Archive for December, 2019

I have to admit I was skeptical that this would be the last Star Wars movie, and while I have serious hopes that there will be more stories to come (The Yoda movie for example!) if they were going to end a story arc, this was the way to do it. I loved this movie. It is a thing of beauty that actually gives closure. The first film came out when I was in Jr. High, and I am now 56 years old. That a franchise could have this kind of staying power and a rabid fan base is truly a testament to how amazing this story really is.

Now I will admit, to give you much here without giving a ton of spoilers is difficult, so I’d like to go at it a different way. I took my son along with me to the movie. He is not really a Star Wars fan and hadn’t been to any of the other movies. I was a little concerned that he wouldn’t get it, but in the midst of really beautifully bringing the series to a close, they also build a complete story, that even someone who wasn’t all that familiar with the franchise could follow and really enjoy. This is a testament to great story telling. This “final” installment still managed to have a beginning, a middle and an ending—truly an in tact story.

As a nearly life-long fan, I loved how they closed the arc and completed the circle. I realize I may not be the best movie critic in the world, but I love a story where the good guys win, but there is one thing I love even more—a story of redemption. This may be the best part for me of the whole thing. I’d love to tell you more but that would give away an amazing ending. This is a five star (out of five) movie. This is a fantasztic example of how to tell a story. See it!

Well it’s two days after Christmas and I am pleased to report that my family blessed me with a total of ten books, eight of which are a boxed set of classic theological books by C.S. Lewis. I was thrilled to dig in.

I have to be honest. When one reads some of C.S. Lewis’ works of fiction, amazing though they are, their clear language and understandability make it easy to forget that he was a professor at one of the top. There is no such difficulty with this book. This is heady stuff, that will no doubt require several more reads over the course of this life. Breaking it down to it’s simplest elements this book is, as the cover blurb states, a defense of universal values. Lewis calls these values the Tao, and he goes to great lengths to show how these values occur almost universally to all cultures, religions, etc. To violate these values is to lose our humanity. I found this book fascinating and I will not doubt read it again.

You’ll be reading this Christmas morning, at least if you’re a subscriber who checks your email on Christmas day, and if you did, I appreciate it, and if not, I hope you catch it at some point down the line, because it’s important. A few days ago, In the midst of an internal struggle over whether or not to blast someone on social media, I wrote this:

“Every day, I see things on Facebook that make me want to jump in and comment, especially related to our political situation. There have been things I have wanted to blast, and occasionally I have, and I consider those times personal failures and I apologize. Instead I want to stand by my calling and proclaim, no human being can fix the mess we’re in. Only God can, only Jesus. We need to fully rely on Him, live to honor Him, and do what we can to make the world a better place, shining His light into our world.”

The support for the post was pretty overwhelming, but a few had other opinions. One friend stated the need for the separation of church and state. She’s right, we do need to have separation of church and state. Unfortunately like many I think she is misinterpreting what that means. Separation of church and state to many people involves little more than the silencing of the church on matters of the state, and this was never the intent. First of all, the constitution never mentions separation of church and state. What it says instead, as part of the first amendment, is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Translation, the first amendment protects the church from the state, while not infringing on the rights of worshipers, or of those who choose not to worship. People of faith have a right to have an opinion and to express that opinion and others have the right to disagree. Even a cursory study of church history shows anything less can be disastrous.

On the other side of the coin, two of my other friends, took me to task expressing something of a duty for me to speak out and not be silent. One of them even referenced Bonhoffer’s opposition to the Nazis as an example. For the record I agree that we need to oppose evil, which begs a question. Who is it that I should oppose? Respectfully, the WWII generation had it easy in this regard. The Nazis were patently evil and opposing them took great courage, but it was kind of a no-brainer. Today things are a little different. Both of these friends, I believe, would have me oppose the president and he has done a few things I really do oppose. On the other hand, it is my understanding every one of his opponents supports the killing of the unborn up to birth, and that is something I will never support. My other friend, the one listed above, posted something yesterday that essentially said Christians oppose abortion because it’s easier than caring for all the people that Jesus told us to care for. To me it has never been an either/or, and I look for ways to help as many as I can and to love everyone.

At the end of the day, I feel the need to stick to my prior statement. If you are called to the realm of politics, more power to you, and you are in my prayers. Serve the Lord to the best of your ability and honor Him. Politics however is not my calling. To me it’s a no win situation, and to try to win people to my side will accomplish nothing, because truth be known, I have a hard time finding any politician I can totally get behind. Besides placing our faith in politicians to save us is just another form of idolatry. When I let myself begin to embrace politics and to look for political solutions, I get angry and frustrated, and I start to lose hope. I start to want to blast the very people I am supposed to be loving, and if that happens I am doing the exact opposite of what I am called to do.

It’s Christmas, and Christmas is a time for hope. Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of one who, ironically, has no beginning and no end. Jesus came to lay down His life to set us free. In Him is found a victory no politician and no political solution can ever provide. He is the only leader who is totally dependable and the only One who can, and the only One who WILL, fix this mess we’re in. In Scripture, we are ALL commanded to pray for whatever leaders we get, whether we agree with them or not, and we are called to obey the Lord over men. This is the tack that, with God’s help, I will take. My calling is to speak God’s truth in love, and to spread the Gospel–a message of hope, and good news of great joy for all people.

Christ is the Victory.

This week was the fourth week in our advent series, Let Heaven and Nature Sing and in it we explored the story of the classic hymn We Three Kings and the story of the coming of the Magi from Matthew 2.

I love reading the Jesus Bible this year. It’s basically an NIV Study Bible, but what makes it unique is that all the commentary throughout show how the various passages point to Christ. It also contains several long form essays on various spiritual points from people such as Louie Giglio, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias and Randy Alcorn. I’ve always believed that all Scripture points to Christ. This Bible shows us how. I also found the Jesus Bible very helpful in my preaching this year, because whether I was preaching from Old Testament or New, the commentary helped me keep Christ first and foremost. This was a great devotional Bible for this year, and I highly recommend it.

Right here at the beginning, I am supposed to mention that I got this book free from the publisher in hopes that I would give it a review. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Have serious doubts that I am anywhere close to the demographic the author probably imagined as her audience. She’s a 20 something year old single woman a 56 year old happily married grandfather, but I have to tell you, I found this book thoroughly engaging. The book speaks of living in the presence and Kingdom of God. Zaldivar is a wonderful storyteller, who gives just enough of personal anecdotes to illustrate her points, yet often leaves them open-ended enough for the reader to draw his or her own conclusion. The book is powerful, challenging and very biblical.

Zaldivar subtitles her book Finding the Holy in the Here and Now and she delivers quite well on this. This book is about living for Jesus in the here and now with an eye toward eternity. This book is targeted to women, but I will tell you every one can gain something from reading it. This is her first full length book and my prayer is that she writes many more. This is one I fully intend on passing around. Pick it up and read it. You won’t be disappointed.

Okay step one in creating a successful blog post, “write a controversial headline…” and check! This is also the way to gauge how many people read beyond the headline. The amount of hate mail I get will show me.

Fox News lies… I was at my very first conference for our denomination. There was yet another debate over one of several issues that threaten to tear us apart, when a man who I’ve since come to know and respect, (I have the ability to respect people even when I disagree with them) strode to the microphone and shouted “Fox News Lies!” I got myself in a little trouble over that because I was chronicling my experience at the conference in cartoons, and I made one of this incident and posted it online. People to the other side of the issue in question reposted it (among others) to their site and, well let’s just say my site got a lot of attention that day, much of which was negative. Lesson learned.

Here’s the thing, to an extent he was right. Fox News does lie, and so do CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, and the list goes on and on. You see at one point, you turned on the news, and the reporters could be trusted to tell you what happened. Somewhere along the way, an ideological shift happened.

My suspicion is it happened because the media became somewhat elitist and began to consider themselves to be better and smarter than their audience, the great unwashed, us. They began to “realize” that it was not enough to tell us what happened, but they had to interpret it for us, so that we would understand, and that’s when they started lying. They stopped telling what happened and started telling us what to think. At that point it stopped being about reporting and started to become about advancing an agenda, the house agenda of the network. The by-product of this was that they started to try to destroy and discredit those who dared to disagree.

I honestly don’t believe they think they’re lying, rather they look at all things as to how they relate to the agenda. Add to this they have to feed the beast of a 24 hour news cycle, compete for ratings, and all of the sudden controversy and discord are good for business. We see the fruit of this everywhere we turn. The thing is a very wise man once said “A house divided cannot stand.” His name was Jesus. He’s also the one who said, “I am the truth.” And therein lies the key. In a world where “truth” seems to be becoming fluid, God’s Word is the truth we can depend on.

Those of us who are Christian creatives have been entrusted with, and gifted for, communicating the truth. We can’t afford to get caught up in all this divisive stuff. We need to keep majoring in the majors and communicating the truth that sets men free. Here’s the truth, the media lies because they’re human, and we humans are all susceptible to adopting agendas, so the best thing we can do is grab the right agenda. Truth is not really fluid. Truth is a person, namely Jesus Christ, so let’s use all our gifts to advance His agenda. In a world of lies, let’s be a voice of truth.

This is the third message in our Advent Series, Let Heaven and Nature Sing. This one is based on the classic hymn Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

One of the privileges that artists have, is the ability to tell stories that touch hearts and sometimes even change lives. It’s pretty rare that, that can happen in two minutes and it’s extremely rare in commercials. That being said, Chick Fil-A has done it here. Not only do they make the best chicken sandwich, but here they made a two minute film that is both blessing and challenging, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season this is exactly what I need to remember. My guess is you might too. They mention their own brand for three seconds of the two minute clip, but it’s enough. It’s “my pleasure” to share this amazing little piece of storytelling with you. This is a “commercial” from a company that clearly cares more about their customers than their bottom line and it is a prime example of the kind of storytelling that makes a difference.

Enjoy. Then go and tell a better story.

In 2004, I had a heart attack. If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you know that. I was 40 years old, and it was a mild one. Looking back, I realize it was a wake up call but at the time, I will confess, I got pretty fatalistic for a while. I started to think about dying a lot, and how I had used up most of my life and I probably didn’t have a lot of time left. It was about then that I was listening to a song by Mark Schultz called The Time That’s Left. I think at the time I was looking at the song all wrong, because it didn’t help. It does now, check it out.

Well I caught myself doing it again the other day. You see I went to see “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” the new movie that’s sort of about Mr. Rogers. I say sort of because the film is so much different than what I expected. I expected a biopic on the life of a man I truly admire. What I got instead was the tale of a cynical reporter trying to start over after a bad childhood, when he’s assigned to interview Mr. Rogers. Spoiler alert, it changes the reporter’s life. Tom Hanks was absolutely brilliant in portraying the man exactly as he was, a humble man trying to do some real good in the world.

Probably my favorite moment in the film is when Hanks just simply looked at me. I better explain. early in the film in explaining his approach to TV, Mr. Rogers explained his method. He tried to look through the camera into the eyes of a child. Later, when the reporter has a vulnerable moment and starts talking about his relationship with his absentee father, Rogers commented that his father was still part of who made the reporter who he was. He asked the reporter to sit in silence for a full minute and think of the people who made him who he was. When the reluctant reporter agrees, Hanks looked directly into the camera for most of the silent minute. It was as if he was looking right through the camera and into my eyes. I must admit at that moment I was part of the film, thinking of all the people who have blessed me and made me who I am, and I broke down right there in the theater. It was a beautiful moment in a film full of beautiful moments, but I have to admit, this film also took me to thinking of theme that’s left.

That heart attack was nearly 16 years ago, I am 56 now. As I watched Tom Hanks portray this hero of so many of our childhoods, I started to think about what he actually did. He addressed some of life’s toughest issues with a simple show, simple puppets as a simple man who simply loved. I started to wish I could do that too, well in my own way in my own context, and that’s when the melancholy came knocking on the door. I’m inching toward retirement. I started wishing I had seen this sooner. I wish I had started sooner. There’s not a lot of time left. Have you been there? That’s when it hit me. I am a servant of the most high God. He knows exactly how much time I have left and I have no idea. The things He is calling me to He will do through me. So no more fretting over a lack of time. Instead start things faithfully and work faithfully and finish all you can faithfully trusting the One who promised to finish everything He starts in you in the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6). Start the book. Paint the painting. Sculpt the sculpture. Write the screenplay, or the play or the song. Plant the church. Start the ministry, or the non profit, or whatever God leads you to do. God will see to it that you have what you need and anything you can’t finish, He will.