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

IMG_2921.JPG

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

view stars.jpg

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

IMG_2954.JPG

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

IMG_2973.JPG

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

IMG_2984.JPG

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

IMG_2978.JPG

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

My Experience in the Virtual Church

Church for me now includes:

Dozens of friends in the YouVersion Bible app. We encourage each other when we see one another highlight verses or finish reading plans. I get to passively look over their shoulder, and seeing them in the Word encourages me.

A conference line prayer call with a small group of guys every Thursday at 6:30a. 

Two email chains with dozens of Christian brothers on them who I know will pray for me or direct me to good counsel when I need it. 

A Slack channel with brothers in the SF Bay Area in regular dialogue, sharing ideas, job leads, Scripture verses, and more. 

A Google Group of guys from across the USA for an 8 week study on "Love that Overcomes" so we can work on our marriages. 

A Facebook group of guys called Holy Smokes that love to smoke stogies and talk Jesus. 

Regular phone and Zoom videoconference calls with my mentors and advisors in Dallas, San Jose, Boston, Colorado, places other than my home of Philadelphia.

What's my point?

Church to me is now at least nation-wide, sometimes international, aided by technology. 

This is not at the expense of my involvement in my local church, the place I go most Sundays. Rather, the two compliment each other as a network of Christians with different gifts and roles. 

And, with each example from above, the group often moves from digital to analog aka real life meetups, and when we do, we're more familiar with where we're at, where we've been, and how to move forward together.

This is deeply encouraging to me.

I hope it is for you too!

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and ball the more as you see the Day drawing near.
— Hebrews 10:24–25

Adventures in Faith

My Concern w/ the Vanity of Christian Bloggers, Pastors, Spokespeople, aka Myself

When I felt God nudging me to share stories about what He was doing in my life, I thought, "does the world really need another Christian blogger?"

God changed my heart to realize that, yes, it does; in fact, there should be many more. However, something about the rise of Christians stepping out with an online presence has troubled me.

And it looks like this: blog posts, email newsletters, and special alerts that, for the most part, bear the picture of the person doing the writing.

Like, what you see is primarily pictures of them.

This happens a lot, and, over time I wonder how the person can both do this and keep the emphasis more on the Creator than the created, and not grow a (sometimes unconscious) sense of pride.

Surely it's a fine line--one I've danced close to myself. 11 out of 30 posts on my homepage right now bear my face as the thumbnail image. And more than one Silicon Valley tech tycoon has remarked that our social networking is powerfully driven by deadly sins. 

Here are 5 ways I keep the story more about about God, and less about me:

  1. I look at post history, is it a lot of pictures of me, or other stuff too? Point blank, I don't think it should always be me, not even 50% of the time, so I go out of my way to find other images.
  2. I ask someone who will be honest with me. Usually its my wife, Whitney, or another guy in my life I pick for their brutal honesty. I ask if what I'm posting is done in the right spirit.
  3. I consider the tone of the message. In 2 Corinthians 12:9 the Apostle Paul wrote that he boasts in his weakness, because when he is weak, Christ is strong. Am I writing about how great I am, or God? I try to do only the latter. 
  4. I do a Strategy Check. Is my online approach centered more on what the world says is necessary to be effective, or what I'm hearing from God in the Word and in prayer? 
  5. I pray. Often before a post that feels more "out there" for one reason or another, I'll pray and sometimes fast for a few days (or even months) before posting it. God has a way of using the Holy Spirit to self-correct. 

In closing, what's been very telling to me is that, consistently over the past few years, the posts that get the most interest and have the greatest spiritual fruits, by far, are those where I'm either making a fool of myself for Christ, or where I'm focused completely on someone or something other than me. 

Tools That Work

The Best Gift You Can Get A Married Couple

Over the past three months my parents and parents-in-law gave Whitney and I an amazing gift. Several mentors have advised me to do this to keep my marriage healthy, so I have to share.

Whit & I at a B&B, a gift from my parents. Dec. 2017

Whit & I at a B&B, a gift from my parents. Dec. 2017

Each time, our parents watched our kids and gave us two nights away. One night is great, but two nights lets you sleep in twice in a row, and somehow enables a quick recharge that lasts for weeks.

Drop the kids off Friday afternoon, head home or to a B&B, then pick them up Sunday afternoon. 

Twice we used the weekend to clean the house and prep for baby #3. We worked 10 hour days each Saturday and its amazing how much we got done without the kids around. 

Another time we simply checked into a B&B and watched movies, had a big breakfast, did a little shopping without being rushed, took naps, watched movies. It was glorious, and gave us a chance to talk about all kinds of things and we felt like we were dating again. 

So my advice is this, find someone who can do this for you.

  • If you have grandparents or other family nearby, approach them about it.
  • If you are a grandparent, aunt / uncle, or other friend or relative, consider giving this as a gift. I've even made one you can print out below!
  • If you don't have family nearby, think through who in your church or neighborhood might be able to do this for you, and bring it up, maybe consider doing a swap for them to do it as well.
  • If you don't have anyone you trust with your kids or that you an ask, get intentional about building a relationship with some family in your life to get there within the next 6-12 months.
  • BONUS: If you want to really bless a couple that needs refreshment, and have the money to do it, consider throwing in a B&B stay like my parents did as a gift to us, which is an incredible gift. 

Marriage Time Away Gift Certificate (click to view and print or order professional print)

Adventures in Faith

#metoo - Here is how we combat sexual harassment

Let me join the chorus of those who've been harassed. 

The owner of a fine dining restaurant, and my boss, would often get drunk and grab at me from all angles. She'd say vulgar things to me and the rest of the crew.

When I bartended in Key West more than a few times I'd have wealthy gay men come in and proposition me or otherwise put me in an uncomfortable environment. 

Another time a married woman gave me her room key and kissed my neck as she walked away. 

As a part-time model and actor, I've often had extra sensitivity to my environment to ensure I don't get caught in a bad situation by someone with ill intent. Fortunately, my agents do a good job screening out shady people, and I've never been abused like some of the stories we're reading about in the news now.

Why do I share this now? What's my point? It's this...why is anyone surprised?

I thought everyone knew Hollywood was full of aggressive sexual behavior and abuse? I mean, even if ya don't know the industry gossip, just look at the product they're creating.

I thought everyone knew that as a society we have been fighting for our freedom to express ourselves sexually, even at the expense of what others see as morally right and wrong?

I thought everyone knew that we flat out accept overt sexual references, derogatory language, and uncomfortable displays of nudity in the public sphere? Whitney and I can hardly find a sitcom or live comedy show to attend anymore.

If we are foolish enough to think that throwing out modesty and traditional marriage as a society has nothing to do with the abuse we're seeing, then we're in for a very difficult shock to reality in the years ahead. 

This behavior is not going to get better, it will get worse, and our country needs Jesus and God's plan for sex more now than ever. 

Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
— Galatians 6:7-8

Adventures in Faith

Make A Thankful Tree

My wife Whitney is amazing at celebrating the various seasons of life. She wakes up early to set up a grand entrance for birthdays. Loves fawning over new babies and sending little gifts. With each new holiday approaching, she get's our family into the spirit by playing good music, making festive snacks, and decorating the house. 

I love this about her, the kids do too. 

One activity she planned for us the past few years is the Thankful Tree. And while we do it in November around Thanksgiving, it could work anytime.

It goes like this:

  1. Get a Mason jar
  2. Fill it with sticks
  3. Cut out little paper leaves and string pieces
  4. Every night, write down what everyone is thankful for.
  5. Attach leaves to the branches.

Slowly the tree fills up with all kinds of reminders of how much good there is in life.

And I have to tell you, with toddlers in the house, we have a lot of fun and laughs at what we hang on the tree. For example, Lukas gave thanks for his brother for a week straight, as well as dog slobber. Boden has been thankful for things that have put a tear in our eye.

If you want to celebrate what's good and true and noble, bring the Thankful Tree into your house!

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
— Philippians 4:8

Adventures in Faith

Look at the Porn on Mainstream Media Now [warning: graphic]

As a Christian man, I subscribe to the whole "to look at a woman lustfully is adultery." (Matthew 5:28)  It's a high bar, impossible really, but we believe that with Jesus all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

Thankfully, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, a "helper" (John 14:15-18) who helps us to take these thoughts captive. It's regular warfare. 

All that being said, I am continually shocked at the warfare being waged against our eyes now on a regular basis.

Not sure what I mean, here are a few screenshots from mainstream news and social media sites:

How did we get to this place where was what porn just a couple decades ago is now accepted out in the open?

Look, I get it, some people don't think this is any harm, they're all for it, and dive right in. But I still believe that most people don't think this is best, and don't want to see it. 

News flash!!! 

This porn everywhere, it's like land mines.

Guys are getting sucked in and blown up over this stuff, their relationships, their marriages are suffering for it.

Women, why are you shocked that men think they can grab you by the pu**y when this is what we accept everyday?

Kids are seeing this from childhood, their perception of women and sex is perverted by it.

This is vitally serious. Does anybody care?

 

 

Tools That Work

900% Increase in Church Welcome Results

Last week I had lunch with a brother in Christ and elder in my local church. He's the kind of guy who literally puts his phone number out there for anyone to call him. And many guys do, about one per week on average. 

Many of these guys say they want to get connected in the church in some way. In the past, this brother would send an email listing out the various groups guys could join, figuring that based on time and location, they'd select the best fit. 

The response rate on this old way of outreach was 1 guy out of 10 would respond to the email.

After a recent conversation where we talked about how striking it was for me in California when a guy reached out to buy me coffee and just get to know me, this brother decided to try a new tactic.

Now he emails guys with a simple request to get coffee and get to know them so he can help guys figure out where to connect.

The response rate on this new approach is 9 out of 10 guys respond to the email.

That's a 900% increase in response rate in under 60 days!!!

So what can we take away from this?

  1. People like to connect with people, not programs and groups.
  2. We need people willing to put their name and number out there.
  3. This takes time and commitment, this elder has had 10, maybe 20 coffee appointments over a couple months, which he just counts as the cost of making disciples.

Adventures in Faith

We Prayed for A Car, This Is Unheard Of (2 min)

In 2013 our 1st son was due in September, and our little 2-door Scion didn't feel like the best family car.

Whitney and I prayed that God would show us the right car to buy, help us with a good deal, and find something that wouldn't give us issues.

Then we visited dealerships, but didn't get a good vibe, or we'd find one we liked only to call and it was already gone.

Here's the list of cars I had been tracking on our spreadsheet (click photo to enlarge):

With the baby due date just a month away, and no car in our driveway, we started to pray more. 

Finally, every car on our list was gone, except one.

On the far right of the spreadsheet is the car that felt least likely to work out since it was far away, and despite being deeply discounted past our budget due to shipping costs. 

Whitney and I agreed to take a shot, so I sent over the offer and the dealership actually countered with a lower offer. I've asked a lot of people if they've ever heard of this happening when buying a used car, nobody has.

IMG_2144.JPG

Long story short, we bought the car, had it shipped to us right within our total budget, and found the car better than advertised. Our Subaru Forester has been phenomenal and we are sad to see it go now that we have a third child on the way and need more room. 

You can be assured we're praying God guides the process again!