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! :-)