April 2010

Today, the scales have tipped.  Today, 2/3 of my children are teenagers.  That’s right…the sulking, the mood swings, the slammed doors and screams of “I wish I’d never been BORN!” have begun.  And that’s just me and Merriem…the kids are even worse.

Today our second born turns 13.  Austin is the inspiration for about 42% of the funny material on ye olde blog.  He is the comedian of the family, which says a lot if you know me at all.  There is no child in history that I love to watch laugh as much as Austin.  When he laughs, his whole body laughs.  It’s like a rapidly spreading infectious disease – when you see him laugh, it won’t be long before you catch it.

Austin is the kid that I can’t deny.  I share some characteristics with Jacob and Jase, but Austin is Mini-Me.  Total strangers will walk up to him at church and say, “You have to be Danny’s son.”  Whether he likes that or not, I don’t know, but God bless him, he does look like his daddy.

He resembles me in other ways, too.  We share a passion for all things Mac.  If it’s a gadget with a bitten apple on it, Austin wants it.  (He told me today he’s starting a savings account for an iPad.)  He loves to read.  He loves a good joke.  He’s a people person all stinkin’ day long.

But Austin is also in a world all his own.  He is fiercely competitive.  He’s not going to just play basketball, he’s going to play for Roy Williams and then get drafted into the NBA.  He’s not just going to make an “A” on a test, he’s going to finish that test before any other kid in the class even writes their name on the paper.  Competition is Austin’s greatest motivator, because he’s convinced there’s nothing he can’t do.

Austin loves music…he always has his iPod on.  He loves his ‘Heels…this was just a down year.  He loves fighting with his brothers and playing in the yard with the neighborhood kids and ~gasp~ he’s even begun to notice the fairer gender, if you get my drift.

So Austin: happy birthday, bud.  Here’s a few of my favorite blog posts, starring you…


I’m going to go ahead and apologize to Jon Acuff.  You may have heard of Jon; he writes a small, struggling blog and matching book called Stuff Christians Like with enough readers to take on Moldova in an arm wrestling match.  I would have submitted this post to Jon for that blog, but I hear his publishing standards are very high, and include some under-the-table payoffs and perhaps naming rights to a yet-unborn child.

But I digress.  Thievery of intellectual property aside, the tale must be told of Stuff Small Groups Like.  In this case: Food Wars.

If you’ve been a part of a small group in this or any previous life (welcome, Hindu readers), you’ve been exposed to Food Wars.  It’s where various group members compete to crush all competition when it comes to their assigned “refreshment night.”

Our small group has fallen victim to Food Wars as of late.  We used to be normal…relaxed…yea verily, carefree.  The aforementioned refreshments consisted of pooling money for pizzas, picking up Taco Bell on the way in, even breaking out a communal bag of chips and salsa (I always went first.  Hello, bacteria.  Goodbye, social skills).

But then, the assignments began.  Each couple signed up for a night when we would be solely responsible for the nourishment of the others and the hospitality of the group.  But instead of outdoing one another in showing honor, we were attempting to outdo one another with our awesome culinary skills.

It started simply and innocently enough.  I think our first meal was taco salad with all the trimmings.  The next week, it was a full baked potato bar, complete with sautéed peppers and onions.  Then, chicken and shrimp skewers hot off the grill.  Meringue pies.  Gourmet chocolate chip cookies.  Belgian waffle buffet.  Pot roast.  7-layer lasagna.

And though it’s never verbalized, you can feel the tension when we get together.  Couples are secretly eyeing this week’s offerings, determined to beat it the next Sunday.  While the Bible study is underway, the guys are breaking out their iPhones, looking up dry rub recipes for hand-cut sirloins.  Women pretend to pray, when really they’re thinking through their menu: imported salmon.  Rack of lamb.  Deep fried Cajun turkey.  Build-your-own-five-course-dinner.  Lobster flown in from Maine.  Hand-dipped truffles.  New York cheesecake, delivered and spoon-fed to us by authentic New Yorkers.

I fear the day is coming when our small group will look like a Jerry Springer episode: a guy tearfully confessing that he lays awake at night thinking of another lady’s Monte Cristo sandwiches.  And then from across the room comes his wife like a windmill of terror, screaming “Oh no you di’unt” and sending ham shavings everywhere.  Marriages on the rocks.  Relationships in ruins.  Friendships destroyed.  And all of it because of refreshment night.

Which reminds me: I think next week is when we’re on deck.  Gotta call my contact in Maine.

(click for photo credit)

(click for photo credit)

A few weeks ago the Franks crew made a stop at a Starbucks.  I love Starbucks like fundamentalists love denim jumpers.  They are all about customizing the experience for the customer and delivering the element of “surprise and delight” as Joseph Michelli mentions in his bestseller The Starbucks Experience. Our visit that day illustrated that point well.

As my 14 year old Jacob was waiting on his drink, the barista behind the counter took a glance at his baseball jacket.  As he walked away from the cash register, he casually said, “Second baseman, right?”

Both Jacob and I were stunned that he nailed Jacob’s position, so much so that all Jacob could stutter was, “Um…uh…yessir.”

We basked in that moment until he came back with the drink, when he said, “So aren’t you going to ask me how I knew?”

I jumped in, “Well if he won’t, I will.  How could you tell?”

He replied, “You see, it’s all about the stance.  I played ball long enough that I know how second basemen stand.  You guys are always ready to run, you’re always loose.  You walked in here wearing your jacket, and I said to myself, ‘That’s a second baseman right there.'”

As amazing as that experience was, it pointed to something bigger than an accurate guess of my son’s team position.  It proved to me that the barista knew how to connect with his customers.  If he’s taking the time to size up my son’s baseball skills, how much more will he take the time to get our order exactly right?  How much more will he ensure that our visit was the best it could be?  You don’t develop that sort of observation by nodding off on the job.  I’ll bet my barista friend has spent years honing his skill as he honored his customers.

It’s the same way in church: we honor our guests when we’re attuned to their needs.  We should answer not only the questions they ask, but the questions they don’t.*  Some examples:

  • Why is this mom of three young children arriving at church by herself?  Maybe she’s a Summit staff member’s wife, and her husband has been here since dark-thirty, or maybe her husband has written off not only the church, but his family.
  • Why is this man visibly sad?  Many guys aren’t known for showing their emotions.  Is his marriage failing?  His health crumbling?  His job disappearing?  How can you minister to him?
  • Why is this college girl sitting by herself?  College girls don’t do anything by themselves…they always travel in packs.

This Sunday, practice the power of observation.  Not only will you surprise and delight your guests, but you might find a unique way to minister to them.

*I’m 95% sure I stole this from Mark Waltz’s First Impressions, but I’m too lazy to look up the page number.  So there.

It’s no secret that if my 12 year old had never been born, the humor content on this blog would drop by roughly 83.2%.  His random observations about life prove that he is not like the rest of us.  He is…what’s a nice way to say this?…an honor roll student with an airheaded personality.

But a sweet airheaded personality.  So don’t judge me.

Here’s the conversation I overheard last night:

Austin [running out of his room at bedtime]: My short are making SPARKS!

Merriem: They’re what?

Austin:  SPARKS!  They’re making SPARKS!  When I got in bed and pulled the covers up, there were blue sparks everywhere!

Merriem: That’s just static.  It’s fine.  Go to bed.

Austin: But it’s SPARKS!

Merriem: I know.  It’s static.  The lights were off, so you saw sparks in the dark.  Go to bed.

Austin: But what if I catch on fire?

Merriem: The only way you’ll catch on fire is if you’re smoking in bed.

Austin: Wow.  Can I?

Last week the Franks crew got the heck out of Dodge for a little post-Easter relaxation.  Our journey took us back to our hometowns in Tennessee and Alabama just to hang out with the grandparents and eat our weight in real barbecue.

It was when I drove into my hometown that I remembered the twice a year trash amnesty week.  For seven days in the spring and a matching seven in the fall, you can put anything – anything at all! – out on the sidewalk and the city will pick it up.  Reader’s Digest magazines from 1952?  They’ll get ’em.  Broken dining room chair?  Not a problem.  Rat-infested mattress that looks like several people may or may not have died on it not that we’re asking any questions if we know what’s good for us?  You betcha.

What amazes me most about amnesty week is the number of people that descend on the piles of trash before the city workers can get there.  For example, I helped my dad and step-Sandra take an old patio table to the curb.  Within 15 minutes, that sucker was gone.  All over town, you can see people driving around in their Beverly Hillbillies-style pickup trucks, gathering up piles of junk trash crap treasure.  There was an old sofa in the back, a TV strapped to the hood, and what appeared to be a very elderly man pulled along in a trailer yelling “I’m not dead!” (his wife preferred the dump over divorce).  The entire week was a fun lesson in what people will pick up.

That’s fun when it comes to stuff in your garage, but not so much fun when it comes to stuff in your heart.  Think about it: how much of other people’s junk do we love to pick up?  That co-worker’s bitter attitude looks like a good addition, so we throw it in the trunk.  A parent’s addiction that we once hated is now too much to resist, so we toss it in the back seat.  A friend’s negative outlook on life begins to make sense, so we commiserate in their misery.

The Christ-follower’s call is to take out the trash, but “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)  What trash do you need to kick back to the curb today?  Amnesty week begins.

Just in case you missed it in this weekend’s service or on one of the other 192 Summit blogs, here’s a video recap of Easter weekend…pretty dang awesome!

My 12 year old volunteers with a three year old class on Sundays.  Last week they were working on some sort of art project, and he decided to go with a Believe theme.  This is what he came up with…

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Summit, one of our goals is to plant 1000 churches in 40 years.  But, I guess this one is a good solid Plan B.

Don’t forget that this weekend is the culmination of our Believe project.  Come prepared to see God do incredible things!

The Franks family has expanded…kind of. Nope, none of my kids have taken child brides (deep breath, Summit elders). But a few weeks ago, Christopher & Nicole welcomed baby Noah into the world.

A few years back the Summit had an adopt-a-college student program. Families could take in a broke-and-homeless college student and pull the ultimate bait and switch: “You can wash your clothes at our house!” “You can spend the night at our house!” “You can eat a meal at our house!”

[somewhat muffled voice: “You can babysit our kids for free at our house!”]

Because of Nicole’s involvement in our then-3rd grader’s classroom, we picked her. (She also looked destitute, and we’re a sucker for destitute.) She very quickly became a part of our family. Lunch on Sundays most often included Nicole. She’d bring a few friends over to watch UNC games at our house. She’d sneak our UNC fan into the Dean Dome whenever she got a chance. She even went on vacation with us once.

She did things that few others could get away with, like throwing up in our car after a particularly curvy road trip. Or leaving our kids in a running car outside a sketchy gas station (not that I’m still bitter about that four years later).

And then along came Christopher. He was the guy I was convinced I wouldn’t like. There was no way he’d be good enough to her or good enough for her. Oh, how wrong I was. They quickly fell for each other, and I quickly realized that he was the man God had gifted to her for a husband.

Merriem and I were privileged to do their premarital counseling, and I performed the only wedding where I’ve ever gotten choked up during the ceremony (I was a blubberhead).

So it was with no small amount of history that we were able to get all excited about Nicole’s pregnancy. Merriem doted, shopped, and giggled all nine months. (I’m pretty sure she outfitted Noah with more stuff than she did our own newborns.) And a couple of weeks ago, we got to meet the little dude for the very first time.

My first task? I took him to a gas station and left him there.

Last week I received the call that I knew would come someday: “Virginia’s gone.”

Virginia had battled cancer for the last several years.  Like everything else in life, she faced it with courage and an unshakeable faith in Jesus.

I first met “Miss V” in 1993, shortly after Merriem and I were married and just a few days into my first stint as a Student Pastor.  We were in the church parking lot preparing to leave for our first weekend retreat, when Miss V walked up to me and said, “Don’t you let these kids have a good time.”

Since I had a good mixture of immaturity and tactlessness, I responded with an obnoxious (yet genuine) belly laugh…until two of my trip volunteers pulled me to the side and said, “She’s not kidding around.”  It was then that I found out that Miss V wasn’t particularly known for her fun-loving side.  She was a bit more serious, a little more straight-laced than your average 19 year old youth worker.  I decided the best thing for me to do would be to avoid her at all costs and never ever EVER under any circumstances let her find out about my summer plans for the world’s largest food fight in the front yard of the church.

Much to my surprise (dare I say chagrin?), she started volunteering to go along on student trips.  (I was convinced it was just to keep an eye on me.)  As apprehensive as I was, I agreed to let her chaperone a week long mission trip to suburban St. Louis.  Because God has a great sense of humor, Virginia rode shotgun the entire six hours.  And although I first considered driving straight off into the Mississippi River, it was that trip that changed everything.  I found out about her childhood, about her intense love for Jesus, and that she actually enjoyed laughing.  We traded stories – and even jokes – for hundreds of miles.  We entered the van as borderline adversaries, but we exited as friends.

It was also that trip that Virginia taught me about compassion.  During one of our lunch breaks, she happened to sit all by herself.  That afternoon we had a tearful conversation where she told me she’d never felt so alone, and wanted to make sure that no teenager ever felt the same way.

And her sense of humor?  I discovered I couldn’t have been more wrong.  She had a dry wit and even took to calling some of the kids “Biscuitheads” during the week (I don’t know where she came up with that term).  To the kids, it was a coveted honor to receive that label from Miss V.

Over the next two years, I grew to love Virginia and viewed her as one of the greatest student ministry volunteers ever.  She had a real heart for students.  For our girls, she was a true picture of Titus 2.  She taught our guys – and me – how to love the book of Proverbs (something I’ve passed along to my own teenage sons).  Whenever I needed prayer, Virginia was one of the first people I went to.  She prayed for me as much as anyone ever has.  This woman I once viewed as a killjoy became my go-to person when I needed a sounding board, an advisor, or a friend.  She was one of my biggest cheerleaders not only at that church, but throughout my ministry.  I would have done anything for her, and I knew she’d do anything for me.

Virginia’s husband Richard, her daughter & son-in-law Libby & Joe, and her granddaughter Lennie became like family to Merriem and I.  I grieve with them, but know that she’s very much alive in heaven.  And reminiscent of my first encounter with her, I know that she’s having a very good time, indeed.

We’re in the middle of a several-week series called Topical Tuesdays, where you pick the topic and I make up answers.  You can add your topic / question to the list by commenting on this post.  For the second week we’re tackling the topic of books, and today’s question was submitted by the Summit’s Small Groups Guy, Spence Shelton.

How do you read? You seem to read a lot. When do you read and how much do you read? a book a week? Three books at once?

How do I read? Great teachers in my formative years (rim shot!).

It’s true I do quite a bit of reading.  There’s no way I can ever hope to compete with this guy, who has been known to read a commentary set during commercials.  But as Piper says, “Either read or get out of the ministry.”

Editor’s Note: That was actually John Wesley who said that.  Perhaps you should read him sometime.

So since I dig the ministry, I read.  Here’s my loosely-formed strategy:

  • Keep it diverse. I read books on theology (the ones with lots of pictures), books on practical ministry, books on counseling, books on leadership, books on organization, and books about Stinky Cheese.  Occasionally I’ll try to stretch myself and read something way outside of my comfort or interest zone, just to keep a broad reach.
  • Keep it focused. There have been times in my life when I had seven or eight books going at once, and that’s just too many.  Now I’ll have three at the most: one that I’m zeroing in on and reading whenever the opportunity presents itself.  I may have another that I use to complement my quiet times, as I have time to add it in (currently that’s Packer’s Knowing God.) And then of course there’s the obligatory – ahem – library reading.  Focusing on the one primary book in this way allows me to get through it quicker and helps me to wrap my mind around that particular topic for a concentrated amount of time. (I refer to the primary book, not the … never mind.)
  • Make time. This continues to be one of the greatest struggles with my reading.  My goal it to read a little each day, but of course it doesn’t always happen.  I can always find a stretch of time – a quiet Saturday or a plane ride – where I can knock out a few hundred pages of reading – but that’s the exception.
  • Interact. A few years ago, I moved from the yellow highlighter – my preferred book reading companion – to a good old ink pen.  Doing that allows me to interact with the text, ask questions, make comments, etc.  I will typically underline anything that stands out, and then star anything I want to remember or to go back and revisit.  Anything that gets starred gets noted in the front of the book.  By the time I finish a book I typically have one of the cover pages full of one-line notes and corresponding page numbers.  Those notes serve as a great summary months or years later when I want to look up one of the book’s main ideas.
  • Reflect. I alluded to this in a recent post, but I’ve just recently started taking time to move my written notes to a Word document.  This allows me to have all of my reading notes in one place, they’re highly searchable with the right keywords, and it forces me to spend that extra few minutes crystallizing the book’s message.
  • Record. Every book I read goes into an Excel spreadsheet: title, author, and date completed.  This allows me to remember what I’ve read at a glance and ensures that I’m keeping a balanced diet of reading topics.
  • Pass it along. From time to time I try to share what I’m reading with you, by way of a book review.  You can see those I’ve done in the past at the bottom of this post.

I’d love to know what you’re reading and how you read.  Comment below!

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