Jul 27, 2005

The Strangest Place

So, the trip to Vegas is over. The last few days were kind of hectic, so I wasn't able to post. I'll use this post as a summary of my time there. My next post will deal with traveling back. And then look for non-Vegas posts later this week.

100 Years of Vegas. The signs were all over. Apparently this is the Centennial Celebration for the Neon Nightmare. In one-hundred years, we have gone from a dusty desert town to a thriving metropolis with enormous buildings, hotels, and casinos. Millions of tourists come every year to see this testimony to human creativeness. There is a 50% scale Eiffel Tower. There are exact replicas of the Statue of Liberty, Michelangelo's David, and a whole casino based on clowns (eesh). There are also enough burlesque and adult shows to satisfy a whole branch of the military. Seriously, though, the architecture is pretty impressive. The whole city is about marketing. The hotel/casino areas are constructed to funnel you towards more opportunities to spend money - the slots, the restaurants, the shops. Name branding is everywhere. I stayed at the MGM Grand. And in case I forgot, that was on the trashcans, five TV channels, the showerhead, the bars of soap, the tiles in the bathroom, the four pens in my room (now in my bag), basically everything but the furniture (missed opportunity there). And if I was completely braindead, I could look out my window and see the gleaming green walls and remember that it was "The Emerald City." And all of them are done the same way. Brand recognition gone nutty.

Well, on Saturday, I had been sitting through sessions all week - and the lady doing this all-day one decided to rehash the one-hour one she had done on Friday. So I made the choice to bolt. I had not really gone out anywhere. I had rented a car which sat in the parking garage all week. So I went and found the Hard Rock Hotel to buy a pin (what a loser place that was). Then I hopped on the Interstate to sightsee. A friend at work had told me to go find the Valley of Fire and the Hoover Dam. Since the only one on my map was the Valley of Fire, that settled it. I turned my Pontiac Sunfire with its part-time AC north on I-15 and drove. It is amazing how fast you exit Vegas. It is about 15 minutes from one end to the other on the highway. And then you are in .... the desert. Being a Florida boy, I am used to water being everywhere. I also am used to no elevation and lots of trees. The opposite of that what was I encountered. I had a good 40 miles to cruise, and look at the scenery of the Mojave Desert. Here's what I saw: rocks, dirt, a few sprigs of brush, rocks, dirt, mountains, dirt, rocks. Drive drive drive. Dirt dirt dirt. Lots of grays, browns, tans, khakis, taupes, borings.

Well, finally I hit the Valley of Fire State Park, plunk down my six bucks and make the last bend. Gasp. Everywhere around the rocks, mountains, boulders are now orange-red. They look like terra cotta pottery. There are windblown arches, caves, gigantic rock formation. They look like they got dropped there from somewhere else. As you kept driving, there were climbing cliffs of orange-red and stark white. On the other side of the road you could see the boring desert. I have no idea how this one area came to be there. For about ten miles, you drive through this absolutely bizarre and beautiful place. I would just stop my car and stare, trying to get some lousy pics with my camera phone. For the first time in a week, I was awestruck.

And it hit me. It took man 100 years to build a city of concrete, neon, and flashing lights - one of the crown jewels of architecture and marketing. And the thing that I took back with me - the first thing I took a picture of - was a pile of rocks. Rocks. Those are like throwaways of God's creation. There was more beauty and wonder in a ten mile stretch of stinking rocks than in an entire city of wonders. I had been listening to my iPod on the drive on shuffle. As I was heading back through the park, still amazed at the sights, one of my favorite Steven Curtis Chapman songs came on.
How could I stand here / And watch the sun rise
Follow the mountains / Where they touch the sky
Ponder the vastness / And the depths of the sea
And think for a moment / The point of it all was to make much of me
Cause I'm just a whisper / And You are the thunder and
I want to make much of You, Jesus
I want to make much of Your love
I want to live today to give You the praise
That You alone are so worthy of
I want to make much of Your mercy
I want to make much of Your cross
I give You my life / Take it and let it be used
To make much of You (Click here for full lyrics)

That was a pretty good lesson to take back from the conference. We work so hard to strive, achieve, and make much of ourselves and our lives. But it isn't about us. It is about Him. And even when we put our biggest accomplishments on display, they will get trumped by a rock, a tree, a river, a lake, a planet. Really puts things in perspective. My return drive to Vegas was made in a much different mindset, and that city was seen in such a different light upon my arrival. It was like the city and desert switched places.

Jul 21, 2005

The Brotherhood

The sessions today were less than spectacular. They were okay, but not quite as good as yesterday - except for one (taught by the guy from yesterday). Since they provided lunch, we were in the Caesar's Complex the whole day - I didn't leave there until almost 8:00. Of course, that was because I had dinner with a minister from a church plant out here. It was great - the food was good and the conversation was even better.

I had never met Dwight before tonight - we had exchanged emails over the last couple of weeks. He was a co-worker of a friend of mine that I went to school with years ago. We decided to have dinner tonight since I was in town. The really interesting thing is how well we got along and talked. You know how amazing it is when two Christians get together? There is a bond between brothers in Christ that even when they don't know each other, or haven't seen each other for a long time, there is sweet fellowship. The Spirit connects believers in a powerful way. In many ways, the bond between the brotherhood of believers is stronger than even blood relations. I have relatives that I have never seen, or that I have not seen in years. We all have been in family situations that are uncomfortable. There are even times when being around family is not very desirable.

But the sweet relationship between brothers in Christ is so much different. You can encounter a believer from the other side of the world and have an instant spark. I have felt that with ministers in Australia and Canada. There was a common bond and sense of purpose. And there is always something to talk about - because there is always work to be done. And even when that work is done, there is somewhere in common we are all going. I have heard the Gospel described as a scarlet thread that runs through history. It also runs through the hearts of all believers, tying us all together with a bond that will never break. Quite an unexpected lesson to learn in a place like this. More tomorrow.

Jul 19, 2005

Vegas Part One

So this is the first time I have been able to write since I began this great adventure. Just some quick thoughts, to cover the last two days.

If you are stuck sitting next to a six foot seven guy who easily is as wide as you are (Very Wide) and he has a bad back and insists on stretching and twisting the whole three hour flight, it doesn't matter that you are in an exit row with more legroom. Unless, of course, you could get out of your seat and crouch down into that leg room. Which you can't.

I love Oceans Eleven. One scene in particular came to mind when we flew into Vegas. The one casino owner tells Brad Pitt & George Clooney that even if the thieves made it out of the casino, they were still "in the middle of the stinkin desert" (edited and paraphrased). That could not be more true. We're flying along and looking down at the vast blackness. All the sudden, you go over a mountain and WHAM - lights everywhere. Really can't describe it. Didn't stop me from trying, though.

Vegas is like Disney on a freaky combination of crack and steroids. Each hotel is like an amusement park - well a park with lots of gambling, smoking, booze, and half-naked women. Actually, thus far I have not at all been attracted to this place. This city is completely numb to sin and immorality. There are posters of nearly nude women everywhere. I don't just mean small posters either -- I mean gigantic five story posters and billboards. It also smells like the entire city is covered with a layer of cigarette smoke. Quite an unpleasant city. Makes you wonder what Sodom and Gomorrah were like.

Dry heat - uh, what? It is just hot. I live in Central Florida, grew up in South Florida. It gets hot there. This is not hot. It is HOT!!! Incredibly, oppressively, distgustingly hot. Another reason that I'm not too impressed.

I ate lunch at Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill today at the Caesar's. Let me say this. I have always thought Flay was a bit annoying on television. The restaurant is beautiful. And his food is AWESOME. I had a bowl of corn soup and a Mesa Burger. Absolutely incredible. I can see why he has become so popular. I think I may have to try to get back there again.

The session today was great. Our instructor was Project Manager for the development of Adobe Illustrator. So he was a weeeee bit qualified to teach our session. Great stuff. Well worth that money. We'll see how the rest of the days go.

I'll be back tomorrow with new boring updates for all three of you. :)

Jul 16, 2005

And They're Off

Well, we will soon be off - departing for a well-deserved vacation. First we will visit the oldest city in the United States. Then I must leave my family and extended family to go visit the uh, most glamorous city (?) in the United States. That's right - it's VEGAS BABY. I have a training conference there that begins Tuesday.

I'm a weeeee bit nervous about the trip. I've never been to Vegas, and most of what I've heard doesn't do much to ease my concerns. There are some things that I am fairly certain - from my preliminary investigations. One, it is hot. Two, it is expensive. Three, there are a lot of questionable activities readily available. Four, there are a lots of beautiful sites just mere hours away.

So, join me over the next week and a half on David Staples' Vegas Adventure. I hope to blog quite a bit over that time - with updates on the city, the conference, the hotels, the food. So check in frequently. This is my first trip to a city west of Texas, so there are a whole lot of possibilities.

Jul 7, 2005

We're Gonna Do Big Things for Jesus

My little boy prayed a prayer with his mommy on Saturday night. They had been having a spiritual conversation about God and Jesus and the cross. And he prayed and asked Jesus to come live in his heart. Naturally, since he is wee lad, I wondered about whether it was "genuine" or not. But I went and talked to him, and we had a nice little chat. I guess we'll find out whether or not he completely understood what happened in a few years. But for now, the greatest feeling a parent can have, is to know their little ones are interested in God.

As we were talking, he looked up at me and said, "We're gonna do big things for Jesus." I looked at my wife and we both started to cry. I looked at him and said, "Yes, yes we are. That's why we do everything we do." When he was born, I was sure that God had something really special planned for him. And I believed God had something planned for me too - more than just doing a random routine job. He wanted me to be doing something BIG for Him.

When you have those BIG dreams, you have a great outlook - to some extent. But you also have a bad case of far-sightedness. You miss out on the up close because you are waiting for the not here yet. I know I have missed opportunities right in front of me because I have been staring out into the distance. One of the biggest right nows was what happened on Saturday night with my boy. As a Christian parent, you cannot wait until your child accepts Christ. The fact that our little boy was even asking means we were doing something right. Another right here is found in my Sunday School class that I teach. They are college guys. And my working with them is making a difference in their lives. They aren't wishing it was forty years in the future. They are struggling with today. And God has let me work with them. And I need to make sure that I am giving it my best.

We're doing big things for Jesus every day. They way we treat a waitress or a Publix cashier or a fellow driver may be what God is going to use in their lives. Our life is not made up by huge events - for the most part. It is made up with lots of small interactions and events, that come together to form a lifetime. And Jesus wants us to include Him in every part. Yes, we need to have a vision for the future (with His guidance). But we also need to be aware of the here and now and take advantage of it.

I finally in the last few months have caught a glimpse of that BIG THING God was planning. And man, is it going to be great. But instead of just waiting for that day to come, I need to seize every moment and make it BIG.

Jul 6, 2005

I'm Back

Well, I'm going to give this one more go. I hope I can keep up with it better than last time. Hopefully, I will be posting at least once a week. I also will be taking a trip to Las Vegas soon, and want to post there every day. But, we'll see how that goes. Look for another post later today. I know you all will be sitting there with baited breath. Or maybe that's garlic.