Friday, April 24, 2009

Why I Love My Wife: Reason #23,056

Scene: Yesterday evening, our basement.

Me: The Hurricanes have a big game tonight at 7:30.

Expected Typical Wife Response: Huh.

My Wife: You know who looks really good right now? Boston! They made the Canadiens look like a high school team last night!

Happy Birthday, Sola Miscellany

It's hard for me to believe, but exactly one year ago I read an article on CNN that irritated the crap out of me and it provoked me to take up blogging. One year and 337 posts (some more worthwhile than others) later, I'm still going. I've found blogging to be fun and tremendously helpful to me spiritually. It's given me a medium to mentally process things that God is doing in my life. In asking the question "How would I communicate this to someone else?" I've found that the principles God is teaching me are more deeply communicated to my own heart. Along the way, ferrets, relocated NBA teams, and a clothes dryer have been causes for spiritual reflection and meditation, and for that, I'm thankful. Of course, a journal would serve that same purpose, so I hope that posting these reflections (and a little bit of just plain fun) has been helpful to some of you as well. Thanks for reading, and God willing I'll still be blogging on April 24, 2010.

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 4/22/09

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.

In chapter 10 of Ecclesiastes, the book shifts in its structure from the prose of most of the first 9 chapters into short proverbs, very reminiscent of the bulk of the book of Proverbs. Having spent the book laying out the vanity of life apart from God and the supremacy of God in all things, Solomon now starts to give quick bites of wisdom describing what a wise life or a foolish life looks like (and remember – God is the source of wisdom, and thus foolishness is by definition a rejection of God). Wednesday night, we looked at the proverbs at chapter 10 and examined eight “quick hits” of wisdom to apply to our Christian walk and worldview.

First, in verses 1-3, we looked at the poison of sin. Solomon uses the imagery of dead flies in fine perfume to demonstrate how a small bit of foolishness or sin can render an otherwise wise life futile. Imagine that you are drinking a bottle of Coke, and I take it and spit in it. I would guess that you wouldn’t keep on drinking it. Why not? It’s just a little bit of spit, right? The bottle is still probably around 98% Coke. That wouldn’t matter to you, though. A small bit is enough to make the whole thing repulsive. In a similar way, a small bit of sin in our lives can destroy the rest of our testimony. Thus, we should be constantly on our guard.

Secondly, in verses 4-11, we looked at the danger of pride. These verses contain many warnings against pride, from Solomon’s observation that those in places of prominence and recognition aren’t always deserving of it (verses 5-7), to warnings that one’s own accomplishments can often cause harm (verses 8-11). We should make sure that we’re trusting in God and keeping our pride in check. Thirdly, in verses 12-14, we examined the power of words, both to do good and to do evil. Our words, whether spoken, written, or Tweeted, carry the potential to build others up or to be empty, wasting time at best and tearing down at worst. Think carefully about the things you say. In verse 15, we looked at the importance of focus. Solomon points out the futility of working and sweating to reach a destination when you don’t know how to get there in the first place. All the effort and ability in the world is wasted when it doesn’t have a purpose in view. What are you chasing in life? What is important to you? Put Christ in your sights and follow him, ensuring that your life’s efforts won’t end up a bridge to nowhere.

Fifth, in verses 16-17, we see the value of sobriety. A byproduct of the proper focus, sobriety is the ability to control one’s self and think clearly about what is important. We need to understand the importance of our time and use it wisely. After all, if Solomon asserts here the importance of wisdom and sobriety for those who rule nations, how much more vital is it for we who are ambassadors for Christ? Sixth, in verse 18, we see the need of work. There is no such thing as an armchair Christian. Our faith demands action, and we need to be willing to do the work it takes to know God (primarily through his word) and the work that knowledge demands of us. In verse 19, we see the gift of blessings. In a book where Solomon has constantly belittled earthly wealth as meaningless, it is a good counterbalance here to see him speaking of the value that material things can have. God created all things good, and every good gift we have comes from him. When we stop seeing our things as our things and start seeing them as gifts from God, we’ll start enjoying them and using them in an entirely different way and avoid the trap that they can so easily become. Finally, in verse 20, we looked at the destruction of hate. We all know murder is wrong, but often times we feel that harboring anger or resentment in our hearts is harmless. Jesus made it pretty clear that’s not the case, but Solomon warns against it as well. Nothing will destroy your relationships with God and others faster than harboring bitterness and hatred against other people.

My encouragement to the believers in our group was to reread the chapter and this list before going to bed Wednesday and to pinpoint one of the eight things that needs the most attention in their lives. What about you? Which of these lessons of wisdom do you need to learn or re-learn? Seek God’s wisdom, and avoid a wasted life.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


That's how much time was left on the clock last night when Jussi Jokinen's deflection of a Dennis Seidenberg shot crossed the goal line, giving the Hurricanes an incredible 4-3 win over New Jersey and evening the series at 2-2. It was the latest regulation game-winner in playoff history, and an incredible finish to a game Carolina had to have. If you missed it, here's a look.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Random Tuesday Question - 4/21/09

Tuesday is a day without an identity. It's not reviled like Monday, gleefully anticipated like Friday, or celebrated like Saturday. It doesn't have a cool name like Wednesday's "humpday," or Sunday's spiritual identity. Let's help Tuesday find itself. Lately, I've been having fun with Blogger's random question feature. So, every Tuesday, I'll take a new question, post my answer here, and ask for yours in the comments. Come on. Tuesday needs you.

You've successfully slain the dragon! How will you toast your marshmallows?

I'll chain him to the ground, stand over him with my sword, then have my cleric friend use his last raise dead spell to bring him back to life. Once the marshmallows are toasty, I'll finish him off again.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Constant Need of Grace

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” - Jerry Bridges
HT: Tim Challies

One Step Forward... know the rest. After snatching home-ice advantage from the Devils on Friday, the Hurricanes gave it back last night, falling to New Jersey 3-2 in overtime. This put the Devils ahead 2-1 in the series and will make tomorrow's Game 4 vital, as a 3-1 deficit heading back to New Jersey would be incredibly difficult to overcome. Come on, Canes!

Roger Ebert on "God"

Roger Ebert is without a doubt my favorite film critic. Though I don't agree with him in every instance (The Phantom Menace was better than Attack of the Clones???), more often than not I find his insights into movies to ring very true. I usually check his reviews and blogs every couple weeks, and looking at his blog this morning I read a fascinating post detailing his personal view of God and spirituality. It's fascinating to me largely because I suspect it is representative (save for being a lot more intellectually developed) of much of our culture's view of God - nebulous, un-knowable, and certainly not demanding anything from humanity save the most broad moral platitudes. An excerpt...
"Let me rule out at once any God who has personally spoken to anyone or issued instructions to men. That some men believe they have been spoken to by God, I am certain. I do not believe Moses came down from the mountain with any tablets he did not go up with. I believe mankind in general evidently has a need to believe in higher powers and an existence not limited to the physical duration of the body. But these needs are hopes, and believing them doesn't make them true."
I'd encourage you to read the post and to consider how you'd go about telling Ebert about the glory of the living God, because I strongly suspect that you'll meet a couple Eberts in your life - or that you know one already.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Now We're Even

That's more like it. After a dismal Game 1, the Canes evened the series with a 2-1 overtime win over the Devils in Game 2. Tim Gleason picked a great time to score his first goal of the season with the game-winner. Now the series shifts back to Raleigh, and since Carolina stole a game in New Jersey they just need to win their three home games to earn a trip to the second round.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 4/17/09

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.

Arlington Road

When my wife and daughter were out of town a couple weekends ago, I got to watch several movies I've been wanting to see as I was hanging out with some friends. One was a movie that my good friend Josh Nelson has been recommending to me for months now - the 1999 thriller Arlington Road. It's a movie that had its ups and downs for me, and it's a tough one to review since much of the film's power (like many thrillers) is due to its twists and turns, but in the end is was an enjoyable, if flawed, bit of filmmaking.

The movie opens with Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges), a widowed college professor and an expert on domestic terrorism, driving down his street and seeing an injured, bleeding boy, whom he takes to the hospital. As the boy recovers, Michael realizes that he is the son of his new neighbors, Oliver and Cheryl Lang (Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack). Michael, his girlfriend (Hope Davis) and son become fast friends with the Langs, with the two boys becoming increasingly close. However, things begin to unravel for Michael when a series of strange occurrences makes him think that there may be more to his new neighbors than meets the eye. He begins to dig into their past, and despite the skepticism of everyone around him, he believes he has come upon a terrifying secret.

For the first two-thirds of it's running time, Arlington Road is a well-crafted but unspectacular thriller. Director Mark Pellington (The Mothman Prophecies) does a great job of setting an unsettling tone from the opening scene, and he has a knack for making the ordinary feel quite uncomfortable. All the cast seem quite comfortable playing characters that feel very organic for them. Everything feels engaging, but not like anything we haven't seen before. In the movie's final act, two big shifts occur. One feels contrived and over-the-top at first but more understandable in hindsight, and the other is a shocking and incredibly gripping revelation that feels a little less impressive in hindsight. Without giving too much away, the mark of a great twist in a thriller is the ability to rewatch the film to see if the plot holds up. M. Night Shyamalan is the best at this I've seen. His twists are amazing, but they never cheat - in fact, repeat viewings of The Sixth Sense make me wonder how I never saw the twist coming to begin with. While Arlington Road's big twist was fantastic in the moment, the more I think about it the more I seriously doubt its plausibility would hold up under the careful eye of a second viewing. If you've watched the film more than once, let me know your thoughts in the comments (consider this a spoiler warning for the comments if you haven't seen the film). All-in-all, Arlington Road is an entertaining thriller, and while a second viewing may dampen the experience, for me the first was quite a ride. - *** (out of 4)

Arlington Road is rated R for violence and some language.

Searching For God's Man

If you would, please pray for my church over the weekend, as we'll be having a pastoral candidate preaching Sunday morning. It's been a long and trying time since our previous pastor resigned back in August, and it's exciting to begin to look to the future. Pray that we would make a wise decision.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Let's Try That Again

Well, the way my Carolina Hurricanes opened the playoffs last night looked a lot like the way my Carolina Panthers opened their playoffs back in January. Thankfully, at least the Canes will get another chance. They were dominated by New Jersey last night 4-1 in the opener of their best-of-seven 1st round series. Here's hoping they have a better showing tomorrow night. I'd like them to at least stick around long enough for me to get to see them on TV.

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 4/15/09

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.

So often, there is a disconnect for the Christian between the way that we live and the way that we know we should live. When we’re confronted with the truth of Ecclesiastes that everything is meaningless apart from the presence of God, we realize that so much of what we chase after in life does not ultimately matter. When we see life rightly, and see God for who he is, it becomes readily apparent that wasting our lives is a very real temptation.

In Ecclesiastes 9, which serves as a powerful summary of the themes explored in the book so far, Solomon begins by presenting us with two inescapable facts that we must deal with in life: we are all sinners, and we will all die. No one can escape these two realities. Thus, we have to confront them. How can we ensure that what we are doing with our lives will last beyond this world? How can we face our sin without collapsing into utter despair? We can answer these questions with more clarity than Solomon could, because we now see our answer in Jesus Christ. Christ deals with the evil in our hearts, and he gives us a hope beyond death.

In verses 7-10, we get a glimpse at what that shift – seeing glorifying God as our ultimate purpose – means for our lives here and now. We can live with purpose, seeing our lives and everything in them as a gift from God to be enjoyed to his glory. Everything in life is sacred, and we should approach life looking for avenues for worship. Solomon’s admonitions here have a very strong New Testament echo in 1 Corinthians 10:31. Plainly put, when Christ shapes our purpose in life, everything has meaning and is full of joy.

In the final verses, Solomon gives us a couple of means to that end. First, he demonstrates the importance of trust in God by pointing out that God alone is ultimately in control of all things. Anytime we believe that we can take care of things in our own power, we are setting ourselves up for failure. Since we know that God is in control, we should have a deep dependence on him in every area of our lives. This is not a static trust, but one that is informed by his words – if we trust God, we will trust that what he has taught and commanded us is true and best. This will lead to the second means, following in his ways. If God’s glory is our purpose, then it will drive our actions, not just our beliefs. A life that is not wasted is marked by the way it takes God’s truth and applies it to every area.

As Christians, we can never look too closely at our own spiritual walks. Take stock of your faith – are you wasting your life? If you profess faith in Christ, does your life demonstrate that your profession is real? Are you organizing your life around the faith that you cling to? Does it inform, drive, and give joy to your every action? Or, are you in danger of epitomizing the vanity Ecclesiastes has constantly referenced by living a life that is little more than a chasing after the wind?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

It Starts Tonight

Even if you're not a hockey fan, let me suggest that you check out one of the most exciting events in all of sports as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tonight. Here's a little taste of what's in store (gotta love Carolina announcer John Forslund's signature "Hey, hey, whaddaya say" at around the 1 minute mark). Let's go Canes!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Random Tuesday Question - 4/14/09

Tuesday is a day without an identity. It's not reviled like Monday, gleefully anticipated like Friday, or celebrated like Saturday. It doesn't have a cool name like Wednesday's "humpday," or Sunday's spiritual identity. Let's help Tuesday find itself. Lately, I've been having fun with Blogger's random question feature. So, every Tuesday, I'll take a new question, post my answer here, and ask for yours in the comments. Come on. Tuesday needs you.

You're trapped in a well with a goat and a slinky. Describe how you will escape.

I'll beat the goat incessantly and hope the racket attracts attention, but I'm keeping the slinky - when I get out of that well it will be a ton of fun.

This Is Damning

Recently, Thom Rainer took a Twitter poll asking people what they think when they hear the term, "Southern Baptist." Here is a Wordle of the results - a word-picture that renders the most frequently used words largest.

May this be a wake-up call for our portrayal of Christ to a watching world.

HT: Vitamin Z

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday's Featured Film 4/10/09

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.

Children of Men

Science fiction is a genre of nearly limitless possibilities. When most people hear sci-fi, they immediately think of ray guns, aliens and spaceships. However, what truly defines science fiction is the way in which it uses technology - both real and imagined - to explore ideas. Children of Men, a dystopian drama set twenty years in the future, does exactly that, exploring the frailty of human civilization and goodness by examining a world that has lost hope in it's entirety.

The film takes place in 2027 in a world where no children have been born in 18 years. Due to the unexplained global infertility pandemic, the youngest human being alive is 18 and the human race faces the grim reality that this generation will be its last. Society crumbles. Governments collapse into anarchy and chaos. Britian responds by forming a police state, tightly controlling its citizens and brutally cracking down on immigrats fleeing their ravaged homelands for England's relative peace. Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a former activist who has long since given up hope, is approached by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), who continues on her activist work as the leader of the Fishes, a militant group fighting for equal rights for immigrants. She asks for his help in transporting Kee (Claire-Hope Ashley) an African refuge, to a port city where she can leave the country. Theo reluctantly agrees, and only later discovers what is truly at stake - Kee is pregnant, the last hope of humanity.

When the movie was released in 2006, I remember hearing a lot of buzz about its technical merit. The film received three Oscar nominations (cinematography, art direction, adapted screenplay) and I can more than see why. Emmanuel Lubezki's photography and Alfonzo Cuaron's directing combine to present an incredibly immersive world that feels all too real. Much of the impact of science fiction is determined by how deeply the audience buys the premise, and despite the incredible (and unexplained) plot device central to Children of Men, I almost instantly felt that it presented a world that could actually exist. Much has been made of several long single-shot sequences in the film, and they are indeed quite spectacular, and all the more impressive for the way that they naturally support the story rather than sticking out like an indulgent, showy stunt. The story explores a humanity devoid of hope, which is a humanity both broken and brutal. I have to imagine that this is what a world devoid of God's common grace would look like. Theo begins the movie in that boat, but over the course of the film we see his hope restored by Kee's child, which drives him to do incredible things. The messianic themes are unmistakable (the original novel was admittedly written as a Christian fable), and though the disturbing violence, harsh language, brief nudity, and bleak vision may not make the film palatable to some, the theme of redemption runs like an undercurrent through the whole thing. It's certainly worth your time. - ***1/2 (out of 4)

Children of Men is rated R for strong violence, language, some drug use and brief nudity.

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 4/8/09

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.

Throughout the Scriptures, we see many promises that God will watch over and protect his people. We see more promises that sin and wickedness will result in judgment. Yet, as we go through life, many times things don’t seem to work out that way. Good people, people who follow God wholeheartedly, still suffer. Many people get away with evil deeds, and people who live immoral lives often prosper. What are we to make of this? Are situations like these cause to throw in the towel on our faith and concede that God doesn’t exist? In Ecclesiastes 8:10-17, Solomon examines this reality, and as we studied that passage Wednesday night we saw that he emerges from that lifelong examination with a strong faith in God still intact.

Despite circumstances that seem to say otherwise, Solomon points out in verses 10-13 that God is just. He talks about watching the lives of wicked people, how they hypocritically played by the rules when everyone was watching, even devoutly entering the temple to sacrifice to God, but then lived lives characterized by wickedness. Not only does he say that they didn’t receive any sort of judgment in their life, but he says that they were well respected and honored by those around them. At this point, we might be tempted to say that this is evidence that God doesn’t exist. Where is the fire from heaven? Why aren’t these people struck down? Where is the justice? In fact, I’ve had atheists with whom I’ve debated justify blasphemous comments with the defense, “If God has a problem with what I’m saying, he can always strike me down, but that hasn’t happened yet. We take God’s grace (which is the reason why all sin doesn’t come with an immediate and terrible punishment) and flip it on its head, mocking God with it. Notice, though, what Solomon says in verse 12 as he reflects on what he’s seen – “Yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God…but it will not be well with the wicked.” In the face of injustice, Solomon asserts with certainty that God is just! He trusts that, whether in this life or the next, God will set all things right.

“But that doesn’t make sense!” the atheist might say. “You offer no evidence – in fact, the evidence points in the opposite direction!” At the end of the day, the issue is trust in God. Solomon says that he is sure that God is in control and will make all things right. How does he explain what he sees? In essence, he says he can’t. In verses 14-17, he begins by saying that sometimes justice is perverted and ignored, and he then goes on to say that God’s purpose and plan is beyond finding out. We believe in the God who is revealed to us through the Bible – the God who is all-powerful, all-knowing, good, wise, and just. He is beyond human comprehension, eternal in nature, and he created all things – us included – by the word of his mouth. Solomon recognizes God’s greatness and admits that he is beyond figuring out. So, when we realize how far above us he is, we will trust his wisdom above our own. Wasn’t that the case with Job? Job never got an answer to his question, just a vision of God that was glorious and awe-inspiring enough to make him quit asking it. After seeing the grandeur of what God has done, Job no longer felt the need to have him answer to his questions. Solomon’s reaction is much the same. What about yours? When confronted with things you don’t understand, how do you react? Do you demand answers and become angry at God, or do you deepen your trust in him, knowing that he’s working all things for his glory and your good?

Three Days in the Belly of the Earth

Dr. Walter Kaiser explains how Good Friday afternoon to Resurrection Sunday morning equals three days.

HT: Tim Challies

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Random Tuesday Question - 4/7/09

Tuesday is a day without an identity. It's not reviled like Monday, gleefully anticipated like Friday, or celebrated like Saturday. It doesn't have a cool name like Wednesday's "humpday," or Sunday's spiritual identity. Let's help Tuesday find itself. Lately, I've been having fun with Blogger's random question feature. So, every Tuesday, I'll take a new question, post my answer here, and ask for yours in the comments. Come on. Tuesday needs you.

You forgot your mom's birthday! What can you make out of super glue and olive pits?

Not sure, but it can't look any worse than half the crap I made her in 1st grade art class.

A Crucifixion Narrative

Go check out this thought-provoking and deeply moving piece by Rick Gamache on the atonement, a great reminder of exactly what it is we'll be celebrating this weekend.

HT: Darius T.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The End of Christian America, or Truth in Advertising?

Newsweek is running an article by Jon Meacham titled "The End of Christian America." The article is well worth reading, looking at the recent study that shows a decline in Americans who self-identify as Christians and examines what that means for our country. It features reactions from across the religious spectrum, from Al Mohler to Christopher Hitchens.

For me, it's been a cause for reflection. I hear and see many Christians reacting to studies like this one by lamenting the loss of our Christian nation. I don't feel the sting of any such loss. Perhaps it's a sign of poor spiritual discernment and a too-cold heart on my part, I don't know, but my sense is that my lack of a feeling of loss is due to my perception that what we have is not a large block of people fleeing Christianity, but an increasing honestly among people who never cared much for Christ to begin with. I'm 25, and all my life, despite all the surveys that say a vast majority of Americans identify as Christians (and even this latest one puts that number at around 75%), I've never really seen much in the way of authentic Christianity. Think about your workplace or your school. If you were to randomly take 10 people and put them in a room, how many of them would you expect to be true Christ-followers? It sure wouldn't be 7 or 8, and in many contexts I expect you'd be surprised to find 2 or 3.

From my perspective, that's the reality of America today, and it's the same reality that I saw 10 years ago when I was in high school. When I survey our country's religious landscape over my lifetime, I don't see a decline in Christianity as much as I see an increase in the amount of people willing to admit that they never really gave a rip about Jesus to begin with. Ten or twenty years ago (and especially 50 or 60 years ago), cultural propriety would compel people to go through the religious motions out of a sense of civic identity. Today, those same people don't feel any real cultural stigma about fleeing a shallow or nominal religion, so they're more apt to simply be honest and say that they don't associate with an organized expression of faith. What we have in our culture then is a change, sure - but a change in name more than a change in substance.

Here's the strange thing - I find this exciting. People are jettisoning their cultural religious baggage unlike never before. It used to be that nearly everyone was in church at least occasionally and nearly everyone could tell you the basic story of what Jesus is about. No longer. With this reality comes an incredible opportunity to speak the gospel with clarity, compassion, and freshness into the lives of people to whom salvation by grace through faith is a foreign concept. I see a greater openness in people to talk about spiritual things freely and a stronger reaction from people when they see an authentic faith in Jesus rather than the cold, cultural faith of their mind's eye. I see opportunity for the Gospel beyond our wildest imagination. So stop mourning "Christian America." If it ever really existed, it's been dead at least since I was born. However, Christ is alive, his word is truth, and his power and glory are on display in the hearts of many across the land. Are there millions in America who don't know him? Sure, but look at it this way - at least now they'll likely admit it.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday's Featured Film - 4/3/09

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.

Slumdog Millionaire

At this year’s Academy Awards, Slumdog Millionaire - a small, independent film about a boy from the slums of India - came from seemingly nowhere to rule the night, taking home 8 awards including Best Picture. Given that fact, and the fact that everyone I talk to who has seen it raves about it, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. With my wife and daughter gone visiting family for the weekend, my friend Scott and I got together last night and rented the film, and it more than lived up to the hype.

Slumdog tells the story of Jamal Malik (Dev Patel), a boy from the slums of Mumbai who grows up and ends up on the Indian version of the game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Against all odds, Jamal – despite having no formal education – is one question away from the grand prize. Believing that such a feat is impossible for a “slumdog,” Jamal is arrested on suspicion of fraud on the night before he will go on the air to answer the final question. As he is interrogated by the police, he tells the story of his life, and recounts the series of events that brought him to this place and gave him the answers to the questions.

The movie succeeds on virtually every level possible. The story is a modern fairytale, complete with love, loss, evil villains and an epic journey. The film is cleverly written and has a great sense of humor, a huge accomplishment given the weighty subject matter often involved. The ensemble cast gives fantastic performances, with the three main characters – Jamal, his brother Salim, and Latika, the girl he spends a lifetime searching for – being played by several young actors each as they grow up over the course of the film. The movie is visually stunning, beautifully photographing both the gritty, grimy slums and India’s beauty with equal skill. The music is fantastic striking exactly the right tone for every scene. The structure of the storytelling is incredibly engaging, alternating between Jamal’s appearance on the game show, his interrogation, and flashbacks of his life. Each scene perfectly sets the stage for the next. The themes the movie explores are fantastic, from the romance (which is one of the best on-screen love stories I’ve seen in a long while, moving largely because of its innocence and simplicity) to the underlying idea which begins with a question posed by the film during the opening moments. Everything about this movie felt right, not only about its parts but about the whole – a testimony to director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, Millions) and his ability to put together a fantastic film. Slumdog Millionaire carries about as much of an unreserved recommendation as I can give. This is a great movie, a true classic, and a fantastic achievement in storytelling. - **** (out of four)

Slumdog Millionaire is rated R for some violence, disturbing images, and language.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Pastor Name Fail

Sola5 Wednesday Recap - 4/1/09

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.

How’s your memory? Do you ever have to leave yourself reminders to help you remember various things? When I posed that question to my students last night, they had a wide array of memory-triggering devices, from sticky notes to cell phone calendars to writing on their hands. As we looked at Ecclesiastes 8:1-9, we talked about the subject of authority, and how it can have a similar effect on our spiritual memory – that our obedience to earthly authority is both a reminder and a primer on our ultimate obedience to God.

Wisdom continues to be the theme, here, and Solomon is continuing his look at the practical outworking of Godly wisdom in one’s life. In verse 2, he begins to talk about the importance of obedience to authority – in this case, the king. Obviously, none of us are subject to a king these days, but we can apply Solomon’s principles here to all authority, including government, parents, church elders, bosses, and teachers. Solomon begins with some practical reasons for submitting to authority. The first is that authority is God-given. In fact, Romans 13 goes as far as saying that all authority is given by God, without exception. Jesus even told Pilate during his trial that the only authority Pilate had over him was the authority God had given. Whether authority is used well or abused horribly, God is ultimately the one who gives it, and thus when we rebel against authority (except in cases where human authority contradicts God’s commands) we rebel against God. Secondly, Solomon says that we should obey authority to avoid the negative consequences of wrong behavior. Don’t want to go to prison? Don’t commit a crime. Actions have consequences, a fact that a wise person will consider before they act. Finally, Solomon teaches that obedience to authority makes us more Godly. In verse 5, he indicates that the wise heart will grow in its knowledge of what is right and good through its obedience. It builds us up, while rebellion tears our faith and trust in God down, since it holds us up as the ultimate authority.

In this principle, Solomon transitions into a reflection on the ultimate reason that wisdom submits itself to authority – because wisdom trusts in God. In verses 6-9, he speaks of the uncertainties of life as being a motivating factor for our obedience. The things which baffle us, which concern us, which remind us of our own mortality, should drive us to trust ever more in God, which should in turn yield a deeper, more gracious, and more joyful obedience. If we truly trust in Christ, our lives must be marked by obedience to his commands. He said as much, and it makes logical sense as well. Think of it this way – if you believe that God is a) in control of all things, b) perfectly wise, and c) true to his promise to work our good in all things, then what reason do you have for not obeying what he tells you to do? There is none! Trust must yield obedience, or it is not trust. So, the next time your teacher or boss rubs you the wrong way, the next time your parents' rules contrast with your own desires, or the next time you’re tempted to skirt some small, insignificant law that nobody else obeys (pirating media, anyone?), think about the fact that you’re ultimately making a statement about your trust in God by doing so. It may initially seem like a large disconnect, but when you follow the bread crumbs the connection is clearly evident. It extends to our attitudes toward earthly authority – good and bad – and to every other part of our lives as well. So let your relationships, your time, your money, and yes, your humble submission to authority, be sticky notes reminding you of your ultimate allegiance to your Lord and King.

Welcome to Religious Insanity

Ann Holmes Redding was officially defrocked yesterday by the Episcopal church after 30 years as a minister. She's disappointed, and feels no reason why she shouldn't be allowed to continue as a Christian minister. So why did the Episcopal church make the move? What did she do that they felt was so problematic?

She became a Muslim.

Yes, you read that correctly. In 2006, Redding converted to Islam. Since then, she's continued in service as a Christian pastor, believing that there is no inherent contradiction. "Both religions say there's only one God," Redding said, "and that God is the same God. It's very clear we are talking about the same God! So I haven't shifted my allegiance."

This is madness, its silliness, and its a damning condemnation of what religion has become in our culture. We don't care about truth. We don't care about revelation. We've so stripped faith down to the barest of human-centered platitutes that a woman who went to seminary and served 30 years as a minister can say with a straight face about the God of the Bible and the God of Islam, "It's very clear we are talking about the same God!" Never mind the vastly different (and mutually-exclusive) claims of each faith about God's nature, his actions, and what he demans of his creation. Our culture has made faith more about us than it is about God, building an altar to self and making God a simple window dressing to brighten up the room - and since everyone has different tastes, it doesn't really matter what color the curtains are. Go check out the full report, and let this serve as a strong reminder of the importance of holding fast to the truths "once for all delivered to the saints."

Pulling For the Trifecta

I've dubbed it "The Trifecta." It's never happened before - all 3 Carolina pro sports teams making the playoffs in the same season. There's an outside chance it could happen this year, and the prospect has me pumped with anticipation. The Carolina Panthers already did their part, smashing through the regular season with a 12-4 record, winning the NFC South division, and heading into the playoffs (unfortunately with very forgettable results). Next on tap, the Carolina Hurricanes, who at present are arguably the hottest team in the entire NHL coming off a 10-1-2 March. After beginning the month as an inconsistent team with fringe playoff hopes, the renaissance of goalie Cam Ward and the reaquisition of forward Erik Cole (who was just traded away to Edmonton last summer) has them sitting smack dab in the middle of the Eastern Conference race as the team that nobody wants to play in the first round. After last season's final week collapse that left the Canes a point out of the playoffs I don't want to assume anything right now, but they look like a pretty sure bet for postseason play this year. Then you've got the Charlotte Bobcats, a bit of a long shot for the NBA playoffs right now but all the more exciting because nobody ever expected them to even be where they are now. With new coach (but Hall-of-Famer) Larry Brown at the helm, the team struggled out of the gate to adjust to his demanding system and style of play. However, a midseason makeover (and an extreme one at that) of the roster has them playing great basketball right now, culminating in a win over the Lakers Tuesday night. A double-overtime heartbreaking loss to defending-champ Boston last night hurt, and it's likely that the early season hole they dug is just a hair too deep for their late surge to overcome, but they're only a game and a half out of the final spot with 7 to go, so anything's possible. At any rate, expectations should be high next year with the current roster coming into training camp rather than learning to play together on the fly. Will the Cats sneak past Chicago or Detroit and into the playoffs? Will the Canes repeat their magical 2006 Stanley Cup run? Will I ever get over that Arizona playoff game? I don't know, but it's sure a great time to be a Carolina sports fan.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Driscoll, Hinn Teaming Up

In news sure to surprise just about everybody, controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll and faith healer/televangelist Benny Hinn are teaming up for a revival crusade that will be coming to 12 cities this fall. The tour, titled This Is Your Day, Dude, will feature the preaching of both men along with musical guests Ex Nihilo and Carman. To find out if the tour will be coming to a city near you, please visit the official site.