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Tools That Work

A More Visceral Hands On Advent Experience

My sons are 4.5 and 2.5 years old, and have a limited attention span. They're also drawn to experiences more than stories. After trying to truncate devotionals to appeal to them, I realized these boys need something more visceral and hands on.

So here are 7 lessons I've created for Advent...


The Hard Donkey Ride

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A donkey ride

Courtesy of their PopPop

Load the kids on your back for a donkey ride. Have them hold on as long as they can as you travel the house. When they can't anymore, break to tell them how before Jesus was born, his Mom, Mary, had to take a ride to Bethlehem on a donkey. It took 5 whole days to get there--that must have been very hard as a pregnant lady!

Read this verse:

Joseph went to Bethlehem with Mary, his wife, who was pregnant with Jesus.

-Luke 2:4-5

Pray this prayer:

God, thank you for helping us do hard things like ride a donkey. And thank you for protecting Jesus' parents, Mary and Joseph, when he was born. Amen.


The Stars Point to Jesus

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Look up 

To see stars God placed

Take the kids outside with binoculars or a telescope at night. Lay on your back and look at the stars in the sky. Then tell them how when Jesus was born, God put stars to show people that he had come. And that's why many people put stars on their Christmas tree and decorate with lights. When we see the stars it reminds us of Jesus.

Read this verse:

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men came saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star, and have come to worship him.

-Matthew 2:1-12

Pray this prayer:

God thank you for putting a star in the sky for Jesus. Please put light in our life so that we can find Jesus. Amen.


Jesus is the Light of the World

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My son Lukas

Feeling the light.

Turn off all the lights in your house so it's pitch black. Light a small candle and let the kids hold it as you tell them that before Jesus came, the world was dark, but Jesus brought light from Heaven.

Read this verse: 

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

-John 8:12

Pray this prayer:

Jesus, help me have you in my life so that I have light in my life, and that my life is not dark. Amen.


Lost Sheep, Found by Jesus

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The boys

Hiding and being found

Play a game of hide-and-seek, but this time in your whole house. Encourage your kids to hide really really well. Then take an extra long time to go find them, until the point when they will be antsy. Then go find them and talk about how Jesus came to the world to find us. 

Read this verse:

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.

-Ezekiel 34:11

Pray this prayer:

God, thank you for sending Jesus to this world to find us and rescue us since we were like lost sheep. Amen.


Jesus Was A Different Kind of Baby

Boden

Holding his baby cousin

Tell your kids to look for someone who is different at school, church, the grocery store, anywhere. Look for different hair, accent, skin color, disability, anything they notice. Tell them when they find someone different, don't say anything, just come squeeze your hand. When they do that, at the soonest opportunity in private say there is someone else who was born different too, Jesus. He was different because he was holy, he was part baby and part God. 

Read this verse: 

God became a person and lived with us as Jesus. Jesus came from God and was full of grace and truth. 

-John 1:14

Pray this prayer: 

God, thank you for making us all so different. Thank you for this person my child noticed, and help us to be kind to those who are different. And thank you for making Jesus a person who was Holy and part God. Amen. 


Jesus Is The Greatest Gift Ever

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The suspense

Grows all week.

Cutout the shape of a man and put it in a box with a couple of sweet treats. Wrap the box and put it under the tree weeks before Christmas so excitement will build. Tell your kids that inside the box is the Greatest Gift Ever. One night gather the family around to open it, make it a big deal with popcorn and hot cocoa. Then let them open it and give them their treat and tell them that the Greatest Gift ever was Jesus, because Jesus was a gift from God to save us. And that's why we give gifts to other people on Christmas. 

Read this verse: 

God gave us the gift of grace and righteousness through one man, Jesus Christ!

-Romans 5:17

Pray this prayer: 

Dear God, thank you for loving us so much that you keep helping us. And thank you for sending Jesus to us. Amen.


Jesus the Servant

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Boden learning

About being a servant

Start asking your kids to do things for other people, for their siblings, for you, anyone that comes up. "Please take this drink to your brother. Please take the newspaper to the neighbors door. Please help clean up this spill that I made." Really overdo it for a few days, and do whatever is needed to get them to help. After a few days, tell them that doing all of these things is like being a servant. And even though he is the King of Kings, Jesus was born to be a servant. 

Read this verse:

Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life for many.

-Mark 10:45

Pray this prayer: 

Jesus, thank you for doing so much to serve other people. Thank you for even dying to help us. Help me to care about other people too. Amen. 

Tools That Work

Here's How to Start Reading the Bible

Okay, you're interested (maybe even really pumped) to dive into the Bible, aka the Word of God, or the Holy Scriptures. It doesn't take long to figure out that 1. it's a massive book of books, 2. it doesn't always make "sense," and 3. there are loads of versions and books that analyze the Bible. 

Here's my advice about how to jump in...

Here's the post I did about the Discovery Bible Study that I reference in the video.

Adventures in Faith

I Faced A Demon with a Couple Googlers

WARNING: This post contains graphic content.

I'm starting to see the plastic skeleton's, sheet ghosts, and other goblin paraphernalia hanging around town. This reminds me of the time I met a demon possessed woman on the street of San Francisco with a couple guys from Google and their friends. 

What?! A demon? Are they real?

Yes. They are. I could rattle off Bible verses that talk about it but I'll leave that up to you and instead recount what I saw.

Here's how it went down: A guy I met said he wanted to bring his Google colleagues into the City to serve the poor. At the time, I was working for a ministry called Cityteam with an operation in the Tenderloin, a neighborhood know for open air drug deals, passed out people, emergency sirens, sex in the corners, people defecating right before you, even some convulsing as if possessed by something...

Here's a short (and sanitized) video I created after the day's events. I think it gives you a taste of what we were up to.

What you don't see in this video is our encounter with a demon possessed woman. I was leading the group down the street when I turned around to see that the other five had fallen behind. Sitting on the curb there beside me was a woman I had seen drinking hours ago, and not wanting to deal with someone inebriated I avoided eye contact.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw that she had on a super dirty scarf, while in my hand I clutched a clean new one. I decided to offer it to her and so asked her what her name was. Rather than answer she offered to perform a sex act on me for a nickle. As I worked up a response, somewhat shocked, the rest of the group caught up. 

Now with a larger audience her offers became more vulgar.  Another guy and I began to say to her repeatedly that she didn't have to do this. We told her that there was hope for her. She ignored us except for one moment when her look changed to pure innocence and she asked, "Is there?"

But then her head snapped back and she began gyrating on the sidewalk. We asked her if we could pray for her, she ignored us. We kept asking, then again in a break from her profanity she looked up to us and said, "please pray for me." 

As soon as we began to pray, she leaped to her feet and ran right into the street and barely missed being hit by a car. We were all a bit stunned but continued on our mission to give away hundreds of hand made scarves, hats, and blankets.

While our interaction with this woman was the most stark example of the torment a demon possessed woman has, literally talking out of two sides of her face each with a distinct look and language, it wasn't the only. Throughout the day, we encountered others that were oppressed, shackled by death and addiction, clearly in a dark place. 

Some we met had a different disposition, they beamed with hope, joy, and love. They invited us into their homes, tiny rooms no bigger than 8' x 10'. Despite their circumstances, though, they seemed to literally emit light. 

Here's the video where the group talks about what they experienced that day, including our encounter with the demon possessed woman.

In closing, realize that there is another spiritual dimension on this planet, and that demons exist. They seek to confuse, divide, kill and destroy wherever possible. Often they work subtle angles killing slowly over time. 

The Bible lays all this out very clearly, and when you understand the power and authority of Jesus Christ there's nothing to worry about. With Jesus there is guaranteed victory over demons and death altogether!

Just by uttering the name Jesus you can send a demon running. Though, I encourage you not to keep the name above all names in your back pocket like a "Get Out of Jail FREE" card should you face a demon. I encourage you to get to know who Jesus is by picking up a Bible. If you get lost or have questions, set up a phone call with me via my connection page.

This Halloween, as many decorate their homes with fake spirits of the dark sort, since I know first hand that there are plenty of real demon's in the world, I think I'll decorate with pumpkins.

Tools That Work, Most Read

An Old Pal Meets Jesus On Facebook

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People talk about how Facebook is evil, and I'm like "yeah right, i'm making disciples up in there!" 

Seriously, I've connected with a bunch of people that has led to us going deeper in the things of God. And what's crazy is I never go looking for it, in many cases people will write me with questions, for advice, or in response to something I've posted. 

I have one pal from high school who reached out to me just to check in and I dropped a quick note that God was good and it has evolved into a journey of exchanges (chats, texts, phone calls) for over a year.

He sends me questions and answering them teaches me. He sends me updates on what God is showing him and it encourages me greatly. 

Here's how it started and progressed thus far:

I think there are a few tips buried here that might help you make disciples on Facebook (or any social media platform).

1. Don't be shy about how God is present in your life.

2. Don't be a religious drone, simply spouting or reposting what other people say. Have your own material. Talk about the personal ways God is speaking to YOU. If you are on social media then invest the prayer and time to do it for the glory of God.

3. Avoid the crazy issues that get everyone inflamed UNLESS you commit to A. learn about the issue from various viewpoints and B. pray a ton about it and get direction from God about what to say.

4. If someone writes you a note to say whats up, drop a little spiritual bait maybe, a note about how God has blessed you or offer to pray if it applies (then actually pray for them).

5. Once people reach out to you, you gotta respond. Don't get nervous about it, their eternity doesn't rest in your hands alone. The Bible says God is drawing them, and that the Holy Spirit teaches them. So proceed in a lighthearted yet intentional way.

6. Don't bombard people with all your favorite books, songs, a free copy of the Bible, and more. I used to do that, it didn't work. Someone else's faith is going to be different from yours, which God will reveal to them in their own time. Not saying don't send ideas now and again, just don't deluge.

7. Let people respond, and a bunch never will after that first interaction. But some definitely will, and its glorious not only for them but for you. 

Consider that your Facebook page (along with everything else in your life) is useful to God for drawing people to himself. Are you tuned in to allow him to do it? Go for it.

Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.
— Jesus in Matthew 4:19

People Getting It Done, Tools That Work, Legends

The Guys at The Bible Project

At the New Canaan Society San Francisco Weekend Retreat in October '14 I saw this video played during a general session.

As the video played I started searching for the creators, and stumbled upon The Bible Project. I saw that they have a RAD plan to continue to create insightful, generally awesome videos that illustrate key concepts of the Bible. 

So, I'm a fan, am glad to promote what these guys are doing, encourage support of their work, and will be sure to keep an eye on what they're up to.

Tools That Work

A Prayer for Husbands

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So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Colossians 3:12-15

An old pal from college calls me, I'm not even sure if he's a Christian. Doesn't matter, I love the guy. Anyway, after pleasantries, our conversation went something like this:


Him:  I need help man, my marriage is in trouble.

Me:    Sure, what's up?

Him:  It started small, I can't even remember the fight a month ago. Now we can hardly look at each other. If it wasn't for the kids, I'm not sure if we'd stay together.

Me:    Alright, bro, well, look, I've been there. I know what its like. The difference is, as you know, I believe in God and the Bible and its a great tool in a time like this. So my answer is going to come from there, you know that, right?

Him:   Yeah.

Me:    Alright, well, here's what you do. Take your lunch break at work tomorrow, a good hour at least, and sit quietly and pray. I know you're unsure about God, just pretend you believe and that He's there and he's your friend. Ask God to show you how He sees your wife because he made her and he sees her differently than you do right now. And if over the hour of just listening, if God gives you any thoughts about your wife, write them down. Then go to your wife and tell her the things that God showed you as a way to break through the downward spiral. Do you think you can do that?

Him:   Yeah.

Me:    Alright bro, can I pray for you guys too? Prayer is powerful.

Him:    Sure......


I got off the phone and we didn't talk for at least a month. I had no idea what happened, but I prayed for him once or twice. 

Some time later, he calls me just to catch up. I had actually forgotten about their fight. He brought it up, telling me that I was a lifesaver during that time. He said he did what I said and God had given him things to share with his wife, and that it got things moving in the right direction, and everything was going much better now.

You can imagine how encouraged I was to learn that he went to God in prayer, that despite his unbelief God revealed himself to this friend of mine, that through it all the division between him and his wife was overcome by love. This is the God of the Bible that I serve.

Tools That Work

Why I Read Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for His Highest"

There was a dusty copy of this  book sitting in my parents bathroom for years, and I never picked it up. 

Years later, having fallen into a group of men who meet on Friday mornings, calling themselves the New Canaan Society, I heard reference to Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for His Highest" again. So, I picked up a copy.

Oswald writes in a very direct, matter-of-fact way, always expounding on a verse of Scripture. His thoughts are deep, often weaving together key concepts in the Christian faith. He has one devotional for each day of the year.

I don't recommend too many devotionals, mainly because I don't assume what works for me will work for others, but I do recommend Oswald. And the only reason I can give is that there are times when I simply open the book and what he has written speaks to me very clearly and in a way that is extraordinary. Let me give you two examples:

A mentor to me wrote me one day for an idea--he was set to give a talk at the New Canaan Society group and he wasn't sure how he wanted to approach it yet. So he texted me if I had any ideas. The day prior, I had taken one of the guys from Cityteam's addiction recovery program with me to a business meeting, and wanting to include him, I asked his opinion to which he blurted out Luke 17:21: "nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is in your midst."

I remember thinking at the time that his response wasn't especially applicable to the meeting. But, as I pondered the verse more, I was amazed at the meaning of it, how while we are often searching to see where God is or how he's moving, all the while he is right in our midst!

And so, when my mentor wrote me for an idea about what to speak about, I texted back to him, "Luke 17:21." He replied something along the lines of that being a great verse and he might incorporate it.

The following day, it was Friday, October 19th, 2012, and I ushered into the New Canaan Society meeting that morning. There was my mentor all set to talk. But before he did, another man got up to open in prayer. As he did, he opened his Oswald Chambers "My Utmost for His Highest" book and read the entry for that day, which highlighted what else but Luke 17:21. My mentor and I exchanged surprised looks, who could have imagined that this verse would come up again? That verse continued to come up in my life for a few weeks, so much so that it became alive to me and engrained in my heart.  And what Oswald wrote about it spoke to me and my tendency to value practical activity in service of God more than a relationship with him.

On another day, June 1st, 2014 to be precise, I was running around coordinating the production of a large and busy hackathon at a technology incubator in Silicon Valley. Another man on the production team was suffering from an illness and I could tell he was worn out and stressed about many of the details. He sought my opinion throughout the day on how everything was going to get done, and I could sense his worry. Seeking a dose of Scripture and a few words to explain it, I pulled up Oswald's site and read the entry for that day. An excerpt of it reads:

It is much easier to do something than to trust in God; we see the activity and mistake panic for inspiration. That is why we see so few fellow workers with God, yet so many people working for God. We would much rather work for God than believe in Him. 

These words spoke to me greatly, and I followed up my reading of them with a couple minutes of prayer thanking God for his Word. Then I found the man who was worried and I pulled him aside to remind him that God was in control, that we were doing this for his Kingdom. We prayed together right there on the spot, and he thanked me for what I had done. He later come back to me and asked me to get before the entire hackathon to pray over the group ahead of the final day of presentations and the awards ceremony, which can be stressful. I gladly did this, and I used Oswald's writing for that day as a basis for my prayer. Once again, his words on this day have stuck with me, and have balanced my understanding of faith and work. 

Tools That Work

Discovery Bible Study

I was first introduced to Discovery Bible Study aka DBS at Cityteam. As I began to practice this deceptively simply study, I soon learned that its counter-intuitive for most seasoned believers (more on that later).

In short, DBS is the best way to study the Bible as a group that I've ever found. I'm not just saying this because I've "drunk the Kool-Aid," I've experimented with other studies, including well-known curriculum's, and keep coming back to DBS. DBS is a pared-down yet effective way to cover and more importantly learn to obey Scripture.  This post is designed to give you an introduction to DBS, explain further why it works, and point you to tools I use:

First, a video introduction by Dave Hunt, Cityteam's VP of Discipleship in the US, on what a DBS group study looks like in 5 steps:

Now watch a second video by Dave Hunt, where he lays out the 3-column approach to the Bible study, where you write out Scripture, put it in your own words, and then create an "I will..." statement.

For a sample 3-Column Bible Study form, click here. Though, you can use a simple sheet of paper with two lines drawn on it, which is what I do.

As far as where you start in the Bible and how you proceed, there are several approaches. In foreign countries, places where the Bible is rarely if ever heard, Cityteam almost always starts in Genesis. However, in areas more exposed to the Gospel, like the United States, we are trying different approaches, such as topical studies. Here is a link to an outline of a topical study that I have used. 

A solid 3rd-party review of this process by a Missions Frontiers magazine, published by the US Center for World Missions, can be found online here (read pages 4 thru 14). 

Cityteam published a book that talks a lot about DBS with practical stories of how it works out in practice (and much more), called Miraculous Movements, which you can find online here

Finally, if you want to learn how DBS was discovered by a process (actually "revealed by God" is a better way to describe it), you can read Dave Hunt's doctoral thesis paper online here, which gives a detailed account. I read it and, if you're into this kind of thing, I attest that it is informative and even riveting to read. 

Adventures in Faith

The Death of My Sister (and a Heavenly Vision)

But, as it is written, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

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The phone rang, it was late, I heard one of my parents get up to answer it in the hallway just outside my bedroom door. Then rustling around and footsteps down the stairs. Back to bed, though I didn't really sleep, already eery. Then more ringing, I hopped up and answered, I heard my Dad say come to the hospital. Got Daren out of his bed, into the car, driving and praying, not sure what's going on, hypotheticals in the mind.

Arrive, park, into the building, somehow it seems we know right where to go, people have looks in their eyes like they know something we don't, the hall opens into a lobby, our parents are sobbing, immediately we are awash in sorrow. Not sure what's going on, told it's not good, she doesn't look good, a decision to pull her off support will have to be made, let's go in to see her.

Tubes, machines, swollen, black, blue, a sight i will never forget, make your way to the side of the bed, hold her hands boys, they are so swollen, as soon as we do, she dies.

Everyone crying, doctors, nurses, parents, me. A blur of tears. A blur of everything. Eventually, we exit the building, into the parking lot, the sun is coming up, traffic is building, cool air, the Earth is still spinning, it feels odd that it is.

Drive home...ringing, many phone calls, soon many flowers, it smells like a flourist. People visit, so many people, they bring food. They cry. They sit and talk and listen. So many cards in the mail.

Soon a funeral. A flood of tears, I learned to cry so hard. Damn, man, my sister, my big sister, she's not showing up anymore.

Days, a daze. Enough for me, I need to get back to something. I need to get back to college, my freshman year. How will I sleep? I can't sleep. I haven't slept for a week. I'm going to try...I lay down to sleep, and I do.

And then I'm awake. Oh my God! Hop out of bed, right next to me, there she is, my sister in full color! Immediate tears. I'm sobbing. I wrap my arms around here as tight as I can. Right away I ask over and over, "Are you okay?" She says nothing. I keep asking, she keeps saying nothing.

Then I lift my head and turn right to see her, to verify. I look right into her hair. It's glowing and flowing. Oh my God! She's wearing a red Gap hoodie, the same one she is known for wearing, we buried her in it. This is unreal...even as I type this, the words cannot express the sight, the feeling, the realness.

Then, she asks me one thing, "Where is Daren?" I tell her I don't know, and then, she's gone.

I jerk awake...sit up completely. I am completely shocked. What just happened. My sister is not in the room, but something is. There is a breeze...a poster hanging above my bed has a corner loose, it's waving in a breeze that otherwise does not exist. I wipe my face, which is soaked in tears.

On my God! I notice the time, just after five in the morning. Do I write this down, will I forget? I can't move for an hour. And yet eventually I return to sleep.

The next morning, I get up, shower, dress for school. I go down stairs to leave the house. I walk past the family room, and I see my brother Daren sleeping on the couch. It hits me like a wave...a sense of emotion and peace and understanding and so much more washes over me. Daren, my brother, is known for always sleeping in his bed. Many sleepovers growing up, Daren always retreats to his bed. Many guests visiting the house at this moment, they all insist we sleep in our beds. And yet, there is Daren sleeping on the couch, he's not in his bed, this is completely abnormal. "Where is Daren," the question Danielle asked me now makes complete sense to me.

I walk over to the whiteboard in the kitchen, and I write Danielle is okay, tears flowing from my face.

Off to school, walking on air, because I have an unexplainable sense that my sister, who had died one week earlier (and I would later confirm this vision was exactly one week to the minute after her death) was okay, she was in Heaven.

__________________________

Another week goes by. This time, I'm out driving with friends. This is what we do to "get away," we drive around the back roads of Lebanon County, PA, not caring if we get lost, and it's not too hard to get lost because there aren't many landmarks when it's all fields and pitch black. We just drive, listen to tunes, shoot the breeze. So, I'm driving, one friend up front, another in the back, when I make a right hand turn, and then all of a sudden, it happens.

High above me, and yet visible to me even as I'm driving, my sister, again. She's glowing, she's white, she isn't really a figure anymore, but more of a presence in the clouds. She's clearly in another place, again, words don't work to describe this. And she says to me, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry this happened. Tell everyone I'm sorry. And then, she's gone. All this while I'm driving, and just when it ends, I look up to see a road marker and realize this all happened right when I had turned onto the same back country road where she was killed, just a mile down the road.

__________________________

These two things that I saw, what happened to me in this story, this gave me the most incredible sense of peace I could ever have over my sisters death. Even more importantly, it gave me a 100% certainty that there is a Heaven. And later in life, I started to work backward from this belief in Heaven to analyze the reality of God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ. Even though I was raised going to church and learned the lessons, it never really sank in to a soul level, it didn't sink in until I later poured over it, questioned it, and experienced it in this way, and many other ways since. Now my faith is central to who I am, I know that even through the death of my sister, God is so good, and his plan is far greater than I can understand. I now believe that God works through visions like these all the time, and he does miracles far greater than we will ever understand. And so, my sister's death, while a terribly sad occurrence that changed my family forever in deep ways, is also part of the foundation of my faith, and in that way, it is among the biggest gifts I've ever received.