Sunday, November 21, 2010

Operation Christmas Child 2010

I'm sitting at my desk late Sunday night (early Monday morning?) after what has been a very satisfying day. We finished our stewardship series of messages this morning in worship at both churches. I followed that up with a short nap with my ten month old foster son and then went on to the Quinton church to begin setting up for our Operation Christmas Child shoe box packing party. I was ecstatic to find that a lady from the Hancock's Bridge church had spent the early part of the afternoon bringing all the supplies down from the sanctuary and organizing everything. This made set-up very easy and saved me a lot of time (Thanks Kathy!). At 6PM folks started showing up and packing boxes. In 2007 we packed 89 shoe boxes - a great number for our first time. The following year we upped the ante to 139 boxes - amazing! Last year we were off a bit with only 96 boxes, but we've hit our stride again this year with 134! It warms my heart to the core to see so many people from these two communities respond to a ministry that is as wholistic as OCC. You see, every kid who receives a shoe box gift also gets the Gospel story in his or her native language. Evangelism and service working together - just like it ought to be. Anyway, big thanks go out from me to all the Quinton youth members and all the adults and children who came out to pack shoe boxes tonight. Your service is a blessing and will continue to bless people through these gifts for months and years to come. Thanks also to everyone who donated shoe boxes and items to pack in the boxes. Check out the Hancock's Bridge or Quinton church facebook pages for pictures from tonight's packing party. I personally feel blessed to be called your pastor today.

Oh yeah, and the Eagles beat the Giants to take first place in the NFC East. Life is good today.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Been a little busy

OK, it's done... for now.

I've been really busy the last few months with some serious paperwork. Finally turned everything in on the 1st and spent the last couple weeks just deflating. The next big step in that process is a couple days of interviews in March so keep me in your prayers for that.

Right now I'm starting to gear up for Advent and Christmas, preparing for church conference, planning the Operation Christmas Child shoe box packing party and doing a little pleasure reading. If you happen to like suspense/action stories, Ted Dekker is one of my recommendations. He writes Christian fiction and reminds me a lot of Dean Koontz. Right now I'm in the middle of ADAM by Dekker and it's very good.

I have seen a couple of movies over the summer and into the fall and I'll try to blog a little about them if I get a chance in the next couple of weeks.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Two-fer! Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me - Fun for all!

There's a wonderful advantage to having small children when you're a big kid. You have a built in excuse to go see kid movies! Of course, kid movies aren't just for kids all that often, nor should they be. there ought to be something in any family film to entertain anyone in the theater. Both of the films that I've taken my little ones to recently have family entertainment in spades.

Toy Story 3 is exactly what the title tells you it is - the third (and likely final) installment in the Toy Story/Pixar movie franchise. Toy Story 3 is easily the best of the three films as it deals with all of the biggest issues that face us today - loss, desperation, loneliness, uncertainty and even death. All of this is accomplished through the plastic eyes and the synthetic fur of children's playthings. This Rev is inclined to call this film a can't miss. There are occasional scenes of peril that might be disturbing to children under five or six, but this is the best of what Hollywood has to offer as far as family films go.
Spiritually, there is depth here as well. In the beginning of the film, the toys feel rejected and/or neglected by Andy their owner and find a way to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, their provision turns out to be worse than ending up in the attic. In trying to escape, they almost end up incinerated (Hell?), before being reclaimed and recycled by Andy. This entire adventure could be considered as a metaphor for our experience with God. We feel ignored or neglected. We blame God. We strike out on our own only to find that our solution only leads to destruction. But God is gracious and finds an everlasting place in His heart for us, a place where we will always feel valued and important.

Despicable Me is a Universal Studios animated film about a villain trying to hold onto his status and dealing with three adopted little girls at the same time. It's cute. It's very funny. And, it's predictable. But that's OK. My kids liked this film more than Toy Story 3. I didn't think it was quite that good, but it is well worth the price of admission and suitable for all ages.
Spiritually, Despicable Me is all about love - the love of family, the love of friends, and the change that unrelenting, unconditional love can bring. It's familiar movie territory for children and adults. The curmudgeon who is transformed by the love of a child. Perhaps we've lived it; I have. Maybe that's why I enjoyed this film so much. It reminded me of many of the experiences that I've had as a foster parent. I also could not help but notice how this life-changing love from a child is so much like the love of God. God is often referred to as "the hound of heaven," pursuing sinful human beings with an unrelenting, unconditional love. This certainly appears to be the paradigm for Gru the film's main character. He adopts three little girls with the intention of using them to infiltrate his arch enemy's fortress. He ends up caring more about them than about any evil plans that he has. Ultimately, the girls change Gru's heart. Indeed, how much is the love of God like the love of a child?

So if it's raining or too hot or you're just looking for a little family entertainment this weekend, take in one of these two films. You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Father's Day

Father's Day has been a special day for me for the last few years now. I've been a dad for much longer and I truly cherish the special bond that I have with my oldest daughter Trista. She is a beautiful, bright, hard-working and special young lady. I couldn't love her more if I tried. But for the last several years I've had the honor and the privilege of being a foster dad. Bonnie and I have had a total of 18 foster kids under our care since October of 2007. One of them is now our second child; we adopted Delylah in November of last year. Father's Day has become more special because it is a yearly reminder of the special ministry and the extraordinary responsibility that God has blessed Bonnie and I with. This year my family gave me my Father's Day gifts a day early because we're leaving for vacation on Father's Day. I'm overwhelmed. Perhaps the most beautiful gift I've ever received is the framed portraits of my kids. Bonnie took the kids to have pictures done last weekend and Trista had them framed. Brought tears to my eyes. Thank you Lord. Thank you for blessing my life with these children. Thank you for letting me be a vessel of your grace to children in need.

Oh and by the way, I got to see Toy Story 3 this week and I'll be trying to blog about it while I'm on vacation. Suffice it to say for now, it's well worth your time to try to get to see it in a theater with your children.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Splice - A cautionary tale (tail?)

Splice is a newly released horror film starring Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody. In its most basic form Splice is a retelling of the Frankenstein story except these scientists create the monster with gene splicing rather than resurrecting the dead. The resulting creation is part human, part... well, lots of other creatures. Of course, Clive and Elsa (Brody and Polley, the scientists that create Dren, the monster) are ultimately unable to hide or contain their creation. And while Dren never goes on a rampage like Frankenstein's monster, she does become more and more uncontrollable until she must be destroyed. I could say more but would reveal elements of the story that are better discovered by one's initial viewing of the film.

I've subtitled this blog "A cautionary tale" because Splice has many elements in common with similar monster/horror movies. It poses questions like "what are the boundaries of scientific discovery?" "If we are able to do something that would be a scientific breakthrough, do we have a moral imperative to do said thing?" And, "When does tampering with genetic makeup become playing God?" Of course, this angle of playing God is a major theme for me as a pastor, but I'll get to that in the next paragraph. I should caution potential viewers that Splice is rated "R" and for good reason. There are several scenes that include nudity, graphic violence, foul language, and sexually suggestive situations. There are also at least two scenes that I found deeply disturbing and would caution anyone about.

Even with all the troubling elements in this film, there are still solid themes related to Christian faith and life to be found here. When Clive and Elsa have come to the realization that Dren must be destroyed they discuss what they did wrong to begin with. Clive says. "Wrong? We blurred the lines between right and wrong. How do we know right from wrong anymore?" Undoubtedly, many of us have been in a similar situation. When we chose to do something that is unethical or even despicable, where is our moral compass? We may try to rationalize what we do (in the name of science/progress/etc.) but are there no solid standards of right and wrong anymore? Are there not things in this life that are wrong simply because they are wrong? When we begin to blur the lines between right and wrong by offering rationalizations, where do we stand?

And of course there is the very idea of playing God that piques the interest of this pastor. I posed the question earlier but it bears repeating, "If we can do something, regardless of the reason for doing it, are we obligated to do said thing in the name of science or human progress?" Human cloning is one concept that has come under this scrutiny in recent years. As of right now we are scientifically unable to clone a human being, but it appears that we will be able to do it sooner rather than later. If we develop this technology, and if it could potentially save human lives from any number of wretched diseases, should we clone people? Is it ethical to create humans in a laboratory as opposed to naturally? Would said human clones have souls? I am a firm believer that it is unwise for humans to play at being God. I know that there are many scientific advances that are common practice today that would have been considered "playing God" as little as ten years ago. But I still must wonder where we are willing to draw the line. I heard today on the radio that a prominent ethics professor at Princeton University has suggested that birth parents ought to have the right to retroactively abort (kill) their child up to 30 days after birth due to chronic disease, poor quality of life, or simply because the child is unwanted. If this kind of utilitarian, secular humanist thinking is what passes for scholarship in our universities today, we are in a world of trouble friends. Maybe it's better to leave playing god to the one true God.

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST - or maybe not so lost

I've spent the last six years watching the ABC show LOST. I've followed all the story lines. I've re-watched the reruns. I've even begun to purchase the DVDs. Basically, I've invested a lot of time in a television show. Last night was the series finale. LOST is done. And some people are really upset. Those who are upset over last night's final episode seem to fall into two camps - those who are sad and will miss the show, and those who are angry that it didn't answer all the questions that they had. I'm in a slightly different place from either of those two camps. I'm satisfied with the show and how it ended. No, it didn't answer all my questions (and I probably had as many as anyone else). Yes, it was melodramatic (and yes I did shed a few tears). But overall, I think that the writers got one important point right (I'll get to that). For the first five seasons we were given back story on the main characters through flashbacks, flash forwards and flash sideways. We were introduced to the mysteries of the island (electromagnetism, "the button," "the rules," Jacob, the smoke monster, the light, the others, the Dharma project, etc.). All of this story was interwoven with symbolism and ideas that sounded familiar to all of us. They sounded familiar because we know them from church, Sunday School and just general knowledge of Christian things. But the ending of the show left people speculating as to what was real and what was "someplace else." I've heard the theory that everyone died in the plane crash and the island was purgatory. I've heard some say that they were all dead and the island was hell. I even heard one person speculate that the entire series was a dream in the mind of Vincent the dog. Unfortunately, I think all that speculation may miss the real point that the writers were trying to make, a point that truly resonates with Christian theology.
Let us assume that everything but the flash sideways in season six was real. It leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions about the island - why does it exist? what is the light? etc. The flash sideways in season six and the final episode focus on the relationships between the survivors and on something spiritual. The way that I see it the writers are saying, what is important in life is not the details of this world. We don't need to, and probably never will know all the secrets of this world that we call reality. What is really important is the relationships that we build and knowing that God has a plan, a design, a destination for each of us.
Anyway, that's what I got out of it. Maybe I'm completely off base with the intention of the writers and maybe I'm over-spiritualizing the thing. Maybe I am lost. Then again, maybe I'm found.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Marriage Ref

I've said all along that I will sometimes look at TV shows or other media in this blog, not just movies. Well, I had a chance this last week to see a rerun of the first episode of the new show being produced by Jerry Seinfeld called "The Marriage Ref." In short, don't bother. Firstly, it's just not funny. It's actually rather sad and a depressing commentary on who we are as a society. I am perplexed that a married couple would have the kinds of communication issues that these couples do, and choose to have them settled by a television show and celebrities rather than seeking professional counseling. Are we that shallow as a society and as human beings that we would rather be on television than get real help? Truth be told, I couldn't watch more than one segment of the show. I found it to be so troubling that I had to just switch it off. Rather than seek the help of God in prayer, rather than seek the help of a pastor for marriage counseling, rather than seek a real trained professional who understands human behavior, these couples choose to air their marital communication issues on national television for the whole world to laugh at? Lord help us.

Thank you Lord

Thank you that all this rain isn't snow. I heard that if it were it would have been 36 to 60 inches! Thank You Lord!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson and the Olympians - The Lightning Thief must win some kind of award for having the longest movie title this year. And, for being long on title this film is a little short on imagination. Percy Jackson is the story of a teenager who discovers that the Greek gods are real and that Poseidon is his father. After Zeus accuses Jackson of staling his thunderbolt, Percy goes on an adventure to recover the stolen item and prevent a war between the gods.

I went to see this movie with my 25y/o daughter and the two of us were overwhelmed with how much the film wanted to be Harry Potter. There were obvious parallels between schools, characters and situations throughout the film. In fact, it became a joke between the two of us as we competed to identify each person of thing in this movie with their parallel in the Harry Potter universe. In all, that's not a very good testimony for a film. Nonetheless, we did find Percy to be a decent diversion for a Saturday afternoon. The special effects were good and the storyline wasn't horrible.

From a Christian perspective I didn't find a whole lot to speak of. Obviously, we're dealing with the Greek pantheon of gods and that mythology here. As so many of us have studied Greek mythology in grade school there's not much to say on that other than they're not real. There a couple of things to be said in reference to character statements in the film. Annabeth Chase is the daughter of Athena and immediately befriends Percy. At one point she says to him: "I definitely have strong feelings for you. I just haven't decided if they're positive or negative yet." This could be a statement made by any secular person in reference to God or the church. They seem to have strong feelings but it's never completely obvious whether those feelings are positive or negative. Near the end of the film Annabeth has grown close to Percy and we're led to believe that she might kiss him. Instead, she disarms him and says: "First rule of battle strategy. Don't ever let your opponent distract you." Good advice for Christians, especially those who have felt subject to spiritual attack. The adversary is always willing to distract you, always willing and trying to deceive you. As Christians it is always wise to be on our guard.

So if you enjoyed the Harry Potter films then there's probably something in Percy Jackson that you'll find interesting. If not, it's still not a bad diversion but you'd likely do better waiting for a DVD release.

More Snow?

Gosh I'm just starting to feel like I'm not snowed in anymore and they're calling for more snow? Will this winter never end?