5 Free Leadership Backgrounds

Several months ago, I took part in a friend’s weekly Leadership Hangout (via Google Hangouts). Each week, we discussed the merits from one of Andy Stanley’s Leadership Podcasts. If you’re not already listening to this podcast of his each month, you’re really missing out.

For five of our sessions, I designed desktop backgrounds highlighting significant thoughts from the podcast itself or related to its message.


LeadershipQuote - AStanley (1280x800)

BetterBeforeBigger (1280x800)

NextProduct 1280x800

Maxwell Competitive Adv 1280x800

OnlyWhatYouCanDo (1280x800)


These are 1280×800 (16:10). If you would like one (or all) of them in a different size, let me know in the comments. Thanks!

For Me & My Daughter’s Birthday

I’m barely a “May baby,” as I was born in the evening hours of May 31st. But I love having a May birthday. Seems a lot of cool people have May birthdays. In fact, I know of two girls much younger and much cooler than me with May birthdays.

Lord willing, our daughter Hazel will be born no later than next week (week of May 19th). We’re beyond excited and ready for her arrival. We’re so thankful the Lord has entrusted us to our care. We pray we will honor him and her life as we raise her to know and be like Jesus.

Additionally, young Gabbi Cook–the daughter of college friends of ours–celebrates her 3rd birthday this Sunday, May 19th. This is awesome because Gabbi has just finished up treatments for liver cancer and a necessary liver transplant. It’s been an emotional journey for us from a distance, so we cannot imagine the emotions the Cooks have gone through. We’re all thankful to God that Gabbi is doing great now and we pray she’ll continue to fight and grow strong in the years ahead.

Would you do me favor?

If you would ordinarily tell me “Happy Birthday” and/or “Congratulations” upon Hazel’s birth, would you send $10 to pediatric liver cancer research in Gabbi’s honor?

Her dad has humbly challenged those who love Gabbi to donate to this cause instead of sending her or them any kind of gifts for her birthday. So I’d love to simply pass the same challenge on to those who love me and my soon-to-be-born daughter.

Here’s the basic information if you’re willing to help out with this research:

If you can give Gabbi this present, please make checks out to “Children’s Hospital Research Foundation” and mail them to: 

Debbie Cook 
1902 Jamison Rd.
Fairview WV 26570

You can read Matt’s full post on Gabbi’s Facebook Page.

Thanks for reading and for your generosity. To God be the glory!

2 Things that Scare Me About Parenting and 1 That Destroys Them

So this is birth month for our first child, Hazel Grace. We’re at maximum excitement and anxiety about the journey ahead.

Two things I’ve read scare me to death about bringing this precious girl into the world under my stewardship:

1. A girl’s father is the most important person in her life.

2. Parenting is largely who you are and what you do as a person; not what you do or what you say as a parent.

Talk about pressure! The Lord created this beautiful soul and body inside Amanda’s womb and he’s entrusting her to my leadership (thankfully, with Amanda’s help). And that leadership isn’t as much something I learn from a book/lecture/class as it is an outgrowth of who I am as a person.

Not me & Hazel. She's not born yet.
Not me & Hazel. She’s not born yet.

I am humbled the Lord trusts me and Amanda to raise Hazel to know him. But I also recognize his trust has little-to-nothing to do with my ability to earn or deserve it. I want to please the Lord more than anything, but boy do I fall short sometimes (cf. Rom. 3:23)! My laziness, fearfulness, apathy, complacency, anger, jealousy, and judging rise to the surface more often than my ability to control them.

So I’m a little anxious I’ll raise a lazy, scared, disinterested, entitled, mad, jealous, judgmental little girl. Overreaction? Possibly. But I still have doubts about my ability to consistently be the man of God she needs in her life.

But there’s one statement that continues to blow up these doubts.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:10)

Paul had every reason to believe he was unworthy to preach the gospel and serve as an apostle. But he recognized God’s loving mercy and grace allowed him and empowered him to do just that.

I am so thankful Jesus came to extend God’s grace over my sin. And I’m thankful that as I grow daily in His grace, my daughter can see not how great I am, but how awesome God is.

While I want to be the perfect dad for Hazel, I’m thankful that she gets to see the perfect Father working through an imperfect one. And that she can learn she has the same hope in Him.

Why I Use Evernote As A Word Processor

Microsoft Publisher is more responsible than anything else for helping me see the value in using Evernote as a word processor.

Over four years ago, I switched to Mac (best technology move I’ve ever made). And while I bought MS Office for Mac, it does not come with MS Pubilsher. So I essentially lost access to years of Bible Class/sermon notes and packets/details for youth events.

(They’re not lost altogether, I just can’t access them easily. It requires loading them on a PC of someone else’s–where I could then export as a .pdf–or trying to convert them. I’ve not tried the latter option, so I’m not 100% that would even work.)

Enter Evernote. It’s cleanly designed and works smoothly. Here are the things I enjoy about using Evernote to type anything and everything:

1. Accessibility. I don’t have to be on my computer to access the files. And I don’t even have to install Dropbox or another cloud-based file management application.

2. Backup. Notes are automatically stored (and thus “backed up”) on the cloud. If something happens to my computer, I can still access the files through the internet.


3. Notes > files. I prefer the ease of searching through notes as opposed to searching for files through Mac Spotlight (as awesome as Spotlight is). They’re already open, so I don’t have to open and close files until I find the correct one.

4. Powerful, extensive search. Evernote searches text inside photos as easily as it does notes.

5. Fewer formatting options. I’m a designer. I’m all about visual appeal. But words are words. When I’m typing them, I don’t need them to be pretty. If I’m being honest, seeing only text while I type helps me to focus on the content as opposed to any decorations I use. I can then easily and quickly copy and paste the text into Pages, Text Edit, or whatever for easy formatting. Not only is this not a hindrance, I prefer to think of it as a strength.

6. Organization. It’s been easier for me to organize with Notebooks and tags than it is for me to use file folders on my hard drive. Much easier.

7. Memory. I love finding older notes I’ve saved in Evernote but forgotten about. I rarely do that with simple files and file folders.

8. Connect-ability. I can create notes by sending an email or tweet, using the Evernote web clipper, sharing from Feedly or my mobile browser, or directly through the application.

9. Integration of content. Most anything that I’ve typed and need to reference should already be in Evernote for easy access. Examples: illustration references and ideas, related articles (tags are so helpful with both of these areas), event details, and personal memories.

There are plenty of amazing new advancements in technology, but for my needs in word processing, I don’t need bigger, faster, shinier, prettier. For me, Evernote is the opportunity to simplify and integrate.

What other ways do you use Evernote?

Writing Well and Writing How

I’ve been told I write well.

College professors complimented my writing style when grading my assignments. Rarely do I write a bulletin article that someone doesn’t tell me “good job,” or “I liked that one.” Amanda probably praises my writing ability and style more than any single strength of mine. I’ve even had a childhood friend praise my writing style, though he disagrees with much of what I’ve written.

I wouldn’t dare suggest that praise is proof that I’m a good writer. But I do think I’ve learned throughout the years how to communicate in a clear, smooth, and enjoyable style. On that level, my on-again/off-again blogging habits are irresponsible stewardship of an ability with which the Lord has blessed me.

But this alleged “writing well” also provides a different dimension in the world of blogging. I know a lot of good writers who write blogs that stink. There are very few blogs–including popular ones–that I actually enjoy.

The blogs I enjoy most communicate a specific purpose, but are not predictable and formulaic. I can think of at least one such blog by someone I don’t consider a great writer. But he (or she) is a fantastic blogger.

So it’s possible part of my struggle with maintaining consistency at blogging (to a lesser degree than this) is that I’ve never approached this space with a sense of purpose.

I still don’t know what my exact purpose for blogging should be. I know a few things I don’t want it to be. And I have some ideas about what I might like for it to be.

Above all, I want to be helpful.

I have no desire to get another “Thanks for that post,” “great job,” or “someone needed to say this” about posts here. But my prayer is that from time-to-time, someone does something based on what they read here and it influences the kingdom, the community, or the world for good.

Our greatest struggles often aren’t determining what to do. But a lot of us struggle with figuring out how. So I want to write not to write well, but to write how. Writing well easily becomes about me; but I want to write how so that it’s about you. And about that someone you can help.

Again, I thank you for reading. Let’s commit to helping one another. It is difficult to purposefully and consistently be helpful. But we all need it.

Why I Don’t Blog More Often

“Joey has a good blog, but he doesn’t update it often enough. Is that fair?” 

Words from a good friend while he was teaching ministers about blogging. It was and is a fair statement. I’m certainly aware that I don’t post regularly. Not as regularly as I want. Nor as regularly as I should.

I’m not writing to apologize. And I’m not writing to make excuses. All I’m doing is telling you why:

I lack the self-discipline required to write and publish regularly.

That’s not a new problem for me. And it’s not reserved just for of blogging.

Like you, I’m well aware of both my strengths and weaknesses. I love to create. I love being artistic and how technology makes it easier to create art than ever before. And I enjoy writing because, for me, it is art. This is why I want to maintain a blog.

But I struggle to create the self-discipline I need to make it happen.

And I’m pretty certain God doesn’t want me to stay this way. “The slacker does not plow during planting season; at harvest time he looks, and there is nothing.” Proverbs 20:4

I’m not committing to doing anything in this post. I’m simply stating why I don’t update it enough.

I know the Lord continues to open doors of opportunity and influence and I pray I use godly courage to commit to them. For now, it’s my prayer this space continues to be such a door.

Thanks for your encouragement and for reading.

6 Visualized Leaders

Leaders are everywhere. As are people in leadership positions. An important question both must answer is,

“Am I a leader worth following?”

Here are six common styles of leadership visualized:

via thinkstockphotos.com
via thinkstockphotos.com

The Rug

The leader avoids confrontation and thus, correction. The less drama, the better. When drama does arise, he or she lets it “die down” before deciding to step in or not. Once it has “died down,” and everybody seems fine, there’s no burden to address it any longer.

via thinkstockphotos.com
via thinkstockphotos.com

The Sign

One person makes one mistake. So a leader hangs a sign to tell original perpetrator AND everyone else not to do it. This leader is overly concerned about behavior instead of hearts. He’s emotionally committed to correcting others, but not reasonable enough to handle it effectively. So he sacrifices credibility with everyone else to avoid directly correcting the one who made a mistake. Signs should give information, not instruction or (especially) correction. (see also, this entertaining site)

via svennevenn under Creative Commons lisence
via svennevenn under Creative Commons license

The Bullhorn

The leader realizes personal contact is valuable, but he’s not confident enough to talk to people one-on-one. The bullhorn thinks, “If I’m loud enough in public, people will follow.” Some preachers use a bullhorn in the pulpit. Some elders use a bullhorn in the bulletin. Some business leaders call bullhorn meetings for the entire staff when one employee messes up. Bullhorns can be so concerned about NOT playing favorites that they miss out on valuable personal relationships.

via YanivG under Creative Commons lisence
via YanivG under Creative Commons license

The Pacifier

The leader loves to hear the heartaches (even legitimate ones), problems, and complaints (even illegitimate ones) of followers. This allows the leader to pacify their crying and in the process win over a group of favorites. This leadership approach appeals to our desire to be liked. But keeping “babies” around means someone has to deal with dirty diapers. It really creates a mess when these favorites complain about one another to the leader.

via fling93 under Creative Commons license
via fling93 under Creative Commons license

The Coach

The leader uses various methods of personal interaction, but tends to emphasize correction over growth. Behavior control is more important than personal relationship. The leader values individuals, but often because they serve his needs. The coach prefers to use the bullhorn from the tower. But he also isn’t afraid to climb down and embarrass someone when necessary.

via CharlesFred under Creative Commons license
via CharlesFred under Creative Commons license

The Shepherd

The leader’s greatest concern is the health, growth, and hearts of followers. He knows correction is needed, but his personal relationships cause growth from one-on-one conversations and accountability. He doesn’t settle for merely controlling behavior. He knows when to protect sheep from danger and when to let them wrestle with difficulties to build strength. The most difficult and rarest leader. This is the leadership of Christ (1 Peter 5:1-5), and what he calls us to be.

Why is it difficult to be a shepherd-leader? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan

Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan is a treatise on how to discover what to do as an outgrowth of parents’ relationships to God than simply instructing parents what to do.

Though the book focuses on the hearts of parents, it is not overly theoretical and abstract. The authors make a concerted effort to make the material practical with real stories and pointed questions throughout each chapter. What they have to say is well-worth reading, but their practical suggestions make it invaluable.

Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes
Intentional Parenting: Autopilot is for Planes

I thoroughly enjoyed the book. As I glance back over my highlighted sections, it is eye-opening to see how much these statements address me as a person as much as they do me as a parent. And that’s the authors’ goal. Who I am as a person will naturally and directly determine who I am as a parent.

I connected to two main principles: Being a Grown-Up Parent (Chapter 3) and Being a Spiritual Parent (Chapter 9). The authors make it clear that a child’s confidence comes in large part from seeing us be adults and act like parents. And their idea of being a “spiritual parent” is not following a list of “spiritual things” parents do, but rather modeling our personal dependance on God for our children to see, and thus know it’s important for their lives.

The book is written more with parents of adolescent children in mind, but is certainly helpful for parents with children of any age. I especially think it’s a helpful resource for those who might counsel parents. It would make a great resource to put in their hands.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The 5 Money Personalities (by Scott & Bethany Palmer)

Every person has strong emotions and specific visions about how he/she should use money. So when two people get married, the oft-differing perspectives can create all sorts of difficulties. If left to the changing winds of emotions and assumptions, money tension can effectively end marriages, or at least render them unfulfilling.

Kinda like Dave Ramsey meets the Five Love Languages
Kinda like Dave Ramsey meets the Five Love Languages

Scott and Bethany Palmer are not trained marriage counselors, but they are financial counselors who’ve seen their fair share of marriages devastating by money difficulties. In The 5 Money Personalities: Speaking the Same Money and Love Language, they walk through their self-identified 5 “Money Personalities” for the purpose of addressing the potential for conflict in marriage over money. They especially emphasize ways to make differing personalities work together. The second-half of the book deals largely with the emotional foundations of financial conflict in marriage. They address the role of financial infidelity and take an honest look at why it hurts so much. They close the book with practical strategies for maintaining healthy communication in marriage when it comes to money, including how to “fight fair.”

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading the book. But the majority of the reasons why I didn’t are largely “external” and related to how the book was organized and approached. The content of the book is especially helpful, however. I highlighted over 30 quotes in my Kindle for future reference. It’s clear they know what they are talking about. I just think they could have had some better advice or editing when it comes to laying it out clearly in the book.

I was especially intrigued by the notion that criticism about our money personalities is extremely painful because we feel as though our perspectives about money are noble, right, and in the best interest of our marriage.

There are a lot of helpful and eye-opening aspects to the material here. Though it’s ideally written toward all married couples, I would only really recommend it to couples with particularly strained relationships. It would also be helpful for those who counsel couples with financial difficulties or those with specific financial interests.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Short, Helpful, and Transformational

In 20,000 Days And Counting: The Crash Course for Mastering Your Life Now, Robert D. Smith gives us a short book so as not to waste much of our time, and what’s better, he also writes in an entertaining style that makes the content digestible. I love that Smith’s focus is upon practical, actionable steps to help us make the most of our days. I’m still getting comfortable reading books on my Kindle Fire, but the style and formatting made it an enjoyable experience


I resonated most with the section about starting the day off with forward momentum and energy. Making the most of the morning really does have the power to transform the rest of the day. I am more of a “night” person instead of a “morning” person. Smith’s encouragement challenged me to reconsider *how* I start my days instead of focusing upon (and coming up short) *how early* I start them. I especially love the idea of asking, “What does God have to say to me today?” to focus in the morning with Scripture.

I also appreciate how Smith opens up into his own life without being too prideful about himself or his successes. He earns your permission and builds his case so that it benefits you, not a personal agenda of his own.

You would do well to read the book. Even better to highlight helpful thoughts & quotes. Best to put into action his advice. But even if you don’t read it, be sure to count your days (Psalm 90:12).

By the way, I’ve lived 10,846 days thus far.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”