Month: October 2015 (page 1 of 3)

Reads of the Week | 10/31/2015


These five reads from this past week challenged, encouraged, and provided perspective for me. Check them out for yourself.

How Can You Forgive When Forgiveness is Hard? by Jeff Martin

Unforgiveness affects more than we admit. Jeff Martin writes phenomenally on how the scriptures invite us to forgive to free us.

Small Groups Are Weird by Chris Surratt

Chris Surratt challenges our assumptions of small groups. When we experience intentional community, we can begin to grow, and the Gospel takes shape in our lives.

1 Daily Habit That Will Disrupt Your Business and Change Your Life by Lolly Daskal

We rush to multitask and productivity. Lolly Daskal provides eight reasons to engagement mindfulness for the workplace and life.

How Failed JC Penney CEO is Redeeming Himself with Enjoy by Max Chafkin

This article shares the remarkable story of Ron Johnson, who used to work for Apple and JC Penney. He quotes Dallas Willard and offers a beautiful perspective on rebounding from failure.

How to Disagree about Heated Issues by Andrew Blackburn

I think this is an excellent conversation starter. Andrew Blackburn does a phenomenal job of pointing us to the process and purpose of heated discussions.

What reads challenged you this week? Share the links with us in the comment section below.

Photo credit to Mikhail Pavstyuk.


I came home for a summer internship between my junior and senior of college. The last semester had taken a toll on me. Late night trips to Applebee’s for half price appetizers mixed with not exercising added far more than the freshman fifteen. Coming home to Binghamton provided a fresh start.


The internship took place at the church I grew up attending. A new executive pastor took me under his wing. One of the first questions he asked me was, “Would you like to meet me at the gym at 6:15 am?” Despite my desire to sleep a few extra minutes, I answered “yes.”

Weeks later, I noticed a substantial amount of changes. The exercise in the morning had caused me to watch what I ate. Because I spent time with this pastor working out, he provided me with helpful feedback and wisdom. Not only did I lose weight, but I started listening to others more attentively, engaging scripture more meaningfully, and sensed the Holy Spirit nudging other areas of my life.

Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit would label this a “Keystone Habit.” He describes this kind of habit as, “The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge, and remake other patterns.”

Where does grace intersect with habits? Experiencing the Gospel does not negate our effort. Rather the grace of Jesus motivates and empowers to experience change, especially in our habits. N.T. Wright in After You Believe discusses how habits relate to grace, maturity, and growth when we follow Jesus:

There is a sequence: grace, which meets us where we are but it is not content to let us remain where we are, followed by direction and guidance to enable us to acquire the right habits to replace the wrong ones (pg. 63)

When I look back at that summer internship, I point back to one habit of exercising. It catalyzed a series of growth moments starting from the invitation from the pastor who oversaw me in my internship. God provided the right person and the right opportunity for me to grow. I experienced grace by responding to what the Holy Spirit brought in front of me.

Perhaps, God has not given us a list of habits to change. When we think of growing spiritually, He might call us to discover one habit of pursuing growth.

Perhaps, we have a sense of our “Keystone Habit” more than we like to admit. It seems to be the one area, that keeps repeating in our minds:
Exercising regularly.
Spending time in prayer.
Finding solitude and silence.
Shutting down our mobile devices for a few hours.
Engaging Scripture.
Implementing a chore routine.
Making a budget.
Joining or forming a small group.

Whatever the habit might be, God might call you to pursue a simple change that could transform other areas of your life. Experiencing grace might mean looking for the opportunities for growth God has placed right in front of you.

What “Keystone Habit” might God call you to pursue?

Photo credit by Skitter Photo.

4 Messages from Mentors

We inherently look for guides. When we come to a fork in the road, it helps to have a person in our corner. They help us perceive our relationships and situations in a way that causes us to grow. Think of them as the coaches, Sherpa, and elders. Many of us have been aided by having a mentor.


As I look back over my life, I have noticed how God has placed the right mentors at the right time. These men walked with me during the mundane and major life transitions. They challenged and encouraged me to grow.

Throughout the scripture, we see these relationships; Elijah and Elisha, Mary and Elizabeth, Paul and Timothy. It seems that God places people in our lives at crucial moments to help us grow in grace. They don’t merely tell us what to do or take our side, but they point us to see how God calls us to become.

You might be considering finding a mentor. Many potential mentees and mentors do not begin this relationship because they wait for the invite from each other. If you sense a person could mentor you well, then take the first step in getting to know them. Conversely, if you think you could add value to a person with your experience, seek permission to mentor them.

The mentors in my life have offered me these four messages to grow:

1. “You’re not alone…”

This first message speaks of understanding. Mentors listen and recap your situations in a way you feel understood. The lie many of us have to deal with has to do with isolation. A mentor might offer their experience to you, but even more so they provide support. They help you get off the hamster wheel of your problem to see a light at the end of the tunnel.

2. “You can receive grace…”

We can critique ourselves more than anyone else. Donald Miller says this about grace in Scary Close, “Grace only sticks to our imperfections. Those who can’t accept their imperfections, can’t accept grace either.” A mentor invites us to recognize our flaws so we can receive grace to grow.

3. “You can hear the truth…”

There comes a point in all of our relationships when the truth comes out. The question about handling the truth from Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise hits us. Starting with grace, a mentor speaks the truth in love. We need to hear the truth because we at times avoid or have blinders to some of our issues. A mentor helps us shine the light on the darkness.

4. “You’re capable…”

Understanding leads to grace. Grace leads to truth. Each of these previous messages leads us to change. Sometimes we procrastinate or even when we realize the issue we don’t know where to start. A mentor does not feed us the answers to the tests of our lives. They encourage us and help us discover the steps to change. Most importantly, they partner with us through prayer so that the Holy Spirit can speak into our lives.

What messages have your mentors offered you? Share them in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Andreas Rønningen.

Costumes and Shadows

What costume do you wear? Millions of people this weekend will dress up as different characters for Halloween. For many of us, each day we put on a costume. We attempt to project a self-image to others. We can weary ourselves to maintain a self-image.


Costumes keep us from authenticity. To keep up appearances, we create an image of ourselves. A costume keeps us seeing the shadow of ourselves and others. Richard Rohr in Falling Upward says this about projecting a self-image, a shadow:

Your shadow is what you refuse to see about yourself, and what you do not want others to see. The more you have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work you will need to do. Be especially careful therefore of any idealized role or self-image, like that of minister, mother, doctor, nice person, professor, moral believer, or president of this or that. These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people in lifelong delusions. The more you are attached to and unaware of a self-image, the more shadow self you will very likely have. Conversely, the more you live out of your shadow self, the less capable you are of recognizing the persona you are trying to protect and project (pg. 128)

Costumes make us shadows of ourselves. They distort reality. Wearing our positions, titles, and roles keep us from knowing others and others from knowing us.

Do people in my community know me? It’s a compelling question for us. Think about the content of your conversation. Often, our togetherness becomes an opportunity to wear the costume and direct the attention to the shadows. We share the highlights while hiding the weaknesses, insecurities, or fears.

Grace releases from the costumes and the shadows. Rather than projecting a persona, we can come to terms with our identity. When we experience the Gospel, we can begin to deal with realities of our weakness and the strength of Christ. We no longer have to weary ourselves with projecting an image to others.

The Apostle Paul makes a powerful statement in I Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect…” This statement encapsulates him recognizing his past, faults, and weakness, but also pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus Christ at work in him. He could see the reality of Jesus Christ at work in him.

What changes in us when we no longer need to protect the shadow or the costume?
We can live in authenticity with people around us.
We can become more aware of the grace God has given us.
We no longer have to live up to a perfect image.
We can begin to relinquish the need to defend ourselves.
We can receive the truth and critiques to grow.
We can move our focus off ourselves to begin to see others.

Recognizing the costumes and shadows brings us to realizing the Gospel. We can experience the reality of Christ’s grace. Then we can move from finding our identity in the shadow towards the work of Christ in us.

Photo credit by Inbal Marrili.

Buzz Birchard

1916531_514450256631_2538547_nChap Clark from Fuller Seminary has said, “Every child needs at least one adult who is irrationally positive about them.” Buzz Birchard fit that description in my life. He coached me in high school at Ross Corners Christian Academy for JV basketball and was an assistant coach when I played varsity. He went to heaven last week.

Over the years, I would go back to my high school basketball games. Buzz sat in the same spot in the gym for each game he didn’t coach. He would wave his hands up and yell, “Pete!!!” Then he would give me the spot next to his so we could catch up. You could watch him do this with many his current and former players.

He coached me during a time in my life when I struggled with confidence. One of the moments I’ll never forget happened during my sophomore year on the varsity team. Each year my high school hosted an eight-team tournament. We made it to the semi-final game. As the host team, we played the last game of the night in a packed gym.

The game remained close. I got to go into the game and I turned the ball over twice. With my head down, I ended up going back to the end of the bench. One of my teammates fouled out in the fourth quarter. Buzz and head coach Dave Wheelock conferred with each other at the timeout for the substitution. Little did I know, Buzz was making the case to put me back in the game. Coach Wheelock called me to the score table to sub in the game.

We were down by one point with less than ten seconds. The senior captain brought the ball up the court and passed it to me. I took an ill-advised three-pointer. To the surprise of every fan, coach, player, and teammate, the ball went in the basket. We won 40-38. Buzz almost tackled me in his jubilation. As the years go by, I remember this moment more for what Buzz did than the shot. He went to bat to put me in the game and he congratulated me first.

“Irrationally Positive” describes Buzz in so many other ways. You could see him talking with students decked out in Syracuse Orange attire holding a Dunkin Donuts cup. He seemingly cheered the loudest. In my last conversation with him, I remember him sharing how much he and his wife Marsha loved spending time with his kids Alissa, Bethany, both their husbands and his two granddaughters.

Buzz lived out the grace of God. His commitment and faithfulness to people looked like Jesus. The Gospel was evident in his joy and the way he encouraged the people around him. He taught me the importance of presence and being “irrationally positive” in the life of a student. We thank God for bringing us a gift, Buzz Birchard.

Reads of the Week | 10/24/2015


These five reads from this past week challenged, encouraged, and provided perspective for me. Check them out for yourself.

The State of Reading Books in a Digital World by David Kinnaman and Roxanne Stone

Phenomenal study about the reading habits of each generation and including research in regards to the preferred formats to reading.

The Spirituality of Slowing Down and Shutting Up by Todd Hunter

A deeper look into how our digital addictiveness has left us discontented. Todd Hunter invites us to see our need for silence and solitude.

Daniel Murphy, Mr. October by Adam Chandler

The New York Times featured an article about Daniel Murphy’s last run with the Mets. Consider this article the fascinating follow-up.

Joe Biden and the Emotional Demands of a Presidency by Laura Turner

No matter what you political affiliation, the decision of Joe Biden interested many. Laura Turner did a tremendous job giving insight into this decision. Leaves us with many questions about our own ambitions.

How to Remember to Thank Others by Claire Diaz-Ortiz

The simple discipline of keeping a list to thank others.

Photo credit to Mikhail Pavstyuk.


Why do we bless? We say a blessing over our food. In a few short weeks, each of us will gather to share our blessings in gratitude. Abraham received a blessing from God. Jacob fought God to get his. Often, a pastor will pray a benediction over a congregation as a blessing.


Humans desire blessings. Not always in the way of getting stuff, but they speak to the grace of our existence. To give or receive a blessing acknowledges identity.

Paul begins the letter of Ephesians in 1:3 saying, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” He will then go on to share how followers of Christ have received blessings: chosen (vs. 4), adopted by God (vs. 5), forgiveness of sins (vs. 7), and the list continues throughout the first chapter of Ephesians.

The radical Good News of the gospel tells us we have been blessed. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have received forgiveness and can experience peace. He has called us into His family.

Think of the opposite message that the world gives us. Blessings come with strings attached. People seek conditional value for each other. Individuals desire blessings wrapped in achievement or success. To receive a blessing comes at the results of their statistics. From time to time, we look for blessings in the wrong places.

The grace of God blesses us because we have never earned or deserved it. His mercy and compassion has given us identity. We may experience rejection, but He has chosen us. In the moments we fail, He forgives us. When we question our belonging, Christ reminds us he adopted us.

Throughout scripture, God’s blessing over us guides us to bless others. Experiencing the grace of the Gospel invites us to extend it to others. Henri Nouwen said this in the Life of the Beloved:

The characteristics of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessing. It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your blessedness. The blessed one always blesses. And people want to be blessed! (pg. 82)

How would our lives change today if we recognized our blessing from God? We might find our identity in His grace, rather than looking for ways to make ourselves matter. Resting in His blessing of grace would invite us to bless others.

How will you bless others today?

Photo credit by Hannu Keski-Hakuni.

Reading Fiction

Two friends will ask me this question periodically, “What was the last fiction book you read?” Most of my reading list includes books on theology, leadership, and biographies. Those topics have direct application to life. The question my friends ask challenges my assumptions on fiction.


In our book lists, we tend to rush to consume and apply content. For those of us stuck in non-fiction, we might miss out on what reading fiction can offer us. When we participate in a story, the characters invite us into their lives. Growing in following Jesus involves renewing our mind. Many of the great writers of fiction offer keen observations about life and faith.

I have slowly read through The Samurai by Endo Shusaku over the past year. The narrative weaves the interplay of religion, faith, culture, and community. A book like this has enhanced my understanding of the Gospel by observing the attitudes and motivations of the characters.

You might find yourself in a stale season of faith. Perhaps, you may want to consider engaging fiction. Here are a few benefits of reading fiction for spiritual growth:

1. Reframing our assumptions on grace.

Recognizing the grace of God can seem at times abstract. Certain fiction authors like Frederick Buechner and Fyodor Dostoevsky share episodes that cause us to question our understanding of grace. Our reactions to characters receiving grace tell us something about ourselves. Maybe this gives us a little insight into why Jesus told the parable of the Prodigal Son.

2. Develops a greater understanding and compassion for people.

Can you think of a character who frustrates you? Many times an author will let you into their thoughts and feelings. For me, I have experienced this a little bit in the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. These characters teach us how to understand and have compassion for others.

3. Changes our conversations about faith.

A group of four of us read Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. At times when we talk about theology and discipleship, we can debate the issues. Cron, through the character Chase, got us to discuss the heart of the theology. Great stories allow us to identify and then we can have a different conversation with others about faith.

4. Enhances our engagement in scripture.

One of the most important aspects of reading the Bible is recognizing genre. By reading different authors and fiction, we learn to contextualize. Fiction invites us to come to scripture appreciating the style and genre of the book, chapter, and verse we engage.

What fiction books have influenced your faith? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Glen Noble.

Truth & Lies

What lies do you believe about yourself? I’ll never forget the first time I faced my lies. A mentor sat across from me in a coffee shop. We began to discuss some reoccurring issues in my life. A couple lies came to the surface; You’re not valuable unless you produce; You still need to earn your friendships; You cannot receive acceptance from God or others.


As I began to speak these lies to him, he provided me with grace and compassion. He talked to me after a brief moment of silence and said, “It’s time to replace those lies with truths.” One by one, we challenged each lie with the truth of scripture and redirecting my focus especially in regards to my friends.

The lies we believe powerfully affect our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. What lies do we believe?
Perfectionism – I cannot mess up or make a mistake.
People Pleasing – I must live up to the standards I think others have on me.
Self-Righteousness – I have done enough to earn God’s love.
Insecurity – I will never measure up to others.
Recognition – My work only matters what people see it, or no one sees my hard work.
Workaholic – If I don’t do it, it will not or cannot get done.

You might add a few lies to the list. Gone unchecked, they cause to look down on ourselves. At times, we look down on others. Lies we tell ourselves blur our vision of God at work in our lives.

The Gospel brings us to the place to recognize God’s truth so that we can experience his grace. Christ frees us from earning his love and comparing ourselves to others. James Bryan Smith speaks of this truth in understanding a “kingdom narrative” in The Good and Beautiful Life:

The kingdom narratives oppose the world’s narratives: You are valuable to God. God loves you no matter what. Your worth is not dependent on your performance or on what others think of you. Your worth is found in the loving eyes of God. If you win, God loves you. If you lose, God loves you. If you fast and pray and give your money to the poor, God loves you. If you are sinful and selfish, God loves you. He is covenant God, and his love never changes (pg. 147)

Replacing the lies, we believe with God’s truth takes time. Today, you have the opportunity to identify these lies, so that you no longer misplace your value. The simple truth; God loves us out of his grace, not of anything we have done or earned.

What lies have you believed? What truth of God’s grace can replace that lie?

Photo credit by Liane Metzler.

Intentional Conversations for Spiritual Growth

Intentionality matters. As humans, we need the reminders, calendars, routines, and to do lists. These tools invite us to prioritize. They help us focus the attention of our lives. Having healthy intentionality frees us up rather than stifling us.


One of the most helpful pieces of wisdom in my life comes from Dallas Willard, “Grace is not opposed to effort, but opposed to earning.”

To grow spiritually in our hearts includes taking steps towards growth. We do not earn Jesus’ love from engaging scripture, prayer, spiritual disciplines, and living in community with others. These practices create space for us to experience grace from God.

Not only does spiritual growth happen intentionally for us personally, but it also happens intentionally in our relationships. Often, we can attend small groups or meet with our closest friends without ever discussing our spiritual lives.

What do we discuss instead? Our conversations end up focusing on the surface. The topics can range from the weather, sports, movies, and what we saw in social media. They can go deeper into our jobs and relationships with our friends, spouses, or kids. Conversations with these topics build trust and get to know others, but they do not go deeper into the activity of our hearts

A question that I get asked frequently is, “How can I go deeper in my relationships?” Just like the intentionality in our personal spiritual growth, intentionality matters for our spiritual growth with each other.

Growing together in community intentionally looks like…
Listening to others and being heard.
Speaking the truth in love and accepting the truth in love.
Encouraging others and receiving encouragement.

How might conversations on spiritual growth start? Here are four intentional questions to begin a conversation on spiritual growth with a friend. You may want to setup a time to meet for coffee. Then you might want to email them these questions to prepare for them and yourself:

1. How is God at work in your life?

Consider this question big picture. A person can point to how engaging scripture, a book, and pray have helped them recognize God at work. It might mean looking at the circumstances and other relationships in their lives to see repeated themes.

2. What’s your greatest challenge to your heart?

Talking about our hearts recognizes our attitudes, motivations, and feelings. Focusing on surface situations can cause us to look for everything outside of us to change including others. Asking about the challenges of our hearts helps us discover the “why” of what we say and do. Taking inventory of our heart makes our blind spots visible.

3. How might God be leading you to grow?

The first two questions require observation. A question like begins to take the observations to point towards growth. We can think of a thousand ways to grow, but this question asks for a specific way. Many times God leads us to growth by pointing us to one area. A question like this helps us update each other on spiritual growth and gives us an opportunity to follow up.

4. How can I pray for you?

We can belittle prayer for each other. After having an intentional conversation on spiritual growth, we now know how to pray for each other. Pray in the moment, but also pray throughout the week. Text and email to let your friend know you prayed for them.

What other intentional questions for spiritual growth would you add?

Photo credit by Kevin Curtis.

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