Wisdom

  

It’s 8:30 on a Friday night and I’m on I-75 in the middle of South Georgia. Why?
I’m heading to north Georgia with two of my independent living youth. We are headed for the culmination of a mentoring program they started on the spring. It feels a little odd to be wrapping up the mentoring program I wasn’t really a part of. But tha s kind of how it goes. 

I have mixed feelings about being away from home this weekend. Without letting the cat out of the bag, there’s a lot going on back in Orlando. Ronda and I are in the midst of praying through a big situation for us. On one hand, I want to be there with her. One the other hand, I’m looking forward to the space and clarity that comes with spending a weekend in the woods. 

I suppose that means this weekend has a twofold purpose for me. To capstone the mentoring program and solidify my place in the lives of these youth as a mentor. And to allow God to speak to and mentor me this weekend. I have high hopes for this weekend. I’m trusting God won’t let me down. He doesn’t usually. 

The Celldweller song ‘The Last Firstborn’ is playing. That song always make me think of the Apostle Paul. He claimed his apostleship cake as one untimely born. I feel that way. Not that I’m an apostle, but that I often wonder about God’s choice to love me and use me to fulfill his purposes. But he does. And I believe this weekend he is going to teach me as much as he teaches these dudes with me. 

In some ways, I really need to hear God speak to me this weekend. I need it more than I have in quite some time. We started a new sermon series at church last week on the book of James. I’ve been reading it this week. In chapter 1, James says any who lacks wisdom should ask God in faith that he give generously to the obedient. That’s where j find myself. Asking for wisdom. Asking for God’s spirit of be upon me and inform my decision-making. I want to be a spirit-filled wise leader of the family and ministry God has trusted me with. 

This seems like a good place to close… God grant me your spirit of wisdom to be a wise leader of the people you have given to me. 

Dark Darkness

  

Yesterday, I was asked ‘what do you do when life takes just a little more faith than what you have?’ This is an intriguing question. I was taken a little aback by the question… I hadn’t had coffee yet!

As I thought through my life experiences and how I handled life when the darkness and shadows seemed to overpower the light. This happens to us, doesn’t it? No matter how strong our faith is, there inevitably will come a time when we feel as though the weight is too much. Too overpowering, too overwhelming.

How do we respond? How do we overcome that which is overcoming to us? When I was asked this question, I thought for a minute or two and came up with a couple strategies I have used when the darkness has felt overwhelming. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but a couple strategies that have worked for me in the past.

  1. Remember the outcome of the past – More times than I care to recount, I have felt overwhelmed. I have felt out of control. I have felt crushed by the weight of my circumstances. However, I have survived. Things may not have always worked out the way I hoped they would, but I have made it through. I have come through the darkness and come out on the other side. What has helped me is to remember I made it through, is realizing I have survived. I have been beaten, but not broken. I have been pressed, but not crushed. Keeping this in mind has assisted me in keep perspective and remember this darkness shall too pass.
  2. Remember I am not alone – In everything we face, we are not alone. Not only are there others around us who have faced the same struggles, God himself has entered into his creation and walks alongside me in difficult times. Good has sent me his Holy Spirit to dwell within me. Scriptures refer to the Holy Spirit as the paraclete, or ‘one who comes alongside’ to assist me and carry me and help me through the tough times. The light is always more powerful than the darkness, after all darkness runs from the light. Not only this, Jesus when he walked the earth he felt and experienced all the same things we do here on earth. He felt loss and depression. He felt betrayed. He felt angry. He felt hurt. He experienced the same range of emotions we experience in the same way we do.

There are, no doubt, many others strategies I’ve used to make it through the dark times, but these are the two which stand out most prevalent to me. Hopefully, these will be of assistance to you as well. I recall from the movie ‘the Crow’, a line – “it can’t rain all the time” and this is true. At some point the rain will stop, the sky will clear and the sun will shine. Life comes at us in seasons, some lasting longer than others, and they too shall pass.

The Love of a Savior

Photo credit unknown.

Photo credit unknown.

One of the tenets of Christianity setting apart from other world religions, is the love of a savior. Christianity alone has at its center a God who loves his creation enough to call them children and to die in their place in order to satisfy his wrath upon sin.

Jesus himself draws the stark contrast of this revolutionary approach to life when he comments that few people would die for a good man. What isnt said there, but what is certainly hinted at is that we are not good men. We are sinners. We live in a fallen world and we are bent towards sin. Knowing this, and loving us anyway, our God sacrifices himself to pay the penalty for our sins.

This act is so revolutionary, so extraordinary, so out of the box we as a humanity can scarcely grasp the full weight of what he did or why he did it. Paul writes in Romans, that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. While we were still in opposition to him. He loved us enough to move towards us. To take the first step to have a relationship with us. Which is a second tenet separating Christianity from other world religions, God desires to know us personally. He doesn’t sit on a throne far above in the heavens looking down at us, waiting for us to screw up so he can capriciously punish us. Rather, he engages in our lives with us, walking alongside us each day. In fact, his desire is to dwell within us. To live in and through us. Paul also write in one of his letters to the church at Corinth, that as Christ followers we are temples to the Holy Spirit (God’s spirit he sent to dwell within us). In this particular passage, Paul was correcting the Corinthians on their sexual immorality, however the idea that our bodies are temples of the spirit of the almighty God should have broad applications in our lives. Our lives should be lived in such a way that God is glorified by our actions.

As we prepare for today and this weekend, ask ourselves this question: Is God glorified in the way I am living, in my habits and daily routine, in my work, in my attitude and in the way I treat others? If not, now seems like the right time to reorganize our priorities.

Never-Ending Shopping List

Give me this, I want that, bless me Lord I pray. 

Grant me what i think I need to make it through the day.
Make me healthy, keep me wealthy, fill in what I miss
On my never-ending shopping list.
I will forever remember this song, I don’t know who wrote or even sang it first. I remember a good friend of the family singing this song somewhere along the way at a church sometime. This what prayer can feel like sometimes, right? 
A never-ending shopping list of things we want, things we feel we are owed or at the very least deserve. Jesus is not Santa Claus. Never has been, and I suspect he never will be. A few years ago, my boys made Christmas humorous for us as a family when they confessed they had prayed to Jesus to work with Santa to bring us a white Christmas. Coincidently, if we were to ever have a white Christmas at our house it would take a monumental miracle that could only come about if Jesus and Santa collaborated. I told them, living in Florida, a white Christmas is likely something we will never see.
I suppose it is possible your prayer time and prayer requests are holier than mine. Could be. But I bet even at times you miss the point of prayer too. We all do. Three reasons: we are human which leads to reason two, we are selfish which is caused by reason three, we are sinners. And we mess everything up… when left to ourselves. It’s kinda what we as humans do.
I’m not setting out here to give you a dissertation on prayer or specifically recite the various appropriate ways Scripture guides us to pray, for what and when and how and why. I simply want to confess to you, I suppose more than anything, I often don’t take full advantage of prayer in a way I should.
I have come to realize I pray way too small. 
I pray in such a way that doesn’t show I trust in a God much bigger than myself. I pray in such a way that doesn’t illustrate I believe God when he tells me to ask and I will receive. 
I don’t know this is terribly a big deal. I mean I have faith in God and trust him in and with my life. I live each day in service to him… so even if I don’t pray the biggest, most bold prayers I still am a follower of his. But it is a big deal because I have three young men God has entrusted to me to teach about him and to teach them how to trust him, to teach them how to be men after his heart. I owe it to them to pray bigger and to pray in a way that demonstrates I believe the almighty creator of the universe is listening to my prayers. Because he is!
Maybe the beginning is to spend more time in prayer myself. To spend more time getting to know my God. Maybe the first steps are to not treat prayer like a shopping list, but instead a relationship built on trust and love. I never want to hear Jesus say to me what he said to the church in Ephesus: ‘you have lost your first love.’ How heartbreaking it would be to hear Jesus say such a thing to you? I can’t imagine the ache inside my heart.
I never want to lose sight of my savior.
I never want to lose my first love.



Leadership lessons from Paul

Paul wrote a couple letters to the church in Corinth instructing them on the ins and outs of their faith. Paul came under heavy criticisms from this church, a church he labored long and hard with. Paul was attacked by false leaders who had come into the church after he planted and began to fill the heads of the Christ-followers there with misguided thoughts and beliefs. Paul was attacked by false leaders. Leaders who came to the church with less than reputable purposes. Paul’s ministry was attacked by these false leaders. They attempted to lead the Corinthian believers astray and discredit Paul in the process.

The false leaders attacked his character, his influence, his calling and his humility, claiming he was not called to lead. They claimed he was inadequate. They claimed he was not worthy of the task to lead the church he had planted. They called into question his integrity.

Paul countered with several arguments, the first of which was he compared being in ministry to a celebration ceremony of a king who has defeated his enemies. He connected the idea of the king who celebrates his victory with his life being used as a vessel to spread the Gospel message. As a king enters in celebration he has aromatic incense spread before him signifying life to those who have been victorious and death to those who were defeated. Paul says we are like the urn that spreads the incense. It is the message of life or death to those that hear it. Furthermore, as the urn we are not worthy to be in the celebration because we did nothing to celebrate except be the vessel that spreads good smells. None in reality are worthy to partake in the celebration and triumph. I think this leads us to an important piece of being a good leader. A good leaders needs to be  implicitly aware of their own insufficiency, being aware of their need for the grace of God.
Paul also responded by not abdicating his leadership. He didn’t back down from his assertion he was a leader. He realized people are fickle and sway easily when they hear lies from others about their leaders. He wasn’t willing to walk away from all his hard work and the people he built into for years. A little bit of hardship and difficulty weren’t going to be enough to sway him from his ministry to the Corinthians.
The critics asked for letters of recommendation, he claimed his credentials for leadership were the lives of the Corinthians. A leader’s influence is measured by the impact they have on the lives of those around them. Paul in effect said, I don’t need letters of recommendation because you know me. You have seen me, my life. You have seen the changes made in the life of the people around you because of the message of Christ they heard from me. Paul appealed to the changed lives and the impact he had on those around him as his letters of recommendation.
Paul was very sure about his calling. He never vacillated. Those who are unsure of their own vocation cannot possibly be effective leaders. Nothing is more debilitating than a leader who has self-doubt. When we question and doubt where God has placed us and the work he has set before. When we are certain of the mission and purpose God has set before us, we will view everything we do as a privilege and a part of accomplishing the purpose God has set before us. We have to have absolute confidence in what we are doing or else every trial, every hardship will threaten to derail you. I have been there before. I have lacked vision and clarity on where I was and what I was doing and every speed bump became a mountain.
We must have confidence in our calling, but at the same time understand there is nothing about us that makes us intrinsically adequate for the task God has called us to. Realizing our weaknesses and shortcomings allows us to rely on God for strength. God calls us to work for him not because of something we have a value for him, but he calls us for the work that he can do in us and through us. God makes us worthy of the calling he puts on our lives.

Photo by: John P. Nordin

Photo by: John P. Nordin

My Takeaways from #Catalyst14

catalystI enjoyed the catalyst experience very much overall. I feel like personally, it had much to say to me and where I am in my life currently. It was good to be able to sit in the worship and enjoy the music and to participate in worshipping our Savior. It was also very encouraging to hear all the great sermons we heard in a short time. My friend who picked me up from the airport asked me who my favorite speaker was… I wasn’t able to pick just one! I think they all had some fantastic things to say and were all very challenging of me. So, let me try to funnel that down into a few thoughts of what challenged me the most.

  1. Andy Stanley’s opening message which challenged us to answer the two questions – 1. Who are you? and What breaks your heart?; really stuck with me because I honestly had to really think through the answer to the second one. Not because I don’t know what excites or invigorates me (I hesitate the use the word ‘passion’ since it is so overplayed these days) or what really gets me fired up. I had a hard time with this I think thanks to where I am in my life. I would have answered the questions slightly differently along the way in my life, and as my brain and heart catches up to where I find God has led me in life I found my self searching for what the answer is in this season. Strangely enough, the answer in this season is not very different from the answer it has been in previous seasons of my life. Families. Families break my heart. Families who need help of any kind. I have seen so many families without the resources and tools to do better than what they are doing and this breaks my heart. I realized as I worked as a caseworker, the difference between the families I worked with and me was a very fine line. A fine line of tools that were in my toolbox, but not in theirs. This has been the driving motivator in me finding the path God has set before me for some time in my life. My heart breaks for families in need. This is perfect, considering where I find God has put me. Working with children and families in a local church setting. Working with children and families in the child welfare setting. I guess the first takeaway for me was more of a confirmation or reaffirmation of being in the place God wants me. This has been something I have spent time considering and thinking through recently… just trying to figure out my life.
  2. The second takeaway comes from Dr. Leaf and the small amount of the book we purchased that I have read. This ‘new’ information regarding habit and thought formation has truly revolutionized the way I think about behavioral change. When coupled with what I have been learning through TBRI, I have a new landscape moving forward in the brain and assisting others to make behavioral changes. Not only is it possible to change behavior, but it is possible to change the brain to adjust the thought patterns. This is a total game changer for the way we think about helping people effect change. I am excited to read more in this book and learn more about changing habits.
  3. Robert Madu had words which were very fitting for us at Grace Landing. Being a small organization, it is easy to play the comparison game and look at other agencies and wonder why we aren’t able to do things the ways they are. We aren’t those other agencies, so we can’t do things the way they are doing them. And we shouldn’t want to. God has blessed us in a unique ways to accomplish the ministry he set before us. When I look at the individual pieces of the puzzle we each bring to the table, I am encouraged to see the plan underneath it. We are approaching the issues of young men needing transitional assistance and foster parent training in a revolutionary way! We are coming at these problems in a way that is different than how anyone (in our area, and for the most part throughout the nation) else is addressing them. We are running the race God has set before us and no one else. I also took much comfort in Craig Groeschel’s thoughts on how to experience exponential innovation as they apply to us. The first thing needed to experience exponential change is limited resources. I heard that and thought, well that’s us! Think about how much God is doing through a small, meager organization. We are a part of totally redefining the way foster parent training and recruiting is being done in Florida! Foster care will never be the same thanks to the work we are doing. Are you serious? YES! We are game changers.
  4. The last major takeaway I have is this, we are precisely where God wants us to be. I think we heard that 100 times at catalyst. God has set this ministry before us and we are to run this race to the best that we can, trusting God will provide the resources necessary to finish the race. God is able to accomplish his purposes without or without us, but he has decided to use us to accomplish those purposes in the ministries he has called us to. God has put us here because he has gifted us with what we need to do this work. He hasn’t set before a ministry we aren’t able to accomplish, on the contrary – he has gifted us in a way to accomplish this ministry.
Catalyst was exactly what I needed in life right now. It renewed my mind and reignited my heart.

Dis-Connected

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I was beginning my journey through Bible college and into ministry in the mid to late nineties, which means the seeker-sensitive movement was really big in churches. I’ve never been much of a supporter of the seeker movement. Truthfully, I thought it really missed the mark.

On the tail end of the seeker movement, postmodernism swept in. It’s almost as though the seeker movement was the last ditch effort of modernity to keep a foothold…

I bought the postmodern mindset hook, line and sinker. I would like to think I was ahead of time in this… but unfortunately my journey kept me out of the limelight and off center stage of this discussion. Despite that, I have believed for years people desperately want to be connected. This is one of the things defining the postmodern mindset, the need to feel connected, to have relationships, to be in community, to be a part of something.

This is a universal truth about human beings. This is why I bought the postern thinking, it was one of the first church growth perspectives that took seriously the basic need of humans to connect with each other.

We all want to belong. We all want to be a part of something. We all crave a family, a place where we matter… a place where we mean something to someone. In Genesis God said ‘Let us make man in our image’ (emphasis added), indicating God himself has a communal dynamic to his personality. I would argue, this communal dynamic is the part of his image we are created in which causes us to crave interaction and community with others. So when I say it is a universal truth, I mean to say I believe it is hard-wired into every human being to connect with others.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded of this. I was at a meeting for child welfare workers and a new mentor program was being presented by the host of the meeting. In speaking about the mentoring program, she said, ‘the boys in foster care especially are looking for someone to hang out with them.’ I thought, she is dead on. They want someone to hang out wight hem, because this is what we all want at our deepest core of who we are as humans. We want to be connected.

When we are disconnected it feels wrong. It feels out of place.

Numerous musician-theologians over the years have keyed in on this fundamental design within us. We desperately desire to be connected. This is why we must take seriously verses like James 1:27

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Orphans and widows have a difficult time being connected due to a loss of their primary method of connection – family. Jesus calls us to be family to those who don’t have family. It is our responsibility as Christ-followers to help those who are disconnected to connect. Of created us for connection, for community.

There is no greater act of love we can show those who are disconnected but to connect with them and become the family they are missing.  Without community we can’t survive. Literally, our physical and neurological bodies crave the stimulation that can only be had from others.

What are you doing to connect and create community with others?

Help those who can't help themselves

I have done a lot of different things work-wise. Some of them I have liked, others of them have made me question my will to live. And still others, have ranked among the greatest joys of my life.

I worked in the dependency system for Florida’s Department of Children and Families and their contract agencies for almost five years. I have worked in churches for about 10 years. While these jobs are very different, they carry some similarities between them. They both involve caring for people deeply at their core.
It is hard for to name which I have enjoyed more… but suffice it to say, I have found great pleasure in them both.
God has gifted me with great concern for those who are defenseless. I feel it is my calling, responsibility, job… something I need to do.
This works very well when you work in the fields I have been working in. My heart breaks for those in need, for those who can’t fight their own fight for themselves, for those who need someone to stand with them and equip to better attack their situation.
I learned long ago we all go through life carrying two things: a toolbox and a suitcase. And no matter who you are, there are tools in the toolbox and baggage in the suitcase. At times throughout our lives we need assistance gaining more tools in our toolbox and help unpacking the baggage in the suitcase. Psychologist Abraham Maslow is quoted as saying, ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail’. We all need more than one tool in our toolbox, and unfortunately we don’t all have more than one tool. We all need to release ourselves of unnecessary baggage at times. As we go through life, we keep packing the suitcase until it is too heavy to carry and we can’t any longer. We get bogged down. We feel defeated. We feel as though there is no end in sight. We need help in unpacking the unhealthy baggage we have loaded our suitcases up with.
While these sound simple and easy, they aren’t always. We need help. And some of us get so weighed down we can’t see the sun any longer and we quickly lose heart. We give up. We become defenseless. We become unable to move forward on our own.
That’s when we need someone to stand up for us… to fight for us… to not allow us to give up.
Jesus did that for us… it only makes sense we do it for each other. I will never forget when Jesus added tools to my toolbox and unloaded the destructive baggage in my suitcase. I’m far from perfect, but I have been loved and accepted by a Savior who is calling me to live like he does. He is calling me to help.
I am here to help.

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Help those who can’t help themselves

I have done a lot of different things work-wise. Some of them I have liked, others of them have made me question my will to live. And still others, have ranked among the greatest joys of my life.

I worked in the dependency system for Florida’s Department of Children and Families and their contract agencies for almost five years. I have worked in churches for about 10 years. While these jobs are very different, they carry some similarities between them. They both involve caring for people deeply at their core.
It is hard for to name which I have enjoyed more… but suffice it to say, I have found great pleasure in them both.
God has gifted me with great concern for those who are defenseless. I feel it is my calling, responsibility, job… something I need to do.
This works very well when you work in the fields I have been working in. My heart breaks for those in need, for those who can’t fight their own fight for themselves, for those who need someone to stand with them and equip to better attack their situation.
I learned long ago we all go through life carrying two things: a toolbox and a suitcase. And no matter who you are, there are tools in the toolbox and baggage in the suitcase. At times throughout our lives we need assistance gaining more tools in our toolbox and help unpacking the baggage in the suitcase. Psychologist Abraham Maslow is quoted as saying, ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail’. We all need more than one tool in our toolbox, and unfortunately we don’t all have more than one tool. We all need to release ourselves of unnecessary baggage at times. As we go through life, we keep packing the suitcase until it is too heavy to carry and we can’t any longer. We get bogged down. We feel defeated. We feel as though there is no end in sight. We need help in unpacking the unhealthy baggage we have loaded our suitcases up with.
While these sound simple and easy, they aren’t always. We need help. And some of us get so weighed down we can’t see the sun any longer and we quickly lose heart. We give up. We become defenseless. We become unable to move forward on our own.
That’s when we need someone to stand up for us… to fight for us… to not allow us to give up.
Jesus did that for us… it only makes sense we do it for each other. I will never forget when Jesus added tools to my toolbox and unloaded the destructive baggage in my suitcase. I’m far from perfect, but I have been loved and accepted by a Savior who is calling me to live like he does. He is calling me to help.
I am here to help.

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Which Jesus? & the Klankster

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***This is an old post, that honestly I’ve posted several times… this morning it just seemed to speak to me.***

As I was running tonite I was afforded the occasion to listen to some of kLaNk’s music. It has been a little while since kLaNk has put out an album. They had one in the last year, but it was only ok. I was listening to the Numb album, their sophomore effort. As I was listening to two songs in particular, I was reminded of my relationship with Jesus. The first songs was Dfl:

I’ll prove to you that I’m a man
With my blood I’ll take a stand
I welcome you with open arms
Have no fear I mean no harm
I know the weight of pain inside
Sometimes the only thing
That’s keeping me alive
I got what it takes to make it through
I want you to know I’m down with you
Gotta drill it in your mind
Friends like me you’ll never find
Words that cut deep like a knife
Just like brothers….Down For Life
I’ll prove to you that I’m a man
With my blood I’ll take a Stand
I welcome you with open arms
Have no fear I mean no harm
I know the weight of pain inside
Sometimes the only thing
That’s keeping me alive
I got what it takes to make it through
I want you to know I’m down with you
Gotta drill it in your mind
Friends like me you’ll never find
Words that cut deep like a knife
Just like brothers….Down For Life
Down…For…Life…I’m down

I finished the Which Jesus? book earlier this week. As I neared the end, Campolo relayed a story of a well-known pastor whose son had died. At the funeral the orator stated that this was God’s will for him to have died. The pastor immediately objected pointing out that Jesus was the first to cry at his son’s death. He reminded us that at some points in our lives, the only comfort we are going to have is knowing that Christ weeps as well. I have felt that way over the last few years. As my mind has been clouded, I have been angry at God often, but as I read those words from Campolo it was very comforting and encouraging to realize that Jesus is crying too. The shortest, and maybe most profound, verse in the Scriptures is in John, “Jesus wept.” Knowing that when my life is hard for me makes Jesus weep, makes it easier to get up each day. In the kLaNk song the lines: I welcome you with open arms; I know the weight of pain inside; I got what it takes to make it through; I want you to know I’m down with you; Friends like me you’ll never find; Just like brothers…

I was also listening to God?:
Tonight’s another night
I wonder aimlessly
To put it all in place
A picture I don’t see
And when I close my eyes
I don’t care if I wake
I use the same excuses
I make the same mistakes
Sometimes it seems so hard
Like you’re ignoring me
I wonder if you do exist
Than what you mean to me
Sometimes I think you hate me
Sometimes I think you hate me
Is this some kind of test
Or a way to make me see
There has to be a reason
Why it’s happening to me
How much more to cry
Until I have a clue
The emptiness I’m feeling
Does it come down to you
Show me everything
And tell me what to feel
My eyes have been so jaded
That I don’t know what is real

Sometimes I think you hate me
Sometimes I think you hate me

As I listened to this song, I realized why God is not afraid of my fears and doubts… he has felt them. Hebrews tells us that our High Priest (Jesus… theology for another time) knows what it is to be like us in every way. I thought of the cross. When Jesus was on the cross he took on the sin of the world and the world was covered in darkness and God hid his face from his only son. Jesus knows what it is like to feel as though God hates him. He has felt as though God left him alone and was not there for him. Hebrews also tells us that God will NEVER leave us or forsake us. I appreciate Rick Warren who points out that it often FEELS like God has left us. And as Ortberg says, in his God is Closer Than You Think book, God is only a reach of the hand away.

I don’t know if kLaNk intended this album to have the spiritual and theological ramifications that it does, but I have been able to apply them for me. In many ways, I believe this album to be the best effort that kLaNk put out.

As I was running I was reminded of the how and when that I became interested in kLaNk and Circle of Dust, who later became Celldweller. I was at ACC and Skip introduced me to Circle of Dust. Another dude, Roy, clued me into kLaNk and then Reese fueled the fire. I actually saw kLaNk in concert many years ago. From there came the interest in Argyle Park. My interest in this music is really more of an obsession than mere interest. I was surprised to think that I have been a big fan of both of these bands since 1996.