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Go Ahead And Skip Church!

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The above image is a billboard put up by the American Atheists group. I’m sure it drives some Christians bananas (and make some cry, “War On Christmas! Grrr!”), but they of course have every right to put it up… And I see an important truth in it.

David Silverman, president of American Atheists, said this of the billboard:

“We want people to know that going to church has absolutely nothing to do with being a good person. The things that are most important during the holiday season — spending time with loved ones, charity, and being merry — have nothing to do with religion.”

With that statement, David shows a better understanding of Christian theology than some Christians.

Unfortunately, we Christians may have given the world (and perhaps even ourselves) a false view of church. We have confined it to a place, an event, an obligation, a little box to be checked.

Don’t get me wrong, I love church. I work at a church! Church – when done the way Jesus intended it to be done – is a beautiful thing. I have experienced its beauty firsthand, and that is why I am saddened when people have a shallow view of what church is – or, at the very least, what it should and could be.

You probably don’t need a billboard to give you permission to skip church. On the other hand, maybe you do. (In the words of Ed Sheeran, I’m just thinking out loud). Maybe you have been guilted into church attendance. Maybe you don’t really believe in God, but if there is a God maybe going to church on Christmas will keep him off your back. Maybe a family member shames you for not going. Maybe you’ve been taught that going to church somehow makes you a “good person”. If that’s the case, I’m genuinely sorry. I hope that billboard does offer you relief and takes some pressure off you. That’s not the picture we get of the first-century church.

The other day a friend told me of a pastor who cancelled church on Christmas. He told his congregation that instead of attending church that day, they were to be the church. They were to go out and serve people. Not to earn God’s love, but precisely because they were already loved by God. They were to now go love others with that same love. You might say they were to simply be good for goodness’ sake…

Christians, what would happen if we truly acted like the hands and feet of Jesus? Even people who skipped church would experience church when we came into contact with them. And it would be a good experience.

The believers studied what the apostles taught. They shared their lives together. They ate and prayed together. Everyone was amazed at what God was doing. They were amazed when the apostles performed many wonders and signs. All the believers were together. They shared everything they had. They sold property and other things they owned. They gave to anyone who needed something. Every day they met together in the temple courtyard. They ate meals together in their homes. Their hearts were glad and sincere. They praised God. They were respected by all the people. Every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. – Acts 2:42-47

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How To Put The “Christ” Back In Christmas

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I’m almost upset with myself for writing this before it’s even Thanksgiving, but it’s not up to me to decide what’s trending… (Truth be told, this is about a week too late! :))

Okay, time to add in my 2 cents… I have some suggestions on how we can put the Christ back in Christmas. They are broken into two categories. First I will address Christians. That is, people who are trying to follow Jesus the best they can. Then I will address people who do not identify themselves as Christians or followers of Jesus.

To The Christians:

1. Pray For Our Brothers & Sisters Who Are Actually Being Persecuted. Man, am I bad at this one. I pretty much never do this. I take so much for granted living in the U.S. of A.There are people in other countries who are actually being persecuted for what they believe. Places where it’s dangerous and even deadly to be a Christian. This Christmas season I want to do a better job of praying for them…

2. Be The Hands & Feet of Jesus. Remember what Jesus told His disciples the night before He was put to death.

“A new command I give you: Trick Starbucks baristas into writing Merry Christmas on your cup by lying about what your name is.”

Oh, wait, that wasn’t it. It was actually:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

How about we show people what we believe by how we treat them? How about we buy a stranger who’s hungry a meal and a cup of coffee, instead of complaining about what’s on (or not on) the cup?

See, the church right now has something in common with the first century church. They were both looked at as being crazy, but for different reasons. In the first century, people scratched their heads and said, “Man, those people have some weird beliefs, but look how much they love, sacrifice, and give.” Unfortunately, we’re not known for the latter as much anymore.

3. Reflect Inwardly. Advent is a great time for Christians to ponder why we believe what we believe. I’ve been writing scripts for December BCLs and it’s been really great to go back and look at these stories that have become so familiar to us. The story of a girl who had the course of her whole life altered drastically, but trusted God’s plan for her life. The story of how God stepped in to save people who were hopeless. Completely hopeless.

Our Big Idea in BCL for December is Advent: Preparing to Receive The Gift of Jesus. I forget far too often how great of a gift Jesus is. Advent is a great time to reflect quietly on that truth.

4. Invite A (Real) Friend To Christmas Eve Service. Now, don’t mishear me. I’m not saying that Christians should keep quiet about our faith. I am saying that everything we do should be clothed in love. I believe Christmas is a great time to invite our friends to church… Assuming we have a genuine relationship with them. Getting to know someone’s story takes time and requires us to listen more than we talk. Our motivation must be simply to love that person. When a relationship is build on mutual trust, inviting a friend to church doesn’t seem nearly as strange as simply handing someone a tract without ever knowing their name. Even if they say no, I doubt they’ll be angry or offended by your invite. And Christmas Eve services are great because (hopefully) they are centered on Who we’re all about – Jesus.

Okay, now a word to people who do not identify themselves as Christians or followers of Jesus. Obviously, I would love it if one day you put your trust in Jesus. But I don’t think you should be forced, threatened, manipulated, or cajoled into it. If, however, you would like to know why I believe the Christmas story, I’d love to sit down with you and chat. Perhaps at Starbucks, with red cups in hand (though I normally get a frap)…

So here is my list for you:

1. Watch Jingle All The WayIt’s the best Christmas movie!

Kim Davis, Ashley Madison, Trump’s Hair

[NOTE: I started writing this post 8 days ago and had to stop, and never had the time to get back to it, so some of it may seem outdated.]

I have a lot of friends who are Christians. I have a lot of friends who would not consider themselves Christians. I enjoy talking to all of them about current events, politics, and other worthy (and perhaps not-so-worthy) news items. Here’s the crazy thing:

Their opinions on these topics aren’t as polarizing as one might think.

Now, I’m not saying they are in agreement on these topics (although that also happens more than one might think…). I’m saying the space between their views isn’t ocean-sized. I haven’t taken a poll, but most of my Christian friends do not think Kim Davis is some kind of martyr. Most are not voting for Trump. But unfortunately, the loudest people on both extremes get the most attention.

I think what drives me crazy is the mean-spirited name calling that I see from all sides (because there is never only 2 sides…). And believe me, I’m not immune to this. I’m as guilty as anyone. But no matter what your opinion is on any topic, being mean is a credibility killer. I read that Kim Davis’  husband called the judge who sentenced her to jail a “butt”. I don’t know if that’s true, but if it, is that’s disrespectful. And it goes against God’s Word. I’ve also seen people call Kim Davis a different “B” word. Same thing applies. You do not need to resort to that to win arguments.

I know one thing that my non-Christian friends seem to dislike about Christians is hypocrisy. To be sure, hypocrisy exists. But we must not confuse hypocrisy with brokenness. Someone who agrees that “A” is wrong [insert your sin of choice here] but struggles with “A” isn’t a hypocrite. The question is, are they living out there brokenness authentically? Are they honest with their struggle. Are they showing you they need Jesus just as much as you do? I know people like that. They are beautiful. It’s hard not to root for them and want to be there for them when they fall.

Christians get in trouble when they give the vibe that they don’t personally need Jesus. They will use Jesus’ words to tell others what they shouldn’t be doing. But while Jesus said a lot of good stuff, we’re ultimately Christians because of what Jesus did. Namely, take our punishment for sin. Sin no one is immune to. So when the people who seem to be morally policing others get caught on a site like, say, Ashley Madison, it can seem like poetic justice. It can be easy to take satisfaction in that. But no matter what your stance is, I would beg you not to take joy in it. My heart breaks for those who got tangled in the web of AM, regardless of what their believe system is. Families are being torn apart, and we need to have compassion. Compassion doesn’t mean giving a free pass. Compassion doesn’t mean that the offender doesn’t have to take responsibility. I’m still figuring out what compassion is. But I think, at least in part, it’s admitting you’re just as broken and messed up as them, and you’re not above a great fall.

I’m tired. I hope this makes sense.

You’ll Be OK

I’ve had a lot on my mind the past few weeks. Emanuel AME Church. Marriage equality. My own brokenness. The log in my own eye…

Yes, the pesky log in my own eye that impedes me from seeing clearly. If I had a buck for every time I judged someone for judging someone else this month, I’d be a rich man. Yubby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dibby dum.

The shooting at Emanuel AME Church hit me hard. I’m not really sure why. There has been other shootings lately, and they all matter. One life isn’t any more valuable than another. But I remember just sitting at my desk at work feeling sad. Maybe it was the fact that this kid, Dylann Roof, sad with his victims for an hour, reading God’s Word and praying. And, apparently, almost didn’t go through with it because of how they welcomed him… My co-worker and friend, Bill Behr (pretty much the nicest guy in the world) came over to me. I told him why I was sad. He spoke truth into my soul. He reminded me that the victims were with the Lord now, and that God’s plans are bigger than man’s. He was right.

What unfolded over the next few days amazed me. I am so proud of my brothers and sisters at Emanuel AME Church. They have been an example to me of what following Jesus is about. When they faced Dylann Roof in the court room, they had every right to cuss him out. Instead, they forgave him. Reverend Anthony Thompson, the husband of Myra Thompson, said this:

“I forgive you, my family forgives you. We would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be OK. Do that and you’ll be better off than you are right now.”

What? You gotta be kidding me! This man just lost his wife and he’s face to face with the killer whose racism and hate changed his life forever. And what does he say? He actually seems concerned for Dylann. He wants him to be OK. He wants him to be better off than he is right now. I have to wonder, what must Dylann have been thinking at that moment. I just murdered nine people. I killed this man’s wife… And it sounds like he feels bad for me… Give my life to Christ so I can be OK?

Rev. Anthony Thompson, and all the other victims’ families, have been through hell. Scratch that. They are going through hell. Forgiving someone’s offense, whether big or small, doesn’t mean glossing over it. No doubt they are angry and sad. But they have chosen the path of forgiveness. They have showed me what it means to follow Jesus.

Jesus said a lot of hard things. One time he climbed a mountain and gave a big speech. And his friend Matthew wrote down everything he said. And there was a lot of weird stuff in there about being salt and light, giving people your coat, and walking 2 miles with them. And he also said this:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor. Hate your enemy.’ But here is what I tell you. Love your enemies. Pray for those who hurt you. Then you will be children of your Father who is in heaven. He causes his sun to shine on evil people and good people. He sends rain on those who do right and those who don’t. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Even the tax collectors do that. If you greet only your own people, what more are you doing than others? Even people who are ungodly do that. So be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48

We read that now and we’re like, yeah, okay, I know that… I read that once in the Bible. I heard it in a sermon once. Love your enemies. My boss is a real jerk, but I’ll love him. (Just a hypothetical… My boss isn’t a jerk… Love you, Darling! :))

But every once in awhile we get a glimpse of what it means to really trust and follow Jesus in that…

Jesus says, pray for those who hurt you.

So Anthony said, “Give your life to the one who matters the most, Christ, so he can change your ways no matter what happens to you and you’ll be OK, Dylann…”

Why I Love The Orlando Fringe Festival

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My first experience with the Orlando Fringe Festival came exactly one decade ago. My best friend Vijai’s sister, the insanely talented Aradhana Tiwari, was directing It’s A Wonderful Life, produced by First Baptist of Orlando. (Coincidentally, I remember an anecdote told by Beth Marshall where someone was apparently uneasy about the Fringe wrap up party taking place at the Parliament House. Beth replied to them, “Come on, even the First Baptist crew attended last year!”)

My friend John Bateman also was involved with a show that year. He wrote, directed, and starred in Horror Over Drinks, a clever show about a high school reunion between Freddy Krueger, Jason, Pinhead, and Carrie. But what I most remember from Fringe 2005 is the theme song: a parody of U2’s Vertigo. It still plays in my head to this day!

I loved the whole vibe at Fringe, so much so that I had to be involved. A few short months later I applied to bring a show to the next year’s Fringe. I don’t think I really understood at the time what I was getting into, having never produced or directed a play before.  I’ve always been the kind of person to jump into things without thinking much. I just remember sitting at Chili’s with my mom a few weeks before applications went online and telling her about it. Being the supportive mother she is, she was all in.

That first year I chose to direct a one-act version of one of my favorite stories – Flowers For Algernon. I fell in love with it in middle school. It’s such a bittersweet story. A man who gets his dream for one fleeting moment, then reverts back to his former self. It’s a fun show to direct as well because Charlie goes through such a transformation. I had no idea what I was doing but we did it, and it was a fun time. Rehearsals in my living room, going to yard sales to buy props, going to the Salvation Army to find costumes… We were in the Red Venue, a small, 60-seat theater. From what I remember the audience turnout was slow in the beginning, but the last 2 shows packed out… And I was hooked! 🙂

The next year opted to do a comedy – Harvey. It was another show that meant a lot to me. I was in it in high school, and I just love how Elwood P. Dowd viewed the world. His kindness touched me, especially at the end of the show when he tenderly comforts his sister Veta, the very woman who wanted to commit him to an asylum. The challenging thing about that one (well, one of the challenging things!) was cutting it down a 1-act version. It was also a big cast – probably too big for our venue (brown, 100 seats) but it was loads of fun. I look back on that show with fond memories.

The next year I planned on doing another comedy – Larry Shue’s The Nerd – but I didn’t fare well in the lottery (a fate I’m sure all Fringe artists must face at some point). I got the outdoor venue. I didn’t feel like I could properly do The Nerd in that space so I teamed up with a friend and we did a show called Snapshot. It was a bunch of short pieces written by different playwrights, all inspired by the same photo. Being at the outdoor stage was an interesting experience. I’m glad I did it, but it was a different feel than previous years. And while the show was interesting, I didn’t really connect with it.

After that year, I took a break from Fringe. Sadly, I didn’t even make it out to the festival that much. I’m not even sure why… Life just speeds through and I can’t believe it’s been 7 years since I’ve last participated!

And now, Summit is bringing The Prodigal Musical, a show Marco Randazzo and I co-wrote, to Fringe. I’m no longer in the director’s seat and that’s a good thing… Darling Heldt and Lauren Lanker are rocking it! (seriously, these ladies are so talented!) The Fringe staff has been amazing and so helpful to us. And once again I am so excited about Fringe! Yes, I’m so excited about sharing our story; a story Jesus told about a father’s never ending love. But I am PUMPED about hearing other people’s stories as well. To me, that’s what the Fringe Experience is all about! So here are some of the many shows I’ll be checking out at Fringe:

The 11 O’Clock Number – An improvised musical!

Say Hello to Vincent Van Gogh – This one looks interesting!

Jaws: The Movie: The Musical – A musical about the making of a musical? Yes!!! 🙂

Nick Paul: Impossible Feats of Magic – One of a few magic shows at Fringe. I love Magic!

Poe – Glad to see Theatre Downtown back!

Clink – This looks hilarious! I love Brandon Roberts!

Through The Eyes of The Homeless – I love what this group is doing.

The “Dinner and a Show” Show – Don’t know much about this one but looks intriguing.

Robyn Da Hood- a rap musical – Another rap show by SAK!

HOODIES – An important show produced by two friends, Beth Marshall & James Brendlinger.

Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – From my alma mater!

I’ll post more as Fringe gets underway! And of course, I’d love it if you came to see The Prodigal Musical. Some info:

SHOW TIMES:

Thursday, May 14th | 6:45 p.m.
Sunday, May 17th | 2:15 p.m.
Thursday, May 21st | 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 23rd | 12:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 24th | 2:15 p.m

VIDEOS:

5 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO FRINGE!

1. BUTTON UP!
You will need an official “Fringe Button” to get into the festival. Buttons cost $9 and can be purchased at Summit Church, online, or the festival. Children 12 years old and under do not need a button!  All ticket sales go to the artists, so the proceeds from your one-time button purchase go to the festival.

2. TICKET TIME!
So you got your button… Now you need your ticket to the show! Tickets are $6.40 ($5 + $1.40 processing fee) and can be purchased online HERE or at any of the ticket booths at the festival.  Get them in advance to ensure you have a seat.

3. WHICH WAY TO FRINGE?
The Festival takes place in Loch Haven Park. (Know where the Science Center is? Then you know where Loch Haven Park is!) Our show will be performed in the Silver Venue, located inside The Orlando Repertory Theatre at 1001 East Princeton Street Orlando, Florida 32803

4. PARKING PLACES!
I’m at Fringe… Now where do I park my car?! Free parking at Loch Haven is available, but limited. Additional off-site parking is within walking distance on Mills and Princeton.

5. BE EARLY, BE EARLY, BE… EARLY!
All shows at Fringe start on time, and there is no late entry (seriously… even if you’re a minute late, they’ll shut the doors!). Please arrive 45 minutes early to allow time to park, purchase tickets, and get in line to grab a good seat!

**SPECIAL NOTE for FAMILIES
Make sure that kids have used the restroom before the show because there are no re-entries back into the theatre if you have to leave mid-show.  They’re strict about that!  Our show runs 55 minutes without an intermission and is fast-moving…so I trust it can keep the kids’ attention!
Happy Fringing!!!

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