Nov 9, 2008

State of Florida Sports: Why UCF Is Irrelevant

The third part of my examination of the Florida Sports Scene is an honest look at my favorite college team, UCF.

I love UCF.  There may be some pulling of my heart in other sports between teams.  But there is nothing of the sort with college sports.  It is UCF all the time, all the way.  The day I set foot on that campus, every other school fell away.  I still align with UGA when it comes to big things, but there is a clear number one - and no number two.  I have told my kids they are free to cheer for other teams in other sports.  But they have to root for UCF if they root at all.  Being the fan of a mid-level school is hard.  As badly as you want them to be important, it rarely happens - rarer still for them to be important in multiple sports.  As bad as I could wish that I could shut my UF supporting buddies up, I know that won't happen.  UCF is not in their league.  And honestly, it probably never will be.  Here are some things that I see, as a very ardent supporter of UCF, that keep UCF from playing any role in college sports.

1. INFERIORITY COMPLEX - I once had a buddy who worked at a very large church.  When I asked him about the place, he told me, "It is a big church that thinks it still is a small church becoming a big church."  It was always trying to prove it belonged, trying to look big.  It never realized that it WAS big and should just be itself.  UCF is the same way.  They are like the 5th largest school in the country - the largest east of the Mississippi.  They have a gorgeous campus, a new on-campus stadium, rabid fans, a supportive community, a brilliant President, and amazing academic programs.  They are a part of a mid-major conference, have been to two bowls, the NCAA Basketball Tourney, and the College Baseball Regionals.  They have produced major league baseball players, NFL players, Olympians.  Why are they still trying to prove they deserved their invite to the party?  Get over it and just BE yourself.  

2. CELEBRATING MEDIOCRITY - As a friend reminded me today, UF fired their football coach for going 7-5.  UCF gave their football coach a 10 year extension and a raise for GOING to (and losing) a bowl game.  The basketball coach is constantly rewarded for getting to the NCAA Tourney and getting destroyed in the first round.  Every year, the football team plays between one and three "real teams."  In their history, they have won exactly ONE of the games.  They always play the games close.  But they never win them.  However, there is still that "way to go guys, you did great against them.  No one expected you to win."  Why not?  Appalachian State can beat Michigan and UCF can't knock off a pathetic Miami?  Now that UCF is in Conference USA instead of the uh, Atlantic Sun, or MAC, it is now okay to not make the postseason in basketball and baseball.  Since Memphis in roundball is there, and Rice in baseball, we are excused.  That's just ridiculous.  Start demanding more.  Which ties into point three.

3. UCF HANGS ON TO COACHES TOO LONG - UCF didn't want to fire Gene McDowell because of his contributions to the football program.  They finally did, and then kept Mike Kruczek too long because he got Daunte Culpepper to go to UCF.  Then they brought in O'Leary.  In his five years at UCF, O'Leary has led UCF to 0-11, 8-5, 4-8, 10-4, and now 4-8.  In addition, a player died during the offseason at workouts.  The entire event was characterized by coverups, lies, and threats by UCF.  O'Leary on several occasions lied about what happened - this from a man with a history of lying.  Yet he is still not in hot water?  Loyalty is an admirable quality.  Refusing to pull a trigger is another.

4. LACK OF VISION - When UCF opened their stadium, they actually had a real home field advantage for the first time ever.  The stadium itself would bounce and sway when fans got excited.  They jumped on the bleachers and made the whole place shake.  It was known as The Trampoline.  Other teams actually FEARED FOR THEIR LIVES.  You could hear audible fear in announcers' voices.  ESPN guys called the stadium the loudest stadium they had been in.  So, what did UCF do?  They banned the song.  They forbade the jumping.  They solidified the stadium.  So, instead of being a place where opponents feared to play, it became a source of discontent for the home crowd.  BRILLIANT!  Kirk Speraw, UCF basketball coach, has made his entire career of recruiting JuCo players, only getting two years of play before they graduate.  There is no continuity, no long-term plan.  They reload every two years.  Fans can't get used to the players.  They just transfer in for a year or so and then leave.  BRILLIANT!  The fact that UCF took 20 something years to decide that they should play Division I football shows this best of all.

Until UCF is willing to fully commit to its sports program, and address the problems, it is going to remain a distant competitor - watching its bigger neighbors play for all the marbles.

Nov 7, 2008

State of Florida Sports: The Bandwagon Lives Here

The second part of my examination of the Florida sports scene addresses the dreaded "Bandwagon."

The fact that Florida as a whole functions as a "sports town" means that our state is more susceptible than most to the sports Bandwagon.  For those of you unfamiliar to that term, the Bandwagon can be defined one of three ways:
  1. The showering of positive predictions on a franchise by a large group of sports "experts" - usually a team that has had a checkered past and is aimed at a "breakout season."  EX: This year's Portland Trailblazers in the NBA.  [A Corollary to this is a large group of experts predicting doom for a team - like this year's Spurs.]
  2. A large number of fans suddenly supporting a team that is doing well.  Often this involves a team with a "good story."  EX: This year's Tampa Bay Rays
  3. A large number of fans suddenly claiming "I've always liked this team" when that team starts doing well - even though they never indicated that before.  EX: The millions of Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots fans that crawled out of the woodwork in recent years as those teams did well.  The same thing happened last year with the Celtics.
The reason that Florida is more vulnerable to this problem is that it seems that everyone here is really from somewhere else.  This makes them likely to jump on the Bandwagon with both definitions 2 and 3.  Here is how it all works.

Johnny moved from Connecticut to Lakeland when he was eight years old.  Before they moved, the family cheered for the typical New England Combo Platter - Patriots, Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins.  Since they moved to Florida, they followed those teams, but they were never diehard fans.  They lived in Lakeland, so they actually had more pull towards the Detroit Tigers, since they had a minor league team there.  Every Sunday they were predestined by the NFL to watch the Bucs.  And the local papers eventually started more coverage of the Magic and Rays and Lightning.  So, by geography, they became more familiar with and invested in the local teams.  And it helps that for the first portion of their lives after the move, the Boston teams were lousy.

So, like most Central Florida residents, they got behind the Bucs in 2002 when they won the Super Bowl.  And they pulled for the Magic when they got in the playoffs.  But, they also had the pull to the Boston teams once they started doing well and getting national coverage.  So Johnny buys a Patriots jersey, a Red Sox cap, a Celtics shirt.  And he claims he "always cheered for those teams."  No one around him growing up knew that.  But now, he is more vocal - partly because they won.  And he also is happy when his Florida teams win.  

So, Johnny has become a Bandwagoner.  Even though he has legitimate reasons, he jumped at both groups of teams with their success.  If you check his closet, he has a Bucs jersey and shirt ("In case I go to a game").  During the course of a year he watches 30 Magic games and 10 Celtics games.  He actually has taken his Bandwagon ways and expanded them into what Bill Simmons labels "Sports Bigamy."  He truly has two teams in each sport - the local and the "real team."  This is a natural pull - especially in today's media heavy sports world.  It is hard to not care about the local team when that is what you are saturated with.  It is easier to get coverage of your team from back home, but the local stuff is everywhere.  

So, for one of many reasons, most Florida residents pull off this Bandwagon jumping and Sports Bigamy with every sport.  It could be that they went to a different college than the one they cheered for growing up.  That happened with me when I went to UCF after being a UGA fan.  UCF is clearly my college team, but we're usually out of play long before UGA is (something I'll address in my next post).  It could be that a spouse liked a team different than them.  They may move within Florida.  Moving from South Florida to Orlando will test those Dolphin allegiances - since they teams shown here are the Bucs and Jaguars.

What is the big deal?  There isn't really any big deal.  To people who spend way too much time worrying about sports and how other people deal with sports, both the Bandwagon and Sports Bigamy are very offensive.  These are the people who want you to "pick a team and stick with it."  If your team moves or shuts down or becomes offensive, you should cheer for no one rather than pick a different team.  And most of these people are from New England - where they have nothing to do for months except think about things like this.  I think a lot of it comes from being Red Sox fans, and staying true for 86 years, and then watching a bunch of people jump on the Bandwagon right at the end.  They wanted to separate themselves (the "real" fans) from the newcomers (the "bandwagoners").  This is why Florida is so offensive to those people.  The whole state is a bandwagon.  Our newer teams and recent success and tons of implants from other areas invite you to cheer for two (or more) teams.  

So, next time someone accuses you of jumping on the Bandwagon when you haul out your brand new Arizona Cardinals jersey or Atlanta Falcons hat, don't try to defend yourself.  Don't tell them about how you have always really loved the Cardinals, since they were in St. Louis.  Don't give some story about your family history in Atlanta.  Just say, "That's right!  I'm on the Bandwagon.  It's a Florida thing - you wouldn't understand.  Until you move here when you get old and drive slow in the left lane."

Nov 4, 2008

State of Florida Sports: Florida is a Great Sports Town

After watching Tampa Bay's amazing run to - and pathetic performance in - the World Series, it really got me thinking about sports in Florida.  I have lived in Florida all my life.  And really, it is a great place to live if you are a sports lover.  But it is a little unique in the world of sports.  Most of the time, there are big cities that have teams and rabid fan bases.  Look at places like Boston, New York, Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia.  They are known as "sports towns."  They have teams with histories and lots of very opinionated fans.  And in the mainstream sports media, they are respected more than the "casual" fans that populate other places - like Florida.  
The thing that you have to think about is that Florida is a new sports frontier.  The state itself has grown by leaps and bounds.  Did you realize that Florida is the 4th most populous state?  And it probably will pass New York before long.  In 1980 it was 7th.  In 1950 it was 20th.  In 1920 it was 32nd.  So, when teams like the Red Sox and Cubs were already developing curses, Florida was a nothing state.  I am 34 years old and Florida native.  I was born in West Palm Beach and lived there until I moved to Orlando for college.  With the exception of the Dolphins, every single Florida professional franchise began after I was born.

So think about that for just a minute.  I have three kids and am trying to get them interested in sports.  There is not a multi-generational rooting structure in place.  My dad cheered for the Celtics and Chicago Bears.  When I was kid, what did I have to pick from?  In the NFL there was Miami (which I hated) or Dallas (the big team at the time).  So I was a Cowboys fan.  In baseball, there were the Yankees and Dodgers - so I picked the Yankees.  In the NBA, well I started cheering for the Hawks because TBS showed their games.  And I was Georgia Bulldog fan because I lived on Georgia Avenue and they were big because of Herschel Walker.  Since I was a kid, here is what has happened on the Florida sports scene.

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Founded in 1976 - Six Division Championships - One Super Bowl
  • Jacksonville Jaguars - Founded in 1995 - Two Division Championships - Two AFC Title games - Six playoff appearances
  • Miami Dolphins - Two Super Bowl Losses
  • Orlando Magic - Founded in 1989 - Three Division Titles - One Finals Appearance
  • Miami Heat - Founded in 1987 - Seven Division Titles - One NBA Title
  • Florida Marlins - Founded in 1993 - Two World Series Championships
  • Tampa Bay Rays - Founded in 1998 - One Division Title - One World Series Appearance
  • Tampa Bay Lightning - Founded in 1992 - Two Division Titles - One Stanley Cup
  • Florida Panthers - Founded in 1993 - One Stanley Cup Appearance
NCAA (Since 1974)
  • University of Florida - Eight SEC Football Championships, Two Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Fourteen Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Two Basketball National Titles, Five College World Series Baseball Appearances
  • Florida State University - Twelve ACC Football Championships, Two Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Four Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Fourteen College World Series Baseball Appearances
  • University of Miami - Nine Big East Football Championships, Five Football National Titles, Two Heisman Trophy Winners, Five Basketball NCAA Tourney Appearances, Twenty-three College World Series Baseball Appearances, Four Baseball Titles
  • University of South Florida - Football team founded in 1997, Three Football Bowl berths, ranked as high as 2nd in polls
  • University of Central Florida - Football went Division I in 1996, One Conference-USA title, two both berths, three NCAA basketball Tourney appearnaces
  • Florida Atlantic University - Football team founded in 2001, One conference title, one bowl berth
  • Florida International University - Football team founded in 2002
In addition, we host about 25% of Super Bowls thanks to Miami and Tampa being two of the best host sites.  The Orange Bowl in Miami hosts the BCS Championship every four years.  The Capitol One, Outback, Gator, and Florida Sports bowls bring top teams to the state every year.  The Daytona 500 and Pepsi 400 are in Daytona each year.  And the UF/UGA game is in Jacksonville every year.  

So, as you can see, there is a lot of sports development in Florida in the past thirty years.  The thing is, just about everyone here is from somewhere else.  So they cheer for the team from whence they came (Steelers, Red Sox, Oklahoma) and then they celebrate when Florida based teams do well.  Some would label this bandwagon-riding (something I will address in my next post).  But this also is because there is not a lot of passion for Florida-based teams - for the most part.  People around the country don't have a lot of connections to Florida teams.  And Florida residents are kind of just happy that their state is doing well. [This of course does not apply to UF/FSU or FSU/UM rivalries.]  It is like the whole state is a sports town.  If you talk about Cleveland's or Philly's title droughts (well, not Philly now), that means that the city hasn't had a winner in decades.  But in Florida we are like, "Yeah but Miami won a few years ago and Tampa won."  There are HUGE differences between regions in Florida.  But not as much of a difference when it comes to sports.  There is a "all for one, one for all" mentality in most people.  I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing.

Oct 31, 2008


I don't want to be impressed any more.  I don't want to be blown away, have my senses stirred, see something incredible.   I am not looking for a jolt or a charge or a kick.  I guess I have finally crossed the point in my life to where I am beyond being entertained and where I want to be challenged.  If you want to get me talking, don't have a huge production with lights and sounds.  Don't bring a real live elephant into the auditorium.  Don't try to get me hooked on the cult of celebrity pastors.  

If you want to get my heart pumping, share something new I haven't heard before.  Don't recycle someone else's point of view.  Find a new way to present the Gospel.  Preach with power.  I'm not going to be impressed by your shows and spectacles.  My heart won't be stirred by amazing contrived music by professional warblers.  I want genuine worship.

You want to know what moves me now?  Mark Driscoll's sermon series on Ruth - something I have never ever heard anyone address in such a powerful way.  Or, let me listen to Tommy Nelson's first sermon after missing eight months with clinical depression - the fact he even admitted it in today's "the pastor is a gleaming statue" world is shocking enough.  Give me a book like John MacArthur's Tale of Two Sons - a unique approach to the Prodigal Son story complete with a shocking finale.  Let me hear Chris Sligh's CD and hear songs about redemption.  Or, better yet, let me worship with Exodus International and experience what people who truly understand salvation do when they praise God.

I want fresh bread.  I want people who come up with a new way to make filling and nutritious food.  Jim Henry, in his last sermon as pastor of First Baptist Orlando, said how in his career spanning decades he only preached the same sermon twice.  Twice!  He said he saw it as his job to always bring fresh bread to the congregation.  That picture stuck with me.  When I finish sermons and books like the ones I mentioned, it is almost like finishing my ravioli lasagna or my wife's blueberry pie.  It is satisfying and filling.  It was good to the taste and good for the body.  THAT is what I want now.  The problem with most of what passes for "Christianity" - especially the "cutting edge" stuff - is that it actually isn't producing bread at all.  It is just making fancy packaging.

As we know, most people in a store can be fooled by fancy packages.  I fall for it all the time.  But a true connoisseur knows better.  He knows that what is inside makes it special.  Unfortunately, most people that are exposed to stores/churches don't know that.  So they fall for whatever looks and sounds and packages itself best.  "Look this bag has a hologram on it!"  They don't realize the bread inside is flat and crushed and void of nutrition.  "This package is water-proof."  What does that matter?  Are you going to be floating your bread?

It is like when someone comes back from these big conferences.  "They had five DJs spinning albums at the same time!"  Uh, ok.  Did you learn anything useful?  "They had a live elephant and a live donkey in the auditorium!"  Why?  What was the point, except to prove just how "radical" that group is?  Where is the nutrition?  Where is the quality?  I know, writing this I run the risk of being labelled out of touch.  That is usually what happens to someone who gets upset with DJs and elephants.  They don't know what the people want.  They aren't in touch with culture.  They can't have an impact on society.  Really?  Would Jesus have been impressed by the elephant?  If he had wandered into the Temple that fateful day and seen five dueling DJs, would He have been in awe?  My guess?  He would knocked over those five turntables AND the microphones.  

That is the thing about Jesus - He knew how to make sure people got fed.  He gave out bread.  And it was hearty and filling and wonderful.  It wasn't packaged in some fancy color changing wrapper.  It was just awesome.  And that is what I want to serve and eat in my house, my church, my job.  I'm tired of the trapping.  Give me some bread.

Sep 21, 2008

TRAVEL LOG - Day Two - Tennessee

Well, we made it to Tennessee.  First we went through Chattanooga (one of my favorite cities anywhere) and had lunch with our old friend Marty Thompson.  It was his fifth anniversary at his church.  Marty was the youth pastor at FBC Oviedo when I started there.  He also was our first big booking with Defender at Dallas Bay Baptist Church.  So it was great to catch up with him.  He has a book that he has written that he gave us each copies of - In Search of the Perfect Youth Ministry.  He even mentioned our ministry in one of the chapters.  Even though the time was short together, I was blessed by seeing him and how well he is doing.  He's a great guy and really deserves to have a great place to serve.

After that, we drove the boring trek to Nashville.  I love Tennessee.  I have never been a huge fan of moving anywhere else, just because I am pretty lazy.  But if we ended up in Tennessee, I would be okay with that.  I would prefer Chattanooga, but Nashville is nice.  The drive between the two?  Not so much.  But we got to our La Quinta (Spanish for Triple Points) room - an upgrade from our Atlanta room.  We always try to stay at La Quinta (Spanish for clean rooms) when we travel, because we have a rewards membership there.  In fact, our room in Nashville is free, thanks to points we accumulated.  Overall, their hotels are nice, and they always have internet.  Well - except for the one in South Nashville on Sidco Road.  I made the mistake of booking that one - not once, but twice.  Right next to a train depot.  

We set up our table, and I felt inferior to all the other bigger groups with fancy backdrops and signage.  But we just can't afford to buy all that yet.  Sure, at some point, we would love to upgrade it.  Now is not the time.  There is another group out of Arkansas that is "working the same side of the street" as us - dealing with very similar issues as us.  They have a big fancy setup, which got me in a funk right away.  I had to keep reminding myself that there is more than enough room for several ministries doing the same thing.  And I have no idea what they even do.  But it was enough to star the experience off on the wrong foot - it doesn't take much to get me down.  So I am going to fight that until we get back.

Tomorrow we get to start the actual exhibit process.  I look forward to meeting the youth pastors who are there.  And we are praying we get some good contacts - and that we can help provide some answers and solutions.  So be thinking of us.  

Sep 20, 2008

TRAVEL LOG - Day One - Atlanta

I know I haven't been able to update my blog as much as I would like lately.  That is what happens when you are busy busy busy.  I feel like spend most of my life in my car.  That didn't change today, as I began the first leg of a ten day whirlwind trip around the Southeast.  First, Charles and I have an appearance as an exhibitor at the Lifeway Youth Pastor Conference in Nashville - via an overnight stop in Atlanta and a lunch stop in Chattanooga.  After the Conference on Tuesday, we will head back through Atlanta to South Carolina for my brother-in-law Mike's wedding.  Then we finally will get back to Orlando next Tuesday (via Orange Park).

So today we started off this morning printing books.  Then we drove up from Orlando to Atlanta.  It was a nice trip, just sitting in the car and chatting with Charles.  I have missed being able to talk to him on a regular basis with my new work(s) schedule.  So it was nice to just drive for six hours.  We listened to UCF getting whooped by Boston College on XM Radio.  That was followed by listening to UF beat up on Tennessee.  And we ended with the comedic stylings of Jeff Allen.  And we had a delicious dinner at Ted's Montana Grill - one of my favorite restaurants.  Charles and I love bison burgers, and this is one place to get them.  Now we are relaxing in a La Quinta (Spanish for Hi Speed Internet).  

It is nice to get a break from the rigors of the new jobs.  I am looking forward to having a blast thinking about Defender for a couple days without having to worry about other employment.  Of course, I wish I had my family with me.  I have pictures of the kids on the computer and I miss them like crazy.  It was funny.  At lunch there was a screechy kid at Woody's.  I told Charles, "It just makes me miss Gabe."  I'll try to check in with updates each night.  We are staying at a La Quinta in Nashville (Spanish for Free Breakfast), so I'll have internet.  Have a good night all.

Sep 8, 2008

My Scary Morning

This morning something terrifying happened to me, so I thought I would take a moment to share with you wonderful people.  Round these parts, garbage is collected on Monday and Thursday mornings.  (I remember this because we take the garbage out on days we go to church.  Not necessarily drawing any links or anything, just saying...)  It used to be that the trucks would lollygag over here about 10:00am.  So if you forgot to put the cans out the night before (which happened about 2/3 of the time), you could get them out in the morning.  Lately, they have been motivated to get done earlier, I guess.  So the guys hit our house around 6:30am.  Well, today I forgot to take the can out.  Actually, it was outside the garage, but not at the road.  And I figured they don't do door service.  

We have one garbage can - actually it belongs to our landlord.  Our last can didn't make the trip to this house with us.  It stayed at the old place, since it was nasty and who wants to put a garbage can in your car when you are moving?  So we have this can - which does not have a lid.  And this round of refuse was particularly nasty.  It included Gabe's diapers and some mutant broccoli.  So it was stinking things up in the garage.  I moved it out into the driveway on Saturday night.  And then forgot to drag it 20 feet to the curb.  I have been exhausted and this morning my brain is running in molasses.  I am a third of the way through my morning routine when I realize this.  (My dad called it the "three S's" - but this is a family blog so I won't explain what the first one is.  JP and any other military people probably know it already.)  So I get dressed and run (amble) outside to put the can out.  When I get there and grab the can, I hear a loud hissing sound.  

My natural response, being a Grade A chicken, is to jump backwards.  I then would have ran into the house and just turned the can over to nature.  But I didn't want the stink back in my house, so I had to get the can to the curb.  I'm trying to figure out what was going on.  Was there a rattlesnake in the can?  No, you idiot.  It would rattle, not hiss.  But snakes do hiss, so maybe it was a snake.  Why would a snake be in the garbage can?  I haven't even seen a snake at this house.  Maybe it was something else.  A cat?  They hiss.  But I have had cats before, and they don't sound like that.  It could be a possum.  They hiss when they are cornered.  At least I think they do.  I remember our dogs finding possums when I was growing up.  They make horrible noises.  And they crunch when the dog bites them.  I decided I was going to go on the assumption it was a possum.

What am I supposed to do?  Our outside lighting is, um, non-existent.  So I can't see into the can.  And I don't want to stick my face over the can in case the snake possum wants to jump out at me.  I decide to go get a flashlight and a weapon.  Naturally, when I get back in the house, I can't find our one flashlight.  We used to have multiples, but they all have been broken or lost since our kids think they make fantastic toys.  This last one - a floodlight style - has been rescued MANY times from the same fate.  But, my sleep addled mind can't come up with the last place it was being used as a star machine, so I failed in that part of the plan.  (I found out later it was in my room.)  I also can't find a weapon.  All I see laying around are Josiah's Planet Heroes toys.  Not going to cut it, I'm afraid.

So I can up with an alternate plan.  I can put up the garage door and turn on the light in there.  I figure the light will shine out enough to see inside the can without being brutally attacked.  And, with any luck, the noise of the door will scare the vile creature out.  I was worried that Josiah would wake up from the noise of the door, but he had to get up soon anyway.  This was more important than sleep.  So I opened the garage door and tried to peer into the can.  I didn't see anything.  I looked around the garage and saw a big box that had housed Gabe's new play fencing.  I grabbed the box and went to use it as a shield.  I held the box up wide in front of me and kicked the garbage can.  Nothing.  I kick it again.  Nothing.  Good, my plan worked.

So I push the can down the driveway a foot or so with the box.  The hissing is back.  Dang.  It seems to be low in the can, which is good.  I will just slowly push the can down the driveway and let the garbage man deal with the surprise at the bottom.  They already hate me due to the bags of stinky diapers I leave in the can.  [Side Note: I learned back as a kid - if you only put the big garbage bags in the can, waste collection professionals will pull those bags out and leave the stuff in the bottom.  If you want them to empty the whole can, you have to put loose stuff on the top.  Hence the fact that I always put the bag of diapers on top.  It may stink, but at least my can gets emptied.]  

So here I am pushing the can down with a box.  SCRAPE HISS SCRAPE HISS.  I notice the hissing is getting quieter.  I begin to be suspicious of what was going on.  It was then I realized what it was that was torturing me.  THIS

That's right.  It was an empty can of Reddi-wip.  It was in the top of the bag and every time I pushed the can, the bag of diapers would roll and push on the nozzle.  HISS.  Jeesh.  I felt pretty stupid.  Now you may wonder why we had Reddi-wip in the first place.  Simple answer, we always have it.  I use it when I make Mochas or Hot Chocolate.  But, I also learned early on in my life that you always had Reddi-wip on hand in case you wanted to squirt some in your mouth.  My mom taught me this.  We even were trained in how to not squirt enough to make you gag, and how to squirt it so you never touched the nozzle with your mouth.  I have passed this along to my kids - including Gabe.  Nothing is cuter than an 11 month old seeing a can of Reddi-wip and grunting to get some - tilting his little head back and opening his mouth.  

I thought everyone did this.  It was one of those things that I just figured was a part of normal life.  I found out I was wrong.  Up at Heather's mom's house a couple weeks back, I had the can out to spray some on the kids' chocolate chip pancakes.  Naturally, I went around and doled out the mouth squirt.  I turned around to see Heather and her mom staring at me in what could be called horror.  "What?  You guys don't do that?"  I think I knew the answer.  "My mom taught me that.  Just like when she taught me how to eat a yogurt in the car by making a spoon out of the foil cover or how to eat Ben & Jerry's in the car with no spoon - or making sure you have a spoon in the glove compartment to eat your Ben & Jerry's."  Turns out that none of those things are universal.  I can understand the aversion to the car dairy product devouring.  But I'm still going to give my kids the Reddi-wip.  Even if it masquerades as killer snake possums trying to scare me to death.

Aug 31, 2008

Time of Discord

It certainly has been rough to actually find time to write on the old blog lately.  I now am working FOUR jobs.  I got hired to teach one Old Testament class at International Community School.  So now you never know where I'll be in the course of a day.  And, like most of you, we also had two kids start school recently - actually start and re-start thanks to the rain machine known as Tropical Storm Fay.  I have wanted to write a couple times, but I've been so tired at the end of the day I fall asleep in the chair.  Oh, what fun to be getting older.

I was thinking today how much I dislike this time of year.  Sure, football is starting, which is wicked good.  But there are several things that also happen that I can't stand.  Some of them are pretty minor (baseball playoffs, mosquito invasion).  But a couple are pretty big.  One is the annual dance of death with the Hurricane conga line in the Atlantic.  You know, I grew up in Florida.  For 34 years I have lived here.  And until 2004, I never really dreaded hurricane season.  I didn't like it - that's for sure.  But I can't remember going through a hurricane until we got hammered by three in a month in 2004.  After that, I just hate watching the weather and seeing those monster storms lined up.  Part of it is due to my kids.  They hate the storms.  Both of the older ones went through the 2004 season.  Josiah especially remembers it.  They can't stand the entire concept.  

In addition, it gets to be a really complicated way to look at events - like some sort of ultra-twisted ethics puzzle.  I don't want the storm to hit me, but to miss me it has to hit somewhere else.  I was worried about this Gustav storm.  And I was thrilled that it turned to miss us, until I realized that it was going to bust up New Orleans (same thing happened with Katrina).  Now there is Hanna out there.  I am rooting for it to miss us, but I don't want it to hit anywhere else either.  It's getting to be to where I hate the entire season.

The other thing I hate is the political season.  It seems like some variation of it happens every single year.  But every four years we get this super-duper-hatemonger extravaganza.  The Presidential election.  Being passionate about something is great.  I know that I have made my opinions known on this blog before about candidates.  [Lots of good it did.]  Opinions and feelings are good.  That is what this country was built on - the merging and melding of ideas.  What I can't stand is the hatred and vitriol that is spewed over the course of the election process.  It is ridiculous.

On my Facebook the other day, one of the people that I knew in high school actually wrote that she wished McCain had died in the POW camp.  WHAT?!?!  How is that even close to appropriate?  People have sent out dozens of emails about Obama - slandering him and his family.  Now, Sarah Palin is facing the same character assassination.  I swear that other countries must laugh their butts off at how we handle these elections.  We spend months and months insulting and berating candidates, bashing them time and again, insulting them until it is amazing that anyone would even trust them at all.  Then the one party who is the least offensive and incompetent squeaks out a win.  And we spend the next three years with half the country hating the winner.  Woo hoo!  Democracy at work.

I especially can't stand how this plays out in the Christian community.  The majority of "fundamentalist evangelicals" are Republican sympathizers.  So, those people who dare to venture to the other side are usually ridiculed for it.  And, as a result, they seem to feel it necessary to constantly either justify their position or fight like a cornered wolverine.  Yes, this is definitely how a church groups should act.  Definitely.  It is weird, too.  If Christians really believed what is taught in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs and 1 Peter, then they would believe that God is the one who chooses the rulers anyway.  So our in-fighting and out-fighting seems kind of pointless, right?

But, my griping isn't going to change either of the things bothering me.  Hurricanes aren't going to stop coming.  And the elections wars are going to get worse as the two sides get further apart.  I guess the key to do my best to make it through this season unscathed.  Be prepared, be informed, be aware.  I can't for a moment forget who is really in control.  And I need to extend love and mercy to everyone around me - those with opposing views, victims of the storm.  Even still, I can't wait until it is Thanksgiving.  The only swirling white caps will be the mashed potatoes, not the satellite image.  And the only steaming turkey will be on the table - not the podium.  

Aug 12, 2008

Eight Years

My apologies for the extended break between posts.  I have been pretty busy lately, what with the new job at Apple.  Speaking of that, for those of you who wondered what happened to my Apple post, I found out about the confidentiality policy.  I felt it better to take down the post rather than get fired before I started.  This week has been interesting.  It is the first week where I am juggling both gigs.  We had an absolutely incredible Defender session yesterday at International Community School, and we have two more on Thursday.  And Wednesday is my first day working at the Apple Store.  So now the fun really starts.  I have had some things I wanted to write about lately.  It was just a struggle to force myself to do that.  I had a book to write for yesterday's class.  So any free time I had was spent on that.  I will get to the other topics, though, because I think they are really good.

Today, though, I want to write about something else.  Today is August 12.  This is our eighth wedding anniversary.  I went back and was surprised to see that I have never written anything about this in the last four years.  So I figured I would take a brief moment to address this important day.

August 12, 2000.  I remember the day very well.  I remember getting up really early.  I dropped my car off at Rick Estes' house so that none of my ne'er do well groomsmen could find it and trash it.  He had to then drive me around to run errands.  Yes, errands.  I had already gone to WalMart to get a CD for the reception.  With Rick we went to Chick-Fil-A to get breakfast, and then to Terrace Bank to deposit some checks.  There was a lot of waiting around once I got to the church.  I remember that it was raining right before the ceremony, which Heather actually wanted to happen.  The ceremony is a blur - I honestly don't remember much.  There are some details, but mostly my brain skips to the reception.  I remember the cake.  I remember the awesome job the Reicherts did on the food (and that they sent a wonderful "doggie bag" with us to the hotel for dinner).  I do remember dancing with my mom and with Heather.  I remember missing it when Heather threw the bouquet because it wasn't supposed to happen then.  I had gone to change my clothes and was in the bathroom.  There are huge gaps in memory - I just know it was a happy day.

But, like Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, the beginning is not the important part.  It is the ending - how did everything turn out?  I can honestly say that our eight years together has not always been easy.  Six different jobs.  Unexpected pregnancies.  A miscarriage.  Financial struggles.  Trying to shuffle and organize multiple schedules, dreams, visions, and hopes.  We have had six different addresses in eight years - never living in the same place for more than two years.  Three kids.  Five different churches.  Three hurricanes.  And things won't get any easier.  Next year Heather will start Medical School, we'll probably move again, Natalie will start Kindergarten, and so on.

Sometimes I think the reason I don't remember much about August 12, 2000 is that SO MUCH has happened in such a fast time that it seems a lifetime away.  I can hardly remember those days.  Sometimes Heather and I will think back to when we used to go the grocery store for fun - just to spend time together.  Now a trip to the grocery store is a challenge - keeping three kids happy and under control, watching a tight food budget, driving a cart that won't maneuver right.  We think back to dates we had at the movies or at restaurants.  Now that never happens.  The very few times we get to go, we tote Gabe along.

But, that is not a complaint.  I am thrilled to be in this boat.  I want to be a dad.  I love my kids.  My family has been up in Orange Park for the last few days with Heather's family.  It is a good reminder of how much I hated being single.  I just kind of sit around and watch tv, play on the computer, eat at weird hours, sleep poorly.  I feel like there is something off all the time.  Last night I was hungry for dinner.  For three hours I sat in a chair and thought about eating.  I got up a couple times and stood staring into the fridge, stealing a couple of grapes each time.  Finally at 9pm, I ran up to Publix to get some chicken tenders and heavenly hash ice cream.  

I like my family.  I like my kids.  And I love my wife.  I enjoy being home with them.  I don't go out a lot.  Maybe once every six weeks I'll got out to a movie after the kids are asleep.  Usually I sit with them until bed time, and then watch tv with Heather.  The funny thing is, aside from a couple of exceptions [She likes Deliver Me, Secret Life of the American Teenager, John and Kate Plus Eight.  I don't.], we like the same shows.  We like going to the mall, going to Publix (most of the time), Sea World.  Our lives have become so intertwined that it is kind of hard to deal with one without the other.  And that is the way I want it.  She has her friends.  And she is free to hang out with them whenever she wants.  I have my friends.  But, honestly, that desire is not as strong as being together.

I think that is what it is all about.  I came from a home where there were two people living two completely different lives in one house.  They did things together, but their interests, goals, beliefs rarely intersected.  And I hated it.  I hated the feeling that to be with dad meant sitting in the tv room and to be with mom was sitting in the living room.  They didn't talk much - largely because my dad would not interact much with anyone at home.  I know this for sure - our kids are not going to have those thoughts.  They see their parents talking and working together and enjoying each other's company.  Sure, we have our moments of selfish behavior.  I don't always communicate like I should.  But for the most part, we are on the same page.

I love Heather.  She is an awesome person.  She is a great mom, a supportive and encouraging wife, a brilliant student, and a super friend.  I see how people respond to her - and I feel lucky that I get to be around her all the time.  She has backed me on everything I wanted to do.  I remember that she told me once that before we were married, she just wanted to make me a good home - that it would feel homey, with throw pillows.  That was always the image she had - a cozy home with throw pillows.  I can honestly say, that through all the changes and surprises - no matter where we were she accomplished that.  Even though it has NEVER been "our house" that we owned - it has always been home.  I think it is more because of the fact that she is there.  She doesn't make it a home with things; she makes it a home by being in it.  I know our kids feel that way.  And I certainly feel that.  Even in my own house, I'm not home without her.  I'm a lucky guy.  And yes, we do have lots of throw pillows.

Jul 24, 2008

Why I Haven't Seen The Dark Knight

Sorry that I've been absent for over a week from the blogosphere.  I know some of you count on my posts to help you get through your day - like air and water.  I have had a lot I wanted to write about, but finding time was hard - for a variety of reasons.  But, between writing a sermon, cleaning the house, getting a new job at the Apple Store, dealing with a broken A/C, and going to Sea World on the hottest day of the year I have not found myself ready to post.

One thing I have not done since I wrote last is see The Dark Knight.  I know some of you just fell out of your chair.  "What?!?  David - you, one of the biggest movie and Batman fans around.  You haven't seen The Dark Knight?  What's wrong with you."  Trust me.  I wanted to see it.  I tried to find a way to go.  But there were several reasons that didn't happen.
  1. Heather and I wanted to go together.  We saw Batman Begins on IMAX together when it came out.  So we wanted to go see the new one on IMAX as well.
  2. The IMAX tickets for the entire first weekend sold out by Thursday night.  So we were left without a show time.  We decided to try to go to a (sigh) regular theater instead.
  3. We don't want to take the kids - especially Gabriel.  We have taken the baby to movies, but this was was different.  The violence, darkness, and such made it seem like something he shouldn't be exposed to.  But we have never left Gabe with anyone who wasn't family for that long.  And we didn't have anything set up.
  4. The schedule just wasn't working.  Once you get into the aforementioned problems, you can see why I haven't had time to sit for 2.5 hours in a theater.
But then something happened.  I don't know how many of you know my history with movies.  Some of you have been around for some of this, so it may be a repeat story.  In my house growing up, we didn't watch movies.  By the time I entered high school, I had seen exactly FOUR movies in the theater: The Muppet Movie, Great Muppet Caper, Black Stallion, and The Great Chipmunk Adventure (yes, their was a FIRST chipmunk movie).  So I didn't get to see all the big stuff that came out in the 1970s or 1980s.  I documented this in an earlier post.  

The first REAL movie I saw was the 1989 Batman.  I was blown away.  I fell in love with movies instantly.  I started to get into movies: watching them, reading about them, studying them.  I became a good critic of movies because I watch them on so many levels - enjoyment, critical, religious, cultural impact.  In fact, I got so into movies that they started to run my life.  I saw stuff I shouldn't.   I spent money I didn't have.  And slowly they took too high of a place in my life.  On May 19, 1999 something happened to me.  God finally got me to realize that movies had become a God.  That was a Wednesday.  Star Wars Episode I opened that day.  I had scheduled a college event for that night.  After Bible study at 9pm, we would go to the 10:30pm showing.  It was one of biggest events ever.  About 4pm, I called my buddy Greg Ramer and told him I needed his help.  We went to my house, put all of my movies in the back of his truck (along with all my comic books) and took them back to the church and tossed them in the dumpster.  This was before DVD, so it was like 180 videotapes - mostly widescreen.  And then I quietly gave away my ticket to the film.

Everyone took off the theater after Bible study and I got in my car.  I just drove - as far away as I could go.  I went as far north up I-75 as I needed to.  I made sure that there was no way I could make it back in time for the movie before I turned around.  My cell phone started ringing as all the students noticed I wasn't there.  I went back to my house and my roommate Marc, the youth pastor, was there.  He was like, "Why aren't you at the movie?"  I told him and just went in my room and cried.  I didn't see another movie for six full months, until I felt I had broken the hold and was free. [The first movie back was Toy Story 2 on one of my first dates with Heather.]  And I still have never seen Star Wars Episode I-III.  The original trilogy was one series that really signified to me my giving in to the movie obsession so many years ago, so it was my way of never allowing that to happen again.

The growth I had in Christ after that decision was huge.  It wasn't because movies are bad.  I to this day will debate anyone about that.  It was because I gave them too much authority in my life.  And the other day I realized that I was on the verge of entering dangerous ground again.  Movies are nowhere near as important to me as they were in 1999.  I have been watching a lot of them this summer - I saved money to have it for the tickets.  And I have had a blast.  But with The Dark Knight, I noticed something disturbing.  I was angry that I wasn't able to go when I wanted.  I was frustrated about the thought of missing it.  And it started to affect how I dealt with my family.  I had heard all the glowing reports.  But I also had heard all the people talking about the violent, and how the Joker was so disturbing.  Why did I want to put that stuff in my head?  Especially when I fight so much from slipping into darker moods anyway?  But the thought of missing it was too much to take.

So on Sunday, I told Heather I wasn't going to go.  She just looked at me with a big of a stunned look, and then an understanding smile.  I said that I had to do that.  I needed a break from the movies.  My brain didn't like that choice.  Immediately, I started to think about stuff coming out this Fall and Winter I wanted to see.  And that strengthened my resolve.  I needed to stop.  And I needed to give up THIS movie - BECAUSE of its importance.  This movie is the movie I would never have missed in a million years.  This is the one in years past, when I saw five movies, that I would have gone to.  It was Batman.  It was a huge success.  It was a critical success.  And that is exactly why I need to stay away.

I know I made the right choice.  I felt freedom immediately.  I don't want to go.  Sure, I still am fascinated by the ridiculous money it is making.  I'm not saying I'll never see it.  I probably will see it on inDemand on cable, or on DVD.  I may even buy it.  But right now, I am not going to go.  I need to take that stand for my own good.  Why am I telling you this?  I'm not sure.  Maybe it is because I've already gotten the "you haven't seen Batman yet?" questions.  Maybe it is because my summer movie list on this blog seems awkwardly unfinished.  Maybe I'm taking away any chance that I could back out on my decision.  Maybe I just wanted to share.  Maybe it is my way of reminding you how easy it is to be mastered by something.  Take it for what its worth.  For me, it is worth a lot.

Jul 15, 2008

Doubting David

It is hard admitting negative things about ourselves.  Sure, there are those of us who are what people call "self deprecating."  I joke that way a lot - especially about my weight and my melancholy nature.  But, honestly, it is not like people didn't know those things already.  Anyone who looks at me knows that I am "husky."  And if you hang out with me long enough, you too will join the throngs that have echoed something along the line of "You can be pretty negative."  I fight both of those things, but they still hang around like unwanted houseguests.  So my acknowledging those things are just accepting reality.  It would seem pretty silly for me to go around bragging about my shape, when my own four year old can - and frequently does - point out that "Daddy is fat because he has a HUUUUGE tummy."  

I mean that it is hard to admit negative things that are more hidden.  I remember that a few years ago, after reading Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, that I had to take a very hard look at myself.  I documented it in this award winning post.  I uncovered some very unpleasant things about who I truly was.  And I have worked - to varying degrees of success - to fix those ugly character traits.  This morning, I had a similar experience - with a very disturbing and shocking discovery.  I was reading With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray.  Chapter Eleven to be precise.  I've read this book before, but my business partner Charles has been reading it all year (time and time again) and so I decided to read it again.  

[Small Note Here:  I firmly believe in the theory that the great Dr. Eddie Gilley taught me waaay back in '96.  "The only two things that will change who you are after the age of 18 are the books you read and the people you hang around."  Some try to challenge that by saying, "What about God?"  My answer is, "Well that's who you hang around, and the Bible is what you read."  Anyway, I push books on everyone because they can and will change you.  That is why so many of these self-discovery posts begin with "I was reading..."]

This chapter was covering the Biblical passage of Matthew 21 (parallel passage in Mark 11 and similar theme in Matthew 17), where Jesus says that if you have faith, you could cast a mountain into the sea.  I've heard this before many times.  I appreciate the verse and how it points out the importance of faith.  I've never been able to cast a mountain into the sea.  So, either I don't have enough faith or this is a figurative statement or there hasn't been a good reason to pray that.  Not sure.  Anyway, Murray went on about this promise and how it is an amazing promise that God gave us and that many people don't really have faith in the promise - since it is so extreme.  And then he made this point.  It isn't really just a lack of faith in the promise - is it really a lack of faith in the PERSON who MADE the promise.

I sat there at first, nodding and thinking about that.  I have a decent level of faith.  I've proven that over the years, by stepping out numerous times and trusting God.  Our daughter's middle name is Faith - which we chose to illustrate the importance of faith.  I kept reading the chapter, and then I started praying after that.  As I did, I began to realize the truth.  If you read my post yesterday about being weary, you know that I am wrestling with a lot of stuff right now.  And I am trying to say all the right things, and do all the right things.  But when I sat there this morning in that room by myself, I realized that I couldn't keep lying to myself or to God.  Right now, I don't trust Him.

That is what is hard to admit.  And I know that quickly all the people around me would either try to talk me out of that statement ("You do trust Him, you are just having a bad stretch.") or they would try to lecture me on how dangerous that is to say ("You had better fix that before it becomes a big problem.").  But it is true.  Right now, I don't trust Him to answer my prayers.  I have lots of reasons why.  I have had too many prayers that were not answered (our way of saying He said no.)  And they were good prayers that were about good things - like paying bills or getting a job or whatever.  I have waited too long for answers.  I have seen too many things that seemed like answers get ripped away - too many jobs that fell through, too many supporters who backed out, too many times that nothing changed.  

As these all built up, I began to just assume that the answer would be no.  I prepare myself that way.  I assume the job won't work out.  I assume no donations will come in the mailbox.  That makes the disappointment less when that is the case.  This is actually a big lie.  The disappointment is still just as bad, but there was no place of hope before hand that was dashed.  We as American Christians have such a screwed up version of prayer.  We tack on this "if it is your will" to everything - even though we don't care what HIS will is, unless it matches our will.  But we put that on there so it sounds right, and insulates us against the pain of a negative response.  "I guess it wasn't His will."  But it was OUR desire, and that hurts.  We don't pray boldly because we don't want to "back God in a corner."  But everything that is taught about prayer in the Bible involves big, audacious, faith expanding prayers.  They are fleece wetting, giant killing, wall tumbling, sea parting, mountain casting, water walking prayers.  We don't pray those.  We pray sissy prayers - and get so upset about those that we can't move past it.

The Bible is full of stories where prayers are answered in amazing ways - and relatively few where they aren't.  But our lives are the opposite.  I know that is true in my case.  I see so many prayers that I offer that come crashing down.  So, who do I blame?  God, of course.  He said no.  I ignore the first part of that verse in Matthew 17 - "If you have the faith of a mustard seed."  In Matthew 21 and Mark 11, the phrase is "If you have faith, and DO NOT DOUBT."  Whose fault is it, then?  Yes there are times when God says no - and He always has a reason for that.  But it seems that much of the reason our prayers are not answered is that we don't trust God can or will answer.  Last week, I read a passage in Oswald Chambers' classic My Utmost for His Highest.  He said that so many times we think that a little doubt it natural.  It is just us being smart enough, logical enough to know that we won't always hear yes.  But he said that any amount of doubt is sin - even a small amount.  It is questioning God's character, His Word, His nature, His promises, His power.  And, according to Jesus Himself, doubt is enough to derail our prayers - both big and small.

It is unpleasant for me to have to admit that about myself.  I take pride in my faith (probably too much, actually).  But, in reality, I have very little faith.  In reality, I doubt God all the time.  I don't believe He will follow through.  Even as I am praying the big prayers, hoping for the impossible to happen, I reserve a little bit of doubt just to protect myself.  But, for all I know, that could be what is keeping me from seeing victory.  That little protection is actually a poison - a destructive element that is killing me.  That is tough pill to swallow.  And it is a tough thing to say out loud.  I don't want that to be my legacy - doubting.  I want to see victories and amazing things done through God's hands.  I want to be a part of deliverance and rescue.  Am I willing to lose all of that to try to protect my feelings?  I guess that's the question I have to answer.

Jul 14, 2008

I'm Back and Tired

I was surprised when I realized how long it has been since I posted. We have been on "vacation" for about a week and a half. We were up at Heather's parents' house for the July 4 weekend, home for one day so I could go to a Faith Based Non-Profit Roundtable and an Interview with Apple Stores, and then we were at my mom's house for a couple days. Since then we had a kiddie birthday party to go to, got restocked with supplies at home, and had both of our kids vomit all over the beds (theirs once, ours once).

And now I'm back. I hope to return to the more regular blogging, but we'll see. I am supposed to have a second interview with Apple this week, and I'll also be applying for some other stuff and trying to get some delayed Defender projects off the ground.

It has been a rough weekend. Aside from the physical ailments going on at Casa De Staples, I have been mentally worn out. I'm just tired. My good buddy Greg Ramer, in a wonderful post the other day, talked about how he wants to be serious with his faith and really start living more passionately. As I read it, I thought it was great. I was happy for him. But, honestly, I didn't agree. Right now, I am tired. I don't know what it is. It may be fighting for so long, trying to get something started that doesn't seem like it is going to move, wanting to do the right thing and driving myself nuts figuring out what that is. But I am just worn out. Being completely transparent, I just don't want to keep on fighting.

We watch So You Think You Can Dance every summer, now. Heather's sister-in-law Michelle got us hooked a few years ago, and now it is one of our favorite shows. This past week was where they dropped down to the ten dancers who will go on the national tour this year. One of the dancers named Will is spectacular. His a chiseled specimen who can leap and perform. He may be the best dancer they have ever had - mentored by Debbie Allen herself. He was partnered for the last five weeks with a very pretty girl who is not anywhere near as good as him. She dragged them down every time - but he just worked harder and never even one time did anything to complain or demean her. This past week, their second dance was not very good. And one judge said what everyone watching the show was thinking. "You looked tired. You're tired of carrying her. You need a new partner. You're just tired of doing too much." It was a completely truthful comment - and you could see how badly it hurt the girl (probably because she knew it was so true). I sympathized with Will - being tired from doing too much. He was not only dancing for himself, but he was carrying the hopes and dreams of his partner as well. He was trying to do enough for both of them. I'm not carrying someone like that, but I am trying to fight, while carrying the hopes and dreams of my business partners, my family, my friends - all those parents who desperately need and want help. And I'm trying to do all of that while figuring out how to survive today.

If you know me, you know that I desperately want to do what God wants me to do. That isn't an arrogant statement - I didn't say that I always DO what He wants me to. I want to do it, though. Our family has tried to live that way since Heather I got married. That has been very difficult, and draining not just to us - but to others around us. It is hard to feel God leads you into frontier country and then stand there realizing, "Crap, I'm in frontier country. There isn't a Publix for miles out here." It is hard being out there. It is hard trying to build something from scratch, ferreting out ways to make things happen. You fight, and pray, and hope, and then look around and realize you aren't much further than you were months before.

There is no time lapse photography that makes the building zip up out of the barren field. You are actually having to go through the whole mind-numbing, soul-crushing process. Over the vacation, Heather's mom had me read some Oswald Chambers writings. One of them talks about how God always gives you the vision before He gives you the means to accomplish it. He may even give it to you years before anyone is ready for it. But He has to get YOU ready for it. And that requires having you stand in a valley and get beat up, so that you are humble and prepared for the work when it starts. Chambers went on to say that many people quit in that valley - because they get tired of getting beat up. They can't stand the process, so they quit before they ever get to the payoff.

I can understand that feeling. I want things to work NOW. I want to know that we are taken care of for the future before taking on something now. Even the concept of the Apple job stresses me out, because I want to know how that affects Defender long term. How will it play into Heather's Med School plans? Is taking the Apple job a better option because I can transfer to another city if needed? Now, keep in mind this wouldn't happen for FOURTEEN MONTHS!?! But I stress today. I think lately I've been so worried about the long term results of my decisions that I am mentally beating MYSELF up. It is good to look to the future, but worrying about over a year from now is kind of silly.

In Sunday School, we talked about this yesterday. Basically, being tired, I just chatted with the students rather than formulate a "real lesson." (Plus, remember the vomiting the night before - doesn't make for peaceful sleep.) We were talking about Abraham and how God had promised him to be the father of a great people, when he had no kids. And he got tired too. He and his wife got tired of waiting, so they forced matters and he had a kid with his handmaiden. And that much of the world conflict TODAY is due to that decision. I sympathized with Abraham, though. I can understand getting a great promise and then sitting around like God forgot you for years and years. I've been tempted to force the issue myself too. I've wanted to quit. You get tired.

It is probably amusing to read this post after my last post, where I was saying about how we want to do the impossible. What happened between those two? How did I go from wanting to do the impossible to wanting to give up? Thinking about it, I can only see one thing. I took a break. I took my eyes off the goal, let up, sat back and played Wii and swam. I'm not saying vacation is bad - it is very necessary to get breaks once in a while. But for almost two weeks, I had very little pushing me. I didn't touch work - aside from that one meeting. I read sports columns by David Halberstam - read nothing religious at all. And I got distracted. The only news I got regarding my efforts were negative - having to miss an college event I love dearly, not hearing back from people who were supposed to contact us. And it was very easy to get waylaid. All of the struggling caught up with me. And without seeing the reason every day, without being confronted by the purpose for the work, it just became toiling for no purpose. And I got tired, and wanted to quit.

I know this has been a narcissistic post - very whiny. But I need to get that out. Just like when I have something cool bubbling up inside and have to get it out, I also need to get the junky stuff out. It helps me to have clarity. It helps me to identify what I really am going through. Hopefully, it will help to wake me up. I don't want to give up. I want to trust God. I want to serve Him and work hard. It was good for me to wrestle with all of that here - thanks for indulging me. Now, vacation is over. I need to get back to work.

Jul 1, 2008

New Quote For Me To Run Into the Ground

This summer, I have been able to keep up with my movie watching pretty well.  To date, I have only missed one movie that I wanted to see.  It just came out, though, so I'm still okay.  I also did miss the last half of Kung Fu Panda - or as they say "the important half."  Gabe got freaked out and wouldn't calm down.  So I went out and walked him around the mall.  I don't get it.  He was fine in WALL-E.  Slept through most of Get Smart.  Got scared with animated animals.  

Well, while we were sitting there waiting for WALL-E to start, they were running the kids' version of The Twenty - advertising new shows and such.  One they were highlighting is The Tale of Despereaux.  It is a new movie coming out based on the Newberry Award winning book.  It looked interesting.  But what got me was at the end of the interview when the author said, "Those who dare to do the impossible get the impossible done."  I had never heard of the book, but we went and got it after the movie.  I'm finishing it right now.  It is one of the darker and more depressing "kids' books" I have read - at least to this point.  It is good, just not something I want my kids hearing right now.  But I had gotten it strictly because of that line.

I don't know about you, but for me, I need things to hold on to.  Most of the time I feel so out of control of my life - wondering when things will change.  It isn't because I am lazy and sitting around hoping for God to drop a big bucket of goodness in my lap.  I am active and working and searching - looking for job, looking for funding, looking for bookings.  But things just don't seem to be going anywhere.  Even when we get some hope, it seems like it dries up quicker than rain in Las Vegas.  That line really resonated with me because it often feels like I live in the Land of the Impossible.  It's a strange land.  Sometimes others who don't live there mistake it for the StupidLand or PollyanaTown or The Nation of Fantasy.  I just know that most of the things that have happened in my life have directed me here.
  • I am daring to do the impossible with my career.  I am trying to convince churches that they need to discuss issues they don't want to discuss.  I am trying to help people break free from a prison they don't want to leave.  I am trying to raise funds and get bookings during a downturned economy.  I am trying to fight an industry that is so rich and powerful and government protected that they could crush me without a thought.  All of those things are impossible.  I'm fighting against statistics, hormones, big money, and pride/ego.  Quite frankly, my job is impossible.
  • Heather is daring to do the impossible with her career.  She knows that God built her to be a doctor.  Everything in her life has directed her to that point.  She has gotten better in school and in tests SINCE she had kids.  But, she faces women who think she has no business being in a job at all.  She faces old school doctors who don't want people concerned with family.  She faces long long hours, hard classes, the very real possibility of lots of debt, the chance we have to move, and time away from her family.  The other option is to hope that she is one of the forty people UCF picks out of thousands of applicants for their first class - then it would be free and here.  Quite frankly, her calling is impossible.
  • As parents, we are daring to do the impossible with our kids.  We are trying to teach them to love God, love others, respect their elders and authorities, do well in school.  We are trying to help them become positive influences.  We are trying to protect them from the dangers out there on the Internet, movies, and television - or at friends' houses.  We are trying to teach them about God, when the world thinks He's a joke.  Quite frankly, that kind of parenting is impossible.
  • Our church is daring to do the impossible.  We are trying to grow a church the right way.  We are trying to love each other and support each other.  We are trying to do things different - not just following the formulas laid out by the big guys.  We are trying to minister in an area saturated with churches, but not necessarily with places to grow.  We are ministering to the people who get encouraged to leave other churches.  And we hope that church grows, is able to survive financially, and can change its world.  Quite frankly, that kind of church is impossible.
I guess is why that line meant so much.  We all have this drive to be a part of something bigger than ourselves.  We want to be involved in something great and huge and powerful.  We want to be there and see the impossible happen.  We want to be there - so we can talk about the amazing things we saw and were a part of.  But, like in the powerful speeches in Henry V and Braveheart, not everyone is willing to do what it takes to BE a part of those things.  Not everyone is willing to try to do the impossible.  We all want to be able to tell the tales after, but we don't all want to be the ones fighting and warring.  We don't want to get beat down 364 days in a row just so we can be there the one day when we finally break through and win.  But if no one is willing to do the impossible, then it never will get done, right?  If parents aren't willing to fight for their kids, if churches aren't willing to fight for the world, if those who are called aren't willing to answer - what hope is there? 

The Tale of Despereaux talks about how Hope and Love are very similar.  They are both very silly and blind and stupid at times.  (I would add Faith to that, as well.)  They make you believe in things that make no sense.  They make you act like a fool.  But if you have Faith, Hope, and Love, you have to do those things - just because you have Faith, Hope, and Love.  As 1 Corinthians 13:13, Colossians 1:5, and 1 Thessalonians 5:8 all show, those three things will remain - and they are all you need.  That's true with us - it seems like that is all we have left!  We have Faith that God will deliver like we know He can and has promised.  We have Hope that even the overwhelming odds can be overcome when the time is right.  We have Love for those people whose lives are being destroyed and wounded and cast aside.  So we HAVE to dare to do the impossible.  It may be silly and blind and stupid.  But it is what we have to do.  Otherwise, we didn't really have Faith or Hope or Love after all.

Jun 28, 2008

WALL-E Review

I haven't posted a movie review for a while. Mostly I have been putting them on my Rotten Tomatoes site. But this one was too good to not comment.

I don't always want to write my review of good movies right away. I want to dwell on them and twirl them around in my head before I try to distill them into a short(ish) posting. But then I'm torn when I see a fantastic moie because the storyteller in me wants to chat with someone about the piece of art I just saw. I guess waiting until the next morning is enough of a compromise.

Sooner or later, I guess we will stop being surprised by Pixar's genius. I keep hearing people say, "Sooner or later they have to make a flop. They can't keep this up forever." You know what that is starting to sound like? It sounds like sore losers, or people who just cannot enjoy beauty without trying to destroy it. When I walked out of WALL-E yesterday afternoon, I asked my wife, "What do you think the people who make all the OTHER animated films think when they walk out of a Pixar movie? Can they possibly feel good about what they are creating? Did the makers of Barnyard walk out of WALL-E and feel like they had done a good job on their film?"

SIDE NOTE: The animated short Presto was funnier and better made than just about any comedy I've seen in the last ten years. I laughed so hard that I wished they had made a full length version of it. It was in the legacy of Bugs Bunny and the truly classic Looney Tunes - even included a rabbit. If it doesn't win Best Animated Short, I give up on the Oscars.

Pixar long crossed the line of making kids films. Sure, their films are unbelievably popular with kids. And my kids loved WALL-E, running right home to start "playing WALL-E" (which largely consisted of hauling their toys around in boxes and dumping them behind the chairs). But they became full fledged artists with the beauty of Cars. And they proved they can compete with "grown up films" when they were nominated for the Oscar for Best Screenplay for Ratatouille. But, with WALL-E, they went farther. I really think that if there is any justice in the Academy of Awards, WALL-E will be up for Best Picture.

You may laugh to yourself, but I can say this. I love movies. I watch a LOT of movies. And I have only found myself sitting quiet at the end of a movie, just thinking about what I saw a handful of times. That is when I know a movie really hit me where it matters. Henry V, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Braveheart, The Matrix, Batman Begins. Those are some of the ones that left me speechless and emotional. WALL-E did the same thing to me.

We have gotten so accustomed to the gorgeous animation that it isn't even surprising now. But the thing that I can't get over is the STORYTELLING. Pixar writes amazing stories. This one was so layered and intricate. It was a powerful environmental message, urging us to be more careful about our planet. It was a cautionary warning against materialist excess. It was an unbelievable love story - unlike anything I've seen in a while. I was a reminder that doing what you are told sometimes challenges doing what is right. It was a call to humans to be more than just robots - and to stop living behind screens, missing the beauty and joy of life all around us.

At the heart of the movie is WALL-E, a trash disposal robot left on Earth to clean up after the humans. Supposedly, once the robots cleaned the planet, the humans would return. But that, as we see from the opening zooming shots, is impossible. He is the last working robot and he spends his days working, exploring, interacting with his pet roach, and learning about love - all while being lonely. One day, EVE arrives on a huge, loud, disruptive spaceship. She is looking for something. WALL-E is smitten. EVE soon begins to grow fond of him and his quirks - developing a few of her own. Once her mission is completed, she is picked up and WALL-E cannot bear to see her go, hitching an intergalactic ride.

We soon see that the robots are more human than the humans - giving in to power lust and ego, sectoring off those who are different, developing consciences. The humans have become robots - blindly taking orders, living behind screens, losing their humanity. The story was powerful and convicting. It showed how people are going to be in trouble if we continue to live like we do - addicted to "stuff", hiding from interaction, ignoring warning signs, killing our emotions.

Removing all of that, you are left with a passionate and beautiful love story. You see WALL-E being the kind of person we should all be. He loves life, enjoys his work, find pleasure in the little things. And when he finds someone to love, he does it with everything he is. He loves her unconditionally. He wants her to be the best she can be, even if that means without him. His relentless and pure love affects everyone he sees. I know, as we saw it played out, there were moments where I felt myself wishing I could be more like that with the people I hold dear. I misted up several times as the movie built to its climax. And I felt something that most movies, especially summer ones, think they can do without - genuine emotion. I saw it in my
kids as they responded to scenes.

It was a fabulous experience, and one that made me think about a lot of things. WALL-E is a classic, powerful film. I haven't seen anything like it for a long time. I wish every filmmaker would see it just to be reminded of how films are supposed to be made. Animated or not, WALL-E was a true winner.

Jun 24, 2008

Sad Day for Orlando Pizza Scene

I woke up this morning and checked the news as I usually do.  I was greeted with this horrifying news headline on the Orlando Slantinel.  "Donato's Pizzeria Closes in Orlando, Cuts About 140 Jobs"  I don't want to seem calloused, especially in the economic scene now - but I didn't honestly immediately care about the jobs.  Instead, I went, "WHAT!?!?"  When Heather woke up, I told her and she said, "Noooooo."  What a way to start the day.

Now, before you get the opinion that I have my priorities completely out of whack (or if this merely cements that opinion you already had), let me explain.  Donato's is a pizza chain that started in Ohio.  And we in Orlando have been blessed enough to have 11 Donato's around town since we moved here.  Now, at first I didn't really get the wonder of the chain.  It had some really quirky things going on - you would call from your table back to the kitchen to order your food, they used paper plates and cups.  But I soon began to appreciate the food there - and our whole family loved it.

It is no secret that I love pizza.  It is my favorite food.  Sure, I am a big fan of other foods too (ice cream, a really good steak, lasagna).  But pizza is that food that I can eat multiple times a week.  I'll have it for lunch and still be okay eating it for dinner.  I'll eat it three nights in a row and then get it again the next day for lunch.  You may call that a problem.  I call it food love.  One of my interests is food - I watch Food Network, I love grilling, I love making recipes and having people enjoy them.  Pizza is the top of that heap.  I love Chicago style, New York style, thick crust, thin and crispy, hand tossed, flatbread, french bread.  I even can tolerate mediocre or poor pizza.  

My favorite pizza place is Pizzeria Uno.  It serves deep dish pizza that is UNBELIEVABLE.  There are no Unos in Tampa or Jacksonville.  So it has been a journey of happiness every time I move back to Orlando.  How much do I like Uno?  I went there for my bachelor party.  We ate there on our honeymoon.  I go there most birthdays.  But the problem is that it is not cheap.  Pizza should be cheap.  I have hundreds of coupons for Pizza Hut and Dominos and Papa Johns.  That's the only way I'll order it from those places.  I used to love Pizza Hut - hated the other two of the big three.  But Donato's ruined all of that.  It became our replacement for Uno.

Three things made us become Donato's acolytes.  First, they had a No Dough Pizza that Heather ate when she was pregnant with Gabe and had to fight gestational diabetes.  Second, I got one of those area discount cards from Oviedo High School.  It took $3 off a large pizza at Donato's.  You know how awesome that is?  Knocked the price down to $9.99.  Third, we moved last summer five minutes away from a Donato's.  It was right down the street.  It could deliver in 20 minutes.  I could pick it up at the drive by window in 15 minutes.  So, combine all of that.  We could all eat for $15 (kids split a stromboli) or $19 (kids BOTH get a individual pizza).  The toppings were fresh.  The crust was awesome.  They had fresh mozzarella as a topping.  It was as cheap as McDonald's and it was PIZZA.  Really good pizza.  Their pepperoni was super - guaranteed to have 100 slices on each large pizza.  

And the memories that come with it.  I remember Heather being pregnant with Gabe and Donato's being the one time she felt like she could eat "normal food."  I remember when Josiah stopped ordering the pizza kids meal and wanted to try the stromboli.  It was such a "big boy" food choice.  And he loved it.  I remember eating out on the patio with Toney Sauls one night when our wives were both out of town.  And I remember Heather and I splitting the large pizza (half pepperoni, half fresh mozz) sitting on the bed, watching Friends, while Gabe nursed and napped.  It was more than just losing a pizza place - it was losing something our whole family loved together.  

Now it's gone.  We have to go back to Pizza Hut.  Ugh.  It reminds me of when Red Robin burgers closed down in West Palm Beach when I was in school.  I nearly cried.  That sounds dumb - but I had so many memories there.  I went there every birthday.  Our youth group used to go there all the time.  They had a burger with FRIED EGG on it (before my deadly egg allergy kicked in).  They had the best mozzarella sticks, best seasoned waffle fries, best burgers, AND Mountain Dew.  It was so awesome.  

I found a few Red Robins over the years - one in Allentown, one in California.  We've eaten there and it is never the same.  The mozzarella sticks are still great - but honestly I've found better over the years.  They ditched their waffle fries.  And I can't have the egg on the burger any more.  Last time, I didn't even get Mountain Dew.  Donato's will still be around - and they are expanding into the Carolinas.  We sometimes are up there - I may be up there two or three times before the end of the year.  And I'm sure I'll visit their new "counter service" option.  But I know it won't have the same memories or feel.  That's the thing about losing something like that.  The memories end up making it much better than it ever was.  And I guess that's why I was so sad this morning.  It was closing the book on something special - and knowing we couldn't replace it or get it back.  And I am sad for those employees who did such a great job keeping us happy, making up for their mistakes, and letting us switch the TV to Noggin or Nick when we were alone in the back room.  I hope they can find new jobs - especially with the bad job market.  Well, I guess I should get back to work - I have to find a new pizza place.

Jun 18, 2008

Legends Defined

As if the US Open this past weekend was not impressive enough, we now find out that Tiger Woods played the tournament with a torn ACL and a double stress fracture in his tibia.  In fact, he has had a torn ACL for the last ten months - and has won nine of twelve tournaments during that time (one of the losses was a second place finish in the Masters).  And he did all of this WITH A TORN ACL!?!  I was still trying to get over the fact that he won the US Open less than two months after knee surgery - and that he did that by playing a 91 hole tournament where he had to birdie the 18th hole TWICE to stay in it.  That, my loyal readers, is the definition of a freak.

How demoralizing is this news to the PGA Tour?  They lose Tiger for the rest of the year.  The average ACL surgery knocks a top athlete out for 16-18 months.  That means Tiger should be ready by the Masters next year (10 months).  So now ratings will plummet.  But think of the rest of the golfers on the tour.  They thought that maybe, just maybe, they were getting closer to Woods.  His failure to close out the win at Augusta, the way he barely won the US Open.  Now they find out that he had a TORN ACL the whole time.  

I knew a guy with a torn ACL.  He limped around so bad.  I have had two knee surgeries.  Both of them knocked me out big time.  I was still on crutches after the first surgery six weeks later - the same time Tiger won the US Open.  It was curious that they played the Nike commercial with Tiger and his dad on Sunday during the fourth round.  His dad was talking and saying how he used to knock bags of clubs over when Tiger was in mid-swing as a kid - trying to distract him.  The point of the commercial was the ending, when his dad said that Tiger would never enter a tournament where he was not the mentally strongest competitor.  If that wasn't proven this past weekend, it never will be.  How you could ignore the usual pressure of a tournament ... no wait, a major tournament ... no wait, a major tournament playoff ... no wait, a major tournament sudden death playoff hole ... no wait, a major tournament sudden death playoff with a TORN ACL AND STRESS FRACTURES IN YOUR LEG -- I don't get it.

Compare that with Kobe Bryant.  There has been this big battle over the recent years, trying to convince sports fans that Kobe is as good as Michael Jordan was.  Sports fans think this is ridiculous - unless they are beyond stupid and blind Lakers fans in L.A.  Sports fans watched Michael Jordan and know that there never has been a player like that.  And there probably never will be again.  Not only was he the best player on any court he stepped on, he also was the most mentally prepared player, the most intimidating player, and the most powerful player.  This NBA Finals should put this whole argument to rest forever - in my opinion.
  • Michael Jordan never would have pitched a media hissy fit and demanded a trade before the season - to the point where it nearly happened.
  • Jordan never would have thrown his entire team under the bus to try to show how great he was.  He would have taken them aside in the locker room and eviscerated them there, threatening to maim them if they messed up again.  And then he would have hugged them and said on national television they were the most essential player ever.
  • Jordan would never have allowed one of his teams to lose a game after having a 24 point lead in the 3rd quarter - AT HOME.  He would have put the team on his back and forced them to win.  Kobe just disappeared.
  • And Jordan never ever ever would have let his team get blown out by 39 points in the series clinching game - especially not to their biggest rivals.  He didn't lose Finals.  6-0.  Bryant is 3-2, despite having the stronger team in both of those losses.
I'm sure we'll see a lot of excuses over the next few days about why the Lakers lost.  To me, the biggest reason is that #8, I mean #24 - Kobe "Black Mamba" Bryant - the man who HAD to be the centerpiece of the Lakers and destroyed a legacy to prove it - the man who desperately wants to be as good as Jordan - the man who hates his teammates, his coach, everyone but himself --- they lost because Kobe Bryant let his team down.  He disappeared when it counted.  He choked and did not deliver the goods.  He had no excuses.  The team had made trades to help him out.  He was healthy.  He had the best coach.  They even had better travel back to Boston.  And he couldn't get it done when it mattered.  Again.

Comparing those two stories, that is why Tiger is going to go down as the toughest, strongest, best golfer EVER.  And Kobe, in my opinion, is going to go down as a really good player who should have been better.  

Jun 17, 2008

MUSIC REVIEW: Chris Sligh's Running Back to You

I have been hard on Christian music for many years.  In fact, this has been one characteristic of mine that has really not changed much since high school.  I remember irritating my youth pastor Jimmy Fogleman with my caustic comments about various Christian albums.  That didn't stop in college . . . or in Tampa . . . or in Orlando.  I even have made rude comments about Christian music to my friend Dave Senes - who is the Programming Director for WAY-FM Christian Radio in Nashville.  (He took them well - filed them in the "Ignore what David Says File.")  Why have I been such a jerk over the years?  

I think it is because I love music.  I listen to music whenever I can.  More correctly, I love good music (doesn't explain my Weird Al albums).  It should have good music, and good lyrics.  I want it to be moving and powerful and fun.  Music has always been a part of my life.  I often just find myself singing for no reason as I wander around - songs I know, songs that I change the lyrics to, songs in a bizarre Operatic or choral style that drives Heather nuts.  My kids have heard my singing since they were babies when I would walk and sing them to sleep.  Sadly, due to my acid reflux, my singing voice is much damaged and does not have much range.  But I still love music.  

Here's what I hate about music.  I hate being told who I am supposed to like (David Crowder).  I hate having older artists get by on their laurels for years even after they lose their passion and skill (Point of Grace).  I hate having music executives identify trends and put out clone artists to make money (Whoever the Sarah Bareilles knockoff is on the radio now).  I hate songs being played over and over and over again until you learn to hate them (Chris Tomlin).  I hate contrived and manipulative songs that try to jerk your emotions for no reason other than that they can (Cinderella, Mark Schultz).  Put all those things together, and you can see why I am so hard on Christian music.  The industry as a whole is guilty of all of those things - on a very regular basis.  And Christian radio just perpetuates those problems.  

The problem is that when I don't listen to Christian music, and I am saturated with other music, I begin to find myself drifting.  I don't think there is anything wrong with me listening to U2 or Michael Buble.  But if that is all I do, I drift.  So I have to force myself to listen to Z88.3 - our Orlando Christian station - or to my iPod, which doesn't work right in my car.  After doing that for a few days, I get to the point where I can't take it anymore and find myself listening to Rihanna warbling about her Umbrella-ella-ella or lying boyfriend.  

All of this contributes to why I am so thrilled when I find some high quality Christian music.  A couple weeks ago, I heard a song "Empty Me" on the Z.  It was great - and a familiar voice.  I looked at Heather and asked, "Is that Chris Sligh?"  Sure enough, the DJ announced it was Sligh from his new album.  When it iTunes, I bought it.  And, dang, it is great.  For those of you who don't know, Chris Sligh was in American Idol 2007.  He was the slightly chunky guy with curly longer black hair.  During the early rounds, he sang Mute Math and dcTalk.  And his poking fun at himself and Simon got him early favorite status.  Well, right before the final 12 were named, he started to develop a bit more nasty attitude with Simon - nearly got him booted.

Once the Top 12 started, the fun loving Sligh was nowhere to be seen.  He was still popular enough to make it through the first two shows, but got booted and finished 10th.  His comment was, "I made the AI Tour, which was my goal."  It made us wonder what had happened to him.  And after listening to this CD, maybe a small hint comes out.  His song "Empty Me" talks about how the spotlight is addictive, how quickly your heart can stray, how fast you become a prodigal.  It makes me realize that he may have been battling a lot more than we thought in those contests.

The CD itself is 13 incredible songs - all written by Sligh.  He also plays numerous instruments and does background vocals.  I have not heard an album this good since Kevin Max's "The Blood" CD I mentioned back in January.  Actually, Sligh's is better.  A quick rundown of the CD:
  1. ARISE - Incredible song about God's mercies discovered each morning.
  2. CRY TONIGHT - About the fear involved in trusting God, thanks to all the times we've been hurt by people.
  3. I'M CLEAN - One of the greatest songs I've ever heard about God's forgiveness.  Talks about how God sees us wrapped in Christ's Righteousness.  Difficult concept for people to understand and accept - much less write songs about.
  4. EMPTY ME - "Empty me of me so I can be filled with you."  Sums it up.
  5. SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL - We can't understand the mysteries of God's grace.  We just know they are amazing and beautiful.
  6. LET YOU KNOW - Great music on this one about trying to figure ourselves out.
  7. IN A MOMENT - Christ's love changes everything in a moment.
  8. ARE YOU PLEASED? - My favorite song on the disc.  INCREDIBLE lyrics.  Asking God are you pleased with me?
  9. POTENTIAL - The frustration of when are finally going to grow up and "make it" to a maturity in life.  Great relatable song.
  10. LOADED GUN - Took me a while on this one, then got severely convicted by it.  We claim to be loving, but never make our words match our lives - or our witness.
  11. WAITING FOR YOU - Echoes of Rich Mullins in this question of why God takes so long.
  12. LOVE IS RAINING DOWN - Fun upbeat song about God's love.
  13. VESSEL - Inspired my post on being a Vessel recently.
I know this was a long post that was roundabout in its purpose.  But I have been wanting to write about this album for weeks.  It is amazing.  And I think it would encourage so many people.  Plus, the dude's voice is gorgeous and the music is a fun mix of stuff you would hear on any station on the dial.  In short, it is not locked into "Christian music" genre - even though the words are some of the most Christian I've heard in a loooooong time.  Full of theology and doctrine and wrestling.  In fact, I think I'll listen to it again.

Jun 13, 2008


Sorry that I was not able to keep up with the Wesleyan blogging like I hoped. There was no WIFI at the exhibit hall, so any updates had to be done on my phone, hitting those little tiny keys with my thumbnails. And the battery was not designed for stuff like that. Plus there wasn't all THAT much going on to justify constant updates. And I was tired. And my back hurt. Mah mah, wah wah.

So I decided to just put my thoughts down about the event. Lots of the exhibitors felt let down at the way the hall was set up. There was not a constant flow of traffic, and the people coming through were not people who would be hiring architects or starting capital stewardship campaigns. Personally, I wasn't to upset. It gave me a chance to actually chat with each person. That helped me to explain things better without feeling rushed.

I also got to spend a lot of time talking to my fellow vendors. This included the trio from - who have some great web hosting and creation deals. And I got to chat with Mark Kelly from Heritage Foundation. He was really cool. I also got to wander around and meet the representatives from several Wesleyan colleges - who were excited about possibly having Defender come to their campuses.

The best part, though, was getting to talk with the various people who knew Heather's family. Heather's grandparents - John and Eva Blann - served for many many years within the Pilgrim Holiness, and subsequent Wesleyan church. They were missionaries to Africa. They served in churches with John as a pastor. And he also served at the Frankfort Wesleyan Bible College as President. Their daughter, Lois, is my mother-in-law. On Heather's dad's side, her uncle Dr. Dave Babb is on staff with the Wesleyans in the Penn-Jersey District. And that family has been very active in the church.

So, I would talk to various people, and most of them knew at least one of those people. Some knew all of them. One couple had served in Africa with the Blanns. Another remembered babysitting Lois, and were good friends with Uncle Dave. The thing that I noticed is that everyone who knew the Blanns, Babbs, or Crissingers thought so highly of them. They raved about how wonderful they were and the impact they had. It was such an honor to be a part of that family - and representing them in some way. I have never ever been treated as an outsider by my in-laws. From the very outset, I became part of the family and was treated just like a blood relative. They love me, defend me, support me. Uncle Dave was beating the Defender drum to anyone he could. The Blanns - even in their late 80s - cried when I first told them we were starting the ministry because they knew how many people needed to be rescued from the sins we address. And to see how much these families have done through the years serving God was awesome.

The conference as a whole had a wonderful feeling to it. There was love all around. People would reconnect there - look for old pastors or fellow missionaries. They would share stories. There is a genuine love for missions - and missionaries play a vital role in the conference. In fact, most of the older ministers served at some point overseas. Since so many went to the Wesleyan colleges, there is a camaraderie there between alumni. And there is an acceptance of other races - I noticed a large number of African-American pastors and leadership. It was so nice to be there.

It gave me pause when I contrasted it to the Baptist conferences I have been to. I don't want to bash my own denomination. But honestly, I never felt anything like this at anything they have put on. There is a lot of comparisons being tossed around. Who has the biggest budget, best building, biggest attendance, largest membership. It sounds like a high school locker room. There isn't love. There isn't a respect for the elder generation. They are seen as "out of touch" and shoved out as soon as possible. The big shots with the new hot schemes are embraced. But the younger generation - unless they are homegrown superstars with the right name or right assignment - are given the whole "shut up until you pay your dues" treatment. Missions almost exists strictly to satiate some guilt for not wanting to reach out past their own walls. And most of the business done is arguing over petty rules, finding new ways to get the rest of the world rankled, and bloviating over useless points of contention.

I actually was embarrassed and a little upset at the difference. Sure, this post will in and of itself tick off some of my fellow Baptists. They will immediately attack the Wesleyans for their differences in theology (which I am well aware of - having spent eight years living very close to several of their ministers). They will call them liberal and accuse me of selling out. Which kind of goes to prove my point. It was very interesting. I was reading John MacArthur's book The Tale of Two Sons while I was sitting for hours. It was very good. At one point, I was sitting there laughing to myself about the contradictions going on in my booth - a Baptist reading a book written by a Calvinist at a Wesleyan conference. The lessons of the book - about how Jesus was targeting the Pharisees yet again with the story, calling out their hypocrisy and obsessive commitment to useless man-made traditions and rules - really resonated with me this week. I realized how sometimes I am that hypocrite. Sometimes I judge like the older brother. And sometimes I join my denomination in finger pointing and accusing, refusing to go into the party like the older sibling to prove a point. I also thought about how blessed I was to be a part of something so sweet as the Wesleyan celebration. Whatever worries I had slipped away as minister after minster shook my hand and thanked me for doing what I was doing. Person after person said they would pray for us, or wanted to use us -- in numbers unlike anything in my own group of churches. And while I am not going to disavow my church membership or switch places of worship, for those five days I was more than happy, and quite honored, to be invited to their fellowship. In fact, even with the 13 hour days, I was a bit sad to have to leave. I look forward to working with them again.