Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
We're still here a year later. I'm glad you are too.
Monday, April 09, 2012
Thursday, March 15, 2012
EDMOND, OK – In a recent survey, nearly 100% of Caucasian women, ages 16-34, admitted that their legs are “not yet ready for shorts weather.” According to the Patriotic Association of Short and Tall Youths, or PASTY, opting to wear jeans in nearly 80-degree weather so as to not “blind everyone” is an annual tradition for most women. “Ugh” stated 23 year-old nursing student Jenna Brown. “There’s no way I’m wearing shorts until I get some color on my legs.” Yet most of the women surveyed failed to see the paradox they encounter each spring. Psychologist Harvey Brennan explains, “One cannot get any sun on one’s legs unless one wears shorts. And yet, one won’t wear shorts because one’s legs don’t have enough sun on them. This poses a problem.” As dire as the situation may seem, clinical experts are urging women to find solutions quickly. Dr. Matthew DiCarlo, a licensed dermatologist, spoke with the Musing Carnival about the crisis. “Yes, melanoma is extremely dangerous,” Dr. DiCarlo pointed out, “but seriously, girlfriend… is your skin grey? How is that even possible? You’ve got to get some tan on those legs... lookin’ all like Casper up in here.” It appears that the great melanin struggle will continue for the nation’s women. However, sources suggest that some women have opted to take matters into their own hands. Ruth Anne Bradshaw, mother of four, has sworn off shorts all together. “Darling, shorts are for Tri Delts and prostitutes.” Ms. Bradshaw added, “Wearing capri pants all summer has multiple blessings. But the biggest perk? I haven’t shaved past my knees since the first Bush administration.” At press time, Ms. Bradshaw claimed that no pun was intended.
Friday, March 09, 2012
While sitting alone in a quiet house on a typical Friday evening, the thought dawns on me. Tomorrow is my last day in my twenties. As I prepare to turn thirty on Sunday, one might think that I’d be planning one final day of youthful revelry. Let’s ride this sinking ship all the way to the bottom of the ocean! Let’s go down in flames by sleeping until noon, getting the Chinese symbol for “anarchy” tattooed to my bicep, and playing beer-pong with an albino midget dressed like a member of the Insane Clown Posse! Crank up the LMFAO!
Alas, I will be doing none of that. I am a family man, after all. Instead of welcoming the impending decade by rocking out to “Party Rock Anthem”, I plan on assembling a new bedroom suite and eating a nice meal with my family at a bistro downtown. If I'm lucky, I'll squeeze in a run.
For those about to age, we salute you.
Consider this my declaration. I’m writing tonight to confess that I’m okay with putting a period on the decade in this fashion. However, the closing of this chapter has caused me to reflect on the last ten years of my life a lot recently. And while several images are fuzzy, it’s uncanny how the mind is able to pull out random memories and shake them off like old polaroids. Weddings. Road trips. Graduations. Births. Upon reflection, it becomes clear that you pack so much life into your twenties that it is hard to imagine any other decade coming close.
Think about it a little more and it becomes an understatement to say that these ten years have made up the most important decade of my life. Perhaps this is true, of course, because there’s not much to compare it with. No one ever says, “Man, 11-19… those were the days.” No one says that because 11-19 sucks. But your twenties on the other hand, are all about discovery, stepping out on your own, and occasionally staying out too late.
I guess in the end, your twenties are about growing up. And while it would be ignorant to think that turning a decade older automatically means that I have arrived, or to somehow not be optimistic about the lessons that lie ahead in my thirties, looking back has caused me to realize that I’m not the same person I was ten years ago.
I'm beyond grateful for this transformation, and at the same time, can take very little credit for it. Don't get me wrong. This isn't self-indulgence disguised as wisdom. It is a salute to everyone who took the time to point out the obvious. I firmly believe that it is through God’s grace and the guidance of countless people that I survived my twenties at all. But through it all, I am confident that I learned a few things during the last decade. In fact, here are twenty of them.
1. No matter when you graduated, good music died your senior year of college.
2. You don’t have to own a house to prove you are a grown up. So, don’t buy one you can’t afford. Also, sign a 15-year mortgage.
3. Runners can eat whatever we want. (We have great legs too.) But if you can’t run, find another way to stay active. Play pick-up basketball. Practice yoga. Ride your bike to work. You’ll always have permission to hate shopping for swimsuits but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to take care of your body.
4. Be an activist. Believe in big ideas. Protest something. Have a cause you care about. Research it. And please do more than just click “Like” on facebook. After all, who says we can’t change the world?
5. Step one. Learn how to have difficult conversations. Step two. Learn how to forgive. Step three. Learn to let it go. Unity is the goal.
6. Take the job five states away. Or stay where you are. Either way, just be present.
7. Being a groomsman in your best friend’s wedding is an honor. But helping each other become better husbands over the years that follow is much more fulfilling.
8. You’ll never be ready to have a baby.
9. At least once, stay out until the sun comes up.
10. I never met someone who regretted NOT getting a tattoo.
11. Invest in your relationship with your parents. They will continue to be the some of the most important people in your life. But, at some point, learn to make decisions without them.
12. If you find yourself halfway around the world, pay the extra cab fare and go see the monument everyone back home will ask you about.
13. Your mom was right. You will become like the people you are closest to. Remember her words when you are deciding on your first job.
14. College – career – marriage - kids. Or… College – marriage – kids – career. Or… Marriage – career – kids – college. Or… you get the idea. There is no right order in life. So what if you’re not married by 25? Or out of school by the time you are 28? Or pregnant by 30? Stop comparing. Write your own story.
15. Don’t get your nipples pierced in South Beach. They’ll never heal right.
16. Teenagers stay up all night playing Xbox. I know… I know… there’s nothing wrong with video games. You can play video games. But there is something wrong with acting like teenagers.
17. At least once, you have to rush the field at the end of a big-time college football game.
18. When tragedy hits, all you have to pull from is what you already have. Invest in good friends, a good church, and good insurance.
19. If you don’t have someone wiser than you actively mentoring you, someone who speaks truth, and asks hard questions, then you are probably not growing.
20. Marry the person you can’t imagine living without.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
While speaking at a small church in Houston last weekend, I took the opportunity to skate down the street to the Sunday morning service at Lakewood Church. The church might not sound familiar but the pastor, Joel Osteen, probably does. By the way, I say “small church” only because compared to Lakewood, a church of 2,400 is tiny.
This outing might seem surprising due to my history with Pastor Osteen. I’ve made no attempt to hide my distaste for his ministry and message. Joel isn’t a typical preacher. His books are mainstays on the New York Times Bestseller List. He speaks to millions around the world on TV. His church of 47,000 meets in an arena. But like him or not, he’s one of the most influential religious figures in the world.
Osteen is polarizing but he’s not one of those fire and brimstone-types. He’s guilty of preaching on the opposite end of the spectrum. To be harsh, Joel’s messages are filled with “feel good” antidotes wrapped up in “me-centered theology”. He never addresses sin, and has stated publically that he’d much rather talk about happy things. Joel believes that when good things happen to you, it means you are in the “Lord’s favor”. That’s a slippery slope and the karma-like Christianity rubs some the wrong way.
However, I decided to put presuppositions aside and sit in on a service with an open mind. Let’s see what this guy has to say, I told myself. No matter what, I’ll report the facts and only the facts. Below is a play-by-play record of my morning at Lakewood.
7:59am – I am still a few blocks out when I began noticing the large, mobile signs displaying “Lakewood Parking” pointing worshippers into parking garages. Parking is free on Sunday morning no matter where you park but I decide to try my luck with finding a closer spot. My bet backfires. I circle around and park in a garage a few blocks away. (I am not in the Lord’s favor.)
8:05am – I walk out of the parking garage and hop on an idling shuttle bus. As I search for a seat, the small speakers play worship music. The song is unfamiliar to me but joyfully proclaims, “I am loved, I am blessed, Jesus you are mine.”
8:08am – The bus chugs along the perimeter of the large arena known formerly as the Compaq Center. The Houston Rockets won two NBA Championships in the mid-90’s in this building. Yet the teeming crowd on this beautiful January morning suggests that Joel Osteen might be more popular than Hakeem Olajuwon ever was. As I slide off the bus, the shuttle driver shouts, “Have a blessed day.” Dumbfounded, I simply respond “Okay.”
8:10am – Walking up to the door, I ask a lady, who looks like a regular, what her favorite thing about Lakewood is. She replies, “It just feels like home. Everyone here is so friendly.” Moments later, as we enter the bustling atrium, her theory is proven correct. Greeters, wearing nametags and Secret Service-looking earpieces, stand under a large sign displaying Jeremiah 29:11. This is an organized fleet. Osteen will later claim that 4,000 volunteers make Lakewood run every Sunday. Stationed every ten feet throughout the concourse, the greeters are extremely nice. Maybe the nicest church greeters I’ve ever encountered.
8:12am – Blacks. Whites. Hispanics. Asians. People who are obviously rich and others who are desperately poor. Teenagers in skinny jeans and old black ladies in big hats. They all mingle together. I’ll make a bold statement. Lakewood is the most diverse church I’ve ever been in.
8:21am – An usher escorts me to my seat on the fourth row. So close that I can smell Joel Osteen’s hair product. I say a quick prayer of thanksgiving. (Big time Lord’s favor points.)
8:24am – I flip through the bulletin while waiting for the service to start. It contains the normal activities any church bulletin would. Super Bowl party. Couples date night. An upcoming book signing. Okay… almost any church.
8:29am – Several people around me pull out cameras. One guy down the row will record the entire service on his phone. These people aren’t just churchgoers. They are pilgrims on the road to Osteen Mecca. I begin to grow a little uneasy.
8:30am – The lights go dim. Gungor’s Beautiful Things – a fantastic song, by the way – pulses over the line array speakers, producing bass that rattles my ribcage. The 200-person choir stands to its feet. The band rises to stage level on a hydraulic lift as a five-person worship team sprints out to center stage. Remember the song that played before Bulls games in the 90’s? That is the only thing missing.
8:32am – One of the worship leaders, who looks a lot like Jane Krakowski, jumps around the stage in 6 inch heels during “Free to Run”. I’ve never worn stilettos but I’m still impressed.
8:33am – Okay, let me rephrase that. I’ve never worn stilettos outside of Reno.
8:56am –Joel Osteen emerges and welcomes everyone. His wife, Victoria, flanks him. I’m taken aback by just how warm and personable he is. Look, I consider myself a positive guy but Joel Osteen makes me look like Mark Driscoll with hemorrhoids. Joel says, “I know you have the faith. I can tell.” This seems like a presumptuous statement to me. I’m starting to think he’s full of it. Based on the reactions around me, no one shares this sentiment.
9:01am – Joel begins praying. Lots of "bless us" rhetoric. It’s pretty self-centered.
9:09am – Joel is still praying. It’s still pretty self-centered.
9:12am – The band kicks back in as one of the worship leaders, a gorgeous African-American woman, steps out and belts out “There’s Something About that Name.” It is beautiful, absolutely powerful. Hands down the tightest, most talented, church worship band I’ve ever seen.
9:17 – Bugle solo - yes, bugle solo - brings the crowd to its feet.
9:18am – Joel’s wife, Victoria, begins the communion meditation. She rambles, talks a lot about how God wants us to live the best life. It seems that the “best life” has more to do with happiness and good jobs than submitting to Jesus. She never says the word sin. Not once. Sadly, it’s about what I expected. But then she says, “Jesus came to reverse the curse caused by the enemy’s disobedience in the garden.” That phrase rolls around in my mind during the communion prayer. The enemy’s disobedience?!? So mankind isn’t responsible for sin? Who sent Jesus to the cross? I am as confused as I am offended.
9:19am – The communion bread tastes like notebook paper. (Back out of the Lord’s favor.)
9:20am – A camera crane swings by me, almost hitting me in the head. This is a communion first. (Still out of the Lord’s favor.)
9:21am – As Joel steps up to preach, I look back to gauge how full the arena is. The first two levels are packed all the way around. He welcomes everyone, greets those watching at home, makes a few housekeeping announcements like any preacher would, and begins his sermon. He comes across as being very pastoral. I can see why people are drawn to him.
9:22am – Joel asks everyone to take out their Bibles and hold them high. He has the audience repeat a declaration about how important the scriptures are. Joel puts his Bible down. He won’t pick it up again.
9:24am – There isn’t a sermon text, just a “story from the life of David… a true champion.” The title of his message is “Under Your Feet”, which is based on a misinterpretation of 1 Corinthians 15. The scripture states that God has put everything under his (Jesus) feet. Joel changes “everything” to “obstacles” and “his” to “our” and dives in. I’ll give him this. Joel is such a gifted communicator that few notice he’s preaching an entire sermon on a verse taken out of context.
9:39am – Joel continues to preach, not about what Jesus can do, but about what we can do if we believe. I really did enter this experience wanting to give him a shot. But the more I listen, the more I can’t help but question his message. He tells us that God will cure our cancer, give us a raise, fix our marriages, and bless us if we just have faith. Meanwhile, thousands of Christians put their lives on the line by worshipping in secret across the Middle East.
9:41am – I realize two things. Number one: Joel Osteen is really genuine. Number two: genuine people can be heretics. Don’t get me wrong. I believe that God wants to bless us. But pursuing him only for the blessings isn’t worship. It is idolatry. That’s what this service feels like to me.
9:43am – More music. A prayer time down front. Shots on the big screen show that Joel and his wife are praying with people. Some preachers might disappear backstage as soon as they finish preaching. But there he is, patiently praying with a crying woman. He gets props for that.
9:59am – As soon as the service ends, I bolt from my seat to try to make the “Meet and Greet” near the expansive bookstore on the second level. An estimated 30 people huddle inside a roped off area. I slide past one of the greeters as he zips the stanchion closed behind me. The rest of the crowd is forced to wait on the other side of the rope and snap pictures from a distance. I’ll admit, I feel a little giddy that I got in. (Knee-deep in the Lord’s Favor.)
10:04am – While waiting for Joel to arrive, I initiate a conversation with a Hispanic lady next to me. I ask her if Lakewood is her church. It is. When I ask if she lives in Houston she informs me that she lives in San Antonio. “So do you drive down every weekend?” I ask. “No” she replies, “this is my first time here. I watch on the television.” At this point, I am intrigued and ask if she goes to a church in San Antonio. “No, I don’t like preachers who yell and scream.” She admits, “Joel is so gentle.”
10:05am – I realize two more things. Number one: Joel Osteen is really gentle. Number two: Gentle people can be heretics. 2nd Timothy 4:3 comes to mind.
10:10am – Joel emerges from the elevator. Three handlers escort him down the row. I watch him interact with people. He is extremely warm and caring. I can’t help but wonder if he misses interacting with people on a personal level. The barriers built by super-mega-church ministry are probably exhausting for such an apparent people-person. Joel stops to pray with a family. He gets down on a knee to talk to a woman in a wheelchair. He signs a few books. Next thing I know, he’s shaking my hand.
10:15am – “Good morning, pastor” I say. His big smile causes his eyes to disappear in his eyelids. We make small talk about the service. I tell him that everyone has been extremely nice. He speaks with a disarming Texas accent, “Yes, the people make Lakewood special.” I briefly consider asking a trap question about the persecuted church or questioning how he sleeps at night, but don’t. Maybe I should have. But something told me that this wasn’t the time. Instead, I ask him what advice he’d give a young person in ministry. He puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “Be a person of integrity.” Dumbfounded, I simply respond, “Okay.”
10:21am – Joel disappears back into the elevator and the crowd dissipates. Using the same tricks I employed during an American Idol concert – another story for another day – I successfully sneak backstage. I talk to a few worship leaders and run into Joel again. He recognizes me and is again extremely polite. The “greeters” begin talking into their cufflinks. I assume that I should be leaving. (Soaking in glorious, glorious Lord’s favor.)
10:23am – A wrong turn leaves me momentarily trapped outside on a loading dock. The freeway hums above me as I pull and bang on every locked door. Moments later, I am rescued by a greeter. (Out of the Lord’s favor and then back in again.)
10:30am – I leave the building through an appropriate exit and start walking the few blocks back to my car. I gave it my best shot. But after seeing Joel Osteen in the flesh, I remain a skeptic. It’s not for a lack of trying to like him. I wish I could. However, I just can’t believe him. There is no doubt that he has a good heart but that doesn’t excuse his message. I need something more to believe in than myself. I need a God that meets me halfway when I don’t have the faith. I need Jesus to invite me in to what he is doing, not the other way around. And when push comes to shove, I need a savior that has everything under “his” feet.