Monday, September 29, 2008

S'mores Declare the Glory of God

I'm not much of an outdoorsman. Don't get me wrong - I enjoy being outside, I'm just not the type that spends time thinking about the next time I'll go fishing, hunting, or camping. I'm much more likely to marvel at the beautifully rendered landscapes in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion than I am to spend time sleeping in the real versions of said landscapes.

However, on Friday I went camping in Carrolton, KY with four friends, and found the experience to be fantastic. I've always found it easy to marvel at God's glory in creation, but I've usually mentally tied that glory to "big" experiences - the immense beauty of the ocean, the rush of hiking at Mt. Rainier, etc. Yet after spending time sleeping by a dried creekbed in the woods next to a cow pasture, I saw God's glory made plain in what we take for granted as - well, plain. As we sat, cooking brats over an open fire, listening to nothing but birds and bugs and the crackle of the flames, feeling a perfectly temperate breeze pass by, I couldn't help but feel a sense of appreciation for the wonder of God's creation. I learned firsthand that not only are the heavens declaring the glory of God, but unspectacular rural Kentucky is too. I won't be trading in my Xbox 360 for a fishing pole anytime soon (God's glory is also made manifest by the immense creativity he has given to humanity) - but I will be much more likely to power down everything and spend a night under the stars again very soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 9/24/08

This weekly topic is 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 looked at Jesus’ questioning by Pilate in John 18:28-40. Pilate is an interesting figure in the Bible – he’s often seen as simultaneously a villain (for his hand in the execution of Christ) and as a sympathetic character (for having his decision-making hijacked by the hateful Pharisees, who just wanted to see Christ dead). We look at the poor decision Pilate made, and though we see it as bad, we don’t see him to be as bad as the Pharisees. Last night, we took a closer look, and saw in Pilate a man whose actions reveal an attitude toward Christ every bit as insulting as the Pharisees – and much more subtle, to the point that we can see the same attitudes in our friends, our neighbors, and sometimes even ourselves.

The Pharisees take Jesus to Pilate (the Roman governor of Judea) for one reason and one reason only – they want him dead, and the Romans were the only way to make that happen. Make no mistake, the Jews hated their Roman oppressors with a vitriol that we might feel if Canada conquered us, taxed us, and told us how to live. John reminds us that the Pharisees’ disdain for Gentiles (and their concern for legalistic righteousness) was so great that they wouldn’t even enter Pilate’s house. They’re not concerned with charges or justice, only with an execution. Pilate realizes early in the game that something is up, and when he asks why they don’t just deal with this themselves their goal comes out – they didn’t have legal authority to execute anyone, and thus they wanted Pilate to order exactly that.

Having seen the vitriol of the Pharisees, we are now presented with the encounter between Jesus and Pilate. Pilate shows none of the animosity that the Pharisees did, but to cast him as the good guy would be a big mistake. Pilate is also concerned with one thing and one thing only – his own life. His questioning was designed to quickly evaluate if Jesus was a threat to him. The claim in question was Jesus’ claim of kingship. If Christ was claiming political power, then he could incite a rebellion that would be trouble for Caesar and thus trouble for Pilate. He asks straightforward questions, and when Jesus responds by asking a question of his own, Pilate’s response is the equivalent of “I don’t give a rip. Your people brought you to me, so I want to know if you’re a problem for me.” Pilate is consumed by his own interests and sees Jesus as little more than an annoyance to be dealt with. Sound like anyone you know?

Christ answers Pilate’s question, but he does it in a way Pilate surely didn’t expect. Jesus delivers the famous line, “My kingdom is not of this world.” He’s telling Pilate that he is indeed a king, but not in the sense Pilate is worried about. However, Jesus is claiming a kingdom that transcends all, and an authority over Pilate that far exceeds what Pilate is concerned about. In essence, he’s focusing Pilate’s attention upward and calling him to focus on something greater. Pilate, however, wants none of it, essentially responding, “Is that a yes, then?” Jesus continues to explain his purpose – to bear witness to the light of God, to reveal the truth to all mankind. To Pilate, however, he might as well be speaking Japanese. He doesn’t understand at all, and dismissively says, “What is truth?” He doesn’t care at all about what Jesus has to say. At this point, he’s determined that this man isn’t a threat – maybe crazy, but not a threat, and he’s ready to get this situation out of his hair.

He takes Jesus outside, and the Pharisees start screaming for blood again, even demanding the release of a notorious killer so Christ can be executed. Our focus tends to turn to them again. What bad guys they are, right? I may not care about following about Christ, we think, but at least I don’t hate him. People in our culture like to think that they’re neutral to Christ, not taking a side one way or the other as if this makes things okay. Ask yourself the question, though – is Pilate’s lack of concern any better than the Pharisees’ hatred. Think of it this way – if I were to proclaim that I hated my wife and daughter, people who know me would be morally outraged, and rightly so. But would it be any better if I proclaimed that I don’t hate them, I just don’t care about them. I don’t give a rip. Would that be any better? Of course not! Why? Because apathy is insulting in the face of someone or something of great value. Anything less than love and devotion to my wife and baby girl is horrible, and it is infinitely more so with Christ. He demands our all, and he has given himself for our redemption. To view his perfect sacrifice for sin with indifference is every bit as antagonistic as outright hatred. There is no middle ground. That’s Pilate’s dangerous warning to us – apathy to Christ is a temptation that we are all prone to, but when we see him for the incredible savior that he is, apathy is inexcusable. This week, see Christ for the infinite source of joy he is, and follow him with your entire being.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It Has Begun

I'm not really a big David Crowder Band fan, but I've gotta give them props for attempting what surely must be the first ever cover of the mega-hit "Jesus is My Friend."

HT: Vitamin Z

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Dark Knight: 1966-Style

What a difference 42 years makes.

The Next Level of Video Game Storytelling

Last night, I just finished playing through Mass Effect for the Xbox 360, a game that I had looked forward to for over a year and that lived up to (and shattered) my expectations in every way. The game blurs the line between movie and game by telling a fantastic story through beautifully rendered graphics, great voice talent, and a dialog system that makes you feel like you are driving the story forward based on your decisions. If you have a 360 (or a good gaming PC for that matter) you simply must check this one out. Here's a look...

Monday, September 22, 2008

Read the End of the Book

As one who all-too-easily falls into the trap of being consumed by the day-to-day and losing sight of the eternal, let me encourage you to read this passage on perhaps even a daily basis...
"And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.' And he said to me, 'It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.'" - Revelation 21:5-7

Never forget for a moment - that is your destiny in Christ and the truth that makes life worth living. Without that, then all of this is just carnival rides while we wait for the end to come.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 9/19/08

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.

The Legend of Bagger Vance

With the Ryder Cup in Louisville this weekend, I’ve got golf on the brain – which means that this week’s Friday’s Featured Film will be my favorite golf movie (I’ve got power outages on the brain, too, but I couldn’t think of a great power outage movie). Quick, name the golf movie that Will Smith was in! Can you do it? Of course you can, since you’ve already read the title and looked at the poster. But suppose I’d asked that question before you read this post, could you have named it? The Legend of Bagger Vance is one of Smith’s lesser known movies, and that’s a shame – because it’s also one of his best.

The movie is set in Savannah, Georgia in the 1920’s. Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon) was a young golfer who had it all – fame, talent, and the love of the beautiful Adele Invergordon (Charlize Theron). However, Junuh goes off to fight in World War I and returns a broken shell of a man, living as a drunken loner on the outskirts of town. Years later, Adele (now estranged from Junuh) organizes a golf match between the two greatest players of the day, Bobby Jones (Joel Gretsch) and Walter Hagen (Bruce McGill) to try an recoup her family’s losses from the stock market crash, and she needs a local talent to generate interest. She implores Junuh to play, and that very night he is visited by a mysterious traveler named Bagger Vance (Smith), who strangely offers to be his caddy. Intrigued by the man, Junuh accepts the offer and soon discovers that his time in the war caused him to lose much more than his golf swing, and he begins to find redemption in unlikely places.

The sport-as-metaphor-for-life motif has been basically played to death in films, but here’s one instance where it doesn’t feel stale in the least. One could easily mistake the plot setup for just another underdog story, but the movie is actually more of a tale of personal redemption with golf as merely the vehicle. Robert Redford skillfully weaves a story that tugs at the emotions without ever feeling fake or schmaltzy. The cast is good, and Smith is excellent as always, but it’s the names that you don’t recognize that really stand out. In particular McGill, the consummate journeyman, takes a character that we suspect from the outset will be a cardboard cutout and turns him into one we actually can connect with. The film is beautiful to look at, and Rachel Portman’s score compliments the visuals perfectly. It’s a quiet film, and not nearly as commercial as Smith’s other fare, but check it out tonight and I think you’ll find that it’s every bit as good.

The Legend of Bagger Vance is rated PG-13 for some sexual content.

Ryder Cup 2008

Well, after an eventful week, it's an exciting time to live in Louisville. Today through Sunday the city plays host to the 2008 Ryder Cup, the golf equivalent of the Olympics where the USA squares off against Europe in team match play. Even if you're not a golfer, I'd encourage you to check out NBC's coverage this weekend for what always proves to be an exciting tournament. For more details about how the event works, you can check out my "Ryder Cup 101" guest post over at Louisville.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 9/17/08

This weekly topic is 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.

We had a small crowd last night (due to half the city still being without power), but we continued our trek through the gospel of John, studying the account of Peter’s denial of Christ from John 18:15-27. It’s a familiar story, and one that we often deride Peter for – after all, how can he deny knowing Christ three times after being told that he was going to do so? Yet, while we rain down the judgment on Peter, we miss the fact that our own failings are eerily similar. We’ve all been paralyzed by fear in our Christian walk from time to time. I shared a story last night about how, on the day our senior pastor resigned, I felt an unusual urge to put my hand on his shoulder and pray for him before he got up to preach. I didn’t, due to a silly fear of whether anyone would think it were strange. I knew full well what I should have done, but fear kept me from actually following through with it. I’m sure you’ve been down the same road. The question thus is, since we’ve all been (and likely will be) in the same boat as Peter, what do we learn from his great mistake?

The first thing that we should notice is his commitment to Christ. Yes, you heard me right. One of the things that makes it easy for us to slam Peter is the “otherness” of his actions. “I never would flat out deny that I know Christ,” we think. Immediately, we feel a little safer in our faith. At least we’re trying to follow Christ, Peter was denying that he even knew him to begin with! In our zeal for self-assurance we often miss the fact that Peter was even there to screw up to begin with. After the garden, 9 of the 11 remaining disciples bolt, not to be heard from until the resurrection. Only Peter and John are described by Scripture as sticking around, following Christ’s trial and travels from a distance (and in John’s case, from the foot of the cross). Peter didn’t run away, and he was at least halfway committed to sticking by his master. Here, we find him able to view and hear Jesus’ interrogation from the courtyard (see Luke 22:60-62). So, when we’re tempted to think that our intention to follow Christ safeguards us from Peter’s mistake, we make a very dangerous and false assumption. Peter was halfway committed to following Christ.

The problem is that half a commitment is no commitment at all. Peter was willing to follow from a distance, but when the time came to identify with Christ on a personal level he suddenly was a stranger. Because of fear about how those around him would react (reasonable fear, considering one of his questioners was related to the guy whose ear Peter had hacked off a couple hours earlier), he denied that Jesus meant anything to him. Are we not often in the same boat? Sure, we don’t care if anyone knows that we go to church (and for those of you out there who are with me in the ministry, we sure don’t mind the cultural respect that being a member of the clergy still somehow retains), but when people’s eyes turn angry and suspicious toward Christ and his teachings we often quietly backpedal away – sometimes verbally, sometimes by simply trying to fit in by ignoring the commands we’ve received from our savior.

The denial that we see from Peter is so common to us. It happens despite our best intentions, it starts out slow and easy and can quickly build into an ugly crescendo. Take this example as an opportunity to examine your own life. In what areas has fear stopped you from doing the things you know Christ is calling you to do? At what level of your Christian commitment does fear often derail you? Realize that these failings are no less serious than Peter’s betrayal in the courtyard, but also realize that Peter’s story does not end here. Christ brings him back and restores him by his mercy and grace, and that same grace is extended to us. Our standing before God is not dependant on how well we perform under pressure, but it is completely dependant on the finished work of Christ on the cross, and as such unchangeable. Guard your heart against making Peter’s mistake, and if you do find yourself weeping under the gaze of Christ, broken because of your betrayal, cling to the grace and mercy that Jesus gave to Peter – and freely gives today.

Politicians + Biblical Illiteracy = Crap Like This

"Barack Obama was a community organizer like Jesus. Pontius Pilate was a governor." - Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen

Fringe is Worth A Look

In case you missed it, the pilot episode of the new J.J. Abrams (Lost, Alias) show Fringe is now available to watch via You can watch it here. If you're a fan of Abrams' thrilling breed of storytelling, you owe it to yourself to check this one out. The show has the mysterious feel of Lost wedded to subject matter reminiscent of The X-Files. Fans of The Lord of the Rings will get the added bonus of watching John Noble (who played Lord Denethor in Return of the King) in a starring role. Heather and I really enjoyed the pilot last week, and we've got the second episode recorded on our DVR to watch when time allows.

Abortion: Eliminate or Reduce?

Tony Jones, a leader in the emergent movement, posted on his blog about a confrence call with staffers from the Obama campaign that steered into a discussion of abortion. The actual post is pretty pedestrian, but I want to direct you toward the comments section - especailly to a discussion between Zach Nielsen (he of Vitamin Z fame) and Carla Jo about whether to combat abortion by making it illegal or attacking underlying social causes. Their discussion was civil and explored a lot of tough questions, making it great reading for anyone on either side who wants to take this paramount issue seriously. It's a lengthy one, but take time and follow the discussion through to the end. I'll tip my hand (hey, it's my blog after all) and say that I think Z gets it dead-on right. I don't argue for a second with the proposition that we should attack social ills that lead to abortion, but I think that using that argument in place of legal protection for the unborn is a colossal mistake - as well as intellectualy nonsensical.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Anything You Can Do...

Midway through the 3rd quarter yesterday, the Chicago Bears had built a 17-3 lead over Carolina by doing what they do best - a solid running game and suffocating defense. How did the Panthers respond? By doing the same thing - and doing it better. Behind the feisty leadership of QB Jake Delhomme, a breakout performance by rookie RB Jonathan Stewart (pictured), and a defense that went into shutdown mode down the stretch, the Panthers came from behind and beat the Bears 20-17 in their home opener in Charlotte. The Panthers are now 2-0 and getting Steve Smith back from his two-game suspension next week at Minnesota. Sadly, though the game was actually on TV here in Louisville I didn't get to see it since we were out of power, but the highlights paint a nice picture of what could be version 2.0 of the Cardiac Cats.

Waiting for an Ohio River Tsunami

It's been a strange year here in Louisville. After being awoken early last spring by a magnitude 5.4 earthquake, yesterday we experienced hurricane-force winds as the surprisingly strong remnants of Hurricane Ike rolled through the area. Sustained winds of 50-60 miles per hour were recorded over a period of a couple hours with gusts reaching as high as 81 mph in the area. I've never seen anything like the damage I saw as I drove around the city last night - more than 300,000 people are without power and officials say that it will be 10-14 days before the grid is fully restored. Thankfully, Heather and I got our power back late last night after being without it for only about 10 hours. We lost some siding off the house and our doorbell blew off, but we're OK and we were spared any major damage. Several trees on our street were downed, though, damage to homes and cars was widespread, and at least one person in a neighboring county was killed. I went outside once to retrieve some siding, and it was the first time in my life that I've had trouble simply standing up because of wind. It was honestly impossible to move. Very strange day. Please pray for those in Louisville who have lost much. Safe to say, you don't really plan for earthquakes and hurricanes in the midwest.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 9/12/08

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.

Casino Royale

As I noted today, I’m looking forward to this fall’s upcoming Bond sequel Quantum of Solace with a fair degree of excitement. That’s due largely in part to the masterpiece that was Casino Royale. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been a Bond fan ever since I devoted the summer of 1996 to renting every last 007 movie from the local video store. They’re quite fun. However, after Die Another Day hit theaters in 2002 as the franchise’s 20th installment (ignoring the unofficial and deplorable-in-every-way Never Say Never Again), the series was starting to feel a little stale. Die Another Day realized this, and tried to compensate by bringing Bond into the 21st century with CG effects (the series has long been renown for its dependence on actual stuntwork) and a techno theme song by Madonna. The results, though fun in a corny sort of way, were not exactly thrilling. So, as Pierce Brosnan retired from the role, the producers decided that in order to take Bond to the next level they needed to take him back to basics. The result of that endeavor was Casino Royale, a fantastic, gritty, character driven film that amps up the reality of the action and of Bond as a man while still keeping the distinctive flair and excitement that is 007.

Daniel Craig, much maligned by fanboys after his initial casting as the first “blonde Bond,” steps into the shoes of 007 in a story based on author Ian Fleming’s first bond novel. Appropriately, the movie throws out the 40+ years of Bond lore and starts over, picking up with Bond as a brash rookie agent on an assignment to earn his license to kill. This leads to his ascension to Double-O status and his first major mission in service of M (Judi Dench, the lone holdover from the previous series). Bond is sent after a mysterious man named Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen) who acts as a security banker for less-than-upright individuals around the world. Events have forced Le Chiffre into desperation, attempting to recoup his recent losses by setting up a high-stakes poker game at the titular casino in Montenegro. As MI6’s best player, Bond is entered in the game, bankrolled by Her Majesty’s government and looked after by Treasury Department representative Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). As Bond seeks to corral Le Chiffre, he gets a brutal introduction to the dark world he’s entering and the havoc it will wreak on his own soul.

Though the set-up doesn’t sound out-of-the-ordinary for Bond, the way it’s handled brings a breath of fresh air to this storied franchise. Craig shuts the mouths of the doubters, and he shuts it hard with not just a fantastic Bond performance but a fantastic performance period. This is a Bond who is closer to Fleming’s character than any other to grace the screen. Craig is charming, yes – but his is a gritty Bond, a Bond who is just as at home (if not more so) in an all-out brawl as he is sipping a martini. As the story progresses, we see a James Bond who for the first time in recent memory is an actual character – and it’s his personal journey that gives the film its dramatic arc. I don’t remember ever seeing Brosnan or Roger Moore’s Bond come out of a film a different man than he began it, but Craig’s most certainly does. Green’s Lynd throws out any expectations of what it is to be a “Bond girl” by delivering a character that is every bit as multi-dimensional as Bond himself and a foundational part of who he is. Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre isn’t a maniac with a secret lair inside a volcano dreaming of world domination, he’s a villain as frail as he is frightening. Add in great supporting roles by Jeffrey Wright as Bond’s CIA ally Felix Leiter and Giancarlo Giannini as his contact in Montenegro and you’ve got a quietly fantastic cast. The action, while fast and furious, is grounded in reality – with equal parts thanks to co-screenwriter Paul Haggis (director of the Oscar-winner Crash) and director Martin Campbell (who previously helmed GoldenEye – one of the best of the previous series). This is the first Bond who feels like he could actually exist in today’s world. Yet don’t think for a second that they’ve taken the fun out of Bond. From a parkour chase through a construction site to a vehicle chase at Miami International Airport to a thrilling setpiece in Venice, the action is furiously paced – its intensity only amplified by the fact that there are actual characters we care about on the line, not mere cardboard cutouts. By the time the credits roll, we’re hungry to see where the future will take this new Bond – a wish that will be directly granted, as Quantum of Solace will be a direct sequel to Casino Royale, picking up just minutes after it leaves off (the series has never before attempted a continuing plot from film-to-film). I’m counting down to November 14th, and I guarantee that after watching Casino Royale, you will be too.

Casino Royale is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action, a scene of torture, sexual content and nudity.

Double-O Awesome!

For those of you who didn't see Daniel Craig's first turn as storied spy James Bond, Casino Royale was to the Bond franchise what Batman Begins was to the Batman franchise - a much-needed reboot that takes the character back to his gritty roots and away from over-the-top craziness. I'm not sure if that means that the follow-up, Quantum of Solace, is going to be the Bond equivalent of The Dark Knight, but this trailer looks really stinkin' good.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Goin' the Full Ramsey

I've always admired financial guru Dave Ramsey. His radio show is entertaining, and the principles he advocates just make sense. Heather and I attended one of his live events before we were married and came away with a lot of good ideas - ideas that 3 years later we're finally going to actually implement. Our goal - to be debt-free in 2 years. We're cutting spending, selling some stuff, and looking to throw a lot at our debts. Lots. Crazy lots. It's actually kind of exciting to think of where we could be in 2 years financially with what really amounts to small sacrifices now. Pray for our diligence and perseverance as we seek to put our family on firm financial footing for the future.

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 9/10/08

This weekly topic is 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.

If you could change one circumstance in your life, what would you change? That’s the question I posed to the Sola5 students last night before we began our study of John 18:1-14. Often, we think that if we could only change this or that about our lives, suddenly everything would be a lot easier and life would be better. This is the natural, human reaction when our circumstances in life seem to disintegrate. But what did Jesus do when the circumstances of his life fell apart? How did he react when the hour that he would be betrayed by a close friend and brutally tortured and executed finally came? The answer is one that calls us to turn away from our circumstances and place our focus squarely on the God who is in control of all things.

In John 18, Judas brings a squad of soldiers to arrest Jesus. However, last night we focused on the careful attention to Jesus’ attitude that John paid in his description of the event. We see in Christ a man who is not cowering in fear of what is coming or trying to frantically change it, but a man who submits to the plan and purpose that the Father has given him. Notice the details John chooses to give us. First up, in verses 1-2, we’re told that Jesus – knowing Judas was betraying him - went with his disciples to a place that they all visited frequently. He’s not hiding from Judas, but instead he goes to a place that Judas knows well and would find him at easily. Next, in verse 4 (after John reminds us that Jesus knew all that would happen to him) once the soldiers arrive, he approaches them, and when they say that they are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, he simply steps up and says, “I am he.” When they cower away, he repeats the statement a second time, telling them to leave his disciples alone and do what they came to do. Why would Jesus be so calm in the face of those who came to take his life? Well, if we’ve been paying attention throughout John’s gospel, the better question is “why wouldn’t he?” Consider what Jesus has constantly stated was his purpose and mission in passages like John 2:18-19, 3:13-15, 6:51, 7:33-34, and especially 12:27-28. Jesus knew for what purpose he had come to the earth, and he was focused on fulfilling the charge given to him by the Father. Thus, when his circumstances turned south, his focus was not on them but on the God of those circumstances, the one who had orchestrated them for his good purpose – namely the salvation of the human race.

But what about us? Our first instinct when things go badly for us is to react like Peter in verse 10, seeking to change our circumstances in the way that we see fit. Peter charges into the crowd of soldiers, sword drawn, and hacks off a guy’s ear. He aims to change the circumstance that he sees as unfavorable by killing those who have come after Christ. We often seek to change the circumstances that we see as unfavorable in all sorts of ways, when what we need to do is to remember what the purpose of those circumstances is. Now, obviously we haven’t been sent to be killed for the salvation of the world, but we have been given some specific ideas about the presence and purpose of suffering in our lives. Passages such as Romans 5:1-5, 2 Timothy 1:8-10, James 5:10-11, and 1 Peter 4:12-13 tell us that God uses suffering and difficulty in our lives to build us into the people that he intends for us to be. Our suffering builds character and faith in us in a way that ease and comfort cannot. As people who believe that God is in control of all things – and is working all things together for our ultimate good - we need to remember that belief during difficult times.

Remember that circumstance you wish you could change in your life? We closed last night by asking the better question, “What do you think God might be teaching you through that circumstance?” This prompted some great discussion at the close of our study, and it prompted some great meditation for me personally last night. God is sovereign and he is good, and though we don’t always understand why some things happen (and sometimes we never will – see Job) we can trust his love and grace and seek to see his face more clearly through suffering. Next time suffering comes your way, don’t ask how you can change it, ask how God could use it to change you.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

...And They'll Make Your Eyes Bleed

I didn't think it could possibly get any worse than yesterday's video. Holy crap, can it get worse.

HT: Vitamin Z

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Beware the Pendulum

Blogger Julian Freeman gives a great warning about one the most subtle and dangerous temptations Christians face - the temptation to run so far from grievous error that we run headfirst into the opposite error. This is such a difficult problem because we can be so focused on fleeing what we clearly see as wrong that we are blind to other less-blatant sins. In what areas in your life is your pendulum swinging too far? Pray for wisdom and discernment, then pray for grace to move forward rightly.

Jesus Will Zap You, We'll Just Make Your Ears Bleed

Any words I add would simply dampen the hilarity of this video. Wow.

HT: Vitamin Z

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Glory of Discipleship

From our Minister of Missions' sermon yesterday morning at Hazelwood - not sure if the quote is from someone else or not. It sounds almost Piper-esque, but I can't find it attributed to him anywhere, so I'll credit it to Chris. Remember this the next time you're tempted to neglect the importance of discipling new believers.

"Discipleship is living for the glory of God in others." - Chris Thompson

Return of the Cardiac Cats

If you can pull yourself away from the 24-hour coverage of Tom Brady's knee, check out the highlights from Carolina's riveting 26-24 upset of the San Diego Chargers. The Panthers shocked everybody by going on the road and beating the trendy Super Bowl pick without star receiver Steve Smith, who has been suspended for the first two games of the season for punching CB Ken Lucas. Yesterday, Lucas called on his teammates to dedicate the game to Smith, and Jake Delhomme and company came through in a game eerily reminiscent of the 2003 season-opener against Jacksonville. Bring on Da' Bears!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday's Featured Film - 9/5/08

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.

To End All Wars

Well, for one reason or another, it’s been quite a while since I’ve done a Friday’s Featured Film. That’s a streak I aim to end today. Last night, as I was up late feeding my little girl, I got to watch John McCain’s acceptance speech the Republican National Convention. I thought the speech was a good one for McCain, given that speeches aren’t usually his strong suit, but I found particularly compelling his telling of his experiences as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. His tales reminded me of one of my all-time favorite movies, a small-budget World War II POW tale called To End All Wars. If you’ve never seen the film – or never even heard of it – and you want to see a moving war film that takes a beautiful look at the Christian faith put to action in the most difficult of circumstances, go down to your local movie rental store and check it out.

The film is based off of the memoir of the same name (originally printed as Through the Valley of the Kwai) by Ernest Gordon, a young man from Scotland who was captured by the Japanese during WWII. The movie tells the story of Gordon’s (Ciaran McMenamin) imprisonment in Burma where he was forced to labor on the project that inspired Alec Guinness’ The Bridge on the River Kwai. He finds himself in brutal conditions, struggling for survival with a ragtag group of POWs including his commanding officer (James Cosmo), brash and defiant Maj. Ian Campbell (Robert Carlyle), jaded American lieutenant Jim Reardon (Kiefer Sutherland), and the quiet and deeply spiritual Dusty Miller (Mark Strong). As conditions deteriorate and their captors become more and more savage and demanding, the prisoners face the crucial choice between violent rebellion or an even more dangerous option – love for their enemies.

Plainly put, this is what Christian filmmaking ought to be – not a lousy attempt to rip off popular culture (see: Left Behind), but a movie that simply and beautifully tells a redemptive story. Screenwriter Brian Godawa (himself an evangelical Christian) crafts a movie about ideas without becoming overly preachy and director David L. Cunningham turns a shoestring budget into a well crafted film. The cast is good – especially Sutherland and Carlyle – but the real star is the story. The picture of true heroism that is painted is one that is incredibly moving and extremely relevant to Christians from all walks of life. Here, we have a picture of how to love one’s enemies in even the most extreme of circumstances – an idea that sadly is too often neglected by believers. This is a quiet, introspective film, so don’t go in expecting Saving Private Ryan. However, a war film with very little war gives us the opportunity to look inside the characters with a depth sometimes not often present in the genre. All-in-all, the next time you want to watch a film that will be deeply moving and cause you to reflect on the love and grace of Christ, give To End All Wars a shot.

To End All Wars is rated R for strong war violence and some language.

Jack's Back

Heather and I join legions of 24 fans eagerly anticipating the return of Jack Bauer this year. Here's a sneak peak at this fall's 24: Exile, a TV-movie which will act as a prequel to January's season 7 of the hit show.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Back to the Blog

Well, after a crazy couple of weeks following my pastor's resignation, I feel like I'm ready to get back to blogging. In the past few months, I've found blogging to not only be a lot of fun, but also a great way of processing my spiritual thoughts, and I've missed it over the last couple weeks. I look forward to many posts to come, and I covet your prayers as our church contines to move forward in the service of Christ.

Can't Wait

Check out this video for the upcoming PS3/Xbox 360 game Red Faction: Guerrilla, the first game to feature destructible environments where every building is completely rendered in a real-time structural physics engine. Translation - if it would fall down in the real world, it will fall down in the game.