Monday, March 30, 2009


I've been in a blogging slump recently.

I think there are a few factors:

1. It's hard to blog while watching basketball.
2. The last week has been one of my busiest all year. 
3. Lack of motivation.

Well, here's the week in review...

Anytime an un-potty trained kid finds a quiet place under a table, you can pretty much guess what they're doing...

We enjoyed some time with cousins (here: Beck and Ryan Stumbo put their swords together to show they are powerful knights). I made up a game- basically tag mixed with hide and go seek- where we had hobbits, elves, knights, dwarves and humans.

Monday we had a birthday party at Eric and Holly Bodin's. Here Makai is chillin' with Sophie.

Wednesday the Anthem band led at our junior/senior high ministries. I snapped this picture of our junior high pastor, Joel Vint, speaking to 180. This picture reminds me that if you want to become a youth pastor, don't go off to a Bible college and get a degree in youth ministry. No offense if that's your degree. Joel came to Christ through TSC, has been equipped and trained here, and now is rockin' his job. Cody is the same story with our high school. This probably warrants its own separate post...

On Friday night I spoke at Escape's (our high school min.) girl's formal dinner. It was an amazing program full of hilarious dramas, special music and speakers (Todd Wallace and me). 

We made a trip to Iowa City to visit some friends (the Pluegers and Millers) who were in the hospital. The kids were a little restless, but overall they did great waiting around in the lobby for an hour and a half.

Here's a picture in the waiting area of Alicia, a girl who weighed LESS THAN ONE POUND at birth. To the left you can see what she looked like at birth. I got teared up seeing that picture of her playing wiffle ball a few years later...

We got back to Ames Saturday night and had our annual TSC parent's banquet. It's an opportunity to let parent's know what TSC is all about, and to calm the fears of those parents who think their kids have gotten into a cult.

Sunday morning our family went down to Cornerstone's most recent church plant- Westwind in West Des Moines. Here we're just getting set up. It reminded me of the early days of Cornerstone when we met at Scheman...just 14 years ago. I had a great time leading them in worship.

After enjoying a wonderful Chinese meal (thanks Laugerman's!), we headed back to Ames where I did Q/A with our freshmen group. This is one of the amazing things about the ministry of TSC (No thanks to me). I could feel the community in this group of over 100 students, who gather every Sunday night on campus. It was a blast answering questions like...
- "How do you expect us to stay pure when you talk about sex all the time?"
- "How do I know God's voice?"
- "What do you think about birth control?"
- "God feels distant and he hasn't answered my prayers. What should I do?"
- "Practically, how do I pick my major?"
- "I just became a Christian, and my parents have forbid me from going overseas. What should I do?"

Today I taught, "Theology of the Gospel" and we played a little game of "family feud." Using my windmill metaphor (click here for an explanation), they had to guess what blades the groups thought were the most critical. It livened up the class quite a bit. It's funny that "love" didn't make the top 6. Granted, it's not really a classic "discipline", but it's certainly the purpose of it all. The guys won by a point thanks to "lightning round."

Tomorrow is finally a day off- praise God for Shabbat!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I'm not sure why it took me so long to add the Hope Children's Center blog to my Google Reader, but click here if you want to join me in getting your heart wrecked for the least of these.

Click here if you don't know what Google Reader is, it will change your life by consolidating the time we waste.... errr spend... on the internet.

On a related note, does anyone want to go to Malawi and run with the Leatha Foundation orphanage? It would require a big heart, some entrepreneurial vision, and flexibility with work.

I'm taking applications. 

I made that up. But it's actually not a bad idea. If you're interested let me know.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


About 12 years ago, when I led worship at Salt Company, one of the things I enjoyed was auditions. One year we had over 30 girls audition. One unassuming girl walked up to the music stand, and started singing "You Alone." 

It was the most amazing, angelic sound I'd ever heard.

Her name was Marcy. 

Needless to say, she made the music team. Since then she has gone on to become quite the songwriter. She's written everything from worship to a fun song for Leatha to gospel to bluegrass. Marcy has recorded a few Cds, one of them "To God," was recorded at Cornerstone. It's a great album.

I just came across her myspace page. Come to find out, her song "Gravel Road" won song of the year in a songwriting competition. It's so good. Click here for her myspace. Look out Allison Krauss...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I have a secret to tell...shhh...

I'll tell you at the end what the secret is. 

But first, some images of our current (I'm blogging from a hotel in Okla.City) trip to Tyler, Texas. It's kind of a multi-purpose trip- connect with some alumni on way down, hook up with the 65 TSC students volunteering at Pine Cove, and family vacation.
Makai didn't have any problems that a little MickeyD's sundae couldn't solve...
The hotel jungle gym (aka: luggage cart) also helped.
They do get a little easier the older they get. Well at least age 7. I know someday there's always the possibility she'll be texting friends the whole way to Dallas. I love it that Ava LOVES to read. Props to Leatha for teaching her and Cameron how to read. Cam is also an avid reader.

Guess what this is?

 You got it.

The Anthem band led worship at a student ministry conference Friday/Saturday and these girls got all of our autographs. It's hard to keep myself from laughing as I'm signing my name. And these girls had (have) no idea I was getting their pic for my blog. Girls... don't lose those bags of yours, they're going to be a hot item on ebay someday...

One quick autograph story that cracked me up. Bryan, our bass player, had a sort of personal oath (that's strong, but nearly true) that he would never give an autograph in his life. Well, he caved.

He was seen right afterwards outside by the loading dock hanging his head in shame. Bobby was the one who saw him moping around outside in utter shame and disgrace. He said, "Mark, you would've thought Bryan had lost his virginity." Poor Bryan. He caved to some pre-teen girls who desperately wanted an autograph. 

I have no doubt that Bryan, now feeling himself in the same category as the Jonas Brothers, has had countless nightmares since Saturday.

So he signed the rest of his autographs with the fake name, "Bob Seether."

Below is a picture of Kent Julian, an old friend from Christ Com in Omaha, who was one of the speakers at this conference. Kent is brilliant when it comes to meta-trends. As one of the other speakers was up there throwing down the 'ol, "70% of students never come back to church after leaving high school youth group", Kent walks over to me, leans down and whispers, "It's not true. We've debunked that so many times in Group Magazine" (apparently a magazine he contributed to). He said it's more like 40%, which is still sad, but not as bleak as the oft repeated 7o-80% statistic. 

To be honest, the conference was a bit of culture shock for me. Very Bapt... nevermind.

(but it ends with

On a serious note, God worked me over with conviction after Friday night. I had just taught on Romans 12:14-ff at TSC the night before, "Each of you should think of yourselves with sober judgment... do not be conceited"


I really left with a burden for this group of people. They love Jesus, but their approach to ________ is irrelevant. Insert whatever word you like... worship, evangelism... (I'm generalizing- not necessarily any one person or youth group, just my overall sense). One of our people went to the evangelism breakout session, which was mostly reinforcing the idea, "Go to the web and check out all of our great tracts. Order them, distribute them, get the name of Jesus out there."

By the way. If I see a tract on a bathroom stall, I usually throw it away.

I'm sure there's someone that got saved from one. But I'm also sure someone got saved because some prophet with a paint can graffitied John 3:16 on a railroad car. 

I always try to leave bathrooms cleaner than when I came in. "God, if I just kept a bunch of janitors from getting saved, please use another means, Lord."

Or another way to look at it is that I kept them from becoming atheists by getting bitter toward Christians for leaving their trash out.

Below: I've never been a huge fan of the mime acts

Below: A look from behind the sound board, as Brittany Lewin(?) is speaking. She was a 17 year old who ran a campaign for a state senator. She was mentioned in the "Do Hard Things" book.

Clint Robinson and I led a session on raising up the next generation of artists. One of my points was, "If you're raising money, for the love, don't use a thermometer. Thermometers are what happens when the teachers design, the leaders follow, and the artists... well... give themselves to secular work where they can actually pursue their potential. Let the artists create, the leaders lead, and the teachers teach."

One thing I love about Cornerstone is the creative control of Mike Despard. His fingerprint is all over Cstone. No committees need to decide what color the walls and carpet are going to be. There's just no reason that needs to fall on the agenda of any elder or church business meeting. 

Here's the positive example I gave. This is the artist's version of the fundraising thermometer. The huge mural is in black and white.
Each week gets a 3 inch section. Each section gets color according to where we're at for budget that week. So color means the mural is coming to life and shows the response of God's people, while black and white is the indication that we're not meeting our goal.

I shared some other stuff in the breakout. It was the usual- some insightful thoughts mixed with other things I regret saying. Par for the course.

Ready for the secret?

Cornerstone may or may not be Bapt...


Let's keep it a secret. At least I didn't tell you what kind we are. 

Oh, here's a related quiz question: Which Cornerstone pastor spoke at the Baptist Convention of Iowa and had two points to his message entitled, 'The two problems with Southern Baptists in Iowa"? 

Here's a hint: The two points to his message were, 
1. Southern... b/c we're not in the south
2. Baptist...b/c no one in Iowa wants to be Baptist

Here's the last hint about which pastor gave this rousing speech: His name starts with "T"

and ends with "Roy"

And he's the pastor who ripped his shirt off during one of his messages.

Okay, one more in case you still haven't guessed: It's not Jeff Dodge.

No more hints.

Which leads me to my final picture. Will this blog entry ever end? I was wondering the same thing...

Someone on staff is very proud of the fact that I got my picture in the Baptist Newspaper. This is a picture of me receiving a check from the Association. To be sure, it was a huge blessing. But I thought it was funny getting my picture in the paper. "Cutting edge news!!!!! College pastor receives check for ministry!!!" It's the same feeling as giving an autograph.

I've narrowed the people down who might've cut this out and put it on my name plate (typical of the shenanigans that happen in our office)... Mike Despard or someone from TSC staff. My first guess was Sabino but he said someone beat him to it...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dear Selection Committee

We know Creighton has no business being in the Big Dance. But please let them in anyway. Don't let their bubble burst. We know they got beat down by Illinois State in the MVC tourney, but everyone has bad days. 

We beg you, don't make them play in the NIT.


Anyone who has ever lived in Omaha

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stop Stealing

If you have music on your computer or mp3 player that you didn't buy, you're stealing. It's called "piracy." That comes from the root word "pirate." Like the people with guns who take people and ships hostage off the coast of Somaliland. That's a pirate. Not the innocent slackers on Veggie Tales.

Here's an interesting article from that talked about the recent success of U2's Horizon, despite internet piracy. Check out Bono's quotes in blue...

Despite a lukewarm reception to single Get on Your Boots, Caulfield expects Horizon to enjoy "a long chart life and long shelf life. There will be endless singles. They've got a big tour coming. U2 is a no-brainer."

Few doubt that piracy, a plague on all album sales (down 11.5% this year compared to 2008), siphoned profits from Horizon, which leaked online 13 days early. It was downloaded at least 445,000 times before its release, according to peer-to-peer monitoring firm BigChampagne.

Piracy grates on Bono, yet he's reluctant to lead a rebellion "because people think people like me are overpaid and overnourished, and they're not wrong," the U2 singer says. "What they're missing is, how does a songwriter get paid? There's no space for a Cole Porter in the modern age.

"It's not the place for rich rock stars to ask for more money, but somebody should fight for fellow artists, because this is madness. Music has become tap water, a utility, where for me it's a sacred thing, so I'm a little offended."

The Internet has emasculated rather than liberated artists, he says, noting that the record industry has lost billions in value.

"From punk rock to hip-hop, from heavy metal to country, musicians walk along with a smile and jump like lemmings into the abyss," he says. "The music business has been thrown to the dogs legislatively."

That indifference will vanish once "file-sharing of TV shows and movies becomes as easy as songs," Bono says. "Somebody is going to call the cops."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dads, this is a must listen

I got kicked in the butt with this message. It's especially challenging to dads. Man up and listen.

Look out Evel Knieval

I got nervous even after seeing this the second time. What drives people to do this? Wow. 

Props to Tjelta for the vine.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Signs of spring

March madness is in the air. It all kicks off with the girls state basketball, which usually I'm indifferent to. Except this year Trisha Nesbitt led Ames to the final game.
It was an amazing run, which included Trisha hitting a last second shot that put the semi-final game into OT. Ames went on to dominate in overtime against #1 and undefeated... whoever they were (Linn-Mar?). 

Below: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. We started off sitting behind the students, and instead of being grumpy old men about it, we joined them. After the win I was standing on my chair and crowd surfing (with my 3 friends). Then the security guys started coming down so I cooled off. What are you supposed to do when you've just slayed Goliath? 
Leatha and I went to the final game together, which was a blast. It was so fun because Ballard won the 3-A title right before Ames played. I think Ballard could run with some college teams. Wow. The coolest part was hearing the Ames student body cheering for Ballard and vice versa. Some of that has to be due to the cool God-stuff that's happening in both of those schools. Many of the kids on both teams are apart of our youth ministry. 
In the end, Ames lost, but it was still an amazing game. Trish played awesome and totally schooled some girls from the other team. I've never seen someone get juked as bad as the girl(s) guarding her.

This week the Ames boys play. They are ridiculous. Led by Harrison Barnes, one of the top 3 players in the U.S. (When he showed up at the Duke game, all the Cameron Crazies were shouting his name in unison.) You know you're the man if Roy Williams and Mike Kryzhwshk-I'd like to buy a vowel- shows up to watch your high school game. Most importantly, God is up to some stuff on the Ames team. Win or lose, may His kingdom come.

Go Ames.

Finally, this is the most beautiful sign of spring...


The Esmerelda DVD is out!!!! Click here to order it. 

The whole production package will be available for churches sometime soon through the Willow Creek Association.

What an epic story- Great job Jenni, Mike and Todd!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Things our kids play with

Technically, this post should be "things our kids play with...when Leatha is gone and Mark is watching them..."

Above: Walnuts and Pecans in the toaster. Is this how they roast nuts?
Below: Do you see anything of value in this picture? Look really close on the rug. It's something round.
Below: Yep, sure enough. After months of not being able to find Leatha's wedding ring, it magically appeared on the floor next to Beck. Apparently he was fishing something out of his pocket and it accidentally fell out. It's a miracle it wasn't lost. Think of all the places he could've put this treasure... he's got rat holes all over where he stashes his junk... or $1,600 treasures in this case.

Above: Evolutionary theory in action or intelligent design?
Below: Caught in the act!

Above: Every artist loves the Mac
Below: Hopefully deodorant isn't toxic. I wonder if it tastes good. I'll have to wait until Makai can talk to find out.
Below: Today Makai was rummaging through some books in my nightstand and re-locating them into the toy box. He picked a winner!
Incidentally, Troy Nesbitt says this is the book to read after about 5 years of marriage. We're going on 10 years and I've yet to crack it. The book, of course. 

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Every time I see a Bald Eagle, I take it as a sign of God's goodness to me. Growing up, I never saw an Eagle in the wild. About 8 years ago, I saw my first one, and I started to notice their re-emergence in our area. 

I have a place of solitude where I often meet with God. I got out of the car, looked up, and this is what I saw...
It was a baby Eagle (they have white spots under their wings). It was like God saying, "I'm here."

God is good.

It has been life-giving meditating on the Psalms during Lent. The blog that Jeff Dodge put together has been a helpful resource (click here)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

No Line On The Horizon

It's out!!!!!!

U2's new album is available for download on Amazon for just $3.99.

Right now I'm listening to "Magnificent" as I clean the floor. It's classic U2. Between the Edge's delay guitar and Bono's howling...

Thanks, Wally for the vine to Amazon.

Monday, March 2, 2009

TSC Retreat

I had two options going into this post...
Option 1: The safe entry (filtered)
Option 2: The honest entry (unfiltered)

Here's a fair warning: I'm going with Option 2, which means it's random, raw, long, and probably offensive. It's my attempt to process all that came at me this weekend. It was like trying to get a drink from a fire hydrant- as you can see from my notes (which will not look unlike this blog entry)...
I loved the "spirit" of the retreat. The weight I felt was not one of guilt or "10 more things I need to be doing to be a good Christian." Instead, I had the thought, "Following Jesus sounds like something I could do... I want to do. I know it will cost me my life, but it's the only smart thing to do with my life. Count me in."

Some of what brought this on was Dave Johnson's (our speaker) intolerance for Christian BS. I don't think that guy has a legalistic bone in his body. It came through in his teaching and definitely in the pattern of his life (I spent quite a bit of time hanging with him). I also feel that spirit of grace when I visit his church (Church of the Open Door in Minneapolis), which was part of the reason I wanted him to speak on our retreat. He's an earthy guy who clearly loves life. He didn't have a chip on his shoulder- he didn't come with something to prove. Love him or hate him- at least you know what he's about. 

What's there to hate, you ask?

Well, he likes to drink, smoke stogies, drops an occasional "shit", talks openly about his marital struggles and about how he has battled to stay in ministry because leading the church is messy... those are things that are hard for the legalist to swallow. I didn't walk away thinking, "Cool, now I want to talk like him." But it was his desire to expose people's "straining a gnat" duplicity that I loved. He said, "I used to tell our staff all the time... 'If you don't say 'shit' I can't trust you'" Of course his point is not to swear more, it's to be real. Stop living a fake life where you smile all the time and pretend your life is together. This is a great example of our hypocrisy. We are actually offended by the word "shit." Ha. And yet we slander and gossip without a second thought. 

I hope for the day when the "S" word in our ministry comes to mean "Slander" rather than "Shit". Which does more damage to our neighbor?

As for me, I can tell when I'm around my ministry peers who are just being crass out of rebellion. They drink and smoke for the same reasons. I see it all the time, and that wreaks of pride. In those contexts I'm extra careful of my words and I choose Coke. I want to be a rebel and not swear, drink and smoke. Then there are other contexts...

BTW: Growing up I thought two verses that clearly showed the "S" word (not slander) was sin was Ephesians 4:29 "Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths..." I was pretty sure I could tell who was a Christian and who wasn't by whether or not they used this word. Good thing I didn't apply this verse to slander and gossip (words that actually hurt people), because I wouldn't be a Christian. I also used 1 Timothy 3 "be above reproach" to show why drinking and smoking and the "S" word were wrong. The mystery verse from Corinthians about "avoiding all appearance of evil" sealed the deal: drinking was at best unwise.

I definitely had some legalistic undercurrents flowing in my life entering college. Some of it I got from my parents, some from my church. Our church had a policy that elders couldn't drink. I thought, "That's the wise thing to do...of course church leaders have no business drinking." Then I got to college and my pastor (I won't mention any names...) was asking his 5 year old son to grab him a beer from the fridge. I also started reading my Bible, "What?!!! Jesus drank? Jesus did what with the water!!?? 

Christians are not normal. At least not the kind I had become.

It's people like Dave Johnson who remind me what it's like to be normal. What life looks like when you're not bound to religious rule-making and a slave to the opinions of others. What it looks like to taste grace in order to give grace. I felt like I had been around Jesus (the man who was labeled a 'drunkard').

The talks were prophetic for our ministry. By prophetic, I mean timely and effectual in ways I'm not sure we can even pinpoint right now. But looking back we'll say, "That had a huge impact on us." All of the talks should be available on the TSC website- click here- by the end of today). Here's a synopsis of them...

Thursday night: "Talitha Koum"... Jesus is calling us to come to life. Not just "get saved" but wake up to the life that Jesus wants for us. The question we need to ask is not just, "If I were to die tonight, would I get in to heaven?" BUT "If I were to live today, what kind of life do I want to live?"
Friday night: "Samson"...His character couldn't hold the weight of God's anointing on his life. This is a "must listen to" message for people who are feeling the favor of God on their ministry. It's easy to let this thought creep in, "The show must go on. We can't afford to slow down for a character check. Plus, God is blessing us, so we must be on a good path."
Saturday morning: "If we love one another, the world just might get a glimpse of God." I love his quote based on Philippians 4, "Forbearance should be the presenting issue of our lives as followers of Jesus."
Saturday night: "Power Over, Power Under Kingdoms" This talk was profound. If we want to be the aroma of Christ, we've got to adopt his strategy for life. You can't use a power over strategy (Let's become the moral majority and outlaw this sin...) to accomplish a power under (i.e. Kingdom of God) purpose. He used the example of Rome becoming a "Christian nation" under Constantine. I'm sure the Christian Right was feeling pretty good- they won! But they lost. We always lose when we fight this way (i.e. "Peter, put away your sword...we're using a different strategy which I'm about to show you... a cross). We may need to rethink how we approach the issue of gay marriage in our culture. We may need to question the assumption, "We need to win this culture war with more voting, lobbying, and sacrifice!" I'm not saying we shouldn't vote.
Sunday morning: Excellent talk, "Dying to Live": Jesus didn't just die on the cross so we wouldn't have to. He died on the cross to show us what it would look like to follow him. He was giving us the game plan, that only in dying will we live, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies..."

Dave preached out of his best friend's Bible: Dave Busby, who is now with the Lord. Busby was one of the most powerful speakers I've heard. He had some good Busby stories.

The breakout sessions were awesome.

One of the highlights of my weekend was watching students pour out of Tim Lubinus' session on "End Times." They were disgusted, angry, up in arms... "That was terrible. How can that guy say there is no anti-christ, rapture, great 7 year tribulation, and future millenium." Most people think they know what the Bible teaches on this because they read the Left Behind series. They built a theology on a house of cards. Pre-mil thinking is so "conspiracy theorish" to me. If you string all of these passages together, the flow chart makes perfect sense. I'm not even sure Tim's entirely right, and I know we're not seeking to land the plane on this issue as a ministry, but it's so healthy for our students to know that godlier and smarter people disagree with them. 

Speaking of godlier and smarter people disagreeing with you...

Alex Tuckness led a brilliant breakout on God and politics. It was amazing; I hope the audio was captured so we can get it online. In the Q and A during his second session, someone asked who he voted for.... you guessed it. Not who most of you voted for. He had some brilliant (I know, I already used this word once. Back-off. When you find an apt word, you stick with it) thoughts on why we shouldn't be single issue voters. "There are a lot of ways to kill and oppress people." This deserves a separate post.

Erin Burmeister and Ranel Wallace rocked the "women only" session. They are quite the dynamic duo. I heard great things from that session...counter-cultural things for sure. But all things that must be said.

Paul and Jenni Sabino led the much anticipated "Finding a life partner" breakout. All I heard was laughing through the wall. (I know, hard to imagine with Paul and Jenni...) They are such a great team and a blessing to our church. Students walked away so encouraged.

Finally, Brandon Barker led one on "theotechnology" and Geoff Safford on "Is ministry for me?" It was so funny because Brandon had mostly all guys in his. He said he should've just called it "Halo 3."

The Anthem band led worship. Once again, God seemed to show up in our times of worship. I can't wait to record in about 7 weeks. God has inspired the team with some incredible songs.

After the whirlwind of the weekend, I jumped in a car with one of my guys, Vince (below), and headed to Omaha where I spoke at a friend's youth group Sunday night. I spoke on moral purity and led worship. It was a blast- one of my favorite topics. 

Here are some other pictures from the weekend:

James and James were hilarious in the Saturday night talent show! Pusey's comedy routine in the middle of their song had me dying of laughter. It's not appropriate for this blog (after all I've already said, it's hard to imagine...). But it was hilarious.

Here were our judges: Randy, Paula and Simon. Despard was perfect in the role of Simon. He had some great Cowell lines. I hope someone hit "record."

Here's a picture of worship during communion with the table at the bottom of the picture. The papers were lies that people are tempted to believe. They brought them to the table, laying them down at the foot of the cross.

It was random to see these little girls driving their car around the hotel. Is this legal? They're so cute- there's no way the meanest cop could do anything to stop these sweet girls in their pink cadillac.