Saturday, December 29, 2007

The "Game" of LIFE

One of this year's hot Christmas gifts was "The Game of LIFE Twists & Turns". I don't remember playing the original game much as a child, but we've sure played this one a lot in the last 5 days.

For anyone not familiar with the game, players earn LIFE Points and dollars (which are converted to LIFE Points at the end of the game) by experiencing careers, lotteries, job promotions, marriage, kids, cars, houses, vacations, education, and, of course, catching lucky breaks by leveraging your grandmother's cookie recipe for big bucks. The game is divided into quadrants of play called Learn It, Earn It, Live It, and Love It. This new LIFE game even takes VISA! Just what I was hoping to teach my kids at the ages of 4, 6, and 9! At the beginning of the game you determine how many years (turns) you will play, and then once you're done, the one with the most LIFE Points wins.

The first time I played, I severely lost to both Caleb (6) and Seth (9). Seth refused to buy a house or car or take any risk whatsoever. Caleb took the maximum risk at all turns and it paid off every time for him. Having never played the game before, nor having experienced much of "real" life, Caleb won that first game. I made the mistake of getting an education before going off to work. I also steered clear of marriage and kids, trying instead to maximize my earnings in the 10 years we had decided to play. I lost subsequent games with a similar strategy. That $500,000 island I had to buy really sunk me in one game.

Upon reading the detailed rules mid-week, I formulated a new strategy for winning. It turns out that getting married earns a lot of LIFE Points that continue to accumulate year after year. So do kids, but they cost 10% to 40% of your salary each year. (It seems as though marriage does not cost anything.) I also discovered you could forgo moving the number of spaces spun, and instead opt to jump to the starting point of any of the 4 quadrants of the game. The downside is that you don't get to draw a LIFE Card, and therefore don't get to experience any of the fun (or disappointment) of entering numbers into the little computer the game supplies that keeps track of your dollars and LIFE Points.

So I finally won a game with this strategy: I picked a career that earned a decent amount of money after 3-4 promotions without requiring a degree. I started in Love It, and got married first. I got 3000 LIFE Points and 1500 each year thereafter. Then I jumped to Earn It (lost a turn because I jumped instead of taking the spin amount). Got promoted, increased salary. Then jumped back to Earn It again and lost a turn. Got promoted again, increased salary, etc. Continued cycling through Earn It until the years nearly ran out. Towards the end of the remaining years, I had earned all the promotions and salary I could get without a degree, so I jumped to Live It and took a big vacation. By then, I could afford it, and I earned 5000 LIFE Points at the end of the vacation (my last turn). I won big time when I played with this strategy. My opponents tried the same Earn It strategy once they saw what I was doing, but they forgot to get married, and instead just earned a lot of money. My poor virtual "LIFE Wife"... We got married early, never had kids, I worked all the time, lived a boring life, and didn't take a vacation until I retired!

So being that I'm into metaphors, this game has really caused me to reflect on my own life and career. I don't want to win in real life the way I won in the game, but it almost seems inevitable. I've got the wife and kids and do abundantly enjoy many real life aspects of being a husband and father. But my career... While I don't currently "work all the time" pursuing one promotion after another, there is a great deal of melancholy in the way I am in this real life Earn It quadrant. I guess the 40's are the "earning years" and that's where I am. I don't play the lottery (which in the game you have at least a 50% chance of winning!). And I don't do business ventures - maybe I should. I don't have any living grandmothers with cookie recipes.

I am thankful for my job, and I am qualified to do what I do, and I can do it relatively well, and am relatively successful at it, and I've enjoyed it a lot more lately. But it's not my life's passion. It's not what I want to do when I don't have to do it. I don't know how many spins I have left in real life, but it seems like it is going by as fast as it does in the game. I don't want to look back as a 65 year old retiree and not have lived life to the fullest, and fully enjoyed the work I do.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Funny Things My Kids Do

Last night about 45 minutes after the kids had gone to bed (around 11:30pm), I was sitting in the bed typing on the computer. I heard the cat (CoCo) under the bed... quietly making a sound... YACK YACK YACK... complete with some slight wheezing... sounded just like a hairball coming up. This was our new cat's first hairball, and I was trying to recall the cat medicine you give them to help with hairballs. So I jumped down and began to look under the bed. I wanted to see this. I looked under my side and didn't see her. Then I looked under the foot of the bed and didn't see her, but I could see some movement underneath Lori's side of the bed. I called to CoCo, hoping to coax her out, "Are you OK?" Caleb replied in a soft voice, "Yea. I'm OK." Apparently, he can be light on his feet when he wants, but can't hide that little cough he's had recently.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Good 'Ole Country Comfort in My Bones

As I look at the archive for my month old blog, the tally is telling... September: 10 posts... October: 1 lone post. I guess the blogging honeymoon is over already. Since the Hilton Head beach trip, it's as if there's nothing to write about. But that's not really the case. This month has been pretty eventful.

After the beach, we went to the NC State Fair. We went through 9 books of tickets, which we bought in advance to save almost 50%. The Fair has about 6 fun houses, and every one of them has the same layout, and same slide at the end. That was where most of the tickets were spent. The other popular ride, and ticket consumer, was The Crazy Mouse, which is basically a combination Tilt-a-Whirl and roller coaster. Imagine spinning in a circle while riding a roller coaster. Once was enough for me. The kids rode again, with complete strangers.

Then we went with my parents and my family to Aunt Beverly's mountain home outside of Stuart, VA, for a Saturday afternoon visit. This was our first trip there since Lori and I have been married. The kids had a ball. They enjoyed getting BB-gun-shooting lessons from Bev and then shooting tin cans and a personalized bulls eye. After lunch, they got to check out Bev's tarantula, and look for insects in the yard to feed the tarantula.

As a kid, when I used to go to my sister's in the summertime - for what seemed like months at a time - there was no gun shooting (well maybe some) or insect searching (any insects found were unwelcomed). This was back before computers, the Internet, and GameBoys were invented. What on earth did we do?

What I remember is not necessarily entertaining or fun-packed, but good nonetheless. I remember honing my stamp collecting skills by going to the only post office in town to see if there were any new releases. I remember doing nothing in particular during the day, but riding back home after sundown in Bev's yellow Jeep CJ-7 with the top removed. Though it was summertime and miserably hot during the day, it was cold in the evening, especially as you left the bright lights and big city heat of Stuart - with its one traffic light - and headed to the real back roads and cool dark sky of Patrick County. We would have the heat on, and would listen to the 8-track tape of Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection, which, to this day, is still my favorite Elton John record. It was worth being cold.

Back at Bev's house, there was little to watch on TV, as this was pre-cable and pre-satellite, and her mountain antenna reception wasn't that great. We would play Bach records and play with the crazy Siamese cat Moo Moo to the rhythm of the music. We would play guitar some, as Beverly would self-teach herself to play lead to some song, and I would strum along the chords. Not sure if that was the "camp song" - or not - that our parents have fondly reminisced about ever since. We both wished we could play like John Denver.

Sometimes we would venture up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway or beyond. We visited the home of our ancestors in Grayson County and would go look at old tombstones, searching for our great-great-grand-something or another. We took pictures of things, and developed and printed in Bev's home darkroom.

There was no home cooking of vegetables, beef roast, or pork chops... but really good tacos, spaghetti, hot dogs, and Hamburger Helper. During the stay, we would easily eat a whole pack of 100 cookies - half chocolate and half vanilla. It was all good.

I would never trade the times at the NC State Fair with my family, braving the crowd, tolerating the noise, and riding The Crazy Mouse. But as I have grown older, and gotten busier, I often crave the quiet and simple and seemingly humdrum days that I experienced as a child, spending my summers with my big sister in the mountains of Virginia, doing nothing in particular. Those were great memories, without a lot of technological entertainment. It's a rare time these days when there is solitude, with time to think, and quietness, with time to listen.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Our Trip to Hilton Head, SC

This morning marks the end of our "summer" vacation to the beach, this time to Hilton Head - three nights and four days in what was predicted by esteemed meteorologists as 4 days of "severe thunderstorms, lightning, 80% chance of rain, up to 1/4" of rain." What we got was occasional white puffy clouds, frequent blue sky, mild temperatures (80s), and the usual dose of beach humidity. We may have turned the wipers on for 30 seconds one day, but that was it! That's the unpredictability of beach weather.

For me, there is nothing like the beach, and seeing and hearing the ocean. It just keeps on going. I see the beautiful homes here, many along the beach, and just imagine what it might be like to live there. Not necessarily in the home - but on the beach. To be able to sleep on a screened-in porch and hear the real ocean, not the fake ocean as played by my sound conditioner back home. I can dream... and if that day never comes, we still have vacations. Our first night here at the Marriott was a nice view of the entrance road and parking lot. After some confusion and gnashing of teeth, we moved to a beach side room for the last 2 nights.

The most distinctive thing about this beach trip was the environment. Hilton Head is more low key than Myrtle Beach. There are no big lighted signs pointing to the Dixie Stampede just ahead. There are dark unlit roads weaving through quiet neighborhoods in gated communities leading to a marina where a restaurant and its T-shirt store are located. The have putt-putt here, but no NASCAR Speedway Fun Park. They have pools, but no splashing sliding bucket-dumping water park. Lori and I compared this place to Bald Head Island, but with cars and a competitive free-market economy. (Note: Bald Head Island, SC has golf carts for transportation and few restaurants and stores, which seem to be run and/or tightly controlled by the government of BHI - as it probably has to be - otherwise, you would need cars, and that would spoil the point of BHI - which is to RELAX. But I digress.)

We brought 2 bikes here from home and rented 3 from the local bike rental store. Then we became cruel parents and forced our children to ride bikes around the community and on the beach. I really hated putting them through that as it was very traumatic to have to participate in recreation not involving the pool, beach, Cartoon Network, Nikelodeon, Play Station, Nintendo DS or Gameboy. I expect that when we get home, they will fondly talk about riding bikes on the beach, in and out of the edge of the surf, and will look forward to that on future beach trips. I know I will.

Caleb & Seth enjoyed the ocean probably more than anything. They would stand in the water up to their belly, and get smashed by waves, over and over again. I think they would do it for hours if we would let them. But that is a very stressful activity for a parent - maintaining focus on the 2 little bodies playing in the water. So we did that for about an hour each day, and I'm sure that is what they loved the most about this whole trip. Luke's thing was playing in the indoor pool and hot tub. That's a lot easier to manage. And we all watched The Lord of The Rings movies at nights (we had never seen them), as Luke and Caleb fell asleep... and then the rest of us... and the room became quiet. And the ocean kept doing its thing outside.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Happy 10th Anniversary to Us!!

Ten years ago today, Lori and I tied the knot after an amazing 6 month relationship and 6 week engagement. My best friend from high school, who was a legal pastor I believe, married us at the NC State University Arboretum in the presence of our parents and my favorite aunt and uncle. It was a cheap wedding, but has been a richly rewarding marriage.

It seemed like a risk to get married so suddenly, but we both felt God made us for one another. The time has amazingly flown by. If we did not have a 9 year old son (who just turned 9 last week!), I'm not sure I would believe this! She has also given me 2 other boys as pictured to the right (and a cat, the only other girl in the house).

We didn't have a honeymoon right away. I spent 2 of the first 3 weeks of our marriage on a business trip in Ireland. It was tough being apart so soon after getting hitched. We finally took our honeymoon trip in December to Australia. Seth was actually "Made in Australia." The other two came as great surprises along the way, and we stopped after Luke.

The balance is almost fair now... the 3 boys and me combined are almost as much a man as she is a woman. She is lovely, and sexy, and witty, and inventive, and caring, and creative, and nurturing, among other things. And she can cook, which proves she is also teachable (thanks, moms!). She has a smile and charm that wins everyone over, especially me. She has patience to love me unconditionally, and I am thankful she appreciates me and encourages me. She is giving and sacrificing to others, volunteering at a local women's shelter, to bring a smile to someone else's face. Every time our kids cry "Momeeeeeeeee!" I am especially thankful for her, and that they know her soft comforting hugs and love, just as I do.

I think the secret to our marriage is that we allow one another space to be ourselves. We don't so much try to change one another, as we have grown to appreciate the unique qualities and attributes God made in us, and that any individual problem or issue is not a deal-breaker.

I credit Lori with bringing me back to God. We talked about our faith when we were dating, though mine was questionable at the time. Later, we joined a church, and she encouraged me in Bible study, sharing of my journey with Christ with others, and giving. We have had many special times praying together and living through our faith challenges.

In hindsight, we probably have an improbable relationship. But by God's grace we have made it this far, and I love her more each and every day. This has been, by far, the best 10 years of my life.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Funny Things My Kids Have Said #2

On the way to Danville yesterday, Luke kept asking "When are we going to be there?" I asked that he watch the clock (which said 11:20), and that when the 20 became a 55 then we would almost be there. I'm thinking he would watch the numbers increase, and learn to tell time through this exercise. Caleb then said to Luke in his usual animated, cut-to-the-chase way, "LUKE, look out your window. If you see a Wendy's and we're going up a big hill, we're almost there."

On the way home from Danville, which is mostly rural country roads, Luke asked, "Are we in the middle of somewhere?" That one was tough to answer. I think I said, "Yes, but not for long."

Today in Sunday School, Lori said they were naming animal sounds. What does a duck say? What does a dog say? Etc... When they were asked "What does a cow say?" Luke answered, "Eat mor chikin."

Today, Caleb had a "date" with a girl/friend in the neighborhood. I gave him the big lecture beforehand about being a gentleman, and using manners, etc. When Lori picked him up, the mother told her about how wonderful and nice Caleb was! Said he was much better than any other child who had visited before. As Lori was telling me this on the phone on the way home, Caleb heard the bragging about him, and promptly asked his mom, "Can I have a dollar?" (I guess he's considering an allowance again!)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Acts29 Bootcamp - The Center Focus

I spent 2 days this week at the Acts29 Raleigh 2007 Bootcamp. I wrote earlier that I heard the words “Jesus” and “gospel” quite frequently during this conference, and that I was stirred up and mesmerized. Why? It took me a few days to put my finger on it. This may sound like a cliché, but the result of this conference for me was to reorient my attention not so much on how churches compare to one another, but how well they compare to Christ and uphold the gospel.

The whole strategy and foundation of Acts29 is that church planters need to be gospel-centered and preach such that everything that is said or done through and by one’s church ties back to the over-arching story of Jesus. That story is simply this: Jesus was God’s son, sent by God to live and walk among people 2000 years ago. Jesus was fully God and fully man. Yet, he suffered the punishment of death on a cross, which he did not deserve, taking our place instead, as we deserved to be there because of our own sinfulness. In return, we get eternal life and his holiness, which we did not deserve – because three days later, he arose from being dead and is alive today. It is through faith in this man & God named Jesus, not through any effort or qualities of our own, that we are redeemed and have life to the fullest, as we are now sons and daughters of God.

It is the challenge of Acts29 that every bit of everything we do as a local church point back to that storyline. Based on my understanding of church history and my own experiences, this is not new. This is how churches are supposed to have been operating all along. But this is not just a formula for success, as Acts29 expects this to really be engrained in the DNA of the people who lead and participate in the church. It’s not just that preachers preach about the gospel, but that they are humble men, who submit themselves to scripture, and live it out themselves. They even encourage pastors in this network to voluntarily establish accountability circles where they are regularly challenged to be faithful and pure in their relationship with their wives, families, and Christ. Acts29 paints a high-standard for the local church and her pastors, and that’s how it ought to be.

Mark Driscoll challenged these 200+ men who attended this conference that being a church plant pastor is going to be extremely difficult, and only those with intestinal fortitude and fervent gospel-centered leadership qualities will survive. And he’s so right. Even before the going gets tough, there will be temptations. At the conference, Driscoll talked about the typical temptations that bring down many people, regardless of vocation, such as sexual immorality, greed, addictions, or neglecting family to achieve career success. Pastors are far from immune, as there is an adversary in Satan working against them 24 x 7, and building the church seems like a higher calling than being a husband and father. (It is certainly not, Driscoll states.) Succumbing to those types of temptations typically leads to failed ministries, and often busts up marriages and families.

What I worry about for these young pastors is something perhaps as bad as a social moral fall, and that is when familiarity begins to breed contempt - when you remain in ministry, have the appearance of success, and yet somehow have distorted, compromised, avoided, or added to the gospel. I think there is a spectrum of ideology that exists in the Christian church today. In the center is the gospel as it was, is, and is meant to be - relevant, available, helpful, convicting, correcting, connecting, graceful, merciful, and loving all at once. But on the left is a concept often referred to as “watering down the gospel,” and on the right is a concept often referred to as “cultural irrelevance.”

Where church leaders think they themselves are on that spectrum will determine how they assess and compare themselves to other churches and pastors, and vice versa. The center leads to humility, the left, compromise, and the right, pride. There certainly are cases where churches water down the gospel, where they abandon conservative biblical principles in order to appease culture or church plurality, or preach a “prosperity gospel” where the listener learns how to get rich quick in the name of Jesus, or temporarily avoid the existence of the Trinity, in favor of a more widely-accepted, cross-cultural, international, United Nations-approved “God.” Likewise, there are churches where culture and the people in it are ignored unless they conform to the religious practices and traditions in the church. And where hellfire and brimstone and good works are preached, and love and mercy and grace are absent. I think both of these are the extremes, and I believe are the exception to the rule in the Christian church today. What I now believe to be mostly a waste of time is evaluating and wrongly pigeonholing other churches or pastors into either of these extreme groups based solely on reputation or out-of-context information marks.

One type of pigeonholing is this: When a person critiques a church or pastor to the left of where he or she is, it is often evidenced by surreptitiously rebuking the church or leader, sometimes while piously quoting scripture out of context. I have heard many Bible-quoting brothers and sisters automatically equate “watering down the gospel” with any and all of the following: drinking beer or wine, using secular resources in church, being "seeker-sensitive", using business principles to operate a church, serving coffee in church, having a mega-church of thousands of people, advertising, holding attractional events, not having an alter call every sermon, playing rock-style worship music, not using hymns, not having a choir, using resources from other churches or pastors, not saying “Jesus” or “sin” enough in a sermon, using resources from the Internet, not affiliating with a denomination, having church services on December 24 but not December 25, having fun in church or enjoying church in any manner (lest it be branded entertainment), preaching that is topical and not expository, preaching that only uses one verse per sermon, preaching that uses many verses per sermon from different parts of the Bible, preaching a topic that addresses a felt need of the congregation, preaching with a goal of life change (ie. transformation) over Bible knowledge transfer, not having Sunday School, having a church that is culturally “hip” or “cool,” and last but not least, playing cards. It’s as if there is a scorecard, and once you meet 3 of these criteria, you’re automatically a “cult” that “waters down the gospel.” In these cases, in the heart of the critic, the gospel has simply been enhanced with legalism. Critiques like this are often prideful, and serve only to attempt to set oneself apart from “that church” by "out-gospelizing" it.

The other type of pigeonholing, which I confess I have been guilty of, is being critical of churches to the right of the gospel that are irrelevant and inward focused, that hold to tradition and avoid change like the plague. These are churches that are potentially not on mission. It’s convenient, and probably incorrect, to automatically brand these churches as irrelevant just because they have a choir but not a praise band, play an organ, display Jesus pictures on the walls, sing from a hymnal, won’t use Powerpoint to display lyrics, dress up for church, use the King James Version, preach only expository, have a Vacation Bible School program, proclaim drinking beer or wine as sinful, belong to a denomination, hold evangelism fairs, have a steeple on the church building, have Sunday School classes, leave gospel tracts at restaurants instead of tips, or teach information from the Bible without tying it to today’s application. Again, it’s not necessarily a “3 of these and you’re guilty” scenario. There are good churches with good traditions that are reaching people and helping to transform lives in the name of Jesus. And while I don’t personally prefer some of these traits, it is true that tradition without substance can be a significant deterrent for non-believers, just as style without substance can be an inhibitor for truth, conviction, and real transformation.

Lest anyone think I am a heretic, it does disappoint me when pastors and believers miss opportunities to knock a home run in the name of Jesus. Jesus and the gospel is the distinctiveness of our faith. It is the key that unlocks doors and answers life altering questions. Jesus and the apostles spoke challenging and convicting words to people in sometimes gentle and creative ways, and sometimes pointed and unfiltered ways. We need a balance of both in our churches and relationships. We are Christ’s ambassadors here on earth. Some will do it better than others. Some will be more or less accurate and pure than others. Some will get it wrong sometimes. Some will avoid hard truths and preach only love and mercy. Some will avoid love and mercy, and preach only wrath and judgment. Neither of those alone is right, but it doesn’t mean that Christ can’t or won’t use the “fruit” of those churches. It is not our obligation to avoid being like those churches, or to tear them down in public blogs and at conferences. It is our obligation for ourselves to focus on being like Christ and our own churches to be gospel-centered churches. Jesus says in Matthew 16:18 that he will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it! That is a HUGE promise. Perhaps not every product of an imperfect church will be for naught! Let’s stop spending our precious ministry time comparing ourselves and our churches to others, and compare only to the One who is incomparable. And I’m saying this not only to others, but to myself.

Mark Driscoll has said, “The benchmark of what we do is, ‘Is it faithful to scripture and fruitful for people?’ What matters is people meeting Jesus and Him changing their life.”(1) I think that hits it spot-on. Driscoll also said, “The best way to have unity – is to have a bunch of people who are repentant and humble.” That is my prayer for all pastors and believers, not just those at the Acts29 conference. Let’s develop ministries that are faithful to scripture and fruitful for people, and be people who are repentant and humble. That’s the center.

1. Mars Hill Church Sermon Audio, 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, Jan 22, 2006

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Acts21 Raleigh 2007 Bootcamp - Random Notes

Today was the end of the 2-day bootcamp held at my home church Vintage21. This is a conference for prospective church plant pastors and their wives. I am no pastor, nor do I feel I am called to be a pastor. But I enjoy good church leadership conferences. I thought this one would give me some insight into the DNA of my new church, Vintage21, as they are an Acts29 regional hub for church planting. I am certainly not worthy to debate, add anything to, or comment intelligently about what I saw or heard. I'm just a regular guy, called by God to serve him in the local church in some capacity.

The speakers at this conference were several Acts29 network pastors, including Scott Thomas, Chan Kilgore, Daniel Montgomery and our local pastor, Tyler Jones. Additionally, we had the Acts29 founder and church plant hero second only to Jesus, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Mark Driscoll (pictured), as well as renowned missionality author and LifeWay staff member, Ed Stetzer.

One distinctive of this conference is that I probably heard the words "Jesus" and "gospel" more times in the last 2 days, than in my prior 42 years combined. It was a good thing, and I will blog more about that later. I've walked out of other conferences fired up and energized. From this one, I walked out stirred up and mesmerized.

In this post, I am just going to include some funny and/or clever comments I heard today from Driscoll and Stetzer...

  • Mark Driscoll (MD): I am a functional charismatic with a seatbelt
  • MD: Elder should be able to teach and connect everything to Jesus.
  • MD: Elder likes his bible - that's his default source for answering questions
  • MD: pastor should not touch the church secretary or church money
  • MD: discouraged use of website sermons - should study bible until it convicts you, and then preach out of your own experiences - this will show church body that YOU too have applied the scripture to yourself.
  • MD: preach not for information, but transformation
  • MD: church planters are not wusses
  • MD: church planters are farmers who yell at the dirt "GROW!" (2 Tim 2:6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.)
  • MD: key characters of church planter: patience & humility
  • Ed Stetzer (ES): Churches should be biblically faithful, culturally relevant, countercultural communities
  • ES: churches should be "seeker-comprehensive" because sometimes the gospel is not "sensitive"
  • ES: preaching against culture is like preaching against a house - it's where you live - it has sin and it has righteousness
  • ES: if a pastor rejects (or does not embrace) accountability, it is a mark of immaturity, not leadership
  • MD: First things a young pastor should do: 1. get a wife 2. read the bible 3. sleep with wife 4. get her to read the bible.
  • MD: key attributes of a church plant core group: leaders, servants, givers, gatherers. Don't plant a church with needy people such that they consume the church's resources (like all the pastor's time, for counselling)... they need to be leaders, servants, givers, and gatherers.
  • MD: roles of a pastor in priority order... Christian first, then husband, then father, then pastor.
  • MD or ED (can't remember which): every sermon needs to include some tie to the over-arching theme of the gospel... the gospel is the storyline of the bible

Monday, September 17, 2007

Funny Things My Kids Have Said

This is one list I should have been documenting from the beginning. Here are some recent ones...
is my middle son, and is full of personality. He's the one in front in the beach picture. He's 6 and is not easily bribed. I have been offering him an allowance for over a year, but he never wants it. I have previously thought that he just didn't understand capitalism. Recently, we were at a store where Seth (behind Caleb at beach) was spending the allowance he had saved, and was buying things he wanted. Caleb wanted something too, but I told him that he didn't have any money. I asked him again if he wanted to receive an allowance like Seth. He agreed that time. So as we were driving home, he asked, "Dad, when do I start getting my allowance?" I said, "Well, the first thing you have to know is that in order to get your allowance every week, you are going to have to mind your mann-" Caleb interrupted, "That's OK," sensing the strings attached. In other words.... "Nevermind." To this day, he still doesn't receive an allowance. I have to give him some credit for not selling out to the man.

Tonight as I was putting Luke (photo of Luke eating taken by Caleb) to bed, he asked, "Did Jesus make everything?" "Yes," I said, and so I started to read the first few verses from Genesis 1 - as much as I could see from the ambiance of a night light and no reading glasses. A moment later he asked, "What does Jesus do when..." (and I'm thinking this is going to be a huge theological question) "... when I fall on the sidewalk?" "I figure he's probably sad when you fall and get hurt, but he knows you will get better," I answer. Then he says, "Does Jesus make costumes?" The key to answering this question is pointing out that people make costumes and God makes people, so for the purposes of this discussion, the answer is "yes." Then, "Does Jesus make... feet?" "Yes... Time for bed, Luke."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Music from Jr. High & High School

I have been in a mood lately where I've been downloading songs from iTunes from my childhood... It's funny how some songs just remind me of something way back when. Here are some of my old favorites I've recently grabbed...
  • Don't Misunderstand Me - Rossington Collins Band
  • Ridin' the Storm Out and 157 Riverside Avenue - REO Speedwagon
  • Boom Boom Out Go the Lights - Pat Travers

  • The whole Cheap Trick Live at Budokan album
  • On the Loose and Wind Him Up - Saga

  • I also got a Captain & Tennille song, but please don't tell anyone!!!

I wrote my friend Scott and he helped me remember a few more of my favorites...

  • Blinded Me with Science - (I've got all the Thomas Dolby CDs!)

  • Boomtown Rats - (Tell Me Why) I don't like Mondays
  • Train, Train - Blackfoot (good ole' southern rock!)
  • Molly Hatchet - Flirtin' With Disaster
  • Rubber Biscuit - Blues Brothers (Elwood!)
  • ELO
  • Asia - Only Time Will Tell, Heat of the Moment (ah those trips to Myrtle Beach!)
  • Duran Duran - Hungry Like the Wolf - NCSU Wolfpack '83 National Champions!!
  • Flock of Seagulls - I saw them in concert... nice hair!
  • Men at Work
  • Jefferson Starship - Jane (of course!) Scott wrote that, not me.
  • RUSH - I am the #1 Rush fan (in my house)
  • Steve Martin
  • Supertramp
  • Weird Al -- if you haven't heard it yet, download, "The Saga Begins"
  • Chris Cross - Ride Like the Wind (for old time's sake)

So I had a lot of that, but I did download Train, Train and a bunch more!!!

Man I remember in 8th grade (I think)... some guy playing that in the back of the room in English class, and the teacher couldn't figure out where those harmonicas were coming from!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Journey / Vintage21 Merge-Adoption-Rescue

Tomorrow 9/9/07 is the first sort-of "big day" since my church The Journey agreed to be merged, or basically turnover the keys, to another church Vintage21. Tomorrow is our soft launch. I call it a soft re-launch since we've already started once, hard launched once, soft launched once, and near about stopped... all in the first year! Such is the nature of church planting and starting... something I never thought I'd be doing, nor wanted to do. Eighty percent (or some large number) of church plants don't make it past a year. We're trying to stay out of the 80 percent.

So here are the highlights, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, 2007... Our pastor and long time good friend did not feel God was calling him to pastor a church plant any more, and he was called elsewhere. We weighed options regarding partnering with another church startup, or simply shutting down, and coordinating how we might scatter to other churches. We had about 80 or so adults, and probably 50 kids. We made some calls, and ultimately, Vintage21 convinced us not to close down. Their lead pastor Tyler Jones said we have 1 million people in the Triangle who did not yet know Christ, and that we needed all the churches we could get in neighborhoods around the area.

Vintage21 is a church in Raleigh, the capital city. Most of their church body is under the age of 30, and the pastors are about 32. This worked out well for us at The Journey, because we still wish we were under the age of 30, and we sort of remember being 32. So after all sorts of debate and analysis and discussion of questions and gnashing of teeth and writing of notes and FAQs, the merger was approved about a month ago. Among the people remaining by that time, it was actually approved overwhelmingly. It's amazing how secular businesses merge all the time, yet churches seem to have a hard time pulling it off. So we're learning as we go, for sure. We've had some hiccups along the way, and we still have not signed all the legal documents required by the state... but that will come.

I'm so used to looking at this from my perspective. I am one of the leaders at The Journey, so I'm usually thinking selfishly as in "What does this change mean to me? Or us? Will my needs and preferences be met?" Right now, I am just thankful we've made it this far. If I look at this from Vintage21's perspective, here we have an established church that has grown 100% a year for each of the last 4 years. I'm sure they had quite a platefull for 2007 already. When we came along in May, they were just beginning a construction up-fit in a new location and former bar downtown called Jillians. They just moved into the building and are still working out the kinks with that process. They are active in Acts29 and are hosting a boot camp later this month. They are allowing the city to use their space to host a creativity conference called SparkCon this month. They planned a grand opening to welcome the downtown communities into their place.

So with all this on their plate, along comes The Journey needing help in late May! Right away, the pastor began driving to our site to teach at our service, in between their #1 and #2 services. They brought down a site pastor from Richmond to help us out during our initial transition. So tomorrow is the soft re-launch, when we will likely have a few new elements that make it feel like Vintage21. I think the big re-launch is being discussed for January. I think this amount of time will give them more ability to work with the Cary site to plan the big day.

But for now, we have the soft re-launch, which I pray will be a burst of momentum. We sure need it.

Baptizing our son Seth

As a parent, there are a lot of things you hope and pray for your kids. Good health, being smart, making good grades, success in sports, find a good job, "be happy," etc., are some of the many things we hope for our kids.
There is none more impotant than this one. My wife Lori and I have prayed since our boys were babies that they would grow up and someday choose, on their own, to follow Jesus. Baptism is an outward display of this decision. Our oldest son Seth made the decision to follow Christ at New Life Camp this summer. He was baptized at Jordan Lake by ME August 26, 2007 at the Vintage21 "BBQ Baptism!" It was a smokin' hot day in the high 90's, and we were glad to have many friends there, as well as all 4 grandparents.
The pictures show our pastor, Tyler Jones, in the UNC T-Shirt on the left. I almost called the whole thing off when I saw what he was wearing. But I had on my red NC State T-shirt - so we went on as planned. All in all, about 20 people from The Journey and Vintage21 got dunked that day. It was a beautiful thing. Now we have 2 more boys to go, Caleb (6) and Luke (4), and pray that they will come to this decision point in their life in the future as well.

Writing... blah blah blah

I like to write. My handwriting is terrible, and I didn't learn much in typing class... and I hated English class and writing in school... but it's ok now... because I communicate best when writing. I don't like talking. My tongue does not have a backspace, and I and others forget what I say anyway. I'd rather write any day.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The abbreviated story of how The Journey came to join forces with Vintage21

As a leadership team, we had about 10 days notice that our pastor was going to step down. We considered many options and played out many scenarios, none of them were real appealing. We had calls into several places, including a few local churches like Hope Community and Vintage21, and the Acts29 Network (to which V21 belongs). But it looked pretty bleak. I even had charts made up with pictures and graphs that argued for closing the doors and trying to find some synergy and join forces with other churches. I was looking forward to being done with it, and moving on to an established church and plugging in (after recuperating for a long time, of course).

Dan, one of our leaders, had talked on the phone with Tyler Jones at V21 on Thursday before Memorial Day, and he said that the conversation was pretty encouraging. The Friday before Memorial Day... literally at 5:30pm... we met with Tyler at his home right in the middle of downtown Raleigh... ok a few blocks east... right near the Raleigh Rescue Mission. I am not kidding... I went with Dan and another leader, 100% convinced that we were closing the doors after the coming Sunday. Within 60 seconds, Tyler spoke words that completely changed my heart and mind. He put wind back in my sails that I had not felt in years. He was encouraging, positive, biblical, humble, confident, firm, and gracious all at the same time. It was absolutely amazing.

Our theory was that there was not a market in Cary for another church like Hope Community, or Crosspointe, or Hope Chapel. Tyler disagreed... He said that there are a million people in the Triangle who don't know Jesus, and that it is NOT true that we have enough churches. We need all the churches we can get. We need churches in every neighborhood across the Triangle.... The local church is the best way to reach our communities and neighbors and friends for Christ. It was so refreshing to hear a leader who is convinced of their mission, and is non-compromising about executing it.

As it turned out, Tyler was in the midst of his first 3-week vacation in years, and had the coming Sunday off from preaching. (I believe this was God's providence.) So he agreed to come to West Cary on his day off, on a holiday weekend, the day that our pastor resigned. Our pastor gave his talk. Then I talked a bit, and then Tyler came up and breathed the same level of excitement and encouragement into what he said to our congregation. He recognized and affirmed our pastor for his service and courage to heed God's calling to step down. And he talked of the mission of the local church. After he was done, people were SOOOO pumped up and excited! So, on what was intended by the enemy to be a day of defeat for the kingdom, I truly believe was a major day of victory!!! I strongly encourage you to listen to this audio 5/27... You will readily hear the humility and the passion and the biblical leader qualities that we heard...

So we started out with this try-and-see relationship with Vintage21. From that point forward, Tyler and Vintage21 changed their schedule such that he preaches service #1 downtown, then drives to WCMS, then preaches at The Journey, then drives right back downtown to preach service #2 there. Then he preaches in the evening there, too. The Vintage21 elders were always very humble and seemed to be such passionate followers and imitators of Christ, we could not help but think God was at work.

During that time, we met with Hope Community. While I would say that The Journey had a lot more in common with Hope Community, and they agreed to help us in some ways, there was not a sense of us being a part of a larger kingdom vision with them. There wasn't the same level of urgency and vision about keeping The Journey open that we experienced at Vintage21. I think the proximity of The Journey at West Cary was too close to Hope (I think it's 8 miles) and I also think they were already busy with another church plant.

During all this time, the V21 elders were fasting and praying about our situation. They came to us with a proposal: Let's merge!!! We would remain in Cary, and Tyler would continue to preach for us. They would staff a site pastor who would serve to care for the families at the Cary site. So after much discussion, The Journey partners overwhelmingly voted for the merger in late July. We have a site pastor, Robert Greene, who is currently commuting from Richmond to Cary 2x per week to be with us. He has a long-standing relationship with Vintage21 and Acts29 and has been hoping to formally get into those organizations.

One thing we're surely missing is a youth group. We have, literally, a handful of youth. And that is important to parents who have youth. Tyler challenged our folks and said, "When you're 13, you are old enough to labor with us and build the youth ministry from the ground up!" He really believes in people taking ownership in the kingdom and not just being served. AMEN!!!! Despite all the hurdles like these, I am convinced that we are in God's will, and that He is going to work out something super great in the end.