Invest In Others

Today I lost a mentor. Bill Bravard started investing in me when I was a young boy. I clearly remember a sermon he preached when I was ten and telling my mom, "that was good. I'd like to do that some day."

He and his wife Betty always supported me, showing up to hear me preach in high school, college, and even at small country churches in recent years. When we decided to start Echo Church, I immediately sought his insight and he continually delivered. He'd call me at random times just to see how the ministry was going. We even had the opportunity to team teach a class at CCU a few years ago. He was the most relevant elderly person I've ever known.

I'll always remember him but I'd do better to emulate him. I pray that during my remaining years on earth I can pour into those who need the encouragement just like I did. His life surely made a massive difference in the kingdom.

Tick . . . tick . . . tick

I'm not entirely certain whether it was Hootie or the Blowfish who said it, but the lyric goes, "time, why you punish me?" One of the only things in this world that you cannot purchase is time. Even with all of the technological innovations of the past decades that were designed to give us more time, we continue to struggle to do everything that we want. So what you decide to do with your precious hours are critical.

Take, for example, Paul M.L. Janssen. A professor at THE Ohio State University, he spend vast commodities of his time constructing a Lego replica of "The Horseshoe" (Ohio Stadium, where the Buckeyes play). The street value of the Legos is around $75,000, although he was able to secure the majority of those at a discounted price. But I'm less amazed at the financial cost, and more at the man hours: after spending three years acquiring the necessary bricks, it took Janssen two years to construct it.

Two years. Playing with Legos.

True, Janssen also had a life outside of that, working his day job at the University. And I'm hoping he took some time off to play with his three kids (there's no way he let them anywhere near the project, right?). But still, two years devoted to anything like that is amazing. What else could he have done in those two years of free time?

Learn another language? Teach his kids some discernable skill? Exercise? Make lists of things he could do if he had two years of free time?

Far be it from me to criticize someone else for how they spend their time; I too waste too much time with trivial matters. But maybe I can let someone else criticize the lot of us.

My friend Sara has spent the better part of her twenties living in our Walnut Hills neighborhood, working as a "house mom" to some under-privilidged kids. Her sacrificial spirit is absolutely amazing; she has bent over backwards trying to give her girls a better life. Very few people would choose to adopt her lifestyle. But, sadly, she's quitting this job so she can go do something else.

Two years. Serving in the Peace Corps.

For the next two years, she'll work in an extremely impoverished nation helping the locals better their lives. She'll live in want to support those who have nothing. She'll abandon the comforts of home, leaving family and friends behind, in the name of service. I sure wish I could be like her when I grow up.

It makes me realize that I need to continually reevaluate how I'm managing my life. Am I making the most of my time, not just for me, but for the benefit of those around me?

The year is still new. What are you willing to sacrifice, freeing up your time, so that you can make this world a better place.

People In My Life: Tim Tucker

A few years ago I was in the midst of a rough patch in my life; true, it paled in comparison to many of the complexities that people in the world face everyday, but it was a big deal to me. I needed some recalibration. I needed a shake-up. And then, one day, Tim walked through the door.

Tim was going through some things in his life as well. He was looking for some direction. And the best I could offer was to spend some time with me and observe life in the ministry. For almost a year, Tim accompanied me on hospital calls. We talked all things Scripture and life. It was good times. Investing in him was actually therapeutic.

When we decided we were going to plant a church, Tim was the first outside person I told. He signed on to Echo that very day.

Tim was unable to relocate to the city-center, so he commuted from the northern suburbs to Walnut Hills. During those first two years, Tim would drive an hour round trip multiple times a week to be a part of our church. He helped set-up. He helped tear down. He helped wherever hands were needed. He was my right hand man.

After a while, the exhaustion of not being where our church was got the best of him. Tim had to step away from Echo. But I've still always considered him to have been an instrumental part of us surviving those early years. He was a constant encourager. And, at the very least, he reduced my workload which was a blessing to my ministry and my family.

This week, Tim is relocating to Nashville, Tennessee. Although we haven't gotten together nearly as much in the past couple of years, it was comforting having him so close. We had lunch a couple of weeks ago just to reminisce about our friendship. I am truly thankful that God brought him into my office over six years ago. And I'm very thankful for the good times we've had.

We ate. We laughed. We played sports. We dressed up like Santa and a Reindeer (no picture link). We ran down thieves. And some of my best stories involve Tim.

So God speed, friend, in your new life!

The Givers In My Life

In the midst of this season of giving, I offer you three stories of those who share. 1. We had a good Thanksgiving Day with my parents and family. The night before Thanksgiving, my dad always asks if I'll help organize the neighborhood church Thanksgiving service. My friend Aaron was kind enough to preach, and Kelly and I led the music. A guy from the neighborhood showed up early for the service and hung out. Apparently he's new to the neighborhood, just experienced his second divorce, and is struggling to find employment. My dad struck up a conversation with him and, upon hearing that he had no Thanksgiving plans, invited him to spend the holiday with our family.

Side Note: this is just like my parents. I never realized how frequently they did this when we were growing up. Whenever someone didn't have anyplace to go to get a meal, my parents swooped in and had them over. It didn't matter whether or not they even knew the person, they were welcomed at our house.

So when the guy (his name is Ray) got to the house, he admitted that he was a former alcoholic who had made some poor life decisions. He had very little to his name, so my parents started emptying the house of things to give him. He didn't have any pots or pans to cook with, so they even gave him theirs. I ended up taking him home that evening and had the chance to see his little apartment. It was a rather crappy place that was completely bare. I naively asked Ray, "there's no bed here. Where do you sleep?" He answered that he was afraid of keeping many possessions in case he was evicted, so he chose to sleep on the floor. We had an unused mattress over at the church, so we arranged a time to get it to him, so he can now at least be elevated and not so cold when he sleeps.

At the end of the day, I was truly thankful for how God has provided for my family. And I felt blessed to have grown up in a house where the teachings of Jesus were lived out before my very eyes.

2. In the same vein, I think about my friends Scott and Robin. They live in Price Hill with their kids and remind me a lot of my parents. When you live in the midst of people who have constant needs, it's very easy to ignore them all together. The Duebbers refuse to do this. They have a third floor that they've used at multiple times to house people in need. My times we talk about giving, but we do so as long as it doesn't interfere with our personal space. When you open up your home to others, you sacrifice the sacred realm but receive blessings that few ever get to experience. I'm excited that little Toby and Aimee will have a similar experience that I did in my youth: witnessing their parents display unparalleled generosity.

3. This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach at my friend Everett's church. I call Everett my friend, but he's actually my parents' age. I've known him since I was an obnoxious preteen and have been blessed to have maintained a relationship with him throughout the years.

Everett has become a hero of mine, because over the past thirty years he has ministered in one of Cincinnati's most difficult neighborhoods. Sure, Walnut Hills can be rough, but it's nothing compared to the Fay Apartments area. Ministering in the city can be exhausting but Everett (and his faithful wife, Bonnie) refuse to give up. Their church was one of the few inter-racial churches among the independent Christian Churches. Now, the population of the congregation is almost entirely African American.

Side Note: Preaching in a black church is like Red Bull for a white preacher; you get giddy from the excitement because of the vibe. People are fully engaged, they give you verbal responses, and a good joke will make you feel like a world champion. My time at the President Drive Church of Christ did not disappoint. Even though I barely had any voice because of a cold, it worked out great. I'm not sure I'm hard-wired, however, for worship services that last well over two hours.

Even as Everett and Bonnie inspire me, their church did as well. At the conclusion of the service they had a "sharing time" where people offer up prayer requests and what they're thankful for. An eighty-year old woman offered that she was thankful that God had taken care of her through all of her life's struggles. She then turned around and looked at me and said, "and I want to encourage our young preacher today. You did a good job today, and I really believe that God is going to continue to use your gifts to change our city." It was some of the best encouragement I've received all year.

Surrounded by such a great cloud of givers, I can't help but be in the mood. Who's giving around you? Where's the generosity in your life and how are you using it to impact others?

The Beauty of Children

I've always been fascinated at the things I remember. I have an incredible short term memory [this has been a great benefit in my preaching, as I can retain a large number of facts for about 24 hours]. After a day or so, however, I don't remember as well. For something to stick longer, I have to be really focused on it— practically forcing myself to assimilate it into my cranium. So the fascination I have with my own memory is mostly centered on those arbitrary observations that tend to stick around in my skull. Even more peculiar, though, are such items I remember that have absolutely nothing to do with me.

For example, I can remember distinctly a comment someone made about nine years ago about some friends of mine. That comment:

"You two are going to have some beautiful children."

Those two people being referenced here were my friends Charlie and Kelly Butler; I went to college with them. Charlie and I played soccer together [he was a terrific player] and Kelly and I were coworkers for a time. They are definitely my kind of people: simple folk who love God and love each other. Since they relocated from Cincinnati to Northern Indiana, I haven't seen them as much, but through the power of the interwebs, we've manage to stay in touch.

Over four years ago, Kelly and Charlie had their first child— a precious little girl named Brooklyn. When Brooklyn was around two years old, she was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, a form of autism which affects the nervous system and reverses development. As heartbreaking as this was, the Butlers immersed themselves in this cause, doing everything they could to not only care for their daughter but to educate people about her plight. To learn more, check out Brooklyn's blog.

A couple of months ago, Kelly gave birth to their second child. Boston [they love those East Coast cities] was born premature and has spent his entire life thus far in the NICU. Last week, the Butlers received yet another diagnosis: their son has Down Syndrome. It's almost unthinkable. You can keep up to date with Boston on his own blog.

Observing the numerous comments of well wishers on Facebook and their children's blogs, I've been at a loss for words of what to say to Kelly and Charlie. Honestly, what else can be said? All the plans they've had for life have been hijacked. The proper words just do not exist.

But then I realized that I do have the words. They aren't mine, but they've hung around in memory long enough for just this situation:

"Charlie and Kelly DID end up having some beautiful children."

Brooklyn makes a difference in people's lives. She sparks emotions in many people— from children to adults— in her simple smile. And tiny, frail Boston has already brought joy to family and friends. In a world that can be rather loathsome, beauty reigns in these little ones.

And I've seen the way that the Butlers adore their daughter. Their hearts are plenty big enough for the new difficulties surrounding their precious son. In the midst of an imperfect world, God has given Charlie and Kelly a high calling, one which they will continue to excel at

So for children named after cities, a word from the Scriptures about our world's greatest city, which could also describe these treasured children.

"From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth." Psalm 50:2.

People Still Buy CDs

Late notice, but you have a few days to work out your schedule.

Our friends Tye and Andrea front the band Artists and Authors and have been working on their new album for a few years. It's finally completed and they're having a CD release party this Friday night to celebrate. The venue will be amazing, at The Redmoor [most recently, the Mount Lookout Grille] and the music will be even better. It's a cheap cover [$5], good food available, and the Carr's have a sitter, so it lines up to be a good night.

It starts at 8:00, so we're looking forward to seeing you there.

Congrats, Grads

It's been ten years since I've graduated college. I'm not feeling old per se, but I'm not quite the spring chicken I once was. SIDENOTE: Speaking of chicken, as I pre-Mother's Day treat, I ran out to McDonalds this morning so we could try their new Chik-fil-A rip-off chicken biscuits. They are surprisingly good. Sure, no Chik-fil-A, but since our closest one is half an hour away [the one at Tower Place Mall does not count] it is definitely worth tyring every once in awhile.

Had lunch yesterday with Dominic, who is graduating today from Cincinnati Christian University. Dom was at Eastern Kentucky University, studying to be a pilot, when we had lunch almost four years ago and he said he needed to study religion. I suggested my alma mater. So since he lost so many hours in his transfer, which vastly prolonged his college career, I figured the absolute least I could do was buy him lunch. And props to Jeremy Lawson, another great guy, who's graduating there today. He's getting married this summer and taking a preaching gig down in Kentucky.

Last night, I was at the school to attend the Seminary graduation [CCU's grad school] because my friend/old boss Alex was finally getting his MDiv. While there, I discovered that three people who used to be in my ministry [Dave Brack, Jonathan Bickle, and Beth Mowry] were also getting degrees. At least I used to be more educated than the kids in my ministries. I guess that's no longer the case. Give me another year and things will be back to normal.

So to those I mentioned, and those I forgot, congratulations on getting a piece of paper that signifies a considerable investment of time and money. I'm sure you're glad it's over.


This one goes out to the Dale, who is responsible for sending my blog readership numbers in China through the roof. Dale's on another one of his extended business trips there. I believe that he's in the city of Guangzhou, the third largest city in the country. They speak Cantonese there, which always makes me think of Wayne's World [there's a scene where Wayne is learning Cantonese by tape and says the phrase, "Eatz, Ah, Bean, Du-ah!" Wonder if that was really Cantonese . . .]. As a result of the Dale's readership abroad, you will notice that I have refrained from any complaints about the forthcoming Beijing Olympics, as I would like for the Dale to return to Cincinnati and not be imprisoned there.

Hang in there, man.

We Shall Battle Then

Tye and Andrea VonAllmen are some of my favorite people. They are extremely talented musically and it's always a pleasure to see their gifts in action. They front a band called "Artists and Authors" and I eagerly await their new CD that will be released in the next couple of months. They've made it to the semifinals of a battle of the bands up at The Underground off I-275 at Forest Park. Most of the bands remaining in the competition are younger kids with larger, rowdier followings so Tye and Andrea could use your support.

I ask you, nay, I implore you, if you are wondering what to do this Saturday night at 8pm, go to The Underground and throw your vocal chords out in approval of their musical offerings.

It . . . will . . . be . . . epic.

I've Got Friends*

On my trip to Dallas, I flew out of Indianapolis [that stinkin' Delta hub in Cincinnati forces many locals to sprawl to other nearby airports to save some cash]. Fortunately, I was able to leave my car at my brother-in-law's church and he drove me to the airport. But Josh and my sister Becky were going to be leading a middle school retreat upon my return so I needed someone to pick me up. Enter my buddy Jason: a man of whom I have endless stories. Without hesitation he agreed to pick me up. Later that night we went out to dinner with Dalea [who's expecting child number four] and the kids. We had a great time.

After fourteen years Jason and I can pick up right where we left off. If we lived closer, we'd hang out all the time. As it is, we do pretty good to see each other regularly.

In short, he's my kind of people. He's a good friend.

*Yet another Jason story: when we were playing soccer in college, we had but one CD we would listen to: Garth Brooks' Greatest Hits. I ended up seeing Garth in concert twice. Not quite sure that happens without Jason. I don't hold it against him.

It should be noted: today Jason's son Drew turned ten. Kelly and I held him the day he was born. And now he has shaggy, hippie hair. He's a good looking, smart kid. Happy Birthday, Drew!

Good Folk

Yesterday morning I was, again, at the little country church in New Richmond for Sunday morning services. I was surprised to see Bill and Betty Bravard there. Bill has been a professor at Cincinnati Bible Seminary for over twenty years and he and his wife attended our church when I was growing up. They now live in the New Richmond area, so they stopped by to hear me preach. Bill and Betty have continually invested in me and my ministry, from high school until today. They've sat through many of my sermons and they still come back for more. Throughout starting our church, Bill has been in contact with me; he was one of the first people I consulted with when we decided to do this.

After church yesterday we went out to lunch and talked for a couple hours about Echo, local churches, and my family. It was a great time of encouragement for me as I hold their opinion in high regard.

It's good to have older, wiser people in your life who will be honest with you. We always need mentors. Regardless of how old you are, I hope you're investing in the people around you. It makes a difference.

People In My Life

It seems I'm always catching people up about the life activities of people I know. So I figured I'd take a little time to drop some pertinent information about people in my life.

My older brother Chris and his wife Heather are expecting their fourth child any day now.

Childhood friend Steve Levering, and his wife Beth, just had their first child, a boy named Tyler.

College roommate Aaron Levering [Steve's cousin] and his lovely wife Tia are expecting their fourth child. Additionally college roommate [and Best Man in our wedding] Jason Badami and his lovely wife Dalea [Maid of Honor in our wedding] are expecting their fourth child. All those kids wouldn't fit in the old college dorm room.

Somewhere, right now, someone else we know is most likely getting pregnant. And that's icky.

Our friends, the Burgesses, have some new employment. Aaron is now teaching at Cincinnati Christian University and his wife Dorota started a new accounting job in Northern Kentucky.

Our friends, the Duebbers, finally moved into their rehabbed Price Hill home. It . . . looks . . . awesome.

Friend and Echo leadership team member Tim Tucker is now holding down two jobs and still has time to do stuff for the church.

Friend and Echo-ite Tim Sampson recently lost his father. Please keep him and his family in prayer.

Echo attendees Dan and Angie [soon to be Bielecki] are getting married this weekend and I'm now doing the wedding ceremony. Follow that up with Nate and Julie [soon to be Keyes] and we're in the midst of a season of church weddings.

Echo's first official member, Emily Hill, is now back in the United States, on "holiday" from London. Hopefully she left the accent in Wimbledon. In a related note, her sister in Melissa is ready to be named 2007 MVP at Echo.

Kelly's brother Scott and my future sister-in-law Jessica will be getting married in just a few weeks . . . on Halloween . . . and I have no costume.

League of Justice pastor Russell Smith is excited about his church's homecoming this weekend. Plus he knows all the best downtown restaurants.

College classmate Matt Mehaffey is planting a church in Miami, Florida. Very cool.

College classmate Jake Follis is blogging. Odds are he'll fail at it.

College classmate, and former co-worker, Kelly Butler and her husband Charlie have a beautiful little girl named Brooklyn. You should be reading about her.

College classmate Mike Morehart is a Cleveland fan, but I still like him.

I'm sure there's much more, but I wanted to get some of them down. Feel free to add your own updates. Maybe I should do this more often.

About The Dale

The Dale was one of our first Echo core members. And he was actually the first person we didn't know to get involved. The Dale worked with Emily, had just moved to Cincy from New Jersey when he started coming. First, I guess I need to explain why we call him "The" Dale. And it's because . . . I really can't remember why. But it just seemed necessary to add an article to the beginning of his name.

The Dale has been huge in getting Echo off the ground- serving as an occasional worship leader, our resident sound guy, and our very own gourmet chef. Is there anything he can't do? He's such an integral part to our operations that we even ran an announcement slide lamenting his six week absence while in China on business. It's a view looking down on him from the balcony. Here it be:

Recently, Dale's been volunteering at a Korean church that meets in Kenwood. He leads worship for their high schoolers and occasionally preaches at their gatherings. He invited me to come over yesterday because he was speaking and it was really cool. Since Dale's the only one there who speaks English as his first language, everything but his involvement took place in Korean. It was a surreal experience, but very cool. I've been in other countries before, and in multi-lingual settings, but never as fully immersed as that. Dale does a great job working with those kids.

So here's to the The Dale, a man among men.


I haven't seen Charlie and Kelly Butler in person in almost five years. We all attended the same college. Charlie and I played soccer and won a regional championship together and Kelly and I spent a couple of years as co-workers. They have a beautiful little girl, Brooklyn, whom we've never met but know her through many pictures [ah, the power of the interwebs]. Just recently, Brooklyn was diagnosed with Rett Syndrome, a condition that effects their neurodevelopment. It predominantly effects little girls. They have a blog where they're explaining their new journal in addition to some wonderful pics of the little lady. So drop them a prayer and then take a couple minutes to check out

Email I Just Sent

. . . to my buddy Dale who is traveling in China for business this week. He asked if I wanted him to get me anything while there. My response:

Dear Dale,

Please get me a chicken from China. I have no other reasoning beyond the ability to sing the line from the Barenaked Ladies song, "Chickity china the chinese chicken You have a drumstick and your brain stops tickin'." If it is illegal for you to get me a chicken, then I will be disappointed.

My second choice would be something labeled "Made In China." I don't think I've ever owned anything from there before.

I trust you will do your best.

You Gots'ta Go!

I can't believe I didn't post anything about this until now. If you're in the Cincinnati area, you need to make it to the 20th Century Theater in Oakley tonight for a benefit concert for Amy's Hope, a non-profit group helping children in Romania. Tye VonAllmen, worship leader at Echo, and his wife Andrea front the band Artists and Authors and they will be performing along with a couple other bands. Doors open at 7:00; show starts at 8:00. They even got some pub in today's Enquirer, where there was a shout-out to "tiny Echo Church." "Tiny" is the next level behind megachurch.

We're getting a babysitter. We'd love to see you there!

And Now For Something Completely Different

Had lunch last week with friend Dave Little. Dave and I met at the beginning of the year as we endured the Christ Hospital Pregnancy Class with our wives. We sat in the back of the room and constantly lobbed one-liners at the instructor. I think she didn't like us, thus Dave and I instantly clicked. His wife Holly gave birth to little Paige a few weeks after Kaelyn was born. Come to find out, he was works at Crossroads Community Church in Oakley. Dave was in the business sector and left it to join the Crossroads staff, taking on the title of Creative Dude. Dave is a talented designer/artist currently working on a Chickens In Space

Thought I'd tip you off to his blog where he posts sketches. Sketch Ninja is a hodge-podge of his doodles that are varied yet interesting. I've subscribed to the RSS feed; it's a wonderful addition to my Google Reader. Do check it out.