Friday, March 31, 2006

Come Back To The One Hundred, Blog Reader, Blog Reader

Remember back in November when I started blogging The One Hundred (thanks to the studly number-crunching of Stephen "You Must Be An Idiot" Glenn)? Well, some 200 games later (I'll explain the number in a minute)... it's finally done.

You see, The One Hundred was/is a list of the favorite games of 65 "serious" gamers. You can learn more about The One Hundred by visiting the following links: as well as the various "recap" lengths listed on the sidebar of The One Hundred blog.

Now, to explain the extra 100 games... I then decided to list my own "personal" The One Hundred, which was finally finished in the last week. The "recaps" for my list are also available on the sidebar of The One Hundred Blog under the heading "Mark's One Hundred".

Some suggestions:
  • If you've got loads of the time, the best way to enjoy the blog is to start reading at the beginning and work your way forward.
  • Since very few of us have that kind of time, use the recaps to look at 10 or so games at a time.
And a final note: somehow, The One Hundred was chosen as's "Blog of Note" for last Tuesday. This meant increased traffic, with lots of folks who are very interested in the games... and lots of spam comments to go with it. Sigh.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Truth Or Fiction: Part One

There are a lot of issues when it comes to Christianity and truth - which is a little weird, when you think about the whole "thou shalt not bear false witness" thing in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20) - and I'm going to take them on here in the Grapevine over the next couple of weeks. Let's get started...

We had a great week (well, 4 days) with Dr. Allen Troxler & the book of Mark. (For me, it was really cool to work through the layers of meaning behind the triumphal entry... that was new territory for me.)

On Sunday morning, Allen started out his message with a rather famous story:

There was a professor of philosophy who was a deeply committed atheist. His primary goal for one required class was to spend the entire semester attempting to prove that God couldn’t exist. His students were always afraid to argue with him because of his impeccable logic. For twenty years, he had taught this class and no one had ever had the courage to go against him. Sure, some had argued in class at times, but no one had ever really gone against him because of his reputation. At the end of every semester on the last day, he would say to his class of 300 students, "If there is anyone here who still believes in Jesus, stand up!" In twenty years, no one had ever stood up. They knew what he was going to do next. He would say, "Because anyone who believes in God is a fool. If God existed, he could stop this piece of chalk from hitting the ground and breaking. Such a simple task to prove that He is God, and yet He can’t do it." And every year, he would drop the chalk onto the tile floor of the classroom and it would shatter into a hundred pieces. All of the students would do nothing but stop and stare. Most of the students thought that God couldn’t exist. Certainly, a number of Christians had slipped through, but for 20 years, they had been too afraid to stand up.

Well, a few years ago there was a freshman who happened to enroll. He was a Christian, and had heard the stories about his professor. He was required to take the class for his major, and he was afraid. But for three months that semester, he prayed every morning that he would have the courage to stand up no matter what the professor said, or what the class thought. Nothing they said could ever shatter his faith...he hoped.

Finally, the day came. The professor said, " If there is anyone here who still believes in God, stand up!" The professor and the class of 300 people looked at him, shocked, as he stood up at the back of the classroom. The professor shouted, "You FOOL!!! If God existed, he would keep this piece of chalk from breaking when it hit the ground!" He proceeded to drop the chalk, but as he did, it slipped out of his fingers, off his shirt cuff, onto the pleat of his pants, down his leg, and off his shoe. As it hit the ground, it simply rolled away unbroken. The professor’s jaw dropped as he stared at the chalk. He looked up at the young man, and then ran out of the lecture hall. The young man who had stood, proceeded to walk to the front of the room and shared his faith in Jesus for the next half hour. 300 students stayed and listened as he told of God’s love for them and of His power through Jesus.

Great story, eh? But just as Allen said Sunday morning... it's not true. It's an urban legend. (For more background on the story, see

Allen went on to focus on "urban legends" in the story of the woman anointing Jesus... but I want to deal specifically with the college class story for a minute.

What is it that causes us as Christians to forward these kind of stories, even though the vast majority of them are bogus? I've got some ideas... but for this week, I'll just focus on one.

We are, unfortunately, pragmatists. A pragmatist bases his decisions, beliefs & behaviors on "what works"... and while there's a temptation to follow that kind of logic, that can easily lead us to allow a Machiavellian "ends justify the means" attitude to creep into the way we share the faith. We deplore when cults use techniques like "
flirty fishing" (sending attractive young women to seduce/indoctrinate young men into a cult) - but this kind of "bait & switch" method is not ethically very far from justifying telling stories with no basis in fact (i.e., lies!) in order that people will believe in Jesus.

You could well point out that Jesus told stories (parables) that may or may not have been "true" stories. Here's the difference: Jesus doesn't claim that these parables, used to illustrate & illuminate particular points of theology, were actual events.

You could also point out that people have been saved under the ministry of some world class liars (
Mike Warnke springs to mind). But the fact that God allowed someone to cross the line of faith in this manner doesn't justify the behavior - it simply highlights the grace of God.

Here's the deal... truth is important. If a seeker finds out we're willing to make up/spread stories because of their emotional effect, then it's a hop, skip & a jump to wondering what else about the Bible & Christianity is "made-up."

So, what should we do?

  1. Don't forward touching stories/e-mails unless you check them out against or (Note: while is a Christian website, is not...)
  2. Check out stuff that's forwarded to you against those sites - and have the courage to let people know when they've forwarded you "junk".
  3. Tell real stories... stories you have personal knowledge of. God has done so many amazing things in our hearts & lives - we don't need to make stuff up!
A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies.

Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.

The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.

A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies.

A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.

Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.

Proverbs 12:17,19,22; 14:5,25; 16:13

This article originally appeared in the 3/4/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Angel Babies Walk/Run (Run? Ha!)

Here's the crew we walked with... from the left:
  • two ladies we don't know
  • Laura Edwards (Braeden's favorite babysitter)
  • Shelley Edwards (she was on the search team that brought us to Easton - also a good friend to Shari)
  • Mackenzy Edwards (Laura's little sister)
  • Braeden Jackson (Rescue Heroes-obsessed 4 year old who likes beating his dad at board games)
  • Shari Jackson (beautiful wife whose birthday is TOMORROW!)
  • Collin Jackson (just along for the ride... dreaming about the board games he will one day beat his father at)
Posted by Picasa

Braeden, Medal & Tired Old Man

This is Braeden & I with his medal for running the race. It's just a really good picture of the two of us. Posted by Picasa

Braeden & Tired Old Man

Ignore the bee... I'm trotting alongside Braeden as he ran in the kid's run. (The purple feather boa on my arm is to designate us as a part of Team Claire... for more on Claire, you can read my post Glory Baby.) Posted by Picasa

Braeden & Papoose Boy

A few weeks ago, our family walked in a walk/run for Angel Babies... a group that helps families following the death of their children. Here, you can see Braeden grininng at his brother, whose bundled up in one of those "mummy bag" outfits. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Much Shorter Than Reading The NYT Book Reviews

Recent reading + mini-reviews... doesn't waste much of your time (or mine!) and helps you make those all-important "what book am I going to buy so I have something to do while I drink my over-priced coffee at my local B&N?"

Jump In! Even If You Don't Know How To Swim by Mark Burnett

Yep... this is the Mark Burnett who created the Eco-Challenge, Survivor and The Apprentice, which means if you like reality TV, you kinda like the guy, and if you can't be bothered with reality television, he may well be related to the anti-Christ. Either way, this book doesn't have enough "behind the scenes" stuff to be really enjoyable for fans of the shows; instead, he tries to draw "life lessons" from his own life which are mostly cribbed from Robin Williams in "Dead Poets Society". (For a really GREAT book on what carpe diem looks like in the context of following Jesus, check out Erwin McManus' Chasing Daylight: Seizing the Power of Every Moment.)

Book Rating: 3

Look Cool While Drinking Latte Rating: 3 (it looks like the cheesy leadership-lite/self-help book that it is)

Stand Against the Wind by Erwin Raphael McManus

Speaking of Erwin, this is a nifty "gift book" version of his longer Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul. I'm actually finding this one to be easier to read for inspiration, which is a good thing. (I actually don't think Erwin has written a bad book, so you may need to take this review with a grain of salt.)

Book Rating: 7

Look Cool While Drinking Latte Rating: 7 (it's one of those "art & text books")

Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity by Laura Winner

One of the two best books on sex from a Christian perspective I've read. (She references the other one - Lewis Smedes' Sex For Christians.) This is NOT a how-to book (no diagrams, pictures, or long passages of purple prose) but a introspective rumination on what sex means and how we can make the choices as individuals & communities to enjoy this God-gift in a proper way. (Her spiritual autobiography, Girl Meets God: A Memoir, is also great reading.)

Book Rating: 7

Look Cool While Drinking Latte Rating: 8 (it says "sex" right on the cover, but it doesn't look like you're reading something published by Larry Flynt)

Tick... Tick... Tick...: The Long Life & Turbulent Times of 60 Minutes by David Blum

A colorful history of Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace, Dan Rather, Andy Rooney & all the other folks who made "60 Minutes" what is is today. It's interesting reading, though these guys cuss like sailors & undercut each other at every turn. A book I'm glad I read... and am glad I checked out from the library rather than paid for.

Book Rating: 6

Look Cool While Drinking Latte Rating: 3 (Does anyone under the age of 40 still watch 60 Minutes?)


Once upon a time (December of 2004), I was on a podcast entitled GeekSpeak... Derk & Aldie (the guys who run, own & otherwise have responsibility for the most comprehensive boardgaming site on the Net, BoardGameGeek) interviewed me for over 2 hours about, well, just about everything. (If you're interested, you can check it out the mp3 of our conversation, which includes not only some good gaming talk but also a bit of spiritual insight & commentary.)

Anyhoo... fast forward 18 months to Monday of this week, when BoardGameSpeak began recording again... this time with a panel of regular guests & a tighter (in English: shorter!) format. And I'm one of the panelists (along with Ward Batty & Doug Garrett).

The first show out of the gate is all about the new Klaus Teuber game, Elasund: The First City, which is, IMHO, "Catan for people who don't mind conflict." You can download it from the Geek or subscribe to "boardgamespeak" on iTunes.

Feedback is appreciated... as well as suggestions for show topics. (I'm not promising we'll do your suggested show - but you can always click your heels three times & make a wish!)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Sex, Church & Blogging

What follows is my comment on another person's blog - a person I don't who goes by the blogger name of Ramblin' Educat. She posted last week about deciding to go to church - you need to read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt for you lazy folks:

I decided very quietly a few days ago not to give up something for Lent. I decided instead to do something. I decided to go to church...

For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I am terrified of attending church again. It started years back and the years in between have seemed to always solidified that fear... Here’s the list as best I can articulate it.
  • I have watched my home church slowly implode. They are working and scrambling to find the perfect program that will bring in the “right kind of people” and have in the process managed to decrease attendance and look really stupid. And, oh yeah, they fired my dad and then lied about it.
  • My Mother is a compulsive church-goer. She has given some of the best parts of her life to a congregation who doesn’t appear to appreciate the gift. As a result, we miss those best parts and the people who get them don’t seem to care.
  • I don’t fit the church demographic as I have known it. I’m single and I have yet to vote Republican. Sometimes it has felt that there isn't a place for me.
  • When they have places, they are singles groups.
  • And singles groups are by nature creepy.
  • Because I am not trolling the churches for a husband.
  • But plenty of guys are trolling the churches for a wife.
  • The bit of depression I deal with has done a number on my self esteem and sometimes it’s terrifying to put myself “out there” to new people. I do far better getting to know people when we work together at something I am good at
  • And I am not good at church
  • Because (and this is the most definitive answer I can find) church has always been a place where you have to be perfect
  • Or at least really, really, good.
  • And lots of times, I am just not.

I can give an answer for every single item on that list (so don't try to give me any, please.), but at Sunday morning wake up time, none of them hold water.

There's more to her post than that... like I said earlier, you ought to read the whole thing.

I responded with:

You succinctly & carefully lay out the fears, hurts & hopes of so many folks when it comes to dealing with institutionalized church.

As a pastor, I just want to apologize for our tendency in church to value conformity over authenticity and perfect exteriors over transformed interiors.

At the same time, I encourage you not to give up on church. It's kind of like sex. (Really... not kidding. Let me explain!)

Sex was/is this incredible wonderful amazing idea in the mind/heart of God, given to us to enjoy & use & cherish. It makes a marriage more than simply a promise of respect; sex morphs marriage into an intimate alliance shot through with physical & emotional vulnerability. And we have managed to reduce it to a physical act/exchange of bodily fluids, casually used & abused & downgraded to an instinctual response used to sell hair care products & beer.

By the same token, church was/is this incredible wonderful amazing idea in the mind/heart of God, given to us to enjoy & use & cherish. It makes following God more than a personal act of will; church gives us allies/friends/compadres to explore the physical & spiritual world with... iron that sharpens iron and, at it's best, brothers & sisters who mourn with those mourn & rejoice with those who rejoice. There is a tenderness & grace & vulnerability in an authentic Biblical community that make our hearts beat quickly & our spirits soar.

And, as you so beautifully related, we have managed all too often to reduce it to an elaborate play where we all wear Greek comedy masks, reciting lines we barely believe at each other. No wonder it sucks people like your mother dry... church can be a people-eating monster rather than a community of Christ-followers.

Well, didn't think I'd go off quite like that when I started this response. My prayer: that your Lenten experiment helps you find a place where there are no scripts, no masks, and the Director comes complete with grace, truth, & holes in His wrists & side.

Evidently, I'm not the only person who was drawn to Educat's story... and she responded later in the week with two posts, one about the effect of the service she attended (Where I'm Starting) and one that more specifically dealt with her frustration of being used as a poster child for "the unchurched" (Extending the Metaphor). Again, you ought to read the whole thing, but here's a taste just the same.

Mark made the observation that church is like sex. To simplify, when used right, it's good. When society gets hold of it, it can be used improperly and hurt people.

I'd like to kindly extend the metaphor, if I may.

Let's say someone is hurt by sex. She was abused or something like it. Let's say lots of well meaning people who love her tell her that the solution to her fear of sex is to find the right partner and enter a physical relationship. Those people counsel her. They talk and talk to her about her problem and try to get her to date lots of people so that she will find that healthy relationship and experience something that will strengthen the relationship as an expression of love that will also serve as a means of procreation.

I have had some bad church. I don't know if abuse is fair, but for whatever reason, I've got issues. Lots and lots and lots of well meaning people have told me that the solution to not liking church is to go to church. They've told me over and over how good church is and to "get back in there".

It hasn't worked yet. Here's what's worked (to the extent that anything has).

I've watched people in good relationships with the church. I've watched people who I know have been hurt go back and risk more hurt. Sometimes, though, they find the right match and form great relationships with the church that strengthens their relationship with God and serves as an encouragement to others. They don't talk it too much, but they've done more for my will to come back than any Monday night visitation ever has.

It wouldn't work to overtalk our sexual abuse victim. She probably needs to just watch relationships until she finds someone she trusts and to enter a relationship when the time is right.

The moral of the story is, let's not overtalk this. I have heard over and over that the "good church" is out there, but I don't need to hear about it. I need to see it. So give me time, I'm watching.

Which brings me to my final point to those of us on "the inside" - how do we live "good church" for the sake of Educat & and the millions like her? Isn't it time to stop hounding people with guilt & the Chinese water torture of visitation and instead spend our energy living out the community Christ called us to?!

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oscar Dribs & Drabs

Well, last night was the 78th Annual Oscar ceremony... Hollywood's biggest party. You'd think a pastor of a smaller church in the rural outskirts of Fresno, CA, wouldn't have much to say about such a "Left Coast" kind of event.

But you'd be wrong. :-)
  • Initial reports put viewership down by 10%... which is hardly surprising, considering that the majority of the nominated films didn't connect with the public at large. I'm not saying that these films didn't earn money or recognition, just that they didn't capture a wide swath of viewer loyalty & interest.
  • Jon Stewart is very funny on The Daily Show. He was not particularly funny last night. I particularly didn't like the "Jimmy Kimmel Live"-ish bits (the campaign commercials, the gay cowboy montage) which fit nicely on a late night talk show but seem woefully out of place in an evening set aside to honor excellence in filmmaking. (It's one of the major problems of cyncism & irony - when our humor is based entirely on shredding things, what do you do when you want to give something honor? You're forced to undercut your admiration & praise with a sly wink... sigh.)
  • I will give Jon Stewart credit for the best line of the night, however - following a montage of "message" films, he commented: "And none of those issues were ever a problem again." (Smirk) A well-placed pin jab in the self-inflated importance of the Hollywood elite.
  • Look, I don't hate Hollywood. I love movies. I think they are the "sitting around the fire storyteller" of our media-heavy generation. But it's important to remember that media doesn't lead cultural change as much as it reflects it.
  • Rachel Murray (aka Rachel Jones) beat me by ONE STINKIN' POINT in my annual Oscar Pool. (For those of you who are mid-gasp that I'm running a mini-gambling ring out of the church office, please note that there is no financial reward here. All you get is bragging rights for next year.) Congrats, Rachel.
  • Movie I need to see: Crash (and not just because it won Best Picture... the whole issue of racism in America is important stuff for those of us who claim to follow Jesus)
  • Nominated Movies I'd Actually Seen Before the Awards: Pride & Prejudice (which should have garnered some awards - what a delightful film), Batman Begins, Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars Episode III, King Kong, and Wallace & Gromit. Yep, 6 films.
  • Last but not least... Ben Stiller is the King of Uncomfortable Comedy. (See the picture above.)