Stand by Me

What incredible times we live in, both creatively and technologically speaking, that a project like this is possible! If you have a creative mind, a decent computer, and a camera...almost anything is possible!


Hooray for #502!!!

I wanted to have a special 500th WIDE OPEN post, but I missed it. Dangit! So I'd like to take this opportunity to celebrate my 502nd post. It's been quite a ride so far. Here's to hoping you're still reading when I hit the 1,004th post!


I Love Baptisms!

I had the honor of baptizing two Living Hopers this weekend. Since we're a "portable" church, we normally conduct our baptisms in a swimming pool. That is nice and has a really fun vibe to it, but this time we borrowed a portable baptistry from another church. It was nice having the whole congregation share in that experience and making it another element of our worship service. It just made our worship service feel electric. We baptized Justin and M'Lisa and it was awesome!

Baptisms are my favorite thing that I get to do as a pastor. I'll never
 understand why some people show resistance to being baptized. I've talked to several people over the years that don't see the need in it and refuse to do it. They state that theologically it's not necessary to their salvation and so to require it is legalistic or something. I think for many it's a reaction to the theology that says salvation comes through baptism.

But here's the deal. JESUS COMMANDED IT. If you're a Christ-follower, why are you questioning something that Jesus commanded and even participated in himself. Are you above Jesus' commands? Are you somehow better than Jesus, reasoning that even though he was baptized, it's not something you need to do? I know that salvation doesn't come through any "magical" properties in the water. I know that theologically, all we need to be saved is God's grace and our faith. But if Jesus commands it, sets a personal example for it, that's grounds enough for me to call it necessary.

I think it boils down to this - SUBMISSION. If Jesus is really your Lord, submit to him. If you have really committed your life to following him, quit trying to find loopholes. 

If you love him...GET WET!


Alright one more movie review. Last week when I visited my friend Rich at Pixar, I felt really guilty because I hadn't seen Wall-E and he was showing me all this super-cool Wall-E stuff. He kept saying, "This is that thing from this part,...oh yeah, you haven't seen it." It was like showing up to a baseball game without your mitt, or going to the Louvre but forgetting your glasses, or preaching without having read your Bible,... Anyway, since I'm on this big Oscar kick and Wall-E is nominated for several awards, we thought we'd rent it last night. I'm glad we did.

In a nutshell, Wall-E is a sci-fi, robotic love story and it's amazing. Since most of the story revolves around two barely-lingual robots, there is almost no dialogue. The story is told almost completely through image and sound effects. I'm assuming that the team at Pixar knew they would need to bring their A-game to make this work and it really shows. You really fall in love with these characters. It's amazing how much emotion Pixar can make you feel towards a trash-collecting robot or a fish or a toy. I think that's what makes them so great. Even though they make the most visually stunning animated films out there, they get that it's ultimately not about the technology, it's about the story. And they tell stories like few other film makers.

Even though I loved Kung Fu Panda and it's nominated in the same category as Wall-E, this award should go to Wall-E hands-down. It's a stunning movie, a moving story, and well worth your time.



We saw Frost/Nixon last night. It's a good movie and I think will be a great little history lesson for anyone my age and younger. I was but a wee baby when the whole Watergate fiasco went down and it's not something that the teachers ever spent enough time on for me to really understand in any history class.

I thought the acting in the movie was really great and could definitely see why Frank Langella was nominated for Best Actor for his role as Nixon. The first half of the movie was okay but not great. But once the interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon started it quickly became intense. The producers really wanted to make it feel like to boxers sparring and they really pulled it off well.  This one is worth seeing.


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I've got Oscar fever! I always get Oscar fever this time of year. For whatever reason, watching the Oscars was always kind of a big deal when I was growing up. I've always enjoyed it. I'm loving this Oscar season because I'm living in an area with theaters that actually show Oscar contenders. (A luxury I missed while living in Lebanon, MO - unless you consider Larry the Cable Guy movies Oscar contenders.) I've seen 3 of the 5 movies nominated for Best Picture so far - Slumdog Millionaire (which I saw last night), Frost/Nixon (which we saw this afternoon), and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. (I still need to see The Reader and Milk.)

Benjamin Button is an interesting movie from an editing and special effects perspective, but pretty dull when it comes to story and acting. I'm really not sure why Brad Pitt is nominated for Best Actor. The effects of aging (and de-aging) Benjamin Button are really incredible, but that's all I got out of it. It was emotionally bland and a little creepy. Wait to rent this one.

Slumdog Millionaire

I got to see two Oscar-nominated movies this week - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (which I'll talk about later) and Slumdog Millionaire, which I saw with Jamie tonight. I've been looking forward to seeing Slumdog Millionaire for a while now and wasn't disappointed. It's really a great movie.

It's the story of a young man in India who is on the TV game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. When he goes all the way to the top, he is arrested for fraud because no one can believe a "slumdog" could be so smart. The movie follows a series of flashbacks that explain the circumstance throughout his life that taught him the answers to the questions he's asked on the game show. Slumdog is also a very moving love story. The acting is great, the way it is filmed is great, and the music is a lot of fun, too.

Jamie and I really enjoyed watching this slice of Indian life because we're planning a mission trip to India for next October. Google Slumdog Millionaire and find out the closest theatre to you that's playing it and check it out!


Lunch at Pixar

I had an epic day today! In preparation for an upcoming sermon, I met with my friend, Rich, who is going to assist me. Rich is one of the creative minds at Pixar. I told him I would come meet him for lunch so we could talk and was surprised to get to actually eat lunch with him inside Pixar Studios. What an amazing place! It's hard for me to wrap my mind around how many creative people there are working in one location. Pixar employs around 1000 people and the power of moving all that creative energy in one direction is so evident in every Pixar film.

It was very cool touring the studio and seeing all the paintings, story boards and sculpted images of the characters. I was able to walk around the "common" areas of the main Pixar
 building. You first walk into a large atrium-type room where there is an onsite cafeteria (but with excellent food), cereal bar, game room, employee gift shop, and several lounge areas. Rich told me that the massive building was designed with interaction in mind. It's almost impossible to hide out in your office or cubicle because the only bathrooms are in the atrium. This forces the team to get up, walk around, and interact with each other.

Here's a couple of pictures. One of me with Mike and Sully (two of my fav Pixar characters!). And a picture of my visitor pass sticker. My name was misspelled, but I love that Rich told them I was with the "Jesus Swat Team"!


DCB + Guitar Hero = AWESOME!

For all of you who love the David Crowder Band and are addicted to Guitar Hero, you'll love this. I was talking to our worship team the other day saying it would be awesome to have the ability to program all of our worship songs into a Guitar Hero-like program so that anybody could get up and lead worship anytime! Somebody invent this!


I'm Proud to be an American Today

I am proud today. Proud that we've reached a stage in our history where equality is a greater reality than ever before. Regardless of your political leanings, join me in praying for our new First Family.

Father, strengthen and protect the Obama family. Use our new president to bring about your glory. Surround him with wise counselors and people of influence who will guide him into a stronger relationship with you. Use him to bring about positive change in our nation and beyond. Amen.


The Back of the Napkin

As I was wrapping up 2008, I read a dozen or more "Best of..." lists regarding business and/or leadership books. Dan Roam's book, The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, was on nearly everyone's Top 10 list so I felt compelled to check it out. Lucky for me, I got a Barnes & Noble gift card from little Miss Isla for Christmas. Thanks, baby girl!

I have mixed feelings about this book. The general idea is to teach us all to present ideas and problem-solve visually by drawing pictures, charts, maps, etc... As a leader and a communicator, it got my gears turning and thinking in some different directions, but I personally felt a big portion of the book was overkill. How to "see" the problem/issue and the section on using your imagination was too boring to me. However, I think that was Roam's intention. He attempted to cover all bases so that the concepts could be learned even by non-creative types.

I found the rest of the book to be extremely engaging and practical. I learned what kind of visuals are suitable for specific types of problems.
  • For a Who/What question, use a "portrait."
  • For a How Much question, use a "chart."
  • For a Where question, use a "map."
  • For a When question, use a "timeline."
  • For a How question, use a "flowchart."
  • For a Why question, use a "multiple-variable plot."
In ministry, there are obvious leadership uses for the concepts in The Back of the Napkin. Assessing congregational needs, planning unveiling a new program, organizational issues, budgeting issues, etc... But what really got my juices flowing was thinking through the preaching implications of Roam's concepts.

I know that when I use visual aids/object lessons in my sermons, I tend to have more "Ah-ha" reactions from the congregation. Many people are strong visual learners. So it got me to thinking of new ways I could share Biblical truths through Roam's doodling techniques. We've all seen this visual explanation of redemption:
What other theological concepts could be explained visually? It's got me thinking (and doodling) in new preaching directions. The Back of the Napkin is worth your time. Check it out.


Real Men Drink Tea

Jamie and I had a night away last night in Auburn and it was great.  For Christmas/14th anniversary we got Jamie an overnight stay at an old Victorian bed & breakfast, high tea for two, and a massage. I think we struck gold with this gift.

High tea is a very un-dude affair. Fancy settings, little cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off, scones, etc... No hot wings or ribs or nachos! But I sat down across the table from my wife and sipped tea and ate pretentious food...because she's worth at least that much.

Guys, what's something that your wife is totally into that she would just be blown away if you joined her in doing? For Jamie it's tea. Maybe your wife just wants you to take a walk or go wine-tasting (tasting, not chugging) or put together a puzzle or whatever. I want to challenge you, before it turns into February, find your wife's sweet spot and surprise her. (And trust me, it's probably not the first "sweet spot" that popped into your head. You're going to have to not think like a dude if you're going to pull this one off.)


Redeem the Time

The coverage of the Hudson River crash has me wondering... What will it take to get you to view your life as something worth not wasting? We all have a limited time. I think one of the greatest tragedies is a life not fully lived. I don't mean a life cut short - we have no control over that. I mean having the guts to truly live during the time you've been given. Life is too short for lazy living. Be the best husband, wife, mother, father, child, employee, leader, Christ-follower, artist, lover, difference-maker,... you can be every day of your life. Your most precious commodity is time - don't waste it!


Notice to all Living Hopers:

If I EVER show up to church and start preaching like this loon, I give all of you permission to bumrush the stage and beat me about the head and shoulders with bats and/or large sticks!


Joy on a Tuesday

Today was a good day. I just thought I'd list some things that brought me joy today.

  1. Hanging out with pastors. Our district super gathered several of us EFC pastors for a cluster today. I love pastors so much. I really love our cluster, too. It's a great group of leaders.
  2. Seeing several of my old El Sobrante friends. My El Sob friends are some of my most valued treasures!
  3. Prayer meeting tonight. Small group, but powerful prayer. One of my favorite Living Hope activities.
  4. Fried eggs. I've lived on scrambled eggs for the last several years, but lately I've been craving fried eggs all the time. Fried a couple up tonight with some toast. So good it'll make you want to punch your grandma in the throat!
  5. American Idol. I'm so glad it's back. I don't even mind the new judge so much. I laughed and even got little tear once or twice. Great show!
  6. Talking to my Jamie on the phone. I can't wait for her to get home tomorrow night. I could handle some good kissin'!


The Dude Abides

I love dudes. I really love dudes that love Jesus. I think it's kind of an unwritten belief that if you're a dude that loves Jesus, you're a little less of a dude than other dudes. I've found the exact opposite to be true. I think dudes that will follow Christ and allow him to transform their dudeness to look similar to His dudeness is an awesome thing. When dudes start following Jesus they don't have to give back their "dude cards."  Why? Because, in the words of The Big Lebowski, "The Dude abides."

I had a great breakfast this morning with three sold-out for Jesus dudes. Real dudes with real dude interests, problems, families, jobs and such -- just trying to be dudes following Jesus. I love that Jesus loves dudes, too. I love that he calls dudes to lead His Church. So today I'm praying for all the Living Hope dudes and I'm praying that God will send us more and more dudes everyweek. Young dudes, old dudes, cool dudes, crusty dudes, rich dudes, poor dudes, baby dudes, teenage dudes, sports dudes, computer dudes, blue-collar dudes, white-collar dudes, Raiders dudes and Niners dudes, dudes on motorcycles, dudes in hybrids, single dudes, married dudes, divorced dudes, dudes that are on fire for Jesus, and dudes that are just checking the whole thing out. God just fill our church with dudes (and dudettes)!



I finished one of the books I purchased in OKC last night on the plane ride home. Craig Groeschel's latest book it: How Churches and Leaders Can Get It and Keep It. This was a great book! Groeschel discusses the phenomenon of a church who has "it". 

From pg. 27:
  I can't tell you exactly what it is. Part of what makes it it is that it defies categorization. It won't reduce to a memorable slogan. It is far more special than that.
  That's why we have to embrace the fact that God makes it happen. It is from him. It is by him. It is for his glory. We can't create it. We can't reproduce it. We can't manufacture it.
  It is not a model. It is not a system. It is not the result of a program. You can't purchase or manufacture it. It can't be copied.
  Not everyone will get it. It can't be learned in a classroom. Yet even though it can't be taught, it can be taught.

Groeschel spends the bulk of the book highlighting characteristics that churches and leaders with "it" have in common. They are vision, divine focus, unmistakable camaraderie, innovative minds, willingness to fall short, hearts focused outward, and kingdom-mindedness.

He states that the last two chapters of the book are probably the most important and I found them to be very moving and inspiring. In the last chapter he wrote about how he has 3 prayers that he has made a part of his daily prayer life: stretch me, ruin me, and heal me. This was really challenging to me.

I liked this book enough that I'm strongly considering having all our church leadership read it this year (pun intended). Great stuff! 


Unfortunate Coincidence

Exactly 1 year ago Jamie and I made our first trip to Dixon, CA to check out Living Hope Church. It was a wonderful trip, but I pretty much completely lost my voice and needed to preach on Sunday morning. I'm reminded of this because I have now officially lost my voice again one year later.

One of the elders introduced me to a miracle drug for public speakers who have lost their voice. It's called Throat Coat Tea.  Brew a bit of it up. Sip it hot. It coats your throat and gives you enough temporary relief to make it through your talk. One minor detail, though - it tastes like rancid tree bark. But it works! I might be using it again this Sunday.


Oklahoma: A Great Place To Be From

We just arrived in Oklahoma City for several days of seeing family. It's good to be back. It's kind of an underhanded compliment to say that Oklahoma is a great place to be from. But I actually mean it. I love that I grew up in Oklahoma. I grew up in urban (sort of) Oklahoma City until I was 10 and the next four years in Stuart, OK (tiny town of about 300 people). Oklahoma is not the most exciting place to live or even the most beautiful. The summers are hot and the winters are cold. It's pretty windy most of the time and God tries to thin the Okie herd several times a year with tornadoes...but overall it was a great place to grow up. It's a slower pace, a simpler existence, and little more innocent than other parts of the country.  So I'm proud that I have an Okie heritage.

However, I'm totally glad to have moved on from Oklahoma. I love California! I just can't stay away. Obviously, California is a beautiful state, but it's more than that. It's the people. They're friendly, but quirky. I like quirky. I get quirky people and most times quirky people get me. Oklahoma always conjures of feelings of home, but I've never felt more free to be who God made me than when I'm in California.

It's also very cool to be in Oklahoma THIS WEEK watching the Sooners play in the BCS Championship game while in Sooner territory. I love it! When it comes to baseball, it's all about my Oakland A's, but if we're talking football...Boomer Sooner, baby!


New Year's Survey

I saw this survey on Marko's blog and thought I would participate, too.

1) What did you do in 2008 that you'd never done before?
--Took a position as Lead Pastor of a church.
--Worked totally from home.
--Started home-schooling our kids.

2) Did you keep your New Year's resolutions and will you make new ones?
--I didn't make any resolutions.

3) Did anyone close to you give birth?
--My brother's wife had twin girls.

4) Did anyone close to you die?
--No family, but a valued friend - Cynthia Fry.

5) What countries did you visit?
--None this year.

6) What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
--Greater focus.
--More patience with my family.

7) What dates from 2008 will remain etched in your memory and why?
--March 2 - My first Sunday at Living Hope Church.
--November 4 - Our nation elects its first African-American president.

8) What was your biggest achievement of last year?
--Made a disaster-filled move from MO to CA without losing my temper.

9) Did you suffer illness or injury?
--Found out I'm diabetic.

10) What was the best thing you bought?
--My MacBook.

11) Whose behavior merited celebration?
--My daughter, Mollie, has given endless support and help with taking care of little Isla. She always has the BEST attitude about it.
--My son, Isaiah, reached the double-digits in age this year and as Jamie says, he's still our little cuddle-bug. Isaiah has an endless supply of hugs for dear ol' Dad.
--Jamie has made incredible contributions to the church this year, taken on part-time work, started home-schooling the kids, and still finds time to take darn good care of me. She's the real-life Wonder Woman!
--My friend Katy Fry has held her head high and clung to her faith under the incredible pressure of having lost her mother this year. She's my 2008 hero!

12) Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
--Nancy Grace. If there's a more annoying woman on the planet, I haven't met her.
--Oprah for her shameless promotion of what is nothing short of a new age cult.

13) Where did most of your money go?
--Rent. Welcome back to California.

14) What did you get really, really excited about?
--The opportunity to preach weekly.
--Leading leaders.
--Changed lives.

15) What song will always remind you 2008?
--Chris Tomlin's God of This City. It became the soundtrack for the process of me becoming passionate about reaching Dixon.

16) Compared to this time last year are you...
--wiser? I believe so.
--healthier? A little. I've lost 12 lbs. this year and started exercising again.
--richer? No, but more comfortable.

17) What do you wish you'd done more of?
--Exercise, Loved on my kids

18) What do you wish you'd done less of?
--Eat meals at midnight, yell

19) How did you spend Christmas?
--With family and friends.

20) Did you fall in love in 2008?
--Every day. I came to appreciate what Jamie adds to my life so much this year.

21) What was your favorite blog post you wrote?

22) What were you favorite TV programs?
--Already posted that here.

23) Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate last year?

24) What was the best book you read?
--Already posted that here.

25) What was your greatest musical discovery?
--Hillsong United, Ray LaMontagne, Straight No Chaser

26) What did you want and get?
--A great church, MacBook, Logos Bible Software, a better family car, a new puppy

27) What did you want and not get?

28) What was your favorite film this year?
--Already posted that here.

29) What did you do on your birthday and how old were you?
--I turned 36 and spent the day with my family at the Cerrito Theatre and Zachary's Pizza. Awesome!

30) Which celebrity/public figure did you like the most?
--Obama AND McCain
--Gordon Ramsay
--Rick Warren
--Both American Idol Davids
--William Shatner

31) How would you describe your personal fashion concept this year?
--Casual pastor or Formal bum

32) What kept you sane?
--Jamie tried.

33) What did you miss?
--I miss working with Joe Wilson.

34) Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
--Never assume there's not a man-eating pit bull in the youth group bathroom.

35) What did you gain this year?
--A great church family.
--A bit of financial stability.
--A cool Dixon Rams Team Chaplain jacket.

36) What did you lose this year?
--The remote control about 500 times.

37) Who was the best new person you met?
--Pretty much everyone in my life was new this year. Too many to count.

38) Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
--Goin' back to Cali...Cali...Cali...

Enter the Haggis

I'd like to hook everybody up with some incredible free music to kick off 2009! In one of those rare 1:30 a.m. surfing sessions I stumbled across an incredible band called Enter the Haggis. They're out of Toronto and they are a little difficult to classify. Part rock, part bluegrass, part celtic, part fusion, and part half a dozen other things...and they pull it off beautifully.

If you go to their website at www.enterthehaggis.com you can download a free 4-song EP that is amazing! Hope you enjoy them as much as I am.