Category Archives: My Stuff

This is material I wrote.

Empty Tomb = Living Jesus

I love Easter. love the smell of Lilies when I walk into the worship center early on Easter Sunday. I know some folks whose allergies cause a much different reaction, but still…

I love the energy of the larger than normal crowd. I love the way we always try to put our best foot forward on Easter: we kick the creativity up a notch, our musicians work overtime getting it right, our guest services teams are on the alert to make sure all our guests have a great experience.

Mostly, though, I love what it is we’re celebrating.

Jesus rose from the dead!

He told his followers over and over that he was going to do it, and he did! He pulled it off! Death, the universal enemy of every single human throughout all time, has been defeated! No one had ever done it before, and no one has done it since. It is a unique event in human history.

This fact deserves to be celebrated in every way we can possibly imagine.

Sometimes, though, I’m afraid there is one aspect to this that we have a tendency to overlook.

It’s so simple and obvious, I’m a little embarrassed to point it out.

But here it is:

If he rose from the dead, he’s still alive.

I came face to face with this simple but powerful fact several years ago in one of the most powerful Easter services I’ve ever experienced. Our church had recently launched a new ministry to help those who are dealing with “hurts, habits, and hang-ups” called Celebrate Recovery. We wanted to raise awareness of this much needed ministry. The decision was made to feature it on Easter Sunday morning. In fact, we ended up devoting a large block of time in the service to personal testimonies from a few of the participants. Yes, we figured that some of our more traditional folks would complain that Easter Sunday wasn’t what they were expecting. But we also thought that this ministry, and the message of hope for those dealing with addiction that it provides, was worth absorbing a few complaints.

This may sound odd coming from me, but I have no memory of what music we did that morning. What I do vividly remember is listening to people, real people, tell stories of deliverance. Deliverance from addictions. Deliverance from abusive relationships. Jesus was working in their lives. He really is alive!

This is what Easter is all about!, it’s important for us to look back to the events of over 2,000 years ago. Let’s do our Bible drama reenactments. Let’s try to imagine the astonishment of Peter and John as they ran to look into the empty tomb. Let’s put ourselves in the humbling position of Thomas who repented of his doubt and knelt before the risen Christ proclaiming, “My Lord, and my God!”

But the best way to imagine that astonishment is to come face to face with the living Jesus ourselves. Today.

That’s what I experienced that Easter Sunday morning.

We were prepared for a few complaints about this service from our most traditional folks. But I was dismayed by the reaction of so many who seemed to miss the point. Were they at the same service I was? How could they not encounter the risen Lord when his presence was so obvious? How could they be so disappointed about not getting to feel nostalgic about Easters past that they miss the living Jesus?

To be honest, I’m still a bit puzzled by it.

But I think the problem stems from separating Jesus’ resurrection in history from his life today.

If he rose from the dead, he’s still alive.

The tomb is empty. You can go and look. In fact, you could search every tomb and every grave site around the world and you won’t find him.

Which only begs the question:

Where is he?

I’ll tell you where he is.

Just look around.

He’s in the home of a young family doing their best to raise their kids in a culture that seems to fight them every step of the way. He’s helping a man who is struggling with all his might to NOT take another drink. He’s giving comfort to that old woman whose husband of many years recently died from a horrific battle with cancer. He’s working in the messy lives of everyday people who give their time, energy, and talent serving you and your church.

Don’t get distracted by the past. Jesus isn’t there.

He’s alive.

He’ll be in the pew next to you at church on Sunday.

Will you see him?



The One Thing That You Can Do To Encourage More Congregational Singing leader, is congregational singing a priority to you? Do you actively encourage it?

I ask because I understand that it may not be, and that’s ok.

I have attended churches where it was obvious that the leader did not expect me to sing. The service was moving, powerful, and well-planned. The sermon was engaging and challenging. The music touched me deeply. I worshiped.

But I didn’t sing.

Congregational singing was not a priority, and that’s ok.

It’s not my preference, but worship isn’t about my preferences. that’s why I asked the question. Because if congregational singing isn’t important to you, you needn’t read any further. This post isn’t for you.

However, if congregational singing is a priority for you and your church, as it was for me in my ministry, then I have a suggestion.

It’s more of a plea, actually.

Please put the songs in a more singable key.

That’s it.

Now, I want you to know that I don’t agree with most of what I read about why congregational singing is waning. I don’t think projecting the music along with the words will help. I don’t think the answer is to stop doing new songs. (I responded to one article which touches on many of these complaints. You can read it here.)

But I do believe this one thing with all my heart…

People won’t sing with you if you deliberately exclude them.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but the recordings of most popular music (including popular worship music) is pitched in a low range for female singers and a high range for male singers. The result is that the vocals end up in approximately the same range. It’s a range we like to listen to. Now we may let loose and do our best to sing along in the car when no one else is around, but we know we sound awful. Because the songs are in a range most non-musicians and inexperienced singers are uncomfortable with.

The thing is, most of our worship leaders are experienced musicians who are comfortable singing in the pop music range. In fact, they prefer it because it allows them to be more expressive.

But it doesn’t encourage congregational singing at all. In fact, it does the opposite. It discourages participation. People may even want to sing, but they won’t be able to.

I know this because I really, really want to sing. I want to belt out my praise at the top of my lungs. I’ve been around the musical block a few times. I know what I’m doing. So sometimes I can find a harmony that feels right, or an octave that works. But there are many times when I simply can’t participate. I’m motivated. I try. I know what I’m doing. But many times I still can’t find anything that I can sing.

I guarantee that most of the people in the congregation who aren’t motivated, who have to be encouraged to try, and who don’t know what they’re doing, won’t participate.

Now, because I’m a man, what I’m about to say isn’t known through experience, but it seems to me that the women in our congregations are somewhat more flexible in their vocal range than men. What I mean is, if a male worship leader is singing in a very high range a female congregation member can generally sing with him in her lower octave, in a prime unison with the leader, and it can sound awesome! The men of the congregation, on the other hand, must either choose to sing in a high falsetto to stay with the leader (which will feel silly to him), or resort to a lower octave which, for a man, just isn’t going to be as expressive because it won’t have enough power for him to really even hear himself.

The third alternative is that he simply won’t try to sing at all. When you factor in the cultural bias that singing isn’t a very manly thing to do anyway, you can see why so many will choose option 3.

So, how do you determine what key to use?

I’m glad you asked.

A congregation will feel most comfortable if you keep the melody of the song in a range from about Bb below middle C to the D in the staff. You can go a little lower in quiet times and a little higher at big musical moments. Locate the highest and lowest notes in the song and find a key that puts the melody closest to this range. (This would be easier if worship leaders would use lead sheets instead of just lyrics and chords, but maybe that’s another blog post.)

I realize that many younger worship leaders will likely pooh-pooh this advice, but before you do I challenge you to try it. Consciously pitch your songs this way for a couple of months. You might not feel good about it because it may not be in your own sweet spot, but yours isn’t the sweet spot you’re aiming for.

Is it?

Please remember that our congregations are not filled with trained musicians or singers. We do them an extreme disservice when we expect them to sing along with a song that is completely out of their range.

They won’t do it, and I don’t blame them.

I plead with you to let us sing!



Pretty Good at Bad Decisions

I lead a charmed life.


I can’t explain how good my life is. I certainly don’t deserve it.

I hesitate to use the word “blessed,” although that is how I feel. I hesitate because I know there are good people whose lives are difficult to the point of seeming impossible. It doesn’t seem fair to me to say that God has “blessed” me, when the same God hasn’t “blessed” them.

They deserve it as much as I.

Probably more.

If the book of Job has taught me anything, it’s that there is no simple explanation for why some people seem to have everything coming up roses, and others can’t seem to have even one thing go their way.

However, I do think our decisions can make a big difference.

I admit that it’s easy for me to get sort of judgmental toward some folks who haven’t been as fortunate as I have been. People who seem to be in desperate situations.

“Well, that’s what happens when you make bad decisions.”

This judgmental observation is easy because it contains a nugget of truth. Bad decisions will often have bad consequences. But here’s the thing: I’ve also made some colossally bad decisions. If you’re honest, you’ll recognize that you have, too.

I’ve come to two conclusions about bad decisions:

The 1st is that we’ve all made some.

Some may not make a big difference: “Yes, I believe I will have that last piece of pepperoni, Italian sausage and banana pepper pizza.” Then follow it up with about four scoops of ice cream just before bed. I know the consequences of this one very well. It can be pretty uncomfortable, but it’s temporary.

Others may be career ending and family destroying: “I know she’s married, and so am I, but she has made it clear that she’s available. We are two consenting adults. If no one else knows, who are we hurting?”

The 2nd is that, along with God’s grace, our lives are defined by the smart decisions we make before and after our bad decisions.

As I said, I’ve made some colossally bad decisions in my life. I won’t go into the details here, but believe me when I tell you that I deserve literally none of the good things that have come my way. None.

But I made some very smart decisions long before the colossally bad ones.

I decided that my life would be lived for Jesus. I am committed to him for the long haul. That doesn’t mean I’ve always been consistent, or that I’ve never let him down. I have. But my decision to follow him remains. Just like a child who seeks approval in the eyes of his earthly father, my life goal is for Jesus to find pleasure in me. This is an overarching decision that keeps me coming back to him, even after I’ve failed him. This is a smart decision that can guide you through, and past, the consequences of the bad decisions that you will most certainly make.

I decided very carefully and prayerfully about the woman I proposed to. It was a smart decision. (She decided to say, “yes.” She’ll have to be the one to say whether that was a smart decision or a colossally bad one.) We’ve been married for almost 43 years. We remain as committed to one another as the day we said our memorized vows. I don’t see that ever changing. The bad decisions I made could have had devastating consequences if I hadn’t been married to someone who took our vows as seriously as we both do. Other than your decision to follow Jesus, your decision concerning your marriage partner will have the biggest impact, for good or ill, on your entire life. Don’t be afraid of this decision. With the right person, it’s a good decision to make. But, don’t take it lightly.

There are probably others, but you get the idea. If you are smart about the big, over-arching decisions concerning what you want your life to be, it will help you navigate through the bad decisions.

Whenever I have made a bad decision, I always did my best afterward to make it right.

This is seldom easy, and it is sometimes simply not possible. But, if you’re ever going to recover from a colossally bad decision, you have to give it everything you’ve got.

When I’ve made my colossally bad decisions, in order to make it right I had to put my fate in the hands of another. You will, too. It might be the person you harmed, or cheated. It might be your employer. Whoever it is, if you’re going to make it right, you have to do it on their terms. They get to decide how you will make it right, or even if it’s possible. It may take a long time of rebuilding trust. Do it. Don’t short-change it, and don’t take it lightly.

This is where it becomes clear just how important those earlier decisions were. Decisions about who you marry, and who you work with and for.

If you made smart decisions before your colossally bad decision, and you make smart decisions afterward, then your life will not be defined by your bad decisions.

So, as I said earlier, there is a nugget of truth to the belief that “that’s what happens when you make bad decisions.” But it’s really not as much about the bad decisions themselves, as it is about the good decisions you’ve made before and after the colossally bad one.

You can get pretty good at bad decisions.

At least, that’s how it has worked for me.


Singing In Church

Image may contain: 6 people, crowd and wedding
This is a picture of people singing in church. The church is in Sidlaghatta, India. The band was playing, the people were singing, the song was repetitious (even though I couldn’t understand the words) and the volume level was easily 120db. It was awesome!

Last summer there was one of those snarky “bash-modern-worship” posts making the rounds. I share the author’s concern about congregational singing and have some of my own thoughts about why it seems to be declining (I may share those in a future post), so, I read it. It made me mad. It just rubbed me the wrong way, so I just let it be.

Then one of my friends sent it to me and was interested in hearing my response to the article. I don’t like the article, but I like my friend, so I decided to read it again and jot down a few quick responses and send it to him.

I came across that document today.

It seems many of these same complaints (along with the same condescending attitude) still persist, so I decided my response to my friend might make a worthwhile blog post.

What follows is a slightly edited version of what I wrote for my friend…

Some thoughts and responses to Jonathan Aigner’s article, “Why WOULD Anyone Sing in Church These Days?”

“We began by changing our understanding of corporate worship. It’s not for the church, it’s for those who aren’t part of the church.” admit that this has been a struggle throughout my career. Who do we plan Sunday morning for? Where I’ve always landed is that we plan the service as a time of worship for believers, but with the knowledge that unbelievers will always be there. Consequently, we do everything we can to help them understand what we’re doing and saying. We use new music, and modern art forms and references, not to appeal to unbelievers, but simply because we’re planning services for believers in the 21st century, not the 17th.

“…we’ve decided that the singing alone is the “worship,” followed by preaching or teaching time (NOT worship)…”, I admit that I’ve heard the music set referred to as “the worship time” (I’ve even caught myself doing that) and that’s a mistake. But it’s simply not true to say that we teach that “singing alone is worship.” Every week we participate in the Lord’s Supper, give material gifts in the offering, listen to scripture preached and taught, sing together, listen as others sing, watch a video, celebrate baptism and more. We teach that everything in the service is worship and try to explain how that’s true.

“So, while music was once simply a way to add dimension to our sacred storytelling, we began to exploit its emotional appeal, suggesting the feelings it could evoke to be authentic spiritual connection.”

Seriously? I would suggest that music has always been used for its “emotional appeal.” And, why not? Certainly, worship is far more than an emotional experience. But how can worship ever not involve your emotions?

“Our cultural ability to make music has decreased steadily since the dawn of commercial recorded music…Now, most churches have given in to the cultural decline of music appreciation. Instead of training many of our own, we hire a few to stand up and perform from the stage.”

I think I know what he means by “make music.” It’s the music he likes and approves of. Anything else doesn’t even deserve the term, in his opinion.’s the thing: We have a whole generation of young people who do know how to “make music.” Their notation style is not that of the classically trained musician. They may not be able to read notes on a musical staff, but they’ve learned to improvise from a lyric sheet and chord chart, and play by ear. Most classically trained musicians struggle with all these things. How is this not “making music”? The accusation he makes above about not training our own strikes me as absurd. Training our own is exactly what we do. And, in order to “make music” the way he describes, it would necessitate exactly what he decries: “hiring a few to stand up and perform from the stage.”

I suggest that the training of our own should also involve retraining some of our musicians to be able to hold their own with these young musicians who are improvising from a chord chart. Sadly, most of these folks are either unable, or unwilling to do this. In fact, many would consider it beneath them to do such a thing.

Most churches have trouble putting both types of musicians together in one team. I believe (in all modesty) that this has been one of my strengths. I have worked over the years to combine these people and train them to work together. It hasn’t always been easy, but I believe it has been worthwhile.

Also, as an aside: since when was the church’s mission to foster “music appreciation”?

Oh, and one more thing: he uses the word “perform” intentionally as a negative term. This really gets under my skin because it’s all performance. What we have to teach (and maybe don’t do well enough) is that the congregation is expected to “perform” as well. If the leaders (musicians, singers, preachers, tech crew, ushers, greeters, etc.) don’t “perform,” they’re not doing their job. We’re all there to perform worship.

“We have a rich history of hymns and songs dating back centuries, set to beautiful, singable melodies with a rich harmonic framework, a group to which each generation added their best. Then we decided we didn’t need these anymore.”

What about this generation? He can’t have it both ways. Either each generation gets to add their best or they don’t.

“So, we stopped empowering those among us who do read music to use those gifts. And we stopped expecting anyone else to learn.”

See my thoughts on reading music notation above.

“We used to have these majestic and beautiful instruments, with infinite musical palettes…”

“Majestic and beautiful instruments” that could only be played by a single, classically trained musician hired to perform.

“What’s more, few of these leaders it seems are capable of just plainly, accurately singing the melody. Some of them croon with a whiny, closed-mouthed tone, turning every vowel into an ee-ended diphthong.”

Ok, crooning? Really? For that I just offer you 3 words: George Beverly Shea. Also, I think his musical arrogance and bias really comes through in this paragraph and I would just stop reading here…



Let’s Go for a Drive

Has God ever spoken to you?

Would you recognize His voice if He did?

Some say that God no longer speaks.

Don’t you think it would be terribly difficult to have a living relationship with a God who won’t talk to you?

I believe God does speak. He speaks through scripture. He speaks through the counsel of other brothers and sisters in Christ. I believe He speaks through circumstances – opportunities and closed doors. He speaks through His Spirit working on our consciences, convicting or correcting or comforting. I also believe that what He has to say will always be consistent with scripture. He would never violate or contradict His written word.

A.W. Tozer said: “God is forever seeking to speak Himself out to His creation. He is, by His nature, continuously articulate. He fills the world with His speaking voice.”

Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Well, God has never spoken to me.” But here’s the question: What have you been trying to hear? For whose benefit have you been listening? Let me suggest that hearing from God begins with a desire to hear for God.

I find that I often go to God with pretty specific expectations. Maybe I want to hear from Him about a particular subject. I’ll be looking through the Bible for a verse somewhere that supports what I already think. Or maybe I’ll go to one person after another asking for advice until someone tells me what I want to hear. I go to God way too often with my own agenda. When I talk to God it’s all about me!

Have you ever stopped to consider the possibility that God may have something specific on His mind that He would like to talk about? Too often I don’t give Him the opportunity because I’m too busy talking about what I want to talk about.

We don’t have a silent God. He is always speaking. We just need to learn how to listen.

I think maybe we need to begin with a different understanding about what prayer and Bible reading is all about.

I know many people who have done some type of reading through the Bible in a year program. I’ve attempted it myself – but I confess I’ve never succeeded. I think this type of Bible reading has its place. It’s like flying across the country in an airliner. You get to your destination in good time – you can look out your window and see some beautiful things even though there are parts of it that are completely clouded over – but you can end up with a general overview and a real appreciation for the vastness of the land.

However, if you’re really interested in what this land is all about, I would suggest something a little slower. Take the time to drive it sometime. Stop and spend the night in a few small towns. Get out and walk around at some particularly interesting spots.

Or, how about prayer? Suppose, for a moment, that you talked to your spouse or a close friend the same way you talk to God. Maybe you start the day by saying something nice to them. You mention how great and awesome this person is and what a privilege it is to know them. Then you start asking them to do things for you. You ask nicely. Maybe it even sounds like a plea. “Dear beloved Spouse, please, if you could find it in your heart to vacuum the floor…if it’s your will.”

What if you then write down a list of all the things you’ve asked your spouse to do, and then checked them off as they are accomplished? Do you think that’s a healthy relationship?

I heard David Roadcup say something once that has stuck with me for many years. He said, “The purpose of prayer is not to get your prayer list accomplished. The purpose of prayer is to get to know God.”

So what I’m suggesting is that we begin to think of Bible reading and prayer as a conversation.

It’s a 2-way conversation between you and God. And as in every conversation, it’s extremely helpful if both parties are talking about the same thing. Sadly, I confess, that most of the time God & I talk only about what I want to discuss. Then I wonder why He seems so distant. Maybe I ought to let Him begin the conversation.

Perhaps prayer should begin with listening instead of talking.

Consider this: reading the Bible is reading God’s mind. It’s not just a book of history, of how God did things in the past. It also tells us how God does things in the present. The scriptures are the primary means we have of hearing God’s voice and discovering His will. The scriptures are the starting points of our conversations with God.

Let me suggest that we start reading scripture for depth, not distance. I believe that if we do this we’ll experience the “transforming of our minds” that Paul refers to – and we’ll better be able to “test and approve what God’s will is”. (Romans 12:1,2)

So let me give you a word picture that will help explain how to do what I’m talking about…

I really enjoy driving. It’s not just the control thing. It’s more the desire to see what’s around the next bend or over the next rise. I love seeking out roads that I’ve never driven before.

Three of my all-time favorite drives have been:

For our 25th wedding anniversary we went to Bar Harbor Maine. We drove a northern route through Lake Placid, New York and crossed Lake Camplain on the ferry at sunset. Then we drove through Vermont & New Hampshire, all on 2-lane roads.

Another was driving the coastal highway along the Pacific. Route 1 – between San Francisco through Monterrey to Big Sur.

One more: driving the “million dollar highway” – Rt. 550 – from Durango to Montrose CO – passing through the mining towns of Silverton and Ouray.

The purpose of those drives had very little to do with arriving at the destination. It was all about what we might encounter along the way.

There are 6 steps to taking this kind of drive…

1. Fill your tank.

You can’t go anywhere if you’re out of gas.

2. Choose your road.

Maybe it’s a road you’ve enjoyed before or a new road you’ve never noticed before.

3. Slow down.

Take in the beauty of your surroundings. Look at the colors, notice the plants and wildlife, feel the breeze, notice the scent in the air. Listen.

4. Pull off the road at a scenic view point.

Stop the car, get out and step into the scene. Look around you.

5. Take a selfie.

How do you look in this setting?

6. Send home a postcard.

Tell the family where you went today. Tell them about the things you saw there.

So, when it comes to reading scripture we should:

1. Fill your tank.

Take a few moments to settle yourself. Ask God’s Spirit to help you hear what God wants you to hear. 1 Corinthians 2:11-12 says: For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

2. Choose your road.

Select a passage of scripture. It could be one you’ve read many times, or maybe one you’ve never noticed before. Either way, I’m not suggesting that you just randomly flip through the Bible. Give it a little more thought and prayer than that. Work your way through a specific book or maybe you re-read a passage that was the subject of a sermon or lesson.

3. Slow down.

Take your time. Remember this is not for distance, it’s for depth. If you go too fast you miss too much. What else is going on in the surrounding verses? What does this passage teach you about God? Are you seeing anything you hadn’t seen before? You might even want to turn around and go back to get a closer look at something you read earlier.

Try reading aloud, as if you were trying to communicate the truth of this passage to someone.

Martin Luther said: “I study my Bible as I gather apples. First, I shake the whole tree that the ripest might fall. Then I shake each limb, and when I have shaken each limb, I shake each branch and every twig. Then I look under every leaf.”

4. Pull off the road at a scenic view point.

For an example let’s consider what there is to see in Col. 3:16:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…

Let those words sort of sink in for a moment. What happens when you read them aloud and emphasize different words?

Let – you have a choice

Dwell – not just stop by for a visit or a quick hello, let it take up residence.

After you’ve re-read it several times maybe you could try to re-write the passage in your own words. That is a very helpful technique to use in conversations with people when you want to make sure you really understand what they are trying to communicate. You just say something like, “If I heard you right, I think I heard you say…” Try doing the same thing with scripture. Take the thoughts of the passage and put them in your own words and say back to God, I think this is what I heard you say…

5. Take a selfie.

How do you look in this setting? Reading scripture is often like looking in a mirror. What do you see when you look at yourself in view of this passage of scripture? Is God pointing out some things that maybe He’d like to do some work on, if you’ll allow it?

6. Send home a postcard.

This is your prayer. This is where you tell your Father where you’ve been today; what you’ve seen, and what you’ve learned. This is where you respond to God. He has started the conversation, now you respond. Maybe it’s a confession. Maybe it’s a prayer of thanks. Maybe this passage has caused you to think of another person that you bring up to God in prayer. Or maybe you just respond in a song of praise.

The point of the whole thing is that God is the one leading in prayer. He is directing the conversation. Some days you might not get very far. Other days you may cover a few chapters.

But, I really believe that if you do these things as you go, you’ll find that it will stay with you longer, and that your conversations with God will be way more meaningful than just working through a list of requests.

Try it sometime. I’d love to hear about your experience.

You can use the comments section here or you can email me at


I owe these thoughts to Buddy Owens and his little book called The Way of a Worshiper, which I heartily recommend.


I’m Still a Reds Fan can’t help it, I’m still a Reds fan.

In fact, I’ve been checking the mail the past few days for my 2017 baseball tickets.

I wasn’t a baseball fan at all until 2008. I blame Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Brandon Philips. Until that season I thought baseball was boring, but these guys made the games exciting and fun. I didn’t realize that was possible. I got sucked in. The Reds were still having losing seasons, but they made you feel like success was within reach.

Then came 2010. They went 91-71 that season. On September 28, Bruce hit a bottom-of-the-ninth, first-pitch, walk-off home run to clinch the NL Central title. It was the team’s first trip to the postseason since 1995. When Bruce crossed home plate it felt like a World Series win! It was happening!

They lost the division series to the Phillies. Disappointing, but it still felt like a good season. They were on track for a great 2011. Or so we thought.

Image may contain: one or more peopleSo, we started being regulars at the ball park in 2011. They didn’t do so well that year.

But 2012 saw another winning season with the Reds going 97-65. But again, they lost the division series. This time to the Giants.

In 2013 they went 90-72 and lost the wild card game to the Pirates.

They haven’t reached the post season since.

It’s been hard being a Reds fan the past few years. 2014, 2015 and 2016 have all been losing seasons.

They key is to keep your expectations low. Just plan on enjoying the atmosphere of the ballpark, the company of good friends, Friday night fireworks, and a Lemon Chill. A win would just be a bonus.

That was my plan for 2016.

Then they swept the Phillies in the opening series. Next thing you know, after 6 games they were 5-1. Wait a minute. Maybe they’ve got something after all. Stranger things have happened. Expectations got out of control.

Then the wheels fell off.

In the middle of April.

Against the Cubs.

The rest of the season was an exercise in frustration.

Not this year. My expectations are set on low. I plan to keep them that way. I just plan on enjoying the atmosphere of the ballpark, the company of good friends, Friday night fireworks, and a Lemon Chill.

A win would just be a bonus.

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself.

‘Cause, you never know…


Image may contain: one or more people and stadium

This Is Us

Like most of the country, Kathie and I are completely hooked on This Is Us. We are drawn, week to week, into the intimate relationships of the multi-generational Pearson family. It’s on tonight but I won’t be able to watch until tomorrow, so don’t tell me what happens!

There is a lot to love about this show. The central idea, of course, is the unique way the writers seamlessly connect the story lines of the generations. The device is more than the use of simple flashbacks and “time-hop” story telling, which has become all too common in my opinion. It’s as if we’re standing apart from the constraints of time and watching three stories, separated by time, unfold simultaneously.

There’s the love story of Jack and Rebecca. There’s the story surrounding the birth of their triplets and their doctor. There’s the early story of Randall’s birth father, William as well as William’s relationship with his own mother and brother. There are the stories unfolding in the adult lives of the three siblings: Kevin, Kate and Randall.

The writing is superb, the acting is first-rate. I find the characters to be completely believable. Every episode grabs you by several emotions at once and refuses to let go. Just like real life.

Obviously, one of the things that becomes clear in this show is the powerful influence our parents and grand-parents have on us. On our attitudes, choices and behavior. We all know this to be true, of course, but seldom do we see it portrayed so well or so believably.

My generation, specifically, seems to make a high priority of looking within ourselves to analyze how our parents, for good or ill, have impacted our lives. I believe there is value in this. Particularly if we carry some horrible emotional scar. Understanding is the beginning point to healing.

But what we don’t think about often enough, and what This Is Us is reinforcing in my mind, is how our own present behavior has the power to impact the coming generations. It reminds me that my life is not just about me. It’s about us.

How would it affect my behavior today if I could step outside of time and watch the story of my life, along with the stories of past and future generations of my family unfold simultaneously?

I have many regrets in my own life as a parent. There are moments I can recall, with excruciating clarity, things I said or did that I was sure would leave a lasting scar on my beautiful girls. What I’m learning is that, if you would ask them about my worst parenting mistakes, they would probably remember something completely different. It would likely be something I wasn’t even aware of.

I remember a conversation with one of my girls when she was in about 7th grade, I think. I wish I could remember the context better, but I remember the comfort and encouragement I felt when she said, “I finally realized that you and mom are just people, like me.”

I’ve been a grand-parent now for about ten years. I have found that I’m more intentional about trying to leave my grandkids with something positive.

I wish I had thought of that sooner.

Steve Farrar has said:

“I’m not going to know my great-great grandchildren.
But my great-great grandchildren are going to know me.”

What will they know?



All Were Astonished

“Could ‘astonishment’ be a good synonym for worship?”

This question arose in one of my recent God Questions posts.

Luke 9 contains many amazing events. After Jesus heals a boy who was convulsed by an unclean spirit Luke tells us that “…all were astonished at the majesty of God.” (Luke 9:43)

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days, and it seems to me that “astonishment” may not actually be a synonym for worship, but I believe it is an important aspect. An aspect that is usually far too lacking.

I remember the very first time we used drums in a worship service. Some people were astonished. Some in a good way. Quite a few in a bad way. They expressed their astonishment in phone calls, letters, and notes on the “silent roll call” cards.

I remember the first time someone had the audacity to serve communion without wearing a tie. Many were astonished that the elders would allow it.

I remember a time when I used the phrase, “come hell or high water” in a sermon. I received a phone call from an astonished church member who couldn’t believe a preacher would use profanity in a sermon.

People have been astonished at the use of dramatic lighting, modern music, video preaching, removing the organ, removing the attendance and offering statistics from the bulletin program, the way the worship leader wears his hair, an awesome guitar solo, and more. Much more.

When was the last time you were astonished in worship?

What caused it?

There have been times during a communion service that I’ve been astonished that God could ever accept me. I know me. I’m sure He does, too. It’s astonishing to me that, in spite of my selfish sinfulness, God made such a horrific sacrifice… for me.

Sometimes, when I look around me on Sunday morning, I’m astonished at lives that are changed through the ministry of my church. God does that. He uses us broken sinners to bring healing and hope to other broken sinners. Astonishing.

I see our worship team, our children’s ministry volunteers, our greeters, and many more servants, and I’m astonished at the number of people in my church who give an astonishing amount of time, energy, talent, and money in serving in the church, and in their community through Whiz Kids, Habitat for Humanity, and elsewhere. Astonished and thankful.

Sadly, I’m also astonished at the people who refuse to see any of that because they’re uncomfortable with the music, or the lighting, or whatever.

I don’t think comfort and astonishment mix very well.

“And all were astonished at the majesty of God.”
Luke 9:43

What astonishes you?

I think it depends on what you’re looking for.

Next Sunday morning, look for God.

He’s there.



Cincinnati’s Noteworthy Cheeseburgers

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but I’ve been afraid. We live in a highly charged and divisive time, and I have no desire to add fuel to the fire. I believe we should be able to express our opinions freely, and respectfully disagree on important topics like this without resorting to name-calling.  So, I think the time has come for me to man up and just put it out there. It’s time to express my opinion on what is sure to be a controversial issue…

Here are what I believe to be Cincinnati’s most noteworthy cheeseburgers.

Before I dive in, I want to make sure we all understand what I’m doing here. The words of the title are carefully chosen.

The Haunted Hamburger – 2007
The Haunted Hamburger – 2007

First of all, notice the word “Cincinnati.” So far, the best cheeseburger of my life was consumed in 2007. It was “The Haunted Hamburger” in Jerome, Arizona. It was the perfect combination of a great burger at the best table, with the best view, in a unique location on a vacation with some of my best friends. We sat on a small deck on the side of a mountain over a vast expanse of valley with more mountains in the distance, watching the sun set on a perfect evening. The experience is etched in my memory as one of the most enjoyable and satisfying meals of my life.

But it’s not on the list. It wasn’t in Cincinnati.

Second, notice the word “noteworthy.” This is not a ranking. These are not listed in order of my favorite to least favorite. I will be clear at the end about which cheeseburger is my favorite in the city, but the rest are merely a list of what I consider to be noteworthy culinary experiences. The burger I desire on any given day could vary with my mood. And to be perfectly clear, being “noteworthy” doesn’t necessarily mean I even like it.

Third, notice the word “cheeseburger.” If you’re not going to put cheese on it, why bother?

So here we go, in alphabetical order… Tavern and Grill is a local restaurant and bar on the northwest side with a friendly staff and regular patrons. They have added a new “stuffed” burger which I recommend. The filling varies so you’ll have to ask what’s in it. The last time I was there it was a “Reuben” burger stuffed with corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese. It was wonderful. But if you’re more of a purist, get the “Naked Burger” or the “Bacon Cheddar Classic.” You won’t be disappointed. Get the beer battered fries to go with it. They are outstanding!

Bru Burger Bar is a small chain with locations in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The Cincinnati location is right downtown on 6th Street making it a great place for dinner before a baseball game. Sit on the covered patio during the summer. They offer a variety of burgers with unique toppings. So far, my favorite is the “Mexicali BBQ Burger.”, I love the onion rings! One more thing: they make their own catsup. Or, is it ketchup? I’m never sure. Either way, stay away from it. They’ll bring you regular catsup (ketchup) if you ask for it. And you should.

Five Guys know this place. You can find them all over the country. If you want a perfectly cooked basic cheeseburger with no frills, this is place. They know what they’re doing. Plus, their fries are fantastic!

Flipdaddy’s are four locations in northern Kentucky and Cincinnati. They offer quite a few unique burgers, but what makes Flipdady’s noteworthy is the meat itself. Here’s what they say about it: “We have our very own awesome proprietary blend of premium quality cuts of brisket, short rib and chuck. Years of research, tasting and tweaking went into creating this blend.” I don’t know about all that, but it does taste good. I’ve had a few of their “brilliant” burgers including the Gaucho and the El Paso. Both were quite tasty. They also serve a “Burger of the Month” to add some variety to the menu. Oh, and you should try the Beer Cheese appetizer with the pretzel bites. Mm, mm!

Gas Light Cafe is a small local joint in Pleasant Ridge. I suppose it’s mainly a bar but the atmosphere is cozy and welcoming. Be careful when ordering. My first time there I made the mistake of ordering a “Cheeseburger Deluxe.” Sounds good, right? Wrong. It was ok, but nothing worth ordering a second time. Go down the menu a little farther to the “Gas Light Favorites” section and order the “Gas Light Burger.” There’s a world of difference! It’s twice the burger. No fancy fixin’s but a delicious, juicy, perfectly cooked burger that is very satisfying. After dinner you can go next door and browse Everybody’s Records, one of the few remaining record stores.

Mad Mike’s*%2C*Mad Mike’s is noteworthy to me for personal reasons. They opened in an old run down building that was occupied for years by The Chili Company. The building sat empty for many years and fell into a sad state of disrepair.  It sits on an awkward triangular lot at a busy intersection which I pass several times a week. For a long time I just wished someone would just tear the place down to open up that corner and rid the community of the eyesore. However, when Mike opened up a burger joint I shouted, “Hallelujah!” and did all I could to help the business succeed. To be honest, the service and the food have been inconsistent. It started out great, but kind of slipped for a time and lost my support. But it seems to be on the rebound again. The building and parking lot still look a bit run down, but don’t let that keep you away. The burgers seem to be grilled somewhat differently than most. They have a slight crunch on the outside, but juicy and tasty on the inside. My favorite is the “American Outlaw.” I don’t know what they put in that “Mad Sauce” but it is wonderful!

Red Robin, who doesn’t like Red Robin? “Yummmm!” Yes, they’re a little pricey, and it’s not really a “local” business, but I haven’t had a bad burger there.

Terry’s Turf Club you truly want a unique experience, this is it. The place has been featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. The burgers are all hand formed. You can get them topped with any of 10 imported cheeses and 12 specialty sauces, including wasabi, béarnaise, mango curry, peanut garlic and more. You might be interested in trying his famous filet mignon chili. Don’t ask me why you would want to put a filet mignon in chili, but Terry does it. It’s a small dive with limited parking on Eastern Avenue so be prepared to wait for a seat at the busiest meal times. While waiting for your delicious and messy burger to arrive, you can occupy yourself by simply looking around at all the amazing neon signs that Terry has collected.

Tickle Pickle is another small local business located in Northside. The burgers are good, but it’s worth going just for the rock & roll themed names they give them. There’s Buns & Roses, the Nom Petty, the Hot Chili Peppers (you can guess what’s on that one), the Meatallica, etc. The last time I was there I went with the basic Bread Zeppelin. The kid’s menu features Bean Day, Bun Jovi, and Fleetwood Mac & Cheese. Oh, and don’t forget the milk shakes! I had the Oreo Speedwagon.

Zip’s Cafe think Zip’s is noteworthy for being so over-rated. It seems like every list of top burgers in Cincinnati includes Zip’s at or near the top. Apparently people really like it. Honestly, I don’t get it. When I was there it was very crowded and we were seated at a long table with at least 15 other people we didn’t know. normally doesn’t really bother me to share a table with strangers, but this seems to be a popular neighborhood place where everybody knows everybody else. I felt like we were intruding on a family gathering. The burger was just ok, in my opinion. I think I’ll just leave this place for the yuppies in Mt. Lookout. They seem to like it. Oh, I did think the model train circling the place near the ceiling was pretty cool.

My Favorite Burger in Cincinnati

I kind of hate to admit it, but my absolute favorite burger in Cincinnati right now is found at a national chain…

Quaker Steak & Lube avoided going to this place for a long time simply because I couldn’t get past the name. I’ve been to lots of service stations and garages where mechanics work on your car and change your oil. I wouldn’t want to eat at any of them. Eventually I was with a group who decided this where we were going so I relented. I discovered the Arizona El Camino burger. Oh my! I don’t like to get my hands messy when I eat, so I generally have to eat this with a fork. Until I can once again make the trip to Jerome Arizona, this one will do. Must be something to do with Arizona. Anyway, it is, in my opinion, far and away the best burger in Cincinnati.

P.S. – Don’t go on “Bike Night” (Thursdays). Unless, of course, you ride your Harley…


Of course, I’m always open to trying new places in my never ending quest for the perfect cheeseburger.



These Kids Own Me

These kids own me.

Iris, Asher and Oliver are my grandkids, and I simply cannot imagine, nor do I want to imagine, my life without them.

Two years ago there were only two of them. When I learned there would be another it was sort of hard to see how a third kid would fit into this. There’s simply no way another child would bring the sweetness and caring that Iris adds, or the exuberance for life that Asher brings. What would a third kid bring? What was lacking? I couldn’t imagine.

What was lacking was Oliver.

What was completely unclear two years ago is utterly obvious today. There was an Ollie shaped hole in our family and we didn’t even know it.

The blog will likely be quiet for the next few days because tonight these three kids will begin spending a few days with Nana and Pop while their mother gives birth to her fourth child, and our fourth grandchild.

Right now, it doesn’t seem like anything is missing. Our family feels complete. My heart feels full.

But I can’t wait to see who joins us to fill his own unseen hole.