Tag Archives: New Life Church

Trauma Care: Thoughts after LASIK Surgery and a Close-to-home Tragedy

Trauma isn’t the same as physical pain. In two very different events of late, I’ve found it to be shocking… unsettling… a feeling that pushes me to disconnect from reality. Imagine it’s not happening. Keep telling myself it won’t last long.

You see, I had LASIK done on my eyes November 9. Then, one month later to the day, a gunman stormed into my home church — leaving 2 dead and others injured.

Now the real story here is how God’s used this for good, and I encourage you to read and spread the testimonies that were lived by many. But the feelings elicited within me were strikingly similar during both events. Thus, I offer as an analogy…


My pre-op visit the day before surgery didn’t bode well. The office was clean, professional… and huge. By the two hour mark (which wasn’t the end), I had been shuffled through 10 different test rooms and interacted with at least that many office staff. The doctor and I did speak briefly, though our talk was all about Huckabee’s chances in the election. Good subject, but I hoped he was focusing on my eyeballs as he poked with his medical instruments while verbally prodding me about who Texas politicians would get behind.

Finally I was deemed OK for surgery and slotted in for the next morning. The 6am slot.


The first thing they had me do at about 5am when I arrived was put on a hairnet. I’m serious. Then they dilated my eyes and subjected me to bright light (as I say, it’s comedy and trauma.) Their path of “processing people” was more efficient than the pre-op: after a back room procedure, another staffer was waiting for the patient hand-off so he could score another medical test. All the action stopped once we reached the end zone: The Dark Room.

So here’s where all the million$ flowing through this office went. I’d gotten a glance at it the day before: a freezing cold room the size of an average Subway shop, filled with about ten massive machines. Each resembled a dentist’s chair, only with pricey computers attached and metal claws that sported powerful lasers. I didn’t think much of it the day before, but now as the room whirred with lights and sounds, as I and 3 others were told to keep our eyes shut and our hairnets on — well, I didn’t know what to think.

The woman beside me was jittery, so despite the sound of a half-dozen lasers cutting away, I reminded her that these pros know what they’re doing. A bit of Name it, Claim it theology in action there.


The only pain I felt in the next hour was when a metal clamp was placed over my eyes. To “pull back the corneal flap” and apparently drain fluids, I felt a sudden, sharp prick, my vision immediately went dark, and I was bandaged. Then someone held my hand (a little weird) and directed me to a spot where I awaited the final chair.

Even with my eyes out of commission, I noticed they occasionally turned on all the room’s lights, then just as quickly shut them off again. I don’t know why; inspiration from the world’s other leading isolation rooms, perhaps? I do know the surgery ultimately ended, I was given some goofy goggles, and family arrived for me.


Having gone through that ordeal, I looked forward to seeing the world differently. The change wasn’t immediate — a harrowing nighttime drive from Denver airport to Colorado Springs comes to mind. Is anything more scary than a blind man on icy roads? Yet within a few weeks, sights began to surprise me.

Coming into work, I could actually count the office building’s bricks from 60 yards away (great use of time), whereas before it was just a red blur. More remarkably, the vistas and valleys of Colorado opened up to me as never before. Now mountains stretch back further on the horizon… and snow-covered trees glimmer brilliantly, right down to each pine needle. I love it.

Early on, I experienced terrible headaches when using a computer longer than an hour. Considering my job keeps me on one for nearly 8 hours a day, I was motivated to find a solution. The Dallas surgeon’s office referred me to a Colorado Springs LASIK doctor. My sight was improving, he said, but I had to use eye drops more frequently.

Returning home over Christmas, the surgeon’s office further changed my treatment: eliminate one type of drops, use the other more often. Constant care became the theme.


By now, you may see the parallels. What occurred at YWAM Denver and New Life Church on Sunday, December 9 was traumatizing… even for me, someone who was off the church campus over two hours before it occurred. (I’d been in the early service that morning.)

A certain worship chorus helped me understand why I was shaken up; it goes, “Blessed are those who dwell in Your house / They are ever praising You.”

While I recognize my body as the temple of God, I also know New Life as my church home. After all the prayer times, worship recordings, small group meetings, etc., I feel like I “dwell” in this house of God. What if a man with a gun parked at my home and fired off 30 rounds at my family members? That’s essentially what occurred.


Six weeks later, the place looks very different to me. Since we now know that 12 undercover guards participate in New Life services, I view my fellow worshipers with fresh eyes. Is that lady singing near me packing heat?

I also realize how God indeed provided our new leader. David Perkins’ blog mentions how New Lifers see Pastor Brady Boyd in a new light and it rings true. From big things like Pastor Brady’s handling of the police and media, to the little things like his fatherly treatment of Jeanne Assam, we became more endeared to his pastor’s heart.

Yet most of all, I see people differently — family, friends, passers-by. Think about the shooter, Matthew Murray: a 24 year-old homeschooled guy, from a Christian family, who trained at YWAM, whose brother is an Oral Roberts U. student, and whose parents called Ted Haggard their “favorite preacher” before his fall. Conversely, look at the Works sisters who were gunned down. They’d gone on short-term missions, also were homeschooled, big fans of Lord of the Rings, and actively part of the Desperation movement.

I see bits of myself there. And I’m not crushed or fearful seeing those similarities. It actually motivates me.


Not so long ago, I would’ve focused entirely on the Miracles aspect of this story. Truly these testimonies (among many others) have been under-reported or entirely unreported:

>> New Life’s Special Needs group had long planned a Christmas party for Dec. 9, but canceled it due to bad weather. These folks would’ve been in the exact hallway of the shooting when it occurred.

>> Hundreds of Colorado Springs residents took advantage of the free crisis counseling offered the days following the shooting, given in conjunction with Woodmen Valley Chapel and Focus on the Family.

>> Without an ad campaign or giving drive, this tragedy enabled the Gospel to be preached to millions of people worldwide via CNN, Good Morning America and other mainstream outlets.

>> Colorado elected officials, including the Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, Colorado Springs mayor and dozens of police/firemen/first responders, joined a packed auditorium of worshipers 3 days after the shooting. There were tears, yet also much rejoicing for God’s hand on us. “I’ve never been to a remembrance service like that!” more than one of the officials said afterward.


True stories of God working should be broadcast, and repeated, and Him given the glory. Yet what excites me right now is that New Life desires change just as I do. We’ve been nudged in a certain direction by these events. We want to become better at bringing in and caring for the Matthews of the world – because we had many chances.

“We have an absolute commitment to pastoral care,” Pastor Brady said shortly after the shooting. Already steps are being taken to build community more, such as Sunday nights becoming a gathering for small groups rather than a service. To really effect change, each of us must pray and think through how we can be the church… daily.

Like the eye drops after surgery, our healing will continue only with intentional, constant care over a long period of time. Like, until Jesus returns.

Signs of (New) Life: Amidst changes, God’s work is evident

As people talk and blog about what’s happened the last nine months at New Life Church, plenty of conflicting opinions and speculations can be heard. How long will Colorado Springs be known by this scandal? Can believers really move on? I grieved deeply over what unfolded last November at my home church. Yet many mile markers along this journey, small things showing a higher power at work, have given me hope.

One such signpost was Tuesday, October 31 last year. That’s Halloween normally, but at New Life it’s “Hallelujah Night”… similar festivities of costumes and games, only to celebrate light rather than darkness. Thousands of families from across the Springs came to hang out with other folks in a fun, safe environment. The sanctuary was filled not with chairs or anything except inflatable bounce houses, face painting, beanbag throws—a total carnival atmosphere. Hundreds of church volunteers were having a great time; I was stationed at a basketball goal as kids lined up, threw the ball up with great effort… and usually missed the hoop when their turn came. No matter. There were still plenty of laughs and blow pops to go around.

Hallelujah Night footage begins about 2 minutes into this video

Leaving the church that night, I thought how great it is being part of a community where believers get together to serve. In the process of caring for another person, you always get back more than you give—a message that many area churches live and believe. It was a moment to remember, for soon things would be very different.

During the first days of November, few New Lifers believed the news stories until six words hit us like a ton of bricks: “Some of the allegations are true.” Next thing you know, ten satellite trucks were camped out at the church and headlines were screaming from every direction. By Sunday, clearly an era had ended.

So much talk, so many tears that week. 20-something friends of mine flocked to MySpace, where I’ve never seen such profound thoughts–before or since. One friend wrote in a bulletin, “Love people. Hate anything that hurts them. Hate anything that leads them away from truth. But don’t hate the person.” It was a message from God’s heart (to think the Sustainer of All Things has time for MySpace.)

Another encouragement for many has been the worship album My Savior Lives, released just weeks after the scandal unfolded. Though recorded over a year ago by the New Life Worship team, suddenly the lyrics have taken on new meaning: “One thing I know that I have found / Through all the troubles that surround / You are the Rock that never fails / You never fail.”

It’s been nine months since November, and I still don’t know how this process will shake out. All we can do is listen well and participate in searching out the truth. Local churches and beyond have shown they care what happens; many have been helping in prayers and other means. What I do know is I’m thankful to those who’ve given so freely and deeply during this season.

For a few months, New Life Church was doing 6am prayer meetings to seek God’s will. I attended just a handful of them and every time Pastor Ross Parsley was there—dressed down a bit from Sunday, but still ready to share from God’s Word. That spoke volumes. Many other local and national folks have sacrificed; for instance, before he even spoke at the church, attempts have been made to taint Pastor Brady Boyd’s name. If the only lesson (and there’ve been many) from these past months is to go the extra mile caring for those around us, it’s worth it.

click to play video of Pastor Brady Boyd’s first Sunday at New Life

I was jogging the other day in Ute Valley Park. Like most trails around here, the terrain is very up-and-down with easy descents and what seem like long stretches going up. My pace usually follows the elevation appropriately: a slow walk uphill, followed by a brisk run down (go ahead and laugh, personal trainers; not the best form, I’ll bet.)

Unconsciously, my pattern began to change at certain points. When my line-of-sight caught someone ahead or behind me, I sped up. Even if it was the hardest part of the trail, people watching—or even a perception of such—altered my performance for the better.

The world is watching Christian believers. Perhaps the added attention, an accountability of sorts, can inspire us to live more for others than self.

Excellence in All We Do

I can’t claim the honor of being an alumnus of TwentyFourSeven Leadership Academy, a full-time New Life Church missions/discipleship program celebrating its 10th year.

But when I first came out to Colorado Springs in Fall 2003, a brother of mine joined 24/7 and I felt a part of it as he shared about 24/7’s drills, classes (for the mission field, the program insists students learn economics as well as the Bible), early-morning workouts, trips to hostile countries, etc.

I stayed at New Life, getting more involved — he moved on to being a 24/7 team leader, then graduated from two years in June 05. Lo and behold, another younger brother joined TwentyFourSeven in Fall 05, became a leader in Fall 06, and will graduate this June.

All that to say: it’s been a privilege being a small part of this family.

Which I why the recent news of the transition facing 24/7 — founding director Christopher Beard leaving — has been in my prayers often these past weeks. The word came immediately before watching a performance of Wonderland, a Christmas musical that 24/7 plays a massive part in. Amidst all the spectacle, sets and elaborate production, I watched the 1st year, 2nd year, and 3rd year students — whose world had been turned upside-down in the past 24 hours.

Still they looked joyful, full of God’s life, and passionate for displaying His truth to those watching… by being a stand-out part of something bigger. I was teary-eyed at their strength. Following the “show,” all I could say to any 24/7 student I saw was, “You guys are amazing, you inspire me.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

TwentyFourSeven really is a family, and Christopher Beard’s intensity has fathered it from day one. He’s irreplaceable, no question. The program will look and feel different under Aaron Stern, pastor of theMILL – not a bad thing, just different.

Some grieving should be expected (out of necessity, most current students are past that stage). The loss is felt not only by parents, host homes — generous New Life families who give up a spare room for 10 months to a 1st year student — but also by the other 24/7s.

Indeed, alumni of Colorado Springs’ twentyfourseven have gone on to start similar training programs in other cities:
– 24/7 Birmingham, Alabama
– 24/7 Conway, Arkansas
– 24/7 Mexico City, Mexico

When one thinks of the alumni who are pastoring, who are missionaries overseas, or studying to be a doctor (like my bro)… this vision really is making a global impact. The media, of course, has made this story something it clearly isn’t. I’d encourage anyone to carefully read the New Life statement and understand how different this is from what happened in November.

After a past year’s TwentyFourSeven banquet, I had this to write; hope it gives some context for the continuing strength of this family…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tonight I witnessed something so rare in today’s world that it’s nothing short of shocking. A few dozen college-age students celebrated. Actually, that part could be seen in lots of places on a summer Saturday night: bars, college dorms, the back seats of cars… it was what this group was toasting that ought to make headlines. These students had just spent one (or two) years being TwentyFourSeven Worldwide.

24/7 is a little like the military, maybe a lot like Teen Mania’s Honor Academy. This year’s class had its own set of images and moments — not to mention intense personalities — that set it apart…

– “With all your heart, take one step at a time.” Tonight John Bolin outlined some of the steps taken by 24/7 students: risk, discipline, servanthood. It occurs to me that these young adults couldn’t make up their process as they went along. Each one had to take ownership of each step, exactly in the order and at the time they received it. That’s gutsy.

– My brother was awarded the title of “Most Likely to be on The Bachelor.” In a leadership academy where dating is not allowed, go figure. : j

– With any graduation ceremony comes the requisite video montage. Only these videos were wilder than what you’d see at other such formal occasions, with clips from perhaps eight  nations covering their past 10 months of journeys.
A certain training recap video had me perplexed, even after I understood what the images were. In waves, the twenty-somethings were rolling down sand dunes. Many of them shirtless on their bellies, 24/7 students pushed themselves down the white-hot hill. Most amazing to me–they saw the point of what this was accomplishing.

– 2:47pm. We learned that every student takes that one minute, everyday, to reflect (which ties into a curious slogan they all know: “Leaders reflect.”)

– Almost as telling as what we did see and hear is what we didn’t. 15 minutes after the banquet ended, Christopher got on the mic and asked all the students to gather immediately for a picture. Some slowly meandered there way there; most just kept talking and taking their own private snapshots.
Now, these are students who’ve had to sometimes do 6,500 push-ups because of this man. But, in this late-night party atmosphere, they did what all other college kids would do. TwentyFourSeven doesn’t create pandering, order-obsessed robots. Just solid leaders.

– I think I’ve got the motto down now: “God first, Others before self, Honor, Character, Discipline, Excellence in all we do.” That last bit, “all we do,” is perhaps a case of reverse syntax that should read “we do all.” Because when it comes down it, twentyfourseven gives its students 100% of the tools they need to succeed. God must love these crazies.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Last remarks… having known the past four TwentyFourSeven classes to some extent, clearly there’s something special about the 2006-07 group. They were chosen from a larger group of applicants. But more telling, only a handful dropped out during the “boot camp” that is the first two weeks (compared with the usual 10-15).
Even more revealing: every single student returned from Christmas break. God only knows what this time of character-building will mean later in their lives.

Psalm 119:31-32 says, “I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD; do not let me be put to shame.

Some Christians walk in God’s ways, but TwentyFourSeven? They run, as an example to us all.

False Summit — Thoughts on Anointing, Ted Haggard and the Cross

“I keep thinking we’re near the top, but we turn a corner and there’s more mountain to climb.” My friend Renae, my roommate and I were hiking in Colorado Springs’ Front Range, just one week after my pastor was no longer my pastor.

Renae’s comment got me thinking about New Life Church—where we’ve been and how far we have to go. For in the last few days, we turned a corner to find a lofty peak we never expected


“So, if you think that you are standing firm…”

Celebration of Discipline, a book we’ve just started in the small group I’m in (curiously enough), begins this way: “The greatest problems of our time are not technological… [nor] even political or economic, because the difficulties in these areas are largely derivative. The greatest problems are moral and spiritual—and unless we can make some progress in these realms, we may not even survive.” I think something about my attitudes and life wasn’t keyed in to this fact a few weeks ago. To quote Pastor Ross Parsley, “We took a subtle bit of pride in ourselves.”

Not that growing ministry is a bad thing. For instance, a great strength of New Life for many years (and especially now) has been the church’s four internships. Church becomes more lively when about 300 students are worshipping, coming, going or meeting at any given hour. Church = once-a-week services? So last century.  It’s certainly possible to have a megachurch without overblown ego. And I don’t think there was a “personality cult” per se around Ted Haggard.

But, well… with intern enrollment up every year, the NAE office at New Life gaining national clout and cool stuff like a massive spinning globe in the prayer center, looking at the exterior ornaments became easy. I remember last year when the parking lot trams came in. “Staff told me, people will be able to get out of the cold quicker,” Pastor Ted said at the time. “But I love it because, hey, we’re more like Disneyland!” It was a joke, but perhaps one that hinted at a problem here.

I watched as Pastor Ted’s influence grew. Like many churches, New Life has had special choirs come in, elaborate flag ceremonies on Missions Sunday, plus guest speakers like Ron Luce and Sunday Adelaja from Europe. But it was Pastor Ted’s global vision, off-the-cuff humor, political acumen, etc. that convinced me New Life had something special — an anointing that seemed to keep expanding. But whether repeating Ted’s jokes or talking up a New Life program, “preaching ourselves” became a very real danger.


“…Be careful that you don’t fall…”

Back to our recent climb… ascending the mountain, we passed the Will Rogers Chapel. First we saw the main entrance where thousands entered every year. Then our path took us around the back, which perhaps only a few dozen hikers ever saw. What impressed me was the heavy stone wall that encircled the chapel: every inch of the circumference—front and back, seen and unseen—was guarded.

To guard a heart takes trust, wisdom, people around me who will kick the sin they see, and probably some things I’m missing. It’s no easy task. I’d rather float through life and ignore the hooks Satan has in me, ignore the small things. After all, doesn’t everyone struggle? Didn’t the Apostle Paul himself have a “thorn in the flesh”?

But, no, I don’t have to choose sin. “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world,” (I John 4:4). My heart connection with Jesus every day is what enables victory, purpose, abundant life. And my words to God have never been more emotional than that night wrestling which how my pastor could fall so hard and so fast.

“If you asked me last week to write a list of 1,000 pastors who this could’ve happened to,” said Charisma publisher Stephen Strang. “Ted Haggard wouldn’t have been on there.” No question, this caught everyone by surprise. It looked like a last-ditch election ploy, or even the set-up to a dumb joke—but it was what it was. “98% of me was the good man you knew, but the 2% evil began to dominate,” to paraphrase Ted. Suddenly I want to learn more about accountability, about the nature of my own heart.

Following the Sunday service where Ted’s letter of confession was read, I spoke to a businessman named Wayne. He works as a mortgage broker, right next to the Dept. of Motor Vehicles in Colorado Springs. One day he saw a man in the parking lot who’d just got a license for his snazzy new scooter. As Wayne watched, the man fell off his vehicle and scraped himself up. Wayne ran to help; the man was bleeding and scarred. A crowd gathered. As Wayne began to help with his wounds, what did the scooter rider do? Ted Haggard began to preach the gospel to the hog riders who’d gathered to see blood. “That’s why I joined New Life,” Wayne told me after his story. “Today I can’t pick Ted up from his fall – but I can come and pray with his friends.”


“…When you are tempted, He will also provide a way out…”

A few New Lifers walked into that service with a spring in their step, like any other Sunday. They were the children—teasing each other, excited to sing with their friends, asking Mommy to stop at the café so we can get a bagel. Having lunch later with a family, I asked a girl how church was for her. “It was fun, we heard about David becoming king,” the 10 year-old said. As touching as it was to hear Gayle’s letter, seeing the next generation following God lifted me up even more.

The last sermon Ted gave was from I Samuel 16, the story of Saul’s anointing passing to David. After the scandal, my small group dug in to the analogy: Saul was called by God to be Israel’s first king, led with humility for decades, expanded their territory and defeated many enemies… until he did some things that looked good, but his actions weren’t complete obedience. As an elder recently said, “Sometime in the past three years, we started saying, ‘Isn’t New Life great?’ more than we said, ‘Isn’t Jesus great?'”

(Here I would caution anyone tempted to now disparage Ted. “Though the man of God be wrong, we are not to touch his anointing,” a wise friend of mine recently said. “Remember David and how he respected Saul even when Saul was trying to kill him.”)

Perhaps some of us saw our error sooner than others. One of New Life’s worship leaders, Jared Anderson, just wrote a song called “Lost in Heaven”; it pinpoints this issue so clearly. “Sunday morning and I’m performing ~ Right and wrong seem far away… I flee temptation, but not frustration… I’m living in Heaven with no place to go ~ Should I be freaked out ~ Or should I feel alone ~ When this prodigal has never left home?”


“…For God is faithful” (I Cor. 10:12-13)

During our hike, Renae brought up that her counseling training had taught an enlightening definition: “Joy is being fully known and fully accepted.” Contrast that with Ted’s statement: “When I stopped communicating about my problems, the darkness increased…” So it’s another paradox of Christianity: the stone wall of protection comes only with vulnerability, a hunger for others’ correction.

Humility is more than just vulnerability. It’s really taking to heart correction, not taking offense. Maybe it looks like passing up a promotion when the timing is off. Or it could be worship so extreme that people will watch and think I’m crazy — but I don’t want to care. It’s confessing my failures, and taking personal inventory of my own heart. Self-sufficiency isn’t the Gospel, after all; Jesus says, “Come to Me, and We’ll get you fixed up.”

Finally, we reached the summit. Below us, a forest of pine trees rose and fell on the contours of the foothills, like a green ocean. Above us all around, higher peaks and more dramatic views opened up in the distance. This wasn’t really the top; so much more was left to discover. It seems knowing God is a series of false summits: will we ever “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ”? Not likely, but we can sure try. It’s the only True false summit… a love that takes off the blinders of my self-centered vision and opens me to a vast landscape of real joy.

P.S. Is New Life still anointed? Without a doubt. From what I’ve seen, this is leading us to a time of understanding some things better than ever–like integrity, sexuality, and the power of the Cross. Fill us and mold us as only You can, Lord.


(Thanks to Pastors Ross Parsley & David Perkins, whose recent messages were liberally borrowed from in this blog : )

Remembering Derek, a man of God

Derek Buehrer was a party waiting to happen. He was the first to burst out laughing in our team meetings, the first to shout in prayer, and always the one to initiate a greeting hug.

I’ve been Derek’s team leader in theFurnace since January when he joined… which gives me a unique window into what a willing, determined and generous man he was.

His willingness can be seen in the way he came into theFurnace. Those of us in this collegiate house of prayer are well aware of the 1st Semester Rule: no dating for your first semester, which is defined pretty strictly (long distance relationships included, etc.)

Well, Derek had a stronger boundary put in place—he couldn’t talk to a girl alone for the whole semester, past about 2 minutes. This would be a challenge for any guy, but Derek proved he was up to it. He updated us every week on his interactions, which often went like, “There was this woman at work I was in this meeting with…” “Derek, bro, it’s OK – we know you need to at work.” “Just wanted to be sure.” He learned discipline from this experience, and showed without a doubt he was willing.


It was our last team meeting of the spring, and I decided we’d hike the Incline. The other two guys in our team (Steven and Jonathan) had no trouble with the uphill climb – these two track/climbing guys could conquer Pikes Peak over lunch break. But Derek and I had to push through it. He’s always been eager, and started out going real fast.

In my experience, the Incline is best hiked slow and steady—start slow while it’s easy, then when it gets hard your body has to kick in to 3rd gear to hold that pace. I told Derek as much, but he kept a furious gait. Until he stopped for breath. Soon we were in step with each other, and encouraging one another towards the top. He determined to ascend that hill, and did so. Many of us need that zeal in our spiritual walk.

The biggest thing all of us have to give is our time, and Derek’s hours were spent giving to God and giving to others. He showed me a grid of his schedule just a week before the Lord took him. I think it was 5:30-7:30 every morning penciled in as God Time… except on Wednesday when he met with a UCCS Navigators guy to pray and tell him about God’s ways.

Then there was Monday nights leading with Healing Streams, Sunday mornings serving with the church bus ministry, and meeting with a men’s group Tuesday nights (apart from his Furnace commitment). Derek often went over and above his Furnace requirements as far as prayer meetings go.

Derek wasn’t perfect—he was stubborn, not always timely, and was working on life responsibilities. But I love the guy, and I’m a better man for having known him. We know without a doubt Derek is in a better place, worshipping his Father with complete joy, free from the difficulties of the flesh.

I thank God for Derek’s outgoing, bright, spontaneous, thoughtful, theologically-minded, party-animal personality. And I pray He works some of those things in me.

Furnace Acct Team - Spring 2006

(clockwise from bottom left): Derek, Steven, Jonathan, Josh

How I Became Andrew the Disciple (9 Weeks of Passion, Pt. 1)

The first meeting was Sunday afternoon, February 12. The wrap party ended late Saturday night, April 15. During those nine weeks, friendships were formed, 200 or so team members gave what they had and—by God’s hand—over 3,100 lives were changed. To produce The Crown, the story of Jesus’ life through the eyes of a child, each person had to bring passion to their role. And as we experienced over and again the key events that define Christianity, The Crown stoked our passion and faith.

In early February, Pastor Bill Walton of New Life Kids was thinking through the church’s upcoming “Thorn season” where New Life would have an audience of 50,000 for its extravagantly produced passion play. Yet he saw an audience missing in the strategy: 1st thru 5th graders, who were too young for The Thorn’s sometimes-violent images. He began to dream big about a kids’ play.

As Pastor Bill had a few members of The Furnace on his team already, he soon called our leader David about a partnership. Days later David announced at the Furnace gathering that The Crown would count as part of our prayer meeting commitment – and I was in (not that I’d had too much prayer… this just sounded like an opportunity God would use to answer some of those prayers.)

The first part of rehearsals actually resembled Furnace meetings: music playing, corporate prayers to God led on the mic, worshipers pacing (which looked a little funny once we got costumes: scary demons lifting their hands, Pharisees praying over the chairs where the audience would be watching.) Everyone connected to The Crown hit it off right away, especially within the teams.

For instance: on Sunday nights, we 12 disciples had less than an hour to eat between rehearsals and the evening service (a Furnace requirement, and all but two of us are Furnace guys—we’re working on them.) Thus, if you were in the parking lot those days, you would notice two packed cars racing to Fazoli’s or Chipotle – and racing back. I won once.

There was the costumes team, who impressed with how quickly they could get everyone’s measurements without stopping the flow of rehearsals, then have finely-stitched robes ready within hours. The three lead actors had to continually adjust to script changes that came a lot that first month. Some of the hardest work fell to Jordan and the team directors: creating scenes from scratch for a production in its first year, which they spent every minute doing.

Throwing up at rehearsal (9 Weeks of Passion, Pt. 2)

The thing about rehearsals: when you don’t know what your role is yet and often sitting through six takes of the same scene, 3 hours stretches for a long time. I remember one day we had to practice in the main sanctuary. We couldn’t hear directions or the music cues as we tried to get through Jesus’ miracles scenes.

“You’re getting me a little frustrated,” one of the other disciples told me. “When I try to joke around, you get in super-serious mode. Then in a flash you’re laughing with the guys. What’s up?” “It’s a tough balance right now,” I told him. “We want to have fun, but we’re really trying to listen to the directors and make the most of our time. We just have to press on.” Which we did – some pressing on under extreme pressure.

There was Katie, the warring demon who tore a muscle early on and needed crutches; still she showed up at nearly every practice, often on very strong pain medication. [As an aside: we constantly prayed for those injured, and at the last rehearsal Katie shared that she’d recently gone in to a routine exam feeling a lot better. Her doctor ran tests and documented that her muscle had “grown back”, which had to be a miracle!] Hannah, one of the Jerusalem dancers, also hobbled around after an accident. Many faced minor illnesses and exhaustion throughout those nine weeks, yet God sustained us.

I came in one Monday night with what I thought was a small fever. Even after lots of Sprite and prayer, the queasy feeling wasn’t letting up. Thankfully I was near a restroom (and between scenes) the first time I needed to throw up. I should’ve left then, but I seemed better. The second time wasn’t as clean. Just as the Garden Scene ended, I felt the sickness come on. I ran through the double doors backstage, heading for the sink at the café.

But I didn’t make my goal. I splattered the floor just a few yards from the sink. It was cleaned up with some help, though I had to take my robe home for cleaning. 2,000 years ago, maybe the disciples had to occasionally run a “heavy wash” cycle too.

The really remarkable fact of The Crown is how smoothly practices and preparation went for 11 certain days… when primary director Jordan, at least five centurions and a disciple left on a mission trip. I mean, there would only be one day after they got back before performances would begin – and we still had a long way to go.

But the other directors picked up the slack. Director Amanda led the blocking and hands-on direction, while John (aka Jesus) pulled in Pastor Bill to help with calling cast members who were late – of course, I never got one of those calls.  : j

Things started to come together quickly. Right before the first showing, I rushed to Wal-Mart to get little toy fish. You see, Peter and I liked the fishing poles we got for our scene where Jesus calls us. Though it wasn’t historically accurate, they said we could keep ’em if we located some fish for our lines. It ended up getting a few laughs.

Now if you multiply that one set item by 300, I think that’s how many things the stage crew had to watch and ensure were in the right place at the right time – for every performance.