Tuesday, September 30, 2008


So here's what I've been listening to lately via Rhapsody (They just bought Yahoo music. If you sign up for free, you can listen to 30 songs a month for free! Rhapsody is what we use for our worship team to learn new songs):

Charlie Hall: The Bright Sadness
It's pretty good, but I've only heard it a couple times. I have a policy that I reserve all music judgments until I've listened to something 4 or 5 times through. But so far I like it. Charlie is a prophetic musician that I have loved over the years. I gave him the book "Valley of Vision" a couple years ago, and he used a quote from it in his last album. He told me and a friend in '97 regarding our question about songwriting, "It's amazing what you can do with G, C and D."

Hillsong: This is our God
This worship album is amazing. It's got some of the United punch to it. I've talked about this album before, as I was able to get my hands on a pre-release a few months ago. Your soul will be moved Godward.

Coldplay: Viva La Vida
It's typical Coldplay- amazing music that you love more with time, but I have no idea what the words are, much less what the songs mean. But I guess since I'm a Generation Xer that's not supposed to bother me. It doesn't. This is my favorite Coldplay album to date.

Leeland: Opposite Way
These youngsters know how to write cotton candy melody hooks. No wonder Michael W. Smith loves them (they've written songs for him, I'm told). Though it's not as good as their first album (the Sound of Melodies), this album is solid. I love the first 2 tracks. They not only write a mean hook, they also have insightfully unconventional lyrics. Even their occasional use of trite lyrics is cool.

Speaking of cotton candy, I'm about to watch National Treasure 2...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dads, we can do this thing!

Tonight we had family devotions at dinner. I'll chalk it up as a win, albeit an ugly one.

It started with Beck asking to pray. He started to pray for our neighbor, who was visiting for dinner. He was going to pray that "she would come to know Jesus" until he realized it was a seeker sensitive meal. He cut it short and stared at us, to which we said, "Thank you that _____ could join us for dinner tonight."

Then I busted out our Bible after I finished eating (before them). I explained to our guest, "We always read the Bible at dinner...." Ava cut me off, "No we don't. This is the first time, dad."

What does she know.

I read the story about the Ark (of the covenant, not Noah's) getting taken back from the Philistines after Yahweh showed up the Philistine god, Dagon. I asked why we don't carve an image of our God from a piece of wood. Cameron said, "We might think that is who God is- we may want to worship the paper and not God." I considered his brilliant response a result of my great question asking abilities.

We went around and shared 2 things we're thankful for...
- Ava, "teachers and friends"
- Beck, "Cameron and I don't know what else"
- Cameron, "Our house and that we are rich and have lots of food"
- Our guest got a pass
- Leatha, I can't remember for sure, but something about me being the best husband ever
- Me, "that we could spend the evening together as a family and have ____ over for dinner"

The kids all said their verse that Leatha memorized with them this month from Philippians 2:3 and Beck shared a verse that he had learned in his D6 class with Pastor Troy. Yep, that's our lead pastor leading the 3 year old class. One more reason I would die on a hill with my boss. More on that in another post about my mentors...

It was at this point that it all came to a crash landing.

As Beck was saying his verse and midway through blanked on the ending, we all started laughing at him. He didn't think it was funny. He ran to our room crying. I felt terrible.

When I was able to calm him down he said, "Don't laugh at me again, daddy."

Did I say I felt terrible? I'll put that on the list of things never to do again. So far that list is something like...
1. Don't tell Leatha "I heard you" while watching TV
2. Don't forget our anniversary. ("or my birthday" Leatha just chimed in...)
3. Don't eat a friend's one year anniversary tea ring (sorry Despards)
839. Don't laugh at my kids when they mess up a Bible verse (Romans 8:39 was the verse...)

Well, I did my best to pull a N.Y. Mets choke, but in spite of lying and wounding my child for life, I think we got a win out of it. As my friend Bob Thune, Jr says, "Some days you get points for just showing up."

Sunday, September 28, 2008

More thoughts on the TSC retreat

I just got home from the TSC retreat. Here are some reflections on our weekend...

I had a prophetic dream going into the retreat, which helped set the tone for my weekend. Let's see if you have the gift of interpretation...

(shortened version) I was at a huge U2 concert in Mexico. I was actually chilling back stage with Bono, the U2 lead singer. The crowd was going crazy- waiting in anticipation for this rock star to come out. His first words when he came out, "Are you ready to worship God tonight?" The crowd erupted with booing and it was a painfully long concert as the crowd sat unimpressed in silence.

There was a lot on my mind going into the weekend, and I knew right away what this dream meant. I called my dad to see what he thought. Without my help, he gave me the exact interpretation I had.

Drum roll...

"The arm of flesh will fail you. You dare not trust your own." I was trusting in many other things for a great retreat- human abilities for example. Jeremiah 17:5, "This is what the LORD says: "Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.

As I think about what happened this weekend in the lives of our students, it really can't be traced back to anything other than, "God showed up." Not Bono. Not Mark. Not Jason (our speaker).

At the beginning of the year, I asked God, "What do you want from me this year?" It seemed God was saying, "Love and Serve." Guess what the first two retreat messages were on?

The worship this weekend was electric. Our speaker commented on the openness and freedom of our students in worship. "How did they get like that?" he asked. I'm not sure, but there is a cool spirit of worship going on in TSC these days.

I met so many new people. It's impossible to keep up with all that God has done and is doing in people's lives. But it's so beautiful to get a small glimpse of it.

One of our staff guys had a big confrontation with a student. He concluded by saying, "I just want to get past this so I can focus on doing ministry." After I stated the obvious (i.e. "You're doing it"), he said, "I mean the easy kind of ministry." Such is the nature of ministry- a handful of stuff we don't enjoy.

My wife came out with the kids all day on Saturday. The kids had a blast hanging out with college students. I hope every student can have something close to what I have- an amazing wife and kids.

I'm tired. But blessed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

TSC Retreat

I'm currently at our fall retreat, about to crash.

We had a great night. God is already working in the small group times after our session. I was convicted by the message, which was all about serving. I'll spare the details but I'll share a funny story...

I was walking back to my cabin with a student. We went through the usual questions...I asked his name, major, where he's from. So he fires back:
Student: "So what year are you in school? Freshman? Sophomore?"
Me: "No, I graduated a couple years ago"
Student: "What in?"
Me: "Speech Communication major, double minor in Philosophy and Religious Studies"
Student: "What do you do?"
Me: "I work with Salt Company."
Student: "That's cool. Talk to you later..."

I never did break the news to him that I'm 31, I've been married 8 years and have 4 kids. Or that I actually lead the Salt Company. Or that I was the guy on the stage leading the worship.

Oh well. He'll figure it out soon enough. Especially if he reads this blog.

I'm looking forward to many more awkward conversations just like this. But I remembered the most important thing about our conversation: his name. One name down, only about 359 left to memorize...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mowing, Kid Sports, Politics and Prophecies

Mowing: I mowed my "lawn" today. With a weed eater.

Kids in Sports: I saw a couple dads at the grocery store tonight. They had their kids with them, fully decked out in their soccer uniforms. I think it's cool the dads were with their kids.

But despite the cultural pressure, our kids are not playing sports at such a young age. It's a big hassle. I'm not sure why people feel the need to join the rat race of athletics. Jesus didn't have little league. It's amazing he turned out (props to Voddie Baucham for pointing this out). I'm sure if our kids don't love Jesus we'll know why...

Politics: This political season has caused me to grow more and more cynical. Leatha asked me the other day if we were going to put up a sign in our yard. I'm not sure why, but I just don't want to (I'm not implying that she did...). Maybe it's because I don't ever want to be identified by a political party. I think it could become a barrier to representing Christ. I'm not dogging those of you with signs. Or those of you that are passionate about politics. But let every sign be a reminder to pray for the reign of Christ (i.e. Lord's prayer)

Prophecy: My dad said there's a prophecy circulating about America. I think the gist of it is that with all of the natural disasters, attacks (wtc), financial implosion- God is bringing judgment on America and the future is not bright.

My first response is to do my best to obey 1 Thess. 5:20 "do not treat prophecies with contempt." My second response is to struggle with treating the prophecy with contempt.

First of all, if this is true, which it very well could be, what will change about my life? What if we lost everything? How would poverty affect our family? Me personally? I will still pray the Lord's prayer a lot. Maybe more often. My family would be forced to a greater dependence on the Father. That could do nothing but bear good fruit in us. So I conclude, "God, if this is true, humble me and help me to grow in dependence on you so that if we lose everything it will mean nothing to me, since I'm already dead to the world and alive to Jesus."

My second response: I think these prophecies smack of American ethnocentrism. How many natural disasters, financial devastations, terrorist attacks, wars, etc have other nations faced in the last week? Has God brought judment on them? Go ask the Sudanese what they think about this prophecy, "You lost your home? Me too. It was bulldozed 9 years ago. So now I live in this refugee tent with my family- what's left of them." As Christians, suffering is what we're used to. Endurance is what we're trained for.

Wall Street has a bad week and out come the prophets sending out spam.

But it might not be spam. It might be for real. Either way, "God, let your kingdom come."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Week in Review

It was a crazy week. Here are some highlights:

- Ministry

I taught at Salt Company and felt the weight of God's presence while preaching and as we responded in worship. The beauty of teaching through a book of the Bible- which we do at Cornerstone on a regular basis, but we usually teach topically at TSC- is that you're forced to teach on passages you would probably never choose to teach on.

Case in point: Romans 2:17-3:8. It's not about heritage or religious ceremonies, but inner heart transformation, which is at the heart of the gospel.

Cornerstone services were AMAZING this weekend, as we celebrated Your Move: Renew. We're closing in on the end of our building campaign, and we've done our best to make it about God and people as much as possible. Almost to the neglect of talking about the building at all. It's fun to see the cranes putting steel go up right outside of my office window. It's a great time to be a part of Cornerstone (I can't remember a time in my 13 years that it wasn't...)

- Family

Beck cried for an hour until finally Leatha called, "You need to talk to Beck. He wants to know what you're wearing. All his jeans are dirty so he has to wear khakis." I told him khakis are cool and great for skateboarding and football. He immediately stopped crying.

Beck also is working on being focused while peeing. Leatha walked in and he was looking around, spraying everywhere. "Mom, I'm having a hard time focusing." He also showed Leatha his new trick where he puts some t.p. in the water, then leaves a bunch hanging out. He shuts the lid, then flushes and it sucks the t.p. right down. No wonder he's always in there for so long...

I was talking to Ava about how to imagine the words while reading. She told me that sometimes she wakes up at night at imagines movies playing in her room. Ava said a lot of them are "Jesus movies," the latest someone preached to a king and he repented and told everyone to obey Jesus. It's so cool to see her heart for God.

Cameron is reading books like crazy, and he loves to be read to. Tonight I read "Dangerous Journey" to him (Pilgrim's Progress for kids) and the story of Faithful being martyred at Vanity Fair is one of his favorite stories. He's fascinated by the fact that Faithful beat Christian to heaven. "Will we go straight to heaven when we die?" he asked.

Makai pooped out a whole baby carrot.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Shack

So I finally gave in and read it.

The book is worth reading, but with discernment (duh...). Anytime most of a book is quoting God, metaphor or not, there is sure to be error. But as Paul would say, "Test everything- let go of the bad and cling to the good. Avoid every kind of evil." (1 Thess. 5:21-22)

I could probably go on about what I didn't like about it. I won't. I already linked to some concerns I (still) share with Mark Driscoll about this book. But I think he goes way too far when he says you shouldn't read the book.

Now for some highlights for me...

- "Life takes a bit of time and a lot of relationship."

- Jesus is not good looking (Is. 53, "there was no beauty to attract us to him...")

- "Inside me? Not just some positional, theological thing?"Mack asks. Jesus responds, "[true spiritual life] requires that a very real, dynamic and active union exists."

- Mack's main problem is doubting the goodness of God.

- Regarding worry and the future- God lives in the present, not our imaginations about the future. So live in the now.

- Mack's experience is more real than this life. I've often thought about this- oh the foolishness of naturalism! There is a world unseen that has been and forever will be.

- "fears and lies become bigger in the dark- they are more a shadow than a reality. When light shines in you, you start to see them as they are."

- There was great insight into the question, "Do all paths lead to God?"... "I will travel any road to find people."

Overall, this challenged my view of God. I think I'm the better for having read it. But I would still rather let Isaiah 40-66, rather than The Shack, shape my understanding of God.

American influence at its best

This is hilarious. Thanks Chris

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lords of Dogtown

Well, not exactly.

fyi- L of D is a movie about the birth of skating. Although it's not a great movie it provides an insightful look into skate culture...broken teenagers basically started it.

But on our trip back to Omaha I had a great time hooking up with an old friend I haven't skated with in about 20 years and my older brother (looking a little out of touch- but props to him, he still got some rock'n'rolls and 50-50's in his old age)
The ramp was water logged and therefore speed was hard to come by because of all the rain. But I was pretty determined to skate anyway.
Below: I have the coolest parents in the world. Here we are at the children's museum- my mom packed a lunch for us. They always pay for our gas to come out and try to pay for our food, etc while out there. I hope to live to be a blessing for my kids as much as they have for me (and my brother and sister)

Above: The boys driving a fire engine at the museum

Below: I was picking pears (thanks, Joel!) and all was going well. Until...
The branch broke. I fell about 9 feet. My toe got jacked up pretty good but other than that I didn't sustain any major injuries. It could've been bad. Stan got a good laugh.
Below: Makai was in pear heaven.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pictures and Little House in the Suburbs

We had to miss D6 (our church's family ministry that rocks- maybe I'll post some pics or youtube footage if I can get my hands on it). So me and the boys rocked out while Leatha, Ava and Cameron went to D6. Here Beck is on stage.

A guitar solo was interrupted...it happens to the best of us Beck.

Makai rocked out for the first time. Dude can't even walk yet (15 months), but he positioned himself to where he could stand long enough to lay down some riff.

Makai was begging to play my guitar.

Out of the quarter pipe at the skate park...socks and helmet give it away... old skool. My ankles are still sore from launching out of that thing. I can't wait for Omaha this weekend- my friend just finished his half pipe. It's huge. I'll see if I can come up w/ some pics of that this weekend.

Ed, my concrete waves shut down for the winter, so I'm still trying to find a reason to come out and surf in SD with you this winter...

Just call me Charles (or Pa). On my day off (yesterday), I spent the day coring/slicing pears to make pear sauce for the winter. I also dug up all the onions in the garden and picked veggies. Just another day in "Little house in the Suburbs." Well, I'm not sure if a town the size of Ames has suburbs. But if it does, we probably live there.

As Leatha reads this, she said, "That is an exaggeration. You didn't slice pears all day...maybe an hour."

Well, it felt like it.

I was so tired from all the work- running those things through our pampered chef corer is a lot of work- we went to bed at 8:24.

Leatha made one of my favorites- Thai chicken curry. The egg plants came from our garden. The coconut milk in the background (and red curry paste, and whatever else she puts in) is one of the secret weapons in the recipe. And you have to eat it with Jasmine rice.

Dang it's good.

Are you kidding me? 9:32! Go Cubs. Good night now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

TSC Kickoff

I said I would post a picture of the TSC kickoff...this is the best picture I have... well over 700 students packed into "the Box" (Cornerstone Gym).

Pray for us.

God story and other thoughts from the weekend

A friend shared his story this morning at staff meeting. It's amazing how God works, and how it relates to what we've been teaching about in Daniel...

He had a vivid dream where he was being tempted. The dream was happening in a way that he was able to think clearly and make decisions. Although the temptation had terrible implications, he was able to make the wise choice in his dream. He awoke, wondering why he would be tempted in such a way, and yet thanking God for victory.

His wife called him the next morning, saying, "This is weird, but this is the dream I had. I tried to go back to sleep, but I couldn't. I realized I needed to pray for you."

It turns out they both dreamed about the same thing.

Dreams, spiritual warfare, prayer- it sounds a lot like Daniel. I've been having a lot of dreams lately. They don't always have a clear interpretation, but I assume a safe response is to pray for all the people involved in the dream.

I ended the message this past weekend with the illustration of the (arguably) greatest boxing match in history- Muhammad Ali v. George Foreman. I stumbled on the illustration because I was thinking, "Sometimes as Christ-followers on this pilgrimage, it feels like we're watching a bad fight. Sometimes we're getting our you-know-whats kicked. But we know who wins, and that changes the way we watch the fight. I wonder if there is a boxing match that illustrates that..."

Thanks to google and youtube, I stumbled upon this fight. As an older fighter, Ali's whole strategy was to take a beating. Then, after getting abused for 7 1/2 rounds, with 15 seconds left, check out what happens (click here- forward it toward the end if you want to spare yourself 2 minutes...)

"The great man has done it," the British broadcaster announces, "The thing they said was impossible he has done."

The parallel is obvious. Jesus takes a beating, then like a champion, knocks down the enemy with one blow. And we share in the sufferings of Jesus. We, like Ali, have trained for a beating (persecution, derision, outcast, suffering at the hand of the evil one, etc), and we, like Daniel will die in exile. But we know how the fight ends.

"Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:15)

Now for whiplash, having used Ali to illustrate the victory of Christ, he becomes an illustration of the proud Nebuchadnezzar. Sabino, maybe you should add this to your message on Nebuchadnezzar...

Clip one- the proud Ali (click here)
Clip two- Ali with Parkinson's (click here)

...he was hospitalized again in July 1982 because he complained to feel fatigued and have slurring of speech. He complained, in his words that he was walking like an old man and his right leg felt sluggish. Friends said he was drooling saliva from time to time. By this time has handwriting was deteriorating. The hospital staff observed that his responses were slowing and that he had slurring of speech with low volume. However he showed no decline in intelligence and his walking and balance were said to be normal. In October 1983 Muhammad was again admitted to UCLA. His speech and walking continued to worsen and he'd developed a tremor in his hand as well. He reported in his own words that he was moving about as if he was a mummy

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" James 4:6.

God have mercy.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Romans and Daniel

Having to preach in a 3 day span on Romans 1 (at the Salt Company) and Daniel 10 (at Cornerstone this weekend) haven't left me with much time to post. Someone asked me today how long a sermon takes to prepare... about 10 hours/message. 

That's about 20 hours I didn't have to read magazines, hang out at coffee shops, surf the internet, and post on my blog...

Seriously, it has been a phenomenal week of ministry. I've said this before, but I wish everyone had the privilege of standing on that stage on Thursday nights and seeing the miraculous work of God that we call "the Salt Company." It's breathtaking to see over 700 students packed into a gym. Many of them with no idea why they came, but finding God in the process. One student was eager to tell me that a guy he led to Christ over the summer in China had led two of his friends (Chinese, of course) to Christ. Another freshmen wanted to tell me how eager he was to pursue full-time ministry- and that is why he came to Iowa State. 

This is sounding like some kind of cosmic joke. Is this really happening in the middle of Iowa?

Thankfully I only had one social blunder. This is the reason people avoid ministry altogether. There was a number of people waiting to talk to me after the message. This girl was standing there. So I initiated an introduction, "Hello, I'm Mark..." She replied in a German accent, "I'm Janeen- don't you remember me? You baptized me..." 


Sure enough, it all came back to me. Janeen was such a cool God story. She came to the U.S. because she was searching for something, and Jesus found her in Ames. I got to do her baptism and pray over her before she went back to Germany...

I view those awkward, "I'm an idiot" moments as an opportunity to simultaneously remember the limitations of my humanity and thank God that he is omniscient and not only remembers names and faces, but knows the hairs on their head. 

I wonder if Jesus ever forgot names.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ramadan and Muslim Modesty

This month a little less than a billion of the world's population will be fasting and praying to Allah, the god of Islam. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. Incidentally, many people put on weight during this month, as they feast early in the morning and late at night after the sun goes down. But you have to respect their commitment.

I was talking to Ava about how we need to be praying that Jesus would reveal himself to them as they pray. Our conversation somehow shifted to a Hindu kid in her class who brought an idol for show-and-tell to some covered ladies that Ava has seen at the mall.

She asked, "Does God want us (girls) to be covered up like them?"

I've been to five Muslim countries and I've seen the oppression of many women firsthand. I've met Muslim women whose stories are not unlike the horrors found in A Thousand Splendid Suns.

So with that baggage, the best I could do was to tell Ava that "their God is mean."

He doesn't just want them to be modest, he wants them to lose their identity and femininity. I know that isn't always the case, as many of the head coverings are pretty stylish, and many moderate Muslims reject such extreme forms of modesty. But Ava had in her mind the full on burqa covering.

Although this is becoming more and more counter-cultural to even bring up the topic, I'll use this opportunity to talk about Christian modesty. I'm pretty sure God's will for Christian women is not the burqa; however, there is a modesty line somewhere. There is often a disregard for modesty, as I've observed this a lot in college and youth ministry. I was appalled at a swimming party we had a few years ago for our junior highers. The swim suits these 12-14 year old girls were wearing...Wow. And that, with mom and dad's approval...

My encouragement to young women is to invite the wisdom of older women into your life when it comes to modesty. Ask the women who dress stylishly feminine what they think of your wardrobe.

I've also seen a number of "Little House on the Prairie" Christian sub-cultures. I'm not sure God's will has to mean that you knit your own dresses.

SNL stumbles upon some money wisdom

Why do you need Larry Burkett, Randy Alcorn or Dave Ramsey when you've got Saturday Night Live? Click here.