Tag Archives: Creativity

Painting in Black

So last night at Highland we observed Ash Wednesday, it’s my second time to participate in something like this, and my second time to speak at something like this. One day I look forward to going and getting to hear someone else do it. But I love doing things like this. It’s no secret that the younger generations appreciate more and more the ancient aspects of our faith, but it was a joy to watch people from all generations participate in this ancient tradition. And so, in that spirit, I’d like to post some of the thoughts from last night.

Now I know for some of the readers of this blog, Ash Wednesday may sound a bit too Catholic. And I totally get that, growing up, I was under the impression that all things Catholic were suspect. My parents wouldn’t even let me be friends with girls named Mary.

But Ash Wednesday is different, because it was going on a long time before Protestants and Catholics ever split. It is profoundly ancient and biblical. It’s an annual reminder that Christians have observed every year, for thousands of years, just like the people in the Bible like Job or the King of Ninevah. We put ashes on, and mourn. We mourn our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. We remember that from dust we came and to dust we will return.

And there’s a reason why we need cadences like this in our lives.

God knows us, he knows that we can try to trick ourselves into believing that death isn’t going to happen to us.The world doesn’t know how to respond to our mortality. And the symbol of ashes is a powerful reminder of our weakness, morally and physically. We are broken creatures. And the ash reminds us of what we tend to forget. That we live under the shadow of death, the grave will not be denied.

We don’t know what to death, The Cosmetic Plastic Surgery industry will make somewhere around 18 billion dollars this year. Think about that number…We have made an industry out of pretending that we don’t age, that people don’t die. So we get a tuck here or a lift there, and underneath all of it is this inability to talk honestly about the way things are. About the way we are. Continue reading Painting in Black

Below the Line

So this will be my last post on my time in Hollywood, thanks for putting up with me taking a detour from normal blog stuff to write about this. If you missed some of them I wrote about it  here,  herehere and here, besides the past two weeks of posts.

After a few hours of being on the set of Good Christian Belles for a few hours, I had come to grips with the reality of what was going on, I was sitting in the holding area and day-dreaming about worst-case scenarios And that’s when Allison spoke up. She had heard that I was a preacher and was intrigued by the fact that I was doing this…particularly this show. Allison had been married before, to a Jewish man She had grown up, and was living in the Bible Belt- and when she married she was vilified by Christian people who she had  grown up with. They saw her marriage as a mixed marriage, and instead of engaging her they kept her at arm length, even telling her from a distance that her marriage was offensive to God.

Allison made the point that the show that we were filming was pretty close to home for her. She had been wounded by Church, and Church people.

She made the point that when she thought about Christians, she automatically thought about the American Families Values Association, the very association that had boycotted the show we were working on. Then she said, “I don’t know a lot about organized religion anymore, but I just want you to know I think it’s cool that you are here doing this.”

Matt Maxwell is a guy who grew up at Highland (the church I work at) and now he works in Hollywood behind the camera. He and his wife love Jesus, are plugged into a community of faith, and view their work as both creative expressions of who God made them to be, and as missionaries. Here’s an email he sent me last week that I asked to share with you:

“This question of where we–as Christians– should work and use our talents is a constant conversation and struggle with me and many here in the entertainment industry. So many worry, wonder and ask about that one line that if we cross we no longer represent our Lord and our faith. But this conversation has always rubbed me wrong because the underlying problem is not how the world might perceive us Christians but how our Christian world and friends might perceive us and, in my eyes, this is a mistake.

I had a conversation with a dear friend several months ago who shared his resentment about working in post-production on the new, and now canceled, Playboy Club. He was considering talking to his superiors about moving to another show. I understood exactly where he was coming from but I kept thinking about all the lives he wouldn’t be able to touch.
Continue reading Below the Line

Why I Stayed

So since I’ve come out and told everyone the story about what happened to me in Hollywood, I have had one question raised more than any other…Did you think about leaving? Which is kind of like asking me, “Did you want to stay employed as a preacher?” For the entire day I questioned whether I should be there, and if so, what would the people I serve back in Abilene think. Here’s how this played out and why I stayed.

So there I was. I was on the set of the Disney studios, it was almost 8 in the morning, and I had just heard that I was about to be filming a scene in the Booby-licious bar. I had already done so much to get there, this was the product of a couple of weeks of planning, researching, standing in lines/registering, and one really, really big mistake about what show I would actually be filming.

My gut told me this was an unchartered area for preachers. I hadn’t heard a lot of sermons on a preachers spending time on a PG-13 sit-com, and I wasn’t that thrilled about being the first one to preach that sermon. I wasn’t expecting to be given a line or have any kind of established scene on camera, I knew that Extras are blurs in the background, so I could get by with it with no one knowing. The problem was that I had come here to tell the story of what the experience was like, and now that seemed slightly more difficult. The reason I would have left, or just not talked about it has nothing to do with me thinking that it was wrong for a Christian to be in that situation.

It was because I, on some level, was there as the preacher of Highland. I would have represented them, in other words I would have taken people along with me that had no idea or desire to be there. This is part of the burden of pastoring, you have to try to think about what people can hear, or what will prevent them from hearing you clearly again. I want to be clear on this, because after I talked about it at Highland there was a variety of responses, but the one that stuck with me the most was hearing from a person who said, “If he thinks that was wrong to be there, than I don’t want to ever confess any of my sins to him.”

If you know me, you know that I’ve done a lot worse than that. I didn’t think it was wrong for a Christian to be there, I had to figure out if it was wrong for me to be there.

Obviously I stayed (but I did plan on just not talking about it) and the first reason was because once I heard that the American Family Values Association had boycotted it, I had no desire to add my voice to that. I still had lines that I would not cross. There were things on that set, or any situation, that I would hope to say no to, despite whatever fallout might come. But they hadn’t asked me to do anything unethical, or anything that was wrong…just lots of grey areas.

Which is something that I think Christians are going to have to get used to.

Because to use Biblical language, Christians are in Exile, which means that we are no longer telling the dominant story lines in our culture. And that’s a problem because the only places that Christians generally feel comfortable really being in, are the ones where we can still have a semblance of control over the reality around us. But the reason that I decided to talk so publicly about it, was because I know that there are a lot of Christians who feel called to go into this (and other precarious industries). There are a lot of Jesus-followers (especially among younger generations) who are trying to wade into the grey areas of our society and be a blessing in whatever small ways they can.  Continue reading Why I Stayed

What Could Be (Repost)

Yesterday, as soon as our flight to Atlanta landed, we heard the news that rocked the world. Steve Jobs, the man who changed the world, had died. It’s amazing to see how deep the emotional response is to this news. Perhaps it’s because Steve gave so many of us the gift of being able to tell our own story more artistically. Maybe it was because he inspired us to see what creative excellence could look like. But I think it was because he was one of a few true visionaries that our age has seen.

I know that this can sound like glorifying materialism, and there is a danger that Apple products can do that, but Steve Job’s life has blessed my own for more than just his products, and for that I am thankful. The following is a post from last year about one of the many reasons that I appreciated Steve Jobs way of looking at the world. 


This is one of my all time favorite Graduation speeches. And it’s not because Steve Jobs is so eloquent here, to be honest, it’s the least charismatic I’ve ever seen him. He’s reading from his notes the entire time. He seems rattled at times, and he makes as much eye contact as a nervous accountant. Continue reading What Could Be (Repost)


So I’ve been pretty swamped this week and haven’t had much time to write. Next week I plan on starting a new blog series for a few weeks about Jesus and celebrations but for this week I’d like to share this.

This is a video that we showed at Highland a few weeks ago as we kicked off the new series EXTRAS. I read an article last year about the myriad of people who are in front of the cameras but behind the scenes in all of your favorite films and TV Shows. Most of them will never get discovered, they work hard and are paid little. And the question that kept coming back to me was…”Why? Why would anyone do this?”

So that’s what I went to find out. I’ll write more about my experience after I get further along in the series at Highland, but I will say this. I will never read the Bible the same way. There are hundred of tiny characters in the Holy plot of the Scriptures who just show up for a sentence or two and faithfully play their role to advance the story. They never knew how or if they would be remembered, but the story couldn’t go on without them.

I’d also like to point out that I am doing this series with one of my best friends in ministry Josh Graves, and that experience alone has been worth everything. There is something about having someone studying and praying and writing and dreaming together that makes ministry and its fruit so much richer. I don’t ever want to do a series again by myself. Continue reading EXTRAS

Imagination Over Politics

I remember the first time I met a Democrat. I mean a real live, bonafide Democrat, not just one of the scarecrows we had set up in the backyard.  I had met a friend at Harding, and everything seemed to be going fine, we had similar interests, had served in similar programs and after a few months of knowing him he dropped the D-bomb. But he wasn’t at all what I had grown up expecting, I couldn’t find the horns anywhere.

In his book, To Change the World, Robert Hunter makes a thousand profound observations, but his first one, the place he really starts his book from is that we have over politicized every aspect of our culture. Today when we meet someone, we almost always, in the back of our mind our trying to figure out where they fit on a political spectrum. And whether or not the relationship can progress depends, in large part, on whether we are in tune with one another political ideology.

And it’s not just which way a person votes. Almost every aspect of who we are and the choices we make have been politicized. Hunter points out, “Categories of identity that are not in themselves political have been suffused with political meaning. This is precisely what has happened to the categories of race, class, gender and sexual orientation.” In other words, you are what you vote, and you vote what you are.

It gets worse. Continue reading Imagination Over Politics

Provoked, Not Offended

Gabe and Rebekah Lyons were just like any other young, expecting parents.They were excited about the potential about their new, little bundle of joy that they were planning on welcoming into the world. They walked into that doctor’s office that day expecting the news that a healthy baby boy was developing inside of her. But that’s not the news that they were given.

They were told that their unborn son, Cade, was in all likely-hood, going to have Down Syndrome, and their hearts sunk. Now in their own words, they’ve learned a lot about how great a life with a child with this particular syndrome can be. But on that day, they were devastated. And they were immediately presented with the option of terminating the pregnancy. Most babies with Down Syndrome aren’t born. The majority of parents (90%) when given this news, choose to end the pregnancy. Here’s how Gabe Lyons talks about this:

“No matter where you come down on the abortion issue, that number is staggering. Unfortunately, when parents are faced with this diagnosis, everything in the culture points them toward the baby’s extinction. Insurance companies don’t’ want to pay the long-term health care bills, the government ins’t eager to carry the weight of future expenses, and doctors want to avoid malpractice suits at all costs.”

Now the Lyon’s went on to have Cade, and he’s been a joy to their life ever since. They could’ve just ranted and raved about how their doctors tried hard to steer them toward terminating the pregnancy, but they chose another route. Instead of just protesting about how bad the current culture was, they decided to create some more of it. Continue reading Provoked, Not Offended

The Art of Lament

(or Why I don’t like Christian Fiction)

We live in a culture where to be unhappy is a thing of treason. After all, the pursuit of happiness is literally on our charter. And after a while that stopped just being a line on some document in a museum, and started to become our lives’ mission. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for happiness. I love to celebrate, and I think the Christian faith should be pioneering the way in showing the world pure joy. But….

I have talked a lot previously about how I tend to not like a lot of things that our Christian sub-culture produces. There are a lot of reasons for this, I think Christian is a good noun and a bad adjective (thank you Rob Bell). I think that creating Christian ghetto’s that avoid rubbing shoulders with the broader culture goes against the grain of the gospel. But my deepest reasoning is probably best summarized by Hank Hill (of King of the Hill).

His son Bobby had just joined a Christian Rock Band, and Hank tried to talk him out of it. This is what he said, “Bobby, can’t you see that you aren’t making Christianity any better? You’re only making Rock n’ Roll worse!”

My deepest reason for not liking most Christian sub-culture stuff is that a lot of the time it isn’t good.

Now, before I get into this, let me say…The other day I was riding with some friends who were playing a Christian radio station, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Several songs came on in a row that were artistically well-done, poetic, and had some good theology mixed in there. So maybe I just am overly-critical of this genre. But here is why I don’t think that’s the case. Continue reading The Art of Lament

The Creative Genius

Part of my job is to write. It’s not my favorite part, I like preaching more, but writing is certainly up there for me. And here’s why: Long before a sermon ever climbs up into the pulpit with me, it’s hammered out on my office IMac. It’s there that I preach it for the first time, and what I’ve found true for a lot of preachers that I know, is that this writing time is really when we first preach the sermon.

It’s a creative process, of dreaming and wrestling and questioning. Sometimes it takes days, sometimes hours. And sometimes…minutes.

There have been times that I was doing something else, driving along, having a conversation, sharing a meal, when suddenly it was as if an idea externally came into me. I remember my favorite sermon ending of all time was like that. I was pulling into my driveway at home, and suddenly it was all there. One minute I was thinking about butterfly’s, and the next I knew exactly how I wanted to start and end, down to the letter.

Now that’s not to romanticize the creative process, more often than not, it’s laborious, it involves wrestling with God and words. But every now and then something like this happens, almost as if to remind me that I’m not doing this alone. Continue reading The Creative Genius


So I’ve spent the better part of this week in Atlanta, with most of the Highland Staff. We’re at the Catalyst conference, and it is seriously rocking my world. It’s been great hearing speakers like John Ortberg, Francis Chan, Andy Stanley, Seth Godin among many, many others. The Worship has been amazing too…imagine singing with 13,000 other Christian leaders who are worshipping out of a life of wounds and triumphs.

But the best part is this: Innovation. Continue reading Innovation