Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Last Blog Ever...

...on Blogger.

Thanks for a great 9.5 years, Blogger, but we all knew this day had to come. WordPress just gets me. I'm leaving you. Let's not drag this thing out. We will always have the early 2000's to look back on...and we will always be friends.

I'm archiving this page and moving Rebel Pilgrim to WordPress at I'd love to see you over there...

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Goat on a Cow!

Have you ever seen a goat standing on a cow? Me neither. I have professed my love for Radio Lab before. This may be my favorite ever. Listen to the link below:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is My Favorite Bible Story Biblical?

My favorite Bible story probably shouldn't be in the Bible. I love the story of the woman caught in adultery found in John 8. I think that I have publicly told every story about Jesus found in the Bible. But there are a few favorites. For some reason many are found in John's gospel - healing the man born blind on the Sabbath, turning water to wine, etc. But my favorite is the woman caught in adultery. I have to be pushing 100 tellings of that particular story in my lifetime. To me, it is gospel in microcosm.

But, here's the thing I tend to gloss over about that section of Scripture. There is almost no chance that the story was in the original manuscript we label the book of John. I won't bore you with the textual and archeological evidence for it. (Because I really don't care to convince you one way or the other.) Most scholars would agree that the story was likely added to John's gospel about 100-200 years after it was written. Now, my non-believing friends tell me all the time the New Testament was constantly altered by monks and scribes with agendas throughout antiquity - implying that we can't trust the text preserved for us. I think this opinion is generally overstated and uneducated. We have so many late copies of the New Testament books that we can rest assured most all of it contains the authors' original message. This story however fails the test of Johannine authenticity on a few fronts - it is the only story in John that pits Jesus in direct conflict with the Pharisees, for instance. This is a common theme in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), but not in John. The story actually fits the style of the synoptic gospels much better. (In fact, some early manuscripts find the exact story inserted into the later chapters of Luke instead of John.)

I feel like the reason this story still exists in most all modern translations is for one simple reason - we like it too much to get rid of it. It is so full of gospel that we can't bear the thought of de-canonizing it. This is also why I believe it made its way in originally. The early church couldn't let the story of Jesus exist without this account documented somewhere.

My personal guess (and even though I am acting like a scholar right now, I really have no credentials) is that this was an oral tradition rooted in some historical event in the life of Jesus that was so important to the early Christians that it made its way into the written accounts of the gospel after the fact. For years this bothered me. How could my favorite story be an add-on addition? What does that say about its historicity or inspiration?

Then, out of nowhere, I saw it in a new way. At the end of John's gospel he says this...

"Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the King, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name...Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written."

John gave us the stories we needed to receive life in Jesus. We have the gospel in full without the story in John 8. But the early church couldn't bear for us to be without they filled in just one of the empty pages in one of the books that the world did not have room for. It makes me wonder if this story of Jesus had become such a part of the early gospel telling that it found its way in at any cost. Is the story Biblical? I guess it depends on how you define Biblical. Is it true? Absolutely. And when I think about it that way, it means even more to me.

Here is my latest imagining of this story...

He squatted. A drop of sweat fell from his furrowed brow and landed on the dusty ground. It was a hot day. Her wails of agony and embarrassment pierced his ears. Had he taken the time to listen closer, he would have heard his enemies chattering and his followers gasping. But all he noticed was his own elevated heart rate.

He was focused on his next move. This was not on the agenda today. He was to teach in the morning, have lunch with his friends, then move onto the next house that had been arranged for him. He looked forward to what he hoped would be a softer bed in the new house than the one he had used for the last several days. His back ached.

He glanced up. He was surrounded. At least a dozen of them encircled the girl and him. They wore smug faces and the clean garments of priests and professors. He felt his stomach turn sour. Sometimes he wished he couldn’t’ see through them.

His eyes fell to her. Naked. Curled in a ball. Bleeding from her knees and face. She wept. Her fear overcame him. Anger boiled in his soul toward her accusers. She was only a pawn in their game. But she had a name…a story…and maybe even a future.

His eyes fell back to the ground. Instinctively he began to draw with his finger in the sand. Meaningless scribbles helped him think. Then he grinned ever so slightly. Like that moment a puzzle is solved in the mind.

“Well?” one of them spoke. It was the young brash one who had thrown her down by her hair. “What do we do with her, Rabbi? Moses says stone her. What do you say?”

His eyes didn’t go to the inquisitor. They stayed on her. She was curled nude in the fetal position. Like a baby abandoned at birth.

“We should stone her,” Jesus said. She shrieked. He was her last hope. “But we will do it right,” he continued. He only looked at her. “The one of us who is without sin will throw the first stone.”

Silence. Nothing but her whimpering. Just a thud as the oldest priest dropped his stone to the ground. Then another. And another. Then, like popcorn hitting that perfect temperature, they all began to fall. The young zealot was the last to leave. He turned and stormed off.

Finally, the teacher moved his eyes from her. They had all left. Only a few of his own disciples remained. They stared at him shocked. Confused. Speechless.

He removed his outer garment and walked to the girl. She couldn’t have been more than 17. The same age as his youngest sister. He covered her and lifted her chin with his finger. Again, he squatted.

She looked at him.

He wiped the tears from her eyes. Then the blood from her nose. “Where are they?” he whispered. “Your accusers are gone.” He looked past her eyes into her soul. “And I don’t accuse you either,” he said. “Now go, but stop sinning like this. It is destroying you.”

He stood and lifted her up. "Go on now."

She turned and limped away covered in his cloak, crying again.

But it was a different sort of cry.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

I just finished reading The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight, one of my two favorite books of the year. (The other is The Lost World of Genesis One by John H. Walton, which coincidentally was quoted in McKnight's book.)

McKnight is an author whom I have never read, but I have seen his name bantered about from time to time. I had briefly reviewed his 2010 article in Christianity Today that thoughtfully tackled an issue I have often struggled with - the congruity of the gospel of Jesus and the gospel of Paul.

Around a decade ago I read Dallas Willard's book The Divine Conspiracy. It was through that book that I first encountered the gospel of Jesus Christ. That may seem odd to say. I had been a Christian my entire life, graduated from Bible College and been a pastor for five years before reading it. My life could easily be divided into pre-Willard and post-Willard. Willard showed me that the gospel was the Kingdom come - not just sin management.

(Side note: I think The Divine Conspiracy is beginning to loom as a pivotal once-in-a-generation work in modern Christianity. Many evangelicals of my generation look back on that book as a kind of secret passage leading to a more Kingdom-centered tangible expression of Christianity.)

From Willard I found many other authors ready to aid in my exploration into this new and improved gospel - thinkers like Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, John Howard Yoder, Hans Kung, and N.T. Wright. Over time, N.T. Wright rose about them all as a trusted voice - even beyond Willard in many ways. Wright just seemed (and seems) a half-step ahead of so many of us. (The irony that an Anglican Bishop in England has become the patron saint of post-modern post-evangelicals in America is beyond explanation to me.)

When I picked up The Jesus Gospel I immediately noticed that it had two different forwards - one by N.T. Wright...the second by Dallas Willard. How could I not read on?

I hope this doesn't seem somehow conceited, but what I felt while reading McKnight's book was an intense measure of agreement and thankfulness. Reading, particularly reading theology, is often best when you find an author who stretches your common perceptions and assumptions. That is what Willard, and later Wright, did for me. Certainly, McKnight did that for me in stretches through this book. But it wasn't so much the head-tilting moments that won me over as it was the head-nodding moments. With nearly every paragraph I found myself thinking, "Good, someone else sees it that way too...and someone smarter than me. Maybe I'm not crazy, after all!"

I feel like, for instance, I am constantly harping on my evangelical friends about the danger of over-emphasizing personal salvation. McKnight confirmed in me that my prophetic instincts in that regard are grounded. The gospel is not fundamentally about your sin problem. It is about Jesus...and more specifically about Jesus being Israel's Messiah and the rightful Lord of the entire cosmos.

When in doubt as a "preacher," I tell stories about Jesus - or about his people, Israel. McKnight encouraged me that what I am doing is pure gospel proclamation. In short, he confirmed for me that gospel is what I have come to think it is - simply Jesus as King. He is the good news. His life, death, resurrection and appearances in the context of the story of Israel is what changes everything. Those of us who believe his story are sent to proclaim it as historical testimony. We don't have to persuade people to action. We just tell the story and the story does the work. It is good news. Perhaps more accurately, he is good news.

I rarely use this blog as a commercial, but I unashamedly encourage you to buy this book. It may do for you what The Divine Conspiracy did for me ten years ago.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Why Halloween Matters

Today 161 million people in the United States are celebrating Halloween. That makes it our second most celebrated holiday behind Christmas. (Or third highest if you count the Super Bowl as a holiday.) 70% of Americans are spending money on Halloween this year, the highest percentage ever. They are shelling out more cash per person than ever before as well...even in a down economy. $72.31 per person...or a grand total of $6.86 billion. There is a national shortage of black turtlenecks this year. So, you can guess who a few nerdy guys in your office will be going as tonight.

Chart: Halloween 2011 - Average Historical Spending

Halloween 2011 - Average Historical Spending
Powered By: iCharts | create, share, and embed interactive charts online

Chart: Halloween 2011 - Plans to celebrate

Halloween 2011 - Plans to celebrate
Powered By: iCharts | create, share, and embed interactive charts online

All of this spurs a few thoughts in me. Here are the reasons why I think Halloween works so well in our culture...and why, ultimately, I think it is more good than bad.

1. An excuse to celebrate.

Sure if you go back far enough you will find that this "holiday" is really the day before a church holiday celebrating the saints. This was the day to drive out the evil spirits from the village. If you look even further you will see that before the church got a hold of it, it was an ancient Celtic tradition to light bonfires on October 31 and scare away a few ghosts and zombies. I am going out on a limb here and saying that 99.9% of the people spending almost $7 billion aren't doing so as a sacrifice of praise to some evil force. Some of my people (evangelical Christians) get a little worked up about the origins of Halloween. I don't think the origins have anything significant to do with the modern American tradition. I don't think demons are rejoicing that kids are dressing up like Angry Birds and Harry Potter.

Most American holidays are the same way. Modern Christmas has a little, but not much, to do with the birth of Christ. Modern Independence Day and Memorial Day (much younger holidays than Halloween and Christmas) have relatively little to do with Independence or Memorial. For some people they do...but for the majority of Americans those days are about burgers on the grill and fireworks in the sky. Even MLK Day, a holiday less than a generation old, is becoming more of a mid-winter's day off than a true solemn reflection on civil rights. September 11th is not an official holiday, but it is the closest thing we have now to a day of remembering. That said, I'd bet the farm that my grandkids will have that day off school and have no idea why.

I should say that none of this really bothers me. It just is. It's up to me to teach my kids about these traditions - and I do some of them and not others. My whole point here is that we live in a culture that is way less concerned with remembering (origins of holidays) than using them as an excuse to celebrate. Maybe behind all of this is that we don't celebrate enough. People need to party...

2. An excuse to play.

Halloween gives us (adults and kids alike) an excuse to play. We are more pent up than we would ever care to admit. Truth be told, we should all dress up and pretend more than one day a year. As a trained improviser, I see this more clearly than most. I would submit that part of fascination with Halloween is that it is a free pass to take a risk, to improvise, to pretend. Everyone who wants to play gets to play on Halloween. Try showing up to work in April dressed as Gandalf. It won't go over well. But anything goes today...

3. An excuse to be generous.

People are all selfish, right? Halloween proves that, doesn't it? Greedy little kids begging for candy door to door. It's pathetic. is really more about the people giving out the candy. Every year I hear people complain that they didn't get enough greedy little beggars at their door. Sure, every fourth house is locked up and darkened to keep the little ones away. But three out of four are lit up and waiting for an excuse to express generosity. People love to share when it feels safe to do so. Who doesn't like watching a five-year old princess light up after landing a snack-sized Snickers? Giving is good for the soul.

4. An excuse to be communal.

Most of us live in neighborhoods or apartments designed for isolation. As an introvert myself, I see why this is not a bad way to go. The downside is obvious. Most of us don't know our neighbors, let alone love them. Then comes that one night in October when you can't avoid them...unless you flee the neighborhood for a few hours. Every Halloween you get a glimpse of a neighborhood running on an open door policy. And for most of us, it feels strangely right. For some of us, it gives us the courageous to be more neighborly other nights of the year.

Of course, you could look for all of the negative indicators that our fascination with this night brings. They are there - excuses to be gluttonous or promiscuous or whatever. But let's not overlook what is trying to break through...maybe all of this is really a desire in us to be a bit more normal in a world that says normal people never dress up as superheros, give away candy to strangers or hope someone comes knocking on their door asking for a handout.

For those of us who believe God is redeeming everything on the planet, it only makes sense that a pre-modern Celtic tradition rooted in the fear of demons, ghosts and zombies would morph into an excuse to love our neighbors in America several thousand years later.

Happy Halloween to you and yours.

*Halloween stats courtesy of National Retail Foundation.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Other Prince

I haven't really looked at my book Between Two Kingdoms for about a year. Debbie had been reading it to the kids over the last few weeks. (They were so excited to read their dad's book that they penciled it in about 18 months after the release.) Last week, Eli asked me to pick up reading. "How often do you get the author of a book to read it to you?" was his pitch. Manipulatively masterful. Considering I am pretty sure he can read for himself.

So I did...and continued a few nights until completing it last night. Through the process, I realized that I had not read the last chapters of the book for two years or longer. It was an odd experience. I couldn't remember writing several sections. (Maybe my editor made significant improvements...or maybe I just forgotten. Hard to say.) I was struck, most surprisingly, by the fact that I enjoyed it. I think creatives tend to look back on their art with embarrassment. ("I could do much better now," we think.)

I was most struck by the chapter I wrote introducing the evil character Senkrad. He loomed as a faceless, terrible force throughout the book, but appeared for the first time toward the very end. As I read, I remembered how easy it was to write his dialogue. Evil is easy for me to imagine. I have always felt that evil is mostly good with a subtle twist. His words even made sense to me as I read them to Eli. "This Senkrad guy makes a pretty compelling argument," I found myself thinking. I'd like to share a section of the chapter called The Other Prince with you here. Hopefully it will makes sense out of context.

Tommy found himself in the middle of a huge bed covered with a thick, white, down comforter. The room was bright, and if he had not known better, he would have thought that the sun was shining in through the many windows. Touching his head, he discovered that his wound had already been neatly bandaged. He also realized that he was now wearing white, silk pajamas. His hooded robe was gone, as were his clothes—including his jacket.

He sat up in a panic.

A man sat in an easy chair across from him. The man had his legs crossed casually and was sipping tea from a cup. He had a sparkle in his eyes and a kind, relatively young face. Though Tommy had never seen him before, the man seemed strangely familiar to him.

“How’s your head, Tom?” the gentleman asked. “Do I know you?” asked Tommy. “Search your heart. I think you do,” replied the mysterious man. He stood up from the chair and walked over to a small bar. He poured freshly squeezed orange juice from a glass pitcher into a tall, chilled glass and brought it to Tommy.

“Drink this. Your breakfast is on its way.” Tommy sat on the edge of the bed, looking suspiciously at the orange juice.

“Tom—or Tommy, if you prefer—if I had wanted to hurt you or poison you I would have done it already. Drink your juice. Two gentlemen ought to be able to trust each other, yes?”

Tommy was parched and he gulped the juice down. It was the best-tasting drink he had ever had in his life. The man returned to his chair and crossed his legs once more.

“Would you like some more?” He asked, with friendly eyes. Tommy shook his head no. “Are you . . . Senkrad?”

The man laughed. “Senkrad? No. There is no Senkrad, my brother. It’s all a very silly myth. My name is Adam. This is my home.”

The man seemed so familiar to Tommy, like an old friend or relative. It was making Tommy crazy as he tried to place his face.

“I’m confused,” Tommy admitted. “Where are Amanda and Bobby?”

“They are being helped by some of my friends, Tommy,” said the man. “How about you think about yourself for a change? Why did you come here in such a hostile manner? I would have been happy to invite you in and discuss things, like two reasonable, well, adults. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t give me a chance to be your friend, before deciding to make me an enemy.” He almost sounded hurt.

“I didn’t just decide to make you my enemy, Sen—Adam. You are the one who started all of this. If you really are the prince of this world, then you owe us all an explanation. You made the Long Night, not us,” said Tommy.

“A prince is the son of a King, Tommy. I’m not a prince. I am no one’s son.”

“So you are a king, then?” asked Tommy.

“I don’t like to think of it that way,” said the man, with another friendly smile. “I’m really more of a servant than anything else. I serve everyone who lives in the Lower Kingdom. Think of me as the Servant-in-Chief.”

“How is all of this darkness and destruction serving these people?” Tommy swung the covers off and sat up in the bed.

The man looked steadily into Tommy’s eyes. “How old do you think I am, Tommy?”

“I don’t know. What does it matter?”

“Take a guess. How old do I look?” “Maybe thirty,” said Tommy. “I’m twenty-nine,” he said. “I have been in this Kingdom for hundreds of years, but I’m only twenty-nine. Eternally twenty-nine.”

“I don’t understand your point,” said Tommy. “I know how old you are. You are seven. You look like you could be my age, but you aren’t, are you? You must be embarrassed of your real age down here in my world; and I understand why. What does a seven-year-old know about life? About death? About trust or wisdom or anything of any importance? Don’t misunderstand me, Tommy. It’s not your fault you don’t know many things . . . most seven-year-olds simply aren’t that informed yet. Don’t you ever want to grow up a little, Tommy? Don’t you ever want to know a little more? To be . . . older?”

Tommy rubbed his forehead. Was this all a bad dream?

“Tommy? I asked if you ever want to be older?”

“I don’t know . . . maybe I’d like to be older sometimes, but I know I don’t want to die, and old people eventually die.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Tommy,” Adam placed his teacup on the table beside his chair and leaned forward. In a near whisper, he continued, “I’m still alive. I haven’t died. I’ve found the perfect age and stayed there. A few years older than this and my body would start to break down ever so slightly. I’d become just a little weaker day by day, until my body would eventually wear out, as you say. A few years younger than this and I wouldn’t be as strong and mature as I am right now. This is the perfect age, and I wish everyone could be twenty-nine forever. That’s all I’m trying to do . . . just help people live better lives. Share what I know, what I have.”

“But how did you do it? How did you get to this age and then stop growing?”

“I willed it. You can too, Tommy. You can . . . most people can’t. Most people need someone like us to will it for them. That’s what the Long Night is all about. The sun is what ages my people, you see. Those harmful rays. I’m trying to stop them from aging. Once I do, I have a plan to bring light back into the world. I wouldn’t leave those I love in darkness forever. Not like your King has done to you.”

“My King would never keep me in darkness,” snapped Tommy.

“Oh, well, I mean no offense. He gives you light for your eyes, yes, but what about your mind? He keeps the important things from you, Tommy. Tell me, what has your King taught you about the mystery of death? Has he told you anything about death, except that you should avoid it? What has he told you about the Messengers? What about the ocean that surrounds the island? Where does it go? What is its name? What of the stars, Tommy? Where did they come from? Where do they go when night fades? What has he taught you about how these two kingdoms were formed? Who created them in the first place? Surely, someone did? What has he done for you except make you a leader and force you to wear a ridiculous coat that actually prevents you from leading well?”

Tommy sat on the edge of the bed, motionless, yet feeling pulled in a thousand directions. “I feel sick.”

I think this chapter was easy for me to write because it is so similar to the constant chatter going on silently between my ears. In a world where everything is doctored with a strategic spin, including - maybe especially - matters of spirituality, life can get confusing. As I have attempted to pray in different ways over the last few weeks, I begin to notice that the chatter lessens. In prayer we catch glimpses of our true Prince. We see his face, hear his voice, know his presence. Knowing Jesus is the only way I know to identify his many imposters. I think I am getting a little better at knowing the difference between the real and artificial these days. I hope the same is true for you.

*Art provided by Mark Haas for Between Two Kingdoms

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs on Death (and Life)

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

-Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford University Commencement Speech

Read it all here.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Why I Make Movies

I finally have had time to reflect a little on the last two months. It has been rather intense on the creative front with pre-production and production of A Strange Brand of Happy and the premiere of Fenced Off at the Cincinnati Film Festival this past weekend. Making movies is hard work. I mean, it's not like being a coal miner or a Navy Seal, but it is difficult. Funding an independent film is hard work. Shooting on a tight budget: hard. Editing with limited resources: hard. You get the picture.

So, I have been asking myself the question of late: Why do I do this? Part of me believed (actually, sort of hoped) that after wrapping production of A Strane Brand of Happy I would have realized that this isn't my thing. That I could scratch "make four movies" off the bucket list and move onto some other grand distraction. But that didn't happen. Quite the opposite. Why?

"Happy" was the most difficult shoot to date. It was more pressure, more people, more problems. There was one day about seven days into shooting that I thought it was all going to fall apart. Really - not hyperbole. I thought I had made a mistake that was going to shut us down. But after about twelve hours of phone calls, we made it through. By the end of the shoot, three weeks later, that day was a distant memory - a milestone on the journey we could laugh about. But on that day, I was stumped and scared. But here is the biggest learning I took from that day and this last movie shoot: I did not want to give up. Not even for a second.

Some people never give up on anything. That's a relatively admirable trait. I used to be more that way, but a few major life lessons have taught me that there is a time to give up an a time to press forward. Some things need to die. But that never crossed my mind with this project. I was going to die fixing it before I would let it fall apart. I think there must be something to the thing in a person's life that generates that sort of commitment. Sure, it could (and probably does) partially stem from some sort of brokenness or pride in me. Maybe these little movie projects can become too important to me. But...that's just half the equation. There is also something to working in the bullseye of your passion and skill set that is different, right, and even holy.

I learned on the set of my fourth movie that I am a filmmaker. That may seem strange. But that's the big takeaway. It doesn't mean that I am not other things, but it means I am, indeed, that. I cannot be otherwise.

It took about 24 hours after wrapping for the first texts to come in from Brad Wise and Isaac Stambaugh, my creative partners who worked even harder on this movie than I did. They were dead tired, beat up and physically sick from a grueling month of 14-hour days. But guess what their post-shooting texts were about? They were all about what's next. "What if we did this?" "What about that idea we had two years ago?" "We should get together and discuss the next project."

So there you have it. It is communal and contagious. Like a disease that brings life. Storytellers simply have to tell stories. And when you get a team of storytellers that are willing to work through the incredibly difficult task of producing a story, you emerge ready to tell the next one. This is the biggest irony of all. What we learned in the making of A Strange Brand of Happy is, in essence, the overriding message of the film itself - that when a person, or group of people, operate within their God-given gifts and passions, a strange brand of happy overtakes them. We believe this quirky inner fulfillment is a pathway to God. Follow it and you will find a Creator and a Storyteller ready to write you into the next chapter.

We have launched a new website to keep everyone updated on our stories. You can learn more about A Strange Brand of Happy, Fenced Off and our other movies at And, to be sure, we will let you know as soon as we figure out what is next.

So, the answer to the question, "Why do you make movies?" is the same answer I have to the other foundational questions of my life, like "Why are you faithful to your wife and kids?" or "Why do you teach so much about Jesus and the Kingdom?"

I do those things because it is who I am. Any other explanation would miss the point.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Join me?

There are two events very close to my heart this coming weekend. If you live near Cincinnati, I'd love to invite you to both. The Vineyard's Prom for adults with special needs is this Friday. I have never met someone who volunteered at the Prom who didn't walk away changed by the experience. It is one of the greatest reflections of community and love that I get to experience every year. There is still room to volunteer to serve in a variety of capacities. Just click here to learn more. Also, this Saturday, the day after the Prom, our latest movie Fenced Off has its world premiere at the Cincinnati Film Festival. We are very excited that the movie will be seen first here in Cincinnati. It is my second year in a row to have a film in the festival and I'm honored to be associated with it. If you'd like to join us for the premiere, you can reserve tickets at this link. Check out the Fenced Off trailer below:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Week Two of "Strange Brand" Begins Today.

Week one of A Strange Brand of Happy is safely in the can. We have a great team that really started to gel toward the end of the week. We spent four days in Norwood shooting at at duplex owned by a great guy named Tony. He couldn't have been nicer. Before that, we shot one day at Queens Tower in Price Hill. We were able to get some amazing shots of the city from the 14th floor. The very first day we shot at Dewey's Pizza in West Chester. I loved Dewey's before we shot there and my opinion of them is through the roof now. The manager was over the top hospitable - feeding us lunch AND throwing in a few extra pies for the crew as we wrapped. I couldn't be happier that they have chosen to be a part of this movie. As far as talent goes, Rebecca St. James was in last week for several days. She is now gone for a while and will return for the last few weeks of the shoot. My friend Holly Walker is here, playing a role but also helping out with the crew. She is the Leonard DiCaprio to my Martin Scorsese. (She has been in all four narrative films I have made. Because she is crazy talented.) My buddy Ben Keller stole every scene his was in with me last week...and I couldn't be happier about it. And my friend Bekka Prewitt came home to Cincinnati from LA to play the role of "Terry." She nailed it. Today we move onto to shoot at a bar in Fairfield. My friend and locally based stand-up comic, Geoff Tate, will be playing the bartender in these scenes. Lots of Hitting The Nuts alum acting this week including Chris Day, Nick Ghizas and Mike Betette. Speaking of...Mike is coming in from LA for only one day. While he is here, we are planning on doing a little free improv show at Taza this Saturday, August 27th at 9 pm. Mike, Holly Walker and I will be doing a three person show with some time at the end for other improvisers to jump in. It should be hilariously funny so long as I stay out of their way. They are two of the most talented improvisers on planet earth. See this Facebook link for more details about the show Thanks to all of you who helped us out last week with food, locations, extra work, etc. I will do my best to keep you updated as this week progresses.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Strange Brand of Happy Shoots Today!

Making a movie is a journey in three legs. The middle leg is the most chaotic, fun and collaborative. It is the part that most people think of when they think about making a movie. It starts with principal photography and ends about a year later with a final cut. Today, A Strange Brand of Happy begins a 25-day shoot in Cincinnati.

Day one of shooting is probably my favorite in the whole process. It marks the end of leg one - the conception phase that moves the project from idea to script to financing to pre-produciton. Conception phase of this movie has taken 957 days. (Brad Wise mailed me the idea for this movie on December 31, 2008.) This day also marks the beginning of a new phase. Today the vision and dream of this story moves from a few dozen people to a few hundred. I have never experienced anything like the collaboration of a film set. It is a strange concoction of unexpected joys, surprises, problems and solutions. There are daily moments of fear and dread followed by waves of elation. It's life at its best for me.

After this phase, we will move into the multi-year process of securing distribution, marketing and delivery. That phase has its moments, but this one is my favorite. Today is the day that we look back on more than two years of hard work and say, "That was really difficult, but we made it! Now we have earned the right to really go to work."

We'd love for you to stay updated on the progress of the movie. Pick your favorite way to connect from the links below and join the journey with us!

A Strange Brand of Happy Official Site
A Strange Brand of Happy Official Facebook
A Strange Brand of Happy Official Twitter
A Strange Brand of Happy IMDb
Rebel Pilgrim Productions Facebook

Monday, August 08, 2011

So You Want to Be an Author? Actor? Pastor? Etc?

I get a lot of emails from people wanting to become something they are not yet. What I mean, is they want to become an author, a screenwriter, an actor, a filmmaker, or even a pastor. These are all things I have done and currently do, so it makes sense people would reach out to me for advice, I suppose. I did the same thing when I first realized I wanted to do any of those things.

Here is what is really behind a lot of the emails I receive: Those who want to be authors or writers really want to be published. Those who want to be screenwriters or filmmakers really want to see their story played out in a movie theater. And most people contacting me wanting to be a pastor want to lead a church - often a big church.

None of those desires are necessarily bad, but they are often misplaced. They seek a validation that comes from vocation. It is completely natural. I still fall into it myself. But it is not the best way to get there from here.

Let's say you have a job now, but want to do something else. I have come to believe that there is only one genuinely responsible way to get there - start now. But don't quit your day job.

You will never make it to the shelf at Barnes & Noble or Blockbuster with your idea. (Mainly because neither will be around anymore by the time your idea gets to that point.) You may get a book in the Kindle store or a movie on iTunes someday. But, for your sake, I hope it is not your first book or movie. You might get a starring part as an actor on Broadway or in a big budget Hollywood movie, but unless you happen to be young, gorgeous, super talented and related to someone in the business, I wouldn't count on it being your first role.

You start becoming an author by writing. For free. For whoever will read what you write. I always recommend starting a blog to anyone who wants to be a writer. I blogged for about eight years before I got a book deal. I wrote the first few chapters of about ten books before anyone ever even read a manuscript. I have at least a half dozen screenplays on my Mac that have never seen the light of day. Mainly because they are bad. My experience is that by the time you get something you have written published or produced, it doesn't feel like that big of a deal...but like the next logical step in a lifelong process.

You start becoming an actor by acting. For free. For whoever will let you act for them (while keeping your clothes on.) Community theater can be great, but it can also be terribly painful. Pay your dues. Be in painful local productions - churches are often, sadly, a great place to start. Work for free in student films...they are generally bad too. I believe that you have to become the best bad actor in town before becoming the worst good actor. If you love acting even though you know you are a part of an artistic train wreck, then you may have what it takes to keep going.

You start becoming a pastor by pastoring people. For free. Love the people around you. Pray for them. Lead them to Jesus. Model a better life for them. Maybe someday you will find a community that financially supports you for it, but my experience is that isn't always better, just bigger. The vast majority of pastors in the history of Christianity didn't receive a dime for caring for people.

I think this philosophy applies to most everything. Except maybe brain surgery. Don't do that for free. But for the arts, it applies. Don't desire to be a professional at something until you have proven to yourself that you are willing to do your art simply for the love of it. From someone who has done it both ways, trust me when I tell you my greatest writing, acting, filmmaking and pastoring experiences were all unpaid. It doesn't get any better than doing it for free. Getting paid for it just lets you do it more. And more isn't always better. So...go do it.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Cast Announcement: A Strange Brand of Happy

We just released this press release about 15 minutes ago. We are all very excited about the cast assembled. There are many more talented people involved in the movie not mentioned in this short release including many local actors and a predominately local crew. 

If you live in Cincinnati and want to contribute, head over to to learn more.

We're shooting in 11 days! Here's the release:


August 4, 2011
For Immediate Release

Cincinnati-based Movie Includes Academy Award Winner and Grammy Winner.

Rebel Pilgrim Productions, in association with Vineyard Cincinnati, will begin principal photography of A Strange Brand of Happy, a romantic comedy, on August 15, 2011. The movie will shoot entirely in Cincinnati, Ohio. This is the fourth feature film in five years for the company. The company’s previous film, Hitting The Nuts, won the Golden Ace Award for Superior Filmmaking at the 2011 Las Vegas Film Festival last month.

A Strange Brand of Happy stars Academy Award Winner Shirley Jones (Elmer Gantry, The Partridge Family), Grammy Award Winner Rebecca St. James, veteran comedic actor Marty Ingels (I’m Dickens He’s Fenster), Joe Boyd (Hitting The Nuts), Joe Stevens (True Grit), Venida Evans (The Adjustment Bureau) and Ashley Palmer (Paranormal Activity).

The movie will be directed by Brad Wise and produced by Joe Boyd, Jim Nyberg and Philip Sarnecki. It expects a theatrical release in 2013.

# # #

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Spirituality of Creativity

I have received interesting emails and Facebook messages following this past weekend's teaching at The Vineyard. It seems as though a lot of people needed to hear one of two things: 1.) That it is just as Biblical/spiritual to ask questions as it is to answer them. We should not be afraid of verbalizing the big questions of life. 2.) That it is time to go for it, creatively speaking. I have had a dozen emails of people telling me that they are going to practice hospitality, or finish a novel or pick up their guitar or whatever.

If you missed the weekend,  my task was to give an overview of the literature and poetry found in the Old Testament - books like Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs. It was a rather daunting assignment to try to do in thirty minutes. When doing a quick overview of the Old Testament, one is struck by the value that the Bible puts on creative writing, poetry, song, and fictional/allegorical storytelling. As modern Western Americans we tend to value answers more than questions. We value logic over emotion. Data over imagination. We want direction from the Bible. We want a formula. Perhaps, more than anything, we want it to be practical. But a huge chunk of the Hebrew Scriptures seems unfazed by our modern desire for practicality.

These books are real people wrestling with God in their cultural climate using the forms of art and media that they have at their fingertips. There are more unresolved questions than answers in these books. More imagination than dictation. Sometimes, they even disagree with one another. These books remind us that the journey with God is a process.

I was very excited that my friend Todd Henry was able to join us this weekend.  Todd is one of the people I go to personally when I want to think about creativity and expression. Todd's new book The Accidental Creative just released this month to great reviews from people like Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield. Check out his website to get the book. (And check out his podcasts while you are there - they are invaluable.)

This weekend helped to remind me of something I have based my life upon - that we all have a story to tell. We all have a creative mandate. We are not just allowed, but encouraged, to ask the big questions before we have the answers. Our stories are what make us different than the rest of creation.

This is why I am not just a pastor, but also a filmmaker. The more I go along, the more important it becomes for me to tell stories on film and video. It engages a passion in me like nothing else does. I am learning that the best part of filmmaking is how collaborative of an art form it is. Seeing dozens of people working on one piece of art as a missional community is a beautiful thing. This weekend with Todd was exactly what I needed to cleanse my palate before we begin shooting the next movie August 15th.

Keep praying for  A Strange Brand of Happy. (If you pray - not all of my readers are into the whole God thing. You guys can just think lovely thoughts about me for a second.) It looks like we have most all of the crew and cast, but could still use help with meals, extras and finding some props. You can learn more at the movie's official site - The more the merrier! We'd love to have you join us in this effort to make a movie that asks the big questions while being ridiculously entertained.

My challenge to you this week is to create something - just one thing that didn't exist before your brain thought of it. It doesn't need to be a feature film or the great American novel. It could be a meal, a poem, a business plan or a birdhouse. Just create it. It's what you were created to do.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hitting The Nuts Wins at Las Vegas Film Festival

I am back in the friendly skies headed home to Cincinnati. I miss my bed. We had a great week in Las Vegas. Personally, it was great to be back. Aidan, my 9 year old, said that he felt like he was home in Vegas. (He was only 3 when we moved away.) This statement both thrilled and worried me a little :)

On the business side, Hitting The Nuts screened to a full house and was universally praised. We won another award. It is all nice, but the real joy is taking a story I made with my friends and watching strangers belly laugh for 100 minutes. In short, we made a real movie that makes people have a better day. That's something to be proud of. 

If you are the type of person who needs the details...or a writer for the Hollywood Reporter, I have pasted todays press release below. 

July 18, 2011

Hitting The Nuts Wins at Las Vegas Film Festival

The poker-themed comedy Hitting The Nuts won a Golden Ace Award for Superior Filmmaking at the 2011 Las Vegas Film Festival. This is the third award in as many festivals. (The movie won Best Feature Film at both the Cincinnati Film Festival and the Derby City Film Festival earlier this year.)

The movie screened at the Las Vegas Hilton on July 16th to a packed house. Joe Boyd is the producer and director of the movie. He says, “It really was an amazing reception. The crowd never stopped laughing from beginning to end. We are humbled by the movie’s success. We are grateful to the Las Vegas Film Festival and the international poker community for the support.”

Currently the DVD is only available at, but according to Boyd, “We are getting very close to a wider distribution deal that will get the DVD to major retail centers, as well as a digital version to outlets like iTunes and Netflix.”

Hitting The Nuts is produced by Rebel Pilgrim Productions with offices in Las Vegas, Nevada and Cincinnati, Ohio.


Saturday, July 09, 2011

Movie News from Delta Flight 845

If I had to guess, I am 30,000 feet above Missouri right now. I am headed "home" if there is such a thing for me anymore. Of course, my real home is where my wife, kids and beagle hang out. Which is Cincinnati. Or more accurately, 25 miles north of Cincinnati. But going "home" means going back to where one grew up.  I grew up in lots of places, but nowhere more so than Las Vegas.

This is a business trip, though I took vacation time from The Vineyard for it. (My life is confusing.) I am heading to Vegas in hopes of finalizing a distribution deal for Hitting The Nuts. It screens at the Las Vegas Film Festival on July 16th. This week is also the beginning of the Main Event of the World Series of Poker, so it timed out well to visit some of my friends in the poker world who have backed HTN.

Officially, Rebel Pilgrim Productions is still based in Las Vegas. My business partner, Jim Nyberg, is there along with our office. I am excited to focus on the film production stuff for a full week. (Our new movies are partnered with The Vineyard, but HTN is not. Again, my life is a little confusing.) I have been in negotiations with some name talent for our next movie, A Strange Brand of Happy,  this week. I would love to tell you who it is, but I can't. It could be a really cool thing though.

Speaking of the next movie, if you live in Cincinnati and want to help us out with A Strange Brand of Happy will still need some small groups and restaurants to provide delicious meals for the cast and crew. Head on over to to volunteer.

I never feel more alive and excited than during a collaborative creative effort. I have several of them going at once right now. I love it. Nothing gives me joy like seeing a community of people create art. It's beyond spiritual for me.

If you are in Las Vegas, I'd love to invite you to the Hitting The Nuts screening. You can get tickets through the festival at It is a 10 a.m. screening on Saturday, July 16th. The perfect time of day to laugh, I say.

Fenced Off, our drama,  is moving along in post-production. If you haven't seen the trailer for it, head on over to We hope to get it out to you later this year.

I hope this post didn't feel like a big commercial. I try not to do that on here. It's just exciting stuff for all of us. Lots of turbulence now...gonna sign off and pretend like it isn't bothering me.

Blessings from the friendly skies...

Friday, June 24, 2011

How to Disagree Like a Christian.

We Christians disagree about most everything, especially us Protestants. It's in the very label we go by - Protestants are the those who "protest." One of us protested 95 Catholic positions 500 years ago and we never stopped protesting against one another since. That's why it seems like there is a Christian denomination for every three people on earth. (There are at least five varieties of church on the drive from my house to the building where my version of Christianity worships.) It is truly amazing and somewhat embarrassing that the people who believe in "one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all..." are splintered in every conceivable way. Most all of our disagreements stem from how we interpret one book - The Bible. (And many of them actually come from how we interpret just a few verses in that one book.)

At this point I have a confession. My instinctual response to controversy, especially Biblical controversy, is to keep my mouth shut as long as possible. There is some wisdom in this, but also some cowardice. Sometimes it has meant that I will close my mind as well as my mouth. My personalty (INTP) seeks understanding more than answers. I am most uncomfortable when I am sure that I am right about something. I prefer to not have an opinion so that I can somehow foster unity among those who disagree. I am now seeing that my methods are probably the wrong directions to try to get to the right address. I have decided it is time to buckle down and figure out what my opinion is on several issues that I have basically ignored.

As a result, I have been thinking and reading a tremendous amount of late about some issues that might be thought of as controversial within the scope of Evangelical Christianity. I came across something foreign to me that I thought was very helpful. Not having ever been a Presbyterian, I had little knowledge of the specifics of their recent history until stumbling upon some Presbyterian writers and scholars this year. In doing so, I discovered the UPCUSA Guidelines for "a positive not restrictive use of Scripture in matters of controversy" written in 1982. I wanted to submit them here as a starting point for any of you currently in a situation where it could be beneficial:

1. Recognize that Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, is the center of Scripture. The redemptive activity of God is central to the entire Scripture. The Old Testament themes of the covenant and the messiah testify to this activity. In the center of the New Testament is Jesus Christ: the Word made flesh, the fulfillment of Israel's messianic hope, and the promise of the Kingdom. It is to Christ and the church witnesses. When interpreting Scripture, keeping Christ in the center aids in evaluating the significance of the problems and controversies that always persist in the vigorous, historical life of the church.

2. Let the focus be on the plain text of Scripture, to the grammatical and historical context, rather than to allegory or subjective fantasy.

3. Depend on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in interpreting and applying God's message.

4. Be guided by the doctrinal consensus of the church, which is the rule of faith.

5. Let all interpretations be in accord with the rule of love, the two-fold commandment to love God and love our neighbor.

6. Remember that interpretation of the Bible requires earnest study in order to establish the best text and to interpret the influence of historical and cultural context in which the divine message has come.

7. Seek to interpret a particular passage in the Bible in light of all the Bible

As I look back on the hot button issues that have defined much of Evangelicalism in my lifetime, I can't help but think that a slight glance over to the left at our Presbyterian brothers and sisters might have brought about more civilized and productive discussions. I have personally witnessed, and probably enflamed, debates that ignored all seven guidelines above. As I currently seek to bring a little more resolution on some Biblical passages in which honest, God-loving Christians disagree, the seven guidelines above give me the framework to press forward.

What an unprecedented witness could emerge if Christians genuinely learned how to disagree on important issues without labeling, excommunicating, damning or hating one another. It seemed, after all, to be a great hope of Jesus - that others would know we are his followers because of the love we have one for another.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Time to Make a Movie!

We are happy to announce that principal photography will begin on our next film, A Strange Brand of Happy, on August 15th. The movie is a romantic comedy starring Rebecca St. James. It's very funny, but it will also start some serious conversations about the big questions of life. We are all crazy excited to begin shooting.

If you live in the Cincinnati area, we would love your help. Making a low-budget movie like this one is an amazing collaboration of hundreds of people who come together for a common goal. The most pressing need we have right now is providing really great food for our cast and crew. We also need extras, props and a few big ticket items - like an RV and a private jet for Brad Wise, our pretentious director. (OK, we don't need a jet. But the RV thing is true.)

Head on over to the website for A Strange Brand of Happy and let us know how you'd like to be a part of it all.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Not all of us believe in the "Rapture"

Well, I almost made it past rapture-pa-looza without commenting. I am going to be short and sweet here. I have no desire to be controversial on this topic. Many of my Christian and Non-Christian friends have asked me about the prediction that the "rapture" was coming today.

My opinion was that it would not happen today primarily because I believe it will never happen. I don't believe in the rapture. It is ok if you do. I can see how some Christians interpret a few Biblical passages in a such a way to get there. I'm just saying that I am not one of them.

I do believe in some down-right unbelievable things: physical resurrection after death, a second physical returning of Jesus to earth, a future "New Heaven and New Earth," etc. I am not denying the rapture because it appears on the surface to be unrealistic and a little wacky. I am denying it because I don't believe it is mentioned the Bible as a futuristic prophecy.

Instead of writing why I believe this, I will include a few links below to some New Testament scholars who have influenced my thinking on how to interpret the disputed passages, particularly I Thessalonians 4:13-18.

We need not dread the end of the world. Our faith teaches that the world will be redeemed and beautiful someday through the reign of God in Jesus. That's our future. That is the truth that spurs us to endure the current "tribulations" that some of us are currently suffering. The world isn't going to end so much as it is waiting to begin. That's the point, IMHO (as the kids say).

So, read these links if you want to know more. (I have some fear of the comments to follow this post. I hope no uncivilized arguments ensue. I won't be commenting. If you know me personally we can talk about it next time you see me...) *

*I am hoping listing Jim Zartman with Greg Boyd and N.T. Wright will not go to his head.

**If I am wrong about this I will issue an apology to those of you who believe mid-flight. I promise.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Christian Response to Recent Events

The geo-political/pop-cultural events of the past few days are a mirror into the human story. 2.4 billion people recently watched a Royal Wedding. I looked at the pictures. It seemed super fancy. Someone asked me why I thought Americans were so captivated by a prince and princess living in another Kingdom. Especially since it is a relatively neutered monarchy with no real power. My answer was that we all want a King. William and Kate are only still "royal" because we desperately seek a world where royalty exists.

Deep in the communal center of a group of people is a desire for royalty. I do not mean by this that we all want to be the King or Prince or Princess of our world. (At some level, we all do. But that is not my point.) And I am not speaking so much of our individual desires, but the combined desire of the communal "us." We want a King. We want someone with authority, power and majesty to lead us. We have always wanted a King. That's the whole deal with the human race - especially as we divide ourselves into geo-political groups.

Those of us who wrestle with the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures see this theme throughout our entire story. For the Jews, the theme comes to an apex in the book of 1 Samuel, chapter 8. Here we get a clear view of what our Scriptures teach us. That we desperately want a King, but that YHWH himself desires and deserves that position. Yet we choose idols in the form of human kings. We label these replacement "gods" our kings (or more modernly we call them governments, presidents, prime ministers, etc.) Compared to YHWH any king or political leader who has ever lived is just like our current U.K. royal family - all presentation and circumstance with very little affective power.

This is a long text, but work through it to see where it all leads:

I Samuel 8:4-21

4 So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. 5 They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”

6 But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD. 7 And the LORD told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the LORD will not answer you in that day.”

19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the LORD. 22 The LORD answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

See what YHWH says? You don't want the kind of king you think you want. You want me, but you don't realize it. And the irony is that when you get a king, he will become your god. So do you want a man to be god...or God to be King?

We always choose a man to be god and reject the true King (who is God). So, that is why the Scriptures teach us that after centuries of failed kings and kingdoms, a new man came claiming to be the long-awaited great King. This is how far God went for us. He became a man to become our King (Messiah/Christ). We wouldn't accept him for who he was, so he lowered himself to who we are. And he came with one gospel message as recorded in Matthew 4:17:

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Here is our King. And he brings his rule - the Kingdom.

This brings us to the second event of recent days. After ten years, the nation of America has defeated an enemy who caused terrible destruction and death on her people. An evildoer was killed for his sins. I was immediately asked what the "Christian response" should be to Osama Bin Laden's demise. That is a complicated question with a complicated answer. I don't know if I am fully qualified to answer it with conviction. I can only say that my personal reaction was a sober one. I was not sad for Bin Laden, but I was not happy for America. It reminded me how the Kingdoms of this world operate, regardless of how just they genuinely try to be. This world is ruled through the weapon of death. Death is how all "kingdoms" reign.

Death is the most powerful weapon at our disposal. It was Bin Laden's greatest power - death and the fear of the death. Today we see that it is America's great power. His reign was ended with his own weapon. It has always been this way. The kings of the earth kill one another. Some will argue that there are times when killing is justified. I am torn on that matter. What I do know is that the world runs on the fear of death.

Our King understood this. So, he attacked the biggest enemy itself. Our King died to beat death. While every other King who has ever lived used death to gain power, Jesus the Christ died to gain power. And our King is the only King to ever beat death. In Revelation, chapter 1, John has a vision of the resurrected King Jesus:

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."

And then at the end of his vision, we see the new Kingdom Jesus is leading us toward. We see a metaphorical glimpse of the tangible reality that awaits:

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

And so it will end. The God who wants to be King and rule a Kingdom will create a new heaven and new earth. Since he holds the key to defeating death, the new heaven and new earth will not be ruled by the threat of death, but by the real presence of God. In essence, God will get what he has always wanted. He will be the God who is King. And, we will get what we have always wanted, a King worth following. And, by the way, it all begins with a royal wedding:

9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

What do you know? Turns out we are the princess after all. Not me. Not you. Us. The city itself...the people who long for royalty are made royal. The people who long for justice are made right. The people tormented by tyrants, terrorists and madmen live peacefully in the city of God.

So, to put it simply. The "Christian response" to any event that may come upon us is to be Christian. Christian first. Not British, American or Pakastani. Simply Christians.

Love America. But submit to your King.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's Maundy Thursday - Feeling "Maundy" Yet?

"Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos"

Yeah, I didn't know what that meant either. It's Latin. I looked it up. It's the Latin translation of the Greek text in John 13:34. Basically, in English it says something like this:

"I give you a new command: Love each other as I have loved you."

John puts those words in the mouth of Jesus on the day before his crucifixion. So today, in Holy Week, we remember that Jesus said this. Today is the last supper. The passover. The advent of the eucharistic tradition.

It seems that the first word of the phrase in Latin, "mandatum," evolved through the centuries to "Maundy." Maundy Thursday. (There are other theories on how today got its name, but this seems to most common.)

So today, we reflect on the living Jesus who is yet to die. The one who shares his life - his very body and blood - with his followers. The one who is with us, eating with us, drinking with us, teaching us, loving us. The one who calls us to obey his central command: Love each other as I have loved you.

N.T. Wright, in his sermon God in Private and Public says this about today:

That rhythm of private and public is what we find, sharply and starkly, in the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Today, Jesus takes the disciples into a private room, and the door is shut. Nobody else knows what’s going on. But the words he says there in private, and still more the small but earth-shattering actions he performs, will turn within twenty-four hours into the most ghastly and shocking display of God in public: God shamed and mocked, God beaten up and humiliated, God stripped naked and hung up to die. You can’t get more public than crucifixion by the main west road out of Jerusalem. And, as in fact you can observe throughout Jesus’ ministry, you need that rhythm of private and public at every stage. The private without the public becomes gnosticism, escapism, a safe and narcissistic spirituality. But the public without the private becomes political posturing, meaningless gestures, catching the eye without engaging the heart. We need both; and the events through which we live today enable us to inhabit both, and be strengthened thereby for the ministries both private and public to which we are called.

And the events of Good Friday tells us something we urgently need to know about doing God in public. If it is the true God we are talking about – the God we see and know in Jesus Christ and him crucified – then we should expect that following him, speaking for him, and living out the life of his spirit, will sometimes make the crowds shout ‘Hosanna!’ and sometimes make them shout ‘Crucify!’ We are not in this business to court either popularity or martyrdom. When they come, like Kipling’s triumph and disaster, we should treat them, imposters as they are, just the same. Speaking and living for God in the public world will sometimes dovetail exactly with what the world inarticulately knows it wants and needs; sometimes it will cut straight across what everyone else is saying. But those who have sat at table with their Lord, and have known him in the strange privacy of the breaking of the bread, will not waver the next day when they need to stand as a sign of contradiction in the market place, in the council chamber, or in the courtroom. This is a lesson, my friends, we are going to have to learn more and more in the days to come. Work hard, you who stand up to be counted as the Lord’s publicly recognised servants, work hard at the private disciplines, so that you will know where to stand and how to stand when everyone else thinks you’re blaspheming against the secular gods of the day.

We will reflect on the crucifixion tomorrow at 7pm at The Vineyard if you want to join us.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

38 Proverbs for 38 Years

Well, I'm calling it. I have now officially moved from my mid-thirties to my late-thirties. For what it is worth, here's a life lesson for each year I have muddled through. (I figure I'm old enough now to try to dish out a little wisdom.)

1. Real friends are people who know your middle name, biggest flaws and hidden talents.
2. Having a job is a good thing, but it is never really the ultimate thing.
3. You can't be happy if you aren't submitting to the right person.
4. Some people you know will never ask the big questions of life.
5. The key to a happy marriage is being a servant.
6. Being a parent of a toddler is exhausting...and you will miss it when it is over.
7. You can't be spiritually fit while being a glutton or a drunk.
8. You can be spiritually fit while enjoying a hamburger and a stiff drink now and again.
9. Some people know God really well but just haven't learned his name yet.
10. Embrace the geekiest and/or nerdiest things about you.
11. When you don't know what else to do, tell a story. If that doesn't work, be silent.
12. You will be embarrassed in ten years of some of the things you believe today.
13. Winter, for all its flaws, makes the other three seasons better.
14. God lives in the mountains and the beaches, but he is even more visible in the city.
15. Jesus is misrepresented about 90% of the time both inside and outside of the church.
16. If both your religious and irreligious friends think you are crazy, congratulations.
17. A loving dog is worth the pain of having a dog...but just barely.
18. If you want to be a Christian, study what Jesus meant by the "Kingdom of God."
19. It is ok to not have answers about God. You aren't his PR department.
20. A worthy life is about not giving up.
21. If you are going to waste money on something, let it be a family vacation.
22. Don't partner with anyone in business you wouldn't want your wife and kids to live with.
23. Unrestrained cynicism will make you and everyone you love miserable.
24. When you look back, your hobbies will have shaped your life. Pick good ones.
25. Every new friend will end up hurting you. Then they might become a great friend.
26. If you fancy yourself an artist and don't do art, you will never feel complete.
27. History is not boring. Some historians are. Know the difference.
28. Sometimes good ideas and organizations need to die. Euthanize and eulogize them.
29. If a friend loses a loved one, go and be in the same room with them.
30. Be alone with your husband or wife for at least one week every year.
31. Take a massive risk every five years.
32. If you can walk somewhere on a nice day instead of driving, do it.
33. Learn to love the things your kids love.
34. Sometimes a pen and paper is still the best option.
35. Floss.
36. Find an exciting author smarter than you and read everything they have ever written.
37. Re-read your favorite books from each decade of your life.
38. Learn to pray in a way that doesn't really feel like you are praying.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Endorsement: Love Wins by Rob Bell

I hesitate to write anything about the book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived because of the inside-evangelicalism controversy over it. Not to mention, two of my really smart friends beat me to it. If you want to read two well-written reviews check out Jim Zartman's and Steve Fuller's blogs.

I knew going in that I wanted to like the book because I felt that Bell was probably unfairly attacked by Piper and others before the book released. To be honest, I haven't read Bell before. I have used some of his Nooma Videos and listened to a few of his sermons. I have been profoundly shaped by CS Lewis, NT Wright, Dallas Willard and (of late) Timothy Keller. This book was influenced by those thinkers as well. There is nothing in the book that cannot be found in the writings of those men. So, this stuff wasn't new to me. It's filled with the kind of Kingdom thinking that kept me from abandoning Christianity in my twenties. What makes it different than the others is Bell's tone. His style is smart yet simple and modern. I have no doubt that I will recommend this book to dozens of people this year. And so...I recommend and endorse it here as well. Not because it is or isn't controversial. I'm a little past caring about that stuff. I recommend it because it contains the gospel as I understand it today. I agree with 90% of it. And, no. I won't tell you what the 10% is that I disagree with...because I haven't figured that out myself yet.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Filmmaker's Dilemma - What to Cut?

We are busy putting the final touches on the Hitting the Nuts DVD. (It comes out April 15th.) As a result, we have been able to resurrect a few of the scenes that did not make the final cut to use as DVD extras. The first cut of the movie was over 180 minutes long. The final cut is under 100 minutes. We removed enough footage to make a second feature film during the editing process. Some very funny stuff landed on the cutting room floor. Most scenes were deleted because they didn't move the story forward. They may have been hilarious and well acted, but they didn't help get us where we needed to go.

Today we released on youtube one of the deleted scenes that will be on the DVD. It is one of my favorites. It features my friends Matt Donnelly and Nick Ghizas playing father and son, "Dirty" and Josh Rivers. If you aren't aware, this entire movie was improvised. There was no pre-scripted dialogue. It all happened in the moment. To me, this is comedy at its simplest form: two selfless improvisers setting the other up for success. I hope you enjoy it:

For more information on Hitting the Nuts check out the official site at

Sunday, March 27, 2011

An Open Apology

This post has a way of re-appearing on this blog every so often. It has been a working document for 13 years now. I read this apology at The Vineyard this weekend and many people requested that I post it online. It is meant for those of you who have been hurt by Christians and the Church. I hope you are able to receive it as an honest apology:

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

I ask your forgiveness for the silence of a significant percentage 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 stand by while innocent people die.

I ask your forgiveness for the unimaginable violence done in and through and with the blessing of the church throughout history, for I believe Jesus died once for all of us to put an end to violence.

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

I ask your forgiveness for every power-crazed political zealot who has ever advocated hatred against people in the name of Christ, for I believe that it is a sin to judge in the place of God.

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

I ask your forgiveness for every pastor or priest who has ever served the church to get money, fame or sex because I believe the church is Jesus’ Bride, not some random guy’s mistress.

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

I ask your 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 Christians loving and forgiving each other is the best way to show people who God is.

I ask your 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 among you.

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

I ask your forgiveness for the prostituting of the American church and the American church leader 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 ask your 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 ask your forgiveness for every sin of every priest, pastor, minister, reverend, teacher, elder, deacon, pope, nun, monk, missionary, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, and for every Christian who has ever come into your life for any other reason than to love you. If any of us came to you and hurt you, we are the ones at fault. On our behalf, let me say that I am very sorry. It’s not who we are supposed to be.

And lastly for me. I am no better than the rest. I am no role model. I’m misguided. I get confused a lot and I have hurt people in my misguided attempts to be “Christian.” I have not always loved God or the people around me. I am ashamed of me much of the time. I am ashamed of my people who have hurt you.

But I am not ashamed of the gospel. I am not ashamed of the good news that God has come near to you and is right now available to you through Jesus. I am not ashamed of the gospel because it is power from a loving God who can save you. He can save us all, even us Christians.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hitting the Nuts Released!

Hey everyone...just a quick note to let you know that my movie, Hitting the Nuts, is now available for pre-order on DVD. It comes out April 15.

If you don't know about it, read this recent blog.

If you've been waiting for it, head over to our newly designed website at to see the first four minutes for free and reserve a DVD. (This is just a limited initial run of DVD's for our fan and supporters.)


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Open Journey Starts...Now

Those of us at Vineyard Cincinnati, along with six or seven other churches in town, are beginning a six-week spiritual journey called "Open" today. The idea is that many of us our living closed off lives. That we all have a story, but usually keep it to ourselves. But your story matters. Hearing your story, especially your spiritual story, is key to your friends processing their own story. Those of us who follow Jesus understand that our story is not our own. It is rooted in the bigger narrative of Israel, Jesus and the Church.

If you are part of The Vineyard, you need to do three things to go on the journey.

1.) Come to the weekend celebrations at Tri-County or our new MicroChurch in Hilton Head, SC. The weekends celebrations will propel you onto the next step of the journey. If you absolutely can't make it, catch up by watching the teaching online at

2.) Get in an Open group for the next six weeks. It is in the group experience that real life change can occur. If you aren't in a group yet go to this page and get hooked up.

3.) The last thing is the online personal guide. This is 30-60 minutes of weekly "homework." It is the alone time that you spend with God. It's a great, free tool to help you open your heart and life to the gospel. Go now to and get started! You will want to do week one of the personal guide before going to your first group meeting.

If you aren't a part of one of the churches participating, you can still join us. Watch the videos online and do the personal guide where you are. If you want the small group curriculum email us at VC and we'll hook you up with the e-file. (If you are a church leader and want to do the journey at a later date, we can give you all of the materials for free.)

That's it. I'm personally hopeful and a little nervous about where all of this will take me. It's going to involve some risk and vulnerability. But on the other side I am going to be more open about what is most important to me. I hope you will join me in the journey.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Hitting The Nuts on DVD!

I have some exciting news about my movie, Hitting the Nuts. I will paste it below after a short disclaimer.

This blog has been my companion and voice to the world for nearly ten years now. I have had a variety of jobs and activities through the years - reflecting upon all of them in this online journal. This movie, Hitting the Nuts, began as a script way back in 2006. At that time I was living in California and working as an actor and improviser. It has taken five years to get it to DVD. And to be honest, it has felt that long! I'm proud of it. It is funny, which was the first goal. And it has a heart.

I want to make it clear that it is not a Vineyard project. It began before my time at the Vineyard and was finished in my spare/vacation time. It's PG-13ish and reflects the sorts of movies that I enjoy to watch. It is not a "Christian" movie, but rather a stand alone piece of comedy. The comedy and content is reflective of the sort of material you would see on Saturday Night Live or The Office. If that stuff bugs you, you may want to pass on it.

With that disclaimer, if you'd like to get the DVD I have pasted the official announcement below that was just posted on

Hitting the Nuts on DVD for Limited Run!

March 11, 2011

We are excited to announce that Hitting the Nuts: The True Story of the Scott County Series of Poker will be released on DVD April 15, 2011. This is an initial limited release of the movie for our current fans and supporters. This is the first step of a larger distribution plan that will include digital downloading, Pay Per View and other options in the summer of 2011. However, getting the DVD now is the only way to see the movie until then.

For those who have been supportive of Hitting the Nuts since its conception in 2006, we will be offering pre-orders of the DVD for $11.99 plus S/H. After April 15th, the price for the DVD will be $16.99 plus S/H. Pre-orders may be placed beginning next Wednesday, March 16th only at the official website: The site will re-launch that day with a new design.

This is our first step to get this hilarious, multi award-winning comedy to the world. We’d love you to be among the first to see what we truly believe is on the verge of becoming the breakthrough independent comedy of 2011.

We’d like to again thank the Cincinnati Metro area for all of the support we have received. Rebel Pilgrim Productions has never doubted the decision to film in Cincinnati. We will be shooting our next movie, A Strange Brand of Happy, there in September of this year. We are proud to announce that we will be having our official DVD Launch Party in Cincinnati on either April 14th or 15th at an undetermined venue. We will post the details as we know them on our official Facebook page at and on our official Twitter at @HittingTheNuts. We will also be giving away free HTN DVD’s and T-shirts beginning today on both Facebook and Twitter.

Beginning March 16th we will release a new promotional video showing the first few scenes of the movie for free. It will be on the official site and all of the social networks.

Retailers wishing to buy the limited run DVD’s in bulk may do so while supplies last at a negotiated rate. Please email the company at

Thanks again for your support.

Joe Boyd,

Rebel Pilgrim Productions
Producer/Director, Hitting the Nuts

*Hitting the Nuts is not rated, but would likely be PG-13 for some crude humor and mild language.