Showing posts from June, 2011

Now Playing

Here's a look at the films I saw this week — including the new "Transformers" film.
Bad Teacher Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch, and Jason Segel Synopsis: When a movie gets universally middling reviews, I start to get worried. When it's score on Rotten Tomatoes bottoms out, I really start to get worried. So even though, based on the trailer, I thought "Bad Teacher" would be funny, I was starting to wonder how bad it would be heading in. Then a funny thing happened — when I watched it I was entertained and laughed, quite a few times. So I guess that means one of two things — I have no taste, or it's the kind of movie that appeals to some and not to others. I prefer to think that the latter is true. Diaz has never been my favorite actress, but she does a nice job in this role. Punch is weird in her supporting role, Timberlake is goofy, and Segel shows a kind of humor and depth that makes you think he should get more, bigger roles in fil…

Alpha Course, How Can I Be Filled With The Holy Spirit

Tonight we wrap up the last of three sessions on the Holy Spirit with a look at how we can be filled with the Holy Spirit — focusing on the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Whenever there's a discussion of the gifts of the spirit, it inevitably turns to a question of Sign Gifts. The Sign Gifts are the miraculous, supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit — miracles, healing, prophecy, and most notably, tongues. Depending on what tradition you come from, you likely have a radically different view of these spiritual gifts.
There are issues that arise in Christendom, and I like to break them down into two categories — indisputable theological principles and disputable theological principles. There are some issues of division among "believers" that are worth standing up for, and some that are worth debating but shouldn't be such a source of division. I think sign gifts fall into the latter category.
I remember once when I was in college I was in a class when the gift of tongues came u…

Alpha Course, Week 10

Here's a look at the worksheet for tomorrow's session.
Alpha Course, Week 10How Can I Be Filled With The Holy Spirit?Key Verses: Acts 10:44-46 “While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.”Introduction: Outpouring of the Spirit in Acts Comes in Five Categories:Longing (Pentecost — Acts 2:2-4)Receptive (Samaria — Acts 8:14-23)Hostile (Paul — Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1-2)Uniformed (Ephesus — Acts 19:1-6)Unlikely (Gentiles — Acts 10:44-47)1. The Experienced The Power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-45)The experience is different for everyone (Acts 8:16, Romans 5:5, Ephesians 3:14-19)Fruits of the Spirit2. They Were Released in Praise (Acts 10:46)Fear of emotionAll relationships should involve emotionsP…

The Gospel According to John

You have to love the Gospel of John. There are four Gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — but the book of John stands alone in its approach to telling the story of Jesus' Earthly ministry. I think I'm drawn to it because of the thinkers mentality he takes to breaking down the key points.
Consider the famous passages we get from the book of John, starting right at the beginning. John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." A key foundation of our faith, right there at the start of the Gospel. And, of course, even those who aren't Christians are familiar with the keystone verse of our faith — again from the book of John — John 3:16.
But it isn't just his approach to the material, but the material he chooses to include. Consider the miracles of Jesus. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke — often referred to as the synoptic Gospels — frequently include variations of the same stories, John stands alone. Yet it is the m…

End Times/Faith in Film

In a little less than a week Highlands Church will present a new night program — The End Times. The group will be a six week exploration of the cultural views of the end of the world and of the vision of the future as laid out in the Bible, specifically the book of Revelation.
I am honored to be a part of this program, sharing the facilitating duties with Pastor Israel. Pastor Israel has spent the past couple months going through the book of Revelation on Tuesdays at noon. For those that have longed to be a part of that class but can't attend daytime sessions, this will be a chance for you to hear some of that material in a new way.
Additionally, those that are fans of the Faith in Film program will enjoy the added component of this program. We will include clips from different films each week, exploring what the world says of the end of days and contrasting it with the picture we get in Scripture. I am excited to be fusing some of my passions with Israel's teachings for this ne…

Favorite Movies Countdown — No. 19

19. Signs (2002)
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Abigail Breslin, and Rory Culkin
About: In 2011, M. Night Shymalan isn't a hot commodity. His last few films have been critically savaged and audiences haven't warmed to them as much either. So it's easy to forget that for about five years, he was a very hot property — as were his films.
From a commercial standpoint, one could argue that "The Sixth Sense" is Shymalan's biggest film. But for me, "Signs" is his best film. It has the most interesting characters and, to me, the clearest version of his standard plot.
So you're probably asking what is his standard plot? I think all Shymalan's films from "The Sixth Sense" through "The Happening" are variations of the same story. They are all about a central character, or characters, who have endured a tragedy and are seeking to rebuild their faith and find redemption. The story is always told in a slightly different context, wi…

Favorite Movies Countdown — No. 20

20. Children of Men (2006)
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor
About: This was my pick as the best film of 2006. "The Departed" won the Academy Award for Best Picture that year, while "Children of Men" was largely overlooked. But in terms of story, performance, cinematic effect, and execution, this was my favorite. And it's one of my favorite films as well because it tells one of my favorite kinds of stories — about a man seeking redemption and faith.
We see through the film that it is an exploration of the importance of hope and faith as guiding principles. We see that through the character of Theo (Owen), who undergoes a radical change. And the inclusion of that theme is intentional. One site I looked at said, “Children of Men explores the themes of hope and faith in the face of overwhelming futility and despair.” P.D. James, author of the book upon which the film is based, believed that the future was key to the concept of …

Now Playing

Here's a look at this week's big new release... "Green Lantern."
Green Lantern Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, and Mark Strong Synopsis: We live in an era of superhero films. This modern era, hopefully, is nearing an end. With most of the major superheroes having already been featured in several films (or in the case of Batman, Superman, the X-Men, and Spiderman having had multiple film franchises built around them), studios are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Hence, "Green Lantern," a confusing, esoteric superhero film with affable actors that completely misses finding compelling ground. I read online, in a scathing review, that Green Lantern's enemy in his movie isn't a super villain, but rather clarity. I think that's certainly a valid criticism. This film doesn't really know what it wants to be. Reynolds has a gift for comedy and quips. He tries to bring some of that to this role, but there just isn’t a good place…

Alpha Course, What Does the Holy Spirit Do?

One of my favorite verses is Ephesians 4:16. The verse says, "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." What I love about the verse is it speaks to the importance of every part of the body of Christ, which is all of us.
There can be a tendency to feel like there is no way you can contribute. I know this feeling well and, at times, have felt it before. But that's not true. One of the things I like about this session of the Alpha Course is that it focuses on the power of the Holy Spirit, and how the Holy Spirit moves in our lives and moves us to action.
And we are all important. It takes all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and all parts of the body, working in unison to be effective. We are all important and a healthy church is one in which everyone contributes. It is hard to find that, but it is really important. And no gift is greater than another, they are all important in…

The Alpha Course, Week 9

Here's a look at tomorrow's worksheet.
Alpha Course, Week 9What Does the Holy Spirit Do?Key Verses: John 3:5-8 “Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised by my saying ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”1. We Become Sons and Daughters of GodThe Spirit provides forgiveness (Romans 8:1-2)The Spirit provides adoption into the family of God (Romans 8:14-17)Greatest privledge (Romans 8:14)Closest intimacy (Romans 8:15)Deepest experience (Romans 8:16)Greatest Security (Romans 8:17)2. The Spirit Helps Develop a Relationship (Ephesians 2:18)He helps us to pray (Romans 8:26)He enables us to understand God’s word (Ephesians 1:17-18)3. …

The End is the Beginning of the End...

There is a song by Smashing Pumpkins called "The End Is The Beginning Is The End," and as you might guess, it's kind of depressing. The first verse goes "Send a heartbeat to; The void that cries through you; Relive the pictures that have come to pass; For now we stand alone; The world is lost and blown; And we are flesh and blood disintegrate; With no more to hate"
You might wonder why I started with that little uplifting piece of prose, well the answer is that song came to mind last night at 8:03 p.m. when the final episode of the first season of the AMC original drama "The Killing" came to an end. It was quickly followed by a joke I remembered from the show "Castle," where the main character asks his detective partner, "Do I look like a killer to you?" and she replies, "Yes. You kill my patience."
You see, endings are tricky, especially in high concept TV dramas. Loyal viewers spend weeks investing in characters and stori…

Hard Economic Times

Yesterday I wrote about "Up In The Air," which is one of the films listed on my favorite films. It does a nice job of chronicling an important but somewhat less talked about cinematic exploration of our recent history — the financial crisis.
Lately I've been intrigued by the financial crisis, and some of the explorations of it. Though it's drawn far less publicity than the reflections on the war, books and movies have begun to consider the effects of this last market crash, recession, and joblessness on the public. One of the things I liked about "Up In The Air" was that it gave voice, if briefly, to those who were suddenly cut adrift. Clooney's character talks about this in one of my favorite lines from the film.
He says, "We are here to make limbo tolerable, to ferry wounded souls across the river of dread until the point where hope is dimly visible."
The film offers a snapshot, but two years later we've gotten more of an exploration — some…

Favorite Movies Countdown — No. 21

21. Up In The Air (2009)
Starring: George Clooney, Anna Kendrick, Vera Farmiga, and Jason Bateman
About: Jason Reitman has only released three feature films — "Thank You For Smoking," "Juno," and "Up In The Air." While "Up In The Air" is my favorite — and certainly his best effort — you'd be hard pressed to find someone who delivered at as high a level as Reitman for his first three films.
"Up In The Air" is the newest film on this list, and it was my pick as the Best Picture in 2009. People became enamored with "Avatar" for it's eye candy and, later, with "The Hurt Locker" because an unpopular war had become a rallying cry during Barack Obama's election, but "Up In The Air" is a better film and, in 10 years, will be remembered as a much more significant reflection of where we were as a culture.
Part of the reason it may have lost favor is the fact that it touched on a nerve that was too raw. We st…

Favorite Movies Countdown — No. 22

22. Miller's Crossing (1990)
Starring: Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Jon Polito, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, and J.E. Freeman
About: So the Coen Brothers make the first of two appearances on this list. "Miller's Crossing" was their third feature film, and for a long time it was my favorite. It is also one of the lesser known Coen Brothers films.
The film centers on a dispute between rival bosses — one Irish (Finney) the other Italian (Polito). There's also a love triangle and a player with a gambling problem working all the angles (Byrne). This isn't your typical mob movie though, it's got that traditional Coen Brothers twist.
One of the things I like best about the Coen Brothers is their gift at writing dialogue. It's a cut above what you get in most movies, and the same goes for "Miller's Crossing." There are also fascinating characters, very period-specific lingo, and some great scenes. There are, in fact, several iconic scenes in t…

Now Playing

Here's a look at the new movies I saw last week.
Kung Fu Panda 2 Starring the voices of: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, and Gary Oldman Synopsis: This is a sequel to the first "Kung Fu Panda" film, and while it does a decent amount to further the narrative of Po (Black) and create a new story, it's still essentially a middle of the road kids' film. If you liked the first one, you'll be pleased with this new installment. There is still some jokes, some familiar voices, and plenty of kung fu action. I struggled when considering how to rate this film. On the one hand, the filmmakers know their product, know their core audience, and know their skill set. This film maximizes on all those areas. But it's just not that compelling, and there isn't really anything that makes this film special. Consider the best animated films we've seen in the past few years. "Toy Story 3" worked well as a kids cartoon, but the resonate emotional themes…

Alpha Course, Who Is The Holy Spirit?

This week Alpha moves into an interesting middle section focusing on the third member of the Trinity — The Holy Spirit.
Nicky starts out the lesson with a couple notes on the Holy Spirit — That He's been ignored and that He's been misunderstood. If you think about it, both those things are probably true. And it's fascinating and exiting that the role of the Holy Spirit is the focus of Alpha right now, given that we just passed Pentecost Sunday and a message aimed at the way the Holy Spirit can work through us. That, of course, will be the subject of weeks 9 and 10 of Alpha, for now the focus is on who the Holy Spirit is.
Most of us, when we think about the Holy Spirit, think about the New Testament. Clearly you see the Holy Spirit at Jesus' baptism — descending in a shape like a dove in Mark 1:9-11. You also think about the promises made to believers, that the Holy Spirit is left with us to dwell within us even after Jesus ascends. There is also plenty of New Testament f…

Alpha Course, Week 8

Here's a look at this week's worksheet.
Alpha Course, Week 8Who Is the Holy Spirit?Key Verse: Genesis 1: 1-2, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”Introduction: The work of the Holy SpiritHe’s been ignored — greater emphasis on the Father and the SonHe’s been misunderstood — not an “it”1. He Was Involved in CreationHelped bring order out of chaos (Genesis 1:1-2)Giving life to man (Genesis 2:7)2. He Comes Upon Particular People at Particular Times for Particular TasksGideon, for leadership (Judges 6:14-16)Samson, for strength (Judges 15:14-15)Bezalel, for artistic work (Exodus 31:1-5)Isaiah, for prophecy (Isaiah 61:1-3)3. He Was Promised By The FatherPromise of a new thing“They will all know me” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)“I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)“A ri…

The Doldrums of Sports

The NBA season officially drew to a close on Sunday as the Dallas Mavericks captured their first title by besting the Miami Heat. Now, we are about to enter a total sporting void.
Typically during this time of year the NFL season is rounding into shape, rookies are being signed, mini-camps are beginning, and the pre-season is just on the horizon. Not so in the world of the lock out.
Typically during this time of year, the NBA gets ready for the draft and a crazy free agency period — remember last year's three weeks spent on LeBron James' decision? This year, with a lockout looming, all that looks to be put on hold.
Welcome to sports in the era of massive labor unrest. Sure, the Major League Baseball season is going. There will be games all summer, and the annual All-Star contest should be a July highlight. But let's be honest, in a sporting season that runs as long as baseball and features as many games as baseball, it's hard to get too excited in June and July.
Sports, at…

The Language of Pop Culture

Today Graham wrapped up the Oxygen series with a look at how we can allow the Holy Spirit to speak through us as we reach people in their own language. This can happen in a variety of ways. One of the ways I've always tried to connect with outsiders is through the language of popular culture.
One of the favorite lessons I've taught as part of Faith in Film is on "Superman Returns." In a clip near the middle of the film, Superman takes Lois Lane high into the clouds and says, “You say the world doesn’t need a savior, but every day I hear them crying out for one.” That doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination as to what the filmmakers perceive that Superman stands for. It sets Superman up to be something bigger than he is. But, I think that’s representative of where our world is. We have a world that is seeking salvation but doesn’t know how to get it.
What's interesting, to me, is the fact that "Superman Returns" is a summer blockbuster superhero film. And e…

Favorite Movies Countdown — No. 23

23. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Tim Robbins, Bob Gunton, and Clancy Brown
About: Every year there is an exception movie nominated for a ton of Academy Awards that wins nothing. In 1994, that movie was "The Shawshank Redemption." Today, it sits as the No. 1 rated movie in a vote of film fans on the Internet Movie Database. That is a testament to the power of the story and the film craft on display.
When you think about it, now 17 years later, it's hard to believe that "Shawshank" didn't win the Best Picture prize. The nominees that year were "Shawshank," "Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Quiz Show," "Pulp Fiction," and winner "Forrest Gump." "Gump" still ranks as a solid film, but it's hard not to feel like "Shawshank" was the best film in that group. I certainly think that if we were voting over today, it would win.
What appeals to people about the film are its…

Favorite Movies Countdown — No. 24

24. "Big Fish" (2003)
Starring: Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Allison Lohman, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, and Marion Cottilard
About: This film is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, which is also a fascinating read. In many ways the film is like a modern day fairy tale. In 2003, I put it atop my list of the best films I saw that year. It is a bright, colorful, moving story about a father and son — at least that's what lies at the heart of "Big Fish."
The film was directed by Tim Burton. I have long admired Burton's abilities as a visual storyteller, and "Big Fish" is no exception. His use of color palate with this film is as impressive as most any of his films, but it is the human drama of this film that sticks out to me. There is a beautiful blend of humor, adventure, romance, and emotional drama in this film.
In a lot of ways this is a continuation of some of the exploration of father-son dynamics that are explore in "…

Now Playing

Earlier this year, when going through my summer movie preview, I postulated the possibility that June would be the best month of the summer movie season. With one excellent release down and another poised to open tomorrow, it looks like that might be the case.
X-Men: First Class Starring: Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Kevin Bacon, Jennifer Lawrence, Rose Byrne, January Jones, and Nicholas Hoult Synopsis: In the middle of last week, when I was looking at reviews for "X-Men," I found one with this headline — "'X-Men' first class indeed." I thought it was not only a funny play on words, but gave me hope that the film would start the turnaround we need among summer blockbusters. To this point we've had a passable "Thor," which was better than expected but still not something that got me too excited, an awful action film in "Priest," a mediocre "Pirates" sequel and a couple hard-R comedies. Not an auspicious beginning. But with…

Alpha Course, How Does God Guide Us

Tonight we reach the halfway mark in the Alpha Course. Hopefully we've all felt challenged and moved by what has been said through this course, I know I have. And don't forget, tonight we'll be having a special Spaghetti Dinner as part of the course.
While some might be excited about dinner, the real substance tonight comes from the material. As with each week, this message from Nicky provides plenty of food for thought and really helped me reflect on my own life. Nicky has been very purposeful in putting this course together, with each week building on the next. In this section of the course (week's 5 through 7), the focus has really been on discipleship and how that can help guide the path of our lives.
This is an interesting companion to the Oxygen Series — and not something we planned really. But we've had weeks focus on prayer, the Bible, and now God's guidance in Alpha at the same time Graham's been taking about getting Oxygen into our lives and, in the…