jesus camp.

The most alarming aspect of Academy Award-nominated Jesus Camp is the indoctrination of children at an incredibly young age. Mike Papantonio, a political radio show host, confronts Becky Fischer with this realization during their on-air interview.

Becky, the leader of the Jesus Camp, was Children's Pastor for Word of Faith Church and Outreach in Bismarck, ND, before focusing her efforts full-time on Kids In Ministry International. Their ministry goal through workshops and training events for parents and leaders is to empower children to be all that God has for them to be. Through the camps of Kids In Ministry, the film shows these children being taught God's warfare in this world, and the supremacy of America as God's country. In one scene, a leader raises up a life-size cardboard cutout of US President George W. Bush and urges the children to reach out and pray over the President.

As the film opens, we hear radio clips from the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. In the Director's Commentary, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady mention that Bush's announcement of O'Connor's resignation came as they began filming, and they believed it was necessary to include that as a thread of the Evangelical Movement they were portraying.

Soundbyties from Mike Papantonio's Ring of Fire, balance the Christian worldview portrayed by Pastor Becky and the Jesus Camp. "So there’s some new brand of religion out there," Papantonio says, "that somehow things have changed since Matthew wrote about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus told us to be peacemakers."

This camp raises up children who believe they are separated from other children around them. Some are home-schooled because their parents want a different worldview impressed upon their children. Levi, a 12-year-old, knows and shares this in the film: "I do think I’m different from other kids because we know Jesus and we’re hungry after Jesus. But you know what, I wouldn’t be different from other kids if everyone did their calling." Tory, 10, follows: "Really Britney Spears and Lindsey Lohan, I could definitely care less about them. Their songs are mainly based on guys or girls, and we as Christians, well I, do not believe in that."

In what has become a controversial aspect of the film, the children visit New Life Church, where Ted Haggard was Pastor. Haggard first expressed his dismay with how he was portrayed; then Haggard found himself in the midst of a scandal centered on his personal behavior. To those not a part of the Church, or who are unfamiliar with varieties of American Christianity, the correlations between the Jesus Camp and Ted Haggard could prove confusing.

The film introduces Levi, Rachael and Tory, shows their families, follows their time at camp and ventures across America with them as they put into practice what they have been taught. The words coming out of the mouths often sound more like a seasoned Pastor than a young child. During camp, Rachael takes a walk around the camp and speaks to the camera: "Churches that God likes to go to are churches where they're jumping up and down, shouting his name and just praising him...they’re not quiet…they're [shouting] 'Hallelujah God!!' And depending on how they invite him, he’ll be there or not." During the credits, Rachael has a conversation with three men during one of her visits to the city about where they think they will go when they die. They give her all of the traditional Christian responses. Her response: "I think they're Muslim."

"And right now, everything they do, they say they do in the name of God," Papantonio rants, "that we need to go to war in the name of God. They’re being told that George Bush, of all people, is a holy man, who’s been anointed with the job of creating a Christian nation, not only in America but all around the world."

For an incredibly passionate documentary, Ewing and Grady have accomplished an insurmountable task of creating a work that is balanced. This is certainly a credit to their hard work and desire to create a solid film. In a recent interview on "Ring of Fire," Ewing and Grady mentioned their continued contact with Fischer and an ongoing relationship. They successfully engaged their subjects and maintained a relationship despite the controversy that surrounded the release and widespread viewing of the film. This is what a documentary should be.


me, myself and bob: part III

A couple weeks ago I was looking forward to reading Me, Myself and Bob. Then I read the book and wrote the formal "review". Now I'm gonna take a shot at conveying what I took away from it.

In Chapter 21 (out of 22), Phil writes of influential reading he did soon after the downfall of Big Ideas. He was reading Henri Nouwen and was fascinated by how Henri gave up an Ivy League teaching job and moved into a home with handicapped individuals. Then he found a book his wife bought him but had never given him. Through this tThree stories changed his perspective on life:

  • The Shunammite Woman [2 Kings]

  • Noah: The Early Years [Genesis 6:9]

  • Abraham & The Sacrifice of Isaac

  • The Shunammite Woman and Abraham were each tested by God to see who they valued more: God, or their children. Both Abraham and the Shunammite Woman had dreams of having a child, and God granted them that dream. Then God threatened taking their children away from them. Each accepted the possible loss of their child, for they were following their God. God had Elijah breathe life back into the Shunammite Woman's child; as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, God told him he didn't need to. When Phil Vischer had his dream of VeggieTales and Big Idea Productions, of creating media to change the world through children, God threatened taking Phil's dream away from him. Phil looks back now and realizes that he had not put God above all else, and God wanted Phil to refocus his life.

    Then Phil mentions that Noah accomplished a God-sized mission when he was 500. But what did he do in his first 500 years? Only one verse tells us.
    Genesis 6:9
    This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. [NLT]
    Noah lived a life of walking closely with God. When God knew that Noah was focused enough to handle the mission, God empowered Noah to do it. Even then, Noah screwed up. How much greater, then, will we screw up the little missions in life if we are not walking closely with God?

    I finished the book Saturday morning and sat down in the middle of my living room. The TV was off. There was no music. I sat there wanting to be following God so closely with my life. I've had my own missions lately, especially in church work. Last week was one of the lowest I have had as a pastor. And in that moment Saturday morning, I knew that my focus was off. I wanted so greatly to share that with the church, to help the church refocus. Phil's most poignant illustration: he said that he had gotten so caught up, so stressed out in finishing each video, pushing towards the next VeggieTales project, he forget even to care for the people he interacted with, the cashier behind the register in the grocery store. And after he had interacted with these stories, he took a pause in the grocery store and asked the cashier how life was going.

    May we be so caught up walking alongside God, that we lose sight of lofty visions and expectations of ourself and the church, and let God work in and through us.

    For lack of vision, the people perish...


    me, myself and bob: part II

    I hated VeggieTales. When WoW put "His Cheeseburger" on its 1999 release, I was ready to throw the CD out the window.

    Fast-forward to 2006. Phil Vischer was a keynote speaker at this fall's YS Convention in Charlotte, and I was spellbound. Phil is a storyteller, and he tells his own story with humor and a few years of reflection on the rise and fall of Big Idea Productions. Just as he did in person, Phil writes a great story of his own life in Me, Myself and Bob.

    Phil shares a great sense throughout the book of how previous events, his family and his view of God influenced the way he lived his life and ran Big Idea in the early years. He describes the technical and creative aspects of the production company, throwing in details of the talking, Bible-story-telling vegetables and creating a read that will touch everyone. Phil engages the reader through the amazing sequence of events that led Phil through the production of the first VeggieTales video and the thought process that was behind the creation of characters, storylines and the beginnings of what would become VeggieTales traditions. And the

    Phil's story pulls you into the highs, lows and brick walls of running an up-and-coming business. He is brutally honest about the shortfalls of the company and where he could have better led his employees, and where he should have let God be more important. He paints a portrait of the unique and influential leaders of Big Idea, and he his honest when placing blame for the downfall of the company on himself. And when Phil's VeggieTales story is over, it seems his own story is still only just beginning.

    You can buy it at Amazon.com



    Just answer 20 questions and find out what religion you should be. Mine was pretty right on, 100% in agreement with "Mainline to Liberal Protestant Christians"



    passing the baton.

    Something I've noticed in my 16 months of church work is a general disinterest amongst the Boomers & Beyond of passing on the baton to the younger generations within the church. There are solid people coming through our doors who would flourish if only they were given some responsibility and a place of value within this church. One new member last year was asked to be on the Baptism Committee this year. I am making a huge assumption, but my guess is that they chose him because he was baptized last year. They probably also felt a need to "fill a hole" on that committee. Nevermind the fact that he would make a great member of our Properties Committee based on his work experience. Enough ranting...

    The reason I posted this is because I ran across an article by Earl Creps, "Passing the Leadership Baton In Our Churches." He digs into Paul and Timothy in describing a biblical way to train up and empower new leaders in the church.

    The best idea I've heard recently for training up new leaders: we have experienced adults on our committees and young people who are more than capable of serving as well. If we pair some of them up, the young people will gain invaluable experience and the adults will be assured of the church being in good hands for generations to come!


    this week in pictures.

    My friend Jenn started a new blog last week: a picture a day. I thought, "Hey, this is a pretty cool idea. I could do that." Then I realized that would mean putting a picture online every day. Picture of the week seemed like a better idea, so I did it. And the first week (this week) I posted 2 pictures. Hey, if I'm making the rules, I can break them!

    Check it out HERE

    me, myself and bob.

    Phil Vischer was one of the best speakers at the NYWC this year. Certainly not because of his speaking skills--even now as I listen to his talk, it's obvious he's frequently leaning on his notes. But Phil had a lot to teach from the downfall of Big Idea, aka that company that made Veggie Tales. Phil's new book, Me, Myself and Bob came out yesterday (Tuesday, Jan. 9). I searched everywhere--Target, WalMart, the local Christian bookstore, and Barnes and Noble--nobody had it. So I'm eagerly awaiting the mail getting here to the church in a few days so I can read it. I'll let you know what I think. For now I just have to listen to the MP3 from Phil's talk at NYWC...

    You can buy it too at Amazon.com


    text messaging from e-mail.

    A fellow youth minister asked this morning how best to communicate to students and parents. It's expensive to snail mail, a lot of our students don't have or check e-mail, some parents don't want their students on Myspace/Facebook. So how about cell phones? Nearly every student has one, so how can we use them efficiently and inexpensively?

    Cell phone companies have dedicated e-mail addresses for each cell phone. [That's kind of scary to think that spammers could get through to our cell phones so easily!] Now we can tap into that by creating a mailing list in our e-mail program with our students cell numbers entered as an e-mail address. Here's how:

    Image Not Loaded.
    And a link to more carriers: HERE

    A few things to remember... Text messages can only have 160 characters--so keep it short! If someone replies to you and you want to reply, be sure to clear out the message window so the original message doesn't count toward your 160 characters.

    There is a downside: you have to find out what carrier each of your students has. For our youth group, I know what most of them have--but we aren't very big. An extra step, but it'll save some money. There are computer programs out there to send text messages from your computer if you only know the phone number, but you can only send one at a time. This way you get a mailing list message sent out to all your students from the comfort of your e-mail system. Please post a comment if you have an update, or a mobile service provider that I missed. Or if you have an even easier solution!


    port sulphur.

    We just returned from a week in Port Sulphur. A lot has changed in the 10 weeks since Christmas, so I'm reposting with an update at the end.

    Image Not LoadedEveryone has a story. Some tell their stories, others keep a private life. Put more than 3,000 people through a disaster of epic proportions, and many of them will share their stories. So here you are: the residents of Port Sulphur, Louisiana [Google Maps | Wikipedia], and their stories... [More on how you can help later]

    August 29

    Image Not LoadedHurricane Katrina wiped out the town of Port Sulphur. With a 20-foot tall levee on the northeast side holding back the "mighty Mississippi" River and a 20-foot tall levee on the southwest side separating the town from the bayou and the Gulf of Mexico, waves upwards of 25 feet breached the levee and flooded the town for nearly a week. Image Not LoadedA doctor's office located across the street from Port Sulphur Baptist Church floated to the back of the church property [1: original PSBC building; 2: original PSBC Fellowship Hall; 3: original location of Port Sulphur Family Practice; 4: new location of PSFP (shown in other picture)]. St. Patrick's Catholic Church was the only building in Port Sulphur capable of being inhabited after the storm, after significant rebuilding efforts.

    Image Not Loaded

    The peninsula stretches southeast of New Orleans, with the town of Port Sulphur located 50 miles away. Conoco-Philips runs an oil refinery just north of the town, employing many on the peninsula. According to 2000 US Census Statistics, the peninsula is incredibly diverse: 45% white, 44% black or African-American and 7% Native American. The average commute to work is over 30 minutes. Twenty-two percent of people are under the poverty line, 40% of people over age 25 have less than a high school education, and the per capita income is more than $8,000 below the national average.

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    December 2006

    Much of the population has returned, but key businesses have not. A handful of gas stations, car wash, Ace Hardware, a handful of restaurants and the post office have been rebuilt. The skeleton of the Family Dollar stands empty on the side of the road, in better Image Not Loadedcondition than most original buildings. Among the missing: a grocery store and a fire station. The nearest grocery store is over 25 miles away. Port Sulphur's grocery store was scheduled to open this month, but has not neared completion. Half the fire station remains, as do two trucks and donated supplies and trucks, but no one is there to staff it. The Port Sulphur Sheriff's Department created a park for sheriff's deputies to park their temporary FEMA trailers.

    Image Not LoadedAs soon as residents were able to return to Port Sulphur, Pastor Martin says Mrs. Connie was one of the first to return. She knew she had a mission to fulfill in the community and quickly got to work. Using all of her savings coupled with her tireless effort, Mrs. Connie reconstructed the Port Sulphur Ace Hardware to be a beacon of light to the community. Martin said the building looked top-notch. Mrs. Connie knew that residents would need hardware and building supplies, and she wanted to help -- giving them the resources they needed, and a listening ear to hear their stories.

    Image Not LoadedPastor Lynn, of Port Sulphur Baptist Church, continues to lead the only Baptist church on the peninsula. Pastor Martin, of Grace Harbour Church, has partnered with Lynn to jump-start the community and help meet the needs of the people. The Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund has provided assistance for both churches. For nearly a year, they've been running a food pantry out of the Baptist church, with food coming from Second Harvest New Orleans. Image Not Loaded.Food has been brought in free of charge, but beginning in January 2007 Second Harvest will have to charge $0.04/pound to cover their costs because FEMA is no longer providing that assistance. A load of food delivered in late December would have cost $3,400. Also in January 2007, the food distribution will move to Grace Harbour because construction will continue inside the new PSBC building as teams from Virginia and Oklahoma begin framing work.

    Image Not LoadedThe churches also partnered in December to begin a new housing program for the people of Plaquemines Parish. Since the months immediately after Katrina, FEMA has provided temporary mobile trailer units with varied success. Many families who still need a place to live remain homeless due to the slow process of receiving one of these trailers through FEMA's red tape. Pastor Martin learned of a separate stock of FEMA trailers meant to be used as a permanent residence. These $50,000 units come fully furnished and are being distributed by FEMA through non-profit organizations. Insurance and other processing costs may be passed onto residents, but the units are provided by FEMA free of charge. In the last weeks of 2006, Grace Harbour compiled a list of nearly 1,000 residents who were interested in obtaining a trailer. Nearly 250 of those individuals were still residing out of state and continued to hold out hope that they could return to Plaquemines Parish.

    Image Not LoadedThe Saints and Hornets have returned to southern Louisiana, and the Sugar Bowl returned in early January 2007. The westbound I-10 bridge connecting Slidell and New Orleans over Lake Ponchatrain was repaired, but crossing the bridge into New Orleans carries drivers past miles and miles of destruction, until you reach the near-pristine downtown area of New Orleans. One apartment complex on I-10 with many damaged units displayed this sign: "Apartments for Lease." As Curtis, a local aid worker, noted, "It's nice that they've got the Saints back, but it's no good if people aren't here to enjoy it."

    Image Not LoadedMuch work remains in Port Sulphur, and throughout southern Louisiana and Mississippi. If you want to contribute time, contact your local Baptist church, the Salvation Army or the Red Cross, or contact Pastor Martin and Grace Harbour Church directly through their website. To make a tax-deductible contribution to the feeding program and rebuilding efforts in Port Sulphur [A 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization], send contributions to:

    Port Sulphur Baptist Church

    26845 Highway 23

    Port Sulphur, LA 70083

    And for those who can't contribute time or money right now, the people of the Gulf Coast region certainly welcome our continued support through prayer.

    March 2007

    March and April bring prayers for the departure of the gnats. They swarm and bite, annoy the people of Port Sulphur, and plaster the fronts of vehicles. In just 10 weeks, the weather has changed, the gnats have come out. And the people of Port Sulphur have continued to make great strides toward recovery.

    The church building at Port Sulphur Baptist has been framed and sheetrocked. The fellowship hall which was a mess of steel beams in December has now been repaired, roofed and closed in. The list that Pastor Martin had compiled of Plaquemines Parish residents still seeking a FEMA Trailer to move home continues to grow as he moves closer to receiving shipments of trailers from FEMA. Martin and Lynn are still receiving food from Second Harvest. The grant was extended, so they still have not paid for any of the 2,000,000 pounds of food they have distributed. The twice-weekly shipments total 20 tons of food and are distributed three times each week from Grace Harbour. Carlton's house has progressed immensely: the walls are up and the roof is on. And the grocery store is scheduled to open in just a few weeks.

    Yet much work still remains. Two from our group arrived early and visited Port Sulphur Baptist Church on Sunday morning for worship and noticed the church had no Bibles. Our team was able to donate some Bibles to the church, but they can still use more. [Order from CBD and have them shipped to the address above]. Pastor Lynn would like to give a Bible to each recipient of one of the sheds we built. Twenty-four sheds have been constructed, and the church has received a grant to build over 20 more. FEMA trailers have little space for storage, so a shed is a great commodity.

    We spent Thursday afternoon in New Orleans, which included a stop in the Ninth Ward. Most of the homes have been torn down and a new flood wall has been constructed. Rumor has it that Donald Trump wants to rebuild the Ninth Ward.

    The region has improved since December, but a lot needs to happen. Just off Interstate 59 in Mississippi sits a field full of FEMA trailers -- uninhabited. Why do thousands of FEMA trailers sit empty in a field when families throughout the Gulf Coast still do not have homes? The bureaucracy and red tape inhibit acquiring a trailer. Once last week I heard that a family had rebuilt their home and called FEMA to ask for their trailer to be removed. FEMA told them there was no record of the family having a trailer.

    The glamor of helping the Gulf Coast region has waned, yet the help is still needed. We can all help out.