Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Deb.

Fourteen years ago today I married the most beautiful, kind, true and forgiving person I have ever met. I was 21. She was 20. We were just kids. We didn't know the first thing about anything, with one possible exception. We had learned a thing or two about marriage. Unlike so many of our friends, we were both blessed with parents who found a way to never give up on marriage. We grew up surrounded in the security of a loving mother and father who not only loved their children, but also genuinely loved and served each other. Fidelity is in our genes.

I tell people all the time that Debbie has been married to four different guys with the same social security number. Most gals would have given up on a guy like me at some point. God knows that I have given up on myself again and again. But she hasn't. She has an amazing capacity to see what I can become in spite of what I currently am. She embodies grace and hope. She's a great mom, and my boys will grow into men who know how to love and be loved because she is their mother.

Fourteen years into the journey, and I'm still that guy trying to figure out who I really am. I don't know if or when I'll find all my answers, but I am confident that when I do, Debbie will be there loving and supporting me the same way she as for the last 5,110 days. She's the one thing in my life that i never doubt...she's the most real thing I know and I love her.

Happy Anniversary, Deb.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

This Week

I'm taking some time off this week to try to finish my book, A Tale of Two Kingdoms. I'm sitting at around 26,000 words as of yesterday. Contractually, they want it to come in between 30,000 - 35,000 which I think will be 150-200 pages. I have no fear of hitting the word count by January 30 (the deadline), but I am nervous about ending the story properly. As a writer, I've generally had a discovery philosophy where I much prefer to just write and see where I end up. This has it's benefits...and I'm sure it is rooted into my improvisational background, but it also has some drawbacks.

I can tend to meander and sometimes lose the throughline of the story I'm telling. I generally make up for this by constantly editing the entire story every so often to make sure I am on the right track. I have a loose outline for the last six chapters of the book that I'm writing now, but just having the outline for some reason creates some angst. Perhaps it is that, knowing this creation will be published, there is no turning back. This is the ultimate loss of creative control. I've been editing this story for nearly eleven years. Next month, others will start editing it with me...and then it will be cast in stone (or hardback) in the Library of Congress. It will be done forever. Only George Lucas can go back and have Greedo shoot first. The rest of do not have that luxury.

The big decision now really hinges on how to end this tale. The publisher and myself would love to see it become the first in a series, but that will depend on how it is received in the broader market. (I don't think they create an extended series based on an author's parents and 100 closest friends buying a book.) So, I'm trying to end it with both hope and some measure of uncertainty. If I knew for sure that there would be a second, the ending would be a bit more menacing. If I knew it was the only one, it would likely end with all the loose ends tied.

I know that I want the final chapters to have a strong eschatological emphasis. To help me prepare, I'm currently reading N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope. I just started it, but I can tell it is going to be good - possibly mind blowing. Feel free to join me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Chris Seay on CNN

Chris is an old friend of mine and a genuinely good guy. He was interviewed this morning on CNN at 5:45...about four hours before I woke up. Luckily, I found the clip on their website:

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The God in the Cave

This sketch of the human story began in a cave; the cave which popular science associates with the cave-man and in which practical discovery has really found archaic drawings of animals. The second half of human history, which was like a new creation of the world, also begins in a cave. There is even a shadow of such a fancy in the fact that animals were again present; for it was a cave used as a stable by the mountaineers of the uplands about Bethlehem; who still drive their cattle into such holes and caverns at night. It was here that a homeless couple had crept underground with the cattle when the doors of the crowded caravanserai had been shut in their faces; and it was here beneath the very feet of the passersby, in a cellar under the very floor of the world, that Jesus Christ was born. But in that second creation there was indeed something symbolical in the roots of the primeval rock or the horns of the prehistoric herd. God also was a CaveMan, and, had also traced strange shapes of creatures, curiously colored upon the wall of the world; but the pictures that he made had come to life.

Want to keep reading? See the rest of this chapter of GK Chesterton's The Everlasting Man by clicking here.

Sam, Joe. Joe, Sam.

The {Re}Gifter is over. At least for now. It may try to resurrect itself in one way or another. It's very late and I may write more soon about what I learned through the three month process of seeing this thing come together. It was a bummer that we had a huge ice storm on closing night. Several thousand guests couldn't make it, but the right people were there. It was a good night.

It was good to give Sam (aka "The Creep" (aka "The RE-Gifter")) an official good-bye watching his beard float away down my bathroom sink. My face skin lives's proof:


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Closing Time.

The {Re} Gifter closes tonight at VCC. It's been a great run so far. If you haven't seen it yet, there should be seats available at the door. Just show up early for the 6:00 or 8:00 show.

Then tomorrow is our annual Christmas Eve Donut Outreach at 5:00 pm. We will be handing out 24,000 Krispy Kremes all over the city. This will be our second Christmas Eve here, and last year was a cool family moment for us.

Then I will lock myself in my house with the family for a week.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Opening Night

The {Re}Gifter opens tonight with two shows at 6:00 and 8:00. We have run out of the 2,000 released tickets for each show tonight, but there are a few hundred balcony seats available for walk-ins. If you'd like to come Monday or Tuesday, there are about 300 tickets left for each performance. They are free at We expect every show to sell out, so reserve your seats now if you haven't yet. You can also return extra tickets you won't be using via the website.

There are different emotions on the opening night of a film vs. the opening night of a stage play. Since the {Re}Gifter is both film and play, I get to experience the double whammy today. Days like this are what performers live for. The buzz of three months (or more) of daily work going on (or off) in one solitary hour. The efforts of a team of nearly 200 people merging to one place at one moment. It's a beautiful thing.

I'd like to thank Brad Wise for dreaming this thing up and leading every aspect to conclusion. I'm proud to call him a friend and partner.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Book Deal.

This has been a long week as we prepare for The {Re} Gifter at VCC. However, I was able to take an hour today and head over to Mason to sign a contract for my first published book. I'm happy to let you all know that Standard Publishing will be publishing my allegorical "fairy tale for adults" called A Tale of Two Kingdoms.

I started writing this book over ten years ago to coincide with a Kingdom teaching series at Apex. Through the years I have written in spurts here and there. I have one month to finish the manuscript which will come in around 35,000 words. From there it will be edited and eventually end up becoming a real live book sometime in 2009. If you would like a teaser, I read two chapters this summer at VCC during our Kingdom Cliffs Notes series. You can listen to the audio stream by clicking here.

I suppose today was a big day in my life, but in some ways it just felt like one day in a series of a decade of days that has seen this story evolve and refuse to go quietly into the night.

Here's the press release from Standard's humorous to see them attempt to explain who the heck I am:


Author Joe Boyd knows a powerful little secret: Stories for kids aren’t only for kids. On December 18, Boyd signed the contract for his upcoming book, A Tale of Two Kingdoms, in Standard Publishing’s offices. Written as an allegorical fairy tale, this “kids story for adults” unpacks some relevant realities of the Christian faith in a simple and entertaining manner. In terms of its allegory and mythos, A Tale of Two Kingdoms is written in a style somewhere between C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? Joe has had articles published in Leadership magazine, The Lookout, Christian Standard, and House 2 House magazine.

Matt Lockhart, vice president of product development, said, “We’re very excited to be partnering with an engaging storyteller like Joe.” A teaching pastor at the 6,000-member Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, and 1995 graduate of Cincinnati Christian University, Joe worked formerly as an actor in Hollywood. His on-screen credits include a recurring role on ABC’s General Hospital as well as starring in Breaking Vegas (The History Channel) and American Heiress (Fox).

A graduate of The Second City Training Center and The Groundlings, among the most prestigious comedy training centers in America, Joe is considered an expert in the world of improvisational comedy. He has performed in more than one thousand improv performances, including a three-year run as Michael Just in the Las Vegas/Broadway Company of Tony ’n’ Tina’s Wedding.

Joe is driven by the concept that story is one of the most powerful ways for communicating truth and that storytelling is foundational for any culture to find its particular meaning and place in history. As a result, he has a passion for writing and telling good stories. Standard Publishing is excited to break into this category of adult fiction/allegory with the release of A Tale of Two Kingdoms in November 2009.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Nearly Bush Whacked

Love him or hate him, the prez has cat-like reflexes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Last Call for The {Re} Gifter

The {Re} Gifter shows twice each night on December 21, 22 and 23. We've given away 9,000 tickets, but there are still some available at If you are in the Cincinnati area, hope to see ya there.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tough Times, Bold Church

I do not believe that you have to be part of an organized 501(c)3 non-profit organization (what us Americans often call a "church") to be a follower of Jesus. Some people probably should not be a part of one. Some people should probably take a break from "organized church" so that they can explore Christianity at a more organic level. I needed to do that. I spent many years on the outskirts of organized Christianity. At first, it wasn't too healthy. Like I tend to do, I made it very black and white. I concluded that all organized church was all wrong - too political, too business like, too event centered, etc. The answer for me, back then, was to reject all of it. There was a year in my life when I would have even thought it to be sinful to go to a church service or be a professional pastor. I see how I got there. I had to go there.

Then I got back in. The full circle journey taught me many things. Leaving church work to work at the Rio Casino for several years taught me that God is everywhere. I needed to see God in a casino to believe he also exists in a church building. I needed to see that a real church could exist outside of a church building to believe that a real church could exist within one. I needed to see that the real issues with church are caused by the real sins in people...and that those sins exist in all churches of all sizes.

Some of my house church friends, no doubt, worry about my soul now...the same way my organized church friends worried about me in my house church days. The truth is I am a hybrid. I'm now part of a 501(c)3 in the state of Ohio called Vineyard Community Church. I don't need to be a part of it to follow Jesus. I don't need to be a part of it to be right with God. I don't need any organization called "church" to be a part of a real church. That's not at all what it's about for me. I have chosen to be a part of it. (Or depending on your theology, God has chosen me to join this story.) Either way, it's a choice.

I choose it, not because it is a perfect organization, but because I believe we can do good and be good together. I believe in the mission - to love the people of Cincinnati into a relationship with Jesus and to give away to the world all that God has given to us. If you called it "The Blue Papaya Cafe" and that was the mission, I'd join up. I believe in the values: a group of people who strive to be a servant community, outward-focused, worshipful, agents of empowered transformation and relevant to the world we live in. Those are five values that I would take as a life-long vow with a group of friends if given the opportunity. I believe in the output of our organization. I see the poor served, the weak elevated, and relationships restored. I see Jesus working in us and the Kingdom coming in what we do...that's why I joined. It's where I'm supposed to be now. Maybe in thirty years I'll be in some non-institutional Jesus hippie commune for retirees, but for now this is where God has brought me.

For the record, that's why my family gives to this place...not because we have to, but because we want to. We give because this is our mission. We give because we have chosen this organization to live out our Kingdom values at this time.

There is great momentum at VCC right now. Hundreds of new people are coming around these days. We may see 10,000 guests at the {re} gifter shows next week to experience a simply allegory of the incarnation. Thousands of families have been served at The Healing Center. Hundreds of students are being loved. The poor are given dignity. The gospel is preached. Lives are being saved. God is moving.

However, there is not momentum in the American economy. Jobs are being lost. Stocks are going down. Some who want to give more cannot because they have nothing to give. But some of us haven't lost our jobs. Some of us have limited giving because of fear. This is not who we are. We are fearless. This is the time to be bold. Debbie and I are going to give extra this month to VCC. We invite those of you who are able to sacrifice with us so that we can move forward with all of our plans to love and give as a church in 2009.

For VCC' here to join us.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Tis the season.

Assuming Dave doesn't get laryngitis or win a free trip to Cancun over the next three weeks, I've taught my last four weekend Celebrations of the year at VCC. This weekend we looked at Peter's life as an example of how Jesus saves a person over time by working us through our rebellion, pain and self-centered dreams toward a redeemed life. God recycles the junk we make of our life and gives it back as beautiful and useful art.

We concluded by looking at a chapter in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. It's a favorite of mine:

Tahnee Torres, Brad, Isaac and some of our other artists at VCC worked up a cool video rendering of the chapter. You can see it when the weekend video streams on the VCC website tomorrow.

I'll be plenty busy over the next two weeks getting ready for The {Re}Gifter. If you haven't booked your free tickets yet, do it now. It looks like we could fill all six shows. There are also some cool tools at to invite your friends via e-mail.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Well, today may as well have not happened. I woke up with a migraine. This happens to me sometimes. When I work at a church I get about one migraine per week. When I don't I get one about every three months. I don't know why this is the case. I'd like to get all holy and call it my ministry "thorn in the flesh," but I'm pretty sure it is simply how my body responds to stress.

Of the four or so migraines per month, one is usually bad enough that I'll have to find thirty minutes to rest and then go about my day. I usually take Excedrin Migraine and it magically goes away in a few hours. About once a year I am afflicted so bad that I have to go home and go to bed.

Then there is the perfect storm/category five/mother of all migraine migraines. The last one I remember was around 1996. I shut down, see blinking lights, toss my cookies repeatedly and generally pray for an early death. Today was the day.

It started when I woke up, grew worse during my first few meetings and apexed during lunch with my friend Derek. Lets just say that while Derek was eating his enchilada platter I was in the El Rancho Grande bathroom doing my best impersonation of your average frat boy at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Not my best moment.

I had to stick Derek with the bill and tried to make it home, but ended up taking a few scenic stops along the way.

I eventually got home and went to bed. That is the only cure. I woke up around 5:30 with what I call a migraine hangover. It's like someone has stuffed cotton in my ears and wax paper over my eyes. I now have a once-a-week level headache, which means I can function and, for whatever sadistic reason, write about throwing up at a Mexican restaurant for the world to read.

Here's the big confession: My life is easy. I thought of my friends who have much worse physical ailments than me on my way home today and managed a few prayers for them amidst my agony. That's all the wisdom I have on the events of my day...we all hurt, some more than others. But maybe our pain is the thing that reminds us to care for each other.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Get your {Re} Gifter Tickets Now!

The website is up and running. Go to to reserve your seats for the show!

Hamburger Happiness

A little piece of Southern California has come to Cincinnati. Brad beat me to it, but I will eat here this week. This is good news. Only this would be better news, but I am sufficiently happy.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Cynicism vs. Sentimentality

I rarely blog on a Saturday night on a weekend when I'm teaching. It's a strange time to be me. I prepare as best I can to lead up to teaching on a Saturday. Several months of planning and preparation lead to one moment and then it's over. But the stranger part is that the moment comes again twelve hours later. (Then again right after that. Then again after that.)

On Sunday, there isn't really enough time to change much or even think about how the last Celebration went. I just try to stay focused and make subtle adjustments. After Saturday night though, I have twelve hours. Normally I'll think about how things went on the way home and wake up an hour early to rework the parts that need attention. On rare occasions I don't need to do that at all...and on a few occasions I've totally changed everything. Tonight feels more or less like a normal Saturday. I generally said what I wanted, but it all felt a little disconnected. I have some ideas on how to fix that. Part of my challenge is that I don't write much down so I have to remember what I said and what needs to change.

One idea that I plan on exploring more tonight is the idea that, when it comes to Christmas, most of us our wired to be either overly cynical or overly sentimental. As for me, I have an amazing capacity for cynicism. I sort of excel at it. I'm an INTP on the Myers-Briggs. There's no doubt that if we added the a fifth category of cynicism/sentimentality that I would be an INTPC. I see everything wrong with Christmas. Trust me.

It seems to me that the polar opposite of cynicism could be sentimentality. Stanley Hauerwas, a theologian hero of mine, says that sentimentality, not atheism, is the greatest enemy of the church. He equates sentimentality with practical atheism, saying that when we no longer truly believe the gospel we substitute the reality of the Jesus event with meetings, songs and patterns that create "warm feelings" to replace honest conviction.

Living in a world without sentimentality or cynicism seems unrealistic, and frankly undesirable to me. However, allowing our cynicism or sentiment to control us seems like a plan for disaster. I committed tonight to be less cynical this Christmas and challenged the sentimental people to pull back enough to have fresh eyes to see beyond nostalgia toward the remarkable claim that a baby entered human history on a secret mission to destroy evil with the power of good.

My prayer for VCC this month is that this Christmas will be looked back on as a season of salvation. That's something we all need and no amount of cynicism or sentiment can fill that need...only Jesus can.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Good Idea, Chris Day

I have a new friend named Chris. He's the cat's meow. His blog is almost always funny, but lately he has taken a serious turn. He had a simple and compelling idea on his last entry. I encourage you to click over to his blog and do what he asks you to do. I'm going to follow his directions and then follow suit and do the same thing here in a day or two. Lets see what happens...I think might be the VCC outreach idea of the year. Simple, modern, real.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Pilgrim Season

This is the time of year that people stumble upon my blog searching for information about pilgrims. I get an email about once a month showing the common phrases that people type into search engines to get to here. The closer to Thanksgiving it gets every year, the more I get things like "how did pilgrims rebel" or whatever. People love pilgrims in November.

I came to see the phrase "rebel pilgrim" as a noteworthy description of the person of Jesus, and by reflection and imitation, his learners/followers. I was profoundly influenced about ten years ago by a book called Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon. I don't think that the phrase "rebel pilgrim" is in the book, but it came into my vocabulary sometime after reading it. You could do worse than getting your own copy for a nice little Thanksgiving present:

A pilgrim is, of course, a traveler or wanderer. Jesus is fundamentally a journeyman. He traveled from heaven to heaven via planet earth. Not only did he travel through, but he brought heaven with him on his journey. He spread heaven everywhere he went and the embers he left behind have fanned into flame. Soon the earth will be engulfed in heaven's loving fury. It's been forcefully advancing since the days of John the Baptist.

Jesus wasn't just a pilgrim, but a rebel pilgrim. He didn't travel to a new world so that he could settle there and live a better life. He didn't leave heaven to get away from heaven, like the colonial pilgrims escaped Europe to start anew. He left heaven as a missionary...he left heaven to bring heaven to earth. That's a different kind of pilgrimage. It is a fundamentally missional activity. From day one, his message was anti-establishment. He came to earth to declare earth broken. He came to reform and restore. He came as a conquering King, not a desperate settler. He came to gather a people, not to abandon a people.

So, I follow the King of the rebel pilgrims. He calls us to be his people. A pilgrim people on a journey that doesn't end until heaven conquers every nook and cranny of this world and the next. A people who reject the story of this world for the story of another world. A people who reject their own stories for the story of Israel and the church. This place and time we live in now is Middleland. A place that is not hell and not heaven, but offers a taste of both. This is the land of our sojourn. The land of our travels. This is the ocean we travel to get from one end of the eschaton to the other. And this is the role of the church: to bring the rebel pilgrim people across the ocean of history's end to arrive at the shores of our home...a home that only our King has seen in full, but that we all have tasted in part.

Friday, November 21, 2008

God Gives Back

Filming started this week for the {re} gifter, VCC's Christmas film/stage combo. I have had an extra busy week with speaking and teaching engagements most every night. I wasn't able to get down to the set until last night and I was blown away.

I've been on a few dozen legitimate film sets in my life - everything from mega-budget, major studio productions to film school projects. I've shot my share of commercials and TV shows too. The point to all of this is that I know what a real film set looks like. I used to drive around Hollywood and see various projects shooting on location. I could almost always guess the level of "legitimacy" by just watching for a few seconds. If the "director" was also in charge of snacks, for instance, that's a big clue.

Last night I drove down to Norwood and turned right on Ashland Ave. to see a very legitimate location shoot in action. Perhaps it was extra striking because it was in the middle of Norwood and not the pier in Santa Monica, but I was floored. A crew of twenty people were moving about the exterior of a house that had been transformed into a Christmas extravaganza worthy of Chevy Chase's admiration. There were grips and gaffers and PA's and AD's and everything you would expect.

If I'm in Hollywood, I'm guessing mid-level indie film. I'm expecting to see Parker Posey or Philip Seymour Hoffman in front of the camera. I'm thinking $5M budget.

But these were simply my friends. Volunteering for their church. Giving their weeknights for three weeks to see this happen. These are people with day jobs and some people who just lost their jobs. These are servants pulling together community-driven art with virtually no budget. I was literally shocked into ecstasy. I couldn't believe that God would let me be a part of something like this. I was more excited than I ever was working on a set as an actor. I remember leaving LA and thinking that I might never be on a legitimate film set again. I had to be OK with that to take this job. It was part of the sacrifice to obey God and move here. Silly, silly me. He always gives back. God is the ultimate re-gifter.

From what little I've seen this is the best looking stuff that I have ever helped produce in my life. It's wonderfully written and directed by Brad Wise, and beautifully shot by Mark Denney.

I remember someone telling me when I was younger that in the middle ages, the church saved the arts but in my generation the arts will help save the church. I don't really think the arts can truly save the church, but I think they can open windows for the Spirit. I think that the arts, particularly the most culturally engrained arts like film and music, influence culture and create platforms to tell our story. I'm just saying there's a chance Michelangelo would have been a filmmaker were he born in this generation.

You can see the {re} gifter live December 21, 22 and 23 at VCC. Tickets will be free and available online starting December 1. I'll post a link when the website is up and running.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

See ya there?

Stuff I'm doing over the next few days...

1. The Lift - I'm speaking there tomorrow night. Come one come all.

2. Q City Improv Show - Friday NIght at 8 pm at The Ballet Tech. 6543 Montgomery Road. (See post below.)

3. Turkeyfest. Fill a box with food and meet me at 10 am at VCC. Even if you didn't get an officially sanctioned Turkey Box, find your own and fill it up. We have 1,200+ Turkeys flying out at the same time to people who need them.

4. Fellowship Bible Church in Chagrin Falls, Oh (near CLE). Speaking there this Sunday and then they are going to screen The Road to Emmaus, PA that night.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Q CIty Improv this Friday!

Q City is back. The improv troupe that I play with is doing our first show with our new team. Our buddy Chris has moved away, but we were able to add Chris and Isaac to the team. They are ready to make stuff up on the spot with Sean, Eddie and yours truly.

Think of this as my non-sanctioned garage band. It's not an official church thing - some of the team are vcc'ers and some aren't. Expect PG-13/prime time network TV material. Unless you watch Dancing with the Stars in prime's nothing like that.


This Friday, Nov. 21 at 8 pm at The Cincinnati Ballet Tech Studio: 6543 Montgomery Road
Cost is $5. Come a little early for better parking.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Get Salvaged This Christmas

When I was a kid my dad worked for an independent oil company. He was the district manager over several gas stations in Kentucky and West Virginia. Most of his time was spent driving from station to station doing whatever it is that mangers do. From time to time I would travel with him, particularly during my three weeks of Christmas break from school. I have vivid memories of watching the winter landscape fly by the passenger window at 65 mph. The pockets of snow tucked into the crannies of Appalachia. The belching white smoke of the factory stacks. The overstuffed trucks and trains pregnant with chunks of freshly harvested coal. It all blended with the chill of winter to create some of my earliest December memories.

There is one other memory of those endless drives that has never left me.

On one particular year, some well meaning, law breaking Christian had taken the time to spray paint “Jesus Saves” on every bridge, overhang and cement foundation in the tri-state area. As a ten or eleven year old kid I would notice the theo-vandalism every few dozen miles. It made me think. Less about Jesus and more about the rogue evangelist who devoted his or her entire life to stealthily defacing government property in the name of spiritual revolution. As a kid I was torn between admiring this rebel zealot and denouncing him as a born again whacko. (I thought too much as a child…)

I wondered if that was the best way to introduce people to Jesus. While as a recent convert, I admired the faceless evangelist’s brave attempts; I wasn’t about to go back to Mrs. Taylor’s fifth grade class that January and paint “Jesus Saves” in strategic places on the Russell Elementary School playground.

Maybe it was those long drives sitting in silence with my father, listening to Christmas music on the AM dial, and being regularly bombarded with a simple gospel message that formed me into what I am today. God has a way of taking something that rote and turning it into a life passion. He can take something painful and masterfully transform it into hope. He takes our weaknesses and refines them into strengths.

And here we see what that daring, though potentially misguided graffiti preacher was telling me all along: Jesus Saves. He redeems. He restores, recycles, repurposes, reclaims, re-uses and releases. Jesus doesn’t simply save us one day when we say a prayer and then retire from his work. Neither does he simply sit around waiting to save us some day in the future after death when he opens heaven’s gate. He is saving us. Yesterday he was saving us. Tomorrow he will still be saving us. And, most urgently, he is saving us today. Right now. He is in the process of taking all that we were and turning it into all that we will be. He’s the master artist who can take a pile of junk and slowly mold it into a breathlessly beautiful masterpiece.

This is, after all, what his name means. Jesus means God Saves Us.

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins." Matthew 1:20-22 (NIV, emphasis mine)

This Christmas season at The Vineyard, we are going to explore this idea from every angle. We are going to let Jesus save us. Save us from ourselves, our pain, our worries, our sins. Save us from the world around us and the plans of those who would do us harm. Save us from the temptation to settle for a life without passion or meaning or influence. This year, we all get saved…again.

On the weekend of November 29/30, we will be launching a new series called “Salvage…restored, recycled, recovered, released.” We will examine how this baby born so long ago into the trash heap of humanity is still able to take the junk of our lives and redeem it with eternal purpose.

The four-week series will culminate with The {Re} Gifter, a family friendly Christmas experience. Part film, part stage play, part interactive art exhibit, this experience is our version of spray painting “Jesus Saves” on an interstate cement post. We simply want to introduce people to The Vineyard and to the story of Jesus, the One Who Saves. We want them to simply start thinking about a God who loves them. Over 100 volunteers are working feverishly to produce an event that you can feel confident to invite your friends to. Think of it as a way to begin a long and ongoing conversation about Jesus with your family and friends in a non-threatening and entertaining way.

The {Re} Gifter will show in six shows over three nights: December 21, 22 and 23. There will be two shows each evening at 6:00 and 8:00 in the VCC auditorium.

This Christmas could change everything. What was true in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains twenty years ago and in a simple Judean manager two thousand years ago, is still true today: Jesus Saves.

Let this be the year that you invite someone into the journey of salvation with you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Monday, November 10, 2008

Doritos Commercial

My friend Sidney is in a spec commercial contest for Doritos. The more hits he gets on the site, the better his chances of winning. So if you have a few seconds click on over and watch Sid's vid.

Sid and I have worked together a lot and he's as good of a guy as he is a director. I had him and Sam, another friend, come into town to shoot a few viral commercials for Center City Collision a few months back. You can check out one of those on youtube at this link...but only after you show Sid some Nacho Cheese love.

Friday, November 07, 2008

We're Rolling...

Last night we had one of the most exciting meetings since I came to VCC. It seems as though God is continuing to bless us in the area of film and video production. Mark Denney, director of The Road to Emmaus, PA, has agreed to direct our the video section of The Re: Gifter, our Christmas experience. Mark's a real professional and it amazes me that he will do these things as a volunteer. His wife Bekka Prewitt-Denney is also working as 1st AD. She's a local professional actress and has all the skills to be a great AD. Isaac Stambaugh is helping produce and working as 2nd AD and Brad is directing. It's such a great team...but that's just the beginning. Dozens of VCC'ers have emerged to work as production assistants, make-up artists, set designers, location scouts, audio mixers, gaffers, etc. Brad and Bekka have been working hard to build the team for weeks, but from my perspective it just seemed to appear. It was a wonderful and encouraging thing to see it all begin to materialize.

The cast of the film is very small...just a few people. We are set there, but there are still plenty of places to add new people, especially anyone with professional sound or lighting experience. There's a full stage production crew building too, so if you have any interested in volunteering now is the time to jump on board. It's gonna be a blast. Contact Brad Wise and he can get you in touch with the right person to join the team.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Good Weekend

It was a great weekend at The Vineyard. We kicked off a new Holy Spirit series with the weekend Celebrations and then the local premiere of The Road to Emmaus, PA. Around 1,500 people came to the two screenings. As a filmmaker and producer, it was fun to see the countless hours of our talented volunteer film crew pay off with such a warm reception. As a pastor, it was good to see my church wrestle with hearing God's voice. I was also able to meet lots of new people who came with a friend to see the film. I hope the film will be able to create more questions than answers for both seekers and believers alike. I tend to believe that if people would just ask more meaningful questions they will eventually find what they are looking for. I think Jesus said something like that once: Seek to find, knock to answer, ask to receive.

I'm getting requests from friends around the world who want to see the film and some locals who weren't able to come. We are talking with some film distributors now, but If you want to get a copy currently the only way is to go through the Vine Bookstore at VCC. Just head over to and call the office or e-mail the bookstore and they can send you one of the early releases.

Producer Joe is moving onto thinking about The Re: Gifter, VCC's Christmas experience that is 33% stage play, 33% HD movie, 33% Interactive science museum. (Not sure what the last 1% is yet.)
Pastor Joe is moving onto preparing to teach this weekend on the Holy Spirit as the one who convicts the world.
Plumber Joe is counting down his last 36 hours of fame.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I'm an hour away from week three of six in The Stories of Genesis class at VCC. Tonight we nearly kill Isaac and venture into the dysfunction that is Jacob. I've always liked the stories of Genesis since I was a kid. They are jarring and vile and not what you would expect from the first book of the Bible. There is absolutely no way that I write Genesis if I am trying to create a religion. It creates a million questions and gives a few dozen answers.

This weekend we start a new four-week series on the Holy Spirit. I'm be teaching the first two weeks and Dave will wrap it up. Looking forward to it.

And knowing I run the risk of being overly repetitive, I want to extend another invitation to see The Road to Emmaus, PA on the big screen this Sunday. We'll be showing it at The Vineyard at 5:00 and 7:00 pm. There will be a Veggie Tales movie in another room for kids who may not be into documentaries. Admission is free. Hope to see you there. More information on the VCC site.

The Road to Emmaus, PA on imdb.
The Road to Emmaus, PA trailer on youtube.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Introducing Charlie...

So I promised my kids a dog when we moved to Ohio 15 months back. I figured I should follow through at some point.

Gone Campin'

Eli, the firstborn and heir to the Boyd dynasty, has been a WEBELO Scout for about two weeks now. So far it means that we have sold popcorn at the front door of the grocery store and...gone camping! We just returned from our first family camping trip. We have RV'ed before with the grandparents and slept in tents in the living room, but now the Boyds have legitimately camped. (If a bunch of cub scouts sleeping in the back 40 of a farm in suburbia is legitimate camping.)

It was a good time. So far it seems to me that scouting means spending a lot of time dealing with flags - unfolding them, setting them up, walking them around, saluting to them, burning them. That's right. We burned four Old Glories at cub scout camp. The den leader is some guy named Bill Ayers and he says it's cool, so...

Not really. Evidently, burning is the preferred way to discard an old flag. The ceremony felt very solemn and "religious" for lack of a better word. They read from a liturgical manual and "released the spirit of our friend (the flag) back into the spirit of our nation." Then the kids ripped each stripe off the flag which created a strange eucharistic-like brokenness and tangibility to it. I could hear the harping voice of theologian Stanley Hauerwas yelling into my ear, but I pushed him away. "Scout camp isn't the place, Stan," I told him. But before long we were onto s'mores, which holds much less epistemological tension for me. Though I'm not sure the sticky fingers are worth the payoff at the end.

It was cold and miserable throughout the night, but I had fully expected it to be and we all survived. I spent a hour or so this morning taking apart my borrowed tent...the same tent that I spent most of yesterday afternoon constructing. Which brings me to my conclusion: If you skip the flags and tents, Cub Scout camping trips would last about 90 minutes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

RTE, PA VCC Screening!

Mark your calenders! The Road to Emmaus, PA will be showing at The Vineyard on the Sunday November 2nd in two screenings at 5:00 and 7:00. We are getting a big screen for the auditorium and even popping some corn...should be a good time. It will kick off our new Holy Spirit series that weekend with an emphasis on what it means to hear from God. You can register for childcare at if you want.

More info on the film at or just click on the trailer on the right --->

Writing about Writing

I'm taking a break from writing a book to write on my blog. I spent two vacation days yesterday and today trying to make a dent in finishing my fairy tale. It has been hard to focus. I tend to romanticize writing and study breaks before they come, but then I remember that it takes me a full day to just prepare to be creative. I should have probably taken the entire week off and found some isolated monastery with no wifi. I've pushed through and have the plot more or less constructed now. That's not often how I like to write, but now at least I have a map to find the finish line. I did cross the 100 page mark this morning. That's an average of ten pages per year if you are doing the math out there. I wrote a 110 page screenplay in 30 days earlier this year to put it in perspective. This little book has grown up with me. You can actually see my formation from chapter to chapter. I've tried to go back and create a little more continuity, but it's still there.

I think I have distracted myself enough now...I'm ready to write the next chapter.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Prom was cool.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Got 24:30 to kill?

Here's a youtube link from a talk by Dave Eggers at this year's TED conference. My friend Missy suggested it. It's over 24 minutes, so come back when you have some down time and cup of coffee. For you church leaders out there, I would love to hear your thoughts on Dave's story as it relates to the local church. Enjoy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber

I've been thinking...

There's a lot of thinking involved in my wouldn't think so, but there is. When I am not in a meeting, I'm generally expected to sit around and think. I normally love this. I love new ideas. I like to write, create, etc. Maybe it is simply the time of year we are in, but my brain is overwhelmed with things I am supposed to be thinking about today. This blog post is really nothing but a therapeutic way to try to release some thoughts, so feel free to quit reading if you have anything better to do.

Last night we launched The Stories of Genesis class. I was surprised, quite honestly, at how well it worked out. I told the story of Genesis 1-11, complete with my disturbing theories of what Ham really did to the drunken Noah. That took about 40 minutes, then the students were able to process the stories at round tables for about 45 minutes. There seemed to be a genuine energy in the room. Now would be a good time to start thinking about Abraham's story for next week...but I'll just keep wasting time with you and talk about...

this weekend. I'm up to teach the third installment of In God We Trust. I'm where I often find myself a few days out...with simply too much to say. The message swims around in my head for weeks or months, sometimes taking form a week out, but often stubbornly waiting to reveal itself until the last minute. I want to dive into the idea that the job of the church is to be the church. I'm also being pulled toward the Zacchaeus story. I need to think more about that...

but, alas, I'm supposed to map out the December teaching series today. We know the weekly topics, but I'm normally the one tasked to dive into each week and write a paragraph or two. That's what I should be doing now, but after staring at a blank screen for thirty minutes, I've decided to waste your time, my precious blog reader.

Some good news about future fairy tale book has passed through the acquisition process at a publishing company. It needs some work, so I am taking vacation days next Tuesday and Wednesday to hole away and try to finish the project. I'm both nervous and excited about those two days. In the past, it has taken me a full 24 hours to de-fragment my brain when I take a study or writing break. I'm hoping that happens quickly so that I can push through and finish this project...I've been writing it for about ten years now as it is. It's time to finish it.

OK...I'm ready to work now. Thanks for listening. I'm off to think more...

Monday, October 13, 2008

One Screening Down...

We had a great premiere for The Road to Emmaus, PA down in Louisville. Thanks to those who came down. The next screening is at VCC on Sunday Nov. 2. It will show at 5 and 7 p.m. in the auditorium. More info is available at the church website.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Apology Part Two

I started to reply in the comment section to JR's comment to the "Apology" post below...It became so long that I decided to just post it here. Here are his questions with my response:

So given these historical realities, I have two questions.

First, why do you apologize for "the church" as a whole without recognizing those who sacrificed so much? You make the absolute blanket statement that "the church was silent", so do you think those who stood up against these horrible things do not count as "the church"? Why or why not?

Second, since you have taken on yourself to apologize on behalf of those who were sinful in their silence, or active participation, do you also accept the thanks on behalf of those who were obedient and worked against these evils? Why or why not?


Thanks for the response. I almost wrote something about this before I posted it. To be brief and honest, I wrote this when I was 25 years old and looking back I am struck by how little I knew back then. I was transforming from a middle American xerox'ed version of an evangelical kid to a Jesus follower searching for my own voice as a church planter in Las Vegas. The apology was very much a response to people in Las Vegas who were constantly telling me their frustrations with the church which ranged from historical perceptions/realities to personal pain and dysfunctions. Before the day I wrote this, my tactic was always to separate myself and my church from their issues with the church. i.e. if they were abused by a priest, then I would say "I'm sorry that happened to you, but we aren't Catholic, etc." or I'd put the blame on the individual priest and talk about how our church is structured to best prevent things like that from happening. If they brought up The Crusades, I'd rant with them about the corruption of the church "back then." The problem was that I was separating myself from my story in doing this. I'd quickly claim St. Francis or Mother Theresa, but I would deny notorious Christians and Christian movements throughout history.

(At this time in my life I was a young church planter with a church full of recent converts and seekers in their early twenties.)

I found it much more true (effective?) to apologize to those considering Christ for the sins of "my people" toward them. Most people in my church were ready to accept Jesus but not ready to be absorbed into the Christian story. That concerned me. I also learned to teach them to take ownership of the sins of our past even before they converted. At the very least, this set a specific tone in our young church.

The comment about the Holocaust and slavery were rooted in two real conversations that I had that year with an African American and a Jewish American. I knew even then of the stories of devout Christians in Hitler's Germany, including Eberhard Arnold and Karol Wojtyla who were heroes of mine...I also knew a little about the underground railroad in the years of American slavery. I know more about these things now, but I think my reaction would still be the same today. Some Christians did stand sheepishly by while people died. Many did not - many were martyred, but some took the easy way out. Some Christians were convinced slavery was evil, but elected to take no action because it would cost them politically or economically. Those sins should be repented of in our generation because of the wounds still festering in our nation.

So, your first question is spot on. If I were to write an apology today it would have come out differently. I was torn between editing/updating this one to match who I am and where the culture seems to be ten years later, but I decided to simply fix a few grammatical errors and let it stand as I frantically scribbled it in my prayer journal that morning a decade ago. The section you hi-lighted is one that I would edit, but not omit if I undertook the task.

If I were to rewrite it today, I would certainly also address issues of homophobia and islamophobia which have become more pronounced in the church since I wrote this. This particular year I'd probably apologize for those who have entwined the story of Jesus so tightly with their own political party that they have damaged the reputation the gospel. I might apologize for other things if I started scribbling again...maybe I should do that, but this is more of a statement of what I was truly sorry for ten years ago. Most of it holds up.

Your second question is one I have never been asked. It's interesting only to say that I've never found someone looking to be thankful to the "church" at large. I'm certainly more uncomfortable receiving thanks than I am offering an apology. At the risk of sounding trite, I suppose any thanksgiving should be somehow directed to God and not toward me or any other follower. Jesus constantly teaches us to repent and confess, but doesn't spend as much time teaching us how to receive praise...I would assume because that is reserved for God alone.

If the question is rooted more in how I view myself, then I'd want to clearly state that I didn't offer the apology as a "leader" of the church, but as a member. I feel like all of us can, and probably should, apologize to the world for the times we have failed the world. So, if I receive thanks for those heroic followers, I suppose I would do that also as a member, not a leader or self-appointed representative. If someone walked up to me and said, "You are a Christian and Mother Theresa's story changed my life. I just want to thank your people for what they have done for me." I suppose I would say, "You're welcome. But Mother Theresa herself would want you to know that it wasn't her story, but Jesus' story that changed your life." I guess that's how I'd deal with it.

Good questions...I'm going to watch football now!

Friday, October 10, 2008


I've had lots of requests to post the "apology" that I read this weekend at church. It's from a page in my prayer journal over ten years ago, dated 9-2-98:

I feel the need to ask for forgiveness, whether it is forgiveness from God, or from or from the millions of people who have been offended by the church I am unsure:

I need to ask forgiveness for the ongoing corruption of the church at large since the early days of the church, for I believe that it is a sin to use the church for personal or political gain.

I need to ask forgiveness for every boring church event, church service, or sermon since the creation of the church, for I believe that it is a sin to bore people with the good news of Jesus Christ.

I need to ask forgiveness for the silence of the European church during the Jewish holocaust, and of the American church during the years of slavery, for I believe that it is a sin for the church of God to sheepishly stand by while innocent people die.

I need to ask forgiveness for the subtle, unspoken belief that we created God in our own image as opposed to embracing our own created-ness, for I believe that it is a sin to deny the power, mystery, and miracle that is God.

I need to ask forgiveness for the weight of rules and legalism that has shackled the church, making it oppressively boring and guilt-centered, for I believe that it is a sin to deny people their freedom in Christ.

I need to ask forgiveness for every right wing political zealot who has ever advocated violence against innocent people in the name of Christ, for I believe that it is a sin to judge in the place of God.

I need to ask forgiveness for every sidewalk and soap-box preacher who has so much as cracked upon a Bible with anger or pride in his heart, for I believe that it is a sin to misrepresent the character of a loving God.

I need to ask forgiveness for every cult leader and extremist group leader who has ever led people astray in the name of Christ, for I believe that it is a sin to desire the position of Jesus as the head of the church.

I need to ask forgiveness for every preacher who has thought with his zipper, or his wallet, or his ego, for I believe that it is a sin to lead the church while consumed with unconfessed sin.

I need to ask forgiveness for the millions of men in the church who have somehow stretched the Word of God to validate their own sexist views, for I believe that it is a sin to dishonor a woman.

I need to ask forgiveness for the thousands of church splits and denominational factions that have ripped the body of Christ in every direction except heavenward, for I believe that it is a sin to bring disunity to the body of Christ.

I need to ask forgiveness for the thousands of churches who are set up as extravagant social clubs, for I believe that it is a sin to ignore the poor and hurting among you.

I need to ask forgiveness for every misspent dime that was ever placed in an offering basket, for I believe that it is a sin to waste an old lady’s tithe.

I need to ask forgiveness for the prostituting of the American church and the American minister to the American dream, for I believe that it is a sin for the church or her leaders to love money more than God.

I need to ask forgiveness for every self-centered, self-proclaimed “miracle worker” who has sold people counterfeit hope and light and fluffy theology for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, for I believe that it is a sin to spit in the face of God.

I need to ask forgiveness for every pastor or teacher who has ever stepped in front of their congregation without preparing or praying or confessing their sin, for I believe that the sin of the leader somehow mysteriously thwarts the growth of the local church.

I need to ask forgiveness for every sin of every priest, pastor, minister, reverend, teacher, elder, deacon, pope, nun, monk, missionary, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, apostle, prophet, and church member from the inception of the church until this very second, for I believe that sin is the problem with the church.

And lastly for me: For my sin - my pride, my anger, my laziness, my lack of faith, my lack of mercy, my over-analysis of life, my immaturity, my depraved heart that is bent to evil. Forgive me, if you can, for I am a sinner. Blame me and others like me for a messed up church that has done more than its share of evil deeds. Blame me if you have to, but don’t blame the church whom I love. The church is perfect in theory, perfect in origin and, sometimes, even perfect in practice. Our sin corrupts her, but she never folds. Our pride limits her growth, but she never dies. For, she is the Bride of Christ - perfect before him. She is the Body of Christ-his hands, his feet, and his tears. And she is the voice of hope in a hopeless world.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Film Festival Reminder!

For those of you in the Louisville area or you Cincy folks looking to take a two-hour Sunday drive to see a film this weekend, The Road to Emmaus, PA will premiere this Sunday, Oct. 12 at 3:45 p.m. at the Derby City Film Festival in downtown Louisville, KY. Just click on the festival site for directions.

We are also planning showing the film at VCC in Cincinnati on Sunday, November 2.

Here's the trailer on youtube:

Monday, October 06, 2008

On Being "Bailed Out"

I read the following at my church this weekend. Several people requested that I put it on my blog. It's a theological response to the bail out plan:

Ivan Illich was once asked, ‘What is the most revolutionary way to change society: Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform?’ He gave a careful answer: ‘Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story.’

In a world where every thought of every person was only evil all the time, Noah told an alternative story and built a wooden freighter in his back yard in the middle of a drought. His story saved the world.

In a world where people worshiped rocks shaped like frogs and painted logs sticking out of the ground, Abraham told an alternative story of a personal God who speaks directly to people and births a new nation out of a geriatric barren woman’s womb.

In a world where his family rejected him, his boss’s wife framed him as a rapist and his friends forgot all about him, Joseph told an alternative story to the face of the most powerful man in the ancient world when he told the Pharaoh to trust the Living God, Yahweh, the only one powerful enough to truly bail out nations on the edge of economic collapse.

In a world where he and all of his countrymen were the slaves of a tyrant and a bounty was on his own head as a murderer, Moses told an alternative story to the face of his oppressor when he said, “You can’t have this nation anymore. We are God’s people and he’s been pretty clear this time. I just got back from a magic burning bush. This is what the Lord says, “You let my people go. They have a better story to tell than the one you are telling.”

In a world where the greatest leader of their nation had died and millions of families wandered as political refugees in the desert for four decades, Joshua told an alternative story as he slid his general’s sword into his scabbard and said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Our story is already written, Our story is God’s story and it is not a story that ends in defeat, but in victory.”

In a world where the good people of the world were being beaten and pillaged and raped by an evil nation, God sent a messenger to tell Gideon, a frightened weakling of a man, an alternative story. The angel said, “On your own you are nobody, Gideon, but with God you are a mighty warrior. Get up and trust God to bail his people out of this mess.”

In a world where two superpowers lined up opposite each other for war and the destiny of two real historical nations hanged in the balance, a shepherd teenager carrying a basket of bread for the soldiers was the only one brave enough to tell an alternative story. David said, “ I’m just a boy with a rock and he’s a giant with a spear, but I got a Living God and he worships a bronze plated goat. My story wins.”

In a world where everyone he knew was killed or taken captive to a foreign land – a world where he himself was a slave for his entire life, Daniel told an alternative story when he approached king after king, decade after decade and said, “There is only one Living God and He’s not your god, He’s mine. And He’s got a message for you – your story is temporary but his is eternal.” They put his friends in a fiery furnace and threw him to the lions, but in the alternative story fire’s not all that hot and hungry lion’s make wonderful house pets.

And then it happened.

The Alternative Story became flesh and he lived among us. The Alternative Story was with God in the beginning. The Alternative Story was God. He came to the people of the alternative story, but his people did not recognize their Author. They rejected the Alternative Story for a different story – one that seemed more reasonable and possible and palatable and safe. And when it came time to give the Alternative story a name, the peasant teenage girl who birthed him named him Jesus whish literally means “God Saves Us” or “God Rescues Us” or “God Bails Us Out.”

For three years God Bails Us Out taught us that the alternative story was breaking into humanity in a fresh, real and dangerously significant way. He came to let us know that on the day he left us, the very last chapter of humanity’s alternative story would begin. And we believed him. He asked us to trust him – to trust God. And we trusted him. He warned us that we can’t always trust the religious leaders or the politicians or the economists or the powerful militants, but we can always trust him.

Then he died. But not before giving death itself an alternative story. In our new story, death begets life, not the other way around. So though he died, he lives. And we have the same promise.

And the story continued.

Peter told an alternative story to the masses in Jerusalem and 3,000 believed in one day. They abandoned their old story for the new alternative Jesus story.

Paul told an alternative story to those farthest from God and they started little churches in most every town in the ancient world. Little churches that would spread like a good cancer all through the Roman Empire.

100 years later, Polycarp, the elderly pastor of the church in Smyrna, told an alternative story to those who burned him at the stake for his faith when he boldly said his last words – “86 years I have served him, how can I now deny my savior who bought me?”

A century or two later, an ex-slave named Patrick from Britian came back to his captors after escaping from Ireland and told an alternative story that lead to wildfire revival and free flowing green beer for centuries to come.

700 years after that, a wealthy snot-nosed son of a fashion designer named Francis told an alternative story when he rejected all his father’s wealth to start a movement of compassion and radical generosity in the village of Assisi.

Martin Luther told an alternative story when he questioned the corruption and materialism of the church at a time when thing like that could get a monk killed and in doing so he turned history on it’s head.

And on it goes from there: John Calvin to the Wesley Brothers to Martin Luther King Jr. to Billy Graham. Dozens of names you would recognize and millions of names you would not. They all boldly stood up in their time and place and told an alternative story of a God who bails out people and offers hope for the hopeless.

A generation ago, a man named John Wimber told an alternative story that the supernatural could happen naturally in the church, that worship could happen simply and God is still in the business of Kingdom expansion and doing the “Jesus stuff” today. That story launched what we call the Vineyard movement.

A few decades ago, Steve Sjogren and the founders of my church told an alternative story when they proclaimed that we would love our city in practical ways until every last soul in Cincinnati was touched by the love of God.

Dave Workman told an alternative story in our church two years ago when he said the unthinkable – that we would raise a bunch of money, but the money isn’t going to be spent on ourselves. We are going to spend it on the poor of our city, the next generation of our future and the practical needs of those people dying today in nation of Nigeria. That’s the story that got me out of southern California 14 months ago. I came here to tell the story that a church can, despite all of its weaknesses, be relentlessly focused on seeing the alternative story expand to the poor, the hurting, the lost, the far away and the near-by.

I came here for one reason: to tell an alternative story with you. This place isn’t perfect, not even close. But we’ve got a story to tell. And all I know is this: when God’s people end up in a time in history that seems difficult or scary or hard, we are to have but one reaction. We tell our story louder. We do not shrink back, but press forward. Only we hold the alternative story that the world needs. That’s what it means to be the church – to be engrafted into the story of God and Israel through Christ. To be a Christian is to join the alternative story. To follow Jesus is to say, “in god we trust” when we are tempted to trust anything or anyone else who tells a story different than ours.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

quote me on this one

I'm not a big quote guy. I tend to zone out when people quote something to me. I can like pithy sayings as much as the next guy, but they just aren't normally my thing. That said, I'm gonna share this quote with 6,000 of my closest friends this weekend. It's a quote from Ivan Illich recorded by Tim Costello on his website and then recorded in my buddy Neil Cole's book, Organic Church. So I'm not even sure who I'm really quoting, but here ya go:

Ivan Illich was once asked, ‘What is the most revolutionary way to change society: Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform?’ He gave a careful answer: ‘Neither. If you want to change society, then you must tell an alternative story’, he concluded.

I think the gospel dwells in the truth in that quote.

Monday, September 29, 2008

What I'm going to say.

My personal Jedi Master, Dave, tends to blog about "what he should have said" after a weekend message. I thought I'd try that in reverse this week. I'm kicking off a new teaching series this weekend at VCC entitled "In God We Trust - how the church responds in a tough economy." This isn't what we planned on speaking about this month. However, sometimes certain issues arise in a culture that cannot be ignored by the church. A few weeks back I wrote a paragraph to narrow my thoughts for this week:

WEEK ONE: THE MISSION ISN'T IN RECESSION: The church is on a mission from God – to proclaim the reality and availability of the Kingdom of the Heavens, to love those far from God so much that they may consider his love for themselves, to freely and radically give away all that we have for the sake of Christ and Kingdom. The church cannot afford to take the two easy options in our current economic condition: 1.) To ignore the bad economy and preach na├»ve prosperity or 2.) To acknowledge the problem and cowardly shrink away from the mission. This is the time that the world needs the church to be the church - to stand up, offering hope in practical and impractical ways. This means that we as individuals should align ourselves with Kingdom economic practices and fully trust God to provide for his people.

That's about all I have so far. I've been reading a lot of early church teachings on economic issues - the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermes, Augustine, etc. I've been wrestling with Jesus' call to radical economics in the gospels. I've also noticed that Acts, James and Revelation all take Jesus' teachings in subtly different directions. This stuff isn't new for me to think about. I was profoundly influenced long ago by Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder in regard to my Kingdom economics. I've been re-reading their stuff and enjoying the current essays at (A highly recommended site/cyber community btw.)

So, this week feel free to wrestle along with me. How would you use 30 minutes to broach this subject with thousands of people ranging from raging skeptics to seasoned saints? What big issue stirs in your heart when you think about these things? What Bible stories or truths come to your mind? Do we need a call to courage or a call to understanding or both? Comment away and maybe we can figure this one out together this week...

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Meetings. I used to rant and rave about how much I hate meetings. In my current job, I'm pretty much in meetings all day every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. This week has been a little more than normal. I'm writing now in the one hour of non-meeting that I have between Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. and tonight at 9:00 p.m.

Meetings are good if they have a purpose. Different meetings have different purposes. Some of my meetings this week are one-on-one conversations. Some with friends, some with strangers. Some of my meetings this week were large - like Alpha. A meeting like that is interesting. 120 people volunteering to show up at the same time and place to ask questions about God and life. That seems like a good reason to meet. Some of my meetings happen every week - with Dave or Garry or Brad or Ed. Some meetings feel a little more weighty, like our six hour VCC Elder meeting coming up at noon.

Then there are the meetings that tend to give to you more than you give to them - the improv class where you see your students break through, the baseball game where your son makes his first double, the candle lit dinner during a power outage with your wife. Those meetings give you fuel for the others. In my life, I mostly go to meetings for the sake of other people - to serve my city and my church. But it's those other meetings that serve me.

The problem with meetings, of course, is that you can meet all day long about how to live your life and never live it. The ebb and flow of community and solitude, of work and rest, of duty and freedom, of order and chaos is perhaps the great unspoken struggle of my life. I have had years of solitude, rest, freedom and chaos. I've also had years of community, work, duty and order. And I have, more than most people I know, had the remarkable ability to romanticize order when I play and play when I work. As I get older, however, the seasons seem to be getting closer to each other - merging in some way. Perhaps maturity looks more like the seasons overlapping and interacting with one another on a daily or hourly basis.

This I know. In the middle of literally 36 straight hours of meetings, I am most grateful to have found this hour to pray and write. This hour will buy me what I need to show up alert for the next nine.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Old Writings, New Tidings

I spent a good part of this morning transferring old stories, articles and essays that I have written from my old laptop to my new one. I do mean "old" laptop - I have had three other primary computers since I used this one. Most of the writings I found were written between 1998-2001. It's a strange Saturday activity to read your own words from ten years ago for a few hours. I expected to hate everything and feel foolish for ever writing them. That happened a few times, but overall I was surprised that I enjoyed reading my own words. A lot of my essays and articles were very serious, but I found a humorous Christmas piece that I did in 2000. It's not Christmas time, but I thought I'd share it anyway. (The other things I wanted to share were 20-50 pages long...I thought that might shut blogger down...and who reads 50 page blog entries anyway?)

Here ya go - It's called, "Christmas as Best as I Can Remember It."

Christmas, as best as I can remember it, is about the birth of a baby named Jesus. Jesus was born on a snowy day in late December in the year zero. His mother’s name was Mary and his father was a fat, jolly man named Chris Kringle. Mary must have gotten remarried later on because Jesus’ last name was Christ, not Kringle.

Mary was a virgin, which means that she was born between May 12 and June 14, otherwise she would be known as the Capricorn Mary or the Leo Mary. Jesus was born in a manger. I don’t really know what a manger is, but I suppose it was like an olden-day version of a 7-11 -- a kind of pit-stop for people who would take road trips on donkeys.

There were a bunch of shepherds in the manger where Jesus was born. An angel with a harp came to the North Pole and told the shepherds that they should go look for a baby with a corn-cob pipe, a button nose and two eyes made out of coal. So, they rustled up some flying reindeer, including one really cool one named Rudolf who had a glowing nose, and flew to Bethlehem, a small town somewhere in the Middle East – Pennsylvania, maybe.

There were also three wise men at the manger that night. They were professors at the local community college and had followed a star from the East. I’m not sure the star’s name, but he must have been someone pretty important like Mel Gibson or Clint Eastwood to get three smart guys to follow him through the snow to see a baby. The wise men brought gifts for Mary and the baby: five golden rings, frankenstein, and a partridge in a pear tree.

There was also a little boy named Tiny Tim at the manger. He had come to the manger because his father, a mean man named Scrooge had seen a scary ghost who took all there money. As a result, all Tim could do was try to earn some extra cash by playing his drum for newborn babies. Pa-rumpapumpum

The first Christmas tree wasn’t much to look at either. It was just a puny thing brought by some kid with a yellow and black shirt. That is why it was such a surprise to everyone when a Grinch tried to steal it.

Steal it and steal it he tried to do. But succeed with his crime, he never would do, for whenever he tried to retreat with the tree, a bumble would come and bite at his knee.

It was so cold that first Christmas night that the wise men invited the animals to sleep in the manger -- sheep, cattle and reindeer alike. Despite all that noise, the little baby slept through the night without crying and Mary, Chris Kringle, the Shepherds, Wise Men, Tiny Tim and the kid with the drum knelt politely to pose for a polite figurine designer from Wichita named Charles Dickens . . . and the rest, as they say, is history.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Road to Emmaus, PA selected at film festival!

I'm happy to announce that our "road trip" film was selected to screen at The Derby City Film Festival in Louisville, Kentucky. They selected 40 films out of more than 400 submissions. It will screen on Sunday, October 12 at 3:45 pm at the Louisville Memorial Auditorium. For more information or for tickets check out the festival website at

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

48 hours off the grid and counting.

Hurricane Ike hit Cincinnati two days ago and shut us down. That's right, a hurricane hit Ohio. Hurricane force winds anyway - gusts over 80 mph. We haven't had power since 2:00 pm on Sunday and some estimates say it could be another five days depending on your neighborhood. Today I found a rogue coffee shop about six miles from my house with power and free internet - a double blessing.

So what happens when you don't have power for 48 hours?

1. The kids don't go to school.
2. The grown ups don't go to the office.
3. The food spoils.
4. No TV, video games, lights, dishwasher, garbage disposal, garage door opener, AC, electric fans, alarm clocks, cell phones after the batteries die, etc.
5. Neighbors talk to each other. It's the weirdest thing.
6. You teach your kids about pioneers and contentment and sharing and Benjamin Franklin.
7. Lots of Stratego, Monopoly, Yatzee and Black Jack. (Yes, we teach our kids to gamble. We are still Las Vegans at heart.)
8. Open flames in every room of the house after 8:00 pm.
9. You ponder the power of simplicity.
10. You embrace the gas grill on the back deck as the only source of heat - we've made potatoes, garlic bread, pancakes and chai tea on our grill so far.
11. Everyone at the one open grocery store in town is surprisingly talkative, including introverted teaching pastors.
12. You grow strangely thrilled by it all - you find yourself not entirely sure if you want the power to come back today or not.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Road to Emmaus, PA

Here is the official movie poster for VCC's first feature length film, The Road to Emmaus, PA. We had hoped all along that our four-day trip from Jerusalem, Ohio to Emmaus, PA would produce a feature documentary. It couldn't have happened without two of my friends pouring in hours and hours of editing work. Norm Freitag spent weeks watching the over 50 hours of footage and cutting the project down to a 90 minute story. Then, over the last several weeks, Mark Denney has led us through the final stages of seeing our dream come true. Their selflessness and resolve will be something that I will always remember about this project.

As I type this, Mark is working to wrap up the final edits so that we can meet our deadline for the Derby City Film Festival in Louisville on Monday. I'm hopeful that they will aceept the project and premiere it there in mid-October. We'll also plan a premiere at VCC sometime this fall.

I'm honored to be a part of this project, but even more proud to call these guys my friends. They're amazing.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Home in time.

I've been in Chicago for the last four days hanging out with the gang at Community Christian Church in Naperville, just outside of Chicago. They are innovators in many areas, but I was most impressed with the leadership culture at their church. I've returned home with a lot to think about...

The biggest news of my week is that we were able to come home one day early, which means that I returned home today on September 8th instead of tomorrow, September 9th as planned.

That's important because someone in my house was born on September 8, 2001. Aidan turned seven today. I missed Eli's seventh birthday two summers ago because of this ridiculous job. His birthday fell in the middle of a seven-week tour, and it was incredibly painful to be absent from my family for that long. So...coming home a day early means that I have still only missed that one birthday of the sixteen they have now shared.

Here's a recent photo of Aidan and the striking young fella he was named after, Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne:

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Spirit of Nicodemus

This weekend I spoke about Nicodemus. I find his story to be a very interesting subplot in John's gospel. He has only three appearances. In the first one (John 3) he appears as a curious seeker of truth. Like all seekers, he has a distinct point of view. He's a Rabbi, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish Ruling Council.) To quote Anchonrman Ron Burgandy, he's "kind of a big deal" - at least in religious circles. Maybe that's why he comes to Jesus "at night." Under the cover of darkness, it is safer to ask the controversial unsanctioned teacher some questions.

In 15 verses, Jesus seems to confuse the doctor of theology with his statements on being born again and receiving the Kingdom via the pneumas (spirit/wind). Finally, Jesus leaves the world of metaphors and allows Nicodemus' ears to be the first in history to hear John 3:16. "God loves the world, so he sent me." John doesn't tell us how Nicodemus responds, but it appears that he leaves Jesus with more questions than answers.

Nicodemus in many ways is a subtle antihero in John's account. He ought to be against Jesus. Politically speaking, he is an enemy of Jesus. Nicodemus seems to honestly struggle with Jesus - not as quick to follow him as the blue collar fisherman and desperate "sinners." Yet not as quick to codemn him as his elitist peers. He represents something rare in the gospel accounts - the voice of the thinking theist. He's open-minded. Cautious. Careful.

This is made even clearer in his second appearance recorded in John 7:45-52:

Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you bring him (Jesus) in?" "No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared. "You mean he has deceived you also?" the Pharisees retorted. "Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them."

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, "Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?"

They replied, "Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee."

In a black and white world, perhaps there is nothing more brave than the one person who stands up and screams, "Gray!" It is in Nicodemus that we see the courage to say, "I'm not sure that this Jesus is all that his followers claim him to be, but neither am I convinced that he is not that." He asks for what all true seekers ask for...he asks for the time to hear him for himself and to see with his own eyes what he is doing.

We hear no other words from the mouth of Nicodemus in the Bible, but we do see him again in chapter 19. At the cross:

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Mysterious, isn't it? I wonder if John wants it to be. He takes the time in his account to note that the fence-sitting curious Pharisee buries Jesus. History has assumed that this means Nicodemus eventually became a disciple of Jesus, but John doesn't let us know. Tradition tells us that Nicodemus became a preacher and a martyr. Perhaps he did. Regardless of what he became, Nicodemus teaches us that there is room at the cross for people with questions. It was a seeker who was among the first to the cross, and for twenty centuries they've never stopped gathering there.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Improv Classs Starts Tonight

Like I said earlier, I'm teaching a six-week Improv class at VCC starting tonight. I'm pretty excited. I tell Brad all the time that improv is magic. It has special powers to build community and change lives. I can't explain it, except that it makes us adults like children. Here's a quote from our Improv Matriarch, Viola Spolin:

"Improvisation is not exchange of information between players; it is communion. The heart of improvisation is transformation."

There are still a few spots left if you get this before 7:00 tonight.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sentimental Sojourner

We arrived back home from vacation on the one-year anniversary of our moving here to Ohio. It was strange to fly into the Dayton airport, a place I had only been twice before, and convince myself that I was now home. I've returned home to McCarran in Vegas at least fifty, maybe one hundred times, in my life. LAX or John Wayne a few dozen times. It is odd when home is not yet a familiar place.

Vacations make me homesick. The more places I have called home, the more homesick I get when I travel. This idea of life as a pilgrimage is foundational to me. The idea of being a "rebel pilgrim" is more than a title I've given this blog or my production company. It's my spiritual mandate: to be engrafted into the story of Israel and Christ as a wanderer/traveler/seeker. Part of being a pilgrim is being content with never having a home - at least not until the journey ends. The literal pilgrimage of my life has been simultaneously exhilarating and emotionally devastating. I desire to be grounded and yet I desire constant change and movement. Part of my soul never left Las Vegas. A smaller part stayed in California. Part was left here in Cincinnati from my college years, but when I returned I could not find it...because I had changed and returned home a different person.

And now nostalgia meets reality. Home is here. I would not go back, though sentimentality gets the best of me. Maybe there is time travel in the eternity we call Heaven. I'd give all my fortune (it's a lot, trust me) to have one more ping-pong match with Ernie, Doug and Lumpy in the second floor lounge at President's Hall in 1992. I'd love one more day with just Debbie and Cosmo (our cat) in our tiny first apartment in Las Vegas in 1995. One more early Sunday morning setting up for Canyon Ridge at Cimarron High School in 1996. Planning an early Apex service with Doug Citizen, Kristi Andrade and the gang in 1997. Waking up in the middle of the night at a time when I could hold Eli with just one hand and prepare a bottle with the other in 1999. A leisurely espresso with Kevin Rains in Quebec City in 2001. Just one more warm summer night in 2002 in the backyard of our first house on Tame Place. One more hour to read Nouwen or Willard or Hauerwas or Yoder for the very first time at the Starbucks at Lake Mead and Rainbow. And how I long for just one more performance at Tony n' Tina's Wedding circa 2005. To be Michael Just or Barry Wheeler for just two hours again. To step on stage and teach my friends at Lifelines one more time in Costa Mesa in 2006. To walk down Hollywood Boulevard with my headshot and resume in hand, muttering the lines of my upcoming audition and carefully not stepping on anyone's star out of respect for the auditions they endured decades before me. To slate my name and agency and nail one more reading would be a taste of heaven. But those days are over - all of those days. And I couldn't pick any one of those days that I liked more than the others. They are my pilgrimage. I loved them. I miss them.

And though I can't always feel it in the moment, I trust that a few years from now I will miss the summer of 2008 - the trip to Disney World with two boys who will still hold my hand and aren't too grown up to cry if they get hurt. Someday soon I'll wax nostalgic over my first year at The Vineyard: diving headfirst back into vocational ministry, being loved and accepted by a wonderful church, forging the foundation of what will be life-long friendships. Someday this very moment will be a romantic memory in the light of a future reality.

I'm a sentimental guy. Hauerwas says that sentimentality is the most dangerous enemy of the gospel. I've never fully understood his point, but part if it involves the easy choice we all make to live in the past as the future spontaneously unfolds all around us. As I manage through a strange bout of melancholy after a wonderful vacation, I am encouraged to see that my life has been so full of joy that my only sadness comes from remembering how good my life has been until now.