Christmastime in America is completely nuts.

There are holiday drinks, holiday movies, holiday albums. And by holiday, we mean Christmas. All of them birthed out of Christmas.

Christmas has even spawned its own mini-celebrations of consumerism in Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Americans can get behind Christmas because no one is offended by a baby being born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.

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We can say things about Christmas like,

It’s all about family…
It’s about giving to people you love…
It’s about being grateful for what you have and blessing the less fortunate…

We can lose the true Christmas message that God came into the world to save sinners because we can twist a humble birth into just about whatever we want.

But America doesn’t go Easter-crazy. 1There aren’t special Easter drinks at Starbucks. There isn’t a Mariah Carey Easter album. There aren’t amazing Easter sales everywhere worth camping out for. 2

Because what do you do with a 30 year-old Jewish man who was unfairly tried, sentenced to a horrific death and then allegedly came back from the dead?

America doesn’t love Easter because America doesn’t know what to make of it.

You can try to cover it up with eggs and candy and bunnies, 3but that’s a thin veneer that can’t hide the type of crazy Christians go over Easter. The capitalism machine hasn’t found a way to make a consumer holiday out of Easter, because it’s so far-fetched you can’t bend it into any other message.

The cryptic tweets about wrath and substitution and someone who lived thousands of years before you dying in your place.

The Good Friday somberness.

The confusion about what we’re supposed to do on Saturday.

And ultimately the deafening roar of Sunday with “He is risen!” filling your timeline fuller than your stomach after drinking a bloat-inducing Venti Peppermint Mocha.

Easter cannot be manipulated. It can’t be stripped of its value. It’s a time where the rest of the world who aren’t Christians, if they know what we celebrate, just stand and scratch their heads.

Easter is all about Jesus. His death. His resurrection. His ability and willingness to live a perfect life for the sake of broken, sinful people and absorb the wrath of God for the sake of God’s people who would repent and believe in Jesus and his work on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

All of history hinges on this celebration. It’s the reason we split history in half for the God-man Christ Jesus.

You don’t get both halves of history named after you unless you claim to be God, correctly predict your death and then rise from that foretold death.

If you’re not a Christian, I urge you to explore the claims of Jesus. History proves he lived. And if he is God, what he says will matter for eternity. I urge you to consider if you’re sinful–not just that you do bad things, but that you are, in your nature, flawed and bad–and if that sin is punishable like all other crimes. Wrestle with the reality that the perfect, sinless Jesus paid the price for your sins so that you can be in a relationship with God through turning from your sin and placing your faith in Jesus.

And to Christians, celebrate Easter like it’s more important than Christmas. It’s true, there’s no Easter without Christmas, but without Easter, Christmas doesn’t matter.

Drink the communion cup instead of eggnog. Cherish the symbol of Christ’s blood paying for the sins you’ve committed. And break bread instead of breaking open presents. Realize this symbolizes Christ’s body that was broken on our behalf, to open the door for a holy God and unrighteous people to be in relationship together.

And know that as you celebrate, there is no celebration substitute for the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Easter can’t be made out to be anything other than what it is: a totally crazy, perfect plan to save all who would live and believe “He is risen!”


  1. No, the one night celebration of Fat Tuesday to inaugurate Lent with excessive drinking doesn’t count.

  2. Kudos to McDonald’s for tipping its hat at the Lenten season with 2 for $4 Filet-O-Fish sandwiches. Wait, what?

  3. I honestly have no clue why we give kids cavities to celebrate, but I’m sure there’s some interesting history here

I’ve tried to learn guitar a half-dozen times. By try, I mean I’ve pulled my guitar out of its case at least once a year. And by learn I mean I want to instantly be able to play any song like an expert.

The furthest I’ve ever made it was three days in a row of practice. My new record is 5 weeks (and counting!)

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What changed? Well for one, my level of effort. For the rest, these are my lessons of learning guitar that apply to pretty much anything.

1. Replace a bad habit with a good habit

Every morning I used to wake up, check Twitter, Facebook, email and my RSS feeds. I’d blink and an hour had gone by, and at that point I was definitely awake.

I hated wasting time in the morning–which is definitely my most productive time of day.

So I decided that I’d spend that half hour each day practicing guitar instead of milling through gobbledygook 140 characters at a time.

If you’re interested in habits, I recommend The Power of Habit. The audiobook version is fantastic.

2. Don’t break the chain

Jerry Seinfeld has a genius productivity tip. He commits to writing jokes every single day. And each day he writes a joke, he makes an “X” on a calendar. His goal? Don’t break the chain of Xs.

It’s easy enough to do. Commit to doing one thing you want to do to get better at something every single day. And the motivation of not breaking the X is pretty staggering.

For all you overachievers, don’t try to print out multiple calendars that each correspond to a new habit you’re trying to develop. It’s too much. Take things slowly. One chain at a time.

3. Push through the Dip

Seth Godin wrote a tiny, powerful book called The Dip. The idea is simple. There comes a point in doing everything where it gets really hard–and you have to decide if you want to work really hard to push through or if you should just give up because it’s not worth it.

I’ve wanted to learn how to play guitar for a long time (you can tell by the dust on the case). It was time to push through the dip.

4. Start with a low investment

Outside of the cost of the guitar (which I traded my cousin for a pair of 13″ subwoofers when I was in college), I’ve invested $4 in learning guitar.

$2 for a Learn Guitar app
$2 for a chord app
$0 for a dozen library books on how to learn guitar

I’ve decided that as I get better, I can invest more. Too often I’ve spent money on things I didn’t continue to pursue. Let your reward for your commitment upgraded gear for your hobby. But start small. Borrow from friends.

5. Ask an expert (or watch YouTube videos)

My cousin plays guitar (not the one who ended up with the subs) and he showed me some basics, made sure I was doing a few things right, and gave me some pointers. That was super helpful.

Also, I found out about this great site called YouTube. People post videos on there that are sometimes helpful (normally determined by the amount of views and thumbs-up-to-thumbs-down ratio.) I search YouTube all the time when I get stuck.

6. Get really good at the fundamentals

I want to learn to play hammer ons, and solos and every single chord. But if I can’t play clean chords, have a smooth strumming rhythm, or transition between chords quickly, none of the fancy stuff matters. That’s hard for me.

I want to be John Mayer on the guitar without being able to play Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

So, I keep plugging along on the boring stuff and trying to get really good at that, because a solid foundation of fundamentals always pays off.

7. Think about what to learn

I decided to skip the music theory stuff. Maybe that will be a mistake in the long run, but I don’t need to know how to read music now. I just want to jam.

In every discipline, there will be rabbit trails of things that are nice to know but not necessary to know. Distinguish between those things.

A helpful book on the beginning stages of learning anything and how to maximize your first steps in acquiring skills is The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman.

8. Pursue accountability and encouragement

Every day Niki asks me if I played the guitar. She says she loves hearing me play (even though I don’t even love hearing me play). Knowing I’ve got someone rooting for me, and holding me accountable makes practicing that much easier.

9. Learn for a reason

One day, I want to be able to lead our family in singing worship songs. It’s a humble task, but it’s something that’s really important to me. That’s my driving force that helps me keep practicing each day. Each day of strumming poorly, not being able to get it, and feeling frustrated is worth it, because small strokes fell oaks.

It’s putting into practice Starting with Why as our motivation.

Question: What has been most helpful for you learning new skills and hobbies?

Photo provided by Sydesignn

Sometimes I get stuck in trying to think through a problem. I feel like I’ve hit a wall and I’m not sure how to work around it.

I’m not the most experienced person to answer most of the questions I’m struggling to answer. But that person isn’t always reachable (or worth bothering!)

So I take off my Jordan hat and put on my expert hat. And then I just try to think about it the way they would.

  • How would Seth Godin connect with people and tell them about this thing?
  • How would Niki respond when someone is a total jerk?
  • How would my boss respond to that difficult question?

If I can’t think of a particular expert, I just try to pretend I’m coming in as an outside consultant. If someone asked me what I would do in this situation as an outsider, what would I say?

The next time you’re struggling to find a solution, step outside of the situation, and ask how someone else would handle it.

(This also works retroactively, after you’ve already botched something. It’s a good learning exercise to correct poor thinking or poor responses after you’ve made a mistake.)

Question: How would thinking like an outsider help you solve problems?

We live in a world where cash is on it’s way out the door. While I’m still a fan of using cash envelopes for budgeting, over half of the things we budget for are done electronically (like paying rent, giving to our church and other organizations, utility bills, etc.) While it’s easy to pay companies with debit cards and online bill pay, writing your friend a check for a dinner you split or tickets to a game feels ridiculous and clumsy.

In the second decade of the 21st century, peer-to-peer payments should be easy, quick, and free–like cash without the hassle of carrying around exact change.

Enter Square Cash.

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You can now pay your friends with a simple email, processed by one of the leaders in mobile payments–Square.

All you need is a debit card. A credit card won’t work because your card must be linked to a checking account.

Here’s how it works. Click to continue

Why I Read Fiction

March 14, 2014 — 2 Comments

As someone who highly values learning, growing and productivity, fiction can feel like a dirty word.

But I’ve realized significant benefits from digging into fiction books over the last year, specifically Christian fiction (with a handful of dystopian novels thrown in).

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Why Fiction Rocks

1. Relaxing

Reading fiction is engaging in passive learning. Instead of highlighting, dog earing and taking notes in fiction books, I feel the freedom to just read and let the words wash over me. After reading a string of non-fiction books, no matter how good they are, it’s nice to read a book without a pen in hand.

2. Expanding vocabulary

I can’t remember the last time I read a book and didn’t have to turn to a dictionary to find the meaning of a word. I love it when an author uses such a precise word for a particular situation. We’re truly blessed in the English langauge to have so many specific words for certain scenarios. I use Terminology by Agile Tortoise (also the makers of Drafts for iOS) for looking up words and synonyms.

3. Looking for deeper meaning

What I love about Christian fiction is finding pieces of the gospel wrapped in the stories. It’s as if there’s a whole other layer waiting to be explored in every well-written fiction book with new ideas to discover.  Click to continue

One of the most fascinating things in the world is how impressively good people are at lying to themselves.

Humans are masters of rationalization (myself most certainly included).

“It’s ok to eat that whole cake–I walked on the treadmill for 15 minutes this morning.”
“It’s ok to spend money I don’t have–I should be getting a bonus soon.”
“It’s ok to buy the latest, greatest whatever–my current one is going to die soon anyway.”

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Some of these lies are worse than others. But we rarely admit to ourselves that we’re lying. We turn our backs on truth and logic. Instead of facing truth or guilt head on, we rationalize.

What is Rationalization?

Here’s a definition snagged from everyone’s favorite encyclopedia, Wikipedia. In parenthesis on the page next to rationalization it actually says “making excuses.” That’s awfully clear. But here’s a fuller definition:

Rationalization is…a defense mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable – or even admirable and superior – by plausible means.

Essentially, it’s forcing illogical things into a logical box. We twist and turn, prod and poke until something that was once irrational becomes not just acceptable but perhaps even admirable in our own minds.  Click to continue

Uniting theology and productivity is no easy task. Fortunately, Matt Perman marries the gospel and getting things done in a beautiful ceremony in What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.

Usually, productivity is left to gurus and hackers, while theology is reserved for the super-spiritual and seminarians. What’s Best Next thoroughly dismantles the separation of the spiritual and the practical, and puts the gospel at the center of our work–no matter what we do.

Matt Perman has written about productivity from a Christian perspective for years at whatsbestnext.com. He helped build John Piper’s Desiring God ministry, and he’s more than qualified to merge theology and productivity. His book is a treat through and through, and I’ll be referencing, re-reading, and recommending it for years to come.

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[Note: This is one of my longest posts ever. If you trust my judgment, go buy What's Best Next right now, at Amazon (affiliate) or WTS Books. Feel free to skim and scan this review to get a glimpse into why I loved the book.]

The Aim

Much is lacking in literature on work from a Christian perspective–and I’d argue even more so is missing on the way Christians should work. Matt’s goal in “What’s Best Next” is to fill in that gap of wanting literature.

My aim in this book is to reshape the way you think about productivity and then present a practical approach to help you become more effective in your life with less stress and frustration, whatever you are doing.

He wants to help equip us, inspire us and prepare us to serve God in all we do, through the how and why of our work. And he does just that. Click to continue

What good could drawing a red “X” on my hand possibly do?

How could that help? How could it make a difference?

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According to the End It Movement, an awareness group and coalition of anti-slavery organizations, there are 27 million slaves in the world. More in sheer number than any other time in human history. Forty percent of those slaves are sex slaves.

That reality knots my stomach. I’ve read stories of slaves stolen for forced sex, forced labor and even organ harvesting. It’s nauseating and heartbreaking.

So how does me posting a picture of an X to Instagram and Twitter make any impact?

I wrestled with the idea. I didn’t want to be a slacktivist–posting a picture with a trendy icon or a link to a website just because everyone else (in my circles) was. I’ve thought a lot about how to tackle a problem with a massive, global scale. Human trafficking. Extreme poverty. Unreached people groups.

Issues that all deserve our attention. But how do I make a difference without knowing how to be actively involved?

Kevin DeYoung says in Crazy Busy,

We won’t all care about every issue in the same way, but there are some issues we should all care about, some issues that should at least prick our hearts and prompt us to pray. Not giving a rip about sex slaves is not an option for the Christian.

I’ve just dipped my toe into the cesspool of human trafficking. I don’t have all the answers, and honestly I’m just trying to learn and help others do the same as we fight one of the greatest injustices in our world today.

Any problem buried this deep in sin requires a multi-faceted solution to fix. I believe that solution travels four concentric circles, all working together to find a solution. Promotion, personal choices, partnering, and prayer.

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Here’s how I see pandemic issues being tackled, specifically in the context of human trafficking. Click to continue

The Best Budgeting App: YNAB

February 28, 2014

Niki and I have an unhealthy crush on budgeting. It’s not quite teenage-girls-for-Justin-Bieber love, but it’s close.

We’ve been using Dave Ramsey’s system of zero-based budgeting for two and a half years, and it’s been an amazing journey. We’re debt free, saving for retirement and a future home and we’re able to be generous toward people and causes we believe in.

At first, we used the cash-only system. Every single category we pulled cash out for, except for savings.

That amounted to a scary stash of cash in our home every month.

So we migrated to an Excel spreadsheet for our larger categories. We still use cash for daily expenses–groceries, entertainment, toiletries, etc., but for things like car repairs and our own personal allowances, we switched to digital tracking.

It wasn’t a great system, but it worked for us. That hardest thing was that we didn’t have a ledger or report detailing where the money went for each category–just an updated balance for the category and the date it was last updated.

We needed something that was:

  1. more convenient than a spreadsheet
  2. not made by Microsoft
  3. easy to use on the go
  4. good for keeping a record of expenditures
  5. a good fit with our zero-based budgeting system
  6. pretty

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After lots of rave reviews about the software You Need a Budget (YNAB), we decided to pull the trigger on the desktop and iPhone software (mostly because we bought it on sale for half price. Budgeting, FTW!)

YNAB is based around four solid rules that mesh perfectly with Dave Ramsey’s plan.

  1. Give every dollar a job.
  2. Save for a rainy day.
  3. Role with the punches.
  4. Live on last month’s income.

Here’s how we’ve put it to use in our system.

Click to continue

Your account has been hacked.

That unfortunate news makes its way to my inbox on a near-weekly basis.

Most recently Kickstarter’s databases were infiltrated and usernames, emails and passwords were lifted.

I normally respond with a sigh and quickly swap my password. It’s frustrating that digital theft is a daily reality, but for many (perhaps most) people, one stolen password from a website you rarely use means bad guys probably have access to your email inbox, Facebook, Twitter and maybe even your banking passwords because you use the same password on every site.

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Tisk tisk.

I was in the same boat. I had a few main passwords I used for everything, and if I wanted to make it super secure I’d toss a few capital letters into my normal string of letters and numbers.

Trying to pilfer my info wasn’t quite like trying to ravage through Gringotts.

We live in an increasingly complex world. Everything has a password (and for the developers who are masochists, we have a username that isn’t just our email). I’ve heard countless comments about passwords in recent weeks:

“I have to change my password every 90 days and it can’t be one of my last 4 passwords used. I can’t come up with any more passwords that I can remember.”

“I just use the same password for everything.”

“My mom has a word document with her passwords in it on her desktop.”

The ultimate goal of passwords is to strike a balance between security and convenience. Simple passwords mean effortless access to your account (for you and for hackers.) Complex logins brings increased protection but a mini-stroke every time you try to rack your brain for your password.

So how do you balance a secure password, a memorable login and multiply it over 100+ websites (between apps, utility bills, financial logins, social networks, etc.) without going to a Montessori school?

A password manager. Specifically, 1Password.

Click to continue