Thursday, December 31, 2009

10 Years; 10 Movies

Here are the ten best films I have seen over the last decade.

Don Cheadle may be the best actor around today. His talent really shows in this true life story of Paul Rusesabagina, a wealthy hotel owner who shelters hundreds of Tutsi refugees during their struggle with the Hutu militia. The film is good because the heroes don't come easy and it forced me to consider how I would respond in similar circumstances. Would I turn a blind eye to the sufferings of the Tutsi in order to provide for my family during turmoil or would I figure out a way to do both?

In 1920s Los Angeles Christine Collins returns home from work to find that her young son is missing. When the struggling and corrupt LAPD tries to pass off another boy as her son in order to get a quick PR boost, Collins decides to fight back. This is a great story of the importance of undying love and devotion to the truth, no matter what the consequences may be. One of Clint Eastwood's best directorial efforts.

Virtually every film I have ever seen that has been categorized as "Christian" or "family-friendly" has been terrible. This is the exception. Many films aimed at christian audiences are terrible because they either come across as preachy, like a gospel tract on the big screen or they only deal in the black and white where the heroes are too good and the villains are too bad. On top of that, how many movies can possibly be made about the end of the world? In The Second Chance, director Steve Taylor deals in the gray areas to expose the hypocrisy of consumer-friendly and market driven churches that thrive at the expense of the communities they call (or once called) home.

Groundhog Day on steroids. I don't have the ability to further describe this film. The only other thing I can say is that writers Jonathan and Christopher Nolan are either geniuses or they got into some bad milk while writing this one. This is a really good flick if you can follow it. Take the phone off the hook and make sure you've had adequate sleep before pressing play.

Can Turbo and the gang save the community center from being torn down by evil developers? If so, it'll take some serious break dancing but this is the crew to do it. You'll stand up and cheer as you see these young community organizers in action!

Just kidding, Breakin' 2, Electric Boogoloo came out in 1984 otherwise it would certainly make this list.

Classic. This movie is rare because a.) it's hilarious, b.) it probably cost about $14 to make and c.) you can watch it with your kids. The only other thing you can watch with those three ingredients is a guy falling down the stares on You Tube. This is probably my favorite comedy of all time.

Oh, the depths of human depravity. What do you do if, in your search for the truth, you realize that finding it turns everything upside down? This Ben Affleck directed film, starring his brother Casey, asks that question as two detectives search for a missing girl and uncover a lot more than they ever wanted.

Yeah, I know. What self-respecting pastor wouldn't include The Passion on a list like this? Well, there's more to it than that. Sure, Mel Gibson isn't exactly squeaky clean and some of his background reading for this film is suspect but this is still the best film depicting the death of Christ that has ever been made. I can think of at least three reasons why.

a.) No star power - there's nothing more distracting to a powerful story like this than having a star get in the way. No one wants to see the three brothers from Home Improvement playing Peter, James and John.

b.) Ethnically realistic - Jesus wasn't German and this film remembers that.

c.) Let the story be the story - You have to take some artistic license on a film like this but usually it goes too far. Good job Mel, for staying within reasonable boundaries.

I don't have a clue if the writer of this story was a believer. I don't even know his aim in writing it. All I can say is that every time I watch it, I think of the sacrificial substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. That's enough to get me beyond my usual disdain for Will Smith movies. At least he's not rapping anymore.

I don't have a clue whether or not M. Night Shyamalan is a believer. I don't even know his aim in writing Signs. All I can say is that every time I watch this movie, I think of the sovereign providence of the Lord Jesus Christ who rules over all things, even forgotten glasses of water, baseball bats and alien invasions. Disclaimer: I think I'm the only person in the world who likes this movie.

This is the best movie you've never heard of. What happens when you combine an alcoholic accountant with poor dietary habits, a family about to lose the farm and a global conspiracy that has infiltrated even the Grand Ol' Opry? You'll have to watch to find out. Hey, it's only 40 minutes long and I guarantee that you'll laugh.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Urban Renewal

I hate the Florida Gators. When I was a kid I hated them simply because they weren't the Georgia Bulldogs. When the 90s came around I started hating them for a different reason - they always beat the Georgia Bulldogs. That trend has been going strong for roughly two decades now.

As much as I don't like the Gators and as much as I hate to admit it, they are a good program. They have perhaps the best player to ever play college football in Tim Tebow and an excellent coach in Urban Meyer. In his short time in Gainesville, Meyer has won two national titles and lost only ten games. You can imagine my response when I found out this weekend that Meyer would be stepping down as the Gators coach. It was something like this, "Yes, now a new coach can come in and dominate Georgia every year!" When I found out that Meyer was stepping down for health reasons, my joy went away. It's sad to see poor health keep someone from doing what they love to do, no matter who they coach.

It looks like Meyer's health problems are stress related. This is good news because the stress can be dealt with and things can turn back around. It's also bad news because stress can kill you. Many doctors say that an overwhelming majority of the patients they deal with are in their examining rooms due to stress issues. Meyer seems to fit that mold. He has lost 20 pounds, not because of Jenny Craig but because of stress. He suffers from severe headaches because of a cyst on his brain that flares up in stressful situations. He has had chest pains for the past four years.

Those chest pains came to a climax after losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship game and snapping a 22 game win streak. He woke up that night with his worst pains yet, passed out and was admitted to the hospital. All of this led to Meyer's resignation, which has now been scaled back an extended vacation. I think that there are a few things to learn from Meyer's situation.

1. No matter how good you are, success does not ultimately satisfy.
Urban Meyer is a great coach with the hardware to prove it. But two national titles didn't help him to rest any easier. This is the way that anxiety works. Anxious hearts do not like to rest in past accomplishments. They always have to perform better. Anxiety kills. The gospel saves. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 11:28-30 that He is a God of rest. Success is a god of performance that we can never appease.

2. No matter how much control you have, you're still greatly limited.
Meyer, like many successful coaches (and pastors for that matter) is a workaholic. walked away from a recent interview with him with the following impression.

As Christians, we should avoid every temptation to carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Our hearts may tell us things like, "Why get someone else to do it when I can do it myself" or "No, it's okay. I can figure this out on my own. No sense troubling someone else" but those kinds of attitudes can be our death. Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ have put their faith in the one who, "is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Colossians 1:17). Carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders may make us look strong and may even lead to a measure of success but eventually our shoulders buckle under the pressure. Why not transfer that weight to the one who holds all things together and spoke the entire universe into existence? No matter how many plates we can spin at one time, we fail to measure up to that kind of power and authority.

3. No matter what the crowds say, you need to listen to those that know you best.
Mrs. Meyer said this about her husband's upcoming leave of absence.

Those words carry a bit of sting with them. Without reading between the lines, you can hear the pain in those words. The workaholic who enjoys much success in his professional life would see, if he stepped away from himself, a lot of pain in his home life. We may use the excuse of providing for our family but the irony is that our mismanaged priorities can create a wedge between us and the ones who love and know us best. You don't want someone else to take your place raising your kids because either you worked yourself to death or never were around. Talk to your family and get their feel for your presence, or lack thereof, around the house. Have you been irritable, short or distant? Listen to their assessment and act accordingly.
Your spouse and your kids don't care about your professional success if it looks like it was put before them. In fact, they may even grow to resent it. The sad reality is that multitudes of women and children grow to hate the body of Christ because daddy seemed to love the flock at the church more than the flock at home. I work that reality into my schedule every day.

4. No matter how good you are at running on fumes, you need to rest.
I can't speak for Urban Meyer, but a lot of us feel the need to constantly be on the move. We have to be at work early, work through lunch, stay at work late and come home to work some more. Often, even what we call our leisure time ends up being work. Burn out is imminent if there is not a serious slow down.
Sometimes, taking a nap is the most Christlike thing you can do. Jesus wasn't above a good nap (Mark 4:35-41) and we shouldn't be either. As CJ Mahaney has pointed out, a good long time of sleep is an active demonstration of our trust in the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ. When we get a little shut eye, He's still got it figured out without our help.
For me, Friday and Saturday of each week is my down time. Sure, I still go for a run and play around with the kids but these are my days to step away from my daily functions and rest in the power of God. I could always spend more time preparing for Sundays but Friday and Saturday, along with the work I do Monday through Thursday are gentle reminders of the importance to trust my schedule to the supreme rule of Jesus Christ.

Urban Meyer's story hit me because I seem to be wired the same way as he is, without the championship hardware to show for it. I am, by nature, a worrier. I get worked up about things that really don't even matter that much. My prideful heart prevents me from delegating like I should. These are all things that I am working on as I lean on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. His gospel saves me from the death trap of constantly striving to perform better every day. I need to hear that gospel daily, so does Urban Meyer and so do you.

Go Dawgs!

Does god exist?

Marty Duren confirms that he, in fact, does not. Read his explanation here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Government Transit vs Kingdom Transit

Last week a regular visitor to our church called me for help. He needed to go to the doctor for a procedure in a few weeks and he needed a ride. He has a car and is able to drive but the procedure he is having done will leave him a bit on the loopy side. Who wants to get a DUI on the way home from the doctor?

The man made several attempts to reach out to the government for help. None of the medical transit vans could do anything. Because the man's procedure was in another county, he tried the resources there. Still no help. Running by the store and picking up a copy of Internal Medicine for Dummies was looking like the best option. Fortunately, he called the church before it came to that.

When I got the phone call and listened to the man's story, my first thought was simply to give the guy a ride myself. Conviction set in before I opened my mouth. My initial desire to help was, I believe, rooted in sinful motives. In my pride, I thought that I could handle this problem without worrying the church. Who needs them when I can do it all by myself anyway? Giving in to this sin, at one point or another, would do at least two things. First, it would wear me out. Second, it would deprive the church of opportunities to live out the gospel for those in need. By God's grace, I told the man not to worry. I didn't know how, but this man would have a ride to and from the doctor's office.

A few days later, I made an announcement at church. I told everyone the important details and the opportunity they had to serve. Before I could even tell them to see me if they would be willing to help, a man raised his hand and said, "I got it." That was it. No forms to fill out. No insurance claims. No sitting around waiting for a government van from another county. Just one man giving another man a ride to the doctor and back. Jesus spoke to this a couple of thousand years ago when he said, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:40).

It is a joy to see the church step up and do its job, especially when other entities in the community have proven themselves incapable of their basic functions. I think that this event was a small slice of what we read about in Acts 4:34-35. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
Now that's the kind of redistribution of wealth I like to see. The kind that takes place, not by the force of a gun's barrel or government mandate but as a result of a heart that has been overwhelmed by the cross of King Jesus.

I'm glad the Holy Spirit rescued me from my prideful hero complex and let me simply witness the body of Christ at work.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is Your Family a Mess?

If so, that mess will likely be highlighted during the holidays when you all get under the same roof with each other. Here's a resource that you might find helpful.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Out of Commission: What I've Learned (vol. 1)

Starting this morning and for the next few days I will by laying on my back doing nothing productive. Here's what I've learned so far.

1. If you ever have minor surgery (the kind where you're still awake and can talk to the guy doing it) agree with every point he makes. The man with the scalpel gets the final say. Here's an example.

What I said: "Allen Iverson is the most overrated player in NBA history."
What I should have said: "Yessir doc. I love A.I. too. Practice is overrated. Who needs it? Happy scalping."

2. I'm about to finish Ron Paul's book The Revolution: A Manifesto. It's good and you should read it. When you finish reading it, mail a copy to your congressman and senators. Next up on the Out of Commission Reading List is To Kill a Mockingbird and End the Fed.

3. I watched the movie Appaloosa. It was okay but I liked it better the first time I saw it when it was called Tombstone. Some of the characters even had the same names (Virgil and Allie). Unfortunately there was no Doc Holiday type character to put the movie over the edge like Val Kilmer did in Tombstone. Viggo Mortensen stole the show but it just wasn't enough for me.

4. The Brady Bunch is a much better show when you had to take Valium that morning. The movie Eddie and the Cruisers is still bad. Maybe I should've watched The Wizard of Oz with Pink Floyd on in the background while the getting was still good. Oh well.

5. God has blessed me with the best wife in the world. She has done an excellent job of taking care of us three boys. She drove me around today and laughed at/with me during my legal intoxication, she has made excellent meals, she has bathed and chased after our two rug rats and she has commanded me not to do anything to help. All of this without a word of complaint. Proverbs 31 is a very meaningful chapter right about now. God is good.

If I learn anything else, I'll let you know. Until then, Eddie Lives!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas: Not Just for the Ladies

Mark Driscoll has written several good tips on how husbands and fathers can get off the sidelines this Christmas and actually contribute to the family routine. There's nothing manly about laying on the couch watching the Army Navy game while your wife and kids untangle lights and wrap pop corn strings around a tree. Your first steps to better involvement are right here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

10 Years; 10 Albums

Here are the ten best albums I bought in the last decade. If you're thinking, "Wait a minute, there's still another year left in this decade. What's he talking about?" please scroll down. All of these albums came out sometime between January 1, 2000 and the present.

The best worship album I have ever bought. Great lyrics, good beats and a cool British accent. Enough said. Also, there is a Facedown DVD that contains live concert footage, Matt Redman talking about how to craft a worship song and a few really good sermons from Louie Giglio.

For some reason, I usually don't listen to girl singers that much. McCracken is the exception. This album is the folk singers twist on several rare hymns. Excellent vocals and good, honest gee-tar playin'.

I grew up on hip hop. Eventually I stumbled upon Christian hip hop. It was bad. At it's best the lyrics were moralistic ("Aint nuttin' in hell I want") and at it's worst it was cheesy ("Praise the Lord, for goodness sake, we gonna take a Bible break").
So I was pleasantly surprised when I found Lecrae. Not only did he have excellent rhyming skills on top of really good beats, but he was doctrinally sound like almost no other musician I've ever heard. Lecrae's job has to be difficult. On one end he has to watch out for the cheese that often accompanies Christian music and on the other end he doesn't have the sex, violence and profanity crutch that rappers like T.I. and Lil' Wayne lean on. On After the Music Stops, Lecrae walks that line perfectly.

I'm not a U2 fan. I don't hate them but I just don't share the enthusiasm that most of their fans have. Before this album, I never owned a full one by U2. For some reason I picked this one up when it came out and I'm glad I did. The lyrics force me to think vertically and the music is really good.

6. Continuum, John Mayer
As a pastor, I think it's important for me to climb inside the heads of non-believers. Reading fiction and listening to well-written music done by non-believers is one of the best ways to do this. Because I spend most of my time studying the Bible and interacting with church folks, it's important for me to ensure that I not become disconnected from the world.
John Mayer is an excellent guitar player and a unique song writer and he displays both of those gifts very well on Continuum. On the song Stop This Train he laments seeing his parents grow old ("one generations length away from finding life out on my own") as well as his own inevitable aging ("I play the numbers game to find a way to say that my life has just begun"). The song is powerful because of it's honesty but also because of what it lacks. There's no gospel. With each well-written line, you are reminded that there is no hope without Jesus. Continuum is not for everyone but is a great album for those interested in good guitar playing, creative song-writing and the perspective of those without Christ.

This is Webb's first and best album. It's as if he was storing up great theological truths during the years that he played in another band and now that he's on his own he gets the chance to let it all out. On this album, Webb lays out the ugliness of his own sin and the beauty of redemption through Christ like few have ever done before. A lot of people took issue with him on this album for calling himself a whore in regards to his personal sin. However, a quick look at the Old Testament prophets will reveal that this is the word of choice for guys like Hosea and Isaiah and even God himself when it comes to man's depravity.

In this concept album, Shai Linne has centered virtually every song around Christ's substitutionary atonement for our sins. Imagine if someone took a big fat theology book, chewed it up and spit it out in the form of rhymes and you'll begin to understand what this album is all about. Shai Linne uses wordplay, samples from great preachers and good beats to present the glory of Jesus Christ taking on the full wrath of God in the place of His people.

Andrew Peterson is probably the best songwriter in the Church right now. I really wanted to put his album Behold, the Lamb of God in this place but it came out a month too early to make this list. This album is just as good. I have never listened to the song The Good Confession without crying.

I don't listen to The Vigilantes of Love because of Bill Mallonee's golden voice. I listen to The Vigilantes of Love because of Mallonee's superb song writing. That skill is displayed on this album perhaps better than any of his others. Only Bill Mallonee can mix in a Martin Luther quote, a Flannery O'Connor reference and a quick mention about a train wreck. He consistently does all of these things in a way that rips the layers off of your heart and forces you to wrestle with your own issues. Much like C.S. Lewis, Mallonee writes in a way that makes me feel like he's been crawling around in my heart for a few years and now he's letting me know what's really there.

Everything I said about Lecrae a few selections earlier applies here even more so. I am fully confident that if Lecrae threw in a few curse words and gun references he would make millions on this album. But thankfully, Lecrae has no desire to go that route. He has a deep rooted love for the church as evidenced by his involvement with a new church plant in Atlanta.
I think the best thing I could say about Rebel is that I bought it over a year ago and immediately put it on the iPod I use for running. Over the past year there have been a lot of musical changes on that iPod. Many songs have come and gone but every song from the Rebel album remains. I just can't seem to get tired of these songs. Now my oldest son is a fan and loves to hear Lecrae in our car. It doesn't get much better than hearing your kid rapping about Jesus while you're out for a drive.

Bad Radio

Alternate Title: My Wife and Kids are Out of Town and I'm Bored. Please Hurry Home!

Here's the scenario. Someone gave me $3 trillion dollars. I tithed it, gave to missions and orphan care, put some away for savings and the family and bought UFC tickets. I have to spend the rest of it so I decide to buy several radio stations all over the country. Here they are.

1. 860 The Score - Dallas' Ticket for Sports Talk
24/7 of guys who can't hardly make it up the stairs without a smoke break arguing about sports.

2. Rock 101 - Topeka's Rock Station
Every Tuesday is Two for Tuesday and we get the Led out every night at 10.

3. 99.7 The Glitter - Orlando's Hit Music
Annoying morning show hosts, tons of cool laser sounds between songs and Taylor Swift every 30 minutes.

4. 101 The Hat - Houston's Best Country
Same as 99.7 The Glitter.

5. 89.5 The Lamb - Chicago's Chipper Christian Station
Same as 99.7 The Glitter and 101 The Hat but take away Taylor Swift and replace her with Carrie Underwood's "Jesus Take the Wheel". Also, all DJs will have names like KC and Missy and will be disgustingly happy all the time.

If I ever become a trillionaire, radio will never be the same. No wait, it would be exactly the same. Thank you iPod!

10 Years; 10 Books

It's hard to believe it but were coming up on ten years into the 2000s and still no flying cars. It doesn't seem like ten years ago when I was standing in Tampa, Florida watching the clock wind down on the 90s and praying that every computer in the world wouldn't crash. It's also weird to me that September 11, 2001 was so long ago. In a weird way, a lot has changed since then and nothing has changed since then.

With all of that said, it's time to look back on the last decade. I can hear it now. Some purist is thinking, "Actually, the decade doesn't end for another year." By my sub-standard math, it's been ten years since we entered the 2000s so I'll call it a decade. In that decade, here are the ten best books I've read. Some were written long before the new millennium but I didn't get around to reading them until the past ten years. Here goes.

An efficient and helpful explanation of how all of scripture, not just the New Testament, is about Jesus.

I don't fully agree with his family-driven model for the church but Baucham's book is an excellent call for parents to train up their kids to be faithful to the God of the Bible.

The best disturbing book I've ever read. It made me want to hug my son and build a bomb shelter. Haven't seen the movie yet.

In an era where it's cool to brand all churches as money hungry and outdated, this book highlights the beauty of the church without ignoring some of the ugly warts.

Two really good things about this book come to mind immediately: it's free and it's short. By the time you're done you realize you got more than you paid for and you actually wish there were a few more pages. A very frank and biblical discussion on the damaging effects of pornography and lust.

An apologetics book for the rest of us. In a conversational and transparent way, Keller gives excellent defenses for the faith. As with most any book, I don't fully agree with one or two of his conclusions but that's not enough to stop me from recommending it to skeptics and saints.

I can think of no other book outside of the Bible that has done more to expose the self-righteousness and hypocrisy that seems to linger in my heart.

I like this one because I get to read it with my sons. With sound theology and great art work, this children's Bible highlights Jesus as the main theme of the Bible better than a lot of publications aimed at adults and seasoned theologians. Also, the artist actually portrays Jesus as a middle easterner and not a male model from 1950s Germany.

I read this book after I was in youth ministry for about three years. When I was done, I threw away three years worth of my sermons. It focuses more on the why of preaching biblically than the how in a way that I will never forget. It was about a year or so after I read this book before I ever said anything funny in a sermon. I've since learned that there is a balance between humor and exposition in preaching but Piper's book set my balances on the right path and rescued me from wasting time with life principles, funny stories and no gospel. I cannot adequately express how thankful I am for this book.

I think it took me about 9 months to read this book. That doesn't sound like a very good sales pitch but the length of time is not due to the length of the book. Knowing God is relatively short and it is written in a way that is easy to digest. That's a good thing because there is a lot to digest. It seems as though every page forced me to think on the vastness of God. I think that when I finished each chapter I told myself that it was the best one of the book so far. Knowing God gives an excellent description of who God is and why it's important for us to care.

Many thanks to Justin Taylor. If it wasn't for his blog, I probably wouldn't have heard of half of these books. Thanks also to Lifeway on the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for the employee discount back in the day.

Up Next: 10 Years; 10 CDs