Tuesday, June 29, 2004

It Is Much Easier To Be Critical Than To Be Correct

Today at lunch I had one of my favorite foods, Korean Bulgogi (A beef, onions, garlic, and carrots dish similar to an asian stir fry). When I spent my year living in Korea I became a Bulgogi connissour (I'll bet blogger's spell checker will go crazy with a couple of words in this post) and practically lived off of Bulgogi and Pu Dae Chi Gae (a food similar to Jambalaya).

Anyhow, today I tried some Bulgogi at a local Chinese restaurant. Pretty good stuff, but it is the first time I have ever gotten a Chinese Fortune Cookie with my Bulgogi. I opened up the cookie and the ancient Chinese proverb said "It is much easier to be critical than to be correct." I find that very timely today as we are in the midst of a Presidential election campaign. George Bush is getting slammed from people who don't understand interpersonal relations let alone foreign relations. I believe they are living out this ancient Chinese proverb. They are being critical of Mr Bush, when they don't have a clue how to handle the situation themselves.

John Kerry is an example. All he has done is be critical of President Bush. He hasn't offered up any viable options to Mr Bush's policies. He states in his campaign commercial that "he loves this country and thinks it is headed in the wrong direction". I can understand that belief, but think I he fails to offer up any detailed alternatives. If he doesn't like where we are headed then tell us specifically where he wants to take us. So far we have seen nothing but lofty ideas (health care, education, blah, blah, blah) with no substance. I think it is because he has no substance and for that reason will not win the election.

An even bigger example of someone being critical without offering up any real way to fix the problems is Michael Moore. I have seen his films in the past, but I have not seen Fahrenheit 911, and won't because I don't find Michael Moore a credible documentarian. He doesn't document the truth, he manipulates it. He isn't documenting anything, he is simply creating hate. He releases his films as documentaries so that he doesn't have to back up what he portrays in his films. They are all one sided (his ultra left wing view), and hatefully done. If the right wing had done a similar documentary about Al Gore during the last Presidential election campaign (and there could have been a few done on Mr Gore) the left wing would have screamed that it was a dirty trick and very partisan in its viewpoint. It would have been labeled as hatemongering. So, where is the conscience of the left wing now? They are silent. People like Al Franken and Michael Moore believe the ends justify the means. Mr Moore, on your report card this semester I give you a D for lack of taste and a comment that states, "Doesn't play well with others."

"It is much esier to be critical than to be correct." I don't always agree with the things President Bush does, but until I can come up with viable alternatives I won't be critical of him. He needs our prayers, not solely our criticism.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Becoming That New Creation in the Lord

Scott Williams had this post on his blog on June 24th.. I think it is the best article on what it means to become a new creation in God (2 Cor 5:17) when we make a commitment to follow the Lord. Each time I read it I get excited. It is long, but please read each word and let me know your thoughts.

Scott writes:

new beginnings - submitted

I Dare You To Move

“Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!”
2 Corinthians 5:17 (MSG)

A few summers ago, in the spirit of the family vacation, we all got in the car and headed out to the farm in Saskatchewan. We were nearing a small town in rural Alberta called Redcliffe when the fuel pump on the truck died. We coasted into the first little dive we could find and took a room at the local 5 star hotel. We knew it was a five star hotel because the stars were painted on the doors. There were four of us in a room that was, I kid you not, twelve feet by eight feet… for two days.

We soon learned all the wonderful benefits of a rural garage. They did not have any of our needed parts in stock. Jed, the mechanic with one good tooth in his head (and he wasn’t even taking very good care of that one!), explained to us the benefits of rural pricing and so we spent at least two hundreds dollars more than we would have had we had the repair done in a city. Finally, after more than two days of watching the wheat grow and chasing unknown arachnids around our hot hotel room, we begrudgingly paid our bill and were thankful to get on our way. We had done nothing but sit and stare and complain for what seemed like an eternity. No car, no entertainment, three channels on the television and Esso food for the first third of our vacation.

We no sooner cruised out of the garage and had gone only about 70 metres when we started down a steep hill... right into Medicine Hat. Travelodge’s, Canadian Tire Store, numerous full-service garages… the works. They had a Silver City Theatre, malls, pools... you can imagine it. Without a word of exaggeration, Red Cliff is right on the outskirts of Medicine Hat. We looked at each other and just started to laugh...

I often think of that experience and realize that it has several life lessons for me. The first and most obvious one is – bring a map! Only slightly less obvious than that lesson is the growing realization that many of us, myself included, often live on the edge of tomorrow and do not understand what is waiting for us just over the hill.

We settle for a life that we do not love and pine for a fresh start, but we do not actually get out of the hovel and start down the road into a fresh beginning. We are painfully aware that something is not right though we are unwilling to let go of the land we know and look forward to a shore we cannot see.

President Harry Truman used to tell the story of a man who was hit on the head and fell into a deep coma. He stayed there for along time. People thought he was dead so they sent him to a funeral home and stuck him in a coffin. At 2:00 a.m. all alone in this dimly lit room, he sat up and looked around. "Good night!" he said. "What’s going on? If I’m alive, why am I in a casket? And, if I’m dead, why do I have to pee?"

That story makes me laugh and it makes me think. How many times have I been unable or unwilling to understand what is going on? I have often become despondent because I can not understood God’s bigger plan for my life and feel shackled by the events of the past. Understanding that we can start fresh and be forgiven is a fact that many of us have a hard time ingesting. We constantly play the tapes of our past failures and convince ourselves that we are terminal. We lay in the casket and wonder if we can ever being truly alive again.

For many of us this is not just a platitude or a hypothetical problem. Like many of you, I live in a reality that I did not choose, and I’m regularly tempted to feel sorry for myself, blame someone else, or simply give up. The need for forgiveness and the belief for new beginnings gives many of us hope and help in a world that tends to condemn and pronounce judgment on us all the time.

Many years ago, as a white-water canoeing guide, I was often called upon to take groups across an infamous northern Saskatchewan lake called Nipew Lake. we always tried to get across Nipew Lake early in the morning before the waves got up. It’s a big lake and nasty from about nine in the morning until six at night everyday. It’s a long paddle. I’ve been stranded on the lake several times, taking refuge on islands or inlets.

We try to get on the lake by about six am. Usually that is evilly early but I have learned that if I sleep in, the price is too high. It is usually foggy on the lake and we are headed for a tiny inlet eleven kilometres away. I could not afford to make mistakes. I have learned how to read a compass. I know about things like declination and magnetic north vs. true north. My compass is worth several hundred dollars. When I’m in the fog and I have eleven canoes and twenty-two potentially dead people… I have learned to trust my compass, not my eyes. I don’t trust my ears; I don’t even trust my experience. I have tried to fake it in the past and gotten caught… a six hour detour.

If only I could trust gods promises like that… Not my eyes, not my ears, not even my experience…only his compass. Regardless of how I feel, regardless even of the past and my many failings, God forgives me. That forgiveness does not depend on whether or not I believe it, it just is. It does not matter how little I claim his grace, it is not dependent on anything I do, it is a simple fact. God gives me a fresh start. God forgives me. All I have to do is accept it… But often that is the hard part.

Lately I have been listening to a song called “I Dare You To Move” by Switchfoot. The words continue to challenge me and remind me that it is up to me whether or not I will grab hold of God’s promises of forgiveness and wholeness. Whenever I read or hear these words it stirs something deep within me…

Welcome to the planet, Welcome to existence. Everyone's here, Everyone's here. Everybody's watching you now, Everybody waits for you now…What happens next?

I dare you to move, I dare you to move
I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor
I dare you to move, I dare you to move
Like today never happened, Today never happened before

The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be

Maybe redemption has stories to tell
Maybe forgiveness is right where you fell
Where can you run to escape from yourself?
Where you gonna go? Salvation is here…

I dare you to move, I dare you to move
I dare you to lift yourself up off the floor
I dare you to move, I dare you to move
Like today never happened
Today never happened before

When we were children there were few things more sacred than the “dare”. Like a Pavlovian dog I would stir to the challenge of the dare. If someone dared to me do anything, no matter how stupid, I felt compelled to rise to the call.

I dare you to move. I dare you.

I dare you to claim God’s promise of forgiveness and for once act like you are forgiven.

I dare you to start fresh right now. To live like you are truly alive. To stand up and let God give you the freedom of tomorrow, right now. I dare myself too.

I think the Rolling Stones said it well in their old song, “You can’t always get what you want… but if you try sometimes, you just might find, that you get what you need…”

Life isn’t perfect. In fact I’ve found it isn’t even fun for many of us. But the truth of scripture reminds me that God makes everything new. It’s up to us whether or not we want to live like that is true or not. I dare you to move.

When I read Scott's post it makes me think we have been emphasizing the wrong point for many years in the Evangelical Church. We continue to emphasize that accepting Jesus is the only way to heaven. We justify that belief by hammering the benefits of eternal salvation to people who attend our churches. I agree that Jesus is the only way to heaven, but I think we over emphasize the eternal benefits of salvation at the expense of the present benefits of a truly personal relationship with God. Heaven is important, it is our ultimate destination, but the journey to reach that destination happens today and only comes through our personal relationship with God each and every day. He is a God of second chances, and new beginnings. We just have to understand that it is our turn to act out on that each and every day of our lives.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Thumbs Up to Panera Bread/St Louis Bread Company

I recently bought a wireless network card for my computer and was looking for a good WiFi spot to try out for the first time near home. Borders and Kinko's are close, but want to charge an enormous fee to use their wireless internet. When I walked into the local St Louis Bread Company (also known as Panera Bread in other parts of the country) not only was the wireless internet free, but they even provide a pamphlet on how to use it in their store. They get my vote for the most userfriendly WiFi spot in the Belleville/Fairview Heights/ O'Fallon area. I already eat there often, but now they have made me a customer for life. The conection worked great and I will go there often.

Kingdom Treasures in O'Fallon also has free WiFi, but I couldn't get it to work well with my computer. I don't know if the signal wasn't strong enough or if it was a problem with the way I have my computer configured.

How Landscaping Relates to Ministry

I spent all day yesterday messing around in the back yard. I wanted to put in a large brick patio, but didn't know if I had enough bricks. I spent all morning prepping the spot for the bricks. When it came around to laying the bricks I started seriously doubting that I had enough to complete the project. Because the bricks I'm using are leftovers from a landscaping project a couple of years ago I don't think they make the same bricks any longer. So, rather than lay a brick patio with two different types of brick I decided to use up the left over bricks on a place to keep the garden hose and another place to keep the trash cans. I got the garden hose place finished yesterday and will work on the trash can bricks today. At least I got something completed. I am afraid that my yard will be a mish mash of uncoordinated projects that don't blend well together. When I see that in someone elses yard I label it as eclectic, chalk it up to diversity, and enjoy the view. When I see it in my own yard I label it as uncoordinated, and a result of a lack of planning. I see it way to often in my own yard!

Sometimes my walk with the Lord is like this. Rather than spend the time preparing I have a tendency to just jump in to get something accomplished and letting the method find it's own path, which normally ends up showing itself as inconsistent ministry. I am all for having the Spirit take control of my life and by faith leading me through unfamiliar territory and circumstances, but I also think I owe it to the Lord to be prepared for this when it happens. I want to make myself the most flexible tool in the Lord's tool box, and that only comes through preparation, something I didn't do well yesterday, and something I have been struggling with lately. In being used by God is it better to just be doing something for the Lord, and making small differences in people's lives, or is it better to know that what you are doing fits into the larger plan that the Lord has? I know the answer, it is just hard to implement sometimes. The only way we can know the Lord's plan is to spend time with the Him.

Friday, June 25, 2004

FBC O'Fallon College and Career/McKendree BCM Update

Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

Well, I'm back from a very busy vacation to Los Angeles. When I got home I felt like I hadn't slept in a week. It was fun to go back to LA and see my school buddies and my family, but it is good to get back home to Illinois. As a Christian it is comforting to know that wherever we are, whatever we are doing, even when we are on vacation, we are part of the local body of Christ. We always have brothers and sisters around that we can fellowship with, feel a part of, and share our lives with. I ran across some amazing Christians in my home town that are living for the Lord every day. It is very encouraging.

Here's what we have planned over the next couple of weeks:

Sunday June 27
Sunday Morning Bible Study
at 9:45 and 11:00 in the FBC O'Fallon Youth Lounge. This week we will be studying 2 Kings 6&7 where we will see Elisha looking ahead with faith. Please read the chapters ahead of time and come ready to discuss how it applies to each of our lives. We've had some good discussions the last couple of weeks and the class will be incomplete if you don't add your thoughts.

Sunday Night Alive! at 7:30 pm. We'll be having an beach party at the Anderson's house located at 1108 Fair Oaks, Caseyville, IL. Here's a link to a map to help you find it. Link. Bring your swimsuit, towel, and Hawaiian shirts (I put that in there for me, but you all can wear your Hawaiian garb if your want to also) and get ready to make a splash. As always, we will have all you can eat free food!

Tuesday June 29
Tuesday Night Movie Night
at 7:30pm at the Anderson's house . The link to their house is above. The food is great and if you have a movie you want to share please bring it. The last 2 years this has been a solid time of fellowship and getting to know each other. Plus the Andersons are fantastic hosts.

October 8/9
FBCOF is hosting AXIOM04, the Illinois Baptist State Association's big annual College and Career conference on October 8 and 9. Students from all over Illinois will be attending. We are expecting around 300 students to be here for that Friday and Saturday! We have an incredible opportunity to show off our church and our department to those who come from all over the state. If you are interested in being a part of the planning team for this conference please let me know. So far, we have a couple of students who are involved in the planning, and we could always use your help, we can always use more. If you would like to help, please don't feel shy to volunteer. It will be a gre! at conference. Our headliner speaker, named Aubrey Speers, is coming all the way from England to share with us and the conference will include other top notch speakers and awesome music. We'll have more information available as we get closer.

Just like the last couple of weeks, I have a couple of websites I want to mention to you all that I hope you will be using on a weekly basis.

The new FBCOF College and Career website located here. It should contain a copy of this E-Mail and some places for you to comment and chat. Please visit and let us know you were there. If you are interested in helping to keep this website updated please let me know. We can always use help!

The Gate's Website located here. It is very similar to the College and Career website, only the information is for The Gate. If you are interested in what we do out there it contains quite a bit of information for you and has a great links section (places we recommend).

God bless you all and hope to see you Sunday. Your brother in the Lord,
Rick Marshall

Thursday, June 24, 2004

How Dare You Not Attend Church?

Darryl Dash is running a series of posts over at his blog that deal with the discussion of meeting corporately as a body of believers and church attendance. You may want to look in. Darryl always has thought provoking posts that challenge my traditional thinking.

It is located here. Link.

Back From Vacation Con't

Well, last post listed my top 8 reasons why LA doesn't feel like home any longer. I thought to be open minded I should start a post to list the great things about LA. It has to be a great place to live if people want to pay the outrageous prices to live there. So, here's my top reasons:

1. You absolutely can't beat the weather. I'd estimate 300 days of sunshine, zero days of subfreezing weather, and cool nights even in the summer. The weather is awesome. Here's the current weather. Link.

2. Multicultural living. The cultural diversity in LA is incredible. It truly is America's melting pot. The only places that come close that I have been to are Washington DC and New York.

3. If you can afford to buy a house you can make a lot of money on it because house prices continue to appreciate. My Dad bought his house in 199 fgor $48,000 and sold it around 1995 for $50,000. He bought a condo at the beach in 1999 for $175,000 and sold it this year for $475,000. Not too bad if you can afford to get into the housing market. I figure it will crash some day, but hasn't so far.

4. The physical landscape. Within a 2 hour drive of LA is the ocean, mountains, and deserts. It is physically abundant with challenging landscape.

5. There is just so much to do. Disneyland, Universal Studios, 6 Flags, the beaches, skiing and hiking in the mountains, Las Vegas is only 3 hours away. When I was in high school the big day was Senior Ditch Day when the seniors would ditch school the last day before Christmas vacation. The tradition was to go surfing in the morning in Santa Monica and skiing in the afternoon at Kratka Ridge Ski Resort. Not too many places in the US, or on earth where you can do that.

If you have some other reasons why living in LA is awesome please post them here using my comments section. I'll add more later.

Back From Vacation

Well, after a week in Los Angeles it is good to be home. I always enjoy getting back to see family and friends in LA, and in the past I have felt very at home there. But this trip was different. Here are my top 8 reasons why I don't feel at home in LA any longer:

1. The traffic and the drivers were horrible. In the 22 years since we moved out of the area the traffic has grown exponetially and the rudeness of the drivers has gotten so much worse. But for someone who has been driving through the relatively trafficless suburbs of St Louis, it was very exciting to be driving in LA again.

2. The neighborhoods I used to live in I remember being very nice, but now appear to be pretty run down. I don't know if it is that my memories are better than the neighborhoods really were, or if the neighborhoods have really become more run down. Probably a mixture of both.

3. After living in St Louis for 9 years I have become happy with green grass and vegetation everywhere. The mountainsides in LA are brown from lack of water, and everything seems to be covered this time of year with a layer of dust. I ejnoy living where I only have to water the lawn once or twice a year to keep it green. I haven't had to water it yet this year, but maybe July or August will be dry. In LA, if you don't water it it won't grow.

4. The smog in LA is much better than it was when I last lived there, but is still much worse than St Louis. The weather was very overcast with a marine layer each day I was in LA, so there was lots of fog and clouds in the air. So, during the drive back from visiting my Dad in Palm Springs, about the time you crest the Banning Pass, you hit a wall of brown, dirty fog that looks horrible.

5. Most of my family and friends have moved out of LA proper and into the edges of suburbia. Most are up north in Valencia, Saugus, and Stevenson Ranch, but my brother has moved on toe Las Vegas, and my Dad is now in Palm Springs. They are all pretty well spread out, so it is hard to see them all on a one week vacation. A few more relatives are planning a move to Northern California soon, so it will get even more spread out. I did get a chance to renew some old friendships on this trip. Thanks Mark and John for getting together. It was great!

6. The cost of housiing is outrageous. I looked at Realtor.com when I came back and a 2 bedroom/1 bathroom house across the street from my Mother-In-Law's house is listed for $499,000.00! Oh my goodness. Just in case you don't believe me here is a link to the advertisement. Link. How can anyone afford to buy a house in LA?

7. The cost of gasoline is about 50 cents per gallon higher than St Louis. When I left LA I filled up my Mother-in-Law's car for $2.299 a gallon. The price of gas at the local gas station here is $1.729. Why the big difference?

8. I have now been away from LA for almost half of my life. I guess that must count for something. The Air Force moved us out and kept us away for 21 years. Now we have made the decision to stay here in St Louis.

I have never been an LA basher, in fact I have always defended it from others. So, please don't take this the wrong way. LA is still a great town, I just don't feel very at home there any more. If you can think of any more reasons why LA doesn't seem like home to me, please add them to my comments section.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Work Day at The Gate

We had a very productive work day at The Gate last Saturday. We had 25 volunteers from the Scott Air Force Base Airmen's Leadership School (ALS), a couple of helpers from The Gate, Jack was there from Sunday Morning Bible study, and a couple of workers from Gateway Community Church, who we share the building with. Thank you all for your hard work. We tackled some problem areas that we have been putting off since moving in last January. It looks so much better. Now we can paint the upstairs office and we can have a home. Pictures are located at The Gate's fotopage located here.

Friday, June 11, 2004

A Cool Aviation Website

Jordon Cooper had a link to this great website. You can monitor flights in and out of some of your favorite airports. Pretty neat! There's only about 10 airports that it links to, but if yours is there it could provide hours of fun. Here's the link to Burank where I'll be flying into on Wednesday. Link. Here's a link to the passur website. Link. It is not as good as watching them on radar in AMC's Tanker Airlift Control Center next door, but it is pretty cool nonetheless.

BCM Cleanup Day at The Gate

Tomorrow is the cleanup day at the McKendree College Baptist Collegiate Ministry, also called The Gate. I had mulch delivered today for the new flower beds, and bought paint, drop cloths, paint scrapers, and paint roller sleeves last night. Hopefully, we'll have a good turnout and get a lot done. The weather is going to be hot (the forecast is for a humid 91 degree day), so we'll have to take it easy. Below is an excerpt of the E-Mail I sent out last night to the students at FBC O'Fallon and McKendree College.

Saturday June 12
BCM Spring Cleanup at The Gate from 9:00 until 4:00. If you are not familiar with The Gate, it is located at 225 N Monroe, Lebanon. Here is a link to a map to the building. Link. The Gate is the home of the FBC O'Fallon College and Career Department sponsored McKendree Baptist Collegiate Ministry, and it is also a great place for the College and Career Department to hang out and hold events. We do a lot of activities at The Gate, and everything that we do there includes an open invitation for anyone to attend. You don't have to be in college, or a student at McKen! dree, or in the College and Career Department at FBC O'Fallon; All are welcome! We have wrapped up the school year ministry program at The Gate, and will be starting up our McKendree ministry at The Gate again the last week of August. In the meanwhile, we have some paint to scrape off the windows, some wallpaper to take down, some areas to paint, some landscaping to do, and a few other things. If we can get enough people to show up we can knock it all out in a couple of hours. I'll even provide lunch and something to drink. We can use each and every one of your help. Steve Kim, who is a visitor to our church has volunteered 25 Airmen from Scott Air Force Base to help us out as a service project, so let's see if we can get more collegiates to come than airmen! It should be a super time of fellowship and knowing that you are accomplishing something worthwhile is very satisfying.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

One Sided Relationships

Scott Williams, a Pastor from Mission, British Columbia, has an incredible weblog and posted this on his weblog on June 3. It captures my feelings pretty well. Scott says,

you call me cuz i won't get around to calling you...
call me, I won't call you.

we all have friends like this. those who we believe to be our close friends but who are, in actuality, merely relationships of convenience. one-sided relationships, where i feel like an anxious child awaiting approval, we've all had them.

we do things together but only if i call. times together are good, but you can't help but feel a bit powerless. after all, the relationship seems to mean more to you than it does to them. you are careful not to hurt their feelings, they seem to care less about yours. token gestures abound, but you are left with a lingering feeling that if you didn't call them, you would never hear from them again... unless they needed something.

much of life seems to be like this. most of us are a bundle of insecurities, constantly wondering if we are loved. we all have relationships we feel invested in, but which don't seem to satisfy. it is part of being human.

I often marvel at how my spiritual life keeps me sane in a world where relationships are so tenuous. in spite of the oft feelings that my spiritual journey is shunted or shallow, it continues to provide an anchor and a hope in the midst of the normalcy of human disappointment. as the book says, in the end our hope is not built on flighty feelings but solid foundations. I often forget that.

i also need to constantly remind myself that my mom thinks i'm pretty ok. it's easy to run for approval to others in order to fill the holes in our heart. holes that i have found the hard way, cannot be filled in by any amount of human acceptance. there are many people who love me, many who love you too. it's easy to forget that. it's even easier to diminish it's importance.

as for a couple of friendships where i find myself needy and approval seeking - i think i'm going to let them go. chasing after friendships is an easy way for me to feel pretty crappy about myself and frankly, though it's hard to admit it, they just aren't worth it. i think i'll just take a deep breath and say that again to myself, maybe until i believe it... "they just aren't...

I think Scott's post is a great commentary on where we are today. Relationships seem so temporary, and require such an incredible amount of time to keep going. When I joined the Air Force in 2002 I noticed that for the first couple of years the friends that kept in touch dwindled down to just a couple. Now I can truly say that I only have 3 or 4 good friends left after being gone form La Crescenta for over 22 years. The good news is that some of my old friends, like my old buddy Mark, are now coming back into my life. Scott's post is a good one for someone who is going home on vacation to think about how we prioritize and triage relationships. I'll be going home on vacation next week and I will be selective about who I spend my time with. Maybe those 3 or 4 old friends and a couple more will be it.

Scott's weblog is very thought provoking and I highly recommend it for anyone reading my blurbs. It will cause you to re-think many of your time trusted views on life.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

IT Lessons From America's Largest Churches

Darryl Dash has a great link to this article written by Scobleizer on integrating technology into some of today's megachurch's philosophy:

Ten Evangelism and IT Lessons From One of America's Biggest Churches

How did Dallas' Fellowship Church become America's fifth largest church in less than 15 years? CTO Terry Storch has the answer: information technology investments designed to attract a new kind of churchgoer that other churches were ignoring. Who said IT doesn't matter? Certainly not the people running this church. Every weekend 18,000 to 19,000 people walk through the doors. Thousands more watch on the church's TV or radio shows.

Brian Bailey, Internet technology manager, heard I was in town and invited me over to see the secrets behind this church's massive success. Hey, I'm a technology evangelist and I wanted to see how the professionals do it. Even before I got in, I could see this church was something different. The only thing visible on the side of one of their two huge buildings, from the freeway, is the church's URL. Even in Silicon Valley I haven't seen that approach taken on a church sign. Lesson one: make it easy for everyone to learn about you -- on their terms.

Coming in the doors I noticed something else: plasma screens everywhere. I felt like I was in a rock concert, or a sports event. That's on purpose, Bailey told me. The church knows it's competing against video games, rock concerts, mass media like ESPN, and sporting events, he said. When the church started, they decided to appeal to a new generation of chuch goers who feel uncomfortable in the traditional churches most of us attend. So, they invested in video, audio, computers, multimedia, and making the end-to-end church experience better than their competitors. "Our services are a lot like attending a concert," Bailey told me -- he handed me some DVDs so I could check it out for myself. Lesson two: make it easy to experience your product's special attributes.

You'll see this investment in all areas, from the time you walk into the church and are registered by one of the volunteers manning 50 computer stations. Plus, massive investments in audio, lighting, video technology -- this church has an all-digital sound system that is better than many rock shows have. Lesson three: to get word-of-mouth advertising you need to be remarkable.

If you are bringing kids, the volunteer will guide you to the right room (and, will print out a name tag and a receipt that guarantees that only you will be able to take a child out of the classroom). They custom designed the system (yes, it's a multi-tier .NET app written in C# and backed by SQL Server) to be extremely efficient, even in a noisy attrium with thousands of people talking "we only need the last four digits of your phone number," Storch said. Why a phone number? They found that was easier to understand than asking someone to spell their name. The screens are touch-screen and a volunteer can be taught the basics in minutes. Funny enough, though it sounds like it treats visitors like a number, the end result is that each person gets paid attention to and has individual attention that they couldn't get in such a large church without IT investments. Lesson four: use IT to efficiently get close to your customers and take care of their needs.

The atrium, by the way, doesn't look like your traditional church. A baseball or football fan would feel right at home here. In the middle is circular information desk surrounded by eight plasma screens. "The minute the service starts we switch four of them to the service," Storch said. The rest of the time there's a set of information screens that play (different ones on each screen). All high-definition. Lesson five: if you want to be better, make sure you're better from the first minutes of someone's experience.

Speaking of HD, this church was the first in the world to film all of its services in high-definition TV format. They worked with Sony on their HDTV system and, Storch says they learned so much that now the church is consulted on HDTV projects around the world. Lesson six: if you want to be seen as bleeding edge, invest to be bleeding edge and do so throughout your company.

The church's store also uses plasma screens throughout the store to display information and to set the mood. Of course there's WiFi available in the attrium and other parts of the church (not in the main worship hall, though. "We haven't yet pushed the edge there," Storch admits, but says they are looking into it). He said they invested in WiFi because they wanted to give church members a way to hang out at the church during the week and be able to stay in touch with work and family. Lesson seven: extend the usefulness of your plant.

Other IT investments they've made? A sizeable fiber-optic network that was designed to take the HDTV video load, not to mention the church's Web traffic, and other needs (there's computers in nearly every room I toured, including the children's play areas). Plus, they designed the network for future growth -- the church is now working on building satellite campuses that will share video feeds. To do that, they needed to make sure their network would never go down and have a good backbone to allow for future growth. Every system has redundancy, too (there are two digital sound boards, for instance, in case one goes down). Imagine what would happen if the computer system went down on a Sunday with 5,000 people arriving for the next service and trying to get their kids into the right classroom. Lesson eight: design your systems so they never go down and can expand for future growth.

Several years ago, the church almost went with a database back end from Oracle, but switched to Microsoft several years ago because of Microsoft's special non-profit pricing, which saved the church tens of thousands of dollars, Storch said. Plus, they liked the quality, performance, and productivity that they got with Visual Studio and .NET. "We're extremely happy with Microsoft and .NET," Bailey said. How happy? Well, one of their staff members is 15-year-old James Reggio -- he's been programming for more than five years and is working on multimedia applications for the church's TV studio. Amazing kid. I asked him "so, are you the next Bill Gates?" Answer: he has bigger goals. He says that .NET lets him get a lot more done for the church than other programming environments.

While most of the computers at this church are running Windows, there are a couple of Macs (their radio show engineer was editing on a Mac when I was given a tour), most of the video is running on a Windows front end, but the back end is an SGI set of computers, along with a stack of computers running Linux that do the hard-core video rendering. "Why did you use Linux for that?" I asked. Storch answered that most the bleeding-edge video rendering apps were designed for Linux. Lesson nine: don't be religious about technology, choose what gets the job done best for the least amount of money and staff time.

By the way, now the church is selling their software that they wrote to run their church. Named Fellowship One, it looks to become as successful in helping churches run themselves as the church itself is. Lesson 10: when you become successful, bottle up what got you there and sell it to others.

I asked why he went with Windows for their network architecture (Exchange runs their email, Active Directory keeps track of domain, .NET apps do nearly everything from logging their cash, to signing volunteers in. Microsoft Great Plains and SBS keep track of the business). He said they choose Windows because most of their congregants know Windows, and there's a good pool of Windows developers and IT support people to help out too and because there's one company to deal with for support needs.

The next time someone tells me that IT doesn't matter, I'm gonna take them to church. After all, isn't that what an evangelist should do?

Monday, June 07, 2004

We Had a Lazy Sunday Yesterday

Jack Turner taught Sunday School yesterday and he was very good. The lesson was on 2 Kings 1-2. It was the story of Elijah turning over his ministry to Elisha. It ended up being a great lesson on mentoring and taught me a lot about discipling and mentoring others to someday replace us.

When we got home from church on Sunday we were so tired that we spent the rest of the afternoon napping. We don't do that very often, so you can tell how tired we were. Bethany's birthday party/sleepover on Friday must have worn us out. Anyhow, it was good to lounge around and get caught up on our sleep.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Marilyn's Car Accident

Paling in comparison to Chad Calhoun's early passing, Marilyn had a car accident on Thursday. She was stopped at a flashing red light (it is a regular signal, but was not working correctly due to the thunderstorms mentioned a few posts back) when she was rear-ended by another driver. He hit her so hard his air bags deployed and his car ws destroyed. Marilyn's car was damaged in the back and we are waiting to see if it is repairable or not. At first glance her car doesn't look too damaged, but when you look closer I thing the frame is bent, a unibody panel needs to be replaced, the trunk won't close any longer and the driver's seat was broken and unusable. It was drivable, but because of the driver's seat being broken we had it towed to the body shop. We should get a preliminary idea of all that is wrong today. On the good side, Volvo's are by far the world's safest car. We have had 2 accidents in our Volvos and they protect whoever is in the car so well it is incredible.

A Difficult Holiday Weekend

I was notified on Sunday afternoon that one of my college students that is part of the FBC O'Fallon College and Career group and the McKendree College Baptist Collegiate Ministry was killed in a car accident on Saturday morning. His name was Chad Calhoun.

Chad and I had a real good relatinship. We got to know each other over the last 6 months or so that he bacame involved in our ministry. He once attended our church and stopped going when his sister Andrea died of Cystic fibrosis a few years ago. The Calhoun family started coming bak to church aobut 6 months ago and that is when I met Chad. He was a great guy who loved the Lord and was beginning to get active in our collegiate family. I am really sad to see him go to be with the Lord. His parents have had it tough as they have had their kids go to be with the Lord at an early age. This is one of my biggest fears, that my children would be taken from me at an early age. Please keep the Calhoun family in your prayers. I will be keeping them in mine.

Funeral services for Chad are at FBC O'Fallon, 1111 E Hwy 50, O'Fallon, Illinois on Thursday, June 3 at 10:00am. I hope to see you there.


A Week of Bad Weather

I can't remember the last time we've had a week of weather this severe in St Louis. The weather here is always a challenge (cold and snowy in the winter and hot and humid in the summer), but the last week has been very difficult. 6 of the last 8 days we have had severe thunderstorms in the late afternoon and evening. We had tornados roll through 3 of the nights that gave us some exciting times including lots of quality family time spent in the basement playing games, power outages for a couple of hours at a whack, and candle lit evenings. Too bad it takes bad weather for us to enjoy these types of evenings. It is kind of nice without any computers or television to interupt us, just an occasional bout of lightning, thunder, and wind. It definitely makes you appreciate the strength and power of God and the insignificance and shortness of our lives in contrast.