Monday, December 5, 2011

The End of Texting; the Beginning of Impact

A lot of people have asked why I dropped my texting plan from my cell phone service.  I wasn't going to announce this, but then after some thought, I decided that just maybe I could let someone else know about the opportunity of giving that God showed me.

You see, God has placed on my heart the unreached people groups of the world.  What does this have to do with dropping text messaging?  Hang with me...  Without going into the full story here--though I'd be thrilled to share with you in person--God has shown me the deception I was living under and also taught me a lot about generosity.  While He is still preparing, pruning, and providing for me to begin being obedient to His global mission call, He showed me ways I can make a difference right now, from where I'm at.  In one respect, He has brought many people groups to us!  In fact, we have a young man from India visiting as a student and attending Compass.  India has been on my heart since learning about the persecution there in April.  This led to Him speaking to my heart to sponsor a child through Compassion International.  It is $38 a month to provide resources to a child so they can attend school, church, and other meaningful activities for physical and spiritual wellness.

So I made the commitment to do so and began searching for areas I could cut back to be a sponsor.  With the advance in Apple's iOS and all the other avenues of communication we have, I decided the $20 per month that cellular providers outrageously charge for texting was a good place to start.  Only a handful of my friends/family use some other device or haven't upgraded, so it really hasn't been too big a deal so far.  If someone is so insistent to communicate by message rather than voice, there's still Twitter, Facebook, email, etc.  It's fine.  A minor inconvenience for a major influence.  Another place I'm cutting is my Netflix service.  They doubled their rates recently, so I'm halving my service.  That's $9.  Finally, I cut the "premium" tier of my U-verse bill, which let me get the Red Zone Channel.  $5 there.  That's $34 total...just about the cost of my sponsorship.

I looked for a couple months for a child, but it was so overwhelming, I kept putting it off.  How could I choose?  Finally, I found a link on the site that said "let us choose for you".  Yes please!  I set the parameters of a boy in India who had been waiting the longest for a sponsor.  I received an 8-year-old boy named Vijay, who lives in northern India.  Google Earth can't quite pin down where he is; the closest I can focus in is 1000 km away.  I just finished writing my first letter to him.  I pray these resources will cause him to know Christ one day soon!

There's been several jokes that I was being snobby about only using Apple's iMessage, and while I do know they were all in good fun, I assure you, I had no such motivation.  And if this post causes you to consider getting in on God's global mission, in this small way, this is something you can do NOW!  Want to know more?  Let's get together!  Holler at me on Twitter, Facebook messenger, email, or iMessage.  Just don't text!  :)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Catan Being Conquered

Y'all probably know I'm a pretty big Settlers of Catan fanatic.  We have a weekly group that plays.  And we were excited to find a new scenario released this week called "Oil Springs".  Basically, there are 3 hexes that now produce oil. Oil can be used to buy 2 resources or build a metropolis (not the same as C&K metropolis). The metropolis lets you collect 3 resources and protects you from flooding (see below). can sequester the oil for conservation, which permanently removes it from the game. Doing so 3 times gives you the "Environmental Champion" card and 1 VP. Using oil, however, causes the environmental disaster calendar to tick forward (like the Barbarians in C&K). When the token reaches the end, disaster strikes and either one hex is PERMANENTLY REMOVED from the game or a flood takes out all settlements along the coast (same effect as volcano). If disaster happens 5 times, Catan becomes uninhabitable and NO ONE WINS THE GAME. WHAT??!?

Of course with new rules comes some challenges and we had some hangups along the way, but I think we've worked out the kinks after a couple rounds.  It was clear that some chose to use the oil to build for themselves, no matter the cost or ramifications.  Not many were in to conserving the oil.  And sure, there are parallels here to reality.  I think that's the point of this scenario.  The guys had fun and we'll play it again!  Hoping for rules to combine with Cities & Knights soon!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Common vs. Holy

We were asked by our small group leader to write an honest email to him of where we are at with totally surrendering to God. There are two huge areas God is working on me right now, and I wanted to share my thoughts on one of them. There is a process of pruning that we all undergo at Christians so that we can be fruitful on the vine that is Jesus Christ. Some of these things are good things, but to make the best fruit possible, even those things may have to go.

There is plenty of opinion on the subject of alcohol consumption amongst Christians, and it is also a subject that places the church in a state of hypocrisy in the eyes of lost people. We can go back and forth all day about if it is right or wrong, but that is not what this post is about. This is about my personal journey and my decision alone. I want that to be clear before going on.

As I've prayed in the last months for God to show me what areas I'm not willing to give up in my journey to totally surrender to Him, this is one that has come up. I've been reading through the Bible each morning and am up to Leviticus. In chapter 10, I came across this passage:

And the LORD spoke to Aaron, saying, "Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations. You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the LORD has spoken to them by Moses."

I see great guidance in this that is still applicable despite being in Old Testament law. The context of this passage is that Aaron was being consecrated as God's priest. When Aaron and his sons were doing God's work--going into the tent of meeting--He commanded them to refrain from consuming alcohol. They needed to set themselves apart from the common practices of the world and the holy practices of God.

I know with certainty that God is pruning me to begin doing His global mission work (and it's about time I surrender to this, too). There are plenty of people who think it is okay to drink, and I'm probably still in that camp. At the risk of oversimplifying my thoughts on it, there are plenty of instances where wine was used in Bible times. But the key here is, I need to be set apart in order to be able to effectively teach/show lost people His Gospel, like Aaron and His sons were to teach Israel the Law. There's not a priest anymore that speaks for and to God on our behalf. Effectively, we ARE the priest. You could even say that we ARE the tent of meeting now, because God dwells in us. It probably sounds contradictory to say I'm still okay with alcohol consumption and yet we need to be set apart, but what I'm trying to say is, a social drink is okay to me (obviously dependence upon or excess consumption of alcohol is a sin), but I'm probably not going to partake of it for this reason of Him calling me to be set apart.

We have the express freedom to do whatever we want. That's the free will God gave us. But just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should. God may have placed things on this earth that are available for our enjoyment, but that doesn't mean it is always beneficial for us to partake of it.  For me, it's not about what I think I deserve or am allowed to have anymore. The Bible speaks to this in Galatians:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

There is also the oft-quoted verse about being a stumbling block. Those words have become a cliche-Christian term. But I think the verse reinforces the concept set in Leviticus about separating the common and holy.

But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

I'm not sure how else to describe the consumption of alcohol except the word "common". It's like anything in the world that people do and don't give it a second thought, such as cussing. We can say "it's just a word; people defined the evilness of the word, not God. It's what is in your heart that counts, so if you don't say it in anger, you're okay." Well, I think that is a very superficial assessment in an Americanized Christianity. And boy, do I have a long way to go in reassessing my choices and fighting the engrained notions we have about things.

This idea of common vs. holy is not to make us "holier than thou". I believe it is so people can see the difference Christ makes in a very tangible, visible way. Want to use the argument that people should see Christians properly enjoying such things in moderation? That may be true, but I would counter that most, if not all, of the people in that category are "weak" or lacking in faith and for me, the risk is too great of them seeing no difference Christ has made, seeing hypocrisy and turning away from Christ, or seeing no need to change the way they are living and thus have no need of Christ. Once my "freedom" to drink causes any of those happen, I have failed miserably and sinned against God.  I'm not turning up my nose at people who choose to drink, but I do want to use every opportunity I can to explain the difference Christ has made and why I don't need anything else. We replace the common with the holy:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

I'm afraid of this decision, to be honest. I don't know how my friends are going to react. But in the past few months, as I've mostly abstained while I work through this process, I've been met with resistance and pressure. But these things cannot concern me. It is for me to be obedient to God's calling and move forward with His good work for His glory. Christ did not spend His three years sugar-coating His message and delivering sermons that made people feel better about themselves.  He used every opportunity to say, "I've come to bring you life if you'll follow me, and in order to do that, you must be totally surrendered."  That undeserved life He gave me can only be responded to with complete obedience.  Oh, I have such a long way to go, but God is at work.  I pray for the obedience to follow.  His Gospel must be spread for His glory.  At the end of the day, that's all that matters.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Barefoot in the Grass!

Dug up this panoramic I made of my backyard before I got my trees cut down last November.  So I went outside and took another of what it is now!  Amazing difference in 8 months.  I'm so proud of it and grateful for everyone who helped me with it.  Be sure to click on them to see the full size.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Changing the Way We Do Church

6000 unreached people groups.  Of those, 3800 are unengaged.  The number is staggering and yet I believe it to be numbers that can be easily defeated.  By definition, unreached means that less than 2% of the population of the people group is Christian.  Unengaged means no one has taken the Gospel to them.  These people are born, live, and die never hearing the Good News.  In our day and age:  unacceptable.  And no matter what the Rob Bells may say about these people who have never heard the Gospel, those who do not trust in the Lord Jesus will be separated from God for eternity, and it falls on us to make sure they hear the Word of God.

Less than 2% of all Christian churches in the US--or only 10% of the 40,000 Southern Baptist churches--need adopt ONE unreached, unengaged people group.  Why can we not do this?  We are too inwardly focused.  We're comfortable.  We check off our religious boxes and find contentment there.  We pride ourselves in our programs and productions that bring people into the door and pat ourselves on the back saying "look how many we reached!"  And I'm not saying that God can't use those things.  What I am saying is that we need to change our focus, our purpose for coming together each week.

Even at my own church, we do many good things, but I'm realizing that we're still missing the mark!  I myself am the leader of the team responsible for putting some "wow" factor into our services!  But we can get to point that our lights and our PowerPoints and our techno-geewhiz substitute for the simple and effective power of God in a worship service.  Then we become reliant on those things and use those things to try and draw people in.  All those resources are wasted because the truth is we don't need them!  God's power alone is sufficient!  Yes, there are things that we use to help deliver the message:  a sound system is necessary, stage lighting is needed, video work helps us reach more people in the space we have.  My point is, every decision I make going forward will be based on the effectiveness and need to help promote God's Word and if it does not, then it is a waste and we are being poor stewards, and I can't let that happen any longer.

I'm also convinced that our teaching, our preaching, our discipleship and fellowship...all of it needs a new focus.  EVERYTHING we do must be geared toward equipping and preparing the members of the church to go and take the Good News to the ends of the earth.  Everything.  You might say, well some people just aren't at that point in their walk yet.  I firmly believe that whether it is a class that simply walks a new believer through the Bible from beginning to end, or a study on a passage or character, or a seasoned study about cannot stop with us.  When we go into a class or hear a sermon, we must do so to use that wisdom to help reach the unreached.  We take what we learned and teach it to the next person.  And as a natural by-product we ourselves are becoming filled with the Word and our lives DO change and grow.  The life-application is happening underneath automatically!  But the point is, it can't stop there!

The same is true of the sermon time, of community group time.  You might say that life application studies are good, and I would agree!  But hang with me....  These are the corporate and intimate moments when we need to be equipped with God's Word.  But the American church has watered down the Gospel.  We've made it the point to get people in and out of the door.  We've got all our Christian cliches to make the Gospel easy:  say your A-B-C prayer of salvation, walk down the aisle, congratulations you're saved, now live differently!  I like how it was put by one pastor:  this is kool-aid Christianity.  In the three short years Christ had to teach his disciples, He spent that time telling them how much it would cost to be His follower.  That they had to give up anything and everything.  That their love for Him had to be so great that the love they had for their families had to look like hate.  And that the prize would be worth it all!  To God's glory!

People just aren't going to be saved during Sunday morning invitation time.  I say that superlatively, because it can happen, but the point I'm trying to make is, we are commanded to go out and spread the Gospel.  So let the evangelism occur outside the walls of our buildings!  Here's what I'm trying to say at last:  let our teaching and preaching be geared toward the Christian so that it equips us for the work we have to do, and then we'll know how to build a relationship with a person, perhaps meet some physical need that will open doors, and allow God's Spirit to use the Truth we speak to draw them to Him.  In other words, the time for us to focus on the nonbeliever is the other ~166 hours of the week.  Then they'll come on Sunday and join the ranks of believers in pursuit of spreading the Gospel to the next person.  And it goes on and on and on.  Yes, it's important to present the Gospel on Sunday morning, but let's also put more of our efforts into equipping the church to go out and less on sugar-coating the Gospel with this "Jesus will make you feel better" tactic, with no follow-up or teaching of what it really means to be a Christ-follower.  This is the reason the church exists.  Not to sit in Sunday School or hear a good message that convicts us or makes us feel better or "we learned a little more about God today".  Until we use the Word we are learning and put it into action, it is dead faith!  Worthless.  Disobedience.  And I'm so afraid for the countless number of people who have been filling pews and will stand before the Righteous Judge thinking their eternity secure but hear the words "depart from me, I don't know you" (Matt 7:21-23).

Not one person who has Christ truly in their heart can look at the Great Commission and turn away.  That's because your "want to" is saved too, and yes, we all have insecurities and reservations and fear, but at the end of the day DO WE TRUST GOD?  You can't say "that's someone else's job" or "I'll give money for someone else to go".  The Christian on "spiritual milk" or eating "spiritual meat", the call is the same.  We can't ignore it any longer.  We are each and every follower of Christ called to go.  And I believe we can fulfill the Great Commission in our time.  There is risk, sacrifice, uncertainty.  But there's also reward!  God's glory and a share in His eternal inheritance for each of His children.  I'm reading through the Bible while watching a 52-week study on His redemption story.  The Bible has opened up to me in a new way and when I think about what God did for me, why would I not want to give him all praise and honor and glory?

I think about the things I have, the life I live.  By pure grace I'm where I'm at.  I ask myself each morning, am I willing to give it up?  What's the most important thing here?  That I'll offend someone?  I have a feeling that won't go over well when God asks me what I did with His Son.  That I was afraid of getting sick, injured, or dying?  What's the worst they can do, take my physical body?  God has my soul; NOTHING can take that away from Him.  The Christ I have come to know in these past months of rapid and explosive growth is worth it and demands it.  And when I really get down to it, when I truly conceive and believe in His love for me, how can I respond any differently?  Can we do it?  Yes, God.  Let it begin with me!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

I'm On a Boat

It's been a long time since January when my friends and I booked a vacation on the Carnival Elation.  But it has finally come and gone and been one of the best experiences I've had.  We had a 9 hour drive to Mobile, AL.  We weren't sure how far we'd get on the drive, but did make it all way.  So along the way I reserved us a hotel.  The last time I stayed in a hotel, it was a La Quinta...pretty nice and good price.  So I reserved at another one this time.  Oh boy was that a bad idea.  It wasn't anything like the nice La Quinta I stayed at before.  Pretty sketchy, but we survived.  The next morning we had some time, so we visited the USS Alabama museum.  Very cool, even if we did have to hurry through.  I can tell I would never be cut out for the Navy.

We arrived to the port and quickly got into a hurry up and wait mode.  It took a little over two hours to board.  The VIP boarding was looking really good, but not worth the extra expense of a suite to get it.  We boarded, ate (of course), and headed to the top deck to see off the US!

The Elation is one of the smaller ships in the Carnival line, but I loved it that way.  I was pleasantly surprised to not find just mobs of people everywhere, constantly.  We ate at formal dining every night and shared a table with a great family from Destin, Fl.  They were seasoned cruisers and had some good tips for us, including a great deck to go lay out on where a lot of people didn't go.  That ended up being my spot and there were never more than a dozen people up there; plus it had a full view of the deck stage for the shows and games.  Perfect!

The view from the deck I lounged on most of the time.
I participated in a couple of activities like trivia and karaoke.  Went to all the evening shows.  They were good, if not a little amateurish.  Of course, I had lots of critiques for their technical aspects.  But the cast and crew did a good job.

Formal dining was always fun.  The ladies we sat with--Nanna, Jan, and Cara--were awesome.  One night of the cruise is "elegant night", so we dressed up.  Well, Nanna had a few too many martinis prior to dinner and was an absolute riot.  She couldn't stop laughing at anything and everything.  After dinner, we went to karaoke and I decided to sing "Shameless" to her.  That was definitely the most fun night we had.  I did karaoke the next night too.  I ended up singing "Dream On" and it was way higher than I expected it to be.  But I just made light of it, got the audience laughing, and really had them rolling when I hit those extra high "dream on!" notes at the end. HA!

The food was endless.  Buffets were open 24/7.  The dining room menu was always an interesting experience.  Didn't try too many new things, like escargot.  But it was always quite tasty.  Desserts were especially "nice".  :)

Our first port of call was Progreso.  We booked a tour of the Chichen Itza ruins from the Mayan Empire.  It is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  The tour had a little information but was more about selling us things than anything else.  And some of those vendors are aggressive!  The 52m temple is unbelievable in its construction.  Its structure is based on the calendar and on the solstices, it will cast the perfect shadow of a serpent.  There's actually a smaller temple within the outer one!  No climbing on the ruins anymore, but I didn't mind...I'd rather they be preserved.  The ruins have some crazy acoustics.  Clapping can create an endless reverberating echo or produce a completely different sound.  Other buildings included a ball court, a sacrificial alter, and the royal court.

Temple of Kukuikan - the structure and steps are all "tuned" to the calendar.
Ball Court - players used anything but their hands to knock a ball into the hoops (you can see on the sides).  The WINNER (yes, winner) got sacrificed.
Royal Court
Underground river exposed by a sink hole.  This river sustained the Mayan culture, who disappeared for unknown reasons.  But the peoples and language still exist as a blend of Mayan and Mexican.

We had just enough time for the tour before having to reboard Elation.  It was a 2 hour trip out, 2 hours to look around, 2 hours back.  That was my only negative feeling about the trip...that we didn't have more time in ports.

The next morning we arrived in Cozumel.  There ended up being four Carnival ships in port that day, so I was SO thankful to not have booked a Carnival Cruise excursion.  Instead, we learned of Eagle Ray Divers for scuba diving through some friends that had been there.  What an experience!  There were only four of us on the boat.  We had about an hour long lesson, then had to do some check-offs in shallow water.  Then our guide took us down about 40 ft.  There we saw all sorts of colorful fish and coral.  I wish I had some pictures, but the underwater camera did not perform well.  After the first dive, we easily decided we wanted to go again.  This time we went out to the edge of the reef where the ocean drops down 1500 ft.  The current there was unbelievable.  But it was an amazing view; we even saw a couple sting rays!

After diving, we only had an hour until we had to board again.  Again, our time limitation sucked.  I really wish they would stay a night in port.  But anyway, we asked where a great place to get some authentic Mexican food and our guide pointed us to the right spot.  We each got a platter with a sample of everything and were stuffed.  Quick souvenir shopping and we were boarding back on Elation.

L to R: baked plantains, black beans, chicken, guacamole, taco, beef, taquito, quesadilla
On the last day at sea, I got to go on a behind the scenes tour of the boat.  It is a pretty exclusive thing; only 16 people can pay to do so.  It was definitely worth it!  We started out in the galley and saw how all the food preparation and serving takes place.  A common perception of cruises is the amount of food waste they have, which is true to an extent, but Carnival does a good job not over-preparing.  And food scraps from plates gets ground up and dumped in the ocean for fish food!

We saw the linen and laundry area.  They have HUGE machines that dry/press/fold the linens.  They had already done over 5,000 when we came through around 9:30 am.  We saw the trash/incinerator area, storage, bulk food prep.  Then we went to the engine control room.  Lots of guards while we were there.  The Officer of the Watch spoke to us for a while.  Unfortunately, they can't allow people in the engine rooms anymore, but we saw them on monitors.  The Elation was the first ship to be built with propellors that can spin 360 degrees.  So no need for a tug boat!  On the front of the boat is a water propulsion system that sucks water in one side and pushes it out the other.  Also, the whole ship runs on six generators.

We walked through the crew areas and dining.  There are five separate dining rooms for them:  staff, crew, officers, senior officers, and captain.  At worst, crew members have to share a room with one other person.  They serve anywhere from four to eight months at the time on the ship, with two months off.  We then went up to the bridge and met the Captain, First Officer, Junior Officer, and Quartermaster.  The Captain's position is very much aloof.  They couldn't show us where his quarters or dining room were or really anything about him, other than his role on the ship, which is mainly as an adviser when the First Officer needs help.  They drive the whole ship with a joystick no bigger than one on a game controller, which is kind of crazy to think about.  They have the same set of controls on either side of the bridge for docking.  Most of the time, it is on autopilot.

We then went to the backstage area of the theater, which you know I loved.  And we ended on the crew's deck and lounge.  Tour over and lunch consumed, I headed to the deck, as was my tendency to do on "at sea" days.  It was awesome just to lay there and read or do nothing.  But toward the afternoon, I started getting really tired from all the sun from the week.  I headed to the spa area and cooled off in an amazing shower that shoots water at you from 5 directions.

Debarkation happened sooner than we expected the next morning.  We were barely out of bed when they called our deck to start moving to start heading off.  Through customs, which went about as quick as you can anticipate, and a long drive home.  It really was a great time, we had perfect weather, met some awesome people.

If you want to see all my pictures (to be honest, I didn't take many), head here.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?'  And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.' - Matthew 7:21-23

Does this unsettle anyone beside me?  Have you ever even read it and seriously pondered it?  There are so many things I want to say and can barely keep organized in my mind.   It scares me to death and I express myself so much better in writing than speaking, so here I go.

Last Friday, I participated in a simulcast of "Secret Church".  The author of a book I recently studied talked about how on mission journeys around the world, he would meet in secret locations with people where the Church is not allowed.  These people would be so hungry for the Word, he would end up talking for hours and hours, often in a closet-sized room with a single light bulb.  That is the premise of an organization he founded to equip people to take God's Word out to the world.  On Good Friday, a six hour intense study of the Gospel was given.  And if you saw any of my tweets, you know how profound those six hours were to me.  I've never heard the Gospel presented so powerfully and authentically.

See, the thing is, I don't think I ever really got it.  I believe Jesus died for me and I am saved by grace, but have I ever really connected with that?  I don't think so.  And I didn't expect to in the span of six hours on April 22, 2011.  But I did.

Why am I so mired in the same old sin that entraps me on a daily basis?  Why am I only obedient in the things I want to be--and only then out of obligation--and disobedient in others?  Why have the things that I do for my church become routine and job-like?  Why doesn't my want-to want to?

Because I haven't let what God did for me really hit home.  I have not let it embrace my full being.  I accepted it as fact and came to a rational conclusion.  But the truth is, God is completely irrational in human perspective.

God created me to love Him and abide in Him and yet in one moment we destroyed that relationship with sin.  He is holy, so He can have no part of me as a sinner; He is wrathful and so abhors me for being a sinner; and yet He loves me so deeply He made a way to reconcile me to Him.  And not only does he justify me, He calls me His son!  WHAT?!

For 18 years, I have called myself a follower of Christ.  But what exactly have I been following?  What kind of Americanized model have I allowed to influence me and so keep me from experiencing the true love and freedom of God that comes from being completely abandoned to Him? How has the message gotten so watered down that I became satisfied with the status quo?

My eyes have been opened to the way we have trivialized the Gospel.  We've made so many aspects of God to be one way or the other, when in fact--in all His mysteriousness--He can be both!  Jesus was both 100% God and 100% man!  God both hates sinners (yes, not just the sin...the sinner) and loves them!  We are free to choose God (free will) yet He also chooses us (predestination)!  We've developed an A-B-C Gospel that tells people "just say a prayer and you're good", when in reality, that is far from the truth.  It is so much more than walking down the aisle at the invitation.  It is repentance!  It is faith!  It is obedience!   Just look at those verses in Matthew 7!

I don't know about you, but I can't tolerate the American Church anymore, where we argue over programs, money, and music styles while our brothers and sisters around the world are literally dying just on the chance of getting together and hearing the Word!  I want to be hungry for the Word like they are.  I want to risk everything like they do.  I can't just dress up, sit passively in a pew on Sundays, check my religious boxes, say that it is someone else's role to go, and be content with my Christianity anymore!  I'm afraid those are the Matthew 7 people that are going to be shocked when they stand before the Lord.

No, what Jesus told the people who wanted to follow Him was that in order to do so, they would have to be totally sold out to Him.  In the three years he ministered, He said nothing about ABC prayers or coming forward after the sermon while people sing "Softly and Tenderly".  He assertively told them what it would take to be His follower.  No mincing of words, no pithy Christian cliches, no cute programs, no fancy productions.  He said that their love for Him had to be so great that the love they had for their parents, siblings, or kids had to look like hate in comparison!  That they had to be willing to give up anything and everything.

That's the most terrifying thing to me!  Ha, fear of snakes has nothing on my fear of giving up what I have and am.  I'm comfortable with my life.  I like the things I have!  I don't like the notion that at any moment Jesus could tell me to give some or all of it up!  I'm so shallow, I even worry that God could convict me to stop watching certain TV shows!  But why have I felt that way? How can I say I'm a follower of Jesus if I think that way?  I can't!

David Platt, the teacher at Secret Church, said that if I am settling for anything less than Christ, then my desires are too weak.  So true!  For years and years, I've become more and more discouraged that I would never be able to conquer the sin in my life.  I've turned to these things to satisfy a hole that can only be satisfied by Christ!  I know that is the cause of my distant relationship with God.  And in those night hours of study on Good Friday, I came to understand that it is because I never trusted God to change my desires.  I can't afford to do that any longer!  Praise to God, for the first time in my life, I feel like there is hope!  God has made me right, calls me His son, and will help me persevere!  Do you know how much this excites me?  I don't feel like my words here are expressing it quite right.  I can't quite explain what clicked inside me, but it did.

18 years, I have led a passive Christian lifestyle.  I've focused on my rights and privileges, when really I have none.  Everything I have and am belongs to God.  I'm beginning to understand that I'm okay with that!  I'm saying that in the space of this Easter weekend, I am a changed man.  I can truly feel it.  And a passion has awakened in me.  There are people out there that need to know this Good News that has given me a sense of purpose and belonging and love.  I'm uncertain of what I need to do and I don't even know how to do it.  But I can feel deep inside me the stirring of a God-sized plan for me.  I look at the ways that God has blessed me in the past years--even mired in sin and disobedient as I was--to shape me for this moment.  To enable me to do what it is He is planning for me.  I'm terrified of how other people--even my family and friends--will react.  I don't handle rejection well.  I've always been a doer and considered myself successful in my endeavors.  But I'm also afraid of pride and arrogance settling in; two of my biggest character flaws.  I'm also praying that this isn't some emotional high.

But my faith in Christ has been renewed like it never has been and I know that if I truly believe it, then I'm going to live obediently--not out of obligation, but out of love.  If I truly believe it, then overflowing fruit is going to spill from my life.  Works are evidence of true faith, after all!  And if I truly believe it, then I can't contain it within me; I've got to go out and share it.

I have no idea what all this means.  But consider this your fair warning, as my family and friends:  all I know is, I have to go!

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Debate About Glee

I had a great conversation with a coworker about this week's episode of Glee, particularly relating to Kurt's storyline this season. A lot has been said about the "gay agenda" on the show this season.  The thing is, this show intentionally portrays "misfits". Fat, nerd, handicapped, gay, hoe, emo, stupid, etc. Anyone not considered normal by the mob. We all know high school can be very cruel. This show celebrates being different. And one thing to also notice is that every misfit portrayed has at least one person who accepts them and in an over-the-top way (Puck's crush on the overweight girl, anyone?).

But out of all those words I just listed, which is really the hot-topic, taboo issue? Gay, right? So that's what we are inclined to debate the portrayal of the most. It's also the issue that most resonates with the show's creator, Ryan Murphy. I've discussed how Murphy is "preaching to the choir". Most people who watch the show are probably already okay with homosexuality as a lifestyle for those who choose it. But now I'm thinking that's not who Murphy is targeting at's this young generation who maybe haven't solidified what they think just yet.  My issue is that Murphy is trying so hard, I find it a little unbalanced.  The Santana/Brittany storyline a couple weeks ago seemed completely out of the blue!  Sometimes it feels like everyone is going to come out.  Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if Mr. Shue does, after all his lady problems.  And the whole Karofsky bullying storyline sends out this strong message that if you are a homophobe, you must really be a closet gay.  What most viewers are at odds with in Kurt's character, and why he has become so unlikable, is that he is guilty of being just as intolerant of straight people as he thinks everyone is of him.  I don't have to remind anyone of the uncomfortable scenes of him sharing a bedroom with Finn, the intolerance to his friends wanting to pray for his dad when he was sick, or the wedding that ended up being all about him instead of his dad and Finn's mom.  Everyone has to conform to him; he is always the character who has done nothing wrong.  Pop culture, big hits like this DO have tremendous influence, so if it were me and I wanted to teach tolerance to my viewers through diversity, then yes, I would change a few things.  Kurt HAS misstepped several times in his pursuit to end his persecution, and I would have him come to realize his own intolerance.

But here's the thing we have to remember:  EVERYTHING is over the top about this show, including the representation of said "misfits". One example: on this week's episode the Kathy Griffin character--one of the judges at Regionals-- was an obnoxious ultra-conservative, Sara Palin-esque character. For one second, I thought, "nope, I'm finally done with this show." I really did. I did not like the portrayal of a Christian to be so overly and negatively painted; her line seemed way too forced anyway. Why the need to throw in a line about her not agreeing with gay people getting married and implying they are going to hell in a discussion about who should win a singing competition? That's Murphy trying too hard!  (And by the way, being gay does not lead to separation from God--or hell; not having a relationship with Jesus Christ does.)  But then I decided, EVERYONE is portrayed that way. Look no further than Sue Sylvester for that evidence. She's throwing students down stairs, shooting them out of cannons, and verbally/physically abusing them in the halls on a daily basis.  These would all obviously be criminal acts in real life.  It is just that *I* am particularly sensitive to the Christian character portrayal. I personally wish every Christian would be known more for what they DO stand for than don't, but the reality is quite the opposite. Griffin's character was portraying that reality in Glee's way.

At the end of the day, Glee's message is about celebrating diversity and it's medium is through over-the-top comedy. That means it is going to cross a "comfort line" once in a while and it is up to each person to decide if that is worth the value of the entertainment they are receiving. This season has pushed me almost to that limit, admittedly, from--my opinion--the unbalanced tolerance storyline of Kurt. But the entertainment I get from everything else Glee does so well is enough to keep me in and enjoy it! And so I will!

Friday, February 18, 2011

HB 1002

Friends and family of Arkansas, we need your help.  This is a serious request.  I don't want to go so far as to say "if you love me, you'll do this" but this is a pretty severe problem being faced by state colleges.  As you know, I work for one of those colleges.

The issue is with bill HB 1002.  The name is the "Capital Gains Reduction Bill of 2011".  It just passed the House by 53 votes.  If this passes the Senate, state-funded colleges will lose an estimated 5-10% of their funding.

I don't think I have to tell you that in an economic climate where more people have returned to school, this is not the time to cut college funding.  At PTC, we have seen record enrollment of over 11,000 students.  As my friend, you may be aware of the extra classes that I had to teach last semester and how stressing and awful it was to have a full time administrative job plus an overload's worth of teaching.  Without administrative duties, a full load is three sciences; I taught five.  Well, most of our instructors will be forced into overload schedules because we will not be able to hire to meet the demand.  That means quality of our instruction goes down.  Our student services and administration is already taxed; our computer systems can't stay online on the busy days.  We simply can't keep our heads above water.

I'm asking you to write your state Senator.  Urge him/her to vote against this bill.  If you don't know who your Senator is, click here.  Please don't just read this and do nothing.  This will affect me on a personal and daily level.

Here is the letter I wrote my senator, if you'd like an example:
Dear Senator Johnson,

I am writing to simply urge you to vote against HB1002, which just
passed the House with 53 votes.  I work in administration for Pulaski
Technical College.  We have experienced explosions of student growth
during these more difficult economic times.  We have barely contained
the record 11,000 students.  Faculty are teaching overload schedules,
administration and staff struggle to stay above water with support
requests; there are days when the computer systems fail because so many
people are on the servers.  If this bill passes and we lose an estimated
5-10% of our state funding, I don't want to even imagine the results. 
The quality of our service and instruction to students will suffer. 
This is a time we need to be expanding our workforce, our student
support services, and our economic development, not reducing it.

Thank you for your time,

Benjamin Peacock
Little Rock, AR
I was surprised to get a reply back within 10 minutes!  Here is what he said:
Benjamin, thanks for writing. I agree with you and plan to vote against the bill. David
I'm by no means any kind of activist, but internal emails from the upper echelons of PTC have notified us about the seriousness of this bill.  I'm just asking for a few minutes of your time to help us out.  Thank you.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Last Friday, a buddy and I went to the mall and happened to stop by the Teavana store.  I made the mistake of saying "yes" to "would you like a sample" as we walked by.  That turned into a 30 minutes spiel, but it ended up being pretty interesting.  And wow, were those teas tasty.  See the problem, apparently, is that we have been hoodwinked by big tea companies to think that what we all typically drink as tea is really tea.  The difference in a Lipton tea bag tea and what they were brewing was immediately apparent.  Tea is meant to be steeped open leaf, not in little bags with ground up leaves.  I believe it.

Teavana was a little pricey for me; if I had bought everything the guy wanted to sell me, it would have easily topped $400.  They had cast iron pots (that get seasoned with each brew) and matching serving sets.  That was about $300.  Then he scooped out what I told him was my favorite tea--apparently a rarer Chinese white tea--which would have been another $100.  o_O  Yes, it was something like $20 per ounce!

I thanked him for his time, told him I am not really an impulse buyer, and explained that I would need time to think and research.  I happen to watch a tech podcast where the host is really into tea.  He even took a vacation to China last year just to sample local teas.  He really knows his stuff.  He recommended a site called Adagio.  I read their lessons on tea and found it quite interesting, actually.  Here are some of my notes (yes, I took notes): 

Tea, properly, comes from the plant Camellia sinesis.  There are three components to the plant that make the tea.  The essential oils, which give tea its aroma and flavor; the polyphenols, which give tea its astringency and health benefits (which are numerous); and caffeine, which gives an energy boost.  Tea comes in many categories, but there are four main families of them:  white, green, oolong, and black tea.  Each is processed a little differently.  Organic materials undergo oxidation, which more or less causes decay.  White teas are unprocessed, so they keep their fine white filaments on the leaves--thus the name.  They are allowed to oxidize very little, and as a result, are the highest in antioxidants.  Green teas are also oxidized very little but undergo a series of steaming, pan-firing, and/or rolling.  Oolong teas undergo the same processes and are allowed to oxidize anywhere from 20-80%.  And finally black teas are processed like oolong but are allowed to oxidize almost completely.  There is also a class commonly referred to as herbal teas, but they aren't technically teas.  They are called "tisanes" and are caffeine free.  The variety of tisane blends is a bit overwhelming to me right now, but it can be flower, fruit, leaves....whatever can be steeped.

Proper brewing of tea should consist of pure, filtered water.  Approximately 2 teaspoons of tea per 6 oz water.  The water should be boiling for black, oolong, and herbal teas; about 185 F for green and white teas.  Steeping time is about 3-5 minutes for black and oolongs; 2 minutes for green and white teas.  I'm not quite sure what these descriptors mean--seems kind of relative--but they note that "delicate" teas can be enjoyed with seafood, salads, and chicken.  "Bright" teas are best with meat and spicy foods.  "Rich" teas for desserts".  And "Pu Erh" teas for digestive and calming effects at the end of the day.

I'm pretty excited to get into this, if the samples I had at the mall were any indication.  I'll let you know how the tasting goes when my supplies arrive!  I welcome the opportunity to cut back on my caffeine intake, but I don't think I'll quite give up on my "grande white mocha, extra hot, no whip" addiction just yet.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A Case for Cutting Cable...Or Not?

I've toyed with the idea of cutting cable and going with an internet-based TV model and wanted to do the numbers on if it would be worth it.  Let's face it, the DVR has revolutionized the way we watch TV.  It used to be that a station's decision to air a show at a certain time dictated when you had to be home to watch.  Now, I know plenty of people who--even if they are home--wait at least 15 minutes into the show so they can fast forward commercials.  I'm the same way. The only time I ever see commercials is during live sporting events.

There's a couple of other annoying factors.  First is the sporadic breaks that networks take between new episodes.  Especially when a show is heavily serialized, like Lost, it is frustrating to have to wait for, say, sweeps month.  (That's when ratings dictate how much networks will charge for ads based on viewership.)  Some networks heard this cry and the old model of starting the new season in September and running it through May is slowly dying.  Shows like "Lost" and "24" began mid-season (January/February) and ran straight through.  Networks are also introducing new shows staggered throughout the year.  But with a new show, who wants to invest themselves in it and it end up being canceled?

Not only are commercials loud and annoying, but so are the in-show lower third banners.  They are becoming downright distracting and obtrusive.  I watched three seasons of "Big Bang Theory" on DVD to catch up with the current fourth season.  Nice and clean.  Just the show.  Now that I'm watching live, I'm completely disgusted with the network's self-promoting banner ads.  Unfortunately, they are becoming bigger and more frequent BECAUSE we are DVRing and skipping their commercials.

Technology has made it so we have a choice in how and where we view our favorite shows now.  The market is still young and in flux, so who knows what this will look like a year from now, even.  But here's what I would consider except for a couple of problems.  You may think the problem is no DVR, but it's not.  I'll refer to it later.

Cut cable.  The first thing you can do is watch your local channels in high definition over the air. In fact, that is the best quality you can get.  There is no compression from the cable provider.  You'll catch a lot of sports, news, etc.  Yes, you lose the DVR for shows but just wait on that.

Add Hulu Plus for $7.99/month.  This gives you access to limited-ad supported, whole seasons of shows on the major networks.  This effectively acts like a DVR.  You just have to wait 24 hours before the show is available on Hulu.  There's usually 4-5 30 second ads per hour long show.  Hulu is expanding where you can watch, instead of just a computer.  It's on all game consoles and i-devices.  It's also coming to Boxee (a set-top box that allows you to connect to internet "channels" on your TV).  $7.99 is a lot easier to swallow than $79.99, huh?

To supplement Hulu, go with Netflix, which begins with a streaming-only plan at $7.99.  Netflix is so popular, it accounts for 20% of internet traffic in the US at peak times.  That's enormous.  I've only recently tried streaming, when it was added to the PS3.  I'm watching the entire back-catalog of Stargate SG-1 right now.  The first few seasons are only in 4:3 standard definition, so it looks fine on my TV.  But when I've tried to watch a 16:9 SD stream, it was awful.  I'm very interested to see how HD streaming is going to look.  For a few dollars more, you can add disc rental and you gain the ability to watch episodes of a season of your show back-to-back rather than live.  Of course, you have to wait months and won't get to talk at the water cooler with your coworkers about what happened on last night's episode.  I like to talk about shows, so that is a concern for me, but then again, that's where Hulu comes in.  Netflix is for those shows not on Hulu.

Well, now it is time to address the problem I have with this model.  Live sports.  Obviously, you still have the over-the-air local channels, but there are a lot of sports on cable networks like ESPN and Fox Sports.  Well, I see two options right now.  1) Boxee has an ESPN3 channel, which effectively takes care of most of cable's sports.  2) You can buy internet packages for each sport.  Some you get the whole season, every team.  Others you can pick a few teams.  A few examples:  Baseball has MLB.TV, which I found for $99.95 for the entire 2011 season. NBA has a package for $64.95 for all season.  NHL has one for $119.95 for 40 games/week all season.  Unfortunately, the NFL has no internet package due to their exclusive all-access pack with DirecTV.

The quality of the streams would be a concern for me, which is my second problem.  Everyone knows I love hockey; it would be a concern for me if the stream was not in HD.  But not just that, all of the streams from Hulu or Netflix that aren't available in HD, whereas they are with cable.

So let's look at the cost savings here.  That's probably the primary concern.  I pay $74 per month for HD cable and $45 for high speed internet with U-Verse.  That's $1,428 a year.  If we cut the cable and bump up the internet to ensure we get good speed, internet will go to $55 per month.  Add $7.99 for Hulu Plus and $11.99 for a one-disc/streaming Netflix plan (with Blu-Ray, of course).  That's $899 per year without any sports packs.  So savings are $529 or about 34%.  However, I would want baseball and hockey, so we have to add in $99.95 and $119.95, bringing my yearly total to $1119.66.  That's only saving $309 or 21%.

So now I've written this long blog post to only find out the savings for me is probably not enough to justify what will probably be a loss in quality by streaming across the board.  The $309 is arguably worth keeping a DVR, maintaining HD quality, and having the ease of just turning on the cable box.  But if you aren't as picky as me about HD quality and don't need the sports packs, you can potentially save a lot of money. Of course, if you don't already own a gaming console that can do these things, you'll have to buy one which will eat into those savings the first time.

This ended up being a pretty indecisive post, but truthfully I was writing it live as I researched. I didn't know how it would turn out when I began it.  Turns out, it is probably easier to just keep cable for now.  Ha.