Movie Review: My Case For The Case For Christ

 

I just got back from watching The Case For Christ. I read the book, ok, read is a strong word; I glanced really hard though the book when it first came out in 1998. It’s a very good reference book for getting the conversation started about the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ.

If you know me, you know I do not look favorably on Christian movies. I review only the good ones (which are few)  because my mother taught me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say, shut your mouth. I hold to that today.

You can guys then, because you are reading this, know I have something favorable to say about the movie. Not only do I have something favorable to say about the movie, but I declare The Case For Christ the third best movie ever made about Christ; behind The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson and Silence by Martin Scorsese.

What did I love about this movie so much? Let me count the ways.

First, the movie seems to take place  in the late 70’s early 80’s based on the Tootsie Pop commercial and Kansas’ Carry On My Wayward Son. That’s all a plus since I grew up in the seventies.

There were times I felt like I was watching This Is Us especially when the show focuses on Jack Pearson in the early years. Also a plus. And yes, this movie made me teary eyed too.

If you’re not familiar with the story, this movie is based on the true story of journalist and atheist Lee Strobel as he struggles to deal with his wife’s conversion to Christianity.  But, unlike other Christian movies, this movie is not preachy, heavy handed, or cheesy as it follows the journey of Lee Strobel from atheist to believer.

This movie is well directed and well paced. Jon Gunn who has written for other Christian movies such as Mercy Streets and directed My Date With Drew starring Drew Barrymore. Gunn does a superb job of weaving not one but three story lines throughout the movie and they mesh perfectly.

There are some family side bars, like Lee’s relationship with his father, but even that adds to the movie versus being a distraction.

The tone, the realism, and the feel of the movie made me forget I was watching a “Christian” movie and, for me, that should be the point. There’s no sappy, over the top endings (I’m looking at you Facing the Giants). Gunn has made a movie that actually makes sense and is well crafted from beginning to end.

I also love the “experts” Strobel meets throughout the movie, including a cameo by Faye Dunaway. These characters were not goofy intellectuals or far fetched truth speakers to make the movie work. Each of the experts Strobel visited, were thoughtful and reasonable voices. None of these experts tried to convert Strobel, they only shared with him the facts, most of which he did not want to hear.

One of the biggest reasons this movie separates itself from it’s cheesy counterparts is the acting. Mike Vogel (Cloverfield)  as Lee Strobel  kills it. I believed every step of his journey.  In the movie, Strobel struggles with his marriage, with drinking, with working too much, you know, a real person.

Vogel doesn’t over commit, but  keeps a steady pass throughout the movie and  shows what a real marriage looks like when the person you married changes, even if it’s for the better. The film is filled with conversations I could see real couples having about their faith or lack of it.

Vogel is not carrying this by himself. Erika Christensen (Parenthood, Flight Plan) plays Leslie Strobel and she does an excellent job of partying a hurt, confused wife trying to understand her faith and save her marriage.

Leslie finds Christ after her daughter is saved from choking by a nurse (Alfie) played by L. Scott Caldwell (The Fugitive, Gridiron Gang). Leslie’s conversion sets up the tension for the rest of the movie as Strobel tries to debunk the faith she has found.

I felt the struggle between Lee and Leslie. I felt the anger of Lee towards his father. I felt the desperation of a marriage that was crumbling. I felt the light in Lee’s eyes as he came to the conclusion so many people have after  examining the Christian faith for themselves.

Maybe the best compliment I can give this movie is that going in, I thought it would only make me think and instead it made me feel. Here’s to more Christ-centered movies that make me do both.

 

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Fix The Well Not The Sink

I heard the phrase “Fix the well, not the sink” the other day on The GaryVee show. I thought the phrase was worth exploring.

We all have a well, a depth of heart and spirit where everything we think and say draws from. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Why did I say that? ” or “Why do I have this mindset? ” . My mouth and my mind are the sink and they were not my was problem.

Jesus said,

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45

So, how does one fix the well?

Here are a few questions to start with?

What is the earliest memory of hurt in your life? How did that negatively impact you?

How have those hurts shaped who you are today?

Because of hurts and damage done,  what do you think you’ve entitled yourself to because of those hurts?

Do  you think it’s ok to hurt others? Do you think it’s ok to focus on self rather than to serve?

Who’ been poisoning your well? Who have you been hanging around or listening to that has dripped unhealthy philosophies, ideologies, negativity or bad habits into your well?

Moving forward after a hurt is hard especially if its shaped who you are, but change is possible. Jesus also said,

for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! Matthew 6:22,23

Jesus was more than likely talking about our physical eyes, but it is not too far a stretch to say that He also was warning against what our “inward eyes”, our conscience, focuses on.

Jesus say that we need to have clear eyes.

What issues do we need to clear up? Externally? Internally?

Where we place our outward in inward focus will determines the healthiness of the well, and ultimately, what comes our of our sink.

 

 

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One Too Many Battles Has Led To This

I was thinking about why I’m so touchy lately and this thought came to me.

“My armor is broken”

I’ve already discussed, in a previous post, that I am in the midst of a period of burnout. This probably means I have some vulnerable spots where sharp words and poison darts can’t at me.

Broken Armor is simply a metaphor for one too many battles fought both inwardly and outwardly. My armor just hasn’t held up and my armor bearers are few.

I replace my own shields, my own weapons, and my own armor. I dress myself for battle. I have exposed spots where dagger and sword slip through. Things like unkind words, sarcasm, cold looks, self doubt find their mark.

We all have some kind of armor; some way we protect ourselves from life’s pains. The armor protects us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Over time, my armor has worn away, been damaged, become useless or rusted; leaving openings for strikes that harm me, wound me, and sometimes kill me.

I’ll take inventory of my spiritual armor via Ephesians 6 and seek others to inspect me before the next battle, but this warrior has lost his taste for blood.

Maybe the answer is to wear no armor at all. Quit protecting myself. Quit gearing up of for battle and go armor-less into the fray.

Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:25

Jesus loved not his own life to the very end.

My prayer

God, my armor is broken. My sword is shattered.

Let not my enemies rule over me, or find my weaknesses.

The battle waits for no one. It rages on around me.

Strengthen me, guard me, keep me.

 

 

 

 

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Four Reasons Why AI Will Never Take My Job

The question each of us has to ask is simple (but difficult): What can I become quite good at that’s really difficult for a computer to do one day soon? – Seth Godin

There are a lot of jobs, well, just about every job has been affected by technology. There are things that people used to do that machines can do better. Seth Godin goes through his list of jobs taken over by tech here, and in all the cases he states we are better off, but being a Youth Pastor can never be replaced by a computer, AI or any technology.

Here’s my short list of why this is true

Tech doesn’t exert faith 

Computers may be able to show the greatest preachers on YouTube, play the best worship music on Spotify, etc. but computers are good at spitting out fact based on algorithms, but it can’t have actual faith.

It’s called artificial intelligence, but  God doesn’t recognize artificial faith.

Faith requires that a person doesn’t know the answer or have the courage to act. Tech doesn’t recognize it’s own needs, weaknesses, or shortcomings.

Google can offer answers to people with scriptures to questions based on SEO, but that’s not the same as sitting with a students and exploring the scriptures in real time. Some say there’s a ghost in the shell or the machine, but its not the Holy Ghost.

Tech has all code and no Christ.

Tech cannot love us back

Students are sick of artificial everything. They don’t like the fake or the phony and never have. The artificial only becomes acceptable when the real cannot be found. This happens too often as we grow up. We settle and get into rhythms where tech is “the next best thing” to a real friend.

Youth Workers, listen and love in real time. We can love students authentically. Kids can look in our eyes and see that someone is home, someone who loves them back.

Tech can’t empathize

People can have memories of getting  their first phone, their first game console, or their first tv, but the real memories are who they communicated with on the phone, who they played with online with, and who they binge watched Stranger Things with.

No one thinks fondly of a tech memory, like “Hey Tech, remember that selfie we took at the beach?” Could that change? Yes, devices are getting smarter but they’re not becoming more empathetic. Devices can do face recognition and maybe determine what it means to be sad and have some platitudes to share with us, but it can never be human.

In the movie I Robot (one of my favs) Will Smith I talking with Sonny, the AI

Detective Del Spooner: I thought you were dead.
Sonny: Technically I was never alive, but I appreciate your concern.

Things that were never alive cannot empathize with something that is alive.

Tech can’t play dodgeball

Pure and simple, no piece of tech can sling a rubber ball at a middle school student with equal amount of joy and glee. A machine cannot rejoice at catching the speeding ball of a High School student who though they had you dead to rights.

Tech can offer fun, but it doesn’t have fun. Kids need fun and not just entertainment. Students need play, but real play is interactive and is filled with shared moments that are one day relived with smiles and coffee. Tech can spit out what we did a year ago on a calendar but it doesn’t know why we did it or why it was important other than I said it was important.

No, tech and computers will never take my job. I use technology in ministry, a vehicle to get personal, not more technological. The kids I Snap, Instagram, and FaceTime know me, know I care, know I seek their best, know I love them. Teens cannot say the same of the technology they hold in their hands, no matter how much smarter is gets.

The old adage stands, “People don’t are how much you know, until they know how much you care”. Tech will never care for my students as much as I do.

 

 

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I Didn’t Go To College For Youth Ministry, But Here I Am 26 Years Later

In fact, I did not gain a degree from any college. I am one class (Math) shy of an AA from my local community college. So, what’s a guy with no college degree in youth ministry busy doing creating his own courses on youth ministry? Before I answer this question, let me give you a little background.

When I was 18 I thought I had to ship myself off to college and get a degree in order to be a youth pastor. Three months in, I discovered something, I hated school. I hated doing things on someone else’s terms. My mind was abuzz with sermon ideas, programming ideas, and a whole lot more. So, I dropped out. Two years later I shipped myself off to a one year discipleship school that focused on practical youth ministry, and that is what I needed, hands on experience.

So, let me answer the question, “What’s a guy, who doesn’t have a youth ministry degree, doing making courses about Youth Ministry?” Because, I think most youth leader in my position want practical hands on advice, just like I did.

It’s for this reason I wanted to make courses for bi-vocational and volunteer youth workers who struggle to do what they feel called to do but have no time for college; as well as for those who did go to college, but walked away with out the arsenal of practicality they thought they’d receive.

So many youth workers spend hours searching on the internet to get by meeting to meeting  and piece meal a program without any cohesive plan. I want to change that. I want youth workers to save time and money and feel confident that someone is in there corner rooting them on.

The first course I’ve created is called Discipleship Foundations. In this course, I teach a biblical foundation of discipleship that will give you a stronger grasp on where you want to lead your students and give kids a picture of what it means to following Jesus every day.

Included in the course are downloadable pdf worksheets for each segment of the course, audio of each lesson, questions to answer for each course, and access to community message board.

I’ll hope you will check it out and receive the training and support you have been looking for.

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Is Their Approval Worth The Effort?

“Jesus calls us to his rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all who is greater than he, for he has long ago decided that the esteem of the world is not worth the effort.”
― A.W. Tozer, Pursuit of God

Tozer says that the “esteem of the world is not worth the effort” but what about the esteem of the Christian community?  It seems we pour a lot of effort, via the internet,  into getting people to like, share, and approve of our stuff. And, by stuff, I mean our lives.

Somehow we think it’s important to get the approval of others before obeying God.

Therein lies the tension. Obey God, at the disapproval of others, or take a poll to see how many agree with our decision to obey God.

In the end we have to decide whose approval we ultimately want and if it’s  worth the effort.

How far backwards do you have to bend over?

How many of your own convictions do you have to throw out the window?

How much of yourself do you have to give up?

How much more do you have to become like everyone else?

The three questions we must ask are:

Is it worth it? Does their approval mean that much?  What will it actually cost you to get it?

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. – Romans 8:18

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Is Your Youth Group A Life Changing Community?

I recently watch Katy Perry accept an award from the LGBT community, and what she said in the the first 30 seconds broke my heart. As one who has served the church for 27 years, I would have loved if Katy was talking about The Church.

There’s no other community that has done more to shape me

 

The two comments she makes, in the first 30 seconds, are indictments of the Church as a whole and youth ministry specifically.

Let’s begin with the first

There is no other community that has done more to shape my life

Community is supposed to be life changing, for the better. Unfortunately, the Christian community Katy grew up in did not have a positive impact on her. I do not want to point fingers, but someone dropped the ball on what a positive Christian community is supposed to look like.

As a youth worker, I want every young person to have a positive experience with the church community. Every year, my wife puts together a Youth Of The Year Banquet for the Boys and Girls Club. Kids get up and share stories about the positive impact the club has had on them and and many of them credit the organization for turning their life around.

How many of the kids in your youth ministry could say, “this community changed my life for the better?”

Can you imagine Katy Perry saying, to a packed room of youth workers, “This community change my life”? If we can’t imagine it, we should, because maybe if we asked these questions,  we’d re-think how we are doing community and what our community is producing.

Our youth ministries are life shaping communities, for good or for ill.

There is no other community I believe in more than you.

Jesus changed my life along with a community called the church.  There is no other community I believe in more than the church. This is what someone says when their

community embraces differences

community loves the outcast

community helps rather than hurts

community builds trust for a lifetime.

I don’t want to romanticize youth ministry or the church. It, like many others is flawed. It’s filled with flawed people. Like school bands who haze kids, coaches who value winning above character, companies who value profit over ethics, all communities can have a negative impact, not just the Church; but all those other organizations are not representatives on God incarnate upon the earth.

No other organization did the apostle Paul say of,

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her Ephesians 5:25

The expectations are much higher for a community of people who claim to be the hands and feet of Christ. Sadly, we use these hands to punch and our feet to kick others who are not like us. It’s no shock to me that Katy Perry would have someone else to thank for impacting her life in a positive way.

It’s because I have been deeply impacted by His church, His community, that I became a youth pastor so that I may help others discover this life saving and life altering community called The Church.

I am glad that Katy Perry found a community she could unashamedly thank and testify about. I just wish it could have been the church community. It’s our loss.

Is there anything you need to make your community a life giving community?

Can you imagine kids in your group thanking The Church, or more specifically, your youth ministry for having such a positive impact on their lives?

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How To Double Your Youth Group Attendance In One Year

If you are planning on on being at your church for only a year, then doubling it should be easy, but you have to hurry.

Throw lot’s of party’s and events.

Games, more games,  and game nights.

Keep your messages to ten minutes tops.

Do not challenge anyone to serve or lead.

Give away lots of expensive stuff.

Crank up the hype machine.

Don’t mention the cross or following Jesus.

Don’t talk about giving, sacrifice, or surrender.

Have a hot band with shallow worship songs and a worship leader that just wants to be seen.

Make sure you take lots of selfies with the latest whatever and whoever.

At the end of the year, thank them for showing up to all the cool stuff and avoiding Sunday school, Small Group, prayer times, revivals and anything that remotely looks like commitment.

Pack your car and head out.

Sarcastic rant ended.

Granted, a youth group can double in a year minus some of these tactics. Demographics, church culture, and honest moves of God can all play a part, but why the rush to grow?

You want the real secret to growing your youth ministry?

You ready? Here it is. Patience.

If you’re planning on being at your your church for more than three years you have plenty of time to grow numerically. Until then do this

Love kids.

Show up to their stuff.

Build a foundation of identity and community.

Build a reputation of reliability, faithfulness, and godliness.

Serve the whole church.

Teach and preach scripture with passion.

Love and serve families.

Call kids to follow Jesus, not you.

Encourage small groups and small encounters.

Make Jesus the focus of your worship.

and

Love kids.

Everything else is a tactic.

Want to draw a crowd? Tactics will do.

Want to make disciples? Patience is the key.

Watch me break it down  below

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Do What You Are Dangerously Good At?

Too many of us focus on our weakness. We’re trying to get better at things we have no business getting better at. That’s why I stay away from golf. Every time I go, someone wants to fix my swing or my stance.  Stop it!

There are those times we have to get better at weaknesses because our job demands it, but for the most part we should be doubling down on our strengths, and not just any or all our strengths, but our most dangerous ones.

What skill or talent do you have that, if you spent all your time doing it, you would crush it? That skill is wha you should focus on. Do the other stuff that’s necessary, but dial into that one or two skills that will level you up on the leader board and lead to greater  influence and demand..

What are you dangerously good at?

Speaking

Writing

Admin

Web Design

Selling

Preaching

Relationships

Supporting

Making

Designing

Do what you are dangerously good at and the level, volume, and speed of success you’ll achieve will scare you.

What are you dangerously good at?

 

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Lent Day 13: Even Now

“Even now,” declares the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

Joel 2:12

Even now. Saying this phrase transports me to the 80’s when I heard Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band sing it. It’s a song about love and about how much a woman has an impact on the singers life, even after so many years.

In my video this morning, I was thinking about the journey we all take ad the amount of “even now” moments we all face. We tell ourselves, “it’s too late”. “it’s over” and “I’ve gone too far”. Israel was notoriously idolatrus and hard hearted, yet, the Lord said, “Even now”.

Watch the video and ask yourself if you’ve had or are having an “even now” moment. My desire is that the video will fill you with hope to come back to the Lord from wherever you’ve been. He’s waiting for you.

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