The Unwavering Faith Of Frank Underwood

“You’re thinking about where we are rather than where we’re headed.” – Frank Underwood

Frank Underwood is all about the long game.

From the first moment he confidently addresses the audience in season one of “House Of Cards”, oozing with the southern charm of a slithering snake oil salesman, it’s clear that Frank has a way of getting what he wants.

What I like about “House Of Cards” is how the show makes him, as well as the audience, wait to get there.

hoc_key_013_h.jpgIt’s obvious that Frank is not content with just having a seat in Congress. He has bigger plans and higher offices on his mind.

Rather than dilly-dally with the whole election process, Frank Underwood would rather come up with a plan to manipulate his way to the top. It’s more fun that way, after all.

There’s a master plan going on in the background of “House Of Cards”. Every conversation Frank Underwood has is layered with a deeper meaning. Every relationship he has exists for a greater purpose.

A lesser show might have Frank win time and time again. It might lay out exactly how he plans to get to the top of the Washington food chain. It might have him stumble his way backwards into power.

The fun part of “House Of Cards” though is that it’s not always clear how all the puzzle pieces will fall into place for Frank to get what he wants. You know in the end that he will – he has a plan after all – but you can’t always see exactly how he’ll get it done.

Now don’t get me wrong. Frank Underwood is harsh. He is under-handed. You could argue that he’s downright evil.

But Frank Underwood has a plan. And he sticks to it, despite what life and the government throws in his way.

Frank uses every meeting, every machination and every manipulation to get to what he wants, even when it doesn’t mean getting it immediately.

Frank realizes good things come to those who wait. He knows his long term goal of stealing the the most powerful office in the country cannot come overnight.

Even when his inner circle complains about the momentary setbacks they see in front of them, Frank Underwood sees the big picture and trusts in the plan.

I think too often we act like the periphery characters on House Of Cards. We cry and complain and lose hope because of where we are in the story. We fail to have faith in The Plan.

There is nothing in our lives that is left to chance. There is nothing that happens apart from God’s Master Plan for our lives.

It’s easy to doubt The Plan when we run into opposition. Sometimes we face moments where we can’t possibly fathom our stories having a happy ending.

That’s because our stories are supposed to be dangerous, challenging, exhausting, nerve-wracking all the way up to the very conclusion. All the great ones are.

If we are willing to stay faithful to The Plan, if we hold out hope that something greater is going on in the background, that all of the moving pieces in the background are shifting to something wonderful, then at the end we will see the incredible results of a life lived in faith.

A lot of “House Of Cards” fans compare Frank Underwood to Satan himself. I can’t blame them. This is not a post trying to redeem the villainous politician.

I’m just wondering: if every Christian could have as much hope in God’s plan as Frank Underwood has in his own, could you imagine the places we could go?

Have the faith today to see beyond where you are and look to where you’re headed when you stick to The Plan.

Let’s End It

end itLast week our box spring broke.

After standing up on the bed to pull the switch on our fan the box spring caved in on itself.

We had to laugh about it. We’ve had a nice string of bad luck since getting married. Our shower curtain keeps falling off the wall. Our toaster oven exploded. We can’t seem to catch a break.

Really though, our problems are small in comparison with one of the greatest problems the world faces today: slavery.

Over 27 million people worldwide are entrenched in slavery. More people are in slavery today than in any other time worldwide.

Slavery is not just something that’s a problem in far away countries. Sex trafficking and slavery goes on all across the United States.

Did you know that when the Augusta National opens up it’s doors for The Masters Tournament in just a few weeks the sex slavery business will come into town as well? Major sporting events like The Masters are huge hotbeds for the sex trafficking business.

So, despite our modest bank account and our own set of problems, my wife and I want to focus on the problem of slavery. We’re donating to the End It Movement, and we want you to be part of our team.

Today, February 27, is Shine A Light On Slavery Day. Founded by Atlanta’s own Passion City Church, the End It Movement has become a global phenomenon to raise awareness and money to help end slavery.

Supporters across the world are marking their hands with a red X to show their support and to start the conversation.

As part of the movement End It is also asking supporters to join a 27 x 7 team, recruiting 27 people to donate $7 to the cause, then encouraging those 27 people to start a team of 27 more. That’s the kind of math that can really add up to make a dent in the slavery epidemic.

My wife and I are taking a few dollars out of our box spring fund to help the cause. Will you join our team as we try to get 27 people to donate $7?

To be a part of our End It team, click here to donate $7 to fight slavery. Then recruit your friends to join your team.

And if you can’t give, draw a red X on your hand, take a picture and join the conversation on social media using the hashtag #EndItMovement. Shine a light on this horrible problem today.

We can be the generation that abolishes the idea of slavery. Let’s end it.

 

The Indefatigable Hope Of Parks And Recreation

IMG_0010There are a lot of wonderful things Parks And Recreation championed over its 7 season run. Breakfast food. Miniature horses. Pretty much every item on Ron Swanson’s Pyramid Of Greatness.

But the greatest thing of all Parks And Recreation championed was hope.

Leslie Knope is arguably the most hopeful character in the history of television.

Of course she never had it easy. Nearly every open forum the Parks Department held to talk about their hopeful ideas devolved into hilarious madness, corrupted by the cynical and selfish desires of the townspeople:

Despite facing nearly insurmountable pushback from the citizens of Pawnee, Leslie and the Parks team showed up to work each day hopeful that their small projects could make a difference on their midwest section of the country.

And they did.

Week after week, year after year, the small projects the Pawnee Parks Department tirelessly championed left a dramatic impact on their city.

Whether facing a corrupt candy company or insane city council members or the snobs one city over in Eagleton, Leslie and Ron and Ben and Andy and April never stopped believing that their work mattered. Because of this hope they were able to turn pits into parks, launch Harvest Festivals and create the best television comedy of the past decade.

The greatest temptation is to believe our life doesn’t matter. That we are just a cog in the machine. That what we do doesn’t count. For that reason I thank God for the Leslie Knopes of the world.

The people who scream louder than the cries of the cynics. The ones who go into the battlefield when the opposition seems insurmountable fueled by an indefatigable hope.

People I look up to like Bob Goff and Donald Miller. Mentors I’ve met like David Keel and Sean Taylor. The youth pastors and bloggers and teachers and noble politicians we all know who continue to believe their lives and their work matter even when they don’t always see results.

I also thank God for a show like Parks And Recreation. For rare is the show which celebrates hope and joy, which chips away at the epidemic of cynicism in the world and which champions the idea that the small things we do add up to something that matters.

May we all one day believe our lives matter enough to keep showing up to do the work even when no one believes in us. May the hope of Leslie Knope live on long after the closing credits.

Want some more Parks And Recreation memories? Check out some of these posts:

Prioritize Like Leslie Knope

The Two Things Ron Swanson Hates Most

Tips For The Beginning Time Traveler Part 2

What It Takes To Win An Oscar

mashable.com

mashable.com

This Sunday night hundreds of nominees will sit inside a Hollywood theater anxiously awaiting to hear their name read. For if a presenter opens an envelope and does shout out their name it means they’ll be taking home the most important prize in the movie business – an Oscar.

For weeks and weeks the actors and writers and producers and directors nominated have been endlessly campaigning to win the golden statue.

Ads have been taken out in magazines and papers. Billboards have been plastered across Hollywood. Talk shows have been littered with performers on their best behavior trying to impress the voting audience.

But when the Academy Awards begin this Sunday there will be nothing anyone can do to alter their fate.

It’s true – there is nothing anyone can do to win an award on Oscar night. The decisions have been made. The winners have been chosen. The names have been written down. The (extremely expensive) envelopes have been sealed and locked away.

The fate is out of the nominees’ hands. The victory is up to the voters.

The only way to win an Oscar is for someone else to write your name on a slip of paper.

In the end it all comes down to the name the voter decides to write down. The same goes for any award or trophy. Despite the work done, ultimately the fate of the accomplishment is in someone else’s hands.

I was struck by this thought when I recently read these words from Jesus in the book of Luke:

Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven. (Luke 10:19-20)

Jesus cautions His disciples to not rejoice because of what they are able to do but because of what has already been done.

He tells the disciples that they have the power to do incredible things. But ultimately the greatest victory is out of their hands.

Our greatest actions, our most impressive feats, our most incredible words and performances will not earn us anything in the end.

Our greatest joy comes because Someone Else has written down our name in the Book of Life.

Winning an Oscar often opens up opportunities an actor never could have dreamed of before. Many in Hollywood go on to even greater work once they’ve won, unburdened by the pressure of trying to establish their worth through a trophy.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if the same could be said for you?

You can stop campaigning. You can stop preening and posturing before God trying to earn his approval. You can stop worrying about winning the trophy.

The vote has been cast. Your name has been written down. You’ve already won.

Don’t rejoice over what you are capable of winning today. Rejoice because of what God has already won for you. 

 

How SNL Made Me A Better Youth Minister

As SNL celebrates its 40th Anniversary this weekend, I just wanted to take a few minutes to say thanks.

You see, I’m not a funny person.

I’ve said funny things before, and I’ve gotten a few laughs in my lifetime. But the truth is most of those funny things were stolen. And most of them were stolen from Saturday Night Live.

635583156024811072-ConeheadsI think it’s perfect that as part of the new SNL app there’s a whole keyboard of SNL-inspired emojis. After all, for my friends and I SNL is its own sort of language of catchphrases and inside jokes.

I’ve never been good at quoting classic movies, but I can recite for you Matt Foley’s entire speech about living in a van down by the river and tell you why there needs to be more cowbell and shout out all of the Spartan Cheerleaders’ routines.

When I was in middle school Comedy Central used to show SNL reruns everyday right around dinner time. I ate them up, recording my favorite sketches and reciting them over and over again. My friends and I would act out the funniest routines in front of our classmates in the hopes of getting a laugh.

In fact I even got the chance to direct my classmates and act out my hosting fantasies in an evening full of SNL sketches my senior year of high school (it was a memorable disaster).

Soon after graduating I moved on from making my classmates laugh to trying to make students laugh as a youth minister.

When I started working in Young Life and as a full time youth minister, I of course turned to my Saturday Night Live memories to recreate characters and entire sketches for youth camps and Wednesday nights.

My other leaders and I blatantly ripped off our favorites. I pulled students into the act as well. I used this semi-obscure Mike Myers sketch about “All Things Scottish” as a jumping off point to create a couple of Scottish blokes who liked to lead games:

Watch All Things Scottish On Yahoo Screen

549205_10151426947985427_624060680_n

So, the secret’s out. 90% of everything I’ve done that was funny, I stole completely from SNL. Anything else that came out of my mouth that was slightly original was definitely inspired by the show.

My top priority as a youth minister was introducing students to God’s word and God’s love – no question. But second to that I felt was the job of making kids laugh. 

Some people may see goofy skits and ridiculous games as just a way to kill time before getting to the gospel message. Fair enough. There were certainly moments where I wasted too much time trying to create the perfect skit rather than perfect my bible lessons.

To me though the goofy skits and recurring characters were more than an afterthought. They were a way to share the gospel message in their own right.

Laughter brings diverse groups of people together – just look at the list of memorable characters and skits and hosts from SNL over the years to see that.

So when laughter takes place inside the walls of the church, it can have a special power. A skit at a church service doesn’t have to be a waste of time. It can puts smile on the face of someone who hasn’t smiled in days. It can point that person to a God who created them to experience joy.

Skits and characters, when done well, offer a reflection of the gospel, not a distraction from it. 

I’ve read dozens of thinkpieces about the legacy of Saturday Night Live over the past few weeks. The show gets a lot of credit for being the pinnacle of American political satire over the past 4 decades. Deservedly so.

But I think the most important thing SNL created over the years was a place where people could come every Saturday Night at 11:30 PM for little bit of laughter. A place where every age and ethnicity can come together over a common laugh, letting their insecurities and their troubles and their doubts slip away for a moment of hope and joy.

What I hoped to do in youth ministry was to recreate that sort of place and those types of moments to bring students together in a spirit of celebration and to let them know about a God who wanted them to experience a joy unlike any other.

A wise teacher of mine once told me, “It’s a sin to bore a kid with the Gospel.” Without characters and skits inspired by and blatantly ripped off from SNL, my youth ministry would have been a lot less fun. There would have been a lot less laughter. Truthfully, I think there would have been a lot less students.

With that in mind, I want to say thanks to all the of cast members and hosts and writers and directors and producers who have created an incredible legacy of comedy over the past 40 years. You’ve done more than make people laugh. You inspired me to use comedy for a greater purpose.

Without Saturday Night Live, I would not have been able to reach kids with the Gospel the way that I did. As The Church Lady might say, “Isn’t that special?”

What are your memories of Saturday Night Live over the past 40 years? 

Your Life Is Not A Beer Commercial

This year’s best Super Bowl spot, according to USA Today’s Ad Meter, was Budweiser’s “Lost Dog” spot.

It’s hard to argue against it. Puppies. Horses. An acoustic version of “500 Miles” sung beautifully by Sleeping At Last. Add it all up and it’s an emotional wallop that’s tough to beat.

But is it a great beer commercial?

Sure, the farmer dude in the spot has a Budweiser hat that we see a few times. And the Budweiser logo shows up at the very end (#BestBuds).

bbbbAsk yourself this: If you took the Budweiser stamp off the end of the commercial would you know it was a beer ad?

Take that logo out of the commercial and what do you have? A very pretty story about a dog and his horse friends that makes me want to adopt a puppy, not drink a beer.

I’m not trying to be a hater here. The commercial was pretty and poignant.

I just think that sometimes commercials have a tendency to veer far away from what they’re supposed to be advertising.

Sometimes I think our lives veer off course of what we are supposed to be advertising as well.

If you took the label Christian off your life would anyone know what you stood for?

We try to live good lives, painting a meaningful picture with the gifts we have been given. But sometimes in the midst of creating something beautiful we forget to spread the word about the product we have been put on this Earth to advertise for.

There’s a phrase that a lot Christians like to toss around, often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi (though there’s no real evidence as to who said it first). It goes something like, “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.”

It’s a well-meaning phrase, one I’ve quoted often and truly believe in.

I do think we misconstrue the true meaning of the saying though.

I think sometimes we use this quote as permission to keep our mouths shut out of laziness or fear. The phrase becomes an excuse to just live a good life and hope people recognize that we were Christians through our actions.

I think we forget that sometimes it is necessary to use words.

Using words can be messy and confusing and complicated and offensive. But we can’t always leave it up to the viewer’s imagination as to what our lives stand for.

We can’t always let our actions do the talking, no matter how well-intentioned they are. There are certain times in life when we must speak up for what we believe in and why we believe in it and why it makes us live the way we do.

Your life is not a beer commercial. It’s not meant to be beautiful and ultimately confusing as to what it all stands for.

Let your actions speak loudly. When the time comes let your voice be heard as well. Make it clear what you stand for.

Use your words, and use them wisely.

Do you think it’s possible to preach the gospel without using words?

3 Steps To A Successful Halftime Show

I’m kind of done with football at this point.

Between deflated footballs and ridiculous press conferences and domestic violence and post-concussion syndrome, I’m honestly ready for this season to all be over with.

Yes, I’ll be watching the game on Sunday, just for the grand spectacle of it all. But I don’t really have the heart to write anything football related right now. (If you’d like to read something like that I have done it before.)

katy-perry-nfl-650So instead of writing a piece on the big game, I’m going to focus on something far less upsetting: the Super Bowl Halftime show.

This year Katy Perry will perform in front of the biggest crowd of her life. Between the 70,000 or so in attendance at University of Phoenix stadium and what will likely be a record audience watching on television and online, the “Roar” singer will be placed on an incredible platform for arguably the most important 12 minutes of her career.

You might think it’s a pretty special award for Perry to be able to perform on the halftime stage. After all, she is one of the most recognizable pop stars in the world just 7 years after her breakthrough hit “I Kissed A Girl” placed her in the public eye.

But you would be wrong.

Performing the Super Bowl Halftime Show is not an award. It’s an audition. Continue reading