Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bobcats Find their Man

I’m one of the few and the proud. No, I’m not a marine - I’m a Charlotte Bobcats fan. I grew up going to Hornets games in Charlotte with my dad, but when The Owner Who Shall Not Be Named moved my beloved Hornets to New Orleans after the 2002 season, I quit watching NBA ball. In 2004, the NBA returned to Charlotte with the Bobcats, and while I was initially apathetic, I’ve gotten used to the idea of a new team with a new name and new colors. For the first three years of their existence, under coach Bernie Bickerstaff (who resigned to take a front office position), they were not very good, but they were scrappy. I like that in a team. This year, under new rookie coach Sam Vincent, one could make a decent argument that they were good, but not that scrappy. This earned Vincent his walking papers after just one season. After yesterday’s announcement of our third head coach, I’m sure the team will be scrappy next season, and the odds aren’t bad that they’ll be good as well.

The ‘Cats hired hall-of-famer Larry Brown, a journeyman coach who has won championships at both the college (Kansas) and pro (Detroit) levels. Brown rarely stays in one place for too long, and his strong ideas of how the game should be played often create friction with players or management, but before they do that they have another effect – they make the team really good.

The Bobcats have the tools. Jason Richardson had a breakout season this year, Gerald Wallace is, in my opinion, the most underrated player in the NBA, and Emeka Okafor is a solid low-post defender. Couple them with Raymond Felton’s potential at point guard, Adam Morrison and Sean May returning from season-long injuries, and a lottery pick in the upcoming draft and the pieces are in place. Now, the Bobcats have the chessmaster to play with them, and the potential to make their debut as a legitimate NBA force.

The Xbox as an Avenue For Worship

If you enjoy playing video games (as I do), Corey Reyonlds has a post today that should be required reading. An excerpt...
New popular video games are lauded for their ability to simulate real life. Cities have regular traffic patterns (Burnout: Paradise), game characters have real conversations with one another while they go about their daily routines (The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion), and when it starts to rain (according to a realistic weather simulation system), the people who don't have umbrellas hold their newspapers over their heads and run for the nearest awning or awaiting taxi (GTA IV). For some reason, we are incredibly awed by this while not being quite so fascinated with the real thing.
HT: Wanderlust in the Word

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How to Bless Your Pastor

A fantastic quote from John Piper on the greatest gift you can give your pastor...
Lead somebody to Christ. Live a holy life. Don't lose your faith when you get cancer. Bring up your kid to love Christ. Do something radical for missions. The common denominator for all of those is that you prove by your life that I haven't wasted mine.
HT: Desiring God

Crummy Church Signs Caption Contest

Joel over at Crummy Church Signs is hosting a caption contest this week. If you've got a clever quip to accompany the sign in the picture, head over to his site and leave it as a comment - you might just win a copy of his Crummy Church Signs book!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Let the Countdown Begin...

This weekend, the NFL draft was held, which means that football fans everywhere are beginning to envision what their team’s lineup is going to look like this fall. Hope springs anew for everybody on draft day, but the real test will come in August and September as teams come together for training camp and open the regular season. After watching the moves my Panthers made over the weekend, I’m very excited about August and September.

We ended up with two first round picks Saturday, taking Oregon RB Jonathan Stewart with the #13 pick, then trading up to #19 and taking Pitt OT Jeff Otah. Stewart should be a great Stephen Davis-style compliment to DeAngelo Williams in the backfield, but I think I’m actually the most excited about Otah. Take a look at the picture above – Otah’s the guy on the left. Looks big, right? Now consider that the other guy in the picture is 6’3, 300 pounds. Otah is a truck, coming in at 6’6, 340 pounds. Carolina’s never really had a bruising, dominant force on the O-line, like, for example, Orlando Pace has been for St. Louis for the past decade. I think Otah has the raw tools to be that guy. Time will tell if he is.

In the third round, we added DB Charles Godfrey from Iowa who figures to challenge for a starting job at safety right away, plus LB Dan Connor from Penn State. I really don’t know where Connor will fit with the glut of talented linebackers we’ve already got, but it seems coach John Fox and GM Marty Hurney couldn’t pass on a guy in the mid-third round that they felt had late-first/early-second round value. Among our late round selections, TE Gary Barnidge (from…LOUISVILLE!) stands out as another target for Jake Delhomme to look for. All in all, I think this was one of our best drafts since 2001, when we landed Dan Morgan, Kris Jenkins, and Steve Smith. Any other NFL fans out there? What did you think of your team’s weekend?

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Importance of a Good Vocabulary

Ferrets, C.J. Mahaney, and a Lesson in Patience

Anyone who has a pet knows that the experience of pet ownership is usually equal parts joy and frustration. Heather and I have certainly enjoyed our fair share of both since we've had our two ferrets - seven month old Slinky (the cream colored one in the picture) and four month old Linus (the white one). If you've never been around ferrets (as we hadn't before I brought Slinky home Christmas Eve), let me assure you that they're among the most entertaining pets you could have. Picture the personality of a dog mixed with the mannerisms of a cat, then throw in a liberal dose of crazy and you've got a ferret. They're a blast to watch chasing and wrestling each other, but (as any cat owner will sympathize with) it's not so fun to clean out their litterbox, which brings me to the topic at hand.

We came home the other night rather late, but their box was in dire need of changing, and I knew I wouldn't have time to get to it the next day. So, with one eye open and less-than-happy thoughts in my brain, I grabbed the scooper and some fresh litter and got to business. Unfortunately, the person who designed our particular ferret cage was a moron, and didn't see the need to make a door on the cage big enough to fit the litterbox through. Thus, to clean out the box, the entire cage must be taken off its base. I wish I were joking. Obviously, this necessitates the ferrets being taken out, so I set them in the bathroom while I cleaned the cage. Believe me when I tell you that ferret crap doesn't smell pretty, and Linus (who is not the brightest mammal on the planet) missed the box a couple times, so I got to clean out not only the box but basically the entire cage as well. I was not very happy. Annoyed, tired, and ready to go to bed, I went upstairs to the bathroom to retrieve the ferrets only to find that in that span of 10 minutes they had both been kind enough to leave me a big, stinky present on the bathroom floor. The floor is linoleum, so this was hardly a difficult clean-up job, but I was at the end of my wits at this point, and finally took a nose dive off the cliff of sanity.

As I was deciding which choice word to say first and which ferret to throw across the room first, however, my mind was immediately drawn to a sermon by C.J. Mahaney I had listened to just a couple days prior. The message was from the recent Together For the Gospel conference (click here for free MP3 audio of it and all other T4G messages), and in it Mahaney had some wise words about complaining to a sovereign God. He said that if we believe that God is absolutely in control of all things (which I do) and we believe that he is perfectly wise and works all things together for the good of his children (which I do), then complaining is not only nonsensical, but an insult to the wisdom of God. Mahaney commented that when we complain, we essentially tell God, "I see no reason for this." What arrogance! Those words instantly echoed in my brain, and God in his grace even brought to my mind his wisdom. If I can't handle cleaning up after a ferret without blowing a gasket, how can I ever hope to have the patience that my unborn daughter is going to need from her daddy? God was using two ferrets to prepare me in some small way to be a loving father, but I wanted none of it. My heart was immediately humbled.

We believe in a sovereign God (Matthew 10:29) who "does all things well." (Mark 7:37) When we complain, we deny that truth with our attitudes and actions. God has promised us that this life will bring difficulty our way, great and small. God also promises that we can trust the wisdom of his perfect will. Sometimes, he graciously reveals his reasons to us, as he did to me the other night. Other times, we are called simply to trust in his wisdom, even if we don't understand it. When we do this, we show that we truly believe in God's sovereignty and his wisdom with a statement far more meaningful than any systematic theology. So the next time life throws you a curveball, whether at 9 miles an hour or 90, put your theology into practice and humbly submit to the one who is shaping you into the image of Christ. He knows what he's doing - even if it involves ferret poop.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 4/25/08

New movies are usually released to theaters every Friday, but who’s got 10 bucks these days to drop on a movie that may well be a load of crap? Given those odds, each Friday I offer an alternative on DVD that you can rent at your local video store (or in some cases, avoid at all costs). Some will be new releases, others you may have to hunt for, but all of them are available to light up your small screen should it be a lazy Friday night.

Cloverfield

Whenever you talk movies where a giant monster attacks a city, one name comes up – Godzilla. Thus, when I tell you that Cloverfield is a giant-monster-attacks-a-city movie, I’ll forgive you for having a “been there, done that” feeling. After all, we’ve all watched the guy in the big rubber dinosaur suit chase frantic Japanese people in any one of dozens of films, and many of us watched Matthew Broderick (every director’s first pick to star in their blockbuster action movie) flee the Americanized CG version in 1998. Cloverfield, however, is not those movies. Shot entirely from a handheld ‘home video’ perspective, Cloverfield takes the Godzilla scenario and places us not with the brilliant-yet-stunningly-attractive nuclear scientists, not with the trigger-happy military commanders whose idea of disaster response is “drop the bomb,” but with the people on the street running for their lives while having no idea what the heck is going on.

The movie centers around Robert Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), a hip, upstart 20-something New Yorker getting ready to take a nice job in Japan. As he prepares for the big move, his friends throw him a going away party, and the somewhat dim Hud (T.J. Miller) is handed a camcorder and asked to film well-wishing messages for Rob from the guests. It is through Hud’s camera that every second of the film is shot – we see what the camera sees, and no more. The party turns rocky when Rob’s girlfriend Beth shows up with another guy, putting quite a damper on the night and prompting Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and Jason’s girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) to try and raise their friend’s spirits. Hud splits his time between Rob’s plight and gravitating toward friend-of-a-friend Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), who he has a not-too-subtle crush on. At this point, all proverbial hell breaks loose. The apartment is shaken and the power flickers on and off, prompting everyone to head to the roof to look for what the news is reporting as a capsized tanker in New York Harbor. From the roof, they witness a giant explosion in the city and scramble to the streets, only to be greeted by a cascade of destruction. Hud catches a brief glimpse of the source, and he informs the group as he informs us, “It’s alive.” From here, we follow the group of terrified friends as they frantically attempt to leave Manhattan and reach safety.

Director Matt Reeves’ movie (created and produced by J.J. Abrams, the brain behind TV’s Lost and Alias) succeeds and thrills largely due to its originality. We watch the events as one who has found the camcorder, taken out the tape, popped it in the VCR (if we actually still own one), and pushed play. The only cuts are when Hud turns the camera off, and bits of film that Hud accidentally taped over give us new insight into the characters’ lives. The film believes the theory that what you don’t see (or barely see) is usually scarier than what you have a chance to view and study, and by the end of the experience, the audience believes it, too. This doesn’t mean that this isn’t a special effects movie (in fact, how they did what they did with a $30 million budget is astonishing to me), but we usually only see just enough of the creature to keep us curious and wanting more. The unknown actors aren’t going to be winning any Oscars, but their performances serve the film exceptionally in much the same way as the those of the actors from 2006’s United 93 – having faces we don’t recognize makes the film feel much more real, and thus much more engrossing on both a visceral and an emotional level. Perhaps many won’t think of the film as having much emotional depth, but as the final few lines of frantic dialog were being spoken I was gripped – and imagining what it would be like to go through something so terrifying with someone you care deeply about.

Some may be put off by the creature-feature pedigree or the film’s frantic camerawork (which induced a few cases of motion sickness in theatrical screenings), but give this one a shot and you’ll find a truly unique and entertaining thrill ride. - ***1/2 (out of 4)

Cloverfield is rated PG-13 for violence, terror, and disturbing images

How Much Would You Pay...

...for Barack Obama's half-eaten waffle?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 4/23/08

Note: This weekly topic will be an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.

Last night we continued The Word Became Flesh, our trek through the Gospel of John, by looking at John 16:1-15. However, as is becoming common with me lately, we didn’t quite finish and only made it through the first seven verses. Thankfully, God plans lessons much better than I do, and we were able to wrap up last night’s study by contemplating a very important question.

In our passage, Jesus is continuing to address his disciples on the reality that he no longer will be with them in a physical sense, but is preparing to fulfill his earthly mission by going to the cross. With this jarring reality impending, he is preparing the disciples for what lies ahead so that they might remain strong in their faith. Much like a football team watching film of their next opponent, Jesus understands that when we are prepared for what is coming we are much better able to confront it successfully.

In the first four verses, we see Jesus encouraging the minds of the disciples. He gives them information about what is coming their way. He lets them know that they will lose social standing and likely their very lives because they follow him. How can one call such doom-and-gloom information ‘encouragement?’ By understanding Christ’s words that immediately follow – “But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.” (John 16:4) Jesus wants his disciples to be prepared for the difficult road that they face in following him so that their minds will be strengthened and they will be ready to face what awaits. Persecution is promised, and it’s promised to us today just as surely as it was to them. Loss of social standing is a genuine risk if we’re faithfully living out the gospel message, as many of our friends won’t understand the choices that we make and the things that we value. We don’t largely face the threat of death for our faith in America, but many around the world do, from the Middle East to China to Darfur and beyond. It would be na├»ve, and probably downright arrogant, to assume that God will never demand the same sacrifice from us. Yet no matter what may come, we can stand firm in the faith, confident that the same God who told us to expect these things will sovereignly see his children through to the end.

In verses 5-7, Jesus begins to encourage the hearts of the disciples, whom we see by his comments in verses 6 and 7 were deeply saddened by the fact that Christ would be leaving them, at least in a physical sense. These eleven men were about to be separated from the one they had followed everywhere for three-and-a-half years, one who had become teacher, master, Lord, and friend. They were not only intellectually and spiritually invested in Jesus’ teachings, but emotionally invested in Jesus himself. This is where we closed, and it allowed us in God’s sovereign mercy to contemplate an important and powerful question – do I love Christ? Is my faith merely intellectual and casual, or have I invested every fiber of who I am into the eternal joy and hope that is Jesus Christ? Christ himself said that the first and greatest commandment was to love the Lord your God (Matthew 22:37) – not to know about him, not to admire him, but to love him. This investment of emotion is one that is often difficult for us to express – especially, I think, for guys. However, if our faith remains an intellectual exercise and lacks genuine love for Christ (and by implication, for one another), then we ultimately fail, and miss the truth. Consider yourself this week – do you love Christ? I pray God would give us the treasure of an ever deepening love.

Well, If the Guy Who Made RoboCop Says So...

CNN.com has posted an article detailing director Paul Verhoeven’s upcoming book claiming that Jesus wasn’t born of a virgin at all, but rather was the result of Mary being raped by a Roman soldier. Surprisingly (or not, depending on how you think about it), Verhoeven is a member of The Jesus Seminar, an eclectic group on a self-professed scholarly quest to find “the historical Jesus.” Controversial claims have come to be expected from the seminar, but what makes this one surprising is the response it’s getting from the rest of the group.

Jesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan, who himself denies Christ’s virgin birth and bodily resurrection, has commented that Verhoeven’s thesis is lacking in the evidence department. It seems both sides of the fence fully realize that Verhoeven doesn’t have much of a scholarly leg to stand on. Furthermore, his stated intention to make a Jesus film in the coming years lends increasing suspicion to the publicity-stunt nature of the claim. So my question is: why are we giving these ideas a billboard?

I think this is a good example of a big problem with modern media: media is a business, and controversy sells. CNN.com is my favorite of the ‘Big 3’ news giants’ websites (being better organized and supported than MSNBC and largely avoiding the gaudy sensationalism of Fox News), but here they’re giving a huge platform (as of my reading, the story was #10 on the site’s “10 Most Popular” list) to ideas that even those sympathetic to Verhoeven’s ideology admit are little more than speculation. Seriously, when John Dominic Crossan says your ideas are out there, you’ve got to step back and rethink your thought process. This is journalism being sacrificed on the altar of the almighty dollar, and it should be a reminder to Christians that when it comes to the faith, the truth is usually a bit more than a click away.