Sunday, April 30, 2006

9 Years Ago

Last week, I jabbered a bit about the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. (I'm currently reading an interesting if scary article on "the next Big One" in National Geographic. Yeah, my leisure reading is a barrel of laughs - you bet.)

This week, I want to talk about another seismic shift that occurred in the Bay Area just about 9 years ago. Instead of the ground moving, though, it was the fault line in my heart.

I was at Mt Hermon for a conference on GenX ministry & church planting. (Funny - we don't even use the word "GenX" anymore. What a difference a decade makes.) I was nervous & scared & excited about what God was doing in my life - calling me out of youth ministry & into the wild & wooly world of starting a new church whose vision was to reach my generation for Christ.

I remember meeting Evan Lauer, who pastored a surfer church in San Diego ("No life east of I-5, dude!") and hearing Mark Driscoll (pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle) give an amazing talk which shattered many of my assumptions about modernity & post-modernity. That was the first time I heard David Crowder play, as well as Vigilantes of Love. (Their song "Double Cure" still grabs me and knocks me about the room.)

And it was the night that Chris Seay (that's his picture!) preached about the Sermon on the Mount. (I know this because I have a tape of the message in my files.) Frankly, it was not Chris' best sermon... in fact, it was (and still is) pretty weak. I don't remember many details - but I do remember one particular moment.

That was when God knocked the air out of me with the crushing realization that if I refused to deal with my addiction to pornography, I was dooming the church I would plant & the people I would minister with to a sub-standard, weak pastor. My eyes filled up with tears and I could barely sing as the UBC Worship Band led us.

I'd struggled with fantasies & lust since I was a teenager, augmented by occasional glimpses at softcore magazines & sneaking looks at hardcore sex between the scrambled bands on our TV cable service. As a seminary student, I lived alone & battled the urge to visit adult book stores on a weekly basis - overcoming not because I was surrendered to Jesus but because I didn't want to get caught. I even used the excuse of getting married to buy "adult" reading on sex to satisfy my need for 'fresh' material.

I thought that getting married would solve the problem - that a "God-sanctioned" way to deal with sexual tension would remove all the temptation. And, for a while, it did. At Shari's urging, we ditched the questionable books we owned. We decided to stop seeing R-rated films as an example to the teenagers we were working with. The addiction seemed to have disappeared. I even chose to speak about my struggles publicly for the first time, telling the story & implying that I'd conquered this particular sin.

But late in 1995, after five years of marriage, my pride ran straight into the Internet. We got CompuServe so that I could access the online resources of the SBC... and that access got me writing jobs with the Sunday School Board (now Lifeway). One of those assignments was to write about "cyberporn" - and it was in preparing that article that I found out clearly that I had never really dealt with the issues of my addiction.

For the next year & a half, I fought a downward slide towards pornography addiction... pretending that I could "fix" this on my own, without admitting my sin and/or talking to my wife about my unfaithfulness to her. I rationalized my behaviors:
  • at least I wasn't downloading movies...
  • at least I wasn't looking at anything hardcore...
  • at least I was still disgusted by the really raunchy stuff...
Sigh. It still had a hold on me - I planned ways to find time to surf and ways to hide the evidence of my surfing.

All of those memories came rushing back there at Mt Hermon, sitting in the middle of the chapel. I knew that I had to be done with this... not just for the church I was about to plant, but for my marriage & my own walk with God.

The night I got home from California, Shari & I drove around Nashville and I admitted to her how I had wronged her. I remember weeping and driving at the same time (something I DON'T recommend, btw). And I remember the gracious way she gave me forgiveness and prayed for me.

It made a huge difference to have friends like Chris Herndon & Buster Williamson who acted as accountability partners & brothers in Christ. They called me when I was on the road, asked the tough questions, and prayed for me and with me as God led me out of the wilderness of sexual addiction.

I led two groups through the Faithful & True material from Lifeway - which enabled me to take a real look at the root causes of my obsession. I discovered that I used pornography and the accompanying habits as a drug... I "took a hit" when I felt powerless or out of control, rather than turning to God and acknowledging my need for Him. I also discovered the triggers that indicated I was heading back towards porn - and found great freedom in having a group of guys to share honestly about our struggles.

I have to make very specific choices to stay healthy in this area: I'm careful about what I watch and what I read, so I'm not tempted to slip back into the gutter. I'm gut-level honest with Shari about when I'm tempted. I'm even in the process of building two groups of men who will step into those accountability roles in my life.

As I say each Sunday morning: "So what?"

Three things, I guess:
  1. You can get out of sexual addiction.
  2. It isn't an easy or short process.
  3. You need other people.
Step One: ask God to knock the air out of you and make you aware of the cost of what you're doing. Take the first step... it's a doozy.

This article originally appeared in the 4/27/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

100 Years Ago

100 years ago this week, an earthquake rocked the city of San Francisco. The initial shock was felt not only in the Bay Area but as far away as Oregon & Nevada. The damage from the quake was severe - but it was the broken gas lines which ignited fires (some of which burned for days) coupled with ruptured water pipes (rendering firemen helpless) that devastated the city. The death toll is still hotly debated, but likely 3,000 - 6,000 people died. (For more details on this sobering event, you can check out a series of articles posted on the San Francisco Chronicle website.)

I've been reading a book about the tragedy (
Denial of Disaster by Gladys Hansen & Emmet Condon)... and as I looked through the black & white pictures of the devastation yesterday, a number of thoughts raced through my head:
  • I've been through a major earthquake (Sylmar -1971) though we were far enough from the epicenter that it didn't do any damage to our home. And that was scary enough. I can't imagine what it's like for everything "solid" around you to be jumping about.
  • OTOH, I like earthquakes better than tornadoes or hurricanes. All three of them cause havoc & destruction, but earthquakes just happen. With hurricanes & tornadoes, you get the "added bonus" of dread... knowing something bad MAY be coming your way and all you can do is hunker down & ride it out.
  • In the light of Katrina (and the flooding of 80% of New Orleans), it's a bit freaky to read about a massive disaster 100 years ago that occurred just a few hours down the road. It's the same feeling I got last week watching the pictures of the tornado rolling through the north edge of Nashville, TN - my old stomping grounds. It breaks through the artificial distance that disaster films & too many local newscasts create... something like that could happen here. (And if "unsettling" is something you like from your non-fiction reading, here's two good books: A Dangerous Place: California's Unsettling Fate by Marc Reisner and Category 5: The Story of Camille - Lessons Unlearned From America's Most Violent Hurricane by Judith Howard & Ernest Zebrowski.)
  • The biggest direct damage from the quake was in the areas of San Francisco that were built on "made land" - in other words, land created by piling up garbage & wrecked ships & the like and covering them with fill dirt. This is, of course, to my warped "pastor brain", one of the world's greatest illustrations about the passage in Matthew 7 about the man who built his house on the rock vs. the man who built his house on the sand. (I'm pretty sure I'm not the first pastor to come up with one...)
  • Actually, the majority of the damage & deaths were caused by the fires that followed the quake. Which brings to mind another "spiritual" thought: we tend to view our sinful behaviors (the stuff we do that is hurtful & wrong, both to others and to God) through the lens of our own limited perspective - how does this stupid/idiotic/evil behavior affect me? It's easy for us to see & feel the damage from the quake we've caused in our own lives. What we're not so good at is acknowledging that our sins start fires in the lives of so many people around us. John Donne said that "No man is an island"... and he was/is still right.

So, to summarize a bit:

  • I'm glad I live in California... and I'm glad I don't live in the Bay Area.
  • I need to ask myself about what part of my life is built on "made land"... where am I putting my trust in stuff I've thrown together rather than in God?
  • I need to look up and realize the ripple effect of my sin. The stuff I do wrong hurts more than just me.

This article originally appeared in the 4/20/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

I Love Me Some Good Color Text

Set the Wayback Machine for the late 1980's. I lived in Ft. Worth, TX, going to seminary & basically being a very lonely guy. (This is the time period where I started collecting comic books - amazing how much disposable income you have when you're not dating.)

Most Fridays, I got out of class around noon and hopped into my little blue Honda Accord and hightailed it across the metroplex to go spend with the weekend with my best friend from college. Tim & I spent most weekends of my first year in seminary like this:

  • I arrive at his apartment around 5 pm, usually a little ahead of him. I sit in my car & read game rules.
  • Tim arrives around 5:30 pm. We head out to eat dinner & play some mindless video games in an arcade.
  • By 7-8 pm, we're back at his apartment, playing a game. OK, a lot of games. (There's also a time period in which Tim insisted that I learn how to juggle so we could pass clubs together... this worked out well when we were playing wargames with some serious downtime - while he'd work on his turn, I'd practice juggling.)

We'd pretty much spend Friday night & Saturday playing a variety of games... then I'd head back to Ft. Worth late Saturday night so I could get up & go teach 5th/6th grade boys Sunday School at the little church I attended.

We played a LOT of Gamemaster games (Axis & Allies, Fortress America, Shogun) as well as some oddball wargames (GDW's Operation Market Garden, Ambush: Shell Shock, A House Divided, etc.) and the whole raft of Games Workshop bookshelf box games that were coming out - Block Mania, Blood Bowl, Chaos Marauders, Dungeonquest, Kings & Things, Warlock of Firetop Mountain... and, FINALLY, the subject of this post, Fury of Dracula.

It wasn't a perfect game - there were holes in the system that you kind had to spackle in yourself with some house rulings & the endgame could drag on forever. OTOH, it was a blast to play and just dripped with theme. I don't know how many times we played - 4 or 5. Not as many as we would have liked, but we managed to waste at least a couple of nights on Rogue Trooper.

Then life intervened - I moved to SE Texas to be a youth minister, then a year later back to Arlington to actually be Tim's roomie (and finish seminary). Oddly enough, living together actually meant less "wargamer-y" gaming, as we both had lives outside of geekdom by then. I started dating Shari Jo the same weekend he took Kim to Baylor Homecoming - and Fury of Dracula just sat on the shelf in our "game room" (the walk-in laundry room with no washing machine or dryer) while we went on with our lives.

In 1990, we both got married & went our separate ways - and we were each other's best man. I was the first to leave TX (heading to Arkansas), but since Tim had bought the game, Fury went with him... to Dallas, then to Tyler, TX, then to Providence, RI... and finally, sometime last year, to a rural area of Maine. As far as I know, Tim still has it.

So it was with a mixture of trepidation and excitment that I approached the new Fantasy Flight version of the game last Monday with my regular gaming group. John (CapAp on the Geek) is our "buy it/try it/trade it" guy - so he provided the game. After about 20 minutes of rules & set-up (much of it feeling familar), we started playing.

Wow. 3 hours later, as the hunters cornered Dracula in Leipzig at midnight, we managed to pull out a win with Drac only one point away from taking over Europe. We were all ecstatic... it was an incredible gaming experience. The changes Fantasy Flight made were all positives - the game works like a charm and doesn't degenerate at the end like the old version. The color text on the cards is primo... as is the artwork. The playing time may seem a bit much, but I think we could do it in two hours now that we've got a game under our belt.

I do enjoy Eurogames... but it's nice to play something that's theme-o-licious every once in a while. (And Monday was the night for it - we also played Sindbad.

BTW, I never was good enough at juggling to do clubs on my own, let alone with Tim. He, OTOH, learned enough to juggle torches. My job was to stand there with buckets of water, ready to douse him if he set himself on fire.

Minefield Spawns A Question

la llorna commented on my Minefield post: I have to say McManus hit it right on the money in the quote you listed.

My question is this, how do truly forgive yourself for having had sex outside the context of marriage? I know that God has forgiven me but I can't forgive myself and sometimes I feel like my fiance doesn't truly understand that part of my life, prior to meeting him.

Wow. What important questions... I'm honored that you'd ask them of me. And I think they're valuable enough that I want to work them out "in public", so to speak.

First, you're right. Erwin McManus is an incredibly solid dude - if you (or anyone else) is ever visiting L.A., you need to check out Mosaic - an amazing church community.

Second, you're asking a question that brought up two responses in my heart/head:

  • My first thought was almost indignant - "My goodness, how can any one of us finite beings set ourselves up above an infinite God?! I mean, if God's decided to forgive us (which He has - Psalm 103 & 1 John 1:9), who are we to say that we understand the situation better than God?!" Which, as far as it goes, is theologically pretty sound. But it's way too easy to be grumpy & condescending when I'm thinking this way.
  • So my second thought ran in a different direction - "Man, I've been there. When I think of forgiving myself for sexual sin, I think about my relationship with K. - of sitting stone still during a revival service at Baylor, physically "feeling" black tentacles wrapped around my heart. I can remember telling Shari Jo about my ongoing struggle with pornography, weeping as we drove around Nashville. And I know the pain of laying in bed at night next to Shari Jo, my beautiful wife, and wondering if I really deserve her or if my past behavior is going to pervert our relationship as well.

So, I think both are important threads in this conversation - theological truth held firmly intertwined with self-awareness & compassion. One without the other leads us off the rail. (Truth without grace becomes arrogant & harsh; grace without truth becomes wishy-washy & meaningless.)

Here's what has happened in my life as I've struggled with feeling/experiencing the reality of God's forgiveness:

  • I've had to realize that I'm in a battle - if I believe Jesus' teaching in Scripture, there is an evil power who wants to accuse us (Revelation 12:10). He (the evil one) wants me to get bogged down in my past - esp. the stuff that God has already dealt with. In board game terms, Satan wants me to obsess about the bad move I made 20 minutes ago (taking the Mayor when I should have taken the Prospector in Puerto Rico) and get distracted about the decisons I need to make right now.
  • I've had to go to God over & over & over - not because I have to grovel and beg for forgiveness, but because I need constant reminders that He's already taken care of my junk through Jesus. For me, it's things like worship services that take your breath away... or reading a passage of C.S. Lewis that resonates in my heart... or sitting with a small group of people as we pray together. (There's a moment at the close of group prayer - when that prayer is authentic and not simply about Aunt Gertrude's infected bunions - that is so peaceful and amazing that it seems like sacrilege to speak & break the moment.)
  • I've had to talk to other people about my junk & God's forgivenss - sometimes it really helps to hear "Jesus with flesh on" (another follower of Christ) speak truth into my heart & life.
  • I've had to acknowledge that I often have a separate legalistic/perfectionist set of rules for myself (and forgiveness) that I wouldn't hold anyone else to... they get grace, I assign myself 100 more spiritual pushups with a side of abject guilt. Which, I admit, is complete garbage.

About your fiance... he probably doesn't understand. But that's not necessarily a negative. If you've been honest with him about your past (I'm not telling you to give him highly detailed pictures of behavior - simply be straightforward about what you did & didn't do), then his willingness to give you grace for that should be an echo of what God has already done for you.

I do understand that I may have misunderstood (he he he... lousy sentence construction) the situation with your fiance - maybe I need more info to give advice that is more on-target.

Llorna - I hope this is helpful... to you and to other folks reading this blog.

And to you game-happy folks who appreciated the token PR reference, I promise I'm working on a game-related post. Really!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Cassettecasting & Other Not-So-High-Tech Adventures

First, thanks to all of you who said nice things about sex. (Not much of a stretch, eh?!) Actually, thanks to all of you who gave me positive feedback about the things yours truly said about sex.

Second, I'd love to podcast my sermons - but when our current system only allows us to record to cassette tape, it's a little bit difficult to pull off. (Heck, I just got a computer - thanks, Mom & Dad! - that actually allows me to burn CD-R's... this, for me, is technological innovation at it's finest. Remember, I'm the guy who kind of misses the "ka-chunk" noise you used to hear when moving between tracks on an 8-track player.)

Third, I do hope to be podcasting NewLife's stuff by the end of the year. (If anyone has extra equipment lying around that would enable us to do it quicker, the church would be more than happy to accept any donations.)

Fourth, yes, I will post my comments & thoughts about lust, pornography and masturbation here next week after the service. Honestly, I'm still debating on how to deal with the "M word" in our worship service... it's really an important component in talking about the self-centered nature of porn, but it's a tough concept for people to deal with in a mature manner:
  • Older adults tend to have a small herd of cows, stunned that anyone would talk about this in "polite company."
  • Youth tend to go all Beavis & Butthead... "he he - he said 'masturbation' - he he."
  • Everybody else is spends their time staring at their shoes and trying to not to imagine the conversation they're going to have at lunch following this service.
Seriously... it needs to be dealt with. Does it need to be dealt with this Sunday morning? Like I said, I'm not sure I have the answer yet. But God & I are talking about it.

A lot.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I've never actually walked through a minefield... and it's not like that particular experience is on my list of "Things To Do Before I Die". (Maybe it fits better on the "Things I Could Do If I Want Die And/or Have My The Parts Of My Body Scattered About The Landscape" list.) But there are occasions in ministry that definitely have that minefield-ish quality:
  • confronting a gossiping church member
  • managing the whole "worship style" transistion
  • teaching about giving/tithing
  • preaching about sex
And, of course, it's the last of these that I did a couple of days ago - and will do again this next Sunday. Teaching about the physical relationships between a husband & wife is scary - will I be too graphic & permanently scar the psyche of one (or more!) of my senior adults? Will I wimp out and not really teach the Bible, instead gracefully avoiding the real issues & using generic language that has zero impact in people's lives?

I make it sound worse than it was... nobody got up & stormed out of the church (which is nice). No one had a heart attack. (I've actually been in a worship service where someone did have a heart attack.) In fact, I've received some encouragment & support about my teaching.

Maybe you wondered what I taught... here's a (very) short synposis:
  • Sex is good. Very good. I mean, when James 1:17 talks about every good & perfect gift coming down from God, sex definitely ends up on the list. (I didn't go into this during the message Sunday morning - but God didn't have to make sex feel good. If it's purely for procreative purposes, He could have built a hormonal "heat" response into our systems. But He didn't... whoopee!)
  • Sex is God's idea. He's the one who created man & woman and let 'em run around in the garden naked. (Erwin McManus calls Adam's failure to find something better to do with a naked Eve than hang around the forbidden tree a "failure of imagination.") If we had any question about whether God likes sex or not, it's pretty much solved by a reading of the Song of Songs (you may have grown up calling this the Song of Solomon).
  • God's rules keeping sex inside marriage are to protect us from mountains of badness (guilt, shame, broken relationships, unwanted pregnancies, STD's, the crap we put our kids through when we divorce, etc.) and to provide for the sex in the best possible context. (The "protect & provide" thing is not original to me - I first heard Josh McDowell say it and it's stuck with me.)
  • No matter where you are with this issue - no matter what you've done with whom and how many times - Jesus offers you a fresh start. (Check out His responses to the women with 5 ex-husbands & a live-in lover in John 4... and to the woman caught in adultery in John 8.) Grace really is amazing.
For those who are interested, here's some quotes from my message prep materials...
  • If there's anything lonelier than being in bed alone, it's waking up next to someone who doesn't love you, and who just had sex with you. Erwin McManus
  • Drink water from your own well--share your love only with your wife. Why spill the water of your springs in public, having sex with just anyone? You should reserve it for yourselves. Don't share it with strangers. Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth. She is a loving doe, a graceful deer. Let her breasts satisfy you always. May you always be captivated by her love. Proverbs 5:15-19 (New Living Translation)
  • The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality--the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. 1 Corinthians 7:3 (The Message)
  • When it comes to sex, one cannot leave out marriage. The no of sex outside marriage seems arbitrary and cruel apart from the Creator's yes to sex inside marriage. Indeed, one can say that in Christianity's vocabulary the only real sex is the sex that happens in a marriage; the faux sex that goes on outside marriage is not really sex at all. The physical coming together of two people who are not married is only a distorted imitation of sex, as Walt Disney's Wilderness Resort Lodge is only a simulation of real wilderness. The danger is that when we spend too much time in the simulations, we lose the capacity to distinguish between the ersatz and the real. from Real Sex by Lauren Winner
This Sunday, I'll be talking about lust & pornography - which is never a "laugh-a-minute" feel-good topic, but is much less so because it's been an area of personal struggle for me. More on that later...

BTW, if you're interested in a cassette tape of the message, you can e-mail my secretary at and ask her about it. (Man, I hate self-promotion. But I figured I'd offer - since I get nothing/nada/zipola kickback from these things.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Heroic Ark? Left Behind? Whatever...

Douglas Rushkoff is an author, consultant & commentator who's recently written a book on innovation entitled Get Back in the Box. (Note: I'm not recommending this book - I haven't even finished it yet. And it's definitely got some slow parts.)

Anyway, Rushkoff is writing about the heroic arc in advertising & communication... explaining that the job of the storyteller is to "engage the audience, put them in a state of tension, promise relief and then - at the very last moment - deliver." He goes on to argue that heroic arcs, by their very nature, not only promote relief but also delayed gratification.

And it's in talking about that he wrote something that's been echoing in my head for a couple of days:

In extreme cases, like fundamentalist religious or political stories, the chaos of any given moment becomes an indication of some great impending apocalypse when justice will be done. I've seen cheeky bumper stickers that read: "In case of rapture, this car will be empty." The passengers are literally looking forward to that scenario. When we are addicted to stories with endings, we'd prefer Armageddon to no ending at all.

Rushkoff is not an evangelical Christian - which gives him an important perspective on our tendency towards "we're all gonna fly" boosterism.

I'm not saying that most Christians are longing for Armageddon - just that we can easily be perceived in that manner when we lapse into gloating about our eternal destination.

OTOH, I like stories with endings. The Bible is a story with an ending - nothing wrong with that. The problem is when we celebrate the wrong parts of the story - and, in my oh-so humble opinion, those of us in the evangelical church have more fun talking about the Rapture and "Left Behind" than we do about being fully present with God. (Which one is "sexier"? Sigh.)

Required reading:

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Once Again, the Gathering Blues

Last year, I moaned and groaned about missing the Gathering of Friends. I'd really kind of thought I'd avoid all that this year - but then I sat last night and began reading through Rick Thornquist's excellent day-by-day coverage of the Gathering over on Boardgame News.

But rather than cry on y'all's virtual shoulder, I thought I'd let you know my impressions of a few of the brand spankin' new stuff that premiered this last week - well, specifically, the ones that sound interesting to me.
  • Hart an der Grenze - Here's where it's fun to have two different gaming groups (well, a gaming group & a Bible study group that likes to play games): games that don't work with one group often work with another group.This one about smuggling illegal goods across the border comes complete with little tin suitcases. I hear the nifty bits calling my name.
  • Zig-Zag - ooooo, more real-time goodness. I love real-time games. (For those of you who aren't gamers, real-time games are game where all the players play at the same time with no turn order.)
  • Nacht der Magier - A dexterity game that can be played in the dark?! How cool is that?
  • Crash Test Bunnies - Too bad this was just a prototype... sigh. (Check out the pictures here.)
  • Um Krone & Kragen - I already I know that I like this one - it's a very nice dice game. Pat Korner's mini-description as "Yahtzee: the Gathering" is spot on. This is everything Michael Schacht's Knights should have been.)
  • Carrousel - Another speed game... way to go, Asmodee!
  • Battle Beyond Space - Why does this incredible game not have a publisher?! (Check out the pictures of the prototype here.)
  • B&O - The Alan Moon prototype for a new version of Union Pacific... as much as I love UP, I can't wait to see what he does next.
And I missed the Game Show - run by my buddy, Dave Arnott. Sigh.

Mark Likes Mark

Really, I do. (And not just because he's a bearded pastor - though that does help.) Mark Driscoll is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Ballard (Seattle), Washington - an innovative & wildly creative community of faith that is fiercely devoted to Jesus Christ. (Mark has a tendency to shoot his mouth off & get in trouble for his raw style - which I like as well. You need to read Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out now and Confessions of a Reformission Rev: Hard Lessons From An Emerging Missional Church when it's released in May.)

Mark's also a great writer/thinker... and in the last week, he's posted 5 excellent posts about the resurrection to his blog, the Resurgence.

Take some time to read them... or to recommend them to someone else.

He Is Risen Indeed!

We liked this poster so much we "borrowed" it for our new message series here at NewLife, entitled Heartbeat.

Don't let the chocolate bunnies & plastic eggs fool you - there is so much more to Easter than a sugar high & old ladies in hats.

If there's no resurrection, there's no living Christ. And face it--if there's no resurrection for Christ, everything we've told you is smoke and mirrors, and everything you've staked your life on is smoke and mirrors. Not only that, but we would be guilty of telling a string of barefaced lies about God, all these affidavits we passed on to you verifying that God raised up Christ--sheer fabrications, if there's no resurrection.

If corpses can't be raised, then Christ wasn't, because he was indeed dead. And if Christ wasn't raised, then all you're doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever. It's even worse for those who died hoping in Christ and resurrection, because they're already in their graves. If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot. But the truth is that Christ has been raised up, the first in a long legacy of those who are going to leave the cemeteries.
1st Corinthians 15:13-20 (The Message)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Just finished watching the film, Crash...

...and I find myself in a thoughtful mood. It's a weird blend between social commentary & Twilight Zone-styled mind fake... accentuated by realistic writing combined with the spirit of magic realism. (The moments with the magic cloak are esp. beautiful.) While some of the coincidences feel programmed, the effect of the film taken as a whole is stunning.

Here's the deal... while I wouldn't recommend showing this film to your average church audience (the F-bomb just called & wants to have script credit), it's well worth watching to start thoughtful & difficult conversations about race, racism & life in urban/suburban America.

Crash won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year... and is rated R for extensive language, a brief sex scene & discussion of adult (read: racism & sex) topics.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Friday, April 07, 2006

Getting Childish With Ward-O

One of the guys I'm doing GeekSpeak with is Ward Batty, who I first met at Gulf Games. (I don't remember which Gulf Games, but I'm guessing it was #5 in Chattanooga.) Ward is not only an avid gamer but also the co-publisher of Comic Shop News. (So, Ward, what's the newest bit of nihilistic weirdness coming from the pen of Alan Moore?)

Ward's latest "publishing" venture is a weekly syndicated newspaper about board games called The Game Table. (If you like what you see, you can write your local newspaper & ask them to start using Ward's column.)

A couple of weeks ago, Ward interviewed me via e-mail about children's games... and he did a great job of quoting me accurately & in context. (This doesn't always happen, sadly.) You can read the whole article at Getting Childish with "Fluff Daddy".

Ward had asked me to comment a bit on the games I listed for him... and I procrastinated too long to have that stuff included in the actual article. So, for the faithful readers of my blog, you get blessed with my commentary! (Lucky you!)

First games:

Cranium Cariboo Look, Cranium (the adult trivia/charades/clay game) may be popular but that doesn't make it a good game. Thankfully, the children's games from the folks at Cranium are much better games. Cariboo is a simple recognition game, built with cool little doors to unlock and a treasure chest that "magically" opens when you find the last "jewel". This is not the world's greatest game, but it is a great "first" game.

Cranium Hullabaloo Hullabaloo is Twister for preschoolers, with one very important twist... the game is run by a relentlessly cheerful electronic device that keeps things moving, adds in extra challenges & music, and - most importantly - allows a group of younger kids to play without an adult supervising the entire time. (I'm not advocating only buying games that can babysit your children... I think everyone should play games with their kids. But I also like kids getting to play something on their own & the pride that comes from "doing it themselves.")

Ages 4-6:

Akaba (Haba) This delightful game skews to the older end of this range (age 5-6) but it's definitely worth checking out. It's a racing game with a very easy memory element. The "hook" for the game is that you move your magic carpet pieces by blowing them across the board with a squeeze puffer. (It looks a bit like the nasal aspirator we used on my boys when they were babies.) It's fun with mixed groups of adults & kids - but it might be a bit daunting for younger children to set up & play on their own.

Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande) You're going to notice that I put a lot of memory games on this list - part of the reason for that is that memory games help kids level the playing field with adults. The renamed Chicken Cha Cha Cha (the original name in German - Zicke Zacke Huhnerkacke - roughly translates at "hip hip chickens***", which has always struck me as an odd name for a kid's game) is a very tough memory game with stunning wooden pieces. (So much so that when I was inteviewed by the Fresno Bee about gaming, I pulled Chicken Cha Cha Cha out as an example... and it ended up in the story!) There's also an expansion for the game (Zicke Zacke Entenkacke) which has only been published in Germany - it adds 2 ducks (so 5 or 6 players can play) + wooden piles of doo-doo for each player for an interesting game variant.)

Gulo Gulo (Rio Grande) The same company that produced Chicken Cha Cha Cha also published this beautiful game of stealing wooden vulture eggs from a slick wooden bowl. This entry has a couple of points in it's favor for playing with younger children. First, the eggs are easier to pick up with smaller fingers, which means that kids have a built-in advantage over adults. And second, the game system makes it easy to catch up when you're behind, which means no one is really "out of it" until the very end of the game. (Note: this game works well with groups of adults as well.)

Dish It Up! (Gamewright) Yet another memory game, but with a delightful twist. You don't have to match the pieces to each other - instead, you have to match the pictures on your orders... because you're a waiter or waitress in a diner working for tips. Like many of the Gamewright games, there's a great sense of story as well as clean gameplay.

Eureka (Gamewright) You may believe that all I play with my son is memory games... some days, that's not far from the truth. Here's another great one that's actually a pretty decent exploration game with a memory element. Players are reptile gold hunters who move around the grid of tiles at the roll of a die, searching for four different gold claims. The artwork is fun - and there's plenty of chances to make smart plays.

Midnight Party (Ravensburger) Possibly one of the best "large group" (6-8 people) board games around - and made doubly better because it works so darn well with combined groups of adults & kids. Hugo is holding a birthday party and loves to play hide & seek - only Hugo is a ghost! This dice game reminds me of the old joke about the two guys running from an angry grizzly bear. One stops & grabs some running shoes out of his backpack. The other guy says, "What you are doing? You can't outrun the bear!" To which the first guy replies: "I don't have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun you."

My First Uno (wide variety of licensing tie-ins) I hate "adult" Uno. What a freakish waste of time. Amazingly, though, My First Uno is a stripped down & quicker version of Uno that is not a bad little game to teach kids basic hand management. No, it's not the best game available, but it's actually kind of fun to play. (And fast - which increases the fun.)

Ages 7-9 (For boys):

Heroscape (Hasbro) I really hate to recommend this wonderful game... because it has a BUNCH of available expansions, which means you could easily spend $200+ putting a set together. (And, of course, there are more cool expansions coming this year, including ice terrain, more figures, & a 100 piece castle.) Heroscape is the ultimate blending of board game & miniatures game... and, in slick move that allows them to make lots of cool figures, a great blending of genres, as all the characters are warriors sucked through time & space into the world of Heroscape. So, you've got Matrix guys & Braveheart & dragons & robots & kung fu monks & gorillas with guns... yep, it's the ultimate boy game. (And while kids can start with this one at 7-8 years old, there's enough going on that you keep playing it well into your adult years. Or, in my case, when you're 41!)

Star Wars Attacktix (Hasbro) Sorry - another collectible game which is a giant money pit. But, gosh, this is fun to play. It's Star Wars battles with figures that twist and/or shoot missles to knock each other over. A friend described it as "the best kid toy for adults ever."

Ages 7-9 (For boys & girls):

Eiertanz (Haba) In English, this means Egg Dance. Don't be fooled - this is a modern take on the old classic Funny Bones involving rubber & wooden eggs. Great party goofiness!

Igloo Pop (Rio Grande) Finally, a speed game with a dumb theme (giant Eskimo shaking igloos with children inside them, listening for fish sticks) but great game play.

Pastoral Advice For Engaged Meeples

I originally wrote this advice to a trio of gamer friends (from the Gulf Games family) that are getting married this year. I thought I'd share it with y'all...

Allow me to offer a bit of professional advice to you guys (I've officiated a few of these in my "official" capacity):

1. You will not make everyone happy - don't try. Choose events/symbols/music/etc. that will be meaningful to you & your future spouse.

2. This ought to be a joyous time... when it stops being fun, take a break from the planning. Remember, the objective is NOT putting on a wedding, it's building a lifetime of marriage.

3. Find someone you trust to run the show... and then let them. Good wedding coordinators are worth their weight in gold. Even if you don't choose to hire a pro, choose a trusted friend who can know all the details & stage-managed the ceremony. They may not get to wear a gaudy dress, but you'll be saying "thank you" to them for years as they will deal with the 1000 little goofy things that happen so you can concentrate on enjoying your wedding.

4. If you're going to take pictures after the wedding, feed your guests while they wait for you. Don't set them in a room with a big honkin' cake and make them wait w/out munchies. It makes 'em surly.

5. Talk clearly with the pastor about what you do & do not want in your ceremony - IF you plan ahead, he can run the rehearsal smoothly. Here's the deal... extra family members are NOTORIOUS for coming up with new ideas for seating arrangement, entrance orders, when certain elements should be in the ceremony, etc, during the rehearsal. What I do is say at the beginning of the rehearsal, "___ & ____ have sat down with me and we've planned out the ceremony. All we're doing tonight is making sure everybody knows their places. We won't be discussing details - that's taken care of already! Besides, the quicker we get through this rehearsal, the faster we get to go eat expensive food while the groom's family picks up the check!"

6. GET PRE-MARITAL COUNSELING. Love is wonderful - I still love Shari Jo very much - but ooey-gooey love is pretty much worthless when you bounce your first check on your joint account. It's important to talk through big issues (money, sex, expectations, beliefs about God, how to run the house, roles of husbands & wives, children - when/how many/etc.) BEFORE you get married. This won't end the discussion of these topics (ask & I'll tell you about Shari and I taking a vacation to argue about when to have our first baby) but it will give you a much better chance in dealing with them. Pre-marital counseling is worth paying for... if your pastor is a nice guy but his counseling consists mainly of him telling stories, go hire a counselor!

7. Everything goes better with God involved. (Don't want to get too preachy, but I know all three of you know what I'm talking about. Don't leave Him out of your planning or counseling or dating or whatever.)

8. Once you get within 48 hours of the ceremony, let it all go. If it's going to happen, it will. Leave it in the hands of your coordinator, pastor & close family. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

9. If videotape doesn't bother you, have lots of it taken. And people with still cameras. You won't remember who is at the wedding 2 days later if you don't take pictures - it will all be a blur. Besides, if something wacky happens, you might be able to win cash on one of those video clip shows.

10. Only fight for the things that are non-negotiables... in my case, I didn't want us extinguishing the individual candles in our unity candle. (I'll explain if anyone likes, but suffice it to say, the symbolism was important to me.) I didn't argue about flower choices,dresses, schedule, and a lot of other things. That minimized friction AND helped me get what I wanted on something that really mattered to me.

11. Honeymoon planning... choose somewhere you can go and enjoy that doesn't have (a) a schedule you feel you like have to keep, or (b) stuff that you\'ve spent so much money on that you feel like you have to "go go go" to not waste it. You need to be able to set the agenda based on how you're feeling, how romantic the two of you are (isn't that subtly put?!), and with an eye towards recuperation. (Weddings are hard work!) For me, a trip to Walt Disney World would be a lousy honeymoon, even though I love WDW. I'd feel compelled to go & do rather than slow down & enjoy my bride. Think about creating memories through small gifts, moments of discovery (finding a little out of the way place to eat, a beautiful waterfall, a stolen kiss in the rain, etc.) rather than through a grandiose trip.

Boy, I do go on, don't I? I'm praying for you guys... 3 weddings in one year! Wowsa!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Truth or Fiction: Part Two

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. Last week I talked about our tendency to fudge the truth when we're trying to convince people about Jesus. This week...

As a kid, I was deathly afraid of my closet. I was afraid of other things, too: the dark, being beat up, giving a wrong answer in class, etc., but nothing trumped the abject terror I felt when I forgot to slide the closet door closed before I went to bed.

This was the kind of paralyzing fear where you try to yell but your voice won't work... where your imagination fills in all the details of what might lurk in behind the hanging clothes & piled-up toys and games. Once in a while, I could force myself to get out of bed and close the door, but many times I would just lay still on my bed, fixating on the shadows & the darkness.

Of course, there was nothing in my closet except boxes full of construction toys and scads of games. (Yes, even then.) :-) There was no secret entrance to my closet... it actually backed up on the bathroom my sister & I shared.

In other words, my fears had nothing to do with reality.


After September 11th, 2001, thousands of people in this country swore off airplanes and began driving cars, apparently believing that cars are safer. In fact, the number of deaths on U.S. highways in a typical year - more than 40,000 - is more than double the number of people who have died in all commercial airplane accidents in the past 40 years. To put it differently, the odds of being killed in a terrorist incident in 2002 were 1 in 9 million. In that same year, the odds of dying in a traffic accident were about 1 in 7,000. By taking the precaution of not flying, many people died. Anne Applebaum, "Finding Things To Fear" (Washington Post 9/24/03) - quoted in Marc Siegel's book, False Alarm: The Truth About The Epidemic of Fear

Marc Siegel goes through one major "false alarm" after another: terrorism, anthrax, SARS, bird flu, etc., suggesting over & over that while there is a possibility of these things affecting our lives, the vast majority live with fear way out of proportion with the actuality of the threat.

In other words, our fears have little to do with reality.


So, when it comes to what we believe about Jesus, how does this fear-laden balancing act between truth & fiction play out? Again, I'll just pick one point this week and "land on it."

We are inappropriately afraid of other people's unbiblical behavior. Let me explain... we expend incredible amounts of time, energy & effort to convince and/or force non-believers around us to knuckle under to our moral practices. When those efforts are unsuccessful (and they almost always are), we then retreat in a hypocritical game of tightrope walking between the cultural enticements of the world and the safe companionship of those who appear to have it "together" spiritually. We'll watch movies with questionable content, but excuse it because "we feel bad about it." We'll talk endlessly about "winning the world for Jesus", but never actually spend time with people who are struggling with questions about faith & life.

This was not the way Jesus lived!

How can I account for this generation? The people have been like spoiled children whining to their parents, "We wanted to skip rope, and you were always too tired; we wanted to talk, but you were always too busy." John came fasting and they called him crazy. I came feasting and they called me a lush, a friend of the riff-raff. Opinion polls don't count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Matthew 11:16-19 (The Message)

This is the same guy who asked woman with 5 ex-husbands & a live-in lover for a drink of water; the same guy who went toe-to-toe with demon-possessed people. Jesus populated his band of closest followers with anger-driven hotheads, a political nutjob, a greedy thief, a Roman sympathizer, and some guys that the fish smell was never going to wash off of.

So, how do we close the door to our bedroom closet? How do we turn off our "false alarm"?
  • Resort to prayer for a heart that loves people like Jesus loves us.
  • Rearrange our lives to spend time with people who need Him.
  • Refocus our energy on making healthy, Biblical choices for ourselves, rather than policing the rest of the world.

It's not going to be easy... and chances are we're going to make some mistakes along the way.

But it will sure beat living in fear.

This article originally appeared in the 3/9/06 issue of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dogbert, Who Should Win "American Inventor" Hands Down

Dogbert may well have advanced the cause of psychology light years forward - putting him with such notables as Freud, Jung, & Homer J. Simpson. (Pithy quote: "Trying is the first step towards failure.")

Can you tell it's been a rough week? :-)

No surprise... this is a Dilbert cartoon.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Most of my band members are veterans of clubs and so they are used to being ripped-off all the time, but they are not used to having to smile while it's happening. In Christian music, you get to put up with bad sound systems, unfulfilled concert expectations, and churches reneging on their financial arrangements.
Steve Taylor, from an interview in
The Wittenberg Door (1984)

I thought of this quote earlier today when I started dealing with an anonymous comment posted on this blog. (I'm still amazed I could find it online... props to Sock Heaven for the great archive and the ultra-hip "we love Steve Taylor" vibe.)

To start with, it was anonymous. As a long-time church staff member, I have received my fill a couple of times over of anonymous notes, letters & comment cards. Something about being anonymous makes it so much easier for people to turn hateful & sarcastic. (For the record, I don't mind anonymous comments here on the blog when they're about board gaming - I mean, who cares if you're going to take a cheap shot at Monopoly without signing your name? - but it's another story when we're discussing stuff with some substance to it.)

And then - the content. Honestly, the problem wasn't that it was rude or degrading of me... but that it used my blog as a forum to post unsubstantiated accusations about my friends & brothers in ministry.

So I decided on a three-step process to deal with this particular post (and any others like it that appear over the life of this blog):
  1. I deleted the offending anonymous post, while keeping a verbatim copy of the post on my hard drive.
  2. When the person who wrote the post decides to step forward, I will be happy to re-post the original comment sans the potentially libelous material.
  3. At that point, I'll be happy to respond to the accusations, inaccuracies & general confusion engendered by said post.
Finally, back to the Steve Taylor quote. (BTW, you must listen to some Steve Taylor music. Make iTunes rich by purchasing all of his albums.) I don't want to just sit here & smile & "take it" anymore - it's time for those of us who are followers of Christ to speak with grace & truth. It's time for us to honestly stand up to people who would choose to misuse their options for open communication and hide behind the dodge that "Christians don't call each other on their crap."

I'm done with that.