Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The City on the Ball: First Baptist Oil City

This is the next in a long anticipated series of my ministry memoirs!

I will never forget the time I started a Bible Study on cults. It was my first year of ministry and I desperately wanted the students to be motivated to come to our Wednesday night thing. I forgot what we called it. The only thing I can be sure of is that we didn't call it anything remotely related to X-treme. I have always hated youth ministry fads.

Well, if you want students to be interested in a Bible Study you had best be teaching on one of these topics. 1. SEX 2. SEX or 3. REVELATION. So, in light of that, I chose CULTS. I have never given in to the fleshly desire to please other people over God (and by that I mean that I often give in to the fleshly desire to please people over God). I figured that the students would really enjoy my (and by my I mean the Bible's) take on all things cultish. I mean, I am a fascinating guy with all kinds of insight and communication skills. These guys will be mesmerized by my soaring rhetoric.

And... they were. They really loved the Mormon study. They dug the Jehovah's Witness night. Things were really humming when we took on the precepts of the Unification Church.

Then came a Bible Study to remember.

I didn't know much about the Mason's. I just knew that the book I was studying had a chapter in it called "The Masonic Lodge". So, I prepared for my usual Wednesday Night X-TREME (jk) and got ready to wow the teens with another blockbuster revelation.

The air was thick with anticipation. I was a twenty year old amateur theologian with a cult-destroying chip on his shoulder. The students hurried in, their faces betraying the anticipation of a long three days sans the teachings of their spiritual sherpa. And I was ready. Thanks to Group Magazine I had a crowdbreaking game and some discussion starters. There was no light show, praise band, power point, or drama team. I was the show. And that was just fine with me. I had spent hour (the no "s" is on purpose, Jen Vestrand... it is to illustrate that my usual preparation time is best measured in minutes) preparing for this night. I knew more than the average guy about the evils of the Masonic Lodge. I ascended to the front of the room and books were opened (my notebook and the Bible), and another book was opened (the cult book). I started reading the chapter, my prose interpretation once again riveting in it's esoteric, almost mystical grasp of the text. I was launching into the third paragraph when I began to sense a rising tension in the room. At first I assumed, as I always did, that this was due to the admiration of my faithful disciples, once again put back on their heels by the power of my oratory.

And yet, something about this tension didn't feel... good.

For the first time since I began my "talk", I looked up at the teeming crowd of five who were staring at me with a combination of shock and contempt.

"My dad is a Mason!" growled one of the boys on the front row. "He says that I'm gonna be one too and there ain't nothin' wrong with bein' one... my dad is one."

And so it began.

It turned out all of them had intimate ties to the Lodge. I was sweating like a Clinton under oath. Things had gone all wrong. This study was supposed to get the students on my side. There was only one thing to do. PROCLAIM THE TRUTH! I would rescue these kids from the clutches of Masonry and deliver them to the Promised Land of Biblical Christianity!

We argued. We fought. I showed them how Masonry=Satanism and that their fathers and mothers were deceived. Finally, a break-through. Some of the girls were crying. I had achieved my objective. I had taken down a stronghold of deception that had gripped Oil City for decades. I felt like I was living the plot of This Present Darkness by Frank Perreti. I couldn't wait to tell my pastor!

The next day at 6:00 am. My pastor picked me up to go on some hospital visitation. We were a church of about 100 people and we could be doing hospital visits every day of the week and still not hit all of the patients from our congregation. I rushed to his Dodge Ram truck, eager to tell him of my spiritual conquest the night before. When the opportunity came, I began. "You know we've been studying cults, right?".

He said yes and asked, "How's it going?"

"Pretty good. The students are loving it and it is leading to some really good discussion of what they believe. But, man, last night was intense!"

"Really, tell me about it."

"First, what do you know about the Masons?"

This is when he choked on the cinnamon roll that he was eating. It wasn't like he was really choking... just trying to talk and swallow at the same time. I must confess, I wasn't ready for what followed.

"Well, first of all, I am a Mason."


This was going to be a long year.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

MissionGathering Billboard cont.

An open response to my good friends Robert and Susie to my previous blog post.

First of all, Robert and Susie, HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

I also agree, Susie, that the church has much to apologize for.
That apology, however, should not turn into an ad for a particular church.

Plus, those things worth apologizing for: stupid jokes, elevating the sin of homosexual activity over other sins like pride, lies, bitterness, etc., the belief that those participating in homosexual activity are automatically lost sinners... all of those legitimate offenses are never mentioned in the billboard.

Instead, the apology is for people with a differing opinion on whether Gay marriage should be legal. And, the billboard characterizes those with differing opinions as judgmental, narrow-minded, and manipulative. What is ironic is that the billboard itself is all of the things that it accuses others of.

But, now to the elephant in the room. I don't believe there is a Constitutional right to gay marriage. According to the billboard, that would make me a totalitarian bent on taking rights away in the name of God.

I wonder if others might vote against the right of a man to marry multiple women? Would that be judgmental, narrow-minded, etc. Or, would it be a vote of conscience, a genuine voice of concern that marriage has to mean something.

Our church (LifePoint) has apologized to homosexuals for the wrong headed sinful way in which Christians have built barriers to the truth of Christ with arrogance and outright rejection. We openly welcome all into our church so that we all may align our lives to Christ.

Of course, another elephant, I also believe that homosexual activity is a sin. I think that a clear headed examination of scripture will reveal this to anyone without an agenda. I realize, that in the last few years, an attempt has been made to say these things:

1. Romans 1 is talking about loveless, lust-filled homosexual orgies.
2. The sin of Sodom was not being a good host.
3. The O.T. Laws pertaining to homosexual activity don't apply.
4. Jesus never mentioned homosexuality... (or rape, or pedophilia, or internet porn, or smoking crack)

I have examined these arguments. Believe me, it is important to get to the truth on this. My belief is that we are all born with certain temptations... and you can't choose your temptation. But, even though we all have an bent towards sin, that doesn't make the sin itself ok.

I read Jay's, the creative arts pastor of MissionGathering, testimony of having good friends wanting to not be gay anymore. "Please, make me not gay", was one of the statements.

Well, some believe that pedophilia is a sexual orientation. I don't know whether it is or not. I just know that the activity itself is sin. It is sin whether or not Jesus mentions it. It is sin whether or not Romans 1 is specifically addressing it.

So, how do you communicate these truths with grace? How do you, as I really do, love homosexuals and still hold these beliefs? I don't find it that difficult.

I love Jason. And Jason (gasp!) struggles with sin.

I love Robbie Rob Rob. And he is a fellow struggler.

I love my wife, Amy. She is a world class sinner. She would say the same about me!

The church's problem has been the elevation of homosexual activity above the sins that we deal with because it made us feel better about ourselves. It was wrong.

But calling sin ok... that would be a bigger wrong. One that I am too fearful of God to commit.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What do you think?

I got this from a friend's blog. I was wondering what you guys think?

The billboard reads:
Mission Gathering Christian Church
Is Sorry
For The Narrow-Minded, Judgmental, Deceptive, Manipulative
Actions Of Those Who
Took Away The Rights And Equality
Of So Many
In The Name Of God.

In case you don't know, the billboard is referencing the passage of Proposition 8 in California which defines marriage as something between a man and woman. It makes homosexual marriage illegal in California.

I guess my main thought is cynical. Why would I apologize for someone else’s action? It looks a whole lot like patting yourself on the back while stabbing a knife in the back of your brothers and sisters in Christ.

It seems as though the billboard itself is narrow minded, judgmental and above all manipulative (meaning the church is trying to manipulate public opinion and generate positive feelings for their particular church - not for Christ).

The billboard totally discounts the opinion of those who love homosexuals, want homosexuals to find (if they haven’t already) and follow Christ, and draw a distinction between equal rights and special rights. There can be disagreement without rancor. Unfortunately, this church - in trying to stop the attacks - launched one at other churches and believers.

This kind of generalization is wrong. To condemn the motives of those with whom you have a disagreement is not the way Christ would have his church behave.

But, I could be wrong. I've been wrong many times before... ask Amy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Taking Nursery Rhymes Seriously: Part 2 (per request of Jen)

It all comes down to respect. That's why I had to do it.

I first met Grace at the annual Gourd Festival. It's the biggest party this side of the Calabash river. Everyone in Welborn County and even the surrounding areas would show up for the whiz-bang extravaganza that was Gourd-Fest '63.

The band was playing somethin' fierce. Not a lot of people know that a dried, hollowed out gourd makes a great resonator. Why, you can make it into a drum, a stringed thingy, even something you can blow in like a big fat flute if you want to. I was having the time of my life...

Then she walked in.

I will never forget the moment I first saw her. In a room full of multi-colored patchwork dresses, she glided across the hay in a pure white sundress. I suppose some might have thought that it was a little late in the year to wear it; of course, that's assuming that a body might be able to assemble any thoughts at all while gazing at her dazzling beauty. Me, I couldn't think at all. I could only stare. The kind of stare that only children can manage without the accompanying embarrassment that comes with maturity. But I wasn't embarrassed... just mesmerized.

She was new to the county and I would find out later that she had opened up a dress shop downtown. None of that mattered to me. I just wanted to dance; to be close to the only truly beautiful thing I had ever known besides the intoxicating smell of a freshly baked pumpkin pie. I awkwardly asked for the priviledge of a jig and as soon as we stepped out the band switched to a slow romantic-like song. Having never danced with real life lady before (My cousin and I had practiced a little in the loft of my family's barn but it was not pleasant. I bumped my head and his beard scratched my face.) I didn't rightly know where to place my hands. Thankfully, seeing my hesitation, she helped me out.

We danced every dance. We laughed and talked and, that night, while walking her to her door, she reached for my hand. I wasn't offended. I just took it. I thought, "I think I'm gonna marry this girl."

And I did.

Well, you know, after a couple years of bein' married, things started to change a little. For one thing, she insisted on keeping the dress shop when it was clear that her main responsibility was to keep our house. For another thing, she kept nagging me about finding a job and how pumpkin pie eating contest winnings weren't going to pay the bills forever and how she thinks I may be packing on the pounds. But, I was willing to put up with it. I really was. Sure, her pies weren't as good as Mom's. But, after I had Mom come and live with us to show her how to do it... she did improve... a little. So, things were o.k.

Then she started coming home late.

It only happened like once or twice a week at first. Then I started noticing that Grace was out late almost every night. "You don't understand how stressful running a dress shop can be," she lied. But, I knew the truth. Heck, everybody in the county knew the truth. Oh, she denied it. Up until the end she denied it. And with every blow of that shovel I grew to respect her more. I only wish she could have respected me.

Well, the clean up after a scene like that is awkward. Luckily I had once again grown the largest pumpkin in Welborn County and it was almost time for Gourd-Fest '66. Now, one of the traditions of Gourd-Fest was the closing bon-fire built around the huge prize winning pumpkin. Well, I stuffed the bits and pieces of the dress-shop adultress into the hollowed out shell of my prize winner. And, standing there with all of the folks from the county, I watched my not-so-hollow shell go up in smoke.

"Where is your sweet Grace," some asked.

"I'm sure she'll show up soon," I replied.

She never did.


I will never forget my first Sunday at my new church. I was dressed up in khaki pants, white button down oxford, red tie and a blue blazer (the uniform of the late 80's). I was over the whole "uh... I just came to put a face to the name" debacle of the previous week. I was pumped to partner with this local body of believers to change the world.

And then he stepped up to the pulpit.

He was a nice guy. In fact, that is one of the things that makes me crazy. This guy, when I met him, must have been 79 or 80 years old and the first thing he did was bend over and touch the ground with both of his palms... without bending his knees. Then he looked up, smiled and said, "Can you do that?" Uh... I couldn't. He was a deacon. He loved his family... and, he loved jokes. His job, before the service began, was to give the Sunday School Report. This was a chance for everybody to hear how many of their friends and neighbors had been to Bible Study that day. So, he gave the report. I'm sure the number must have been somewhere between 100-125.

Then it happened.

In what I'm sure was a long standing tradition, He told a joke. I really wish he hadn't.

Q. "How do you keep a black man poor?" A. "Put his welfare check in his workboots."

The joke is offensive enough... but he didn't say "black man".

My throat burned. My chest tightened. I even think I got a little dizzy. I really was stunned. And, to my bitter dismay the congregation was howling. They loved it. I decided within 15 minutes of my first church service to resign and move back home.

I called my former youth pastor, Dick Stagner, and told him what happened. He, thank God, shared my dismay but gave me an important piece of advice. "Stay there a year," he told me.

I did.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Welcome to First Baptist Oil City!

The whole process of "calling" new ministers in the Baptist church has always mystified me. But, I was never more baffled than when I was exposed to the process for the first time as a naive and idealistic twenty year old prospective youth director. It was a process that, I was soon to learn, varied greatly from church to church. Some churches, reeling from a "bad experience" with the last guy, would draw out the job interview for as long as possible. Others were slightly more desperate.

I was twenty years old, working as a iron worker (we put up steel frames for buildings), and trying to move on with my life after having flunked out of college. I knew that God had called me into student ministry (I realize that calling is an ambiguous term... but, I just knew that I was supposed to invest my life reaching out to teenagers). I was dating an uber hot chick named Amy (get over yourselves all of you who resent the word chick... it is a complete compliment which is comparable to hunk... or, to translate for any teenagers who happen to be reading this: hottie).

I really don't recommend this to anyone starting out in the ministry; but, I was interviewing with multiple churches in hopes that I would catch on with one of them. It had come down to two finalists. Emmanuel Baptist in Pittsburg, Texas and First Baptist Church of Oil City, Louisiana. I had a really great rapport with the pastor at Emmanuel; but, things were moving very slowly. I would go and run a hayride for them... and wait. I would be invited to sing and give my testimony... and wait. Their pastor was always encouraging me to hang on. He would tell me that they were on the verge of making a decision.

And I wanted to wait. I was growing to love their church, the students, and the pastor the more I spent time with them. But, since it was taking so long, I was open to talking to Oil City as well, even if it was located Louisiana. I was interviewed by phone by the chairman of their search committee and things seemed to go well. The guy called me on a Wednesday night and asked me to come to a business meeting that they were having so that people could "put a face to the name". They were going to be talking about me and I thought it would be rude if I refused to be there. Plus, all activity with Emmanuel had gone dormant. So I went.

One problem, I had never driven from Longview, TX (my hometown) to Oil City, LA so I underestimated the amount of time that it would take to get there. When I finally arrived they were coming to the close of the meeting and the search committee chairman was standing at the front of the church. When he saw me he broke into a wide toothy smile and called me to the front of the room. I awkwardly walked to the front of the room... there were about 25-35 church members there. When I arrived at the front, he stuck out his hand. I took it.

As I look back on it... perhaps that is where I went wrong.

"Welcome to First Baptist Oil City!" he exclaimed. The room filled with as much applause as 30-something bored people could muster. I was struggling to comprehend what had happened. Remember, I had been in the room for less than a minute.

So, I accepted my first church ministry by shaking hands with a guy with whom I had had one phone conversation. I didn't know how much I was going to be paid ($87 dollars a week), where I was going to live (a room with no air-conditioning off of the gym), or anything about the pastor (hmmmm, how to describe?).

And that's when things got interesting...

People get ready

Amy, my beautiful and intelligent wife has challenged me to write out the most memorable moments from twenty years of student ministry. So, get ready to walk down to Pastville with me and relive the high and lowlights of my ministry years so far. Some are hilarious... some are heartbreaking. All are from my perspective and therefore, skewed in my favor. I think I am going to try to go in chronological order. That's the order in which the events happened, Clay.

So... I should be blogging a lot more now. This should be fun.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Underground Students of Genius

I really can't believe how clever and witty this video is. I didn't have one thing to do with it... this is what happens when you really trust your students. Wow.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Why I love "How It's Made"

It really seems like every time I watch a show these days there is one of these things going on:

  • Playful banter between two sarcastic hosts
  • A sarcastic/cynical dude making fun of all the "don't get its"
  • A scantily clad sarcastic/cynical hooch telling me that I should care about Brit, or Brangelina (I'm really sorry that I know that namesqueeze)
  • Fat sarcastic dads being dumb, their hot sarcastic wives being smart and their uber-sarcastic teenage kids being freaking geniuses
  • Or two sarcastic dudes going to Sonic (we don't even have a Sonic within 50 miles of us and yet I have to watch these idiots - I can call them that because they aren't real - say some of the dumbest lines since joe piscapo was on snl)
In short, and this may come as a shock, I am sick... totally and completely sick of tongue in cheek, wink wink, if you know what I mean, that's what she said... talk. I don't always want to think on multiple levels and I am frankly bored with how predictable it all is. And into this stale, thick atmosphere of blah comes the refreshing wind of "How It's Made."

I don't know who the guy is, (the voice-over guy who delights me with unknown facts of stuff construction) but I love him. He shoots straight with me. I feel safe in his clear descriptions that perfectly match the video on my screen. He isn't making fun of me or testing me to see if I "get it." He understands the hard day that I have had. He knows that I simply, purely just desire to know how it's made. No jokes are necessary. Just the simple beauty of creation.

And it is beautiful. People using their gifts to make stuff. There is something spiritual about watching this show.

And then a stupid Sonic commercial comes on.

water cooler wednesday

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taking Nursery Rhymes Seriously

A big thanks to Bill Dye - who gave me this idea.

She sat there, considering what had brought her to this moment... alone on her footstool. The turmoil of the past month had exacted an emotional toll that few could survive. And yet, here she was. Surviving. And that is exactly what she would continue to do. Everyone was gone... of that she was sure. It had been three weeks since her last contact with the outside world. The big mystery was that the electricity and other utilities continued to operate as normal. That wouldn't last long, she reasoned. The creatures would eventually clog up the system or build their elastic homes in such a way as to paralyze the moving parts. None of it mattered.

She had learned from her father how to live off the land. Her soft dress and intricately detailed lace gave a false impression of frailty. She had slain hundreds, no thousands of the beasts and could continue to do so until they ceased to trespass on her territory.

"But not here", she reminded herself. They have never been able to come into this room and - because of that - she was able to maintain that last shred of sanity. She could always come here and eat some cold cottage cheese, and feel safe. It was her sanctuary, sealed off with an intricate air filtering system that would only allow the tiniest micron's passage. If only she had perfected the system before... But, she couldn't allow herself to think that way. It was time for focus. Focus... and a nice bowl of cold cottage cheese.

She felt a slight tickle on her leg. It reminded her of Lexie, her Golden Retriever that she had buried just two days ago next to her father and mother. But, it couldn't be Lexie. Slowly, deliberately she moved her gaze down her dress to the darkened wood of the stool upon which she sat. And there it was... brown and black and menacing. Her last refuge was gone; and with it her sanity. That which she had held at bay for so long gained control of her. A seeping fear became a flood. Screaming she fled the room and raced into the darkness of the night... to her certain doom.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Another Bluebird 5

1. Putting my resume' online @ church staffing
2. Reading a letter "from God"
3. Holding a little girl named Chloe
4. Drinking too much Dr Pepper
5. Enjoying the late night conversations

1. Finish the Sola Fide lesson for Uprising (our H.S. large group)
2. Check Lost theories online... again
3. Hug my girls... all of them
4. Ride my bike
5. Pick up a couple of cookie cakes for Hannah's late B-day party

1. Snickers
2. Homemade nachos
3. Fritos
4. Granola Bars
5. Peanuts

1. Build my parents a house
2. Move all of my friends to Maryland
3. Buy a Trek Madone 6.9 Pro
4. Have a custom made modern house
5. Travel...

1. Staying up too late
2. Daydreaming while driving
3. Leaving clothes on the floor
4. Drinking Diet Dr Pepper like it is water
5. Always giving the joke answer before the real answer

1. in a room beside the gym... First Baptist Church, Oil City, LA
2. Marshall, TX
3. Mesquite, TX
4. Midland, TX
5. Westminster, MD

1. Radio DJ
2. Iron Worker
3. Actor... for a commercial shown in theatres
4. Set Builder
5. Pizza Cook

1. Everyone I know has been tagged.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


i am: eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich... mmmmmmmm.
i think: in rapid fire mode
i know: that i don't know everything (finally)
i want: to see a real counter-cultural movement
i have: a minute or two to blog
i wish: i had gone with Apple in the first place
i hate: mayonnaise and the word "discharge"
i miss: late night conversations
i fear: blindness, drowning, and a meaningless life
i feel: the pain of an insult for days afterward
i hear: tostitos crunching in my mouth
i smell: peanuts, tortilla chips and diet dr. pepper
i crave: more time with Amy
i search: for interesting things to read
i wonder: if we will fail in heaven (not sin... fail)
i regret: not studying film in college
i love: the last two hours of the day
i ache: on my left shoulder
i care: more than i act like i do
i always: think of nice things to do
i am not: as arrogant as i used to be
i believe: in grace
i dance: in the 80's preppy style
i sing: constantly
i don't always: like to answer the phone
i fight: brutally
i write: in starts and stops
i win: usually
i lose: and i don't like it
i never: smoke
i confuse: heather thomas with heather locklear
i listen: to OneRepublic religiously
i can usually be found: at home or my office
i am scared: for students living recklessly
i need: a pause in time so that i can take vacation without missing anything
i am happy about: blogging for the first time in a long time!

Thanks Todd (and Robert)

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Romancing the Son

I saw this on a friends blog... what is the most awkward worship song for a man to sing?

Monday, March 10, 2008

I think I'm back

stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Fundamental Flaw

Why, when I have taken time to reason and think through an issue... and I have come to a thoughtful conclusion, do I assume that all those who disagree with me haven't done the same thing? Why do I attribute their obvious fallacy to lazy thinking or ignorance? It is easy to dismiss ideas that I don't agree with by caricaturing the one who posits them.

I see this as a fundamental flaw of the kinds of exchanges that I often read on blogspot. Instead of reading posts as if I am reading them for the first time, I place the blogger into a category that I have in my brain after reading the first couple of sentences. This knee-jerk reaction causes me to argue against what I imagine their position to be... because, "I know them better than they know their deluded, pseudo-intelligent selves."

I often read others doing the same thing. Using phrases like, "I imagine you are sitting there thinking..." Well, let's stop imagining what people are sitting there thinking. Let's start reading their words and responding. Or, if it helps, imagine them with a sweet smile on their face. Blogspot, email, im, texting: all are ripe for misunderstanding. Let's not add our arrogance to the mix.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Who Bluett?

It is time to make your guess. Who is masquerading as world class comic genius, Darrell Bluett?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008