Place your bet

Photo by @ Alex via Flickr (Creative Commons)

A few months ago I went to Las Vegas with my father-in-law for 24 hours. There are at least 4 things hilarious with that statement, right?

He was running a marathon and needed someone to drive with him from San Diego to Las Vegas and back. I went since it’d be nice to catch-up along the way as well as have lunch with my mom, who lives a mile from the Strip.

Since my mom lives there… I have been to Vegas at least 10 times. Normally, I like to people watch late at night. The joke has always been that I’m down $11 in slots lifetime and I’m mad about it. I’ve never really been into the games.

What I learned from 6 hours on the Strip

Unlike my normal late-night-people-watching, this trip had me up very early, checked out of my hotel, and walking the Strip by breakfast. With more than 6 hours to kill I wandered through a few casinos filled with old people playing slots and a bunch of dealers standing at empty tables.

Along the way I stopped at a Starbucks. As I sipped my mocha I entertained myself by watching a few scattered games here and there. In truth, like a lot of Christians, I feel really out of place on a casino floor. More because I don’t know what to do than that I don’t feel like I could enjoy it.

At one casino there was a small crowd around the crap table. It was a morning clinic explaining how the game worked. Perfect… I could kill an hour, learn something, and its free.

Here’s an observation from that clinic: There is a time to place bets. But once the time has passed it is too late for placing bets. You are either in the game or you are out. The shooter rolls 7 or 11 on his first roll, everyone with a bet on the line instantly doubles their money. If you think about it, every form of gambling has that same timeline. A time to place bets. A time when betting is closed. And a moment when a winner is declared. Cards, slots, horses, lottery, etc.

When you are playing in the game you have a claim at the table. You can win or you can lose. Your heart beats faster and adreneline pumps. The dealers chatter with you. And the cocktail waitress is happy to bring you a bottle of water or whatever you’d like on the house.

When you aren’t in the game you have no claim to the table. You can’t lose but you can’t win either. You’re on the sidelines as an observer. No pitter-patter of your heart. The dealers might not acknowledge you. And fat chance in getting a free drink from the waitress if you aren’t in the game. You’re just another tourist.

Gambling in Vegas is a lot like life outside of Vegas

It feels like people are so afraid of losing that they just refuse to place a bet at all.

  • College – Where do I want to go? What do I want to study?
  • Marriage and family– Is this the right person? What if it’s the wrong person? Should we have kids? If so, when?
  • Vocation – What do I want to do when I grow up? What if I don’t like it?
  • Location – Where do I want to live?

People aren’t shy about their shock with Kristen and I because we placed bets on all four of those categories early in life and have continued to “improve our hand” over the years.

The flip side, experience has taught: In order to win you have to place a bet in the game. And the window for placing a bet is limited. When the time comes to place a bet I already know I want to be in the game because sitting on the sidelines is too boring for me. There are risks and rewards… but I always know I want to be in the game.

Life’s winners and losers are in the game. But those who hold on, never placing a bet, will never know what winning feels like because they are too afraid to accept the risk of losing. And that, my friends, is losing every time.

hmm... thoughts

The weekend ahead

I’m looking forward to a fun and crazy next 5 days.

We’re going to Disneyland!

We might be the only family in Southern California who has never been to Disneyland. And that’s all Megan wanted for her 10th birthday. So today, after school, we are going up to do just that. We’ll be in Anaheim tonight through Sunday. I’ve actually never done anything at a Disney park, either. So we’re all pretty amped up about it and a little nervous, too.

Sunday morning, I’m getting up at the butt crack of dawn to leave Disneyland and come back down to La Mesa to teach at Encounter. My talk is called, “So I’ve been thinking about how to be good news in my neighborhood.” It’ll be all about unleashing your creativity to be good news. (I’ll post the notes in the free section.) After church, I’m back to Anaheim to hop in the pool and then drive everyone home.

Monday afternoon through Tuesday, I’m off to Chicago to help out my friend Andrew Marin. He’s working with a publisher to produce some training materials for his smash hit book, Love is an Orientation. Actually, I’m not 1000% sure what my role is in that. But I know that I’ll be speaking into the youth ministry portion of the content, helping youth workers practically minister to adolescents in matters of sexual orientation.

I’d appreciate your prayers for this whirlwind 5-days.


Put up or shut up

Photo by Cindy Seigle via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I’m from Indiana. A big part of my childhood involved playing basketball in driveways.

From the time the ice melted until we could hear the band playing and crowd cheering from Notre Dame stadium all we did was play basketball. We’d get off the bus and play 21. We’d have breakfast on Saturday then play 21 until lunch… followed by 15-20 more games of 21 until dinner.

When we could get 6-7 people together we’d play half court, make it take it to 10. Usually, it was 3-4 guys playing 21 until our fingers cracked or palms were white and the rest of our hands were black with dirt.

Everyone in the neighborhood knew everyone else’s moves. They knew who to guard from outside and who to push to their left hand in the lane. We knew who had an unstoppable jump hook. And we knew who couldn’t make a layup. There was even a kid so good at free throws that we had to make a new rule, after 7-check-up.

But the biggest rule of them all? Put up or shut up.

Photo by DonkerDink via Flickr (Creative Commons)

It never failed that the kids who didn’t play very much ran their mouth the most about how good they were. You’d hear them in the hallways at school trying to convince everyone that they could play. And you’d hear them on the bus all the way home.

Then we’d all get off at their stop, take their ball out of their bushes, roll it to them and say… Put up or shut up.

We’d call their bluff. Maybe they really could play? But usually not.

What does that phrase mean? Simply put, let your actions speak for themselves. It’s easy to run your mouth and tell people how good you are. But can you deliver?

In my neighborhood the best players didn’t have to tell people how good they were. They let their game speak for itself.

And chumps like me? We just kept out mouths shut.

All talk, no show

This same principle applies today.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to someone running their mouth about something. They know how to do my job better than me. Or they know how to do someone else’s job better than them so they are just trying to prove how smart they think they are to me.

They know how to minister to my youth group better than me. They know how to parent, to budget, to garden, to _____ [insert verb] better than I do.

And sometimes I just wish we were back in middle school so I could follow them off the bus, go fish the basketball out of their bushes, pass it to them and say “Put up or shut up.

Looking in the mirror

My dad says a phrase that I think about all the time, “Don’t write a check that you can’t cash.” I think about that a lot. Especially when I run my mouth about what I can do, want to do, or should do.

I need to make sure that I’m not just talking about things for the sake of talking about them but that I’m willing to “cash those checks” with my life.

Church leadership culture is quick to celebrate the person with the loudest megaphone who says the quote worthy thing that gets retweeted all over the heavens.

That’s a whirpool of “put up or shut up”  that I want no part of. Eventually, someone is going to ask them to cash that check.

Instead, I’d rather just keep my mouth shut and do my best to let my game speak for itself.

Christian Living family

Remembering Barb Evans

As a 15 year old junior at Hanau American High School I lived for youth group night.

For a couple of hours we took over the gym of Hanau Middle School. We played huge, sweaty games, where two teams competed for the sake of having fun. Usually, there was pizza and soda. Then Dan played some songs on his guitar while Barb tried to figure out how the changing of slides on the overhead projector at just the right pace so Dan didn’t lose his place. We typically ended our time with a sweaty Dan sharing something from the Bible and praying together.

I idealized Dan and listened intently to everything he said.

But in the Winter of 1993, for some reason, Barb led our teaching time for a few weeks. She was clearly nervous as she explained that for the next few weeks she’d be reading from the Bible her favorite story and sharing a little bit each week on what that story meant to her. It was a dramatic change of pace. Run-run-run-eat-eat-play-play-sing-sing-STOOORRRRYYYTTTIIIMMMEEEEWIITTTHHHBBBBAAAARRRBBBB.

I thought I’d die from boredom.

Barb started reading in Genesis 37.

One chapter in and I was hooked. She read the story and shared from her heart how that related to her life.

As the days passed I started to look forward less to the silly relay games, the pizza, and the songs… and started to get more excited about Barb’s story from Genesis. Her love for God’s Word was spreading to my heart, too.

A couple weeks later, the series culminated with the reading of Genesis 50. I hadn’t read ahead so I had no idea what was coming. Joseph, having been sold into slavery by his brothers, reported for dead to his father, tossed into jail for not sleeping with his bosses cougar-wife, saved from the death penalty twice. And yet somehow God kept blessing him. Now, as pharaoh’s right-hand man his brothers were now before him begging for food but not recognizing him. Joseph had his opportunity for revenge. No one would blame him. And God would be able to use it as a great lesson for not selling out your friends.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.Genesis 50:19-20

My jaw dropped. And my life changed.

You mean… God wasn’t a God who liked revenge?

Barb explained that God used Joseph, a man who had been wronged by so many people, to save the very people who had wronged him. Never did something ring more true and make so much sense in all of my life. As I looked at all of the crap I had been through. Some of it self-inflicted, some of it inflicted upon me, it all had context for the very first time. Perhaps… maybe… PROBABLY… God had allowed all of that to happen to me so that I could one day be in that position, like Joseph, to chose to offer hope where there was no hope. He hadn’t been the cause of it. But God could take what had been done to me to destroy me and use it for His own glory.

I still feel the impact of those few weeks of stories today. Life is still full of crap. And because of her words and sharing Joseph’s story with me for the first time, I can always put it in context. Sometimes people seek to harm you. But God can use that for the saving of many lives.

My life was changed because of Barb’s ministry to me. She shared her heart and mine was opened to the Gospel in a brand new way.

Barb Evans passed away on Monday, March 7th. She had battled brain cancer for more than a year before, earlier this year, the doctors told her they had exhausted all their options and referred her to hospice care. Her last few weeks were spent at home with her family in Alaska, where she and her husband Dan served as missionaries with Cadence International. She leaves behind Dan, her husband, and their two kids, Caleb & Audrey.

It’s impossible to measure or convey the impact Barb had on my life. She and Dan were a critical relationship when I found myself living thousands of miles from home, in Germany, on a military base, my junior year of high school. Their youth ministry offered me so much more than just stuff to do one night a week. For the first time ever there were adults in my life that asked me real questions. They listened to what I had to say in a way that made me feel like I was a real person.

And they gently, and often times not-so-gently, pushed me to think about who I was and who I could become in Jesus.

Barb’s impact on me went beyond when she was the youth pastor’s wife and I was a student who was always with her husband. (Literally, if Dan would let me I was at their house every day. At his office. At youth group early. Anything I could do to hang out with him. Barb was a saint for not kicking me out!)

In college, I ended up attending Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, the church she had grown up in. Her parents befriended me. I remember Kristen and I sharing Easter dinner with her parents and family. Later, I served on the missions committee where we kept close tabs on their ministry, prayed for them regularly, and I was even sent to visit with them in 2001, shortly after September 11th. As I got involved in the youth group at Calvary, I loved the circle of blessing God had created that I helped lead a high school ministry and was part of a church who had raised and sent a young woman who lead me to Jesus.

Over the years, my respect for Barb’s deep faith, practical love for those she ministered to, and heart to raise her children as lovers of Jesus has grown with each passing prayer letter. Her impact on my life began when I was 15 years old and has translated into impact on my whole family.

Her husband Dan lovingly blogged the last year or so on Twitter. It’s such a tender testimony to Barb’s last months, I encourage you to read it.

golf management Marketing

3 Qualities of Successful People

Photo by SearchNet Media via Flickr (Creative Commons)
I have a lifelong obsession with golf. It started in 2nd grade when my parents scraped together enough money for a starter set and a series of playing lessons at a local par 3 course. Even though neither of them were serious players– I guess they thought I’d enjoy it. And I did. A lot.

Don’t read that the wrong way. I’m not a country club kid. I’ve never belonged to a course where I got my own locker or had an account on file with the restaurant.

Instead, I grew up playing city-owned munis and family-owned courses. In middle school, my first membership to the local golf course cost my family $50. That also included an annual pool membership, ice rink membership, and anything else the Mishawaka Parks Department charged money for. I didn’t grow up playing with kids named Chip or Trevor. We were more of an Adam, Mike, and Tim kind of crowd. But golf was my obsession. All summer long, every day, I play 27, 36, or 45 holes of golf.

Here’s what I learned about success in golf that translates to life: We don’t have equal access to success

One fact that I love about golf, especially professional golf, is that anyone can become a professional in 7 days. Unlike any other professional sport on the planet I can start on Monday as a nobody and win a million dollars on Sunday. Just about anyone can enter a qualifier. And if you manage to qualify you are in the same tournament as the card carrying professionals on Thursday. And if you make the cut on Saturday, then manage to win on Sunday– they will hand you a big check and a Tour Card for the rest of the season.

Fat chance trying that in baseball, football, or basketball.

But that almost never happens. While there are several PGA Tour members who rose from poor backgrounds to earn their card on Tour I can’t name a single person who is currently on Tour who started as a Monday qualifier and turned a good 7 days into a career.

It can happen, but it is nearly impossible.

Instead, if you look at those who made it, you’ll see that their success is a combination of 3 qualities.

  1. Talent – Talent is the constant. Talent is the difference between learning skills well enough to be pretty good and being a winner. Over the years I’ve played with and coached hundreds of people. But when you walk the course with a person who has a natural talent for the game… it’s amazing. Most amazing is that these players can rarely describe to you the mechanics of what they are doing. They just try stuff and it works.
  2. Ambition/hard work – Talent isn’t enough. I’ve met plenty of talented players. Each high school team of 12-15 young men had 3-4 players with enough talent to take them to the next level. But if they aren’t single-focused enough they won’t advance in the game. An ambitious person never stops practicing. They putt in their living room. Hit wedges in their backyard. Keep a 7-iron and a bag of balls in their trunk to practice between meetings. They play 9-holes before work and chose vacations with great practice facilities.
  3. Environment/resources – This is the X factor. This is the difference between a good local golfer and a professional. They have access to amazing resources. In most cases, their family has invested in them from a very young age. They played in expensive junior tournaments. They have great equipment. They have great coaching. And it results in opportunities to get to even better tournaments, more finely tuned equipment, and the best coaching.

You can be pretty good, above average, with two out of the three. But you’ll never be excellent. There are millions of guys putting their clubs in their trunks right now who have endless talent and ambition but aren’t in the right environment with the right resources to make it to the next level. And this weekend will be full of guys who pull up their Mercedes at a country club, with access to the best environment and resources and absolutely no talent for the game.

I don’t care about golf. What does this have to do with you or me?

We each have something we were created to be amazing at. There is something in our lives that we have talent, ambition, and resources to be the best at.

Identify that thing… no matter how obscure the niche`… and you’ll find the success you know you deserve.



According to Tripit, my travel tally for 2011 looks like this:

Trips 3
Days 18
Distance 9,959 mi
Cities 18
Countries 1

That’s as of February 2nd.

And it doesn’t include all of the cities I’ve been to… just the places I’ve spent the night.

The first 33 days of 2011 have been a total whirlwind. This was something I did intentionally to try to get as much done before the baby arrives so I won’t have any pressure to go anywhere. Anyone who knows me knows that I push myself 10 times harder than anyone could possibly push myself.

33 days into 2011. 18 days on the road. 15 days at home.

Yesterday, waiting for my bags in San Diego I habitually popped open Tripit, my app and travel companion. (Because it always tells me where to go and what to do next.)

It said, “No trips planned. Want to add one?


I hit the home button and shoved my phone in my pocket.

Symbolically, I’ve hit the home button for the next few months. My hope is to not have to travel for work for a while. I have no need to leave San Diego County until mid-April. And I don’t think I’ll spend a night away from my family until May. That’s plenty of time to regain footing in our family routines and work hard to bond as a family of five instead of a family of four. (2-3 more weeks!)

Last night, as I was talking to Megan and getting her ready for bed, I said, “It’s really nice to be home. Did mommy tell you that I won’t be going anywhere until after your birthday?

The smile said it all.

I’m grounded. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

hmm... thoughts Video Clip

My life in photo

Amazing the digital footprint we leave, isn’t it?

ht to William Hartz

Christian Living


Photo by cmiked via Flickr (Creative Commons)

This is it.

Today is the day.

I don’t have time for could, woulda, or shoulda. I only have time for results.

I know the stats. I know the strategies. I know what it takes to get it done… it’s time to get it done.

[Insert whatever analogy you need to fire yourself up]

I’m a youth worker. It’s in my blood. It is who I’m called to be and it is who I am. And all youth workers are hard-wired to plan stuff out in August. August is our January. We plan vacations, mission trips, concerts, retreats, camps, and everything else. If it is going to happen in 2010-2011… now is when we lay it out.

In August, we lay out our dreams for the school year in August.

August is our ebenezer.

So that is what I’m doing this August. I’m laying down my dreams. I’m laying down my hopes. And I’m putting aside my excuses.

I’m tired of waiting for next year.

I don’t have time to build another year.

I am getting too old to sit around and wait for something good to happen. Or the right kid to show up. Or the wrong kid to “get it.

I don’t want to just hang out with kids anymore without a purpose. We’ve played enough video games, eaten enough pizza, and I’ve been to enough high school games.

This. is. it.

This year.

This day.

This moment.

Now is the only time that matters.

I’ve got no patience for coulda, woulda, or shoulda.

This is my ebenezer.


Best of 2004

Note: I’m on vacation this week. My family has a rule for daddy– It’s not a vacation if daddy brings a computer. Each day this week I’m highlighting my favorite post from the archives. These are oldies but goodies.

Yes, I am Wasting My Life

August 31st 2004

Again this month we are short financially. Grad school came calling. Preschool came calling. Uncle Sam gets his cut in a few days. A combination of expected and unexpected expenses draws a little more money from savings to checking in a constant game of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Life’s expenses are again expensive. Each time this happens to me I start to reminisce about what life could have been like for Kristen and Megan and Paul. Had we stayed on the path of corporate success in Chicago we wouldn’t have this to worry about. The bills always got paid in full. There was always a little extra at the end of the month. We could always surprise someone with a special gift. Vacation? No problem. New tires? How about the best? New clothes? Why not. Yet in the same moments I recall the emptiness I had as I laid in bed at night, longing for my life to be wasted for something more important than getting richer… or more precisely, helping rich people get richer.

Read the rest

It’s 2010. I am still here. I am still wasting my life. And I still love every minute of it.

golf hmm... thoughts

The Sucker Pin

17th hole at TPC Sawgrass | Photo by nsaplayer via Flickr (Creative Commons)

One of the hardest skills to teach a competitive golfer is what I call The Sucker Pin Principle.

A sucker pin is a pin placement that is inviting you to take a dangerous or unnecessary risk. This takes advantage of an aggressive player.

The sucker pin principle rewards the patient golfer while punishing the aggressive. Application of this principle is what separates a talented high school golfer from an all-conference high school golfer.

For most golfers sucker pins are irrelevant because they just aren’t good enough to worry about pin placements. But for competitive golfers on every hole they are not just trying to hit the ball on the green from the fairway or the tee box on a par 3, they are trying to hit the ball to the area of the green where the pin is so that they can try to score. (e.g. birdie the hole)

Sucker pins come mostly into play on a par 3 hole. If the greenskeeper wants to make a hole more difficult, he may place the pin to a comfortable distance, say 150 yards, but place it far to the right of the green near a bunker. The safe and smart play in that situation is to play the ball to the center of the green. But the aggressive player will be tempted to play to the right and flirt with the being in a short-side bunker.

When I coached high school golf I would always say, “Play to the middle of the green, don’t fall for the sucker pin.” In practice this was fine. Players would amuse their coach. But in a match, particularly if they had bogeyed the hole before, they were tempted by the opportunity to get a stroke back. The lure of an easy birdie would be too much, they’d go for it, inevitably miss the green, and bogey another hole.

If you watch golf on TV you will see that professional golfers pick spots on the course where they can be aggressive. But they show respect to certain hole and their pin placement, go for the middle of the green, and pat their caddy on the back as they walk to the next tee box with a par.

Commentators talk about it all the time. “He picks his spots well.” or “He manages the golf course like Seve.” “Golfers are attacking this pin placement today.”

More often than not, the golfer who picks his spots to be aggressive is going to win while the golfer who is overly aggressive is going to take too many risks, pay too many penalties, is going to lose.

If you watched the final 9 holes of The Masters this year you saw a case study in this principle. Tiger Woods climbed up the leaderboard, chose a spot to be aggressive and came up short. Lee Westwood tried to be conservative all day and he was too patient. But Phil Mickelson chose to be aggressive on the 12th hole (I screamed at the TV) and he nailed it and hoisted the green jacket.

The same principle applies in life. Life is full of sucker pin opportunities. Any major transaction in life is doubly full of sucker pins. You may just have to pay a price for your aggressiveness. But if you are patient and pick your spot, you can come out ahead.

Specific areas of sucker pins:

  • Work life
  • Parenting
  • Investing money
  • New ventures
  • Love interests
  • Friendships
  • Choosing the color to paint the house

What are sucker pins you fall for all the time?