Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Blog Has Moved

As part of the relaunch effort, Sola Miscellany is going through a bit of a transformation. The blog will now be a part of the truebaptist.org community - an site started by my good friend Corey Reynolds to explore Baptist distinctives and their relation to the overarching cause of Christ. I've changed the title to Already But Not Yet: Living in the Millennial Kingdom, and the new address is djwilliams.truebaptist.org. I'll also be a contributor to the main TrueBaptist site and will add some new content to my personal blog along with the distinctive flavor of Sola Miscellany. All the old posts and comments have been loaded into the new site and new updates will no longer post here, so please adjust your RSS feed to the new blog and I hope you'll join me in my new digs!

Back in the (Blogging) Saddle

The past six weeks have been absolutely spiritually and emotionally exhausting, and as a result Sola Miscellany has all but vanished. I'm very much ready to change that. Blogging has become a means of sanctification over the year-and-a-half since I hit the web, and I need the careful self-examination that writing brings now more than ever.

To any of my readers who still check here semi-regularly: you really don't have much to do, do you? Seriously, though, I'm going to be jump-starting things around here, and I hope you'll swing back by. If you've still got me queued up in your RSS reader, then this is your notification that the feed's about to get busy again. I look forward to continuing this means of sanctification, and I pray it contributes in some small way to yours as well. Plus, it's a crapload of fun.

A Chapter Closes

Last night, my four-plus years as Hazelwood’s youth pastor officially came to a close. I led my final night of worship with my Sola5 students, teaching about the immeasurable power, majesty, and glory of Christ from Revelation 19:11-21. As I stood before a great group of students, I was humbled that God would use me to speak his word into their lives. I never imagined that I’d be a youth pastor, and in fact when the Hazelwood job was first brought to my attention by my former pastor I laughed at him. How much has changed since then.

So much of what passes as youth ministry in our culture is little more than moralistic babysitting. This pattern always frustrated me, and made me skeptical about youth ministry’s usefulness. We seem to have this conception that teenagers aren’t particularly interested in the Bible, so we have to pretty it up with a ton of bells and whistles. Let me tell you with certainty - that is a lie. My teens not only were able to handle the weight and power of the Scriptures, they hungered for it. They didn’t want any punches pulled. As I taught them, week-by-week, from the Bible, they taught me much about being a follower of Christ. The majority of my students come from families that are not Christian and not connected to the church in any way, yet God has transformed them by the power of the gospel. I’ve watched a young man impact everyone he meets with God’s grace and lead countless people into the faith. I’ve watched a girl who was the group’s “problem child” when I arrived transformed into a passionate, thoughtful, and deep-minded follower of Christ. I’ve watched a group of students who wouldn’t sing to save their lives 3 years ago become a group who belts out 300-year old hymns with amazing passion and excitement. Plainly put, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when we get out of the way and let the word do the work.

I’m not a “gifted” youth pastor. I don’t relate particularly well to teenagers. I didn’t relate that well to them when I was one, much less now. And yet, God’s power is made perfect through weakness. What did I learn in four years at Hazelwood? The gospel is power. God transforms lives by his word. He’s in the business of using useless individuals like me to do amazing things. Grace is the single most powerful force in the universe, and God has hard-wired us to marvel at his story of redemption and echo it back to him in a million different ways. The power is not in the messenger, but with the message – and because of that reality, I can say with absolute confidence that if God used me in the lives of the teenagers at Sola5, he can use you. He can use you in the life of your spouse, the lives of your kids, the mission of your church, the people in your workplace. As my old professor Jim Orrick used to say, the gospel has the power of a thermonuclear bomb. Our best abilities are the equivalent to strapping a firecracker to the bomb and marveling at what an amazing addition it is to the equation. Get out of the way, let God work through you by his word, and you just might see him do some amazing, eternal things that will change you forever. I know I did.

To any of my crew that read this – I love you guys tremendously, and I’m so thankful that God brought you into my life. Press on in the faith, and know that the rider on the white horse has your back.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not a Crutch But a Stretcher

"Christianity isn’t a crutch for the weak; it’s a stretcher for the dead. The gospel doesn’t claim to help the weak; it claims to make the dead live again. We reject the notion of the crutch of Christianity because we don’t need something to help us walk along; we need something to make us truly alive." - Michael Kelley

HT: Vitamin Z

Kanye Isn't Done

Apparently, interrupting Taylor Swift's speech at the VMAs wasn't enough for him...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Deja Vu

Ever since watching my beloved Panthers get destroyed by Arizona in last year's playoffs, I've been anxiously awaiting their coming redemption in the 2009 season. With week 1 in the books, I'm still waiting.

Carolina was destroyed 38-10 by Philadelphia in a game eerily reminiscent of that playoff debacle. Impressive Carolina opening drive and 7-0 lead? Check. Sudden glut of Jake Delhomme turnovers leading to a big deficit? Check. Early second half Jon Beason interception offering glimmer of hope? Check. Immediate turnover after said interception squashing said hope? Check.

This is two miserable games in a row for Jake, and many of my fellow Panther fans are ready to run him out of town. I've always been a supporter, and to be fair, our O-line was absolutely terrible yesterday, but Delhomme's recent play has me a bit worried. However, nobody's coming to the rescue. Time to turn it around, Panthers - and with upcoming trips to Atlanta and Dallas, time to turn it around fast.

Friday, August 28, 2009

This Changes Everything

I've long been a fan of pastor/evangelist/apologist Voddie Baucham. Having heard him preach at several conferences has been a great blessing, and his ability to clearly communicate the truths of the gospel is extraordinary. For many, however, Baucham is a polarizing figure due to his support for family-integrated church ministry. Baucham is a firm believer that the modern church's methodology of breaking down people into age-divided groups (children's ministry, youth ministry) is unhelpful, counter-productive, and without biblical warrant. A couple years ago, I attended a seminar where he explained and argued for the family-integrated approach. My pastor and I came out of the seminar convinced and struck by what he had to say, but wondering how on earth such an approach could be implemented in our modern church culture. I quickly filed it away as a novel but impractical approach and that was that.

Fast forward a couple years. Seeking to find a book that Heather and I could read together as we sought to raise our daughter to know and love God, I picked up Baucham's Family Driven Faith. I can now say that the book has flipped our world upside down. Over the course of the book, Baucham makes the case that Scripture calls parents to be the primary disciplers of their children (which few Christians would dispute) and looks at how that principle affects life at home and how it should impact the ministry of the local church. As he makes the case that the family is the most fundamental, basic, and vital means of discipleship, the conclusion of the final two chapters comes with striking impact - if that is the case, then our modern way of organizing the church is about the most counter-productive way possible to achieve family unity and discipleship.

Hearing an seminar on the idea was one thing, but reading his case fleshed out in the context of the entirety of the Christian life was a game-changer for us. I've spent the past 4 years of my life as a youth pastor, and while I certainly wouldn't say the time was fruitless or wasted, I've begun to seriously reconsider what the most effective way is to reach our communities - both kids and adults - with the gospel message. I don't have the space here to fully flesh out Baucham's case (this article serves as a decent introduction), but I cannot recommend this book to you strongly enough. It has been the single most impactful book for my marriage, family, and minstry in years. Accept or reject them, Baucham's ideas are things that deserve to be considered and thought through. I'm incredibly glad we did.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A New Chapter

Well, after a whirlwind of a month, I figure it's finally time for me to explain my recent absence from the blogosphere. Two weeks ago, I resigned as youth pastor at Hazelwood. It was a tough decision that was prompted by many different factors, but it has been exciting to see the way that God has used those factors to prepare Heather and I for the next step of our journey in ministry.

We will be moving to Raleigh, NC to meet up with several friends and explore church planting together over the next couple years. We'll be working with some of the guys who served on the team with me that led Hazelwood during last year's interim period, which is very exciting. Being back closer to home will be a nice thing for us (and even more so for Jordan's grandparents), and the prospect of taking new and difficult steps for the gospel is one that we've felt drawn to for a while now.

Leaving Hazelwood, and the many friends we've made over the last 8 years in Louisville, will be hard. Announcing my resignation to the church was about the toughest thing I've ever done. However, we're confident in God's leading and hopeful about this new chapter in our lives. A line from an old Caedmon's Call song about God's sovereign direction has been ringing in my mind these past weeks - "But if I must go, things, I trust, will be better off without me." God has a plan for Hazelwood and for us, and though we're taking seperate paths, we're still united in our task to take the gospel to all people. Please be in prayer for us as we prepare for our move and follow the Lord's leading into the future.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Church as One-Trick Pony

"Some of you are always looking for a new trick, a new tactic, a new angle - [it's about] Jesus! We are a band with one song, and we just play it 'till we see him!" - Mark Driscoll

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

An Update

Well, if you're a regular reader of my blog (and I'd really like to thank both of you for your support), you've probably noticed that my posting volume has dipped a bit of late. The past few weeks have been pretty crazy in my life, and God has really been challenging and growing me in several different areas. Time and mental energy have been at a premium lately, and the ol' blog has been an area that's taken a backseat. I'm still here, I still love writing, and I hope to return things to normal around here soon. I would ask you all for prayer for wisdom and boldness in my ministry - I'm contemplating some big ideas right now, and I pray that they serve to magnify the glory of God!

Jill and Kevin's Divorce Court Entrance

By now, many of you have doubtlessly seen this video making the rounds around the web of a rather unique wedding procession. Sadly, the stats say that it's likely that story will eventually wind up ending like this...



This video cracked me up, but it also served to remind me just how important marriage is and just how tragic our culture's conception of it has become. Worth thinking about.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Home Sweet ER

Well, we made it back from a great week in Canada, and I even got to bring home a nasty ankle sprain as a souvenir. I rolled over on it while playing basketball with the kids at camp Friday, got it x-rayed Sunday after arriving back in the US, and now I'm on crutches for a week or two. God was incredibly good to us while we were there - it was a bonding time for our group, a great time of bonding with the people of Pickering, and a fantastic experience of involvement in the lives of some great kids. It's nice to be back home to my own little one now, but I do miss my friends up north. People of the Sanctuary, thanks again for your great hospitality (and doubly so for putting up with my gimpy self the last day), your love for Christ, his church, and the world. Hope to see you all soon! God bless!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Over the Humpday

We're now officially more than halfway through our week of Ignition Sports Camp, and we're all feeling it. Those kids have run us in circles, and today was the toughest day yet. Tomorrow, rain threatens to cancel our day, but we've been told that either way Wednesday is always the toughest day for the kids and staff - Thursday and Friday see a change in the routine, which keeps the kids more engaged - and as a result, the staff more sane. Thankfully, temperatures have hovered around 70 with a nice breeze, so though we're sunburnt, we're not ready to fall over from heatstroke. We're back at the hotel relaxing and cleaning up now and preparing to head to dinner with some more soon-to-be-new-friends from the Sanctuary! Should be fun!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ready For Ignition

Today, we had our first day of Ignition Sports Camp with the kids of Pickering. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. After a great dinner and time hanging out at the Collisions' (including a screening of Hazel Wars!), I'm back at the hotel and ready to crash for the night. So, I'll talk to you all tomorrow, and I'm really hoping this sore throat I've come down with tonight doesn't decide to stick around.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Don't Look Down

Ever wondered what it would be like to stand on a glass floor 1,300 feet in the air? It's kinda like this...

Heather snapped that picture this afternoon while we were up the CN Tower, the second-tallest freestanding structure in the world. Quite a view. It was a great day - we spent the morning worshiping with the people of The Sanctuary Pickering, and then spent the rest of the day in downtown Toronto taking in the sights. Tomorrow, the real fun begins as we have our first day of sports camp with the kids. It's going to be a great week!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

North of the Border

Well, after a 10-hour drive, me, Heather, and the rest of the Canada mission team from Hazelwood have arrived in Toronto. It's nice to be here and settled into our hotel room, and we're looking forward to a great week helping our friends at The Sanctuary Pickering with their summer sports camps for the kids of the community. It'll be nice to lend a helping hand and hopefully learn a few things about how we can reach our own community back home. First order of business, though? Sleep.

Friday, July 17, 2009

GoldenEye 64 - Live Action

If you're like me, and your high school memories are saturated with staying up all night with three friends playing GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64, then I'm fairly confident this live-action rendition of the game will completely crack you up.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 7/15/09

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.

This Saturday, Heather, myself, and six others from Hazelwood will be leaving for Pickering, Ontario to assist our sister church plant, The Sanctuary Pickering, with their summer kids’ sports camp. With missions on our brains, we talked last night about what I hope to be our new focus in the new school year – living missionally in our own lives and community. With a name like Sola5, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on reformation over the past three years, both the importance of the historical reformation and the need for constant personal reformation to bring ourselves more in line with the truth of God’s word. However, in the coming year, our goal at Sola5 is to turn our reformation into reformission – taking what we’ve learned and making an impact on those around us who need the gospel.

As an introduction to that task, we looked at Acts 1:1-11 last night, studying Jesus’ final words and actions before his ascension. As we thought about our task, we thought of our missional mentality like a journey so that we could look at the factors that will get us from where we are to where we want to be as individual. What’s the engine that drives us in our pursuit? It’s the gospel. In verses 1-3, notice how Jesus spends his time with the disciples after his resurrection – demonstrating to them that he is alive by various proofs and speaking to them about the kingdom of God. He’s giving them their message, showing and telling them about what his purpose was in coming into the world. Before they could go and fulfill the task he laid before them, they needed to understand what he had come to do. The same is true for us – before you can make an impact on those around you, you must first understand how the gospel bears on your life. It must become your driving force.

If the gospel is the engine for our reformission journey, the church is the vehicle that it drives. The disciples are still, after all Jesus has done, confused about the kingdom he’s come to build. They ask if its finally time to toss out the Romans, and Jesus brushes their inquiry aside. His kingdom, after all, is not of this world. He has called us out of the world to live as his body, empowered by his spirit – and that’s an identity we keep when we scatter throughout the week as well as when we’re together on Sundays. This brings us to our third factor – how do we communicate the gospel to those around us? Our culture is our avenue, it’s the road we’re traveling down. Jesus told the disciples they would be his witnesses. That word most likely calls to your mind a courtroom scenario. What does a trial witness do? He relates what he knows, what he has seen, heard and experienced, to the others in the court. That is our task as followers of Christ, and we relate to those around us through our shared culture. We’re all aware of our culture. If I were to ask you about your friends’ favorite songs, books, movies, causes, biggest pet peeves, etc., you could likely rattle off an extensive list. But when was the last time you thought about why your friends love or hate the things they do. What is it about reading Twilight or watching Lost or listening to Coldplay that triggers something inside them. What is it saying? What deep-seated emotions and beliefs to these things stir? If we can answer those questions, then we’ll begin to see crystal-clear ways to inject Christ into people’s lives. Get to know those around you, and you’ll have deeper opportunities for ministry into their lives.

In conclusion, though, where is this all going? What’s our destination? In verses 9-11, we see that it is eternal life with Christ. The last word that the disciples hear from the angels is that Jesus is returning just as he left. Their expectation and hope in Christ’s return is what drove them into the future. Can we say the same thing? I know that in my life, all too often I can’t. I become so weighed down with this world that I lose sight of my ultimate goal and destiny – to be with Christ. People around us need to see the reflection of our destination gleaming in our eyes if they’re going to have any desire to go with us. We need to grasp with more depth and vitality the glory of Christ and the amazing promise that we will one day stand in his presence and experience the purpose for which we were made by basking in that glory for all eternity. When we do, we’ll find that we’ll have an unshakable desire to live as reformissionaries in a lost and dying world.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's a Small World

I just learned yesterday that I went to elementary school with actress Maggie Grace of Lost fame. Crazy, huh? Heather and I just started watching season 4 of Lost, and I was looking up info on the cast to see what other films and shows they'd been in. When I got to her bio, I found we both attended Worthington Christian School in Worthington, Ohio, and she was a grade behind me. Small world.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Can't Wait For This Game

The best storytelling in videogames today (and better storytelling than many movies) continues next year with the arrival of Mass Effect 2. As a big fan of the first, I'm eagerly counting down.

Pray For Iraqi Christians

CNN reports that seven churches have been bombed in Iraq in the last three days. Pray for your brothers and sisters there to have perseverance in the face of persecution.

Friday, July 10, 2009

An Awesome Four Years

Yesterday, Heather and I celebrated four years of marriage. What an amazing thing it is to think about the blessing that God has given me in her. Guys, whether it's your anniversary or not, take time today to reflect on God's incredible grace as experienced through your wife. I love you, baby!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gladness and the Risen Christ

"The Lord Jesus Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father. That should affect things down here...

When unbelievers get together to drink, or dance, or whatever, they do it to forget how miserable they are. But biblical Christians have a need to overflow, and should sing and dance and drink because they are full. When we look at the secularists who are the supposed experts in celebration, all we can see is that glazed eye druggie look, clothes that hang on the body, and hair every which way. Everybody looks like they are just back from an unsuccessful exorcism. These are the people who are leading the way in gladness? "No, thank you," we should say -- but only if we then know what to do.

The answer, as with so much else, begins with getting our theology straight. Christ was crucified under Pilate, buried, raised by His Father, and ascended into heaven. And that, as they say, makes all the difference." - Douglas Wilson

Mariah Carey Is a Calvinist

Don't believe me? See for yourself. This cracked me up.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Has Derek Webb Gone Too Far?

A couple months ago, I blogged that the recent hubbub about his latest album had me concerned that might be the case. Now that the pre-release of the album is out, I can certainly understand why the label was up in arms. Offensive language to make a convicting point isn't something new for Webb ("Wedding Dress," anyone?), but after listening to "What Matters More," the song in question from his new album, Stockholm Syndrome, I think this is certainly the furthest he's pushed the envelope yet. Have a listen yourself and give me your opinion - needlessly crass or powerfully provocative? Warning - the song does indeed contain profanity.



I want to think about this one for a while before I give my judgment.

Simply Amazing

I have never seen anything like this before. You simply have to see these shots to believe them. And yes, it's real.



HT: Vitamin Z

Monday, July 6, 2009

I Boldly Went Where I'd Never Gone Before, And I Liked It

Yes, geeks everywhere can go ahead and pick their jaws up off of the floor. Until last weekend, I had never in my life seen one bit of Star Trek. Not one of the movies. Not one episode of any of the TV shows. Sure, I had a pop-culture awareness of who Kirk, Spock, and the rest were, but that was about it. I've made my own trilogy of Star Wars spoofs, I could quote you every line from The Lord of the Rings, and the largest section on my bookshelf after theology books is my collection of Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks. My Star Trek naivete really is the one black mark on my geek resume. I took the first step to remedying that when a couple from church, Heather and I went to see J.J. Abram's Trek reboot after hearing a ton of positive buzz - and I can say that the buzz is quite well-deserved.

The movie follows the crew of the Enterprise as they're all young bucks just out of the Starfleet academy. The movie's villain, rogue Romulan captain Nero (Eric Bana), has traveled back through time to avenge the future destruction of his homeworld, for which he blames Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy in his aged version). The enterprise crew, including a feuding brash, rebellious Kirk (Chris Pine) and the calm, meticulous Spock (Zachary Quinto), must stop him from vengefully wiping out not only Vulcan, but Earth as well. Despite the talk of time travel and alternate-realities (which I'm beginning to think Abrams is obsessed with), the plot is easy to follow even for the uninitiated - neither Heather or I ever felt lost - and I'm told by my Trek-loving friends that it also serves as an ingenious way to launch a new franchise without stomping on Trek's long history and continuity.

Abrams' Trek continues the recent run of excellent reboots of aging film franchises, following in the footsteps of Batman Begins and Casino Royale. I absolutely loved both of those films, and Star Trek is worthy of mention right alongside them. While I've though for a while that Abrams is one of the best concept guys in the entertainment business (for evidence see Cloverfield and TV's Lost and Fringe), I've not yet been impressed with his work as a director (Mission: Impossible III). That changed in a big way with this movie. Abrams gives the film a brisk, exciting pace, a sense of humor that doesn't elicit eye-rolls, and tells his story in a way that alienates neither newcomers or old fans. The characters feel very human and are quite relatable, doubtlessly a big reason that this movie has appealed to the masses who are often turned off by the stoic nature of space opera. Much of the film's energy is due in large part to its stellar cast. Pine and Quinto are excellent together in the leads, Bana is suitably threatening as the villain, and their supporting cast gives a host of fine performances, with Karl Urban's Bones McCoy and Simon Pegg's Scotty especially endearing. This is about as good of a summer film as you'll find, and I can't wait to see where they take the sequels that are surely coming given the movie's fantastic box-office haul. Whether you're fluent in Klingon or a Trek-newbie like me, go catch this one before it finishes its theatrical run. I promise you won't be disappointed. We certainly weren't. - **** (out of 4)

Star Trek is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence and brief sexual content.

Start Planning For Next Year

Check out these good thoughts from Bob Kauflin on recognizing civil holidays (such as July 4th) in worship. Patriotic music in Christian worship has long bothered me (usually, I'll simply abstain from singing if I find myself in such a situation), and I think Kauflin strikes a good chord (no pun intended) here on how to approach intersections between the Christian calendar and the secular one.

HT: Vitamin Z

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 7/1/09

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.

After a very busy June, last night was our first regular Sola5 Bible study in nearly a month. It was great to be back with all my students again as we continued our summer question and answer series, “You Asked For It.” We looked at the question, “Why was Jesus never involved in a romantic relationship with a woman?” This is a question that has popped up more often over the last few years since the release of the book and movie The DaVinci Code. For those unfamiliar, the novel is about a professor who discovered the long-buried secret that Jesus actually married Mary Magdalene and had a child with her. Why does this bother Christians so much? After all, marriage is a gift from God, right? Genesis 2:24 holds it up as the most precious of all human relationships. Heck, an entire book of the Bible (Song of Solomon) is devoted to it! So why, then, did Jesus never pursue romance?

I tried to answer the question in two ways. The was to answer historically – why don’t we believe that Jesus ever married? Why do we find Dan Brown’s version of history so problematic. Well, quite simply, the Bible doesn’t say anything about Jesus getting married (or indeed entering a romantic relationship of any kind) or having a family. Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us everything there is to know about Jesus (in fact, John tells us that all the libraries in the world couldn’t hold the books required for that), so some might say that this is perhaps just a detail that the gospel writers left out. That hardly seems plausible, though. Wouldn’t you find it a little odd if you had a friend who you knew for years and they never mentioned the fact that they were married? That’s hardly a small detail. So, it would be equally as strange for the disciples to record Jesus life over 3+ years of ministry and never think to mention the fact that he was married with children.

The second aspect of the answer is to answer explanatorily – why didn’t Jesus pursue romance and marriage? On that front, the answer is a question of purpose. What was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth? Though he was fully human like all of us (including sexual desires), he was also fully God, meaning his purpose on the earth was different than any other human being who has ever lived. His purpose was to save us from our sin by the sacrifice of his death and the power of his resurrection (John 3:16-17, Colossians 1:19-20). His purpose was to demonstrate to us by his life what God is like (John 18:37, Colossians 1:15). So then, the question to ask is this – did romance and marriage serve the purpose for which Jesus came? The answer would seem to be no. Jesus' task of traveling Israel preaching the coming of the New Covenant and dying to usher that covenant in caused him to live a life of singleness - with many friends and followers, but no wife or children to commit himself to. This shouldn't serve to denegrate marriage and family, but to highlight the supremacy of Christ's calling. In fact, 1 Corinthians 7:25-35 tells us that as important as the marriage relationship is, it is subject to a higher calling – our calling as followers of Christ.

This brings us to the point of application. If Christ’s purpose on earth dictated what he did in his life – even when it comes to romance – then each of us must ask ourselves, “What is my purpose?” As Christians, we live to glorify God and to take his gospel to all people. That, then, is the filter that we need to pass our conception of dating, romance, and marriage through. Last night, I asked several questions to get my students thinking in this direction. First, why do you date? I would bet that most American teens get their concept of dating from the culture. I certainly did when I was in high school. However, one look at the divorce rate in this country should tell us that our culture’s view of romance isn’t exactly one worth emulating. Stop dating because it’s what your friends are doing and start asking yourself what you’re looking for. Are you dating to find a potential spouse? Is that something that you’re ready for at this stage of your life? If you’re not dating with marriage as the goal, then what is it you’re after - and is it something that is honoring to God? Secondly, who do you date? We have an explicit command in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 not to marry a non-Christian. If the purpose of your dating is to seek a spouse (and again, if it’s not, then what are you doing?), then it follows that you have no business dating an unbeliever. What sort of person are you looking for in a mate? All the good looks and all the personality in the world won’t mean a rip when you are an infinity apart on the most foundational aspect of human existence – your relationship to God. Thirdly, should you date? As I said earlier, we tend to be big cultural followers in this area. Have you ever stopped to ask whether the purpose that God has for your life is served by dating? Perhaps some, like Paul, will never marry in order to follow the calling God has placed on your life. Perhaps some will, like Peter, embark on a life of Christian ministry and balancing it with family life. Some will be called to singleness for a time in their lives to follow where God is leading, and some may meet their spouse in high school, and marry young, like Heather and I did. The point of it all is this – are you willing to submit your dating life and your search for a spouse to the wisdom of God’s word, or are you going to follow the lead of our culture which sprints headfirst into romantic or sexual behavior that is pointless at best and destructive at worst? Are you cultivating a biblical worldview, where what you know to be true about God and his word actually impacts the way you see the world and live your life? Wherever you’re at in life, take time this week to rethink the way you view romance and to pursue it (or not) to the glory of God.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Blogroll Change

My good friend, Corey Reynolds, has changed up his blog a bit. My Great Blogs sidebar used to point you to his Wanderlust in the Word blog, but he's now moved his address and renamed the blog Chasing the Wind. In addition to Corey's sermons and theological insights, which are always thought provoking, he's also beginning to blog some about other things. Definitely worth checking out - especially if you, like me, share some of Corey's interests in the realms of geekdom.

Guns For Jesus?

I'd hope that phrase would strike us as a little bit strange. Apparently, it didn't for a church here in Louisville. On Saturday, New Bethel Church - an Assemblies of God congregation - held an "Open Carry Celebration," inviting people to come to the church packing their (unloaded) pistols to celebrate their second amendment rights.

Now, I'm all about the second amendment. I don't own a gun, but if you do, it's your constitutional right, and more power to you. However, this event strikes me badly in a couple ways. One, I don't believe that the church should be a place for politics. I may agree with gun ownership rights, but what about someone who is a gun control advocate? You may think their politics are wrong and stupid, but are they not in need of the gospel just like you are? This church has just crushed any chance that they'll ever darken their doors. By making a stand on an issue that is not Biblical but political, they've unwittingly put a political credo over their God-given mandate to preach the gospel. They've alienated many people from the gospel by their actions. Whether or not you believe in gun ownership, the gospel isn't just for the Red State crowd. That's not the message this event broadcasted. This story was picked up by national and international news outlets. Instead of boasting in Christ, they're reporting on Christians boasting in their guns.

Secondly, what does this event say about Jesus? After I just preached a sermon Sunday night from 1 Samuel 26 highlighting David's great mercy in sparing Saul's life, even when Saul deserved death for attempting to murder David several times, I can't imagine that God is pleased with this image of his gun-totin' church. While they're celebrating their right to self-defense, Romans 12:19-21 is telling us never to avenge ourselves. Hebrews 10:34 talks of joyfully accepting the plundering of your property because of your hope in a better reward, not putting a 9mm shell in someone who's looking to rob you. Jesus talks of turning the other cheek to the one who would strike you. Our culture isn't going to be convinced of the glory of God when they see us willing to take up arms to protect ourselves. They're going to be convinced when they see us enduring suffering with patience and grace, even unto death.

Do you own a gun? If so, it's certainly your right. Scripture doesn't speak with clarity on the issue, so my conviction is to keep my mouth shut about it. But I would ask you to carefully consider what your gun says about your savior. Everything we do as Christians makes a statement about Christ. What does your gun ownership say? Only you can wrestle with that question. I would ask, though, that when we gather for worship this week - please leave the gun at home.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 6/26/09

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.

Munich

What does revenge cost? What does it do to a man to take another man’s life, even if it was justified? Where is the line between justice and vengeance? Perhaps no film has explored these questions recently quite so thoroughly and devastatingly as Steven Spielberg’s 2005 Best Picture nominee Munich. Heather and I saw the movie last weekend with her parents and sister, and I found it difficult to watch – but in a positive sense. This is a film that examines a bloody and nasty conflict, but in its focus shifts attention away from socio-political debate and toward the realities of the individuals most involved. The result is a film that inevitably causes the viewer to look inward, pondering what it would be like in the shoes of these men who sought revenge at the request of their government but at the peril of their souls.

The film follows the events of the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre, in which Palestinian terrorists took hostage and eventually killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team. Avner Kaufman (Eric Bana) is an Israeli intelligence agent approached by his superiors to lead an off-the-books mission. He and a team of four others will track down and kill 11 men believed to have had a part in planning the Munich massacre. The men move through Europe eliminating their targets, all the while finding that their mission’s external dangers are exceeded by its personal toll.

Since Munich’s story is an intensely personal one, the strength of the five actors who make up the squad is of the utmost importance, and the cast delivers tremendously. Bana gives a terrific performance, especially as the film progresses and his leadership becomes ever weightier. Daniel Craig’s Steve is a great contrast, becoming ever more set in his hatred for their enemies and his determination to carry out vengeance. Ciaran Hinds is very engaging as the mysterious Carl, Mathieu Kassovitz plays the part of the team's conscience as Robert, and Hanns Zischler’s Hans is the weakest of the group, though it’s more due to a shallower character than an inferior performance. The film's best moments come as we watch this group morph from a group of committed idealists to men struggling for their physical and emotional survival. Bana in particular portrays a brutally honest look into the human toll of revenge. As his bloody task is contrasted with his wife and new baby back home, we begin to see the stark effects of his every action. Spielberg came under much scrutiny from both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli debate, and I think that indicates that he did what he set out to do - make a movie that avoids political trappings and explores the much more intimate and human aspect of the war. I give this one a big recommendation, but also with big reservations. This is no popcorn flick, so if you're expecting a light Spielberg action film, this probably isn't for you. Also, this is a very graphic film, with some brutal and tough-to-swallow violence as well as some graphic nudity (though, it isn't particularly sexual in context). If those two factors will be a deal-breaker for you, I'd urge you to stay away. This is definitely much closer to Schindler's List than any of Spielberg's other films. However, if you're in the mood for a film that will make you think about - and feel - the human side of war, this is a great film that's well-deserving of the praise it received at awards season. - **** (out of 4)

Munich is rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content, nudity and language.

You Are What You Tweet

Check out this great post by Stephen Altrogge over at The Blazing Center on what our online personas say about the real us. A good reminder, and an interesting 21st-century look at what Jesus said in Matthew 12:34.

Curse You, New Jersey

My Bobcats were one pick away from pulling off the draft that I've been hoping to see. Too bad the New Jersey Nets had to go and screw it up. The Nets drafted Louisville forward Terrence Williams at #11, one spot before the Cats scooped up Duke G Gerald Henderson as a consolation prize. Henderson should be a good player (and shut up all the Duke fans who constantly gripe about Charlotte's Tar Heel-centric nature), but after watching T-Will here in Louisville I was very excited about what he would bring to the team. Charlotte rounded out their draft with Xavier power forward Derrick Brown in the second round. I don't know much of anything about him, but hopefully he can provide us with the backup power forward that Sean May never became. How was your team's draft? Weigh in in the comments.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Ultimate Youth Pastor

How many of you have ever sat through something like this? I see those hands.



HT: Douglas Wilson

What a Difference a Year Makes

June 20, 2008June 20, 2009
Incedentally, I just noticed that I'm wearing the same shirt in both. Weird. Happy Birthday, Jordan!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 6/19/09

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.

Marley & Me

My wife is a big-time dog person. I’m more the take-em-or-leave-em type. So, when we rented the Owen Wilson/Jennifer Aniston dog dramedy Marley & Me last weekend, suffice it to say that she was a little more excited than I was. I wasn’t dreading the movie; I just wasn’t expecting a whole lot from it. I figured it would be formulaic and cute with a heartstring-tugging ending. I figured it would be pretty much like every other dog movie that’s ever been made. I was right on all counts. What I didn’t anticipate was that in spite of its blatant predictability, it’s actually pretty good.

The movie is actually based on newspaper columnist John Grogan’s autobiographical book of the same name (so it’s hard to get too upset at the formulaic nature, since most of this stuff really happened). Wilson and Aniston star as Grogan and his new bride Jenny as they leave Michigan to pursue new jobs at newspapers in South Florida and start their life as a family. The two of them adopt a yellow lab puppy named Marley, who very quickly shows his colors as “the world’s worst dog.” The film follows the Grogans as jobs change, their family grows, and their marriage is challenged – with Marley there every step of the way, for better or for worse.

If that plot setup seems a little thin, it is – and it’s actually one of the movie’s strong points. The film finds its drama in the ins-and-outs of daily life and the challenges and joys of marriage and family. There’s no contrived, over-the-top antagonist, no implausible crisis to face. Screenwriters Scott Frank and Don Roos and director David Frankel (The Devil Wears Prada) realize that there’s plenty of drama in day-to-day life to sustain an interesting film without resorting to cheap cinematic tricks. Wilson and Aniston are both strong in the lead roles, contributing to a movie that is one of the more refreshingly honest, realistic, and moving depictions of family life I’ve seen on screen in recent memory. This is a film that’s not deprecating marriage and children, but showing the family as something of high value that is worth the many sacrifices life demands to sustain and nurture it. With my little girl about to turn 1 tomorrow, perhaps my heart was a little more tuned to what amazing blessings marriage and family are, but I found the film genuinely moving. The standard “bad-dog” gags are played - but not overplayed - and many of the film’s scenes can be predicted before the previous scene even finishes. As I said, it’s formulaic, and for that reason I didn’t really want to like it, yet I did, in spite of itself. So guys, if your wife wants to rent Marley & Me this weekend, rest easy – this is no vapid chick flick, and it’s certainly not a film you have to dread seeing. In fact, in a culture that sees marriage as a joke and children as a hindrance to personal freedom, it’s actually rather refreshing. - ***1/2 (out of 4)

Marley & Me is rated PG for thematic material, some suggestive content and language.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Chicken or the Egg?

A couple weeks ago, when I went out shopping for books for my high school grads, the first place I visited was a local Lifeway. I must say, I was absolutely disgusted by the drivel that filled the shelves, and the associated lack of solid content. It's a shame that this is the best our SBC dollars can do. There were three or four books I had in mind for my students, all by known authors, and none of them were anywhere to be found. The place had more Don Piper than John Piper. Fluff was the name of the game. My wife had a similar experience a week earlier looking for a family and parenting book for some friends of ours. No wonder everybody's using Amazon. I mean, it's not like there's not good stuff out there. This got me thinking recently - what's the problem? Are our bookstores stocked with fluff because that's what our biblically anemic American Christianity wants, or is our American Christianity biblically anemic because our bookstores are full of fluff? My sense is that it's much like the classic "chicken or the egg" conundrum, where the two are so interconnected it's impossible to say which begat the other. I'd be interested to hear your take.

Note: For any Louisvillians out there, let me recommend the Christian Book Nook, where I easily found what I was after. It's a great, locally and privately owned bookstore with great prices, selection, and service. Check it out. Lifeway - take some notes.

Short But Very Sweet

One decision I enjoy getting to make every year as a youth pastor is what book to buy as a gift from the church to my graduating seniors. Last year, I really enjoyed Alex and Brett Harris' Do Hard Things, and I'd actually given thought to getting it again for my 3 grads this year. In hindsight, I'm very glad that Tim Keller's The Prodigal God caught my eye instead. Though it was a quick read, don't let that fool you as to the depth of spiritual insight contained within. This is one of the best-written books I've read in some time in terms of making excellent use of every word.

The book is an examination of Jesus' parable from Luke 15:11-32, commonly called the parable of the Prodigal Son. Keller seeks to examine the parable to see what it teaches us about the nature of the Christian faith, and he exposes a parable that reads very differently than most people have thought. Rather than focusing on the wayward son, Keller points out that the focus of the story is actually the father, who represents God to us. Also, he spends a large amount of time examining the older brother in the story, who is actually cast in worse light than the younger brother. This was especially helpful to me, pointing out how dangerously often my "obedience" to God is really self-centeredness in clever disguise. In the end, though, the lasting impact of the book is a picture of a father who seeks to reconcile both sons to himself and does so at great personal cost. This is the inspiriation for the book's title - rather than meaning "wayward" as is often assumed, "prodigal" actually means "to spend recklessly, to spend all that one has." Keller paints us a picture of a God who is the ultimate prodigal, who takes the debt of sin on himself and who graciously and lovingly calls both individualistic, rebellious "younger brothers" and self-righteous, self-seeking "elder brothers" to repentance.

I really cannot recommend this book strongly enough. Keller writes extremely well and makes his points with clarity and power. Last night, I was talking with two of my grads and they were both gushing over the book. One of my guys was nearly finished with it after just 3 days, adding that he'd never finished a book in a week in his life. Whether you're a high school senior or a senior citizen, this is a book that you'll find edifying, enlightening, and encouraging. Put it at the top of your summer reading list.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Taste and See That the Lord Is Good

"There is a difference between believing that God is holy and gracious, and having a new sense on the heart of the lovliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. The difference between believing that God is gracous and tasting that God is gracious is as different as having a rational belief that honey is sweet and having the actual sense of its sweetness." - Jonathan Edwards

Check This Guy Out

I'm listening to an absolutely beautiful song by a guy who's currently one of my favorite artists, Micah Dalton. The song is called "This Day," and it includes backup vocals by Sandra McCracken. Here are the lyrics...
I knew that you'd free me
You never did leave me
But the chains on my soul
Are too comfortable to let go
And the life that I live
I've forgotten how to give
I've forgotten how to give
My patience, my pride and my soul

CHORUS

Crucify this day
So that I can see the way
You love your beloved
Show your resurrection
Through the way you kill my pride
Please take control (x2)
And let me die (x2)

Let your life live on through me
Let your breath breathe on through me
So that they can see in me
How you love me

REPEAT CHORUS

Seems like I've died to you a time, a time or two
At least that's how it seems when I'm closest to you
I'm losing this world on pace, my place
Is realizing your embrace
So that I can rest

REPEAT CHORUS
You can get Micah's latest EP, the bluesy Advancement, for free on Noisetrade. His debut record, the more pop-ish These Are the Roots (which includes "This Day"), is available on Amazon and iTunes, as is his sophomore release (and my favorite of his), the folk-funk-country-soul Pawn Shop, which is inspired by a collection of short stories.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Urban Exile

Those of you who minister and live in urban areas should check out David Swanson's piece about the temptation of declining churches to flee the city for the suburbs and the Biblical reasoning for staying in difficult neighborhoods. I found it very relevant to my church's current situation.

HT: Vitamin Z

Hazelwood Stories, #3

This time, it was my turn to sit in front of the camera for my church's Hazelwood Stories video project. Here's my story of faith in Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 6/12/09

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 Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

Back in 2005, I was thrilled when director Andrew Adamson (Shrek) filmed a tremendous adaptation of C.S. Lewis’s classic The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The film was one of the most faithful book-to-film adaptations I’d ever seen, and a great movie. Last year, the second film in the Narnia series, Prince Caspian, was released. Heather and I never made it to the theater to see it, but we caught up with it last week on Blu-ray, and while it wasn’t as good as the first (and to be honest, the source material isn’t as good either), it was still an entertaining entry in the series.

Caspian, which is actually the fourth book in Lewis’ Chronicles (Lion is actually #2), picks up with the Pevensie kids (Williams Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, and Georgie Henley) back in London and having trouble readjusting to life as schoolkids after their long lives as kings and queens in Narnia. Suddenly, they are summoned back to Narnia, only to find that well over a thousand years have passed in the magical land. Their castle lies in ruins, a foreign power has invaded and occupied the land, and the rightful heir to the throne, Prince Caspian X (Ben Barnes) is on the run from his ruthless uncle, Miraz (Sergio Castellitto). After discovering exiled Narnian creatures hiding in the forest, Caspian joins with them and summons the Pevensies back to the land, seeking to overthrow their oppressors and return Narnia to peace. Together, they seek the long-absent Aslan and fight for the future of Narnia.

The movie is a little slow out of the gate, with the story taking a while longer to get rolling than it did in Lion. Part of this is due to the fact that Caspian is hardly the strongest Lewis novel (it was chosen for the second film because of the required age of the kid actors), and I imagine it took a fair amount of work to adapt the screenplay into something that played well onscreen. Once all the characters come together, though, the film finds its stride and its second half is noticeably stronger than its first. I had heard a lot of buzz going in about the drastic changes made to the story for the film, but I must say, I didn’t find anything that was so out of spirit with the book that it negatively affected the movie for me. Perhaps this is due to the fact that Caspian is hardly my favorite Narnia tale, so I don’t mind seeing a couple tweaks here or there. The action scenes were well shot, and it’s apparent that Adamson feels more comfortable in the director’s chair in his second outing than he did for his first. The cast is serviceable, but nobody (including Barnes in the titular role) turns in a performance that you’ll remember down the road. As for the film’s allegorical power, those looking for the vivid Christian imagery of the first film will still find it here, though it’s not nearly as prevalent. In the end, this is a good film but it’s not one that I think I’ll have the desire to re-watch quite as much as Lion. Adamson and company took one of Lewis’ weaker offerings and made a film that, while not great, is a decent entry in the series and paves the way for new director Michael Apted (The World is Not Enough, Amazing Grace) to take the reigns for the next installment (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). If you haven’t already, give Caspian a rental. It’s well worth the time. - *** (out of 4)

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is rated PG for epic battle action and violence.

Where Do You Wanna Eat?

This is so funny...and so true.



HT: Vitamin Z

Sola5 Update

As an FYI for those of you who may read the weekly "Sola5 Wednesday Recap" posts, I wanted to let you know that there won't be one for a couple weeks. This Wednesday, I had a great in-house discussion with my youth about the way that we live out our faith among each other when we're together as a group. I asked my students and leaders to evaluate us in several areas, from humility and encouragement to reverence and a Christ-centered focus. We got to have some good discussions on where we're falling short and how we can seek to be more Christ-like as a group. It was a very profitable time. Next week, we're having a youth choir from Jacksonville, FL come in for a concert, and the following Wednesday we'll be in the middle of putting on Vacation Bible School, which our youth are always a big part of. So, it'll be about 3 weeks before we have our regular Wednesday Bible study again. By then, I'll be really excited to resume exploring my students' questions about the Bible and Christianity, and I hope a few of you will be too.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tired of Madden?

If so, you may want to take a look at this upcoming football game from developer NaturalMotion, Backbreaker. The game contains no canned tackle animations like Madden, instead, every collision is rendered in real-time by the game's Euphoria physics engine, the same engine utilized last year in games like Grand Theft Auto IV and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. What does that mean in non-tech speak? Every tackle will be unique, every time. I'm interested to see how they pull this one off this fall.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

An Unfulfilling Salvation

After making Terminator 2: Judgment Day my featured movie last week, Heather and I decided to go see the fourth movie in the franchise, Terminator Salvation, Saturday night. After the recent Terminator TV show was cancelled before it could really mine out some new territory, we were excited to see the direction that this new movie (reportedly the first in a new trilogy) took the Terminator story. The TV show had allayed my fears that a good Terminator movie couldn’t happen without Arnold, but I was still nervous about one of my least favorite directors (McG of Charlie’s Angels fame) taking on one of my famous franchises. In the end, McG proved capable, and the film was entertaining, but not even James Cameron could have elevated this script to anything beyond an mildly enjoyable popcorn movie.

The movie is the first in the franchise to take place in the future during mankind’s war with Skynet. Now and adult and a leader in the resistance, John Connor (Christian Bale) is viewed by some as a savior and some as an over-eager idealist. On a raid of a Skynet facility, he uncovers the revelation that Skynet has begun taking prisoners and experimenting on human tissue in preparation for the new T-800 Terminators. As he and the other resistance commanders plot their next move, a man named Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), whose last memory is of being executed on death row, emerges from a destroyed Skynet lab. Seeking to figure out what has happened to the world and to him, he happens upon Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), a teenager surviving in now-desolate Los Angeles. Over the course of the film, these three cross paths and seek to take the fight to Skynet in hopes of making peace with their pasts or futures (and in Terminator mythology, aren’t they the same thing?).

I can say right off the bat that my biggest fear, McG’s directing ability, was put to rest. He actually proves himself capable, handling the film reasonably well, showing a great knack for how to stage an entertaining action scene, and even making some of the movie’s quieter moments (there aren’t many) effective. The problem with the movie lies with the script. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the end, the story doesn’t really go much of anywhere. Much has been made of the original ending, which was dropped after it was leaked online. I can’t say how it would have played onscreen, but as a concept at least it would have pushed the Terminator narrative somewhere. As it stands, there really doesn’t seem to be any reason to make this movie save to set up further sequels. It just couldn’t seem to find its identity. We don’t get much of a window into John Connor here, and his wife (Bryce Dallas-Howard) is pretty much a throwaway character, but Marcus is fascinating to watch. The supporting cast ranges from decent (Yelchin and Moon Bloodgood) to dull (Common), to why-are-you-in-this-movie (Jadagrace Berry), and I suspect that it’s not so much because of the ability of the actors as it is the material they have to work with. In the end, that seems to be the best summary of the movie – a cast and crew doing the best they can with a flimsy premise. I realize that my review has sounded pretty negative, and I’m actually going to surprise you by giving this a mild recommendation. I was never bored by it, it held my interest until its all-too-abrupt end, and it provided its fair share of exciting moments (including a cameo from you-know-who). As an action movie fan, I liked it. However, as a fan of the Terminator series, which has always been good sci-fi and more than just explosions and computer effects, I found it the weakest installment by far and a disappointment – and that sentiment grows the more that I think about it. - **1/2 (out of 4)

Terminator Salvation is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and language.

The Beauty of Unspectacular Providence

Last night, as I was lying next to my wife in bed and about to fall asleep, I couldn't help but think back and wonder how amazed we would have been almost nine years ago, as 17 and 16-year-old kids, to see where life has taken us. As I traced in my mind where God has brought us - from high-school dating through college and into marriage, ministry, and parenthood, I couldn't help but be amazed at his grace, wisdom and love. It may have felt like we were forging our own path, making decisions and choosing directions, but looking back I can't help but think of Proverbs 16:9 - "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."

This got me thinking this morning: we usually only think of God's providence and sovereign rule in terms of the spectacular - those amazing "coincidences" in life that are just too good to be true and beg for a divine explanation. However, this sells God so far short. God is just as much at work in the unspectacular, day-to-day aspects of our lives as well, though we seldom think about it. To us, it seems that we're planning our way, but the beautiful reality is that the Lord is establishing our steps. Every step of your life's journey has been mapped out and sustained by the creator of heaven and earth. What an amazing God we serve! I would encourage you today to spend some time looking back at your own life, thanking God in prayer and meditating on the beauty of unspectacular providence.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 6/5/09

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.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

A couple weeks ago, the Terminator franchise re-launched with the much-publicized Terminator Salvation, starring Christian Bale as John Connor as he wages the future war with the machines. After the first three films and the (sadly) cancelled TV series, Heather and I are big Terminator fans and are excited to see the series’ new direction. For this week’s featured film, I figured I’d point those of you who have never experienced the Terminator saga to it’s best volume, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. T2 is a terrific sci-fi film, and more accessible than the original in my opinion. If you’re looking for an entry point into Terminator, then it’s the place to start.

In the first film, Skynet, the self-aware supercomputer that seeks to annihilate humanity, has sent a cyborg called a Terminator back in time to kill Sarah Connor, a woman who will become the mother of John Connor, the future leader of humanity’s resistance against the machines. John sent a protector back for his mom, a soldier named Kyle Reece, who defended her against the Terminator and destroyed it, while also becoming John’s father (don’t think about that too hard) before being killed. T2 takes place 15 years later, with Sarah (Linda Hamilton) now confined to a mental hospital because of her paranoia (so others think) about the future, and John (Edward Furlong) as a rebellious 11-year old living with foster parents. Skynet has sent another Terminator (Robert Patrick) back to kill young John, but this time future-John has sent a new protector back as well – a reprogrammed Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), the same model (though not the same actual machine) that hunted them in the first film. Together, John and the Terminator seek to stay alive, rescue Sarah, and stop Skynet from ever being created.

This is the last Terminator film to be directed by James Cameron (The Abyss, Aliens, Titanic), and his masterful touch is evident. While the movie has its fair share of action (which holds up amazingly well even 18 years later), don’t expect a thin plot or bland characters. This is an epic sci-fi saga, and one with surprisingly more heart and brain than you probably expect. The premise (save for the time-travel paradoxes that you’ve just got to go with) is incredibly cool, the script is expertly crafted and it leads to a movie that is exciting and well-paced, and the finished product is a blast to behold. Say what you will about Ahnold’s acting ability, but this is his defining role for a reason, and he’s great to watch. Hamilton is excellent as a woman teetering on the edge of sanity, Patrick is just plain creepy as the liquid metal T-1000 (which is a landmark in the history of CGI special effects), and while Furlong isn’t an award-winner by any stretch, he’s serviceable as kid-actors go. This is a landmark sci-fi film, a landmark action film, and perhaps the movie world’s first true blockbuster. If you haven’t seen it, go rent it before you head out to see Salvation and perhaps you’ll understand why the new film is getting so much hype. - ***1/2 (out of 4)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day is rated R for strong sci-fi action and violence, and for language.

The Great Civil War

A sermon I preached a couple weeks ago on Romans 7:7-25 just went online over at my church's website. Here it is, if anyone's interested.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 6/3/09

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, our You Asked For It series continued with the question, “How do I know if I’m saved or not?” The questioner asked if the fact that they were even having those thoughts was a sign that they likely weren’t saved, and if they should “feel different.” I started my answer with the encouragement that the fact that someone asks that question is more likely a positive sign than a negative, because of the fact that they are actually concerned about it. This is a question that almost every Christian will struggle with at some point in their spiritual walk. How do we answer it?

The obvious starting point should be the gospel. I assume that the person who asked the question would mentally agree with the gospel, but that must be our starting point nonetheless. Do we believe in God’s holiness, our sinfulness, Christ’s sinless life and sacrificial death, his victorious resurrection, and the free offer of grace through faith? That is the only way that we find peace with God, so we must start there. However, we can fake beliefs, can’t we? In fact, we are so good at being deceptive that we can even deceive ourselves into thinking that we are Christians when we’re really not. Jesus himself warned against this, saying that on the last day many would speak of what they did for him while hearing the dreaded, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” We certainly don’t want that to be us, so we seek assurance that the faith we profess is real, and not a deception of our sinful heart and mind. How do we do that? In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul encourages us to test ourselves to see if we are really believers. If we are really in the faith, then there should be tangible evidences in our lives that we can look for and evaluate. So, what are they? I believe that the book of 1 John is a great place to start. As John himself says in 5:13, the book was written to us so that we could know that we have eternal life. In very straightforward terms, he gives us a series of things that should be present in our lives if we are truly in Christ. Last night, I used those things to form eight questions that we can ask ourselves in an effort to do exactly the testing that God has commanded. I’ll list them for you here with a reference to where I’m getting them from 1 John and a brief description.

1. Do You Walk In Darkness? (1:5-7, 3:1-10) – Obviously, we’re not perfect, and even as Christians we still sin. However, do you perpetually walk in darkness? Are you still comfortable with your sin? Does it still dominate your life, with no real desire or effort to change? If so, consider Scripture’s warning.

2. Are You a Self-Righteous Person? (1:8-10) – The flip side of the first question. Do you depend on your own goodness for your confidence before God. You may not verbally claim perfection, but does your life communicate that you’re mistake-proof and that you’ve got it all together? A Christian should be humble and reliant upon Christ for forgiveness.

3. Do You Love Learning About God? (4:1-6, 5:6-12) – John’s book isn’t all about actions – he’s concerned with false teachers and stresses the importance of right belief. Does learning about God and his works excite you, or are you bored by the Scripture. Certainly, some parts of Scripture can be tough to work through (Leviticus, anyone?), but do you stay unmoved even by things that you understand? Do you desire to know God more?

4. Do You Follow Jesus’ Commands? (2:1-6) – One of John’s more blunt statements, and important for us to think about. If you say you love Jesus, then do you follow the things he said? Do you avoid the things he calls you to avoid (anger, lust, apathy towards God)? Do you do the things he calls you to do (show mercy, forgiveness, love for God)?

5. Do You Love Like Christ? (2:7-14, 3:11-24, 4:7-21) – The most frequently mentioned theme in 1 John. Do you show the kind of love that Jesus did (selfless, sacrificial, even for enemies), especially to your brothers and sisters in Christ? Or, are you the type of person whose love for others is conditional on what they do for you?

6. Are You In Love With This World? (2:15-17) – We are warned here against being consumed with things that are passing away. Obviously, we are to show love for those in the world, and we don’t want to make the mistake of monasticism that withdraws from any earthly comfort or pleasure, but we need to watch ourselves, especially in our wealthy culture, that we don’t neglect our first love and fall in love with lesser things.

7. Are You Persevering In Faith? (2:18-29) – John here writes about some from among them that fell away from the faith, and he says that indicates that they were never truly Christians to begin with. Perseverance (continuing to the end) is the proof of true faith. Are you pressing on? Are you growing? Or, has your faith grown cold and routine to the point where now its just a show for keeping up appearances?

8. Do You Love God Supremely? (5:1-5) – This is the culmination of the first seven. Do you have a love for God that surpasses all else? Do you see him as supremely valuable, supremely beautiful, supremely satisfying? Is your faith a duty, or a joy? Are his commandments burdensome, or are they life to you?

So, do you pass the test? You won’t be perfect, but do you see these qualities in your life in increasing measure? If so, press on, and persevere in your faith knowing that it is God who is at work preserving you to the end, and he is always faithful and true. If you must honestly say that these things show you to be outside the faith, then my advice to you is simple. Trust Christ! Why not today? Turn from your sin and trust Christ, and you’ll find his power at work in your life to begin to make these things a reality in you.

You're Already Crying, So You Might as Well Laugh

Douglas Wilson's top 10 reasons we should be glad that President Obaba pronounced June to be Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Pride Month...
But here are ten reasons to be grateful for the small mercies at any rate. We should be grateful . . .

10. That, despite the glowing rhetoric, nobody appears to have noticed that equal rights for bisexuals means that such marriages (when we get there) would have to have a minium of three copulating units. So the good news is that President Obama is still guilty of hate-criming the bisexuals. And imagine my astonishment that he is doing this legally. And nobody pushing this seems to be aware of how filled with hate they all still are.

9. That this happened at a time when we have an example to follow as we craft our responses. All we have to say is that we think a wise heterosexual, having lived that life, should be able to make better judgments than someone who hasn't had the richness of that experience. That's all.

8. That Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor have gone to be with the Lord. If they were still here writing their fiction, the head-bending that would have to go into them now would be beyond my capacity to bear.

7. That the longer this kind of thing prevails, the more it should become apparent that in Washington we now have the governmental equivalent of professional wrestling; more specifically, we have the governmental equivalent of VEGAS Xtreme SMACKdown.

6. That they are unwittingly paving the way for the legalization of polygamy, which will prove to be the basis for the rebuilding of the Republican Party. Then watch out.

5. That the president issued this proclamation while at the same time holding to the same position on gay marriage as recently articulated by the winsome Miss California, thus showing in yet another way that he is filled to the brim with thought crimes and all manner of evil.

4. That this came about when the Democrat in charge of shuffling the sexual deck was named Obama and not Clinton. Since National Do-Whatever-You-Feel-Like-This-Minute Week is now an inevitability, just imagine the repercussions had it happened with the Lecher-in-Chief in the White House -- the central problem being that the Europeans would finally think we had arrived.

3. That they had the foresight to press these issues in the midst of an economic downturn. Sexual energies are powerful when harnessed, and suppose, say, the nation's shoe manufacturers are languishing. All you have to do is proclaim National Footwear Fetish Week, and bam! there you are, back in the game.

2. That the president is clearly hearing Dick Cheney's footsteps everywhere. On foreign policy certainly, but now that the former VP has declared himself a tolerance-monger on gay marriage, Obama is getting chased down the road by him on this issue as well. You can cluck at both of them with moral disapproval all you want, but the entertainment value is still high.

1. That they are working us into this slowly. September as it turns out is Screw the Pooch Month, but the American people won't be ready for that for, oh, weeks yet.
HT: Darius T.

We Have No Idea

Michael Kelley offers some great thoughts on how his daughter helps him to understand Romans 8:28. Check it out.

HT: Vitamin Z

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Nintendo: A Capella

To celebrate E3, the big annual video game showcase going on right now in Los Angeles, here's a very clever and funny tribute to some old 8-bit classics.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

To Facebook or Not to Facebook?

Over the last few months, it seems like I can't get through a week without someone telling me I need to join Facebook. I've resisted and resisted, but now I'm thinking about jumping in, especially with the announcement yesterday that Facebook will be integrated into Xbox Live this fall. It looks like a cool way to stay in touch with people, but it also has the looks of a major time-waster (or at the least, a time-spender), and I've already got several of those in my life. I'd like to hear from those of you who use Facebook. Do you like it, is it an annoyance or distraction, and if you didn't have a Facebook page, would you sign up all over again?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 5/29/09

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 DaVinci Code

About two years ago, everyone was talking about this little book called The DaVinci Code. It seemed like everyone you met was either hailing it as the greatest book ever or railing against it as the tome of antichrist himself. So, with a movie based on the book about to come out, I decided that if I was going to have an opinion about it, I probably ought to read it and see what all the fuss was about. It was a great novel, an engaging read full of twists and turns that kept me gripped until I’d finished it in just a few days. As for the controversy, well, let’s just say that as good as the book was from a narrative standpoint, it was just as bad from a historical standpoint. In the end, though, it left my wife and I interested in seeing the film, especially with Tom Hanks, Ian McKellen, and director Ron Howard attached. Our interest waned when the movie opened to surprisingly subpar reviews, but with the prequel/sequel film Angels & Demons opening this month, we finally decided to give DaVinci a whirl last night. What we found was a movie that, while not ultimately a bad film, just didn’t capture everything that worked about the book.

Tom Hanks stars as Dr. Robert Langdon, a professor of religious symbology at Harvard. While in Paris giving a speech, Langdon is approached by the police. The curator at The Louvre, an acquaintance whom he was supposed to meet for lunch that afternoon, had turned up mysteriously murdered in the museum itself. As Langdon arrives at the scene, he quickly realizes, thanks to the curator’s granddaughter, officer Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou), that he is not being called in as a consultant, but as a suspect. Believing that her grandfather gave her his name to help crack the puzzle and find his killer, Sophie helps Langdon escape custody and the two begin a quest that will eventually lead them on a hunt for the fabled Holy Grail. However, (and I’m going to assume here that the cat’s out of the bag for just about everyone, so spoiler warning) after a conversation with one of Langdon’s old colleagues (Ian McKellen), they discover a shocking secret – the grail is not a cup, but the body of Mary Magdalene, who was actually Jesus’ wife and bore his daughter, starting a royal bloodline that continues to this day, protected by a secret society called the Priory of Sion and hunted ruthlessly by the Vatican.

Obviously, one can understand why that plotline would irk those of us who have placed our faith and trust in the Jesus of Scripture. Let me assure you, you’ve got nothing to fear here. The history cobbled together to form this conspiracy theory is at times laughable, a mishmash of exposed fraud, half-truth, fantastical interpretation of classical art, and just plain false details of church history. For one who claims a very factual backdrop for his novel, Brown is seriously lacking credibility as a historian. So really, the novel and the movie work on the fantasy-quest level of something like an Indiana Jones or National Treasure film, though unfortunately it doesn’t seem its own creator fully realizes that. So, taking it for the work of fiction that it is, it’s a well-crafted story, full of interesting characters, a solid pace, and a host of twists that will keep you guessing to the end. The problem with the film is that the story just isn’t as engaging visually as it is on the page. This isn’t an action-driven tale, but one where most of the “action” takes place in conversation and conspiracy, and it just doesn’t entirely work here. Though the adaptation is thus limited in its potential, Howard does a pretty good job at getting what he can out of it. I was never bored over the film’s nearly 2 ½ hour running time, a decent accomplishment considering that I already knew everything that was going to happen (and as best as I can recall, the film stuck to the book pretty faithfully). The story is well staged and paced, and it’s a testament to Brown’s narrative that his story remains engaging even in a medium it’s not entirely suited for. There are problems aplenty, though, none of them are too major. While McKellen turns in a great performance, Hanks just doesn’t really work in the title role. This is one of the first times I can ever recall him as coming off as wooden and stiff, but he does, and some key moments suffer for it. Some of the conversations that are heavy on the exposition side (I’m thinking in particular about the revelation at Teabing’s ch√Ęteau of the big conspiracy) feel a bit forced and stilted, and they don’t flow quite as naturally as they did on the page. However, the story’s big plot twist in its final third is handled very well, and when the final credits rolled the film’s merits slightly outweighed its many problems for me. Its riding the strength of Brown’s narrative, but in the end that’s enough for a mildly compelling film. If you’re interested in checking out what the DaVinci fuss is all about, or want a pre-Angels & Demons primer, I’d suggest the book first – but if you’d rather spend a couple hours than a few days, the movie is serviceable and worth a rental. - *** (out of 4)

The DaVinci Code is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, violence, some nudity, thematic material, brief drug references and sexual content.