Writer, Church leader, Eccentric Nut, Marketer

I'm Church Leader, Writer, Speaker, Marketer, Kindness Project Founder, Broadcaster and Superhero. But most important I'm a Husband, Father and a worshiper of Jesus.

31 December 2011

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. You know why?

It's the only thing that ever has.

The West Wing: Season 4 as President Bartlett swears in Will Bailey

That's a powerful truth. The best ideas I've ever had have been made sitting on my porch after an hour of chewing on & spitting out thoughts with a very small number of like-minded people. I think the world can change from a porch.

24 December 2011

2011 ... a tougher year than it should have been.

LinkOne of the best euphoric Christmas rushes every year is the drive home after leaving the last day of work early. I cranked up Paul Simon's fabulous "Getting Ready for Christmas Day," basking in the beauty and contentment this season bring and began to think about this past year.

I didn't blog as much this year, because I quietly struggled personally more than other year of my life with an extended period of time that I can only describe as depression-like. This might be a surprise as I only told 3 humans that I was anything but totally great.

Ministry wise, this year has been incredible! We're beginning to see some of the results of ten years of hard work laying the foundation for something special to happen in Brantford. Somehow Captain Kindness has turned into a quasi-mascot for the city and we're seeing more families, individuals and students than ever are catching the vision of worshiping & serving the city with us at Freedom House! This year I've rekindled old friendships, my marriage is thriving, my kids are smart and growing, I've been a part of the team that led our local MP to a whopping victory and since been placed on his fabulous board of directors. I've had doors open to speak into so many unexpected areas of influence. 2011 has been GREAT and the things that I REALLY want to happen... ARE happening more than ever!

But for half of the year, peaking around my 35th birthday, I had a hard time getting out of a funk. Worship was a trudge. Prayer dried up. Hope (regardless of the actuals around me) seemed far off. And for the first legitimate time, I toyed with the idea of being mad at God. I felt a bit like Joseph in the pit KNOWING that I'd done what God had wanted and KNOWING that His plan was unfolding but wondering how long I'D have to wait down here personally!

Much of it circled around my 35th birthday. I've never once EVER struggled with aging. I'm always actually annoyed that I'm not older than I am. Youth and it's inevitable baggage of ignorance bugs me. But the midlife questions that everyone seems to go through at least once in their life hit me like a ton of bricks.

"I'm not making enough money am I? Have I done enough? Am I positioned properly for the second half of my life? I've sacrificed for ministry... God you know that right? YOU'RE my retirement plan right?"

I'm not a big party person. I would rather not have a birthday party or receive gifts. I don't really WANT much but more-so, I'm not good at receiving or asking. But this year, on my birthday, I was in messy place of isolation. I even made my wife make up a ridiculous lie to fake why we couldn't even go out with friends for dinner while I ranted around the house in a self-centered tantrum. I left the house after the kids went to bed and sat out on a bench swing overlooking the Grand River and had it out with God.

Did you know that God's OK if you have it out with him honestly. If you read through most of the Psalms, it's the story of David verbalizing that life is tough and people are attacking him. Then the tone begins to change. Half way through it's like God begins to remind him of who HE is and who DAVID is too. Then by the end... David is singing God's praises again. That's what happened on the bench swing overlooking the river. I was honest. God was honest back. Worship began flowing out of me for real for the first time in MANY months and I felt like I could breathe again.

That's all He wants... you. This life is about a relationship with your maker who loves you so extravagantly. It's got ups and downs. Press on with living. When you include God in your life... there will always be a path out of the valley. You should read my old blog about CS Lewis's "A Horse and His boy" about how 'the lion' watches out for us during these times. Lewis's word picture is powerful.

Driving home for Christmas; I felt full. I've got a smile on my face and I've got 4 walls around me like Great Big Sea says. Dreams are coming true in this city... including mine. The difference between earlier this year and now is that my passion and focus is (in practice... not only in theory) on others instead of myself. Once you begin down that road of living your life for OTHERS as an act of worship, when your insides turn from it, your whole life wobbles perilously like looking down walking a tight rope. I never stopped it in practice. But who you are on the inside means more than what you do on the outside.

Merry Christmas. I pray that 2012 is a prosperous new year for you, your family, your marriage, your city, your church, your business and your life.

21 December 2011

"Behind the Stable"... my Living Nativity story (And FULL video)

This weekend, Freedom House performed the second annual "Living Nativity" 6 times over 3 days for roughly 2500 people outdoors in Brantford's Harmony Square. Thanks to I AM Studios and Caleb Bray... this is video of the show in it's entirety:

If you watched all the way to the end, you'll see me come out and speak about the story of Jesus to the crowd. This was the final performance and I was feeling particularly fired up as I paced around behind the stable. A lot of thoughts were going through my head and I was desperately attempting to grasp them and articulate the moment. You see, the Canadian church doesn't get many "open air" opportunities to fully speak about the full message of Jesus Christ with THAT much buy-in and excitement from the WHOLE community. We do A LOT of showing God's love in a practical way, and it's the only reason why we get to have an audience for The Living Nativity... but culturally the chance to preach in public to crowds is a rare bird.

Behind the stable I couldn't help but remember my early days as a Christian. I was remembering the hope I first held for sharing the message of Christ's "life forevermore" in my culture... followed by the hopelessness I felt after hitting walls of over-stimulation, self-sufficiency and malaise. I wondered if there even was a logical way to ever really "reach" MY city without being the spiritual bully I NEVER wanted to be.

I was remembering how my eyes were pried open during my time in Ghana to see a present-day, here-and-now, context where the message of Jesus was being embraced en masse and wasn't... jerky. Could it really be? I remembered wondering how it this new information/experience would ever translate to the motherland to which I was so heavily burdened for. But if it was really real, there had to be a way.

Behind the stable I was flipping through the mental Rolodex of pictures of the last 12 years of hard work as an African-trained missionary to my own "people group." I was remembering a whole lot of trial and error... a whole lot of faith walking... a steady progression of hope... and some of our recent breakthroughs.

On the video at about the 15 minute mark, you'll see the shepherds freaking out about their encounter with Jesus. They begin running around the crowd (and even out onto the VERY Bethlehem esc ice rink) shouting, "THE KING IS BORN." Jamie Prokop who plays Joseph, walks to the front of the stage with a bewildered "what in the world is going on here" look on his face. Angels were translating a message from heaven while wild men were running around the countryside spilling the beans about a message that NOBODY quite "got" at this point. It's a PR person's nightmare. There was NO WAY to stay on top of this message. It was a virus that got let out of the box.

It's a virus that so so many have caught. Books upon books have been written about this story. MILLIONS upon MILLIONS gather to converse, sing and dance with him weekly. BILLIONS upon BILLIONS whisper hopeful nighttime utterings to him. This story is an unstoppable WILDFIRE that has become the central story around which humankind functions today. Whether you are a Christian or not, we all must choose to whether Jesus Christ IS or IS NOT the son of God and our lives are knowingly or unknowingly structured accordingly. As Brian Beattie says, "The most important thing about you is what you think about when you think about God."

No one who has ever walked this earth who has claimed to BE God & Love incarnate has had a reputation or credibly that has lasted more than a few decades without coming crashing down. Jesus story however just... keeps... spreading on a global scale.

Behind the stable as I walked out on stage to declare that I DO believe this story; I felt very aware and humbled of my minor role in a MAJOR production.

12 December 2011

Brantford's Local Media

The Brantford Expositor, The Brant News, The Brant Advocate, CKPC, Rogers Cable 20, Power 93.9 and FHTV. My city's media portholes. These are the primary avenues where the public perception of my home city is formed. And I think they do a great job serving the city I love.

Here's why.

I am college educated in broadcasting/journalism. I've worked the majority of my professional life in one area of media or another. Part of me digs it... but right from day 1, a large part of me has also found the culture to be a VERY cut-throat, viscous environment. One that often eschews creativity and grander vision in exchange for habitual, thoughtless ripping & reading... existing solely to propagate sales of things that (cup half full) we don't need or (cup half empty) actually hurt us. But media is a mountain of influence in our city. What the local media does and says about their city not only CAN change the city... but DOES change a city in one direction or another. It matters.

I often hear people say, "I don't like the news. Too depressing. I wish they'd report on the good news." Very few sweeping sentiments drive me more crazy as someone who has read every newspaper I could get my hands on since I was 8.

  • You don't "like news?" News is not a genre of fiction. It's what's happening on the earth you live on! It effects you and you should be effecting it!
  • Too depressing? The "depressing" news involves human lives being negatively effected by something in our world. Something you might have the solution for. Are we saying that their lives don't count? Sucks to be them... don't burst my little bubble? I certainly hope not.
  • As for the good news? Publications have tried to JUST report the "good" news and it's generally uninteresting and unbalanced schlock because it doesn't paint a full picture!

There ARE reasons that many do feel and believe that sweeping statement. There are definite nuggets of truth in it. But it's an incomplete thought without consideration of played-out ramification or solution. Here's why I'm proud of my local media. Because I've found that they both genuinely care about the prosperity of our city AND actively seek out to report on the GOOD that happens in Brantford as well as the bad. And when it's clearly bad... they OFTEN find the good to bring perspective... thus breathing life and hope into a situations that can feel bleak.

A few weeks ago, hundreds of gravestones were toppled by a vandal. Expositor photographer Brian Thompson captured (what I feel is the photograph of the year) City Councillor Jan Vanderstelt in the middle of a herculean act of personally erecting the desecrated stones. The GOOD act of one man, well communicated by our media along with the partnership of passionate social media advocates (who are ALSO making a real difference) spurred a chain reaction of positive response, including businesses like Ingham Monuments volunteering time and resource. The story was not about despair... it became about hope.

Yesterday, Syd Bolton from Brantford's Personal Computer Museum partnered with Sony Canada to give my son "Kid Kindness" a PSP game system just for being a great kid and spurring on kindness in our city. And this morning, this photo was on the FRONT PAGE of the newspaper with this story called "It's good to be Kind"

It was the headline story over the weekend. This blog praising the local Brantford media is not because they put my son on the front page (although it warms a fathers heart and when you encourage a kid it's like breathing destiny into them) it's because in our quest to make Brantford known as the kindest city in Canada... EVERY SINGLE MEDIA OUTLET I've mentioned has JUMPED at the chance to find ways to both ACT kindly and use their influence to spur people in our city onto kindness!

They are actively seeking to report on the stories of local heroism and generosity. They are intentionally honoring and encouraging of those who do. I count many of the local media members as personal friends because of the quality of their character, the depth of their work, and their passion for this city. Not becoming jaded in the media is tough. I know it... I live it.

I want to take this opportunity to thank and honor the local media in Brantford. You help make Brantford the STRONG city it is. Kindness really does breed Kindness and can change a city BY good INTO good. It's a lofty goal but when we each do our part... I think we're beginning to see that it's within our reach.

8 December 2011

The Worst Christmas gift you can give is...

The Worst Christmas gift you can give is a lottery ticket.

"Here you go. Nothing! Merry Christmas! It's nothing! From me to you. Nothing."

Unless it wins, then it's something. But not JUST something. It's 47 Million Dollars.

"Hey there Bob. Remember that ticket I gave you that turned into 47 million dollars? I hope you're enjoying that. Yeah I'm really enjoying that mug you got me. I, uh- had some coffee out of it earlier. So it's pretty nice too."

As paraphrased from Norm MacDonald

3 December 2011

Why we shouldn't stop giving gifts at Christmas

As seen in The Brant Advocate

"Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves." ~Eric Sevareid

I'm sure you've heard, said, or at least thought this during the Christmas chaos:

“We all already have everything we need. I don't need your gift and you don't need mine. Let's stop giving gifts."

It's hard not to be tempted to think this sometimes because of the cultural rut we've gotten ourselves into. But I don't believe that stopping giving is the remedy to the ailment. It's merely a visceral reaction. Dig deeper. Giving... is integrally woven into Christmas.

THE verse in the Bible that almost everyone can recite is John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Giving. But not JUST giving. Giving extravagantly , intentionally and sacrificially to a culture of people who thought they already had everything and didn't need this gift. This gift was so good and was so confrontational to man’s perceived self-sufficiency and pride that culture has never been fully able to process it. This season is ALL about giving and it's always come with the temptation to treat gifts incorrectly.

Even The Magi came to celebrate the birth of a peasant baby into a cows food trough by bringing expensive, impractical gifts. Illogical, but the beauty of their story continues to be passed down and still opens hearts. Years ago, U2's Bono was coming back from a very long tour. On Christmas Eve, he went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Belfast. He recalls the revelation he that day about the value of the Christmas gift.

"It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story. The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw... a child, I just thought: “Wow!” Just the poetry. Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was just sitting there, and it's not that it hadn't struck me before, but tears came down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. It’s actually logical. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh."

Incarnation. An ethereal feeling or belief... being express as a THING. Hope coming alive. Here are a few ways I think we make gift giving and receiving a little more effective this Christmas:

1) WANT to give: In our culture we spend too much time ignoring and disregarding each other to let a season of GIVING go by and not let it change our hearts. Don't think of people as lists. Think of them as they really are. An important person in need of an incarnation of love. It's not about rich or poor. A human is a human is a human.

2) Think about your gift: It does the soul wrong to just pick out some random, insignificant piece in a store and give it because you have to. Really think about what would tickle someones fancy. Something that would really communicate your feelings for them. It doesn't have to be expensive. It could be words that you've never spoken. It could be time. OR it could be a Macbook. The thing doesn't matter... the spirit of it does.

3) Humble yourself to really receive: You're likely going to be getting a gift this year from someone who can't afford to give you something... but they will because they love you. Don't say, "Oh you didn't have to" and feel guilty. They have intentionally given you a gift that cost them something. Humble yourself and receive it. Acknowledge the warm feeling you get as divine and let it inspire you.

4) Give to someone who doesn't "deserve it": This one is powerful. Think about how The Grinch warms your heart and makes you tear up a little. The Who’s were totally robbed blind on Christmas Eve. But they heaped love on someone who didn't deserve it. It broke The Grinch's heart and cause it to grow. THIS is what a Christmas gift can do.

It's not about what we deserve. It's about what we don't. Culturally... we're out of whack with how we function in giving. Minuscule percentages of people give more than 10% annually while people go hungry around the world and we go into debt at Christmas mindlessly. This is no good. But the answer is not to STOP giving. The answer is MORE giving. The answer is giving more of yourself. Time, Talent AND Treasure. The answer is being intentionally and extravagantly generous on all occasions!

I’d like to invite you to The Living Nativity, two show nightly December 16-18th in Harmony Square. Come and see for yourself the greatest example of generosity our world has ever experienced and let it inspire you to fully participate in the spirit of the season.

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