Why You Need to Share Meals Together – Or, “The story about the flaming outhouse.”


This week a friend invited me and another couple to her home for lunch. I was excited for several reasons:

1. Normally I have lunch meetings in crowded restaurants; this was going to be a relaxed, homemade lunch in a friend’s home.

2. I had never been to my friend’s home, so this was an honor and a treat.

3. I was going to hang out with some great people.

I recently read an article about our culture moving farther and farther away from the table. No, this wasn’t about how we’re pushing away from the table because we want to eat less (that’s a whole different subject).

This article was about how we are losing the communal experience of sharing meals around the table. And I fear the author is correct.

I’m feeling it as a dad of three daughters. From ballet to cheerleading to church stuff…dinner at the table is becoming difficult, but it’s a battle we’re going to fight!

Because the table is where I ask how my kids’ days were. It’s where we laugh and sometimes, hopefully, food comes out of our noses. It’s where we talk about manners and kindness. And it’s also where we fight and then learn how to apologize.

And this extends from our families to our friends. I love to sit around the table with good food, good friends and occasionally even some good wine.

Why is that we don’t invite people into our homes for meals anymore? Are we afraid of how the house might look? Are we worried that our kids might cry and misbehave? Are we too busy running around? Are we more interested in binge-watching Breaking Bad on Netflix?

I’m so thankful my friend invited me to her table this week. When we finished our meal, we sat down in the living room to drink coffee. That’s when I heard one of the most incredible stories I’ve ever heard – how my friend burned down an outhouse in the middle of a village, in front of all the villagers, in a country very far from here!! And It was the only outhouse in the village.

I’ll never forget that lunch, because I’ll never forget the story of the flaming outhouse – you could say it’s burned into my mind.

So gather your family and some friends this week. Get around the table and share life. Who cares if the house is a wreck and the kids are screaming!

Who is popping into your mind right now? Make the call.

I Hope Turkey Flies Out of Your Mouth


thankfulThe feasting season is here. I love the idea of good food with good friends and family. But I have to admit something: I haven’t always taken full advantage of Thanksgiving.

I imagine there are tons of blogs and pinterest boards that will help us create the ultimate table setting and cook the most creative dishes.

But I will just share with you my three goals for this Thanksgiving:

1. Eat slowly – I don’t want to rush through the meal that takes so much planning and all day to prepare. I don’t want to hurry past the conversation that might happen during one of the few times my family gathers. Instead of shoveling it in, racing to dessert, and then catching the game on TV, I’m going to try to slow down and savor.

2. Listen attentively – This year I’m going to focus more on listening than talking, which means I’ll need to ask more questions, too. I want to be attentive to what’s going on in the lives of my family and friends.

3. Laugh loudly – I really hope someone at the table laughs so hard that turkey and dressing fly out of their mouth! And I hope that person is me! Laughing is awesome. I don’t care if that’s too simple to say. Who doesn’t like to laugh?

So tell some stories while you’re eating slowly. And when the laughter gets going, make sure your mouth is full!

Four Ways to Get More This Christmas


Earlier this week I shared my discovery that Christmas without Christ is just mas, and that just means more.

Now don’t get me wrong. I won’t argue with more eggnog, more Home Alone, and more Netflix fireplace on my TV screen. I love the lights, the food, the music. I just don’t want so much of it that I’m too full to point my family to Jesus.

So over the past several years my family has been trying to get the most Christ out of Christmas. Here are four ideas to share:

1-11-truth-in-the-tinsel1. Truth In the Tinsel – This daily advent devotional is great for families with little ones who are old enough to help with crafts. Each day there is a Scripture reading, a few conversation questions, and instructions for creating an ornament. If you like decorating your tree with homemade ornaments from the kiddos…this one’s for you! If you buy the e-book ($7.99), you’ll get the devotional along with all the directions and lists of supplies. My daughters loved it, and it made it easy for us to have fun family time almost every night throughout the month of December.

sacred christmas2. Sacred Christmas – We’re test-driving this new advent devo this year, and I’m really excited about it! The devotional looks like it may be more for the adults, but we haven’t done it yet so I can’t say for sure. However, I spent a little more $$ ($35 total – but a % of the proceeds go to clothes for Sudanese Orphans) and bought the “Fun Extras.” Just flipping through it got me pumped! There are some great ideas for activities to do with the kids each week. There are also sections on decorating, entertaining and cooking during the holidays. I’ll post more about this as we get into it.

santa are you for real3. We Killed Santa – But we killed him softly, I promise. We gathered our kids and read a book called, Santa, Are You For Real, by Harold Myra. This short board book tells the story of St. Nicholas and his heart for giving gifts. It helped us point our kids to the ultimate gift-giver, God, who gave his Son, Jesus. We still love Santa as a symbol of gift-giving, and we’ll still get the kids’ picture taken with one of his minions at the mall as long as the grandparents will pay for it.

4. We have a new gift strategy – You probably have your own. Maybe you give 3 gifts because that’s what the wise men gave Jesus. I’m allergic to frankincense, so we went with this: Our kids get four gifts from us: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. Now they know what to expect, and it protects me from going overboard, which I would totally do because I love giving tons of presents at Christmas! Now we can be more generous to others, have people in our home, and look for fun ways to bless friends and neighbors.

There you go. Four ideas to help you get a little more Christ this Christmas. We are always learning. I bet you have some great ideas, too. Feel free to leave a comment and share your ideas!

This Christmas, What ‘More’ Could You Ask For?


Four years ago , I was flipping through my journals looking for something that would spark a sermon idea. Our church was heading into the fray of the holiday season and I needed a little inspiration.

As I flipped through my journals, I paid special attention to November and December. That’s when I started to see an ominous trend:

For at least three of the past five years there was a gap in my journal entries during the first three weeks of December!

Nothing. No stories. No thoughts. No prayers. No Scripture. Not even the date on the page.

I sat back in disappointment – partly because I didn’t find a sermon, but mostly because I realized that…

I let the craziness of Christmas cut Christ completely out.

Have you ever felt that way?

Take a look at the word Christmas. If you cut Christ out, all you’re left with is mas.

My Spanish-speaking friends know that mas just means more.

Without Christ…Christmas just becomes more.

More work if you’re in retail…
More spending if you’re not careful…
More traveling…
More cooking…
More cleaning…
More stuff…
Christmas is in less than 6 weeks! How can we prepare for the holidays so we don’t look back and ask, “What happened?” but instead celebrate saying, “wow, look what happened!”
It starts by coming up with a plan, a strategy, a manifesto for getting mas Christ this Christmas!
On Tuesday, I’ll share a few ways my family has done this the past few years. Until then, take a minute to think about what you really want this Christmas season.

One Big Lesson Parents Can Learn from American Girl and Chick-fil-A


I have three daughters, which means there has always been a high probability that at some point I would find myself in an American Girl Doll store. I’ve actually been in two, but that’s a story for another day.

And because I’m a dad, and an American, and a Christian…I love me some Chick-fil-A.

So what did I learn from these two businesses that might not be visible on the surface?

Recently my entire family – joined by my daughters’ dolls – had the pleasure of dining at the American Girl Bistro inside the store. Let’s just say American Girl is very proud of their product (translation = $$$). But sometimes we parents need to bite the billfold bullet and do something special. And I’m glad we did, because American Girl reminded me of something I intuitively know, but often forget…

American-Girl-Conversation-Starters-600x398On the table there was a box full of fun questions – conversation starters. Of course this is brilliant from the restaurant’s perspective – keep the patrons busy while they’re waiting! But it did something more. The questions got us engaging as a family. We practiced listening to one another. We laughed at each other’s answers. We talked about what we would name our horses, if we owned them, and what one word we would use to describe ourselves. I know a lot about my kids; I know how I would describe them. But it was fun to see how they see themselves.

American Girl gets it. Get families talking around the table. It’s fun. It’s incredibly healthy. It gives us parents a tool to be intentional, instead of getting sucked into our phones to see what other people are eating or doing.

Chick-fil-a gets it, too. Every year the local CFA has a Daddy-Daughter Date Night. They do a great job with this, and they take it all the way to the detailed level of the placemats at your table. On those pieces of paper that will soon be covered in chick-fil-a sauce there are conversation starters to help dads be intentional with their little girls (even if they’re not so little anymore). The questions are simple, but they get the ball rolling.

All this gets me thinking about the opportunities I have each week. We try to eat together as much as possible. We’re busy just like you. So when we get together around the table, I want to be intentional. I don’t want to be satisfied with one-word answers like “good. ok. fine.” And I don’t want the meal to just be about getting my kids to eat (if you have boys, you probably don’t have this problem).

So let’s spice it up a little bit. Ask some fun questions like “Would you rather have shrimp for pinky fingers or really hairy elbows?” I bet there thousands of Pinterest pages about this, so just google “conversation starters” or sit down and make up your own questions! But just to throw you a bone, here’s a mom who made her own and offers to send you all the questions! BTW…this works for your spouse or your significant other as well! Be done with dull dinners!

As I said earlier, this is pretty intuitive and maybe you get this already. But this dad needed a reminder to be intentionally pursuing my kids. We have so many battles ahead of us, so my relationship with them is mission critical.

So, all that to say…I can’t wait for dinner tonight.

What a 9 year old Taught me About the Power of Stories


storybookI love stories. Don’t you? And I want to live a life full of great stories. Don’t you?

“Daddy, will you tell me a story?” That was my 9-year-old daughter, who snuggled up to me on a Sunday afternoon.

“No, not right now.” That was me, dad-of-the-year.

I couldn’t tell her a story because I was busy. I was watching a football game between two teams I care nothing about. Way too busy.

Actually, I didn’t think much about it at the time. I wasn’t mean or rude. I was just tired. And she went on with her day.

But the next day I was mowing the grass, and I was thinking about stuff. I was thinking about how I love stories. There are so many days when I’d love to come home, lay on the couch and be swept away by an epic movie with a hero who battles and overcomes and emerges victorious.

My daughter wanted to be swept away, too. She wanted her daddy to tell her about a princess who loved to dance and explore the world with her princess sisters. That would have been a grand story! But I was caught up in a much smaller story. My little story was about one person who never left the couch.

Every Sunday morning I gather with a team of people in an elementary school library to pray. Our church meets in a school. If you think that’s weird, read my friend Chris’s take on it.

On the wall in that library is an epic mural. There’s a dragon, a castle, a knight…all coming out of the pages of a giant storybook. It captures my attention each Sunday for at least two reasons:

1. I’m just a 35 year-old kid! I love adventure and I love stories and I want to live in that magical kingdom!

2. It reminds me that as a pastor – more accurately, as a man who follows Jesus – I get to invite people to see themselves in an epic story – God’s story. A true story.

I haven’t always lived for the bigger story. The smaller stories distract me. By smaller stories, I mean the ones about trying to be popular, trying to get a lot of facebook likes and twitter mentions, committing lots of emotional space to my sports teams, finding the right haircut…stuff like that. Sometimes the small stories offer a taste of meaning and adventure, but most of the time they aren’t big enough.

Thankfully there is a story large enough to capture my soul. It’s the story about a gracious God who is pursuing prodigal people – like me. And when I’m willing to let myself get caught up in this story, I experience what all those smaller stories can’t offer; I experience real life – the life that comes from snuggling up to a little girl and then whisking her away to a distant (but maybe not so far-off) land where she is a princess of great beauty and talent.

Yeah. That’s way better than zoning out watching a game between…well, I can’t remember.

So what story will you live today?


What Shirtless Bob Taught Me About Being a Man


So at the church office we have a neighbor who lives across the street. His name is Bob – I think. Bob is always outside doing something random, and he’s always yelling greetings to us (even though I can’t really understand him)!

Bob came over the other day while a couple of us were having a meeting. He didn’t have a shirt on, but he came on in and sat down with us. He was having trouble getting his new TV remote to work.

Chris (our lead pastor, my partner in crime) has been exchanging greetings with Bob across the street for a year now; he’s done a great job loving Bob. So Chris took the remote control and started working on it.

In the meantime, we started asking Bob questions about his story. Bob has lived on this street a long time. He used to attend a church just down the road from us. I think Bob was telling us a story about a man who used to live in the house that is now our office, and then he said something that totally struck me:

“You can tell a lot about a man who never mentions Jesus.”

The context of Bob’s story told me that this man probably claimed to be a Christian but never talked about Jesus. And this man may have hurt Bob at some point along the way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what shirtless Bob said that day. Jesus is the reason I live in Chattanooga now. Jesus is the reason I have purpose. Jesus put up with a lot of junk in my life and didn’t give up on me.

But I’ve been struck by how seldom I mention Jesus in conversation with people outside of my safe church context. Why is that?

Chris fixed Bob’s TV remote. The batteries were just in backwards.

And Bob gave me a gift – an encouragement to be a man who mentions Jesus.

Much Love!