story. So I prefer another question.
“How much money have you lost?”
Knowing how much money someone has lost not only reveals to me how much net worth they might have, but also the level of risk that they’re willing to live with. Further, if someone has lost a considerable amount of money, or has endured numerous life-failures, and yet they’re still sitting in front of me as a successful person, that tells me a great deal about their individual fortitude and personal character. They’re willing to put things on the line, pay the price if they go wrong, and work themselves out of the hole.
I call this loss judging.
Losing money, whether it’s your own or someone else’s, is never fun. It’s not something we like to brag about either. Who would? There’s certainly something to be said for steering clear of people who habitually tank institutions, organizations or themselves. But when considering a new hire or partnership, assuming the person has something to bring to the table, knowing what they’ve had to go through to get where they are helps paint a more clear picture of who they are.
The same assessment can also hold true in other aspects of life. Much of the time we write off people who’ve made poor decisions, finding themselves at the bottom of the social ladder. How many times have we passed homeless people who actually have degrees in a highly prestigious fields? And yet we give jobs to young 20-something’s fresh out of college, with no experience whatsoever, mind you, and a mountain of debt.
I judge someone who’s lost a loved one—as a different example—as someone who knows how to endure grief. They’ve had to stare mortality in the face and move on, most often at great expense. For those who’ve lost family “out of time,” meaning a son or daughter or grandson or granddaughter, I have even more respect.
Perfect track records can tell you a lot about people, sure. But loss judging not only tells you who a person is, but who’ve they’ve fought not to be. It tells you they’re still in the game. That matters.
Not all loss is bad. And not all gains are good. Our job as leaders is to try and perceive the value of people sitting across from us so we all can move forward in strength. The more scars a person carries, the less your team may have to suffer.
Jennifer and I’ve had a wonderful time here in northern France for the last several days. In the mornings I’ve been teaching the students at EDEN discipleship school, followed by various activities in the afternoons, and nights of worship in the evenings.
I’ve been lecturing on redefining the gospel “according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:2), and its resulting impact on the function of evangelism. The discussions with the students have been wonderfully inspiring, and I’m excited to see them unleashed on local villages later in the week as we find creative ways to demonstrate sacrificial love personified.
As always, it’s not the places that we visit that leave a lasting impact on us, but the people we meet. Here are some of their faces.
I know. A bit tongue-in-cheek for those that know my wife dresses me. Out of sheer social necessity. But sandals? That’s something I know a thing or two about. Review, here I come.
I discovered Vere Sandals last week. They liked a vintage photo I posted on Instagram of my father-in-law in Letchworth State Park from the ’70s. Intrigued, I clicked on their profile and saw cool sandals-in-process pics. And then a pic of what looked a lot like the Finger Lakes. As a guy who grew up in the beautiful wine-country region on central NY, I can spot a tree-speckled horizon of waterfront property a mile away. Sure enough, their company location read “Geneva, NY.”
Wait, wait. Good looking sandals, hand made in Geneva, NY? And no, Geneva, NY isn’t code for some NYC burrow filled with migrant workers.
But they’re probably expensive.
So I jumped on their website and immediately went searching for a price point.
$34 for foamies, $54 for leathers.
That’s as much, if not cheaper than what I pay for my Reefs (two pair annually).
OK, but they probably feel like crap.
Why am I so jaded?
Only one way to overcome this consumer bias. So I bought a pair of Men’s Louie Sandals in black and blue, size 10. They arrived at my PO Box a few days later.
The sparse packaging was cool, and reemphasized the slogan I’d seen on their sight: “Made here. Made better.” Another personal touch was the hand written note from Mike. Not sure who Mike is, but he cared enough to just not stuff a receipt in the padded envelope. Nice touch.
I’m a smell guy, so the scent of newly pressed foam and needle-point-nylon wafted out of the envelope. My designer eye scanned the lines for imperfections, thinking somehow that handmade meant shoddy. Wrong. From the laser engraved heel emblem to the flawless trim lines, these beauties were well executed. Even the bright blue Vere logo on the sandal strap was understated but purposeful.
I happened to be on our sail boat in port (#1000Islands), so what better time to test them out? I flicked off my trusty-dusty Reefs from last season, and eased on the new Veres.
First impressions were of pulling on a new glove. Fairly tight, but by no means uncomfortable. I forgot that I was coming from well-worn Reefs with a solid synthetic strap. The Veres have a woven strap that seemed to expand slightly with my foot.
I won’t lie, the tight fit scared me. Then I started thinking maybe I should’ve purchased 11s as the 10s left little room behind the heel or in front of the toe. The only problem was that they felt good. Really good.
I took a stroll down our dock, immediately feeling the subtle support built into the multilayers of foam. This was different. I also tend to walk slightly pigeon toed, so my heels wear to the inside of a sandal; but looking down, I noticed the sandal was staying right in line with my awkward foot-angle.
With a few passes in our marina, I started to wonder if I really needed all the extra real estate I always purchase with my Reefs. Because these sandals felt a lot less like sandals, and more like…
But with comfort built in.
In fact, they fit so well, I could actually feel that my right foot was bigger than the left (which it is). Where the left strap felt perfect, the right strap felt a little too tight. And for the first 24 hours of wearing them, I felt a slight rub on the inside of my right foot. It was annoying, but I reminded myself that: a) I’d come front a different style sandal, and b) they hadn’t broken in yet.
I posted a quick pic on Instagram, and a few minutes later @veresandals was talking back. More nice.
I stopped by a friend’s house in Rochester, NY yesterday. He immediately noticed the new treads and asked, “May I?” I acquiesced, and the moment his foot went in (also a size 10), he looked up surprised. “They feel great!”
“I know,” I replied with a smile. “They’re Veres. And they’re made an hour from you.”
The most starling Vere discovery, however, came after a full day of use. I was sitting on the couch talking with Jenny when I scratched my foot. A second later, I wiped my nose (come on, you all do stuff like this too). But something was missing.
The horrid foot-stink.
I was literally so shocked (remember, I’m a smell guy), I buried my nose in my toes. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I looked over at my Reefs by the front door and could practically smell the cow manure stench they give off after a day’s use. Granted, it could be because the Veres are new; I half expect them to stink by week’s end. But every pair of Reefs I’ve ever purchased smelled the first day.
By the end of my second day, the right side strap-rub was all but gone. And that’s when I had to make the big decision. Do I take them to France with me or not? What footwear you bring overseas is a big deal if you’re a frequent traveler. It can often make or break your trip. Jenny was packing my suit case and saw me deliberating. “Take the ones that don’t smell,” she said.
And I did.
I’m sitting on the plane heading overseas wearing my Veres and packing my Merrel shoes. The deal is sealed.
My next pair of sandals will be Veres. And the pair after that. If they keep making great products, employing my neighbors, and valuing their materials usage (including disposal) like they do, I can’t imagine buying anything else.
Can’t wait to try their leather sandals—that’s next.
If you buy some, tell them Christopher sent you. I don’t get a thing from it, I just like being personable with a company that treats me personally. Then come back here and share your story.
UPDATE: In the time it took me to publish this post, Vere got back to me via Instagram about why my feet don’t smell. Classy.
Can you recount ten notable headlines of news articles that you’ve read over the last thirty days?
Don’t worry, neither can I.
But can you recall a point that moved you in a book from the last ten years?
You probably can.
That’s because reading intentional long-form works tend to have a far more lasting effect on our lives than reading any of the day’s gossip columns. If this is true for me as I suspect it is for you, it means that we must be more deliberate than ever before about what we’re ingesting on a regular basis.
Making behavior decisions in the present based on what we know will help us in the future is the very essence of wise judgement.
Here are a few things I do to make sure I’m consuming content that I know helps and not dilutes my perspective:
Use YouTube Videos as Podcasts. Whatever your hobby or profession is, there’s probably someone online who’s said something that you need to know. And while podcasts are plentiful, YouTube trends higher on people’s scope. So I stock pile recommendations that people send me, most notable sermons, tutorials or songs, and play them through my headphones when I have down time, especially during travel. The key here it that you don’t always need to see it to receive it. Hearing them talk is just as essential to the process of learning, and often allows us to retain more information in certain contexts.
Stay Addicted, Just Change The Drug. If you find yourself addicted to reading materials on your mobile device, then leverage your new addiction, don’t despise it. This means putting your Kindle app right next to your favorite news aggregate app. Or better yet, place the pop-culture apps further back in your screen pages and keep your Kindle/iBooks app up front. This visual reminder helps promote long-form works of value while keeping the dreaded pop-web-surfing monster at bay.
Value Authentic Communication First. If you’re a Christian, and you’re tempted to read your email or check social media first, make sure that your Bible app is close. I’d much rather hear what God has to say to me to start my day than what people do. Emails are important and, to an extent, so is social media; they’re just not the most important. It’s the myriad of other voices in my email and social media accounts that tend to side track me. Kick things off right: hear from God first.
What ways have you disciplined yourself to intentionally digest wholesome content while skirting the frivolous?
New good habits are hard to form, but they become just as powerful as old bad ones. Only more so: because they help instead of hinder you.
Life is built on a sequence of events played out over time.
I can’t buy my next guitar until I sell my present guitar. Which I just did.
(Enjoy, Mark R.)
I couldn’t write this post until I got here to Hawaii. Between the build up to Easter, the launching of our North Campus, and leading worship and speaking at Redline Conference, I haven’t had anything more to give a public. This post was conditional upon my last “posting” of service to another audience.
All this to say, I’m simply reminded that we can’t do the next thing unless we finish the present thing.
The next thing sounds wonderful and exciting. It’s a distant horizon, an unopened gift beneath the Christmas tree.
The present thing is familiar.
And not the vintage, old-timey old. I mean nasty old. The “dear lord, I’m so sick of this and I just want it to end” kind of old that demands a high level of something to tolerate.
Of endurance? Patience? Stamina? Fortitude?
Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36 NLT)
The next thing becomes the sweetest thing only when the present thing is treated faithfully.
Said differently with some verbose alliteration, don’t rob your pending promise of its pleasure by prematurely parting with your present plan.
Stay with it, whatever you’re doing today. There is a very real reward on its way.
I’m off to dive on a plane wreck in O’ahu. Yes, rewards are worth being patient for.
Our testimonies give permission for others to walk in similar victories. Don’t rob someone’s victory by withholding your testimony.