Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cha Ching

I hit the jackpot today.

I was looking for something to engage my mind as I was cleaning the floors and windows when I stumbled upon Peter Kreeft's website. Click here for some mind calisthenics.

What better to break the monotony of our often brain dead cultural routines than some thoughts from a great Catholic philosopher? There are a lot of great downloads on the audio page for different topics that might pique your interest (i.e. pro-life arguments, C.S. Lewis insights, sex, heaven, arguments for God's existence...a little something for everyone).

Here's the opening page of the website...

Augustine tells of a vision of seeing a little boy at a beach scooping up the ocean thimbleful by thimbleful and emptying it out on the sand. Then he sees an angel who tells him that this boy will have emptied out the entire ocean long before Augustine has exhausted what can be said about God.

This site's Featured Writings and Featured Audio about the ocean of God's love are only a few thimblefuls. No—less. For God's love is literally infinite. It is the shoreless sea we are destined to swim in, surf in, and grow in forever.

Under the Mercy,

Peter J. Kreeft

I just found out that he will likely be our speaker for the Veritas Forum that we'll be hosting at Iowa State in February. I'm looking forward to spending some time with him and being a sponge for a couple bitterly cold Iowa days.

Here's the youtube link I listened to while cleaning the floors. There's not really much to watch, just visualization stuff...

On a philosophically related note- For those of you who remember Plato's "forms", I saw this car and cracked up. It's the car I drew as an artistically challenged first grader. It's the purest and most ideal form of "car".

Monday, June 29, 2009

Potty Training

I came home to find something brown in the middle of our yard.
On a related note, Makai was so happy to take me out back to show me something when I walked in the house.

As far as Makai's concerned, our backyard is one big, grassy, fenced in toilet. With a play set.

Leatha wouldn't let me throw it in the compost.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Update from Asia

I can't say where because we want to protect our workers overseas. But we have a team of college students in the country where the Olympics took place in 2008. Another hint- it's a big country in East Asia. Anyway, I knew I could count on Ben Hunt for some hilarious updates from the front lines...

"My final thought, the funniest thing of the week. So, one of our [insert country] brothers, Robby, came to hang out with us at our apartment. He sat on the couch next to Jase, whose belly was hanging out to combat the heat of our city (it's VERY hot and sticky). Robby looked at it and asked “Can I touch it?” (everyone in [insert country] is ridiculously skinny). Robby put his hand on Jase’s tummy and gave it a tender squeeze. He then looked up at us, smiled, and said “it is very comfortable.”

Now Jase finishing the story…

After Robby said my belly was very comfortable, he said, “You have a lot of…what is it called?”

“Fat?” I replied.

“No, not fat, the material between your skin and…”

“Fat,” I said, “It’s called fat.”

“No, do you have a dictionary?” He asked. I gave him my iPod which you can write Chinese characters on to look them up. I watched him write a Chinese word then hit search. The result: Body Fat. Robby continued to argue that body fat is not the same as fat.

Ben and Jase, I'll be laughing all afternoon about that. I'm not sure the world is ready for you guys...

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Smart or Stupid Game

Tonight when I was praying my usual bed time Psalm over the kids (click here for more on that), I hit the brakes on my prayer mid-sentence, as I realized it wasn't so age appropriate.

I think it was when I got to the part of my prayer that went, "...and Lord, help the kids not to be stupid idiots who live in rebellion to You..."

My next words were, "Never call someone a stupid idiot. But let's talk about what stupid idiots do." 

I then went on to play the "smart or stupid" game. I made it up, but it's not very original...

Me: "Smart or Stupid... Jimmy really likes Jane, so he kisses her."
Ava, Cameron, Beck: "Stupid"
Makai: "Sooopid"

Me: "Smart or Stupid... Jessica sees something she wants in the store, so she takes it without paying for it. She steals."
Ava, Cameron, Beck: "Stupid"
Makai: "Sooopid"

Me: "... Everyone is making fun of a kid who is sitting alone at lunch, so Brian goes over and sits by him and asks if he wants to play at recess."
Ava, Cameron, Beck: "Smart"
Makai: "Mart"

I realized they were a little too black and white, so I added some moral ambiguity...

Me: "... Someone keeps cutting in line during kick-ball, so you run in and tell your parents."
Cameron, Beck: pause "Smart"
Ava: "No, it's stupid, because they need to work it out with the person before they tell an adult."
Makai: confused
Me: "Yep, Ava is right. Work things out with the person before running to tell on them."

Then I threw this in just to see if they remembered what sex is:

Me: "...Johnny has sex with a girl who is not his wife." 
Beck: pause as he looks at Ava and Cameron for a clue.
Ava and Cameron: "Stupid!"
Beck: "Stupid" 
Makai: "Soopid"

I guess the moral of the story is don't be soopid.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spiritual Dryness and Free Book

Great post about it from my friend Ed (click here). Warning: it ends with a shameless plug for the Leadership Summit.

Every dad needs to read this short book by Mark Driscoll (click here). It's free and a quick read. I couldn't sleep tonight so I read it all from about 4:30 to 5:20 am. He made some extremely helpful points.

Monday, June 22, 2009

An American Tragedy

A couple years ago, Leatha and I enjoyed spending an hour of our Monday nights watching a fun loving couple, Jon and Kate, raise their 8 children (twins and sextuplets). Last year, we slowly lost interest and stopped watching. We noticed that something was changing about this family.
Tonight we watched about 15 minutes of the show to find out that Jon and Kate were getting a divorce. Another American tragedy- for many reasons...

1. The recent explosion of communication mediums has been an incubator for narcissism and cult of personality. 

But in our present age, the heroes worshiped are normal people, not dictators. 

One of my mentors, David Churchill, who taught me how to watch movies, told me that the most prophetic movie of our time is the Truman Show. There is profound depth to the movie, but the basic story is people watching other people live. 

Spending our time watching other people live...what have we become? What have I become? (After all, I was one of those 20 million viewers...)

2. The "me" generation knows nothing about faithfulness and sacrifice

Jon and Kate looked like they had turned into a couple of teenagers- Kate with her new immodest wardrobe, and Jon with his earrings and skull tshirt (which had replaced the Isaiah t) arguing over such pettiness. 

Kate talked about how she feared they would be labeled as just another statistic. I think her real fear is that there will be consequences for their sin. There always is. And what is more... her kids will inherit the consequences of her unfaithfulness.

If you happen to be reading this and you have thought about divorce as an option for your current situation... send that thought back to hell. Don't say it or even think it. 

"Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and men." Proverbs 3:3-4

3. "Better a little..."

We live in a culture of much. But wealth is such a trap. 

At some point the show went from a nice way to document their children's upbringing to "We're going to Hawaii...moving into a ??? million dollar home...traveling the U.S. to autograph books..." 

A mother of 8 on a book signing tour?

We look at people like that and are tempted to think, "They have it all and they are happy. Why can't I have that kind of life?"

If you're struggling with that, just watch the Madame Blueberry Veggie Tale DVD and remind yourself what great gain really is.

1 Timothy 6 and Proverbs 15 are well worth reflecting on. 

4. To the singles out there...

If you're dreaming about a great marriage someday, here's some advice: Be faithful today. Be pure today. Love God in a way that He's all you want and need today. 

In doing this, you will become a kind of person

You'll become the kind of person that is faithful and walks on a path of righteousness. 

You may have watched Jon and Kate and thought, "It can happen to anyone of us. Satan just snuck around the corner and zapped them. It could be me next." 

Not really. 

Over time they decided to let greed, fame, selfishness, pride, pleasure, and unfaithfulness turn their hearts from Matthew 6:33 "Seek first...". 

Those sins were welcomed into their home one compromise at a time. At some sad point, those 32 year old teenagers I was watching tonight opened wide the door of destruction, becoming another American tragedy. 

"God, reveal to me the ways in which I've allowed apathy, complacency, lukewarm faith, and languid service to creep into my soul. Release in me a longing for the unseen, where Christ is all in all. Guide me on a path of righteousness for Your name's sake, chasing me with goodness and mercy, leading me not into temptation. Give me a dangerous faith that involves sacrificial love-first for my wife and children, and then to those you put in my path. I am a sinner saved by grace. And in grace I will now stand. Amen."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Good Movies

Gran Torino
Wow, this is one of the most redemptive movies (i.e. it tells the Story) I've seen in awhile. 

This has a thick story line, with so much to reflect on afterwards. Here are some thoughts, in no particular order. If you haven't seen it, only read #1...

1. Gran Torino told the truth about the world: it's a jacked up place where hope is found in a very unusual place. 

The movie was extremely vulgar and boldly offensive. And yet, by the end, I was in no way tempted to sin. In fact, I hated sin for its death-giving effects. My mind was engaged, and emotions moved. I had the thought, "That was worth watching."

Cicero is famous for naming the three functions of rhetoric: docere (teach), motivere (motivate), and delectere (delight). In my mind, Gran Torino accomplished all three.

Warning: spoilers ahead... read after watching...

2. I rarely see the complexities of life in the inner city so up close and personal

- The fighting and hate among ethnic groups such as Hmong, Hispanic, African American, etc
- The diversification of "white" neighborhoods. One thinks, "Why can't you move out?" while the other, "Why did you have to move in?"
- Racism is often overcome when we actually take the time to get to know people. There's something to love about every culture. God is as much Hmong as American.

3. The power of sharing a meal. 

Americans are not good at this, but in other cultures, sharing a meal is a participation together in something spiritual. That's why it was really throwing down when Paul says about the immoral "Christian" in 1 Corinthians 5, "with such a man do not even eat." It also reminds me of the power of communion- what it means to share from one loaf.

4. The challenges of generational conflict.

I loved and yet hated Walt. That generation in particular was not good at showing their emotions, unless it was a fit of anger. But they were fiercely loyal and patriotic citizens (Notice how much the American flag was in the camera shots?). How insightful that he considered not reporting $900 on his taxes to be one of his worst sins.

This is such a "Me" generation, with no respect for elders. His granddaughter was basically waiting for him to die so she could get his couch. 

The generational issues were also depicted at the party in the juxtaposition of the older Hmong upstairs, while the teenagers were in the basement. 

I think one of the points in the movie was that this is an issue that we're all going to have to address, whatever our ethnicity. It's especially hard for immigrants to lose their ethnic identity in this melting pot called America. I wonder how the early immigrants dealt with this.

5. What manhood is

The movie had an interesting take. It was some truth mixed with worldly nonsense. I'm in the middle of listening to a great message from Mark Driscoll on manhood. This would be a better source for information about Biblical manhood:

6. The challenges of Father/Son relationships

As far as his son was concerned, Walt had become a means to get tickets to a football game. Walt was to blame, and that was his greatest regret in life.

That should cause us to pause: What are we doing as parents that we'll look back and say, "I wish I would've _________ (or wouldn't have__________)" 

Walt's true friend became Thao. This was a form of redemption, as Thao became the relationship he never had with his sons.

7. The crucifiction scene

Amazing. Notice how he was laid out on the ground.

8. The heaven scene

This was beautiful and stirred so much emotion in me. The image of a road along a beach that never ends. There was no line on the horizon both vertically (the road) and horizontally (the beach), representing eternity.

Walt died so Thao could be free.

9. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

For me, this was the most important take away from the movie. The aftermath of the drive-by shooting scene was unbearable. Everything within me wanted justice. My flesh wanted it now- for Walt and Thao to throw down on those abhorrent thugs.

But in a twist of irony, justice was accomplished through a courageous act of sacrificial love. 

In spite of the aforementioned "heaven" scene, the movie rightly left us with the tension that we experience in this world: joy mixed with sorrow, satisfaction filled with longing, and a hope infused with the sting of loss.

There's so much more to say about this movie... Walt's baggage of guilt for having killed men in war, the role of the priest in Walt's conversion, the power of confessing sin to another human...

I was moved by this movie.  I'm not sure how many readers I have under age 18, but I would definitely ask your parents before you watch this.

Movie #2= Seven Pounds

This was another great movie. Brilliantly told. To me, one of the greatest apologetics for Christianity is guilt. Why do people feel guilty? How do we solve the problem of guilt?

Notice Ben Thomas' job: tax collector. 

Spoiler Warning...

The only way for him to get redemption was to offer himself as a sacrifice to atone for his guilt. 

This was another great movie. Once again we see that Hollywood can't help but telling the Story. It's written on our hearts. 

If the past could only see what we've become

Click the image to enlarge

Monday, June 15, 2009

Harrison Barnes V. Mark Arant

There's this dude in our church that's supposed to be one of the top 3 best players in the world of his class. ("top 3 best" may seem redundant, but it works in this case). A "one and done" as they say. That means one year of college and then the NBA. 

I don't see what all the hype is about, as I clearly held my own against him. I'm thinking about leaving the ministry and entering the draft. NBA, here I come...

At this point, I really think I'm going to swat him. I'm a VERY optimistic person.
Right here I'm thinking, "Wait a minute, how is he still going up and I'm coming down?"
The inevitable result... My consolation, however, is the fact that my jeans and skate shoes didn't launch me to my usual heights.
Me, about to take it to the rack.

Pinned. Blocked. Swatted. That's how it went, but then I got one over him and in. (not this one) I think the one I made almost hit the rafters.

C'mon, give me a little credit for getting close on this.
Then I challenged him to a 3 point contest. This is Cody contesting his shot.
I went 9 for 20. He went 17 for 20. 

Maybe I'll keep my day job after all. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ministry Success

We had a ministry event the other day that totally bombed. I was expecting 70, 100 maybe even 200 people to show up. 

I think 16 showed up. 

That's counting me, the band, the sound guy, janitor, and me again. You know it's bad when you pad the numbers by counting everyone in the room, and then go ahead and count yourself again because you couldn't remember if you started by counting yourself or the person next to you. And of course you don't want to do a recount- since counting 16 people takes soooo long...

And, as every good pastor does,  you round up to the nearest 10.

Let me start over.

We had a ministry event that bombed. About 20 showed up. Now I feel a little better about myself

Truth be told, it's probably the best thing that happened to me all week.

"Successful" would be an appropriate word to describe the ministry I've inherited.

But what, after all, is ministry success?

Was the event with 16 people unsuccessful? If 300 had shown up, would it have been a success? What about the implications for the minister(s)? If more people are coming, does that mean God is more pleased?

I don't think God and I shared the same view of that event. It wasn't a bomb. The only thing that made it unsuccessful was my failure to see the kingdom of God that night. What I didn't tell you about was a particular girl who came. She was not a part of a church, and was clearly looking for relational connection. I totally overlooked her, because I was focused on the wrong things. 

I was stepping on an orphan, as it were, while complaining to God about not giving me more orphans to look after.

So my conclusion in the matter is this....

God's pleasure is not in:
- Our ability to get people to show up at our stuff
- The fact that we are a part of a dynamic ministry
- How many people liked our sermon, or small group discussion, or worship set, or ______

Rather, it's based on something much deeper. As deep as the motives that drive us.

Was I doing this for my glory or His?
Was I driven by the approval of man or God?
Was I faithful?
Did I love God's people?

I still hope more people show up next week.

Happy B-Day Makai

Makai turned two today. 

We went and picked strawberries this morning. He was a big help.
I don't think he managed to get a single strawberry in his bucket.
Happy Birthday "Kai-Boy"!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Really Bad Day by Cameron

Cameron is my little six year old artist. He wrote this fiction story yesterday (see below).
I was bad. I had a bad day. I slept with my gum in my mouth now i'ts in my hair. and when I woke up I put away my clothes. tripped and fell on my skateboard. the END

Here's a Larry Boy picture he sketched the other day...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Bless You, Prison

I was listening to Ed Noble's podcast and I haven't been able to get this quote out of my mind. I have copied it from John Piper's blog (Click here for Piper's whole post on that quote):

It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.... That is why I turn back to the years of my imprisonment and say, sometimes to the astonishment of those about me: “Bless you, prison!” I...have served enough time there. I nourished my soul there, and I say without hesitation: “Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!” (The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, Vol. 2, 615-617)

There's a sense in which all of us need to have a "Bless you, prison" moment. Otherwise we would not be awakened to grace. 

It's not the time for a post on supralapsarianism (click here), but it's amazing how our sin has brought out the fullest expression of God's love, "expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2)

In our prison of sin and bondage comes awakening, repentance and rebirth.

"Bless you, prison, for having been in my life."

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bugs Life

For those of you who aren't parents yet, brace yourself for this kind of conversation:

Ava, Cameron, Beck, Makai (in unison): "Dad!!!!! Get out here!!!!!"

Ava: "It's a praying Mantis"

Cameron: "No they're not" acknowleding these are 2 distinct creatures

Beck: "Dad, why are their butts stuck together?"

Me: "What do you kids think they're doing?"

Cameron: "I think they're making more bugs"

Me: "Yes, Cameron, I think these bugs are having sex."

Four hours later...

Beck: "The bugs still have their butts stuck together. Should we smash them?"

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sanctification Tool: The Rubber Band

Last week some of our TSC staff team went to our annual ministry training meeting in Des Moines.
On the way down I gave the "rubber band" motivational speech. It goes like this...

"In 2002 I went to a conference with Troy Nesbitt. Our friend Jeff Dart happened to be at the conference. I usually would speak for myself, but I'll speak for both of us (Troy and me)- Dart is more like Jesus than us. We sit down at the first session and Troy notices Dart wearing a rubber band on his wrist...

Troy: What's that for?
Dart: Nothing, really.
Troy: You're lying. What is it?
Dart [long pause]: Well, it's a reminder to be teachable and not critical of this conference.
Troy: Oh.

It doesn't take long for Troy to come up with great ways to mock people. So we immediately made a trip to the store, where Troy bought a whole bag of rubber bands. Before the next session, Troy must've put 100 rubber bands on his arm- covering not only his wrist but his whole forearm. It was hilarious.

We did end up keeping one rubber band on our wrists, but the rubber bands merely turned into a weapon to snap each other when we made critical comments.

It's easier to be critical than teachable.
So I was left staring at the rubber band on one wrist, thinking, "Why did I have to give the rubber band speech?!!!!"

...And a watch on the other, "Only 2:09! You can do it, Mark."
Stuff you see in a baptist office...
A boom box from 1982. Apparently the CD hadn't been invented yet when this dude came into existence.

On a serious note.

I was doing my best to be teachable, while still retaining enough pride to make Nebuchadnezzar look humble, when to my shame these men leading this seminar began to serve me. 

One pulled me aside and said, "Mark, whatever you need, let me know, and I'll make sure you get it." He went on to talk about how TSC is the most amazing college ministry he's seen. This guy oversees a lot of campus ministries and has seen a lot in his day. Another of the leaders told me, "Mark, we are not the gifted ones like you guys in ministry. Let us deal with the bureaucracy and paperwork so you don't have to. We are here to serve you."


I was (and still am) ashamed about my critical and proud spirit. The rubber band reminds me that by God's grace I will become a humble and teachable man someday.