Prayers from the Psalms: 149

God, I will always remember you in my victories. The greatest blessing of this life is to be the agent of your will on earth, to be a part of your plan. Serving you is the most exciting pursuit of my days; I often lay awake at night just thinking about the great things I see you doing. I am grateful for how you use me in the lives of others both to encourage and lift up and to stop the plans of evil. Your love is poured out to me in the joy of service to you. Through all of this, I will always and only depend completely on you: your strength, wisdom, and courage are my sustenance. As I rely on you and praise you in everything, I also seek to honor you by striving to be great and excellent in your name.

All glory goes to you. I will always reflect praise to you for your power and your victory as I live out this most glorious privilege: to be your man upon the earth.

Prayers from the Psalms: 150

God, I know the mighty things you have done in the world and in my life. I know that you are alone in your holiness and greatness: nothing even begins to come close to you. Your people on earth and your servants in heaven, those who know you and experience your greatness, can’t help but sing and shout your praise.

My only response is to praise with everything I have at my disposal: my gifts and abilities, my body and my voice, my words and my creativity. I add my praise to that of all creation which erupts with the call: “Praise the Lord!”

The Secret Weapon For Creativity Your Church Already Has

Tony Morgan is currently writing a series of posts focusing on the idea that for most churches, whether conservative, contemporary, or modern, their services are predictable and stale (stale is my word, but it doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see it in his posts).

I’d encourage you to head over there right now for a great article sharing “9 Reasons Your Church Services Are Stuck in a Rutt“.

I wanted to add one final item to his list:

Church services are growing stale because we have devalued “minor league ministry”.

If it’s not Sunday morning, then it’s considered secondary. That means children’s ministry, youth ministry, women’s ministry, small groups, worship night, prayer breakfast, and the rest. Church leaders know they are important, but they are never given the same amount of thought, effort, or resources that “the big leagues” get.

In some ways, that makes logical sense: Sunday morning is probably when you have the most people, so putting resources there gives you the most bang for the proverbial (and literal) buck. But this tendency can also cause all sorts of problems, including a redundant, stale, predictable worship service every week.

How can smaller ministries in a church help refresh and improve the worship service? There are a few ways.

Smaller ministries can be more nimble and creative

If you have a smaller team, a simpler process, a quicker turn-around from idea to execution, you can often be more successful than someone with with far more resources. It’s true in every area of life from business, to sports, to ministry (check out the story of the Wright Brothers for a great example of this). Think of how many home-run ideas have been left on the table because not everyone could agree (the team was too big) or it was hard to see how to flesh them it out (complicated process). Smaller groups usually avoid those types of issues and that’s a huge strength that the rest of the church can benefit from.

But the smaller team is also more limited by resources, so they often can’t try many of the good ideas they have. Imagine what would happen if your church invested heavily in some of these more agile ministries for a season. They would be able to be even more creative and effective. And as they came up with programs, approaches, and systems that proved to be effective, those could then be adopted and adapted by other ministries. Everyone wins.

What to do…
  • Come up with a rotation where each “secondary” ministry receives the full support of the church (money, volunteers, staff, etc.) for a set period of time or for a special event and then borrow the good ideas that come out of it.
  • Look around at the more agile teams and ministries in your church and see if anything can be applied to Sunday mornings.
  • Invite certain leaders from other ministry teams at your church into the service planning process for a month and ask them to help you be creative.

Low-risk situations make it easier to try to new ideas

Once you decide to move forward on a new idea, smaller ministries are the perfect proving ground. No matter how good the idea might seem or how confident the leader might be, sometimes things just don’t work. It’s much easier to have a new idea fall flat during the women’s Bible study with 40 people than on Sunday morning with 400 people. Knowing this, you can be more liberal in trying new things because the risk is smaller but the potential pay-off is still very high. The smaller ministries will also benefit from the influx of new ideas.

What to do…
  • When someone has a new idea, try it somewhere besides Sunday morning and see how it goes. (Make sure to give it the full backing it needs to succeed)
  • If it falls flat, move on. If it works, hone it even more and move it into other areas.

Low-risk situations are helpful to grow new and diverse talent.

One of the biggest reasons things are the same is because the same people are coming up with the ideas. If the service planning team changed every week, I’m sure churches would see plenty of new ideas. But getting new people means training new people. It means giving them a chance to actually DO ministry. Yet most churches aren’t intentional about using various opportunities to develop those who are up-and-coming.

Many church leaders see these secondary ministries as a chore (children and youth ministry especially) rather than the opportunity that they can be in this context. By reevaluating the place of these “minor league” ministries, we can provide cutting edge ideas and quality talent for ministries that desperately need it. At the same time, those ideas and people that are successful can grow in influence and benefit the entire church (including Sunday morning).

What to do…
  • Use smaller ministries as low-pressure opportunities to give people real ministry experience. (e.g. teaching in youth group, leading a prayer breakfast, or planning the details of a smaller event)

Considering different audiences can help us break out of mental barriers

When we think a thought, neurons send out signals in our brains which travel across connections to other neurons. The connections that these signals travel is called a synapse and they can be built up and strengthened with use. That means the more we think a thought or pattern of thoughts, the stronger those connections become and the easier it is to think that same thought again. That’s usually a good thing as it allows us to learn and build habits. But it also means that, simply because of brain physiology, it’s physically harder for us to think different thoughts over time.

One of the best ways to break out of this mental trap is to change the context of your thoughts. Focusing the same creative process on a new ministry is exactly the kind of change in context that can lead to the creative breakthroughs every one of us is looking for (church leader and church attender alike).

What to do…
  • “Swap” ministry leaders and service planners between different programs for a few weeks to allow cross-pollination of ideas, creativity, and vision.
  • Have your service planning teams attend strategy meetings for other programs and help out coming up with new ideas to get their creativity flowing again.

I’m not sad that my kids are growing up

Every month or so, I see an article making the rounds on social media like this one. The author invariably shares a touching story about how fast kids grow up and how sad it is that they are no longer as young or small as they once were. Almost every time I read an article like this, I find myself taking the exact opposite perspective.

Now, I’m not trying to condemn these types of articles nor the people that write or share them.

Everyone struggles with change. It’s part of the curse of sin.

Things change— people come and go. This is sad because it means that relationships will transition and eventually end. This is what’s truly at the heart of this type of emotional response to children growing older.

In spite of this, the true biblical perspective is that children growing up should be one of the most joyful experiences a parent can have!

Our mission while on earth is to make disciples. Thus, my greatest goal for my children is to see them grow into devoted disciples of Jesus. That can’t happen when they’re 2 or 3. They need to grow and understand who He is and what He’s done for them. They can’t grow in their comprehension of the Gospel until they begin having experiences where they see and appreciate grace and sacrifice.

In short, they can’t mature in their relationship with Jesus unless they are maturing as people.

And as they mature as people, they begin relating to my wife and I in more mature ways. I know that as they grow up, I’m gaining two new, deep friendships with people I love. Why would I be sad about this process?

There is certainly something special about having a small human being who relies on me and (as with my kids) are unbelievably cute. But I would much rather see my kids grow into some of my best friends. And that’s why I say I’m glad that they’re growing up. I certainly don’t want to miss the special moments while they’re young, but I look forward even more to the special times we’ll share as they grow.

Are you people oriented or mission oriented?

Journaling this morning, I came to this realization: Everyone is either people oriented or mission oriented.

If you’re people oriented, people are your mission. You prioritize being around and serving a specific group or individual. If you’re mission oriented, your mission is people. You prioritize accomplishing the most with your life and who is around doesn’t matter.

Both have strengths and weaknesses. Which one are you? What are some strengths and weaknesses you have because of that orientation?

Stop Being Polite With God

One of the biggest lessons that I have been learning is that God wants us to engage Him deeply and with our whole selves.

Think about the kinds of things we often say or sing to God:

  • “I love you.”
  • “You are great and good.”
  •  “Please do this for me.”
  • “Here is something that happened today.”
  • “I’m not feeling well right now.”
  •  “I’m struggling with this situation.”

These are all good things, but do you see what is missing? There is no emotional depth! These are vague and surface level statements. They allow us to keep a wall around our deepest thoughts and emotions (or so we think). We can pray these statements and still present God with the version of ourselves that is neat, well kept, and well managed.

The problem is, that is not the version of us that God wants!

He wants the version of us that is broken, ragged, messy, emotional, explosive, incomplete, and insecure. He wants us to come to Him in our weakness and trust Him with our deep fears, pains, and questions.

Take a minute and read Psalm 6 (NLT).

2 Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.

3 I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me?

6 I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears.

7 My vision is blurred by grief; my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.

Does that kind of emotion and brokenness make you uncomfortable?

The author is sharing his deepest emotions with God. This is the raw and untamed part of his innermost being. He presents it to God in a way that says, “I don’t have this figured out or under control, but I’m inviting you right into the middle of it.” By the end of the Psalm, the pain is not gone, but the Psalmist has hope as he allows God to impact him (verses 8-10).

Let me encourage you to forsake the refined, polite, put-together version of yourself when you relate to God. Bring Him the depths of who you are and let Him impact you on that level.

The Prodigal Son

When Jesus told the story, it was more about the legalistic son who stayed behind than the pleasure-seeking son who left. This becomes clear when we examine the details of the returning son’s repentance.

  • The son “comes to himself” and realizes how stupid he is being by living separate from his father
  • The father does not seek after his son, only keeps an eye out for him with loving expectation

If the story was truly focused on paralleling the salvation experience, the son would realize how unhappy he was with the pigs, but because of his pride he would rather stay with them than return home. His father would come and rescue him out of his prideful despair before the son had even considered going home.

The Final Explanation of Why Evernote is Awesome

A few months ago, I wrote a book called Mastering Evernote: The Two Hour Guide. It’s been reviewed almost 200 times and downloaded over 30,000 times.

All that to say, people are curious about Evernote.

When people find out that I wrote a book about Evernote, they usually ask me one of the following questions, “What is Evernote? Why is it so great? Should I use it? Is it better than my current system?”

The answer is easier to experience than it is to explain. For that reason, I often find myself giving people examples of how Evernote has saved me time and energy and helped keep me organized, but often this falls short of an “ah ha!” moment for the listener. Toward that end, I’ve thought through a simple, thorough answer to these questions that I hope will lead to nothing less than an “ah ha!” moment for every person who reads this article.

Evernote is a universal information container

Right now, you have lots of places to keep your information: Word documents, binders with physical paper, contact books, browser links, folders of images on your computer, folders with important emails. Evernote provides a place for all of these things to come together. I’m not suggesting that you should put everything in Evernote. I’m suggesting that you put ALMOST everything in Evernote.

Why? Because then you know exactly where to look for it. Everything is managed in one powerful database.

“But how will I keep all of that organized?” I was just getting to that…

Evernote emphasizes topical rather than hierarchical organization

Right now, you normally store your digital stuff in a hierarchy. On a windows PC, that looks like a bunch of folders with other folders inside of them, and so on.

You have a work folder and a personal folder. In the work folder, you have a projects folder, a trips folder, a documents folder, a receipts folder, and so on. In your documents folder, you have a meeting notes folder, a reports folder, a memos folder, and so on.

So when you want to find something, you have to:

  1. Know exactly where it is in the hierarchy. “Did I put that email from my boss in memos or in the project folder that it was related to?” If you don’t know the answer to that question, you have quite a few clicks ahead of you to find it.
  2. Move through every level of hierarchy even if you know exactly where you want to end up. If the item you’re looking for is 7 levels deep in your hierarchy, you have to click through all 7 levels of folders no matter what.

To summarize: Hierarchy is not the best way to organize stuff.

It used to make sense. But not anymore. Now we have topical organization and it’s a million times better. Instead of putting something in one place, we can label or tag it with as many topics as we want. Then we can view those topics later and see everything that relates to those topics.

“But,” you say, “I’m really good at hierarchy. I’m used to thinking this way; it’s how my mind works. I’m an organized person. I always know exactly where I put something.”

Even if that is true, I can almost guarantee that hierarchy is still a bad idea. Here’s why.

First, hierarchy takes mental energy to create, maintain, and use. Everything has to have a place and everything has to be in the right place or the system breaks down. The problem is that sometimes it makes logical sense for something to belong in more than one place and it can only end up in one spot. With labels or tags, you can associate something with multiple topics and it’s a far more organic form of organization.

Secondly, hierarchy allows for only one search type. When you put things in a folder, they are grouped in that folder forever. Unless you rearrange them, they will always be viewed together and will never be viewed along with anything else. With tags, you can view things in 100 different ways depending on what your looking for.

If you have a folder for each project with meeting notes in each folder, you have no way of viewing all of your meeting notes at once. You have to open up each folder individually… LAME.

If you’re using tags, you can view anything tagged with “meeting notes”, OR you can view anything tagged with a specific project title… WAY BETTER.

Thirdly, hierarchy breaks down with lots of information. Face it, the more you add to your hierarchy, the more time it takes to use and maintain it. More folders, more sub-folders, more clicks, more time spent organizing, more forgetting exactly where you put something.

Imagine if you went to Google one day and found that they had completely changed how they do online search. Instead of a search box where you can type what you’re looking for, you see 4 large categories you can click. Maybe they are something like:

  • Animal
  • Vegetable
  • Mineral
  • Other

If you’re looking for something like recipes for chocolate fondue, where would you click? There’s no way to know which one is the right topic. Even if you knew exactly where to find those recipes, imagine how long it would take you to navigate to the recipe. The thing that makes Google so great is that they can look at content online and figure out what it is about. Then when you’re looking for that, they show it to you. That is amazing when you think about it! There are millions and millions of things it COULD show you, but it shows you the right thing. That is the power of topical organization.

You’re not going to save the whole internet in your Evernote, but you will likely end up with thousands and thousands of things stored there. When that time comes, you will want topical search.

Evernote is the easiest and fastest place to put stuff

The folks at Evernote have made it completely seamless to save something whether you’re reading it online, in your email inbox, or on a piece of paper in your hand. Every other system has more “friction”. That means it will take you more time and effort to store something than it does with Evernote.

  • Emails can be forwarded right into Evernote.
  • Documents and files can be sent to Evernote with 2 clicks.
  • Web pages can be sent to Evernote with 2 clicks.
  • Audio can be recorded right into Evernote using your smartphone or tablet.
  • Pictures can be snapped directly into Evernote.
  • You can even automate things going into Evernote (for example, “Every time I post a picture on Facebook, save it to Evernote as well.”).

Evernote is with you everywhere you go

With Evernote, all of your stuff is saved online. That means you can sit down on a public computer at a library in Mongolia and have access to all of your stuff. You can be standing outside a locked building where you thought you had a meeting and pull up the meeting details you saved in Evernote on your smartphone to make sure you’re at the right place (yes, I’ve done this before). You put something into Evernote on your tablet and it will be on your computer and your phone automatically.

Evernote has super-powers

  • Optical Character Recognition (OCR) means that Evernote can “look” at a picture of a scanned newspaper article and “read” every word on the page. It can read handwriting (even if it’s a little messy), signs, license plates, business cards… you get the idea.
  • Evernote remembers where something was made. If you take a picture of a house you’re interested in buying on your smartphone, Evernote can use your GPS to save the coordinates right into the note (automatically, without your help). Then it can show you where your notes were created on a map.
  • Evernote remembers where something came from. It can tell you if something came from an email, a web page, from your computer, or from your phone… automatically, without your help.

I can almost guarantee that your current system doesn’t do any of these.

There you have it. Hopefully you can see why Evernote is valuable. If you haven’t had the “ah ha!” moment… then you’re hopeless.

Just kidding, let me know in the comments if you have questions or if it still doesn’t make sense. Also, here is a good article that also might help you think through some things.

Why Pagan Christianity Was a Great Book That I Completely Disagreed With

Yesterday I finished reading (actually listening to (stop judging me)) Frank Viola’s book,Pagan Christianity. It has George Barna’s name on it too, but it’s pretty obvious to me that it is mostly Viola’s work. If you’ve never heard of the book, I’ll warn you right now that it is one of the most controversial I have come across in quite a while, and for good reason. The book makes some very bold accusations and statements that need to be inspected and evaluated very carefully.

I will make a few general statements about ideas in the book, but there is something that the book did for me beyond the ideas inside of it. It gave voice to longings and intuitions that I have been experiencing for years in a way that I have never been able to. That is really why I’m writing this. So if you want to skip to that, jump to the “What I liked about the book” section.

NOTE: I don’t want this to be a review of the book so much as a response to it. I’m not going to respond to each point made, but rather talk about how it has impacted my thinking and some of the conclusions I’ve come to about the book itself and about the church.

Without a doubt I have not been so riveted to a Christian non-fiction book for quite a while. Early on I could sense that the book was striking a cord within me and that feeling only strengthened as I continued. At the same time, I saw that the ideas presented in the book could potentially change the way I think about the church, the way I do ministry, even the way I live my life in general. The stakes were high.

To give you a little context, the premise of the book is that much of the way we “do church” today (most of it according to Viola) was not birthed from logical interpretation of the scripture, but was borrowed from pagan religions and culture. Viola mentions nearly everything associate with church today: preaching, a church building, pews, hymns, the choir, the pulpit, the offering, the pastor, dressing up…

There’s probably more that I missed. The point is, Viola feels that we are doing almost everything wrong (in fact I can’t think of one thing he points out that is going well). What’s more, he claims that things have been wrong for at least a thousand years. Much of the book traces practices in the church and attempts to demonstrate how they are not found in scripture but in the pagan religions and secular culture of the ancient world.

To give you one quick example of this, he traces the roots of the modern day sermon (logical, extended treatise that is thought out and then delivered to an audience) back to ancient Greece where philosophers and orators sometimes became traveling speakers to make a living. They made it a point to be very high-minded without saying much that actually made practical sense. Eventually, as Christianity became the state religion and people began joining the church, these men switched over and began speaking about Christian ideas in churches.

Viola has many pages discussing different practices and traditions in the same way. I have read other reviewers (many who are smarter and more educated than I) who call into question the historical statements he makes, but that is mostly irrelevant in my mind.

The other side of the book’s argument is that the practices and traditions of churches are actually preventing the members of the church from growing, serving, and being fulfilled in and focused on Christ. This idea is a much greater issue and this is where I want to park.

Before we get to that, I want to say that after thinking slowly and carefully through the biblical logic set out in the book, I’ve found it somewhat lacking. For example, Viola says that the modern day pastor (a ministry professional with authority in the church who does most of the preaching and is payed by the church) is not only absent from scripture but contradicts biblical principles.

Anyone who has taken a class on Ecclesiology (the study of the church) will be able to recall multiple passages that fly in the face of this statement. 1 Timothy 5:17 speaks directly of financial compensation for elders and 1 Peter 5:4 (as well as many other passages in the pastoral epistles) refers to key elders having authority as “undershepherds” (with Christ as the chief shepherd).

I think the reason that Viola ends up ignoring such clear teaching in scripture is because he has some different views in other key areas of theology. He seems completely opposed to the idea of dispensationalism and the imminent return of Christ (claiming that this view prompts an unbiblical time-crunch in regards to the evangelization of the world).

He also has a very charismatic view of God’s will, God’s Word, and the church.

He implies in one section that logic is a secular construct and we should not force it on God or on God’s Word. He almost laments modern-day schools and seminaries where the scripture is exegeted and studied methodically in a logical way. However, logic is not man-made. In fact, it could be argued that logic is simply an extension of who God is. God is truth. How can there be truth without logic (the basic premise of logic is essentially that if one thing is true, it’s opposite is false)? God is also described in the Bible as a God of order and not chaos. Order implies logical rules and systems. We also see God’s logic in the natural systems he built into nature and the universe. To summarize, the value in this book for me wasn’t the arguments and points that Viola makes.

What I liked about the book

Despite all of that, I’m glad I read it. Very glad.

It helped me rip out old ways of thinking about how church should be done. Doing something for years has a way of limiting your creativity and willingness to consider other ways of doing that thing. That’s how it is with church.

Having someone so vehemently deny the validity of how I’ve always done church prompted me to clear out the assumptions I have been carrying with me and draw completely fresh conclusions. Viola also raises a few great points that do resound with both biblical truth and factual accuracy.

If you were to delete everything that is currently done by most churches (programs and traditions, things like a 1 hour worship service once per week, Sunday School, prayer meeting, singing songs, a 30 minute sermon, youth group, etc.) and then rebuild it to accomplish what the Bible says it should be accomplishing, how different would it look?

Breaking with tradition

  • What is the point of Sunday School? Evangelism? Teaching? Relational discipleship? Whatever your answer, the follow-up question needs to be: how well is it accomplishing that purpose?
  • What is the point of Prayer Meeting? Why do we have a meeting just for praying but we don’t have meetings just for praising? Are either of those the best use of our time while meeting together?
  • Why do we sit in a building filled with pews with a pulpit in the front? Why not sit at round tables where people can connect and grow together?
  • Why do our services follow the same pattern week after week? Why not completely rewrite the order of service every other month?
  • Why do sermons have to be 30 or 40 minutes of one person talking and zero minutes of everyone else talking? Why can’t a sermon be 20 minutes of one person talking intermixed with two 10 minute periods of people discussing what is being said? Why can’t a sermon have a dramatic monologue or a personal testimony from someone else in the middle to demonstrate a point?
  • What if the sermon came toward the beginning of the service and praise came toward the end after people had spent time being exposed to who God is?
  • Does the idea of official church membership come from scripture or is it just a good idea?

Here’s my point: people aren’t asking these kinds of questions in most churches. Part of the problem is that it’s easier to do what we’ve always done. Part of the problem is that it’s just hard to think differently about certain things.

But the bigger problem is that many people see elements of tradition as being prescribed in the Bible.

Or at least that getting rid of them would be unbiblical. For example, if someone suggested getting rid of Sunday night service or Prayer Meeting, many would react with something like, “Boy, isn’t that a sign of the times? People today always want to spend less time learning about God!”

If people think that Sunday School is in the Bible and that having a church meeting without preaching is unbiblical, they will never search out or entertain ideas that would help them do those things differently or better.

What’s missing from church?

The larger issue and the thing that most saddens me is not that we are stuck in tradition, but that many of the traditions we have hold us back from accomplishing what the church exists to do.

The church does not exist for preaching. It does not exist for teaching. Those are great things and I believe they should be a PART of what we do at church, but not 70% of it (do the math, it’s about that much). If you take away preaching/teaching and singing from what is commonly done at most churches, what remains? Not much, if anything. Do we really believe that this is how Jesus intended it to be?

Most churches fall far short of their biblical mandate to live life together as a community centered on Christ.

It is rare for a church to be full of people with deep, spiritual relationships with one another. Those who do end up with these kinds of connections are the exception rather than the rule. I think this is not because people don’t want that kind of community, but because our programs and traditions make it difficult (impossible?) to consistently develop this kind of relationship.

Another factor that gets swallowed up by such a teaching-heavy approach to church is the practice of mutual ministry among church members. If only one person is talking over 70% of the time in our church gatherings, how can there be any significant ministry of the people one to another? This is what leads to the “consumer mentality” that so many lament in our churches today. Pastors and church leaders bemoan the lethargy of most church members and then structure nearly every program so that there can be only formal, one-to-many opportunities for ministry.

In a world where 75% of people suffer from a fear of public speaking, it is no wonder we have a generation of bench-warmers.

In some cases people just don’t want to obey God. But I believe the true diagnosis has nothing to do with people not loving God and more to do with simple statistics.

What exactly should we do?

There’s not a simple solution to where we are. For certain our churches need more open, honest discussion about change. When there are people who are defending tradition without a good reason, we need to be willing to challenge them lovingly and biblically. When conflict arises, we need to address it and when selfishness appears, we need to confront it.

But every church will end up taking a different journey. Every community and every congregation will end up somewhere different. I’m good with that, as long as we don’t end up exactly where we were before.

13 Ways to Buy a House Better

My wife and I just bought and moved into our first home. Throughout the process, I’ve been learning and observing things that will help you buy a house better (not necessarily buy a better house, but to buy a house better… in a better way). I’m not an expert (I’ve only bought one house in my life), but the experience is fresh in my mind so I think this is an appropriate time to write this guide.

Get your paperwork together and get pre-qualified for a loan

Pre-qualification is great for a lot of reasons. It gives you an idea of what your monthly payments will look like, it makes your offer look better to sellers when you want to buy their house, and it makes the actual process of getting a mortgage a little bit faster and smoother when your offer on house is actually accepted.

Before you go in to get prequalified though, get all of your ducks in a row. Tax forms, pay stubs, all of it. Get it all together somewhere safe and accessible (preferably, scan it all and save it as a PDF file that you can then email to your bank). Getting things together on the front end can save you literally weeks on the back end. If you’re not sure which documents to collect, check your banks website or call them and ask.

Look at a potential house more than once

A few days after moving into our new house, I walked into the bathroom and realized for the first time that there was a ceiling fan in it. I’d been in the bathroom probably half a dozen times but I’d never noticed that fan.

The point of the story is that you miss a lot of details when you’re looking at a house. sometimes those details are trivial (like a ceiling fan), but they can also be a potential headache. Keep this in mind as you look at potential houses. If you’re seriously considering purchasing a particular place, go back and walk through multiple times (at least 3) to also make sure you’re seeing everything.

Don’t confuse the excitement of buying a home with the excitement of buying a certain house

This is more for first-time home buyers (like my wife and I were). When you’re standing in a nice house that meets all of your needs and requirements, it’s easy to get excited about the possibility of owning a home. Be careful not to mistake this feeling with excitement about that specific house.

It’s hard to tell the difference, but keeping this idea in mind will be the first step. Ask yourself, “What really sets this house apart from others that I’ve seen? Why do I like it? If I’m still living here in 20 years, will I still be glad I bought this house?”

Above all, make sure you…

Sleep on it and keep looking

If you fall in love with a house, make sure you do 2 things: sleep on it, and look at some other houses. Sometimes we’re so focused on certain details that we miss the big picture. Other times we’re impressed with a house overall and we forget about certain details that will bother us for years. Take your time. Make sure you have 1 or 2 nights of sleep between first seeing a house and buying it (not matter how nice it seems).

Additionally, keep looking. You may already have your mind made up, but make sure you do your due diligence. My wife and I found an incredible house early one house-hunting day and we felt like going back to our realtor’s office and buying it right then. Instead, we went and finished looking at the other 6 houses that we had on the list to look at that day. There were some other nice houses that really surprised us. We ended up buying the original one, but the other houses really helped us get good perspective.

Ask  dumb questions

This really applies to all the steps of the process. Make sure that you are actively thinking and asking questions throughout the process. Inevitably, you’ll end up sounding ignorant once or twice, but it’s worth it. The other (good) questions you ask may mean the difference between an OK house and the house of your dreams.

Ask advice

This should be obvious, but I’m putting it in here for those who struggle with overconfidence. There are tons of people out there who have made mistakes and they can help you avoid making those same mistakes. Talk to people about buying a house. Ask what they would do differently.

To take it another step, take lots of pictures of perspective properties and show them to trusted friends and family to get new insight. Don’t let a week of pride cause you years of frustration.

Take advice with a grain of salt

It’s obvious that people give advice from a different perspective than you, but that’s even more pronounced when you’re asking advice about picking a place to live. A friend of mine who works in heating and air told us to make sure we had a house with a basement, not one with a crawl space or built on a slab. Some friends who are feeling cramped in their home encouraged us to buy a house that was a little run-down but large and incredibly spacious.

It’s great to get advice, but make sure you take each piece of advice with a grain of metaphorical salt. If someone recommends a certain course of action (like getting a basement), ask them why they think that is important. This will give you an idea of where they are coming from.

Get a home inspection

When you’ve got an accepted offer on a house, make absolutely sure you get a whole home inspection. Every time, no matter what, without exception… always…

Enough said.

Get a competing bid on a mortgage

Make sure to get at least one competing bid on your mortgage. If you’re not sure where to go for a competing bid, your realtor can probably recommend some quality places.

In our case, we got our first estimate from Chase, and then we got an estimate from a local (smaller) place. The local place actually had a better rate and told us that they could probably process our loan faster than Chase. I told Chase what the smaller was place going to do for us and they ended up giving us a really sweet deal to ensure that we would choose them. This one step could potentially save you tens of thousands of dollars over the course of your loan.

Try to group your housing insurance with other insurance

Most larger insurance places offer discounts if you have more than one kind of insurance with them (i.e. car, life, housing, etc.). Check and see if your car and/or life insurance place offers these kinds of discounts.

Let the store deliver large appliances

After you’ve purchased your home and taken possession, you’ll probably need to buy a few large appliances (fridge, washer, dryer, etc.). It’s a really good idea to get those from a place that will deliver and install those for you without additional cost.

We did this with our fridge. The Lowes guys did an excellent job. They measure our doorways to make sure they could get it into place, unboxed, it, moved it (with a lot of skill I might add), and even made sure it was balanced correctly before they left. It was really nice to just watch the whole thing happen.

Don’t fill the house up right away

If you’re a first-time home buyer, getting all moved in can be a little underwhelming. The house probably feels a little empty. You can probably think of 20 different things you could buy to make it better, comfier, and warmer. But don’t. Do a few things, but make sure to spread out your purchases.

First, it’s better for your budget and cash flow. But besides that, you’ll probably come up with better/new ideas about decorating and arranging after a few weeks or months of living in your new place. Better to let all the good ideas come before you go and spend a whole heap of cash making it “perfect”.

Decorate to make it feel like home

Finally, after your boxes are all unpacked, decorate your house. Not just with pictures and posters, but with seasonal decorations too. I was amazed at how quickly our house felt like home after my wife put up all of our Christmas decorations. It felt good. It was a simple step that added a lot to the whole experience.

What lessons have you learned that you would pass on to others looking to purchase a house?