Saturday, November 29, 2008

Best Movie Endings: Part 2

This post constitutes my 4th, 5th and 6th favorite movie endings. See the introduction and movies 7,8, and 9 here. Here are the next three:
  1. Rocky I - not only was this a serious bonding movie as a kid with me and my dad, but the series has been a favorite of mine over the years (except Rocky V which was terrible!) The reason the first movie ending was so great is because Rocky loses to Apollo at the end. It doesn't fit the fairy tale ending mold even though Rocky puts up a valiant fight. I can still hear "Adrianne!" ringing in my ears.
  2. Good Will Hunting - Ben Afflec and the boys go to Matt Damon's house as they've always done and this time he's not there - he's finally left to chase his dreams. Afflec goes back to his car - his friends switch seats in the car when they realize the front seat is now open - and Robin Williams reads the letter from Matt Damon, "sorry, I had to go see about a girl." Great ending to a great movie.
  3. Braveheart - after the famous beheading scene with William Wallace laid out for all to see and screaming "Freedom!" the narrator describes what happens as the saddened Scottish soldiers gather on the hillside. "Wallace's body was torn to pieces, his head was mounted on London bridge, his arms and legs were sent to the four corners of Britain as a warning... but it did not have the effect that Longshanks planned." Then you see Robert the Bruce gathering his troops, "You have bled with Wallace - now bleed with me." And the crazy undermanned Scottish army throw the claymore and go charging into the field screaming, "they fought like warrior poets, they fought like Scottsmen, and they won their freedom..." I'm ready to suit up right now and battle the Brits myself!
Top three are coming tomorrow...any guesses?

Friday, November 28, 2008

Best Movie Endings: Part 1

I'm preaching a sermon this weekend called "The Fugitive" and it has reminded me of the powerful ending of that Harrison Ford movie from the 90's. It was one of the great endings to a great story in film. It got me thinking about movies that I love that have great endings - and it didn't even come up in the top 3 or so on my list. I'm going to do a rapid-fire three part post of my favorite movie endings - in essence it will be my Top 9. There are some classic movies with great endings like Citizen Kane, the Godfather, Planet of the Apes, Star Wars, Bladerunner, One Flew Over the Cukoos Nest, etc. But I'm going to stick to movies that I've seen as an adult that were made within my generation. These are movies that either have great last lines, emotionally powerful conclusions, or cool twists at the end. So here it goes - this first post will contain my bottom three choices (in essence #'s 9, 8, and 7):
  1. The Fugitive - This storyline was so well-conceived, and I remember being completely invested as I watched it unfold. From the jumping off the dam scene to the big raucous in the convention hall the action didn't stop. So when Tommy Lee Jones took the cuffs off of Harrison Ford in the squad car at the end, I literally had a physical reaction of relief.
  2. Fight Club - As a Pastor, I'm not sure I'm allowed to include this movie on my list, but here it goes. The story has always fascinated me, and the multiple personality twist at the end of this movie is what makes it list-worthy. As Tyler Durden (Edward Norton) watches the city crumble before his eyes at the end after his band of terrorist blow the city to bits, he tells his lady friend, "you came at a very strange time in my life..."
  3. Saving Private Ryan - as Ryan visits the cemetary as an old man and reflects on the men who had died saving his life, the only words he can muster to his wife and family are, "Tell me I'm a good man," he so wanted to live up to the price that was paid for his life. This is a redemptive theme that I've used in a sermon before. There is an indebtedness that comes when someone gives their life for yours.
Stay tuned for the middle three on my list in Part 2 and then my top three movie endings in Part 3.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Categories of Thankfulness

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. There are a few different categories or even levels of giving thanks that I've been pondering as we head into this holiday tomorrow.
  1. Thankful for the things we have. This is the traditional question that we ask and answer around our Thanksgiving meal each year, "what are you thankful for?" And there are many, many things to list. From our family members to our ipods we have more than we could ever know what to do with. I'm sure every person reading these words could come up with a hearty list.
  2. Thankful for things unseen. This category is a little harder to capture because it's less concrete. Things such as the mutual trust that is exchanged like a commodity within a friendship, the forgiveness that has been extended in a relationship on the mend, the compassion that is felt for someone who is hurting, the compelling love of an active God. These things may not be as close to the tip of our tongues around the Thanksgiving table, but they are deeper and richer and more soul-expanding than the items in the first category.
  3. Thankful for our difficulties. It takes a broad perspective to get our hearts around this one. But it is one of the evidences of a spiritually healthy person. Someone who can give thanks even through difficult times knowing that on the other side of the trouble - they will have grown and learned and been formed into something that couldn't have been without that experience... and God will still have been faithful.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Monday, November 24, 2008

About Meetings

Some people enjoy meetings and some people hate meetings.  I happen to lean toward the enjoyment side of things - but I don't like calling them "meetings" when they are with my team members at Grace.  "Meeting" has such a negative connotation to it.  I'll have to come up with some creative name for them - maybe you can help with that. I had a few such sessions with team members at Grace today, and tonight I reflect on some reasons why I tend to enjoy meetings:
  1. People are smarter together.  This is almost always the case.  We typically come to much smarter decisions when we work with like-minded but diverse team members than we would have dreaming something up on our own.  I love the collaboration and results that come from working together toward a common goal.
  2. Meetings are launching pads for progress.  Since I've been a working man, I've always considered the word picture of a launching pad when it comes to meetings.  Words exchanged around the table of a group of leaders are not empty words - they will eventually impact lives. That's why I try not to take any meeting lightly.  It's pretty amazing to see an idea through from the 'concept phase' with a small group to the 'implementation phase' that affects thousands.  It's quite humbling actually.
  3. Meetings allow me to invest in the lives of people.  Email exchanges, conference calls, written proposals are all good - they are effective and efficient means to get things done.  But, there is nothing like sitting eyeball to eyeball with someone - catching up on their life for a while, and then rolling up our sleeves to solve a problem, birth and idea, or facilitate a change together.  It's a really cool dynamic when it's working.
Got any creative new terms I could use instead of "meeting?"

To Those From Warmer Climates

As I was shoveling this morning and as we are bracing for yet another lake effect snowstorm, I was thinking about some of my friends from the south. We have some fun at each others' expense regarding the weather. So, if you live where the weather is consistently warm (and by warm I mean above 40 degrees for the majority of the year) there are a few things that may surprise you about the snowier regions of the country. Here are three of them:
  1. We think we're tougher than you. That's right I said it. People who live in frigid places like Erie, PA think they're more rugged than the rest of the country. We chuckle inside as we hear you talk about your problems thinking to ourselves, "yeah but you've never shoveled out of a lake-effect snow dump of 18" in 6 hours." Even people who used to live up north, but now live in warmer climates, still think they're tougher than the rest of y'all.
  2. Snow gets dirty fast. If you've never been around a lot of snow you probably don't know this little tidbit. A big snowfall is only a postcard-worthy winter wonderland for a very short time. After that the plows pile it up along the streets in a big brownish dirty ole' pile because of the salt and brine that are put on it as a melting agent.
  3. Staying warm is all about layers. I can always spot the people who have moved here from somewhere warm because they're the one's with the huge puffy coat on and a t-shirt underneath. Five or six layers of shirts and sweatshirts beats one big coat any day.

Great Questions from My Kids

Kids spew out some amazing questions. Kim and I have been really bad at documenting this kind of stuff. While we have invested a ton of time and love into our kids - we haven't been the greatest at keeping records, locks of hair, special papers, quotes, videos, etc. But despite our inability to save up this sort of stuff, here is a good question from each of our kids from over the years.

  1. What are you thinking about mommy? Caleb (now 11) from when he was 22 months. This one might not seem that incredible, but Kim and I were amazed for weeks that Caleb asked this question. Partially because he was our first child and we didn't realize how perceptive kids are. But mainly because he was barely able to talk, and was still aware of Kim's ability to think about something other than his next need.
  2. Have you ever kicked a monkey in the crotch? Chase (now 7) from when he was 3. This question came out of the blue from the back seat of my car on the way home from preschool. I almost drove the car into a ditch. My answer, "I've never been close enough."
  3. Why does poop make plants grow? Ayden (now 4) from when she was 3. She asked this as I was raking some manure into our garden at the end of the fall getting it ready for next year. My response, "because that's the way God made it." That's my answer for the ones that really do stump me...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Red Flags from Pre-Marital Counseling

I've done a lot of weddings in my 15 (yikes) years as a Pastor.  I'm estimating that I've done around 40 weddings now.  Along with those weddings comes an awful lot of pre-marital counseling.  Here are three red flags that I've come across during my pre-marital counseling sessions.

  1. We want to keep our finances seperate.  I'm not saying that this arrangement can't work.  But regardless of any financial wisdom in such an arrangement - the relational message that it sends is divisive.
  2. We've never had an argument.  If a couple gets to their wedding day and hasn't had an argument yet - they're not ready to be married.  You have to know that your partner can fight fair before you commit the rest of your life to them.
  3. Once we get married he/she will change this behavior that I don't like.  I'm amazed that really smart people actually think this will happen.  Read my lips - nothing gets easier after you're married.  If it's bad now - it will get worse (not better) after you get married.  Marriage is an amazing gift, but it takes tremendous commitment and hard work to make it great.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reasons to Come to Grace this Weekend

If you read this blog and live in Erie- this would be a great weekend to check out one of the services at Grace.   If you already attend Grace this should not be the 1 in every 4 weekends that you don't come!  Here are three quick reasons why:

  1. Mike Watson is going to tear it up with his message this weekend.  He's going to be giving a clear and simple presentation about why Jesus came.  Mike is one of those guys that was deeply changed by the love of Christ.  Jesus took his life that was really screwed up and made it whole.  It will be an awesome weekend to bring friends too - the more the merrier.
  2. This is our big Thanksgiving Outreach weekend.  The church has seriously shattered expectations.  Last I heard - we had raised almost $27,000 to provide Thanksgiving dinner to those in need this year.  That is unbelievable!  Last year we raised $17,000 and thought that was ridiculous.  Our facility will be abuzz this weekend with hundreds of people volunteering to pack bags to be sent out into the community on Monday morning.  Check out some pictures from last year.
  3. You can pick up your tickets for The Sounds of Christmas.  Our annual event that is going to be absolutely breathtaking this year.  It will also be coupled with a brief celebration of Pastor Al's 30 years at Grace.

3 Quick Things

OK - so I'm updating the feel and flavor of my blog. Up to this point I have written about general musings of life and leadership and God stuff. That variety will still be there, but I'm going to use the unifying principle of 3's. So from this point forward I will either have 3 points in each blog or I will do 3 part blog entries. If you look at yesterday's post I was practicing - it was the third post in a three part series AAAND had three points in it. Yes - that's right - I went mental ninja on you. Anyway- most of my posts will begin with an introductory paragraph like this one and then move to the 3 points. So today I present 3 quick reasons to organize my posts around 3 Quick Things:
  1. People like lists - blog readers can tend to be lazy and are more likely to scan lists vs. reading whole paragraphs. Lists also are more interesting, look neat, keep thoughts succinct, are more likely to be linked to, and help to organize concepts.
  2. Three is a good number - you have the whole Trinity thing but then you also have the little pigs, amigos, stooges, blind mice, wise men, ring circus, strikes you're out, etc. etc.
  3. I'm a Pastor OK? - and the whole stereotype of Pastors is that they have three points for everything. So I'm just gonna go with that.
What do you think of my new format?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Progression of Sin: Part 3 - Reverse the Curse

There is a simple act that God put into place to counteract the progression of sin. It is confession. Mastering the art of confession will lead to other critical things like repentance (changing behavior), and humility (changing attitude), and the ability to resist temptation (changing thinking), etc. But the starting place is confession. Three quick things about confession:
    1. Confession is agreeing with God that we have done something wrong; that we’ve either done something He says we shouldn’t do, or failed to do something He says we should do. No intermediary is necessary - we can go directly to God with this
    2. The scope of the confession should match the scope of the sin. Sin should be confessed as widely as it affects others. Private sin requires only private confession to God. Personal sin that involves others requires interpersonal confession to the people involved. Public sins (those that affect a large group of people) regrettably must be confessed publicly as an example and as a warning to others.
    3. Confession should be specific. We have a tendency to throw all our sins in a big pile like dirty laundry and ask God to forgive all of it. There is power in getting painfully honest: God, I told those people I was late for the meeting because the traffic was bad. Truthfully I just procrastinated and didn’t give myself enough time to get there. I knew that I was going to be rushed before I left. Telling them that it was traffic was a lie. I am a liar. Please forgive me. Usually the root of sin goes even deeper than that. The reason that I lied was that I wanted to control their impression of me. I wanted them to think better of me than is real. The result is that now I am living an image rather than living in reality. And it is an image I'm going to have to work to keep up even if it's not really me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Progression of Sin: Part 2

Yesterday's post covered the progression that leads up to the act of sin - today we pick up with that act and then look at the effects. Read part 1 first.

4. Disobedience (3:6b) - …she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
  • This is the act of sin. Sin is a violation of God’s design. When desire is coupled with deception and doubt, our actions will be affected. We will eventually act on our intake.

5. Shame (3:7) - Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

  • Compare this verse to Genesis 2:25, “they were naked and they felt ‘no shame.’” Shame is built in to all of us at some level and it is ten times more powerful than embarrassment. Raw shame causes division between people and between us and God. It leads people to turn inward and build boundaries. Suddenly it was more natural for Adam and Eve to hide from each other than to "cleave" to one another as per God's design. Shame is powerful force.

6. Fear (3:8-10) - Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, "Where are you?” He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

  • The unhealthy response to shame is fear. Specifically the fear that someone will find out about our sin. Fear causes people to try to hide from God. Again, this progression fights agains the natural response that God created in people. Suddenly it was more natural for them to run from God than toward Him. This is the first time that hiding ever happened.

7. Scrambling (3:11-13) - And he said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?" The man said, "The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it." Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this you have done?” The woman said, "The serpent deceived me, and I ate."

  • When shame and fear are combined, people panic. We no longer care what happens to anyone else – it’s self protection time. People "scramble" differently – but it always involves doing things that don’t make sense. We hide, we build walls, we blame others, we lash out in anger, we turn to addictive behavior, we start to ooze selfish negativity.

Tomorrow a word about the very practical activity that God has given us that will stop this negative progression of sin in its tracks.

The Progression of Sin: Part 1

Each month - the staff at Grace has been going through some personal discipleship stuff together. We just finished our third such training at our meeting last week. We discussed the danger of sin and temptation as a leader, and the power of confession to counteract the advances of sin. In the first part of our study we walked through the progression of sin as outlined in Genesis 3. Today I'll list those that lead up to the act of sin itself - and will conclude the list tomorrow.

1. Deception (3:1) - Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?"

  • There is a deceiver who knows our vulnerability. His strategy is to strike at the relationship between people and God. It is amazing to imagine how powerful the force of deception must have been to make unfallen people fall, and sinless people sin. It is a very powerful force. All sin begins by believing things that aren’t true - this is deception.

2. Doubt (3:4-5) - "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

  • Doubt takes on two forms. First we begin to doubt sins consequences, “I can get away with it – in fact, I’ll be better off if I do it." And second, we begin to doubt the goodness of God. We begin to believe that all the good things God has given us are not quite good enough.

3. Desire/Enticement for that which I don’t have (3:6a) - When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom…

  • Desire by itself is a good thing, but not when it’s paired with deception and doubt. When the heart is deceived, the head begins to doubt, and the eyes become an accomplice to sin. The forbidden thing began to look good and desire took hold of Eve. This is lust - giving in to that which is "pleasing to the eye." We can lust for things like power, greed, success, fame, thrills, stuff, people, etc.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2 Years From a Teenager

Caleb turned 11 years old on Monday. He woke up this morning - on his birthday - to a winter wonderland. Ironically, there was also a big snowstorm the day he came into the world 11 years ago. I'll never forget Kim's call to me at work from the hospital saying, "We're going to have a baby today - swing home and pick up my bag on your way down here." (She was at the doctor's for a regularly scheduled checkup - only to find that she was already dialated and ready to have a baby).

Caleb is an amazing kid. He's overcome a bunch of adversity already in his short life with his many allergies growing up and continuing battle with asthma. I can sum up Caleb best by quoting his teacher in our recent conference with her. She said, "A teacher gets the privilege of having a student like Caleb about once every 10 years." He's consciencious, brave, he stands up for what's right, he's a good influence on his friends and siblings, he already loves the Scriptures, he's an amazing big brother, he's respectful and trustworthy, he's honest, he's smart and funny. He's the whole package. What a great kid - happy 11th birthday to my firstborn son. What a gift he is to our family.

Monday, November 03, 2008

The Scariest thing about This Election

We all know there is media bias - it has been very evident this election season. I suppose it's something that we've come to expect. It has been tolerable as long as one of the branches of government was led by Republicans. In that regard it can be justified as a necessary "check and balance." My concern is that if all three branches are controlled by Democrats and the media is also left-leaning - the system is set up for corruption. Not because the left is any more corrupt than the right - but if the balance of power is already tilted one way and then the the media jumps on that side of the scale too - it makes for an interesting scenario. Check out this study of this year's election coverage.


Saturday, November 01, 2008

My Little Girl is 4 Today

I can't believe it - 4 years ago on Halloween night - Kim sat at our door passing out candy as she was in labor with Ayden. We were both hoping that she could hold off until after midnight so that we didn't have a Halloween Birthday. Of course my wife is amazingly controlled and was able to hold out until about 3 AM. I remember the night very well. We did the Halloween thing - tucked the boys in bed - had Kim's mom come up to the house to spend the night and snuck off to the hospital. Caleb was suspicious that something was up - but we didn't want him to be worried or up all night - so we didn't really tell him that it was all going down. Chase drifted off into oblivion like his normal-laid-back self.

Ayden Joy is the perfect name for our girl. Ayden means "fiery one" and joy means... well ... "joy." She is the perfect combination of both. She knows what she wants and can be assertive and even demanding. But she is also the happiest little kid and very funny. I never thought having a little girl could do to me what it's done (despite the warnings of many dads with daughters) - but it has. I'm amazed at how precious she is to me. I'm posting a little shrine in honor of my big girl - 4 years old today!