Saturday, February 24, 2007

Facing the Giants

*Warning: Spoilers Inside*

My wife and I just finished watching Facing the Giants. In case you are not aware, it is a movie made by Christians (a church I think) with Christian themes and a Christian message. This church (as I have heard) shot this movie, got it in theaters, and it is now out on DVD. It has taken off among Christians (at least in my circles), mainly because it is a movie put out by Christians (it is similar to that whole Christian business network philosophy).

There is stuff I like and stuff I didn't like about the movie, but I will start by giving you a quick synopsis. It is the story of the football coach at a small Christian school who is down on his luck. In 6 seasons as head coach, he has never had a winning season, and there are rumors that he needs to be fired. In addition, he and his wife have tried for 4 years and cannot get pregnant. He comes to a breaking point about a third of the way through and he turns to God. From there, things turn around. He takes a new approach to coaching the team and they start winning, making it all the way to the state championship and winning in amazing fashion. At the end, he finds out that his wife is pregnant. While all of this is going on, there is a revival of sorts that happens at the school.

Time to evaluate. I will start with the bad. I must say I was going into this ready to blow holes in it. Here is what I came up with.

1. The Acting is 2nd rate.

This is understandable since it was such a low budget movie, but we are used to such great art that the bad sticks out in a major way. The accents are annoying. Many of the lines are cheesy. At certain serious times I feel like the actors blow the scene. It is not the entire movie, but it happens enough. Recasting some of the major roles with established actors could have made this movie a lot better.

2. It included a lot of what I call "Pop Christianity."

There are several times in the movie where the writers seem to lose creativity when they want to make a point, so they resort to a type of sermonizing. There are some pretty cheesy sermon illustrations worked into what are supposed to be everyday conversations. I felt myself thinking "Nobody talks like that!" They also could have toned down the Christian jargon talk. It seems at a point about two thirds of the way through where they seem to be forcing a Christian reference into every scene.

3. It has a bit of the "Follow God and get everything you want" message.

It is not a lot, because you do see the characters experience failure, and when they do they stay content in what God has done. However, things go from an extreme low at the beginning to as good as they could possibly be at the end. I understand that there is certainly a place for good endings and inspirational stories, but it is possible that a person watching could have gotten the message that if you turn to God your life will be great.

Okay, I'm done ripping on it. I really did like the movie, and would like to see it again. So, I will now mention the things I liked about the movie.

1. There are some great themes that run throughout the movie.

The themes that I jotted down were God as Lord, Turning to God in hard times, Praise God in all circumstances, Giving God all the glory, Nothing is impossible with God, Facing fears, and Leadership. I know that seems like a lot of themes, but each of these are mentioned several times. You would be hard pressed to find many of these themes in a Hollywood movie, and that is one thing that makes Facing the Giants good.

2. They portray God's way as the best way.

I believe that following God's ways are best. Not only because it fulfills your destiny and all that, but also because they actually are better ways. It is better to forgive than to hold a grudge. It is better to be honest than to lie etc. This message is communicated in the movie. At one point there is a student who constantly fights with his dad. He ends up accepting Christ and feels convicted of the lack of respect he was showing his father, so he apologized to him and started respecting him. The change carries over to the father and things improve. It was pretty well done in my opinion.

3. There are some great quotes in the movie.

The coach gives some pretty good speeches in the flick. In these speeches are some great quotes. Here are a few:

"Winning football games is too small a thing to live for, and I love football as much as anybody."

"The more I read this book (the Bible) the more I realize that life's not about us. We're not here to get glory, make money, and die."

"I've resolved to give God everything I've got and leave the results up to him."

4. When the coach hits bottom, he is a great example of what to do.

I was honestly expecting him to sulk and pout until things started to look up. Instead, he stays up all night praying and reading the Bible, until he emerges the next day having done some serious business with God and having a new outlook. What a great example of how to respond to hard times. How many of us are willing to do such a thing?

5. They refer to God speaking to people.

Even among Christians, the idea of God speaking directly to one of his people is a bit controversial. Most Christians believe that God spoke through the Bible and is done speaking. I belong to the stream of Christianity that believes that God still speaks to believers today, and I think it is crucial that he does. There is a time in the movie where an older guys who prayer walks the school every day walks into the coaches office and says he feels God told him to share a certain scripture with him. The coach follows him and makes a point to confirm, "God told you to tell me that?" It turned out to be a confirmation to what God was telling the coach. It is good to see this controversial idea in the movie, because I believe that it is very important to the body of Christ today.

In the end, the artistic parts of the movie were a bit rough, but it was a good movie. I encourage you all to see it. I give it a B, or 4 stars, whichever you prefer. I welcome other comments on this flick. I had heard mixed reviews before, so I'd be interested to hear what the rest of you thought.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Thoughts on Global Warming

The Global Warming debate has hit the fan. Now we are at what appears to be the apex of the issue, pre-election and all, when dialogue seems to have never been higher. I know that I run the risk of adding to an already saturated topic, but it seems that despite all of the talk, few people know much about it. I'll admit that I am one of them. I have not done all of the reading and studying that I need to do to rightly weigh in on this matter.

That being said, Kim over at Think Christian has written a great article about the effects of global warming from a Christian perspective. This is refreshing, because it seems that Christians only punch holes in the theory and don't really listen. Still, and I don't want to be a hole puncher, I have a few questions about this issue that I would appreciate commentary on. They are things I think we should keep in mind as we encounter the info on global warming.

1. It seems to me that the plan to stop Global Warming is to basically take better care of the planet, right? I would argue, though, that as Christians we need to be doing that anyway, and we need to be better stewards of the resources God gave us. How is the plan different than this?

2. With over a billion people still so poor and deprived that they daily sit on death's doorstep, and another billion or so that do not have access to clean water, and about half the deaths in the world occurring of diseases we already have cures for, but the medicine has not made it to that part of the world, is spending billions to clean up the planet the best use of resources? Would we not be better served to focus our funds on ending "stupid poverty" and worry about global warming once each person has the food and water he or she needs?

3. Can we really make that big of a difference? I mean can we get enough people and funds on board to change environmental factors that are this large? Even of we get every single American behind it, that is only 270 million of the 6 billion people in the world. Is that enough to get a movement going and make a change?

Thoughts? Impressions? Concerns? Remember, I am no expert, just a question asker who wants to learn more and understand how to best serve God in all aspects of life.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Preaching Tips From...Well, Me

Not than anybody really cares what I think, but I thought I would put down some "preaching tips" from my experience. As I try to become a better communicator myself, I try to learn as much as I can and continue to learn. By the way, I must admit that I completely stole this idea from Tim Ellsworth. It is interesting to see how our lists are different.

Two things to keep in mind: First, that I am young. I gave my first sermon when I was probably 14 to our youth group and have been speaking regularly for the last 4 or 5 years, but I am still pretty young. Second, I work with youth, so that effects my perspective a bit. Here we go.

1. Preach From the Bible

I had a professor that once told my class to always read, quote, and paraphrase the Bible in sermons as much as possible. "That way, when you are done, you know you said something inspired." Well said, Dr. Nunnally. I don't believe every sermon (or even most sermons) needs to be verse by verse expository preaching, but scripture should always be used. How can we get by with not using it?

2. Keep it Practical

My currect senior pastor holds to the idea that sermons should all be very practical. I agree. In a service like ours where we expect to have at least a handfull of newcomers present every week, we should keep it to something they can understand. They don't want hear about why we should boil goats in their mother's milk, but things like parenting, conflict, influencing culture, God's plan for marriage etc. they tend to care about because it speaks to their lives. There is a place for the esoteric studies of fairly insignificant bits of scripture, but that is not a Sunday morning. Another word for this would be relevance. People need something that is going to pertain to their lives.

3. Use Humor/Entertainment

Erwin McManus was once challenged by someone who accused his church of trying too hard to entertain people. His response, in my own words, was basically that to entertain someone was simply keeping their attention. Some people are entertained by hymns, or organ music, or expository preaching, or drama, or humor etc. I think he makes a great point. We are all trying to communicate a timeless message in new, creative ways. Whatever form that communication takes should depend on the audience. In LiveWire Student Ministries we use lots of humor, video, movement etc., because young people (actually, all people) learn in multi-sensory ways. This is not diluting the message, but rather, becoming better at communicating it. Jesus used stories, object lessons, humor etc. in his teaching, so why are we afraid to?

I must say though, that this, like all things, can easily go too far. Making jokes at a time that needs to be serious can lose a crownd quickly. Also, when the goal becomes entertainment, rather than communicating the message, it has gone too far.

4. Be Semi-Normal

Weirdness is not a spiritual gift; neither is it admirable. Some preachers seem to get off on using "insider language" or "preacher voices." Is there anything more annoying? This is the whole problem with the Christian Subculture that has been created. By pulling back and secluding, we have lost the right and the opportunity to speak into the culture. I am going to a conference in 2 weeks where Donald Miller will be giving a talk called "How to Share the Gospel Without Weirding People Out." I think that is a great point.

Now, I say semi-normal, because it is not entirely normal to lay down one's life for a dead criminal, or to simulate eating his body and drinking his blood or lots of other things for that matter. There is a level of percieved weirdness that all outsiders might have for Christians that involve core doctrines that just come with the territorry. But people need a real person. They are very good at spotting the phony.

5. Talk about Jesus

I tend to think that no matter what topic a person is preaching on, they should involve Jesus in the process. It shouldn't be hard, for he is all over the Bible, even in the Old Testament. It seems that the "model" from the book of Acts is just to tell about Jesus and what he did. That seemed to work pretty well. Therefore, we would do well to involve Jesus in our message every time, and to tell the story of the cross regularly.

There it is. It is certainly not perfect nor is it comprehensive, but I have my thoughts down. Feel free to critique, disagree, and call me a heretic if you must, but may we never give up the journey of becoming better communicators of the most important message in the world.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Divine Encounters

Let me share a cool story with you.

I was driving home last night from a conference in Eden Prairie (the HNI regional conference, not that you care). I was driving on 494 near the Mall of America when my car inexplicably began to coast. The engine had died. I was in a middle lane, but was luckily able to maneuver to the right side of the road. I checked some things and tried unsuccessfully to get it started. I was discouraged. I think the enemy tries to attack my vehicles. I have only been driving like 8 years and I have totaled 2 cars and had mechanical problems with 3. It's not just me being an idiot or bad diver, either. Something is up.

Anyway, I was waiting ten minutes to try it one more time to ensure it hadn't flooded or anything and I was in prayer, asking God to fix this. Long story short, it didn't start. So, I called for a tow.

The guy was there quickly (less than 10 minutes). In a short time he hooked the car up and we were gone. We began chatting and he turned out to be a very nice guy. His name was Ed. At one point he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a Youth Pastor. "Wow! Do you mind if I ask you how you decided to do that?" He asked. So, I shared my testimony with him. He told me that he had gone to church a few times when he was a kid, but his family wasn't really into it and church wasn't a part of his life now. But, he said he hoped that some day he would go back. I told him a bit about the Harbor. I told him about our Alpha course, that it was a practical introduction to the Christian faith where questions could be answered in a non-threatening environment. "That sounds perfect!", he said. He asked a few questions about catholics and other stuff, which I was happy to answer. By this time we were to our destination. I gave him my card and said if he had any more questions or wanted to check out the Harbor or Alpha to give me a call. He said, "You may not believe this, but I do actually plan to check you guys out." I think he meant it, and I hope he does.

It would have been really easy for me to get discouraged about my car crapping out and miss an opportunity to connect with Ed. With about 3 million people in the Twin Cities metro, there would have been almost no other way to get Ed and I to connect without something like this happening. I think that God arranged that meeting. Feel free to think me an over spiritual psycho, but I do. Ed was seeking. He was the right age for me to be able to connect with him. We seem to have the right program to fit with what he needs. I believe God set this up. How many opportunities have I missed in the past because I have been selfish and was not open to what God wanted to do? May we be ambassadors of God's love 24-7. May we, when times get tough, trust that God may have us in the situation because there is something he wants to do, someone he wants to touch. May we make the most of our opportunities to connect with the Eds of this world.