Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Straight Up Truth

Have you ever been reading the Bible and the words jump out at you to speak directly to something you're experiencing or have been thinking about recently? A couple nights ago I had this experience with some passages, a few of which are listed below.

"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life...Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet and take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil." -Proverbs 4:23, 25-27

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" -II Corinthians 10:5

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" -Hebrews 12:1-2

These passage are great reminders to be focused on pursuing Jesus and not become distracted by the temporary things of the world. When our eyes, heart, and mind are fixed on Him, we walk in paths of righteousness and don't get tripped up by temptation or allow outside influences to disrupt His best for our lives. I want my pursuit of Him to be so intensely focused that all else falls to the side.

The Bible is straight up truth brothas and sistas.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ryan Hall on Running and Faith

Below are excerpts from an interview with world class runner Ryan Hall by in which Ryan discusses the intersection of his Christian faith and running. He's got a great perspective that can be applied to any profession or area of life.

For the full interview go to:

Ryan and his wife Sara's website is: if you'd like to read more about them.

Running Times: Why do you think God takes an active interest in the outcome of sporting events? Given that the outwardly faithful more often than not don’t win, what does that mean about God’s involvement in these events?

Ryan Hall: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts [emphasis added, Isaiah 55:9]."

From my experience through my running career of weathering many lows and enjoying some really high mountain peak experiences, I have felt that the sweetest part of running is feeling God with me as I run, and the great thing about that is it isn't something that only one person or a couple of people can experience in a race. We can all experience it. We can all feel something that is even sweeter, available every time we toe the line and more lasting than winning or setting a record. Today, whenever I sign my name to an autograph I always write John 10:10 (The thief comes only to steal kill and destroy, I came that they may have life abundantly and have it abundantly) with it because it is the best part of following Jesus and having his Spirit in me – it makes life sweeter. My running is better, my daily life is better, etc. Following Jesus doesn't mean abandoning the fun things of this world; it means having more fun, being free from the worries of daily life, and experiencing things in greater, more fulfilling ways...

...While I cannot coerce God into moving in this (miraculous) way I still have childlike faith knowing it’s possible, which I reflect in my running by being bold, taking chances and giving God an opportunity to do something amazing. However, I have found from my experience that often times what I hear God telling me is, "My grace is sufficient for you (2 Corinthians 12:9)." God has always provided enough strength for me to do what He wants me to do on the race course. It doesn't mean I always win or do something miraculous but I always have enough to accomplish the purpose which God called me to race for...

...The most important thing I can train is my heart. It is what drives the body. Christians should be able to compete with more freedom, less pressure and more joy. I have become better at being OK with whatever God has for me in a race knowing that at the end of the day, though I try to wrap my head around how God moves in sport, in the end, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9)..."

...In a world where it is all about the guy on the top step of the podium and we are defined and define ourselves by the time on our watch, at the end of the day I am trying to spread the word that it ultimately isn't all about that. The sweetest part of life is that we can all have God. God is with those who are with him. It’s our choice and a free invitation to everyone...

...Being highly favored, or winning as we might call it in the sports world, is an inner peace, joy, and freedom that comes from having God with us. It’s not about the circumstances we are in but rather about the heart that we are able to have because of who is walking through all the circumstances of life with us...

...When we lose our focus on just following Christ and we start looking to how God is moving in other people’s lives it totally steals our joy, thankfulness and power...

...I believe that God created me to run the marathon and run it well and I will not stop until he tells me it is time, and I will not be distracted unless he directs me to something different...

Running Times: Are you this good because you have worked and trained harder than everyone else, or because you are more blessed?

Ryan Hall: Neither. I am what I am because of the grace of God. God’s grace has allowed me to pick myself up out of the dirt time and time again. That grace is something we can all have. It obviously takes a lot of focus, discipline, humility, hard work and all those other things that make up great athletes but that is just who I am. We can all achieve a level of greatness when we are who we are meant to be to the fullest...

...The Olympic Marathon Trials is probably the time when I felt the Holy Spirit the strongest in a race. It was an incredible experience that I believe we can all experience, even in the same race (meaning you might not win), depending on how desperate for God we are...

...Running is my ministry. I am using the body that God gave me to do what he wants me to do, including feeding and taking care of the poor...

...I have learned that my primary role as a Christian is to receive God’s love and then to love others from that love. Now I am much more interested in hearing what others believe and why they believe it. I really enjoy talking about spiritual matters but if I sense my teammates don’t feel like it or don’t enjoy it, then I respect that...

Running Times: Are you currently learning anything about who God is through running or racing?

Ryan Hall: Every day, man. God is always teaching me more about who he is and who I am while I am out there. For me running is the ultimate school ground.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Abide In My Love

"Just as the Father has loved me, I have also loved you; abide in My love." -John 15:9

This verse comes right after Jesus talks about the analogy of the Father as a gardener and himself as the vine. Pruning can be painful but at the same time a strengthening process. I've found in my own life that God has to prune me sometimes and tear away the pride and selfish motives in my heart in order to grow me. Life truly does go better when I abide in Him and allow Him to live through me, producing fruit.

It can be easy to get caught up in a performance mentality in the sense of "I'm going to produce fruit by working really hard and making plans of my own." While there's nothing wrong with hard work, if it is not fruit that God has ordained, it's false and produces sour grapes. In seeking after the fruit of the Spirit by remaining in Christ, He transforms me and grows me as He desires rather than according to my plans.

Performance based mentality can also lead to a sense of failure and belief that He doesn't love us due to trying hard to please Him when in reality, all He wants is for us to abide in His love and allow His power to work in and through us.

Abide in Him.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Crush It

I recently read Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk, a book about Web 2.0, social media, and how to leverage the numerous resources on the internet to market your brand. Vaynerchuk used hustle and determination to grow a family liquor store from $5 to $50 million within a period of about 8 years. He then built on that success with the creation of where he provides insight into all things oriented to wine. Through the use of social media, WineLibraryTV has become an enormous success. Vaynerchuk gives lots of great insight into building community for your brand including such platforms as Twitter, Facebook, uStream, Viddler, YouTube, blogging, and podcasts, amongst a host of others.

The title "Crush It" comes from identifying passion and what the person or company enjoys doing more than anything. By engaging in the identified passion and utilizing the Web 2.0 marketing tools, the company or person can Crush It, Blow it Up, or other terms indicative of outstanding success.

Vaynerchuk notes that once you identify your passion that you should work at it at full speed, constantly. The only drawback to the book is that it is in written form. With the social media landscape changing so rapidly, perhaps Vaynerchuck could work with organizations such as Amazon to release an ebook version every 6 months or so to provide updated content based on new innovations. Crush It could become to social media what What Color Is Your Parachute is to career guidance.

This book is good for anyone looking for a fairly comprehensive look at social media and how to leverage it to enhance your passion and brand.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tax Planning: Charitable Donations

Well friends, it's that time of year when tax returns are in the air. Many people include charitable donations as itemized deductions on their tax returns. Not only are cash contributions available as deductions but property donations such as clothing, furniture, cars, and musical/athletic equipment to a charity can also be deducted for fair market value.

Another charitable deduction that is not as widely known is mileage driven for charitable activities. For example, if you volunteer with the Boy/Girl Scouts and drive kids to various activities related to scouts, the mileage could be used as an itemized deduction. Similarly, if you volunteer at your church or local soup kitchen, mileage would also be deductible. For 2009 tax returns, the charitable mileage rate is 14 cents/mile in contrast to the business related rate of 55 cents/mile. See for more details.

Another very good tax planning strategy which is best implemented at the end of the taxable year is donating property which would have a capital gain such as shares of stock or investment real estate to a charitable organization. Let's assume you purchased 100 shares of ABC stock at a price of $40 per share and it is trading at $50 per share at the end of the year. Rather than selling and paying tax on the $10 per share profit, by donating the stock to a charitable organization you would avoid paying tax on the capital gain as well as benefit the charity. It's an opportunity to choose where your dollars go rather than depending on the government to make that choice for you. This technique, of course, assumes that you have charitable inclinations. has good information on setting up a donor advised fund or Charitable Remainder Trust if these are options you'd like to explore.

Using itemized deductions requires that you have total deductions greater than the standard deduction level which for 2009 is $11,400 for married couples, $5,700 for single folks, and $8,350 for heads of household.,,id=187825,00.html Other common deductions in addition to charitable deductions include mortgage interest, state income tax, property tax, education expenses, and business expenses exceeding 2% of adjusted gross income.

Happy tax returning!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Matt Papa "Your Kingdom Come" Album Review

Two things stand out in listening to Matt Papa's album "Your Kingdom Come." One, that he walks closely with God and two, that he knows and reads the Bible, a lot. The songs proclaim the attributes, mysteries, and praises of God as well as weaving Biblical truths throughout (ex:"Every Knee Will Bow"). The overarching musical style is guitar driven rock with a tasteful dose of piano in the mix.

Some bands or musicians use formulaic musical techniques but Papa has a plethora of interesting things going on musically (listen closely and you may hear a harpsichord on one song). The bulk of the album is filled with songs you can enjoy like a juicy steak, both flavorful and something to chew on.

One album theme is the missional call to go out to the world sharing Christ's love heard in: "Your Kingdom Come," "To the Least of These," and "Here am I, Send Me."

"Hallelujah, Our God Reigns" is a rocking declaration of God's holiness and attributes as if a rock band of angels got together and rocked the praises straight from Revelation. The radio single and one of my personal favorites on the album is "Open Hands" which shares of learning to live a surrendered and unselfish life with open hands so as to tell the world of how Jesus loves, died, and sets us free.

"God of Grace" celebrates God's provision for people in all sorts of life circumstances and His sacrifice and love for us as we are. The song "You Can Do Anything" is primarily in the pop punk genre but is the only song on the album in performed in this style. "Hymn in C" is a great declaration of Christ's love and sacrifice for us and the transformation that occurs because of a relationship with Him. "Alive" has a Christmas feel to it reminiscent of Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime."

Papa doesn't pull punches with songs such as "Where is the Difference" and the sardonic "Woe to You" that cut to the quick, calling out superficial Christianity, self serving religion, and materialism.

"Here It Comes" starts out with an army marching into the opening guitar riff that opens a straight up southern rock song including a gospel choir and finishes with a ripping guitar solo and wild celebration. "No One Else" expresses desire for God being primary and above all else with anthemic worship and praise as one might imagine the Psalmist David expressing his heart and soul's desire.

Papa uses a shouting singing style at the top of his vocal range in parts of a few songs. This can be overlooked though due to his joy and heart for God leaping through the lyrics.

If you see a photo of Matt, his appearance is a cross between Keith Green and David Crowder. :-)

Over the next few weeks, I plan to work through the many scriptures listed as sources for the songs. Some writers rely on christianese "praise phrases" in their songs but Papa goes straight to the source for inspiration with resulting theologically deep passages.

This is the best rock/worship albums I've heard in a while and it will be receiving serious play time in my listening endeavors.

If you found this review helpful, please let Amazon know at this link.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Debt Snowball

A debt snowball caught on camera in the wild!

See for info on implementing a debt snowball.
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