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Showing posts from June, 2012

Olympic Fever Rising

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I love the Olympics. And by Olympics, I mean the real Olympics. You know, the one that takes place every fourth summer for 2.5 magical weeks.

In preparation for the London festival, set to begin on Friday, July 27, NBC has been airing the U.S. Olympic trials in prime time all week. Watching Michael Phelps cruise to the front has brought back the nostalgic feeling from four years ago, when I stayed up way too late every night for two weeks watching magic happen.

In honor of the upcoming Olympics, I thought I'd share the column I wrote about the last Olympic games during the summer of 2008!


For more than a week, a nation of bleary-eyed patriots got up and ground through their work schedules only to race home and gather by the TV late into the night.


There was no war launched or national catastrophe, but there was a rare, epic event to be embraced — the Olympics. And, undoubtedly, the star of these games was American swimmer Michael Phelps. Phelps, who was awesome in Athens, stepped u…

Now Playing

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Here's a look at the new movie I saw this week. June's been bleak...

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Starring: Benjamin Walker, Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Rufus Sewell
Synopsis: Abraham Lincoln remains one of the most revered Presidents. His face is on our money, his likeness sits in the capitol, and his speeches continue to be recited years later. But a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith would have you believe that’s only part of the story. Grahame-Smith has earned fame as a writer by giving classic literature and U.S. history a bit of a facelift. He injected zombies into the world of “Pride and Prejudice,” and he added some vampires to the story of President Lincoln and the Civil War. It is his latter addition to history that is the subject of the latest summer blockbuster release, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” While the premise is intriguing, the movie is much less so. It’s another case of a possibly interesting idea that gets a little lost …

Sorkin's New Statement

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"The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore." — Will McAvoy, "Newsroom."

I love Aaron Sorkin's writing, so I can't be totally rational when evaluating his shows. I am one of those who had a slavish devotion to both "The West Wing" and "Sportsnight," and I watched "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" to the bitter end, even though it certainly didn't match the quality anyone expected. So it was with great anticipation that I awaited Sorkin's latest televised endeavor, "Newsroom," which debuted on HBO on Sunday night.

The show is another behind the scenes style show, set this time in the world of cable news. Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is a talented news anchor that has finally had enough of playing it neutral and goes off during a televised interview at a local college. In response to his seismic shift, he gets a new executive prod…

Faith in Film, Watchmen

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"For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." — Jeremiah 29:11

That promise, offered by God to His people through the prophet Jeremiah, offers comfort to all believers, whether in good times or in bad. But what would it be like if you recognized the fallen nature of mankind, the evil in the world, and believed there was no God there to honor that promise? Where would you find your hope? The answer is you wouldn't, and your world would look an awful lot like the world in "Watchmen."

"Watchmen" is the darkest, most bleak film I've examined during Faith in Film. After 44 sessions, it was fitting to end with this film, because it was the analysis of the world of "Watchmen" that really got me interested in writing about and talking about the worldview in films. It was so dark, so bleak, and so absolute, I just couldn't stop thinking about why it aff…

Faith in Film, Week 8

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Here's a look at the worksheet for our last class, which will be tonight at 6:30 p.m.!


Title: “Watchmen” (2009)

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, Malin Ackerman, Billy Cruddup, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Matthew Goode

Synopsis: “Watchmen” is one of the most fascinating and controversial films we’ve looked at for Faith in Film. The film, released to great fanfare in the spring of 2009, is based on a graphic novel from Alan Moore. It is a film that presents a number of challenges to the Christian worldview. Moore, by all accounts, was an anarchistic atheist. There is an absence of God in the work and in the worldview of the central characters, and there is also an absence of faith in the role of government and law and order. It makes for a very cynical, dark world that is on the brink of destruction. In that, it presents an accurate picture of a world completely devoid of the spirit — or the fruits of the Spirit, namely faith, hope, and love.

It is said that, in looking a…

A New Season

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Here's a look at the announcement I gave today during service. I will miss all of you who have been part of my Highlands family.


In Ecclesiastes 3:1 it says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” As Christians we know that God brings people and places into our lives in and for different seasons. I have been blessed, in this season, that God has brought Lindsay into my life. And in three weeks, I will be blessed to call her my wife.

This has been a season of joy and a season of new beginning in my life. But as one season begins, often another ends. For me, that includes the end of my time here at Highlands Church. I have accepted the position of Manager of Communications at First Pres Colorado Springs, and I will be moving there in July. It is a great opportunity to use all my skills to serve God in a new way and to help that church as it enters a new phase in a new denomination. I am also looking forward to continuing to work with Gra…

Spiritual Tank

One of the things that John Ortberg talks about in his book, "The Life You've Always Wanted," is the idea of the Spiritual Tank. In the book, he talks about the ways that you refill your Spiritual tank, suggesting that when someone asks you how your Spiritual tank is, you should think about devotions as much as how you have served the Kingdom in other ways.

In my small group we talked about this idea and how it might apply to us. That led me to a thought — maybe everyone's Spiritual tank gets filled up in a way that's unique to our Spiritual gifts and the way we receive love. This is something that occurred to me when thinking about the idea of love languages.

My primary love language is quality time. For me, the way my Spiritual tank gets filled best is through quiet study of God and His Word. That makes sense given my love language. I fill my Spiritual tank through quality time with God and His Word. It inspires me and keeps me going.

Others in our group talked…

TV Misfires

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When I see this picture from "The Killing," I can't help but wonder if that's not Mirelle Enos on the phone with her agent, trying to make sure to distance herself from the show. AMC's least thrilling murder mystery wrapped up its second season, finally answering the question driving the show — who killed Rosie Larson.

Sadly, after 26 episodes, no one really cared. I followed the show to the end to get the final answer, but it was as unsatisfying as the rest of the show. Really, I shouldn't have been surprised. The entire show was unsatisfying, after a masterful pilot that offered a world of promise the show was never capable of fulfilling.

AMC may have a reputation for quality television, and with things like "Mad Men" that might be true, but it certainly isn't true for "The Killing." The show squandered all good will, as well as any sense of continuity of narrative, through a meandering 26-episode run that stretched out a story for …

Now Playing

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Here's a look at the new films that I saw this week!

Madagascar 3
Starring the Voices Of: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Frances McDormand
Synopsis: The "Madagascar" franchise has been a reliable and solid performer for DreamWorks Animation, and that continues to be the case with the third installment. The characters are familiar, the jokes are warm and comforting, and the story isn't too hard to follow. Some new faces join the mix, and  all the fun, familiar characters are there too, including the famous Penguins. There is a great use of color, some vibrant animation, a cute story, and some fun musical numbers in the film. There is a reason that "Madagascar 3" has dominated the Box Office two weeks in a row. It's solid family entertainment and the perfect kind of movie for the summer.
Rating: PG for some mild action and rude humor.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.

Rock of Ages
Starring: Tom Cruise…

A Tiger Lost in the Woods

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This past weekend was the U.S. Open Golf Championship. I spent a lot of time during the four days watching Tiger Woods. On Thursday and Friday, it seemed as if Woods had put the demons of four years of futility behind him. He looked strong, confident, and like a contender.

Saturday and Sunday, not so much. It's been four years since Woods won a major championship. During that time he's endured personal scandals, health problems, and a lot of speculation about whether he would ever be the same. It's clear now he will never be the same.

When Tiger burst onto the golf scene, he seemed unlike any player before him. His arrogance of the course was matched only by his talent on the course. It's fair to say I didn't care for him, and it was hard to root for him while he was mercilessly destroying the competition. He racked up 14 major championships and seemed destined to break all golf's records.

But a funny thing happened along the way. Tiger became, well, human. He…

Faith in Film 4, Soul Surfer

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We all go through tough times in life, and how we respond to those tough times is a real test of faith. The movie "Soul Surfer" tells the story of Bethany Hamilton, who at 13-years-old seemed to be on the cusp of doing great things in the surf world. Her dream, goal, and singular vision seemed to be focused on becoming a professional surfer.

Then, on Oct. 31, 2003, while she was floating off the coast of Hawaii, all that changed. A shark took off most of her left arm, and she would never be the same. But Bethany Hamilton didn't give in to feelings of grief, woe, or sorrow, she turned to God. And God met all her fears and concerns, and God blazed a bright path for her as only He can do.

What I love about Bethany's story is how real it is, and how real it is on film. Too often in Christian films we verge on the prosperity Gospel. A character endures a challenge, prays, and all their problems are magically solved. As Christians, we know it doesn't work like that. A…

Faith in Film 4, Week 7

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Last week we saw the movie, tonight we're gonna talk about the themes. You won't want to miss it tonight at 6:30 p.m.!


Title: “Soul Surfer” (2011)

Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and Carrie Underwood

Synopsis: “Soul Surfer” is the story of Bethany Hamilton. Hamilton is a professional surfer and a Christian. Her story gained notoriety because of what happened to her. While she was in high school, and just an amateur competitor, Hamilton was the victim of a shark attack near her home in Hawaii. The attack left her with just one arm. Prior to the attack she had been a promising competitor that had recently signed a sponsorship. But the attack left her future in doubt.

Hamilton used that experience as the basis of a memoir, called “Soul Surfer,” in which she chronicled her experiences and how it strengthened her faith. The film follows her from just before the accident through the process of her regaining faith and confidence to get back on the board. It is a…

Father's Day

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"When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry." — William Shakespeare

One of the biggest problems in America, particularly with the blight of urban America, is the lack of kind, compassionate, and present fathers in the lives of our youth. It really struck me when going through "The Wire," or hearing messages from people like Donald Miller — who was so affected by an absent father in his life that he started a mentorship project to help others in similar situations — that it's hard not to feel blessed in my own life.

Not only did I grow up with my father as an active part of my life, I'm still blessed to call him a friend. I watch games with him, he helps me with projects and advice, and he's one of my favorite people to hang out with. Having known nothing different, it's easy to take that for granted. That's why it's important on days like to today to recognize and celebrate those blessings in our li…

Jesus' Love

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"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." — Matthew 11:28-30

I've been reading a new book by Donald Miller called "Searching For God Knows What." It's interesting and challenging. It's basically an exploration of big theological ideas from someone who's like you and me.

In the middle of the book there is a chapter on the attributes of Jesus. Reading those, thinking about what we see of Jesus in the Bible and what we see of the emissaries of Jesus in the church, it's not hard to see why some people get turned off  by Christians. One of the things you see in Jesus' life and ministry is that He loved people and He loved to be with people. And not just the people that set up chairs or sang songs in church, but all people.

Think about that for a moment. …

The Decline of Adam Sandler

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"Mr. Madison, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul." — The Principal, "Billy Madison"
I love that quote from "Billy Madison." I think about it often. It is one of the funniest moments from a classic Sandler film. Now, sadly, it could be applied to Sandler's films...
Last year, I thought we'd reached a new low with "Jack & Jill." The film swept the Golden Raspberry Awards, and for good reason. Sandler appeared as himself and his twin sister, he had uncomfortable "romantic" moments with Al Pacino, and the entire film felt like a cinematic cry for help.
But it turns out bottom was yet to come. Today, in honor of Father's Day, S…

Now Playing

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Here's a look at last week's big new released, the sci-fi odity "Prometheus."

Prometheus
Starring: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, and Idris Elba
Synopsis: In 1979, Ridley Scott left his mark on sci-fi films with “Alien.” Event more than 30 years later the film remains a classic and a significant benchmark for the genre. That’s what made everyone so interested in his latest sci-fi offering, “Prometheus.” Little was made public about the film prior to its release. It has long been rumored as a prequel to “Alien,” something that Scott neither confirmed or denied. And other that cryptic trailers, interviews, and descriptive stories, there hasn’t been much to illuminate the plot. On Friday, when the film was released, audiences finally got answers. While Scott still has a deft director’s touch, those hoping to see the next landmark film in the genre are likely to be a bit disappointed. In the midst of a mysterious planet, the cre…

The Search for Aliens

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Last summer I had a chance to co-teach a class on the End Times with Pastor Israel. We looked at different cultural theories of the end of the world (basically movies that show the end of days) and talked about how they reflect different fears of humanity.

One of the ones we looked at was the theory of alien invasion. These stories have long been a part of the culture. “War of the Worlds” was originally a novel written in 1898 by H.G. Wells. It is listed as the first depiction of the conflict between mankind and aliens. And it certainly preyed up people’s fear of the unknown.

In 1938, Orson Welles took that a step further as he produced a radio drama based on “War of the Worlds.” The first two-thirds of the 60-minute drama were presented as a series of news bulletins, and there was no disclaimer that it was a piece of entertainment. Due to the content, and the style of the broadcast, the radio drama engendered fear and paranoia as many people believed the Earth was actually falling u…

Faith in Film, The Real Bethany Hamilton

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"I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." — Philippians 4:13

One of the amazing things about "Soul Surfer" is that it's a true story. It's the story of a 13-year-old girl whose life was full of promise. It's the story of the tragic accident that threatened to derail her journey, and the way, through faith, she rose above.

There are a lot of things I like about the film, and a lot of themes in the film that we will look at next week, but it's that hopeful and inspiring true-life adventure that offers hope for the power of faith to overcome the obstacles we face in life.

As an amateur, Hamilton had just been sponsored and looked to have a bright career as a professional surfer. Then, on Oct. 31, 2003, when she was just 13-years-old, Hamilton was the victim of a shark attack. The attack occurred off the coast one morning while she was surfing with her best friend. The shark took off her left arm, just below the shoulder.

Hamilton didn’t…

Faith in Film 4, Week 6

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Here's a look at the worksheet for "Soul Surfer." Tonight we will do a screening, next week we'll talk about the movie! Come out for fresh popcorn and fellowship!


Title: “Soul Surfer” (2011)

Starring: AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and Carrie Underwood

Synopsis: “Soul Surfer” is the story of Bethany Hamilton. Hamilton is a professional surfer and a Christian. Her story gained notoriety because of what happened to her. While she was in high school, and just an amateur competitor, Hamilton was the victim of a shark attack near her home in Hawaii. The attack left her with just one arm. Prior to the attack she had been a promising competitor that had recently signed a sponsorship. But the attack left her future in doubt.

Hamilton used that experience as the basis of a memoir, called “Soul Surfer,” in which she chronicled her experiences and how it strengthened her faith. The film follows her from just before the accident through the process of her regaining …

The End is the Beginning

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It's not easy to adjust to change, to say goodbye, to move on. And it's not easy to watch someone who's been part of the fabric of your life for a period do the same. And now we come to one of those transitory periods at Highlands Church.

It has been said that people come into our lives for a season. Those seasons pass, but what matters is what we take away from that time. Graham and Star came to Paso Robles seven years ago and did something new here. Highlands Church has had a profound impact on the community, and many of its residents, including me.

It's fair to say that, before coming to Highlands, I was lost in the Spiritual woods. I look at my life now, and I think about the path I was headed down then, and it's undeniable that God used this season to shape my heart, my life, and my future. For that, I will be forever grateful.

But change is inevitable. Highlands will never be the same after today, but that doesn't mean it can't continue to change liv…

A King Without Rings

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Tonight is game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals, and no matter what LeBron James does, or how well he plays, it will be meaningless until the Miami Heat win a title. That's a reality. On Thursday, prior to Game 6, Magic Johnson correctly nailed it — LeBron will get an unfair share of the credit for wins and an unfair share of the blame in losses. That's the path he's chosen, and it is his cross to bear.

When he came into the league, many thought LeBron would be the greatest player in professional basketball by the time he retired. Nearly a decade into his career, he remains a great player without a title. And that says a lot.

This week, a young boy made headlines for his effusive praise of the Heat following a game 5 loss. He shouted "good job; good effort" as the downtrodden team made its way to the locker room. While that might be the mentality in amateur sports, or the lesson we try to teach kids — that the way you play the game is what matters — the real…

My Reality Vice

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I have long been anti-reality TV. There are several reasons for this. First, it adds to the voyeuristic nature of our country, and creates ridiculous false celebrities. Two, it adds to the dumbing down of America. And three, because they are cheap, it's damaged the creativity in scripted programming — which is somewhat uneven in America.

In the summer of 2000, I watched the first "Survivor." It seemed like a novel concept and I thought it would be fun. By the end, I realized that reality TV was contrived, and that reality TV competitions would ultimately be unsatisfying because it takes a certain type of person to win. And, of course, those are not the types of people you'd feel good about seeing win.

That's been true, for the most part, as reality TV has expanded. Now, too, we have "America" weighing in, which is even worse. I used to watch "Last Comic Standing" because I enjoy good comedy, but after seeing so many hilarious comics eliminate…

Now Playing

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Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week!

Hemingway and Gellhorn
Starring: Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman
Synopsis: If I told you I was making a pensive 2.5 hour biopic on Ernest Hemingway, would you be excited to watch it? If the answer is yes, then "Hemingway and Gellhorn" is for you. It focuses on Hemingway's affair and marriage to Martha Gellhorn, which began when they traveled to cover the events in war-torn Spain. The pair had chemistry, as played by Owen and Kidman, but also a toxic relationship that probably wasn't healthy for either of them. Like so many tortured artists, both found too much consolation in the bottom of a bottle. You also can't help escape the feeling that the filmmakers are indicating that Gellhorn was a bit of an adrenaline junkie, which is why she traveled from war site to war site to write first-hand accounts for the bulk of her career. That constant pursuit of danger and action both attracted and wore on Hemingway, accordi…

Disappointment

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In his book "The Live You've Always Wanted," John Ortberg begins his first chapter with the idea that we all, at some point, get caught in a state of disappointment with our lives. Some how our lives don't measure up to the idea we had in our mind, or the life we think God wants for us.

It's hard to argue with that idea, but the question becomes how do you respond? If I had read that chapter 13 months ago, it would have been easy for me to identify with that sentiment and how lost I felt. I went through a low period, personally, where I knew I wasn't happy with my direction, and I wondered if I could ever fix it.

But there are two ways you can respond to those period of disappointment in your life. First, you can allow yourself to give in, despair, and wallow. Or, you can try and do something about it. Fortunately God gave me the strength to choose that second path, and a year later it is amazing how He has answered my prayers and calmed my fears.

But it too…

Theology and Stephen King

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In a piece on the faith blog for CNN, John Blake looks at the connections between the work of novelist Stephen King and the Bible. The average person might scoff at such an idea, but there is more to it than you might think.

I've often contended that films are reflections of the values and worldview of their creators, and books are no different. When you hear Stephen King, typically you think of horror novels, stories, and films, and for good reason. He has created some of the most creatively terrifying stories ever. But there is an interesting Spiritual aspect to his work.

One of my favorite mini-series of all time is "The Stand," based on a long novel from Stephen King. The book, and mini-series, focus on the end of the world. It is an ultimate battle between good and evil — and though Jesus and Satan aren't named in the work, it's undeniable that the work leans on the depictions offered in Revelation. There is a serious spiritual aspect to the story. And that…

Faith in Film 4, Tree of Life

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Few films in America have been as polarizing as "Tree of Life." At the Cannes Film Festival, while the film won the Palm D'Orr, when it screened half the audience gave it a standing ovation and half the audience walked out.

In "Entertainment Weekly," one critic named it the Best Film of the year and was enraptured, and the other critic hated it and called it self indulgent. The answer is, this film is both. It's self indulgent and it is a beautiful work of art. Let me explain.

Film, we often forget, is an artistic medium. Films are artistic expressions of their creators — writers and directors. Not all critics or people like a painting, and not all critics or people will like a film. A film that creates die-hard fans and harsh critics has, likely, done something right.

Terrance Malick, the director and writer of "Tree of Life," is an artist. He isn't concerned with fame and critics, he's concerned with making a film that he wants to make.…

Faith in Film 4, Week 5

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Here's a look at tonight's worksheet!


Title: “Tree of Life” (2011)

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and Sean Penn

Synopsis: Few films received as mixed response as “Tree of Life.” It won the Palm D’Orr at the Cannes Film Festival — the highest prize for a film at the festival — and was a Best Picture nominee. But it wasn’t universally lauded, or even understood. It seemed like those that saw the film fell into two camps — they loved it for the style and exploration of larger themes or hated it for the style and the way it tackled those themes. There was very little middle ground. Such is the fate of many Terrance Malick films.

Personally, I was moved by some of the larger fabric and ideas of this film, but wasn’t totally sold on the entire production. This is a completely non-linear film. There is no plot, per se, just a collection of musings, thoughts, reactions, and events that pertain to three characters — a mother, a father, and their son. This film is an exploratio…

The Church

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"Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." — Acts 2:46-47

What is the church? Is it the pastor? Is it the worship? Is it the building? No. If you read the Scriptures, the church is the people of God. And since the church is the people of God, it can never die.

I don't know about you, but when I think about that reality, it is a comfort. We are promised that wherever two or three are gathered in His name, the Lord is present in their midst. All it takes to keep the church alive is for fully devoted followers to gather in prayer and fellowship. That's how the early church began, when you read Acts, and that's how God has sustained the fellowship of believers through the centuries.

When change comes, it's natural to be apprehensive. People…

Famous Feud

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"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." — Romans 12:21

Through four weeks, my Faith in Film class has been about the depictions of forgiveness — or the lack thereof — in major films. How fitting, then, it seems that the History Channel this week decided to air the original miniseries, "Hatfields & McCoys."

The miniseries — which takes six hours over three nights — is a docudrama about the famous feud. The families had a bloody feud on the Kentucky, West Virginia border in the years following the Civil War. It was a rough time that saw much blood shed, sorrow, and enmity.

The miniseries stars Kevin Costner as Anse Hatfield and Bill Paxon as Randall McCoy, the patriarchs of the rival clans. It's a well-made miniseries that has shattered cable records. That's because, more than 100 years later, the feud is still a fascination to most people. I like at the end how the film mentions, though it was never the attention of either family, the…