Exponential Recap

I recently had the privilege of speaking at Exponential East (a church planting conference). Not long ago, I wrote recently this is one of the BIG conferences that my wife and I don’t miss. To be able to speak on main stage was incredibly humbling. This year, like always, the conference had the who’s who in Christian circles sharing their vast experience and knowledge about how to maximize your ministry and your life. Wouldn’t you know it, there I shared the story of what God is doing in Vertical Church ATL. I highlighted my life and our church’s foundational scripture Matthew 5:14-16 – You are the light of the world.

There was over five thousand in attendance, but tens of thousands online. I was given a session that was streamed online. I have already heard from family and friends that were watching. That was a really special opportunity.

Now, the challenge I had was to speak in twelve minutes or less. That is tough for a communicator. I wanted to make the most of this opportunity, so I knew I had to go for it. Before I went on stage I leaned over to the Dave Ferguson, president of Exponential, who introduced me, and said, “I don’t have gears 1 through 3.” He said, “Go for it!,” so I did. I dove into the message with my foot on the accelerator and didn’t look back.

A couple really cool things happened. The first was a white gentleman came in with some friends of mine and saw my intensity (which he was not used to) and was about to leave the session. He didn’t feel that the message was for him. To his credit, he stayed, and my message became the pivotal one for him. He left that session purposed to never again judge a book by its cover.

I spoke about our (Vertical Church ATL) “missional” efforts to impact our community through our LOVE. movement. From working with a local school building gardens, painting murals, mentoring students, and caring for the staff. I mentioned our work with local leaders to breathe life into our struggling community. I spoke of the need for churches to be planted in tough communities and the power of God to change things.  Then it was over.

Following me was Alan Hirsch, the guy who coined the term “missional.” He is a brilliant Australian whose research has empowered churches like ours. He said, “How am I supposed to follow the Black Explosion.” Wouldn’t you know it, for the rest of the conference I was being called the “Black Explosion”. Hilarious!

I would encourage you to attend an Exponential Conference. Even if you aren’t able, go back and watch the main stage sessions. They will encourage and inspire you. This conference’s sessions will be ready later this month. http://www.exponential.org/resource-dap/2014-digital-access-pass/

April at a Glance 

It seems like this year has flown by. April is going to be a big month for Vertical Church ATL and for me, personally. We have been working like crazy people at several community service opportunities. Building gardens, loving on homeless teens, community meetings, etc have been the norm for our small church family. This is quite normal for a spiritual family that believes in making an impact in the world around them.

We are taking more leadership in the 16th Annual Easter Egg Hunt that feeds close to a thousand people and supplies entertainment for hundreds of children in the “statistically worst” community (we believe that its best days are still to come). To prepare for that, we are working on projects that will prepare the grounds for the hunt as well as cleaning the campus and church where we meet. Visit our website if you want to serve alongside us – www.verticalatl.com

Add to that we are meeting 3 times for worship this month. We have a regular rhythm of twice a moth to force perspective that we (the people) are the church…instead of the common misconception that the church building is the church. This will be our first time having 3 consecutive worship gatherings (13th, 20th, & 27th), as we desire to meet on Easter, which is on the 3rd Sunday.

GREAT NEWS… I am speaking at the Exponential Church Planting Conference! It is held in Orlando, FL from April 28th-May 1st. This is the premiere conference for those starting churches. There are maybe 5 conferences that gain the attention of key Christian leaders from around the world. This is one! I have known for a while that I would be speaking there, but if I am honest, I couldn’t believe it. I was waiting for them to tell me that they change their minds, Ha-ha! I am humbled and amazed that they thought what we were doing in Atlanta was worth acknowledging and elevating.

I will be talking about the work we are doing and my experience as a church planter. This is national exposure for our church and the work we are doing. This is how I have been raising funds for the work we are doing. Because we reach college students and the urban poor, we need to raise support continually. I also gain a national audience as a preacher and communicator of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This allows me to fulfill my call and supplement my income. This is huge!

I am so in awe of the thought that God would want to use me in this way. Some of my favorite speakers are going to be sharing the stage, people like, Andy Stanley, Louie Giglio, and Matt Chandler (if you don’t know who these guys are, look them up, they are amazing). If you are interested in listening to my session or some of the others you can visit https://www.exponential.org/2014east/ for the dates. I am speaking on the morning of April 30th. So awesome! So grateful! So humbled! Please keep both Vertical Church ATL and me in your prayers as we follow God into the glorious future.

Here is the promo of the speakers…

Here's a Tip

Awhile back I wrote a blog that started, “Sometimes Christians suck”, and this is one reason why that statement is true. I have been hearing reports about Christians being bad tippers. Now, I have seen varying studies that show that it is not totally true, but come on. Jesus, your servers, and quite frankly other believers deserve better.

Let’s start with the concept that kindness is supposed to be at the core of the life of a Jesus follower. We should treat people the way we would like to be treated, right? Most servers make very little in salary, and they depend on tips to supplement their income. Poor tippers can cause a concussive effect on a person’s livelihood. How is stiffing them on the tip kind? What would you want someone to tip if it was you or your child?

The fact that some restaurants expect their Sunday post church service crowd to go cheap is sad and wrong. That means that they are expecting those who say they love Jesus to not show that love to them. Shame! I understand that everyone doesn’t do this, but there seems to be enough of us doing it to make the national news.

There are numbers of fast food places that don’t have gratuity as a part of their pay. Frequent as many of those as possible, rather than hurting people and your Christian witness.

I understand that we don’t always have the money to tip well. I have been there. Sadly, I have had moments where I didn’t have more than 1% tip to give. The guilt in those moments was incredible. I felt ashamed of myself. It would have been better if I had simply gone to a restaurant more suited to my financial ability.

What do the people serving us think about our God based on our treatment of them? I think about that in my interactions. I frequent several eating establishments, and I have come to know the workers. Many know that I am a Christian, and some know I am a pastor. When they see me I (although not fair) represent all the faithful, and how I engage with them speaks of this God that I say I serve.

“As it is written: God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Romans 2:24(NIV) This scripture shows us that we have the ability to give God a bad name, by our actions. People who work hard should be paid for their work. So, if this is you, my brothers and sisters, DO BETTER! If not willing, then don’t go out to eat after church, don’t wear crosses, open a bible at the table, or do anything that would cause people to think that you are one of us. I love you, but if you are a bad tipper and a Christian, you suck!




The Living Dead

I don’t watch zombie, vampire, and monster movies. It’s just not my thing. I must admit that I do like sci-fi, and I am quite fond of hobbits (don’t judge me). Not, zombies. While on a long flight, with nothing to do, I found myself watching a zombie movie called, Warm Bodies. In my defense, the confined space and constant hum of a long flight has caused many to watch things I would not otherwise. This movie is currently in constant rotation on cable.

The basic premise of this movie is a young zombie is just drifting through death without any quality connection. The only time we see him move fast is when he is pursuing his passion (food or humans, us). This is pretty standard for a zombie.

We actually get to hear his thoughts as he is trying to make sense of his existence. We see a shift in him when he falls for a young girl (who is not a zombie), and he slowly begins to come to life. Not only that, every zombie that he comes in contact with starts to come to life as well. The love that these two, the human and the zombie, have is spreading like a virus, and the dead are coming back to life. Pretty cool, huh?

I, like many pastors are prone to do, saw the spiritual connections (I know, real “preachery” of me). But, come on, this one was so easy to see. We are all like zombies at some point. The Bible says,

“As for you, don’t you remember how you used to just exist? Corpses, dead in life, buried by transgressions, wandering the course of this perverse world. You were the offspring of the prince of the power of air—oh, how he owned you, just as he still controls those living in disobedience.” Ephesians 2:1-2 (Voice)

I remember my zombie days. I would just shuffle from place to place trying to make sense of my existence. The only time you would see real movement from me was when I was pursuing pleasure like food, sex, affirmation, significance, etc. I was the walking dead. The lights were on, but no one was home. I used to be the living dead.

The cool thing is, when we come in contact with love we come to life. God is love! Once our heart lights come on, we become infectious. Everybody around us has the opportunity to go from death to life. I remember people telling me that I would eventually calm down or that this new life thing I was experiencing was just religious zeal that would fade over time. But, no, I was dead, now I am alive! I never wanted to go back to that old dead way of living.

This is what happened to me,

But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us, united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life—even though we were buried under mountains of sin—and saved us by His grace.” Ephesians 2:4-5 (Voice)

What I saw in the movie, Warm Bodies, was similar to the same process that brought me to life. This is the same process that we all must come to if we are going to experience life, real life! We who are dead must encounter God and His love, which is displayed through the cross of Jesus Christ. Allowing him to infect us with life and spread that life to others. Then, and only then do we experience life, abundant life.

A Writer’s Wrestle

I have been on a blogging hiatus. I’ve had to focus on the work that we have been doing at Vertical Church and writing my second book. This is a reintroduction for some and an introduction for my new friends and followers. Hello, my name is Damian. Occupationally, I am a pastor, speaker, leader, and a writer. It’s funny because all of those different categorizations have embraced in my story except Writer.

I truthfully have a hard time calling myself a writer. All good pastors are at some level writers, as we have to write messages for our weekend gatherings. But, the average person will not read those notes. I have been writing pieces that are intended for broader audiences. I’ve even struggled with that designation as a blogger.

This is probably because I was mostly illiterate until 3rd or 4th grade. I was slow to grasp the power of the written word. I hid it well as to not give my friends’ fuel for jokes (which they could do well). Reading aloud almost gave me panic attacks. My older sister and I were recently talking about how bad my reading and writing was. It’s interesting how painful experiences can transport you back to those specific moments in time. Even in college, I wrestled through the thought of writing papers. I was always shocked to receive high marks for my writing. I still have some lingering technical issues, but it’s become amazingly clear that writing is apart of my life’s work.

So, outside of regular messages and blogs, I have written my first book, College Impact: Empowering Collegiate Christians for Campus Impact (click here).  Last year the sales have gone crazy, and we were pleased, relieved, and surprised. A student from a local college campus read it and came to tell me how much she enjoyed it. I felt like a writer that day.

A couple years ago, I wrote about our challenging experiences starting a church, in a book called Sifted. I recently completed an essay in a new book called, Dads of Disability (click here), chronicling my experience as a father of a special son who has significant disabilities. Add to that I just finished the first draft of a book written for a large eBook publisher (more details to come).

I am settling the fact that I am a writer. I, like many others, have to overcome my past to embrace my future. Just because I once was illiterate doesn’t mean that I can’t be a writer, like because I was poor doesn’t mean I can’t be wealthy. Too often we allow our former challenges and failures to inhibit our current and future possibilities. Allow my story to encourage you to become who you need to become. I can say, I am a writer…what are you?