Monday, May 2, 2011

We've Moved!!!

Blogspot and I do not get along so well anymore. So I've moved. Here is the new site... Readers, guests, and "anonymous" lurkers are more than welcome to come on over. Out.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Here's what I'm reading...

"Now I Can Die In Peace" by Bill Simmons. A book by ESPN's Bill Simmons about his lifelong Boston Red Sox fandom, and how it was finally rewarded by their 2004 World Series title.

"Transforming Church in Rural America" by Shannon O'Dell. Pretty much exactly what the title indicates.

"Church Planter" by Darrin Patrick. Not so much about planting a church as it is about being the man God uses to plant His church.

Here's what I'm watching(my weekly television and film recommendations)...

"Get Low" , a film starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. Robert Duvall plays a 1930's-era hermit who wants to hold his funeral while he's still alive. Wouldn't give it an A, but it's well-acted, well-written, and raises provactive questions about forgiveness, legacy, and reconciliation.

"Modern Family" , a comedy that airs Wednesday nights on ABC. Quite simply the best comedy on television. Very few things make me laugh out loud, but this show does, on a weekly basis.

Here's what I'm clicking on(a website or two that I recommend)... A blog that invites readers to send in candid pictures of people wearing random sports jerseys, notably obscure and/or retired players. If you're even the slightest of sports fans, you should take a look. Pretty hilarious stuff. A pastor from New York City whose preaching and writing has deeply affected me, not only as a Christian, but as a pastor. Great stuff.

Here's what I'm listening to(music for this week)....

"The Cave" by Mumford and Sons. An amazing band, and I'm late to the party on this one.

"Wilderness" by the OC Supertones. One of my favorite songs ever, of any genre.

Look these up, because the blog isn't letting me post the links, for some reason. And thank me later.

Happy Thursday, everyone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Word for Wednesday...

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith." Hebrews 12:1-2a

There are going to be some changes around here...

I've been looking for that "magic formula" to make this whole blogging thing more consistent, enjoyable, and satisfying. And I think I've found it, thanks to a long-time friend, Alecia Whitaker. Each day, I'll post something different. "Special Guest Sunday"....a blog post or article by someone other than me, something I've found interesting, enlightening, fun, or helpful. "Min Mith Jesus Monday" original blog post by me, dealing with issues of faith. "Topical Tuesday" original blog post by me, dealing with something currently in the news. "Word for Wednesday"....a verse or passage of Scripture that I find especially challenging or encouraging. "Throwdown Thursday"....not sure where the "throwdown" part comes in. It just happens to be one of my favorite words. But I'll let you know what I'm currently reading(book), clicking on(website), listening to(music), and watching(TV/movie) that I'd like for you to check out as well. "Flashback Friday"...a story from my past that you'll hopefully find entertaining and/or interesting, and what I learned from it. "A Song for Saturday"....a song(music and/or lyrics) that I want you to hear for the weekend. I'm hoping(and expecting) that this will be a way for me to continue blogging(which I love) and avoid stagnancy(which I hate). Looking forward to days ahead... TP

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A couple of your criticisms are true....

I don't try to be eclectic for the sake of being eclectic(like some people do, so that they can say "Look how RANDOM I am! LOL!"). But I do have varying tastes in terms of interests, music, film, etc. So it may or may not come as a surprise to you(and by "you", I mean "whoever reads this", and by "whoever reads this", I mean "my wife") is that I have always enjoyed watching the last 30 or so minutes of the film "8 Mile", which stars Eminem as a struggling young rapper trying to find his footing in the music business. *A quick note to clarify that I've only seen this movie when it has aired on basic cable TV, so I've only seen the edited version. Which is all I need to see.* The last 1/4 or so of the movie is a rap battle tournament held in a crowded assembly hall in Detroit, where rappers face off with each other and move on to the next round based on crowd approval. Eminem's character, known as B Rabbit(I'm not making this up), advances to the championship, where he squares off against Papa Doc(I didn't make that up either). The two men have a history with one another, and it's not a pleasant one. In the moments before B Rabbit takes the stage, he is reminded by one of his friends of the ammo that Papa Doc has and is sure to use against him. Here's what happens(sorry for the spoiler, but you've had 10 years to watch this movie, so it's on you...). B Rabbit loses the coin flip, and Papa Doc decides to go second, so Eminem's character has to perform first. And he starts by rattling off all of the things about himself that Papa Doc was sure to mock a few minutes later. By doing so, he's getting it out of the way with brutal honesty, and completely disarming his opponent. When Papa Doc's turn rolls around, he has nothing to say...LITERALLY...and forfeits the mic. What does this have to do with anything? I've been a Christian for nearly 27 years, and it seems like the first 20 or so of those years was defending myself against the "ammo" thrown at me and others of the same faith by people who don't share that same faith. Objections to Christianity didn't feel like honest questions...they felt like grenades(and we were taught to treat them as such). I read and heard a lot of people saying that we needed to be "prepared for battle" against those who wished to criticize our faith, and they used military-esque phrases to describe what believers needed to do in order to respond.

*A clarification....not everyone who had objections to Christianity lobbed them like grenades. Many, if not most, were simply honest objections or questions, posed in a reasonable manner. But we were encouraged to view them as attacks in many cases.

So for 20 years, I spent a good bit of time defending my faith, learning to argue, and teaching others to treat criticism and tough questions the same way. But along the way, I realized that two of the "grenades" that I had been trying to defend myself(and my faith against) were actually.....true.

One is a criticism that I've heard for a long time(and it's probably been around a lot longer than that)...."Churches are full of hypocrites". That one stings, because nobody likes being called a hypocrite(and if they say they do, they're being hypocritical. So whatever). But it's a criticism that's been lobbed at church-going folks for as long as I've been around, and a lot longer. One of the definitions found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary for "hypocrite" reads as follows...."a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings". If that's the definition, then the criticism is true. The church is full of hypocrites. And I'm included. I know what I believe, and I believe it with the fullness of my soul. And I try to live in such a way that reflects those beliefs. But there are times(daily, in fact), when my actions, my thoughts, my attitudes betray those convictions, and betray those beliefs. There are times when I catch myself speaking, thinking, and acting in a way that is completely contradictory to my faith. That's when I'm a hypocrite. And it happens every day. Since I think most people are the same way, then I would have to agree...the church is full of hypocrites. The church is full of people who live inconsistently. Any honest Christian would admit to that. But admitting the hypocrisy isn't reason enough to pat ourselves on the back and say "look how honest we are...we're just so genuine, so transparent" and be done. The admission is the first step. Step two is change. Change to be more like Jesus. Change to love like He loved, serve like He served, teach like He taught, and lead lives that are, as the Bible states, "above reproach". In other words, to strive for our actions/thoughts/attitudes to be aligned with those of the Savior whom we claim to worship and serve. Simply admitting hypocrisy, and then doing nothing about it, isn't acceptable. The other grenade, and one that has taken on more traction in recent years, stems from a comment by one-time Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura(that is so strange to type...."Jesse Ventura" and "governor" in the same sentence), who famously stated that "Religion is a sham and a crutch". I think it goes without saying that I disagree with the "sham" comment. But the second part, the "crutch" part, that intrigues me. Actually, at first, it didn't intrigue angered me a bit. I assumed it was just Jesse Ventura trying to live up to his reputation for machismo and controversy. Then I realized that others had said it too, and it continued to be said. So I took a closer look. And here's what I realized: He's right. My faith is a crutch. My wife is on crutches at the moment. She uses them because it she is physically unable to walk without them. She uses them because if she relied solely on her own strength, she would fall. She uses them because it is too painful to hold herself up without any help. I have had a relatively easy life, I won't lie. I haven't been hit hard by tragedy. My family life has been stable and fulfilling. I have enjoyed a strong marriage, beautiful children, and God has provided me with steady employment, a ministry about which I'm excited, and friendships that encourage me. Others, most others in fact, have had a much harder road than I have. But I need a crutch. Could I go through life without faith? Sure I could. Many do. And they have good marriages, and lovely kids, and a fulfilling career, and health and prosperity and all those things. But I have questions in my soul, and my faith provides an answer for those questions. I need purpose, and my faith gives me that purpose. I want to hope, and my faith grants me that hope. I know myself. Without my faith, I would undoubtedly lead a life full of questions, uncertainty, emptiness, and anxiety about what to do with this life, and what awaits on the other side. And I would try to figure it all out myself, providing my own purpose/answers/hope/peace, and here's what would happen... I'd fall. I'd fall under the weight of my own shortcomings. I'd struggle against the weight of my own sin. I'd wilt in the awareness of my emptiness.

I know this because I know myself. I know this because there have been times when I've laid faith aside, so to speak, and tried to wrestle with the "big picture" questions, and not only have I made no progress in finding the answers, the lack of answers drives me to a real sense of hopelessness. And when I try to "fix" things myself, I either mess up(90 percent of the time) or burn myself out trying(10 percent of the time).

So I need a crutch, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

Sometimes I think that more people outside the church would have a different view of the church if it was just honest about things. Instead of kneejerk reaction to perceived attacks(such as the "hypocrite" and "crutch" comments), a genuine, honest response would probably make a difference.

Yes, faith is a crutch. And that's okay.

Yes, the church is full of hypocrites. And that's not okay.

I'm not afraid to admit either one.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I am just like this tin of mints....

On my desk is a tin of mints. It's round, and divided into two equal sections. Each section has a flip-up tab. Each section is also marked. One section is marked as "To Share". The other section is marked as "Not to Share". When you flip up the "Not to Share" tab, it opens an entire half of the lid. Mints aplenty. When you flip the "To Share" tab on the other side, it opens a section of the lid about the size of a keyhole. Minimal mints. Does this seem odd to you too? I mentioned it to my wife a long time ago. Her theory(and she is a bright woman, so this may very well be true) is that it's because of germs. You'd rather your own fingers touch the majority of your own mints, so that side is bigger. Whereas, the other side is smaller so that if someone asks for a mint(or if you offer one), you can just flip open a smaller section and rattle one out and into the palm of their hand. Less of a germ risk, that way. I can see where she's coming from. But I am still curious about it. I've even thought of contacting the manufacturer of the mints to ask why they designed the tins this way. Whatever the reason behind the design, this I know for sure... I am just like that tin of mints. The things I should be sharing, I limit. Encouragement is reserved for friends and others in my faith community. Love(and I don't mean love as in the love that you know Jesus called you to exhibit, I mean truly caring, selfless, giving love) is limited to family and close friends. Time is even more limited. And don't even get me started on my resources. Sharing one's faith is a tricky proposition, because while it is commanded in the Scriptures(and should be a normal flow of one's own relationship with God), it is so often done in such a way that it turns off the hearer. So rather than prayerfully figure out the RIGHT way to encourage others to a life with Jesus, most of the time we shy away from the whole deal altogether. And while that's certainly more comfortable for us, it's also blatant disobedience(and indicative of a limited love for others, as well). So it sits squarely on the "small tab" side of the tin. You get my point. The very things that I should be exhibiting in abundance, I keep close to my vest, almost hoarding them for those within my inner circle. The very things that I should be sharing with everyone are the things which I typically share only with those who the closest to me. And on the flip side....I'm more than willing to quickly type a status update on Facebook about a movie or a trip or something my kids are doing, and fire it off to 1,300 friends. Multiple times a day, in fact. And there's nothing wrong with that. But in the grand scheme of things, shouldn't THOSE be the things that I limit moreso than I do the love, encouragement, support, time, energy, resources, and influence that God has gifted me to show? Just like that tin, I have everything backwards. And it's going to take a conscious effort to flip it. But that's what Christianity is, or at least...what it should be. Stepping back from everything to make sure that we're sharing what needs to be abundance. Maybe you feel the same way.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Sometimes a Sequel is Unnecessary.

Hollywood isn't just a trendy town. It's a town build on trends. Just pay attention to television and movie advertisements. You start to see a pattern relatively quickly. For example...earlier this decade, ABC debuts an intricately designed series called "Lost", about strangers stranded on a desert island and discovering secrets about each other, themselves, and the island itself. It's a huge hit, a national phenomenon. So what happens next? At least a half-dozen shows along the same vein, rolled out by the networks in the year or two following the meteoric rise of "Lost". It happens in movies, too. When I worked in Hollywood, there was a race between two movie studios to see who would release their volcano picture first. Universal Studios was competing with 20th Century Fox to see which film would reach theaters quicker...Universal's "Dante's Peak" or Fox's "Volcano". For the record, neither was very good. There is a new trend that appears to have some legs, some staying power. For years, Hollywood has banked on sequels, follow-ups to successful(and occasionally, only moderately successful) films. These movies have a built-in audience, familiarity with characters, and studios can lock up stars and directors long-term at reasonable cost. Plus, frankly, it is easier than coming up with an entirely new idea. So for about 30 years or so, starting with "The Godfather Part II", Hollywood has been churning out sequels, most of the profitable, and spending a large amount of time not just looking for great movies, but franchises. But a few years ago, something different happened. Director Ang Lee made a movie featuring the popular character "The Incredible Hulk" of Marvel Comics. It was a surefire hit, marketed to to the extreme, with a built-in audience and a high level of familiarity. There was just one was terrible. So the movie studio acted as if the film had never happened, and made a NEW Hulk movie, just five years later. It was better....MUCH better. They called it a "reboot". A popular brand gets a complete makeover. And it has become all the rage. The awful Batman movies of the late 1990's have given way to the Christopher Nolan-directed reboots "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight". The Superman franchise was re-booted, and is now in line for ANOTHER reboot. Other franchises are awaiting the same fate, and others have already been rebooted with mixed results. Why the sudden trend towards reboots, and away from sequels? Quite simply, it gives a movie studio the chance for a do-over. Different look. Different feel. Different stars. Different direction. And it gives the studio a chance to learn from its previous mistakes(a la "The Hulk"), and atone for its cinematic sins. It's a pretty fascinating concept, though it's sure to find itself overplayed just like every other Hollywood trend(the newest being the fascination with 3-D films). Why am I writing about this? It's New Year's Day. Which, in and of itself, is a natural time for self-examination, self-evaluation, and goal-setting. I've had a lot of time over the past few weeks for some soul-searching. I'm prone to do that. Usually, when this happens, I find myself finding some faults, and wanting to fix those faults by returning to a previous time when that area of my life was going swimmingly. Hence, a sequel...a second act to an existing story, if you will. But this time, to be honest...I didn't like what I saw. At all. When I looked at the different areas of my life(faith, work, home, relationships, church), I was startled at how frequently I have come up short in those areas, in actions, words, and attitudes. It's not a happiness issue, my circumstances are pretty good right about now. It's just that I feel like there could be so much MORE to my life right now, so much more fulfillment, so much more vigor, and yet I'm coasting, sometimes unconsciously, other times quite consciously. This stark reality came to me one night in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Kansas City. I was alone in my hotel room, late one night, with nothing to watch on television and nothing to read. These moments almost force you to ponder things, deep things. And on that particular night, I just took a few minutes to look at the different areas of my life, to see what WAS happening vs. what COULD be happening. And it's quite a gap. That night, I realized that I wasn't very happy with myself. And this isn't some lame attempt at self-pity(though I've been guilty of that in the past). And to go into detail about the ways in which I found fault myself would do no good for any of us. I'll just leave it this way...I didn't like what I saw, and I knew a change was needed. Typically, when I reach this point about anything, my natural reaction is, as I said above, a sequel. Figure out what worked in the past, and go back to that place, and pick up from there. But this new realization was so broad, so deep, and so startling that a sequel just won't cut it. I can't just go back to the way things were months, years ago. I don't need a sequel. I need a reboot. Same place. Same "characters". Same broad story. But everything else needs a new beginning, a fresh start. Every area needs a complete makeover. No drastic changes in my circumstances, that's not the issue. The issue is ME. I need to quit coasting(whether subconsciously or consciously), and be intentional about life, and living it, and living it the way I've been called to. Some of that involves attitude, some of that involves words, some of that involves actions, things I've NOT been doing that I need to, and things I've been doing that I need to leave behind. Going back to how things were in 1997, or 2007, or even three months ago won't cut it. God has granted me a life full of blessings and opportunities. If I spend even one second looking back, I'll miss out on what is right in front of me. So He's calling me not to a sequel, where I try to recapture old magic and go from there. He's calling me to a fresh start, a clean slate, a new story. And I have to admit, that's a pretty freeing thing.