Thursday, June 30, 2005

I Know Everything About Jesus

Recently, Braeden told Shari & I that he "knew everything about Jesus"... so, we asked him what he knew. One of his answers is just too good to not pass along:

Jesus turns bad guys into good guys.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Boy Gets Stuck in Wal-Mart Toy Machine

Sunday, May 22, 2005 (FoxNews),2933,157268,00.html

ELKHART, Ind. — A 3-year-old boy upset that his mother wouldn't let him use a crane vending machine to try to win a small stuffed animal took matters in his own hands. He climbed up the chute to get the prize himself.

Danielle Manges (search) said she took her eyes off her son, James, for a moment to pick up a juice bottle he threw. When she looked up, he was in with the plush toys. "I bent over to clean it and within two seconds he had climbed through the hole, into the chute and pushed the door shut so we couldn't get him out," she said. "He climbed up in the toys and was in there for a good hour."

Manges said James has been sick and sleeping odd hours so they went shopping about 3 a.m. Thursday at a Wal-Mart in the city some 15 miles east of South Bend (search). She let the boy play on some of the rides, but wouldn't give him money for the vending machine.

At first, Manges thought it was funny. "He was playing with all the toys and hanging from the bar like a monkey," she said. Manges said people leaving the store went back inside to buy disposable cameras to take photos of her son. She bought one herself.

She became upset, however, when Wal-Mart (search) employees said they did not have a key to let James out. So Manges called the fire department for help.

"I expected his hand to be caught in the machine but it was his entire body in the machine," firefighter Anthony Coleman said. "He was swinging from a bar, jumping around. He was having a ball." About 40 people watched as the firefighters removed the back of the machine and freed him.

James still came up empty handed. "He definitely didn't get a toy after that," Manges said.

Besides the fact that James needs some discipline (remember, he executed the entry into the toy machine while mom was distracted because SHE had to pick up a juice bottle HE had thrown), I managed to find something a bit deeper in this story.

We're all pretty much following James' example in the way we deal with our wants & desires... when God doesn't come through on our time table, we crawl up into the machine of the world to get it ourselves.

James got off easy - he only inconvenienced some firefighters. But for many of us, the damage is a lot worse than losing a toy. We lose marriages, we lose jobs, we lose friendships, we lose our self-respect, we lose our dignity, we lose so many things in a quest to get "what I deserve". And that thing, that position, that relationship, whatever... crumbles to dust in our hands when we finally grab it.

I'll go to any lengths sacrifice all that I already have and all that I might give
just to get something more I don't need and Lord please don't ask me what for
the lust the flesh the eyes and the pride of life
drain the life right out of me

the 77's

Question of the Day: what is eating at you, calling you to crawl into the "machine"...? Now, will you choose to wait on God rather than grab whatever it is for yourself?

But me, I'm not giving up.
I'm sticking around to see what GOD will do.
I'm waiting for God to make things right.
I'm counting on God to listen to me.

Micah 7:7 (The Message)

This article originally appeared in the 6/23/05 edition of "the Grapevine", the e-newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Monday, June 27, 2005

When in Doubt, Blame The Templars

Shari & I watched National Treasure Saturday night... some quick thoughts on it:
  • it's still weird to me that Nicolas Cage, who began his career with odd roles like the husband/boyfriend in Peggy Sue Got Married (hated the movie) and H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona (favorite line from one of my favorite films: "Now, what's it gonna be young feller? You want I should freeze or get down on the ground? 'Cause if'n I freeze, I can't rightly drop. And if'n I drop, I'm gonna be in motion.")... anyway, how in the world did Nick Cage end up being an action movie hero? Harrison Ford I get, Bruce Willis I understand, Gov. Arnold is a no-brainer... but Nicolas Cage?
  • this is a Walt Disney film that reminds me (with the exception of a couple of swear words) of the classic Walt Disney live action films like 20,000 Leagues or Treasure Island - a full-on adventure movie with a sense of humor. Of course, the production values are a whole lot better, but it's still just a few judicious edits away from being on Wonderful World of Disney.
  • I found myself grinning at the references to the Knights Templar, as I've been studying The Da Vinci Code in preparation for the release of the movie next year. (My congregation isn't likely to jump on the bestselling book bandwagon, but they are likely to see a blockbuster film - and the release date for Ron Howard's production is May of 2006.) So, it's funny to see that Dan Brown turned them into the group that hides the "secrets" about Jesus while the folks who wrote National Treasure made them guardians of a huge treasure. It's one of those "when you're not around to defend yourself, you get painted whatever color the artist likes." (BTW, this same rule works in committee life: if you're not there, you're likely to get assigned the scut work. Sigh.)
  • quickie review: this is a good DVD rental... a fun adventure movie with a bit of humor. It's not going to win any awards, but it makes for a nice brain dead evening.
  • for a better use of the Crusades in a fictional story, check out Stephen Lawhead's amazing Celtic Crusades trilogy.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Show Me The Money

Our newest gamer-in-training, Collin, joins his big brother & dad for a scintillating game of Dish It Up. Notice that he's already got a firm grasp of the "bird in the hand" principle. Posted by Hello BTW, Dish It Up is one of my favorite memory games for kids - the theme's great (waiting tables in a diner) and the gameplay works like a charm. I'm not sure if it's still in print, but we've more than got our money's worth out of it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

How 2 Relate 2 Youth

I wrote this a long time ago (sometime in the mid-90's, back when I was still a youth minister). What with our youth gone to PowerPlant this week (Jenn, our summer youth minister, is a godsend) and me helping feed two WorldChangers groups here in town today (no, I didn't actually cook them any food - are you kidding?! - I was the delivery boy), I'm really in a "youth ministry" mode right now.

This is not rocket science. Here are seven golden rules for being a cool adult that youth like:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Be an adult. (They have lots of friends who are teenagers. They need an adult friend, not another buddy.)
  3. Be a listener. (Old Jewish proverb: God gave us 2 ears and 1 mouth, to be used in that proportion.)
  4. Be vulnerable. (Confess your sins, show them your weaknesses, let them know when you hurt... it makes it much easier for them to do the same with you.)
  5. Be a challenger. (Force them to think... very few other people are & after they get used to it, they like it.)
  6. Be available.
  7. Be able to laugh. (Not as much at them as with them... not as much at your jokes as at yourself. Model humor that builds up people rather than cuts them down!)

Youth know very few real people... and even fewer real Christians. Let Christ permeate every part of your life. (I have a feeling that Jesus was very much like these last seven points with His "youth group", the disciples.)

Funny, now as a senior pastor, I realize that all of these "rules" are equally effective in working with adults. And just like teenagers, adults know very few real people... and even fewer real Christians. Sigh.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Chillin' With Canaan on Father's Day

Braeden's doing the "don't try this at home" stunt, sitting in the back of the pickup (no seat belt... and that's the tailgate he's leaning on!) while his friend, Canaan, does the driving. Not sure which is riskier. :-) Posted by Hello

Duck & Cover Drill (It's SBC Week)

Well, it's Southern Baptist Convention week, which means I have some prayer requests. (Note for those non-Southern Baptists playing along at home - Southern Baptist churches are autonomous local bodies who may choose to send represenatives to the SBC meeting each June. A number of decisions are made in business sessions, but the stuff that occupies the most column inches in the national media are the non-binding resolutions, which are primarily about current issues.)

  • God, please don't let them vote on and/or discuss resolutions that don't reflect the truth of the Bible AND an awareness that the media is just waiting for us to do something silly.
  • God, please draw the Convention together around what You've done for us rather than what we can figure out for ourselves.
And finally...
  • God, please make me & my ministry cool... or at least more cutting-edge than most...
That last one is what bubbled out of me earlier this afternoon as I read about the Younger Leader's Summit earlier this week... two of the guys who spoke (Chris Seay & Kevin Schrum) I know from my church planting/"the church @ hickory hollow" days. (I'm still not sure why Kevin was invited - he definitely is "oldskool SBC" - though he has been very successful.)

I could just feel all the pain & anger & longing tumbling out of me...

God, I was cool once - or, at least, I thought I was. I had a church with rock'n'roll & candles & huge honkin' black curtains (that frankly looked like we were a coven rather than a Southern Baptist congregation.) I preached in shorts during the summer... and it was OK to try just about anything to communicate the truth about You! (One Sunday, we juxtaposed video from Prince's film "Sign O The Times" - the song "The Cross" - with footage from the Jesus film.)

I ran with the bigwigs in the Emergent church movement - long before they were bigwigs! I was one of the first "GenX" church planters invited in by NAMB back in December of '97, along with guys like Andrew Jones, Evan Lauer & Chris Seay. I ate lunch with Brian McLaren at a conference, and had him all to myself. I was on the bleeding edge of ministry.

So what happened?! Why did that have to end?Why do I spend more time now reading about Emergent stuff than actually doing any of it?

And, as you can probably guess, the pity party went on for quite a while in that vein. Double sigh.

At the heart of the matter, I'm not sure I want to be on the bleeding edge - what Erwin McManus calls a "mushroom eater." What I really want, when I'm honest enough to say it out loud, is to be cool.

Well, that's not really quite it, either - what I want is to be THOUGHT OF BY OTHERS as cool. Talk about chasing the wind - sheesh.

So, I'm writing this all out today... putting it out in the open so this stuff doesn't fester inside of me. I renounce my desire for coolness (ministry or otherwise) and instead just want to serve God in a culturally relevant & thoroughly Biblical way.

Somehow, I don't think it's going to be that simple. Dealing with this stuff (that I've long thought was "done" since tc@hh closed) isn't as easy as clicking my heels three times & saying "There's no place like home." It's going to be a long walk with Jesus.

Not that a long walk with Jesus is a bad thing. :-)


For more information about the Southern Baptist Convention & the Younger Leader's Summit, check out the Emerging SBC Leaders blog.

Revenge of the Sith

Father's Day was "Star Wars" day at the Jackson house, as my Father's Day gifts included a variety of Star Wars-related stuff (Attacktix, Legos, DVDs)... and the gift of going to see Episode 3 in the theater. (By myself... Shari couldn't care less about seeing Star Wars.) Here's just a quick list of random impressions:
  • the special effects are amazing
  • Hayden C. (Anakin) actually didn't irritate me as much as he did in Attack of the Clones
  • it's a near impossible task to make a "connecting" movie, but George Lucas managed to pull it off with style
  • as usual, the philosophy/theology behind the films is a mixed bag... what with quotes like "only Sith believe in absolutes" - sigh
  • it made me want to go home and watch the original films again
For two more thoughtful takes on Revenge of the Sith by two Star Wars-loving friends of mine, check out Zion Red's Head (Paul Durham) and Theology Journal (Scott Rushing). There's also two very good articles on Get Religion: Star Culture Wars and Star Wars "R" Us?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Theological Worldview Quiz

Found this quiz posted on a couple of different blogs I follow. Interesting to think about my theological roots... but I really don't see myself as much of a Wesleyan. Interesting that the whole emergent thing popped up, though.

You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan. You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.



Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox


Reformed Evangelical






Classical Liberal


Roman Catholic


Modern Liberal

What's your theological worldview? created with

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Smarty Party

There hasn't been much gaming-related content on the blog lately... what with me writing the "War & Peace"-like series on my history in ministry. Figure I needed to remedy that today.

But there's been a little problem. Between family vacation & Vacation Bible School at church & getting adjusted to a new baby, I haven't been meeting with my gaming group all that much. So I haven't been playing that many games.

Of course, there's gaming with Braeden... which is quite enjoyable. He got Buckaroo for his birthday last week - it's more fun than I remember, and he does pretty well at it. For those who don't remember, Buckaroo is an old-school (1970) "stack something on a spring-loaded contraption" game - in this case, an ornery mule - and try not to be the one who sets it off.

So the majority of gaming has been with the Under 30 small group that meets in our home on Wednesday nights. In recent weeks, we've played Taboo (still good after all these years), Squint (which continues to inspire mixed reactions), Loopin Louie, Take 6 (with 10 players, even!) and, of course, their favorite...

Smarty Party. We've now played enough games of Smarty Party to go through BOTH the original deck of cards and the expansion box... but we're still not done playing, so we've restarted through the original box.

I was a little worried that some people (well, me) would have an unfair advantage from having heard all of the questions before... but so far, it doesn't look like it will work quite that way. Because we play with 7-8 players, the chances of your answers being gone by the time it gets to your turn is much bigger; if you don't have the cards memorized, you could be in the soup even if you'd heard the question before.

I'm still winning the majority of our Smarty Party games - though I went through a losing streak in May that really bugged me. (Don't you hate being GOOD at something and then not doing well at it?!)

Most irritating moment: the question was "location of first 7 Survivor seasons" and I answered "Borneo"... which was wrong. The correct answer (according to the card) was "Pulau Tigu". However, I had the Survivor first season DVD rented from Netflix (we'll talk about my strange fascination with reality television another time) and was able to show the group that it was now called Survivor: Borneo - printed right on the DVD! They still didn't give it to me. Grrrr.

If you haven't played Smarty Party, I recommend it highly as a party game for 4-8 folks (it will work with 3, but it's more fun with the larger groups). Whoever is in first place (which is bad in this game) gets to read. They receive a card with one or two categories on it, and 9-12 answers to those categories. (Example: "The names of the seven dwarves in Snow White (7) and the countries that mine the most diamonds (5)".) The card also a pair of pants on it with a number.

The reader considers the difficulty of the category and the answers, then decides whether he thinks the group can get X number of correct answers (the number on the pants on the card) or if they will run out of penalty chips first. After he bets, he then chooses a starting player for the round and reads the category.

Beginning with the starting player (wow, is that redundant?), players give ONE answer that they think is on the card. If they're correct, they get to hold the Smarty Pants (a pair of very cute plastic pants). If they're wrong, they receive a penalty chip. (There are 7 chips... 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 1, 1.) Play continues around the table, with players taking possesion of the pants or taking chips until the group completes the card or all of the penalty chips are gone. (There is a 30 second timer which is used at the discretion of the reader: if he wants you to get answers correct, he'll leave it alone; if he bet against the group, he'll use to pressure wrong answers.)

Then you score. The reader goes back 1 space if he bet correctly, and goes forward 1 space if he was wrong. All of the other players move forward the number of spaces equal to the value of their penalty chips... except the player holding the pants (the last person to answer correctly). They get to cancel one of their penalty chips, or, if they didn't take any chips, move back 1 space.

The new "first place" player becomes the reader... and the game continues until someone hits the "game over" space. At that point, the player closest to Start is the winner.

I've played this over 50 times now (we got roughly 20-25 plays out of each box of cards) and still have a blast each time it hits the table.

Oddly enough, I playtested an EARLY version of this game (called Idealist at that point) at Gulf Games 7 in Orlando. The scoring hadn't been worked out and the game went on way too long, but the idea was there - it's really fun to see it work so brilliantly in it's published form.

Now, we're all wondering if there's a 2nd expansion box planned...

Freakishly Depressing

I'm in the middle of reading Next Wave's article on George Barna's "State of the Church: 2005" report. It's a bit snarky (the article, not George Barna) but it does a good job of conveying one of Barna's recurring themes - the church in America is not doing what God called it to do.
In 2002, Barna suggested that there are greater than 300,000 Protestant and 20,000 Catholic churches in the U.S. He contrasts this with the 50,000 post offices and 15,000 McDonald’s that serve our nation. He writes, “the church has less impact on our culture than any of those less prolific entities, despite missions that are much less significant or compelling.”

Hmmm…I guess the old “location, location, location” mantra has fallen to the wayside here. Imagine having a business with 320,000 locations in the U.S. amidst a population of over 100 million customers who have never sampled the fare, and you can’t seem to break the cycle of those folks consciously avoiding your locations. In fact, their numbers are increasing.

Again, if the church were a publicly traded company, I can assure you that the Board of Directors would be screaming for an immediate “corporate restructuring” that would likely require the immediate downsizing of the existing physical plant, sweeping changes in strategic plans, and a wholesale housecleaning of present management. Perhaps it’s time to act upon the agenda of the shareholders within the Christian franchise who agree with Barna that, “We have learned that maintaining the status quo serves neither God nor the people He loves.”

The quote is from Bill Dahl's article, Chef Barna's State of the Church: 2005, found on the Next Wave e-zine website.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

How In The Heck Did I End Up Here? (part six)

This is the sixth post in a series of posts about my history in ministry. This time around, I'm just printing portions of the two "e-things" that I sent in the month following the dissolution of the church @ hickory hollow.


The Artist Formerly Known As...

For a long time at the church @ hickory hollow, we joked about changing names if we changed locations, a la Prince (he of "Purple Rain" fame): "Why don't we call it the 'the church formerly known as the church @ hickory hollow?'"

Well, now we are the church formerly known as the church @ hickory hollow...and the joke's not nearly as funny as it was before. (Some jokes are like that - the old "you had to be there" principle in action.)

Oddly enough, though, we are still the church. Those of us who claim Christ as our Savior & Lord are parts of the body - even if we're not sure exactly which part of the body we're going to be playing this time around. (Sounds like a bad school science play: "I'm the tooth, Dad. A molar.") So our assignment now is to find our what role we've been cast in...

Church Hunting 101

1. Don't look for "the church @ hickory hollow".

There are a lot of great churches in the Nashville area, but none of them are going to look or feel "just like" tc@hh did. So start out by realizing that it will be impossible to locate 'another' tc@hh. It doesn't exist.

Here's why: church is NOT, despite our tendency to feel & act otherwise, primarily about the builiding or the music or the nursery or whatever. Church is about the people God brings together to be His body. Since you won't be with the same group of people, no church will ever feel exactly like tc@hh.

2. Don't rush to experience the same "feeling" as tc@hh.

Most of us who are searching for a new church home have been at tc@hh 3+ years... so it's going to be very easy for us to dismiss a church we visit because it doesn't "feel right". Of course it doesn't! We've been a part of authentic Biblical community for 3+ years - and we're comparing the warmth of that experience with the edginess of visiting somewhere for the first time.

Those kind of feelings will come in time as we commit & get involved in the life of a particular church. Prayerfully consider your emotional reactions to a church - they may be warning of you something wrong - but they may also be you trying to compare apples & oranges.

3. "What's in it for me?" is a lousy way to look for a church.

In fact, it's a lousy way to live. (But that's a topic for another e-thing.) In church hunting, it's that tendency we have to compare church "features" (music, childcare, personal comfort, parking, etc.) like we're shopping for a new car. In the whirlwind of comparison shopping, we can lose sight of the spiritual dimension of this kind of decision.

Note: I am NOT saying that you shouldn't make informed decisions about the quality of childcare or any other aspect of a church. I'm simply advocating that you approach church hunting with a healthy dose of humility & servanthood. Your primary question should be: "What can I contribute &give?"

4. You need to be praying like crazy.

This is like every other issue we've raised at the church @ hickory hollow - you aren't good enough or smart enough to do this on your own. You need God to be a key part of this search. So ask Him - He loves to do stuff like this! (Matthew 7:7-11)

5. Don't delay.

You don't have to choose a church this week - it's not like a bomb you have to defuse. But... don't need to "take a break" from being a part of regular worship, either.

With the emotional & physical exhaustion that most of us have felt over the last few months, it would be easy to decide to "take some time off" of church. The logic is tempting: "I'm tired and jaded - it would be really difficult to make objective decisions about a church right now - I deserve a break after all the work I've put in - etc., etc., etc.")

But the logic is flawed. We've spent the last five years of our lives building a church... because we believe that God uses the local church to build his Kingdom. To cut ourselves off from the church would be a mistake that denies the very things we've stood for.

There's a second problem: if you choose to take a long break, it will get more & more difficult to start going again. It's the physics principle of inertia: "bodies in motion tend to remain in motion; bodies at rest tend toremain at rest."

6. I know this isn't easy.

I don't want to pretend that the process of finding a new church home is simple. Or painless. It's likely to be complicated, emotional & a bit draining.

But ultimately, it's gonna be worth it. While nothing will replace tc@hh, God has some incredible things out there for each of us - stuff we couldn't anticipate and never would have experienced without this painful process. (1 Corinthians 2:9)


Father, This evening, as we celebrate the church @ hickory hollow,
we celebrate You because

You made it possible for us to have authentic Biblical community.
You gave the original vision for a church of this kind in Nashville.
You enabled this church to begin and take root, even though we had little more than a direction to go and an urgency to go there.
You brought together people like me who were tired of hiding behind masks and longed to know more of You.
You gave us a safe place to express how we hurt and struggle.
You gave us each other to carry our burdens, to share our hopes, and to celebrate our joys.

But most of all You drew us closer to You, to live more fully and to grow more deeply than we've ever dared before.

We've seen You do so much in and through the people of this church;
Which makes us all the more perplexed why You seem to see fit that this church should disband.
We don't understand. We don't know what lies ahead for us.

Calm us, Father, because sometimes we grow anxious and worry.
Steady us when our faith wavers.
Strenghen our hearts, because when things are uncertain it's easier to doubt and fear than to trust.
Father, protect our tender roots as You replant us into new soil.
Hold each one of us close to You. Let no one be forgotten or neglected.
Help us to tune out the noise in our lives so we can hear Your soft, gentle voice.

We can't see where You're leading us, but we count on You to take us there.

Thank You for Your undying love for us.
Thank You for community and for families that model our love relationship with You.
Thank You for forgiveness and for restoration.
Thank You for giving our lives meaning and purpose.
Thank You for the promise of eternal life.

Help us to share the hope of restored life today and eternal life after death with those who do not yet know You.

God, You are our everything.
We thank You
And we praise You
In Your Son's name,

written by Dennis Mills and used as a part of the closing service of tc@hh on 9/21/02


What If...?

Marvel Comics had (maybe "has" - I haven't followed comics too well lately) a series of books titled "What If?"... one-shot stories that explored odd questions about the Marvel Universe:
  • "What if Daredevil got his sight back?"
  • "What if the Incredible Hulk was cured?"
  • "What if Professor X was evil?"
DC Comics mined some of the same territory with it's Elseworlds series... placing classic superheroes in different historical contexts:
  • "Gotham by Gaslight"... with a 1800's Batman fighting Jack the Ripper
  • a Civil War story with Clark Kent as a Union hero
  • a Wonder Woman story set in a Victorian England gone wrong
And a bunch of historians got together to write two best-selling works of historical speculation entitled WHAT IF...? Each book is filled with essays about critical moments in history:
  • what if the Normandy invasion had been stopped because of weather?
  • what if George Washington was captured after the Battle of Long Island?
  • what if Alexander had died before he conquered most of the known world?
I love this kind of stuff... graphic novels like Mark Waid's KINGDOM COME, works of fiction like Harry Turtledove's THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH, historical books like the two I mentioned above. It's fascinating to play "what if" wonder about what might have been.
Unfortunately, that same tendency in my own life has the distressing side effect of paralyzing me, rendering me useless to family, friends & Christ.

Yep, "what if?" is fun on the fictional side, but can be devastating when it's plugged into reality. It's all too easy to speculate about how good it would be not to be married - "What if I'd married that girl I dated in high school?" - and then plunge into a full-blown fantasy of how much better my life would be.

The problem? I didn't marry Ann Henderson. I married Shari Becknal... and for 12 years, through the good, the bad, the ugly AND the beautiful, we've followed God hand-in-hand. Even on Shari's worst days - heck, even on MY worst days, God put us together. Playing "what if" is the worst kind of emotional lust... there's no way to satisfy it (because I can't go backwards and do something different) and it sours the goodness that is mine right now.

The same thing goes for tc@hh... all of us involved in leadership at the church @ hickory hollow have flirted with the "what if?" game in the last couple of months:
  • what if we'd moved to South Gate back in the fall?
  • what if we'd convinced Robert/Stephen/whoever to stay?
  • what if we hadn't spent $3000 on the movie slide? (OK, we've been playing"what if?" on this one for a couple of years) :-)
But "what if" is futile... the church @ hickory hollow is disbanded, the equipment is getting ready to be handed on to a new church plant (more on that in a minute), and all of us have to keep following God.

I am not suggesting that we stop evaluating what's gone in our lives, our jobs, our church - healthy self-examination & evaluation are vital to further growth. I am suggesting that going from evaluation to spinning gossamer webs of "what if" fantasies is flat-out stupid. And not very Biblical.

Let the "what if" scenarios go... and lean into God.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Giving It Away...

Our church constitution called for our assets to be distributed to other church starts in case of dissolution... and that process is beginning to happen. If it all works out, Keith Adams, pastor of River Community Church in the University of Memphis area of, well, Memphis, will be coming to pick up most of the sound & video equipment, along with a good bit of the Kid's Place & food table stuff. (That could be as early as Monday!)

We've got two more established 'innovative' churches looking at the big board, and any money we receive from selling it will be channeled into helping church starts.

Please be praying for Keith & his church - their first 'preview' service (a rehearsal for their actual launch) is in November. This, as some of us can remember, is an exciting and scary time. I'm just glad our loss is their gain in the process of following Christ.

To be continued...

How In The Heck Did I End Up Here? (part five)

This is the fifth post in a series of posts on the history of my ministry. This one is very long... and sad. Still, it's an important part of my ministry journey, so read on... 

We spent the next few months (fall of 2001) at the church @ hickory hollow staggering forward, trying to keep it together. Our guitar player (Paul Durham) volunteered as our worship leader, and we talked through making some major changes to keep both financially viable and better able to reach people. But the exhaustion of the last few months and their own lives became too much for a few of our key families, who left in February of 2002. The financial issues of their departure forced us to move our service out of the elementary school and into South Gate Baptist on Saturday nights. The last few months of the church's life were painful - it was a shadow of what it had once been, yet the folks who were there still wanted it to grow and be what it was called to be.

By late July, though, the metaphorical writing was on the wall, and I sent the following e-mail to our folks in early August.


Tag & tc@hh

Brian was chasing me through his backyard... the game: Tag. I was not the fastest kid on the block but I cornered pretty well and came roaring through his side yard toward a low (maybe 3 foot high) retaining wall. My mind planned the maneuver perfectly: shorten my stride to hit the wall at the right speed, plant both hands on the top of the cinder block wall, swing my legs over, land on the other side and keep running.

One problem: I hadn't played Tag at Brian's house before. Which means I didn't know that the retaining wall was only 3 feet high on the backyard side, but nearly 12 feet high on the front yard side. So, as the plan was executed to perfection, I slung myself over the wall into thin air. Kind of like Wiley E. Coyote in the Road Runner cartoons.*

Over the last few months, pastoring the church @ hickory hollow has felt a bit like playing Tag at Brian's house... plans that seemed perfect in theory have been less than perfect in execution. "Sure things" have ended up crumbling like a sand castle at high tide. Wiley E. Coyote all over again. I realize I'm not alone in this... there is a core of people who continue to make tc@hh 'happen' who've had roughly the same experience. This group of folks has been watching our dreams collapse just like me, stunned as our hopes melt in the face of reality & time.

Home Depot & Hope

Home Depot promises a whole lot more than it can deliver... if you only spend enough money on the right tools and supplies, you can do Bob Villa-like projects on your home with the greatest of ease. (Heck, they'll even sign you up for classes on how to do this stuff - surely that should make a home improvement expert.) Just wander the aisles of Home Depot one day and look how many times the words "simple" or "easy" appear on the packaging.

I'm thankful, in light of my Wiley E. Coyote-like life, that the Bible (and by extension, God) never promises more than it/He can deliver. What He promises is His presence, His strength, and His unfailing love. There's no promise that I can find that we will not experience frustration & failure - as individuals or as local church bodies. What is promised is that He will not leave us alone... that whatever happens to our plans & dreams, our hope is too small if it is placed in anything but Him.

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him,on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD,even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:16-22 (NIV)

Wiley E. Coyote & What Happens Now?

When the Coyote ends up shooting over the edge of the cliff, he hangs in mid-air for a moment, awaiting his doom. Sometimes, he gets enough time to whip a sign out from... well, I'm not sure where it comes from. (I don't remember coyotes having "pouches" from anything I've ever read. Anyway...) That's kind of where we are - hanging in mid-air waiting to find out what happens next. Just remember - whatever happens, however bad the "fall" looks, we can trust in a God who loves us more than we can ever know.

If you'd like to know more about the possible decisions that we're facing as a church, you are invited to call and/or e-mail me. As always, questions are welcomed & encouraged... and it's very easy to have questions when we've (metaphorically speaking) just shot over the edge of the cliff.

*Amazingly enough, I only managed to sprain my ankle from the fall... 12 feet into a planter full of ivy.


In August of 2002, we set aside 6 weeks to specifically pray for God's will about what should happen next with tc@hh - and His answer was silence. Well, except for causing our paid nursery worker to resign. :-) So at a congregational meeting in September, we decided to close the doors on tc@hh

It was a difficult decision, to say the least. I realized as I sat there that if I said, "Let's keep going", these people would follow my lead. But I didn't feel God calling us to do that. I kept hearing the main reason people wanted to keep tc@hh alive - they were scared of what would come next if there was no tc@hh. Fear is not a good enough reason to do church - we were not inspired by what God was calling us to do but by what we didn't want to happen.

Then I had to let the whole church know what was going to happen...



After much prayer & discussion, the membership of the church @ hickory hollow has decided that tc@hh's last service will be Saturday night, September 21st. Following that, the church @ hickory hollow will be disbanded.


I know that one of the first questions has to be "Why?" I'm not sure there's a simple answer to that question, but I do want to be clear about some of the realities we have been facing.
  • Attendance at weekend services has been dwindling over the past 6 months. The move to Saturday night solved a financial problem but was one of the factors in causing us to lose more attenders.
  • Since the majority of our folks are not in white-collar careers, giving has always been an issue - and less people means less giving.
  • Doing quality ministry with children has been difficult... especially so since our wonderful Kid's Place person, Vanessa Arellano, resigned in early August.
  • All of these things (and other smaller issues) have contributed to a growing lack of momentum.
In response to all of these issues, the church @ hickory hollow spent major time over the last two months in corporate prayer for God's leadership. The result of that time: no discernable signal from God that we were to continue.

That was confirmed personally for me in a pair of feelings coming out of my time with God:
  1. That I loved the people who made up tc@hh and wanted the best for them.
  2. That I was tired & stretched thin by the process of watching the dream of tc@hh slowly fade away.
With all of those factors (and more), we undertook a long discussion Wednesday night and came to the consensus that it was time to end. The official decision was originally to be made on September 18th, but we realized that all of the membership was present and could make the decision at that time.

Some Thoughts

More than one person has expressed their belief that tc@hh did what it was here to do - what God had created it to do. And that's true whether it was everything we wanted/hoped it would be or not. And that's also true, even with it ending.


Yes, this is painful. How could it not be? The relationships that make up tc@hh have been gifts from God - no other church I've served has been as much a part of me & my life. 

But I'm sure of this: no matter how sad I am right now, I would not trade the five years of planting tc@hh & living out the dream. If my choice was:
I'll take the five years. It's been a wonderful ride in the presence of God.

It really has been an authentic Biblical community - just like we hoped... the challenge in front of all of us is carry that vision away from here. Our job now is to be seeds that live out a real, Bible-based relationship with Christ & with others, no matter where we end up.


I'm afraid of sounding too "chipper" in this e-mail... too "God's given me all the answers." On my best days, I really do see Him at work, even in this painful process. On my worst days, I'm convinced He's left me, my family & the church I pastor high & dry, stranded without hope. My worst days, as you can probably guess, are not days on which I'm much fun to be around.

But my worst days are garbage - because that hopelessness is based on lies. (In the words of my friend, Dave Foster, "that's a lie that comes straight from Hell and it smells like smoke.") God has NOT taken off... He has not abandoned us. The organization known as the church @ hickory hollow may be done, but the Church is still very much alive and Jesus Christ is it's head. We're all just moving on to work for different 'departments' in the same incredible Company.

September 21st - A Celebration

Our last service will be a celebration of what God has done in our lives & relationships through the church @ hickory hollow... and we want to make sure that EVERYONE who has been a part of tc@hh knows that they are welcome to join us for that very special time. If there is any way possible for you to attend, please come & worship with us that night as we thank God for tc@hh.


We still owe $312 to Metro Schools. Otherwise, we have no outstanding liabilities. I encourage you strongly to continue giving to tc@hh, as our constitution/by-laws require us on dissolution to give our remaining assets to another church plant(s) in order to assist them. By giving to tc@hh, you're acting as seed money for starting a new church - which is a VERY good thing.

All the Sound Equipment?

No, Mark is NOT getting a boffo home entertainment system... all of the sound equipment and the other resources (Kid's Place supplies, Food Table stuff, etc.) will also be given to new churches to assist them.


Our final service was on September 21st, 2002. Many of the folks who helped make tc@hh what it was were able to be there... it was a massive celebration of what God had done in the five years we had been around. A bittersweet but wonderful night... we all went back to Paul & Amy's place (which, off & on, we'd called the "official meeting place" for tc@hh) and had a party.

To be continued...

Friday, June 03, 2005

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Force Is Strong In This One (part two)

This time, he's the Emperor.

And for those of you who were wondering, the answer is "No." As in, "No, he hasn't seen the movies yet." Posted by Hello

The Force Is Strong In This One

Braeden is really into Star Wars right now, thanks to his dad collecting Attacktix figures (it's seriously addictive). It also doesn't hurt that we've been playing the Episode 1: Racer computer game for nearly a year now. Anyway, he's Darth Vader in this picture... complete with heavy breathing noises. Posted by Hello

Blame It On Keith

He's the one who sent me the link.

That's right, kids, Paul Anka's new album is coming out, Rock Swings. Don't miss his cover of Van Halen's "Jump."


Of course, while you're at it, you might want to check out Pat Boone's In A Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy.

I love rock'n'roll... throw another dime in the jukebox, baby. noted philosopher Joan Jett

Dig Hay Zoose

The title of this article will make more sense later, but for now, you just need to know that it's the name of one of the oddest bands I admire. Their album "Magentamantalovetree" is an epic blend of art rock & punk (one website calls it "funk-punk/alternative-metal"), filtered through a deep love for Jesus Christ. Their cover of Steve Taylor's "I Wanna Be A Clone" was so good that Steve himself co-opted their arrangement for his live shows. And word on the street says they're getting back together, which means more weird music for Mark's CD collection!

But a cool & too long defunct Christian band is NOT what I'm writing about today. It's actually a vacation story.

Shari, Braeden, Collin & I packed up Monday morning (Memorial Day) and headed out to Monterey. (OK, Collin didn't do much packing.) After a stop at Casa de Fruta (which is Spanish for "tourist trap with yummy food"), we got into Monterey and promptly headed for the beach. Braeden & Shari splashed in the waves while Collin & I chatted up some folks on the beach. (OK, Collin didn't do much chatting.)

Dinner on Monday night was at this great place called The Fish Hopper down on Cannery Row, where Shari & I split Macadamia Halibut & Coconut Prawn, served on sweet potato with a citrus sauce. It was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. (And Shari, noted seafood hater, actually loved it, too. Of course, I got both the prawns, which was fine by me!)

We then headed back to the minivan, loading up the boys & driving down the coast a few miles to Lover's Point in Pacific Grove. It's a big rock outcropping that was just screaming for Braeden & I to go rock-climbing on. I got Braeden out while Shari got ready to feed Collin a bottle. And then she said, "Where'd you put the diaper bag?"

Well, I'd put the bag behind her on the sidewalk when she was loading up Collin... and told her it was there, but she was legitimately distracted. After a quick check of the car, we realized we'd left the bag behind. I almost threw Braeden back into his car seat & we took off down the winding streets back to Cannery Row.

But it wasn't JUST a diaper bag - Shari had also put her car keys & wallet (do girls call it a wallet?) with ID and credit cards in the bag. So now we were facing not only the inconvenience of losing Collin's diaper bag, but also the total crash of our vacation, as we would have to cancel our credit & debit cards.

This is going to sound a lot more spiritual than I meant it at the time, but I asked Shari to pray as I drove. (Here's the not-so-spiritual part: it really wasn't about finding the bag but keeping me from being a rear end and blaming my wife for not picking up the bag... prayer's still a good idea, but my motives were less than pure.) Shari asked Jesus to intervene, to protect our belongings, to keep us safe...

When we got back to our parking space, not more than 15 minutes since we'd left it, the bag was gone. I ran into a restaurant and a store nearby, but no one had turned in a diaper bag. The lady in the candy store even called up the closest parking garage, but they hadn't found it, either. (She also let me know that Cannery Row has a lot of homeless people, and she wouldn't be surprised if one of them picked it up.)

Through all of this, Braeden kept saying things like "Don't give up"... which was cool but a little weird. Shari & I both found ourselves listening to him - later both realizing we felt like God was speaking through him.

Anyway, Braeden's encouragement caused Shari to stop a guy trying to get into the Edgewater Packing Company (which was closed) to ask him about the bag. No luck there, but as she stood next to the van, a couple ran up to tell her their odd story. The woman had overheard me in the candy store asking about a diaper bag, but hadn't thought much about it. Meanwhile, her husband was loading their child (and stroller) into the car when a guy in a black truck pulled up and asked if they'd lost a diaper bag. When she returned from the store and her husband told her about the guy in the black Ford truck, she put two & two together and made a beeline for us.

We gave her our cell number (in case she saw him again) and then began to cruise around Cannery Row, looking for a black Ford pickup. Which, now that I think about it, is kind of funny, as I couldn't pick a Ford pickup out of a line of trucks. After 10 minutes of this fruitless search, we headed back to the hotel. I was convinced I was getting ready to spend the rest of the night talking to credit card companies.

When we arrived, I checked our cell phone messages (nothing there) and then called our home answering machine. In classic Jackson family fashion (we forget to check the answering machine sometimes), there were 11 messages. I waded through each one, finally getting to #11.

"Hi, this call is for Shari... my name is Jesus."

Only, when he said, it sounded like Hay Zoose (which explains, finally, the title of this article).

Turns out, Hay Zoose managed the Edgewater Packing Co building (which we'd parked next to) and on his way out from work had found the diaper bag. He'd tried to find out who had left it behind, but he was tired and headed home... and on his way home, he'd used information to find our home number and let us know he had the bag.

As well, Hay Zoose had had to fight with his cousin (recently out of lockup) who wanted to ransack the bag for cash & credit cards... while we were praying, Hay Zoose/Jesus was protecting our stuff. Wow.

I drove out to Salinas that night to pick up the bag... meeting Hay Zoose and getting to talk to him for a minute. I'm not sure how many times I told him that he was an answer to prayer. Before I left, I let him know that I was a follower of Christ, and that I appreciated what he'd done. He told me that he also believed in Jesus, but that he was, well, "sidetracked." So I asked him if I could pray for him... and we stood in the middle of the street & I got to talk to God on his behalf. Very cool.

Shari's still laughing about trying to write this up in her journal... "Thank you God for sending Jesus" - which has a serious double meaning in this situation.

We'd like you to pray for Hay Zoose - that God could use this crazy little incident where he did the right thing to draw him back to Christ.

Anyway, I dig Hay Zoose. And Jesus. Not necessarily in that order. :-)

This article originally appeared in the 6/2/05 edition of "the Grapevine", the e-newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

"Contemporary" Worship

When I was hunting for a new church to serve back in 2002-2003, one of the questions I got asked was "What do you think of contemporary worship?" I was just looking over my answer again the other day & thought it was worth sharing.

I'm assuming by 'contemporary worship' that you mean that the music used in the worship services is more than just the same 50 hymns out of the Baptist Hymnal and involves more musically than a piano and an organ. In that case, the answer is that I both personally enjoy contemporary worship and believe it's a more effective way to reach people with the truth of the Gospel.

To expand a bit, I think that contemporary worship at it's best is more than just a change in musical style. It's a conscious effort by a church to break down the artificial wall between "performer" and "spectator", to use all of the senses in a whole-hearted attempt to honor the God who has lavished us with His grace. Nothing is out of bounds - the most recent cutting edge technology or the most ancient practice of the faith - when it lines up with Scripture and helps us to give Christ the glory He so richly deserves.

We have to move from the concept of those on stage as "performers" and the people in the congregation as the "audience". Soren Kierkegaard describes a better model - where the members of the congregation are the performers, the people 'up front' are the prompters, and the audience is God - an audience of One. That, more than musical style, is at the heart of contemporary worship.