Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Posted by Tony

I Am a Hymn Kind of Guy.

Before I begin let me say that the following blog about my preference for traditional hymns is in no way to be interpreted as a condemnation of non-traditional music. I believe that all biblically sound forms of worship are to be accepted and encouraged. However, I simply love traditional, old-fashioned hymns. I love the feel of a Baptist Hymnal in my hands and the effort of picking out the tenor line. This feeling is not the same while singing a contemporary Christian song projected on a screen. I want my hymns accompanied by the organ and piano. An acoustic guitar is acceptable on a very limited basis but electric guitars or drums don’t give me the same intimate feel. There is a communion with God that I have while singing traditional hymns. I am uplifted in a way that no other music provides.

I bring this up because on Christmas Eve, my in-laws, the Rev. George and Pat Pullium were presented with a unique and beautiful gift. My wife’s brother, his wife and their twin daughters created a modified Baptist Hymnal with a page dedicated to the favorite hymn of each child and grand-child. Each of us was afforded the opportunity to write a brief statement describing what our favorite hymn was and why it was chosen. Reading the selections was enlightening and entertaining.

I selected “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” I love its message of God’s protection from the influence of evil in this world and the promise of His eternal kingdom. Maybe it is the architectural imagery that appeals to me or maybe the biblical basis for the lyrics.

God is our Refuge and Strength, a Very Present Help in Trouble" (Psalm 46:1).


But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.


But the real appeal may be that the lyrics include the cool words, “bulwark” and “Sabaoth.”


 Regardless, I am a hymn kind of guy.


If you have a favorite hymn, please feel free to comment.








Thursday, December 5, 2013

Inspiration in 37 Seconds or Less IV

Posted by Michael

"Yet as I read the birth stories of Jesus I cannot help but conclude that though the world may be tilted toward the rich and powerful, God is tilted toward the underdog."
                                           -Phillip Yancey

Photo from The Nativity Story
Photo by Jaimie Trueblood - copyright 2006 New Line Cinema

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sleep: The Greatest Gift of All

Posted by Michael

I have a love/hate relationship with sleep.

I love a good night’s sleep, especially when the room is really cold, and I’m tucked in under heaps of warm blankets. One of the greatest gifts to mankind is waking up in the morning and realizing that you still have 45 minutes until your alarm goes off. Second sleep is the best!

I also battle against sleep.

I love to stay up late. There’s always something else to get done, or on the rare occasions when I feel caught up, it’s so tempting to try to squeeze in that movie I’ve been wanting to watch or catch up on the that TV show that’s been on my DVR for 6 months.  Sometimes when I finally give up and get my body still, my mind rebels. Thoughts of a thousand things undone today and twice as much to be done tomorrow bombard me relentlessly. My body is still, but my mind replays conversations, reworks budgets, and reorganizes an upcoming talk. My sleep is fitful and pointless and I wake up exhausted and push myself to grind through the new day.

On these days I have to return to the reflections of the Jewish king, David, in one of his many psalms where he wrote, “I will lie down and rest in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” (Psalm 4:8). I have no real ability to make my days work. I do not have the vision to see all of the potential problems and challenges in the future or the power to keep myself safe from them. But God does. I am comforted by the fact that it gives Him joy to give me rest. Not only does He offer it, He commands it. Surrendering to sleep is my time to acknowledge that it's not my job to run the world. God is in control, not me. With the world safely off my shoulders and back in God's hands where it belongs, sleep becomes a blessing for both my mind and body. My prayer for you is that in the midst of all of your festive Christmas busyness this year, you will find the most peaceful and healing sleep you have had all year. Rest well! 

Monday, November 25, 2013

Inspiration in 37 Seconds of Less: Part 3

Posted by Michael

"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."
                                 -Mark Twain

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Journey Part 8:Loving The Fire and The Cloud

Posted by Michael

It might make us nervous when we realize that we can't control God. As if that weren't humbling enough, we also can not fully understand God or all that He does. That combination can make it tough to know how to approach this God who is both like fire and like cloud. So, what do we do with a God that we will never completely figure out or control?

We love Him.

We give up trying to predict what He might do next. We stop trying to manipulate Him (if I do this, maybe He'll do that), and we commit ourselves to simply enjoy Him. We fill our thoughts with a God who is for us. We embrace the good news that the God of the universe wants to spent our minutes with us. We stop allowing the things we don't know about our future to rob us of our present. Our God is here now and He is in control. The only time we look back to our past is to remember and see how He was at work there, so that we will have the confidence to plunge into the future one courageous step at a time. The end of the Christian faith isn't greater knowledge, or more clearly organized facts, it's greater relationship, deeper love.

When we content ourselves with searching for God so that we can love Him more fully, rather than leverage Him so that we can have greater success, we find that life becomes a bit more clear. The activities, job stress, relational heartbreak, and exhilarating victories that we experience are not our life. They are simply the setting of a great love story between you and your God. Your failures are places where He wants to love you and teach you. Your joys are places where He wants to celebrate with you. You are caught up in the greatest story in history, and the ending of this story is better than you have ever hoped.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Inspiration in 37 Seconds or Less: Part 2

Posted by Michael

It's hard to muster inspiration that can rival the previous post by my fellow blogger Tony, but here goes...

"The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."
                                          -Mahatma Gandhi
Something Completely Un-Inspirational Even If You Spent All Day On It
posted by Tony
 Not to be contrary, but I am sure that I am everybody's favorite crazy haired genius...and for my words of wisdom...
                                                      ..... oh sorry, I was distracted
                                                             thinking about barbecue.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Inspiration In 37 Seconds Or Less

Posted by Michael

Today’s inspiration comes from everyone’s favorite crazy-haired genius….

“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.”

                                                                -Albert Einstein

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Journey Part 7: God In The Cloud

Posted by Michael

Fire was not the only picture that God gave the people to help them understand how to approach Him, He also used the picture of a cloud. During the day a cloud engulfed the tabernacle, so that everyone would know that the movable temple was there, but at the same time not be able to see it with complete clarity.

Almost every major tragedy in the faith community has begun with someone feeling that they had finally and completely figured God out. They understood completely who God was and what He wanted, and felt that God had spoken the last word they ever needed to hear. The next thing you know armies were being send to Jerusalem or “witches” were being burned. Nothing is more terrifying that someone saying that they know with certainty all that God is and all He wants for the world. That sort of arrogance leads people to stop listening and stop learning. If God is… well, God, if He set everything we are and understand into motion at creation, then He is much bigger than we can wrap our frail minds around. Even if everything I know about God is 100% accurate (and it isn’t), there are still worlds of things I don’t know about Him, truths and insights I have yet to scratch the surface of. To put it simply, God is much bigger than I am.

It would be a mistake, however, to assume that since we can’t know everything about God that we can’t know anything about Him. The God we find in the Bible seeks to make Himself known to His people, and delights in knowing and being known.  Therefore, we must reject arrogance on one side and apathy on the other.  The middle ground (where truth is often found, but is also often messy) is that when we look for God we are able to see him. The vision is dim at times as if He is shrouded by clouds and fog, but He is there to be found nonetheless. God's plan seems to be less about learning everything there is to know about Him, and more about learning to love and trust what we do know. Knowledge of God is meant to be relational and not just intellectual. The process of seeking and loving and trusting keeps us humble. It also places us in the center of the strange paradox of hungering to know Him more and at the same time being deeply satisfied in what we do know. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Journey Part 6: God and Fire

Posted by Michael

I love to play with fire.

Both literally and figuratively, I suppose.

In the past, my brother and I enjoyed backpacking. The hike was great and we loved each other’s company. We chose trails for their beauty and diversity. My favorite time during the hike was dusk. It would be getting dark, we would finish putting up the tent, and then set about to build a fire. Fire is great. It would warm us, and give us light. We could cook on it, and of course, just burn stuff. My brother, being the oldest, was always practical,  and he would warn me to respect the fire. Burning  sharpened sticks so that I could throw flaming javelins into the woods wasn’t a great decision he would say, and as usual, he was right. When fire is unleashed it is uncontrollable. Everything we thought we could control just a minute ago, could rage out of our control if we were careless.

In some ways, fire is like God.

God provides for us, feeds us, keeps us both warm and safe, but God is not to be played with. We may think that we can control and predict God, but God doesn’t work like that. The people of Israel needed to know that the God that was in their midst was better than they could have ever possibly dreamed. He was not, however, simply there for their comfort. He was there to lead them and to love them, and sometimes love is uncomfortable.

Fire is consuming, though not always for the better.  God’s love is consuming. His love will consume our deepest fears and doubts. It will leave us changed, but unlike fire, the change is always for the better. All of us are consumed with something, our careers, our finances, our relationships, our appearance. God wants us to be consumed with love, his love for us, and our love for others. His love is a fire that will change us and our world. 

Photo courtesy of xedos4/

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Journey Part 5: The God of Cloud and Fire

Posted by Michael

As the people of Israel set out across the desert to their new home, God gave them two pictures to help them understand who He was. The tabernacle or movable temple that God instructed the people to build was to be the location for God’s presence among the people. So, when they had stopped or were becoming tired or anxious, they could look toward the tabernacle and know that God was with them. To make sure that the people were clear about His presence, a cloud would hover around the tabernacle during the day, and fire would seemingly be consuming it during the night, although there was never any damage done (Exodus 40:38). God didn’t choose these images randomly, both images would teach the people (and us) a lot about who God is. We’ll dive into both of those images in the next Journey posts, but in the meantime, in case you feel alone and your day seems bigger than you are, remember, that your God is with you. Jesus in our hearts is for us, what the tabernacle was for the Israelite people. This truth is so important that God chose Immanuel for His name when He came to earth, which literally means, “God with us”. So, we may have days that are hard, but we never have days when we are left to face it all alone.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Words Worth Your Time 2

Posted by Michael

Today’s Words Worth Your Time are from George Eliot. I hope they connect with you as they have with me!

            “It is never too late to be what you might have been.”
                                     -George Eliot

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Journey Part 4: The Freedom to See Clearly

Posted by Michael

Once we have made peace with how God sees us, that He values us greatly and loves us immeasurably, we are ready for the next stage of our journey. Once we understand that we are accepted by God, our vision is cleared and we can begin to see God more honestly. This is important because the way we see God determines how we see the world and how we understand ourselves. If you think God, for example, is primarily concerned with judging you, and cares only about how well you keep his rules, then your life will likely be filled with anxiety and stress. Also, you will be tempted to judge others and hold them to impossible standards as well. If you think God is just a friendly old grandfather in the sky, dozing in and out of naps while we live our lives down here, then you will likely assume that He doesn’t care how you live and will make your decisions accordingly. A healthy life begins with a healthy view of God. We’ll look at how to begin that process in the next post, but for now take a few minutes and rest in the fact that you are deeply loved by the Creator of the Universe. The one person who truly knows everything you have ever done, said, or even thought is madly in love with you, and wants only the best for you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Journey Part 3: Movable Temples

Posted by Michael

As I wrote in the last Journey blog post, the Israelites had a movable temple that reminded them that God would remain with them, no matter where their journey led. The story of God being in the midst of His people was just the beginning of a much larger story that God was weaving. Approximately 1500 years later, God stepped into human history in a much different way than He ever had before. God’s story of rescue and redemption climaxed as He stepped onto earth as a human with human emotions, challenges, and limitations. When Jesus came to earth, the dynamics of the temple changed. He taught that when we follow Him, he lives inside of us, giving us hope and direction. Individuals would now carry the presence of God from place to place, much like the Israelites carried their movable temple. The brick and mortar temple in Jerusalem has in many ways been replaced. You are now a movable temple that can bring the hope of God to the world. You are God’s answer to a world in need. Everywhere you go you carry God’s presence with you. Every person you encounter also encounters the God living in you, expressed in your love and your words. God has woven us into His amazing story of rescue and redemption. Having been rescued, we now seek to offer hope to those who are confused, hurting, and alone. You may feel insignificant, but those feelings are far from the truth. Your journey is far more significant that you have ever realized...

Friday, October 25, 2013

Words Worth Your Time

Posted by Michael

I love words.

I love the power they have to inspire, challenge,and motivate. Well chosen words have the power to bring clarity to our brains and hope to our hearts, or maybe just offer us a well needed chuckle. I am constantly running across authors who use words well, and felt it might be a good thing to share. If you are like me, you don't always have time to read through a more lengthy blog post, but a simple quote or thought to think over can be a welcomed part of a busy day. So, from time to time I will be posting Words Worth Your Time. Mostly it will be just a quote or phrase, and I will rarely add my thoughts. The quotes are simply something to take with you through the day. Feel free to comment on the blog about them if you like. So, here's the first installment of Words Worth Your Time......

          "A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others                         have thrown at him."
                                                                   -David Brinkley

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Journey Part 2: God In The Midst

Posted by Michael

The topic of identity has become a buzzword in Christian circles in the past few years.Your identity describes who you are, where you have been, and can often help give you direction about where to go next.  Identity is what makes you, you. It is what sets you apart from others.

Nations, like people have their own identity.The Israelite people that walked out of Egypt and into the unknown had a serious identity problem. All they had ever known as a people was slavery. Everything in their lives had been dictated to them by their Egyptian masters. What time they woke up, how they spent their day, where they could travel to, what they would eat, all of it was defined by the Egyptians. So, standing in the desert heat, the people experienced freedom for the first time in hundreds of years, and they were overwhelmed. It was at this point that God stepped in and helped the people understand who they were.

They were His children.

To remind them of all that it meant to have God as father, He instructed them to build a movable temple to remain in the midst of the people. The temple would represent the presence of God. This was to remind them that no matter where they went, God would be with them. To be God’s child means that you are never alone, because God is always in your midst.  You are protected, because the God who is with you, loves you. There is a plan for your life that’s bigger than you or your circumstances,  and it's better than your dreams could ever imagine.

Life leaves us all battered and bruised and unsure of who we are or why we matter. We dive into our work, relationships, or hobbies, hoping to define ourselves by our accomplishments, but it never works. Every day starts with something else to prove and someone else to impress. It’s into that empty space that God steps and declares, “I am yours and you are mine, there is nothing left to prove and no one to impress”. The daily discipline of believing Him, is the heart of the Christian life. We now know who we are, and it’s far better than we had ever hoped.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Guest Post at Give Her Wings

Posted by Michael

I recently had the privilege of guest blogging at Give Her Wings, an amazing ministry that cares for people who are recovering from abusive relationships. Give it a look....

Give Her Wings: Committing to the Journey

The series I began earlier this week here on FaithFilmandFood  will continue in the next few days. Have a great weekend!

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Journey Part 1: The Things We Can Control

Posted by Michael

This is the first installment of a series of posts entitled The Journey.

When the people of Israel escaped their slave existence in Egypt, their challenges had just begun. There had been 70 people who initially travelled to Egypt to escape the ravages of a seven year long famine. Those were the sons of the man Israel (Jacob) and their families. Now after four hundred years of slavery, the nation that bore Israel’s name were numbered at well over a million. Imagine a million slaves stumbling into the desert with no clear destination!  The plan for what was to happen next wasn’t very clear. What was clear was that there was no plan B. The only thing behind them was the Red Sea and thousands of dead Egyptian soldiers. The only options available to them were Moses, the road ahead, and a God they thought had forgotten them. Where do you begin when everything you have ever known has been swept away? How do you move forward to a future than isn’t clear at all?

Those questions sound pretty familiar don't they? 

Our present is spent up a moment at a time. Each moment gets shoved back into the past whether we are ready to let it go or not. Our past is a collection of successes and failures, laughter and tears, and while there is encouragement to be had and lessons to be learned by looking at our past, just like the people of Israel, going back to live there isn’t really an option. So, what do we do? We plod forward into our own deserts, toward a future that often seems unclear and just out of reach. How do we survive those days of doubt and uncertainty? What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

The first step in any journey is to make sure that you are thinking productive thoughts. The thoughts we think drive everything we do and everything we feel. The very first step in dealing with our thoughts is to focus on what we have and not on whatever it is that we don’t currently have.  For the people of Israel this meant forgetting the predictability they had in Egypt. It also meant that it was not going to be helpful to obsess over the fact that they didn’t really know where they were going. There was no use in worrying about the desert terrain or anything else they couldn’t predict or control. Their journey started with focusing on what they did have, freedom (after 400 years, they were no longer slaves), hope (God was promising to give them a home), and the presence of God in their midst. The more they soaked in thoughts of their freedom, and the hope they had, and that God was with them, the more clearly they would be able to think, and the better they would feel. Being stripped of worry also made them ready for whatever action might be required of them in the future.

I spend way too much time thinking about things I don't have, or that I don't know, or that I can't control. How about you?

What thoughts are you thinking that aren’t taking you anywhere? What thoughts only bring worry and confusion? What are you trying to control, that is uncontrollable. What unknown things are you trying to predict? Life becomes brutal when we only think about what we don’t currently have, especially when the things that we do have are so amazing. Like the Israelites, we have freedom, hope, and the presence of God with us on the journey. This is where our journey begins….

Friday, October 11, 2013

Film Review: Fill the Void

Posted by Michael

The beauty of foreign movies (in general) is that they don’t feel the need to think for you. They simply lay out a story in all of it’s complexities and messiness and allow you to think (and feel) for yourself.  Fill The Void by director Rama Burshtein is a great example. It’s the story of a woman torn between her duty to faith and family, and her desire for passion and independence. It unfolds in the center of a close knit Hasidic community that is driven by it’s unswerving commitment to God and family. Burshtein unapologetically presents each character in an honest and unadorned manner.  The themes of loyalty, love, and devotion play across several of the characters throughout the movie. It was an emotionally moving and intensely thought provoking glimpse at love, marriage, and the things that often conspire to keep us from both. If you are not a fan of subtitles or have a deep need for constant explosions in your movies, then avoid this film. If, however, you are in the mood for something a little more complex and a little less neat, then Fill the Void is an excellent way to spend an evening. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Trust Issues

Posted by Michael

If only we all had health insurance…

If only we could be rid of all of the terrorists….

If only everyone could have a quality education….

If only the Lifetime channel didn’t exist….

We all have things that we worry about and leave us feeling unsafe and uncertain. And we all have things that we think would make it all better.  Better education, social reform, political/military power, a new relationship, a new job, better finances, and the list goes on and on. It’s not that these things are bad, they aren’t. It’s just that they will never make us feel more safe or ok in our skin. They were never meant to function in that capacity. 

Three thousand years ago, the second king of the nation of Israel, David, noticed the same sort of trust problems that we encounter today. His people were counting on military power to make everything alright. David knew better. His answer to the trust problem was simple: we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7). David wasn’t saying that we can trust that God will protect our nation (because sometimes he won’t), or that God will keep us financially secure (God never promised that either). God can’t be trusted to always make our loved ones well when they get sick, or to keep people from letting us down or breaking our hearts. David isn’t telling us to trust what God will do, but rather to trust who He is. Most of the problems in the history of our faith have come through people who were preoccupied with what they thought God was supposed to do, rather that contenting themselves with who He is. Thinking that we have God’s plans figured out doesn’t make us feel more safe, it makes us arrogant. God’s promises are less about how and more about who. God promises to be the one person in our life who will never change. He won’t change his mind about us or change his commitment to forgiveness, grace, and mercy. God will never leave us in the midst of our broken hearts and bankruptcies. His love is unchanging no matter what the bad guys do, and is steady even when we find that we have become the bad guys (which happens more than we like to admit). God will not change his plans which are to free us from the brokenness of this world, and the brokenness inside of ourselves. Knowing who is much more satisfying to our hearts than knowing how. In the end, God alone is worthy of our complete trust.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Two Stories, Two Promises

Posted by Michael

Most organized religions seem to hand our promises from God like fliers from a discount furniture store that is “going out of business” for the third time this year. Oftentimes, the promises come with a string attached. If you will do this, God will do that. These promises offer comfort and relief for a while, but underneath the short lived comfort lies tons of anxiety. “What if I can’t do this, will God still do that? “What if I get 80% of my this done, will God still deliver 100% of that, or will he only give me 80%, or will he punish me and give me 0%?” For the most part these sorts of promises have very little to do with what Jesus said or did during his short time on this planet. The story that Jesus told about who God is and what He desires is much different than what we often hear.  Jesus didn’t make a million promises, but there are two that kept coming up in his teachings. That brings me to the second story…

Less than a week ago, I went through an eight day stretch where I attended three funerals, and officiated two weddings. The week felt schizophrenic to say the least. The emotional ups and downs had begun to weigh on me until one of the stories told at one of the funerals stopped me in my tracks.The woman had died in her late 70’s after battling illness for several years. She had been married to her high school sweetheart for over 50 years. The story goes that her future husband drove a school bus when he was a student (student drivers were common in high schools “back in the day”). She would ride his bus to school and sat behind his seat to talk to him on the way to pick up the students in the mornings. At the beginning of her senior year, the doors of the big yellow bus swung open along a country road to let on a trembling five year old. It was his first day of school,and he was terrified. The five year old recounted the story as an adult, and remembered clearly what the girl said to him that day. She saw how afraid he was and simply said, “Don’t worry, it’s all going to work out. Come sit by me.” Just typing those words now causes me to tremble a bit. These were the promises of Jesus! Jesus never promised new cars (or camels?) or a heartbreak-free existence. In fact, he constantly reminded his listeners of the brutality of the world they lived in. We will fail and others will fail us. Jesus taught that a life lived in relationship with him would face the same pain and doubt as everyone else, maybe even more so.  The amazing promise, however,  is that those dark days and daunting challenges are somehow transformed into character and hope. God brings beauty even out of the darkest places in our lives. Our story doesn’t end in the muck and misery, it extends past all of that to a time of peace and fulfillment. The fact that our story ends well is encouraging, but Jesus went beyond that by promising to stay close to us on the journey from here to there. Even the meaning of the name he was given as a child, Immanuel,  promises what our heart longs for most, that God is indeed with us. That seventeen year old girl on an old county school bus summed up life with God perfectly. "Hang in there, even though it may not seem like it, we are going someplace good, and I will be with you 'til we get there."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hate Verses

Posted by Michael

Some people I have spoken with over the years have a “life verse”, that is a verse or verses from the Bible that especially motivates and encourages them. It may be a verse that helps give their life clarity and direction. I’ve never really found a life verse, but it seems like a wonderful thing. On the other hand, I have found several “hate verses”. These are verses that especially exasperate me, or give me trouble. Ok, hate may be a strong word, but you see what I’m getting at. One such verse can be found in a letter that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. Paul told them that at some point all Christians are going to find themselves in a place in life that leaves them perplexed. Everyone. 

I hate “perplexed”.

Perplexed means that you are confused, that you feel stripped bare, and may even feel exposed or embarrassed. Perplexed is what happens when you can no longer find neat, easy answers that bring immediate comfort. I had hoped that following God would put an end to all of life’s perplexation (I’m not sure that’s a word). Paul said that not only would it not end the perplexosity of life (ok, I’m completely confident that’s not a word), but that being a Christian would guarantee that at times we would be perplexed. So, if there are questions in your life that you don’t have answers for, relax, this is all part of the process. Having seasons of doubt and struggle doesn’t mean you aren’t a good Christian, it means that you are on the right path. Wrestling with God-sized thoughts with our human-sized brains never works perfectly, but it leads to a humble, fragile, and beautiful life. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Posted by Tony

Breaking Bad, “Ozymandias”

“SPOILER ALERT” if you haven’t seen the Breaking Bad, Sept 15 episode, “Ozymandias”, don’t read any further. Stop what you’re doing. Go watch it immediately.

This episode was the finest hour of one of TV’s best shows ever. It brings to a culmination story lines that have been developing over several seasons and ratchets up the intensity of an already intense final few episodes.

The beginning of “Ozymandias” leaps back to the first episode showing Walt and Jesse at their first meth cook. It is light hearted and almost comic. It shows the na├»ve beginnings to a disastrous path for both men. The scene also includes a sweet conversation between Walt and Skylar. This was before the lying and intrigue became the centerpiece of their relationship. In that first episode, chemistry teacher Walt tells his students, that chemistry is about “growth, then decay, then transformation.” Little did we know at the time that the decay and transformation of these characters lives would be so profound and unsettling.

After this beginning, the scene shifts to the present in the same desert location as that first meth cook. Hank’s Partner Gomez is dead and Hank is wounded. This brilliant scene shows the almost immeasurable acting ability of Bryan Cranston. He takes Walter White from sympathy, to cruelty, to despair in such a convincing journey that the viewer can barely catch his breath.

The rest of the episode features scene after scene of superb acting and directing. The action and pace vary from slow and torturous (Walt slowing rolling the barrel of money through the desert while the western ballad "Take My True Love By the Hand" plays in the background) to fast and furious (the inevitable physical confrontation between all the members of the White family.)

Everything about this episode was brilliant.

I can’t wait to see where the final two episodes take these characters.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

When You Are Travelling Through Virginia...

Posted by Michael

Few places on the planet could be more relaxing and enjoyable than Charlottesville, VA on a fall college football game day... 

On our way into town for the game, Tony and I stopped for breakfast at a place called Silver Diner. I love diner food. It’s a guilty pleasure. In fact, I already had my order ready…

"Greasy eggs and grits please"

I tend to go with whatever breakfast meat I smell first. The Silver Diner was a bit different though. They source their menu from local farms and provide surprisingly healthy options (which makes them a very sneaky diner). I opted for the Local Farm Raised Bison Huevos Rancheros: Chorizo and bison hash, farm fresh over easy eggs, peppers, salsa roja, scallions, cilantro, goat cheese, and chunky avocados. 

It was a complete and total home run. It was just spicy enough and cooked to perfection. So, if you are ever travelling through Virginia and see signs for a Silver Diner, pull over immediately! Don’t let the lack of greasy eggs discourage you, you will be more than pleased with the meal you receive. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Your Unfinished Story

Posted by Michael

Do you have a story that you would rather not tell? Are there things from your past that are so painful that even the telling of them brings back waves of pain and shame? If someone were to ever write the biography of my life, I would definitely want editorial rights! There are in my life (and maybe yours as well) memories that are so plagued with guilt and embarrassment, that the simplest recollection of them causes me to cringe. The same seemed true of a woman from the nation of Samaria that Jesus encountered near a well. One of Jesus’ disciples named John recounted the story in his mini biography on the life of Jesus. (John 4: 1-42)

I’ve heard many teachings over the years on this story, and most (including a few of my own) have been pretty hard on this woman. I feel now that we have gotten her all wrong. The thought has been that when Jesus revealed the truth of her past that she was shown to have been sexually promiscuous and an adulterer. She was exposed to have had five past husbands, and was now staying with a man without being married to him at all. The reality is, however, that women who lived during that time period of the New Testament were not allowed to leave their husbands, and divorce was completely out of the question. If somehow they were miraculously able to be granted a divorce, no Jewish man in town would dare marry her, because his reputation and standing in the community would have been ruined. What seems to be more likely is that this lady had experienced the death of five husbands. She had felt the heartbreak of becoming a widow, the hope of a rebuilt family, and then heart-crushing loss all over again. She was the center of attention and pity at five funerals. At the end of all of her grief, she had become an outcast by living with a man that was not her husband. Whether  it was she who would no longer risk marriage, or he who refused to marry her is unclear. What is clear is that the story of her life was filled with blinding pain, doubt, and loss…

…at least until she met Jesus.

The story spins forward and we find this broken woman back in her hometown telling her story to anyone and everyone who would listen. She talked of her past husbands and of her current living situation with a strange new hope that hadn’t been there before. The pain wasn’t gone, but now there was optimism for the parts of her story that still lay ahead. The truth she found is just as applicable to us today and comes in two simple pieces:
1)Time with Jesus reminds us that our story isn’t over yet

2)With Jesus, the darkest parts of our past are often just the beginning of our greatest joys in the future

So, if your story isn’t shaping up the way you had hoped don’t give up just yet, the greatest parts may be just a few pages away…

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Plans and Presence

Posted by Michael

Few leaders in history are as admired and respected as Moses. The challenges that Moses faced as a leader are too many to count, among them: How do you change the thinking of a people who have experienced only slavery for hundreds of years? How do you keep them together as you travel across the desert to their new home? How do you calm them after you’ve told them that God hasn’t really told you the exact location of where you are going yet? If Jewish dietary laws would have allowed Moses to eat pork, he would have been a heart attack waiting to happen. So, how do you handle these sorts of massive challenges and all of the stress and uncertainty that comes with them?

Moses asked God for details.

That makes sense. If somehow he could just know where they were going, how they were going to get there and what to do in the meantime, then maybe he would make it. The answer that Moses received back from God wasn’t what he had in mind, however. God did not offer a detailed travel itinerary complete with maps and a book of easy recipes for how to cook for 40,000 of your closest friends and relatives. The answer Moses received was, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33: 14 ESV)

I’ve asked God for details before. Ok, to be honest, I ask God for details every day. What am I supposed to write about? Can I trust this relationship? When should I expect this all to work out? And thousands of other questions just like those. I storm into prayer or the Bible looking for answers as if a new set of answers is what I really need. Mercifully, God knows me better than I do. God doesn't hand out blueprints for our individual lives (no, I wouldn't call the Bible, God's Blueprint for Life), He actually gives us something better. He gives us His company. He offers to walk the road with us.  I’ve found that God being with me on uncertain dark roads is a thousand times more satisfying than any  perfectly planned and predictable life ever could be. There’s still a part of me that stubbornly holds on to the idea that having a good plan and being well-informed is the key to life, but deep down I know better. I’ve had thousands of plans in my life, and some were downright brilliant if I do say so myself. As I look back, however, all the things I’ve done and all the places I’ve been as a result of careful planning have never been as important as who I’ve been with in those moments. The most important questions in life aren't the what, where, and when's, but who. When I have plans, I may have predictability, but I don’t have rest. I can only rest when I know that I’m not alone. Thankfully, that’s exactly what God promised Moses back then, and that’s what He promises us today. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

When You Are In Greenville...Spill the Beans

Posted by Michael

At this point, you have probably pieced together my criteria for a really good coffee shop. So, when I wandered into Spill the Beans in Greenville, SC , I was ready to run through my checklist.

Freshly roasted coffee beans?…............Check
Fresh made pastries?……..................... Check
Comfortable, relaxing seating area?……Check
Overlooking beautiful waterfall?…….....Check

Ok, the last one is not on my official checklist, but it’s a great perk at Spill the Beans.

Downtown Greenville is beautiful and offers an eclectic mix of shopping, art, architecture, and restaurants. Spill the Beans is a perfect fit for the area. The coffee is great and their space is open and inviting. You can get a glimpse of the waterfall out one of the back windows of the coffee shop, or after you’ve finished your coffee, you can stroll out back and cross over a suspension bridge that overlooks the falls. It makes for a unique experience for coffee lovers and non-coffee lovers alike, so the next time you are in Greenville, I absolutely recommend stopping by and spending some time at Spill the Beans.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Unlikely Places for Beauty

Posted by Michael

The nation of Israel had escaped their slavery in Egypt and had a new home awaiting them in Jericho. In between all the pain of their past and all of the promise of their future was a journey through the desert that would end up lasting over 40 years. As they scraped their way across the dry, barren land, God made an unusual request. God asked that the people build a movable temple, a place that would remind them of where they had been and where they were going, and also remind them that they wouldn’t have to go alone. God was detailed in His instructions. He laid out plans for what the temple would look like. It was to be filled with altars and lamps all covered in gold, and ornate and hand stitched curtains made from the finest fabrics. In short, it was to be breathtaking.

Only one problem: the people of Israel were in the midst of one of the largest moves in the history of the world. If you have every moved from one house to another, you know how even the smallest move can be difficult and all-consuming. Imagine that on the day of your next move, as you squeeze massive furniture through small doors to load onto the waiting truck, God tells you that now would be a great time to paint a masterpiece, or sculpt something out of marble, or maybe stitch together a quilt for the family. It would be even more insane if you had never painted, sculpted, or stitched a stitch in your life, but that was exactly the predicament that the Israelites found themselves in.

The simple fact is that on our messiest days, during the most trying periods of our life, God steps down into the chaos and births beautiful things. When I am going through dry, difficult times in my life, the last thing I’m thinking is that God could do something beautiful in the midst of the mess. But isn’t that where God most often does His work; in the muck and mess? If we are honest, isn’t that where we most need something beautiful, in the dark and in the doubt? So, if you are out-of-breath, over-worked, and under-inspired, hang in there, God may very well be preparing to invite you into something extraordinary.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Guest Post at Give Her Wings

Posted by Michael

The great folks at Give Her Wings have allowed me to provide a guest post to their wonderful blog. You can check it out here!

While you're there check out the entire Give Her Wings site. David, Megan and the good people at Give Her Wings do an amazing job of offering support and care for those recovering from abuse. They also offer opportunities for you to make a difference as well!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A New Rhythm of Prayer

Posted by Michael

“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.”
                                -Psalm 119:164 TNIV

The Divine Offices or Liturgy of the Hours is a form of fixed-hour prayer, which simply means that there are fixed times set aside each day to pray. The practice goes all the way back to the time of the Old Testament and the nation of Israel as the verse above illustrates.  I became familiar with fixed-hour prayer a few years back while I was exploring different types of spiritual disciplines. Since that time I have used it as a tool at conferences, with small groups, and with students that I work with.  I don’t know about you, but I need something other than my memory or emotions to prompt me to pray, and committing to “pray the hours” has been a great way of staying connected to God consistently throughout my day. I don’t pray the hours every day, but return to it for days at a time during different seasons of my life (that seems to keep it fresh and works best for me). If you are interested in stretching yourself spiritually, I would recommend trying out praying the hours.

What you will need:

-A prayer book of some sort. I use The Divine Hours which was compiled by Phyllis Tickle (see below). Tickle has books available for different parts of the year, and even shorter books to use during Easter and Christmas. If you are looking for something that is easy to pack around, she has a book available that contains a week’s worth of prayers, which can also be purchased as an e-book. Prayer books are helpful because they keep us from repeating the same stale prayers over and over. Our history is packed with thousands of years of people seeking God and recording their prayers and songs. It is arrogant to think that their words and insights couldn’t be helpful to us.

-Patience. Returning to prayer during set times each day is about slowing down and remembering. We remember that God is with us and that he is for us. We remember that he cares about our awful days as well as our joys and celebrations. Reading through prayers and absorbing the words down into our own souls allows us to slow down for a bit, and in my experience that is almost always a good thing.

-Grace. Even though you will strive to consistently keep each prayer time over the course of the day, you will fail.  You will miss your morning prayer or skip the mid-day one, or might even miss entire days all together. Remember, this is a tool to help you connect to God, not another set of rules to run your life! If you are feeling guilty about your performance you are missing the point!

If you have any questions about fixed-hour prayer or have any other prayer exercises that have encouraged you, please let us know! Also, if you attempt incorporating this type of prayer into your daily life, let me know how it goes!

Monday, August 19, 2013

On The Third Day: Never Alone

Posted by Michael

It’s amazing how a few small words can change a story completely, or at least add an entirely new level of meaning. One of Jesus’ closest followers recounted a story about Jesus changing water into wine when a family had run out during a wedding celebration. To help us understand the significance of the story, John added four small words at its outset, “on the third day”.  All of a sudden there’s more going on here than Jesus simply helping out a family. Readers during the time when John was writing his mini-biography, would have immediately connected the words “on the third day” to the end of the story, to the part where Jesus was murdered and then came back from the dead three days later. Somehow this story relates to that story.

What Jesus was starting with his death and resurrection is a lot like a wedding. Weddings are places where people who weren’t family before become family now in order to do life together. Jesus’ death and resurrection means that he has made us his family, that his greatest desire to is do life with us, and not just right now, but for the rest of forever. God does not stand back at a detached distance watching us muddle through life, nor does He often jump in and make decisions for us, resolving all the tension that life brings. God is with us, as we make good decisions, and as we pick up the pieces from bad decisions. That’s what family does. Just like marriage, life with God doesn’t mean that all of the challenges go away. It means that we don’t have to face them alone. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Film Review: A Hijacking

Posted by Michael

A Hijacking is an intense and thought provoking Danish film by writer/director Tobias Lindholm. With only a tiny bit of prelude, Lindholm drops us into the deliberately plodding pace of a hijacking. A Danish ship is boarded by Somali pirates demanding money for the safe release of crew and cargo. The film bounces between shots on board the ship with the frightened and increasingly frustrated crew to shots of the executive offices of the ship’s owner, where negotiations are being attempted to free the crew. Lindholm doesn’t reach back to the past for context or out to the future to find hope or meaning. He is content to simply tell the story in front of him, and he does it well. A Hijacking will leave you with questions about the true meaning of freedom. Who is actually set free in this film? Who was captive in the first place? It also leaves you with all of the rugged edges of real life, which makes this film worthy of watching by those who are not annoyed by subtitles. (movie poster courtesy of the official film website: )

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

When you are in Asheville...

Posted by Michael

Next time you are in Asheville drop in and say hello to Rick at Biltmore Coffee Roasters. Rick moved down to North Carolina from Alaska three years ago and settled into the coffee business. Thankfully for the people of Asheville, he does it the right way. All beans are roasted in house, and a selection of homemade pastries is also available. It would be easy to overlook the humble coffee shop located just a few miles from the Biltmore Estate, but it would be a mistake. Asheville is a beautiful city, but it’s a bit more beautiful with a fresh cup of coffee from Rick and the good folk of Biltmore Coffee Roasters. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Breathe In, Breathe Out

Posted by Michael

In the early history of the Israelite people, they escaped slavery in Egypt and began a 40 year journey across the desert to a home of their own. In the midst of that journey God invited Moses up to the top of a mountain so that He could give him instructions for the Israelite people on how to live life. The instructions about the mountain encounter that God gave Moses seem odd at first. “Come up to me into the mount, and be there…” (Exodus 24:12). The phrase translated “be there” comes from a Hebrew word that’s related to breathing and means “to exist”. The only requirement for Moses as he spent time with God was to exist, to breathe in and breathe out.

Most of us keep up a pretty hectic pace in our life. There’s a job to be done, games to attend, dinners to fix, repairs to be made, rooms to be cleaned, classes to be attended, books to be read, art to be embraced, appointments to be kept, forms to fill out , and that’s just this morning. Our lives can be filled with so many good things that there isn’t room for relationship with God or anyone else. Our striving and running and accomplishing keep us from being close to God. There are times in life when we need to simply exist, just breathe in, breathe out, and listen. The God who created stars and sunsets, eagles and earthworms, breezes and bluegrass music, most likely doesn’t need our amazing multitasking abilities. He simply wants our presence and our attention. Stripping away the clutter and chaos of life from time to time isn’t easy, but it’s life giving. It makes us able to do what we were created for, the enjoy knowing and being known by God.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Faith and Failure

Posted by Michael

People who have heard stories about Jesus and His disciples have probably heard the one about Peter denying Jesus during His crucifixion, and they have probably heard it several times. What we don’t always talk about is the earlier conversation between Jesus and Peter that put everything into motion. Jesus had just finished observing the Passover meal with his disciples, what we now call the Last Supper.  Jesus told the disciples that Satan had been demanding to have them so that he could “sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31) (that’s another blog post to itself). Then Jesus told Peter that he was specifically praying for him, that when the dust cleared, his faith would not fail. That’s an amazing thought! Basically, Jesus was saying, “When you fail, I am praying that your faith won’t crumble”.  Jesus already knew that Peter was going to fail, but He didn’t want that failure to wreck Peter’s faith.

Faith is the stubborn belief that God is for me even when my physical eyes can’t see it, and faith can be fragile. Few things can rattle our faith as greatly as our own personal failures. Most times, when our faith begins to fracture, it isn’t because we doubt God. We doubt that God would love us. It's hard to believe that someone who has failed the ways we have could be worthy of love. Jesus’ prayer for Peter was that in the midst of his doubt, he would remember that God’s love for him was bigger than the biggest betrayal. Perhaps the most scandalous truth imaginable is that it is impossible to fail our way out of God’s love. God is bigger than our worst days and most shameful secrets, and His desire is for us to embrace his great love for us. So, if you fail today (of if you are like me, when you fail), I pray that your faith that God is for you will not be broken, and that you will find hope in a God that is bigger than your failures. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Creating Reality

Posted by Michael

Imagine for a moment that someone you know was in a horrible accident and suffered damage to their brain. They are rushed to the hospital where they are fortunate enough to see a very skilled specialist. After your friend is examined, the doctor reports that the damage was limited to one small area of the brain. She will be able to live a completely normal life but for one small exception, the damaged area of her brain will cause her brain to wrongly tell her that 24 hours a day, every day, it’s raining. Even when the skies are blue and the sun is shining, you friend will believe that it is raining outside. It would be a very odd exception, but you would be grateful for her health and safety nonetheless. Over time you would see your friend leave her home each morning ready to battle the rain she believes is falling. She would be wearing her rain boots and have her umbrella perched over her head even on the sunniest of days. Her flowers would die when she neglected to water them, after all, she is sure it rained on them just that afternoon. Her deep belief that it is constantly raining would create a response in her behavior. She would live her life as if in a constant rain shower.

Life does this to many of us every day. Perhaps you have been told that you aren’t smart enough, or pretty enough, or talented enough. Sometimes we hear these words from our parents, teachers, friends, or our spouse. Other times the words aren’t said, but we are treated as if we are not important. It doesn’t take long for us to believe the messages we hear and soon we begin to live as if we are unimportant.  We make decisions as if we are not as smart as other people. We choose relationships as if we are not beautiful or interesting. We settle. How many job opportunities were missed because someone convinced themselves that they never had a chance in the first place, and so never applied? How many abusive relationships have been endured because someone believed that no one else could ever possibly love them? Our beliefs affect our reality, and our beliefs aren’t always honest. So, wherever you are at today with whatever beliefs you are struggling with, I pray that you will find the courage to drop your umbrella and risk the rain. It could be that a beautiful day has been waiting for you all along. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Alive and Dead

Posted by Michael

Jesus had the uncanny ability to cut to the core of truth with a simple, short statement. Those brief sayings seem really obvious at first glance, but upon reflection become deep and either soberingly frightful or incredibly hopeful. Jesus made such a statement while trying to help his disciples understand what the end of his life was going to be like. Jesus said, “And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?” (Mark 8:36, New Living Translation) There are two parts of us that are alive, our physical bodies and our souls. Jesus is saying that there are things we can chase in our life that won’t harm our physical bodies, but will cause our souls to begin to fade and wither. There are decisions I can make that will make me less sensitive to beauty. There are pursuits in life that will cause me to hunger less for justice. I can live life in such a way that I forget about the people around me who are in pain. It’s possible to be fully alive on the outside and empty and dead on the inside. Jesus was telling his disciples that avoiding his upcoming death at the hands on unjust men would keep him alive physically, but it would cause him somehow to die inside, and that wasn’t a trade he was willing to make.

His statement created a lot of questions for me, maybe they are questions that will help you on your journey as well:

Are there things that I watch with my eyes that make me less aware of true beauty when it comes along?

Does the pace of my life make it hard for me to be heartbroken for those who are suffering around me?

Am I more focused on my physical life than the life of my soul?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Justice and Forgiveness

Posted by Michael

A large chunk of the New Testament is correspondence from an early church planter named Paul to various infant churches he helped found. We have two letters that Paul wrote to a church in a town called Corinth. The second of which found the small church struggling with internal strife, betrayals, and persecutions. Times were hard and only growing more difficult for the Corinthian people, they needed both encouragement and direction. He told them that Satan was outwitting them, and causing them to turn on each other and treat each other horribly. The way they were being outwitted was simple and devastating. They were carrying grudges and refusing to forgive each other. Satan’s main goal wasn’t to tempt them to sleep around, start a cult, or build a casino. It was to tempt them to withhold forgiveness from each other. When forgiveness fails everything else crumbles.

Forgiveness reminds us that our guiding principle when interacting with each other is grace not justice. When we refuse to treat people with grace, we become obsessed with a fairness that does not exist. Fairness does not exist in relationships because life is not fair and at our core neither are we. We tend to either, devalue others and elevate ourselves, or we worship others and hate ourselves, and neither of those extremes lead to fairness. When I give up my obsession with things being fair and choose to forgive instead, it releases the person who has wronged me, but more than that it declares that no evil exists that can crush me, because I always have the freedom to choose to forgive. Evil is not overcome by strength and power, but by humility and forgiveness. Forgiveness is my reminder that it was never my job to keep score. I’m a lousy scorekeeper, and to be honest, so are you.  Trying to punish myself for the wrongs I’ve done, or punish someone else for theirs is exhausting. Forgiveness is letting go. It’s not giving up on justice, just admitting that justice isn’t really our job. Forgiveness is the only food that will adequately nourish our souls.  

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book Review: "And The Mountains Echoed"

Post by Michael 

I adored Khaled Hosseini’s “Kite Runner”. It was packed with emotion and beauty that I feel sets it apart as truly great literature. When I am able to find a book I love, I am always hesitant to grab the subsequent books of that author. I guess I’m afraid of the let down, of being disappointed. So, when Hosseini released “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, I avoided it. It may very well be a great book, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy it. In May of this year, Hosseini’s latest, “And The Mountains Echoed” hit the market and I impulsively grabbed a copy. I am extremely glad I did. It’s an examination of the beauty and heartbreaks of familial relationships. The book is layered with several smaller stories that overlap and intertwine in spots, which allows the reader to deeply connect with any of a number of characters that mirror their own experience. It spans questions like, “How do we continue to love when faced with betrayal, physical separation, and abandonment?” Much like in “The Kite Runner”, Hosseini does not feel pressured to offer trite or forced resolutions to the stories, but allows you to steep in the emotion and power of the relationships laid out on the page. “And The Mountains Echoed” is a beautiful book and is well worth reading at a slow and leisurely pace. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Pointless Quest for Predictability and Control

posted by Michael

Less than two months before, they were serving as slave laborers in the scorching Egyptian sun to make bricks for the Pharaoh’s building projects. Now for the first time in hundreds of years the people of Israel were free. Life in Egypt had been miserable because slavery was miserable. Men and women worked all day to build structures they would never use or enjoy. Every day, every month, every year passed in the exact same way. Saddest of all, they woke each day knowing that their children would spend their lives enduring the same pointless existence. It was at that moment, just when all hope seemed forever lost that the unthinkable happened. The vulnerable and defenseless men, women, and children of Israel were allowed to walk away from Egypt. The most powerful army on the planet was crushed. Their God had given them a military victory that they could never have won for themselves.  And now, God was taking them to a home of their own. He would guide them to the place that He had picked for them,  and He would even feed them along the way. The instructions from God to the people were simple.  “I am going to send quail each night for your families to eat. Each morning you wake up there will be feathery bread spread on the ground like dew. Take all that your family can eat during that day, but don’t worry about extra because it will only rot. I’ll provide the same again for you tomorrow. On the sixth day of the week, take enough for two days, because I want you to take the seventh day off to relax and spend time with Me.” When night came the quail came just like God had said. The next morning, God came through again and left bread all around the camp.

Inexplicably, several of the people gathered more than they needed, and some even tried to venture out on the seventh day of the week to gather in bread, even though they already had enough. I suppose it’s not totally inexplicable, I feel I do the same thing all the time, and maybe you do as well. I work when I should rest, I try to be self-sufficient when I should simply trust. God was doing more than just feeding the people as they made their way to their new home, He was seeking to be a part of their daily lives.  That’s what they needed most of all. That’s what you and I need too. When I allow God to provide for me, I am aware of Him all through the day. When I have needs or am uncertain, I look to Him for hope. When I have peace and happiness, I thank Him. The desire to take my life into my own hands to control things and make life more predictable is always in the back of my mind, but God's hands are much more capable than mine.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Posted by Tony

World War Z: The Globalization of the Horror Movie

There has always been one consistent theme to most horror movies; a malevolent presence threatens a small group or individual in a remote and isolated setting. Think of The Night of the Living Dead (a small group in a remote and desolate farmhouse), The Shining (a small group in a remote and desolate hotel, John Carpenter’s classic remake of The Thing (a small group in a remote and desolate arctic station), Friday the 13th (a small group in a remote and desolate summer camp) and most recently Joss Whedon’s brilliant The Cabin in the Woods (a small group in a remote and desolate cabin in the woods.) The list could go on and on. Horror has always been about tension, isolation and even a little bit claustrophobic. World War Z certainly has elements of this theme but then successfully transitions to horror on a global scale.

The action in World War Z spans countries and even continents. The US, Korea, Israel, England and Canada are locales in movie. Don’t get me wrong, there are scenes that are intimate and take place in small enclosed areas such as an apartment building and a research hospital. But the scenes that transform the feeling of the movie are the images of Philadelphia and Jerusalem being overrun by zombies.

In the opening scenes the actions of these zombies are foreshadowed in shots of swarms of bees and insects and flocks of birds. These animals seem to be moving in unison as if controlled by an unseen force.  The massive groups of zombies act in similar fashion. They use their own bodies to create towers to scale walls and building. They rush through the streets like the waves of a tsunami, overtaking everything in their path. They are fast! These are no slow lumbering mindless zombies with arms outstretched.

Brad Pitts effectively portrays a former a UN investigator who is recalled to service to help discover the cause of a virus that is turning people into zombies. While the terrific actress Mireille Enos is his wife in a role that reduces her to too many scenes of sitting around looking worried.  The film has way too many holes in the plot to sustain credibility and the ending feels rushed and a little too pat. However, I still liked the movie quite a bit.

The pacing is brisk but not frenetic. The special effects are extremely effective. The acting is above par. Of special note are performances by James Badge Dale as an army captain and a very short spot by (a toothless!) David Morse as an ex-CIA agent.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Best Ever: Coffee

Posted by Michael

God in His great love for us, gave us the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, beautiful rain forests, desert sunsets, and starry nights that take our breath away. Most importantly, however, God has given us coffee. Whether you are starting off your morning or enjoying a dessert after an amazing dinner, things are not quite complete without really good coffee. Please notice that I said good coffee, that’s because there is bad coffee out there. I’ve had it, and I try to avoid it whenever possible. The seven people on the planet who don’t like coffee have probably only had bad coffee, and if that’s the case, I understand their pain.

Coffee can appear complicated at first glance.  Tanzania Peaberry, Jamaican Blue Mountain, Kona, and Sumatra are just a few of the endless options available to you, but don’t get swept away with all of the choices. Also ignore all flavored beans. The guy who thought of flavoring coffee beans to taste like German Chocolate Cake is probably in a lab somewhere trying to create a Kangaturtle (a Kangaroo with the head of a turtle and a large shell. It would be able to jump really well, but would not see the point, and most often would just sit there. This sort of tampering is unholy and frightening.)  Great coffee begins with one simple rule: fresh coffee is good coffee. Buy your beans (or have them ground for you) at a place that roasts their beans in house if at all possible. Fresh coffee is like freshly baked bread. In the same way that a warm loaf of bread fresh from the oven at your local bakery makes a loaf of Wonder Bread seem like sliced styrofoam, a cup of coffee made from freshly roasted and ground beans blows a cup of Folgers out of the water (no offense Folgers).  There are a lot of wonderful coffee shops out there. Land of a Thousand Hills in Georgia and Krankies in Winston Salem do a wonderful job. Joe Van Gogh and Larry’s Beans also provide excellent beans. If I had to pick a current favorite though, it would be Kenya AA beans from Cup a Joe in Raleigh. They are constantly roasting beans at Cup a Joe, so you know you’ll always get a great cup of coffee and a fresh bag of beans to take home if you so desire.   Once you’ve found a bean roaster that you like, feel free to sample the different varieties. There are lots of great options, and you can begin to find your favorite at that point.

So, what’s your Best Ever Coffee?????

Monday, June 17, 2013

Love and Omelets

Posted by Michael

Most of this year’s graduation ceremonies have ended. Many high school students are readying themselves for college, and many college students are looking to begin careers. For those next in line to graduate the familiar questions are surfacing again, none of them more important than, “What should I spend my life doing?” This question is important for all of us to return to periodically. Statistics are released every year about what sort of jobs are available and which industries seem primed to hire for years to come. Many students train for health related careers with the thinking being that there will always be sick people. Lawyers and policemen know there will always be crime. Our endless craving for more advanced computers and phones seem to bode well for those entering the tech field.

A first century church planter named Paul seemed to be thinking along the same lines when he wrote a letter to a church he had started in the city of Corinth. He told the timid Jesus followers that there were ways to spend their lives that had incredible upside. The instruction came as a response to the arguments the Corinthian people were having about which tasks or talents were most important, and about what they should be doing with their lives.

“Aren’t teachers the most important?”

“How about the prophets, they seem pretty intense?”

 I’m not sure what the people with the gift of tongues are saying, but they seem really passionate…”

Paul settled the debate by saying that only one activity would still be necessary in heaven. There is only one thing that we could be doing now, that we will definately be doing for the rest of eternity. It’s not teaching, because in heaven, we will know everything we need to know. It’s not prophecy, there’s nothing to predict in heaven. We won’t be caring for the poor in heaven, because everyone will already have all they need. The one thing that will be consuming our time in heaven is loving people and loving God. Learning to  love people honestly, humbly, and passionately is the one skill that will never be out of date. Loving people, like omelet making, takes lots of practice and a good deal of creativity, but with patience we can get better as we go along, and our world will be better off for it.