Friday, February 27, 2009

Tearing Down the Shack

Everybody and their mother seems to be talking about The Shack lately. I've not read it myself, but my good friend Corey Reynolds just reviewed it, and he's got major concerns. And by the way, before any supporters of the book chalk this one up to just another reformed guy hating on the emergent crowd, Corey was a fan of the much-maligned Blue Like Jazz.

Friday's Featured Film - 2/27/09

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 Recruit

Seen anything good at the movies lately? Not likely. January and February are typically slow months when it comes to good movies. Why? Studios tend to release their blockbuster material during the summer season, and their Oscar-bait heavy-hitters in the fall. Early spring becomes, for the most part, a dumping-ground for everything else. Every now and then, however, you’ll find a diamond or two in the rough. One such film was little-known 2003 spy-thriller The Recruit, a quick, smart, and entertaining ride through the world of covert operations.

The movie follows computer programmer James Clayton (Colin Farrell) as he is approached by CIA recruiter Walter Burke (Al Pacino). Burke tells him that his father, who disappeared years earlier, was in fact a CIA operative, and that James’ skills could be of great use to the agency. He enrolls in a training program for new recruits, where he quickly befriends a co-recruit named Layla (Bridget Moynahan) and finds himself in over his head in a strange and dangerous world.

The Recruit was released at the height of Farrell’s popularity from a few years ago. He seems difficult to find onscreen anymore (I’m interested in seeing his appearance in last year’s indie success In Bruges), and I can’t figure out why. He was one of my favorite up-and-coming actors, and he does well playing the lead in this tense thriller. Pacino is Pacino, so your opinion of his performance will be driven by your opinion of him. I love him. Moynahan completes the lead triangle well, and I maintain that she’s one of the more underrated actresses around today. This is more an intrigue thriller than an action thriller for the most part, so the strength of the three leads is vital, and it pays off. Director Roger Donaldson (who previously helmed the excellent political thriller Thirteen Days and returned to top form with last year’s The Bank Job) brings a restraint to the film that steers it away from the action-happy madness of many spy flicks and weaves a tense and entertaining story. There are enough twists and turns along the way to satisfy most thriller fans, and even if a couple are a tad predictable, the film proves deft enough to never make them feel cheap and contrived. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but the movie does what it does with near flawless execution, and it’s a great ride. 2002’s The Bourne Identity gets all the praise, but I found this a far more intelligent and entertaining movie (I didn’t care for the first Bourne at all, and I haven’t seen the much-lauded two sequels). If that type of film is up your alley, give this one a look. - **** (out of 4)

The Recruit is rated PG-13 for violence, sexuality, and language.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fried Computers and God's Providence

This would normally be the place for the Sola5 Wednesday Recap, and in a way this is it. However, the lesson that God taught me last night has been far more impactful than the one I taught my students, so I pass it along.

Every Wednesday, I head over to the church about an our before our youth meeting to finalize copies of my materials for the week – my sermon notes, outlines for my students, lyrics to the songs we’ll be singing and so on. Yesterday, I was in the process of finalizing my files when I got a call on my cell phone. I got up and talked to a friend of mine for a few minutes, pacing around the room (as is my norm when I’m on the phone, for whatever reason). In doing so, I apparently picked up a considerable amount of static charge, because when I sat back down at my computer and touched the mouse, I got a pretty good zap. Therein started the strangeness. When I went to continue my work, my computer had froze. At first I thought it was just the mouse, but the keyboard was unresponsive as well. I powered the computer down and turned it back on. The fan started up and the power light came on, but there was no BIOS beep, no clicking of the hard drive, and nothing on the screen. The monitor was in standby, which meant it wasn’t getting any sort of signal from the computer. In short, my static jolt had fried my motherboard.

The loss of the computer wasn’t the biggest deal in the world. I was pretty sure the hard drive was OK (it is), and I actually had a comparable machine that a friend of mine gave me a few months ago that I was planning to use for parts. No, the more pressing matter was that 15 minutes before our youth meeting, my plan for the night was completely unraveled. I had no notes, none of the study questions I planned to give my students, no lyrics for the songs that were going to perfectly bookend our study, nothing. Hopeful that plugging the hard drive into the new machine would allow me to quickly get the files I needed, I had one of our adults lead the first hour with our group, which is our game and fellowship time. Surely that hour would buy me the time to get the new Frankencomputer up and running.

Nope. At 7:00, I walked downstairs and stood in front of our group (which included a couple visitors) with my plan for the study shattered and none of my notes. I was going to just wing it, frantically trying to recall all the references I had written down. That’s when it hit me. Our passage last night was Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, which talks of the importance of coming before God in silence and awe and not being hasty to offer up countless words. I was about to stand before a room of teenagers and talk to them about the importance of tuning out the constant distractions our lives present and humbly and quietly seeking God in his word, both personally and corporately. I was going to tell them that so often, we approach God and his word with a million other things distracting us, not allowing us to hear with clarity and receptiveness what he has to say. Yet, here I was, rattled and nervous because my master plan for the evening had fallen through.

My confidence was in all the bells and whistles I’d added to my message for the evening. I was more focused on the peripherals than on God’s Word. I was allowing myself to be distracted by the same sorts of things that I was going to tell my students they should work to not be distracted by. Humbled, and now rattled in a whole different way, I started the study, and was honest about the lesson that God had just taught me through a burst of static electricity and some overloaded circuits. At the end of the night, I wondered whether anything productive had come from my lesson. I felt unprepared, incoherent, unsure. Then today, I got an email from one of my students talking about the impact of the lesson last night.

God fried my computer for a reason. I needed a dose of silence before God, a dose of realizing that my own ideas and plans and abilities were serving in a way to impede my dependence on God’s Word. I had thought about all the things that distract us from hearing God’s voice – our culture, our hobbies, our other loves – but I hadn’t thought about my biggest distraction: myself. It was a lesson I’m incredibly thankful for, and a motherboard was a small price to pay for it.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Knew It!

Alistair Begg's Scottish accent is a sham!

Food For Thought

And yes, the pun is intended. As my little girl gets bigger every day (8 months now!), I'm thinking more and more about how to begin to teach her, and other kids I pray God blesses us with, about Christ. Zach Nielsen has posted some practical advice from Mark Driscoll on family Bible study that I found very appealing and interesting, so I pass it along to you.
Step 1. Eat dinner with your entire family regularly.
Step 2. Mom and Dad sit next to one another to lead the family discussion.
Step 3. Open the meal by asking if there is anyone or anything to pray for.
Step 4. Someone opens in prayer and covers any requests. This task should be rotated among family members so that different people take turns learning to pray aloud.
Step 5. Start eating and discuss how everyone’s day went.
Step 6. Have a Bible in front of the parents in a translation that is age-appropriate for the kids’ reading level. Have someone (parent or child) open the Bible, and assign a portion to read aloud while everyone is eating and listening.
Step 7. Parents should note key words and themes in the passage and explain them to the kids on an age-appropriate level.
Step 8. Ask questions about the passage. You may want to begin with having your children summarize what was read—retelling the story or passage outline. Then, ask the following questions: What does this passage teach us about God? What does it say about us or about how God sees us? What does it teach us about our relationships with others?
Step 9. Let the conversation happen naturally, listen carefully to the kids, let them answer the questions, and fill in whatever they miss or lovingly and gently correct whatever they get wrong so as to help them.
Step 10. If the Scriptures convict you of sin, repent as you need to your family, and share appropriately honest parts of your life story so the kids can see Jesus’ work in your life and your need for him too. This demonstrates gospel humility to them.
Step 11. At the end of dinner, ask the kids if they have any questions for you.
Step 12. If you miss a night, or if conversation gets off track, or if your family occasionally just wants to talk about something else, don’t stress—it’s inevitable.

Adapted from “Family Dinner Bible Studies” by Mark Driscoll in
Trial: 8 Witnesses from 1 & 2 Peter, a study guide. (Mars Hill Church, 2009), pages 69-70.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oops reports that a $273 million NASA satellite crashed minutes after takeoff. Says program manager John Brunschwyler, "Certainly for the science community, it's a huge disappointment."

Well, I can't speak for the science community, but "huge disappointment" doesn't really do justice to the feelings of the taxpayer community. All we hear about is how grave the economy is right now, and we just blew up a quarter of a billion dollars. I'm sure they'll spend the $1.2 trillion they just authorized really well, too.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shepherd's Back - Or is He?

I blogged a while back about my great love for BioWare's sci-fi RPG epic Mass Effect. The gaming community has long known that the game was the first in a planned trilogy, but over the weekend the first official glimpse of Mass Effect 2 was revealed with a teaser trailer. The video is certainly a teaser, and it has Mass Effect fans like me in a tizzy over the fate of the Commander Shepherd we created and shaped in the first game. The developers at BioWare are telling Xbox 360 owners to hang onto their saved games from the original Mass Effect for use with the sequel, so perhaps the trailer isn't quite what it seems. Anyway, have a look - and if you haven't played the first Mass Effect, really, what are you waiting for?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 2/20/09

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.

Life is Beautiful

This weekend is Oscar time, which usually brings with it a lot of talk about a bunch of movies that nobody’s ever seen. Most people pay little attention, but sometimes those little movies turn out to be pure gold. So this week, I figured I’d highlight one from a few years back that still sits among my all-time favorites, Life is Beautiful. It’s a movie you may never have heard of, starring a bunch of people you’ve never heard of, and it’s all in Italian. It’s also one of the most amazing films you’ll ever see.

Roberto Benigni directs and stars as Guido, a funny and charismatic guy in 1930’s Italy who arrives in a new town and sets out to win the heart of Dora (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife) and open up a bookstore. The first half of the movie follows the two’s courtship and eventual marriage, and plays more like a slapstick comedy than anything else. However, as the shadow of World War II begins to fall over Europe, Guido’s Jewish heritage comes to the forefront, and a movie that began as a light and funny look at love is transformed into an incredibly touching story of family and survival.

I really don’t want to give much more than that away. This is one of the most impossible-to-define films I’ve ever seen. It can be clever and hilarious at one moment and pull on your heartstrings the next. It really is a film that must be experienced, and it’s one of that rare pantheon of movie experiences where I sit in absolute silence as the credits roll. It’s a profoundly moving story, and it was recognized as such at the 1998 Oscars, in which Benigni won a well-earned Best Actor Oscar, the movie won 3 others (including Best Foriegn Film) and was nominated for Best Picture. If you’ve already seen The Dark Knight four times and the rest of the Oscar ballot just doesn’t sound that appealing, head out to your local video store and hunt for this one. You’ll be glad you did.

Life is Beautiful is rated PG-13 for holocaust-related thematic elements.

Is Smoking Sinful?

Tim Challies takes up a thoughtful examination of that question. I think he hits on a lot of good points here, and examines things fairly. My conclusion is pretty similar to his - no, smoking is not necessarily sinful, though an addiction to it could be. The Bible has nothing to say about the subject whatsoever, so I would have major concerns with someone who would say that it unequivocally is sinful - that is the territory of legalism. Can good arguments be made against smoking? Sure - though Challies shows that these reasons aren't as airtight as they might seem when viewed with consistency across the spectrum of the Christian life. In any regard, it's a good article to get you thinking about how we define sin. Check it out, and if you've got thoughts on the issue, let me know in the comments.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

This Looks Intriguing

As I begin to compile my mental list of books I'd like to pick up at this year's Basics Conference (with its awesome 20% bookstore discount), Philip Ryken's Art for God's Sake sounds like an interesting read. Anybody already read it?

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 2/18/09

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.

Well, it feels like ten years short of forever since I’ve given a Wednesday update. Last night, we continued our trek through Ecclesiastes, covering chapter four. Over the past month and a half, we’ve looked at the book, seeing Solomon over and over emphasize the meaninglessness of life unless lived unto the Lord. He has torn down all the idols that we chase, all the things in life that we think will bring us ultimate fulfillment, both good and bad, and encouraged us to live life to the glory of God. In chapter four, we asked the question, “What does that sort of life look like?” In answering the question, we looked at the implications that truth has on our lives. For example, if it were true that your house were burning down, the logical response would be for you to get out of your house. So, we looked at four truths that Solomon presents us with in the chapter, and discussed what impact they should have on the life of a Godly person.

The first truth that we see, in verses 1-3, is that the world is an evil place. Solomon laments the oppression that is done to people under the sun, and their powerlessness to resist their oppressors. This is not news to us. Turn on the news, pick up a newspaper, and you’ll see countless stories of people being murdered, taken advantage of, used, etc. Look throughout history and you’ll find the echoes of Hitler’s holocaust, Stalin’s death camps, and countless other massacres great and small. Look in your own backyard, here in the land of the free, and you’ll find 50 million innocent human lives taken with the full approval of the law in the last 35 years. We dress it up and call it “abortion” instead of murder, but the end result is the same. The world is an evil place. How, then should the Godly respond? By comforting the oppressed. Part of Solomon’s lament is that the oppressed have no one to comfort them – this should be the compassionate response of those who are living lives unto the Lord. This can take many different forms – from reaching out to those who are social outcasts at school or work to taking a stand for the rights of those who are abused and neglected. Jesus demonstrated a heart for the helpless, and we should do the same if we claim to follow him.

The second truth, in verses 4-6, is that you can’t beat life. There is no magical winning formula to follow for a good life. I enjoy video games, and you play through a video game attempting to “beat” it, to finish the game. One of the most frustrating things is arriving at a point in a game when I can’t figure out for the life of me what I’m supposed to do next. It’s maddening, because I know that there is a solution (the game, after all, was designed to be beaten) and I just can’t figure it out. In life, no such solution exists. There is no plug-and-play way to find success and happiness. Solomon speaks here of the vanity of toiling your whole life to get more things, and also the failure of sitting back and doing nothing. You can’t win for losing. How does the Godly respond, then? By finding joy in the journey. Realize the God has given us this life and this world as a gift, and find joy in his day-to-day blessings. Enjoy the quiet moments he gives. Don’t spend life chasing empty dreams or sitting back in laziness, but seek God’s face and enjoy the path down which he leads you.

The third truth, in verses 7-12, is that stuff never satisfies. Solomon speaks of the futility of amassing a fortune and an empire only to have no one to share it with. How often do we think that some thing will make us happy, only to find that the thrill fades with time? Look at the stories of many people who win the lottery, only to find that the money actually destroyed their lives. How should the Godly respond to this reality? By investing in people, not things. God has made us for community. This is true on both a social level and a spiritual one. My students last night had a lot to say about the way that they have grown in their faith because of other people in their lives. I think we realize this truth, but we don’t pay nearly as much attention to it. How drastically would our churches be changed if we recognized the fact that God has given us a tremendous gift in each other? How much would our spiritual walks be strengthened if we sought out those who have walked the path before us and asked for their advice? Never lose sight of the relationships that God has blessed you with, and see that they are far more valuable than anything money can buy. It’s cliché, sure, but it’s true.

The final truth that we looked at, from verses 13-16, is that circumstances change. Solomon tells the story of a wise but poor young man and an old foolish king. He says that the young man is better than the old king, despite the fact that the king has everything he could ever want and the young man has nothing. How is this so? Because the young man may one day stand in the king’s place, and the king will one day die, and take nothing with him. We never know where God will take us over the course of our lives. The story of Joseph immediately springs to mind. So, how should the Godly respond? By seeking wisdom, not wealth. God will take care of us in all circumstances. Nothing is outside his sovereign control. We need to get to the point where our priority is seeking his wisdom, his truth, and saying with Paul that we have learned to be content with both a little and a lot. Seek God’s face, and we will be ready to respond in a Godly way to whatever circumstances we’re in.

Truths have consequences. Reality demands a response. Look at the faith you claim. What response does it demand from your life? Perhaps the things we discussed are a good starting point, perhaps God’s pointing to an entirely different area in which you need to change. Be obedient to follow, and you’ll be on the path to avoiding a meaningless life, and find the fulfillment that Solomon says evades so many.

Goal of the Year

I'd like Alexander Ovechkin more if he wasn't in Carolina's division. Holy cow, this is pretty.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Consider Me Counting Down

One of my favorite times of every year is my annual trip with good friends in the ministry to Cleveland, Ohio for Alistair Begg's Basics Conference for Pastors. This past week, the brochure for this year's edition, held May 11-13, was released, and the lineup looks as good as ever. Alistair, my favorite preacher, will be speaking as always, and this year he will be joined by Dr. John Piper and Dr. John Lennox, professor of mathematics at Oxford (and father of songwriter Kristyn Getty) under the theme, "Minds Stirred, Wills Urged, and Affections Renewed." This will be my fifth year attending the conference, and if you've never been, I can't urge you strongly enough to go. It's an incredibly refreshing and challenging experience, and the people of Parkside are among the most hospitable you'll ever meet. You can now register online. See you in Cleveland!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

I'm Still Here

Apologies for the quiet week, but it will probably stay that way until Monday. Editing Kentucky Jones has basically sapped every last ounce of my free time of late, and it's only half done. I love making movies, but I loathe the editing process. At any rate, I promise to be back in full blogging force next week, so the three of you that read this can sleep well.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Here We Go Again

It's become something of a tradition for my youth group to make a movie every year for our Valentine's Banquet. After three years of spoofing Star Wars with our Hazel Wars saga, we changed things up this year by sending up Indiana Jones with Kentucky Jones and the Plates of Destiny. Here's a sneak preview of the ridiculousness, along with the trailers from the three Hazel Wars films for the uninitiated.

Kentucky Jones and the Plates of Destiny

Hazel Wars: Episode I - The Birth of a Hero

Hazel Wars: Episode II - The ACLU Strikes Back

Hazel Wars: Episode III - Rise of the Knights

Friday, February 6, 2009

Barges Hate Louisville

A good friend of mine, who also happens to be a great writer, offers some hilarious reflections on yesterday's crash of a barge into a local bridge, and some thoughts that the problem is bigger than we can imagine.

Dialogue With Darwinists

It's the month that marks the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, so rather than sticking a Jesus fish eating a Darwin fish on the back of your car, take a few minutes reading Marvin Olasky's article in the new issue of World and think about how to frame an intelligent conversation with your Darwinist friends.

HT: Tim Challies

Battlefield Flashback

There is likely no game that I've spent as much time playing online as Battlefield: 1942. The Battlefield formula is great - team-based multiplayer combat centered around attacking and defending certain locations. I've really enjoyed the latest in the series, Battlefield: Bad Company, but I'm quite excited about the newly announced Battlefield: 1943, which will be an Xbox Live Arcade title this summer, updating some of the classic Battlefield maps with the new technology of the Frostbite engine. Looks like it should be a blast (no pun intended). Here's the trailer.

Mourn For Our Culture

Just read this horrible story from the Associated Press about a botched abortion. People are outraged, but the sad and wretched irony is that if the doctor had killed this baby 30 minutes earlier, before it exited the womb, nobody would have batted an eye. As Zach Nielsen points out, there is no moral difference between abortion and infanticide - and this story is a tragic case-in-point.

UPDATE: Here's an interview with the mother.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Does Your Theology Make You A Chocolate-Covered Raisin or a Tootsie Roll?

From a great post by Kevin DeYoung...
"Striking the balance is not easy. But let’s try hard to be discerning and grounded without always looking for the next theological misstep in our friends, our family, or the songs we sing. And let’s be able to tell the difference between wandering sheep and false teachers. We must delineate between a slightly ill-informed wording of a phrase and a purposeful rejection of truth. We must pursue a passion for fidelity to Scripture and a winsomeness that sweetens the already honey-like drippings of the word of God. Let us be more like a chocolate covered raisin, likeable on the outside and surprisingly good for you on the inside, and less like a tootsie roll pop with its brittle, crunchy exterior that must be broken through before anyone can get to the good stuff. Our theological heart, if it is worth anything, will pulse throughout our spiritual bodies, making us into someone more prayerful, more godly, and more passionate about the Bible, the lost, and the world around us. We will be theologically solid to the core, without the unnecessary crust."
HT: Vitamin Z

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Long on Pants, Short on Bible Verses

I saw this article on the other day, and found it funny and sad all at the same time. The Irish Calvinist posted some reflections on it, and I think they are spot-on. It's a great reminder that Scripture is our guide in all things - anything else is just a stone's throw from legalism.

I Love Normal

Well, things seem to be returning to normal here in Louisville. Last week, an ice storm caused the second largest power outage in Kentucky history (second to only Hurricane Ike from last fall). It's still really cold, and giant mounds of plowed snow still remain, but most people in town have their power back. We never lost ours, but several friends and family did, and as a result we had quite the full hosue this weekend. Having 6 adults and 5 kids (3 of whom are under 10 months old) in a 2 bedroom, 1 bath house (the full basement was our saving grace) was quite an adventure, but at the end of the day it was also a lot of fun. Watching the kids play together, cooking massive amounts of food, and a great game of Risk (my wife won, she always does) highlighted a great 6 days. However, it was also quite nice to head home yesterday from work to find my wife and daughter as the only people home. I had a great, quiet evening that involved some great time relaxing with my family and a substantial amount of sleep. You know the old phrase, "You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone?" Well, today, I'm feeling more like, "You don't know what you've got 'till everyone else is gone."