A Crummy Commercial…

The power of our stories?


Everybody is into “stories” these days.

Every political candidate pulls out the obligatory “It reminds me of Bessie Thomas, whom I met in Sioux City…” story for the stump speech.

Organizations actively solicit stories from their members, making sure to prod them to “be sure to specifically mention how you’ve benefited from the work of our wonderful organization.”

Churches and non-profits–desperately seeking new volunteers–encourage existing and nearly burnt-out volunteers to “tell their stories”, trusting that this tactic will encourage new people to click the link at the bottom of the article to “sign up today”.

Is this the purpose or the limit of the sharing of our stories…a marketing and promotional tool?

It reminds me of that great scene from “A Christmas Story”, when Ralphie finally gets his long-awaited Little Orphan Annie decoder and gets to decipher his first top-secret message from Annie. Ralphie’s heart is crushed to learn the decoder is just “a crummy commercial”, and he emerges “to face the world again, wiser.” You can see that scene on YouTube by clicking here

When it comes to the power of our stories, are we settling for, and being jaded by, a cheap imitation of the real thing? Is there power in the sharing of our stories of what God is doing in our lives and in our world in a way that is not tied to trying to sell, promote or market anything?

I believe there is. I believe there is an almost totally untapped blessing God has for us through the authentic sharing of our stories. The purpose? Nothing more and nothing less than to share our stories, believing that something transformational in our lives will take place through the sharing and hearing of those stories.

The big question is, how do we best do that without it becoming or being perceived as a crummy commercial? I’d love to know your thoughts…

Mindful Functions


There is much talk these days — at least in the cirles I travel — about mindfulness. For me, mindfulness is the intentional practice of being present in the moment, embracing whatever that moment holds, whether it be joy, suffering or something in between. Our tendency is to be either locked in the past through regret or pain, or we are obsessed or worried about the future. What gets overlooked is the amazing gift of “now”.

In the past several months I have begun to practice mindfulness in some specific ways. Here are a few examples:

* Mindfulness of nature – paying attention to the changes in nature literally right in my back yard. This Spring I am paying attention to the budding of the trees and the amazing things that happen all around us with the changing of the seasons. Taking just a few moments each day to do this fills me with wonder and gratitude for God’s created order… and for me being a small but significant part of it.

* Mindful eating. Rather than rushing through my meal, I am taking just a few seconds to look at what is on my plate before diving in. It is amazing when I stop to think of all the things that had to happen for that food to be on my plate: farmers growing crops, people harvesting, distribution and logistical systems, cookware to prepare it, spices, etc. Chewing slowly and savoring each bite makes me mindful and thankful for the gift of food.

* Mindful functions. This one is brand new… and I warn you, it may fall into the category of TMI. But it occured to me this morning that I can even practice “mindful functions”. You see, I have a friend who is having surgery tomorrow to have his cancerous rectum removed. That’s right—removed, as in gone, not there anymore. A basic bodily function I take for granted (and often find inconvenient) will be forever different for him from that day forward. These bodies we have that digest and process what we eat without any intentionality on our part…. wow, what a miracle and what a blessing! Forgive me if you are offended by what sounds crass, but I intend to practice mindful functions from this day forward.

And…if you don’t mind, please pray for my friend, Kevin, and his family and for the doctors performing his surgery tomorrow.

**QUESTION: What intentional practices help you stay mindful of the amazing gift of “now”?**

Preaching with an iPad

ipadmic Late last Fall, I decided to give it a try… give a Sunday message with no paper notes, just the notes on my iPad.  I was a little nervous about it since I have been using paper notes for some 25 years and had developed a pretty good system for my speaking.

Almost immediately, I fell in love with it and can’t see going back to paper. Here’s what I’m using to make it happen:

Griffin Microphone Stand – I was using a regular music stand until December when some good friends of mine gave me this stand as a Christmas gift. It attaches to the top of a regular mic stand and is fully adjustable.  Love it!

PDF Expert – I write my message notes in my word processor in a fairly large font (I use Cambria 16pt) and then save it as a PDF and put in Dropbox.  I open the document in the Dropbox app on my iPad and then select “Open In…PDF Expert”. What’s great about this app is that I can highlight and hand-write notations right on the screen. It’s great for putting little reminders right in my notes. I’m able to turn pages in my note with one tap or swipe of my finger.

Important – iPad Settings – The last thing I want is some notification sound or popup happening while I’m giving a message, so I make sure I setup the iPad this way on Sunday morning: (1) turn the sound completely off using the switch on the side; (2) turn on the “Do Not Disturb” feature; (3) turn off WiFi so I don’t run the risk of getting a pop-up notification telling me that it’s my turn in Words With Friends; and (4) set the Auto Lock setting to “never” so that my screen doesn’t time out and turn off in the middle of a message.

My biggest concern when I switched was how big of an adjustment it would be for me to only see one page at a time versus two when I had paper on a music stand. I thought that would be a deal breaker, but oddly enough it has not been an issue.

What about you?  Have you experimented with speaking with an iPad?  

Getting Started


There’s nothing new here…but just a good reminder for me: getting started is sometimes half the battle, if not more.

I have started going for walks now that the weather has turned warmer.  I’ve set some goals for how often I want to do that and – although I’m only a few days into it – I’m off to a pretty good start, if I do say so myself.

Yesterday, however, was one of those days… it was nice and warm outside, but I just wasn’t feeling the motivation to go out on what I planned as a three-mile walk. I don’t mean I was on the fence about wanting to go. I REALLY did not want to go.  I almost bagged it, but I knew the forecast was for rain today and I didn’t want to miss two days in a row when I’m trying to form a healthy new habit.

I pushed through it and decided to go anyway, and it ended up being a great walk.  I walked over 5 miles instead of 3, and I was sad to see it come to an end.

Although it was just a walk, it is — to me at least — a metaphor for much of life’s challenges and a simple reminder of a simple and profound truth: getting started is (at least) half the battle.


Morning Rituals

Rituals … that’s a word that doesn’t evoke positive feelings in a lot of people. We tend to think that rituals are just dry, mechanical practices… certainly not exciting.

While rituals can become that, I also believe that they can hold tremendous power for us.

For the past season I have been experimenting with some morning rituals and I am finding that they are adding fullness to my experience of each day. Some of these won’t sound like rituals…more like habits or routines, but at least for me they are rituals.

Here’s my current morning routine:

* Get up early – Usually between 5 and 5:30AM. This requires me to go to bed earlier, too. I love BEING up early in the morning; I just don’t love GETTING up early in the morning!  I do find, though, that if I go to bed early, getting up is no problem…it’s even energizing.  I set an alarm for the latest possible time I want to wake up, but 98% of the time I wake up naturally before the alarm goes off.

* Fix a cup of coffee — “The best part of waking up…”

* Spend 10 minutes in silence — I do this differently from day to day, but I usually sit in the same place.  Sometimes I play a soundtrack of the sound of the ocean through my iphone… I love being on the beach at sunrise, and this helps put me there in my mind. Sometimes I silently repeat a prayer phrase, other times I focus on a word, other times I just sit and try my best to be still and present in the moment. This is more “successful” some days than others. Some days I feel very centered; other days I have difficulty keeping my mind from racing. I try not to judge it, though… it is what it is for that day.

* 10 minutes of reading the Scriptures – right now I’m reading through the New Testament in chronological order… in the order the books were written.  I only get through 2-3 chapters a day, but it is not a race. I try to be open to what God is saying to me in that passage. I read on my Kindle and I highlight passages that speak to me on that day. Once I have finished, I look back over the things I have highlighted. Sometimes there is a word or phrase that I carry with me throughout that day or week.

* Review my prayer list — I keep a list of people and situations I’m praying about. I look over this list and pray for each one. This, for me, is not a “formal” time of prayer in the sense most people think of it, but I consider it prayer. As I’m reading the list I am communing with God, interceding for others and seeking to be open to hear from God.

* 10 minutes of journaling – I use an electronic program for journaling that syncs across my devices so I am able to journal regardless of where I am and what device I have with me. Sometimes I reflect on the day past; other times I write about what it is ahead; many times I write about what’s going on inside me. I don’t expect it to ever be published or even read by others, but I find this to be a great blessing to me.

You’ll notice I have a lot of things that last 10 minutes… there’s nothing magical about that and I’m not legalistic about it. I do use a timer on my iphone so I’m not constantly looking at the clock. It chimes when the 10 minutes are over. I bring to closure whatever I am doing and then transition to the next thing and start the timer again.

Well, that’s what I’m doing now first thing in the morning. I don’t present it to say it is the right or only way to have some morning rituals. I’m sure I’ll continue to shake things up from time to time to keep things fresh.  At least for me, though, I find that having some rituals in the morning help me be more centered and focused throughout the remainder of the day.

For a great resource on establishing a good morning ritual, check out this podcast:


What morning rituals do you find helpful?