Friday, December 29, 2006

O, Lonely Peas

This Christmas, Shari & I got Collin the Rhinoceros Tap book & CD by Sandra Boynton... while all of the songs on the project are quite good (I especially like "Bad Babies"), the classic is "O, Lonely Peas". I reproduce the lyrics here for your New Year's enjoyment & to torment my sister, who this song was obviously written for. The picture here is from the early 70's - while Liz is not in timeout for not eating peas (at least THIS time), it does give you a pretty good idea of how effective timeout was with her.

Dinner is over.

I like what I ate.

Except for the peas,

which are still on my plate.

O, Lonely Peas,

so green, so round,

and so small.

O, Lonely Peas,

there's no one

who loves you at all.

There's no one

who loves you at all.

I can't leave my place

till the peas are all gone.

At the rate I am going,

I'll be ninety-one.


Perhaps by some magic,

they'll all disappear --


...The peas are still here.


I'm growing quite fond

of these peas of my own.

So how could I eat them?

I'd be all alone. OH!


Monday, December 25, 2006

Geek of the Week

Yes, campers & camperettes, one of my Christmas presents this year is being Boardgamegeek's Geek of the Week. Click on the link to enjoy and/or join the conversation.

So far, I've managed to give a not-so-brief history of my gaming past, answer esoteric questions about sermon illustrations, "heavy" games & if/when I'm doing my own podcast, and get some truly odd posts from others (yes, GROGnards, I'm talking about you.) Nick Danger has given his (rather skewed) version of how I became the "owner" of Nigglybits for six weeks - love ya, Nick - and most recently I've been talking about TX and OR.

There's more to come - I'm Geek of the Week through next Sunday morning, so don't hesitate to check it out.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Isn't there anyone out there who can tell me what Christmas is all about?

Lights, please.

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'".

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Have a Very Merry (and Disturbing) Christmas...

...thanks to the good folks at Office Max & my "friend" & fellow gamer, Dale Yu (who obviously has way too much time on his hands.) He's titled this masterpiece Pastor Elf.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Our Librarian, Desmond R.G. Underwood- Frederick IV

Collin is "getting in touch with his feminine side". Next thing you know, he'll start "playing Cabbage Patch dolls with his inner child." (Anybody know the reference?!) Yes, we LOVE it when he does clears the shelves of books. Sigh.

Note: we do not recommend the book Collin is reading - it's kind of legalistic & a bit soul-deadening. The fact that a book is in our library does not indicate that we think everyone (heck, anyone!) should read it.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Asleep on the... Hershey Bar?

So, Shari & I were Christmas shopping on Friday and stopped into a local Christian bookstore which had a pretty massive display of Nativity sets. While I paid for our merchandise, Shari wandered over and looked through the selection.

She called me over to show me what I'm showing you here, thanks to the magic of the Internet - a S'mores Nativity. Yes, that's right, the Christ Child & his parents are rendered as marshmallows standing on graham crackers with a hunk of chocolate interposed.

I was, to say the least, stunned. I mumbled & laughed as we left the store, telling Shari that was going to blog about my "abject horror" at the sight of this. (That's me, all right: never use a simple word when you can sound like you're trying to rewrite your thesis. Sigh.) Of course, since I took a long pause as I began to say "abject" (evidently my brain was still reeling from the cinammon stick stable), Shari thought was going to "blog my a__ off" about this, which... well, you be the judge.

So, these are the thoughts running through my head:
  • I'm not sure it's blasphemous... but I'm pretty sure it's in poor taste. (Taste - he he. I made a pun. A bad pun, but a pun nonetheless.)
  • Why does Mary look like a badly made snowman?
  • In the words of Homer Simpson, "Mmmmm... Jesus."
As an antidote, I think I'll watch A Charlie Brown Christmas again with Braeden... good grief. (I may need to watch it four or five times.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

The World's Most Famous Game & How It Got That Way

Love it or hate it, chances are pretty good that you've played Monopoly at some point in your life. (For the record, I'm in the "love it" camp.)

Either way, Larry Levy wrote a very nice review of Philip Orbanes new book, Monopoly: The World's Most Famous Game & How It Got That Way over on Boardgame News. (Larry is famous for a couple of things: he's the designer of Head to Head Golf & some very nice variants for a number of games... and he was my roommate at Gulf Games. OK, maybe the 2nd one isn't so important.) You should go read it right now... it's entitled Sleeping with the Enemy.

I'm with Larry - the second half of the book is a bit less interesting (though still fun to a Monopoly fan like me)... but the first half is worth the price of admission. (Of course, I checked it out from the library, so I definitely got my money's worth.)

What I wanted to note is an interesting comment tucked away in the chapter entitled "G.I. Gamers: 1945-1958" when Mr. Orbanes is talking about Waddingtons rebuilding the distribution network following World War 2:

Waddington rebuilt its relationships with its many licensees. The Miro company not only relaunched Monopoly but also provided production for Franz Schmidt until it could rebuild its factory in Germany. In a controversial move, Schmidt decided not to reintroduce its ill-fated Berlin edition. [Earlier in the book, Orbanes talks about the problems Schmidt had w/the Nazis threatened ban of this edition.] In its place, it designed a game whose streets bore no connection to any specific German city. This was a misstep. Without the identity of its capital city, sales were lackluster. Henceforth Monopoly would be less significant in Germany than in other European countries.

Wait a minute! I may be reading between the lines here, but is Orbanes saying that Monopoly had less effect on German games & gaming than on other countries? And if he is, does that help explain why Germany has been the center of the designer gaming universe? Hmmm...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Dice Tower #77: Interview with WHO?!

It's a little weird to find an episode of the popular gaming podcast The Dice Tower subtitled "Interview With Mark Jackson." Even weirder is to realize that Tom & Sam waited until the very end of the podcast to feature my interview... either they were saving the best for last (yeah, right) or they were trying to put it in the last 10 minutes slot (where every bad SNL sketch gets buried).

So, with either hubris or humility, I want to add these notes to the things I said. (Hey, you'll probably want to listen to the podcast before you read the rest of this... check it out at The Dice Tower. Or don't.)

On the whole question of "how do people respond to me being a pastor AND a gamer?":

  • props to Jon Pessano, the guy who uttered the immortal line, "And you call yourself a pastor!" after being hosed over in Rette sich wer kann
  • my congregation doesn't seem to be bothered a bit about my gaming... in fact, we had about 20 folks for a Family Game Night a few weeks ago
  • over time, the most vehement questions I've had about my gaming have been in regards to fantasy-based themes, rather than games themselves

And then, Tom brought up the Christian board game question

  • I sat here for a few minutes, thinking about printing a retraction - or at least a softening - of my comment that the Christian subculture has a tendency to create junk... but given a few minutes to think & pray about my response, I think it's spot on. For every work of brilliance (the art of Thomas Blackshear or the music of Derek Webb & Andrew Peterson) there's a truckload of insipid, uninspired crapola that is unloaded on people because they think these trinkets will work as "witnessing tools." (More on that in a minute.)
  • That goes double for my comment that "every subculture creates merchandise that cater to the subculture" - and I then proceeded to call Trekkies "Trek fans", which means that I am now banned from ever making the Vulcan sign & saying "Live long & prosper" again.
  • Some other subcultures - Whedon-ites, comic book fanboys, American Idol watchers, atheists, Catholics, lovers of hemp & the byproduct thereof, etc... look, there's no limit. Find a group of people with shared beliefs & practices... and you'll find someone trying to make a profit of them by exploiting their beliefs.
  • I checked out a couple of our local Christian bookstores on Black Friday - and browsed their game sections. With the exception of some re-themed party games (Outburst, Apples to Apples, etc.) and Carcassonne: Ark of the Covenant, it's pretty much schlock-y Bible trivia games. Sigh.
  • I wandered off on one of my favorite podcast tangents: it's OK for companies to make money re-theming games. The audience for NASCAR Monopoly is not the same market as the folks who'll snap up copies of Caylus or Age of Steam.
  • I also touched on the inherent problem of reconciling Christian character & mores (compassion, kindness, gentleness, unity) with the typical structure of games. I didn't do a very good job of explaining that problem in regards to race games - esp. since many of the schlock-y games you see in Christian bookstores are race games. So, let me give it another shot: there is a difference between designing a standard roll'n'move race game (roll the dice, spin the spinner, answer a question to get a bonus) and creating an innovative race game with true interaction between players. That kind of interaction almost always involves some kind of direct negative play against another player - which doesn't "feel" Christian.

In a related question, Tom asked me if a game's theme can go "too far" and therefore shouldn't be played. I'm afraid that I may have sounded more spindoctor-ish than I intended here... so, let me try again.

  • Everybody has a belief system of some sort, which includes ethical & moral considerations.
  • If a game (or a movie or a book or whatever) violates those beliefs, you should not - if you want to stay true to your belief system - partake of it.
  • Just because something does not fit your ethical or moral schema does not mean it should be outlawed for everyone else.
  • Therefore, people are going to play games I think are morally reprehensible... I am under no obligation to play them nor are they under any obligation to avoid them because of my beliefs.

I also mentioned that I don't believe that Christianity is NECESSARILY a pacifistic religion... and then I referenced the idea of a "just war." I won't go any deeper into the theological side of that, but I think it's worth reading deeply on before you dismiss the idea.

The next topic was starting a game group in your church:

  • Here I waxed "pastoral" for a minute and asked people to check in with the leadership of their church. (Can you sense some frustration over my 20+ years of ministry with "surprise" events & programs?)
  • I also talked about how knowing your purpose (who are you trying to reach, insiders or outsiders?) helps define where you will meet, how you will be structured & what games you might play.
  • Finally, I gave my standard "don't abuse your freedom" blurb regarding board games - just because I have the freedom in Christ to play Fury of Dracula doesn't mean that the graphics & theme wouldn't really bother some of the folks in my church. So, I choose not to flaunt those kinds of games at church events... but I don't hide them in a closet, either.

I got asked about the Apples Project... and pretty much everything I said there is on the Apples Project blog, which you should be reading anyway.

But Tom took us an interesting direction when he noticed that not only do the winners not match his votes most of the time (he he he) but they don't match the CW (conventional wisdom), either. I remarked on some reasons I thought that was true:

  • For those of us who are long-time players (I started playing AH wargames nearly 30 years ago & bought my first "Euro" nearly 20 years ago), the newest games don't seem quite as shiny as the old games did when we first discovered them.
  • As well, with a lot of long-time gamers on the Apple Pickers list, it's more likely that OOP (out of print) games will show up that aren't well known to the general public.
  • At this point, I tried to be culturally relevant by mentioning late 80's U2 ("Van Diemen's Land", anyone?) and Nirvana... I understood my point, but I'm not sure anyone else did.
  • And, yes, there probably is a bit of "choose odd things just to confound the masses" - but that's more likely to go on in the nomination process rather than the voting.

The interview concluded with Tom asking me to choose between Lost Cities & Balloon Cup...

  • No, Sam, Tom did not prompt me or cut out any of the interview... I'd listened to The Dice Tower's previous episode.
  • They are both great games, btw... some of the best 2 player/30 minute games on the market.
  • I mentioned The One Hundred blog... go check it out. Stephen Glenn (the designer of Balloon Cup) polled a group of serious gamers on their 15 favorite games - and what came out was a top 100 list that was a lot of fun.
  • OK, Sam, you were right. I listened to the show again and you called it a "glorified Racko", not simply Racko. Either way, you're wrong. See, it's NOT Racko... and if it's "glorified", the best definition of the word is "canonized". He he he...

BTW, Tom originally interviewed me via e-mail last year - you can read the whole thing right here.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

This or That?

This or That?

Two choices. Zero Context. Infinite fun!

My Internet buddy, Randy Cox, is about to restart his "internet game show", This or That? Thanks to the magic of blogging, you can join in. It cranks up tomorrow (December 1st). Be there or be square.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Of Zebras & Empires

I had one of those sweet gaming nights where, despite playing a game with the "wrong" number of people, I had an absolute blast. So, you kids get a little actual gaming content this time around.

Monday night gaming started with Braeden (my 5 year old son) playing Booby-Trap (my old wooden copy) and Break the Safe (we won with 2 minutes left!). Next David joined us for the ye olde Parker Brothers game, Pushover (man, those white hulking pawn guys creep me out.)

The final "appetizer" game was Droles de Zebres, a splendid little Bruno Cathala game that I taught David (and beat him - but it's one of those games you need to play once to see how things are going to work). BTW, I can't recommend Droles highly enough - it's a placement game with perfect information & a whimsical theme (creating a wild animal park for tourists) that plays in 20 minutes. (Also nice - the animal pieces have "special powers" that mirror their real-life roles, making it very easy to teach.)

Finally, we got to the "main event" of the night. Jim had just purchased the FF edition of Britannia, but I hadn't had time to read the rules & get ready to teach it. (Yes, you read that correctly - Jim bought the game & gave it to me to learn so I could teach it to him.) David & Jim both wanted something meat-y... and decided they were willing to learn History of the World. (I own & love the H/AHedition.)

Now, I realize that 3 players isn't the best number to show off HOTW... you can play with 2 colors each, but that's monstrously confusing for newbies to the game. Still, I don't get to play it much and it's a game I really enjoy, so... we managed to have an epic battles in a game about epic battles.

My early forays into China were overun by David's green horde - and by the late game, David had managed to pretty much overtake the entire Far East. Jim's early victories in the Middle East & N. Africa dwindled way in the late game. I managed to take S. Europe early - and then maintained a strong presences in N. Europe & the Americas. In fact, I had the Epoch 6-7 "one-two" punch of Portugal (w/Reallocation) andGermany (w/Leader) to put me back in contention.

The final scores (pre-Preminence markers) were:
  • David 200
  • Mark 200
  • Jim 190
And after adding the markers in:
  • David 209 (2 markers)
  • Jim 207 (4 markers)
  • Mark 200 (zero markers - my tie at the end of Epoch 7 kept David & I both from getting a marker)
Wowsa - we finished the game hooting & hollering... what a delightful way to spend an evening.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Crackpipe Remote OR Yes, As A Matter of Fact, I Do Watch Too Much Network Television

t-shirt graphic is from glarkware

This show used to be cutting-edge political and social satire, but it's gotten lobotomized by a... broadcast network hell-bent on doing nothing that might challenge their audience. We were about to do a sketch you've seen already about five hundred times. Yeah, no one is going to confuse George Bush with George Plimpton. We get it. We're all being lobotomized by this country's most influential industry! It's just thrown in the towel on any endeavor to do anything that doesn't include the courting of twelve-year-old boys. Not even the smart twelve-year-olds - the stupid ones! The idiots - of which there are plenty, thanks in no small measure to this network! So why don't you just change the channel? Turn off the TV. Do it right now. Go ahead.

There's always been a struggle between art and commerce. But I'm telling you, right now art is getting its [butt] kicked, and it's making us mean... It's making us cheap punks and that's not who we are! People are having contests to see how much they can be like Donald Trump? We're eating worms for money. Who wants to screw my sister? Guys are getting killed in a war that's got theme music and a logo? That remote in your hands is a crack pipe.

Wes Mendel, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip


The Amazing Race

  • spiritual relevance: low (thankfully, there's no Christian contestants like the Weavers or the Fogles)
  • quality level: pretty darn good
  • warnings: language & people being mean to each other
  • network: CBS (8 pm Pacific)

Thankfully, The Amazing Race is once again amazing, as they've changed the non-elimination rules (now you get to keep your stuff/$ but you will take a 30 minute time penalty if you don't finish 1st on the next leg), made the clues back into clues rather than Mapquest directions, and found some interesting challenges again. It doesn't hurt that most of the contestants are reasonably likeable - with the notable exception of Peter.

If you gave up on The Amazing Race due to the debacle that was the Family season and/or the goofball fest that was last season, it's OK to come back now.


My prime viewing night... and also my gaming night. Thank goodness for my trusty VCR. (Yes, I realize that "hip" people would be using Tivo, but that would require our little town to be wired for cable - which it isn't.)

Prison Break

  • spiritual relevance: very low
  • quality level: pretty darn good (if you can ignore plot holes big enough to drive a prison bus through)
  • warnings: some language, drug use, and heaps o'violence
  • network: Fox (8 pm Pacific)

The second season of this soap opera crossed with every prison movie you've ever seen (and an added pinch of X-File-ish government conspiracy for flavoring) is actually bopping along at a reasonable pace. They've managed to kill off 4 major characters in the first 6-7 episodes, which means they must be getting notes from the same folks who are behind the last season of 24.

It's not great TV, but I find the story interesting & unpredictable. It's also interesting how they are beginning to deal with Michael's guilt at the fallout from his plan. (This is one of my favorite things about good TV shows - they actually allow character's actions to resonate throughout their lives. For a great example of this, check out Boomtown on DVD... sigh, just one season.)


  • spiritual relevance: it's got potential
  • quality level: sweet (which is better than "pretty darn good")
  • warnings: occasionally violent and/or gruesome, generally kind of dark (except Hiro)
  • network: NBC (9 pm Pacific)

It's the X-Men meet the X-Files... which would only be mildly enjoyable - except that the guys plotting this thing are doing some creative stuff with that "high-concept" pitch. And they didn't hurt themselves with the character of Hiro, who is a complete delight. (Note: say "thank you" to Lost for making it cool to subtitle all of a character's dialogue.)

This one's doing well enough that is has a full season order already (that means the network is buying the whole season.) Don't miss out on the online graphic stories each week, too - on NBC's website. They add bits to the story that aren't in the episodes.

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

  • spiritual relevance: extremely high (Harriet is the best written Christian character on television)
  • quality level: top notch
  • warnings: language, adult things discussed, lots of humor that will anger rabid right-wingers
  • network: NBC (10 pm Pacific)

Shari & I were huge fans of Aaron Sorkin's "Sports Night"... and this feels like Sports Night, only twice as long & with lots more cash. It's a "dramedy", much like The West Wing was in it's best moments, all with the trademark Aaron Sorkin whiplash dialogue.

If you bailed out on the show after the second episode (the weakest so far), it's time to come back. The show has finally found a groove that is sweet & enjoyable & promises interesting things to come. And if you were worried about getting your heart broken when it got cancelled, don't. It now has a full-season order. (Yeah!)

Again, I want to make sure everyone is clear that my love for the show, the storylines & the characters does not necessarily extend to the political/cultural views expressed therein. What I do like, however, is that the debate doesn't feel one-sided... and not all of the "kicker" lines in the discussions are given to the folks on the Left.



  • spiritual relevance: none
  • quality level: decent (the acting is great, but it's standard So Cal cop show locations & direction)
  • warnings: language, some light violence, sexual situations
  • network: Fox (8 pm Pacific... for now - there's some talk of it moving again)

Shari compares this to the early episodes of Alias, which took a potentially serious thriller story & made it light & fluffy. What Alias did for spies, Standoff does for hostage negotiation. It works, mainly because of the likeability & chemistry of the two lead characters.

Over the last few weeks, it seems to be establishing a pretty comfortable vibe - a cop show with a dash of humor & romance. It's not gonna set the world on fire, but Shari likes it and I like watching it with her.

Veronica Mars

  • spiritual relevance: on occasion
  • quality level: pretty good (the writing & acting are great, but the set/location quality is just so-so)
  • language: language, alcohol & drug use, occasional violence, sexual situations
  • network: CW (9 pm Pacific)

I really like the oddball combination of noir, Buffy sans the supernatural & bits of The O.C. that makes up Veronica Mars... and after a rough start (the first three episodes were pretty weak), the show looks like it is back to the high standards of the first two seasons.

I'm hoping this season maybe cuts back on the "let's show teens having sex" thing... I understand it as a story element but that doesn't mean I want to watch.



  • spiritual relevance: high (predestination, freewill, where does evil come from, how do you forgive?, etc...)
  • quality level: astounding
  • warnings: violence, sexual situations, language
  • network: ABC (9 pm Pacific)

I watched the first season of this religiously... but the 2nd season started slow & when I missed taping a couple of episodes (about the time Ana Lucia shot Shannon), I gave up. Thanks to the magic of DVD & Netflix, I picked up where I left off - only to realize that I'd ditched the show just as it got REALLY good. Sigh.

So, I've been staying up with the third season... which is driving me crazy! Where are Sun & Jin? More Hurley, please! Who are the new pair that went to Pearl Station with Mr Eko, Desmond & John?

The Nine

  • spiritual relevance: potentially high (forgiveness, revenge, consequences of our actions, etc...)
  • quality level: pretty good
  • warnings: violence, sexual situations, language
  • network: ABC (10 pm Pacific)

The Nine is a pretty serious Lost-ish take on a bank robbery & the fallout in the lives of the hostages & hostage-takers. While the acting is very good & the ideas are interesting, they're going to have a problem on their hands if they don't pick up the pace of the story a bit.



  • spiritual relevance: mixed (while there are some interesting questions about trust & honor, they're all pretty much undercut by the game-ish nature of the show)
  • quality level: excellent
  • warnings: language, pixellated body parts
  • network: CBS (8 pm Pacific)

While the whole "racially divided tribes" thing got most of the early press, this has actually been a very interesting season of Survivor. There's been some intriguing people on the show, some good plans gone awry, and new elements (the jury starts at 12... and before "the merge"?!) that are making things harder to predict (and therefore more fun).

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Fear & control are behind most decisions made by the leadership of North American churches. Reggie McNeal

Ouch - that cuts a bit close to the bone. Question for the day: what am I doing RIGHT NOW in my ministry that is primarily about the fear of other people and/or the need to control?

For more on Reggie McNeal, check out Missional Community

Sunday, October 22, 2006

I Don't Want To Be Some Kind of Nutjob

I realize that many of you who read this blog do so not for the spiritual content but instead for my rather skewed take on boardgames & popular culture. A few of you are here for pictures of the Dynamic Duo (aka my sons, Braeden & Collin) and an even smaller number use this as the one way to keep with the Jackson family since we are woefully bad at writing letters & making phone calls.

With all that said, this post (actually a reprint from the Grapevine in early September) is a pretty heavy with God-related content. I invite you to read through it and ponder it a bit - even if it sounds like pure hokum to you.

I had a wild experience this summer on vacation... I was in a Christian Outlet store in Centralia, WA, searching for bargains. (The only thing I'm more likely to buy than a board game is a book... my "needs to be read" pile is large enough to bury both my sons in an avalanche of printed materials. Sigh.) Usually in places like that I'm looking for out of print books or cheap prices on stuff that I passed on a year or two back. So, imagine my surprise when I found a copy of John Eldredge's new book, The Way of the Wild Heart, on sale for $8.00. I knew it was coming out soon (I'm on the mailing list from his Ransomed Heart ministry) but I hadn't heard much about it.

Once I got home, I realized why... it's not in print yet! The copy I purchased is an "uncorrected proof" - which, in publishing terms, means a early copy of the book sent to book-buyers & reviewers. It specifically says on the back that it is "not for resale." Oops.

So, I decided to e-mail the folks at Ransomed Heart:

I managed to purchase a copy of The Way of the Wild Heart earlier today from an outlet store that sells Christian books and CD's. As I'm a big fan of your ministry (I preached a series based on EPIC last fall & use Wild at Heart in our men's ministry), I was excited to find a copy of the book - I'd read about it in the last letter from Ransomed Heart and was surprised to see it in the store.

Of course, when I had an opportunity to take a closer look at it, I realized that it was an uncorrected proof and is clearly marked "not for resale." Yikes! I'm guessing this wasn't supposed to be at an outlet mall in Washington State, eh?!

Anyway, I'd like to ask you guys what I should do next. I'm looking forward to reading the book, of course. And as a regular blogger (, I would love to do a review of the book.

However, I want to do so with the appropriate timing AND your approval. I see that the publication date is 11/14/06 - when would be the best time for me to publish a review of the book?

Thanks again for all that Ransomed Heart does and is doing to teach truth & lead people into a more intimate walk with Jesus.

in Christ, mark jackson

I'm not sure what I expected - there was a part of me that wondered if they wouldn't ask for me to put the book in the mail to them. I hoped for a positive response... but what I got was way beyond what I could imagine:

Dear Mark,

Thanks for writing. We're not sure how that copy got into the bookstore, but surely God wanted you to have it! We just ask that you not pass it around, because it has gone through a lot of editing and revision. And perhaps you could explain in your blog the story of how you got to read it before it was published. It might be a good means of getting others excited about the book. Thanks! We're grateful to count you as an ally...

Jamie, on behalf of the Ransomed Heart team

Of course, it makes sense for them to "play nice" - I mean, Ransomed Heart is highly unlikely to send a S.W.A.T. team of crack Bible study leaders to deploy flashbang grenades & "liberate" the uncorrected proof. But being courteous is a very different thing than speaking God-truth into my heart & life - and that's what the phrase "surely God wanted you to have it" was... and is.

Things don't happen by accident. Romans 8:28 (one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible) talks about the fact that "We can be sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." (The Message) It wasn't an accident that Shari & I stopped at mile marker 82 and combed the shelves of the little outlet store. God specifically had something (or things!) in mind for me & this book.

At least one of those things became abundantly clear last night at about 1:45 am. Monday night is my normal game night - and we typically play till midnight or 1 am. Last night, it was 1:15 am. (For the record, I didn't win any games - though I had a lot of fun playing them!) After closing down the game room, I stumbled into our bedroom and stretched out on the bed.

And then it started - I could feel panic wash over me. (It reminded me of the awful feeling I'd had when I was doing summer missions in Alabama and lived in an old 15 foot camper. I woke up in the middle of the night laying in a couple of inches of water - the camper had sprung a leak and all of the water was pooling in my bunk.)

This time, I was lying in a pool of worries & fears: dread over the current state of NewLife's finances (more on that later), unnerved by our personal finances, overwhelmed by the blizzard of activity I was/am facing today... and all of that punctuated by the steady dripping of accusing thoughts. "You're a lousy husband." "Why in the world would this church call you as their pastor? They're going to find out you don't have what it takes."

I rolled over on my back, forcing my eyes shut so I could ignore all this junk and just go to sleep. Even then, I had images playing in my mind of cockroaches & other bugs skittering across the walls. The panic continued to rise as I thrashed around, feeling like my soul was drowning.

Thankfully, I have a wife who desires to follow God - and is willing to be amazingly honest about her victories and struggles. She's been reading a book by Chip Ingram (Invisible War) on spiritual warfare, so that topic keeps coming up in our conversations. And it was those conversations that prodded me out of the bed and into "the coloring room" (Braeden's name for the front room of our house, which is set up as a reading area) to spend time in prayer, asking God to knock the Evil One on his butt... to protect my heart from this attack calculated to suck the life out of my ministry as a pastor & the joy of our marriage and family. I spent part of the time reading The Way of the Wild Heart - which features some pretty straightforward talk about spiritual warfare:

Eventually we find that we must face our enemy head-on. Now it comes to direct conflict with foul spirits and the kingdom of darkness. I know many men who have avoided this far too long. Good men, for the most part, but intimidated from any direct conflicts with the enemy, and preferring to stay in the human realm. "I'm a reluctant Warrior," a friend confessed this week. "I'd rather stay in the -- what was it -- the Shire."

That's me. For a number of reasons (worried about looking like a wild-eyed charismatic/Pentecostal/holy roller, lack of pastoral examples in my own life of spiritual warfare, fear of what might happen if I take this stuff seriously, etc.), I've basically acknowledged that there is a spiritual realm without ever really dealing with the clear Biblical mandate that we are under attack & must "stand firm against all strategies and tricks of the Devil. For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:11-12, NLT)

Last night, curled up on the couch, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, facing an onslaught of accusations & unbiblical thoughts, what had been a series of abstract concepts and Biblical principles became a spiritual reality. And as I prayed, as I read the Bible, as I quoted Psalm 23, as I read Eldredge's new book, the panic lifted. The accusations subsided. I went to bed at nearly 3 am, with the words from Psalm 127 that God grants sleep to those He loves ringing in my ears.

This morning I woke up (way too early, thank you) coming out of this amazing dream - I was talking with a gaming buddy from the Boston area about my love of ministry & my desire to make a difference in people's lives through the transforming power of Jesus Christ. He was listening and connecting... and it was sweet.

Like I said, there was a reason for the uncorrected proof of an unpublished book to be sitting in a store in central Washington - I needed to read once again that I wasn't crazy to go down this path.

This is important to know, for we long to feel brave & powerful in battle. But that is rarely the case. In the midst of battle, you will often fell confused, disoriented, perhaps overwhelmed, troubled with self-doubt. You will certainly fell the spirits that are present, and they will try to make you believe it's you that is angry, or prideful, or whatever assaults you. Set your face like flint. It will clear, eventually, and you will again feel the presence of God and who you truly are. In the midst of it, war is chaos.

Look, I'm not an expert on spiritual warfare - and I'm still scared that many of you will write me off as a crackpot - "Yep, he watched TBN one too many times & started into that whole 'demon under every rock' thing." But I'm convinced by my experience, the experiences of others I trust & respect, and the testimony of the Bible that the distance between the physical & the spiritual realms is not as far as we'd like to think.

It's time for us to ask God to open our eyes to spiritual reality - see 2nd Kings 6 for a great story about this! Maybe you could pray like this:

Father God,

You are a warrior (Exodus 15:3), a dread champion (Jeremiah 20:11), strong & mighty in battle (Psalm 24:7-8). Right now, I acknowledge that those verses aren't simply "figurative language" but instead speak volumes about the Your nature and the battle I find myself in.

Even praying that out loud scares the fool out of me. I don't want to be some kind of nutjob who tries to cast demons out of their iMac or lives in perpetual legalistic fear. OTOH, I don't want to pretend any longer that the stuff that goes down on this planet is just a random series of lucky breaks & unfortunate accidents.

I need to see what's going on through Your eyes. And if that's going to happen, You're going to have to open them for me.

I love you, Jesus... in Your holy name -


Catch Up with Heroes

I'm working on more expansive post on my TV viewing habits - but here's a short blurb/head's up. One of the really enjoyable new shoes this year is Heroes, which is a cross between The X-Men & The X-Files. (Sadly, my "high-concept" description makes it sounds nerdy & geekish... and it really isn't. Trust me.)

If you haven't been watching, tonight is your chance to catch-up as NBC is doing a Heroes marathon (3 episodes back-to-back) at 8 pm/7 pm Central.

And, of course, there's a new episode on Monday night.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

NewLife @ Night

Two weeks from today, we're starting a new worship gathering at my church (NewLife Community Church). I'm not sold on the name (NewLife @ Night), which sounds vaguely SNL-ish to me, but I am sold on our need/mission to reach a different group of folks with a different kind of service.

I'll probably talk more about the whole experience here at aka pastor guy... but if you're really interested in hearing more about what we're doing, you can check our brand spankin' new blog.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

We Scored!

I'm coaching Braeden's under 6 soccer team this year... which has been a lot of fun (all except the twice a week practices, which seems a bit nutty with 4 & 5 year olds.)

We don't keep track of who wins the games - well, officially, but you can ask any of my team members (or their parents!) and they know that we won our first two games & lost last week. I'm just happy they've figured out (for the most part) to listen to their coach, kick the ball in the right direction, and play hard.

That doesn't stop the 7 boys & Drea (our only girl & best goalie) from having a grand time - as shown in this picture from their first game. Braeden is celebrating with his buddy, Canaan.

Pirates At the Big Fresno Fair

Collin, Braeden (not pictured here, as he was too busy climbing around the pirate ship like a chicken with his head cut off) & I got to climb on a pirate ship/playground thingee at the Fresno County Fair. Shari took this wonderful picture of me & my youngest gamer-in-training.

BTW, Collin is 18 months old today! Newest gaming accomplishment - he rolls dice & shakes them like a pro. If he starts blowing on them first, we'll see if he understands "pass" & "no pass"... yikes! :-)


I've been a big fan of Richard Borg's Command & Colors series of "lite" wargames since the release of Battle Cry from Hasbro/Avalon Hill back in 2000. Battle Cry allowed you to recreate portions of Civil War battles using plastic miniatures (yes, those of you non-gamers out there, like plastic army men) & a command system based on cards. Games are quick (30-45 minutes) and filled with tension & fun.

My nephew, William, became a fan as well... and we often played 5+ games in a row!

In 2004, Days of Wonder released Memoir '44, which took the same basic system and moved it into World War 2. With the release of a number of expansions, you can now recreate battles in the European & Pacific theaters of war... as well as playing the game with multiple players, thanks to the Overlord rules that allow you to put two sets together for monster battles.

And then, just a few months ago, word began to leak out that something new was coming... called Battlelore.

Battlelore not only sounds like a genius of a concept (taking the Command & Colors system and putting it in a fantasy setting), but it's being done by a company whose history for producing stunningly beautiful games is unmatched. (Yeah - Days of Wonder! No, they didn't pay me for that...)

On top of that, the link above is to the Battlelore blog, where they are slowly but surely building excitement as they release more & more details about the game. (Release date is late November, at this point.)

Look, my life is plenty busy - you guys may have noticed that I haven't been blogging nearly as much. But I'm saving up time & money to jump headfirst into this one... 6-7 weeks to go! :-)

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Able To Leap Tall Books In A Single Bound

I'm certainly not faster than a speeding meme - I got tagged by Alfred & thus must write a blog post or I'll end up breaking the chain. Next thing you know, I'll end up forwarding copies of this to everyone in my address book with the note to "Send it to ten friends if you love Jesus." Sigh - I'll cut the sarcasm & just get on with it.

One Book that Changed My Life

Avoiding the obvious answer (the Bible), I'd have to go with John Eldredge's Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul. While I don't agree with him 100%, he managed to write a book that helped me deal with years of struggle with what it means to be a "real man." Dismiss him if you want, but the things he wrote resonated with my heart.

One Book I've Read More than Once

Just one? Sheesh... well, I'll go with something unusual then. How about Reggie McNeal's The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for The Church? I chose this one because I first read it last November... and have managed to read it two more times since then. It's probably the most convicting book on the realities of church life & growth I own.

One Book to Bring to a Desert Island

This one's easy... a NIV/Message parallel Bible. (Think the prophets are dull? Read through Ezekiel in The Message - yikes!)

One Book that Made Me Laugh

Weirdly enough, I'll go with a comic book collection here. The early run of Justice League from the late 1980's (written by Keith Giffen & J.M. DeMatteis) is not only good super-hero comics... it's laugh-out-loud funny. The collection of the first seven issues is Justice League: A New Beginning.

One Book that Made Me Cry

Hmm... like Alfred, I'm more likely to cry at movies than at books. There are, of course, expections - I was pretty well shredded by Saint Ben by John Fischer. (The sequel, The Saints & Angels Song, is pretty good, too - but nowhere near as good as the first book.)

One Book I Wish I'd Written

There are a number of books I wish I'd written - anything by J.K. Rowling (for artistic & financial reasons) would work for me. But I have to pick just one book, so I'll go with Erwin McManus' Chasing Daylight (formerly titled Seizing Your Divine Moment.)

One Book I Wish had Never been Written

I can think of games that I wish had never been published (Pokemon Master Trainer) and TV shows that I wish had never been made (The Bachelor)... but books? I'll have to go with The Soul Winner's Guide published by Gideons International. Look, I'm a huge fan of the Gideons - these guys give immense amounts of time & financial resources in order to get Bibles to anyone who wants one. They also do a great job of introducing people to Jesus Christ - but this particular publication is strong-arm sales tactics grafted onto the amazing news of the Gospel. It sickens me to think that someone would memorize & practice this canned presentation (complete with appropriate hand guestures!) in order to communicate the living, breathing truth of Christ's love, sacrifice & power.

Whew, jumping off my soapbox now.

One Book I'm Currently Reading

Harry Turtledove's Ruled Brittania, which I'm about to give up. In fact, I've done that with the last couple of Turtledove's novels - his wild & interesting alternate history ideas (in this case, a Spanish/Catholic-controlled England in the time of Shakespeare, provoked to revolution by the plays of you-know-who) don't actually seem to turn into readable novels. I guess The Guns of the South fooled me.

One Book I've been Meaning to Read

I've got a bag full of stuff I need to read - so I'll just pick one. Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant? - which is a conversation between a history professor who is a follower of Christ & the frontman of Bad Religion.


Scott, Paul & Jeremy, you're up - let's see what church history related weirdness Scott throws at us!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Underwear & The Four Gods

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... I was a student at Baylor University. (Just don't ask me about their football season.) In fact, for those of you who track these kind of things (and you know who you are), Homecoming this fall is our 20th class reunion. Visions of slime caps (which aren't still in use, I hear) and the Rocket Launcher fountain and the Wimpy Jesus statue are dancing through my head.

So I was especially interested when Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion released the initial results of a major survey about American religious beliefs. What's not to like? My alma mater does serious statistical study into the issues that define not only my personal life but also my vocation. (There was a very good, if cursory, article about the study in USA Today.)

Some disturbing but not surprising stuff bubbled to the surface:
  • Nearly 59% of Americans believe that "many religions lead to salvation." (This is kind of a Hallmark greeting card way of dealing with our eternal destiny - and yet it's not simply bad Christianity, it's bad Judaism, and even bad Islam.)
  • Four out of ten people (that's 40% for those of you who are math-challenged) believe that there were "ancient advanced civilizations" - Atlantis, for example. Hmmm... maybe Chariots of the Gods was released 20 years too early?!
  • Nearly 29% of Americans have read The Da Vinci Code... and 19% have read at least one of the Left Behind novels. (Here's what that says to me - approximately 30% of Americans have lousy taste in religious fiction, regardless of whether it was written to attack or support the deity of Christ.)

None of this is a particularly big surprise - most of it simply confirms what I've observed in ministry & life: lots of people choose their belief system like they choose their underwear. They want it to be comfortable, functional, occasionally cute for showing off to a special someone... and otherwise pretty much invisible in their day-to-day lives.


Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. 14% of people know that. Homer Simpson


However, I was intrigued by one particular finding that the researchers highlighted... and rather than me butcher the concept, I'll let them explain it to you in their own words.

One area that emerged from the survey that has excited the researchers is what they call the "Four Gods." Depending on how engaged people think God is in the world and how angry God is with the world.

"If you think about people perceiving God as high in anger, low in anger, high in engagement, low in engagement, it results in four different types of gods," said Froese.

What researchers found was that the type of god people believe in can predict their political and moral attitudes more so than just looking at their religious tradition.

Researchers found that none of the "four gods" dominated among believers. The data showed:

  • 31.4 percent believe in an Authoritarian God, who is very judgmental and engaged
  • 25 percent believe in a Benevolent God, who is not judgmental but engaged
  • 23 percent believe in a Distant God, who is completely removed
  • 16 percent believe in a Critical God, who is judgmental but not engaged

Other demographic relationships and religious effects surrounding the "Four Gods" include:

  • African-Americans believe overwhelmingly in an Authoritarian God (53.4 percent);
  • Region of the country is significantly related to the four types of god. Easterners tend towards belief in a Critical God; Southerners tend towards an Authoritarian God; Midwesterners believe in a Benevolent God; and the West Coast believes in a Distant God.
  • Individuals with lower educations and lower incomes tend towards more engaged images of God.

"This is a very powerful tool to understand core differences in the United States," Froese said. "If I know your image of God, I can tell all kinds of things about you. It's a central part of world view and it's linked to how you think about the world in general."


So, campers, which God is your God?

  • the Authoritarian God, who is ready to administer cosmic whuppings at a moment's notice?
  • the Benevolent God, who is all about forgiveness & blessings - a heavenly Santa Claus who never really puts boys or girls on his "naughty" list?
  • the Distant God, who is hanging out in Heaven, soaking up the good vibes from the angels & shining on those of here on Earth?
  • the Critical God, who thinks what we're doing is "wrong, wrong, wrong" - but who isn't planning to do anything about it?

For me, all of these pictures are woefully inadequate. There are elements that make sense - forgiveness, judgment for sins, a desire to bless, pain at the way the world has gone wrong - but none of the individual pictures are big enough to encompass the God of the Bible.

So stay alert. Don't for a minute forget the covenant which God, your God, made with you. And don't take up with any carved images, no forms of any kind-God, your God, issued clear commands on that. God, your God, is not to be trifled with-he's a consuming fire, a jealous God. Deuteronomy 4:23-24 (The Message)

Know this: God, your God, is God indeed, a God you can depend upon. He keeps his covenant of loyal love with those who love him and observe his commandments for a thousand generations. Deuteronomy 7:9 (The Message)

God is mighty, but does not despise men; he is mighty, and firm in his purpose. Job 36:5 (NIV)

God is bedrock under my feet, the castle in which I live, my rescuing knight. My God-the high crag where I run for dear life, hiding behind the boulders, safe in the granite hideout. Psalm 18:2 (The Message)

Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn't think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death-and the worst kind of death at that-a crucifixion. Philippians 2:5-8 (The Message)

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:8 (NIV)

You see, the God of the Bible is not some monolithic spiritual entity that can be easily plotted on an X/Y graph. If we buy (and I do) that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), then our complexity ought to say something about the complexity of God. If we, the created beings, have these wonderfully diverse personalities, why would we ever hypothesize that God the Creator is one-dimensional & monochromatic?


Which brings us right back around to the question I asked a few minutes ago. Paraphrasing myself now...

Question #1: "What kind of God do you believe in?"

And, just in case you missed this earlier...

Question #2: "Did you come up with your answer to question #1 in a similar fashion to picking out new undies?"


I'd love to hear from some of y'all about what these questions spark... the e-door is always open at

This article originally appeared in the 9/13/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Rather than Eating the Apples...

...the Apples ate me.

Well, not literally. It's more of a metaphorical thing.

See, back in 2002 I created & tabulated a major board & card game "award" called The Apples Project. Now, here we are, four years down the road, and I felt like it was time to do it again.

Only this time there's a lot more people involved (54) and four more years worth of games... and I added more categories (15 or so) to the Project. Yikes!

So, the time I've used to blog here at aka pastor guy has been "eaten up" by the Apples. (Want to see what's going on? Check out The Apple Project blog.)

Still, I'm working on some posts for here... and, yes, Gulf Gamers, I realize I stopped mid-Friday in my series of GG reports. (I'll get back to it eventually.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

And What Would The Caption Have Been If He Was Playing "Puerto Rico"?

Last December, I had the opportunity to host a Games Cafe at the Tsunami youth conference... if you'd like to read more about the great time we had, you can read my post entitled, oddly enough, Games Cafe.

I just realized yesterday that there are a couple of "official" photos of what we were doing up on the Tsunami website... the first one is a kid playing Blokus (captioned "Creative connnections"). The second picture is nice - but it's the caption that has to be seen to be believed.

Take a look!

To be fair, the captions on the pictures from the general sessions are equally as bad.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Most Important Room In The House

Braeden started school this week... homeschool. (Yes, Virigina, we'll discuss this development in a later blog post. Chances are pretty good that some of you now are wondering if I'm a right-wing survivalist nut with 2 years of food in my basement & an "enemies list" which includes the president of the local PTA. I'll give you a hint: we don't have a basement & the only thing I'm stockpiling is Pop-Tarts.)

Anyway, one of the books Shari is reading on teaching basic skills is The Three R's by Ruth Beechick. The following passage is from the section entitled Real-Life Arithmetic:

GAME AREA: Is this your family room, kitchen table, or living room rug? Wherever it's located, you must have this. We list the game area first, so you will read it even if you don't take the time to read the rest of the list. We cannot overemphasize the importance of games for growing children. Much arithmetic is learned as children count moves, compute scores, take turns. but that is only a fraction of the benefits. Numerous thinking skills are developed as children learn to operate within various kinds of rules, plan strategy, and so forth. Sportsmanship & other social skills gradually develop. When children later learn that rules don't have to be rigid, they can develop new twists and live by their own agreed-upon rules. One fifth grader develped an insurance system to accompany Monopoly. He calculated the chances of a player landing on Park Place with a hotel on it, and other expensive events, and balanced this against money he could collect as players pass Go. Then he sold insurance against expensive contingencies. Players could purchase various kinds of policies and make installment payments each time they passed Go. This is complex for young children, of course, but the point to notice here is that years of game experience lead to advanced thinking skills & creativity.

I think Ruth Beechick is one very cool lady... and it's great to hear someone acknowledge clearly that the educational power of games goes beyond teaching facts & practicing math skills.

Plus, it's a great excuse for having a dedicated game room & a growing game collection, right?!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip

I am a sucker for Aaron Sorkin’s work. He’s got a very distinct, unique voice. On the two previous TV shows he worked on (Sports Night and The West Wing), he wrote most of the scripts. He’s famous for his dialogue — both quality and quantity.

If you’ve watched his shows you probably had one of two reactions: a) God, I wish I was as smart and funny as these people, or b) What the *%&$ planet are these babbling idiots from?

The Pop View

The newest show from Aaron Sorkin is Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, a one hour dramedy (drama + comedy) that goes behind the scenes of a SNL-like sketch comedy show.

You can tell NBC feels pretty positive about this show - they've released the pilot (which won't air until September 18th) for rent through Netflix... and that's how Shari & I watched it earlier today.

I found it enjoyable to watch... and a bit intriguing, as one of the characters is a committed Christian who, at least in the pilot, didn't come off as an insipid drip. (I've always appreciated Aaron Sorkin for writing/creating characters who had some kind of meaningful faith... the Jewish characters on Sports Night - who even hosted a seder that closed out an episode - or President Bartlett's struggles with God on The West Wing. Most of Hollywood just ignores religious faith.)

With that said, I need to warn you that the show will air at 10 pm PST for a reason - it's PG-13 in content & language.

Still, I'll be revving up the ol' VCR every Monday night... there really is nothing quite like Aaron Sorkin's writing.

Dan: Is this one of those times when you say you don't want to talk about it, but you really do?

Casey: No, but it's shaping up to be one of those times when I say I don't want to talk about it, but we end up talking about it anyway.

Sports Night

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Apples Project Blog

Those of you who've been involved in the online boardgaming community for 4+ years may well fondly remember The Apples Project - a rather large adventure I undertook, trying along with 30+ of my closest friends to figure out what the best games were for a set of 40+ categories.

Those of you who are new to the hobby may have no idea what I'm talking about - in that case, you need to head over to The Apples Project stat.

Either way, please pick up the RSS feed for the brand-spankin' new Apples Project Blog. I promise you it will be worth the bandwidth.

Mama Doesn't Have To Buy You A Mockingbird

One of my favorite "new" singer/songwriters is Derek Webb, formerly of Caedmon's Call. His rough-edged sound makes a perfect backdrop for piercing lyrics about the state of the church & living a life centered on Christ.

His music isn't terribly radio-friendly (well, at least CCM radio) as he has this odd tendency to use biblical phrases like "harlot" & "whore" and write biting songs like "T-Shirts" and "Nobody Loves Me" that don't inspire lots of folks who are safe & secure in the Christian bubble to think happy thoughts. Me, I like it just fine.

And if you want to hear more of his stuff, here's the perfect opportunity... starting September 1st, he's giving away his last album, "Mockingbird". That's right - giving it away. If you're interested, check out Free Derek Webb.

Note: while I like this album (esp. the cuts "A New Law", "Please, Before I Go", & "I Hate Everything (But You)"), it's actually my least favorite. "She Must & Shall Go Free" (his first album) is an incredible wake-up call/love song to the church... and "I See Everything Upside Down" deals more with our own individual journeys with Jesus. (His live recordings, "The House Show" & the DVD "How To Kill and Be Killed" are also excellent.) Still, it's a free Derek Webb album, which is always a good thing.

Second note: the content of "Mockingbird" is sometimes political in nature - it's like Derek decided to start a bar fight & just went right ahead and mixed religion and politics. Whether you agree with him or not (and I don't on all points), I think it's very cool that he's writing & performing music that deals with real issues and isn't simply one more "rah rah Jesus you're so fine, you're so fine you blow my mind, hey Jesus" song.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


By the time you read this, Shari & the boys & I will have been on vacation for nearly 4 days. Chances are good that something interesting/silly has happened to us that I'll write about when I get home - and chances are excellent that I'll have at least one new message illustration, courtesy of either Braeden, Collin or driving 1000+ miles.

But for now... a bit of a glimpse into a conversation we had on the way home from Me-n-Ed's that helped me get some perspective on an important issue for my own life... and for NewLife.

I was talking with Shari yesterday afternoon about our dreams/hopes/vision for NewLife - and one of things that came up was a desire to call the people of NewLife to pray. The hard part, as Shari so wisely pointed out, is that God doesn't "guarantee" prayer - in other words, He calls us to come to Him, promising that He will listen & that He will answer... but chooses how & when to answer in ways that are often bewildering, confusing and/or frustrating. (If you don't believe me, check out the book of Job... or a chunk of the Psalms... or the prophetic writings of Habakkuk.)

Shari went on to talk about that we should pray to open the door to God working in our community - not to twist His arm so that He has no choice but do what we want. (Which, if we're honest, is a very easy way to approach prayer... treating God like a cosmic Santa Claus who is obligated to give us everything on our Christmas list if we've been good.) And if prayer is a conversation - with us not only bringing our requests to Jesus but also listening to Him as He speaks to us - then we approach Him with the same respect & warmth that we would a best friend or a spouse. (Do we expect a loved one to kowtow to every request on our timetable... running to & fro at our beck & call? Sadly, we treat Jesus that way with so many of our prayers.)

It struck me - this was a new thought for me, courtesy of God - that prayer is an indicator of which way our heart is leaning... a spiritual "level", if you will. (For those of you as inept as I am at handyman stuff, a level looks like a ruler with a bubble tube in the middle of it... when you place it on a surface, the bubble should be in the exact middle of the tube to indicate that the surface is vertically or horizontally level. Now, back to my point...) Our desire to pray indicates that our hearts are soft towards God... that we desire meeting Him. Our disdain for prayer indicates that our hearts have calcified... that we desire Him to "come through" and "fix it" more than we want to know & love Him.

The dream for NewLife (or any other church, for that matter) is NOT that we have a lot of people praying for God to "hurry up & show up." The dream is to have an ever-growing number of people who want to meet, know & love Jesus with everything they've got... in conversation with a holy & gracious God, wanting what He wants so bad they can taste it. When people "roll that way", we will still ask God to heal the sick, comfort the grieving, save the lost & provide for our needs as individuals & as a church - but we will do so "leveled" out by an abiding relationship with Jesus. We'll have first things first (loving God) and everything else coming in second.

And then... can you even imagine what would happen to NewLife? Wow.

So, where do you go with all this? I'd start simply by asking God for the desire to pray... something like:

Jesus, prayer is tough for me. When I think about it, all I get is visions of sitting in an old-school prayer meeting, listening to somebody share the details about Great-aunt Minnie's inflamed bunions. When I try to pray, my mind goes a hundred different places. I feel like a loser & a fraud & a hypocrite all rolled into one.

I want to want to pray - to be in conversation with You. I want to want what You want. I want be "leveled" by an intimate personal knowledge of Your presence, Your power & Your grace. But even as I pray that, I feel myself drifting. I feel the urge to slap my "honey-do" list down on the table for you, fold my arms & wait impatiently for you to pony up.

So I just throw myself into your arms - my sad excuse for a "prayer life", my messed-up desires, my fears of being found out to be "less spiritual" than I appear. I submit my heart & life to You - and ask you to break away the hardened gunk around my heart so that I can run to you.

I love you, Jesus. Help me love you more.


Soundtrack for this post: "All I Can Say" (David Crowder)

This article originally appeared in the 8/10/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Vacation Update #4

This is the last post before we take off from my folks' home & head south. We'll drive to Yreka, CA, on Friday - then on into Fresno on Saturday.

Still, before I go, a couple of more highlights:
  • WEDNESDAY - We got to play Ark - this time with my mom, Shari & Braeden, and me.
  • THURSDAY - We took it easy today - going out for pizza, stopping by Northwest Rods & Restoration, stopping by the river to throw rocks in the water & watch a big cargo ship go by.
Those may not sound like highlights... but it's with the boys & Shari & my mom and dad. Basically ANYTHING is a highlight.

Games played in the last two days: Ark, Insel der Schmuggler, Snap!, Superman Returns Memory (from the Life cereal boxes) Zwergen Ziehen, and Pokemon Sorry (x2).

Three Geeks... er, Caballeros

This is the first time that Jim (well, now known to the world at large at James) Trerise, Keith Monaghan & I have been together since the late 80's. What a wild, cool surprise it was to have Jim (er, James!) answer the door at Keith's place.

I'm the guy on the left in gamer gear (my Heroscape t-shirt)... and I'm actually much shorter than the other two guys. Shari was just kind in the angle she chose for the picture. James (ha! got it right) is in the middle, looking all professorial (he teaches English here in Oregon.) Keith is on the right - he's been grey-haired since he was in his mid-20's, but that didn't stop him from being cool & attracting lovely young women. (He finally hooked Melissa, his lovely wife, in the early 90's... I had the privilege of officiating at their wedding.)

Of course, no matter how good we look now, it's humorous to realize that in high school, we were not only into RPG's & boardgames (Jim & I played many games of Wooden Ships & Iron Men and Rise & Decline of the 3rd Reich), but we were also in theater (we all three were in You Can't Take It With You together - Jim was the grandfather, I was the dad, & Keith was the loopy guy who printed anarchist statements and put them into candy boxes)... and we all loved to read books. It's a miracle any of us ever got a date.

Can I Draw Something For You? Please?

Collin at the "Arts & Eats Festival" (tag line on the signs: Release Your Inner Bohemian)... he's working on his career as a street artist.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Vacation Update #3

Still more trip highlights:
  • SATURDAY - Mom wasn't feeling 100%, so instead of going to Mount St. Helens, we went to St. Helens, OR, which is a little town not too far from Mom & Dad. They were having an "Arts & Eats" festival downtown... Braeden got to make recycled art & have his face painted... and Dad & his partners won 1st place in their division of the car show.
  • SUNDAY - Shari & I left the boys with Mom, Dad & Liz and drove to Ocean Shores, WA, for a night away. We ate some very good seafood. The weather wasn't very nice (it's was cold & foggy most of the time we were there) but we still got to walk on the beach & even found some sand dollars on Monday morning.
  • MONDAY - As we were coming home, we stopped at the Christian Outlet store in Centralia, WA, and found some great stuff cheap. In a bit of publishing weirdness, I managed to buy a copy of a as-yet-unreleased book by a major author - it was a proof copy. (I hate to be so cryptic, but I've inquired w/the publisher about how to proceed - I'd like to review the book but I don't want to screw up their release schedule.)
  • TUESDAY - We visited with Shari's cousin, Rachel, & her daughter, Josie. (Well, Shari & Braeden visited - Collin & I went shopping for Grandpa's birthday.
  • WEDNESDAY - We went to visit my best friend from high school (hi, Keith!) and the guy who answered the door looked strangely familiar... which is as it should be, because he was another very close friend from high school (and elementary school), Jim Trerise! A wonderful surprise... I'll post more about it later.
Liz flew back to Denver today, but not before we got to celebrate Dad's 69th birthday together. Very cool. The plans for tomorrow are to go to Mount St. Helens if the weather is good. Then we'll leave for California on Friday morning, trying to reach Yreka by nightfall. Saturday will be driving the rest of the way in! And, yes, I have to preach on Sunday.

Games played in the last two days: Insel der Schmuggler (now with the correct dice pips, thanks to Alfred - the game works even better this way!), Secrets of the Deep (x2), Snap!, Ice Cream (x2), Dish It Up, Ark, Schnecken Rennen, Daddy Cool, Zwergen Ziehen, Animal Olympics, and Pokemon Sorry (x3).

Monday, August 14, 2006

It's A Privilege Just To Be Nominated

The IGA (International Gamers Awards) finalists have just been announced - so let me share the nominees with you... and, of course, make a couple of comments.

General Strategy Games (Multi-Player)
  • ANTIKE - I've only played this once (and that game ended prematurely), but I really liked the rondel mechanic.
  • BLUE MOON CITY - haven't played it
  • CAYLUS - haven't played it... I'm afraid that it's going win, though.
  • DAS ENDE DES TRIUMVIRATS - haven't played it
  • HACIENDA - liked my one playing of this, but it wasn't compelling enough for me to buy it
  • INDONESIA - haven't played it
  • JENSEITS VON THEBEN - I've played this twice and would gladly buy a copy if I could afford it... an amazing design that fully captures the them... this is my personal pick that I'd like to win (it probably won't).
  • MYKERINOS - haven't played it
  • RAILROAD TYCOON - haven't played it
  • THURN & TAXIS - my one playing left me impressed - I'd like to play it again. (Short review: a gamer-y Ticket To Ride.)
  • UM KRONE & KRAGEN - nifty game that crosses M:tG and dice rolling... I don't think this one has a snowball's chance, though.
General Strategy Games (two player)
  • ATON - haven't played... looks VERY abstract
  • BLOKUS DUO (also called Travel Blokus) - a really nice 2 player version of Blokus... won't win.
  • PUNCT - haven't played
  • TWILIGHT STRUGGLE - haven't played... has a good chance at winning as it takes the We The People card-driven wargame system and layers on the Cold War theme. (A shorter playing time doesn't hurt, either.)
  • WAR OF THE RING: BATTLES OF THE THIRD AGE - it's an expansion to a game I haven't played
I won't talk about the wargame nominees... since I know diddley about them.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Vacation Update #2

More trip highlights:
  • THURSDAY - Braeden & I got to hang out at Dad's new shop/business... Northwest Rods & Restorations. Marty, one of Dad's partners, gave Braeden the royal treatment - he got to go into the paint booth, see how the metal roller/cutter worked, and even sit in Marty's speedboat. And Marty & Raymond replaced the bumper on the Honda - it looks perfect.
  • THURSDAY - picked up Liz from the airport, then went shopping for replacement makeup & haircare products. (Liz was caught in the carry-on rules change following the terrorist threats in England.)
  • FRIDAY -w drove over to the Columbia Gorge & looked at waterfalls - Wahkeena Falls is esp. beautiful.
  • FRIDAY - Braeden & I hiked from Wahkeena Falls to Multnomah Falls (about a 1/2 mile) on our own... it was a great father/son adventure. We found a waterfall & a cave... and we saw 2 trains go by on the tracks next to the trail, which was pretty cool.
Big plans for the next couple of days - we may be headed to Mount St. Helens today. Tomorrow, Shari & I head for the Washington coast for a night away with "just us parents". Mom, Dad & Aunt Liz will have to keep up with the boys!

Games played in the last two days: Insel der Schmuggler, Secrets of the Deep, and Pokemon Sorry (x2). Evidently, Braeden's turning into an obsessive gamer - in a few years, this will be 10+ games of the Settlers of Catan.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Wherefore Art Thou, Geek?

The Geek (that's BoardGameGeek to you non-gamer types) has been down since Wednesday morning. While it isn't the end of the world as we know it, it has slowed down a couple of projects I've been working on:
  • The Apples Project - that's right, kids, the "Son of Apples Project" is getting ready to get underway. I'll be blogging my way through the results starting in mid-September. (BTW, Rick Thornquist, if you're reading this, e-mail me already, eh?!) But with the Geek down, it's a bit tougher to compile the nomination lists for the participants.
  • My Gulf Games reports - because I like linking to game names & so on, I'm on hold with finishing my Gulf Games posts. So you guys will just have to wait a little longer.
  • Information About Insel der Schmuggler - Now THIS is what the Geek is for... Braeden & I bought this Haba game on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the game was missing what the component list called "a white smuggler's die". Based on descriptions in the rules & pictures on the box, I think the missing die is a 1-1-2-2-3-3 die... but there's no way to check easily without the Geek. (It is important to note that Haba customer service responded to my e-mail asking for a die within 3-4 hours - EXCELLENT!)
Well, until the Geek shows back up from it's midsummer nights dream, here's hoping Aldie's day is a just a little bit less hassle-filled than yesterday.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Vacation Update #1

I'll blog in more detail (well, maybe I will, maybe I won't - you'll just have to check back & see) when we get home... but for now, some highlights of the trip so far:
  • MONDAY - having the pool to ourselves at the hotel... Collin is now jumping off the edge of the pool from a standing position!
  • MONDAY - eating at Luigi's Pizza & Pasta in Red Bluff, CA, for dinner... excellent greasy/gooey pizza & out of this world fried cheese. Shari compared it to Mama's Pizza in Ft Worth, TX, which is a high compliment.
  • TUESDAY - hiking around Lassen Volcanic National Park... best moment (which I didn't see): Braeden slipped on the snow, then knocked Shari Jo down
  • TUESDAY - shopping at the Funagain Games storefront in Ashland, OR. Prices are discounted by 20%, you don't have to pay shipping, and there's no sales tax. Amazingly enough, all we bought was the Haba game INSEL DER SCHMUGGLER (which is a lot of fun)
  • WEDNESDAY - Braeden & I played GlowGolf (indoor golf under black lights) at the Gateway Mall in Eugene.
  • WEDNESDAY - seeing my mom & dad... it's great to be with them
Big plans for today - going down to Dad's shop (Northwest Rods & Restoration) to get the bumper on our Honda Odyssey replaced, picking my sister up from the airport (and taking her to Bath & Bodyworks to replace all the haircare products she had to dump in the Denver airport this morning), and just generally hanging around with family.

Games played so far this vacation: Insel der Schmuggler (x2), Pokemon Sorry, Zwergen Ziehen, Cows Can't Dance & Secrets of the Deep.