Archives For October 2010

Thanksgiving in October?

October 20, 2010 — 4 Comments

 Thanksgiving in October?Sara and I watched Field of Dreams tonight on Blu-ray. It had been years since I’ve seen this movie. A lot of it was really cheesy and the plot was absolutely ridiculous. Why hadn’t I noticed that when I was younger?

I did like three things about it, though.

1. Poindexter from Revenge of the Nerds is in the movie. So that’s a huge plus right off the bat.

2. James Earl Jones is in the movie and he’s awesome. So that’s also a huge plus.

3. This is a direct quote from the movie: “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”

About eight days ago I preached a sermon and was exhausted after the Sunday morning was finished. Knowing that I had to go back to church later that evening to teach a class, all I wanted to do was take a nap.

But I couldn’t.

I had to go up to Goldfield and meet people at Sara’s new church. My day would be a full one.

Goldfield is about 29 miles away and it was about 75 outside so I decided to take my motorcycle. I knew I would not have many more nice days to go on a ride. In fact, it should have already been way too cold for a bike ride, but we’ve been having an awesome October. Even though there is no helmet law in Iowa, I put my full-face helmet on and put headphones in underneath it.

Pulling out onto the badger blacktop, I had MxPx’s Slowly Going the Way of the Buffalo playing on my phone as I began to cruise. I passed Badger and headed out to Thor. By now the roads were straight and empty and I could see for miles.

Feeling invincible, I gunned the throttle for quite some time and road my bike at a speed that was nowhere near 55mph. We’ll just say it was somewhere in the 80’s. I know the real number but it’s a secret.

Now before you start dialing your phone to call me or typing on the keyboard to leave me a message about how foolish I was, just know this: I’m writing this blog so I survived. Yes, the end doesn’t justify the means. Yes I could have been hurt. Yes I need to set an example to other people because I’m a pastor. And yes, I know it was foolish. That’s not the point of this story, though.

Just know that my bike is only a 600cc so it can’t really even go all that fast, I have only done this 1 other time in over 7,000 miles of riding, and I probably won’t do it again.

So I got to Goldfield, hung out with people for about an hour and then road back because I had somewhere else to be. The way back was just as cool as the way out. I was flying down the highway with the bright blue sky overhead, wide open fields being harvested around me, great old school punk rock music, not a care in the world. I kept repeating a line of a Pedro the Lion song.

“God bless the Indian summer.”

I have a feeling that the song is about vastly different things than what I was considering, but I don’t care. In that moment, on my bike, I experienced a profound sense of thankfulness. I could have been mad that I was running late and had to work for like 13 hours on a nice Sunday afternoon when everybody else could relax.

But I simply felt blessed. On that ride home I could not help but think about how many ways God provides for Sara and me while I often don’t even realize it. Somewhere between Thor and Badger, I experienced Thanksgiving in October.

Looking back on this experience, I can see why Shoeless Joe Jackson would confuse heaven and Iowa while talking with Kevin Costner. And at the same time, I have friends who can’t understand why I would live in Iowa, or some who might not even be able to find it on a map.

Our church has been walking through a Dave Ramsey series, and this past Sunday we talked about contentment. I’m amazed at how frequently I’m led to believe that my life will not be complete unless I have some new product or unless I have some vacation to get excited about. However when I buy into these lies I miss out on so many ways that God is blessing me each and every day.

I have a feeling that I’m not the only one he’s blessing. How have you seen God blessing you lately? For what can you celebrate Thanksgiving in October? What prevents you from noticing the gifts God is giving you? How can we strive to be more content with what God is already doing in our lives?

Under the Sun

October 8, 2010 — 3 Comments

 

 Under the Sun

Commander Shepherd with members of his squad

 

Earlier this year Bioware released the second installment of their increasingly popular video game, Mass Effect. Among thousands others, I was very excited to play Mass Effect 2,and for good reason.

In the Mass Effect universe you star as Captain Shepherd, the commander of a large spaceship called the Normandy. Shepherd lives in a time where space travel is commonplace. Humans have discovered an ancient alien technology that they don’t fully understand, but it has allowed them to traverse the galaxy and find many other sophisticated sentient species. Shepherd’s task takes him to multiple planets and space stations in order to defend everything good he has known. This is all done in amazing high definition graphics with excellent voice acting by famous movie stars like Martin Sheen.

This sounds like the perfect recipe for an amazing series of video games and it is, but there’s even more. As the player, you have the ability to dictate what Captain Shepherd says to everybody in the game. There is an unprecedented about of freedom offered to the player in Mass Effect – and the game responds perfectly. You can choose to be a benevolent hero who sacrifices everything in order to save all known alien races, or you can become an evil tyrant. You can have a romantic relationship with various members or your team or you can stand alone in your fight against evil. Many of these choices are not superficial. You are sometimes forced to make literal life or death decisions in the game.

To top it off, all of these decisions carry over from the first game to the second one. So if you were evil and let various people die in Mass Effect 1, when you play the second one people will still be afraid of you. When one considers how many possible lines of dialogue must have been recorded to coincide with all the different choices available to players, it becomes overwhelming. This is a totally groundbreaking type of programming in video games.

As I played these games I was swept away by how awesome and original they were. Around the same time, I was reading some science fiction books that a friend of mine from church had recommended. The Gateway saga, by Frederick Pohl, was written in the late 70’s and throughout the 80’s. I had a ton of fun reading these books and I found them to be very thought provoking. The main character was filled with weaknesses and I loved watching him grow throughout the plot that ensued.

 

 Under the Sun

Book 1 of 4... Don't judge a book by its cover!

 

I also loved the Gateway universe that Pohl had created. The Gateway novels take place in the future, in a time when humans have discovered an ancient alien technology that they don’t fully understand, but it has allowed them to traverse the galaxy and find – wait a second!

Didn’t I say the same thing just a few paragraphs ago about Mass Effect? After doing a little bit of comparison, I discovered that both Gateway and Mass Effect have a very similar back-story, strikingly similar. Both stories involve humans trying to discover why an ancient extinct alien race left an extensive amount of technology available for us to find thousands of years later. Yes, many of the specific details are different, but the overall premise is very similar.

“Big deal,” you might say. So some nerdy science fiction video game stole the story of an out-of-print science fiction novel that’s over 30 years old. Who cares?

I care.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few months now. Think about how many things are simply borrowed from other things. How many times will they remake a Superman movie? I hear they are already redoing the Spiderman movies. There are 14 Final Fantasy video games. Nintendo is notorious for remaking old video games. Like Nintendo, pastors are also notorious for using other people’s creativity, especially in preaching. I’m ashamed to admit that I know this next one… Back in the boy band craze, O-Town and the Backstreet Boys had two completely different songs and their intro was the exact same melody, just in a different key. Just click on the names of each band to hear the beginning of each song.

Even my declaration that nothing is new is not new! Close to 3000 years ago in the book of Ecclesiastes a wise teacher said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”

The author of Ecclesiastes has a point and it’s well taken.

So if nothing we do is really all that creative, then why do we bother? Why am I writing a blog? Why do I hope to one day finish a novel of my own? Why do we embark on so many creative endeavors if we know that somebody else out there has already done something similar and often better? Why do we take pride in our work? Why does it bring fulfillment to us?

I find it interesting that throughout all of human history there has never been two of the same person. Everybody is slightly different. Even twins who have the same exact DNA can end up making vastly different decisions in life. Each person is a unique combination of genetics and experiences that nobody else in the world will ever have.

If we believe the story of creation found in Genesis, then we realize that our God is a creative one. He created all that we see around us and he created each of us. He continues to create every day when people are born. God has been in the business of creating for thousands of years and he still makes original masterpieces every day.

If we believe what’s found in Genesis then we also must believe that God created us in his image. So not only is God creative, but we’ve been made to be creative as well. We’ve been knit together with specific talents, dreams, memories, and goals because God has a specific purpose for each one of us. Even though we often feel as though we don’t have it all together, God has created us and he says we are very good.

So we keep on creating things because God keeps on creating. We create because when we do we help other people learn just a little bit more about God, even if it’s already been done before. Yes, there might have already been a picture taken of that city skyline before, but there’s never been one taken by you, at that particular time, shown to that particular person who was inspired when they saw it. When people see us create something beautiful, they have an opportunity to see that God creates things, even people that are beautiful, too.

So what about you? What do you find to be easy to create? What is difficult to make for you? Do you find any roadblocks to creativity in your life? How do you overcome them when encounter them? What do you learn about God or other people when you create things?

 

 Why is it so Hard to Do Hard Things?

These three things were my September

 

I have to apologize. It has been just about a month since I have written in my blog. And no, I wasn’t on vacation. I wasn’t working 90 hours a week or something ridiculous like that. I have no legitimate excuse. However, I try to offer one anyway.

Halo: Reach.

At midnight on Tuesday morning, September 14th, I was outside of a Gamestop along with thousands others across the globe, excited to purchase the newest Halo game for Xbox 360. I realized a few things while waiting in line for that game.

  1. Out of the 100 + people I saw waiting in line, 4 were female.
  2. Out of the 100 + waiting in line, 2 looked to be over 30 and they were parents with their kids.

These two facts did not deter me from purchasing the game and “seeing what the first level was like” until about 2:30am… on a weeknight. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who did this. Earlier that day I had posted something on my Facebook account about the game and I was overwhelmed by the response I received. Multiple friends from all over the country told me that they were doing the same thing. I hadn’t communicated with many of these friends in years. Friendships were rekindled because of this game… which leads me to believe

Halo builds bridges.

I’ve noticed this effect countless times over the last 9 years that Halo games have been around. Time and time again friendships, (and I mean real, face to face ones) are established and cultivated because of this game. But I digress. I could write a whole post on Halo and maybe I should some time.

Halo: Reach accounts for my lack of posting in the second half of September, but what about the first half? Brandon Sanderson wrote an amazing fantasy trilogy over the past few years called the Mistborn Trilogy. I am currently at the beginning of the third book. When not playing Halo, I have spent the remainder of my free time reading these books. They have been some of the best books I’ve read, definitely the best of 2010.

But this is not a blog post intended to excuse why I haven’t written any posts recently. Stick with me here.

Peppered throughout this gaming and reading, I’ve also been reading a book called Do Hard Things. If any of you remember a book from about 13 years ago called I Kissed Dating Goodbye, by Joshua Harris, then these authors will sound familiar to you. Josh and Brett Harris are the two 19-year-old younger brothers of Josh. Whatever you though of Josh’s book, I encourage to dismiss your prejudices about his twin brothers.

Their premise is rather simple, but convicting. In a nutshell, Do Hard Things is about doing hard things. Extremely creative, I know. They contend that our culture has a certain expectation about young people. Teenagers and young adults are expected to waste time, be disrespectful and lazy, lack a sense of purpose or direction in life, and to be apathetic about everything other than iPod’s, Facebook, friends, or Xbox.

I’ve noticed this sort of trend in youth ministry. I often hear comments like, “Well, at least bad language is the only problem they are dealing with. So many other young people are struggling with drugs and promiscuity or other more serious issues.”

What?!? That sounds like a recipe for mediocrity. Being a responsible person means a lot more than simply not doing very dangerous, foolish, and risky things.

It is as if we don’t believe young people are capable of being responsible, so we settle for teenagers who aren’t irresponsible, expecting that’s the best we’ll get. And this belief carries over into young adulthood. I cannot say how many times I’ve heard people make this sort of comment about college students: “Oh, well he’s in college. Everybody parties and experiments a bit in college. He’ll settle down once he graduates and finds a job.” Somehow we’ve grown to believe that college is more about learning how to drink beer responsibly than learning what God wants for us to do in life and how to do it.

In response to these low expectations we have for young people, Alex and Brett Harris challenge young people to do hard things. They explain five different types of hard things.

  1. Things outside your comfort zone
  2. Things that go beyond what is expected or required
  3. Things too big to accomplish alone
  4. Things that don’t earn immediate payoff
  5. Things that challenge the cultural norm

I totally agreed with what Alex and Brett espoused in this book. It was a great read and I thought it was very appropriate for many of the young people I work with. “This book is what so many young people need to grasp!” I found myself thinking. Throughout most of the book I considered how this book might influence others.

Then in the last chapter they discussed the importance of creating an action plan, a way to apply the principles to real life. There were 3 specific examples from young people. In the first action plan, a young man listed 5 steps he wanted to take. His first step jumped straight at me.

“Sell my Xbox and quit my Halo addiction.”

All the sudden this book crossed the divide between interesting ideas and life-changing conviction. How was God using this book to call me to do hard things?

So I wrote an action plan myself. One of the steps in the plan was to present it here on my blog to have some public accountability. With that said, I encourage you to periodically ask me how I’m doing with these hard things. Some items on this list are easier for me than others, but I decided to include all things I’d like to do, even if I’m already haphazardly doing some of them. So here’s my Hard Things List in no particular order:

  1. Work on some household project with Sara at least 2 times a month
  2. Memorize a Bible verse a week
  3. Exercise at least 3 times a week
  4. Don’t sleep in past 11am on days off
  5. Pray for at least 3 students a night
  6. Don’t play any single-player video games each week until I’ve written a blog post
  7. Read at least 2 chapters of the Bible a night
  8. Read at least 1 chapter of a nonfiction book 5 times a week

I don’t know where this list will take me, but we’ll have to see. Some of you might think that some things on this list sound incredibly easy, but they are hard for me so I’m working at them.

And there you have it. What are some hard things for you? Look at that list of five types of hard and ask yourself what hard things God might be calling you to do. Let me know if you decide to rise to the challenge and tell me how your experience is. Let’s endeavor together to do hard things.