Nov 28, 2006


I know that Thanksgiving was last week, and now we are full-blown into the Christmas hype. But I wanted to say one thing about something I am thankful for - and I don't think that is only limited to one day a year. So there.

I am thankful for H. John and Eva Blann. Who are they? Well, some of the readers of this blog will recognize their names - they are my wife Heather's grandparents. Well, actually, they are grandparents to seventeen people, parents to four people, and great-grandparents to nineteen people. (I hope I got that right) And they are two of the sweetest, most amazing people I have ever met.

I had my grandparents, but three of them passed away before I graduated high school. Two of them I only met a handful of times, since they lived in Vermont. The final one - my mom's mother - passed away a few years back. I knew her very well and spend many hours with her over the years. But after I moved to Orlando from West Palm Beach when I was 18, I only saw her when I came back in town a few times a year. They were all wonderful people, but they had a different outlook on life than me on a lot of things, and I did not get to have long discussions with them very often.

What has been such an amazing thing with the Blanns has been that in seven years, I have been blessed to have many long talks with both of them - especially Grandpa Blann. And I know that they have left a powerful mark on my life from those times. Just a brief mention of their lives. They served as missionaries in Africa. Grandpa ran a Bible school, served as a pastor, and has an incredible thirst for knowledge - and has never stopped learning. We still talk about books and blogs and the internet. Grandma raised four godly children who all are making a huge difference in the world - through their own actions and the lives of their children. She was a teacher - and still is a teacher. She teaches all of us every day - about cooking and about God and about how to be a loving spouse and mother.

I have had more talks with Grandpa - we hit it off right away. Here I was, this young minister who had just gone through a horrible time at my first church. As I left that place, wondering about everything, stuck selling furniture and unable to find another ministry position, Grandpa was always there to tell me how their lives never went how they had planned it. He would tell me about being led into all sorts of places he never imagined, and that he just was faithful while he was there. He encouraged me to stay strong. We would swap books, and then talk about them. Phillip Yancey's "The Bible Jesus Read" was one of the first. As the years went on, he would always encourage me to keep my attitude right, and would love to listen to my reports of what God was showing me. Many times his eyes would well up as I shared about my kids' learning about the Bible in school or about the Sunday School class I taught. And as I moved into this new venture with Defender Ministries, he was so supportive.

They are both well into their 80s now, and are starting to slip as older people do. Things have gotten harder for them even since they moved to Florida about five years ago. That is hard to see for everyone who loves them -- and that would be everyone who knows them. From the entire staff at the local Wendy's (whom they have befriended) to the waitresses at the Golden Corral (whom they have befriended) to the hairdresser to their Sunday School class to the next door neighbors. Everywhere they go, they bring such a wonderful light and such joy. My children adore them, and can't wait to see them when we go up to Jacksonville. And they have never changed who they are. They still pray every single day for every one of their family members. I often ask them to pray for things - because I know they will.

This past Thanksgiving I got to spend time with both of them - and had to come to grips with how things were going for them. After yet another conversation about life, another time around the computer, another cherry pie, I realized just how much these two people meant to me. And I wanted to say that while there was still time. I love them like they were my own. And I am more grateful to them than I can express for their love and encouragement. Grandpa was a wise mentor - an older minister who knew the challenges of being a young man with a family, a calling, and no clue where all of that would take him. He also knew that it will, as it says in Romans 8:28, work out for good to those who please God. Grandma was a loving teacher - always there with a hug and a listening ear and a smile. Their faithfulness has laid the groundwork for a lasting legacy in their family.

Heather had us listen to an Avalon song the other day - "Everything to Me." One of the lines says, "And when I look back on my life at the end / I want to meet you, saying you've been / Everything to Me / More than a story / More than words on a page of history" She said that it reminded her of Grandma and Grandpa Blann - the same exact thing I had thought the first time I heard it. And that is exactly who they are. I hope that when I am their age, people can sing that song about me.

Nov 25, 2006

Casino Royale Review

I just posted a review of the new Bond film "Casino Royale" over at my Rotten Tomatoes movie review page. You can find it by clicking here. Sorry about the problem with the link for the "Flushed Away" review - it is fixed now. Of course, you can always access that review page by the links on the right. Hope your Thanksgiving was jolly. Oh wait, that is Christmas. Be looking for a bunch of posts between now and the end of the year. Seriously.

Nov 20, 2006

Church Service

I try to write this blog in a way that anyone can read it without feeling unwelcome. I know for a fact that I have some "non-church" readers, and I never want them to quit being a part of this blog. That is why I do the wide variety of things I do - movie reviews, running show diaries, goofy stuff. And I try to keep the blatantly "Christian" posts to a minimum - I'm not ashamed of them.

With that being said, I think everyone who knows me knows what I believe. I have never hid that - all the way back to my days at Conniston Junior High and Forest Hill High School. My blog description mentions my profession. And today, I want to write a "churchy" post. This is to and about Christ-followers. If you aren't one of those, feel free to keep reading - but don't feel bad about skipping this one and picking up with the next one. [And if you want to know more about what that means, just let me know -- now I feel like a true Baptist minister.]

Yesterday we went to a new church. I hate trying to find a new church. It is one of the most uncomfortable things to do. A church is more than just some place to hang out on Sunday mornings. It becomes your family and friends. That is why it is so hard to find one - like finding a suit. Finding a suit is my nightmare clothes adventure. I have bizarre dimensions. I have this very large gut, which means that I have to get a larger chest size. That then causes the top of the suit to billow out in ridiculous manner. I also have a long torso (you can't tell so much due to the large gut). So I have to buy long suit coats. HOWEVER, compared to my height, I have short legs. I am around 6'3", but my inseam is only 31". So I have to find these pants with a huge waist and short legs -- which rarely are worn by people with a long jacket. Combine all of that with the fact that when I wear everything the same color (like a suit) it just makes my head seem very small and my body look ginormous.

Finding a church is like this. You try them out and see if they fit. This one may have great preaching and decent music, but no Bible study. Another one may have great music and Bible study, but have a pastor dancing near heresy every week. Or - even worse - finding a church that is great in every way except it holds onto a false teaching in a major area -- something you can't ignore. So you wander around like a nomad. I always want to decide on one fast so I can skip the whole shopping process.

Anyway, I went to this new one yesterday. I'm very familiar with the church - know a lot of people there. I admire what it does and stands for. I even have a history with it. At the end of the sermon, the Pastor started talking about how, as Christians, we are supposed to be servants. And he called the church to change how the community viewed it. He wanted them to serve the community - to help with groups like Coalition for the Homeless. He mentioned Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and said he wanted the church to do stuff like that for Orlando. Man, I can get behind a church like that. That's what I want to do - that's why I quit to work full-time for Defender Ministries. I wanted to serve the community and help them to escape the prison of lust and sex that they are captives in.

As the day wore on, I started to think about something. How did the church get to the point that the community does NOT think of them as servants? Wasn't that what defined the church for so many centuries? Think about the hospitals and children's homes and schools that were built by churches. The church fed the hungry, and gave shelter to the homeless. They took in orphans. I just finished reading the book Hood by Stephen Lawhead [awesome book, by the way]. It is painting the story of Robin Hood in a post-Norman conquest Britain. The churches there were welcoming to travelers and injured and poor. They were the CENTER of their community. How did that change?

It actually made me upset that a pastor had to work so hard and appeal so passionately to his people to convince them to act that way. I was thrilled he did - and I hope they follow through on that challenge. They have the resources to make a HUGE difference. But how in the world did it get to this point where that was considered a revolutionary vision? I have heard a lot of indictments of Christianity this year. I read Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz and In Search of God Knows What. In those he skewers the church for failing to have concern for social needs. I watched as a major church leader was outed and destroyed on the front page of I watched as a major Christian actor got drunk and hurled racist insults - and as a result made anyone who liked his last film seem like a racist too. I listened as a major Senatorial candidate from my state repeatedly made comments about Christians and their "duty" to their country - which made us sound like a bunch of quacks. And I read Elton John's comments about how he admired Jesus Christ, but wished that religion would be banned due to its hatred.

But perhaps the greatest indictment of Christianity is that we went introspective and stopped giving a crap about the world around us. Instead of turning our 6 million dollar budgets lose in the community, we used it to build ourselves up. We built more buildings, paid higher salaries, created witty ad campaigns, and took "mission trips" to exotics locales. But we stopped trying to change the community we were a part of. We pulled our kids out of schools, pulled them out of sports, pulled them out of choirs and created our own versions of those things so that our kids would not be harmed by the world around them. We created our own television studios, radio stations, theme parks, movie production companies so that we could have things our own way - without having to interact or battle with others.

I can see the blood rising in some of your faces. I am not saying that all churches suck, and all homeschoolers are wrong, and that Upward sports is a mistake. There are perfectly acceptable reasons to do all of those things. But, the reality of the matter is, we have managed to create a world where we do not have to interact with anyone who does not believe in Christ except at the grocery store. Sure, they are more than welcome to COME TO US, and COME TO OUR STUFF. But we are NOT going to GO TO THEM and GO TO THEIR STUFF. That would be offensive to us and damaging to us -- we would be ruining our witness or putting ourselves in the path of temptation.

But the problem is, THAT is where Christ hung out -- with the sinners and tax collectors and prostitutes. And THAT is what He told us to do. Read Matthew 28:19-20 again. It starts off with "GO YE THEREFORE INTO ALL THE WORLD." The very first word is GO. It is not, SIT AND WAIT FOR THEM TO COME. It is not even DRAG THEM TO YOU. It is not INVITE THEM TO YOUR STUFF. It is GO. You should get up and GO to them. And while you are there with them, you talk to them, and you introduce them to Christ, and you teach them what it means to be a Christian. You are the active one. You are the one going and clothing and feeding and giving water to and helping. You are the one with all the active verbs.

The Church and Christians should be all about serving. That is the example set by Christ. We should be out there really ministering to our community -- and not some lame-o, half baked thing once a year where we hand out water at a stop light. I mean consistently living in a manner where we are helping. I know that I am guilty of being too caught up in my own world to be able to help anyone around me. But we HAVE to stop being so selfish and focused on ourselves. We HAVE to reach out to the community. The more we remove ourselves, the less we have any right to expect them to listen to us or respect us. If we don't care about them, they won't care about us.

I truly hope that this church really does start to focus on the world around them. I hope it becomes a defining quality of that place. And I hope I can get involved -- and that I will do that in my own life. If we ever expect the Church to be anything more than just a "members only" group, we have to start looking outside of our doors. And we gotta GO.

Nov 13, 2006

New Movie Review

I posted a movie review of Flushed Away over on my Rotten Tomatoes movie review page. You can find it by clicking here. I'm going to try to put more frequent, smaller posts up on the blog. I'm trying to see how to organize my posts better.