Mark Batterson

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

I just finished reading Mark Batterson’s latest book, The Circle Maker. If you have followed Coffee Shop Journal at all, you know that Batterson is one of my favorite authors in the current Christian landscape. So I have been slowly savoring The Circle Maker, letting its message sink deep rather than skimming the surface of my mind.

The premise of The Circle Maker is simple: God honors the prayers we pray. Hardly ground-breaking! But Batterson frames The Circle Maker in an ancient Jewish tale that takes prayer to a new place. There was, once upon a time, a Jewish prophet named Honi. Honi lived at a time when drought was torturing Israel, and it was time for Honi to pray on his country’s behalf. So Honi literally drew a circle in the dry sand, stepped inside it, and pledged not to leave until God answered his prayer.

It sprinkled.

Honi prayed again.

It rained cats and dogs and threatened to flood the nation.

Honi prayed again until a gentle rain fell.

Using Honi’s story mixed with stories from Batterson’s National Community Church and his own life, Batterson encourages us to circle – metaphorically and often literally – the dreams we have for our own lives, the dreams God planted. Pray, think long term, let your prayers build your legacy: Batterson encourages us over and over to do the hard work of bringing ourselves and our lives into harmony with God’s plan for us.

I spent some time recently thinking about the “circles” in my life.

While Mark Batterson was walking circles around the city of Washington DC (and I say we need more people walking circles and praying in Washington DC!), I feel as if sometimes I’ve just been walking IN circles. May I be honest? Sometimes I’m not so sure that my prayers are much different than the “positive affirmations” that pop psych gurus like to peddle off on us. I pray them, regularly, but I sometimes forget that someone is LISTENING to them.

God honors our prayers.

But do our prayers honor God?

I pray — most of the time — wimpy little me-sized prayers instead of the kind that have me shaking in my boots. At church this weekend we called those kind of prayers audacious prayers. Batterson reminds us that God loves those kind of prayers, because everyone knows that only he could accomplish them. Only God could possibly have one such a thing.

I don’t want to live my life missing out on God-sized answers to prayer.

I need to be drawing audacious circles and then standing in them.

If you want to get more information about The Circle Maker and watch some cool trailers, go to TheCircleMaker.

Soulprint: lifesymbols…what are yours?

An embroidered throw -- like this one, but not this exact one -- is a reminder of my covenant to pray.

I think the Israelites would have conquered the Promised Land in half the time if they’d just skipped building stone pillars, memorials and altars all over the country. I honestly believe they were a nation of stone masons! I’m sure you’ve noticed it too: every few chapters they were building an altar to remember the lesson God had just taught them.

In Soulprint, by Mark Batterson, I’ve been reading about the concept of “lifesymbols.” Lifesymbols are symbols of the defining moments in our lives. Batterson describes an oxygen mask, one of his own lifesymbols. He keeps this oxygen mask, the one that was used when he almost lost his life in the hospital, but realized that God’s decision to save him meant God had a continuing plan for his life.

Our defining moments double as altars to God…Like David, we need holy keepsakes to remind us where we’ve been and where we’re headed….Without these physical reminders, we quickly forget the spiritual lessons we’ve learned along the way. I call those physical reminders “lifesymbols.”And they come in every every size and shape imaginable, including oxygen masks.”

I love the idea of lifesymbols, and realized that I’ve been collecting them myself without having a lovely name to call them until now. What are some of my lifesymbols?

  • I keep all my journals together on my bookshelf. Looking at them — even without reading them — reminds me of who I dreamed I would be when I was in seventh grade (my earliest journal), when I was waiting for my children, and last year, when I was realizing that I’d better decide who to be pretty quickly! Looking at your life lined up on a bookshelf is both humbling and inspiring.
  • Oregon postcards. One of the nicely framed pieces of art in my house is really just three post cards from Oregon. I love my family, and I have a large selection of precious friends and family who live in Oregon. Looking at that artwork reminds me to pray for them and reminds me of all the times they have spoken into my life. I have other frames filled with other places and other people, all of whom are important to us.
  • A handstitched throw on my living room couch comes from Jerusalem. It, along with a stone cross from the year 300, remind me of our trip to Israel last year. While we were there we covenanted to pray for something specific, one of those requests you write on a tiny slip of paper and cram into the Western Wall. Every time I see the throw, bought in the Jewish quarter at the corner of King David Street (Ah! To think such places exist!), I’m reminded of my covenant and of God’s promises to me. I pray.
  • Bibles from my grandparents — all four of them — well-used.
  • Strange momentos, such as my dad’s patient id card for Dana Farber Cancer institute (God was faithful to bring us through!), the birth certificate of the man my grandmother helped to raise (Our family reaches out to take in others), World of Coke 3-D glasses in my parka pocket (friendships are a gift of God, cross generational lines, and last forever even if we only see each other on Facebook).

Thinking back to soon-to-be-King David, he kept the armor of the giant Goliath. Every time he looked at that armor, prayer and praise had to rise up in his chest. When I look at my lifesymbols scattered here or there throughout my home, I’m reminded that God has always been working in and through my life. “I need to identify the story lines that the Author of my faith is scripting for me,” says Batterson. “Lifesymbols are like cue cards that help us remember His script.”

Batterson calls this kind of memory searching “memory management and stewardship.” God has placed these memories in me for a purpose. They are encoded in my brain and define who I am…for a purpose.

“Life is lived forward, but it is relived backward. Part of discovering your soulprint is seeing the purposes of God in your past experiences. The past is not circumstantial. The past is providential.”

What about your lifesymbols? What are they? What do they say about your “story line?”

Soulprint: book review part 1

There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal.”

— CS Lewis

Who am I now that I’m not who I was?

This is a question that has been running around my head for the past year. David and I are, predictably, in a season of change in our lives. Part of that change was inevitable: our kids are moving out and all those responsibilities will soon rest mainly on their shoulders. This is an amazing transition, and it has humbled me to watch the girls begin it. Another part of our season of change is due to our family circumstances. We just sold my dad’s business in Boston, and are now entering a new phase in our own business lives as a result. Put both these circumstances together and — in my opinion — you have an opportunity for God to step in and write His story all over your future!

So this is the state of affairs as I begin to read Soulprint, by Mark Batterson. You may remember that Mark’s first book, “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,” was my first in-depth blog review and set the course for not only Coffee Shop Journal, but my spiritual growth plan for the past four years. (You can find the first of the Lion posts here, if you want to go back and read them.) Mark has since written two other books which I have thoroughly enjoyed, but didn’t impact me like Lion.

Soulprint is getting ready to set my course for the next few years. In a return to the kind of vision of hope that moved me years ago, Mark Batterson is writing about God’s unique plan for us to step into our future and accept the vision God has for each of us. Our fingerprints, he says, are unique. So are our “soulprints.” An that uniqueness is not just God’s unbelievable gift to you, the lottery you won in life. It is a responsiblity! He has planned for you to be…YOURSELF!

Is that not the most amazing thought?

You are good enough to do the task God has designed for you. As Mark says in the first chapter, “You were created to worship God in a way that no one else can. How? By living a life no one else can — your life. You have a unique destiny to fulfill, and no one can take your place. You place an irreplaceable role in God’s grand narrative.” Anything less than being all that God created us to be amounts to forfeiting our spiritual birthright.

Stop and think about that again.

How many times have we read the story of Esau in Genesis 26 and wondered how in the world could Esau have sold his birthright for…soup? Really, Esau? Soup?

But maybe we are doing the same thing. Oh, we might be selling for a slightly higher price — at least a few filet mignon dinners — but when we stop being all we can be, we’ve sold out just like Esau.

“Let this promise soak into your spirit…It’s never too late to be who you might have been.”

For the rest of the book, Batterson uses the life of David to illustrate how God takes all the moments of our life and connects the dots into the role he has for us to play.

“Every past experience is preparation for some future opportunity. And one way God redeems the past is by helping us see it through His eyes, His providence. So the key to fulfilling your future destiny is in your past memories.”

David the lion-killer (oh! There come the lions again!) is transformed into David the giant-killer. God is literally hand-crafting us one at a time for the destiny He planned.

I don’t know about you, but those thoughts challenged and comforted me. My mind went back to the day we sold the business up north. On the phone with Buddy Hoffman, a pastor and dear friend who has mentored us over the years, I was wondering out loud what was next for us. Buddy said, “One thing you know: it will look nothing like the past and yet it will also look everything like the past.” It’s good to know that God never expected me to be my Dad, or my Mom, or my pastor, or Mark Batterson, or the many authors I admire. He never planned for me to plan my life around them or anyone else. He planned for me to be me.

“The end goal is not a revelation of who you are. The end goal is a revelation of who God is. After all, you won’t find yourself until you find God. The only way to discover who you are is to discover who God is because you are made in His image….He sets us free from who we’re not, so we can become who we were destined to be.”

— Soulprint

[I rarely do in-depth processing of books on the blog, usually settling for a brief recommendation and what I learned from a particular book or author. But Soulprint is hitting me at a deeper level…so be prepared for at least several posts while I take this journey! And take my advice…go grab a copy.]

The missing New Year’s posts…


I tend to go MIA around New Year’s for no other reason than I am a stubborn person underneath my calm (!) exterior. It’s the same reason why I won’t go to the gym today even though I’m craving a little exercise. I just hate to do the thing that is expected of “everyone.”

So you haven’t read any end of the year retrospectives, or best of 2009 posts. No lists of what’s to come in 2010. At least not from me.

But I may have to rethink that strategy. Two people lately have challenged my thinking in this area.

Mark Batterson, in his new book Primal, puts a new spin on the idea of “taking every thought captive.” I don’t have the book with me, but the concept was that God speaks to us in “God ideas” and we have a responsibility to capture them so that He can use them. Anything less is being an unfaithful steward of the imagination, intellect and creativity that God has given us.

And last Sunday, John Poitevent (Christ Fellowship’s City Place campus pastor) challenged us to spend time reflecting on the year and relationships past. His point was that we need to constantly try to bring the kingdom into our relationships. This requires reflection. Further, we need to spend time pondering both our successes and goals as well as our failures. When you fail, you need to immediately turn and worship God, allowing your soul to reconnect to God and denying the enemy a chance to beat you over the head with the failure.

So I guess some reflection time needs to be scheduled in the next few days after all! But hey…at least it isn’t New Year’s Eve anymore.

Book Review: Primal by Mark Batterson


Thank God for epiphanies. Thank God for those moments in time that transcend time. Thank God for those moments when we discover something deeper, something truer, something greater than physical reality. Thank God for those moments when our spiritual eyes are opened to behold beauties and realities we were blind to before.

Epiphanies. Mark Batterson is describing them in Primal, his latest book. He is also delivering them on every page. Nearly Everything Mark Batterson has written has transformed my life in one way or another. His first book, “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” rocked my world as it challenged me to face the fears, or lions, in my life and get on with the call of God. If you want to read more about that book, do a search within the blog. I wrote post after post about that book in the early days of Coffee Shop Journal.

Primal is a different kind of book, a new and old book. Mark brings us back to the first things of Christianity, the basics, the primal elements of our faith. Don’t be tempted to skip this book thinking you’ve got that covered, because as usual Mark’s perspective changes everything.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. That’s the primal commandment. Working from that base, Mark Batterson encourages us to grow deeper in how Christianity plays out in the heart, soul, mind and strength. Your heart is the seat of compassion. Your soul is the seat of wonder. Your mind is the seat of curiosity. And your strength is the seat of power. Use these things to serve and remember.

Several sections of Primal really jumped out at me. For instance, there is an amazing chapter on generosity in the middle of the “The Heart of Christianity” section. Particularly convicting at this time of the year was his description of the “Mall Effect.” We all know what that is: you walk in the door of the mall and discover what it is you can not live without any longer. Counteract the Mall Effect with the Mission Trip Effect. Go see your world, let your heart be wrecked. Some good words to dwell on:

Are you focused on what you have or what you don’t have? That is the difference between gratitude and greed. Are you focused on this life or the next? That is the difference between stinginess and generosity. Are you focused on your wants or others’ needs? That is the difference between selfishness and compassion. It’s also the difference between unhappiness and joy.

The section on the soul of Christianity inspired me, in this hectic Advent season, to stop what I am doing and look around me. We took a half a day to get to the ocean, a mere mile or two from our home but a place we rarely visit. Unbelievable. Just skimming along the water changed our attitude toward, well…everything. Mark quotes Elizabeth Barrett Browning as he encourages us to look around us for the Glory of God.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

There are so many good quote in Primal. I could, and probably should, write several posts about them. At the moment I am remembering the section on creativity, and the duty we have to “take captive every thought for God.” Usually that verse is used to encourage us to turn away from negative or sinful thoughts, but Mark reminded us that it also means we should harness those “God ideas” that come romping through our brains. Good thoughts, those.

I was looking forward to reading Primal. When I was given an opportunity to review the book during this week, I jumped at it. It has been a tremendous help to me in refocusing my mind on the Advent season and celebrating Christmas by remembering the primal roots of Christianity. The reminder to share my heart in compassion, to look around me in wonder, to use my ideas for creative kingdom purposes and to use the strength God has given me to accomplish all of it has inspired me. To learn more about Primal, you can click through to Random House’s Watermark Division here. Mark Batterson is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC, a church I love because they also operate Ebenezer’s Coffee shop as a ministry center. Gotta love that!

Go read Primal and rediscover your roots. Make Primal one of the first books you read in 2010.

What would you do with 10,000 hours?

Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray, is one of my favorite movies, even if it is a little repetitious! For years, friends of mine would come over every Groundhog Day for a meal and a little time reliving Murray’s frustration at having to live the same day over and over and over. There is a segment of time during the movie when Murray stops fighting against his fate and starts using the time available to him differently. He begins to read French poetry in the coffee shop. He takes piano lessons. He learns how to sculpt ice. That part of the movie has always fascinated me. What would I choose to learn if — like Murray’s character — I had all the time in the world available to me?

Recently Mark Batterson blogged about a book he is reading, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Here is a part of what he wrote.

I’m currently reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Outliers. Wanted to share a finding I’ve heard before. Basically, it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything! It doesn’t matter whether it’s athletics or academics. According to Gladwell, there are no “naturals.” You have to put in the time. Generally speaking, the only difference between an elite person in any field and everybody else is usually a few thousand hours of practice time.

I find this study so empowering. Anybody can become an expert in just about anything. Obviously, you need a baseline of talent if you’re talking about music or sports. But you can accumulate knowledge and become an expert.

Wow. Did you catch that? It’s basically my Groundhog Day come to life. With 10,000 hours of practice at nearly anything, you can become an expert. So what are we waiting for? What is it that we want to become an expert in? Batterson went on to say that in becoming a great writer, you must put in the hours to becomea great reader. He estimates he’s ready 2,500 books since high school, adding up to over 10,000 hours. I thought about that, knowing that I’ve got him beat on the number of books. Yet, am I an exert? Not really.

One of Batterson’s readers, Jason Condon, responded in the comment section with his analysis of the book and another recommendation. Condon read “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin. In this book, the principle of 10,000 hours holds true, but Colvin takes it a step further. For you to develop that expertise, the hours of practice need to be intentional and directed. In other words, no one becomes an expert by accident! Jason Condon provided a link to his extensive notes of the second book, Talent is Overrated. After reading his summary I am excited to go out and get the book for myself, though I feel as if I’ve digested the important parts of the message. They are some of the best notes on a book I’ve run across. Click here to go check out Jason’s notes, and thank you, Jason, if by some chance you read this.

So we are back to our original question. It’s the start of a new year. What do you want to learn this year? Do you want to become an expert in a field? Or just learn a new skill? This year has over 8,000 hours in it. Those hours are going to slip by or they are going to be used intentionally. Unlike Bill Murray, we have a choice.

Here are a  links to other blogs reviewing Talent is Overrated. I’m sure I’ll be reviewing it myself in the near future!

Leadership Challenge

Mark Needham

Serving up Christmas

Do you remember my Mark Batterson quote for the year?

Change of Place + Change of Pace = Change of Perspective

That happened — again — to me today sitting in Starbucks. I have recently been reading Richard Foster’s “Freedom of Simplicity,” an old book, but a deep and good one. Call me crazy, but reading about the spiritual discipline of simplicity has really helped me keep Christmas in perspective! This morning I was waiting for a friend, and arrived about thirty minutes early, so I sat and read my book at the Starbucks counter. It’s the same Starbucks counter that taught me so much about leadership in this post.

Today I learned about servanthood, and giving out of a desire to love. “Freedom of Simplicity” was busy telling me that when we leave our expectations and greed behind, we are free to serve and love with singleminded devotion. Our hearts are clear. In the midst of that, I watched the baristas serving drink after drink. Now usually — being on the other side of the counter — I think about asking for a drink, ordering food. And rude customers, of course, are intensely irritating if you care about people. Today, however, I focused on the simple act of service…of a barista happily making a drink to please the customer, and feeling like they have done a good job when they deliver their coffee. Do these baristas – all of whom I know by name and yet have scant details about their lives – do they know they are participating in the act of creation and service and giving? Does it make them happy to do for the customers what God does for us? “Look, I created this for you.” In that moment, being a barista seemed a holy occupation.

Another book I am reading, “Cloister Walk” by Kathleen Norris, tells about life in a Benedictine Monastery. During one national convention some of the monks petitioned to serve food family style, at a table, again, as opposed to the new buffet lines they were currently using to serve food. Why? Because the act of serving each other food, one to the other, put a different perspective on the meal. Each monk was served by the one to his side, and did not take the food for himself. Something was lost, they said, when monks began to go through line and just take whatever they wanted, however much they wanted. There was a spiritual application of sitting and serving one another a simple meal.

So there was my change of perspective: serving one another as an act of spiritual  discipline and gratitude. I know..I’ve heard it before, too. It’s not profound, or deep or revolutionary. But it did cast the Christmas hurry and scurry in a different light. What an amazing gift: to be able to give.

Starbucks Coffee Cup Quote #17: Go for it!

The world bursts at the seams with people ready to tell you you’re not good enough. On occasion, some may be correct. But do not do their work for them. Seek any job; ask anyone out; pursue any goal. Don’t take it personally when they say “no” — they may not be smart enough to say “yes”.

— Keith Olbermann

Isn’t that the truth? Just at the moment when you catch a glimpse of the stunning possibilities God might have for you, someone will inevitably pull their pin out to pop your balloon. It happened to me last night. Sitting on the porch God was speaking into the next season of my life. I was excited. I wrote my post, and then jumped onto facebook to see who I could connect with. And that’s when a family member popped all my beautiful balloons. I won’t say more about what they did — especially because it was simply an immature and poorly guided action — but I felt devalued as a person.

Here’s what amazed me, and later convicted me: their action had absolutely nothing to do with any real detail of my life. It didn’t affect me in slightest. In fact, they are the ones who are missing out on experiences and voices God wants to add to their life. Their action literally changed nothing.

But I let it erase all those lovely possibilities from my mind. I lost the vision. Their action put me into defensive mode for the rest of the night. As the quote says, I did their work for them.

Not today, my friends. Not today.

Mark Batterson, in the Wild Goose Chase chapter on not being caged by your assumptions, encouraged me to “swim in the sea of possibilities like a little child.” It’s a gorgeous, 75 degree South Florida day. I have work to do that God has given me. I have people around me who are depending on me — without even knowing it — to notice the ministry opportunites that skitter across my path during a day like today. Today I do not have time for people who are busy walling others out of opportunity.

In fact, perhaps like the Old Testament prophet Nehemiah, I will stand today on top of a wall and call down “I have a great work to do…I can not come down to your level.”

To change your persepctive, change your place.

I sat on the porch tonight — one of the first comfortable and beautiful nights of fall — and spent some time talking to God, reading, and listening. It was one of those nights when the ideas come faster than my pen can take notes. All of them bloggable!!!

I am currently reading Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. I’m sure I’ll be talking about it a lot in the days to come. Somehow, Mark speaks the words that speak to me. I loved In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, his first book. Search back through the archives if you want to read about that one. I’m grateful this title is shorter…so much easier to write!

Here’s just one thought that jumped out at me tonight.

When God wants us to experience a change of perspective, He often does it via a change in scenery. So Jesus took the three disciples to a new place, a high place, a place that was far removed from civilization.

Here’s the bottom line: where you are geographically affects where you are spiritually. A few years ago I came up with a simple formula:

Change of Place + Change of Pace = Change of Perspective.

Maybe that’s why we travel so willingly. Every new town, every new church we visit or new friend we make changes us in some way. We come home different. Just the thought that God can use our forced wanderings — maybe even orchestrates them — encourages me.

Do you need a change of perspective?

Ragamuffin Soul Looks Foolish

Ragamuffin Soul, Carlos Whittaker

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day – Chapter 8

It has been awhile since I’ve posted a Snowy Day post. Life has been busy! But tonight I was drawn back to Mark Batterson’s book, and we are now on chapter 8: the importance of looking foolish. Let’s start with a quote:

We try to look like everybody else. We try to talk like everybody else. We try to dress like everybody else. And the end result? We become like everybody else. We hide our idiosyncrasies and insecurities behind the mask of who we think we’re supposed to be. We stop being ourselves and start being who we think everyone wants us to be.

But something invaluable and irreplaceable is lost when we cave in to conformity. We lose our personality. We lose our originality. And at some point we lose our soul. Instead of becoming the one-of-a-kind original we were destined to be, we settle for a carbon copy of someone else.

Here’s the deal, as Mark Batterson says: if you aren’t willing to look foolish, you’re foolish. I’ve been praying lately for God to take me to the end of myself, to get me to the point where all I want is what He wants. A big prayer, but life is a journey. And then I pick up Snowy Day and realize the chapter is about looking foolish while we are dreaming the big, limitless dreams that God gives us.

I don’t know of anyone who more exemplifies this kind of holy foolishness than Carlos Whittaker, a man I’ve actually never met (yet!). Read his blog. Carlos is willing to be childlike, creative and unorthodox in his never-ending quest to be an authentic Christ Follower in this world. This week alone the Ragamuffin Soul was willing to show us his Ragamuffin Top as he begins a fitness quest. We’ve seen him dancing with his daughters, playing ping pong with his co-workers in a riveting live-stream. We’ve seen him interviewing leaders, riding the bus, fast-forwarding through his day, and leading us in worship. He opens his world and is willing to be transparent to show us the real world, a real dad, real ministry. Yeah, Ragamuffin Soul looks foolish. I wish I could, too.

Mark Batterson, who knows Carlos by the way, and would probably agree with my assessment, tells the story of riding in the van with his wife and kids, music blaring. Mark and his wife Lora get all jiggy to the music they have going. Their kids think they are crazy, but the people in the car behind them really think they are nuts. He writes:

But who is crazy? Is it us? Or is it the people who can’t hear the music? I’d like to think the crazy people are the ones who aren’t dancing because they can’t hear the music.

There is an old proverb: “Those who hear not the music think the dancer is mad.”

I’ve been praying for God to take me to the end of myself, and this chapter of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (please, Mark…can you think of a shorter title next time?) reminds me that perhaps the fears I am facing really result from my fear of appearing foolish. I’ve been praying this prayer, but I’m a little afraid God is going to take me up on it.

At least I’ll be in good company.